Review of Boom! by Paul Meisel

Boom!

by Paul Meisel

I Like to Read Comics (Holiday House), 2023. 32 pages.
Review written July 3, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Oh, this graphic novel for beginning readers is brilliant!

When we open the book, we see a sunshiny day, but a dark cloud coming into the picture with a big RUMBLE RUMBLE.

As the story begins, we see a dog and a cat sleeping. Another RUMBLE RUMBLE happens, and the dog sits up, wide-eyed, and says, “What is that?”

The cat opens one eye and says, “Nothing.”

As the book continues, the dog is hyperaware of every sound and flash from the storm. The cat? She’s playing with her mouse toy, oblivious. But the noises are getting louder….

Then, a giant BOOM BOOM with lightning takes up an entire spread, as both animals look out a sliding glass door. But as it goes on, the dog panics and the cat plays with a new toy.

Finally, a BOOM so big that even the cat is startled comes. The dog goes and hides in a closet. The cat plays with yet another toy.

But while in the closet, the dog falls asleep and dreams. He dreams he is a superhero fighting the storm.

So, when he wakes up and sees the storm is gone, his last happy line is, “I made the storm go away.”

As usual, my description just doesn’t do this book justice. The pictures of the panicking dog and the unconcerned cat will delight kids, picking up on the beautifully-expressed emotion in the illustrations. The dog taking credit for chasing away the storm is the perfect reversal ending. This light-hearted look at a pretty scary storm may help kids deal with their own fears of real storms, as they watch dog’s antics from a safe place outside the book.

The perfect easy reader is one where you forget it’s easy to read because the story is so engaging. This book achieves exactly that.

HolidayHouse.com

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Review of Remember, by Joy Harjo and Michaela Goade

Remember

poem by Joy Harjo
illustrations by Michaela Goade

Random House Studio, 2023. Poem first published in 1983. 40 pages.
Review written March 29, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

In this stunningly beautiful picture book, Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade took a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, and made it come alive with symbolism and imagery.

The poem that forms the backbone of the book tells us to remember how we are connected to the earth and to the sky and to each other. Beautiful and inspirational.

And then the images show traditional Tlingit creation stories and a celebration of Tlingit land and culture. Michaela Goade talks about the great thought and care she used in creating the paintings at the end of the book.

Additionally, in imagery such as the moon, the sun, and certain animals, you’ll find elements of formline design, the traditional art style belonging to many of the Indigenous Nations along the Pacific Northwest coast, including the Tlingit. Formline is a unique, complex art form imbued with cultural meaning, history, and protocol; in my eyes it is a true “alive poem.”

This is a book you’ll want to read again and again, and each time you’ll find more things in the words and images. I love the way the stars seem to glow — and they actually do with goldleaf on the cover of the book.

This one you really need to see for yourself! My descriptions don’t do it justice.

joyharjo.com
michaelagoade.com
rhcbooks.com

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Review of Some of These Are Snails, by Carter Higgins

Some of These Are Snails

by Carter Higgins

Chronicle Books, 2023. 52 pages.
Review written June 12, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Some of These Are Snails is a bright and colorful book of graphic design on a white background introducing the early math concepts of classification and quantity.

The pictures are made up of simple shapes – mostly circles, squares, and triangles. They’re distinct colors. They’re in different sizes. Some have enough detail added to turn them into animals. And many have spots or stripes.

Starting simple with “turtle is a circle,” several things are introduced, and it quickly builds in complexity. I particularly like this page:

purple circles
small circles
circles in a square [Above those words, nine small circles are arranged in a square formation.]

And then the book starts asking questions:

can you sort by color?
can you sort by size?
can you sort by shape or find the animals with eyes?

As it progresses from there, you see many things on a page, and the book begins using vocabulary like “all,” “some,” “each,” “a lot.”

And then some more questions:

what is one?
what is some?
where is all and
where is none?

who’s stripiest?
who’s spottiest?
who’s wiggly wigglier wiggliest?

The book finishes with more images and more rhymes about them (wonderful rhymes that you want to read aloud), still looking at the pictures by color, shape, size, and animal.

As with most picture books, you really do need to check this out and hold it in your hands, preferably with a child in your lap. This book is playful and beautiful and best of all, encourages small children to talk about what they know about the simplest kinds of math.

carterhiggins.com
chroniclekids.com

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Review of Simon and the Better Bone, by Corey R. Tabor

Simon and the Better Bone

by Corey R. Tabor

Balzer + Bray, 2023. 40 pages.
Review written July 27, 2023, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book utterly charmed me. It may be my favorite picture book of the year so far. An Author’s Note at the front says that it’s based on an Aesop’s fable, “But Simon gets a happier ending (he is a good boy, after all).”

From the start, we know this book is different, because you turn the book on its side to have the picture right side up. Then the pages turn from bottom to top instead of the usual side-to-side.

On the title page, we see a sweet brown tail-wagging dog digging something up. There’s a pool reflecting the picture on the lower page (the bottom half of the spread), with some water bugs skating on top of the water, so you clearly understand there’s water there.

As the book begins, now the pond page has the reflection and a few ducks (still reinforcing that there’s water in the bottom half of the spread) and on top (reflected), the dog is proudly carrying a bone and still wagging his tail happily.

Simon was out playing by the pond when he found a bone. If there was a better bone in all the world, Simon hadn’t seen it.

But then Simon spots something in the pond!

It was another bone.
A better bone.

There was a dog holding the bone. But it was a scrawny little dog.
Certainly no match for Simon.

So you can guess how the story goes — lots of facing off with that other dog and his better bone. Posturing, challenging, growling…. Meanwhile, pond critters and other cues remind kids reading that this is Simon’s reflection he’s facing off with.

Finally, there’s a pounce!

But yes, Corey Tabor cleverly finds a sweet way to give Simon a happy ending. Such a good dog!

Part of why I loved this book so much is that I’m a Big Sister – who did a lot of babysitting my younger siblings. (I was third of thirteen kids.) One of my favorite Big Sister Tricks was something a bunch of us discovered. We had a long mirror with a wide shelf in front of it. If you sat a baby in front of the mirror with a ball — the baby will try to get the Other Baby’s ball. Every time. They have an identical ball. But they want the Other Baby’s ball. This greatly amused us older siblings.

And putting this story into this delightful picture book will give kids the joy of knowing what’s really going on. I see an instant storytime classic in this book. So much fun!

coreyrtabor.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of How to Count to ONE, written by Caspar Salmon, illustrated by Matt Hunt

How to Count to ONE

(And Don’t Even THINK about Bigger Numbers!)

written by Caspar Salmon
illustrated by Matt Hunt

Nosy Crow, 2023. First published in the United Kingdom in 2022. 32 pages.
Review written July 11, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

How to Count to ONE is one of those interactive picture books that speaks directly to the child reader, and this one is all about subverting expectations of counting books.

It starts with a picture of an apple, and asks the reader to count it.

Then it says, “Now for something bigger . . .” and gives them an elephant to count!

Next you think, “Ah, here’s more to count!” because the spread is filled with two giant whales. But instead, the narrator asks:

How many SAUSAGES do you see?

[There’s one, floating on top of the spout of a whale.]

And that’s how things go, with pictures of more and more things — but at least one object in the picture there’s only one of — and that’s what the reader is asked to count.

It’s amazing how difficult it is to only count the one thing. And the narration plays off that. Here’s one example spread:

So, here we have . . . some rhinos,
a few baboons, a number of snakes,
several ants and butterflies,
and ONE giraffe.

Using your counting skills, please count the giraffe.

I hope you didn’t count the other animals.
Remember, this book is about counting to ONE!

Finally, the narrator accidentally asks the reader to count the goldfish, instead of the goldfish that is wearing glasses — leading the reader to say “Two.” See, even the narrator makes mistakes!

But it all ends with the narrator thinking maybe you’re better at counting than they thought, so the reader is presented with one prize to count.

And if they’re just dying to count higher by this time, the endpapers show one hundred things to count.

I love about this book that some children won’t be able to resist counting things and other children will start looking to spot what there is one of. And it’s all in a playful package for plenty of laughter — while counting.

nosycrow.com

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Review of You Need to Chill, by Juno Dawson, illustrated by Laura Hughes

You Need to Chill

A Story of Love and Family

by Juno Dawson
illustrated by Laura Hughes

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2023. First published in the United Kingdom in 2022. 32 pages.
Review written June 27, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

This picture book is simple and delightful, and there are many adults out there who I wish would take this message to heart.

The book begins inside the front cover with a picture of a girl and her big sister arriving at school. Then the younger one enters her classroom and here’s how the text starts:

Sometimes people say to me,
“What happened to your brother Bill?

We haven’t seen him in ages.
Is he hiding?
Is he ill?”

“Is he lost in the park?
Is he scared of the dark?
Is he doing his homework still?

That’s when I look them in the eye and say,
“Hey, you need to chill.”

The questions about Bill get sillier and sillier.

“Was he eaten by a WHALE or SHARK?
Was he munched up just like krill?”

But the answer is always the same.

And after several rounds of questions, the girl answers:

“There are NO hungry whales . . .
NO little green men . . .
Your hysteria is silly.

The truth is that my brother Bill . . .

“. . . is now my sister Lily.”

But the book doesn’t leave them there. There are three spreads left in the book, showing a happy family:

“It was maybe quite a shock, at first,
but she’s really just the same.
She looks a little different
and she has a new first name.”

“She’s still clever and funny
and kind and cool.
She’s one in a mil…”

And I bet you can guess what they shout when people have a problem with that.

I like the way this book makes an important point in a light-hearted way. Someone else’s gender identity, child or adult, isn’t something that people outside their family need to worry about.

I honestly think that adults need this book more than kids do, but it’s also a fun way to give the message to any kids who need it. A lot of rhyming picture books try and fail to bring a lilt to a story, but this one pulls it off with flair, and begs to be read aloud.

junodawson.com
sourcebookskids.com

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Review of Big, by Vashti Harrison

Big

by Vashti Harrison

Little, Brown and Company, 2023. 60 pages.
Review written June 13, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

This gorgeous picture book successfully symbolizes how people’s words can make a kid feel too much, and shows her healing and coming into her own.

The book begins with an adorably chubby brown baby girl.

Once there was a girl
with a big laugh and a big heart
and very big dreams.

The pictures show her growing and learning. And being called a big girl is a good thing.

But she grows as a ballerina, wearing pink like the others, but towering over them. It starts to seem like being a big girl is no longer a good thing.

Then one day, she gets in a swing with a seat, like her friends do, and she gets stuck. Her friends laugh, and when a teacher helps her out, she says, “Don’t you think you’re too big for that?”

It made her feel small.

The pictures from there show her in many situations looking like a giant, feeling exposed and out of place. On the dance stage, she’s too big for the flower costumes, so they have her wear a dark grey costume as a mountain towering above everyone else.

Then a wonderful and moving series of images shows the girl growing as the space she’s in (the book’s trim size) closes in around her.

She’s sad, and even then people in her mind say, “Aren’t you too big to be crying?”

But the book does come to a lovely conclusion. The giant girl scoops up the unkind words that are puddled in her tears — and she gives them back to the people they belong to, saying “These are yours. They hurt me.”

Mind you, “Not everyone understood or even listened.”

But the girl, wearing pink again, has remembered that she likes the way she is, and she is good.

Now, once again, my description isn’t adequate. This is one to check out and hold in your hands and marvel. Most of the message is done through symbolism, which not all picture books can handle — but this one pulls it off completely. Honestly, this book is already my favorite for Caldecott this year. We’ll see….

vashtiharrison.com
lbyr.com

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Review of Rain, written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Lisa Congdon

Rain

written by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Lisa Congdon

Beach Lane Books, 2023. 44 pages.
Review written June 4, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Here’s a new storytime classic for rainy days.

This picture book, with endpapers of flowers, begins before the rain comes. The birds, the squirrels, the children in the park, the cats, and the dogs all know the rain is coming. Most of those hurry home, except many dogs who “stay right there in the yard and wait for the first wet drops on their noses. Just for fun!”

The turning point comes with the duck family.

And who is most happy about the rain?

Oh, the ducks of course.
They can’t wait.
They paddle and paddle
and spread the word.

Mama ducks gather up the babies
and promise them
a glorious day!

Then the rain starts, and the rest of the book is about how it is indeed a glorious day and about all the wonderful things the rain brings.

Rain is good for everybody!

This joyful and brightly-colored book (Really!) gives me a fresh, and happy, perspective on rain. What a delight it will be to share that perspective with kids.

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Review of Very Good Hats, by Emma Straub, illustrated by Blanca Gómez

Very Good Hats

by Emma Straub
illustrated by Blanca Gómez

Rocky Pond Books (Penguin Random House), 2023. 32 pages.
Review written February 28, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

If you’ve ever been around a toddler or small child, some time or other you’ve played a game that explores the concept of What is a hat? This book puts that silly game into a picture book.

The first page challenges the reader:

Do you know what a hat is?

I bet you think you know what a hat is.

And yes, the next page starts with a haberdashery (okay, I didn’t expect that), but it goes on to acorn caps as hats for your fingers and books as hats for people with excellent posture.

Bubbles make very fine hats, if temporary.
A crown is a hat for a queen, but flowers can be too.

The roof is the house’s hat, and a lid is a pot’s hat.
Everyone knows that.

Pajama pants make for a dangly hat,
and towels are twirly hats, majestic as a unicorn.

I think my favorite spread is this one:

Empty bowls work, but you have to make sure they’re empty first,
otherwise you might have a soup hat instead.

I also enjoy this question, which I’d never thought about before:

If a turtle can tuck its head into its shell,
does that make its shell a hat?

And yes, the illustrations all add to the seriously silly fun.

emmastraub.net

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Review of In Every Life, by Marla Frazee

In Every Life

by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books, 2023. 32 pages.
Review written April 3, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

I’m a sucker for Marla Frazee’s illustrations. I don’t review even close to every picture book I come across, but I could not resist being charmed by this book. A note at the front says she got the idea from a call-and-response version of a Jewish baby-naming blessing done in a church service she attended.

The text is simple. Every two spreads follow a pattern: “In every [blank], blessed is the [blank].”

On the page with the blessing, we see eight to ten cameo pictures of people in that situation, and then you turn the page to a giant wordless painting where the blessing also applies. (The book is a bit bigger than most picture books.)

The first spread is “In every birth, blessed is the wonder.” The pictures show pregnant women and babies with people who love them.

“In every hope, blessed is the doing,” shows people accomplishing something – building, baking, fixing, making music, flying a kite. The big spread shows a family setting out to hike up a mountain.

I think my favorite spread is, “In every moment, blessed in the mystery.” I love the moments she chose to portray.

It all finishes up with “In every life, blessed is the love.”

And this is another book you need to check out for yourself and enjoy the wonderful illustrations, because my descriptions aren’t enough.

marlafrazee.com

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