Stars shine bright for debut authors Thompkins-Bigelow and Martinez-Neal

Stars shine bright for debut authors Thompkins-Bigelow and Martinez-Neal

MOMMY’S KHIMAR
Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

&

ALMA
Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
(Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Two parent and child dyads share and celebrate cherished cultural connections in beautiful new picture books by debut authors that will touch and delight the heart.

Cover art by Ebony Glenn for Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-BigelowDebut author Thompkins-Bigelow depicts a child’s wonderful, busy day in MOMMY’S KHIMAR.A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears” says a young Muslim girl who loves to dress-up in her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves. Fun and fancy are foremost in her mind as she incorporates the beautiful khimars in her imaginative play. The yellow khimar – another term for hijab – is her favorite and she dreams of wearing it like a queen, or a superhero, flying through the sky like a star.

Mama sees the girl at play, but smiles tenderly rather than scolds. The scarf carries her familiar, motherly fragrance of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon, making it even more special to her daughter. The girl is also loved and celebrated by her father, teachers and her grandmother, wrapped in tangible and intangible messages of love and welcome.

Glenn’s bright, sunny illustrations are sweet and appealing, using vibrant colors that compliment the warm, well-rounded story and keep the focus squarely on the girl’s fun. The energetic images cool to soft blue-purples as night falls and the beloved khimar returns to her mother’s closet. Even in her dreams the heroine recalls the tender embrace of her family and community, but her mother most of all. A delightful depiction of an ordinary day in the life of a cheerful and charming child.
Starred reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

Cover art for Alma and How She Got Her Name ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME is the book title, but the inquisitive heroine’s full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Alma complains that her name is “too long” and “never fits.” In fact, Alma must tape an extra piece of paper to her page to accommodate all six! Soon, the how and why of the family stories behind each and every name is revealed in compelling, engaging descriptions.

When Alma’s father explains the rich history of the names she bears, Alma’s incredible imagination brings them to life. Aided by family photos and icons, her father’s story reveals Alma’s namesakes and the common bonds they share. Like her grandmother Sofia, Alma adores books. Like her grandfather Jose, Alma loves to draw and paint. Candela was Alma’s activist grandmother, and aunt Pura was deeply spiritual.

Alma wears delightful striped red pants, a perky red hairbow, and a red string around her left wrist. Her sweet, expressive face moves from solemn to astonished, serene to silly as she “meets” her ancestors and discovers the common bonds that they share. Martinez-Neal, recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, uses a restrained color palette and imbues the well-designed textual components with meaningful symbols. Broad, double page spreads pace the story smoothly and linger for maximum impact on each name’s meaning. The final reveal for the name “Alma” is a warm, satisfying and ultimately empowering one for the little girl who has been enriched by the love and history of her family past and present. ALMA is a tender tale, a treasure for all readers who will wonder about their own name history.
Starred reviewsBooklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

•Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Read reviews of other #Epic18 debuts here:

I am Famous & Shark Nate-
Snow Sisters
The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort

 

 

Fun New Characters Feature in The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort

Fun New Characters Feature in The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort

THE THREE LITTLE PUGS
Written and illustrated by Nina Victor Crittenden
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

&

THE LITTLE RED FORT
Written by Brenda Maier
Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

The following pair of pleasing picture books, The Three Little Pigs and The Little Red Fort feature updated and revitalized tales with fresh characters and wonderful word choices in two debut stories sure to delight young readers.

 

Cover art of pugs and cat from The Three Little PugsPugs replace pigs in Crittenden’s humorous THE THREE LITTLE PUGS, while the huffing-puffing wolf becomes a snoozy-sleepy cat who takes over the pugs’ cozy bed. Playing off the traditional story’s theme to build with straw, sticks or bricks, the pugs employ familiar household substitutes. Drinking straws, drumsticks and snaplock toy bricks don’t help the pups oust the cat from their wicker bed basket. How can the pug trio broker a lasting peace with the snoozing intruder?

Crittenden’s light, bright illustrations are perfectly suited to the short, sweet text full of rhyme and repetition. There is plenty of action from the busy and resourceful pups to keep the pages turning quickly. While this pug-a-licious tale could convince a few toddlers to embrace their nap schedules, the twist ending also lends itself as a fresh bedtime story selection perfect for a cuddle and a snuggle, pug-style.

 

 

Cover art from The Little Red FortThe Little Red Hen becomes an able, ambitious little sister in Maier’s THE LITTLE RED FORT. Young Ruby wants to build a backyard fort, but her brothers refuse to help. When they say “You don’t know how to build anything,” Ruby shrugs and responds “Then I’ll learn.” She forges ahead with drafting plans, gathering supplies and cutting boards. Along the way she is skillfully assisted by the adults in the family (parents and a grandmother!) Once the fort is finished, Ruby is satisfied with some peaceful solo playtime until her brothers express an interest in her awesome project. Will they find a way to make it up to Ruby after scorning her efforts? The clever twist ending is modern, engaging and satisfying for all.

Sánchez puts bold colors and loose, sketchy lines to vibrant use, portraying pig-tailed Ruby with determination and enthusiasm. The large, textured images are well-matched to Maier’s subtle patterned prose, echoing the traditional text in format and expanding the storyline to contemporary sensibilities. Determination, cooperation and creativity are powerful themes woven into the story with care while simple childhood fun and warm family life will be foremost in readers’ minds.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

I Am Famous & Shark Nate-O: A Double Dose of Luebbe and Cattie

I Am Famous & Shark Nate-O: A Double Dose of Luebbe and Cattie

I AM FAMOUS
Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie
Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
&
SHARK NATE-O
Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie
Illustrated by Daniel Duncan
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

A delightful double dose of picture book pleasure reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

I Am Famous cover imageKiely, surrounded by devoted family and friends, is confident that her celebrity status is widespread and well-deserved in I AM FAMOUS, the first picture book from prolific story sisters Luebbe and Cattie.

Kids will cackle at super-cool Kiely’s misperceptions. She continually interprets the behavior of her doting family – posting videos, taking photos, indulging her whims – as signs of her special stardom. But what will the spunky mini-diva do when she stumbles and stops sparkling in the pressure of the spotlight? The intersection of fame and family is brought to a satisfying conclusion with a wink to modern parents about over-sharing the ordinary achievements of their spirited progeny.

Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations deftly bring Kiely’s personality to life from cover to cover. Dazzling accessories and bright, bold colors spring off the page. Touches of borrowed glamour pair well with Kiely’s expressive face and energetic motion, keeping young readers entertained and amused. There is a lot of fun and flair on display enhancing the confident, snappy text. Diva-licious!

 

Cover image from Shark Nate-O by Tara Luebbe and Becky CattieNate is a shark fanatic, but must learn how to swim before he can transform into the one and only SHARK NATE-O in this pool perfect fish tale from Luebbe and Cattie.

Obsessed with sharks, Nate fills his world with shark facts that he can’t resist sharing and even acting out, much to his older brother’s chagrin. But when it comes to light that Nate can’t swim, he isn’t put off for long. Enrolling in swim lessons, Nate learns to prove his water-worthiness by blowing bubbles, using a kickboard, and eventually swimming solo. Will Nate’s determination and persistence pay off in time to challenge his brother in tryouts for the ultimate prize – membership on the Shark swim team?

Duncan’s fun illustrations make a splash in noteworthy settings by incorporating plenty of shark décor and pool puns. Filled with heart and humor, Nate’s expressions and body language invigorate the appealing story with clever, imaginative elements. The authors include more shark facts at the end for readers who just can’t get enough of this jaw-some tale perfect for enjoying between summer swims. Download an activity kit here.

 

Read about another debut #Epic18 picture book review by Cathy here.

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Rabbit & Possum by Dana Wulfekotte

Rabbit & Possum by Dana Wulfekotte

RABBIT & POSSUM
Written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Greenwillow/Harper Collins Publishers, $17.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM cover artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

 

What goes up, must come down in Rabbit & Possum, a playful woodland adventure story from debut picture book author/illustrator Dana Wulfekotte.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Rabbit has been busy all morning, preparing for her good friend Possum to visit her burrow. Expressive and flop-eared, she’s disappointed but not discouraged to discover that Possum is still sound asleep. Nothing Rabbit tries will rouse Possum until there is a suspicious rustling in the bushes. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” cries Possum upon waking, and he sprints up a tree for safety.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

It’s up to Rabbit to figure out a way to help Possum down so they can hold their planned playdate. Resourceful, creative Rabbit ponders, plots and plans various scenarios for his rescue. All the while she reassures the nervous Possum as he frets, frowns and nibbles his nails. Their outward conversation and internal worries, revealed through individual thought and speech bubbles, add a delightful dimension to the story and enhance the emotional connectedness of the two friends.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Can Rabbit successfully recruit a third party – a large, stern (and vegetarian) Moose to help save Possum? Will Possum trust Rabbit that the massive Moose is friend, not foe? Young readers will be compelled to continue turning pages as the action sprints smoothly from start to finish.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Wulfekotte’s illustrations feature soft, light tones. Sweaters colored aqua-blue and rich red set off the two main characters nicely. Well-textured trees and bushes depict a spare forest landscape against a bright, pale sky. Spot illustrations interspersed with single and double-page spreads keep the pacing lively and interesting. A delightful pair of comic silent onlookers, a squirrel and bluebird, seem poised to tell their own story of woodland adventures if Rabbit & Possum produces a spin-off sequel. Let’s hope they do!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

To see another #Epic18 picture book reviewed by Cathy, click here.

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New Books for Valentine’s Day

New Books for Valentine’s Day

NEW BOOKS & GIFT IDEAS
FOR VALENTINE’S DAY 2018
A Roundup – Part Two

 

 

We’ve taken a look at a lot of Valentine’s Day books which is why we’ve decided to add a second part to our holiday roundup. This year we’re adding some fun gift books into the mix because, for us, sharing the Valentine’s Day love means sharing books. It may be last minute, but here’s a chance to make every minute matter. Head over to your local indie bookshop and pick up any or all of these books to make Valentine’s Day 2018 best one ever!

 

Everything Grows With Love:
Beautiful Words. Inspiring Thoughts
By Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst
(Workman Publishing; $9.95)

From the editors of Flow, an international mindfulness magazine, comes Everything Grows With Love, a purse-sized soft-cover book filled with over 100 feel good thoughts including affirmations, motivational sayings and quotes. Imagine 396 pages of sheer joy and you’ve got a good idea what to expect when you open the cover of this creative book. There are decorated lines from songs like “Somewhere over the rainbow …” and simple statements such as “Let’s cuddle” and “Collect moments, not things” that are turned into art. Cool calligraphy, paint, chalk lettering, embroidery, even Scrabble-like letter tiles will greet you and invite you to turn the pages.  I didn’t go through the book in order so that I could see what randomly appeared. My favorite illustrations are the animal ones, particularly the anthropomorphic mice, cats and bunnies, but that’s not to say that the vivid colors or soothing pastels and original designs and lettering coupled with the inspirational sayings don’t also lift my spirits, because they do and then some! Give this book to someone you love for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day and spread the love around.

Warts and All: 
A Book of Unconditional Love
Written by Lori Haskins Houran
Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
(Albert Whitman & Company; $15.99, Ages 4-8) 

Not only is the title, Warts and All a good one, so is the heartwarming sentiment of this adorable picture book. It’s the kind of story parents will enjoy reading at bedtime and kids will enjoy hearing. Warts and All is filled with precious animal kid characters from bats and birds to ponies and pugs. Hanson’s illustrations in subdued shades achieved with water color and colored pencils beautifully complement Houran’s easy flowing text. What a wonderful way to send youngsters off to dreamland with a caring message of love. The book opens with this honest line: “So here’s the thing. I love you. And not just when you’re sweet and cuddly.” In other words, not part time, but all of the time. Parents can use the story as a jumping off point for a reassuring conversation. Children will learn they are loved no matter what their mood or their actions are (and yes, that includes burps). And even when, like the spray from a sweetly portrayed skunk, they’re stinky! This book makes a nice companion to I Love You Stinky Face.

I Love Kisses
Written by Sheryl McFarlane
Illustrated by Brenna Vaughan
(Jabberwocky Kids; $9.99, Ages 3-7)

This charming book is all about smooches and McFarlane’s included them all here. Whether they’re wake up in the morning kisses, “Baby brother drool kisses” or  “Daddy’s prickly hair kisses,” it’s clear that kisses are fantastic. McFarlane’s written I Love Kisses in a catchy rhyme with some internal rhymes and lots of alliteration, too. Illustrator Vaughan’s digital artwork is cheerful and varied, featuring a diverse group of families including several that are multicultural and biracial. It’s great that a gay couple and a child in a wheelchair are also shown making the neighborhood presented one I’d like to live in. Although the book is suggested for ages four and up, I found the book to be better suited to those a bit younger as older ones are ready for more of a storyline. Regardless, I Love Kisses definitely delivers the best message and that is how terrific it is to get kisses whatever kind of kiss you get. The book ends with this loving line: “But the very best kisses are the ones I get from you.”

Pour Your Heart Out:
A Journal of Wit, Wisdom, And a Touch of Charm
With Quotes by Jane Austen and illustrations by Clare Owen
(Penguin Young Readers; $10.99, Ages 13 and up)

Oh how I wish I’d had a journal like this when I was a teenager! Pour Your Heart Out is 224 pages of pure Regency charm in a 21st century time machine, like Pride and Prejudice meets Pretty Little Liars, especially for the passionate young adult in your life. If your teen, or adult friend for that matter, isn’t familiar with Austen’s seminal works, this is an ideal introduction. If they’re already a fan, this will fill them with delight. There are prompts tied to Austen’s quotes to help guide young writers, providing a safe place to share emotions and sort through feelings. On one page there’s the quote: “Angry people are not always wise.” On the opposite page is the question: “What’s a decision you’ve made in anger that you now regret?” Austen’s quotes are great to help teens get introspective and consider all aspects of their lives from friendships, to relationships and school.  For example: “These were charming feelings, but not lasting.” Pour Your Heart Out then provides a blank page where the reader can “Write about a relationship that didn’t pan out.” Owen’s artwork is upbeat and works perfectly with the purpose of the book, put it all down on the page and by getting it off your chest, you’ll not only feel better, but learn about yourself at the sometime. Consider gifting this journal to your hopeless romantic, your college English major or your Anglophile just waiting to study abroad in search of her own modern day Mr. Darcy. “Laugh as much as you chuse, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.”

Guess How Much I Love You:
Baby Milestone Moments
Written by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 0-3)

Here’s a book that needs no describing. Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare are back in this must-have classic board book set for new parents. Guess How Much I Love You, already a fave in so many households, is made even more giftable with the addition of beautifully illustrated milestone cards. For the cell-phone photo taking  and social media savvy generation, the 24 cards make documenting all baby’s once-in-a-lifetime moments as easy and unique as ever! For Valentine’s Day or as a baby shower gift, this board book and cards gift set is a great idea for those of us who forget to keep track of pictures and, when looking back years later, cannot remember what milestone the photo was taken for. Capture those moments and make everyone happy.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

    Click here for our Valentine’s Day Books Roundup – Part One

    ALSO RECOMMENDED

The 12 Days of Valentine’s
(Including 30 stickers!)
Written by Jenna Lettice
Illustrated by Colleen Madden
(Random House Kids; $4.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

Rookie on Love: 45 Voices on Romance, Friendship, and Self-Care
Edited by Tavi Gevinson and featuring – Janet Mock, John Green, Rainbow Rowell,
Hilton Als, Florence Welch, Gabourey Sidibe and more
(Razor Bill; $14.95, Ages 13 and up)

 

 

 

Instructions for a Secondhand Heart
Written by Tamsyn Murray
(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 15 and up)

 

 

 

 

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Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias

Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias

SNOW SISTERS!
Written by Kerri Kokias
Illustrated by Teagan White
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Cover image from SNOW SISTERS! Written by Kerri Kokias with art by Teagan White

 

When swirling snowflakes fill the morning sky, two creative, independent Snow Sisters! react in unique and complementary ways throughout author Kerri Kokias’s debut picture book.

The title page, a peek into their cozy shared bedroom, hints at the distinctive personalities of each sister. One girl lies sprawled across her bed with toys and clothes strewn about, while the other sleeps tucked in tight with toys in a row and an alarm clock nearby. After they wake, the first sister, on left hand pages, dresses in snow gear and rushes outside. She throws, builds, and tracks alongside a fluffy squirrel. Her sister, on right hand pages, opts for indoor comforts. She keeps busy with books, baking and snowflake making.

 

Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias Interior artwork by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

Kokias’s clever parallel text draws us into their individual worlds right up until an exciting mid-book switcheroo. When the outdoors becomes too cold and wet for one sister, the second is drawn outside after spotting a chubby bunny from the window. “Bye!” the sisters greet one another as they trade indoor and outdoor delights. Each embarks on re-visiting fresh interpretations of the words we heard in the beginning: baking, making, throwing, building, etc. The short, simple, active verbs make this book a reading experience that is very accessible for young ears and eyes.

 

Interior artwork from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

White’s homey illustrations utilize a purple-pink palette for one sister, and orange-peach tones for the other, complementing their respective brunette and auburn hair colors. Interior scenes are accented with mellow teal greens, contrasting with the beautiful outdoor images glowing with purple and pale grey snow. Young readers will enjoy discovering amusing repeated details from scene to scene, whether it be favorite stuffed toys or paper snowflakes.

 

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias with illustrations by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

The final spread repeats the book title, Snow Sisters!, and shows us how the two have found a time and place to come together and share their snowy fun. Readers young and old, with or without siblings, will appreciate the abundant and inclusive approaches for having fun and celebrating snow in this delightful, cheery debut.

Click here for author tour dates.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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