Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead

Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: Jonathan loses his best friend, so he sets out onto a journey to go find him.

Review: This book was so sweet.  After Jonathan loses his best friend, he sets off on a boat to search for him.  Along the way, he meets all sorts of characters who end up joining him–only to find his best friend, a stuffed animal, in somebody else’s possession.  So he invites them along, too.  It’s just a heartfelt story full of adventure and loss and kindness, and Stead’s illustrations are vibrant and fun.  All around, this book is captivating and will certainly keep your attention.

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Tree of Cranes by Allen Say

Tree of Cranes

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: A young boy recovers from sickness while his mother decorates the Christmas tree.

Review: Allen Say is the master at telling Asian-American stories.  A young Japanese boy, who’s always lived in Japan, discovers what his mother is doing: decorating a Christmas tree.  His mother moved to Japan to be with his father, and in doing so, left behind some traditions that she must now recreate to enjoy.  This cross between cultures produces a new perspective for the young boy–a perspective where sharing cultures is exciting and celebrated.

And, of course, Allen Say’s illustrations are just downright gorgeous, effectively capturing the beauty of the story.

The Three Questions by John J. Muth

The Three Questions

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Children’s Lit, philosophy

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: A boy has three questions, but each of his friends answer these questions very differently.  How will he know what the right answer is?

Review: John J. Muth’s illustrations and narratives are so incredibly peaceful that they lull you into a false sense of security about the world–that everybody is as introspective, philosophical, and kind as his stories.  His illustrations are beautiful, his narrative–even if this one is adapted from Leo Tolstoy–is simple and intriguing.  What more could you possibly want from a picturebook?  This book teaches important lessons and the importance of the here and now, how our actions at this very minute always impact others.

Mirror by Suzy Lee

Mirror Lee

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: A girl plays with her reflection, until the two have a disagreement.

Review: Suzy Lee is the master at using the entire picturebook to her advantage.  This book is very tall and skinny, mimicking a mirror–where both the verso and recto pages mirror each other.  In the beginning, the main character and her reflection (though it’s unclear which is the actual main character and which is her reflection) have the same movements which are reflected across the gutter.  Then a disagreement happens.  She and the reflection no longer mirror each other, instead acting out their emotions in various ways–though this disagreement initially takes some time to begin as they slowly fall out of sync with one another.

This is just an all around beautiful book that definitely deserves more attention.  It plays with book design aspects that I hardly ever see, and Suzy Lee ultimately does it in a way that’s both engaging and satisfying.

Below by Nina Crews

Below

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: Jack and Guy are inseparable…that is, until Guy accidentally falls down a hole in the stairs.  And down below, he’s all alone…or is he?

Review: I absolutely love Nina Crews’ use of photography and illustration.  She constructs illustrations in such a neat way that I’ve rarely seen others do.  In Below, she tells the tale of Jack, who accidentally drops Guy down a hole in the stairs and must figure out how to get him out.  While Guy is down below in the dark, Jack imagines all sorts of adventures Guy might be having without him.  And the way that Jack’s imagination gets illustrated rather than photographed??  LOVE IT.  She’s a master at her style, and I can’t wait to get my hands on more of her books!

The Favorite Daughter by Allen Say

The Favorite Daughter

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s Lit

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: Yuriko’s classmates bullies her about her name.  So she decides to become someone different, someone with a “normal” name.  But her father helps her discover what’s important and beautiful about their culture.

Review: This title definitely gave me some funny looks as I returned it to the circulation desk.  But truly, the title is both misleading and totally telling at the exact same time!  When Yuriko struggles with her name and heritage, her father decides to go along with her requests and begins calling her by her preferred name.  But he also shows her what makes her so special.

Now, it must be noted that this is biographical and about Allen Say’s own daughter–and the book comes with a photograph of his daughter at the end!  This is a beautiful story about how difficult it can be for mixed-race children who look more American than not.  Allen Say’s illustrations are beautiful, his narratives are beautiful, and this book is all around a wonderful story, a true story, that lends a helping hand to all of those who feel left out or hurt.

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA Lit, LGBTQ Lit

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: Mercedes Moreno isn’t your average highschooler.  She has an award-winning art piece, her mother upped and left her and her little sister to take care of her dying grandmother, and, that’s right, she’s in love with her best friend.  Life seems a little too much for Mercedes until her new neighbor invites her to the Red Mangrove Estate.  There, she can paint anything she wants.  She can be whoever she wants.  But it can’t last forever.

Review: When I think of this book, I get chills.  This is a book that I wish I had when I was in high school.  I mean, I was never an artist.  I don’t have a younger sister.  I’ve always had a piano in my living room.  But just like Mercedes, I was in love with my best friend.  The only problem was that I didn’t know it until years later.  But Mercedes takes a risk.  She takes a chance.  Nobody can say whether it worked in her favor or whether it didn’t, but at least it worked.  Representation matters, kids.  Though I have to say, if I was one of the characters from this book, I’d be Victoria.

I’d be the one leaving at the end of the school year, the one with (mostly) definite dreams and big ones, too.  So reading this book from Mercedes’ point of view was raw and emotional.  This is what I accidentally did?  This is how I accidentally made her feel?  Maybe I’m turning my high school years into something much bigger than it was.  But it doesn’t feel like it, because this book now holds a very special place in my heart, and on my bookshelf.

I understand the sentiment of running away without actually running away, and trying to fend for yourself, and being afraid that your ideas are too big for you and what do you do when you don’t have any ideas?  And oh my god, how everything comes together.  It’s beautiful.  How the Red Mangrove Estate is this fantastic place where everything and nothing happens.  Where 6 hours pass but really it’s only 15 minutes.  And the plot twist.  I just.  Chills again.  Goosebumps forever.  This book made my bus rides feel enjoyable, made the sun shine a little brighter.

If you have a chance to read this book, do it.  It’s a beautiful, wonderful, wild ride of a book.  Don’t let it go.

March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris, illustrated by London Ladd

March On!

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister narrates how Martin became the man who gave one of the most famous speeches in United States history.

Review: What an incredible story, and narrated by Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister, nonetheless!  This picturebook is impactful, historical, and powerful.  London Ladd’s illustrations only add to Farris’ narrative, and only in the utmost beautiful way.  This is definitely a book to break out during February in your classroom, home, or daycare.  One thing that I truly admire about this book–which is likely due to the fact that his sister wrote this–is that it doesn’t matyrize Martin Luther King Jr.–it just represents him as a whole.

Shadow by Suzy Lee

Shadow

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature

Medium: Hardcover

Synopsis: A young girl plays make believe with the shadows she creates.

Review: Suzy Lee is an honest-to-god master of picturebook design.  Who else could utilize a book like that to its full potential??  On one page, we have “reality,” or rather, the light source, where we see exactly what the girl uses to create shadows.  On the opposite page is “imagination,” or, her shadows–which become life-like.  It’s an incredible use of pictures and design while being wordless.  It’s so incredible to go between the pages and try to see the similarities and differences between the pages–it’s just a joy to read.

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

A Bad Case of Stripes

My roommate’s copy of A Bad Case of Stripes, with free cover stickers!!!

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Camilla Cream likes lima beans.  But nobody else does.  So she stops eating them, and breaks out into a bad case of stripes.

Review: I was so glad to reread this book.  I’d read it as a child, and remembered it as sortof a fever dream that I both enjoyed and felt repulsed by.  I had the same feeling as an adult.  David Shannon is an incredible storyteller, and did an amazing job narrating the story of somebody who faces peer pressure and who faces its consequences.  His illustrations here are hugely realistic, and hardly resemble any of the other books of his I’ve seen this year.  This book is a true testament to his talent.

This book is truthful.  This book is disturbing.  It’s so disturbing.  I wrote a bit about a particular image in this book for a project solely because I could remember how disturbed I felt upon seeing it…as a child.  You all probably know the one.  Where she’s sitting on a chair and she’s sprouted stripes, a tale, gems, feathers, branches, berries, and who knows what else.  It’s.  So.  Disturbing.  I love it.  I hate it.  It’s so good.  Honestly, I don’t think there’s been anything else out there that disturbs me on a level like Shannon’s illustrations in this book does, so that’s saying something.

Also, that’s not meant to be a down-side or a con to this review.  It’s definitely a plus.  This whole book is a plus.  Though I have to say, this book is not for the light-hearted.