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.
The Perfect Tree by Chloe Bonfield (InfoSoup)
Jack headed out to find the perfect tree, one that was just right to chop down for firewood. But he was having trouble finding that perfect tree. Jack finally sat down under a tree in the forest in despair. Then a woodpecker offered to help Jack find the perfect tree. She flew to a tree and after knocking on a branch all sorts of birds flew out of it. Then a squirrel said that he too could show Jack the perfect tree. Taking Jack into a great oak tree, the squirrel revealed his stash of nuts and berries for the winter. Next a spider showed Jack her favorite tree where a web hung filled with water drops. It was then that Jack was inspired by the rain to find another perfect tree that was just right to stay dry under.
Bonfield has written an ecology picture book that focuses not on how wrong it is to cut down trees, but instead how the definition of “perfect” means different things to different creatures. And how your appreciation of an object in a new way leads to changes in the way you see the world. I appreciate that the book does not lecture about the environment or appreciating nature. Instead the book focuses on the beauty of nature and how it can transform us if we pay attention.
Bonfield’s illustrations are amazing. Done in papercut images and collage, they form two and three dimensional structures and then are lit so that there are shadows that play against other parts of the illustration that glow. The result is a picture book landscape that feels immersive and tangible.
A clever look at the pursuit of perfection and the power of nature. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (InfoSoup)
A girl tells about her grandmother who is not like other grandmas. She dresses in Grandpa’s old flannel shirts and she’s bony. She doesn’t bake cookies or pies, but she does take long walks out in nature. With her trusty walking stick, the two of them explore the little paths near Grandma’s house. Every season there are new things to see, things in the garden to do. The two love winter best of all, especially winter nights with a full moon when they explore the snowy woods. Grandma may not be like other grandma’s but she’s pretty special and a north woods girl to the quick.
Bissonette captures the spirit of a north woods woman beautifully in her picture book. From the no-fuss long grey braid, the flannel shirts, the stout boots to the way that nature speaks to her and that she knows it so well. This book is a celebration of the north woods too, the ways that the woods changes in different seasons, the animals that fill it, and the glory of a winter woods.
McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations have a rustic beauty. The colors are deep and lovely, and they capture the spirit of the woods. In fact, there are moments when you can almost smell the pines and the grass. There is a subtle multiculturalism here too with the little girl’s darker skin tone and curly hair. The pages are crowded with details of the woods, filled with animals and insects.
A lovely look at the northern woods, this picture book celebrates unique grandmothers living in a unique place. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (InfoSoup)
This award-winning husband and wife team return with another winner of a picture book. Peter knows that moving to a new house is a bad idea, especially when he sees the dark woods. Their new house is on the other side of a bridge from the woods. Peter and his dog Harold spend a sleepless night watch the bridge to make sure nothing crosses it from the woods. Then they head out and use pillows and blankets to create Lenny, a guardian. Unfortunately, they worried that Lenny might be lonely out there at night all alone, so again they did not sleep. The next day, they took blankets and leaves and created a second guardian, Lucy. That night, everyone slept. And the next day, a visitor arrived, one who shows that despite the scary woods this might be a good place to live after all.
Stead has the beautiful ability to create a story out of leaves, pillows and blankets. This book speaks to all children who have moved and those who have been afraid of other things too. There is a menacing sense from the woods, and Stead combats that with a concrete feel of normalcy but also a strong creativity. This all feels like childhood to me, capturing that wonder mixed with fear that turns into something else all the more powerful.
Erin Stead’s art has a delicacy about it that matches Philip’s tone in his prose. She creates a linear forest, uncluttered and somehow all the more strange and alien because of that. The hulking bodies of Lenny and Lucy are so solid on the page that they combat that feeling just by being there. Readers will immediately see the safety in these creatures.
This is a story of moving but also about wonder and fear. It’s a brilliant picture book, one to finish with a contented smile. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by August Hall
This poetic exploration of the seasons invites young readers into the forest to see what happens to the animals and plants as the seasons change. It begins with snow, which is something the forest knows well. It also knows about waiting, so it waits as the animals in the forest sleep and rest during the cold. Then buds come and creeks run and birds fly and it’s spring. All of the animals and insects awaken and come out into the growing grass. Fruit arrives with fall, nuts ready for squirrels to harvest. Animals eat to survive the next winter. Finally, there is snow again in the forest and an invitation to make the forest yours too.
Lyon’s poem is glorious. She winds through the forest along with the breezes, touching down and pointing out exactly the right things. It’s a poem that is organic and natural, celebrating everything in the woods, the ongoing changes, and allowing us to see ourselves reflected in the woods as well. This book is an invitation to explore during all seasons, to look for birds and bugs and mammals as we walk.
Hall’s illustrations add to that immense appeal of nature and the forest. His paintings play with the light as it changes through the seasons as well as the colors of the trees and the grass as the time passes. They are dappled and lush, filled with the movement of the wind and the movement of the leaves.
A great addition to the crowded shelves about seasons, this picture book combines poetry with gorgeous illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
Released August 12, 2014.
The author of the fantastic Inside Outside returns with another wordless book featuring the same little boy. Here the boy is outside in a tent at night and uses his flashlight to explore. As he moves around, his flashlight shows white and color against the deep black and greys of the rest of the scene. He locates his lost yellow boot, finds different animals out at night, sees plants and fish, and finds an apple to eat. But then he trips and his flashlight goes flying until it is found by a raccoon who uses it to show the boy himself in the beam. Then all of the animals get a turn with the flashlight until they lead the boy back to his tent.
I adore this book. It is so simple with the pitch blackness of the page, the grey lines that show the characters and nature, and then that surprising and revealing beam of light that cuts a swath through the darkness. One reason it works so well is that the rest of the page is not complete darkness, instead you get a feel of the woods around and the animals, but when the light does shine on them even more is shown.
Boyd uses small cutouts on the page to great effect. They reveal dens, flowers, small touches. In their own subtle way, they too shine a light of attention on even smaller components of the illustrations. They are a subtle but important part of the book.
Beautiful, dark and mysterious, this picture book is a wordless story of exploration and wonder. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Wild by Emily Hughes
When the baby girl was found in the woods by the animals, the entire woods took her in. Bird taught her to talk. Bear taught her to fish. Fox taught her how to play. Everything was good, until she met some people in the woods. They took her home with them. A famous psychiatrist took her in and tried to make her civilized. They combed her hair, tried to teach her to speak, frowned at her table manners and didn’t appreciate the way she played. Everything they did was wrong. The girl was not happy at all. But then one day, she found her wild once more.
Told only in brief sentences, Hughes lets her art tell much of the story here. And what a glorious story it is. It’s the story of a child perfectly at home in the wild and with the animals. She doesn’t long for society or civilization in any way. She’s the opposite of many classic book characters like Curious George. She rejects the rules and substitutes her own.
The art has a wonderful wild quality as well. It is lush and filled with details. The woods have a flowing green that is mesmerizing. Once the humans enter the story, things become more angular and rigid. The return to the woods is beautiful and completely satisfying.
Hughes has tapped into what every child dreams of, living in the woods with the animals and thriving. Everyone who reads this will want to be wild themselves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.