The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl (9781984893369)
Leo lived with his father in a blue house that they loved. The paint may have been peeling, there may have been leaks, and it might shake when the wind blew, but the house was theirs. It was cold in the winter, but Leo and his dad just baked pies to keep the kitchen warm and had dance parties in their hats and scarves. The house had a big garden and a yard where Leo loved to spend all day playing. But their neighborhood was changing, and eventually it was their house that needed to be knocked down. They got evicted by their landlord and had to move. Leo was very angry, and his father let him express it with angry music but they still needed to pack. After painting their farewell on the walls, they left and moved into a white house, a house that didn’t feel at all like home. But perhaps they could make it feel better after all.
There is so much to love about this picture book with its look at the cost of new construction on a neighborhood and a family. It is also a book that celebrates this small family of a dad and son and the way they deal with forced changes in their lives. The focus here is on quality of life rather than wealth, on home rather than real estate, on love rather than land. The story shares these ideals of simple living without preaching, never pushing them, just showing how a life focused on love looks.
Wahl’s art is marvelous. The end pages of the book show the full neighborhood that this little family lives in. Then readers get to see their home with its rambling garden, laundry on the line, trampoline and rather ramshackle house. It’s a home filled with delights of home-baked pies, rock music, dancing and togetherness. The long-haired little boy and his father are marvelously modern with an engaging nod towards simpler times throughout the images.
Richly illustrated, this picture book focuses on love and simple joys. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf.
The Little Green Girl by Lisa Anchin (9780735230736)
Mr. Aster likes his normal routine. He cares for his garden, keeping it neat and clean. Then a new seed blows in on the wind. He plants the seed in his greenhouse and takes good care of the plant that emerges. Eventually, he moves the plant out into the garden. The plant looks like a little girl, and at first she is content to be at the center of the garden, always watching Mr. Aster as he works. But then the birds arrive and tell her stories of the wide world. Little Green Girl tries to move herself using vines and lifting her roots, but each day Mr. Aster tucks her back into her bed in the garden and repairs any damage she has done. Finally, Little Green Girl has an idea and makes sure that Mr. Aster allows her to travel. It may just be what Mr. Aster needs too.
Anchin has written a lovely, magical book that takes the idea of a plant and gives her plenty of personality. The book looks at both the pleasures of home and also the delights of experiencing something new. It also speaks to the power of a new friend and spreading your branches to include new experiences.
The artwork is completely charming. In particular, Little Green Girl, is a masterpiece of greenery. She is firmly rooted to the ground but manages to have plenty of emotional expression through body language despite that. Her readiness to travel could not be more clear when she manages to re-pot herself into a traveling form, sunglasses and all.
A book that will expand your horizons and get you thinking of taking a trip. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Chris Sasaki (9780823441563)
A little girl celebrates her city home and all of the things that make it special. From the small touches like a basket for your shoes and plants in the corner to the lamplight at night from a neighbor’s window. Her family makes it special too, doing chores together, fixing mistakes, and helping one another. When the family moves to a new home, they take a lot of the elements that make it special with them. In the new house, they will once again create a home together.
In statements that begin with “Home is…” this picture book explores what makes a house a home. From the smells to the people to the windows themselves, each piece fits together like a puzzle. Ledyard’s prose asks people to slow down, to celebrate the everyday and small moments that make up their lives and their homes. The switch to a book about moving later in the book makes the first part all the more important and profound, allowing the family to rebuild easily the sense of home they always carry with them.
Sasaki’s illustrations show a multi-racial family spending days together filled with love and in a home that is warm and colorful. Those elements carry throughout the illustrations, each one making sure that readers know that small touches create a home. From lamplight at night to tables filled with family.
A beautiful look at family, home and moving. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.
The Road Home by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (9781419723742)
A variety of animals travel on their way home. Birds fly to warmer places, escaping the chill of winter. Mice build nests in the grass that offer safety and warmth. Wolves hunt for food to fill their hunger. Rabbits hide in the brambles, chased clear by the wolves on their heels. They reach their burrow and safety. The next day, the wolves and rabbits are outside again along with the birds and the mice. All sharing a larger home with one another.
Cotton’s poem is delicious. From the initial rhyming stanzas on the first page, she builds a full story of the importance of home and the strength of parent/child pairs in survival. Throughout the poem there is a sense of arrival or approaching home, defined in different ways for the different species. There is also a focus on security and warmth, on being together despite the odds and filling small burrows and nests with love.
Jacoby’s illustrations embrace the natural setting. They keep readers from realizing that all of the animals are in the same area by using a different feel for their habitats. The mice are in golden nests of straw, the birds soar in the sky, the wolves hunt through a forest and the rabbits are close by. Then the final reveal of them together is like the sun returning, a beautiful reveal.
Gorgeous poetry combines with strong illustrations to create a celebration of home no matter what species you may be. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, illustrated by Akin Duzakin (InfoSoup)
A child wonders aloud why they are here in this specific place and in this life. They could instead be in a crowded place with lots of other people. They could be in a place torn by war. They could be a refugee, searching for safety. The land could be desert or snow and ice or rivers with trees. Does anyone else wonder about why they are where they are? Will this child ever leave this place and adventure to the spots they have dreamed of? Are they right where they are supposed to be, after all?
This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book that demonstrates empathy throughout. It’s a book that explores the “why” of our circumstances, looking at other places and how different a life could be just by being moved somewhere else with a different situation and a different family. The book takes the time to stay in that ambiguity and wonder about it, before releasing readers in the final pages into an understanding that we simply are where we are.
The illustrations by Duzakin have a quiet thoughtfulness about them. The main character who speaks in first person can be interpreted to be either gender adding another layer to the ambiguity of the book. The illustrations capture dreamlike settings of war, desert, ice or greenery that allow readers to wonder along with the story.
A quiet and contemplative picture book that will create opportunities for conversation. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Busy-Busy Little Chick by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Mama Nsoso and her chicks needed a new home. They spent each night shivering and cold in their dark, damp nest. So Mama Nsoso said that tomorrow they would start work on their new home. But the first day, Mama Nsoso found worms to eat and decided to eat rather than build a house. The family shivered through another night. The next day there were crickets to eat and no work was done. Except by Little Chick who set out to gather grasses and mud to create their new home. His hard work resulted in a fine new home for them, and then he was off finding himself some delicious bugs to eat.
Harrington writes like a storyteller. Her words flow beautifully when shared aloud. She has reworked a classic fable from the Nkundo people of Central Africa and throughout has woven in Lunkundo words from their language. She has also added lots of sounds to the book, so there are wonderful patterns that emerge as the hen and her chicks move through their day. She clearly enjoys wordplay and creating rhymes and rhythms, all of which make for a great book to share aloud.
Pinkney’s art is large and bold, filled with warm yellows and oranges. He has created images of the hen and her little family isolated and floating in cold blues. They are brilliant orange, evoking the warmth of family and shelter. His art is simple but filled with moving lines and playfulness with white space.
A great pick for spring story times, don’t be chicken to share this one. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead
Vernon, the toad, was out finding interesting things when he met Bird. Bird wasn’t much for talking, not responding to anything that Vernon said, not even when he introduced Bird to his friends, Skunk and Porcupine. Despite his silence (and his stiffness and button eyes) Vernon proceeded to show Bird around the river and forest. But when Bird didn’t react even to watching clouds together, Vernon started to worry that Bird was depressed. So Vernon and Bird set out to help Bird find his home. They looked at all sorts of homes, but none of them were right for Bird. Then they came to a small blue house where they decided to stop for the night. In the house was another small house, a cuckoo clock, up on the wall. And that was where Bird and Vernon spent the night. Until in the morning, Bird finally found his voice.
Stead writes and illustrates with a wonderful charm. His writing is so solid that it is a joy to read aloud. The story is carefully crafted and then playfully told, making for a book that is a pleasure to share. Vernon is a character that children will relate easily and happily to. Bird will immediately be recognized for the toy he is, but the story is less about that mistake by Vernon and more about the journey to find where Bird belongs.
The illustrations have a wonderful freedom to them, filled with swirls of color, that fill the air and cover the walls. Stead draws the main characters with detailed fine lines, but their world is a more childlike, looser scrawl that reveals trees, flowers and dirt. The way the detail plays against the less structured backgrounds adds to the cheer of the title.
Finding ones home, friendship and a grand quest fill this picture book to the brim and combine wonderfully with the charm of the illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
House Held Up by Trees by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen
This is the story of a family and a house. When the house was new, it stood upon a newly planted lawn where the trees had been removed. It was bare, not even a stump left behind. On either side of the bare lot were trees of all sorts, the kind that spread seeds and scents. Two children lived in the new house and often played in the trees at the edges, watching their father care for the lawn. Their father mowed down all of the small tree seedlings before they could get started at all. But the children grew up, the man moved away to be closer to them, and the house was left alone. Alone except for the trees, which grew and took over the barren lawn, and eventually lifted the house high on their shoulders.
Kooser writes with amazing depth here, each sentence resonant with meaning and feeling. While the book can be read more lightly, the joy here is in that dark deep that lies behind the lines. The story plays with man vs. wilderness, the American obsession with lawns, children being pulled to the edges to find their own wild spaces, and the return to nature in the end. The writing is beautiful because of that ever-present ache that is there, the tug of the trees, the dance of the seeds.
Klassen has illustrated this book with such delicacy that it shows he feels that same amazing pull. He lets us peek at the house from the shelter of the woods, our eyes almost aching with the bareness in the sun. He captures the tree seeds in flight from high above, allowing us to fly with them and plant ourselves too. He plays with light, shadow and darkness, just as Kooser does.
This book is poetry, without the stanzas. It is a picture book that has depth, courage and looks deeply into our relationship with nature and with our families. Beautiful. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
A House in the Woods by Inga Moore
One pig had built a den for herself in the woods with another pig next door in a hut. The two pigs went exploring in the woods and when they returned home, they found a bear and a moose in their homes. Unfortunately, the spaces were not made for such large animals and both the den and the hut collapsed! So the four animals talk about what they could do and decide to build a home where they all could live. They had no idea where to start, so they called in the Beavers who only asked to be paid in peanut-butter sandwiches. Everyone worked together to build a marvelous house and then worked together to get the sandwiches made for the Beavers. In the end, they had a cozy warm home just right for the four friends together.
This book is so warm and cozy with an old-fashioned feel. The story embraces a spirit of friendship and cooperation without ever being didactic about it. Instead the lessons are woven directly into the story and shown, never told. The tone of the tale is gentle and cheerful with small touches throughout that bring the story to life. Here is the paragraph when the four friends are finally asleep in their own home:
Soon the only sounds to be heard were the soft cheeps of sleepy birds roosting in the rafters, the tiny rustling of wood mice in the fallen leaves outside, and, just now and then, the gentle snoring of Bear.
Moore’s art has the same warm, old-fashioned feel as the story. The animals are individuals with interesting personalities, who each contribute differently to the project. Through the entire work is a feel of nature and home.
This charming book is a joy to read aloud and will delight listeners. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
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