3 New Picture Books Full of Compassion

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill (9781626723214)

When Tanisha spilled grape juice on her dress, the others in class laughed at her until she ran out of the room. But one child doesn’t laugh and tries to make her feel better by saying that they love the color purple too. That child narrates the book and wonders what the kind thing or better thing to do would have been. Maybe kindness is giving? Or could it be helping? Is it paying attention? Using people’s names? It can be hard to be kind, to stand up to others, to be the lone voice. And sometimes, kindness is sitting near someone quietly and then showing without words that you understand. Miller explore kindness in a way that children will understand and offers them questions rather than simple solutions so they can explore the idea themselves. The art in the picture book is nicely done, incorporating children of different races in the classroom. The ambiguous gender of the main character is also welcome. This is a book that invites conversation about kindness and compassion. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Chinese Emperor_s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine

Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by David Roberts (9781419725425)

This picture book is a twist on the traditional tale, this time with the emperor being part of the trick rather than solely the tailors. When young emperor Ming Da discovers that his advisors are stealing from him, he comes up with a clever way to expose their misdeeds. Enlisting the help of his tailors, Ming Da dresses in burlap sacks, telling his advisors that they only look like sacks to those who are dishonest, otherwise they look like the finest silks. The three advisors soon have their own sacks to wear in the entourage, since they can’t admit their dishonesty. With a focus on helping the poor and being honest, this picture book is an engaging twist on the original. The illustrations pay homage to the Chinese setting by incorporating more formal framing at times. Look for small creatures watching the action along with the reader and the looks of delight as the tailors trap the advisors in their lies. A great book to share aloud, with a young hero who puts others before himself. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten

 The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten (9780802854858)

This French import is a strange and haunting picture book. When Stag finds Rabbit left on his doorstep, he takes Rabbit in and raises him. They laugh together and feel each other’s pain. They race home and Stag always lets Rabbit win. Rabbit worries that Stag won’t always be there and Stag knows that Rabbit with grow up and eventually leave. Then one day, that happens. Rabbit is alone in the woods and meets two others, a Cat who loves soccer and a Warrior who is very angry. The three of them adventure together and form a family of sorts, eventually they all become more honest about who they are. Still, there is a shadow lingering nearby, one that has been in Rabbit’s story since the beginning. Can that Shadow help bring Stag and Rabbit together again?

Told with such heart and beauty, this picture book is a very different read. It is about family and adoption, but also reaches beyond that to the struggle of growing up and being independent, yet the homesickness and longing for people you love. It’s a deep picture book, that reaches into dark corners and reveals that shadows can actually protect and guard. It’s a book that shows that the universe can revolve around love and still allow exploration, new friends and wonder. The illustrations are playful at times, dark with worry at others, and exploding with joy too. Emotions are not only depicted by the characters but embraced by the entire color palette too.

One of those wonderful picture book imports that will blow your mind. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

2 New Books to Love

I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni

I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan (9781534404922)

This collection of poetry by Giovanni shows the many ways that love shines in our lives. Selected by Ashley Bryan, the poems move from family love to love between friends to more playful poems about dancing or cats. The poems form a cohesive collection, just long enough to work well for young children and not too much to overwhelm. The illustrations by Bryan glow almost like lit stained glass windows with their rich colors and segmented pieces. The entire book has a warmth to it that embraces and enchants. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

Love by Matt de la Pena

Love by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Loren Long (9781524740917)

A marvelous pairing of the skill of an author with an illustrator working in a new medium, this picture book is all about love as the title states. De la Pena speaks about love in a way that shows how it surrounds us each and every day, in music on the radio, train whistles, the color of the sky. Small moments are captured in his poem, celebrating the little things that make life beautiful and the people who make them special. Long then takes those words and brings them fully alive with his illustrations done with monotype printmaking. The colors and figures are amazing and still it is the play of light in each image that draws the eye making these illustrations exceptional. Readers are guaranteed to fall for Love. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Penguin Young Readers Group.)

3 Fun-Filled Picture Books

These three picture books are wild romps of fun:

I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett

I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780062354839)

This picture book celebrates all the different forms that love can take, beginning with being loved like a pig and moving to other unique ones as well. At first they may seem silly or unlikely, but the book shows what each one means through the illustrations. The text stays very simple, offering new ways of loving: I love you like a window, I’m smiling like a tuna, and You’re sweet like a banker. Then the illustrations shows how each analogy works and brings it all to life. Barnett comes up with far-fetched analogies that then are transformed into meaning. The selections are clever and will appeal specifically to children and their experiences. Pizzoli’s bright illustrations invite readers to explore the words and find the meaning too. An ingenious book about love and delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell (9780316502467)

When the little red cat heads outside, he discovers a world of surprises and dangers that follow the ABCs. Readers will have to puzzle out what matches each letter along the way (though there is a key in the back of the book to help if you get stuck.) With a merry chase throughout the book, it has the feel of a Gingerbread Boy gallop across the pages. The book is wordless, offering only the letters along the way, providing a visual treat as the cat is joined by an alligator, a bear, a chicken, a dragon and an egg on his adventure through the alphabet. Filled with moments of humor, like the stop at the rest room for R and the lovely use of N and O, this picture book is a delight of an alphabet book that is great fun to share. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Nibbles The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett.jpg

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett (978-1-61067-643-4)

This is the second Nibbles book where the little yellow monster invades a book by munching his way right into the pages. Here a serious informational book about dinosaurs is what he enters and causes all sorts of mischief. The book names beloved dinosaurs and explains facts about them before being interrupted by the chaos created by Nibbles as he chews through the pages. Nibbles flees from Triceratops charging him. He has an eating contest with a family of Diplodocus. He is surrounded by Velociraptors and then runs right into a Tyrannosaurus Rex before escaping the book.

Yarlett has a real feel for what children love in picture books. She includes poop and fart jokes along the way, and offers lift the flap and die cut pages. Along the way, various side characters offer puns and jokes that will have readers giggling. Still, there is real information on the various dinosaurs offered as well, creating a book that combines silliness and seriousness into just the right mix.

Yarlett’s illustrations work to combine the serious and silliness. The pages on the dinosaurs are done in serious muted colors, sepia tones. But when Nibbles is around, those colors burst into fuller colors with oranges, greens and yellows. The die cuts are cleverly used to move through the book, some of them appearing through multiple pages for even more effect.

Another delicious Nibbles book that combines interactive elements and dinosaurs for what is sure to be a popular pick. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Kane Miller.)

10 Great Picture Books about Love

Valentines Day is tomorrow and so I thought it would be nice to focus on some picture books about  all kinds of love to add some warm fuzzies to your cold February.

A Family Is a Family Is a Family Hammer and Nails

A Family Is a Family Is a Family by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Qin Leng

Hammer and Nails by Josh Bledsoe, illustrated by Jessica Warrick

Heart to Heart Hector and Hummingbird

Heart to Heart by Lois Ehlert

Hector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith

 Home at Last

Home at Last by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka

Henry in Love by Peter McCarty

In Plain Sight My New Mom & Me

In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

My New Mom and Me by Renata Galindo

Ten Things I Love About You Worm Loves Worm

Ten Things I Love about You by Daniel Kirk

Worm Loves Worm by JJ Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato

XO, OX: A Love Story by Adam Rex

xo-ox-a-love-story-by-adam-rex

XO, OX: A Love Story by Adam Rex, illustrated by Scott Campbell

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.

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian

Worm Loves Worm by JJ Austrian

Worm Loves Worm by JJ Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato (InfoSoup)

Two worms have fallen in love and decide to get married. They get lots of advice from other insects. Cricket offers to marry them. Beetle insists on being the “best beetle.” The Bees want to be the bride’s bees. Cricket tells them that they need rings for their fingers, but they don’t have fingers so they wear the rings as belts. There has to be a band and a dance even though the worms don’t dance, they just wiggle. Then come the clothes and the cake. But which worm is the bride and which is the groom?

Austrian has created a completely fabulous picture book. What starts as a look at weddings and marriage broadens to become about the ability to marry whomever we love. By the end, the gender of either worm stays completely ambiguous and all that matters is that they can be married to one another because they love each other. The message is simple and creatively shown. The gender-free worms are a perfect pick for the main characters, offering lots of personality without committing to either gender.

Curato’s illustrations are wonderfully jolly. They capture the rather sanctimonious Cricket and the stuffy beetle with their conservative dress and attitudes. The merry bees are more friendly, but also help insist on a bride and groom. The worms themselves contrast with the others in their plainness and joy in one another. While they are unruffled by the rules of being married, their take on love wins in the end.

A celebration of the freedom to marry, this picture book is sure to cause a new stir among the same crowd bothered by And Tango Makes Three. Enjoy! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Balzer + Bray.

The Red Hat by David Teague

The Red Hat by David Teague

The Red Hat by David Teague, illustrated by Antoinette Portis (InfoSoup)

A boy named Billy Hightower lives at the top of the tallest building in the world, so high that he is above the clouds. Then one day, another building is built nearby. Billy soon sees a girl on top of the building wearing a red hat. Billy tries to call to her, but the wind sweeps away his words before she can hear them. He tries to send her a note via paper airplane, but the wind snatches that away too. The kite doesn’t work either. When Billy tries to use a blanket to fly across the gap to the girl, the wind pushes him down to street level and takes the girl’s hat too. The vicious wind continues to push Billy around, but soon Billy has figured out where the girl lives and finds a way through the wind to see her.

Teague keeps his text very simple in this picture book. He tells a straight forward story, but one that also is about loneliness and how important it is to reach another person. It is also clearly a book about love, about obstacles and finding an alternate way to connect and be together. Children may see it as a book more about wind, and that is completely wonderful too. Some of the best books work on different levels.

Portis’ illustrations use a little gimmick of the wind being shiny on the page. But these illustrations are beautiful in their simplicity and the wind itself is so capricious and involved in the story that it deserves its own style and feel. Done in only a few colors, the red pops on the page, the color of love.

A lovely picture book that can be enjoyed on different levels by different readers. It would make an interesting discussion for slightly older children about imagery and hidden meanings. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is transformed into a tale of modern English teens in this masterful novel. Claire and Ella are the closest of friends, in fact Claire is in love with Ella. The two spend all of their time together and with their larger group of friends. When Ella is forbidden to go on the trip with all of the friends to the beaches of Northumberland, Claire goes without her. Throughout though, Claire is longing for Ella. Then she meets Orpheus, a strange and handsome musician whose music is so powerful that all of nature seems to stop when he plays. She calls Ella and holds the phone out so that Ella can hear the music too. That one impulsive moment sets in motion a story of profound love, deep loss, death and beyond.

Almond’s own writing is like the music of Orpheus. It creates an intoxicating blend of timeless Greek myth and wild modern teens. The girls become legends, their longing the desire of ages, their love the love to last all time. Orpheus is directly from myth, a wanderer who is captured in a love that seems to have been in existence for all time. There is such beauty here, not only in the myth itself but in the characters too. This book speaks to the power in each of us to live a story, a legend, a myth and to love in that way too.

Almond’s language is exquisite. His writing flows around the reader, inviting them into the magic that is happening on the page. He focuses on small things, showing how the tiny things in life are the most profound from falling rain to trees in the wind to sand drifting by. It is Orpheus’ music that brings these things to life for his listeners. And the reader falls in love with him alongside Ella, never having heard the music itself but having felt its impact to their bones.

Beautiful, mystic, and mythical, this book is a love song for young people, capturing the tumultuous feeling of tumbling into love and the tenuous nature of life and death. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

belzhar

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Jam has been taken by her family to The Wood Barn, a boarding school in Vermont for fragile teens.  After losing her British boyfriend, Reeve, Jam has been unable to function at all.  She just wants to be left alone with her grief and loss.  Jam spends her days sleeping and thinking about Reeve and how in only a few weeks their relationship grew into love only to have him die suddenly.  At her new school, Jam finds herself selected for a small and exclusive English class where they will read one author for the entire semester.  They are also given journals to record their feelings and ideas, old books that look ancient and valuable.  As Jam starts to write in hers for the first time, she is transported to a world where Reeve is still alive, where they can spend a brief time together, and where they can relive their experiences with one another.  All of the students in the class are having this experience and together they decide to only write in the journals twice a week to make them last, because no one knows what happens to this strange world of the journal when the pages run out.  By the end of their experiences in the place they call Belzhar, Jam must face the truths of her loss and her grief.

Wolitzer has earned acclaim as the author of adult literary novels and her short works of fiction.  Those skills really show here as she turns what could have been a novel about teenage love and loss into a beautiful and compelling work of magical realism.  When I started the novel, I had not expected the journals to be anything more than paper, so that inclusion of a fantasy element thoroughly changed the novel for me.  It made it richer, more of an allegory, and lifted it to another level. 

Jam, the protagonist, is a girl who does not open up readily.  The book is told in her voice and yet readers will not know her thoroughly until the end of the book.  It is because of Wolitzer’s skill as a writer that readers may not even realize until the twist comes that the book has even more to reveal.  Jam is also not particularly likeable, and I appreciate that.  Instead she is lonely, prickly, eager to please and complex.  That is what makes the novel work.

This is a particularly deep and unique novel for teens that reveals itself slowly and wondrously on the page.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.