Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Based on the author’s own childhood experiences, this graphic novel looks at the perils of summer camp. Vera has always wanted to go to summer camp like the other girls in her class. But she knows that her life is very different from theirs. Just look at her disaster of a sleepover birthday party and the way that her Russian family approach scared off the other girls. But then Vera finds the perfect summer camp, a Russian camp where the girls should be just like her! She drags her younger brother along too and just knows that this will be the best experience ever. But when she discovers that the girls she has to share a tent with are five years older that she is, that there is no electricity and no running water, Vera finds herself feeling just the way she always does, not fitting in and unsure she’s going to survive.

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. She has a wonderful twisted sense of humor in all of her work that marks it as uniquely hers. Here she beautifully creates a story that rings with truth, about not fitting in even in the place you should fit in the best, of not finding your place, and then eventually of finding it in an unlikely place but only after you accept that you are different. It’s a lovely package of a book, showing that being yourself is all you can do.

Brosgol’s art captures the humor as well. The book is done in a palette of green and black, mimicking the natural setting but also quickly moving from darkness to light. Vera herself is a great character, with her huge glasses and limitless hope that things will improve.

A wonderful middle grade graphic novel just right for summer. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

3 New Picture Books All About Me, Myself & I

I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein

I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein (9781419726439)

When a housecat named Simon introduces himself to large cats from the wild, he tells them that he is a cat too. But they laugh and him. Each big cat goes on to explain why they are a cat and he clearly is not. The lion explains that he has a mane and a tuft on the end of his tail. Cheetah can run faster than any other animal. Puma lives in the mountains. Panther lives in the jungle and sleeps in trees. Tiger is very big, very strong and very orange. Simon is confused, because each example is unique to that big cat. Then Lion explains how they are all alike and Simon is able to show that he shares those same attributes too.

Written almost entirely in dialogue between the various cats, this book moves along as fast as a cheetah. Along the way, readers will realize that they are not being told what cats actually are and will agree with Simon when he protests. The ending of the book is immensely satisfying as the cats play together and then fall asleep in a heap, big and small together. The illustrations are very appealing, showing long before the text does the similarities between the big cats and Simon. The subtle color palette is particularly effective. This picture book is the cat’s meow. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo (9780062667120)

In gentle rhyme, this picture book tells everyone that they are enough, that they deserve a good life. The book speaks of the importance of learning, of growing, of getting up when you fall and trying all over again. It is also about diversity and the way that we are all different from one another but that we can still make connections, support one another and be friends.

Written in gliding poetry, the book doesn’t focus on a story but on a feeling of inclusion and support, of self esteem and empowerment. Children of all races and faiths will see themselves on these pages thanks to the inclusive illustrations that accompany the text. The illustrations have a joy to them that celebrates the power of children to rise above. A strong and simple picture book that is inclusive and celebratory. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

I Got It by David Wiesner

I Got It by David Wiesner (9780544309029)

Award-winner Wiesner returns with another of his signature near-wordless picture books. Here the book is about baseball and what happens in the outfield. A boy in a red shirt is sent to the outfield and when a ball is hit out towards him, he calls “I got it!” But as he leans to get the ball, he trips, loses a shoe and is left face down on the ground. As he trips, readers will see roots emerge from the ground. The next time he attempts to catch the ball, the tree roots and limbs are even larger and result in a bigger crash. The third time, the ball itself becomes huge but as the boy is smaller, he determinedly goes after the ball, climbing over the other players to finally make the catch.

While the elements are playful here and rather surreal, there is a truth to the entire book that speaks to the tangle of feet, the tripping of toes, the humiliation of falling, and the resilience it takes to keep on getting up, reach for the play and finally make it. With Wiesner’s beautiful illustrations, this picture book soars like a baseball into a blue sky. Simply superb. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 New Picture Books Brimming with Self Esteem

I Can Be Anything! Don_t Tell Me I Can_t by Diane Dillon

I Can Be Anything! Don’t Tell Me I Can’t by Diane Dillon (9781338166903)

Zoe says that she can be anything she wants to be, like a bird flying up high. But she also has a little voice that asks what happens if she falls. Time and again, Zoe states her dream and why it will work but the little voice is still there asking nagging questions and inserting doubt. Zoe dreams of being a scientist or a veterinarian or a musician or President. Still, that voice comments on each of those dreams. Each time though, Zoe responds or ignores the voice until it can’t answer anymore. This picture book shows how to push through personal doubts and follow your dreams, whatever they may be.

This is Dillon’s first solo picture book since the death of her husband. The insidious little voice that we all have is nicely drawn here, so that everyone can relate to the messages it gives. Zoe’s inherent enthusiasm and pride in herself are not cut down even though she has doubts. The focus on learning, science, arts and reading is strong in this book. Dillon’s illustrations are beautifully done, featuring Zoe and her dreams becoming reality on each page. A winning look at resilience and empowerment, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Blue Sky Press.)

Natsumi by Susan Lendroth

Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris (9780399170904)

Natsumi is a little girl with lots of exuberance in everything she does. She moves fast, plays hard and makes a lot of noise. When her family starts to prepare for a festival featuring traditional Japanese arts, Natsumi struggles to figure out where she fits in. She moves too fast for flower arranging. She stirs the tea too hard in the tea ceremony. She is too loud for the dance routine. Her grandfather though has an idea of where she might fit right in, but it’s a secret until the festival.

This fast-paced picture book suits its subject just right. Filled with noise and action, the story shows a dynamic little girl who just can’t slow down, be quiet or be gentle. The repetition of those elements strengthens the structure of the book. The solution the grandfather comes up with is just right and offers a real way that Natsumi can be herself and still participate. The illustrations are just as bright and vivid as Natsumi herself, filled with color, movement and smiles. A book that celebrates individuality. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Penguin Random House.)

Petra by Marianna Coppo

Petra by Marianna Coppo (9780735262676)

Petra is an enormous boulder, one that is unmovable, visited by others, a magnificent mountain that has been there since ancient times. Or is she? When a dog comes along, the perspective changes and suddenly Petra is much more of a pebble size. Petra thinks that maybe she isn’t even a rock at all, perhaps she is an egg instead! What could she hatch into? When she is tossed into a pool of water, Petra again dreams of how very large she is as an island. But once again is picked up and taken away, this time by a girl who paints Petra. Who knows what she may become tomorrow!

Coppo’s book is a skilled look at perspective in two ways. First in the changing perspective as Petra seems large and then small, larger and then smaller again. Second in Petra’s own shifting perspective about who and what she is and could be. It’s an adroit combination of themes that support one another very successfully and is vastly appealing. The art style adds to that appeal with Petra’s expressions changing as her perspective shifts. The art is simple, focusing primarily on Petra herself in all of her imaginative glory. Rock on! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Picture Books to Celebrate YOU!

Crown An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (9781572842243)

This picture book celebrates the power of a fresh haircut, the transformation that comes with it and the empowerment that it brings. Written in second person, the poetry draws the reader in and right onto the barber chair with a drape that becomes a superhero cape and men around that seem presidential and majestic. There is affirmation in this book, a celebration of the barbershop, the culture and the community. The text of the book reads like slam poetry, speaking truths and adding wonder. The illustrations are paintings that capture the place but also the joy of the haircut. The combination is exceptional, a book that belongs in every public library in every community. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

When_s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano

When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9781626722934)

When I was little, I asked every day for an entire year whether it was my birthday and then realized how very long it was between them! So this book is exactly the book I needed as a small child. This picture book ask the question over and over again about when a birthday is coming, dreaming of cake and presents and a party. Fogliano uses rhythm and internal rhymes to give the book a fast paced structure that almost sings. It is quick and funny and infectious. Robinson’s illustrations are a treat with their use of collage and a diverse cast of children longing for their special day. The book ends with a birthday, just as it should. Share this one with children longing for their next birthday or who are just about to have one. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Review copy supplied by Roaring Brook Press.)

The World Shines for You by Jeffrey Burton

The World Shines for You by Jeffrey Burton, illustrated by Don Clark (9781481496322)

This shining and shimmery board book is done in a large format. The thick pages are filled with metallic shine that is embossed on the pages to create texture that can be felt by little fingers, allowing it to be explored by touch. The text of the book is simple and inviting, exploring all of the ways in which the world shines. There are snowflakes and flowers and forests and leaves, it all comes together in a celebration of that child. A great book to share aloud with one or two children and discuss the pictures together. There is so much to explore here! Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Picture Books to Celebrate Being Yourself

I Love My Purse by Belle Demont

I Love My Purse by Belle Demont, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (9781554519545)

Charlie decided one morning to take the bright red purse that his grandmother had given him and wear it to school. His dad noticed immediately and mentioned that boys don’t carry purses, but Charlie continued down the stairs with his purse. His father thought  about the Hawaiian shirts he would love to wear to work. At school, a girl in his class noticed the purse and told Charlie that boys don’t carry purses. Charlie carried on. The girl started to wonder about wearing face paint to school. At lunch, some older boys pointed out that Charlie had a purse and then one of the boys wondered about what it would be like to cook real food at school. The crossing guard mentioned his favorite sparkly shoes when he saw Charlie’s purse. The next day, things changed. Charlie still carried the big red purse but others were doing what they wanted to too.

Demont manages to write a book about embracing children who are not following gender norms without making the book about lecturing readers. The clever piece of the book is that those protesting Charlie’s purse are then inspired themselves to break with societal norms and rules in their own way. Wimmer does a great job with making the illustrations bright and merry, showing Charlie as a happy child who is sure of himself even as others question him. A winner for families and schools being more inclusive about breaking gender norms. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Annick Press.)

No One Else Like You by Siska Goeminne

No One Else Like You by Siska Goeminne and Merel Eyckerman (9780664263539)

In a world of more than 7 billion people, you are unique. This picture book explains just how special you are. People live in different types of places around the world. People can be quiet or noisy. People have different types of bodies, come in different colors, shapes and sizes. They wear different clothes. People are also similar. They are all fragile, all need compliments and care. Some people are happy, some scared. They come from different families, different faiths. All of those differences add up to mean that there is no other person just like you!

Originally published in Belgium, this picture book has a decidedly European feel to it. The loosely structured book has a lovely meandering style, rather like a conversation with a good friend about how special you are. The illustrations are smaller and more contained, the pages filled with plenty of white space. They have a playful style, showing different people and lots of different children. A lovely book to encourage self esteem and individuality. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (E-galley provided by Netgalley and Westminster John Knox Press.)

Why Am I Me by Paige Britt

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Aiko (9781338053142)

Told in simple yet profound poetry, this picture book asks a deep question about identity. Why are you the person that you are? What would happen if you were someone else? How would that change you and your experience? Due to how simple the text is, the illustrations are key to the success of the book. They are vibrant and rich, showing an urban setting with lots of different races and religions living in harmony together. This picture book is a great way to start a discussion with a class or single child. Perfect for public libraries in search for diverse picture books that invite children to think deeply about the subject. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)

 

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Christine Grove (9780399554551, Amazon)

Amanda knows just how she wants her first day of Kindergarten to go. She will print her name large on the blackboard, she will build the tallest tower, and she will run faster than everyone else. But when she gets to Kindergarten, it doesn’t go exactly as planned. Amanda’s favorite color is brown, but another girl dressed all in pink won’t leave Amanda alone. In fact, Bitsy is the one who gets to put her name in the middle of the blackboard. Amanda is scolded for building her tower too tall and she isn’t the fastest either. So she decides to head to her brother’s 2nd grade class and just skip Kindergarten entirely.

Ransom has depicted a certain type of child, one that is vastly confident about school and then realizes that what they have dreamed up is not actually reality. It’s a great variant on the typical Kindergarten picture book about the fear of starting school. It also shows that overconfidence can be just as difficult as being worried. Ransom tells an entire story in her picture book, allowing Amanda to feel big emotions and work through them in her own unique way.

Grove’s illustrations add a large amount of appeal to the book. Amanda remains appealing to the reader even though she is prickly, thanks in part to the way she is shown on the page. From her brown cardigan to her red high tops, she is a vibrant character on the page even as she makes plenty of mistakes.

A nice twist to the typical starting school books, this picture book shows everyone has a lot to learn in Kindergarten. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins (9781452144016, Amazon)

Pete is a little elephant who prefers not to wear pants. He likes to pretend to be other things that are also gray and also don’t wear pants. Maybe he’s a boulder? But the boulders don’t like his knock-knock jokes and never respond. Maybe he’s a squirrel? But he manages to scare the squirrels away. A pigeon? A cloud? Or maybe, he’s exactly who he knows he is, a little one who doesn’t want to wear clothes.

I love that there is a moral here, but it’s for the parents not the kids. That is to let your little one be who they truly are. The ending has the mother elephant who is dressed quite conservatively and has been watching with a worried expression finally just accepting Pete for who he is. The writing is mostly done in asides spoken by Pete and the other animals. It’s wry and great fun, just right for reading aloud.

Watkins’ illustrations have a great softness to them, colors that are subtle and smear on the page. The background isn’t a pure white but a soft textured gray. The pages move from full double-page spreads to smaller comic-book framing that plays in tune with the speech bubbles on the pages. Don’t miss the denim end pages too, and notice the difference between the front and back ones.

A joyous call to support our children, whoever they are. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Braced by Alyson Gerber

Braced by Alyson Gerber

Braced by Alyson Gerber (9780545902144, Amazon)

Rachel is looking forward to a great year. She has two best friends and it’s looking like she may not just make the soccer team but may be playing forward. She even has a crush on a boy, Tate, in her class. Just as her plans start to take off though, she is hit with news about her scoliosis which has been being monitored for years. Rachel must wear a brace to correct the curve of her spine. She has to wear it 23 hours a day, every day. The brace changes how she can kick the soccer ball, how she breathes, how she runs and how she eats. Worse though, it changes how everyone sees her, including her best friends and Tate. What had been going to be the best year ever has become the worst year ever.

Gerber, who wore a brace herself for scoliosis, has created a piercingly clear look at life-changing events like wearing a brace. She takes the time to really look at the brace itself, the impact that it has on an athlete, and the changes it makes in self-perception. I haven’t read a book since Deenie by Judy Blume that tackles this subject and it was high time for a new take on it.

As the adults in Rachel’s life push her to quickly accept the brace, Rachel pushes back and insists on continuing to play soccer. Rachel appears to be coping well, but she is bottling so much up inside her. She is a great character, demonstrating with honesty and strength the importance of voicing aloud to those you love what you are experiencing and feeling. Once Rachel begins to do that, others can support her and help her through. It’s a lesson in vulnerability leading to better understanding that is gracefully presented.

Strong, human and timely, scoliosis impacts ten percent of teens. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio

Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio

Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9781481457835, Amazon)

This is the second book about Gaston and his friends. The focus in this picture book is on Antoinette, the little poodle growing up in a family of bulldogs. Each of her brothers has a special talent: one is fast, another is strong, and the third is fast. Antoinette’s mother tells her that she also has a special talent, but no one knows what it could be. Then one day in the park, Gaston’s sister goes missing.  Can Antoinette be the one who finds her? It depends on whether she can trust her nose and her heart.

DiPucchio has a wonderful voice for picture books. She creates a natural rhythm with her writing, using repetition skillfully and not overplaying it. She understands the importance of little pauses, creating special moments in the prose that really pull a reader’s or listener’s attention to important parts. DiPucchio also manages to create real tension in a picture book that is appropriate for a preschool audience.

Robinson’s illustrations are bright, bold and large. They work well for sharing with a group. Against the bright backgrounds, the white and brown dogs pop visually. The acrylic paint offers deep colors that have some texture to them, adding to the visual appeal.

Another winning picture book from a master author, make sure to check in with Gaston’s story too! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.