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The Friendship Book

Mary Lynn Ray, illus. by Stephanie Graegin. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-328-48899-2

This companion to The Thank You Book presents an ode to camaraderie of all kinds. In a cozily crafted world in which humans and anthropomorphic animals live in harmony, new friends brave first hellos, old friends read books and share lunches, and some friends fight (“But it doesn’t last./ Because they are friends”). Ray’s brightly poetic prose distills the joys (having a friend feels “as if there’s sunshine in your pocket./ Or inside you”) and challenges of companionship—sometimes friends need support (“maybe you say nothing. You’re just there”). An encouraging tone reminds readers that pals can be found in unexpected places and at unexpected times. Graegin’s pencil and watercolor spreads exude warmth and cheer as intimates share bicycles and tree branches, befitting this buoyant reminder that “being friends could begin when/ you say ‘Hello.’ ” Ages 4–7. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Love You Always

Frances Stickley, illus. by Migy Blanco. Random House, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-12400-0

In this autumnal ode to unconditional love, two hedgehogs make their way home. As Little Hedgie notices the seasonal changes, he begins to worry that his bond with his mother will alter as well: “Mommy... would you love me MORE... If I changed?” he muses. Sitckley’s gentle rhymes follow the pair’s ramble, using repetition to build a sense of security and warmth. As Little Hedgie ponders whether his mother would love him more if he had other animals’ qualities (squirrels’ agility, dragonflies’ flutters, rabbits’ softness), his mother repeatedly assures him that “I couldn’t love you more.” Blanco’s spreads evoke early fall—the lush nature scenes are accented with bold greens, yellows, and reds—and the creatures are imbued with gentle expressions, creating a comforting tale in the tradition of Guess How Much I Love You. Ages 3–7. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Book of Love

Emma Randall. Penguin Workshop, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5247-9331-9

This volume examines the many definitions of love—in unevenly rhyming text, Randall describes helping elders, giving presents, and forgiving slights, among other kind acts. The rhymes can feel a touch simple: “We often show our love with touch,/ like a great big hug or kiss./ But there are lots of ways to show you care,/ and ideas not to miss.” Still, Randall’s joyful heart-spangled scenes, featuring wide-eyed figures, exude warmth, syncing with the story best when celebrating inclusivity: a spread upon which a large, diverse group of people hold hands reads, “We’re all wonderfully different,/ and come in many colors and sizes./ If we love each other just as we are,/ just watch how everyone rises.” Attentive readers will notice a subtle visual message of paying kindness forward—a worthy one, despite the book’s greeting-card tone. Ages 3–7. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Lola Dutch I Love You So Much

Kenneth Wright, illus. by Sarah Jane Wright. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5476-0117-2

Lola Dutch’s friends Gator, Crane, and Pig are all having a grouchy day, and eternally cheerful Lola (who “loves her friends SO MUCH”) is determined to make them happy. Lola sews a cozy outfit for “cranky and cold” Gator, creates a bathtub book nook for Crane (who cannot “find her favorite book”), and takes Pig (who feels “left out”) on an outing that ends in rain—and, more happily, splashy puddles. She returns home, works to offer Bear “the perfect gift,” and receives a special surprise from her friends in return. Inspired by Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, married cocreators Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright craft a warm story that centers on making others feel loved. Lola’s yen for friend pleasing and refrain of “I love you so much” grows saccharine, but Sarah Jane Wright’s energetic pencil, gouache, and watercolor illustrations conjure a confection that’s airy, light, and sweet. Heavy on the message, but uplifting nonetheless. Ages 3–6. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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I Will Always Be Your Bunny: Love from the Velveteen Rabbit

Frances Gilbert, illus. by Julianna Swaney. Doubleday, $8.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-9848-9341-3

No mention is made of The Velveteen Rabbit beyond the title and a book plate epigraph (“Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always”), but the long-eared brown bunny gracing this book’s pages accompanies the various characters like that title’s beloved companion. Gilbert’s sentimental rhyming text rambles through an assortment of assurances: “When it’s dark and when it’s sunny,/ I will always be your bunny..../ You and me, we never end./ I will always be your friend.” Swaney’s simple vignettes radiate affectionate charm as different children play with the rabbit in familiar situations: snuggling in bed, waiting out a rainstorm, creating art. Its sweetness can edge into cloying (there’s no sign of the original’s macabre tone), but its small trim size makes this book fittingly giftable. All ages. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Nian, the Chinese New Year Dragon

Virginia Loh-Hagan, illus. by Timothy Banks. Sleeping Bear, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58536-413-8

In this adaptation of a Chinese legend, Loh-Hagan pits child Mei against a formidable dragon named Nian, who emerges every spring from his undersea mountain to feast on villagers (“He especially loved to eat little boys and girls”). After the magical warrior who bound Nian visits Mei’s dreams, she awakens with the warrior’s walking cane and a quest to defeat the dragon in 15 days, lest he be freed forever. Her initial efforts—scaring Nian away with cacophony and the color red—work for spans of five days each, at which point he returns, hungrier. After another dream visit, Mei formulates a plan: hiding the cane in a food-stuffed scarecrow for Nian to choke upon. An author’s note explains the origins and inspirations behind her tale. Though boldly rendered illustrations by Banks in places edge discomfitingly close to stereotype (some background characters, and the scarecrow, have lines for eyes), Loh-Hagan’s engaging narrative will likely appeal to fans of mythology. Ages 6–10. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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How to Catch a Dragon

Adam Wallace, illus. by Andy Elkerton. Sourcebooks Wonderland, $10.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9369-7

In unevenly metered rhyme, the team behind the How to Catch series presents their latest installment, in which a Chinese boy attempts to catch a dragon in his village for Chinese New Year with the help of his multicultural friends. Certain English words presented in red, gold, and white are translated into correspondingly colored simplified Chinese characters within the illustrations (“grandma” appears translated in a framed wall hanging, for example). Bafflingly, however, pronunciations don’t appear until the very end, where the entire picture book text is provided in English, pinyin, and simplified Chinese. Digital illustrations, while vibrant, are just as muddled; the setting seems to be an ancient, pre-technological Chinese village, though the boy and his friends all sport modern attire. Chinese dishes, such as sticky rice, are drawn like their Western counterparts and retain none of their cultural nuance. A fun concept with a less-than-stellar execution. Ages 4–10. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Chinese New Year Colors

Rich Lo. Holiday House, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4371-0

Chinese-born, Chicago-raised artist Lo presents a bilingual picture book of 14 colors, illustrated with traditional components of Chinese New Year celebrations. Each verso page is bisected; above the fold, the color is listed in English, while below, the simplified Chinese translation sits beside the pinyin pronunciation. On each recto page, an item used to celebrate Chinese New Year (red firecrackers, a lucky gold coin, an orange tangerine) is painted large in a lush wash of color, some in improbable shades. Interestingly, Lo employs traditional characters in his elegant illustrations, carefully preserving details such as a partial “boundless longevity” message on a blue teapot and “Happy New Year” on a gray fan. A spread at the end identifies each element and its significance, both in Chinese culture and specifically for the occasion. A lovely, surprisingly comprehensive entry into colors and the holiday. Ages 3–7. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights

Karen Blumenthal. Roaring Brook, $19.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-62672-165-4

In comprehensive detail, Blumenthal (Bonnie and Clyde) traces the complicated battle for reproductive rights in the U.S. from the late 1830s to today’s continued challenges. The centerpiece of the book is a scene-by-scene exposition of both hearings by the Supreme Court of the landmark Roe v. Wade case, in which Blumenthal sensitively illuminates the Supreme Court Justices’ struggles with the moral, medical, and legal aspects of abortion. The author also brings to life key figures in many arenas, including women faced with unwanted pregnancies who agreed (sometimes anonymously) to enter the legal fray, as well as doctors, clergy, and lawyers who actively helped or hindered either side. Closing chapters, entitled “Pushback: 1992–2000” and “Restrictions 2000-2016,” and the epilogue note the many ways in which reproductive rights continue to be vigorously contested. Written in clear, accessible language, as lively as it is thorough, the book presents the issue as far more nuanced and complex than the often sharply divided “pro-choice” and “pro-life” stances it is often boiled down to. Extensive back matter includes a glossary, timeline, wide-ranging bibliography, and notes. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Banned Book Club

Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illus. by
Ko Hyung-Ju. Iron Circus Comics, $15 paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-94-582042-7

South Korea, 1983—the height of military dictatorship and three years after the infamous Gwangju Uprising. Against this backdrop of political oppression, bookish Hyun Sook defies her parents’ wishes and attends Anjeon University, a hotbed of student protest. Initially ignorant of government propaganda and terrified of attracting the attention of authorities, Hyun Sook’s views are slowly challenged after she joins the Banned Book Club and befriends a group of student activists. Her transformation into a pro-democracy activist mirrors the real-life experiences of the author. Kim and Estrada bravely address a period of history little-known outside of South Korea and depict the often-violent consequences of defying an authoritarian regime. Less successful are the moments of levity, which feel jarringly sandwiched between scenes of violence and tension; Ko’s gritty style, marked by deep shadows and sinister rendering of characters’ expressions, also feels incongruous with humorous moments. Certain cultural and historical references may be lost on readers less familiar with Korean history, yet the messages of hope are universal, as are the poignant reminders that change can happen when people are willing to speak up. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2019 | Details & Permalink

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