Review: Between Us and Abuela by Mitali Perkins

Between Us and Abuela by Mitali Perkins

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9780374303730)

Maria, Juan and their mother hadn’t seen Maria’s grandmother in five years. Today they were celebrating Christmas by taking a bus to the border with Mexico for Los Posada Sin Fronteras where families could meet with the border fence between them. Maria had made her grandmother a scarf that her mother was finishing and Juan had drawn a picture for her. When they reach the border, they must stand in line for their turn to see their family. They get their turn and get to see their grandmother and the fence disappears as they reconnect. But there is no way to get their gifts through the fence, until Maria has an idea that even the border police approve of.

Perkins takes a celebration that few of us have heard of and turns it into a universal story of immigration and separated families on the United States border. Through Maria’s story, readers will deeply connect with the physical separation of families and the power dynamic in place. Mitali though leaves readers with a soaring hope as Maria manages to get Juan’s gift to her grandmother despite the fence in the way. The illustrations capture the small family and the large border fence, offering real perspectives on the size but also showing how those fall away when family connects with one another.

A strong and purposeful look at walls, immigration and family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Gittel’s Journey by Leslea Newman

Gittel's Journey An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman

Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates (9781419727474)

When Gittel and her mother are about to get on the boat that will carry them from Russia to America, Gittel’s mother is turned away due to an eye infection. Gittel at age nine, is sent alone to America. She has a note with her mother’s cousin’s address in her pocket. She checks on it constantly to make sure she hasn’t lost it on the long journey. She spends much of it alone, but also meets children on board the ship. However, when she reaches Ellis Island, the ink on the note has run and no address can be read. How will Gittel ever find her family in a foreign land?

Newman tells a story inspired by two real life stories of her family and friends’ journeys to America. The story is firmly rooted in the Jewish faith with the celebration of Sabbath and speaking Yiddish on both ends of the journey. Gittel’s mother gives her the Shabbat candlesticks to carry with her on her journey. The story is beautifully told in slightly longer prose than many picture books, allowing details of the immigrant experience to be shared. The mystery of getting Gittel in touch with her family is solved by kindness and ingenuity and offers a satisfying end to Gittel’s adventure.

The illustrations by Bates have a lovely softness to them that is accompanied by rich color. Gittel herself is distinctive on every page given her small size and red scarf. She also carries a yellow cloth bag filled with her belongings. Gittel’s journey is depicted as difficult but not squalid and even when she is lost there is not a sense of danger but hope thanks to the illustrations.

A lovely look at immigration through the eyes of a child. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (9781911171539)

A girl talks about how her fear had once been small and helped protect her. However, when she came to a new country, her fear grew much bigger and kept on growing. Her fear kept her in the house when she wanted to go out. Her fear doesn’t want her to go to school. Fear fills the girl’s dreams, evenings and meals. It makes her feel separate and lonely. When a boy reaches out to her at school, they draw and paint together. When they head outdoors, a dog barks at the two of them and suddenly both of them reveal their fears to one another. Her fear steadily gets smaller and more manageable as she begins to try new things and meet even more people.

Sanna, the author of The Journey, returns with her second book that once again speaks to the experience of an immigrant child. The use of Fear as a full character in the book works very well, embodying this large emotion and demonstrating how it can control one’s life. Children who are not immigrants will be able to see their own fears represented here as well, making this a strong choice for discussing emotions.

The art plays a crucial role in the book, particularly in the way that the fears are presented. Sanna creates a fear that is friendly at times and ferocious at others. Fear is soft and changes size, sometimes riding on the girl’s back and weighing her down. When Fear shrinks, it becomes almost toylike and very manageable, conveying that some fear is a good thing to have.

An original look at fear as an emotion. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

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: 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: Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Illegal by Eoin Colfer (9781492662143)

An honest and profound look at the refugee crisis through the eyes of one young boy, this graphic novel is heartbreaking. Ebo has been left alone by his older brother who is following his older sister to Europe. But Ebo refuses to be left behind, managing to get a ride on a bus to a nearby city. There he must find his brother, something he manages to do only by luck. Together, they work hard labor to get enough money to cross the Sahara Desert to Tripoli. The journey is hazardous and many people die. But the most dangerous part of it lies ahead as they board a small boat to cross the sea to Europe, placing their dreams in the hands of men who lie and cheat for profit.

Colfer works with the same team that created the Artemis Fowl graphic novel series, but this time on a much more harrowing story of humanity and resilience. Colfer does not shy away from depicting the hazards and risks of the journey, including deaths along the way. There is an unrelenting pressure throughout the novel to move forward, make enough money to leave, and then do it all again at the next point. It is daunting, frightening and shows the spirit of the people who are willing to risk their lives for freedom.

This graphic novel puts a face on the refugee crisis. Ebo is a young boy with a singing voice that can soothe babies and make money. His face is that of an angel as well, his eyes shining bright with hope and at times dimmed with illness or grief. Throughout the story, characters come and go as they enter Ebo’s journey along with him. Readers will hope for Ebo to survive but can only watch helplessly.

Smartly written, deftly drawn and plotted to perfection, this graphic novel is a powerhouse. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Sourcebooks.

3 Picture Books Featuring Families

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (9780763693558)

Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela had a very long name, one that wouldn’t fit nicely on paper. So her father told her the story of her name. Sofia was her grandmother who loved flowers and books just like Alma. Esperanza was her great-grandmother who longed to travel the world. Jose was her grandfather who was an artist. Pura was her great-aunt who gave Alma her red thread bracelet. Candela was her other grandmother who stood up for what was right. When Alma asks about her first name, she is told that that is her name only so she can become whatever she wishes to be.

Ending with Alma feeling very proud and connected to each of her names, this picture book celebrates connections to family through naming traditions. It is lovely to see Alma identify with each of the family members and find aspects that are similar to her. I also appreciate having a father have this conversation, strengthening the paternal aspect as well. The illustrations are soft greys and blacks with pops of blues and reds that make the images come alive. A great picture book that will speak to many children. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

La Frontera My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva

La Frontera: My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (9781782853886)

This bilingual picture book tells the story of a young boy who goes with his father north to cross the border and enter the United States illegally. From a small village in central Mexico, they left a place where their family had lived for over 100 years. When food got scarce, they headed north, leaving the boy’s mother and siblings behind. They traveled with “Coyote,” a man who helped them go north. Reaching the Rio Grande, they tried to cross but lost contact with Coyote. Now the boy and his father were alone. They walked and walked, hungry and tired. Even when they reached the United States though, things were not easy. The boy started school and time passed, until they could be reunited with their family again.

Set in the 1980’s, this book tells the story of Alva’s family with the Spanish and English side-by-side on the page. Written with the help of his neighbor, Mills, the book is filled with the harrowing dangers of border crossing. There are times when the two characters are clearly near death, exhausted and starving. By the end of the story though, hope fills the pages and a better future is clear. The illustrations are filled with rich gem colors. There are sapphire blue nights, emerald grass, and topaz land. The illustrations capture the drama of the story and also the closeness and love of the family.

An important book that tells the story of immigration to the United States for a new life. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Barefoot Books.)

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo (9781771472951)

This picture book is a celebration of siblings and shows perspectives of both older and younger siblings spending time together. Throughout the book, the older siblings get the best of the younger ones. The older ones have a treehouse while the younger ones spy on them. The older ones get the couch and the younger ones the floor. The book then moves to the more private relationships of pairs of siblings, of mistakes and apologies. It shows how the older siblings help, how they lend a hand, give a boost. How they are best friends, after all.

The text in this picture book is very simple with much of the story being relayed through the illustrations. Filled with pairs of siblings, the book has a diverse cast of characters who show the universal complicated relationships of siblings. The illustrations are friendly and bright, filled with a jolly humor at the roles of older and younger siblings. A great pick for sharing with the siblings in your life. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (9781452162812)

This book on the Statue of Liberty could not be more timely for our world today. The book first looks at the French origins of the statue made to celebrate the centennial of the United States. From small renderings to large pieces of the full-sized statue, Bartholdi, the artist shipped the statue to New York City in 214 crates. Statue assembly in New York took 17 months. The copper statue was originally copper brown, but aged to the green lady we know today. The book then focuses on the statue’s right foot, a foot that is moving rather than standing still. This symbol of our nation welcoming refugees and immigrants from around the world is stepping forward, just as we must to welcome new people to our shores.

This book is a lovely cross between a picture book and a nonfiction read. Shaped as a book that is shorter and thicker than most picture books, it offers illustrations on all of the pages. The text length is welcoming for younger readers and will also work as a read aloud.

The book moves from being a factual read about the statue itself and how it was built and came to America. It transforms into a call for our nation to live up to that symbol, to step forward as well. It becomes something more than the facts, more than the details. It brings the statue and our values to life.

Rumbles of awards surround this title. It deserves all of them. Unique and fabulous. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen

why-am-i-here-by-constance-orbeck-nilssen

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.