Grandfather loved to birdwatch. Milo was a quiet child and he listened to Grandfather’s information on birds and what his Grandfather loved most about them. Grandfather liked many birds like the hawks and kestrels, but his favorite was the soaring bald eagle. Grandfather loved the sharp sight of the birds and all they could see from high above. One day, Milo and Grandfather rescued a chickadee that hit the window, releasing it into the air when it had recovered. As Grandfather lost his eyesight, he could still enjoy the birds at the trees since Milo and his nurse could help him identify them. When Grandfather died, it was Milo who called everyone outside to see the eagle that soared high and then circled down low near them with a flash of his eyes.
Told in the voice of Milo’s older sister, this picture book is a look at an aging grandparent and his eventual death. The book offers connectivity to Grandfather through his love of birds, sharing that love with one child in particular who was willing to listen and to see for him. Newbery-Medalist MacLachlan has crafted this story with kindness and gentleness, offering a sibling view that loves both Milo and Grandfather, a voice that marvels at the chickadee release and at the eagle coming so low.
Sheban’s illustrations are done in watercolor, pastel and graphite. They have such depth and texture, the colors extraordinarily layered and light-filled. They share the wonder of birds in flight, the beauty of the farm landscape and the quiet connections of the family.
A quiet and profound look at life, love, birds and death. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9781534444898)
A little girl tells of visiting her Abuelo in Cuba. When she is there, she helps him sell fruit from his small cart on the street. Together they sing the names of the fruits they have for sale, walking in beat to the song and shaking their hands like maracas. Their voices reach up the tall buildings around them and some people purchase fruit using a basket they lower down on a rope. There are other vendors on the street shouting or singing about their wares too, and that’s when Abuelo has to sing even louder to be heard. It’s most special to visit Abuelo at the new year when everyone wants to purchase 12 grapes per person to have good luck when they eat them at midnight. If only visiting Cuba was simpler and they could go more often!
Engle is an award-winning author of books for all ages of children. This picture book uses a mix of English and Spanish called Spanglish that is used both in the United States and Cuba. The songs that the girl and her grandfather sing together are done in rhyme while the rest of the picture book displays Engle’s skills with verse in a different way. Her paragraphs of free verse still play with rhythm and form, inviting readers to experience Cuba and their lively street vendors.
Palacios’ illustrations are bright and merry. They show the dynamic urban Cuban street scene that is full of colorful buildings and equally colorful people. The illustrations share that same inherent happiness as the words.
Bright and energetic, this picture book offers a glimpse of Cuba. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
On the Trapline by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (9780735266681)
A boy travels with his grandpa, Moshom, to his trapline up north. Moshom hasn’t returned to the trapline since he was a boy himself. The trapline is where people hunted animals and lived off the land, Moshom explains to his grandson. Once the small plane lands, the two meet one of Moshom’s old friends. They pull up to a small house near a big lake, but that is not the trapline. It’s where Moshom lived after they left the trapline. In the winter, everyone slept together in the room with the wood stove to keep warm. Moshom shows his grandson the ruins of the school he went to, where he was required to speak in English and not Cree. They head out on the water in a slow boat, until they finally reach the trapline. Moshom shows him where they trapped muskrats, where their tent was, and how they lived on the trapline. As they leave, the two of them can continue to envision the trapline as it is now and as it once was.
The Governor General Award winning team returns with a book about connection to the land, deep memories, family ties and generations sharing stories. The warm relationship between Moshom and his grandson, who narrates the book, is clear and central to the book. The grandson regularly asks whether this place is the trapline, until they reach the real trapline and it is clear. The book examines memories, both dark and happy, alongside physical discovery of the places. It’s a powerful look at experiences and connection.
As always, Flett’s illustrations are exceptional. Done in pastel and then manipulated digitally, they have a muted natural palette that works for both memories and current times. The greens are deep and rich, the blues offer clear skies and rich water.
A look at grandfathers, memories and the importance of place. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
The grandson and grandpa from Usher’s Seasons series return with the first in a new series. One of the birds outside was sick, so the boy and his Granddad made a cozy bed for it and read a book of bird facts. After having some water, the little bird was feeling better and they put him back outside. Now it was time for breakfast and they made pancakes together. The bird returned for a breakfast of berries. At lunch, they built triple-decker sandwiches and the bird returned again. They took him back outside to help him find his friends. At tea time, the bird returned again and they did some more research. Now it was time for them to help the little bird return to the tree he needed, so they set off to reach the top of the mountain. Happily, the bird’s many friends were there to greet him and shared their midnight feast with the humans too.
Usher blends the mundane and the imaginative into a seamless story that glides from the normal happening of finding a sick bird and steadily becomes something magical and wondrous. I loved Usher’s first book series and am so pleased to see him return with another series with these charming characters, the boy with big ideas, the grandfather who grounds him and the magic that takes over both their lives at times. The writing is simple and lovely. The focus on meals here is a treat that will have readers wanting to make their own pancakes, triple-deckers and tea.
The art is a delightful mix of smaller illustrations on white backgrounds and full-page illustrations that show the garden at Granddad’s house. There is an endearing quality to the images that show the beautiful relationship of the grandfather and grandson.
A joy to see beloved characters return. Make sure to have tea and snacks on hand when you share this one. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
A grandfather gives his red hat to his granddaughter. He explains the amazing things that the hat is capable of. It can make you stand out in a crowd or blend right in. It can keep you warm and dry or keep you cool in the sun. It can be used for serious and silly reasons. Wearing the hat, you can go anywhere you like: low, high or on real adventures, until you are ready to come back home again. It is your hat.
Stubbs takes a very simple and familiar event, the gifting of a hat into a level of wonder and dreams in this picture book. Using very simple language, she has created a book that reads aloud brilliantly. The pace manages to be both fast and rather dreamy, revealing new opportunities that the hat provides at each turn of the page. It is the relationship between grandparent and grandchild here that is beautifully portrayed while never being overtly discussed in the text.
The illustrations are done in a limited color palette with teal, red and pink the primary colors. On each page, the red pops out, focusing on the hat itself. The illustrations have enough details to linger over, particularly the crowd scenes that fill double-page spreads.
A warm look at the role of grandparents to inspire discovery and self-esteem. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
May has been left with her grandfather, Gong Gong, to spend the day. But she doesn’t speak any Chinese and Gong Gong doesn’t speak much English. They go on a walk together through Gong Gong’s Chinatown neighborhood. Her grandfather knows everyone as they walk by, but May can’t understand what they are saying or why they are laughing. May gets hungry and asks for something to eat, but her grandpa just pats her head. They go to a Dim Sum restaurant next, but Gong Gong spends the time chatting, not eating. Then they head to the grocery store and shop. May thinks they may be heading home to eat, but instead they play cards with Gong Gong’s friends in the park. When a pigeon poops on May’s jacket, she bursts into tears. But it turns out that Gong Gong has been paying attention all along and has just the right toy and dumpling to help.
This picture book celebrates the generations spending time together, particularly those from immigrant families who have language barriers. Told entirely from May’s point of view with little asides to the reader of her confusion and hunger, the book captures May’s unease with her grandfather and her belief that he doesn’t understand her at all. That is then flipped around, as the book resolves into a grandfather who has been paying close attention all along.
The illustrations beautifully depict Chinatown streets with many people out and about and colorful shops and signs. The scenes shine with sunlight, showing readers the warmth and friendliness of the community long before May truly feels it herself.
A lovely look at grandparents and finding connection across generations. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Grandparents by Chema Heras, illustrated by Rosa Osuna (9781771645669)
When Grandfather hears an announcement of a party in the main square, he knows just who to invite. He rushes home to ask his wife, Manuela, to join him. But Manuela isn’t quite as eager as he is to head to a party. Grandfather picks Grandmother a flower and tells her how beautiful she is. Grandmother heads inside to put on eyeliner, then mascara, then skin cream, but each time Grandfather tells her that she is lovely just the way she is and to hurry up so they can go dancing! Lipstick, hair dye and a change of clothes are the next delays, but Grandfather is ready to cajole Grandmother along. Finally, the two of them go dancing together, and Grandmother realizes that Grandfather is just as beautiful as the moon too.
First published in Portuguese, this charming picture book explores the power of love and of being oneself. Heras uses a series of metaphors to describe Grandmother’s beauty. Her eyes are “as sad and beautiful as stars at night.” Her white hair is like “a midsummer cloud” and her skin is wrinkly like “nuts in a pie.” Grandmother herself uses negative metaphors to describe herself, but those are all countered by Grandfather’s love and adoration for her.
The illustrations are quirky and interesting, filled with surreal combinations of spaces and objects. As they are together in the house, the couple sometimes appear sideways or upside down as well as right-side-up nearby.
A warm and lovely look at love and self-esteem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.
When a child doesn’t want to go to school because he’s scared and nervous, he talks with his grandfather. His grandfather understands exactly how his grandchild is feeling and takes him on a ride in his car which is also a time machine. It takes them both to see when he left his mother back in 1952 and had to be brave himself. They stop in 1955 to see him working up high on buildings, needing to get beyond being so scared. In 1957, Big Papa had to get over his fears to ask a lovely girl to dance, a girl who would eventually marry him. They then head to 1986 when the child was left with Big Papa. He wasn’t sure if he could take care of a baby all on his own. All about bravery in spite of being scared and nervous, this book shows that it is those moments that define a life.
Bernstrom takes readers on a real ride through history through the eyes of this African-American family. Generations appear and their clear love for one another is evident. Even with a baby being left behind for a grandparent to raise is shown as a chance to save a life and find a new way forward. Children in smaller non-nuclear families will recognize the connection between a sole adult and their child in these pages. It’s particularly lovely to see an African-American man in this role.
Evans makes the pages shine with light as he uses bright yellows and mystical swirls and stars to show the passing of time. Every page is saturated in color, glowing with the connection of the two characters. The child is never declared to be a specific gender in either the text or illustrations, making the book all the more inclusive.
A bright and vibrant look at why to be brave. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
When a project about family is assigned at school, Amara realizes that there is a lot she doesn’t know about her own family. Her mothers’ parents are both dead and she had no siblings, but her father’s side lives across the country in Harlem. Amara asks if she could travel to Harlem to see her grandfather whom she only knows from phone calls and cards, since her father often goes there on business. Her parents refuse for some time, then agree to allow her to go. It will be the first time in twelve years that her father sees his own father. Now it is Amara’s job to complete her school assignment by interviewing family members, explore New York City and also bring her family back together, all in a single week!
Newbery Honor winner, Watson brings her considerable writing skill to a fractured family. She captures how forgiveness is difficult even though love is still there and allows the connection between father and son to organically rebuild. All of this is seen through Amara’s eyes as she discovers that her family is different than she realized and that her father has a surprising history she knew nothing about.
Setting is so important in this novel with Harlem and New York City becoming characters in Amara’s story. Many important places in African-American history are explored including the Apollo Theater and the Schomburg Center. Murals and sculptures that feature African-American figures in history are also featured in the story. Readers will want to explore these streets themselves.
A warm and rich exploration of complicated family relationships and love. Appropriate for ages 9-12.