New Picture Books from Dav Pilkey, Ellie Sandall, & More | March 2018 Xpress Reviews

A "Scaredy Kat" finds some courage; a young dragon dancer celebrates the Lunar New Year; and a black family tackles the tough topic of police brutality with their children in this month's Xpress.

Capozzi, Suzy. I Am Brave. illus. by Eren Unten. 32p. (Positive Power). Rodale. Feb. 2018. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781623369569.

PreS-Gr 2 –A girl finds her courage and tries lots of new things on vacation in this latest offering in the series. Kat is nervous about many things (her first airplane ride, new foods, hiking to a cave, riding a horse), and her brother calls her “Scaredy Kat.” She decides to be brave, however, and tries each new thing, finding that she enjoys them. Her last challenge, volunteering to assist a magician in a disappearing act, earns her a new nickname, “Kat the Brave.” This is a title for young readers ready for short plots; each couple of pages reads like a new chapter in the adventure. Sentences are short, and while the illustrations add only a few context clues to the text, they are cute and will appeal to the audience. VERDICT Purchase where early readers on character traits are needed or the series is popular.–Mary Kuehner, Arapahoe Library District, CO

Chng, Joyce. Dragon Dancer. illus. by Jérémy Pailler. 32p. Lantana. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781911373261.

K-Gr 2 –In the eyes of a young dragon dancer named Yao, metaphor and symbolism become real when he wakes the dragon Shen Long. Together they dance through the shopping mall as part of a Lunar New Year celebration. As they do their dance, they find and battle the “dark pools of stale luck, like sticky black goo,” replacing it with good luck made of sunlight and the sounds of the coming spring. Pailler’s intricate watercolor illustrations truly stand out. They gorgeously complement and elevate the text as Yao and the dragon slither and dance across page spreads and make striking use of white space. Children not yet familiar with the dragon dance and the role it plays in Lunar New Year celebrations may need more explanation, for this title is sure to spark interest and further questions. VERDICT A visually lush and stunning selection that is textually atmospheric and evocative. A fresh take on one of the most iconic symbols of Lunar New Year.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA

Darvick, Debra B. We Are Jewish Faces. 32p. photos. Apples & Honey Pr. Feb. 2018. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781681155364.

PreS-Gr 1 –This photo-collage book celebrates the diversity of the Jewish community, showcasing the many types of faces of which it is comprised. The minimal text is primarily a laundry list of types of people, celebrations, and elements of Jewish life. There are “Bubbe Faces, Zayde faces…faces of all races and places.” Many of the images are framed with colorful graphics, and some haves stars, motion lines, hearts, flowers, and musical notes drawn on the photos. The faces showcased are indeed diverse, including children who appear to be Asian, African American, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern. There is still a preponderance of white youth and brown hair. However, the sense of diversity of both looks and life experiences is captured fairly convincingly. The author does an effective job of conveying the variety of aspects that make up a Jewish life, from the ordinary, “noshing” (snacking) and “reading” to the uniquely Jewish—“Pesach, Purim, Sukkah,” “Bar mitzvah,”—to the universal: “sorrow,” “graduation,” “missed and kissed.” VERDICT This book has the feel of a family photo album created on an online platform, and as such is somewhat precious. Jewish schools and libraries will probably find this a useful addition, as will communities with large Jewish populations.–Amy Lilien-Harper, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT

redstarGragg, Sanya Whittaker. Momma, Did You Hear the News? illus. by Kim Holt. 32p. Amazon/CreateSpace. Apr. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781542332538.

Gr 1-5 –In an empathetic picture book portraying “The Talk” in many African American families, two young boys, fearful after hearing news about black boys their age being killed by police, come to their parents for reassurance. The loving, concerned parents initiate a conversation about staying safe when interacting with police. The dialogue includes a mnemonic device for the children to memorize (“A to the L to the I-V-E/Come home ALIVE/That is the key!”). Much of the text guides readers through the rhyme: “ALWAYS USE YOUR MANNERS,” “LISTEN AND COMPLY,” “IN CONTROL of your emotions,” “VISIBLE HANDS ALWAYS,” and “EXPLAIN everything as you do it.” Fear, anger, sadness, and tenderness show strongly in the characters’ faces and body language. Both parents touch and embrace their sons throughout the exchange, demonstrating closeness and protection that may comfort young children who are faced with this reality. The parents express empathy for police officers (“They’re Moms and Daddies too. They want to get home safe at night”) before returning focus to the children (“We love you both so much, our sons”). This warm, compassionate book will be invaluable for a parent approaching The Talk (the mother, at first, doesn’t “know what to say,” which may resonate with readers who feel similarly), and could serve as a conversation starter even for families whose advice differs from what’s here. VERDICT Essential both for its counsel and its representation of a family confronting police brutality with young children. Highly recommended.–Amy Martin, Oakland Public Library

Merritt, Susanne. Grace and Katie. illus. by Liz Anelli. 32p. Exisle. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781925335545.

K-Gr 2 –Grace and Katie both love drawing, and they have unique styles for creating their own personal work of art. Grace favors an organized style using straight lines, angles, and squares, while Katie prefers a more unconventional approach with patterns, swirls, and squiggles. In an effort to create an accurate map of their home, Grace chooses black pens to draw details like the cat’s bed in the living room, the laundry, and the cupboards. Katie, on the other hand, implements multiple colors to draw the vivid trees and flowers found in the park outside their home. Anelli’s linear black-and-white depiction of Grace’s house map is impeccably childlike in that it features lopsided chairs around the kitchen table and a misspelling of a word (“liveing” for the “living room”). This aptly contrasts with her samples of Katie’s bright, more haphazard portrayal of the people, animals, and flowers outside in the garden. When both girls fill in the gaps left out of each other’s pictures, they discover that the best result of all is the one created together. This jewel of a picture book successfully celebrates the value of expressing individual talents while promoting the merits of collaborative effort. Art teachers should relish introducing this story at the beginning of the school year before students set pencil or crayon to paper, while early childhood teachers should find it an ideal use to encourage the concept of individual expression alongside healthy teamwork. VERDICT A memorable picture book collaboration that emphasizes the fundamental idea that education is all about promoting unique talents while sharing and respecting those talents found in others.–Etta Anton, Yeshiva of Central Queens, NY

Pilkey, Dav. Perrazo y Perrito se equivocan/Big Dog and Little Dog Making a Mistake. illus. by Dav Pilkey. 24p. (Green Light Readers). HMH. Nov. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781328702623; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781328702630.

PreS-Gr 1 –Big Dog and Little Dog are off on another adventure. This time they run into a new furry friend. Could it be a sweet kitty to play with? No! It’s a smelly skunk. Run, Big Dog. Run, Little Dog. But, it’s too late; their new “friend” has left them with a peculiar scent. Pilkey’s simplistic drawings and short sentences are perfect for emerging readers as well as English language learners. Several pages of activities follow the story, along with dog facts. Pair with Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s “Dog and Bear” series or with Cari Meister’s “Tiny” books. VERDICT Add this kid-friendly beginning reader to your Spanish-language collection.–Martha Rico, El Paso ISD, TX

Polak, Monique. Passover Family. 24p. photos. Orca. Feb. 2018. Board $9.95. ISBN 9781459818521.

PreS –Adorable, full-color photographs of smiling, happy babies and young children make this an attractive board book at first glance. However, neither the photographs nor the vague text provide any information about the rituals and customs of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Broad statements like “Grandma has spring flowers” and “Your cousins bounce you up and down,” coupled with generic stock photography, are not specifically related to the holiday. Only two photographs are specific to Passover. One shows children seated around a table with the traditional foods like matzah and eggs plus the ritual seder plate. Yet the text (“Look at all the food we made. Open wide for something yummy.”) fails to explain or even identify any of these symbols. Another photograph features a child holding the afikomen, the hidden piece of matzah that the children search for after the meal, but again it is not identified or explained in the text. While some aspects of the holiday are further elaborated on in the appended author’s note, there is very little connection to the book’s text or pictures. My First Passover Board Book and What Do You See on Pesach? by Bracha Goetz are far superior as photographic board books, and What I Like About Passover by Varda Livney, Let’s Have a Seder by Madeline Wikler, and My First Passover by Tomie dePaola are all more successful at introducing the holiday in a board book format.–Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL

Sandall, Ellie. Everybunny Count! illus. by Ellie Sandall. 32p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534400146.

PreS –Another great installment in the “Everybunny” series. This time, a game of hide-and-seek allows the bunnies to discover and count objects in nature. As they search for their friend Fox, they count two birds, four ladybugs, six frogs, and more. The biggest excitement of all is when they find Fox and discover 10 wonderful surprises! A fun and vibrant counting book, Everybunny Count! is perfect for the preschool set. Lively, happy, colorful, and full of creatures, there is plenty to love about this book. The large font and rhyming text make it easy for little eyes to follow along, and with no more than two lines per page, the story is simple but deliberate in its delivery. Young listeners will enjoy counting aloud to 10 as they follow the playful story line. The illustrations are fun and whimsical, showing the animals enjoying a splendid day in the great outdoors. The details are delightful, right down to the pretty, little patterns in each of the bunny’s ears. VERDICT An engaging concept book that doubles as a storytime selection, perfect for small group sharing.–Amy Shepherd, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middleton, DE

Takeuchi, Chihiro. Can You Find My Robot’s Arm? illus. by Chihiro Takeuchi. 40p. Tundra. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101919033.

K-Gr 2 –“One morning, my robot woke up to discover he had lost his arm.” With that, two robots set off across the world in search of the missing appendage. Every page is a new location for the two to scout, with the smaller robot offering suggestions of items to replace his arm. “No, a broom won’t make a good arm. Neither will a pencil. Neither will scissors. And an umbrella certainly won’t do.” What’s instantly recognizable is the format, every item or character is hand cut from black paper and placed on a white background, giving a sleek silhouetted look. The simplicity of the concept is matched only by the vivid detail of each scene. While searching for the arm in an aquarium, a vast array of fish with visible fins, scales, and bones scurry away from a leviathan propelled by cogs, bellows, and pipes; our two heroes watching the scene in a corner, the smaller one offering a fish bone as a replacement arm. There’s so much detail to pore over and explore, yet the simplicity of the designs and the lack of colors keep the scenes from becoming too busy. VERDICT A monochrome masterpiece, and a triumph in storytelling, perfect for one-on-one sharing.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

Vargas, Paulina. Mila la sirena. illus. by Elsa Sánchez. 52p. Uranito. May 2017. Tr $9.95. ISBN 9786077480655.

PreS-Gr 1 –The luminous Mila, a shy little mermaid, shines bright in this Spanish-language picture book. Like the other mermaids her age, Mila likes to dance, sing, and play. But, sometimes Mila feels blue. She becomes sad and shy and does not like it when she draws attention. Sánchez’s minimal approach deftly uses touches of color on an otherwise black-and-white design to express Mila’s moods, using tiny pink circles on her cheeks to convey joy and blue circles to communicate the sadness she sometimes feels. One day, Mila helps free a bright yellow starfish stuck in a tangle of deep ocean reefs. Upon touching the starfish, Mila begins to radiate brilliant colors in fuchsia, turquoise, yellow. Drawing attention makes Mila self-conscious, and she becomes isolated from all her fish friends. Soon she’s all alone, and her radiant colors begin to fade away. She seeks starfish to ask for more colors but comes to find that her radiant colors are all her own—all that’s needed is a dash of confidence and faith in her family’s love for her. Pretty soon, Mila is lighting up the deep ocean blues once again. Illustrations that draw the eye help make the narrative appealing to children, who may benefit from a book intended to help parents talk to children about confidence. Back matter offers parents advice on helping children cope with anxiety. VERDICT A good book for public libraries with family shelves dealing with social and personal issues.–Lettycia Terrones, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Young, Judy. Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon. illus. by Jordi Solano. 32p. Sleeping Bear. Dec. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781585369775.

K-Gr 2 –Hu Wan and his grandfather farm outside the Forbidden City. In addition to food, they grow gourds to carve into ladles and bowls to be sold. Every year, grandfather shapes one gourd as it grows and then carves it into a cricket cage. This year, it is Hu Wan’s turn. After learning that the new emperor grieves his recently deceased father, Hu Wan gives him his cage, carved to look like a sleeping dragon, with a cricket inside. The boy emperor takes comfort in the cricket’s song and orders many carved gourds from Hu Wan and his grandfather. Inspired by a museum exhibit of cricket cages, Young attempts to ground her original story in a specific time and place—namely in 1572 Beijing—with mixed success. The ending, while surprisingly abrupt, contains a culturally accurate sense of filial piety. Indeed, 1572 saw the Wanli emperor take the throne at the age of nine. Beijing was, at that time, the largest city in the world, but the text has Hu Wan marketing in a village, and the illustrations portray a bucolic, rural landscape. VERDICT A well-intentioned story of kindness and simple pleasures that doesn’t quite hit the mark.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA

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