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 Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner\

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner (9781626723313, Amazon)

Fox is always trying to sneak into the henhouse at the farm and steal a chicken. He’s so hungry, and so very tired of the turnips that the pig provides him after every defeat. No one on the farm is scared of him, particularly the chickens themselves. Fox turns to Wolf to get some tips on being more frightening and getting chickens. Wolf comes up with a plan to steal some eggs from the chickens and hatch their own meals. But Fox gets a lot more than he bargained for when three little chicks hatch from the eggs and suddenly think that Fox is their mother!

This graphic novel is exceptional. Renner uses perfect comedic timing throughout the book. He melds slapstick comedy with real heart throughout the book and gives readers a villainous but incompetent Fox that they can root for. Readers will adore the rabid little chicks who consider themselves foxes rather than chickens. It’s the Wolf that continues to be a shadowy dark force and one that will eventually have to be dealt with.

Renner’s illustrations are done in watercolor and don’t use traditional comic book framing or speech bubbles. Instead he keeps them very simple, using lines to show who is speaking and open spaces to convey a sense of framing each image. The illustrations are energetic and funny as well with the expressions on even the tiny chick’s faces easily understood.

A great pick for children’s graphic novels, this one is very special. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780763674991, Amazon)

All you need to create a farm anywhere is soil, sunshine, water, and a seed. Which means you can make a farm just about anywhere! The book shows children and adults working together to make a garden in an empty lot. They find things in the garbage to use as pots and places for soil. The book also shows the kind of insects and animals that you might find in an urban garden, including neighbors who are excited by the green changes.

Root writes with a lovely warm tone, inviting readers along on this gardening adventure. The use of an urban setting is great to see in a picture book, especially showing children the creation of the space from the empty lot into a green center of activity. Root uses repetition and rhymes, creating a picture book that is a joy to share aloud. There is a wonderful playful nature about the book, the garden and the bounty.

Karas always creates a delightful feel in the picture books he illustrates. The children he shows are of various races and backgrounds. He shows a vibrant urban setting, filled with activity and energy. It’s just the sort of place that feels like something could happen, and here we get to see it from the ground up, literally.

A strong addition to gardening picture books, this is a perfect read aloud for spring. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Creekfinding: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (9780816698028)

This picture book tells the true story of a lost creek that used to cross a prairie meadow. Then a farmer bulldozed dirt into the creek to create more farm land. Years later, another man purchased the field and heard from a neighbor about the creek that used to be there. He decided to try to find that creek. So he dug a creek bottom after consulting historic photographs of the land. He hoped that the water would return and it did. But a creek is more than running water and now it was up to him to bring more rocks, more plants and eventually trout in his newly rediscovered creek.

This book focuses on a compelling topic. That the land we live and farm on once used to be very different from the way it is now and that we can work to return it to its more natural state. The picture book has wonder at its center, the amazing notion that water once buried will return to a dry creek bed. It also focuses on the hard work that it took and the incredible problem solving that went into rebuilding the creek from literally the bottom up. Slowly it become reality with lots of work and patience.

The illustrations by McGehee are based directly on her visit to the land the book is about. Done on scratchboard, the illustrations have a wonderful weight to them, capturing the deep greens of the prairie, the richness of the biodiversity, and the transformation of the land.

A fascinating topic that is just right for environmental units or Earth Day, this picture book is a celebration of nature and man working together. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Moo by Sharon Creech

moo-by-sharon-creech

Moo by Sharon Creech (InfoSoup)

Reena and her little brother, Luke, move to the Maine countryside with their parents. At first they spend their summer riding their bikes around the area, loving the freedom that comes with it. But then their parents “volunteer” both of them to help out on a neighbor’s farm. Mrs. Falala is unusual to say the least. She has all sorts of animals on the farm, including a pig, a cat and a snake, but the one that she needs Reena’s help with most is Zora, a grumpy cow. Slowly, Reena gains Zora’s trust and starts to understand what she needs to be happier. Just as slowly, Luke begins to bond with Mrs. Falala as he works on his drawings alongside her. As these new friendships emerge, new opportunities arise to form connections, learn from one another, and delight in the antics of one ornery cow.

Creech uses a glorious blend of prose and poetry in this novel. The poetry takes concrete form at times but usually is free verse and flows in the way summer days do. The prose reads like poetry at times, blending the two formats even more closely together. The rural Maine setting comes alive in the book, the children experiencing it with great delight that readers will share. Creech captures the emotions of a major move and the wonders and fears of being from the city and landing firmly in farm country.

This is a book with plenty of large characters. Mrs. Falala is a wonderful character, isolated and lonely, she is by turns prickly and warm, a conundrum that also makes perfect sense. From her use of music to express emotion to her willingness to learn to draw, she is an older character with plenty to still learn and even more to share. Then there is Zora, the cow, a creature with more than enough attitude and chutzpah to carry the novel. She is very much an animal version of her owner, though she tends to use hooves and head butts to show her feelings.

A rich narrative and plenty of amazing characters, this novel in prose and verse enchants as it demonstrates the importance of connections and community. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

 

Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz

Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz

Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban (InfoSoup)

This clever update to the beloved folk song has a focus on large machinery. The book follows the structure of the original song, filled with E-I-E-I-O’s and then inserts a different type of truck or machine in each verse. The Excavator arrives first with a “DIG DIG here and a DIG DIG there.” The front loader scoops, the bulldozer pushes, the motor grader scrapes, the dump truck does a satisfying “dump thump.” Throughout the book, it is clear that they are building something with all of these machines and all is revealed when Old MacDonald and his wife appear in their truck at the end.

This book is very engagingly designed with page turns right before the reveal of the next machine in the book: “And on that farm he had a…” There is a certain delight not only in the surprise of the equipment being shown but also in the noise that that machinery is going to make in the song.

Kaban’s jaunty and modern illustrations are great to see in a farm picture book. The animals on the farm are just as involved as the humans in doing the work, changing into hard hats and racing uniforms as appropriate for each scene. There is near mayhem on most pages, adding a zing of energy to each verse.

Smart, funny and engaging, this is just right for youngsters who enjoy big machines along with a little song. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

 

What This Story Needs Is a Hush and a Shush by Emma J. Virjan

What This Story Needs Is a Hush and a Shush by Emma J Virjan

What This Story Needs Is a Hush and a Shush by Emma J. Virjan (InfoSoup)

This second book in the A Pig in a Wig series keeps up the zany silliness of the first even though it’s a bedtime story. Pig is getting ready for bed still in her wig, brushing her teeth and combing her hair. She’s all settled into bed with her teddy bear when other animals start showing up and making noise. They all climb into the bed with Pig, but soon it is too much to take and Pig shushes them all and sends them back to the barn. Soon all is silent again until the owl outside Pig’s window starts to hoot. Where will she find a quiet place to sleep?

Just as with the first book, this book is written in a jaunty and bouncy rhyme that sets a brisk pace. Despite the silliness and the rhyme though, the book does slow down at the end in a natural way, becoming downright dozy by the end. The illustrations are simple and funny, particularly when all of the animals are piled high on the bed.

A great addition to beginning reader collections, this book had just the right mix of silly and sleepy. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager (InfoSoup)

Carol is missing out on what all of her friends are doing this summer, because she has to head out with her family to the New Mexico desert and move her grandfather off of his farm and into a home for people with dementia. Carol has never really met her Grandpa Serge and tries to avoid him at first because he is so prickly and all he will talk about is a wild story about bees returning to the desert. As the summer goes ever so slowly by, Carol connects with Serge and discovers his ability to weave a great story. It’s a story that is about her grandparents, about a magical tree that granted everlasting life and about bees too. Carol begins to understand her grandfather’s connection to the dried out land and the small home just as the summer ends and they are forced to leave it behind but the story has not reached its end yet.

This magical realism book is enticingly radiant. It shimmers with desert heat, itches with dust and dirt, aches with the loss of loved ones, and dances with the voice of a great storyteller. The writing is lush and lovely with distinct tone differences between Grandpa Serge’s stories and the prose of the novel. Even that prose though is written with such poetry:

I want to tell her how Serge’s eyes glow, how they are cat’s eyes, wide as a newborn’s, ringed like an ancient tree trunk.

A large theme of the novel is connection to one’s heritage and roots. In this book about a magical tree, those roots have many meanings. Carol is urged to connect more with her Hispanic heritage and also to the land itself. She does over the course of the novel in a believable and organic way that really works well. This book is about those slow changes, about becoming yourself and honoring who you are and where you come from.

Beautiful and haunting, this novel deserves a wide audience and plenty of buzz. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

 

 

The House that Zack Built by Alison Murray

The House that Zack Built by Alison Murray

The House that Zack Built by Alison Murray (InfoSoup)

Zack built a house out of blocks outside under a tree. A fly buzzed by, the cat stalked the fly, then got more interested in the cream up high on a shelf. The dog was asleep when down fell the cream, knocked over by the cat who was still looking to catch that fly. The lambs in the field are calm and quiet, then the dog runs through still covered in cream and the sheep dash out of the field. Then Zack looks around, amazed at the mess of the farm. He jumped into action and set it all right. Then they all sat quietly and looked at the incredible house that Zack had built.

This British import is a cumulative tale that doesn’t solely stick to the traditional structure of building and building onto the length of the sentence with each new addition. Instead here it is the story itself that is the focus and the cumulative structure is used when it works and then merrily abandoned to make the storyline work better and to also make the book much more enjoyable to read. The result is a cumulative tale that will not leave you breathless or with a spinning head when shared aloud.

Murray’s art is simple and friendly. The illustrations will work well for a crowd since they are not filled with small details. Children will enjoy the cat in particular as it causes almost all of the problems that emerge.

There is a real satisfaction in this story of watching chaos happen and then having it set to rights. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.