Sweety by Andrea Zuill (9780525580003)
Sweety is a naked mole rat, though fortunately for the pictures in the book mole rats like to wear clothes. But Sweety is not like the other naked mole rats. She loves to spend her time identifying fungi and does her school book reports in interpretive dance. She doesn’t have any friends because as her grandmother tells her, she’s a “square peg” and she doesn’t fit in. Happily, Sweety has her Aunt Ruth, who also didn’t fit in as a child. Ruth encourages Sweety to just be herself and that eventually she will find other like her who are different too. Sweety wonders how to find others without being too desperate, and in the end, she manages to do exactly the right thing.
Zuill has created a picture book that is entirely heart warming and charming. Sweety is a marvelous character, someone who is not only different in her interests but also looks different than the others around her. The large headgear that she wears adds to that as well as her bald head. My favorite part of the book is the wry look at popularity and the literal single hair that separates beauty from being different. These moments appear throughout the book and encourage readers to see Sweety as an individual.
A great picture book with one big personality. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L. B. Deenihan, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha (9781454923817)
A little girl had made a list of what she was hoping to get for birthday gifts. On the list were items like a phone, a computer and a drone. But her grandmother got her a lemon tree. In this twist on the adage that when given lemons you should make lemonade, the narrator of the book offers the girl some advice on how to handle her gift. The advice includes what face to make when given the gift and details on how to care for her lemon tree including cautioning her not to hurt it. As the girl follows the advice, she discovers a connection to her lemon tree even before it bears its first crop of lemons for her. As she literally makes and sells lemonade from her lemons, the girl now has to decide how to spend her cash. She returns to the original list, but adds a new number, one that the lemon tree has taught her all about.
The clever twist on the adage is well done, creating a scaffold for the entire story. While the narrative of the book focuses entirely on advice, the illustrations show how the girl chooses to follow it. The narrative is humorous and offers choices for the main character in how she can react to options in her life. Throughout, as is appropriate for a book based on making lemonade, the spin is to be more positive and never sour.
The illustrations are fresh and funny. The family is depicted as African-American and the story is set in an urban area. This gives the lemon tree a great canvas to offer change and the main character a great place to offer lemonade. The illustrations are funny and bright.
A great spin on an old saying, this book is a breath of positivity. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Sterling Children’s Books.
Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (9780525552314)
A police phrase is turned into something much more positive in this picture book. Starting with being a small baby and lifting her hands to play peek-a-boo, an African-American girl grows up on these pages. Along the way, she raises her hands for all sorts of positive reasons like getting dressed, reaching high, and doing her hair. She takes action with her hands up: getting books from a shelf, dancing, playing basketball, and worshiping. The book ends with the girl joining her family in a protest march.
McDaniel has written a book about the joy of life, the small and big things, and the important aspects of a life well lived. It is a book about not living in fear and not being seen as a problem because of the color of your skin. It is a book that reads as a celebration and its own protest against racism and prejudice.
The illustrations by Evans are so bright they almost blind. Pages are filled with sunshine and lemon yellows. He uses textures for clothing that make the book more tactile and organic. Throughout, he depicts a loving multi-generational African-American family.
Powerful and standing in its truth, this book is exactly what is needed right now. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.
My Heart by Corinna Luyken (9780735227934)
The author of The Book of Mistakes returns with another amazing picture book. This time she focuses on empathy and self-awareness as she speaks about the power of your heart. The heart here can be open or closed, small and hidden or ready to grow. It can separate you from others or invite them inside. It can break but also be mended as well. The power of the heart is for its owner to decide.
Written in rhyme that swirls, this picture book invites readers to explore their own hearts. It looks through a poetic lens at the dark side of life, such as isolation, loneliness, fear and anger. These elements are balanced with a strong feeling of hope throughout the book, a tone of mending, care and resilience. This is a book that can start conversations about negative emotions as well as positive ones.
The art carries the simple verse forward. Done in a beautifully limited color palette, this picture book has gray, black and yellow. The yellow is used as sunlight, glimmers of heart on dark pages. It goes from tiny touches of yellow to drowning the page in its light. The illustrations are delicate and show the emotions in the text through images very successfully.
This is one heartfelt picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
What Is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison (9780375936159)
After his father died, James Otis and his mother got even more poor than before. They lost their farm and had to move into a small house in the Bottoms. Things kept getting worse as his dog disappeared and everything flooded. Christmas was sparse but they made their way through until spring. That’s when their church gave out love boxes to those in need. This year, one family had lost everything in a fire. James Otis was encouraged to give something to the little girl in the family, but what could he give? He had a few possessions, but he didn’t think she would like any of them. Finally, he had an idea, something that would speak to her heart. At church on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, James Otis gave her the book he had made for her, and she was delighted with it. When he returned home with his mother, they discovered that they too had been given a love box to help them through.
McKissack died over a year ago; it is a distinct treat to have another one of her picture books published. Here she focuses on resilience in the face of hardship and adversity as well as the power of giving to others. For the young character of James Otis, thinking of another lifts his spirits and when he creates something for her, you can feel his pride on the page. The text of the book is uplifting and powerful, calling for everyone to step forward and help one another from the heart.
Harrison’s illustrations are done in mixed media with acrylics and collage. They have a deep texture to them in places and in others the patterns are layered and beautifully subtle, almost like complex batik. The light in the images glows with a honeyed color, creating a warmth in the face of poverty and a hope that encases the entire book.
A beautiful final book for McKissack that calls for heartfelt help for those in need. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson (9780525580423)
An incredible collection of diverse authors and illustrations come together in this collection to offer poems, short essays, and encouragement to young readers struggling to find their place in today’s troubled and divisive world. The pieces encourage children to be activists in this dark world, to shine their light where they can, and also to be careful and aware of dangers along the way. Each piece of writing is accompanied by a work of art that also inspires young readers to step forward and make the world better.
Authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Sharon Draper, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Ellen Oh are part of this collection. They speak personally about challenges and what it means to step forward. Their writing is paired with art by artists like Ekua Holmes, James Ransome, Floyd Cooper, and Javaka Steptoe. The poems are wrenching and honest, revealing the world that people of color live in every day, the challenges they face and the ways they find a way to make change despite the obstacles. There are poems that are poignant, other pieces that are angry, none that are ready to give up.
A call to action for young people, this book is an anthology that belongs in every library in our country. Appropriate for ages 6-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
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.