Review: Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts

Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts

Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts & Sanne te Loo (9781782505617)

Adin and Dina lived on the same farm. The two of them spent long days together picking cherries on the farm and climbing high in the cherry trees. They ate the cherries and kept the pits, planting them around town in the hopes that trees would grow. But then one day, Adin’s family decided to move to the city. Adin moved to an apartment building, far from any cherry trees. Dina gave him a bag of cherry pits to take with him. He spent time creating paper airplanes, loading them with pits and launching them off his balcony. Dina did get to visit once during their year apart. The two of them quickly fell back into being close friends. When spring came, the cherry pits were gone but a path of blooming trees led right back to the farm from the city. A path that just had to be followed.

This Dutch import has a lovely quiet to it. From the quiet friendship spent together in trees eating cherries to the quiet of loneliness for a close friend, all are captured on these pages. The emotions of a friend leaving are captured beautifully too as is the lasting connection between people and places. The writing is superb, celebrating cherries and trees and steadily building to that moment in spring when trees burst into bloom.

The art of this picture book celebrates the countryside and nature. The book captures the seasons with different colors and silhouettes of the trees. The rich green of summer turns to the browns of autumn to the whites of winter and then to a vibrant light green of spring that reaches to the city with its illumination on the page.

A lovely look at a cherry of a friendship. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Floris Books.

Review: In a Jar by Deborah Marcero

In a Jar by Deborah Marcero

In a Jar by Deborah Marcero (9780525514596)

Llewellyn was a rabbit who loved to collect things in jars. He collected small things from his days like bright yellow leaves in the autumn which would remind him of what he had done and seen. One night when the sunset turned the sky “the color of tart cherry syrup,” Llewellyn went down to the shore with a lot of jars. He gathered the light of the night into his jars and gave one to a girl who came by. Evelyn was amazed to find that the in the jar glowed all night long the color of sunsets. Soon the two of them were gathering all sorts of things in jars like rainbows, the sound of the ocean, and even entire seasons. Their collection got very large, until one day Evelyn’s family moved away. For some time, Llewellyn felt like an empty jar but then he had an idea. He went out one night and collected a meteor shower in a jar and sent it to Evelyn. In turn, she collected the sounds and lights of the big city she now lived in and sent it to Llewellyn. Llewellyn set out on an autumn day to gather a jar for Evelyn and that’s when he met Max, and Llewellyn happened to have a jar for him too. 

Marcero sets the tone for this book right from the first page. You simply know that something amazing and magical is about to happen. She does this with simple words that children will easily follow and then also throws in lines like the sky the color of “tart cherry syrup” and “the wind just before snow falls.” Each of these lines creates a beautiful image and moment for the reader, indicating that something special is happening. This continues through the book, reminding readers that it is these moments that make life magical, whether you can bottle them or not. 

The art here is tremendously gorgeous. Marcero creates pages of meteor showers, sunsets filled with birds soaring, and entire seasons on two pages that are filled with moments of wonder and amazement, and yet that are also moments we could all have and share. There’s a beautiful tension between the beauty on the page and also the normalcy of it all. 

A picture book that shows everyone that these magical moments are there for us all to collect and share. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Review: Cub by Cynthia Copeland 

Cub by Cynthia Copeland

Cub by Cynthia Copeland (9781616208486)

This graphic novel looks at life in middle school during the 1970’s, a time filled with bullies, bell bottoms, and possibilities. Cindy is in seventh grade and dealing with being one of the prey in a school with plenty of predators, particularly mean girls. Cindy plays dead and doesn’t react to the comments of people like Evie Exley, so they leave her alone. Cindy loves reading and creating art, so when her favorite English teacher suggests that she become a writer, Cindy jumps at the chance. Soon she is working as a cub reporter for the local paper, accompanying a real reporter to meetings and events around the community. She starts taking photographs and learns to edit her writing to be appropriate for a newspaper. She also finds her voice and a group of friends who are just as unique as she is.

Middle school can be painful but this graphic novel is a breath of fresh air. While it does address the larger issues of middle school bullying, it is truly about simply being yourself in the midst of it all and finding other kids who are doing the same thing. There is a touch of romance here, but only a touch that is just right for the seventh grade setting. The focus on self-esteem and following your dreams is a call for all young girls to find their own paths and then work hard to reach their goals. Cindy is an example of someone who makes mistakes, learns from them, improves and reaches goals that she may not have realized she even had in the beginning. 

The art in this graphic novel is immensely approachable, embracing the seventies setting with fashion, hair styles, and the cars being driven. The time period is a large part of the story as Watergate is breaking just as Cindy starts being a cub reporter. Journalism is an inspiring profession both in the seventies and today, something that is worth commenting on in today’s world.

A graphic novel with a strong female protagonist who follows her own dreams. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Algonquin Young Readers.

Review: Wintercake by Lynne Rae Perkins

Wintercake by Lynne Rae Perkins

Wintercake by Lynne Rae Perkins (9780062894878)

Thomas lost his basket of dried fruit for his wintercake that he had planned to make for Winter’s Eve. His friend, Lucy, the cardinal heads off into the growing snowstorm and takes shelter at a tea house. There she sees another animal with Thomas’ basket of dried fruit. She just knows that he has stolen it to keep for himself! So when he leaves the restaurant, Lucy follows him, all the way to Thomas’ door, where he returns the fruit and the basket. Realizing how wrong she was, Lucy and Thomas decide to make a wintercake for the stranger. They follow his footprints in the snow to an empty hollow where he sits alone in front of a small fire. The two friends approach, accidentally scaring everyone and drop the cake. But there is still cake to be shared and new friends to meet.

Perkins creates her own solstice-like celebration with animals in a forest setting that will work equally well for other winter holidays. She tells a detailed story, showing how assumptions about strangers can be very wrong and also showing how to make up for thinking that way about someone. The sharing, giving and friendship shown here are rich and detailed. It is a picture book that celebrates new friends and new traditions built upon old friends and long-standing traditions.

Perkins’ art is interesting. There is no real clarity of what sort of animal Thomas is, rather like a bear or a groundhog type of creature. The stranger is more of a weasel, which works well with the story. That lack of clarity is part of the charm of the book. Perkins has also created a warm neighborhood of tea houses and cozy homes in trees. The bare hollow is shown in real contrast to those other spaces, making it all the more cold and lonely.

A lovely addition to holiday books. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo (9780763694647)

This is the third novel in the Raymie Nightingale series, focused this time on Beverly Tapinski. After her dog dies and is buried under the orange trees, Beverly just leaves town. She catches a ride to Tamaray Beach, not having any plans other than getting out. There she finds herself a job bussing tables in a fish restaurant, even though she hates fish. She also finds herself a place to live with Iola, a friendly woman who lives in a trailer near the ocean. Beverly spends her days working hard enough not to think anymore. She makes a new friend at Zoom City, a boy who gives children a dime to be able to ride the mechanical horse outside the store. Beverly seems to be building a new life, but it’s still connected to the one she left behind even as she celebrates Christmas in July in August, joins a labor dispute, and finds a boy to hold hands with.

There is something very special about DiCamillo’s writing. She writes with a purity and simplicity that is immensely inviting for young readers. In doing so though, she lays the entire world open in front of the reader, filled with longing, loss and finding yourself no matter how far you may run. She also writes amazing secondary characters, who are alive on the page, filled with their own struggles and humanity too. Deftly paced, this book takes place in a very focused setting that belongs specifically to Beverly.

It’s a great feat to have a trilogy of books, each just as strong as the next and each focused on a different character almost entirely. The stories are just as compelling as the writing, skillfully telling the story of a girl’s heart on the page, and allowing readers to fall deeply into that person’s world.

A third winner in a powerful trilogy. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9781338233155)

This third in the Sunny series of graphic novels continues the story of Sunny, who is growing up in the 1970s. Sunny is starting middle school and things with her friends are becoming more and more confusing. There is the mystery of hair rollers, the unspoken rules of being a girl like when a boy bumps you he’s showing he likes you and that even if girls talk about boys all the time, it’s not OK to be friends with them. But there are things that make perfect sense to Sunny, like playing Dungeons & Dragons with her group of friends, who are mostly boys. When that too ends up being forbidden in middle school, Sunny must decide if she wants to be groovy or wants to be herself.

As someone of almost the exact same age as Sunny in the 1970s, one of the most charming parts of this series is how much of the seventies is captured in the stories without it becoming unnecessarily retro. I also love the inclusion of Dungeons & Dragons. Sunny is a girl after my own heart as I played a paladin always. The fact that D&D bridges from the seventies to today is impressive. The tone is just right as well, offering moments of real humor and empathy in the middle school years. As always, the art is right on, with the failures of Sunny to curl her hair, the beauty of tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, and the quiet loveliness of a paneled basement for gaming.

Bright and funny, this is another great book in the series. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney (9780374309527)

Allie has grown up with Islamophobia aimed at her father because of the way he looks. She’s learned how to use her own lighter skin and red hair to intervene. She has lived all over the United States due to her father’s job as a professor, so she’s also learned how to quickly fit in with her peers too. As Allie starts to date Wells, a boy in her new school, she is also getting more interested in learning about being a Muslim. Allie’s father isn’t a practicing Muslim and has strong feelings about Allie starting to pray and learning Arabic. When Allie discovers that Wells’ father is one of the biggest TV bigots, particularly about Muslims, she must start to make choices about whether to speak out or continue to blend in.

Courtney’s writing is fresh and blunt. She takes on racism directly from the very first scene in the book and then uses that as a way to start a dialogue inside her book about how best to address overt and casual racism that one encounters throughout their life. Allie learning about her religion allows readers to learn alongside her. The study group discussions she participates in also show the wide ranging views of Muslims, both liberal and more conservative.

The exploration of one’s response to hate speech and bumbling attempts at support is explored through Allie. Allie’s character is learning about herself, both through her religion and outside of it. She’s figuring out her own boundaries, rather than those of her religion or her family. It’s a true coming-of-age tale, readers watch Allie develop in a way that makes leaps at times, but is always organic and honest.

Filled with opportunities to learn, this novel takes on racism. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

Review: The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Alea Marley (9781454931843)

Harpreet loves to express himself through the colors he wears, particularly the colors of his patka. Yellow was for when he felt sunny, pink for celebrating, red for courage, and blue for when he was nervous. When Harpreet moved across the country to a snowy city, he stopped wearing his colors. Instead, day after day, he wore white to match the cold outdoors and to be invisible. His parents tried to get him to wear different colors again, but he refused. Then one day, he discovered one of his classmate’s yellow hat in the snow and returned it to her. He loved the yellow and the smiley face on it. She loved his patka too. Steadily, Harpreet started to wear colors again, this time to celebrate a new friend.

Kelkar beautifully depicts the power of color in a little boy’s life while celebrating his Sikh religion at the same time. She takes the time to show what each color represents, along with the illustrations depicting what bravery, joy and nerves mean to him personally. The story is tightly written, focused on the nerves and loneliness of moving and finding your way. This focus makes the discovery of a new friend all the more powerful.

Marley’s illustrations show the range of colors that Harpreet has for his patka along with their matching outfits. Harpreet’s emotions, both joyous and sad, are clearly depicted in facial expressions and in body language. It is a huge relief when Harpreet’s world starts to be multicolored again.

Diverse and colorful, this picture book is anything but dull. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Oscar Seeks a Friend by Pawel Pawlak

Oscar Seeks a Friend by Pawel Pawlak

Oscar Seeks a Friend by Pawel Pawlak (9781911373827)

Oscar is a little skeleton who has lost a tooth. He thinks he looks entirely dreadful without it and wonders if he will ever find someone to play with. So when he sees a little girl burying a tooth, he asks her for it. But she is burying the tooth in order to have a wish come true. Then she takes another look at Oscar and starts to laugh. She agrees to give him the tooth if he helps her find a friend. The two head off, and she shows Oscar all of the lovely things she would show a friend, including rainbows, meadows, and the seaside. Oscar then brings her into his world and shows her parks and libraries and sleeping butterflies. The two realize at the end of the day together that they both got what they wished for, tooth or no tooth.

This Polish import is a treat just right for Halloween with its skeleton main character. Oscar is an entirely human skeleton with worries about making friends. The book plays against Oscar being a skeleton nicely as the little human girl isn’t scared of him for even a moment. There’s something very endearing about him and the entire book focuses on connections rather than frights.

The illustrations are what make this book special. Done in paper collage with 3D elements, the images are tactile and full of texture. The worlds of each of the characters is distinct in color and content. Oscar’s is dark with pops of color and the human world is bright and filled with sun, rain and rainbows. The play of the two against one another is visually gorgeous on the page.

Charming rather than scary, this is a autumn treat. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.