Picture Book Reviews: The Happiest Tree: A Story of Growing Up, Ruby’s Sword & more!

Picture book review time! I have three lovely titles on the review docket today, courtesy of my friends at Raincoast Books: Hyeon-Ju Lee‘s The Happiest Tree: A Story of Growing Up; Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Véissid, illustrated by Paola Zakimi; and Lola Dutch When I Grow Up by Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright. Enjoy!

Author and illustrator Hyeon-Ju Lee, whose debut picture book Mina’s White Canvas was met to critical acclaim, returns with the gorgeously poignant and beautifully illustrated The Happiest Tree: A Story of Growing Up. The story is narrated by a ginko tree who lives outside of an apartment building. Having moved to the building at the age of ten- when it just reached the ground floor!- the gingko tree has seen many things in its time as it has grown. For example: on the ground floor, the tree had the pleasure of listening to music from a piano class; at the age of fourteen, tree met and watched an artist paint picture upon picture of tree!; then, at the age of seventeen, was a long and deeply joyous time spent with a family on the third floor. It is not only happy times experienced by tree, however- as the tree grows older, there are moments where it experiences sadness, pain, and lengthy stretches of loneliness. The Happiest Tree: A Story of Growing Up gradually builds to an ultimately wonderful, surprising and satisfying end. Altogether, this is contemplative, quietly wonderful and tender story that you may think of and reflect on; perfect for reading alone, with a companion, or to an appreciative audience.

Ruby raced through a sea of summer grass after her brothers, their long legs leaping ahead. “Wait up!” she called out. But only their laughter trailed behind, like the tail of a kite just out of reach.

Up next on review is the dynamic and buoyant picture book Ruby’s Sword by photographer-producer-author Jacqueline Véissid (Caspian Finds a Friend) and illustrator Paola Zakimi (Secrets I Know by Kallie George). Ruby seems to be forever chasing after her big brothers, asking them to slow down and wait for her. But one gloriously sunny and summery day, Ruby decides to pause, and she lies back on the grass, she discovers wooden swords in the grass! Ruby picks up one of the magical, marvelous swords and faces “a fearsome dragon” in the sky, swishing, lunging and swooshing, all the while feeling “invincible”. In the excitement, Ruby rushes off to share the other two swords with her brothers, who unfortunately end up leaving Ruby out of their own fun! As Ruby marches off, she decides to continue with her own fun and imaginative play, working on her fantastic swordsmanship as wind, clouds and rain attack. Ruby’s Sword allows for a sweet reconciliation between Ruby and her brothers, culminating in them all building something “magnificent” together. A bright and innovative story- story and art are so gorgeously matched here!- that speaks to the delight of imagination, play, problem-solving and sibling togetherness, Ruby’s Sword is a terrific read.

Last but not least on review today is Lola Dutch When I Grow Up by Kenneth Wright and Sarah Jane Wright. The follow-up to Lola Dutch, Lola Dutch When I Grow Up follows Lola and her friends Bear, Gator, Pig, and Crane as Lola has an emergency when she can’t decide what to be when she grows up! As Lola Dutch and her troupe of friends read books for inspiration, the idea of becoming a star on the stage captures everyone’s imagination. Only, shortly after a big to-do of preparing a stage-worthy spectacle, Lola Dutch thinks she might want to become an inventor!…or maybe a botanist!…or maybe a chemist, or a yoga instructor, or a judge! Lola Dutch thinks of a great many things she could become, but pretty soon becomes overwhelmed by possibilities. It is with Bear’s calm presence and thoughtful help that Lola decides she can simply “learn about everything” and “be a kid”. A energetic, vivacious and fun book that readers and fans of the first Lola Dutch will likely enjoy; this book may also appeal to readers who enjoy Fancy Nancy titles, Kelly Light’s Louise books, or Louise Yate’s Dog Loves series. Bonus: this edition, published January 2019 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books includes paper puppets of Lola, Pig, and a dress you can cut out, as well as a removable dust jacket that has a stage printed on the reverse for playing. More resources are available at Lola Dutch!

I received copies of these titles courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.

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