20 Picture Books About Empowerment, Friendship, & More | May 2018 Xpress Reviews

From furry creatures to quirky tales, these works for the youngest of readers will delight and charm.

Adams, Jennifer. I Am a Warrior Goddess. illus. by Carme Lemniscates. 32p. Sounds True. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781683640059.

PreS-Gr 2 –Empowerment is the focus of this simple tale. A young girl with curly red hair speaks directly to readers, declaring, “I am a warrior goddess.” She goes on to describe the actions and attributes that make her claim possible. She is close to nature, keeps her body and mind active, and is kind and helpful to others. Each spread has one or two simple statements which are directly supported by the illustrations. The textured, mixed-media artwork is the highlight of this book, lending an air of quiet strength to the story. While the calm, confident, and kind heroine is one to be admired, the warrior aspect referenced in the title is never developed. Readers see her “train her body for battle” by hanging from a tree and “train her mind for battle, too” by reading quietly in her school library. What it is she is preparing for is never revealed. Young readers won’t be bothered by this. They will be too busy enjoying the colorful yet calming illustrations and imagining what they can do to be an everyday hero. VERDICT A good choice for libraries seeking simple, open-ended empowerment stories for their picture book collections.–Kimberly Tolson, Millis Public Library, MA

Baguley, Elizabeth. Just Like Brothers. illus. by Aurélie Blanz. 32p. Barefoot Bks. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781782853459.

PreS-Gr 2 –In the woods, a brown-eyed boy and the gray-furred wolf cub have been warned by their mothers to avoid one another at all costs—the wolf will be “long-snout and sharp-tooth…rough-fur and claw-paw” and humans are “heavy-foot and spy-eye…rough-hand and jab-stick.” Neither of the young ones listens to his mother and are off to chase rabbits when they meet. Both are lost and frightened, but after tentative greetings, they become fast friends. The two mothers, now looking for their children and quite frightened themselves, learn from the boy and the cub that “we must learn to trust each other. For these two are just like brothers, lost and found.” Baguley’s made-up language sets the story in a time and place away from the here and now. Blanz’s deep lush acrylic paintings fill the page with rich detail and evocative color. VERDICT Most obviously a story about tolerance and friendship, this title would pair well with descriptive language lessons. A lovely addition to larger collections.–Lisa Lehmuller, Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School, Providence

Chapman, Jane. With Your Paw In Mine. illus. by Jane Chapman. 32p. Tiger Tales. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781680100846.

PreS-Gr 2 –Miki is a baby otter who loves snuggling on her mama’s soft tummy. One day, when she is left drifting in the seaweed while her mom goes hunting, Miki meets Amak, and they become friends. Miki and Amak have many fun adventures together, but soon a storm strikes, and the otters must band together in order to survive. This is a sweet book that resonates with the power of friendship and having loved ones around you. The soft lines and cool palette of the illustrations focus mainly on the otters and give the impression they are small creatures in a vast ocean. This story would work for a read-aloud but would be best enjoyed one-on-one. However, it could also be a great introduction to a unit on otters since it discusses habits without much elaboration. Pairing this book with a nonfiction title would make for a great inquiry lesson. VERDICT An appealing read-aloud for those who love otters. A solid addition to most collections.–V. Lynn Christiansen, Wiley International Studies Magnet Elementary School, Raleigh, NC

Collins, Ross. This Zoo Is Not for You. 32p. Candlewick. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781536200157.

PreS-Gr 2 –This rhyming picture book is about a platypus who enters the zoo and is not treated very kindly by the animals because he doesn’t “fit in.” They all assume that he is interested in joining their crew and repeatedly say, “this zoo is not for you!” The animals regret being unkind to the visiting platypus and change their tune when they realize his was there to invite them all to a party on his platybus! The animals sincerely admit their mistake and apologize for their behavior. The platypus graciously accepts their apology and remarks that “This platybus is for ALL of us!” The large print text appears on the verso, and the bright, expressive animals fill the entire right side of each spread. VERDICT A great read-aloud for younger students about kindness and how admitting mistakes and making apologies can end on a positive note.–Christina Pesiri, Michael F. Stokes Elementary School Library, Island Trees-Levittown NY

Dillard, J.C. Trailer Park/Parque de remolques. tr. from Spanish by Madelin Arroyo Romero. illus. by Anna Usacheva. 44p. Hard Ball Pr. Dec. 2017. pap. $12.50. ISBN 9780999135839.

Gr 1-2 –Robert’s father lost his job, and the family has lost their house. Much to Robert’s dismay, they move to a trailer park. He refuses to play with his new neighbor, Jessie, because, as he tells her, he wants to play with his real friends in his real house. He shows her a map of his house. The next morning, Jessie tapes another map on Robert’s door. He follows the map and finds Jessie on a tire swing. She says she’s in a jungle and invites Robert to be an explorer with her. He refuses again. Every morning, Jessie tapes a new map on Robert’s door and slowly, he gets into the spirit of the game, meets his new neighbors, and begins to feel at home. Five discussion questions end the book. The watercolor paintings, with smudges and drips, create a slightly abstract, soft rendering of the characters and the trailer park, and the maps have curious shapes. In English, the names appear as Robert, Jessie, Ahmed, Amelia, Mrs. Garcia, Miss Kim, and show the diversity of the trailer park inhabitants. In the Spanish translation, the characters’ names are changed to more “ethnically Latinx”—Humberto for Robert, Sofia for Jessie, Ahmed is Valeria, and Miss Kim is la Señorita Maria. Something is truly lost in translation. VERDICT A strictly additional purchase.–Janet Gross, Cushing Academy, Ashburnham, MA

Goetz, Steve. Old MacDonald Had a Boat. illus. by Eda Kaban. 44p. Chronicle. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452165059.

PreS-Gr 1 –In this sequel to Old MacDonald Had a Truck, Goetz and Kaban return to the farm for another twist on the classic song. While the first book highlighted various forms of transportation, this one focuses more on the tools used throughout the farm, such as a saw, a hammer, and a sander. In the end, Old MacDonald breaks out a trailer and the titular boat to have a rollicking good time on a nearby lake. Although not as creative as the original outing, this one is still a humorous and playful take on the tune. The eye-catching illustrations, which were rendered in pencil and gouache and then composited digitally, are featured on expansive spreads, making this book appropriate for group-sharing during storytime. The text is bouncy like the original rhyme it’s based on, and the bold typeset matches the zippy tone. There’s plenty of fun to be found here, and young readers will enthusiastically sing (and laugh) along. VERDICT As a good-humored adaptation of “Old MacDonald,” this title is a solid choice for those looking for a funny, farm-themed selection.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

Guridi. Once Upon a Time. tr. from Spanish by Alayne Pullen. 32p. Tate. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781849765138.

PreS-Gr 2 –With a deceptively simplistic line, Guridi begins the tale of Bard and other storytellers who use words to carry others “away to extraordinary places.” Accompanied by a stunning array of blues on white and ecru, this single black line represents the words Bard uses to craft stories and continues across several pages, looping around Bard and other people. One day, though, Bard ceases to speak, and the silence is devastating to the villagers. Without his stories, they become melancholy, and it is here that Guridi’s color palette reinforces a major motif. Without stories and those who know how to tell them like Bard, the world is a blue place. Although the villagers try to cheer Bard into telling stories again by dressing up as storybook characters or giving him new words, their tactics are unsuccessful. Something is missing within the silent Bard. It seems all is lost until a musician named Ballad begins to play sweetly on his cello. The black line that disappeared when Bard stopped speaking swirls outward again from Ballad’s cello and enters Bard’s ears. Upon hearing the music, Bard speaks, and the line continues as a new story begins. This is an incredible and beautiful homage to storytelling as a living art. VERDICT This quiet and enchanting tale is a reminder about the beauty inherent within shared stories and is highly recommended for picture book collections.–Rachel Zuffa, Racine Public Library, WI

Harris, Isabel. The Moon Man. illus. by Ada Grey. 32p. Tiger Tales. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781680100785.

PreS-Gr 1 –This charming bedtime story was written by a nine-year-old girl from London and revolves around mistaken assumptions. When a farmer erects a scarecrow in a wheat field, the animals who live nearby wonder about the man of straw. The daytime animals, led by wise old Rabbit, correctly determine that the creature is a “crow scarer.” But when the nocturnal animals, Fox, Owl, and Hedgehog, see the scarecrow at night, they believe he is a man who has arrived from the moon. They determine he must be hungry from his long journey, so they gather food for him, laying fruits and vegetables at his feet. When the daytime animals return, they think the scarecrow has left them food. They eat it, and leave flowers in return. And so it goes, each group of animals not realizing that the other group is involved in the appearance and disappearance of items laid by the scarecrow. When the farmer finally moves the scarecrow one morning, along with the last set of items left by the nocturnal animals, the diurnal animals wave goodbye while the nocturnal animals, who return at night to find an empty field, believe the moon man has blasted back home using their supplies. The creatures are whimsically drawn and suitably childlike, perfectly matching the tone of the story. VERDICT Children will enjoy this imaginative bedtime story and be delighted by the silly conclusions reached by the animals.–Sally James, South Hillsborough Elementary School, CA

Hecht, Tracey. The Slithery Shakedown. illus. by Josie Yee. 64p. (The Nocturnals). Fabled Films. Apr. 2018. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781944020170; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9781944020163.

K-Gr 2 –A pangolin, a red fox, and a sugar glider are together again in their second nighttime adventure in the series. The three friends, who call themselves the Nocturnal Brigade, meet one evening soon after awakening. Bismark tells them he is going to lead his friends on an adventure, but his plans are rudely interrupted when a blue bellied snake threatens to eat the small sugar glider. Short sentences and much repetition throughout assist early readers as they gain a sense of accomplishment on completing this six-chapter book. The action is often reflected in the colorful illustrations, giving visual clues to help readers, such as “Bismark tapped his foot. Bismark put his fists to his hips. Bismark scrunched his tiny pink nose.” The vocabulary words likely to be new to readers are introduced, including squatted, haunches, shimmery, slithered, and summoned. The pictures are placed on a white background and vary in size while the large font also has movement, appearing at the top, middle, or bottom of the pages. VERDICT Beginning readers will enjoy this tale and will cheer on the threesome who defeat a bully by using their words.–Maryann H. Owen, Oak Creek Public Library WI

Katz, Alan. If I Didn’t Have You. illus. by Chris Robertson. 32p. S. & S. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781416978794; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481476409.

PreS-Gr 2 –Even warm and loving families have rules and expectations. A young alligator named Mike and his dad imagine what they could do if they had the freedom to do whatever they wanted to do. They think about sky diving, owning fancy sports cars, staying up all night, and eating candy for dinner. With each fun idea comes the conclusion, “But I’d rather have you.” Robertson’s illustrations capture the characters’ joy and silliness. The simple watercolor cartoons capture the zany fun and depict a father and son who enjoy each other’s company. Even Mom gets in the act when she comes home to a chaotic mess. She exclaims “I’d have a neat, calm, peaceful home...if I didn’t have you!” As the book dedication says, “I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have you.” VERDICT This cute family story reinforces the power of family ties.–Susan Small, Salve Regina University Library, Newport, RI

Kraljic, Helena. Copos de nieve. illus. by Maja Lubi. 32p. Obelisco. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9788491450986.

K-Gr 2 –Translated from Slovenian to Spanish, this is the story of young Eva. Readers follow her on a snowy day as different friends ask her for help. She always complies, wishing that she had the talents her friends have. At the end of the tale, Eva’s friend Violeta hugs her and wishes that she could be as good a friend as Eva is. As a result, Eva has found her special talent. The illustrations of the big, fat snowflakes, each with a unique design and personality, support the theme that everyone is different and everyone is special. The illustrations are lush and fun. The repetition makes the story an easy read-along, yet there’s enough variety in the activities to keep it interesting. VERDICT A great addition to an elementary school library collection.–Janet Gross, Cushing Academy, Ashburnham, MA

Lauricella, Leanne. GOA Kids–Goats of Anarchy: Piney the Goat Nanny. illus. by Jill Howarth. 32p. Walter Foster Jr. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781633223325.

PreS-Gr 2 –Based on a true story, this tale centers around Piney, a little pig who lives on a farm. All the other animals are busy with their jobs and, as Piney watches from the window, he decides he wants a job, too. After several months and a few failed attempts, Piney finds his calling helping to care for baby goats. The soft, textured illustrations portray a peaceful and idyllic rural setting. The inclusion of several goats with physical disabilities is done in a very matter-of-fact way. Several pages of back matter relate the true story of Piney, his rescuer (the author), and his home, Goats of Anarchy Farm. Children will love the inclusion of photographs of Piney and his goat friends. This is the third in a series based on animals living on the farm. VERDICT A winning combination of inspirational and adorable, perfect for one-on-one and small group sharing.–Kimberly Tolson, Millis Public Library, MA

Lee, Mark. My Best Friend Is a Goldfish. illus. by Chris Jevons. 24p. Carolrhoda. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781512426014.

PreS-Gr 1 –After getting into a tiff with a playmate who wants to play pirates when he wants to play astronauts, a young boy decides to find a new pal. Determined that best friends must enjoy the same things, he tries to be besties with various pets, including a dog, a cat, a hamster, and a goldfish, but quickly learns that he does not enjoy doing all the things they do. After his failed attempts at friendship with his pets, the boy discovers that best friends do not have to be exactly like. In the end, he makes up with his human playmate, and the two start up a game of tag together. Never didactic, this title conveys a subtle lesson about friendship. Young readers will find humor in the boy’s attempt to turn his pets into his best friends and also relate to his struggle to learn to compromise with his friend when she wants to play something different than he does. The illustrations, which were created digitally in Adobe Photoshop, feature bold, vivid colors. Much of the story is conveyed through the artwork rather than the text, encouraging young readers to attentively examine the pictures for visual clues. VERDICT Both humorous and sweet, this picture book is a good lesson on friendship and compromise. Best enjoyed one-on-one to fully appreciate the art.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

McCleary, Stacey. I Give You The World. illus. by Carmen Saldaña. 32p. Tiger Tales. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781680100822.

PreS-Gr 1 –A nameless parent celebrates a newborn’s entry into the world by introducing the baby to some precious gifts: the morning light, a spring’s breeze, buzzing bees, and a colorful rainbow. Clouds, soaring eagles, falling leaves, and animals both young and old follow in rhythmic succession as the loving parent summarizes profound devotion with the statement, “I give you the world.” As soothing and heartfelt as a tender lullaby, the poetic words and Saldaña’s gentle, picturesque illustrations impeccably complement each other to create a beautiful picture book best shared between parent and child. Children should pick up on the idea that by searching “high and low,” one of the most priceless gifts is the natural world. This insight will not be lost on readers as young as preschool age, nor older elementary-age youth. VERDICT A poetic picture book that serves equally well as a touching bedtime story or a library read-aloud.–Etta Anton, Yeshiva of Central Queens, NY

Macnamara, Katie. Rosie the Tarantula: A True Adventure in Chicago’s Field Museum. illus. by Peggy Macnamara. 48p. Northwestern University Pr. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780810136571.

K-Gr 3 –A pink-toed tarantula roaming the halls of the world-famous Chicago Field Museum, what better adventure for a curious mind? The Field Museum has been a research facility and destination for visitors since 1893. In the vast halls behind the exhibits, Jim Louderman keeps some live specimens, including the real Rosie. In December of 2011, the tarantula escaped from her habitat in Jim’s office and was not recovered until April of 2012. The author has imagined some of the adventures Rosie might have had and highlights many of the exhibits as seen through her eyes. When Rosie wanders into the bird collection, she sees all the specimens lined up and the eggs that were used to discover the effects of DDT on birds. Rosie continues through the museum looking at minerals, sculptures, and the plant collection. The rhyme incorporated into the prose makes the book a charming read-aloud. Watercolor illustrations by Peggy Macnamara enhance the narrative by giving readers beautiful visuals. VERDICT With detailed background notes, this picture book will be a hit for arachnid fans as well as readers who enjoy a fun adventure behind the scenes at a museum.–Erin Olsen, The Brearley School, NY

Nogués Otero, Alex. Stories in a Seashell. tr. from Spanish. illus. by Silvia Cabestany. 32p. Kane Pr. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781575659688.

PreS-Gr 1 –The fantastical becomes possible in this dreamscape of one young boy’s imagination. When Max finds a conch shell near the seashore, he muses if it’s “true that one could hear the sea inside.” What follows are the stories Max envisions when he listens to the waves and wind rushing between the shell and his ear. In soft, muted pencil and paint illustrations, Max hears and sees a pirate ship and a shipwrecked sailor rescued by a mermaid. Storms rage while puffins fly, gazing down on a lone poet who watches an enormous whale blot out the sun. Cabestany’s magical artwork reinforces the whimsical tone of text throughout. Instead of simply blocking the sun from the poet, the whale bites into it playfully between its teeth as it leaps out from a foamy spray of rosy-hued water. The illustrations expand the fantasy inherent in Max’s visions and play on the creativity within his stories. The sounds in Max’s shell carry him to the depths of the ocean where a submarine captain looks through his periscope to see a boy holding a shell against his ear. The wonder of this story rests in its connection to nature and that exquisite moment when a child discovers the beauty in the world around him. VERDICT A sweet selection for imaginative children who marvel about nature and delight in daydreaming.–Rachel Zuffa, Racine Public Library, WI

Segré, Chiara Valentina. Oscar the Guardian Cat. illus. by Paolo Domeniconi. 32p. Gibbs Smith. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423649342.

K-Gr 2 –In this Italian import, based on a true story, a cat offers comfort and companionship to nursing home residents. Oscar’s first-person narration details his regular routine at Hope House, including checking to make sure everyone is awake in the mornings, surreptitiously snacking on dropped food in the dining hall, and soothing dementia patients by jumping in their laps. When Mr. Olsen gets confused and goes missing during a thunderstorm, Oscar finds him and leads him back to bed. The tortoiseshell and white feline also has the ability to sense when death is near. Oscar curls up beside Mr. Olsen during his final hours, along with an unexplained, shape-shifting character named Mewt. Domeniconi’s softly textured, realistic paintings depict Mewt as a young, blonde girl, like the loved one in the framed photograph on Mr. Olsen’s night stand. The final scenes suggest an afterlife: Oscar tells the elderly man “not to be afraid”, and then “hand in hand, Mewt and Mr. Olsen got up from the bed and flew out the window toward the sunset.” The translated text relays events in a matter-of-fact, slightly detached manner: “A guardian cat is never bored in Hope House.” VERDICT This touching story could be used to start a discussion about death and dying.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Van Genechten, Guido. No hay un fantasma debajo de mi cama. illus. by Guido Van Genechten. 32p. Uranito. Jan. 2018. Tr $11.95. ISBN 9788416773299.

PreS-Gr 1 –A young puffin named Joaquin is certain a ghost is under his bed. He calls for his father to investigate. His father reassures him that ghosts don’t exist, and certainly not under the bed. Joaquin tries to go back to sleep, but now he hears a ghost behind the curtains. Papa investigates again and again tells Joaquin that ghosts don’t exist. This scenario is repeated several times, as the ghost pops up in different parts of Joaquin’s bedroom. Each time, Papa comes to the rescue. In the end, Joaquin accepts that there is no ghost, but not for Papa’s reasons. Reminiscent of David Ezra Stein’s Interrupting Chicken, this tale’s built-in repetition and predictability make for a bedtime story a young child will want to hear over and over again. The soft greys and pastels of the fluid drawings add to the peaceful and whimsical environment of Joaquin’s bedroom. The changes in position and attitudes of the stuffed animals make up a secondary narrative, encouraging young readers to use their imaginations. VERDICT A fun choice for Spanish-language storytime and bedtime reading.–Janet Gross, Cushing Academy, Ashburnham, MA

Williams, Sam. 10 Blue Butterflies: A Counting Book. illus. by Sam Williams. 32p. Boxer Bks. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781910716595.

PreS –Williams combines counting with a seek-and-find elements in his newest picture book. Each spread features a large outlined drawing of an animal, using a thick, black line. Within the outline are dozens of smaller, brightly colored illustrations of the same animal with the instructions to find a specific number of a certain color. For example, for the number two, children are asked to find the two orange fish hidden within the larger outlined fish. As a bonus, the final animal depicted is a chameleon, and the text asks how many chameleons are hidden throughout, encouraging readers to go through the book again to find them all. The last two pages provide a counting activity in a more traditional format, reinforcing the concept by laying out more clearly each number with smaller illustrations of the appropriate number of animals. The illustrations, made with charcoal and digital color, are bright and bold, making for a visually attractive and appealing book. The background color for each page matches the colored animal readers are looking for, also helping to subtly teach color concepts. Children will enjoy pointing out the different hued animals on each page, practicing counting skills while also having fun learning. VERDICT A unique blend of counting and seek-and-find, this picture book is a strong recommended purchase.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

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