The Second Sky by Patrick Guest, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley (9780802855206)
A little penguin wants to learn to fly, but he is more fuzz than feathers and doesn’t have very long wings. So when he tries to flap and fly, he ends up falling onto his bottom. His parents try to explain that he is a penguin and not a goose, but Gilbert won’t give up. He wants to reach the stars and fly above mountains. When Gilbert’s feathers come in, he tries some more to fly, but still can’t leave the ground. Inspired by an albatross flying above him, he heads to a cliff and jumps off. Instead of flying though, he tumbles down the side and into the sea. It is there, in the deep water, the Gilbert realizes that penguins can fly too, just in their own way.
Shortlisted for the 2018 Early Childhood Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, this picture book combines incredible illustrations with a strong story of finding your own way to reach your dreams. Gilbert is a hardy and fearless little fellow, determined to fly. The moment when he is at the top of the cliff is a huge turning point in his story and readers will be holding their breath to see what happens. The result is exceptionally satisfying.
Bentley’s illustrations are lovely. They capture the vistas of the frozen landscape, have the solid black figures of the other penguins. Yet they also soften around Gilbert and his fuzz, showing a rotund little penguin with big dreams. That softness plays nicely against the ice and snow. When Gilbert enters the water and the pages fill with blues and greens, the colors seem even more intense and vivid.
A little penguin with big dreams whose story is worth reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Dream Flights on Arctic Nights by Brooke Hartman, illustrated by Evon Zerbetz (9781513261898)
An Alaska-themed bedtime story, this picture book matches gorgeous illustrations with rhyming verse. A boy makes a nighttime wish that he could fly and a raven appears at his window, ready to carry him away. The boy climbs on his back and they fly together, seeing all sorts of Alaskan wildlife along the way, such as wolves, ptarmigan, bears, and sea lions. For awhile, the boy flies on his own near eagles, then a snowy owl takes him even further on his journey. The northern lights appear in the sky, and the boy floats with the colors and the stars. Then the raven returns to fly him back to bed just as dawn begins to break.
Hartman’s poetry is rhyming and gentle. She takes readers on a beautiful journey through her native state, allowing them to see the incredible animals and natural features that make Alaska so special. Throughout, the child is enjoying his flight and in control of his journey through the sky. There is a sense of thrill and joy as he makes his way.
The art in the book is exceptional. Done in linocuts, the illustrations are dramatic and very effective. With the darkest of black backgrounds, the stars, animals and northern lights shine like lanterns on the page. The images have a feel of mythology and honor nature.
A unique look at Alaskan wildlife and nature. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares (9780763677329, Amazon)
This picture book biography tells the story of Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to fly on her own. In the 18th century, France was filled with “balloonmania.” Every balloonist was male and they were breaking records. Meanwhile, a girl was growing up by the seaside and dreaming of flight. When she met the famous balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the two realized they had a shared passion for flight. They were soon married and started flying together. After two shared flights, Sophie went up alone and became the first woman to fly a balloon solo. Her husband died from a heart attack and fall from a balloon and Sophie stopped flying for awhile. Eventually, she flew again and earned a living with her flight. Napoleon made her Aeronaut of the Official Festivals and Chief Air Minister of Ballooning.
Smith offers exactly the right amount of detail in this picture book. The dangers of ballooning are mentioned but not dwelled upon, just like the death of Jean-Pierre. Sophie’s own death in a balloon is only mentioned in the Author’s Note which also speaks to how little is actually known about her despite her accomplishments. Her childhood, in particular, is unknown and Smith created some of the details himself. Throughout the book, it is the wonder of human flight that is the focus and that unites Sophie’s adult life with her childhood dreams.
Tavares has illustrated this picture book with period details that capture the balloons and the fragility of the baskets. In other illustrations, he captures the sky and the expanse that Sophie is flying into. Two illustrations mirror one another with darker skies as Sophie dreams as a girl of flying and when she returns to flight after her husband’s death.
An important picture book about a brave and groundbreaking woman who refused to be limited by the rest of the world. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nope! by Drew Sheneman (9781101997314)
This almost-wordless picture book is about a little bird who just isn’t sure he can fly quite yet. Told in a graphic-novel style, the story revolves around a caring mother bird and her very nervous offspring. When he looks over the side of the nest, he is frightened by how high it is. When he glances down again though, he has filled it with all sorts of imaginary threats. One time there are wolves circling below. Another time a hungry cat is hiding near the base of the tree. Or maybe alligators and water? The mother bird is patient to a point and then takes matters into her own hands, with plenty of love.
Sheneman’s book is told almost entirely in images. He has a great sense of timing that creates a bouncing rhythm to the book. The action moves from the mother bird encouraging flight, a frightened reaction with a strong “Nope!” and then back to nurturing again. The mother bird has a face that conveys her patience, love and her complete understanding of the situation. The little bird’s fright is also obviously conveyed on his face, moving to panic rapidly.
Funny, wordless and entirely engaging. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Sweep Up the Sun by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder (InfoSoup)
The pair who created Step Gently Out return with another gorgeous book connecting young readers to nature. This picture book focuses on birds and flight, using the metaphor to encourage young people to “fly” themselves and spread their own wings in life. The poem at the heart of the book is simple and lovely, creating a sense of wonder and opportunity. The photographs dynamically capture eleven species of birds in flight and in their natural habitats. There are wide-mouthed babies in the nest and incredible pictures of birds in full flight, like the one on the cover. This is a book that inspires both in words and images.
Frost is a gifted poet who has written novels in verse for older readers as well as picture books for younger readers. Her words here create a positive feeling of strength for the reader, showing them what is possible. At the same time, her poem is also beautifully written, creating imagery that is tangible and that will make sense for children. One of my favorites is that wings are “stitching earth to sky with invisible thread.”
Lieder’s photographs are simply stunning. He has captured birds in poses that are dramatic and amazing, leaving plenty of dappled light and green on the page for the poetry to shine next to his images. I found myself leaning into the book to look even more closely at the structure of wing and feather on the page.
I hope there will be more collaboration between these two since their first two books are so noteworthy. This vibrant picture book will be at home equally in units on birds and poetry. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Konnecke (InfoSoup)
Bert is ready, he knows just what to do. He approaches the end of the branch, and… decides he needs a running start. Here he comes! Wait, he’s got a banana for a snack. He looks over the edge again and after a little yelling from the narrator in encouragement, he dashes right off the end of the branch! He’s worried on the way down, down, down until he hits the water. The other birds are right there saying they always knew he could do it and together they head up to jump off again.
This wonderful twist on a first flight book will take children by surprise. The book captures the dread and then the wonder of taking a plunge in life, literally. Children who are trying new things will find encouragement in this little orange bird who has enough personality for multiple books. Throughout the text is spare and told in the voice of an observing narrator, who uses all sorts of tones to encourage the little bird on his way. This makes for a great read aloud.
The art too is simple and bright. Most of it is Bert alone on the one branch, with plenty of white space around him. Readers will envision right from the beginning Bert launching into that blankness and flying off. It is the space around the illustrations that help with the subtle deception and assumptions. It’s cleverly designed and will work well with groups of children thanks to its large format and clarity.
Great read aloud and a great addition to story times and units on taking risks. It will also make a great one to mix into books on flying! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlman
Translated from the original German, this picture book takes a mouse-sized look at Charles Lindbergh’s flight. A little mouse loved to spend time reading human books but when he emerged from reading he discovered that all of the other mice had left Europe for America. He was left alone. He tried to board a steamer ship to cross the Atlantic, but there were cats waiting and guarding the door. Then the little mouse had a great idea, he would fly across the Atlantic. His experiments proved dangerous as the cats and owls emerged to hunt him down. The little mouse did not give up he kept redesigning the wings, the engine, the frame. But would it be enough to get him across the Atlantic to freedom?
The story of this book is entirely captivating, even for those not interested in airplanes or flight. It is both a celebration of the small overcoming the powerful and also of ingenuity overcoming adversity. It also shows how much of a force resilience in when solving a problem. Even better, the book itself is a history lesson about human (and mouse) flight and how it progressed from wings to full aircraft.
Kuhlman’s art is radiant. He creates pages with no words that are panoramas of cities, of train stations, of clock towers. Other pages are filled with mice, owls and cats from various perspectives that add drama. Then on other pages, you can see his skill with drafting and the diagrams of various inventions. The art here takes the book to another level, creating a world where you believe that a mouse was the first to fly across the Atlantic.
Beautiful and memorable, this picture book celebrates flight, ingenuity and perseverance. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Everything Goes in the Air by Brian Biggs
Brian Biggs has several new books out which is great news for youngsters who love cars, trucks and airplanes. Everything Goes in the Air takes Henry and his family on an airplane ride. Readers get to visit a bustling airport, where they can search for lost babies. From vintage airplanes to modern ones, we learn about the different parts of a place and the various types they come in. Modern airport security is explained, then the book turns to helicopters and hot air balloons. Just before takeoff, children get to see inside the cockpit and marvel at the crowded airspace. Then it’s up, up and away!
Biggs’ crowded pages show the hustle and hurry of an airport. His friendly art and seek-and-find activities will keep children busy exploring the pages. Information is given in small bits, mostly through conversations that are shown in cartoon bubbles. This is a marvelously fun and exciting way to explore airplanes and airports.
A great pick for a plane ride, or to help prepare children for an upcoming flight, this book has such detailed illustrations that it is best shared with just one child at a time. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Everything Goes: 123 Beep Beep Beep!: A Counting Book by Brian Biggs
Everything Goes: Stop! Go!: A Book of Opposites by Brian Biggs
These two board books simplify the busy style of Biggs into books that are more appropriate for toddlers. Here the bright colors and cartoon-style illustrations pop. The counting book goes up to ten, each page offering a different sort of vehicle to count. They range from RVs to busses. The opposites book again uses vehicles to show things like dirty and clean, old and new, ending with stop and go.
Very young children who enjoy cars, trucks and other vehicles will love these board books. Expect the basic text to be accompanied with lots of motor sounds from the audience! Appropriate for ages 1-3.
All items reviewed from copies received from Balzer + Bray.