Review: No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen (9780735262751)

Felix loves trivia and his gerbil who is named after a famous Canadian game show host. He lives with his mother Astrid, who struggles to keep jobs and tends to tell lies whenever she wants. Living in Vancouver is expensive, so when Astrid loses her job and then offends the person who takes them in, Felix finds himself living in a camper van. It’s only temporary, so Felix starts school and doesn’t explain to anyone where he is living. Astrid uses her ability to stretch the truth convincingly to get him a place in the school he wants and to get them a mailing address. Still, living in a van is not any fun after awhile and as Felix makes new friends, he finds it hard to keep lying to them. But there is a way out, if Felix can win the junior version of a national game show, he might just have enough money to get them back on their feet and into a home.

Nielsen tells a story about the power of hope, the importance of friendship and the creation of a community of people who care. It is also the story of a mother who is struggling with depression and an inability to keep a job. Astrid is a great character, a mother who manages to continue to be sympathetic but also disastrous. She is complicated just like their story of homelessness is. This is not a flat look at homelessness but instead an in-depth exploration of how it happens, the trap of being in it, and the long climb back out.

Felix too is a wonderful character. He is bright, funny and written as a twelve-year-old boy. That means that his sense of humor is a little naughty and his sense of integrity and honor is strong. His voice resonates as that of a child his age, not reaching up to be a teen yet. The friends he makes are also depicted well, from his old childhood friend with the warm and messy home to the girl he likes, maybe, and her straight-talking hard-hitting journalism approach.

A nuanced and skilled look at homelessness with great characters to discover along the journey. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Tundra Books.

 

Review: Mama Dug a Little Den by Jennifer Ward

Mama Dug a Little Den by Jennifer Ward

Mama Dug a Little Den by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (9781481480376)

In this companion book to Mama Built a Little Nest, the story explores the many animals who build dens to protect their babies. The book offers rhyming couplets as the main part of the story but each animal also has facts included on the page. These facts include how long the babies stay with their mothers, how the dens function and how the animals are fed while in the den. There are mammals, toads, lizards, spiders and many more on these pages, each with a unique den of their own and interesting reasons for having them.

Ward has selected a broad range of animals to highlight here. Her poems are jaunty and clever, the rhymes never feeling forced. The facts she shares are brief, pertinent and fascinating, just what you need in a picture book format. As always, Jenkins’ art is exceptional. He captures small details and interesting habitats with his cut paper collage that introduces texture to the illustrations as well.

Curl up in your own den to share this with your own baby animal. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.

3 New Picture Books that Embrace Families

Hooked by Tommy Greenwald

Hooked by Tommy Greenwald, illustrated by David McPhail (9781596439962)

A young boy loves to spend his time fishing, but his father doesn’t want to join him in this picture book. Joe loves to fish, but his father just doesn’t understand the appeal and won’t participate. So Joe joins the local fishing club and they fish all over the area in different bodies of water. The in the winter, the club decides to do ice fishing and every kid will need an adult along. Joe is worried that his father will refuse again, but instead he agrees to do it just once. When the two of them get to the frozen lake, nothing much happens at first. Then they start to talk and talk together and suddenly Joe’s father understands.

This is a lovely quiet book, one that celebrates the silence and beauty of fishing and also the way that quiet hobbies can create opportunities for deep connection with others. Children not interested in fishing will still recognize the way that parents sometimes duck out of games and hobbies that they find unappealing. The illustrations are classic McPhail filled with luminous glowing light and a playful sense of storytelling. A great pick for fishing story times or for a quiet evening of stories together. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson (9781936932009)

This picture book talks about how different mothers love their children. The text is simple and straightforward but the examples are what makes this book stand out. Mothers use their bodies to care, like breastfeeding their babies. Mothers protest for better worlds for their babies. Some mothers stay home with their children while others work. Some mothers clean houses, others watch other people’s children, others work in government, others work in the fields. Some mothers wear uniforms and some dance for a living. All mothers, no matter what they do for a living, love their children.

The inclusion of mothers who may have to dance for a living is what makes this book so special. That combines with an acceptance of all lifestyles, of all races and religions in the illustrations of the book. The women come in all sizes and colors in the vintage-style collages throughout the book. There is an acceptance of everyone here that is hard to find in children’s books and makes this one for all libraries to own. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Feminist Press.)

On the Other Side of the Garden by Jairo Buitrago

On the Other Side of the Garden by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yonkteng (9781554989836)

The author and illustrator of Walk with Me and Two White Rabbits return with a picture book that is immediately immersive. A little girl gets dropped off at her grandmother’s house by her father. When she wakes up in the night, there are three animals looking in at her through the window: an owl, a mouse and a frog. They seem friendly, so she opens the window for them. Soon they are inviting her out into the garden, her feet touching grass for the first time in a long time since she lived in the city. As they escape the house, the moon shines white on the page and lights their way. They explore the nearby creek, a hill that lets them look back at the house, and fields. The little girl starts to open up about why she is there at her grandmother’s house, a grandmother she barely knows. She returns back to the house just as the sun comes up, where her grandmother is waiting for her.

There is such beauty in this book. The tone of the text is wistful and wondering, inviting the reader along on the adventure. It is a journey of opening up, of finding new friends who warm you when the wind blows and who surprise and delight you. It is a book of knowing the truth but not being quite ready to face it yet. The illustrations are a play of dark and light. They fill the pages right to the edge, deep blue and full of nature and movement. They are stunningly lovely, unique and emotional. A very special book that is soulful and moving. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

My Little Fox by Rick Chrustowski

My Little Fox by Rick Chrustowski

My Little Fox by Rick Chrustowski (9781481469616, Amazon)

Mama Fox watches closely over her little fox as he heads outside for the first time. When he is scared at first, she reassures him that she will always be nearby. Little Fox discovers the wonder of water in both rain and a pond. Sunny summer days have him frolicking in the flowery meadow. In the fall, he hops into the fallen leaves. Winter snow shows his footprints. As another year begins, it’s time for him to head off on his own. Even then, his mother will be close.

Chrustowski notes in his blurb on the book jacket that he discovered a fox den in Minneapolis one day and returned regularly to try to catch a glimpse of the foxes. Finally seeing one is the inspiration for this picture book. That inspiration shows as a real reverence for these animals is clear. The book is a celebration of maternal love and also of giving youngsters the freedom to explore and discover on their own. Mama Fox doesn’t rescue Little Fox at all, rather being nearby to encourage.

The illustrations in the picture book are done watercolor and pastel pencil. They have a deep richness of color that works well with the wooded setting. Chrustowski has used the illustrations to show different words in his rhymes. The words are made of leaves, mushrooms, the sun and pond weeds. This ties the words directly to the images and adds a playful touch.

A lovely look at maternal love and childhood play. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

 

Laundry Day by Jessixa Bagley

Laundry Day by Jessixa Bagley

Laundry Day by Jessixa Bagley (9781626723177)

Tic and Tac are brothers and are horribly bored. Ma Badger tries to get them to read books or build a fort or fish. Finally, she asks if they’d like to help hang laundry. The two of them merrily agree since they have never tried doing that yet. The two help their mother and do so well that she leaves them working and heads to the market. Soon the two little badgers have finished hanging the laundry and find even more clothes to hang. They gather more rope and more items from the house, hanging them all on the line! Luckily, their mother knows exactly what else needs to be clipped to the line.

Bagley, the author of Boats for Papa, has created a delightful mischievous picture book. The two little badgers are naughty in the best possible way, carrying the game as far as possible before their mother discovers what they are up to. Children will love to see the household items hanging on the lines and wonder what is coming next. The ending is entirely satisfying as well.

The art is bright and colorful. The final reveal of the clothes lines and all of the objects is amazing. There are plenty of details in the illustrations to linger over and enjoy. The bright colors add to the playful feel of the entire book.

Not just for naughty children, though they will laugh the loudest! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Nope! by Drew Sheneman

nope-by-drew-sheneman

Nope! by Drew Sheneman (9781101997314)

This almost-wordless picture book is about a little bird who just isn’t sure he can fly quite yet. Told in a graphic-novel style, the story revolves around a caring mother bird and her very nervous offspring. When he looks over the side of the nest, he is frightened by how high it is. When he glances down again though, he has filled it with all sorts of imaginary threats. One time there are wolves circling below. Another time a hungry cat is hiding near the base of the tree. Or maybe alligators and water? The mother bird is patient to a point and then takes matters into her own hands, with plenty of love.

Sheneman’s book is told almost entirely in images. He has a great sense of timing that creates a bouncing rhythm to the book. The action moves from the mother bird encouraging flight, a frightened reaction with a strong “Nope!” and then back to nurturing again. The mother bird has a face that conveys her patience, love and her complete understanding of the situation. The little bird’s fright is also obviously conveyed on his face, moving to panic rapidly.

Funny, wordless and entirely engaging. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

 

Bob, Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon

bob-not-bob-by-liz-garton-scanlon

Bob, Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon & Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Released February 14, 2017.

An awful cold can cause chaos, especially if you have a dog named Bob. Little Louie is big enough that he doesn’t need his mother all the time, but when he gets sick he needs her quite a bit more. As his cold grows, his congestion makes him talk differently. So when he calls for his Mom, it comes out as “Bob.” Unfortunately though, when he calls “Bob” his dog comes running. As his cold gets worse, he only wants his mom near him, confusing his sister with confusing sentences and continuing to call his dog accidentally. Luckily though, his mom knows just what he needs.

This book is seriously fun to read aloud. The cover instructs you to read it “as though you have the worst cold ever.” And it’s a delight. The phrases that seem confusing on the page pop into sense when read aloud. The book also delights by having a child who wants his mom around him when he’s not feeling well and who also manages to confuse everyone about what he actually wants and needs. The result of the confusion though is lovely motherly warmth and attention, so actually everyone gets exactly what they need.

Cordell’s illustrations add to the zingy energy of the book. He takes the confusing language that Louie uses and creates large words with them that show those reading aloud exactly what to say in that wonderful congested voice. The family shown are people of color, giving a nice touch of diversity to the book. Add in the huge dog that bounds on the page and you have pure joy on the page.

Perfect for anyone home sick in bed, this picture book will please any kid who has a terrible cold or a great sense of humor. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Disney Hyperion.

Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray

molly-pim-and-the-millions-of-stars-by-martine-murray

Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray (InfoSoup)

Released January 17, 2017.

Molly longs not to have a mother who heads into the woods to collect weeds and herbs. She wants a normal family that has a normal house, not one that feels like a caravan inside. She wants a mother who gives her granola bars in packages, not one who creates potions and treatments. Her neighbors want them to calm down too, get control of their rooster who crows at dawn and to neaten up their yard. Molly’s mother creates a powerful potion to grow a tree in one night that will shield them from the neighbors, but accidentally drinks it herself. Suddenly, Molly’s mother has turned into a tree. Now Molly has to decide who to trust with the secrets of her life. It can’t be Ellen, her best friend, who is very normal and whose life Molly covets. Instead she turns to the odd boy in their class, Pim, who creates a plan along with Molly to bring her mother back. But will it work before her neighbors start to cut off the branches of the wild new tree?

This Australian import is a magical read and not only for the real magic that happens on the pages. It has a gorgeous tone about it, one that is organic and delicious at the same time. One feels invited directly into the wonder of potions and weeds, your hands itching to get out there and brew your own green syrup. The voice throughout is fresh and filled with surprise.

Molly grows throughout the book, realizing that her own unique upbringing is nothing to be ashamed of. I love that it is Ellen, the normal one, who teaches her this. She speaks directly to Molly about how it feels to be excluded and how important it is to trust. The writing in the book is very special, creating moments like these that are less about lectures and more about sudden inspiration and realizations.

A gorgeously written novel that offers potions, magic and wonder. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

 

The Water Princess by Susan Verde

the-water-princess-by-susan-verde

The Water Princess by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Gie Gie imagines herself to be a princess with a kingdom as big as the African sky. She can tell the wind when to blow, the grass when to sway. But she cannot move the water closer to their home. Every day, Gie Gie and her mother walk to get water, a walk that takes almost the entire day. As they walk, they sing and dance together, stop under the shade of a large tree for a snack. When they reach the water, others are there and Gie Gie plays with her friends as her mother waits in line. Soon it is their turn and they start their long walk back balancing the water in pots on their heads. Back home, Gie Gie finally gets a drink of the precious water and falls asleep, knowing she must make the same walk the next day.

This picture book is based on the childhood of supermodel Georgie Badiel, who has a foundation working to bring clean water to Burkina Faso and other African countries. Verde writes with a poetic touch throughout, the prose light as a breeze carrying the story forward. There is no lecture here about clean water, rather it is a look at the hard work and endurance it takes to bring clean water to African villages.

The illustrations by Reynolds are done in his signature style with a flowing beauty that works particularly well here. He uses deep colors that show the dry landscape in yellows and oranges that are occasionally punctuated with greens and blues, the colors of water and hope.

A light feeling picture book that has a deep story to tell, this is a compelling read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.