Review: All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (9780399554193)

Based on the series by Sydney Taylor, this new picture book gives a warm look at a beloved family celebrating Hanukkah. Set in New York City in 1912, both fans and new readers alike will find themselves immersed in this family of five girls, all of a kind. Gertie, the youngest of the five girls, knows about latkes but can’t remember what they taste like since Mama only makes them on Hanukkah. All of the girls help Mama make the meal except for Gertie who is too little to help. The potato peeler is too sharp, the onions make you cry, the shredder is even sharper than the peeler, and the grease in the pan could burn. When Gertie discovers there isn’t a job she can do, she throws a tantrum and is sent to her room. It isn’t until Papa comes home that Gertie gets her own special job, lighting the menorah’s first candle.

I adored this series as a child, loving the depiction of an immigrant family. I’m so pleased to see it return in a new format that brings the stories to a new generation in need of positive immigrant tales. As always, this family is filled with warmth and the picture book just like the series focuses on small moments in a family’s life that speak to their values, their deep love for one another, and their customs. The writing here is deft and focused just right for the picture book format without losing any of that special “All-of-a-Kind” feeling.

Zelinsky’s illustrations carry that same warm feeling. Done in rich colors, the pages are full of the bustling family working together in the kitchen. Even Gertie’s time alone in the bedroom under the bed has warm wood tones. The final pages of the book are all the more rich and warm as the family comes together for the meal with the lit menorah.

Exactly what our world needs right now, a celebration of immigrants and faith. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780763690526)

Poet Laureate of the United States, Herrera here writes a poem that is filled with wonder and possibilities. He invites young readers into his own childhood, filled with tadpoles in creeks, sleeping outside, and feeding chickens. Though his childhood also had goodbyes to people when he moved away and fetching water through the forest. Herrera shares moving to the United States and learning English. Filling pages with words and ink, creating poems and songs. The book ends with him speaking on the steps of the Library of Congress and then asks readers to imagine what they could do.

Herrera’s poem is exquisitely crafted for young readers. He takes them on a full journey of his childhood, showing them the beautiful side, the hard work and the difficulties of learning a new language and moving to a new country. It is a powerful work just right for small children about immigration and the impact the immigrant voices have on our country in so many ways.

Castillo’s art is filled with a sense of memory and longing. She lights her pages with bright sunlight and then haunting moonlight appears. There is a sense of being a witness to Herrera’s life in her work, of watching things happen right at his shoulder. It’s a beautiful way to view someone’s life.

Rich, memorable and timely, this picture book is something special. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie LaTour

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Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie LaTour (9781773060415)

A little girl heads to Haiti from her home in America to visit her Auntie Luce, a painter. The girl has sat for a painting year after year since she was seven and first visited. She leaves the snow and cold behind for the tropical world of Haiti with its heat, bright buses, pink cathedral and green hills. She asks her aunt why she never left Haiti, and her aunt explains that she wants to stay in Haiti her entire life and that she is simply different than the girl’s mother who moved to America. There are many things different in Haiti, including the paintings that cover the walls of Auntie Luce’s small home. The girl sees portraits of national Haitian heroes as well as generations of her own family. As her portrait is finished, Auntie Luce encourages the little girl to see herself as both Haitian and American, not one or the other.

This picture book cleverly incorporates small pieces of the history of Haiti into the story line. The little girl has many questions about Haiti in particular but also about why some family members choose to stay while others leave. Small bits of Haitian life are also mentioned, showing the differences between Haiti and America very clearly. The book also looks at art and the way that it offers a chance to speak in a different way about difficult things. Even the paintings themselves are described in gorgeous language that will have readers seeing even more details than they might have.

LaTour’s illustrations turn this picture book into a real look at Haiti through the eyes of someone who clearly loves it. The images come alive as they show a bustling street, the mountain home of Auntie Luce, and the images of ancestors and heroes from Haiti.

A vibrant look at Haiti in a picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

Review: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (9780823440559)

This book garnered high praise long before its release, all of which is well deserved. It is the story of immigration to the United States, based on Morales’ own experience as she came to the U.S. with her child. This is a story of immigration, of carrying your personal gifts with you to a new country and allowing them to blossom. It’s the story of learning a new language in order to communicate and along the way discovering the power of public libraries to inspire. It is about the importance of books, of shared stories and of finding your own abilities to tell unique tales personal to you and make those into books. It is a book that sings the vitality and importance of immigrants to our country.

Morales has written a book that I hope sweeps some major awards this year. I knew that it was the powerful story of immigrants, but I was delighted and surprised to see the role of the public library highlighted so clearly on the pages. The text on the page is just right, poetic and brief, inviting young readers and listening children deep into the storyline. Morales has created a timely book for today’s America and all of its children, but it is also a book that will be read again and again.

The art by Morales is amazing. Alight with the moon and searingly brilliant when the gifts they carry escape the pack they have been stored in for so long. There are beautiful symbols throughout the illustrations like this, connection and creativity alive on the page. She also pays homage to so many books in her library scenes, each one a testament to the voices that have been part of children’s literature for so long and some newer ones too.

A dazzling and incredible picture book that is sure to win awards this year. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Someone New by Anne Sibley O_Brien

Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien (9781580898317)

There are three new children in classes. Maria is from Guatemala and can’t speak English, so she stays quiet all the time. Jin is from Korea, he loves stories but can’t read or write enough English yet to share. Fatima is from Somalia; she dresses differently than the others in the class. The children in the different classes want to reach out, but they don’t know how. As time goes by, the children learn more English. Soon Maria is playing soccer with everyone. Jin starts to share his stories and also how to write in Korean. Fatimah connects through pictures she draws and shares. Maybe making friends isn’t so hard?

The author focuses on what all children whether new and learning or already comfortable in the class can do to bridge the divide when someone who is learning English joins them. The book follows her previous one, I’m New Here. With very simple text, the book is accessible for learning readers and offers clear ways to make connections with one another that don’t involve words. The illustrations show the isolation of the new children and the dismay of the others at not being able to be as welcoming as they’d like to be. Even in the early illustrations though, the distance is bridgeable and children will be able to see clearly the hope depicted.

An important book for all communities that celebrates immigrants entering communities and schools. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.

Review: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399252525)

Released August 28, 2018.

In her first middle-grade novel since her award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson speaks to the greatest challenges of our society through the viewpoints of six children. When their teacher creates a special time every Friday for six of her students to spend time together with no expectations and no adults, a safe space is created. It’s a space where Esteban can share that his father has been picked up and taken for deportation. It’s a space where Amari can talk about racial profiling with his best friend who happens to be white. Haley records their conversations, capturing them all so that they can remember this time. But she too has a secret to share, if she is brave enough to tell the truth.

Woodson writes with such ease, digging deeply into the emotional state of these young people as they share their stories with one another. She shows the United States through their eyes. It’s a place of opportunity worth risking your life and family to come to, but it’s also a place of immense danger. People are deported, families separated, and others are shot. Woodson captures all of this through the eyes of Haley, a girl who lives with her own secret. Through Haley, the story of children visiting parents in prison and eventually reunited with them is told in all of its mixed emotions.

Each of the children in the story is so very different that they can never be confused with one another. Woodson gives each a distinct voice and set of opinions, shares their stories. They are presented as full human beings with histories, families and struggles uniquely their own. Woodson also offers here a voice for children who are not great at school for one reason or another.

A book that celebrates diversity and asks deep questions about our modern society, this is a novel that so many children will see themselves reflected in and others will learn something from. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Review: Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin (9781338150520)

Rashin tells a story from her own childhood when she traveled for the first time to an American beach. She remembers beach trips when her family used to live in Iran. They took a car, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way. In America, the subway will take them to Coney Island. In Iran, there were strict beach rules. Women and girls swam separately from the men and boys. Her favorite memory was a day when little boys peeped into the women’s section and the ensuing chaos. In America, even the ice cream flavors are different, but Rashin may have discovered a new favorite with the help of another little girl. At Coney Island, the rules at the beach are less clear, but a new friend is quickly made.

The interplay between the two cultures is lovingly depicted, neither better or worse, just very different from one another. There are universal joys like cold ice cream, sand and waves. At the same time, the two beaches and cultures are shown with their own personality and uniqueness. The illustrations add to the sense of joy with their bright colors and smiling people. While the focus is not on religion, it is an inherent part of the illustrations and the story.

A grand example of why diverse books are so important, this book tells the author’s own story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (9781338157802)

When Mia and her family first moved to the United States from China, she expected to live in a big house with a car and have plenty of money. But her parents have struggled from the beginning to find jobs. When they become caretakers of a motel, the job gives them free rent, but requires one of them to be on duty at all times and Mia’s parents to spend all of their time doing laundry and cleaning the rooms. Mia steps up to help by manning the front desk. She gets to know the “weeklies” who are the people who stay at the motel long term. Her family quickly realizes that the man who owns the motel is dishonest but Mia has a plan to help her parents get off of the roller coaster of poverty. All she needs is to write a perfect letter in English and somehow find $300.

Based on her own childhood growing up as a family managing motels, Yang tells a vibrant story of hope in the face of crushing poverty. It is a book that shows how communities develop, how one girl can make a big difference in everyone’s life and how dreams happen, just not in the way you plan. Yang’s writing is fresh, telling the tale of Chinese immigrants looking for the American dream and not finding it easily due to prejudice. She valiantly takes on serious issues of racism and poverty in this book.

Mia is a great protagonist. She never gives up, always optimistic and looking for a new way to problem solve. Her own desire to be a writer plays out organically in the novel, showing how someone learning a new language can master it. The examples of her editing and correcting her own writing are cleverly done, showing the troubles with American expressions and verb tenses.

A great read that embraces diversity and gives voice to immigrant children. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

3 New Picture Books with Everyday Heroes

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

This is one delightful graphic novel picture book that is almost wordless, making it a great pick as an early graphic novel experience for little children. When Grace is told that the class will contribute to a fund to get their class pet, Gus, a new friend, she decides that she has to help. She heads home through an urban landscape, filled with nods to iconic New York people. Once her fathers are asleep, she heads out into the nighttime city and in one scene after another raises money uses her special talents, each of which is a nod to the vibrancy of arts in urban settings.

Lovers of New York and classic cartoons will have lots to spot in the illustrations. Even children who don’t know the references though will get the feeling of New York and its vibrancy from this graphic novel. The use of images to primarily tell the story invites children to fill in the tale themselves and makes the book all the more engaging and uplifting. An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Islandborn by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (9780735229860)

When Ms. Obi told Lola’s class that their assignment is to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, Lola is very worried. She doesn’t remember the Island at all, since her family left when she was only a baby. Ms. Obi suggests that Lola talk to others who might remember more. Soon Lola is speaking to lots of people in her neighborhood from the Island and they each have a favorite memory. For some it is the music, for others it’s the colorful homes, others miss the fruit. When Lola asks Mr. Mir about what he most remembers, he is gruff and won’t answer. Lola’s grandmother though wants Lola to try to ask him again, since Mr. Mir knows so much about the Island. What Mr. Mir tells Lola though is about a monster that came to the Island and was turned back only when heroes stood up to the darkness. It’s a history that Lola has never heard before, but is proud to include in her drawings of the place she was born.

Diaz’s text is rich and invites readers into visualizing the Island for themselves with its lush foliage, colorful homes, beautiful beaches and much more. The book depicts an urban neighborhood filled with echoes of the Island, a community built from the heroes who fought back. The illustrations are bright and cheery, filled with Lola’s imaginative take on what she is being told. Children may need more explanation about “the monster” if they are interested, but this book firmly celebrates resistance and standing up to those who would take your rights. Timely and important, this picture book celebrates where children came from and what it took to survive. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.)

Teddy_s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine (9781481480796)

Teddy has lots of toys he likes, but only one favorite one: Bren-Da, the Warrior Queen of Pacifica. They have tea parties together and she has great manners. They fight battles together and she does a wonderful kick. She can dress up in different styles. But then one day, when Teddy is playing with her, Bren-Da’s leg snaps off. Teddy tries to fix her, but has to leave for school and he keeps her wrapped up in bandages until he can return. Unfortunately, Teddy’s mom cleans up his room and accidentally throws Bren-Da out with the trash. What can they do? It’s up to Teddy’s mom to become a Warrior Queen herself.

There are several book out there about children playing with toys that may be seen as unusual for their gender. This one though has a great twist and really is about far more than just playing with a doll as a little boy. Instead it’s also about heroism, favorite toys and the ability of a mom to become a hero. The book is told simply but without any bit of didacticism. The illustrations are bright and friendly, offering great moments of play that are then mirrored by the rescue mission. A great picture book that breaks gender stereotypes in more than one way. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)