★ Let’s Do Everything and Nothing
Illustrator Julia Kuo (The Sound of Silence, I Dream of Popo) makes her authorial debut with Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, a simple yet powerful salute to mothers and daughters and the time they spend together. With spare text and phenomenal illustrations, Kuo pays homage to epic scenes, intimate moments and everything in between.
As the book opens, a mother and her young daughter stand atop a hill, tiny figures amid a gorgeous full-spread landscape depicted in rich shades of indigo. The girl’s bright red dress contrasts vividly, bringing the pair into sharp focus. “Will you climb a hill with me?” the text asks.
On subsequent pages, Kuo’s text offers invitations to “dive into a lake” and “read the starry sky.” Her illustrations transform them into grand adventures, and we see the pair diving among giant manta rays and reaching the summit of a snowy peak in mountaineering gear. Throughout, Kuo uses a spare color palette of deep blues and purples and highlights of reds, oranges and yellows. Her striking graphic style crisply illuminates these shared moments between mother and child.
In closing scenes, the mother gives her daughter a bath, then the pair rest together and “watch the shadows stretch.” This exquisite book would be a perfect gift to bring to a baby shower. “We’ll do everything and nothing,” Kuo writes, “for being together is the best journey yet.”
Me and Ms. Too
A spunky girl has a bumpy transition after her father marries a children’s librarian in the fresh, funny Me and Ms. Too.
“Before Ms. Too, my house looked like my house and nobody else’s,” young Molly announces. “My dad was my dad and nobody else’s.” Molly feels increasingly out of sorts as Ms. Too changes the living room wallpaper and fills their house with her belongings, including lots of books.
Award-winning young adult author Laura Ruby (Bone Gap, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All) conveys Molly’s desire to resist this life change. She includes both Molly’s ongoing struggle (“Every time we went somewhere, I asked: ‘Is she coming too?’”) and scenes of her father’s courtship and wedding (“I said Ms. Too’s dress looked like underwear. I said my stomach hurt.”). Ruby’s narrative pacing is spot on as she captures how Molly slowly warms up to the new arrangement, and the trio eventually form a tightknit “funny kind of family” that Molly comes to adore.
Exuberant, cartoon-style illustrations from Dung Ho (Eyes That Kiss in the Corners) energize this well-told tale. Molly’s exaggerated facial expressions, which shift gradually from obstinate and indignant to happy and loving, are particularly well done, while Dad and Ms. Too are fully realized in artful strokes by both Ho and Ruby.
With warmth and honesty, Me and Ms. Too validates the emotional challenges of welcoming a new stepmother while shining a light on the wonderful outcome that can result.
E.B. Goodale’s Also is a lovely book about memory and intergenerational connections, told with accessible sophistication.
The book’s unnamed narrator begins by describing a visit to her grandmother’s house on a beautiful summer day. She spends the afternoon among the blueberry bushes on a hill behind the house and is eventually joined by her mother, her grandmother and her grandmother’s orange cat, Nutmeg. As the narrator introduces herself and each character (including Nutmeg), she describes what they are doing that day, then describes a memory that each is recalling at that very moment. For instance, the narrator’s mother remembers sitting in the kitchen when she was a child, sorting blueberries and laughing with her sister.
Goodale (Windows, The House of Grass and Sky) paints these remembered scenes using blueberry ink, which results in a purplish duotone effect and visually distinguishes the characters’ memories from the vivid greens, yellows and oranges of the present-day setting. An easy recipe for blueberry ink, included on the final page, is an excellent resource for readers inspired to paint their own memories.
A bright red cardinal (a bird commonly associated with departed souls) appears on every page, and its lively spirit helps peel back the book’s many layers of memory. Toward the end of the book, the cardinal swoops and glides across blueberry-ink spreads, trailing the bright colors of the present in its wake and uniting past, present and future along the path of its flight.
Also is sure to prompt conversations about meaningful memories between adult readers and young listeners, while its subtext—that people and places we love are always with us in our hearts—offers quiet comfort to children experiencing loss. Also is a colorful portrait of three generations of mothers and daughters and the bonds they share.
Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle
In Nina LaCour (We Are Okay, Watch Over Me) and Kaylani Juanita’s Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle, a young girl in California spends a week at home with her Mama while Mommy is away on a business trip to Minnesota.
LaCour’s day-by-day account spotlights fun times (projecting a movie on the wall of a garden shed) as well as lows (when Mama is “too busy to play”). A midweek video call cheers everyone up and gives Mommy the opportunity to share that she’s missing Mama and her daughter as much as they miss her. “I miss you as much as all the snow in Minnesota.” she tells them. In a touching scene at the girl’s school, the teacher asks if anyone else in the class is missing someone. Several students are, including a boy whose father “is in a faraway country” and a girl whose older sister is away at college.
Juanita’s illustrations are packed with small details that will entice and hold young readers’ attention, from the plants that fill the family’s living room to the cakes and pastries in the window of the café, where an apron-clad employee sets out food for neighborhood cats while Mama laughs at her daughter’s milk mustache.
Juanita perfectly captures the girl’s mutable emotions over the seven days that Mommy is away. At lunch on Wednesday, the girl slumps over the table next to Mommy’s empty chair. On Sunday, as Mommy’s trip nears its end, she frolics through a community garden and eagerly gathers a welcome-home bouquet.
Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle is a reassuring and inclusive look at what it feels like to be separated from and reunited with a parent.