3 Picture Books that Celebrate Community

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (9781452155418)

A superb concept book that has a definite Muslim flair that is very welcome. The rhyming story opens with the cone-shaped tops of the minaret. Rectangle is the mosque’s door. Then readers get invited in to see octagon fountains, arches, triangles formed by stairs. The book moves on to gardens, a shared meal at an oval table. It ends with a crescent moon in the sky.

I appreciate that this concept book about shapes offers many shapes that are not the expected ones like cones and crescents. Add in the focus on diversity that is inherent on each page, and this book is certainly something special. The book includes Muslim terms that are used in the text and then defined in the glossary at the end of the book. The illustrations are modern and bright, a mix of tradition and modernity that shines on the page. The shapes are clear and easily found in each image. A gem of a picture book that belongs in all collections. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Jason Chin (9781626725621)

Join a family on their Fourth of July celebration at the lake, complete with pie for everyone to share. There are other things that are perfect for sharing too, like a book, a ball and a tree. How about sharing a jump rope and a rhyme to skip by? As the book progresses, more and more children play together along the shore and even more things are shared. There are stick and stones, boats and water, stories, hugs and hideouts. And in the end, fireworks and another slice of pie!

This Fourth of July book truly looks at the holiday through the eyes of a child. It is lit by sparklers and fireworks as evening comes, but the day itself is brightened by all of the time spent as a family and a community. New friends are made; old friendships are strengthened. The illustrations are particularly lovely. They use child-height perspectives as well as other inventive ones to really see the holiday from a little-one’s point of view. The illustrations are realistic, sun filled and pure summer on a page.

Share this one any day of the year! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

You_re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar

You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry (9781911373292)

On a dark and stormy night, the little animals could not call asleep. Mama Elephant stayed with them. She rocked them in her trunk, repeating “You’re safe with me.” The wind moaned in the trees, awakening the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that the wind carries seeds from faraway into the forest. Thunder sounded startling the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that with thunder comes the rain that waters the seeds from the wind. Lightning flashed and Mama Elephant soothed the little animals with tales of the stars coming back to the sky. Finally, the river burbled and the little ones fell asleep with Mama Elephant’s refrain of “You’re safe with me.”

Told in a folklore-like style with repeating refrains and a firm story structure, this picture book carries the feeling of India with it. It carries a traditional feel, the warmth of Mama Elephant and the comfort she brings with her simple presence almost erases the storm. She uses the cycles of life, plant and animal, to reassure the little animals which makes for a rich story.

The illustrations are amazing and also have a traditional feel to them. Filled with small dots, they are deep with spice and jungle colors. Their richness creates images that children will love to look at, discovering the animals almost hidden on the pages between the leaves of the forest.

A superb bedtime book just right for stormy nights. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Lantana Publishing.)

3 All-Natural Nonfiction Books

Flying Deep by Michelle Cusolito

Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong (9781580898119)

Alvin is a deep-sea submersible that seats just three people. In this picture book, readers take a journey with Alvin’s crew down into the sea to collect specimens, survey the site and look for life. Light dims and temperatures drop as Alvin descends. At nearly two miles down, they reach the seafloor. There are small crabs, glassy rocks and vent chimneys. Pompeii worms sway in the current and clams nestle in the rocks. There are other surprises too! Soon the specimens are stored and it’s time to slowly ascend to the surface once more.

There is a gorgeous natural drama to this nonfiction picture book that simply shows what scientists encounter as they explore the depths of the sea. Refreshingly, there is no artificial accidents or incidents used, just the depth itself and the sights to be seen. The book contains information about Alvin, a glossary of terms and a list of organisms with information on each. The illustrations are dramatic and use the play of darkness, beams of light and the different light at various depths very effectively.

Immensely readable, this would make a grand nonfiction addition to a story time. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Fur, Feather, Fin All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang

Fur, Feather, Fin – All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis (9781481447096)

Exploring the classes of animals, this nonfiction picture book is written in rhyming text. The book looks at mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, fish, water dwellers, and detritivores. Each class of animal is explained, including their unique attributes and how they are similar to other animals as well. The focus is on the web of creatures around the world, celebrating the varied nature of life.

The book is filled with facts, including a section at the back that offers even deeper information on each class of animal. Far more than just basic types of animals are explored here and young readers will learn new terms for animals like worms, crabs and insects. This very readable book is accompanied by illustrations that show how different these creatures are, from those under the sea to creatures who mature through various stages to those that fly.

An approachable book that offers lots of information in a very flexible and light way. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (9781626722446)

This book is a dynamic mix of graphic novel, nonfiction and picture book. It’s the story of the Big Bang and how earth came to be and how life started here. From the initial explosion, the book quickly moves to life on earth, using comic panels to great effect to show various lifeform stages. Dinosaurs emerge and life flourishes until the meteor strike. Still, some life survives and mammals and evolution lead to humans. The book has many answers but still ends with the ultimate question of where that first dot came from.

A great look at the science of the Big Bang and evolution for small children, this is a cleverly designed book. The book remains firmly nonfiction, nicely describing what is happening in short texts. The book also offers a timeline at the end that shows the Big Bang through current day. The illustrations have a gentle whimsy to them that makes the book inviting. A bright color palette of yellows, greens and oranges adds to the dynamic subject. A winner of a read. Appropriate for ages 4-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by First Second.)

Review: Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri

Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri

Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri (9780763698980)

Explore the changing seasons through this exceptional book. With text that focuses on the various aspects of each season, this book invites you to look more closely at nature and the small events that take place. There is nest building in the spring, caterpillars turning into butterflies, and blossoms emerging. In the summer, swallows fly, the meadow grows, crickets chirp, bees buzz, green leaves emerge. The autumn arrives with leaves turning color, berries and nuts, geese flying south. In the winter, hibernation starts and branches turn bare.

The text of this book is filled with facts yet at the same time offer a sense of wonder at what is happening at nature around us. These small glimpses of nature form a larger image of the natural world for young readers.

As good as the text is though, it is nothing compared to the illustrations of this book. Uniquely designed out of pressed flowers and leaves, they are mesmerizing and achingly lovely. The larger animals are spectacular in their delicate beauty and so are the smaller animals and plants. Throughout there is a grace of line and delight. An organic look at nature in all of its beauty. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 New Picture Books Bringing History to Life

All That Trash The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy (9781481477529)

In 1987, when a New York landfill was almost out of room, Lowell Harrelson decided to take the trash and move it far away using a barge. His plan was to use the garbage to create methane gas that would be turned into electricity in North Carolina. But the garbage barge never made it to North Carolina, when the state got a court order to stop the barge. The barge was also not welcome in Alabama or Louisiana. It eventually made its way into the Gulf of Mexico and tried to enter Mexico, but that country refused it entry as well. Eventually, the barge returned to waters near New York, prepared to return the garbage to where it had come from. But even that was not simple. Finally, after five months at sea and traveling over 6,000 miles, the garbage was incinerated on order by a judge.

McCarthy nicely plays up two aspects of the story of the garbage barge, the ludicrous nature of the barge being stuck at sea for months and the environmental impact of the trash that humans create. She uses a light tone and light touch in her writing, making it accessible for children who will not have heard of the barge before. She also offers more details at the end of the book, explaining how the crew survived on the barge for so long and offering facts about the barge. She also has recycling facts, garbage facts, and information on ocean garbage in particular. A bibliography is also attached.

Part of the light tone of the book are the illustrations which feature McCarthy’s signature bug-eyed characters. She incorporates speech bubbles and larger images to effectively break up the text into readable chunks.

A funny and amazing true story of the garbage barge that captured the attention of everyone in 1987. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes (9781419728396)

At the age of 67, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike all 2160 miles of the Appalachian Trail alone. She was also the first person to complete the trail three times. In this picture book, readers follow her along on her historic trek. With accompanying maps, the journey is filled with nature, rocks and streams. There are encounters with bears, plenty of rain, and many pairs of ruined shoes.

The book takes a warm look at her accomplishments, showing exactly why she was drawn to walk the trail, the beauty she found there and the peace she discovered along the way. The illustrations are playful and bright, focusing on the landscape and the journey often with Gatewood a small figure amongst nature and other times showing her right at the center. A wonderful book about an inspiring figure who journeyed through life in her own unique way. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.)

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780544704527)

Told from the point of view of a child participating in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963, this picture book uses verse to take children back in history. Starting with Dr. Martin Luther King speaking to their congregation, the book shows why it was necessary for children to march, since adults would lose their jobs. The picture book shows how frightened the children were to march but also how very brave they were to overcome those fears and continue. As children were jailed for their actions, the protests continued. When the rest of America saw children being knocked down by fire hoses, even the President took notice and soon change came and children brought that change!

This is a powerful look at the importance of standing up and protesting when things are wrong in our society. While it is about an event in the Civil Rights struggle, it resonates with today’s marches for Black Lives Matter and other causes such as immigration rights. The importance of the Children’s Crusade is explored in the afterword as well. The verse of the book has a quiet but firm tone, telling the tale and letting the courage of the children stand. The illustrations focus both on the crowd of children but also on the faces of individuals and their willingness to stand strong and march together.

An important read about a protest that must never be forgotten. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 New Picture Books about Nature

All the Animals Where I Live by Philip C. Stead

All the Animals Where I Live by Philip C. Stead (9781626726567)

Stead has created another picture book that invites you into his everyday world. Filled with stories of a bear chased off my an elderly woman and a teddy bear that Stead has had his entire life, stories of maple-syrup scented blankets, a dog named Wednesday, loud cranes, a falling turtle, and much more.

There is a beautiful simplicity to the book, one that slows the reader down to look out their own windows and think about the animals that live near them. The illustrations are simple too, washed with colors that suit the season and time of day, they move from yellows to blues to the oranges of autumn and to the ethereal greens of winter. A quiet and marvelous picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw_ms Gyetxw

The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett David Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (9781553791395)

This picture book combines biology with a storytelling feel to create a very special tale. It is the story of sockeye salmon. From their time as a small fry just losing their yolk sac through to adult sockeye returning to their birthplace to spawn before they die. The picture book is also about the Gitxsan people of the Pacific Northwest and their connection to the river and the salmon. The book looks at the various stages of the live of the salmon and offers scientific information about them, the bears, environmental impact of humans, and much more.

The book is deep and lovely, the tone unique and lush. Seasons are captured in words but also in the senses. The scent of pine and cedar, the replacing of old snow with new snow, the run of water in the river, all fill this book with elements of the Pacific Northwest. The illustrations are large and mostly focused on the river and the salmon. Even the smoke from a fire flows across the dark sky like the river flows on other pages. A picture book written and illustrated to honor the Xsan river and the animals and humans who depend on it. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre

Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre (9780062697349)

Sayre provides a love letter to the Earth in this picture book. With a reverential tone and gentle rhymes, the book swoops the reader up on a photographic journey around Earth with all of its wonders. Thank yous go out for mountains, water, air and trees. Then the book moves to smaller things like patterns, sounds, seasons and plants. The book once again widens to look at the beauty of the sky and the amazement of lifetimes.

Embracing and filled with just the right tone of enthusiasm, this picture book is celebratory and filled with big thoughts that children will find mesmerizing. The photographic illustrations are varied and filled with color, mists, water, stone and more. A diverse look at life on earth and our privilege to be here. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 New and Wild Picture Books

Animal Babies by Charles Fuge

Animal Babies by Charles Fuge (9781633225480)

Told in rollicking rhyme, this picture book is filled with charm. Each of the illustrations has bright-eyed baby animals who are captivating as the pages turn. There are ducklings all in a line following a baby chimpanzee. A baby elephant holds onto the little horn of a baby rhino. The story moves through different habitats, visiting arctic and desert climates. Through it all, the rhyming keeps the story focused and tight and the illustrations add real appeal. The young animals are  often shown with parents caring for them, like the joey in his mother’s pouch and sloths and bats hanging upside down with their respective parent. The book ends with a heap of snoozing animals, so this would also make a great bedtime story. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by MoonDance Press and Edelweiss.)

Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel

Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel (9781452150147)

The author of the Caldecott Honor Book, They All Saw a Cat, returns with a new book about animals.The book moves from black-and-white animals to colorful ones, each animal at the end of one page skillfully leading into the next, visually tying the categories together. The book is a visual treat; the animals are large and graphic. The text reads like poetry, easing from one concept to the next, the animals demonstrating that concept. Towards the end of the book, the experience is more fluid and friendly, the animals similar in certain aspects though the text stops pointing it out. This is a great book to invite discussion and more exploration of how the animals are similar and different.

The text is simple and the art has goggle-eyed animals that are approachable and that celebrate the animals they depict. The book ends by explaining that many of the animals shown are endangered and then offers a list of the animals so that children can explore more about them. Inviting, fresh and friendly, this picture book is exceptional thanks to its art. Appropriate for ages 2-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

The Truth about Hippos by Maxwell Eaton III

The Truth about Hippos by Maxwell Eaton III (9781626726673)

Eaton turns his signature humor on hippopotamuses this time. He shares information on the two kinds of hippos: common and pygmy. Little signs along the way add more facts and much of the humor is in the commentary made in speech bubbles by the various characters. Eaton adds a little drama with a lost baby pygmy hippo looking for his mother. The illustrations are bold and bright, inviting readers in to explore the world of hippos and stay thanks to the humor and light tone of the book. Filled with information that is easily understood by children, such as using a book as the example of how wide a hippo’s mouth opens compared to a human’s. The book is intelligent and wittily crafted, making it just the right book for young children to learn about an animal. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Hidden City by Sarah Grace Tuttle

Hidden City by Sarah Grace Tuttle

Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife by Sarah Grace Tuttle, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (9780802854599)

In a series of poems, this book celebrates nature in an urban setting, showing how wildlife continues to thrive. Mice and dandelions start the book, then it reaches farther to moss, mushrooms, and several kinds of birds. Slugs, ants and worms too have poems dedicated to them. The book moves gracefully through the seasons as well, moving to autumn and into winter as the book concludes. With even the smallest creatures celebrated here, there is a poem for everyone whether you like ladybugs, raccoons or owls.

Tuttle’s poems are short and very accessible. They offer brief glimpses into the lives of animals, birds, insects and plants thriving in the city setting. There is a quiet to most of the poems that shows how things continue to grow and live in parks, alleys and outside of the bustle of the city for the most part. The illustrations are bright and poetic too, capturing the green spaces of the city, the movement and each of the animals featured in the poetry.

A winning collection for children from both city and country. Appropriate for ages 6-8. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans.)

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright, illustrated by Nina Crews (9781512498622)

Nina Crews has selected some of Richard Wright’s haiku about his childhood and created an inviting picture book out of them. The haiku focus on the seasons, the outdoors and universal childhood experiences. There are winding dirt roads, yellow kites, blue skies, rainy days, trees and insects. Each haiku is a small window into simple childhood joys and moments that are more meaningful than one might think. They invite us all to slow down, dream a bit and enjoy the nature around us.

Crews adds modern zing to these poems with her photography. Using a series of photographs that fit together into a whole, they are layered and fascinating. African-American children are forefront in the images that then branch and reach across the page, paving the pages with hope and wonder.

A dynamic look at one of the top African-American poets of the 21st century, this book of poetry is a celebration. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Millbrook Press.

3 New Picture Books to Explore Together

Here We Are Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (9780399167898)

With a gentle tone and a comprehensive eye, Jeffers welcomes someone newly born to our planet. He does a quick tour, whisking past the land, the sea and the sky. He mentions being careful of your body, since the part don’t just grow back. Jeffers celebrates life on earth in all of its diversity, both human and animal. There is night and day, slow and fast. The book ends with a message to share the earth with others, since there is enough for everyone. It is the tone of this picture book that is particularly effective. Jeffers embraces the contradictions of our world, the beauty of life, and the spectacular nature around us. His illustrations show the vastness of the universe and the wonder of our planet. Meant for older children who will enjoy the tone and the joy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks

How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (9780374335083)

Cloudy days are the best days to look for elephants. You will need to head into the wild, so make sure to pack some food and supplies like a flute, blanket and binoculars. You will need to enter the jungle and search. Look for footprints, but don’t expect to hear footsteps. Ask at any houses you find, drink at waterholes and take shelter from rain under large leaves. Have lunch, swing with a chimpanzee and fly with an eagle. You will probably find an elephant when you least expect it, so keep your eyes open! This picture book is written with lovely details that invite young readers and listeners deep into the story. There is a sense of adventure throughout, particularly due to the illustrations that cleverly hide elephants on each page. Sharp-eyed children will suddenly glimpse them and you may need to go back and find any that they may have missed. Beautifully illustrated, this book makes a great read-aloud but make sure that everyone can see the images up close. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.)

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon (9781626723498)

George Laurent is not like other birds. He doesn’t go anywhere, not flying south or north, just staying at home. He always had something delicious cooking in his oven and the other birds would come and visit. They would invite him on their next adventure, but George would always decline and have some kind of excuse. When winter arrived, George met Pascal, a bear, out in the cold. George tries a series of excuses to explain why he is still there and then finally admits that he doesn’t know how to fly. Pascal decides to try to help George learn but they keep failing. Then they discover the hot air balloon that just went up in France. Can a goose who loves staying home love to travel too? This picture book balances a strong story line with simple text that is very inviting for young children. The book is fast paced and yet tells a deeper story of being ashamed of not knowing how to do something and how friendship can create new opportunities to learn and grow. The illustrations are a warm mix of watercolor, pencil, crayon and collage. The collage offers vintage papers that add an additional level of interest and flair. A great book to offer alongside others about learning to fly. This one just takes a very different route! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)