Joy has had to move with her family from their beloved house into an apartment, since her father lost his job. Other things have changed too, like sharing a room with her little sister and being able to hear her parents argue clearly through the thin walls. Joy also had to give up her piano lessons, since they can’t afford them any more. So her plans to be a composer for movies have been put on hold. She also has to start a new school, but luckily she meets a very friendly new neighbor who goes to her school too. Nora also shares the secret Hideout that all of the kids in the building use to escape their small apartments. It’s top secret and no adults even know the room exists. Joy and Nora also start their own dog walking business for residents of the apartment. But when disaster strikes, Joy may lose it all: the business, the hide out and all of her friends.
The author of From the Desk of Zoe Washington returns with her second book. This novel explores socioeconomic layers from the point of view of a girl caught in the midst of difficult life changes that she has no control over. Written with a deep empathy for young people and the difficulties they face, the book also mixes in humor and a strong sense of larger community that keeps it from being overly dark. The book offers a couple of moments of mystery, where Joy must figure out what happened to one of the dogs and another where she has been exchanging messages with someone who may be in trouble.
Throughout it is clear that even though some things may be outside of Joy’s control, she has agency to make some changes and choices. Joy is a great character, one who could have become sullen and shut down in the face of the situation, but instead makes new friends and finds a way forward. She is a character full of caring for others, always helping out her sister, trying to fix friendships, and in the end solving the mysteries and finding a solution for a hideout that works for the adults too.
Friendship, families and finding your way are central in this middle grade novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
A child knows they are moving, so proceeds to say goodbye to their old home. It’s the last time they will fish in the river, the last time to run through the trees, the last time to pet this pony. It’s the last time to lay by this fire, the last time to sleep in this house. They say goodbye to each room from the hall, leaving a message for the new owners on the wall. Then it’s time for a lot of first moments. The first time to jump over these cracks, the first time to push open the gate, and the first time entering the new house. They say hello to all of the new rooms from the hall. They discover a window seat in their new room, complete with a message from the previous child who lived there.
Wild is a master storyteller. In this picture book she takes very simple lines of farewell and discovery and turns them into a story that is immensely poignant. The angst of moving, of losing all the beloved elements of your life comes full circle here as the child celebrates the current moment of firsts and hellos to their new home. The text is utter simplicity, allowing the emotions to come through without being described at all.
The illustrations by James are captivating. She shows the androgynous child and their homes in stark black and white with engaging expressions and body language. Beyond the windows of the homes and outside, the world is awash is color from the watercolor of the flowing river to the sun on the hills to the orangey tones of the new home.
A moving book that takes time to deal with goodbyes but also celebrates new discoveries too. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Blue Dot Kids Press.
The author of Fake Blood returns with another fantastical graphic novel. Vega’s parents have moved her from Portland to Seattle, leaving behind her best friend. Vega loves astronomy, something she shared with her best friend. She still has her telescope, but no one to watch the stars with. To help her transition to her new home, Vega’s parents send her off to a summer camp designed to help her make new friends. Vega isn’t interested in making new friends, so she is stand offish to the other kids. As things around camp get stranger, including a camper who changes his appearance regularly to try to make friends, rocks that are speakers, no cellphone service, and really strange food, Vega must join forces with the other campers to figure out what is actually going on.
Gardner’s middle-grade graphic novel is a genuine look at moving away from friends and the struggle to regain your footing and make new ones. Gardner though takes it much farther explaining the weirdness of all summer camp experiences in a fresh way. When all is revealed at the end of the book, readers will have the satisfaction of having figured it out along with Vega and the other characters. The pacing of the different elements is nicely done as is the consistent look at loneliness and friendship throughout.
Gardner’s art style is bold and clear. She offers readers a diverse cast of characters, including Vega herself who is a character of color and also has two fathers for parents. The format feels larger than most with some of the images taking up the entire page with great impact. The entire book feels effortlessly modern.
A perfect summer read, particularly for those who have done summer camps. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Diana Sudyka (9780358064763)
When a girl moves to a new home, she hides in the garden and discovers a treefrog there. When she watches how still the frog is, she slows down too. Looking closely at the frog, she notices his sticky toes and long feet. Iin order to find the frog, she has to take deep breaths and look closely. The frog helps her feel less lonely. He hides when a group of kids visits, something that the girl is thankful for since they were loud and trampled the garden. When a storm blows through, the frog not only survives it but is refreshed by the water. Heading to school, the girl curls up like a frog on her yoga mat. That’s when she meets a classmate who is quiet too, someone she can trust to show the treefrog, another friend.
Told in a series of poems, this picture book is a stellar mix of verse, exploring nature, and treefrog information. The verse is from the little girl’s perspective and readers get to know her quiet well as she is worried at first about the move, finds solace in the treefrog in her garden, and eventually is brave enough to make a new friend who is thoughtful too and wants to spend time outside watching. The treefrog facts are offered in the corner of the page, supported by each poem and celebrating the unique elements of this creature.
The illustrations by Sudyka are lush and full of green. They show a wild garden by the house with plants taller than the girl herself. The frog is there for readers to know on the first pages. The garden frames the girl and frog with plants and greenery, offering them an almost tropical paradise in which to form their friendship.
Fantastic froggy friendship and facts. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Evelyn and Daniela are best friends. Evelyn tries to act like today is just like any other day, but it’s not. Daniela goes across the street to find a big truck getting filled with boxes and their furniture. The two climb the stairs two at a time, the way they always do. They go past Evelyn’s neighbors who they know so well, into the apartment which is a twin of where Daniela lives across the street. The furniture is all packed and just a few boxes are left, so the girls play in an empty box until it is time for Evelyn to go. In the empty apartment they spin together, then discover stickers to share. A heart pressed to a cheek to seal the promise of a future visit together. Then it is time to go, knowing they will always be best friends.
Medina proves here that she can write just as beautifully for preschoolers and elementary age as she does for older readers. Focusing on the long goodbye, this picture book shows how farewells can be done with smiles and promises. Medina invites us into their shared imaginative play, the joy of big empty boxes, the pleasure of hiding from adults together, and finally the sadness of goodbyes. The twinning of the two girls with their similar apartments and attitudes works so well here, showing their connection in a physical way.
Sanchez’s art is glorious. Full of the deepest of colors, saturated reds and oranges, cool blues and greens. They are paired with textures of wallpaper, cardboard corrugations, red bricks, and floorboards. This is an entire world of apartments and friendship.
A great picture book with an empowering final page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Leo lived with his father in a blue house that they loved. The paint may have been peeling, there may have been leaks, and it might shake when the wind blew, but the house was theirs. It was cold in the winter, but Leo and his dad just baked pies to keep the kitchen warm and had dance parties in their hats and scarves. The house had a big garden and a yard where Leo loved to spend all day playing. But their neighborhood was changing, and eventually it was their house that needed to be knocked down. They got evicted by their landlord and had to move. Leo was very angry, and his father let him express it with angry music but they still needed to pack. After painting their farewell on the walls, they left and moved into a white house, a house that didn’t feel at all like home. But perhaps they could make it feel better after all.
There is so much to love about this picture book with its look at the cost of new construction on a neighborhood and a family. It is also a book that celebrates this small family of a dad and son and the way they deal with forced changes in their lives. The focus here is on quality of life rather than wealth, on home rather than real estate, on love rather than land. The story shares these ideals of simple living without preaching, never pushing them, just showing how a life focused on love looks.
Wahl’s art is marvelous. The end pages of the book show the full neighborhood that this little family lives in. Then readers get to see their home with its rambling garden, laundry on the line, trampoline and rather ramshackle house. It’s a home filled with delights of home-baked pies, rock music, dancing and togetherness. The long-haired little boy and his father are marvelously modern with an engaging nod towards simpler times throughout the images.
Richly illustrated, this picture book focuses on love and simple joys. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Kemala, the pangolin, loved everything that was new and different when they moved. There were new foods, new smells, new clothing to admire. But there was also a new language to learn. When Kemala headed to school, she realized that no one could understand her. So she curled into a ball in dismay. She stayed that way until recess, when she climbed high in a tree to get away from everyone. She sat on a branch cutting animals out of leaves, until Ana found her there. Kemala showed Ana how to cut leaves too, and Ana loved it even though she made a big mess. While Kemala didn’t want to go back to school at all, she steadily found herself learning a new language with Ana’s help, particularly through animals they cut out. Until finally, Kemala is brave enough to try talking to the entire class.
Cassie has written a universal book about friendship, belonging and learning a new language. She wisely chose Esperanto as Kemala’s new language in the book. Esperanto is not associated with a specific country, so Kemala could be moving anywhere in the world. Cassie gives the entire story room to breathe a bit, offering time for Kemala to relax and start to learn in a very believable way. The connection with one specific kind friend is also great to see, as well as a tactile way for them to connect with one another without speaking at first.
The art is welcoming and friendly with all sorts of unusual animals in the class that Kemala joins. The choice of pangolin as a main character works particularly well, both her connection with her mother but also when she gets overwhelmed, the ability to just curl up protectively.
A great book to talk about language learners and welcoming new students to school. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
Cat Dog Dog by Nelly Buchet, illustrated by Andrea Zuill (9781984848994)
Dog lives all alone with his owner. He has his own toys, his own elaborate bed, his own food and his owner all to himself. A different Dog lives with Cat and their owner. The two of them may not always get along, but they are a family. So when the independent first Dog moves in with Cat and Dog, things don’t go smoothly. Cat hisses, dogs growl over food, and no one sleeps well at first. Then an open window accident leads to the three animals spending some healing time together. After that, the three are Cat Dog Dog, all the time. But another surprise in on the way!
This picture book is told entirely in two words: Dog and Cat. It is the illustrations that tell the story of the relationships between all of the characters. The illustrations are filled with small touches like the moving boxes steadily getting more dominant and the various sleeping places that no one is pleased with. They also show the emotional state of each of the pets, from exasperation to surprise to tolerance.
Funny and honest, this picture book looks at blended families in a way that speaks to both pets and people. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Monica and Hannah go to school together and have formed The Homesick Club at their lunch table. Monica is from Bolivia and misses the time she spent with her grandmother feeding the hummingbirds. Hannah is from Israel and she is homesick for the sunshine and desert tortoise that she loved. When their class gets a new teacher, Miss Shelby, she seems to be homesick too for Texas. She talks longingly about the wide-open sky and the stars now that she lives in a big city with skyscrapers. The girls invite Miss Shelby to join their Homesick Club and she does! It’s there that she shares her longing for Hummingbird Cake. Now Monica has just the right inspiration for her presentation to the class.
This picture book explores what it feels like to be a transplant from somewhere else whether it be from elsewhere in the country or from another country entirely. The author cleverly equates these two, leaving no questions about who belongs in our country and why. Rather the focus here is about the emotional toll homesickness takes and how sharing those feelings with someone else can be healing for everyone.
The art in this picture book is light and airy. Using plenty of white space, it is playful and colorful. It sets a nice tone for the book, showing everyone’s differences but also reinforcing the similarities that we all have as well.
Resilience, friendship and cake. What else could you need? Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.