Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife by Sarah Grace Tuttle, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (9780802854599)
In a series of poems, this book celebrates nature in an urban setting, showing how wildlife continues to thrive. Mice and dandelions start the book, then it reaches farther to moss, mushrooms, and several kinds of birds. Slugs, ants and worms too have poems dedicated to them. The book moves gracefully through the seasons as well, moving to autumn and into winter as the book concludes. With even the smallest creatures celebrated here, there is a poem for everyone whether you like ladybugs, raccoons or owls.
Tuttle’s poems are short and very accessible. They offer brief glimpses into the lives of animals, birds, insects and plants thriving in the city setting. There is a quiet to most of the poems that shows how things continue to grow and live in parks, alleys and outside of the bustle of the city for the most part. The illustrations are bright and poetic too, capturing the green spaces of the city, the movement and each of the animals featured in the poetry.
A winning collection for children from both city and country. Appropriate for ages 6-8. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans.)
Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Red Koehler
Three children are up in their treehouse in the dark with a flashlight. As the flashlight beam breaks the night, it reveals an adventure. The children head into a woods, through a tomb, on to a pirate shore. There are sword battles, a grabby giant squid, and finally an escape. Then they are back in their treehouse, sharing a good book by flashlight. The text quietly builds the space for the illustrations that fill the page with discoveries by the handheld light. Throughout, there is a feeling of wonder, of the light revealing things that may or may not be there. The illustrations are exceptional, showing the joy of flashlights in the dark and the power of imaginations at play. Perfect to read with flashlights and then head outside for your own adventures. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Lines by Suzy Lee (9781452156651)
A lone ice skater skates past leaving swirling lines on the ice. There are curls and tight spirals and loose curves that feel like music on the page. In her red hat and mittens, the ice skater fills the page with her patterns. Then she falls to the ground and suddenly the page is crumpled up by the artist in frustration. Unfolded again, the page is wrinkled and smudged. But soon more skaters are joining in and the crumpled page becomes a pond filled with people enjoying the ice. Lee once again creates a beautifully simple book that speaks to nature, beauty and quiet. The use of the pulling back and having the artist crumple the page breaks the fourth wall and then turns the picture book into something even more interesting and fresh. This picture book is beautifully designed and very clever. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy supplied by Chronicle Books.)
Windows by Julia Denos (9780763690359)
Windows light up as night falls in this picture book that takes readers outside to explore a neighborhood. A boy heads out to walk the dog as night falls, able to see into others’ homes as he passes by. He can see people eating, partying, watching TV. He glimpses a cat and a raccoon. Some windows are dark, some houses are entirely dark. Then those are left to his imagination. Soon he returns back home to his own glowing window where his mother waits for him. There is a lovely quiet to this book, a pleasure in being outside at sunset, the sky lit with colors as the buildings turn dark with windows alight. The illustrations are beautiful, lit by the reds of the sky and the darkness growing with each turn of the page. Time for a flashlight walk in your neighborhood! Appropriate for ages 4-6. (ARC provided by Candlewick Press.)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (9781481438254)
Released October 24, 2017.
When Will’s older brother Shawn is murdered in front of him, Will knows what he has to do. He follows the rules that Shawn taught him. No crying. No snitching. Get revenge. So Will gets a gun out of Shawn’s dresser in the room that they used to share and heads out of the apartment. But on his ride down to the lobby in the elevator, Will finds himself on a unique experience. On the sixth floor, Buck enters the elevator. Buck, who gave Shawn the gun that Will has in his pants waist. Buck, who had been killed. As the elevator continues down floor by floor, other dead people enter. There is the girl that Will saw killed when he was a child. There are family members who were killed. All of them followed the rules. All of them have a message for Will. All share Will’s story, but how will his story end?
This book is quite simply a masterpiece. Written in verse that captures the guilt, sadness and fear of all of the losses and the violence on the streets, the book sings a mournful cadence that gets into your blood. It’s a book that you can’t stop thinking about. One that asks far more questions than it answers, asking both Will and the reader about what they would do. Nothing presented here is simple or clear. It is all muddled, confusing, filled with grief and loss, revenge and pain.
It takes a great author to craft a story in an elevator. Write it in verse that soars, then tighten the experience to one room, one long ride into the future and choices that have to be made. The verse is exceptional, the voice of Will and his ghosts are a clarion call to peace and breaking the rules. But can Will hear them in time?
Moving and deep, this verse novel is one of the best. Get this into the hands of teens, particularly reluctant readers who will discover they love poetry after all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.
Niko Draws a Feeling by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Simone Shin (9781467798433, Amazon)
Niko loves to draw. He carries paper and colored pencils with him all the time because he is always finding new inspiration. But he doesn’t draw like other people. If he draws the ice cream truck, he’s actually trying to capture the sound of its bell. Instead of drawing the sun, he draws the feeling of it on his face. The image he makes of the robin building her nest is of the hard work, not the robin or the nest. No one seems to understand his pictures at all. But then he meets Iris, a new girl, who can understand the feelings he is showing on the page.
In his text, Raczka really shows how the mind of young artist works and the different way in which Niko sees and experiences and depicts his world. There is a feeling of isolation when people can’t see what he is trying to convey in his art. That moment soon passes though when Iris can connect with the art that Niko has created. There is a real heart to this book, shown through Niko himself and his connection to the world.
Shin’s illustrations help readers understand Niko better and the art too. Children will want to discuss what they feel when they see the abstract swirls of Niko’s art. Shin also shows a vibrant and bustling urban community where Niko gets all of his inspiration. Done in mixed media, digital and acrylics, the illustrations have a solidity that supports the looser illustrations that are Niko’s.
A welcome look at artistic process and imagination, this picture book also is about finding kindred spirits. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Noisy Night by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Brian Biggs (9781596439672, Amazon)
It’s quite a loud evening in the apartment building. People on each floor can hear what’s happening on the floor above them. The person on each floor hears a strange noise, wonders what it is and the illustrations give a hint as well. Each of the noises rhymes with the others, building the feeling the illustrations give of climbing higher and higher up the stories of the structure. There is a great energy about the book
There is a great energy about the book with the climbing of the heights. It’s added to by the rhymes and rhythms of the book, a strong structure for the story and one that creates a book that grows and builds. The ending is perfection, the timing throughout just right and the humor bold and delightful.
The illustrations have a wild zaniness that works perfectly with the story. There’s a subtle vintage feel to them in the patterns used in the setting but the bold colors are clearly modern and add to the energy of the tale.
This book begs to be shared aloud and children will guess what is making the next noise. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780763674991, Amazon)
All you need to create a farm anywhere is soil, sunshine, water, and a seed. Which means you can make a farm just about anywhere! The book shows children and adults working together to make a garden in an empty lot. They find things in the garbage to use as pots and places for soil. The book also shows the kind of insects and animals that you might find in an urban garden, including neighbors who are excited by the green changes.
Root writes with a lovely warm tone, inviting readers along on this gardening adventure. The use of an urban setting is great to see in a picture book, especially showing children the creation of the space from the empty lot into a green center of activity. Root uses repetition and rhymes, creating a picture book that is a joy to share aloud. There is a wonderful playful nature about the book, the garden and the bounty.
Karas always creates a delightful feel in the picture books he illustrates. The children he shows are of various races and backgrounds. He shows a vibrant urban setting, filled with activity and energy. It’s just the sort of place that feels like something could happen, and here we get to see it from the ground up, literally.
A strong addition to gardening picture books, this is a perfect read aloud for spring. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Imagine a City by Elise Hurst (InfoSoup)
Enter a world filled with rabbits, tigers and bears mixed in with humans. It’s a world where fish serve as buses and then fly through the air. It’s a world where art reaches beyond its frames. Dinosaurs still fly, cats play chess, umbrellas lift you into the sky. Told in simple yet soaring text, this picture book invites young readers to enter a world that is reminiscent of Narnia in its magical qualities, a wondrous place where mid-century cars mix with elegant trains and dreams of all sizes come true.
The poetic text of this picture book serves as a broad invitation to dream along with the author. And though the text is lovely, it is the illustrations that truly shine. They are done in ink and are filled with small details that bring the world fully alive. I appreciate that this imaginary world is an urban setting, offering even more children the ability to see their world as magical.
I’ve taken photos of some of the interiors of the book to give a better sense of the world that Hurst has created. It is one filled with double spreads of detailed art but inside and outside of galleries:
It is one with bears and foxes happily on the same page with people:
This is a beautiful book that is just right for sending children off to their own nighttime dreams or creating new ones during the day. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Doubleday Books for Young Readers.
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones (InfoSoup)
Ruben would love to have a bike like his friend Sergio has. Even though his birthday is coming, Ruben knows that he doesn’t get presents like bicycles. His family is large and there’s not enough money even for all of the groceries they need some weeks. One day when he is at the store for his mother, a lady in front of him drops a dollar bill. Ruben picks it up and puts it in his pocket, but when he looks at it later he discovers it’s actually a one-hundred dollar bill! That’s enough for him to get the bike he’s always wanted. Now Sergio has a dilemma, does he give the money to his family for groceries? Does he give it back to the woman? Or does he buy the bike of his dreams?
Boelts has created a story that is much more than a lesson in morals. This story is about ethical choices yes, but also about economic disparity and families living on the edge. It is a story told with real subtlety and offering an understanding of what would drive a child who is good at heart to steal what they thought was a dollar. It’s a book about the stories we tell ourselves to make our decisions “right” and the way that doing the right thing may not always be easy or clear.
The illustrations by Jones are modern and rather quirky. They fill the page with the vividness of the urban setting. The love and caring of Ruben’s family are also celebrated in the illustrations.
Subtle and smart, this book about decisions and doing the right thing asks all the right questions. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
City Shapes by Diana Murray, illustrated by Brian Collier (InfoSoup)
Various shapes are shown in a vibrant urban city in this picture book. A young girl walks through the city, takes public transportation and notices shapes as she goes. There are the squares of boxes and trucks. Rectangles form glass on the skyscrapers, windows and benches. Triangles are flags and sails. Wheels are circles along with manhole covers. Musical instruments in a band show oval shapes in their drums and lights. Diamonds fly as kites and stars fill the night sky. The girl returns home to bed, just as the pigeon who took flight on the first page returns to her nest, both listening to the noises of the city around them.
This dynamic picture book celebrates the beauty of urban life, the movement and rush of it all, the variety you find there. Seen through the lens of finding shapes in real life, this picture book would be a great way to look outside your own windows and see shapes there too. The bright friendliness of the city streets makes for a refreshing picture book. The text reads as a poem, filled with rhymes and rhythms that match the city setting.
Collier’s illustrations are a gorgeous mix of media, incorporating collage in a way that makes the shapes stand out but also fit into the setting too. It’s very cleverly done. The little girl in the book is based on Collier’s own young daughter. Her face is filled with enthusiasm throughout the book, her attitude wonderfully contagious.
A beautiful, colorful and shape-ly book that celebrates urban life. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.