Reviewed by Bookroo

The Life and Times of Fuzzy Wuzzy
4.6
The Life and Times of Fuzzy Wuzzy
Written by Craig Sidell & illustrated by Evgeniya Kozhevnikova
The famous Fuzzy Wuzzy is brought to life with fun rhymes and an inspiring lesson.

Drawing on the familiar childhood tongue twister, The Life and times of Fuzzy Wuzzy imagines the furless bear behind the popular rhyme. Though lacking in hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy is bountiful in many redeeming qualities. He enjoys traveling with his wife and seeks out delicious food. He spends time playing with his cub, protects smaller animals, and shares what he has. He also enjoys the simple pleasures around him—the starry sky, his warm cave, and belting out his favorite song. Together, these many enriching experiences lead, even if not in the literal sense, to a “glorious fuzzy life.” Sidell brings to life a fun, full character for the familiar yet confusingly oxymoronic hairless, fuzzy bear. While the first rhyming couplet of each page trips off the tongue—“Fuzzy had a long long life / that he spent with his fuzzy wife,” and “Fuzzy was the greatest dad / showing love to his fuzzy lad”—Sidell’s unique three line rhyme scheme may interrupt a smooth read aloud the first time through. Kozhevnikova’s illustration work is fantastic as she manages to be true to Fuzzy Wuzzy’s hairless state yet still create a warm, endearing character, and her tender spreads depicting sweet moments serving others and playing with family feature lovely foliage and lighting. Readers will enjoy both the opportunity to finally meet the mysterious Fuzzy Wuzzy and the lesson he embodies that one need not be normal or typical to live a happy, “fuzzy” life.

A unique birthday book offering imagination and sibling love with a bittersweet touch.

As a young girl happily celebrates her second birthday, her older brother promises her that while turning two is “terrific,” the real magic comes at age three, when she’ll meet a wise wizard who can take her to the moon. But when she turns three, her brother says the wizard “had to flee”; however, turning four, he says, is even better because she’ll meet an elf. When she turns four and there’s no elf, the brother promises a dragon at five, a princess fairy at six, and so on. Each year, when the promised magic is nowhere to be found, the brother says the two of them can play together in the meantime, mirroring the activities she would have enjoyed with the magical visitor. Though his efforts create a tender moment of sibling compassion, they’re overshadowed by the fact that he set her up for disappointment in the first place. Ultimately, the dual lessons that every year just gets better and better and to enjoy the present even while waiting for a future event make this a unique, worthwhile addition to birthday books. Ballenger demonstrates skill in both rhyming—making this a very fun read aloud—and pacing—which picks up at just the right moment, while Aguilera’s illustrations excellently reflect the fanciful childhood imaginings of magical creatures and capture the loving sibling relationship, which culminates in two wrinkled faces behind a birthday cake: the woman smiling shrewdly at the man shows that the two have indeed made “so much magic . . . through every passing year.”

The Tiny Baker
6.0
The Tiny Baker
Written by Hayley Barrett & illustrated by Alison Jay
Charming! Elegance meets insects in a tale of true friendship with a side of pastry.

The tiny bumblebee baker presides over an elegant tea room, opening on time and serving dainty treats to her elegantly adorned clientele, until, in an instant, her “dotty troupe” of ladybug pastry chefs swarms off, and she is left with a kitchen in absolute disarray. Overwhelmed by the disaster and “flummoxed” about how to fix everything, a “call to action” from a cricket summons the ants to “do what ants do very best . . . work together without rest.” In the blink of an eye, the tiny baker’s kitchen is transformed to its pristine condition once again, and she realizes that the ants are not just her customers—they are also her true friends. Excellent rhyming, impressively charming word choice, and a sweet message make this an absolutely delightful read aloud. Jay’s signature illustration style perfectly matches the tone of the story, seamlessly pairing the bug realm with costuming (and manners) reminiscent of Austen for a dainty world that is unique and endearing.

Golf Through the Eyes of a Child
4.4
A skillful explanation of the game of golf from a player who is clearly passionate about it.

On the first page, a young boy named Henry introduces himself before beginning to tell readers all about golf. His love for the game can’t be missed as he explains what he likes about it: being outside on nice summer days, spending time with his parents and grandparents, and even pretending to drive the golf cart. He also discusses the variety golf offers, like club selection and course strategies: “Sometimes it pays to be aggressive and to go for it, but sometimes it’s better to play it safe!” The similes comparing drivers to cannons and wedges to arrows hitting a target are particularly instructive and fun. DeSerres is clearly a knowledgeable fan and player of the sport, and that passion and know-how are convincingly shared through young Henry, while skillfully simplified to help young readers (and those reading to them) appreciate nuanced aspects of the game. While some of Kubish’s digital illustrations are less polished, others nicely capture elements of the narrative and offer clever observations, like the robot on Henry’s desk foreshadowing the robot caddie. After reading this book, those who have never played golf might be intrigued to try, while those who already love the game will enjoy this youthful celebration of it.

Please Don't Tell Cooper He's a Dog
4.3
Dog days with Cooper and his family will delight readers.

Cooper the family pet is a dog—but don’t tell him. Saved from the shelter by his human family, his tastes and preferences are more refined than the average canine. Rather than chasing around the park, he prefers attending the ballet or skiing. And he won’t touch dinner unless it comes with steak sauce. More heartwarming is Cooper’s affection for his family, who, through love and persistence, help him develop from an “unruly” stray to “head of the family.” While an uneven cadence interrupts a smooth reading experience, Feinberg develops an inventive story sure to delight and connect with pet owners who can relate to Cooper’s becoming an integral part of the household. Young readers will be especially entertained to see Cooper placed in familiar but unexpected places: attempting to drive a car, joining a meal at the table, and even sitting on the toilet. Mosca delivers nicely on what Feinberg sets up, as readers will smile at seeing Cooper decked out in snow gear skiing down the slopes, sitting at the dining table holding a fork and knife, and even gaining cultural exposure as he travels Europe. But even more appreciated will be the charming spreads showing Cooper’s moments surrounded by his loved ones as they play in the lake, roll on the lawn, and pose for a photo. Dog or not, readers know Cooper is part of a loving family. Endnotes share timely information about pet adoption and Feinberg’s own experience as an advocate for animal welfare.

Leafy Critters
5.3
Leaves, branches, and seeds are made into remarkable animals that will inspire creativity.

In this wordless book, acclaimed artist and photographer Lacet merges art, creativity, and nature to delight readers with a series of animals made from natural materials like leaves and seeds. The complexity and color of the animals vary greatly—on the minimal end, there is a bright flamingo created from just three leaves and a small branch, while on the more complex side, there is an enchanting peacock created with an assortment of over one hundred colorful petals. While most creations are shot on a white background, a stunning polar bear in a swirling arctic snowstorm is created using small white petals arranged on a black background. On several pages, Lacet includes a shot of the materials, laid out in columns and rows, used for the animal, which gives readers helpful insight into the creative process of how simple found objects can be combined to create delightful displays, and the varying levels of complexity make the projects intriguing and inspiring for all skill levels. Any reader who has ever gathered flower petals or leaves to make pictures will be flooded with fun memories, and for those who haven’t and are eager to give it a try, Lacet’s simple directions in the back will help them get started.

Catch the Sky: Playful Poems on the Air We Share
5.1
Approachable poems and illustrations will inspire young poets.

This collection of poems focuses on the sky, from the “rosy, red arms” of sunrise that “caress the sky,” to the “pulsing hues” of the northern lights that “charge the nights.” As the day progresses, the poems also seamlessly transition through seasons, settings, and activities, celebrating myriad elements of the sky. Tall sunflower plants and fireworks fill summer skies. Palm trees and clouds adorn blue tropic skies. Lightning flashes in stormy skies. Helicopters and hot air balloons rise, while snow “flows down” and “buries towns deep . . . in silent sleep.” The poems are brief—almost all consist of four short lines with an ABCB rhyming pattern—making it a particularly user friendly introduction to poetry for young readers. But even in the brevity Heidbreder’s love of poetry is easy to see, with thoughtful lines, unique rhymes, and emotion in each poem. Dove’s simple, digital illustrations are two page spreads that tie together the separate poems on each page in a connected setting and context. For example, on pages with poems about kites and balloons, Dove’s urban skyline setting provides a shared background for both. These relatable, realistic settings and depictions further support the collection’s approachability.

Luci Soars
4.6
Luci Soars
Written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Luci Soars
Written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre
An intriguing premise with a clear message about the transformative power of perspective.

As a baby, Luci is surrounded by supportive, loving voices who praise her with the familiar Spanish phrase, “¡Qué linda!” They are so enraptured in their love for her that they don’t realize a remarkable aspect about her—in their world of black and white hues, Luci doesn’t cast a shadow. But as she grows, Luci becomes aware of her lack of a shadow, and she knows that others notice, too. Indeed, they don’t merely notice, but they stare, so she learns “to walk always in other people’s shadows.” But one day at school, she summons the courage and chooses to step into the sunlight. Though she’s met by derisive laughs and scorn from classmates, her courage helps her gain a new perspective—shadows merely keep people tethered to the ground—and she soars into a colorful sky. Delacre’s story is rich with meaning, and in the story’s closing lines, she makes sure readers understand what it is: “I can change how I look at things . . . and you can too.” Delacre skillfully uses the mostly gray-scale illustrations to create both vague discomfort about strangers and open hostility toward Luci, while also setting the stage for Luci’s impactful entry into a world of vibrant color when she gains her new perspective.

Neighbors
4.3
Neighbors
Written and illustrated by Kasya Denisevich
Neighbors
Written and illustrated by Kasya Denisevich
Ink illustrations highlight the power of imagination in a new environment.

A little girl clad in red stands out against detailed greyscale scenes as she approaches and then enters her new home: 3 Pond Lane, Building 2, Apartment 12. In her room by herself, her thoughts turn to her neighbors, and she imagines who they might be and what they might be like. At first she imagines them fairly realistically and normal—practicing a musical instrument, sitting at a dining table, watching television. Then, the musings cleverly transform from the mundane to the imaginative—a woman showering becomes a mermaid, while a family standing on shoulders to reach a high shelf becomes circus performers—until the girl envisions her neighbors disappearing altogether into an expanse of empty universe as she wonders if she is all alone. In the morning, the little girl sets off to discover the truth of who lives next door and meets a little girl in a yellow dress, and they head off to school together. With sparse text, the ink illustrations are the star of the show, featuring beautiful architectural elements in the building—note, for example, the intricate stair rail—and miniature scenes in the different apartments (though the inclusion of a woman showering and a man sitting on a toilet reading the newspaper, while tiny, will be distasteful to some readers), which are all highly detailed, if not precise. Denisevich uses touches of color to great effect, particularly as the story comes to a close, skillfully using the endpapers to bring the story full circle.

If You Come to Earth
5.9
If You Come to Earth
Written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Stunning and deep, a rich exploration of Earth and all its inhabitants unlike any other.

The book opens as a little boy—Quinn—lays on his bed penning a letter to a “Visitor from Outer Space,” letting them know everything they’ll need to know about the Earth (and its inhabitants!) when they arrive. Exquisite detail and diversity permeate the book, as two-time Caldecott winner Blackall pairs the matter-of-fact text of Quinn’s letter with gorgeous spreads showcasing the Earth’s geography, people, plants, animals, marine life, weather, facial expressions, modes of transportation, occupations, hobbies, and more. Blackall addresses deep topics in the illustrations with absolute poignancy—a triangle of those who have lost their homes (due to fire, flood and war) is included in the spread showcasing different types of homes (along with a castle closely resembling Neuschwanstein, a trailer, a lighthouse, and more), one page captures the impact of disease and accident as six people lay on hospital beds, and another simultaneous highlights conflict by juxtaposing two children wrestling and a greyscale war (with some soldiers oozing red blood)—in a child-appropriate way. In an author’s note at the book’s conclusion, Blackall shares that most of the people illustrated are actual people, which adds an additional layer of meaning and vibrancy to this well-crafted and striking book. Each and every page is a work of art, with new details to marvel at and explore on each re-reading.

Tiny T. Rex and the Perfect Valentine
4.5
A cute and simple Valentine’s book perfect for dino lovers and best friends.

Stutzman and Fleck’s adorable tyrannosaurus rex Tiny returns for a book that delivers exactly what one might expect from the title—a solid (if somewhat cheesy) book that’s perfect for Valentine’s Day. Tiny is on a mission to create the perfect valentine for his best friend Pointy, and despite things not working out as he envisions (in a very cute chalkboard blueprint, complete with fireworks!), he sticks with it, making attempt after attempt. When all he ends up with is a big mess (glitter!) and no card to give Pointy, Tiny feels down in the dumps until his best friend reminds him that Tiny himself is the best valentine a friend could ask for. The teal and red color scheme pops throughout, tying together Tiny and Pointy’s scales, and the story is predictable, but sweet.

On Account of the Gum
5.9
On Account of the Gum
Written and illustrated by Adam Rex
On Account of the Gum
Written and illustrated by Adam Rex
This laugh-out-loud and delightfully clever book is more fun than bubble gum.

A galloping and hilarious romp from start to finish (including the endpapers!), the story trips along and off the tongue in a spiraling stream of escalations all beginning with the classic problem of getting gum stuck in one’s hair. While perhaps they should have tried peanut butter first (we’ve definitely heard that works!), the clever inclusion of many of the old tricks for getting gum out of hair and the reliance on googling an answer (and realizing that not every site knows what it’s talking about) adds to the stories punch and pizzazz. Rex’s distinctive illustration style shines with bubble-gum-bold color choices, handwritten text of all colors and sizes and utterly expressive faces, creating a sense of action and business that belies the fact that the entire story takes place in a single and unmoving chair. Just when the excitement seems to be winding down, Rex hits readers with an ending that clicks perfectly into place for a moment of sheer genius—turns out it’s picture day!

Over and Under the Rainforest
5.5
Absolutely transportive, this book brings the rainforest to life and invites curiosity.

This celebration of the Costa Rican rainforest and its many inhabitants invites readers to join in on a peaceful and informative hike under the canopy. From oropendolas and capuchin monkeys in the trees, to leaf-cutter ants scurrying and agoutis snuffing along the ground, the animals and insects of the rainforest are introduced to readers in a way that is both simple and intriguing. Messner’s narrative is engaging and educative, and Silas Neal’s illustration style matches the text’s tone with art that highlights the essence of each animal in a realistic way without overwhelming the eye with details to take in. As perspective shifts from looking directly upward at the leafy canopy, to directly down to the water below a hanging bridge, and everything in between, readers are pulled into the rainforest world for an experience that feels blissfully immersive in this two dimensional media, and the talent of the creative team is on full display as together they broaden the world of young readers through this story. Additional back matter begins to satiate curious readers’ appetites to learn more about the rainforest.

Rain Before Rainbows
5.4
In the midst of trying times, this remarkably beautiful story reminds of hope and beauty ahead.

As hinted in the endpapers, a girl and her fox friend are forced to leave their burning castle home to embark on a journey of “mountains for climbing” and trials to overcome, fraught with lightning, thunder, crashing waves, worries, battles, and dark days. But all the while, there’s hope ahead, assured in the beautiful, optimistic narrative—“Sowing and planting. Roots before shoot. Stem before flowers. Leaf before fruit.”—and shown in the kind and courageous friends that act as helping hands and guides. At last, the promised rainbow after the rain appears on a fresh, bright morning, presenting new opportunities, simple joys, and relief. Award winning author Prasadam-Halls weaves this inspiring, relatable, and touching tale with terrific cadence and rhyme. Litchfield’s illustrations magnificently convey the idea of trials and struggles leading to victories and good outcomes, creatively using both epic proportions—such as castles and dragons—and seemingly small, but hopeful, reflections—such as a flower growing from a seed. The illustrations spill over with waves of color, growing gradually throughout the story from dim and dark pages to sparkling, glorious spreads of color as the journey progresses from darkness to light. Light on text but heavy on meaning, this beautiful story is sure to strike a chord and inspire anyone who needs a reminder of the light waiting just around the corner, the rainbow ready to shine after the rain.

Kindness Grows
4.6
Kindness Grows
Written and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Die-cut pages and lovely illustrations display the effects of kindness and friendship.

All about friendship, each page juxtaposes the difference between fostering friendship and tearing them down. Anger, harsh words and actions, and not being there for your friends creates a crack that widens and separates friends, while on the other hand, “with every kindness that we care to show, Something good and magical will begin to grow.”Die-cut pages emphasize these differences. On one side a tree (representing friendship) thrives alongside kind and friendly acts and on the other a crack (conveying hurt and damage) widens. Both the tree and crack grow as the book progresses, until the two sides merge when the children around the sprouting tree reach out “to spread the seed of friendship and touch somebody’s heart,” mending the crack and growing stronger together in kindness. This artistic read focusing on kindness hosts beautiful illustrations, elevated further by the addition of die-cut pages to further illustrate the message Teckentrup shares on kindness and friendship. While the text rhymes well, the cadence is slightly off and the text feels a little preachy. A lovely book, but possibly a read more appreciated by parents.

Your Place in the Universe
5.6
A fascinating nonfiction read that puts the universe in perspective . . . literally.

After judging the book by its cover, a few pages in readers may be surprised to discover that Your Place in the Universe is in fact a super-informative, non-fiction book—but they won’t be disappointed. Starting from four 8-year-old children, Chin skillfully scales up from giraffes to trees to buildings (which children may have some sense of) to larger and larger pieces of our world and solar system until reaching the universe. By using drawings that are done to scale (as much as possible while still making essential pieces visible) and starting with the scale of familiar things to work up to new things, readers get a glimpse of just how large the universe really is, as well as the confidence to build on their existing knowledge to learn new things. The construction of the book itself cleverly mirrors this concept, starting with short and sparse facts and working up to more in depth explanations as concepts become more unfamiliar and finally concluding with almost textbook-like backmatter for readers whose curiosity has been piqued. The illustrations are pleasantly realistic without overwhelming detail, and Chin’s illustration of the cosmic web invokes a sense of wonder that is beautifully appropriate for its grandeur and majesty.

Song of the Old City
5.6
A delightful introduction to Istanbul and its inspiring tradition of passing along kindness.

A young girl’s adventurous day in Istanbul begins with receiving a “flapping fish” from a local fisherman. With the fish and each subsequent item she is gifted—a freshly baked sesame simit, a fanciful story, pomegranate juice—she passes along the generous gesture, whether by returning the floppy fish to the sea, sharing her baked bread with seagulls, or retelling the story for someone else. Her journey leads her to bazaars, Turkish baths, rooftops, ships, and new friends, all along the way sharing kindness with humans and animals alike. Both the story and the illustrations are original and engaging, if a bit unrestrained—the last page concludes with the young girl falling through the sky after marching along wires strung from chimney to chimney. Atilgan’s detailed costuming of the main character—with her bright red sweater and boots—and other characters—with scarves, hats, coats, and wispy strands of hair—and their dynamic poses enrich the story with a bustling sense of movement, accentuating the girl’s busy day of experiencing and giving. This energy is further heightened by Pellicioli’s unique use of second person narration, which engages readers in the story and the exploration of the “old city filled with boats, people, prayers, and hot tea . . .”

A symbolic story celebrating books and libraries that will be most appreciated by mature readers.

As a river rises so slowly it’s imperceptible, an old woman dreams of impending destruction. The woman is part of the household of the biblical prophet and ark builder Noah, and as Noah is shown in shadowy background illustrations gathering animals, the woman begins to gather “promises” into a vessel. The promises mirror the animals simultaneously being gathered: “fast ones,” “slow ones,” and “young ones that could fit inside a shell.” When the waters again subside, the woman creates a space where the promises can be shared with others. In the closing line, the promises are revealed to be books, which continue to be available to readers at their own vessels of promises: their local libraries. While the celebration of books and libraries is a commendable message that all readers can appreciate, the opaque narrative and incredibly abstract illustrations of this “bookish fable” will likely make it most appealing and best suited for mature readers. The opening of the story, with a rising river and a woman’s foreboding dream, is intriguing, and there are enough clues along the way in both text and illustration that readers familiar with the biblical account of the flood will recognize the relation, but even the very astute may not deduce the promises’ symbolic representation of books. While a few lines are delightfully poetic—“The old woman gathered the ones that gathered dust”—some rhymes are hastily phrased, preserving a rhythmic cadence but impairing the sophistication of the fable.

Hugsby
4.9
Hugsby
Written and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
Hugsby
Written and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
A huggable, little monster with a remarkably empathetic heart.

Among the many monsters available from the monster shelter—who, with characteristics like will “melt in your arms” and “soft like a cotton ball,” are not the least bit scary—Shelly chooses Hugsby, who is “Smart, cuddly, and a great listener.” She and Hugsby enjoy simple pleasures together, like having a tea party, blowing bubbles, and, especially, sharing hugs, but when it’s almost “Pet Monster Show-and-Tell Day” at school, Shelly suddenly worries that the things Hugsby does won’t be interesting to her classmates. She thinks her worries are validated when the first few monsters do impressive feats like flips and tricks. But as Hugsby sees her nervously begin introducing him, he does what he does best—he gives her a hug, a skill the entire class wants to experience. Though the storyline is predictable, Phumiruk’s introduction of pet monsters as completely normal and not requiring any explanation provides an inventive, enjoyable touch. The pencil illustrations digitally textured with watercolors are soft and very fitting for this tender, touching story, and the sequence depicting Hugsby’s noticing Shelly’s increasing nervousness and offering a consoling hug are especially well done in communicating Hugbsy’s impressive capacity for empathy.

Bunnies on the Bus
Written by Philip Ardagh & illustrated by Ben Mantle
Humorous illustrations star in this careening tale of mischief.

A summer day in Sunny Town begins innocuously as a fluffle of bunnies boards a bus, but it soon becomes apparent that this bus ride will be anything but tame. Blowing past other animals as they go about their daily business around Sunny Town, the bouncing bus causes pandemonium wherever it careens—”No wonder there’s a fuss about the bunnies on the bus!” The simple story line—energetic bunnies take a bus, and then a train—doesn’t do the actual story told by the illustrations justice. With something new to discover on each new read through, multiple storylines for the other inhabitants of Sunny Town—including the efforts of two bandit squirrels to evade the law— and numerous clever details (e.g. exercising hamsters running inside balls, an “Am I Driving Well?” bumper sticker, newspaper headlines, book covers, etc.) add humor and pizzazz to this reading experience. While, unfortunately, some of the rhyming and cadence trips up rather than off the tongue (particularly the ending rhyme of “train”/ “again”), this lively story still begs to be read again and again.

The Whole Hole Story
4.9
An endless amount of fun and imagination, all stemming from a girl with a hole in her pocket.

Imagination is the name of the game in this playful story about a girl named Zia who has a hole in her pocket. The hole gets bigger and bigger with the use of her visionary skills, until she falls right through! Zia’s thoughts are entertainingly employed to guide her journey—she isn’t afraid of falling through the giant hole because “this was only an imaginary hole, so it could only be as scary as she allowed.” As she explores what she can do with a hole, Zia turns the hole into a variety of different things, from a fishing hole to a drain at the bottom of a watering hole. There’s no shortage of adventure as Zia uses the hole to travel to India and later to create an ice skating rink. Eventually she climbs a tree and notices the hole looks a whole lot smaller from that height, “so small, in fact . . . Zia thought she could fit the whole thing in her pocket.” While devoting two pages to trapping Zia underneath the hole felt a bit lowbrow compared to the rest of the book’s ingenuity, McInerny skillfully packs her author debut full of wonder and creativity, circling back to the initial hole in Zia’s pocket for a polished conclusion. Lamug’s illustrations playfully portray the whimsical nature of the story with a fun use of color and detail that fit superbly with the story’s wonderful sense of possibility.

This Is a Book of Shapes
4.7
This Is a Book of Shapes
Written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
More appropriately titled 'A Book of Shapes for People Sick of Shape Books.'

Shapes with a solid color, wood-grain texture are featured in the beginning of this book with simple accompanying text (”This is a circle,” or “This is a triangle”), and then more sporadically throughout as surprising interruptions sneak in, creating a quirky and unique departure from your average book about shapes. After three shapes, the title of this book is proven to be misleading, as the next page features “an emu pushing a pancake wagon down a hill.” A few more shapes are shared before another interjection of “a porpoise reading a book of knock-knock jokes to three silly sea turtles.” After a few more repetitions of shapes and a surprise, the last page shows a compilation of every illustration and shape from the book—possibly a commentary on how everything in life is made up of shapes, but possibly just another stroke of randomness. Kraegel sneaks in a sly sense of humor with unanticipated inclusions of silly pages amidst what would be a basic, and probably boring, book of shapes. For readers actually seeking a book about shapes, this title may disappoint, but it otherwise provides a breath of fresh air and unexpected chuckles (though laughs are dependent on a certain type of humor).

In this fun story, Max helps readers see the work and joy that a puppy can be.

Max is back again to share with young readers more of his expertise, this time about all things puppy. In a telling dedication, McAnulty dedicates the story to her own nieces with the encouragement, “Keep asking and it’ll happen someday,” foreshadowing Max’s secret to step one, “Get a puppy”: Ask a lot. He also flawlessly reasons that while dogs might be lots of work, so is “picking up your room. And washing behind your ears.” While he ultimately realizes—after midnight wake-up calls, indoor potty accidents, and more—that dogs are a lot of work, they’re also “A lot of cute. A lot of cuddle. A lot of love”—which gives him an idea for the perfect name for his own puppy: “Alotta.” With clever inclusions throughout, including witty observations from Max’s grandma, who dryly observes that Max’s dog will think her name is “NoNoNo” since that’s all Max tells her, McAnulty creates an endearing story, with a little instructive commentary, for puppy lovers, especially those, like apparently her own nieces, wishing for one of their own. Hocking’s gouache and colored pencil illustrations are bright and playful, skillfully emphasizing both the work and the delight that a beloved pet can bring.

Max and Marla Are Going on a Trip
5.4
A journey-filled, fitting finale in this series about a heartwarming friendship.

Summer vacation has arrived, and Max would like to see a koala. Fortuitously, the travel guides he and Marla ordered from the bookstore have just arrived in the mail, so the two friends pack their things and set off for Australia. Determined to document every special moment along the way, Max is busy fiddling with his camera for the first legs of the trip and misses a flock of pelicans and magnificent sea animals. But Marla knows how to help her friend be in the moment, and with the camera knocked overboard, Max is finally able to savor their trip, especially the moment when they meet koalas. In her fourth, final, and perhaps most charming Max and Marla story yet, Boiger delights readers with her soft watercolor illustrations. Her ability to enhance simple, sweet text with illustrations that convey crucial bits of enriching storyline is on full display in this timely story reminding readers to engage with the world in the moment. Readers also won’t be able to avoid feeling their own urge to travel as Max and Marla journey in a delightful red monoplane, rowboat, and 60’s style convertible. Ultimately, Max and Marla’s friendship shines above all else, as Marla sweetly supports her friend while also giving him the push he needs to grow.

Impeccable animal selection and exquisite illustrations make this a WOW read.

Collective nouns are the order of the day in this book highlighting animal groupings. From the savannah to the outback, from the woodlands to the tundra, and even from under the sea, Wildsmith features animals from all stretches of the world in this non-fiction book. Readers may recognize some of Wildsmith’s choice of collective nouns (e.g. “a pride of lions”, “a family of otters”), but the vast majority are likely to provide a moment of delightful learning and appreciation for how aptly they capture each animal’s personality (e.g. “a bloat of hippos”, “ a pandemonium of parrots”). Wildsmith’s absolutely stunning illustrations in mixed media infuse this topic (which has been done many times before, but perhaps never so well) with vibrant personality—colorful, full of texture and pattern, and simultaneously exquisite and raw, they perfectly match the majesty of the animal kingdom.

A New Green Day
5.4
A New Green Day
Written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis
A collection of delightful riddles and illustrations perceptively celebrating nature.

Intriguing riddles introduce different aspects of a lush, green day that are revealed on the following page. “When I move, I measure. I’ll count out tickles across your hand,” reads one clue, while the following page reveals an inchworm. “I’m the rumble in the stomach of the storm. (Pardon me—must be something I ate),” states another, which the turn of the page reveals is said by thunder. Readers are posed various puzzles, some trickier than others, as they progress through the day, from sunrise shining on a pillow, to the dark, starry night. The entire book is a delightful celebration of nature, and some riddles are particularly artistic and perceptive: a leaf says it serves as a “map of my own green home,” and the accompanying illustration on the next page highlights the similarity between the shape and veins of a leaf and the shape and branches of a tree. On another page, a black tadpole, shown with a round head on a slightly J-curved body, is described as “a comma in the long, long sentence of the stream.” Portis’ prose is structured in a nice, unhurried flow that denotes a story well planned and well executed, and her illustrations match the theme of exploring nature—they’re fresh, earthy-toned neutrals mixed with pops of lively green.

A humorous exploration of the impact of inner children on their adult versions.

“Did you know that all adults have a child inside them??” the story asks before beginning to explain and explore these inner-childs with hilarious, merciless commentary. “Adults hide their inner child by pretending to be busy and stressed all the time,” the narrator cuttingly observes, as a man and woman are shown exasperated at their laptops. “Or when they want a new toy . . . usually they call it a gadget . . .” he remarks as a man and woman peer through a store window at shiny electronics displayed inside. It is their inner child, he continues, that makes adults look so silly when they dance, use baby talk when they’re in love, and most importantly, still have “so much fun!” Blackshaw depicts each inner child as a waist-height, black-and-white individual inside each adult, impressively matching a child-like personality and style to the adult versions. In one disturbingly insightful scene, an adult boss is shown yelling at an employee while the narrator says, “Nasty adults . . . have a nasty child inside”; the boss’s inner child is angrily shaking his fist while a stench emanates from his diaper. It’s a remarkably successful attempt to reduce the complexities of adulthood to humorously fit—in both length and concept—in the pages of a simple picture book.

A heartbreaking monument to a brave hibakusha’s (atomic bomb survivor) story of loss and courage.

This harrowing tale shares the true story of Sachiko Yasui, whose entire family was killed by the blast or aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The story centers on a family heirloom, an ornamented green bowl. As the story begins, Sachiko’s family is gathered around the bowl, which is filled with “good things to eat.” As the family feels the impact of a crescendoing world war, the food available for the bowl is reduced until it is only “wheat balls floating in boiled water.” Yet every time before the family eats, they repeat together, “Itadakimasu,” (“We humbly receive this food”). When the atomic bomb is dropped on their city, her baby brother is killed by the blast, followed by her two older brothers, her older sister, her father, and her mother, who all die from radiation. Remarkably, the green bowl survives the bomb blast, and every August, Sachiko places ice—the only thing that could soothe her family’s radiation-burned throats—in the bowl in remembrance of family, loss, and hope of enduring peace. Kusaka’s illustrations have a stark, unembellished aspect, heightening the harshness of the haunting story they movingly portray. Stelson, who learned the story from personally meeting with Sachiko over many years, strikes a balance between conveying and condemning the destruction and loss experienced while giving full weight to the inspiring message of hope and resilience that helped Sachiko endure with an attitude reflected in the declaration, “Itadakimasu.”

Marsha Is Magnetic
Written by Beth Ferry & illustrated by Lorena Alvarez
Making friends meets the scientific method in this tale that’s snazzy, clever and utterly enjoyable

Faced with the problem of handing out birthday party invitations (without any friends to hand them out to), Marsha—an avid scientist—turns to the trusty scientific method. While telling a story through the steps of the scientific method is a challenging undertaking, Ferry pulls it off with flying colors, resulting in a wildly original yet comfortingly familiar tale of the truest way to find friends—being yourself. After Marsha observes a popular girl (Step 1: Observe), she seeks her parents’ advice (Step 2: Questions) on what makes her so. Clever wordplay by Ferry delights throughout, as Marsha takes her dad’s suggestion that the popular Christa has a “magnetic” personality literally and applies her STEAM skills to “attract” some friends. Fellow students’ various metallic accoutrements come flying towards Marsha’s magnetized contraption, and she hands out invitations. Alvarez’s illustrations—which seamlessly celebrate diversity of all kinds—are bright and playful, nicely exaggerating the effectiveness of Marsha’s magnetic impact and infusing the book with a unique style that perfectly complements Marsha’s personality—vibrant, nerdy, and absolutely one-of-a-kind.

This Is the Path the Wolf Took
4.8
This story has some charming moments and a cute premise but falls a titch flat.

As “Sir” Gabriel reads his own rendition of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs to his little sister Mia, she’s quick to point out that his retelling is different from their mom and dad’s, and, in her opinion, nowhere near as good. Why? Because Sir Gabriel quickly dispenses of the wolf—and hence most of the plot—in both stories, allowing calmness and ice cream sundaes to reign supreme. After being abandoned by his audience, Sir Gabriel soon discovers that without the wolf, he has nothing to do but untie and retie his shoes ad nauseum and sell his sword at a garage sale “since he really wasn’t using it anymore” and has become the “hero of a very boring story.” When Gabriel realizes that life’s story is more interesting when there’s opposition, struggle, and discomfort, and everything won’t always be smooth sailing and ice cream sundaes, he sets out to tell a new story. While in the end still nothing bad happens, he chooses to face such a possibility with courage, and that makes all the difference. In both concept and message, this fractured fairy tale has boundless potential, but it unfortunately leaves some of it unrealized and readers wishing for a little more. The distinctive style of the illustrations is fun, matching the lighthearted merging of imagination and reality in the story.

Ollie and Augustus
5.1
Ollie and Augustus
Written and illustrated by Gabriel Evans
A tale of friendship with unique moments and darling illustrations.

Ollie and his dog Augustus are best friends—they do “most things together,” and while they sometimes get on each others nerves, “they usually made up by lunchtime.” When Ollie is faced with the prospect of going to school, however, he worries about Augustus and attempts to find him a friend so he won’t be lonely. When none of the dog playdates he arranges results in a good friend for Augustus, Ollie can’t stop worrying while at school, though it ultimately proves unnecessary, as Augustus is perfectly content enjoying his daily activities and welcomes Ollie home with a hug at the end of the day. Unique inclusions in both the text—“Ollie was small—like a pickling jar”—and illustrations—the tops of Ollie’s and Augustus’ head peek just over the top of a brick wall as they people watch—give the book a distinctive, appealing flare. The sketched, almost monochrome illustrations have a classic quality, adding layers of meaning and emotion to the pithy text. Presented with Ollie standing alone in the center of the schoolyard (holding a stick that reminds him of August) as schoolmates joyfully play in pairs and trios around him, observant readers will realize that Ollie’s concern for Augustus reflected his own worries about starting school and making friends, and some readers will wish that someone helped Ollie with his worries in the same tender and loving way he tried to care for Augustus.

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl
5.8
Inspiring and gorgeous, this tale of balance restored (by respecting the role of women and the environment) is utterly compelling.

Sundar is raised in a village who celebrates the birth of boys with the banging of pots and pans and the sharing of sweets, but meets the birth of girls with silent disappointment. Seeing the land around the village ravaged by marble mining, Sundar decides to act for change and runs to become (and is chosen to be) his village leader. After the death of his oldest daughter (paralleling his loss of his mother as a boy), Sundar’s grief finds solace in planting trees in her memory and is inspired to honor all girls by planting 111 trees whenever a girl is born, and ensuring they have an education rather than becoming child brides. While Sundar initially experiences resistance, “slowly, very slowly, the villagers begin to understand that by welcoming girls and planting trees, they might bring balance back to nature.” A true story, the message of this book is poignant and one of overwhelming hope for the change a single individual can inspire. By breaking the cycle and investing in the future of both women and the environment, the village of Piplantri flourishes and enters a cycle of sustainable joy. The illustrations—created with a stunning color palette—have a cultural flavor that feels fresh and modern and engage the reader with their art and emotion.

Who Is Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
5.0
A great introduction to RBG for the coming generation.

Following Ruth Bader Ginsburg from her childhood (supported by a mother who imbued her with a love of books and a sense that she was “just as important as a boy) to her work as a Supreme Court justice, this informative board book biography shares important steps in Ginsburg’s journey to becoming the strong, renowned advocate for equal rights. It highlights the opposition Ginsburg experienced while attending law school, her work teaching law after no one would hire her, as well as her volunteer work with the ACLU that led to her own appearance before the Supreme Court arguing a case. This timely biography will appeal to Ginsburg’s passionate following and gives the littlest readers a chance to become acquainted with a woman who has become an icon for many. The text itself is on the longer side for a board book, and the simplicity of the telling lends itself best for understanding of the older board book audience. The illustrations are enjoyable, achieving a tone of realism in their simplicity and style that matches the biographical nature of the work while still appealing to its target audience. Overall, an excellent overview of RBG’s life and accomplishments for the budding generation!

Play Day School Day
4.6
Play Day School Day
Written and illustrated by Toni Yuly
Play Day School Day
Written and illustrated by Toni Yuly
The perfect book to get younger children excited for school.

Mona is excited for another school year to start the following day, and her younger brother Milo’s curiosity is piqued. His asking “What do you do at school?” sparks an afternoon of playing together as Mona describes for him some of the aspects of school—riding a bus, reading and writing, science, math, art, music, listening and running around—and they enjoy together a little flavor of each activity in their own backyard. The loving relationship between the two siblings shines in this simple story, as Mona shares her love of school in a way that creates positive anticipation for Milo while also giving him a sense of what his soon absent sister will be doing each day. The bold illustrations on plain white backgrounds are simple yet effective, focusing the reader’s attention on each activity and how learning can be accomplished in the natural world. A nice celebration of school and of siblings, this sweet book is perhaps best enjoyed by children about Milo’s own age who won’t mind the simplicity of the tale and will revel in their own excitement for school to begin.

Nothing in Common
5.2
Nothing in Common
Written by Kate Hoefler & illustrated by Corinna Luyken
A work of art with a resounding message—people have more in common than they think.

The story opens as a boy and a girl look out their windows, never waving because they have “nothing in common.” Except that it turns out . . . they do: they both enjoy watching an old man with his dog that “could do marvelous things.” One day, though, they learn the dog is lost, so they separately set off to find the dog and reunite it and the old man. Working alone, they both check all the same places and experience the same heart-tugging emotions. When they finally discover the dog (in a hot air balloon, marvelously enough), they work together to bring him back to his friend and realize the dog has performed yet another marvel—he’s helped them discover they share more in common than they realized. While the story, at moments, feels a bit random, it simultaneously touches readers “under the floors of their hearts” with its sophistication and depth. Luyken’s illustrations match the words in both abstraction and elegance, and the tri-color scheme is distinctive, effectively emphasizing both the neighbors’ differences as well as the the beauty that comes from their joint friendship. The artistry in both prose and pictures combine to drive home a message that is timely and timeless—being brought together over a common purpose allows us to discover we have more in common than we may realize.

Space Matters
5.1
Space Matters
Written by Jacque Lynn & illustrated by Lydia Nichols
A unique take on mindfulness and perspective that is both lively and ingenious.

The importance of space and the meaning it gives to everything that exists around it takes center stage in this incredibly clever book—shown through spaces turning a jumble of letters into a sentence, spaces that make room for echoes, spaces that give a sense of the bigger picture, and more. In a world that often focuses on everything but the blank spaces, the unique perspective Space Matters conveys is a breath of fresh air. The principles of mindfulness and seeing the bigger picture weave themselves through the brightly colored pages in a masterful blend of thought-provoking and smile-inducing spreads (e.g. a monkey riding a bicycle while balancing a teetering pile atop its helmet, night sky curtains parting to reveal a glorious day, and a candle being blown out in a sequence of three moments). Diverse characters play their way throughout the scenes, some of which may require some slowing down to understand in the abstract and leaving layers to be uncovered on future read throughs.

Play with Paint!
4.8
Play with Paint!
Written and illustrated by Jenny Pinkerton
An interactive and playful introduction to painting to inspire a love for art.

Pinkerton’s interactive board book provides a near-realistic experience of playing with paint. First, paint is squirted on the paper, then “spread” by hand as readers’ pretend to feel it glide over the book’s smooth surface. Little paint-stamped handprints show different shapes and inventive creations before the book delves into the fun of mixing different paint colors to produce new colors and pictures—in one mixture showcasing an unexpected color combination, yellow and pink mix to make “outstanding oranges,” wonderfully promoting experimenting and exploring less familiar methods. Next, different painting tools are introduced to see resulting effects, such as a paintbrush, a sponge, and rollers. Then it’s time to clean the tools and hang the piece of art up to dry . . . but wait! The final page articulates exactly what little readers will feel themselves—“More paper, please!” Pinkerton’s training in fine arts and art education help her create a playful and unique sensory experience of painting through reading. The illustrations are perfectly approachable for the book’s intended age range with squiggles, lines, and basic shapes, yet full of excitement and exploration with a myriad of colors. The use of realistic images of paint and tools along with the loads of fun splatters, smudges, and paint play is sure to instill and inspire creativity in budding artists.

The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman
6.2
The power of books pervades this meaningful story based on true events.

Anneliese doesn’t understand why the women try to clean the streets of rubble when the town will never be the same. With the nagging pain of hunger and the lingering heartache from losing her father in the war, Anneliese and her brother stumble upon a book exhibition, where “the lady with the books” introduces and engulfs the children in fun, relatable, hopeful, and resonating stories like Ferdinand the Bull, The Story of Babar, and Pippi Longstocking. One night, after eating a delicious stew due to the generosity of the farmer (and her mother’s selflessness trading an heirloom teapot and skill in catching a pigeon) and retiring to bed, Anneliese awakes and slips outside into the moonlight. She resolves to hope for a better future and join the women with their brooms the next day, but for now will sleep and dream, “like Ferdinand in his field of flowers.” This touching and powerful work of historical fiction is based on the true story of “the lady with the books,” Jella Lepman, who is introduced further in the inspiring back matter at the end of the book. This powerful story doesn’t shy away from or dwell on realities of war, leaving a predominant feeling of hope. Lafrance creatively integrates characters from the exhibition books peeking around the illustrations, adding additional hope to a city torn by war and further showcasing one of the powerful themes of the book, and Jella Lepman’s driving goal, of using books as “bridges of understanding.”

Fabulous illustrations are the star of the show in this story of a girl with a love for space and aliens.

Heather’s biggest dream is to live among the stars—she’s a big fan of outer space and hopes that she can somehow signal to the aliens to come pick her up. She uses her flashlight to click on and off out in the forest by her home, and surprisingly succeeds in her efforts as a blast of color lights up the night and an alien ship lands on the forest ground. She makes a new alien friend, but ultimately decides to stay home as her parents worriedly call out to her. As Heather grows through adolescence and adulthood, she tries repeatedly to signal her alien friend back to earth and shares the experience of her alien friend with (at least) her son along the way, showcasing her continued passion to space amongst her family life. One dark night, her alien friend finally returns, and the two fly into the starry sky before returning to Earth to be with her family (who excitedly watch her descent from the UFO). In this intriguing blend of wordless storytelling and actual text, Litchfield impressively uses illustrated panels to move the story along and add a sophisticated comic-book feel. Dazzling illustrations beautifully showcase the expectant girl in the forest, the blossoming friendship between Heather and her alien friend, and the tender moments she shares with her son and family. Explosions of color accompany the UFO’s visits, lighting up both the pages and Heather’s excited face. Overall, the use of storytelling illustrations and fabulous illustrative style make this story shine.

Hand-stitched art phenomenally displays how children sleep all over the world.

Bedtime around the world is showcased in this unique multicultural book featuring hand-stitched art for the illustrations. Each open page features bedtime in a different area of the world with a rhyming line, a short paragraph outlining more specific details about bedtime in that region, and a corresponding embroidered illustration. In the Netherlands, beds rock on the water as some children sleep on houseboats in the canals. In South and Central America, hammocks are used for comfort and protection from snakes and scorpions. Families in Afghanistan use rolled out mattresses “atop soft, hand-woven rugs and sleep together in a common room.” The rhyming lines on each page feel unnecessary and disjointed, as the rhyme and cadence are interrupted by the corresponding paragraph of information before reaching the rhyming line on the next page. Mavor’s impressively detailed and uncommon illustrations (printed to scale!) with the use of hand stitching and embroidery take center stage as they encapsulate a richer sense of heritage and culture through the details of architecture, clothing, landscapes, furniture, and more. The captivating use of novel illustrations paired with informative and educative notes about bedtime throughout different regions and cultures provides for an engaging, fulfilling, and out-of-the-ordinary bedtime book.

Dinosaur Surprise
5.8
Dinosaur Surprise
Written and illustrated by Agnese Baruzzi
Accordion style flaps terrifically transform illustrations of tiny animals into exciting dinosaurs.

In Baruzzi’s accordion style lift-the-flap board book, each page initially shows a tiny animal—like a butterfly, turtle, or jellyfish—with an accompanying line of introductory text. For example, paired with a tiny green snake is “Look out, little snake!” But once a reader unfolds the page (a nice variation on the more common flaps-that-flip-open interaction), the full illustration of what looked to be a snake exposes the middle body of a dinosaur: initially hidden by the flaps, there’s actually “a huge Kronosaurus in the water.” This delightful and unique take on the subject of dinosaurs is exciting in it’s reveal from little animal to dinosaur. The surprise found on each page—like that of “You could pet this hedgehog . . . but you wouldn’t want to pet this Parasaurolophus”—piques curiosity, especially with the discovery of less familiar dinosaurs included in this read. The illustrations are playful and simplified, rather than realistic, with basic, bold colors highlighted on each page. Some additional information on the dinosaurs included in the book could have added a fun touch and a deeper dive, but this primer is sure to be a hit for dinosaur lovers and novices alike.

Your House, My House
4.8
Your House, My House
Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
An inventive story that must be read slowly to fully delight in the details and storytelling illustrations.

Your House, My House shows a cross section view of one day in the life of an apartment building, with the storyline focusing mostly on a family of rabbits. It’s Little Rabbit’s birthday, so his mother fixes his favorite breakfast, and the family prepares for his birthday party. Little Rabbit makes and delivers invitations, Papa Rabbit works on decorations, and Little Rabbit and his sister, Lily, help make the birthday cake (which ends up burned and being remade by Mama Rabbit). Meanwhile, Little Fox comes over early because his parents are off to the hospital to welcome his baby sister, and Mama and Papa Rabbit help the Cat family move into an upstairs apartment. Little Rabbit has a wonderful birthday party with friends from the building and ends the night by dropping off some cake to Mr. Bear, who has spent the day sick in his apartment. The subtle last line (“What a day it has been for everyone!”) alludes to the various storylines in the illustrations—readers should anticipate multiple slow read-throughs to match all the delightful details in the storyline with the busy illustrations. And not only does each apartment-dwelling family have a story to tell, but other characters (including a bird family, a monster in the attic, Goldilocks, and Little Red Riding Hood) add to this multiperspective tale intertwining lives and events of varying significance, from day-to-day occurrences to moving and having a baby. Dubuc impressively weaves together snippets of the families’ lives through text and expounds upon them in the illustrations, creating an eye-opening commentary on the complexity of life, neighbors, and community.

The Old Truck
5.8
The Old Truck
Written and illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey
Simple text combines with retro illustrations in an instant classic about hard work and perseverance.

As the book begins, a young couple is seen working on a farm. The wife is visibly pregnant, and on the following page, a young girl has joined the family. Together they all labor, assisted by a beloved red truck, to haul produce and care for animals. As the girl grows, the truck gets older and soon sits abandoned in overgrown weeds alongside the barn, but in her dreams, the girl and truck continue to share delightful adventures, from the ocean to outer space. When she’s older and in charge of the farm, through long hours and hard work, she restores the truck, beginning a new cycle as the girl’s own daughter appears. Capturing the Pumphreys’ own ideals of hard work, persistence, and achieving big dreams—principles that they explain in bonus material were taught and lived by women in their family for generations—the old truck serves as a perfect vehicle for driving the story forward as readers watch the young protagonist grow and mature. This powerful debut treats themes intelligently, with minimal explanation but with enormous depth and meaning. The remarkable illustrations, created using handmade stamps, breathe heart into the simple text, and with their soft palette and retro style, give the story a warm, classic appeal.

The World Needs More Purple People
5.1
Playful humor infuses five inspiring lessons about being a 'purple person.'

A cheerful, young girl shares her guide to becoming a “purple person,” encapsulated in five steps she has learned from her dad, grandma, mom, grandpa, and teacher. Step one—purple people ask really great questions—she learned from her father (though she can only ask 20 questions each day about space dolphins), while step five—“Just be (the real) you”—she learned from her teacher. As she shares, she pauses to elaborate and comment on each step: when she describes step two, which her grandma taught her is to laugh a lot, she says she and her grandma “ESPECIALLY laugh at Grandpa’s funny noises,” as Grandpa is shown in a corner inset laughing and snorting. Award-winning actress Bell and author Hart include many moments of humor, which Wiseman skillfully delivers in the illustrations, to keep the lesson-filled text lighthearted and fun. In an affirming ending, the narrator exclaims, “Well, I’ll be a llama’s mama! You’ve been beautifully PURPLE this whole time!” as a llama pokes its head out from behind a tree and asks, “Mama?!” The illustrations include a variety of kids, ages, and interests, from a group of young classmates playing four square, to an astronaut, to a stooped grandma, and the book encourages discovering similarities and learning about, and laughing with, others.

Hello, Neighbor!: The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers
5.9
A heartfelt tribute to Mr. Rogers that is easy to read, informative, and wonderfully illustrated.

In this masterful picture book biography of Fred Rogers, Caldecott Medalist Cordell (Wolf in the Snow) shares what is clearly a personal, heartfelt tribute to the beloved children’s television personality. Opening with a closeup on the iconic miniature neighborhood, the next page zooms out to show a busy day on the Mister Rogers’ set before the narrative jumps back to describe Rogers’ early life—his family, religious influence, musical training, and early disappointment with television broadcasting. The story relates his path from running errands at NBC to behind-the-scenes work on The Children’s Corner to the national debut of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood before covering the show’s hallmark characteristics—inclusivity, thoughtfulness, sincerity, and imagination. Cordell’s award winning pen and ink and watercolor illustration style is delightful for the story, and he carefully incorporates myriad details about Rogers’ and the Neighborhood, some of which are described in insightful endnotes. He also skillfully handles the narrative, keeping it at a level that will be appreciated and enjoyed by children (and adults) while also being informative, educational, and above all, inspiring—a fitting achievement for a life dedicated to uplifting others.

Mayhem at the Museum: A Book in Pictures
5.2
A delightful celebration of art that will make young readers eager to visit their closest museum.

As a young girl and her classmates prepare to enter the renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a posted sign reminds them, “No touching the art.” While the children obediently follow the museum’s rule, they discover during their visit that the artwork on display doesn’t. As her teacher instructs her classmates in front of a work by John Singer Sargent, the girl is glancing at nearby Renoir’s Two Young Girls at the Piano, when suddenly the young pianist looks out from the painting and sticks her tongue out. More interactions continue as van Gogh’s self-portrait places his straw hat on the girl, apples roll from the white table cloth in Cézanne’s still life, and even the teacher is donned with Picasso’s bicorne. In the closing words that bookend the otherwise fittingly wordless tale, the sign from the beginning now reads “The art touches you!” Lozano’s fluid illustrations create a playful, energizing atmosphere where children might otherwise experience a stuffy, dry environment. The opening page showing the girl approaching the magnificent Met conveys awe and magnificence, while Lozano’s versions of the masterpieces within, though immediately recognizable, are presented with a youthful touch, bringing an enchanting appeal sure to pique young readers’ interest in the works and their own trip to an art museum.

The Elephants' Guide to Hide-and-Seek
5.2
Story and illustrations combine wonderfully in this hilarious, singular guidebook.

As an elephant struggles in a game of hide-and-seek, the narrator explains that to address this all-too-familiar sight, the Elephant Hobby and Sport League has created The Elephants’ Guide to Hide-and-Seek, a resource containing “patented” tips to help fellow pachyderms “achieve hide-and-seek success.” Abounding in helpful advice, it suggests novel approaches to the game that incorporate elephants’ unique characteristics. “Lumps in the bed are not usually elephant-sized,” the guide observes; instead, it suggests, pretend to be the bed itself, and “take full advantage of your ability to snooze while standing.” In another, elephants are instructed not to hide behind a cushion but to blend in with the furniture as an elephant is shown successfully pretending to be an oversized armchair in a room filled with vintage furniture. The terrific story culminates in a tender moment: “And if hiding isn’t your thing . . . maybe it’s not so bad to be found” says the narrator, while an elephant is enveloped in hugs from friends. While it can take a moment to understand the narrator’s voice, wit and humor abound as Hayes’ narration and Jose’s illustrations work seamlessly to deliver pages of laughs. The cover of the guidebook itself, which is shown inside the book, is fun and ironic, as a suited, monocled, and moustached elephant elaborates on the finer elements of hide-and-seek.

The Music of Life
4.6
The Music of Life
Written and illustrated by Louis Thomas
The Music of Life
Written and illustrated by Louis Thomas
A lovely reminder to find inspiration in the seemingly mundane and insignificant.

Lenny is a music composer living in the heart of Paris. One night, he sits down to begin a symphony but remains stumped for hour after hour until, noticing the sound of his cat Pipo lapping milk from a bowl, he is inspired to search for the symphony around him. Repeating the phrase “It’s not a symphony, but it feels like music,” Lenny draws inspiration first from the sounds inside his apartment (like a leaking sink), then from the sounds of the the great outdoors, both man-made and natural (like a jogger running, squirrels cracking nuts, and the squeaky wheels of a trolley), until he exclaims, “Now this feels like a symphony!” Created in ink and watercolor and featuring iconic Parisian elements and architecture, the illustrations’ blend of reality and style mirror the book’s message about finding and creating art from everyday moments in a blend of color and experience. Thomas’s depiction of Lenny’s facial expressions is skillfully nuanced, particularly in showing the familiar look of an artist straining to capture a fleeting, inspiring moment. Pulling together the scattered notes hastily scrawled by Lenny to capture each sound that inspires him, the story culminates in a full page of sheet music—composed by Thomas’s Aunt Anne—that gives readers a sense of the true magnitude of what Lenny has accomplished.

It's Okay to Be a Unicorn!
3.8
It's Okay to Be a Unicorn!
Written and illustrated by Jason Tharp
Utterly (uni)corny, this book about acceptance is fun but overly idealized.

Cornelius J. Sparklesteed is a hatter who lives in Hoofington—a town with an extreme dislike of all things unicorn, although otherwise, quite nice. As Cornelius prepares for the exciting honor to perform in the grand holiday show, Hoofpalooza, he runs into several friends around town and gives them little boosts of positivity, as well as a nudge to push the boundaries: wilder flavors, more rainbows, and a little kazoo action. Resolved to unveil his true identity at the show, Cornelius declares he is a unicorn during his big finish. While the facial expressions of the crowd of horses suggest that Cornelius’s revelation might be met with something other than acceptance, somewhat unexpectedly—and with a distance from most realities that is perhaps harmfully large—his announcement is met with resounding acceptance as all the horses don horns in a full about-face of Hoofington’s anti-unicorn policy. Tharp digitally illustrates the tale in a bright and energetic fashion, with frequent resorts to slapstick humor. While Cornelius’ profession as a hatter is cleverly ideal for someone with a horn to hide, the narrative gives away almost immediately to its readers his true identity, which lessens the story’s intrigue. However, the message about being oneself and letting uniqueness shine is all positive and showcases the impact that one individual spreading kindness can have.

If You Were Night
Written by Muon Thi Van & illustrated by Kelly Pousette
Nighttime is dreamily illuminated through soothing text and remarkable diorama illustrations.

If you were the night, would you “nestle under the covers” or choose to step into the darkness and explore the shadow-filled world? A child chooses adventure each time the question of “If you were the night, [what would you do?]” is posed, leading the way through the newly-discovered, night-time view of nature: a yard, pond, and forest accompanied by beautiful starlit skies and friendly nocturnal animals. As the night draws to a close and the deep black of the sky fades to blue, the question “If you were night / and all around was quiet / and all around was growing bright, / would you stay up to taste / a drop of morning dew?” is answered as the child tiredly watches the faint hints of sunrise with animal friends before snuggling back up into bed, the room dark to allow for well-deserved sleep as the bedroom window shows the brightening world outside. Van presents a dreamy and soothing poetic text that promotes mindfulness, introspection, and imagination, but the text is truly brought alive through Pousette’s incredibly executed paper-cut diorama illustrations. For a time of day that’s normally overlooked and unseen (due to both darkness and sleep patterns), night time is illuminated and enlivened in a remarkable way through even muted tones, making this a beautiful bedtime—or anytime—read.