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Picture Book Review – The Path

THE PATH

Written and illustrated by Bob Staake

(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

The Path cover

 

This is the time of year when many people attend graduations. And not just high school and college graduations. They go to all kinds of graduations from kindergarten to massage school and lots more in between. But the road taken may have been long and winding with obstacles and indecisiveness. And what of the road ahead? That’s why it’s so lovely to have a book such as The Path by Bob Staake that celebrates the journey as much as the accomplishment. In other words, this book is ideal not just for the graduate, but for celebrating individuality as well.

 

The Path int1
Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

Acclaimed New Yorker cover artist and author and/or illustrator of more than 50 books, Bob Staake brings readers both young and old a picture book that simply and gorgeously addresses the highs and lows of life’s pathways. They are not always straightforward.

 

The Path int2
Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

Written in second person, the prose does not always promise that things will be easy and that’s the honesty that appeals to me. It’s also how Staake’s stunning illustrations and color palette convey this message. The path doesn’t always lead to ribbons and rainbows. But as things begin looking up for the traveler, the colors begin to lighten up, too.

 

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Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

This is a picture book about possibilities. It’s not just about the path we choose but about our outlook, and our perspective. I think reading The Path together with kids can help them not only look at what choices exist but it can also help them understand what taking each one will mean, and how to forge their own unique way in the world. What a super conversation starter for parents, caregivers, and teachers about self-reliance at an age when children are beginning to assert their independence.

Find an exclusive bonus print from Bob Staake inside the jacket.

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What We’re Reading for Mother’s Day 2022

 

MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS 

A ROUNDUP OF WHAT’S NEW FOR KIDS

 

 

Me And My Mama coverME AND MY MAMA
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin
(Sourcebooks Kids; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

I recommend this sweet, satisfying board book that shines a loving light on Black children enjoying various mother/child activities throughout the course of a day. Told in succinct and spry rhyme, the text allows a parent or caregiver to read at a quick pace or stop with each new scene to discuss what’s happening in the art. Speaking of art, Corrin’s expressive illustrations immediately draw our eyes in so we focus on the joy, and other emotions taking place as different children spend special one-on-one time with their mamas whether that’s making pizza, being given a bath, or getting tucked into bed.

 

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle coverMAMA AND MOMMY AND ME IN THE MIDDLE
Written by Nina LaCour
Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)  
Starred Review – Booklist and Publishers Weekly 

There is so much to like about this picture book from the two-mom parents, a biracial couple, to the beautiful art that is filled with special details, and the loving familial relationship evident on every page. And though not a “Mother’s Day” book per se, it felt right to include it here.

In this story, one parent, Mommy, goes away on a business trip and the child recounts day by day how she misses her from the Sunday departure to the Sunday return a week later. LaCour details little things from a child’s perspective that mark her mom’s absence and how Mama is there to help ease the little girl’s sadness.

Added to that are Juanita’s delightful illustrations that invite lingering. One that is especially touching is when the child has her head down on the kitchen table, uncomfortable that with Mommy gone, she is not in the middle of her parents. Tender moments are conveyed in both art and prose. One very realistic event is when Mommy comes home. Readers will see the girl anticipating her mother’s return and notice that over several spreads her mood seems to go from the excitement of preparing a bouquet to sadness as she recalls how much missing she had done over the week. But after explaining her feelings to her mom, and being validated, the little girl can now once again revel in being back in the middle.  

 

All Moms coverALL MOMS
Written by Sarah Kate Ellis + Kristen Ellis-Henderson
Illustrated by Max Rambaldi
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

In this rollicking read-aloud (A Proud Partnership between glaad + little bee books) readers are introduced to a variety of moms in a clever take on all kinds of mothering. While the rhyme is not always spot on, the overall theme of the book is hard to resist. Coupled with the lively and diverse characters spread throughout the book in the colorful and expansive art, All Moms is a book I think children will appreciate.

We meet moms who are sporty, moms who are musical,  moms who fix cars, moms who are crafty, as well as those who “are early and others are late.” The book depicts moms as bosses, moms as doctors, single moms who “work twice as hard to make our lives fun.” There are dads who give hugs like moms, a grandma and grandson, and moms who “give snuggles. Some play pretend. Some moms read stories or help you make friends.” Since “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to accelerating LGBTQ acceptance,” there’s a terrific spread of a Pride Parade with people carrying rainbow flags, and Equality, Love Has No Limits and Love is Love signs. All Moms is a good reminder that moms come in all shapes, ages, sizes, and colors with assorted interests but most important is that “all moms’ love is as big as the sky.”

See last year’s roundup here.

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Meet Bug on the Rug Author Sophia Gholz and Illustrator Susan Batori

∼ BUG ON THE RUG BLOG TOUR ∼

 

AUTHOR SOPHIA GHOLZ

&

ILLUSTRATOR SUSAN BATORI

DISCUSS THEIR NEW PICTURE  BOOK

BUG ON THE RUG

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Bug on the Rug cover

 

 

SUMMARY FROM PUBLISHER:

BUG ON THE RUG – Pug is snug on his rug. But what happens when along comes BUG?! With a claim to the rug?! The two engage in a hysterical, rhyming battle of wits and strength until Slug asks the necessary questions and helps them find common ground. Rhyming is an important developmental reading skill. It teaches phonics (decodable text) and helps young readers infer content. This is a fun story to build those skills–and is an epic read-aloud!

 

INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIA GHOLZ:

Welcome to GoodReadsWithRonna, Sophia!  I’m excited to have you as my guest to learn more about your wonderful new picture book BUG ON THE RUG.

GoodReadsWithRonna: I’ve read that as a child you enjoyed horses. I’m curious where pugs fit into the big picture—was it the rhyming potential, their utter adorableness, or something else?

Sophia Gholz: Thanks, Ronna! I’m excited to be here to celebrate BUG ON THE RUG with you.

I often referred to myself as a “barn rat” as a kid and spent as much time with horses as I could. To this day, the smell of a farm still feels like home. While there were always barn cats, dogs, and a slew of other characters in the mix, there weren’t any barn pugs, unfortunately. My love of little dogs actually came about in adulthood. When I lived in New York City, I had a Brussels Griffon who everyone mistook for a pug. I just adore little foofy pooches and their giant personalities. But pug love aside, the true inspiration behind this book is my younger brother. I have lovingly referred to my little brother as Bug for his entire life. I feel very lucky to call him one of my best friends. But much like Pug and Bug, it took my brother and me a long time (and a few trials) to reach best friend status.

 

Bug on Rug int Pages3
Interior spread from Bug on the Rug written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

GRWR: Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re a plotter, did you know the whole story before you set out to write it? If you’re a pantser, what was it that motivated you to tell this story and keep at it?

SG: I’m a total panster. I find that if I plot out a story then the story no longer feels fresh and exciting for me. I like to write as a reader—learning something new with each page turn. So, I go off feeling, emotion, and what story I want to read in that moment. This often means heavy (and I mean, HEAVY) revisions later. But that initial excitement and mood is what I try to capture in the first draft and that same feeling is what keeps me going. With that said, I do a lot of mental pre-plotting and generally have a sense of where I want the story to go before I begin. I do sometimes start writing and realize I’m going in the completely wrong direction and have to start over. In those cases, I end up working out some plot issues or character problems before I really get going. But aside from the occasional false start, I don’t usually write anything out before I begin.

 

GRWR: Did you have as much fun, any LOL moments, writing this story as I had reading it?

SG: My goodness, yes! I had SO much fun writing this book. Like I mentioned above, I try to write as a reader and don’t really plot ahead of time. So, as those words were coming out, I was giggling along as the voyeur. One of the most fun moments I had while writing this was when Pug rethinks his day. I had a great time coming up with a ton of absurd things Pug might have done during his daily routine.

 

GRWR: I adore a rollicking rhyming read-aloud like yours. Does rhyming come easily for you?

SG: Thank you! Rhyme has always felt natural to me. When I began writing years ago, my first picture book manuscripts were mostly in rhyme. However, I admit that I wasn’t a trained rhymer. Once I really began digging into the varying rules of rhyme and meter, I grew very afraid. I was so scared that I’d unintentionally blow it that I fully stopped rhyming. It’s taken me a few years of practice and determination to come full circle with a rhyming text, and I couldn’t be happier. Rhyme is so much fun to play with and write!

 

GRWR: You have two new books, both humorous although one is nonfiction. What do you enjoy most about writing in each category?

SG: You know, I don’t really see them as different categories when I write. For me, I try to write nonfiction the same way I write fiction. The only difference is that I have preexisting pieces of the puzzle when I write nonfiction. But I like to write each with the mentality of just having a fun or interesting story to tell. That said, I do enjoy all the cool facts I learn while researching nonfiction subjects. Education never ends!  

 

GRWR: Sophia, this book is an uproarious and engaging approach to teaching phonics to children eager to learn how to read. Was that always your intention or did it just happen organically?

SG: When I first heard BUG ON THE RUG referred to as a great learning tool for emergent readers, I was so happy … and surprised! I did not initially have this in mind when I wrote the book. For me, it was about reading these words out loud and having a ton of fun. I’ve always enjoyed playing with sounds, alliteration, and tongue twisters. This book is a bit of an ode to that. But I understand how important teaching phonics in fun ways is, especially as I’ve helped my own little kiddos learn to read. With that in mind, I truly hope young readers have a great time with this book.

 

Bug on Rug int Pages8
Interior spread from Bug on the Rug written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

GRWR: Susan’s art captures both the heart and humor of your story. What did you think when and if you saw sketches or finished art? Which is your favorite spread and why?

SG: I am obsessed with Susan’s art! OBSESSED. Fun fact: I’d been eyeing Susan’s work online for a while and was a big fan before we worked together. So, I was thrilled when Sleeping Bear said they thought she would be a great fit for this manuscript. When I saw the initial sketches, I was flipping out. Seriously. Susan’s art is hilarious! Plus, she completely surprised me in the best of ways. For example, I originally envisioned Pug inside his home when I wrote the book. But Susan created the setting outside, and it made so much more sense. Susan added her own hilarious spin to this manuscript, and I feel so lucky to have worked with her. I think my favorite spread is probably the last page. Pug’s expression is priceless!

 

GRWR: What do you hope young readers will take away from BUG ON THE RUG?

SG: Humor aside, this book is ultimately about empathy, sharing, and taking ownership of our actions. I hope readers can see themselves here and know that people can have disagreements, but still be friends. Owning our mistakes is difficult. But it’s important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, just as it’s important to learn to forgive and move on.

GRWR: What can we expect next?

SG: I’d love to see more of Pug and his friends! In the meantime, A HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER (AND OTHER POTTY TOOLS), illustrated by Xiana Teimoy, is a humorous nonfiction picture book that’ll roll into bookstores this August. Everything else is still top secret for now. Stay tuned!

GRWR: Thank you, Sophia. It’s been delightful chatting with you. I wish you and Susan much success with BUG ON THE RUG.

 

INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BATORI:

Welcome to the blog, Susan, and congrats on your latest picture book! I adored DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT! which I also reviewed here so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to ask about your art in BUG ON THE RUG.

GoodReadsWithRonna: I immediately noticed the lovely European-like city and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Did you set this story in Budapest where you live and if so, why? 

Susan Batori: Sadly there are no snow-capped mountains in Budapest. Originally, the story written by Sophia, was set in a small Swiss town. That is why I drew small, red roof European-ish houses and you can find a cable car which is often seen in Switzerland. The story was rewritten later but we decided to keep the drawings with the Swiss landscape.


GRWR:
When you read Sophia’s manuscript, what were your thoughts about how you wanted to illustrate the story?

SB: When I read Sophia’s manuscript I fell in love with it at the first glance. I felt this is my story too because I love the funny and witty tales, these are very inspiring and so easy to illustrate. After reading the manuscript I immediately saw the pictures, compositions, and the characters in my head. There was a little challenge because of the disparity of sizes of the pug and the bug, but I hope I solved it well.

 

Bug on Rug int Pages11
Interior art from Bug on the Rug written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

GRWR: What medium did you use to create the illustrations and was there anything about the story that influenced your decision? 

SB: I work on a computer and a digital tablet. I love them because they make my work much easier and the publishers like it too. It makes work simple. Besides I can imitate the aquarell feeling, paper textures, and the brush strokes. My digital illustrations are often mistaken for a “real” drawing.

 

GRWR: What is your process like from when you receive a new manuscript to submitting final art? 

SB: After reading the manuscript I use the internet for finding help about the characters or the background. In this case, I started to search pug videos. I try to figure out what kind of things make a pug a pug, or a slug a slug. I mean how they move or sit, what their colors are, what if I draw a smaller nose or shorter legs to them … etc. This is a very useful activity and it entertains me. So I start sketching the characters and show them to the client. Next, I design the composition of the pages and with the publisher, we try to find the best solutions. Then I am ready for coloring where I try to deliver some kind of atmosphere or feeling. In this book, I wanted to illustrate a summer-mountain feeling with a lot of greens. If everyone is happy with the colored pages I send them to the art director. That’s all. Easy peasy. :)

 

GRWR: The dynamic of the character interaction cracks me up, especially when slug shows up. Was any particular character, Pug, Bug, or Slug, especially fun to work with? 

SB: Haha! Yes, Slug is really a funny character. It was interesting because in each book I illustrated there was a character who was my favorite but here all three were my favorites. They have their own humorous personality.

 

GRWR: I loved your art in Robin Newman’s DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT!, and love it here, too. I see a common thread of a humorous conflict and sweet resolution in both stories. Do you enjoy illustrating humorous picture books? Are there any challenges you must consider?

SB: Aww, thank you! Somehow I am very good at illustrating feelings, especially humorous actions and facial expressions. I just LOVE working on hilarious books or stories, and drawing funny animals is my favorite job. It makes me happy and I believe if I am happy while I am working on these, the children will be happy too while they are reading them. 

I wouldn’t be a good illustrator without humour. 

 

Bug on the Rug int Pages16
Interior spread from Bug on the Rug written by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

GRWR: Do you have a favorite spread?

SB: Sure!

The first page when Pug hugs his rug, I find it so cute.

Then there is the “rug-fight” scene. This is the most dynamic page in the book.

And I just love the very last page when everyone is on the rug. I think that is very funny.

 

GRWR: Any plans to write and illustrate your own books?

SB: I have a few ideas but there is no time for them … yet. ;)

THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT QUESTIONS!

GRWR: Thank you for making us smile!

 

BIOS:

Sophia Gholz Headshot
Courtesy of Sophia Gholz

Sophia Gholz is a children’s book writer, music lover, avid reader,
and the award-winning author of The Boy Who Grew a Forest and
Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter! She lives in Orlando, Florida.

Website: www.sophiagholz.com
Twitter: @sophiagholz
Instagram: @sophiagholz
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sophiagholzauthor 

 

 

 

Susan Batori Headshot
Courtesy of Susan Batori

Susan Batori’s books include Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt and
Letters from Space. She worked in advertising before switching to
children’s book illustration. Susan lives in Budapest, Hungary.

Website: https://susanbatori.hu/
Twitter: @susanbatori
Instagram: @susanbatori

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Picture Book Review – The Struggle Bus

 

THE STRUGGLE BUS

 Written & illustrated by Julie Koon

(Kind World Publishing; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Struggle Bus cover

 

 

From the publisher: Sometimes things are really tough. It’s just too hard. You’ve had enough. Grumble, rumble, bump and roar, the struggle bus is at your door. [The Struggle Bus] is a must-have picture book for any reader struggling with new experiences and managing emotions … Incorporating her experience as an elementary school counselor, Koon uses the accessible theme of vehicles to make this social-emotional concept perfect for the preschool and early elementary crowd. It’s also a great tool for caregivers to start conversations with children about acknowledging difficult feelings and facing fears.

 

The Struggle Bus int1
Interior art from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

From the inside of a grumbly-rumbly bus, readers travel through the process of helpless overwhelm to joyous triumph in this rhyming, growth-mindset picture book from debut author-illustrator, Julie Koon.

 

The Struggle Bus int2
Interior spread from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

Koon’s muted color palette soothes as she tackles the unsure (and at times overwhelming) feelings a child encounters when facing new challenges and learning we all “have what it takes to do hard things.” A repeated refrain invites the youngest listeners into the storytelling while ample back matter offers teachers and caregivers more information to use during classroom or at-home discussions. A delightful debut for both author and publisher, The Struggle Bus is a wonderful addition to the school SEL library.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review for Women’s History Month – Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers

 

 

LOUJAIN DREAMS OF SUNFLOWERS:
A Story Inspired by Loujain AlHathloul

Written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery

Illustrated by Rebecca Green

(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

.

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers covr

 

Available now in time for Women’s History Month is Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers. This new picture book introduces children to the young main character in the morning when she’s squeezing her eyes shut to recall her favorite dream. In this scene, she dreams of being able to fly, soaring above “a place her baba described as the carpet of a million sunflowers.” While having flying dreams is not uncommon, readers soon see more of the fantasy element come into play when, after getting up, Loujain joins her father to get their wings out of the shed.  The joy in Loujain’s face as she makes believe she can fly is palpable. But in reality, she’d never fly anywhere because she was a girl, and girls were forbidden to fly. How could this possibly be fair?

 

Loujain Dreams int1
Interior spread from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

The sunflowers Loujain fantasized visiting were in a picture taped to her wall and she was determined to see them. While her father knew the harsh reality, her mother did not want to discourage her daughter. But at school kids teased Loujain for thinking a girl could fly when only boys were allowed. Loujain pleaded with her father to give her lessons. His wife told him, “Why should flying be only for boys?” Especially, she added, “if we all can use wings?”

 

Loujain Dreams int2
Interior spread from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

Loujain had the good fortune to have open-minded, caring parents and a father who clearly agreed that it was not right to keep girls from spreading their wings and taking to the skies.  Her baba lovingly trained her and after preparing her, they set out the very next day on the journey to see the amazing sea of sunflowers.

 

Loujain Dreams int3
Interior art from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

The powerful symbolism conveyed in this story will not be lost on children who perhaps in their lifetime have experienced or heard about gender bias whether in sports, academics, employment, the arts, or in other fields. Of course in this case it’s a metaphor for the real-life Loujain AlHathloul who made history for challenging the ban on women’s right to drive cars in Saudi Arabia and was imprisoned because of it. She is no longer in prison, but her restrictive release conditions and her dream of bringing more freedoms for girls and women are described in the authors’ note.

 

Loujain Dreams int4
Interior art from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers invites multiple reads and discussions in the context of women’s rights/gender bias and discrimination, perseverance and persistence as well as pursuing one’s dream. Green’s gorgeous and energetic art, created in acrylic gouache and colored pencil adds to the enjoyment of each read. I love her varied composition from page to page and the glorious color palette she’s chosen. Every spread, especially ones with the sunflowers, feels so expansive and full of possibility, just right for this hopeful and empowering picture book.

Follow Lina AlHathloul on Twitter here.

Find out more about Uma Mishra-Newbery here.

Find out more about Rebecca Green here.

Learn more about the #FreeJoujain campaign here.

 

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Picture Book Review – I Am You: A Book About Ubuntu

 

 

I AM YOU:
A Book About Ubuntu

Written by Refiloe Moahloli

Illustrated by Zinelda McDonald

(Amazon Crossing Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

Originally published in South Africa, I Am You:  A Book About Ubuntu written by Refiloe Moahloli and illustrated by Zinelda McDonald, is a stunning visual and textual reminder of our shared humanity that could not be more timely.

An ancient philosophy of many African cultures, ubuntu means “I am, because you are” and embraces the idea that “a person is a person through other people.” Opening lines emphasize this interconnectedness:  “When I look into your eyes, I see myself.” On the following page, readers will need to turn the book vertically to enjoy a spread that illustrates this love, not only for others but for the natural world and all creation. 

 

iamyou int1
Interior spread from I Am You: A Book About Ubuntu written by Refiloe Moahloli and illustrated by Zinelda McDonald, Amazon Crossing Kids ©2022.

 

In loving, lyrical language, Moahloli’s text helps us realize that though the time we spend with others and the kindnesses we share may seem like small, inconsequential acts,  they’re in fact powerful expressions of our deep love for each other and for our own selves. “[W]hen I laugh as I hear you laugh, when I hold your hands as you cry, I love you, and I love myself, too.” Similarly, if we choose to “hurt,” “tease,” or “ignore” another, we are committing those very acts on ourselves.   

 

iamyou int2
Interior art from Interior spread from I Am You: A Book About Ubuntu written by Refiloe Moahloli and illustrated by Zinelda McDonald, Amazon Crossing Kids ©2022.

 

 

Rendered in digital media, McDonald’s bold and beautiful jewel-toned illustrations place an endearing cast of characters front and center in virtually every page. Readers are drawn into the smiling faces and welcoming gaze of an inclusive group of children from all backgrounds and abilities, playing together in country, city, and oceanside settings. 

A great conversation starter for themes of community, friendship, kindness, and love, I Am You shines light on the truth that we are all one. 

     •Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Picture Book Review – Letters to Live By

LETTERS TO LIVE BY:
AN ALPHABET BOOK WITH INTENTION

Written by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough

Illustrated by Åsa Gilland 

(RUNNING PRESS KIDS; $17.99; AGES 4-8)

 

Letters to Live By cover

 

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 Gilland and 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.

 

ForgiveFriends spread
Interior illustration from Letters to Live By: An Alphabet  Book with Intention written by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough and illustrated by Åsa Gilland, RP Kids ©2022.

 

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!

 

MoveMindfully spread
Interior illustration from Letters to Live By: An Alphabet Book with Intention written by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough and illustrated by Åsa Gilland, RP Kids ©2022.

 

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?”

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Picture Book Review – How Beautiful

HOW BEAUTIFUL

Written by Antonella Capetti

Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

 

How Beautiful cover

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Life is simple for the little caterpillar who appreciates sleeping, eating, and crawling around until an unknown thing calls him beautiful setting him off on an adventure in the forest to answer the question, “what does beautiful mean?” How Beautiful is written by Italian school teacher and picture book author Antonella Capetti and illustrated by bestselling picture book illustrator Melissa Castrillón.

Castrillón’s stunning illustrations capture the serenity and peacefulness the caterpillar feels while resting in the forest leaves. From the lovely warm golds and reds, we can imagine what life is like for the caterpillar as he talks to the bee and rests inside a red flower. “He never questioned anything.”

 

How Beautiful int1
Interior spread from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Soon a hand with thin fingers lifts the caterpillar off the ground. Caterpillar is confused by this unusual twig because it has no leaves and moves faster than any twig he has ever seen. The opposite page introduces a new scene with Unknown Thing standing in front of  the caterpillar (ódraws a pig-tailed girl in the distance) who says, “’You’re so beautiful.’ Then it gently laid him and the twig down, and as suddenly as it arrived, it went away.”

 The unquestioning little white bug with the big pink cheeks begins to question for the very first time, so he embarks on a journey to find out if others in the forest know what beautiful means. He begins by asking the big purple-hued bear with bees buzzing by. “’Oh, this is beautiful,’ the bear answered. Lifting up a honeycomb between its paws.” But the blackbird nearby disagreed.

 

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Interior spread from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Hmm, it was time to ask others living in the forest. Frolicking in the yellow leaves are three squirrels and the caterpillar asks them “What does beautiful mean?” Honeycomb is not their answer. Instead, they reply that they like dry leaves. Blackbird again disagrees. “Those are not beautiful. Those are fun.”

 

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Interior art from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Caterpillar begins to feel sad when he previously felt so content. The once happy-faced caterpillar is now depictd with a sad face as confusion takes over his thoughts. He asks a deer which ends up being no help. “If only he could go home to his leaf, and get rid of the blackbird and the bothersome question.” The page darkens as night sets in and the tired animals of the forest lay on the ground looking up at the sky. “How beautiful! They all exclaimed.” They finally agreed.

Capetti’s prose provide great conversation starters asking the reader, what do you consider beautiful? Why do two people (or animals) who are asked the same question give different answers? Teachers will be delighted to come up with questions to ask during storytime. Capetti’s story opens up a topic of self-discovery for young kids to understand that sometimes questions have more than one answer. How Beautiful is written and illustrated in a thought-provoking way, showing children that it is okay to question what they don’t know. This story shines a light on how the animals may have had different opinions about what is beautiful but by the end of the day, they all found something they could agree on.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Picture Book Review – The Bad Mood!

THE BAD MOOD!

Written by Moritz  Petz

Illustrated by Amélie Jackowski

(NorthSouth Books; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

The Bad Mood cover

 

 

Badger woke up in a bad mood! After working in his garden, he starts to feel better but knows he must make amends when he finds out that his grumpy, rude remarks from the morning have left his friends upset with him in The Bad Mood! written by Moritz Petz, with illustrations by Amélie Jackowski. Now available as an unjacketed hardcover, this beloved classic has been translated into more than ten languages.

Bad moods are quite contagious and relatable to most children and adults. Like Badger ultimately realizes, a bad mood can consume all of our senses. Jackowski’s drawing of Badger’s long face says it all as does Petz’s prose when Badger says, “I’m in a bad mood today! This might be dangerous. Maybe I’d better stay at home.” If only he’d gone with his gut.

Deciding that his forest friends should notice that he is in a bad mood, Badger angrily sets out to begin his day. “Everybody ought to know how miserable I feel.” The pale green sky is the only thing calm as he stomps away from the door of his treehouse causing the mail to fly out of the mailbox.

 

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Interior spread from The Bad Mood written by Mortiz Petz and illustrated by Amélie Jackowski, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

Turning the page, the reader is greeted by cheerful Raccoon with his long striped black-and-white tail and yoyo in hand. Raccoon does what we assume he does whenever he is greeted by a friend and wishes Badger a good morning. “’Good morning? What’s so good about it?’ Badger replied, and stomped off.” Raccoon stood there shocked that not even so much as a goodbye was offered!

 

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Interior spread from The Bad Mood written by Mortiz Petz and illustrated by Amélie Jackowski, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

Badger’s mood becomes more explosive when Moose asks if he slept well and Badger counters it is “none of your business.” Badger is pleased with his response liking that both Deer and Raccoon know he is in a bad mood. He continues along his walk and passes more friends and “He was as rude to them as he could be.” This becomes a teachable moment for parents and caregivers. A discussion on how to treat people may even be initiated by little ones who realize this behavior does not win friends.

After Badger’s walk, he begins to work in his garden and as he was “digging and weeding, the strangest thing happened. His bad mood just slipped right off him.” But when he went out to play with the animals in the late afternoon the woods were silent. Unfortunately, the tables had turned and Raccoon was in a bad mood. So were Squirrel, Mouse, and Hare.

 

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Interior spread from The Bad Mood written by Mortiz Petz and illustrated by Amélie Jackowski, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

It is then that Badger confides in Crow and the two come up with an idea to have a “bad-mood party.” Jackowski’s gorgeous art decorates the forest with smiling friends and colorful lanterns. Children see a happy scene when Badger asks for forgiveness and it’s given.

Petz’s words model for youngsters how to apologize when they have done something they are not proud of. This beautifully written story is sure to invite multiple reads. Its simple but valuable lesson, that it’s normal to sometimes be in a bad mood, reminds kids that taking a deep breath is much better than taking it out on your friends. The Bad Mood! needs to be added to the mindfulness section in school classrooms.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Picture Book Review – How to Change the World in 12 Easy Steps

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD
IN 12 EASY STEPS

Written by Peggy Porter Tierney

Illustrated by Marie Letourneau

(Tanglewood Publishing; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

 

How to Change the World cover

 

Starred Review –Kirkus

 

Before reading How to Change the World in 12 Easy Steps, a new picture book written by Peggy Porter Tierney and illustrated by Marie Letourneau, I had not heard about Eva Mozes Kor, the inspiration for this story. I wish I’d had the opportunity to attend one of the talks that she did around the country before she passed away in 2019. If you know what she experienced as a Mengele twin in Auschwitz, yet still survived along with her twin, Miriam, you’ll want to read about and share the wisdom she imparted that has likely positively influenced thousands of school children over the decades.

What I like most about this book is its simplicity and straightforwardness. It’s always encouraging and is never didactic. Rather, it’s full of common-sense suggestions that can bring more meaning and fulfillment into a child’s life. I loved the first spread in which a little girl says she can’t find her phone (in her messy bedroom) and her friend offers to help her clean up. “Start small” is that first step, and it’s one I often use for myself and my kids. The difference in Letourneau’s before and after illustrations are as calming for a reader as being in the tidy room must feel for the two girls.

 

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Interior art from How to Change the World in 12 Easy Steps written by Peggy Porter Tierney and illustrated by Marie Letourneau, Tanglewood Publishing ©2021.

 

Not all of the examples presented are about doing good deeds. One of them says “Just be the best you that you can be.” Letourneau’s charming art shows a boy in a still life painting class content with the smiling-faced banana he’s finished painting while his classmates are still busy at work creating their own masterpieces. Another powerful two pages are devoted to forgiveness and how doing so can rid oneself of anger allowing more space for happiness. While this might be the most difficult concept for a child to integrate, it’s definitely one of the most rewarding. It was certainly Eva Mozes Kor’s overarching philosophy and what kept her going despite all the hardship she endured.

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Interior art from How to Change the World in 12 Easy Steps written by Peggy Porter Tierney and illustrated by Marie Letourneau, Tanglewood Publishing ©2021.

 

While a fast read, How to Change the World in 12 Easy Steps, is also an important and timely one. Parents, caregivers, and teachers can choose to read either quickly or slowly leaving room for numerous conversations. I can see elements of tikkun olam at play in Tierney’s prose. In Judaism, this is the aspiration to behave and act constructively and beneficially—improving the world essentially, something Eva Mozes Kor was deeply committed to. The caring messages Tierney conveys, coupled with Letourneau’s diverse and emotive characters would make this book a welcome addition to any bookshelf. What a wonderful book to share with and inspire children as we approach the new year.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Picture Book Review – Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom

 

PLANTING FRIENDSHIP:
Peace, Salaam, Shalom

Written by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman,
and Melissa Stoller

Illustrated by Kate Talbot

(Spork; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

Planting Friendship cover

 

Review

Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom has landed on bookshelves at just the right time when the world needs more stories about coming together despite our differences. This uplifting joint effort by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, and Melissa Stoller introduces young readers to characters whose faith matches those of the authors: Christian, Muslim, and Jewish respectively. Adding to the appeal is the detailed art by Kate Talbot whose depictions of the three girls, Molly, Savera, and Hannah add recognizable elements of their religions that parents, teachers, and librarians can point out in various spreads.

 

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Interior art from Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom written by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, and Melissa Stoller and illustrated by Kate Talbot, Spork ©2021.

 

Molly, Savera, and Hannah meet at school. All three have experienced first-day jitters, a great opening example of how we are more similar than we think. They also notice that each wears a necklace, yet another connection.  While the girls may come from different faith traditions, a hands-on class project of growing seeds into saplings brings them together. When nothing happens with their seeds, the girls consider what will work. Inspired by quotes from their families such as “Nana always says, ‘Things grow with care, kindness, and love,’” a new attempt is made to help the seeds thrive.

 

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Interior art from Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom written by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, and Melissa Stoller and illustrated by Kate Talbot, Spork ©2021.
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While waiting for their seeds to sprout, Molly, Savera, and Hannah spend time getting to know each other. Here both the prose and art convey how each girl’s room reflects their religious and cultural background. As the friendship blossoms, so does respect and understanding. When spring arrives, the saplings that had been tended to by the girls with such care are ready to be planted in Peace Park. Even their trip to the park involves pitching in to help each other out whether sharing a shovel or steadying a friend on her feet. With trees of friendship now firmly rooted, Molly, Savera, and Hannah can look forward and focus on new ways of bringing people together. “In Peace Park and beyond.” Talbot’s illustrations bring warmth and fluidity throughout this picture book with the spread below being one of my favorites. Look closely to see the mosque on the left, the church near the bridge, and the synagogue in the foreground. In the back matter, there’s even an opportunity provided for readers to SPOT THE SEVEN OBJECTS IN THE GIRLS’ HOMES. With Hanukkah underway as this review posts, the scenes in Hannah’s bedroom where the girls play dreidel will resonate with many readers.
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Interior art from Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom written by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, and Melissa Stoller and illustrated by Kate Talbot, Spork ©2021.
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Sports, art, cooking, and theater are just some of the other ways people of diverse backgrounds, religions, and races can find connections. I like that in this story it’s about nature and the world around us. While writing this review I kept hearing the band War’s 1975 hit, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” in my head, and perhaps it’s due to these lyrics. “The color of your skin don’t matter to me, as long as we can live in harmony.” For me, this applies to religions as well. And the harmony we see in the flourishing friendship between Molly, Savera, and Hannah demonstrates they feel the same way. Children will see that what makes us different is also something that can unite us when we’re open to finding common ground. 
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The next book coming out in 2022 is Building Bridges: Peace, Salaam, Shalom. And in 2023 you can look forward to reading the third book which finishes the series.

Buy the Book

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781950169603

https://bookshop.org/books/planting-friendship-peace-salaam-shalom/9781950169603

 

Read about the Authors + Illustrator Here

Callie Metler

Shirin Rahman

Melissa Stoller

Kate Talbot

 

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Picture Book Review – Chicken Chickens

 

CHICKEN CHICKENS

Written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

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

 

 

 

 

The charming Chicken Chickens by author-illustrator Valeri Gorbachev is back after 20 years, just in time to help a new generation of children overcome being labeled a “chicken” when feeling fearful about experiencing something new.

This 40-page picture book is about twin chickens who go to a playground with Mother Hen for the very first time. The soft colors of green, yellow, and brown bring warmth to a busy playground of cats on swings, turtles in sandboxes, and dogs on seesaws. When Mother Hen walks in holding each chicken’s fingers in hand, “The little chickens were a little scared. There was so much going on all around them.” Many children will be able to relate to that initial stimulus overload.

 

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Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

Still holding each other’s fingers (hmm do chickens have hands?), the chickens freeze up with their beaks wide open, observing the flurry of activity going on around them. Gorbachev’s art perfectly conveys the poultry’s feeling of being overwhelmed by the crowds. Despite the park animals showing kindness by asking the chickens to play and welcoming them into the new environment, we hear the chickens say, “No, thank you,” they replied. “We’re just little chickens.”

They watch pigs spinning around on the merry-go-round, but decline the offer to join them since they might get dizzy. They look up at the big cats swinging but decline the offer to swing since they might fall off. When the reader turns the page, they are drawn into the blue sky and brown slide with smiling and laughing frogs and mice playing. With eyes wide open, the chickens decline. “We’re just little chickens.”

 

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Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

When they get the courage to climb the stairs to the top of the slide, the twin chickens become immobilized when looking down. “Slide down!” shouted one of the frogs. “Don’t be such chicken chickens!” That’s when the big brown beaver with the white buck teeth climbs to the top of the slide and tells the chickens not to worry “Everybody is afraid the first time they slide.” Beaver suggests the chickens hold on to his tail as they slide together giving the chickens the confidence they need.

 

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Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

This incredibly sweet story about conquering one’s fears is a wonderful addition to every home and school library. It’s a lesson not only in realizing that everyone has fears of some sort, but also models how important showing kindness and empathy is toward a friend who may be struggling in certain situations. I found this book extremely heartfelt, and am so pleased that it has been reprinted for children who never had the chance to read it the first time around. The play on words using chickens as the protagonists made me laugh. “Hurray for the chicken chickens!”

Click here to read a preview.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Best New Picture Books for Thanksgiving 2021

A ROUNDUP OF

THE BEST NEW PICTURE BOOKS

FOR THANKSGIVING 2021

 

 

Thanksgiving Free clipart

Gratitude, generosity, and humor are just some of what’s being served up in three new picture books for Thanksgiving this year. I’ve chosen these stories, though not specifically for Thanksgiving (Thankful’s action takes place in December), because they present perspectives on community, connectivity, and caring that are the essence of the holiday. 

 

THANKFUL
Written by Elaine Vickers
Illustrated by Samantha Cotterill
(A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Reading this 48-page picture book is a gift to give yourself and your young children. It feels like being wrapped in a soft blanket, sipping hot cocoa, and sitting silently in reflection. Full of deliciously evocative, lyrical language, Thankful is the book to reach for to lift a child’s spirits when they might be feeling blue or to reaffirm positive things they know but cannot express.

Elaine Vickers brings readers into the home of a girl as she prepares her annual thankful paper chain “when the first snow falls.” As she writes, we’re treated to not only a glimpse of her bedroom, house, and family for whom she’s especially thankful, but the big (a new puppy) and small things (“… soup and socks and the spot under the covers where someone has just been sleeping.”) for which she is grateful. I found myself stopping on several spreads and nodding while marveling at the wonderfulness of what Vickers’ prose has conveyed whether it’s noting the friend who waits for her at recess or cherishing things that are soft and fresh like laundry, bread, and moss on rocks. The sweet, loving poem the child’s parents say at bedtime reminded me of what my dad used to say to me at night and in letters and made me squeeze the book a little harder like the hug this story is.

Samantha Cotterill’s delightful 3-D dioramas blend elements of Holman Wang’s diorama art and paper “cut-outs”—in this case including all the characters and the dog—reminiscent of those found in Lauren Child’s Charlie & Lola series. Her warm color palette adds to the cozy feeling of the story and pulls readers into the pages where they’ll want to study every last detail in each spread. Keep this book out for all to enjoy and consider making your own thankful paper chain this holiday season.

 

Cold Turkey coverCOLD TURKEY
Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call
Illustrated by Chad Otis
(Little Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Available 11/23. Preorder a copy today.

There’s so much to enjoy in Cold Turkey, from the title, the wordplay, and the colorful alliteration, to the message of generosity, the animal humor, and the funny expressions in the artwork.

This deceptively simple tale, with the charm of Little Mole’s Christmas Gift or the ’80s classic Big Bird Brings Spring to Sesame Street and their theme of giving, is a winning winter read. In fact, you might just sh-sh-shiver (and smile, too!) along as Turkey wakes up on the farm one morning so cold that he has to bundle up in all his warm clothes.

When Turkey emerges from his home, he first encounters Sheep who is also freezing. Kind Turkey offers his distinctive red hat. Then Chick, who’s chilled to the bone, is the lucky recipient of Turkey’s mittens (you have to see where they get put), and poor Horse is faring no better hunkered down in the hay. Cow and Pig get lucky too at the selflessness of Turkey but where, you may wonder, does that leave naked Turkey? “Turkey tr-tr-trembled. He had loaned out all his loot. He wobbled homeward, cold and bare, in just his birthday suit.”

Well, his barnyard buddies have something in mind to fire readers’ imaginations and bring a bit of warmth and a slew of spot on synonyms to play as the story closes to a heart-warming end. Otis’s illustrations capture the inhospitable temperature outdoors as the animals seek ways to elude the cold. The story should have kids eagerly following along, reciting out load and waiting to see how things turn out for Cold Turkey and company. Grab your scarf and hat and a copy of this funny picture book today.

 

Our Table coverOUR TABLE
Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Orchard Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Reynolds’ latest picture book features a violet cover, violet endpapers, and the main character called Violet, too. When the story opens she’s thinking fondly of the table where once so much activity happened. It had been there while meals were cooked, candles were lighted and memories made. Memories that clearly Violet cherished. Reynolds’ illustrations emphasize the current mood of Violet. Her longing looks appear in purple and only when she’s remembering days of family togetherness and love does full-color return. Since the color violet symbolizes sensitivity, it’s an appropriate color to have chosen.

Young Violet is affected by how her family has become distracted bringing disruption to all those previously shared activities. Her father is preoccupied with the TV, or big screen. Her mother, elsewhere in the house is looking at a smaller screen, her cellphone. Violet’s brother sits in front of his computer playing games online with his friends. While everyone seems to be at home no one was truly present. And that’s sad. Violet sad. Alone sad.

By introducing some magic into the story, Reynolds creates a way to spark change. When Violet notices the abandoned table begins shrinking she’s perplexed. When it vanishes completely in her hand she gets an idea. It’s time to start engaging her family again otherwise they too could go the way of the table and disappear. The joy and color start returning as, together with her parents and brother, they work on building a new table and new memories. The important and timely message of this story was not lost on me, someone who admittedly spends too much time in front of screens. This holiday season, when we’re gathered around tables, I hope readers will find their own special ways of being present and creating new memories.

NOTE: See Peter Reynolds at an in-person event in Los Angeles through Pages: A Bookstore on Thursday 11/18 at 3:30pm PST at the El Segundo Library. More information here.

 

See more Thanksgiving books reviewed here and here.

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A Review Plus an Interview with Author Dana Middleton

A REVIEW PLUS AN INTERVIEW

WITH

 DANA MIDDLETON

AUTHOR OF

NOT A UNICORN

(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

 

 

 

REVIEW

Dana Middleton’s third novel will delight middle-grade readers who enjoy a story that blends contemporary issues with just the right amount of magical realism and likable, relatable characters who would be fun to hang out with.

Readers learn early on that the main character, Jewel, age 13, has a unicorn horn on her forehead. Her friend Mystic  likes it because it makes Jewel different, the way she feels and Nicholas believes it’s cool and magical. “Are you kidding?” he tells her at one point, “You don’t have to have a horn to be different.” These three spend their time at the “freak” table (where Jewel has found refuge following an unintentional impaling of a fellow student who survived), discussing ‘the horn,’ comics, the upcoming French essay competition, and the popular kids. As the story progresses, Carmen, Jewel’s invisible magical guardian unicorn begins to play more of a role in the plot.

In her apartment, Jewel lives with her mom, and early on her grandmother moves in and shares her bedroom. The family is portrayed as lower-class where money is tight and Jewel’s mother wants her to have a better life. “You are going to graduate from college. Got it? You’re not going to end up like me.” While they clearly care for Jewel, they don’t seem to grasp how much Jewel struggles with the horn and wants to have it removed. But doing so involves great risk. It also means a huge expense, a trip to Los Angeles, and initially going behind her mother’s back.

As the story unfolds, Jewel’s lost friendship with her former best friend Emma rears its head again at the prospect of her horn being surgically removed and becoming popular. Complicating things is Mystic’s stealing a necklace from Emma’s pal, Brooklyn, the ultimate popular girl. There’s so much for Jewel to consider and weighing heavily on her is having been offered a chance to tell her “horn” story in French at the competition she has dreamed of.  At the same time, calling attention to it will make her feel like she doesn’t fit in even more, and reconciling those two feelings are taking their toll on her. Additionally, it turns out that reuniting with Emma may not be all Jewel hoped it would be.

The good news is that Jewel ultimately gets her wish and has her horn removed in Los Angeles. But the horn, it seems which bonded her to Carmen, will kill the unicorn unless she can find a way to save her.  It’s here Dana has cleverly tied in a graphic novel that Jewel has been working on with Nicholas called Highwaymen. When the storyline mixes the graphic novel into the quest to save Carmen, there is action and adventure around every turn that will keep readers in suspense in the best possible way.

I loved how when the book ended, the characters stayed with me and filled me with hope. The thoughtful and exciting journey Jewel took brought her to a place where she could finally embrace her horn and her uniqueness. Coming to terms with what made her different ends up being the biggest and most satisfying magic Jewel, and readers, experience.

Since I could not put down Dana’s latest book I felt compelled to ask her some questions to satisfy my curiosity. I hope you’ll scroll down now or return to the interview below when you’ve finished reading Not a Unicorn.

INTERVIEW

GoodReadsWithRonna: Welcome to the blog, Dana. I’m thrilled to discuss your latest middle-grade novel, Not a Unicorn. Do you recall how the idea for it came to you?  

Dana Middleton: Actually, it was all Jewel. This girl with a unicorn horn showed up in my mind and wouldn’t let go.

 

GRWR: Was it a long time until you fleshed out the story? 

DM: It did take quite a while, in part because I thought the idea was so weird and I wondered if people would get it. And then I thought, maybe people would think I was weird, too! Like Jewel, I had to accept all the parts of me (even the weird ones) to be able to write this. I was sure about one thing early on though—that there would be three parts to this story concerning Jewel’s horn. I won’t spoil it here, but that initial structure never wavered. I knew how it had to go, but I wasn’t sure if I could write it.

 

GRWR: One of my favorite parts of the story is the friendship between the main characters, the “different” kids Jewel, Mystic, and Nicholas. I love how they stayed with me after the story ended because I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. What did you draw upon when writing them?

DM: I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them, too! Nicholas was loosely based on a friend of my nephew’s, and Mystic came from someplace unknown. And then Carmen, Noah, and Tall Ethan wandered in. I felt like it was so important to get these characters right because each of them had such a profound effect on Jewel.

 

Dana signing books OnceUponaTime
Dana signing books at Once Upon a Time bookstore in L.A. Photo Credit: ©Jessica Palacios.

 

GRWR: I’m a Francophile like Jewel. Is there any of you in her or maybe the popular girls like Brooklyn or Emma? 

DM: Like you, I am a Francophile! I studied French and even went to study at the Sorbonne for a summer during college. I always wanted to travel and by imbuing Jewel with this desire, it created conflict because of course, she felt like she couldn’t be seen in big spaces. I always had this picture in my mind of Jewel looking up at the Eiffel Tower because she’d become brave enough to go there.

And as far as Brooklyn and Emma are concerned, I definitely wasn’t either of them. But Brooklyn, that girl turned out okay. She became someone I didn’t quite expect.

 

GRWR: How did your hometown in Georgia influence the setting or anything else in the novel? 

DM: My family moved to the mountains of North Georgia (to a town called Dahlonega) when I was a teenager and that’s the town where Jewel lives. It’s a mixture of Dahlonega past and present, and some of it made up in my mind. I thought if you had a unicorn horn on your head, it would probably be best to live in the relative safety of a small town. That also created for Jewel more fear about the possibilities of venturing into the outside world.

 

GRWR: Can you speak to what it was like incorporating the graphic novel/comic you created called Highwaymen into the plot?

DM: Let me just say that Highwaymen was a complete surprise to me. I had no idea how that would develop in the story but it kept developing into something and I kept following. I really love Highwaymen, and like Jewel, I have a soft spot for Esmeralda. She’s so bad-ass awesome!

 

GRWR: What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing Not a Unicorn?

DM: Trusting that it would all work out. I guess a lot of writers feel this way, but sometimes I wasn’t sure I could make this book what I wanted it to be. I was very blessed to have an agent and editor who believed in Jewel and helped me to make it the best book that I could.

 

GRWR: If young readers took away one thing from your novel, what would you hope that would be? 

DM: The best question for last! I hope this book helps young readers accept who they are more deeply. Because we all have something that we just wish we could change— it may not be a unicorn horn, but it’s something. If Jewel can help someone accept their ‘difference’ and make it into their superpower, then my job is done.

My sincere thanks to Dana for taking the time to chat with me about Not a Unicorn. Here she is below with author Jill Diamond during her virtual book launch.

Dana with author Jill Diamond at Virtual Book Launch

BUY THE BOOK

Purchase Dana’s book here: https://danamiddletonbooks.com/books/not-a-unicorn/ 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: https://danamiddletonbooks.com/

 

Author Dana Middleton
Author Dana Middleton Photo Credit: ©Peter Atkins

BRIEF BIO

Dana Middleton is a middle-grade author of contemporary novels for young readers who enjoy a dash of fantasy and mystery. Her latest book, Not a Unicorn, is from Chronicle Books. She is also the author of The Infinity Year of Avalon James (a Young Hoosier Book Award nominee and Oregon Battle of the Books selection), and Open If You Dare. Dana grew up in Georgia, but lives in Los Angeles with her British husband. You can visit her online at danamiddletonbooks.com.

 

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Where’s My Cow?

WHERE’S MY COW?

Written by Susan Blackaby

Illustrated by Scott Brundage

(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 5-8)

 

 

Where's My Cow cover

 

Anxious Egret is afraid to fly beyond the pasture which means leaving his constant companion Cow. That is until Cow devises a way to stand out in a crowd so Egret will know where to fly and find her in Where’s My Cow? a heart-warming story by Susan Blackaby with illustrations by Scott Brundage.

A bucolic setting forms the calm backdrop for this charming picture book. The reader opens the book to sunrise with the herd of cows wandering the pasture, a flock of birds heading off to explore, and one egret in particular perfectly content perched on his friend cow’s head. Why not just remain when there is so much that can go wrong if one goes too far?

 

Where's My Cow int1
Interior spread from Where’s My Cow? written by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Scott Brundage, Sleeping Bear Press ©2021.

 

The worldly cow with so many stories to tell is the perfect pal for the apprehensive egret. Riding on the cow’s rump, Egret enjoys tales about all the places Cow has been. “She knew about ukuleles and picnics. She discussed kites and kayaks. She had once tasted a toasted marshmallow. The cow’s stories gave the egret ideas.”

Brundage draws uncertainty in the egret’s eyes as he announces one sunny morning that he might be ready to fly. Cow listens with the facial expressions a concerned mom might give to a child whom she knows suffers from a bit of separation anxiety. Cow encourages the bird to see the beach, reinforcing the idea that Cow will be waiting the whole time. The dialogue between the two is so relatable for any child wanting to venture beyond their comfort zone but worried to leave a parent behind.

The problem is realized when the egret flies above the pasture only to look down and see the large herd, uncertain which one is his friend. Egret is so nervous he Ker-thumps to the ground to the surprised cow. “’I didn’t go,” said the egret. “How would I ever find you again?’”

 

Where's My Cow? int2
Interior spread from Where’s My Cow? written by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Scott Brundage, Sleeping Bear Press ©2021.

 

Blackaby’s creativity is demonstrated with how best an anxious egret could locate his cow friend amongst the herd. The cow wags his ears but that is hard to see. “The cow thought about it. Next time I’ll switch my tail.” Great idea but all the “…tails switched and hitched every which way. Where’s my cow? WHERE’S MY COW?”

The illustrations of sea and sand take the reader along on the journey with Egret looking for ways to make the cow stand out. And with every bit of confidence he gains knowing he can now locate the cow, the egret creates his own adventures. The patient cow goes along with ribbons, seashells, and sticks tied to his body never complaining like any parent would do. “And at the end of the day, when the rosy sky is full of birds and the pasture is full of cows, the little egret wonders, Where’s my cow? And there she is.”

This book is recommended for any child wanting to explore the world but worried that their parent will not be there upon their return. This is a relatable story and a reassuring read to share before a young child goes off to their first birthday party, playdate, or any event that will separate them from those with whom they feel comfortable and safe.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

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