It is a ritual with many moving parts. So it is rare, and so it is magic.
This story takes place in the north. Could be Canada, or Minnesota, or New York. All that matters is that it is north, where the cold bites, which is one of the prerequisites. “When you walk in the woods, the leaves shatter under your feet like glass.” Bone-cracking cold keeps the wind down and closes the ice crystals tight on the beaver pond. A small, diverse company of kids is anxious to get on the ice. Things could go wrong—a sudden warming, rain, a wet snow—but even during the daytime, James keeps the artwork feeling cold with images that feel as though they have been carved from ice-covered scratchboard. Finally, the full moon rises. “We walk between ridges, through dense tamarack swamp…and up a high hill. In the distance we see the wide, snowy flat of the beaver flood,” which they arrive at just as night falls. “Our wet pants freeze solid...we walk clanking like knights in armor.” They make a fire, warm their toes, and get on with some deep-woods pond hockey on perfect ice. The illustrations, with their burnished waning light, and the clipped-short narrative combine to create an atmosphere that for anyone who has experienced it will feel pitch-perfect.
The game of shinny, which never grows old.
(Picture book. 4-8)
From an artist, poet, and Instagram celebrity, a pep talk for all who question where a new road might lead.
Opening by asking readers, “Have you ever wanted to go in a different direction,” the unnamed narrator describes having such a feeling and then witnessing the appearance of a new road “almost as if it were magic.” “Where do you lead?” the narrator asks. The Road’s twice-iterated response—“Be a leader and find out”—bookends a dialogue in which a traveler’s anxieties are answered by platitudes. “What if I fall?” worries the narrator in a stylized, faux hand-lettered type Wade’s Instagram followers will recognize. The Road’s dialogue and the narration are set in a chunky, sans-serif type with no quotation marks, so the one flows into the other confusingly. “Everyone falls at some point, said the Road. / But I will always be there when you land.” Narrator: “What if the world around us is filled with hate?” Road: “Lead it to love.” Narrator: “What if I feel stuck?” Road: “Keep going.” De Moyencourt illustrates this colloquy with luminous scenes of a small, brown-skinned child, face turned away from viewers so all they see is a mop of blond curls. The child steps into an urban mural, walks along a winding country road through broad rural landscapes and scary woods, climbs a rugged metaphorical mountain, then comes to stand at last, Little Prince–like, on a tiny blue and green planet. Wade’s closing claim that her message isn’t meant just for children is likely superfluous…in fact, forget the just.
A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.
Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)