K-Gr 3--A dedicated young artist finds a friend who understands his vision in this picture book ode to the creative spirit. Niko carries a pad of paper and a box of colored pencils everywhere he goes, and his urban community provides plenty of inspiration for his artwork. Unfortunately, his abstract attempts to capture the "ring-a-ling" of the ice-cream truck's bell, the hard work of a bird building her nest, and the warmth of the sun on his face only confuse his classmates, parents, and teacher, who seem stuck on the concrete objects missing from his drawings. Then a new girl named Iris moves in next door, and when she recognizes her own feelings of sadness in one of his drawings, Niko knows he's found a kindred spirit. Shin's digital and mixed-media illustrations perfectly capture Niko's passion and creativity, visually connecting his drawing pad to the world around him through joyous, scribbled colored pencil lines. Niko's drawings are appropriately naive, employing geometric shapes and bright colors that are echoed in Shin's visuals. Raczka's child-centered text expertly uses accessible language to describe the process of creative expression, likening it to a butterfly fluttering and a window opening in the mind. Pink-skinned Niko appears to come from a biracial family, and his classmates are depicted with a realistically diverse array of skin tones.Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Niko is an abstract expressionist, although he doesn't know it, nor does anyone around him. Showing his parents a drawing composed of yellow striations and red swirls and knots, he explains, "It's the warm of the sun on my face." When Dad says he can't see the sun or the face, Niko responds, "It's not my face. It's the warm." So it goes at school, too: everyone wants to know why Niko's artwork doesn't show what they see: the world in concretely visual terms. Niko's sadness and sense of being misunderstood lifts when he meets his new neighbor, Iris: her thoughtful, elated expressions as she takes in his creations make for some of Shin's (If I Could Drive, Mama) loveliest scenes in this touching story. "Niko waited for her questions," writes Raczka (Wet Cement), but Iris doesn't need Niko to explain anything. Her own feelings of dislocation and, more importantly, her self-awareness about them, make her both a soul mate and the ideal audience. What more could an artist ask for? Ages 5-9. Illustrator's agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary. (Apr.)Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.