Woodson and Lewis’ latest collaboration unfolds with harsh beauty and the ominousness of opportunities lost.
Narrator Chloe is a little grade-school diva who decides with casual hubris that the new girl, Maya, is just not good enough. Woodson shows through Chloe’s own words how she and her friends completely ignore Maya, with her raggedy shoes and second-hand clothes, rebuffing her every overture. Readers never learn precisely why Chloe won’t return Maya’s smile or play jacks or jump rope with her. Those who have weathered the trenches of childhood understand that such decisions are not about reason; they are about power. The matter-of-fact tone of Chloe’s narration paired against the illustrations' visual isolation of Maya creates its own tension. Finally, one day, a teacher demonstrates the ripple effect of kindness, inspiring Chloe—but Maya disappears from the classroom. Suddenly, Chloe is left holding a pebble with the weight of a stone tablet. She gets a hard lesson in missed opportunities. Ripples, good and bad, have repercussions. And sometimes second chances are only the stuff of dreams. Lewis dazzles with frame-worthy illustrations, masterful use of light guiding readers’ emotional responses.
Something of the flipside to the team’s The Other Side (2001), this is a great book for teaching kindness
. (Picture book. 5-8)
Young Morris definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer.
He likes his mom and his cat and lots of school activities. He especially enjoys the dress-up center, where he chooses a tangerine-colored dress that reminds him of “tigers, the sun and his mother’s hair.” The dress also makes delightful sounds as he moves, and when he adds shoes that click, his joy is complete. None of this sits well with the other kids, who tease and ostracize him, leaving him isolated. One lonely Friday, hurt and upset, he pretends a tummy ache and stays home from school. Supported by his mother’s soothing, calming encouragement, he reads, dreams, and paints wild and wonderful adventures with blue elephants and spaceships. When he returns to school, tangerine dress and all, he wins over his classmates with his imaginative play and his new self-confidence. Baldacchino treats the tricky and controversial subject of expected gender behaviors and bullying with care and compassion, employing language and tone that avoid histrionics or preaching. Morris is a complex character whose creativity and personality shine. Malenfant’s lively and colorful illustrations, rendered in an unusual mix of charcoal, watercolor, pastel and Photoshop, are appealing and eye-catching and clearly depict Morris’ difficulties, dreams and triumphs. An opportunity for a cozy read-together and a lively discussion.
Hungry after playing in the park, Sofia opens the fridge in Maddi’s apartment and finds only a carton of milk inside. Maddi explains that her mom doesn’t have enough money for much else. Sofia is surprised but promises to keep her friend’s secret.
Sofia is troubled. Her family’s fridge is filled to the brim with food. Even their dog gets treats each night as the family sits down to dinner. She decides to help Maddi but discovers the hard way that some foods, such as fish and eggs, do not travel well in a backpack. After several days, knowing her friend is going hungry is too much to bear, and Sofia decides to tell her mom Maddi’s secret. Speaking up releases Sofia from her burden of secrecy. The adults respond appropriately to the challenge, allowing Sofia and Maddi to go back to being kids. Though undeniably purposive, this title is notable. The bright, friendly illustrations soften the topic while still conveying the characters’ difficult feelings, such as worry and embarrassment. Gentle, age-appropriate humor releases the tension, keeping readers engaged as Sofia discovers how to best help her friend. A note at the end offers suggestions for helping others in need.
A thoughtful and well-executed look at the challenge of childhood hunger.
(Picture book. 5-8)
A slightly new twist on the kid-getting-bullied story.
Janine is certainly her own girl. She sings loudly on the bus, talks to her imaginary friend, and remembers unusual things like the number of steps from here to there and classmates’ phone numbers. While everyone else is playing, Janine reads the dictionary or eavesdrops. One day, while she appears to be making a list, she overhears a classmate who is passing out a party invitation. She is quickly told that the party is “only for COOL kids!” (Among the depicted “cool kids” are an Asian-American girl, an African-American girl and a boy whose skin is relatively dark.) The birthday girl mocks Janine’s style, insulting everything from her fancy vocabulary to her choice of friends: “Janine, you are STRANGE! You have to CHANGE!” In the background, the “cool kids” become progressively more uncomfortable with the birthday girl’s meanness, so when Janine invites all the kids to a party of her own, they are poised to accept eagerly. It’s nice to examine how a group can choose kindness and thus take away a bully’s power. Charming illustrations highlight Janine’s independent style and unfailing optimism. Teachers looking for a positive solution should reach for this one. Children will enjoy knowing that Janine is actually the author’s daughter.
An optimistic but nevertheless real solution to a common school problem.
(Picture book. 5-9)
“If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed,” that’s what will grow. A rabbit and a mouse garden together and delight in their harvest—but a mourning dove, crow, blue jay, cardinal and sparrow come begging. “If you plant a seed of selfishness”—here Nelson depicts the gardeners refusing to share—“it will grow, and grow, and grow // into a heap of trouble.” A monumental food fight leaves all the combatants splattered with tomato. Amid the debris, the mouse offers possibly the last intact fruit—and the birds respond with an airlift of seeds that sprout into an astonishing garden, proving that “the fruits of kindness // …are very, very sweet.” To this spare, fablelike text Nelson pairs stunningly cinematic oils, modulating palette and perspective to astonishing effect. The tomatoes gleam red against blue sky and green leaves, and it’s easy to see why the circling birds descend in hopes of a meal. Wordless spreads convey drama and humor; a double-page close-up of all five birds depicted from the front, each head a-tilt and silhouetted against blue sky, is hysterical. The animals are slightly anthropomorphized; they read books but wear no clothes, communicating joy, dejection, anger and contentment in every bone.
Though the message is as old as time, its delivery here is fresh and sweet as August corn
. (Picture book. 4-8)
Rama wakes with the call of her family's rooster, laughing, playing, and spending her days surrounded by the love of her family.
When war comes to Syria, Rama's happy, peaceful life shrinks, food becomes scarce, and bombs fall ever closer, until her family must leave their home. They walk "to the end of the earth," climb aboard a little boat, and are battered by the roiling sea, saying prayers for those who didn't make it any further. Ruurs writes purely and warmly, with the text set in both English and Raheem’s Arabic translation on each page, of a family who become refugees. She deftly conveys the happiness of peaceful childhood, then the confusion and the fears born of war and migration, and the relief and curiosity of arriving at a new home—and the uncertainty whether it will be forever. Artist Badr still lives in his birthplace of Latakia, Syria. Lacking resources, he began using the stones he collects from the sea to depict stories of his compatriots with love and compassion. Each illustration is masterful, with Badr's placement of stones as careful as brush strokes, creating figures positioned to tell the whole story without the benefit of facial expressions: dancing, cradling, working; burdened, in danger, at peace. A foreword describes how the book came to be.
An astonishing book that allows the humanity of refugees to speak louder than politics and introduces readers to one of Syria's incredible artists.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A little girl from far away starts her first day at school, but she doesn’t fit in.
She wants one friend to keep her company at lunchtime. Then one day, her delicious food attracts the attention of a squirrel, to whom she offers an ear of corn. They eat and play together, attracting the attention of a rabbit, who is invited by the squirrel to join them the next day. The rabbit then invites a raccoon, who invites another little girl. Soon, everyone is sharing and playing together. When a new student comes from even further away, he is warmly welcomed—and other new arrivals watch them hopefully. Ikegami uses a soft, fuzzy illustration style, relying on color to set the mood. She starts with icy white, warming up as she goes, and by the time the children and animals are eating and playing together, readers are treated to double-page spreads full of rich color. The words are sparse, with the repeated phrase "One day..." highlighting turning points, but the illustrations do most of the work of explaining first the girl's isolation and then the joy of being a part of the group. The protagonist eats with chopsticks and has long, brown hair; her classmates exhibit a variety of skin tones and hair colors and textures.
The message of inclusion is often seen in picture books, but sharing food to make friends is a gentle suggestion that may help children starting school or meeting new arrivals with a language barrier.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A brilliant modern fable—eloquent, hopeful and heart-rending—about a rabbit family whose members cross the border in search of a better life, and each other.
Drought forces Papá Rabbit to leave for the great carrot and lettuce fields of the north, hoping to make money for his family. Years pass, but when he doesn’t arrive home on the appointed day, his eldest son, Pancho Rabbit, sets out to find him. Heading north, he meets a coyote who promises a shortcut in return for food. At each step of their treacherous journey, the coyote demands more food in exchange for Pancho’s safe passage. The food finally all gone, Pancho is about to be consumed when Papá Rabbit rescues him. Reunited, Pancho learns all the money Papá saved for the family was stolen by a crow gang. Pancho guides them home, but happiness is short-lived, as the family must decide who will—and how to—return north if the rains still refuse to come. Textured earth tones are digitally collaged to create Pancho’s world, where the river’s darkness and desert’s sweltering heat are inescapable. Geometric shapes define the characters’ faces, making them reminiscent of Aztec stone carvings. But Tonatiuh’s great strength is in the text. No word is wasted, as each emotion is clearly and poignantly expressed. The rabbits’ future is unknown, but their love and faith in each other sustains them through it all. Accessible for young readers, who may be drawn to it as they would a classic fable; perfect for mature readers and the classroom, where its layers of truth and meaning can be peeled back to be examined and discussed.
An incandescent, humane and terribly necessary addition to the immigrant-story shelf
. (Picture book. 5-9)
Readers walk in the shoes of three students struggling after immigrating to the United States.
Readers meet Maria, from Guatemala, Jin, a South Korean boy, and Fatimah, a Somali girl who wears the hijab. O’Brien fosters empathy by portraying only one challenge each must overcome rather than overwhelming readers with many. Maria struggles with the language. Though back home, “Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds,” the sounds of English elude her. Clever, phonetically spelled dialogue balloons bring home to readers how foreign English sounds to Maria. For Jin, writing is the trouble; the scribbles of American letters close the door to the wonderful world of stories. Fatimah’s challenge is abstract: she cannot find her place in this new classroom. Gradually, each child begins to bridge the gap—soccer, stories and shared words, artwork—and feel like part of a community. O’Brien’s watercolor-and-digital illustrations masterfully use perspective, white space, and the contrast between the children “back home” and in their new settings to highlight the transition from outsider to friend. Other diverse students fill the classrooms, including a child in a wheelchair. An author’s note tells O’Brien’s own immigrant story, how difficult the transition is, the reasons families might emigrate, and how readers might help.
Whether readers are new themselves or meeting those who are new, there are lessons to be learned here about perseverance, bravery, and inclusion, and O’Brien’s lessons are heartfelt and poetically rendered.
(Picture book. 5-10)
The opening double-page spread depicts a diverse class of 13 children sitting at their desks in a circle when their teacher asks them to share “what we thought made our family special.” The first-person narrator silently worries. “My family is not like everybody else’s.” The accompanying illustration shows one child, seated at a desk across the circle from the teacher, with eyes downcast, red cheeks, and closed body language. The following spreads are narrated by individual classmates who deliver matter-of-fact, often humorous commentary on their families, augmented by Leng’s appealing cartoon illustrations that lend humor and vitality to characterization. The broad diversity of family constellations is refreshing and ultimately soothing to the worried child from the first spread. After hearing classmates talk about having two moms, two dads, many siblings, divorced parents, a blended family, single parents, mixed-race families, a grandmother who’s “my everything,” and more, the narrator recalls a time when a woman at the park “asked my foster mother to point out her real children. ‘Oh I don’t have any imaginary children,’ Mom said. ‘All my children are real.’ ” This good-natured but firm response is both empowering and instructive, as is the welcome inclusion of a foster family in this thoughtful, needed book.
Continuing from their acclaimed Those Shoes (2007), Boelts and Jones entwine conversations on money, motives, and morality.
This second collaboration between author and illustrator is set within an urban multicultural streetscape, where brown-skinned protagonist Ruben wishes for a bike like his friend Sergio’s. He wishes, but Ruben knows too well the pressure his family feels to prioritize the essentials. While Sergio buys a pack of football cards from Sonny’s Grocery, Ruben must buy the bread his mom wants. A familiar lady drops what Ruben believes to be a $1 bill, but picking it up, to his shock, he discovers $100! Is this Ruben’s chance to get himself the bike of his dreams? In a fateful twist, Ruben loses track of the C-note and is sent into a panic. After finally finding it nestled deep in a backpack pocket, he comes to a sense of moral clarity: “I remember how it was for me when that money that was hers—then mine—was gone.” When he returns the bill to her, the lady offers Ruben her blessing, leaving him with double-dipped emotions, “happy and mixed up, full and empty.” Readers will be pleased that there’s no reward for Ruben’s choice of integrity beyond the priceless love and warmth of a family’s care and pride.
Embedded in this heartwarming story of doing the right thing is a deft examination of the pressures of income inequality on children.
(Picture book. 5-8)
A child in a red hoodie and a man on a cellphone navigate an urban landscape, the child picking flowers from cracks and crannies along the way.
Best known for his nonsense verse, Lawson here provides a poignant, wordless storyline, interpreted by Smith in sequential panels. The opening spread presents the child and (probably) dad walking in a gray urban neighborhood. The child’s hoodie is the only spot of color against the gray wash—except for the dandelions growing next to a sidewalk tree, begging to be picked. The rest of their walk proceeds in similar fashion, occasional hints of color (a fruit stand, glass bottles in a window) joining the child and the flowers she (judging by the haircut) plucks from cracks in the concrete. Smith’s control of both color and perspective is superb, supporting a beautifully nuanced emotional tone. Though the streets are gray, they are not hostile, and though dad is on the cellphone, he also holds the child’s hand and never exhibits impatience as she stops. Once the child has collected a bouquet, she shares it, placing a few flowers on a dead bird, next to a man sleeping on a bench, in a friendly dog’s collar. As child and dad draw closer to home, color spreads across the pages; there is no narrative climax beyond readers’ sharing of the child’s quiet sense of wonder.
Bracketed by beautiful endpapers, this ode to everyday beauty sings sweetly.
(Picture book. 4-7)
A glimpse at blindness, friendship and perseverance.
Zulay's classroom has 22 desks, the children’s name tags spelled in colorful braille dots. Three desks belong to her sighted friends, Chyng, Maya and Nancy, and they all help one another. Zulay's desk contains a "fold-ing hold-ing cold-ing" white cane, which she's reluctantly learning to use with the help of an aide, Ms. Turner. Zulay, an energetic African-American girl, is based on a real first-grader, and it shows. Like any kid, she doesn't want to stick out "like a car alarm in the night." She'd rather, she writes on her Brailler, "fly with [her] feet." She gets a chance to do just that at a field day, but can she master the cane in time? Brantley-Newton's bright colors and attention to facial expressions swiftly convey Zulay's enthusiasm, attitude and apprehension, as well as the skeptical and encouraging looks she can't see. Zulay's voice shines with rhythm and sensory detail, immersing readers naturally in her experience. Zulay's mention of learning to read braille, swim and climb trees despite difficulty will reassure blind kids whose hands are also "learn[ing] the way," and all kids will cheer as she and Ms. Turner fly around the track. A slightly raised braille alphabet on the back cover is a nice touch.
Blind and sighted kids alike will enjoy this cheery outing, which appropriately treats learning to use a white cane with the straightforwardness another might treat learning to ride a bike.
(Picture book. 5-8)