Mr. Brown’s Bad Day by Lou Peacock

Cover image for Mr. Brown’s Bad Day

Mr. Brown’s Bad Day by Lou Peacock, illustrated by Alison Friend (9781536214369)

Mr. Brown has a very important business job and carries a very important briefcase. He was always busy going to meetings and signing papers. But no matter how busy he is, he always makes time every day to go to the park for lunch with his important briefcase. On this day though, Mr. Brown didn’t notice a little baby grabbing his briefcase. Mr. Brown soon spots his briefcase heading away in a stroller. But before he can reach it, it gets hooked onto an ice cream cart. From the cart, it is soon snagged by a rider on the Ferris wheel. By the time Mr. Brown got through the line and onto the ride, the briefcase was carried onto a bus. Mr. Brown had lost his hat, his jacket and was quite the mess, but he borrowed a tricycle and headed after the bus. After all, his briefcase held very important things. Mr. Brown never caught the bus until it was already stopped at the school. He headed home with his briefcase held close. Once at home, he opened the briefcase to make sure all of his important items were still there. They were! But you may be surprised by what was in the briefcase.

Peacock takes a child’s view of business work in this picture book that is far more about the chase and the briefcase than Mr. Brown’s important work day. The wild chase around a delightful park and then through town is great fun with plenty of anticipation as the Ferris wheel turns or the bus chugs away. Peacock adds tension in the book, some of which is a marvelous surprise when the important contents of the briefcase are revealed.

The illustrations are warm and dynamic. The park is a delightful green, inviting and filled with all sorts of animals enjoying their day outside. There is a sense of community throughout the book, whether it is spending time together in a park or offering a tricycle to a grownup.

A busy book full of friendly animals and one very important briefcase. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

Brick by Brick by Heidi Sheffield

Brick by Brick by Heidi Sheffield

Brick by Brick by Heidi Sheffield (9780525517306)

Papi is strong, because he works hard all day long as a bricklayer. He builds walls, spreading the mortar, tapping the brick in place, and scraping the drips. He climbs high on scaffolds. Luis doesn’t mind heights either, climbing to the top of the jungle gym. They have a dream of a their own house, but it’s a “someday” dream. Father and child have the same lunches of empanada and horchata. Then both head back to work and school. At night, Papi returns home, hot and tired. On Saturday, Papi has a surprise. After a long drive, they pull up to a brick house, their new always home!

Told in simple language just right for smaller children, this book speaks to the hard work, resilience and patience it takes to create a home. Sheffield cleverly uses repetition in her text and mirrors the experience of father and son throughout their day.

The design of the book is exceptional. She has created the illustrations from photographs, collage and digital painting. She also notes that Luis and his father are formed from photographs of bricks, strong and resolute. The warm color palette is brightened with blue skies. The city skyline is formed from bricks as well as words like “dream” and “build.”

Strong and vibrant. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Papa Brings Me the World by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Papa Brings Me the World by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Papa Brings Me the World by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (9781250159250)

Lulu’s papa travels for a living. When he is about to leave, she tucks notes into his pocket to remind him of her love. In his work as a photojournalist, her papa climbs mountains, swims in oceans, rides camels, and explores the world. He brings Lulu items from his travels like coins from 28 countries. Lulu longs to join him on his travels, but instead she follows his journeys with her mother, using a map on the wall. Sometimes Papa has to miss big events because he is gone, but he always returns. In fact, on his next trip Lulu finally gets to travel along and fill her own journal with her experiences.

In her author’s note at the end of the book, the author speaks of her own childhood growing up in a family with a father whose work took him around the world. Her deep understanding of the mixture of sorrow, pride and longing that the young protagonist feels makes this book all the more poignant and impactful. Her art is done in mixed media, including collage, pencil, acrylics and stamping. The illustrations are rich and layered, offering a glimpse into the life of this busy multiracial family.

A warm and loving look at a father who has a job unlike regular parents. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt and Company.

Review: Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derk Hughes

Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derk Hughes

Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derk Hughes, illustrated by Nathan Christopher (9781524793029)

This modern twist on Humpty Dumpty is a dark and yet hopeful version. Humpty Dumpty is just one of many fairy tale creatures who works for hours for the King under fluorescent lights. They all work and live in the dark shadow of the wall, in a world where they have been forbidden to dream. But Humpty Dumpty has a dream, a dream of seeing over the wall. He had many ideas and decided to build himself a very tall ladder. He finished the ladder, brought it to the wall, and climbed up, up, up to the very top. But the next morning, all that was left were shattered pieces of egg shell and a broken ladder. The wall and the King had won, or had they?

The rhyming text of this book is so cleverly done. It plays with the convention of rhymes in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, yet it never has a jaunty tune here, playing out more like a funeral dirge. The modern touches of fluorescent lights and TV blend into the fairy tale world that Hughes has created. This is a story that mixes our national issues with political walls along with a capitalistic monarchy to great result, a mix of sorrow and hope that is so powerful.

Christopher’s illustrations are simply incredible. Done in pen and ink with no color, they are filled with fine lines and details. It is those details that create an entire dark world for Humpty Dumpty and the others. Walls are built with skulls, thorns fill the borders, roots tangle the floors. The pages are populated by all sorts of fairy tale creatures, some with specific names like Chicken Little and the Mad Hatter and others who are more general like gnomes, fairies, and giants. These are pages to lose yourself in, looking at the details, seeing new things each time.

Incredible, political and edgy, this picture book is for slightly older children who will enjoy the details and the tone. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.

Review: Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (9781250312853)

Deja and Josie are completing their last night working at the Pumpkin Patch before they leave for college. The two have worked at the Succotash Hut together, perfecting the stirring technique. Josie has won most valuable employee every year but one and is definitely in the running again. He’s also had a huge crush on a girl who works at the pie stand, so it’s Deja’s mission on their last night to get him to actually speak to her for the first time. So the two of them leave the Succotash Hut and head out to find his crush. But it won’t be easy to find her and their quest takes them on a full tour of the Pumpkin Patch complete with delicious snacks like Freeto Pie, S’mores and candy apples.

These two very talented teen book creators have designed an amazing graphic novel together. They take the Midwestern pumpkin patch experience of corn mazes, picking pumpkins, and treats and turn it into a quest for love that is charming and enticing. It’s very rare to find a teen book that is this seasonal. When you read this one though, you can almost smell the cinnamon autumnal scents on a breeze.

The two main characters are wonderful. They have a clear chemistry on the page. Deja is bisexual, having dated several of the other workers at the Patch over the years. Josie is marvelously shy except with Deja with whom he really shows his personality. The entire book is a delight of a read thanks to these two characters who are such a joy to spend time with.

A tremendous graphic novel that I dare you not to “fall” for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

Review: Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai (9780062229236)

Hang has lived with the fact that she was responsible for her little brother being taken away to American in the last days of the Vietnam War. She had hoped for them both to be taken together, but instead he was ripped screaming from her. Now, six years later,  Hang has come to the United States herself and is determined to find her little brother by following the only clue she has, an address on a card. Not finding anyone at the address, Hang is helped by an urban cowboy, LeeRoy, who longs to ride in rodeos and follow his dreams. LeeRoy is quickly caught up in Hang’s quest and the two of them discover her brother with some lucky help along the way. But that is just the beginning of a summer spent laboring on a farm together, learning about the work of being a cowboy, and finding ways to connect their pasts and their present.

The first chapters of the this book and many of them throughout are so laced with pain and ache that readers will feel it in their own bones. Lai tells the story of Hang in bursts of memory, escaping from the tight hold Hang has over them. The reader and Hang are powerless as the searing memories escape, glimpses of the truth and eventually the full story of a girl strong enough to survive pirates, parasites, icy water, and war. Lai takes two very unlikely protagonists and creates a love story for them, one that captivates with its honesty and originality.

Hang is one of the most remarkable protagonists I have read in years. Far from being broken by her wartime trauma, she continues to fight back, literally at times. She is raw, sarcastic and not defined by her past, but still continuing to be haunted by what happened. She is complicated and so profoundly human. Lai made a brave and smart choice to write Hang’s accented English with Vietnamese typography, echoing Hang’s own notebook that tells her own English is pronounced. Readers will struggle along with Hang at first, but join LeeRoy in understanding her quickly.

Painful and traumatic, this book is filled with sweat, work and more than a little love. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan (9781338298390)

Cicada has worked for seventeen years in a high rise office. He isn’t given any benefits, because he’s not human. He can’t use the office restroom because it’s for humans. He works hard, finishing people’s work for them. He lives in the space between the walls, since he can’t afford rent. The company knows about this but ignores it. Sometimes humans beat him up because he’s different. Finally, it comes time for Cicada to retire. There is no party or fond farewell, just clearing his desk and leaving. Cicada heads up to the top of the building and….

I can’t ruin the ending of this book for you. Just know that it is incredibly moving and powerful. This is a book that is impossible to categorize. It comes closest to being a picture book for teens, since it doesn’t really have a graphic novel feel. In libraries, I’d put it with the graphic novels for teens though, because those young adults will enjoy it most. Tan speaks directly to those in soul-killing jobs, who work day after day for a pay check that isn’t enough. Cicada’s voice is particularly haunting. Written in abruptly disconnected sentences that are distinctive, Cicada also ends each page with insect noises that create poetry.

Tan’s illustrations are very effective. With gray layered on gray, the world is washed out and faded. Walls, floors, cubicles, furniture. Everything is despairingly monotone. But then you have bright-green Cicada, wearing his fitted gray suit and trying not only to fit in but to help out. The final images in the book stick with you too.

An incredible book for teens, this one is sad, surprising and uplifting. It’s my new choice for graduation gifts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Night Job by Karen Hesse

Night Job by Karen Hesse

Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780763662387)

Released on September 11, 2018.

On Friday nights, a little boy goes with his father to work. They leave after dark on his father’s motorcycle, head across the bridge, and enter the closed school. His father has a big ring of keys to open the door. They clean the gym first, while the little boy plays basketball. They bring a radio with them from room to room, listening to baseball games. At ten at night, they eat the lunch they brought with them. While his father cleans the library, the boy falls asleep reading on the couch. His father wakes him at four in the morning to head back home, across the bridge. The two fall asleep together curled in the big recliner.

Newbery Medal winner Hesse captures the wonder of going to work with a parent and brings in the beauty of being out at night as well. Along the way, the work of a parent who has a night job is honored. As a child of a teacher, I enjoyed the empty hallways of a school closed for the weekend or summer. It’s a beautiful thing to have those areas be silent and just for you. That feeling is shown here clearly, as the boy makes the spaces his own.

The connection between father and son is a focus of the story and the illustrations. The pictures by Karas are done in his signature style and use darkness and light cleverly. The father and son are shown as a pair throughout the book, highlighting their special time together whether in the bright gym or on the dark road.

A quiet book about jobs, connections and families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

Review: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (9781338157802)

When Mia and her family first moved to the United States from China, she expected to live in a big house with a car and have plenty of money. But her parents have struggled from the beginning to find jobs. When they become caretakers of a motel, the job gives them free rent, but requires one of them to be on duty at all times and Mia’s parents to spend all of their time doing laundry and cleaning the rooms. Mia steps up to help by manning the front desk. She gets to know the “weeklies” who are the people who stay at the motel long term. Her family quickly realizes that the man who owns the motel is dishonest but Mia has a plan to help her parents get off of the roller coaster of poverty. All she needs is to write a perfect letter in English and somehow find $300.

Based on her own childhood growing up as a family managing motels, Yang tells a vibrant story of hope in the face of crushing poverty. It is a book that shows how communities develop, how one girl can make a big difference in everyone’s life and how dreams happen, just not in the way you plan. Yang’s writing is fresh, telling the tale of Chinese immigrants looking for the American dream and not finding it easily due to prejudice. She valiantly takes on serious issues of racism and poverty in this book.

Mia is a great protagonist. She never gives up, always optimistic and looking for a new way to problem solve. Her own desire to be a writer plays out organically in the novel, showing how someone learning a new language can master it. The examples of her editing and correcting her own writing are cleverly done, showing the troubles with American expressions and verb tenses.

A great read that embraces diversity and gives voice to immigrant children. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.