Seaside Stroll by Charles Trevino, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga (9781580899321)
Told with only words that begin with “s” this picture book is superbly surprising. A little girl and her mother bundle up for a winter visit to the seaside. The little girl brings along her doll, and they explore the snowy sand together. She finds a stick, swings it at the seagulls. There are shells, stones, seaweed and more to discover on the sand. She is surprised when a surge of water takes her doll away and into a tidepool. The doll is soaked and after the doll is saved, the little girl is sopping wet too. Cold and shivering, they leave the beach and head home for a hot shower and a cozy story before bed.
Trevino creates an entire story here, not just a series of words that begin with the same letter. Based on poetry designed in American Sign Language, his book is thoughtful and fascinating. Using clever and smart punctuation, he creates a world of snow and sand for readers to explore alongside his young character. Amazingly, the book reads aloud brilliantly and aloud shows the dynamic nature of language and letters.
The artwork tells much of the story, since the text is so focused and brief. The joy of exploring the cold seaside, the pleasure of discovery and the return home to cozy warmth, all are depicted with bright colors, sunshine and then warm firelight.
Alice Bonnet loved living with her grandmother in their French town. She loved baking together and also loved making lists on her own. But sometimes Alice was lonely, like when she felt small or didn’t feel brave or when her grandmother was napping. So one morning, she decided to try to find a friend. So she wrote a letter, put it in a bottle and threw it from the bridge. The bottle floated into the ocean, was handled by several different creatures, and eventually found its way to an island where Francois the dog lived with his father. Soon the two were writing back and forth, sending the bottle across the ocean again and again. But when Alice suffered a loss, it was hard for her to write letters or make lists or plan any more. So she stopped writing to Francois for some time. Eventually though, Alice began to plan again, make lists and write letters. And soon a big plan came together!
There is such magic about sending messages in bottles and what an idea that you could throw a message into the water and it would go and back and forth forming a true friendship. That underlying magic is a huge part of the charm of this book, though the characters and the French setting have their own magic about them as well. Alice’s optimism and creativity shine in the story, offering hope even when she is terribly sad.
The art in the book is done in watercolor and pencil. It also incorporates clippings from old paper that fill the pages with old-fashioned objects. Some of the illustrations also appear to be done on postcards, which matches the mailing of messages in the story.
Warm and endearing, this picture book looks at new friendships across wide distances. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Vivy first learned about the knuckleball pitch from VJ Capello, a major-league pitcher. Now she can throw it consistently and has caught the eye of a local coach for a youth baseball league. Vivy desperately wants to play, but she has a mother who is worried that Vivy is the only girl on the team and that her autism may be an issue. Vivy reaches out via letters to VJ again, seeking his advice. He doesn’t answer her, but she keeps on writing until suddenly he replies! The two begin to correspond together about pitching, baseball, and Vivy’s life in general. When an accident happens on the mound, Vivy may be permanently benched, especially if her mother gets her way.
Kapit is active in the neurodiversity movement and writes from a place of experience about Vivy’s struggles with autism. This debut novel has a sense of confidence with strong writing and a great main character. The entire book is written in letters between VJ and Vivy. A particularly strong part of the book is when their relationship has become strained and then they stop communicating. It’s tense and sorrowful, and very skillfully done.
The character of Vivy is particularly strong. Her struggles with autism show how it impacts her life but doesn’t prevent her from doing things. The overprotective mother figure is also well done, not seen as an enemy but as simply a person trying to keep Vivy safe. The family dynamics, dynamics on the baseball team and Vivy’s relationship via letter with VJ are all beautifully done with lots of empathy but also expectations.
A great book that hits a home run! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
B Is for Baby by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank (9781536201666)
Told in a series of “B” words, this book tells the story of a baby who climbs into a basket of bananas. Unnoticed by her busy brother who has headphones on, the basket is loaded onto the back of his bicycle and he heads off across the African landscape. They pass baobab trees, see a baboon, bird and butterfly. The road is bumpy and carries them across a bridge until they reach Baba’s bungalow where Baby is discovered amid the bananas much to her brother’s surprise. The three enjoy a snack together and then the two children journey back together to their mother.
Once again, Atinuke shows the beauty of Africa through a small child’s eyes. With only the simplest of words, she delights in the naughtiness of the baby climbing into the basket and then gives a merry journey for her to experience. Ending with a cookie, what could be sweeter! The illustrations are bright and large, perfect for sharing aloud with a group of toddlers. Filled with animals, people and sweeping landscapes, the illustrations capture the beauty of Africa and its people.
Another big beautiful book by Atinuke, this one is just right for the littlest ones. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross Macdonald (9781484717790, Amazon)
I was dozing in his office when 6 came in looking for help. 7 was after him! There was a rumor going around that 7 ate 9 and now he was coming for 6. So I went out to figure out what was going on. Following a series of clues after talking with letters and numbers, I deduced that 9 had disappeared but that 7 could not have eaten him since 7 was on vacation. Suddenly, I figured it all out and realized exactly what was going on in this topsy-turvy mystery.
Filled with puns and jokes, this picture book is a lot of fun. Using the framework of a vintage detective agency, this picture book borrows the lingo from that period as well, adding to the humor. Children may figure out the mystery along with I, but they may be surprised as well. No matter, the fun is in the language, the humor and the ride.
Macdonald’s illustrations allow the letters and numbers to pop on the page. They pay homage to vintage images using similar lines and colors. The letters and numbers have plenty of personality so they are distinct from one another as characters. Pay close attention to the small details as well. You wouldn’t want to miss the pi joke in the restaurant scene.
A mystery filled with humor, you can count on this to be a great read. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
A romantic ox writes a letter to a gorgeous gazelle professing his love for her. At first, he only receives form letters back, but Ox is determined. He commends her for how smart she must be to send two identical letters to him. Gazelle finally does reply in person, still aloof. The two begin a letter correspondence filled with Gazelle’s not-very-subtle insults to Ox and Ox returning only compliments. Gazelle insists that the letters have to stop, but Ox continues writing. He sees only humor in her replies. Finally Gazelle has had enough. Or has she?
Rex’s writing is a joy. Using only the letters they write as text in the book, he captures both animals’ personalities. Each is far more complex than they seem at first and just as they learn about each other in their letters, the readers learn about them as well. It would have been easy to set the Ox up as hero and the Gazelle as villain, but Rex is more subtle and skilled than that.
Campbell’s illustrations are done in watercolors and colored pencil. Just as with the letters, there is a wonderful difference between the illustrations of either animal. Ox is rather rougher and wears the same outfit in all of the illustrations. Gazelle changes outfits in almost every scene and is surrounded by opulence rather than the simplicity that surrounds Ox.
The joy of letter writing and receiving letters is captured in this picture book romance. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lives in a small house on a hill near the sea where he watches for the glint of glass in the waves. It is his job to deliver any messages found in bottles to their rightful owner. Sometimes that means walking only a short distance and other times he must go on a long journey to deliver them. He wishes that one day he would find a message in a bottle that is meant for him, but he never does. One day though, he does find a message with no recipient mentioned. It is an invitation to a party on the beach. He heads into town and asks person after person if this is their message, but it doesn’t belong to any of them. He decides he must go to the party to apologize for not delivering the message to the right person. But what he finds there shows him that some messages are meant for him after all.
Cuevas writes with real poetry in this picture book. Her prose captures the essence of moments with gorgeous descriptions like, “Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall.” The book celebrates the connection that letters bring each of us and takes readers back to a time when messages were written by hand, even if rarely placed in bottles. It is also a book that speaks to the importance of community and feeling like you belong, but also the vitality that can be found in taking the first step towards making that connection.
Stead’s illustrations are dreamy with their pastel colors and fine lined details. Some of them are almost like looking through a keyhole and watching while others encompass the page. There are pages filled with the water of the sea that show both the difficulty of the job and the loneliness of it too. Moments looking alone out of a window capture the isolation the Uncorker is feeling. The colors too add to the emotions of the images both during the isolation and later at the party.
A poetic and beautiful picture book that looks at letters, community and connections in a memorable way. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
A boy and his dog head out onto the lake to fish one morning. Both boy and dog have their own fishing poles. They first catch the letter F. Then the letter I. The letter S is next. But beware the huge letter C that is circling the boat. When they hook a Q, it is thrown back into the water. Soon though they are caught in a whirlpool of letters, swept underwater among schools of them zigging and zagging. When the boy makes it back to the boat, he has the H under his arm, but loses it as the huge letter C reappears. Not to worry, his dog has saved the day with the H to complete FISH. But was that what they were trying to catch?
This wordless picture book depends on its wonderful illustrations to carry the story. And do they ever! Done with a limited color palette of pale blue and bright red, they shine on the page. Each character also shines with personality and energy. The ending of the book is very satisfying, especially since all readers will think that the goal was to catch FISH when actually it was to do something entirely different. It’s a great twist that is filled with jolly cheer.
A standout wordless picture book that illustrates how letters form words in the most energetic and playful of ways. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
In a world where there are only numbers, everything is very orderly and neat. But it’s also very gray, even the food. Then five friends started to wonder if there was something more than numbers, something different! So they started inventing and they slowly came up with letters. And when they reached the final letter Z, things started to change. Color entered their dreary lives as the letters fell into place. Once the letters formed words, real changes started and the entire world was flooded with color and yummy foods and possibilities.
Based on the app, this is a second picture book from the creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which also started as an app. Joyce creates a numeric and order-filled world reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 in the first pages of the book. The text here is very simple, allowing most of the storytelling to be done by the illustrations. Joyce keeps a light hand here and uses humor to show how dark the world is. Who could imagine a world without jellybeans?
It is Ellis’ art that brings this world to life. Her orderly world has the feel of wooden toy soldiers and the five friends are wonderfully different and unique even before they invent the alphabet. The gray tones of the early part of the book give way to jellybean colors that jump on the page.
This celebration of words and books also examines the importance of independent thought and creativity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.