Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (9780399544682)
Amal loves going to school in her small Pakistani village. She plans on becoming a teacher herself one day. But after her mother gives birth to a fifth daughter, her mother slumps into postpartum depression. Amal, as the eldest daughter, has to stop attending school to take care of the household. Thanks to her younger sister, Amal manages to keep on learning. But then Amal talks back to the son of the corrupt politician and landlord who runs their village. Amal is taken from her family and forced to work in his household as a servant to work off the debt. As Amal comes to terms with this abrupt change in her life, she has to figure out how to navigate being a servant in a grand house filled with secrets. Now Amal has to discover how connections with others could be the key to unlocking her future once again.
Saeed brings the setting of a small Pakistani village to vivid life in this novel for young people. From the paths to get to her home to the crowded schoolroom to the bustling village market, all demonstrate a warmth and strong community. That is beautifully contrasted with the setting of the grand home where Amal works in indentured servitude. It is a house that is chilly with deceit and secrecy.
Amal is a great heroine, dedicated to reading and learning as much as she can. She is also inventive and formulates solutions to the problems she encounters. At the same time, she also needs to learn to trust others, even those who may have betrayed her before.
A very readable book that invites readers into rural Pakistan and the dangers of corruption and debt. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Accident! By Andrea Tsurumi (9780544944800)
Lola spills juice all over a chair and decides to run away and hide in the library until she’s a grownup. As she runs to the library, Lola meets a series of other animals having their own accidents and disasters. She takes them all with her to the library. But soon the disasters multiply as they run, turning the entire town into chaos. Even the library itself is soon a catastrophe. Then the little red bird explains that these are all just accidents and they should make it better. So each animal returns to the mess they have made and fixes things with apologies, help and towels. Throughout this picture book the pace gets faster and faster as the accidents build up and up. The illustrations are filled with small details and it’s worth slowing down and noticing all of the little touches of disaster as the pages get more chaotic. A book that celebrates taking responsibility even in the face of the ultimate mess. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Read the Book Lemmings by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (9780316343480)
Head out on an Arctic adventure aboard the S.S. Cliff with Foxy, Captain PB and three little lemmings. Foxy is trying to read a book about lemmings but the problem is that the lemmings themselves haven’t read it. As Foxy reads aloud that lemmings don’t actually jump off of cliffs, the three lemmings immediately jump overboard. Foxy tries again to show them the information, but still, the three lemmings jump overboard again. Eventually Foxy realizes why the lemmings won’t read the book, but they have one more trick for him! Dyckman has an impeccable sense of timing in this picture book, creating moments of true hilarity that are a pleasure to share aloud. The book is simply written which adds to its appeal. The illustrations have great sense of style to them with a pink sky, deep ocean-blue water, and lemmings that wear hats so you can tell them apart. Funny, deeply silly and heart warming, despite the cold water. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake (9781419726996)
A little boy declares that he can get ready for the bath by himself, but gets himself stuck in his shirt. He thinks about what would happen if he was permanently stuck in his shirt. It might be alright sometimes, but what about when he gets thirsty or wants to play with his cat? He realizes he could figure out inventive ways to solve those problems. Unfortunately, then he tries to take off his pants and manages to get entirely stuck. Luckily his mom appears and rescues him. Every child has gotten stuck in their clothes and will enjoy laughing along as this child figures out clever ways to live in a shirt. The (literal) twist of the pants at the end is cleverly done and offers just the right silly tone and a glimpse of a bare bottom too. Share this one after a bath. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (InfoSoup)
Louis Braille lost his sight at age five from an accident and a resulting infection. His family helped him learn to cope, making him a cane that he could use to explore a little farther from home each day. His brothers taught him to whistle and his sisters made him letters out of straw. He could play dominoes, knew trees by touch, flowers by their smell and could listen to books being read aloud. But there were no books for blind children like him. Even when he got into a school for the blind in Paris he had to work very hard and become one of the best students to be able to access their books. When Louis achieved that though, he found that the books were done in large raised wax letters so thick books were actually quite short. Then there was news that a French army captain had created a way to send secret messages that was read by touch. Louis worked to make the system readable by the blind, creating his own alphabet system as a teenager!
Bryant writes in first person from Braille’s point of view. She explains how Louis lost his sight with just enough detail to make it understandable how tragic it was but doesn’t overly linger there. When Louis’ sight is gone, the text changes to become filled with noises and other senses than sight. Bryant moves the story forward using Braille’s desire to read for himself, that drives both the story and Braille’s own life. As each opportunity proves to be disappointing, Braille does not give up hope, instead developing throughout his life a tenacity to find a solution.
Kulikov’s illustrations play light against dark. When Braille loses his sight, the pages go black with shadowy furniture forms only. Color is gone entirely. The reader is not left there, but moves back into the world of color unless the story is speaking about Braille’s blindness specifically, so when Braille finally gets to try reading the wax lettering, the page goes dark again, also showing his disappointment in the solution.
Intelligently designed and depicted, this is a warm and inspiring look at the life and achievements of Louis Braille. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (InfoSoup)
This striking picture books tells the story of a young girl who loves to read, who is “a child of books.” She meets a boy who seems lonely, his father only reading the newspaper and ignoring the sea of words from fiction swirling around them. She leads the boy off on an adventure of stories. Down rabbit holes, up mountains, through dark tunnels, into fairy tale woods, past monsters in castles, into the clouds for bedtime stories, and much more. They return home, to a bright colored house on a gray street, and the boy leaves with a book under his arm trailing words behind him.
My description above doesn’t capture the beauty and wonder of this picture book. Jeffers’ poetry looks deeply into our relationship with fiction. Into the joy of discovering new adventures of heading down rabbit holes that other readers’ feet have merrily disappeared down before yours. He celebrates the shared language of story, the shared settings of tales, and the shared experiences that we have all had, separately but also together.
The illustrations are unique and very special. The merger of the painted characters with amazing typeface art is dynamic and original. It slows you down, naturally asking you to read the words that the mountains, clouds, and forest are made from. If you do, you discover old friends hiding there, beautiful words from classic children’s books. They invite you to read more, to rediscover those books of your childhood or introduce your favorites to your children. By the end of the book, I was slowly reading each word in the illustrations, lingering and sighing contentedly. My day slowed and enriched by memories.
Beautiful and luminous, this picture book is rich and unique. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Kate Berube (InfoSoup)
Nick has two pet cats, Verne and Stevenson. They love doing things together, but the cats don’t appreciate it when Nick sits down to read. So Nick decides to teach them to read too. He starts with easy words, but the cats aren’t interested. He moves on to flash cards and soon Verne is paying attention, particularly when the words and books have to do with fish. Verne sounds out words and starts reading books on his own, he even gets his own library card. Stevenson doesn’t seem interested at all though. Verne and Nick have lots of fun acting out the stories that they are reading, though it would be more fun with Stevenson playing too. Then one day Nick discovers pictures that Stevenson has drawn of a pirate story. Could it be that Stevenson is interested after all?
Manley cleverly shows the process of learning to read in this picture book. Moving from simple words to sounds of letters to looking at books on your own and then reading entirely on your own. Delightfully, he also has Stevenson who is a reluctant reader. Stevenson though just needs someone to notice what he is passionate about and suddenly he too is interested in reading. It’s a smart way to show that we are all readers, some of us just need to not read about fish but about pirates!
The illustrations by Berube are friendly and fun. I love that Nick is a child of color and that it is not an “issue” in the book or even mentioned. One special part of the book is Stevenson’s expressions which are pure grumpiness and then can be seen later in the book as purely piratical.
A summery book about reading that will move nicely into the school year. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
This Is Not a Picture Book by Sergio Ruzzier (InfoSoup)
Duck discovers a book that doesn’t have any pictures in it. He takes a look at it but kicks it away. When his friend Bug asks if he can read it, Ducks starts to try. But words can be difficult to read. He does see some words that he knows and keeps on trying. Soon Duck is finding that words can take him special places, on wild adventures or into quiet calmness. Words can be funny or sad. And words return you home again in the end, where they stay with you. Even in a book with no pictures!
Ruzzier has created a picture book that proudly sends children on their way to harder reads where they won’t have pictures to ease the way. The way that Duck deals with it, first to be frustrated and then to work hard at it speaks volumes about the way that children work to learn to read better and better. There is also a strong and soaring message about the power of words themselves and how they can convey emotions and meaning.
The book design here is wonderful. The end pages are filled with words that are just jumbled enough to be confusing, but if readers work like Duck did, they can puzzle their way into making sense of them. Ruzzier’s illustrations are always a bit wacky with strange landscapes and bright colors. The settings match what Duck is reading, showing through pictures what the words are conveying.
An inspirational book that will encourage reading, this book certainly IS a picture book that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Surf’s Up by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (InfoSoup)
Dude comes to the window to let Bro know “Surf’s up!” But Bro is busy reading his book. Dude is shocked that Bro would prefer reading to heading to the beach. Bro comes along, still reading his book as they walk along. As they walk, he tells Dude about Moby Dick’s story and then reacts with gasps and amazement as the story continues. Bro finishes the book as they reach the beach and suddenly it is Dude who wants to read more than he wants to surf.
Told in a merry back and forth between the two frogs, this picture book is entirely in dialogue. The dialogue is wonderfully effortless, reading just like any two real people shooting the breeze, lightly teasing one another, and then enjoying the drama of a tale well told. There is a breeziness and hipness to the book as well that will appeal to modern children looking for a cool read.
Miyares’ illustrations are double-spread and cover the entire page. The world he creates wraps around the reader, much the way the story of Moby Dick encompasses both of the frogs. The drama of the story is told in a deep blue and gray palette while the frogs’ world is lighter. When both frogs are caught up in the whale tale together, that story entirely takes over the page and the frogs become characters in the book.
A dynamite and fresh book to show that everyone can get into a good book, even when the surf’s up. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Duck’s Vacation by Gilad Soffer (InfoSoup)
Duck is out on the beach having a relaxing vacation when suddenly, you arrive. And you turn the page! Duck is frustrated because he is on vacation and doesn’t want any kind of bother to happen. And you keep turning pages! As the pages turn, some bad things do start to happen from a bird pooping on Duck’s head to a crab pinching his toes. Then people start to arrive and the beach gets very crowded. It starts to rain and Duck says that it can’t get worse, but it certainly can. There could be snow! Or maybe pirates! Are you willing to stop turning the pages and not find out what happens next?
Originally published in Hebrew, this is a book that will have young readers and listeners giggling as the pages are turned. Duck is such a grumpy thing from the moment the first page is turned. Of course this is a trope used in one of my favorite childhood books, The Monster at the End of This Book. The reaction of characters to a reader turning pages really works well. The reader controls the pace of the reaction, and can delight in causing things to happen in a static book. It is also a set up that works really well read aloud.
Soffer’s illustrations play up the humor to top effect. The crowds of people who swarm the beach almost obscure Duck, the snow turns his bill blue, and the pirates, well he’s not cold anymore! Duck also has a range of emotions that he can display thanks to his expressive eyebrows that are sure to be in some sort of grimace.
Funny and a great choice to share with a preschool group. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.
Look! by Jeff Mack (InfoSoup)
A little boy won’t look away from the TV even with a very active gorilla in the room. The gorilla tries wearing books as a hat and then starts balancing them on his nose. The little boy just pushes him to the side. The gorilla ties to balance on three books set end to end, managing to knock the TV over. The boy kicks him out of the room. But the gorilla returns juggling books and riding a tricycle. When he falls over, the TV is broken and smoking on the floor. The boy is furious and kicks the gorilla out. But then a book captures his attention and soon the two are looking at stories together.
Told in just two words, Mack masterfully takes those two words and makes them work in a variety of ways. “Look” and “out” pair up over and over again, creating moments where the gorilla is demanding the boy look, times when the boy throws the gorilla out the door, and other times when disaster is about to happen. It’s a clever use of just the pair of words and the concept really works well.
The art is particularly interesting. The gorilla is a puff of watercolor where his fur is almost touchable on the page. The backgrounds of some of the pages are book covers, used both subtly and to strong effect. The page where the boy is truly angry is filled with ripped paper and jagged edges.
A celebration of books and words, this simple picture book will have new readers and young listeners alike enjoying the interplay of the two characters. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel Books.