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Picture Book Review – Wake, Sleepy One

 

 

WAKE, SLEEPY ONE:

California Poppies and the Super Bloom

by Lisa Kerr

Illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun

(West Margin Press; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

From seed to “super bloom,” debut author, Lisa Kerr, introduces readers to the California desert poppy in a combination of lyrical and expository nonfiction text. From the publisher: “A lyrical ode to California’s most treasured wildflower, Wake, Sleepy One gently captures the quiet strength of the poppy in all its breathtaking wonder.”

 

Wake Sleepy One int1 desert
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

As the sleepy poppy wakes, it “rises” from the ground “reaching” for the sun and “waiting” for her time to shine. This “tiny dancer” swirls and twirls in the breeze as it is joined by hundreds of other waking seeds in a rare natural phenomenon of the desert super bloom.

 

Wake Sleepy One int2 poppies wake
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Lisa Powell Braun’s charming artwork supports Kerr’s spare text and offers a variety of reading options for this book. The youngest of listeners will be able to grasp the story’s concept and watch the poppy “wake…rise…reach…wait…unfold…dance” and “shimmer” with a simple reading of each page’s single italicized line. Preschool and kindergarten listeners will delight in the added emotional tension of the entire main text, while older readers will appreciate the facts in Kerr’s nonfiction sidebars.

 

Wake Sleepy One int3 backmatter
Interior art from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Two full spreads of stellar backmatter add to its usability in the classroom, and make this a perfect resource for learning about desert landscapes!

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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Picture Book Review – The Path

THE PATH

Written and illustrated by Bob Staake

(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

The Path cover

 

This is the time of year when many people attend graduations. And not just high school and college graduations. They go to all kinds of graduations from kindergarten to massage school and lots more in between. But the road taken may have been long and winding with obstacles and indecisiveness. And what of the road ahead? That’s why it’s so lovely to have a book such as The Path by Bob Staake that celebrates the journey as much as the accomplishment. In other words, this book is ideal not just for the graduate, but for celebrating individuality as well.

 

The Path int1
Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

Acclaimed New Yorker cover artist and author and/or illustrator of more than 50 books, Bob Staake brings readers both young and old a picture book that simply and gorgeously addresses the highs and lows of life’s pathways. They are not always straightforward.

 

The Path int2
Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

Written in second person, the prose does not always promise that things will be easy and that’s the honesty that appeals to me. It’s also how Staake’s stunning illustrations and color palette convey this message. The path doesn’t always lead to ribbons and rainbows. But as things begin looking up for the traveler, the colors begin to lighten up, too.

 

The Path int3
Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

This is a picture book about possibilities. It’s not just about the path we choose but about our outlook, and our perspective. I think reading The Path together with kids can help them not only look at what choices exist but it can also help them understand what taking each one will mean, and how to forge their own unique way in the world. What a super conversation starter for parents, caregivers, and teachers about self-reliance at an age when children are beginning to assert their independence.

Find an exclusive bonus print from Bob Staake inside the jacket.

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On Celiac Strong Day – An Interview with Violet and the Crumbs Illustrator Molly Ruttan

AN INTERVIEW WITH  MOLLY RUTTAN,

ILLUSTRATOR OF

VIOLET AND THE CRUMBS:
A Gluten-Free Adventure

Written by Abigail Rayner

(North/South Books;  $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

VioletandtheCrumbs Cover Reveal interview cover

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY

Success has never tasted so good!

The dynamic duo of I Am a Thief by Abigail Rayner (author) and Molly Ruttan (illustrator) have created a new picture book sure to spark conversations about this timely issue.

Violet used to love birthday parties, but now that she has celiac disease, she’s not allowed to eat pizza, cake, or anything else with gluten. Violet feels alone until she discovers that some animals have dietary restrictions as well. While standing up for her animal friends, she realizes she can do the same for herself. And when it’s time to celebrate Violet’s birthday, there isn’t a single gluten-containing crumb in sight!

Filled with pluck and humor, this informative story provides a great opportunity to discuss this increasingly common condition with children who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance as well as those who know people who have it and are seeking to learn more about it.

This book has been approved by the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Watch the trailer and hear about illustrator Molly Ruttan’s experiences working on Violet on the North/South blog

Click here to find Violet teacher resources including activities and coloring pages.

 

INTERVIEW WITH MOLLY RUTTAN

Molly Ruttan: Before I start, I want to thank you for featuring me on your amazing blog, Ronna! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my new book!

GoodReadsWithRonna: I’m happy to be able to showcase you and your artwork here today and I appreciate that, in the midst of all your promotion, you made time to answer these questions.

 

GRWR: What would you say, as an author-illustrator with several books under your belt, is the biggest challenge when illustrating someone else’s manuscript as compared to your own? Is the approach the same?

MR: As an author-illustrator, the process of working with the text and the pictures at the same time feels very natural to me. When I work with a manuscript someone else has written, I shift my process a bit. Jumping into a manuscript that someone else has written is like diving into the deep water, as opposed to wading out there. But the deep dive is part of the joy, and as I work on mapping out the book and making the little dummies I begin to develop a solid connection to it. The connection becomes even stronger as I go through the process of finding the characters. By the time I have all the characters and their setting, and I have begun the full-size book dummy, I have become so familiar with the story that the process feels very much the same from that point forward. Of course, not being able to touch the words can sometimes be frustrating, but I have found that often it will push me to dig for visual solutions that are extremely satisfying to find.

 

GRWR: Was there much research involved about celiac disease before you could begin your sketches?

MR: I didn’t have to do a lot of research about celiac disease beforehand because, being somewhat gluten-intolerant myself, I knew enough about it to get started. Abigail Rayner, being the author and celiac-disease expert, reviewed my drawings along the way and made helpful suggestions. Our editor worked closely with the Celiac Disease Foundation, including sending the final draft of the book to them for review. And since NorthSouth Books is an international publisher and a German version of the book is also being released in DACH (Germany, Austria & Switzerland,) European gluten-free guidelines were also verified. For my own part, the end pages required the most research ahead of time, as I wanted to depict the grains and different plants as accurately & specifically as possible.

 

Ruttan Violet and the Crumbs COVER German & English 2-up
English and German covers, Violet and the Crumbs: A Gluten-Free Adventure written by Abigail Rayner and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

GRWR: How would you describe the particular technique that you use for illustrating? Please tell us how you achieved the look of the gluten clouds that accompany the crumbs!

MR: I would describe my technique as a wonderfully messy collaboration between traditional and digital media! I work with charcoal and pastel on watercolor and other papers. I use a charcoal pencil for the drawings, pastels for the color, and charcoal stencils for the gradation, shading and textures. Naturally, charcoal and pastel dust gets everywhere as I scan (I don’t spray my drawings because of a slight allergy to the fixative). Then the less-messy part of the process starts as I wipe down my scanner and paint digitally in Photoshop. I love the blend of charcoal linework and texture with the pastel color & texture I can create this way. Sometimes I also add liquid acrylic washes and texture as well. I love working traditionally but I also love all the options working digitally provides.

To create the gluten clouds that accompany the crumbs throughout the book, I used a slightly advanced photoshop technique. I scanned in all the stenciled swirly shapes I had created with charcoal-like I usually do, but then I colorized them using the channels. I love this technique – it gives me incredible flexibility because I can make the charcoal any color I want! And I love how the pastel and charcoal textures merge.

 

GRWR: What gave you the idea to make the evil gluten crumbs into characters?

MR: What—do you mean to tell me crumbs aren’t really alive?? Haha, seriously though… the idea to make the crumbs into characters was a collaboration. There was an art note in the manuscript suggesting “evil crumbs moving between food items via hands”, and my wonderful editor, (who I had worked with before on my first book with Abigail Rayner, I am a Thief!) remembered how I had animated the jewel I had done for that book and suggested I could do something similar with the crumbs in this book. What the crumbs looked like was obviously up to me, and I decided it would be more fun to make them grumpy, argumentative and disgruntled rather than straight up evil– I wanted to have more variety of expression, and I didn’t want them to be too scary.

 

Ruttan Crumbs close-up
Interior page from Violet and the Crumbs: A Gluten-Free Adventure written by Abigail Rayner and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

GRWR: Did you always imagine Violet in a super-hero type outfit?

MR: In the text, Violet “takes desperate measures to defy the crumbs at school”, and there was an art note suggesting that she makes some sort of ridiculous protective suit. Since I had the idea to make crumb “clouds”, I gave her a suit based on rain gear, including an umbrella. But I felt something was still missing—so in my doodles, I spontaneously added a cape, and Violet’s superhero avatar sprung into being! I loved this solution because it freed me to play with her as that identity as she helps her animal friends. It also perfectly emphasized her heroic journey. I often find that the spontaneous solutions that come to me through drawing are the most fun and rewarding!

 

Ruttan Violet Feels Safe
Interior spread from Violet and the Crumbs: A Gluten-Free Adventure written by Abigail Rayner and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

GRWR: You capture the expressions on Violet’s face and her body language so well. Does this process take a long time until you feel you get it right?

MR: Some drawings fall into place and others take a long time, but I usually get the gist of what I want right away in sketches, and then refine the expressions & poses when I make final drawings. When I’m drawing, I catch myself unconsciously making faces that match the expressions I’m drawing – this is when I’m grateful that I work alone, haha! I like getting into the position and acting out what I’m trying to draw too. It helps me feel what the characters are experiencing and helps the drawing of it.

 

GRWR: Were the beautiful and info-filled illustrated endpapers your idea? It’s great how in the front you depict foods containing gluten and in the back, you show which grains, starches, or flours can be part of a gluten-free diet.

MR: Thank you! I really enjoyed illustrating the end pages! I knew from the beginning that there would be back-matter on the back end pages – originally it was one page for the “About Celiac disease”, and a spread for a recipe and the rest of the information. When my editor saw my sketches, she suggested we would drop the recipe and spread out all the information across the two end-page spreads. I loved this idea, and we decided it would be fun to separate the gluten and gluten-free information to the front and back spreads, just the way the kids separated the food on the picnic table!

 

Ruttan Front end-pages
Endpapers from Violet and the Crumbs: A Gluten-Free Adventure written by Abigail Rayner and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

 

GRWR: Can you share with us any new projects you are working on?

MR: I recently submitted all the final art for my next author/illustrated book, Something Wild, published by Nancy Paulsen Books. It’s about stage fright—something I have battled my entire life. The book tells the story of a girl who loves to play her violin but is terrified of the upcoming recital. She imagines all kinds of wild things she wishes would happen to keep her from having to perform. It’s a subject very close to my heart and I’m excited about it! It comes out in a year—April 2023.

I’m currently illustrating another book which I’m also very excited about, written by Stacy Lynn Carroll, called The Yowlers, also published by Nancy Paulsen Books. It’s about a grumpy family who transforms as they experience the joys of goodwill and graciousness under the influence of new, happy neighbors. This book is slated for April 2024.

I also have a very active critique group that keeps me busy with sharing new ideas. I have one book almost ready to go back out on submission. My list of things to work on is always very long!

 

GRWR: And finally, can you offer aspiring illustrators any word of advice that you got as a beginning illustrator that has stayed with you over the years?

MR: I love the Oscar Wilde quote: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” As a twin, this quote has been particularly helpful for me in all aspects of life! But thinking of this as it applies to my own art has been—and continues to be—also very helpful. It goes along with what my wonderful teacher and mentor Marla Frazee once told our class—that often we tend to think that what comes easy for us isn’t valuable or legitimate because it’s easy. It is just the opposite! Not everyone finds doing whatever that is that you do, easy. Lean into what flows out of you, inspires you, and gives you joy.

 

GRWR: Thanks so much for all your great answers, Molly. It’s so fascinating to get inside the head of creators!

MR: You are so welcome!! And thank you so much, Ronna, for having me on your fantastic blog! I know you have been through a lot lately, and I really appreciate your taking the time to support me and my new book.

BUY THE BOOK

Below is a link to order a signed copy from Molly’s local independent bookstore, Once Upon a Time. When ordering, be sure to write in the comments section that you want a signed copy. And if you’d like the book to be personalized, please include the name. The book also comes with a bookmark!

Here is the link to Simon & Schuster (which includes other links for purchasing as well)

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the Cooper Union School of Art, New York. She currently lives, works, and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles.

Her titles include her author/illustrator debut, The Stray, from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, and I Am A Thief! along with Violet and the Crumbs by Abigail Rayner for NorthSouth Books. Molly has two additional titles forthcoming with Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency.

http://www.prospectagency.com/  

FIND MOLLY RUTTAN ONLINE

Website: www.mollyruttan.com

Facebook: Molly Ruttan

Instagram: mollyillo

Twitter: @molly_ruttan

See the cover reveal post here.

 

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What We’re Reading for Mother’s Day 2022

 

MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS 

A ROUNDUP OF WHAT’S NEW FOR KIDS

 

 

Me And My Mama coverME AND MY MAMA
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin
(Sourcebooks Kids; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

I recommend this sweet, satisfying board book that shines a loving light on Black children enjoying various mother/child activities throughout the course of a day. Told in succinct and spry rhyme, the text allows a parent or caregiver to read at a quick pace or stop with each new scene to discuss what’s happening in the art. Speaking of art, Corrin’s expressive illustrations immediately draw our eyes in so we focus on the joy, and other emotions taking place as different children spend special one-on-one time with their mamas whether that’s making pizza, being given a bath, or getting tucked into bed.

 

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle coverMAMA AND MOMMY AND ME IN THE MIDDLE
Written by Nina LaCour
Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)  
Starred Review – Booklist and Publishers Weekly 

There is so much to like about this picture book from the two-mom parents, a biracial couple, to the beautiful art that is filled with special details, and the loving familial relationship evident on every page. And though not a “Mother’s Day” book per se, it felt right to include it here.

In this story, one parent, Mommy, goes away on a business trip and the child recounts day by day how she misses her from the Sunday departure to the Sunday return a week later. LaCour details little things from a child’s perspective that mark her mom’s absence and how Mama is there to help ease the little girl’s sadness.

Added to that are Juanita’s delightful illustrations that invite lingering. One that is especially touching is when the child has her head down on the kitchen table, uncomfortable that with Mommy gone, she is not in the middle of her parents. Tender moments are conveyed in both art and prose. One very realistic event is when Mommy comes home. Readers will see the girl anticipating her mother’s return and notice that over several spreads her mood seems to go from the excitement of preparing a bouquet to sadness as she recalls how much missing she had done over the week. But after explaining her feelings to her mom, and being validated, the little girl can now once again revel in being back in the middle.  

 

All Moms coverALL MOMS
Written by Sarah Kate Ellis + Kristen Ellis-Henderson
Illustrated by Max Rambaldi
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

In this rollicking read-aloud (A Proud Partnership between glaad + little bee books) readers are introduced to a variety of moms in a clever take on all kinds of mothering. While the rhyme is not always spot on, the overall theme of the book is hard to resist. Coupled with the lively and diverse characters spread throughout the book in the colorful and expansive art, All Moms is a book I think children will appreciate.

We meet moms who are sporty, moms who are musical,  moms who fix cars, moms who are crafty, as well as those who “are early and others are late.” The book depicts moms as bosses, moms as doctors, single moms who “work twice as hard to make our lives fun.” There are dads who give hugs like moms, a grandma and grandson, and moms who “give snuggles. Some play pretend. Some moms read stories or help you make friends.” Since “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to accelerating LGBTQ acceptance,” there’s a terrific spread of a Pride Parade with people carrying rainbow flags, and Equality, Love Has No Limits and Love is Love signs. All Moms is a good reminder that moms come in all shapes, ages, sizes, and colors with assorted interests but most important is that “all moms’ love is as big as the sky.”

See last year’s roundup here.

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Meet Bug on the Rug Author Sophia Gholz and Illustrator Susan Batori

∼ BUG ON THE RUG BLOG TOUR ∼

 

AUTHOR SOPHIA GHOLZ

&

ILLUSTRATOR SUSAN BATORI

DISCUSS THEIR NEW PICTURE  BOOK

BUG ON THE RUG

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Bug on the Rug cover

 

 

SUMMARY FROM PUBLISHER:

BUG ON THE RUG – Pug is snug on his rug. But what happens when along comes BUG?! With a claim to the rug?! The two engage in a hysterical, rhyming battle of wits and strength until Slug asks the necessary questions and helps them find common ground. Rhyming is an important developmental reading skill. It teaches phonics (decodable text) and helps young readers infer content. This is a fun story to build those skills–and is an epic read-aloud!

 

INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIA GHOLZ:

Welcome to GoodReadsWithRonna, Sophia!  I’m excited to have you as my guest to learn more about your wonderful new picture book BUG ON THE RUG.

GoodReadsWithRonna: I’ve read that as a child you enjoyed horses. I’m curious where pugs fit into the big picture—was it the rhyming potential, their utter adorableness, or something else?

Sophia Gholz: Thanks, Ronna! I’m excited to be here to celebrate BUG ON THE RUG with you.

I often referred to myself as a “barn rat” as a kid and spent as much time with horses as I could. To this day, the smell of a farm still feels like home. While there were always barn cats, dogs, and a slew of other characters in the mix, there weren’t any barn pugs, unfortunately. My love of little dogs actually came about in adulthood. When I lived in New York City, I had a Brussels Griffon who everyone mistook for a pug. I just adore little foofy pooches and their giant personalities. But pug love aside, the true inspiration behind this book is my younger brother. I have lovingly referred to my little brother as Bug for his entire life. I feel very lucky to call him one of my best friends. But much like Pug and Bug, it took my brother and me a long time (and a few trials) to reach best friend status.

 

Bug on Rug int Pages3
Interior spread from Bug on the Rug written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

GRWR: Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re a plotter, did you know the whole story before you set out to write it? If you’re a pantser, what was it that motivated you to tell this story and keep at it?

SG: I’m a total panster. I find that if I plot out a story then the story no longer feels fresh and exciting for me. I like to write as a reader—learning something new with each page turn. So, I go off feeling, emotion, and what story I want to read in that moment. This often means heavy (and I mean, HEAVY) revisions later. But that initial excitement and mood is what I try to capture in the first draft and that same feeling is what keeps me going. With that said, I do a lot of mental pre-plotting and generally have a sense of where I want the story to go before I begin. I do sometimes start writing and realize I’m going in the completely wrong direction and have to start over. In those cases, I end up working out some plot issues or character problems before I really get going. But aside from the occasional false start, I don’t usually write anything out before I begin.

 

GRWR: Did you have as much fun, any LOL moments, writing this story as I had reading it?

SG: My goodness, yes! I had SO much fun writing this book. Like I mentioned above, I try to write as a reader and don’t really plot ahead of time. So, as those words were coming out, I was giggling along as the voyeur. One of the most fun moments I had while writing this was when Pug rethinks his day. I had a great time coming up with a ton of absurd things Pug might have done during his daily routine.

 

GRWR: I adore a rollicking rhyming read-aloud like yours. Does rhyming come easily for you?

SG: Thank you! Rhyme has always felt natural to me. When I began writing years ago, my first picture book manuscripts were mostly in rhyme. However, I admit that I wasn’t a trained rhymer. Once I really began digging into the varying rules of rhyme and meter, I grew very afraid. I was so scared that I’d unintentionally blow it that I fully stopped rhyming. It’s taken me a few years of practice and determination to come full circle with a rhyming text, and I couldn’t be happier. Rhyme is so much fun to play with and write!

 

GRWR: You have two new books, both humorous although one is nonfiction. What do you enjoy most about writing in each category?

SG: You know, I don’t really see them as different categories when I write. For me, I try to write nonfiction the same way I write fiction. The only difference is that I have preexisting pieces of the puzzle when I write nonfiction. But I like to write each with the mentality of just having a fun or interesting story to tell. That said, I do enjoy all the cool facts I learn while researching nonfiction subjects. Education never ends!  

 

GRWR: Sophia, this book is an uproarious and engaging approach to teaching phonics to children eager to learn how to read. Was that always your intention or did it just happen organically?

SG: When I first heard BUG ON THE RUG referred to as a great learning tool for emergent readers, I was so happy … and surprised! I did not initially have this in mind when I wrote the book. For me, it was about reading these words out loud and having a ton of fun. I’ve always enjoyed playing with sounds, alliteration, and tongue twisters. This book is a bit of an ode to that. But I understand how important teaching phonics in fun ways is, especially as I’ve helped my own little kiddos learn to read. With that in mind, I truly hope young readers have a great time with this book.

 

Bug on Rug int Pages8
Interior spread from Bug on the Rug written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

GRWR: Susan’s art captures both the heart and humor of your story. What did you think when and if you saw sketches or finished art? Which is your favorite spread and why?

SG: I am obsessed with Susan’s art! OBSESSED. Fun fact: I’d been eyeing Susan’s work online for a while and was a big fan before we worked together. So, I was thrilled when Sleeping Bear said they thought she would be a great fit for this manuscript. When I saw the initial sketches, I was flipping out. Seriously. Susan’s art is hilarious! Plus, she completely surprised me in the best of ways. For example, I originally envisioned Pug inside his home when I wrote the book. But Susan created the setting outside, and it made so much more sense. Susan added her own hilarious spin to this manuscript, and I feel so lucky to have worked with her. I think my favorite spread is probably the last page. Pug’s expression is priceless!

 

GRWR: What do you hope young readers will take away from BUG ON THE RUG?

SG: Humor aside, this book is ultimately about empathy, sharing, and taking ownership of our actions. I hope readers can see themselves here and know that people can have disagreements, but still be friends. Owning our mistakes is difficult. But it’s important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, just as it’s important to learn to forgive and move on.

GRWR: What can we expect next?

SG: I’d love to see more of Pug and his friends! In the meantime, A HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER (AND OTHER POTTY TOOLS), illustrated by Xiana Teimoy, is a humorous nonfiction picture book that’ll roll into bookstores this August. Everything else is still top secret for now. Stay tuned!

GRWR: Thank you, Sophia. It’s been delightful chatting with you. I wish you and Susan much success with BUG ON THE RUG.

 

INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BATORI:

Welcome to the blog, Susan, and congrats on your latest picture book! I adored DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT! which I also reviewed here so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to ask about your art in BUG ON THE RUG.

GoodReadsWithRonna: I immediately noticed the lovely European-like city and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Did you set this story in Budapest where you live and if so, why? 

Susan Batori: Sadly there are no snow-capped mountains in Budapest. Originally, the story written by Sophia, was set in a small Swiss town. That is why I drew small, red roof European-ish houses and you can find a cable car which is often seen in Switzerland. The story was rewritten later but we decided to keep the drawings with the Swiss landscape.


GRWR:
When you read Sophia’s manuscript, what were your thoughts about how you wanted to illustrate the story?

SB: When I read Sophia’s manuscript I fell in love with it at the first glance. I felt this is my story too because I love the funny and witty tales, these are very inspiring and so easy to illustrate. After reading the manuscript I immediately saw the pictures, compositions, and the characters in my head. There was a little challenge because of the disparity of sizes of the pug and the bug, but I hope I solved it well.

 

Bug on Rug int Pages11
Interior art from Bug on the Rug written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

GRWR: What medium did you use to create the illustrations and was there anything about the story that influenced your decision? 

SB: I work on a computer and a digital tablet. I love them because they make my work much easier and the publishers like it too. It makes work simple. Besides I can imitate the aquarell feeling, paper textures, and the brush strokes. My digital illustrations are often mistaken for a “real” drawing.

 

GRWR: What is your process like from when you receive a new manuscript to submitting final art? 

SB: After reading the manuscript I use the internet for finding help about the characters or the background. In this case, I started to search pug videos. I try to figure out what kind of things make a pug a pug, or a slug a slug. I mean how they move or sit, what their colors are, what if I draw a smaller nose or shorter legs to them … etc. This is a very useful activity and it entertains me. So I start sketching the characters and show them to the client. Next, I design the composition of the pages and with the publisher, we try to find the best solutions. Then I am ready for coloring where I try to deliver some kind of atmosphere or feeling. In this book, I wanted to illustrate a summer-mountain feeling with a lot of greens. If everyone is happy with the colored pages I send them to the art director. That’s all. Easy peasy. :)

 

GRWR: The dynamic of the character interaction cracks me up, especially when slug shows up. Was any particular character, Pug, Bug, or Slug, especially fun to work with? 

SB: Haha! Yes, Slug is really a funny character. It was interesting because in each book I illustrated there was a character who was my favorite but here all three were my favorites. They have their own humorous personality.

 

GRWR: I loved your art in Robin Newman’s DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT!, and love it here, too. I see a common thread of a humorous conflict and sweet resolution in both stories. Do you enjoy illustrating humorous picture books? Are there any challenges you must consider?

SB: Aww, thank you! Somehow I am very good at illustrating feelings, especially humorous actions and facial expressions. I just LOVE working on hilarious books or stories, and drawing funny animals is my favorite job. It makes me happy and I believe if I am happy while I am working on these, the children will be happy too while they are reading them. 

I wouldn’t be a good illustrator without humour. 

 

Bug on the Rug int Pages16
Interior spread from Bug on the Rug written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

GRWR: Do you have a favorite spread?

SB: Sure!

The first page when Pug hugs his rug, I find it so cute.

Then there is the “rug-fight” scene. This is the most dynamic page in the book.

And I just love the very last page when everyone is on the rug. I think that is very funny.

 

GRWR: Any plans to write and illustrate your own books?

SB: I have a few ideas but there is no time for them … yet. ;)

THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT QUESTIONS!

GRWR: Thank you for making us smile!

 

BIOS:

Sophia Gholz Headshot
Courtesy of Sophia Gholz

Sophia Gholz is a children’s book writer, music lover, avid reader,
and the award-winning author of The Boy Who Grew a Forest and
Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter! She lives in Orlando, Florida.

Website: www.sophiagholz.com
Twitter: @sophiagholz
Instagram: @sophiagholz
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sophiagholzauthor 

 

 

 

Susan Batori Headshot
Courtesy of Susan Batori

Susan Batori’s books include Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt and
Letters from Space. She worked in advertising before switching to
children’s book illustration. Susan lives in Budapest, Hungary.

Website: https://susanbatori.hu/
Twitter: @susanbatori
Instagram: @susanbatori

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Picture Book Review – The Struggle Bus

 

THE STRUGGLE BUS

 Written & illustrated by Julie Koon

(Kind World Publishing; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Struggle Bus cover

 

 

From the publisher: Sometimes things are really tough. It’s just too hard. You’ve had enough. Grumble, rumble, bump and roar, the struggle bus is at your door. [The Struggle Bus] is a must-have picture book for any reader struggling with new experiences and managing emotions … Incorporating her experience as an elementary school counselor, Koon uses the accessible theme of vehicles to make this social-emotional concept perfect for the preschool and early elementary crowd. It’s also a great tool for caregivers to start conversations with children about acknowledging difficult feelings and facing fears.

 

The Struggle Bus int1
Interior art from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

From the inside of a grumbly-rumbly bus, readers travel through the process of helpless overwhelm to joyous triumph in this rhyming, growth-mindset picture book from debut author-illustrator, Julie Koon.

 

The Struggle Bus int2
Interior spread from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

Koon’s muted color palette soothes as she tackles the unsure (and at times overwhelming) feelings a child encounters when facing new challenges and learning we all “have what it takes to do hard things.” A repeated refrain invites the youngest listeners into the storytelling while ample back matter offers teachers and caregivers more information to use during classroom or at-home discussions. A delightful debut for both author and publisher, The Struggle Bus is a wonderful addition to the school SEL library.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review for Women’s History Month – Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers

 

 

LOUJAIN DREAMS OF SUNFLOWERS:
A Story Inspired by Loujain AlHathloul

Written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery

Illustrated by Rebecca Green

(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

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Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers covr

 

Available now in time for Women’s History Month is Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers. This new picture book introduces children to the young main character in the morning when she’s squeezing her eyes shut to recall her favorite dream. In this scene, she dreams of being able to fly, soaring above “a place her baba described as the carpet of a million sunflowers.” While having flying dreams is not uncommon, readers soon see more of the fantasy element come into play when, after getting up, Loujain joins her father to get their wings out of the shed.  The joy in Loujain’s face as she makes believe she can fly is palpable. But in reality, she’d never fly anywhere because she was a girl, and girls were forbidden to fly. How could this possibly be fair?

 

Loujain Dreams int1
Interior spread from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

The sunflowers Loujain fantasized visiting were in a picture taped to her wall and she was determined to see them. While her father knew the harsh reality, her mother did not want to discourage her daughter. But at school kids teased Loujain for thinking a girl could fly when only boys were allowed. Loujain pleaded with her father to give her lessons. His wife told him, “Why should flying be only for boys?” Especially, she added, “if we all can use wings?”

 

Loujain Dreams int2
Interior spread from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

Loujain had the good fortune to have open-minded, caring parents and a father who clearly agreed that it was not right to keep girls from spreading their wings and taking to the skies.  Her baba lovingly trained her and after preparing her, they set out the very next day on the journey to see the amazing sea of sunflowers.

 

Loujain Dreams int3
Interior art from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

The powerful symbolism conveyed in this story will not be lost on children who perhaps in their lifetime have experienced or heard about gender bias whether in sports, academics, employment, the arts, or in other fields. Of course in this case it’s a metaphor for the real-life Loujain AlHathloul who made history for challenging the ban on women’s right to drive cars in Saudi Arabia and was imprisoned because of it. She is no longer in prison, but her restrictive release conditions and her dream of bringing more freedoms for girls and women are described in the authors’ note.

 

Loujain Dreams int4
Interior art from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers invites multiple reads and discussions in the context of women’s rights/gender bias and discrimination, perseverance and persistence as well as pursuing one’s dream. Green’s gorgeous and energetic art, created in acrylic gouache and colored pencil adds to the enjoyment of each read. I love her varied composition from page to page and the glorious color palette she’s chosen. Every spread, especially ones with the sunflowers, feels so expansive and full of possibility, just right for this hopeful and empowering picture book.

Follow Lina AlHathloul on Twitter here.

Find out more about Uma Mishra-Newbery here.

Find out more about Rebecca Green here.

Learn more about the #FreeJoujain campaign here.

 

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Picture Book Review – Bearnard Writes a Book

 

 

BEARNARD WRITES A BOOK

Written by Deborah Underwood

Illustrated by Misa Saburi

(Henry Holt & Co. BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Bearnard Writes a Book cover

 

 

Seeing just the title alone of Deborah Underwood’s latest picture book, Bearnard Writes a Book, of course, I knew I had to read it. After all, I write books too! Perhaps Bearnard would share some valuable information about how to go about this often overwhelming process.  And I was right.

Bearnard offers to write a story for his goose friend Gertie. He promptly gets a paper and pencil and sits down to think  . . .  and think  . . .  and think. Soon, there are crumpled-up pieces of paper lying at his feet from all his unsuccessful attempts. Gertie, of course, asks if the story is ready and Bearnard admits he doesn’t know how to write a story. She suggests maybe he needs some help which gives him the idea to ask the Queen of Storybook Land for assistance.

 

Bearnard Writes a Book int1
Interior spread from Bearnard Writes a Book written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Misa Saburi, Henry Holt & Co. BYR ©2022.

 

Off they go and when Bearnard and Gertie arrive at the Storybook Land gate, the sentry gives them a map to follow, the Ultimate Walking Guide for Storybook Land. First stop is the Library (get inspired by reading), followed by Character City (choose your characters), Setting Village (choose your setting) Problem Plaza (choose a problem for your character to have), and The Writers’ Room (write your story then rewrite it to make it even better). In this final location, Bearnard does succeed in writing a story  . . .  but it’s not a very exciting one. He decides to take a thinking walk around Storybook Land and when he does, new and exciting ideas come to him. Returning to the Writers’ Room, he revises the story and produces an exciting story, much to the joy of Gertie, who decides to try her hand at poetry since while she was in the library, she read some poems written by her great-great-great grandgoose in a book entitled Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. The final picture shows the two good friends writing away. What a sweet ending!   

Underwood simplifies the creative writing process—which is not simple as anyone who has attempted it knows—in an entertaining book. Misa Saburi’s colorful illustrations jump off the page with excitement, showing just how thrilling it can be to create one’s own story. The expressions are spot on in Bearnard’s face as he goes through each step in the writing process. And I loved that in all of the illustrations where Bearnard is working on his story he is doing so the old-fashioned way with pencil and lots of paper. Kudos for going back to the basics. No computers here!

 

Bearnard Writes a Book int1
Interior spread from Bearnard Writes a Book written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Misa Saburi, Henry Holt & Co. BYR ©2022.

 

This picture book would make an excellent classroom introduction for children just beginning to learn how to write stories and even though this picture book is targeted for ages 4–8, all writers, young or old, would enjoy the boost that this book gives. Budding authors rejoice, this one’s for you! And, if you enjoy this, be sure to check out the companion book by Deborah Underwood and Misa Saburi, Bearnard’s Book.

  • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
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Picture Book Review – I Am You: A Book About Ubuntu

 

 

I AM YOU:
A Book About Ubuntu

Written by Refiloe Moahloli

Illustrated by Zinelda McDonald

(Amazon Crossing Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

Originally published in South Africa, I Am You:  A Book About Ubuntu written by Refiloe Moahloli and illustrated by Zinelda McDonald, is a stunning visual and textual reminder of our shared humanity that could not be more timely.

An ancient philosophy of many African cultures, ubuntu means “I am, because you are” and embraces the idea that “a person is a person through other people.” Opening lines emphasize this interconnectedness:  “When I look into your eyes, I see myself.” On the following page, readers will need to turn the book vertically to enjoy a spread that illustrates this love, not only for others but for the natural world and all creation. 

 

iamyou int1
Interior spread from I Am You: A Book About Ubuntu written by Refiloe Moahloli and illustrated by Zinelda McDonald, Amazon Crossing Kids ©2022.

 

In loving, lyrical language, Moahloli’s text helps us realize that though the time we spend with others and the kindnesses we share may seem like small, inconsequential acts,  they’re in fact powerful expressions of our deep love for each other and for our own selves. “[W]hen I laugh as I hear you laugh, when I hold your hands as you cry, I love you, and I love myself, too.” Similarly, if we choose to “hurt,” “tease,” or “ignore” another, we are committing those very acts on ourselves.   

 

iamyou int2
Interior art from Interior spread from I Am You: A Book About Ubuntu written by Refiloe Moahloli and illustrated by Zinelda McDonald, Amazon Crossing Kids ©2022.

 

 

Rendered in digital media, McDonald’s bold and beautiful jewel-toned illustrations place an endearing cast of characters front and center in virtually every page. Readers are drawn into the smiling faces and welcoming gaze of an inclusive group of children from all backgrounds and abilities, playing together in country, city, and oceanside settings. 

A great conversation starter for themes of community, friendship, kindness, and love, I Am You shines light on the truth that we are all one. 

     •Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Children’s Book Review – Piper and Purpa Forever!

 

 

Written by Susan Lendroth

Illustrated by Olivia Feng

(Yeehoo Press; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Piper and Purpa Forever!

 

Author Susan Lendroth says her daughter’s childhood love of the color purple inspired her latest picture book, Piper and Purpa Forever!, with illustrations by Olivia Feng. I’m glad to know of another person as passionate about purple as I am. In fact, the cover’s design and colors alone would convince me to pick up this book. The bonus is that this is a well-crafted story on a topic that will resonate with young readers

The story revolves around Piper who adores a particular hand-me-down purple sweater. Unable to pronounce the word purple, the little girl says “Purpa” so from then on, that’s the name used for the sweater.  Though it’s way too big at the beginning that doesn’t matter to Piper.  Much like a beloved doll, stuffed animal, or blanket, Purpa comes everywhere. Eventually, Piper grows into her sweater which is great … for a while.

 

Piper and Purpa int1
Interior spread from Piper and Purpa Forever! written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Olivia Feng, Yeehoo Press ©2022.

 

But when Piper’s sweater barely covers her belly button, there is no avoiding the reality that with every new day she is outgrowing Purpa. One of my favorite illustrations is when Piper is on her bed trying desperately to pull the sweater down. Her parents and relatives peek through her bedroom door knowing the inevitable has happened. The worry on their faces shows as they wonder what will happen next. Feng’s artwork, done digitally, has a childlike charm and looks like a blend of crayons and pastels. The colors are soft like Purpa and full of movement and emotion.

Everyone suggests what can be done with the now too-small Purpa. Piper’s dad thinks donating it to the school rummage sale is a good option but that’s met with resistance. Unraveling it and knitting a hat instead is her aunt’s idea. Nope! That doesn’t cut it. But her grandfather’s suggestion of using Purpa to polish his car, sends her running from the room in a rage.

 

Piper and Purpa Forever! int2
Interior art from Piper and Purpa Forever! written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Olivia Feng, Yeehoo Press ©2022.

 

Determined to keep Purpa as her special piece of clothing, Piper pushes her luck and puts it on, though not easily. To remove the sweater later in the day she must go through a series of uncomfortable maneuvers. The frustration is palpable in her expressions as the thought of parting with Purpa is becoming a sad reality. So when Dad brings home a plush koala, it doesn’t take long for Piper to come up with a clever way to keep Purpa close at hand.

Many parents will relate to Lendroth’s sweet story of how children often get attached to a special item and cannot accept letting it go. Piper and Purpa Forever! also allows them to use the book to broach the subject of growing up and how when using a little imagination and sometimes repurposing, those objects of childhood affection can find new ways to bring joy into their lives. When I  asked author Lendroth what she felt the takeaway was, she said, “I think the most important takeaway is that growing up doesn’t always mean leaving things behind, that you can adapt and still move forward. Or maybe the important thing is it’s ok to be really really really attached to something!”

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Amah Faraway

AMAH FARAWAY

Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias 

Illustrated by Tracy Subisak 

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Amah Faraway cover

 

Starred Reviews – School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

Cultural connections, intergenerational love, and adventure-seeking await readers in author Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrator Tracy Subisak’s touching Amah Faraway

Since “[v]ideo chats [aren’t] the same as real life,” Kylie is nervous about visiting her Amah who lives so far away in Taipei, despite their weekly time together online. Once they arrive, Amah encourages Kylie to explore the city together,  “Lái kàn kàn! Come see!” But Kylie finds everything strange:  Amah’s apartment, dining with her extended family, city life, the night market. Everywhere they go, Kylie hesitantly “trail[s] behind Amah and Mama.”

 

Amah Faraway int1
Interior art from Amah Faraway written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, Bloomsbury Children’s Books ©2022.

 

But on the day they visit the hot springs, something changes for Kylie. Dipping her toe in the warm water, she relishes in the joy of that moment and, in the days to follow, all the other experiences Taipei has to offer. From this point on, Greanias cleverly flips the lines of the story, repeating the same lines as the first part, but this time in reverse order with slight changes in context and punctuation to emphasize Kylie’s wholehearted embrace of the culture around her. 

 

Amah Faraway int2
Interior art from Amah Faraway written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, Bloomsbury Children’s Books ©2022.

 

Amah’s welcoming refrain has now become Kylie’s. “Lái kàn kàn!” she calls out to Amah and Mama as she leads them to the places Amah has taken her before, only now Kylie sees them with fresh, new eyes. Energetic lines in a soft color palette weave through the book which includes Taiwanese Mandarin text in speech bubbles inviting readers to join in on the fun. 

Included in the back matter are the Taipei sights mentioned in the story,  meanings behind Taiwanese foods, and a note from both the author and illustrator about their experiences visiting their own grandmothers in Taiwan.

An engaging story set in a vibrant, diverse city, Amah Faraway illustrates how to face your fears by leaning on familial love.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Five New Children’s Valentine’s Day Books for 2022

Five New Children’s Valentine’s Day Books

A Roundup

 

Check out what’s new and noteworthy this year for Valentine’s Day

 

Love from Madeline coverLOVE FROM MADELINE
Based on the character created by Ludwig Bemelmans
Written by John Bemelmans Marciano 
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
(Viking BYR; $8.99; Ages 0-3 yrs)

It would be difficult to find a person unfamiliar with the Madeline Media Franchise, so when I learned that a new picture book was available based on the daily adventures of Madeline the character created by Ludwig Bemelmans, it was a welcome stroll down memory lane.

This new mini-book (the first of five)  Love From Madeline takes the reader back to the Catholic boarding school where Madeline lives in Paris with her many friends and most notably her teacher, Miss Clavel. Salerno’s illustrations of the sole red-head playing around town, skiing in the snowcapped mountains, and sailing the waters, continue her adventures. But this time she teaches us the meaning of love.

We learn basic lessons that we often forget “Love is in the simple words: good morning and hello,” as Madeline and friends dressed in matching blue outfits with yellow hats wave to the doorman and the woman selling flowers. Each page turn teaches kids how love can be as simple as giving a hug to someone upset or giving someone a lift on their scooter. When the book ends, kids see that “love is always found at home”  when Miss Clavel turns out the lights of the blue-shaded room with six beds lined up on each side and tucks the kids in for the night. This story gently and sweetly introduces kids to the real meaning behind Valentine’s Day—love.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

What is Love coverWHAT IS LOVE?
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
(Chronicle Kids; $17.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Shelf Awareness

I read What is Love? again and again and each time I got something new out of it. The water-colored art and heart-felt prose of this book are perfect to read on Valentine’s Day or any night as a bedtime story. It’s written by NYT bestselling author for children, Mac Barnett, the two-time Caldecott Honor winner. He teams up with illustrator and Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis, who is also an author and illustrator of bestselling picture books.

Ellis’s watercolor paintings of greens, pinks, and blues gloriously take the reader on an artistic adventure as the protagonist sets off on a journey into the world, suggested by his grandmother, to find the meaning of love. But he soon learns that love is different for everyone. He first meets a fisherman hugging a very large fish who smiles and says “Love is a fish” when asked what love is. The boy disagrees since he finds fish slimy and bad-tasting. “The fisherman sighed. You do not understand.”

The actor loves applause, the cat loves the night and the soldier loves his horse. The characters gather together in a beautiful spread showing, “A sports car, a donut, a lizard, a ring. The first snow of winter, a maple in summer. A grizzly bear, this pebble right here-these are all things people told me love is.”

Barnett returns the boy home taller and wiser to a grandmother who is older and still wise and asks “Did you answer your question?” Ellis closes the story with a loving embrace of the two smiling with a black background and butterflies flying nearby as the boy answers “Yes.”

This modern-day take on old-time classical picture books about love reminds us that love can be more than one thing and that we are all surrounded by it even on days when we feel like it’s lost.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The House of Love coverTHE HOUSE OF LOVE
Written by Adriana Trigiani
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

With a lovely name like Mia Valentina Amore, which means My Valentine, Valentine’s Day is always an extra special one for the main character in The House of Love, a storybook from NYT’s bestselling adult author Adriana Trigiani with art from popular illustrator Amy June Bates.

Together with her Mama, Mia helps prepare the house for the holiday. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, the home is described as slightly run down with some broken window glass, faded wallpaper, creaky stairs but also a place that, when everyone was around, “… had rooms exploding with conversation, laughter, and sometimes even an argument.”

The youngest of seven children, Mia is concerned her siblings won’t be back in time for the Valentine’s Day party. But Mama takes Mia’s mind off things by keeping her busy crafting family Valentines, decorating, and baking. This delightful mother-daughter day is spent bonding and creating special memories that only they two share. At the day’s end, after the whole family has eaten and celebrated, Mia realizes that everyone has gotten a special Valentine except her, making her feel sad and forgotten. Little does she know that something special just for her awaits beneath her pillow. Bates’s beautiful art conveys charm and an old-world feeling, like peeking into the Walton’s home. This slice-of-life story reminds readers that a house and family may be far from perfect but when it’s filled with love, it’s THE BEST place to be.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Love Grows Everywhere coverLOVE GROWS EVERYWHERE
Written by Barry Timms
Illustrated by Tisha Lee
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Here’s a rhyming picture book for Valentine’s Day, or any day really, that celebrates how special love is. Using plants as the inspiration, author Timms presents a lovely lyrical look at how the love that makes plants grow is the very same one that can nurture many different kinds of relationships in our lives.

Yes, thought and care are all love needs/to help it grow, like tiny seeds,/that might seem nothing much at first/till up into the light they burst.

This is such a beautiful sentiment and one that children will easily understand especially the spreads devoted to making friends. Love is about helping those in need, it’s about being there for those close to us and making time for new people too.  Lee, in her picture book debut, has created rich art with diverse characters that is a delight to see page after page in various scenes. The illustrations exude the same warmth the plants do making it feel like spring is just around the corner. What an uplifting read to share this Valentine’s Day!  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Slug in Love coverSLUG IN LOVE 
Written by Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Nadia Shireen
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This new picture book cracked me up. Between its sweet surprise near the end and the inviting rhyme that is just perfect for beginning readers, Slug in Love is a terrific book to read aloud this Valentine’s Day.

Illustrator Shireen has added to Bright’s bouncy rhythm with bold colors and geometric-shaped animals that pop off the page and might be fun for kids to try drawing themselves.

The thing is that Doug, the slug, is a huggy sort of guy, but not everyone he encounters agrees. No one is eager to embrace this little slug.  After looking for love from spiders, caterpillars, and other assorted creatures, Doug thinks he’s found the squelchy, slimy, yucky, sticky love he’s after, only he’s wrong. Is he destined to be alone? What’s a slug supposed to do? Well, as it happens, love comes to Doug in a most unexpected way. And that, it turns out, has made his search and this picture book worthwhile.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: I was hoping to have a review copy of Love in The Library before this post went live so I could share this true love story set in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII. But when I went to schedule this, it sadly had not arrived. I hope you will add this picture book to your reading list

 

Additional Recommendations:

Peekaboo Love coverPEEKABOO: LOVE
Written by Camilla Reid

illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 0-2)

The latest interactive board book in the Peekaboo You series, Peekaboo: Love is packed with things to “push, pull, or turn on every spread,” sure to entertain your little strawberries.

MY HEART GROWS
Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Joanne Liu
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 1-5)

A clever novelty board book, My Heart Grows features a die-cut heart that grows along with the love the parents in this story feel. Seeing a child experience new things fills the hearts of the parents and grandparents depicted in this story. The child-like art is vibrant and adorable making this a great Valentine’s Day gift for someone special in your life.

 

Further Valentine’s Day Reading:

I Love You Because I Love You
Written by Muon Thi Van 
Illustrated by Jessica Love

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Picture Book Review – I Am Today

 

I AM TODAY

Written by Matt Forrest Esenwine

Illustrated by Patricia Pessoa

(POW! Kids Books; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

I Am Today cover

 

 

Matt Forrest Esenwine and Patricia Pessoa inspire the “next generation” to become the “today generation”
in I Am Today, an evocative story of a young girl standing up for what she believes in.

From POW! Kids Books: “While playing on the beach in her coastal town, a young girl comes across a sea turtle ensnared by a wire. Her town is home to a factory that has provided jobs for many of her neighbors, including her mother, but it has also been dumping garbage from a pipe into the waters…Unable to forget the sight of the struggling turtle, she inspires the townspeople to compel the factory to change its destructive ways.”

 

I Am Today int1
Interior spread from I Am Today written by illustrated by Patricia Pessoa, POW! Kids Books ©2022.

 

A true picture book, the story in Pessoa’s lively art is never alluded to in Esenwine’s spare, poetic text.

 

I Am Today int2
Interior art from I Am Today written by illustrated by Patricia Pessoa, POW! Kids Books ©2022.

 

Yet they pair beautifully to give readers a concrete example of how one life can make a huge impact for good.

In a recent interview with Esenwine, the author states that his inspiration for the book came as he was navigating the COVID pandemic with his children. “I was wondering how to help my children feel like they had some control of their life…I spent some time kicking around ideas, and the phrase “I am today” came to me. I thought about that for a while and realized that kids are always being told they are the “Future”…but what if a child doesn’t want to wait?”

This thought-provoking read-aloud would make an excellent addition to the elementary school classroom as teachers cover science and social studies topics like conservation and social change, but it could also be used as a writing prompt for persuasive essays during language arts.

      •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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Sydney Taylor Book Award 2022 Blog Tour – Dear Mr. Dickens Q+A

WELCOME TO DAY TWO OF THE STBA BLOG TOUR!

 

STBA22 Blog Tour graphic

 

FEATURING INTERVIEWS WITH

AUTHOR NANCY CHURNIN

&

ILLUSTRATOR BETHANY STANCLIFFE  

DISCUSSING THEIR

HONOR-WINNING PICTURE BOOK

DEAR MR. DICKENS

 

 

Dear Mr Dickens cover

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal
2021 National Jewish Book Award Winner – Children’s Picture Book
2022 Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor for Picture Books
Chicago Public Library Best Informational Books for Younger Readers 2021
The Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2021, Tablet Magazine


BOOK SUMMARY

In Eliza Davis’s day, Charles Dickens was the most celebrated living writer in England. But some of his books reflected a prejudice that was all too common at the time: prejudice against Jewish people. Eliza was Jewish, and her heart hurt to see a Jewish character in Oliver Twist portrayed as ugly and selfish. She wanted to speak out about how unfair that was, even if it meant speaking out against the great man himself. So she wrote a letter to Charles Dickens. What happened next is history. (Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

GREETING

Welcome to the GoodReadsWithRonna blog today, Nancy and Bethany. Congratulations on Dear Mr. Dickens being recognized with a Sydney Taylor Honor in the children’s picture book category! I’m happy to be able to talk to you both about Eliza Davis, Charles Dickens, and his history of negatively portraying Jewish characters in his writing and how that changed because of Eliza’s letters.

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR NANCY CHURNIN

GoodReadsWithRonna: Nancy, you mention in your acknowledgments that Dear Mr. Dickens had a long, joyful journey. Please tell us more about when and why you decided to dig into this not well-known but enlightening correspondence which is the basis for the book

Nancy Churnin: When I was a child, my mother always encouraged me to read whatever I wanted. The only time she questioned me was when I fell in love with the books of Charles Dickens. She couldn’t understand how I could like a writer that had created the ugly Jewish stereotype of Fagin in Oliver Twist. Didn’t I understand, she asked me, how that character fueled antisemitism, leading readers to believe that all Jewish people were liars and thieves like Fagin?

 

Dear Mr Dickens int1
Interior spread from Dear Mr. Dickens written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

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She was right. Ugly Jewish stereotypes were part of what made people lack compassion for the Jewish people who were tortured and killed in the Holocaust – where we lost so many family members. These were the kind of images that made neighborhood bullies persecute her and other Jewish children growing up in New York City. I wished I could have written Dickens a letter asking him why someone who had so much compassion for children and the poor could treat the Jewish people with such antipathy. Flash forward to 2013, three years before my first book, The William Hoy Story would be published, when I was in the library researching baseball and I flitted around the computer screen, landing on an article about Dickens.

That’s when I found two lines in an article that mentioned Eliza Davis, a Jewish woman who wrote to him – just as I’d dreamed of doing!—and changed his heart, inspiring him to write his first compassionate Jewish character, Mr. Riah in Our Mutual Friend. I had to know more! But all the article had was snippets from one of the letters. I asked the librarian for help. She found three places that had the letters: the University of Southampton in England, where you had to make a special appointment to view them; and two places in the U.S., one of which was at the University of North Texas rare book collection, less than 40 minutes from my home.

I called the University of North Texas librarian who put me in touch with Professor J. Don Vann, a Dickens scholar that had found Charles Dickens and His Jewish Characters, a 1918 out-of-print book from Chiswick Press in England that contained the letters and donated it to the library. Don and his now late wife Dolores, invited me to tea to discuss Eliza Davis. That’s when I felt compelled to turn this story into a book that I could share with my mother. I had rejections at first from editors that didn’t think a story about letters was exciting enough. It didn’t fit into the usual biography template as it wasn’t the story of either person’s life, but rather an encounter that changed their lives and changed the way English people who read Dickens thought about the Jewish people. I visited The Charles Dickens Museum in London in 2014, deepening my research. But even when my career as a published author began taking off in 2016, Dear Mr. Dickens sat there, waiting, not seeming to fit into any category anyone wanted. It just seemed to be a story that needed to simmer and be revised as I grew more confident in my ability to tell the story the way it needed to be told.

Finally, in 2020, Wendy McClure, my then editor at Albert Whitman, asked if I had something new. She said, for the first time, she wasn’t looking for biographies, but stories about history-changing encounters and events. I pulled Dear Mr. Dickens out of the drawer and gave it to her. She loved it right away. So did her editorial team. It was acquired with dizzying speed for a manuscript that had been waiting years to dance at the ball. But it was worth every moment. Because Wendy and our illustrator, Bethany Stancliffe, really got the story. When it went to print, it said everything I had wanted and hoped to say. I couldn’t wait to share it with my mother. When I did, she held it in her hands and read it over and over. Her face softened. I felt an old pain dissolve as she forgave Dickens – and me. We hugged as she read this true story about how people can, sometimes, change for the better if you speak up, persist and then, when the person who does wrong makes amends, forgive.

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GRWR: We’re often told as children’s book writers to make the main characters kids but Eliza Davis is a woman and mother of 10 children. As an adult and Dickens fan, I found the information you shared about Eliza’s positive influence on Dickens fascinating. What do you think makes her a compelling character for young readers to learn about and what can they take away from the book?

Nancy: The most compelling stories for me are the journeys not of a person, but of a person’s dream. In most cases, those dreams start in childhood, so it’s natural to start the book with the character as a child. That’s not the case for Eliza Davis in Dear Mr. Dickens. She didn’t grow up dreaming of writing Charles Dickens a letter! But I had grown up dreaming that. I could put the urgency I felt as a child into what she did as an adult. I also did something I’ve never done in a picture book before. I appealed to young readers by starting my book in the second person: “Think of someone famous you admire. What would you do if that person said or wrote something unfair? Would you speak up? Would you risk getting that person angry? Eliza Davis did.” I believe these are questions that kids – and all ages – can relate to. I believe these are questions that can lead kids – and all ages – to speak up, stand up, and become upstanders when they see someone do or say something that isn’t right.

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Interior spread from Dear Mr. Dickens written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

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GRWR: When doing your research for Dear Mr. Dickens, was there one particular piece of information you uncovered (included or not included in the book) that has had an impact on you? 

Nancy: I hope people will read the Author’s Note which gives context to how important Eliza’s action may have been in historical impact. England was once one of the most hostile places for Jewish people. In 1275, centuries before Nazis introduced the yellow star, King Edward I decreed that Jews older than seven had to wear a large yellow badge of felt shaped like the tablet of the Ten Commandments on their outer clothing. Jewish people were segregated and had to live in restricted areas, were forbidden to lend money, and were unwelcome in trade guilds. In 1290, England expelled Jews who refused to convert; this was two centuries before the Spanish expelled their Jewish people during their Inquisition.

After Eliza Davis helped Dickens see the Jewish people with understanding and compassion, he not only created the kindly Mr. Riah, he advocated in his magazine for them to be treated fairly. Dickens wasn’t the only advocate for Jewish people, but his influence was enormous. Everyone from all classes, chimney sweeps to the Queen of England, read and revered him. Attitudes began to change during his lifetime. The Jews Relief Act of 1858 allowed Jews to serve in Parliament for the first time. I credit the change in English attitudes for the welcoming way that Great Britain opened its arms to thousands of Jewish refugee children during the Kindertransport at the start of World War II.

Eliza Davis wasn’t powerful or famous. All she did was write a letter. But speaking up and not backing down when justice is at stake can make a powerful difference. That’s what I learned from Eliza Davis. That’s what I hope young readers – and all readers – take to heart.

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GRWR: Can you speak to your passion for writing nonfiction and also about sharing the stories of notable and in Eliza’s case less notable Jewish individuals?

Nancy: I love and read every genre and I hope, someday – maybe soon – to expand the type of books I write. But I’ll always pay homage to true stories — my mother’s favorite — because, as she’s told me, real people doing great things remind us that we can all do great things, too.

When I look for people to write about, I’m drawn to those who might not be known otherwise – such as Eliza Davis — or who have aspects of themselves that might not otherwise be known – such as Charles Dickens and his evolving view of Jewish people. I feel that every time I shine light on otherwise forgotten people, I’ve helped bring them back into our living, collective heart because it’s only when we have forgotten people or their deeds that they truly disappear.

 

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Interior spread from Dear Mr. Dickens written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

I’m honored that Dear Mr. Dickens was given a Sydney Taylor Honor because Sydney Taylor provided positive Jewish role models for Jewish children like myself at a time when they were scarce. At first, Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family books were like a little island in a sea of books about non-Jewish characters or Jewish characters that were ugly stereotypes. But since the awards were founded in 1968, they’ve done enormous good in encouraging the creation of books with positive Jewish role models for kids that need Jewish windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors. I’m grateful for this encouragement from the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee and for the Notable award for A Queen to the Rescue, the Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah (and for my 2019 Notable for Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing). Now, with sons planning marriages and, I hope, with grandchildren around the corner, I feel more passionate than ever about the mission bring more Jewish stories into the world that fill children’s hearts with courage, hope, and determination to heal the world.

 

INTERVIEW WITH ILLUSTRATOR BETHANY STANCLIFFE

GRWR: Bethany, what struck you most after reading Nancy’s manuscript?

Bethany Stancliffe: I was immediately impressed with the wonderful portrayal of Eliza in this story. Nancy’s writing beautifully captured what it must have felt like to be in Eliza’s shoes.

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GRWR: How much research did you have to do to bring 19th century London, and in particular Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens, to life?

Bethany: It was important to gather a lot of visual references to make sure my illustrations were true to the characters and settings. Studying information and images documenting Charles Dickens and Victorian England was a significant step in the design process. There weren’t many photographs of Eliza available so it was a pleasant challenge to design her character in a way that conveyed her personality.

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Interior spread from Dear Mr. Dickens written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

GRWR: One of my favorite illustrations is the one where two scenes, Dickens in his home and Eliza in hers, flow together with sheets of correspondence. Do you have a favorite spread and if so, what about it do you love?

Bethany: Thank you! One of my favorite spreads to paint was the scene of Eliza and her son walking together to post a letter to Mr. Dickens. While I was illustrating this book I had a toddler of my own running around which really helped me appreciate that Eliza was speaking up not only for herself but for others who may not be able to do so for themselves.

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Thank you both so very much for taking the time to share your experiences working on Dear Mr. Dickens. I’m also grateful that many misconceptions I and perhaps others had about Charles Dickens have been cleared up and hope everyone will read the book to see how one person’s voice made such a powerful impact.

 

BIOS

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Author Nancy Churin Photo credit: Kim Leeson

 

Nancy Churnin is the award-winning author of multiple picture book biographies. The former theater critic for the Dallas Morning News and Los Angeles Times San Diego Edition, she’s now a full-time writer and peace negotiator between her dog and cats. She lives in North Texas.

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See the entire blog tour schedule on the AJL blog: https://jewishlibraries.org/2022-blog-tour/

Find more information about the Sydney Taylor Award here: https://jewishlibraries.org/sydney_taylor_book_award/

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Picture Book Review – Brilliant Bea

BRILLIANT BEA

Written by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich

Illustrated by Fiona Lee

(Magination Press/APA; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Note: dyslexia-friendly EasyReading font used in this book.

 

 

Brilliant Bea written by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich with illustrations by Fiona Lee is an important read and truly an eye-opener for anyone not familiar with dyslexia. I once attended a workshop where participants were given various tasks to perform as seen through the lens of someone with this learning difference. By the end, I was frustrated, mentally exhausted, and had a splitting headache. I had new admiration and respect for my dyslexic friends and friends of my children.

 

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Interior spread from Brilliant Bea written by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich and illustrated by Fiona Lee, Magination Press/APA © 2021.

 

The closeness and candor of the first-person narrative the authors have used in this story invite instant compassion for the main character, Bea. Early on we learn that Bea has a way with words, despite her difficulty putting them onto paper. Bea describes having to stay behind during recess to finish up her work. This was because of how hard reading and writing were and how “the words jump around the page and my eyes try to shoot laser beams to catch them.” That has to be exasperating for a child. Imagine how you’d feel if your pencil wouldn’t write what your brain was thinking. For Bea, every day in school this scenario plays out over and over again. Kids tease her and Bea feels awful and alone.

Fortunately for Bea, she has Ms. Bloom as a teacher. Ms. Bloom totally understands how Bea’s brain is wired and how the girl takes the brunt of her classmates’ bullying yet perseveres. Ms. Bloom encourages her student by saying her brain is brilliant. That’s the vote of confidence Bea needs. So, when Ms. Bloom gives Bea an old-fashioned cassette tape recorder to tape her stories, Bea’s confidence blossoms. No longer is she by herself at recess. Instead, she makes a friend who wants to illustrate her stories. Others just want to hear them. Bea is no longer stuck and the class seems to warm up to her as well.

 

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Interior spread from Brilliant Bea written by Shaina Rudolph and Mary Vukadinovich and illustrated by Fiona Lee, Magination Press/APA © 2021.

 

With the right instruction and tools, Ms. Bloom has empowered Bea and given her the motivation she needs to cope with her dyslexia and grow. The helpful two-page back matter by Ellen B. Braaten, Phd, addresses the challenges children with dyslexia face and how accommodations, such as using the tape recorder can make a huge difference in written expression. It offers some thoughtful questions to jumpstart a conversation on the subject and discusses how to find out if a child has dyslexia, and what the treatments are.

The cheerful artwork by Lee takes readers inside and outside the classroom and adds to the enjoyment of Brilliant Bea. My big takeaway after reading this book is how, in addition to being well written and sweetly illustrated, it recognizes anyone dealing with dyslexia in a positive way and validates their experience making this an invaluable resource for schools, libraries, and families whose children want to see their own stories reflected on the page.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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