Textual and visual body positive images permeate throughout the book. Readers will enjoy a decidedly inclusive group of children distinct in body shape and varying shades of eye, hair, and skin color, including vitiligo. Varieties in head coverings also nod to different faith traditions. There’s an emphasis, too, in loving ALL of ourselves from the “tip of [our] nose all the way down to [our] ticklish toes” and from our “mouth and chin all the way down to [our] knees and shins.”
The physical body is celebrated as a whole and each part, specifically, for its function in each and every way that function presents itself. Each kind is worthy and embraced. From one page to the next, children from a broad range of abilities (those who use crutches, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, and wheelchairs and those who don’t) are depicted enjoying the same activities like swinging, dancing, or playing dress up in ways that feel right to them. Hughes’ vibrant patterns and textures combined with horizontal lines add movement and excitement to every child-centered page. Surely, the book’s wholehearted, loving message will provide every little reader the opportunity to see themselves in these pages.
The book’s upbeat rhythm and rhyming text make it a great read-aloud for little ones who need to know just how beautifully and wonderfully they are made.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian e
Click here to order a copy of I Love Me! 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!
Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”
Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.
Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?
As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.
Zemke’sillustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.
Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts. I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).
Click here to order a copy of The Case of The Bad Apples. 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!
★Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Hayley Barrett’spicture book,Girl Versus Squirrel, shows us the fun rascals many of us have stealing from our bird feeders—the same dilemma Pearl faces in this story. The lyrical text, teeming with repetition and alliteration, works well as a read-aloud. As the tale unfolds in its singsong style, we are both lulled by the beauty of a girl feeding her backyard birds and prodded by her frustration with a seemingly unstoppable peanut-stealing squirrel.
Facial expressions on the girl and the squirrel are priceless as they one-up each other from scene to scene. I enjoyed howRenée Andriani’s art captures the shifting emotions as the power pendulums between the two opponents. However, when the action peaks, a new discovery makes Pearl rethink her no-squirrels-allowed policy.
Adults will appreciate the kid-friendly “Squirrelly Facts” at the end. These mischievous mammals chirp and scamper across every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Mark your calendars so you don’t forget to set out a treat on Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21st).
Click here to order a copy of Girl Versus Squirrel. 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 and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e
My homebody nana sewed, cooked, and baked, unlike the senior center tennis champion nana in Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Daywritten by Ann Stottand illustrated by Andrew Joyner. She is incredibly involved in many aspects of her grandchild’s life so the obvious contrast between the two grandmas intrigued me. I was eager to learn about a real hands-on grandma. I know my nana loved me like this nana loves her grandson but the similarities end there. By the way, this nana is also a poodle-like character and her grandson is a precious pup.
From the first two spreads, readers realize that Nana and her grandson, the story’s narrator, are the two members of a mutual admiration society. “Nana was my very first word.” He then says, “My whole life, Nana has been my biggest fan. She comes to all my games and school events. I can usually find her in the front row.”
This set up works well with the puppy’s description of the various things that Nana does to always be there for him. That’s sweet of course. However, Nana has what I’d call a quasi pushy way to get front and center for the pup, and the examples of that behavior build beautifully throughout the book’s 32 pages. Whether she’s practically shoving her grandpup’s teammates off the bench at the pool or parking herself near the football field’s fifty-yard line to offer playing tips, her presence is ubiquitous.
At the pup’s basketball game, Nana suffers a setback “trying to get a front-row seat.” It’s actually good that Stott has shown a consequence for Nana’s in-your-face fawning. She is advised to stay off her injured foot. Never one to sit still, Nana is now forced to curb her active enthusiasm. Can she handle temporarily relinquishing her role as fan #1? Readers will be delighted to see there’s a very good chance that being on the receiving end of all the attention will make both Nana and her grandpup very happy. e
Stott’s taken a grandma’s adoration to an extreme and it’s fun, especially if parents or caregivers reading the story to a child know someone with similar qualities. Joyner’s canine characters are not just charming but full of expression and humor. Be sure to check out the art more closely for book title names in several of the illustrations. This is a terrific read for National Grandparents Day or any time spent with a fan. Rah-rah!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel e Clickhereto order a copy of Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day. 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 and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e e Recommended Reads for Children Week 9/7 e DID YOU KNOW? e
Like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we also have a whole day dedicated to our grandparents. On the first Sunday after Labor Day, we celebrate National GrandparentsDay. This year the date falls on September 13. e In 1977, Senator Randolph, with the help of other senators, introduced a joint resolution to the senate requesting the president to “issue annually a proclamation designating the first Sunday of September after Labor Day of each year as ‘National Grandparents’ Day’.” e Congress passed the legislation, proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparent’s Day. On August 3, 1978, Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation, and the day was finally celebrated the following year. e The holiday experts at National Today share five facts about the holiday: e 1. It Has Its Own Song The official song for National GrandparentsDay is “A Song for Grandma and Grandpa” by Johnny Prill. 2. It Has Its Own Flower The official flower is the “forget-me-not” flower. 3. It’s Not Actually a Public Holiday Even though it was signed in as a national holiday it is celebrated more as an observance than a public holiday. 4. On Average 4 Million Cards Were Sent People are honoring their grandparents with cards, it’s the least we can do. 5. Highest Day for Visits in Nursing Homes There are many days you’d want to spend with your grandparents but National GrandparentsDay was on average the highest day for nursing home visits. Although you may not be able to see them in person this year, make sure to give them a call!
Come join me on Crust Boulevard for a visit inside the fridge where Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast live. If you haven’t read the previous three books in this hilarious series, that definitely won’t detract from your enjoyment of the popular food friends’ fun and frolic.
In Short & Sweet, the latest installment from author Josh Funkand illustrator Brendan Kearney, time may be running out for Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. The meal-worthy mates have discovered they’re going stale! Fortunately, their new friend, Baron von Waffle, suggests they “check out Professor Biscotti’s brochure,” for what could be a cure.
Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast decide the professor’s despoiling machine is what’s needed to save them so, accompanied by the Baron, they head to the laboratory.
In just minutes the decaying duo gets zapped back to health. However, one slight glitch in Professor Biscotti’s device has caused the food friends to shrink down to kid-size. They also do not seem to recognize their pal Baron von Waffle and dash off in fear.
The chaos that’s occurred has caused the Baron’s feelings to be hurt. He’s worried Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are so scared of him that he’ll lose their friendship. While the professor works on fixing her despoiling machine, Baron von Waffle works on a way to lure his pals back to the lab.
Meanwhile, the frightened food first finds safety at a nearby pasta playground and then a local library. I love how Funk, a huge fan of libraries, has successfully fit one into his story. In a way, it’s a love of reading that leads Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast back to Baron Waffle. He believes he’s come up with a clever way to entice the two breakfast food buddies back to the lab and hopefully, with Professor B’s help, maximize them back to friend-size! Will the teeny twosome be restored to grown-ups? Well, I certainly won’t be a spoiler!
The premise of this picture book is such fun and adds a new dimension to the zany, adventure-packed Lady P and Sir FT collection. Once again, the talented team of Funk and Kearney have brought us a read-aloud that starts its rollicking from the very first spread. Filled with wordplay that easily rolls off the tongue, Short & Sweet can also boast engaging, well-metered rhyme in a fast-paced story that kids will want to hear over and over. Kearney’s high-spirited art is bursting with visual treats. You’ll find cucumber footrests at Professor Biscotti’s lab, punny book titles in the library, and perhaps my fave, Juice Springsteen sporting his trademark headband above his brow while rockin’ out atop a pot pie in the final spread. There’s lots to love in book #4 so get a copy, get comfy, and get ready to be entertained. Just remember not to read on an empty stomach!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Scroll down for more info about Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast: SHORT & SWEET
Josh Funk is the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more.
For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.comand on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.
Clickhereto order a copy of Short & Sweet. If you’d like other books in the series, click here.
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 and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above. Thanks!
Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere inCatching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clarkwith illustrations by Summer Macon.
It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).
Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.
The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.
Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”
I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”
A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.
Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.
Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.
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 and its team of passionate kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate link above. Thanks!
Have you ever woken up one morning and everything goes wrong, putting you in a bad mood? Has it ever happened to one of your children? The answer to both questions is, of course, it has. And that is exactly the scenario that begins the hilarious rhyming verse picture bookMootilda’s Bad Mood.
The story begins with Mootilda waking up with hay in her hair, her pillow gone, and her doll—a cow, what else?—fallen from her bed. She goes to her moomaw cow (as opposed to mama cow) who hugs her and gives her a treat but when this falls, it sets off Mootilda to proclaim, “I’m in a bad mood!” Her mother suggests she goes out to play. Mootilda takes her advice and plays rope with calves, swims with lambs, rides bikes with pigs, and plays ball with ponies. However every single time, something unfortunate happens which leaves Mootilda in an even worse mood than before.
The refrain of “I’m in a bad mood!” reflects Mootilda’s worsening mood as the day progresses with each additional “O” that is added to the word “mood.” When she finally meets up with chickens, who are also in a bad mood, it is Mootilda this time who tries to cheer them up. But when something goes wrong with her attempt, instead of making her mood worse, she laughs about it and finally realizes her bad mood is gone. And with her bad mood gone, she figures out a way she can help others in the future, as shown in the final pictures of the book.
Ranucci’sillustrations are cheerful, bright, and colorful—the exact opposite of the feelings of a bad mood. They make it impossible for any reader who might be in a bad mood to remain that way after perusing through the delightful pictures.
The book is filled with funny animal, cow and moo words, like cow-tastrophe, cow-incidence, and cow-miserate. This wordplay adds to the enjoyment of the book, especially when read aloud and emphasized. But what I really liked about Mootilda’s Bad Mood was that co-authors Rosen Schwartzand Callhave taken a concept that we can all relate to and presented it in such a humorous tale. The story acknowledges and allows everyone, especially kids, to be in a bad mood. It’s perfectly okay to sometimes feel like that, but there are also ways to deal with it and that is a great take-away message.
• Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
Click here to read a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz. Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Claudia Ranucci.
Written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Kat and Juju is a gentle story of friendship, identity, and the courage to be your own self.
Kat is a tender-hearted little girl who finds “wonder in places no one else” thinks to look.
Vahdani’s illustrations direct our eyes to a curious play of shadows that fascinates Kat and helps us understand her unique perspective. Her connection to such things others don’t understand causes her to stand out as different. And her shy personality gets in the way of talking to the other children. Consequently, she often feels lonely.
Her hope lies in her upcoming birthday gift—a “very best friend” to call her own. On her special day, a big, red, fluffy bird named Juju arrives at her doorstep. Kat soon finds out that as loveable as he is, Juju is nothing like her. His loud and outgoing personality easily draws the attraction and affection of the other kids. As much as Kat wants to “let go” and join Juju’s “happy dance,” she can’t surrender the fear of what others will think of her.
Then a chance discovery of a vulnerable “birdie” (chick) in need of care helps Kat face her fear. With help and encouragement from best friend Juju, Kat nurtures the chick to health. Sometimes these caregiving activities feel safe and familiar to Kat, like feeding and giving medicine. However, at other times, they involve risk-taking and getting outside of her comfort zone, especially as Kat and Juju try to help the birdie learn to fly. Anxious and terrified, Kat nevertheless participates. Vahdani’s background in animation, and contrasting color palette provide a safe space for experimentation and exploration. Through this exciting and challenging process, Kat helps out her little friend and, just as important, discovers the freedom to be herself.
For little ones (including me) who may feel different for being on the quieter side, Kat and Juju shows that perseverance can lead to a “happy dance” of inner strength and self-affirmation.
Of all the sports games I’ve ever attended, baseball ranks number one. In fact, before the pandemic, my family had plans to see the Quakes, our favorite minor league team, this summer. A few years ago we even visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown which I loved. Despite MLB’s shortened season, baseball remains America’s pastime and I’ve got the ideal book to read as a companion to catching the sport on TV: Who Got Game?: Baseball – Amazing But True Stories! written by Newbery Honor Winner Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet.
Dig into a box of Cracker Jack or open a bag of peanuts to munch on as you read the book in either one sitting, or slowly (with many seventh inning stretches) to savor all the “unrecognized and unheralded figures and the untold stories that hold important spaces in baseball history.” If you’re a die-hard fan, you will easily devour every page. If you’re simply looking for some inspirational stories to feed your soul, you too will get your fill.
Who Got Game? is divided into four chapters with headings that immediately clue you in to the subject matter: “Pivotal Players,” “Sensational Stories,” “Radical Records,” and “Colossal Comebacks.” Read them in order or jump around depending on what strikes your fancy. After that, Barnes recommends you take note of what you learn, remember the people who stood out and their stories, “then tell everyone you meet!”
Find out about Andrew “Rube” Foster, the father of the Negro Leagues in Chapter #1. All-Black baseball teams emerged in the 1860s, but they were unofficial and remained that for several decades. Foster noted that when the White players came to Texas and he would practice with them, they were organized and professional. He wanted the same thing for the Negro Leagues and so, in 1920, Foster, along with “seven owners of other all-Black teams, created the Negro National League (NNL).” In fact, in 1947 Jackie Robinson was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, first part of the NNL, and then the NAL (Negro American League) before leaving to join the Major Leagues as the first Black player.
In Chapter #2 (all the chapter numbers are cleverly located in a baseball graphic), you’ll be blown away by the story of 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell. Mitchell began learning baseball from the moment she could walk. Her dad taught her and then her neighbor, Charles “Dazzy” Vance, (an eventual Hall of Fame pitcher), took over. Not bad for a local coach! Her talent earned her a place on an all-girl team in Tennessee where she was spotted by a “big-time publicity guy” named Joe Engel. Engel “invited her to join his all-male team in a game that was the stuff of legend.” Imagine sitting in the stadium and seeing Babe Ruth come up to bat and, opposite him, at the pitcher’s mound, stands a teen-aged girl. Four pitches later he was out! She followed that by striking out another pro, Lou Gehrig, in just three pitches! No small feat when you’re up against two of baseball’s greats. Was this arranged? All three of the players involved never admitted to it, so we’ll never know. Regardless, it had to be a sight to see.
Bajet’s cartoon-style art has a nostalgic feel about it and helps ground every story shared. I especially liked the illustration of “Royals Legend George Brett and The Pine Tar Incident” and as a former New Yorker and Mets fan, I also loved the pictures of Roberto Clemente. Seven pages of useful back matter such as additional tips and resources, websites to explore and a glossary, complete the book.
There are lots more stories of unsung heroes, winners, losers, and all kinds of records broken and career comebacks to read about in this fabulous compendium that will make you appreciate the beloved game of baseball. Pick up a copy of Who Got Game? today while the season’s still on to enjoy each game, even more, knowing about all the amazing but true stories. “Holy cow!”
Mop loves to surf the ocean waves but when life doesn’t go the way he wants it to go, Mom tells him “he’s a great surfer but needs to learn to surf life” in Mop Rides The Waves of Life, written by Jaimal Yogis, author of numerous books and an avid surfer, with illustrations by surfer and artist, Matthew Allen.
This book of mindfulness takes the reader through a week in the life of Mop, a boy with an adorable head of hair that resembles a mop. Allen’s illustrations of not only Mop’s full head of hair, but the hair of all the characters (Mom’s long hair is pulled back and his friend Sammy’s hair is shaved on the sides with short natural hair on the top of his head) provide a great feel for the personalities of each character.
Mop is having a great weekend. He “loves to wait for just the right wave … TO RIDE!” But on Monday, Mop returns to school and his frustration at teasing and other issues gets the best of him. He reacts rather than ignores. The rest of the week remains status quo. The colorful watercolor art, so right for a book about surfing and life, perfectly captures the anger on Mop’s face when things don’t go as expected. And Allen’s drawing of the boy sitting alone in the classroom with an open book pretty much explains it all to readers who may have also experienced missing recess at one time.
Things aren’t much better at home when Mom makes him clean the van on Wednesday “And on Thursday we ran out of my favorite cereal. It was officially a BAD week.” That’s when Mom decides to take Mop surfing after school. Sitting on the sand in easy sitting pose wearing yoga attire, Mom teaches Mop how to surf life. “You start by feeling your breath go in and out like the tides. Breathing mindfully helps you notice the emotional waves inside.”
Readers see the words Fear, Anger, and Sadness written inside the waves as Mop sits on his yellow surfboard. Life’s ups and downs are as natural as the ocean’s waves explains his mother. Mop then recalls his Mom’s words of wisdom as he glides under the waves and flips his board. He deals with it. He’s learned from his mother’s powerful surfing metaphors that “falling is the best way to learn.”
Happily, the end of Mop’s school week improves as he takes these tools into his life away from the ocean. He even apologizes to those friends that he became angry with. And when those angry feelings pop up again in math class, Mop focuses on his breathing, “in and out like the tides. I remembered angry waves are natural.”
Young readers see how Mop reacts to frustrating situations and how they, too, can learn to surf life with calmness and soothing breaths. This charming picture book, with its economy of words and original take on teaching mindfulness to kids, is a helpful and enjoyable read for all the Mops out there. Don’t we all occasionally have trouble getting along with others, or just going with the flow? Kids learn that even if they aren’t familiar with surfing, they can still study the lessons of the waves by bringing mindfulness and the joys of surfing to life. I am passing my copy over to my surfing brother-in-law who teaches elementary school.
(Sterling Children’s Books, $16.95, Ages 3 and up)
InBest Day Ever by debut picture book author Michael J. Armstrongwith art by Églantine Ceulemans,William is a serious overachiever with an emphasis on the serious. Having completed five of the items on his list (yes, list), of summer goals, including learning to speak Spanish and getting a black belt in karate, he’s now ready to tackle #6: Have the most fun ever. The catch is that William’s fun meter device keeps flashing red, a frowning emoji face, whenever he attempts to enjoy himself. See for yourself in the illustrations below.
William’s happy-go-lucky neighbor, Anna, knows how to entertain herself without following any guidelines. And she’d love for William to join her. Kids will laugh at how she calls William every nickname except his proper name in the beginning, a clue into her spirited nature. Young readers will also easily notice the stark contrast between the two children because of the realistic order depicted in the scenes with just William, and the zany, imagination-rich chaos in Anna’s. Can William carry on his attempts at by-the-book play when this carefree girl keeps getting in his face?
Well, it seems Anna’s persistence pays off. What I love about this story is the fun that readers have as they watch William, following Anna’s non-judgmental prompting, learn to lighten up and have his very own, book-free, best day ever. A bonus, of course, is the new friendship he’s made that wasn’t even on his list!
Ceulemans’ art, a delightful blend of childlike whimsy and a study in contrasts, reflects the two main characters’ polar opposite personalities. The vibrancy and creative quality of the illustrations pairs perfectly with the story’s plot about letting loose and seeing the magic in unstructured imaginative play. I hope reading Best Day Ever encourages more kids about the positive power of pretending.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click hereto read a review of another picture book illustrated by Églantine Ceuleman.
Hound Won’t Go, written by Lisa Rogers and illustrated by Meg Ishihara, tells the story of a stubborn basset hound who calls all the shots during a walk with his human. When he lies down in the crosswalk, she can’t get him out of the intersection, not even with a treat or a tug on the leash. As horns blare, she is worried, while Hound is adorably— if smugly—satisfied. Finally, a storm breaks with terrifying claps of thunder. Hound changes his mind and drags his human all the way home, double-time.
I love this book, and not just because I love basset hounds. The writing is crisp, with one or two rhyming sentences per page. The diction can be understood by the youngest listeners but is still interesting and specific. “Light flashes/Hound dashes,” the text begins, as Hound and his human enter the crosswalk. Soon, though, “Traffic delay/Hound’s in the way.” Rogers conveys a lot of personality in few words:
Time to go.
Hound says no.
Hound lies down.
Anyone who has cared for a strong-willed but amiable dog recognizes the frustration and even embarrassment that the human feels. But all readers will feel calm, safe, warm, and happy by the time the contretemps resolves with, “Rain puddles./Hound cuddles.”
While the text makes a good case for how adorable this obstinate fellow is, Meg Ishihara’s art makes it impossible not to love him. She uses Hound’s eyes, mouth, and posture to show all his moods, ranging from playfully defiant to rub-my-belly relaxed. Working in Photoshop and Procreate, Ishihara paints Hound using digital brushes with lots of texture to emulate real paint strokes. He has long velvety ears, short legs, and a rich tri-color coat. Black outlines lend him a cartoony feel, although in some illustrations the definition comes from contrast between bold colors rather than actual outlines. In the first half of the story, there are vibrantly colorful cars, bicycles, and clothing, but the backdrop is gray and white. When the thunderclap sets Hound in motion, however, the background comes to life, too. Hound bolts through a park full of greenery and flowers to reach his home furnished in warm welcoming colors.
I recommend this book for all ages, and especially, but not exclusively, to dog lovers. I shared Hound Won’t Go with my favorite three-year-old, and she loved completing the rhymes, for some odd reason putting the most gusto into anticipating the word “No.” She has requested the book several times since, even over video chat. Just what the doctor … or vet? … ordered: a picture book that both the reader and the listener can enjoy, over and over.
Click herefor an activity kit. On Rogers’ website there’s also a fun hound craft for kids.
Written by Gina Cascone & Bryony Williams Sheppard
Illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)
Breathe in. Breathe out. Every “body” could use a bit of yoga in their lives and what better way to introduce this mind-and-body practice to children than through the eyes of unicorns.Unicorn Yoga, written by mother-daughter writing team Gina Casconeand Bryony Williams Sheppard and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler, presents a Unicorn Yogi guiding two eager students through a ten-pose class.
The white colored, pink-tressed Unicorn Yogi, with the big purple eyes, sits in Easy Pose. She guides the focused blue unicorn, and mischievous pink unicorn who seems to have her own ideas on how the pose should look. “We begin by sitting on our mats, crisscross applesauce. In Easy Pose, we are mindful and centered. Om,” Unicorn Yogi explains. The term crisscross applesauce has been used for years to get children to sit still, but that isn’t always easy for the pink unicorn.
Sattler uses her vivid imagination to bring huge grins and giggles to the young reader in her art. Check out the blue unicorn contemplating how delicious the mouse running by looks, while the others are focused on Cat Pose; or how the pink unicorn lets out a bit of ummm … gas when “her tail is high in the air as energy rushed through her body in Downward-Facing Dog.” This made me laugh because it’s a well known effect of this pose in yoga classes. She sweetly says “excuse me” so all is quickly forgiven.
The authors take the reader to Forward-Fold Pose and explain, “any way you do it, you are strengthening your legs in a Forward-Fold pose.” And any way you do it is right, as the teacher demonstrates with a rounded spine and forehead reaching towards her toes, as blue unicorn does her best to bend forward and our favorite pink unicorn does a pose that looks more like the pose Happy Baby laying on her back. Sattler paints a bite out of the mat in this drawing, so I think our pink unicorn friend was a bit hungry in class as well. Other poses demonstrated include Plank Pose, and Relaxation Pose “where it’s finally time to take our rest” (otherwise known as nap time for our pink unicorn who curls herself up in fetal position).
Sattler writes Breathe in Breathe out on the bottom of each page to remind the reader about the importance of breath before movement in every yoga practice. The backmatter explains how yoga is good for everybody and every body—even unicorns. Cascone and Sheppard introduce two types of breathing exercises that both adults and children can practice to help calm the body and mind. They also explain the importance of “practice, practice, practice and that the most beautiful pose always comes with a smile.”
This new picture book is a great introduction to the practice of yoga and a fun read for the whole family. With yoga and mindfulness being taught more and more in schools across the country, Unicorn Yoga is a wonderful and helpful book to demonstrate some basic poses, while not taking it so seriously as our pink unicorn shows us. As a yoga instructor myself, I found this book to be an easy explanation to this centuries old tradition, and hope it will encourage students to begin their own daily practice. Namaste (the light in me recognizes and honors the light in you).
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.
Little sister Lulu loves her family: Mama, Daddy, and big brother Zane who “makes [her] laugh a lot.” Lulu’s given name is Luliwa which means “‘pearl’ in Arabic.” From Mama’s affectionate affirmations, Lulu knows she is as “unique and gorgeous” as the beautiful Kenyan pearl earrings her mother wears “all the time.”
As proud as she is about her identity, Lulu is equally frustrated at the confusion others feel about her biracial family and the hurtful, ensuing comments they make. This is a critical and eye-opening point in the book for both children and adult readers. The everyday, seemingly harmless comments and questions people ask are in fact questions that expose our deepest held biases and assumptions.
For Lulu, one particularly disturbing question is: “So, what are you?” In talking to her brother (who also confronts this question on a regular basis), Lulu learns how to respond to the fear and suspicion embedded in “THAT question”: self-love. Like Zane, Lulu coins her own “power phrase,” a bold and beautiful statement that emphasizes “not what” she is, “but who” she is. When her classmate, Billy, asks the distressing question, she proudly asserts her phrase. Lulu’s confidence in her own self-worth establishes a clear boundary, letting others around her know how she would like to be treated. Poh’s gentle and colorful illustrations echo Lulu’s quiet strength.
A must have for both the home and school library, Lulu the One and Only opens the door to nurturing conversations about diversity. Author Lynnette Mawhinney, who is biracial, includes a note in the back matter to further help families, caregivers and educators validate and support the experiences of biracial children.