Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca

Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca (9781534493773)

This picture book by Caldecott Award winner Floca explores the Covid-19 pandemic. Through New York City streets, the book shows how most people were forced to stay indoors and watch the streets go quiet. But the streets never emptied entirely, since there were people working at essential jobs. People were still out and about using all sorts of vehicles. There were people delivering mail and packages, people heading to work in hospitals, others making food deliveries on their bicycles, still others picking up trash, and police and fire protecting everyone. Then every night, the windows opened and people shouted and banged their appreciation for these people who kept on working through the danger and the emptiness to keep everyone safe, fed and looked after.

The text in the book is simple, explaining what happened to cause the streets to empty as people took refuge in their homes to stay safe. The book shows vehicles of all sorts but also shows lovely moments of connection, of toys being delivered or taxis stopping to get someone with lots of grocery bags.

Floca tells us in his Author’s Note that he created these images during the pandemic’s height in New York City. As the streets emptied, he found solace in drawing the vehicles that continued to move through the city. He then took those images and made them into this book, which explains the aching melancholy of some of the images as they show the empty streets and the vast change to a normally bustling city.

A beautiful yearning look at New York City in 2020 with plenty of interesting vehicles to explore. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable

Cover image

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Stephanie Yue (9780593306321)

Katie’s friends are heading away to sleepover camp for the summer but Katie and her mother can’t afford for her to attend. When Katie discovers that she can go for just one week, she creates a plan to earn money in their apartment building. Unfortunately, she kills houseplants, isn’t strong enough to lug groceries up the stairs, and cleaning is a bust too. But when a neighbor discovers that Katie has a way with cats, she asks her to cat sit her 217 cats, who luckily are trained to use the bathroom rather than litterboxes. Very quickly, Katie realizes that these are not normal cats. They use the computer, 3D print things, order pizzas, and destroy the apartment. Just when Katie is about to lose yet another job, the cats come together and repair the apartment before their owner returns. As she continues to cat sit, Katie starts to believe that the owner just might be the infamous burglar who has been roaming the city despite the local superheroes searching for her.

This middle-grade graphic novel is purr-fect feline fun. Set in an urban area filled with less-than-super heroes and crafty villains, Katie’s life is rather mundane. She goes to school, spends time with her single mother, and looks forward to postcards from her best friend. That all changes when she starts cat-sitting and the fascinating cats take over her life. Their naughty evil natures as well as their technology skills make for an unusual job.

The art and words work well together, creating a world primarily set in the single building and the surrounding neighborhood. Full of expressive characters, dynamic cats and strange superheroes, the book is funny and has just the right amount of quirkiness.

A great book for cat lovers and babysitters alike. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Kids.

My Day with Gong Gong by Sennah Yee

My Day with Gong Gong cover image

My Day with Gong Gong by Sennah Yee, illustrated by Elaine Chen (9781773214290)

May has been left with her grandfather, Gong Gong, to spend the day. But she doesn’t speak any Chinese and Gong Gong doesn’t speak much English. They go on a walk together through Gong Gong’s Chinatown neighborhood. Her grandfather knows everyone as they walk by, but May can’t understand what they are saying or why they are laughing. May gets hungry and asks for something to eat, but her grandpa just pats her head. They go to a Dim Sum restaurant next, but Gong Gong spends the time chatting, not eating. Then they head to the grocery store and shop. May thinks they may be heading home to eat, but instead they play cards with Gong Gong’s friends in the park. When a pigeon poops on May’s jacket, she bursts into tears. But it turns out that Gong Gong has been paying attention all along and has just the right toy and dumpling to help.

This picture book celebrates the generations spending time together, particularly those from immigrant families who have language barriers. Told entirely from May’s point of view with little asides to the reader of her confusion and hunger, the book captures May’s unease with her grandfather and her belief that he doesn’t understand her at all. That is then flipped around, as the book resolves into a grandfather who has been paying close attention all along.

The illustrations beautifully depict Chinatown streets with many people out and about and colorful shops and signs. The scenes shine with sunlight, showing readers the warmth and friendliness of the community long before May truly feels it herself.

A lovely look at grandparents and finding connection across generations. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Annick Press.

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (9780374307417)

This poetic picture book takes a deep look at emotions that hide inside. The emotions wait there, until the boy has the strength to look. Inside, he finds a mix of emotions, positive and negative. There is joy and happiness that “shines delight on everything I see.” There is sorrow like a watery grave for those who have been killed. There is fear that wakes him up at night. There is anger and fury. There is a hunger to be free. There is a pride in being a Black American. There is also peace, compassion, hope and love to carry him forward in making a difference.

Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare. The complicated mix of negative and positive allows readers to see their own emotions not as contradictory but as valid and important in the world that we live in. The clear use of Black Lives Matter throughout the book and the focus on race makes this an ideal read for our time.

Denmon’s illustrations are vibrant and powerful. Focused on the emotions, they convey those particularly well with body language and movement. They also capture critical moments in our modern times, including protests, police officers, murders. At the same time, they also show the beauty of an urban neighborhood filled with murals, people and homes.

Strong poetry that calls for social justice while exploring valid emotions. Appropriate for ages 5-7/

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (9781536207040)

Evelyn and Daniela are best friends. Evelyn tries to act like today is just like any other day, but it’s not. Daniela goes across the street to find a big truck getting filled with boxes and their furniture. The two climb the stairs two at a time, the way they always do. They go past Evelyn’s neighbors who they know so well, into the apartment which is a twin of where Daniela lives across the street. The furniture is all packed and just a few boxes are left, so the girls play in an empty box until it is time for Evelyn to go. In the empty apartment they spin together, then discover stickers to share. A heart pressed to a cheek to seal the promise of a future visit together. Then it is time to go, knowing they will always be best friends.

Medina proves here that she can write just as beautifully for preschoolers and elementary age as she does for older readers. Focusing on the long goodbye, this picture book shows how farewells can be done with smiles and promises. Medina invites us into their shared imaginative play, the joy of big empty boxes, the pleasure of hiding from adults together, and finally the sadness of goodbyes. The twinning of the two girls with their similar apartments and attitudes works so well here, showing their connection in a physical way.

Sanchez’s art is glorious. Full of the deepest of colors, saturated reds and oranges, cool blues and greens. They are paired with textures of wallpaper, cardboard corrugations, red bricks, and floorboards. This is an entire world of apartments and friendship.

A great picture book with an empowering final page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet by April Pulley Sayre

Cityscape Where Science and Art Meet by April Pulley Sayre

Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet by April Pulley Sayre  (9780062893314)

Explore the angles, lines and structures of the buildings and spaces that make up the city. Through vibrant photographs, this poetic informational picture book takes readers on a journey through cities and their spectacular architectural features. The author focuses on more than soaring skyscrapers, also showing readers mosaic floor tiles, dramatic doorways, ancient cities, and the plants that live in urban environs. Fountains, bridges, trusses and more also fill the pages with fascinating gears and incredible structures.

Sayre has once again created an informational picture book that really shines. Here she turns her lens to urban environments, showing readers various elements that they may overlook on their own journeys. She includes information on how to explore a city and offers questions for readers to ask themselves as they wander. The questions are architectural, asking readers to look closely and then wonder a bit.

As always, Sayre’s photographs are impressive. Here she beautifully plays with angles and arches, points and columns, windows and water. The book feels like a walk through a city, each page turn like rounding a new corner.

A joyful look at our cities and the beauty to discover there. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Review: Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts

Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts

Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes by Jef Aerts & Sanne te Loo (9781782505617)

Adin and Dina lived on the same farm. The two of them spent long days together picking cherries on the farm and climbing high in the cherry trees. They ate the cherries and kept the pits, planting them around town in the hopes that trees would grow. But then one day, Adin’s family decided to move to the city. Adin moved to an apartment building, far from any cherry trees. Dina gave him a bag of cherry pits to take with him. He spent time creating paper airplanes, loading them with pits and launching them off his balcony. Dina did get to visit once during their year apart. The two of them quickly fell back into being close friends. When spring came, the cherry pits were gone but a path of blooming trees led right back to the farm from the city. A path that just had to be followed.

This Dutch import has a lovely quiet to it. From the quiet friendship spent together in trees eating cherries to the quiet of loneliness for a close friend, all are captured on these pages. The emotions of a friend leaving are captured beautifully too as is the lasting connection between people and places. The writing is superb, celebrating cherries and trees and steadily building to that moment in spring when trees burst into bloom.

The art of this picture book celebrates the countryside and nature. The book captures the seasons with different colors and silhouettes of the trees. The rich green of summer turns to the browns of autumn to the whites of winter and then to a vibrant light green of spring that reaches to the city with its illumination on the page.

A lovely look at a cherry of a friendship. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Floris Books.

Review: My Winter City by James Gladstone

My Winter City by James Gladstone

My Winter City by James Gladstone, illustrated by Gary Clement (9781773060101)

Experience the wonder of a snowy day in the city with this picture book. Told in poetic text, the story invites you to journey with a child and their father through the snowy streets early in the morning. There is slush and moving buses, plenty of footprints from other people. The bus is crowded and steamy as it takes them to the sledding hill. There they sled and have plenty of snowy fun, even stopping to make snow angels in the park. They return home, sleepy from all of the cold activities outside.

Gladstone’s text really makes this a special day. He creatively shows the beauty of snowfall in the city, including all of the sights and sounds of the experience. Readers will love the descriptions of “crinkly ice crystals” and “light powder pillows” of snow. At one point, they walk past a greenhouse which is “like a warm, rainy summer in a country far away.” All of these small elements and quiet touches add up to a full experience of a wintry day.

Clement’s illustrations embrace the falling snow from a variety of perspectives. He makes sure that the urban setting is central to all of the images, showing the bustle and busyness around the pair of characters. There is a sense of warmth and community here as well.

A snowy day filled with urban delights. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bodega Cat by Louie Chin

Bodega Cat by Louie Chin

Bodega Cat by Louie Chin (9781576879320)

Explore the life of a New York City bodega cat in this picture book. Chip is the cat who lives in the Matos family’s bodega. He keeps an eye on everything from the breakfast rush, where he knows everyone’s orders, to the stock on the shelves, that he loves to hide and sleep in. He helps with deliveries too. In the evening when Damian comes home, they play superheroes together, dashing through the neighborhood along with the cat from the grocery store across the street. Dinnertime comes with a Dominican meal shared with neighbors and friends. The bodega never closes, so Chip’s job never ends!

Chin, a native New Yorker, pays homage to his city through the lens of the importance of bodegas and small grocery stores in neighborhoods throughout the city. He cleverly uses the iconic bodega cat as the perspective from which to view the store. Chip is a delight of a character, offering pride, a knowledge of his neighborhood, and a dedication to the people they serve.

The illustrations are done in a comic-book style that works particularly well. They are bright, busy and filled with the bustle of a store. Chip himself hides around the store, offers help, and is in the midst of everything.

A great book about a vital part of New York City. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.