The Blue Table by Chris Raschka

Cover image for The Blue Table

The Blue Table by Chris Raschka (9780062937766)

A blue table tells the story of a family coming together again and again around it. It starts with the blue table having a flower in a vase and a child having a glass of milk. One parent joins the child with some coffee. Another parent joins in and books, newspapers and crayons appear as they share cinnamon rolls. They get going after the table is cleared. Then items from the garden appear: carrots and potatoes. Items from the store and the farm: onions, butter, corn and a turkey! They make an apple pie from scratch and gather flowers for a larger vase. Then a leaf is added to the table, making it longer. A tablecloth and more plates are placed on the blue table, until more family gather together, holding hands to celebrate with one another.

This picture book is focused and simple, giving readers just a view of the blue table itself and never seeing the humans that use the table until we see their hands towards the end of the book. The use of different sorts of cups and plates to show the ages of the family members is clever, along with their books, newspapers and crayons. The extension of the table to be ready for a shared feast is marvelous and offers a touch of surprise for the reader.

Focused on a table that brings a family together both every day and then on special occasions, this book is a celebration of the simple things. The child’s art work in the early pages can be seen at the end as placecards for the loved ones around the table. The art is free flowing and joyous, the blue table and the various objects full of bright colors.

Just right to share around any holiday that gathers people around a table together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song

Cover image of Donut Feed the Squirrels

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song (9781984895837)

Norma and Belly are squirrels who live in a large tree together. When Norma tries to make pancakes for breakfast, she burns them so badly that not even Belly can eat them. Then they smell something even sweeter coming from a food truck nearby: donuts! They try collecting nuts to trade for a donut, but the man in the truck squirts them with water instead. It’s time for a cunning plan that will need bravery, dexterity, cooking skills and a getaway car! They leave a real mess behind, but also one great idea that inspires a new donut flavor: sweet chestnut.

This graphic novel for elementary-aged readers is a real treat! The entire story is told in dialogue that is minimal and full of silliness. This creates a fast read, speedy and racing ahead of the reader, keeping on great pun in front. The book is full of squirrel ingenuity too and a sense that great ideas can come from anywhere, as well as a skilled getaway driver.

Screamingly funny at times and wildly silly, this graphic novel’s illustrations use white space cleverly. The expressions on the squirrels’ faces are marvelously emotive, their ears and eyebrows moving around, their mouths often open in surprise, and their eyes always thinking of something new to do.

Nutty and sweet, this is a marvelous read sure to appeal to those who love furry critters with their donuts. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Nerp! by Sarah Lynne Reul

Nerp by Sarah Lynne Reul

Nerp! by Sarah Lynne Reul (9781454934028)

Picky eaters take center stage in this picture book. A young monster is disinterested in all of the delicacies his parents keep bringing out of the kitchen. To each one, he replies with “nerp or nerpy nerp” in refusal. His parents make more and more different options, but he doesn’t want anything. Until, suddenly he is clearly slurping food off the page. His parents are delighted at first, until it’s clear that he’s munching pet food. With a blurp, he finishes eating, with the pet finally getting what they have been drooling over all along, the food for the child!

This picture book invents its own language, full of nerps, yerps, schmerps and blurps. Each of the types of food is wildly named too but in a way that makes it wonderful to say it all aloud: Hotchy-potch, mushy gush bloobarsh, picklefishy verp, yuckaroni smackintosh. Each one is a dance on the tongue that will have children laughing along.

The illustrations are digital drawings done over photographs of cardboard models. They have a marvelous three-dimensional quality to them with furniture, rugs, and an entire house. They are engagingly unique and also bright and humorous too.

Perfect for reading aloud, maybe just before snacks. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Play with Your Plate! by Judith Rossell

Play with Your Plate! by Judith Rossell

Play with Your Plate! by Judith Rossell (9781419739071)

This clever board book opens to reveal four separate sections, all done in sturdy board pages. Little ones are encouraged to play with the sections, as each one has an engaging question on it. Can you make a plate of only circles or triangles? Can you make one of only one color? Can you find a plate with all your favorite foods? Start turning the pages and you will discover a multi-topped pizza, Japanese sushi and miso soup, tacos, sandwiches, mac and cheese, and various fruits and veggies.

This book asks children to play with it. Families will be able to come up with their own challenges for one another since the book has 4,000 combinations. Turn all the way to the end and all of the sections end with empty plates and a few crumbs.

Clever and fun, you won’t be able to stop playing with this one. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Appleseed.

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron (9781773213750)

Salma and her mother moved to Vancouver from Syria together. Salma’s father is still in Syria and planning to join them soon. Mama seems worried and tired all the time now, not smiling the way she did in the refugee camp with her friends. Salma tries many things to get her mother to smile or even laugh, but nothing seems to work. She heads to the Welcome Center and her teacher has her think about the last time she saw her mother happy. Salma realizes that it may be Syrian food that her mother is missing, since the last time she smiled she had been carrying a bowl of foul shami. So Salma decides that she will make her mother foul shami to bring back her happiness. Salma must figure out how to take the recipe in Arabic and get others to understand what she needs. She realizes that she can draw the various vegetables and ingredients and show them to the people at the supermarket. With her ingredients, now she must do the cooking, but not without plenty of help from others at the Welcome Center who are missing delicacies from their own lands too.

So often picture books depict the end of a family’s story as leaving the refugee camp. It is a pleasure to see a picture book grapple with how it feels to have come to a new country as a refugee and having your family still separated. The clear connection of food and culture is beautifully depicted here. Salma’s enthusiasm for her solution to her mother’s sadness and worry is moving, giving her something to focus on and actually do to help. The difficulty of the recipe and its many steps serves as a great challenge for Salma, and one that will bring her community together to help.

The illustrations have borders and geometric shapes that echo the tiles of Syria and Damascus. The color palettes change as the emotions on the page change, with blues showing the worry and concern and merry yellows flooding the pages with community and hope.

A marvelous look at food, family and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Annick Press.

Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt

Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt

Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780544785816)

Ethan finds it really hard to wait for the maple sap to start running in the late winter. He knows the signs of the time approaching. It’s when he doesn’t have maple syrup for pancakes or oatmeal. His father explains that the days have to get warmer for the syrup to run as well as the nights getting shorter. Ethan thinks he notices it changing, but sometimes gets too eager like not wearing his winter coat anymore. When Ethan’s tooth gets loose, his father tells him that it should fall out around the same time as the sap starts running. Now Ethan has two things to wait for, but one that he can perhaps make happen a bit faster by wiggling it. Still, it takes some time for his tooth to loosen and for the weather to change. Then one day, it’s finally time both for maple syrup and for his tooth to fall out.

Schmidt and Stickney have created a classic tale about patience and waiting for things to happen. Ethan is wonderfully impatient and yet also able to wait, though not really without asking again and again about it. As the darkness refuses to lessen and the days refuse to warm, readers will understand his anticipation. The use of breakfasts to mark a lack of syrup is clever and homey, just to add even more warmth and love to the book. It’s great to see a book with a caretaker father which is not about the lack of a mother or being in a unique family. It’s particularly wonderful to see such a skillful and loving dad.

Karas’ illustrations capture the dark days of winter, the snow that refuses to disappear, and the slow process of the arrival of early spring. The darkness lurks against the warm yellow of the interior of the home, offering real contrast as the pages turn.

A sweet but not syrupy picture book about fathers, patience and food. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho (9781534440098)

Second-grader Mindy Kim and her father moved from California to Florida where Mindy has to go to a mostly-Caucasian school. On her first day, Mindy opens her lunch of seaweed, kimchi, rolled eggs and rice. It catches the attention of the other kids at her table, who don’t recognize any of it. The second day of school, Mindy can’t ask for a different lunch because the toaster had caught fire and distracted her father. She plans though to not get laughed at again, make a new friend, and convince her father to get a puppy. When Sally asks to try some of Mindy’s seaweed at lunch, Mindy is very surprised. Soon everyone is trying them. So Mindy has a new idea and has her father buy lots more seaweed snacks. As she creates her own snack trading ring, Mindy and her friend decide to start charging money for snacks rather than trading them. She soon finds out that she’s broken a school rule!

Lee has written an early chapter book that is marvelously accessible for young readers and also grapples with being different from your classmates. Mindy is also dealing with the death of her mother, something that is poignantly shown in her time at home with her father and with her babysitter after school. The use of seaweed snacks as a gateway into an illicit snack ring is clever and delightful. 

The illustrations inside the book offer breaks in the text for new readers. They are done with a wry sense of humor that is evident in the art and work well with the story that also has a lot of funny moments. 

A diverse and delicious early chapter book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin Books.

Review: Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9780763689773)

Celebrate the New Year in Haitian style with this picture book. It shares the tradition of making New Year’s soup that honors freedom and the end of slavery in Haiti. The soup is made every year by Haitians around the world and this year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle to make it. They turn on Haitian kompa music that sets the beat for their cooking. Herbs are ground in a mortar and pestle with meat then added. A boiled pumpkin is skinned by Belle. More ingredients are added to the pot after being chopped up. Then Ti Gran shares the story of Freedom Soup with Belle and the story of Haitians fighting for their own freedom from slavery. Soon family members come to celebrate freedom and the new year together, feasting on the soup that celebrates their history and traditions.

Charles’ writing has so many wonderful moments inside it. From Ti Gran telling Belle that she has “a heart made for cooking” to her descriptions of Ti Gran’s “dark-sky eyes” and the “pumpkiny-garlic smell” of the soup cooking. She takes the rhythm of the music and reflects that in her words too, so that one can almost hear it playing. The warmth of the kitchen, the beauty of generations working together, and the spirit of freedom all play across these pages.

The illustrations pick up the rhythms of the text and the music with Belle’s braids flying to the beat and her feet moving across the floor. Her sharp edges next to the soft curves of her grandmother make a visual music of their own. 

This is a delicious picture book worth celebrating. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: What’s Your Favorite Food? by Eric Carle and Friends

What's Your Favorite Food by Eric Carle and Friends

What’s Your Favorite Food? by Eric Carle and Friends (9781250295149)

I am a big fan of Eric Carle’s “What’s Your Favorite” series. In these picture books, a variety of illustrators explore the answer to the question posed by the title. So in this book, it’s all about favorite foods! Children will see their own favorites on the page, like Matthew Cordell’s love of pizza or Laurie Keller’s imaginative look at where french fries come from. There are also plenty of more diverse foods included like Dan Santat’s favorite ramen or Karen Katz’s lovely matzo balls.

Each turn of the page enters the reader into a new illustrator’s answer to the title question. The result is a beautiful whirlwind of a book where the reader moves quickly between answers and into new visual treats. This works particularly well with the subject of food and has the feeling of visiting that person’s house or table and then turning to the next delicious offering. The illustrations are varied and marvelous, each one a tribute to the illustrator who made it and done in their signature style.

A delicious treat of a book. Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Company.