Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for paper sun the inspiring story of tyrus wong

Image result for paper sun the inspiring story of tyrus wong

Summary:  In 1919, Wong Geng Yeo immigrated to the United States with his father.  Since only Chinese citizens of high status were allowed to come to America, the two of them traveled under assumed names and had to learn a complicated backstory so their answers would match when questioned by immigration officials.  His “paper” name was Tai Yow, which was Americanized to Tyrus. Both father and son worked hard, Tyrus learning art and working as a janitor. He eventually got a job as an in-betweener at Disney Studios, doing the tedious work drawing the frames between the key scenes in films.  When Tyrus heard the animators were struggling with the backgrounds in the new movie Bambi, he drew on the Chinese style of painting he knew to help out.  Although his work became a key to the film, he was only credited as a background artist.  Back matter tells of Tyrus’s long life–he died in 2016 ate age 107–and of the many different forms of art he created.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  The Disney aspect will make this appealing to kids, but it really is much more of an immigrant story.  The illustrations are an interesting combination retro-Disney cartoon and Chinese art.  

Cons:  The spare text seems appropriate to the story, but I wish there were more details of Tyrus Wong’s life.  For instance, when working on Bambi, the author states, “Tyrus thought about the mother he had left behind in China,” but that’s the only information about his mom.

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Pug Blasts Off! (Diary of a Pug, book 1) by Lyla May

Published by Scholastic

Image result for pug blasts off

Image result for pug blasts off

Summary:  Pug Baron von Bubbles, a.k.a. Bub, relates an adventure with his human, Bella, in which she enlists his help to win an Inventor Challenge.  Her first idea is to build a rocket, which Bub, due to a misunderstanding, inadvertently destroys. In his attempts to make amends, he gives Bella a new idea.  Her invention benefits Bub, and he ends up at the fair with her to help demonstrate how it works to the judges. The two of them win a prize for Best Pet Invention, and head off to book 2, due out at the end of December.  80 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Another winning Branches book from Scholastic.  This one is written and illustrated like a diary (always a popular format), and is sure to be snapped up by kids who have enjoyed the Owl Diaries series, as well as May’s previous Lotus Lane books.

Cons:  It would have been fun to see a few more humans in the book.  Maybe some of Bella’s friends will make an appearance in book 2.

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I Am a Super Girl! (Princess Truly, book 1) by Kelly Greenawalt, illustrated by Amariah Rauscher

Published by Scholastic

Image result for i am super girl kelly

Image result for i am super girl kelly

Summary:  In this new entry in Scholastic’s Acorn books for early readers, Princess Truly uses her super powers to fix a ruined birthday cake and to rescue a dog and cat who have gotten tangled up in the birthday balloons and floated away.  Her cape, rocket boots, and magic curls allow her to fly and create things with her magic. She always uses her superpowers for good and encourages her friends to find their own powers. Readers who want more can look for Princess Truly’s two picture books and look forward to books 2 and 3 in this series, available in December and March.  48 pages; ages 4-6.

Pros:  Rhyming text and fun adventures make this a good choice for beginning readers.  As always, Scholastic seems to have a good sense of what kids love to read.

Cons:  I wish the majority of the Acorn and Branches books were not quite so gender stereotyped.  The sparkles, rainbows, and purple tulle throughout this book were just a little too sugary sweet.

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Stormy:  A Story About Finding A Forever Home by Guojing

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for stormy guojing

Image result for stormy guojing

Summary:  A woman notices a stray dog in the park at the start of this wordless book.  Day after day, she tries to gently coax him to come to her, but he’s shy. Finally, he begins to play a cautious game of fetch with her.  One night, he follows her home.  As he stands outside her door, it begins to rain. Soon he’s soaked and seeks shelter in a cardboard box.  While he’s asleep, the woman comes dashing out of her house and runs to the park. Clearly, she’s looking for the dog, and when she doesn’t find him, she dispiritedly returns home.  Outside her front door, she sees the ball they used for fetch, and discovers her friend inside the box. He finally allows her to pick him up, and inside he dries off and has a good meal.  At bedtime, she shows him the pillows at the foot of her bed, but he prefers to curl up on her bed, and that’s where he is as the two of them sleep on the last page. 40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  If you need your heartstrings tugged, this is the book for you.  The illustrations are gorgeous with interesting lights and shadows showing different times of day and night.  The pictures tell the story clearly, so kids will have no trouble understanding what is going on. 

Cons:  You will definitely get a lump in your throat reading this one.

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A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

Published by Atheneum

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Summary:  It’s 1946, and Hanako’s family is sailing to Japan.  While interned in American camps, her parents renounced their American citizenship, and the family is moving to her father’s parents’ farm.  Landing in Hiroshima, they are shocked to see the devastation wrought by a single bomb. They then travel to the farm where Hanako’s grandparents labor as tenant farmers, and try to start a new life for themselves.  But hunger and limited opportunity make her parents begin to question their decision to leave America. In the end, they must make an even more difficult choice, but it’s clear that the love of their family will sustain Hanako and her younger brother as they move forward into an uncertain future.  416 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  With five starred reviews and a National Book Award nomination, this book hardly needs a recommendation from me.  The writing is beautiful, and the story presents history in a way not often taught in the United States. The difficult decisions that face Hanako–should she give rice to the scarred Hiroshima survivor and his little sister or keep it for her younger brother?–would make this an excellent springboard for discussion.  I hope to see this with some sort of Newbery recognition. I listened to the audio version of this, and thought it was exceptionally well done.

Cons:  The cover and description of this book didn’t make me super excited to read it, and it may not be one many kids will pick up on their own.

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Small In the City by Sydney Smith

Published by Neal Porter Books

Image result for small in the city amazon

Image result for small in the city sydney smith

Summary:  The first four pages are wordless illustrations, showing a child riding on a train, then pulling the string for a stop.  Emerging, the child declares, “I know what it’s like to be small in the city.” For a few pages, the narrator describes that experience–it’s loud, people don’t see you, it can be hard to know the right thing to do.  Then, “But I know you. You’ll be all right. If you want, I can give you some advice.” It sounds like the subject in question is homeless, as the advice is all about avoiding dark alleyways and resting under a warm dryer vent.  But then, “In the park I have a favorite bench. Sometimes my friend is there….You could sit on her lap and she will pet you.” The child posts a sign for a lost cat, and it all becomes clear. There’s a warm hug from Mom waiting at home, and the final page shows cat prints in the snow, opening up the possibility that the cat has returned.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Wow, this book really packs a punch with some pretty spare text.  I like that the ending is ambiguous but with a hint of optimism. The illustrations are perfect, with the blurry snowscapes that could be the result of teary eyes.

Cons:  This seemed a bit dark for several pages, which could worry some listeners.

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Just Because by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Published by Candlewick

Image result for just because mac barnett

Image result for just because arsenault

Summary:  A girl tries to stall bedtime by asking a series of difficult questions, but her father is always one step ahead of her.  “Why is the ocean blue?” “Every night, when you go to sleep, the fish take out guitars. They sing sad songs and cry blue tears.”  While none of the answers is accurate, they show a great deal of imagination. When the girl explodes with sixteen questions on a two-page spread, her father tells her it’s time to go to sleep.  Why? “Because there are some things we can only see with our eyes closed.” 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I love Mac Barnett–who doesn’t?–but my favorite part of this book is Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations, brimming with imagination but with a muted palette perfect for nighttime.  Showing a jumble of shells, animals, planets, and a guitar in the girl’s bedroom hints at the inquisitive minds that are part of this family. A perfect bedtime story.

Cons:  All those marbles scattered on the floor seem like a nighttime hazard.

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