Review: Hush Little Bunny by David Ezra Stein

Hush Little Bunny by David Ezra Stein

Hush Little Bunny by David Ezra Stein (9780062845221)

Caldecott Honor-winner Stein has rewritten the classic song of Hush Little Baby into a rabbit-filled delight. A papa bunny spends a day with his little bunny, experiencing a day in spring just as the snow is disappearing. The two of them explore the meadow together, running under the big blue sky. They munch on clover, hide from a hawk, and then return to play in the sun. In the afternoon, the little bunny plays with other young bunnies and papa bunny intervenes when someone is mean. As the day comes to a close, they watch fireflies and rejoice in spending time together.

The book follows the phrasing and structure of the original song, which will inspire singing along when sharing this one aloud. There is such a sense of joy throughout this book about the warming weather, the beauty of spring and the pleasure of being with someone you love and who loves you. The illustrations echo that spirit with their playful nature. The watercolors are filled with the greens of spring and the gold of the sun.

Another winner for Stein, this one is just right for springtime reading. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

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: Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

pay attention, carter jones by gary d. schmidt

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt (9780544790858)

Carter’s family is a bit of a mess. On their first day of school, there are lunches to pack, socks to find, ribbons to tie, and dog vomit to clean up. So when an English butler appears on the doorstep just as Carter is heading out to buy milk, it solves a lot of immediate problems. Still, there are other issues that Carter is still grappling with, including grief and loss. As the story continues, readers learn more about the darkness in Carter’s family and his role as the oldest to be strong for everyone. As Carter matches wits with the butler who seeks to control all of Carter’s free time, the two become a team and along the way start a cricket league at Carter’s new school. As the past becomes too much for Carter to bear alone, he learns about the power of sports, teams and a good butler.

Schmidt takes the spirit of Nanny McPhee and Mary Poppins and gives us a male version in Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick. The book demands a certain amount of setting aside of disbelief for things like cricket being embraced by an entire middle school and a twelve-year-old driving a car. It is mix of lighthearted storytelling and deeper subjects, moving from eliciting laughter into moments of real tragedy with skill. Readers may not fully understand cricket by the end, but will know what a sticky wicket actually is and how the basics work.

Carter is a protagonist who is dealing with a lot. As the book progresses, he learns how vital he is for his little sisters and how his interacting in their lives is powerful. He steadily builds confidence as the story continues with the final scenes fully demonstrating not only his person growth but also the depth of his struggles. As the tragedies of his family are revealed, readers will be amazed that Carter continues on as he does despite it all. He is a figure of resilience and humor.

Another winner from a master storyteller, this novel for middle graders introduces cricket and one amazing butler. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Clarion Books.

 

Review: Mallko and Dad by Gusti

Mallko and Dad by Gusti

Mallko and Dad by Gusti (9781592702596)

This autobiographical picture book takes a raw and impassioned look at fatherhood and unconditional love. It is the story of the author and his son who was born with Down Syndrome. Mallko was not what his father was expecting, and Gusti did not accept his son at first. Steadily though, he quickly realized that Mallko was complete and fine as he was. Mallko’s mother and older brother accepted him much faster, showing Gusti the way forward. The book explores Mallko, his humor and his life. His art is shown side-by-side with his father’s on the pages. This is a book that is a clarion call for parents to realize that their children don’t need to change to be loved, they are worthy of it always.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this book is Gusti’s willingness to be this open about his hesitation of having a child who is different than he was expecting. Gusti does not try to rationalize his response or make apologies for it. It is clear he is pained by how he first reacted and is making up for those days of doubt. The rest of the book simply celebrates Mallko and exactly who he is. He is captured in a rainbow of images, cartoons capturing his activities, playing with his family, and simply being a child. It is a breathtaking display of love and feels like Gusti put his heart on every page.

An incredible book that is a picture book, but as thick as a novel thanks to the quantity of images crammed inside waiting to inspire you to love. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.

 

 

Review: You See, I See in the City by Michelle Sinclair Colman

You See, I See in the City by Michelle Sinclair Colman

You See, I See in the City by Michelle Sinclair Colman, illustrated by Paul Schmid (9781524715007)

A father and daughter travel the city together in this board book. They move quickly and enter the city together, noticing the skyscrapers and the newspapers. There are bakeries and fire hydrants, snacks and dogs. Even when the pair look at the same thing, they notice different aspects of it. There are men working in hard hats, but the little girl sees the steam rising in clouds. The pair stop to eat and play in their favorite cafe and finally take the subway together back home.

Told in a very simple rhyming lines, this board book invites young readers to take a look around themselves and notice small things. The father and daughter are engaged with one another throughout the book, laughing and playing with one another. The urban setting is a welcome one in board books as is the family of color. I also appreciate seeing a father shown as the sole caregiver for a small child.

A winning board book full of urban sights. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.

Review: Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein (9780763688424)

This is the sequel to the Caldecott Honor winner that returns us to the silliness of the first. The little red chicken has homework to do. At school, he learned all about the “elephant of surprise” and how it appears in every story. Papa tries to correct his little chicken, but as they share stories the element of surprise is at play. Who knew that even Ugly Duckling, Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid have a shocking surprise for Papa too? Spend some more time with these two chickens in a book that celebrates surprises and shared stories.

Stein’s second story about this little chicken family has the same warmth as the first. There is a wonderful coziness about Papa and the little chicken and the home they share. At the same time, it has a dazzling sense of humor that children will adore with truly laugh-out-loud moments of surprise and elephants.

The art continues the feel of the first book in the series with a home filled with small touches and rich colors. The stories the two share are drawn in ink and have an old-fashioned feel to them. But then the blue elephant of surprise will break through and bring color into those books.

Full of surprises and joy, this picture book is a worthy follow up to the first. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

Review: Night Job by Karen Hesse

Night Job by Karen Hesse

Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780763662387)

Released on September 11, 2018.

On Friday nights, a little boy goes with his father to work. They leave after dark on his father’s motorcycle, head across the bridge, and enter the closed school. His father has a big ring of keys to open the door. They clean the gym first, while the little boy plays basketball. They bring a radio with them from room to room, listening to baseball games. At ten at night, they eat the lunch they brought with them. While his father cleans the library, the boy falls asleep reading on the couch. His father wakes him at four in the morning to head back home, across the bridge. The two fall asleep together curled in the big recliner.

Newbery Medal winner Hesse captures the wonder of going to work with a parent and brings in the beauty of being out at night as well. Along the way, the work of a parent who has a night job is honored. As a child of a teacher, I enjoyed the empty hallways of a school closed for the weekend or summer. It’s a beautiful thing to have those areas be silent and just for you. That feeling is shown here clearly, as the boy makes the spaces his own.

The connection between father and son is a focus of the story and the illustrations. The pictures by Karas are done in his signature style and use darkness and light cleverly. The father and son are shown as a pair throughout the book, highlighting their special time together whether in the bright gym or on the dark road.

A quiet book about jobs, connections and families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee (9781481476560)

Will has discovered that walking the streets of Los Angeles helps him stop thinking about the tragedies in his life. After his father’s suicide, he is trying to find a new rhythm to his life and it seems to be filled with long walks, ones that keep him from being at home too much or visiting the places he went with his father. When Will is home, he works to perfect his father’s cornbread recipe, but nothing seems to improve it at all. Then there is the other thing that he is avoiding, his best friend Playa was raped at a party. Will has no idea how to help her or make it better. So he takes his job at the Dollar Store and turns it into a way to reach out into the world and make connections with Playa and others. Small acts of kindness that allow him to break through the walls he has placed around himself, if he dares.

This book is steeped in sadness to profound that you almost expect your skin to come away tinted with blue. McGhee captures those traumas that are so deep that one cannot deal in a normal way, but only manage to escape in whatever way is possible. In the middle of this sadness is the amazing character of Will, a boy searching for connections while refusing to see those right in front of him. A boy who sees moments of awe and humanity in people that almost bring him to his knees. McGhee shows us all of these with a tenderness that honors his pain and also brings hope.

The writing here is beautiful. Written in small bite-sized pieces accompanied by calligraphy on the opposite page done in gentle grays, these small moments are magnified and made into important life events, as they are. And yet, the importance is an everyday one, a day-by-day one. That is the hope here.

Tender, profound and tragic, this book for teens is cathartic and hopeful. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

3 New Picture Books with City Settings

Bus! Stop By James Yang

Bus! Stop! By James Yang (9780425288771)

When a boy misses his bus, he finds himself in a city filled with strange vehicles that are certainly not his bus. One bus is too tall and the passengers have to use their propeller hats to board it. The next is pulled by horses and shaped like a covered wagon, just right for the people in cowboy hats who climb aboard. When people wearing sailor suits arrive next, readers can guess the ship is about to arrive. There is another bus that bounces passengers high. The boy catches the next bus, even though it isn’t his either. It floats high above, away from the little girl who just missed the bus.

Told in very simple lines of text that are shown as speech bubbles, this picture book is all about the illustrations. With a modern edge, they have a playful feel thanks to their bright colors and the wild sorts of transportation shown on the pages. The matching of passengers to each conveyance is particularly skillful and will have children guessing what sort of “bus” is about to arrive on the next page. Humorous and jolly, stop for this book! Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Daddy, Me and the Magic Hour by Laura Krauss Melmed

Daddy, Me and the Magic Hour by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Sarita Rich (9781510707917)

When the family arrives home, Daddy starts cooking while Mommy feeds the baby. After supper, the little boy heads outside with his father for Magic Hour, their after supper walk. They greet a neighbor watering her roses. Meet dogs out for a walk, run a bit, find sticks and feathers. They play at the quiet playground that they have all to themselves. On their way home, the crickets start to chirp, they catch fireflies and release them. The daylight disappears and they walk home in the moonlight.

A book about the specialness of time spent together, this picture book celebrates quiet moments that string together to make a childhood. The text is jolly and short, the images telling parts of the story that are not put into words. The illustrations use comic-like framing to show each moment and connection in a special way. Along the walk the little boy steadily fills his bucket with memories, each tangible and solid. A delight of a bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

In the Darkness of the Night by Emily Rand

In the Darkness of the Night by Emily Rand (9781849764810)

This book invites children to think about what happens after they head to bed at night. In the deep blue darkness of the city, windows are lit. Dishes are being washed, car doors slam as people arrive home again. Some people are still out, the trains are running through the night. Sirens sound, mothers are up with babies, some people work at night too. City foxes begin to explore, airplanes land. And morning comes with garbage pick up, mail being delivered, and the cat returning home again.

There is a wonderful mix of sleepiness and activity in this book. Told in rhyme, the book really works thanks to its rocking structure and its inherent quietness. Throughout, readers get to peek into windows of the city both ones that are lit and those that are dark. It’s a clever way to invite readers to explore the images that support the story so well. Deep blue throughout, this book is a city lullaby worth sharing. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from copy provided by Tate Publishing.)