Let Me Fix You a Plate by Elizabeth Lily

Cover image for Let Me Fix You a Plate.

Let Me Fix You a Plate by Elizabeth Lily (9780823443253)

A family packs up and heads out on their annual trip. After driving for hours, it is dark when they reach West Virginia. The dark midnight kitchen is warm and light as the children doze off. In the morning, there is sausage, blackberry jam and coffee for Papaw and dad. The children help Mamaw make banana pudding. After three days, it’s time to leave and head to Florida. Their Abuela hugs them and invites them in for food. The midnight kitchen is full of Spanish words, tostones, and flan. In the morning there is fresh juice and arepas. The house fills with people, dancing and music and snacks eaten behind the couch. The trip comes to an end with full bellies but already missing all of the food and family. They get home late, and their own midnight kitchen fills with waffles before bed.

An ode to great food and grandparents, this picture book explores the connection between food and family, creating strong memories that linger once you return home and can still taste on your tongue. Told from the point of view of one of the children, the book looks at arrival at night to each home, the transformation in the morning, and then the special treats shared at each place. The homes may differ in terms of food, faith and language, but throughout the emphasis is sharing traditions, spending time together, and eating.

The illustrations are a joy, depicting such warm kitchens and filled with small details that create a real feeling of each home. The end pages in the book feature the various elements of each of the homes, including the tractor cups, coal minor portrait and cat plates in West Virginia and the toston press, rosary, and little house in Florida. The deep colors, friendly faces and warm hugs shown also demonstrate the love and connection with all of the homes.

Warm, loving and delicious. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.

Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin

Cover image

Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga (9781580899369)

Lily was traveling with her Gram to Gram’s house in Iowa where Lily was going to live now. Gram suggested that on the long drive they discover ten beautiful things. Lily looked out the window but couldn’t find a single beautiful thing. Just then, the sun broke the horizon, and Lily had found her first beautiful thing. As they traveled, Lily’s stomach would hurt and she would feel very sad, but before she could get too sad, another beautiful thing would appear. There was a wind farm, a creek, even a decaying old barn. The smell of the muddy earth was one that Lily discovered and picked. Towards the end of their journey, a thunderstorm broke over them, filling up the entire space, and definitely making itself number 9. Then they were at Gram’s house. What would be number 10? Gram knew just the thing.

Griffin’s writing is deeply empathetic to Lily and the changes happening in her life. Lily’s emotions about the change are right at the surface, causing her stomach to ache and for her to sometimes withdraw. Gram is the perfect response to that, feeding her crackers and carefully building a relationship as the miles went by. The structure of counting beautiful things creates a way for readers to experience the unique beauty of the Midwest and Iowa in particular. The use of a storm to both symbolize the turmoil of life and also the clearing of the air is especially well done.

The illustrations are done digitally and with watercolor textures. From the drama of the storm that takes over the pages, filling them with wind, rain and lightning to the dazzle of sun as they reach Gram’s house with a page that glows with hope, this book shows emotions on the page clearly and with real skill.

A quiet book where readers can experience the beauty of nature and the wonder of a new family being built. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

Hamish Takes the Train by Daisy Hirst

Hamish Takes the Train by Daisy Hirst (9781536216592)

Hamish the bear and Noreen the goose love to watch trains together. Hamish longs to take a train to the city, but Noreen isn’t interested. So Hamish set off, following the train tracks on foot. When he got to the station though, he found he needed a ticket, so he just kept on walking. As night fell, he came to a railroad yard and discovered a caboose all lit up inside. There he found Christov who was sick with the flu and too ill to go to work in the morning and run a big crane. So Hamish offered to help. He borrowed Christov’s hat and jacket and headed into the city on the train. When he got to the building site though, he didn’t have any boots, luckily he was able to find some nearby. Then it was time to run the huge crane. Hamish worked hard, running the crane from the cozy cabin. He did it for the five days that Christov was sick and was offered a job himself by the end. But Hamish was missing Noreen and took a train home, to share his adventures with her, and maybe have some new ones together.

Hirst tells a charming tale of Hamish, a bear with a taste for adventure and trying new things. He is also a very helpful and thoughtful character, helping out where he can and finding unique solutions to problems he encounters along the way. I was most impressed that Hamish was a success as he tried to help. It became a celebration of trying new things, learning and succeeding rather than what is often seen in children’s books like Curious George where helping becomes failing in a funny way.

The art is simple and friendly, capturing both the expanse of the countryside and the bustle of the city streets. Some of the pages are fully colored while others use white space and smaller images that move the story ahead. Throughout there is a sense of happy positivity.

A glorious adventure full of trains and cranes. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai

Cover image of Fly on the Wall

Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (9781250314116)

The author of Pie in the Sky returns with the story of a twelve-year-old who wants to prove his maturity to his helicopter family. Henry’s family monitors what he is doing all the time, packing his backpack for him, making sure he has eaten, and hovering all the time. But Henry knows he can do a lot more than they think. That’s how he came up with a very exact plan to prove his independence: he will fly from where he lives in Australia to Singapore where his father lives. He’s also running from being exposed as the author of a nasty gossip comic at his school, something he is both proud of and terrified by. He just needs his ex-best friend to follow through on the plan, or he will definitely get caught!

The entire adventure that Henry experiences is a delight to experience by his side. His sense of humor both in his gossip comics and on the page is broad and very funny. Throughout the book, he is a disciple hoping to find a shifu to teach him what to do next in his quest. When he meets a girl on the plane, he soon discovers that she might just be the shifu he is looking for, if he can keep from making her so mad that she stops talking to him.

With the text broken up with illustrations done in neon green washes and black ink, this book will appeal to readers of Wimpy Kid. The illustrations range from single illustrations to panels in series to examples from Henry’s own blog done in a completely different style.

Funny, insightful and proof that everyone worth knowing is a little strange. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt and Co.

Papa Brings Me the World by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Papa Brings Me the World by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Papa Brings Me the World by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (9781250159250)

Lulu’s papa travels for a living. When he is about to leave, she tucks notes into his pocket to remind him of her love. In his work as a photojournalist, her papa climbs mountains, swims in oceans, rides camels, and explores the world. He brings Lulu items from his travels like coins from 28 countries. Lulu longs to join him on his travels, but instead she follows his journeys with her mother, using a map on the wall. Sometimes Papa has to miss big events because he is gone, but he always returns. In fact, on his next trip Lulu finally gets to travel along and fill her own journal with her experiences.

In her author’s note at the end of the book, the author speaks of her own childhood growing up in a family with a father whose work took him around the world. Her deep understanding of the mixture of sorrow, pride and longing that the young protagonist feels makes this book all the more poignant and impactful. Her art is done in mixed media, including collage, pencil, acrylics and stamping. The illustrations are rich and layered, offering a glimpse into the life of this busy multiracial family.

A warm and loving look at a father who has a job unlike regular parents. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt and Company.

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome (9780823438730)

Ruth Ellen and her family left the South to head north to New York. Some African-Americans made the trip on foot, some drove but Ruth Ellen and her family took the train. They got the last seats in the colored car, and settled in for the long journey. They left secretly, not telling her father’s boss or their landlord that they were leaving. More and more people filled the colored train car as they traveled northward, many of them left standing because all the seats were taken. Ruth read to her mother from the book her teacher had given her about Frederick Douglass. As they got to Maryland, the separation of white and colored was removed, and Ruth and her family moved to get seats in less crowded parts of the train. Some white people didn’t want them sitting near them, but others were friendly. Their trip continued all the way to New York City where they would make their new future. 

Told in the voice of Ruth Ellen, this picture book is a very personal look at the deep changes in the South after slavery that created the opportunity for the Great Migration to the north. On these pages is a clear optimism about their future, their new opportunities coming to fruition. The book is focused specifically on the travel north, beautifully weaving in elements from Frederick Douglass’ experience as he journeyed north fleeing slavery. 

The illustrations are done in paper, graphie, paste pencils and watercolors. Ransome has created illustrations that are richly colored, show the poverty of the south, but also capture the rush of the train towards the north and opportunity.

This historical picture book shows a moment of deep change in America. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Holiday House.

Review: River by Elisha Cooper

River by Elisha Cooper

River by Elisha Cooper (9781338312263)

Explore the Hudson River alongside an intrepid canoer in this picture book. The book takes readers from a mountain lake on a journey of 300 miles to where the Hudson meets the Atlantic. The woman meets moose, otters, a bear cub, ducks and more on her journey. She faces rapids and sometimes has to drag her canoe in shallow waters or portage it across a dam. She uses a lock to get past a waterfall. She stops at times to restock her supplies at towns along the river. She paddles for days and days, sleeping in a tent at night. She faces a storm and has her boat overturned, but she eventually reaches New York City and her home.

There is something so invigorating and inspiring about this glimpse of someone making a journey of a lifetime. At the same time, this is a quiet book, one that inspires thinking, drawing and taking time for one’s self. It’s a lovely balance of a book, and thanks to Cooper’s unique style it is told in a way that honors the woman’s courage and skill and yet makes it all less daunting to imagine doing. It’s just what we want picture books to do for children.

Cooper’s art really shines here, reading more like a journal at times with scenes just barely captured before they changed. Other pages which feature the landscape and vistas along the way are spectacularly done whether in broad daylight or filled with stars at night.

A journey worth taking again and again. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison

The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison

The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison, illustrated by Anne Lambelet (9781624147654)

Liam’s father was a sailor who always brought back stories of his time a sea. Liam loved the way his father’s stories could transport him. But when his father didn’t return from a voyage, Liam lost the ability to connect with stories any longer. It wasn’t until an unusual man with an amazing multi-colored beard arrived on a ship that Liam heard stories that could compare with his father’s. The man asked for a volunteer to accompany him on his next journey, and out of a crowd of people, he selected Liam. The two traveled together with the man showing Liam how to listen and how to see things. After some time together, the man reached the end of his travels and offered Liam a gift, a gift of stories and storytelling.

Davison celebrates the power of stories and storytelling in this picture book. She explores how important stories are to create connection and then how dark life can be when that bridge of stories is gone. The traveler is an interesting character with his gift of stories but also his touch of magic, his multi-colored beard telling the tales along with him. Seen as strange by some but awe-inspiring for someone like Liam who uses stories as a language.

The illustrations use color very cleverly. Liam goes from a life of full color to one of grays, blacks and whites, his world tinged with grief and loss. Everyone around him to are in muted colors, except for the Traveler, who arrives with his bright beard of greens, reds and yellows that offer space for stories to appear. At the end of the book, readers will see the gift of stories pass to Liam with a transfer of the colors as well. It’s beautifully and touching.

A great story all about the power of stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Page Street Kids.

Review: The Little Green Girl by Lisa Anchin

The Little Green Girl by Lisa Anchin

The Little Green Girl by Lisa Anchin (9780735230736)

Mr. Aster likes his normal routine. He cares for his garden, keeping it neat and clean. Then a new seed blows in on the wind. He plants the seed in his greenhouse and takes good care of the plant that emerges. Eventually, he moves the plant out into the garden. The plant looks like a little girl, and at first she is content to be at the center of the garden, always watching Mr. Aster as he works. But then the birds arrive and tell her stories of the wide world. Little Green Girl tries to move herself using vines and lifting her roots, but each day Mr. Aster tucks her back into her bed in the garden and repairs any damage she has done. Finally, Little Green Girl has an idea and makes sure that Mr. Aster allows her to travel. It may just be what Mr. Aster needs too.

Anchin has written a lovely, magical book that takes the idea of a plant and gives her plenty of personality. The book looks at both the pleasures of home and also the delights of experiencing something new. It also speaks to the power of a new friend and spreading your branches to include new experiences.

The artwork is completely charming. In particular, Little Green Girl, is a masterpiece of greenery. She is firmly rooted to the ground but manages to have plenty of emotional expression through body language despite that. Her readiness to travel could not be more clear when she manages to re-pot herself into a traveling form, sunglasses and all.

A book that will expand your horizons and get you thinking of taking a trip. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.