As with many Norwegian imports, this one—an exploration of domestic violence—packs an emotional wallop.
At first, Daddy is “cheerful as a bag of lemon drops.” After a sudden, apparently unprovoked mood change, his voice “gets padlocks,” and a closed door behind the voice hides a dark cellar where “someone is waiting.” Little Boj’s fear is palpable; the third-person narration describes his attempts to be quiet and good, to silently plead with Daddy not to let “Angryman” out. The enraged father outgrows the page, his monstrous body filling with fiery strokes of color as he lifts the mother while the boy cowers in the corner of the mixed-media compositions. Boj’s desperate feelings overtake instructions to be silent, and help comes from a caring neighbor. Father, mother, and son have straight, dark hair and creamy skin that darkens or reddens as emotions play out. The text and images combine in surreal fashion what is actually happening with what the son is feeling/imagining—an effective strategy to maximize impact while avoiding displays of physical contact. While the number of sentences and pages are longer than in most American picture books, the story conveys the complexity of the protagonist’s exterior and interior worlds, realistically capturing the perception of time and repeated refrains that accompany fear.
Not for the timid, this may be most appreciated as bibliotherapy, its powerful saga signaling to hurting readers that they are not alone—and that asking for help can bring relief.
(Picture book. 7-11)
Many books for young readers tackle terrible tantrums, but few address sadness that surfaces perhaps for no reason at all; this gives that muted malaise a shape, an identity, and love.
A child tentatively opens the door and finds Sadness, a towering, amorphous, pale teal figure, waiting on the other side. It has arm and leg stumps but no neck or waist. Text set in a type that emulates handwriting tells children what they already know: “Sometimes Sadness arrives unexpectedly.” The playful interplay between the literal and the figurative makes engaging a tough topic pleasurable. In casting melancholy not as an enemy but as a sometime companion, this powerful picture book inspires empathy and action. The hand-drawn illustrations’ extremely limited, three-color palette (a washed-out blue for Sadness’ ghostly, blobby body, subdued circles of pink on the child’s cheeks, and chocolate brown for the lines that etch their world) similarly channels depression in its constriction of color. The ungendered, light-skinned child trudges alongside Sadness with slumped shoulders as they enact the sound, practical coping tactics introduced by the narrative voice. “Try not to be afraid of Sadness. Give it a name.…Find something that you both enjoy, like drawing.” Front endpapers show depressed people ignoring their sadnesses, while back endpapers show these same characters interacting with them and feeling better.
Children will feel better, too, knowing they have a helpful, honest, and empathetic picture book ready for the next time Sadness shows up for a visit.
(Picture book. 4-10)
A fearful rabbit finds the courage to broaden his horizons in this picture book.
Rabbit, anthropomorphically attired in overalls, lives in a wheat field that he never leaves. Instead, he waits for Dog—more sartorially adventurous in a black leather-fringed jacket, appropriate for motorbike travel—to visit and tell him stories of the road. But one day Dog dies, an event touchingly illustrated with an image of Rabbit sitting on his porch steps with drooping ears and drooping flowers. Rabbit is surprised that Dog leaves his motorbike to him, and he stores it away, admitting that he is too scared to use it. Author Hoefler takes a well-used theme and infuses it with a graceful poetic cadence that reads like a firelight tale as she relates how, yes, Rabbit does eventually work up the courage to travel on the motorbike, and yes, does come home again, enriched and changed. Illustrator Jacoby’s smudgy, delicate illustrations depict these changes—both in Rabbit’s appearance and demeanor and in the story’s landscape—with an evocative, textural style that heightens the story’s emotion. One illustration, a double-page spread of a beach from an overhead perspective, is initially disorienting, then exhilarating. The book adroitly combines spot illustrations and double-page spreads to establish and control the story’s elegant, thoughtful pace.
Graceful text and evocative illustrations combine in this story about the rewards of facing fears and trying something new.
(Picture book. 3-7)
A boy who has little learns that he can still give.
James Otis and his mama have fallen on hard times. His father died, and they had no suit in which to bury him; they lost their farm, their new “run-down shotgun house in the Bottoms” flooded, and his dog ran away. Though they have very little, his mama says, “Long as we have our health and strength, we are blessed.” As Valentine’s Day approaches, their pastor announces that “love boxes” will be delivered to the needy in the community, including a mother and daughter who have lost everything in a fire. He reminds them that “what is given from the heart reaches the heart.” Mama gets right to work sewing her best tablecloth—the one nice thing she owns—into an apron that she hopes will please the mother, Irene. But James Otis can’t think of anything he has that the little girl would want. Finally, he comes up with a plan, and what he gives from the heart, little Sarah cherishes. Debut illustrator Harrison’s heartfelt mixed-media illustrations, which include collage, acrylic, and found objects, emphasize the closeness between James Otis and his mother. The full faces of the characters and the muted palette and spare backgrounds reflect the dignity and joy to be found within black culture and community life even in lean times.
A sweet story, one of the legendary McKissack’s last, enhanced by delectable art from a prodigious new talent.
(Picture book. 4-10)
Ruby is an adventurous and happy child until the day she discovers a Worry.
Ruby barely sees the Worry—depicted as a blob of yellow with a frowny unibrow—at first, but as it hovers, the more she notices it and the larger it grows. The longer Ruby is affected by this Worry, the fewer colors appear on the page. Though she tries not to pay attention to the Worry, which no one else can see, ignoring it prevents her from enjoying the things that she once loved. Her constant anxiety about the Worry causes the bright yellow blob to crowd Ruby’s everyday life, which by this point is nearly all washes of gray and white. But at the playground, Ruby sees a boy sitting on a bench with a growing sky-blue Worry of his own. When she invites the boy to talk, his Worry begins to shrink—and when Ruby talks about her own Worry, it also grows smaller. By the book’s conclusion, Ruby learns to control her Worry by talking about what worries her, a priceless lesson for any child—or adult—conveyed in a beautifully child-friendly manner. Ruby presents black, with hair in cornrows and two big afro-puff pigtails, while the boy has pale skin and spiky black hair.
A valuable asset to the library of a child who experiences anxiety and a great book to get children talking about their feelings
. (Picture book. 4-6)