Review: Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour

Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour

Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (9780525554165)

Lubna and her father have come to a refugee camp. As they arrived, Lubna found a smooth pebble. Pebble becomes her closest friend as she and her father make a new home in the camp. Pebble listens to all of Lubna’s stories of the war and her family. Pebble’s drawn on eyes and smile are friendly even in the cold nights. Lubna’s father finds her a box and towel for Pebble, so Pebble is warm at night too. When Amir arrives at the camp, he won’t speak to anyone. But when Lubna shows him Pebble, he introduces himself. Soon Lubna and Amir are close friends, though Lubna assures Pebble that they are still best friends. Lubna’s father finds them a new home in a different country, and Amir is very sad. Perhaps Pebble can help him out.

Meddour gently depicts a very personal side of the refugee crisis. Showing a more universal experience of refugees fleeing a war-torn country, the book really allows readers to deeply feel the loneliness and fright of a young child caught in this situation. At the same time, the book doesn’t go into the personal losses in detail, they are alluded to rather than fully realized, which is ideal for young children. The use of a pebble as a friend is also incredibly moving, showing the poverty and the isolation of a child in a very concrete way.

The in the picture book is filled with deep colors and also depicts light shining upon Lubna as she makes her way towards a new life. Throughout the book there is a sense of hope and that is also conveyed in the images in the book, with open skies, deep imaginary worlds, and even the smile of Pebble.

An accessible and heartfelt look at the refugee crisis. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Sleepy the Goodnight Buddy by Drew Daywalt

Sleepy the Goodnight Buddy by Drew Daywalt

Sleepy the Goodnight Buddy by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Scott Campbell (9781484789698)

Roderick hated to go to bed, so he would make all sorts of requests and excuses to delay bedtime. Then his parents got him Sleepy, a toy that would help Roderick fall asleep. At first, no matter where Roderick put Sleepy in his bedroom, he could feel Sleepy’s staring eyes on him. Roderick tried to tell Sleepy that it was his job to help Roderick sleep, but Sleepy asked for a drink of water, then to use the bathroom, then to brush his teeth, and on and on. Until finally, Roderick loses his temper turns his back on Sleepy and just goes to sleep. Could that have been Sleepy’s plan all along?

Told in both prose and dialogue, this picture book has a merry voice. Young readers will recognize their own reluctance for bedtime and may not realize as quickly as adults that Sleepy is up to something. The dialogue between Roderick and Sleepy is fast-paced and full of humor. The book reads aloud well and demands a unique voice for Sleepy in particular.

The art really works well with Sleepy being a beautifully creepy toy or creature. His staring huge eyes, striped legs, and puffy antlers are delightfully confusing. The scenes of the two characters in bed next to each other use particularly effective imagery of wide eyes glowing in the darkness, side-by-side.

A great riff on bedtime struggles. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 New Picture Books with Everyday Heroes

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

This is one delightful graphic novel picture book that is almost wordless, making it a great pick as an early graphic novel experience for little children. When Grace is told that the class will contribute to a fund to get their class pet, Gus, a new friend, she decides that she has to help. She heads home through an urban landscape, filled with nods to iconic New York people. Once her fathers are asleep, she heads out into the nighttime city and in one scene after another raises money uses her special talents, each of which is a nod to the vibrancy of arts in urban settings.

Lovers of New York and classic cartoons will have lots to spot in the illustrations. Even children who don’t know the references though will get the feeling of New York and its vibrancy from this graphic novel. The use of images to primarily tell the story invites children to fill in the tale themselves and makes the book all the more engaging and uplifting. An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Islandborn by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (9780735229860)

When Ms. Obi told Lola’s class that their assignment is to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, Lola is very worried. She doesn’t remember the Island at all, since her family left when she was only a baby. Ms. Obi suggests that Lola talk to others who might remember more. Soon Lola is speaking to lots of people in her neighborhood from the Island and they each have a favorite memory. For some it is the music, for others it’s the colorful homes, others miss the fruit. When Lola asks Mr. Mir about what he most remembers, he is gruff and won’t answer. Lola’s grandmother though wants Lola to try to ask him again, since Mr. Mir knows so much about the Island. What Mr. Mir tells Lola though is about a monster that came to the Island and was turned back only when heroes stood up to the darkness. It’s a history that Lola has never heard before, but is proud to include in her drawings of the place she was born.

Diaz’s text is rich and invites readers into visualizing the Island for themselves with its lush foliage, colorful homes, beautiful beaches and much more. The book depicts an urban neighborhood filled with echoes of the Island, a community built from the heroes who fought back. The illustrations are bright and cheery, filled with Lola’s imaginative take on what she is being told. Children may need more explanation about “the monster” if they are interested, but this book firmly celebrates resistance and standing up to those who would take your rights. Timely and important, this picture book celebrates where children came from and what it took to survive. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.)

Teddy_s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine (9781481480796)

Teddy has lots of toys he likes, but only one favorite one: Bren-Da, the Warrior Queen of Pacifica. They have tea parties together and she has great manners. They fight battles together and she does a wonderful kick. She can dress up in different styles. But then one day, when Teddy is playing with her, Bren-Da’s leg snaps off. Teddy tries to fix her, but has to leave for school and he keeps her wrapped up in bandages until he can return. Unfortunately, Teddy’s mom cleans up his room and accidentally throws Bren-Da out with the trash. What can they do? It’s up to Teddy’s mom to become a Warrior Queen herself.

There are several book out there about children playing with toys that may be seen as unusual for their gender. This one though has a great twist and really is about far more than just playing with a doll as a little boy. Instead it’s also about heroism, favorite toys and the ability of a mom to become a hero. The book is told simply but without any bit of didacticism. The illustrations are bright and friendly, offering great moments of play that are then mirrored by the rescue mission. A great picture book that breaks gender stereotypes in more than one way. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)

2 Magical Books for Young Readers

Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins

Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason (9780763665586)

A fresh retelling of classic fairy tales that ties them together into a single world, this book for elementary readers makes these stories accessible. Beautifully told, the stories all come together around a frozen woods and the magic of kisses, some of which break an enchantment and such of which create one. Around these central themes and settings, beloved stories spin. The stories include Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, The Frog Prince, and Hansel and Gretel. Other lesser known stories are also there, including one of my favorites Toads and Pearls. Jenkins invites readers into her stories and honors the classic tale, but also inserts a touch of humor, a feeling of convergence, and a dynamic storytelling style. Perfect for sharing classic stories with slightly older children, this book is fresh and exciting. Appropriate for ages 6-8. (ARC provided by Candlewick Press.)

Good Night, Planet by Liniers

Good Night, Planet by Liniers (9781943145201)

A little girl goes to sleep with her favorite stuffed animal, Planet, at her side. Once she is sleeping, Planet gets out of bed and starts his own adventures. They involve visiting with the dog, eating some cookies together, climbing a tree and seeing the full moon. Getting down from the tree is an adventure in itself and takes a bit of a run and a leap. They befriend a mouse along the way, share some more cookies together and then return to bed. Based on Liniers’ own daughter’s stuffed animal and their family dog, this book is gentle and lovely. It’s a great introduction to graphic novels for young children and a way to get new readers more confident. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Toon Books.)

Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth

Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J Muth

Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth (9780545852821, Amazon)

It is race day for Mama Lion and Tigey. Tigey works on their car while Mama Lion reminds him that winning isn’t everything. In fact, she may have spotted just the right prize for Tigey and it isn’t the big trophy. When the race starts, Mama Lion and Tigey are immediately in the lead. Unfortunately though, when swerving to avoid an obstacle, their wheel comes off. Nicely, one of their competitors, the Flying Pandinis stops and helps them repair their car. They are soon passed though by Bun Bun who is scattering seeds as she rides her motorcycle and the Knitted Monkeys who are always a little naughty. As they race toward the finish line, Mama Lion and Tigey have a decision to make. Should they win the race?

Muth is the author of the acclaimed Zen Shorts series of books. It’s a joy to see him use those same ideas and concepts in a picture book about racing that is also about so much more. Muth has embedded Buddhist thought and ideals in this picture book in a way that is natural and never didactic. This is a picture book with a message that is so deeply ingrained in story itself that the message flows and never feels forced. The characters of Mama Lion and Tigey along with the other toy animals are dynamic and complex. This is a rich picture book that turns the concept of winning entirely on its head.

Muth’s illustrations have a zingy energy to them that matches the subject matter beautifully. They are filled with animals that are clearly toys. The Knitted Monkey team is exactly that. The Flying Pandinis are small round stuffed pandas. Mama Lion and Tigey are clearly beloved stuffed animals with whiskers, buttons and of course racing goggles.

A truly special picture book, this one is for those kids who love racing and those who love toys and those who love a great read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Sam Sorts by Marthe Jocelyn

sam-sorts-by-marthe-jocelyn

Sam Sorts by Marthe Jocelyn (9781101918050)

All of Sam’s toys are in a heap on his floor. It’s time for him to clean up. He finds one unique toy, then two dinosaurs, and counts upwards. But there are other ways to sort toys into categories. Maybe by what they are made from or their shape. And then there are the toys that fall into both categories. Some of them rhyme with each other. Others have the same pattern on them. They can be every color in the rainbow or have qualities that make them similar like being fuzzy or smelly. Some float. Others fly. So many ways to sort!

Jocelyn has created a book that is all about the concept of sorting items into categories. Again and again, she shows that toys can be put into any number of categories. It’s all in how you look at them. The book also incorporates counting on some of its pages. It’s a book that is perfect for more conversations outside of the ones in the text. Questions of finding other toys that fit the new categories on the page, or even thinking of other categories that Sam hasn’t used yet. There’s plenty to be creative about here.

Jocelyn’s illustrations are done in cut paper collage. Some items have a lovely depth to them, created by shadows on the page. On another two pages, there are shadows on the wall that add to the fun. On other pages real objects appear with drawings of others. This is a vibrant visual feast where children will want to look closely at the items and talk about how they match or don’t match.

Have items on hand to sort to continue the conversations started with this creative look at sorting. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Tundra Books.

 

Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin

little-fox-in-the-forest-by-stephanie-graegin

Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin (9780553537895)

In this wordless graphic novel, a little girl brings her stuffed toy fox to school for show-and-tell and it is taken from the playground by a real fox! The girl and her friend chase after the fox, stopping to ask directions when they find a small door in a tree. The squirrel who lives there points them in the right direction. Meanwhile, a weasel tries to steal the toy from the little fox, but a bear steps in and sorts it out. The children arrive at a town where animals live together and they enlist the help of the entire area to search for the fox. Soon they discover the little fox and his stolen toy, but what will they do then?

Graegin tells a really wonderful story solely through images. Using white space to frame her images into a graphic novel format, the story is told with rich details. It clearly establishes the little girl’s long attachment to the stuffed fox and her desire to share it with her class. Then the story becomes a chase sequence and a mystery of where the fox has gone. It then enters a lovely fantasy where the entire animal town comes to life, shown in a wide panorama that makes one want to wander the streets.

One special device used through the book is that the children are shown in black, grays and whites. The color enters the book subtly at first with the little fox and a red bird who watches from above. The children maintain their more somber color palette even as the world around them is vibrant color. Yet these worlds can touch and cross, much to the joy of the reader.

This genre bending graphic-novel picture book is beautiful, rich and worthy of journeying through time and again. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz and Wade.

 

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe

big-bob-little-bob-by-james-howe

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson (InfoSoup)

When Big Bob moves in next door, Little Bob’s mother is happy that he will have a friend so close by. But the two boys are very different in more than just their size. Big Bob likes to roughhouse, play sports, and zoom trucks around. Little Bob likes to spend time quietly reading, play with dolls, and sometimes wears girl clothes. Big Bob teases him for a lot of these things until a new girl moves into the neighborhood and tells Little Bob that boys don’t play with dolls. Big Bob stands up to her and soon the three of them are playing in whatever way they like best, because both girls and boys can play with whatever they choose.

While the message here can get a little heavy handed at the end, this is an important book. It shows that gender norms are a spectrum, that boys who play with dolls don’t have to be given any additional labels unless they identify in a different way. It also embraces that girls too sometimes prefer playing games or choosing toys that are traditionally masculine. There is a broad acceptance here with children being given the space and time to realize that they were viewing the world through a limiting lens.

Anderson’s illustrations are playful and bright. The neighborhood is quirky and welcoming with plenty of place to play separately and together. The use of wild colors adds to the appeal with trees of tangerine and lemon/lime and garlands of flowers and hearts dangling from them.

A book about accepting differences, learning to get along and finding new friends, this picture book is strong pick for library collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding

Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding

Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Claire Fletcher (InfoSoup)

Josette lives in 1920s Paris with her toy rabbit, Pepette. At home, their great room’s walls were covered with paintings of the family, including Josette and her sisters as well as their dog. But there was no picture of Pepette! So the two of them set off to Montmartre where the best artists painted. Josette finds one famous painter after another to paint her toy bunny, but none of the paintings is quite right. Picasso gives the bunny too many ears and noses. Salvador Dali makes him too droopy. Chagall has Pepette flying in the clouds. Matisse painted him in the wrong colors. Finally, Josette heads home, realizing that it is up to her to create an appropriate portrait of her beloved rabbit.

Lodding’s glimpse of the wonder of Paris and the incredible artists at work all at once at Montmartre is very enticing. It will help for the adults reading the book to guide children through the artists afterwards, allowing them to understand who the artists were and how their signature styles are reflected in their portraits of Pepette. It is a lovely introduction to those painters for young children and may be ideal before a visit to a museum. Josette herself is a wonderful young character as well, showing real determination to get the right portrait of her toy and yet also showing respect to the artists and their unique vision.

The watercolor illustrations by Fletcher are a huge success. They have their own artistic quality and also capture the styles of the other artists as well. The watercolors have a vintage style that works particularly well in showing 1920s Paris, allowing the light to play across the colors of the city where Josette stands out with her red bow, polka dot dress and striped stockings.

A lovely historical picture book that invites readers to explore Paris and art. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Little Bee Books.