We Became Jaguars by Dave Eggers

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We Became Jaguars by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Woodrow White (9781452183930)

When a boy’s grandmother comes to visit, his parents leave him alone with her even though he doesn’t really remember her. His grandmother immediately drops to the floor and invites him to become a jaguar with her. He joins her, stretching himself thinner and becoming faster. Soon they are out in the forest, moving through it in the way that only jaguars can. The two drink from moonlit water, and his grandmother kills a rabbit and eats it. They venture to high lookouts, take occasional rests, and run fast and often. Their voices rumble like thunder together. As they head into the Himalayas, the boy remembers he has to return to school and wonders how long they have been gone. The ending refreshingly leaves questions of what was imagined and what was real.

Eggers writes in prose that is a mix of simple lines and marvelously captivating moments. Nature plays a large role in the book, inviting readers to think about venturing out into their own forests and having their own outdoor adventures. The time spent together sipping water from a lake, running fast and hard, and bouncing over water like marbles creates a vibrant relationship between the two characters as they get to know one another. It becomes less and less important what is real as their experiences together are what truly matter.

White’s illustrations are full of mystery and moonlight. He uses such deep colors in the book, allowing the jaguars to glow on the page, full of their own light. The gatefold page opens fully to allow the two people to transform in front of the reader into jaguars. The pages are deliciously colored, showing the wonders of nature and a variety of gorgeous landscapes.

Imaginative and invigorating, this playful picture book takes us to the wild side. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne

I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo (9781250249319)

A little girl grows up seeing her beloved Popo, her grandmother, often in Taiwan. They spend time together cuddling, eating and going to the park. Then the girl’s family decide to move to San Diego, far away from Taiwan. The girl goes to school in America with children of all colors. She doesn’t speak English yet, but she is learning. She calls her grandmother regularly. When they return to Taiwan for a visit, it feels different and she can’t communicate in Chinese as well as she used to. Her Popo’s house seems smaller though it smells just the same and her dumplings taste the same too. When her grandmother gets sick, the girl wishes she lived closer, but a dream is just the right thing to being them together after all.

This #ownvoices picture book is based on the author’s childhood, moving from Taipei to Albuquerque. It shows how a long-distance connection between a grandparent and grandchild is possible, keeping memories fresh and new experiences shared with one another. The book is filled with elements of Taiwan, such as New Year’s celebrations, dumplings and other food. Smells of Taiwan are mentioned regularly, wafting through experiences and dreams.

Kuo’s art is bold and beautiful. She allows the little girl to age through the course of the story, toddling in the park then heading to school, becoming less round and more lean as the pages turn. Popo also ages, the lines on her face more pronounced and her hair changing from black to gray. It is subtle and beautifully done.

A gentle story of immigration and continued connection to those left behind. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Where Wonder Grows by Xelena Gonzalez

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Where Wonder Grows by Xelena Gonzalez, illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia (9781947627468)

When grandmother heads to her garden, her granddaughters know to follow her. They spread blankets on the ground and get their magic rocks. Grandma taught them that the rocks are alive with wisdom from the long time they have spent on earth, so they respectfully call them grandmothers and grandfathers. The rocks are used in the sweat lodge where they help send songs and prayers into the air and to ancestors. The girls ask about the rocks that can heal. Grandma shows the colorful crystals and shares stories about them. They look at rocks worn by the water and others that fell from the sky. The rocks remind them of their place in the world, of their brief time on earth, their connection to the stars.

Gonzalez writes in beautiful short sentences, showing the connection between the generations of a Native American family, between the group of granddaughters and their grandmother. It’s a book that slows down, lingering over the various rocks, telling their stories, explaining their importance and making space for some dreams too. There is joy here, a delight in time spent together in a lovely garden and in the rocks themselves and what they mean.

Garcia’s illustrations are unique and creative. She lights each illustration as if the family and rocks glow from outside and within. The colors are deep and evocative. The book moves from the brightness of daylight to night with its purples and more subtle light. It is beautiful and filled with portraits of the family members.

An inviting look at rocks, their mystical qualities and how they connect us all. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Cinco Puntos Press.

We Wait for the Sun by Katie McCabe

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We Wait for the Sun by Katie McCabe, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa (9781250229021)

This picture book is based on one of Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s favorite stories of her childhood and her grandmother, Rachel Bryant Graham. Born over 100 years ago, Roundtree grew up to be a renowned civil rights attorney. She and her grandmother headed into the night in midsummer. They move through the darkness to the woods to gather blackberries. As they walk through the night, other women join them, silent in the dark. The darkness gets thicker as they move into the woods, and Dovey’s grandmother encourages her to hold onto her apron strings and let her eyes adjust. They reach the blackberry clearing and everyone gets to work but not before Dovey gets the first and best berry to eat. They pick berries, the women chatting, until the sky turns pink and at her grandmother’s command the sun rises over the horizon.

McCabe takes a powerful moment in Roundtree’s life and turns it into a picture book that invites children to explore the woods at night and not be afraid. There is a sense of adventure throughout the book illuminated with the wonder of being out in a summer night. The profound silence of the night and its darkness make for a book full of mystery with text that asks to be read in a hushed tone to share the moment with one another all the way through sunrise.

Figueroa’s illustrations are rich and beautiful. She takes the darkness and tinges it with blue, teal and purple to show paths, faces and the women walking together. She also sweeps the path with fireflies and glimmers, adding to the wonder of the book.

A story that serves as an allegory for resilience, going through the darkness and knowing the sun will rise. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin

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Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga (9781580899369)

Lily was traveling with her Gram to Gram’s house in Iowa where Lily was going to live now. Gram suggested that on the long drive they discover ten beautiful things. Lily looked out the window but couldn’t find a single beautiful thing. Just then, the sun broke the horizon, and Lily had found her first beautiful thing. As they traveled, Lily’s stomach would hurt and she would feel very sad, but before she could get too sad, another beautiful thing would appear. There was a wind farm, a creek, even a decaying old barn. The smell of the muddy earth was one that Lily discovered and picked. Towards the end of their journey, a thunderstorm broke over them, filling up the entire space, and definitely making itself number 9. Then they were at Gram’s house. What would be number 10? Gram knew just the thing.

Griffin’s writing is deeply empathetic to Lily and the changes happening in her life. Lily’s emotions about the change are right at the surface, causing her stomach to ache and for her to sometimes withdraw. Gram is the perfect response to that, feeding her crackers and carefully building a relationship as the miles went by. The structure of counting beautiful things creates a way for readers to experience the unique beauty of the Midwest and Iowa in particular. The use of a storm to both symbolize the turmoil of life and also the clearing of the air is especially well done.

The illustrations are done digitally and with watercolor textures. From the drama of the storm that takes over the pages, filling them with wind, rain and lightning to the dazzle of sun as they reach Gram’s house with a page that glows with hope, this book shows emotions on the page clearly and with real skill.

A quiet book where readers can experience the beauty of nature and the wonder of a new family being built. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper

Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Kenard Pak (9780399186332)

When Lina woke up in the morning, snow had fallen and the street was quiet and hushed. Despite the snow, Lina headed out to visit her grandmother. She loved helping her grandmother cook and today was grape leaf day, when they would make warak enab. As Lina walked to her grandma’s, she heard all sorts of noises. There was her neighbor scraping her shovel on the sidewalk. There was the crunch of her own boots in the snow. A blue jay knocked a soft ploompf of snow down from a branch, a quiet sound. People swept off their cars, others scritched past on skis. Mittens patted newly-built snowmen. Lina reached her Sitti’s apartment and the two worked together filling grape leaves with lamb and rice. Lina could hear the snow melting off her mittens and coat. Her grandmother showed her the tenth way to hear snow, one you had to slow down to notice.

This picture book is beautifully cozy and warm despite being mostly set in the outdoors on a snowy day. The sense of discovery as Lina hears the snow in various ways is great fun. The marriage of a weather event and the use of one specific sense adds to the fun and the curiosity as Lina walks to see her grandmother. The Lebanese family and food is front and center here too, warming the beginning and end of the book with a glow.

Pak’s art moves from the cozy home setting out into the cold and then back into a different warm home. His characters are diverse with their neighborhood filled with people of different races. The outdoor light, filled with blues and whites, contrasts with the yellows, reds and golds of the interior settings. It’s a celebration of the beauty and sounds of winter.

This book encourages us all to slow down and listen. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila.

The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang

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The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Khoa Le (9781541561915)

Based on the author’s childhood growing up in a Hmong refugee family, this picture book looks at the impact of poverty on childhood and the incredible importance of a loving family. Kalia grew up with her grandmother who had been born across the ocean and once threatened by a tiger there. Now her grandmother is old with only a single tooth left. The luckiest of the grandchildren got to help take care of her. It was Kalia’s job to trim her fingernails and toenails. Her grandmother’s feet were rough and her toenails thick. They were cracked with dirt in the cracks from long ago. The family didn’t have a lot of money so regular ice had to stand in for ice cream, peppermint candies shared together took the place of a new dress. Kalia grew tired of not having enough money for treats, eventually asking for braces to fix her crooked teeth. But the family could not afford them. Her grandmother pointed out her own single tooth, and suddenly Kalia realized what beauty is, and it was not perfection.

Yang vividly tells the story of her childhood, inviting readers into her childhood home to see the care and love there. The dedication goes both ways, with her grandmother offering wisdom and love and the grandchildren sharing in taking care of her needs too. The book steadily builds to the take away, a moment that reminds me of the Russian folktale about the little girl describing her mother as the most beautiful person in the world when by societal standards she was clearly not. Throughout the book, poverty is handled in a matter-of-fact way with love as the healing force.

Le’s illustrations depict a household full of children, plants and toys. The wobbly family table and brightly covered couch add to the feel of a family in need but making do together. The Hmong tales told by the grandmother are lush and bright, carrying readers into a mystical world of jungles and creatures.

A thoughtful and rich picture book featuring a Hmong-American family. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.

The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho

The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho

The Ocean Calls by Tina Cho, illustrated by Jess X. Snow (9781984814869)

Dayeon and her Grandmother watch the sea in the morning from their house. Dayeon’s grandmother is a haenyeo, a woman who dives deep underwater to find abalone. Dayeon is scared of diving though. For breakfast, the two have abalone porridge and practice holding their breath. They both put on sunscreen and diving gear and head to the water. Dayeon plans only to pull treasures from the shore though. After her grandmother finds ten sea gifts, Dayeon agrees to try diving with her grandmother. They walk out into the water together, but during their first dive, Dayeon heads right back to the surface. On her second try though, she manages to hold her breath longer and notice the beauty of the sea around her. Soon though, the dolphins warn them of potential danger and they surface and get picked up by a boat. That’s when Dayeon gets her first sea gift.

Cho tells an engaging story that layers Korean tradition with the joy of grandmotherly love. The grandmother here is patient, allowing Dayeon to approach the challenges at her own pace, but also encouraging her to try again when she fails. Dayeon herself shows how an early scare can turn to triumph by facing your fears head on. These elements work particularly well when the challenge is something as large as diving for abalone in the deep sea.

Snow’s illustrations are full of light and steeped in color. The sky and sea are purples, oranges, blues on the page. In one amazing illustration, the characters walk to the sea through a field with mermaid shadows behind them.

A picture book about resilience, challenges and tradition. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power (9780525645627)

The author of Wilder Girls returns with a novel that is a dangerous mix of fire, family and fate. Margot has always lived with just her mother, struggling to make ends meet. Her mother has strange rules, like always leaving a candle burning. Margot has always wondered about the rest of her family, her father and grandparents. When she discovers a photograph of her grandmother’s home, she finally has the key to find them. She doesn’t expect to enter the town of Phalene and be immediately recognized as a member of their family, and she certainly doesn’t expect her grandmother to be despised, living alone on a ruined farm. When a girl with Margot’s face is found dead, Margot finds herself at the heart of a mystery that she may never escape.

A dynamic combination of horror, mystery and science fiction, this book grabs readers up and doesn’t release them until the final ember dies down. It’s a book that is terrifying but also exceptionally written with a keen sense of pacing, allowing moments of revelation to slow and other moments to race past. Power deeply understands horror, giving readers just enough information to keep them guessing. Her use of a rural setting is marvelous, hearkening back to classics like Children of the Corn.

Margot is a flawed character who is prickly, challenging and demanding. In other words, the perfect heroine for a horror novel. Margot refuses to allow her mother or grandmother to control her, always pushing and questioning what they are doing. It’s what lands her back in Phalene and what gets her into the center of all of the trouble.

Smart, haunting and horrifying, this novel begs to become a horror flick. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press.