A linguistic and visual feast awaits in Alexander and Sweet’s debut collaboration.
If the mechanics of deciphering words on a page is a well-covered topic, the orchestration of finding magic between pages is an art emphasized but unexplained…until now. First things are first: “find a tree—a black tupelo or dawn redwood will do—and plant yourself.” Once settled, take the book in hand and “dig your thumb at the bottom of each juicy section and pop the words out…[then] // Squeeze every morsel of each plump line until the last drop of magic / drips from the infinite sky.” Reading, captured here in both content and form, is hailed as the unassailably individual, creative act it is. The prosody and rhythm and multimodal sensuousness of Alexander’s poetic text is made playfully material in Sweet’s mixed-media collage-and-watercolor illustrations. Not only does the book explain how to read, but it also demonstrates the elegant and emotive chaos awaiting readers in an intricate partnership of text and image. Despite the engaging physicality of gatefolds and almost three-dimensional spreads, readers with lower contrast sensitivity or readers less experienced at differentiating shapes and letters may initially find some of the more complex collage spreads difficult to parse. Children depicted are typically kraft-paper brown.
New readers will be eager to follow such unconventional instructions, and experienced readers will recognize every single step
. (Picture book. 4-7)
A young girl misses her urban home by the sea but soon discovers an unlikely friend who helps her to adjust.
After Katherena and her mom settle into their new rural home, Katherena visits the neighboring house and meets aging neighbor Agnes, an artist who works in clay. The seasons flow one into another. Katherena draws what she sees and grows ever closer to Agnes. Agnes tells Katherena about her art and about rural life; Katherena shares Cree words with Agnes. By the time it is fall, she’s helping Agnes in her garden. However, by winter, Agnes has become too weak to be outside much. Katherena and her mother make a salmon stew that Katherena takes over for Agnes and her daughter to enjoy. When spring returns again, Agnes continues to weaken, but Katherena has a plan to help her friend enjoy spring without going outside. Flett’s simple story explores the difficulties of moving but also shows young readers how new friends can sometimes ease them; that this friendship is an intergenerational one between fellow artists is an especially sweet touch. Flett (Cree/Métis) employs her characteristically minimalist style, placing Katherena against flat expanses of greensward that changes with the seasons, birds wheeling above in silhouette. Katherena and her mom both have brown skin and straight, black hair; Agnes has brown skin as well, but she does not speak Cree.
After being repeatedly asked variations on “Where are you from?” the narrator finds out that “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else,” is not an answer that will satisfy those asking. They want to know “where are you really from.”
The child, who has light-brown skin and hair worn in two afro-puffs, turns to Abuelo for help. He in turn “looks inside his heart for an answer.” Lyrical language and luminous illustrations convey his thoughtful response. “You’re from the gaucho, brave and strong.…But you’re also from the warm, blue oceans the copper warriors tried to tame…where our ancestors built a home for all, even when they were in chains because of the color of their skin.” By pointing out the child’s Argentinean and Puerto Rican cultural heritage as well as mixed racial makeup, Abuelo’s answer addresses the multilayered and varied possibilities of a Latinx identity. Ultimately, Abuelo points out, the questioning child comes from his love and that of all those who came before. The question of where someone is “really” from, in the United States, is too often understood as meaning: You look different; you must be from somewhere else. In this case, the illustrations portray a very diverse group of children and adults posing that very question, demonstrating the particular frustrations often experienced by people of mixed race.
An ideal vehicle for readers to ponder and discuss their own identities.
(Picture book. 4-8)
This expansive, straightforward framing of gender emphasizes curiosity, joy, and positive self-expression.
In Thorn’s uplifting picture-book debut, young readers meet four children: Ruthie, a thin, transgender girl with light brown skin; Xavier, Ruthie’s cisgender brother, who also has brown skin; Alex, a pale-skinned, round-bodied kid who is “both a boy and a girl”; and JJ, a brown-skinned child who uses a wheelchair and who is “neither a boy nor a girl.” Through plain, intentional language, Thorn normalizes each child’s gender identity and skillfully introduces the multifaceted concept of nonbinary gender: “Just like there are many different ways to be a boy or a girl, there are many different ways to be non-binary—too many to fit in a book!” As the main characters move through their vibrant neighborhood, families and children are portrayed with a prismatic array of gender expressions, skin colors, and physical features. Nonbinary illustrator Grigni’s full-bleed images are magical in their jewel-toned palette. Among gender-centered picture books, this one stands out for its dazzling #ownvoices art and its simple yet nuanced phrasing—particularly when Ruthie shares her true gender with her family, and her parents (an interracial couple) respond with a loving group hug. “Oops! Ruthie was a girl all along—they just didn’t know it at first.” Giving kids and adults a hopeful model for discussing (and embracing) one another’s gender is just one of the gifts offered by this valuable narrative.
The oft-heard childhood phrase “I’m bored” becomes the jumping-off point for this philosophical picture book.
There is nothing to entertain or distract this child today, and so the protagonist becomes inquisitive about boredom. What does it mean exactly? Does everyone experience it? Even animals? Is life a continual dichotomy between fun and boring? Is boredom a matter of perspective? As the child demonstrates with bemusement, sometimes wandering through such answerless wonderings can itself be the antidote to boredom. Each page offers a thought experiment examining the nature of boredom sure to provoke curiosity and insight. This English translation of a book originally published in Japan in 2017 makes reference to Japanese culture through the illustrations; school children wear traditional uniforms, and adults sit cross-legged at tables low to the ground. All characters have the same paper-white skin, simple facial features, and brown or gray hair; the repetition of hairstyles, clothing, and facial expressions on the people emphasizes a sameness that is characteristic of boredom, yet even so, the illustrations are interesting and evocative. Adults and children will find this boring book a wonderful resource for sparking conversation. It’s a terrific reminder for readers of all ages that boredom is always optional.
A perfectly mild unpacking of the nuances and subtleties of boredom.
(Picture book. 6-10)