Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat / written and illustrated by Javoka Steptoe. 9.15.2017

Little, Brown and Company ISBN 9780316213882

PRI Grades 2-6 Rating: 4

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javoka Steptoe is a picture book introduction to the life and work of the noted modern artist.

The child of Puerto Rican and Haitian parents, Basquiat grows up in New York with early dreams of becoming a famous artist. He is inspired by the world around him and sees art in everyday objects and scenes. His drawings “are sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.” Basquiat’s work is influenced by his surroundings as well as his mother’s mental illness.

Javoka Steptoe illustrates Radiant Child using techniques that honor the late artist’s work. His paintings on found wood feature bright and bold colors and vibrant scenes of Basquiat’s life.

Endnotes include more details about Basquiat, including his drug addiction and death at age 27. Steptoe also includes a description of motifs and symbolism found in Basquiat’s work and information about the artwork the author/illustrator created for this book.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has won numerous recognitions including the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott Key Award. Whether or not readers admire or understand Basquiat’s artistry, the book offers an informative look at the well-known 1980s figure.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist / by Susan Wood; illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh 9.14.2017

Charlesbridge ISBN 9781580896733

PRI Grades 2-6 Rating: 5

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood introduces Juan Garcia Esquivel, a self-taught musician from Mexico whose innovative use of sound revolutionized “lounge music” in the 1950s and 60s.

From a young age Juan developed a style of incorporating unique sounds, tempos, and dynamics into his performances. When he came to America in the 1950s, he was exposed to new and unusual instruments, along with the advancing technology of stereo recording. Juan’s long career in the United States included writing music for television and movies.

Author Susan Wood captures Esquivel’s creativity and focus, early influences, and determination in a way that will engross young readers. By putting words to sounds–such as the “bowm-bowm” of a kettle drum–she portrays the excitement and novelty of the musician’s work. Wood provides colorful details about Esquivel’s childhood, personality, and the originality that would earn him the “!” after his name.

Varied fonts suggest the wide array of sounds that Esquival captured in his music. Artist Duncan Tonatiuh flavors the book with varied scenes from Esquival’s life and culture, from the busy streets of Mexico City to a recording studio in New York City to the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. Tonatiuh uses a bold and colorful uni-dimensional style of perspective that complements the creative freedom of Esquivel himself.

Notes by the author and illustrator provide further compelling material about Juan Garcia Esquivel and about the artwork in the book. A list of resources and a full-page black and white photograph of Esquivel are excellent additions.

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist is a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book, ALA Notable Children’s Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection. It is available in both English and Spanish and would enhance any book collection, classroom discussion, or family reading time.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

As Time Went By / translated by Audrey Hall; illustrated by José Sanabria. 9.13.2017

NorthSouth Books ISBN 9780735842489

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 4

As Time Went By tells a three-part story of a ship and a community as they both flourish, deteriorate, and rebuild.

Originally published in Switzerland as Wie die Zeit vergeht and translated into English by Audrey Hall, the tale shows how both the ship and a village go through periods of prosperity and decline, ultimately coming together for the good of both. Though parts one and two end on somber notes, part three is filled with hope and optimism.

The reading level is fairly simple and the story provides the opportunity to share with young children how difficulties can sometimes be overcome with cooperation and fortitude. As Time Went By also imparts the significance of caring for each other and for what we have.

Though somewhat dark and flat, the watercolor Illustrations by Colombian artist José Sanabria have a compelling energy that complements the tone of the book.

As Time Went By is a 2017 Batchelder Honor Book and ALA Notable Book that delivers an important message and inspires thoughtful reflection.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Infamous Ratsos / The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid / written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers. 9.12.2017

The Infamous Ratsos / written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers.

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763676360

The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid / written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers.

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763676377

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Louie and Ralphie Ratsos want to be tough like their dad, Big Lou, in The Infamous Ratsos. Louie, the older brother who “considers himself the smart one” (p.7), devises several schemes intending to prove that he and his brother Ralphie are tough. The comical outcomes of his schemes have unexpected results. This short chapter book is most deserving of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book award it received.

Louie and Ralphie Ratsos continue to emulate their dad in The Infamous Ratsos are not Afraid. And Big Lou is not afraid of anything. So when Louie and Ralphie decide to start their very own carnival next to the local “Haunted House” inhabited by a “ghost,” they must be very brave. They enlist friends to help in their endeavor and work hard to clean up the empty lot. Unfortunately, they run into a few problems. At school, Ralphie gets teased for kissing “Stinky Stanko,” a girl in his class. At the carnival a bell flies off a game they created and through the window of the haunted house. Louie knows if he wants to get the bell back, he’ll have to face the ghost. Will they really be able to face their fears?

Kara LaReau’s animal characters are sweet and relatable in these entertaining stories. The plot moves quickly, the language is simple, and the great dialogue keep the story moving. Plentiful illustrations by Matt Myers add even more interest to these tales. Many wonderful lessons seamlessly weave their way through both books–no preaching needed. The importance of helping others and of admitting when you’ve done wrong are just two of those lessons. Big Lou offers wise advice in both books. “Life is tough enough,” says Big Lou. “We might as well make it easier for one another, whenever we can.” (The Infamous Ratsos, pg. 55) Also: “I just tell myself it’s OK to be afraid…and I try to be brave…I’m the boss of me, not my fears.” (The Infamous Ratsos are not Afraid, pp. 36-37)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Freedom in Congo Square / by Carol Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie. 9.8.2017

Little Bee Books ISBN 9781499801033

PRI Grades 1-5 Rating: 5

Freedom in Congo Square is both a Caldecott Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, each of these awards being very well-deserved for the unique artwork and the telling of the story of an enslaved people in New Orleans.

This is a little-known account of slaves in Louisiana whose weeks were spent toiling relentlessly yet counting down the days until Sunday when they could spend a half day in Congo Square holding a market, visiting with friends, and singing and dancing–in other words, experiencing a brief respite from their difficult lives.

Authors Carol Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie have done a superb job of putting readers right in the middle of slave life and allowing them to experience, in a small way, what these New Orleans slaves’ lives were like.

The Forward and the author’s note both provide much interesting background information, and a glossary gives understanding to the vernacular and difficult words. But the artwork and the poetic form of writing are what will long stay with the reader, both child and adult.

Freedom in Congo Square is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper / written and illustrated by Mike Twohy. 9.6.2017

Balzer + Bray ISBN 9780062377005

PRI PS-Grade 1 Rating: 5

A dog’s ball bounces into a mouse’s hole and chaos ensues in Mike Twohy’s Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor Book, Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run!

A New Yorker cartoonist, Twohy manages to introduce characters, a setting, a plot, and a satisfying conclusion using just 30 words to accompany his delightful artwork. From A to Z, the busy story unfolds, one word (occasionally two) to a page. The large-font alphabetical text will appeal to preschoolers, who are also highly likely to enjoy the fast pace and the overall silliness.

Twohy’s felt-tip and India ink illustrations are vivid against their plain white background and are rich with feeling, action, and humor. Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! is pure fun, with a heartwarming resolution and all the right qualities for a child’s picture book.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Leave Me Alone! / by Vera Brosgol. 9.4.2017

Roaring Brook Press ISBN 9781626724419

PRI K-Grade 2 Rating: 4

A little old woman just wants to be left alone so she can finish her winter knitting, but living in a small house with lots of children makes being alone almost impossible. So, the little old woman packs her bag and heads for the forest, thinking she will find the peace and quiet she needs to finish her knitting. Unfortunately, the bear family living in the forest makes being alone impossible. Once again, she packs up her bag, this time heading for the mountains, certain she will finally be alone way up there. However, the mountain goats force her to pack up once more and climb all the way to the moon. Will the little old lady ever find herself alone in time to finish her knitting before winter arrives?

Selected as a Caldecott Honor Book for 2017, Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol is full of charm, humor, and absurdity that will delight its young audience. Its rich watercolor illustrations provide warmth and visual appeal to the story and are the primary mode of infusing humor into each situation in which the little old lady finds herself. The illustrations have an eastern European flair, which is further reinforced by the ever-present samovar the little old lady uses to make her tea, providing a potential cultural side note to expound upon.

The repetitive phrase “Leave Me Alone!” always appears in a speech bubble in large font making it easily identifiable for pre-readers who will enjoy recognizing and reading this phrase aloud together with a parent or their fellow classmates. Overall, this book is a visual gem worth adding to any personal or classroom collection.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Du Iz Tak? / by Carson Ellis. 8.30.2017

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763665302

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Two flies “discover” a seedling sprout in Du Iz Tak?. The next time they and a friend see the young plant, it has grown, prompting them to ask a nearby friend for a ladder. They climb the leaves to sun themselves. Continued growth of the plant prompts them to build a plant fort, but while they work, they fail to notice danger creeping closer to them and potential disaster looming from above.

Du Iz Tak? showcases the writing and illustrations of Carson Ellis. Ellis determines what incites emotion in her bugs–from wonder to fear to determination to resignation–and writes from that perspective. Even though written in the language of bugs, Ellis’s application of grammar rules and her lovely illustrations enable the reader to easily understand the story. The drama unfolds quickly. Few words are necessary and few are used, but the created language is very enjoyable to read, and the fun lies in the discovery.

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth / by Cathy Camper; illustrated by Raul the Third. (Lowriders, 2) 8.29.2017

Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452123431

YA Grades 4-9 Rating: 4

It seemed like an ordinary day at the car garage until the earthquake hit and the cat disappeared. Searching frantically, Lupe Impala and her partners, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria, follow a trail of paw prints that lead into a giant corn maze where the trickster Coyote informs them that their pet, Genie, is being held prisoner in the underworld. Can they trust Coyote?

Determined to rescue Genie at all costs, the fearless trio power up their earth/space vehicle and plunge full-speed into a volcano and down through the earth’s rocky layers until they reach the center. If they find their cat, returning home in their hi-tech car will be a cinch. They just have to wrestle and defeat the god of the underworld who holds Genie prisoner. No, not the Greek god Hades–the giant Aztec god, Mictlantecuhtli!

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, second in Cathy Camper’s Lowriders series, has a suspense-filled rescue plot that engages readers with humorous word plays and puns while teaching earth science. The Spanish vocabulary spread throughout the story (defined in a glossary) and the depiction of diverse protagonists give voice to other cultures and validate characters that Hispanic children can relate to. Raul the Third’s graphic illustrations of skulls, skeletons, bones, and gods introduce Aztec world views.

This is a highly entertaining read, with Lupe Impala like a Latina version of Miss Frizz (of the Magic School Bus series, by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen), teaching important concepts and creatively overcoming obstacles.

From a Christian perspective, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth could engender discussion of the God of the Bible and His care for all creation, in contrast to the capricious and antagonistic natures of other deities. The story invites readers to explore ideas of love and sacrifice, and challenges them to reflect on how much they would be willing to risk for someone they love.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life / by Ashley Bryan. 8.28.2017

Atheneum Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481456906

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Ashley Bryan wrote and illustrated this award-winning picture book about eleven slaves, based on a real document of sale.

In Freedom Over Me, Bryan gives life to the slaves listed in the bill of sale for the Fairchild’s estate by giving them an age and work assignment. After the passing of Mr. Cado Fairchild, Mrs. Mary Fairchilds hires an appraiser prior to selling the estate and its properties (including the slaves) and moving back to England. The book starts off with a group illustration of the eleven slaves, with their ages and estimated value, followed by the poems for each slave. The slaves are introduced by their roles on the estate, then later by their lives in Africa. The book ends with a print appraisal of the Fairchild estate of the ten slaves. (Bryan added an eleventh fictional slave to his collection to round out the ages.)

He writes free verse to create two poems each, one about their life and one about their dreams. Inspired by the actual 1828 will of Mr. Fairchild, Bryan creates poetry with illustrations to interpret each person’s life and dreams. The illustrations for each slave’s life are muted, while the ones for their dreams are colorful. According to the author’s note, the title of the book comes from a spiritual, “Oh Freedom,” which plays a role in the civil rights movement.

Freedom Over Me was the 2016 Newbery Honor Book, 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, and 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. Bryan ‘s book is a tribute to the “strength of their human spirit and power of hope” (front cover flap), as well as a recognition that the slaves were individuals who had a dream.

Recommended for school and public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ