A boy is thrilled to visit his new cousin in the city, but another member of the family, the beautiful, blue antique car called Cara Cara, isn’t quite ready yet. (The importance of family and the fact that technology and money are in limited supply come together in the affection the boy holds for Cara Cara, the family heirloom that’s been inventively repaired over many years and will belong to the boy himself someday.) Finally, after the boy and his father tinker under the hood, they are off. Colorful, detailed illustrations and animated, evocative text, peppered with Spanish and full of the excitement of a journey, guide readers through their small Cuban town, over roadways, and past other vintage cars to the destination—a family celebration! Energetic descriptions engage virtually all of the senses and will draw in readers across gender, race—the characters are primarily brown-skinned, and the protagonist’s family is mixed-race, with a black father and pale-skinned mother—and nationality, while politics go unmentioned, as appropriate to the age of the audience. By focusing on the boy’s observations and experiences—clothing hanging on a line, the understanding that you’ll always give your neighbors a ride, the sights and sounds of old cars, the presence of crumbling balconies, the scent of the sea—Engle and Curato provide a child’s view of Cuba that is extremely accessible and as striking as it is unforgettable.
A vibrant snapshot of modern Cuba, full of rich, sensory detail.
(Picture book. 3-8)
Buoyed by the work of Nelson Mandela and the music of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, Miriam sang to make black South Africans free.
Born in 1932 near Johannesburg, Miriam Makeba “sang as soon as she could talk.” Growing up in apartheid-era South Africa, she rebelled against unjust laws restricting where blacks could go and what they could do, and she fought that racism with her songs, even singing subversively in languages the government officials could not understand. Eventually, Miriam illegally left South Africa to sing internationally and tell the world that blacks were dying because of apartheid. Throughout the book, white rectangular text boxes convey the discriminatory actions of the baases (white ruling class), while black-backgrounded text boxes present Makeba’s words and efforts to fight racism—making white negative and black positive. Palmer’s densely illustrated, painterly scenes give readers a strong sense of the culture and beauty of South Africa. His images of people, however, often include just enough detail to reveal their emotions. The backmatter offers a single timeline of Makeba’s life and the U.S. civil rights movement, a glossary, and copious research resources. Erskine, a white woman who, as a child, lived in South Africa during apartheid, includes photos of her young self working for social justice.
An excellent perspective from which American readers can learn about apartheid and one of the pioneers who fought it through her art
. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)
Designed to suggest a scroll created by the Patuas, an artisan community in West Bengal, this title presents a day in the life of the Santhal people—an indigenous Indian people.
The book has a landscape orientation, but the sturdy paper unfolds vertically, one section at a time; when the book is completely “unscrolled,” it can be hung from a grommet. The top portion of each opening shows teeming crowds of brown, orange, and gray bodies moving through their tasks and celebrations against a vibrant red background, from morning until night. Children will enjoy listening to the informative, interactive text—displayed on the restful, white lower spreads—and searching, Where’s Waldo–style, for specific items mentioned in the text: the special chair for the bride, the musicians with drums and horns, the village cow. The yellow border unifies the six foldouts, which navigate from the wedding feast and common space to evening activities and the rainy season. Every object and figure is outlined in black, including the eyes, which express a range of emotions, even within the limits of faces shown in profile. Energy emerges from strong colors, bold patterns, and the diagonals formed by roads and train cars. Close observers will notice some of the same characters moving through the scenes of fishing, cooking, baby-washing, wheat-cleaning, and dancing.
A clever format and appealing content provide a joyful glimpse at another culture.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A picture book that will transport readers to another place and time…where dreams come to life.
Siba and Saba, two brown-skinned sisters wearing cornrowed hair, constantly lose things: shoes, scarves, sweaters, and more. They do, however, always keep track of each other. When they sleep, they dream of finding all they’ve lost. But one night, when Papa sings “Sula bulungi, Siba and Saba,” as he always does, they dream not of lost things but of delightful new found things. Soon, the dreams come true in a way that portends a bright future for them both. Ugandan-American first-time author Isdahl weaves Ugandan culture into the tale by incorporating Luganda, the language of Uganda, into Papa’s good-night song, through characters’ names, and through the flora and fauna Siba and Saba encounter. And van Doorn, a French artist based in Australia, brings the whimsical story of these close-knit sisters vibrantly to life with colorful images of Ugandan plants, animals, and places the sisters encounter. Working in pastels and digital art, van Doorn integrates fanciful details and unusual shapes and patterns into the artwork and in so doing, creates a visually sumptuous story.
This imaginative international tale will delight readers of all ages
. (Picture book. 3-7)
A white child takes an old dog for a walk in this Swedish import (by way of New Zealand).
This graceful picture book by author/illustrator Lindström catches at the heart in small ways as the unnamed narrator relates a quiet story of taking Mouse, an old, fat dog with “ears as thin as pancakes,” for a walk. Mouse is not the narrator’s dog, so first the child goes to Mouse’s owner’s house and asks to walk him, and “I’m always allowed.” Lindström’s double-page spreads feature backgrounds in soft, frescolike colors that enhance the winsome small figures of the child and dog (and the dog’s expressions are delightful). No marked adventures occur; the child and dog walk very slowly to the park, Mouse eats his (and the child’s) lunch while the child “look[s] carefully at a particular cloud.” On the way back, it gets windy, and “we seem to be standing still but I think we’re moving”—the wry, gentle narrative voice leads readers along as if it’s walking the old dog. When the child delivers Mouse back to his owner, heartstrings are gently tugged. “I wish Mouse was mine,” states the child, who walks away bravely, while Mouse’s snout in the window on the final page echoes the child’s longing.
A poignant tale tenderly executed in both illustrations and words.
(Picture book. 3-8)
After a day full of play with her toy fawn, Planet, a little blonde white girl drifts off to sleep—and Planet is off to play for the night.
Once the toy is downstairs, it hears a sound it can’t identify and becomes so frightened it passes out. Coming to, it sees it’s the family dog, a spaniel named Elliot, and though the toy is relieved, the calm doesn’t last long, as Elliot chases Planet and, catching the toy, gives it a playful, vigorous shake. They decide to go to the kitchen for a snack of cookies, where they meet a friendly rat called Bradley, who takes them on a new adventure to capture the biggest cookie they’ve ever seen. After their big adventure, Planet gets a few hours of sleep before they’re up to play again. Liniers has a gift for wordless storytelling through his art-only panels, using muted tones in watercolor under skillfully drawn pen-and-ink lines that create thin outlines and heavy areas of shading. The lettering is distinct and whimsical, and the lines of dialogue are funny, conveying Planet’s personality as patient, kind, and quick-witted. The Spanish-language version, Buenas Noches, Planeta, changes only Planet’s name, and though Liniers is Argentine, the Spanish is not localized to any one dialect, making it an easy inclusion in kids’ libraries and a perfect matched pair for kids who would benefit from the same book in English and Spanish.
Liniers continues his run of clever comics for kids, with a fun adventure and panels full of easy-to-follow action. Delightful.
(Graphic fantasy. 4-8)
A fishing trip is not just a fishing trip in this poignant, semiautobiographical tale.
As a young boy growing up in a Vietnamese refugee family in Minneapolis, Phi would wake up “hours before the sun comes up” to go fishing with his dad. Right from the start, he hints at his family’s dire straits: “In the kitchen the bare bulb is burning.” Readers learn they are up so early because his dad got a second job. And Phi asks innocently, “If you got another job, why do we still have to fish for food?” At the pond, father and son share moments of tenderness. A nod here—when Phi lights a fire with one strike of a match; a warning there—to avoid “the spicy stuff” in his bologna sandwich. Father and son also bond through stories. “I used to fish by a pond like this one when I was a boy in Vietnam,” says Dad. “With your brother?” Phi asks. Dad nods and looks away, a clue to the unspeakable devastation of the war. When they catch enough fish for dinner they head home, Phi dreaming about the landscape of Dad’s home country. Together, Phi’s gentle, melodic prose and Bui’s evocative art, presented in brushy and vividly colored panels and double-page spreads, rise above the melancholy to tell a powerful, multilayered story about family, memory, and the costs of becoming a refugee.
Spare and simple, a must-read for our times.
(Picture book. 5-9)
The coal mines of Cape Breton in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia have closed, but this book recalls a time when generations of men toiled in the mines under the sea.
As the book starts, a white couple stands by the door. The woman holds her husband’s lunch pail as he gets ready to leave home. Upstairs, their son wakes up, and it is from him that readers will get to know his town and life by the sea, the repeated phrase “it goes like this—” lending the narrative a timeless quality. Both the text and the illustrations have a simple, understated quality that go hand in hand and lend a melancholic feel to the whole. A muted palette and images heavily outlined in black reinforce the feeling. As the boy goes about his life above—playing with his brown-skinned friend; coming home to a simple lunch; going to the store with a list for the grocer; or visiting his grandfather’s grave overlooking the sea—several predominantly black two-page spreads, vigorously textured strokes of black and gray adding weight, are woven into the narrative, reminding readers that deep down, the miners are digging for coal. A particularly poignant spread depicts the front door of the house in a wordless series, the angle of the sunlight showing time going by; in the last image the door is opening, and the narrator’s father is home at last.
A quiet book that will stay with readers long after they have closed it.
(Picture book. 5-8)
Kuma-Kuma Chan continues in his life of peaceful solitude, even when he travels.
Fans of Takahashi’s little bear may be surprised when they think of this meditative character on the go, but in keeping with his usual contemplativeness, his travels are in his mind. He thinks about, dreams about, and writes about great adventures—even ones in which he’s a tiger or he goes back in time—without leaving the comfort of his little house in the mountains. The narrator (depicted from behind as an adult man) confides in readers that Kuma-Kuma Chan sends him travel notes but he can’t read them because the bear writes fast and messily, so he has to imagine how his travels are going. But he tells readers about Kuma-Kuma Chan’s travels in a satisfyingly repetitive rhythm of big, exciting adventures that he then humorously reframes in a much smaller and calmer setting. The illustrations are wonderful simplified shapes and are done in sweet pastels that visually reinforce the quiet world of this charming little bear. Though it’s the third book in the series, it stands alone, but it’s a great reason to check out the other two.
A delightful, engaging book for a broad audience, an effective form of stress reduction, and a catalyst for readers’ own imaginary travels—all in an irresistibly wee package. (Picture book. 5-10)
An unlikely hero rescues his Icelandic village in this picture-book retelling of “The Binding of Fenrir.”
Mr. Brownstone—a white, white-bearded narrator in a plaid suit—welcomes readers to his family vault, wherein lie artifacts collected over thousands of years from all corners of the globe. His “most treasured possession” is his book collection. The books contain long-forgotten stories told by Brownstone’s ancestors, and the narrator segues into the tale of a young, white Icelandic adventure seeker named Arthur. When young Arthur explores a forest in search of a magical worm species, he encounters Fenrir, a monstrous black wolf, who heads straight for his village and puts out its great fire, without which the town will freeze and its people die. Through research, exploration, and bravery, Arthur receives guidance from Thor and Odin in order to defeat and capture Fenrir and his minions. British debut storyteller Todd-Stanton’s elaborate Icelandic- and Norse-inspired depictions plunge readers into the deepest parts of the mythic story, centering a young boy rather than a god as the pivotal hero. Cool blue-greens contrast with warm orange-reds to illustrate an intricate world from another time. Clear narration and smatterings of wordless panels catapult readers into this first adventure in a new series.
With picture books seeming to hew to ever more minimalist approaches, this retelling of a Norse myth, rich with adventure and mystery in a wonderfully picturesque package, comes as an opulent treat.
(Picture book. 5-9)
Ten artists representing six of India’s indigenous folk traditions offer a collective meditation on the sun and the moon.
This one-of-a-kind book, with the art applied by silkscreen onto handmade cotton paper, defies description or even analysis. It is, in one word, gorgeous. The book inspires reverence from the cover, with its sumptuous background of majestic purple complementing art that depicts the union of the sun and the moon seen through a cutout on the cover. Readers will want to dive in and absorb the intricate, vivid art on each page as well as to bask in the words that tell the simple tales of the sun and the moon as they have been handed down in six different tribal and folk traditions, including Gond, Mata-Ni-Pachedi, Madhubani, Meena, Patachitra, and Pithora. Each spread depicts the celestial orbs in a different folk or tribal style. The words are spare but evoke the tales told in the traditions from which the artwork—and artists—derives. But readers will hardly be aware of these details and differences. The saturated colors, the intricate drawings, and the simple yin and yang of the interwoven stories make this a harmonious whole.
Children (and adults) of all ages will be awed and inspired by the power and force of the artwork and majesty of this book, giving due tribute to humanity’s greatest celestial inspirations
. (Picture book. All ages)