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New Picture Books December 5, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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As we come to the end of the year, it’s time for lots and lots of lists. Lists of Best Books of the Year, Best Illustrated Books of the Year, Notable Books of the Year, and of course the many, many contenders for the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, as well as the National Book Award. So below are six picture books that caught my eye this fall. Many show up on the lists mentioned above; all made me grateful for the wonderful talents of the fantastic artists and illustrators working today. Enjoy!

Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack, artwork by Leo & Diane Dillon. 

We have so many books about the many thousands of Africans who were brought to the Americas as slaves, their children and grandchildren, who worked and fought for their freedom. But what about those left behind in Africa? McKissack tells the story of a heartbroken father, who calls on the spirits of Earth, Fire, Water and Wind to help him learn what has happened to his kidnapped son. Along the way, through the stunning illustrations by the Dillons, we see the journey of those who were taken, and remember that in their families, they were never forgotten.

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

The Macy’s parade is definitely what kicks off the holiday season for me and my family, but we usually pay more attention to the musical numbers and floats than the balloons. This book is an amazing look at how the balloons became part of the parade, through the imagination of puppeteer Tony Sarg. I knew Sarg’s name, as a marionette artist, but it was wonderful to learn more about his life, his work as a puppeteer and window designer, and the various complication to designing and creating the famous parade balloons. Sweet’s collage illustrations invite multiple re-readings, as you begin to pick out which images are painted, which are cut from paper and which are actually three-dimensional. This year during the parade, I paid attention to the balloons!

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong, illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang.

This poignant story details all the activities surrounding the Chinese New Year, as narrated by a little girl who is ecstatic that her father is home for the only time all year.  A trip to the barbershop, making sticky rice balls, fixing the house, the dragon dance and building a snowman are all even more fun when Papa is around. All too soon, it is time for him to leave again, but the narrator has thought of a special present for him to take along. The bright gouache illustrations are detailed and engaging, showing the house, the town and neighbors in flat expanses of color, with patterns of stripes and dots bringing them to life. A perfect read aloud for the classroom that also invites discussion of how to cope when a parent is away.

Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes.

I’m always excited to see what Sidman and Krommes create together. With a Caldecott Medal, Newbery Honor and several Caldecott Honors between them, this book is no exception to their great track record. The simple, poetic text explains how a spiral shape is good for many things, including keeping animals safe (all curled up below ground), growing larger (a nautilus shell), reaching out (octopus tentacles) and holding onto things (monkey tails and elephant tusks). Krommes’ vibrant scratchboard illustrations are labeled with the various animals depicted and the book includes more information about some of the species and phenomena depicted in an end note. Now I want them to create another set of books about other natural patterns, such as the hexagonal honeycomb!

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee

Another poetic look at a natural phenomenon, Ray and Frazee explore all the places we see stars, from the night sky to a magic wand, to flowers, snowflakes and dandelion seeds. Many of the illustrations are  vignettes–children floating in the white space of the page as they cut stars from paper or pick up a stuffed animal. These are interposed with full page and two page spreads of children in open environments–walking down the road, sledding on a hill or looking into a blue or yellow sky. A beautiful meditation on one of the most mysterious and lovely parts of the night sky.

Migrant by Maxine Trottier, pictures by Isabelle Arsenault

This was the surprise of the bunch. I had seen this book favorably reviewed in a few places, but the title wasn’t that memorable and I didn’t recognize either the author or the illustrator. Migrant is a wonderful, visually arresting story of Anna, a girl from Mexico who travels each year with her family as they work in the fields picking tomatoes and other vegetables. Clues to the family’s Mennonite religion and economic poverty are sprinkled through the text, including references to “good plain German,” “another empty farmhouse,” and “shop for groceries at the cheap store.” The pictures also show Anna and her family in clothing that students may recognize as similar to clothing worn by the Amish. An author’s note at the end explains how the Mennonite community came to Mexico and why they travel to Canada each year as migrant workers.  As Anna follows her family, she talks about feeling like a jack rabbit, a bee and a kitten, imaginings that are reflected in the slightly surreal collage, watercolor and crayon illustrations. This book is a great way to discuss and build compassion for migrant workers and the struggles of people living below the poverty line, especially for students who are used to only seeing migrant workers depicted as people of color. Pair with Amelia’s Road by Linda Jacobs Altman or Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull to extend the discussion.

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