3 New Picture Books Featuring Families

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (9781481469111)

The creator of Not Quite Narwhal returns with a new book. Harriet loved to dress up all the time, so of course her birthday party was a dress-up one. When her fathers tell her that they need to pick up some more supplies, she dresses in her penguin “errand-running” costume. At the store, she leaves her fathers at the deli counter and heads off to find party hats, but instead discovers a group of penguins buying ice. Soon she has been carried off with them and up into their hot air balloons, traveling back home. Harried tried and tried to get home, but nothing worked until a kind whale agreed to carry her back in exchange for her bow tie. With the help of even more friends, this time feathered ones, Harriet is back before her fathers even miss her.

Sima captures the anticipation of a birthday party in this picture book that then takes a wild twist. When her parents tell her not to “get carried away,” it is clear that Harriet isn’t really capable of not being entirely herself. The book has a wonderful pace to it, increased at times with the use of panels that offset the full page illustrations. There is attention to diversity in the characters and the book also features gay fathers, something that is treated so matter-of-factly that it is delightful. A great read for birthdays or any day. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall (9780316362382)

This is the story of a lighthouse and its dedicated keeper. When the keeper first arrives at the lighthouse, he is all alone, making meals for one, painting the rooms and dreaming of someone. Then his wife arrives and the two of them care for the lighthouse together. They rescue people from a shipwreck together. When the keeper falls ill, it is up to his wife to not only care for the lighthouse but for him too. Then when she is pregnant and in labor, it is his turn to care for both of them. They make a life together with the sea and the beacon they care for. But eventually modernization comes and they are replaced with technology. Still, they don’t more far from the sea and their light.

From the initial page one knows that this is a special book. The dappled sea stretches from greens to seashell pink as it crosses the page. Other pages are filled with the drama of dark storms with their white capped waves. There is the stillness of fog, the beauty of darkness broken by the light. Each page is different and new. Blackall captures the quiet of life in a lighthouse, the spiral staircase, the duty and care, the wonder of the sea. This is a quiet yet dramatic book, exquisitely written and illustrated. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Mommy_s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins- Bigelow

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins- Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (9781534400597)

A little girl watches her mother put on her khimar, her flowing headscarf. Her mother has so many of them, all colors and patterns. The little girl loves to play with them, twirling around and imagining that she is a queen. She pretends she’s a superhero, a bird or a shooting star when she wears her favorite bright yellow one. She sometimes wears the khimar to see family or to go to the mosque. At night, she has to take off the khimar, but she still dreams about it and how it connects her to her mother.

This lovely picture book beautifully ties a child’s playful imagination to wearing a hijab or khimar. It’s a book that embraces the tradition of wearing a headscarf, showing that it is normal, beautiful and part of being her family. Throughout the book, the illustrations are bright colored and shine. The loving relationship between mother and daughter is highlighted on most of the pages too. A winning picture book of Muslim American life. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.)

Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (9781328778239)

Mara and her twin brother Owen have always been close. But when Owen gets drunk at a party and is accused of rape by his girlfriend Hannah, Mara is horrified. Though she doesn’t want to believe it, Mara sees signs that her brother isn’t telling the truth. Meanwhile Mara is dealing with Charlie, her ex-girlfriend, who seems to have quickly found a new girlfriend. Mara starts to find comfort with Owen’s best friend, Alex. At the same time, Mara is facing her own secrets about sexual assault and must decide who to trust with something she has never told anyone about for three years. As all of this collides in Mara’s life, she emerges as a fierce survivor but not before the book takes a deep look at perpetrators, lies and victim blaming.

Blake writes with a searing voice in this book. Some passages blaze on the page, ripping right through the reader with their honesty and their cry for justice. In other parts, the truth is just as present but is filled with grief and loss, a haunted realization that things will not be the same. Throughout though, there is the power of female friendships, of young women standing together and standing up for one another. It will never be enough to erase the trauma of rape, but it is enough to speak for hope and a future beyond the assault.

Blake beautifully portrays a bisexual protagonist who clearly is attracted to both men and women. Mara does not wear bisexuality as a label or as a token gesture, instead it is part of the heart of the book. Mara’s ex-girlfriend Charlie is genderqueer and exploring what that means in terms of pronouns and coming out to her parents. Charlie is a great genderqueer character, beautifully blending both genders at times, at others angry at her voice, and still others feeling like nothing fits. At the same time, she is Mara’s anchor and rock, the safe place that Mara returns to as chaos envelopes her.

Fierce and angry, this novel about sexual assault and the power of survivors. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (9780062499684)

Released May 15, 2018.

Newbery-Medal winner Perkins returns with a charming story of a summer vacation on the beach. Alix and Jools are heading out with their parents for their first beach vacation ever. It means leaving Alix’s best friend behind as well as their dog for a whole week. Both Alix and Jools are nervous about the trip, but they soon discover the many pleasures of being on a beach: sandcastles, long walks on the shore, bike rides, a local bakery, and maybe even a new friend. There are also surprises for them like eating periwinkles they gather themselves, seeing horseshoe crabs, and making a connection with a wounded falcon. It’s a week they will never forget and one that they hope to repeat again.

Perkins writes with a light hand for young readers. There is a sense of adventure on the pages and yet the discoveries and experiences are wonderfully mundane and things that children might experience themselves. The two sisters are quite different with Alix being a person who jumps in and tries things and Jools being more mature about things and less likely to take risks. As their vacation week progresses, they both learn that the other sister wishes they had some of the same qualities.

The art in the book breaks the text up nicely for young readers and also invites the reader to better understand what is happening the story. From horseshoe crabs to the landlady to releasing a falcon, the images are sand-filled and merry.

A great summer read for younger readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.

The Place Between Breaths by An Na

The Place Between Breaths by An Na

The Place Between Breaths by An Na (9781481422253)

Grace lives a quiet life at home with her father as he searches out the best scientists in the world to find the gene that controls schizophrenia, the mental illness that stole Grace’s mother from them. In a series of flashbacks, Grace’s life is laid out. From her work as an intern at her father’s workplace to her connection with a young researcher to her best friend’s struggle with an unexpected pregnancy. Grace is systematic and has routines that govern her life. She is definitely not her mother. But as her life starts to twist and change, Grace must face the truth about what is happening.

This book is nearly impossible to talk about without spoilers and a large part of what makes this book so successful is the journey of realization that the reader takes along with Grace. The book is multilayered and complex, each chapter taking place in a season, but the seasons are not necessarily in the same years at all. There are flashbacks, chapters that are surreal, others that are frighteningly strange and still others that offer sudden clarity about what is happening. It is a book designed to confuse and reveal, a dance of dizziness that is all-encompassing.

It is the writing here that shines, moments on the page become incredibly meaningful and it’s a book that will have readers turning back to previous chapters to read them in the light of what was just discovered. It’s a puzzle of a book, a deep look at the chaos of mental illness and a profound experience to read.

Masterfully written, this is a harrowing depiction of mental illness in a family. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (9780316515467)

Ivy’s family is displaced from their home when it is destroyed by a tornado. Ivy manages to save her pillow and her book of drawings, which have pictures of girls holding hands and looking into one another’s eyes. But at the emergency shelter at the school, she loses her drawings. Her family moves into a room at a Bed and Breakfast, but there are six of them in that single room and there seems to be no room for Ivy with her busy older sister and infant twin brothers. Then at school, someone starts to return her drawings to her one-by-one in her locker. Could it be June, the girl that Ivy has a crush on? Or maybe her best friend’s boyfriend who has talked to Ivy about her art? The drawings come with notes encouraging Ivy to talk to someone about her feelings, but will Ivy have the courage to do that?

Blake has created a middle-grade book that is warm and beautifully supportive. She shows being gay as just a piece of who Ivy is and twists her feelings about her sexuality up with how she fits in her family in general and the struggles of middle school friendships. Using Ivy’s art as a platform for her self expression works very well, and her artistic vision is presented as the way she sees the world as a whole.

Ivy’s complicated relationship with her family is presented with honesty, showing a family struggling to handle the loss of their home, young babies, busy lives and still manage to care for everyone. Ivy is shown as a creative and thoughtful character who struggles with telling people the truth, not just about her sexuality but also about her feelings in general.

A strong middle-grade novel about sexuality, families and friendship. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 New Picture Books that Embrace Families

Hooked by Tommy Greenwald

Hooked by Tommy Greenwald, illustrated by David McPhail (9781596439962)

A young boy loves to spend his time fishing, but his father doesn’t want to join him in this picture book. Joe loves to fish, but his father just doesn’t understand the appeal and won’t participate. So Joe joins the local fishing club and they fish all over the area in different bodies of water. The in the winter, the club decides to do ice fishing and every kid will need an adult along. Joe is worried that his father will refuse again, but instead he agrees to do it just once. When the two of them get to the frozen lake, nothing much happens at first. Then they start to talk and talk together and suddenly Joe’s father understands.

This is a lovely quiet book, one that celebrates the silence and beauty of fishing and also the way that quiet hobbies can create opportunities for deep connection with others. Children not interested in fishing will still recognize the way that parents sometimes duck out of games and hobbies that they find unappealing. The illustrations are classic McPhail filled with luminous glowing light and a playful sense of storytelling. A great pick for fishing story times or for a quiet evening of stories together. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson (9781936932009)

This picture book talks about how different mothers love their children. The text is simple and straightforward but the examples are what makes this book stand out. Mothers use their bodies to care, like breastfeeding their babies. Mothers protest for better worlds for their babies. Some mothers stay home with their children while others work. Some mothers clean houses, others watch other people’s children, others work in government, others work in the fields. Some mothers wear uniforms and some dance for a living. All mothers, no matter what they do for a living, love their children.

The inclusion of mothers who may have to dance for a living is what makes this book so special. That combines with an acceptance of all lifestyles, of all races and religions in the illustrations of the book. The women come in all sizes and colors in the vintage-style collages throughout the book. There is an acceptance of everyone here that is hard to find in children’s books and makes this one for all libraries to own. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Feminist Press.)

On the Other Side of the Garden by Jairo Buitrago

On the Other Side of the Garden by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yonkteng (9781554989836)

The author and illustrator of Walk with Me and Two White Rabbits return with a picture book that is immediately immersive. A little girl gets dropped off at her grandmother’s house by her father. When she wakes up in the night, there are three animals looking in at her through the window: an owl, a mouse and a frog. They seem friendly, so she opens the window for them. Soon they are inviting her out into the garden, her feet touching grass for the first time in a long time since she lived in the city. As they escape the house, the moon shines white on the page and lights their way. They explore the nearby creek, a hill that lets them look back at the house, and fields. The little girl starts to open up about why she is there at her grandmother’s house, a grandmother she barely knows. She returns back to the house just as the sun comes up, where her grandmother is waiting for her.

There is such beauty in this book. The tone of the text is wistful and wondering, inviting the reader along on the adventure. It is a journey of opening up, of finding new friends who warm you when the wind blows and who surprise and delight you. It is a book of knowing the truth but not being quite ready to face it yet. The illustrations are a play of dark and light. They fill the pages right to the edge, deep blue and full of nature and movement. They are stunningly lovely, unique and emotional. A very special book that is soulful and moving. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (9780553535327)

Ami has grown up on Culion, an island in the Philippines filled with people who have leprosy, like Ami’s mother. Ami loves her home, the others who live there with her, the kind nun who helps everyone out. But then things change and new government rules are implemented. Ami and her mother must be tested to see if Ami is also “Touched” with the infection. When Ami is declared to be free of leprosy, she is taken with the other children to a neighboring island and placed in an orphanage. Watched over by a cruel man who is terrified of disease and by extension hates the children from Culion, Ami slowly makes new friends, longing for news from home. After finding a letter withheld from her, Ami makes a desperate journey to see her mother once more.

Using butterflies as a beautiful metaphor throughout the book, one of strength and fragility, Hargrave has crafted a book that looks past the surface level of leprosy and deeply at the people who suffer from the infection and those who love them. Throughout the book, butterflies emerge from cocoons, appear suddenly and inspire those who see them, die at the hands of a collector, and eventually form a way of life. There is a resilience throughout this novel, a tale of overcoming not leprosy but expectations and limitations of all sorts.

The setting of Culion and the Philippines is brought lushly to life on the pages. From journeys through the jungle with its fruits, fish and streams to the coral reefs that tear at boats to the colony itself, each place is drawn with care. The setting is evoked through sounds, scents and sight.

A complex book that takes a deep look at grief, loss, courage and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

3 New Picture Books with Everyday Heroes

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

This is one delightful graphic novel picture book that is almost wordless, making it a great pick as an early graphic novel experience for little children. When Grace is told that the class will contribute to a fund to get their class pet, Gus, a new friend, she decides that she has to help. She heads home through an urban landscape, filled with nods to iconic New York people. Once her fathers are asleep, she heads out into the nighttime city and in one scene after another raises money uses her special talents, each of which is a nod to the vibrancy of arts in urban settings.

Lovers of New York and classic cartoons will have lots to spot in the illustrations. Even children who don’t know the references though will get the feeling of New York and its vibrancy from this graphic novel. The use of images to primarily tell the story invites children to fill in the tale themselves and makes the book all the more engaging and uplifting. An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Islandborn by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (9780735229860)

When Ms. Obi told Lola’s class that their assignment is to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, Lola is very worried. She doesn’t remember the Island at all, since her family left when she was only a baby. Ms. Obi suggests that Lola talk to others who might remember more. Soon Lola is speaking to lots of people in her neighborhood from the Island and they each have a favorite memory. For some it is the music, for others it’s the colorful homes, others miss the fruit. When Lola asks Mr. Mir about what he most remembers, he is gruff and won’t answer. Lola’s grandmother though wants Lola to try to ask him again, since Mr. Mir knows so much about the Island. What Mr. Mir tells Lola though is about a monster that came to the Island and was turned back only when heroes stood up to the darkness. It’s a history that Lola has never heard before, but is proud to include in her drawings of the place she was born.

Diaz’s text is rich and invites readers into visualizing the Island for themselves with its lush foliage, colorful homes, beautiful beaches and much more. The book depicts an urban neighborhood filled with echoes of the Island, a community built from the heroes who fought back. The illustrations are bright and cheery, filled with Lola’s imaginative take on what she is being told. Children may need more explanation about “the monster” if they are interested, but this book firmly celebrates resistance and standing up to those who would take your rights. Timely and important, this picture book celebrates where children came from and what it took to survive. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.)

Teddy_s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine (9781481480796)

Teddy has lots of toys he likes, but only one favorite one: Bren-Da, the Warrior Queen of Pacifica. They have tea parties together and she has great manners. They fight battles together and she does a wonderful kick. She can dress up in different styles. But then one day, when Teddy is playing with her, Bren-Da’s leg snaps off. Teddy tries to fix her, but has to leave for school and he keeps her wrapped up in bandages until he can return. Unfortunately, Teddy’s mom cleans up his room and accidentally throws Bren-Da out with the trash. What can they do? It’s up to Teddy’s mom to become a Warrior Queen herself.

There are several book out there about children playing with toys that may be seen as unusual for their gender. This one though has a great twist and really is about far more than just playing with a doll as a little boy. Instead it’s also about heroism, favorite toys and the ability of a mom to become a hero. The book is told simply but without any bit of didacticism. The illustrations are bright and friendly, offering great moments of play that are then mirrored by the rescue mission. A great picture book that breaks gender stereotypes in more than one way. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)

The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond

The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond

The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond, illustrated by Alex T. Smith (9780763695637)

When Bert, a bus driver, finds a tiny angel in his shirt pocket, he takes the little angel home with him. His wife Betty makes the angel some food, he mostly likes sweets, and then a bed in a box. They name him Angelino. She takes him with her to her job at a school the next day where Angelino discovers that he can talk and even fly! But some others have also seen him and soon they have created a plan to kidnap Angelino and sell him to the highest bidder. Along the way Angelino has made some friends, so they set out to save him even though they have no idea where he might be. It may just take a miracle to rescue their little angel.

Almond uses such a playful tone in this book! He makes jokes along the way, including the names of the various noxious adults that appear in the book. There is a Professor Smellie and a Mrs. Mole. Rather hard to take them seriously at all with those names. Even the other evil characters turn out to be a lot less dangerous than they seem at first. The book has a great fast pace and never lingers long in any one place before merrily swooping onward. The illustrations by Smith add to the lightness and humor.

Clever disguises, children lost and newly found, and one central angel make this a book that is great fun to read. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.