The Peculiar Pig by Joy Steuerwald (9780399548871)
Penny is an unusual pig, since she’s actually a dachshund puppy. She doesn’t get bigger like her pig siblings, instead she gets longer. She’s different in other ways too, like her bark compared to their oinks. But her mother pig loves her just the same as her litter mates. When the piglets root in the mud, Penny digs with her paws instead. Penny also prefers to practice her barking instead of playing in mud puddles. Her piglet siblings teased her about how different she is, but Penny just kept being herself. Then one day, a snake appeared in the barnyard and suddenly Penny started growling and barking. She chased that snake away! Her own unique abilities saved the day.
Steuerwald has written a lovely little picture book about the value of being yourself and your own peculiar traits being your strengths. She nicely skirts the impact of bullying, keeping the piglets from being too aggressive, instead focusing on Penny and her personal gifts. The writing and story is told briskly and with a directness that will work well with small children.
The artwork is particularly captivating with each of the pigs unique from one another as well as from Penny, of course. The small brown dog stands out on the page against the pink and black piglets. The bright eyes and smiling mouths of the different animals make for a happy tone throughout the book.
Embrace your differences with this neat little picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova (9781534425644)
Leila isn’t sure she likes what she sees when she looks in the mirror, but her grandmother tells her how lovely the color saffron looks with her dark eyes. It makes Leila feel better, but she still sees her skinny arms and knobby knees in the mirror. As she joins her extended family for dinner, she realizes that she smiles the same as her aunt. Leila helps her grandmother make the curry. She heads out to the neighbor’s garden to ask for some cilantro. Everyone congratulates Leila on a wonderful dinner. Before Leila leaves that evening, her grandmother shows her a trunk of silk scarves. They are all the colors of the foods they just worked with, and Leila discovers a saffron one that makes her see herself clearly in the mirror.
Guidroz has created a book centered on a warm and loving Pakistani family. Leila’s concerns with her appearance are addressed by the family in a more holistic way, talking about beauty but also focusing on her skills and her talents. They never make her feel less for having concerns, instead surrounding her with options and choices to really feel more fully herself.
The illustrations are filled with oranges, yellows, reds and deep greens. They also have lots of patterns, filling the page with different textiles. Those colors pop against the simple white backgrounds.
Rich and warm, this book is just like a good curry. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (9780525553366)
Zuri has hair that can do almost anything. It curls all over when she gets up in the morning. She wears it in all different styles. In braids and beads, she is a princess. With two puffs, she is a superhero. Then one day she wakes up and it’s a very special day. Her father is still asleep, so she decides to try to do perfect hair herself. After a little accident in the bathroom, her father joins her. Together they figure out how to get her hair just right, but not without a few mishaps along the way. All in time for her mother to return home!
This picture book celebrates African-American hair. Offering all sorts of styles, the book exudes warmth and self-esteem. Creating an opportunity for a father to try to do hair, makes this book all the more lovely, also adding just the right dash of humor too. The use of modern technology to help is also something you don’t see a lot in picture books. The digital art is full of bright colors, humor and light.
Fall in love with this family and their hair. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Kokila.
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley (9780062846792)
Based on the real-life story of Mary Edwards Walker, who turned heads and drew ire when she dressed in pants mid-1800’s. This picture book shows a little girl of that time deciding to wear pants herself. The book firmly sets itself in the time period by explaining about societal expectations and the limitations that dresses placed on girls. The strong reaction of the townsfolk makes Mary question whether wearing pants is worth their anger. With her father’s support, she decides to continue wearing the clothes that make her happy. It turns out, she started a new trend!
Negley includes an author’s note that explains the story of the incredible Mary Edwards Walker who was also one of the first female doctors in the United States. The picture book focuses on gender expectations and how dressing as yourself is an important decision to make even if others in society don’t appreciate it. This is a strong statement for all youth and particularly for children who are gender nonconforming or transgender.
The art by Negley lifts the book into the modern era. Filled with bright colors and patterns, the illustrations have a great edge to them and a strong graphic quality. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that matches the tone of the book overall as well.
A great pick for discussions about gender expectations and clothing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Amazing Idea of You by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, illustrated by Mary Lundquist (9781681191836)
Inside every apple is the idea of a tree wrapped inside a tiny seed. If you plant it, that idea starts to grow and bloom. This picture book explores the ideas that are inside you! Just like the tree inside the seed or the chick inside an egg, ideas are inside of you and waiting to come out. It’s like the frog inside the tadpole, the flight inside a gosling or the butterfly inside the caterpillar. Ideas are personal and transform our world. What is inside of you?
Written with an inspirational tone, this picture book encourages children to think deeply about what they want to grow into. The message is empowering and personal, giving children the space and time to dream and think. In the story, the little girl creates an apple orchard from apple seeds which serves as a metaphor for how small things can grow large and make big changes to the world around us. The illustrations are positive and bubbly. Featuring a child of color though not a specific ethnicity, the illustrations have a warmth about them.
An appealing book with a focus on self-esteem and personal growth. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury.
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.
I Am Small by Qin Leng (9781525301155)
Mimi is very small for her age. She’s the shortest in her class at school and the shortest in her family too. Mimi thinks about all of the problems with being the shortest, like viewing pastries in the bakery or being unable to write higher on the blackboard. Her friends see it differently. They point out that she wins at hide-and-seek, that she gets to be first in line at lunch and gets the biggest piece of cake. At home there are advantages too. Mimi can fit between Mom and Dad in their bed, she can swim in the bathtub, and she can even ride on the back of their dog! So when someone even small than Mimi joins the family, Mimi knows just what to say.
Leng has illustrated many several books for children and this is her first time authoring a book. She has created an ode to the challenges and beauty of being small that children on the small side will easily relate to. As the book progresses, Mimi’s tone about her size changes to a much more positive one, just in time for her new little brother to appear. There is a focus on self-acceptance in this picture book that will shine no matter what your size.
Leng’s illustrations are whimsical and fresh. In Mimi, she has created a wonderfully androgynous little girl grappling with her size. Leng populates her pages with small touches and details that bring her scenes to life. Just the feel of characters clothing and the play of movement on the page are special.
A book about self-esteem that proves that size doesn’t matter. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (9780062275097)
The author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs returns with a new marvelous read for middle graders. Lark and Iris are twins. It’s the thing that everyone notices about them. They are very different underneath their physical similarities. Iris is rational, protective and always willing to argue. Lark is dreamy, creative and sensitive. When the two girls are separated for the first time into different classrooms at school, Lark retreats into herself. She has several humiliating experiences that Iris can’t find a way to help with. Meanwhile, Iris finds herself being quieter without Lark to speak up for and has difficulty finding her own way. She is drawn to a strange new antiques shop and begins to spend time there reading old books that belonged to a mysterious “Alice.” The man in the shop is extremely odd, talking about magic and collections. Other odd things are happening as well with art disappearing around the city and crows gathering in the trees. When Iris finds herself in real danger, the mysteries begin to make horrible sense, but she isn’t sure that anyone will even care she is gone.
Ursu once again weaves an incredible tale of magic. This one is set in Minneapolis and Ursu beautifully shares elements of the northern Midwest and the Twin Cities in the story. The setting of anchors this tale in reality which works particularly well as the reveal of the magical part of the book is so gradual. The book is nearly impossible to summarize well or concisely because there are so many elements to the story. As you read though, it is a cohesive whole, a world that Ursu builds for the reader with real skill where the elements click together by the end of the book.
While the book is about both Lark and Iris, the focus is primarily on Iris, the more prickly and outspoken sister. Lark is seen through the lens of Iris’ concern for her and Lark’s opinion of her own role with her sister isn’t shared until towards the end of the book. That reveal is one of the most powerful elements of the book, demonstrating how Iris has not been seeing things clearly at all. The narrator voice is just as well done, creating a feeling of a tale within a tale, where magic is real all along.
A grand adventure of a book full of magic and girl power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Walden Pond Press.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (9781481465809)
Genesis keeps a list of things that she hates about herself. Some of it is the color of her skin and the way that others tease her about how dark she is, unlike her light-skinned mother with good hair. Some of it is about the way that their family keeps getting kicked out of the houses they live in because they don’t pay the rent. Some of it is the way her father speaks about her when he is drunk. Some of it is based on her grandmother’s hurtful comments about Genesis. So after being kicked out of yet another house, Genesis’ family moves to a more affluent neighborhood outside of Detroit. Genesis discovers that she likes her new school and even finds herself making real friends for the first time. The house is the nicest they have ever lived in too. But other things aren’t any better. Her father keeps on drinking. Genesis is still as dark-skinned as ever, but she has plans to try to lighten her skin, thinking that will make her entire life better. As Genesis discovers her own talents, she must learn that learning to accept herself is a large piece of moving forward in life.
In this debut novel, Williams writes with a strong voice, taking on difficult topics including verbal abuse, racism, skin tone, alcoholism and co-dependency in an unflinching way. Williams reveals the deep pain and lasting scars that cruel words and verbal abuse can have on a young person, particularly when it is about a physical characteristic that is beyond their control. With Genesis’ parents caught in a marriage filled with anger and substance abuse, Williams offers other adult figures and also young peers who model a way forward for Genesis.
Genesis’ growth is organic and well paced. She learns things steadily but has set backs that end up with her damaging herself. She is a complicated character who looks at life through a specific lens due to her upbringing. She is constantly judging others before they can judge her, placing distance where there could be connections, and making poor decisions when offered compliments. Still, she is a good friend, someone willing to look beyond the surface and see what others can’t. But only when she allows herself to do that. Her complexity is what makes this book really shine.
Strong and vibrant, this book takes on the subject of skin tone in the African-American community as well as other heavy topics. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Atheneum.