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.
Rose and the Wish Thing: A Journey of Friendship by Caroline Magerl (InfoSoup)
This gentle picture book tells the story of a girl who has moved to a new home. When she looked out her window one night, she made wish. But the wish thing did not come. Rose could not be comforted when the wish thing did not respond. Nothing worked to calm her. Her entire family searched for the wish until they came to the sea. That is when they saw the box floating on the water. In that box, was the wish thing: a thing of tiny stitches and a red glass heart. And that is what let Rose head outside of her new house and make friends.
This Australian import has a gorgeous softness to it in both images and text. The story is warm and nurturing with a large family trying to comfort Rose, a rambling house with a garden, and a big furry dog. It is also a lovely strange tale that is not straight forward, but meanders a bit, travels a lot, and finds something special along the way. Magerl’s language is noteworthy too:
The evening tide came with gentle fingers to roll over the crabs and rock the stones.
The illustrations are soft and detailed. The fine ink lines are colored with watercolors which makes them both detailed and gorgeously nuanced in color. Pages of Rose and her family are alternated with illustrations of the wish thing’s journey to Rose. There is plenty of drama along the way.
A warm and gentle look at loneliness and how it can be transformed. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Penguin Random House and Edelweiss.
Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (InfoSoup)
A little boy has lots and lots of different wishes that he hopes come true. He wishes to be able to fly, to breathe underwater, that the robot he drew could come to life. Then they could play together in the rain that would come in seven different colors and flavors. He wishes for fangs and a tail. He wishes to be able to talk to animals and to have lots of wild and strange pets. But in the end, he mostly wishes that something extraordinary would happen to him. Something real. And suddenly, it does!
Clanton excels at taking very simple premises for his books and making them into something engaging and intelligent. In this book, it is all about wishes and dreams with a big dollop of imagination too. The bulk of the book is spent with the boy and his wild wishes that he only hopes could come true. In the end though, the book comes down to earth and the boy just wants something amazing to happen in real life. He takes a moment then to look around himself and realizes that there are wonderful things happening right there, especially out in nature.
The artwork here is understated and subtle. Even during his wildest and most colorful wishes, the colors are muted and subdued. It isn’t until the ending when the boy realizes that there is wonder around him in real life that the colors lose their subtlety and start to really sing.
Big dreams and wild wishes may not come to fruition here, but reality is certainly “something extraordinary” in the end. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
The Fire Wish by Amber Lough
The war between the jinnis and the humans has been going on for years. Najwa is a young jinni who is being specially trained in covert operations and visiting the human world. Zayele is a human, selected to marry a prince whom she’s never met. When the two of them meet, Zayele makes a wish on Najwa and switches their places. Now Zayele is the jinni, living among other jinnis in the crystal caves under the earth and Najwa is the human, heading for marriage to a prince. The two must keep themselves secret, both knowing that they will be killed by the people around them if they are discovered. But war and love make everything more complicated and the two discover secrets about themselves and their worlds that will change everything.
Lough’s debut novel is the first in a series. It intelligently combines the author’s experience in the deserts of the Middle East with the fantasy elements of jinnis and wishes. The setting is vividly depicted, both the crystal caverns of the jinnis with the lakes of dancing flame and the desert world of the humans are well drawn. The differing cultures juxtapose clearly against one another, each with different freedoms and neither considered wrong or right. There is a lot of respect for cultures in this novel.
The two main protagonists are also nicely different from one another. While Najwa is a character who is very likeable and easily related to, Zayele serves as her foil. Najwa worries more for her entire people while Zayele makes choices that focus more on herself and her situation. Neither character would completely work without the other there too and both display nice and natural growth as the story progresses. The book also has an element of romance to it, it too is handled with a natural pace and progression.
A strong debut book that is a tantalizing blend of romance, magic and wishes. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
I Wish I Had… by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Originally published in Italy, this thoughtful picture book takes children on an exploration of different types of animals, looking at some of their unique abilities. Blackbirds can see every blade of grass with their sharp eyes. Tigers can walk almost soundlessly through the jungle. Lemurs have tails that let them swing through the high branches. Whales can fill the ocean with their songs. Done in pairs of animals with each line beginning with “I wish,” this book is poetic and rich.
Zoboli writes in verse here that has a gentle rhythm and repetitive structure that is particularly soothing and warm. Through it all, the skills of the animals that are mentioned are all perceptive and sensory, all leading to better understand of one’s world or expressing oneself. It is peaceful and has a great inclusive and unifying feel.
A large part of the success of this book are the incredible illustrations by Mulazzani. Her art has a timelessness about it, thanks to the worn texture of the paint in places. That quality plays against the modern lines of her art, creating a synthesis that is dynamic and invites readers to look more closely.
Perfect for bedtime with its quietness, this book could also be used very nicely for poetic exercises where children look for admirable qualities in animals and write their own poems of appreciation and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.