Review: The Storm Whale by Benji Davies

storm whale

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies

Noi lives with his father in a house by the sea with six cats.  Every day, his father goes out fishing, leaving Noi alone all day long.  One day, after a big storm, Noi sees something out on the beach.  It’s a baby whale.  Noi knows it will not live long without water, so he takes the whale home and puts it in the bathtub.  He spends time with the whale, telling it stories.  But he also worries that his father will be angry when he finds a whale in the house.  So Noi tries to keep the whale a secret from his father, but it doesn’t last for long.  A whale is a big secret to keep in a small family.  Together, the two of them return the whale to the sea, but not before they each learn something about one another and how to move forward as a stronger family.

Davies manages to tell a profound story using minimal words.  The text in the book mainly explains the action that is happening.  It does not offer insight into the emotions of the characters.  That is a large part of the power of this book.  So much goes unsaid but is clear to the reader.  Noi’s loneliness is shown rather than told.  Him lingering by the window as his father leaves, the fact that he brings the whale home across a stretch of beach rather than pushing him back into the nearby water.  Even the father’s reaction is shown this way, allowing the emotions to be realized rather than explained.

The illustrations tell much of the story here, but again in a quiet and frank manner.  The emotions are not broadcast from the character’s faces but from their situations and their body language.  It’s a brave way to tell a story about a father and son reconnecting with one another.

Adeptly conceived and powerful, this picture book speaks to loneliness and family, and would be great as a discussion book for young children about emotions.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Review: Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty

knock knock

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Every morning a young boy plays a game with his father.  His father knock knocks at the door and the boy pretends to be asleep until his dad is right next to him and they give each other a huge hug.  But then one day, his father isn’t there to play the game any more.  His father isn’t there to get him ready for school either.  Morning pass with no father.  The boy thinks that maybe his father is just there when the boy is at school, so he writes him a letter about how much he misses his dad and how much he expected to learn from him.  The boy waits for months and nothing happens, then one day he gets a letter from his father.  A letter that speaks to their separation but also one that encourages him to continue to live and knock on new doors.

Beaty’s text is deep hearted and searingly honest.  As his author’s note says, he had an incarcerated father who had been his primary caregiver as a young child.  So Beaty has revealed much in this picture book about the gaping hole left from a missing parent.  Yet the genius of this book is that it will work for any child missing a parent for any reason.  And I adore a book with such a strong connection between father and child.  Beaty manages to convey that in a few pages, leaving the rest of the book to reveal the mourning and grief of loss but also a hope that shines on each page.

Collier’s illustrations shine as well. Done in a rich mix of paint and collage, they are filled with light as it plays across faces, dances against buildings, and reveals emotions.  His illustrations are poetry, filled with elephants, showing the boy growing into a man, and the man turning into a father.  They are illustrations that tell so much and are worth exploring again after finishing the book.

This book belongs in my top picks for 2013.  It is beautifully done both in writing and illustrations.  I’m hoping it is honored by the Coretta Scott King awards and I’d love to see a Caldecott as well.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

My Father Knows the Names of Things


With a colorful airplane on the cover, this book welcomes you to the world of a father and son.  The father knows all sorts of facts.  He knows the names of each and every thing from birds to dogs to cheese to bells.  He knows facts about things like which beetles are smallest and which mosses are fuzziest.  His son follows merrily after him, soaking up the knowledge of his father.  A great book for Father’s Day.

Yolen’s poem is clever, silly and great fun to read.  It’s couplets are merry and jaunty.  The rhyme is never overpowering and the rhythm adds to the appeal.  Jorisch’s watercolor and gouache illustrations also have a wonderful sense of play.  They have a quirky modernism that captures the feel of the poem and adds to it. 

This book celebrates knowledge and imagination as well as the father son relationship.  It is a treat for any time of year.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

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My Father Is Taller than a Tree

My Father Is Taller than a Tree by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

Ideal for a Father’s Day read, this book features pairs of fathers and sons who spend time together.  They do so many different things from boating to painting to playing games.  The father son pairs are diverse not only by being from different cultural and racial backgrounds but also in their relationships.  There are father who wrestle, fathers who need help, father who are artists, fathers who read books.  This is a true celebration of the importance of fathers and the many ways that men can be fathers to their sons.

Bruchac’s poem flows over the bottom of the pages, knitting them together.  The poem is simple and enjoyable with rhyming couplets that offer the inspiration for the illustrations.  Halperin’s illustrations are exceptional.  Done in crayon and pencil, they have a delicacy of line combined with a pleasing density of color.  Each double spread offers one large image of the father and son and then four smaller images showing details of the time they are spending together.  Because of the detail of the pictures, this book is best shared one-on-one and really looked closely at and talked about.  The illustrations invite readers in, tell them a story beyond the poem, and allow us to really understand fathers and sons.

A beautiful book that should not be saved just for Father’s Day.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

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Mama Says

Mama Says: a Book of Love for Mothers and Sons by Rob D. Walker, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.

Move from one culture to the next with a brief stanza of the poem shared in both English and the language of the people being represented.

Mama says

Be good

Mama says

Be kind

Mama says

The rain will come

But still the sun will shine

That is the opening of the book, with the poem also written in Cherokee alongside.  The poem then moves through subjects like faith, hard work, dedication, endurance, inner peace, and courage.  All are universal and delivered in a way that children will understand.

The Dillon’s art is exquisite, representing the wide range of people on earth with boys who turn into men at the end.  It is a message that resonates deeply with all mothers who want their boys to turn into such men of composure and strength of purpose.  Walker’s poem is so simple but so powerful.  It is a perfect match to the strength of the illustrations.

Highly recommended for mothers and their young sons, this could also make a great gift for a graduate heading off to college.    This is a book that boys can draw strength from, learn from and see a path in.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by PlanetEsme, A Year of Reading, and The Brown Bookshelf.