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.
THE NIGHT FLOWER: The Blooming of the Saguaro Cactus
By Lara Hawthorne
(Big Picture Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
The Sonoran desert is busy with all sorts of activity. Lara Hawthorne’s 32-page nonfiction picture book, The Night Flower: The Blooming of the Saguaro Cactus invites the reader to explore this lively world. The book’s rhyming lines are upbeat and evocative: “Around the saguaro, in the shining moonlight, the desert is festive and thriving tonight.”
Facts bookend the text, deepening a reader’s understanding about the wonderful saguaro cactus’s spectacular bloom which occurs only one night each year. “During this short period, their strong scent and brilliant white petals attract rare pollinators, including bats, moths, and doves.” For a few hours in the morning, the pollen’s shared with day creatures such as birds and bees.
Kids will like the “Did you spot . . .?” section at the end which encourages them to connect the descriptions of ten animals back to the story. The colorfully illustrated saguaro life cycle and glossary are in kid-friendly language to engage even the youngest child. I enjoyed the fresh perspective on animals such as the grasshopper mouse, a “fierce, furry hunter” which is “known to stand on its hind legs and howl at night.”
Hawthorne’s watercolor images introduce whimsy and beauty. This glimpse at something rare is educational and fun. I may have missed the saguaro’s amazing bloom, but, if our travels take us to the desert, I’ll keep a lookout for the gorgeous rainbow grasshopper.
The dynamic duo of Fishman and Greenberg, who created the award-winning picture book A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, partners again for Power Up: Your Incredible, Spectacular, Supercharged Body. This time, the focus switches from the amazing universe to the world within. Bite-sized explanations help bring such immense topics within reach. The text centers around the fact we’re made of energy and everything we do takes energy. “You are a fireball,” “Look at your pinkie. That little finger has enough energy to light up one of the biggest cities in the world for an entire day.”
Greenberg’s art brings fresh perspectives to what could be boring textbook images such as the skeleton and muscular systems. Positive messages help kids learn that they need to care for their supercharged bodies by eating, sleeping, and exercising.
Kids who like numbers will get into their groove with the many statistics. Did you know we’re born with 300 bones, but as some fuse we eventually have only 206? Or that the calf’s seven muscles help you point your toes? Nonfiction has come a long way with interesting books such as this one that makes learning fun and reminds us that we can (literally) “light up the world.”
Fishman’s upcoming local appearances include two 11:00 a.m. Barnes & Noble Storytimes: Saturday, March 23rd in Encinitas (1040 N El Camino Real Drive) and Saturday, March 30th in Manhattan Beach (1800 Rosecrans Avenue).
A flower in a field. 🌸 A star in the sky.✨ Simple things seen and sensed through the eyes of a child help them find and define their place in the universe in two beautiful new picture books
from Candlewick Press and Nosy Crow.
STARDUST features a thoughtful young girl who tries and tries to shine as brightly as her talented older sister. She cannot knit as well, find a missing ring first, or design the best outfit for the costume competition. When she seeks solace under the starry night sky, her grandfather joins her for a quiet chat. Once there was nothing, he tells her, but after a BANG and a series of twinkles, stars were born. Willis sends the duo off on an imaginary journey to explore the subsequent creation of planets, moons, seas, trees and even, sisters!
Smith’s richly colored illustrations will carry young readers into the fantastical realm to introduce the Big Bang and how all is created from stardust. The tender relationship between the girl and her grandfather is light and sweet but never heavy-handed, leading to a delightful conclusion that reaches decades into the girl’s future.
The book jacket is generously speckled with silver stars and a shiny title, a bright and cheerful exterior feature that highlights and compliments this book’s encouraging message about being true to yourself.
A tiny red ladybug has captured a girl’s attention on the cover of Toni Yuly’s THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND ME. Open the book, and the ladybug creeps up a single blade of green grass. Suddenly a bright yellow flower dominates the page, as if from the bug’s perspective. Two boots arrive on scene, signaling the girl’s arrival and her tender exploration of the natural wonders that surround her.
The simple lyrical text is placed sparingly on the page, pacing the story with a gentle, slow unfurling from land to sea, sky and mountain.
Yuly’s captivating illustrations are a combination of ink, charcoal pencil, torn tissue, cut paper and digital collage. The colors are bold and textured, beautifully conveying the gritty beach, crisp blades of grass, and fuzzy cotton dandelion seeds. “I am a small part of it all,” proclaims the young naturalist, joyously exploring and connecting with the world around her. Readers will be duly inspired to get outdoors and join the fun.
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA
Written by Traci Sorell
Illustrated by Frané Lessac
(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
★STARRED REVIEWS – Kirkus, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness
Sorell’s delightful debut,WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA showcases ways that the universal value of gratitude can be expressed through a contemporary Cherokee lens. Using the phrase “Otsaliheliga” (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) meaning “We are grateful” as a refrain, the book unfolds throughout the seasons. Measured, lyrical text engages readers with opportunities for gratitude both small and large, drawing upon tradition, nature and family.
The book opens in fall (uligohvsdi), introducing readers to the Great New Moon Ceremony and the Cherokee New Year through cultural symbols and traditions. Special foods, song and crafts appear to mark seasons and occasions. The refrain “Otsaliheliga” centers the narrative with poetic pause as one explores and celebrates with family and community.
Each season is named in Cherokee, presented phonetically and in the Cherokee syllabary. Sorell’s tale builds bridges between old and new, past and present, honoring the legacy of ancestors while anticipating hope and joy for future generations.
Lessac’s vibrant illustrations are warm and contemporary, incorporating many rich details throughout double-spread community scenes and intimate family gatherings. Her bright gouache is cheerful, resonant with numerous opportunities to expand the gratitude-themed narrative. Text and illustrations blend seamlessly to uplift connections between history and tradition, past, present and future.
Sorell’s backmatter includes more information on various ceremonies and observances, a Cherokee syllabary and pronunciation guide. Her author’s note discusses keeping balance between observing the ancestral and ceremonial way of life with demands of the modern, non-Cherokee world. Readers should also note her extensive acknowledgements in the book’s dedication, a true reflection of Sorell’s rich, respectful and authentic work.
The final pages – “Every day, every season. Otsaliheliga” – are illustrated with a beautiful composite of fall, winter, spring and summer encircling one tree where people have gathered together in celebration and gratitude. Don’t miss this special book and the chance to embrace its message of thankfulness and appreciation.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION Written by Beth Anderson Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Anderson’s debut picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, will resonate with young readers who are in the thick of mastering the spelling oddities of American English. While some may doubt they have anything in common with Noah Webster or Ben Franklin, Anderson makes a convincing case why the two revolutionaries should be lauded for efforts to unite a young America through common spelling and language conventions.
Writer and printer Benjamin Franklin was frustrated by inconsistent spelling. He tried to simplify the alphabet by removing extraneous letters, but his work did not catch on. Post-Revolution, Noah Webster was also vexed by grammar and pronunciation differences. His solution was the creation of a written guide to American English, but that also did not win public favor.
When Franklin and Webster finally met in Philadelphia, their shared interests in reading, writing, language and education sparked a new synergy between them. They agreed that “Using twenty-six letters to write forty-four sounds caused nothing but trouble.” Together they decided to devise a new alphabet in which letters matched sounds and sounds matched letters.
Franklin, the elder partner, left young Webster to the task of winning the hearts and minds of Americans to these spelling reforms. It was a long, uphill battle, even for these two accomplished and educated thinkers, to reach their ambitious goal. Yet Webster’s ultimate solution – a dictionary – was successfully published in 1806 with 37,000 entries, laying the groundwork for the spelling and grammar resources we use today.
Anderson’s illuminating text incorporates playful examples of inconvenient homonyms and confusing phonetic spellings that readers will appreciate. Baddeley cleverly energizes the subtle wordplay with colorful block letters that envelop and accost the main characters. Whimsical wallpaper, silly signage and quirky colonial architecture offer bold and brilliant punny details. In addition, charming dog and cat characters, explained in the postscript, provide lighthearted counterpoint to the “two men wearing tights and ponytails” throughout.
Thoroughly researched and delightfully presented, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET is a unique look at a new kind of “revolution” and a lively choice for its approachable introduction to the history of American English.
(Tricycle Press/Random House BYR; $15.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3 and up)
For International Compost Awareness Week I wanted to check out Mary McKenna Siddals’ popular picture book, Compost Stew, because it’s always recommended for Earth Day as well as when a well-crafted “green-themed” book is needed to share its important content. It turns out that while I hadn’t read it before, it felt so familiar because my daughter, around age five or six, used to make her own variation of compost stew although quite unintentionally! Who knew then that it would have helped our garden grow or that we were accidental environmentalists?
Earth’s resources are not infinite so it’s important for children to learn early on to treat our planet with respect, and how. In Compost Stew readers will be treated to a recipe for outdoor fun from A to Z beginning with “apple cores” and “bananas, bruised” all the way through to “yellow pine shavings” and “Zinnia heads.” But the best part is reading about what other ingredients get added to the environmentally friend concoction. Adding to the appeal of this story are illustrator Ashley Wolff’s “collage illustrations using recycled and found materials.” Not only do they pair perfectly together with Siddals’ prose, but looking at the newspaper and other items Wolff has incorporated into the artwork may yield some surprises like the stew itself.
Siddals’ story, though eight years old, feels as fresh and appropriate today as it would have when first published. And caring for our planet never goes out of style! Having reviewed several of Siddals’ other picture books (Bringing the Outside Inand Shivery Shades of Halloween) I should have known there would be catchy, clever rhyme involved bringing a bonus to this already engaging and educational story.
A helpful “Chef’s Note” is included as back matter so that youngsters will know what truly constitutes compost and what does not.
Grass clippings Hair snippping and an Insect or two
Just add to the pot and let it all rot into Compost Stew.
For example, egg shells are okay but not meat or dairy. Siddals also smartly advises readers to check with authorities for local regulations. Keeping that in mind, it’s time to start looking around to see what might go into your very first compost stew. Happy cooking!
Khan’s spare, rhyming text introduces readers to various shapes, but it’s much more than a book about shapes. Every spread spotlights a different aspect of Islam. For example, we learn that a minaret (with a cone-shaped roof) is the tower in a mosque from which the call to prayer is broadcast; a daff is a large circular drum; and the Ka’aba (a word which means “cube” in Arabic) is a holy temple in the city of Mecca. A glossary at the end of the book provides definitions and an author’s note explains the important connection between Islam, shapes, and geometry.
I savored every page of Amini’s exquisite mixed media illustrations. Vibrant colors and detailed patterns, including some incredible tilework, draw the eye in and keep it lingering long after Khan’s lilting, rhythmic text has been read. As an added bonus, every spread depicts a different country (though there’s no mention of it in the main text). In an interview with Deborah Kalb, Khan indicated that Turkey, Tanzania, and Malaysia are represented. I imagine that trying to guess where each scene is set could lead to some terrific conversations.
Usually, shape books are aimed at a very young audience, but Khan and Amini have added so many additional layers to the “shape” concept, that readers of all ages will surely be drawn to this beautiful book. And given that hate crimes against and harassment of Muslims have spiked in the past several years, a book that sheds light on their traditions and family life is especially important. After all, as Khan told School Library Journal in 2013, “Educating kids about different cultures is key to building tolerance and acceptance.”
While readers who practice Islam will enjoy seeing themselves on the pages of this gorgeously illustrated book, as a non-Muslim, I relished the opportunity to learn about some of the traditions, art, architecture, and culture surrounding the world’s second largest religion.
Author Hena Khan is on tour with her new chapter book, Power Forward, the first in a series. Click here to see if she’s coming to your town!
POWER FORWARD: ZAYD SALEEM CHASING THE DREAM (BOOK ONE)
Written by Hena Khan
(Salaam Reads; $16.99, paperback $6.99, Ages 7-10)
I have to admit—I don’t read a lot of books about sports. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the first book in Hena Khan’s new chapter book series one bit. I bought a copy of Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream) for my nephew at one of Khan’s book signings (the first on her tour) then, as soon as I got home, read the entire thing in one sitting.
Fourth grader Zayd Saleem eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball. He’s on the D team (for now) but with practice he knows he can make the Gold team. Tryouts are two weeks away and he needs all the help he can get. That’s why he bails on his early morning violin practice and plays basketball instead—and he’s actually improving. But when Zayd’s mom discovers he’s been skipping violin and lying about it, the punishment is harsh: no basketball for two whole weeks. And that means no tryouts.
Zayd narrates his tale with a good dose of humor, but the humor never comes at the expense of emotions. We feel deeply for our narrator as he tries to make space for his own dreams while meeting his parent’s expectations. But something’s got to give—and Zayd will need to stand up for himself if he wants to keep those dreams alive.
Family plays a big role in this story and Khan does a terrific job of crafting real characters that we want to spend time with. Zayd’s got an annoying older sister, a fun-loving uncle, an adoring grandmother, an understanding grandfather, and parents who really want what’s best for their son—readers may find themselves wishing for an invitation to dinner.
Sports fans might open Power Forward for the basketball, but they’ll keep reading for the humor, honesty, and cozy warm feeling of being part of the Saleem family. And luckily, they won’t have to wait too long to join the fun again. The next two books in the series hit the shelves soon. Look for On Point (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream, Book 2) on May 29, 2018 and Bounce Back (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream, Book 3) on October 2, 2018. Let’s hope there are many more to come!
Guest Post By Joanna Liu, Debut Author of When I Wake Up
My favorite pastime? Bedtime reading with my children.
Snuggling up at the end of the day with Annabel (3), Atticus (1) and a gigantic stack of picture books makes me a very happy mommy. What can I say? I love the cuddles! Likewise, it makes for two contented and relaxed kids ready to settle down for the evening. It’s a win-win situation.
Really though, there’s no surprise here. It’s well-known that bedtime stories create important parent-child bonds and prepare children for sleep.
In terms of a bonding experience it can’t be beaten; 20 mins each day set aside for one-on-one time with your child. Both parent and child can escape from their daily pressures and de-stress, with a cozy environment and magical books used as stepping stones to further conversations. Even if it is evening number 30 of reading Goodnight Moon 10 times in a row, with a continuous search for that little mouse, it’s a great experience. (Anybody else have children who want the same book reading over and over for weeks at a time?).
And as for preparing your child for sleep, well, let’s face it, a toddlers’ resistance to going to bed is pretty much a universal parent struggle. So, it is music to my bedtime-reading ears that child development experts agree that creating consistency in the evening is a key part of getting children to sleep easily. By establishing a nightly routine, such as a bath followed by bedtime stories and cuddles, you are providing the child with the predictability needed to make them sleepy.
However, the benefit of story time doesn’t stop here… Hang on – what could be even better then cuddles and calm kids before bed?
Recent research has shown that a daily reading routine actually boosts your child’s brain development, improving logic skills, memory and speeding up the mastery of language.
When babies are read to, they begin to pick up on simple sounds. The more frequently a baby hears these simple sounds, the faster they can process them. As a toddler learning to speak, they have an advantage at successfully differentiating between words, such as cot, cat, car. Then, as a grade-schooler learning to read, they are far better equipped for sounding out unfamiliar words. In short, it’s a knock-on effect from having started the bedtime reading routine with fun, colorful picture books as an infant. Moreover, add to the mix rhyming and repetitive stories and you have an invaluable teaching tool.
Additionally, daily reading also improves their social and emotional development, and works on their fine motor skills as they learn to turn pages.
Yikes, that’s a lot of benefits!
With the aim of capitalizing on all of these benefits, my husband and I wrote our award-winning children’s bedtime book, When I Wake Up. The story delivers fun, positive encouragement for toddlers to get to sleep on time and does so in an educational way.
When I Wake Up tells the tale of a grumpy young girl who doesn’t want to go to sleep … until her imagination takes over and she starts to think about all the fun things she can do the next day when she wakes up. She could dance, or paint, or host a teddy tea party! There are so many exciting possibilities. Tomorrow is packed full of potential and tomorrow will be a wonderful day.
The very simple yet powerful message about getting to bed on time to enjoy the following day is happily received by toddlers without them even realising they are learning. It leaves the toddler with feelings of happiness, playfulness, curiosity … and wanting to go to bed. Two enthusiastic cuddles-and-calm-kids thumbs up to that!
Throw into the mix the quality rhyme scheme, beautiful illustrations and sturdy construction of the board book – all of which When I Wake Up has received high praise for – and it’s easy to see why it’s quickly becoming a must-have companion for nightly routines.
This evening, when you are snuggling up for bedtime reading with your toddler and a large collection of picture books, as you enter the enchanted world of story time, have a think about all of these fantastic benefits and give yourself a pat on the back – it’s not just an enjoyable routine for you and your child, it’s also a really, really important part of their development.
BOOK DETAILS: When I Wake Up
Written by Ming and Joanna Liu
Illustrated by Hattie Hyder
Joanna Liu is a British stay-at-home mom living in Washington DC with her American husband and their two children, Annabel and Atticus. She has a degree in Philosophy from the University of York, England and loves to encourage curiosity. She has lived all around the world, including London, Vancouver, Switzerland, Cairo and Frankfurt. This is Joanna’s debut children’s book.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not constitute an endorsement from GRWR. No compensation was received for this guest post.
Serious Fun: Board Books With a Lot of Love
A Best Board Books Roundup
Selected by Children’s Bookseller Hilary Taber
As a bookseller I think that board books may be one of the most overlooked categories of books. Yet these books are a child’s first exposure to books and to art. So, I want to take some time to give some love to some favorite board books already out for your little ones that I’m really excited about!
This combination board book and finger puppet is only one in a series of adorable animal stories. Short, sweet and sure to please a baby to two-year-old in your life. Follow Baby Tiger through a complete day from morning until night. Be sure to be on the look out for the Baby Reindeer version for a wonderfully sweet Christmas gift! Huang’s illustrations are winsome and welcoming with their gentle expression. These little books are a perfect addition to a little one’s first library.
Sleepyheads caught my eye the minute I saw it, and stole my heart. This is an immensely soothing just-before-bed book. One by one the reader sees all different kinds of animals tucked into their beds. Each animal is plump and peacefully asleep or almost there. Every page is gently illuminated making the night seem welcoming and almost warm. The text encourages children to name each animal and to look for the one sleepyhead at the end of the book that we are still haven’t found for, “But there’s one little sleepyhead who’s not in his bed. Where, oh where, could he be?” A satisfying ending when that particular little sleepy child is finally found! A great baby shower gift.
I showed this book to a friend who said, “What I like about it is that the firefighter’s moustache is like three stories tall.” Exactly! I love this firefighter and his enormous moustache. It’s a wonderful book for a little guy or gal who loves to see those firefighters hard at work. The book goes through the day in the life of a fireman and his co-workers (which include a female firefighter). They have an action packed day from the first ring of the alarm bell to the well deserved sleep at the end of a busy day. The team fights fires at a bakery and come home with baked goods! What’s not to love? The illustrations are full of action, but the text is simple enough that little children won’t loose attention. Full of excitement, yet cozy enough to read at any time of day this board book, though recommended for preschoolers, would actually make a great purchase for even a one to two-year-old.