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Picture Book Review – How to Talk Like a Bear

 

HOW TO TALK LIKE A BEAR

Written by Charlie Grandy

Illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

(Flamingo Books; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

How to Talk Like a Bear cover Bear speech bubble turtle.

 

Can you speak Bear? If you missed How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths when it came out last year, now’s your chance to get it because it’s such a playful picture book not only for the audience listening but for the reader as well.

I happen to love meta stories and this one does it so well. Bear announces he is going to teach the reader or readers how to talk like a bear to which the kid in speech bubbles who represents the audience responds, “Why on earth would I want to talk like a bear? I’m just a kid!” Think of the convincing back and forth in Todd Sturgell’s Except Antarctica. Bear explains that it’s an effective means of communication and the corresponding uproarious illustration (below), sure to immediately crack kids up, shows Bear roaring at an outdoor cafe where patrons run off in fear for their lives.

 

How to Talk Like a Bear int1 roaring Bear scaring cafe guests.
Interior spread from How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths, Flamingo Books ©2023.

 

Bear talk is not as easy as it may seem. It is open for interpretation just like when we adults attempt to speak a foreign language and think we told the taxi driver to take us to the train station but instead proposed marriage! There are important subtle differences. In this case, the trainee’s roar may not have conveyed what it was supposed to so readers end up seeing the bear told to get his haircut. Did you know that saying “ROOOAARR” rather than”ROAAARRRR” is the difference between wanting a sandwich and wanting to get into beekeeping. It seems some serious focus and visualization are needed to get the desired results.

 

How to Talk Like a Bear int2 let's start with some yoga.
Interior spread from How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths, Flamingo Books ©2023.

 

Grandy and Griffiths deliver an inventive and humorous storytime picture book that warrants multiple reads. Slow down while reading to make sure every page turn packs its punch. Allow kids to repeat the parts in the speech bubble for added enjoyment. Plus the adorable art – Bear is such a cutie full of funny facial expressions – ultimately reminds young readers that Bear is still a cub who must learn that all the well-rehearsed growls and roars may not get kids what they want if their parents have anything to say about it! And if you love this, be on the lookout for How to Talk Like a Chicken coming this September.

 

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Best Mother’s Day Books 2024

 

 

BEST MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

I Really Like Mom cover Bear holding cub.I REALLY LIKE MOM
Written by Su-an Lee
Illustrated by So-ra Kim
Translated by Paige Morris
(Abrams BYR; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

“With a sweet, universal message and charming illustrations full of irresistibly cute animals, author Su-an Lee and illustrator So-ra Kim’s picture book I Really Like Mom is a loving tribute to moms everywhere.”

Translated from Korean, this upbeat picture book featuring many different animal mom and child pairs will make young readers feel good all over. “I really like Mom,” is repeated throughout the story as it reinforces all the special things moms do. Whether it’s tucking their child into bed, or whipping up a yummy breakfast, Moms work their magic. Moms sing sweet songs and give loving kisses. “She praises me for playing nicely with my friends
as we take turns sharing my favorite toy.” I’m glad Lee chose to include that compliment since a mom’s praise means so much to children. The story ends with a human mom and her child cuddling at bedtime bringing a full day to a calm close. Kim’s included an adorable ladybug who crawls in through a bedroom window early on and is fun to spot in various scenes. Her soft-looking, sweet digitally created illustrations add to the charm of this celebration of moms. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Mamá's Panza cover Mamá hold son.MAMÁ’S PANZA
Written by Isabel Quintero
Illustrated by Iliana Galvez 
(Kokila; $18.99, Available in Spanish, Ages 3-7)

“Mamá’s Panza is a young boy’s love letter to his mother, along with a celebration of our bodies and our bellies.”
“Panza is another word for belly,” says a little boy on the first page as his mother performs a yoga pose. He goes on to describe many types of bellies. Some are “Big, round, soft, or small and hard … ” His favorite panza belongs to his mamá.
This heartwarming story is a gently lyrical ode to one boy’s mother from when she first felt his movements in her belly before he was born to the present. I loved the language and the gorgeous artwork in the spreads during Mamá’s pregnancy. Sentences such as “Mamá dressed her panza in bright colors and flowers to show the world that she was blooming,” convey a joyful spirit that can be seen on every page. Mamá’s panza is a fun place to play like a “whole mountain to climb,” and a comforting place to be cradled at day’s end. Best of all, not only does this child adore his mamá’s panza but she does as well. It carried him during her pregnancy and kept him alive. It “keeps me alive as well. How could I not love it?” Such a moving testament to self-love and body positivity. How could I not adore this touching book? • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Mother's Day Here I Come cover princess mom with kids at tea party.MOTHER’S DAY, HERE I COME!
Written by D. J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Emanuel Wiemans
(Grosset & Dunlap; $6.99  Paperback Original, Ages 4-6)   

Celebrate Mother’s Day with this collection of sweet and funny poems from the author of the hugely popular Kindergarten, Here I Come! The bestselling Here I Come! series offers parents and kids a way to learn about new experiences, holidays, and life events. Each book in the series features delightful poems about all the different moments and traditions children can expect, as well as a page of stickers.

This cheerful picture book, a new one in the bestselling series, is packed with poems on different mom-centric subjects. Here’s one depicting kids jumping on the bed called “Wake up!” which should resonate with moms (and dads) everywhere.

On Mother’s Day, Mama slept late,
but her three little cubs couldn’t wait . . .

They jumped on her bed.
“ Wake up!” they all said.
“ We’re ready to go CELEBRATE!”

From moms around the world to working moms, from handmade cards (legible or scribbled) to macaroni jewelry gifts, Steinberg addresses aspects of mothers’ lives in fresh, fun ways. Diverse characters populate the book and Wiemans’ art brings an added touch of humor to complement each poem.

Like the other books in this series, Mother’s Day, Here I Come! is sure to be a hit with children who want to honor their moms (or mums) on Mother’s Day. Kids’ll love the page of stickers too! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Illustrated by Tatiana Kamshilina
(Doubleday BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)
This book is an homage to the adults who have taken on the role of mother for children who have lost their biological parent and children who get an extra adult to love. Stephanie Stansbie’s
picture book Always Your Stepmom is a companion book to Always Your Stepdad inspired by the
loss of her biological father at age one and the addition of her new father at the age of five.
Tatiana Kamshilina’s illustrations take the reader back in time when a smiling redheaded woman
appears on the doorstep to meet the son of what we assume is her boyfriend. The dark-haired boy
smiles as he accepts a book from this unfamiliar lady. Stansbie writes in rhyme making this sweet story a heartfelt read. The trio creates new life experiences exploring national parks, while still honoring the boy’s past with photos from when he learned his first words. If I had been there when you learned your first words, I could never have cherished you more.
As the reader turns the page, new photos are placed in the photo album of the dad, his son, and the stepmom and the new life they have created together. As a new stepmom, she is shy and awkward during the boy’s fifth birthday party. We see the change in family dynamics a year later at his sixth birthday party when the kids are frolicking and she is socializing with other adults.
I’ll love you forever. You’ve changed me for good! This beautiful tribute to blended families is a loving bedtime read for both adults and children and a wonderful addition to our Mother’s Day Roundup. •Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The_I_Can_Say_Mama_Book_cover_photo_of_mom_and_babyTHE I CAN SAY MAMA BOOK:
A MY FIRST LEARN-TO-TALK BOOK
Written by Stephanie Cohen
(Source Books; $9.99, Ages 0-3 years)

Licensed and Certified Speech Language Pathologist Stephanie Cohen has created a board book designed to teach babies words used in daily routines, along with one of the best first words a baby can say “Mama.” Each page shows a photograph of a mother and her child with word bubbles expressing what Mama is teaching the baby to say.

The opening page is designed to attach a photo of Mama and each page after shows the action and the saying. “Hi, Mama!” The laughing baby says while being lifted by Mama out of the crib. “Up, Mama.” “Kiss, Mama.” “Hug, Mama.” Individual pages of vivid photos of diverse mothers show the bond between the two.

As the babies age, the words change. “Walk, Mama” and “Book, Mama” with Mama and child reading together. This is also a great book for potty training as the child learns words like “Pee-Yoo Mama” which should make everyone laugh. The back matter explains how this book should be used and how repetition is vital in teaching these keywords. “Just remember to pause each time after saying ‘mama,’ to allow your childtime to respond.” My favorite lesson in the book was Cohen explaining that “the more you read this book aloud to your child, the more engaged your child will be.” What a great first Mother’s Day to have your child’s first word be mama!
Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Additional Recommended Reads for Mother’s Day or Grandparents’ Day:

Written and illustrated by Tania de Regil
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
 Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
During her mother’s pregnancy, Julia is separated from her parents for the first time when she is brought by her grandma to spend the summer away in author/illustrator Tania de Regil’s picture book Something About
Grandma. Before reading the words on the opening pages, I was drawn into the mixed media artwork of purple and blue birds flying in the sky and the stunning landscape of Grandma’s little house in a town at the foot of the mountain in Mexico City.
Handwritten letters are dropped into the trees, clothing, flowers, and Julia’s bicycle representing

poems written by her great-grandfather and handwritten by her grandmother. De Regil’s creativity in showing us the importance of these poems was truly felt. Julia adores everything her grandma does from cooking meals with fresh herbs grown in the garden to somehow knowing when Julia sneaks out to pick daisies and limes. Grandma seemed to know everything.

Grandma sits quietly on the terrace under the night sky writing things in a notebook. Grandma
had many secrets. But the story changes when Julia receives a letter from Mom and Dad. She realizes she misses home. Grandma’s sweet brown striped cat sits on the couch looking over her shoulder knowing something is making Julia sad. Grandma, and the cat, cuddle with Julia to help make her feel better. Grandma makes her delicious hot chocolate and entertains her with tricks and games.
The reader turns the page to see Mom and Dad walk through the back door with a new bundle of joy in Mom’s arms—Julia has a new baby brother. Julia snuggles with her family as she turns the pages of the photo album Grandma had shared with her and it’s exactly what they needed. Julia looked at Grandma and smiled.
This is a moving story that depicts the love grandparents have for their grandchildren—and the adoring love the grandchild has for the grandparent. It teaches the reader that no matter how much they may miss their home that time spent with grandparents is a magical experience for all. This is a perfect new Mother’s Day read, and it is available in Spanish.  •Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here for another Mother’s Day Roundup.

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Picture Book Review – Lost Words: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope

 

 

LOST WORDS:
An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope

Written by Leila Boukarim

Illustrated by Sona Avedikian

(Chronicle Kids; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

Lost Words cover Armenian families in picture frames on wall

 

 

On a seemingly ordinary day, a little boy helps Mama prepare mante dumplings. His life is suddenly and dreadfully interrupted when he receives a knock at the door. “‘You must leave with the others,’” his mother pleads while getting him and his sisters ready for the long journey ahead. She stuffs their pockets with dried fruit and nuts and sews gold coins into the lining of their coats just “in case.”

 

Lost Words int1 Armenian mother urging children to leave.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

 

The little boy has “so much … to say” to Mama, but his words are “lost”—a repeated sentence expressing devastation and shock over his new reality. He and his siblings must leave their parents behind to escape persecution. Along with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians, he is forced to walk through the Syrian desert “for days. For weeks. For months”—phrases also repeated throughout the book illustrating his heartache and longing for wholeness. 

Like the sparse words of Boukarim’s refrains, simple and soft illustrations carry deep emotional weight. The gentle, almond-shaped eyes of Avedikian’s characters convey much grief and worry. Their facial expressions are often at the center of the pages.

 

Lost Words int2 our long journey began.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

 

As the boy becomes a man and starts a family of his own, “love and laughter” begin to heal the “dark space[s]” of his heart, though the question of family history remains unanswered. That is, until, years later, his grandchild asks, “Where are we from …?” Suddenly and wonderfully, his words return to tell the story of loss, love, and resilience. The story of Armenia. 

 

Lost Words int3 in the heat and in the dust crossing desert.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

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For teachers, librarians, parents, grandparents, and anyone interested in stories about survival and hope, Lost Words which is based on a true story, sensitively and beautifully illustrates the courage to speak one’s truth. An author and illustrator’s note, a brief history of the 1915 Genocide, facts about Armenia, and a glossary are included in the backmatter

Find out more at the Chronicle website here.
Find out more about the author, Leila, here.
Find out more about the illustrator, Sona, here.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – Love Grows Here

 

LOVE GROWS HERE

Written by Chloe Ito Ward

Illustrated by Violet Kim

(Albert Whitman & Company; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Love Grows Here cover Asian girl holding title poster.

 

 

Shopping in an outdoor market with her grandmother, Obā, Aiko immerses herself in the tastes, sights, smells, and sounds of her surroundings. Ward’s economy of “warm and welcoming” words paints a bustling scene full of joy, excitement, and love—that is until a hurtful encounter with a stranger changes everything. His racist words “sharp like scissors, cut,” causing Aiko to feel confused, afraid, and heartbroken. 

 

Love Grows Here int1 Go Back to Your Own Country.
Interior art from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Stopping by a ramen shop, Aiko tells Obā’s shin-yū (best friend) about what happened earlier. In turn, Mrs. Nakano shares her experiences of confronting hate when she and her family were forced to live in a Japanese internment camp. As Aiko learns of a particularly painful part of her history, she struggles to understand why people would act so unkind. Obā eloquently expresses the root of all discrimination:  “Sometimes the fear in your heart plants roots and grows into anger.” Fear and anger. Aiko wonders, “[w]here else were they growing?” 

When they pass by Miss Chon’s café and see that it has been vandalized, they help clean up. Aiko decides then and there how to respond to the fear and anger—through a radical act of kindness. 

 

Love Grows Here int2 this is our country!
Interior spread from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Walking back home, she shares something dear to her that she had purchased from the market, handing it out to strangers as she passes along the way and watching their faces light up with joy. 

Whether at home or in the classroom, Love Grows Here provides opportunities to talk about hard but necessary topics:  racism, anti-Asian hate, and Japanese American history. Equally important is discussing the antidote Aiko chose to fight the hatred around her. Her actions echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Visit the author’s website here.

Visit the illustrator’s website here.

 

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Two New Picture Books for Eid al-Fitr

EID AL-FITR PICTURE BOOKS

 

 

 

Noura's Crescent Moon cover girl look up at colorful crescent moonNOURA’S CRESCENT MOON
Written by Zainab Khan
Illustrated by Nabila Adani
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

In Zainab Khan’s picture book debut, readers meet Noura as Ramadan, a lunar holiday observed by Muslims, is ending. As the story begins she’s eager to see the Eid moon. Her father explains that in “… all the years I went with my parents to find the new moon, I only saw it once: a tiny sliver.” Readers soon see the beautiful dress Noura’s mother has made for Eid (the end of Ramadan) prayer and also find out that “Ramadan can’t be more than 30 days, so Eid has to start tonight or tomorrow night.” The daytime fasting ends and three special days of celebrations begin.

Some Muslims head to nearby mountains or the highest point around to watch for the Eid moon which is exactly what Noura’s family plans to do. Noura hopes the clouds will not obstruct her view. “Moon, please come out. I’d like to see you on my first fast.” On the hilltop, families gather for picnics and to await the moonrise. If it doesn’t appear, that means one more day of fasting. At sunset, that day’s fasting is over, and Noura enjoys a delicious picnic iftar of potato pakoras, dates, tamarind chutney, and her favorite, pink (rose) milk. Just when everyone thinks there will still be one more day of Ramadan, the clouds part, revealing a beaming crescent moon. This is also one of my favorite spreads in the book. The gradient purple sky leads our eyes to the far right where the crescent moon glows.

There’s a glossary in the backmatter but the context of the story along with the lovely illustration clues help make this picture book easy to understand and such a delight to share with children. Eid Mubarak! Happy Eid!

 

Looking for the Eid Moon cover two little girls under starry sky one holding binoculars.LOOKING FOR THE EID MOON
Written by Sahtinay Abaza
Illustrated by Sandra Eide
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

From the beginning of this charming picture book, sisters Sara and Lulu begin looking for the moon. Of course, later there would be a party with family and friends where Sara could wear her star-themed dress but “For years, the moon marked important Muslim holidays and dates. And Eid wouldn’t begin until the crescent moon was spotted.”

Sara and Lulu head out to the backyard equipped with a blanket, binoculars, and a flashlight. They search and search the sky with no luck. If there is a moon out, it’s blocked by clouds. The girls get scared on their own and, as the big sister, Sara takes it upon herself to help allay Lulu’s fears. Her thoughtfulness is a lovely element in this story. When their mother eventually says it’s time to go back indoors she tells them the moon has been spotted. Lulu cries. She wanted to be the first to see the Eid moon. To quell Lulu’s disappointment, Sara devises a creative and secret plan: crafting glowing moon rocks filled with coins courtesy of the Eid moon accompanied by a rhyming poem.

Eide’s artwork is cheerful and readers will get a sense of the sisters’ emotions in every illustration. I liked the spread where the girls’ mom flashes her flashlight. “Look! A moonbeam!” Lulu’s excitement is precious.

Not only was this picture book inspired by the author’s family tradition, Looking for the Eid Moon also conveys a caring sibling relationship and a great role model for young readers. The author’s note in the backmatter explains the two Eid holidays that occur annually. “Eid al-Fitr is a three-day holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan (the month of fast). Eid al-Adha is a four-day holiday that begins at the end of pilgrimage, in which Muslims travel to the city of Mecca for worship.”

 

Other Recommended Reads:

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr cover family celebrating holidayRAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR
Written by Sara Khan
Illustrated by Nadiyah Suyatna
(words & pictures; $14.99, Ages 5-10)

“Assalaamu alaykum!
Peace be upon you!”

Opening this joyful-looking picture book, I was greeted by a message of peace. The narrator, a young girl named Raya tells readers that she’s excited to share info about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrated when Ramadan ends as you’ve learned from the reviews above. We’re introduced to her parents whom she calls Mama and Aba as well as her sweet little kitty.

One illustration shows Raya gifted with a special calendar with “a good deed suggestion for each day of the month.” Raya explains how one feature of Ramadan is daylight fasting, but she is too young to partake. I like that Khan has shared Raya’s introspection as she wonders what it will be like to abstain from eating and drinking when she is older. Readers learn that in addition to fasting, it’s important to be on one’s best behavior to please Allah or God.

As noted in the other picture books, the meal to end the fast is called iftar and always features a date. Rayah points out how her family is culturally diverse so there is no one traditional meal making it an opportunity to try lots of different foods. And since Ramadan is a time of giving to those less fortunate, Raya tells readers how members of her family help out in a food kitchen or by donating toys and clothes to charity. Selfless giving is a way to get closer to Allah. This also includes praying and reading “the Qur’an—the holy book of Islam.”

When Ramadan ends it’s time to celebrate breaking the fast or Eid al-Fitr. Muslims spend quality family time and also come together as a community to have fun, decorate their homes, eat delicious meals, and continue performing acts of kindness. Rayah, like most children, describes how she enjoys getting and giving gifts and buying new clothes for the holiday. One tradition for girls and women, Rayah explains is: “Getting pretty henna patterns applied to my hands.”The book’s backmatter includes eight pages packed with facts, a quiz, a recipe, and a card-making activity providing an excellent introduction to anyone eager to learn about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. With its colorful art, accessible text, and multicultural characters this new picture book would be an ideal addition to any home, school, or public library’s collection.

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Picture Book Review – Looking for Happy

 

LOOKING FOR HAPPY

Written by Ty Chapman

Illustrated by Keenon Ferrell

(Beaming Books; $18.99; Ages 5-8)

 

Looking for Happy cover a boy and his different moods.

 

 

Author Ty Chapman says, “Some days, Happy is hard to find,” and that’s the theme in Looking For Happy, a heartfelt picture book about a Black child who is usually happy but on this day he struggles to shake the blues.

Digital animator and illustrator Keenon Ferrell introduces the story with a vibrant blue visible outside the window beside a smiling boy listening to music and dancing. He’s happy at this moment in time. But the next page depicts a new day, and the smile is missing from his face. “Today, though, nothing makes me happy.” The reader sees that there isn’t always a reason for feeling sad, but the boy tries his best to escape his gloomy mood. He reads a book about fighting dragons, another about scuba diving, and then a book about space. Nothing. His brain can’t focus. This is very relatable.

 

Looking for Happy int1 a boy listening to music at home.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

Even though his little sister is laughing in front of the television he can’t crack a smile. He’s just blue. The day continues as he spends time with friends but he’s just not feeling it so he goes home. Lying flat down on the living room couch, he tells Grandma he’s not happy and with sweetness and support Grandma replies that everyone feels like that sometimes. She suggests they go for a walk.

 

Looking for Happy int2 a sad boy on sofa watched by his grandma.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

The neighborhood park is filled with older kids playing basketball and an elderly woman walking her fluffy brown dog. Everyone looks happy but the boy is still feeling sad inside. They continue their walk, holding hands, searching for something to put a smile on his face. The boy describes his feelings as rocks in his chest. Chapman brings words to feelings that are often hard to describe. The boy wants to go home but then hears a wonderful sound. Illustrations of musical notes float through the playground and the boy runs towards the sound.

Ferrell’s art reflects his African American heritage and love for music with the park musician playing the saxophone. “You have a song you want to hear?” the man asks with Grandma whispering the name of her grandson’s favorite song in his ear. This is when the story begins to change. We see his body move with the beat of the music and a smile appears on his face. Grandma joins in and together they sing and dance. “The rocks in his chest are gone.”

 

Looking for Happy int3 boy and his grandma at park.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

This thoughtful tale conveys how music helps to remove bad feelings and models for kids that “sometimes a happy song is right around the corner.” Chapman’s literary accomplishments are quite impressive and his writing in this story flows like the notes from a saxophone. What a great lesson showing that sometimes there isn’t always a reason for feeling a little down and that in those cases, maybe we all just need time to pass or to hear an uplifting tune. This is not only a lesson for kids but a lesson for anyone needing comforting words to get them through a difficult day.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Picture Book Review – My Dog Just Speaks Spanish

 

MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH

Written and Illustrated by Andrea Cáceres

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 2-5)

My Dog Just Speaks Spanish cover girl hugging spanish speaking dog.
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Author-illustrator Andrea Cáceres walks a girl and her loyal Spanish-speaking dog through their neighborhood in her debut picture book My Dog Just Speaks Spanish, an engaging immigration story showing that love transcends any language.
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int1 hola=hello
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Cáceres’ warm-toned digitally rendered art opens with young Aurora hugging her cuddly white and brown furry best friend, Nena, both drawn with smiles on their faces. When the reader turns the page, they see Aurora seated on the hardwood floor of her bedroom surrounded by items taped with notes translating Spanish into English. Cama=Bed; Zapatos=Shoes; Pelota=Ball. What a great way to learn a new language! Well, that is if you are interested in learning a new language but readers soon learn Nena wants no part in this. Ripped yellow sticky notes are scattered on the hardwood floor with one small paper innocently sticking out of Nena’s mouth. Oops, I think she’s been caught red-handed. Oh, Nena!
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int2 girl and dog in bedroom.
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Aurora’s Mom waves goodbye from the apartment window while Aurora commands the leashed Nena to Sientate! Nena obediently does what she is told. She doesn’t know the word Sit, but she recognizes the sound of Sientate! As the two stroll into the park, suddenly the leash falls from Aurora’s hand because Nena decides the brown squirrel climbing the tree is more intriguing than the leisurely walk. Aurora orders her to Wait! but English is not the language Nena knows. Espera! Aurora shouts. Nena obeys looking up to watch the squirrel. Aurora then lays down a blanket with a plate of oranges for her and a bowl of water for her dog. Nena doesn’t know the command Come! but does understand Vente!
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int3 at the park
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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The dogs at the dog park respond to fetch but Nena only joins in when she hears buscala! Walking home, the two encounter a woman pushing a child in a stroller who shouts perro! Nena is pleased to hear a word she knows spoken by a Spanish speaker. Returning home, Spanish is the chosen language Aurora speaks to Nena. A drawing of a dark-haired girl and her white and brown dog is surrounded by hearts and the words Mejores Amigas! fills the page. Whatever language is spoken, they are truly best friends.
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This heart-warming story portrays the kindness between a girl and her pet and is a great tool to use for teaching Spanish words to English-speaking kids, as well as teaching English to Spanish-speaking kids. Cáceres’ work as an art director/illustrator, much of it featuring dogs, has appeared in many product campaigns. The backmatter explains that dogs can identify when different languages are spoken. Cáceres’ silky terrier named Tobi, who the reader may be able to spot in the book, moved with her from Venezuela to the United States and is an expert in performing tricks commanded in Spanish. This picture book is also available in Spanish.
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• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – Bing Bang Pling

 

BING BANG PLING

Written by Deb Adamson

Illustrated by Candice Hartsough

(McSea Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

 

Bing Bang Pling cover girl and building tools.

 

Do you have a budding builder in your home? Since I’ve never constructed anything more involved than a Lego set, I vicariously enjoyed all the measuring, sawing, and hammering in Bing Bang Pling, a rhyming read-aloud written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough.

From the upbeat first sentence, “So excited! Today’s the day. First we work, then we play,” readers are pulled into the main character’s activity helping her parents build a swing set.

 

Bing_Bang_Pling_int1_truck_backs_up_delivery Bing Bang Plint int1 truck backs up delivery.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

After the building materials are delivered (see spread above), the girl counts out the nuts and screws. When I was her age, I would have done the same thing. Big pieces of wood are a lot less fun. Adults will appreciate the text’s mention of how the instruction sheet for putting together the swing set might not be that easy to understand. Another important detail is showing all the protective gear needed before embarking on this family project. Children need to know that being around tools means safety first.

 

Bing Bang Pling int2 Daddy finishes sawing.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

Lots of the tasks the main character does do not require a lot of supervision such as chalk-lining, sanding, painting, and digging holes (to mount the frame). Hartsough is careful to show her just observing the more labor-intensive work not meant for kids due to sharp blades.

 

Bing Bang Pling int3 Mommy raking spreading mulch.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

When reading aloud, parents, teachers, and librarians can play up the sounds each piece of equipment makes and then discuss the individual functions of the tools once the book is finished. I like how the illustrations include a cute ginger kitty who, like my two cats, doesn’t want to miss out on any action.

Adamson and Hartsough have created a likable story demonstrating that spending quality time together can mean lots of things whether going to a park, playing a board game, or as in this case, constructing a swing set for all to enjoy. For me, the big takeaway is empowerment and how, with some help and guidance from adults, kids can get involved and feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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An Interview with Sara E. Echenique Author of Our Roof is Blue

 

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS SARA E. ECHENIQUE,

AUTHOR OF

OUR ROOF IS BLUE

Illustrated by Ashley Vargas

(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 5-8;
also available in Spanish as NUESTRO TECHO ES AZUL)

 

 

Our Roof is Blue cover blue tarp covers roof in Puerto Rico after hurricane

 

Nuestro Techo is Azul cover spanish edition

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This heartfelt story of resilience follows two siblings as they work to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Maria destroys their home in Puerto Rico.

Before an intense hurricane hits their home in Puerto Rico, Antonio told his sister vibrant stories each night. During the storm, they huddled with their parents in a closet and hear the storm blow the roof right off their home. After the storm, their family uses a temporary blue tarp for a roof, and Antonio stops speaking. Gradually the siblings imagine their blue roof playfully–as the ocean above them or a parachute helping them fall from the sky. As the narrator helps her little brother feel safe once more–and after the family and community build a new roof–the little boy begins to speak again.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: One of the reasons Our Roof is Blue is so touching is that it was inspired by your own childhood. Did you do research too?

Sara Echenique: Oh, absolutely. In addition to drawing from my personal experiences with hurricanes, I spoke with family and friends on the island who lived through Hurricane Maria, and read article after article about the experience of Puerto Ricans on the island post-Maria. I spoke with parents of children who have lived under blue tarp roofs to better understand their own experiences. And for the book’s back matter, I researched pretty extensively the latest science on climate change, and how it is exacerbating hurricanes and other major weather events.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int1 Antonio tell me a story
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: I thought this was a color book at first, so the storm came out of the blue for me (so to speak)! I think that made it even more impactful. Was it hard to find the right level of scariness?

SE: That’s so funny because you just never know what a reader is going to take into your story. My own young children have always been drawn to books that don’t shy away from the truth. I went into writing this story knowing that I needed to trust my readers, both old and young, because they want and need these types of stories. Unfortunately, many of them will be impacted by inclement weather events stemming from climate change at some point in their lives. I wanted to be honest about that, but it was important to me that it didn’t feel hopeless or inaccessible. Yes, the storm is scary, but my hope is that it doesn’t overshadow their bond, and their use of play, imagination and storytelling to help each other.

 

KT: It’s heartbreaking how many kids this story is directly relevant for. But you did a great job finding that balance. One of the ways you do that is through the central image of the roof and its colors. How did that evolve?

SE: I drew from several mentor texts, including A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams. Among so many beautiful parts of her book, I was drawn to how, on its surface, the story could be about a chair, but she brings depth and layers to the experience. I tried using the roof this way to make the tragedy more accessible, which allowed me to anchor Antonio and his sister’s emotional journey around their roof’s visible journey.

 

KT: I really love the sibling relationship—was that always part of the story?

SE: Yes (and thank you)! Throughout the story’s many, many iterations, their relationship was always central. Family is such an important part of the Puerto Rican community. I was fortunate to grow up with siblings who anchor me, and am raising children who will hopefully feel the same way. In Our Roof is Blue, Antonio and his sister were always going to find the other side of trauma because of, and for, each other.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int2 parachuting gently down
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: How did you become a writer?

SE: I’ve always loved reading and writing, filling dozens of notebooks throughout my childhood. I dreamt of becoming a veterinarian who writes stories about their job (like James Herriot) and got in the habit of scribbling haphazard character profiles of all the people in my life. I put that particular dream on pause when I pursued my English degree from Williams College and law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. Shortly after having my oldest two children, I reconnected meaningfully with children’s literature and rediscovered writing as a creative outlet. Several years (and one additional child later), my writing dream has become a reality!

 

KT: What was your favorite book as a kid?

SE: I can’t choose just one! I most fondly remember the Babysitters’ Club series by Ann M. Martin, which my mom often read along with me. It was a glimpse into life on the mainland and I vividly remember my heart racing when I discovered a new book in the Scholastic Book Fair flyer. I love that the series has had a revival in graphic novel form and now get to enjoy re-reading them with my own daughter.

KT: I loved the Babysitter’s Club too! Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at Our Roof is Blue. It’s going to be a meaningful book for so many people.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase from Books and Books.

Click here to purchase from Bookshop.org.

Click here to purchase via the Publisher’s Page.

 

Author Sara Echenique photo credit Rebecca Zilenziger
Sara E. Echenique Photo Credit: Rebecca Zilenziger

AUTHOR BIO:

Sara E. Echenique is a Puerto Rican lawyer and children’s author living in South Florida with her three young children, husband, and their rescue dog, Luna. She acquired a degree in English from Williams College and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. After almost a decade practicing as a litigator in cold New York City, Sara decided to move her family to a place that felt more like her childhood home.

Roaring Brook Press published her debut middle-grade book, Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente in September 2022 in both English and Spanish, which received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was long-listed for the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund’s Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World. Charlesbridge Publishing published her debut picture book, Our Roof is Blue (Nuestro techo es azul), in April 2023 in both English and Spanish.

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut picture book, Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023), uses riddles to introduce biomimicry.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AUTHOR:

Twitter: @autoraechenique 

IG: @autoraechenique 

Website:  www.saraechenique.com

ILLUSTRATOR:

Ashley Vargas

Instagram: @art.ley

Website: https://artley.myportfolio.com

PUBLISHER:

Twitter: @charlesbridge

IG: @charlesbridgepublishing 

Facebook: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc

INTERVIEWER:

Twitter: @katrinatangen 

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: Katrina Tangen Author

Website: www.katrinatangen.com

PROMO GROUP BUSY PBS:

Twitter: @busyPBs

IG: @busypb

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Picture Book Review – Adam and His Tuba

 

ADAM AND HIS TUBA

Written by Ziga X Gombac

Illustrated by Maja Kastelic

Translated by Olivia Hellewell

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Adam_and_His_Tuba_cover_Adam_leaving_circus_tent

 

 

Starred review – Foreword Reviews

 

The Von Trapeze circus family travels the world in their painted wagons performing to audiences who reward them with flowers and applause. But, not everyone in the family enjoys acrobatics, or applause, in Slovenian author Ziga X Gombac’s picture book Adam and His Tuba illustrated by Maja Kastelic.

 

Adam and His Tuba int1 Grandma Antonia breathing plumes of fire.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

I love how each family member’s first name begins with the letter ‘A.” There’s Grandma Antonia, who breathes blazing plumes of fire; Grandpa Angus who swallows swords; Papa Alexi and Mama Anastasia who bravely walk the tightrope; and twin sisters Aria, who rides a unicycle, and Alea who crawls into cannons. But what trick does the youngest son Adam perform?

Everything in the Von Trapeze family is just as it should be. Except … Young Adam is illustrated sitting alone in a tent surrounded by stage props and a unicycle while he’s reading what appears to be a book, but my guess is that it’s sheet music. The family tries desperately to get him to participate in the acrobatics. Grandma Antonia tried to spark an interest in fire-breathing. But it was no use. The reader sees a drawing of Grandma trying to put out the flame, as Adam stands behind her with his hands clasped together. Grandpa Angus tries to teach Adam how to handle a sword but instead finds his cape cut in half. It was no use.

 

Adam and His Tuba int2 Von Trapeze family closed the doors quietly.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

The Von Trapeze family gathers in a tent to try to come up with a solution. “He could iron everybody’s clothes and darn their socks,” one family member called out. “Why don’t we ask Adam what he likes doing?” The family wasn’t sure who called out that question, but as soon as it happened they heard a magical melody. Sitting on the bed with an enormous tuba was Adam. He played with so much skill. The family couldn’t believe what they were hearing and why didn’t anyone ever notice him before? The family had been so caught up in their own circus tricks they hadn’t paid much attention. The family felt awful but Adam wasn’t sad or mad. From that day forward the world-famous Von Trapeze circus family featured a new performer.

 

Adam and His Tuba int3 Adam and his tuba accompanies family circus act.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

This enchanting story about choosing your own path, even when it goes against the rest of the family, is a good message for young readers and a good conversation starter. What is right for one family member isn’t always right for another. The family realized they had been so focused on their own stuff they hadn’t noticed Adam. And when they eventually did, how wonderful that everyone could agree that Adam’s contribution to the circus made it that much better. Adding to the pleasure of this 40-page picture is the excellent artwork. Slovenian illustrator Maja Kastelic uses warm sepia colors throughout the story: black, gold, and orange, lovely bursts of light, and characters with red flushed cheeks that give the book an appealing historic vibe. A recommended read for kids who want to make their own kind of music in this world.

Find out more about the translator here.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – Two New Years

 

TWO NEW YEARS

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Two_New_Years_cover_multicultural_Chinese_Jewish_family_celebrating

 

Reading Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.

 

Two New Years int1 family celebrating rosh hashanah and lunar new year.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.

Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why  Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.

The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the  depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.

 

 

Two New Years int2 sweeping troubles out the door and casting old mistakes into stream.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.

Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.

I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review for Grandparents Day – Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar

 

MAMA SHAMSI AT THE BAZAAR

Written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani 

Illustrated by Maya Fidawi

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar cover Grandmother and grandaughter walking to bazaar

 

 

Written by mother-daughter duo Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar shares the loving bond between grandmother and granddaughter as they venture out to share a new experience together.

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar int1 ready to go to bazaar
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Getting ready to go to the bazaar with her grandmother for the very first time, Samira is afraid she’ll get lost in the crowd. Again and again, she tries to coax Mama Shams into letting her hide under the protection of her veil. “‘Let’s get in line, under your chador, you in front, me behind!’” But each time, Mama Shams responds with a resounding “Na, na, na” followed by an exaggerated explanation of how silly they might look to passersby. “‘I’d look like a fool with four legs below me just like a mule!” 

 

Mama Shamsi at the bazaar int2 Samira and Mama Shamsi near bazaar
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Textually, this lovely rhyming interchange between grandmother and granddaughter adds much humor and whimsy, while also providing a place for young readers of all backgrounds to stay grounded in the story as Mama Shamsi suggests the different types of animals she may be mistaken for if she acquiesces to Samira’s wish.

 

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar int3 Mama Shamsi tells Samira to use her eyes and ears
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Visually, their conversation introduces readers to the bustling capital of Iran, Tehran. Fidawi’s expressive illustrations are wonderfully and thoughtfully detailed from home to city life during the 1960s/’70s, reflecting the time period author Hassani grew up there. My personal favorites include the seated vendor on the street, prayer beads in hand, and chai brewing on a portable burner next to him, a grandmother on the balcony of a nearby apartment hanging clothes to dry, and another vendor selling my favorite Iranian street food: steamed beets. When they finally arrive at the bazaar, Samira feels assured that with Mama Shamsi by her side, she is safe to enjoy and explore her new world. 

For those seeking an intergenerational, diverse, sweet, and/or humorous story with a touch of social-emotional learning, this picture book ticks off all of the boxes. A recommended read for National Grandparents Day and year-round.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – Yuna’s Cardboard Castles

 

 

YUNA’S CARDBOARD CASTLES

Written by Marie Tang

Illustrated by Jieting Chen

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 3-8)

 

 

Yuna's Cardboard Castles cover Yuna in Japan with origami

 

In Yuna’s Cardboard Castles, the heartwarming picture book debut from author Marie Tangillustrated by Jieting Chen, readers meet Yuna, who has just moved with her family to America from Japan. Like most children in that situation, Yuna is filled with concerns about what life will be like in her new home and how she’ll make new friends. The extra challenge Yuna faces is that she doesn’t speak English yet. While she misses her old friends and all that is familiar, Yuna is eager to find a way to connect with local kids.

 

 Yuna's Cardboard Castles int1 Yuna longed for the colors and shapes
Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

It’s great to see Yuna take the initiative to look for ways to break the ice with the children in her neighborhood. At first, she tries making balls out of colorful paper. The results are lovely and impressive, highlighting her skills. However, Yuna feels discouraged after noticing children already have balls to play with. Onto the next option.

Thinking about where she used to live, Yuna longs to reproduce that environment where there were pointy buildings and rice cake stands. She cleverly uses cardboard and scissors to construct her very own stand but she’s at a loss to find the words to explain her project and the food on display. So, the neighborhood kids return “back to their tea parties.”

 

Yuna's_Cardboard_Castles_int2_Yuna_kept_cutting
Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

And though with her talent, Yuna can build almost anything she wants, she still feels the disconnect without the language to communicate. She is sad, frustrated, and isolated.

When a boy’s kite gets tangled in her yard, the two soon find common ground with their paper creations. Teaming up, their imaginations soar, and playing together becomes second nature. Soon, the neighborhood kids can’t help but engage with Yuna and the exciting cardboard world she’s constructed with her new friend. Chen’s vivid illustrations convey energy, enjoyment, and make-believe, filling each page with wonder to inspire children as they read  Tang’s thoughtful story.

When my family lived overseas for 10 years, our children played with other children from around the world whether we traveled to Germany, France, the Canary Islands, Italy, or Greece. Watching kids connect despite not having the words is always joyful to watch. Play is a universal language bringing diverse children together wherever you are. Yuna’s Cardboard Castles was inspired by Tang’s childhood experience of moving from Hong Kong to the United States. In the book, Yuna demonstrates how, just as Tang did as a child, using origami and corrugated boxes can open up worlds of opportunities for friendship when you have only a minimal grasp of your new country’s language. While the immigration experience is different for every child, Tang’s book creatively captures the emotion Yuna feels while presenting a positive way to cope that is empowering. Four pages of backmatter include detailed instructions to make an origami boat … “that can actually float!”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Sora’s Seashells

SORA’S SEASHELLS
A Name Is a Gift to Be Treasured

Written by Helena Ku Rhee

Illustrated by Stella Lim
With Ji-Hyuk Kim

(Candlewick Press $17.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Sora's Seashells cover Sora and Halmoni at beach picking shells

 

 

Sora’s Seashells, written by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Stella Lim with Ji-Hyuk Kim, is so much more than a beach or summer story. It’s a multi-layered, moving, and intergenerational picture book about a grandmother and granddaughter relationship. Gentle in tone with art that beautifully captures the book’s mood, the story is also about loss, and passing kindness forward to other’s lives, including strangers. Additionally, Sora’s Seashells addresses the meaning of a name and how it can bring joy.

 

Sora's Seashells int1 Sora and Halmoni comb for shells
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

When Sora’s grandmother (Halmoni), visits each summer from South Korea, the pair spend special time together gathering seashells at the beach. Though lovely, the prettiest shell that Halmoni picks is intended for someone else. “It’s a gift,” Halmoni tells Sora, left “For anyone who sees its beauty.” Sora is a bit confounded at first. Parents, however, may explain to children being read the story what a thoughtful gesture Halmoni has made.

Not quite understanding the largesse in Halmoni’s action of spreading kindness, Sora tucks away a few of her favorite finds when she and Halmoni go back to the beach the next day. Later at home, Halmoni can be seen in art glancing from Sora’s bedroom door at her granddaughter who inspects her collection that brings her such happiness.

 

Sora's Seashells int2 empty bench at beach
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

At the beginning of Kindergarten, some classmates tease Sora about her unusual name, wondering if it’s really supposed to be Sara. The bullies persist over several weeks but Sora chooses not to tell her parents. When she learns her Halmoni has passed away, she is beset by sadness for so many reasons all at once. Sad she’ll no longer be able to spend summers with Halmoni. Sad at remembering times together and the way Halmoni said Sora’s name. And sad how the bullies treated her at school. “I hate my name. I want to be Sara!” Sora tells her parents through a steady stream of tears.

A restorative trip to the beach and learning that her name means seashell in Korean, helps Sora get things in perspective. Most of all, Sora’s mom explains that Halmoni felt finding a perfect shell was like receiving a wonderful gift. Sora was that gift!

And if that doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, when Sora shares the meaning of her name at show and tell, and gives each of her classmates a shell, including those who’d teased her, my eyes welled up with tears. She knew she mattered, took the high road, and was rewarded. I was especially touched when Sora left her last shell on the bench at the beach exactly as Halmoni had. What a meaningful way to end the book.  The art, rendered in warm watercolor and finished digitally, is soothing and sensitive. Full of caring and love, hope, and kindness, Sora’s Seashells is the kind of feel-good read that is easy to recommend.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Just Like Grandma

JUST LIKE GRANDMA

Written by Kim Rogers

Illustrated by Julie Flett

(Heartdrum; $19.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

Just Like Grandma cover grandmother and Becca

 

 

Written by Kim Rogers and illustrated by Julie Flett, Just Like Grandma invites readers to Becca and her grandparents’ home where Native American family traditions and cultural knowledge are lovingly strengthened and celebrated. 

 

Just Like Grandma int1 at the pow wow
Interior spread from Just Like Grandma written by Kim Rogers and illustrated by Julie Flett, Heartdrum ©2023.

 

Grandma creates beautiful things, and Becca is right behind her wanting to give each one a try. Whether Grandma is beading buckskin moccasins, dancing barefoot outside like a beautiful butterfly, painting “a colorful sunrise” inside her art studio, or dancing at the weekend powwow, Becca wants to be a part of her grandmother’s world. “More than anything, [she] wants to be just like Grandma.” In a heartwarming twist in the second half of the book, the roles change. This time “[m]ore than anything, Grandma wants to be just like Becca.” Watching her granddaughter play basketball, Grandma “sprints outside” and says, ‘Let me try.’” Grandma, too, wants to be a part of Becca’s world. 

Rogers’ lyrical and rhythmic text provides comfort and connection while Flett’s clean and simple earth-toned illustrations highlight the quiet strength of family bonds. Throughout their activities, Grandpa is present welcoming them back inside the home at the end of each day to nourish them with his homemade dishes:  corn soup, fry bread, and to:kic, a traditional Wichita meat dish. 

 

Just Like Grandma int2 Becca on the steps of the house
Interior spread from Just Like Grandma written by Kim Rogers and illustrated by Julie Flett, Heartdrum ©2023.

 

A publisher’s note, an author’s note, a glossary, and a note on beadwork can be found in the back matter of this story perfect for those seeking a heartfelt picture book about cultural heritage and intergenerational love.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Click here forHeartdrum’s Educator Guide

 

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