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Book reviews for the New Year

December 17th, 2023

(Photo by Nancy Ellen Row Rawley/use with permission only, please)

Year of the Dragon, kids, my year!! is coming right up. I think I’ll skip whatever holidays are between now and Lunar New Year, thank you. (Just kidding. I’ll be cooking, cleaning and remembering to inhale/exhale from now ’til then.)

More reviews, coming up!

“Snow Leopard,” by Jackie Morris (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Publishers Group West, 2007, all ages, $30). This magical, beautifully illustrated picture book came out 16 years ago and is a lovely one for collectors and anyone who likes a fairy tale.

“High in the mountains the sacred cat walked alone, cloaked in her shadow-dappled fur. Crisp snow sparkled in icy stars beneath her huge paws, and all the while she sang.

“Down in the valley the Child slept, and in her dreams she heard the ghost cat’s secret music and saw the shadow of her dappled coat.”

Also highly recommended: “Small-Girl Toni and the Quest for Gold,” a brilliant, golden new picture book, based on the early life of writer Toni Morrison. It was written by Giselle Anatol, with illustrations by Raissa Figueroa. (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2023, $18.99.) The drawings are ethereal, bright and happy. I appreciate the way the author took Morrison’s back story — growing up in Lorain, Ohio, with one sister and three brothers, during the Great Depression — and wove it into historical fiction. The book includes references to Morrison’s work, with lots of details and encouragement for young readers to check out the novels when they are older. Nice job on this one. (I love Morrison, by the way. “Song of Solomon,” which I read when I was a freshman in college, changed my life, along with the lives of many others, of course. All of her writing is genius. If you haven’t read her, or re-read her, please do.)

  •   Ah! Good. More outstanding illustrations by Raissa Figueroa are showcased in “Like So,” a lovely new picture book written by Ruth Forman. (Little Simon/Simon & Schuster, 2024, all ages, $18.99.) Golds and yellows for the Toni Morrison book; greens, purples and other colors of nature for this story of a little girl, her grandmother and her family. So much love. “I hug you like so/you hug me like so/we got love/like so.” This is one you will want to read with the kids over and over again.

“The Masjid Kamal Loves” is a new picture book from writer Ashley Franklin and illustrator Aaliya Jaleel (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, 2023, all ages, $18.99). This introduction to Islam introduces us to Kamal, who loves Fridays because he gets to worship and meet with his friends and community leaders.

“The Little Tiger,” “Too Much” & “Today” + others — book reviews

December 17th, 2023


“Morning Light,” photo by Rawley/use with permission only

Well, good day, friends. Here are a few cool picture books, in case you’re looking for last-minute holiday gifts.

“The Little Tiger” is the latest in the “My Little Animal Friend” picture book series from author/illustrator Nicola Killen. (A Paula Wiseman Book/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023, ages 4 and up, $17.99.) Killen studied children’s book illustration at Cambridge School of Art, and her work is light and beautiful. Her trademark little windows are included, and kids will get a kick out of Ollie, who receives the tiger suit she wanted for her birthday and gets to go on a magical journey.

  • “Too Much: My Great Big Native Family” is a cool new picture book from author Laurel Goodluck and illustrator Bridget George. (S&S Books for Young Readers, 2024, ages 4 and up, $18.99.) This delightful book introduces us to Russell, who is over the moon to have a part in the school play. But… “It’s Family Time.” Is anyone paying attention to Russell, and his news? Vivid and playful illustrations from Bridget George (Nimkiinagwaagankwe), who is an Anishinaabe artist from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. Great artwork that makes Russell’s story come alive. Goodluck is the author of “Forever Cousins,” “Rock Your Mocs” and other works. She is Mandan and Hidatsa (from the prairies of North Dakota) and Tsimshian (from an Alaskan rainforest).

I really loved “Today,” a powerful and sweet book about mindfulness, for children and grown-ups of all ages. Written by Gabi Snyder, with illustrations by Stephanie Graegin (“The Long Ride Home,” the Heartwood Hotel series and other titles). (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2024, $18.99.)

  • Oh, hey, Santa! “Santa’s Gotta Go!” (written by Derrick Barnes, with illustrations by Courtney Lovett, Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, $18.99). Hysterically funny picture book about the Mack family, who think they want Santa to stay at their house — until he does. Turns out, he’s a rocker, and a little bit out of hand. How will they handle all the, uh, fun? Great title to add to your Christmas book collection.

“My Block Looks Like” is a fantastic new release from author Janelle Harper and painter and illustrator Frank Morrison (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2024, all ages, $18.99). Reminds me in the sweetest, best way of John Steptoe’s “Stevie,” a book I read (until the cover and pages were tattered) when I was a kid. The author/illustrator was only 19 when the book was published, and this gave me hope, as a young writer. Author Harper, a Bronx native, is “a proud veteran public school teacher.” Yes! And thank you. Morrison, who “started his journey as a graffiti artist in New Jersey” (practice and more practice for a young artist) and has now illustrated twenty-plus children’s books. Buy this one, and make sure you put out art supplies to go along with it.

  • “First Day, Worst Day,” is a funny, sad, kooky, sweet new illustrated chapter book. It’s from the “Very Worst Ever” series, by author Andy Nonamus and illustrator Amy Jindra (Little Simon, 2024, grades kinder and up, 117 pages, $6.99). Our hero will not tell us his name, mainly because he’s kinda shy and a little embarrassed, but hello, yes. He will share his day with us. Let’s go!

#Lastbutnotleast… If you’re looking for a wacky, whimsical graphic novel, check out David Ezra Stein’s “Beaky Barnes and the Devious Duck.” (Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House, 2024, ages 4 and up, 118 pages, $18.99.) There’s a new duck in town, and he’s tricky. Better watch out, townspeople. Check out more of Stein’s work here. He’s good at drawing! as my students would say.

Bon appetit, talk soon,