Chirri & Chirra: In the Night by Kaya Doi

Chirri & Chirra: In the Night by Kaya Doi. Translated by David Boyd. Enchanted Lion Books, 2022. 9781592703845

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

Genre:  Fantasy

What did you like about the book? Chirri and Chirra are back for their eighth adventure. The adorable bicycle-riding twin girls hear the sound of music coming from the forest and set off on their identical bikes to investigate. First they find a drink stall staffed by black cats, and they drink so much full moon soda that they grow whiskers and tails and can see in the dark, like cats! The cats join the girls as they cycle deep into the forest to find the Full Moon Festival. They find food and toys that they’ve never seen before, as well as many little cats of all colors playing in a band. Finally, there are “flowerworks” around a perfectly round lake, and then the little girls bike home, back to their cozy little cottage.

This is a gentle magical adventure with two intrepid explorers who love to try new things. The lovely soft colored pastel art shows a happy world with no adults and lots of friendly cats. The smaller size makes the story that much more cozy, with the landscape orientation offering lovely panoramic views of the trip. It’s hard not to smile while reading this sweet story.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fans of the previous adventures of Chirri and Chirra will be thrilled with this new offering.

Who should buy this book? Day care centers and public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Near the top

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: October 3, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Fantasy, Festivals, Kaya Doi, Twins | Tagged | Leave a comment

Teddy, Let’s Go! by Michelle Nott, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi

Teddy, Let’s Go! by Michelle Nott, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi. Enchanted Lion Books, 2022. 9781592703685

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book? This lovely story with enchanting art is about a beloved stuffed animal, Teddy, and his family. The wordless first few pages show Grandma making a stuffed bear, with her old Singer sewing machine and a needle and thread. When Grandma finishes the bear, she holds him close and whispers in his ear. The bear is animated with love, and the first-person narration begins. What a sweet beginning!

Grandma gives Teddy to her new grandchild, who has just been born. Teddy describes life with the baby through sights and sounds and experiences – especially baths together. After the baby’s first birthday, Teddy names the girl “My,” for her habit of naming all of her things as hers. My loves Teddy, but when a new baby comes to the family, she gives Teddy another bath and presents him to her new baby brother.

The art gives the story almost a fairy tale feel, the rubbed pastel textures making the child and even Teddy look ethereal. Bright patches of color accentuate important images, showing what is beloved to Teddy. The author plays with the structure of sentences related to the art, and uses the pause between pages to build suspense or humor. The poetic language, gorgeous pencil and pastel art, and the sweet love between the child and the stuffed animal makes this a precious story.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book? For ages 3-7, especially those who have a special stuffie or a new sibling on the way.

Who should buy this book? Day care centers and public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: October 3, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Grandparents, Michelle Nott, Nahid Kazemi, Stuffed Animals | Tagged | Leave a comment

Merriam-Webster’s Ready-for-School Words: 1,000 Words for Big Kids by Hannah Campbell, illustrated by Sara Rhys

Merriam-Webster’s Ready-for-School Words: 1,000 Words for Big Kids by Hannah Campbell, illustrated by Sara Rhys. Merriam-Webster Kids, 2022. 9780877791249

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4,5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book? I didn’t think a vocabulary picture book could measure up to those by Richard Scarry, but this one comes close. The book is populated by members of seven families with diverse ethnic, racial, and religious identities, as well as those with various parent/care-giver types (grandmother, single mom, mixed race parents and same sex parents) that are introduced through family portraits and descriptions at the beginning. The chapters that follow are each on a different theme – “Welcome to Class”, “A Trip to the Doctor”, “By the Seaside,” for example. Each chapter shows various members of the seven families interacting and doing many activities, with vocabulary labeling clothing, food, and whatever else is in the double page spread.

Illustrations have the feel of pencil drawings, and are warm and descriptive with just the right level of detail. There are opportunities to search and find, as well: “Ms. Khan uses a shopping list to remember what she needs to buy. Can you help her find the bananas?” Kids can point out the bananas, and identify lots of other fruits too. Although there isn’t a story here, or the drollness of Scarry’s Busytown, it’s a charming book for families who like quiet books with lots of interactive possibilities. I can also imagine the book to be quite useful for families who are learning English. A table of contents and exhaustive index make the book user-friendly.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book? Offer this to families who like Richard Scarry books. Appropriate for ages 3 and up.

Who should buy this book? Elementary school and public libraries, and useful as an ESL tool as well.

Where would you shelve it ? 423 or picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? It’s worth having on your radar.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: October 3, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Hannah Campbell, Sara Rhys, Vocabulary | Tagged | Leave a comment

Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango

            Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez, Random House, 2022. 9780593563977 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? Twelve-year-old Iveliz tells her story through journal entries.  Though born in the U.S., she is Puerto Rican.  She has one really good friend, Amir (who is from Afghanistan), but her temper gets the better of her when she is bullied, landing her in detention.  When her grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s, comes from Puerto Rico to live with her family, Iveliz is thrilled.  She loves her grandmother but discovers that her grandmother’s illness changes their relationship.  Her father is her ally, her rock but she struggles with her mother. She goes to therapy to deal with her grief and is on medication but it is not until more than half-way through the story that the reader learns why. The infrequent ink illustrations are most welcome!

Anything you did not like about the book? I took Spanish in high school so I was able to discern some of the constant Spanish used but definitely not all.  I would have preferred translations on the page or would suggest one have a Spanish dictionary nearby when reading.

To whom would you recommend this book? Middle-schoolers who are struggling to fit in for one reason or another will understand the temper and grief that are engulfing Iveliz.

Who should buy this book? Public and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it? Middle school, J or YA

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Contributor, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review:  October 2, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, Alzheimer's, Andrea Beatriz Arango, Death, Grief, Middle grade novel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Just Like Jesse Owens by Andrew Young & Paula Young Shelton,  illustrated by Gordon C. James

Just Like Jesse Owens by Andrew Young & Paula Young Shelton,  illustrated by Gordon C. James. Scholastic, 2022. 9780545554657

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: ARC (publication date 8/2/22)

Genre: Memoir

What did you like about the book?  Andrew Young (politician, diplomat, activist) recounts stories of his childhood in New Orleans and the inspiration he drew from Jesse Owens’s participation in the 1936 Olympics. Lengthy first person reminiscences draw the reader into Andrew’s neighborhood, where Black and White boys played together, with numerous scuffles and mischief. His father was a dentist and well-respected within their segregated community, and Andrew learned to treat all people with dignity and respect. One night while his parents were out, the young boy saw a group of Nazi sympathisers walk down his street, yelling “Heil Hitler”. Confused by this, and also by reports from visiting Jewish salesmen, young Andrew went to his dad with questions. His father explains that racism is a “sickness. We’ve got to help people like that..by being the best person you can be…This will show people that it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. It’s what you do that counts.” This discussion is memorably juxtaposed with a trip to a segregated movie theater the next week, where Andrew and his father thrill to footage of Jesse Owen dominating in Berlin. Although many of us are familiar with Owens’s triumphs and the stunning impact of his actions around the world, I thought it was fascinating to see it from Andrew Young’s perspective. The book concludes with author and illustrator notes, photos of Young as a boy and with his own daughters, and a brief description of Owens’s achievements, along with a photo of him in Berlin.

Gordon James’s pastel drawings masterfully capture the complex elements of the story with images that are sophisticated and almost impressionistic. He sacrifices detail for mood; the inside of Daddy’s dental practice shows young and old patients waiting patiently, family portraits and a diploma decorating the walls. The place looks homey and warm, but there’s no closeups of tools or faces. We never see the Nazi marchers, instead just the brown faces of Andrew and his brother peeping over the window sill, wide-eyed and cautious. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I was surprised that Shelton didn’t include much biographical information about her famous father (the book is described as “told to” Shelton by Young), although she does describe hearing the story as a child. A timeline of Young and Owens’s life would have been helpful, and I think most readers would benefit from information about Young’s achievements. The cover art, though appealing (it shows Owens racing with a crowd of boys running alongside him) is misleading, as the youthful Andrew only imagines Jesse’s feats.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Older elementary or even middle school students studying WWII, racism, Owens, or Young will appreciate this authentic and touching story. The text is lengthy, so I can definitely see it as a valuable read-aloud for this age group. Also, a good mentor text for memoir writing.

Who should buy this book? Elementary school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Biography

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: October 2, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, African Americans, Andrew Young, Gordon C. James, Illustrator, Memoir, Paula Young Shelton, Racism, Sports | Tagged | Leave a comment

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, Candlewick Press, c2012, 2022 (first board book edition). 9781536228052 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Board book

What did you like about the book? A little fish has stolen a hat from a very big whale while it was asleep.  The fish does not think the whale will notice and the fish likes the hat! Meanwhile we watch the whale wake up, following its facial expressions as it goes in search of its hat.  The reader does not really know what is happening but the last page shows the big whale with the tiny hat on its head.

The wording is sparse as are the illustrations, created digitally.  Imagination and inuendo reign supreme here.

Anything you did not like about the book? No.

To whom would you recommend this book? This book stands independent of its precursor, I Want My Hat Back. But the audience will more than welcome this story with a similar theme.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Board books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Contributor, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review: September 30, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Board book, Jon Klassen | Tagged | Leave a comment

Nothing is Little by Carmella Van Vleet

Nothing is Little by Carmella Van Vleet, Holiday House, 2022. 9780823450114 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4.5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

What did you like about the book? At age 12, Felis is short, short enough to be considered much younger than he really is. He has the condition known as Growth Hormone Deficiency.  It has never bothered him, he likes his uniqueness, celebrating it with t-shirts that emphasize it rather than detract from it.  But his mother has taken him to a specialist who prescribes injections that will stimulate growth. Now in sixth grade, he joins an after-school club that explores Forensic analysis. It is fascinating.  He is part of a team composed of four persons who solve mysteries.  But Felix, who lives with his pregnant Mom and his stepfather Paul, as of two years ago, constantly wonders about his biological father whom his mom will not discuss. Felix is determined to locate his biological father no matter what it takes.  Felix is a fully-developed, relatable character with whom it is easy to relate.  Supporting characters like his Mom, stepfather and friends are also fully-fleshed out.

All characters present as white.

Anything you did not like about the book? No.

To whom would you recommend this book? Readers looking for a more complex entry in their field of reading will be drawn to Felix as he endeavors to find out just who he is.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it? J Fiction

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Definitely worth a read so near the top.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Contributor, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review:  September 30, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Starred Review, Carmella Van Vleet, Contemporary | Tagged | Leave a comment

If This Bird Had Pockets by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater,  illustrated by Emma J. Virján

If This Bird Had Pockets by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater,  illustrated by Emma J. Virján. Wordsong, 2022. 9781635923865

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  In this celebration of Poem in Your Pocket Day, a little girl imagines that creatures throughout the animal kingdom have scribbled poems to carry around with them. Her musings open the collection and then a variety of critters chime in, from newts to chinchillas, from turtles to sea otters; in all,  we hear from a diverse group of 18 various animals. Some seem innately more poetic (hummingbirds, bottlenose dolphins) while it’s more difficult to imagine a blue gill or starfish putting pen to paper. Almost all the poems have some actual rhyming words, with many being quite catchy and clever (the leafcutter ant pairs humongous with fungus). Children will learn some interesting facts while they read the poems; for example, that each giraffe has a unique pattern of spots or that Goliath birdeater spider eats other prey as well. Each poem is accompanied by a representational digital illustration of the animal with some detail and flat plains of color. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I found the illustrations unremarkable. The animals were outlined with black ink, which made them look a bit amateurish and stiff. Given the interesting poems, I would have liked to have seen more ambitious graphics.

To whom would you recommend this book?  An obvious choice for the month of April or for classes looking to combine animal study with some creative writing. This could pair with A Poem in Your Pocket (from the Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series) by Margaret McNamar.

Who should buy this book? Elementary schools or public libraries looking for poetry collections.

Where would you shelve it? 811.6 

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: September 29, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Animals, Emma J. Virján, Poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

All Are Neighbors by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

All Are Neighbors by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 9780593429983

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  A girl in a unicorn print dress opens the door of her new home to find a diverse group of children on the sidewalk, ready to give her a tour of her new neighborhood.  The girl brings along her mom, who is carrying a baby in a carrier; the family follows their tour guides past markets, shops, and homes and are greeted along the way by many friendly faces.  As they go about their daily routines, the people in this city neighborhood are as friendly as they are diverse; everyone is welcome in this community and they all take part in activities like filling a free food fridge and painting a mural (which gives a nod to the creators’ previous popular book All Are Welcome).  Happy people can be seen at every important location on the block – the library, a community center, a green park with a playground.  

So many cultures, languages and religions are represented in the storefronts, restaurants, and buildings as well as the skin tones, hairstyles, and clothing of the neighbors.  All types of family structures are celebrated as well, and the children all play nicely together too.  The new family certainly gets a warm welcome as they move through the neighborhood to the repeated refrain “What is a community?  It’s a place for you and me.  Come along and you’ll see.  We all are neighbors here.”  A gatefold spread at the end brings all of their new friendly neighbors to their door, bearing treats for their new home.    

The rhyming text reinforces themes of sharing and kindness, civic responsibility, and inclusivity.  These well-meaning messages are gently conveyed in the words, but some of the rhymes feel a little clunky and contrived. With just one to four lines of text per page spread, it is the colorful and busy illustrations that really bring the book’s message home, and not in a subtle way.  These pictures are really fun to study; kids will love looking for recurring characters from one page to the next, and enjoy peering into the windows of the homes and businesses to see what’s going on inside.     

Anything you did not like about the book? Unlike the classroom and school settings of All Are Welcome, young readers might have a hard time connecting to this unrealistic neighborhood.  Each page spread is an overwhelming display of happy adults and children engaged in neighborly activities, and even though the sentiment is so important and needed, the details in the illustrations at times feel heavy-handed.    

To whom would you recommend this book? Classrooms and libraries where Penfold and Kaufman’s previous books are popular will want to add it to their collections; it would be useful especially in units on community.

Who should buy this book? Preschools, public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: October 2, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Alexandra Penfold, Author, Illustrator, Inclusion, Neighbors, Suzanne Kaufman | Tagged | Leave a comment

Herbert on the Slide by Rilla Alexander

Herbert on the Slide by Rilla Alexander. Hippo Park, an imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers, 2022. 9781662640117

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book? Herbert is a purple hippo who loves everything about the slide. Climbing up, sending his toys down for a test run, counting down “3, 2, 1”, and even that “fluttery feeling” before sliding down. He goes up and down the slide and even uses his imagination to dive into the sea and climb a mountain. This short sweet book in a small package (only about 5×5″) is a great read for anyone getting ready for their first slide experience. Each step is described joyfully. The art, done with digital and analog pencils, has the feeling of movement that’s perfect for the gentle excitement of the subject.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Not a criticism, but the book may be too small for story time use.

To whom would you recommend this book? For ages 2-4, especially those kiddos who love tiny books.

Who should buy this book? Day care centers and public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? It’s a picture book, but it may need to be shelved separately due to its size.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: October 2, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Animal fiction, Play, Rilla Alexander | Tagged | Leave a comment