Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc (9781616897239)
Every Sunday, Mrs. Badger walks to the mountain peak. Along the way, she greets her various animal friends and finds gifts to give others later. She helps anyone who needs it too. When a young cat asks to share Mrs. Badger’s snack, she invites the cat along to the mountaintop. They need to find the little cat her own walking stick and take breaks along the way, but the two eventually make it to the peak. They enjoy one another’s company and the trip so much that they continue to make the trek together again and again. Eventually, Mrs. Badger grows older and has to be the one taking breaks and finally she can’t make the trip any longer. The cat continues to make the walk, finding her own young animal to mentor on the way.
This gentle picture book has such depth to it. Mrs. Badger is a fabulous character, exhibiting deep kindness and thoughtfulness for others. She knows everyone she encounters on the walk and makes connections easily. She demonstrates how to make and keep friends with all of her actions. This becomes even more clear as she walks with the young cat, teaching them how to make the long climb to the peak. The book can be read as a metaphor for life but children can also simply enjoy the story of the friendly badger and a young cat who become friends.
Dubuc’s illustrations move from full pages of images to smaller unframed pictures that offer a varied feel throughout the book. She makes sure to have a special feeling when the characters make it to the mountaintop. The vista is striking but it is the journey itself that makes the book sing.
A quiet book about connections and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Father’s Road by Ji-yun Jang, illustrated by Tan Jun, edited by Joy Cowley (9780802854728)
Released March 30, 2017.
Wong Chung is excited to join his father on the Silk Road as they travel west to sell silk in Constantinople. There are many dangers on the trip and new skills to learn. Traveling on camels, they have to brave the desert and conserve water along the way. Wong Chung learned to cover his face against the blowing sand and find water and even food along the way in unexpected places. Then just as the journey was nearing its end, bandits attack them and kidnap them, stealing their silk. A sandstorm hits the bandit camp and Wong Chung makes a decision that will decide their fate one way or another.
This picture book about the Silk Road transports readers into the harsh terrain and the harrowing journey that used to be the way that trade was done. Through the eyes of Wong Chung, readers learn about the dangers and the wonders of the trail. They also grow to understand the importance of honor and duty in the culture.
Textured papers form the background of the illustrations, offering colors of sand, red mountains and occasional green. Drawn in fine lines, the illustrations of the camels and people meld with the setting to form a unified whole. There is a lovely organic quality to the entire book, drawing readers further into the desert journey.
Part of the Trade Winds series, this picture book is a glimpse into a bygone time of hardship and adventure. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Teacup by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley (InfoSoup)
A boy sets off in a boat, leaving his home behind with only a book, a bottle, a blanket and a teacup of earth from his homeland. The journey is long and filled with changing days at sea. Sometimes it is quiet, other times dangerous, other times dramatic. Then one day, the earth in his teacup begins to sprout, growing into a tree that shelters him, gives him food, and offers hope. Eventually, his boat bumps into land where he moves his tree to a hill and it grows taller. He waits for a whisper and when it comes, he discovers another traveler has joined him.
This is such a gentle book yet it speaks to larger issues of displacement, refugees and homelessness. Young’s text is poetic, creating moments of quietness and moments of wonder, often side-by-side. While we don’t truly get to know the boy himself, the book embraces the journey that people take into the unknown, whether that means leaving your family and country behind or starting a new school.
Ottley’s illustrations are stunningly beautiful. He captures the sea journey with a feeling of expansiveness, the boy and his boat small in the image and sky and sea vast around him. The clouds are immensely lovely, conveying menace and hope as appropriate to the story. These are illustrations to linger over and just feel.
A gorgeous allegory picture book sure to speak to those of us on longer or shorter journeys in our lives. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.
Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead
A little boy named Sebastian is having a very boring day even though he is up on the top of the roof where he’s never supposed to be. So he decides to head on a journey. First, he packs everything he needs, then he heads for the hot air balloon he made from his grandmother’s afghans and quilts. He sets off and meets a bear next to a leafless tree. He offers the bear a pickle sandwich and the bear joins him on his journey. Flying in the fog, they hear a loud pop and find that a bird has flown into the balloon. They land atop a a colorful worn house where three sisters help them knit their balloon together again. As the three elderly ladies work, they mention the time that they went over the mountain as children and found a rollercoaster. You can guess where they all headed next!
Stead has created a quiet and lovely book here. It is an adventure book, but somehow it is imbued with a gentleness and dreaminess. Perhaps it is the balloon flight, the drifting and silence and quiet of that mode of transportation. Or it could be the fog, the friendly bear, and the three grandmothers. It all adds up to a wonderfully whimsical book that dances along dreamily.
Stead’s illustrations are always a treat. I love that his protagonist is a little boy of color, someone who glows against the background, who is resourceful, smart and creative. The three grandmothers, each with their own color that is also represented in their home, are drawn with a humor that is gentle and gorgeous. The entire book sings of whimsy and imagination.
Ideal for bedtime reading, this book is sure to create dreams of hot air balloon rides and an array of friends. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
A Single Pebble by Bonnie Christensen
Mei wished that she could travel to the market with her father, but she had to stay behind and care for their silk worms. So Mei gave her father a jade pebble to take along and give to a child at the end of the Silk Road. Though her father was only traveling part of the road, Mei was sure that her pebble could go all the way to the end. Mei’s father gave the pebble to a traveling monk who was heading further west on the road. The monk in turn gave the pebble and his flute to a young man who was going even farther west. And so the pebble headed west from hand to hand and other objects joined it in a collection from “a girl in the land where the sun rises.” Finally, after many hands and many people had cared for the pebble, it reached the hands of a young pirate who returned home to his family. His son in Italy received that pebble at the same time that Mei got a piece of blue glass that their city in Italy specialized in.
Set in the 9th century, this book pays homage to the various peoples and communities, nationalities and religions along the Silk Road. Readers will get a great sense of the length of this trading route thanks to Christensen’s story that makes it very concrete and connected. The book also celebrates a good story, where the gifts multiply and all because the story surrounding them becomes more and more compelling as the pebble moves farther from home.
Christensen’s art changes throughout the book. The early pages are softened by the watercolor river and hazy trees in the backgrounds. Moving further into the book, the images become more crisp and clear as the desert takes over the story. The softness returns in Italy again with a different light than the one in China. It is all delicately done and evokes both a connection between the two places but also real differences too.
A rousing journey of a book, this story is a celebration of the Silk Road. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Captain Cat by Inga Moore
Captain Cat is a trader, but he’s not very good at making profitable deals. You see, instead of trading for riches, he trades for cats. So his ship is full of them. All of the other traders make fun of him for this, but Captain Cat is very happy surrounded by the furry creatures. He decides to head off and see new places, far from the trade routes he usually travels. On the way, he is caught in a violent storm that blows him off course, right off the map! There he discovers a small rocky island led by a young queen. She and the population are very friendly, and have never seen cats before. When the cats take care of the island’s rat problem, the queen begs Captain Cat to leave them behind. What is a cat-loving caption to do?
This is a very engaging book. It was different right off of the bat with a sailor surrounded by cats who hate water. Throughout the story, it continues to surprise and delight. It never heads where you expect it to, yet ends up being completely delightful both along the way and in the end. Unlike many picture books, Moore tells a full story here. It not only has the structure of a full story, but also has a depth that can be missing in picture books.
The illustrations are finely done with lots of details. Done in mixed media, they have fine lines and soft colors. Thanks to their detail, this book would best be used with small groups or individual children.
Take a feline-filled journey with this clever picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Line 135 by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine
The duo that created Little Bird have returned with another lovely and fanciful story. A little girl travels by train to her grandmother’s house. The train starts out in the towering city and we are told at the beginning that her grandmother lives in the country. The train travels from crowded cityscapes into more residential areas. The little girl talks about all of the traveling she wants to do when she gets older. As the pages turn, the landscape changes and eventually becomes very odd. Flowers grow as tall as the train, strange creatures stand near a pond, then the pond itself looks very much like a beast of some sort and readers will know that they are on a surprising trip too.
Imported from Switzerland, this book starts out as a quiet thoughtful book about being comfortable living in both the city and the country and a love of travel. Zullo’s text never changes from that musing tone, but it does speak to the right of a child to have opinions about how they want to live their lives.
The girl’s dreams and imagination come to life in the illustrations. The train is the sole zip of color on each page, while the surroundings are entirely in black and white fine-lined drawings. They are detailed and lovely and the change from reality to dream world is done slowly and with deft pacing.
This is a book that makes you want to start back at the beginning the minute you finish it so that you can see even more in the drawings. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.