Lovely—a perfect segue into discussions about loneliness, empathy, refugees, and more.

ME + TREE

A tree stump on an urban playground and a girl new to the neighborhood forge a bond with their life stories.

This is one of those rare picture books that demands equal attention to lyrical text and outstanding art (always in double-page spreads) to work its magic. Before the text begins, readers are treated to a rainbow of tree rings across the pages. The next spread’s collage art shows a run-down urban setting, including chain-link fencing, tired playground equipment, tall brick buildings (painted with cheery graffiti that brighten the scene)—and a thick stump, introduced by a single line of text. The page turn reveals an entirely different mood: An enormous apple tree spreads across the pages, full of fruit, leaves, and active people. The text explains that this was the stump’s former life. The following pages lead readers from the tree’s demise to the unnoticed girl on the playground who spies the stump, whispers to it, and traces its rings. With her fingertip, she draws her own story upon the stump, from idyllic childhood to scenes of the girl and other people (many are brown-skinned; some women are in headscarves) leaving their homes and then making a dangerous sea voyage. Short but powerful phrases with extensive, carefully contextualized vocabulary reveal the girl’s emotions as she draws. The final double-page spread’s art relieves the sweet melancholia of the penultimate one.

Lovely—a perfect segue into discussions about loneliness, empathy, refugees, and more. (Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-56846-346-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Creative Editions/Creative Company

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet!

WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE

From the Ryan Hart series , Vol. 1

Ryan Hart is navigating the fourth grade and all its challenges with determination.

Her mom named her Ryan because it means “king,” and she wanted Ryan to feel powerful every time she heard her name; Ryan knows it means she is a leader. So when changes occur or disaster strikes, budding chef Ryan does her best to find the positive and “make sunshine.” When her dad is laid off from the post office, the family must make adjustments that include moving into a smaller house, selling their car, and changing how they shop for groceries. But Ryan gets to stay at Vernon Elementary, and her mom still finds a way to get her the ingredients she needs to practice new recipes. Her older brother, Ray, can be bossy, but he finds little ways to support her, especially when she is down—as does the whole family. Each episodic chapter confronts Ryan with a situation; intermittently funny, frustrating, and touching, they should be familiar and accessible to readers, as when Ryan fumbles her Easter speech despite careful practice. Ryan, her family, and friends are Black, and Watson continues to bring visibility to both Portland, Oregon, generally and its Black community specifically, making another wonderful contribution that allows Black readers to see themselves and all readers to find a character they can love.

Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet! (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0056-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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An astonishing work of art and a crucial addition to every bookshelf.

WHEN WE SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER

The author of The Patchwork Bike (illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd, 2016) writes to children about the meaning of the phrase Black Lives Matter.

Pastel illustrations, also by Clarke, on dark, textured paper are paired with oversized, contrasting text addressed to “Little one.” In the visuals, a family that begins as a couple expecting a baby grows into a family with a child and then becomes part of a community in protest, marching for Black lives, before a final page shows a jubilant Black boy in a cap and gown. The adult narrator explains that “when we say Black Lives Matter, / we’re saying Black people are wonderful-strong.” Other meanings of the rallying cry, when it is called out, screamed, sung, laughed, and known, include a demand for respect, a defiant joy, a channeling of ancestors, an acknowledgment of trouble, and knowing one’s worth. Clarke’s text is poignant and mesmerizing, with design elements that raise the text to an artistic level, shaping it around the art and highlighting active and emotional words in color: enough, dancing, radiant, precious. The art is truly outstanding, gripping the heart from the very first spread and not letting go. With colored shapes and stained-glass motifs, these Black figures feel real and weighty. Within this deep dive are tragedy, fear, anger, and mourning alongside hope, comfort, strength, and triumph. This slim book contains a necessary and healing exploration of our current moment that will remain relevant for decades to come.

An astonishing work of art and a crucial addition to every bookshelf. (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2238-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A fitting farewell, still funny, acute, and positive in its view of human nature even in its 37th episode.

HORRIBLE HARRY SAYS GOODBYE

From the Horrible Harry series , Vol. 37

A long-running series reaches its closing chapters.

Having, as Kline notes in her warm valedictory acknowledgements, taken 30 years to get through second and third grade, Harry Spooger is overdue to move on—but not just into fourth grade, it turns out, as his family is moving to another town as soon as the school year ends. The news leaves his best friend, narrator “Dougo,” devastated…particularly as Harry doesn’t seem all that fussed about it. With series fans in mind, the author takes Harry through a sort of last-day-of-school farewell tour. From his desk he pulls a burned hot dog and other items that featured in past episodes, says goodbye to Song Lee and other classmates, and even (for the first time ever) leads Doug and readers into his house and memento-strewn room for further reminiscing. Of course, Harry isn’t as blasé about the move as he pretends, and eyes aren’t exactly dry when he departs. But hardly is he out of sight before Doug is meeting Mohammad, a new neighbor from Syria who (along with further diversifying a cast that began as mostly white but has become increasingly multiethnic over the years) will also be starting fourth grade at summer’s end, and planning a written account of his “horrible” buddy’s exploits. Finished illustrations not seen.

A fitting farewell, still funny, acute, and positive in its view of human nature even in its 37th episode. (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47963-1

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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