Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Ester Garay
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5-9)
Happy Book Birthday to author Josh Funk and illustrator Ester Garay on the publication of their terrific new picture book, Albie Newton, today! I know I’m not alone when I say how excited I get when a Josh Funk book arrives on my doorstep. I carefully unwrap the package, cradle the book in my hands, study the cover close up (this one’s a dazzling red I first saw when the cover was revealed on social media), smell the new book smell, feel the smoothness of the pages and then savor the surprise of his story. And, like previous Funk picture books, this one does not disappoint. It’s witty like so many of Funk’s books and is written with well-metered rhyme and no superfluous words or sentences to tell the tale of the titular main character. To put it another way, it simply works wonderfully like one of Albie Newton’s well constructed inventions!
Albie Newton is smart, but when his passion for inventing collides with his desire to make friends, it causes a bit of a brouhaha in his new preschool. Watch out what you’re doing fellow preschoolers because the new kid in class, Albie Newton, just may have his eye on what you’re playing with. The thing is that while Albie thinks his plan to “construct a special gift before the school day ends,” will win him friends, it ends up doing the opposite.
Interior artwork from Albie Newton written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Ester Garay, Sterling Children’s Books ©2018.
How’s a child prodigy to know? Taking things from others, whether it’s for your top secret invention or not, is not looked upon kindly by other kids. If you seem to show off too much or swipe things without asking, that’s bad manners. People may actually misconstrue such behavior and label it self-centered, single-minded and rude. Fortunately classmate Shirley is clued in. Certain kids excel in some ways and not in others. Shirley realizes Albie is oblivious to the havoc he is unintentionally wreaking and wonders if maybe his cool creation can take everyone’s mind off the mess he’s made trying to forge new friendships. Will they let Albie off the hook? As it turns out, Shirley’s one darn clever preschooler, only in a different way than Albie.
With Albie Newton, Funk has honed in on the meaningful topic of a child’s desire to make friends while not necessarily knowing how to do it. Just because Albie doesn’t know the right way to go about befriending others doesn’t mean he can’t learn how nor does it mean that having friends doesn’t matter to him.
Garay’s upbeat and eye-catching illustrations will charm and entertain Albie Newton readers. I would recommend looking at the artwork more than once to catch all the clever things she’s included. From the cute kitty, the fabulous facial expressions and the colorful kids’ clothing to the pictures hanging on the wall, random book titles and ultimately Albie’s invention itself, there is so much to enjoy. The diverse classroom population and student names also provide a positive representation for youngsters to see and hear when they read the picture book or are being read to.
Albie’s social skills may not be as fine tuned as his inventions, but that doesn’t mean his heart’s not in the right place. It often takes a caring person like classmate Shirley in this case, to gently lead the way.
Here are links to my other GRWR reviews of Josh Funk books:
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast
It’s Not Jack and The Beanstalk
I HAVE A BALLOON
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
It’s a clear and clever case of the balloon is always redder as opposed to the grass is always greener in Ariel Bernstein’s debut picture book, I Have a Balloon featuring illustrations by Scott Magoon. I absolutely adored this story because it not only took me back to my childhood, but reminded me of so many episodes I had to navigate with my children when the dreaded sharing demon reared its ugly head. I appreciated the slow, steady build up of this timeless tale that takes the dislike of sharing to humorous new heights.
Interior spread from I Have a Balloon by Ariel Bernstein w/art by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.
Owl’s got a lovely red balloon he’s pretty darned pleased with. Monkey would like it. Owl says no. Persistent in his pursuit, Monkey offers to trade something of his in return. Owl’s not interested. But it would make Monkey SO HAPPY! Forget about it! Forget the teddy bear Monkey’s willing to swap. Or the sunflower. Or for that matter, the robot or the hand drawn picture of ten balloons. No. No. No. Not a ball or a pin. But something about the sock with a star and a perfectly shaped hole seems to suck Owl in. Suddenly the play potential of this single sock is just so appealing that the tides turn. Following creative, circular prose, readers end up at a similar point from where the drama of this delightful book began.
From the playful book jacket flap copy spoiler alert of: This is NOT a book about sharing to Bernstein’s spot on prose pitting Owl and his special, it’s mine and I’m not sharing it red balloon vibe to Monkey’s earnest desire to possess said balloon, I couldn’t read this book fast enough to find out what happens. From Magoon’s subtle yet oh so successful depictions of the the pair’s interaction (check out Owl’s expressive eyes!) to the perfect (and sweet) finish, I Have a Balloon is wonderfully entertaining. In fact I can’t think of a parent, teacher, caregiver or relative who hasn’t encountered this exact situation. Tightly told, tongue-in-cheek, and relatable, I Have a Balloon is guaranteed to garner grins when shared with kids. A truly treat of a read!
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly
THE BAD SEED
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Harper Collins Children’s; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – School Library Journal
After reading The Bad Seed written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, I truly appreciated its deep message about the value we place on ourselves and others based on behavior.
Here’s where the review gets interesting though; while this is a children’s picture book geared towards ages 4-8; I feel it’s also a great book for older kids and even adults!
Younger kids, especially in the world we live in today, know the power words hold over someone. When reading to a younger crowd, as a teacher, I would explain that words like “bad” and “good” are labels. We all make mistakes sometimes. Why is the seed labeled this way? For older children the book serves as a reinforcement of what they hopefully know to be true, there’s always room for self-growth.
The story follows a little sunflower seed who loves his family dearly on their Sunflower head home. As the seeds scatter when it’s nature’s time for them to drop off the beloved plant, they become separated.
The Bad Seed Text copyright © by Jory John 2017 Illustration copyright © by Pete Oswald 2017
Our once loved and happy seed protagonist quickly becomes traumatized by events beyond his control (such as a man at a baseball game nearly swallowing him and then being spit out- with a permanent crack in his once whole shell!) The seed isn’t so happy anymore and is convinced that he is bad (something anyone with trauma in their life can relate to, as it is often the victim left feeling at fault).
He begins to act out by deciding “not to care anymore” which he does by not listening to others, lying, and not washing his hands, among other things. But what our dear seed needs desperately, is for someone to connect to. To see his cracks and accept him, showing him that he can be whole again from the inside out. Children often act out when they need help, and our little seed is a perfect example of someone needing intense care.
He eventually tires of his “bad” behavior and starts working on being “good” again. I say these words in quotes because the truth is none of us lives in a world of black and white/good or bad people. It requires constant awareness to make positive choices to be your very best self and not let a label define you.
We never know someone else’s background- their own unique make-up and history, so labeling them as “bad” or “good” means that we miss out on why they are behaving that way to begin with. With children especially, curiosity goes a long way in sorting out behavior that doesn’t work. We are all moving through each moment trying to meet needs. Some strategies we try are better than others, and The Bad Seed, through both its humorous art and prose, illustrates that beautifully. Pete Oswald’s expressive and whimsical illustrations truly capture the emotions of this little seed in a way many children can relate to so they can instantly guess at how he is feeling.
I recommend this book as a tool to show that we never know what someone else has been through. Being curious, asking questions, and offering kindness before judging and criticizing would be best whenever possible in life.
Written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins
(Chronicle Books: $16.99, Ages 3-5)
A treat for parents and kids!
At first glance, the cover of Rude Cakes definitely whet my appetite, and then when I turned to the title page and read that this picture book, out just last month, was “cooked up” by Rowboat Watkins, I knew I just had to dig in. Frankly, I’d read anything by someone called Rowboat so I’m happy Rude Cakes turned out to be a huge treat!
Interior artwork from Rude Cakes, written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins, Chronicle Books ©2015.
Watkins, a former Sendak Fellow, serves up a filling mix of art and prose in under 200 words. I also adored the illustrations with a style resembling cotton candy awash in jelly bean hues, all light, airy and fanciful. Coupled with the marvelous artwork is a storyline familiar to us all and worth repeating. Manners maketh man or in this case, cake. The two-tiered, two-toned pink cake, never hesitating to push, pull and take what it likes, could use a few lessons in how to treat both its parents and its friends.
Rude cakes never listen (especially when their parents sound boring)
and they never wait their turn in line.
Interior artwork from Rude Cakes, written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins, Chronicle Books ©2015.
After much rudeness to its so-called pals, a marshmallow and a cupcake, the rude bubble-gum colored cake calls it a night … when it’s ready! Here the illustrations depict the dessert bouncing around holding its trusty cyclops stuffed toy. Note: point out to little ones that the cyclops poster above Pink Cake’s bed says EYE SEE YOU. Soon, in a dream (or did it really happen in this fantastical story?) the obnoxious confection is plucked from its bed, mistaken for a hat. into a parallel universe.
This parallel universe of sorts is a place where …
Giant Cyclopses always say thank you,
and they always say please,
and they love to share.
These thoughtful, well behaved Giant Cyclopses compliment the hat, ask to borrow the hat, all the while demonstrating the rewards of good manners. In fact, it turns out that the only way this tired and boorish gateau is going to be heard by the Giant Cyclopses, is by using one little but powerful magic word. But to convince a bunch of cyclopses that it’s not a hat, Pink Cake must ask in a polite, not half-baked way to be returned back to bed. Because in the end, don’t good manners always take the cake?
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click here for directions on how to make an origami eye.
If you’d like to see another perspective on this picture book, please click here to read blogger Danielle Davis’ take on Watkins’ scrumptious story.
I LOVE all things tea party and Madelyn Rosenberg’s How To Behave at a Tea Party is no exception. I found myself itching to know how this adorable and entertaining picture book ended because its premise – not all tea parties go according to plan – is such fun! The cover, with the tea party hostess’s younger brother under the table reminded me of the numerous of tea parties my daughter threw many years ago. I recall running interference for her as my son’s trains and web of tracks seemed to always wind their way towards her precariously arranged party table.
Julia, the picture book’s narrator, is determined to show her little brother Charles the ins and outs of hosting a tea. Naturally you start by creating unique invitations, hand delivering them to the guests. Charles, contentedly playing with toys alongside his dog and pet frog, has a look of apprehension on his face, as do the pets. Julia’s instructions continue,
Next, you put on fancy clothes.
Wear a fancy hat.
Underwear does not count as a hat.
and though Charles and company try their best to cooperate, the results of their efforts (or lack thereof) are hysterical as witnessed in the illustration of the frog with undies covering one eye looking very much like ’40s film star, Veronica Lake. And let it be known, big sis does NOT want the McKagan brothers invited to tea, “Or the frog.” But it’s obvious from Rosenberg’s succinct and spot on prose along with Ross’s humorous illustrations that Julia is not getting her way, warranting her to “take deep breaths and count to seven.”
Interior artwork from How To Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg and illustrated by Heather Ross, Katherine Tegen Books, ©2014.
The juxtapositioning of Julia’s attempts to remain calm and in control of her tea party while watching its decorum slowly go downhill after a series of colorful mishaps is a big part of this book’s appeal. Another is watching the chaos ensue and seeing all the kids’ (and animals’) reactions as depicted so perfectly by Ross. This “Manners! What manners?” tea party provides a great jumping off point for discussion about appropriate and inappropriate behavior while at the same time demonstrates that it’s okay if things go off course. In fact, many times it’s actually a lot more fun!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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