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)
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 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)
When her parents hold a yard sale to downsize prior to moving, Callie experiences mixed emotions until she realizes she still has what’s most important.
Callie and her parents are moving from a house to a “[s]mall but nice” apartment. Shocked to see “[a]lmost everything” they own for sale in their front yard, Callie watches people sorting through their possessions and asking prices. She’s chagrined about crayon marks on her bed’s headboard that lower the price and angry as a man loads her bike into his truck. When her best friend, Sara, asks why they’re moving, Callie says it has “something to do with money.” Callie hates “people buying our stuff,” and she’s horrified when a woman jokingly asks if she is for sale. Reassured by her parents and back in their “almost empty house,” Callie realizes they “don’t really need anything they sold,” and she and her parents will “fit” into their new place—and that’s what matters. Callie’s first-person observations reveal her distress, while poignant watercolor-and-ink illustrations reinforce her emotions through deft use of white space, color washes and strong outlines that capture postures and facial expressions. Images of forlorn Callie surrounded by a yard full of possessions, sad Callie hugging Sara, distraught Callie grabbing her bike and Callie’s parents comforting her visually tug the heart.
A simple, moving tale of a family in transition
. (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)
An anthropomorphic beaver child makes driftwood boats and sets them to sea, hoping they’ll reach his father, who has passed away.
Buckley and his mama “didn’t have much, but they always had each other.” Their house by the ocean is small and spare, but because of this, items of great import are visible: a family portrait, a snapshot of a moment at the beach, Buckley’s artwork. Buckley spends his days exploring the beach, finding serenity and joy in the natural world. From its driftwood he makes a boat for Papa, casting it off on his birthday with a note: “For Papa. Love Buckley.” This physical connection, with its message of love and longing, inspires Buckley to continue to create. With practice and care he learns to make wondrous boats, sending his best ones to Papa. Repeat reads reveal how deeply Mama treasures and supports Buckley, how much she wants to make life beautiful and full of wonder for him, and how much he appreciates her in turn. The simplicity of the artwork enhances the quiet, meaning-drenched moments—a solitary walk under the moonlight; the reassurance of a hand held; the warmth of a goodnight kiss. Done in washes of color in a gentle, earthy palette, the ink drawings have an honesty and earnestness worthy of the story.
Heartbreaking and hopeful, innocent and wise, a gentle story about healing and finding connection—both in the past and present.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Biography and autobiography intertwine in this account of the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia.
Richard Loving, pale-skinned and vulnerable to sunburn, and Mildred Jeter, a brown-skinned woman of African-American and Cherokee descent, fell in love in 1958. But in the state of Virginia, miscegenation was illegal and punishable by imprisonment. They traveled to Washington, D.C., to marry legally, but when they returned and moved in together, the local police arrested and jailed them. This story makes palatable for young readers a painful, personal and true story of the injustices interracial couples suffered as recently as 60 years ago. Alko and Qualls reveal the double-layered nature of this story with a photograph of themselves; this was the perfect story for a collaboration since their journey echoes the Lovings’. In the backmatter, Alko cites the current statistics on gay marriage and hopes that “there will soon come a time when all people who love each other have the same rights as Sean and I have.” The “Suggestions for Further Reading” mentions both earlier books in the same tradition, such as Arnold Adoff and Emily Arnold McCully’s Black Is Brown Is Tan (1973, 2002), and contemporary ones that detail other civil rights struggles.
Despite the gentle way this book unfolds, the language and images deal a blow to racist thinking and just might inspire the next generation of young civil rights activists.
(artists’ note, sources)
(Informational picture book. 4-9)
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)
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)
A crotchety bear unwillingly raises four goslings.
Bruce is a stocky, black-and–dark-indigo bear with a scowling unibrow. He dislikes sunny days, rainy days, and cute little animals. He likes one thing: eggs, cooked into gourmet recipes that he finds on the Internet. He “collects” eggs from Mrs. Sparrow or Mrs. Goose—asking, hilariously, whether they’re “free-range organic”—but the pictures reveal the truth: he’s clearly stealing them. As Bruce brings home some goose eggs that unexpectedly hatch and imprint on him—“Bruce became the victim of mistaken identity”—wry text and marvelously detailed pictures juxtapose uproariously. Setting out to “get the ingredients” means wheeling a shopping cart into a river; “for some reason” he loses his appetite placing a pat of butter atop a live gosling’s head on his plate. Grumblingly, Bruce rears them from “annoying baby geese” through “stubborn teenage geese” (wearing headphones, naturally) into “boring adult geese.” Still they won’t leave him. Rather than migrating (by wing or by the giant slingshot Bruce builds for the purpose), they don winter hats and coats. Befitting Bruce’s personality, there’s no sappy change of heart, but this family is forever. Higgins’ softly fascinating textures, deft lines, savvy use of scale, and luminous landscapes (which evoke traditional romantic landscape painting, atmospheric in air and light) make for gorgeous art.
Visually beautiful, clever, edgy, and very funny.
(Picture book. 3-6)
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)
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)
In the short information page that follows this artful, gladdening story, readers learn that spider mites are “smaller than the head of a pin,” which also makes them cousins to angels, and Harry couldn’t be much sweeter. As Miller dreamed him up (some 50 years ago and only now seeing the light of print), Harry has an itch to know what lies beyond his little patch of sidewalk. Harry’s grandfather is a wise old geezer sporting overalls, a pipe, and a boater who encourages Harry to live his wildest dreams in his head. When Harry declares he is running away, his grandfather says, “go right ahead, Harry. But it will take you more than a week to reach the end of the sidewalk.” OK, right, then he’ll stay there and become a famous hunter, until he considers the beasts’ poisonous fangs and spooky eyes. He’ll escape on the back of a flea and join a flea circus, and so on. After a series of further imaginary adventures, Harry sighs. He’s a little tired. “Now I must rest and play with my friends.” Harry may flag, but this tale won’t burn out, nor will Cucco’s illustrations, with their M&M colors and their shared aesthetic with William Steig, Jules Feiffer, and Quentin Blake.
Just so, a story that celebrates the dreams of even the smallest of us—the really, really smallest.
(Picture book. 3-6)
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)
A mother struggles to get her curious little boy to their morning train.
Flat illustrations and matte digital coloring evoke the two-dimensional, strategic thinking she needs to successfully advance her morning commute. Heavy charcoal linework and thick outlines offer broad, vivid projections of the friendly people, animals, and city scenes that greet the boy and his mother on their walk, as well as the child's strong desire to investigate and the mother's urgent need to make the train. She steers insistently headlong up the road as he zigzags and doubles back to points of interest: a waving workman, bubbling tropical fish, a butterfly, hungry ducks. Back and forth and with each page turn, the two call to each other, "Hurry" and "Wait." Sheepish grown-ups will see themselves in the mother, with her eyes and body angled away from the boy, and children will grin at this book's implicit validation of young people's desire to meander. Panoramic double-page spreads describe their movements toward the station, where the mother finally shouts out a bigger “hurry,” and large raindrops begin to fall. Just as the train boards, the boy stops dead in his tracks, seeing something in the sky that just demands a moment to enjoy. Finally, his mother agrees, scoops him up, and marvels.
Beautifully controlled pacing and an immensely satisfying rainbow resolution make this book an effective refutation of frenzied schedules.
(Picture book. 2-6)
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)
A small boy and his father take an evening walk in this Swedish import first published in 1998 but only now translated and published in the United States.
Dad thinks it’s time to show his son the universe. They put on warm socks and get provisions (chewing gum), then walk past the closing shops into the night air to a field the boy recognizes as a place where folks walk their dogs. The boy sees the universe in a snail, a blade of grass, a thistle, but his father wants him to look up. Stars! His father knows all their names and holds the boy up to see the ancient light from stars long gone—and steps into something left by a dog. “So how was the universe?” asks the boy’s mom. “It was beautiful,” he replies. “And funny.” The winsome illustrations perfectly capture the pull and tug of high philosophy and low humor (stepping in dog poo is the quintessential early-grade chuckle, after all). The boy’s voice captures how badly he wants to please his father, how thoroughly he is enchanted by the smallest things, how keenly he notices just what kids notice: steam coming from his father’s mouth in the cold, his father’s whistling to help them walk.
Gentle humor pervades this father-son tale in the nicest way.
(Picture book. 4-9)
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)
As a little girl and her father take a walk together, the girl directs her dad to ask her questions about what she likes.
The girl, clad in a bright red coat, gently commands, “Ask me what I like.” Dad, wearing a bold blue cap, complies. The answers flow: “I like dogs. I like cats. I like turtles.” As they walk through the neighborhood, the conversation continues, spurred on by what the girl observes. She likes geese in the sky and in the water. She likes lightning bugs but not fireflies. She loves flowers and ice cream cones. She likes “red everything.” She likes “splishing, sploshing and splooshing in the rain.” She likes those words she made up. Sharp-eyed readers will notice the text color subtly changes from gray when the girl speaks to dark blue when her father does. Their simple back-and-forth dialogue speaks volumes about their strong father-daughter bond. As endearing and joyful as it is to read Waber’s words aloud, it is Lee’s illustrations that make this title truly special. Primary colors in pencil dominate the images, with grays and light tans lending calming touches. The autumn trees and wildflower field look wonderfully scribbled, contrasting beautifully with the finely detailed geese, butterflies, and maple leaves. Lee makes masterful drawing look deceptively simple, creating visual appeal for readers of all ages.
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)