Grandparents by Chema Heras, illustrated by Rosa Osuna (9781771645669)
When Grandfather hears an announcement of a party in the main square, he knows just who to invite. He rushes home to ask his wife, Manuela, to join him. But Manuela isn’t quite as eager as he is to head to a party. Grandfather picks Grandmother a flower and tells her how beautiful she is. Grandmother heads inside to put on eyeliner, then mascara, then skin cream, but each time Grandfather tells her that she is lovely just the way she is and to hurry up so they can go dancing! Lipstick, hair dye and a change of clothes are the next delays, but Grandfather is ready to cajole Grandmother along. Finally, the two of them go dancing together, and Grandmother realizes that Grandfather is just as beautiful as the moon too.
First published in Portuguese, this charming picture book explores the power of love and of being oneself. Heras uses a series of metaphors to describe Grandmother’s beauty. Her eyes are “as sad and beautiful as stars at night.” Her white hair is like “a midsummer cloud” and her skin is wrinkly like “nuts in a pie.” Grandmother herself uses negative metaphors to describe herself, but those are all countered by Grandfather’s love and adoration for her.
The illustrations are quirky and interesting, filled with surreal combinations of spaces and objects. As they are together in the house, the couple sometimes appear sideways or upside down as well as right-side-up nearby.
A warm and lovely look at love and self-esteem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.
You Matter by Christian Robinson (9781534421691)
Master picture book author and illustrator Robinson returns with a book just right for our pandemic situation. The book moves in a complete circle, beginning and ending with the same phrases. It starts with the importance of things that are too small to see with the naked eye. The book expresses that you matter whether you are first or last, go with the flow or go your own way. You matter if you fall down, if others are too busy to help, or even if you have to start all over again. You matter if you are far from home and feel alone. Whatever your age, you matter.
This picture book demands that readers see themselves as vital and important in their world regardless of status, situation or mood. It insists from a deep and powerful place that everyone matters, with no caveats at all. Robinson’s warmth exudes from the page even with such simple language and brief lines. That works to make this book accessible to even the youngest of children.
The art is great, adding humor to the book as one part focuses on mosquitoes and dinosaurs, comets and restarting the entire world. It also embraces diversity, showing people of different races, faiths and abilities.
An anthem for all of us to hold in our hearts. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder (9780735230507)
When he was born, Terrance came out without a shell. So his parents gave him a box instead. Terrance loved his box shell. It fit just right, kept him dry, safe and protected. He could even share it with his best friend, a hermit crab. But when Terrance met some other turtles, they mocked his box. So he set out to find a better shell option. He tried all sorts of new “shell” like mail boxes, window boxes, a jack-in-the-box, a boom box, and even a treasure chest, but nothing worked. When his best friend offered up his own shell, Terrance realized that everyone was more than their shells. So he went back to his beloved box, which had seen some wear and tear itself. With some help from his friends and family, they transformed it into exactly what Terrance was looking for.
Told with plenty of humor, including some bare turtle bottoms, this picture book embraces being different. It also looks at how casual cruel statements can impact a person, until their self-esteem repairs enough to stand strong once again. The art is done with speech bubbles and some framing that makes it feel a bit like a graphic novel but with a softness and pastel colors that keep it very friendly for small children.
Full of resilience and tenacity, this picture book will have you thinking inside the box. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Magnificent Homespun Brown by Samara Cole Doyon, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (9780884487975)
Celebrate the magic of the color brown in this book filled with poetic words and enticing illustrations. Deep secret brown is the color of the river currents and also the little girl’s eyes. It is the color of her eyelashes which are the same brown as the shadows of the hemlock trees in the woods where they hike. Amber brown is the color of honey and the color of her hair. Radiant brown is the color of the sand at the beach and the color of her skin. Brown is the color of caramel and cocoa, the color of warm family moments on icy cold days and the color of fall leaves and laughter.
Doyon’s poetry is approachable and accessible for young readers who will see themselves not only reflected on the pages but celebrated for all of their colors. Doyon’s poem is not simple, she insists on looking deeply at the colors and moments that connect us all, the laughter and the love in our families, and the beauty of African-American skin. She has created a picture book that delights in turning what society sees as a negative into a joyous positive party.
The illustrations are pure delight, as you can see from the cover. They take warm autumnal colors, which of course include brown, and create a book that glows in the reader’s hands. Skin color is celebrated, as is diversity in the African-American community. There is pure joy in the illustrations that matches the positivity of the text.
A positive look at African-American families, skin colors and experiences. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Child of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana, illustrated by Raul Colon (9781524717551)
This picture book takes the science of how atoms move through the universe and then shows how that makes us all very special. Through the eyes of one father and his child, each of us is celebrated for our connection to stars, planets and the entire universe. The story is told in lyrical verse that connects the child to the sun, the moon and faraway planets. The little girl’s features and hair are all compared to the Milky Way and the shine of the cosmos, inextricably tying them to one another. This book will have us all delighting in the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the stars in the sky.
Jayawardhana’s text in this picture book is evocative and lovely, inviting everyone to think of their own connection to the universe. Combining this poetic approach with the science behind it in his Author’s Note, this book really allows children to imagine themselves as an integral and unique part of a much larger system, dreaming beyond the earth.
Colon’s art is jaw dropping in this picture book. He takes readers to other planets, frozen and barren but then lights the skies with new planets, galaxies and stars. He fill the bodies visually with the swirl of stars and planets and then juxtaposes humans into these wild and beautiful worlds he has created.
A stellar look at our connection to the universe. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Make Me a World.
Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9781626726314)
Inspired by a comment from her daughter, Joy celebrates being Black in this picture book that definitively places the color black in the rainbow of the world. In poetic verse, she looks at a myriad of lovely things in life that are black like her friend’s braids, bicycle tires, Thurman’s robes, ink on a page. The images come from children’s own lives but also are inspiring, speaking to figures in African-American history and culture. The color black and being Black mean so many different positive and powerful things, that black itself is a rainbow to celebrate.
Joy’s writing is powerful, singing on the page like a hymn. She writes simply but with great imagery and drawing in references to powerful African-Americans along the way. She also takes lines of songs and weaves them into her poem. At the end of the book, she writes of the inspiration for her book, the songs included in her poem, and the use of various ethnonyms to refer to the Black community over time. A bibliography of titles is also appended.
The art by Holmes is exceptional. Much of the art in the book pays homage to stained glass windows with thick black lines and strong colors. Other pages use a lighter line, more details and allow colors to swirl and dance. The entire work is one of graphic power and color.
An important book for all library collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna (9781592703036)
This unusual French picture book is deep, questioning and modern. Giselle was born near Florence and Bilbao. She was born made entirely of glass, transparent and capturing the light of life around her. People could also see right into her head, viewing her thoughts as she had them. If she was fearful or worried, people would reassure her when they saw those thoughts. As she grew older though, her thoughts were sometimes very dark and sad. When people saw those things, they grew angry, asking how she could think that way and demanded that she stop. The tension of trying to change caused fractures in her glass body. Finally, Giselle decided to leave and find another place to live. But every place treated her exactly the same. Eventually, Giselle returned home, deciding to live as she is without trying to change, entirely transparent and whole.
This picture book wrestles with the very idea that children have dark thoughts, that they are worried and afraid at times, that their imaginations are not always light and playful. It’s a story about being different and being forced to conform uniquely to the crowd’s ideas. Yet it is also a story about finding oneself, living life on your own terms. The book is about reality, a lovely allegory to the importance put upon conforming and the necessity for us all to live our authentic lives, transparently.
The illustrations are complex and filled with different media. They include collage, different types of pens, markers, and pencils. They are layered and dramatic, capturing the mood of each part of the story. Some of the pages are transparent, looking through Giselle’s thoughts and emotions.
Unique and fascinating, this picture book embraces the dark side of our minds and the beauty of individuals. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (9781534425361)
Sulwe is a little girl with skin as dark as midnight. She doesn’t look like anyone else in her family and no one in her school has skin as dark as hers either. At school when the children are given nicknames, the only ones Sulwe is given refer to her dark skin and aren’t nice, like Blackie. Sulwe tries to make her skin lighter by using an eraser and eating light-colored foods only. But nothing changes it. Her mother explains that she is beautiful just as she is and needs to know that beauty is about how Sulwe sees herself not how others see her. That night, Sulwe has a dream where a star comes into her room and tells her a story about Day and Night. Day was celebrated by everyone but Night was not. So Night decided to leave and it was daytime all the time. No one was able to rest and the plants couldn’t grow. Day convinced Night that she was needed and just as beautiful at her darkest as Day was at her brightest. Night returned to much celebration and the two sisters never left each other’s sides again. With that inspiration, Sulwe was able to see the beauty of her own dark skin and her confidence grew.
The writing of this picture book is straightforward when it needs to be. It doesn’t hide the racism that Sulwe faces every day, the judgement she receives based solely on her skin color and the way that she in turn judges her own beauty and worth. The folktale part of the book works well, taking the story on a new path and demonstrating using Night, the importance of diversity and the impact we all have on one another.
The art by Harrison is so beautiful. Sulwe glows on the page, her dark skin always lit dramatically showing the slide of a silver tear on her cheek or the glow of city lights on her face. When the story moves to Day and Night, the beauty of both characters is clear. The depiction of Night plays with black and dark, never allowing her to disappear into that deepness.
Dramatic and important, this picture book deals directly in self-esteem and racism.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Slay by Brittney Morris (9781534445420)
Kiera spends her days at high school as one of the only black kids other than her boyfriend and her sister. She is regularly asked by the white kids about what is discriminatory and asked to speak for her entire race. Her sister and boyfriend are both activists and speak loudly and clearly about what is oppressive. But Kiera has her own opinions and they come out in the video game, SLAY, she designed that is specifically focused on giving black gamers their own safe space online. Hundreds of thousands of people now play SLAY, but no one in her life knows that Kiera plays it at all, much less that it is actually her game. When a boy gets killed over game money though, everyone is looking for the elusive game developer. The game gets labeled anti-white by some people and soon Kiera finds herself in the battle of a lifetime to defend her game and keep it from collapsing.
Writing about video games can be nearly impossible. The problem is capturing the action and abilities on screen while still keeping the game believable and understandable. Morris does this extremely well. She marries a battle card game with an MMORPG, which works particularly well. It’s a game that readers will want to play themselves, which is a tribute to how well Morris describes the game, gameplay and the world she has created.
Morris has also created great human characters in this novel. Kiera is smart and capable, channeling her energy and anger at the casual racism of other games into building one of her own. I love that we get to enter Kiera’s story after the development of the game and once it is already popular. The novel also wrestles very directly with racism, with stereotypes, and with being yourself in a world that excludes you and your voice.
A brilliant video game book that celebrates being black and the many dimensions that brings. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.