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.
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López (InfoSoup)
Based on the true story of the colorful transformation of the East Village neighborhood in San Diego, California, this picture book shows how art can impact quality of life. Mira is a little girl who loves to create art. She lives in a gray city where she tries to share her art and change things, but her art is too little to make big changes. Then she meets a man who is creating huge murals and who allows Mira to help him. Soon other neighbors are helping and colors begin to fill the streets, creating a close-knit neighborhood.
There is a sense of joy and hope throughout this picture book, led by little Mira, a girl with the heart of an artist from the very start of the book. Just sharing her art with her neighbors is an act of artistic courage that sets the tone for the rest of the story. The text is accented by “Bams!” and “Pows” that add to the dynamic tone. Everything here is filled with creative energy and a cheery tone.
López’s art shows the gray concrete city and then imposes Mira and her own colorful attitude against it. The paint splashes on the page and also creates vibrant rainbows of swirling colors that dance on the page. The diverse neighborhood is captured with a richness that is captivating. As color fills the page, it fills the neighborhood too.
A brilliant testament to the power of art and the way it can transform a life and a neighborhood. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Edmond, The Moonlit Party by Astrid Desbordes, illustrated by Marc Boutavant (InfoSoup)
Edmond, the squirrel, lives in a chestnut tree and hardly ever goes out. He spends his time making nut jam, reading stories, and making pompoms. George Owl lives in the tree above Edmond. He spends his time out and about, gathering items to create his amazing costumes. Harry, the bear, lives in the bottom part of the same chestnut tree. He loves to throw parties and was just planning his upcoming one. It would have a nothing tart, very mysterious, and would encourage people to wear costumes. Edmond longed to go to a party in the tree, but never had. So when George smells Edmond’s latest batch of nut jam as the party gets started, George encourages him to attend even if he doesn’t have a costume to wear. Soon Edmond is at the party, dancing and having a great time and he decides that parties suit him just fine after all.
This French import is a radiant read. The three different residents of the tree all have distinct personalities. Edmond is lonely and looking for connections, George enjoys disguises and Harry is rather distracted in the midst of his party planning. It all turns out for the best as the three neighbors get to know one another, or at least Harry and Edmond to, since George is dressed in a very realistic seagull costume. The text here is lush and gives insight into each character, making the book more appropriate for older preschoolers and children already starting school.
Boutavant’s illustrations have a seventies vibe. Done in the flat bright colors of that time, the illustrations have lots of details to explore and offer real glimpses into the lives of the three denizens of the tree. The bright colors vibrate on the page, brilliant blues, reds and yellows are used as background colors and add a lot of energy to the story.
An exploration of neighbors and being yourself, this picture book is cheery and vibrant. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Goodnight, Already! by Jory John and Benji Davies
Bear is so very tired, all he wants to do is go to sleep. But his next door neighbor, Duck, feels exactly the opposite and has never felt more awake as he reads a book on staying awake and drinks a pot of coffee. As Bear climbs into bed and pulls up his blanket, ready to snooze, Duck comes over for a visit. Duck offers all sorts of ideas of what they could do together, but all Bear wants to do is sleep. Just when Bear is again about to fall asleep, Duck returns with a new idea to bake something. But Bear once again sends him on his way. When Duck comes in for a third time, Bear has had enough! The evening though has time for one final ironic twist by the end of the book, one that will get readers giggling.
John captures both the very essence of being tired and wanting nothing more than to sleep and the zany energy that comes with insomnia. It is that dynamic being thrust together in this picture book that leads to the hilarity. It also helps that John has impeccable comic timing throughout the book, using repeating themes to really make the scenes pop. The pace switches from one character to the next beautifully, the dozy slow of Bear and the yapping zing of Duck.
Davies’ illustrations capture the same shifts in energy and pace. Duck’s entire home is bright yellow while Bear is surrounded by sleepy blues. The silly additions of coffee and a book to stay awake make the situation even funnier. The illustrations are deceptively simple, making this a very approachable book for children, one that conveys its humor right from the cover.
Perfect for kids who both love bedtime and hate it, as well as for their sleepy parents. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Neighbor Is a Dog by Isabel Minhos Martins, illustrated by Madalena Matoso
Originally published in Portugal, this book is a charming import. It is the story of a young girl who gets a new neighbor who just happens to be a dog. The dog is very friendly and kind, but the girl’s parents are not impressed, thinking that he would quickly start acting like the dog he was. Soon after that, more new neighbors arrived, this time a pair of elephants. The girl’s parents complained about them too, but the girl thought they were very nice. Finally, a crocodile moved in. That proved to be too much for her parents and they moved away. But before they did, the little girl finds out that her parents are considered the odd ones in the neighborhood. The final clever twist at the end shows exactly why.
Martins writing is just as vibrant as the bold illustrations. She tells the story with wonderful little touches like the elephants helping with washing cars and the crocodile giving purses and shoes as Christmas gifts. All of these details add to the world that she cleverly building and that wonderful surprise twist at the end. Done in vibrant colors, the illustrations are created in hot pinks, deep blues and bright reds. It is a modern world, with the pop colors adding to that feel.
A look at acceptance and diversity through the eyes of a child, this book will speak to all children about preconceptions and tolerance. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Waterloo & Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec
Released October 22, 2012.
In this wordless picture book, two men watch one another over neighboring walls, separated only by a thin line of grass dotted with flowers. Both sides of the wall are very similar, both men have spyglasses, drinks and umbrellas. Their days are filled with boredom and suspicion, broken only by the appearance of a snail who visits them both and moments where they bother one another with music and loud noises. It isn’t until a bird arrives and lays an egg that hatches and runs away that the truth of the conflict is revealed. Tallec has managed in no words at all to show the fallacy of conflict and the way to peace.
Tallec uses humor here to bridge any divide. It is mostly physical humor that will have children laughing, successfully mocking the conflict without any words at all. The snail is a particularly inspired piece of humor that is sure to surprise and please. So much of this book is about the surprises that life brings with the ending of the book providing the biggest and best surprise of all. There is a great playfulness that invites readers into this serious situation to a degree that without it would not have been possible. The wordless nature of the book also makes it particularly suited to a subject of crossing barriers. I can see using this with people who speak different languages, allowing a depth of discussion that would be unusual with other wordless books.
This book is outstanding. It speaks to peace without any preaching, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. It is a striking and vibrant example of what can be achieved with no words at all. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.