Swashby spent all of his time on the sea. He loved the sea, and the sea understood him better than anyone else. He lived as close to the sea as he could in a small house. His life was just how he liked it: simple and serene. That is until one day a little girl moved in next door. Swashby shut himself in his house, fed their gift of cookies to the seagulls, and wrote a message in the sand: NO TRESPASSING. But the sea changed it a little, leaving only SING, which the little girl proceeded to do while dancing on Swashby’s deck. The next message is turned into W-ISH, and when the little girl decides to wish on a starfish, Swashby comes out to show her how to do it properly. The next message has her playing on the beach, and Swashby find himself showing her how to make sandcastles that won’t topple. After Swashby again retreated, the water didn’t and soon the sea had pulled the little girl out with it. The choice was clear for Swashby.
This picture book is a stellar marriage of story and illustrations. Ferry offers two great characters here, the solitary seaman and the charming little girl. Oh and one more, the sea herself, who plays such a role in the story with both her support of Swashby and in her meddling with his messages. The text is just the right length, robust enough to create a full story to tell and short enough to read aloud well. The fiddling of the sea is just right, not quite easily guessed by the reader and very cleverly done.
The illustrations are marvelous. Done in acrylics, colored pencil and graphite, they capture the bright seaside where the sea fizzes along the beach. Swashby is pure prickles from his bristly beard to his scratchy sweater. Meanwhile the little girl is colorful and soft. The two together on the page make for a study in contrasts that is sure to please.
June Bug lives with her mother in the house on Trowbridge Road that everyone thinks is haunted. Her father died of AIDS, leaving June Bug with her mother who is scared of germs and obsessed with being clean. That means that she never leaves the house and food can be scarce. June Bug’s uncle brings her food once a week, limited because her mother won’t allow him to come more often, so she is often hungry as the supplies run out. Then Ziggy arrives to live with his grandmother down the road. June Bug watches them from a nearby tree, dreaming of being friends and sharing the food that his grandmother prepares for him throughout the day. Ziggy too has experienced his own troubles, immediately getting the attention of the local bullies. As June Bug and Ziggy meet and become friends, their troubles mount, but they have one another as a safe place to share and heal, because at times home is not that place at all.
Set in the mid-80’s, this novel for middle graders is written with such beauty. Pixley creates a neighborhood that is lovingly shown as a mix of safety, imaginative play and also reveals the harshness of reality too. From the foundations of a fallen house where magic blossoms to the shelter of a large tree that can be scrambled up and down, this is a neighborhood seen through the eyes of two creative children who create their own reality together to care for one another.
The two protagonists are children who have experience abuse of various kinds and find kindred spirits in one another. They have both been hungry, both been physically hurt, and both lived with emotional abuse. They are both survivors, using their imagination and the neighborhood itself as places to escape to together. The power of love soars through this book, in extended families who offer care and shelter, in neighbors who reach out and take action. It’s a book about being able to ask for help and the positive change that can come when aid arrives.
Wrenching, powerful and filled with hope, this book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Hamish the bear and Noreen the goose love to watch trains together. Hamish longs to take a train to the city, but Noreen isn’t interested. So Hamish set off, following the train tracks on foot. When he got to the station though, he found he needed a ticket, so he just kept on walking. As night fell, he came to a railroad yard and discovered a caboose all lit up inside. There he found Christov who was sick with the flu and too ill to go to work in the morning and run a big crane. So Hamish offered to help. He borrowed Christov’s hat and jacket and headed into the city on the train. When he got to the building site though, he didn’t have any boots, luckily he was able to find some nearby. Then it was time to run the huge crane. Hamish worked hard, running the crane from the cozy cabin. He did it for the five days that Christov was sick and was offered a job himself by the end. But Hamish was missing Noreen and took a train home, to share his adventures with her, and maybe have some new ones together.
Hirst tells a charming tale of Hamish, a bear with a taste for adventure and trying new things. He is also a very helpful and thoughtful character, helping out where he can and finding unique solutions to problems he encounters along the way. I was most impressed that Hamish was a success as he tried to help. It became a celebration of trying new things, learning and succeeding rather than what is often seen in children’s books like Curious George where helping becomes failing in a funny way.
The art is simple and friendly, capturing both the expanse of the countryside and the bustle of the city streets. Some of the pages are fully colored while others use white space and smaller images that move the story ahead. Throughout there is a sense of happy positivity.
A glorious adventure full of trains and cranes. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.
Evelyn and Daniela are best friends. Evelyn tries to act like today is just like any other day, but it’s not. Daniela goes across the street to find a big truck getting filled with boxes and their furniture. The two climb the stairs two at a time, the way they always do. They go past Evelyn’s neighbors who they know so well, into the apartment which is a twin of where Daniela lives across the street. The furniture is all packed and just a few boxes are left, so the girls play in an empty box until it is time for Evelyn to go. In the empty apartment they spin together, then discover stickers to share. A heart pressed to a cheek to seal the promise of a future visit together. Then it is time to go, knowing they will always be best friends.
Medina proves here that she can write just as beautifully for preschoolers and elementary age as she does for older readers. Focusing on the long goodbye, this picture book shows how farewells can be done with smiles and promises. Medina invites us into their shared imaginative play, the joy of big empty boxes, the pleasure of hiding from adults together, and finally the sadness of goodbyes. The twinning of the two girls with their similar apartments and attitudes works so well here, showing their connection in a physical way.
Sanchez’s art is glorious. Full of the deepest of colors, saturated reds and oranges, cool blues and greens. They are paired with textures of wallpaper, cardboard corrugations, red bricks, and floorboards. This is an entire world of apartments and friendship.
A great picture book with an empowering final page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Open Bud Ranch is a place that took in all kinds of animals. When Jack the goat first arrived, it was clear to all of the other animals that Jack liked his space. But Charlie the horse didn’t even see Jack, since he was getting used to being only able to see from one of his eyes. After getting stepped on, Jack made sure to keep an eye on Charlie at all times. That’s when he noticed that he and Charlie liked a lot of the same things like sunlit pastures and smelling the honeysuckle. But Charlie often got turned around and had to move really slowly. One day, Jack decided to help and led Charlie to the best place to graze and then down to the river. Soon the two went everywhere together. Then Charlie lost the sight in his other eye, leaving him entirely blind. Jack still liked his space, so when a storm blew in, Charlie left the warm barn to protect Jack from the rain. After an argument, Charlie got in an accident and that left Jack the only one to save him, even though it meant talking to the others on the farm.
Levis offers a rich story arc in this picture book that tells a full tale and also manages to be a great read-aloud. The tale of these two unlikely friends is based on the true story of Charlie and Jack. The book gently shows that animals have value even if they aren’t technically productive in a farming sense, and that they have emotions and the ability to help one another when they are in need.
Santoso’s illustrations beautifully show the farm with glowing pages of sunlit pastures. He moves easily into action and drama as the story demands it with the same animals distraught or scared. The illustrations capture the personalities of Charlie and Jack.
An engaging and warm look at animal rescue and friendship. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Beetle longs to be a sorceress but instead she is a goblin and learning magic from her grandmother at home. Her best friend is Blob Ghost, who she visits in the failing mall. When an old friend returns to ‘Allows from going to sorcery school, Beetle is smitten and intimidated. Kat is everything that Beetle wants to be. Kat’s teacher has targeted Blob Ghost’s mall for demolition in the near future. But Blog Ghost can’t leave the mall, tied to it by an unbreakable force. As the demolition is suddenly moved up, it’s up to Beetle and Blog Ghost to free them before they are destroyed along with the building. Beetle is going to have to find the magic inside of her and fight for those she loves.
Layne has created a graphic novel for middle schoolers and teens that is an intoxicating mix of magic, goblins and love. The book looks at being left out and left behind by people you thought were your friends. It also explores the impact of family ties, of destiny and how those elements can be used for good or evil. Best of all, it’s a book that embraces an LGBTQ+ relationship that blossoms right in front of the reader. And don’t miss the pronoun used by Blob Ghost. It’s a treat to see someone referred to so easily as they/them/their.
The art in this graphic novel is just as exceptional as the story itself. Filled with colors that change from one page to the next, teals to purples to blob pink to goblin greens. Layne beautifully shows the ties and impact of magic on those who use it, turning Beetle into a floating witch of power at times. Kat with her skeletal aspect is a marvelous visual foil for the green and orange of Beetle, the two of them forming a full Halloween together.
Here’s hoping for more dangerous broom flights alongside Beetle! Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Gus is the sort of dog that doesn’t like much. He doesn’t like being petted, going on walks, playing fetch, or making friends. He doesn’t like birthdays either. Then a little dog enters his life. The little dog explains that once he arrived, Gus started liking all sorts of things like baths together and hugs. But the one thing that Gus really loves is sausages. He loves everything about sausages. So does the little dog! But Gus doesn’t like to share. But there just might be one thing that Gus likes more than sausages.
Chatteron’s humor is marvelously deadpan. His timing is impeccable throughout the book, particularly the reveals. At first the book seems to not have a specific narrator but that reveal of the little, perky dog speaking about Gus is a delight. The ending too has a well-timed and touching moment that is simple but perfection.
The text is very simple, so the illustrations carry much of the story. They are particularly important to capture the neutrality of Gus with his natural frown. Big and bold, the illustrations work well for sharing the book aloud.
Hilarious and just as satisfying as a sausage feast. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.
Alice Bonnet loved living with her grandmother in their French town. She loved baking together and also loved making lists on her own. But sometimes Alice was lonely, like when she felt small or didn’t feel brave or when her grandmother was napping. So one morning, she decided to try to find a friend. So she wrote a letter, put it in a bottle and threw it from the bridge. The bottle floated into the ocean, was handled by several different creatures, and eventually found its way to an island where Francois the dog lived with his father. Soon the two were writing back and forth, sending the bottle across the ocean again and again. But when Alice suffered a loss, it was hard for her to write letters or make lists or plan any more. So she stopped writing to Francois for some time. Eventually though, Alice began to plan again, make lists and write letters. And soon a big plan came together!
There is such magic about sending messages in bottles and what an idea that you could throw a message into the water and it would go and back and forth forming a true friendship. That underlying magic is a huge part of the charm of this book, though the characters and the French setting have their own magic about them as well. Alice’s optimism and creativity shine in the story, offering hope even when she is terribly sad.
The art in the book is done in watercolor and pencil. It also incorporates clippings from old paper that fill the pages with old-fashioned objects. Some of the illustrations also appear to be done on postcards, which matches the mailing of messages in the story.
Warm and endearing, this picture book looks at new friendships across wide distances. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Jenae goes through life being invisible. It’s her own superpower, just like her favorite show, Astrid Dane. At school she is entirely ignored, and she prefers it that way. Her family is different, though with her mother always rushing, her brother’s injury and her grandfather’s health problems, Jenae can end up invisible there too. So it’s very strange when the new boy at school notices Jenae immediately. Aubrey is also different from the other kids. He too loves Astrid Dane. But Jenae isn’t looking for a friend at all. She keeps pushing Aubrey away, but Aubrey just keeps coming back. Soon Jenae realizes that she has found a friend. It’s too bad that circumstances are creating a time when she will have to ruin their friendship to avoid having to do the thing she fears most, giving a speech in front of a crowd.
There is so much to love in this book. The warm family that Jenae comes from gives the book a wonderful heartbeat, including a brother who won’t really talk to her after his accident and his return home from college. Her grandfather is full of advice, pushing Jenae to face her fears head on. Jenae blames herself for much of what happens in her family, including her brother’s accident. She deeply believes that she can think strong thoughts and make things happen.
Still, that’s not true when it comes to Aubrey, a new friend who brings lots of mixed feelings for Jenae. Jenae with her unique view of the world, her ability to be alone and not lonely, and her independence is also full of fears at times. She’s marvelously complex, geeky and individual. Aubrey is much the same, yet where Jenae is quiet, Aubrey always has something to say.
Full of fascinating characters, this book is about finding your voice, standing up and insisting on being heard. Appropriate for ages 9-12.