3 Picture Books about Our World

Marwan_s Journey by Patricia de Arias

Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias, illustrated by Laura Borras (9789888341559)

Marwan is a little boy on a long journey filled with walking and heading to a place he’s never been. When his home was attacked by soldiers in tanks in the middle of the night, Marwan had to start walking. He thinks often of his mother and father, their little house where they lived happily together filled with sunlight. Now he must walk through the desert to a new homeland carrying a pack of hope on his back.

This picture book is imported from Spain and has the feel of a European children’s book. The language used is poetic and beautiful, showing the emotions rather than telling about them. Here is one example from early in the book: “I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth.” You can feel it right in your bones. The illustrations have a gorgeous depth to them, filled with deep blacks and rounded out by earthen colors. Throughout the book there is a sense of peace and a hope of a better place at the end of the long walk.

An important book that beautifully captures the dangers and loss of a refugee child. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Edelweiss and Minedition.)

Sea Creatures from the Sky by Ricardo Cortes

Sea Creatures from the Sky by Ricardo Cortes (9781617756160)

The illustrator of the incredibly popular Go the F*ck to Sleep has created a picture book that truly shows his skill. Told from the point of view of a shark, this picture book tells the unbelievable story of things in the air, above the sea, who are not birds. They are creatures with beards, with two ears, with hair. Creatures who hook sharks, take them out of the ocean and into the air, poke and prod them. Just to return them back to the sea, where no other creatures believe their tale of being taken.

In rhyming lines that have a humor and rhythm, the shark tells his story. The tale is accompanied with luminous paintings that show the beauty of the ocean, the many creatures who live there, and the drama of being taken out by researchers. Gorgeous illustrations accompany this shark’s tale and make for one dynamic picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Black Sheep.)

What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards

What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (9781610677226)

This book offers examples of untranslatable words from around the world. These are words that some cultures can use just one word to capture but in other languages it takes entire sentences to explain them. The words come from all over the globe, and while some may be familiar others are entirely surprising and fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting part is how these unique words offer a glimpse into the culture they come from. The illustrations of the book are show places and people around the world acting out each word. They are bright and friendly. The text offers the word, a definition and then additional information on where it comes from. Enjoy exploring words like nakama, tartle and gluggavedur! Appropriate for ages 8-11. (Reviewed from copy provided by Kane Miller.)


Barnacle Is Bored by Jonathan Fenske

Barnacle Is Bored by Jonathan Fenske

Barnacle Is Bored by Jonathan Fenske (InfoSoup)

Hanging off of the bottom of a dock is not the most exciting life. Barnacle has times of day when he is cold and wet and other times when he is dry and hot. The tide comes in and out, the waves roll in, the sun goes up and goes down. Barnacle is particularly jealous of the merry life of a polka-dotted little fish nearby. He knows that the fish has to have a lot more fun than Barnacle does. He must go diving with dolphins and frolic with other fish. Just as Barnacle is completing his fantasies about how much better the little fish’s life is than his own, an eel comes along. Gulp!

Put this down as another rather dark picture book that I adore. I must admit to having a type and this one is particularly pleasing with Barnacle being entirely jealous of what another fish has that he does not. It’s an emotion that children will relate to readily. The text is very brief and fast-moving. Barnacle’s voice is a pleasure to read aloud, from his slow tones of boredom through to the joys of being a fish and all the way to the end when he realizes what he actually has going for him.

The illustrations are very appealing and have the feel of a cartoon. Done in flat colors, they play up the facial expressions of Barnacle and the other fish to good effect. The looks of boredom are particularly clear and take it so far that it’s humorous. The page turns are nicely done as well, adding to the theater of the book.

Perfect for the boredom of summer days, this seaside book will surely refresh or at any rate give everyone a good jump at the end. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.


Waiting for High Tide by Nikki McClure

Waiting for High Tide by Nikki McClure

Waiting for High Tide by Nikki McClure (InfoSoup)

On a summer day, a boy waits for high tide. He’d love to swim but he’d just get muddy or even stuck. The other animals on the seashore are waiting for high tide too, six long hours. But today is a special day, the boy and his family are going to build a raft. They found a big log and have cut it into three sections. The boy plays on the shore, finding treasures along the way including a pair of pink glasses with one eye covered in barnacles. They work hard on the raft as the water comes in closer and closer. When they stop for lunch, the boy sees birds eating too. The raft is finally ready but there is still time before high tide, so they eat cookies and wait. Finally the raft floats and there is time for jumping, swimming and enjoying the perfect summer day.

McClure proves here that she is as much a writer and poet as an artist. She writes with a depth that is lovely to see in a picture book, offering real insight into the natural world. She also writes with a childlike eye and attitude, drawing parallels between the human world and the natural one. There is an engaging mix of fonts in the text, some of the text large and capitalized in a way that conveys excitement and time passing. The passage of time is such a focus here as the tide slowly comes in. It is a book that celebrates slower times, lingering before enjoying the reward of your hard work.

As always McClure’s art is exceptional. Her cut paperwork is filled with details. The scene of the boy in the barnacle glasses as he explores the shoreline is filled with such tiny details that one can look for some time before you see the chipmunk peeking over the log or the five dollar bill. This is a book for spending some slow time of your own on.

Based on McClure’s own family, this picture book is a quiet look at nature and spending time outside. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Review: Whale Shines by Fiona Robinson

whale shines

Whale Shines: An Artistic Tale by Fiona Robinson

Published November 5, 2013.

Whale is a living billboard, swimming slowly through the ocean with a poster to advertise the upcoming art show.  Along the way, he passes all sorts of sea creatures creating art.  The hammerhead shark is working on sculptures from sea debris.  Eel is forming lines in the sand.  Octopus, cuttlefish and giant squid were scaring each other to collect their ink.  Whale mutters to himself that he wishes he could make something too.  That’s when the plankton around him tell him to try.  But whale just can’t think of anything that he’d be able to do.  After all, he doesn’t squirt ink, and he can’t slither in the sand.  It’s going to take a lot of creativity and some risk for whale to even try creating art.

Robinson has created a simply gorgeous book here.  Her writing is lovely, slow-paced and languid just like Whale floating by displaying his advertisement.  Whale is a solitary figure in the story, lone and distant from the others.  As he drifts past, he is separate from everyone else.  Robinson successfully manages his transformation from wallflower to fully-engaged artist in a way that rings honest and doesn’t seem rushed.

Her art is lovely, filled with the deep colors of the ocean.  It is green and blue hues that shine.  Popping against those are the bright colors of the creatures and the coral in reds and yellows.  The result is a picture book with stunning visuals that truly evoke life underwater. 

A luminous picture book with glowing underwater scenes, this book will speak to all artists, even those reluctant to reveal themselves.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Review: Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

coral reefs

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

Chin follows up the success of Redwoods with this equally fine read.  The nonfiction magical realism continues, this time exploring coral reefs.  A girl enters the New York Public Library and selects this same book from the shelves.  As she turns the pages, coral begins to grow around her on the tables and floor.  She learns new facts about coral reefs when suddenly the room is flooded.  She continues to read, happily floating with the fish and sea turtle of the reef.  The food chain is explored and sharks appear in the water.  Soon she is floating in the city, entirely flooded with the reef growing upon it, almost unrecognizable through the coral, blue water and the creatures.  The book ends with another group of children seeing the girl dripping outside the library, taking the book and reading it with her.  They all swim together into the coral reefs.

As a librarian, I always love books that are set in libraries and that speak, as this one does so clearly, to the power of shared reading and libraries in children’s lives.  Chin mixes nonfiction facts with his magical settings in ways that astonish and engage. 

The facts on each page work with the illustrations, which demonstrate the facts in picture form.  Chin’s art is lovely from the floating delight of the girl to the menacing sharks to the light that plays in the water. 

This is a book that invites you in and teaches you facts and information while you too are happily floating along.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Also reviewed by:

The Hermit Crab

The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich

The hermit crab was very shy and enjoyed being just out of sight rather than part of a group.  So he was an unlikely hero!  One morning a wooden trap descends from above and the fish, crabs and lobster debate about what it is.  The hermit crab was off by himself when it arrived and was unaware of the stir.  As he looked for food, the hermit crab found the most amazing shell!  It had pieces that moved and a torso and a head and a lightning bolt too.  Back with the others, the flounder was caught under the trap, but no one would help him because they could get caught too.  The hermit crab with his new “shell” in place arrived and remembered he was hungry.  He shoved the trap, trying to reach the good smells.  All the others could see though was the head and shoulders of the shell he was wearing.  They cheered.  Suddenly the trap ascended to the top again. Everyone came to congratulate their new hero.  What is a shy crab to do when the spotlight is focused on him?

So often we read books about characters who like to be the center of attention or are bossy, pushy, or vain.  This book offers the other side of the shell, giving readers a lead character who is shy, reserved and quiet.  Even better, the hermit crab doesn’t dream of being the center of attention.  He isn’t constrained by his shyness.  He is just himself. 

Goodrich has written a great character in the hermit crab and surrounded him with a cast of loud, friendly characters to play off of.  The writing here is lovely to read aloud with great phrasing and pacing.  Goodrich’s illustrations are even more successful as they reveal the open vastness of the sea, the varied colors of underwater, and interesting perspectives on scenes.  I particularly enjoy the deep colored emptiness surrounding hermit crab as he looks for food.  Not dangerous, not lonely, just alone.  Lovely.

Appropriate for ages 4-6, this book is a great addition to any story time about the sea.  It could also be nice as a compare/contrast with a louder character-based book.  Children should be able to see themselves in both types of character.