Monday, June 27, 2022

Shelf Awareness--Rosa's Song

PB Review: Rosa's Song

Rosa's Song by Helena Ku Rhee, illust. by Pascal Campion (Random House Studio, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780593375495)

The duo behind The Paper Kingdom comes together again for the kind and reassuring picture book Rosa's Song, about the joy of discovering new friends when they are needed most.

Jae has moved far away from his "old village, his old home, his old friends." His mother encourages him to meet other kids, so Jae rings the bell of the apartment below. Rosa, her parrot Pollito perched on her shoulder, opens the door and a friendship is born. Jae sadly remarks that there are no mountains outside his window; Rosa clambers on the couch saying, "I'm climbing up, up, up a mountainside," the illustration showing the white couch melding into the snow-white heights of the imagined mountains. Jae misses familiar street vendors; Rosa helps him imagine "the scent of fresh fruit" and "the melody of a pretty song." The two friends explore the apartment complex to find "lost llamas, golden Inca treasures, and a rainforest with parrots--like where Rosa was from." And they sing with Pollito. But Jae wakes one morning to find Rosa and her family "had to leave quickly," and he doesn't know if anything, even Pollito, whom Rosa left in Jae's care, can make the sadness go away.

Helena Ku Rhee's story skillfully demonstrates a compassionate cycle of friendship in which Jae learns that just as Rosa once welcomed him, he can now welcome others. Animator and illustrator Pascal Campion's art seamlessly meshes the children's real and pretend play. Rosa's Song is a quiet, gentle book about the importance of finding--and being--a good friend. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

June Recommendations

Picture Books:

In SMILE SOPHIA, written and illustrated by Skylaar Amann, Sophia is smart, strong, and “really good at digging holes.” What Sophia loves most of all is searching for dinosaur bones. Unfortunately, her mom wants her to put away her “dirty trowel and pickax,” her teacher wants her to stop looking angry, and all everyone wants her to do is smile. But Sophia is not angry (nor is she giving up her pickax). She just doesn’t see what there is to smile about…yet! Tight text and detailed pencil and Photoshop illustrations beautifully bring to life this winning story of a strong-minded, science-loving girl who sticks to her own agenda. Eureka!!

PATIENCE, PATCHES, written by Christy Mihaly and illustrated by Sheryl Murray, is the story of Patches, a dog who is “good at waiting.” This is a good thing, because his puppy life is full of waiting: for his “loud-laughing person” to throw the ball, for his “soft-singing person” to throw the ball and, more importantly, for his beloved people’s “blanket bundle” to do something interesting. The author does a great job channeling Patches’s voice and perspective, and the pencil and digitally-colored illustrations give a nice feel for both the active moments and the quiet ones. This is a sweet, sweet story about a loving family—made up of two moms and a dog—who find even more love when a baby comes to join them.

THE LITTLEST AIRPLANE, written by Brooke Hartman and illustrated by John Joseph, tells the story of a little bush plane that is smaller than the “sturdy and quick” turbo prop, the “brawny and long” cargo plane, and the “super fast” jet plane. While the others are busy soaring and rumble-roaring around, the little bush plane worries that he’s not strong enough or speedy enough to take to the sky. But when a storm strands two people in the wilderness, it’s the little bush plane who may have what it takes to save the day. Told in rhyme that’s fun to read aloud and accompanied by brightly-colored illustrations of the personified planes, this book is sure to be a winner at storytime!

In PEGA SISTERS GO TO CAMP, also written by Brooke Hartman, this time illustrated by MacKenzie Haley, Lilly has waited—and waited—for Pegasus Camp, and she’s beyond eager to soar and craft like she has in summers past. What’s different this year, however, is that her little sis Filly will be there, too. Now, wherever Lilly turns, Filly is there, too, spoiling everything until Lilly sends her away. But can Lilly soar without Filly to cheer her on? Again using rhyme to distinguish her story, the author leaves plenty of room for the illustrator to decorate each page with the glam, sparkling, “most marvelous magic” of these adorable pegasi.

In SO NOT GHOUL, written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Bonnie Lui, it’s Mimi’s first day to haunt a new school, but all she has to wear are “old Chinese gowns from her great-great-great-great-great-ghost-grandmother.” And she gets lots of advice about what “good Chinese girl ghosts” should do. But Mimi is Chinese American, and she knows that her family’s ideas are “SO NOT GHOUL!” Mimi tries hard to blend in with the other ghosts at school, but when the most popular one steals her look, Mimi doesn’t hesitate to set her straight—and to feel SPECTER-TACULAR doing it! This digitally-illustrated, ghostly tale about speaking up and speaking from the heart is full of pluck and puns.

FRANS’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, written by Beth Anderson and illustrated by Caroline Hamel, is the story of a boy who is obsessed by how things work, a boy who feels called to “imagine, discover, create.” But his mother, his father, and the farm leave no time for inventing. When Franz grows up, he dreams… of a “”fantastical magical phantasmagorical machine!” But, there is no time for playing, dilly-dallying, or lollygagging. Until, after viewing the marvels of the world’s fair in Belgium, Franz finally listens to his imagination and begins to piece together his creation. RATTLE, CLATTER, CLANG! Franz’s machine comes to life and, twenty-three years later, he’s finally ready to share it with the world. This fascinating story, about the joys of creating is beautifully told and boldly-yet-whimsically illustrated. WHOOSH! DING! FLASH! Don’t miss it!


Monday, June 6, 2022

June's Book of the Month--Courage Hats

June’s Book of the Month is the warm, wise, and admirably quirky, COURAGE HATS, written by Kate Hoefler and illustrated by Jessica Bagley.

“Not everyone loves a train… But sometimes, you have to take one anyway.”

When Mae must take a train ride through “bear places,” she wears “a special hat, so a bear would think she was just another bear.” When Bear needs to ride through “people places,” he wears a hat, too, “so a person would think he was just another person.” Indeed, when they sit together on the train, Mae thinks she’s found a safe seat near a big grown-up. Bear thinks he’s found a safe seat near a small cub. But, by the time the ride is over, Mae and Bear have each found their courage, and made a friend in the process.

This thoughtful, lyrical picture book offers a way for readers to look for their own courage, whether it be in their hearts or on their heads. COURAGE HATS is about seeing beyond our differences to the deep and important places, and how that can make us all feel a little less lost. Because “when you take your hat off, someone else will, too.” The graphite and watercolor illustrations help make this story especially endearing.

COURAGE HATS is warm and sweet and just odd enough that kids should love it.


Thursday, June 2, 2022

Shelf Awareness--Francis Discovers Possible

PB Review: Francis Discovers Possible

Francis Discovers Possible by Ashlee Latimer, illust. by Shahrzad Maydani (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781419749100)

In this warm and appealing picture book by debut author Ashlee Latimer, with art by Poetree illustrator Shahrzad Maydani, word-loving Francis faces classroom unkindnesses in a way that may encourage young readers.

Pig-tailed, rosy-cheeked, brown-skinned Francis loves words. And she loves Tuesdays because that's the day Mr. Prewett asks a student to pick a letter. It's Francis's turn and she is ready to choose the letter "P." But first the class reviews letters already chosen: "A is for antelope... R is for rainbow... T is for trampoline." When Mr. Prewett asks about the letter "F," Tabitha whispers "Fat," and Jericho adds "like Francis." Francis has always thought of Fat as something that's warm, like "belly rubs for [her] puppy," or "using Mama's fluffy arm as the best pillow." But Tabitha makes Fat "cold" and Jericho makes Francis feel small. After school, Baba takes her to the park, where Francis, snuggled safely under his arm, comes up with a brand-new P word: Possible. Possible is learning to swim, is planting, is leaves dancing in the wind. "Possible made Francis feel warm and big--like Fat." It makes her feel like she can once again "take up space and share her words, and wish and dance and play."

Latimer says in an author's note that her moving narrative was written to allow people with bodies like hers to see themselves as the protagonist instead of the "plucky best friend." Maydani's fanciful pastel and watercolor illustrations are expressive, calling attention to Francis's feelings while also showcasing a wonderfully diverse neighborhood where the realm of imagination (and the Possible!) is never far away. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author.

Discover: In this gentle, appealing picture book, Francis faces unkind remarks from classmates and regains self-esteem by embracing what’s “Possible.”

Sunday, May 15, 2022

May Recommendations

Graphic Novels:

In THE AQUANAUT, by Dan Santat, Sophia’s dad has been lost at sea, and now she lives with her uncle as he carries on the “super secret research project” the two men began years ago. When a group of underwater creatures, including a sea turtle and a dumbo octopus with "an amazing appetite,” pack themselves into a deep sea diving suit and venture onto land, Sophia’s life gets a little crazy. It’s up to her—and the sea creatures (aka the Aquanaut)—to save Aqualand’s marine life. There are good guys and bad guys, an orca in distress, and (Caldecott medalist) Santat’s art is superb! (MG)

In WITCH FOR HIRE, by Ted Naifeh, when Cody gets relegated to the lunchroom loser table, she’s surprised to meet some fascinating people, one of whom, Faye, is a witch. And when Cody finds herself mixed up with shy__shelby, an online influencer who forces her to do increasingly dangerous hate crimes, she needs Faye’s help, and badly. It’s delightfully dark and full of magic. (YA)

THE DIRE DAYS OF WILLOWWEEP MANOR, written by Shaenon K. Garrity and illustrated by Christopher Baldwin, is a pleasantly odd graphic novel wherein Haley, unabashed lover of gothic romance novels, rescues a strange man who’s drowning in a river, and is in turn rescued herself by an even stranger man in a strange land that could be right out of one of Haley’s favorite stories. There’s the titular castle, complete with a foreboding housekeeper, gowns, a ghost, three brothers, and a curse. Yes, it’s weird but it’s also a complete hoot. (YA)

Picture Books:

In MINA, by Matthew Forsythe, Mina is a mouse who’s not bothered by anything until the day her father brings home a squirrel. Even though he assures her that “everything will be fine,” Mina can see at once that this is not a squirrel. And, even though the text doesn’t say so for many pages, clever readers will immediately understand, just like Mina does, that her father has clearly brought home a cat. Absolutely gorgeous watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil illustrations wonderfully depict the menacing presence of cat/s and fill the pages with magnificent decorative elements. It’s beautiful and it’s funny so, if you haven’t seen it already, don’t miss it!

BATHE THE CAT, written by Alice B. McGinty and illustrated by David Roberts, is a zany domestic episode wherein Daddy assigns Bobby, Sarah, and Dad their chores via magnetic letters on the fridge. But the orderly cleanup before Grandma’s visit is thwarted by the crafty cat, who does not want a bath. Holy hornets—the hijinks are hysterical! Colored pencil and watercolor illustrations depict this diverse family with a retro, magic marker-y feel. It’s a refreshing romp that will leave kids in stitches.

In WHERE IS BINA BEAR? by Mike Curato, Tiny is having a big party, but Bina Bear is nowhere to be found. Or maybe Bina is a lamp in a dark room. Or a table with a fruit bowl on top. Or a tree with a swing…who wants a banana. This is a lovely story of friendship and understanding that totally nails both humor and heart. The brightly-colored and cartoony ink, colored pencil, watercolor, and digital art is perfect for this winning tale.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Shelf Awareness--My Love Will Never Leave You

PB Review: My Love Will Never Leave You

My Love Will Never Leave You by Stephen Hogtun (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 32p., ages 3-6, 9781547608997, June 14, 2022)

A wise old tree teaches his young sapling all that she needs to know about life, love and carrying on after a loss in the touching, warm and reassuring My Love Will Never Leave You.

The old tree has been devoted to the sapling ever since she was a seedling. He's "watched over and cared for her," "pointed her to the sky" and "helped her branches grow true and strong." He's sheltered, shaded and supported her with his love. One morning, the curious little tree wants to know about the heart-shaped leaves covering his branches. He answers, "These are memories of the life I've led." When the sapling asks if she will grow similar leaves of her own, the old tree realizes that it's time for the little tree to "see and learn" for herself. The pair walk upon hills, sit by streams, study the birds who "find refuge in their branches" and enjoy the fragrance of flowers. The old tree teaches the young sapling many things as they travel and, lo and behold, one day soon the little tree has her own leaves, "all heart-shaped, fresh, and green."

All is well until autumn, when the sapling discovers that some of the old tree's leaves have fallen, and as the weather grows colder, his leaves become fewer. At last, the old tree must go, but not before assuring the young one, "Each time the wind blows, in your leaves is where you'll find me." In time, the little tree understands that her "bright memories" will keep her safe and warm and can guide her home.

Hogtun's text is relatively spare and poetic. His choice to use trees as walking, talking stand-ins for humans is an inspired one, infusing a sense of fantasy into the weighty discussion of mortality. While the trees are familiar figures who inspire reflection on loving and nurturing (as well as on the loss of someone special), the approach leaves much up to readers to fill in for themselves. The luminous illustrations convey plenty of emotion and conjure a pervasive sense of dreaminess and wonder. This allegorical offering gently inspires readers to understand that while "we cannot stop the seasons," sorrow will almost certainly be followed by joyful moments of surprise and renewal. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author.

Shelf Talker: In this gentle, allegorical picture book, a wise old tree teaches his beloved young sapling about love, loss and renewal.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

May's Book of the Month--Big and Small and In-Between

May’s Book of the Month is BIG AND SMALL AND IN-BETWEEN, the transcendent new picture book by Carter Higgins and Daniel Miyares.

From “the SUN and its SHINE/when it asks you to rise,” to “your TOOTH/when it wiggles and waggles/but isn’t all the way in/or all the way out,” to “a SNAIL and her HOME and the road she has traveled,” to the perfect ending note, readers will be treated to moments of triumph and moments tinged with melancholy, moments grounded in reality and moments of fantasy, moments concrete and moments abstract. Moments that truly are big and small and in-between. And everything. All are worthy springboards for thought and contemplation, and/or for simple, quiet enjoyment.

The graceful prose is perfectly matched with elegant graphite, gouache, and digitally collaged art. Also of note is the quality and adventurous nature of the bookmaking by Chronicle which allows this premise to soar, from its smallish, intimate size and many pages, to the interactive paper elements that begin the first three sections, to the glorious gatefold at the end.

Kids—and wise adults—will truly enjoy the worlds this book opens up to them as they read and reread and reread…