Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos

Cover image for Your Mama.

Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9781328631886)

This picture book cleverly riffs on the “Yo Mama” jokes. Each set of pages starts with a full joke, including “Your Mama so sweet, she could be a bakery” and “Your Mama so strong, she like a marine.” Then the story takes over and explains how this little girl’s mother is all that and more. Examples like her high heels shoes that no one else can walk in, being public library VIPs, and making the perfect costumes. This mother loves road trips, good jokes, and makeup. She stands up against injustice, has friends everywhere, and loves her daughter more than she will ever know.

The humor at the center of the book, taking often negative “Yo Mama” jokes and turning them on their head is a real pleasure. The Latinx protagonists are both strong women with the text slowing with English and Spanish. It’s a pleasure to see a fully realized mother, who is modern, focused and still able to be a great Mama. This woman has real dimension on the page, allowing readers to see their own amazing mothers here too.

The art in this book shows the warm love between mother and daughter, from bouncing on couch cushions, to living room performances, to being out and about together. The setting is urban and friendly, the streets bustling with friends and relatives. From her long curly hair to her high heeled shoes, this is a mother with plenty of attitude and self confidence to share with her daughter.

A celebration of Mamas both sweet and spicy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Versify.

Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer

Cover image for Sunshine.

Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer (9781536214116)

Ben lives with his father and his faithful imaginary dog, Sunshine. This summer, he’s going to spend an entire week with his mother, whom he hasn’t seem since he was three. She lives alone on an island in northern Minnesota. As he and his father journey to meet her, Ben struggles to ignore Sunshine, since his father thinks Ben is too old to have an imaginary friend. After journeying to his mother’s island home by canoe, Ben finds himself struggling with his anxiety and often unable to speak. He has so many questions he wants to ask her and has imagined many conversations together, but nothing comes out. He desperately wants to figure out how to get her to return to living with them. Instead of asking, Ben spends his days on the island, giving his mother time to read. After a disastrous expedition to see some bears and another harrowing solo journey in a canoe, a disaster hits the island and a path to forgiveness is formed.

Bauer is such a remarkable writer. Her books are invitingly brief for young readers and also offer real depth of emotion. In this novel, she shows the struggles of someone with anxiety who is often asking “what if” rather than diving in. She doesn’t allow it to be superficial, instead really exploring what it feels like. At the same time, readers will realize that Ben is incredibly brave and fueled by anger that he won’t acknowledge. His connection to Sunshine is fully realized, from the way they curl up to sleep together to her position in the canoe to their ongoing friendship in a new place.

Ben is a complex character and so are his parents. His father is fastidious, clearly anxious himself in ways that Ben can’t articulate. His mother is a remarkable character in children’s literature. A mother who left her child behind for reasons that are hinted at but not fully revealed until later in the novel. Yet she is given the space to be warm, kind and caring while also being rather distant and reserved. She is many things, and also far more than she realizes.

A book full of dangers, adventure and heart. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick.

The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valerie Fontaine

Cover image for The Big Bad Wolf in My House.

The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valerie Fontaine, illustrated by Nathalie Dion (9781773065014)

When the Big Bad Wolf came to the little girl’s house, he didn’t have to huff and puff at all. He was invited in by her mother. At first, he was nice to her mother but his eyes were always cold when he looked at the girl. When her mother was late coming home one day, he got mad and called her bad names. Her mother became quiet and smaller. The girl became silent and made sure to be tidy. The wolf threw things and didn’t apologize. Instead the mother and daughter apologized and cleaned it all up. The wolf would howl and create bruises. The little girl made a house of straw with blankets on her bed to protect her. She hoped the wood door would keep him out. Then she built bricks around her heart. Finally, one day, her mother told her to pack her bag and they fled to a home for women and children where the little girl could finally sleep in safety.

This frank and stark book is a French Canadian import. The use of the Big Bad Wolf image in the book clearly marks the wolf in the house as a bad person from the first page. Further into the book, the little girl tries to build protection around herself with different elements, turning at last to bricks around her heart. This is a particularly moving part of the story, as her defenses are not respected, just as her mother’s are not. The book does end in a hopeful place, as they leave to restart their lives without the wolf there.

The illustrations show the angry encounters, but not the physical assaults. The bruises on the little girl’s arm are shown as she explains that she has to wear long sleeves even when it’s hot out. The palette in the book is pale greens and dusty tans. The illustrations show the fear and the trauma of living with an abuser.

An important book that explains abuse to children in a way that shows the abuser in the “bad” wolf in the situation. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

A Mother Is a House by Aurore Petit

Cover image.

A Mother Is a House by Aurore Petit (9781776573233)

This touching picture book looks at a mother through the eyes of her baby. A mother is so many things, starting by being a house that the baby grows inside. Then a pouch where the baby is carried around town. She is a fountain of breast milk, a port in a crowded room, a mirror that reflects the baby, an island in the bath. She is protection from strangers, a doctor when needed, someone to play with or on top of. She is so many things, but most importantly she is home.

Petit has created a rhyming picture book just right for toddlers. The writing celebrates the role of a mother, showing all the various ways in which she protects, embraces, adores, and supports her baby. The book moves from the mother being pregnant all the way through to the baby becoming a toddler, clearly gaining skills and age as the pages turn. The writing is simple and never sing-songy. The art is modern and bright, using clean lines and a jaunty attitude. The images show a modern mother in an urban setting along with a father who is present and contributes his share.

A colorful celebration of baby and motherhood. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Gecko Press.

The Memory Thief by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Cover image.

The Memory Thief by Jodi Lynn Anderson (9781481480215)

The first in the Thirteen Witches trilogy, this fantasy novel tells the story of Rosie Oaks who survived a witch attack as a newborn baby. She was left though with a mother who cannot love her and can barely care for her at all. Rosie has always known her mother to be this way, so she doesn’t expect anything else. Rosie spends her time reading books and writing her own stories until one day she decides that she is too old for them and burns her stories. That triggers the sight, allowing her to see the ghosts that live all around her. Ebb, a ghost boy, shows her the Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, a book her mother hid that contains all she knew about the thirteen witches that control the world. Rosie discovers that her mother has been cursed, her memories stolen by the Memory Thief, a witch who may be the weakest but is also unstoppable. As Rosie learns more about the witches, her mother’s curse, family secrets and friendship, she realizes that she is the one who must now hunt the witch but at what cost?

Anderson has written a unique fantasy novel where witches are profoundly powerful beings, able to steal memories, stop time, and inflict curses. The world building is skillfully crafted, offering a world parallel to our own where a ladder goes to the moon, where ghosts exist and strive to head to the Beyond, and where witch hunters have magical weapons they craft themselves. Through Rosie, readers get to experience the wonder of discovering that world as well as feel the tragedy of her mother’s curse deeply too.

Anderson populates her book with characters who are fascinating and worthy of their own novels. There is Ebb, the ghost boy who has his pet ghost spider and who befriends Rosie when she needs it most. There is Germ, Rosie’s only friend, who loves Rosie and can see ghosts suddenly just like Rosie can. There is the Murderer, an angry ghost with his own tragic story who Rosie discovers holds the secret to her own survival as an infant. The Memory Thief herself is a fascinating mix of tragedy, danger and horror.

A great start to a new fantasy trilogy, this book mixes ghosts, magic and witches into something spectacularly new. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.

The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance

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The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance (9780593116227)

Eli was born in the tiny community of Svalbard, Norway. She was raised by a mother who loved stories that made their lives extraordinary. From magical tales in front of the fire to three girls set free from their destinies to marry princes, her stories were both a comfort and a concern. Then one night, Eli’s mother vanished from a frozen fjord leaving Eli behind in the icy darkness as she was swept up by the Northern Lights. Since then, Eli has lived a very normal life with her father in Cape Cod. Everything changes though when she receives a mysterious note brought by the wind and left in a bush for her. The Northern Lights are coming to Cape Cod, and Eli realizes that she may be able to bring her mother back. After whistling for her mother under the sweep of colors in the sky, her mother does return, but not without other consequences. Her mother is icy cold with fingernails that melt away and eyes full of darkness. When meteorites start to fall around them and narwhals beach nearby, Eli knows she must make the trip to Svalbard and find out how to save her mother.

Lesperance’s fantasy novel is beautifully crafted, full of echoes of stories like “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” It builds from these stories, creating something new and magical. The story spans continents, taking readers from Norway to America and back again. The contrasts between ways of life are profound and interesting. They support the wild and raw stories that come to life around Eli and her family. The settings are both depicted with clarity and a real attention to the details that make them special.

Eli and her mother are fabulous characters. Eli must find her way through the layers of the stories to see the truth within them that will lead her to her mother. She has to figure out how to trust, and it may just be the most unlikely people around her. The depiction of her grandmother is one of the best in the book, showing what could have stayed a stereotypical cruel woman and turning her into something complex who supports the entire story.

Clever writing, beautiful world building and a twist on classic folk tales make this a book worth exploring, perhaps with mittens. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Razorbill.

Mama Baby by Chris Raschka

Mama Baby by Chris Raschka

Mama Baby by Chris Raschka (9780763690601)

This very simple picture book is just right for infants and toddlers to share with their parents. It’s a story about a mother and baby who smile and then clap to each other. Eyes are then covered. Peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake games are played. But then a phone rings or alarm sounds, calling mama away. Now it is just baby on the page, looking surprised at the reader and then bursting into tears and asking to be picked up. Together again, held close, the two wave goodbye to the reader.

Told in only the barest of words, this picture book is much more about the illustrations which show a warm and loving relationship between mother and baby. The modern interruption of a musical sound happening off the page shows how the connection between mother and child stays strong. Done in watercolor, the illustrations are simple with emotions clear on the faces.

Bound to be a board book too, this is a great first picture book. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick.

 

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Me & Mama by Cozbi A Cabrera

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera (9781534454217)

Mama greets the little girl who narrates this story when she comes down early in the morning. The others are still sleeping on the rainy morning. They decide to head outside into the rain together. First they must get ready with drinks from their cups, teeth brushing, showers and hair combing. Then it’s time for breakfast and barrettes in their hair. They head out into the rainy morning with boots, umbrellas and raincoats. Max, the dog, doesn’t need any of those things. Together they sing and splash. In the evening, there are stories, laughter and cozy blankets that lead to dreams filled with moments from their day together.

My summary above skims the surface of this picture book that deeply explores the relationship of mother and daughter. Cabrera deftly uses language to explain the connection between these two: “I want to be everywhere Mama is.” She also uses lovely comparisons by the little girl who looks at their boots, hair, laugh and other elements of their day and sees how similar and different they are. It’s a beautiful look at the small pieces of our days that create such deep connectivity.

Cabrera’s art is done in acrylics, illustrations that are filled with deep bright colors that glow on the page. They too reveal the connections between the characters, deepening them even further than the words can.

A marvelous mother and daughter book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron (9781773213750)

Salma and her mother moved to Vancouver from Syria together. Salma’s father is still in Syria and planning to join them soon. Mama seems worried and tired all the time now, not smiling the way she did in the refugee camp with her friends. Salma tries many things to get her mother to smile or even laugh, but nothing seems to work. She heads to the Welcome Center and her teacher has her think about the last time she saw her mother happy. Salma realizes that it may be Syrian food that her mother is missing, since the last time she smiled she had been carrying a bowl of foul shami. So Salma decides that she will make her mother foul shami to bring back her happiness. Salma must figure out how to take the recipe in Arabic and get others to understand what she needs. She realizes that she can draw the various vegetables and ingredients and show them to the people at the supermarket. With her ingredients, now she must do the cooking, but not without plenty of help from others at the Welcome Center who are missing delicacies from their own lands too.

So often picture books depict the end of a family’s story as leaving the refugee camp. It is a pleasure to see a picture book grapple with how it feels to have come to a new country as a refugee and having your family still separated. The clear connection of food and culture is beautifully depicted here. Salma’s enthusiasm for her solution to her mother’s sadness and worry is moving, giving her something to focus on and actually do to help. The difficulty of the recipe and its many steps serves as a great challenge for Salma, and one that will bring her community together to help.

The illustrations have borders and geometric shapes that echo the tiles of Syria and Damascus. The color palettes change as the emotions on the page change, with blues showing the worry and concern and merry yellows flooding the pages with community and hope.

A marvelous look at food, family and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Annick Press.