Trevor by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Amy Hevron (9781250148285)
Trevor is a very lonely canary who knows that he can escape his cage at any time, but stays put for the seeds. He has one favorite kind, sunflower seeds, that he saves for when he is feeling loneliest. When Trevor sees a lemon outside of his window, he tries to get it to sing with him. He even gives it his last striped sunflower seed, but it won’t eat. The lemon doesn’t reply to Trevor at all and doesn’t give him any gifts in return. Still, Trevor builds a nest in the tree for himself and the lemon. Meanwhile, the seed has fallen to the ground below. Eventually, a storm comes and Trevor must try to save the lemon. When he reaches the ground, he discovers the sunflower has sprouted and grown, scattering seeds across the ground. When a group of hungry birds arrives, Trevor quickly realizes what real friendship feels like.
Averbeck keeps the text of this picture book very simple, making it just right for younger listeners and good to share aloud. The emotions that Trevor feels in the book take center stage, from frustration at the lemon to eventual forgiveness to acceptance about their differences. Trevor is a great mix of brave, inquisitive and friendly as he makes his way into the larger world.
Hevron’s illustrations are painted onto wood. She cleverly allows the wood to show through to create tree branches and leaf spines. Against the pale blue background, the leaves, lemon and Trevor himself pop. One can see the wood grain throughout the book, both covered in color and plain. It makes for a very organic and natural feel.
A lovely quiet picture book about new friends and what to do when life gives you lemons. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780399246531)
An award-winning author is joined by an award-winning illustrator for this picture book that celebrates diversity and acceptance. There are many ways for children to feel different from others, particularly when starting a new school. Perhaps it’s their skin, their hair, their clothes or the language they speak. There are school activities that will show them they live differently than other children, like not traveling during summer vacation. Lunches brought from home can be too different for other children to accept. Children can feel excluded from games on the playground too. So what is the answer? Finding your own voice, your own courage and telling your stories to the others without apology.
As always, Woodson prose impresses with its accessibility and depth. She manages to keep to a picture book length but speak about differences and resilience in a way that encourages children to be proud of where they come from and their life experience. Beautifully, children of all backgrounds will find themselves on these pages too, because everyone in different in some way. Woodson manages to be inclusive without minimizing the impact of racial differences, which is quite a feat!
The illustrations by Lopez are exceptional. They glow on the page, showing children of diverse backgrounds illuminated by the light of the world. The illustrations move from realism to more imaginative and playful moments as children grow into self-acceptance right in front of the reader.
A marvelous pick to speak about diversity and acceptance with children. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker (9780763665968)
A wordless picture book, this tells the story of a girl’s first summer without her beloved dog at her side. As the family heads off on their camping trip, she finds herself on the lake shore alone. She starts skipping stones and as one sinks, the story turns to one of a crashing meteor and dinosaurs. From that meteor comes a rock that moves through time, starting as a large rough chunk of stone and becoming smaller and smaller as it is redesigned. It is the heart of a large statue, the keystone in an arch for a bridge, an elaborate treasure box, and then it sinks beneath the waves when a ship goes down. It is still there until the girl finds it, yellow and bright in her hand, timelessness and connection in a single stone.
This picture book shines with its strong message about the passage of time, the deep feeling of loss and the resilience to recover. It is a book filled with beauty, one that really comes alive with the turning of time deep into the past. That twist at its center is brave, surprising and is what really makes the book ring so true. As always with Becker, the art is exceptional. He captures emotions so clearly on the page and imbues his images with wonder.
An exceptional read by a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
For Every One by Jason Reynolds (9781481486248)
This book is a single poem, one that is a clarion call for young creatives to continue their work. Originally performed at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and then again as a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, this poem is striking and powerful. There is no claim here that Reynolds has the answer to make money at your dream, to be successful at your dream, but there is a demand that you continue to dream and create as a young person. That it is important for you and for the world.
Reynolds shares personal set backs as a young adult, showing how hard it can be to stay on course when your work is not being noticed. Still, he continued and he asks that everyone continue to speak, to share, to be out there and demand to be heard and seen. It is a book about perseverance and resilience, a poem about life, hard knocks and getting up and continuing onward.
This one belongs in every library and every creative writing and art room. It is inspiring and beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (9780374303822, Amazon)
Ethel is a cat who is old and fat. She is black and white and she has a routine to her days. She first surveys the land from her porch. Then she watches the weather. She chases insects and then explores the sidewalk where she has a favorite square where she likes to roll. But one day, someone has used chalk on the sidewalk square and when Ethel rolls on it, she becomes blue! The other cats look at her very strangely and Ethel runs home to hide. The next morning, Ethel feels blue and licks herself into blue stripes and white stripes. Another kitten is outside waiting for her and he is pink! The two together do Ethel’s routine with a colorful change at the end.
Reinhardt shows in this picture book that even old cats can learn colorful new tricks. Ethel is a wonderful look at the familiar routines turned on their heads. Her life is filled with simple pleasures that make her feel powerful and in charge. But that is all changed with one color. Still, Ethel also shows that while change may be hard, it isn’t impossible.
The illustrations are silly and quirky. The area that Ethel surveys each morning is filled with fake animals like deer, flamingos and one large rhino. It takes what we see as normal lawn ornaments one step farther into farce. Ethel herself is rather odd looking and therefore quite delightful as a character.
A look at colors, changes and resilience. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley (9780525428442, Amazon)
Released August 29, 2017.
This second book from the author of Circus Mirandus takes readers deep into the Okefenokee Swamp. Blue has known his entire life that he is cursed. He can’t win at anything, no matter how hard he tries. His most recent loss was when his arm was broken standing up to a bully at school. Now his father, who always wins, has dropped him off for the summer at his grandmother’s house. The mystical red moon is rising this summer and Blue will have the chance to break his curse if he can reach the golden alligator before anyone else. But it’s complicated as his grandmother may need her curse broken more badly than anyone else and the entire family is there to compete for the right to head into the swamp. Meanwhile, Blue meets Tumble, a girl desperate to be a hero and who wants to save Blue from his delusion of always losing. But is it a delusion or is it ancient magic at work?
Beasley has written a wonderful second novel that tells a fascinating story of greed and sacrifice even as it speaks to the importance of losing sometimes in life. The book reads easily even as it deals with deeper issues of family, betrayal, love and heroism. It is far more complex than readers may expect as different themes weave beautifully together to form the whole tale. The ribbon of clear magic that swirls throughout the book takes it directly into fantasy even as it is firmly rooted in the real world too. It’s a winning mix.
The two main characters are fascinating. Blue struggles with his constant losing and yet never quite gives up to it. He continues to try to run faster, is willing to attempt to break the curse in different ways. He is a hero who is easily related to, taken in by extended family and looking for home. Tumble is a girl who has lived in an RV for most of her life. Her problems becoming a hero are indications that she too may have a curse she has never realized is there. Even though she fails regularly at being a hero, she too perseveres and is resilient in the face of her challenges.
A vibrant and strong story of failure and heroism. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.
The Branch by Mireille Messier, illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Released September 6, 2016.
During an ice storm, a little girl is awakened by a loud sound outside. It turns out to be her favorite branch falling from the tree in her yard. It was the branch she played on, dreamed about and that was a big part of her day. The little girl asks to keep the branch after finding out that it can’t be reattached to the tree and her mother agrees. Her neighbor is next door with his chain saw and the girl stands guard so that no one takes her branch. Her neighbor, Mr. Frank, sees her standing there and asks about her branch. He sees “potential” in it and offers to help her make something with it. It turns out to be just the right solution, one that helps the girl remember the fun she had and looks forward to future happiness too.
Messier conveys the little girl’s emotions very clearly. From the feel of the fallen branch to her attachment to it to the importance of creating something new with it. Each moment echoes with emotions, creating a book that is conducive to discussing feelings with young children listening to the story. The book is also anchored in sensations, the feel of the icy branch in her hands, the noise of the chain saw, the hard work of transforming the branch into something else.
The illustrations by Pratt are filled with deep colors that brighten the pages. The beauty and destruction of the ice storm are captured, each branch encased in ice. The change is seasons is also nicely shown, moving from ice and snow to green in the illustrations.
A book about resilience, connections to nature and its power, and the value of memories, this picture book is full of potential itself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Kids Can Press and Netgalley.
Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Chris Sheban
When an old farm dog walks up to a farm looking for work, the farmer refuses. He sees dogs as a waste of food since they don’t give anything back like chickens or cows do. The dog then offers to be a cow instead of a dog. He gets all of the cows into the barn and lined up ready for milking before the farmer gets there, but the farmer isn’t interested in this dog-cow. The next thing the dog tries is to be a horse. He couldn’t fit in the harness for the plow, but he could run ahead of the horse with treats to get the horse to plow faster. Still, the farmer was not interested in hiring the dog. The dog next tries to be a chicken and tidies up the chicken coop before settling down in a nest of hay himself. It’s there that he finally proves the value of a dog on a farm to the reluctant farmer.
Bateman nicely incorporates a rhythm and repetition into her story. The pattern of the conversation between the dog and the farmer carries through the entire book, creating a framework that functions very nicely. On each job, the dog manages to be useful in his own way, something that is a nice surprise in the book rather than him trying to give milk or eggs himself. One immediately roots for the success of this hard-working dog.
Sheban’s illustrations are done in watercolor, graphite, and colored pencil. The result is a picture book that glows with sunlight. There is a wonderful softness to the illustrations, gauzy light that plays across the farm and the characters.
A shining picture book about resilience and being yourself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Holiday House.
Little Tree by Loren Long (InfoSoup)
The author of the popular Otis series tells a story about a tree that is heartwarming and encouraging. Little Tree is happy as he stands with the other little trees in the forest. Squirrels play in his branches and a mourning dove stops by. Autumn arrives and the leaves of the little tree change color along with those on the other little trees. The leaves began to fall, except for those on Little Tree. He held onto his tightly. The animals start to ask him why he is holding onto his leaves so long, but Little Tree just holds them even tighter. Spring comes and the other trees are taller and filled with bright green leaves. Little Tree though has only his old brown leaves. The other trees continue to grow around Little Tree, the animals no longer played in his branches, and he just held on ever more tightly. Little Tree would have to figure out how to let go and allow change to happen.
This parable is beautifully told. The parallel between a tree not dropping its leaves and allowing seasons to pass and a human fighting the inevitable changes and progress in life is compelling. Young readers will see clearly how stunted the life of Little Tree becomes and how quickly he loses the very parts of his existence that he loves so much. The writing is simple and straight-forward, making this a very shareable book that could lead to a discussion about what children are holding onto that they may want to release and let go.
Long’s illustrations are luminous on the page. He makes great use of white space, allowing Little Tree to shine on the page in a simple and engaging way. Other pages use double spreads, showing the changing forest as it grows around Little Tree. This too is very effective.
A strong picture book with an important message that is cleverly told, this book encourages young readers to embrace change and the uncertainties of life. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel Books.