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, 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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
Saturday by Oge Mora (9780316431279)
Saturday is Ava’s favorite day. It’s the day of the week that her mother doesn’t have to work and where they spend special time together. On Saturdays, they go to storytime at the library, have their hair done at the salon, and have a picnic in the park. And this Saturday, they were also planning to go to a puppet show that night. So off they set. But when they got to the library, the storytime was cancelled. Leaving the hair salon, their hair got splashed and ruined. The park was too crowded and loud for their regular picnic. Finally, when they got to the show, Ava’s mother had lost the tickets. Their Saturday was ruined! Wasn’t it?
Mora has written a picture book about the joys of busy families spending time together, even if things don’t quite go as planned. Both Ava and her mother are disappointed with each failure of their plans, but they are also resilient and optimistic about things turning around. When it all goes wrong, it is Ava who lifts up her mother’s spirits, explaining that it’s all about spending time together.
In her bright illustrations of an urban setting, Mora captures the hustle and bustle, the hurry to do something special. As a result, she also shows the love of this African-American mother and daughter as they help one another cope with disappointment. The illustrations are bold, colorful and celebratory.
Another winner from a gifted artist and storyteller. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Small in the City by Sydney Smith (9780823442614)
When you are small and along in the city, it can be very frightening. A child who knows how to navigate the streets offers some advice even though they can find the city a bit overwhelming too. Alleys make great shortcuts. Dryer vents can offer warmth. Avoid the big dogs that fight. The child hangs posters as they make their way through the city and the falling snow, identifying a place to sit together and options for hiding up high. It’s perfect advice for a lot cat who also could just come back home.
Set in an urban setting with street cars and a maze of lights, streets and sounds, this picture book skillfully captures the confusion of the city. As the child moves through the space with confidence, readers will learn more about both the kid and their city along the way. Readers at first may think that the child is homeless or running away. It takes a little while for their lost pet to be revealed to the reader.
Smith’s illustrations create a fascinating mix of the bustle of urban life but also the quiet of snowfall, the beauty of an empty park, and the small areas of a city just right for a little cat to survive. The images bring a contemplative tone to the book, giving space and opportunity to breathe and feel deeply.
A stellar picture book that reveals the heart of the city and the heart of a child. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Anne Villeneuve (9781771389174)
Vincent is staying with his aunt Mimi for the summer. She lives in an urban neighborhood with lots of concrete. Vincent is set for a dull summer where one of the most interesting things is the box of dirt balls that Mimi has from a previous boyfriend. But then Vincent meets Toma, a boy from the neighborhood. The two of them spend time together playing and take the dirt balls and toss them into the empty lot across the road. Soon not only is their friendship blossoming but the empty lot is being transformed by the dirt balls they tossed, dirt balls full of seeds. As the community joins together to care for the new garden, Vincent has to head home, but he will return next year to a neighborhood transformed by nature.
Larsen manages to show an urban neighborhood that is disconnected but still active before the garden appears. There are ice cream trucks, nosy neighbors, and balconies that connect people. Yet it is still a concrete space that needs something. It needs a garden! Told in a gentle tone and at a pace that allows space for the book to grow, this picture book is about transformation and community.
Villeneuve’s illustrations are done in quiet grays, pinks and blues that are almost hazy on the page. They transform along with the garden into vibrant colors of green that anchor the community visually and firmly.
A lovely picture book about the power of nature to create community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.