Review: A Visit to Grandad: An African ABC by Sade Fadipe

A Visit to Grandad An African ABC by Sade Fadipe

A Visit to Grandad: An African ABC by Sade Fadipe, illustrated by Shedrach Ayalomeh (9781911115816)

On an alphabet adventure, Adanah heads out to visit her grandfather in Modakeke, Nigeria. The book starts in school with Adanah heading on break. She packs her bags and camera. Her Dad drives her to her grandad’s house out in the country with lots of animals around. The two of them spend time together, having lunch that is invaded by insects, drinking juice, and cleaning the kitchen. At night, Adanah sleeps under a mosquito net. Water is fetched in kegs, more work and cooking is done, and stories are told in the evening. Finally, Mom is there to take Adanah back home to share her adventures with her little sister, Zainab.

This alphabet book works really well as it shows life in modern Nigeria. It is that exploration of Nigeria that really shines in this book, allowing readers to see a fascinating mix of modern and traditional parts. The strong structure of the alphabet helps keep the book focused and while X will always be for something like xylophone almost none of the other letters are a stretch at all. The text feels free and unforced, which is impressive in this sort of book.

The art is bright and fresh, filling the pages with color and glimpses of home life and the landscape. On each page, there are other items that start with that same letter of the alphabet. The art is structured so well though, that it is easy to miss that these elements are even there until you are encouraged to look for them at the end of the book.

An alphabet picture book focused on family and Africa. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Cassava Republic Press.

Review: Grandpa’s Stories by Joseph Coelho

Grandpa's Stories by Joseph Coelho

Grandpa’s Stories by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys (9781419734984)

A little girl visits her grandfather all through the year. In the spring they walk together in the garden. The girl thinks of replanting her grandpa’s birthdays so he won’t get old. In summer, the two of them play together with a secondhand racing track. The cars fly off into space and the girl thinks of their laughter being like shooting stars. In autumn, her grandpa gives her a book he’s made for her to draw in. She’d like to capture all of her bright feelings about him there. In winter, the two stay inside and Grandpa shares his stories with her. But then her Grandpa dies. While cleaning out his room, she discovers reminders of their time together as well as a new blank notebook that he made her for spring. She fills it with her memories of her Grandpa.

The writing in this book is exceptional. Coelho captures seasonal moments of the pair together, weaving in the joy that they feel, the connection that is being maintained and built. He uses imagery of the little girl’s thoughts to really create sincere memories for her to have that are compelling for the reader as well. When the death in the book happens, it is to be expected as one can feel some sadness in the book throughout as Grandpa ages more. It is a gentle moment, one done with care and thoughtfulness.

The illustrations by Colpoys depict a family of color joyfully spending time together and then experiencing and processing their loss. She uses amazingly bright colors on her pages, incorporating neon-poppy red, zinging sunshine yellow, waves of water blues and many more. Those colors never dim throughout the book, offering hope in their cheerfulness even during times of loss.

A beautifully written and illustrated picture book of love and loss. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

Review: Drawn Together by Minh Le

Drawn Together by Minh Le

A boy heads to stay with his grandfather and is clearly not excited to be there. The two of them eat different foods, the grandfather has ramen and the boy has a hotdog and fries. When they try to talk together, they don’t even speak the same language as one another. When they try to watch TV, the language barrier reappears and the grandson walks away. He gets out his sketchpad and markers and starts to draw. Quickly, his grandfather joins him with his own pad of paper, brushes and ink. Soon the two of them are drawing together, communicating and seeing one another for the first time. It’s not all perfect, sometimes the distance reappears but it can be bridged with art that combines both of them into one amazing adventure.

The story here is mostly told in images with many of the pages having no text at all. The text that is there though moves the story ahead, explains what is happening at a deep level and fills in the blanks for readers. Santat’s illustrations are phenomenal. He manages to clearly show the child’s art and the grandfather’s art as distinct and unique while then moving to create a cohesive whole between them that is more than the sum of the two. This is pure storytelling in art form and is exceptionally done.

Look for this one to be on award lists! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.

Review: Sun by Sam Usher

Sun by Sam Usher

In the third book by Usher that focuses on a specific type of weather, this one is sun-filled and summery. Told in the first person by the boy, he awakens to a sunny day that is just right for an outdoor adventure even if it’s “hotter than the Atacama Desert.” The two set off together with provisions and a large map. They walk and walk until they discover just the right place for a rest. Then they walk some more until they found some shade. More walking brought them to a huge cave. But when they enter, they discover some real adventure inside.

Usher’s books are told very simply. This picture book starts out as entirely reality based and then takes a marvelous fantastical turn when the pair enters the cave. All along, it is hinted at that they are walking on a real journey. The illustrations help tell this tale, showing huge skies, long areas to traverse and a changing landscape. User uses watercolors for the skies, creating vistas filled with summer heat colors that swirl on the page.

A winner in a great series, this one is just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Deep and Watery Picture Books

Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso

Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso (9781452168753)

A little girl heads down to the dock near the water to watch the fish, dreaming of one day swimming alongside many fish at the same time. When a small orange fish jumps out of the water, she catches it in a water bottle and runs home with it. With a black hose, lots of containers, and plants, she creates a new watery space for the fish. When she swims along with the little fish in her pool though, the fish jumps out into a puddle. In that moment, the girl decides to return the fish to the sea.

This wordless picture book beautifully explores a little girl’s connection to nature and her own desire to be part of it and have a piece of it for herself. Through the images, one knows that the little girl means no harm, only to celebrate the fish and her connection to it. Still, readers will know that it will be a problem if the fish is kept from his home for too long. The illustrations are full of the blues of the sea which contrasts with the rest of the scenery that is left barely sketched and uncolored. It is water that really brings the book alive, combined with trees and rushes. A beautiful look at connecting with nature by preserving it. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers (9781481470377)

Finn lives by the sea, On the day that would have been his grandfather’s birthday, it is a good day for sailing and for building a boat, one that will help him find the place that his grandfather told him about, where the ocean meets the sky. So Finn spent his morning building a boat that was suitable for a long journey and then he took a nap. When he awoke, the boat was rocking in the sea and the journey had begun. As Finn got lonely in the open sea, a large golden fish emerges from the water and agrees to show him the way to the place he is searching for. They travel past Library Islands filled with birds and books, an island of giant shells, and a sea of glowing jellyfish. Until they finally reach the place where the ocean meets sky and Finn’s boat soars out of the water and into the sky, all before dinner.

This beautifully rendered book is exceptional. There is a lovely consistency throughout even in the more dreamlike sequences. The text is simple and inviting, creating a world that children will enjoy exploring alongside Finn himself. The book moves from a feeling of grief and loss that is handled with delicacy to hard work in honor of Finn’s grandfather and then into a world of dreams and wonder.

The illustrations move from black-and-white memories of Finn’s grandfather to pastels for the real world of today and then into sharp details and deeper colors of dreams. I love that the dreamworld is the most defined and colorful. Grandfather appears throughout the dreams in the form of the large fish and the moon. His presence is everywhere.

A lovely and layered picture book about grief, memories and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Water Land Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale

Water Land: Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale (9781250152442)

One of the most inventive uses of cut pages that I have seen! This picture book takes water forms and with a turn of the page creates corresponding landforms. A lake becomes an island. A bay turns into a cape. Strait and isthmus compare beautifully. It goes on and on. One will turn back and forth between water and land, stunned by the comparisons and the feeling of a complete ecosystem on the page.

It is the art that is central in this book. With cut pages, the drawings are active around the land and water forms. Boats and trucks cross land and water, diverse people play on the sand, sharks circle in the water. A brilliant book that will have young readers looking at water and land in a new way with plenty of terms to name what they are seeing. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

If My Moon Was Your Sun by Andreas Steinhofel

If My Moon Was Your Sun by Andreas Steinhofel

If My Moon Was Your Sun by Andreas Steinhofel, illustrated by Nele Palmtag (9780874860795)

This German children’s book looks at one day when Max decides to take his grandfather out of the nursing home where he lives. Max packs sensibly for his adventure, makes his way to the nursing home, and even knows the code to let them leave without setting off an alarm. Another resident from the nursing home joins them on their bus trip out to the countryside to Blossom Valley, the place where Max’s grandfather had proposed to his grandmother. The three of them spend the afternoon there in the tall grass of the meadow, dancing sometimes, laughing others and just being together. When Max’s grandfather starts to forget what is happening, Max hugs him tight and his memory comes back again. Eventually the police and caregivers and Max’s mother find them, but not until they have had a lovely day in a very special place.

Translated from the original German, this book’s writing is exceptional. I started out highlighting all of the lovely poetic moments and found myself drawn to page after page of text. Steinhofel speaks to the way that longing fills your entire body, too big for just your heart to contain it. He writes of a grandfather who hums, the noise lifting from his body. He writes of the moon, always there during the day but sometimes not able to be seen. Then he beautifully ties that image to the relationship of a grandfather with dementia and the grandson he loves.

There is nothing held back in the writing. It is completely heartfelt and emotional. Each moment they spend together is special and filled with a momentous feeling. The illustrations have a childlike quality to them at times. They burst from the page, showing the moon above, the bright sunniness of the meadow, the green of the grass and the trees. There is a leaping, dancing movement to them that is particularly suited to the subject.

A book that lingers with you, fills you up and that you want to hold onto. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Plough Publishing.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (9780062215918, Amazon)

Newbery-Honor winner Williams-Garcia returns with another book that is filled with love, loss and family. Clayton loves playing the blue with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, in the park. It’s something they do together when his mother works double shifts, since she doesn’t approve of the blues or his grandfather. Clayton knows he is ready for a solo on his blues harp, but Cool Papa wants him to wait a bit longer. Then one night, Cool Papa doesn’t wake up and Clayton is left with his mother’s anger at her father and his own deep loss. School becomes almost impossible for Clayton as he struggles with his grief and when his teacher makes him read the same book that Cool Papa had been reading aloud to him, it is too much. Clayton decides to hit the road, find the blues men that his grandfather played with and join them on their travels. But it’s not that simple and Clayton soon finds himself on an unexpected journey on the New York subway.

This book is simply incredible. Williams-Garcia writes with an ease that welcomes readers deep into the story. She manages in well under 200 pages to tell a deep and rich story that resonates. It’s a story of the power of music to connect generations, of grandfathers who teach and lead, of subways and busking, of urban landscapes and neighborhoods. It’s a story of loss and grief, of self discovery too. It is a multilayered book that will inspire discussion and connection.

Clayton is a wonderful main character with his grandfather’s porkpie hat on his head and his harmonica in his pocket or in his hands making music. He is clearly a gifted musician and it is a treat to have a young character playing music like the blues and then mixing it with hip hop. Clayton is an individual and proud of it, yet he loses one of his main anchors in life and has to find a way forward once again.

Deep and resonating, this novel is a demonstration of real skill and the power of books and music. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Little Pig Saves the Ship by David Hyde Costello

Little Pig Saves the Ship by David Hyde Costello

Little Pig Saves the Ship by David Hyde Costello (9781580897150, Amazon)

In this second Little Pig book, Little Pig isn’t big enough to join his older siblings at sailing camp. One of his brother’s gives him a rope to practice knot tying. That gets dull after a day. Happily, his grandparents come over and Poppy has been making a model ship. Little Pig helps him finish it and they sail it over and over again. Then on Saturday, the ship gets away from them and sails over a waterfall. Poppy and Little Pig try to catch it, but the current carries the ship away. Luckily, Little Pig has been practicing his knots and has the rope along in his pocket!

Costello demonstrates how little ones can be too small for some experiences but just the right size to save the day. Throughout the book there is a jolliness to the days spent with a grandfather who is happy to dabble in the water again and again. As the water runs faster after the rain, the adventure begins. Costello beautifully has Little Pig do the rescuing even as Poppy supports him in his endeavors. This is a story where the little one is the true hero.

The illustrations are immensely friendly. Costello combines sharp dark lines against flowing watercolors, making Little Pig and the other characters pop. Readers will notice that Little Pig has two grandfathers who visit, making this book a subtle LGBT-friendly read. As the days pass, Poppy’s shirts change color, marking the time in a floral way.

A second win for Little Pig! Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Rain by Sam Usher

Rain by Sam Usher

Rain by Sam Usher (9781783705467, Amazon)

Sam and his Grandpa are spending a rainy day together. Sam wants to head out into the rain, but Grandpa asks that they wait until the rain stops. Sam spends the time reading books, drinking hot chocolate and dreaming of adventures. Meanwhile, Grandpa writes at the table and eventually has a very important letter ready to put in the mail. The rain ends just in time for them to have the adventure together that Sam has been dreaming of.

Usher has combined the tedium of waiting for the weather to change with the pleasure of escape into imagination. Sam waits reluctantly for the weather to change and yet manages to amuse himself without devices or television during the long wait. Merrily, the imagination and reality merge towards the end of the picture book, as Grandpa and Sam float directly into his dreams.

The illustrations are particularly effective. Usher creates a crispness in the interior images, filled with details done in fine lines and bright colors. Through the windows though, readers can see the weather. Outside the streets are awash in smears of light and color, filled with rain and raindrops. There is a real sense of a wash of water happening in the street and the light plays across the puddles realistically and beautifully.

A rainy day book brightened by a fantastic adventure. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Templar Publishing.