Bodega Cat by Louie Chin (9781576879320)
Explore the life of a New York City bodega cat in this picture book. Chip is the cat who lives in the Matos family’s bodega. He keeps an eye on everything from the breakfast rush, where he knows everyone’s orders, to the stock on the shelves, that he loves to hide and sleep in. He helps with deliveries too. In the evening when Damian comes home, they play superheroes together, dashing through the neighborhood along with the cat from the grocery store across the street. Dinnertime comes with a Dominican meal shared with neighbors and friends. The bodega never closes, so Chip’s job never ends!
Chin, a native New Yorker, pays homage to his city through the lens of the importance of bodegas and small grocery stores in neighborhoods throughout the city. He cleverly uses the iconic bodega cat as the perspective from which to view the store. Chip is a delight of a character, offering pride, a knowledge of his neighborhood, and a dedication to the people they serve.
The illustrations are done in a comic-book style that works particularly well. They are bright, busy and filled with the bustle of a store. Chip himself hides around the store, offers help, and is in the midst of everything.
A great book about a vital part of New York City. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, illustrated by George Ermos (9781454932116)
This nonfiction picture book offers a guide to planning your dead pet’s backyard funeral. It is entirely practical, offering the first step as actually having something dead. With a mix of humor and heartfelt connection to grief and loss, the book offers real ideas for what to bury the creature in, what other items that creature might like in their grave with them, and even what sorts of stories to share at the funeral with everyone. The book ends with thoughts of visiting the grave when you need to and then feeling able to move on when it’s the right time for that.
The author offers real empathy for children who have lost a pet, making sure that they feel free to express their feelings along the way and share their experiences. However, she also creates humorous moments throughout the book to make sure that it never becomes oppressively sad or morose. It’s a very readable and remarkably enjoyable guide to funerals. The art by Ermos helps with the mix of light tone and dark subject too, giving glimpses of the skeletons under ground as well as the delight of flowers and ideas for animals too large to bury.
Funny and frank, this funeral guide is just what we all need. Appropriate for ages 6-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
Small in the City by Sydney Smith (9780823442614)
When you are small and along in the city, it can be very frightening. A child who knows how to navigate the streets offers some advice even though they can find the city a bit overwhelming too. Alleys make great shortcuts. Dryer vents can offer warmth. Avoid the big dogs that fight. The child hangs posters as they make their way through the city and the falling snow, identifying a place to sit together and options for hiding up high. It’s perfect advice for a lot cat who also could just come back home.
Set in an urban setting with street cars and a maze of lights, streets and sounds, this picture book skillfully captures the confusion of the city. As the child moves through the space with confidence, readers will learn more about both the kid and their city along the way. Readers at first may think that the child is homeless or running away. It takes a little while for their lost pet to be revealed to the reader.
Smith’s illustrations create a fascinating mix of the bustle of urban life but also the quiet of snowfall, the beauty of an empty park, and the small areas of a city just right for a little cat to survive. The images bring a contemplative tone to the book, giving space and opportunity to breathe and feel deeply.
A stellar picture book that reveals the heart of the city and the heart of a child. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mr. Scruff by Simon James (9781536209358)
Explore the bond of dogs and their owners in this funny picture book. All of the dogs’ names rhyme with their owners. There is Polly and Molly. Eric belongs to Derek. But Mr. Scruff, well he has no one. He’s in a cage waiting to be adopted. Mick has Rick. There is Lawrence and Florence. When Jim comes to pick a dog, he likes Mr. Scruff and Mr. Scruff likes him too! But Mr. Scruff is big and Jim is small. Mr. Scruff is old and Jim is young. None of that matters though to a boy and his new dog. But wait, who is this entering the dog adoption center? It’s Mr. Gruff! What will happen now?
James keeps this picture book oh so simple. He fills it with a collection of dogs and their owners. And yes, everyone’s names rhyme which makes it a galloping read. There are wonderful moments of hesitation built into the text, where the lack of rhyme gives room to pause and wonder a bit. Masterful and playful. The watercolor illustrations have loose lines and are filled with dogs of all breeds. There is a sense of loneliness in the adoption center, but not neglect at all.
This one rhymes its way into your heart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Spencer’s New Pet by Jessie Sima (9781534418776
A boy leaves a circus tent with a pet dog made from a red balloon. The dog walks on a leash, does tricks, and begs for treats. The two read books and sleep together, the dog snuggled under the covers. When they head to the vet, the boy notices a sharp quill on a hedgehog in the waiting room and quickly moves away. The boy and dog head to the park where the dog plays with the other dogs, chasing a Frisbee, but they leave when the boy notices the sharp teeth of a large dog. The wind catches the dog, carrying him through the park and into a birthday party. The party is full of potential threats to a balloon, like burning candles and the pinata. When the dog gets lost in with other balloon animals though, the boy stops paying attention to sharp things. And that’s when the book gets all the more interesting!
Sima has created a book where one thinks they know what the story is, but it is something else entirely. The joy of discovering the real story will make readers demand to hear the book again and explore that new story fully. Sima’s book is wordless, the images done in grays and blacks with the red balloon dog serving as the only color on the page. There is a grand sense of drama throughout, as readers see the dangers alongside the boy.
Clever and with an ending that reinvents the entire book, this one is amazing. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
I Want a Dog by Jon Agee (9780525555469)
A little girl heads to the Happydale Animal Shelter to get a dog. The man there agrees that a dog makes an excellent pet, but keeps on offering the girl different animals. Perhaps an awesome anteater? A python? A baboon? Maybe a frog that barks and hides bones? Except frogs can’t do that. How about a lizard dressed up as a dog? It turns out that Happydale Animal Shelter doesn’t have a dog, so the man asks the girl why she wants a dog. Based on her list, he offers her a seal. And you know what? It’s just the right pet for her.
Agee has such a great way of incorporating the surreal with the normal in his books. In this one, we have the normal process of adopting a pet entirely sidetracked with wild animals that would make horrible pets. Readers will love seeing each of the interesting animals and not knowing what is coming next. Agee merrily breaks his series of animals with a dead goldfish and then with the final twist of the seal as the right pet. Agee’s art is his signature watercolor with thick black lines and subdued colors.
A great pick for dog storytimes, even if it doesn’t actually have a dog. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Ghost Cat by Kevan Atteberry (9780823442836)
A little boy thinks that he sees a ghost cat out of the corner of his eye. It reminds him of the cat he used to have but the boy can never get a good look at this ghost cat. The ghost cat seems to sleep on his bed at night, curled up and purring. It plays with cat toys on the stairs. It meows outside of the boy’s door and knocks things off of shelves. But the boy is always too late to see anything more than a blur moving quickly. Then one day, the boy really sees the ghost cat clearly. He chases after it and the cat leads him to something new and very special right outside.
Atteberry tells a wonderfully gentle story here about the loss of a pet and the gap that it leaves. It is also a great ghost story with no scariness at all, just a playful cat ghost doing cat-like things all over the house. The tone is delightfully breathless and wondering, just right for a ghost story. The dashing nature of the bulk of the book slows at the end to allow readers to bask in the new discovery.
The illustrations, done digitally, are filled with warm tones that allow the ghostly form of the cat to really pop. Readers will enjoy seeing the cat fleetingly on the page, moving just away from the boy and the reader.
Comforting and understanding, this book takes ghosts and grief and turns them into something very special. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.
Can I Keep It? by Lisa Jobe (9781624146961)
A little boy finds animals in his backyard and wonders if he can keep them as pets when they “follow” him home. His mother addresses each type of animal by asking her son where he would want to live if he was that animal. When the boy catches a squirrel, his mother points out that squirrels like to climb trees and gather acorns. She helps him realize that the squirrel belongs outside. The frog he catches next likes splashing in water, so the boy releases him too after thinking about how he loves to swim. The bird likes to fly in the sky rather than live in a cage. The boy thinks about swinging high and how much he loves that. Happily, the next animal the boy finds is a stray cat who may just find living with a little boy exactly the right place to live.
Jobe uses a droll sense of humor in this picture book. The little boy says to his mother that the animals are following him home while he is actually trapping them in a variety of ways in the yard. The mother’s responses are clever and thoughtful without being heavy handed at all, allowing the child to figure things out on his own. The rhythm of the book is lovely, with the boy capturing a creature and each dialogue following a pattern.
Jobe’s art is bright and filled with motion. Done in watercolor, gouache, pastel and then digitally collaged, the illustrations are large enough to use nicely with a group of children. In every scenario with an animal’s preferred place to live, the little boy thinks about how he feels when he swings or swims or climbs trees. This is shown through illustrations and works very well.
A great picture book about respecting animals, engaging with nature, and finding the perfect pet. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Page Street Kids.
Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534416642)
Truman is a small urban turtle. He’s about the size of a donut and lives with Sarah high above the busy streets filled with taxis and buses. He is very happy spending quiet time with Sarah. But then one day, Sarah seems different. She is wearing a bow in her hair, a new sweater and has a big backpack. She even gives him some extra green beans as a treat. Before Sarah leaves, she touches Truman and tells him to be brave. And down on the street, Sarah boards a bus for the first time! Truman tries to wait for Sarah to return, but she is gone much longer than she ever has been before. So Truman finds a way out of his aquarium and makes a long journey towards the apartment door. He is being brave and will find Sarah!
Reidy tells a first day of school story from the point of view of a pet left behind by a child. It’s a wonderful answer to what pets do when children leave for school and will also speak to younger siblings being left behind at home when their older siblings head to school. The emotions of Truman are clearly conveyed and his worry is tangible even though readers will know exactly what is actually happening.
Cummins’ illustrations play with perspective nicely as Truman’s point of view is shared as well as views of the busy city street below the apartment. Big and bold, the illustrations show Truman’s limited world grow bigger and bigger as he explores the apartment landscape alone.
A look at bravery and the deep love of a pet, even a small, green one. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.