Book review: If I Was the Sunshine, by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Loren Long

Fogliano, Julie. If I was the sunshine. Illustrated by Loren Long.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99 ISBN 978-1-48147-243-2. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7Q9

The illustrations and poetry of if I was the sunshine are well-matched.  The award-winning author and  illustrator have created a flow between the words and the acrylic paintings.  There is an ebb and flow; a give and take that parents and young children will find rhythmic and soothing.  When I first saw this book, I felt put off by the lack of capitalization in the title and within the book text.  I also felt strange about the lack of punctuation.  But, when I read this book out loud, it felt like I had slipped into the middle of a conversational song between two people who cared about each other.  The poetry makes it feel private and personal.  Without saying “I love you,” the reader is expressing great feeling.  Overall, I was very impressed.  However, this book must be read out loud, and probably in a setting like bedtime. It is a great book for a library or as a beloved bedtime book; but maybe not so much for a classroom.  However, I could be wrong . . . maybe it is just what a classroom needs.

[Editor’s note: If you happen to be a grammar nerd, please consider skipping this one.  The author is fairly consistent in mixing up the uses of the verbs “was” and “were” to the point that reading this as a bedtime book to small children will make the nonstandard usage sound familiar to them. Loren Long’s colorful illustrations are well balanced, though I am taken aback by details such as serrated ears on deer.]

June 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.

Book review: Cowie, by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Stanton, Elizabeth Rose. Cowie. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2020. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-5344-2174-5. Ages 3-6. P8Q8

A small donkey in a red harness who wishes to be a cow tries a number of ways to achieve his dream, but nothing works, especially when his “moooo” comes out backward. Cowie loves “their soft ears and their kind eyes.” And he envies the fact that “no one rode them or made them carry things,” or made them pull things around.” Along with a round yellow chick, friends Duckie and Mousie try to help him with the “moooo,” but nothing helps until they turn him around.

Verdict: The logic of the narration sometimes fails, even in Silly Land, for example why turning around makes him change the “oooom” sound he had been calling out and how this change would solve all his other problems. The soft watercolor illustrations are the best part of the book, depicting a variety of personalities among the different animals and displaying their sweet friendship through humor.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: All Ways Family, by Noemí Fernández Selva, illustrated by Cristina Losantos

Selva, Noemí Fernández. All Ways Family. Il. Cristina Losantos. Magination Press, 2020. $14.99. 64p. ISBN 978-1-4338-3152-2. Ages 8-10. P6Q6

Adoption, a pregnant mother, and another girl born through in vitro fertilization form the basis for this age-appropriate story about the differences among families. Information about conception, pregnancy, birth and adoption is included not only at the end but also within the text of the story.

Verdict: Despite the reference to explaining “the process of reproduction and fertilization,” the text skips over that piece, and the page about “Reproduction and Pregnancy” shows drawings of two nude adults, one male and one female, with the large sperm and ovum between them. The book is text heavy for the story, and constant smiles throughout the drawings overdo the happiness quotient of the process, omitting any problems. The book’s focus is really reproduction, not “family” as promised in the title.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Doug’s Dung, by Jo Rooks

Rooks, Jo. Doug’s Dung. (Once upon a Garden series). Magination Press, 2020. $14.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4338-3237-6. Ages 4-8. P9Q8

Whimsical illustrations feature Doug, teased because he is weaker and less persistent than other dung beetles, who finds his own strength in creativity with the help of Belinda the Butterfly.

Verdict: The simple shapes of different insects have big eyes, and the garden colors brightly enhance the succinct text. Little ones will delight in reading about dung beetles, if they know about the species, and the charming illustrations give a joyous feel to Doug’s artistic accomplishments culminating in the finale—a brown statue probably carved from dung. Doug is a welcome addition to books about self-acceptance, courage, and reaching out.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable, by Oliver Jeffers

Jeffers, Oliver. The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable. Philomel, 2019. $24.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-593-11501-5. Ages 4-7. P8Q9

In this story about power, greedy Mr. Fausto takes a journey to survey his domain and prove to all things that he “owns them.” The flower agrees, the sheep acquiesces, the tree bows, and the lake ignored him. Even the mountain caved in to Mr. Fausto’s temper tantrum. Only the sea carried on a lengthy argument, culminating in the discovery that Mr. Fausto cannot swim. The book ends with a brief quote from Kurt Vonnegut about Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, that ends with Heller’s explanation that he has something a billionaire doesn’t have: “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

Verdict: Jeffers’ character comes from the Faust legend in which a man sells his soul to the devil to achieve power but is condemned to death. White space serving as the background for bold, richly minimalist lithographs with some white pages without artwork allow the reader to consider the message set forth in sparse hand-set narration about self-destruction through selfishness and the advantage of calm refusal.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Spot and Dot, by Henry Cole

Cole, Henry. Spot & Dot. Little Simon, 2019. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-5344-2555-2. Ages 4-8. P9Q9

Spot returns, this time to follow a lost dog through city streets and businesses while Spot’s and Dot’s youthful owners, a boy and a girl, post flyers with the hope of redeeming the missing pooch. The wordless book sports intricate, detailed crosshatch black and white drawings, sometimes on double-page spreads, which cause “readers” to find the two animals wending their way through places filled with objects, people, and other canines. In the happy ending, Spot and Dot, now friends, bound up to their persons and into their laps with a final touch to the two pairs looking out windows at each other.

Verdict: Fascinating, engrossing, fun-filled search-and-find viewing that ends with peace and security.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Douglas, by Randy Cecil

Cecil, Randy. Douglas. Candlewick, 2019. $19.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-7636-3397-4. P5-8. P8Q9

The life of  Iris Spinosa, another resident of the mythical city of Bloomville brought to readers in Lucy, is changed after she meets a small white mouse when she goes to the moves, a mouse named Douglas who stows away in Iris’s sweater pocket. Mimicking his namesake, Douglas Fairbanks, the mouse’s perilous journey back home is fraught with scary events, just as in silent films and depicted in grayscale black-and-white oils set in roughly circular panels, one per page, on white backgrounds. Set in four acts, the tale, including a clever cat, of escapes, rescues, courage, and friendship ends with Iris encountering her tiny friend and two stowaways in her pocket.

Verdict: Charming, creative art and story lines in a few lines on each page move toward a satisfying end and the hope for another Bloomville book.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: A Stone Sat Still, by Brendan Wenzel

Wenzel, Brendan. A Stone Sat Still. Chronicle, 2019. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4521-7318-4. Ages 3-6. P9Q10

Using the same theme of different perspectives from his Caldecott Honor-winning They All Saw a Cat (2016), Wenzel uses rhyming verse to tell how a variety of animals perceive the stone—rough and smooth, green and red, a pebble and a hill, a feel and a smell, wild and a home, loud and quiet, and much more. In each ecosphere spread, the stone changes appearance as it is illustrated through the eyes of a different creature from a snail (used for the book’s cover) to a moose. Throughout all those who encounter it, “a stone sat still / with the water, grass, and dirt / and it was as it was / where it was in the world.” The water below the stone on the first spread continues to rise throughout times of the day and seasons until large waves cover it in the end. A variety of styles in the mixed-media illustrations using cut paper, colored pencil, oil pastels, marker, and computer goes from hazy to crisp to squiggly.

Verdict: The beat and repetition of the musical narration make this book a marvelous read aloud.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Village Blacksmith. Il. G. Brian Karas. Candlewick, 2020 (illustrations). $16.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-5362-0443-8. Ages 7-9. P7Q8

The award-winning artist, father of a blacksmith, honors his son and the 1840 poem about the “village smithy” who daily toils “under the spreading chestnut tree” through contemporary bold illustrations incorporating traditional tools and depicting a slender figure instead of the poem’s view of “a mighty man” with “brawny arms.”

Verdict: Most of the poem’s language is straightforward and clear; only the moral in the last stanza about “our fortunes [being] wrought” “at the flaming forge of Life” might need some discussion between adults and youth. Karas’ illustrated page of “A Blacksmith’s Tools of the Trade” add to the understanding of the blacksmith’s work, and the book concludes with the poem repeated on one page.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Weather’s Bet, Ed Young, words by Stephen Cowan, [photography: John Hudak]

Young, Ed. The Weather’s Bet. Words by Stephen Cowan. Photo. John Hudak. Philomel, 2020. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-525-51382-7. Ages 3-7. P8Q9

Caldecott Medal winner Young uses mixed-media collage and torn paper to illustrate Aesop’s fable about gentleness and kind persuasion winning when bluster and force fail, also told in Ian Lendler’s The Fabled Life of Aesop. Cowan’s lyrical narrative tells about a contest among three sky powers—“Wind, whose anger rules the air”; “Rain, whose power … could make things drown”; and “Sun, whose joy ruled the light”—to see which one could remove the red cap from a shepherd girl. Background colors reflect the nature of the three powers, moving toward the yellow and orange of the sun. In a summary about the sun’s revelation, “the Wind and Rain then humbly bowed to the joyful light behind the cloud.” Cowan and Young have added rain to the original Aesop battle between wind and sun and changed the sheep herder to a girl.

Verdict: Gorgeous backgrounds in mixed-media collages with straightforward, simple rhymes wonderfully communicate the message that “our endangered, vulnerable planet must be sustained by respect.” [Editor’s note: the collages include photographs of the goats in the herd, creating artistic tension between the realistic goats and the layered collages of the shepherd and landscapes.]

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.