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Emergency Quarters

Carlos Matias, illus. by Gracey Zhang (HarperCollins/Tegen)

When Ernesto begins walking to school without his parents, his mother presses a quarter into his hand every morning: “For emergencies.” His peers spend their pocket money, but Ernesto holds onto his daily quarters, until an “emergency” at the barber shop offers a wonderfully surprising opportunity for independent decision-making. In this sparkling picture book, Matias and Zhang supply life-giving sensory details around Ernesto’s Queens community and his own canny balancing of prudence and pleasure.


Life After Whale: The Amazing Ecosystem of a Whale Fall

Lynn Brunelle, illus. by Jason Chin (Holiday House/Porter)

Chin’s magnificent watercolor and gouache spreads capture the grace of a blue whale in life alongside the bustling ecosystem that surrounds it in death, as Brunelle chronicles the countless creatures that its carcass will sustain over a century. Against a background of inky darkness that encapsulates the cold and silence of the ocean floor, this meticulous breakdown of death supporting life offers a brilliant exposition of the way that populations grow and endure.


The Pelican Can!

Toni Yuly (Little, Brown)

The triumphant titular cry answers rhyming questions in this display of a pelican’s balletic grace. “Who can see it’s time to eat?” Yuly begins, showing a pelican family in silhouette: “The pelican can!” After an ink-stroked adult swoops toward the water (“Who can spy small fish with their eye?”), its efforts lead to a full pouch and a relaxed young pelican ready to sleep. The natural world supplies all the drama needed in this day-in-the-life tale.


The Squish

Breanna Carzoo (HarperCollins)

After this picture book’s googly-eyed sandcastle protagonist is stomped by one of its creators, the indignities keep piling up. When refashioning itself, and even quitting, prove fruitless, a similarly afflicted beach creation changes the sandpile’s perception, and the two find a way to support each other in weathering life’s storms. Alongside messages of solidarity and resilience, Carzoo’s images, rendered in subtly dimensional cut-paper collage, have lots of good-hearted, goofy verve.


Summer Is Here

Renée Watson, illus. by Bea Jackson (Bloomsbury)

A child embraces summer in this heady first-person ode to the season. As a day progresses, sensate lines feature the pleasures of sweet fruit (“fat mangoes, bursting with juice”), pool time with pals (“Our bright swimsuits float... like lily pads”), and more. Jackson employs bright light and sunlit hues to capture the easy, lengthy rhythms of a full day, while Watson’s prose celebrates a fleeting season with an earnest desire: “I wish summer would stay.”


There Was a Shadow

Bruce Handy, illus. by Lisk Feng (Enchanted Lion)

Lulling, mesmerizing lines by Handy contemplate shadows as they grow and fade, reflecting life over the course of a day. Short sentences reveal fresh surprises, inviting readers to observe types of shadows, including that of an insect (“a look-closely shadow”) and evening (“an almost everywhere/ sort of shadow”). Sunny, atmospheric spreads by Feng pay attention to the play of light and its source as the creators’ shared intensity gives this carefully observed work its playful resonance.


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