3 New Picture Books Featuring Friends

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith (9781626723146)

Two children head into the woods and discover an old house that is no longer a home. Once painted blue with an overgrown path, the house has a door that is stuck partly open. So the children enter through a broken window. Inside they find clues about the people who used to live there. There are art supplies, photographs, things in the kitchen for cooking, and beds that are still made. Could the owner have been a sea captain? Or perhaps a woman who painted in the garden? A girl or a boy? A king or a queen? And why did they leave this house waiting for them, never to return?

Such a gorgeous picture book. The writing is exceptional, the poetry invites readers to head forward slowly as if exploring an old house themselves. The writing looks at things from different angles, puts words together carefully and asks readers to think a bit before moving on. The pacing is delicious and just right, echoing the activities described on the page. Smith’s illustrations are layered and loose, the color on the page almost lifted by the breeze like pollen. It settles and lifts again.

Seriously one of the best picture books of the year. This is treat by two master artists must be shared with children!

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781592702503)

This beautiful, heartfelt picture book shows the incredible joy of having a true childhood friend. In this book, Raphael loves his best friend Jerome. He’s a friend who isn’t afraid to hold hands, picks Raphael as his partner at school, shares his snacks, and defends Raphael if anyone picks on him. When Raphael’s parents react rather rudely when he expresses his admiration and adoration of Jerome, Raphael heads to his room. There he looks for a great gift for Jerome, until he is distracted thinking about adventures that he and Jerome can have together. Because they will!

A French import, this picture book is childhood captured on the page. There is a merriment to the boys’ time together and an innocence inherent in the way they treat one another. And yet Raphael has beautifully concrete reasons that he loves Jerome and it’s all about how well he is treated and how Jerome makes him feel inside. The parents’ reaction may echo some of the reactions of adult readers who may wonder if there is more connection between the boys than just friends. That is neatly put in its place as Raphael heads off to be with his friend regardless of what that friendship may eventually mean for them.

Tallec’s illustrations are as masterful as ever. The pairing of the two boys is depicted with solid connections between the two of them. They have a lovely playfulness about them that capture the friendship of the boys and mimics the merriment that the boys feel when together. A delicate and touching story of friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.)

Rescue & Jessica A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9780763696047)

Written by two of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, this picture book is the true story of one of them and their service dog, Rescue. It is the story of a dog learning to serve and a girl learning to survive after losing a leg. Both of them train long and hard separately until they are paired together. The two of them spend their days together and Rescue helps Jessica heal after she loses her remaining leg. After that, the training starts all over again, but this time they do it together. This picture book captures a story of resilience and survival after a tragedy and the difference a service dog makes in that recovery and life afterwards.

The writing here is told with a light tone where possible. It helps tremendously that readers can see Rescue training to be Jessica’s dog even as her story is deep in shadows and pain. The mirroring of their hard work is also very successful, showing the dedication they both had to have even before they meet one another. The illustrations are very effective, using white and black backgrounds to show hope and challenging times. Throughout though, there is hope, in the form on one black dog who stands strong against dark and light. A winning picture book that is inspiring and courageous. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

Review: Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant (9781534412774)

Flora is a quiet child, who loves the purple chair in the window of the used book store more than any other place. That’s particularly true now that her parents are separated and living in different houses from one another. Flora has also lost her dog recently, so things feel very off kilter. Even fourth grade seems very different from other school years. Still, as Flora navigates the changes in her life, she also has some happy surprises. She meets Yury, a boy from the Ukraine, who enjoys animals and survival stories too. The two become close friends and soon each of them have new pets in their lives too. Flora’s other friend Nessy is steadily discovering her own talents. And though Flora hasn’t discovered her own yet, she soon will.

Set in Indiana in 1972, Rylant has created a book that captures being a worried and anxious child just right. Flora is quiet and a tad shy, unless she knows something. She worries about different things and her family is gentle and understanding with her. Even as she grows in this short novel, that aspect of her personality is embraced and not being fixed by others. The book itself is gentle in tone, slow paced and lovingly written.

A book that will have a specific audience who will adore it, this one may not be for everyone but will be just right for some children. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable (9781626725614

Peter and Ernesto are two sloths who are best friends and live together in the same tree. They spend their days looking at clouds, eating snacks and singing songs. Then one day, Ernesto realizes that he wants to see more of the sky than that above their tree. So he sets off on an adventure. He has to cross a shaky bridge and a river, then find a way across the ocean. Ernesto makes friends along the way, discovering oceans, mountains, deserts and arctic places each with different skies. But Peter is worried, and he sets off too, making his own friends along the way. He doesn’t journey as far as Ernesto, but is there waiting when Ernesto returns to the beach. Two very different friends who support one another in their own ways.

Annable’s graphic novel is simple and friendly. The cells of the story are edged in black, sometimes distinct from each other and other times playfully running together to form a single picture broken by the frame. The sloths are nicely distinct from one another visually and also in attitude, each brave in their own way. The adventures they have are distinct from one another but also alike enough to contrast effectively.

A great early graphic novel for elementary-aged readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.)

 

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency Contact by Mary Choi

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi (9781534408968)

Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, eager to leave behind her uneventful high school years, her dull boyfriend and her over-the-top mother. Her roommate Jude takes her to a coffee place where her uncle works, and Penny finds a connection with Sam immediately. Their friendship steadily grows as they communicate exclusively through texts with one another. But Sam’s life is not a simple one. His ex-girlfriend has announced she is pregnant, he is sleeping in a small room above the coffee shop he works in, and he is trying to break is alcohol habit. As Penny and Sam continue to text one another, their connection grows more serious and soon they are sharing things that they have never told anyone else. But can their friendship survive meeting in real life again?

I fell completely head-over-heels for this teen romance. Penny is a character who is rather neurotic with her bags of supplies and her need for cleanliness. Yet she is also artistic and has a thought process that is just as unique and wonderful as she is. Choi doesn’t try to fix Penny and how idiosyncratic she is, which is a wonder and a relief. Sam too is incredibly written, grappling with so many things at once. One of my favorite scenes happens early in the book when Penny rescues Sam from a panic attack, which demonstrates the amount of anxiety both of these characters have and how they live and love with it.

As the background of both characters is revealed to the reader, their reactions begin to make more and more sense. It’s as if the reader too is meeting a stranger, building a relationship and falling for both of these characters at the same time. A large part of both of the characters are their mothers from Penny’s sexy Asian mother who acts far younger than she is and is constantly getting into trouble to Sam’s mother who ran up credit card debt in Sam’s name, they are influential and painful for both characters.

Beautifully written, awkward in the best way and entirely empowering and accepting, this novel is a warm hug for readers struggling with anxiety. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

3 Very Friendly New Picture Books

Can I Be Your Dog By Troy Cummings

Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings (9780399554520)

Arfy is a dog looking for a home, so he writes to each house and business on Butternut Street. One by one though, they each say no. The Honeywells have a cat that’s allergic to dogs. The butcher thinks Arfy might steal too many meatballs. The fire station already has a dog. The junkyard just sends a nasty note back. And no one is living in the abandoned house. But as she delivered each of Arfy’s notes, the letter carrier made her own decision. The book ends with tips on how children can help animals who need a home. The use of letters adds a real appeal to this book as Arfy so politely asks for space and then is turned down with a variety of responses, some friendly, some rude and others businesslike. The book will work well for children learning to write letters who need a great model like Arfy to follow. The appealing artwork adds a playful feel and readers will recognize that Arfy has a friend in the letter carrier from the start. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House and Edelweiss.)

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld and Philip Hopman (9780802854896)

When Bobbi and William have an argument, William shouts that Bobbi should just get on his bike and leave. So that’s exactly what Bobbi does. Bobbi’s head is filled with anger at first and he doesn’t notice what is around him. But as he rides through town and out into the country, he begins to notice things around him. At each stoplight, Bobbi makes a choice of where to head. Sometimes traffic is loud and busy and other times Bobbi is alone in nature. As he rides, his thoughts move from the fight to his surroundings and he notices more and more. His ride brings him full circle back home, where William is waiting for him with dinner already made, cold but not ruined.

This picture book was originally published in the Netherlands and one can see their cycling culture strongly in the images. In most of the images, the roads are crowded with bikes which share the road with the cars and trucks. The story subtly moves through anger and shows a way of coping that allows a natural  move from frustration and anger to returning to oneself. The illustrations show a world populated with animals rather than people. Bobbi himself is a panda and William is a bulldog. There are birds, alligators, mice and more riding bikes, driving trucks and walking the towns. Refreshing and friendly, this picture book takes a look at anger and cooling down. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

Hi, Jack By Mac Barnett

Hi, Jack! By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780425289075)

Two masters take on the easy-reader format in this first in a new series. Jack is a monkey who gets into all sorts of trouble, most of it of his own making. Accompanied by two other characters, Rex the dog and The Lady, Jack steals the lady’s purse in the first chapter. He returns the purse, but soon Jack and Rex are sporting the lipstick that Jack took! When he returns the red lipstick to The Lady, Jack still has one more trick up his sleeve. Young readers will enjoy the naughtiness of Jack and how he manages to make friends and feel sorry and yet still be entirely himself in the end. The writing is simple and friendly for the earliest readers who will also appreciate the chapter book format. Pizzoli’s art is simple and bright. At the end of the book he offers a tutorial of how to draw each of the characters, inviting children to create their own pictures and stories. A great pick for early readers and early reader collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.)

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell (9781481419451)

When their plane crashes in the Amazon, four children are the only ones who survive. Now it is up to them to figure out how to survive in the vast jungle. There is Fred, a teen who has always dreamed of exploring wilderness and of the fame that comes with it. There is Con, a girl with almost no family and even fewer friends. Then Lila and her five-year-old brother Max complete the group. Lila only wants to keep Max healthy and alive, despite all of his attempts to get into trouble. As they forage for food, they discover a man-made shelter and then a series of clues that lead them to a crude map. Having built a raft from wood and vines, they follow the map to discover another human surviving in the jungle, someone so angry that he may not help them at all.

Rundell’s body of work is one of the most varied in children’s literature. The unifying feature though is her ability to bring a setting fully to life for the reader. Here, the setting is incredibly detailed and readers will get to learn about things like eating grubs, vines that make your skin itch, the right way to cook a spider over an open flame, and much more. Rundell doesn’t just present this information, she injects it into her story, showing how rich and beautiful the Amazon is even as she presents its dangers.

The four young characters make a strong group as they work together to survive. Rundell does not give any of them perfect characters, allowing the oldest to wrestle with his wish for fame, others to struggle to communicate, and the youngest to simply be awfully annoying at times. This too adds to the realistic feel of the novel, and in the end shows that friendships can be forged with even the most unlikely of people.

Filled with adventure, wilderness and plenty of icky moments, this is a gripping and fabulous look at the Amazon. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

 

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (9781481487726)

Kiko struggles to find her own voice in many ways. She can’t seem to be herself in crowds, even small ones. She certainly can’t tell her mother what she actually thinks, particularly when her mother lets her uncle return to their home after Kiko had accused him of molesting her as a child. It is only in her art that Kiko tells her own story and speaks the truth. She plans to finally get away from her mother by attending art school in New York City. When she doesn’t get in, Kiko is trapped in a life of seeing her molester in her home, being with her horrible mother, and seeing her best friend head off to school. That is when a childhood friend comes back into her life and she begins to see what a future filled with art and honesty looks like.

I read only the first few lines of this debut book and realized that I had tumbled into the world created by a very talented storyteller. It is a world of abusive mothers, where the abuse is emotional rather than physical. Bowman draws the abuse clearly and subtly, allowing readers to realize the depths of the damage along with Kiko herself as her mother not only fails to protect her but also hurts her directly. It is a world of art, where art pieces end each chapter, the image capturing the emotions that Kiko was just feeling with an accuracy that lets you see it before your eyes.

This is a book that explores being different, particularly Kiko, who is half Japanese and half Caucasian, looking different than her blonde mother. Her mother has specific cruelties related to Kiko’s appearance that are particularly awful. As Kiko begins to think for herself, readers will be able to start breathing along with her and see just how strong Kiko is as a young woman on her own.

A book that celebrates individuality, art and survival, this novel is fresh and deeply moving. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (9780062398512)

Billie lives in a small town where each year a worthy woman wins the “Corn Dolly.” Billie knows she will never be chosen to compete for it, since she is not the type of girl or woman who gets picked. She is the preacher’s daughter, but she’s also part of the group of teens, the Hexagon, that started her father’s church on fire. Billie loves her friends, taking comfort in their ease with one another. Still, when her best friend Janie Lee confesses that she has a crush on Woods, Billie is devastated. Billie isn’t quite sure what she wants though, could it be that she loves Woods too? Or maybe Janie Lee? As Billie wrestles with her sexuality in a small town, she discovers unexpected allies, new friends, and the power of being yourself.

As someone who grew up outside of a small town, Stevens captures small town life beautifully, from the comfort of knowing everyone to the suffocating nature of everyone knowing you. The micro-world of the small town is so well drawn, demonstrating why one would never leave at the same time showing why some run as soon as they can. This tension plays throughout the book, offering a scaffold for Billie’s questioning of her sexuality that is supportive and evocative.

Billie is exactly the heroine we need right now. She is strong beyond belief, a clear anchor for those in her life. Still, she wrestles with so much, from what it means to be a girl and be feminine to what it means to be in love with a person but not want to “be” with them. There is nothing easy about Billie, she is complex and wondrous. She’s an artist, an inadvertent activist, a hard worker, one-of-the-guys and clearly unaware of her own appeal and beauty. She’s incandescent on the page, a fire to be warmed by.

Complicated and incredibly poignant, this novel for teens rocks. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (9780062290137, Amazon)

No one knows that Eliza, a senior in high school, is the creator of the immensely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She spends her days at school working on art for the comic and trying to be invisible. Then a new boy, Wallace, comes to her school. He has the looks of a football player, but doesn’t seem to say much at all, instead spending his time writing. Eliza soon learns that he is a major fan of her webcomic. As their friendship grows and starts to turn into a romance, the two of them do most of their communicating through texts, online chat and written notes. Eliza has to decide whether to share her secret of being the creator of Monstrous Sea with Wallace or whether she can stay anonymous much longer.

Zappia’s writing is completely captivating. She writes with a lovely confidence, telling the story of an introverted young creator with grace and understanding. Her characters are deeply human, struggling with real trauma and finding their safe place in communities online where they can be authentic and original. She speaks to the power of art and creativity in your life, making something that you can’t stop creating and having others find value in it too. Still, there is a tipping point where fans’ expectations can become too much and overwhelm the creative process. Zappia shows how mental distress can be dealt with and progress forward can be made, slowly.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this book, though there are many great elements is Zappia’s portrayal of introverts. There is a coziness here, a feeling of safety in the pages, as if they are forming a critical spot for introverts to bloom, just like an online community. The book shows how introverts may be awkward but are also incredibly creative, thoughtful and deep people who just need their home and dog to recharge sometimes, alright often. The book allows Eliza and Wallace to steadily use online tools to communicate and learn about one another, building their relationship with honesty and humor.

Get this in the hands of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.