Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik (9780593109212)

Omar and his family have moved, which means that Omar has to start at a new school. He lives with his mother, father, older sister and younger brother. One of their new neighbors doesn’t seem happy to have Muslim neighbors, glaring at them through her fence and not being friendly when approached. Omar is also facing a bully at school. Daniel has even told him that because Omar is a Muslim he could be kicked out of the country! Luckily, Omar also has a new best friend and a family who can support him as he learns the ins and outs of being Muslim in America.

Mian’s #ownvoices novel for elementary readers is wildly funny and really approachable. Omar himself seems the world through a silly and engaging lens, where teachers may be aliens and he is a magnet for trouble. That trouble includes spitting on his little brother in bed, getting lost during a field trip, and asking Allah to bring him a Ferrari. The book has lots of illustrations, making it just right for elementary-aged readers who need some breaks in their text. They will find that the humor and format make for an engaging read.

A winner of a children’s book that is about prejudice, friendship and community. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome (9780823438730)

Ruth Ellen and her family left the South to head north to New York. Some African-Americans made the trip on foot, some drove but Ruth Ellen and her family took the train. They got the last seats in the colored car, and settled in for the long journey. They left secretly, not telling her father’s boss or their landlord that they were leaving. More and more people filled the colored train car as they traveled northward, many of them left standing because all the seats were taken. Ruth read to her mother from the book her teacher had given her about Frederick Douglass. As they got to Maryland, the separation of white and colored was removed, and Ruth and her family moved to get seats in less crowded parts of the train. Some white people didn’t want them sitting near them, but others were friendly. Their trip continued all the way to New York City where they would make their new future. 

Told in the voice of Ruth Ellen, this picture book is a very personal look at the deep changes in the South after slavery that created the opportunity for the Great Migration to the north. On these pages is a clear optimism about their future, their new opportunities coming to fruition. The book is focused specifically on the travel north, beautifully weaving in elements from Frederick Douglass’ experience as he journeyed north fleeing slavery. 

The illustrations are done in paper, graphie, paste pencils and watercolors. Ransome has created illustrations that are richly colored, show the poverty of the south, but also capture the rush of the train towards the north and opportunity.

This historical picture book shows a moment of deep change in America. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Holiday House.

Review: Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho (9781534440098)

Second-grader Mindy Kim and her father moved from California to Florida where Mindy has to go to a mostly-Caucasian school. On her first day, Mindy opens her lunch of seaweed, kimchi, rolled eggs and rice. It catches the attention of the other kids at her table, who don’t recognize any of it. The second day of school, Mindy can’t ask for a different lunch because the toaster had caught fire and distracted her father. She plans though to not get laughed at again, make a new friend, and convince her father to get a puppy. When Sally asks to try some of Mindy’s seaweed at lunch, Mindy is very surprised. Soon everyone is trying them. So Mindy has a new idea and has her father buy lots more seaweed snacks. As she creates her own snack trading ring, Mindy and her friend decide to start charging money for snacks rather than trading them. She soon finds out that she’s broken a school rule!

Lee has written an early chapter book that is marvelously accessible for young readers and also grapples with being different from your classmates. Mindy is also dealing with the death of her mother, something that is poignantly shown in her time at home with her father and with her babysitter after school. The use of seaweed snacks as a gateway into an illicit snack ring is clever and delightful. 

The illustrations inside the book offer breaks in the text for new readers. They are done with a wry sense of humor that is evident in the art and work well with the story that also has a lot of funny moments. 

A diverse and delicious early chapter book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin Books.

Review: Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts

Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts

Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts & Sanne te Loo (9781782505617)

Adin and Dina lived on the same farm. The two of them spent long days together picking cherries on the farm and climbing high in the cherry trees. They ate the cherries and kept the pits, planting them around town in the hopes that trees would grow. But then one day, Adin’s family decided to move to the city. Adin moved to an apartment building, far from any cherry trees. Dina gave him a bag of cherry pits to take with him. He spent time creating paper airplanes, loading them with pits and launching them off his balcony. Dina did get to visit once during their year apart. The two of them quickly fell back into being close friends. When spring came, the cherry pits were gone but a path of blooming trees led right back to the farm from the city. A path that just had to be followed.

This Dutch import has a lovely quiet to it. From the quiet friendship spent together in trees eating cherries to the quiet of loneliness for a close friend, all are captured on these pages. The emotions of a friend leaving are captured beautifully too as is the lasting connection between people and places. The writing is superb, celebrating cherries and trees and steadily building to that moment in spring when trees burst into bloom.

The art of this picture book celebrates the countryside and nature. The book captures the seasons with different colors and silhouettes of the trees. The rich green of summer turns to the browns of autumn to the whites of winter and then to a vibrant light green of spring that reaches to the city with its illumination on the page.

A lovely look at a cherry of a friendship. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Floris Books.

Review: The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Alea Marley (9781454931843)

Harpreet loves to express himself through the colors he wears, particularly the colors of his patka. Yellow was for when he felt sunny, pink for celebrating, red for courage, and blue for when he was nervous. When Harpreet moved across the country to a snowy city, he stopped wearing his colors. Instead, day after day, he wore white to match the cold outdoors and to be invisible. His parents tried to get him to wear different colors again, but he refused. Then one day, he discovered one of his classmate’s yellow hat in the snow and returned it to her. He loved the yellow and the smiley face on it. She loved his patka too. Steadily, Harpreet started to wear colors again, this time to celebrate a new friend.

Kelkar beautifully depicts the power of color in a little boy’s life while celebrating his Sikh religion at the same time. She takes the time to show what each color represents, along with the illustrations depicting what bravery, joy and nerves mean to him personally. The story is tightly written, focused on the nerves and loneliness of moving and finding your way. This focus makes the discovery of a new friend all the more powerful.

Marley’s illustrations show the range of colors that Harpreet has for his patka along with their matching outfits. Harpreet’s emotions, both joyous and sad, are clearly depicted in facial expressions and in body language. It is a huge relief when Harpreet’s world starts to be multicolored again.

Diverse and colorful, this picture book is anything but dull. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Chris Sasaki (9780823441563)

A little girl celebrates her city home and all of the things that make it special. From the small touches like a basket for your shoes and plants in the corner to the lamplight at night from a neighbor’s window. Her family makes it special too, doing chores together, fixing mistakes, and helping one another. When the family moves to a new home, they take a lot of the elements that make it special with them. In the new house, they will once again create a home together.

In statements that begin with “Home is…” this picture book explores what makes a house a home. From the smells to the people to the windows themselves, each piece fits together like a puzzle. Ledyard’s prose asks people to slow down, to celebrate the everyday and small moments that make up their lives and their homes. The switch to a book about moving later in the book makes the first part all the more important and profound, allowing the family to rebuild easily the sense of home they always carry with them.

Sasaki’s illustrations show a multi-racial family spending days together filled with love and in a home that is warm and colorful. Those elements carry throughout the illustrations, each one making sure that readers know that small touches create a home. From lamplight at night to tables filled with family.

A beautiful look at family, home and moving. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.

Review: Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve

Zola's Elephant by Randall de Seve

Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (9781328886293)

In this exceptional picture book, Zola moves in next door to a little girl. The two mothers have already met and decided the girls should be friends, but the little girl knows that Zola already has a friend. After all, Zola has a box large enough for an elephant and the girl knows that elephants make wonderful friends. As the girl heads different noises, she also thinks about the fun that Zola is having with her elephant. They are taking merry baths together, playing hide-and-seek, and building a lovely clubhouse together. But the truth is shown in the illustrations, explaining the noises that are being heard as much more mundane and downright lonely. Will the little girl have the courage to head over and meet Zola for real?

The text here is rich and evocative. It displays the wealth of imagination that the nameless narrator has as she builds entire worlds of play and merriment from seeing one large box and hearing some noises. It is a book that explores shyness and loneliness and how they live side-by-side and how they can be fixed by one act of bravery. Beautifully, the lonely new neighbor’s pages have no words on them, allowing the image to simply tell the truth.

With illustrations by a two-time Caldecott honoree, the illustrations are detailed, deep and beautiful. Zagarenski manages to create two parallel worlds, one of imagination and brightness and the other stark and blue with isolation. She then captures the moment when those two worlds meet. Done with a circus theme that is embedded in all of the illustrations, she pays homage to the elephant fully even though it doesn’t actually exist.

Beautiful and rich, this picture book is unique and imaginative. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bitter and Sweet by Sandra V. Feder

Groundwood Logos Spine

Bitter and Sweet by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (9781554989959)

Hannah’s family was moving to a new city, but Hannah didn’t want to move away from her friends, her house or her neighborhood. Her grandmother told her about when she moved from the old country to America and how the experience was a mix of bitter and sweet. But when Hannah’s family moved, all she could see around her were bitter reminders of what she had lost. The new house had a smaller porch, the road was too hilly for good biking, and she didn’t know anyone. Even when a neighbor girl came over to meet Hannah, the gift of cocoa she left was bitter when Hannah tried it. The next day at school, the girl talked to Hannah about needing to add sugar. Soon Hannah realized that she had to put forth a little effort to discover the sweet that was always there.

Picture books about moving are plentiful every year, but this one has a lovely feeling about it that makes it stand out. The advice from her elders turns out to be true but I also appreciated that Hannah put her own spin on it in the end. The book depicts Hannah’s Jewish family with warmth and scenes that show their traditions. The advice also rings with Jewish wisdom and brings a traditional feel to a modern story.

The illustrations are done in mixed media that combines paint and collage very successfully. The result are images that have a lovely texture to them, fabrics and paper that layer with one another. There is a beautiful light and color to the images that conveys hope even as Hannah struggles to see the sweet.

A rich picture book that looks at difficult times in life through a lens of hope and acceptance. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C Perez

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez (9780425290408, Amazon)

Malú doesn’t want to move with her mother to Chicago, even if it is only for a couple of years and not permanently. She knows her mother wants her to be much more of a proper Mexican young lady just like her. But Malú is much more into punk rock and creating zines. When they get to Chicago, Malú finds herself in a very diverse middle school where she manages to violate the dress code on the very first day. As she struggles with the rules of the new school, Malú starts a punk rock band of other kids who don’t fit in. They enter the school talent contest but don’t get any further than the audition and then are rejected for the performance. Now Malú has to channel her own punk attitude to stand up and be heard.

This is such a winning and cleverly built novel that one can’t really believe it’s a debut book. Pérez captures the push and pull of middle school and being a person with unique interests struggling to find friends. Pérez also weaves in the main character’s cultural heritage throughout the book, making it a vital part of the story and playing it against the rebellion of punk rock. That play of tradition and modern attitudes is a strength of the book, allowing readers to learn about Mexican culture and also about rock and roll.

Malú is a great protagonist, filled with lots of passion and energy. She has a natural leadership about her even as she is picked on by another girl at school. Still, Malú is not perfect and it’s her weak moments when she despairs or lashes out where she feels most real. Her zines are cleverly placed in the book, thanks to the skills of the author who also publishes zines.

A fresh and fun new read that blends Mexican Americans with punk rock in a winning formula. Appropriate for ages 9-12.