A family packs up and heads out on their annual trip. After driving for hours, it is dark when they reach West Virginia. The dark midnight kitchen is warm and light as the children doze off. In the morning, there is sausage, blackberry jam and coffee for Papaw and dad. The children help Mamaw make banana pudding. After three days, it’s time to leave and head to Florida. Their Abuela hugs them and invites them in for food. The midnight kitchen is full of Spanish words, tostones, and flan. In the morning there is fresh juice and arepas. The house fills with people, dancing and music and snacks eaten behind the couch. The trip comes to an end with full bellies but already missing all of the food and family. They get home late, and their own midnight kitchen fills with waffles before bed.
An ode to great food and grandparents, this picture book explores the connection between food and family, creating strong memories that linger once you return home and can still taste on your tongue. Told from the point of view of one of the children, the book looks at arrival at night to each home, the transformation in the morning, and then the special treats shared at each place. The homes may differ in terms of food, faith and language, but throughout the emphasis is sharing traditions, spending time together, and eating.
The illustrations are a joy, depicting such warm kitchens and filled with small details that create a real feeling of each home. The end pages in the book feature the various elements of each of the homes, including the tractor cups, coal minor portrait and cat plates in West Virginia and the toston press, rosary, and little house in Florida. The deep colors, friendly faces and warm hugs shown also demonstrate the love and connection with all of the homes.
Warm, loving and delicious. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.
When Malian is at her grandparents visiting, Covid-19 brings everyone into lockdown. Malian lives in Boston with her parents usually and now she is on an extended visit on the Wabanaki reservation where her grandparents live. She works to keep her grandparents safe from the virus, keeping social services and the mailmen at the end of the driveway. She is helped by Malsum, a wolf-like dog who simply showed up one day and stayed. Dogs on the reservation are different than in the city. Malsum is his own dog, responsible for himself, though he does enjoy the attention and food that Malian and her grandparents give him. Malian’s grandmother’s fry bread is a special treat for everyone. This is a lovely look at how one family got through Covid by supporting each other.
Told in verse, this middle-grade novel shares oral storytelling traditions and celebrates the love of grandchild and grandparents. Bruchac is a celebrated Abenaki children’s author with hundreds of publications in his body of work. There is a wonderful sense of place throughout this book, showing the way of life on the reservation. The pace of life is slower too, partially due to the pandemic but also by choice.
Malian is a great guide to life on the Wabanaki reservation, since she lives a different lifestyle when she is in the city. She clearly shows the distinctions between the two ways of life, each with their own benefits and challenges. Malsum, the dog, is a character himself, guiding the humans around him through his body language, approval and defense.
A timely novel that looks at the pandemic and its impact on indigenous families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
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.
Lily, her mother and sister move in with her elderly Korean grandmother. In the small town, Lily soon discovers that everyone knows and loves her grandmother, who wears glamorous clothes and tries to offer advice and help to her community. Halmoni has always been special to Lily too, sharing stories of tigers, girls and stars with her and her sister. So when they are heading to Halmoni’s house and Lily sees a tiger out of the car window, she knows it’s from her grandmother’s tales and that tigers are tricksters. As Lily starts to understand that her grandmother is severely ill, she believes that she can help by working with the tiger to release the stories from her grandmother’s jars. The stories emerge and shine in the darkness, returning to the sky as stars and allowing Lily to hear some of the more difficult stories for the first time. Yet, Lily isn’t sure if the tiger is actually real and if the tiger is, can she be trusted to really help Halmoni?
Keller’s novel for middle grade readers explores the complexity of stories both in terms of folklore but also stories of previous generations in a family and the difficulties they faced in other countries and in traveling to the United States. The power of stories themselves is never in question here, shining through as each tale is shared. They connect, explain and inspire. But stories here are also hidden, carefully kept from others so that their pain need not be shared. This too speaks to their incredible power and the importance of them being told. So in the end, whether you believe in the tiger or not, you will believe in the stories themselves and their magic.
This novel is so beautifully written. Readers will experience it as a series of jars to be opened and released by them. The tales themselves are told in language and tones that really make them understood to be part of an oral tradition. The rest of the book, the story of Lily and her family, is layered and fascinating. All of the characters are complex and have multiple dimensions to their personalities. Lily is caught up in her own world of tiger traps and magical jars, but everyone else has their own perspectives on what is happening to Halmoni and their family.
A powerful book of stories, magic and tigers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
Ileana was a storyteller who collected stories, but stories were dangerous in Communist Romania. When her uncle disappears and their apartment was bugged, Ileana’s father destroyed her book of stories that she had been collecting for years in order to protect them all. Then her parents decide to send Ileana off to live with her maternal grandparents whom she has never met. The rural village is very different from the city that Ileana grew up in. After a period of anger, she gradually adjusts to life in there. But there is no escape from the brutality of the Romanian government. Ileana discovers her uncle, broken and ill, hiding nearby. When he is rescued by her grandparents, Ileana is given a valuable set of papers to protect. As the government tightens its hold on the country and on Ileana’s village, she finds herself at the center of her own story where she can choose to be a heroine or not.
Kramer’s middle-grade novel is nearly impossible to summarize because it is so layered and has such depth. The book focuses on the Communist period of Romania’s recent history and yet also has a timeless feel that pulls it back into a world of folklore and tales. The focus on storytelling is beautifully shown, illuminating not only Ileana’s mother’s story but the entire village’s history. There are stories that are dangerous, ones that connect and a single one that must not be told, but serves as the heartbeat of the entire community.
This book has a lot of moments that are almost tropes, like Ileana being sent to live with her grandparents in the mountains without knowing them at all. But in the hands of Kramer, these moments become opportunities to tell a story that is unique. Readers will be surprised again and again by the directions this novel takes and the stories it tells. It’s an entirely fresh and fascinating book.
Proof that stories are powerful, both to connect and to fight back. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
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.
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.
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.