Everybody in the red brick building was sleeping until Baby Izzie howled in her crib. That set off a chain reaction that got lots of people in the building awake. Rayhan tried to quietly check on his parrot, who shouted to Wake up! The boys sleeping outside got into a game of flashlight tag. Natalia set off her light-up rocket. And the noise kept growing with a car alarm too. Then quiet returned with the street sweeper going by, acorns plonking down, windchimes, and Izzie getting snuggles. Finally, everyone in the red brick building was asleep – again.
Wynter takes a classic children’s story structure and brings the noises to a full cacophony before returning the building steadily to quiet again. The book is a great mixture of wildness in the middle of the night and then quieting to fall asleep, making it a great book to get restless children to bed. The text is filled with repeating loud noises that children will enjoy joining in to help make them even louder. As the book quiets down, the sounds become soft and gentle while staying just as enjoyable as before.
Mora’s illustrations are done in colorful paper collage that show the diverse community that lives in the red brick building together. The colors take the deep blue of night to the orange warmth of indoors to teals, lavenders, and yellows. The colors are engaging, making each page turn a new room of its own. The illustrations are just as dynamic as the book, and that is certainly saying something!
A great read-aloud bedtime book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
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.
One January morning, Samuel’s mother mentioned that she wished they had a cow. His father smiled, took his best knife, and invited Samuel to come along to find a cow for his mother. So the two headed out into the cold and snow. At the Snow’s place, they traded the knife for two tin lanterns. Samuel got to play with their dog a bit too. At the Perry’s house they traded the lanterns for a book of poetry. Samuel got to visit some kittens in the barn and got a doughnut too. They traded the book to Widow Mitchell for a pitcher, then the pitcher for a sheep when Dr. Fulton went by. At the general store, the sheep was traded for a pocket watch after Samuel struggled to get it into the pen. He was glad they weren’t keeping the sheep! The pocket watch was traded for a pony and cart. With the storm brewing and night coming on, they almost stopped, but decided to keep trying for a cow. Soon Samuel was picking out a cow in trade for the pony and cart, and he got to choose something else besides!
Schmidt fills this simple story of trading with neighbors with so many small details that the entire small community is populated with characters. Each has a reason for needing to make the trade and often a treat for Samuel along the way. While the road is long and cold, it is also filled with a merry sense of community and shared responsibility. When Samuel makes the hard choice to not keep the little pony and cart, he is rewarded with more than a stubborn sheep for his sacrifice.
Yelchin’s illustrations are done in full-color in this chapter book. They show Samuel meeting each animal along his travels, each animal (except the sheep) one that he longs to keep with him. The illustrations have a marvelous old-fashioned, country quality to them.
A great wintry chapter book with lots of animals and a series of marvelous smart trades. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Khalil and his family moved into a new house with two floors. They lived on the top floor and Mr. Hagerty lived downstairs. Khalil’s family was loud while Mr. Hagerty was quiet. Both Khalil and Mr. Hagerty loved the backyard. Mr. Hagerty gardened there while Khalil looked for bugs and rocks. On a hot day in the summer, the two of them had a disappointing day where the carrots were small and shriveled and the ground was too hard to dig for treasure. They took a refreshment break in Mr. Hagerty’s place, sharing chocolate cake and cold milk. Later, both of them had an idea. The next day was much better when Mr. Hagerty found big carrots in his garden and Khalil found buried treasures! It called for more shared cake!
Springstubb shows how two very different people: quiet and loud, old and young, different races, can form a friendship that builds slowly and steadily over time. She keeps her story very focused, allowing many of the details to be shown in the illustrations rather than told in the text. The characters first bond over helping one another with words, which grows into something quite special. It’s that initial acceptance, the creation of a shared space of the backyard, that makes this book work so naturally.
Taherian’s illustrations are done in collage with oil and colored pencil. They have a great depth to them, the layers of the collage offering a real backyard to explore alongside the characters. The colors are vivid and glow with the summer heat and sun.
A lively look at emerging friendship and what it means to be neighbors. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.
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 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.
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.
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.