Found your circuit-board head? Your voice-control torso? Your hydrojet feet? Hooray! You’ve made one of the 729 mix-and-match robots that are possible with this innovative flip-flap book. Alongside the bright and cheery illustrations of robot parts is a basic alphabetical listing of terms—from android to gears, neural network to program, wheels to Z-drive—and a basic definition of each. With a concealed spiral binding and sturdy card stock pages to hold up to enthusiastic flap-turning, AlphaBotis full of appeal for young robot lovers, preschoolers who love machines, and anyone looking for STEM books for the younger set. Back matter includes a brief explanation of the three key abilities of robots: to sense, think, and act.
Rajani LaRocca:How did you come up with this idea?
Vicky Fang: ALPHABOTactually started off with the title! As a former designer of robots for kids, I think about robots a lot, haha. Once the title and the idea of a robot alphabet book were in my head, I knew I wanted to make something interactive. I thought about different novelty formats (flaps, cutouts, etc.) until I had the idea for mix-and-match flaps. This meant kids would be able to mix-and-match the A-Z robotics terms to create their own robots. How fun and exciting! I spent a long time thinking about what terms would work and making paper dummies to prove out the concept.
RL: What kind of challenges did you face coming up with a novelty book idea like this?
VF:This book was definitely a puzzle to put together! I have several paper dummies where I was working to make sure I could make all the terms work together. Once I had a working dummy, it was also challenging to sell the book! Novelty books are expensive to construct, so even though several editors were interested, it took time to find a publisher that could figure out how to make the numbers work. I’m so glad that MIT Kids Press/Candlewick found a way and I’m so happy with the quality of the book!
RL: Isee a strong parallel between this book and your debut, INVENT-A-PET. What do you see as the similarities and differences between them?
VF: I love introducing kids to STEM concepts, but really, I want kids to be creative problem solvers. This is at the heart of both books! Even though INVENT-A-PET is a fiction story about a girl inventing fantastic pets and ALPHABOT is about non-fiction informational book about creating robots, you can see that both books invite kids to be inventive! Maybe the different approach will appeal to a different kid, but hopefully, all kids find a way to engage their imagination from the STEM content in these books.
RL:I loved the mix of familiar and not-so-familiar terms in this book! Was it hard to come up with a concept for each letter of the alphabet?
VF:There were letters that were more challenging than others, especially to make sure they would work in their positions in the book (head, torso, or feet.) I tried several different options, as well as shifting which flaps the letters would fall on. But since I was also illustrating, I was able to think creatively about how these robot parts might work and all fit together!
RL:What do you hope kids get from this book?
VF: Well, of course, I hope they understand robots a little bit better! The back matter is a pretty simple explanation of the capabilities of robots and came from my engineering partner, Chaitanya Gharpure. Hopefully, kids understand a little bit more about how robots work and what kinds of parts they might have!
But ultimately, as I was saying before, I want kids to have fun and be creative, I hope that this book sparks their imagination and gives them the confidence to create.
RL: What’s next for you?
VF: I am very excited about my next early reader series, BEST BUDDIES, illustrated by Luisa Leal, which is releasing in October with Scholastic. It’s about a dog named Sniff and a cat named Scratch who are best friends and get into mischief at home. It’s been fun to explore themes of friendship and teamwork with these two characters who approach things differently, but together.
After that, I have many more books coming! I’m currently working on a new early chapter book series, AVA LIN, about a relatable and funny 6-year-old Chinese-American girl with a knack for getting herself into—and out of—trouble. Keep an eye out for it, launching with Candlewick in June 2024!
Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor and Walter Award-winning middle-grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She has always been an omnivorous reader, and now is an omnivorous writer of novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, in poetry and prose. You can learn more about her atwww.RajaniLaRocca.com.
This adorable picture book, Kitty and Cat: Opposites Attract, by Mirka Hokkanen, is guaranteed to make you laugh. Using just two words at a time, the story follows a grumpy cat after a kitten is introduced to the household: “old” and “new.” From there, the story unfolds with hilarious antics as they try to become accustomed to one another.
I like how the story begins and ends in the endpapers—a clever way to get in two more scenes. Hokkanen’s art uses color to play up the black and white cats, allowing new items (cat condos, yarn) to really pop on the page. She captures the kitten’s innocence as well as the older cat’s moodiness.
This concept book teaches while it entertains. A must-read for animal lovers but also applicable for families bringing in a new member (furry or otherwise) and upsetting the balance around the house. Watch for Kitty and Cat: Bent Out of Shape, out in November for more fun from this unlikely duo.
Kids will learn what an important role the AIPDA community has played in our country’s history and continues to play today in America after reading A is for Asian American written by Virginia Loh-Hagan and illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop. Also referred to as AAPI, APIDA Heritage Month was created to include Desi (South Asian) with both serving to honor and celebrate the contributions, culture, experiences, and traditions of the over “24 million people in the United States who fall under the umbrella of AAPI.”
This nonfiction picture book begins with a helpful time line of “Little-Known Milestones” and in 40 pages presents readers with an engaging format. It introduces a rhyme for each alphabet letter, appealing to the youngest of the target age range. “J is for Japanese Anime. There are all kinds of anime,/which started in Japan./All around the world,/you’ll find anime fans.” Alongside the expressive art and poem is an expository description of the topic, in this instance, anime. Since my whole family enjoys anime, I loved reading about its origins in the 1960s and how mainstream it’s become in America.
Some alphabet letters fill an entire spread (M is for Movements where social change is discussed; W is for Writers highlighting contributions made to all forms of literature and journalism), while others are divided (see art above for letters F and G). The S page focuses on Saturday schools where weekend classes offer “language classes and classes covering topics such as dance, music, art, crafts, and other cultural activities,” in order to connect children with the country of their heritage.
In addition to homing in on a variety of interesting subjects—Boba (Bubble) Tea and Korean Wave should resonate with a lot of young readers—A is for Asian American highlights accomplishments by APIDAs from the first Asian American woman to earn her pilot’s license in 1932 to the first Asian American to walk in space in 1985. The letter X details how Bruce Lee was a pioneer in promoting his mixed martial arts skills in films helping other martial arts grow in popularity. What a surprise to learn that President Theodore Roosevelt became America’s first brown belt taught by Japan’s judo master Yamashita Yoshitsugu!
And no book about Asian Americans would be complete without calling attention to the Chinese immigrants who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad under often harsh conditions yet ultimately refused citizenship; nor those of Japanese ancestry, about 120,000, who were unjustly sent to incarceration camps after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. Loh-Hagan’s writing is straightforward but topics are shared sensitively and are age appropriate.
At the start, an author’s note from Loh-Hagan states her goal of raising awareness of Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans. She also mentions the sad and alarming increase in anti-Asian hate since the pandemic and stresses the need to “learn more so we can do more.” Back matter features “definitions and words, and listing of important holidays with corresponding activities.” I hope this book helps children appreciate the myriad ways in which Asian Americans contribute to our country and make it a better place. Reading A is for Asian American provides kids with an important introduction to all aspects of Asian American life past and present and will no doubt prompt them to delve further into specific subjects. When teaching diversity-centered and cultural awareness curricula, teachers and librarians would benefit from all the information shared in this picture book as well.
Binney’s appealing artwork transported me to a pecan orchard for the first time where the action unfolds as a little girl spends time with her grandfather and narrates, “My grandpa planted a tree for me on the day I was born.” She also tells us that, despite having an orchard full of pecan trees, Grandpa’s favorite tree is that particular one, thus establishing the strong bond these two characters share.
Through changing seasons starting in winter when it’s pruning time, and the annual growth cycle of the orchard, we learn how pecans mature and are harvested. At the same time, the special relationship between the child and her grandpa exudes from the warm, muted illustrations coupled with Trout’s lyrical prose. I especially felt that each time I read the lovely repeating phrase “But not my tree.” In spread after spread the young girl describes how the other pecan trees are treated en masse as part of the commercial harvesting process, while hers receives individualized care from her grandpa. Together the two tend to her tree with love and respect which also serves as a metaphor for their relationship.
At last, when the husks open, it’s harvest time. The joy is palpable on the page. Then “Grandpa attaches a padded arm to his tractor. It hugs the trees’ trunks and shakes until leaves and twigs and pecans rain down.” When it’s her turn and with Grandpa there to savor the experience, the girl uses a long pole to make the pecans drop. The orchard’s pecans will be collected by the harvester for sale but the girl’s pecans will be baked into a scrumptious pecan pie. And, not to spoil the beautiful ending, suffice it to say that Troup and Mother Nature’s miraculous cycle of growth delivers a delightful and very satisfying dénouement in this touching layered tale.
Troup, who is not a newcomer to writing, knows how to tell an engaging and tender story while infusing interesting information into it, clearly owing to her extensive nonfiction background. The pacing of My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me moves forward easily like the seasons in the orchard. There’s a soothing rhythm to the language that makes the book an ideal read any time of the day, including bedtime. Did you know that pecans are considered a native nut to North America? Find an All About Pecans note detailing the history of the commercial pecan industry along with a helpful glossary in the back matter.
Written by Kate Banksand illustrated by Suzie Mason, The Winter Bird is a comforting and heartwarming story of friendship and perseverance, helping readers discover the quiet strength of patience and hope.
During the time of year “when the sun [goes] to bed early,” brown bear and hedgehog prepare for their annual winter routines. Nestled in a thicket and nursing a broken wing, the nightingale watches the geese, starlings, and swallows fly away. “‘What will happen to me?’” the nightingale asks. As a spring bird, it “‘knows nothing of winter.’”
“‘You will learn … You will learn,’” hoots the owl who, along with other friendly animals like the rabbit and gray squirrel, provide food and shelter, helping the nightingale survive its new icy surroundings.
Adapting to the slow, winter rhythm of nesting, waiting, and wondering, the nightingale learns the beauty in both the harshness and brilliance of the season. In lovely, lyrical language, we watch the landscape change as “the cold cre[eps] in on icy feet” and “the waltz of winter” begins. Beautiful illustrations in soft browns and grays, rounded edges, and spots of bright color let readers know: though the storm is coming, all will be well.
Throughout it all, the nightingale does what it knows how to do–sing. Whether singing of “winter’s woes” or “winter’s wonders,” it brings comfort to both itself and the other animals around it. A spring bird, the nightingale patiently learns how to “become a winter bird, too.”
A soothing picture book for bedtime or quiet time, The Winter Bird invites readers to bundle up, settle in, and enjoy the wonder of winter.
“As a trio of tired tots settles into bed for the night, the sheep who should be helping them count down to slumber kick up their hooves in an energetic dance performance. Starting with one little lamb … [the] sheep tap, waltz, tango, and boogie … [until] finally, after their energy is danced out, nap sheep lull everyone to sleep.”
Kenda Henthorn’s lively, rhyming text borrows the rhythm of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” to create a delightful read-aloud perfect for getting out the wiggles before bedtime. Lauren Gallegos’ cute art in soothing blues and energetic purples perfectly complements the energy of Henthorn’s words.
With added learning layers such as counting to ten, dance moves/vocabulary, and a few cultural Easter eggs in the art, this picture book works for the young and young-at-heart. Highly recommended for naptime in the early childhood classroom!
From the Publisher: “Hot off the printing press, Penny feels like a million bucks. But as other coins and bills are spent while she sits forgotten, she begins to doubt her value … Refusing to be short-changed, she sets out to find her purpose at any cost.”
From Kirkus Reviews: “Combining a dash of math with buckets of good humor, this book is certainly like money in the bank.”
Kimberly Wilson’s debut shines like a new penny under the expert care of Mark Hoffman’s humorous art that will entice children to spend time searching out each detail on the page.
And the silliness continues in Wilson’s pun-filled backmatter that not only offers fun facts about pennies, but illustrates the value of each coin and bill featured in the text. I expect this book will become a favorite in elementary classrooms around the country.
GoodReadsWithRonna.com has the pleasure of participating in the blog tour for My Pet Feet. I made sure not to read any advance buzz about the book (easy ‘coz I’ve been on vacation) so that I’d come to it with no expectations which, to be honest, is a hard feat (ha!) knowing how terrific all Josh’s previous picture books are.
When the letter R disappears from the main character’s alphabet wall covering, chaos and hilarity ensue in My Pet Feet, the wacky, wonderful new picture book from Josh Funk with illustrations by Billy Yong.
It doesn’t take long for the little girl narrator of this zany 48-page tale to discover that her pet ferret, Doodles, has become her pet feet since all Rs have mysteriously gone missing in her town. Yong’s whimsical spreads where the main character first encounters the absence of Rs are (ha!) so funny and clever, that readers will have to slow down to study every delightful detail he has depicted. The images of a policewoman on the back of a galloping hose or the little girl’s pal Lucas behaving like a fiend and especially the flying cows are sure to make kids LOL. In fact, I actually noticed even more things on my second read (e.g. the man on the motorcycle with ties as tires) so I intend to go back a few more times to make sure I caught everything. Children will likely do the same. And, despite being a rollicking fast-paced read, the idea of taking time to appreciate all the clever wordplay and creativity of the story’s concept is recommended.
As the search to find the reason behind the missing letter R continues, the girl accidentally hurts the feelings of Doodles who runs away. She looks low and eventually high—way, way, way up high—where a subtle clue for the savvy reader can be spotted anchored out at sea. But still no sign of the 18th letter of the alphabet and now Doodles. Could the pet actually know the Rs’ whereabouts? Will this determined child ever find her beloved pet? And will he forgive her? I wanted to find out, but yet I didn’t want the story to end.
In Funk’s satisfying and humorous resolution, the main character’s luck and mood change. She locates her pet feet which leads her to the culprits behind the stolen letter R. Young readers will love seeing ferret and owner reunited while getting the chance to pronounce a plethora of words incorporating Rs that Funk has mustered up. But just when this happy child thinks she can relax and catch some zzzzs, an oh-so-unexpected alphabet ending presents a potential new dilemma or possible premise for a second book.
There are myriad ways to enjoy this entertaining picture book: from the mystery of the missing Rs, to the superb silliness of the pet feet, from the zaniness of the town inhabitants oblivious to the absent Rs to the engaging art that keeps us glued to the page. I’m thrilled I had this opportunity to read and review My Pet Feet and help spread the word about this fun new story. And while a pet ferret is probably pleasing, I think there are times when having pet feet could come in handy (pun intended) too!
From the Publisher: “In this exciting guessing game for budding nature lovers, a child takes a walk to explore the sights and sounds in a garden, across a meadow, and along a brook … Dianne White’s playful text is paired with the vibrant collage artwork of Amy Schimler-Safford.”
Dianne White’s simple, rhyming text introduces young readers to the colors and sounds of creatures that live in each ecosystem using a riddle-like structure that invites page turns. At the same time, Amy Schimler-Safford’s gorgeous, collage-style art encourages little eyes to seek and find the hiding creature …
making this a truly interactive and enjoyable reading experience.
Accessible backmatter in Look and Listen offers readers and/or teachers more information about the habitats and animals highlighted in the book. This radiant picture book inspiring all five senses would make a great read-aloud for preschool classrooms to use just before a nature walk or trip to a National Park.
Learning the alphabet is a must for kids so naturally alphabet books are popular. However not all alphabet picture books teach the importance of setting intentions while beginning a new day, week, or even year until Letters to Live By. This book features beautiful art by graphic designer Åsa Gillandand encouraging words by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough.
The reader sees a capital ‘A’ drawn on a brick wall beside a tiger and crawling snakes. The art excites two girls with large backpacks pointing at the wall. Two words sit on the bottom of the page: Appreciate Art. The joy on the sweet girls’ faces is evident. Simple words. Big message. Great conversation starter.
Appreciating Gilland’s art is easy when the reader turns each page filled with colorful pastels and sweet drawings. The Capital ‘F’ hovers over the red-headed boy and the shaggy white dog, who may have accidentally eaten the boy’s red shoe. (I personally think it was all just a misunderstanding). Riddiough simply writes Forgive Friends. What a great lesson for kids to see that you can still be friends when one may have made a mistake, even furry ones.
Riddiough continues the alphabet with the letter ‘G’, Give Generously, the letter ‘H’, Have Heroes and the letter ‘I’, Invite Imagination. Each letter is a chance to pause and discuss the intention depicted with little ones or start a conversation with school-aged children.
Turning to a soft-pink page in the background, readers see a happy-faced girl demonstrating her side stretch. She is accompanied by orange-beaked birds, one doing the same stretch as the letter ‘M’ lingers above with the second bird watching from above—Move Mindfully. Ahh, a great time to pull out the yoga mat!
Page turn after page turn allows the reader to find the intention that best fits the mood they may be in that day. Teachers can use this opportunity to discuss an incident that may have occurred at school using the letter ‘P’ for example, learn to Practice Peace. Parents will have lots to talk about with the letter ‘Q’ for Quit Quarreling for those with siblings that may not be seeing eye-to-eye.
The book ends with all the characters gathered together on a two-page spread surrounded by the alphabet, and the drawings that bring each message together. Riddiough’s final message: “We each have the power to make our world a better, happier place. We all have the alphabet to guide us.”
This picture book is a fabulous new way to teach the alphabet while also teaching valuable life lessons. It can be read and re-read whenever a child needs a simple reminder of how to set intentions. “Which letters will you live by?”
Meet cats from one to a dozen in this adorable board book introduction to counting with a feline twist. Author Lesléa Newmandraws on her love for (and familiarity with) cats in a concept book for the very young, while illustrator Isabella Kung captures the animals’ movements and gestures in a way that is sure to delight.
ABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book
From curious to elegant, grouchy to inquisitive, rowdy to tangled to . . . well, unusual (who says cats don’t swim in the tub?), these twenty-six charming felines interact with oversize alphabet letters on rhyming spreads. Author Lesléa Newman and illustrator Isabella Kung offer a cat’s-eye concept book that makes the ABCs go down easy—and is sure to inspire many a repeat viewing.
Colleen Paeff:Happy book birthday, Isabella! It must be so exciting to have two books coming out on the same day! You had to paint over 120 cats for these two adorable books. Do you feel like you need to take a break from painting cats now?
Isabella Kung:Thank you so much, Colleen! It is exciting! They are my first board books too. And yes! 122 cats to be exact, more if you count the different painted versions on various materials to achieve the final results. Thankfully, I love cats so much that it is the one subject I have never grown tired of. Which is good, because I am working on theNo Fuzzball!sequel right now!
CP:Hooray! Your author/illustrator debut is getting a sequel?! I’m really glad to hear that. I love Fuzzball. She has so much personality–as do the cats in your latest books. Was it difficult to create so many distinct cat personalities at once? How did you do it?
IK:Lesléa Newman’s words really help spark the inspiration – ideas for gestures, expressions, and body language came to me rather quickly, a little easier for ABC CATS, as each cat only appears once. For 1 2 3 CATS, I kept referring back to my notes about each cat and did my best to stay true to their initial introduction for the following spreads. For example, Cat Number Three was first described as sweeter than Cat Number Two – I drew her being sweet on Cat Number Two, taking the kitten under her wing. From then on, you can always find them together for the rest of the book. The hard part was actually determining what breed, size, fur patterns and colors each cat should be depicted as, which was more a design puzzle to solve, it was fun and challenging.
CP: Can you speak to the experience of illustrating a board book. Did you face any particular challenges?
IK:Illustrating board books is fun! Honestly, they are not that different from illustrating picture books. The main differences are being aware of the preferences of a younger audience and a slightly lower page count– no need to illustrate the title page, endpapers, and such. The biggest challenge was at the beginning when we were figuring out the style and artistic direction for both books. I was given the art note that they wished to see a style that is a combination between my children’s book watercolor illustrations like in NO FUZZBALL! and the loose, minimalistic Cat Inklings paintings in mypersonal gallery. This is a great idea and I was excited to try it! Though figuring out how to execute that made me nervous! To achieve the right balance between the looseness and simplicity of my Cat Inklings style with a clearer representation of cats and keep them recognizable (especially for 123 CATS where all the cats are recurring characters) took me two weeks of experimentation, a few failures at the beginning, but I am glad I finally found a good solution! And that is simply the natural progress of figuring something new in art (and writing too) – that you can think about it all you want, but unless it is actually down on paper or screen, and you can review at it objectively, you won’t be able to tell if it really works. You’d think I would be able to trust myself and the process by now and stop being nervous, but unfortunately, my emotions don’t always listen to my logic. I am really grateful to my Art Director, Lauren Pettapiece, and everyone on the team for placing their trust in me, encouraging me, and giving me the room to experiment. It was truly a dream job!
CP: You teach illustration at Storyteller Academy and you also teach a watercolor workshop at Etchr. What do you like about teaching art?
IK: The act of teaching is actually a great learning tool for myself. I have to really break down and analyze my own thought process, materials, drawing and painting techniques, in order to successfully explain and demonstrate to others. I’ve learned so much more about myself and my work over the years thanks to teaching. Teaching is also a wonderful way to share and connect with the creative community. As creators, our career is often an isolating path, it’s nice to discuss your craft with others who are just as excited to hear it. Not to mention, it can be very rewarding when students enjoy my class!
CP:I am mesmerized by your YouTube channel–especially the time-lapse watercolor paintings. How much time (in real-time) does it take to paint something like the No Fuzzball in Despair painting? And what is it about painting with watercolors that keeps you coming back to that medium time and time again?
IK: Thank you! I enjoy watching them sometimes myself, because most of my paintings take hours, so speeding it up to only 2-5 mins really makes it look magical! It makes me look 100% confident, too (not always the case)! The painting No Fuzzball in Despair, in particular, took me about 15-18 hours to complete.
CP:Oh, wow! It looks so fast in the video! What is it about painting with watercolors that keeps you coming back to that medium time and time again?
IK:I love painting with watercolor and other water mediums like ink, even though it might not be as flexible or speedy as digital mediums. I personally really enjoy the tactile aspects of traditional mediums. Working with watercolor is like working with a living being, you’ll have to study it, observe, and guide it to create the effects you want. Sometimes it even leads you to happy accidents! Which is hard to come by digitally when the undo function is so readily available. It’s more challenging, but the results are immensely satisfying as well! Also, I feel like I can get into the “zone” or access the elusive flow state more easily when working with traditional mediums, whereas, when I am working in photoshop, it tends to feel like work.
CP:What’s your advice to people who like drawing, but get discouraged by their lack of natural drawing ability?
IK: Drawing and painting are just skills, skills that anyone can learn and even perfect. Natural abilities will only affect the speed that you learn your craft, never let anyone (even yourself) tell you that you can’t draw or paint. All it takes is dedicated practice, draw and paint every day if possible. Start with the basics and don’t get frustrated if you make mistakes. We’ve all been there, it’s all part of the learning process, I still make mistakes! There are so many courses and workshop options nowadays, you can easily find something by an artist you like too.
CP: What are three art tools you wouldn’t want to live without?
IK:My watercolor palette, all my painting brushes and my trusty Pentel pocket brush pen with black ink!
CP:You’re the Illustrator coordinator of the SCBWI SF/South region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Has taking on that role had any impact on your work as an author/illustrator?
IK:SCBWI is such a wonderful organization, joining it really helped me connect with others in my community and learn more about the professional industry when I was just starting out; going to SCBWI conferences also sparked the desire to write my own stories too. So when I was asked to step up to this role, I said yes because I really wanted to give back and contribute to our region. I’ve gained the experience and confidence in organizing and planning events (and now virtually as well); I got to meet and invite fantastic industry professionals that I personally admire; and most of all it gave me the opportunity to personally meet my editor for No Fuzzball!, Kait Feldmann, through one of our annual conferences!
CP: I really related to something you said in your interview with Stephani Martinell Eaton on theCynsations blog when you were talking about the challenges of being an author/illustrator. You said, “Even when I do have time in between projects, it is hard to truly rest and exercise self-care. There are stories on the back burner that need to be worked on! Art experiments waiting to be explored! New tools to be learned! Promotional materials to be done!” Have you learned any useful tricks to help you deal with that particular challenge? I could use them!!
IK:Haha! I do have some tricks, though I must say, my tricks are less effective during this pandemic. My productivity has been a bit fickle during this trying time, but I’m trying to be kind to myself and take things one step at a time and dedicate time off. The best trick I can recommend is to set up various achievable goals and deadlines for yourself. I usually have 3-4 big goals in mind for the year. Then I break it down to a digital monthly to-do list, adding to it throughout the year as things come up. Then I have an analogue weekly planner that I slot these tasks into each week and cross them off as I go. That way, I am not overwhelmed by everything I need to do and can just focus on getting through each week. I do pay close attention to how much I can actually achieve and fine-tune my planning if needed. There’s no use setting way too many unachievable tasks and goals on your plate, that only cause more disappointment or frustration. Now that trick helps with getting most of my responsibilities done, though writing or coming up with ideas is a whole other ball game. I found just dedicating a creative hour every day, even if all I do is stare at my manuscript is helpful. Eventually, ideas will flow and solutions will reveal themselves to me as long as I show up consistently to work on them. Or if schedules allow, a work retreat somewhere else is an amazing treat to the creative mind!
CP:Speaking of retreat, what would a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, look like for you?
IK: A perfect day– that means no urgent emails, family and friends, or home duties interrupting, right? It might look something like this: (FYI, I’m a night owl so please adjust the timing to your sleep schedule)
10am – 12pm – Wake up, grab coffee and water, writing time.
12pm – 1pm – Lunch
1pm – 5pm – Illustration work
5 pm – 6 pm – Exercise or Meditation
6 pm – 10 pm – Dinner / Family / Relaxation time
10 pm – 2 am – Illustration work. If no pressing deadlines, then personal art explorations.
2 am – 3 am – Wind down, read and prepare for bed.
CP:Wow. That sounds amazing. Now I have to ask … How often (if ever) do you get to experience a day like that?
IK: Lol! I think I only maintained this schedule for a short period of time (about 2 months) 3 years ago. It was a time before I got any offers for my book, and right after taking a break from teaching and freelance work. During that time, I wanted to give myself a 6-month break from work to invest in my writing and focus on all the neglected back burner projects. I dug deep, took classes, and got a lot of creative work done! Though I wish I enjoyed that time more, it was also a period of time I was experiencing a lot of self-doubt and depression. I’m glad I hung in there and pushed through these difficult emotions! Now, I’m usually juggling multiple projects and deadlines, so it is almost impossible to have a perfect creative day! I hope later this year I’ll get to try this again.
CP: I hope so, too! What’s next for you?
IK: I’m currently working on the sequel for No Fuzzball!, scheduled to hit the shelves in Fall 2022, as well as creating another online course for Storyteller Academy with Julie Downing. Once all of this is completed, I look forward to a well-deserved break and hopefully, I’ll turn to some of those back-burner projects waiting on my attention.
CP: I look forward to seeing what antics Fuzzball gets up to in the sequel. Thanks, for chatting, Isabella. I really enjoyed it!
IK: Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions! I enjoyed it too!
Isabella Kung is the author/illustrator of No Fuzzball! (Orchard Books | Scholastic, 2020), about a fuzzy feline despot who rules the house with an iron paw. Continuing her feline obsession, she also illustrated over 120 cats for the board books 123 CATS and ABC CATS by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick Press, 2021). Outside the world of publishing, Isabella teaches illustration and watercolor classes at Storyteller Academy and Etchr Lab. She is also the current Illustrator coordinator of the SCBWI SF/South region. Isabella resides in San Francisco with her husband and two adorable – you guessed it – cats! She is represented by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary.
I love wordplay, puns, and books about the English language in general. If you do too, did you know that means you’re a linguaphile, a word nerd so to speak? I just learned that. This roundup of five kids books reviewed by Ronda Einbinder has something for everyone, word nerd or not.
Raj Haldar, aka American rapper Lushlife and co-author Chris Carpenter (creators of the #1 New York Times bestseller P Is For Pterodactyl) have teamed up for another LOL look at the English language in No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read-Aloud Book Ever with hilarious illustrations by Bryce Gladfelter.
When I first read the title, I was surprised and interested to read The Worst Read-Aloud in the sub-title. However, I immediately understood the meaning when I opened the first page and read “The hair came forth,” with a drawing of a fancy waiter picking a hair out of a girl’s spaghetti and meatballs. The hilarity hit me again when the next page presented “The hare came fourth,” with a drawing of a hare finishing number four in a race with other animals. The imaginative use of homophones, homonyms, and tricky punctuation is a great way to bring parent and child together in learning and loving the meaning of various English words.
“An ABC of things unseen: from Air to Zero, and Nothing in between” is how this book is described by the publisher. The Invisible Alphabet is a cleverly illustrated picture book by Ron Barrett of the classic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It teaches the alphabet with an invisible message using illustrative clues to find what is missing on the page. Written by Joshua David Stein, host of The Fatherly Podcast, the book goes beyond the words allowing readers the opportunity to explore the meaning themselves.
Barrett repeats a bus stop scene with the letters D, J, T, and Z using different word choices, but a similar scene. D is for Delayed shows people waiting on a corner next to a sign that reads bus stop. Hmm, but what are they waiting for you may ask? T is for Too late illustrates rain and two people standing under an umbrella with that same Bus Stop sign on the corner. And the last page in the book reads Z is for Zero again with a Bus Stop sign alone covered in snow. The pen and ink style Barrett uses to illustrate this book is a beautifully crafted take on teaching the alphabet.
The Mighty Silent e! is a delightfully clever way to teach words that end in a letter that is actually silent, but without it, there would be no word! Writer Kimberlee Gard brings humor and poise in her words, while Sandie Sonke’s humorous illustrations of bright reds, yellows, and greens open up a whole new possibility of teaching sounds to young readers.
Gard’s learning disorder was a great inspiration in the telling of this story. This book put a smile on my face as brave Little e, who goes unnoticed at school, realizes he actually is a much-wanted friend. The importance of Little e is in more than just him knowing that he came from a long line of E’s, with upper case E’s framed in his family home, but in the lower case classmates Little c, Little a, and Little k unable to make a word for a type of dessert. Besides being a great tool to teach silent vowels, this book also provides an added layer of deeper meaning for kids to understand the importance of noticing and respecting quiet children at school.
“Some are born great” wrote William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, and his legacy and body of work continue to broaden the minds of young readers to this day. The beauty of the written word is poetically and engagingly captured in Flibbertigibbety Words by by Donna Guthrie, with colorful detailed illustrations by Åsa Gilland.
After chasing words that flew out of his bedroom, and into the streets, young Shakespeare learns that writing words down with paper and pen is the best way to get them to stay with him. Guthrie repeats the wild goose chase in this irresistible repetitive read-aloud. “They vaulted over a wall, took a turn on the old king’s carriage, floated through the sailor’s net, scrambled up a greenwood tree …”
And Gilland’s art tells a charming story all on its own. This picture book was not only a fun read but educational to me as well. I learned that the word flibbertigibbety, not one of his most commonly used words, was created by Shakespeare. So were bedroom, embrace, eventful and lonely. This is an especially terrific picture book for teachers to share with students and a wonderful first look into the language of Shakespeare. Click here for an activity guide. e
This unique and hard-to-put-down book will not only be a mainstay on writers’ shelves but a book that will be frequently revisited by parents and teachers. Sounds All Around: A Guide to Onomatopoeias Around the World written and illustrated in graphic novel format by Dr. James Chapman, is an entertaining nonfiction book listing a plethora of words used for various sounds we know in English. But do you know their equivalents in Korean or Hebrew? Well, they’re here too!
Thump Thump is a well-known word sound to describe a beating heart in English. In Hindi, it’s Dhak Dhak; in Japanese, it’s Doki Doki, and in Chinese Peng Peng. Chapman draws dancing red hearts that look the same, but sound differently around the world. He explains that big noises need big sounds and asks the reader to think how they would draw it in a comic book. My teacher’s mind went all over the place with the fun projects that could be created in a classroom with this book. Onomatopoeia is such a wonderful way to add excitement to a story. Now knowing how to create it in a variety of languages makes me want to keep this book on my desk to read over and over again.
A slight tension fills the air as dark clouds approach Noah’s house. In the backyard, restless salamanders slither “to and fro” and beetles and mice try to take shelter. Getting his tools from the yard, Noah’s father makes a thought-provoking comment: “It’s going to be a beauty.” What is? The preparation, the storm, the aftermath?
Just as Noah’s parents work hard to prepare for the storm, Noah, similarly, takes thorough care of his garden friends’ needs. For shelter, he builds an ark out of his wagon and fills the space with all the comforts of home: food, furniture, water, and light from a flashlight. Whatever his parents provide for him and his sister, Noah, in turn, provides for his critters.
Rocco’s detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations emphasize this give and take motion. On the left side of the page, we readers see the actions his parents take and on the right we see Noah mimicking that action. When the storm arrives, the illustrations once again draw similarities between the two. Both groups huddle, share food, and pass the time with calming activities. One double-page spread is particularly poignant as it draws our attention to the slats of wood—wood that boards Noah’s window and wood that houses in his garden friends. It’s a powerful image of protection and community despite the raging rain “splash[ing] down like silver swords thrown from heaven.” Banks’ imagery captures, too, the beauty and danger of their situation.
When the clouds suddenly retreat and the “sun turn[s] its light back on,” Noah is treated to a wide and stunning rainbow. A sign of the covenant between God and the earth in the original story, the rainbow here represents a symbol of peace and restoration. Two by two the creatures leave the ark and resume their roles in Noah’s garden.
So what was “going to be a beauty” after all? Dedication in caring for one another, the sense of community during troubled times, and the healing qualities of the natural world are all beautiful themes in this story. For animal and nature lovers, for those familiar and new to Noah’s Ark, for those needing a quiet bedtime story and a suspenseful adventure, Noah Builds an Ark is for any child who enjoys a timeless tale.
YOU ARE LIGHT
by Aaron Becker
(Candlewick Studio; $15.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews –Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
In Aaron Becker’s You Are Light, the 16-page board book’s inspirational poem is integrated with twelve quarter-sized die-cut translucent circles. These brightly colored circles ring a flower-like sun. While beautiful on its own, the book literally illuminates when held to the light. With each page turn, some disks become holes (perfect for small fingers!), until the sunset subsides to a moonlit scene.
You Are Light’s rhyming text explains how light interacts with the world and, in conclusion, how “This light is you. And you are light.” This book will thrill young readers and be sought after repeatedly for its “wow” factor and because the simple words resonate upliftingly.
Aaron Becker is the Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator of the Journey trilogy and of A Stone for Sascha.
Today is Earth Day. In fact, today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Back in 1970, the world woke up to the fact that mankind was destroying the planet. Horrible smog covered many major cities. Rain forests were disappearing. The hole in the ozone layer was getting bigger. And many animals were on the brink of extinction.
“Thefirst Earth Dayin 1970 enlisted 20 million Americans and is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. It is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event and it led to passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States, including the Clean Air, Clear Water and Endangered Species Acts. Many countries soon adopted similar laws, and the United Nations chose Earth Day 2016 to sign the Paris climate agreement.”
Back in 1970, I was a young woman teaching kindergarten in the New York City public schools. I knew that picture books were a wonderful way to educate, entertain, and inspire young children. But what I didn’t know then was that I would write a book to aid in our quest to protect the environment and save the species.
In those days, I often accompanied my husband on his fly-fishing expeditions to pristine mountain streams in the back country of whatever state we lived in at the time. These were areas not yet touched by residential and industrial development. And when I’d grow weary of casting the rod, I’d sit on a rock and be still … so still that after a while, woodland creatures would venture out. In Colorado, otters splashed, falcons circled, and butterflies would flit, flutter, and hover, sipping nectar from wild columbines. I knew then that one day I’d write a story about them, a story that would encourage children and their parents to cherish wildlife and protect their habitats because a world that is safe for wild animals is safe for human beings.
FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK(Pomegranate, Ages 5-8)introduces children to ten endangered animals: river otters, Peregrine falcons, fritillary butterflies, yellow mud turtles, and more. The text is lyrical yet simple enough for the very young. And the illustrations are fabulous original woodcuts by the talented artist Mirka Hokannen. The rich STEM back matter contains facts about each animal and also information about protection of these species and what factors threaten them. There is also a wonderful activity book created by the illustrator, available here forfree download.
Although much work has been done over the last fifty years, there is still so much more to do if we are to leave a legacy of clean water, fresh air, and a healthy planet for our children and for all of the species that live here. Because there is a chain of life that connects us all and, if even one species is threatened, we humans are threatened as well.
There are simple things that parents, teachers, and kids can do together and in the activity book, there are Six Steps to Care for Endangered Animals:
Turn the lights off (less electricity use means less pollution)
Place pictures on your windows (so birds won’t fly into them and hurt themselves)
Reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic bags (animals often mistake plastic for food)
Make your home wildlife friendly (keep garbage out of reach from wild animals)
Plant a native garden (provide food and shelter for wildlife)
Learn about endangered species in your area (so that you can better protect them)
Thank you so much, Ronna, for giving me the opportunity to shout out about EARTH DAY and aboutFOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN. We only have one planet – and we need to take good care of it and all of its inhabitants.
A huge thanks to Vivian for writing her charming picture book and for this enlightening guest post. As global citizens, we are custodians of our world and must pay attention to the signs all around us that climate change, waste, pollution, and the poisoning of our waters with plastics and chemicals will not go away just by wishing it so.