Review: The Neighbors by Einat Tsarfati

the neighbors by einat tsarfati

The Neighbors by Einat Tsarfati (9781419731686)

A little girl with a big imagination lives in a seven-story building. On her way up to the seventh floor, where she lives, she imagines who lives behind each of the other doors. Each floor has a different door with things outside that give her clues to the type of family or person who might live there. She imagines that the door with many locks and lots of security leads to a family of thieves. Another door with lots of plants outside opens to a jungle lived in by an old explorer and his pet tiger. As she climbs higher, her imagination gets wilder, filling the apartments with vampires, pirates and mermaids. Her home is the most mundane, or is it?

Told in first person by the little girl, this book builds off of a straightforward concept and into a world of make-believe. The text is simple, steadily counting upwards as the girl ascends the stairs. The girl’s imagination is vivid and captivating with much of it being shown in the illustrations rather than being told in the text.

The illustrations are done in bright colors, moving from the white backgrounds of the stairway and hall to bright colors that each imaginative family lives inside. Their apartments are filled with details that are worth lingering over too.

A very enjoyable look at living in an apartment building and using one’s imagination. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

Review: Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9780399549045)

When Carmela woke up on her birthday, she knew that she was finally old enough to accompany her older brother as he did the family errands. The two headed out into their bustling urban neighborhood, passing shops, a nursing home, and street vendors. Her big brother though wasn’t as happy to have his little sister tagging along. He ignores her as much as possible, even as she jingles her bracelets and tries to get his attention. When Carmela discovers a dandelion growing in the sidewalk, she learns about making a wish before blowing on it. After a tumble though, it is smashed on the ground. Her brother though knows just what to do to make it better.

De la Pena and Robinson are the two that created Last Stop on Market Street together. In this second book, they tell the gentle story of a young girl reaching an important milestone in her life. The story is complex, revealing that her father has been removed from their home because he didn’t have the right papers. The relationship between the siblings is deftly shown, the older sibling not having much patience until something bad happens. Then his care demonstrates clearly his love for his little sister and leads to a culminating moment in the book.

Robinson’s art is wonderful. Done in painted collage, the illustrations have a warmth to them that works particularly well in this tale. He excels at showing relationships in his art, in creating special moments. The Valentine-like cut paper pages that show Carmela’s possible wishes are beautiful moments on the page.

Another gorgeous and diverse picture book from two masters, this one belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: You See, I See in the City by Michelle Sinclair Colman

You See, I See in the City by Michelle Sinclair Colman

You See, I See in the City by Michelle Sinclair Colman, illustrated by Paul Schmid (9781524715007)

A father and daughter travel the city together in this board book. They move quickly and enter the city together, noticing the skyscrapers and the newspapers. There are bakeries and fire hydrants, snacks and dogs. Even when the pair look at the same thing, they notice different aspects of it. There are men working in hard hats, but the little girl sees the steam rising in clouds. The pair stop to eat and play in their favorite cafe and finally take the subway together back home.

Told in a very simple rhyming lines, this board book invites young readers to take a look around themselves and notice small things. The father and daughter are engaged with one another throughout the book, laughing and playing with one another. The urban setting is a welcome one in board books as is the family of color. I also appreciate seeing a father shown as the sole caregiver for a small child.

A winning board book full of urban sights. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.

3 New Picture Books with City Settings

Bus! Stop By James Yang

Bus! Stop! By James Yang (9780425288771)

When a boy misses his bus, he finds himself in a city filled with strange vehicles that are certainly not his bus. One bus is too tall and the passengers have to use their propeller hats to board it. The next is pulled by horses and shaped like a covered wagon, just right for the people in cowboy hats who climb aboard. When people wearing sailor suits arrive next, readers can guess the ship is about to arrive. There is another bus that bounces passengers high. The boy catches the next bus, even though it isn’t his either. It floats high above, away from the little girl who just missed the bus.

Told in very simple lines of text that are shown as speech bubbles, this picture book is all about the illustrations. With a modern edge, they have a playful feel thanks to their bright colors and the wild sorts of transportation shown on the pages. The matching of passengers to each conveyance is particularly skillful and will have children guessing what sort of “bus” is about to arrive on the next page. Humorous and jolly, stop for this book! Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Daddy, Me and the Magic Hour by Laura Krauss Melmed

Daddy, Me and the Magic Hour by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Sarita Rich (9781510707917)

When the family arrives home, Daddy starts cooking while Mommy feeds the baby. After supper, the little boy heads outside with his father for Magic Hour, their after supper walk. They greet a neighbor watering her roses. Meet dogs out for a walk, run a bit, find sticks and feathers. They play at the quiet playground that they have all to themselves. On their way home, the crickets start to chirp, they catch fireflies and release them. The daylight disappears and they walk home in the moonlight.

A book about the specialness of time spent together, this picture book celebrates quiet moments that string together to make a childhood. The text is jolly and short, the images telling parts of the story that are not put into words. The illustrations use comic-like framing to show each moment and connection in a special way. Along the walk the little boy steadily fills his bucket with memories, each tangible and solid. A delight of a bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

In the Darkness of the Night by Emily Rand

In the Darkness of the Night by Emily Rand (9781849764810)

This book invites children to think about what happens after they head to bed at night. In the deep blue darkness of the city, windows are lit. Dishes are being washed, car doors slam as people arrive home again. Some people are still out, the trains are running through the night. Sirens sound, mothers are up with babies, some people work at night too. City foxes begin to explore, airplanes land. And morning comes with garbage pick up, mail being delivered, and the cat returning home again.

There is a wonderful mix of sleepiness and activity in this book. Told in rhyme, the book really works thanks to its rocking structure and its inherent quietness. Throughout, readers get to peek into windows of the city both ones that are lit and those that are dark. It’s a clever way to invite readers to explore the images that support the story so well. Deep blue throughout, this book is a city lullaby worth sharing. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from copy provided by Tate Publishing.)

Hidden City by Sarah Grace Tuttle

Hidden City by Sarah Grace Tuttle

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.)

3 Picture Books to Get You Outside

Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine

Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Red Koehler
(9781629794938)

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

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

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

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

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

Niko Draws a Feeling by Bob Raczka

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

Noisy Night by Mac Barnett

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.