This Thing Called Life by Christian Borstlap

Cover image for This Thing Called Life

This Thing Called Life by Christian Borstlap (9783791374437)

A book all about life, this picture book starts at the very beginning when life first arrived on earth. Seeds fall through the air and then the author explains the many things that life is about. It’s about reproducing (shown with an egg-shaped bird next to an equally large egg.) It’s about moving, feeling, perceiving, breathing. There is giving and taking, complete with a visual poop joke. It’s also about survival, about hiding when necessary and being obvious and loud too. You may have to fight or flee. Life comes in all sizes and is still being discovered. Life is not fair and is unpredictable. It can be long or very short. But most importantly, life is to be lived together, connected to one another.

Originally published in French in Canada and created by a Dutch author/illustrator, this picture book is based on a short animated video that he did. The video, embedded below, shares a lot of the characteristics of the book and some of the same art. The book is a wild and whimsical look at life that doesn’t quite resemble life on earth, yet is not so dissimilar at times. This is not a book cataloging the animals in the world rather it’s philosophical and scientific, a mix of whimsy and fact that is captivating.

The art is done in a similar style to that of the video with lots of details and fine lines but also amazing creatures that take up almost the entire page like the “feeling” starfish that is a glowing pink or the moving two-legged creature with no real head.

Dazzling and original, this picture book is a weird look at life, just what we need. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Prestel.

Review: Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc

Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc

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.


Review: The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9780763678838)

Released September 4, 2018.

This breathtaking picture book looks deeply at the Big Bang and how it created all of us. The book begins with darkness where there is no time or space. Until BANG! matter is created and the stars flare to life. The stars burn and eventually explode themselves creating planets. Still, there is no life yet. In our solar system, there is one fragile blue planet where life eventually begins, where dinosaurs and humans live and die. And then finally, you arrive from your own speck and flare into life too.

Newbery Honor winning Bauer has written a poem that takes the science of the Big Bang and adds a feeling of mythology to it without damaging the scientific aspect. Her poem soars through the primordial darkness, journeys directly into the Big Bang, floats beside emerging planets, visits Earth, and welcomes children to life. It’s a big ask for a poem but Bauer’s words create a vehicle to really experience the wonder of the universe. Her poem also celebrates the fact that all of us are made of the same matter as stars.

The illustrations of this picture book defy explanation. They are unique and wondrous, filling the page with swirls of darkness, defining emptiness, creating reality. They are done with collage, marbled paper and combined digitally, but those words don’t capture what they do on the page. Holmes has managed to create a universe before your eyes, one that shines, explodes and manifests right there.

An exceptional picture book that celebrates science and beauty. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.



Life by Cynthia Rylant

Life by Cynthia Rylant

Life by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (9781481451628, Amazon)

Celebrate life with this picture book. Told in simple poetry, the book starts by looking at how small life is when it begins. It shows how life grows into large animals like elephants. How animals love their habitats, from sand to snow. Life always has wilderness-like moments in it but those times can be journeyed through and a fresh start can be found. There are animals to love and protect. Humans can turn to the wild to find their own path and their own place to see each morning begin and everything around them growing.

Rylant has written an expansive poem that embraces life big and small. She moves with assurance from the tiny start of life through to speaking about all of nature and then to nature’s importance to all of us as human beings. It is that look at wilderness and the wild that makes this book so much more than a poem on nature. It becomes a poem on us. There is a light touch to these deep subjects, allowing readers to think about the subject and wonder.

Wenzel’s illustrations add to that wonder that readers will find in this picture book. From elephants walking in sun and moon to whales lifting to the light. There is a sense of grace and expansiveness in the illustrations, demanding that readers enter the wilderness for themselves.

Beautiful and wild, this picture book invites readers to look deeply into themselves. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.


The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

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.



Review: Little Bird by Germano Zullo

little bird

Little Bird by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine

Released April 1, 2012.

Winner of the 2011 Prix Sorcieres for illustration, the French Caldecott medal, this book is an impressive example of the magic of illustration and only a few select words.  A man drives his red truck up to the edge of a cliff and opens the back, releasing several amazing birds.  When he glances into the truck, he sees one bird left behind.  The man tries to tell the bird where to head and that it should fly, but the bird just looks at him.  The two sit together and the man shares his sandwich with the little bird.  The man shows the bird again where to head and how to fly, landing on his face.  The bird spreads its wings and flies away, joining the other birds the man had let go.  The man watches the bird fly off, heads back into his truck and drives off.  What seems like the end of the story is actually just the beginning.

Zullo has chosen his words carefully, letting the story really be told via the illustrations.  The words offer a touch of guidance to the depth of the work, the deeper meaning of the simple story.  They speak to the importance of noticing small things and how those small things are the true treasures in life.  It’s a message that will speak to children and adults alike, in very different ways.

Albertine’s art is wonderfully bright and filled with playful moments.  From the sunny yellow ground, the robin’s egg blue sky and the red truck, there is plenty of zing in these pictures.  As the story is told in the illustrations, the relationship between bird and man is also shown just in pictures.  The looks, the moments of connection, the departure, all add up to moments that lead to the magical conclusion.

An impressive picture book that is modern, fresh and will have readers looking for tiny treasures in their lives too.  Appropriate for ages 5-adult.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Released March 2010.

Stork returns with his second teen novel after Marcelo in the Real World.  D.Q. and Pancho could not be more different except for their focus on life and death.  D.Q. is dying of cancer and trying to understand how to hold onto life.  Pancho is healthy but everyone in his family has died, and he is now planning to murder someone.  When Pancho meets D.Q., he wants nothing to do with him.  But he gets paid to help D.Q. and when D.Q. is sent for treatment to Albuquerque, Pancho is eager to go along because the man he is hunting for lives there.  As he spends time with D.Q. and Marisol, a girl at the recovery facility, Pancho finds himself changing but will it be enough to prevent him from taking a life?

As with his first book, Stork excels at character development and the creation of people who are damaged, fascinating and vividly human.   Pancho is a boy filled with anger and denial who has so much going for him, but is unable to see it.  D.Q. is reaching the end of his battle to live but seizes every day with a fierceness and vigor.  This book is an exploration of two boys and their unique friendship that ends up changing them both.  It is a celebration of life, an honoring of death, and a tribute to faith in the broadest sense.

Fans of his first book will adore this second book.  This is another novel to linger in, dwell with and savor.  Appropriate for ages 13 and up.

Reviewed from Advanced Reader Copy received from publisher.


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