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The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.

Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.

Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”

But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.

Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

The Lying King by author illustrator Alex Beard

THE LYING KING
Written and illustrated by Alex Beard

(Greenleaf Book Group Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

cover illustration from The Lying King by Alex Beard

Alex Beard’s fourth book in his Tales from the Watering Hole series is the fifty-four-page picture book, The Lying King. The bright-white uncluttered backgrounds direct focus to a self-confident warthog lacking a moral compass who aspires to be king. Though the animals notice his misbehavior, they merely “think on it sadly,” too few willing to vocalize their concerns. The warthog’s lies begin small but soon (outrageously) propel him to leadership.

Clever illustrations enhance the story line’s depth. Beard’s stylistic swirls found on the main character are echoed in the beautifully drawn peacocks and in some of the birds. The king’s fanciful crown has four tall spire-shaped points topped with ruby-red accents. Rhyming hand-lettered text gives the book a handcrafted feel.

Comical asides add another layer of fun. In a scene where the text states, “He turned loyal subjects against one another, by making each question the aims of the other,” the side note has the king declaring, “White zebras with black stripes are better than black zebras with white stripes.” In response, the zebras concernedly ask one another, “Which are you?”

 

The Lying King interior artwork

Interior illustration from The Lying King written and illustrated by Alex Beard, Greenleaf Book Group Press ©2018.

 

While parents may read The Lying King as a political allegory, children will delight in the modern images and engaging rhyme offset by a story that feels old-fashioned. Parabolic lessons include the importance of being honest, fair, and authentic.

Ultimately, the piggish king’s words ensnare him. Awakening from their stupor, the kingdom’s animals realize, “A lying pig should not be the king.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Finn’s Feather & Sterling, Best Dog Ever, Two New Books by Epic18 Debut Authors

FINN’S FEATHER
Written by Rachel Noble

 Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(Enchanted Lion; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

&

STERLING, BEST DOG EVER
Written and illustrated by Aidan Cassie

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

A feather. A fork. These things mean more than they seem when viewed through the loving eyes of a family in two new picture books, FINN’S FEATHER and STERLING, BEST DOG EVER from debut authors.

 

Finn's Feather book cover illustrationFINN’S FEATHER features an upbeat and energetic child who discovers a white feather on his doorstep. He runs to show the new treasure to his mother, explaining that the feather is from his brother, Hamish. His mother responds with a deep breath and a big hug. His teacher’s reaction is likewise muted. But Finn’s friend Lucas understands and shares in his delight. Together they find ways to include the special feather in their playtime.

With the feather as an equal, adventuresome partner, it is as if Finn’s deceased brother is right beside them, sharing in the delight of a spring day. When Finn finally decides to write a letter to Hamish, he uses the feather as a pen. “I whish you were here,” he writes, and secures his message in a tree branch.

Abbott’s warm illustrations are clear and soft, setting off the emotional tale with gentle tenderness. Simple and generously spaced, the images leave ample room for Noble’s text to carry deeper meaning. The pastel color palette is attractively textured, drawing readers’ eyes to the ever-present, symbolic feather. This poignant book is ideal for helping children understand the range of complex emotions, grief and happiness, that accompany our experiences of loss and remembrance.

 

Sterling, Best Dog Ever book cover illustrationIt’s a fork, or a dog, that stars in STERLING, BEST DOG EVER. Although no home has ever wanted to keep Sterling, he is determined to find a family. Outside the Butlery Cutlery Factory, he comes up with a plan to be shipped inside a package of utensils. Sure, he may have to disguise himself as a fork to succeed, but he’s resourceful!

The Gilbert family is skeptical but accepting of Sterling, and their dog-obsessed daughter is delighted beyond measure. But Sterling’s role is not entirely clear. Did the family want a fork, a dog, or should he try to be a whisk, a rolling pin, or a chandelier? Young readers will giggle at Sterling’s enthusiastic attempts to carve out a place for himself in the new family order.

Cassie’s illustrations are colorful, humorous and well-paced. Even when attempting to fill-in as an inanimate household item, Sterling is imbued with emotion, expression and energy. His earnest efforts and the girl’s equally passionate yearning to help her “dog-fork” assimilate are heart-tugging and funny at the same time. STERLING is a quirky, clever tale of self-acceptance and love that will hold special appeal for readers with rescue dogs.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Click here to read another recent review by Cathy.

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Back to School Books Are What We’re Reading on Wednesdays With Once Upon a Time

“What We’re Reading”
WEDNESDAYS WITH ONCE UPON A TIME
A Roundup of Back-to-School Booksback to school clip art

 

This time of year always brings so many emotions to students and parents alike as the realization settles in of a summer more than halfway over. I always remember the back-to-school preparation in my household as a fun yet chaotic time of paper everywhere, backpacks filled, and of course, shiny new books! This month we’ve got a variety of books covered including Hello School!, I Love You All Day Long, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School.

 

Hello School! by Priscilla Burris cover artA brand-new picture book for preschool or kindergarten students eager to start the school year is Hello School! (Nancy Paulsen Books, Ages 3-5) written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The title of the book captures the energetic possibilities that come with experiencing school for the first time. Each page shows a different part of the school day from greeting classmates, circle time, nap time, and recess all told with soft-colored illustrations. I love the little speech bubbles on each page that demonstrate children’s reactions about going to school. For example, when talking about new favorites, one child says, “Orange is my favorite,” and another carefully asks, “Can every color be my favorite?” prompting a parent or teacher reading this aloud to answer “Yes!” Once Upon A Time is excited to host Priscilla Burris on Sunday, August 12 at 2 pm to share this new picture book and the new school year so mark your calendars so you don’t miss this fun event.

 

I Love You All Day Long book cover artSometimes children new to the school experience need a little help getting over their anxiety and one picture book that does this well is I Love You All Day Long (Harper Collins BYR, Ages 4-8) written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The story starts with little Owen asking, “Do I have to go today, Mommy?,” prompting his mother to respond yes as you carefully see her packing a lunch box. Then the real trouble is revealed, “But you won’t be with me!” and the story unfolds as the illustrations show Owen finding new friends, having fun, making mistakes, and overcoming challenges all with the reminder that his mother loves him even when she is not right there with him. The tone is perfect as it is not overtly a back to school book and is instead more about a mother-son relationship. I find this book to be a beautiful story that would be perfect to read the night before or morning of the big first day of both preschool or even college.

 

Mr. Monkey Visits a School book cover illustration by Jeff MackMr. Monkey Bakes a Cake cover illustration by Jeff MackFinally, I am eager to share with you my new favorite early reader series, Mr. Monkey (Simon & Schuster BYR, Ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Jeff Mack with two titles out this season, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School. In this paper over board book we follow Mr. Monkey and his wacky adventures sure to delight readers who laugh with Amelia Bedelia or the Elephant and Piggie books. Each page has only two to five simple sentences that easily match the colorful and animated illustrations inside, perfect for kindergarten and first grade readers who are still puzzling out context clues to understand the words on the page. A great addition to any library at home or at school.

 

  • Reviewed by Jessica Palacios

 

You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time mom and daughter booksellers Maureen and Jessica PalaciosOnce Upon A Time
“Your family bookstore”
2207 Honolulu Ave. Montrose, CA 91020
818.248.9668
http://www.ShopOnceUponATime.com

Closed on Wednesday, July 4th
Story time: Every Thursday at 11 am

(Pictured at left, mom and daughter booksellers, Maureen and Jessica Palacios.)

 

Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant Feature Artwork by Jen Betton

HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG
Written and illustrated by Jen Betton
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

TWILIGHT CHANT
Written by Holly Thompson
Illustrated by Jen Betton
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

One talented creator’s works grace two new picture books, Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant, featuring wonderful animal illustrations. Both books are reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Hedgehog Needs a Hug cover art by Jen BettonSure, on Instagram every hedgehog looks cute and cuddly. But in this story, woodland friends are fearful of his prickles when HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, the debut author-illustrator title from Jen Betton. Perhaps he got out of his cozy nest the wrong way, but Hedgehog wakes feeling “down in the snout and droopy in the prickles.” Smart and resourceful, he knows just what he needs to feel better. But who will hug Hedgehog? Rabbit and Raccoon refuse, and Turtle won’t even wake up. Then an ominous shadow seeks into the clearing. It’s a fox! He’s not afraid, but should Hedgehog be?

Betton’s text is smooth and rhythmic with vivid verbs and comforting refrains. Her woodland scenes feature crisp white and lush, deep blue-greens that make creamy-brown Hedgehog pop as the star. Plentiful double spreads and a clever mix of perspectives keep scenes entertaining from one page turn to the next, and expressive animal faces convey emotions without ambiguity. A gentle ending brings comfort and happy closure, plus a new friend who can see beyond Hedgehog’s thorny accoutrements.

 

Twilight Chant by Holly Thompson cover illustration by Jen BettonBetton also lends her prolific talents to TWILIGHT CHANT, a beautiful and poetic science picture book written by Holly Thompson. Readers follow a family leaving the shore as the sun begins to sink and shift to twilight hours. Thompson’s lyrical text directs attention to the animals that become active at this time of day – the “crepuscular creatures emerge” – with smoothly rhythmic repetition that reads aloud beautifully. As deer graze, swallows skim, foxes sniff and bats swerve, each page turn leads to a new creature and heightens our appreciation of this calm yet intensely busy twilight time

The illustrations, rich with gold and rose dusky tints, showcase each animal and its setting with both realism and softness across double spread pages. The family wends their way home slowly, tucked in as a careful through-line to emphasize our environmental interconnectedness. The deepening sky colors conclude with purpley nightfall – making this title a perfect, calming bedtime selection. An author’s note clearly explains what twilight is and gives more information about the intriguing animals encountered in the story. A poetic masterpiece infused with subtle science and soothing imagery, TWILIGHT CHANT is one of a kind.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Find another recent #Epic18 picture book review here.

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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We’re Teaming Up With Once Upon a Time Bookstore in a New Monthly Feature

“What We’re Reading”

WEDNESDAYS WITH ONCE UPON A TIME

A Roundup of Independence Day Books

 

 

We’re delighted to introduce a new monthly feature where local bookstore owner, Maureen Palacios and her daughter Jessica, of Once Upon a Time, weigh in on what they’re loving in hopes that you’ll love their suggestions too. Established in 1966, Once Upon a Time in Montrose, California is America’s Oldest Children’s Bookstore.

 

Pie is for Sharing cover illustrationMany things come to mind when you mention celebrating the most American of holidays, Fourth of July — fireworks, picnics, parades, food and family, among others.  As we take a look at a roundup of Fourth of July titles, one of my new favorites—although not technically an Independence Day title—is filled with emotional resonance that conjures up all the great feelings of a well-spent day of celebration. The debut picture book by author and poet Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, whose words are expressively coupled with artwork by Jason Chin, Pie Is for Sharing (Roaring Brook Press) is a first book about the joys of sharing. With a similar cadence to that wonderful picture book, Stars by Marla Frazee, this book celebrates a rich, diverse community in the everyday delights of climbing a tree, sitting on a warm beach towel and, of course, sharing every morsel of a pie. Chin expertly intersperses bits of red, white and blue in each page to magically and triumphantly end in a glorious cascade of fireworks! A perfect read for ages 2-6.
Starred reviews – Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus, The Horn Book,

 

The 4th of July Story cover illustrationGeared to the 4-8 age group is The 4thof July Story, written by two-time Newbery winner Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Marie Nonnast. First published in 1956, this paperback has adequate information for late kindergarten and a bit higher, but not for much younger and its illustration style may seem dated to some. The concept of war is a tough enough subject, and trying to explain the origins along with what actually happens may be too much for younger learners. I did enjoy remembering that the origin of “Congress,” which was newly enacted in Philadelphia during the run up to the Revolutionary War, means “coming together.” This simple telling of how the holiday began is why the book remains a primary teacher favorite. Still worth revisiting.

 

 

 

cover illustration from The One and Only Declaration of IndependenceFor a more contemporary approach for older children, I highly recommend The Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence, written by Judith St. George and sprightly illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. This 46-page picture book is not so much about the actual Fourth of July holiday, but rather about the history of the document which it inspired. Young readers, ages 7 and up, will embrace the fun and engaging text, with much more current information about the precious piece of parchment that outlines our country’s initial thoughts on freedom, equality and liberty.  Still resonating in today’s divisive political climate, this book, with a biography in back, is a terrific addition to your holiday book shelf.
Starred reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal


• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios

You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.

Mother and daughter booksellers Maureen and Jessica Palacios of Once Upon a TieOnce Upon A Time
“Your family bookstore”
2207 Honolulu Ave. Montrose, CA 91020
818.248.9668

http://www.ShopOnceUponATime.com

Closed on Wednesday, July 4th
Story time: Every Thursday at 11 am
 
(Pictured at left, mom and daughter booksellers)

Five New Father’s Day Children’s Books That Celebrate Dads

FIVE NEW FATHER’S DAY BOOKS
– A ROUNDUP OF RECOMMENDED READS –

Happy Father's Day artwork

 

Daddies Do by Lezlie Evans bookcover illustraton by Elisa FerroDaddies Do
Written by Lezlie Evans
Illustrated by Elisa Ferro
(Sterling BYR; $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

Over a dozen different kinds of animal dads demonstrate why they’re so beloved in this rhyming 32-page picture book. Offspring ask “Who makes you feel big even though you small?” or “Who sits in the front row when you’re in a play and takes lots of pictures on your special day?” Do we know the answers? Yes! Devoted dads do all sorts of things to make their youngsters feel special and Evans has selected some important ones including encouragement, validation, playfulness, listening and best of all, love! “Who gives you a bear hug and tucks you in tight? Who whispers ‘I love you,’ then turns out the light?” From anteaters to walruses, Ferro’s charming illustrations of animal dads and kids use soothing jeweled tones and fill every two page spread completely. This technique allows readers to occasionally get a glimpse of several daddy child relationships before a page turn and also means more animals such as elephants, hedgehogs, lions, monkeys, mice, octopi, owls, pandas, peacocks, penguins and polar bears can be included in the story. “She creates her artwork primarily in gouache, colored pencil, and ink before tweaking digitally.” Daddies Do is a wonderful addition to Father’s Day themed books although this one clearly can be revisited over and over again any time of year.

The Gorilla Picked Me! cover illustrationThe Gorilla Picked Me!
Written by Michele McAvoy
Illustrated by Valentina Carboni
(Native Ink Press; $18.99 Hardcover, $13.99 Paperback, Ages 4-8)

School dances are hard enough to begin with, but when your confidence is low and your dad, who also happens to be your date, steps out for a while at the spring dance and you’re left sitting there on your own, can you feel any worse? Such is the case with Olive. She’s the narrator of The Gorilla Picked Me!, a refreshing and rhyming look at how this self-described “plain, simple and ordinary” main character has experienced her school life up to this point. Her clothes are second-hand, she’s chosen last for teams and the only Valentine she receives is a discarded one. But when the special guest at the school dance, makes his appearance, things start looking up for Olive. This silly, dancing blue gorilla playing a kazoo is the life of the party and, out of anyone there, he picks Olive to join him on the dance floor. They swirl and they twirl and this magic moment lifts up Olive like nothing else has. After Gorilla departs and Olive’s father returns, her one regret is that he missed her star performance. But did he? Look for clues planted as to the gorilla’s identity and have a conversation about the remarkableness of being ordinary. Warmth and love emanate from Carboni’s illustrations that complement McAvoy’s heartwarming story of a dad’s clever way of elevating his child’s self-esteem. A pleasing pick for Father’s Day.

Pet Dad cover illustration by Elanna Allen Pet Dad
Written and illustrated by Elanna Allen
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

My first suggestions for Elanna Allen’s adorable picture book, Pet Dad, is to not miss the end papers in the front because they’re hysterical and so many people skip this part of a book. It’s also how you know you’re in for a treat, not a doggy treat, a reader’s treat! “Plum wants a pet. Plum’s dad does not want a pet” is how the story begins as she drags then begs him in front of the pet shop. But since her father’s rather adamant against and she’s rather resolute for, she’s not leaving without a dog. Dad is just going to have to fit the bill! She even names him Schnitzel. He may seem to enjoy her attention at first, but Dad or Schnitzel is not responding well to Plum’s attempts to treat him like any other pet. He doesn’t want to eat the food she’s prepared, get paper-trained or sleep at her feet. Can you blame him? At the park the next day, Schnitzel is still not behaving like Plum would like and she acts out in frustration. In fact, rather than Pet Dad getting punished, it’s Plum who must contemplate her unruly actions. During a time out, Plum realizes that offering a hard-to-refuse reward to her dad so that he’ll cooperate is the way forward. After such a positive response and with the help of lots of hugs, Plum and her dad are on track to having a most mutually loving and enjoyable relationship.Told tongue-in-cheek with hilarious, pet-centered illustrations, Pet Dad is an ode to the wonderful daddy daughter dynamic worth celebrating on Father’s Day.

cover art from Sun by Sam Usher Templar BooksSun
Written and illustrated by Sam Usher
(Templar Books; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Sun by Sam Usher follows Rain and Snow, two previous picture books by this talented author/illustrator. The first thing that struck me about this beautiful picture book is the front cover. A little lad sits on the stoop of his home or someone else’s. He’s sipping something from a cup, the inviting red front door is partially open and sparkling sand dusts the steps and leads to the sidewalk depicted as a beach, replete with shiny sandcastle and a green parrot, also sipping away at something! If that doesn’t spark one’s imagination, I don’t know what will! It’s soon learned the boy is staying at his Granddad’s and clues to the adventure that awaits him are sitting right there on his bed in the first illustration, a pirate and a bow-tied monkey toy. Despite being the hottest day ever, Granddad suggests a picnic and, after loading up with all the “necessary provisions,” the pair set off in search of the perfect spot. As Granddad navigates with a map (is that a pirate flag on the sandcastle?), the unnamed narrator remains on lookout. Does he notice that some trees in the distance seem to resemble a sailing ship? Shady spots seem most appealing on a scorcher and eventually the two end up by a cave. Lo and behold, someone has gotten there before them! A perfectly pirate-y dinghy is down below (the main ship is off in the distance) and a little boy is at the bow just in front of a peg-legged pirate and other non-intimidating crew. Treasure is unburied, intermingling has begun between Granddad, Grandson and pirates, and a picnic can be had at last! The second to last illustration, a spread of the picnic party onboard the massive pirate ship is delightful and warrants intense inspection since so many fun things can be found on the Galleon’s many levels. Can you spot the parrot from the first page? I suspect the main character might be named Arlo since Usher’s dedicated the book to him and magnets with his initials can be found on the fridge in the last illustration. Whether the pirate adventure is real or imagined, there’s a good time to be had by all who embark on this jolly grandfather and grandson journey.

From Father to Father board book illustration of matryoshka dollFrom Father to Father
Written and illustrated by Émilie Vast
Translated from French by Julia Cormier
(Charlesbridge; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Simple in concept, but rich in design elements, this 14-page board book is perfect for little ones who adore the pull-apart Matryoshka dolls. Every other page takes a child back several generations of a father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s dad who in turn saw the birth of a child eventually bringing the reader to the present. “And not long ago, I saw the birth of you … my very own child. A father’s love goes on and on and on.” What a beautiful sentiment to share with a young child while cuddling them close and showing them all the different colored pages, each with unique and nature-inspired artwork. There’s also a version for moms

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read last year’s Father’s Day Roundup here.

 

How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk – He Had Me at CODE!

 

HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Sara Palacios
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

How to Code a Sandcastle book cover

 

How to Code a Sandcastle is written in conjunction with the computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code and includes a forward by its founder, Reshma Saujani

Having a website, I know a little bit about coding, little being the operative word. But author Josh Funk, a software engineer by day, knows a lot. Thankfully. So it’s no surprise that the end result of a Funk and illustrator Sara Palacios picture book collaboration, How to Code a Sandcastle, has yielded such a positive and inspiring read.

Beaches and bots, hmmmm … I had absolutely no idea before picking up my review copy how author and illustrator would pull off this phenomenal feat. I mean, millions, maybe trillions of grains of sand and machinery don’t exactly go together. That’s why I felt compelled to read on and am glad I did!

 

int illustration 1 by Sara Palacios from How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk

Interior artwork from How to Code a Sandcastle written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Sara Palacios, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

Narrator Pearl is spending her last day of summer vacation at the beach. She’s determined to build a castle because all of her previous attempts have been thwarted by freewheeling frisbees, slamming surfers and peeing pups. Today, however, she has her “trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal,” in tow who she will code to build a sandcastle. Code, your children will learn, is “special instructions that computers understand.” But Pearl soon realizes that in order to build said sandcastle, her instructions need to be specific because without doing so, Pascal could end up constructing the castle in the ocean or in a parking lot. We also see that there’s a sequence to the problem solving, a good tip for young readers just learning about the importance and practicality of executive functioning. So after 1. Finding a suitable place to build, it’s onto 2. Gathering up the sand, encompassing a three-step process of filling, dumping and patting down. Here’s where a coding trick called looping is introduced: repeating the three step process or sequence until all the steps are done and the sand is piled in place before moving on to 3. Shaping and decorating. When Pascal brings items to decorate the sandcastle that aren’t appropriate (a lifeguard stand, a live crab and a baby’s binky!), plucky Pearl relies on a cool approach called IF-THEN-ELSE to help the robot analyze what can and cannot be used.

When a wave washes away the masterpiece, Pearl doesn’t get discouraged because she has the key to quick and easy re-construction, the code that Pascal can implement. Only now she needs to program Pascal with a way to protect the sandcastle, a code for how to build a moat! Once that’s finished, there’s no telling what else they can do with their coding know-how. What a great way to end vacation!

 

int illustration 2 by Sara Palacios from How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk

Interior artwork from How to Code a Sandcastle written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Sara Palacios, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

Funk’s story is funny, creative and easy to follow. By using something as recognizable as a sandcastle for the coding project, How to Code a Sandcastle serves as an ideal vehicle for a gentle, accessible preview of computer science. If only we all could be assisted by robots when we head to the beach. Imagine the possibilities! In her illustrations, Palacios has combined sunshine, sand and STEM in a thoroughly modern and cheerful way. Pascal the robot, who is never portrayed as cold or remote but rather charming and accommodating, is someone any child would want as a friend. And Palacios’ diverse characters fill the pages with a realistic picture of what readers really see when they visit the beach. A two page spread of back matter, “Pearl and Pascal’s Guide to Coding,” explains all the code concepts covered.

If you never thought you or your youngster would get the concept of coding, it’s time to think again. With its goal of getting girls to embrace coding, Girls Who Code will, with the help of wonderful books like this one, succeed in closing “the gender gap” that currently exists in the technology fields. Start your own STEM-themed collection of books by visiting your local independent bookstore today.

   • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another Josh Funk book here.

The Funeral by Matt James Depicts a Child’s Take on The Ritual

 

THE FUNERAL
Written and illustrated by Matt James
(Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press; $18.00, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Matt James’s forty-page picture book, The Funeral, opens with a ringing phone at Norma’s house. A few days later, her family’s going to great-uncle Frank’s funeral. Norma has to practice her sad face in the mirror because, in actuality, she’s thrilled to miss a day of school and see her favorite cousin.

While the text engages our senses, the vivid illustrations capture the story’s emotional heart. In church, grays contrast with the bright colors of the stained-glass windows, “swirling song” of the organ, and familiar smell of Norma’s mom’s purse. The acrylic and ink art on Masonite has a layered qualify because of dimensional elements made from cut paper, masking tape, rolled-up twine, cardboard, and scroll-sawn Masonite (all painted with acrylic).

 

The Funeral by Matt James int. artwork

Interior illustrations from The Funeral written and illustrated by Matt James, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press ©2018.

 

This exploration of a funeral from Norma’s viewpoint demonstrates that, while she does reflect on the gravity of the occasion, it’s the details adults may take for granted that influence her perceptions of this unusual day. The girl’s wondrous childhood curiosity allows for philosophical questions alongside simple acts of fun.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Read another recent review by Christine here.

Epic 18 Twofer Tuesday: Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! and Iver & Ellsworth

Unlikely friends have delightfully different,
unexpected adventures in two new picture books
from debut, Epic 18 authors.

PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!
Written by Cate Berry
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
(Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

&

IVER & ELLSWORTH
Written by Casey W. Robinson
Illustrated by Melissa Larson
(Ripple Grove Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! cover imageWhat do a penguin and a shrimp have in common? It’s their dogged insistence that PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!, no matter what sleep aids and comfy settings surround them. Author Berry poises the pair in the midst of a typical toddler bedtime routine. With toothbrushing over and jammies on, Penguin and Shrimp remain positive that they are not heading to bed. Their anti-bedtime speech bubbles pop in counterpoint across the page, tracking their sleep evasion tactics despite big soft beds, cozy covers, or squishy soft pillows.

The story quickly ramps up as the pair celebrate colorful fireworks, escape from lions, swing on rainforest vines and ride hot air balloons. Minute by minute, they grow zanier and more out-of-control as their desperate-but-denied need for sleep escalates. Song, jokes, and the arrival of a uni-hippo aside, the pair confidently assert that,  “One thing this book will never do is make you tired … This book will never make you yawn.”

Santoso’s comic digital art contradicts and amplifies the duo’s predicament in bright, strong colors and crisp outlines. Penguin and Tiny Shrimp gush personality with big eyes and expressive mouths which eventually–inevitably–transition to droopy eyelids and gigantic yawns. The fun and games draw to an appropriately snoozy conclusion that will ring true with all parents who must wrangle not-sleepy kids and toddlers to bed.

 

Iver & Ellsworth cover illustration Another unlikely pair, a solitary senior factory worker and an immense, inflatable polar bear, star in IVER & ELLSWORTH, a sweet story about steadfast friendship and devotion. Iver, a trim, mustachioed gentleman with square rimmed spectacles, packs his lunch and heads to work in an urban factory. Ellsworth, a chubby and observant bear, remains tethered to the factory roof. High above the city, the stationary bear watches the world rushing by. Iver visits at lunchtime, offering commentary on the view and bustling traffic.

Robinson makes it clear that the two share a bond built over many years. Iver tenderly cares for Ellsworth season after season. He dries away spring rain, sweeps away autumn leaves, and clears snow before his daily final check to make certain the anchor ropes are secure. But one day, the day Iver is retiring from his factory job, he is slow to perform his tasks and say farewell to his faithful, inflatable friend.

Illustrator Larson employ several wordless spreads to show us the separate adventures that unfold next. Iver begins to embrace retirement, and Ellsworth becomes unmoored from the factory roof. Her delicate pencil and watercolor images are restrained and subtle, ranging from muted gray greens to glorious rosy sunsets. The peaceful landscapes pair beautifully with Robinson’s spare, understated text, leaving ample room for readers to absorb and appreciate this unique friendship tale that ends with joyful reunification. IVER & ELLSWORTH is a cozy book perfect for reassuring readers that true friendship endures.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Read another of Cathy’s recent Epic 18 reviews here

 

Trailer for PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! here:  

The Legend Retold – El Chupacabras written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Crash McCreery

EL CHUPACABRAS
Written by Adam Rubin
Illustrated by Crash McCreery
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cover artwork from El Chupacabras written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Crash McCreery

 

Adam Rubin (Dragons Love Tacos, Robo-Sauce,and Those Darn Squirrels) delights audiences once again with his 48-page picture book El Chupacabras. In this fractured folktale, we learn that the legendary and fearsome creature known as El Chupacabras (the goatsucker) is actually a tiny, well-dressed gentleman who drinks chocolate with the butterflies. He does, however, occasionally like to suck a goat.

 

interior artwork by Crash McCreery from El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin

Interior spread from EL CHUPACABRAS written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Crash McCreery, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

English and Spanish words are interwoven with sentences beginning in one language and ending in another or switching back and forth midsentence. This inventive style organically teaches the fluidity of languages. Some lines remain in Spanish without translation, but, taken in context and with what’s been unwittingly learned, the words are simply understood.

The text is cinematically illustrated by acclaimed Hollywood creature creator, Crash McCreery, best known for his iconic character designs in the Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean films. Mischievous goat antics are a delightful through line and goat pancakes are sure to delight. This fulfilling story and its modern art engage the reader on every page.

 

Int. artwork by Crash McCreery rom El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin

Interior spread from EL CHUPACABRAS written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Crash McCreery, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

Rubin has generously pledged to donate his proceeds from El Chupacabras to the Hispanic Federation in support of the Educational Programs and Puerto Rican hurricane relief. “I decided to tell this story in an unusual way to explore the beauty of harmony,” says Rubin. “It’s easy to dismiss the unfamiliar, but compassion takes a little more effort. With so many people trumpeting the ignorances of separation right now, it’s more important than ever to teach kids that there is more than one way to understand the world.” Hats off to these timely sentiments.

    • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Read another review by Christine Van Zandt here.

Solution-Seeking Girls Star in Debut Books The Breaking News & Doll-E 1.0

Smart, capable, solution-seeking girls star
in two new picture books
from debut author-illustrators reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

THE BREAKING NEWS
Written and illustrated by Sarah Lynne Reul
(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

&

DOLL-E 1.0
Written and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey
(Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

The Breaking News cover illustration THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reul brings us a glimpse of a community struggling to cope with upsetting developments, and highlights the role that a girl fulfills to restore and heal them. The book opens with a family happily engaged in potting plants at the kitchen table. But a television in the background interrupts with unsettling news, distracting the parents and disrupting the normal rhythm of life. The little girl, round-eyed and tender-hearted, notices the changes all around her. She becomes determined to act and restore balance to her family, school and community. 

Advised by her teacher to look for helpers, our heroine undertakes big and small acts of generosity and kindness. Bold gestures – washing dishes, putting on a silly show, and inventing imaginary force fields – fall flat. But slowly she discovers that many small gestures performed with love and care – tending to the dog, reading to her brother, caring for the recently-potted plant – begin to make a difference.

THE BREAKING NEWS is a helpful, heart-filled book. It bridges the gap between acknowledging distressing events and supporting the family circle where children learn to cope and counter sadness and fear. Reul’s balanced blend of warm and grey toned illustrations underscore the message of empowerment and hope. Reul brings together a brighter future and stronger community by the book’s end, making this a timely, helpful resource for families to discuss broader community issues.
Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

cover illustration from Doll-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskeyIt’s techno-trouble for clever Charlotte, the heroine of DOLL-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey, because she doesn’t comprehend the purpose of her new toy, a doll. With her trusty canine sidekick Blutooth, Charlotte is constantly on call for fixing the gadgets and devices that break and baffle her family. However, her constant coding and tinkering spark concern from her parents, who want Charlotte to unplug a bit.

The new “human-shaped pillow” doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm until a hidden battery pack is revealed. Charlotte tackles a doll upgrade, much to Blutooth’s dismay. Will his doggie destruction thwart Charlotte’s creative coding and clicking, or will it lead to a new appreciation for her technological ingenuity?

This STEM-friendly tale will appeal to young readers who appreciate and alternate between toys with and without power buttons. McCloskey’s action-filled, colorful characters are expressive and engaging. The scratchy, sketched appearance balances a sophisticated use of cartoon-panels. Full page illustrations pace the story nicely. Speech bubbles blend dialogue smoothly with text, while background details hint cleverly at Charlotte’s tools and organized interests. DOLL-E 1.0 is a smart, engaging and creative story with lots of contemporary charm.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Read another recent #Epic18 set of book reviews by Cathy Ballou Mealey here.

 

Can World Cup Aspirations be Found Here? The Field by Baptiste Paul

THE FIELD
Written by Baptiste Paul
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 Cover illustration from The Field

 

“is a debut masterpiece of collaboration and skill,” says reviewer Ozma Bryant.

In a friendly game of soccer (futbol), the magic of not only the sport but the players involved, comes into brilliant light splayed across the pages of The Field, a debut picture book by Baptiste Paul.

 

The Field written by Baptiste Paul int. art by Jacqueline Alcántara

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

With a tropical rainstorm threatening the game, the players band together, solidifying their connection through love of playing ball and sportsmanship. Challenges such as the weather won’t intrude on this precious time together. The story, I might add,  is really about a group of kids—the “main character” is never mentioned by name but she’s on all the pages.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

My favorite moment is when one of the opposing players is knocked down, and our main character, in her white jersey #3, reaches her hand out to him on the muddy ground asking, “Ou byen? You okay?” He responds, “Mwen byen. I’m good.” You can practically reach out and touch the splattered mud and rain that splashes across the pages as the players muscle on through, seeing the game to completion.

The sun creeps back out as the game continues, even as Mamas call the players home. Hearing a firm command “Vini, abwezan! Come now!” the children end the game then go their separate ways to rest up and rejuvenate for a new day of play.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

Caked with mud and filth, children slip into tubs of warm water, smiling …  reveling in the magic that is a game well played. Dreams of new games and friendship forming float overhead, as the field lingers even in sleep.

Alcántara’s gorgeous art propels the reader forward with spare language infused with Creole words from the author’s native home in the Caribbean. The author of this amazing story explains in the back matter that Creole is rarely written, mostly spoken, and so new words are constantly being added or old ones modified in this language. A Creole Glossary is also included.

One of my dear friends hails from Haiti, and speaks Creole. He was the initial reason I was excited to read this book and learn from it. One of the first things I learned from him was that soccer was also ‘futbol’. When I saw the young girl on the cover, I wanted to put this book into his young daughter’s hands immediately. I must ask if she plans to watch the FA Cup this weekend!

I am so thankful for this incredible book and hope to share it with many readers who can also identify with its themes of friendship, connection, teamwork and not giving up in the face of adversity.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

Click here for educator and librarian resources.

Read another review by Ozma Bryant here.

 

Feel Free to Dazzle! Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

 

JULIÁN IS A MERMAID
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

JULIAN IS A MERMAID cover art Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Love

 

Julián is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, is a brilliant debut picture book. As Julián and his abuela leave the public pool, they share the subway ride with some women dressed as mermaids. Julián loves mermaids and feels he is one too. He demonstrates this while his abuela’s away taking a bath. At the crucial moment of discovery, Abuela encourages Julián and takes him to his tribe: a gathering of likeminded people.

 

Interior artwork from Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

JULIAN IS A MERMAID. Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Love. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Jessica Love’s beautiful sentiment is echoed in her vibrant, festive art done by hand with ink, gouache, and watercolor on brown paper. Richly rendered, expressive characters stand out against muted backgrounds. This 40-page picture book gently shows how easy it can be to accept others. Potentially contentious moments are, instead, depicted with understanding.

 

Interior spread from Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

JULIAN IS A MERMAID. Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Love. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Using words sparingly, Julián is a Mermaid captures the colorful expansiveness of our imaginations when given free rein.

Starred reviews – Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

About the author: Jessica Love is an illustrator and Broadway actress. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She lives in New York.

 

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Read another recent review by Christine Van Zandt here.

 

 

 

 

 

Stars shine bright for debut authors Thompkins-Bigelow and Martinez-Neal

MOMMY’S KHIMAR
Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

&

ALMA
Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
(Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Two parent and child dyads share and celebrate cherished cultural connections in beautiful new picture books by debut authors that will touch and delight the heart.

Cover art by Ebony Glenn for Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-BigelowDebut author Thompkins-Bigelow depicts a child’s wonderful, busy day in MOMMY’S KHIMAR.A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears” says a young Muslim girl who loves to dress-up in her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves. Fun and fancy are foremost in her mind as she incorporates the beautiful khimars in her imaginative play. The yellow khimar – another term for hijab – is her favorite and she dreams of wearing it like a queen, or a superhero, flying through the sky like a star.

Mama sees the girl at play, but smiles tenderly rather than scolds. The scarf carries her familiar, motherly fragrance of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon, making it even more special to her daughter. The girl is also loved and celebrated by her father, teachers and her grandmother, wrapped in tangible and intangible messages of love and welcome.

Glenn’s bright, sunny illustrations are sweet and appealing, using vibrant colors that compliment the warm, well-rounded story and keep the focus squarely on the girl’s fun. The energetic images cool to soft blue-purples as night falls and the beloved khimar returns to her mother’s closet. Even in her dreams the heroine recalls the tender embrace of her family and community, but her mother most of all. A delightful depiction of an ordinary day in the life of a cheerful and charming child.
Starred reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

Cover art for Alma and How She Got Her Name ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME is the book title, but the inquisitive heroine’s full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Alma complains that her name is “too long” and “never fits.” In fact, Alma must tape an extra piece of paper to her page to accommodate all six! Soon, the how and why of the family stories behind each and every name is revealed in compelling, engaging descriptions.

When Alma’s father explains the rich history of the names she bears, Alma’s incredible imagination brings them to life. Aided by family photos and icons, her father’s story reveals Alma’s namesakes and the common bonds they share. Like her grandmother Sofia, Alma adores books. Like her grandfather Jose, Alma loves to draw and paint. Candela was Alma’s activist grandmother, and aunt Pura was deeply spiritual.

Alma wears delightful striped red pants, a perky red hairbow, and a red string around her left wrist. Her sweet, expressive face moves from solemn to astonished, serene to silly as she “meets” her ancestors and discovers the common bonds that they share. Martinez-Neal, recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, uses a restrained color palette and imbues the well-designed textual components with meaningful symbols. Broad, double page spreads pace the story smoothly and linger for maximum impact on each name’s meaning. The final reveal for the name “Alma” is a warm, satisfying and ultimately empowering one for the little girl who has been enriched by the love and history of her family past and present. ALMA is a tender tale, a treasure for all readers who will wonder about their own name history.
Starred reviewsBooklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

•Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Read reviews of other #Epic18 debuts here:

I am Famous & Shark Nate-
Snow Sisters
The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort

 

 

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