Striking, expressionist graphics and a plainspoken, minimalist text distinguish this standout.

WALL

British illustrator Cole’s life-affirming debut for children marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A boy narrates this poignant account of a family divided by the towering wall. “My mom said that while the wall was being made, / our dad got stuck on the other side. // I worried he was lonely, / but Mom said life was better over there. // And we couldn’t leave, anyway.” The father’s in West Berlin—free, yet consigned to life without his wife and children. The Eastern, Soviet-dominated occupation is conveyed in bleak, blue-black scenes dominated by guard towers, barbed wire and claustrophobic interiors. The boy dreams “of Dad breaking through the wall and rescuing us.” Dad appears as a savior, his muddy coat radiantly backlit, shards of wall and an open book at his feet. Understanding the unlikelihood of a family reunion, the boy nonetheless imagines “all kinds of ways to get across.” Some escapees breach the wall—some fail. Yet, if they do nothing, they might never find Dad. “So I started digging.” Mother, son and daughter, escaping toward the tunnel, are stopped by an ultimately sympathetic guard. In a dramatic denouement, the family finds Dad, just in time—he’s digging his own tunnel east.

Striking, expressionist graphics and a plainspoken, minimalist text distinguish this standout. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7560-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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Together, Díaz and Espinosa present an imaginative, purposeful narrative about identity and belonging.

ISLANDBORN

A young girl’s homework assignment unravels the history and beauty of her homeland.

Lola and her classmates are assigned to draw pictures of their respective origin countries. With excitement, the others begin sharing what they will draw: pyramids, a long canal, a mongoose. Lola, concerned, doesn’t remember what life was like on the Island, and so she recruits her whole neighborhood. There is Leticia, her cousin; Mrs. Bernard, who sells the crispy empanadas; Leticia’s brother Jhonathan, a barber; her mother; her abuela; and their gruff building superintendent. With every description, Lola learns something new: about the Island’s large bats, mangoes, colorful people, music and dancing everywhere, the beaches and sea life, and devastating hurricanes. Espinosa’s fine, vibrant illustrations dress the story in colorful cacophony and play with texture (hair especially) as Lola conjures images of her homeland. While the story does not identify the Island by name, readers familiar with Díaz’s repertoire will instantly identify it as the Dominican Republic, a conclusion that’s supported when the super recalls the Monster (Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo), and sharp-eyed readers should look at the magnets on Lola’s refrigerator. Lola, Teresa Mlawer’s translation, is just as poignant as the original.

Together, Díaz and Espinosa present an imaginative, purposeful narrative about identity and belonging. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2986-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A beautifully poignant celebration of memories of a loved one that live on in those that remain.

THE SOUR CHERRY TREE

With ample emotional subtext, a young girl recalls everyday details about her beloved grandfather the day after his death.

The child bites her mother’s toe to wake her up, wishing that she could have done the same for her baba bozorg, her beloved grandfather, who had forgotten to wake up the day before. She kisses a pancake that reminds her of her grandfather’s face. Her mother, who had been admonishing her for playing with her food, laughs and kisses the pancake’s forehead. Returning to Baba Bozorg’s home, the child sees minute remnants of her grandfather: a crumpled-up tissue, smudgy eyeglasses, and mint wrappers in his coat pockets. From these artifacts the narrator transitions to less tangible, but no less vivid, memories of playing together and looks of love that transcend language barriers. Deeply evocative, Hrab’s narrative captures a child’s understanding of loss with gentle subtlety, and gives space for processing those feelings. Kazemi’s chalk pastel art pairs perfectly with the text and title: Pink cherry hues, smoky grays, and hints of green plants appear throughout the book, concluding in an explosion of vivid green that brings a sense of renewal, joy, and remembrance to the heartfelt ending. Though the story is universally relevant, cultural cues and nods to Iranian culture will resonate strongly with readers of Iranian/Persian heritage. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A beautifully poignant celebration of memories of a loved one that live on in those that remain. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77147-414-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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This tale of self-acceptance and respect for one’s roots is breathtaking.

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EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS

A young Chinese American girl sees more than the shape of her eyes.

In this circular tale, the unnamed narrator observes that some peers have “eyes like sapphire lagoons / with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns,” but her eyes are different. She “has eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” Author Ho’s lyrical narrative goes on to reveal how the girl’s eyes are like those of other women and girls in her family, expounding on how each pair of eyes looks and what they convey. Mama’s “eyes sparkl[e] like starlight,” telling the narrator, “I’m a miracle. / In those moments when she’s all mine.” Mama’s eyes, the girl observes, take after Amah’s. While she notes that her grandmother’s eyes “don’t work like they used to,” they are able to see “all the way into my heart” and tell her stories. Here, illustrator Ho’s spreads bloom with references to Chinese stories and landscapes. Amah’s eyes are like those of the narrator’s little sister. Mei-Mei’s eyes are filled with hope and with admiration for her sister. Illustrator Ho’s textured cartoons and clever use of light and shadow exude warmth and whimsy that match the evocative text. When the narrator comes to describe her own eyes and acknowledges the power they hold, she is posed against swirling patterns, figures, and swaths of breathtaking landscapes from Chinese culture. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 80.5% of actual size.)

This tale of self-acceptance and respect for one’s roots is breathtaking. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-291562-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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