Tag: friendship

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper (9781626723719, Amazon)

Master picture book crafter, Cooper tells the gentle and poignant story of the friendship between two cats. The white cat lived alone for some time in his home until a new little black cat came. The older white cat helped the little cat learn what to do, how to use the litter box, when to rest, when to eat and drink. As the days and months passed, the black cat grew to be just as big as the white cat. Then one day, the white cat was gone and doesn’t ever return. Still, life continues and brings a new surprise.

Cooper excels at simple stories and illustrations with profound implications. Here there is a gentle message of death and life that is just right for little ones. There is a quietness here, a stillness that resonates throughout as well, the sense that a life well lived is the important thing and the connections made along the way. This is there, but subtle, a book filled with deep thought that is there to find but not projected at you. It’s a book of quiet insight.

Cooper’s illustrations are just as simple and discerning as the story itself. The use of black and white cats is a smart choice that allows the illustrations to stay simple and yet speak to differences and connections clearly and deeply. As the little cat grows, the two are different only in color and then the circle of life becomes all the more definite.

Simple and insightful, this book is solid and true. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

 

Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na

Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na

Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na (9780399551550, Amazon, GoodReads)

This is another beautiful picture book for the smallest of children from this author/illustrator. Bird is new to the forest and hoping to make a friend. He spots Bear but can’t quite get up the courage to speak with him. Suddenly though, he sees that Bear has a friend already: a red balloon. Bear plays all day with Balloon, even watching the sunset together. Then one day, a wind gust carries Balloon up into the sky. Bird who has been watching the entire time, tries to rescue Balloon but it’s too late. Balloon pops. Over the shreds of the balloon, Bird and Bear finally meet and soon they have become real friends.

This picture book looks at the pressures of trying to make a new friend, the shyness that naturally arises during that time, and how to move beyond it. The use of a balloon as the other friend is very clever, allowing Bear to have a close friend of sorts but also allowing even the youngest child to realize that Bird would always have made a much more fun and compelling friend from the start.

The illustrations are playful and light. Done on white backgrounds, the bright colors shine on the page. The forest is filled with purples, blues and greens while the sunset emerges with yellows and reds. Still, the illustrations are simple and friendly. Bear is round and cuddly while Bird is a burst of red color and quiet inquisitiveness.

The complications of new friendship have never been lovelier. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa

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Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake (9781927271889)

Giraffe is bored and he’s just missing one thing: a best friend. So when he sees Pelican, who is also bored, offering a mail service, he decides to write a letter. He asks Pelican to deliver it to the first animal he sees past the horizon. Pelican sees that the horizon looks very close, so he agrees. Pelican meets a seal who also delivers mail and sends the letter on to the next animal, which happens to be a Penguin. Giraffe and Penguin become pen pals and steadily become good friends. Soon Giraffe is trying to figure out what Penguin looks like from afar, but doesn’t get it quite right.

First published in Japan, this book is a very friendly chapter book with plenty of illustrations to break the text into manageable chunks. There is a warm playfulness throughout the book, inviting readers to see the humor in boredom and the solution of taking some sort of action to break through the tedium. The characters are well drawn and interesting, each with a unique personality that plays through naturally in the book.

The illustrations by Takabatake are done in fine lined black ink. They have a cartoon feel that embraces the light tone of the book. The illustrations work well with the text, creating action on the page that is very appealing.

A light and warm look at boredom and friendship that is a great read aloud. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.

 

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

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Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (9781681191058)

Jade attends a mostly-white private school on scholarship, riding the city bus to and from school as her mother works multiple jobs just to keep a roof over their head. Jade is one of the best students in Spanish class and she looks forward to being selected to travel abroad. But a different opportunity arises as Jade is placed in Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk African-American girls. Jade’s mentor, Maxine, is often distracted or late, seemingly more interested in her love life than in Jade. Sometimes though, she is wonderful, paying attention to Jade’s collage art, talking about ways to get her art seen. Still, Jade is the one with things to show and teach even as she is learning herself to find her own voice in life.

Watson’s writing is superb. She captures the conflicting issues of being poor and African-American in today’s America. There are opportunities, yes, particularly for talented students. Still, those opportunities can come at the cost of other decisions and choices. There is the tension of being the one leaving poverty to another place and not wanting to lose family and friends along the way. Even neighborhoods and ways of life are sources of pain and emotions.

Watson doesn’t shy away from directly addressing racism in the book. She gives Jade a new best friend who is white and who doesn’t understand the racism that Jade is experiencing and can’t support Jade in the way that she should. This is handled with sensitivity but also clarity, about what the role of white friends should be in our world. Jade herself is learning that she needs to speak up for herself, insist on fairness, and continue to push. Black Lives Matter is clear on the pages too, showing the violence of society, the murders by police and the impact that has on everyone in a community.

Powerful, strong and filled with writing that calls for action, this book is simply stellar. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

 

Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan

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Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Zoe Si (9781101918203)

Renata Wolfman doesn’t have friends, she’d much rather play all alone because then you don’t need to share or compromise with others. Even her parents can’t get her to go out with them, she’d rather stay home and read her factual books about sea life. When Renata is left alone at home one day, a boy comes over. Livingston Flott, known as Fly at school, wants to hide from his older brother. Renata, called Wolfie by Fly and others at school, reluctantly lets him in, interrupting her building of a submarine out of a refrigerator box. Soon the two of them are starting to play imaginary games together, something entirely new for Wolfie. But when real water starts to pour into the windows, can they imagine their way right into the sea?

This early chapter book features a girl who loves control and facts and a boy who wants to create songs and loves to imagine. The two together are a dynamic mix, creating just the right amount of tension between them and showing how opposites can actually make the best playmates as long as ideas are shared and there’s a willingness to try new things. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the water turns out not to be entirely imaginary, something that underlines that fact that imagination and reality mix to something entirely extraordinary.

Si’s illustrations are playful and add exactly the right amount of pictures to break up the text, making this a great pick for newer readers. Her art is playful, done in black and white and shows the submarine that Wolfie made and the adventures that the two have together with a jolly merriment.

A strong pick for early chapter book collections, fans of Ivy & Bean and Bink & Gollie will find another pair of playmates worth knowing here. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Tundra Books.

 

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

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A List of Cages by Robin Roe (9781484763803)

Julian just wants to get through high school without attracting anyone’s attention. He has a secret spot to hide during lunch where he feels safe, something he never feels anywhere else even at home. Julian’s parents died when he was a child and now he lives with his last remaining relative, an uncle by marriage. Adam is a popular kid in high school, bouncing with energy from his ADHD and full of smiles to brighten everyone’s day. When Adam is sent to find a freshman who is missing his sessions with the school counselor, he is surprised to discover it is Julian, who had once been his foster brother. But as the two get closer, it is clear that something awful is happening to Julian, something that may be too big for them to handle.

This teen novel is about grief, loss and pain. It’s about possibilities lost, other lives dashed. It’s gut-wrenching and powerful and devastating. And yet, it is also brimming with hope, with a gritty potential for change that just won’t stop, with the power of friendship and the deep abiding love of brotherhood. It’s complicated and not easy in any way. It’s wonderful.

The writing by Roe makes everything powerful and dense with meaning. Here is how she has Adam describe Julian on Page 170 of the book:

I used to think struggle was what aged you, but if that were the case, Julian should’ve been a hundred years old. Now I wonder if the opposite is true. Maybe instead of accelerating your age, pain won’t let you grow.

The characters here are brilliantly juxtaposed. She does not turn to the trope of the well-off teen being a bully or a jerk. Instead, Adam is a bright spot for everyone until he faces something he can’t deal with. It’s such a mix of tragedy, hope and fear. One that Roe has written with depth and care.

A stunning debut novel that is deeply moving and wondrously hopeful. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Released February 14, 2017.

Marin left her entire old life behind, arriving at college in New York two weeks ahead of schedule and with almost nothing with her. She tried to leave that life behind and start anew, but now her best friend Mabel is coming to see her. The best friend that Marin hasn’t spoken to in months, the best friend she hasn’t texted or called. Left alone in the deserted dorm as winter break arrives, Marin can only wait for Mabel to arrive. When she does, they are awkward together and the story of their relationship slowly reveals itself. Along the way, Marin’s unique relationship with her grandfather also emerges. Now it is up to Marin to face everything she has run from for the first time.

I knew on the very first page that this was a book that would consume me. LaCour writes with a precision and yet a naturalness that disarms and embraces the reader. She is delicate at times, allowing the reader to explore and learn. At other points she is direct, pointing out pain, tenderness and loss with care. The tone is uniquely hers, a voice that is beautiful to read, filled with poignancy, hesitation and wonder all the while it fights depression and despair.

This is a novel of hope, a novel that shows how difficult it can be to face loss and betrayal. It is a book that speaks of the power of bridging those gaps in our lives, of finding a person we love once again and allowing them back into our lives. It’s a story of slowly opening that door, the door to humanity and joy that had seemed locked forever. It’s a story of transformation that is simple and yet profound.

One of the best young adult books on loss and grief that I have ever read, this one will find a place in your heart. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.