California Poppies and the Super Bloom
by Lisa Kerr
Illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun
(West Margin Press; $17.99; Ages 4-8)
From seed to “super bloom,” debut author, Lisa Kerr, introduces readers to the California desert poppy in a combination of lyrical and expository nonfiction text. From the publisher: “A lyrical ode to California’s most treasured wildflower, Wake, Sleepy One gently captures the quiet strength of the poppy in all its breathtaking wonder.”
As the sleepy poppy wakes, it “rises” from the ground “reaching” for the sun and “waiting” for her time to shine. This “tiny dancer” swirls and twirls in the breeze as it is joined by hundreds of other waking seeds in a rare natural phenomenon of the desert super bloom.
Lisa Powell Braun’s charming artwork supports Kerr’s spare text and offers a variety of reading options for this book. The youngest of listeners will be able to grasp the story’s concept and watch the poppy “wake…rise…reach…wait…unfold…dance” and “shimmer” with a simple reading of each page’s single italicized line. Preschool and kindergarten listeners will delight in the added emotional tension of the entire main text, while older readers will appreciate the facts in Kerr’s nonfiction sidebars.
Two full spreads of stellar backmatter add to its usability in the classroom, and make this a perfect resource for learning about desert landscapes!
- Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
Written and illustrated by Bob Staake
(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
This is the time of year when many people attend graduations. And not just high school and college graduations. They go to all kinds of graduations from kindergarten to massage school and lots more in between. But the road taken may have been long and winding with obstacles and indecisiveness. And what of the road ahead? That’s why it’s so lovely to have a book such as The Path by Bob Staake that celebrates the journey as much as the accomplishment. In other words, this book is ideal not just for the graduate, but for celebrating individuality as well.
Acclaimed New Yorker cover artist and author and/or illustrator of more than 50 books, Bob Staake brings readers both young and old a picture book that simply and gorgeously addresses the highs and lows of life’s pathways. They are not always straightforward.
Written in second person, the prose does not always promise that things will be easy and that’s the honesty that appeals to me. It’s also how Staake’s stunning illustrations and color palette convey this message. The path doesn’t always lead to ribbons and rainbows. But as things begin looking up for the traveler, the colors begin to lighten up, too.
This is a picture book about possibilities. It’s not just about the path we choose but about our outlook, and our perspective. I think reading The Path together with kids can help them not only look at what choices exist but it can also help them understand what taking each one will mean, and how to forge their own unique way in the world. What a super conversation starter for parents, caregivers, and teachers about self-reliance at an age when children are beginning to assert their independence.
Find an exclusive bonus print from Bob Staake inside the jacket.
VIOLET AND THE CRUMBS:
A Gluten-Free Adventure
Written by Abigail Rayner
(North/South Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Success has never tasted so good!
The dynamic duo of I Am a Thief by Abigail Rayner (author) and Molly Ruttan (illustrator) have created a new picture book sure to spark conversations about this timely issue.
Violet used to love birthday parties, but now that she has celiac disease, she’s not allowed to eat pizza, cake, or anything else with gluten. Violet feels alone until she discovers that some animals have dietary restrictions as well. While standing up for her animal friends, she realizes she can do the same for herself. And when it’s time to celebrate Violet’s birthday, there isn’t a single gluten-containing crumb in sight!
Filled with pluck and humor, this informative story provides a great opportunity to discuss this increasingly common condition with children who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance as well as those who know people who have it and are seeking to learn more about it.
This book has been approved by the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Watch the trailer and hear about illustrator Molly Ruttan’s experiences working on Violet on the North/South blog.
Click here to find Violet teacher resources including activities and coloring pages.
INTERVIEW WITH MOLLY RUTTAN
Molly Ruttan: Before I start, I want to thank you for featuring me on your amazing blog, Ronna! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my new book!
GoodReadsWithRonna: I’m happy to be able to showcase you and your artwork here today and I appreciate that, in the midst of all your promotion, you made time to answer these questions.
GRWR: What would you say, as an author-illustrator with several books under your belt, is the biggest challenge when illustrating someone else’s manuscript as compared to your own? Is the approach the same?
MR: As an author-illustrator, the process of working with the text and the pictures at the same time feels very natural to me. When I work with a manuscript someone else has written, I shift my process a bit. Jumping into a manuscript that someone else has written is like diving into the deep water, as opposed to wading out there. But the deep dive is part of the joy, and as I work on mapping out the book and making the little dummies I begin to develop a solid connection to it. The connection becomes even stronger as I go through the process of finding the characters. By the time I have all the characters and their setting, and I have begun the full-size book dummy, I have become so familiar with the story that the process feels very much the same from that point forward. Of course, not being able to touch the words can sometimes be frustrating, but I have found that often it will push me to dig for visual solutions that are extremely satisfying to find.
GRWR: Was there much research involved about celiac disease before you could begin your sketches?
MR: I didn’t have to do a lot of research about celiac disease beforehand because, being somewhat gluten-intolerant myself, I knew enough about it to get started. Abigail Rayner, being the author and celiac-disease expert, reviewed my drawings along the way and made helpful suggestions. Our editor worked closely with the Celiac Disease Foundation, including sending the final draft of the book to them for review. And since NorthSouth Books is an international publisher and a German version of the book is also being released in DACH (Germany, Austria & Switzerland,) European gluten-free guidelines were also verified. For my own part, the end pages required the most research ahead of time, as I wanted to depict the grains and different plants as accurately & specifically as possible.
GRWR: How would you describe the particular technique that you use for illustrating? Please tell us how you achieved the look of the gluten clouds that accompany the crumbs!
MR: I would describe my technique as a wonderfully messy collaboration between traditional and digital media! I work with charcoal and pastel on watercolor and other papers. I use a charcoal pencil for the drawings, pastels for the color, and charcoal stencils for the gradation, shading and textures. Naturally, charcoal and pastel dust gets everywhere as I scan (I don’t spray my drawings because of a slight allergy to the fixative). Then the less-messy part of the process starts as I wipe down my scanner and paint digitally in Photoshop. I love the blend of charcoal linework and texture with the pastel color & texture I can create this way. Sometimes I also add liquid acrylic washes and texture as well. I love working traditionally but I also love all the options working digitally provides.
To create the gluten clouds that accompany the crumbs throughout the book, I used a slightly advanced photoshop technique. I scanned in all the stenciled swirly shapes I had created with charcoal-like I usually do, but then I colorized them using the channels. I love this technique – it gives me incredible flexibility because I can make the charcoal any color I want! And I love how the pastel and charcoal textures merge.
GRWR: What gave you the idea to make the evil gluten crumbs into characters?
MR: What—do you mean to tell me crumbs aren’t really alive?? Haha, seriously though… the idea to make the crumbs into characters was a collaboration. There was an art note in the manuscript suggesting “evil crumbs moving between food items via hands”, and my wonderful editor, (who I had worked with before on my first book with Abigail Rayner, I am a Thief!) remembered how I had animated the jewel I had done for that book and suggested I could do something similar with the crumbs in this book. What the crumbs looked like was obviously up to me, and I decided it would be more fun to make them grumpy, argumentative and disgruntled rather than straight up evil– I wanted to have more variety of expression, and I didn’t want them to be too scary.
GRWR: Did you always imagine Violet in a super-hero type outfit?
MR: In the text, Violet “takes desperate measures to defy the crumbs at school”, and there was an art note suggesting that she makes some sort of ridiculous protective suit. Since I had the idea to make crumb “clouds”, I gave her a suit based on rain gear, including an umbrella. But I felt something was still missing—so in my doodles, I spontaneously added a cape, and Violet’s superhero avatar sprung into being! I loved this solution because it freed me to play with her as that identity as she helps her animal friends. It also perfectly emphasized her heroic journey. I often find that the spontaneous solutions that come to me through drawing are the most fun and rewarding!
GRWR: You capture the expressions on Violet’s face and her body language so well. Does this process take a long time until you feel you get it right?
MR: Some drawings fall into place and others take a long time, but I usually get the gist of what I want right away in sketches, and then refine the expressions & poses when I make final drawings. When I’m drawing, I catch myself unconsciously making faces that match the expressions I’m drawing – this is when I’m grateful that I work alone, haha! I like getting into the position and acting out what I’m trying to draw too. It helps me feel what the characters are experiencing and helps the drawing of it.
GRWR: Were the beautiful and info-filled illustrated endpapers your idea? It’s great how in the front you depict foods containing gluten and in the back, you show which grains, starches, or flours can be part of a gluten-free diet.
MR: Thank you! I really enjoyed illustrating the end pages! I knew from the beginning that there would be back-matter on the back end pages – originally it was one page for the “About Celiac disease”, and a spread for a recipe and the rest of the information. When my editor saw my sketches, she suggested we would drop the recipe and spread out all the information across the two end-page spreads. I loved this idea, and we decided it would be fun to separate the gluten and gluten-free information to the front and back spreads, just the way the kids separated the food on the picnic table!
GRWR: Can you share with us any new projects you are working on?
MR: I recently submitted all the final art for my next author/illustrated book, Something Wild, published by Nancy Paulsen Books. It’s about stage fright—something I have battled my entire life. The book tells the story of a girl who loves to play her violin but is terrified of the upcoming recital. She imagines all kinds of wild things she wishes would happen to keep her from having to perform. It’s a subject very close to my heart and I’m excited about it! It comes out in a year—April 2023.
I’m currently illustrating another book which I’m also very excited about, written by Stacy Lynn Carroll, called The Yowlers, also published by Nancy Paulsen Books. It’s about a grumpy family who transforms as they experience the joys of goodwill and graciousness under the influence of new, happy neighbors. This book is slated for April 2024.
I also have a very active critique group that keeps me busy with sharing new ideas. I have one book almost ready to go back out on submission. My list of things to work on is always very long!
GRWR: And finally, can you offer aspiring illustrators any word of advice that you got as a beginning illustrator that has stayed with you over the years?
MR: I love the Oscar Wilde quote: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” As a twin, this quote has been particularly helpful for me in all aspects of life! But thinking of this as it applies to my own art has been—and continues to be—also very helpful. It goes along with what my wonderful teacher and mentor Marla Frazee once told our class—that often we tend to think that what comes easy for us isn’t valuable or legitimate because it’s easy. It is just the opposite! Not everyone finds doing whatever that is that you do, easy. Lean into what flows out of you, inspires you, and gives you joy.
GRWR: Thanks so much for all your great answers, Molly. It’s so fascinating to get inside the head of creators!
MR: You are so welcome!! And thank you so much, Ronna, for having me on your fantastic blog! I know you have been through a lot lately, and I really appreciate your taking the time to support me and my new book.
BUY THE BOOK
• Below is a link to order a signed copy from Molly’s local independent bookstore, Once Upon a Time. When ordering, be sure to write in the comments section that you want a signed copy. And if you’d like the book to be personalized, please include the name. The book also comes with a bookmark!
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR
Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the Cooper Union School of Art, New York. She currently lives, works, and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles.
Her titles include her author/illustrator debut, The Stray, from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, and I Am A Thief! along with Violet and the Crumbs by Abigail Rayner for NorthSouth Books. Molly has two additional titles forthcoming with Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency.
FIND MOLLY RUTTAN ONLINE
Facebook: Molly Ruttan
See the cover reveal post here.
The Dog That Never Barked
Written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen
(Familius; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
The picture book, Neverwoof: The Dog that Never Barked, by author-illustrator Gabe Jensen is a delight. No matter how often I read this story, it still makes me laugh. Neverwoof, a charming orange mutt, has an interesting life, going through his days without a sound: “He chased a siren—woo woo woo. / He saved a baby—boo hoo hoo. / He got high-fives from the fire crew. / But never did he woof.” Until the day he seemingly must bark. Does he? I won’t tell beyond saying to expect a plot twist!
Coupled with the spare, rhyming text is Jensen’s fantastic art. The limited color palette effectively uses what he calls “two clashing colors.” Neverwoof’s personality shines through as does his love for his family. My favorite spread comes toward the end when Neverwoof faces his ultimate challenge with a thief known as Stinky Sue—giggling is guaranteed.
The art, like the text, is deceptively simple. Yet, each time I delve into it, I find something new in the background. It may just be the headline on a discarded newspaper or the cat that makes an appearance throughout, however, these details add depth and humor. The book’s smaller size (7 x 10 inches, hardback) fits well in young hands, the debossed cover is fun to touch, and there’s no dust jacket to lose.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success
(www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting,
Written by Julie Merberg
Illustrated by Julie Wilson
(Downtown Bookworks; $11.99, Ages 0-3)
“Can we talk?” If little ones don’t recognize this signature question from the late comedian Joan Rivers, perhaps parents or grandparents reading the board book to them will. Rivers is just one of the more than three dozen famous Jews presented in this board book that I wish I’d written. Told in rhyme, My First Book of Famous Jews written by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Julie Wilson is a fabulous introduction to the talented individuals who have made lasting and significant contributions to science, literature, music, film, politics, and the judiciary—even activism, an important inclusion.
It’s never too soon to start sharing the broad impact Jewish people have made in every field. This book sings the praises of everyone from Anne Frank to Helen Frankenthaler, from Steven Spielberg to Gloria Steinem in their respective categories. Wilson’s vibrant art throughout this 24-page book brings members of the tribe alive, in particular Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Bella Abzug, and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Descriptions of these iconic figures are brief. “EMMA GOLDMAN rallied to help workers unite./ “BERNIE SANDERS said “’Health care is a human right.’” But just enough to make a great introduction and prompt further reading as kids get older.
A helpful page of back matter expands on some of the people mentioned. This board book offers a great jumping-off point for a conversation about Jewish identity and the influence and importance of these famous Jews with children during year-round and especially during Jewish American Heritage Month.
A ROUNDUP OF WHAT’S NEW FOR KIDS
I recommend this sweet, satisfying board book that shines a loving light on Black children enjoying various mother/child activities throughout the course of a day. Told in succinct and spry rhyme, the text allows a parent or caregiver to read at a quick pace or stop with each new scene to discuss what’s happening in the art. Speaking of art, Corrin’s expressive illustrations immediately draw our eyes in so we focus on the joy, and other emotions taking place as different children spend special one-on-one time with their mamas whether that’s making pizza, being given a bath, or getting tucked into bed.
There is so much to like about this picture book from the two-mom parents, a biracial couple, to the beautiful art that is filled with special details, and the loving familial relationship evident on every page. And though not a “Mother’s Day” book per se, it felt right to include it here.
In this story, one parent, Mommy, goes away on a business trip and the child recounts day by day how she misses her from the Sunday departure to the Sunday return a week later. LaCour details little things from a child’s perspective that mark her mom’s absence and how Mama is there to help ease the little girl’s sadness.
Added to that are Juanita’s delightful illustrations that invite lingering. One that is especially touching is when the child has her head down on the kitchen table, uncomfortable that with Mommy gone, she is not in the middle of her parents. Tender moments are conveyed in both art and prose. One very realistic event is when Mommy comes home. Readers will see the girl anticipating her mother’s return and notice that over several spreads her mood seems to go from the excitement of preparing a bouquet to sadness as she recalls how much missing she had done over the week. But after explaining her feelings to her mom, and being validated, the little girl can now once again revel in being back in the middle.
In this rollicking read-aloud (A Proud Partnership between glaad + little bee books) readers are introduced to a variety of moms in a clever take on all kinds of mothering. While the rhyme is not always spot on, the overall theme of the book is hard to resist. Coupled with the lively and diverse characters spread throughout the book in the colorful and expansive art, All Moms is a book I think children will appreciate.
We meet moms who are sporty, moms who are musical, moms who fix cars, moms who are crafty, as well as those who “are early and others are late.” The book depicts moms as bosses, moms as doctors, single moms who “work twice as hard to make our lives fun.” There are dads who give hugs like moms, a grandma and grandson, and moms who “give snuggles. Some play pretend. Some moms read stories or help you make friends.” Since “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to accelerating LGBTQ acceptance,” there’s a terrific spread of a Pride Parade with people carrying rainbow flags, and Equality, Love Has No Limits and Love is Love signs. All Moms is a good reminder that moms come in all shapes, ages, sizes, and colors with assorted interests but most important is that “all moms’ love is as big as the sky.”
See last year’s roundup here.
AUTHOR SOPHIA GHOLZ
ILLUSTRATOR SUSAN BATORI
DISCUSS THEIR NEW PICTURE BOOK
BUG ON THE RUG
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
SUMMARY FROM PUBLISHER:
BUG ON THE RUG – Pug is snug on his rug. But what happens when along comes BUG?! With a claim to the rug?! The two engage in a hysterical, rhyming battle of wits and strength until Slug asks the necessary questions and helps them find common ground. Rhyming is an important developmental reading skill. It teaches phonics (decodable text) and helps young readers infer content. This is a fun story to build those skills–and is an epic read-aloud!
INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIA GHOLZ:
Welcome to GoodReadsWithRonna, Sophia! I’m excited to have you as my guest to learn more about your wonderful new picture book BUG ON THE RUG.
GoodReadsWithRonna: I’ve read that as a child you enjoyed horses. I’m curious where pugs fit into the big picture—was it the rhyming potential, their utter adorableness, or something else?
Sophia Gholz: Thanks, Ronna! I’m excited to be here to celebrate BUG ON THE RUG with you.
I often referred to myself as a “barn rat” as a kid and spent as much time with horses as I could. To this day, the smell of a farm still feels like home. While there were always barn cats, dogs, and a slew of other characters in the mix, there weren’t any barn pugs, unfortunately. My love of little dogs actually came about in adulthood. When I lived in New York City, I had a Brussels Griffon who everyone mistook for a pug. I just adore little foofy pooches and their giant personalities. But pug love aside, the true inspiration behind this book is my younger brother. I have lovingly referred to my little brother as Bug for his entire life. I feel very lucky to call him one of my best friends. But much like Pug and Bug, it took my brother and me a long time (and a few trials) to reach best friend status.
GRWR: Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re a plotter, did you know the whole story before you set out to write it? If you’re a pantser, what was it that motivated you to tell this story and keep at it?
SG: I’m a total panster. I find that if I plot out a story then the story no longer feels fresh and exciting for me. I like to write as a reader—learning something new with each page turn. So, I go off feeling, emotion, and what story I want to read in that moment. This often means heavy (and I mean, HEAVY) revisions later. But that initial excitement and mood is what I try to capture in the first draft and that same feeling is what keeps me going. With that said, I do a lot of mental pre-plotting and generally have a sense of where I want the story to go before I begin. I do sometimes start writing and realize I’m going in the completely wrong direction and have to start over. In those cases, I end up working out some plot issues or character problems before I really get going. But aside from the occasional false start, I don’t usually write anything out before I begin.
GRWR: Did you have as much fun, any LOL moments, writing this story as I had reading it?
SG: My goodness, yes! I had SO much fun writing this book. Like I mentioned above, I try to write as a reader and don’t really plot ahead of time. So, as those words were coming out, I was giggling along as the voyeur. One of the most fun moments I had while writing this was when Pug rethinks his day. I had a great time coming up with a ton of absurd things Pug might have done during his daily routine.
GRWR: I adore a rollicking rhyming read-aloud like yours. Does rhyming come easily for you?
SG: Thank you! Rhyme has always felt natural to me. When I began writing years ago, my first picture book manuscripts were mostly in rhyme. However, I admit that I wasn’t a trained rhymer. Once I really began digging into the varying rules of rhyme and meter, I grew very afraid. I was so scared that I’d unintentionally blow it that I fully stopped rhyming. It’s taken me a few years of practice and determination to come full circle with a rhyming text, and I couldn’t be happier. Rhyme is so much fun to play with and write!
GRWR: You have two new books, both humorous although one is nonfiction. What do you enjoy most about writing in each category?
SG: You know, I don’t really see them as different categories when I write. For me, I try to write nonfiction the same way I write fiction. The only difference is that I have preexisting pieces of the puzzle when I write nonfiction. But I like to write each with the mentality of just having a fun or interesting story to tell. That said, I do enjoy all the cool facts I learn while researching nonfiction subjects. Education never ends!
GRWR: Sophia, this book is an uproarious and engaging approach to teaching phonics to children eager to learn how to read. Was that always your intention or did it just happen organically?
SG: When I first heard BUG ON THE RUG referred to as a great learning tool for emergent readers, I was so happy … and surprised! I did not initially have this in mind when I wrote the book. For me, it was about reading these words out loud and having a ton of fun. I’ve always enjoyed playing with sounds, alliteration, and tongue twisters. This book is a bit of an ode to that. But I understand how important teaching phonics in fun ways is, especially as I’ve helped my own little kiddos learn to read. With that in mind, I truly hope young readers have a great time with this book.
GRWR: Susan’s art captures both the heart and humor of your story. What did you think when and if you saw sketches or finished art? Which is your favorite spread and why?
SG: I am obsessed with Susan’s art! OBSESSED. Fun fact: I’d been eyeing Susan’s work online for a while and was a big fan before we worked together. So, I was thrilled when Sleeping Bear said they thought she would be a great fit for this manuscript. When I saw the initial sketches, I was flipping out. Seriously. Susan’s art is hilarious! Plus, she completely surprised me in the best of ways. For example, I originally envisioned Pug inside his home when I wrote the book. But Susan created the setting outside, and it made so much more sense. Susan added her own hilarious spin to this manuscript, and I feel so lucky to have worked with her. I think my favorite spread is probably the last page. Pug’s expression is priceless!
GRWR: What do you hope young readers will take away from BUG ON THE RUG?
SG: Humor aside, this book is ultimately about empathy, sharing, and taking ownership of our actions. I hope readers can see themselves here and know that people can have disagreements, but still be friends. Owning our mistakes is difficult. But it’s important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, just as it’s important to learn to forgive and move on.
GRWR: What can we expect next?
SG: I’d love to see more of Pug and his friends! In the meantime, A HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER (AND OTHER POTTY TOOLS), illustrated by Xiana Teimoy, is a humorous nonfiction picture book that’ll roll into bookstores this August. Everything else is still top secret for now. Stay tuned!
GRWR: Thank you, Sophia. It’s been delightful chatting with you. I wish you and Susan much success with BUG ON THE RUG.
INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BATORI:
Welcome to the blog, Susan, and congrats on your latest picture book! I adored DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT! which I also reviewed here so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to ask about your art in BUG ON THE RUG.
GoodReadsWithRonna: I immediately noticed the lovely European-like city and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Did you set this story in Budapest where you live and if so, why?
Susan Batori: Sadly there are no snow-capped mountains in Budapest. Originally, the story written by Sophia, was set in a small Swiss town. That is why I drew small, red roof European-ish houses and you can find a cable car which is often seen in Switzerland. The story was rewritten later but we decided to keep the drawings with the Swiss landscape.
GRWR: When you read Sophia’s manuscript, what were your thoughts about how you wanted to illustrate the story?
SB: When I read Sophia’s manuscript I fell in love with it at the first glance. I felt this is my story too because I love the funny and witty tales, these are very inspiring and so easy to illustrate. After reading the manuscript I immediately saw the pictures, compositions, and the characters in my head. There was a little challenge because of the disparity of sizes of the pug and the bug, but I hope I solved it well.
GRWR: What medium did you use to create the illustrations and was there anything about the story that influenced your decision?
SB: I work on a computer and a digital tablet. I love them because they make my work much easier and the publishers like it too. It makes work simple. Besides I can imitate the aquarell feeling, paper textures, and the brush strokes. My digital illustrations are often mistaken for a “real” drawing.
GRWR: What is your process like from when you receive a new manuscript to submitting final art?
SB: After reading the manuscript I use the internet for finding help about the characters or the background. In this case, I started to search pug videos. I try to figure out what kind of things make a pug a pug, or a slug a slug. I mean how they move or sit, what their colors are, what if I draw a smaller nose or shorter legs to them … etc. This is a very useful activity and it entertains me. So I start sketching the characters and show them to the client. Next, I design the composition of the pages and with the publisher, we try to find the best solutions. Then I am ready for coloring where I try to deliver some kind of atmosphere or feeling. In this book, I wanted to illustrate a summer-mountain feeling with a lot of greens. If everyone is happy with the colored pages I send them to the art director. That’s all. Easy peasy. :)
GRWR: The dynamic of the character interaction cracks me up, especially when slug shows up. Was any particular character, Pug, Bug, or Slug, especially fun to work with?
SB: Haha! Yes, Slug is really a funny character. It was interesting because in each book I illustrated there was a character who was my favorite but here all three were my favorites. They have their own humorous personality.
GRWR: I loved your art in Robin Newman’s DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT!, and love it here, too. I see a common thread of a humorous conflict and sweet resolution in both stories. Do you enjoy illustrating humorous picture books? Are there any challenges you must consider?
SB: Aww, thank you! Somehow I am very good at illustrating feelings, especially humorous actions and facial expressions. I just LOVE working on hilarious books or stories, and drawing funny animals is my favorite job. It makes me happy and I believe if I am happy while I am working on these, the children will be happy too while they are reading them.
I wouldn’t be a good illustrator without humour.
GRWR: Do you have a favorite spread?
The first page when Pug hugs his rug, I find it so cute.
Then there is the “rug-fight” scene. This is the most dynamic page in the book.
And I just love the very last page when everyone is on the rug. I think that is very funny.
GRWR: Any plans to write and illustrate your own books?
SB: I have a few ideas but there is no time for them … yet. ;)
THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT QUESTIONS!
GRWR: Thank you for making us smile!
Sophia Gholz is a children’s book writer, music lover, avid reader,
and the award-winning author of The Boy Who Grew a Forest and
Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter! She lives in Orlando, Florida.
Susan Batori’s books include Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt and
Letters from Space. She worked in advertising before switching to
children’s book illustration. Susan lives in Budapest, Hungary.
This blog will be on hiatus due to the sudden passing of Ronna’s beloved father.
There will be intermittent posts that were scheduled prior to these sad, unforeseen circumstances, however, at this time we will not resume a regular schedule of reviews until sometime in May.
Thank you for your patience and understanding at this difficult time.
Written & illustrated by Julie Koon
(Kind World Publishing; $18.99; Ages 4-8)
From the publisher: Sometimes things are really tough. It’s just too hard. You’ve had enough. Grumble, rumble, bump and roar, the struggle bus is at your door. [The Struggle Bus] is a must-have picture book for any reader struggling with new experiences and managing emotions … Incorporating her experience as an elementary school counselor, Koon uses the accessible theme of vehicles to make this social-emotional concept perfect for the preschool and early elementary crowd. It’s also a great tool for caregivers to start conversations with children about acknowledging difficult feelings and facing fears.
From the inside of a grumbly-rumbly bus, readers travel through the process of helpless overwhelm to joyous triumph in this rhyming, growth-mindset picture book from debut author-illustrator, Julie Koon.
Koon’s muted color palette soothes as she tackles the unsure (and at times overwhelming) feelings a child encounters when facing new challenges and learning we all “have what it takes to do hard things.” A repeated refrain invites the youngest listeners into the storytelling while ample back matter offers teachers and caregivers more information to use during classroom or at-home discussions. A delightful debut for both author and publisher, The Struggle Bus is a wonderful addition to the school SEL library.
- Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
A Roundup of Recommended Reads
BAKE, MAKE & LEARN TO COOK: Fun & Healthy Recipes for Young Cooks
Written by David Atherton
Illustrated by Rachel Stubbs
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 5-9)
Bake, Make & Learn to Cook: Fun & Healthy Recipes for Young Cooks by David Atherton is an enjoyable but thorough first cookbook for elementary-schoolers. The wide range of appealing recipes is explained in easy-to-follow boxes of information. Recipes include kid-friendly foods such as pancakes, pizzas, and cake. I like how some weave in animal elements. For example, Banana Bear Pancakes, Octo-Pizzas, and Hummus Lion. It doesn’t take much extra work to elevate a seemingly standard recipe to something exciting.
Kids will enjoy exploring recipes such as Edible Chia Bowls, Happy Curry, and Zingy Cake Squares (lemon adds the “zing”). I appreciate new-to-me ideas such as making your own hot dogs (Veggie Hot Dogs) and the clever concept of serving soup from a teapot (Teapot Soup). Other personal favorites include Sweet and Spicy Dip (with sweet potato, garlic, tahini, lime, and spices) and the adorably tasty Crunchy Hedgehogs (a variation of twice-cooked potatoes with tuna, cheese, and peas coated with bread crumbs).
Care is taken throughout to convey information in a way that’s simple to grasp. The upbeat art by Rachel Stubbs helps further explain the directions and provides a pleasant, visual element. I would recommend this cookbook without hesitation for young cooks and their adult helpers
THE COMPLETE COOKBOOK FOR YOUNG SCIENTISTS:
70+ Recipes and Experiments for Every Young Chef (Young Chefs Series)
by America’s Test Kitchen
(America’s Test Kitchen Kids; $19.99, Ages 8+)
For science-minded kids or anyone looking to better understand the whys of cooking and baking, The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists has the answers! It’s beautifully laid out with full-color photos throughout and fun experiments leading into recipes that put the science into delicious use. When I saw the cover (which features an unreal-looking cake with a gelatinous black, purple, and teal icing), I knew I had to get this book and learn how to make that recipe—it’s a showstopper.
Adults will enjoy this book much as kids because there’s much to learn. I’ve made berry muffins for years and didn’t realize that the addition of yogurt creates a lighter, fluffier texture, or that adding baking soda when caramelizing onions enhances the sweetness. The Edible Spheres recipe blew my mind: using gelatin plus a flavoring (even hot sauce works!) makes tiny boba-size spheres form because of the reaction between oil and water.
If you’re looking to perfect a cookie or cake recipe, this book’s tips will surely get you there. I like the experiment where you make two batches of cookies, one using white sugar and the other using brown sugar. The results clearly show how swapping out just one ingredient makes a big difference in taste, texture, and thickness.
Questions that kids would ask start out the chapters. Some examples include: Can you tell the difference between crispy and crunchy? Why do spices have so much flavor? Why do the different parts of the chicken taste and look different? Answers are provided in a way that’s easy to understand and thorough, involving hands-on experiments where kids test their theories.
This book is the fourth in the Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs series and it does not disappoint. While marketed for a middle-grade audience, the content is also relevant for elementary-schoolers who love to be in the kitchen (or the lab!) and has enough fascinating information to hold the attention of teens and adults. My copy has been well-used in the short time I’ve had it. I’m on board for America’s Test Kitchen’s upcoming Teen Chefs book (March 2022) because this series is terrific.
Let’s Make Dumplings! is the latest comic-style cookbook from the successful duo, Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan. If you enjoyed their ramen book, this one is just as great. What sets these books apart is that they read like a graphic novel. Full-color panels that convey each recipe’s directions in a new and creative manner, making the content accessible to a wide range of readers. Varying skill levels are accommodated and the cookbook can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Who doesn’t love Asian dumplings?! Gyoza, potstickers, wontons, rangoon—yum! With so many shapes and fillings, the options are endless once you master the basics. After a bit of “dumpling lore,” the book begins logically with pantry, equipment, and an explanation of the different wrappers. I was excited to see a recipe for the dough since kids may just think wrappers come from the store!
Learn to make a variety of fillings (meat, vegetarian, even dessert styles) and different methods of sealing the delicious ingredients inside the wrapper. Finish by pan-frying, steaming, or even deep-drying such as for sesame balls). A new-to-me recipe that I particularly enjoyed was the Num Kom (Sweet Cambodian Rice Dumplings) which are filled with coconut and sesame seeds, then steamed in a banana leaf-lined basket.
And don’t forget about the ever-popular baozi. A comprehensive chapter explains how to make these delightful buns. Begin with the well-known steamed pork buns but be sure to move on to also try ones filled with curried beef, kung pao chicken, different kinds of pork, or savory mushrooms.
The final chapter brings it home with a wide range of fabulous sauces that complete the dumpling experience. Some are simply two ingredients: Kewpie mayonnaise and chile sauce. Others play off the sweet-and-sour elements such as the duck sauce made with apricot jam, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and cayenne. I can think of lots of foods I’d like to dip in that!
While this book focuses on Eastern dumplings, I like how the fact that food unites us is stated. A map shows where the recipes come from but the accompanying blurb explains how dumplings span the entire globe. Dumplings “transcend any imagined borders of culture and caste” and “unite us all.” Readers are encouraged to do their own research, travel, and make the recipes their own.
SOURDOUGH BAKING WITH KIDS:
The Science Behind Baking Bread Loaves with Your Entire Family
Written by Natalya Syanova
Photography by Haas and Haas Photography
(Fair Winds Press/Quarto; $24.99, All Ages)
Natalya Syanova’s Sourdough Baking with Kids gives everyone the ability to make this beloved bread. Start at the beginning and carefully read the instructions. Time is needed—ten days or so—to create a viable starter that will then enable you to try many recipes beyond the basic loaf. The photographs by Haas and Haas Photography showcase the many delicious recipes.
Kids will marvel at how simple it all is. The starter consists of only filtered water and flour. Amazingly, it comes to life and maybe bubbles over the side of the jar in response to being fed, or becomes weak when it’s past time to feed it. Facts add to the wonder. For example, the oldest sourdough starter on record was 122 years old; starter can be lovingly passed from generation to generation.
The first recipe is basic (and very delicious) sourdough bread. A beautiful version uses purple corn flour, which gives the loaf a lovely hue. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the Double Chocolate Sourdough Loaf may become a favorite in your household; or perhaps it will be the Sweet S’mores Sourdough Loaf. In chocolate chip cookies, sourdough makes the cookies tender and soft. The starter can also be used in brownies, babka, doughnuts, and more.
If you prefer savory dough, check out the pizza, English muffins, pretzels, bagels, and biscuits. If that’s not enough, there are also recipes for cheddar scones, tortillas, and naan. Once you get going, there really are no limits as to what you can make using your starter.
Each recipe has an enticing, full-color photo. In addition to the ingredients and directions, you’re given helpful notes and a sample schedule so you can plan out the time needed. I like the “fun part” sections because they speak directly to the young bakers. Even if they may not be able to follow a recipe (yet!), they certainly can mix and knead dough, divide dough, press it down, and roll it out.
For more independent baking, this book is best suited for tweens, teens, or adults who possess patience and the ability to follow recipes involving precise measurements and timetables. The investment of time and effort is worthwhile; helping something grow from almost nothing is remarkable. This book bestows a solid foundation to launch readers on their journeys of baking with sourdough.
Popular host of TV’s Jazzy Vegetarian, Laura Theodore, shares delicious recipes and thoughtful advice in Easy Vegan Home Cooking: Over 125 Plant-Based and Gluten-Free Recipes for Wholesome Family Meals. In addition to recipes, you’ll find helpful tips. For example, oat flour can be quickly made from rolled oats creating fresh flour. (Use it in breads, cookies, or other baked goods.) Or, soaked, drained, and blended raw cashews add a clever creaminess.
My favorite recipes included Pecan-Crusted Zucchini Filets. Squash is a go-to in our house; this version adds loads of flavor from the quick dip in mustard and maple syrup and the yummy nut and cornflake coating. Though we love broccoli and tofu, they feel boring at times—but not with this smoky sauce that accompanies Broccoli-Tofu Szechuan Sauté. For dessert, Petite Apple Ramekins with Coconut-Oat Crunch provide a new twist using items I often have on hand. Your family will feel special digging into their individual servings that smell and taste divine.
Beyond useful advice and wonderful recipes (many with accompanying full-color photos), I appreciate Theodore’s heartfelt sentiments about how she chooses a plant-based way of eating because of her compassion for animals, desire for better health, and aim to become more environmentally responsible. She believes that “we can all help save the world—one recipe at a time!”
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success
(www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting,