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We’re thrilled to share this exciting first look at the cover of Margaret Finnegan’s debut middle grade novel, We Could Be Heroes. We’re also delighted to offer an exclusive giveaway for a chance to win an autographed bound manuscript. Please see details below.
What I Love About The Cover:
After the cool title (who doesn’t love this Bowie song?) pulled me in, I found the cover’s rich color combination very appealing. And then there’s the boy, the girl and the dog—I’m curious where they are, how they are connected to one another and what point/scene in the book this particular illustration represents—so I asked Margaret. She said she didn’t want to give away too much, but did offer this: “In the cover, fourth graders Hank, Maisie and sweet pitbull Booler look down over their hometown of Meadowlark, Montana.” By the way, if you’re wondering who created the fabulous cover illustration, that would be artist Alexandra Bye.
About the Book:
When Hank Hudson accidentally sets his school on fire, Maisie Huang thinks she has finally found someone brave enough to help her rescue a neglected dog named Booler.
Together, the two outsiders will create a friendship born of difference, imagination, and a commitment to being the heroes of not only Booler’s story, but their own.
Margaret Finnegan’s work has appeared in FamilyFun, LA Times, Salon and other publications. When she is not writing she teaches writing to students at Cal State LA. And when she is not doing either of those things she is probably watching movies with her family, walking her new puppy, Walt, or baking really good chocolate cakes.
Keep Up With The Author:
Follow Margaret to be sure you’re first to know when WE COULD BE HEROES is available to pre-order in addition to other updates. In the meantime, be sure to add her novel to your Goodreads TBR list.
What a privilege it’s been, Margaret, to offer readers this chance to see your beautiful cover out in the kidlitosphere on Good Reads With Ronna. I can’t wait to get to know Hank and Maisie better!
Margaret is excited to be able to offer one winner a signed and bound copy of her WE COULD BE HEROES manuscript courtesy of Atheneum! To enter this giveaway please leave a comment on this post. Get a bonus entry for following the blog @goodreadsronna on Twitter. Receive another bonus entry for following Margaret on Twitter as detailed above and then please be sure to let us know you have by mentioning that in your comment. NOTE: (Comments appear once moderated by GRWR.) This unique giveaway opportunity (for U.S.residents only) will end at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, June 27. The winner will be announced via Twitter on June 28. Good luck and thanks for stopping by the blog to celebrate Margaret’s cover reveal!
In WHERE I END AND YOU BEGIN by Preston Norton, seventeen year-old Ezra Slevin desperately wants to take Imogene Klutz to the prom. The only problem is he’s a neurotic, insomniac who is too shy to even talk to her, and Imogene’s best friend hates him, but has a crush on his best friend who hates her. Ezra’s best friend has inside information where Imogene will be at the time of the solar eclipse, the most important event in their town. The unimaginable takes place during the eclipse – Ezra and Imogene’s best friend, Wynonna, body swap, unleashing a series of humorous circumstances.
Ezra and Wynonna are exact opposites but both suffer from self-loathing. Ezra says, “I didn’t feel masculine. I didn’t feel like a fucking human being.” His self-loathing results in his never standing up for himself. Wynonna is aggressive, angry, and dyslexic.
The author thoroughly explores every angle of sexual identity against the background of Hamlet’s Twelfth Night, “exploring the line between love and suffering, the ambiguity of gender, and the folly of ambition.” Norton states, “The important thing isn’t the word or the label. The important thing is you.”
I often found myself laughing, and loved Norton’s imagery. “Slowly, Imogene’s eyes widened like a pair of flowers blooming in a fast-motion time lapse.”
This is a humorous story about male and female body swapping which deals with serious topics of self-loathing, anger, forgiveness, sexual identity, and friendship, which leaves the reader with a sense of hope and possibility of transcendence.
Readers who enjoy books like EVERY DAY by David Levithan should definitely add WHERE I END AND YOU BEGIN to their TBR list.
Reviewed by Guest Blogger, Joanne Rode e About the reviewer: Joanne Rode is a retired librarian living in Los Angeles, California. Twenty years ago she started working as a children’s librarian while living on Maui. The births of her grandchildren drew her back to the mainland, where she continued her career as a librarian in Orange County, then later in Los Angeles. She now enjoys using her free time to write. Contact Joanne at joanneorode.com
Does your child’s heart belong to daddy or perhaps another important guy in their life? Here’s a selection of picture books that celebrate all facets of fathers’ relationships with their kids. Share a story this Father’s Day with someone special and make their day.
With its beautiful homage to the author’s childhood home of Corona in California, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is an atmospheric read that pulled me in as the third rider on the titular motorcycle. Quintero and Peña team up for a second time to paint a picture in words and artwork of a changing city that’s still full of family, friends and overflowing with humanity.
This 40-page picture book feels wonderfully expansive in that it takes readers all over Daisy Ramona’s hometown huddled close behind her papi. A carpenter by day, Daisy’s dad often takes her out on his bike after work but tonight’s special because they’re going to see some of the new homes he’s building. As they take off on their journey, Daisy remarks how they become like a comet, “The sawdust falling from Papi’s hair and clothes becomes a tail following us.” Wow! You can easily feel the power of the motorcycle from the language and illustrations that fuel this fabulous picture book.
Travel page by page, gorgeous prose after prose, illustration after illustration, with Daisy and her Papi. Together they cruise by Joy’s Market and greet the librarian, “roar past murals that tell our history–of citrus groves and immigrants who worked them …” But when they head over to Don Rudy’s Raspados they see the front door boarded over, a sign of gentrification coming to the neighborhood. Still Daisy’s filled with delight at the city she calls home, a city that’s a part of her. They pass friendly faces and wave to Abuelito and Abuelita standing in their front yard. The sights and sounds of Grand Boulevard greet her as they approach the circle where cars once raced and where Papi still “buys conchas on Sunday mornings!”
There’s no denying the glorious feeling readers will get as father and daughter make a few more important stops and eventually zoom home where Mami and Little Brother await. Don’t miss celebrating fatherhood, family ties and the meaning of neighborhood in this endearing picture book that simply soars!
I never got a chance to read Great Job, Mom! but I’m happy I did get to read Holman Wang’s Great Job, Dad! This fiber artist extraordinaire painstakingly creates realistic scenes using needle felting in wool so I appreciate that the book’s back matter enlightens readers as to what’s involved in the process.
Holman’s rhyming story is funny and also realistic. It shows how this particular father, who is a manager during his day job (yes, that pays the bills), has many other volunteer jobs at home. When he feeds his children he’s a waiter. When he takes them for a hike in their wagon and stroller, he’s a chauffeur. “Quite often he becomes a chauffeur to several VIPs.” As an inspector (bound to bring out giggles because here we see Dad checking for a dirty diaper),”it matters what he sees!” We all know the role of judge dads often play when siblings or friends fight. I think diplomat could have been added here, too! Additionally this dad puts in time as a computer engineer, librarian, pilot, architect, receptionist and astronomer that we see in detailed illustrations that never cease to amaze. Of course my favorite is the bedtime scene where titles from books on the bed and bookcase can actually be read. If you’re looking for something original to read for Father’s Day, pick up a copy of this picture book.
★Starred Review– Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
My childhood friend’s mother was from the south and used to attend family reunions when we were kids. Going Down Home With Daddy is exactly how I imagined them to be. Lyons’s story, “inspired by her husband’s heritage and her own” beautifully captures the annual family gathering incorporating every sense in the reading experience. I could see, touch, smell, taste and hear everything through Lyons’s perfect prose from the car ride when Lil Alan’s too excited to sleep to his first glimpse of Granny, “scattering corn for her chickens like tiny bits of gold.” I could smell her peppermint kisses, hear the laughter as more and more relatives arrived, feel the breeze during the tractor ride, taste the hot, homemade mac and cheese and see the cotton field “dotted with puffs of white.”
The story unfolds as the narrator, Lil Alan, realizes he’s forgotten something to share for the anniversary celebration and cannot enjoy himself until he figures out what contribution he can make. When he does, it’s the most heartfelt moment although there are many others in this thoughtful, moving picture book. Minter’s warm illustrations in earthy tones heighten every experience and seem to recall the family’s African roots and connection to the land. I found myself rereading the picture book several times to soak up more of Lyons’s rich language and Minter’s evocative art.
Caldecott-winning author and illustrator, Chris Raschka, has created a simple yet spot on read-aloud with Side by Side. It will fill your heart as you share it with little ones. A diverse group of children and their dads engage in typical father-child activities, some of which I’d almost forgotten now that my kids have grown up. With each rewarding page turn, a new treat awaits at will resonate with both parent and youngster. Ideal for this age group, Side by Side, with its economy of words and buoyancy of illustration, manages to keep this picture book cool and captivating.
I love how Raschka opens with the quintessentialHorse and rider as a little girl, braids flying to depict motion, rides bare-back on her dad. Readers will feel the delight emanating from her entire body. Raschka also cleverly demonstrates how roles change, first with a child fast asleep sprawled across his father while his dad reads (Bed and sleeper). And then he follows up that illustration with one parents know all too well. In Sleeper and waker that same man’s son attempts to get his father up from a nap. The watercolor art is lovely and joyful and leaves the right amount of white to pull us straight to the characters and what they are doing. I’m still smiling from this read!
Up to Something serves as an ideal reminder on Father’s Day that there’s more to being a dad than simply being around.
After seeing a poster for a race, Billy gets excited and asks his dad if they can enter. When his dad says, “Of course, Billy! Let’s go build something!” he has one thing in mind when Billy has another. Once in the shed, Billy’s father’s words seem to indicate that he’s going to build the vehicle on his own despite making his son his special assistant.
Disappointed by the drudge work, Billy goes ahead and constructs his own vehicle. When his dad bangs and drills, so does Billy. Looks like Billy’s diving head on into the project yet his dad seems oblivious. When at last the race cars are unveiled, Billy’s vehicle has an individuality about it that is so much more unique than the one his father has made. That’s when it finally occurs to this adult that he has essentially ignored his child, that he hasn’t let his son contribute. That’s not a team effort. Putting their two heads together provides an opportunity for father and son to connect and create and, out of that combined effort, magic can and does happen.
Lonergan’s use of loosely shaped, muted watercolor and pencil in her illustrations complements the story. She’s also employed newspaper and what looks like sheet music as a substitute for wood, producing an added dimension to the art that plays into the book’s theme of imagination, recycling and invention. Clearly being present as a parent is what matters and McKelvey’s picture book hits that nail on the head.
I had no idea what to expect when I read Hannah Holt’s A Father’s Love but now I understand why it’s been getting so much buzz. Told in well metered rhyme that never feels forced, this charming picture begs to be read out loud. The author’s covered a colorful and varied selection of animal dads and sometimes family and focuses on the unique bond between father and offspring.
“Beneath a mighty REDWOOD TREE, A fox tends to his family. He keeps them safe by digging chutes. This father’s love runs deep as roots.”
Nine animals from marmoset to toad, penguin to wolf and ultimately some human fathers fill the pages of this tender tale. We learn how dads do all sorts of interesting and important things for their young. Take the emu, for example. The male of the species incubates the eggs much like the seahorse. Chan’s appealing artwork shows again and again how strong a father’s love is the world over whether her illustrations are of an Emperor Penguin or a Peregrine Falcon. Dads may come in all shapes and sizes, some may swim and some may fly, but the love they have for their children is the one thing they all have in common. Back matter offers more details about all the animals in the book.
WE ARE THE CHANGE: WORDS OF INSPIRATION FROM CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS With an Introduction by Harry Belafonte (Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 9-12)
Middle-grade nonfiction book, We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders, beautifully weaves together quotations with evocative imagery. Harry Belafonte’s* powerful introduction encourages future leaders to remember that “in citizenship [resides] a profound majesty, an individual dignity, and a lifelong responsibility of each man and woman to one another.”
Sixteen award-winning illustrators have selected and depicted quotes from leaders past and present. Eleanor Roosevelt’s statement “universal human rights begin in small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map” is expanded by artist Molly Idle: “lines drawn on maps to divide us into nations, states, and towns are only imaginary.”
Sonia Sotomayor hopes we fix a broken system rather than fight it. Illustrator John Parra adds that “we can accomplish much by reframing our goals of working toward what we believe in, instead of what we are against.”
Khalil Gibran believes “[our children’s] souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.” Artist Innosanto Nagara reminds us “the choices we make today must protect our children’s rights.”
Additional spirited civil rights quotations paired with original artwork by Selina Alko, Alina Chau, Emily Hughes, Molly Idle, Juana Medina, Innosanto Nagara, Christopher Silas Neal, Brian Pinkney, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls, Dan Santat, Shadra Strickland, and Melissa Sweet make this a must-read for tweens.
We Are the Change is a call to action and an opportunity for thoughtful conversation.
*“Harry Belafonte is a Jamaican-American singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist. He has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1986 and is now the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.”
Today Good Reads With Ronna features a guest post by the North Oak series author, Ann Hunter, because the first eBook in her series, Born to Run, is available this week on BookBub for 99 cents! Get hooked on the first book then enjoy six more books in the series.
GUEST POST BY ANN HUNTER:
Alexandra Anderson, heroine of the contemporary YA North Oak series (recommended for ages 12 and up*), is an orphan who has endured trauma in the foster care system. She’s running from a dark past.
As a teacher, I regard the interception of children at a young age to be pivotal in their approach to and success in the world. When a child knows they’re loved and is given boundaries, they can then grow and flourish.
This young runaway doesn’t believe she’ll be worthy of love when the people at North Oak—good, honest people who have taken her in—find out what she’s done. She suspects she’s better off being alone forever.
It’s important that children have a strong support system around them. There’s no better example than family.
Family isn’t always who you expect them to be. One hopes their parents will love them, but sometimes things happen. Family can extend to those who support you no matter what. They might be colorful, and crazy, and eccentric, but they put their trust in your greatness. They support you in your desire to do good in the world.
They help you find your true self. Alex discovers this through the people at North Oak, and horse racing. Her first real friend is a horse. He becomes a brother to her. She senses his spirit and desire to be great. Meanwhile, Alex’s new guardian isn’t so sure about the situation they’ve been thrown into, but she gradually falls in love with Alex as a mother should. However, she discovers her boss is keeping a secret that will change Alex’s life forever.
What kind of support system do you surround yourself with? Do they lift you up? Do they empower you and recognize your greatness?
Everyone deserves a family. Every child deserves to be loved.
That is North Oak’s goal (as a book series). Kids today need a support system. They are going through things we never really dealt to such a great extent in our own childhood days; scary topics such as bullying, suicide, and sexuality. We can’t raise them exactly the same way our parents raised us. That world doesn‘t exist anymore. We have to prepare them for a new one.
Love these children with all your fierceness. They need the sword and shield we can provide them with by enabling their confidence and giving them safe places to land.
* The series starts out middle grade, but ages up to YA with the reader as the main character ages. We follow Alex from the age of thirteen into her twenties.
Children as young as ten can enjoy the first few books which presents a great opportunity to open up discussions with their parents on the topics presented. The North Oak series is linear so it is best to read them in order.
ABOUT NORTH OAK:
North Oak champions tough issues kids and teens are facing today, such as bullying, suicide, and sexuality, all set against the exciting fast-paced world of horse racing.
BORN TO RUN (book 1)
He lost a sister. She lost a child. Alex lost everything.
Alexandra Anderson is on the run from the law. When the thirteen-year-old orphan can run no further, she collapses at the gates of the prestigious racing and breeding farm, North Oak. Horse racing strikes a deep chord in her. She hears a higher calling in the jingle jangle of bit and stirrup and in the thunder of hooves on the turn for home. It tells her she has a place in the world. But when the racing headlines find her on the front of every sports page, she realizes North Oak is no longer a safe haven. Money can’t buy love, but it just might secure Alex’s future. Will everyone at North Oak still want to offer her a home when they learn of her unspeakable crime?On the heels of Joanna Campbell’s beloved Thoroughbred Series, and Walter Farley’s Black Stallion, comes a brand new young adult horse racing series that will sweep you away like a runaway Thoroughbred.
Click here to watch this cool paperback book animation:
Ann Hunter is awesome and hilarious. She loves mentoring other writers and has a soft spot for kids and teens. She is often told it must be a blast living in her brain. She argues that the voices in her head never shut up. The only way to get relief is to let them out on to the page.
She lives in a cozy Utah home with her two awesome kids and epic husband.
NOTE: Guests posts are not an endorsement by Good Reads With Ronna
MY HEART Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken (Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’srhyming picture book, My Heart, about perseverance through difficult emotional times, will resonate with readers. The spare lyrical text explains what can happen to a heart: “some days it is cloudy and heavy with rain” or “it’s a whisper that can barely be heard.”
Details make this book special. On the cover, a golden heart-shaped flower glows hopefully as a girl tends it. The story’s carefully chosen evocative words and yellow-accented black-and-white images set the differing moods. Kids of varying ages and backgrounds depict our universal feelings.
If you look closely, each page has hidden heart-shaped images. From a playground slide and a puddle, to constellations and leaves. Love Luyken’s stunning artwork? Check under the cover for a bonus illustration.
SAVING EMMA THE PIG (The Biggest Little Farm) Written by John Chester Illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer (Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Last month I had the good fortune to see the delightful documentary, “The Biggest Little Farm” and I’m not kidding when I say my husband thought I’d immediately head home to don overalls and work boots after the film had ended. Yes, I was that enthused but I’d also like to add that you don’t have to have seen the film to appreciate this farm story or the real life characters in Saving Emma the Pig reviewed here today.
Saving Emma the Pig, an utterly adorable 40-page nonfiction picture book just recently released, is going to win fans and perhaps even inspire future farmers and vets once in the hands of young readers. “Based on the award-winning film” by documentary filmmaker John Chester about bringing Apricot Lane Farms to life in Moorpark, California, Saving Emma the Pig is the first in a new series of children’s books. Each book, narrated by Chester, will capture a unique and engaging tale of an Apricot Lane Farms animal and “the special people who care for them.”
Chester’s debut story recounts the true events about a particularly personable and apple-loving pig named Emma. Not just a new arrival at the farm, Emma also happens to be pregnant, and ill. Chester is determined to get her well again so she can properly care for her piglets. The premise here is quite simple yet also powerful, selflessly give love and devotion and it’ll come back to you tenfold. And that’s exactly what Chester, his wife Molly and his team set out to do.
Everyone expects Emma will have a fairly normal sized litter but when she goes into labor, the piglets keep coming. It doesn’t even stop at a dozen. Nope, seventeen piglets are born, close to a record number and quite a feat for a sickly swine. But the poor hog isn’t producing milk so the newborns move into Chester’s “teeny-tiny” farmhouse where they can be looked after while hopefully Emma recovers. There’s just one problem and it’s rather a big one. Emma has no appetite and in order to get better she must eat.
Perhaps offering Emma apples is the way to get her back onto her feet. When this solution doesn’t work and Chester is at his wit’s end, there’s just one last thing to do to save Emma, bring back the piglets. Clearly they were missing their mama and she was missing them because, once reunited, Emma’s health and spirit improve. Together again, Emma and her piglets thrive with the piglets eventually growing up and moving into their own pasture.
It’s here both in art and text that Chester introduces another farm animal, Greasy the rooster, who bonds with Emma. This unlikely and funny friendship is setting the stage for what is sure to be the next book in the series. Meanwhile, John and Molly figure if Emma can handle seventeen little ones, surely they can “raise one of our own,” and an addition to the Chester family is also depicted.
Artist Jennifer L. Meyer’s illustrations are so good that I cannot picture anyone else’s working as well. There’s a warmth that emanates from every page and brings Chester’s charming narrative to life. In the second spread we even spot Greasy taking up much of the left hand page as he watches Emma from a distance following her arrival. I also like that she’s added bees in her artwork. Another spread, with the piglets splashing, burping and slurping in the Chester home, shows Molly and John just outside a window wondering how they will cope with the litter and worrying if Emma will recover. An author’s note on the last two pages details the origin of Apricot Lane Farms, tells a bit more on Emma who now weighs in at seven hundred pounds and includes acknowledgments as well.
Bring the Chester family and the animals of Apricot Lane Farms into your life today. Share the Biggest Little Farm stories with your family to enter the wonderful world of bio dynamic farming where humans and nature are interconnected, helping us to learn about more about ourselves and the world around us.
Internationally best-selling author Brett Blumenthal’s newest book, 52 Small Changes for the Family is the third in her series that helps you make a small change each week. This time she teams up with Danielle Shea Tan, a functional nutritionist, certified holistic health coach, and corporate wellness consultant focused on family health.
Since it takes an average of sixty-six days to learn a new habit, no wonder breaking out of ruts can be challenging. Making small changes over the course of a year is a simpler and more realistic way to improve our family’s health and happiness. Four categories—sharp mind, healthy spirit, resilient body, and deep connections—are interspersed to keep things interesting. Increased thoughtfulness in any of these areas is sure to have positive benefits.
I like that each week’s chapter opens with a quote and that a diverse range of topics are covered. Ones which resonate with me include “Toss Plastics” (such an important issue), “Enjoy Healthy Fats” (algae oil, who knew??), and “Have Real Conversations” (a reminder to talk daily with every member of your family about topics that matter).
The book’s weekly program can be adapted to whatever best fits your lifestyle. It all comes down to the relationships we maintain with ourselves and our world. The quote in the “Be a Good Friend” chapter sums it up: “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why” (John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men).
Why wait until the new year? Start June with 52 Small Changes for the Family. It’s a book you’ll keep on hand with pages flagged and lines highlighted. It also makes a wonderful gift.
TREES: A ROOTED HISTORY by Piotr Socha + Wojciech Grajkowski Translated from Polish by Anna Burges (Abrams BYR; $24.99, Ages 8-12)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Large-format middle-grade nonfiction book, Trees: A Rooted History, will engage readers with stunning full-page illustrations and fascinating information. Trees are the largest living things on Earth showcasing nature’s incredible power. They can be seen as sacred but also have practical purposes such as being used for wood or to make paper.
Leaves, roots, seasons, seeds—this we know. But what about tree eaters, tree dwellers, and the animals using trees for camouflage? We learn that the largest-diameter tree is a Montezuma cypress in Santa Maria del Tule, Mexico—so wide that not even twenty adults could link hands around its trunk. And that a quaking aspen in Utah, estimated to be at least 80,000 years old, is both a tree and an entire forest because it originated from a single seed and its root system has formed a 106-acre colony of trees.
There is much to consider in this book. For example, a tree can withstand the rise and fall of several civilizations, or may grow alongside as works of art are created or important inventions are made. It’s fascinating that a 400,000-year-old wooden tool (the sharpened end of a wooden spear) was found in the British town of Clacton-on-Sea and that countless legends and fairy tales are set in forests.
A slight tension fills the air as dark clouds approach Noah’s house. In the backyard, restless salamanders slither “to and fro” and beetles and mice try to take shelter. Getting his tools from the yard, Noah’s father makes a thought-provoking comment: “It’s going to be a beauty.” What is? The preparation, the storm, the aftermath?
Just as Noah’s parents work hard to prepare for the storm, Noah, similarly, takes thorough care of his garden friends’ needs. For shelter, he builds an ark out of his wagon and fills the space with all the comforts of home: food, furniture, water, and light from a flashlight. Whatever his parents provide for him and his sister, Noah, in turn, provides for his critters.
Rocco’s detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations emphasize this give and take motion. On the left side of the page, we readers see the actions his parents take and on the right we see Noah mimicking that action. When the storm arrives, the illustrations once again draw similarities between the two. Both groups huddle, share food, and pass the time with calming activities. One double-page spread is particularly poignant as it draws our attention to the slats of wood—wood that boards Noah’s window and wood that houses in his garden friends. It’s a powerful image of protection and community despite the raging rain “splash[ing] down like silver swords thrown from heaven.” Banks’ imagery captures, too, the beauty and danger of their situation.
When the clouds suddenly retreat and the “sun turn[s] its light back on,” Noah is treated to a wide and stunning rainbow. A sign of the covenant between God and the earth in the original story, the rainbow here represents a symbol of peace and restoration. Two by two the creatures leave the ark and resume their roles in Noah’s garden.
So what was “going to be a beauty” after all? Dedication in caring for one another, the sense of community during troubled times, and the healing qualities of the natural world are all beautiful themes in this story. For animal and nature lovers, for those familiar and new to Noah’s Ark, for those needing a quiet bedtime story and a suspenseful adventure, Noah Builds an Ark is for any child who enjoys a timeless tale.
I had the pleasure and good fortune to meet Beth Spiegel in 2018 at a children’s picture book study group. She told me she was participating in an upcoming artists’ open house close to where I lived. Curious about what she had produced over the years and keen on supporting a local woman artist, I stopped by to see her work. I was instantly struck by an illustration of a woman seated at a table in a bird’s nest hat. It could have been me if she’d had curly hair! Right there and then I told Beth that I had been eager for an illustrator to redesign the Good Reads With Ronna header for its 10 year anniversary and wondered if she’d be interested in creating something with a similar aesthetic.
I asked Beth if she could personalize the header with things I love including books, cats, travel and tea so they’d feature prominently in the new artwork. She agreed so we met and discussed the particulars of the image and the final version of Beth’s beautiful watercolor now graces the website, much to my delight. I’m thrilled to share the following interview highlighting Beth’s artistic journey and I want to give a great big shout out of thanks for her spot on interpretation of a kidlit book reviewer on the job.
AN INTERVIEW WITH BETH SPIEGEL:
GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Did you always plan to be an illustrator?
BETH SPIEGEL: Funny you should ask because I still have a book I made as an art project in the second grade and in the “back matter” I wrote …
“When I grow up, I want to have lots of pets and make lots of books.”
GRWR:What artists have influenced you or had an impact on your approach to illustrating?
BETH:There are so many. Looking at my bookshelf I see books illustrated by William Steig, Virginia Lee Burton, Roger Duvoisin, Mary Blair and Hillary Knight alongside the contemporary illustrators, Matthew Cordell, Melissa Sweet, Sydney Smith, Erin Stead, Benji Davis, and Hadley Hooper. There’s great illustration happening now. It’s inspiring but also intimidating.
GRWR:Please tell us about the books you’ve illustrated.
BETH:My first book was Rosa’s Room written by Barbara Bottner and published by Peachtree Publishing Company. The opportunity came about because Bottner saw an exhibition of my watercolors of abandoned buildings at the Pasadena Museum of History. She says they inspired her to write a story.
“Bottner offers a heartwarming story of a young girl moving to a new house and a too-empty room … Spiegel’s softly colored watercolors are the perfect complement to the text, showing the transformation of both Rosa and her room … A welcome addition sure to calm the worries of youngsters facing a similar situation.”– Kirkus Reviews
Next was First Grade Stinks! written by Mary Ann Rodman, and also published by Peachtree. The story of a frustrated first grader pulled me in because I sympathized with the main character Haley from the start.
The third book I illustrated was written by Eve Bunting Will It Be a Baby Brother?, published by Boyds Mill Press. This came about because the art director saw my work on the “Picture Book Artists” website.
I got to meet author Eve Bunting a year after the book launched. I was a host illustrator for the Mazza Museum’s Studio Tour. Each year they travel to a different state and visit picture book illustrators that live there. I’ll never forget watching their giant tour bus pulling up in front of my studio house on my tiny street. Then 40 picture book enthusiasts getting off and amongst them was a special guest … Eve Bunting. I felt honored to be part of the Mazza tour and very happy to spend time with Eve. She’s very charming.
GRWR:What is in the pipeline?
BETH:To be honest I don’t know. Since the last book I illustrated, I’ve also started writing. In fact, I snuck a few of my titles into the painting I did for your banner. Look for Almost Flying, Excuse Me Mr. B., as well as The Yellow Umbrella, all of which I am writing and illustrating. It feels good to be doing both and am excited to start submitting them to agents and editors.
GRWR:What do you do when you’re not working on children’s books?
BETH: I take long walks. I recently moved near downtown L.A. so there’s new territory to explore. I love to get out to sketch and people watch. Travel is a passion.
GRWR:You’ve also worked on films over the years. How has that informed your children’s book art and writing?
BETH: I’ve been lucky to have received offers to edit documentaries for film and television. The majority were about subjects I care about … animals, artists and the environment. The most recent was “Pandas 3D” for Imax.
I liked editing films for Imax. The audience is young and one is challenged to find a way to express complicated ideas in a clear way fun way. While editing I also learned about pacing, and how to recognize those “story telling” moments. I think about all this when I work on illustrations.
Fortunately I’ve never stopped working on picture books. I joined a talented writing group a few years ago, that’s helping me develop my story ideas. I’ve also been working in my studio further developing/finding my “voice” as an illustrator.
Editing has been a great experience but now I’m excited to focus solely on making books. I love the picture book format. At best they are both simple and profound. To get that right, even a little, is a dream for me.
GRWR:What medium/s do you create with and does your process involve many steps and and any digital work?
BETH:I like to work in many mediums. Often I use pen and ink with watercolor, but recently started to paint digitally, which I like more than I thought I would. The important thing is that the medium suits the story.
I start every day journaling using pen and ink. Sometimes I write, sometimes I draw. Those messy marks help me start an illustration or a story and often get me going when I’m stuck. The painting of the lady reading, you liked for your banner, started as a morning doodle. As you see the bird’s nest was originally two mice nibbling some decorative fruit. Not sure why I changed it.
WHEN SUE FOUND SUE: SUE HENDRICKSON DISCOVERS HER T. REX Written by Toni Buzzeo Illustrated by Diana Sudyka (Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review –Booklist
We may not be able to find which date is the real National Dinosaur Day (dates online vary), but what we have found is a really great new picture book reviewed today by Christine Van Zandt!
Toni Buzzeo’snonfiction picture book, When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex, centers around how childhood curiosity can launch a life of discovery. As a girl, Hendrickson was good at finding things; in 1990, searching for dinosaur fossils in South Dakota, she unearthed the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, distinguished for being exceptionally well-preserved and more than 90 percent complete. Aspiring paleontologists will appreciate the facts of the dig—both the excitement and the toiling excavation itself.
Diana Sudyka’scolorfully engaging water-colored art offers a glimpse of Hendrickson’s life, often with a pet at her side (a detail sure to appeal to kids). Peek under the cover for a bonus illustration.
In the back matter, we learn about the dispute over ownership of these magnificent bones—a fight between several parties but not involving Hendrickson herself. Hendrickson’s amazing life included working as a professional diver, specialist in paleontology fieldwork, specialist in fossil inclusions in amber, and long-standing member of the Franck Goddio marine archaeology team.
Self-educated and adventurous, Hendrickson shows where life will lead if you’re open to following your interests. The story reinforces that our innate talents and fascinations stay with us and can develop into rewarding lives. Hendrickson’s T. rex fossil resides in The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, a place where she spent much time as a child.
INKLING Written by Kenneth Oppel Illustrated by Sydney Smith (Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)
• A New York Times Notable Book • A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year — top ten selectionaAs a fan ofKenneth Oppel’smiddle-grade book The Nest, I was just as pleased with Inkling, a lighter, funnier tale with lots of heart. The likeable Rylance family consists of sixth-grade Ethan, eight-year-old Sarah (who has Down syndrome), their famous graphic-novel author-illustrator father, Rickman the cat, and Inkling, the inkblot from Dad’s sketchbook who came to life. Inkling provides the Rylances with what they need—and they each need something different. If you find it farfetched for a main character to be an ink splotch, read this book. The characters have emotionally relatable depths.a
I enjoy stories without obvious plots and Inkling is just that. Typical middle-grade characters are rendered with fresh perspectives. Ethan struggles to complete the illustrations for his group’s class project, but, unfortunately, he can’t draw; no one knows this, though the class bully Vika Worthington suspects. She’s the best artist in their grade and the daughter of Ethan’s dad’s boss. Throughout, Ethan relives the day Vika tornado-kicked him into a garbage can.
Sydney Smith’s illustrations intersperse the text, adding depth and delight. Vika’s furrowed brow is perfectly sinister. Graphic-novel images complement the story line.
Inkling resonates with the underlying grief Ethan’s family is trying to process; unspoken words cloud their days. Adults can appreciate the pressure of raising kids alone, having a special-needs child, or watching their creativity come to a grinding halt. Oppel’s clever plot will make you fall for Inkling and keep you hooked until the end.
If you liked The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole (written and illustrated by Michelle Cuevas, Dial/Penguin, 2017), Inkling hits some similar notes, check it out.
My Two Moms and Me, a sleek new 22-page board book, looks like it’s as much for the adults reading it as it is for the little ones listening and that makes turning every page a treat. It’s nice to find a board book depicting same-sex families for the littlest family members, their friends and relatives. Whether children have one mom, two moms or even no moms involved in parenting, it’s important they can see themselves and the life they live reflected on the pages of all kinds of books. Joosten, who has also written My Two Dads and Me, describes all the daily activities any family would do from the perspective of the child. The humorous tone of the language adds to the book’s appeal: “At breakfast, we each have a glass of juice. They both like orange, but I’m more of an apple person, myself.” I love that! The families change on every page which works well so readers meet many different kinds of families, some with one child, some with two, some with boys, girls or both, some biracial, some with babies and some with toddlers. Coupled with the cool, contemporary clothing illustrations by fashion illustrator Zenou, My Two Moms and Me is a worthy choice this Mother’s Day.
If you’re looking for a charming picture book with simple and slightly retro-looking pen and ink style illustrations in shades of coral and black, pick up a copy of Mom and Me, Me and Mom. Similar to My Two Moms and Me above in that a child narrates the story in an almost tongue-in-cheek style, this book captures a mother-daughter relationship and emphasizes its uniqueness. What’s also adorable is that the child conveys what she contributes to the dynamic whether that be helping her mom’s mood or keeping her secrets safe. My two favorite spreads are: in a museum where the mom is studying a modern art paining while the little girl is staring at the water cooler: “I show you how to see things differently.” And then outdoors: “I follow your lead,” which depicts both mom and daughter reading. This one particularly resonated with me having raised avid readers. I have a feeling there’s a quality or activity that Tanco’s chosen to highlight that will also resonate with most mothers.
Superhero Mom, an enjoyable follow up to last year’s Superhero Dad, introduces readers to a little girl who reveres her mom and it’s easy to see why. “She does so many things at once. She zooms from here to there—mending … mixing … making … taming tangles in my hair.” We all know someone like that, a mom with energy enough for two. There are lots of super powers on display, all shared in well-metered rhyme, demonstrating why Mom qualifies as a superhero. They’re totally relatable, too. She carries so much stuff ✓, she appears out of nowhere to kiss away tears ✓, she finds missing toys and, last, but not least, “Every mom’s a SUPERHERO and so is every GIRL!” The art is bold and bright and full of superhero-type energy so I recommend this as an ideal read aloud for any story time since moms are superheroes all year round!
CLICKHEREFOR A LINK TO LAST YEAR’S MOTHER’S DAY ROUNDUP
RIVERLAND Written by Fran Wilde (Amulet Books; $17.99, Ages 10-14)
★Starred Review – Booklist, Shelf Awareness
In Riverlanda debut (older) middle grade novel by Fran Wilde, Momma promises everything will be all right, but sisters Eleanor and Mike know better. Things aren’t OK, no matter how hard they try to be good. The girls weave stories about how “house magic” will fix whatever’s wrong this time. When Poppa breaks the family heirloom (a glass witch ball), a river appears in their secret hiding place and the girls venture to a place where dreams grow in reeds.
A heron made of metal, glass, and driftwood explains that nightmares are made of “failed dreams, smoke, and the river mist” and that “the same magic that kept dreams and reality apart also held back the nightmares.” Anassa, a snake-headed monster, upsets the balance. As the damage in one world seeps to the next, the sisters try to understand their family’s guardian’s agreement while facing new kinds of danger and the possibility of never returning home. Sisterly love fiercely connects them, yet Eleanor worries her temper dooms her to become like Poppa.
Lines between fantasy and reality blurred long before the enchanted river. The girls and their mother live fearfully in denial, unwilling to admit Poppa’s abusive nature. Though Eleanor’s new friend Pendra and Pendra’s mom (school guidance counselor) surmise something’s wrong, Eleanor keeps up the façade and her friend at arm’s length; without confirmation others are powerless to help.
Riverland depicts children trapped in a dysfunctional home and the ways in which they escape reality. This important book shows a family’s coping mechanisms for domestic violence. Older middle graders and YA readers may be best suited to recognize and process the nuances of this story.