Review: Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson (9781681191089)

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.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh

Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh

Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh (9781536203578)

Papa has a daily routine where he wakes up and drinks some tea. He waters his plants and tidies up the house. Then he takes the bus into town and has lunch at the same restaurant where he eats his favorite lunch: dumplings. Then he heads home and goes to bed early. The next day, his routine is much the same. But he stops in town at the craft store for a few things. And he orders his dumplings to go, along with a second serving. Back home, he waits patiently until his little granddaughter comes to visit. The two of them have dumplings for lunch. Tidy up together, and then get out the craft supplies. The two agree that these are their favorite days and the day ends with a butterfly kite flying in the sky.

Simple and profound, this picture book captures the pleasant routines of life, a day filled with small errands and good food. On the day the granddaughter arrives, the book comes alive along with Papa. There is an excitement, an anticipation that is palpable in the book. The two characters adore one another, something evident in both their body language and what they tell one another.

Oh’s illustrations are done in paper collage, layered to create a real sense of depth on the page. They are done in bright and friendly colors. Papa’s days are full of activity every day, and there is no sense of sadness while he is alone, just even more happiness when his granddaughter joins him.

A lovely look at grandparents and grandchildren that is charming. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

 

 

Review: Grandpa’s Top Threes by Wendy Meddour

Grandpa's Top Threes by Wendy Meddour

Grandpa’s Top Threes by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (9781536211252)

Henry’s grandfather is gardening a lot lately. Henry doesn’t understand, and his mother tells him just to give his grandfather time. But Henry isn’t patient enough to leave his grandfather alone. So he tries out their favorite shared game, asking his grandfather what his top three sandwiches are. When his grandfather doesn’t respond at first, Henry offers his top three and then his grandfather shares his own list. The two of them eat their favorite sandwiches together by the pond. Henry keeps asking for his grandfather’s top threes until one day, his grandfather starts the game, asking what Henry’s top three days out are. So they do all three together, one after another.

Meddour’s story is one of a grieving man who was turning away from his family and then his grandson invites him to return to the world and find joy again. The process is slow and steady, Meddour doesn’t rush it at all, allowing it play out naturally on the page. The relationship between grandfather and grandson is shown as vital and life-changing, with the child taking steps to really impact his grandfather’s life for the better.

Egneus’ illustrations glow with an inner light. The bright red hair of Henry and the bushy beard of the grandfather offer a wonderful play against one another on the page. The images echo the text with their focus on connection to one another.

Full of lots of emotion, this one may bring tears to your eyes. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

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.