June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

7 Picture Books Feature Daring Explorers, a Young Cervantes, Operatic Mice & More | June 2018 Xpress Reviews

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Allenby, Victoria. Timo’s Party. illus. by Dean Griffiths. 48p. Pajama Pr. Sept. 2017. Tr $10.95. ISBN 9781772780086.

Gr 1-4 –A famous food critic is coming to visit the town of Toadstool Corners, and Hedgewick is so excited. He shares this news with Timo on the first day of harvest as he’s working out in the orchard. Timo knows how much Hedgewick dreams of being a famous chef, so he suggests a party. Before he even realizes it, he’s found himself hosting an apple festival at his orchard. Timo and Hedgwick both get to work, and despite nerves and setbacks, they’re able to throw a magnificent festival with the help of great friends and neighbors. This second beginning chapter book to feature Timo and his friends hits on some wonderful themes for young readers. In addition to displaying kindness and friendship, the narrative deals with courage and anxiety in a way that children can understand and potentially identify within themselves. There are just enough colorful illustrations to make the text less intimidating for those beginning to read independently, and it concludes with an Apple Banana Cake recipe. VERDICT While not a must purchase, this is a solid addition to beginner chapter books.–Shana Shea, Windsor Public Library, CT

Beckmeyer, Drew. The Long Island. illus. by Drew Beckmeyer. 64p. Chronicle. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452154855.

K-Gr 2 –When five explorers begin wondering what lies on the other side of their island, they resolve to travel across to see. Despite rocky coasts, dense jungles, and losing a couple of friends along the way, the travelers succeed in their goal. Once on the other side of the island, with no way back from where they came, the remaining explorers begin building large structures to help look for others who may travel to the isle. When their new structures inevitably attract other voyagers, one adventurer turns his sights across the sea. Colorful, textured crayon backgrounds keep readers engaged while solid-colored characters in silhouette, along with minimal text, keep the work’s focus on the journey across the island. An ending left open to interpretation encourages imagination, further reflection, and dialogue. While a few abrupt turns in the text may confuse the reader, the quick pace and relatable message will hold them to the end. VERDICT Different readers will finish this simple yet sophisticated book with different lessons in mind, but all readers will experience the thrill of discovery and imagination.–Maggie Mason Smith, Clemson University, SC

Engle, Margarita. Miguel y su valiente caballero: El joeven Certantes sueña a don Quijote. tr. from English by Teresa Mlawer Georgina Lázaro. illus. by Raúl Colón. 32p. Peachtree. Mar. 2018. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781682630198.

Gr 2-5 –These beautiful poems create a vivid picture of the early life of Cervantes, providing a relatable introduction to the father of the modern novel for young readers. Young Cervantes endures many difficult experiences due to the poverty and instability of his family, but throughout these trials he finds consolation in imagination and storytelling. He imagines a brave knight accompanying him through these experiences, turning everyday challenges into chances for noble heroics. Readers will be pleased to see some of Cervantes’s dreams come true, as he is able to publish some of his work toward the end of the book. The illustrations capture the varied emotions of the characters using a limited palette of browns, grays, and yellows for daily life and introducing brighter blue tones when depicting Cervantes’s rich inner thoughts. The back matter is useful for giving historical context to the life of Cervantes and explaining the importance of Don Quixote on the world stage. VERDICT Recommended for all Spanish language collections.–Gesse Stark-Smith, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

Kent, Nicola. The Strongest Mom. illus. by Nicola Kent. 32p. Albert Whitman. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780807576168.

PreS-Gr 1 –A young anthropomorphic bear cub is proud of how strong his mother is, particularly as she is able to carry a large bag of treasures with her. While running errands together, his mother’s load gets larger as she offers to help carry Zebra’s shopping, Lion’s laundry, Elephant’s carpet, and more, until she is at last saddled with Flamingo’s piano. Eventually, the weight is too much, and everything comes crashing down. The friends quickly come to her aid, cleaning up and repairing the broken items. In the end, Mom gets a good rest, and on their next errand, the bear cub and his mother carry mom’s bag together. This delightful picture book provides both humor and warmth, conveyed through simple, clear text and colorful illustrations. Young readers will get a good laugh seeing the pictures depicting the mother carrying so many seemingly impossible things, but they will also learn the importance of offering to help, as the story shows that one person—even Mom—can’t be expected to carry everything on her own. The illustrations feature vibrant colors, and the character designs are warm and childlike. The humor makes this an enjoyable choice for group sharing, while the small details and text, particularly when examining the many contents of the mother’s bag, also will make it appealing for one-on-one sharing. VERDICT With levity and charm, this is a strong choice for Mother’s Day and most picture book collections. –Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

Mike, Jesse Unaapik & Kerry McCluskey. Families. illus. by Lenny Lishchenko. 32p. Inhabit Media. Dec. 2017. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781772271614.

PreS-Gr 2 –A child in a contemporary Inuit community learns that families come in many different forms in this straightforward picture book. Talittuq lives with his anaana (mother) in Iqaluit, but he wonders why his ataata (Father) lives somewhere else. After she explains that families are all a bit different, Talittuq begins to notice the variations in the family structures around him. As he goes through his day at school, he learns that his friend Qaukkai has two moms at home and also a puukuluk, a birth mom, who is still in her life. His teacher Taiviti lives near the school with his husband and son, while classmate Joanasie lives with his ataata, but he regularly visits his anaana, stepdad, and half-sister in Ottawa. Back at home, Talittuq ends the day with a kiss and an affirmation from Anaana that in spite of their differences, all of these families “have love and happiness” in their homes. Mike and McCluskey’s narrative is well meaning, if didactic, and Talittuq is an endearing character. Lishchenko’s brightly colored illustrations are full of energy and movement and depict a diverse and loving community surrounding Talittuq. While the story’s overwhelmingly positive message is comforting, the lack of information about each of these family arrangements may require some adult explanation for curious young audiences. VERDICT A fresh perspective on family diversity that should find a place on the shelves of larger library collections.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

Sassi, Laura. Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse. illus. by Rebecca Gerlings. 32p. Sterling. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454922001.

PreS-Gr 1 –An opera-loving mouse tries to help a singing seal in her first starring appearance in this rhyming tale about making judgments based on appearances. Fernando loves music and helping out at the opera house. He’s assigned to Diva Dolores, who needs lots of preparation for her debut performance, but she’s not keen on having a tiny mouse as her assistant. Delores believes she deserves someone with more…stature. Fernando tries his best, but comes close to giving up after providing aid (prepping her cues, fixing her dress) to only be rejected out of hand one too many times. He tries one last time, saving the day when Delores experiences stage fright, and the Diva finally realizes how valuable Fernando is. The two decide to team up for future performances. The rhyming text scans well, and on each page is the opportunity for the reader to sing a fitting refrain (“now shoo-shoo-shoo-shoo!”). Gerlings’s digitally rendered airbrush-and-ink illustrations are primarily gold, gray, and burgundy and give the story an elegant, old-fashioned flair. VERDICT While the subject matter is nothing new, this is a fresh and fancy take suitable for most libraries. –Mary Kuehner, Arapahoe Library District, CO

Stark, Ulf. My Little Small. tr. from Swedish by Annie Prime. illus. by Linda Bondestam. 52p. Enchanted Lion. Mar. 2018. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781592702091.

K-Gr 3 –A gray creature yearning for connection finds a spark of light that brings color into her life in this lyrical picture book import. The unnamed Creature cannot survive the sunlight, so she stays in her cave all day, comforting herself in moments of sadness and dreaming of having something to care for. At night, she stacks boulders in an attempt to reach the moon, the only light in her shadowy life, and blows round globes of spit bubbles out into the world. One day, a small spark from the sun falls into the Creature’s cave, and she immediately adopts it as her own little small. The Spark regales the Creature with colorful descriptions of the sunlit world, from the deep blue sea to the hot sandy deserts to the lush green forests. When the time comes for the Spark to return to the sun, the Creature envelopes her in a spit bubble and sends her towards the horizon, silently cherishing the Spark’s stories of a world she will never see. A gray, rock-shaped blob with expressive eyes, the Creature’s loneliness is palpable. Stark’s understated characterization, her growls, her gentleness, the little pep talks she gives herself when she’s sad, immediately endear her to readers. Bondestam’s illustrations have the texture of mixed media, with geometric shapes creating a natural setting with broad strokes, and occasional line details that add depth and interest. VERDICT Quietly moving, this is an unusual yet charming story. An additional purchase for large collections and a good choice for sharing one-on-one. –Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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