The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha and Irene Latham

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha and Irene Latham, illustrated by Yuko Shinizu (9781984813787)

Alaa lives in Aleppo, a city torn apart by war. He loves the city with its alleys, bazaars and caring people. When the war came, Alaa didn’t flee. Instead, he kept working as an ambulance driver on the rubble-filled streets of the city. Alaa misses his family and loved ones. The cats of the city, left behind by their owners, remind him of his family. Alaa begins to feed the cats, at first only a few but soon many start coming to be fed. Alaa must find a special place for the cats. Donations come from all over the world to help and soon Alaa has enough money to create a sanctuary for them. Alaa is then able to save more types of animals as the donations continue. He builds a playground for children and well for fresh water. Through his big and aching heart, Alaa is able to share hope and sustenance with the cats and people of Aleppo.

This nonfiction picture book tells such a powerful story of resilience and how one person’s actions can impact an entire community. The text focuses on Alaa’s love for Aleppo but also on his big heart and willingness to give his own small amount of money to care for the cats of the city. Readers will celebrate his victories with him on the pages, marveling at how one person could help so many.

Shinizu’s illustrations capture the city of Aleppo both before the war and afterwards. The finely detailed illustrations show bustling bazaars and then the torn and vacant streets. The cats are beautifully drawn, each one has a character of their own, even in a crowded scene.

An important book about war, hope and resilience. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

3 New Friendly Picture Books

Adelaide_s Secret World by Elise Hurst

Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst (9781524714543)

Originally published in Australia, this picture book features a similar world to Hurst’s Imagine a City, a bustling urban setting filled with animals. Adelaide lives in the city and runs a quiet shop where she makes small models. She spent her days and nights alone, watching others rush past and noting those that were quieter like her. Caught in a sudden rainstorm one day, she sees a Fox that she has noticed earlier drop his book. When she returns the book, she hopes they will connect, but it doesn’t happen that day. Still, Adelaide does not give up and creates an art piece filled with connection and magic that may just make her a new friend. This picture book celebrates quiet people who still want friends and connection. Through the gorgeous glowing full-color paintings, Hurst creates a world for these two quiet animals to live in, one that invites readers in and holds them close. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler (9780062424334)

Crane, Dozer and Digger are three big trucks who work hard to build big buildings, roads and bridges. Then one day Digger discovered a tiny flower in the rubble. Digger took care of the flower, watering it, protecting it from the wind and singing to it just before he went to sleep nearby. Soon though, the empty lot that the flower grew in was needed for building. Before Digger could stop him, Dozer cut the flower down. Digger was so sad, but there on the ground were three little seeds. The illustrations have strong graphical elements with shots of color from the trucks and flower. A simple and lovely tale of death and birth, of caring for something you love, this picture book gives a big truck a huge heart. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon

Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Lee White (9781101934791)

A man lived all alone at the top of a very steep hill where winds blew constantly. The wind blew so much that eventually, the shutters banged and the boards bent, and the wind tipped things over and just kept on blowing. Kate was a little girl who lived below the steep hill. When the man cried out in despair, Kate heard him and had a plan. She thought and thought, realizing that she could not stop the wind from blowing. But she could bring new trees to the man. So up she went, pulling her wagon of trees. The two planted the trees together and time passed, the wind still blew, but eventually the trees softened the wind and their friendship grew along with the trees. This picture book is so delightful. Scanlon uses rhymes, rhythm and repetition to create a story that is jaunty and wonderful to read aloud. She plays with the forms, so it never becomes sing-songy and is constantly surprising. The art is just as sprightly and warm, with a stunningly steep hill and plenty of vexing wind. The solution, provided by a child, incorporates nature and science. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.)

The One Day House by Julia Durango

The One Day House by Julia Durango

The One Day House by Julia Durango, illustrated by Bianca Diaz (9781580897099, Amazon)

Released August 15, 2017.

Wilson wishes that one day he will be able to help Gigi in many ways. He says that one day he will paint her house yellow like the sun, but Gigi assures him that he is all the sunshine she needs. Wilson wants to build a fence for her yard, fix her stairs so she can climb them again, fix her piano so it can be played once more. He wants to create a garden for her and fix her roof. There are so many things to fix and Wilson can’t do them by himself. Luckily though, Wilson asks for help and the community turns out to help Gigi and have Wilson’s wishes for her come true.

Inspired by an action day in the community the author lives in, this book shows the power of community to help the elderly and those with disabilities live in safe and functional homes. Details on this sort of community involvement is offered in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. The young character in the book discovers the program at the beginning and has to wait several months and seasons for the help to come. There is no quick fix here, it’s people coming together to make a difference.

The illustrations are rich and bright, showing Wilson’s own art as well as depicting the friendship between young and old vividly. Done in watercolor, gouache and acrylic, the art is filled with the bright colors of an urban setting, lit by a sunlit sky.

A call to communities to come together, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Most People by Michael Leannah

Most People by Michael Leannah

Most People by Michael Leannah, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris (9780884485544, Amazon)

Released August 15, 2017.

This reassuring picture book shows children that the world around them is filled with helpful and friendly people. It’s a strong response to the negativity so often seen in our world and absorbed by our children as frightening ideas and thoughts. The picture book is set in an urban and diverse neighborhood where accidents happen and neighbors help out. It’s a place where people are friendly, smile at babies, and watch out for one another. It’s a place where people in need are given assistance, where children are empowered to help. It’s the world where we all live right now, if we only can see it that way.

Leannah writes in very straight-forward prose. He states again and again the certainty that most people are good and that most people see the world exactly the way the reader does. That most people want to help and do good. It is a book that brings a sense of safety to the young reader or listener, one that can help see their community and their school in a different way. It’s also a book that will start conversations about what kind of person they are and what positive changes they want to see in their world.

The illustrations emphasize diversity and the friendly urban setting. The book follows the course of a day and ends with a beautiful city night and people seen through windows and on rooftops as a larger community.

A strong and positive book that is important for children of today. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Tilbury House Publishers.

 

Review: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

last stop on market street

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Take a ride across town on a bus with CJ and his grandmother. Every Sunday after church CJ and his grandmother get on a bus and take a long ride. Along the way, they meet all sorts of people on the bus. There is a man who is blind, a busker who plays the guitar, teenagers who listen to music on their iPods. CJ longs for some of the things he sees, like his friends who have cars to drive places, the iPods the teens have, and the free time his friends have on Sunday afternoons. But his grandmother sees the beauty in the ride, in the other passengers and in the time they spend together. At the end of the ride, they get off in a poorer section of town and head to the soup kitchen which is ringed by a rainbow in the sky. CJ is glad that they made the trip once they are there.

De la Pena is best known for his young adult books.  This is the second picture book he has written.  One would never know that this is not his specialty.  His wording is just perfect for preschoolers, inviting them along on the journey to discover new things on each page. His words form a tapestry of a community, diverse and dynamic. The journey is about more than just seeing new things though, it is also about seeing them differently and in a positive way. From the rain falling to the poor section of town, they are all reframed by CJ’s grandmother into something beautiful.

Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint and collage.  They are bright, vibrant and filled with people of different colors living happily side-by-side. They capture the busy urban setting with a sense of community that is warm, friendly and fun.

A great journey to take any preschooler on, this picture book celebrates making a positive difference in your community.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Pigs to the Rescue

Pigs to the Rescue by John Himmelman

I loved Chickens to the Rescue which was released in 2006 and this next book is just as winning and funny as the first!  Each day of the week Farmer Greenstalk and his family need help.  The tractor breaks down, the garden needs watering, a shoelace breaks and a kite gets stuck in the tree.  In each case, the pigs launch in to help out, always leaving the situation a bit worse than when they “helped.”  This zany book is sure to have guffaws galore as the illustrations are there to tell the rest of the story, especially the results of the pigs’ frenzied help.  The book ends with a wonderful twist that will have readers laughing all over again.

Himmelman allows his illustrations to really tell the story here.  The text is matter-of-fact, playing the straight man against the wild humor of the illustrations.  The cartoon feel of the pictures works perfectly here with the larger-than-life humor that is mostly physical.  Reluctant readers will enjoy the juxtaposition of the simple text against the vibrant background.

Sure to be a hit, this book will work best one-on-one because the illustrations should be enjoyed close up.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.

Sylvia Jean, Scout Supreme

Sylvia Jean, Scout Supreme by Lisa Campbell Ernst

This is the second book about the irrepressible Sylvia Jean.  In this book, Sylvia Jean’s Pig Scout troop is working on getting their Good-Dead Badge.  Each of them has to select one a good deed to do.  Sylvia Jean realizes that she can help her neighbor Mrs. VanHooven who twisted her ankle and can’t walk.  Sylvia Jean gathers everything she is going to need to help Mrs. VanHooven and arrives on her doorstep merrily blowing her tuba in case Mrs. VanHooven has difficulty hearing.  Sylvia Jean arrives with too much energy and ends up tripping and falling on top of Mrs. VanHooven.  The doctor then insists that Sylvia Jean not visit any more to let her have rest.  But Sylvia Jean is not that easily turned away.  She comes up with a clever solution that allows her to keep helping her neighbor without her neighbor knowing.  But what happens when she has to turn in her information for her badge and no one knows how helpful she has been?

Ernst has poured so much energy and creativity into this young pig that she is more than a breath of fresh air.  She is a gale.  Sylvia Jean is a great character who young readers will enjoy spending time with.  Ernst’s writing and illustrations are filled with plenty of humor and the book moves along at a brisk pace.  The story is interesting and has more depth than many picture books.  There is more text here than in some picture books.  It reads aloud very easily and the details add to the story and the fun.  Ernst’s illustrations are done in warm colors and gently waving lines.  They are equal in humor and energy to the story itself.

Recommended as a read aloud, this book will be enjoyed by a wide range of ages and children.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin Books.

I Can Help

I Can Help by David Hyde Costello

Little Duck is lost in the tall grass and is helped by Monkey.  This starts a chain of helpful actions where one animal helps the next.  Monkey is caught by a giraffe when he falls from a tree, Giraffe is helped when Gorilla bends a branch low enough, Gorilla’s splinter is pulled out by a bird.  And it continues, one after the other until the chain loops back when Little Duck helps Elephant find a cool pool of water.  Unfortunately, moments later Little Duck is once again lost in the grass, but now there are lots of animals willing to help!

Very simply written in short sentences, this book clearly demonstrates how one good deed gets repaid again and again.  Costello’s art is as clear and simple as his text with illustrations filled with deep colors that are very inviting.  As the chain continues, each animal is united with a parent after they are helped.  This small touch adds to the warmth of the book.  It is also pleasant to see that each animal gives thanks for the help they receive. 

Perfection for toddler or even baby storytimes, this book exudes a bright friendliness that all children will find inviting.  Appropriate for ages 1-4.

Reviewed from library copy.