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Six Kids’ Books for Easter 2020 – A Roundup

 

EASTER BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

EGGS ARE EVERYWHERE
Baby’s First Easter Board Book
Illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan
(Chronicle Books; $10.99, Ages 2-4)

Eggs are Everywhere is a fun addition to the home library, especially for those interested in an Easter inspired book and activity set.

Once the easy to understand directions on the first page are read by an adult, little ones can explore and play on their own. Each page of this sturdy board book has a turning wheel at the edge of the page that is easy for little hands to use. Children spin the wheel to choose an egg they want to find. Then the game begins as they decide which flap to open to find the egg. 

The flaps’ unique and playful themes are an added bonus to the fun. Children can find the eggs under a flower, a basket, a child’s hand, a tea cup, and even a larger, beautifully decorated egg. Illustrations are gorgeous and rich in earth tones. Each page has a dominant, background color that is dressed over by bold, oversized leafy patterns and graceful flowers offering an additional “lesson” of colors for youngsters. 

Eggs are Everywhere provides the opportunity for children to return to the pages again and again to discover something new they may have missed on the previous read.

 

Hoppy Floppys Carrot Hunt cvrHOPPY FLOPPY’S CARROT HUNT
A Lift-the-Flap Book
(Candlewick Entertainment; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

Hoppy Floppy’s Carrot Hunt is yet another entertaining board book and game combination that involves opening up flaps. Along with Hoppy Floppy’s animal friends, readers help the bunny find “colorful carrots on the forest floor.” 

The underside of each flap has funny and encouraging commentary. The silly items displayed under the “wrong” flap (such as a dug up cookie or ice cream “vegetable”) will surely bring out many chuckles from little ones. Each of the 12 pages has the same, sweet background done mostly in green to capture the forest colors. This way the color of each carrot is spotlighted, facilitating identification and memorization. A wide range of animals in the book allows for a secondary lesson. The small, friendly bird following along each page adds color and excitement to the game.

An additional bonus is the connection between the specific color of a carrot and the animal in search of it. Parents and caregivers can open conversations with little ones about how the color of the carrot matches that of something that animal is wearing or holding. The turning wheel at the end of the story helps us review the rainbow of carrots we’ve helped Hoppy Floppy find. 

There’s no denying this egg shaped book is just right for Easter.

 

Hazel and Twig TLE cvrHAZEL AND TWIG: THE LOST EGG
Written and Illustrated by Brenna Burns Yu
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Author and illustrator of Hazel and Twig: The Birthday Fortune, Brenna Burns Yu introduces us to a second adventure featuring the beloved Korean-American mouse sisters in Hazel and Twig: The Lost Egg.

Hazel and Twig find a large egg in the field. Eager to make it their own, they take the egg home and make big plans for the care and growth of the baby bird that will soon hatch. 

As Hazel shares the details with her Appa (Korean for father) of how she and Twig will build a nest, “fetch the worms, and … teach it to fly,” Hazel realizes Twig is missing. Quickly, though, she spots her little sister. In her relief, Hazel realizes the egg, too, is lost and not theirs to keep. It needs to be reunited with its family. 

The all out family search for the lost egg’s nest presents a wealth of additional lessons in color, pattern, size, and numbers as family members compare the lost egg to others nestled in tree branches. When Hazel remembers not all birds live in trees but that “some birds live…on the riverbank,” she concludes the little lost bird in the big, pale blue egg is actually a duckling. After it hatches, the baby duckling and her older sister become good friends with Hazel and Twig. 

Yu’s endearing illustrations help us enter the mouse family’s tiny world. Done in ink and watercolor, the illustrations capture flora and fauna in dainty forms and fragile shapes. The soft color palette and simple lines evoke comfort, safety, and hope. One particularly stunning page, inspired by the works of 18th century naturalist James Bolton, depicts nature’s creatures at home in their habitats.

Happy to have helped a family unite, Hazel shows thoughtfulness and maturity. Her growth sheds light to additional topics in the book: kindness, compassion, and self-sacrifice. Combined with Yu’s lovely illustrations, these themes will resonate with children of all ages.

 

ELSIE
Written by Nadine Robert
Illustrated by Maja Kastelic
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

A celebration of Easter and springtime, author Nadine Robert’s and illustrator Maja Kastelic’s Elsie explores additional themes of  love, family, and diversity. 

The picture book introduces us to the Filpot family of seven bunny siblings who all enjoy going on fishing trips during “nice and sunny” Sundaysall except Elsie who prefers marching to the beat of her own drum. It’s clear the six siblings like to do things in the same predictable way as they have always done: “‘Last time, we went through the woods … We took the same path the time before.’” Dragged by her family to join the fishing excursion, Elsie instead prefers to explore her own path. 

Despite the discouraging words she continuously hears, Elsie never wavers her independence. While others cast their lines in the water, Elsie uses a buttercup on her hook. While the others break for lunch, Elsie decides to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. No matter what Elsie does, her way seems just plain wrong to her brothers and sisters, reminding me a little bit of  the tension between brothers in the classic tale, The Carrot Seed. While the older brother insists his younger sibling’s attempts to grow and care for the seed are futile, the youngster’s quiet persistence pays off.  

In the same way, Elsie peacefully resists her siblings’ pressure to conform. When her method of catching fish proves to be the most successful, her brothers and sisters finally recognize and appreciate her innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, so much so that they acquiesce to her suggestions and leadership. 

Kastelic’s colorful illustrations bursting with blooms and patterns evoke the enthusiasm of venturing into the great unknown of the outdoors. Critical lessons of acceptance and difference make this book a wonderful read throughout the year.

Hop Little Bunnies coverHOP LITTLE BUNNIES
Written by Martha Mumford
Illustrated by Laura Hughes
(
Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

Inspired by the “Sleeping Bunnies” nursery rhyme, Hop Little Bunnies is a lively read-aloud book, the third in our Easter round up that incorporates flaps.

Hughes’ illustrations, created in watercolor and ink, abound with peaceful, springtime colors and center the animals on each page to maintain our engagement with them. The narrator points out to us the sleeping bunnies in the field. “Shall we go and wake them in a merry tune?” s/he asks. As children open up the flaps one by one, they’re encouraged to call out, “WAKE UP, bunnies!” and direct the animals to “hop, hop, hop.” The next directive is to “STOP!” and stay quiet (“Sssssshhhhhh!”) while a new set of animals is found fast asleep.

In this pattern of quiet and loud, readers go through a series of adorable barnyard animals. First, readers are encouraged to stay silent and then to cheerfully wake them up. Toddlers and early elementary children will love the steady rhythm and rhyme and will be challenged, undoubtedly, to keep their giggles contained before bursting into their “wake up” call. While the day unfolds with bunnies hopping, lambs baaing, chicks cheeping, kittens meowing, and ducklings quacking, nighttime eventually falls, prompting us readers to “go and sing them a happy bedtime song.”

A fun and interactive book, Hop Little Bunnies provides the perfect balance of entertainment and follow-the-direction learning.

Follow Me Flo cvrFOLLOW ME, FLO!
Written and illustrated by Jarvis
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Written by award winning author-illustrator Jarvis, Follow Me, Flo! is a gentle lesson about not wandering away from a parent.

From the get-go we learn that little duckling Flo likes to do things her way. Instead of eating a healthy dinner of seeds and berries, preening herself clean, and going to bed in a neat row with her parents, Flo likes to eat ice cream treats, chase frogs through the mud, and join the flock of sheep during bedtime.

Knowing his daughter’s adventurous ways, Daddy Duck ”in his most serious deep duckie voice” tells Flo to carefully follow him on their way to visit Auntie Jenna. “‘No chasing or hiding’” or “‘you’ll get lost’” he warns. To help keep his daughter focused and entertained, Daddy sings a tune as they go “UP” the trail and “DOWN” a small waterfall and “IN” and “OUT” a hollow tree trunk. Jarvis’ bold and bright illustrations bring energy and movement to each scene.

Not entirely impressed by Daddy’s efforts, Flo creates her own song “the way that she like(s) it.” Singing in a “VERY high [and] VERY LOUD” voice, Flo soon gets carried away and strays farther and farther away from Daddy. (Incidentally, both versions of the “follow me” song provide good practice with opposites and prepositions.)

When Flo realizes she’s being followed by none other than Roxy Fox, she understands the importance of staying close to Daddy. By remembering Daddy’s song, she follows his directions and reunites with him. For being a good little duckling and following all of Daddy’s directions that day, Flo gets to lead Daddy the way home. Children will love the funny and surprising ending that reveals the places you’ll go when you follow a free spirit like Flo. (That almost sounds like a song!).

Appropriate for Easter and the spring season, Follow Me, Flo! provides an added lesson for parents and caregivers on how to lovingly guide and direct the little ones in their lives.

  • Review by Armineh Manookian
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Kids Books for Passover 2020 – A Roundup

PASSOVER PICTURE BOOKS

Passover will be different this year because we’re self-isolating. And since it’s advisable to not meet up with family and friends, some of us may participate in Seders via video teleconferencing. We may also have to choose new menu variations based on what food is available. One thing that won’t change is the Passover story in our Haggadahs and the variety of wonderful books we can share with our children. Here are some books worth reading during this eagerly awaited eight day holiday.

 

Welcoming Elijah
WELCOMING ELIJAH:

A PASSOVER TALE WITH A TAIL
Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Susan Gal
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

I loved the new perspective Newman has captured with her gently flowing, lyrical language in Welcoming Elijah. It’s been years since I thought about all the times I went to my Aunt’s front door and opened it for Elijah when I was a child. So reading about the main character’s experience filled me with joy. As readers feel the young boy’s anticipation about every aspect of the evening’s Seder inside, they’ll also be introduced to a stray cat outside mimicking many of the steps that are taking place at the dining room table.

Inside, the boy dipped
parsley into salt water.

Outside, the kitten chewed
a wet blade of grass.

Inside, the boy broke
the middle matzo in half.

Outside, the kitten split
a twig in two.

When at last the youngster opens the front door for the Prophet Elijah, and looks outside, it’s not the prophet who makes an appearance at the Seder, but a friendly kitty looking for a home. Gal’s warm palette adds to the uplifting ambiance in all her illustrations. This sweet Passover tale should resonate with many children who look forward to celebrating Passover and all its beloved kid-centric rituals of not only asking the four questions, and finding the afikoman, but to welcoming Elijah into their homes year after year. Back matter about the holiday is also included.

 

Asteroid Goldberg cover

ASTEROID GOLDBERG:
PASSOVER IN OUTER SPACE

Written by Brianna Caplan Sayres
Illustrated by Merrill Rainey
(Intergalactic Afikoman; $18.95, Ages 4-8)

You may think you’ve heard of every kind of Seder possible, but I have a feeling you’ve never heard of a Seder in outer space. And Asteroid Goldberg is no ordinary story so if you have children who are into all things cosmic, Sayres’s 40-page holiday picture book will deliver just the right blast of humor and read aloud rhyme.

As space-whiz Asteroid steers the spaceship home from Pluto in time for Seder, she and her family are notified they’ll “have to wait to land.” The timing couldn’t be worse and Passover prep will now require an added dimension. Looks like this family’s going to have to search for Pesach supplies in the Milky Way!

She aimed their ship toward Jupiter.
So many yummy moons!

“Matzoh balls!” said Asteroid.
“All we need are spoons!”

The clever way our plucky heroine finds all the food on offer in outer space is just one of the things children will enjoy when reading this far out story. The idea of dining in an anti-gravity setting is such fun as is an intergalactic afikoman hunt. Rainey’s jewel-toned illustrations are cheerful and humorous, complementing this truly creative Passover tale. Once given the all clear to land from Houston, the Goldbergs deliver readers a surprise ending for those of us who know the traditional closing of the Seder as being “Next year in Jerusalem!”

 

I Love Matzah bbcoverI LOVE MATZAH
Written by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
Illustrated by Angelika Scudamore
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

I Love Matzah is an adorable board book ode to the delights of the unleavened bread we eat during Passover. Its simple rhyme pattern is easy for little ones to repeat and to anticipate the rhyming word from the illustrations. There are so many different ways and times of day to enjoy matzah, whether you have it after a morning stroll or with yogurt in a Passover bowl. But what happened to matzah brei, my fave? Scudamore’s bright artwork adds to the upbeat feeling conveyed on all 12 pages of this charming read. Parents can point out the boy’s I Matzah t-shirt and help their kids try reading the rhyming words printed in red, an educational component that works quite well.

 

Alligator Seder book coverALLIGATOR SEDER
Written by Jessica Hickman
Illustrated by Ellisambura
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

Alligator Seder is such a funny spin on the Seder stories we usually see. This 12-page full color board book is guaranteed to get laughs with its gorgeously illustrated gator family getting ready for Passover. There are some truly funny lines such as:

They look for bits of chametz.
They’re good investigators.
They’re really just like you and me
except they’re ALLIGATORS!

Mommy gator makes gefilte fish. Gator guests join the celebration. Their mouthful of teeth make for some serious matzah crunching sounds. However for me, the ending is what’s perfect. In fact, it was the inspiration for the name of my Zoom Passover Seder this year which is called Seder, See Ya Later!

Everyone is going home.
They all say, “See you later!”

Another year, another splendid
ALLIGATOR SEDER!

If you want to bring smiles to any Seder, I recommend getting a copy of Alligator Seder to share and get swamped in the best possible way!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Best Passover Books for Children – The Passover Mouse

THE PASSOVER MOUSE

Written by Joy Nelkin Wieder

Illustrated by Shahar Kober

(Doubleday BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

The Passover Mouse cvr

 

Starred review – Kirkus

The night before Passover, a hungry and mischievous mouse steals a single bread crumb from a pile of chometz (leavened food) on a table where it waits to be burned in the morning, (to prevent the house being contaminated during Passover), and the adventure of The Passover Mouse begins! The mouse is chased first to the cobbler’s house, and then to the matchmaker’s. A different mouse and a cat join the fun, and confusion and chaos descend upon the community as they try to figure out what to do about the homes that have possibly being contaminated with the stray chometz.

This playful and inspiring tale is based upon and introduces children to a passage from the Talmud, a collection of ancient rabbis’ commentaries on Jewish law. Along with delightful illustrations by Shahar Kober, the traditional story presents a conundrum for the community, which is not resolved right away. The puzzling problem is presented to the town’s Rabbi, who presents an answer, but how to carry it out is ultimately suggested by a child, who speaks up and suggests community cooperation, which is embraced by everyone.

 

Passover Mouse interior spread 1
Interior spread from The Passover Mouse written by Joy Nelkin Wieder and illustrated by Shahar Kober, Doubleday BYR ©2020.

 

Joy Nelkin Wieder’s debut picture book reads like a traditional folk tale, and kids will have fun learning the many Hebrew and Yiddish words which are used throughout the story. Some may be familiar (Oy vey!) while some may be less known (yeshiva) but thankfully there is a glossary in the back with definitions along with an indication of how to pronounce them. An author’s note is also included which explains the original passage in the Talmud.

Kober’s illustrations have an engaging cast of lively, multi-generational characters that grow in numbers as the story progresses. Individual characters are recognizable and can be found, and followed, through the book. Kids will want to linger over the assorted expressive faces which reveal their personalities and reactions. The Seder scene accurately depicts traditional food, and the clothing and setting throughout portrays a traditional, fabled Jewish community. Kober’s consistent pallet of earthy colors and bright accents invoke a warm and inviting feeling that enhances the warmth and togetherness of this assorted but unified community.

 

Passover Mouse interior spread 2(1)
Interior spread from The Passover Mouse written by Joy Nelkin Wieder and illustrated by Shahar Kober, Doubleday BYR ©2020.

 

The story starts with the mouse, but the main thrust of the story involves the community who take a journey from confusion, blame and arguing, to unity—coming together and working together to solve their problem. In the end, everyone has re-established their friendships, spread some kindness, and even the mouse (and its companions) don’t go hungry (don’t miss the art on the last page! A wonderful tale and moral not only for Passover, but for any time of year.

Learn more about the Perfect2020PBs group here.

  • Guest Review by Molly Ruttan
    e
    Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books had its book birthday on September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram@mollyillo
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Middle Grade Books – An Interview With Margaret Finnegan About Happy Endings

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET FINNEGAN

AUTHOR OF DEBUT MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL

WE COULD BE HEROES

 

 

For Autism Awareness Day 2020, I’m delighted to share this interview with author Margaret Finnegan about her debut middle grade novel We Could Be Heroes and her take on happy endings. At the end Margaret’s also included some helpful resources for readers.

INTERVIEW

GOODREADSWITHRONNA: Can you tell us a little bit about We Could be Heroes?

MARGARET FINNEGAN: We Could be Heroes is about Hank Hudson and Maisie Huang, two very different kids. They become friends as they try to help a dog with epilepsy—Booler—who is tied day and night to a tree. Their friendship is complicated by the fact that Hank has autism, and so he can’t always tell if Maisie is really trying to be his friend or if she is manipulating him for her own reasons.

GRWR: Your book deals with some very serious issues, but it is always funny and it ends on an adorably happy note. These days, a lot of middle-grade fiction is embracing more complicated and ambivalent endings, what made you decide to go full on happy?

MF: I wrote this book for my daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth is not Hank, but she did inspire a few of his qualities, such as his painful aversion to really sad stories. She feels so connected to the characters she reads about—and she feels their heartbreaks and pain so personally—that for a number of years she refused to read new novels. The uncertainty was too much for her. So she read her favorite books over and over. Hank is like that too. When We Could be Heroes opens, Hank is trying to destroy a tragic book his teacher has been reading to the class. He can’t take how sad it makes him.

Since I set out trying to write a book that Elizabeth would read, I knew from the start that it would have to have a big, sloppy happy ending. But Hank needed a happy ending too, and I think he earned it. Like any hero, he is tested and found worthy of reward. But more than that, in a meta sort of way, the story needed a happy ending that would contrast the terrible ending of the story within the story—the one Hank’s teacher is reading the class.

GRWR: Do you think Hank and Maisie’s happy ending can last?

MF: I’m not sure. Maisie’s mom definitely has her doubts. And although Hank and Maisie are “rewarded” something amazing, I think that reward will present Hank—who struggles with change and unpredictability—with challenges. But challenges can help us grow, so I guess that isn’t a bad thing.

GRWR: There are so many challenges that young readers face today—like climate change. How does that factor into thinking about happy endings? Don’t we need books that go to those dark places so kids can see their reality reflected and then face that reality with resiliency? Or is there still a needat least sometimesfor “big, sloppy, happy endings”?

MF: We need all kinds of stories with all kinds of endings—and there are many wonderful middle-grade novels that go dark and yet are filled with transcendent beauty. Those books actually win lots of awards. But unabashedly happy endings also have something important to offer readers. Our kids are not growing up in bubbles. They have a whole world of experiences and entertainments that teach them the complexities and hardships of the world. And it is exactly when things are going horribly that some readers need stories that make them laugh and that instill hope.

I have been very open about the challenges Elizabeth has had with autism and epilepsy. There was a long stretch of years where she was being bullied, experiencing lots of seizures, and dealing with horrible medication side effects. And what were the books she turned to repeatedly during this time? The Fudge books by Judy Blume. They made her feel good. They made her believe that better was possible. She knows about the pain of the world. She lives it. She—like many others—longs for stories that remind her that there is joy and fun in the world and that sometimes—just sometimes—everything turns out great. 

Read a review in Publishers Weekly about We Could Be Heroes here.

Click here for a link to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Click here for autism information from the National Institutes of Health.
Click here for autism information from the Autistic Self Advocacy network.

ABOUT MARGARET

Author Margaret FinneganMargaret Finnegan is the author of We Could Be Heroes.
Her work has appeared in FamilyFun magazine, the LA Times, Salon,
and other publications. She lives in Southern California, where she enjoys
spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really
good chocolate cakes. Connect with her @margaretfinnegan.com
or on Twitter @FinneganBegin.

 

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For Women’s History Month – Suffragette: The Battle for Equality

 

SUFFRAGETTE: THE BATTLE FOR EQUALITY

by David Roberts

(Walker Books/Candlewick Press; $25.00, Ages 7-10)

 

Suffragettetbfe book cover

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

INTRO:
The right to vote in one’s own country was an international issue. In 1920 American women won the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. However “black women in the American South were still denied the franchise” with myriad obstacles put in place to prevent both men and women of color from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In Great Britain, propertied women, women married to property owners, and university graduates over age 30 won the right to vote in 1918. It wasn’t until the Equal Franchise Act in 1928 that women over the age of 21 could vote. Limited access to education, unequal pay and other discriminatory practices at home such as child custody in cases of divorce, and in the workplace including long factory hours and unsafe conditions, made the fight for a woman’s right to vote more important than ever. As we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment in America, it’s important to recognize that although much has been achieved in terms of women’s rights due to countless women’s (and men’s) tireless efforts, we still have a long way to go.

REVIEW:
I found myself so engrossed in this beautifully illustrated picture book that I lost all track of time. Roberts takes readers back to the early 20th century by combining engaging art and prose to shed light on the suffrage movement both in the U.S. and in the U.K.

Suffragette begins with a helpful foreword by Crystal N. Feimster, PhD of Yale’s Department of African American Studies. It focuses on the fledgling U.S. and U.K. suffrage movements in the 19th and early 20th centuries and briefly details efforts all the way up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Then, Roberts’ intro tells readers how he accidentally first learned about suffragettes (he didn’t mention Mrs. Banks from “Mary Poppins”) when he was 14-years-old and had to both write and illustrate an end-of-year exam project. In class a striking black and white book cover illustration of imprisoned women caught his attention. Roberts grew more passionate about women’s heroic campaign to get the vote as he researched the brave suffragettes. His dissatisfaction with gender inequality began then and still remains thirty years on which is why he embraced the opportunity to write and illustrate this book.

 

Suffragette int26 27
SUFFRAGETTE. Copyright © 2018 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

In addition to the history behind women’s right to vote, readers also learn about key events and individuals in the suffrage movement from 1903 to 1928. Suffrage offers insights into famous historical figures such a Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst, Ida B. Wells, and Susan B. Anthony. While more of the book covers the U.K. since this book was originally published there, there is still quite a lot about the U.S. suffrage movement and every example is fascinating regardless of which country. For example, how many people know that Queen Victoria was against women votingand that her daughter Princess Louise secretly supported suffrageor that Frederick Douglass was one of the few men in attendance at the historic 1848 Seneca Falls Convention? Suffragette also delves into the philosophies of different groups that emerged during the campaign for women’s rights. It’s no surprise that some factions chose civil disobedience while others preferred a more peaceful approach. Then, of course, there were those strongly against giving women the vote. These people were referred to as “Antis” or anti-suffrage and even included at one point Winston Churchill who ultimately changed his mind but “voted in favor of limited women’s suffrage in 1918.”

From attention-seeking tactics like going on hunger strikes in prison to going up into the sky in a hydrogen-filled airship emblazoned with the words THE WOMEN’S FREEDOM LEAGUE on one side and VOTES FOR WOMEN on the other while dropping leaflets, there seemed to be no limit to what these determined women would get up to for their cause. On November 18, 1910, aka Black Friday, British Prime Minister Asquith abandoned a Conciliation Bill that would have given some women the right to vote. What followed were brutal attacks on suffragettes waiting outside Parliament. The newspapers printed pictures of women hurt by police. But while the government optics were awful, with no headway made, the suffrage movement felt they had to resort to more extreme measures. 

 

Suffragette int80 81
SUFFRAGETTE. Copyright © 2018 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

The unrelenting struggle for women’s right to vote continued until WWI when hundreds of thousands of men left home to fight. Over a million women in both the U.K. and the U.S. went to work to support their countries. “For the first time, women became police officers and firefighters, railway porters and ticket collectors, carpenters and electricians, street car and bus conductors, even chimney sweeps and gravediggers—all jobs that had previously been thought exclusively as “men’s work.” The tide began to change for the suffrage movement. After all, “If a woman was as capable as a man of doing a job, surely she was as capable of voting.” Soon there was no looking back.

This highly recommended 128-page nonfiction book is eye-opening reading. It’s divided into more than 40 mini-chapters usually no more than two pages long, and presented chronologically inviting a quick read or a deep dive in. I enjoyed learning more about the heroes of the women’s suffrage movement, primarily in the U.K., not only because as a woman this topic resonates with me, but also because these women changed the world. I hope young people find Suffrage as inspirational a book as I did and I hope teachers will consider Roberts’ book when seeking resources about the suffrage movement.

 

HOORAY FOR WOMEN
Written and illustrated by Marcia Williams
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Check out Hooray for Women which highlights over 70
inspirational and amazing women including Marie Curie,
Joan of Arc, Wangari Maathai, Elizabeth I, Mae C. Jemison,
Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Cathy Freeman and Jane Austen.
Presented in a 48-page graphic novel format with colorful panels
filled with interesting information, this entertaining middle grade
picture book is perfect for Women’s History Month or any time of year.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Earth Hour by Nanette Heffernan

EARTH HOUR: A LIGHTS-OUT EVENT FOR OUR PLANET

Written by Nanette Heffernan

Illustrated by Bao Luu

(Charlesbridge Publishing; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

In Earth Hour, an exquisite and educational book, Nanette Heffernan and Bao Luu take us around the world to glimpse people of many cultures using energy. From the simplicity of the lamp next to a child’s bed, to the grandeur of the pyramids in Egypt illuminated at night, the book beautifully and succinctly introduces children to the ways we, as people of the earth, use electricity. The text goes on to describe a world-wide celebration called “Earth Hour”. Back matter goes into detail. Started in 2007, this annual lights-out celebration, now managed by the World Wildlife Fund for nature (WWF), is observed at 8:30pm local time on a Saturday night in March (this year it’s March 28) near the equinox. It is celebrated on all seven continents, in almost every country, and involves millions of people as they turn off their lights for one hour as a pledge to live more sustainably and to conserve energy. (www.earthhour.org)

 

EarthHour int1
Interior spread continued below from Earth Hour: A Lights-Out Event for Our Planet by Nanette Heffernan with illustrations by Bao Luu, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2020.

 

EarthHour int2
Interior illustration from Earth Hour: A Lights-Out Event for Our Planet by Nanette Heffernan with illustrations by Bao Luu, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2020.

 

Heffernan’s friendly and inclusive text along with Luu’s detailed multi-generational, multi-cultural illustrations leaves lots of room for teachers and librarians, parents and guardians to talk to children about the importance of planetary conservation and climate change. The book will will no doubt spur many interesting and meaningful conversations and activities, not the least of which would be to participate in the event itself! The message of togetherness and unity at the end is uplifting and inspiring.

Bao Luu’s bold illustrations have a slightly retro feel, with high contrast scenes using rich tones of blues, greens and purples accented with golds, yellows and pinks. City lights and reflections pop against the deep hues, effectively showing the lights-out hour when the same settings are repeated without them. Starry skies remain throughout, emphasizing the fact that, as Heffernan states in the back matter, “here’s one thing we have in common: Earth is home to us all.”

  • Guest Post by author-illustrator Molly Ruttan

    Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books had its book birthday on September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at
    www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo

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Middle Grade Book Review – If We Were Giants

IF WE WERE GIANTS

by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith

Illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo

(Disney-Hyperion; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

If We Were Giants cvr

 

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Interior art from If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith with illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo, Disney-Hyperion ©2020.

If there’s a book you should read now, it’s If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith. You may recognize the first author’s name as that of the world-renowned musician, environmentalist, and humanitarian. He’s teamed up with children’s book author Smith to write this timely middle-grade novel. Its underlying messages are about pulling together as a community, remembering the past, and taking care of nature. Kids will root for Kirra to find her way, and love the fun elements (such as living in trees and using their collective skills to become gigantic).

IfWe WereGiants int insert
Interior art from If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith with illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo, Disney-Hyperion ©2020.

Hidden inside the walls of a dormant volcano, ten-year-old Kirra’s life is idyllic. Her people, the Zedu, respect nature and collaborate with one another, having assigned tasks. Kirra’s father is the Storyteller, the only Zedu who goes Outside—until recently, when Kirra begins to travel with him and learn this vocation. Her curiosity, however, leads her to make a grave mistake instigating the demise of her village by a violent new group called the Takers who seek only to conquer and destroy.

Jump forward four years and fourteen-year-old Kirra now lives aloft with the Tree People, taken in when she was in dire circumstances and treated with kindness ever since. To get by, Kirra must suppress memories of the past—until those memories become a reality.

The images by Antonio Javier Caparo provide glimpses into Kirra’s world. Framed by intertwining branches, the natural colors underscore the importance of working harmoniously with nature.

I appreciate how the book engages the reader with quick-moving, interesting scenes yet also tackles big issues affecting us today. This story delves into what family means and how you fit in. For Kirra, it’s also a coming-of-age tale as she finally faces her demons and finds her way.
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Board Book Review – God is Great, God is Good

GOD IS GREAT, GOD IS GOOD

Written by Sanna Anderson Baker

Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

(Abrams Appleseed $8.99; Ages 0-3)

 

GodisGreat GodisGood cvr

 

 

Originally published in 1987 and available now as a board book, God is Great, God is Good simply and beautifully captures the message of the Old Testament’s Book of Job. Author Sanna Anderson Baker’s poetic language combined with Tomie dePaola’s familiar, warm illustrations emphasize the point that, ultimately, God is in control.

 

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Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

In the original story, Job is a righteous man who suffers insurmountable financial, physical, and personal loss.  Grieving over the tragedies unfairly cast on him, he saves up many questions to ask God; when Job finally does get his day in court, God asks a series of His own:  “Who knows the way to the house of light? And who knows where darkness dwells?” “Who tells Morning, ‘Sweep the stars from the sky’?” God highlights the wonders of the natural world and the orderly passage of time. In God is Great, God is Good, these questions are interrupted three times. Each break gives us the answer in a double page spread: God.

 

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Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

Baker’s lyrical text grounds these profound concepts with words and images familiar to children. Snow rests on the earth as “‘quiet as a cat.’” Whenever “‘Lightning dances’” Thunder “clap[s].” Forces of nature are personified; like people, they too have personality and a unique role in doing what they have been designed to do. While God uses examples from nature to illustrate His power, the last third of the board book focuses on His tender role as “friend,” provider, and protector of the animal world. He feeds, “takes care,” and “knows” His creation.

DePaola’s wonderful illustrationsalways in a peaceful palette of colorscontribute to this feeling of comfort and safety. His signature style of outlining the edges of an object accentuates its shape and contains its form, making the object recognizable, like bringing order out of chaos. All three of the double page spreads remind me of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. In dePaola’s depictions, God’s hand is reaching out to the heavens and emanating light from above to earth below.

 

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Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

By the end of the book, we learn, like Job, the restorative power of God’s presence. In the midst of chaos, the cycles and constant rhythms of the natural world satisfy our deep longings for comfort and peace.

A great book for bedtime, quiet time, Easter, or any time the world seems erratic (oh, so true at this very moment), God is Great, God is Good shows us the steady in unsteady times.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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An Interview with Author Illustrator Victoria Ying

AN INTERVIEW WITH

AUTHOR ILLUSTRATOR

VICTORIA YING

BY CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT

 

DPotA Cv_C1 C4 1

 

INTRO:
Last month, my ten-year-old daughter and I attended an amazing event at the LA Zoo, hosted by DC Entertainment. A group of middle-grade graphic writers and illustrators wowed the crowd with their “superpowers” sharing the stories-behind-the-stories and demonstrating their lightning-fast art skills. VICTORIA YING caught our attention with her interpretation of Wonder Woman as a tween so I wanted to know more about the wonderful woman behind Wonder Woman.

 

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Victoria Ying sharing her art at the DC Comics LA Zoo Event. Photo ©Christine Van Zandt 2020



INTERVIEW:

Interior illustrations by Victoria Ying from Diana: Princess of the Amazons
Interior art from Diana: Princess of the Amazons written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with illustrations by Victoria Ying, DC Comics ©2020.

CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Your new middle-grade graphic novel, Diana: Princess of the Amazons (DC Comics; $9.99, Ages 8-12) is about Wonder Woman as an eleven-year-old girl. As the only kid on Themyscira, the island of the Amazons, understandably, Diana’s a bit lonely. How did you go about envisioning the famous Princess Diana as a tween?

VICTORIA YING: We first looked at the original iconic design for Wonder Woman and then tried to imagine what she would look like as a kid! We wanted to have those shadows of the person she would become without being too obvious about it. She has her bracelets, a simple rope headband, and her pleated skirt. Things that would allude to her future, without showing our whole hand.

CVZ: You’ve illustrated pictures books before and are the author-illustrator of a wordless picture book, Meow! How was illustrating a graphic novel different?

VY: I was so lucky to be able to have Shannon and Dean Hale as collaborators for this project. It is my debut graphic novel project and they are industry veterans who really understand how to write for a visual medium. They left a lot of the decisions up to me, but would keep the important descriptions in the text.

CVZ: Tell us about your process.

VY: For comics, I first lay out my rough sketches with rough text in ComicDraw for the iPad. Then I submit this for approval. Once the sketches are approved, I take them and do a tracing paper style draw over of the rough sketches for a clean finished drawing in Procreate. Lark Pien was our colorist and she takes the work to its finish.

CVZ: Your middle-grade graphic novel, City of Secrets, is coming out in July (Viking, 2020). How does it feel to be both the writer and artist?

VY: I originally wrote City of Secrets as a NaNoWriMo project. I was so afraid to have to draw the city! When my friends commented that I had great story structure and good characters, but terrible description, I realized it was because I relied too much on my illustrator brain and decided to try it as a graphic novel instead. It turned out that I LOVED drawing the puzzle-box city!

CVZ: You’ve worked on films, picture books, middle grade novels—what’s next?

VY: City of Secrets has a sequel coming out in July of 2021, and I’ve just announced a new book with First Second Books called Hungry Ghost, a YA contemporary about an Asian-American girl struggling with an eating disorder. I have a wide range of interests and all kinds of stories I want to tell. I hope that my career will let me tell as many of them as I can handle!

CVZ: Thank you for taking time to talk with us. We look forward reading all your new stories!

 

BIO:
Victoria Ying is an author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books; this eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese curry, putting things in her online-shopping cart then taking them out again, and hanging out with her dopey dog. Her film credits include Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Paperman, Big Hero 6, and Moana. She illustrated the DC graphic novel, Diana: Princess of the Amazons. Watch for her authored graphic novel, City of Secrets, out July 2020.

Author Illustrator VictoriaYing
Author/illustrator Victoria Ying.

CityofSecrets CoverReveal FBInstaLINKS:
Twitter: @victoriaying
Instagram: @victoriaying
Website: http://www.victoriaying.com

Check out a preview here.

INTERVIEW BY CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT:
(www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting,
Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 Check out a DC graphic novel review here.

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Kids Interactive Picture Book – Welcome to Jazz

WELCOME TO JAZZ:

A SWING-ALONG CELEBRATION OF AMERICA’S MUSIC

Written by Carolyn Sloan

Illustrated by Jessica Gibson

(Workman; $24.95, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The week of March 16-22 is International Teach Music Week and April is Jazz Appreciation Month so the timing couldn’t be better for a review of this interactive picture book that will get kids’ toes tappin’.

Author Carolyn Sloan has written a joyous and swinging story that celebrates jazz, America’s music. Welcome to Jazz takes readers on a lively musical journey from the birth of jazz to present day.

 

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Interior spread from Welcome to Jazz written by Carolyn Sloan and illustrated by Jessica Gibson, Workman Publishing ©2019.

 

When three cat friends visit The Ripe Tomato Jazz Club in New Orleans, they are curious about their new surroundings. One excited wide eyed cat tells his friends, “I can’t wait for the band to play.”

“What game are they going to be playing?” asks a second cat.

A third friend, decked out in cool jazzy sunglasses, clarifies the confusion by announcing, “The band will be playing musicjazz music.”

When the trio is invited to join in the music making, the fun begins. Readers will enjoy Sloan’s fast paced, fun dialogue between the feline friends and the likeable musicians in the band. The origins of jazz, a selection of instruments, musical greats and even the language of this swinging music are introduced through sidebar information on each page.

 

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Interior spread from Welcome to Jazz written by Carolyn Sloan and illustrated by Jessica Gibson, Workman Publishing ©2019.

 

Gibson’s vibrant full color two spread illustrations, allow us to follow these three cool cats as they become caught up in the celebration and spirit of the music.

With interactive sound and technology, Welcome to Jazz brings the wonder of this music to life and a better understanding of the concepts in jazz like: beat, rhythm, improvisation and scat singing. With the push of 12 chips on the side panel of the book, readers will want to dance and sing along as they join the cool cats and the band in a lively procession out of the club and into the streets of New Orleans.

  • Reviewed by Lisa Saint

Lisa Saint is a writer, artist, educator and an advocate for the arts. She teaches writing, illustration, graphic novels and bookmaking. Lisa is a member of SCBWI. She is also the daughter of legendary jazz great, Gil Bernal.

Click here to read a review of another jazz related picture book.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – How to Make a Shark Smile

HOW TO MAKE A SHARK SMILE:

How a positive mindset spreads happiness

Written by Shawn Achor and Amy Blankson

Illustrated by Claudia Ranucci

(Little Pickle Press; $17.99; Ages 4 and up)

 

 

It was Ripple the dolphin’s first day in her new aquarium and she was excited to make some new friends, but the water was still and quiet and all the animals looked scared and unhappy. So begins the picture book How to Make a Shark Smile written by bestselling authors, siblings and happiness pros, Shawn Achor and Amy Blankson, with illustrations by Claudia Ranucci.

The story opens with a smiling grey and white dolphin surrounded by the deep blue sea, and colorful plants and baby fish, anxious to make new friends. But as Ripple swims around looking for someone to play with “she saw electric eels with no zing.” She even notices “the seahorses weren’t horsing around.”

 

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Interior art from How to Make a Shark Smile written by Shawn Achor and Amy Blankson and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, Little Pickle Press ©2020.

 

A spiky, black dotted, puffed up yellow blowfish appears with big bulging eyes and mouth wide open. Ranucci’s drawing shows the reader that our new friend is feeling anxious. As Ripple swims near “the blowfish began yelling, Shark alert! Shark alert! And Ripple realizes the blowfish, Bob, must think that she was the shark!” Ripple explains that she is a dolphin not a shark and the relieved Bob explains that Snark “the biggest, meanest shark ever seen eats entire tanks of fish when he wasn’t even hungry.” With a sweet smile still painted on Ripple’s face, the dolphin explains how she won’t let a shark spoil her happiness, the main message of this story.

Ripple invites Bob to play but Bob says “he is just a bite-sized fish trying to make it in the world.” Ripple replies, “Oh, my friend, it’s not my size or speed that makes me powerful or brave. It’s my mindset! I believe that my behavior matters. And today I choose to be happy.”

 

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Interior art from How to Make a Shark Smile written by Shawn Achor and Amy Blankson and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, Little Pickle Press ©2020.

 

Snark is illustrated with an angry face swimming above Bob, whose face still displays fear. Ripple’s smile, however, remains constant. Ripple tells Bob she will teach him to play a game with Snark and this game will change Snark’s mindset. See if you think this game sounds familiar. Ripple looks into Bob’s face for seven seconds and tells him to try not to smile. Of course he smiles. The game catches on and soon the entire tank is laughing. That joy catches Snark’s attention, but being born means playing games is not his thing. Ripple challenges him, a deal is struck and Bob steps in to play the smile game with Snark. What ensues is unavoidable delight for the participants and for youngsters.

The colorful drawings depict the fish community coming together as they learn that happiness is a state of mind and a choice that’s up to them. Even outside of the tank the silhouettes of tourists can be seen snapping photos and watching in wonder as a “shark, a blowfish, and a dolphin” play together. Surely this was a sight to see!

The “Ripple effect” could be felt from that day on and the young reader learns that happiness can be a choice. Happy is as happy does! Achor and Blankson, who are both experts on cultivating happiness and have given TED talks on the subject, list helpful ways to develop a positive mindset in the back matter. They recommend fitting one or all of these techniques into your daily routine. This book is a great resource for teachers who are introducing mindfulness into their lesson plans, giving young kids tools they will take with them throughout their lives.

www.MakeaSharkSmile.com

www.littlepicklepress.com

www.sourcebookskids.com

Read another picture book review by Ronda here.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Kids’ Craft Book Review – The Kids’ Book of Paper Love

THE KIDS’ BOOK OF PAPER LOVE
by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst
(Workman Publishing; $19.95, Ages 7-14)

 

Kids Book of Paper Love

 

If you have a child (ages 7-14) who likes to draw, craft, or create, check out The Kids’ Book of Paper Love. It pays homage to paper, that lovely substance we take for granted in our everyday lives. Young kids have art classes aplenty, but, as school becomes more of a focus, cutting and taping, creating and shaping moves aside. Bring it back to the table with this inspirational book.

 

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Excerpted from The Kids’ Book of Paper Love: Write. Craft. Play. Share. by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst (Workman). © 2019. Illustration by Anisa Makhoul.

 

Astrid van der Hulst (of Flow magazine) and Irene Smit’s book is packed with pages to pull out—just being able to tear up a book is a thrill! Find your section (Write, Craft, Play, and Share) and begin. If it’s a fun paper item, chances are it’s in there. Expect colorful pages, pull-outs, punch-outs, and even a three-foot-long “Dare to Dream” banner that magically accordions out. Some of the foldable items are a fortune-teller, box with lid, and very cool geometric bowl.

 

TKBOPL Finished penciltoppers
Excerpted from The Kids’ Book of Paper Love: Write. Craft. Play. Share. by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst (Workman). © 2019. Illustration by Anisa Makhoul.

 

Stash away several copies of The Kids’ Book of Paper Love for those birthday gifts that sneak up on you. The book’s relatively small size packs surprises and is sure to please a wide variety of kids because it’s something different that can be used over and over again. One of my favorite pages is a template and instructions on how to make paper beads. Like many items, the beads are pleasingly simple. Finding one gem is satisfying, but having 180 pages of them is sheer delight. Channel your inner DIYer and have a blast—and don’t forget to include your kid too!

 

Click here to read about another recommended craft book.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Sweet Tamales for Purim

SWEET TAMALES FOR PURIM

Written by Barbara Bietz

Illustrated by John Kanzler

(August House Little Folk; $8.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Sweet Tamales book cover

 

 

Purim is just around the corner! To celebrate this joyful Jewish festival in the 19th century, people of various backgrounds traveled by horse and buggy, and some by train, in Sweet Tamales for Purim, written by the award-winning team of writer Barbara Bietz and illustrator John Kanzler. This delightful and diverse picture book tells the story of a community coming together to combine cultural and religious traditions in a small southwestern town. 

Kanzler’s illustrations of the bright blue sky and drawings of characters dressed in clothes from the 1800s introduce the reader to a time long ago reminding us that family traditions remain. The excitement on our main character Rebecca’s face is shown as she places Purim Party posters on the town walls, with her best friend Luis and her goat Kitzel, as old men from the town look on.

 

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Interior spread from Sweet Tamales for Purim written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, August House ©2020.
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“We wear costumes on Purim,” Rebecca explains to Luis as her mother sews a crown of flowers for her head. Luis is not familiar with Purim “since his family celebrates different holidays from mine.” Bietz changes settings taking the reader through the story of the Evil Haman who plotted to harm the Jews in the city of Shushan. Through chalkboard drawings, Rebecca shows Luis Queen Esther’s Uncle Mordecai and Haman’s plot. Luis learns how the Jewish people were saved.

“When someone says Haman’s name during Purim, there’s lots of booing and shouting,” Rebecca explains to Luis. “Rebecca, can I bring my maracas?” Luis asked. “Maracas are perfect for Purim. Together, we’ll make lots of noise.”

After removing the delicious smelling sweet treat of hamantaschen from the oven, Luis and Rebecca go outside to play marbles. The story takes an unexpected turn when both Kitzel the goat and the hamantaschen go missing! (If you have a pet you probably figured this part out by now.) Purim was ruined, but Rebecca was determined to fix it. The reader anxiously turns the page to a new family tradition as Luis’s mama introduces us to her family’s tradition of Sweet Tamales. “Sweet Tamales for Purim!”

“When the husks were soft, Luis showed me how to spread the mixture on the corn husks and fill them with raisins and more sugar and cinnamon. His mama steamed the tamales in a giant pot.”

 

 

Sweet Tamales Spread 20-21
Interior spread from Sweet Tamales for Purim written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, August House ©2020.

 

Bietz’s descriptive words and Kanzler’s real-life drawings welcome the reader into a time long ago. Adults and children alike see what happens when we all come together through kindness in both the past and the present. This beautifully told story about two children from different backgrounds is a great read about inclusion and reminds us how beautiful a town can be when people come together as one. Eating both hamantaschen and sweet tamales on Purim is a great idea! The Author’s Note explains the story of the late pioneers who settled in the Southwest where life was lonely and isolated. Bietz explains how her story was inspired by a true event that occurred in 1886 when the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society of Tucson, Arizona, planned a Purim Ball for the entire community. I learned something I did not know about Purim in the 1800s. I know this will be a great read for both Jewish and non-Jewish children.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – Mulan: Before The Sword

MULAN: BEFORE THE SWORD
by Grace Lin
(Disney-Hyperion; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Mulan: Before The Sword cover

 

As much as I love fables, prior to reading Mulan: Before the Sword, my knowledge of Hua Mulan’s story came mainly from movie trailers. Grace Lin’s middle-grade prequel blew me away. I’m a fan of Lin’s prior best-selling middle-grade trilogy and her picture books, so I was expecting to really like this book; instead, I loved it. The fast-paced story is balanced by gorgeous prose, bringing legendary Asian history to life. Lin’s writing beautifully blends myth, action, and suspense. The opening line, “She disliked it when they transformed into spiders” had me hooked. The story’s viewpoints shift between the plotting, treacherous villains and Mulan’s adventure to save her sister Xiu’s life (she’s succumbing to a poisonous bite from the evil nine-legged spider).

Mulan tries to suppress her adventurous nature and struggles to be a more restrained daughter. Contrarily, Xiu exemplifies all the “right” female traits. Yet, Mulan’s abilities allow her to set off on a quest with the legendary Jade Rabbit where she begins to realize that, just maybe, she’s exactly who she needs to be.

It’s easy to care about Mulan and root for her to save the day. The characters and scenery come alive and tension builds as setbacks delay their progress. En route, Mulan learns of the prophecy that a member of her family is destined to, one day, save the Emperor. Figuring that person must be Xiu, Mulan risks her life, sacrificing for the greater good. Yet, all is not as it seems and this tale wends its way to an amazing conclusion. Mulan, a powerful warrior, also finds compassion for her adversaries.

Lin’s Author Note provides interesting historical detail; Mulan may have been a real person, the first know mention of her was in a fourth-century folk song, “The Ballad of Mulan.” Today, Mulan continues to be a cherished character as Lin skillfully adds another layer to the saga.

Click here to read a terrific interview by Christine with Grace Lin at SCBWI’s Kite Tales of Southern California’s Tri-Regions.

 

 

Click here to read another MG book review by Christine.

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An Interview With Artie Bennett – Author of The True Story of Zippy Chippy

MEET ARTIE BENNETT

AUTHOR OF THE NEW NONFICTION PICTURE BOOK

THE TRUE STORY OF ZIPPY CHIPPY:

THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULDN’T

 

Zippy Chippy hi res cover

 

 

What a treat it was to read Artie Bennett’s new picture book biography, The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t (NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8) with illustrations by Dave Szalay! Bennett, who’s best known for his humorous picture books in verse, hit the daily double by bringing out both the humor and humanity (equus-ity?) in this charming tale of a horse destined for fame, but not the winning races kind. You’ll no doubt be champing at the bit for a chance to read Zippy Chippy’s story after my interview with Artie Bennett below.

SUMMARY

Zippy Chippy is descended from the leading legends of horse racing. He is destined for greatness and glory.

But . . . when the starting bell rings, it’s anybody’s guess what Zippy will do. Will Zippy go for a gentle trot around the track or stop and smell the roses? Or, perhaps, never even leave the starting gate?!

 

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Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t     written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

With mischief in his makeup, he’s known to stick his tongue out at people and chew up the hats of passersby. And he’s always trying to break out of his stall. What’s an owner to do? Try and try again! After all, he believes in Zippy—and, besides, the horse is now a part of the family. But as Zippy’s losses mount, a funny thing happens. People start to take notice of the hapless, cupcake-eating horse. Could it be that they’re betting on Zippy to win?

This remarkable story of the famed racehorse who lost every race is sure to win your heart!

Q+A

Good Reads With Ronna: Artie, this picture-book biography is like nothing else you’ve written before. What motivated you to pursue this horse’s tale and diverge from your funny nonfiction writing in verse?

Artie Bennett: Yes, you’re right, Ronna. This one is very different. I like to say it’s a horse of a different color for me. For one thing, it was something of an experiment to see if I could write in prose. I wasn’t sure myself. My five previous picture books (The Butt Book, Poopendous!, Peter Panda Melts Down!, Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!, and What’s Afoot! Your Complete, Offbeat Guide to Feet) are all in inspired verse. And I’m quite comfortable writing that way. I’ve worked hard to make the verses sing. I constantly tinker, and then when I’m finally satisfied, I tinker some more. But I knew I would have to take a different tack to write the tale of this remarkable horse. I had to transcend my impulse to rhyme. Curiously, the fact that Zippy Chippy’s own name rhymes may have drawn me to the subject, as well as helped to satisfy my itch to versify.

It was serendipity that drew me to the tale. I stumbled upon a newspaper article about the horse and knew right away that this story would resonate with young readers, just as it resonated with me. And after visiting the retired racehorse at his home in upstate New York, I was never more certain. Youngsters will identify with Zippy Chippy. He may have lost every single one of the 100 races he ran (Zippy won zip), but in the process, he became a folk hero, just like his champion ancestors. Zippy teaches us that just being in the game is enough. And he reminds us that sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses.

 

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Interior art from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

GRWR: Aside from being one of the losingest horses in racing history, what else did you learn about Zippy Chippy during your research that made you care about sharing his story?

AB: I was drawn to his quirkiness and his mischievous nature. And there was our shared love of ice cream, though I don’t know if he’s a three-scooper, like me! Free-spirited Zippy Chippy was always breaking out of his stall to go for a nice gallop. He was quite volatile in his youth and often ornery. He was known to kick and bite. He would even try to bite the other horses at the finish line. People were afraid to be around him. In fact, after Felix Monserrate, his third owner, acquired him, he greeted Felix with a sharp bite on the back. But despite being a terror to his handlers—which included the farrier, who fit Zippy with shoes—Zippy was always gentle and loving with Felix’s young daughter, Marisa. Once, eight-year-old Marisa went missing. Felix searched everywhere and finally found her in Zippy’s stall, being nuzzled by the temperamental horse, though the area was off limits to most everyone for safety’s sake. Zippy would blossom under the loving guidance of Felix, and he developed a strong familial bond with Marisa.

There were so many interesting aspects to Zippy Chippy’s story. One was how he happened to acquire his singsongy name. Another wonderful anecdote was how Felix had set up an exhibition race between his horse and a minor-league outfielder. His hope was that a victory, any victory, would boost Zippy’s morale. But the fleet-footed ballplayer bested Zippy in the forty-yard sprint.

Zippy Chippy is a model of determination and stick-to-itiveness. He raced until he was fifteen years old, giving it his all, whereas many racehorses retire by age four. There was a time, earlier in Zippy’s racing career, when Felix tried to retire him, but Zippy wouldn’t hear of it. He became crestfallen and stopped eating. Though defeat never disheartened Zippy, retirement did. Felix had to bring him back to the track for his own well-being. Because the horse was descended from so many legendary racehorses, including Man o’ War, Bold Ruler, War Admiral, Buckpasser, and Northern Dancer, racing was in his blood. He just wasn’t terribly good at it.

When I learned that Zippy Chippy was still alive, though quite ancient by horse standards, I made it my goal to write his story—and find a publisher—before the horse passed. This became something of a horse race, too. I’m so happy to note that Zippy, who will be 29 years old in April 2020, is still with us, lovingly looked after at Old Friends at Cabin Creek Farm, as the book publishes. I wanted the book to be a tribute to a living, breathing legend, not a eulogy. And I’m hoping that youngsters who are as moved by his story as I was may even pay him a visit.

GRWR: Your trademark sense of humor shines through many aspects of recounting this fascinating true story. Was it difficult to balance that with certain serious aspects of Zippy Chippy’s life and unsuccessful racing career?

AB: That’s a wonderful question. Yes, it was a balancing act. And it took me a while to find just the right tone. Writing in prose helped. Verse seems to invite mirth and laughter, but prose can be sober-sided. I had to rein in my sense of humor, for there are serious dimensions to the story. There’s a poignancy here that would be undermined by humor—how Zippy Chippy escaped the slaughterhouse by the skin of his teeth. But a touch of humor does uplift the tale. I love how Dave Szalay’s marvelous illustrations strike just the right balance, too, with many touching, memorable images.

 

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Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.


GRWR:
Can you explain the appeal of a horse who’d rather stop and smell the roses instead of competing against other horses, a dark horse, so to speak, for winning hearts, not races?

AB: I think Zippy Chippy is the quintessential Everyman, or Everyhorse, and therein lies his appeal. Few of us are blessed with exceptional athletic prowess, yet we still love to compete, to play the game. Zippy continued to run—and continued to love it!—even as he was amassing a rather lopsided won-loss record. But as his losses mounted, Zippy became a star attraction. And his oddball behavior just added to his appeal. Ever unpredictable, he would occasionally succumb to “dwelling,” failing to leave the starting gate at the sound of the bell. What was extraordinary was that later in his career, the horse often ran as the favorite to win, according to the betting line, despite his protracted lack of success. Racing fans were pulling for him. Spectators would besiege Felix for his autograph. Zippy had developed a cult following. He was the ultimate underdog. Horses are very intuitive animals and can pick up on people’s emotions, so Zippy would have known, and rejoiced, if he had won.

GRWR: For 15 years, Felix, Zippy Chippy’s owner, kept entering the unmotivated horse in races. That had to have been so frustrating for him. Why do you think he persisted?

AB: Yes, it must have been. But he was the horse’s biggest champion. He believed in Zippy with all his heart and felt, when he acquired the horse, that he would be the one to bring out the horse’s dormant greatness. Part of why he persisted was because he couldn’t disappoint the horse. We saw how Zippy spiraled into depression when Felix tried to retire him earlier in his career. And because he loved Zippy, he couldn’t let the horse down. He was also an eternal optimist and may have felt that the next race would be the one that Zippy would win, the one that would drape them both in glory. So there would always be one more race. And Zippy was actually highly motivated, though his idiosyncrasies might sometimes interfere with his motivation.

GRWR: What would you like young readers to take away from this picture book?

AB: I would love young readers to find inspiration in this book, but also acceptance. Inspiration can be found in the arc of Zippy’s story, as his popularity grew and grew from such inauspicious beginnings, despite his pedigree. He would even be featured in People magazine, though he was posed alongside a tortoise. Acceptance in the fact that we aren’t all blessed with the same gifts—and that’s okay, too. We need to accept our limitations, just as we celebrate our strengths. As Felix says, “Not everyone can be a winner.” But the important thing is to try. That’s where true courage lies.

 

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Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

GRWR: Has this experience motivated you to try your hand at more nonfiction in prose?

AB: Yes indeed. Though my first love will always be writing in verse, it’s not my only love. In fact, I’ve an idea for another crackerjack children’s biography, also with a protagonist ripe for revival. I’m doing research as we speak. But I also have ideas for more books in verse, so I hope to be moving back and forth between worlds. Additionally, I have two riotously funny joke and riddle books out (The Universe’s Greatest School Jokes and Rip-Roaring Riddles and The Universe’s Greatest Dinosaur Jokes and Pre-Hysteric Puns), so when I’m bubbling over with jokes (Knock, knock . . .) and riddles, there’s always that outlet.

GRWR: Is there anything else I haven’t asked that you’d like to add?

AB: Because I’m a word lover, I’ve tried to use a rich, creative vocabulary in telling the story. You’ll find words like “rambunctious,” “shenanigans,” “wafting,” “ballyhooed,” and much more, words that are evocative and fun to say. I hope young readers will make these words their own. And lastly, I want to thank you, Ronna, so very much for giving me the opportunity to share this captivating story. I’m deeply appreciative.

GRWR: Right back at you, Artie. I learned so much from your thoughtful replies and hope everyone makes tracks to pick up a copy of The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t to find out more about this truly unique horse.

ABOUT ARTIE

Artie Bennett at bridge
Children’s Book Author Artie Bennett

Artie Bennett is an executive copy editor by day and a writer by night. He is the author of an inspiring picture-book biography of a hapless, though beloved, horse: The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t. He is also the author of a quintet of hilarious rhyming picture books: The Butt Book, his first “mature” work and winner of the Reuben Award; Poopendous!, his “number two” picture book; Peter Panda Melts Down!, an adorable departure from derrières and doo; the explosively funny Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!; and his latest, What’s Afoot! Your Complete, Offbeat Guide to Feet, which is guaranteed to knock your socks off. And if that’s not enough, he’s the author of two riotous joke and riddle books: The Universe’s Greatest Dinosaur Jokes and Pre-Hysteric Puns and The Universe’s Greatest School Jokes and Rip-Roaring Riddles.

He and his wife, Leah, live deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York, where he spends his time moving his car to satisfy the rigorous demands of alternate-side-of-the-street parking and shaking his fist at his neighbors. The Show Me Librarian says: “Bennett’s use of rhyme is excellent; his stanzas flow and exude joviality in a manner that few writers since Dr. Seuss have truly mastered. Simply put, these books are a joy.” The Huffington Post says: “It appears there is no topic Mr. Bennett can’t make funny and educational.” Visit ArtieBennett.com . . . before someone else does!

Want to read more of Artie’s books? Here’s a link to my review of a personal fave.

 

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