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, 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, 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.)
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (9780316349000)
Suzette has been in New England at boarding school for the last school year. Now she has returned back home to her family in Los Angeles. She has missed the city itself, but even more so she has missed her stepbrother, Lionel. Lionel has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and during the summer decides to stop taking his medication. He starts dating a girl that Suzette also finds compelling and interesting, but Suzette worries that the girl isn’t good for Lionel. Meanwhile, Suzette is dealing with discovering that she is bisexual, having had her first relationship with a girl while at board school that did not end well. Back at home, she begins to date Emil, a longtime friend of her family. Suzette is the only one who knows of Lionel stopping his medication and the secret becomes a problem as Lionel reaches a crisis.
Colbert has created a beautiful novel that speaks to the complexities of mental illness. The reaction of friends is well drawn, showing how people pull away from those diagnosed with mental illness and yet want to talk about them too. Lionel is a great character, someone the reader and Suzette gravitates to and yet someone who is battling a mental illness profoundly and pushes people away. He is in turns riveting and maddening.
Suzette’s character is the center of the novel and she is wonderfully crafted. An African-American protagonist who has converted to Judaism when her mother married Lionel’s father, she is someone who has to make choices about what she shares about herself and what battles she decides to engage in. Suzette is just discovering her bisexuality and even hesitates to label herself that way at first. The depiction of sexuality in the book and sex is handled with honesty and without bias. It’s lovely to see it handled that way with both girls and boys.
A very special book for teens, this book is diverse and filled with moments of triumph and pain. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Patina by Jason Reynolds (9781481450188, Amazon)
Released August 29, 2017.
This book follows Ghost in Reynolds’ popular and amazing Track series. In this book, the focus is on Patty, another member of the newbie group on the track team. Ghost is still in the book, shown as a member of the team and the book begins where Ghost’s story left off. Patty lives with her godparents and her little sister, since her mother lost her legs to diabetes and can’t take care of them. They still see their mother on Sundays for church and Patty has to follow certain rules about the way she dresses and what makeup she wears to meet her mother’s expectations. Patty takes care of her little sister, making sure that she does her homework, eats enough, and has her hair braided neatly with 90 red beads. Still, Patty struggles with the changes in her life and moving away from her neighborhood and friends and into a fancier school. It is on the track that she feels most like herself, even as she learns to run relay where she has to learn to trust her teammates entirely.
The first book in the series set a high level of expectation for the second and fans will not be disappointed with this second book. Readers will enjoy getting to know Patty better and her family situation. Patty has a lot of anger inside her, something that she internalizes and struggles with. At the same time, she is strongly caring and loving of her family, trying to hold them all together and do as much as she can. This complexity in a middle grade novel is what makes this series so special.
The focus on teamwork in this second book echoes throughout the novel not just on the track and relay team. As Patty learns to trust her teammates, she also becomes more open to help from others in different settings like her classwork and new friends. Her family is complicated and strong, stepping up when necessary. The theme of legs resonates throughout the book as well, Patty carrying her mother’s legs with her on the track even as her younger sister imagines them touring the world and having adventures.
Every public library should have this series on their shelves. It will run right off the shelves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Atheneum.
It’s Great Being a Dad by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Gina Perry (9781770496057, Amazon)
One by one, mythical creatures appear and tell the reader how great a life they have. The unicorn loves prancing and their gorgeous horn, but the horn does make it very difficult to eat, particularly if you get a table stuck on it. Bigfoot has a great time being strong and helping his friends, but his big feet can be a problem. The robot loves his flashing lights and memory, but rain is an issue. Then there is the Loch Ness Monster and the “fairy queen ballerina doctor” who help the others. But there are always problems like the sneaky flying alligator pirate. Who can help all of these mythical beasts? Dad, that’s who.
This book embraces the idea of creative and imaginative play completely as the children first introduce themselves as the characters they are pretending to be. Steadily though, the illusion breaks a bit as each new character is introduced and their personas get more complicated. Bar-el does a lovely job of allowing the fantasy to fracture steadily and then break altogether as Dad enters the picture.
Perry has created first a lovely fantasy world with rainbow colors, deep forests, lochs and castles. She then goes on to morph that into a multicultural family filled with children of all ages who are trying to play near one another if not together. The connection between fantasy and reality is strong in the illustrations and children will love seeing the ties.
A warm look at imaginative play and great parenting, this picture book is a celebration of dads. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes (9781452131535, Amazon)
Based on Snyder’s own two sons, this early chapter book is a real delight. It perfectly captures the relationship of siblings who enjoy spending time together. The four stories in the book are alluringly short and yet immensely satisfying. The book begins with Charlie waking up to a lump next to him, a lump that isn’t ready to get up yet. The second story has the two boys deciding that it’s the day of a neighborhood party and gathering their parents and friends. In the third story, the brothers try to sell rocks for money and find that people would rather pay them to take rocks away. The final story brings the book full circle with the brothers getting ready for bed and the sleepy lump reappearing.
Snyder writes with a refreshing frankness about the children, depicting them playing without fighting and enjoying their time together. Still, these are real children who have silly ideas, strong personalities and a zany sense of humor. The two boys are wonderfully distinct from one another despite the shortness of the chapters.
Hughes is one of my favorite illustrators of children, showing them in all of their playful wildness. These two brothers are the same, their messy hair, interesting wardrobe choices, and outdoor play adding to the feel that these are real children. The illustrations also give a feeling of the neighborhood and community that the children are growing up in, a friendly feel with small town aspects.
We don’t see nearly enough stories about children who love spending time with their siblings. This book celebrates that as well as the silliness of childhood. Children will look forward to the next adventures of these brothers. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Poppy Louise Is Not Afraid of Anything by Jenna McCarthy, illustrated by Molly Idle (9780385390866, Amazon)
Poppy is not scared of anything at all. She likes spiders and snakes; she has monsters as imaginary friends; she loves the dark and scary stories. Her sister Petunia is seen as the more careful one. When Poppy is asked what kind of pet she’d like she thinks of tarantulas, sharks, or bears! Petunia tries to scare Poppy, but nothing seems to work. Sometimes, Petunia finds Poppy’s bravery handy like when she needs something out of the basement. Then one day, Poppy suddenly discovers that there are things that make her scared and she needs Petunia’s help to overcome it.
McCarthy’s writing is light and playful. She has created two very different siblings who manage to support one another even though they tease each other too. It’s a natural sibling dynamic that is neither overly sweet or too cantankerous. The story has plenty of action and moves ahead swiftly as Poppy’s bravery is shown again and again, though she has friends and family who also help keep her safe.
Caldecott Honor winner, Idle has illustrated this in her signature style. There is a lovely merriment in the illustrations. I particularly enjoy the boredom of Poppy on the children’s roller coaster as others are cheering, frightened or ill. It captures the entire book quite nicely.
A jolly picture book about bravery, sensibility and personal limits, this picture book is great fun. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.
When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost (9780374303037, Amazon)
Sisters Claire and Abi have been going to their family’s lake house since they were born. After their mother died, her things were kept just the way she had left them at the lake house: her chair at the window, books on the shelves and a painting on the easel. Now everything is different. Their father has married Pam and their mother’s things have been moved from the house. Pam is pregnant and the baby should come during their time at the lake. Claire discovers that Abi is changing too. Abi is interested in boys and starts to sneak off to meet them, involving Claire in her lies. Claire finds herself alone on the lake often, trying to figure out what all of this change means for her family.
Frost is a master of the verse novel, and this book is a great example of her skill and heart. She plays with formats for her poetry, using different types of poems and different structures for the various voices. The book is told not only by Claire and Abi but by the lake itself, and those poems are my favorites. They have embedded sentences using the bolded letters either at the beginning or ends of the poetic lines. It turns reading them into a puzzle that leads to discovery, rather like Claire’s summer.
The two sisters are dynamic characters. Abi’s interest in boys is seen as natural and normal, and so is her pushing the boundaries. Organic progression is made in Claire’s relationship with Pam, positivity slowly moving in to replace the wariness. Claire is a girl who is brave and wonderfully written. She has fears but overcomes them and never stops trying.
A beautiful verse novel that captures summer days on a lake and a family becoming stronger. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Harry and Clare’s Amazing Staycation by Ted Staunton, illustrated by Mika Song
Released February 7, 2017.
Brother and sister, Harry and Clare, aren’t going anywhere for their spring break plus it’s raining. But they manage to visit exotic locales anyway, using their imaginations. Their living room turns into the volcanic surface of Mars. The next day they raced cars in the grocery store. The third day, they went to the local pool and Harry was forced to walk the plank. In fact, every day Clare decided on the game and then managed to eat Harry’s snack along with her own. As the week went by though, Harry started to plan a way to keep the snacks for himself and decide on the game.
The dynamics between these two siblings are wonderfully honest and accurate. The older sister who knows all and manages to be tricky too. The younger brother who loves the games that he plays with his sister at first and then slowly realizes that he wants some decision-making power too. The two children are the only real characters in the book with parents along the periphery but nothing more. Harry himself figures out the way to get his sister’s attention through food and then how to insert his own point of view into their play. It’s done gently and intelligently without drama.
Song’s illustrations embrace the imaginative play of the children, showing how a playground transforms into a jungle and a couch becomes the way to the volcano. The pictures have a playful lightness. The hair of the children is wonderfully wild, exactly the way that children’s hair really looks, particularly while on school break.
Perfect for your next staycation or any time that children are spending time at home, this picture book is exactly the snack kids will want. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Tundra Books.
Paul and Antoinette by Kerascoët (InfoSoup)
Paul and Antoinette may be brother and sister, but they don’t enjoy doing the same things. Sometimes that works out perfectly, like after breakfast when Paul neatens up and Antoinette licks the knives and plates clean as she clears the table. Antoinette wants to spend the day outside in the mud but Paul has other plans, like working on his model ship. When Antoinette sees her chance, she drags him outside with her, even though she knows that Paul doesn’t like the outdoors that much. The two play just as differently outside with Paul picking flowers for Japanese flower arranging and Antoinette licking snails. When they return home, Paul has to clean up and Antoinette is covered in mud. At the very end of the day though, Antoinette makes the type of mess that even Paul can enjoy.
Kerascoët is from France and is a well-known and award-winning illustrator. This picture book has a distinct European vibe that is completely charming. The two siblings demonstrate that being different from one another works when you accept that you won’t be changing each other. While they don’t always get along, the two respect one another and play together for most of the day. This isn’t about sibling rivalry at all; it’s about sharing, loving and accepting one another.
Kerascoët’s art is warm and delightful. There is a sense of humor throughout as the two pigs show just how clean one can stay outside and just how dirty you can get in the same trip. The moment where Antoinette licks the snail is wonderful and squidgy, vividly depicted on the page. When she plays with a cobweb beard that she puts on her brother, it is wonderfully sticky and itchy.
A book sure to create laughter, gasps and delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.