So Big! by Mike Wohnoutka (9781547600793)
A very positive picture book about first-day jitters when starting school. Bear is “so big,” a refrain that carries through the entire book. He is big enough to get himself dressed. He is so big that he can make his own breakfast too. He packs his own bag, ties his shoes, and heads out to the bus stop. But when the bus gets there, it is so big! The kids around him are big too. So is the large school. Bear is worried and sits down on the steps. There he notices a smaller child hesitating to go in too. The two join hands and head into the big school together where they discover that it’s not too big after all.
Wohnoutka’s story is told in the simplest of words by repeating “so big” and other phrases multiple times. It’s a story about confidence that starts strong, is lost along the way and rediscovered too. The bravery that it takes to try something completely new and then the resilience that is necessary to keep moving forward even when scared is shown deftly in this simple story.
The art is bright and centers entirely on Bear and the other children. Perspective is used very effectively to show how large the bus, the children and the school appear to a small child. Other times when he is more confident, Bear takes up space on the page and the perspective shifts to allow that.
Great for first day jitters, this book is simple and effective. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534416642)
Truman is a small urban turtle. He’s about the size of a donut and lives with Sarah high above the busy streets filled with taxis and buses. He is very happy spending quiet time with Sarah. But then one day, Sarah seems different. She is wearing a bow in her hair, a new sweater and has a big backpack. She even gives him some extra green beans as a treat. Before Sarah leaves, she touches Truman and tells him to be brave. And down on the street, Sarah boards a bus for the first time! Truman tries to wait for Sarah to return, but she is gone much longer than she ever has been before. So Truman finds a way out of his aquarium and makes a long journey towards the apartment door. He is being brave and will find Sarah!
Reidy tells a first day of school story from the point of view of a pet left behind by a child. It’s a wonderful answer to what pets do when children leave for school and will also speak to younger siblings being left behind at home when their older siblings head to school. The emotions of Truman are clearly conveyed and his worry is tangible even though readers will know exactly what is actually happening.
Cummins’ illustrations play with perspective nicely as Truman’s point of view is shared as well as views of the busy city street below the apartment. Big and bold, the illustrations show Truman’s limited world grow bigger and bigger as he explores the apartment landscape alone.
A look at bravery and the deep love of a pet, even a small, green one. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (9781524740740)
So many picture books about starting kindergarten focus on the stress and worries of the child. Here is a picture book that looks at a confident child who manages to start his time at school without stressing out. The little boy at the center of this book thinks of himself as a king and using at confidence to face his first day at school. He gets dressed himself, eats a big breakfast, and takes his royal carriage (the bus) to school. Once he is there, he holds his head high and smiles at everyone, just like his Mommy told him. He introduces himself to his new teacher and to the other children at his table. He likes his teacher, plays with the other kids, and has a great time. At the end of the day, he can’t wait to tell his parents about what happened and looks forward to the next day of school too.
This book is entirely refreshing in its approach to the first day of school. Barnes doesn’t just feature a confident young man but he also shows that the parents have been instrumental is getting this child to feel empowered. There is a focus too on joining a community of learners and being a good friend. The book is written in second person, which clearly invites readers to feel this confident themselves.
The illustrations are colorful with deep and bright backgrounds that show the different scenes. The class is made up of diverse children and exudes a wonderful inclusive warmth on the page. There is a sense of discovery about the wonders of school as the book continues.
One of the most positive books about kindergarten I’ve ever read. This one is a must buy! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler (9781554989720)
A middle grade graphic novel that focuses on the power of music and opera? Yes please! This innovative graphic novel tells the story of Charlie, who has an assignment to find her own personal perfect song. Her music class listens to all sorts of musical genres but the one that resonates with Charlie (and no one else in her class) is the music of opera singer Maria Callas. As Charlie searches for her song, she is thinking of two classmates. There is Emile, who is quiet and intriguing. Then there is the empty desk left by Luka, who was targeted and bullied for his gender nonconformity. As Charlie finds her song, she also discovers her inner diva and the ability to empower those around her.
Maclear’s story is all about the impact that music, specifically the right music at the right time, can have on one’s life. She writes with a deep empathy for young people finding their own way through middle school, focusing on the importance of friends but also on reaching out to others and helping them too. The book is filled with emotion and connection that exemplifies youth and hope.
Eggenschwiler’s art is exceptional. He creates images that perfectly capture the emotions of have a crush on someone, or feeling certain ways in your group of friends. The illustrations move through various single-colors as their main palette from yellows to blues to reds and back. Filled with individuality and creativity, the illustrations are interesting and unique.
A great graphic novel for middle grades, this one speaks to each person being both an individual and a member of the community. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from library copy.
Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg, illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom, translated by Eva Apelqvist (9781773061498)
Adrian doesn’t fit in at school. Bullied by some of the kids in the schoolyard, he spends his time in class hoping not to be called on. When he is, his heart pounds and his mind goes blank. He can’t answer even the easiest of questions out loud. He spends lunch alone and his recess dangling from tree branches. On his way home, he does head stands and walks on his hands. At home, his father works early and his mother works late, Then Adrian meets Heidi, a large wolfhound, who bonds with him immediately. The two of them spend all of their time together, she even goes with him to school. With Heidi at his side, Adrian doesn’t need to worry about bullies and he can focus in class and answer questions. But Heidi was someone else’s dog, and eventually Heidi found her owner again. Adrian was left alone again, missing Heidi dreadfully. Until Heidi found him again too. Adrian got to meet Heidi’s owner, and discovered a world of tightropes and performances.
This unique and fascinating book explores the life of a lonely boy who is different than the other children. He is quiet, unpopular and prone to anxiety, and yet he is also brave as he swings from tree branches and does hand stands on ledges. The text in the book is minimal with many of the pages showing only the illustrations and not having any words on them. The words often downplay the emotions that Adrian is feeling, though after he loses Heidi, his grief is palpable in both words and illustrations.
The illustrations are truly the heart of the book. They move from multi-paneled pencil drawings to full two-page paintings. The pencil drawings show Adrian’s everyday life while the large illustrations capture his emotions with a lush clarity. The small moments captured in Adrian’s day make up his life, one after another, small and yet also meaningful.
An incredibly moving graphic novel that invites readers to see beyond a person’s surface. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (9780062747808)
Jude lives in Syria with her beloved older brother and her parents. As her older brother gets involved in the political battles around them, her parents decide that it is too dangerous for Jude and her pregnant mother to stay in Syria. So Jude and her mother move to Cincinnati to live with Jude’s uncle. America is very different than Syria, much louder and faster, and filled with a language that Jude barely understands. As Jude gets acclimated to living in the United States, she steadily makes new friends along the way. Her love of movies and desire to perform lead her to audition for the school musical. But when the attacks of 9-11 occur, the country that Jude has grown comfortable in changes to be more hostile to Muslims. Jude needs to rediscover what she loves about both Syria and the United States, her two homes.
This novel is written in verse, making for a very readable work. Told in Jude’s voice, the poetry allows readers to see how she feels about leaving Syria, how lost she feels when she comes to Cincinnati, and how she starts to find her way. The importance of English Language Learner classes are emphasized, both in learning the language but also in finding a group of friends. Jude also finds friends in other ways, connecting over shared cultures and shared interests.
Jude’s voice is vital to find in a middle grade novel. My favorite chapters are where Jude gets angry and voices her pain at the injustice of being labeled in a certain way, feared because of her religion, judged because of her headscarf. Those moments are powerful and raw, ringing with truth on the page.
Beautifully written with an amazing Syrian heroine at its center, this book is a great read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.
I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta and Luis Amavisca, illustrated by Gusti (9788417123598)
Ben loves to paint his nails in cheery colors. He loves looking at the bright colors on his hands. His mother shares her nail polish and so does his friend Margarita, they both have large collections of colors. One morning, as Ben headed to school with red nails, two boys started teasing him, telling him that nail polish is for girls. Ben felt very sad and a few days later, he told his parents about it. His father immediately asked for orange nail polish for his own nails. At school though, more boys started to tease him. Soon Ben was only wearing nail polish on the weekends, removing it for school. His dad though, wore bright nail polish every day, even when he picked Ben up from school. As Ben’s birthday arrives, he gets the best present ever! What could it be?
This picture book offers a very approachable way to talk about gender expectations and how even small expressions of difference are important. The parents in the book are both tremendously warm and encouraging of their son, but the book accurately shows how school can be very different for children who are not conforming to societal norms. The use of nail polish is clever, adding a colorful element to the tale as well as something that Ben’s father can embrace himself.
Gusti’s illustrations are marvelous. Filled with warmth and humor, they celebrate the bright colors of nail polish on each page. Ben’s emotions are shown through the set of his shoulders and his entire posture. When he is sad, he droops over and when he’s happy he bounces on the page.
A great book about gender nonconforming behavior in children and how a school can be a place of safety. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Nubeocho.
Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis (9781547601004)
11-year-old December has moved from one foster family to another over the past several years. As she moves, she has learned not to have many possessions, enough that she can carry them in a couple of bags. One item she brings with her every move is her biography, a book that reminds her why she is special and different from those around her. With her large scar on her back, December believes that she was raised as partially a bird and will eventually have her wings and feathers and be able to take flight. But when she jumps from a tree, she is moved to another foster family. This time, she is taken in by Eleanor, a women with a large garden, bird feeders, bird baths, and who works in an animal rehabilitation center. Eleanor’s quiet and loving approach starts to work on December, much as it does on her wounded birds. As December starts to trust, her desire to be separate from humans and different from them ebbs away. But could she ever give up her desire to fly?
Stark-McGinnis has written a startling debut novel for middle graders. December’s belief that she is a bird is at first alarming as she jumps from a tree, then rather odd, but the author leads readers to deeply understand the injury and damage done to December by first her mother’s violence and then her foster parents. It is a slow and haunting journey as December begins to trust others. Tying her own personal journey to that of a wounded hawk relearning to fly, the book creates a path for December to come alive again.
The journey to trust also includes a wonderful secondary character, Cheryllynn, a transgender classmate of December’s. As both girls steadily learn to stand up to the class bullies, they also learn that doing it together is easier and has a bigger impact. The two girls accept one another exactly as they are, something one doesn’t see enough in books about young girls and their friendships.
A heart-wrenching novel of abuse, recovery and learning to fly. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Lawrence in the Fall by Matthew Farina, illustrated by Doug Salati (9781484780589)
When Lawrence finds out that his teacher wants the students to bring in their collections to share, he is very worried. He doesn’t have a collection at all. At home, he tells his father about not having a collection and his father has an idea. The two of them head into the forest together to see what they can find. But Lawrence doesn’t want to collect bugs the way the spider does and he can’t reach the shiny, smooth rocks that the river has collected. When a sudden storm begins, Lawrence gets separated from his father and finds himself standing near a large tree full of bright-colored leaves. Lawrence calls to the tree and it drops a beautiful leaf down to him. Now Lawrence knows exactly what to collect!
Farina captures the emotions that can accompany an assignment at school, including sadness and isolation. Thanks to the warmth of his father’s response, the two of them tackle the problem, taking action rather than despairing. In the end, Lawrence delights all of the children in his class by sharing his collection freely with them. The book has a touch of magic about it as Lawrence requests leaves from the trees, and they freely offer them.
The art by Salati captures Lawrence’s emotions beautifully. The double-page spreads of the forest are dramatic and could be seen as something frightening, particularly when Lawrence is separated from his father. In the end, the forest becomes something very special, a place where Lawrence discovers nature.
A lovely picture book with delicate illustrations and a strong story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney-Hyperion.