Did you know Srinivasa Ramanujan was one of the greatest mathematicians the world has seen? I didn’t, but was thankful to come across The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauerand learn a little bit about this man whose amazing accomplishments are still studied today.
Born in a small South Indian village in 1887, Ramanujan began questioning the world at an early age: “What is small? And what is big?” He spent endless hours writing and erasing on his slate, trying to capture his thoughts about numbers and size. “Ramanujan was a number theorist, a person who studies the properties and patterns of numbers.” This book’s examples make these large concepts easy to understand such as when Ramanujan takes food to the man by the river who claims to see odd creatures that aren’t there. To this, Ramanujan says, “Sometimes even invisible things can be real.” Kids can relate to this while their parents have a greater understanding of what Ramanujan meant.
This self-taught genius felt alone with his thoughts until reaching out to Cambridge University in England because of its great mathematical center where he finally connects with top mathematician, G. H. Hardy (whose pamphlet on infinity Ramanujan had recently discovered). Just six years after making that connection, Ramanujan died in 1920, at the age of thirty-two. “The profound originality of his ideas has been a source of inspiration for mathematicians ever since.”
Daniel Miyares’s lovely illustrations show us Ramanujan’s India blended skillfully with the boy’s thoughts. One of my favorite scenes discusses how numbers whisper to Ramanujan in his sleep; he tries catching ideas before they disappear. The accompanying art has multiple images of Ramanujan leaping and climbing on numbers, set against a night sky. Get this book for the kid in your life with big thoughts—whether anyone else can see them or not.
Click here to order a copy of The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/19/20
Edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley
Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
(Charlesbridge; $18.99, Ages 5-9)
★Starred Review – Kirkus
There’s no better time than right now to make our voices heard. But this isn’t about our voices. It’s about our children’s voices. And, in particular, it’s about the diverse voices in No Voice Too Smallthat stand out from the daily din of our world. The fourteen children selected for this rich collection of poetry and prose may not have been known to you prior to reading this book, but you’ll remember them afterward.
Though not your kids, these powerfully productive activists will make you feel proud that they never let their age or inexperience hold them back. They saw something they needed to address and ran with it by organizing marches and walks, fundraising, protesting, DJing, and even starring in a TEDxTeen talk. e
The editors have invited 14 #ownvoices authors and poets to compose poems inspired by the “young Americans who opened hearts, challenged minds, and changed our world.” They include S. Bear Bergman, Joseph Bruchac, Nikki Grimes, Hena Khan, Andrea J. Loney, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Fiona Morris, G. Neri, Lesléa Newman, Traci Sorrell, Charles Waters, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Janet Wong. The three editors have also contributed.
The poetry provides a compelling and creative way into each highlighted individual’s unique situation. And, as a poetry lover, I appreciated the variety of poetic forms that offers readers an opportunity to experience: Ballad, Cinquain, Concrete poem, Elegy, Free Verse, Onomatopoeic poem, Reverso, Spoken word poem, Tanka and Triolet. Perhaps the subjects covered (racial justice, clean water, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, Type 1 diabetes, gun violence, and more) will prompt kids to write their own poems on a topic that resonates with them.
The children’s names that follow are ones to watch out for since I’m certain they will continue to make headlines as they fight for their beliefs for years to come. They are: Levi Draheim, Cierra Fields, Judy Adams, DJ Annie Red, Marley Dias, Ziad Ahmed, Jazz Jennings, Jasilyn Charger, Noah Barnes, Zach Wahls, Mari Copeny, Viridiana Sanchez Santos, Adora Svitak, and Nza-Ari Khepra. I was glued to the pages learning about them all, and intend to reread the poems multiple times. Joseph Bruchac’s free verse poem Water Protector inspired by Jasilyn Charger especially moved me. Her protests and runs aim to bring awareness and protections for water preservation for “the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as millions of people downstream.” It opens with this unforgettable line, “We need the river more than it needs us.”
The prose accompanying each poetic spread contains the specific background about the cause these fourteen kids and teens have pursued, along with tips on how kids can get involved and amplify these causes with their own voices.
I reached out to editor and illustrator, Jeanette Bradley, because I was so impressed with her illustrations, the book’s layout, and the kraft paper-like pages and wanted to know more. “The art is created digitally using Procreate for the iPad. It is drawn as if it were charcoal and pastels on kraft paper, but both the paper and the pastels are digital tools. The art was inspired by the book design done by Art Director Diane Earley. Because the book contains multiple layers of text, and poems have unique shapes, the book design had to be done before the illustrations. I then had to draw to fit the art into the remaining space on the spread. When I got the page proofs, Diane’s choice of font made me think of a sign hand-lettered on cardboard, which inspired me to use kraft paper as a midtone background and draw into it with both light and dark ‘pastels.'”
The backmatter includes details on each poet’s connection to the subject they wrote about, a description of the poetry forms, and an additional free verse poem by the editors. The separate endpapers include quotes from all of the children featured in No Voice Too Small.
This timely anthology of youth activism is the go-to book for students and families who are not only looking for a rewarding read, but are especially eager to find inspiration and motivation. I hope that the excellent examples of kids making themselves heard and making a difference will spark something positive in your youngster because they are our future, and their voices do matter.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
NOTE: The editors of No Voice Too Small are donating one percent of hardcover sales to Teaching For Change, (teachingforchange.org), “a nonprofit that helps youth learn to participate actively in a diverse democracy.”
Click hereto order a copy of No Voice Too Small or visit your local indie bookstore. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.
The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?
The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.
Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.
One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.
After spending five miserable months at sea, Judah arrives in New Orleans. “His father and grandfather had also sailed the seas. They left their homes to practice Judaism in peace and freedom. God had taken care of them. Judah knew God had a plan for him, too.”
Mildenberger’s illustrations, using soft brown and blue colors, depict the busy harbor in Touro’s new hometown. “A busy harbor meant trade. And trade was a business Judah knew well.” Ades takes us through Judah’s transforming life as he welcomes new friends into his shop at Number 27 Chartres Street. Mildenberger draws crowds of people waiting in line as the industrious shop owner’s business booms. He becomes the most successful merchant in town unlike his father and grandfather who had been great Rabbis. “Had God planned for him to be a businessman?”
The United States entered the War of 1812 eleven years after Judah had relocated to New Orleans. When General Andrew Jackson urgently requested volunteers, Judah joined up, doing one of “the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield, bringing ammunition to soldiers.” During the war Judah was injured and his dearest friend, Rezin Shepherd, found him and nurtured him back to health. “While he lay in bed, he had plenty of time to think about why God had spared his life.”
e e Eagerly turning the page, we see Mildenberger’s moving full color illustrations of sad faces and homeless people as Judah walks through town. “His gut ached for the children who begged for food when they should have been in school. And he sobbed for families torn apart by diseases like yellow fever and cholera.” The poverty and suffering profoundly impacts Judah, supported by his cane, walking past the hospital. He knows he can afford to help these people and so he does. Judah begins making huge donations, but he “requested only one thing in return. He asked that his donations be kept secret. Judah Touro didn’t want to be famous.”
This engaging, educational story takes us through Judah’s purchase of the city’s first Jewish synagogue. We then see how “everyday, African men, women and children were legally sold as slaves so quietly, Judah began to pay off masters.” Ades explains to readers how, when Judah died in 1854, he left money for myriad charities and causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. “He made sure that fire departments, public parks, libraries and schools could remain open and running.” In his lifetime, “Judah gave away more money than any other American of his time. But he was not famous. And that’s the way he wanted it.”
In the Author’s Note, Ades explains how Touro did not leave a diary. However his secretive, selfless and generous actions make clear that during his formative years he had learned a great Jewish value, helping those in need. This fascinating historical fictionalized story is a great lesson on kindness and humility for lower grade students. They’ll learn that success is more than having money; it is about what you do with that money, and that philanthropic deeds, large and small can be done without requiring recognition. In our world of social media and instant gratification, it was inspirational to read about a real life hero who did great deeds, but chose to avoid fame.
FREEDOM SOUP Written by by Tami Charles Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
Let’s Celebrate The 7th Annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day & Spread the Word About #ReadYourWorld!
Freedom Soup, written by Tami Charles and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara is a celebration in the kitchen when Grandmother and Belle come together for the New Year’s Day tradition of making this soup. As the family’s recipe is shared, Belle also learns about Ti Gran’s birthplace (Haiti) where slaves labored making this soup for their masters because Freedom Soup was only for the free.
Belle comments that with a name like Freedom Soup, the soup should have been free for everyone; Ti Gran replies, “Oh, Belle. Nothing in this world is free, not even freedom.” While the literal cost of the soup can be counted in ingredients and labor, greater messages include family and pride.
Alcántara takes the evocative text and, through her art, further enlivens the tale with movement and rhythm. Characters dance and sway while cooking as Ti Gran recounts Haiti’s history.
Following the story is a summary of how Haiti overcame slavery and claimed independence from France. The author’s recipe for this soup sounds delicious and is on my list to try in 2020.
This book truly defines Multicultural Children’s Book Day’s motto, “read your world.” Sharing what brought us to this country brings us closer, as does cooking with family, friends, and people you haven’t met yet.
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness for Readers
Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.
MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHostsHERE.
Dinosaur loving kids will find Dino-Halloween right up their rhyming Halloween alley! A bevy of big and small dinos get together to do their trick or treat thing as only dinos can in the latest picture book in the series.
The scene is set for a dino-mite Halloween romp that’s more silly than scary, making this a safe go-to story for younger children. Between the read-aloud rhyme and the animated, jewel-toned illustrations, each page is bursting with the excitement of this special night.
Meet Pterodactyl, Triceratops, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Iguanodon and many more, all on hand (or claw) to have fun. The dinos head to a haunted house then spend time carving pumpkins (“Iguanodon has no finesse. He’s smeared with pumpkin. What a mess!”). After that comes costume-making or buying for the Costume Ball. Picture Raptor stuffing his clothes with hay to make himself into a scarecrow. The ball’s where readers will find all the dinos dancing before heading out for some serious trick or treating. They call it a night after overdoing it on treats, but everyone agrees it’s been a blast and look forward to celebrating the next holiday—Thanksgiving!
This atmospheric read is certain to become a family fave for getting into the Halloween spirit. What better way to get ready for Halloween than going to a pumpkin patch to find that special one.
“Pick a pumpkin from the patch—tall and lean or short and fat. Vivid orange, ghostly white, or speckled green might be just right.”
An autumn glow fills every page of Pick a Pumpkin. The country setting (look out for Jarvis art supplies and Patty’s book shop!) and the country-colors palette of the artwork add anticipation that something special is on the horizon. Soon a diverse group of friends and family gather at home. Preparations begin for each guest to become part of the PUMPKIN CARVING CREW! Toht’s top-notch rhyme sparkles beside the warm illustrations as the fun gets underway. “A kiss. A frown. A toothy grin. A zigzag gap cut long and thin.” Every possible pumpkin design is explored and presented in two beautiful spreads with joyful and satisfied children.
Before the happy kids can light their new creations, it’s time for setting up the decorations and putting on costumes. And when at last the pumpkins are lit, a dazzling light transforms the illustration into pure magic to behold—a Jack-O’-Lantern. Read this with your children or students before wishing everyone a very Happy Halloween! I have no doubt this lovely book will be revisited again and again every fall.
This latest activity book in the Paint by Sticker series is perfect for families who are keen on keeping the Halloween celebration mess-free. This portable, non-electronic entertainment will keep kids busy and happy before or after trick or treating. Plus all the stickers are glow-in-the-dark! Here’s how it works.
Children choose one of the ten Halloween-themed pictures including a witch, a bat, “a tuxedo-suited vampire,” “a creepy unraveling mummy,” pumpkins and a haunted house. Then they turn to the back of the book to find the corresponding sticker page for their illustration. Then, let the peeling begin! It’s easy to peel and stick in place by matching the numbers and voilà, their masterpiece is ready to remove and even frame. All of the pages are perforated making removing the picture and sticker page easy peasy. Say good-bye to paint spills and hello to neat stickers this Halloween. 🎃
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click hereto read a previous Halloween Books roundup.
THE DAM Written by David Almond Illustrated by Levi Pinfold (Candlewick Studio; $17.99, Ages: 5-9)
★Starred Review – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
Poignant words and haunting illustrations tell this tale based on a true story of love, loss, and rebirth in The Damwritten by David Almond and illustrated by Levi Pinfold.
“He woke her early. ‘Bring your fiddle,’” a father tells his daughter. Through these sparse words, the book opens with an immediate sense of urgency. A dam under construction will soon flood a valley cherished by Kathryn and her father. Once home to beloved musician friends, this valley will forever “be gone” and “washed away.” Pinfold’s illustrations echo the somber tone in a palette of gray, green, and white. While his “snapshot” pictures highlight samples of the delicate flora and fauna that will be lost, his double page spreads bring a bigger perspective to the vastness of the English countryside—the vastness of the loss and of the task at hand.
“‘Take no notice. There’s no danger,’” Kathryn’s father tells her. Tearing off boards on the abandoned houses they once gathered in to dance and sing, Kathryn’s father asks her to enter the rooms and play her fiddle. I couldn’t help but pause after reading these lines in the book. No danger? Had this story taken place in America, such an area would be visibly marked off with miles of flourescent yellow “CAUTION” tape and multiple “NO TRESPASSING” signs. Though the illustrations in the book show no such signage, it’s quite possible the characters’ presence in the valley was to some degree illegal. Though whatever physical danger there may have been, they faced an even greater one: the danger of the grieving process.
I compare tearing off boards from house to house to tearing off the bandage on a deep wound, acknowledging its pain, and being present with the discomfort. Kathryn plays and “Daddy sing[s],” lifting spirits “gone and … still to come” up and out of the houses and setting them free to become part of the landscape—the earth, the sky, the animals, and people. What a profound mystery of the human spirit, that we can find the safety of healing only by taking the risk to be vulnerable. Father teaches daughter there really is no danger when we grieve fully and wholeheartedly.
“The lake is beautiful” the author tells us, reflecting on how Kathryn and her father embrace the new creation. And just as before, Pinfold’s illustrations give us both detailed and wide-angled views of the landscape. Peaceful blues, gentle greens, and flowy whites restore what was once lost. Even the movement of the little fish mimic the dance of the spirits. Though the valley is gone, music continues to be celebrated.
Both multi-award winners, Almond and Pinfold complement each other beautifully. I strongly recommend the book to caregivers and educators alike, especially as an introduction to issues of change and loss for younger elementary-age children and to issues of death and bereavement for older ones.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Read a review of another David Almond book here. Read another review by Armineh here.
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.
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.
In 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.
Yoori, a young South Korean girl, has listened to her father, Appa, talk about his difficult childhood in North Korea. His compelling stories of hardship and hunger lead Yoori and Appa to volunteer for a secret nighttime mission; sending packages of rice over the border via special balloons.
When father and daughter arrive near the border, local villagers protest and chant, “Don’t feed the enemy.” In dismay Yoori says “The hope in my heart withers like a dying rice stalk.” But she rallies her courage and persists in completing the task at hand. With other volunteers, Yoori and Appa help inflate balloons, attach containers of rice, and send them floating over the border under starry skies.
Song’s vibrant illustrations markedly differentiate the two countries with a stark color palette. A verdant and lush South Korea features plentiful orange and pink flowers, fruits and green landscapes. Alternately, North Korea is shown isolated within a clear bowl, brown, barren and withered. The dramatic contrast peaks on a poignant double spread showing two North and South Korean girls face one another. While large grey mountains loom in the distance, the two children remain separated by nothing more than a small stream of clear running water.
Cho provides additional information on the political and cultural history of the Korean peninsula. This informative story is hopeful, compassionate and timely.
Standing in waist-high, thick green grass that spills across the long, rolling horizon, a young girl and her mother observe that the fields are ready for the haying to begin. “Mower blades slice through the grass. / A new row falls with every pass. / Stalks and stems are scattered ’round. / The scents of new-mown plants abound.” The rhythmic thunk-thunk, chunk-chunk phrases echo the mechanical beats of the machinery employed – a mower, tedder, rake and baler. Mihaly explains the terminology in a helpful glossary of “haymaking words” that add richness to the rhyming farming narrative.
As the mown hay dries, mother and daughter refresh themselves with switchel, a traditional cold haying drink of ginger, vinegar and maple syrup. For those inspired to try it, the recipe is included! Raking and baling finally lead to the satisfying conclusion of a crop safely stacked in the barn, and time to ride and play with the patiently waiting pony.
Cepada’s illustrations capture the vast fields, broad skies, and varied haying equipment with detail, vibrancy and color. Green grasses fade to olive-yellows as tinted clouds sweep across the pages. The tractors and barn are a cheerful, traditional red, and the immense rolled hay bales are textured with prickly perfection. Each generously proportioned oil-and acrylic image is paired with succinct and snappy text that explicates and enhances the unique and creative story.
Good reasons to harvest both of these titles about bounty on your bookshelves!
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK Written by Kate Narita Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, Ages 5-7)
FLYING DEEP: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN Written by Michelle Cusolito Illustrated by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge Books, $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sharpen your math and science observation skills with two new, detail-packed STEM-rich picture books from debut authors.
In100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK, two young summer explorers aren’t bugged by insects at all. They are on a seek-and-find counting quest from the pond to the field to the forest and everywhere in between. Armed with a butterfly net and magnifying glass, the daring duo discover and count an astonishing variety of interesting insects.Naritaemploys bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.
Kaufman’sbright, colorful collage-style art is engaging and cheerful, adeptly including an impressive accumulation of bugs throughout every page. A beautiful array of wildflowers and plants are also featured, complementing the detailed and intricate insects. Kaufman adds lots of birds and animals as well as an enthusiastic dog who follows the children on their adventures. With so much visual interest, young readers will be captivated. Notes at the end provide additional information on the insects and plants, making this a great STEM book selection.
InFLYING DEEP readers will imagine an underwater journey of exploration with the pilots of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible. Their mission is to observe and analyze creatures and structures from the depths of the ocean floor, and to collect samples for further research at the surface. Cusolitouses a narrative logbook structure, inviting readers to ponder practical and procedural questions as if they are one of the crew members. What might you eat? How will you breathe? What will you see? Exciting discoveries and the possibility of danger raise the stakes for readers who will soak up this immersive science adventure.
Digital illustrations fromWongenrich this tale with incredible scenes from inside and outside the ALVIN. Realistic details abound, including the amazing variety of sea life and the riveted, technical components of the ALVIN itself. Wong uses light to her advantage, balancing sunlight and ALVIN’s spotlights above and below the ocean surface to focus attention on the stunning discoveries. A glossary, resources for further reading and notes from the author and illustrator round out this unique, informative book.
100 BUGS and FLYING DEEP were both recipients of starred reviews from Kirkus!
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.
Good Reads With Ronna occasionally provides links to shop at Once Upon a Time bookstore with whom we partner monthly to share a Wednesday What We’re Reading post. GRWR blog and its reviewers receive no compensation for any titles sold via this independent bookstore, but we do hope you’ll choose a local option when making your next purchase.
WORLD MAKE WAY: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
A curious, crouching cat on the book’s cover immediately drew me into World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Eighteen thoughtful and evocative poems and the accompanying works of art that prompted their creation kept me turning the pages. This beautiful collection is everything a poetry anthology for children should be: diverse, original and, as the title suggests, inspiring. In the book’s back matter I learned that Lee Bennett Hopkins, the editor of World Make Way, holds the Guinness Book of World Records citation for compiling the most anthologies for children, making him more than well-suited to spearhead this satisfying project in conjunction with the Met.
I appreciate the breadth of art that was selected and the variety of poems that were commissioned for World Make Way. There is something that will appeal to every reader who dives in, whether they like short, simple poems or those more complex and layered. There are serious poems and those that have fun with the reader like Marilyn Singer’s poem, Paint Me, the first in the book. In it the teen subject of Gustav Klimt’s portrait, Mäda Primavesi, bids the artist to make haste and finish up the painting because she’s such a busy person, hence the book’s title World Make Way, a line she utters in desperation! She has places to go. People to see. After all, if her family can afford to have Klimt paint her, she’s likely a socialite. Ultimately the book will show children how to look at art with fresh eyes and take from it something unique to them. Art evokes something different in each person who beholds it and the poems included perfectly capture that.
One particular poem that stayed with me was Young Ashoka Sundari by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater inspired by Shiva and Parvati Playing Chaupar: Folio from a Rasamanjari Series, 1694-95 by Devidasa of Nurpur. Her poem introduces readers to Ashoka who secretly observes her parents: I stand behind this neem tree / to watch my parents play / a game of chaupar / on a tiger rug / beneath bright mango sky. Offering a child’s perspective in her poem, Vanderwater helped me to have a lightbulb moment with the artwork. It’s not always about what we see when observing art, it’s also about what or who the artist left out, or where the scene is set. What a wonderful conversation starter! What does this art say to you? What do you think is happening here now? How does this picture make you feel? What might happen now that the child has witnessed this scene?
In my multiple readings I found myself wondering what I’d write about a certain piece of art such as Henri Rousseau’s The Repast of the Lion, but if I ever see the painting again, I’ll forever associate J. Patrick Lewis’s poem with it. Now that he’s fed and jaguar-full— / Finally his appetite is dull— And of Joan Bransfield Graham’s Great Indian Fruit Bat, a poem about a painting of the same name attributed to Bhawani Das or a follower, 1777-82 I marveled at her internal rhyme and alliteration. As my wings whisk me, swooping through / this black velvet night, who will admire / my elegant attire, the intricacy … A bat’s point of view, fantastic!
Other featured poets are: Alma Flor Ada, Cynthia S. Cotten, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Julie Fogliano, Charles Ghigna, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Irene Latham, Elaine Magliaro, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ann Whitford Paul, Carole Boston Weatherford and Janet Wong. Other featured artists are: Rosa Bonheur, Fernando Botero, Mary Cassatt, Liberale Da Verona, Leonardo Da Vinci, Han Gan, Martin Johnson Heade, Frank Henderson, Utagawa Hiroshige, Winslow Homer, Kerry James Marshall, José Guadalupe Posada and Ōide Tōkō.
While I can definitely see educators enjoying the book for its varying forms of poetry and the individual interpretations of the poets to accompany the magnificent works of art, I can also easily see a parent sharing the book before any museum visit or simply as a way to spark a child’s imagination. It certainly sparked mine.
ALBIE NEWTON Written by Josh Funk Illustrated by Ester Garay (Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5-9)
Happy Book Birthday to author Josh Funk and illustrator Ester Garay on the publication of their terrific new picture book, Albie Newton, today! I know I’m not alone when I say how excited I get when a Josh Funk book arrives on my doorstep. I carefully unwrap the package, cradle the book in my hands, study the cover close up (this one’s a dazzling red I first saw when the cover was revealed on social media), smell the new book smell, feel the smoothness of the pages and then savor the surprise of his story. And, like previous Funk picture books, this one does not disappoint. It’s witty like so many of Funk’s books and is written with well-metered rhyme and no superfluous words or sentences to tell the tale of the titular main character. To put it another way, it simply works wonderfully like one of Albie Newton’s well constructed inventions!
Albie Newton is smart, but when his passion for inventing collides with his desire to make friends, it causes a bit of a brouhaha in his new preschool. Watch out what you’re doing fellow preschoolers because the new kid in class, Albie Newton, just may have his eye on what you’re playing with. The thing is that while Albie thinks his plan to “construct a special gift before the school day ends,” will win him friends, it ends up doing the opposite.
How’s a child prodigy to know? Taking things from others, whether it’s for your top secret invention or not, is not looked upon kindly by other kids. If you seem to show off too much or swipe things without asking, that’s bad manners. People may actually misconstrue such behavior and label it self-centered, single-minded and rude. Fortunately classmate Shirley is clued in. Certain kids excel in some ways and not in others. Shirley realizes Albie is oblivious to the havoc he is unintentionally wreaking and wonders if maybe his cool creation can take everyone’s mind off the mess he’s made trying to forge new friendships. Will they let Albie off the hook? As it turns out, Shirley’s one darn clever preschooler, only in a different way than Albie.
With Albie Newton, Funk has honed in on the meaningful topic of a child’s desire to make friends while not necessarily knowing how to do it. Just because Albie doesn’t know the right way to go about befriending others doesn’t mean he can’t learn how nor does it mean that having friends doesn’t matter to him.
Garay’s upbeat and eye-catching illustrations will charm and entertain Albie Newton readers. I would recommend looking at the artwork more than once to catch all the clever things she’s included. From the cute kitty, the fabulous facial expressions and the colorful kids’ clothing to the pictures hanging on the wall, random book titles and ultimately Albie’s invention itself, there is so much to enjoy. The diverse classroom population and student names also provide a positive representation for youngsters to see and hear when they read the picture book or are being read to.
Albie’s social skills may not be as fine tuned as his inventions, but that doesn’t mean his heart’s not in the right place. It often takes a caring person like classmate Shirley in this case, to gently lead the way.
A wallet lying in the street, stuffed with cash. Not a single person anywhere in sight.
It’s a universal question for children and adults alike: when no one’s watching, will you do the right thing? How about when doing the right thing runs counter to your own self-interest? That is the premise of Walter and the Wallet.
Walter Whippingdale has been having the worst day of his life. As he walks home, shoulders slumped, head down, he discovers a wallet overflowing with cash. And suddenly, his awful day is awash with possibilities.
It’s a situation that most people have to deal with at some point in their life. And that includes me. I was working in my second year as a substitute teacher on Long Island. The school day had just ended, and, after straightening up the room for a few minutes, I headed for the parking lot.
Almost everyone had left the building by then, so no one was in front of me or behind me as I exited the building.
And there it was, just outside the doors: a small pile of cash.
I feel like I’m a very honest person. When playing volleyball, I always call it on myself when I touch the net. I’m a firm disciple in the Golden Rule—and believe that if everyone would just live by it, the Earth would be an infinitely nicer place.
So I bent over, picked it up, and counted it. $23. I obviously knew what the right thing to do was. And yet … there was the tug. From some dark corner of my brain, a tiny voice was saying “You could just slip it in your pocket. There’s not a soul in sight.”
I didn’t keep the money; I turned around and brought it into the office, telling them that if they couldn’t determine the owner, to use it to buy some school supplies. They thanked me profusely. But as I left, I felt a sense of shame. I’m a good person, I thought—so why did some small part of me want to keep that $23? It wasn’t mine. It wouldn’t have changed my life one iota.
Such is the conflict in Walter and the Wallet. But it’s not a purportedly mature, allegedly honest adult who’s confronted with a near-identical situation—it’s a 9-year-old child.
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. One might be too busy, too tired, too distracted. But doing the right thing when it runs counter to your own self-interest is even harder. That is the dilemma I want children, their parents, and their teachers to discuss after reading Walter and the Wallet. It all comes down to that Golden Rule: what would you want a person to do if they found your wallet?
Children can learn several lessons from reading about Walter: a bad day can turn around on a dime. Money can’t buy you happiness. And of course, if you find something that isn’t yours, do everything in your power to get it back to its owner.
Walter ultimately makes the right choice, and finds that it comes with some unanticipated rewards. I’m hopeful that reading my book will help children do the honorable thing when they inevitably confront a similar scenario in their own lives.
Brief Summary of Walter and the Wallet:
Walter Whippingdale is having the worst day of his life. The girl he likes has been making googly eyes at another boy in his class. He struck out during recess. He broke his favorite watch. A giant pimple appeared on his nose. And to top it off, he somehow managed to get mustard in his eye at lunch! Walking home from school, his head is hanging low. Which is precisely how Walter spots a wallet lying in the street … a wallet bursting with cash. Suddenly, his terrible day is about to change. But how?
In this engaging tale of life lessons, first-time children’s author Billy Bloom has created a story to spark some important conversation between kids and parents about making good choices. Accompanied by Tanya Leonello’s charming watercolor illustrations, this story of childhood morality and the daily dilemmas children face, is sure to pull young readers in and get them thinking.
Billy Bloom is an elementary school teacher in New York. Before becoming a teacher, he had several other jobs, including professional Frisbee player (finishing 6th in the World Championships in 1983), newspaper editor, advertising copywriter, and volleyball league owner. He currently referees middle and high school volleyball and basketball games after school and on weekends. This is Billy Bloom’s debut children’s book.
FIRST WORDS: FRENCH 100 French words to learn Illustrated by Andy Mansfield & Sebastien Iwohn (Lonely Planet Kids; $12.99, Ages 5-9)
If your holiday plans will take you and your family to a French speaking country or even if you just want to expose your child to a foreign language in a fun and friendly format, Lonely Planet’s First Words: French, one of three books in a new language series for young readers, is definitely worth checking out.
Parents will like the price and kids will appreciate the travel guidebook’s compact design. There’s a soft cover and 208 durable pages so youngsters will feel like they’re carrying around a book similar to the one Mom or Dad use. They also won’t tire of flipping through the colorful pages packed with bold graphic images of everything a traveler could want from introductory vocabulary. Whether seeking words for food (ice cream, cheese, chicken and fries), travel essentials such as clothing (pants, shoes, t-shirt and coat), more urgent things (toilet, passport, doctor), to modes of transportation (bike, airplane, taxi, car and airplane), kids will find it all there with simple pronunciation examples on every page.
Another great feature that Lonely Planet Kids offers readers is access to a fab free audio pronunciation guide for every word included in the book. Get there via a QR code or use lonelyplanet.com/kids/first-words. I tried it, and though I speak French I still loved having the chance to see and hear how learning a new language in a simple way was presented to children, using a child’s voice. Presenting this book, along with a journal and a disposable camera, will get any child psyched for travel abroad and the chance to be a helpful, knowledgeable companion on the journey.
An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as: Friends and neighbors to invite, Ancient blessings we recite. Gleaming candles burning bright, Crispy latkes taste just right.
Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazelis flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.
Yitzi and the Giant Menorah Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar (Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.