The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

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.

Brick by Brick by Heidi Sheffield

Brick by Brick by Heidi Sheffield

Brick by Brick by Heidi Sheffield (9780525517306)

Papi is strong, because he works hard all day long as a bricklayer. He builds walls, spreading the mortar, tapping the brick in place, and scraping the drips. He climbs high on scaffolds. Luis doesn’t mind heights either, climbing to the top of the jungle gym. They have a dream of a their own house, but it’s a “someday” dream. Father and child have the same lunches of empanada and horchata. Then both head back to work and school. At night, Papi returns home, hot and tired. On Saturday, Papi has a surprise. After a long drive, they pull up to a brick house, their new always home!

Told in simple language just right for smaller children, this book speaks to the hard work, resilience and patience it takes to create a home. Sheffield cleverly uses repetition in her text and mirrors the experience of father and son throughout their day.

The design of the book is exceptional. She has created the illustrations from photographs, collage and digital painting. She also notes that Luis and his father are formed from photographs of bricks, strong and resolute. The warm color palette is brightened with blue skies. The city skyline is formed from bricks as well as words like “dream” and “build.”

Strong and vibrant. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan

The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan

The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan, illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle (9781624149238)

The little blue cottage on the bay waited patiently every year for the little girl to return. She came with the warmer weather, taking up her place in the window seat and looking out at the water. The cottage was her favorite place, filled with dolphins, seagulls, swimming and boats. When fall came, the little girl and her family left once again, leaving the cottage to face winter. Still, summer came each year and the girl arrived, growing ever bigger. Eventually though, she and the family stopped coming, leaving the blue cottage to fade to gray, empty and waiting for years. Then one day, the girl, now a mother, returned to her beloved cottage to repair it, repaint it a merry blue, and live in it once more.

Jordan’s text invites readers to really experience the seasonality of cottage life. She uses near rhymes and natural rhythms to share both the joy and loneliness of the cottage that mirrors the emotions of the humans in the story as well. The long seasons of neglect have a quiet dignity to them, while the triumphant return is a marvelous ending.

The illustrations are detailed and visually interesting. They show the cottage on its own little beach, the beauty of the busyness of the family and the light they bring with them. The growing weeds and fading paint are particularly well done. The family is multicultural, adding to the book’s appeal.

Just right for vacation reading, this one will have you dreaming of a cottage on the water. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Page Street Kids.

Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse by Jane Godwin

Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse by Jane Godwin

Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse by Jane Godwin, illustrated by Blanca Gomez (9780525553816)

Told in simple rhymes, this book invites the youngest children to explore its pages and engage with the questions asked inside. The book begins with houses, including a little tree house for the tiny mouse. Colors are explored and then there is counting on the next page combined with more colors. The book takes readers on a bus, into the ocean, on all sorts of transportation, and asks engaging questions of the reader along the way. The book ends by inviting readers to look for the mouse hiding in every illustration.

This picture book’s jaunty rhymes are reminiscent of classic children’s books like Go Dog Go! The way that children are invited to engage with the book is wonderful and will help parents new to sharing books with children understand the sorts of questions that can be asked about the images in any picture book. Gomez’s illustrations are full of pure and bright colors that leap from the page, glowing with red, green, blue, orange and pink. The people on the pages are diverse and the urban setting where most of the book takes place is busy and friendly.

Engaging and fun, this book is best shared with only a few children so their perspectives can be heard. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books.

Review: Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

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.

Review: The Great Indoors by Julie Falatko

The Great Indoors by Julie Falatko

The Great Indoors by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Ruth Chan (9781368000833)

When the humans head out on vacation, the animals move in for their own holiday time. The beavers head to the kitchen to make plenty of snacks for everyone. The deer set up a dance party. A teen bear takes over the bathroom to curl her hair. The skunks used their cell phones. The bears used the humans’ tools to build things. Now there was no peace and quiet, no lack of screen time, and everything the indoor life had to offer. But as the week goes on, the parties and life of ease turn into one big mess. At the end of the week, it is clear that the animals are looking forward to returning to the peace of the outdoors. But what happens when the humans get home?

Told with a broad sense of humor, this picture book turns a lens on our own lifestyles and vacations. The joy of the animals at their return to the ease of electricity, TVs, cell phones and more is a great start to the book. As the vacation goes on though, the toll those options take is clear. Yet the book is not a lecture on modern convenience as the tone is kept light and humorous.

Chan’s art is marvelous, playing up the humor of the situation. From the tower of ice cream buckets arriving to the final mess of the house, the illustrations add so much to this picture book. Butter-licking deer, broken beds, nacho cheese in a toaster and more add to the final chaos.

A giggle of a book, this is a good one to share. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.

Review: The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (9781338209969)

Marinka never asked to be a Yaga, but since she is the granddaughter of a Baba Yaga, she has been learning to speak with the dead and guide them through the Gate and into the stars. All Marinka really wants is to make a real human friend and do things that other twelve-year-olds do. Making friends is nearly impossible though when you live in a house with chicken legs that can move you all over the world overnight. So when Marinka gets another chance to make friends with someone, she takes it, even if it breaks all of the rules that she has been taught. As her decision changes her entire life, Marinka is left to figure out who she really is and what she wants to be.

Anderson has a clear love of Russian folktales, taking a beautiful view of Baba Yaga and giving her a larger community, more chicken-footed houses and a longing for family. The folktales at the center of the book continue to reverberate throughout the story, offering Marinka distinct choices. Marinka makes her own decisions though, ones that readers will not agree with though they might understand. As her situation grows direr, Marinka becomes almost unlikeable, and yet Anderson is able to bring us back to loving her by the end.

Anderson surrounds Marinka with a beautiful and rich world. There is her own Baba Yaga, filling the house with good cooking, lots of love and ghosts every evening. Then there is Jack, Marinka’s pet jackdaw, who sits on her shoulder and puts pieces of food in people’s ears and socks. A baby lamb soon joins them as well. Yet by far, the most compelling member of Marinka’s home is the house itself. Filled with personality and opinions, the house is intelligent and ever-changing.

A dynamic retelling of the Baby Yaga folktale, this picture book offers a big world of magic and ghosts to explore. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

3 New Picture Books Featuring Friends

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith (9781626723146)

Two children head into the woods and discover an old house that is no longer a home. Once painted blue with an overgrown path, the house has a door that is stuck partly open. So the children enter through a broken window. Inside they find clues about the people who used to live there. There are art supplies, photographs, things in the kitchen for cooking, and beds that are still made. Could the owner have been a sea captain? Or perhaps a woman who painted in the garden? A girl or a boy? A king or a queen? And why did they leave this house waiting for them, never to return?

Such a gorgeous picture book. The writing is exceptional, the poetry invites readers to head forward slowly as if exploring an old house themselves. The writing looks at things from different angles, puts words together carefully and asks readers to think a bit before moving on. The pacing is delicious and just right, echoing the activities described on the page. Smith’s illustrations are layered and loose, the color on the page almost lifted by the breeze like pollen. It settles and lifts again.

Seriously one of the best picture books of the year. This is treat by two master artists must be shared with children!

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781592702503)

This beautiful, heartfelt picture book shows the incredible joy of having a true childhood friend. In this book, Raphael loves his best friend Jerome. He’s a friend who isn’t afraid to hold hands, picks Raphael as his partner at school, shares his snacks, and defends Raphael if anyone picks on him. When Raphael’s parents react rather rudely when he expresses his admiration and adoration of Jerome, Raphael heads to his room. There he looks for a great gift for Jerome, until he is distracted thinking about adventures that he and Jerome can have together. Because they will!

A French import, this picture book is childhood captured on the page. There is a merriment to the boys’ time together and an innocence inherent in the way they treat one another. And yet Raphael has beautifully concrete reasons that he loves Jerome and it’s all about how well he is treated and how Jerome makes him feel inside. The parents’ reaction may echo some of the reactions of adult readers who may wonder if there is more connection between the boys than just friends. That is neatly put in its place as Raphael heads off to be with his friend regardless of what that friendship may eventually mean for them.

Tallec’s illustrations are as masterful as ever. The pairing of the two boys is depicted with solid connections between the two of them. They have a lovely playfulness about them that capture the friendship of the boys and mimics the merriment that the boys feel when together. A delicate and touching story of friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.)

Rescue & Jessica A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9780763696047)

Written by two of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, this picture book is the true story of one of them and their service dog, Rescue. It is the story of a dog learning to serve and a girl learning to survive after losing a leg. Both of them train long and hard separately until they are paired together. The two of them spend their days together and Rescue helps Jessica heal after she loses her remaining leg. After that, the training starts all over again, but this time they do it together. This picture book captures a story of resilience and survival after a tragedy and the difference a service dog makes in that recovery and life afterwards.

The writing here is told with a light tone where possible. It helps tremendously that readers can see Rescue training to be Jessica’s dog even as her story is deep in shadows and pain. The mirroring of their hard work is also very successful, showing the dedication they both had to have even before they meet one another. The illustrations are very effective, using white and black backgrounds to show hope and challenging times. Throughout though, there is hope, in the form on one black dog who stands strong against dark and light. A winning picture book that is inspiring and courageous. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

This House, Once by Deborah Freedman

This House Once by Deborah Freedman

This House, Once by Deborah Freedman (9781481442848, Amazon)

Simple and profound, this picture book by a master author/illustrator takes a look at the wonder behind everyday objects like a house. The door was once a huge oak tree. The stones were raised from deep underground. The bricks came from mud that was baked hard. The windows were once sand. The book takes a quiet and focused look at the transformation of materials into the items that surround us.

I find myself unable to capture in words the beauty of this quiet book. It has a gorgeous meditative quality to it, a look at the importance of the history of our things, their origins and the skill that it took to make them. Freedman manages to convey all of that with simple words and taking a look at where all of the parts of the house came from one after another. The ending wraps it all up, tying it all back to the front door as the house comes to life around the reader.

Freedman’s art is dreamy and soft. She creates clouds and leaves with watercolors that feather on the page. Young animals play together in the natural settings that the objects originated in. There are puddles, mud, stones underground, and more. Then the house, solid and warm, lit with by a fireplace, still open to dreams.

A brilliant picture book that will entrance young readers, little builders and budding scientists. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.