An inspiring and wistful message wrapped up in a subtle, thoughtful narrative and lively, beautiful art: simply superb.

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

HOW ART TRANSFORMED A NEIGHBORHOOD

In a neighborhood full of gray, young Mira shares her colorful art (and heart) with the world beyond her window.

First Mira gives a painting of an apple to Mr. Henry, the shop owner. She then offers a songbird to Mr. Sax and a deep red heart to the local beat cop. Still, her art project hits its limit. “Her city was less gray—but not much.” Soon a mysterious artist approaches Mira, offering a boost. “What do you see?” Mira asks him. “Maybe…something beautiful,” he replies. Leading readers on an infectious ride, Campoy and Howell’s text bristles with dazzling energy. Words pop out of the page in bursts of oomph (“BAM! POW!”) as color begins to fill the city. The authors, moreover, mix in dynamic moments with quiet scenes, producing a tone both lively and contemplatively hopeful. The illustrations, however, are the main attraction. López, whose career as a muralist inspired this story, loads each double-page spread with curves, splashes of paint, and geometric shapes, changing page orientation for emphasis at times. As Mira’s neighbors join in on the fun, the city comes alive with unforgettable human spirit. The mysterious artist sums it all up: “The world is your canvas.”

An inspiring and wistful message wrapped up in a subtle, thoughtful narrative and lively, beautiful art: simply superb. (authors’ note) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-35769-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

Visual pleasure abounds.

THE NIGHT GARDENER

Grimloch Lane is a gray place where individuals trudge along wrapped in their own thoughts, until a man carrying a ladder and tools enters their sphere.

Clad in almost-gray green—and seemingly unaware of the similarly attired boy drawing a feathered creature in the dirt—he proceeds to a nearby tree. After the moonlit title page, morning breaks with narration that accompanies this child now gazing in wonder from the orphanage window. A gigantic, familiar owl has been formed from the tree’s foliage. Ensuing evenings yield ever more amazing creatures; color creeps into the scenes as neighbors gather in admiration and spruce up their dilapidated homes. The Fan brothers contrast creamy, uncluttered pages of daytime community life with magical forest-green evenings that culminate in an invitation to help. The pair’s resulting leafy menagerie in the park is rendered even more evocative when the page turn reveals the blazing deciduous trees dropping their sculpted shapes. But no matter—the neighborhood has been changed permanently, as has the boy. The Night Gardener is Asian, the child pale-skinned, the neighborhood warmly multicultural. The final double-page spread depicting the young man shaping his own playful topiary is an uplifting testament to the effect that a caring adult can have on a lonely child. An economic text punctuated with commas, questions, and ellipses leads readers forward; highly textured graphite and deepening, digitally colored compositions surprise and delight.

Visual pleasure abounds. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3978-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

Endearing and entertaining: what’s not to like—or love? (Picture book. 4-8)

NOBODY LIKES A GOBLIN

A small goblin finds courage when he defends a friend.

Bug-eyed, green Goblin with his toothy underbite lights torches, feeds rats, and plans to hang out in his dungeon for the day with his Very Best Friend, Skeleton, who has a crown. But the ominous sound of “boots on stone” announces adventurers—light-skinned and medieval-garbed with a full-figured warrior woman in the lead—who come roaring into Goblin’s home to steal all the books, treasure, and worst of all, Skeleton. Shaken, Goblin sets out “into the wide world” to get his friend back, but his troll neighbor cautions, “Nobody likes a goblin.” A farmer with a pitchfork and a gang of elves prove quite serious in their antipathy. Themes of loyalty, courage, and friendship nicely complement the lively sense of danger. Diagonal lines invest each page with motion; full-color art with entertaining details—look for the small dragons on the rocks and for the kidnapped goose and girl on the adventurers’ cart—pulls readers in to the story. When a company of goblins asks our hero, still wearing Skeleton’s crown from before, “Are you the Goblin King?” he thinks a moment before responding “Yes….yes, I am.” Young readers will find themselves cheering Goblin on—he may not be lovely, but his sense of friendship and his loyalty are convincing and appealing.

Endearing and entertaining: what’s not to like—or love? (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62672-081-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

Conceptually sophisticated; especially inviting for young artists ready to explore new visual angles.

LOOK UP!

What can sidewalk activity mean to someone high above on a balcony?

The opening spread, which establishes the composition that’s used throughout, requires studying to parse: it’s a city sidewalk from almost straight above. At the left is a line of trees; in the middle, a wide sidewalk paved with small, square, welcomingly irregular bricks or stones; toward the right, there’s a thick, unidentifiable line from the top of the page to the bottom. “Slam!” comes a sound from the far right. The thick, rough line is a balcony wall, and onto the balcony emerges a person—but only far enough to show her feet resting on her wheelchair’s footrests. When she peers down toward the sidewalk, readers see the top of her head, the tip of her nose, and her hands gripping the balcony rail. A sidewalk game and bustling pedestrians capture her interest, but nobody will “look up!”—until one boy does. He realizes that lying down will help the girl see him better, and he stirs others to join him. She looks skyward, smiling, and for the first time, the black-and-white (-and-gray) drawings show tiny bits of color: pinks in treetops, a green seedling in a pot. The illustrations’ style is loose and unfinished (the pedestrians below lack eyes), nicely balancing the high concept.

Conceptually sophisticated; especially inviting for young artists ready to explore new visual angles. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3652-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

MORE-IGAMI

Joey loves things that fold, like maps, his accordion, and even his foldaway bed, so when he sees a classmate’s mother folding an origami crane, he’s captivated.

Mrs. Takimoto explains that she can teach Joey the folds, but the only way to become an origami master is with “practice and patience.” He takes the instruction seriously and practices with every piece of paper he can find, including his sister’s sheet music and his mother’s dollar bills, before being asked to stop. His neighbor friend Mr. Lopez sees Joey’s dedication and lets him fold the napkins in his restaurant in progressively more complicated shapes until the little boy finally masters the crane. On seeing the crane, a little girl is captivated. Joey offers to teach her but warns that it takes “practice—and lots of patience!” Kleber uses simple language but gives young readers great credit for understanding multiple concepts conveyed at once, and the story is all the better for it. Karas’ soulful illustrations depict Joey with brown skin and cropped, textured hair, with other characters drawn to show other ethnicities. His art shows his hand, the textured pencil, and pastel strokes evident on the page, which gives the book a gentle, handmade feel. It’s an excellent companion to Kleber’s story, which encourages patience, practice, and sharing creativity and finishes with a simple origami lesson for readers to try.

A gem. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6819-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

Keep your bitcoins—you never know when somebody might need a button.

SWAP!

A broken-down captain and his young, peg-legged mate rediscover an ages-old system to rebuild their battered ship without spending a penny.

It’s called barter or swap, that mode of trade that requires not coinage but need. Light starts at the very beginning: the poor captain has a button, which doesn’t look very promising until a lady agrees to swap two teacups for the button, which the boy then turns around and swaps for three coils of rope. For two of the coils he gets six oars, and for two of the oars he gets six flags. Flags? Well, you never know where things may lead. Flags beget anchors that beget sails that beget ships’ wheels and birds and jaunty hats and a hand-carved figurehead. Next thing you know, the old wreck is not only seaworthy, but has a bit of dash. Light’s artwork is lightly amusing throughout, with a throng of crabbed ink lines busily filling the mostly white backgrounds, making the incidents of color—blue here, purple and orange there—the more sparkling. Complementing the smart artwork is a smart story: you don’t have to have a pocket full of gold to get by; wits often work just as well. Though the boy’s peg leg immediately conjures hoary old pirate tropes, these are honest, hard-working tars, and it’s a positive delight to see a disabled boy depicted as an equal participant in the economy.

Keep your bitcoins—you never know when somebody might need a button. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7990-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

Nico’s return provides both Maia and listeners an opportunity to consider how holes not only signify absence, but also keep...

LIFE WITHOUT NICO

In this Mexican import, Maia and Nico giggle through endlessly interwoven days of best-friend bliss, until Nico moves, and "a hole appears in Maia's life."

Before, Maia had Nico. Now, she has a hole: round, dark, benign, but quite weighty. It sits next to her, occupying a chair. It changes shape, ballooning with her blues. It grows lighter gray at times, but it's always with her, sometimes even covering her little heart. "Sometimes the days feel dark to Maia. Other times everything feels far away." Empathy brims on the pages of this artful and articulate book about overwhelming feeling. The ecstatic joy found in the mutuality of effortless friendship surfaces tenderly on the very first pages, where both Maia and Nico beam, and objects in the room (a dresser, a teddy) appear as transparent as the unfiltered feelings shared by the children. The hollow numbness that arises (and lingers) with loss couldn’t be better represented than by Olea’s unobtrusive, obstinate hole, which trails Maia even as she begins to discover new interests (the piano) and friends (a kitten, a girl schoolmate). Earth tones and cool sea greens and blues balance and support one another throughout these painterly illustrations, appropriate enough in a friendship story.

Nico’s return provides both Maia and listeners an opportunity to consider how holes not only signify absence, but also keep room for the people who edify our lives. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77138-611-1

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

Brimming with personality and passion, this protagonist is a joy to know.

THE BRANCH

Introductory scenes present a young pink-skinned girl with a brown pageboy struggling to fall asleep as she tracks the sights and sounds of the ice storm at her window.

A loud crack sends daughter and mother running outside to discover that a beloved branch has splintered off from their tree; she mourns: “It was my castle, my spy base, my ship….” The viewpoint of this endearing child with cropped bangs and expressive body language is effectively reinforced through frequent use of a worm’s-eye perspective and first-person narration. Messier’s descriptions enrich the strong plot. When the protagonist first gazes upon the neighborhood, she imagines it has been “wrapped in a heavy blanket of diamonds.” Unlike her parent, who dismisses the branch’s value, an understanding neighbor sees that it is “full of potential”: “worth keeping.” Mr. Frank allows her to imagine a solution and then helps her realize it. Pratt’s skilled brushwork, which ranges from heavy, black outlines to undefined, hazy views, creates a multitude of effects. The silvery lavender/blue frost of winter contrasts with the warm reds of Frank’s flannel shirt and workshop. Seasons change as they create plans, saw, sand, and varnish. It is a green world that hosts the transformed wood, still capable of supporting a child’s fantasy in its new life as a swing.

Brimming with personality and passion, this protagonist is a joy to know. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77138-564-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

A brilliant collaboration: simple, resonate, superb.

THE ARTIST AND ME

A low-key yet powerful picture-book evocation of the final days of an eccentric artist who was both a victim of his own demons and the target of village bullies.

The outcast artist is Vincent Van Gogh. The thoughtful, unnamed narrator of this impressive first-person fictive confessional is an older man who was one of the boys who brutalized Vincent: “In the beautiful countryside in Southern France near the town of Arles long ago, I used to do an ugly thing. / I tormented someone.” In a way that’s neither ham-fisted nor didactic, the young boy’s inchoate fear of the Other in the person of the artist is balanced by his late-in-life regret and guilt. Peacock’s wonderfully paced, poetic text evidences strong understanding of the power of the page turn and how it can masterfully scaffold the storyline. Inclusive backmatter reinforces the impression that Peacock drew on solid scholarship, including Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s well-received Van Gogh: The Life. The text is balanced with Casson’s sensitive, hand-drawn images augmented with fluent Photoshop-layered colors (intended to evoke the silk-screen technique so admired in Van Gogh’s time). The spreads are given an additional intimacy via a final overworking with pastel.

A brilliant collaboration: simple, resonate, superb. (biographical note, author’s note) (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77147-138-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

Cosmically delightful.

BEST FRINTS IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE

Occasional disagreements and the need to mend a friendship are universal challenges.

Omek and Yelfred sport the gap-toothed look of human 5- and 6-year-olds, but with sharper teeth. They are neon-berry colored—Yelfred is purple and Omek is pink—and they have tadpolelike tails and antennae. They have grown up together, eating together and playing eye ball, “best frints since they were little blobbies” among the bright and toothy landscapes of their far-off planet, Boborp. But when Yelfred rides up in a sleek new spossip, a blurfday gift, Omek longs to take it for a spin and won’t take no for an answer. As young readers might predict, the spossip gets shmackled. Yelfred is furious, and Omek is hardly contrite: “It was that way when I got it.” Tail biting and harsh words ensue. “Frints on Boborp have been known to use their teef and not their words. (Not like here on planet Earth),” Portis notes wryly. But a détente follows quickly, involving work with a spewdriver and copious amounts of taypo and twire applied to hold the vehicle together. Portis’ bright, odd landscapes, flora and fauna digitally colored in vibrant hues, and her two grinning friends are all sweetly demented and irresistible. An illustrated glossary appears on the endpapers and invites giggles, imitation, and the addition of Boborpian to languages spoken at home.

Cosmically delightful. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62672-136-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

Weatherford and Christie dazzlingly salute African-Americans’ drive to preserve their dignity and pride.

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FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE

Count down the days until Sunday, a day for slaves in New Orleans to gather together and remember their African heritage.

In rhyming couplets, Weatherford vividly describes each day of nonstop work under a “dreaded lash” until Sunday, when slaves and free blacks could assemble in Congo Square, now a part of New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Park and on the National Register of Historic Places. Musicians “drummed ancestral roots alive” on different traditional instruments, and men and women danced. They also exchanged information and sold wares. The poetry is powerful and evocative, providing a strong and emotional window into the world of the slave. Christie’s full-bleed paintings are a moving accompaniment. His elongated figures toil in fields and in houses with bent backs under the watchful eyes of overseers with whips. Then on Sunday, they greet one another and dance with expressively charged spirits. One brilliant double-page spread portrays African masks and instruments with swirling lines of text; it is followed by another with four dancers moving beautifully—almost ethereally—on a vibrant yellow collage background. As the author notes, jazz would soon follow from the music played in Congo Square.

Weatherford and Christie dazzlingly salute African-Americans’ drive to preserve their dignity and pride. (foreword, glossary, author’s note) (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4998-0103-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little Bee

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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