bloom

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: First Second publishes great graphic novels. I consistently adore their titles (Check, Please! Shattered Warrior! The Prince and the Dressmaker!), so it’s no surprise that I was looking forward to Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau’s Bloom as soon as I heard about it. Umm, also, it ticks several of my “favorite things” boxes?? A of all, it’s a book about cute boys working in a bakery, and B of all, it is a sweet LGBTQ+ romance with lots of heart. Oh gosh, I loved it a lot.

bloom by kevin panetta and savanna ganucheau cover
Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

Ari has just finished high school and is looking forward to moving to the big city with his band. Meanwhile, he’s trying to manage his family’s expectation that he’ll keep working at the family bakery. To assuage his guilt, he settles on the idea of hiring a replacement for himself, and that’s how he meets Hector Gallea, in town from Birmingham to close up his grandmother’s house. Hector’s steady presence and love of baking draws Ari in bit by bit… but will it be enough to keep him in tiny East Beach, or will his big city dreams take precedence? Ari will find out this and more over one fateful Maryland summer…  

You know how there are stories that just feel like food for the soul? They may make you cry a little, but they mostly fill you up with that bubbly, content feeling of that-was-just-what-I-needed? Bloom is one of those stories. Panetta and Ganucheau have collaborated to create a beautiful book, and luckily it’s a *good* one too.

Things I liked (get ready, there are many): Ari’s family is part of the story. Young adult and children’s lit gets dinged a lot for having absent parents to build plot, so it’s absolutely wonderful to see whole family and realistic parent-kid relationships in books. Conflict in Bloom builds out of differing expectations for Ari’s future: his dad wants him to help out in the struggling family bakery, and he wants to follow his friends out into the unknown. To add to that, Ari’s family is solidly working class, and not sure if their business will survive. There’s no college-bound future here, and I can’t think of the last YA book I read that included a family like Ari’s, where economic uncertainty is part of the story.

I also really loved how Ari’s relationship with his high school/band friends played out. It was authentic in a little-tough-to-watch kind of way. Those moments when you realize you’ve outgrown your friends, or they’ve outgrown you, or maybe you were never really friends to begin with? Super poignant. The title of the book really points out what’s happening here: not only a sweet love story, but a real growing up and turning your face to the sunshine kind of maturing. And it’s illustrated to match! I adored that certain panels (no spoilers!) had flowers creeping over the edges.

Speaking of illustration, Ganucheau really hit it out of the park. I mean, gosh, it’s a gorgeous book. And the two-toned illustrations in shades of teal really worked in a way I wasn’t expecting. And the baking collages! *heart eyes* What can I say, I am a sucker for cute boys + baked goods.

On the note of baked goods, there’s a recipe at the end! If you can finish this book without wanting to go whip something up in the kitchen, you can safely say you have a will of iron! So it’s very convenient that there’s one just at the end, how nice and thank you v. much to the authors. Also p.s. I adored the nods to Hector’s Samoan and the Kyrkos family’s Greek backgrounds with the food they made. Ugh, I loved all of it. I think you will too.

So if you’ve ever swooned over a fictional boy throwing bags of flour over his shoulder (and I know you all have – don’t lie to me! Peeta from The Hunger Games happened, we all remember that right??), and/or just want to read an adorable slow-burn romance with lots of flirting and blushing, this is the book for you.

Recommended for: fans of Check, Please! and Heartstopper, and anyone who likes comics about finding yourself and finding your way, with a little romance baked in.

Fine print: I received an ARC of this title for review from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

the girl who ran: bobbi gibb, the first woman to run the boston marathon

The very first thing you notice about this picture book is the gorgeous cover art. The Girl Who Ran in large, white font, against a fiery watercolor background slanted crosswise on the dustjacket. And then you see the little picture of Bobbi Gibb at the bottom, running with her hair streaming behind her, echoing the colors above. If it gets you to pick up the book, the cover has done its job. In this case, I don’t see how anyone could resist it!

the girl who ran: bobbi gibb, the first woman to run the boston marathon by frances poletti and kristina yee, illustrated by susanna chapman cover
“She said she would do it, she wasn’t a liar; she’d show them by running like the wind in the fire.” When Bobbi Gibb saw the Boston Marathon her mind was set—she had to be a part of it. She trained hard, journeying across America to run on all kinds of terrain. But when the time came to apply for the marathon, she was refused entry. They told her girls don’t run, girls can’t run. That didn’t stop Bobbi.

This picture book tells the true story of how she broke the rules in 1966 and how, one step at a time, her grit and determination changed the world. The energetic and bright illustrations capture the emotions of Bobbi’s journey and the fluidity of running. Created in collaboration with Bobbi Gibb, The Girl Who Ran is perfect for would-be runners, kids of all ages, and everyone out there with a love of sport.

Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee's picture book,  The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon, illustrated by Susanna Chapman (who also created that gorgeous cover!) tells the story of Bobbi Gibb. Who is Bobbi Gibb? She is the first woman to run the Boston Marathon (the most famous marathon in America). Bobbi loved to run from a young age, and she ran, as the book repeats, “like the wind in the fire.” The book chronicles how attitudes toward her running changed as she grew up – she faced not only official rejection from race officials, but at home, from her family. But after secretly training and determining to race, Bobbi would not be dissuaded. And her mother changed her mind! So Bobbi ran, right into history. And her life, and the lives of others changed because of that.

On one hand you could characterize this picture book as an inspirational biography for younger readers. But really, it’s more than that. The prose is lyrical, and it’s accompanied by lovely art that will appeal to any reader, whether they prefer nonfiction or not. It also doesn’t hesitate to tell the story of familial disapproval and conflicts between traditional gendered expectations and personal aspirations – something that we can always use more of in books for younger kids.

As expected in a book about a runner, most of the page spreads show movement, and the illustrator portrays this with the swirls of watercolor “fire” so that you can see Bobbi’s path through the landscape. The art really shines, and in the final pages, at the marathon finish line, there’s a foldout spread that broadens the scope of the moment into something dramatic.

Another positive: at the end of the book there’s a concise 2-page spread with both a formal biography and a timeline showing Bobbi’s marathon runs, Boston Marathon milestones and women’s involvement. It would be a good starting point for a school project!

In all, The Girl Who Ran is a beautiful picture book that illustrates the value of persevering despite setbacks, or even the disbelief or opposition of your family.

Recommended for: readers ages 6-9 who are interested in nonfiction biographies, running, and people overcoming the odds, and folks any age who enjoy positive, inspirational stories.

Fine print: I received a copy of this title for review from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

two wintry picture books that don't feature holidays

Caution, caution! The holidays are closer than they appear! If you haven’t yet, check out my picture book holiday gift guide for last-minute gifting ideas. And if you don’t celebrate and/or are already thinking of the long months of winter that happen after the holiday build-up, let me recommend a couple of picture books to you. Both Almost a Full Moon and Once Upon a Snowstorm feature evocative wintertime scenes, without any mention of specific holidays. They also both have art of a young person riding a wild animal (a favorite legend!) in the snow.

almost a full moon by hawksley workman, illustrated by jensine eckwall cover
Almost a Full Moon is a warm-hearted story of family, community, food and home. A boy and his grandmother host a gathering in their small cabin in the middle of winter. Friends travel from near and far, and some new friends even turn up. The walls of the cabin are elastic and the soup pot bottomless; all are welcome. Based on the lyrics of Hawksley Workman's song from his holiday album Almost a Full Moon, this book evokes both the cold and the coziness of a winter's night: crisp clean air, sparkling snow, the light of the moon, welcoming windows, glowing candles, family and friends. The spare text is beautifully complemented with the rich illustrations of Jensine Eckwall. She brings beauty and a hint of magic to Workman's evocative lyrics; together, they create a world and a night that will enchant readers of all ages.

Hawksley Workman's Almost a Full Moon, the book, is a story based on a song of the same title – about the weather turning cold, making soup, and eating it with friends. I read the book before listening to the song, and thought it simplistic at best. What saved it were Jensine Eckwall’s engrossing, whimsical watercolor images, filled with a welcoming, homey scenes, soup-making, woodland creatures, and both ordinary and fey characters.

And THEN. Then I listened to Workman’s song, and it all coalesced. Almost a Full Moon, the song, is a haunting, solemn kind of wintry meditation on sharing food and fellowship. It kept coming back to me, days later, even though I’d only listened to it once. So I get it now – why this song became a book. But if you’re going to read the book (and you should because the illustrations are FABULOUS – including the star chart endpapers!), listen to the song as well. And maybe the combination will inspire you to make a soup and invite friends as well as strangers to your table!

once upon a snowstorm by richard johnson cover
The Snowman meets the Polar Express in this dazzling picture book, sure to be a new holiday classic.

The story of a father and his son who live by themselves in a cozy cabin in the woods. But, one day they are separated out in the beautifully falling snow. The boy is lost and falls asleep. When he wakes up he is surrounded by blinking eyes, a rabbit, a fox, an owl and all manner of other creatures have surrounded him! But with a bear hug he and the woodland animals become best of friends! But soon he misses his dad and so the animals bring him back home. The father opens up his heart and home, and lets nature and love envelop their previously lonely existence.

Richard Johnson’s picture book Once Upon a Snowstorm is a wordless story about a boy and his father who go out in the snow one day – and then lose each other. The boy ends up taking refuge with a group of animals, eventually finds his way home – and brings his new friends with him. While wordless, the story narrative is fairly well-defined – but children will enjoy putting their own words to the wintry scenes and the age-old experiences of getting lost, finding new friends, and returning home again.

Johnson’s art is the star of this book, with snowy landscapes, woodland creatures, and arduous journeys depicted in a beautiful detail. My favorite page spread showed the animal faces, close-up, when they discovered the boy (and the boy discovered them!). It was a laugh-aloud moment with an otherwise quiet book, and that’s how I know it’ll be a hit with kids – especially the 3-to-5-year-old set.

Both books have their poignant moments, feature woodland creatures, snow-covered hills, and children improbably riding wild creatures. And there’s nary a holiday in sight! If those things sound good to you, pick up Almost a Full Moon and Once Upon a Snowstorm, make yourself a mug of hot chocolate, and settle in for some snug winter reading.

Fine print: I received copy of Once Upon a Snowstorm for review consideration from the publisher. I got Almost a Full Moon from my local library. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

the snow lion

It’s been a gray, wintry day here in Washington, DC – the kind where I am constantly refreshing my coffee and tea in an effort to ward off the chill. Winter is one of my favorite seasons, in part because of the holidays, yes, but also because I love bundling up in oversized sweaters and plopping a knitted hat with a pom-pom on my head. Caro, the heroine of Jim Helmore and Richard Jones’ The Snow Lion, dresses like I do in winter, and that was just one of the things to love about this quiet, beautiful picture book.

the snow lion by jim helmore and richard jones cover
After moving to a new home, Caro wishes she had a friend, but she’s too shy to meet the neighborhood kids. With a little imagination, however, Caro finds the Snow Lion. Together, they have all kinds of fun racing, climbing, and playing hide-and-seek. But when the boy next door asks Caro to come play, Caro isn’t so sure. Then, the Snow Lion has an idea! Making new friends isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it in the end.

This powerful but gentle story about making new friends is gorgeously illustrated to celebrate the magic and imagination that fills every page and will appeal to any shy or lonely young reader.

Caro and her mother have just moved, and everything in their new house is white, white, white! It would seem a little lonely and soulless, except that almost immediately Caro meets a Snow Lion. This Lion blends in with the white walls, helps her explore her new home, and encourages her to be brave and reach out to make new friends. Soon Caro’s life is full of color and friendship!

The Snow Lion is a sweet, simple, and sincere story about loneliness, taking leaps of faith, making new friends, and remembering the old ones. Though the Snow Lion is never named as such, it is an imaginary friend (but as anyone who has had an imaginary friend knows, that doesn’t make them any less real!). I liked that it was never called out in the text, because I think it will make sense to children who already daydream, and open the imaginations of those who don’t so much.

Another thing to love is the way that Helmore has framed Caro, a naturally shy character (in a new setting, to boot!), in a dynamic and positive light. The focus is not on being left out (which I’ve seen many times in picture books and is fine for what it is!), but on finding ways to play with what you have, and then later on being courageous, reaching out, and making friends.

The art! When am I going to get to the art?? Well, as you must be able to tell from the cover, Richard Jones’ mix of paint and Photoshop illustrations are simply lovely. Jones has an eye for patterned, geometric details, and while the palette is at first very muted (all that white!), color and texture gradually seep in as the world opens up for Caro. I really adored the illustrations and would happily open this book again and again just for those. I also desperately hope that there are stuffed, all-white lion toys somewhere out there in the world to pair with this book. That would be sticky-sweet. And! On a final note, the endpapers, which are a cool silver-and-white pattern! They should be made into wrapping paper. I’d buy at least 2 rolls.

Overall, The Snow Lion is quietly delightful – a good book for wintry days.

Recommended for: readers ages 3 and up, for storytimes and one-on-one reading, and especially for shy little ones (or those who’ve just faced a big change).

Fine print: I received copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.
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