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Children’s Picture Book Review – Saturday at the Food Pantry

 

SATURDAY AT THE FOOD PANTRY

Written by Diane O’Neill

Illustrated by Brizida Magro

(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Saturday at the Food Pantry cover

 

 

Part of Albert Whitman & Company’s Social and Emotional Learning collection, Saturday at the Food Pantry by author Diane O’Neill and illustrator Brizida Magro encourages discussions about food insecurity and highlights the truth that all of us need help sometimes.

As their food supply dwindles and Mom pours the last cup of milk to make her special “fancy milk” drink, Molly learns they’ll be visiting a food pantry the next day. “What’s a food pantry?” Molly asks. “It’s a place for people who need food,” Mom answers. “Everybody needs help sometimes.” 

 

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Interior art from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

In gentle ways, O’Neill and Magro illustrate the characters’ hesitance and anxieties while they wait in line for the pantry to open. Molly sees her classmate, Caitlin, standing in line with her grandmother. To Molly’s surprise, Caitlin expresses feelings of shame for being there. Walking back to her mom, Molly feels confused. Is “there something wrong with needing help?” Once inside, even Mom “look[s] like she want[s] to be invisible.” But Molly reminds her, “Everybody needs help sometimes.” Later, Molly points out to Caitlin ways they themselves helped “cheer up” the grown-ups in the pantry.  

 

 

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Interior art from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

Open, honest conversations between Caitlin’s grandmother and Mom about finding and keeping employment allow for a safe space to share. Muted illustrations using straight, geometric lines provide a sense of structure, order, and calm. With minimal background in the settings, Magro allows readers to focus on each individual character, driving home the point: everyone is important, everyone needs help, and most of all, we need each other. A note in the back matter for adults and caregivers about food insecurity by Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, provides additional details on child hunger and resources to help. 

 

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Interior spread from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

Whether in the classroom or family room, readers young and old can benefit from this positive, heartfelt message of hope.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – The Perfect Plan

 

THE PERFECT PLAN

Written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99; Ages 3-6)

 

 

The Perfect Plan cover

 

 

Starred Reviews – Foreward Reviews, Kirkus

 

In The Perfect Plan, author/illustrator Leah Gilbert takes the reader along on a magical journey with Maya, the main character who hopes to build a special place for dreaming and playing in the forest. Through perseverance and teamwork, she builds a fort grander than anything she could have imagined in Gilbert’s enchanting second picture book.

 

The Perfect Plan by Leah Gilbert Opening Spread
Interior spread from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

Transporting readers through spreads of tall brown trees and tiny yellow birds, Gilbert’s art encompasses all the beauty of an inviting forest. Tiny Maya gazes upward toward the sky envisioning a tree fort with a ladder to climb and windows to see out of. “’It will be the most INCREDIBLE and WONDERFUL tree fort in the world!’ she imagined.”

 Maya is a determined child, and quite the planner, and returns to her bedroom with her black cat by her side to research and design the perfect tree fort. “When she was sure she had thought of everything, she headed outside.”

With her perfect page turns, Gilbert returns the reader to the colorful green forest and the most perfect spot to build a fort. Gilbert depicts Maya pulling and pushing and thinking, but having trouble building a fort alone. Maya realizes that sometimes in life we need help and asking for help is okay. She begins by selling the idea of a fort to three little brown beavers. “I’m building the most OUTSTANDING and ORIGINAL tree fort in the world! Will you help me?” and of course they eagerly agree.

 

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Interior art from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

 

Gilbert’s beautifully expressed words convey that not everyone is good at every job. This is an awesome reminder for both parents and kids! We see that beavers are great at cutting and chopping branches, but not so good at dragging heavy items. Gilbert introduces the kind moose and tells him that she is building “the STRONGEST and STURDIEST tree fort in the world!” Two big brown bears happily agreed to build and stack the frame, and the yellow birds with their natural ability to fly high “twisted and twirled, weaved and wound. Now all the branches were secured.”

 When Maya and the animals scanned the finished fort, Maya began to think something was missing only to be interrupted by a big storm. Maya ran for cover looking back at the fort, while worried that it would be ruined. But upon returning to the spot “Maya couldn’t believe her eyes. ‘It’s Perfect.’” Gilbert paints delightful purple flowers that have bloomed from the rain and the fort is now “far more than she had even imagined it would be.”

 

 

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Interior spread from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

Gilbert celebrates creativity and shows children the importance of perseverance and teamwork. Kids see that magical things can happen when putting their heart and soul into something. The words can be re-read with new meanings found in the message each time, while the soft colorful art inspires kids to get out a paintbrush and create their own hideaway.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

 

 

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Social Emotional Learning – Board Book Roundup

SEL-THEMED BOARD BOOKS

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

Emotions

 

 

The Kids on the Bus coverTHE KIDS ON THE BUS: A Spin-the-Wheel Book of Emotions
Written by Kirsten Hall

Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Chronicle; $9.99,  Ages 2-4)

In Kirsten Hall’s fun 16-page interactive board book, The Kids on the Bus: A Spin-the-Wheel Book of Emotions, we meet a variety of animals with different emotions. Set to the tune of the familiar song, lines include, “The bear on the bus laughs, ‘Hee, hee, hee, . . . all ’round the town.’” This novelty book is shaped like a school bus.

Melissa Crowton’s lively and inclusive illustrations are set within a soothing sky-blue background. My favorite character is the backpack-wearing, skateboard-riding blackbird. The expressive animals have fun causing a ruckus until the driver has to shush them.

While you can read the book or sing along, be sure to utilize the important social-emotional learning (SEL) elements. The sturdy spinning wheel allows kids to identify their feelings by choosing moods such as silly, angry, or shy.

 

 

Mad Mad MAD coverMad, Mad, MAD
Written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli

(Candlewick Press; $7.99, Ages  0-3)

Part of a 23-book series featuring the same cute baby, Leslie Patricelli’s latest board book, Mad, Mad, MAD, lets off a little steam. As is true in life, sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re sad, and sometimes we’re screaming, roaring mad. The contradictory feelings are shown through the art with clearly communicated expressions, and short, rhyming text: “No, I won’t go! / I don’t want to stay.” Dad’s face on this page perfectly captures his confusion—relatable to most parents as they try to understand what their young children need.

When Baby realizes they want to stop feeling this way, trying things such as taking a walk or doing deep breaths eventually helps. The back matter lists additional ideas that may alleviate angry feelings such listening to music, reading, or taking a bubble bath. This book’s social-emotional learning (SEL) guidance can gently help our children more effectively manage their emotions.

Bilingual Firsts Feelings coverFEELINGS: Bilingual Firsts
Written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo
(Canticos; $12.99, Ages 0-6)

Susie Jaramillo’s recent board book in the Canticos series, Feelings: Bilingual Firsts, tackles emotions by showing the word for a mood in English with its Spanish translation on the left-hand side: brave / valiente. Lift the flap on the right-hand side to see vibrant art depicting that mood along with questions such as “Can you show me a surprised face?’ or “How does feeling shy look?” These questions are also provided in Spanish.

The colorful art includes a child, an array of animals, several chicks, and a star. I really liked the angry elephant calf. Cute illustrations coupled with simple text make this an easy way to introduce another language at home. Not only will this book help kids identify their own moods, but another important aspect of social-emotional learning (SEL) is the ability to recognize other people’s needs and feelings.

 

Peek A Mood coverPEEK-A-MOOD
Written and illustrated by Giuliano Ferri
(mineditionUS, $11.99, Ages 1-3)

This lift-the-flap board book, Peek-a-Mood, by Giuliano Ferri presents animals whose faces are hidden behind their hands. Questions such as, “How do you think I feel?” and “Why am I hiding?” pique a child’s curiosity. Behind the hands, you’ll find that the first monkey’s frown provides a clue that it is upset, while the second monkey’s downturned open mouth goes on to reveal it is scared.

An array of artfully depicted mammals draws the reader in. The darling monkey that asks if you can make a silly face too, is adorable! This interactive book concludes with “Show me how you feel!’ Behind the human’s hands is an unbreakable mirror—how fun is that?!

Exploring and identifying emotions is a key part of child development and social-emotional learning (SEL). Peek-a-Mood makes it fun to try figuring out nonverbal emotional cues.

 

 

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Early Graphic Novel – Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite!

BURT THE BEETLE DOESN’T BITE!

Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires

(Kids Can Press; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

burt the beetle doesnt bite cover

 

 

Sticky Burt is a bug who hugs!

 

Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! is the first in a new series by Ashley Spires, the author and illustrator of The Most Magnificent Thing and the Binky adventure series.

Meet Burt, he’s a ten-lined June (or watermelon) beetle. Burt has feathered antennae, a large body, a sticky abdomen, and can flail his legs when he falls on his back (but needs assistance flipping over). He notices that other insects have special or “super” abilities. A bumblebee is a “super hard worker” and ants can carry heavy loads. So what makes Burt special? Well, he’s trying to figure this out. As Burt meets more insects and learns about their amazing features, he wonders what his “super” ability is. Would winking count? How about hanging out around porch lights? Trying to imitate other insects’ super abilities doesn’t work either and Burt continually ends up on his back.

 

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

When Burt discovers a spider web with insects trapped in it, he’s amazed to find that their super abilities cannot free them from the web. As the venomous spider taunts Burt, he realizes he does have some super abilities. Burt’s a hugger and he happens to be sticky, too. Furthermore, he’s big and heavy enough to tear up the spider’s web when he falls on it, saving the other insects–and landing on his back once again. This time he has very grateful friends to help him flip over!

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

Cheerful and upbeat humor shines in this book. Commenting on his feathery antennae, Burt notes “it’s a style choice.” Gentle quips are exchanged between characters. When the spider, firmly stuck to Burt’s abdomen, asks “is this ever going to end?” Burt replies “I guess you’re stuck with me. Get it?” Exaggerated bodies and expressive faces, especially “bug” eyes, add to the enjoyment. 

 

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

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Spires has created a graphic novel designed for younger readers, especially those new to the graphic novel format. The panels are clean and well organized, without a lot of distractions. The number of characters and speech bubbles in a panel are kept to a minimum and the print is bold and slightly larger than usual.  This book is appropriate for independent readers or as a read-aloud for emerging readers.  

The book includes some themes which could be used to invite children to discuss character and friendship. Burt’s search for what makes him unique is something children also explore for themselves. Perseverance is a challenge for children, but Burt’s positive “can do” type of behavior in the face of repeated failures may encourage them to keep trying. He takes care of his friends and “doesn’t bite because that’s not how you make friends.”

Lastly, this graphic novel engages children in the natural world around them, weaving in factual information about insects and including “awesome insect super facts” in the back matter. Hopefully, it will inspire children to continue exploring the world of insects and their “super” abilities. 

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Picture Book Review – The Boy and the Sea

THE BOY AND THE SEA

Written by Camille Andros

Illustrated by Amy Bates

(Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 6-8)

 

 

 

 

Written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Amy Bates, The Boy and the Sea is a contemplative, thought-provoking story that depicts growing up as the ebb and flow of questions not easily answerable. 

The story begins with the main character, a little boy, who lives by the sea. Like the sea, the boy is sometimes “dark and dangerous” and at other times “tranquil and tender.” These descriptors become refrains as we watch the boy grow from his elementary and adolescent years into adulthood, wondering and wrestling all the while with the thoughts that surface with each life stage

 

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Interior spread from The Boy and the Sea written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Amy Bates, Abrams BYR ©2021.

 

Lifelong friends who know each other intimately, the boy and the sea feel “the pull of something more,” something bigger. This deep dive into life’s purpose and meaning leads to many questions. “Some … [have answers] … but many [do] not.” The boy is drawn back to the sea for answers that, in turn, pull him deeper still into life’s mystery. Andros’ sparse and lyrical text combined with Bates’ sometimes calming, other times distressing blue palette encourage us readers to pause and hone our skills in listening, examining, and learning. 

 

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Interior spread from The Boy and the Sea written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Amy Bates, Abrams BYR ©2021.

 

While children in the older picture book age range will pick up on the book’s self-reflective nuances, younger readers will find intrigue in its quiet, meditative pull. The Boy and the Sea is a great bedtime read to let go of a racing mind and wind down from a busy day. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – The Cot in the Living Room

 

THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM

Written by Hilda Eunice Burgos

Illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro 

(Kokila; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The Cot in the Living Room cover

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection 
Starred Review – BookPage 

What’s it like to walk in someone else’s shoes? Author Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrator Gaby D’Alessandro show us how in The Cot in the Living Room

A young girl longs to spend the night on the cot in her living room. “Mami says it’s for guests” only, but to the girl the cot symbolizes freedom and possibilities: having the whole living room to herself, enjoying the lights from the George Washington bridge coming in through the big window, watching television, and even sneaking in a midnight snack.

 

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Interior spread from The Cot in the Living Room written by Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro, Kokila ©2021.

 

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When throughout the week neighborhood children take turns spending the night on the cot, the young girl feels it’s absolutely “not fair” that she doesn’t get to enjoy this privilege. But what she doesn’t realize is the fear and discomfort each guest struggles through as they are separated from their parents who are working the night shift. 

I love the way the illustrations highlight the girl’s jealousy by magnifying the supposed delight each guest will have spending the night on the cot. An endless supply of candy-colored food, fun, and games in exaggerated sizes emphasize the disconnect between the young girl’s idealization of the cot and the reality of her guests’ feelings about it. For them, the cot is a poor substitute for home. 

 

 

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Interior spread from The Cot in the Living Room written by Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro, Kokila ©2021.

 

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When the young girl finally does get the opportunity to spend the night on the cot, strange and scary noises give her insight into their loneliness. Modeling her parents’ kindness and caregiving, the girl finds a creative way to make her guests feel like a part of the family.

Parents and educators searching for themes of compassion, empathy, and sacrifice will find them in this touching picture book.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Children’s Early Graphic Novel – Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell

 

SCAREDY SQUIRREL IN A NUTSHELL
(Book #1 in Scaredy’s Nutty Adventures)

By Melanie Watt

(Penguin Random BYR; $12.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

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WARNING! This book is absolutely … NUTS!

Award-winning author and illustrator Melanie Watt, well known for her Scaredy Squirrel picture book series, has created her first graphic novel, Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, featuring a squirrel beset by many (and often improbable) fears about life outside his beloved nut tree. To his credit, Scaredy Squirrel confronts each challenge with an elaborate and hilarious action plan that’s often doomed to failure. From the potential alien landing to deadly dust bunnies, Scaredy Squirrel not only has a plan but a backup as well (play dead). 

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Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Since childhood, Scaredy Squirrel has kept himself and his nut tree safe from dreaded “trespassers” who could damage his tree. Who knows when a mammoth may want to uproot it? Or a cat might scratch it. So Scaredy Squirrel has developed a strategy to protect the tree. He places objects around his tree to distract the trespassers, such as a fake tree for the mammoth to uproot or a scratching post for the cat.

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Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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However, there’s a downside to this ambitious plan: these objects get dusty and from the dust springs notorious dust bunnies! So this quick-thinking squirrel comes up with a detailed plan to prevent dust bunnies … vacuum all the decoy objects! All well and good until the vacuum gets clogged and now Scaredy Squirrel must develop a plan to unclog the vacuum cleaner. As you can imagine, more problems emerge which entail more plans and greater chaos. Inevitably (despite playing dead) he finds himself face to face with a real bunny who would like to be his friend. Which of course necessitates a new plan …

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Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell pompom Page 7
Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Watt’s familiar cartoon-like illustrations go nicely with the graphic novel format. Simple geometric shapes are used to create the characters and setting. Faces are wonderfully expressive. Panels are well organized on the pages with a clean and uncluttered look, making this book perfect for newly independent readers. Witty word plays and expressions such as “going out on a limb” and “dust bunnies,” keep the narrative lively and make this a good read-aloud as well. Delightfully quirky features include a “Nutty (Table of) Contents,” and some silly and interactive features to be taken before it is “safe” to begin the story. 

Parents, caregivers, and teachers are sure to appreciate that, despite the zany humor of the book, Scaredy Squirrel manages to demonstrate, in a light-hearted way, how children can face their fears and develop problem-solving skills such as writing down action plans, to face real-life challenges. While the age is listed as 6-9, younger children would certainly enjoy having the story read to them.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Click here and here to read more squirrel stories.

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Guest Post by Stephanie Wildman, Author of Brave in the Water

BRAVE IN THE WATER

Written by Stephanie Wildman

Illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar

(Lawley Publishing; $16.99, Ages 2-8)

 

 

Brave2021Cover of boy in swimming pool

 

 

Swimming season is upon us so I’ve invited author Stephanie Wildman to talk about her new picture book, Brave in the Water, for parents and caregivers of reluctant swimmers to share with children.

 

Intro:

Thank you so much, Ronna, for having me on your blog. I’m excited to tell your readers about my debut picture group Brave in the Water and to encourage them to get in the water!

Learning to swim can be daunting. I should know – I didn’t learn until I was twenty-six years old! I didn’t want my own children to grow up afraid, so I took them for swim lessons at an early age. They both became competitive swimmers. One founded and coached an award-winning swim program for vulnerable youth. One swam for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics, winning a gold medal. So getting them in the water was one thing I did right as a parent, not passing on my own fear. I hope this book reaches children who might be afraid like I was and shows them that they can have fun in the water.

 

More about the book:

Diante is afraid to put his face in the water, but he is torn because he would like to play in the pool with other children. He’s not afraid to hang upside down on the monkey bars, though, and he’s surprised to learn his grandma is afraid to be upside down in an inverted yoga pose. Can Diante help Grandma and become brave in the water?

Spoiler alert: He can and he does. Grandma tells Diante about the feathered peacock yoga pose that she aspires to do. Diante wants to try it. Grandma explains that “Breathing is important for trying something new.” They practice slow, deep inhalations and exhalations together.

 

BravePracticePranayama image of the pair practicing pranayama pose
Interior spread from Brave in the Water written by Stephanie Wildman and illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar, Lawley Publishing ©2021.

 

Before trying the pose Diante learns to control his breathing (pranayama).

He wonders if pranayama can help him put his face in the water. He goes back to the pool to try and thinks for a long time, finally remembering pranayama. Finally, step by step, slowly breathing Diante enters the water and puts his face in. He is on his way to learning how to swim.

 

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Interior spread from Brave in the Water written by Stephanie Wildman and illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar, Lawley Publishing ©2021.

 

 

Here is what Bonnie Tsui, New York Times best-selling author of Why We Swim and Sarah and the Big Wave, said about Brave in the Water in her back cover blurb:

“Being brave is something we work on all our lives. Stephanie Wildman shows us how to help each other through — one breath at a time — to reach the essential joy of the water.”

By the way, I would love you to check out my debut group NewBooksforKids.com. I have been lucky to meet this group of kidlit debut authors, all with books I want to buy and read. Remember you can always support children’s books by requesting your local library to order them or by buying one for a Little Free Library. This group will give you some great ideas.

            Thanks again Ronna. See you in the water!

 

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Author photo ©Nancy Martin

About the Author: 

Stephanie M. Wildman served as John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Chair at Santa Clara Law and directed the school’s Center for Social Justice and Public Service before becoming Professor Emerita. Her books include: Brave in the Water (2021); Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America 2d (2021) (with contributions by Armstrong, Davis, & Grillo); Race and Races: Cases and Resources for a Diverse America 3d (with Delgado, Harris, Perea, & Stefancic) (2015); Social Justice: Professionals Communities and Law (with Mahoney & Calmore) (2013); Women and the Law Stories (with Schneider) (2011). She is a member of the Writers Grotto. She is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she is able to sit “criss-cross apple sauce” thanks to her yoga practice.

 

Where to buy the book:

The book is available for order anywhere books are sold. Here are some links for purchasing online:
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Click here to order from the publisher
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Click here to order from Bookshop.org
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We’d love you to support your local independent bookseller by placing your order there.
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ValienteenelAqua cover art for Spanish version
Green Apple Books may still have signed copies. And a Spanish language version – Valiente en el Agua (translated by Cecilia Populus-Eudave) is also available from booksellers.

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Social Media:

Website: Stephanie Wildman.com
Twitter: @SWildmanSF 
Instagram: @stephanie_wildmansf

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Instagram: @newbooksforkids
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Picture Book Review – Brave as a Mouse

BRAVE AS A MOUSE

Written and Illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi 

(Random House Studio; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

BraveasaMouse cover

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

A brave hero doesn’t always mean a big hero in Nicolò Carozzi’s beautifully worded and illustrated picture book Brave as a Mouse, his debut picture book in the US. 

Through simple text and stunning art, Carozzi draws our attention to Mouse’s new friendship with the homeowner’s fish. Mouse asks the fish, “Would you like to play?” and with a simple “YES!” both creatures enjoy each other’s company, swimming together. Mouse blows through a straw, and the fish enjoys jacuzzi-style bubbles. 

 

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Interior spread from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

However, the fun stops when other housepets want to “play.” Three ominous shadows cast on the wall next to the fish’s bowl are plain but powerful images foretelling of the dangers ahead. 

As the homeowner’s beloved fat cats encircle the fishbowl, Mouse has a “wild … bold … [and] brave idea” to entice the three to follow him, all the way to the pantry where they gorge themselves on cat food.

 

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Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

While the felines sleep off their big meal, Mouse uses the time to fulfill an even wilder, bolder, and braver idea that includes the help of other mice living in the house. Straight lines, calm, muted colors, and minimalist illustrations keep us focused on the rescue plan. Children and adult readers will enjoy the action-packed adventure as Mouse risks his own safety to protect his new friend. A more subtle, though important theme is the infectious nature of Mouse’s bravery and kindness.

 

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Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

For those interested in quieter books on themes of friendship and compassion as well as those who like a good old fashion story when the good guys win, this picture book will delight again and again. 

 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian 
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Picture Book Review – Watercress

 

WATERCRESS

Written by Andrea Wang

Illustrated by Jason Chin

(Neal Porter Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)   

 

Watercress cover

 

 

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Starred Reviews – BookPage, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

Andrea Wang and Jason Chin’s new picture book, Watercress, tells a story with that one word alone. This vegetable embodies a family’s experiences from the great famine years until today in the US. Wang’s spare, lyrical text shows us the range of emotions felt by the girl whose parents excitedly stop to pick watercress from the side of the road, much to the girl’s chagrin. Her feelings brew throughout the story until painful memories shared bring about an understanding.

 

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Interior spread from Watercress written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin, Neal Porter Books ©2021.

 

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Interior spread from Watercress written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin, Neal Porter Books ©2021.

 

Fans of Jason Chin’s gorgeous watercolor images will not be disappointed. The family’s many dimensions come alive on the page, reflecting today’s struggles and those long ago.

 

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Interior spread from Watercress written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin, Neal Porter Books ©2021.

 

This book is relatable to people from immigrant families as myself, or any kid who’s been embarrassed by some things their family does—and who hasn’t?! Watercress is top-notch for its ability to convey a world of information and a wide range of moods.

 

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Interior spread from Watercress written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin, Neal Porter Books ©2021.

 

The text and illustrations are flawless. There’s even a secret book cover image once the paper cover is removed. The accolades for Watercress are merited. It is definitely one of my top 2021 picks.

 

Click here for an educator’s guide.

 

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2021 (asianpacificheritage.gov)

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn

 

Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Corn

Written by Shannon Hale

Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

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

 

 

itty-bitty-kitty-corn cover

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

 

Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Corn, written by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, begins on the front endpapers with Kitty who is gazing admiringly at a picture of a unicorn. But how, she wonders, can she make herself into one?

She gets an idea and takes out her crafts box, removing paper, paint, and glue. She makes herself a colorful horn out of paper and ties it to her head with a piece from her purple ball of string. Now, the text takes off with Kitty looking in the mirror and seeing a unicorn in the reflection. “She feels so perfectly unicorn-y.” But much to her dismay, Parakeet and Gecko tell her she’s not a unicorn, just a cat, bursting Kitty’s bubble of happiness as a unicorn. This scenario repeats itself with Kitty becoming more and more dejected. It is not until she meets Unicorn who shows Kitty that she herself is actually a Kitty-Corn just like her, that Kitty is able to be who she really is and sees Unicorn for who she is too.

 

Itty Bitty Kitty Corn int1
Interior art from Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn written by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Abrams BYR, ©2021.

 

At forty-eight pages, this length exceeds today’s standard for a fiction picture book title and allows for a more relaxed reading experience with the young listener. Each page has very few words and lots of white space which allows the expressive illustrations to shine through. The most ardent of non-cat lovers will melt at the sight of Kitty.

 

Itty Bitty Kitty Corn int2
Interior art from Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn written by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Abrams BYR, ©2021.

 

Everyone, both children and adults alike, has an idea of how we perceive ourselves and how we want to be perceived by others. This is our reality when we look in the mirror each day and when we venture out into the world. Itty-Bity-Kitty-Corn’s positive message of instilling in children the notion that they can be anything they want to be, no matter the naysayers they may come across is very self-affirming. We should all have the confidence that Kitty finds in her friendship with Unicorn to be our true selves and see others in their true light as well.

  • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

KittyCorn_Downloadable_ActSheets.pdf (abramsbooks.com)

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Debut Picture Book Review – Whole Whale

 

WHOLE WHALE

Written by Karen Yin

Illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff

(Barefoot Books; $19.99, Ages 3-6)

 

whole whale cover

 

 

Karen Yin’s debut picture book is truly original, packed with rollicking rhyme, and an important story presented in bold vibrant art from Nelleke Verhoeff. In other words, it’s got all the things a young reader would want in a read-aloud! And then some (100 some to be exact!)

From my first glimpse of the cover, with its beautiful, shiny raised letters along with lots of yellowwhich always pulls me inI was hooked by the look of Whole Whale. Then I dove in and was not disappointed. In fact, I was overjoyed that Yin chose to write this story about tolerance, inclusion, and making room at the table for everyone. We can never have too many picture books out there modeling for kids the benefits of working together to make those who may feel left out, how to be welcomed in. The best part is there is nothing didactic about the presentation. The humor and art provide the way into the story and the suspense keeps young readers engaged and turning the pages.

The premise is a surprisingly simple one starting with the title page depicting a hint of water rising from an as yet unseen whale’s spout. Then comes an almost completely white opening spread with only a sheep, a cat and a spider telling readers what to expect. “An empty page? It’s time to play!/The animals are on their way.” This is followed in the next spread with “One hundred might fit in this tale,” then the especially catchy refrain, “But can we fit a whole blue whale?” Here young readers will spy a different tail (or fluke).

 

Whole Whale int0
Interior spread from Whole Whale written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff, Barefoot Books ©2021.

 

Little by little a bevy of brightly colored beasts fill up the pages of this larger12×12formatted book. Kids can spot some animals showing concern on their faces, others enjoying the company. The group, whimsically illustrated by Verhoeff, continues to grow and grow with the refrain repeated for kids to shout out loud. But with so many crowding in to make room for the whale, will chaos or bullying ensue? “So, if they all can get along/One hundred might fit in this throng.”

Kids’ll adore the interaction Verhoeff has depicted amongst the animals as they attempt to make space for Whale. Yin has played with language wonderfully throughout and introduces fun words like throng and unveil as well as a few collective nouns for animals. A big reward is in store for staying the course, a double gatefold four feet long at the end.

 

Whole Whale int2
Interior spread from Whole Whale written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff, Barefoot Books ©2021.

 

While I don’t recommend this book for bedtime, I absolutely recommend it for ALL other times of the day! In fact, I encourage any adult reading it with a child to suggest they bellow out the refrain as they wait in giddy anticipation. Back matter lists the 100 animals in the book, a search-and-count challenge children are certain to accept. I hope you enjoy the WHOLE book as much as I did!

 

Order your copy here and support indie bookshops nationwide. Bookshop.org:  https://bookshop.org/a/16083/9781646861637

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Kids Picture Book Review – Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle

SLOTH & SQUIRREL IN A PICKLE

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrated by Kelly Collier

(Kids Can Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

The dill-ightful title of this new picture book, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey with adorable art by Kelly Collier, will immediately grab you even if it doesn’t immediately grab sloth whose slow motion throughout the story is one of the recurring elements that make it hysterical to read-aloud. I’m talking Lucy and Ethel hysterical. You may not see my smile as I’m writing this, but trust me it’s here now and was for every page as I was eager to see how things played out for the pair of pickle-packing pals. 

This humorous friendship tale begins with Squirrel deciding he’d like to get a bike to go FAST!, but after seeing the price tag at the bike shop, realizes it’s too costly. Sloth points out that the pickle company next door is seeking pickle packers. If they work hard, together the two should be able to earn enough to afford the bike.

In their interview, the friends meet Mr. Peacock who Collier has imagined with bushy eyebrows, a stern face, and office accessories all in a pickle green palette. Perfect! This character cracked me up. I could even hear his voice as he preps his new employees to start working. It doesn’t take long for Squirrel and Pickle to discover that the packing process is slippery hence much breakage. By noon they haven’t packed more than six jars. More comical chaos ensues when, given a second chance, Sloth unknowingly makes a major LOL mess of labeling and the new hires are fired.

 

Sloth and Squirrel int1
Interior art from Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle written by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kelly Collier, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

With the money earned from the six successfully packed pickle jars, and lots of free, unsellable jars of pickles now in their possession, the friends are nowhere closer to buying the bike. That is until a melting ice pop incidentit simply cannot be eaten fast enough by a slothleads to the invention of a cool new, no-brain-freeze alternative to ice pops. Suddenly the money comes pouring in and the pals purchase the bike. Sadly, Sloth’s lethargy makes going fast on the bike as Squirrel had previously envisioned a non-starter. Sloth, however, has a better idea that even at his pace will bring them up to speed.

 

Sloth and Pickle int2
Interior art from Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle written by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kelly Collier, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

Between Cathy’s witty plot, prose, and characters and Collier’s creative illustrations that must be carefully studied for all the added touches readers might not see at first, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle beautifully addresses the “What if” question many authors ask themselves when developing a story: What if a slow animal and a fast animal became friends? In this case, the friendship endures despite the differences and it flourishes as the pals persevere in their pursuit of a bike. This well-crafted and extremely funny picture book is a great way to discuss cause and effect and determination. It also shows kids that money doesn’t grow on trees even if Sloth hangs out in one. Money has to be earned and then the joy of having bought something with the fruit (or pickle) of one’s labor tastes especially sweet or in this funny case maybe salty too!

 

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Mother’s Day Books for Children 2021

 

NEW MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

Mother's Day Free Clip Art

 

Let’s give a round of applause to moms everywhere on Mother’s Day with this great selection of Mother’s Day books that perhaps express what children cannot. The pandemic has been a challenge and moms, you stepped up to the plate, or should I say multiple plates, and made things work. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. You wondered if your hard work was appreciated or how long you’d be able to keep the smile on your face. Sometimes you didn’t smile and that’s okay. There were a lot of gray days but you never forgot what it means to be a mother, a grandmother, or caregiver. And those you love are taking this day to remember you and let you know how much they care. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Leo Loves Mommy coverLEO LOVES MOMMY
Written by Anna McQuinn
Illustrated by Ruth Hearson
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $7.99; Ages 0-3)

The precious board book, a love letter to mommies, is a companion to Leo Loves Daddy, and a wonderful way to share the joy of reading together with mother and child. With diverse characters and warm tones in 18 delightful pages, Ruth Hearson illustrates the tender relationship Leo and Mommy share. Anna McQuinn’s gentle rhymes take the reader through the daily activities, “At yoga class, Mommy lifts Leo with ease. Riding home through the park, Mommy speeds like the breeze.” McQuinn’s Lola Reads series includes Lola Reads to Leo, Lola Gets a Cat, and Lola Loves Stories, all illustrated by Hearson. This is a great Mother’s Day read highlighting the special bond kids share with their moms.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

ILoveMommyEveryDay coverI LOVE MOMMY EVERY DAY 
Written by Isabel Otter
Illustrated by Alicia Mas
(Random House BYR; $10.99; Ages 3-7)

Part of the An Every Day Together Book collection, I Love Mommy Every Day is a sweet book celebrating moms. “Mommy feels like home, a comforting presence wherever I am,” says a blonde-haired child with large purple glasses as she snuggles in bed, while Mommy is reading by her side. Alicia Mas brings the reader in with her eye-pleasing art of various mommies with their children. Her blues, oranges, pinks, and reds surround Otter’s descriptions of all the different kinds of mommies. Turning to the last page, the reader comes across a list that reads, “What do you love best about your mommy?” Numbered from one to three, these questions offer the opportunity for parents to talk to their kids, or have them write (or dictate) on a separate paper, about what makes their mommy so special and lovable. They provide a fun activity for teachers to give students to create an unexpected yet personalized Mother’s Day gift.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

HowtoSpotaMom coverHOW TO SPOT A MOM
Written by Donna Amey Bhatt
Illustrated by Aura Lewis
(Wide Eyed Editions; $14.99; Ages 5-8)

This picture book put a smile on my face as I read through each page trying to decide if I was Zen Mom or Organized Mom, while also wondering which one my adult children would choose. Aura Lewis’ colorful illustrations of trendy moms, outdoorsy moms, and working moms depict, page-by-page, all kinds of moms. Which one are you? The book opens with “What is a Mom?” then explains that moms are not just biological, they are stepmoms, adoptive, foster moms, and even moms-to-be. My favorite pages were under the heading Moms around the World, showing the reader that in Finland, Aiti, gives birth and then is given a box of essentials from the government, and babies can even sleep inside the box; and in India the new mom, Maan, often goes back to her own mom to help her adapt to parenthood. This playful book also conveys genuine gratitude, concluding with, “Thank you to your mom, their mom, and all the moms yet to come.” This is a great read throughout the year. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Dear Grandma coverDEAR GRANDMA
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by John Joseph
(Sourcebooks; $12.99, Ages 4-8)

New York Times’ best-selling author Susanna Leonard Hill’s new picture book, Dear Grandma, recognizes all the ways grandmothers are awesome. Written as a letter that begins, “Dear Grandma, Do you know you’re the best?” Each scene shows funny and loving ways: “You’re a jungle gym climber, jump rope rhymer, / storyteller, secret hideout dweller . . .” Grandmas soothe the bad days and nightmares away. They’re also with you through the seasons, whether living close by or staying in contact across the miles.

John Joseph echoes the text’s positive vibes in his colorful illustrations capturing children of the world interacting with their grams. The two-page wordless spread where a toy dragon comes to life is my favorite piece of art; it’s quite funny.

A perfect gift book to show grandma how much you appreciate everything she does.
• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Dessert Person coverDESSERT PERSON:
Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence
by Claire Saffitz

(Clarkson Potter; $35.00) 

Most of the time my family eats simply, but, sometimes, I want to make something special. Two yeast recipes I need to fine-tune are English muffins and focaccia so I was happy (and surprised) to find Claire Saffitz’s versions in her Dessert Person cookbook. Don’t fear, there are loads of delicious desserts including cakes, pies, tarts, bars, and cookies along with a category called Fancy Desserts featuring croquembouche and so forth. Check the Recipe Matrix, which plots out recipes on a grid by difficulty level and total time—an at-a-glance time-saver. Read the thorough instructions before beginning to ensure you have the ingredients, time, and equipment.

Because kumquats were in season, I made Ricotta Cake with Kumquat Marmalade. The cake was a hit with a flavor reminiscent of German cheesecake. Its kumquat marmalade topping elevated this dish from comfort food to showstopper. I’ll make the cake again, swapping in a different seasonal topping.

Another recipe my family really enjoyed was Clam and Fennel Pizza with Gremolata, which begins with the Soft and Pillowy Flatbread recipe. (Store-bought pizza dough can be swapped out, but freshly made flatbread is a treat.) After the flatbreads are parbaked, top with the previously cooked clam, garlic, fennel, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes mixture. Bake again, then finish off with a gremolata of flat-leaf parsley, fennel fronds, garlic, lemon zest, and kosher salt. There won’t be leftovers, guaranteed!

Beyond making these amazing creations, the photos are eye candy for us cookbook geeks. The gorgeous Black Sesame Paris-Brest is an image I’m drawn to. This bicycle wheel-shaped French pastry recipe replaces the traditional pastry cream for one made with black tahini. Other pastry cream options include chocolate or coconut variations.

I’ll keep looking at the beautiful pictures as I work my way through the recipes. From relatively simple Miso Buttermilk Biscuits to the two-months-to-make Fruitcake, there are dozens of delectable choices. This is a cookbook I will seek out—as the subtitle promises—to receive “guidance for baking with confidence.” What a wonderful treat for Mother’s Day. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

(www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

💗 And last but certainly not least, check out this wonderful interview with YOUR MAMA author NoNieqa Ramos, another must-read for Mother’s Day. The picture book was illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

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Debut Picture Book Review – Jet the Cat (is Not a Cat)

 

JET THE CAT (IS NOT A CAT)

Written by Phaea Crede 

Illustrated by Terry Runyan

(Barefoot Books; $16.99 HC/$8.99 PB, Ages 3-7)

 

 

 

REVIEW

Jet the Cat, the picture book debut from Phaea Crede with another debut for illustrations by Terry Runyan, is a story all the kids and adults will have fun reading. I can almost hear their giggles. It all started when Phaea got inspired by her mom’s cat Eddie. Eddie, unlike other cats, loved to take baths.

“I tried to imagine what other cats might think if they caught Eddie happily splashing around. I figured another cat (named Tom in the story) would look down on Jet, maybe even tell her she wasn’t a real cat if she liked water.”

Tom represents people who think they should tell people what they can or can’t do. Phaea dealt with many Toms in her life. Imagine that one girl even told her that her “name couldn’t really start with a P if it sounded like an F!”

 

Jet the Cat int1
Interior spread from Jet the Cat (is Not a Cat) written by Phaea Crede and illustrated by Terry Runyan, Barefoot Books ©2021.

 

But even though her inspiration was Eddie, when she started drafting Jet’s manuscript, she realized this story was also about something else: her dyslexia. Phaea loved writing stories, but her disability made her give up writing creatively.

“ I decided at age eight that real writers didn’t have dyslexia. Thirty-one years later, I have officially proven myself wrong!”

After revising Jet the Cat (Is Not a Cat) a solid fourteen times (shout out to her critique group Friends with Words), she submitted her story to Lisa Rosinski, senior editor of Barefoot Books. And Barefoot Books and Lisa Rosinski were perfect matches to such a conscious and fun book.

 

 

Jet the Cat int2
Interior spread from Jet the Cat (is Not a Cat) written by Phaea Crede and illustrated by Terry Runyan, Barefoot Books ©2021.

 

Jet the Cat is a book filled with colorful spreads and repetition. After cat Tom tells Jet she is not a real cat because she loves water, Jet goes on a journey to figure out which animal she can be. But of course, Jet can’t be any of these animals. She can’t be a frog because she sings too loud. She can’t be a bird because she can’t fly. And poor Jet can’t figure out who she is until …

I do not want to spoil the end, so make sure to get a copy of Jet the Cat (Is Not a Cat) to discover the fantastic ending and to read it to your children to make them laugh and think:  Are we all the same or does each one of us have a little bit of Jet, the Cat? I LOVE IT!!!

  •  Review by Ana Siqueira

PHAEA’S SOCIAL MEDIA 

Twitter: @phaeacrede
Instagram: @phaeacrede
Facebook: @PhaeaCrede

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY FOR THE MAY 14 PUBLICATION DATE

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e
Add what you’d like Phaea to write in the order comments!

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Children’s Book Writer and Educator
EL PATO QUIERE UVAS
Teacher’s Discovery 2019
BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS –
Beaming Books (Summer 2021)
IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA –
Simon Kids (Summer 2022)
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