Readers will tune up their observation skills while spending time with a grandfather and granddaughter who keep life interesting.
Sophie, a light-brown–skinned little girl who lives with Mama, Daddy, and Grandpa, has a special relationship with her grandfather. Every day of the week, when Sophie arrives home from school, saying, “Here I am, Grandpa,” he pretends to have lost something that he needs Sophie’s help to find. There’s a paperclip, a favorite paintbrush, a rubber band, and more—all of which are hidden “in plain sight.” Jackson and Pinkney’s quiet snapshot of one week in the life of a close-knit African-American family shows how significant intergenerational relationships can be for both children and seniors. Grandpa, who uses a wheelchair, looks forward to his daily time with Sophie as much as she awaits hers with him. Pinkney’s exquisitely detailed watercolor paintings are a feast for the eye, and the challenge of finding some of the hidden objects will also make readers observe closely. A tabby cat, who seems to have as much personality as the humans, appears on every page and will remind readers familiar with Pinkney’s work of the animals in other picture books he has illustrated such as Sam and the Tigers and The Lion and the Mouse, although this feline has no anthropomorphic characteristics.
A fabulous family story with something for the young and old alike. (Picture book. 4-8)
A positive tale of how a story can emerge organically from an inkling of an idea to an imaginative literary excursion—even at the hands of preliterate kids.
This story’s young, brown-skinned male protagonist admires his big sister, who loves to read and write “BIG words and (little) words, page after page.” But with just his “swirl after swirl. Squiggle after squiggle,” he thinks he can’t write a story. Like any good writing coach, his sister tells him: “Write what you KNOW.” Using letters and squiggles, he writes about a visit to the ocean, where he and his sister play soccer, see waves, and encounter a shark. His story looks like this: “I o U …. VvVVvv ^.” During show and tell at school, he shares his draft and gets feedback, which helps him finish the story. Lowery’s line drawings and use of frames and speech bubbles common in comics make this a lively story that keeps readers guessing. He paints the protagonist’s story in progress in pale green, bringing the child’s imagination to life. The story’s ending suggests a sequel—or several—that will perhaps illustrate the protagonist’s growth as both reader and writer.
This book offers a fine mirror for brown boys who aspire to write, but it’s also a great pro-literacy story for all children about brown kids who hold reading and writing in high regard. (Picture book. 4-8)
A young girl and her mother soothe themselves to sleep during a power outage in modern urban India, despite how sorely they both miss Maya's dead Papa.
Slim as this plot is, the evocative text and illustrations conspire to tell and show a story that is more than the sum of its parts. The deep purples, blues, and greens and the rich blacks of MacKay's constructed “paper theater” art convey both the scariness and the magic of nighttime. These moody darks are perfectly contrasted and illuminated by the glow of candlelight, oil lamps, and the lights of distant neighborhoods. Though he’s gone, Papa’s presence is palpable in the tenderness between Maya and Mumma. The book contrasts dark and light, the modern Indian city and the mythical banyan tree jungle of the bedtime story Mumma tells, the sadness of Papa's absence and the closeness between Maya and her mother. Maya's willing imagination conjures the beautiful visual and aural image of a "growling" autorickshaw that becomes a tiger. Following her mother's lead, Maya understands that the tiger is but scratching an itch and that the snake is just rustling leaves as it moves. When she embraces the nighttime animals of her imagination as friends, she can at last hear the tune of her father's familiar, lulling whistle.
Jain and MacKay's story and art work seamlessly to convey an important and subtle story of love, loss, beauty, and joy.
(Picture book. 4-10)
This good-humored introduction to air travel follows a multiracial family (black dad, white mom, two brown kids) through the airport, down the jetway, and onto their plane.
Each step receives cleareyed treatment. Vivid ink-and-watercolor illustrations capture the lines, bag checks, security screenings, surreal little village of restaurants and shops within the terminal, and finally the waiting alongside other travelers who stretch, bicker, bob to music, babble on the phone, sleep, and listen for their boarding group to be called. Explanatory narration in the second-person is filtered through the lens of the family’s older sibling. It eases readers through these experiences, reassuring them with clarity, candor, and repeated words, most often the word sometimes, which emerges as a comforting acknowledgement of expected variance. “Sometimes you get something to drink. Sometimes you get something to eat. / Sometimes there is a movie to watch. Sometimes there are people to talk to. / Sometimes the plane is bouncy, but most of the time it is smooth.” Readers drift along with the easygoing voice, much like a traveler gliding along a moving walkway. Brightly colored people and baggage fill double-page spreads, nudging readers to look closely at faces, stances, attitudes, and activities to spin narratives for the travelers. Strategically placed text, with modest typeface and subtle sizing, makes the story-building straightforward and the busy pictures navigable.
Instructional, comforting, and threaded with multiple air-travel story strands, this travelogue delivers at many altitudes.
(Picture book. 2-6)
When her mom and all her brothers are trapped in a bucket, it’s time for Teeny Tiny Toady to screw her courage to the sticking place and hop to the rescue.
As big of eyes, personality, and emotion as she is tiny and pink of body in Yamaguchi’s swampy ground–level scenes, Teeny is “toadally” terrific. Shoved to the rear by her seven hulking brothers after bursting through the door with the news of their mother’s plight, Teeny hops behind, “wishing she could be a bigger, stronger, / hero kind of toad.” Then, when her comically dim-bulb brothers not only fail to tip the bucket over, but manage (after ignoring or co-opting several of her savvy suggestions) to fall in themselves, it’s left up to her: “ ‘I’m too little,’ Teeny blubbered. ‘I can’t do it! Not alone!’ / But she had to, had to, had to. / Tiny Teeny, / on her own.” One unlikely but successful stratagem later, everyone is free, jubilant, and praising their diminutive rescuer. “ ‘You’re a hero!’ / ‘What a kid!’ / ‘Wanna ride home on my shoulders, Sis?’ ” No surprise—“She absolutely did!” Yamaguchi’s illustrations are every bit as adorable as Teeny, her wee pink form hilarious when juxtaposed with her brothers’, who resemble warty tennis balls with limbs.
A triumphant reaffirmation of the truth that large hearts can beat in small chests, told in playful verse that gallops along with nary a stumble.
(Picture book. 6-8)
The Native American boy is named after his father, whose nickname is Big Thunder. Thunder Boy Jr. says his nickname, Little Thunder, makes him "sound like a burp or a fart." Little Thunder loves his dad, but he longs for a name that celebrates something special about him alone. He muses, “I love playing in the dirt, so maybe my name should be Mud in His Ears.…I love powwow dancing. I’m a grass dancer. So maybe my name should be Drums, Drums, and More Drums!” Little Thunder wonders how he can express these feelings to his towering father. However, he need not worry. Big Thunder knows that the time has come for his son to receive a new name, one as vibrant as his blossoming personality. Morales’ animated mixed-media illustrations, reminiscent of her Pura Belpré Award–winning work in Niño Wrestles the World (2013), masterfully use color and perspective to help readers see the world from Little Thunder’s point of view. His admiration of his dad is manifest in depictions of Big Thunder as a gentle giant of a man. The otherwise-muted palette bursts with color as Thunder Boy Jr. proudly enumerates the unique qualities and experiences that could inspire his new name.
An expertly crafted, soulful, and humorous work that tenderly explores identity, culture, and the bond between father and son.
(Picture book. 4-7)
In the first few double-page spreads, the swaddled, white, potato-shaped infant presides over an adoring, diverse crowd of admirers as his proud parents look on. “But your king also has many demands!” reads a later page, and his mother and father patiently meet those demands in illustrations that show them becoming increasingly exhausted. It’s a well-worn theme, reminiscent of Marla Frazee’s Boss Baby (2010), but Beaton keeps her book feeling fresh through humorous illustrations that expand on the wry text and never shy away from exposing the extent of King Baby’s tyranny. As King Baby gets older, he learns to crawl (the sequence showing this achievement is a triumph) and then becomes “a big boy” astride a toddler’s balance bike at the playground. No longer King Baby, the big boy wonders, “But what of these poor subjects? / Who are they, without a king? // And who will lead them if not I?”—and a wholly satisfying conclusion arrives with Queen Baby.
Long live King and Queen Baby! (Picture book. 3-8)
Two sibling pigs who couldn’t be more different spend the day together.
Paul is a neatnik who loves to make “sure everything is sparkling and in its place.” Antoinette likes cleaning too, so long as it involves “licking the plates and sticky knives” after she’s made her Two-Taste Toasts. Paul’s idea of a good day is tweezing the parts of a model ship into place. Antoinette’s is finding dead birds, bugs, and beetles. When Antoinette finally hauls Paul outside, “he’s inspired to think deeply about Ikebana,” while she licks a snail, names it Edmond, and then tucks it into her pocket. Working in deeply hued watercolors, Kerascoët (duo Marie Pommepuy and Sébastian Cosset) creates an appealing, adult-free world, neatly expanding on their wry text. When Antoinette throws herself at what Paul sees as a “ferocious beast”—perhaps a bison, yeti, or werewolf—readers see an enormous, benign brown dog. Boisterous Antoinette has a perpetual (if ever changing) stain around her mouth; prim Paul wears glasses. It would be easy to paint Paul as an irredeemable prig, simply a foil to the dynamic Antoinette, but Kerascoët refrains, simply endowing each little pig with oodles of personality, however contrasting; Antoinette splashes in every mud puddle, while Paul leaps “elegantly over each” one. No matter the differences, the affection between the siblings is manifest.
That each little pig thoroughly subverts gender stereotypes is simply icing on one perfectly delightful cake
. (Picture book. 4-8)
Austrian and Curato turn the simple wedding of two worms into a three-ring circus that slyly turns the whole controversy over same-sex versus heterosexual marriage on its head.
“Worm loves Worm. ‘Let’s be married,’ says Worm to Worm. ‘Yes!’ answers Worm. ‘Let’s be married.’ ” Seems simple to the two worms but not to the other woodland critters. Cricket insists on officiating. “That’s how it’s always been done” is his oft-repeated refrain. Beetle wants to be the best beetle, the Bees want to be the bride’s bees, the worms must wear rings, and they need a band to dance to, flowers, and a cake. The intendeds solve all these issues as well as the question of who’s the bride, who’s the groom. “ ‘I can be the bride,’ says Worm. ‘I can, too,’ says Worm.” They both are also the groom. One wears a veil, bow tie, gold ring, and black trousers; the other sports a top hat, gold ring, and flouncy white skirt. The wedding party is in awe, save uptight Cricket. “ ‘We’ll just change how it’s done,’ says Worm.” And so they do, and they are married at last...“because Worm loves Worm.” Curato’s pencil-and-Photoshop illustrations use white backgrounds to great effect, keeping the characters front and center. The two worms are differentiated only by their eyes: one has black dots, and the other has white around the black dots.
As in life, love conquers all.
(Picture book. 3-8)
A young black girl tells her little sister that the breakfast before them reminds her of the worst breakfast, but her sister has no recollection of that terrible meal.
Incredulous, the girl tells her sister all about the most disgusting of breakfasts, though this still doesn't ring a bell. So she spins a larger and larger tale, each piece of food more awful than the last. Miéville and Smith's dialogue is fantastic: witty, smart, with great rhythm that doesn't sacrifice artful turns of phrase to reach for an internal rhyme. "It gummed my throat and chilled my soul. Too much cheese. Not enough hole," the girl says of some inferior Swiss cheese. Smith's artwork keeps pace with the text, which the artist sets into little rectangles to contrast with the jaggedly flamboyant paintings that get increasingly manic as the girl goes on, incorporating tentacles and pterodactyls as well as piled-high foodstuffs. Both Miéville and Smith are well-known for their work for adults, and this will certainly appeal to their fans who are parents. But this should be in the hands of all kids who aren’t easily satiated by tamer picture books and who would engage with a real work of art that they can revisit over and over. None of the artwork is too gross to behold, even for the squeamish, but it does perfectly illustrate the culinary horrors the girl is trying to convey to her sister.
A brilliant, original, infinitely rereadable book that can sit alongside Sendak and Dahl.
(Picture book. 3 & up)
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.
Although the setting’s time and place are unspecified, the story of a widowed mother fleeing a war-torn homeland with her two children reverberates with the real-world experiences of contemporary Syrian refugees and others crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe. The family members have black hair and pale skin, and the mother takes advice from a friend who wears the hijab, though her own hair is uncovered. They travel by car, by bicycle, hidden in the backs of trucks, and on foot until they reach a wall, where a border guard prevents them from crossing. Here, expressive, posterlike art renders the guard a monstrously tall, red-bearded man who towers over the wall and sends the family back into the forest. In a heart-rending spread, facing pages depict the mother cradling her children on the verso as the child narrator confides, “In the darkness the noises of the forest scare me,” while on the recto the child continues, “But my mother is with us and she is never scared”—with a picture of the family in the same huddled pose but with the children now asleep and tears streaming from the mothers’ eyes. After a dangerous sea crossing, the family moves with hope toward a safer place, though there is no certain happily-ever-after resolution.
A necessary, artful, and searing story.
(Picture book. 4-12)
A mother bear and her newborn cub move through the seasons in this British import.
The text is brief and simple, the language lyrical. An adult female, Big Bear, introduces her Little One to new places and other animals. She demonstrates how to forage for food and, albeit somewhat obscurely, “how to enjoy the long summer days.” When winter comes she leads her cub back up to their den in the hills to settle down for their winter’s sleep. Beautifully designed and executed charcoal illustrations offer a single scene on each double-page spread. Debut author/illustrator Weaver uses the limited palette of black, white, and gray masterfully. She is particularly skilled in conveying the play of light, as in a picture that shows mother and child ambling into a forest glade, where black tree trunks and gray leaves are backlit by soft but bright sunlight. White space is used effectively, especially in the rush of a river and a blustery snowstorm. The texture of the paper the drawings were composed on shows through, enhancing the furriness of the bears and the blurred beauty of a stand of trees reflected in a lake. Although a few touches of anthropomorphism creep into the text, they don’t detract from the authenticity (and more than likely will add to the appeal) of this lovely depiction of the natural world.