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.
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. 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.
Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault (9781101917596, Amazon)
Colette has moved to a new neighborhood and her parents won’t let her have a pet. She angrily kicks a box over the fence and meets some new kids. Colette wants to be friends but doesn’t have any good answer for them when they ask what she is doing, so she invents a pet that she has lost, a parakeet. The children take her to meet other neighbors who can help her find her pet. One after another the children help and then Colette adds to her fib. Her pet soon has specific colors, a name, a sound it makes, and a poster to help find it. Then Colette’s fib grows into a full-blown story. How will the others react when they realize she’s made the entire thing up?
Done in graphic novel style, this picture book is a delightful mix of a story about moving to a new place, the impact of telling lies and making new friends. Colette’s small fib grows far beyond what she had ever intended as she tries to cover up that she was frustrated and angry. With each new person involved, the lie builds to the find crescendo where it turns into something else entirely, something shared and wonderful despite how it all began.
The illustrations have a unique feel to them. They are done in blues and grays with pops of yellow in Colette’s jacket, small touches in the neighborhood and the color of her imaginary pet. This limited palette is beautifully done, the blues and yellows vibrant against the subtler grays.
A great graphic novel pick for young readers, this book looks at large themes with kindness and grace. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Tundra Books.
Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (InfoSoup)
Moving away from Alabama is hard for Keet. She is moving closer to her beloved grandfather though, which helps. The two of them spend days together fishing, something that Keet used to find challenging because she loves to talk and tell stories. But at her new school, she is teased for her accent and suddenly her words start to dry up. She finds it hard to make friends and even at home she isn’t talking much. Slowly though, Keet starts to find her voice again and makes a new friend. Just as she starts to talk though, her grandfather suffers a stroke and struggles with the slow recovery. Keet though has just the solution, showing him the way forward with stories.
Harrington’s verse novel is pure loveliness. Throughout she plays with various poetic forms, delicately moving from haiku to concrete poems to narrative form with many others included too. She nicely lists them at the end of the book, talking about their difficulty and what makes a poem that form. Her skill is evident throughout with all of the forms as she tells the story of Keet and her progress from losing her confidence and her voice to finding it again. The voice of Keet’s new friend is including in the poems as well, often playing against ones in Keet’s voice.
The characters here are given time to grow and stretch on the page. Keet is a wonderful character filled with a great energy and drive, but also stuck in a lack of confidence that hits her out of nowhere. It is a book about quiet and both its power and the ability to drown in being silenced. It is a book about friendship, about family and the importance of finding your place and your voice.
Beautifully written and strikingly gentle, this book is a celebration of the individual and their ability to speak their own stories. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Moo by Sharon Creech (InfoSoup)
Reena and her little brother, Luke, move to the Maine countryside with their parents. At first they spend their summer riding their bikes around the area, loving the freedom that comes with it. But then their parents “volunteer” both of them to help out on a neighbor’s farm. Mrs. Falala is unusual to say the least. She has all sorts of animals on the farm, including a pig, a cat and a snake, but the one that she needs Reena’s help with most is Zora, a grumpy cow. Slowly, Reena gains Zora’s trust and starts to understand what she needs to be happier. Just as slowly, Luke begins to bond with Mrs. Falala as he works on his drawings alongside her. As these new friendships emerge, new opportunities arise to form connections, learn from one another, and delight in the antics of one ornery cow.
Creech uses a glorious blend of prose and poetry in this novel. The poetry takes concrete form at times but usually is free verse and flows in the way summer days do. The prose reads like poetry at times, blending the two formats even more closely together. The rural Maine setting comes alive in the book, the children experiencing it with great delight that readers will share. Creech captures the emotions of a major move and the wonders and fears of being from the city and landing firmly in farm country.
This is a book with plenty of large characters. Mrs. Falala is a wonderful character, isolated and lonely, she is by turns prickly and warm, a conundrum that also makes perfect sense. From her use of music to express emotion to her willingness to learn to draw, she is an older character with plenty to still learn and even more to share. Then there is Zora, the cow, a creature with more than enough attitude and chutzpah to carry the novel. She is very much an animal version of her owner, though she tends to use hooves and head butts to show her feelings.
A rich narrative and plenty of amazing characters, this novel in prose and verse enchants as it demonstrates the importance of connections and community. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (InfoSoup)
Released September 13, 2016.
Catrina is moving with her family to Bahía de la Luna in northern California. They are moving because her little sister has cystic fibrosis and the cool and salty air from the sea will be good for her. The girls explore their new town and hear from a boy they meet that the town is full of ghosts. Cat starts to feel ghosts in the breezes and air around them, feeling scared of meeting one. Her little sister Maya though is drawn to them, knowing that she has a health issue that will eventually lead to death. Cat is terrified at Maya being drawn too closely to the ghosts, particularly after she sees one and realizes that they are real. Cat has to balance her own fears with her sister’s need for answers.
Whenever a new Telgemeier book is announced, I am thrilled. I know that she only puts out high quality work with huge child-appeal. In this graphic novel, we have her signature welcoming graphic style that captures emotions with ease and tells a brisk story filled with the wonder of ghosts. It’s full of so much appeal for its target audience that this one will never sit on the shelf for long!
As always, Telgemeier is aware of having diversity in her book. Here the girls are Hispanic but don’t know a lot about their heritage. This offers a way for readers to learn along side them about the Day of the Dead and the sugar skulls. The pace stays always fast and fun though, even as learning happens along the way.
A funny, touching and fabulous graphic novel for kids. A must buy for every public library. Appropriate for ages 7-11.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Life Without Nico by Andrea Maturana, illustrated by Francisco Javier Olea (InfoSoup)
Maia and Nico are best friends. They love playing together. But then one day, Nico’s family announce that they are moving across the world. When Nico leaves, Maia is left with an empty feeling inside. The emptiness gets bigger and bigger, not allowing her to play with other kids. But things get better as time passes. Maia finds a kitten, learns to play the piano, and makes a new friend at school. Soon it is time for Nico to return. At first, Maia is scared that things will be different, but soon she discovers that Nico once again fills the emptiness for her.
This story told from the point of view of the person left behind when someone moves away is a nice change of perspective from most picture books about moving. Originally published in Mexico, this picture book captures the progress of emotions that come from losing a close friend. The empty feeling is beautifully portrayed in the story and then the gentle change to meeting new people and finding new hobbies is shown with delicacy.
Olea’s illustrations are striking. I particularly appreciate the way he incorporates the empty feeling visually on the page, shadows cast by other objects but that also speak to the emotions that Maia is feeling right then. Characters in the book have skin of wildly different colors that show various but indistinct races. The result is a book of shadows, light and rich color.
A lovely book on moving and grief, this picture book is one worth sharing. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Kids Can Press and Edelweiss.
Rose and the Wish Thing: A Journey of Friendship by Caroline Magerl (InfoSoup)
This gentle picture book tells the story of a girl who has moved to a new home. When she looked out her window one night, she made wish. But the wish thing did not come. Rose could not be comforted when the wish thing did not respond. Nothing worked to calm her. Her entire family searched for the wish until they came to the sea. That is when they saw the box floating on the water. In that box, was the wish thing: a thing of tiny stitches and a red glass heart. And that is what let Rose head outside of her new house and make friends.
This Australian import has a gorgeous softness to it in both images and text. The story is warm and nurturing with a large family trying to comfort Rose, a rambling house with a garden, and a big furry dog. It is also a lovely strange tale that is not straight forward, but meanders a bit, travels a lot, and finds something special along the way. Magerl’s language is noteworthy too:
The evening tide came with gentle fingers to roll over the crabs and rock the stones.
The illustrations are soft and detailed. The fine ink lines are colored with watercolors which makes them both detailed and gorgeously nuanced in color. Pages of Rose and her family are alternated with illustrations of the wish thing’s journey to Rose. There is plenty of drama along the way.
A warm and gentle look at loneliness and how it can be transformed. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Penguin Random House and Edelweiss.