Review: The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee

The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee

The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee, illustrated by Nathalie Dion (9781554989799)

A little girl and her brother Charlie were staying with their grandparents for six days. On the first day, the spent time exploring the big old house. Then it started to rain. It rained the entire second day, as they continued to explore the house. It rained the entire third day, which they spent playing dress-up. The girl asked her grandfather, Big T, where the rain comes from. He promised to show her when the rain stopped and when they had found the biggest puddle. The next day, the sun was out and the children joined their grandfather outside. On their walk to find the biggest puddle, they explored small puddles, a stream, a pond and finally found the sea! Along the way, their grandfather explained the water cycle with evaporation, the clouds, rain and bodies of water.

Lee combines a science lesson with a fictional picture book very successfully here. The initial story of children visiting grandparents is filled with lovely moments of play and connection. The children may be bored at times, but they also find ways to spend their time even as rain comes down all around the house. When the sun returns, the world opens up to them and their adventures becomes less imagination and more real. The facts shared about the water cycle are shown as part of their walk and a natural conversation. Dion’s illustrations are light and filled with a sense of movement and air. The gray rainy days spent inside contrast beautifully with the sunshine of the outdoor pages.

A quiet picture book about family, weather and water. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

Review: My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat

My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat

My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781250140913)

When a little girl wakes up sick, she knows that her mother is going to take great care of her with a special brand of Mommy Medicine. There are kisses and hugs, massages and tickles. Then there are special treats like ice cream, tea, hot chocolate or soup. A bubbly bath is another form of medicine and then there are board games to play too. A quiet nap is a moment of quiet and then on to singing songs, silly dances, and playing pretend. Movies watched together and seeing stars before bed end the day spent together.

Danticat uses her own family as inspiration for this picture book using the phrase that her family used, “Mommy Medicine.” The book goes through each type of maternal love that can be shown on a sick day. Each one not only cares for the sick child but also builds the mother-child relationship stronger. Danticat also shares lots of details that bring the book fully to realization with lovely moments captured on each page.

Wright’s illustrations show a mother and daughter who shine with love for one another. They delight in their time together, coming up with ideas to share. Their home and time together is filled with warmth and visible joy, even on a day of illness.

A deep and comforting look at motherly love and how it can heal. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh

Maisie's Scrapbook by Samuel Narh

Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh, illustrated by Jo Loring-Fisher (9781911373575)

Maisie is sad that she can’t play with the bull by the fence. After all, her father tells her tall tales about little girls who are heroes. As the seasons change, Maisie has characteristics that are similar to each season. She is as “relentless as spring rain.” In the summer, she sees turtles in the stars with her father and she is as bright as a summer day. Fall comes and Maisie is scared of the bull  in the field. Her parents love her in similar ways, making her food and spending time with her. She imagines that the rocking chair is a bull she can ride. In the winter, her parents play music together and Maisie is as pure as snow.

While the book follows the arc of the seasons, this picture book is less about seasons or a firm storyline and more about one little girl growing up beloved by her parents who come from different backgrounds and are of different races. The book highlights both the ways her parents are different from one another and the ways that they are the same. Love and food are very much the same while skills and languages are different. It’s a rich and personal look at a family.

The illustrations by Loring-Fisher are done in mixed media and have a feeling of collage combined with the softness of watercolors. The illustrations show the tales the Maisie’s father tells in all of the seasons, looking together into the sky to see the clouds and stars that paint the stories. From wide landscapes to intimate family scenes, this picture book invites readers to explore.

Warm, diverse and full of love, this picture book tells one little girl’s story. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lantana Publishing.

 

Review: Loving Hands by Tony Johnston

loving hands by tony johnston

Loving Hands by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Amy June Bates (9780763679934)

This tender and moving picture book looks at the connection between parent and child from babyhood all the way through adulthood and old age. The book begins with pregnancy and birth, then moves on to the activities of toddlers and childhood like pat-a-cake and skinned knees. The book moves on to baking together, star gazing, and gardening. Full of simple pleasures, the child becomes an adult who visits home now and again. Until he returns to care for his mother and they watch the stars once again together.

First, I must tell you that the mother does not die at the end of the book. So the book stays hopeful and filled with warmth all the way through. The focus on hands is lovely, connecting the two of them through their activities and their loving touches. Johnston’s writing is superb, lifting the book up to something splendid and special. The verse in the book has a repeating rhythm and near rhymes that create beautiful moments on each page.

The artwork by Bates exudes warmth on the page. The characters are lit from within by their connection and love for one another. Each image captures that connection through body language and expressions.

A lovely book for mothers and children alike. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (9780062852571)

Amelia is stuck at home during spring break while her best friend is off in France, probably forgetting all about Amelia. Amelia spends her time with Mrs. O’Brien, the neighbor who has helped care for her for most of her life. She also goes to the local art studio in her Madison, Wisconsin neighborhood and works on her pottery. When she is there one day, she meets Casey, a boy who is trying to rescue his parents’ marriage without much success. As Amelia and Casey start to become friends with a shared sense of humor and love of art, they notice a woman hanging around the area who looks a lot like Amelia, but Amelia’s mother died ten years ago. Is she a ghost? Has Amelia’s entire life been a lie? The two set out to discover the truth.

Henkes’ excels at both novels for children and picture books. His novels are like small gems. His writing is focused and lovely, exploring the intense emotions of childhood without mocking them at all. Instead, he endows them with a deep understanding and empathy, demonstrating how small untruths can turn larger in unexpected ways. Henkes looks closely at young artists in this book, exploring how art can convey emotions, serve as a release, and connect people to one another.

Amelia is a detailed character, a girl who is lonely in a very deep way. With a dead mother and a distant father, she is close to her babysitter, but missing her friends too. Casey is feeling a sorrow and grief for his parents’ dissolving marriage. Both children have a powerlessness to them as well that turns into action as they work together to solve who the unknown woman actually is. A warning, this is not a mystery story but instead a more quiet character study.

Henkes once again stuns with his deep connection to his characters and his skill as a writer. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Review: Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel

hands up! by breanna j. mcdaniel

Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (9780525552314)

A police phrase is turned into something much more positive in this picture book. Starting with being a small baby and lifting her hands to play peek-a-boo, an African-American girl grows up on these pages. Along the way, she raises her hands for all sorts of positive reasons like getting dressed, reaching high, and doing her hair. She takes action with her hands up: getting books from a shelf, dancing, playing basketball, and worshiping. The book ends with the girl joining her family in a protest march.

McDaniel has written a book about the joy of life, the small and big things, and the important aspects of a life well lived. It is a book about not living in fear and not being seen as a problem because of the color of your skin. It is a book that reads as a celebration and its own protest against racism and prejudice.

The illustrations by Evans are so bright they almost blind. Pages are filled with sunshine and lemon yellows. He uses textures for clothing that make the book more tactile and organic. Throughout, he depicts a loving multi-generational African-American family.

Powerful and standing in its truth, this book is exactly what is needed right now. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.

Review: Bloom by Kevin Panetta

Bloom by Kevin Panetta

Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau (9781626726413)

A sweet combination of romance and baking rises to perfection in this graphic novel for teens. All Ari wants to do is leave their small town and move to the big city with his band. Unfortunately, he has to stay and help with his family’s bakery which is struggling financially. Then Ari comes up with a plan, to hire someone else to help in the bakery so that he is free to leave. That’s when Hector enters his life, a big calm guy who loves to bake just as much as Ari hates it. The two of them slowly becomes friends with romance hanging in the air, and that’s when Ari ruins it all.

We need so many more books for teens that focus on life after high school, particularly ones where the characters don’t have any real plans of what to do and aren’t headed for college. The story line here is beautifully laid out, creating a real connection between the two main characters that builds and grows. Then comes the devastating choice that Ari makes to blame Hector for an accident that they were both involved in. Panetta again allows the story to have a lovely natural pace even in this disaster, giving the reader pause about whether this is going to be a love story or not.

The art by Ganucheau is exceptional. The two characters are drawn with an eye for reality but also romance. They could not be more different with Ari light and rather dreamy and Hector a more anchoring and settled figure even in their depictions on the page. The baking scenes as they two work together are the epitome of romantic scenes, showing their connection to one another long before it fully emerges in the story.

A great LGBT graphic novel filled with romance and treats. Appropriate for ages 15-20.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

Review: The Goose Egg by Liz Wong

The Goose Egg by Liz Wong

The Goose Egg by Liz Wong (9780553511574)

Henrietta is an elephant who loved quiet. Most of all, she loved the lake and sinking below its surface into silence. She would get lost in her thoughts and just swim. But one day, she got too lost in her head and she banged it on a pole! She went home and discovered that she had a big lump, a goose egg, on her head. She bandaged the bump and stayed quiet until something on her head hatched open! She reached up and found a gosling. She tried taking the baby goose back to her nest, but the mother goose never returned. So now quiet Henrietta had a very noisy gosling to take care of. Goose got louder as she grew bigger. By then, Henrietta realized that she needed to teach Goose to be a goose. So she taught her how to look for food, how to swim behind, how to flap her wings and more. Eventually, it was time for Goose to fly south. Henrietta was able to return to her quiet life again, but it wasn’t the same. Henrietta dreamed of Goose’s honking and longed to hear it again, until one day she did!

Wong takes a one-liner joke about a goose egg on the head being a real goose’s egg and turns it into a completely charming picture book. Readers who enjoy a bit of quiet will find a kindred spirit in Henrietta while those who enjoy a more raucous life will relate to Goose. The pair of them are opposites and manage to teach one another things along the way. The book has a gentle tone, allowing the story to unwind before the reader at its own pace.

Wong’s illustrations are done on a white background that nicely frames the drama of the bumped head, the goose egg and then the hatching. The images have subtle coloring until Goose appears in his bright yellow feathers, showing visually how he change Henrietta’s life. The illustrations take on a vaudeville humor as Goose and Henrietta interact. Then Henrietta’s solution for teaching Goose is a lovely visual as well.

A sweet and gentle tale of adoption, letting go and returning home. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf.

Review:The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar (9781338283372)

Celi loves to dance, especially when her best friend is drumming. She’s danced since she was a toddler, but now everything else seems to be changing. Her body is changing into a woman’s body. She has a crush on a boy. She has to figure out how to support her best friend being genderfluid. Meanwhile, her mother is pressuring her to have a moon ceremony when Celi gets her first period. Celi can’t imagine anything more embarrassing. Celi has some difficult decisions to make, and she makes mistakes along the way. As Celi pushes people she loves most away, she will need to figure out how to be the person she wants to be before she loses her best friend forever.

Written in verse, this novel is dazzling. Salazar combines themes of feminism, connection to one’s culture, self expression, and gender fluidity into one amazing novel. Her verse is well written and just right for young readers without being overly simplistic. Comparisons to Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret are apt with its focus on menstruation and growing up as a young girl.

Celi is a marvelous character. She is a character who makes mistakes that are bad enough that readers will get angry at her as she makes certain decisions in the novel. Still, she is always likable and the book shows the flawed reasons she has for making the choices she does. Celi’s connection to her mother is strained in most of the novel and one of the most important parts of the novel is when they finally start communicating and working together.

A great verse novel for middle grade readers that takes classic themes and makes them fresh again. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.