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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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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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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Me and the Sky: Captain Beverley Bass, Pioneering Pilot by Beverley Bass with Cynthia Williams, pictures by Joanie Stone

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Image result for me and the sky beverly bass amazon

Image result for me and the sky beverly bass amazon

Summary:  From the time she was a kid, Beverley Bass was fascinated by flying.  She enjoyed throwing herself off the top of the washing machine and watching planes take off and land at the local airport.  She took her first flying lesson at 19, and decided aviation was going to be her career. She took jobs men didn’t want, like flying cargo and private business planes; by the time she was 24, she had been hired by American Airlines as a flight engineer.  From there, she worked her way up to co-pilot, and at 34 she was made the first woman captain of an American Airlines plane. She eventually became the first to captain an all-female flight crew at American Airlines and the first woman to teach other pilots. She finishes her memoir with this message: “No dream is too big.  Dream big and soar high!” Includes additional information about Beverley, her experiences on 9/11 (which became the basis for a musical called Come from Away), and her role in founding the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An inspiring picture book about a little-known woman who broke many barriers for women in aviation.  The illustrations have a retro 1950’s look that is fun and appealing.

Cons:  Not really a con, but I’d like to know more of the 9/11 tale if there are any aspiring writers out there who would like to take on that picture book project.

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The Bravest Man in the World: A Story Inspired by Wallace Hartley and the Titanic by Patricia Polacco

Published by Simon and Schuster

Image result for patricia polacco bravest man in the world

Image result for bravest man in the world polacco

Summary:  When young Jonathan complains about practicing piano, calling it a “sissy” pastime, his grandfather tells him a story of a musician he describes as “the bravest man in the world”.  It turns out that, as a child, his grandfather inadvertently became a stowaway on the Titanic.  There, he had a string of incredible luck, getting mentored by violinist Mr. Hartley and cook Mrs. Weeks.  After a few lessons from Mr. Hartley, the boy got a chance to play for John Jacob Astor, who invited him to study at the Institute of Musical Art.  He’d live with Mrs. Weeks in New York. Alas, everyone’s jubilation was short-lived; that night the ship sank, and the boy barely escaped, with the haunting notes of “Nearer My God to Thee” played by the ship’s orchestra, including Mr. Hartley, serving as the soundtrack to the disaster.  Includes an author’s note about Wallace Hartley and his violin, which survived the sinking. 56 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Titanic history  buffs will appreciate this tale of life on board the luxury ship, as well as an account of the sinking.  As usual, Patricia Polacco tells a story designed to tug at the heartstrings.

Cons:  I confess I’m not a huge Polacco fan, generally find her books verbose and mawkishly sentimental.  Check and check on this one. Also, it seemed pretty unrealistic that the boy’s fortunes could turn around so dramatically in the few days the Titanic was at sea.

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At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre

Published by Kokila

Image result for at the mountains base traci sorell

Image result for at the mountains base traci sorell

Summary:  “At the mountain’s base grows a hickory tree.  Beneath this sits a cabin. In that cabin lies a cozy kitchen, where a stove’s fire warms.”  Around that stove, a family gathers and sings. They’re thinking of another woman in their family who is a pilot, away at war, but praying for peace.  Includes an author’s note about American Indian and Alaska Native women who have served in wars. One pilot in particular is profiled, Ola Mildred Rexroat, who was the only Native woman among 1074 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A brief, but beautiful poem celebrating Native women pilots and the families who support them.  Traci Sorell’s first book We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga was a Sibert honor book last year.

Cons:  Although the poem is lovely, I didn’t really understand it until after I read the author’s note.

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