ME, TOMA AND THE CONCRETE GARDEN

A sweet story that celebrates community coming together to create something wonderful.

Two boys learn valuable lessons about the power of nature.

Sent to stay with his aunt Mimi while his mother recovers from surgery, young Vincent is less than thrilled to be spending his summer in a cramped city neighborhood. Soon, however, he meets Toma, a local neighborhood kid, and they spend their days playing ball and eating ice cream. Mimi asks the boys to dispose of a box of dirt balls that have mysteriously appeared, and what begins as a simple chore quickly becomes a project that breathes new life into the neighborhood and creates a sense of community that is stronger than the boys could have imagined. Larsen’s text works nicely with Villeneuve’s illustrations, channeling elements of The Secret Garden and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as well as such recent efforts as Peter Brown’s The Curious Garden (2009) in re-creating the drab neighborhood that slowly is transformed through the planting of flowers and neighbors working to keep them alive. The opening double-page spread depicts a city awash in grayish-green as Vincent arrives. As the boys begin throwing the balls of dirt (actually seed bombs) into the nearby lot, more and more color slowly seeps into the pictures until the garden comes to life and the neighborhood reflects all of the colors of the rainbow. Vincent and Aunt Mimi present black, and Toma presents white.

A sweet story that celebrates community coming together to create something wonderful. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-77138-917-4

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

CARPENTER'S HELPER

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story.

A home-renovation project is interrupted by a family of wrens, allowing a young girl an up-close glimpse of nature.

Renata and her father enjoy working on upgrading their bathroom, installing a clawfoot bathtub, and cutting a space for a new window. One warm night, after Papi leaves the window space open, two wrens begin making a nest in the bathroom. Rather than seeing it as an unfortunate delay of their project, Renata and Papi decide to let the avian carpenters continue their work. Renata witnesses the birth of four chicks as their rosy eggs split open “like coats that are suddenly too small.” Renata finds at a crucial moment that she can help the chicks learn to fly, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it will only hasten their exits from her life. Rosen uses lively language and well-chosen details to move the story of the baby birds forward. The text suggests the strong bond built by this Afro-Latinx father and daughter with their ongoing project without needing to point it out explicitly, a light touch in a picture book full of delicate, well-drawn moments and precise wording. Garoche’s drawings are impressively detailed, from the nest’s many small bits to the developing first feathers on the chicks and the wall smudges and exposed wiring of the renovation. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12320-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

LOVE FROM THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR

Safe to creep on by.

Carle’s famous caterpillar expresses its love.

In three sentences that stretch out over most of the book’s 32 pages, the (here, at least) not-so-ravenous larva first describes the object of its love, then describes how that loved one makes it feel before concluding, “That’s why… / I[heart]U.” There is little original in either visual or textual content, much of it mined from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. “You are… / …so sweet,” proclaims the caterpillar as it crawls through the hole it’s munched in a strawberry; “…the cherry on my cake,” it says as it perches on the familiar square of chocolate cake; “…the apple of my eye,” it announces as it emerges from an apple. Images familiar from other works join the smiling sun that shone down on the caterpillar as it delivers assurances that “you make… / …the sun shine brighter / …the stars sparkle,” and so on. The book is small, only 7 inches high and 5 ¾ inches across when closed—probably not coincidentally about the size of a greeting card. While generations of children have grown up with the ravenous caterpillar, this collection of Carle imagery and platitudinous sentiment has little of his classic’s charm. The melding of Carle’s caterpillar with Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE on the book’s cover, alas, draws further attention to its derivative nature.

Safe to creep on by. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-448-48932-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2021

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