Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
“Above Us” by Angela Riedesel is an exciting bilingual children's book that explores the wandering minds and observations of young people. This is arguably the best bilingual children's book that we've seen this year.
The book continuously raises the stakes and shifts the reader's perspective higher and higher—literally. You go from the ceiling to some floating bubbles to the clouds, then you even end up in outer space!
The book doesn't follow one or a few central characters. Instead, it has a broader scope and uses broader brush. This works for and against the book in some ways. For starters, we are first introduced to what seems like a collection of siblings who have just moved to a new town and into a new home, but the perspective quickly deviates to other people. Somewhat like “God Made it All” last season or “Mira and the Mysterious Dragon” this season, “Above Us” skips around quite a bit, showing us different aspects of both human nature and, well, nature-nature. Now, while this can be fun and interesting because of the shear variety of this variety show, it can leave a younger reader a little confused and unmoored. Unmoored might be the best way to describe our feeling about this book. It's challenging because it's hard to find anyone or anything in this book to really cling to. You're shown a lot of people and a lot of things but you don't really get to know them too well in the way we got to know Garrett in “Garrett Bear Learning from Failure” or Sam in “Sam Learns to Hug.” Something else that's a bit bothersome is some of the writing is a bit strange. For example, there's an early line about how touching a ceiling isn't “silly.” You're supposed to relate to the father holding their child up to touch the ceiling. We get it. It's just worded strangely.
But we're nitpicking a bit.
So, why, is this book still rated among our highest children's books? It's because this book holds a tremendous amount of value. It's beautiful, and it's creative. The gimmick of this book, having the reader follow an ever-escalating perspective, is brilliant. It also helps both English & Spanish speaking parents to acclimate their children to one language or the other, offering them the choice of reading it in either language (or both)! So, it serves a profound educational purpose that we can't help but applaud.
Another thing about this book is that the art is very eye-catching. It's not always consistent, but it's consistently appealing. Let us explain. There are pages of this book that look almost like cutscenes from a 90s Sierra video game. Note, we said cutscenes not gameplay, so it's still quite appealing. At other times, the art is jaw-dropping. For example, the lighting effects of the kids playing in the rain during the daytime on pages 16 and 17 is incredible. We also caught that one of the girls on these pages seems to be modeled after Chihiro from “Spirited Away.” They're almost an identical match.
But perhaps the most beautiful work of art in the entire book is the tree on pages 20 and 21. That work of art alone probably lifted this book's rating by a point. It's so phenomenal and detailed.
If you want a good bilingual book to read with your children, look no further than this!
Check it out!