The Peculiar Pig by Joy Steuerwald (9780399548871)
Penny is an unusual pig, since she’s actually a dachshund puppy. She doesn’t get bigger like her pig siblings, instead she gets longer. She’s different in other ways too, like her bark compared to their oinks. But her mother pig loves her just the same as her litter mates. When the piglets root in the mud, Penny digs with her paws instead. Penny also prefers to practice her barking instead of playing in mud puddles. Her piglet siblings teased her about how different she is, but Penny just kept being herself. Then one day, a snake appeared in the barnyard and suddenly Penny started growling and barking. She chased that snake away! Her own unique abilities saved the day.
Steuerwald has written a lovely little picture book about the value of being yourself and your own peculiar traits being your strengths. She nicely skirts the impact of bullying, keeping the piglets from being too aggressive, instead focusing on Penny and her personal gifts. The writing and story is told briskly and with a directness that will work well with small children.
The artwork is particularly captivating with each of the pigs unique from one another as well as from Penny, of course. The small brown dog stands out on the page against the pink and black piglets. The bright eyes and smiling mouths of the different animals make for a happy tone throughout the book.
Embrace your differences with this neat little picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bunny in the Middle by Anika A. Denise, illustrated by Christopher Denise (9781250120366)
Three rabbit siblings fill these pages with their daily activities as being the middle child is explored. When you are a middle child, you are the one in between. Your older sibling helps you and you help your younger sibling. You know when to share and when to hold on. You know the best time to lead and the best time to follow, but you also know when to do things your own way. Yes, you get hand-me-downs and also have to share a room. But it also means that you are often just the right size for a lot of things, including being right in the middle.
While the words in this book focus on explaining the good and bad of being the middle child, it is the pictures that are something entirely special. The images of the three rabbits are filled with sunlight, sticky frosting, leafy adventures, and coziness. From the lankier and rather bossy older sister to the plump toddler younger sibling, this little family is a joy to spend time with. The middle child is often unperturbed in the midst of chaos or demands, showing just what it takes to excel at being that special on in the center of a family.
Gorgeous illustrations illuminate a story of a little group of siblings. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt and Company.
A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Julia Kuo (9781481446648)
Award-winning author Kadohata tells the story of a Japanese-American family forced to return to Japan after World War II because of their Japanese ancestry. After spending years in an internment camp in the United States, twelve-year-old Hanako and her family move to Japan to live with her paternal grandparents. They travel by ship first and then train until they reach the decimated city of Hiroshima, where her grandparents’ farm lies outside. All of Japan is poor and hungry, with black markets and children begging on the streets. Hanako meets her grandparents for the first time, discovering that her grandfather is very like her little brother who is five years old. Her grandmother is stooped over from the hard work in the fields. Hanako must face learning a new language, attending a new school in a different country, and trying to find a way forward for her entire family. It’s a lot of pressure, but Hanako learns steadily to adjust and change.
Kadohata’s novel for children tells the untold story of Japanese Americans forced to repatriate to their country of origin and renounce their American citizenship. It also gives an unflinching look at the aftermath of World War II in Japan, particularly with its setting near Hiroshima. That dark setting is juxtaposed against the warmth and beauty of discovering loving grandparents and building a new relationship. Yet there is a constant sense of loss in the book and a teetering feeling that things may suddenly change at any moment.
As always, Kadohata’s prose is beautiful. She vividly depicts Japanese life during the 1940’s and the unending work of being a tenant farmer. In the midst of all of the sorrow, loss and confusion, she places a loving family who are willing to sacrifice for one another and for brighter futures for the next generation. Through this family, there is intense hope broadcast on the page.
An important and vital book about the horrors of war and its aftermath on individual families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina (9781536201314)
The first book in this series won the Pura Belpre Author Award in 2017. This second book continues to use the author’s own childhood in Bogota, Colombia as inspiration. Juana’s life is wonderful. She has her dog, Lucas, and her mother. But lately, her mother has been making some changes. Her hair is different and she has a boyfriend. Luis is nice and kind to Juana, but it’s a lot of change to deal with. When the two decide to get married and move to a new home, Juana is brokenhearted. But even though things are changing, some things will always be true, like how much Juana is loved.
Medina shares how traumatic major life changes can be to children without minimizing their emotional strain. At the same time, Juana is a resilient child, who is constantly facing life with an inherent optimism that pays off. Medina focuses on hope and love throughout the book, never allowing it to bog down and keeping the pace brisk.
Throughout this early chapter book, Spanish words are sprinkled in a way that makes sense to English-speaking readers. The setting is used nicely in the story and factors heavily into the illustrations which are friendly and have a warm cartoon feel.
Another winner from Medina! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova (9781534425644)
Leila isn’t sure she likes what she sees when she looks in the mirror, but her grandmother tells her how lovely the color saffron looks with her dark eyes. It makes Leila feel better, but she still sees her skinny arms and knobby knees in the mirror. As she joins her extended family for dinner, she realizes that she smiles the same as her aunt. Leila helps her grandmother make the curry. She heads out to the neighbor’s garden to ask for some cilantro. Everyone congratulates Leila on a wonderful dinner. Before Leila leaves that evening, her grandmother shows her a trunk of silk scarves. They are all the colors of the foods they just worked with, and Leila discovers a saffron one that makes her see herself clearly in the mirror.
Guidroz has created a book centered on a warm and loving Pakistani family. Leila’s concerns with her appearance are addressed by the family in a more holistic way, talking about beauty but also focusing on her skills and her talents. They never make her feel less for having concerns, instead surrounding her with options and choices to really feel more fully herself.
The illustrations are filled with oranges, yellows, reds and deep greens. They also have lots of patterns, filling the page with different textiles. Those colors pop against the simple white backgrounds.
Rich and warm, this book is just like a good curry. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.
Grandpa Cacao by Elizabeth Zunon (9781681196404)
A little girl and her Daddy are making her birthday cake, a chocolate one. As they bake the cake, her father tells her about Grandpa Cacao who lives in the Ivory Coast and has a cacao farm. The book looks at the importance of the right soil and weather to grow cacao as well as the skill to know when precisely to harvest the crop. The process of harvest and then scooping out the white beans, curing them in the ground, and then drying them is shown in detail. All the while, the girl and her father are baking together, the smell and taste of the chocolate bridging the two story lines. In the end, as the cake is finished, the little girl gets a special birthday treat.
Zunon’s picture book tells the important tale of where chocolate comes from and the fascinating process of going from farm to product that is not at all what one might expect. The framing of the chocolate farming process by a girl about to celebrate her birthday with a chocolate cake is lovely. It is strengthened even more by her family connection to the Ivory Coast and her grandfather’s farm. The treat at the end makes that even more firmly and tangible for readers.
The illustrations by the author are cleverly done. The little girl’s world is done in full color collages filled with rich touches of patterns and textures. The African farm is done in a more flat format with the people simply white outlines against the landscape. When the two worlds come together, they both become full color and lush.
Everyone loves chocolate and this book explains how it comes to our tables. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (9780525553366)
Zuri has hair that can do almost anything. It curls all over when she gets up in the morning. She wears it in all different styles. In braids and beads, she is a princess. With two puffs, she is a superhero. Then one day she wakes up and it’s a very special day. Her father is still asleep, so she decides to try to do perfect hair herself. After a little accident in the bathroom, her father joins her. Together they figure out how to get her hair just right, but not without a few mishaps along the way. All in time for her mother to return home!
This picture book celebrates African-American hair. Offering all sorts of styles, the book exudes warmth and self-esteem. Creating an opportunity for a father to try to do hair, makes this book all the more lovely, also adding just the right dash of humor too. The use of modern technology to help is also something you don’t see a lot in picture books. The digital art is full of bright colors, humor and light.
Fall in love with this family and their hair. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Kokila.
Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Chris Sasaki (9780823441563)
A little girl celebrates her city home and all of the things that make it special. From the small touches like a basket for your shoes and plants in the corner to the lamplight at night from a neighbor’s window. Her family makes it special too, doing chores together, fixing mistakes, and helping one another. When the family moves to a new home, they take a lot of the elements that make it special with them. In the new house, they will once again create a home together.
In statements that begin with “Home is…” this picture book explores what makes a house a home. From the smells to the people to the windows themselves, each piece fits together like a puzzle. Ledyard’s prose asks people to slow down, to celebrate the everyday and small moments that make up their lives and their homes. The switch to a book about moving later in the book makes the first part all the more important and profound, allowing the family to rebuild easily the sense of home they always carry with them.
Sasaki’s illustrations show a multi-racial family spending days together filled with love and in a home that is warm and colorful. Those elements carry throughout the illustrations, each one making sure that readers know that small touches create a home. From lamplight at night to tables filled with family.
A beautiful look at family, home and moving. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (9780451479532)
This superb middle-grade novel introduces readers to a young artist who finds herself at the center of a mystery. Ollie’s parents are both artists. Her father and his partner Apollo restore art work and her mother creates sculptures. But then one night, her father leaves for France with his new French girlfriend and her mother won’t get out of bed. Ollie fends for herself, eating apples and peanuts, meeting Apollo for meals out, and protecting the secret of her mother’s depression. She spends time with her two best friends, Richard and Alex, throughout their Soho neighborhood. Ollie discovers that there is more to her father’s disappearance than she thought and is determined to find out what is truly going on.
Filled with compelling characters and a mystery worth sleuthing, this novel is a delight of a read. Tucker uses the setting of New York City as a vivid backdrop to the tale. Soho itself serves as almost another character in the book with its lofts for artists, empty buildings, and occasional illegal poster hanging. When Ollie and Alex head to an island getaway, that setting too is beautifully depicted as a foil to the city and is equally celebrated too. Her writing is deft and nicely keeps the pace brisk and the questions about Ollie’s parents fresh.
All of the young characters in the book are fully realized and each have a distinct personality that makes sense and carries through the title. Apollo, a giant of a man who serves as a rock for Ollie in this tumultuous time, is also a well depicted character. Ollie’s mother is an important character whose depression keeps the reader from knowing her better. The subject of parental mental illness is handled with frankness and the book concludes with a sense of hope.
A fresh mix of mystery, art and secrets, this book is full of vibrant colors and not just Greys. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.