Eszterhas, Suzi. A Leopard Diary: My Journey into the Hidden World of a Mother and Her Cubs. OwlkidsBooks, 2022. 978-1-771-47491-7. 40 p. $18.95. Grades 2-6.
Wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas, author of Moto and Me, returns with A Leopard Diary! Eszterhas specializes in photographing baby animals, and she jumped at the chance to photograph a female leopard and her two cubs in Botswana’s Jao Reserve, located in the Okavango Delta. In A Leopard Diary she has compiled her diary of the adventure, from the day she arrived at the Tubu Tree Camp through various return trips over the next two years. Her diary entries conversationally document the female cubs’ development, accompanied by full-color photos and lively page spreads that showcase their journey from cubs to sub-adults. The narrative culminates in the arrival of the Camp Female’s new baby, a male cub. As in all of Eszterhas’s books, the photographs are the star of the show. Many include captions that further explain the scenes so skillfully captured by her camera. The closing pages include an interview with Kambango (a guide and tracker who works in the reserve), information on Children in the Wilderness, and a useful list of Words to Know.
THOUGHTS: The author’s love of both her profession and the wildlife she photographs shines through on every page. Readers will come away from A Leopard Diary with a new understanding of these big cats and their “hidden” lives in the bush.
Kokias, Kerri. A Person Can Be... Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30487-3. $18.99. 32 p. Grades PK-3.
Human beings are complicated. It is entirely possible to be more than one thing – in fact, it is possible for one person to embody opposite attributes. The opening pages of this sweet picture book show a neighborhood street. Simply drawn houses and yards are full of children and adults. As we look closer and peek into each home or backyard, we see that each person depicted is full of contradictions. A mother might think that feeding the family dog under the table is naught, but the dog thinks this act is kind. A young girl feeding a pet cat is careful while filling the bowl, but clumsy when she knocks over the entire bag of cat food. A boy with a huge bunch of balloons is lucky, and yet unlucky when one balloon escapes. It is possible to be loved and yet feel lonely; trying something new is exciting, yet can make you feel nervous. Delightful illustrations by Carey Sookocheff clearly focus on facial expressions to indicate each character’s feelings, despite what the bigger picture portrays.
THOUGHTS: A Person Can Be… cleverly shows young readers that no one is solely one thing or another. We all are complex and even contradictory at times. Young children often grapple with understanding this concept. This book provides concrete examples of how simple, everyday activities, behaviors, and emotions can be at times contradictory. A great read aloud with plenty to discuss.
Yolen, Jane. Love Birds. Cameron Kids, 2022. 978-1-951-83640-5. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-3.
Jane Yolen’s newest picture book tells the story of a shy and quiet boy named Jon. Jon and his mother recently have moved to a new town. While his mother makes friends easily and eagerly chats with new neighbors, Jon is quiet. As he walks through his new neighborhood, Jon hears the sounds of children at play, and adults doing yard work. Jon listens to everything, but he loves listening to birds. He can identify dozens of different birds by their calls. Jon especially loves owls. On an evening walk through the woods Jon hears the call of a barred owl. Jon eagerly calls back, moving closer and closer to the owl’s song. When Jon discovers the beautiful bird call is made by a girl named Janet, he suddenly isn’t shy, and he is no longer quiet. Janet is a kindred spirit, a bird lover, and a listener. Janet and Jon become the best of friends, birding together as their friendship spans over years and turns to love.
THOUGHTS: A gentle affirmation for quiet children with unique interests. Sometimes the best friends are the best listeners. Yolen’s end-notes indicate Love Birds is meant to be a companion to her Caldecott Award winning book Owl Moon. Gorgeous illustrations by Anna Wilson depict each bird in great detail.
Kaufman, Suzanne. A Friend for Ghost. Neal Porter Books, 2022. 978-0-823-44852-4. $18.99. 32 p. Grades PK-2.
Ghost lives in the attic above a family. No one pays much attention to Ghost, until one day a helium balloon drifts by. Convinced this is the friend Ghost has been waiting for, Ghost decorates the red balloon with a face, creating a new friend. Ghost and the balloon are inseparable and share everything. When Ghost lets go of the balloon’s string in a game of hide and seek gone awry, Ghost fears his new friend is lost forever. Devastated, Ghost desperately looks everywhere for the red balloon. Dejected and sad, Ghost sits on a park bench, where he is approached by a bow-tie sporting ghost holding a red balloon. The two ghosts become instant friends and share their red balloon.
THOUGHTS: This simple text is turned into a beautiful story through Kaufman’s delightful and emotionally engaging pictures. Sketched on top of watercolor backgrounds, the illustrations show the emotional journey of Ghost from longing, to celebrating, to grieving, to hopeful. This book will inspire discussions about friendship and feelings. A wonderful, not-scary, Ghost story.
What is a more entertaining way to learn about a subject than through riddles? This eye catching set, aimed at the primary grades, is a worthwhile addition to the elementary school riddle collection. Space Riddles and Math Riddles both contained ten riddles based on their topic, and introduced vocabulary and concepts along with giggles. The graphic design, utilizing bold colors, large fonts, and attractive photographs, will engage young readers, who may not notice the books are organized like reference material, including a glossary along with websites and book suggestions to learn more about the topic. These books also would make a handy teaching tool, providing the instructor with riddles to insert into the lesson. Joke and riddle books always are popular in elementary school, and this set will enhance an easy fiction collection.
THOUGHTS: This visually appealing set of riddles is perfect for emerging readers. A fine secondary purchase for libraries serving young patrons.
Snider, Grant. One Boy Watching. Chronicle Books, 2022. 978-1-797-21088-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.
The simple, familiar experience of a school bus ride is turned into an excursion of discovery in Grant Snider’s picture book. Gorgeously enhanced with his own illustrations, the story follows one boy, one day, one ride to school. While the text is sparse, the words capture the small delights the boy observes on his long ride from his rural home to his school in town. Each page incorporates a counting theme, with concepts both simple (three pecking chickens) and more abstruse (no trains, infinite sky, countless flowers), sure to attract the attention of the keen listener or reader. Sinder’s color pencil and marker illustrations are lush and eye-catching, tying in to the school theme of the story. Bus riders are compared to crayons in a box, which echoes the feel of the artwork. As the long school day draws to a close, the boy begins to wonder what he may spy on the ride home. The story is a visual and thematic delight. Besides being fun to read, youngsters will enjoy counting, pondering the boy’s lengthy ride to school and long school day. How do they compare to their own school experience? The main character is white, while a variety of ethnicities are represented among the children on the bus.
THOUGHTS: This book would make a wonderful read aloud early in the school year, and will inspire many rereads. A worthy addition to libraries serving young patrons, especially school libraries.
Illustrator Lauren Soloy takes readers young and older on a rollicking exploration of a traditional Newfoundland folk song, “I’s the B’y”. A charming parade of characters, both human and animal, wander through the pages of the book as the song unfolds, revealing insight into Newfoundland culture. Readers can’t help but smile along with the exuberance reflected in the illustrations. Puffins, a fiddle-playing fish, and a cuddle Newfoundland dog mingle with joyful Newfoundlanders, participating in the fun. The book is a visual smorgasbord, with Soloy’s watercolor images radiating warmth and humor. While readers may not understand the vernacular of the song, and its many references, Soloy neatly solves the problem by including a lengthy Note From the Illustrator that walks the reader through the lyrics, explaining both terms and what the individuals are doing in each illustration. For this reader, the Notes were at least as interesting as the book, and ensure that readers do a second pass through the book, reexamining the lyrics as well as the artwork. For the musically inclined, Soloy also includes the music to the song, so an interested reader can pick out the tune. This book is a delightful exploration of a culture that should not be as alien to Americans as it is.
THOUGHTS: This book can be appreciated for Soloy’s artwork alone, but the addition of the Notes turns the experience into a merry delve into Canadian culture. The book also would have an application in music classes exploring folk songs.
Tomlinson, Rachel. A Blue Kind of Day. Penguin Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-32401-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PK-2.
Childhood mental health is the focus of this sympathetic story. Coen wakes up feeling blue; he doesn’t want to get out of bed. He can’t be enticed by dad or mom to get up, he has no interest in going out to play, laughing or cuddling with his teddy bear. But his loving family does not get frustrated or give up on Coen. Instead, they support him and wait with him until he is ready to accept their warmth and care and slowly begin to crawl out of the dark cave of blueness. Tomlinson, a registered psychologist, deftly describes the physical feeling of depression in terms a child will recognize: heavy, prickly, angry, while Tori-Jay Mordey’s soft, digital illustrations add emphasis to the story. Coen is shown restlessly trying to deal with his emotions, while his anxious family hovers nearby, attempting to determine the best course of action, which ends up being snuggles and patience. Tomlinson includes an author’s note with additional information on childhood depression. While the book is an important tool dealing with an under-represented topic, many children will recognize the experience of simply feeling out of sorts, and be reassured that they are not unique. Coen and his family are represented as multiracial.
THOUGHTS: This book hits a perfect note in approaching the topic of childhood depression and will serve as an excellent conversation starter with young children.
Abdul, a Black boy, lives in a vibrant neighborhood and has many stories to tell. However, when it is writing time at school, Abdul is frustrated by his inability to make letters and words on the page. His letters don’t look right, spelling challenges like silent letters confound him, and his stories remain locked in his head. When Mr. Mohammad, an author, comes to his classroom, Abdul wants to emulate him. But once again the letters and words trip him up, until he erases a hole through his paper. Mr. Mohammad senses Adbul’s distress and stops to talk with him. Abdul is astonished when Mr. Mohammad pulls out his own writing notebook. It’s a mess! Words run every which way between and around doodles, circles, smudges and erasures. The important part, Mr. Mohammad explains, is getting everything you can down on the paper. You can fix the mess later. Abdul is enchanted, and gives writing another chance. Classmates, all of whom are Black or brown, deride his messy paper when he turns it in, but Abdul shines in the end, when Mr. Mohammad reads his story aloud. This book is obviously designed to encourage children to write, and its simple message will resonate with many youngsters. Illustrations by Tiffany Rose are filled with vibrant colors and exuberant life. Emotions are well presented on the faces of the characters, adding to the empathetic warmth of the story.
THOUGHTS: The simple, yet important message is well conveyed, and eye catching illustrations will add to the attraction of the book.
Rex, Michael. Your Pal Fred. Viking Press, 2022. 978-0-593-20633-2 255p. $12.99. Grades 3-8.
Fred is activated in a post-apocalyptic world after two brothers accidentally discover him in a pile of trash. Fred embarks on a journey over a land that has been destroyed by war, aliens, a comet, and cats. It is now ruled by two opposing characters: Papa Mayhem and Lord Bonkers. Fred is on a quest to bring peace to all. Along the way he makes friends with disgruntled characters who join him to bring kindness to all. Will he be able to convince the two top dogs that peace is the answer and not war?
THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is full of silliness and fun, and how one individual can create a positive chain reaction through one act of kindness at a time.
Graphic Novel Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD