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An Interview with Your Mama Author NoNieqa Ramos

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR NONIEQA RAMOS 

ABOUT HER DEBUT PICTURE BOOK 

YOUR MAMA

(Versify; $17.99, Ages 4 to 7)

 

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

Yo’ mama so sweet, she could be a bakery. She dresses so fine, she could have a clothing line. And, even when you mess up, she’s so forgiving, she lets you keep on living. Heartwarming and richly imagined, Your Mama, written by NoNieqa Ramos and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, twists an old joke into a point of pride that honors the love, hard work, and dedication of mamas everywhere.

 

INTERVIEW WITH NONIEQA RAMOS:

Colleen Paeff: Congratulations on the release of Your Mama (illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara)! This is your first picture book and it received two starred reviews––one from School Library Journal, which called it “an essential purchase” and one from Kirkus, which labeled the book “Perfectly dazzling.” That must have felt good! Or do you try not to pay attention to reviews?

NoNieqa Ramos: Thank you, Colleen! And congrats to you on your debut The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, and Rainbow Truck releasing in 2023!

CP: Thank you!

NR: If I said I didn’t pay attention to reviews, my friends would laugh so hard they’d fall off their chairs. Tail bones would crack. My writing is generally considered “experimental” or “unique” and reviews can vary wildly. So it is affirming and medicinal to get critical acclaim for a concept as “unique” as a Your Mama picture book, albeit one flipped into an ode of loving affirmation, for sure.

The reviews that light me up the most are from readers who find me on Instagram to tell me my writing has made them feel seen or from fellow writers I admire who show me book love. Their esteem is salve for my heart, food for my writer’s soul.

CP: Kwame Alexander’s imprint Versify published your book and Kwame himself book-talked Your Mama on YouTube. (!!!!) Was it extra special to have your book published by this particular publisher?

 

 

Your Mama int pg.1
Interior illustration from Your Mama written by NoNieqa Ramos and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, Versify ©2021.

 

NR: Working with poet, educator, New York Times Bestselling and Newbery Award winner, Kwame Alexander, on his new imprint Versify has been a montage of dreams-come-true! Watching him book-talk Your Mama on Youtube–and my fellow Versify sib Darshana Khiani (How To Wear A Sari, June 2022)– was a pinch-me moment.

I remember when I saw the Tweet that Kwame Alexander was starting a new imprint and that it was open for submissions. I thought– this is Your Mama’s home. Talk about shooting your shot.  I emailed my agent in milliseconds. Two weeks after the submission, I got the call.

It’s an immense honor to be part of Kwame’s artistic mission to “change the world one word at a time.”  I mean, my work is in the same house as writers like Kip Wilson (White Rose), Raúl the Third (Lowriders In Space) and Lamar Giles (Fake ID), founding member of We Need Diverse Books.

Every book journey is unique, and the field of publishing is like riding a bronco, no joke. I savor every second of success, but I measure my success differently with each new project. I’m feeling pretty hyped about this one.
 

CP: Your first two books, The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary and The Truth Is, are both YA, what inspired you to try your hand at picture book writing?

NR: Picture book writing is my first love. When I was in elementary school, I started “N&N Company” with my cousin Nikki and attempted to sell picture books (paperdolls, bookmarks, and cards) to my classmates until a dispute over payment drew the nuns’ attention and had me shut down!

I started off my teaching career working with preschoolers. Picture books are portable theaters, concerts, and museums. There’s nothing I loved more than seeing an emerging reader take a picture walk and narrate the story to their friends.

Brianne Farley, who illustrated Carrie Finison’s Dozens Of Doughnuts, said each picture book is like solving a puzzle, and I couldn’t agree more. I love the challenge of crafting rhyme with a narrative arc.

I write in rhythmic verse, a type of free verse, the jazz of poetry. What I adore about picture books is the spoken and unspoken collaboration between author and illustrator. I marvel at the music Jackie and I made with keyboard and pen.

 

Your Mama int pg.6,7
Interior spread from Your Mama written by NoNieqa Ramos and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, Versify ©2021.

 

CP: What’s something you enjoyed about the experience of writing a picture book that wasn’t a part of writing for the YA audience?

NR: All my works are a platform to fight for social justice. Picture books are a unique way to rise up against inequity and systemic oppression of the marginalized with the power of pure joy. Picture books are unbridled hope. With these magical tools, we raise not just the individual reader, but the human family.  When I gift a child a picture book by Kirsten Larson (A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything), I am giving the gift of ingenuity and persistence. When I gift a child a picture book by Yamile Saied Méndez (De Donde Eres), I gift a child cultural and family pride.

My YA The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is partially about burning the system down. The Truth Is is partially about dismantling the internalized racism and homophobia embedded in us from our inherently racist and homophobic society. In some ways, these protagonists inherited a world in ashes. My picture book protagonists inherit seeds.

With my debut Your Mama, I resisted the monolithic representation of Latinx women with nuanced exultation. I hope with Your Mama, all my readers celebrate how much they are loved by their caregivers, and all caregivers feel seen and revered.

CP: You’ve said you write to “amplify marginalized voices and to reclaim the lost history, mythology, and poetry of the Latinx community.” Did you grow up hearing those stories or did you discover them later in life?

NR: I discovered my first Latinx novel in graduate school, and I was transformed. Reading Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude spoke to me as a writer in a way absolutely no book ever had. He helped me find my voice.

My first discoveries of Latinx picture books for my first child and my students came from Lupe Flores’s Bilingual picture book The Battle Of The Snow Cones/La Guerra De Las Raspas and Lupita’s Papalote. Before that I was reading my child the staples like the disturbing Love You Forever and Runaway Bunny (Please read Leah Hong’s Happy Dreams, Little Bunny instead!). With our movements to diversify literature with #ownvoices perspectives, this narrative of invisibility and loss will one day be a thing of the past. Imagine the day when every child can find multiple books that make them feel seen, respected, nurtured, and celebrated. That day is coming!

CP: You’ve described yourself as a literary activist. What is that and how can I become one?

NR: I love your questions, Colleen! A literary activist creates works to disrupt texts, dismantle systems of oppression, and rebuild an equitable society. Every book gives you an opportunity to amplify your work’s message through article writing, conferences, and school visits. The Truth Is and The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary gives me a platform to talk about the lack of historical representation of BIPOC persons in school curriculums, the dire need for mental health services for the marginalized, and the still pervasive LGBTQIA+ homeless population.

Whenever I am in despair about the condition of the world, I turn to story to rewrite the narrative and I amplify the work of fellow authors who are changing the world with their work. Readers, check out Las Musas to learn about the works of my fellow Latinx writers whose work children’s literature “celebrates the diversity of voice, experience, and power” in Latinx communities. Check out https://www.soaring20spb.com/ for a beautiful diverse community of writers in children’s lit, where I met Colleen Paeff!

CP: I’m so glad it brought us together! I feel lucky to be a part of such an inspiring group of creators. What’s next for you, NoNieqa?

NR: I am working on a genderqueer picture book fairy tale retelling and my first dystopian novel. We’ll see where they land!

CP: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

NR: Thank you for this lovely chat, Colleen. Readers, don’t forget to add my future picture books Hair Story (September 7th, 2021) and Beauty Woke (February 15, 2022) on Goodreads. Thank you so much for your support! Hope you love Your Mama as much as I do.

 

NoNieqa Ramos Gentry Photography
NoNieqa Ramos ©Gentry Photography

BRIEF BIO:

NoNieqa Ramos wrote The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, which received stars from Booklist, Voya, and Foreword. It was a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection and a 2019 In the Margins Top Ten pick.

Versify will publish her debut picture book Your Mama, which received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus, on April 6th, 2021. Her second picture book, Hair Story, releases from Lerner September 6th, 2022.  NoNieqa is a proud member of Las Musas, The Soaring 20s, and PB Debut Troupe 21 collectives.

 

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SOCIAL MEDIA:

Website: www.nonieqaramos.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NoNieqaRamos

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nonieqa.ramos/

Las Musas Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/your-mama/9781328631886

 

READ MORE ABOUT NONIEQA:

Your Mama cover reveal & interview

NoNieqa and illustrator Paola Escobar chat with Mr. Schu about Beauty Woke

Be Latina on Your Mama

On Writing Diverse Characters and Resisting the Status Quo by NoNieqa

Voice Lessons by NoNieqa

Hip Latina Interview

 

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).  Click here for more info.

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An Interview with Clarinet and Trumpet Author Melanie Ellsworth

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR MELANIE ELLSWORTH

ABOUT HER PICTURE BOOK

CLARINET & TRUMPET

(HMH Books for Young Readers; $14.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Clarinet and Trumpet cover An Interview with Melanie Ellsworth

 

 

SUMMARIES OF MELANIE’S TWO PICTURE BOOKS:

Hip, Hip … Beret!HipHipBeret cover withFlocking Interview with Melanie Ellsworth
Written by Melanie Ellsworth
Illustrated by Morena Forza
(HMH BYR; $14.99, Ages 4-7)   

Bella’s beret blows away on a windy day, taking a ride through the seasons and landing in many places along the way. When the beret lands in a chef’s pan – hip, hip, soufflé! When it lands on the head of a dancer – hip, hip, ballet! As Bella searches for her missing beret, young readers can enjoy their own search for a few touchable felt berets inside the book.

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Clarinet and Trumpet
Written by Melanie Ellsworth
Illustrated by John Herzog
(HMH BYR; $14.99, Ages 4-7)
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Starred Review – School Library Journal
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Clarinet and Trumpet have a pitch-perfect friendship. But when Oboe convinces Clarinet that woodwinds should stick together, Clarinet and Trumpet’s harmonious relationship falls flat. Woodwinds and Brass face off – until music brings them back together. With pun-filled text and emotive illustrations, CLARINET & TRUMPET honors the important role music plays in creating community. 

 

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR MELANIE ELLSWORTH:

Colleen Paeff: Congratulations on the release of your second picture book, Clarinet & Trumpet (illustrated by John Herzog). I love all the wordplay in both this book and in your debut, Hip, Hip … Beret! (illustrated by Morena Forza). How did you get so punny?

Melanie Ellsworth:  Thanks, Colleen! It’s so nice to chat with you on Good Reads With Ronna. I think punny might be in my DNA. I grew up with a father who slips puns into conversations whenever possible. He also composes limericks for any and every occasion. So I can’t help myself. Wordplay makes the creative process more joyful!

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Clarinet and Trumpet interior spread2 Interview with Melanie Ellsworth
Interior spread from Clarinet & Trumpet written by Melanie Ellsworth and illustrated by John Herzog, HMH BYR ©2021.

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CP: The cover of Clarinet & Trumpet says “Shake this Book.” What happens when you shake the book and how did that idea come about?

ME: When I submitted the manuscript, I offered to include back matter on musical instruments. But my editor had a more innovative idea; she wanted a tactile element, so she suggested embedding a shaker/rattle so readers can join in the musical fun. When I received my author copies, I discovered that the sound-maker is cleverly embedded in the book’s spine. When you tip the book, it sounds (and works) a lot like a rainstick. It’s quite soothing!

Another neat musical feature about the book is that the “and” in the title is a G clef! I had never really noticed how similar the ampersand and the G clef were until I saw that switch. The art department was very clever!

CP: Do you play any instruments yourself or did writing a book about musical instruments require research? Or both?!

ME: Both! I did some googling of instrument terminology, sound words, and musical puns. But mostly, this book came from my own experience playing in bands, orchestras, district bands, and pit bands. I started piano lessons around age 7 and clarinet lessons around age 10. In high school, I took a few saxophone lessons just because saxophones are cool. Clarinet was always my favorite, though. I was hooked from the first time I heard its sound in an elementary school instrument “petting zoo.” I love the versatility of the clarinet – for classical, jazz, klezmer, big band, new age, you name it! I played clarinet through college and a bit afterward. Someday, I will whip my embouchure back into shape and join a local community band.

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Clarinet and Trumpet interior spread3 Interview with Melanie Ellsworth
Interior spread from Clarinet & Trumpet written by Melanie Ellsworth and illustrated by John Herzog, HMH BYR ©2021.

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CP: You said in a previous interview that you’ve always loved picture books. Why do you think they’ve had such a long-standing appeal for you?

ME: The quality cuddling time with my mom as we read picture books together started my love for the genre. My local library also fueled that love. The combination of lyrical text and gorgeous pictures is pretty magical at any age. Now that I write picture books as well as reading them, I still appreciate many of the same things I always have: the quiet cuddle time they inspire, the rich vocabulary and themes, the introduction for our youngest readers to other types of families and communities, the way picture books kindle empathy, the stunning art, and the way the art often tells another story – like getting a two-for-one deal! And I love a good challenge – trying to write a humorous, heartfelt story with themes relatable to both children and adults, with an arc and interesting characters, with text that sings, leaving plenty of room for the illustrator, and in less than 500 words.

CP: You spent time backpacking around Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. What’s one of your favorite memories from that time?

ME:  Hmmm, so many! One is staying with a family in Bomet, Kenya and helping with a community water-tank build. Now you’ve got me thinking about the delicious ground nut sauce I ate there. Another favorite memory is making it up to Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayas and eating the Snickers I had saved for that moment. Best Snickers ever. (Seems like I may have to write a travel/food-themed picture book!)

CP: Did you learn any lessons as a world traveler that you apply to your writing life?

ME: I’ve actually been thinking about this question for years, looking for the intersections between my travels and the life I live now. I’m hoping to find a way to write about it. Travel presents an opportunity to see other people more deeply and to think about the way my choices, and all of our choices, ripple out to affect a global community. I think you have to travel with a sense of humor, keep an eye out for the funny, absurd, and unusual, recognize that what strikes you as absurd may not be universal, and be open to many ways of seeing. These are all things that apply to writing as well.

CP: If I asked you to curate a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, what would it look like? 

ME: It sounds a bit dull, but starting the day with coffee at my desk up in my barn office works best for me. A perfect day might start with me writing a haiku to warm up my creative senses. Ideally, I’d start every day with writing or revising, but I almost always start by checking email. Usually, I set a timer so I don’t get completely off track with that. A perfect day would definitely involve a walk down to the river with my dog. I get to do that most days, and sometimes I pay close attention to nature – like crocuses unfurling or a pair of hooded mergansers on the river. Other days, I look inwards on walks and end up with new story ideas that I text to myself so I won’t forget them.

CP: Is there anything else I should have asked?

ME: Thanks for your super interesting questions! If I asked myself questions like these every day, my creative juices would always be flowing. Here’s another question that might be useful for readers: What are some tips to stay focused on writing when so much else is going on?

A friend once told me to do a “brain dump” each day. It involves setting a timer for 5 minutes and writing down everything on your mind (grocery lists, errands, worries, etc.) so you can free yourself from those distractions before starting creative work. Something similar that helps me is to make a list of all writing and non-writing tasks I hope to do that day in my bullet journal. (I also have a weekly goals list.) And if you’re having one of those days or weeks when you’re feeling frustrated because you are not crossing much off your to-do list, try this tip from one of my critique partners, Anna Crowley Redding. As you work, keep a separate list of everything you actually do that day. There’s always so much that crops up that you weren’t expecting, so this is a good reminder that you actually WERE productive, even when you’re not feeling it. Try it when you need a little boost.

CP: What’s next for you?

ME: Several of my picture books are on submission through my agent, and I’m always writing/revising a few new ones. I hope to try some other genres this year, including an early reader graphic novel and a middle-grade novel (which would involve finishing a book I started writing years ago).

 

BRIEF BIO:

Melanie Ellsworth Author Photo
Melanie Ellsworth Photo Courtesy ©Amy Wilton

Melanie Ellsworth is the author of HIP, HIP… BERET! and CLARINET & TRUMPET. Over the years, Melanie has played a variety of instruments, including the piano, the saxophone, and the clarinet. She has yet to try out the trumpet! Melanie has worked as an ESOL teacher and a literacy specialist and now writes in an old house in Maine where she lives with her family.  

Website: www.MelanieEllsworth.com

Twitter: @melanieells

Instagram: @melaniebellsworth

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MelanieEllsworthAuthor

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READ MORE ABOUT MELANIE HERE:

KidLit411 Author Spotlight

Critter Lit Interview

 

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).  Click here for more info.

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Read another interview by Colleen here.

 

 

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An Interview with I’m a Hare, So There! Author-Illustrator Julie Rowan Zoch

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JULIE ROWAN-ZOCH

ABOUT HER DEBUT AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR PICTURE BOOK

I’M A HARE, SO THERE!

(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

IAHST Cover

JOIN PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR COLLEEN PAEFF FOR

AN INTERVIEW

WITH JULIE ROWAN-ZOCH

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SHORT SUMMARY:

When a chipmunk mistakes Hare for a rabbit, Hare puts him in his place. But actually, the chipmunk is a SQUIRREL. Or so he says.

 

INTERVIEW WITH JULIE ROWAN-ZOCH:

Colleen Paeff: Hi Julie! Congratulations on the release of your author/illustrator debut, I’m a Hare, So There! The rabbit—I mean, hare—in this story has such a strong voice. (I love it!) Was that voice there from the get-go or did it develop over time? 

Julie Rowan Zoch: From the beginning, there was never any question about Jack’s personality, but recently I realized he has the same confidence as a close friend of mine. Must be why it felt so easy to write.

CP: I love the search-and-find element at the back of the book. Was that always part of the plan, or did that idea come later? 

JRZ: No, it was my editor, Kate O’Sullivan who suggested I added backmatter even before the contract was final. I wanted to keep it simple and we agreed visual elements with a few facts would be a good fit. The search-and-find was an extension of that idea.

CP: Can you talk a little about the process of writing and illustrating this book? Were there any big changes? 

JRZ: A big change in the ending happened before we submitted it as I had the plan to have the main character “carried off”! Luckily I was able to keep it kid-friendly AND still funny! Once it was with the editor she suggested some minor changes to the text and to add more similar-not-same elements, which I’m really grateful for – makes for a much better book. The art director, Celeste Knudsen also suggested a more colorful palette than I had originally intended, and I am grateful for that guidance too!

 

EarlyChippie from Interview with Julie Rowan-Zoch
Early sketch of Chippie from I’m a Hare, So There! written and illustrated by Julie Rowan-Zoch, HMH BYR ©2021.

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CP: Your debut picture book, Louis, was written by best-selling author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. How did you feel about creating illustrations for such a well-known illustrator? Did he have any say in what the illustrations looked like? 

JRZ: I was intimidated by the thought that the illustrations would be compared to his own, and luckily I quickly got over that! Just had to remind myself, anyone’s illustration style will always be compared to others! He did have a say, but that went through the editor, and she never gave me the feeling I had to adjust my own vision if I felt strongly about something. The HMH team was truly a joy to work with!

CP: What relationships (with individuals or groups) have been most helpful to you as you’ve made your way in children’s publishing? 

JRZ: Being a part of my regional SCBWI chapter and our local Connect group, (which I now facilitate) have helped me tremendously, especially with encouragement. I am also a 12×12 Picture Book Challenge member from the beginning, and some of the community I have met are very close friends now. Through both of these organizations, I have also found all of my critique partners, past and present, as well as the promotional groups I now enjoy being a part of – all of which have helped me through both book debuts happening during the pandemic! I do not want to imagine what it would have been like without them! I am also lucky to be able to trust my agent, Marcia Wernick, implicitly. She knows when to push and when to listen, shares a love of period drama, and has a great laugh! 

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ImaHareSoThere int7 from interview with Julie Rowan-Zoch
Interior spread from I’m a Hare, So There! written and illustrated by Julie Rowan-Zoch, HMH BYR ©2021.

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CP: Has failure played any part in your success? How? 

JRZ: Of course! No one learns without friction! I’ve racked up plenty of embarrassing moments in sharing awful manuscripts, first with my poor friends then with critique partners! And my agent can be very frank with me – thank goodness! I’ve had some tough art school teachers whose constructive criticism knocked the wind out of me as well as helped me get back up! Even the old neighborhood kids kept everyone’s ego in check – once they even left me hanging on a fence by my overalls! I suppose it’s all helped me grow a thick skin! 

CP: You’re a bookseller! How does that inform your work as an author and illustrator?

JRZ: I applied for the job thinking it would be interesting, and I was right! I see many books before they are released, so I am very aware of market trends; I hear what customers of different ages are asking for in children’s literature, and know that half of what sells are classics, and I learn that even books I like can be quite boring to a group of toddlers!

CP: If I asked you to curate a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, what would it look like? 

JRZ: My gut reaction is to say I wouldn’t want to! I don’t know how it all works when it works, and randomness may be the key! BUT when all else fails … read poetry and read it out loud!

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IAHSTdummy from Interview with Julie Rowan-Zoch
Interior spread from dummy of I am Hare, So There! written and illustrated by Julie Rowan-Zoch, HMH BYR ©2021.

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CP: What’s your advice to people (of all ages) who like drawing, but get discouraged by their lack of natural drawing ability? 

JRZ: If you love it, draw. I really don’t know if anyone has natural drawing ability. But I do know one gains the ability by drawing.

CP: Is there anything else I should have asked? 

JRZ: Have beliefs about how I wanted to make picture books changed since I started out (later in life to boot!)? 

JRZ: Yes. I was quite certain I would not want to illustrate for someone else’s text, and now I know it’s just as exciting and in some ways even more so! 

CP: What’s next for you? 

JRZ: Fingers crossed that a current offer to illustrate moves to contract, and that a dummy I’ve been revisiting on and off for years is finally ready to go walkabout!

 

Headshot JRZ
Julie Rowan-Zoch photo courtesy ©Diane Specht

BRIEF BIO:

Author, illustrator, bookseller, and activist: Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in NY, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden! 

For signed books, please leave a personalization request in the online order/comment section with my local indie bookstore (and place of employment!) here.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Website/Blog: https://julierowanzoch.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @JulieRowanZoch

Instagram: @jzroch

 

READ MORE ABOUT JULIE HERE:

Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog

12×12 Featured Author

Kidlit411 Illustrator Spotlight

The Picture Book Buzz

Mentor Text Talk

 

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).  Click here for more info.

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THE 2021 SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD BLOG TOUR

WELCOME TO DAY 4 OF THE STBA BLOG TOUR

 

STBA 2021 Blog Tour


FEATURING INTERVIEWS WITH

AUTHOR RABBI MYCHAL COPELAND

&

ILLUSTRATOR ANDRE CEOLIN

DISCUSSING THEIR

HONOR-WINNING PICTURE BOOK

I AM THE TREE OF LIFE: My Jewish Yoga Book

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BOOK SUMMARY:


The Torah is called the Tree of Life. Just as a tree is always growing and changing, the Torah’s ideas can help us grow and change, too. Yoga can do the same. Both can help us strengthen ourselves, calm our minds, and learn to appreciate the world around us.

Written by rabbi and certified yoga instructor Mychal Copeland, I Am the Tree of Life encourages us to explore both the world of yoga and the stories of the Bible and find meaning in both.

INTERVIEW WITH RABBI MYCHAL COPELAND:

GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your great honor, Rabbi! What a pleasure to have you as our guest today.

“How might it feel to stand at Mount Sinai? To dance at the red sea?” are the inviting opening words to your lovely picture book. This gentle and meaningful introduction to yoga through Torah exploration is a wonderful idea for a story. Please share your inspiration with us. Is this a practice you use with children?

Rabbi Mychal Copeland: This book came together organically, doing yoga with children at Jewish summer camps and synagogues. We imagined, together, which stories we could form with our bodies. I loved seeing kids use their imagination and how easily they understood what it means to embody, or become, an animal, object, or character. Those ideas evolved over many years into the poses in the book, alongside poses I brought into my adult Jewish yoga classes based on the weekly Torah readings and holidays.

GRWR: The beautiful blend of the spiritual and physical come together seamlessly in I AM THE TREE OF LIFE. What do you feel your book offers to youngsters especially now when they have been coping with an unprecedented pandemic?

RMC: Parents of young children are striving to bring grounding, healthy practices into their kids’ lives, especially during this pandemic. Yoga teaches adults and children that we can regulate our own breathing, calm ourselves down when necessary, pay attention to what we are feeling, and to be empowered in our bodies. Children have lost their daily opportunities for movement, so I’ve been thrilled to hear that this book has helped them get moving during this time. I hope that has, in turn, connected them to their spiritual selves and to the world around them as they embody a mountain, tree or a fish.

GRWR: I love how there’s a boat pose to signify Noah’s Ark. Did you have trouble finding poses to correlate to the various stories? Or did you select the stories based on existing poses?

RMC: I have been teaching yoga in a Jewish context for many years, and in my practice I connect the poses to the weekly Torah portion or Jewish holiday wherever there is a meaningful link. I have collected so many poses that fit perfectly with our stories. In fact, I had a tough time choosing which ones to drop to make the book the right length for children!

 

Tree pose int1
Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

 

GRWR: Do you have a particular favorite illustration and if so, why?

RMC: The book is based around the image of the tree, both as a metaphor for our Torah and of our bodies. The cover so perfectly brings those images together with a child coming into Tree Pose against the backdrop of a tree so we can see how our feet are like roots, legs like a trunk, and arms like branches. I also love the way he integrated the Torah stories we are about to read into the Tree of Life while we are forming Tree Pose on the opening pages. I also love the Crescent Moon, because Andre so beautifully captured the sweeping feeling of this pose and the story in Genesis.

 

Crescent moon int5
Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

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GRWR: The book is filled with a variety of wonderful Torah stories. Is your hope that, in addition to wanting to try yoga, children reading your book might also become interested in further Jewish study?

RMC: Yes! My hope is that the short glimpses into the Torah stories will pique a child’s curiosity to know the full stories. Perhaps at a Passover seder, they will hear the Exodus narrative and remember that they tried a yoga pose from that formative story. If they feel like that story is theirs because they embodied it, even better. I hear so many young adults say that they don’t feel Jewish enough, that they didn’t learn enough to feel it’s theirs, or that the Jewish community doesn’t accept them as being fully Jewish. My hope is that our upcoming generation of kids feel like they own their own Judaism. It is not someone else’s tradition that they are peering into. It is wholly theirs to live, learn, and create.

GRWR: I love how at the end of the book you address what’s Jewish about yoga. For those reading who do not yet have the book, what’s your answer?

RMC: Yoga emerges from the Hindu philosophical tradition. Jews have a long tradition of being open to learning and incorporating wisdom from other traditions that surround us (medieval liturgy based on Arabic poetry, piyyut, is another great example). But movement also has a long history in Judaism. Our ancient rabbis discussed how to move our bodies during prayer, recognizing that words are not the only way to pray. One medieval Jewish mystic matched Hebrew letters and vowels with head movements. Other kabbalists envisioned different aspects of God as a chart in the shape of a tree, the Tree of Life, and mapped that chart onto the human body. And Hasids used body movements to enhance their prayer.

So yoga is a practice that Jews are borrowing, but spiritual movement is not new to our people.

GRWR: This is such a feel good, calming read. What other Jewish or non-Jewish children’s books have you enjoyed reading for your own writing inspiration?

RMC: Howard Schwartz and Kristina Swarner’s Gathering Sparks (a Sydney Taylor Award winner) has been such an inspiration to me, inviting children to contemplate a complex spiritual, mystical idea in a way that is both relatable and calming. Their book, Before You Were Born, has that same mystical, whimsical quality. I have also been heavily influenced by Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s work (In God’s Name, God’s Paintbrush and so many others), bringing a depth of spiritual conversation to an ecumenical audience.

GRWR: What else would you like to mention about your experience writing the book?

RMC: In early conversations with Apples and Honey Press, we wanted to make sure that the children pictured in the book would represent the diversity of the Jewish community. They brought Brazilian artist, André Ceolin, to the project and I am overjoyed with the illustrations. Portraying children of color in books does not solve the deep-seated issues we face in the Jewish community or our larger American culture. Yet making sure People of Color are represented in Jewish children’s literature is one way we can show kids they are visible in Jewish life, while showing white children that a diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds is what Jewish looks like. We can offer the next generation an invitation to connect themselves to Jewish stories and other Jews. Collectively, we can make intentional choices about which stories and images are passed on.

 

INTERVIEW WITH ANDRE CEOLIN:

GRWR: Congratulations on your great honor! What a pleasure to have you as our guest today, André.

On the very first spread of the book readers see the tree of life pose along with the tree itself representing the Torah. Can you speak to some of the wisdom shown on the different branches of the tree, the preview of stories to come, and how you imagined this particular illustration?

André Ceolin: Both Ann Kofsky, from Behrman House, and Rabbi Mychal have given me the guidelines and important insights for that illustration, coming up with the idea of the tree showing the passages in each branch.

The tree is strong and healthy, and each branch of it shows an image which represents a passage from the Torah. For me it shows that the wisdom from each passage lead us to a balanced, steady and healthy life.

GRWR: Can you please tell us how you created the artwork? Was it done digitally? And what made you choose this color palate? How long did it take to complete the illustrations?

AC: On a piece of paper and using a good pencil, I always start with several small sketches, the size of a thumbnail, for each illustration to be done. In doing so, I experiment several approaches, having a general idea of the drawing structure, without being distracted by the details.

After evaluating all the miniature sketches, I shoot some photos of the best ones and then, start to work at the computer in a bigger and more detailed version, which will be sent later to the editors and authors for evaluation .

Once approved, I get started with the final version of the illustration, more elaborate and colorful. This step is made digitally as well.

Regarding the color palates, each drawing has its own one in order to express the feeling and the time period in which the story takes place.

Normally, it takes from 2 to 4 days for each illustration, from the sketches to the final version, depending on its complexity.

GRWR: Do you have a particular favorite illustration and if so, why?

AC: The illustration with Jonah inside the giant fish is my favorite, because it was really fun to illustrate that monster-fish. Besides, the image shows some tension, at the same time that it shows hope.

 

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Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

 

GRWR: You made all the poses look so easy and fun. Did you have to learn yoga to be able to illustrate this book?

AC: Yes, I had to learn a little bit about Yoga, despite not being able to do many of the poses (maybe one day I will take some Yoga classes). Rabbi, through her feedback helped me a lot to correct and make right each of the poses illustrations, as shown in the book.

GRWR: Who are some of the illustrators who have influenced your art?

AC: There are many artists whose work I admire. Stephen Michael King, Rodney Mathews, Rebecca Dautremer and Edivaldo Barbosa de Souza are some of the artists who inspire me.

GRWR: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your experience illustrating this book?

AC: Illustrating The Tree of Life was a very rich and enjoyable experience in which, in addition to learning about yoga, I learned about the wisdom of the Torah and Jewish culture.

 

GOODREADSWITHRONNA THANKS YOU BOTH SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR THOUGHTFUL REPLIES!

 

BIOS:

You can find Mychal getting into yoga poses while teaching, writing, reading Torah, and even leading Shabbat services at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.  Mychal is both a Reconstructionist and Reform rabbi, earned a masters and teaching credential from Harvard Divinity School, and is a certified yoga instructor, fusing Jewish spirituality with movement through yoga. She co-edited Struggling in Good Faith: LGBTQI Inclusion from 13 American Religious Perspectives (SkyLight Paths, 2016) and I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book (Apples & Honey Press, 2020)  is her first children’s book. She leads yoga sessions that are steeped in Jewish thought and prayer, melding breath and posture practice with Jewish ideas.  Her interests span Jewish magical texts, interfaith dialogue, Jewish issues of inclusion, and teaching Judaism as a spiritual path. 

Click here for my Facebook page where people can find me and yoga opportunities for their kids.

 

Ceolin photoAndré Ceolin is a self-taught illustrator from Brazil He started his first attempt at sketching around the age of four when his father brought home some reams of paper from work. It was in that moment that he fell in love with painting and drawing. André initially got a degree in pharmacy at UNIMEP. Though he worked in this field for several years, his artistic passion was too strong to ignore. As a young father, he was surrounded by beautiful children’s books and was always drawn to the spontaneity of the imagery. He then decided to switch gears and studied at School of Visual Arts in NYC, Melies, and Escola Panamericana de Artes to develop a signature look and learned new illustration techniques. He illustrated his first book “Um Dia na Vida de Micaela” de Cauê by Steinberg Milano, published by Editora Roda & Cia in 2009. Ever since, he has illustrated over 20 books by great publishers in Brazil such as Roda & Cia, Saber e Ler, SM, Moderna, FTD, Editora do Brasil, Editora Abril. He loves working with books targeting juvenile readers from the very young age to middle-grade and young adult. When not illustrating, he creates toys and small sculptures for his son. He also enjoys bicycling, playing his guitar, and, singing. Visit his website here.

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BOOKMARK THESE SITES:

Association of Jewish Libraries

Sydney Taylor Book Award
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STBA BLOG TOUR DATES

Below is the schedule for the 2021 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Please follow the links to visit the hosting blogs on or after their tour dates, and be sure to leave them plenty of comments!

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2021 

Lesléa Newman and Susan Gal, author and illustrator of Welcoming Elijah
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Picture Book Category
at A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal

Sofiya Pasternack, author of Anya and the Nightingale
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at 100 Scope Notes at School Library Journal

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2021

M. Evan Wolkenstein, author of Turtle Boy
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Middle Grade Category
at Mr. Schu Reads

Jane Yolen and Khoa Lee, author and illustrator of Miriam at the River
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Picture Book Category
at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast 

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2021

Anne Blankman, author of The Blackbird Girls
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at The Paper Brigade Daily at The Jewish Book Council

Monica Hesse, author of They Went Left
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Young Adult Category
at Jewish Books for Kids

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2021

Tyler Feder, author of Dancing at the Pity Party
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Young Adult Category
at Out of the Box at The Horn Book

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2021

Tziporah Cohen, author of No Vacancy
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

Podcast interview at The Children’s Book Podcast

Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah

Read about last year’s 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour here.

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Kids’ Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Becoming a Good Creature

BECOMING A GOOD CREATURE

Written by Sy Montgomery

Illustrated by Rebecca Green

(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

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Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Sy Montgomery’s New 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.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

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.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

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.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

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 here then scroll down the page to learn more about Rebecca Green’s artwork.
  • Read a review of another picture book about animals here.

 

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Bedtime Story Review – Goodnight Veggies

GOODNIGHT VEGGIES

Written by Diana Murray

Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

 

Starred Review –The Horn Book

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Written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, Goodnight Veggies invites readers to settle in and cozy up with an endearing host of anthropomorphized veggies getting ready for bed. 

 

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Goodnight Veggies written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, HMH BYR ©2020.

 

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. 

 

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Goodnight Veggies written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, HMH BYR ©2020.

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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 dreamsome 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. 

 

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Goodnight Veggies written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, HMH BYR ©2020.

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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.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – Federico and the Wolf

FEDERICO AND THE WOLF

Written by Rebecca J. Gomez

Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

If you love fairy tale retellings, Federico and the Wolf is 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.

 

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Interior spread from Federico and the Wolf written by Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Clarion Books ©2020.

 

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.

 

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Interior spread from Federico and the Wolf written by Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Clarion Books ©2020.

 

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.

Find out more about Rebecca here.

Find out more about Elisa here.

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Caspian Finds a Friend

CASPIAN FINDS A FRIEND

Written by Jacqueline Véissid

Illustrated by Merrilees Brown

(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

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Starred Review – Kirkus

Written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Caspian Finds a Friend begins 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.

 

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Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

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.” 

 

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Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

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. 

 

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Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

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.

• Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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Children’s Book Review – Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner

LENNY THE LOBSTER CAN’T STAY FOR DINNER …

Written by Finn Buckley with Michael Buckley

Illustrated by Catherine Meurisse

(Phaidon; $16.95, Ages 4-7)

 

 

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.

 

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Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner written by Finn & Michael Buckley, illustrated by Catherine Meurisse, ©Phaidon 2019; dust jacket and front cover.

 

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.

 

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Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner, Finn & Michael Buckley, illustrated by Catherine Meurisse, ©Phaidon 2019; ‘When Lenny got to the dinner party, everyone was excited to seem him. ‘(page 6) ‘In fact, they seemed a little too excited … ‘ (page 7)

 

It’s hard not to smile when looking at the many renditions of Lenny and his crazy antics. Catherine Meurisse’s art 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.

 

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Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner, Finn & Michael Buckley, illustrated by Catherine Meurisse, ©Phaidon2019; ‘As Lenny fought his way through the dinner party, a few things happened that are hard to explain … ‘ (pages 26-27)

 

The text is a father-son collaboration between Michael and Finn Buckley who “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!

 

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You Loves Ewe! for Valentine’s Day 2020

YOU LOVES EWE!
(A Yam and Donkey Book)

Written and illustrated by Cece Bell
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

You Loves Ewe! cover

 

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!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Other recommended Valentine’s Day reads:

Happy Heart by Hannah Eliot with art by Susie Hammer
I Love You Like No Otter by Rose Rossner with art by Sydney Hanson

I Love You, Elephant!
by Carles Ballesteros
Love and the Rocking Chair by Leo & Diane Dillon
I am Love by Susan Verde with art by Peter H. Reynolds
Invisible Lizard in Love
by Kurt Cyrus with art by Andy Atkins
Guess How Much I Love You 25th Anniversary Edition in slipcase including keepsake art print by Sam McBratney with art by Anita Jeram

Click here for last year’s recommended Valentine’s Day reads.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 – Sumo Joe

SUMO JOE
Written by Mia Wenjen
Illustrated by Nat Iwata
(Lee & Low Books; $18.95, Ages 4-7)

 

Sumo Joe book cover

 

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.”

 

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Interior spread from Sumo Joe written by Mia Wenjen and illustrated by Nat Iwata, Lee & Low Books ©2019.

 

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.

 

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Interior spread from Sumo Joe written by Mia Wenjen and illustrated by Nat Iwata, Lee & Low Books ©2019.

 

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

 

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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

Super Platinum

Make A Way Media/ Deirdre “DeeDee” Cummings

Platinum

Language Lizard, Pack-N-Go Girls

Gold

Audrey Press, Lerner Publishing Group, KidLit TV, ABDO BOOKS : A Family of Educational Publishers, PragmaticMom & Sumo Joe, Candlewick Press

Silver

Author Charlotte Riggle, Capstone Publishing, Guba Publishing, Melissa Munro Boyd & B is for Breathe

Bronze

Author Carole P. Roman, Snowflake Stories/Jill Barletti, Vivian Kirkfield & Making Their Voices Heard, Barnes Brothers Books, TimTimTom, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books, Charlesbridge Publishing, Barefoot Books, Talegari Tales

Author Sponsor Link Cloud

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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 CoHosts HERE.

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A Crafty Arab, Afsaneh Moradian, Agatha Rodi Books, All Done Monkey, Barefoot Mommy, Bethany Edward & Biracial Bookworms, Michelle Goetzl & Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Educators Spin on it, Shauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylink, Growing Book by Book, Here Wee Read, Joel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}, Imagination Soup, Kid World Citizen, Kristi’s Book Nook, The Logonauts, Mama Smiles, Miss Panda Chinese, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Serge Smagarinsky {Australia}, Shoumi Sen, Jennifer Brunk & Spanish Playground, Katie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

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Children’s Christmas Books Roundup 2019

CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

 

 

Christmas Is Coming! coverChristmas Is Coming!
Celebrate the Holiday with Art, Stories, Poems, Songs, and Recipes
By The Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Abrams BYR; $24.99, Ages 8 and up)  

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Christmas 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.

The Little Fir Tree coverThe Little Fir Tree
By Hans Christian Andersen

Illustrated by Christopher Corr
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

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.

Little Robins Christmas coverLittle Robin’s Christmas
By Jan Fearnley

(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

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.

santas secret book coverSanta’s Secret
By Denise Brennan-Nelson

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 5-7)

Santa’s Secret delights 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!

How to Trick a Christmas Elf cvrHow to Trick a Christmas Elf
By Sue Fliess

Illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo
(Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

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.


Read another roundup of 2019 holiday books
here.


Additional Recommended Reads for 2019:

The Tree That’s Meant to Be 
By Yuval Zommer

Dear Santa: For Everyone Who Believes in the Magic of Christmas
By Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by John Joseph

 

 

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Children’s Book Blog Tour – Greta and the Giants

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH ZOE PERSICO

ILLUSTRATOR OF GRETA AND THE GIANTS

 

 

ABOUT GRETA AND THE GIANTS
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7) 

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

zoe persico
Self-portrait of 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.

 

Greta and the Giants.Interior Spread1
Interior artwork from Greta and the Giants written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ©2019.

 

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).

 

Greta and the Giants.Interior Spread2.jpg
Interior artwork from Greta and the Giants written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ©2019.

 

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.

 

Greta and the Giants.Interior Spread3.jpg
Interior artwork from Greta and the Giants written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ©2019.

 

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.

READ MORE!

Visit the below bloggers for reviews and other Greta and the Giants related coverage.

Tuesday 11/12: This West Coast Mommy

Wednesday 11/13: Happily Ever Elephants 

Thursday 11/14: Here Wee Read

Friday 11/15: Picture Book Play Date  

 

  • Interview by Ronna Mandel

 

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Halloween Picture Books 2019 – A Roundup

BEST NEW PICTURE BOOKS FOR HALLOWEEN

A ROUNDUP

PART 3

free clip art pumpkin

 

 

Skulls book coverSKULLS!
Written by Blair Thornburgh
Illustrated by Scott Campbell
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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 book coverHAPPY HALLOWEEN, PIRATES!
Written by W. Harry Kirn
Illustrated by Inna Chernyak
(Clever Publishing; $12.99, Ages 3 and up)

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?

Ghastly Ghosts Book CoverGHASTLY GHOSTS
Written by Teresa Bateman
Illustrated by Ken Lamug
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

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 witch book coverCLEVER LITTLE WITCH
Written by Muon Thi Van
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99, Ages 4-6)

Clever Little Witch is 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? YESthe 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 Goblin Cannot Have a Monster cvrGINNY GOBLIN CANNOT HAVE A MONSTER FOR A PET
Written by David Goodner
Illustrated by Louis Thomas
(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

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.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Read another Halloween Books Roundup here.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – My Name is Wakawakaloch!

MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH!
Written by Chana Stiefel
Illustrated by Mary Sullivan
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch! book cover

 

 

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.

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch int spread1 by Mary Sullivan
Interior spread from My Name is Wakawakaloch! written by Chana Stiefel and illustrated by Mary Sullivan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2019.

 

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!

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch in2t illustration by Mary Sullivan
Interior spread from My Name is Wakawakaloch! written by Chana Stiefel and illustrated by Mary Sullivan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2019.

 

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.

 

 

 

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