A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule

A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule

A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9781681190396)

Poppy is a little girl who loves bugs and spending time alone outside. Around other people, she tends to fade into the background, disappearing into the potted plants and the wallpaper. At her Grandma Phyllis’ 100th birthday party, Poppy hides in the bushes. She enjoys watching the party from there, seeing the different people as colorful leaves. When a dragonfly enters the party, it lands on the birthday cake, and Poppy claps her hands in joy. One of her relatives leans in and calls her a wallflower. Poppy wilts, but the dragonfly darts over to land on her hand. Soon everyone is gathered around and Grandma Phyllis declares her a “wild flower” rather than a wallflower. 

Told with a great empathy towards Poppy and her need for quiet contemplation and connection with bugs and nature, this picture book celebrates solitude and being understood. All shy folks will recognize the rather pushy nature of relatives who suddenly notice a quiet child and call them out. The beauty here is that Poppy finds her own way forward with the help of an insect friend. 

The illustrations are done in cut paper, paints and digitally, combining layers together. This has created organic-feeling images that have a wonderful play of texture and pattern. The finer details of the illustrations contribute to the layered effect.

A quiet picture book just right for reading outside on a blanket. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve

Zola's Elephant by Randall de Seve

Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (9781328886293)

In this exceptional picture book, Zola moves in next door to a little girl. The two mothers have already met and decided the girls should be friends, but the little girl knows that Zola already has a friend. After all, Zola has a box large enough for an elephant and the girl knows that elephants make wonderful friends. As the girl heads different noises, she also thinks about the fun that Zola is having with her elephant. They are taking merry baths together, playing hide-and-seek, and building a lovely clubhouse together. But the truth is shown in the illustrations, explaining the noises that are being heard as much more mundane and downright lonely. Will the little girl have the courage to head over and meet Zola for real?

The text here is rich and evocative. It displays the wealth of imagination that the nameless narrator has as she builds entire worlds of play and merriment from seeing one large box and hearing some noises. It is a book that explores shyness and loneliness and how they live side-by-side and how they can be fixed by one act of bravery. Beautifully, the lonely new neighbor’s pages have no words on them, allowing the image to simply tell the truth.

With illustrations by a two-time Caldecott honoree, the illustrations are detailed, deep and beautiful. Zagarenski manages to create two parallel worlds, one of imagination and brightness and the other stark and blue with isolation. She then captures the moment when those two worlds meet. Done with a circus theme that is embedded in all of the illustrations, she pays homage to the elephant fully even though it doesn’t actually exist.

Beautiful and rich, this picture book is unique and imaginative. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Captain Starfish by Davina Bell

Captain Starfish by Davina Bell

Captain Starfish by Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys (9781419728372)

Alfie sometimes gets a feeling, the one that makes him not run relay races or go to parties. This time, Alfie was worried about being a starfish in the school parade. He would get to be first in the parade. Alfie practiced at home, pretending he was at school. That night, his parents tucked him into bed, but Alfie didn’t sleep well at all. His sleep was filled with watery nightmares and when he woke up, his tummy hurt. He just can’t bring himself to be a starfish at school. That day, his mother took him on a special trip to the aquarium where Alfie discovered the shy clown fish that ducked between the rocks. Maybe next year Alfie can join in on the fun in his own way.

Bell beautifully captures the experience of a shy child in this picture book. Particularly noteworthy is her explanation of the physical manifestations of shyness and the way that it can shut children down entirely. It is also very special that she shares supportive parents who show not only patience but a willingness to support their child on his journey toward independence.

The art in this picture book is done in a particular color palette that includes sea blues, deep blue and papaya pink. Alfie’s entire bearing in the illustrations shows his hesitation and worry.

A lovely quiet book about shyness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

3 New Picture Books That Get Emotional

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang, illustrated by Max Lang (9780553537864)

Jim was having a very grumpy day where nothing was going right. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong. His neighbor Norman suggested that Jim might be grumpy, but Jim insisted that he wasn’t. As the two headed off on a walk, they met different animals who all pointed out how Jim seemed or looked grumpy. So Jim fixed those things and looked very happy on the outside, but it didn’t change how he actually felt. All of the animals had suggestions about what might help Jim, but it only made him grumpier. When he finally shouted at everyone, he decided to leave and be by himself. But when Norman also starts to have a bad day, the two discover that they will feel better soon.

The cover of this book will have children picking it up, whether they are grumpy or not. Then the inside will have them giggling, whether they are grumpy or not. Jim is ever-so-grumpy and not just a little bit, but exceptionally so. The illustrations capture this beautifully from his slump to his grimace. Perhaps the best part of the book is when he looks happy but is still grumpy as can be. Throughout, Lang keeps the pace brisk and the humor just right. The illustrations add to the fun with their jungle setting, huge trees, and vibrant characters. Grumpiness galore in this picture book that challenges readers not to grin. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.)

Wallpaper by Thao Lam

Wallpaper by Thao Lam (9781771472838)

This wordless picture book tells the story of a little girl who moves to a new town. As the is unpacking her boxes, she hears talking outside her window and looks out to see three children in a treehouse next door. When they spot her, they wave but she ducks out of sight, shy to meet them. As she sits under her window, a small yellow bird made of wallpaper emerges from a tear in the room’s wallpaper. It flies out the window and the little girl peels more of the paper away and a flock of yellow birds fly out. She peels more and a jungle-like wallpaper is revealed that she steps into. Then a yellow monster appears and the girl peels the paper away to reveal the next layer. She dashes through polka-dots then watery blue and green with frogs, then black sheep. Finally the monster stops chasing her and sits there dejected. The little girl heads back and introduces herself to him. They play together until the girl heads off to lunch. Now can she meet the kids outside?

A lovely portrayal of being shy and needing to think through what to say when meeting someone new and prepare oneself for it. The wallpaper is done beautifully, the layers deep and rich. The entire book is done in paper collage, filled with layers, patterns both subtle and vivid, and offers a gorgeous depth that will have readers looking closely at the art. A superb picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Whale in a Fishbowl by Troy Howell

Whale in a Fishbowl by Troy Howell, illustrated by Richard Jones (9781524715182)

Wednesday was a whale who lives in an enormous fish bowl surrounded by a city filled with bustling people and cars. It was the only home she had ever known. If she jumped high enough though, she could see a tiny bit of blue far away. Whenever she glimpsed it, her heart would leap. She kept on leaping to see that blue in the distance and soon more people watched her, thinking that she was doing tricks. One day, a little girl visited Wednesday’s tank and told her that she didn’t belong in the fish bowl. That got Wednesday to wonder where she did belong and what it had to do with the blue in the distance.

This timely and beautiful picture book looks at animals trapped in cages and fish tanks and where they do belong and where they should be living. Using a whale as the focal character, makes the book even more touching and speaks directly to issues seen at aquariums recently. The book has an ache to it, a longing on every page until the triumphant ending. The illustrations are rich and beautiful, the contrast of concrete and seawater is mesmerizing. A celebration of freedom and a deep dive into what that means for all living creatures. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.)

Lily’s Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry

Lily's Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry

Lily’s Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry (9780425287996, Amazon)

When Lily and her father go school shopping, Lily isn’t sure she wants to go to school at all. When she asks her father to buy her a cat mask, he agrees and Lily wears it right out of the store. Lily wore the mask all the time, whether she wanted to be noticed or invisible, with friends or with strangers. She wore it to the first day of school, but her teacher only let her wear it at recess. Then one day at school, they had a costume party and Lily discovered another cat in her class!

This picture book tells the story of a little girl who uses the cat mask in order to cope with new situations. While she struggles with starting school, her mask gives her courage. It’s lovely that the book also depicts her wearing it at home whether she is happy or grumpy and in a wide variety of situations. The book also depicts a very understanding and loving single father who doesn’t push Lily to change.

The illustrations are filled with diversity in a very natural way. When Lily and her father are shopping, Lily is almost boneless in the illustrations, clearly being dragged along until she discovers her cat mask. Lily may be shy but she is also clearly imaginative, curious and silly. She is far from a one-dimensional quiet child.

A great look at a quiet child who faces school in a clever way. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Review: Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid

oliver and his alligator

Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid

Oliver sometimes isn’t as brave as he’d like to be, and that is especially true on the first day of school.  So he headed to the swamp and picked up an alligator, “just in case things got rough.”  When Oliver got to school a woman who was not his mother greeted him and asked his name.  In his panic, Oliver couldn’t remember his name, but he could say “munch, munch!” and the alligator ate the lady.  A similar thing happened when a little girl in the class asked Oliver what he loved.  Oliver wanted to answer and even had a great reply, but he found that he could only say “munch, munch!” and the alligator ate the girl.  As Oliver steadily had his alligator munch his classmates, the classroom got much quieter and lonelier.  But what is a boy to do when everyone has been eaten?

Schmid tells this story with a wonderful matter-of-fact tone that leaves readers shocked at first but then delighting in this clever answer to the worries of the first day of school.  I guarantee a wonderful stunned moment if you share this book aloud, and then a rush of nervous but genuine glee at it all. 

The book is cleanly designed with very simple lines that allow the humor of the situation to really shine.  The simplicity is beautiful and entirely modern thanks to Oliver’s oversized sweater and mop of hair. 

Beautiful, clever and a joy to share aloud, this book is riotously funny and oh so true.  A great addition to starting-school shelves.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Review: Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan

octopus alone

Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan

Octopus lives in a bustling reef filled with all sorts of sea life.  She watches the activity from her cave and three little seahorses come and visit her.  But Octopus just wants to be left alone, so she changes colors to hide and heads away from the reef.  As she travels away, the seahorses continue to follow her, watching her change colors and hide until Octopus finally leaves in a cloud of ink.  Eventually, Octopus comes to a very quiet part of the ocean where she can be left in peace with only silent jellyfish floating by and the drama of a whale zooming to the surface.  Nothing bothers her or watches her, so she falls fast asleep.  When she awakens, she starts to think about life in the bustling reef and she returns, ready to play once again. 

This is a shining example of a book where the writing and illustrations work seamlessly with one another.  The story of an introverted octopus who just needs a little time alone will speak to children who also feel that way at times.  Best of all, there is no lesson learned where being alone is dangerous or wrong, instead it is embraced as a time to see other beautiful things and recharge.  This is one undersea world where quietness and alone time is just fine, perhaps even spectacular.

The art in this picture book shines and glows.  Octopus and the other sea life pop against the dark blues and blacks of the watery background.  The art has a wonderful internal light that gives it a real sense of being underwater.  When Octopus heads out to be alone, the moment when she sees the whale is one of the most powerful and beautiful in the book.  It is handled with a lovely pause in the text and bubbles galore in the illustrations.

This is one glorious look at an underwater world that will speak to introverts and children who may feel shy at times.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

Review: When No One Is Watching by Eileen Spinelli

when no one is watching

When No One Is Watching by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by David A. Johnson

With all of the discussion about quiet and introverted children in classrooms right now, this book could not be more timely.  For those of us who were shy as children, you will recognize yourself in these pages.  Told in first person, the young female narrator finds it easy to be herself when no one is watching.  She is able to dance and spin when alone, but finds herself off to one side when her extended family gets together.  Alone she can be brave and imaginative, when on the playground with other kids she leans alone against a wall.  As the book progresses, another child suddenly pops out in the illustrations.  It’s a new best friend, who is quiet and shy too.  Together the two start to not care about who is watching them at all.

Spinelli does a great job of explaining the freedom of being alone, the imaginative play and the activity that happens when a child is comfortable and free.  She contrasts that clearly in her poem, where the girl who had been brave and active is now quiet and unsure.  Happily, Spinelli does not make this way of feeling seem wrong or strange.  Rather, she has created a character who is shy but willing to make friends and starts to naturally progress to being more sure of herself.

Johnson’s illustrations have a marvelous texture to them.  The main character pops on the pages, dressed in bright colors with wild curls and tumbling shoelaces, she is engaging and shining.  The other characters fade into the background, until Loretta, the new best friend appears and is just as bright as the protagonist.  It’s a subtle and successful look at connections between people.

A strong book that looks at shyness in positive and understanding way, this book will be embraced by children looking for someone just like them in the pages of a picture book.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Disappearing Desmond: Shining Look at Shyness

41R7Vy3plmL._SS500_

Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter

Desmond and his entire family didn’t like to be the center of attention.  He’d much rather disappear and be ignored.  Sometimes even his teacher could not find him!  But things changed when Gloria came to his school.  Gloria liked to be the center of attention.  After a bit, something strange happened and Gloria said hello to Desmond even though he was hiding.  No one had ever seen him when he was hiding before.  And it just kept happening, Gloria kept on talking to him until one day they read together for the entire morning.  The two of them started playing together all the time, until Desmond came to school on a Monday morning ready to be noticed.  Later, Desmond heard a sound in the bushes and found a kid hiding there.  The three of them played all afternoon, but there were many more kids hiding around the playground.

This is a very nice book about shyness and wanting to be ignored.  Alter found a great solution to the shyness issue by having a once-shy child make overtures to another shy child.  That is the magic in this picture book.  Readers will also enjoy the ending where the large number of other shy children is revealed.  Alter’s illustrations have a similar feel to Nancy Carlson’s Harriet series.  They have simple lines, bright colors, and animal characters. 

A successful book about shyness without the focus on the painful nature of it, this book offers a hand of comfort and friendship to shy children hidden everywhere.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.