Ropes, Trains, and Homes: New Books for Younger Readers

the-rope-300This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome
Celebrated poet and writer Jacqueline Woodson’s latest picture book displays her trademark lyricism and eloquence as she spins a compelling, generation-spanning yarn. The story follows a young African American couple who move from the Deep South to Brooklyn in the 1970s, seeking a better life. The motif of a rope weaves the anecdotes together as we follow the young family through the years. The rope that they used to tie their belongings to the top of the car for the long drive becomes a laundry rope for their baby’s diapers, and then a string to pull a toy duck, and then a jump rope, and so on up through the present.  When the book ends, that young couple, now elderly, sits on their Brooklyn stoop watching their granddaughter jump rope and sing, a new generation tied to the past and looking to the future. It’s a wonderful celebration of family, history, and love, and parents can use it to begin more serious discussions about race, tolerance, and immigration. (ages 4-8)

thisisourhouseThis Is Our House, by Hyewon Yum
Coincidentally, this lovely book shares a great deal with This is the Rope. Both books begin each spread with the phrase “This is the…” Both tell the story of three generations living in the same home: in both cases, a charming Brooklyn (or Brooklyn lookalike) brownstone. Both start with a couple moving into their new home and end with an image of the extended family in front of the house, in the present day. Both are poignant and may cause you, the parent reading aloud, to surreptitiously wipe away a tear. This Is Our House, though, exudes a cozier vibe, without a serious subtext. Gentle watercolors depict a baby learning to walk, a favorite tree blooming, kids running down a stairway lined with family photos, and other sweet moments in the family’s history. (ages 4-8)

insideoutsideInside Outside, by Lizi Boyd
This is a small gem, a wordless book with so much charming detail on each page that you and your child will want to read it several times through right off the bat. On alternating spreads, we see the inside of a home with a young boy busily engaged in some task, and then the yard outside his windows. Small holes in the paper give us a peek of what’s outside, then shine a light on the other side after turn the page. There are things to watch for and follow, such as the two mice who scamper through each picture, and the turtle the boy brings home and who becomes a fixture in the house from then on. The overall look and feel of the book—strong black lines and stylized images on brown paper—is striking, simple, and modern, while the homey depictions of a happy life are comforting. Even without words, there is much to enjoy here. (ages 3-7)

LocomotiveLocomotive, by Brian Floca
Overall, this is a stunning book. The oversized pages feature detailed watercolors and lyrical text that bring to life the experience of riding the rails from Omaha to Sacramento in the 1860s, just after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The text does not rhyme, but the author skillfully speeds up or slows down the pace to mimic the train’s progress. The placement of the words on the page, as well as their size, also give the readers cues on conducting an exciting, dynamic reading. Pint-sized train enthusiasts will want to pore over the amazing illustrations; older ones will be interested in the mechanics of the engines, the geography and topography, and the logistics of the journey. If the book has one flaw, it is that the text is on the long side and at times leans to the poetic and lofty; adults may find themselves shortening it for younger listeners. (ages 4-8)

violetViolet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery, by Anna Branford, illustrated by Elanna Allen
Violet is the spunky star of a new chapter book series from an Australian writer. This second book in the series revolves around Violet’s stay in the hospital to have her tonsils removed, and her later efforts to stay in touch with an elderly woman she met there. Like many other chapter book heroines, Violet is a bit brass and sassy, with a million projects and an imagination on hyperdrive, but always sweet and sympathetic in the end. Coming from Australia, the narrative and dialogue are peppered with Anglicisms (“Violet quite likes Dr. Singh,” use of the word “cross,” lots of tea drinking) that give it a welcome freshness. The many expressive pencil drawings help bring the story to life. (ages 5-9)