November 2021 Stars & Big Picture
Starred titles are books of special distinction. See the archives for selections from previous months.
Ahokoivu, Mari Oksi; written and illus. by Mari Ahokoivu; tr. from the Finnish by Silja-Maaria Aronpuro. Levine Querido, 2021 [400p]
Paper ed. ISBN 9781646141128 $18.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 6-10
Baptist, Kelly J. The Swag Is in the Socks. Crown, 2021 [240p]
Library ed. ISBN 9780593380871 $19.99
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593380864 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593380888 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 4-6
Brown, Meredith Crandall Milk and Juice: A Recycling Romance; written and illus. by Meredith Crandall Brown. HarperCollins, 2021 [32p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063021853 $18.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 4-7 yrs
Cenko, Doug Viking in Love; written and illus. by Doug Cenko. Viking, 2021 [48p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593202289 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593202296 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 4-7 yrs
Foxfield, Kathryn Good Girls Die First. Sourcebooks Fire, 2021 [368p]
Paper ed. ISBN 9781728245416 $10.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781728245423 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 9-12
Liu, Dane Friends are Friends, Forever; illus. by Lynn Scurfield. Godwin/Holt, 2021 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781250778185 $18.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* 4-8 yrs
See this month’s Big Picture, below, for review.
Wendig, Chuck Dust & Grim. Little, 2021 [384p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780316706230 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780316706247 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 4-8
Friends are Friends, Forever
By Dane Liu; illustrated by Lynn Scurfield
It’s easy for people to underestimate the power of picture books. How can a story under forty pages, mostly dominated by pictures, and sometimes scant on text convey complex themes, much less handle shifting storylines? While the medium might be perceived as limited by some, its potential for creating rich emotional experiences is just as strong as the feelings experienced by its intended audience. We know that kids grapple with realities far bigger than they are: coping with the grief and shift in identity that mark the immigrant experience; celebrating the joy of tradition while mourning its loss; honoring cherished friendships past while processing the challenges and excitement of being the new kid. Individually, those themes have packed pages of books for young people, but in this month’s Big Picture, Friends are Friends, Forever, Dane Liu manages the impressive feat of weaving them together while giving each their due, offering the picture book crowd a multifaceted story that validates the depth and breadth of their inner emotional lives.
Best friends Dandan and Yueyue are looking forward to the Lunar New Year in their Chinese town, but Dandan has some bad news: she and her family will be moving to the U.S. after the holiday. Still, the pals celebrate on New Year’s Eve as best they can, eating Dandan’s grandmother’s famous dumplings at a joyous, if bittersweet, family feast, and ending the night with their favorite tradition, making and freezing red paper snowflakes to hang on trees the next morning. Soon after, Dandan and her family are in the U.S., where she struggles to learn English and make friends, all the while missing the rowdy, gleeful life she left behind. Lonely months go by until she meets a kindred spirit in Christina, with whom Dandan eventually shares Yueyue’s parting gift: a stack of red paper and string that become a flurry of handmade snowflakes to welcome a new, very different year.
Liu reveals in an author’s note that this story draws from her childhood experiences, and the text rings with immersive authenticity and relatability. Dandan’s narration is a true sensorial treat, depicting her physical world with a vivid richness: at dinner, “flame-red chilies speckle silky noodles. Batches of dumplings jiggle in boiling water”; in her new home, she wistfully misses “dreaming to neighbors’ laughter, and checkmates—our courtyard lullaby.” The scattered onomatopoeia (“KISH SKISH,” as the girls slide through the snow, and “HISS BOOM CRACK” as the New Year’s fireworks light up the sky) add verve and opportunities for some lively storytime dramatics.
Those observations and the core truths they reveal are boldly brought to life by Scurfield’s striking mixed-media art, which effortlessly underscores the mood and perfectly conveys the feelings that Dandan cannot quite articulate herself. There is the slump in her shoulders when she has to tell Yueyue the bad news, the cheerful scarlet of the snowflakes framing the holiday scenes, and the black scratches of English words enveloping her as she tries to settle into school. Not a bit of space is wasted; saturated pages and full bleeds use grainy textures and sweeping lines to draw the viewer entirely into Dandan’s world. Viewers can track her journey purely by the shifting palette, as the bright golds and reds of China are replaced with the wispy grays and shadowy blacks of her new city, eventually springing back into optimistic, glowing pastels—different from her former home, but still warm and welcoming.
A boon to any holiday storytime, a celebration of cultural identity, and a reassuring tale of friendship, this is also a strong acknowledgment of the big, complicated feelings little ones often have but don’t yet have the vocabulary to identify. An author’s note provides information about the Chinese Lunar New Year, and instructions for making snowflakes are included, so have supplies on hand for those who wish to join Dandan and her friends in their celebratory craft making.
Kate Quealy-Gainer, Editor