Too Small Tola by Atinuke

Cover image.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu (9781536211276)

Tola lives in Lagos, Nigeria with her older brother and sister and her grandmother. Tola is the youngest and quite small, though she notices throughout these three stories that often the smallest people turn out to be the strongest too. In the first story, Tola goes with her Grandmommy to the market because she is the best at counting change. She and her grandmother carry the heavy groceries and items back on their heads, stopping along the way for treats. In the next story, the water stops working in their apartment, so Tola wakes her siblings to get water from the well early so they aren’t late for school. But her clever idea doesn’t quite work out as expected. In the last story, Tola and her brother help their neighbor the tailor after he gets into an accident and can’t ride his bike. Thanks to her way with numbers, Tola can measure the clients for their new clothes and her brother is strong enough to pedal them all over the city.

Any new book by Atinuke is a treat, but one that introduces a new character and her family is a particular delight. As always, Atinuke shows both the poverty in Nigeria but also the strength of the community. Tola works hard throughout the book, making sure that she is taking care of her grandmother, her siblings and her neighbors. She uses her own particular skills to help, including her ability to notice small things, count correct change, and measure closely. She also uses her innate kindness and love for others to motivate herself.

The illustrations are done in friendly and often funny line drawings. These drawings show vital elements of the story such as the size of the rice bag that Grandmommy carries on her head and the length of the line at the well. They also help to break up the text, making this early chapter book approachable and adding clever humor.

Another charmer from a master Nigerian storyteller. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Hamish Takes the Train by Daisy Hirst

Hamish Takes the Train by Daisy Hirst (9781536216592)

Hamish the bear and Noreen the goose love to watch trains together. Hamish longs to take a train to the city, but Noreen isn’t interested. So Hamish set off, following the train tracks on foot. When he got to the station though, he found he needed a ticket, so he just kept on walking. As night fell, he came to a railroad yard and discovered a caboose all lit up inside. There he found Christov who was sick with the flu and too ill to go to work in the morning and run a big crane. So Hamish offered to help. He borrowed Christov’s hat and jacket and headed into the city on the train. When he got to the building site though, he didn’t have any boots, luckily he was able to find some nearby. Then it was time to run the huge crane. Hamish worked hard, running the crane from the cozy cabin. He did it for the five days that Christov was sick and was offered a job himself by the end. But Hamish was missing Noreen and took a train home, to share his adventures with her, and maybe have some new ones together.

Hirst tells a charming tale of Hamish, a bear with a taste for adventure and trying new things. He is also a very helpful and thoughtful character, helping out where he can and finding unique solutions to problems he encounters along the way. I was most impressed that Hamish was a success as he tried to help. It became a celebration of trying new things, learning and succeeding rather than what is often seen in children’s books like Curious George where helping becomes failing in a funny way.

The art is simple and friendly, capturing both the expanse of the countryside and the bustle of the city streets. Some of the pages are fully colored while others use white space and smaller images that move the story ahead. Throughout there is a sense of happy positivity.

A glorious adventure full of trains and cranes. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen

Cover image of Little Wise Wolf

Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen, illustrated by Hanneke Siemensma, translated by Laura Watkinson

Little Wolf loves reading lots of books. It’s how he knows so much about the world. All of his neighbors called him Little Wise Wolf and sought him out to answer their difficult questions. But Little Wolf didn’t want to interrupt his reading and kept his door closed. When the king’s crow comes to ask him to help the king, who is ill, Little Wolf refuses at first. After being convinced that he can’t refuse, Little Wolf sets off across the countryside. Along the way, it’s clear that the wolf needs help, but the other animals are busy doing their own things. When he finds himself wet, lost and missing a boot in the dark forest, Little Wolf discovers a camp already set up where he could eat and sleep warmly by a fire. It was all of the animals who had decided to help him after all. Little Wolf continued on his way to the king, asking for help as he needed it along the way. When he had saved the king and returned home, he made sure that he was never too busy to help a neighbor again.

This picture book celebrates knowledge and community. While learning from books is seen throughout the story as very valuable, it doesn’t really make its full impact until it is used to help someone else. Originally published in the Netherlands, this picture book has a delightful European feel. The text is straight forward but with space for interpretation and some dreaming too. The pace of the book is very similar, full of adventure but also time for meandering a bit.

The illustrations are marvelously gauzy, showing a black wolf with a white face and bright red boots on his journey. There are leafy patterns, rounded hills, puddling rain, and much more. The pages have a luminous quality as well as offering a haunting landscape.

A journey worth taking. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki (9781419746550)

Every Wednesday, a group of people come together in a little kitchen to cook together. They put on aprons, roll up their sleeves, heat up the oven. Then they start to look for ingredients, things they have grown or kept or purchased. Day-old bread from the bakery is given a little time in the oven and comes out new. Apples with bruises are still good and make an amazing apple crumble. Beans and vegetables mix and stew into a chili. Soon the dining room is filling up and time is running out. The food hits the table and is served to those waiting in line, neighbors in need. Conversations happen around the room, second helpings are offered and everyone leaves warm and full. Then it’s clean up time!

Based on her own work in a community kitchen, where there is sometimes plenty of ingredients and other times just enough to scrape into a meal. This picture book shows the hard work and dedication of a group of volunteers working to feed their neighbors with food and with kindness. The pace is brisk and busy, each person working on their own dish that comes together as a harmonious meal at the end. There is no chef bossing people around, but instead a shared effort that is so uplifting.

Tamaki’s art fills the pages with a diverse group of neighbors who work together. Young readers will enjoy watching a little boy who comes along with his mother to help. The busy kitchen moves across the pages with energy. Beans, bread, apples and more stream across the pages, sometimes lifting the workers right off their feet. The end pages contain visual recipes for vegetable soup and apple crumble.

Positive and kind, this is a community kitchen that everyone will want to join. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

 

Little Fox by Edward van de Vendel

Little Fox by Edward van de Vendel

Little Fox by Edward van de Vendel & Marije Tolman (9781646140077)

Little fox is chasing two butterflies because they are purple. He runs so quickly that he doesn’t notice the ground falling away and takes a horrible tumble. He lands hard and starts to dream. It’s a dream about his life from when he was a very small baby to growing up with his brothers and sisters. It’s a dream of smells, of mice and deer, of wind and water. Daddy Fox warns Little Fox not to be so curious but he can’t help but wonder about the little human with the camera. It turns out that that little human saves Little Fox from getting his head stuck in a jar. Then after his terrible fall, the little human arrives just in time to save Little Fox one more time.

While some might read the description above as a cautionary tale, this book doesn’t take that tone at all. Instead it celebrates the small things in life, a mother’s love, a father’s attention, siblings, food, and exploration. Throughout there is a feeling of joy and marvel, such as the memory of licking drops of water off of a deer’s nose. The book is also peppered with smaller moments, blackberries, birds, and orange balls.

The illustrations are unique and ethereal. Using photographs to create her landscapes, which are then depicted in vibrant orange or cool teal, Tolman places her characters in them with precision. Other pages are done on creamy paper where the landscapes and characters are drawn. Still others play on the white background of the pages.

This European import is quiet and profound. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from egalley provided by Chronicle Books.

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.