Reviews of the 2019 Caldecott Award winners


Hello Lighthouse
by Sophie Blackall; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    48 pp.    g
4/18    978-0-316-36238-2    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-36237-5    $9.99

Blackall’s (Finding Winnie, rev. 9/15) picture book opens as a new keeper arrives to take up his solitary duties at a lighthouse “on the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world”; it ends with his departure, machinery and automation having made his job obsolete. In between we are treated to a series of snapshots of lighthouse-keeper life — a mix of routine (tending the oil lamp, updating the logbook, household maintenance chores) and excitement (rescuing shipwrecked sailors; welcoming the arrival of his wife and the birth of their child). Much care has been put into the book’s production, from the appropriately tall, narrow trim size to the choice of pen and watercolor for the artistic medium. Blackall’s gorgeous illustrations are a mix of homey detail (especially in the interior cutaways of the lighthouse) and spectacular scenery (as the seasons pass, we see stormy nights and foggy days; northern lights; icebergs and whales). Throughout all changes, the lighthouse stands steadfast, sending out its constant beacon, echoed in the text’s refrain: “Hello! Hello! Hello!” Circles are a repeated motif, with frequent circular insets into larger illustrations; with the round rooms and rugs of the lighthouse. An extensive and lively author’s note provides needed context for many of the events in the story (apparently some lighthouse 
keepers really did “mail” their letters ashore via bottles tossed into the sea!). MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Alma and How She Got Her Name
by Juana Martinez-Neal; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
4/18    978-0-7636-9355-8    $15.99
Spanish ed.  978-0-7636-9358-9    $15.99

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela feels self-conscious about her long name until her father tells her about the family members she is named after. Use of the past tense indicates that her grandparents, a great-aunt, and a great-grandparent are deceased, but they are very much alive in Alma, who delightedly exclaims the ways in which she is like them as her father recounts their accomplishments and attributes. Straightforward text describes one ancestor who was especially spiritual and another who was an activist, one who loved books and flowers, and another who longed to travel. Throughout, grayscale print transfer illustrations have a soft visual texture, and subtle colored-pencil highlights in pink and blue hues enliven each spread. The pictures end up stealing the show in their depiction of the sweet closeness between Alma and her father. They also convey a subtle, supernatural connection between Alma and her ancestors, whose images in the family photos make eye contact with her outside of her father’s awareness. Details in the illustrations also point toward specificity of the family’s Peruvian heritage. An author’s note reveals the story of Martinez-Neal’s own full name, asking readers, “What is the story of your name? What story would you like to tell?” MEGAN DOWD LAMBERT

From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star
by Grace Lin; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.    g
8/18    978-0-316-40448-8    $17.99

Little Star and her mother bake a mooncake, the sweet treat associated with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. The ingredients for their super-sized mooncake cover a mammoth table, because these two make their home in the night sky. No walls close them in, darkness surrounds them, and their black pajamas are covered in luminous yellow stars. Look closely at their celestial kitchen to see nods to constellations (a large and small “dipper” hang from a shelf) and even some spilled milk in the shape of the Milky Way. Little Star’s mother hangs the Big Mooncake in the sky to cool, reminding her daughter not to touch it until given permission. But the girl’s hunger overcomes her, and she sneaks off repeatedly during the night (“pat pat pat” go her feet) to snack on the mooncake (“nibble, nibble…yum!”), her trail of crumbs forming so many galaxies in the great inky-black sky. In one spread, we see twelve separate instances of Little Star nibbling on the mooncake as it gradually shrinks in size and shape to a thin crescent. Mama, hardly surprised, agrees to make another. It’s all mesmerizing — Little Star’s astral home; her outsized sense of mischief; the dwindling cake as a stand-in for the waning moon; and Lin’s pleasing, soothing text, perfect for reading aloud to little moon-watchers here on Earth. JULIE DANIELSON

From the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards.

Thank You, Omu!
by Oge Mora; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown 32 pp.
10/18 978-0-316-43124-8 $18.99
e-book ed. 978-0-316-43123-1 $9.99

Grandmotherly Omu (a brief note on the front endpapers explains that the name is pronounced “AH-moo” and is “the Igbo term for ‘queen’”) seasons and stirs her “thick red stew in a big fat pot.” In the mixed-media collage illustrations, brown-skinned Omu looks blissful as a wavy ribbon of “scrumptious scent” from her stew wafts “out the window and out the door, down the hall, toward the street, and around the block.” Soon there is a knock on the door, and a little boy asks about the delicious smell. Omu decides to share her stew with him as the scent continues to float out from her apartment, bringing another “knock knock” to her door — a peckish police officer, this time. The pattern of the story quickly becomes clear, as each knock brings someone who very much appreciates Omu sharing her stew: “Thank you, Omu!” At the end of the day, Omu’s generosity means that she has no stew left to eat for dinner, but the people come back, and the little boy tells her, “Don’t worry, Omu. We are not here to ask…We are here to give.” The layers of paint, paper scraps, “old book clippings,” and more give the collages depth and make each person distinct in his or her skin tone, hair, and clothes. Mora times her story perfectly, with each beat in the right place and repetition that will encourage participation from a group. This will be an ideal volume to use any time sharing is the theme. SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The Rough Patch
by Brian Lies; illus. by the author
Primary    Greenwillow    40 pp.
8/18    978-0-06-267127-1    $17.99

Evan (an anthropomorphized fox) and his dog enjoy doing everything together, but especially working in Evan's garden. Lies's lush acrylic, oil, and colored-pencil illustrations with delicate line work evoke the magnificence of Evan's garden, then his intense sadness and isolation after his beloved dog dies. This tender story of loss, hope, and recovery comes full circle when Evan hesitantly returns to gardening — and gets a new puppy, to boot. SHEILA M. GERATY

From the Spring 2019 issue of The Horn Book Guide.


For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2019.
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