Picture Book Reviews: How Long Is Forever? & Five Sisters

Welcome to a new picture book post! You may have already read a little bit about Kelly Carey and Qing Zhuang‘s How Long Is Forever? in this previous post; here, you’ll get to hear my thoughts on this recently released picture book! Also on review is the folklore inspired Five Sisters, from Stephanie Campisi (who you might recognize as the author of Luis and Tabitha!) and illustrator Madalina Andronic. Thank you to Kelly, Qing, and Stephanie for their generosity and opportunity to review their respective books. Happy reading to you all!

Kelly Carey and Qing Zhuang’s How Long Is Forever? opens on a young boy named Mason flopped on his back, complaining to his grandpa about something taking ‘forever’. Once Grandpa asks Mason to try and show him what he thinks ‘forever’ really looks like, Mason goes on an adventure pointing and guessing at things that might represent forever. From grandpa’s tractor to his grandma’s roses, and water down a stream, Mason makes a number of guesses. But are any of them quite right? With his grandfather as his guide, Mason makes a breakthrough in understanding forever – and the great expanse of love- as their adventure brings them back to home, to grandma, and to homemade blueberry pie. Kids will likely enjoy returning to reread How Long Is Forever?, following along with Mason as he works his way through trying to understand just how grand a concept ‘forever’ really is. How Long Is Forever? may also encourage a few (or a lot!) of follow-up questions regarding concepts of time, and what it means to love someone forever…and, perhaps, even about how one can go about making some delicious blueberry pie! A story that is as sweet as it is a gentle lesson highlighting a big concept, How Long Is Forever? is a sensitive and insightful picture book debut from Kelly Carey and Qing Zhuang. Carey’s writing is appealing in how streamlined and readable it is, while Zhuang’s illustrations are warm and light, and feel altogether cozy and nostalgic of childhood (think along the lines of artists like Jennifer K. Mann, Micha Archer, Atinuke, or Barbara McClintock). Readers who have enjoyed thoughtful picture books that inspire rumination, such as Forever or a Day, A Stone Sat Still, I Wonder, or A House That Once Was, might especially enjoy How Long Is Forever?. Bonus: If you go to the book’s publisher page, you will see links to a number of great resources, including: an Activity Kit, a colouring page, and author Kelly Carey’s favourite Blueberry dessert recipes!

Five Sisters, written by Stephanie Campisi and illustrated by Romanian artist Madalina Andronic, is an atmospheric picture book, rich with folktale inspiration and an old-world, classical feel. As the story settles in, readers learn that an old couple “with kindly trowels” has been tending to the woods where they live for many, many years: “tend[ing] the pines” and “coax[ing] the great oaks from beneath acorn caps”. Something, however, is amiss with the couple: the old man wishes to make his and his wife’s dream of having a child- a family- somehow finally come true…One day, by the magic of a magnificent oak tree the old man has tended to, the couple are gifted a miraculous branch, out of which the old man carves a set of five nesting dolls that come to life! Not all is immediately happily-ever-after, however, and a sudden and wrenching shadow takes the joy and light away from the old man and his wife. Campisi, maintaining a wonderfully poetic, otherworldly and elegant style of narrative throughout, steers the tale away from bleakness and sadness to a more joyful, earned ending, leaving readers with a sense of contentment…and of wonder at the magic and unfamiliarity of the world they have just visited. Andronic’s illustrations are stunning: lush with rich and unmissable colours (the matryoshka dolls are especially vibrant and joyful); and distinctly traditional (perhaps classically European?) in aesthetic and appeal. Readers who enjoy classic fairytales and folktales, as well as contemporary retellings, or storytellers such as Jan Brett, Jerry Pinkney or Jane Yolen may especially appreciate the parable of Five Sisters. For those who love exploring and poring over the work of creators such as Júlia Sardà, Pamela Zagarenski, or Suzy Ultman, or Lisbeth Zwerger and Arthur Rackman, diving in Andronic’s work may be a special treat, with Campisi’s tender and lilting tale of lore bringing you back for multiple reads.

I received copies of these titles courtesy of the creators in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. How Long Is Forever? published April 7th, 2020 by Charlesbridge; Five Sisters is expected to release on May 1st, 2020 by Familius.

Author: michelle@fabbookreviews

Reference & Children's Librarian. Reader. Reviewer.

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