Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias
Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros
Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.
Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.
Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.
In THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”
But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.
Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review
- Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
CRESCENT MOONS AND POINTED MINARETS:
A MUSLIM BOOK OF SHAPES
Written by Hena Khan
Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini is a sequel to the duo’s highly praised 2012 book Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors.
Khan’s spare, rhyming text introduces readers to various shapes, but it’s much more than a book about shapes. Every spread spotlights a different aspect of Islam. For example, we learn that a minaret (with a cone-shaped roof) is the tower in a mosque from which the call to prayer is broadcast; a daff is a large circular drum; and the Ka’aba (a word which means “cube” in Arabic) is a holy temple in the city of Mecca. A glossary at the end of the book provides definitions and an author’s note explains the important connection between Islam, shapes, and geometry.
I savored every page of Amini’s exquisite mixed media illustrations. Vibrant colors and detailed patterns, including some incredible tilework, draw the eye in and keep it lingering long after Khan’s lilting, rhythmic text has been read. As an added bonus, every spread depicts a different country (though there’s no mention of it in the main text). In an interview with Deborah Kalb, Khan indicated that Turkey, Tanzania, and Malaysia are represented. I imagine that trying to guess where each scene is set could lead to some terrific conversations.
Usually, shape books are aimed at a very young audience, but Khan and Amini have added so many additional layers to the “shape” concept, that readers of all ages will surely be drawn to this beautiful book. And given that hate crimes against and harassment of Muslims have spiked in the past several years, a book that sheds light on their traditions and family life is especially important. After all, as Khan told School Library Journal in 2013, “Educating kids about different cultures is key to building tolerance and acceptance.”
While readers who practice Islam will enjoy seeing themselves on the pages of this gorgeously illustrated book, as a non-Muslim, I relished the opportunity to learn about some of the traditions, art, architecture, and culture surrounding the world’s second largest religion.
Author website: https://www.henakhan.com/
Illustrator website: https://www.myart2c.com/
Author Hena Khan is on tour with her new chapter book, Power Forward, the first in a series. Click here to see if she’s coming to your town!
POWER FORWARD: ZAYD SALEEM CHASING THE DREAM (BOOK ONE)
Written by Hena Khan
(Salaam Reads; $16.99, paperback $6.99, Ages 7-10)
I have to admit—I don’t read a lot of books about sports. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the first book in Hena Khan’s new chapter book series one bit. I bought a copy of Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream) for my nephew at one of Khan’s book signings (the first on her tour) then, as soon as I got home, read the entire thing in one sitting.
Fourth grader Zayd Saleem eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball. He’s on the D team (for now) but with practice he knows he can make the Gold team. Tryouts are two weeks away and he needs all the help he can get. That’s why he bails on his early morning violin practice and plays basketball instead—and he’s actually improving. But when Zayd’s mom discovers he’s been skipping violin and lying about it, the punishment is harsh: no basketball for two whole weeks. And that means no tryouts.
Zayd narrates his tale with a good dose of humor, but the humor never comes at the expense of emotions. We feel deeply for our narrator as he tries to make space for his own dreams while meeting his parent’s expectations. But something’s got to give—and Zayd will need to stand up for himself if he wants to keep those dreams alive.
Family plays a big role in this story and Khan does a terrific job of crafting real characters that we want to spend time with. Zayd’s got an annoying older sister, a fun-loving uncle, an adoring grandmother, an understanding grandfather, and parents who really want what’s best for their son—readers may find themselves wishing for an invitation to dinner.
Sports fans might open Power Forward for the basketball, but they’ll keep reading for the humor, honesty, and cozy warm feeling of being part of the Saleem family. And luckily, they won’t have to wait too long to join the fun again. The next two books in the series hit the shelves soon. Look for On Point (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream, Book 2) on May 29, 2018 and Bounce Back (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream, Book 3) on October 2, 2018. Let’s hope there are many more to come!
• Both books reviewed by Colleen Paeff
NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP
Every April during National Poetry Month, we like to share some poetry books we hope children will enjoy reading, ones that perhaps will pave the path towards a greater appreciation of poetry. The books don’t have to be in rhyme although our littlest readers do love the sound of cats and bats and rats who wear hats. If you’re interested in exposing youngsters to all different kinds of poetry, consider the following picture books and also ask your librarian for suggestions or head to your local independent bookstore today.
My Chinatown: One Year in Poems
Written and illustrated by Kam Mak
(HarperCollins; $6.99, Ages 4-8)
Reading My Chinatown allows to us experience a young boy’s adjustment to New York’s Chinatown after moving there from Hong Kong. This realistically illustrated (at first I thought photographs filled the book) story is divided into seasons beginning in winter and ending again in winter, a full, activity-filled year later. We see the boy not enjoying his new country’s New Year celebration. Instead, he spends time reflecting on his grandmother’s pickeled kumquats back in Hong Kong. All the while the narrator wonders, “But how can it ever be a good year thousands of miles away from home?” His feelings of detachment are strong. Always thinking of his former home, the young boy resists learning English, wanting to cling to his comfortable past rather than risk moving forward. Being given a board game like the one he had at home marks a turning point in the story. From the calming rhythm of his mother’s sewing machine, to a dragon boat race in Queens, from the familiar sound of mah-jongg tiles “slapping the table”, to making new friends, as the seasons pass, the narrator is starting to feel at home. And, at last, taking part in the following New Year’s festivities, it’s clear that he finally feels that Chinatown is where he belongs.
A Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 3-7)
It’s never too early to read poetry to children. And Rosen, a former UK Children’s Laureate sure knows it! In this accessible and varied collection of over 30 poems, there’s something for everyone including silliness and seriousness, sounds and interactive play. Young children are going to find themselves asking for these fun, often humorous poems to be read over and over again. Without even realizing it, kids’ll learn animal sounds, emotions, counting and some clever puns – read I Went to see what I mean – while appreciating the punchy rhymes, fast pace and kid-oriented topics. Current UK Children’s Laureate, Riddell, has provided artwork that feels more like the prolific illustrator Shirley Hughes than the Riddell illustrations we’ve seen accompany other children’s books. His range and talent are showcased in this collection that begs to be on little ones’ bookshelves.
In The Land of Words: New and Selected Poems
Written by Eloise Greenfield
Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
(Amistad; $6.99, Ages 4-8)
Visit “The Land of Words” with NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Winner, Eloise Greenfield. She’ll take you and your children through pages of inspiring poems as her lyrical language rains down on you and waters the soul. With over 20 wonderful poems in the collection, In The Land of Words felt like a mentor’s embrace, a call to action to create and an urging to just soak up every moment.Greenfield was spot on, if you can say that about a poem, in both rhythm and description of the patience involved when fishing in To Catch a Fish. I particularly enjoyed Making Friends about how something as simple as making a silly face can be the start of a friendship. Flowers is a touching tribute to stepparents. This one shares the pride and love a stepfather feels at his stepdaughter’s solo performance. Books, Story, and Poet/Poem will speak to readers and writers everywhere. This line, from books, especially resonated for me, “New faces and new voices, I listen and I see, and people I have never met mean everything to me.” If you love words, don’t miss this collection complemented by Gilchrist’s multi-media artwork that includes felt, embroidery and what looks like markers, making this book all the more satisfying. Overall I found myself quite enchanted by the cleverness from start to finish.
In a Village by the Sea
Written by Muon Van
Illustrated by April Chu
(Creston Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly
Junior Library Guild selection
Inspired by the author’s own life as the daughter of a fishing family in Vietnam, In a Village by the Sea is the story of yearning for the safety and security of home. Told in a circular fashion, Van uses few but poignant words to guide us from the open ocean, to a home atop a hill, and back to the ocean once more. Chu’s beautiful illustrations elicit powerful, conflicting emotions.
Interior artwork from In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van with illustrations by April Chu, Creston Books ©2015.
We see fishermen casting their nets amidst choppy waves. Dark storm clouds gather in the distance; solemn expressions foreshadow the dangers to come. Details like these are lush in each spread. In a Village by the Sea is the kind of book a child would spread out on the floor slowly studying and absorbing each image, like the gentle mist above the mountains where a family dog guides our eyes to a home, the home belonging to one of the fishermen.
Colors here are warm. Reds, yellows, and oranges from the lanterns hanging on the front porch and in the fire roaring beneath the “steaming noodle soup,” as well as the tender eyes of the faithful dog remind us of the things home symbolize. Though the contemplative stare of the central character of the home (the fisherman’s wife) jars our sense of security. Juxtaposed to her serene surroundings, the wife’s gaze is heavy with worry as she awaits the return of her husband.
A particularly breathtaking spread is on pages 16-17 in which we get an aerial view of an orderly and organized home where there’s a place for everything and everything has a place for itself. Every detail is intriguing: the sandals neatly placed right outside the door, prepped vegetables in baskets ready for cooking, a sleepy baby in a bassinet. Even the cricket that lives in the home is appropriately placed-in a “dusty hole” underneath a mat.
Interior artwork from In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van with illustrations by April Chu, Creston Books ©2015.
Through this extraordinary cricket, we are privy to another layer of Chu’s artistic skills (fully revealed on the last page of the story). “Humming and painting,” the cricket, we come to find out, is the master creator of this story. He is drawing the scene of a “sudden storm,/ roaring and flashing” where the fisherman’s “white boat,” helplessly “crash[es] and roll[s].” As one of the cricket’s hands draws the stormy gray clouds, you can see the pressure point of his brush. It’s as if the story itself is happening in the moment we are reading it, as if we’re experiencing the moment of creation itself. Chu reminds us that, like the fisherman’s dangerous journey, reading involves risk. We readers, too, are at the mercy of fate, unaware of what’s to come next.
Open skies, calm waters, and cheerful yellows at the final pages tell us the end is hopeful. The fisherman will arrive safely back to his home. In fact, the cricket’s final creation on the last page ensures it’s just so.
Readers of all ages will undoubtedly connect with In a Village by the Sea. In a world of certain uncertainty, the reassurance of family and love bring all of us home.
- Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Written and illustrated by Andrew Kolb
(Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 4-7)
Edmund Loom, a bright turquoise blue ball of yarn, is filled with bouncy energy and springtime exuberance. From his earliest days when he plip-plopped down the front stairs, he has yearned to explore. His supportive parents, a lovely teal green mother with knitting-needled hair bun and a sturdy blue dad with spectacles, have always patiently reeled him in and rolled him back up.
Edmund tries to “keep it together” by following a steady although boring routine, though grumpily cuddling up with an adorable llama at bedtime. But even little balls of yarn grow up, apparently, and the bigger he gets, the farther away he can roll when unable to resist the “tug of discovery.” One day he unravels into his biggest adventure, satisfying his wanderlust through the city, mountains and desert. Edmund meets new friends, tries new foods, and soars high with excitement until he ultimately feels the gentle pull of homesickness and loneliness that reel him in.
Kolb’s illustrations are colorful, crisp and playful. Edmund comes to life through simple though expressive round black eyes, eyebrows and mouth. A jaunty baseball cap and swirly strand of wooly hair counterbalance his long, ever trailing tail of yarn. The world that Kolb depicts in Edmund’s travels is imaginative and bright, introducing playful kittens, prickly pincushions, and rolls of adhesive tape. The details are fun to pore over, and young readers will get a kick out of the book’s cartoony appeal.
A special shout-out to the EDMUND UNRAVELS book designer for including clever scrawls of long, unwinding yarn on the end pages and a cheerful close-up of Edmund’s smiling mug that dominates the back cover. These give clear indications that this book is a visual delight from start to finish. Also of note is the adorable book trailer which captures Edmund’s upbeat personality and his omnipresent forward-rolling qualities to the tune of a charming wind chime soundtrack.
EDMUND UNRAVELS is filled with sweet whimsy and an endearing message that you will always remember who loves you and where you came from, no matter how far from home you may roll.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of EDMUND UNRAVELS from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.