Review: Jasper & Ollie by Alex Willan

Jasper & Ollie by Alex Willan

Jasper & Ollie by Alex Willan (9780525645214)

Jasper and Ollie are best friends. At breakfast, Jasper wants to go to the pool and Ollie agrees. Jasper, the fox, wants to race to get there and runs out of the house. Along the way, he pull on his swimsuit, blows past the mailman who dumps his letters, jumps over a turtle painting a fence, and hustles past the ice cream truck. Now Jasper has to wait for Ollie though. And Ollie, the sloth, has a very different approach. He watches butterflies, smells the flowers, picks up the spilled mail, gets a drink, helps paint the fence, and gets an ice cream cone. Meanwhile Jasper is rushing around trying to see if Ollie is somewhere at the pool and manages to get himself thrown out. Luckily, that is just when Ollie arrives with ice cream cones for both of them.

Willan tells this story solely in speech bubbles. He uses framing techniques from comic books to great effect here. On the larger upper frame, he shows Jasper in his speedy desperation to find Ollie. Below, Ollie moves along quietly enjoying his walk to the pool. Jasper is often accompanied by a dashed line showing his movement over and under and around people and obstacles and usually accompanied by chaos in his wake.

The illustrations are brilliantly done with plenty of humor too. It has a wonderful aesthetic to it where the pattern of Ollie’s swimsuit is repeated on various things at the pool that Jasper searches. The illustrations are worth looking closely at to catch all of the funny moments and small touches along the way.

A combination of speed and sloth that makes for a great friendship and plenty of laughs. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Doubleday Books for Young Readers.

Review: Saturday Is Swimming Day by Hyewon Yum

Saturday Is Swimming Day by Hyewon Yum

Saturday Is Swimming Day by Hyewon Yum (9780763691172)

A little girl wakes up with a stomach ache on Saturday, worried about her swimming lesson. When they get to the pool, it is loud and cold and wet. She doesn’t enter the pool at all, only getting wet when she takes a shower afterwards. The next week, she has a stomach ache again. This time, her instructor asks her to try getting in the pool and gently encourages her to try some movements in the water. The following week, she doesn’t have a stomach ache at all! She tries bobbing her head and even floating on her back, though she’d like her instructor nearby at first. This picture book looks positively at giving children time to adjust to new experiences and yet to continue encouraging them to try new things.

Yum captures the feelings of a child learning to swim. It is a frightening experience at first, filled with echoing noise, dampness and others enjoying it far more. All of the adults in the little girl’s life allow her time to be brave and don’t push in a negative way. The book is told her voice, so she demonstrates on her own how her viewpoint changes over time and the experience becomes positive and source of pride for her.

Yum’s illustrations are expressive and center on the little girl in each image. She uses watercolors very successfully to capture the flow of the water in the pool and its blue depths. Against that softer texture, the characters pop in bright colors as they swim, or don’t swim yet.

A winning book that shows how bravery sometimes takes time. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

3 Swimmingly-Good Picture Books

The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (9781452133508)

All his life Ken Nedimyer was fascinated by the ocean. He would dive in the Florida Keys to see the coral reefs and wonder at how they grew. Then he started to notice that the reefs were losing color and dying. Ken placed rocks in the ocean and then took them back to use in saltwater aquariums. One of his rocks happened to have a staghorn coral emerge on it, something that was illegal to remove from the sea unless it was growing on a live rock collector’s site. Then Ken had an idea, using this first piece of coral to grow more and more of them. He took those corals back to the dying reef and planted them there, not knowing if they would grow. It was a beginning, one that would show how reefs could be helped to recover, one coral at a time.

This inspirational nonfiction picture books shares the way that one person can help the environment by taking a risk and doing the work. The end of the book shares ways that children can help the coral reefs, with more articles and organizations to explore. The text of the book celebrates the wonder of the ocean and still explains the environmental crisis. That tension between the two makes for a compelling story. The illustrations glow on the page, lit by sunlight filtering through the water. They are luminous and hauntingly beautiful, even the images outside of water carrying a strong sense of place and the ocean.

A great picture book biography to share aloud or give to children who love water themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Dude By Aaron Reynolds

Dude! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (9781626726031)

This one-word picture book is a delight in different emotions. Two friends head to the beach together for a day of surfing and sun. Platypus and Beaver head into the sea, greeted by a soaring pelican who dips down to the water and back up again, but not without a little humor on the way. Then a shark shows up! But he just wants to join in the surfing fun. When a big wave crashes them onto the beach and ruins their boards, it’s good that they have made a new friend so that the fun can continue.

The use of just one word works brilliantly here. Sharing it aloud is great fun, though those reading aloud will have to look to the pictures for how that particular “Dude!” should be said. It is used for joy, panic, fear, dismay, sadness and much more throughout the story. Thankfully, the illustrations are done by master of humor, Santat. His bright palette and combination of comic panels and large two-page spreads make for a dynamic combination just right for this story.

A bright sunny summer read, dude! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (9780763690458)

Julian and his abuela take the subway home. On the subway, Julian notices three mermaids riding with them. Julian loves mermaids and daydreams about swimming in the deep and turning into a mermaid himself. When they get home, Julian mentions that he’s a mermaid too, but his abuela is busy heading for her bath. While she is bathing, Julian finds flowing hair for himself and a crown, a gown made of a curtain and some lipstick. When Julian’s abuela sees him, she gets dressed and then gives him a necklace. They head out of the house and off to a parade of other mermaids where Julian fits right in.

There is so much to celebrate in this picture book. Julian is an amazing example of a young person expressing their gender identity in a very direct and yet imaginative way. His grandmother is an even better image for people to read about, a grandparent who accepts a child for who they are without question and offers a way forward hand-in-hand. Told in very simple terms, this story is approachable for all ages, even parents and grandparents.

The illustrations are rich a beautiful. On light brown backgrounds, the illustrations are bright and shining. They are filled with body positivity in a variety of ways both subtle and direct. Perhaps the most successful part is Julian’s transformation into a mermaid in a way that still shows the costume and how it was created but also turns Julian’s dream into reality right before the readers’ eyes.

This one belongs in every library, it is sublimely diverse and accepting. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (9780763678388, Amazon)

Jabari is ready to jump off of the diving board, or so he tells his father. Jabari has finished swimming lessons and passed his swim test, so he should be ready. He declares that he isn’t scared at all. Then they get to the pool, where he sees other kids diving off the board. Jabari lets others go ahead of him. He climbs part way up and then down again to rest a bit and stretch. His father tells him that it’s alright to be scared and how to handle it because it may feel like a surprise at the end. Jabari tries one more time, reminding himself that he loves surprises. Can he do it?

Cornwall depicts a very loving African-American family here with father, son and a little sister. Throughout, the father is very supportive. He is there to hold hands, give a little squeeze and then offer direct advice. Best of all, he is there to celebrate the success too. The writing builds the pressure and emotions that Jabari is experiencing as he keeps trying. It emphasizes the height, the fall, and the bravery that the jump takes.

The illustrations are done in pencil, watercolor and collage with digital color. They have a wonderful texture to them, the sidewalks with subtle words on them, the pool water a swirling blue-green. Again, the height of the diving board is emphasized to great effect.

A summery splash of a book that is just right for reading when afloat in a pool, whether you are brave enough for the diving board or not. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Pool by JiHyeon Lee

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

Pool by JiHyeon Lee (InfoSoup)

A boy stands at the end of a swimming pool, ready to hop in. But just as he is about to, a crowd of people arrive and take over the pool. It is crammed full of them with their floating tubes and boats, leaving no area of water open. But the boy finds a sliver of water along the side of the pool and dives down underneath the crowd. A girl sees him dive down and heads down herself. The two meet underwater and head deeper together. Down at the bottom of the pool they discover a coral reef filled with wild fish that swim in large schools. There are also tubes large enough for a kid or a colorful eel to hide in. Large toothy fish swim by and then a gargantuan white whale too. The children head up to the surface again, as the rest of the crowd head out of the pool. The two of them are left to dry off side by side and wonder at what else could be underneath that water.

Lee captures the beauty of swimming and the wonder of imagination in this wordless picture book. The two children are distinct from the others floating on the surface, built in a more delicate way and almost matching except for their swimsuits. As they dream of reefs and fish, the water fills with animals. There is a playfulness to their imaginations, creating a world together that is filled with amazing things.

Delicate illustrations are filled with the blue of the pool. As the coral reef appears, there are animals of all sorts, even water spiders. The wonder of the huge white whale is a moment that is lengthened and filled with importance in this picture book. Throughout the pacing is masterfully done, allowing readers time to explore and dream themselves.

A book that encourages long looks and your own fish designs, this picture book is an inspiring and refreshing watery read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan

queen victorias bathing machine

Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Queen Victoria longs to get out of the heat of the summer as well as her itchy clothes and tight corset and just be able to swim in the sea.  But her lady-in-waiting collapses even considering the scandal that could take place if someone were to see the queen before she reached the water!  The queen gives up the idea, realizing that there is no way that she could be properly dressed and still able to swim.  Prince Albert though wants to try to figure out a way to get his beloved wife into the water.  Albert came up with many ideas, but none of them worked.  Then he struck upon a wonderful idea, a wheeled wooden cart that could be pulled right into the water.  This true story of a queen who wanted a touch of freedom ends with an image of the restored bathing machine that is now on the Isle of Wight in England. 

Whelan takes a wonderfully playful look at solving the queen’s swimming problems.  She makes sure that at the base of the entire story is the adoration between Albert and Victoria, a rich love story even though they were monarchs and parents.  Cleverly having a fainting lady-in-waiting who is the voice of propriety in the book helps children understand the expectations of decorum in a previous day.  Whelan writes in a free rhyming verse here, the looseness of the poems feel simple by belie that skill that it takes to write in this style.

Carpenter’s illustrations also have a sprightly humor to them.  They also celebrate the love of the two historical figures.  Perhaps the most joyful images are Victoria finally able to swim and cavort in the water.  Or maybe it is the final illustration where Victoria is happily held in Albert’s arms dripping and happy. 

This piece of historical fiction is based on a true story and shows creativity and problem solving galore.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: Swim, Duck, Swim! by Susan Lurie

swim duck swim

Swim, Duck, Swim! by Susan Lurie, illustrated by Murray Head

Told in rhyme, this picture book illustrated with large photographs explores one day in the life of a duckling who just won’t get into the water.  His parents are with him, encouraging him to try and so are all of the other fuzzy ducklings that are already swimming around.  But he is not sure that swimming is for him.  He might sink!  He hates to be wet!  And this might just be the perfect time for a nap. But with his parents encouraging him to keep on trying, there is suddenly a splash and he is swimming around merry and proud. 

Lurie’s rhymes have just the right amount of bounce and energy.  She captures the obstinate toddler who just won’t do what his parents are pushing him to try.  Children and parents alike will relate to this battle of wills where patient and positive parenting wins out in the end.  The text is simple and jaunty, keeping the duckling clearly an animal but giving words and emotions to his actions.

I’m a huge fan of photographs in children’s picture books.  Particularly when they are done as beautifully as Head’s.  The large format of all of the illustrations works beautifully, and I appreciate that they run all the way to the edge of the page rather than being framed in white.  The effect is an expansive one, these are pictures that pull you in until you too are pond-side and cheering on the duckling.

A great pick for kids heading to their first swimming lessons, this book would also make a nice addition to story times on ducks or trying something new.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Brownie & Pearl Take a Dip by Cynthia Rylant

browniepearl

Brownie & Pearl Take a Dip by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Brian Biggs

It’s a very hot day.  After sitting in front of the fan with lemonade, Brownie and Pearl decide to head for the pool.  Time for swimsuits, a beach ball and sunglasses.  They head to their small pool that is just the right size for both of them.  It feels so nice, but then Pearl leans in a little too close and gets a lot wetter than she wanted to.  In the end, it still feels nice to have a dip, but also nice to spend time drying out in the sun.

Rylant has created a very cheery series for toddlers.  Brownie and her pet cat Pearl have small adventures that very young children will relate to and understand.  Rylant has an ear for simplicity in her writing, creating a book that is simple but tells a full story.

Biggs’ illustrations are equally warm and friendly.  They are large, bright and warm.  The colors are rich and vibrant, creating a book that would work well for a group of toddlers as well as one-on-one.

A great pick for a hot summer day, this book will be enjoyed by children ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

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