Sy Montgomery’sNew York Times best-selling memoir, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, inspired the picture book, Becoming a Good Creature. Herein she conveys her beliefs that we can—and should—learn from animals. Montgomery’s fundamental messages include “respect others,” “find good teachers,” and “see for yourself.” She encourages us to take a closer look at the world and everything inhabiting it. In doing so, we are bound to “love little lives” and find ways to nurture them because we’re all in this together.
While naturalist and adventurer Montgomery has led an extraordinary life, traveling the world and living with animals, we don’t have to fly far away to find something worth exploring.
During the pandemic, my family has discovered and interacted with previously overlooked insects in our garden. Becoming a Good Creature reinforces such behavior. It also shows that women can make their own families and forge their own paths.
Rebecca Green’s paintings, full of delightful animals, depict Montgomery from girl through woman and showcase how curiosity inspired her positive interactions with animals around the globe. For example, alongside the beautifully poignant illustrations of an octopus, a young Montgomery wonders what could we possibly have in common with them; the answer is playing! This uplifting book stresses the importance of communication and caring—much-needed actions for successful coexistence on our planet.
Click herethen scroll down the page to learn more about Rebecca Green’s artwork.
Read a review of another picture book about animals here.
The bedtime journey begins when a clever worm narrowly escapes becoming dinner to a group of hungry baby birds. Clad in a cap, sock, and sneaker, we watch him jump from the nest to an urban rooftop garden, slowly making his way to his underground home. As he passes by the vegetables, we see their nighttime routine, each group of veggies adorable in its own right. While turnips “tuck… in tightly” and potatoes close their eyes, “[t]uckered out tomatoes hum … lullabies.” Like the affectionate smile of each vegetable, the friendly, humorous rhyme reassures and warms the heart.
It’s sheer fun learning the variety of ways veggies like to turn in. “[C]uddly” cauliflower, baby carrots, and baby lettuce enjoy “snuggling.” Rhubarbs delight in “reading stories to worn-out broccolis.” Giggles from little ones will surely ensue when they discover how eggplants dream—some about familiar places and some about galaxies far, far away. “Cranky corn” who “cover up [their] ears” because of a nearby veggie’s snoring will definitely be a familiar scene to readers young and old.
Vibrant colors in acrylic paint add to the playfulness. Bold borders in black outline edges, creating a safe space to rest and soak in the illustrations, appropriately printed on 100% vegetarian printmaking paper.
A delightful bedtime read-aloud, Goodnight Veggies is the perfect prelude to a good night.
If you love fairy tale retellings, Federico and the Wolfis for you. Rebecca J. Gomez has taken the classic story and not only modernized it, but centered it in the Mexican American culture with great success.
The book’s appeal stems from its endearing main character Federico whose ingenuity and bravery will have young readers rooting for him as he takes on the infamous hungry wolf. And though he sports a hoodie, Federico is definitely not your grandmother’s Little Red. In fact in this version, Federico sets off to the local market “… to buy ingredients to make the perfect pico.” His plan is to get the stuff needed to bring to his abuelo (grandfather), then together the two can make a special salsa. The market art (see below), like so many other illustrations in this delightful picture book, is a razzle dazzle of glorious color and atmosphere. As a reader I wanted to jump into the scene.
On his way to see Abuelo, Federico heads through the city park and deep into the woods on his bike. It’s not long before the famished wolf stops him looking for “grub.” The young boy, however, claims he has no time or food to spare. When he arrives at his grandfather’s shop, Federico notices a suspiciously furry and pawed person beckoning him inside.
At first it might seem that Federico’s been taken in by Wolf’s disguise, providing the kind of suspense kids love. But, once he realizes what he’s up against, the clever lad resorts to clever measures. I won’t spoil the spicy ending, but suffice it to say that because of Federico’s quick thinking, the chances of Wolf ever returning are rather slim. When grandson and grandfather are finally safe from the the wolf’s conniving clutches, the pair can begin to prepare the pico as originally planned.
Chavarri’s vibrant illustrations work beautifully with the prose, helping to set the tone of this excellently executed fractured fairy tale. The pictures are light and lively when Federico is happy and they get darker whenever the wolf is present.
Gomez, with her wonderful use of rhyme, brings a spirited approach to this tale that invites multiple readings. I love how she’s incorporated Spanish words into the story. They not only feel natural, but add to the ambience of Federico’s world. Kids can figure out the words’ meaning many times just by looking at the illustrations such as silla for chair. Readers can also take turns playing the parts of Federico and Wolf for added enjoyment. A glossary in the back matter along with a recipe for the salsa tops off this read aloud treat. By all means, add this new picture book to your story time collection. And, remember to carry some chili powder in your hoodie pocket if you plan a walk in Wolf’s neck of the woods.
Written by Jacqueline Véissidand illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Caspian Finds a Friendbegins with a quotation on its dedication page that captures the essence of the book: “What you seek is seeking you.” Written by the Persian poet Rumi, this profound statement hints at our deep connection to each other, even if we may not quite understand or see it yet. Through patience and quiet determination, we will certainly experience this truth.
From the first page, Brown’s illustrations are completely mesmerizing. The vastness of the “cold gray-blue sea” speaks to little Caspian’s loneliness and longing for a friend. The soft color palette and gentle lines indicating movement radiate outward. Everything in Caspian’s environment is casting out a light, past the great beyond of the sea. The lighthouse where he lives and even the sun are reaching out to seek love. Nearly every page is a double page spread helping readers connect with Caspian’s gentleness and faithfulness in “wondering, waiting, wishing for a friend.”
Though “no one arrives,” the little boy does not grow disheartened. Instead, he has a “new thought” and sends out to sea a message in a bottle. There’s an undeniable meditative quality in this process. We see Caspian emptying out his vase, rolling up his note to put inside, and placing the flower back in the vase-perhaps a gift to the receiver and a sign to us readers of his generous heart. In this step by step way, Veissid’s lyrical language slows us down, helping us feel safe and calm.
As days “sink into weeks [and] weeks into months,” Caspian’s hope never falters; his patience for a response gets rewarded. The little boy rows out to sea to meet his new companion, a bear who is just as eager as Caspian to make a new friend.
Caspian Finds a Friend is excellent for bedtime or anytime parents and caregivers are looking to settle little ones down. Themes of love, patience, friendship, and mindfulness will encourage readers (and listeners) to return to this story again and again. I find this book especially relevant for our current time as it shows us the power of our imagination to bring healing and comfort.
I’m a sucker for picture books with secret covers and Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner . . . or Can He?You Decide! grabbed my attention before I read the first word. Since it’s a you-decide-the-ending book, the book jacket has both choices: one side Lenny stays for dinner, the other side he doesn’t. Underneath, the book itself has an entirely different image—without Lenny’s hilarious mustachioed face—that’s explained once you read the book.
The story is deceivingly simple: Lenny’s thrilled that he’s been invited to a fancy dinner but soon finds everyone’s a little too excited to see him. At this juncture, a reader can choose whether to continue (Lenny stays), or decide Lenny should leave (turn to page 22). Staying seems straightforward, but you’ll appreciate the clever twists.
It’s hard not to smile when looking at the many renditions of Lenny and his crazy antics. Catherine Meurisse’sart expands the text to its full potential. Bright-orange Lenny coupled with a limited color palette lets the illustrations pop against the bright white pages.
The text is a father-son collaboration between Michael and Finn Buckleywho “wrote this book (with his dad) when he was seven years . . . and does not like to eat lobster.” Therefore, Lenny would be welcome to stay for dinner any night with the Buckleys and not have to worry about being the main course!
YOU LOVES EWE! (A Yam and Donkey Book) Written and illustrated by Cece Bell (Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
I yam what I yam and what I yam is crazy about Cece Bell’s read aloud,You Loves Ewe!Reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First?” sketch, Bell’s picture book is full of laugh out loud moments from wordplay whimsy and homonym hilarity.
A yam introduces himself and a sweet little ewe to Donkey. The character Donkey doesn’t seem to understand that the ewe being referred to is not YOU, or in Donkey’s case, him. He thinks everything Yam says is directed at him. Poor Yam gets mildly frustrated and with the help of Ewe, makes posters and spells out the difference between the words EWE and YOU. “Look. EWE and YOU are two different words. They sound the same. But they do not mean the same thing.”
More fun follows when other examples of homonyms are offered such as DOE and DOUGH, MOOSE and MOUSSE and HARE and HAIR. Further complicating things is a romantic twist. More zaniness and misunderstandings occur when Yam declares his love for Ewe. Why? Because Ram, who spotted Ewe during an earlier homonym lesson, also confesses he’s in love with Ewe. Children will be giggling and perhaps even talking back to the book during Donkey’s confusion. After all of the word mix-ups, you may wonder who Ewe loves. Ah, that’s not something I’ll reveal to you ewe, I mean you, write (right) now!
Bell’s vibrant, outlined artwork will please kids who love bold graphics and picture books featuring cartoon frames. What a wonderful way to get kids excited about the intricacies of the English language!
SUMO JOE Written by Mia Wenjen Illustrated by Nat Iwata (Lee & Low Books; $18.95, Ages 4-7)
Sumo Joe, the charming and gently rhyming debut picture book by Mia Wenjen with art by Nat Iwata, opened my eyes to the history and popularity of this world renown Japanese style of wrestling. More than just a sport, “Sumo” writes Wenjen in the back matter glossary, “can be traced back to ancient Shinto rituals that were practiced to ensure a bountiful harvest and to honor the spirits.”
Wenjen’s chosen a fun way to introduce young readers to the sport and keep them interested by focusing on siblings Joe and his younger sister Jo. While the two share a close relationship, only Joe participates in sumo wrestling at home on Saturdays with his friends. I love how Iwata’s expressive illustration below shows Jo’s disappointment at not being included in the activity that traditionally has been for “boys-only.” Her tote bag clues us into where she might be going while her brother practices.
Throughout Joe’s sumo session, readers learn about the different terminology and traditions tied to the sport of trying to knock one’s opponent out of the ring. Perhaps most familiar is the outfit or special belt called a Mawashi. Due to the complexity of tying it, someone else has to wrap it around the wrestler. Compared to this, tying a tie seems easy and maybe even less tickly! The stomp move, called shiko, is intended to rid the space of demons. That makes total sense to me. Other moves in the drills that Joe and his buddies work on are also explained which is not only fascinating, but meaningful. Kids will be able to watch sumo with a better appreciation of why the wrestlers do what they do.
While Jo may understand what her brother’s doing, she’s tired of being left out. She returns from her outing ready to jump into action as Akido Jo. Yes, little sis has been getting lessons in the martial arts and challenges her big brother to a match. Joe’s pals say she’s not allowed, but Joe honors his sister’s wishes and the two face off in a lively, but loving and respectful contest of Sumo versus Akido.
Iwata’s upbeat, digitally rendered artwork complements Wenjen’s words and brings a wonderful energy to the story. I recommend Sumo Joe to parents, teachers and librarians eager to find out more about this traditional Japanese sport presented in an engaging and dynamic way. The author’s note plus the illustrated glossary round out what is an enlightening and delightful read.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Sumo Joe as part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.
MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHostsHERE.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’sChristmas Is Coming! Celebrate the Holidays with Art, Stories, Poems, Songs, and Recipes is a book that families will enjoy throughout the holiday season. The stories feature something for everyone: two biblical excerpts and ten tales including a Sherlock Holmes adventure, a selection from Little Women, “The Elves and the Shoemaker” by the Brothers Grimm, and Moore’s lyrical “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” While this book is marketed to kids eight and up, younger ones will enjoy being read these stories while snuggling on a parent or grandparent’s lap.
If singing is your thing, you’ll find the music and lyrics to ten popular Christmas songs from kid-pleasing “Jingle Bells” and “Up on the Housetop,” to favorites such as “The First Noel” and “Silent Night.” To accompany all this festivity, try your hand at one of the six recipes, several from chefs at the Met’s classic restaurant, The Dining Room. Since I’m making English Toffee for holiday gifts, I’m interested in how this recipe’s addition of honey adds something new.
The stories, songs, and recipes are accompanied by full-color images serving as an introduction to art of great renown. This lovely book will make a treasured keepsake for your family or a thoughtful gift for someone special.
In this version of The Little Fir Tree, an original story by Hans Christian Andersen is given new life in vibrant colors and a modern feel. Kids will relate to how the charming young tree wishes to be “big and tall like the other trees.” When lumberjacks cut it down, the fir soon finds itself adorned and admired as a family’s Christmas tree. After the holidays, splendor removed, the fir resides in the shed remembering its journey. However, a barren tree is not the end—from a buried pinecone, a new tree grows beginning the cycle once again.
Christopher Corr’s colorful folk art-inspired images refresh this familiar story. Exciting neon colors and stylized illustrations are sure to please kids. Each page has a lot going on, allowing kids to explore the story beyond the words. This beautifully updated edition of a heartfelt classic tale pleases both kids and adults.
Jan Fearnley’s Little Robin’s Christmas will warm your heart. One week before Christmas, Little Robin sets out seven vests but, as those days come to pass, he comes across animals shivering in the cold. Without pause, he gives away his vests. On Christmas Eve, alone, far from home, and very cold, Little Robin gets a surprise from the big man himself.
This story shows how kind acts make you feel good and are sometimes reciprocated—important elements for kids as they learn about sharing. Fearnley’s words and images mesh seamlessly. Some pictures bring me back again and again: the squirrel asleep wearing a yellow vest, the rabbit posed with a blue vest on his ears, and Little Robin hugging a mouse between sprigs of red berries in the snow. The icy feel of the book emanates from cool blue tones and white. However, colors liven up the pages, echoing how Little Robin brings joy to those he meets in his travels.
Santa’s Secretdelights with its funny rhyme that takes you through a day with a girl on a quest to discover all she can about Santa—especially which one is real. I remember this question myself; kids come across Santas in many places and soon realize they seem to be different people. I like how Denise Brennan-Nelson’s story tackles this puzzling subject with humor and finesse. After all, the holidays are about believing.
Deborah Melmon’s art realistically sets the scenes with the girl’s quizzical looks and Grandma’s whispered secrets. The art is perfectly bright and hopeful. Spend some time reading the girl’s notes because they add another layer to the story. Apparently my daughter’s been right when insisting we leave out a carrot with Santa’s milk and cookies!
Sue Fliess charms us again with How to Trick a Christmas Elf. Since kids want to know whether they’ve been noted as naughty or nice, knowing how to distract an elf to take a quick peek at the list is surely handy. This rhyming read-aloud tale shows what happens when you build an elf-sized sleigh. With elves very much a part of Christmas lore, this book offers a fresh take on modern elves who hang out in our homes. We’re left with the important message that we should give from our hearts. Afterward is a brief history of Christmas elves and instructions on how to build your own elf sleigh—such a clever idea to incorporate into the holiday festivities.
This bold edge-to-edge art by Simona Sanfilippo captures your attention. The lively greens, reds, and yellows add to the excitement of elvish shenanigans. I love the closing image of a happy antlered kitty pulling the elf sleigh as Elliott departs for another year.
Greta is a little girl who lives in a beautiful forest threatened by Giants. When the Giants first came to the forest, they chopped down trees to make houses. Then they chopped down more trees and made even bigger homes. The houses grew into towns and the towns grew into cities, until now there is hardly any forest left. Greta knows she has to help the animals, but how? Luckily Greta has an idea that will lead to the Giants and the animals working together in harmony. An additional section at the back explains that in reality the fight against the giants isn’t over and Greta needs the reader’s help.
This book has been printed sustainably in the UK on 100% recycled paper. By buying a copy of this book, you are making a donation of 3% of the cover price to Greenpeace UK
INTERVIEW WITH ZOE PERSICO
Please tell us how you came to be a picture book illustrator?
Growing up I had many artistic influences that led me to go into what I do today, especially in books. I struggled with reading, but the illustrations always kept me eagerly invested and inspired. I originally wanted to be an animator, but quickly figured out that illustrating was my passion and wanted to figure out how I could achieve it as my career. I returned to my love for children’s books and knew I wanted to create works of art that would help others like they did for me. With family, friends, my partner, and educators who always supported me every step of the way I signed onto my current agency, got an early jump start into my career, and graduated college. I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for over five years now and happily receiving great projects such as Greta and the Giants.
What medium/technique did you use to create the illustrations in GRETA AND THE GIANTS and how did the metaphor of the giants as symbols of corporate greed influence your choices?
I use Photoshop CS6 and a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 to create my illustrations, though I am heavily influenced by traditional materials and try to capture the magic of them through digital means. I use custom brushes that emulate watercolor, gouache, colored pencils, and so on. Before starting the final art for Greta and the Giants I knew that I really wanted to push some new painting techniques, so I practiced using traditional materials beforehand to figure out how I can capture them digitally.
The giants were quite a challenge! I needed to figure out how to portray the giants in a fantastical, but realistic way. It would have been too easy to use stereotypes as a crutch for their design and using certain physical traits to show how “ugly” they are is harmful because that’s telling readers having those traits are negative. I thought that illustrating them mostly from perspectives of Greta and the citizens of the forest, such as them looking up and only seeing their shoes and pants as well as not being able to see their faces as clearly due to the massive distance between them, was a perfect and simple way to achieve that the giants “have their heads in the clouds” more than anything else. They realize that they are causing harm and want to do better and I wanted to make sure their designs were an easy transition to the last spreads of the book as well. They have always worn normal clothes just like everyone else and their size doesn’t change. They are still giants! The change comes into how the new compositions show a better connection and understanding between them and the forest dwellers.
I was taken immediately by the gorgeous jewel tones in your palette. Please explain the decision behind that.
Thank you! I had a lot of fun with this palette for this book. When the design team told me they really wanted to a painterly look and using light for color and mood contrast I was immediately excited. I’ve always tried to push these elements in my personal work and I knew I wanted to push myself even more for this project. Since I have been painting traditionally on the side more, I’ve found new color palettes that I wanted to emulate in Greta and the Giants. I used warm tones for heavily lit areas and went with cool tones for shadows. I mixed colors on top of each other like I would with watercolors to keep interest and connection in each area. I have been in love with using a very bright candy red lately and knew it would be the perfect accent color in a sea of multiple shades of green. For the last spread I wanted to go with a sunset palette to help end the book on a warm and uplifting note. Overall, I would say the goal for this book was to have a mostly nature-inspired palette (greens, browns, oranges) with accents of fantasy-inspired colors (pinks and blues).
What inspired you about this particular story?
Throughout the years I’ve been finding ways to alleviate my carbon footprint on the planet as best as I can and having the chance to work on this project was right up my alley. I was inspired on now only how I can help show others on what we can do to help fight climate change, but to come together and speak up against “giants” by the power of your voice. I hope the illustrations in Greta and the Giants inspire children to ask questions. I hope it inspires parents and guardians to teach them about what is happening. I hope it inspires adults to speak out and vote.
Do you have a favorite illustration in the book?
Yes! Funny enough my favorite illustrations are the spreads that include the city. I rarely paint urban subjects and it was a fun challenge to depict what the giant city could look like from a distance. I’m proud of how it turned out!
I also enjoy illustrating animals as well. Any time I got to paint the fox was always fun for me!
What was the biggest challenge of creating the art for this picture book that’s dealing with a serious topic aimed at younger readers?
I would say finding the right visual balance of fantastical and visually showing a depiction of a real life issue. I wouldn’t be doing the message justice if I went a super happy and bright route for the illustrations. I want to show the dark sides of what’s happening to our home and make it easy to readers to understand that. I also wanted to show signs of hope and warmth as well. I use bright and inviting colors and character designs that young readers can gravitate towards. I paint light shining down on characters such as Greta to show that she is a beacon of hope. It’s little things like this that I add in my illustrations to help readers understand that things are serious, but we don’t have to be kept in the dark. It’s amazing how color and light and design choices can naturally click in your brain to know when something is “relaxing” or “melancholic” or “frustrating”. Illustrations are so important and I love that I get to create them.
As the giants learn about the negative impact of all their building and polluting, they begin to take on less fierce qualities. Was this intentional?
Absolutely. As I mentioned in the previous question regarding the giants, I really wanted to portray the giants in a way that they aren’t so different from the rest of the forest dwellers. Earlier spreads of the book emphasize how tall they are, how hard it is to see their faces from far away, and so on. There’s a disconnect and the giants aren’t aware of the damage they are causing. Towards the last spreads you can see their faces better and their postures and expressions are much more approachable. They are still giants, but there is now a more positive relationship between them and the folks living below them. I am hoping our real life “giants” can listen and start a positive dialogue with us to a better and healthier future.
Which illustrators have most influenced you as an artist?
I have so many! Some illustrators that have influenced me include Amélie Fléchais, Elena and Olivia Ceballos, Yvan Duque, Matthew Forsythe, Rebecca Green, Robin James, and many many more.
Thank you Zoe for your thoughtful answers. I hope everyone picks up a copy of Greta and the Giants to appreciate the beautiful artwork you’ve described in the interview and to see how wonderfully it complements the story.
• FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ZOE ON HER WEBSITE. • PUBLICATION DATE IS NOVEMBER 19 BUT YOU CAN PRE-ORDER A COPY HERE TODAY. • CLICK HERE FOR A HELPFUL DISCUSSION GUIDE.
Visit the below bloggers for reviews and other Greta and the Giants related coverage.
For Halloween or any day for that matter, Skulls! will entertain young readers with its eye-opening facts and fun watercolor illustrations featuring oblong faces and childlike representation.
Blair Thornburgh’s hit the nail on the head with this unique picture book that introduces kids to an important part of the human body via an adorable young narrator. Made up of twenty-two different smaller bones, the skull accounts for “about 10 percent of our body weight” but we often don’t think about it. When we do, as Thornburgh points out so perfectly, it’s absolutely amazing, kind of gross and thoroughly entertaining.
We tend to take for granted how a skull is “like a car seat for your brain,” keeping it safe and in place. It’s also actually full of holes otherwise it would be so much heavier. “But most important of all: skulls are not trying to be scary.” Once kids learn about all the cool skull-related things shared in Skulls!, they’ll probably want to share them with you, especially the jaw and mouth ones. And when they do, they’ll probably ask for a grilled cheese sandwich which means they’ve learned something. After they’ve eaten they’ll probably thank you for helping their “skull grow hard and strong.” In turn, you can use your mandible bone and connecting muscles to smile.
Happy Halloween, Pirates! is a large-sized, kid-friendly, 18-page lift-the-flap board book that’s a rollicking, rhyming read aloud for Halloween. Toddlers will love hearing the story then peeking under the flaps to see what treasures the illustrator has buried beneath.
Shiver me timbers! A pirate crew receives an invitation via crow to a Halloween party. The action starts immediately as they and assorted pirate ship creatures (a cat, some mice) plan their costumes.
Next the pirates go ashore to have some fun with friends galore. They find the haunted party house and join in the festivities. Whoa! The kids who invited their sea-faring pirate pals surprise them by dressing up as pirates themselves on board a mini pirate ship! Between the flowing rhyme, the interactivity of the flaps and the vibrant artwork, children will stay entertained this Halloween as they play with and say Happy Halloween, Pirates! And who doesn’t enjoy a pirate party?
My level of manageable frightening can be found in Ghastly Ghosts. This pleasing and well paced rhyming picture book starts off by setting a Halloweenish mood, but the main character, Old Dave, refuses to be scared by the moaning noises emanating from coal shed. The rhyme works wonderfully in moving the story forward with a subtle upbeat vibe so as not to make little ones’ (or my) hair stand on end. The art style is appealing with a lovely palette that also keeps the fright level slight.
Old Dave wishes for some company as it gets lonely up in the middle of nowhere which is exactly where he lives. But alas, no one goes out on a night so dark and freezing, and if they do it’s not to the place where a ghostly choir can be heard loudly saying, “Ghastly ghosts in the old coal shed!” Oh how I admire Old Dave’s guts. Rather than cower at the scary sounds, our hero faces off with the spirits who he reckons might also enjoy the warmth of his cottage once he replenishes his coal supply. Still more of the “Ghastly ghosts …” chorus erupts, but they’re interrupted by brave Old Dave. “I know. I do. I’d like to bet you’re cold ghosts too.” Together with the ghosts, Old Dave’s coal pail gets filled and everyone is welcome in his now warm and cozy place. “In fact, they’re quite good company. His friendless nights are history.”
Clever Little Witchis more of a sibling tale than a Halloween one, but since witches abound during this season, it still feels appropriate to share. Plus Thi Van has written a story that will definitely resonate with older kids who’d like nothing more to get rid of their younger siblings.
In this charming picture book narrated by Little Linh, we learn instantly from her that she’s “the cleverest little witch on Mãi Mãi Island” if she does say so herself! She tells us what she needs which are a broomstick, a book of spells and a rare and magical pet. What she doesn’t need is an annoying baby brother who does things like ride her broom without asking, chew pages from her spell book or use her magical mouse “as a flashlight.” Yup, the little guy’s gotta go!
Baby Phu is offered around by his older sister, but no one on the island has any desire to take her little bro off her hands. Nope, not the troll, not the forest fairy queen and not the Orphanage for Lost and Magical Creatures. Youngsters will get a huge kick out of these scenes when the reasons why Baby Phu is rejected are explained. The troll, for instance, got hiccups from the last baby brother he ate.
When Little Linh turns to her magical book of spells she sees that “Baby Phu had eaten half the spell.” Clever as she was, she could certainly figure out what the rest was and transform her brother into a goldfish. When the spells go awry and she creates first a frog, then a seal and finally a dragon that steals her wand, things are not looking good. The story’s heroine chases the dragon on her broom. But when the dragon’s tail accidentally knocks down the broom and Little Linh begins falling, guess who comes to her rescue before she crashes to the ground? YES—the dragon, much to her surprise! Does the dragon stay a dragon or does he turn back into Baby Phu who becomes more appreciated? Ahh, you’ll have to visit Mãi Mãi Island to see for yourself! Hyewon Yum’s illustrations of acrylic gouache and color pencil are full of energy. The variety of colors she uses exudes a warm and happy feeling with every page turn. What a sweet, humorous and imaginative sibling story to share with kids!
Ginny is a force of nature and, though perhaps not the best role model for children, will definitely make them laugh and maybe even answer back to the narrator speaking right to them, and that’s just what an ideal read aloud like Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet should do.
As I read this picture book, the follow-up to Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, I thought about a little girl some 22 years ago. No matter what her parents told her, she’d do the opposite. I always worried about her, but she’s actually doing great now that she got all those wild escapades out of her system … and a horse as a pet.
What’s so fabulous about this story is that Ginny’s crazy antics ultimately get her just what she wanted in the first place which is a goat, a non-monsterish pet unlike all the unbelievable others she goes in search of page after riotous page to drive her point home. Whether it’s on a beach where the narrator hopes “she’ll find a tropical fish, or a cute little hermit crab,” Ginny always has something else in mind and goes for it. In one case that means going into the deep, dark sea in a submarine seeking a kraken. We’re reminded that krakens “are unfathomable monsters, and Ginny Goblin cannot have a monster for a pet.” I can just hear the kids at story time repeating that phrase and loving it.
So what do you suppose happens next? You guessed it, as will young readers. Down she goes into a cave in search of a dragon. That sized pet won’t fit in a house will it? So of course Ginny’s taken to a forest where birds who make great pets live. Ha! Instead Ginny catches a basilik, but a magical pet isn’t the answer either. If you think she’s done thinking about getting a monster for a pet because she’s distracted by a visit to a space museum, think again. Ginny commandeers a rocket to outer space where an acid-spitting alien is on her agenda but not the narrator’s.
Goodner skillfully brings the readers and Ginny back to Earth where the idea of a pet like a goat is suddenly looking a lot better than it originally did! Paired with Thomas’s whimsical gouache and pen-and-ink artwork, Goodner’s prose take youngsters on an amusing and mischievous journey that will delight them and anyone lucky enough to read the story to them.
MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH! Written by Chana Stiefel Illustrated by Mary Sullivan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
With My Name is Wakawakaloch!, Chana Stiefel has written a story that will resonate with so many children as it has with yours truly, someone with a name that people rarely pronounce correctly. I’ve been called Ronnie, Rhoda, Rona and Rhonda (always sung back with the Beach Boys’ “Help Me” for effect), and Ronald. It means so much to me when people actually hear my name and repeat it correctly. So when I received my review copy of Stiefel’s new picture book I was eager to read what the main character, plucky, pig-tailed Wakawakaloch, had to deal with. And when I did, it cracked me up.
Even readers who have an easy name to pronounce should get their hands on a copy of My Name is Wakawakaloch! because it’s a great way to step into someone else’s shoes (although everyone’s barefoot in this picture book!) to understand the frustration that this adorable main character feels. Set in the Stone Age featuring funny “Flintstones”-like artistic touches from illustrator Mary Sullivan, this charming picture book also invites read-aloud opportunities, especially when it comes to saying the hysterical names that Stiefel’s made up.
When classmate Boog in Sabertooth Safety Class hollers “Look out, Wammabammaslamma!” Wakawakaloch shouts back, as she constantly has to, “That NOT my name!” I relate to the young Neanderthal’s rage, remembering all the different things kids called me in school. Also worth noting – these are cave kids conversing so the grammar or lack thereof really adds to the read-aloud experience. Sullivan’s illustrations of the characters wonderfully and whimsically portray a full range of emotions and actions at play throughout the story (and don’t miss her endpapers, too).
When the exasperated Wakawakaloch expresses to her parents how much she wishes she had a different name, one that could be found on a T-shirt, they don’t even get what a T-shirt is which I totally love. So will young readers. Stiefel doesn’t mention key chains, but that’s another unusual name story!
Wakawakaloch’s folks send her to the local Elder called Mooch who has a sharp sense of humor despite stinking “like rotting mammoth poop.” She tells him her troubles and he in turn tells her she needs to be a backwards seer in addition to a forward thinker. She leaves Elder Mooch more annoyed than satisfied but as she tosses and turns in bed that night, a vision on her cave’s walls sheds light on what the Elder was talking about. Her ancestor and namesake was brave and heroic and now it’s time for Wakawakaloch to follow in her footsteps. What her newfound wisdom leads to will be a spoiler if I spell it out, but suffice it to say it fits this entertaining story to a T! Kids will laugh along with Wakawakaloch, not at her, while also appreciating that while a simple name may be nice, sometimes something special can be found in one that’s a bit more complicated and uncommon, or maybe I should say both on the (cave) wall as well as off the wall?
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click here for a review of another book illustrated by Mary Sullivan on this blog.
When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.
Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”
Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!
If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.
Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.
I’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton (Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”
What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers—and a whole page of pi—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.
Some kids returned to school in August. Have yours? Maybe your children are getting ready to begin the new school year after Labor Day. In other words there’s still time to read about and buy the latest books covering the entire school experience. Today’s titles range from first days and school staff to pet pandemonium. Don’t forget to also check out our Back-to-SchoolRoundup Part 1.
What do you do when you love pets so much that you can’t imagine going to school without one? That’s Bartholomew Bott’s dilemma in No Frogs in School. Monday meant frogs much to his teacher’s dismay. Tuesday turned out to be super for bringing in his salamander. Once again, Mr. Patanoose, was not amused and banned all amphibians from being brought to school. It worked out to bring Horace the hamster to school on Wednesday, but once on campus things didn’t go so well. Mr. P added rodents to the banned list. On Thursday Sylvia the snake had a turn and scared some classmates. Naturally no reptiles were allowed after that fiasco! In fact for Friday’s show and tell, the teacher specified that kids could bring in anything “But no more of YOUR pets.” That’s when Bartholomew had a brilliant idea. He’d bring in Rivka the rabbit who could be EVERYONE’S pet! And that made all the kids and even Mr. P happy. Kids can be so literal and LaFaye has taken this childlike characteristic and woven it into a cute and colorful tale. I give Bartholomew a lot of credit for persevering to get his beloved creatures to accompany him to school. When that didn’t work, he found an even better solution, a class pet to please all.
LaFaye’s created a clever story about a clever youngster that will appeal to pet-loving kids everywhere. This year ’round read is infused with subtle humor that is complemented beautifully by the illustrations. From the kitty in the fish bowl to a sandwich eating duck, the first spread by Ceulemans gives readers a great idea what fun the multiple media artwork has in store. I laughed upon finding a sock puppet peeking through the classroom door in the second spread that I’d somehow missed during my initial reading. I appreciated all the attention to little details whether that is a student about to eat a shovelful of dirt or Bott’s slippers. Pick up a copy today and enjoy!
In Fairy’s First Day of School, the action starts off before the title page with a speech bubble “Wake up,” as a lady bug calls out to a sleeping fairy. Over breakfast Mama fairy explains how things will go on the first day of school which in this case means the entire routine we all know so well—swan school bus, teacher greeting, classmates meeting, circle time, show and tell, centers, recess, lunch, nap time, story time, and home—but with wings and fairy things!
This delightful twist on what children should expect on their first day works so well with the fairy angle. All the tiny things are gem-toned and appealingly illustrated. And all the activities are ideal for winged little ones such as art center, tooth center and spells center. Just remember your wand for cleaning up any messes made. It’s so much fun playing hide-and-seek behind toadstools, dining on “a petal-and-dewdrop sandwich” and eating one human-sized sprinkle for dessert. Just imagine having story time in a bird’s nest and you’ll understand how charming and enchanting this fairy-take on the first day of school is. Not’s whimsical illustrationscombined with Heos’ magical language and fun premise make one reading simply not enough.
The first thing I noticed when I read the contents page of School People, an interesting new collection of school-themed poems, is how many different jobs there are. Fifteen fabulous poems run the gamut from bus driver and crossing guard to teacher, principal and librarian and lots more important professionals in-between. I especially like that the nurse, custodian and lunch lady are also included. Even the building itself has been included. “School’s Story” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, the first poem in the anthology, is a warm and welcoming one beginning with “I am waiting – come on in! / Welcome to this house of brick. / Enter whispers, whistles, signs, / footsteps, fossils, notebook lines.”
While I was never a P.E. enthusiast as a student, I have to admit Charles Ghigna’s “Coach” felt upbeat and its ending, “life is a gym / come- / have a ball”, is terrific. So is the accompanying artwork by Ellen Shi. In it she’s presented the instructor with students from what would likely be the ball’s perspective, down low and looking up, with students’ faces fixed on the coach, replete with whistle in her mouth, hands gesturing, all under an afternoon sky. Hopkins shares the magic a librarian brings to their position, the one person I credit with turning me into a reader when I had all but given up on books as a second grader.
Notable poet names you’ll recognize, as Hopkins often includes many of them in other collections, are Ann Whitford Paul, Alma Flor Ada, J. Patrick Lewis, Joan Bransfield Graham, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Renée LaTulippe plus others new to me such as Robyn Hood Black, Michele Krueger, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Darren Sardelli, and Irene Latham. Shi’s illustrations, done digitally, are cheerful, energetic and cover a range of emotions from the sadness of an ill child at the nurse to dramatic student performers in theater class. School People, an ideal read aloud, is a fitting tribute to the variety of important individuals whose roles throughout a typical school day help shape our children’s learning experience.
Yoori, a young South Korean girl, has listened to her father, Appa, talk about his difficult childhood in North Korea. His compelling stories of hardship and hunger lead Yoori and Appa to volunteer for a secret nighttime mission; sending packages of rice over the border via special balloons.
When father and daughter arrive near the border, local villagers protest and chant, “Don’t feed the enemy.” In dismay Yoori says “The hope in my heart withers like a dying rice stalk.” But she rallies her courage and persists in completing the task at hand. With other volunteers, Yoori and Appa help inflate balloons, attach containers of rice, and send them floating over the border under starry skies.
Song’s vibrant illustrations markedly differentiate the two countries with a stark color palette. A verdant and lush South Korea features plentiful orange and pink flowers, fruits and green landscapes. Alternately, North Korea is shown isolated within a clear bowl, brown, barren and withered. The dramatic contrast peaks on a poignant double spread showing two North and South Korean girls face one another. While large grey mountains loom in the distance, the two children remain separated by nothing more than a small stream of clear running water.
Cho provides additional information on the political and cultural history of the Korean peninsula. This informative story is hopeful, compassionate and timely.
Standing in waist-high, thick green grass that spills across the long, rolling horizon, a young girl and her mother observe that the fields are ready for the haying to begin. “Mower blades slice through the grass. / A new row falls with every pass. / Stalks and stems are scattered ’round. / The scents of new-mown plants abound.” The rhythmic thunk-thunk, chunk-chunk phrases echo the mechanical beats of the machinery employed – a mower, tedder, rake and baler. Mihaly explains the terminology in a helpful glossary of “haymaking words” that add richness to the rhyming farming narrative.
As the mown hay dries, mother and daughter refresh themselves with switchel, a traditional cold haying drink of ginger, vinegar and maple syrup. For those inspired to try it, the recipe is included! Raking and baling finally lead to the satisfying conclusion of a crop safely stacked in the barn, and time to ride and play with the patiently waiting pony.
Cepada’s illustrations capture the vast fields, broad skies, and varied haying equipment with detail, vibrancy and color. Green grasses fade to olive-yellows as tinted clouds sweep across the pages. The tractors and barn are a cheerful, traditional red, and the immense rolled hay bales are textured with prickly perfection. Each generously proportioned oil-and acrylic image is paired with succinct and snappy text that explicates and enhances the unique and creative story.
Good reasons to harvest both of these titles about bounty on your bookshelves!
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG Written and illustrated by Jen Betton (G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
TWILIGHT CHANT Written by Holly Thompson Illustrated by Jen Betton (Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
One talented creator’s works grace two new picture books, Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant, featuring wonderful animal illustrations. Both books are reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sure, on Instagram every hedgehog looks cute and cuddly. But in this story, woodland friends are fearful of his prickles when HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, the debut author-illustrator title from Jen Betton. Perhaps he got out of his cozy nest the wrong way, but Hedgehog wakes feeling “down in the snout and droopy in the prickles.” Smart and resourceful, he knows just what he needs to feel better. But who will hug Hedgehog? Rabbit and Raccoon refuse, and Turtle won’t even wake up. Then an ominous shadow seeks into the clearing. It’s a fox! He’s not afraid, but should Hedgehog be?
Betton’s text is smooth and rhythmic with vivid verbs and comforting refrains. Her woodland scenes feature crisp white and lush, deep blue-greens that make creamy-brown Hedgehog pop as the star. Plentiful double spreads and a clever mix of perspectives keep scenes entertaining from one page turn to the next, and expressive animal faces convey emotions without ambiguity. A gentle ending brings comfort and happy closure, plus a new friend who can see beyond Hedgehog’s thorny accoutrements.
Betton also lends her prolific talents to TWILIGHT CHANT, a beautiful and poetic science picture book written by Holly Thompson. Readers follow a family leaving the shore as the sun begins to sink and shift to twilight hours. Thompson’s lyrical text directs attention to the animals that become active at this time of day – the “crepuscular creatures emerge” – with smoothly rhythmic repetition that reads aloud beautifully. As deer graze, swallows skim, foxes sniff and bats swerve, each page turn leads to a new creature and heightens our appreciation of this calm yet intensely busy twilight time
The illustrations, rich with gold and rose dusky tints, showcase each animal and its setting with both realism and softness across double spread pages. The family wends their way home slowly, tucked in as a careful through-line to emphasize our environmental interconnectedness. The deepening sky colors conclude with purpley nightfall – making this title a perfect, calming bedtime selection. An author’s note clearly explains what twilight is and gives more information about the intriguing animals encountered in the story. A poetic masterpiece infused with subtle science and soothing imagery, TWILIGHT CHANT is one of a kind.
• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Find another recent #Epic18 picture book review here.
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.