Written by Diane O’Neill
Illustrated by Brizida Magro
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Part of Albert Whitman & Company’s Social and Emotional Learning collection, Saturday at the Food Pantry by author Diane O’Neill and illustrator Brizida Magro encourages discussions about food insecurity and highlights the truth that all of us need help sometimes.
As their food supply dwindles and Mom pours the last cup of milk to make her special “fancy milk” drink, Molly learns they’ll be visiting a food pantry the next day. “What’s a food pantry?” Molly asks. “It’s a place for people who need food,” Mom answers. “Everybody needs help sometimes.”
In gentle ways, O’Neill and Magro illustrate the characters’ hesitance and anxieties while they wait in line for the pantry to open. Molly sees her classmate, Caitlin, standing in line with her grandmother. To Molly’s surprise, Caitlin expresses feelings of shame for being there. Walking back to her mom, Molly feels confused. Is “there something wrong with needing help?” Once inside, even Mom “look[s] like she want[s] to be invisible.” But Molly reminds her, “Everybody needs help sometimes.” Later, Molly points out to Caitlin ways they themselves helped “cheer up” the grown-ups in the pantry.
Open, honest conversations between Caitlin’s grandmother and Mom about finding and keeping employment allow for a safe space to share. Muted illustrations using straight, geometric lines provide a sense of structure, order, and calm. With minimal background in the settings, Magro allows readers to focus on each individual character, driving home the point: everyone is important, everyone needs help, and most of all, we need each other. A note in the back matter for adults and caregivers about food insecurity by Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, provides additional details on child hunger and resources to help.
Whether in the classroom or family room, readers young and old can benefit from this positive, heartfelt message of hope.
- Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Written and illustrated by Shing Yin Khor
(Kokila; $22.99, Ages 10-14)
Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
★ Starred reviews – Horn Book, Kirkus, School Library Journal
A re-imagined Paul Bunyan legend gives one Chinese American girl
the courage to face adversity.
Thirteen-year-old Mei lives and works in an 1885 Sierra Nevada lumber logging camp in the graphic novel, The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor. Her father, Hao, cooks for the workers, and Mei is famed for her pies. Mei, unlike the other women in the camp, does not wear a dress and is conflicted about her budding sexuality and her feelings towards Bee Anderson, the camp foreman’s daughter.
Within the camp, racial tensions simmer and the Chinese workers face discrimination and violence. Abusive behavior towards women in the camp also adds to an increasingly hostile environment. Camp foreman Hel Anderson, Bee’s father, turns a blind eye to all that is happening.
To help her and the other women and children cope with these injustices, Mei invents a Bunyanesque character, Auntie Po, only she can see. The stories she spins about Auntie Po and her blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, give courage and hope to the others.
Following the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Chinese workers are forced to leave the mill. Mei stays with Bee’s family, but Hao and the other Chinese workers leave to find work in San Francisco. When camp conditions severely deteriorate, Anderson travels to Chinatown to persuade his former workers to return. Hao, mindful of Anderson’s acceptance of the discriminatory conditions, negotiates a better deal for the Chinese workers. Anderson agrees and Hao and the others return to the camp. Father and daughter are reunited.
Author/illustrator Khor’s colorful illustrations authentically capture 19th lumberjacking life, demonstrating the amount of research she did to convey the details of daily life and conditions experienced by the workers and their families. In addition, this graphic novel highlights the art of storytelling and how each story can be shaped or reimagined by the experiences of the teller and the listener.
As the story concludes, Mei and her father decide it’s time for her to go away to school. Mei has also resolved some of her identity issues:
“I know who I am. I am a good cook. I have good friends, I have the best pa in the world” (p. 272).
The author’s endnote and her bibliography contain valuable information, as does her video on how this book came about for anyone who wants to learn more about the legends and history behind this engaging graphic novel. This is truly the middle-grade at its finest.
- Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Loren Long
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $19.99, Ages 5-8)
★Starred Reviews – Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
Lisa Wheeler’s latest picture book, Someone Builds the Dream, uses rhythmic lines to pay homage to the tradespeople who make things happen. For example, behind an architect are the workers who “guide the saws, plane the logs” because “someone needs to pound the nails.”
The structure reveals how tasks are accomplished while recognizing the workforces who labor possibly underappreciated or even unknown. Wheeler’s clever lines fit together like a well-oiled machine. Scenes finish with, “Someone has to build the dream,” drumming that message home, creating anticipation for the next repetition of this phrase.
The acrylics and colored pencil illustrations by Loren Long proudly show a diverse array of people. “Frontline” job positions are supported by those who “set the text, run the press, and load the reams” (for authors) or “tighten bolts, steer the crane, drive machines” (for the scientist creating cleaner energy sources). Long’s art provides a timeless feel and beautifully captures workers in action, bringing the story alive with movement.
This book succeeds on many fronts and would be a welcome addition to homes, schools, and libraries. We see that no one can do it alone and understand the importance of appreciating everyone on the team. Be sure to peek beneath the book jacket for a second cover image. Truly a five-star book in all regards.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez
Written by Larry Dane Brimner
Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez
(Calkins Creek; $18.99, Ages 7-10)
★Starred Review – Kirkus
I could not put down the nonfiction picture book Without Separation because, like the compelling but little-known case presented in the recently reviewed We Want to Go to School, this eye-opening account is about a civil rights case I had never heard about yet think everyone should.
Readers meet Roberto Alvarez on his way to school on January 5, 1931, just after the Christmas break. When the 12-year-old arrived at Lemon Grove Grammar School, “the principal told Roberto and other Mexican and Mexican American children that they did not belong there.” It soon became clear that the children were going to be segregated under the guise that the Mexican children didn’t understand English and were holding back white students.
I was stunned upon reading that the board of trustees of the school district had gone ahead and had another school built to separate these children. On top of that, they did it without telling the Mexican parents. They thought they were avoiding trouble this way but what they were doing was wrong or they would have been more transparent.
They may have thought that by going behind parents’ backs they could get away with their ploy but the inhabitants of the Mexican barrio knew better. Roberto’s parents had told him to come home if he were sent to the new Olive Street School, aka the barnyard.
That fateful morning, Roberto and a large group of other students refused to attend. While the school district tried to spin Olive Street School as a way to help the children learn English and American customs, Roberto, his parents, and other families knew the truth. This was a blatant and seemingly illegal attempt to segregate the students based on race.
Fortunately, the families quickly organized themselves. When they met with the Mexican consul, he connected them with a couple of lawyers to help them. “Roberto brought the situation in Lemon Grove to the attention of the California Superior Court in San Diego on February 13, 1931.” A lawsuit against the board of trustees of the Lemon Grove School District was filed stating how Roberto wanted to go to the same school as the white students, where he’d gone before the new year.
The school board felt overly confident about winning the case because San Diego’s district attorney was on their side, but mistakes were made. The D.A. tried to get the case dismissed but luck was not on his side.
The judge ultimately ruled in favor of Roberto Alvarez who the school district tried to prevent from returning to the local school he’d previously attended. The law said the lead plaintiff (and therefore all the others affected) had every right to attend the Lemon Grove Grammar School “without separation or segregation.” This important case along with several others was cited “before the US Supreme Court when it made its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas) decision of 1954 that outlawed school segregation.” And though the struggle recounted in Without Separation took place almost 91 years ago, the facts surrounding this case feel as relevant today when prejudice against the immigrant communities here in the U.S. continues and racial-based inequalities linger.
Author Brimner has written a timely and terrific book for today’s generation of children to gain greater insight into the power of community, commitment, and the change that even “one small voice” can make. Gonzalez’s gorgeous artwork, reminiscent of Mexican muralists with its bold lines and rich colors, helps bring this story to life.
Eight pages of interesting back matter go into more detail about the case including what happened to the principal Jerome J. Green. There are photos along with information about other similar lawsuits. I was happy to read how Roberto Alvarez became a successful businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist in San Diego before he passed away in 2003. It’s great that this book is available for families, schools, and libraries so readers can have a greater appreciation of the significant impact of Roberto Alvarez v. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
AN INTERVIEW WITH
RUN, LITTLE CHASKI!:
AN INKA TRAIL ADVENTURE
MARIANA RUIZ JOHNSON
(Barefoot Books; $16.99, Ages 3 to 7)
In this tale set in the ancient Inka (sometimes spelled Inca) empire, Little Chaski has a big job: he is the Inka King’s newest royal messenger. On his first day delivering messages he stops to help several creatures in need along the way, causing him to nearly miss his sunset deadline. But the kindness he bestowed on these animals winds up helping him in surprising ways. Descriptive language and bold illustrations give readers insight into Little Chaski’s nervousness and excitement as he runs the Inka Trail, working earnestly to fulfill the responsibilities of his new role.
Colleen Paeff: Hello, Mariana! There is so much I want to talk to you about, but let’s start with your most recent book. Run, Little Chaski: An Inka Trail Adventure, which I had the pleasure of seeing when it was just a manuscript! Congratulations on the two starred reviews and the Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection! Can you explain to our readers what a chaski is?
Mariana Llanos: Hi Colleen! I’m excited to be talking about it with you! You’ve seen this story from its first drafts. The word chaski means messenger in Quechua. Chaskis were a relay system of messengers used during the Inka Empire. They delivered official messages through the vast territory of the Tawantinsuyu. When the Spanish invaded, they were so impressed by the organization of this system, they even kept it running for some more years.
CP: Did you first hear about chaskis as a child growing up in Perú, or did you learn about them later in life?
ML: I learned about chaskis in Perú. They’re an important part of Peruvian history and culture so I learned about their system in school. The word chaski is also used as a name for different tourism-based businesses so I was familiar, although I did research more in-depth when writing this book. I read several non-fiction books to make sure I was getting everything right. I discovered there was a lot more to learn about the Inka, since the studies of their culture keep on advancing and more theories develop. Writing a book rooted in your own culture is a huge responsibility to bear on one’s shoulders. I really wanted to get it right.
CP: You manage to pack so much information into the backmatter of this book. You talk about the Inka empire, animals of the Andes, chaskis, and more–and it’s all told in a way that the youngest readers will understand. Did you know from the start the book would have an informational aspect to it or did that develop over time?
ML: It evolved. In the beginning I had an author’s note with some information about the Inka and the Chaskis, but then my editor, Kate DePalma, thought it would be best to break down the information. I really like it now because it’s easier to see and process, especially for young readers. The team at Barefoot Books took what I had already written in the author’s note and added more sections. Later, I went over it and made corrections, and added additional information.
CP: In 2017 you received an Oklahoma Human Rights Awards from the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance, and the United Nations Association Oklahoma City Chapter. That must have been such an honor. How does writing for children help you to address human rights?
ML: It was an honor that I take very seriously. I feel like writing for children allows me to plant a seed of peace. It allows me to offer a mirror and a window. All children have a right to live in peace and they should have the right to see themselves reflected in books. Books allow kids to imagine a world that is inclusive for all, they allow them to dream of a fair and just society. Through books we can also tackle big important issues like climate change, sustainability, so that’s the direction I’m heading with my stories. Writing for children is a tremendous responsibility.
CP: Your book Luca’s Bridge/El Puente de Luca tackles immigration and deportation—very tough topics—but it’s also about resilience and family. What was the process of writing that book like? How did you find a way to add hope to such a difficult story?
ML: There was a lot of crying involved. It’s such a tough topic, but it was a story I wanted to tell. In the story, Luca’s parents are deported as they’re undocumented, while he is an American citizen but has to travel to Mexico with his parents. It is reversed from the immigration stories we usually hear, but I knew from the news that there are thousands of children in this situation. I know I couldn’t give this story a traditional satisfying ending, but I knew I had to at least weave some hope into it. As an immigrant myself I know how terrifying the thought of being deported is, but I also tried to put myself in Luca’s shoes. To me, as long as I have laughter, music, and family I’d know that eventually, I would be okay. It was important to offer my readers an opportunity to empathize with a person in this situation. We often hear a lot of judgment against people who are undocumented, but what would YOU think if you were part of a mixed-status family, like so many in the United States?
CP: You did such a wonderful job of putting the reader in Luca’s shoes. And the illustrations by Anna López Real add such a beautiful, dreamy quality to the story. What did you think when you first saw them?
ML: Colleen, there was even more crying! They are so evocative and powerful. Anna is such a talented person and couldn’t be happier to have shared Luca with her. It was a similar feeling when I saw Run Little Chaski’s illustrations. I had no idea they could make the story so much fun. I am in constant awe of the talent of the illustrators I’ve been paired with.
CP: In addition to writing (and raising a family and working!), you do a lot of school visits. How do you fit it all in!? Do you have any favorite productivity hacks you can share with us?
ML: I schedule everything in my phone calendar. If I don’t immediately add it to the calendar, then forget it, it won’t happen. It took me a long time to learn to organize myself, but I think I have managed to learn to block my time. My mornings are for my writing and school visits. Afternoons for other work and kids. Family always comes first though, so I don’t feel bad if I have to cancel anything when my family needs me.
CP: In addition to being a traditionally published author, you have also self-published some books. What’s the biggest bonus to each of the different types of publishing?
ML: I have really enjoyed my journey in self-publishing. The biggest bonus is that I tell the stories I want to tell however I want to tell them. Self-publishing allows me to be creative without having to stick to industry standards for format, word count, long waits, even language. On the other hand, it is very hard to get noticed and for picture books, it gets expensive—I’m not an illustrator. But self-publishing is a great way to get our stories out, and I would consider it again to publish in Spanish as traditional publishing still doesn’t publish many authentic books in Spanish written by Spanish-speaking authors from the U.S. Most of what’s published in Spanish in the U.S, are translations, which is fine (there are very good translations of great books), but I think it’s a big bonus when the author writes in their own native language too.
CP: This past year, you started teaching writing classes in Spanish. Can you tell us a little about your classes?
ML: Yes, I began giving workshops about publishing. My goal is to reach Spanish-speaking people who want to begin publishing their stories. Most are bilingual, but like me, feel more comfortable speaking in their language, so this class is directed to them. One of my classes is an overview of the publishing industry. How to go from writing to publishing and the different paths to publish our stories. The class that I’m putting together now is called “El abc de los cuentos” and it will be about craft.
CP: That sounds terrific! In addition to teaching and school visits, what’s next for you?
ML: Currently, my awesome agent, Sera Rivers, is submitting my manuscripts. We have two chapter book series out on sub and a couple of PBs. Hopefully, I’ll get good news in the next few weeks. Everything in publishing moves slowly, but I keep myself from biting my nails by writing more and more stories.
CP: That’s an excellent strategy. I use it myself! Thanks for chatting Mariana. And good luck with your submissions!
ML: Thank you so much for having me, Colleen. My fingers and toes are crossed for my manuscripts and yours too. Thanks, everyone, for reading.
Mariana Llanos is a Peruvian-born writer of children’s books and poetry. She was raised in Lima, Peru, and moved to the United States in 2002. In 2013 she self-published her first book, Tristan Wolf. Nine books later, Mariana debuted as a traditionally published author in 2019 with Luca’s Bridge/El Puente de Luca (Penny Candy Books, illustrated by Anna Lopez Real). This book was selected as a 2020 ASLC Notable Book. Her next book Eunice and Kate (2020, Penny Candy Books, illustrated by Elena Napoli) won the Paterson prize Books for Young People 2021. Her latest book Run Little Chaski (2021, Barefoot Books, illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson) is a JLG Gold Standard Selection and received starred reviews from Kirkus and SLJ.
Mariana lives in Oklahoma with her family.
BUY MARIANA’S BOOKS HERE:
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
MORE ON MARIANA LLANOS:
Creators Corner Luca´s Bridge: Creator Corner with Mariana Llanos LUCA’S BRIDGE, EL PUENTE DE LUCA
Poems in Poetry Magazine:
NBCLX Interview about co-founding #LatinxPitch – https://www.lx.com/social-justice/these-authors-want-latinx-kids-to-be-represented-in-childrens-books/43082/
ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:
Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books).
Written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99; Ages 3-6)
★Starred Reviews – Foreward Reviews, Kirkus
In The Perfect Plan, author/illustrator Leah Gilbert takes the reader along on a magical journey with Maya, the main character who hopes to build a special place for dreaming and playing in the forest. Through perseverance and teamwork, she builds a fort grander than anything she could have imagined in Gilbert’s enchanting second picture book.
Transporting readers through spreads of tall brown trees and tiny yellow birds, Gilbert’s art encompasses all the beauty of an inviting forest. Tiny Maya gazes upward toward the sky envisioning a tree fort with a ladder to climb and windows to see out of. “’It will be the most INCREDIBLE and WONDERFUL tree fort in the world!’ she imagined.”
Maya is a determined child, and quite the planner, and returns to her bedroom with her black cat by her side to research and design the perfect tree fort. “When she was sure she had thought of everything, she headed outside.”
With her perfect page turns, Gilbert returns the reader to the colorful green forest and the most perfect spot to build a fort. Gilbert depicts Maya pulling and pushing and thinking, but having trouble building a fort alone. Maya realizes that sometimes in life we need help and asking for help is okay. She begins by selling the idea of a fort to three little brown beavers. “I’m building the most OUTSTANDING and ORIGINAL tree fort in the world! Will you help me?” and of course they eagerly agree.
Gilbert’s beautifully expressed words convey that not everyone is good at every job. This is an awesome reminder for both parents and kids! We see that beavers are great at cutting and chopping branches, but not so good at dragging heavy items. Gilbert introduces the kind moose and tells him that she is building “the STRONGEST and STURDIEST tree fort in the world!” Two big brown bears happily agreed to build and stack the frame, and the yellow birds with their natural ability to fly high “twisted and twirled, weaved and wound. Now all the branches were secured.”
When Maya and the animals scanned the finished fort, Maya began to think something was missing only to be interrupted by a big storm. Maya ran for cover looking back at the fort, while worried that it would be ruined. But upon returning to the spot “Maya couldn’t believe her eyes. ‘It’s Perfect.’” Gilbert paints delightful purple flowers that have bloomed from the rain and the fort is now “far more than she had even imagined it would be.”
Gilbert celebrates creativity and shows children the importance of perseverance and teamwork. Kids see that magical things can happen when putting their heart and soul into something. The words can be re-read with new meanings found in the message each time, while the soft colorful art inspires kids to get out a paintbrush and create their own hideaway.
- Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Written by Tracy Marchini
Illustrated by Julia Christians
(Page Street Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
If you’re looking for an empowering new take on fairy tale princesses, look no further than Tracy Marchini’s picture book Princesses Can Fix It! This homage to The Twelve Dancing Princesses shows readers that princesses (and princes) can do whatever they set their minds to, no matter what anyone else thinks.
At the start of the book, we learn that there is a problem in the King’s castle. The alligators from the moat have escaped and are now running about inside! The three princesses, Margaret, Harriet, and Lila, have an idea how to help. Unfortunately, the King wants them to only focus on proper princess activities rather than their passion for inventing and building. Throughout the book, the girls secretly work on their creation to fix the problem and prove their father wrong.
Julia Christians’ colorful and dynamic illustrations bring the characters to life and give the book a whimsical flair on every page. This, combined with the book’s poetic structure and use of repetition also gives the book excellent read-aloud potential.
Most of all, what I love about Princesses Can Fix it! is how it manages to be both silly and meaningful at the same time. This charming picture book is about three clever and committed young girls building a contraption to solve their alligator infestation. At the same time, it’s also about how they stand up for themselves and persevere, something that should motivate little girls and boys eager to pursue their passions in the face of societal expectations.
- Guest Review by Mary Finnegan
Click any of the below links to purchase the book:
AN INTERVIEW WITH
A TRUE WONDER:
The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything
ILLUSTRATED BY KATY WU
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4 to 7)
★Starred reviews – Booklist and Kirkus
Perhaps the most popular female superhero of all time, Wonder Woman was created by Bill Marston in 1941, upon the suggestion of his wife, Elizabeth. Wonder Woman soon showed what women can do—capture enemy soldiers, defeat criminals, become president, and more. Her path since has inspired women and girls while echoing their ever-changing role in society. Now a new group of devoted young fans enjoy her latest films, Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman 1984, and await a third installation being planned for theatrical release. This exceptional book raises up the many women who played a part in her evolution, from Elizabeth Marston to writer Joye Hummel to director Patty Jenkins, and makes clear that the fight for gender equality is still on-going.”
Hi Kirsten! Welcome to Good Reads With Ronna and congratulations on the publication of A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, a truly wonderful picture book that I’m so excited to discuss with you, especially on your launch day! Like you, I grew up on comic books (Archie) although to be honest the only superhero I followed as a child was Superman. Somehow I came late to the game with Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins’ first film was my first introduction to the backstory.
GOODREADSWITHRONNA: Can you believe the young girl in the 1970s who was a Lynda Carter fan is the one who’s written about Wonder Woman?
KIRSTEN W. LARSON: I wasn’t someone who always wanted to be an author when I grew up, so I feel lucky to have stumbled on a career later in life that feeds my curiosity. I love research and that thrill of feeling I’ve gotten a book “just right” in terms of voice, structure, etc.
GRWR: I’m curious if once the idea hit you to write the history of Wonder Woman, you knew you’d approach it with a comic book style format (which I ADORED by the way)? Did you do the research first and then decide how to find your way into sharing the story or did you always know how you’d do it?
KWL: I always envisioned this as a biography of the character of Wonder Woman, showing her character arc across the decades. This was a rare book for me. The finished book is very close to the original drafts. The main difference was the addition of some of the more modern incarnations of Wonder Woman that bring the character up to the present. I always envisioned comic-book style illustrations, but of course, the choice to illustrate the book that was entirely up to editor Jennifer Greene, the art director, and illustrator Katy Wu.
GRWR: A TRUE WONDER could not have been an easy manuscript to write for someone used to the more traditional nonfiction structure. What was that like having to write a script with setting, narrative, thoughts, speech, and sound effects?
KWL: You may be surprised to know that I wrote A TRUE WONDER just like any narrative nonfiction picture book. I did have a global illustration note suggesting the comic book style, as well as the trading card format for the sidebars about significant people who contributed to the Wonder Woman character. But it was illustrator Katy Wu who broke out the illustrations into panels and dropped the quotes I included into speech bubbles. She deserves all the credit.
GRWR: Whoa, I sure hope Katy sees this and all your compliments because the art and prose work seamlessly. Did you and the illustrator Katy Wu get to collaborate?
KWL: Katy and I didn’t collaborate at all, which is fairly typical for picture books. She did all her own research. I provided some minor comments on her dummy, but that’s it. We’ve only corresponded since we started marketing the book.
GRWR: I am so impressed! So, do you have a favorite spread?
KWL: Yes! The final spread, which talks about how Wonder Woman inspires us to become heroes of our own stories is my hands-down favorite. I tear up every time. Katy illustrated it with a diverse group of women, and it is perfect.
GRWR: Based on your previous STEM books and NASA background, writing about Wonder Woman is a departure for you though it is definitely a STEAM read. What are your feelings about that, and do you think you might write more non-STEM books in the future?
KWL: I love to write about underdogs and women who defy expectations, and the character of Wonder Woman falls into that theme. Plus, comic books are a big part of geek culture. Just think about how much time the Big Bang Theory characters spent at the comic bookstore, or trying to get tickets for San Diego Comic Con.
GRWR: LOL! In A TRUE WONDER I learned SO much about the early days of comic books, especially how the business was populated by white men keen on keeping superheroes men. Yet it was an exceptionally enlightened man, Bill Marston, with a wife working full-time as the family bread-winner who pitched the idea of Wonder Woman to Charlie Gaines of All-American Comics, the precursor to DC. Tell us more about that fateful turn of events in the male-dominated industry.
KWL: This probably won’t surprise anyone, but comic books have been under attack almost since their inception. Just before Wonder Woman was introduced, parents and educators complained about the violence in comics. They argued that comics were a poor substitute for classic literature too (sound familiar)? But Marston thought comics could be a force for good. It was his wife, Elizabeth Marston, who suggested the idea of a female superhero. And that’s what Bill Marston pitched – a female superhero who he hoped would be a good influence on children.
GRWR: Women writers and staffers behind the emergence of Wonder Woman ultimately played crucial roles in empowering the character and women in general during WWII when a majority of men were off fighting. You mention more than a handful and even write in your back matter about Joye Hummel (who wrote under a male pen name) and several others who made an impact on the representation of Wonder Woman including Gloria Steinem. Can you speak to how they contributed to feminism?
KWL: Through the years and often behind the scenes and uncredited, women have contributed to Wonder Woman as authors, artists, editors, and consultants. These women were ahead of their time in what continues to be a male-dominated industry. At the same time, second-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem and Joanne Edgar grew up reading Wonder Woman comics and sort of adopted her as their mascot, putting her on the first cover of Ms. Magazine. Even today, we tap into Wonder Woman as a short-hand way to talk about strong and powerful women and sisterhood.
GRWR: What would like your young readers to take away from reading A TRUE WONDER?
KWL: I hope that children will find a way to channel their inner superheroes and make their own contributions to their communities and the world. We need everyday heroes now more than ever.
GRWR: Let’s talk craft. I read in Storystorm 2020 (Kirsten Larson | Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) (taralazar.com) that you turn to walks in nature for inspiration. I’d love to hear more about what you do to find story ideas and then how you proceed after an idea strikes you.
KWL: I find story ideas everywhere: books, movies, magazine articles, museums, you name it. Normally I do some initial research to learn whether the resources I need (like primary sources) are readily available, and to figure out if someone is already writing a book about the subject. If everything checks out, I start with secondary sources to get context, then dive into primary sources to hear the characters’ voices. The research normally guides me to a structure and voice, but there’s always a lot of experimentation. And walking, along with showers, meditating, and mentor texts, are great for when I get stuck during the writing process.
GRWR: That’s so helpful to know. Do you have a writing routine and a preferred place to write?
KWL: I write all over the place–in the living room, outside on my back patio, in my office. I get up before everyone else and try to write for at least an hour Monday through Friday after checking in with my accountability partner. Most days I dedicate another two hours to writing before turning to other things.
GRWR: What’s your go-to creativity beverage or comfort food when feeling frustrated?
KWL: Coffee, coffee, coffee.
GRWR: You’re also a regular contributor for STEM Tuesday online at STEM Tuesday – From The Mixed Up Files. Can you speak to that experience?
KWL: I work with so many amazing contributors on STEM Tuesday, led by Jen Swanson. Each month, team members put together a themed book list plus classroom activities and ELA/writing activities. The last week of the month we have an interview with an author and a book giveaway. I write about writing. There is so much creativity happening in nonfiction and STEM writing right now. I love showing educators how they can use STEM books to teach writing craft.
GRWR: I agree that STEM reads and nonfiction have never been more exciting than right now. What’s a recent nonfiction book that you couldn’t put down?
KWL: My current favorite read is SURVIVOR TREE by Marcie Colleen and Aaron Becker. The interplay of art and lyrical text are stunning. In fact, I’m using it as a mentor text in a class I’m teaching at The Writing Barn next month.
GRWR: What’s on the horizon?
KWL: Next year, illustrator Katherine Roy and I have THE FIRE OF STARS with Chronicle Books. It’s a dual narrative picture book about Cecilia Payne, who discovered the composition of stars, told alongside the process of star formation. After that, I have two more books under contract but not yet announced. One is a lyrical, STEM book for younger readers, the second is a middle-grade historical fiction, which I did write in full graphic novel script form.
GRWR: Thanks tons for taking the time today to chat, Kirsten. We could not be more excited about A TRUE WONDER and wish you every success with it. And happy book birthday, too!
KWL: Thanks for having me, Ronna! It’s been my pleasure. I love to connect with folks at my website Kirsten-w-larson.com and on social media @kirstenwlarson.
PURCHASE KIRSTEN’S BOOK
Preorder A TRUE WONDER through Once Upon a Time Bookstore for an
autographed copy plus a 6 x 9 art postcard designed by illustrator Katy Wu.
TEACHER’S GUIDE HERE
Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything (Clarion, Fall 2021), illustrated by Katy Wu, and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, Fall 2022), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Sign up for her monthly newsletter here.
∼ A ROUNDUP ∼
THE KIDS ON THE BUS: A Spin-the-Wheel Book of Emotions
Written by Kirsten Hall
Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Chronicle; $9.99, Ages 2-4)
In Kirsten Hall’s fun 16-page interactive board book, The Kids on the Bus: A Spin-the-Wheel Book of Emotions, we meet a variety of animals with different emotions. Set to the tune of the familiar song, lines include, “The bear on the bus laughs, ‘Hee, hee, hee, . . . all ’round the town.’” This novelty book is shaped like a school bus.
Melissa Crowton’s lively and inclusive illustrations are set within a soothing sky-blue background. My favorite character is the backpack-wearing, skateboard-riding blackbird. The expressive animals have fun causing a ruckus until the driver has to shush them.
While you can read the book or sing along, be sure to utilize the important social-emotional learning (SEL) elements. The sturdy spinning wheel allows kids to identify their feelings by choosing moods such as silly, angry, or shy.
Mad, Mad, MAD
Written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli
(Candlewick Press; $7.99, Ages 0-3)
Part of a 23-book series featuring the same cute baby, Leslie Patricelli’s latest board book, Mad, Mad, MAD, lets off a little steam. As is true in life, sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re sad, and sometimes we’re screaming, roaring mad. The contradictory feelings are shown through the art with clearly communicated expressions, and short, rhyming text: “No, I won’t go! / I don’t want to stay.” Dad’s face on this page perfectly captures his confusion—relatable to most parents as they try to understand what their young children need.
When Baby realizes they want to stop feeling this way, trying things such as taking a walk or doing deep breaths eventually helps. The back matter lists additional ideas that may alleviate angry feelings such listening to music, reading, or taking a bubble bath. This book’s social-emotional learning (SEL) guidance can gently help our children more effectively manage their emotions.
FEELINGS: Bilingual Firsts
Written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo
(Canticos; $12.99, Ages 0-6)
Susie Jaramillo’s recent board book in the Canticos series, Feelings: Bilingual Firsts, tackles emotions by showing the word for a mood in English with its Spanish translation on the left-hand side: brave / valiente. Lift the flap on the right-hand side to see vibrant art depicting that mood along with questions such as “Can you show me a surprised face?’ or “How does feeling shy look?” These questions are also provided in Spanish.
The colorful art includes a child, an array of animals, several chicks, and a star. I really liked the angry elephant calf. Cute illustrations coupled with simple text make this an easy way to introduce another language at home. Not only will this book help kids identify their own moods, but another important aspect of social-emotional learning (SEL) is the ability to recognize other people’s needs and feelings.
Written and illustrated by Giuliano Ferri
(mineditionUS, $11.99, Ages 1-3)
This lift-the-flap board book, Peek-a-Mood, by Giuliano Ferri presents animals whose faces are hidden behind their hands. Questions such as, “How do you think I feel?” and “Why am I hiding?” pique a child’s curiosity. Behind the hands, you’ll find that the first monkey’s frown provides a clue that it is upset, while the second monkey’s downturned open mouth goes on to reveal it is scared.
An array of artfully depicted mammals draws the reader in. The darling monkey that asks if you can make a silly face too, is adorable! This interactive book concludes with “Show me how you feel!’ Behind the human’s hands is an unbreakable mirror—how fun is that?!
Exploring and identifying emotions is a key part of child development and social-emotional learning (SEL). Peek-a-Mood makes it fun to try figuring out nonverbal emotional cues.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Written by Christina Dendy
Illustrated by Katie Rewse
(Lantana Publishing; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Welcome to Day Four of The Wall and the Wild Blog Tour!
Scroll up or down for the full tour graphic.
The Wall and the Wild, the debut picture book from Christina Dendy with vibrant art by Katie Rewse is in its own lovely way, a call of the wild. Lured in by the cover illustration, I was beckoned on by the gratifying marriage of language and illustrations.
As the story opens, readers see a treetop view of a young girl, Ana, creating a garden. However, she’s overly picky about what she selects. There can be no flaws in what seeds she plants and her face shows when she is dissatisfied. “YOU, stay out THERE” Ana warns the disorderly WILD which, like nature, is really all around her. What doesn’t appear perfect she “throws into the untidy WILD.” With the WILD presented early on by Dendy as a character, my curiosity was piqued.
Intent on keeping her plot pristine, Ana constructs a stone wall, and soon her garden bursts with color and an abundance of beautiful flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Not only do friends come by to admire Ana’s garden, but so do creatures big and small. This feast for the eyes might please others, but Ana seems to only focus on the negative. I love how the author has added another important layer for children in this story about how limiting perfectionism can be. Ana finds and plucks plant intruders from the WILD whose presence mars the overall neat appearance. These weeds weren’t something Ana could tolerate. So, once again, along with more imperfect seeds, she tosses them all away.
Now Ana is more determined than ever. She adds onto her stone wall to prevent the WILD from coming in. Yet, rather than thrive in these conditions, Ana’s perfectly tidy garden seems to wither. The illustrations convey a quality of dullness. When visitors dwindle along with the plants’ health, Ana begins to question her intentions. Perhaps she was too controlling? Maybe it’s time to see what’s out in the WILD where all her discards have gone. “On the other side, voices babble, footsteps patter, and sunlight beams.” There’s a lightness to the prose and a hint at what’s to come.
To her surprise, a world of remarkable beauty awaits Ana beyond her wall. Here I grew excited to see Ana grow along with the WILD garden that’s flourished in spite of her efforts to thwart it. Seeing her realize that, as Dendy mentions in her back matter on ecosystems, “Seeds don’t need to look the same or ‘perfect’ to grow into perfectly beautiful, healthy plants,” is a rewarding moment in the story.
This lovely message of caring for all and how there’s room for everyone at the table or in the garden is as rich as the soil that Ana first tended. Something I missed on the first reading, but noted later on and truly appreciated as someone coming from a family with hearing loss is that Rewse has included the main character wearing hearing aids in her art. I can easily see this charming picture book included in classrooms’ STEM curriculums and as a great way to encourage outdoor, nature-based learning.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel