The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol (9781626724426)
The Little Guys are very small but when they work together they can do almost anything! Using leaves to float, they cross deep water. In the big forest, they hold hands to stay together and keep from being afraid. They find berries and form a stack to reach them. But as they continue their search for more and more food, they start using their combined strength in a way that upsets the rest of the forest. Chipmunks go flying, owls get forced out of their nests, and they even beat up a bear! Soon they have all of the food in the forest! But have they gone too far?
Brosgol follows her incredible Leave Me Alone! with this clever look at the impact of collective action and what happens when even the smallest of us upset the balance of nature and society. The text is simple and straightforward, told in the voice of the Little Guys as they head out scavenging. They are full of confidence as they make the trek to find food and it’s a stirring picture of the power of community until it goes awry in such a spectacular way.
Brosgol’s Little Guys are ever so adorable with their acorn caps and stick-thin limbs. Their orange bulbous noses also add to their appeal. With almost no facial expressions, it is impressive how she gives them emotions with body language. The dwarfing of their size in the forest and beside the other animals is also effectively portrayed.
A delight of a picture book that is an unusual look at sharing with your community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
My Forest Is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron (9781771389303)
A boy looks out from his apartment into an urban forest nearby. He considers it his forest, but his forest is also all of the art in his room that depicts what he sees outside. As he walks in his forest outside, he sees tall trees, short insects, fluffy seeds, prickly thistles, rough bark, and much more. There are heavy and light things, wide and narrow tree trunks. As he explores the forest in person, he also makes art pieces back at home that represent what he has seen. He incorporates found items like rocks and sticks. He paints and creates paper collages. He sketches in his book while seated in his forest. Every day his forest is different and he finds new sources of inspiration there.
This Lebeuf’s debut picture book. His writing is simple and celebratory. He encourages children to get out into their own forests and explore. While this forest may be large, all of the things that the boy encounters can be found in smaller urban forests too. It’s all about taking the time to slow down and notice the details. The added encouragement to make art from what you see is highly appreciated. The boy uses all sorts of media to explore the forest back at home. This book could be used as inspiration for an art class very nicely or in a story time unit to encourage making art from bits of nature.
The art by Barron is very effective. She uses clean lines and layered paper collage to create a forest that is varied and worth exploring. Her illustrations fill the page with deep colors of nature and offer an inviting look at the world around us. Her inclusion of an Asian-American family in the book is also appreciated.
A call to head outside and make art, this picture book is a gem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
Otherwood by Pete Hautman (9780763690717)
After Grandpa Zach died in the storm, pages of his book strewn around him, Stuey and his mother packed his writing up and put it all away. Grandpa Zach had told Stuey that ghosts walk on the golf course that has now become an overgrown wood. It was where Stuey’s great grandfather disappeared along with the district attorney who was prosecuting him. The two were never seen again. Now when Stuey and his best friend Elly Rose go into the deadfall of trees that seems to form a sort of castle or ship in the woods, they hear voices and music. Stuey has even seen a figure like his grandfather appear. When Elly Rose disappears one day right before Stuey’s eyes, no one believes him. But Elly Rose is gone though Stuey can occasionally still make contact with her. It seems she has entered a different reality where Stuey is the one who vanished. In this splintered new world, how can the two of them restore their own reality?
Hautman beautifully combines a mystery with a ghost story with quantum physics in this ode to a woods. The woods itself, the overgrown golf course, is as much a character here as the two children. It is a woods from all of our childhoods, one that seems far larger than it actually is, one that invites you in, scares you a bit, and releases you back into reality. Hautman cleverly uses the woods as the way that people vanish, that hatred is fought and that people take a stand.
Stuey and Elly Rose are unlikely friends which makes the book all the better. Stuey has suffered great loss in his life with only his mother left. He is surrounded by his grandfather’s home and his grandfather’s secrets. Elly Rose is imaginative, playful and a bit bossy, deciding what games they will play together. Still, they are fast friends even as their reality splits apart around them.
Smart and sophisticated, this middle grade novel is a dynamic mix of fantasy and science. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.
Forest World by Margarita Engle (9781481490573, Amazon)
Released August 29, 2017.
Edver isn’t pleased to be headed to Cuba to meet his father for the first time since he was a baby. Now that the laws have changed, families can once again be reunited with people who escaped to the United States from Cuba. Edver has to leave behind the Internet and his favorite video game and cope with power outages and a lack of transportation and other technology. When he gets to Cuba, Edver discovers that he has an older sister that he’d never known about. Luza had stayed with her father in Cuba, wondering why her mother left her behind. Both of their parents work to protect endangered species. Their father protects one special forest in Cuba while their mother travels the world to find newly rediscovered species. As Luza and Edver start to become siblings, they find that a poacher has come to Cuba, drawn by an email they sent to try to get their mother to come. Now it is up to them to protect the forest they both love.
Engle is a master of the verse novel, writing of difficult subjects and using the poetic format to dig deeper than prose would allow. She tells the story in alternating poems in the voices of Edver and Luza as they discover the poverty of Cuba, the wealth of America, and the fact that there are different types of wealth in life like parental attention, grandparents and a sense of home.
Engle explores the world of Lazarus animals and protecting endangered species in this novel. The subject works in a lovely parallel to Cuban Americans being reunited with their families. There is a sense of delicacy and care, a feeling of finding the right habitat suddenly, and a sense of exploration and discovery heightened with surprises.
Another adept verse novel from a true master, this is a book that explores home, habitat and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Atheneum.
The Gold Leaf by Kirsten Hall, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (9781592702145, Amazon)
Spring has returned to the forest, filling the woods with all colors of green. In the midst of the new growth, something special sparkled. It was a gold leaf, unique and different. All of the animals wanted to have it. A bird got it first, planning to use it to line its nest. Soon though, other animals grab it and take it for themselves until finally it lays in tatters on the ground and then is swept away by the wind. The animals are so dismayed at what they have done. The seasons change and fall and winter arrive and go. It is spring once again, green and lush. Will the gold leaf return?
Hall dazzles with her prose, offering so many colors of green in a single sentence that it is almost like being in a woods and noting each color. She uses very dynamic pacing in this picture book from the frenzy over the gold leaf itself as it is torn apart to the sadness afterwards and the slow turn of the seasons. That slow consideration continues as the animals wait to see if the gold leaf will ever return to them.
The illustrations take Hall’s considerable list of green colors and convey them to the page. The images are lush and filled with rich colors that have dapples of sunlight, deep shadows and animals that glow against the background. The use of goldleaf for leaf itself is very effectively done, particularly as it is ripped apart and each little piece continues to brighten the page.
A book about wonder, patience and sharing, this picture book is particularly golden. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion.
Deep in the Woods by Christopher Corr (9781847807267, Amazon)
This picture book is a retelling of a classic Russian folktale. In the woods, there stands a little wooden house with nine windows and a red front door. When a little mouse discovers that it would make a perfect home, he is soon joined by several other animals until all of the windows and rooms are filled with happy animals living together. When a bear discovers the house though, he is far too large to even get in the red door. He keeps trying to enter the house and climbs onto the roof which collapses the house and smashes it. What can be done to fix everything?
Corr keeps the text nice and simple throughout the story, creating almost a cumulative tale as one animal after the other joins in the group living in the house. For each animal, there are repeated phrases used and they approach, ask to live there and are accepted one after the other. This repetition is nicely done, not overworked and will make the story work well for very small children. The bear’s approach cleverly breaks the pattern established and signals how different he is from the others immediately. The writing is smart and effective.
The cover of the book does not fully show the brightness of the illustrations inside. They are neon bright and almost light the page with their neon pinks, oranges and reds. The red door of the house is wildly bright as are the animals themselves. The illustrations have stylized elements like the sun in the sky and the different trees in the woods. Toadstools and mushrooms carpet the ground that can be yellow, green, purple or blue.
Wild colors add a modern touch to this traditional tale. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Chirri and Chirra by Kaya Doi
Released September 6, 2016.
Chirri and Chirra are two little girls who wake up early and head out into the forest together on their bicycles. They arrive at the forest cafe where there are tables just right for creatures and people of any size. They order cups of acorn coffee and clover blossom tea. Then they are off again into the forest and they find a bakery with bread and jam of all kinds. A bear and rabbit are eating there too. The girls choose their sandwiches and eat them near a pond. They play in the water, nap under a tree. They bicycle farther on and as the sun is setting come to a forest hotel where they find a room and beds just the right size for them. The day ends with the girls joining in a forest concert as everyone sings together.
This is a translation from the Japanese original, and it works very well. The picture book is delightful and airy, inviting children into a world built just for them. The description may seem a bit too sweet and almost saccharine, but the book is not like that. Instead it has an exceptional childlike nature that fills it with wonder and the joy of exploration. There is a feeling that this is entirely imaginary yet that it may also be delightfully real.
Doi’s illustrations are a large part of the appeal of this book. The two girls are matching except for the buttons on their dresses. The illustrations celebrate the different sizes of creatures and also the food and drink that the girls have along the way. Just the acorn coffee and clover tea will have your mouth watering. Expect plenty of tea parties and sandwiches after reading this.
The first in a series, I am hopeful we will see more of them in translation soon. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (InfoSoup)
Finley’s parents are having trouble, so they decide that it is best that she spend the summer with her grandparents even though Finley has never met them before. Something happened that made her father leave the family and not speak to his mother again. Finley struggles with “blue days” where she can barely get out of bed and doesn’t have any energy at all. Other days, she spends writing about Everwood, an imaginary land that has parallels to the real world. When she arrives at her grandparents’ home, she realizes that Everwood is a real place and it is right behind their house, complete with a half-destroyed house, villainous pirates, and a trustworthy knight to share her adventures. As Finley and her cousins go deeper into the fantasy world, the truth begins to surface about what happened years ago to their parents and grandparents.
Legrand has created an intensely gorgeous book here that is complex and multi-layered. Finley’s writing about Everwood is interspersed throughout the book so readers can see the detailed and wondrous world she has created. Readers will also clearly see the ties between Finley’s life and what is happening in Everwood. The whole book is a testament to writing that balances strength of vision with a delicacy of execution that allows those ideas to grow and come alive. The relationships of the adults in the book also supports this with various personalities stepping out at different times. There is a humanity to the adults here, a fragility that lets young readers glimpse the truth in pieces before it is revealed.
Finley’s depression and anxiety in particular are captured with sensitivity and grace. It is shown as a part of her personality, not the only characteristic and not one that overwhelms her constantly. Rather it is a factor in her life, one that doesn’t stop her from bonding with her cousins or being creative and imaginative. This is a book that shows that mental illness may impact your life but not destroy it and that there is power in honesty and getting help.
A deep book filled with the magic of imagination, new-found family and one large woods. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield (InfoSoup)
One day a bear cub found something in the woods: a piano. When he touches the keys, the sounds are terrible. But year after year he comes back and presses the keys again. Eventually he learns to play beautiful sounds on the piano. Soon all of the bears in the forest are listening too. When a girl and her father hear the music, they invite the bear to come to the city with them to play. He agrees even though he knows the other bears will be sad. After playing piano to great acclaim and winning awards and fame, the bear starts to long for the forest again. But can he return to the old piano in the woods and the other bears?
Litchfield has created a terrific picture book that tells a full story arc that children and adults will appreciate. The book speaks to the transforming nature of music, the longing for something greater and more, and then the longing to return to one’s origins and roots. It is also about talent and setting someone free to pursue their dreams. The entire book has a tugging nature to it, a bear caught between two worlds and the desire for exploration and the continued tie to home. It is beautifully done.
Litchfield’s illustrations are done in mixed media. They have a translucent and light-filled feel, particularly the forest scenes where sunlight beams in and the page glows. There is a beautiful luminous quality to them, inviting readers deeply into the page and evoking the scent of trees and grass.
An exceptional picture book that is musical, nature-filled and grand. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.