From Tree to Sea by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9781481495318)
Explore what nature and our landscapes can teach you in this poetic picture book. A little girl talks about what she learns when she heads outside. Trees show her how to not tip over when winds blow. Stones demonstrate rolling along even when you are being kicked. Oceans inspire travel but also returning to the shore. The sun shines just like you can smile even when you are down. Bees exhibit hard work and sweet reward. Soil offers a safe place to grow and shelter. Whales are so huge they are the size of the biggest of dreams but also the small steps that make them come to fruition. The examples continue through the book, each one separate and combining into a rich narrative.
Thomas writes with a simplicity that will work well for children. She uses each of the natural items as a metaphor for doing something in your life. It could be rolling with hardship, following dreams, rising above troubles, or shining with your own light. The use of natural examples lifts these small bits of advice into something more concrete and inspirational.
The illustrations by Neal are done in mixed media and digital formats. They are filled with deep colors and bright sunny light. They have the same positive approach as the poetry. They have an uplifting feel to them, filled with breezes to dance in, deep water to wonder at, and dazzling sunshine.
A picture book to inspire taking risks, making changes and living up to your potential. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Imagine by Raul Colon (9781481462730)
This wordless picture book invites readers to be inspired by fine art in a playful yet profound way. A boy skateboards over to the Museum of Modern Art. He views several paintings that make him stop and look. Soon the paintings have come to life with the boy entering the scene and the characters in the paintings entering the real world. Together they all traverse New York City and have several seminal experiences together. They climb the Statue of Liberty, ride the Cyclone, take the subway, and even stop for a hotdog. After a visit to Central Park, they return to the museum. On his way home, the boy is inspired to create a mural on a blank wall near his home, inspired by the three paintings.
Don’t miss Colon’s Author’s Note at the end of the book where he speaks to the power of fine art to inspire young artists. Colon saw master artworks later in his life and was still inspired by them, yet he wonders what impact seeing them as a child would have had. Colon has created a picture book that is a tribute to the power of art and the ability for it to inspire creativity and new ways of thinking. It is also a tribute to New York City as they tour around the sights and enjoy a day on the town.
In a wordless picture book, the onus is on the art to carry the entire book. As always, Colon’s art is inspiring itself. His use of texture through lines and softening by using dots makes his work unique in the picture book world. His illustrations glow with light, whether they are interior images or out in Central Park.
An exceptional wordless picture book, this one is a must-have for libraries. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
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.
Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera (9781536201406)
From the first Mexican-American Poet Laureate of the United States comes this call to become a person who can write and walk at the same time. It’s a book that demands that you record your thoughts, messy and wild and raw. That you use documents to find words, that you draw ideas while on airplanes, that you walk a lot, think a lot, write a lot. That you embrace the voice that is inside you and create. Whatever that creation looks like in all of its “fuzzy, puffy, blue-cheesy, incandescent, brave Jabber!”
Looking for a straight-forward and rule based book on being a writer or creative person? This is not the book you are looking for! Instead this is a book that shows raw creativity, using inspiration from Lewis Carroll and the Jabberwocky, this is a book filled with emotion, encouragement, and acceptance about the way that our human brains work best when creating. It invites readers into a playful world where words are toys, content is loose, and ideas flow freely.
The writing here could initially be seen as too loose and raw. But as you read more and more of the book there is a gorgeous continuum of content throughout the chapters. Soon blue-cheesy starts to make sense and jabberwalking is all you want to do for awhile to see what comes out of your brain too.
Inspiring and incredibly joyous, this book about writing is entirely unexpected. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.
The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (InfoSoup)
This picture book begins with the reminder that the sky is always above you, no matter what. A little rabbit with a long scarf makes his way along an adventure with a wise narrator explaining that there are wonderful things alive in this world. There is magic where you least expect it. There is adventure if you leave the mapped roads. It is OK to both hum and cry. It’s important to trust yourself. The little rabbit gains skills on his adventure and lots of confidence too. In the end, the book returns again to the permanence of the sky above us and its beauty.
This book is completely encouraging, explaining to youth exactly what it takes to live a life filled with bravery and authenticity. In many ways it would make a great graduation gift as teens set off into the world. Yet it still works well as a picture book for younger children where the large concepts inside can be discussed and their importance reinforced in conversations. It’s a book that celebrates the individual and their personal journey through life, one that asks us all to follow our own roads and live as we were meant to live.
Cordell’s illustrations are lovely. Their fluid lines and deep colors reinforce both the necessary fluidity of life and our journey and then also the beauty of the world around us if we take time to see it. His little rabbit is entirely engaging, making sure that the book stays relevant to younger children.
An inspirational read that is all about living your personal life and following your own path, this picture book is just right for young and old. Appropriate for ages 4 and older.
Reviewed from library copy.
Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead (InfoSoup)
Stead captures a day in search of a story to write. He takes a walk with his dog named Wednesday since it’s a sunny day. They greet Frank, a turtle who lives near the bridge. They wave to Barbara a neighbor who owns the home where the author used to live and where he dropped blue paint in the shape of a horse. Ducks float by. Trains rush past. They walk through town and listen to the birds and watch the blue sky. Wednesday chases a squirrel back to Barbara’s house where they have coffee together. And soon a story has been found.
This is a treasure of a picture book. It offers a glimpse into the writing process, into the importance of getting outside and taking a walk. It shows how little things turn into stories and become big ideas. It also shows the author as a product of his personal landscape, whether that is filled with a story based firmly in reality like this one or one that is more fantastical or whimsical.
Stead’s illustrations are a rich mix of media. There are photographs of Wednesday combined with collage, painting and printed words. Some of the paintings have gorgeous textures that remind me of stencils or the roughness of stamping. The entire book sings with invention and inspiration.
A perfect leaping off point for young writers, this book shows that not only can any idea become a story but ideas can become great picture books too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Hadley Hooper
Henri Matisse grew up in a town in northern France that was cold, gray and dreary. But his mother filled their world with color with the plates that she painted with nature scenes. She also let Henri mix the paint colors. He was also the person who arranged the fruit and flowers that they bought in the market, on the blue and white tablecloth. Red rugs adorned the walls of their house, filling it with color too and making the whole world turn red. Henri also raised pigeons with their iridescent feathers. And all of these elements of his childhood came together in his work as an adult, reflecting the color that one can see in the dreariest of towns.
MacLachlan has written this picture book in an unusual second person, inviting the reader to feel the environment just as Matisse himself did as a child. The slow reveal of the richness of his childhood at home plays beautifully against the original gray and dullness of the outside. It is as if he was given another world to grow up in, one of colors and delight. Though when readers really look at it, it is about small things, tiny touches, being surrounded by paint, and of course the brilliance of pigeons too.
The illustrations by Hooper are rich and saturated with color. Done in a combination of relief printmaking and digital formats, the book has a grounding in the solidity of printmaking that gives it texture and a feeling of tradition. Playing against that is the modern lightness of the little boy, surrounded by the color and delight of his home. It’s an exquisite pairing.
Rich, detailed and delightful, this picture book biography of the inspiration that Matisse found in his childhood home is sure to invite young readers to find their own sources of inspiration around them. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares
This picture book biography of Helen Keller celebrates both the accomplishments of Helen Keller in overcoming her world of darkness and silence and those of her teacher Annie Sullivan. The book begins with Helen as a small baby, before she had an unknown illness at 19 months that took her sight and hearing away. It then moves through her attempts to continue to communicate, the frustration that caused her tantrums, and the slow progression of learning that led to the seminal moment at the water pump that connected the letters in her hand to the outside world. Readers will see how Helen learned to write, read in Braille, and put her hands on people’s faces to feel their lips move so she could understand their speech. The book continues to show how Helen Keller spoke up for social injustices that she felt were wrong. This is a testament to what a brilliant mind and a great teacher can create.
Rappaport has somehow condensed the complicated story of Keller’s life into a very readable picture book that has a brisk pace and invites readers to find out more about this remarkable woman. Throughout the book, Keller’s own words are used to illustrate points in the story. Shown in their own font that is colorful and set apart from the rest of the text in size too, her words shine.
Tavares’ illustrations reveal the marvel of Helen Keller’s learning and education. There is a light to the images once the learning begins that contrasts with the darkness of her earlier life. Throughout Keller is shown experiencing the senses she does have, from the scent of a rose to the feel of the breeze on her face.
An inspirational figure, Helen Keller continues to be a beacon for overcoming obstacles and using one’s mind. This book is a beautiful tribute to her. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from library copy.
Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Sean Qualls
This is a book filled with inspiring people that show children that everyone has the ability to be a hero. The book contains examples of people who stood up for others, worked with a passion and vision, honored deep values, and led the world to a new place. Among the heroes on the pages are Langston Hughes, Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, and Neil Armstrong. It is a great mix of male and female and different races. The heroes will inspire young readers to take that first step to follow in the giant steps that their heroes left behind.
Qualls’ illustrations are amazing. Done in acrylic, gouache, pencil and collage, the images are bold and strong. Some are so powerful, they stay with you after closing the book, like the black and white image that represents Harriet Tubman and moves from dark to light. The illustrations have clear lines, deep colors, and convey the essence of that hero to great effect.
Unfortunately, the text written by the Lees is less successful. The heroes they have selected are an incredible group of people. It is the words themselves that fall flat, often being too verbose and roundabout for a children’s picture book. I was also disappointed that there was not a list of the heroes anywhere in the book with more information. Readers can look at the endpages of the book to see a quote from each hero, but no further details are given. That’s just not enough information for young readers.
An inspiring book despite some issues, this book would pair well with President Obama’s Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.