#IMWAYR: Picture Book Pandemonium, Part 10!

First of all, things are still hectic, but spring break is almost here—so close!

Second of all, my mom, who is always—always—right, told me to take some breaks and work on my blog, and that is probably the reason I actually have a post for you all this week!

Third of all, I know this is not the Cybils follow-up post I was planning to put up, and that may not be up until a week or two from now, due to the slightly inconvenient fact that it doesn't exist yet.

Fourth of all, there's still reason to celebrate, because this post is the first chance I have had in weeks to read books on my own, for fun! (And my mom was right—it was so healing.) AND—this is the first chance I have had ever to check out physical picture books from my local library, meaning I got to track down some obscure but delightful stories that I cannot wait to discuss today!

Fifth of all, this post will be very short, so please just trust that all of these stories are delightful, even if I can't do my usual rambling on about them.

And sixth of all, I just want to thank all of you for sticking with my blog even as I have been a commenting fiasco and a slight blogging fiasco as well—I am so grateful for each and every one of you!

With that, let's dive in!

What book is it? Bright Star by Yuyi Morales

(Morales has won the Pura Belprรฉ Illustrator Award six times, not including honors and one author award too, and this book follows in those footsteps as a Pura Belprรฉ Illustrator Honor Book!)

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

Who recommended it? Myra Garces-Bacsal at Gathering Books, and Cheriee Weichel at Library Matters!

What does the publisher say? "Yuyi Morales weaves the tale of a fawn making her way through a landscape that is dangerous, beautiful--and full of potential. A gentle voice urges her onward, to face her fears and challenge the obstacles that seek to hold her back.

Child, you are awake!

You are alive!

You are a bright star, 

Inside our hearts."

What stood out to me? The artwork in this story is unbelievable—the vivid colors, the textures, the photorealism that almost becomes surrealism when it's on the page. It's stunning.

This is a story of plants, animals, people, and the Mexican-American border, and how all of those are interwoven. Sometimes that's for the worse, when my country goes off the rails trying to keep people out and wreaks havoc not just on people, but on ecosystems too.

But sometimes that's for the better, and Morales's weaving (somewhat literally with yarn motifs!) of the natural world, the Spanish language, and words of speaking out and of being loved makes for a story that feels not just utterly unique, but utterly familiar too.

What's my verdict? A short read, but absolutely gorgeous!

What book is it? The Cot in the Living Room, written by Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrated by Gaby D'Alessandro

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

Who recommended it? Lisa Maucione at Literacy on the Mind, and Myra Garces-Bacsal (again!) at Gathering Books!

What does the publisher say? "Night after night, a young girl watches her mami set up a cot in the living room for guests in their Washington Heights apartment, like Raquel (who's boring) and Edgardo (who gets crumbs everywhere). She resents that they get the entire living room with a view of the George Washington Bridge, while all she gets is a tiny bedroom with a view of her sister (who snores). Until one night when no one comes, and it's finally her chance! But as it turns out, sleeping on the cot in the living room isn't all she thought it would be.

With charming text by Hilda Eunice Burgos and whimsical illustrations by Gaby D'Alessandro, The Cot in the Living Room is a celebration of the ways a Dominican American community takes care of one another while showing young readers that sometimes the best way to be a better neighbor is by imagining how it feels to spend a night sleeping on someone else's pillow."

What stood out to me? This is such a rich, complex story, which isn't true of every picture book. There's the level of compassion of our protagonist's parents, who offer a space for kids to stay while their parents go to work overnight.

There's the oh-so-relatable frustration of our protagonist, who sees the privileges these kids have (the view outside, more chances to play and eat and watch TV, etc.) without quite noticing that they're too stressed to actually take advantage of the privileges. (And our protagonist is never shamed for these thoughts, because she's a kid and she shouldn't be!)

And there's the immensely powerful experience of our protagonist learning just what it's like to be in the cot—and figuring out a new way to think and to act as a result!

And as if that's not enough greatness, did I mention the illustrations are amazing?! The flat style makes for a soothing but delightful cartoonish feel—exciting, yet also perfect for bedtime. The colors are so vivid and varied that your eye is caught by every spread anew. And the actual layouts and contents are amazing—some of the surreal spreads as our protagonist imagines what these kids have are almost hilariously delightful (kids' imaginations are truly amazing!), but the spreads as she learns from her past mistakes are lovely too. (And the endpapers—oh, how I want to frame the endpapers! Or maybe have them as a quilt, since they look like one.)

What's my verdict? Absolute perfection—definitely track this one down!

What book is it? Survivor Tree, written by Marcie Colleen and illustrated by Aaron Becker

(Aaron Becker illustrated a picture book I read many years ago called Journey, which is part of why I was drawn to this story!)

Who recommended it? Beth Shaum at A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, and many more!

What does the publisher say? "One September day, the perfect blue sky exploded. Dust billowed. Buildings crumbled. And underneath it all, a tree sprouted green leaves in its distress. Pulled from the wreckage, the tree saw many seasons pass as it slowly recovered far away from home. Until one day, forever scarred and forever stronger, it was replanted at the 9/11 Memorial.

This story of the real Survivor Tree uses nature's cycle of colors to reflect on the hope and healing that come after a tragedy—and assures readers of their own remarkable resilience."

What stood out to me? I mean...everything? As Beth Shaum mentioned in her post linked above, there has been a strange abundance of picture books discussing the tree that survived 9/11, including This Very Tree (which I've seen a ton of recommendations for) and Branches of Hope (which I've never seen until now, but was blurbed by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kate Messner!)

But this book—Survivor Tree—is so unbelievably gorgeous that it absolutely bears noting. Marcie Colleen's prose is beautiful and tactful, but in some ways, it's almost no match for Aaron Becker's illustrations, which (as you can see from that jaw-dropping cover) tend to grab your attention and hold it for a long, long while!

The way this story is framed in terms of seasons and time is immensely powerful—time heals all wounds, in a way, and there's something deeply reassuring about that. Colleen's metaphors for the tree are strikingly original (after she mentioned the tree reaching for the sky, I realized how much trees look like slightly-creepy hands—so you really do learn something new every day). And she almost brings to mind the tree's insecurity—with a very delicate touch—as it goes from hiding in the shadow of the two Twin Towers to being a center of attention all its own.

Oh, and also—once you read the book, read it again. Because as Aaron Becker mentions in his illustrator's note, there's a second story hidden in the illustrations (including the back cover). And it hurts, but it's oh-so-lovely and I wish I could talk about it, but I'd rather not spoil anything. But it makes this book about 110% amazing.

What's my verdict? Simply brilliant—this one is a must-read if you can track it down.

What book is it? Gemma and the Giant Girl, written by Sara O'Leary and illustrated by Marie Lafrance

What does the publisher say? "Gemma has always lived in a very nice little house, always slept in the same room and always worn the same clothes. A doll in an old forgotten dollhouse, Gemma wonders if she will ever grow up, but her parents tell her she will always be their little girl. Until, one day, the dollhouse is opened by a GIANT, and Gemma's whole life changes. New things are introduced into the little house -- and Gemma finally has an opportunity to leave what's familiar and see the enormous world beyond. 

A story that evokes children's classics, Gemma and the Giant Girl is a gorgeously illustrated and poignant tale of what it feels like to be small in a big world and how even the smallest among us can take charge of our own destinies."

What stood out to me? I heard about this book from Cheriee Weichel, and what I took away from her reviews is that it would be excellent but pretty weird and I would have thoughts—and she was right! First, I'll share my initial thoughts, and then I'll comment on some of hers.

I think we've all seen the stories about giant people and normal people who are actually normal people and tiny people, respectively, and I think we've also all seen stories about the joys of change and greater perspectives in one's life. What I haven't seen until now is those two themes put together, even though a theme built entirely around perspectives is perfect for a story about a character slightly lacking in perspectives!

The gorgeous illustrations of the story show us Gemma's delightfully traditional life, complete with plushies and pets—and they also show how her life is slightly upended with the giant girl's arrival, though she doesn't complain. And I also love seeing visually how Gemma's perspective broadens with the giant girl's arrival! Also, semi-random comment—why can't I have a giant, life-size book with illustrations that I can almost physically get lost in? That would be so cool!

As for thoughts inspired by those in Cheriee's reviews, there's definitely something slightly disconcerting about a giant girl being allowed to wreak whatever havoc she wants in the lives of sentient beings—if dolls are sentient, then we have some prejudices to work out! And I love her point about how we're similar both to Gemma and the giant girl—we wreak havoc, and havoc is wrought in our lives. There's also the matter of aging to contend with...

Although the visual design of this book gives me vague vibes of Spork and Eloise (neither gets at the vibe perfectly, even though the vibe feels so familiar), the actual content of the book makes me think of Where the Wild Things Are. That's because it's peaceful and kids will come back to it again and again, but it also doesn't talk down to them and instead gives them plenty of slightly-existential questions to ponder as they return for their umpteenth re-read. (And as we know from Where the Wild Things Are, kids actually enjoy pondering slightly-existential questions!)

What's my verdict? Fascinating, and destined to become a favorite of kids (especially after re-reading it)!

And that's what I've got for the week! These books were all fantastic, and I hope you've found something new to try!

My favorite book of the week: Survivor Tree


  1. Hi Max -- you have some great ones here. I don't know Gemma so you've convinced me to add that one to my list!

    1. Thanks! I'm glad to hear Gemma and the Giant Girl sounded appealing—it's always nice when I can introduce people to new books. Thanks so much for stopping by, Clare!

  2. Glad you liked The Cot in the Living Room. You do such a great job keeping track of who recommended what book! I have not read Survivor Tree, but have read one of the other books about the tree. What an amazing story!

    1. I'm kind of obsessive about keeping track of who recommends books, honestly—I create a shelf on Goodreads for each blogger called "recommended by ___," and then I shelve each book there as I hear about it! I definitely appreciate you recommending The Cot in the Living Room, because it was fantastic. And the story of the tree is definitely amazing—if you end up wanting to see another perspective, Survivor Tree is definitely worthwhile! Thanks so much for stopping by, Lisa!

  3. Glad you took your mom's advice :) Books always provide a welcome respite ... and we get to read a new blog post! A win-win.

    These books always sound wonderful. I love to read your picture book reviews, since I rarely get to enjoy them any more - maybe I should go to the children's section of the library and read some, too!

    Book By Book

    1. Indeed—I get to read, and you all get to hear about new books! I'm glad my picture book reviews are nice to see—I totally get not having time to branch out, reading-wise, but especially with picture books, you could definitely devote an afternoon and just head to your library to read some! Thanks so much for stopping by, Sue!

  4. So glad you loved Bright Star! It is such a beautiful book!

    1. It really is—I was excited to see you all recommending it! Thanks so much for stopping by, Kellee!


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