A father’s thoughtful explanation provides a helpful perspective for a child’s loss.
Sonya is bereft when a fox takes one of the three chickens she’s cared for like a mother, but her papa comforts her with the idea that the fox is also trying to feed his family. Her family acknowledges Sonya’s grief with a small ceremony, and the child and her chickens move on. There’s an old-fashioned feel to this simple story and its timeless illustrations, created with watercolor, collage, and colored pencil and reminiscent of Goodnight Moon in mood, design, and palette. Inside, Sonya’s house is cozy and dark. In contrast, the world outside shines white, as background to text, with vignettes or a frame or portion of the opposite image spilling across the gutter. A warm scene of Sonya’s mixed-race family having dinner together is mirrored later on by one with the fox curled up with its kits, each family shown opposite a page with an egg-shaped text frame. Both words and illustrations emphasize comfort and the security a family can provide. But this is also a realistic description of chicken care, including preparing, cleaning, and repairing the coop, feeding the chickens, and making sure they have water and fresh straw—even finding eggs.
A reassuring story about death in the natural world, thoughtfully designed and illustrated.
(Picture book. 4-8)
In circular fashion, this simple story’s narration unfolds, with great power behind the few words on each page.
The intense illustrations, done in pencil and digitally colored, set human and animal characters into seascapes and interior scenes in an almost timeless Vietnam and extend the story far beyond the words. A wife and a baby are in their traditional kitchen anxiously awaiting the fisherman-husband’s return. He is in his boat, fearfully viewing the dark waves and black clouds but also looking at family photos (a hint of modernity). Will he get home to his wife and baby “in his village by the sea” in the “small house” mentioned at beginning and end? Of course readers hope that he will, but there’s far more to this book than just the story. The visual surprises here are a faithful, loving dog that appears in most illustrations and leads eyes to “a brown cricket, humming and painting” beyond a hole in the wall. This is not just any cricket but perhaps illustrator Chu’s avatar. After all, the cricket is seen painting the scene of the stormy seas and the little white fishing boat with the husband sitting nervously on the deck. Near the author and artist biographies, the cricket is even signing “AC.”
The illustrations, with strong references to Chinese pen-and-ink landscapes and Japanese woodblock prints of the sea, will draw readers to this book again and again.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Who would have thought that the bride’s younger sister must steal the groom’s shoes at an Indian wedding ceremony? Not Sona.
Sona, a young Indian-American girl, learns about the traditional wedding customs of her family's region during the preparations for her sister’s marriage. Her dadima (grandmother), visiting for the celebration along with her grandfather and younger cousin Vishal, asks her to steal the groom’s shoes. Sona hasn’t heard about this custom, and Vishal, knowledgeable about weddings because he has gone to many at home, tells her “[i]t’s like a fun game.” Before the wedding day, Sona helps to rub a special cosmetic paste on her sister’s skin and decorates the house with garlands and rangoli designs. She attends the mehndi party, where an artist paints henna designs on all the women and girls. But all during these preparations, she is thinking about how best to pull off the shoe caper. Finally, the wedding itself starts, with the groom riding a white horse. (Often in the United States, a car or horse-drawn carriage is substituted, as explained in the excellent author’s note.) The whole ceremony is described in detail, but it is Sona and Vishal’s part in the shoe-stealing game that will engage young readers. The artist’s research shows in every double-page spread, and she does a wonderful job of creating a diversity of expressions in her lively watercolors.
Everyone will want to attend this wedding.
(Picture book. 6-9)
Failing to keep his eye on the soccer ball, a player finds himself on an eventful chase to catch the runaway plaything.
Owen loves playing soccer, but he isn’t a star. One day, while sitting on the bench during a game, he takes his eye off the ball, and it escapes—almost literally, rolling away through a nearby hole in the fence. Determined to retrieve the ball, Owen chases it across a stream, tracks it into underbrush, and returns to the game—where he now handles the ball like a pro. The strategically placed minimalist text belies the breathtaking visual rendition of Owen’s quest to catch the rogue ball. Sprightly watercolor illustrations in loose, fluid brush strokes and calligraphic lines generate a dynamic energy relentlessly propelling Owen from page to page across double-page spreads. Pinkney shows light-skinned, African-American Owen battling tsunami-sized waves, submerged and tossed in swirling water amid an onomatopoeic “whooooosh.” Reaching the shore, Owen morphs into a bold tiger, bouncing and pouncing the ball through the brush to the cliff’s edge, where he suddenly sprouts wings and acrobatically dives and swoops to capture the ball. He returns triumphantly to the game as a “floating, fierce, and flying free” soccer player who always keeps his eye “ON THE BALL!”
An inspired, exhilarating portrait of the transforming power of imagination, with special appeal for aspiring soccer stars.
(Picture book. 3-5)
The tale of a sizable sidekick for one competent kid.
Leonard, a curly-haired, brown-skinned little boy, finds an egg in the park one day and takes it home to his apartment on the top floor of a tall building. In the morning, Leonard witnesses his “lizard” busting out of its egg, prompting the name “Buster.” Though a trusty companion who accompanies Leonard on all of his jaunts around the city, the lizard soon grows to a problematic size. The annual parade (with floats like those in Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade) offers just the opportunity Leonard needs to find his buddy a new home. Pett’s simple and sparse illustrations focus on Leonard and Buster by illustrating the pair in bright colors and other people and objects along the city streets in grayscale or dull colors. This highlights the book’s amusing irony: despite the presence of a large green dinosaur in a busy city, nobody pays any attention to Leonard or Buster. In fact, Leonard roams the city from day to day without interruption or attention from parents or other interfering adults. He solves his own problems and takes care of the pet he has acquired of his own volition.
As independent as Max and Ruby, as creative as purple-crayon–wielding Harold, and as dedicated a friend as Charlotte’s Wilbur, Leonard will delight kids of all ages, regardless of habitat.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A young boy yearns for what he doesn’t have, but his nana teaches him to find beauty in what he has and can give, as well as in the city where they live.
CJ doesn’t want to wait in the rain or take the bus or go places after church. But through Nana’s playful imagination and gentle leadership, he begins to see each moment as an opportunity: Trees drink raindrops from straws; the bus breathes fire; and each person has a story to tell. On the bus, Nana inspires an impromptu concert, and CJ’s lifted into a daydream of colors and light, moon and magic. Later, when walking past broken streetlamps on the way to the soup kitchen, CJ notices a rainbow and thinks of his nana’s special gift to see “beautiful where he never even thought to look.” Through de la Peña’s brilliant text, readers can hear, feel and taste the city: its grit and beauty, its quiet moments of connectedness. Robinson’s exceptional artwork works with it to ensure that readers will fully understand CJ’s journey toward appreciation of the vibrant, fascinating fabric of the city. Loosely defined patterns and gestures offer an immediate and raw quality to the Sasek-like illustrations. Painted in a warm palette, this diverse urban neighborhood is imbued with interest and possibility.
This celebration of cross-generational bonding is a textual and artistic tour de force.
(Picture book. 3-6)
Left alone when her mother leaves for work, a child amuses herself with television, dolls, and a toy deer before boarding a bus for her grandmother’s house.
The ensuing experience, in which she falls asleep, misses her stop, and runs scared into the woods, is pulled directly from the author’s childhood in China. In this wordless, 112-page graphic novel, her constantly-in-motion protagonist is rescued by a mysterious stag that leads her up a ladder of clouds into a puffy paradise. The animal is a perfect playmate. Humorous close-ups reveal a hands-on exploration of the animal’s muzzle, toothy smiles, and affectionate nuzzling before the afternoon’s excitement. Guojing’s telling is skillfully paced. Early on, a sequence of 12 nearly square panels on a page conveys the child’s sense of confinement, loneliness, and boredom. Varying in size and shape, digitally manipulated graphite compositions create a soft, quiet atmosphere within which a gamut of effects are achieved: brilliant, snowy light, the etched faces of shivering street vendors, nuanced cloudscapes, and the pure black of a whale’s interior after the duo and a new friend are swallowed, Jonah-style. Majestic settings, tender interactions, and pure silliness lead readers to pore closely over these images, pulled along by shifting perspectives, ethereal beauty, and delight in the joy born of friendship.
Rare is the book containing great emotional depth that truly resonates across a span of ages: this is one such.
(Picture book. 5 & up)
In this gentle tale told in verse, Gracie and her brother, Jake, journey to their new home, all the while searching for special things to keep in their happiness boxes.
Gracie doesn’t want to leave Uncle Woo, Auntie Su, and her beloved San Francisco home to move across the country. To ease their pain, Nai Nai gives Gracie and Jake happiness boxes in which to gather memories. She tells them: “Find four treasures each, / leading from this home / to your new.” After goodbyes are exchanged and they set off, Gracie selects a stray eucalyptus leaf, a reminder of home, while Jake snatches a penny from the floor of the airport bus. The simple text gives off energy that is both reflective, as Gracie wonders about her new house, and joyful, as Jake finds a marble, filling his box first. Treasure choices reveal both siblings’ personalities and dreams that finally allow Gracie to feel at home. Double happiness, traditionally a wish for newlyweds in Chinese culture, expands to key moments here: for sister and brother, for two memory boxes, and step by step, for a former home to a new one. Rendered in delicate watercolors and brush strokes, Chau's illustrations and calligraphy evoke calm in the midst of Gracie’s anxieties and ethereal playfulness with Jake’s ever present mystical dragon.
A thoughtful and moving story of memory and change. (Picture book/poetry. 5-8)
A man with a mission leaves a memorable mark in Harlem.
The National Memorial African Bookstore and its owner, Lewis Michaux, were vibrant Harlem fixtures for many years. Nelson, who told her great-uncle’s story for teen readers in the award-winning No Crystal Stair, also illustrated by Christie (2012), now turns to the voice of Michaux’s son as narrator in this version for a younger audience. The son is an enthusiastic and proud witness to history as he talks about visits to the bookstore by Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Michaux’s commitments to reading, knowledge, and African-American history shine brightly through the liberal use of boldface and large type for his pithy and wise sayings, as in “Knowledge is power. You need it every hour. READ A BOOK!” Christie’s richly textured and complex paintings, created with broad strokes of color, showcase full bookcases and avid readers. His use of a billboard motif to frame both scenes and text evokes a troubled but strong neighborhood. Faces in browns and grays are set against yellow and orange backgrounds and depict intense emotions in both famous and ordinary folk. The Michaux family’s deeply felt sorrow at the assassination of Malcolm X will resonate with all readers.
From the author’s heart to America’s readers: a tribute to a man who believed in and lived black pride.
(afterword, author’s note, selected bibliography, photographs)
(Picture book/biography. 7-10)
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)
A tale of triumph that occurs only because a young girl picks up her pencil and writes to people who can help make change.
Saya, a child of Haitian descent, and her father live together in the United States without Mama because the immigration police arrested her one night at work. For the past three months, Mama has been in the Sunshine Correctional facility, a prison for women without immigration papers. Emulating her father, who writes regularly to the media and politicians on his wife’s behalf, Saya writes a letter that is published by the local paper. When the media get involved, phone calls and letters from concerned citizens result in a hearing before an African-American judge, who rules that Mama can go home with her family to await her papers. Visually unifying the story are blue and pink nightingales (a Haitian bird and Saya’s nickname) and hearts with faces and wings or arms and legs. The stories Mama tells help to sustain both Saya and her father through bouts of sadness. Saya’s lifelike stuffed monkey companion seems to perceive what she’s feeling and also helps her to remain strong. Reflecting Danticat’s own childhood, this picture book sheds light on an important reality rarely portrayed in children’s books.
A must-read both for children who live this life of forced separation and those who don’t. (Picture book. 5-8)
A familiar theme—a big brother feels displaced by a new baby—seems fresh in Child’s latest.
“Elmore Green started off life as an only child, as many children do,” opens the wry text. Accompanying art depicts a brown-skinned boy with tousled black hair, wearing photo-collaged knitwear and grasping his bedroom doorknob. At first, his room remains his own, even when “the new small person” arrives, and Elmore’s upset arises not from sharing either space or things, but from insecurity. He worries that his parents and others might like the baby “a little bit MORE than they liked Elmore Green.” Such concerns don’t foster affection, and Elmore sees even more reasons to remain leery when his brother begins copying him, following him around, interfering with his things and (horrors!) sharing his bedroom. This last development, however, provokes brotherly love when Elmore has a nightmare and his brother crawls into his bed to soothe him. It’s a pleasing twist on typical stories about sibling rivalry, in that the little brother’s actions change the dynamic rather than vice versa. Shared activities and playthings strengthen their bond, resulting in a happy ending for Elmore and Albert, whose name is finally revealed upon his big brother’s change of heart.
How nice to see a familiar story made new with a family of color and a little brother as hero.
(Picture book. 3-7)
"When we travel, I count what we see," this little girl tells readers.
She counts hens, cows, "one little bored donkey," and a russet mutt that her father calls a chucho and that joins the two on the road. That one Spanish word and a sign for the frontera constitute some of the few textual clues to the pair's circumstances. Adult readers will see Latin American migrants, probably without papers to judge by the raft they ride across the river and the soldiers they flee. Children will see an adventure that's sometimes thrilling, sometimes boring, sometimes terrifying—how much will depend on how familiar readers are with this perilous trek, but even those from the coziest of homes will detect some. They ride atop boxcars, and they stop while Papá works to make money for the next leg of the journey. They are dark-skinned; their fellow migrants range from pale to dark. The only constants are the chucho, the girl's stuffed bunny, "the way people we meet on the road look at us," and the current of affection that runs between father and daughter. The story does not conclude; it simply ends with the companions "back on the road," now with the titular rabbits. Like the creators' previous book, Jimmy the Greatest (2012), it's a masterpiece of understatement.
In leaving readers with much to wonder about, the book packs the most powerful of punches.
(Picture book. 4-10)
Tutu-wearing Sophia packs determination, whimsy, and a plethora of strategies to handle a passel of impressive words.
One small, vivacious, loquacious little brown girl dreams of her One True Desire: a pet giraffe for her birthday. Sophia must first convince Mother, a judge; Father, a businessman; Uncle Conrad, a politician; and Grand-mamá, the strictest of them all. Sophia crafts consecutive speeches to build a case for the judge, a cost analysis for the businessman, and a poll (of her toys) for the politician. To counter accusations that her pleas are too “effusive,” “loquacious,” and “verbose,” Sophia pares down the language with each ask until Grand-mamá hears just one word. From the first page to the last, Sophia’s energy, creativity, and innovative critical thinking will entertain both adults and children. Whether readers see this as a mixed-race family or a family of color with a broad spectrum of skin tones, this book offers a mirror for a wide variety of readers. Starting with the endpapers, the watercolor-and–colored-pencil illustrations depict the closeness of the family, their expectations of Sophia’s intellectual prowess, and her adeptness at employing all of the wiles of childhood to persuade. A concluding glossary explicates the advanced vocabulary with wit and warmth.
A must-read—for pet lovers and even for those not yet convinced.
(Picture book. 4-8)
When twins arrive, Anna Hibiscus finds it hard to share her extended family.
Atinuke’s latest picture book is not so much about “Amazing Africa” as it is about adjusting to a new sibling—worse, two of them. This gentle, appealing story begins on the title page with Anna Hibiscus resting against her mother’s obviously pregnant tummy. Soon, she’s introduced to the new babies: “That big bump was brothers,” she tells her cousins. Not surprisingly, all the adults in her extended family are either suddenly busy or still sleeping. Angry and jealous, Anna hides and cries, but soon it is her turn for some attention and affection. Anna’s strong emotions will be familiar to any older sibling. Her body language is remarkably expressive in Tobia’s colorful illustrations, spots and full-page scenes that often spill across the gutter. There are fascinating details, especially in the endpaper scenes showing Anna's family’s modern African home in its urban context. There’s lots going on inside their cluster of homes, too. Readers and listeners who meet this lively child for the first time in this universal story will likely be intrigued enough by her mixed-race family and her culturally different but oh-so-similar life to go on to other Anna Hibiscus episodes, in both picture and chapter books.
A double pleasure for old friends and new readers alike.
(Picture book. 3-7)