Julie Danielson

Yoshi and the Ocean: A Sea Turtle’s Incredible Journey Home, Lindsay Moore’s account of the incredible intercontinental journey of a loggerhead sea turtle, opens with two spreads that precede its title page. Readers meet Yoshi inside an egg, “before she had a name.” Folded within a shell, the little turtle waits until “the voice of the waves” calls her to hatch and enter the world.

As Moore’s story begins, Yoshi is “small and broken,” wounded in the water and rescued by fishermen who name her Yoshitaro. She finds a new home and heals at an aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa, much to the delight of the aquarium’s visitors. But after some time, Yoshi knows that she needs to return to the ocean: “She is from away from here, and that is where she needs to go.”

The scientists who brought Yoshi back to health attach a tracking device to her shell and release her into the ocean. The rest of Moore’s book tracks Yoshi’s extraordinary three-year journey up the eastern coast of Africa, as far north as Angola, then back around the southern tip of the continent and all the way across the Indian Ocean to waters off the northwestern coast of Australia—a distance of 25,000 miles!

Moore gives this remarkable true story an appealing structure. The refrain “This is Yoshi . . .” grounds readers in each new location along the turtle’s journey. As Yoshi sets out on her trip, the story’s brisk pace keeps readers turning pages. Each time Yoshi surfaces above the waves, allowing her tracker to send a signal to a satellite, we read in a looping cursive font: “Hello from Yoshi. I am here.” The narrative pacing slows as the turtle nears Australia, where she transmits one final, emotionally satisfying message, displayed in large letters that span the entire spread: “Hello from Yoshi. I am home.”

Moore illustrates this tale in sweeping full-bleed views of the worlds above and below the waves. Readers discover these worlds along with Yoshi as she takes in all the wonders of ocean life. Moore’s language is precise but also lyrical as she notes the “shape of a wave, the shift of the wind, the push of a current.” The book’s detailed back matter, which includes a photograph of Yoshi, will inspire readers to revisit the turtle’s story, equipped with the context to fully appreciate her astonishing voyage.

With vivid emotion, Lindsay Moore tells the astonishing story of a loggerhead turtle who traveled more than 25,000 miles from South Africa to Australia.

When a new boy moves to the neighborhood, Dot introduces herself and asks if he wants to play. The boy, slump-shouldered and sad, declines. Dot wonders whether he’s sad because he didn’t want to move. 

That night, the boy writes down a wish on a star—to “fly far far away and maybe never have to come back”—and ties the note to the string of a golden balloon, which lands outside Dot’s bedroom window. Dot reads the note, which also reveals that the boy’s name is Albert. Endeavoring to make Albert happy, Dot builds him a kite and, after finding another balloon note in which Albert wishes for a dog, gives him her favorite plush puppy. Albert brightens, but only momentarily.

Albert’s next note wishes that his dad “was here again” and “could come back.” Dot imagines what it would be like if her own father weren’t around. Her empathy makes her realize that her job isn’t to make Albert happy: “Sometimes, it’s okay to be sad. Sometimes, it’s the only thing we can do.” She decides to sit with Albert on a porch swing in his backyard, even amid long silences, until he’s ready to open up. 

Author-illustrator Jonathan D. Voss employs a painterly style in The Wishing Balloons, an emotionally charged tale. His remarkably thick and textured brushstrokes, fuzzy forms and highly saturated colors give his artwork the appearance of memories or dreams: Specifics are blurry and emotions dominate. In the absence of sharp lines and distinct facial expressions, the characters’ body language conveys their feelings—particularly Albert’s overwhelming sadness.

Some lines of text as well as some illustrations are depicted as if on separate sheets of paper affixed to the page with torn pieces of tape. This technique, along with a textured, handwriting-style font, lends The Wishing Balloons the feel of a scrapbook of memories. 

A story of loss and healing, The Wishing Balloons pulses with tenderness. It’s sure to prompt readers to consider extending their hand to anyone in need and to reflect on what true friendship really looks like. 

In Jonathan D. Voss’ The Wishing Balloons, Dot wonders why the new boy doesn’t want to play—until she finds a note tied to a balloon outside her bedroom window.

“Not everyone loves a train,” begins Kate Hoefler and Jessixa Bagley’s Courage Hats. Mae, carrying a small yellow suitcase, and Bear, with an old-fashioned knapsack across his shoulder, are both feeling anxious as they board a high-speed train. They don’t know each other yet, but they will.

Because she will be traveling “deep into bear places,” Mae has made a paper-bag headpiece to help her look more like a bear, with round ears and a brown nose. And because Bear will be venturing “deep into people places,” he has crafted a similar human-esque paper-bag hat. Each headpiece has a large hole that reveals Mae’s and Bear’s true faces, but to themselves and each other, they are utterly transformed.

Wearing their hats, Mae and Bear find seats next to each other on the train. Mae’s suitcase turns out to contain a tea set, while Bear’s polka-dotted knapsack holds sandwiches, crackers and cookies. Together, they enjoy a cozy spread as the train carries them on to a destination revealed on the book’s final page.

Bagley (Before I Leave) creatively extends Hoefler’s narrative, using eye-catching perspectives and presenting a world in which anthropomorphized woodland creatures and humans share spaces. The journey, not the destination, is the point of this rewarding story about finding courage via the gifts of friendship and abundant imagination.

Readers will especially appreciate Hoefler’s poetic and nuanced observations once Mae and Bear’s journey gets underway. There’s “a lot to notice” out the window of a train, Hoefler writes, such as “how a train carries the sky on its back.” Bagley illustrates this by depicting the new friends from behind as they take in the marvelous view of a golden meadow flanked by distant mountains. 

There’s gentle humor in Courage Hats as well, rooted in the contradictions between Hoefler’s text and Bagley’s images. When Mae first meets Bear, Hoefler (Real Cowboys) tells us that Mae has “found a big grown-up to sit with,” while Bagley depicts Bear (in his person hat) sitting next to the window of the train’s bench seat, arms crossed in his lap. Similarly, Bear is relieved to have “found a small cub to sit with.” Later, as Mae and Bear find comfort in each other’s presence, they both reflect that, if not for their newfound friendship, they “might have missed what was right next” to them.

Courage Hats is a satisfying story about facing your fears. After all, if you can’t find your courage, “you can wear it on your head at first.”

In Kate Hoefler and Jessixa Bagley’s imaginative Courage Hats, Mae and Bear discover unexpected bravery and friendship on a long train journey.

Expect the giggles to begin from the opening endpapers of Chester van Chime Who Forgot How to Rhyme. They feature small drawings, and each illustration is accompanied by a pair of rhyming words. For example, a depiction of a green slug smiling on a fluffy green rug says “Slug Rug.”

The book itself is about poor Chester van Chime, who awakens one morning to discover that he has lost the ability to rhyme. Scattered across his bedroom are objects that evoke rhymes: The same slug from the endpapers smiles happily from a green rug next to Chester’s bed, and we see two toy ducks inside a blue toy truck. Despite all these visual clues, Chester simply can’t “match up two sounds.”

Author Avery Monsen presents a text filled with rhyming couplets that fall flat on their poetic faces. “He tried not to panic. He played it real cool / and picked up his backpack and walked to his . . . / . . . learning place with teachers and stuff.” Adults, welcome to your next Best Storytime Book.

Abby Hanlon, illustrator of the side-splittingly funny Dory Fantasmagory chapter book series, brings her playful sensibilities to these vivid tableaux. Her spreads teem with rhyming pairs. Owls decorate Chester’s bathroom towel; a pup smiles from the cup on his sink; a fox steals a sock while Chester’s getting dressed; and can you guess what winged mammal appears on his doormat? As Chester’s frustrations over his failures escalate, so do the visuals. Chester’s classroom devolves into chaos as his classmates try to resuscitate his rhyming acumen.

Chester walks home from school in despair, but he soon realizes that everyone has off days and no one can be perfect all the time. Besides, by day’s end, Chester can rhyme again—for the most part. And remember those winning opening endpapers? The book’s closing endpapers feature an entirely new but equally delightful set of drawings.

It’s a must-read, a hit, a guaranteed good time. If only more books were like Chester van . . . what was his name again?

Poor Chester van Chime may have lost the ability to rhyme, but young readers will lose themselves to giggles at this book’s delightfully unsuccessful couplets.

A boy named Sydney plays outside, his hands and ankles wrapped around a tree branch. When his friend Sami calls for him, he responds, “Here,” then adds, “But I’m not Sydney. I am a sloth.” It is a day of imaginative play for Sydney, and it proves to be contagious. 

As she scampers up a tree, Sami declares she’d rather be a spider monkey. Next, Edward appears and decides to transform into an elephant. “I’M THE KING OF THE SAVANNA!” he trumpets. Anamaria wants to join in the fun, becoming an anteater. And when everyone looks up after hearing a squeaked “Be quiet!” they realize Brigitte is a bat with “velvety, dusty wings wrapped around her tiny furry body” and is trying to take a nap while hanging upside down from a tree limb above them. 

The soft-toned, full-bleed spreads in I’m Not Sydney! sparkle with color; some pages nearly glow with sunny, translucent yellows. Employing delicate, nimble linework, author-illustrator Marie-Louise Gay depicts each child as the creature they imagine themselves to be. They hang from trees, leap from branch to branch, run in the grass, roar with laughter and splash in the water. (When Edward transforms from an elephant to boy again, readers see him spraying his friends with a hose.) 

The book’s dialogue flows seamlessly. Subtle descriptive moments flesh out the story (“Startled hummingbirds flew every which way.”) while the lively text engages readers’ senses (“The yellow grass smelled of burnt toast and red earth.”). Gay infuses I’m Not Sydney! with ebullient, fanciful humor. For instance, when Anamaria decides she’s an anteater, she gets down on all fours and sticks out her tongue. On the next spread, we see her (in anteater form) slurping up ants. “Yuck!” exclaims Sami the spider monkey. When their parents call the children in for supper, they return home “like a herd of small wet animals,” and their creative reveries carry them through to bedtime. 

I’m Not Sydney! is a playful tribute to the deeply inventive inner world of children that will encourage young readers to amp up their own imaginations. Animal noises are sure to follow. Rrrrooooaaaarrrr!  

Marie-Louise Gay’s I’m Not Sydney! is a creative tribute to the inventive inner world of children in which a group of friends use their imaginations to transform into various animals and play together.

The opening of Mac Barnett and Kate Berube’s John’s Turn ushers readers into an elementary school. Every Friday at this particular school, students gather in the cafeteria for what’s called assembly. Best of all, if everyone behaves, one student “gets to do something for the whole school.” The school dubs this tradition “Sharing Gifts.” (In one of many instances in the book that proves Barnett is no stranger to how children think, we read: “A lot of us think that’s a kind of dumb name, but we also think Sharing Gifts is the best.”)

John is reticent and uneasy on the day of his turn for Sharing Gifts. While Mr. Ross makes announcements, John prepares behind the curtain. In a series of vignettes, we see him change into a leotard, pants and slippers. John has decided to perform ballet.

Berube’s warmly colored illustrations capture how John’s apprehension turns to confidence and even elation as he dances; his facial expressions and body language are spot-on. Much of this perfectly paced book is devoted to John’s performance, including five elegantly and economically composed, almost wordless spreads. In one, John gracefully lifts himself in an arc across the page. In the next, he moves across and down the spread in a series of steps, Berube’s sure lines showcasing his strength and skill. Near the end, a blur of movement ends in John’s beaming face as he is suspended mid-air in a leap.

Barnett wisely avoids heavy-handed commentary about ballet and gender stereotypes. There is no need for it. In John’s accomplished, nuanced and athletic performance, readers can see for themselves that boys, too, do ballet.

And anyway, at its heart, John’s Turn is about much more: It’s about the abundant and everyday courage of children, and it is also about “sharing gifts.” John faces down his fear to share his gift with determination, beauty and a style that is all his own. A true gift, indeed.

It’s John’s turn to perform at assembly, and he’s feeling nervous. Will he find the courage to share his gifts with his classmates?

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