In this picture book based on a true story, a father and daughter pay homage to the valley that will be flooded when a dam under construction is completed.
Early one morning, Kathryn, a young girl, is woken by her father and told, “Bring your fiddle.” They are visiting the valley that will soon be flooded when the Kielder Dam in Northumberland, England, is finished. In each empty house in the abandoned valley, Kathryn plays her fiddle while her father sings, as they remember and commemorate the music and the life that the houses have held. Author Almond’s narrative is quietly spare as it both reinforces and references illustrator Pinfold’s detailed, majestic illustrations—reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth’s work in both palette and grace. When the narrative says, “This was covered over. / This was drowned,” the small spot illustrations opposite, in a somber palette, create a sense of time, movement, and loss. And when, with the flick of the phrase, “The lake is beautiful” concludes the sequence, the narrative and illustrative tones change. Now the page turn reveals a majestic wordless double-page spread of the created lake, painted in soft blues and greens, and ensuing illustrations show people boating, swimming, and playing on the lakeshore.
With its every detail—its masterful illustrations, its landscape format, and the elegant text that offers readers a way to see the promise of new life from what has been destroyed—this book triumphs.
(Picture book. 4-10)
A child walks across the desert fleeing conflict, recalling the home left behind and promising to return to it someday.
As Marwan walks, the simple and poetic text brings readers along on this heartbreaking journey: “I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth.” Marwan walks with many. His mother is not among them, but as he dreams, he can hear her voice urging him to walk on and never look back. He remembers the day darkness swallowed up everything and he joined a “line of humans like ants crossing the desert.” Marwan vows to return and to pray “that one day the night never, never, never goes so dark again.” Borràs’ deceivingly simple freestyle illustrations in ink and color wash go hand in hand with the text, neither one shying away from harsh reality yet still child accessible. Originally published in Spanish as El Camino de Marwan and honored at the Bologna Ragazzi Awards in 2017, it is the story of a journey that is sadly the journey of too many children, one filled with fear and hope, longing and sadness. The country that Marwan is forced to leave is never specified, but details such as his Arabic name, onion domes, and women in hijabs point to Syria.
A beautiful, haunting, and, sadly, important book.
(Picture book. 6-10)
A pastoral panorama of bucolic settings, spare verse, and multicultural depictions of rain in this Swedish import.
Whether drops of water, flakes of snow, cherry-blossom petals, or dripping tendrils of moss, rains can nourish life, extinguish fires, and offer steady percussion for a locomotive musical interlude. On each rainy spread, life happens in haiku, with all its cultural variety and complexity: A crane observes two children resolving a quarrel, a goatherd wiggles a loose tooth while surveying the flock, a lighthouse keeper discovers an unmoored boat as puffins glide by, rangers monitor a dying forest fire while creatures scurry away, and travelers with llamas climb a steep hillside, stopping for a beetle in their path. Visual details encourage readers to learn more about the countries of origin of the peoples and animals depicted throughout. A short note on the copyright page explains haiku, especially the role of nature in the classic form. While these poems do not strictly follow all the characteristics of haiku, they do evoke different moods, such as the gathering darkness of a crocodile swamp. They also break stereotypes by juxtaposing technology and rural life—a cellphone rings amid a group of bareback riders galloping across a steppe. Most of all, they invite readers to pore over each colorful, expressive illustration to discover visual clues contained in the spare verse.
A unique read-aloud that blends world cultures, poetic form, and natural splendor.
(Picture book/poetry. 5-8)
Sandwiched between endpapers of yellow-lined paper showing the upper- and lowercase cursive alphabet, this quiet story shouts the pricelessness of literacy.
In an unnamed rural country, three brown-skinned children dance in the streets because the war has ended and they can finally return to school. No one feels more excited than Ayobami, the young protagonist wearing a checkered blue-and-white dress and with cornrowed, beaded hair. On her way to school, clever Ayobami negotiates her way out of becoming breakfast for a hippo, a crocodile, a leopard, a snake, a spider, and a mosquito by promising each she’ll give them their names on paper when she returns from school. She delivers on her promise, but, having given away all evidence of her newly acquired literacy, she has nothing to show her disappointed father at home—but the wind’s magic reveals Ayobami’s accomplishments. The book’s surreal illustration style varies widely throughout, keeping readers engaged with shifting colors, patterns, moods, and textures. Paced differently from most American picture books, this one also has hefty, durable “stone paper” pages that are “waterproof and tear resistant” and “produced without water…trees and…bleach,” making the book a green choice. Letters appear in unlikely places throughout this story—among the leopard’s spots; in the spider’s web—emphasizing that reading can always help expand our understanding.
A marvelous tale of one girl’s passion for reading, writing, and learning
. (Picture book. 4-8)
Starting with their birth in a den below the snowdrifts, Mama Bear nurtures her cubs and describes the world they will encounter in the spring.
The mother polar bear tells them that they will walk “where the land will let us walk” and “As long as the ice stays frozen, we will never go hungry.” The sea creatures pictured in this spread are recognizable but also almost phantasmagorical in the intricate designs, full of lines and dots inspired by traditional Indian art and looking beautiful here in this very different setting. Pictures full of stars and snowflakes swirl. “Terns and geese fly through the skies.” The rhythmic quality of their undulating forms is quite striking, and it mirrors the sonorous text. Mama gives her young ones lessons, good for human children (and adults) as well as polar bears: “We should only ever take what we need.” In telling them about the ocean and the land, the darkness of winter and the light of summer, the animals all around them, and their need to become independent after she has taught them all she knows, she reassuringly repeats the refrain: “But hush now, you’re snug with me.” In a note to readers, the author provides some additional facts about polar bears and urges everyone to be good stewards of the Earth.
Parental love, sound ecological advice, and breathtaking illustrations all in one.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Everyone is waking up to start the day. The children get ready for school. The old man must wake up, too. He’s sleeping rough on the streets and must leave before he’s shooed away.
Sparse text and quickly stroked illustrations allow readers to drift through with a sense of bewilderment similar to the one surrounding the old man at the center of the story. He is unseen by everyone unless they move him along from wherever he’s resting. A combination of embarrassment and trepidation keeps him away from crowds of people. When he goes to the shelter for food, being asked his name—“He doesn’t remember”—causes him to override his hunger to escape an awkward situation. “Easier to leave.” He drifts through the city, looking for a place to warm up, something to eat, until finally, at the end of the book, a little girl offers him her sandwich. She giggles, saying he looks like a teddy bear. This kindness, this acknowledgement by another human being, fills him with enough warmth that he returns to the shelter, and when asked his name, he says, “Teddy.” The softness of the pencil used to illustrate the story fits perfectly the tenderness of the little girl and of the old man himself, who responds to her kindness with unadulterated gratitude and happiness. The gorgeous sepia-and-gray tones of the illustrations reinforce the mood; all the characters seem to have pale skin.
This is an extraordinary book, one that can make the needed connection for young children to see human beings as more than their circumstances.
(Picture book. 5-6)