Review: Bunny in the Middle by Anika A. Denise

Bunny in the Middle by Anika Aldamuy Denise

Bunny in the Middle by Anika A. Denise, illustrated by Christopher Denise (9781250120366)

Three rabbit siblings fill these pages with their daily activities as being the middle child is explored. When you are a middle child, you are the one in between. Your older sibling helps you and you help your younger sibling. You know when to share and when to hold on. You know the best time to lead and the best time to follow, but you also know when to do things your own way. Yes, you get hand-me-downs and also have to share a room. But it also means that you are often just the right size for a lot of things, including being right in the middle.

While the words in this book focus on explaining the good and bad of being the middle child, it is the pictures that are something entirely special. The images of the three rabbits are filled with sunlight, sticky frosting, leafy adventures, and coziness. From the lankier and rather bossy older sister to the plump toddler younger sibling, this little family is a joy to spend time with. The middle child is often unperturbed in the midst of chaos or demands, showing just what it takes to excel at being that special on in the center of a family.

Gorgeous illustrations illuminate a story of a little group of siblings. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt and Company.

Review: Rocket Says Look Up! by Nathan Bryon

Rocket Says Look Up by Nathan Bryon

Rocket Says Look Up! by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dapo Adeola (9781984894427)

Rocket is a little girl who is really interested in astronomy and science. There’s a meteor shower happening tonight, and Rocket wants everyone to know about it and watch it with her. So when her big brother heads to the store with her, Rocket grabs the announcement microphone and tells everyone about the meteor shower. But when she laughs at her brother for not looking up from his phone and getting splashed by a car, he tells her that he won’t take her to the park that night. Luckily, her mother intervenes and they head out to the park. There’s a group of people who want to see it with them, but as time goes by and nothing appears in the sky except for stars, they all wander off. Only Rocket and her brother are left and Rocket is so sad that she dragged them out for nothing. But when her brother finally looks up from his phone, it’s show time!

Bryon has written a very dynamic picture book about a girl scientist with a love for science that she just has to share. The older brother is a great character too with his head down looking at his phone all the time, but also someone who patiently leads his little sister around all day and even into the night. Their interplay with one another is written with honesty and a modern look at technology.

The illustrations show a busy African-American family and a young girl who is dressed to head into the stars immediately. The pictures are filled with humor and the characters show real emotions on the page. Using beams of light in the final pages filled with darkness works nicely to highlight the action both on earth and in the sky.

A diverse and dynamic STEM picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Waiting for Chicken Smith by David Mackintosh

Waiting for Chicken Smith by David Mackintosh

Waiting for Chicken Smith by David Mackintosh (9781536207712)

A little boy waits for his friend, Chicken Smith, who usually stays at the same beach for the same week in the summer. The boy comes to beach every year and knows it very well, just like Chicken Smith does. Chicken can do all sort of things like ride his rusty bike without any brakes, just using his foot to slow down. As the boy thinks about Chicken Smith and anticipates his arrival, his sister starts to call him, but he is too busy waiting for Chicken to come. He looks forward to spotting whales together like they did last year. But his sister is still calling, so he heads up to the lighthouse to see what she wants. Out in the ocean, they can see a whale together. Maybe Chicken Smith won’t be coming this summer after all. But hanging out with his sister may not be so bad anyway.

This picture book is about a summer friendship and by exploring their connection with one another, the book also shares iconic summer moments at the beach. Finding a buoy, seeing a flying fish, swimming all day. Mackintosh has fully developed the voice of the little boy, who tells the story from his personal perspective. It is his voice that makes the book come alive and that tells of the ache of not knowing when or if a friend will arrive and what that might do to an entire summer vacation.

The illustrations are modern and move from white sand with a clearly hot sun to images of whales swimming in the sea. Macintosh plays with color, using reds, blues and greens to fill some pages while leaving others bleached out.

Ideal summer reading that mixes sunshine fun with summer friendships. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

Review: Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini (9781250150929)

Annie doesn’t live in the type of family that lets them take tropical vacations during school breaks like some of the kids she goes to school with. She is the youngest of nine children in her family and money is tight. Her father works so much that she barely sees him at all unless it is while she is helping out at their family farm picking berries. Her mother doesn’t pay much attention to any of the children except the two talented ones. As Annie returns to school for a new year, she realizes that she is very different than the other kids and it goes a lot deeper than her having to wear hand-me-downs from her older brother and wait to get new shoes that don’t have a huge hole in them. Annie is consistently resilient and cheerful in the face of everything she has to deal with, something that is all the more impressive as her family secrets are revealed.

Angelini has drawn from her own family history to create one of the most heart-wrenching books of the year. Readers will immediately know that there is something wrong in Annie’s life as they witness her older siblings being cruel to Annie and her closest sister. Annie struggles with dyslexia and one older sister who is physically violent and also emotionally abusive, telling Annie that she is stupid all the time. As the book steadily reveals the truth about the family, things fall into place and leave Annie to find a way forward using her optimism and intelligence.

Angelini writes beautifully here. She allows the story to play out in front of the reader with Annie herself living in denial about what is actually happening in her family. That denial is even explained clearly towards the end of the book, which gives readers hope that Annie will not just survive but start to thrive. Angelini gives Annie two critical friendships at school that allow her to be successful. Both friends clearly have some ideas of what might be happening to Annie, but neither push that too hard, offering instead friendship, food, and safety.

Heartfelt and painfully honest, this book will speak to so many children living in similar circumstances and allow them to know they are not alone. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9780399549045)

When Carmela woke up on her birthday, she knew that she was finally old enough to accompany her older brother as he did the family errands. The two headed out into their bustling urban neighborhood, passing shops, a nursing home, and street vendors. Her big brother though wasn’t as happy to have his little sister tagging along. He ignores her as much as possible, even as she jingles her bracelets and tries to get his attention. When Carmela discovers a dandelion growing in the sidewalk, she learns about making a wish before blowing on it. After a tumble though, it is smashed on the ground. Her brother though knows just what to do to make it better.

De la Pena and Robinson are the two that created Last Stop on Market Street together. In this second book, they tell the gentle story of a young girl reaching an important milestone in her life. The story is complex, revealing that her father has been removed from their home because he didn’t have the right papers. The relationship between the siblings is deftly shown, the older sibling not having much patience until something bad happens. Then his care demonstrates clearly his love for his little sister and leads to a culminating moment in the book.

Robinson’s art is wonderful. Done in painted collage, the illustrations have a warmth to them that works particularly well in this tale. He excels at showing relationships in his art, in creating special moments. The Valentine-like cut paper pages that show Carmela’s possible wishes are beautiful moments on the page.

Another gorgeous and diverse picture book from two masters, this one belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Bunches of Board Books

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman, illustrated by Nick Sharratt (9781681198958)

Sung to the tune of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” this board book will quickly become a favorite for any little one who loves vehicles. The book is filled with all sorts of cars, trucks, boats, and planes. Each one carries a rhyme with it and creates all sorts of motion on the page. The illustrations are bright and friendly, inviting the littlest readers to explore their thick lines and bold shapes. This is one beeping good board book.

Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A Pile of Leaves by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin

A Pile of Leaves by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin (9780714877204)

Just right for fall reading either one-on-one or with a small group, this board book offers a unique experience. With only a preface containing words, the book opens to reveal see-through pages that form a leaf pile. Readers turn the pages, removing one layer of leaves at a time and discovering interesting things hiding in the leaves. There is a worm, ants, a mitten, a key, a grasshopper and more. Beautifully, the leaves continue to pile on the pages to the left, creating a new pile to explore. Clever and a delight to explore, this board book is like breathing crisp fall air in book form.

Reviewed from library copy.

You and Me by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

You and Me by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Susan Reagan (9781568463216)

This exceptional board book tells the story of an older sibling with a very adorable new baby in the house. Sharing time with Grandma isn’t easy,  but the older sibling is patient. The baby has lots of cute things that they can do, but so does the older sibling. In the end, the baby finally goes down for a nap and it’s time for the older child to be paid a lot of attention. The poem in this board book is gentle with rhymes that sway. The illustrations are truly amazing, filled with eyes alight with joy and both siblings wonderfully androgynous as well. These are images of a loving African-American family that celebrate being an older sibling.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul

Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul

Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Paige Keiser (9780399553325)

When Mia moved into her house, she had a lovely room all to herself. She hung stars from the ceiling and it was perfect. Then her baby brother Brandon arrived, and Mia had to share her room. At first it wasn’t so bad, they had lots of fun together. But the toys piled up until Mia couldn’t even recognize her room anymore. So she made a decision, she would move out! She tried moving into the bathroom, but it was too gross. She tried the basement, but there were scary things in boxes. She tried all sorts of places until she built a space near the books. But something wasn’t quite right. That’s when she found out that Brandon had moved out too. Perhaps they could move out together!

This picture book perfectly captures the give and tug of being siblings. On one hand, they can be maddening while on the other hand, they are important to your life. It also shows the way that children “run away” or move out from their homes, how spur of the moment it is, how built on emotion, and how regretful it eventually becomes. The parents here deal with it well, guiding gently from the sidelines and allowing Mia to make her own decisions.

The illustrations are funny and warm, just like the story line. They show the growing pile of toys overtaking the entire room and the entire page. One can completely understand Mia’s frustration. As Mia searches for the perfect spot to move to, the illustrations play large part in conveying her responses to each.

Clever and funny, this is a warm look at siblings. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf. 

3 Picture Books Featuring Families

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (9780763693558)

Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela had a very long name, one that wouldn’t fit nicely on paper. So her father told her the story of her name. Sofia was her grandmother who loved flowers and books just like Alma. Esperanza was her great-grandmother who longed to travel the world. Jose was her grandfather who was an artist. Pura was her great-aunt who gave Alma her red thread bracelet. Candela was her other grandmother who stood up for what was right. When Alma asks about her first name, she is told that that is her name only so she can become whatever she wishes to be.

Ending with Alma feeling very proud and connected to each of her names, this picture book celebrates connections to family through naming traditions. It is lovely to see Alma identify with each of the family members and find aspects that are similar to her. I also appreciate having a father have this conversation, strengthening the paternal aspect as well. The illustrations are soft greys and blacks with pops of blues and reds that make the images come alive. A great picture book that will speak to many children. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

La Frontera My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva

La Frontera: My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (9781782853886)

This bilingual picture book tells the story of a young boy who goes with his father north to cross the border and enter the United States illegally. From a small village in central Mexico, they left a place where their family had lived for over 100 years. When food got scarce, they headed north, leaving the boy’s mother and siblings behind. They traveled with “Coyote,” a man who helped them go north. Reaching the Rio Grande, they tried to cross but lost contact with Coyote. Now the boy and his father were alone. They walked and walked, hungry and tired. Even when they reached the United States though, things were not easy. The boy started school and time passed, until they could be reunited with their family again.

Set in the 1980’s, this book tells the story of Alva’s family with the Spanish and English side-by-side on the page. Written with the help of his neighbor, Mills, the book is filled with the harrowing dangers of border crossing. There are times when the two characters are clearly near death, exhausted and starving. By the end of the story though, hope fills the pages and a better future is clear. The illustrations are filled with rich gem colors. There are sapphire blue nights, emerald grass, and topaz land. The illustrations capture the drama of the story and also the closeness and love of the family.

An important book that tells the story of immigration to the United States for a new life. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Barefoot Books.)

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo (9781771472951)

This picture book is a celebration of siblings and shows perspectives of both older and younger siblings spending time together. Throughout the book, the older siblings get the best of the younger ones. The older ones have a treehouse while the younger ones spy on them. The older ones get the couch and the younger ones the floor. The book then moves to the more private relationships of pairs of siblings, of mistakes and apologies. It shows how the older siblings help, how they lend a hand, give a boost. How they are best friends, after all.

The text in this picture book is very simple with much of the story being relayed through the illustrations. Filled with pairs of siblings, the book has a diverse cast of characters who show the universal complicated relationships of siblings. The illustrations are friendly and bright, filled with a jolly humor at the roles of older and younger siblings. A great pick for sharing with the siblings in your life. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 New Picture Books for Siblings to Share

Bamboo for Me Bamboo for You by Fran Manushkin

Bamboo for Me, Bamboo for You by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Purificacion Hernandez (9781481450638)

Amanda and Miranda are pandas who live with their parent in a zoo. They love to eat bamboo for all of their meals, frowning at the meat that the lions eat. The two siblings frolic around in the bamboo, playing peek-a-boo, taking tumbles, and fighting with one another sometimes. When the fight becomes more serious, the two little pandas stop playing together until they realize they are much more unhappy apart than they ever are together. Besides, there’s more bamboo to eat together too! This book is filled with merry rhymes and a galloping rhythm that preschoolers will adore. They will also recognize the complicated relationships of siblings who fight and make up, share and then squabble some more. The illustrations are large and bright, making this a good choice for sharing with a group of little ones. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Review copy provided by Aladdin.)

The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold

The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Isabel Roxas (9780399554292)

Sven was the littlest Viking and also the loudest. He could pillage food from anyone and had the fiercest bite too. But one thing could distract Sven: stories! Eventually he learned to tell great stories too and all of the Vikings loved to stop and listen to them. Then one day, everyone was distracted by something. It was a new little Viking, a warrior princess who was very loud and very sad. No one could get her to stop crying, but Sven had an idea! This picture book is full of humor and parallels modern parenting with the equivalent in Vikings like taking a crying baby on a great ship ride to calm down, rather than in a car. The illustrations are equally funny with very grumpy tiny children insisting on their own way and finding storytelling just the ticket out of the grumps. It is also appreciated that Sven enjoys his new role as big brother too. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

Snow Sisters by Kerri Kokias

Snow Sisters by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White (9781101938843)

Two sisters enjoy a snowy day in very different ways in this picture book. One sister is always on the left page and the other on the right. The red-headed sister immediately heads outside into the snow to play while the brown-haired sister stays inside with her books, blankets and cocoa. They both stay busy throughout the day, one outside throwing snowballs and building forts, the other baking in the kitchen. Then the sister who has been playing outside gets chilled while the one indoors has noticed the animals outside her window. The two switch places and do similar things but each in their own way. Written with very simple wording, it is the twist in the middle of the book that makes it work so well. The repetition of each sister doing the “same” things is cleverly drawn in the illustrations that show how each still does it quite differently than their sibling did. The illustrations are bright, their world inviting and the entire book feels like a cup of cocoa on a snowy day. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)