Tomie dePaola, Andrea Davis Pinkney, L.M. Elliott

In fewer than 50 words, picture-book master Tomie dePaola shares a recipe for happiness: “Open your eyes, and look. Open your eyes, and see, and say thank you.” In the aptly titled “Look and Be Grateful” (Holiday House, $16.95, ages 3 and up), dePaola offers a series of small moments — a ladybug flying from the palm of a boy’s hand, the boy’s sister taking a piece of fruit he offers — to convey a larger sense of being alive and aware.

“Today is today, and it is a gift.” When, on another page, a boy cradles a dove and kneels with his sister in gratitude, the peace they share feels expansive. DePaola doesn’t overstate his case — this is a quick read, although it invites the reader to go slowly. Young listeners will understand that there is power and joy in recognizing the richness of what is right at hand and in giving thanks for one’s present moment. DePaola’s signature illustrations — straightforward figures and defined lines — seem to glow on each of these space- and light-filled pages. And the compact, square shape of the book makes it portable for little hands. Bring a copy to the holiday table and then leave it behind for rereading.

Classic Motown songs have made their way into young American minds, but has the history behind Hitsville, U.S.A., been handed down? With “Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound” (Roaring Brook, $22.99, ages 10-14), Andrea Davis Pinkney tells the story of Berry Gordy’s enterprising ways and the irresistible Motown sounds of the 1960s and ’70s. Beginning in the 1950s in Motor City, aka Detroit, the book shows how Gordy’s entrepreneurial skills, an $800 loan from his family and his hit-making instincts launched an empire. Filled with terrific photographs, “Rhythm Ride” introduces all of Motown’s most popular artists, from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles to the Jackson 5, and offers anecdotes that are sure to spark interest in Motown’s music and amazing teamwork.

Kids will learn, for example, about how a blind, singing and drumming 10-year-old named Stevland Morris became the phenomenon we know as Stevie Wonder. Pinkney, the Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of “Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America,” among other titles, delivers a memorable spin on Motown’s unparalleled cultural and musical heritage.

Controversial art, political schemes, scandal: No, this is not 21st-century United States but late 15th-century Florence, Italy, under the charismatic Lorenzo de Medici. Married to a much older wool merchant, Ginevra de Benci Niccolini, the 17-year-old heroine of Laura Malone Elliott’s novel “Da Vinci’s Tiger” (Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99, ages 13 and up) catches the appreciative eye of Bernardo Bembo, the ambassador from Venice. In a practice common for the time, she becomes Bembo’s Platonic love. Bembo commissions a painting of Ginevra from a young artist named Leonardo da Vinci, and the result — with its direct gaze and outdoor setting — revolutionizes Italian Renaissance portraiture. Until then, portraits featured women in profile, their eyes modestly averted, and in a domestic sphere.

In this engaging, carefully researched historical novel, Elliott brings to life the intelligent, curious Ginevra and a Florence vibrant with color and Renaissance ideas. At the heart of the tale is the friendship that develops between Ginevra, a gifted poet — “I beg your pardon, I am a mountain tiger” — and da Vinci, the talented illegitimate son of a notary. Readers will applaud the keen-witted protagonist as she navigates the city-state’s “intrigues and rivalries,” determined to chart her own course. Today, da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

 

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