The Gold Leaf by Kirsten Hall, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (9781592702145, Amazon)
Spring has returned to the forest, filling the woods with all colors of green. In the midst of the new growth, something special sparkled. It was a gold leaf, unique and different. All of the animals wanted to have it. A bird got it first, planning to use it to line its nest. Soon though, other animals grab it and take it for themselves until finally it lays in tatters on the ground and then is swept away by the wind. The animals are so dismayed at what they have done. The seasons change and fall and winter arrive and go. It is spring once again, green and lush. Will the gold leaf return?
Hall dazzles with her prose, offering so many colors of green in a single sentence that it is almost like being in a woods and noting each color. She uses very dynamic pacing in this picture book from the frenzy over the gold leaf itself as it is torn apart to the sadness afterwards and the slow turn of the seasons. That slow consideration continues as the animals wait to see if the gold leaf will ever return to them.
The illustrations take Hall’s considerable list of green colors and convey them to the page. The images are lush and filled with rich colors that have dapples of sunlight, deep shadows and animals that glow against the background. The use of goldleaf for leaf itself is very effectively done, particularly as it is ripped apart and each little piece continues to brighten the page.
A book about wonder, patience and sharing, this picture book is particularly golden. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion.
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin (9780553537895)
In this wordless graphic novel, a little girl brings her stuffed toy fox to school for show-and-tell and it is taken from the playground by a real fox! The girl and her friend chase after the fox, stopping to ask directions when they find a small door in a tree. The squirrel who lives there points them in the right direction. Meanwhile, a weasel tries to steal the toy from the little fox, but a bear steps in and sorts it out. The children arrive at a town where animals live together and they enlist the help of the entire area to search for the fox. Soon they discover the little fox and his stolen toy, but what will they do then?
Graegin tells a really wonderful story solely through images. Using white space to frame her images into a graphic novel format, the story is told with rich details. It clearly establishes the little girl’s long attachment to the stuffed fox and her desire to share it with her class. Then the story becomes a chase sequence and a mystery of where the fox has gone. It then enters a lovely fantasy where the entire animal town comes to life, shown in a wide panorama that makes one want to wander the streets.
One special device used through the book is that the children are shown in black, grays and whites. The color enters the book subtly at first with the little fox and a red bird who watches from above. The children maintain their more somber color palette even as the world around them is vibrant color. Yet these worlds can touch and cross, much to the joy of the reader.
This genre bending graphic-novel picture book is beautiful, rich and worthy of journeying through time and again. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz and Wade.
How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Thomas made a pillow cave on a cold day. But when he went to get a flashlight to read by, he noticed that something big had taken over the cave. Something with two brown eyes looked back at him when he looked inside. It was a bear! To get the bear out of his cave, Thomas laid a trail of blueberries down the stairs and sure enough, the bear followed eating them up. Thomas ran to get books to read in his cave, but he was too late and the bear had already returned. He tricked the bear with a back-scratching stick and then got inside the cave, but stray bear fuzz had him sneezing and running for a tissue. In the meantime, the bear returned. Thomas tricked the bear again and again into leaving the cave, but when the bear returned finally and Thomas was already in the cave, something happened. The bear started to cry, revealing himself to be Thomas’ younger brother. There was only one thing to do!
Pinder has created a book sparkling with creativity. His young protagonist who is battling the invasive brother bear comes up with clever ways again and again to trick the bear into leaving the cave. Pinder keeps each of the tricks appropriate for both a bear and a little boy, keeping the audience entirely fooled until his reveal. I was completely convinced of this being a little bear and expected the book to end with a teddy bear of some kind. It was a delight to discover a different twist that speaks to how to be a good older sibling.
The illustrations from Graegin are key to keeping the audience convinced of the bear being real. She subtle makes sure that the face is not shown until that moment of reveal. The book glows with a yellow warmth that invites curling up under a blanket or in your own pillow cave to read it.
A great pick for bear story times, this picture book shows how hard sharing can be. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah E. Harrison (InfoSoup)
Bernice is not having a good time at the birthday party and the cloudy day suits her mood. Her piece of birthday cake didn’t have a frosting rose on it like the others. Her soda was warm and tasted like prune grapefruit flavor. And then the big kids hit the pinata down before she even got a swing and the only candy Bernice got was a stepped-on gumdrop. So when the clown showed up with a huge bunch of balloons, Bernice grabbed them away and took them all for herself. But there may have been a few too many, and she floated up and up. She floated past other animals in the tree who were having a bad day too. She floated up until she got stuck on the bottom of the gloomy cloud. When she looked down, she realized that her problems were pretty small from a distance. Then she set out to change her day to a sunny one after all.
Harrison captures all of the elements of a bad mood and a horrible day. When you are already in a bad mood, nothing much can fix it except yourself. Harrison makes sure that it’s a substantially bad day, one that most children would have difficulty coping with. She does it with subtle humor, making the single gumdrop a stepped-on one and the soda flavor truly icky. She also makes sure that while the result is a more cheerful day, it takes a little while to get there and the change though fast does make sense.
The cover alone made me laugh out loud. Harrison knows her cats and no creature can look quite as grumpy as a wronged feline. The facial expressions of all of the animals are priceless. The paintings are detailed to the point where you can see individual hairs on the animals faces. Each one has a distinct personality, even if they are one in a crowd of little animals. Then the mood change happens and it’s like Bernice is a completely different little kitten with wide eyes and an internal glow.
Purely satisfying and fun, this picture book is a happy treat to share. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Bob and Flo by Rebecca Ashdown (InfoSoup)
In a story perfect for small children starting daycare or preschool, this picture book shows how to make new friends and share. Bob really likes Flo’s pink bucket that she brought with her to school. When Flo is busy painting a picture, her bucket disappears. She looks for it everywhere. She notices that Bob has a new pink hat at one point. Then she sees him making a tall tower of blocks standing on something pink. She sees him playing a pink drum. And then at the playground, she finally spies her bucket by the slide. Bob is there too, stuck at the top of the slide. Happily, Flo knows just what to do to help and all it takes is a good pink bucket.
Such a simple book but told so very well. Ashdown perfectly captures the unique ways preschool children interact with one another, often playing alongside each other than right together. She weaves in the humor of Flo seeing her bucket over and over again and not recognizing it. That plays nicely against the creativity that Bob uses when playing with the bucket on each page. Toddler audiences will love spotting the bucket on each page spread.
Ashdown’s illustrations are cheery and bright. The sunny yellow background allows the grey and white penguins to shine on each page. The basic toys around them, evoke every preschool or daycare around. Then the penguins themselves have texture and patterns that give them personality and also make them seem more real and more childlike.
Perfect for returning to preschool in the fall, this picture book is just as much fun as a bucket. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sidewalk Flowers by JoArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
As she heads home with her father who is distracted by his cell phone call, a little girl dressed in vibrant red picks wild flowers. Along the way, she takes a moment to smell each of them, creating a bouquet of bright colored blooms. The flowers grow unnoticed by the others on the street in this urban setting, but the little girl spots them all growing out of sidewalk cracks. When the girl and her father reach the park, she notices a dead bird on the sidewalk and leaves some of the flowers there with the bird. A man sleeping on a park bench is given a sprig too. Then she decorates the collar of a friendly dog with more flowers. As they reach home, the little girl gives each of her family members flowers, leaving a trail of them on their hair and heads. The final flower is used to decorate her own hair at the very end.
This wordless picture book is immensely lovely. The story arc really works well and has moments of sophistication that create a vibrant urban world for this girl to live within. As she gathers the flowers, other beautiful parts of the city that would have been overlooked too light up with color or are captured in small moments. From the display of bright fruits in the market to the pigeons on the street, each small piece adds together so that readers “see” the beauty of the city along with the young protagonist.
The art is expressive and lovely. The city is shown in black and white against which the red girl pops like a bright ruby. Portions of the city are done in color, like flowered dresses and the small flowers that the girl gathers too. Then when the girl starts sharing her flowers, the entire world becomes colorful and bright. It is a dynamic shift in the middle of the book, showing the power of generosity and community.
Subtle and powerful, this picture book celebrates seeing the beauty in everyday life and sharing it with others. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
Award-winning Nelson tells a story about the power of sharing in this simple and striking picture book. The story begins with a rabbit and a mouse planting a tomato seed, a carrot seed and a cabbage seed in their garden. Then the two wait through all kinds of weather for the seeds to sprout and grow. Until finally, they have three lovely plants and are able to feast on their bounty. Then the birds arrive and silently ask for the rabbit and mouse to share. But no sharing happens and instead there is a struggle and the plants are destroyed. One small red tomato survives and the mouse offers it to the birds. The birds in turn repay that kindness with seeds of their own which then sprout into a much larger and more diverse garden for them all to enjoy, along with even more animals.
Nelson’s writing here is simple but also to the point. He shows young readers what is happening in the story. Using the symbolism of the garden throughout, he explains the importance of sowing the seeds of kindness rather than selfishness and finally how beautiful it is in the end when you do that. There is little subtlety here and the symbolism is beautifully integrated into the story as a whole.
As always, Nelson’s illustrations are pure delight. His animals shine on the page, showing emotions clearly and beautifully both in their eyes and the positions of ears and tails. Other details bring the entire scene to life. Perhaps my favorite page is the birds silently watching the rabbit and mouse feast on the produce. It’s funny and yet the tension is clear too. The entire book is filled with small lovely moments like this told in images rather than words.
Community, sharing and kindness come together in this splendidly illustrated picture book that is sure to be enjoyed along with other spring gardening books. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The New Small Person by Lauren Child
The creator of Charlie and Lola returns with a new picture book sibling pair. Elmore Green has always been an only child. He has his own room, no one moves his toys around, and no one eats his jelly beans. But suddenly a new baby enters the picture and soon Elmore finds himself sharing a room, unable to leave any of his toys unattended, and no one pays him attention. Perhaps worst of all, his jelly bean collection is licked by his little brother! Just as all seems to be falling apart, Elmore discovers that there are some parts of having a new sibling that aren’t so bad after all like laughing at TV shows together, sharing toys, and even sharing jelly beans (maybe).
Child has a wonderful way of understanding what children are thinking. While other new sibling books have more focus on the loss of parental attention, Child shows exactly how a small sibling can bother an older one. She merrily skips quickly past the baby stage and directly to toddlerhood where the most disruption can take place. Young readers will enjoy a book that has plenty of humor but also is realistic too.
Child’s art is done in her signature style. Her collage work incorporates pieces of cloth and patterned paper. I appreciate that her new family are people of color and also that it is not a focus of the book but just a visual component, natural and not remarked upon.
Perfect for Charlie & Lola fans and also for older siblings experiencing their own toddlers at home. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Twins’ Little Sister by Hyewon Yum
This follow-up to The Twins’ Blanket features the same twin girls. The book is told from their shared perspective. In this book, the issue is that there are two of them, but they only have one mother that they have to share. During nap time, both girls want their mother to look at them, but she can only look in one direction at a time. Being pushed on the swings is also a problem, since their mother can only push one of them at a time. Now they have a little sister arriving soon too and there will be even more demand for their mother’s time. When the baby arrives, the girls are not impressed. They can no longer be in the big bed with their mother because the baby is there. Their mother can’t push the swings at all anymore, because her arms are full. Then the girls discover that they get lots of attention for helping with the baby. Soon the girls are adoring big sisters, but there’s still one problem, they need another little sister so they don’t have to share!
This is a clever twist on sibling rivalry that shows the closeness and competitive nature of being sisters and twins. It is particularly good to see that the rivalry existed before the younger sibling arrived and that it was just another factor in the family dynamic. The voice of the two girls together is clear and bright, they are strong-willed little girls but that is not a bad thing. I appreciate a book that shows children being less than perfect on the page.
Yum’s illustrations are done in pencil, watercolor and cut paper. The girls are distinguished by their dresses and barrettes but are otherwise identical. Emotions are clear on their faces, their eyes shining with feelings above their rosy cheeks.
A great choice for new siblings, this picture book shows human children grappling with being siblings and sharing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.