Along the Tapajos by Fernando Vilela, translated by Daniel Hahn (9781542008686)
A boy and his family live along the Tapajos River, one of the biggest rivers in the Amazon rainforest. He and his sister take a boat to get to school. He loves to see the alligators along the way, while she prefers the porpoises. Under the water, lurk some even larger animals just waiting for someone to fall in the water. At school, the rain suddenly begins, starting the winter season that is filled with torrential rainfall and flooding. Everyone rushes home to pack up and head away from the flooding. They take everything but the houses themselves. But the brother and sister have left their tortoise behind accidentally. At night, they sneak out to rescue her. They get back to their flooded village and discover the turtle just about to be devoured by a giant anaconda!
Originally published in Brazil, this picture book tells the story of a way of life that is unique to the Amazon rainforest. The author combines the story of the flooding village and the construction of a new place in the rainforest with a tale of bravery when the children rescue their pet. This also gives readers an opportunity to see the quiet beauty of the flooded village, empty of anyone. The setting itself is a major character, including the many animals, the weather and the river herself. It’s a book that carries readers to a place they never knew existed.
The illustrations are done in a mix of woodcut techniques, drawing and collage that is then used digitally. They have a great texture to them and depth thanks to the woodcuts that offer that organic feel to the images. The rain itself falls white against the golden background of the sky and the river. The book often takes a step back from the immediate action, allowing the riverscape to fill the pages in a way that is very impactful.
Journey to another part of the world in this look at the Amazon rainforest and some of the people who call it home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee (9780525555452)
A little knight is very happy to be on his side of the wall. After all, there are dangerous animals on the other side as well as an ogre who would eat him up. Unfortunately, he doesn’t notice that there is water starting to fill his own side of the wall. Then large dangerous creatures start to enter too, including a snapping crocodile and big fish. Just as the water fills the entire side though, the ogre comes to his rescue and brings him to the other side of the wall. But will our little knight be devoured there too? Or perhaps the other side of the wall isn’t quite as dangerous or evil as he might have thought.
I love that this book can be read on two levels. There is the simple story of a wall in a book and then there is the political climate about walls right now in America. Agee shows that making the opposite side dangerous and “othering” them is unsafe for everyone. He also clearly demonstrates that blindly believing that we are better than others can be our own downfall. And at the same time, the picture book works incredibly well as a simple story of a little knight, a wall and an ogre.
The illustrations tell a major part of the story as the little knight does not realize what is happening. Children listening to the book will love seeing the dangers before the knight does and will likely shout warnings when this book is shared aloud.
Political and entirely pleasing, this picture book is just what we need right now. Appropriate for ages 3-7.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.
Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan
Every year Lucy and her family head to North Dakota to help Aunt Frankie on her farm. This year the farm is being threatened by a flood, and they are heading to the farm even though Frankie told them it was dangerous. On the way, Lucy’s family stops and camps, listens to opera, and sings. But Lucy can’t sing at all and she knows it. Her little brother is a different story, no one else believes Lucy but Teddy can sing perfectly and even talks a bit, though he refuses to do so except with Lucy. Though she can’t sing, Lucy loves to write and she is trying to create a poem to prove to her father that a poem can be just as nice as a cow. Her father had dreamed of being a poet himself, but became a farmer instead. As the family gets to North Dakota, they face a dangerous river and Lucy has to find her own strength to save her little brother.
Told in a strong and clear voice, this novel invites readers into a family that is pure joy to spend time with. All of the family members have their own specific gifts and quirks, they communicate effortlessly with one another, and the entire book feels like you have entered someone’s home and are spending time with them. MacLachlan creates dialogue that feels real, but even more so she has created characters that are alive and honest on the page.
Thanks to the larger font and short chapters, this book will be welcoming for newer readers who may be trying their first chapter book without pictures. The warmth of the characters, the riveting danger of the river, and the thrilling ending will keep young readers fascinated until the end. This is also a great pick for sharing aloud with an elementary class.
MacLachlan has created a simple book that contains bountiful riches in setting, character and voice. It is a stellar read. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Flood by Alvaro F. Vila
This wordless picture book shows the impact of a flood on a family. The book starts with a sunny day at a house along the river. The children are playing outside, the house is wrapped by a picket fence, and the windows are being replaced. It is idyllic, beautiful and peaceful. The storm front arrives along with the rain. Sandbags are brought to the house and the family builds a wall of them to protect their home. The new windows are boarded up and the family leaves their house behind. Water quickly surrounds the house and soon it breaches the sandbags, rushing violently into the house. The waters recede and the house is left, broken and damaged, filled with mud and muck. But all is not lost, as the family rebuilds.
Though wordless, this book tells a powerful story of family, floods, loss and rebuilding. The illustrations range from those colorful images of the perfect family home to images of destruction. Vila captures the violence of these storms and the water itself. There are several images that are very powerful including the first glimpse of the large storm front coming across the landscape to the close up of the water entering the home. These natural images have a beauty to them but also a sense of foreboding.
This is a wordless book that will work well with a range of ages. It is a timely read as well as weather systems grow more powerful and more families are facing natural disasters. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.