Annemarie from Wordplay (2017) and her class work on set theory.
Annemarie’s homework assignment is for the students to draw a dozen items in sets: Three sets of four, four of three, and two of six are all valid. While Annemarie tries to decide what she wants to draw, she wonders what her classmates are working on, and the book cuts to various kids and their work. Initial examples (four sets of three, the most common set division selected by the students) are organized with the extra visual division of the four panels on each page, building to full-page images that encourage kids to count the items in the illustration to determine the sets. There’s also a delightful sequence that shows four seeds, then four saplings, then four trees, which pieced together read as a comic strip. The book doesn’t teach math so much as it encourages developing number sense through play. The art (digitally colored) has minimal shading and emphasizes basic shapes in both characters and their drawings, making it easy for child readers to imitate while playing along and drawing their own sets. Annemarie’s a brown-skinned girl with black hair and glasses in a class filled with racial diversity and led by a teacher who has dark brown skin, black hair, glasses, and a jaunty bow tie.
So exemplary an execution of a simple concept that it can be read multiple ways—as multiplication, counting, sorting—without sacrificing fun.
(Early reader. 5-8)
A daring girl in a desert village enjoys riding her brother’s bike made of recycled materials in this unusual picture book by Clarke and political artist Rudd, an Australian import.
A young girl with dark skin, cornrows, and shiny sunglasses, wearing shorts, sneakers, and a T-shirt, introduces readers to “the village where we live inside our mud-for-walls home,” her “crazy brothers” who dance atop a police car, and her “fed-up mum,” who looks elegant in a white hijab and dress. The narrator shows readers the sand hill and the “big Fiori tree” where they play boisterously. “But the best thing of all in our village is me and my brothers’ bike.” The bike’s pieces are composed of a bucket seat, tin-can handlebars, wood-cut wheels, and other spare parts; the flag is a flour sack, and the bell is Mum’s milk pot. The license plate—a piece of bark—has “BLM” painted on it, a political statement that echoes an earlier image of the narrator’s brothers playing atop a junked police car. It’s a rugged ride over sand hills and fields and straight through the home (which perhaps explains why Mum is so fed up), and Rudd’s urban artwork is a fitting way to show it. Over a cardboard background, streaks of paint define the people, objects, and movements that make up the girl’s world. The kids in motion on their bike are rendered in an artful smear that evokes speed. The dark, bright, and desert hues create a blazing-hot world readers can almost step right into.
Showcasing the fun to be had in a spare world, this book is just what many of us need right now.
(author’s note, illustrator’s note)
(Picture book. 3-9)
This Lithuanian import portrays the friendship developing between a boy and a fox.
An omniscient narrator introduces Paul’s family: His father pilots a helicopter, and his mother makes pottery. More unusual is their dwelling, which is a tall tree in the park. Close observers of the zany mixed media and digital collages will glimpse a bushy orange tail early on. Paul’s first encounter with the lanky fox, clad in blue boots and enjoying a swing in the park, is during his daily walk home from the bakery. Although the fox engages in philosophical and somewhat mysterious conversations (reminiscent but not duplicative of her counterpart in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince), the boy anticipates these visits even though it means sharing his bakery treat. He learns how to be a friend in ways appropriate to her moods, especially exulting in the swinging and shouting about things that make them happy. Suddenly concerned one day, Paul asks: “Will I always find you here?” She replies: “Of course not….When I need to be somewhere else, that’s where I’ll go.” The text is longer than in many American picture books, but there is much to savor: the honesty of unspoken ruminations, challenging dialogue, and myriad unexpected details, such as a sign-carrying parade of protesting birds. The humans’ skin tones range from Paul’s paper-white to pink or red.
An enormously satisfying surprise completes this wholly original narrative.
(Picture book. 5-8)
Author/illustrator Doerrfeld gives children a model for how to process difficult events and provide meaningful support to friends who need it.
Taylor is excited to build a block tower, but then a flock of birds swoops in and knocks it all down. Different animal friends try to help, in ways that cleverly mirror their nature: the bear shouts, the ostrich buries its head in the wreckage, and the snake hisses about revenge. But what Taylor (who is never referred to with gendered pronouns) really needs is to explore a whole range of emotional responses to loss, without being asked to perform any specific feeling. A cuddly rabbit shows up and just listens, giving Taylor—an expressive child with light skin, curly dark hair, and blue-and-white–striped one-piece pajamas—space for the whole process, going from grief to anger to resolution. The illustrations are spare yet textured, and the pace is excellent for reading aloud, with lots of opportunities for funny voices and discussion starters about supporting anyone through a hard time. Despite the obvious takeaway, this story doesn’t feel overly moralizing or didactic. Keeping the focus on the small tragedy of tumbled blocks makes it young-child–appropriate, with opportunities for deeper connections with an older audience.
This appealing work is an excellent addition to any emotional-intelligence shelf.
(Picture book. 3-8)
Ostensibly, this is a story about a girl and her ball and the rain: Mina wants to play soccer, but the monsoon has arrived in her South Asian village.
When her mother tells her to stay inside to prevent catching cold, Mina turns to her sandalwood elephant: “Ammi doesn’t understand…she has never felt that explosion of happiness when you score a goal.” To deal with her frustration, she drums on the tabla to chase away the rain. She asks the doodh wallah why it has to rain; the milkman tells her that the monsoons are a time “to dance and be happy.” Mina dances to stop the rain. Finally, in searching for craft supplies in her mother’s cabinet, Mina finds something that she has never seen before—Ammi’s soccer jersey! Mina realizes that Ammi does understand, and when the clouds break, Mina and Ammi play soccer together. The book’s backmatter includes a glossary with pronunciations for Hindi/Urdu words in the book. Many such phrases appear in the text without adjacent translations (“Nahi beta, stay inside,” Mina’s mother says, without explanation), which is very refreshing for readers who may see themselves in Mina, while context makes them accessible to non-Hindi/Urdu speakers. Dasgupta’s illustrations are dynamic and evocative, complementing Guidroz’s energetic text well, her big-eyed characters exuding energy and verve.
On close inspection, it is so much more than it seems: a delightful picture book about a girl child discovering a wondrous secret about her mother.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Gather around for a boisterous game of futbol in Paul and Alcántara’s excellent picture-book debut.
To begin, the players assemble. With a ball at the ready, one young player calls on others—children, and even adults—to join in. Readers see a diverse cast of mostly dark-skinned characters often gendered in implicit ways. Everyone heads on over to the field, where each player warms up. As the group splits into teams of “friends versus friends,” one brave player shoos away the grazing cows. The game then begins. Basing the narrative on his experiences growing up in Saint Lucia, Paul weaves in italicized Creole phrases and words alongside their English counterparts in such a way that the text bursts with infectious joy. “Isi!” shouts a player, while another player cries “This way!” But suddenly, clouds block the sun and rain falls. “Fini? Game over?” Of course not. The friendly scuffle continues on the muddy field, through every splash, slide, and flop. Colorful and dynamic, Alcántara’s pictures depict an island community in lush shades of green and blue dotted with houses of bright red and orange; in one series of striking illustrations, the players’ vibrant clothing contrasts against muddied backgrounds. Watch the sun appear again when one player scores a “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!” It’s a triumphant, earned moment that lingers even as the story reaches its suitably subdued coda.
Narrator Raphael “loves Jerome”—saying it is “easy.” Raphael doesn’t understand why his mother dismisses Jerome as “charming” or why his father says “it’s ‘a pity’ that Jerome doesn’t play soccer.” Jerome “always sees” Raphael, shares snacks, defends Raphael against bullies, and tells great stories. Spending a day with Jerome is pure nourishment for Raphael: “By lunch, we’ve laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. And by dinner, I’ve stocked up enough of Jerome to last me the whole night.” Tallec’s loose line-and-watercolor paintings use gentle humor to introduce them, placing the two boys on bikes, side by side and hand in hand, in front of a line of clearly slowly moving cars: So happy are they that they do not notice. He situates the two boys in scenes suffused in warm colors, their body language mirroring each other’s, as do their pale skin and round, red heads. But when Raphael’s parents get uptight about this bond, the palette darkens to cold, lonely blues. The text is open enough that readers will take what they need from the story. Some children will see simply two very good friends, while others will see validation of feelings they may not know how to express, particularly if their parents are as hostile as Raphael’s. Raphael gives them the language they need: “I say—yes. Raphael loves Jerome. I say it. It’s easy.”