This is a follow up to King Mouse from the same creative team. Out on a walk, Bear discovers a ukulele in the grass. Bear plucked a string and thought of a song. Mouse was there on a stump, all ready to listen. Then a crow arrived an found a tambourine in the grass. She immediately sang her song for Bear and Mouse. Snake arrived next and discovered a drum, which she used to sing her own song before Bear could start his. Tortoise was next with a horn and a song. Then Fox appeared and thought they should start a band and she could be their manager. Finally, it was time for Bear to sing his song. When the others didn’t praise it, he headed away. But one friend isn’t ready to let him leave entirely.
There is a beautiful delicacy to the story and the illustrations that work deliciously together as a whole. Fagan uses repetition in the story with the series of interruptions before Bear can sing his song. There is a wonderful tension that readers and the bear feel as he is preempted again and again. It’s also a treat to have a moment of such humor in the center of this thoughtful book which then returns to its previous tone but retains a wry grin.
The illustrations are done in graphite and colored digitally. The digital color is so pale that it is a whisper of color at the edges of the scenes with pale green leaves, a brown bear, and some flowers with a glimmer of pink. They are subtle and lovely, offering space for song and performance.
Thoughtful and lovely, this book explores friendship, sharing the limelight, and being true to yourself.
Mr. Tiger by Davide Cali, illustrated by Miguel Tanco (9781849767477)
Mr. Tiger is a wrestler with world-famous moves in the ring. His most famous move of all is The Leap of the Tiger, where he flies across the ring. Mr. Tiger has rivals in the ring and also friends who help him, but after the match all of the wrestlers are actually friends. But outside the ring and wrestling, Mr. Tiger doesn’t have any friends except for Fifi, his fluffy little dog. Mr. Tiger would like to be friends with someone, in particular a woman who works in a cafe named Lily. But Mr. Tiger can’t seem to work up the courage to speak with her at all. His worries about Lily are starting to effect his skills in the ring too, so he decides he must speak to her with a little pushing from his wrestling buddies. Time after time though, Mr. Tiger fails to speak up. Until one day, Fifi gets free and bumps right into Lily and her dog. Now it’s time to see if Lily likes wrestling at all!
There is a wonderful contrast between the loud yellow mask of Mr. Tiger, his dazzling moves in the ring in front of large crowds and then his shyness and lack of friends. Mr. Tiger wears his mask throughout the book, even when going about his day-to-day life. There is an added sense of whimsy when he wonders if Lily will accept him being a wrestler while wearing the mask. The text is brisk and vibrant with action in the ring, the humor of wrestler names, and just enough time to know Mr. Tiger is very lonely.
Tanco’s illustrations are bold and bright. He plays up the broadness of Mr. Tiger’s shoulders. Then there is the pink fluff that is Fifi snuggled against the yellow tiger mask. It is all clever and funny setting just the right tone about loneliness and shyness.
A clever mix of wrestling in the ring and wrestling with making a friend. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
From the dawn of World War II through the course of the war, four young people grow up. There is Ruby, born with speckled birthmarks on her face, who is bullied for them and spends much of her time alone or in her family’s British news shop. There is Kate, who has a constant cough and anxiety and who is looked after by her older siblings until they have to leave the house. In Germany, Erik and Hans grow up as best friends living in the same building. They tend to swallow chicks together, dream of working in a zoo and pastry shop, and spend time at the airfield. As the war progresses and the Nazis take over, they become part of the Luftwaffe. The girls are also impacted by the war, rescuing a dog who has been released by his owner, moving to safer areas due to the bombing, and helping neighbors understand what is happening in Europe. Both the English and German characters have loving uncles who appear in their lives, fix things and set things up and then disappear again. As these characters survive the war, their lives impact upon one another in tragic and unexpected ways.
I am a great fan of McKay’s work. Her writing takes on serious issues yet she manages to truly show the deep humanity of all of her characters through small memorable moments that impact their lives. It may be a wild and drunken Christmas that ends with a crash, it may be saving a diminutive elderly woman with fierceness and physical strength, it may be rescuing a very smelly dog from the streets, or it could be visiting with women who have staunch victory gardens and a tendency toward hoarding. Each one of these is so well written and described that the scenes are vivid and the moments uniquely special.
The characters themselves are also beautifully written, each with their own tone and style. It is particularly noteworthy to have two German characters from World War II who retain their humor and humanity through the entire story. They are written with a deep empathy for the situation of the German people during the Nazi regime and an eye towards also showing that families did what they could to save neighbors. The English girls are a delightful mix of bravery, steadiness and wild adventures that keep the book lighter than it could have been.
Another gorgeous read from McKay, this time illuminating both sides of World War II. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Black and White by Debora Vogrig, illustrated by Pia Valentinis (9780802855756)
On a page full of black with a few white-lit windows, White wakes up. White spreads light through the sky and enters the house. Black hides under the bed. The two push and pull, wrestling a bit, then they head off together. Together they make neat crosswalk lines and then octopus ink messy splatter that turns into a spotted Dalmatian dog. The friends head to the forest of birch trees, to the Poles to see polar bears and penguins. They reach the savannah and run with zebras and the jungle where panthers stalk. In the evening, Black is the one who stretches out and fills the space. White begs for one more game, one more song, one more story and finally the two dazzle the night sky together.
This book explores colors, opposites and a playful friendship between white and black, light and dark. The text invites readers into their friendship and play, showing how the two colors balance one another, create surprising designs together, and form shadows and lightness. The interplay between the two opposites is cleverly done, showing how friends don’t have to agree or be similar to have a strong friendship.
The art in this picture book is done entirely in black and white with no touches of other color. The use of shadows, shapes, light sources and more create a dynamic style on the page, inviting readers to look closely, guess at the animals before the text reveals them and enjoy immersion into this two-tone world.
A stirring look at black and white, colors and opposites that inspires. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
These are the first two titles in the new early reader series by the talented Raúl the Third. The books feature the Luchadores El Toro and his group of friends. In Tag Team, the stadium is a mess after last night’s match. El Toro is feeling very overwhelmed by the mess until La Oink Oink arrives and helps him. She talks him into doing it as a tag team, turning on some music and working together with brooms, mops and more. The second book, Training Day, shows how El Toro trains to get ready for his next match. But he isn’t feeling like training, even though his coach, Kooky Dooky, wants to keep him in shape and ready. Kooky tries to think of cool exercises that will get El Toro out of bed, but it isn’t until El Toro is truly inspired that he is ready to train.
With a mix of Spanish and English, these beginning readers are marvelous. The writing has just the right mix of humor and emotion. El Toro’s situations are relatable, since sometimes children don’t want to do their chores or get out of bed for a busy day. There is a lot of empathy here combined with empowering messages about the importance of friendships to keep us going.
The illustrations are detailed and delightful. Featuring Raúl the Third’s signature style, they share characters that readers will have met in Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! The colors are bright and full of tropical colors of orange, purple and yellow.
A vital addition to all libraries’ early reader shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Chirp! by Jamie A. Swenson, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9781534470026)
Chipmunk spends her days chirping on top of her rock. Her songs can be happy, or bittersweet or very sad. Her rock was very good at listening, but didn’t sing along. So Chipmunk set out to find a new friend. She found a pinecone that she scooped up and brought back to where the rock was waiting. But the pinecone was also a listener and not a singer. So Chipmunk set off again. She found a log that she thought would make the perfect addition to her group of friends. The problem was, Chipmunk couldn’t move it. So she sat in the log and sang a sad song. Raccoon heard her singing and offered to help her move the log. But even with both of them trying, it wouldn’t budge. Chipmunk and Raccoon sang a bittersweet song together and Moose heard them. With Moose’s help they managed to pop the log free and it rolled right next to the pinecone and rock. Chipmunk still spends her days singing, now though Raccoon and Moose join in too.
A search for friendship makes for a poignant look at how it can be a struggle to find the right friends. At the same time, Chipmunk never gives up on her rather silent friends, framing it instead that they are good listeners. It’s a charming take on loneliness. The bridge of music to share emotions and find new friends weaves throughout the book and brings Raccoon and Moose into the story where they share their voices too. The ending is lovely and satisfying.
Magoon’s illustrations convey Chipmunk’s emotions with colors and movement. The pastels of happiness, the orange and dark moments of bittersweet feelings, and then the blackness of sadness that still has some light within it. The forest setting of the picture book is shown in lovely small details of ferns, grasses, leaves, rocks, dirt and light.
A book about finding friends who truly hear you. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon and Schuster.
Gran told Trixy stories from the time she was born. No one else believed Gran’s stories were true, but Trixy knew they were. After Gran’s death, Trixy holds on to her stories, particularly the one she promised to never tell. Gran told Trixy that stories weren’t meant for everyone, because sometimes they can’t be heard. When her teacher tells her that she needs to write down a true story, Trixy borrows one from Gran. It’s a story that is unbelievable, combining cake, theft and Liberace. Soon Trixy is telling lots of people Gran’s stories and submitting some for publication. Deep down she knows the stories are real, but can she prove it? It’s going to take telling some lies, doing some sneaking, and traveling across the state to meet people who knew Gran and can tell Trixy the real truth.
Vrabel has created a novel wrapped around a series of delightful short stories told in Gran’s voice. Through those stories and Trixy’s memories, readers gain a deep sense of who Gran was. The novel is an exploration of the power of stories that are shared, a question of what truth really is, and then an ending that will require a few tissues. The writing is marvelous with just the right amount of Southern charm. The play between the novel itself and the stories works amazingly well, combining richly together.
Trixy is a character who is holding not only stories but also secrets. Her relationships with others are difficult thanks to her prickly way with others. Trixy regularly believes that she is right, doesn’t listen to others, and in the process speaks hurtfully to them. At the same time, her pain over losing her beloved Gran is evident as is her need to connect with other people. She manages to transform those around her with her stories while at the same time also changing herself too.
A charming Southern novel about stories, loss, love and truth. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
When Sonny finds a pink, soft bunny toy in the sandbox, he falls in love with it. He names it Bun-Bun and they spend lots of time playing together. Meemo, the dog, sniffs Bun-Bun but Sonny insists that Bun-Bun is “Mine!” Later, Honey and Boo come by. Boo is crying, because she has lost Suki, her favorite pink bunny. Honey searches everywhere for Suki, but Sonny keeps Bun-Bun out of sight. Honey even asks if Sonny has seen Suki, but Sonny says No! Sonny hides Bun-Bun in a safe place and then heads to help Boo feel better, but she doesn’t want to play. She is even too sad to eat cake. Now it is up to Sonny to see if he will do the right thing or not.
This is the first in a new series of books featuring these four characters. This first book looks at sharing and telling the truth. Hart’s animal characters have big personalities and their relationships with one another are well drawn and interesting. They are written as small children and show the same mistakes and learning.
OHora’s illustrations work really well here with their bright colors and simplicity. The emotions on their faces are clear and add to the understanding of how difficult the choices are for Sonny as he struggles with his desire for the toy and the need to make his friend feel better.
A charming new series starter that will start conversations about sharing and choices. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
When Reggie arrives at his cousin’s home to housesit during their summer vacation, he gets a warm welcome from the huge monster family who are all busy in the cave complex below the main house, making clothes, fixing pipes, and playing cards. Reggie has left his life of exploring and finding treasure for a quiet summer alone. When his first morning is interrupted by a vivacious doglike monster named Emily, he is a bit overwhelmed and not ready to stop being alone and grumpy. Emily though persuades him to head out into the field and explore his new surroundings, discovering a beach but also a rather intimidating cave. Reggie heads over to Emily’s woodland home a little later, meeting her large family and enjoying a spiced apple for his return home. When Emily goes missing, it is Reggie who knows just where she might be, but he has to face his fear of dark caves and revealing his fear to find her.
This graphic novel for chapter book readers offers a world full of furry monsters who are marvelously human, full of self doubt, a need to prove themselves, and struggles to be honest with one another. Readers will love the small world that is built here, full of wonderful nature like the woods, beach and cave. The world is populated with all sorts of monsters, some scaly, some furry, and some shapeshifters. The art style is full of small details that fill out each of the settings. The mushrooms on the shelves in the family cave complex, the spilling bathtub, the toys spread all over the room.
The writing is just as joyous as the illustrations. Reggie is a grand grump of a character, ready to sulk his summer away until Emily literally bounds right into it. Emily is the perfect foil for Reggie, both visually and in personality. But Emily too has her own struggles with her siblings and family that play out on the page. The two become friends naturally, bridged by warm drinks and shared snacks.
A fuzzy monster of a graphic novel full of caves, serpents and surprises. Appropriate for ages 8-11.