LA LA LA: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo

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LA LA LA:
A STORY OF HOPE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cvr image from La La La by Kate DiCamillo

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of  “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La La by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.

We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.

I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.

 

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.

Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.

La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.

Check out this link to a helpful teacher’s guide.

LA LA LA. Text copyright © 2017 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Jaime Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

    • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant


Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

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ALSO AN OCTOPUS
Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

  • is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

also-an-octopus

 

Looking for a terrific tale about waffle spaceships and eight-legged ukulele players? Well Also An Octopus is definitely the book for you! Wondering how writers come up with ideas for books about waffle spaceships? Then this is STILL the book for you! Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall has crafted a funny, clever story about following the spark of an idea through wild gallops of imagination until it takes shape as a book. But this can happen if and only if one follows the basic rules of the road, which are explained with flair and humor.

The tale begins with a blank page. An unseen narrator gently reminds us that all stories do begin this way, on an empty page, screen or canvas, until a character appears. Perhaps it is a little girl, or an adorable bunny, or a ukulele-playing octopus. But that grinning octopus, surrounded by bloopie bubbles and wearing a pom-pom topped knit cap, has to want something. What the character wants, explains the narrator, will make the story become interesting. And if the octopus wants an awesome purple spaceship, it has to be difficult to get. If he can simply get one from the drugstore the story will be too silly, short and dull. So perhaps the octopus will have to make the spaceship himself, out of odds and ends like soda cans, glue, string, umbrellas, glitter and waffles.

Have you fastened your seatbelt yet? Because this story is just about to take off! Or is it? “I’m not really qualified to build a spaceship ….” remarks the octopus, a tentacle rubbing his puzzled head. Nope, that spaceship doesn’t fly, so now our hero has an even bigger problem to solve. He has to find a rocket scientist!

Tokuda-Hall subtly teaches the constructs of story-telling within the boundaries of this absurdly whimsical tale. Step-by-step, the hapless octopus is tossed and turned through the imaginary gyrations of the narrative, experiencing the emotional highs and lows of a plot-driven concept. As illustrated by Benji Davies, the engaging and expressive characters will appeal to readers young and old.  The seemingly retro color palette ranges from mustard yellow to blue, orange, and luscious deep eggplant, displayed in large, bright spreads nicely balanced and evenly spaced. Davies tucks amusing random details into the scenes, like a curly-tongue armadillo and motorboat-driving hamster. Those details, in turn, will inspire young listeners to create new stories of their own.

Create new stories? Yes, because everyone has a bit of nothing, a virtual “blank page” on which to begin. And thus Also An Octopus comes full circle after a rollicking adventure that is as awesome as a purple spaceship dotted with waffles. Remember those bloopie bubbles that swirl around our eight-limbed hero? They burst into sparkly stars once he reaches outer space, a twinkling celebration of this delightful adventure into the world of story-making.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Also An Octopus from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Meet Author Illustrator Cornelius Van Wright

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BUCKY AND STU VS. THE MIKANIKAL MAN
Written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Bucky and Stu vs. The Mikanikal Man picture book cover

 

Today Good Reads With Ronna is happy to share an interview with Bucky and Stu vs. The Mikanikal Man author illustrator Cornelius Van Wright.

HERE’S A DESCRIPTION BY PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE OF BUCKY AND STU VS. THE MIKANIKAL MAN

It’s the adventure of a lifetime when best friends—and self-proclaimed superheroes—defeat bad guys of their own invention.

It’s wonk ’em time when Bucky and Stu have to stand up to Phat Tyre, TrashMan and Hose-Nose. No matter that the bad guys are all made out of household items that Bucky and Stu have assembled themselves—these bad guys don’t stand a chance against the boys’ power moves. Still, it’s quite a surprise when their latest villain, the giant Mikanikal Man, gets zapped during a lightning storm and comes to life! The battle—and thrill—of a lifetime ensue. Full of surprises and laughs, this upbeat, action-packed story celebrates imagination, creativity, and friendship in even the most unexpected forms. Cornelius Van Wright’s hilarious illustrations are full of surprises and are perfect for portraying the high-speed antics of two enthusiastic boys.

Q & A:

GRWR: This is a wonderfully imaginative and humorous tale that actually encourages and celebrates make believe and pretend play. How or when did the seed of this story get planted in your mind?

Cornelius Van Wright: Thank you for your kind compliment. The seed to this story came a couple of years ago when I painted a picture of a boy playing chess with a robot. I painted it for fun but people asked me what was the story behind it. So I thought about the picture and slowly this story came to me.

GRWR: As an author/illustrator, does the story come first or do you picture the characters and draw them then see where they take you?

CVW: For me the images always come first. I tried writing words first but it did not work for me. I see the world in images.

GRWR: Bucky and Stu remind me of so many kids at this age – inventive and full of big ideas. Were you primarily interested in exploring the friendship aspect of this book or the adventure the boys seek?

CVW: The relationships came before everything else. Bucky and Stu’s adventure is based on their relationship and that relationship extends to the Mikanikal Man.

GRWR: Is there one particular spread in the book that’s your favorite and why?

CVW: Visually I enjoyed the scene when the boys face certain DOOM after ticking off Mikanikal Man. But story wise, I care for the scene where The Mikanikal Man Spins Bucky and Stu around and around and the boys say, “We can fly!” This was the boys’ inner dream becoming reality.

 

9780399164279_MikanikalMan_TX_p01-32.indd

Interior artwork from Bucky and Stu vs. The Mikanikal Man written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2015.

 

GRWR: Do tummy rumbles take your mind off whatever you’re doing like they do for Stu and the Mikanikal Man?

CVW: Yes, this part is autobiographical.

GRWR: Are the boys modeled after anyone you know?

CVW: Bucky and Stu are modeled after two friends I met my first year in college. One was very thin and angular (Bucky) and his best buddy was rounder with shaggy blond hair (Stu). I always wondered what they were like as kids. So this was my first sketch of what I thought they would look like.

GRWR: What would you like the takeaway for readers of this story to be?

CVW: I would love for kids to play using their creativity and imagination.

GRWR: Who were some of your favorite authors and illustrators as a child and who do you admire now?

CVW: As a child my mother bought me lots of Little Golden Books and Big Little Books (many of which I still have). Today I admire Jerry Pinkney’s art and Mo Willems’s and Oliver Jeffers’s storytelling.

GRWR: What would you use in your office to build your own Mikanikal Man?

CVW: Lots of Amazon boxes and empty towel rolls!

GRWR: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

CVW: I am continuing exploring kids going into imaginative lands and using their wits (and anything else on hand) to get them out of trouble! I make the sketches into books (with Scotch Tape bindings) and show them to publishers.

Cornelius Van Wright head shotCheck out the downloadable CCSS-aligned curriculum guide here.

Cornelius Van Wright wrote and illustrated When an Alien Meets a Swamp Monster, and has also illustrated several other picture books, including Princess Grace (by Mary Hoffman) and Jingle Dancer (by Cynthia Leitich Smith). His work has appeared on Reading Rainbow and Storytime and has been exhibited with the Society of Illustrators. He lives in New York City.

  • – Interview by Ronna Mandel

Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson

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PEG + CAT: THE PIZZA PROBLEM
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson
(Candlewick Entertainment; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Peg and Cat: The Pizza Problem book cover

 

Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem is another wonderful book from the creators of the popular educational PBS show, Peg + Cat! You don’t need to be familiar with Peg + Cat to enjoy this book because their characters shine through in the text and illustrations.

Peg and her cat open up Peg’s Pizza Place and are excited to serve the first customers when she gets an order for half a pizza among the orders of whole pizzas. At first she doesn’t know what half a pizza is, but luckily her friends come and help her realize that half a pizza is just one pizza cut down the middle, a semi-circle. Peg and Cat continue to fulfill new orders and provide entertainment for the customers, but then there is a dilemma! Peg gets four more orders and there’s only enough ingredients to make two and a half pizzas. Luckily, some of the orders were for half pizza pies, so she just might have enough to satisfy everyone.

Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem is a terrific book for kids ages three through seven who will appreciate the bright and cheerful illustrations while learning helpful math concepts.  The story really had some good twists and turns, so much that it kept me engaged because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I’m always happy to see math concepts being introduced and taught in real-to-life scenarios so kids can grasp the concepts easily. I also enjoyed the part where Peg got so stressed and had to be reminded to count down from five to one to calm down–an important lesson kids and adults both need.

Thank you Jennifer Oxley and Bill Aronson for your great work with Peg + Cat! We look forward to what other fun math related books you create.

Download an activity kit here.

Read Lucy’s review of Peg + Cat: The Race Car Problem here.

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

 

 

 


Bringing The Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals

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BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN
Written by Mary McKenna Siddals
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Bringing The Outside In cover image

 

The essence of childhood play is beautifully conveyed in Mary McKenna Siddals’ sing songy picture book, Bringing the Outside In. In this ode to outdoor pleasures, four pals spend carefree time galavanting in nature and their joy is contagious. Siddals’ rhymes and Barton’s seasonal artwork make every page loads of fun to read aloud and look at any time of year.

 

Interior artwork of children playing outdoors from Bringing The Outside In

Interior spread from Bringing The Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Random House Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

I must add here that even if there were no lovely, action-filled illustrations by Patrice Barton, you could still imagine the scene easily: kids dashing about with rain jackets and umbrellas, splishing and sploshing to their hearts’ content. Whether in the garden or at the beach, in the rain or in the snow, the children always find something to do outside. Then, when they’re inside, they can delight in the memory of having been together by looking at photos.

 

Interior image of children playing at beach from Bringing The Outside In

Interior spread from Bringing The Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Random House Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Siddals has included simple yet catchy repetition to engage the youngest of readers who’ll want to have the story read over and over. Bringing the Outside In is a great book to encourage outdoor play with the promise of wonderful treasures of nature to discover everywhere.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 


Swatch by Julia Denos

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SWATCH: THE GIRL WHO LOVED COLOR
Written and illustrated by Julia Denos
(Balzer + Bray; 17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Swatch The Girl Who Loved Color cover image

 

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color opens with these compelling lines: “In a place where colors ran wild, there lived a girl who was wilder still. Her name was Swatch, and she was a color tamer. She was small, but she was not afraid.” The story delightfully weaves Julia Denos’s text with her vivid images. Ideal for children ages 4–8, Swatch is the first picture book in which Denos is both writer and illustrator, a task she accomplishes exceedingly well.

As we read on, we get to know this wild girl, Swatch, who dances with colors and does magic. She even learns that, with a little patience, she can hunt down the rare shades. Better still, the colors begin to come to her when called by name. Swatch establishes a reciprocal relationship with them. Until she decides to capture one. And bottle it up in her room.

This leads Swatch on a color-collecting spree. Her room soon overflows with trapped, restless hues.

 

Swatch The Girl Who Loved Color interior image

Interior artwork from Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color written and illustrated Julia Denos, Balzer + Bray ©2016.

 

On Swatch’s search for the last, elusive color—Yellowest Yellow—this color talks to her and asks Swatch what she’s doing. When the girl asks if it would like to climb in her jar, Yellowest Yellow politely refuses. She then acquiesces and watches as Yellowest Yellow unleashes its wild side, reminding our main character that colors should not be tamed. As the girl waits to be eaten, Yellowest Yellow surprises her by exhibiting other attributes of its personality. Together, the girl and the color soar.

While riding this explosion of Yellowest Yellow, Swatch realizes she must release the colors pent up in her room. The results are a masterpiece. Enjoy the beautifully bright illustrations and discover that, perhaps, wild things are better left untamed—whether these wild things are colors, little girls, or other forces of nature.

 

  • Reviewed by guest blogger, Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/


Rose and the Wish Thing by Caroline Magerl

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ROSE AND THE WISH THING
A Journey of Friendship
Written and Illustrated by Caroline Magerl
(Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3 – 7)

… is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Rose_and_the_Wish_Thing

A delicate, rich tale, Rose and the Wish Thing is, as its subtitle suggests, a “journey of friendship” between a young girl and the magical creature that springs from her imagination as the result of a wish.

On the first page, Rose stares wistfully, perhaps glumly, from her window. She’s a small figure looking out at a large, unfamiliar cityscape. Boxes are unpacked, and Mama puts her to bed with stories and shadow puppets, but Rose can’t sleep. She looks out from her new window with a telescope that resembles a simple, curled cardboard tube. Then she wishes for … something. Far away, that something – a long eared, soft muzzled furry critter – awakes. Straightaway, it sets off on a journey to Rose in a battered, tagged, stamped box.

And what a journey! In enthralling double page spreads Magerl depicts the creature riding gondola- style through a snowy mountain pass, then blown higher than the clouds by a striped sail, and washed over turbulent seas above cresting waves. These elegant travel scenes, intricately hashed with tiny black lines, show the tiny animal, brave and steadfast, battling the elements on its quest.

Rose waits. And waits. She snuggles with her dog, beats a saucepan drum, draws her wish creature, and worries that the thing will not come. Eventually her family begins to help in her search, heading out into their new city to find the sea and “listen to the hush and growl of the waves.” The box and the creature finally reach their destination, washing near the pier. Rose’s mother helps her stretch far, far out to pluck her new friend from the water.

Magerl alternates the large, exciting spreads of the Wish Thing’s journey with vignettes from Rose’s warm, caring home life, compelling the reader to keep turning the pages. The tale unfolds at a gentle pace, perfectly balanced between lilting text and soft, misty illustrations. The mysterious look of the Wish Thing, accompanied on its travels by playful flying fish-birds, adds to the enchanting, magical air of the story.

This Australian import, first published under the title Hasel and Rose will fascinate young readers who ponder faraway lands or imagine unconventional travel. For those who have also felt new and alone, this tale of longing and friendships found will touch a deep chord.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of ROSE AND THE WISH THING from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.