My First Day by Phung Nguyen Quang

Cover image

My First Day by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien (9780593306260)

A boy heads out on his own to his first day of school. He lives on the Mekong River and takes a boat to school, this time all alone. He heads out as dawn is breaking in the sky, weaving along the river, through the waves, and entering the mangrove forest. The journey is long, with dark rainy weather at times that then becomes colorful skies. The forest is dark and seems to have creatures all over watching him travel. When he exits the forest, he can see fish skimming under the water, water buffalo along the shore, and soon his friends in their own boats heading to school!

Quang and Lien beautifully takes a universal experience of the first day of school and makes it unique to the Mekong Delta experience. Through this fascinating journey of natural wonder, the main character must be brave and resolute that he can do this by himself. The text is marvelous, quiet at times as the weather or the setting becomes oppressive and then soaring with relief and joy when the weather changes and his destination is in sight.

The illustrations are exceptional, drawing readers deep into the Mekong. The focus is on the boy’s experience, but the river itself is a character too. Its waters glimmer in the shallows with green light, darken with the rain, and are painted with algae green at the mouth of the forest. Dotted with lotus flowers, bubbles and cresting waves, the river and the boy experience this journey together.

A journey to school that is far more than crossing a busy street! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Make Me a World.

Birrarung Wilam by Aunty Joy Murphy and Andrew Kelly

Cover image for Birrarung Wilam

Birrarung Wilam by Aunty Joy Murphy and Andrew Kelly, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy (9781536209426)

Take a journey down the Yarra River near Melbourne, Australia in this Aboriginal picture book that celebrates native creatures and plants. Told using many words from the Woirurrung language, the book is a mixture of evocative language and poetic phrasing. Starting with a starry night sky, the picture book shows the path of the Birrarung as it winds along. It goes past trees where possums make their homes in hollow trees. Rain falls and the bright-blue fairy wren chases insects near his mate. Cockatoos fly past looking for pine cones and their seeds. Kangaroos gather where the river slows and platypus burrow with their babies. Ravens, pelicans, eagles, ducks and more fill the pages alongside the trees, water and river that create this unique ecosystem.

Because they use so many Woirurrung words, the book is almost a word game. The writing embraces the Aboriginal words, creating swirling and flowing lines of text that move like the river itself. Reading it aloud really lets the words sing out, evoking a place full of natural wonders. Here is the opening line to give you a taste of the style:

As ngua rises,

turning clouds over the distant city red,

Bunjil soars over mountain ash,

flying higher and higher as the wind warms.

Below, Birrarung begins its long

winding path down to palem warreen.

The illustrations done in acrylic show the various scenes along the river. They also allow readers to piece together what creatures and plants are being described in the text, finding the platypus, eagles and kangaroos. The illustrations are filled with Aboriginal art touches, the dots and patterns creating ripples of water, breezes and layers of earth.

Enchanting and full of wonders, this picture book is a resounding success. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith (9780823445592)

Based on the author’s own childhood, this picture book explores the life of a boy with a stutter. The boy wakes every day surrounded by words, many of which he can’t say aloud. They tangle his tongue and stick in his throat. So every morning, he stays silent. He’s quiet at school too, hiding in the back of the class and hoping not to be asked to talk. After a particularly hard day, his father picks him up from school and takes him to the river. After seeing how upset his son is by his “bad speech day,” his father points to the river and says that how the water moves is how his son speaks. The river runs over rocks, bubbling and churning, but it also goes quiet and still after the rocks.

Scott is a poet and his skill with words is on full display here. He uses gorgeous metaphors throughout, including the connection to the river. The words around the boy in the morning connect with his inability to speak at times, the pine trees sticking out from his lips, the crow cawing from his throat, the moonlight shining from his mouth. Each of these gives readers a new way to experience a stutter, each beautiful and haunting.

Smith’s illustrations are done in watercolor, ink and gouache. They capture both the quiet of not being able to speak as well as the connection between father and son. When they go to the water of the river, the illustrations show the bubbling and crashing, taking the boy into the river as he swims to the calm open water. They are exquisite.

A marvel of a book that beams with empathy and understanding of stuttering. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman (9781605375182)

The journey following the river and waterway begins with Bunny losing her rubber ducky into the flow of the stream from the glacier near their home. She and her brothers hop into their boat to catch up to the toy. Soon they are floating past a pine forest, filled with other animals on picnics, racing motorcycles, kayaking, cycling, hiking, and much more. The river moves past farmland full of cows and horses, then spills into a huge lake where it is still hard to glimpse the toy floating. Look closely! After a glorious waterfall, the scene moves to a medieval town and European castles. Then a factory appears, pumping steam and water. Rain starts and the river slows to explore small islands. Windmills and tulips appear until a harbor is reached with a broad sea. Finally the toy is caught again. But what other stories did you see along the way?

This thoroughly Dutch picture book is a very entertaining seek-and-find book that is complicated and funny. Readers will need to lean in closely and read the book multiple times to follow all of the clever story arcs contained in the book. Nicely, Weightman outlines some of the ones to watch for in introductory pages.

The book does have words, but they are nearly unnecessary as the real star of the book are the incredibly detailed landscapes filled with foxes, rabbits, bears, pigs, and lots of other animals. Throughout the action, there are lovely moments of blissful floating, meeting new people, and a strong sense of a large community together.

An exceptional seek-and-find book with a European flair. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clavis.

Review: Along the Tapajos by Fernando Vilela

Along the Tapajos by Fernando Vilela

Along the Tapajos by Fernando Vilela, translated by Daniel Hahn (9781542008686)

A boy and his family live along the Tapajos River, one of the biggest rivers in the Amazon rainforest. He and his sister take a boat to get to school. He loves to see the alligators along the way, while she prefers the porpoises. Under the water, lurk some even larger animals just waiting for someone to fall in the water. At school, the rain suddenly begins, starting the winter season that is filled with torrential rainfall and flooding. Everyone rushes home to pack up and head away from the flooding. They take everything but the houses themselves. But the brother and sister have left their tortoise behind accidentally. At night, they sneak out to rescue her. They get back to their flooded village and discover the turtle just about to be devoured by a giant anaconda!

Originally published in Brazil, this picture book tells the story of a way of life that is unique to the Amazon rainforest. The author combines the story of the flooding village and the construction of a new place in the rainforest with a tale of bravery when the children rescue their pet. This also gives readers an opportunity to see the quiet beauty of the flooded village, empty of anyone. The setting itself is a major character, including the many animals, the weather and the river herself. It’s a book that carries readers to a place they never knew existed.

The illustrations are done in a mix of woodcut techniques, drawing and collage that is then used digitally. They have a great texture to them and depth thanks to the woodcuts that offer that organic feel to the images. The rain itself falls white against the golden background of the sky and the river. The book often takes a step back from the immediate action, allowing the riverscape to fill the pages in a way that is very impactful.

Journey to another part of the world in this look at the Amazon rainforest and some of the people who call it home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Driftwood Days by William Miniver

Driftwood Days by William Miniver

Driftwood Days by William Miniver, illustrated by Charles Vess (9780802853707)

Follow the journey as a branch from a beaver’s dam heads downstream to eventually become a piece of driftwood on a beach. A boy watches in the autumn trees as a branch breaks away from the dam and takes a winding journey. It gets stuck for a frozen winter and then is loosened again and gets into the ocean. There, it serves as a perch for birds, gets caught in a net, and is once again thrown back into the salt water. When it eventually washes onto the beach, the wood is entirely transformed into driftwood. It is picked up by the same boy, who uses it to draw on the beach and then takes it home to watch the beavers next autumn.

Miniver offers an informational author’s note in the final pages that explains the importance of driftwood for the ecological system of woods, streams, oceans and beaches. The loss in the amount of driftwood is impacting these environments negatively. The journey of one branch into becoming driftwood is a clever way to show how the transformation works and also to highlight the various parts of the environment that driftwood touches and impacts. The art is done colored pencil and ink with deep, soft colors that will have readers leaning in to explore the nature revealed on the journey to the ocean.

A quiet adventure that highlights the interconnectivity of the nature around us all. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans.

Review: River by Elisha Cooper

River by Elisha Cooper

River by Elisha Cooper (9781338312263)

Explore the Hudson River alongside an intrepid canoer in this picture book. The book takes readers from a mountain lake on a journey of 300 miles to where the Hudson meets the Atlantic. The woman meets moose, otters, a bear cub, ducks and more on her journey. She faces rapids and sometimes has to drag her canoe in shallow waters or portage it across a dam. She uses a lock to get past a waterfall. She stops at times to restock her supplies at towns along the river. She paddles for days and days, sleeping in a tent at night. She faces a storm and has her boat overturned, but she eventually reaches New York City and her home.

There is something so invigorating and inspiring about this glimpse of someone making a journey of a lifetime. At the same time, this is a quiet book, one that inspires thinking, drawing and taking time for one’s self. It’s a lovely balance of a book, and thanks to Cooper’s unique style it is told in a way that honors the woman’s courage and skill and yet makes it all less daunting to imagine doing. It’s just what we want picture books to do for children.

Cooper’s art really shines here, reading more like a journal at times with scenes just barely captured before they changed. Other pages which feature the landscape and vistas along the way are spectacularly done whether in broad daylight or filled with stars at night.

A journey worth taking again and again. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (9780316464475)

A river flowed through the forest. The river had no idea it could have adventures until a big bear came along. As the curious bear toppled into the river, the adventure began. Soon Bear was joined by Froggy and they both climbed onto a log which headed down the river. Along the way, others joined them too. There was the beaver who could captain, the turtles who were worried about disaster, the raccoons who didn’t know how to be careful, and the duck they crashed into. Then came the waterfall…

Morris has written a book that begs to be shared aloud. From the various personalities of all of the creatures to the shared adventure that is filled with twists and turns, this book is full of fun. Morris uses an interesting turn of phrase throughout the book, with each additional animal and the river itself not knowing what they are capable of. It’s a great lens as each of the animals learns that they are not alone but instead part of a larger community and world.

Pham’s illustrations are zany and ever so funny. He completely captures the personalities of each of the characters as they head down the river. From their body language to their expressions, these creatures are in for a lot of adventure together. The added joy of the maps of the river as the endpages are great. Grayed-out at first, they are full color at the end.

A wild ride of a book that is really all about shared fun and community. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Along the River by Vanina Starkoff

Along the River by Vanina Starkoff

Along the River by Vanina Starkoff (9781554989775, Amazon)

The river is the way that everyone travels in Brazil. Crowded with boats, the river flows. There are two in a canoe, boats filled with potted plants and others that are bustling kitchens. Some boats are schools and others are stores. There are boats filled with shared music, while others sleep in the sun. Throughout there is a sense of community and happiness as life and the river flow by.

Starkoff uses only a few words per page. They invite readers to see the river as a place of connection and community. Readers will also enjoy the names of the various vessels that speak to the feeling of joy that pervades the entire book. The illustrations are vibrant and loud with the river and sky a zingy yellow that adds pizzazz to the images. Children will love following various characters through their day on the river and watching new friendships develop before their eyes.

An import from Brazil, this book has a low key vibe that is full of laid back joy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.