An Ordinary Day by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic (9781481472623)
It was an ordinary day in an ordinary neighborhood, but two of the houses across the street were unusually quiet. A car pulled up to each of the houses. A doctor got out of each of the cars and each entered a different house. Outside, life in the neighborhood continued to be ordinary. Inside though, it was different. In the house on the left, a golden retriever was on a bed surrounded by her family. Soft music played. In the house on the right, a woman rested on a bed with her family around her and soft music playing. Both doctors say “She is ready” and start to help. One family says goodbye to a beloved pet while another greets a new member of their family. All part of an ordinary and extraordinary day.
This is a gentle and quiet book that looks deeply at both tragic and joyous moments in our regular everyday lives. The pairing of the two together is what makes this book truly sing. The two stories dance together, moving in concert with one another until they diverge in major and minor keys. Arnold’s writing is steady and strong, offering a foundation for these large emotions to build upon. Yet she also soars as appropriate with the moment.
Vukovic’s illustrations are light and airy, almost ready to float off the page. Done in charcoal, pastel, watercolor, ink and digitally, the art is filled with soft colors that mist and cloud across the page. The diverse neighborhood shines here, on an ordinary day.
Beautifully illustrated and written, this quiet book about death and life is a gem. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
From My Window by Otavio Junior, illustrated by Vanina Starkoff, translated by Beatriz C. Dias (9781782859772)
Visit a beautiful favela district in Brazil via this bright picture book. A favela is an area in Brazil that is not managed by the government but by the people who live there. Because of this, water and electricity can be difficult to access. From their high vantage point of a window, the narrator can see throughout their favela. They see roofs and windows and people. Sometimes the people are using water to get cooler. At night the lights dim that fireflies appear on the paths. Grey days are brightened with occasional rainbows. Sometimes the air is full of music and poetry, other times the sounds of sadness come. Rain falls, children head to school, and the favela bustles with activity.
Originally published in Brazil, Junior writes of his own home in a favela in this picture book. He plays with themes of dreams and treasure, but also keeps the book firmly grounded in reality. His clear vision of both joy and sadness in the crowded and busy neighborhood keeps the book from being too light, grounding it in the occasional gray day and leaking roofs.
Starkoff’s illustrations are done in acrylic using tropical colors of bright yellows, pinks, greens and blues. The illustrations show so many different types of people, all enjoying the neighborhood together. The images that pull back and show the full favela are incredibly detailed and worth looking at closely.
A dynamic look at a unique type of Brazilian community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Barefoot Books.
A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim (9781541538368)
Released on October 1, 2019.
A Hmong girl moves into a new home in this picture book that celebrates community. The house had a swing and a garden full of melons and beans. Inside, the family hung the story cloth about how the Hmong came to America. Ruth and Bob, were two elderly neighbors who had a special bench they sat on. They waved to the girl and her family, and they were even older than the girl’s grandmother, Tais Tais. After her mother had her two little baby brothers, the little girl wanted to escape the crying sometimes, so she headed outside. In fall, the trees lost their leaves and the neighbor worked outside to rake them up. In the winter, no one sat outside anymore and no one waved. Then one day, the girl found out that Ruth had died. As spring arrived, they began work in the garden and saw Bob outside alone. That’s when the girl has an idea about how to show Bob that she cares.
There is a beautiful delicacy to this entire book from the fine-lined illustrations to the skillful balancing of seasons changing, new babies and someone passing. Yang invites readers into a Hmong family, showing elements such as story cloths and multiple generations of families living together. The friendly way of welcoming people to a neighborhood but also not intruding is shown here as well as how seasons in the Midwest connect everyone together in a shared experience of beauty and weather.
Kim’s illustrations embrace the natural world, showing the changing seasons with color and using grass and trees to depict a neighborhood and a home. When the little girl at the end of the book draws images on the sidewalk, there is a direct connection to the story cloth, showing a map of life that is universal but also specific to a Hmong tradition.
Deeply humane and community oriented. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.
The Neighbors by Einat Tsarfati (9781419731686)
A little girl with a big imagination lives in a seven-story building. On her way up to the seventh floor, where she lives, she imagines who lives behind each of the other doors. Each floor has a different door with things outside that give her clues to the type of family or person who might live there. She imagines that the door with many locks and lots of security leads to a family of thieves. Another door with lots of plants outside opens to a jungle lived in by an old explorer and his pet tiger. As she climbs higher, her imagination gets wilder, filling the apartments with vampires, pirates and mermaids. Her home is the most mundane, or is it?
Told in first person by the little girl, this book builds off of a straightforward concept and into a world of make-believe. The text is simple, steadily counting upwards as the girl ascends the stairs. The girl’s imagination is vivid and captivating with much of it being shown in the illustrations rather than being told in the text.
The illustrations are done in bright colors, moving from the white backgrounds of the stairway and hall to bright colors that each imaginative family lives inside. Their apartments are filled with details that are worth lingering over too.
A very enjoyable look at living in an apartment building and using one’s imagination. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.
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.
Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Red Koehler
Three children are up in their treehouse in the dark with a flashlight. As the flashlight beam breaks the night, it reveals an adventure. The children head into a woods, through a tomb, on to a pirate shore. There are sword battles, a grabby giant squid, and finally an escape. Then they are back in their treehouse, sharing a good book by flashlight. The text quietly builds the space for the illustrations that fill the page with discoveries by the handheld light. Throughout, there is a feeling of wonder, of the light revealing things that may or may not be there. The illustrations are exceptional, showing the joy of flashlights in the dark and the power of imaginations at play. Perfect to read with flashlights and then head outside for your own adventures. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Lines by Suzy Lee (9781452156651)
A lone ice skater skates past leaving swirling lines on the ice. There are curls and tight spirals and loose curves that feel like music on the page. In her red hat and mittens, the ice skater fills the page with her patterns. Then she falls to the ground and suddenly the page is crumpled up by the artist in frustration. Unfolded again, the page is wrinkled and smudged. But soon more skaters are joining in and the crumpled page becomes a pond filled with people enjoying the ice. Lee once again creates a beautifully simple book that speaks to nature, beauty and quiet. The use of the pulling back and having the artist crumple the page breaks the fourth wall and then turns the picture book into something even more interesting and fresh. This picture book is beautifully designed and very clever. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy supplied by Chronicle Books.)
Windows by Julia Denos (9780763690359)
Windows light up as night falls in this picture book that takes readers outside to explore a neighborhood. A boy heads out to walk the dog as night falls, able to see into others’ homes as he passes by. He can see people eating, partying, watching TV. He glimpses a cat and a raccoon. Some windows are dark, some houses are entirely dark. Then those are left to his imagination. Soon he returns back home to his own glowing window where his mother waits for him. There is a lovely quiet to this book, a pleasure in being outside at sunset, the sky lit with colors as the buildings turn dark with windows alight. The illustrations are beautiful, lit by the reds of the sky and the darkness growing with each turn of the page. Time for a flashlight walk in your neighborhood! Appropriate for ages 4-6. (ARC provided by Candlewick Press.)
The One Day House by Julia Durango, illustrated by Bianca Diaz (9781580897099, Amazon)
Released August 15, 2017.
Wilson wishes that one day he will be able to help Gigi in many ways. He says that one day he will paint her house yellow like the sun, but Gigi assures him that he is all the sunshine she needs. Wilson wants to build a fence for her yard, fix her stairs so she can climb them again, fix her piano so it can be played once more. He wants to create a garden for her and fix her roof. There are so many things to fix and Wilson can’t do them by himself. Luckily though, Wilson asks for help and the community turns out to help Gigi and have Wilson’s wishes for her come true.
Inspired by an action day in the community the author lives in, this book shows the power of community to help the elderly and those with disabilities live in safe and functional homes. Details on this sort of community involvement is offered in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. The young character in the book discovers the program at the beginning and has to wait several months and seasons for the help to come. There is no quick fix here, it’s people coming together to make a difference.
The illustrations are rich and bright, showing Wilson’s own art as well as depicting the friendship between young and old vividly. Done in watercolor, gouache and acrylic, the art is filled with the bright colors of an urban setting, lit by a sunlit sky.
A call to communities to come together, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
The Forever Garden by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill (9780553512731, Amazon)
Laurel lives next door to Honey. Honey has a large garden and she is always out working it it, rain or shine. Honey weeds the garden, shares carrots and tomatoes in the morning, offers up eggs to neighbors from her chickens, and on nice evenings has cookies after dinner that she shares with Laurel as the fireflies come out. But one day, a for sale sign is up at Honey’s house and she is moving away. Laurel is very sad and wonders at Honey continuing to plant things that she won’t be around to enjoy. The two plant an apple tree together and Laurel puts up a sign. Soon another family moves into Honey’s house and Laurel shows the children how to take care of Honey’s garden using all the skills that Honey showed her day after day.
Snyder has created a very rich picture book here that will work for even very young children. She explores the wonder of both gardening and friendships in this picture book with muddy knees bringing people together. Snyder never loses sight of her young audience here, keeping the language simple and the story tightly written. It’s a picture book that has a full, robust story that will lead to discussions and perhaps some singing to kale.
Cotterill’s illustrations are wonderful, fully embracing the joy of gardening in all weather and the wonder of the outdoors. Done in pen and ink, they were colored digitally in a style that evokes watercolors. They are filled with small details that show the garden and the care and time Honey puts into it.
A warm book about neighborhoods, caring adults and the connections forged over gardens, this picture book is a great addition to springtime stories. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.
Noisy Night by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Brian Biggs (9781596439672, Amazon)
It’s quite a loud evening in the apartment building. People on each floor can hear what’s happening on the floor above them. The person on each floor hears a strange noise, wonders what it is and the illustrations give a hint as well. Each of the noises rhymes with the others, building the feeling the illustrations give of climbing higher and higher up the stories of the structure. There is a great energy about the book
There is a great energy about the book with the climbing of the heights. It’s added to by the rhymes and rhythms of the book, a strong structure for the story and one that creates a book that grows and builds. The ending is perfection, the timing throughout just right and the humor bold and delightful.
The illustrations have a wild zaniness that works perfectly with the story. There’s a subtle vintage feel to them in the patterns used in the setting but the bold colors are clearly modern and add to the energy of the tale.
This book begs to be shared aloud and children will guess what is making the next noise. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.