Chirp! by Jamie A. Swenson

Cover image for Chirp.

Chirp! by Jamie A. Swenson, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9781534470026)

Chipmunk spends her days chirping on top of her rock. Her songs can be happy, or bittersweet or very sad. Her rock was very good at listening, but didn’t sing along. So Chipmunk set out to find a new friend. She found a pinecone that she scooped up and brought back to where the rock was waiting. But the pinecone was also a listener and not a singer. So Chipmunk set off again. She found a log that she thought would make the perfect addition to her group of friends. The problem was, Chipmunk couldn’t move it. So she sat in the log and sang a sad song. Raccoon heard her singing and offered to help her move the log. But even with both of them trying, it wouldn’t budge. Chipmunk and Raccoon sang a bittersweet song together and Moose heard them. With Moose’s help they managed to pop the log free and it rolled right next to the pinecone and rock. Chipmunk still spends her days singing, now though Raccoon and Moose join in too.

A search for friendship makes for a poignant look at how it can be a struggle to find the right friends. At the same time, Chipmunk never gives up on her rather silent friends, framing it instead that they are good listeners. It’s a charming take on loneliness. The bridge of music to share emotions and find new friends weaves throughout the book and brings Raccoon and Moose into the story where they share their voices too. The ending is lovely and satisfying.

Magoon’s illustrations convey Chipmunk’s emotions with colors and movement. The pastels of happiness, the orange and dark moments of bittersweet feelings, and then the blackness of sadness that still has some light within it. The forest setting of the picture book is shown in lovely small details of ferns, grasses, leaves, rocks, dirt and light.

A book about finding friends who truly hear you. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon and Schuster.

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (9780545722889, Amazon)

La Paz is a village ringing with sound and singing; it’s noisy and bustling. But sometimes it’s a bit too loud, maybe some quiet would help. So the old mayor is sent away and a new mayor is elected. Don Pepe promises a quieter life, but his rules and laws start to become stifling and soon the village is silent. Then a rooster and his hen and chicks arrive. The rooster greets the day with a song right under the mayor’s window. As the mayor struggles to control one rooster and his singing by taking away more and more of his rights, the village begins to realize what they have given up.

Deedy, a Pura Belpre Honor winner for writing, has written a wonderfully readable tale that offers a folktale feel with a modern sensibility. This is exactly the picture book and fable that is needed in our society right now. It clearly speaks to the power of civil disobedience and the crucial need to even one voice to speak up, singing for themselves and the entire world.

Yelchin’s illustrations are rather zany, using bright colors and zigging lines. The rooster has a gorgeous nobility about him, piercingly straight and colorful on the page. He almost glows. In contrast, Don Pepe is colorless and drab, bringing gray onto the page along with him. His only change is to turn a sickly green as he is stood up to by the rooster.

Strong, vital and important, this picture book is a great pick to read aloud and discuss. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Review: And Two Boys Booed by Judith Viorst

and two boys booed

And Two Boys Booed by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

From the author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day comes a new book all about overcoming stage fright.  A boy is performing in a talent show and knows that he is ready to sing his song because he’s been practicing and practicing it.  Plus, he also has on his lucky blue books and his pants with lots of pockets.  He is very confident until the other five children start performing their acts.  Then his mood changes, even though he still says that is he fine.  The story uses repetition that mirrors the child’s internal dialogue about his lucky pants, the pockets, and how much he has practiced, adding another line about each child’s performance and it all leading up to his.  When his turn finally comes, he is almost unable to stand up, much alone sing and two boys boo him from the crowd.  But in a final burst of determination, the boy stands and his brain starts to make sense again, and he sings.  And two boys booed, but the rest of the children cheered!

Viorst takes a universal fear of both children and adults and turns it into a very engaging picture book.  I love the modern setting of the book paired with the timeless use of a story that repeats again and again, building through the story.  It matches the nerves that the boy is feeling and creates a wonderful tension as each new person gets up to perform.  Adding in the booing children is brilliant, because that is what most of us fear, the negative reaction of the crowd.  But in the book that happens, the boy faces it and continues his performance. 

Blackall’s illustrations clearly show the boy’s emotions even as he bravely continues to repeat to himself that it is all OK.  He looks directly at the reader, conveying his surprise at feeling nervous and pulling his striped shirt higher and higher in an attempt to hide.  Blackall has incorporated a lift-the-flap component into her illustrations allowing us to peek into the boy’s pocket and at the end of the book the effect is used to propel the entire story forward in a creative way.

A smart and very human picture book about performance, nervousness and overcoming it all.  This would be a perfect book to share with children about to do a show.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Review: Nightsong by Ari Berk


Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long

Chiro is a very young bat whose mother tells him that it is time for him to head out on a solo flight for the first time.  Chiro is very worried about how he will see in the dark, but his mother encourages him to “Sing, and the world will answer.” So Chiro heads out on his own.  At first, he tries to fly without singing, but it is too dark.  Then when he sings, he suddenly sees in color.  Chiro explores and sees all sorts of things through his song.  When he gets to the pond and all of its insects, their songs sound like breakfast to him.  His mother had warned him not to go too far unless his song was strong.  But Chiro is confident and heads out across the pond to see even more of the world through his song.

Berk’s writing is lyrical and lovely.  He captures subtleties and beauty in his words, offering insight about what Chiro is seeing through his echolocation.  When Chiro uses his song for the first time, Berk writes about it like this: “Tall trees called out to him, chanted the length of their long branches and the girths of their rough trunks.” As you can see, he asks children to reach higher with their language, inviting them to explore like Chiro does.

Long’s illustrations are a study in dark patterns and then bursts of color.  Chiro is an exceedingly cute little bat, flying against haunting branches of shadow.  When he sings, children will see the world come to life too, strengthened even more by Berk’s language.  This is a beautiful book, perfect for a summer pajama story time.

A dark delight of a bat’s life, this book is lush in both language and imagery.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes

penny and her song

Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes

Joining the beloved Chrysanthemum, Lilly, Owen and Wemberly is a new mouse character from the incredible Kevin Henkes.  This mouse is named Penny and she has a song to sing.  Unfortunately when she gets home, the babies are sleeping and she’s not allowed to share her song with her mother or father.  Later, she tries to share the song during dinner, but her parents ask her to wait until they are done eating to sing.  Finally, after dinner, Penny shares her song.  Her parents sing it too, they dress up in costumes, and the babies have a surprise reaction too!

Done in short chapters, this is more a beginning reader than a picture book.  Penny is a delight of a character, who when told she has to wait does not complain but tries to find new solutions that will let her sing without breaking the rules.  The final scenes with her parents happily joining in singing demonstrates the love that comes with rules and structure without any harshness being needed.  The illustrations are done in Henkes’ signature style, which is sure to delight all. 

A happy welcome to Penny as she joins this beloved mouse family.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.