Five short chapters introduce five friends and their daily lives on Sprout Street. In the first chapter, The Acorn Problem, Henry the mouse tries to think of a tactful way to tell his upstairs neighbor, Emma the squirrel, that her thunking acorns are disturbing his Saturday morning nap. The next chapter, The Best Birthday, features Emma and her efforts to have the best birthday party ever. Fernando's Wish features Fernando's longing to do something in the annual parade and his fears of performing in public. With the help of his neighbors, especially Violet who plays the flute, he fulfills his longing to dance. Violet is featured in the next chapter, The Surprise, as she learns that sometimes you do need help from your neighbors. She finally accepts help from her neighbor Wilbur. The last chapter is about Wilbur and The Secret Garden, when all the neighbors come together to save Wilbur's beloved garden in an abandoned lot.
Alter's soft black and white illustrations are strongly reminiscent of Peter McCarty. Honestly, I had to look twice to make sure he wasn't the illustrator. Her artwork is a strong fit for the story though, simple and attractive, with each character having a clear personality and recognizable characteristics, both physical and personality-wise. I liked the little accents scattered throughout the book as well.
Verdict: This won't be a hugely popular title with most beginning readers; it's much more in the vein of the classic Frog and Toad easy reader, which isn't really that popular anymore, at least at my library, but that makes it a good choice as a read-aloud to younger children or for those kids who like more peaceful, everyday stories.
ISBN: 9780385755580; Published April 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2015; Purchased for the library