This picture book about friendship explores what happens when a best friend is grieving and angry. Told in the first person, the book draws readers directly into the tale. Two children are best friends, and they do everything together from hide-and-seek to joke books. No matter how well Marlo hides, his best friend can find him. But then one day, something was wrong and Marlo didn’t want to play. He told his friend to go away. Sharing a joke made it even worse and Marlo got angrier and angrier, until his anger took up all the space. But his friend remembered that no matter what they could always find Marlo. That’s when they found out what was going on and did just what a best friend should do, they cried together.
Arnold captures the beauty of a young friendship based on shared humor, a great dog and playing games together. He shows the richness of the friendship and how connected these two children are. That gives the platform for Marlo’s deep anger and anguish to appear. While it is confusing, his friend does just the right thing, staying around and offering comfort and empathy. Remarkably, the book is told in short and approachable sentences, allowing the images to tell a lot of the story too.
The illustrations are full of green grass, backyard spaces, and play. When Marlo’s anger appears, it is a black scribble of emotion that steadily grows to turning all of the pages to pitch black. It is in that moment that his friend finds him. That friend who speaks in first person is marvelously androgynous, able to be either girl or boy and it doesn’t matter at all.
A resonant friendship story about empathy and grief. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Lily was traveling with her Gram to Gram’s house in Iowa where Lily was going to live now. Gram suggested that on the long drive they discover ten beautiful things. Lily looked out the window but couldn’t find a single beautiful thing. Just then, the sun broke the horizon, and Lily had found her first beautiful thing. As they traveled, Lily’s stomach would hurt and she would feel very sad, but before she could get too sad, another beautiful thing would appear. There was a wind farm, a creek, even a decaying old barn. The smell of the muddy earth was one that Lily discovered and picked. Towards the end of their journey, a thunderstorm broke over them, filling up the entire space, and definitely making itself number 9. Then they were at Gram’s house. What would be number 10? Gram knew just the thing.
Griffin’s writing is deeply empathetic to Lily and the changes happening in her life. Lily’s emotions about the change are right at the surface, causing her stomach to ache and for her to sometimes withdraw. Gram is the perfect response to that, feeding her crackers and carefully building a relationship as the miles went by. The structure of counting beautiful things creates a way for readers to experience the unique beauty of the Midwest and Iowa in particular. The use of a storm to both symbolize the turmoil of life and also the clearing of the air is especially well done.
The illustrations are done digitally and with watercolor textures. From the drama of the storm that takes over the pages, filling them with wind, rain and lightning to the dazzle of sun as they reach Gram’s house with a page that glows with hope, this book shows emotions on the page clearly and with real skill.
A quiet book where readers can experience the beauty of nature and the wonder of a new family being built. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
The elephant was staying in the shadows, not speaking or engaging with anyone. The other animals decide to try to cheer him up. First, the monkey told the funniest joke he knew, but the elephant didn’t even smile. The ostrich sisters did a dance, but elephant didn’t even move. The crocodile brought him a treat of acacia leaves, but the elephant just sighed. Then a small white mouse came up out of breath and asked to rest near the elephant. The elephant asked if the mouse was there to tell a story, but she just wanted to rest. So the two of them sat quietly together. The mouse eventually shared part of her story, making the elephant cry. The mouse cried too. Finally, when they were done crying, the elephant felt lighter and was able to stand up. The two headed off to find the mouse’s home together.
Translated from the French, this picture book about emotions and sadness shows how separate these blue emotions can make us feel. The elephant remains in the shadows, silent and sad, not even able to weep. Then the smallest of creatures with the simplest of gestures shows empathy. It’s that shared experience, the silence together, the moments taken, not to distract but to be with one another. The power of that, shown in such simple ways, resonates throughout the book.
The illustrations are full of contrasts. The pages with the elephant glow with blues and lurk with dark shadows. The elephant is almost a mountain at night, large and unmoving. The other animals are bright and colorful, the sky a beaming blue and the ground a neon yellow-green. The mouse arrives as the sun is lowering in the sky, creating a synergy between her side of the page and the elephant’s that shows their growing connection as well.
A deep look at sadness and the power of empathy to overcome it. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Bear and Smile spent all their time together doing all sorts of things. Smile was always there when Bear woke up in the morning. They both liked the same breakfast and to explore the forest together. They also both would do anything for some honey. But then one morning, Bear woke up and Smile wasn’t there. Bear called for Smile but they never came. Breakfast didn’t taste the same. Rabbit suggests that Bear look for Smile in their favorite places. But even eating honey doesn’t bring Smile back. Bird comes and sits close to Bear not saying a word. Then Bird started to sing and Bear hummed along. Soon Bear started to feel something deep inside. There was Smile!
Tarlow explores emotions in this picture book, allowing all emotional states to be treated with compassion and empathy. Bear is usually very happy but some days can be blue ones, where it’s impossible to smile. Treating Smile as its own character makes the book really work well. Readers will understand immediately and enjoy seeing what will bring Smile back. They will likely expect the honey to work, and when it doesn’t that’s a great moment where only quiet empathy will work to find Smile again.
The illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache and acrylics. They create an entire world for Bear and Smile to explore and live in together. From Bear’s cozy home to the waterfalls and forests of their habitat. The landscapes are filled with bright colors of water, flowers and leaves. When Bear gets sad though, he changes from his deep warm brown to a cool blue and stays that way until Smile returns.
An empathetic look at emotions and sadness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Beach Lane Books.
Why Do We Cry? by Fran Pintadera, illustrated by Ana Sender (9781525304774)
After a quiet morning, Mario asked his mother why we cry. His mother explained that people cry for many different reasons. Sometimes crying is due to sadness that can’t be contained. Other times we cry because of the anger we feel like a storm cloud raining and feeling lighter afterwards. Sometimes we are confused and searching for answers. Crying helps us grow and keeps us from turning to stone. Tears can be the best medicine when we are feeling pain inside and out. And then of course, there are times when we cry for happiness.
Pintadera beautifully explores the emotions that we all feel and how they can be expressed through our tears. This is such a heartfelt book, framed by a mother talking to her son about crying. It’s so critical that boys feel that they can express emotion and cry rather than feeling emotions as rage. This book not only supports that but explains the complexity of emotions and how they change and develop.
Sender’s illustrations are gorgeously emotional. She captures the feelings of isolation, loneliness, anger and confusion with real skill, moving from one color palette to another to convey each type of emotion.
A marvelous book about emotions and emotional intelligence. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
This quiet book looks at how children can handle deep emotions like sadness in a proactive way. It explains how sadness, depicted as a large blue round creature, can arrive without notice and be so close you almost smother. It reveals how sadness can almost become you, but try not to be afraid. Instead listen to the sadness, ask it where it came from, be quiet and sit together for a while. Do things together, even take a walk with one another. Give it room and make it welcome, and then tomorrow is a new day.
Eland takes a rather Buddhist approach to handling negative emotions as she asks the reader to sit with their emotion, welcome it and basically make it feel at home. The book shows that emotions can’t be hidden or pushed away. This approach leads away from anger and misery and into an acceptance that makes this book very gentle. In the art there are clear echoes of Harold and the Purple Crayon in its simplicity. The color scheme is muted and reflects the quiet nature of the text and the content.
A clear and gentle look at difficult emotions. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
I’m Sad by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (9781481476270)
Flamingo is very sad today. He wonders if he will ever feel better. A little girl and a potato, yes a potato, try to explain about emotions and feelings. At times the three of them get a bit down all together, but they quickly turn to a plan to cheer up Flamingo. The girl and potato think of things that they love, but they don’t work for Flamingo. He doesn’t eat ice cream or dirt. In the end, they decide that sometimes it’s OK to just be sad. Flamingo worries that his friends won’t like him if he’s still sad tomorrow, but they assure him that they still will. Then potato makes a joke and the book ends with lots of laughter.
Told entirely in dialogue, this is a frank look at sadness and emotion. It explains a variety of approaches to emotions, ending with the most important one which is to not push the emotions away and that they will naturally change on their own. Black’s use of a potato as a main character seems odd until his personality starts flying and it suddenly steals the show. Ohi’s illustrations are big and bold, filled with flamingo pink (of course) and other bright colors that will make this a great read aloud, particularly when shared with different voices for the three characters.
A quite happy and optimistic book about sadness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
This strange and beautiful picture book is translated from the original Swedish. It is the story of Elsa who discovers the Night underneath her sofa one night just as she is counting the raisins in her cereal. So she tucks the Night into a cake tin and gives him some raisins too. Then she hides the cake tin down in the basement. With the Night trapped, day continues on and one without end. Finally, Elsa takes the Night out of his cake tin and starts to talk about how much she misses her best friend, an elephant named Olaf, who she met after a shipwreck. The explains how the two of them lived together and that now he is gone. About how she then moved to a lighthouse and stayed awake in the light night after night and has not slept for 30 years. The Night listens and then goes with her to visit Olaf’s grave and finally to lift her up and take her to her bed to sleep.
Filled with poetry, the text in this book is powerful. The story winds around, moving from the trapping of night into Elsa’s story of loss and finally to resolution. It is not linear, but an exploration of emotions and grief. It is a journey that is glowing, gentle and filled with lovely moments. In particular when the Night goes around and gathers up the sleepy people along with Elsa, there is such tenderness and love in that moment.
Mellgren’s art is modern and filled with bold graphical elements. The cut paper art is complex at times and simple in others, playing with light and dark as well as different shapes. the way that Night changes the page as he enters it is beautifully handled, his darkness spilling around him but able to be seen right through.
This unique story is luminous and impressive and will make a great bedtime story for children and parents who enjoy foreign picture books that aren’t the normal bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Every morning a young boy plays a game with his father. His father knock knocks at the door and the boy pretends to be asleep until his dad is right next to him and they give each other a huge hug. But then one day, his father isn’t there to play the game any more. His father isn’t there to get him ready for school either. Morning pass with no father. The boy thinks that maybe his father is just there when the boy is at school, so he writes him a letter about how much he misses his dad and how much he expected to learn from him. The boy waits for months and nothing happens, then one day he gets a letter from his father. A letter that speaks to their separation but also one that encourages him to continue to live and knock on new doors.
Beaty’s text is deep hearted and searingly honest. As his author’s note says, he had an incarcerated father who had been his primary caregiver as a young child. So Beaty has revealed much in this picture book about the gaping hole left from a missing parent. Yet the genius of this book is that it will work for any child missing a parent for any reason. And I adore a book with such a strong connection between father and child. Beaty manages to convey that in a few pages, leaving the rest of the book to reveal the mourning and grief of loss but also a hope that shines on each page.
Collier’s illustrations shine as well. Done in a rich mix of paint and collage, they are filled with light as it plays across faces, dances against buildings, and reveals emotions. His illustrations are poetry, filled with elephants, showing the boy growing into a man, and the man turning into a father. They are illustrations that tell so much and are worth exploring again after finishing the book.
This book belongs in my top picks for 2013. It is beautifully done both in writing and illustrations. I’m hoping it is honored by the Coretta Scott King awards and I’d love to see a Caldecott as well. Appropriate for ages 5-8.