#IMWAYR: Picture Book Pandemonium, Part 3!
It's time for another installment of Picture Book Pandemonium! But before we dive in, I have an announcement: As of Sunday...
Completely Full Bookshelf is 5 years old!!!
I would tell you it doesn't feel nearly that long since I posted my very first book review (of When You Reach Me) all those years ago...but, actually, it feels exactly that long since then! It's pretty entertaining to see how I've gradually moved from reviews that were only 3 or 4 sentences to reviews that are 3,309 words long. Running this blog for so many years has been such a valuable experience for me that I can't even express my feelings properly—it's been an outlet for me to talk about one of my favorite things, it's been a motivating force to keep reading books (including ones I might never have tried otherwise, like the picture books I'll be reviewing today), and it's been a means of participation in two wise, supportive, and fun online communities! I'd like to thank everyone who participates in MMGM, including creator Shannon Messenger and current host Greg Pattridge, for welcoming me to the blogging world 5 years ago and showing up so frequently on all of my posts. And I'd like to thank everyone who participates in #IMWAYR, including hosts Jen Vincent, Kellee Moye, and Ricki Ginsberg, for introducing me to so many other wonderful kinds of books and being immensely supportive since I joined at the start of the pandemic. I'll likely be scaling back my Thursday posts until next summer due to the chaos that will resume after summer break ends, but rest assured that I will frantically work to keep my Monday posts as consistent as they've been since March 15, 2020—I haven't missed a week since then, and I don't plan to now!
Also, just a quick reminder that I shared another original poem on Thursday called "Soon enough"—check it out here! Now let's dive into some picture book reviews!
We Are Water Protectors
Written by Carole Lindstrom
Illustrated by Michaela Goade
Recipient of this year's Caldecott Medal, We Are Water Protectors tells the story of an unnamed Ojibwe girl who has learned from her Nokomis (grandmother) about the sacred water that sustains her community and the nature around it. When a "black snake" (an oil pipeline) threatens the water and the natural environment, our protagonist decides to act to protect the water, fighting both for her culture's values and for the sake of the living things that have no voice themselves.
I think a lot of us have seen headlines in the news about oil pipelines that threaten the livelihoods of people, plants, and animals. But it took this book to turn those issues from some vague, meaningless headline into a deeply concerning issue that we must fight at all costs. Carole Lindstrom's lyrical writing explains the value and necessity of the water around us (including within the Ojibwe/other Native American cultures), and a pledge you can sign at the back of the book acts as a call to action for all of us, not just the story's protagonist, to become water protectors. But the real star of the show is Michaela Goade's drop-dead gorgeous illustrations, which pretty much scream "Caldecott Medal winner!" the moment you look at them. The watercolor style combines with vivid colors and varied illustrations to form myriad lush, attention-getting pages. Goade mentions in her illustrator's note that character outfits, animals and plants, and even the frequent floral motifs are all pulled from Ojibwe culture, thus acting as discreet introductions for readers to said culture. Between its Native American representation, environmentalist message, gorgeous illustrations, and effective call to action, We Are Water Protectors is essential to the fight for clean water and against oil pipelines—and as more people join the fight, hopefully the tides will turn in favor of the environment (and in some cases, they hopefully already have).
Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
Cheriee Weichel at Library Matters was recently recommending this picture book (in addition to some others by Maclear in the past), and her recommendation reminded me that Maclear, author of the fantastic MG graphic novel Operatic, has written an impressive number of picture books over her career, and I'm going to try to take a look at some of those when I can!
The fun-loving, imaginative young girl who acts as Story Boat's narrator is a refugee, traveling alongside her younger brother, her cat, and the rest of her family/many other refugees on the way to another place. As they persevere through long treks and refugee camps, the young girl finds comfort in a familiar variety of objects, like a flower or a blanket, and in the ways she can transform them in her imagination into parts of an exciting adventure! But as the protagonist makes up stories in her head, she learns that her story—her real story—is an essential part of the journey she is making in real life.
I don't know how good of a summary that is, since the story here is pretty abstract. But basically, think of Story Boat as childlike imagination meets journey of refugees (just as it does in the real world when children become refugees, unfortunately). I had one small qualm about this book, but before we get to it, let's talk about what I liked. Just as she does in Operatic, Kyo Maclear writes poetically and thoughtfully. While her style can sometimes come across as slightly opaque or pretentious, I think it overall shows her immense respect for the minds of children, as she captures the creativity (and the abstractness) of children's thoughts in an artistic way that not all children's authors bother to do and that fits in with the writing styles of the literary world at large. Maclear has turned children's minds into a work of art as beautiful (if slightly irritating) as a book of poetry or an award-winning bestseller novel, if that makes sense. Looking at Story Boat in particular, Maclear zeroes in on everyday objects and how our protagonist mentally turns them into things of beauty, and she also illustrates how a home can be wherever you are, if you choose to think of it that way. Rashin Kheiriyeh's illustrations have a beautiful color scheme of pale blues, bright oranges, and white and black accents, with a sketch-like quality reminiscent of a child's own drawings (though obviously with more craftsmanship). The illustrations depict some of the pain of being a refugee in the backgrounds of people walking or staying in tents, but they leave the foreground to mirror Maclear's words and show a young child making the best of a bad situation. My small qualm is that Kheiriyeh's drawings have a messiness, even a splotchiness, to them that, one could argue, mirrors the discomfort of the refugee experience—but even so, I found the style to detract from the beauty of the artwork and to be somewhat irritating. I didn't like this book as much as We Are Water Protectors (which begs the question of why this review is longer), but Story Boat is still a valuable story about a painful real-world truth and a child's resilience in spite of it, and I'm definitely curious to read more of Maclear's work!
Written by Joanna Ho
Illustrated by Dung Ho
(Random tangent: why is title case so confusing? Why would you capitalize "that" in a book title but not "in" or "the"? Apparently HarperCollins doesn't know either, because they don't capitalize "that" on the cover but they do online. Grammar. Ugh.)
This is one of those stories that literally everyone has read, and after seeing it recommended by whatever AI recommends things on Libby, I decided I needed to try it! The unnamed protagonist of Eyes That Kiss in the Corners notices that her eyes look different from those of the other kids at school. As our protagonist puts it, she has "eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea." As our protagonist shows us how her different eyes link her with her Mama, her Amah, and her younger sister Mei-Mei, this book blossoms into both a celebration of our differences and a beautiful look at a loving family.
Oh my goodness, this book is incredible! To think that I wouldn't have read this if I hadn't gotten over myself a while back and started reading picture books—I would have been missing out greatly! First of all, I am so glad that this book exists for young readers, so that they can learn that, in spite of the cruelty they may face, having different eyes (or any kind of different appearance from other people) isn't something to be ashamed of, but something beautiful to be celebrated. But what I didn't necessarily realize before reading this story is that it deals with a lot more than just having different eyes. Joanna Ho's beautiful writing, full of beautiful figurative language and allusions to eyes/eyesight, explores each member of the protagonist's loving family in turn—her sweet and loving Mama; her Amah, who tells her stories; and her playful younger sister Mei-Mei. The fun our protagonist has with her family, the love for both her family and her culture, and the appreciation of everyday moments—it's all there, and it's all wonderful! But what really makes this story is Dung Ho's gorgeous—GORGEOUS—illustrations. They are Pixar-esque in their detail, their neatness, and their radiance, and the vivid rainbow of colors, the inventive layouts, the characters' infectious smiles, and the blooming flowers used as a motif throughout the pages all bring an immense joy to this story. Joanna Ho posted on Instagram in the cover reveal of this book's sequel, Eyes That Speak to the Stars, that she plans to tackle some of the hate people can face for their differences more in that story—and while I look forward to the sequel for so many reasons, I think it is wonderful that Eyes That Kiss in the Corners leaves out some of the painful aspects and is simply a source of pure, unadulterated joy for its readers. I hope and expect that this book will bring confidence and pride in one's family and culture, as well as acceptance of others' differences, to so many young readers, and I look forward to seeing what the sequel brings to this world as well!
Written by Matthew A. Cherry
Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
I recall seeing this picture book on other people's blogs, but I finally decided to read it when my Libby app suggested it to me. Weirdly, my library was doing some kind of "zombie hold" thing with it, where you can put a hold on it even though they don't actually own the book anymore, so that they can see if there's enough interest that it's worth buying a new copy. It turns out there was, because my copy finally showed up a few weeks later!
This picture book is actually the companion to an Oscar-winning short film, also called Hair Love, but you can absolutely read the book without knowledge of the film (like I did). When a very special day arrives, Zuri is determined to style her sometimes-uncooperative but always-amazing hair into the perfect hairstyle! But she can't do it on her own, so her Daddy steps in to style it for the first time. Things don't go according to plan, but with her loving father (and some YouTube tutorials) by her side, Zuri might just end up with a hairstyle befitting of this special day.
Hair Love is a delightful story for quite a few reasons! First of all, if you've been thinking about the nature of racism against Black people in the U.S. and other countries, you've probably noticed that their hair has been a major target, with White people wanting to touch Black people's hair, or White people deciding that Black hairstyles are "unprofessional," or even an unwillingness on the part of White filmmakers and directors to have hairstylists on set who are actually capable of styling their Black actors' hair. It's a whole mess, and Hair Love's simple message of acceptance and joy regarding Zuri's hair, and the styling of it, ends up being a radical one considering this situation. In addition, the author of this book, Matthew A. Cherry, has discussed with regards to the short film this book is based on that he wanted to depict a loving, present Black father to counteract common stereotypes, and this meaningful representation extends to the book as well. But besides all that, Hair Love is just a sweet and adorable story! Zuri is a delightful protagonist and narrator, and her determination to have the perfect hairstyle for this special day is quite endearing. And keep an eye on Zuri's cat, Rocky, as well, as he brings a selection of amusing expressions to the backgrounds of each spread! Vashti Harrison's illustrations aren't super-detailed but are clear, colorful, and beautiful, and they cooperate quite nicely with Cherry's concise narration. All in all, Hair Love is an adorable and valuable story about family, pride, and a child's wonderful determination, and considering that the short film this book is based on is now turning into an entire TV show, you might want to pick up a copy of this book soon!
That's all for now—I hope you've enjoyed hearing about my latest picture book adventures! I'll be keeping an eye out for other exciting picture books I want to read, so stay tuned!
My favorite book of the week: Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
My second-favorite book of the week: We Are Water Protectors