Henry is a little boy who keeps his arms close to his sides and doesn’t quite fit in with his lively classmates. In “A Friend for Henry” (Chronicle, ages 3-7), he’s hoping to find a companion. It’s probably not Vivianne, “a kaleidoscope, a tangle of colors,” who doesn’t like Henry’s decorating of her shoes. And probably not Samuel, “a thunderstorm, booming and crashing,” as he leaps onto the carpet squares Henry has carefully arranged, edges meeting perfectly, for reading time. The class fish, Gilly, is pretty and quiet, but she can’t play on the swings. Not everyone in his classroom is the right match, and Henry doesn’t always understand how to be a friend in return. But it turns out that Katie can appreciate Gilly the fish the way Henry does. Katie can play blocks without the triangles that Henry dislikes. And while Katie likes to go on the big slide, she doesn’t try to make Henry go on it. Jenn Bailey’s warmly empathetic story — animated by the simple, bold lines and gentle colors of Mika Song’s illustrations — will remind even very young listeners that everyone makes friends in their own way.
For almost three decades, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan have invited young readers to explore and scrutinize all sorts of artistry — van Gogh’s paintings, Martha Graham’s choreography, Cindy Sherman’s photographs. In “Two Brothers, Four Hands” (Holiday House, ages 7-10), the authors delve into the different but complementary talents of Alberto and Diego Giacometti. Born just a year apart at the beginning of the 20th century, Alberto was a creative, bookish boy and Diego a daredevil who loved exploring the Swiss countryside. Diego so admired his elder brother that he sometimes did Alberto’s chores; he also sat for hours as his sculpture model. Greenberg and Jordan follow the Giacometti brothers on their journeys but focus on the ramshackle Paris studio where Alberto worked for most of 40 years and Diego provided support, both practical and artistic. Hadley Hooper’s paint-ink-and-Photoshop illustrations enrich the text on every page, highlighting the contrasts as well as the brotherly continuity of their lives. Hooper also captures the often-difficult process of creation, the starkness of Alberto’s “tall, slender, mysterious” sculptures, and the whimsical elements of the furniture Diego made on his own. By book’ s end, young readers may well marvel at what both brothers achieved, and how Greenberg, Jordan and Hooper have conveyed it.
In “I Wish You All the Best” (Push, ages 14 and up), a heartfelt first novel by Mason Deaver, 18-year-old Ben De Backer is tired of “basically always living a lie.” But when Ben comes out as nonbinary, their parents kick them out of the house. Ben then calls their older sister, Hannah, who has been estranged from the family for 10 years. She and her husband offer Ben a home and a chance to finish their senior year at the nearby high school. Initially, Ben’s only emotional support is an online friend, Mariam, who is also nonbinary. Mariam, a lively Muslim vlogger and LGBTQIA activist, encourages quiet, anxious Ben to try connecting with others. Through therapy and their evolving relationship with Hannah, Ben begins to better understand the controlling, conditional home life they were both subjected to. Ben takes creative risks in their advanced art class, and they make friends with a few kids at school, including an attractive, good-humored writer named Nathan. Ben’s growing self-acceptance takes a downturn when their parents push for a meeting, which turns into a fiasco. But this time, Ben feels bolstered by friends and starts to see a future based on their desires and decisions rather than conformity to the previous, numbing role of “perfect son.” Over the course of the novel, Ben moves with trepidation and courage from trauma to a fuller embrace of hope and love — an example for any reader yearning to take that first step into a new possibility.