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Our Fave New Children’s Books We Love for Father’s Day

 

FATHER’S DAY BOOKS

∼ A Roundup ∼

 

 

REVIEWS:

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You're The Coolest Dad in the Box cover shaped book with dad and kid hammers.YOU’RE THE COOLEST DAD IN THE BOX
Written by Rose Rossner
Illustrated by Gareth Williams 
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

This fun new addition to the USA Today bestselling Punderland series of board books is perfect for Father’s Day. Little DIYers may not grasp some of the puns but they will be able to grasp the die-cut handle to carry around the book like a pro. Parents or caregivers can easily explain the wordplay while trying to make up their own. The illustrations help demonstrate the pun. The below stanza depicts a level sitting on a shelf.

You’re on another level,
how you balance sweet and cool.
No one else measures up
to the ways you rock and rule.

The pleasing personified tools in the art reinforce the message of love and admiration a child has for their dad, and the rhyming test makes this an ideal read-aloud to celebrate fathers year round. You’re The Coolest Dad in The Box also makes a great new dad gift.

 

Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime! cover baby wearing boxing gloves in crib.BOXER BABY BATTLES BEDTIME!
Written by Mia Wenjen
Illustrated by Kai Gietzen
(Eifrig Publishing; $18.99 HC, $12.99 Paperback, Ages 3 and up)

This baby is not going down easily and puts up an impressive fight (a kid-friendly boxing match that is) to avoid taking a nap in this adorable picture book. Wenjen’s created a relatable tale with a twist ending that will delight children and parents alike.

Inspired by her own experience boxing, the author cleverly infuses the sport’s popular terminology to tell this funny story conveyed in three rounds. Readers can find the spot-on idioms in a glossary in the back matter along with Wenjen’s author note.

I didn’t notice the pup carrying the round cards until halfway through my first read and appreciated how the story is broken down that way. I don’t want to give away too much by saying what each round consisted of, but suffice it to say, Boxer Baby gives it her all and then some! She is determined to be the last baby standing which means Dad will face a challenging nap time.

The artwork by debut picture book illustrator, Gietzen, brings energy to the story and contrasts the child’s raging emotions against those of her calm and accommodating father. While there’s no referee, there’s the humorous voice of the narrator describing the battle that Boxer Baby undertakes when her mom goes out. This homage to the endurance of the stay-at-home dad reminds me of my husband. While he held down a job, he always remained a hands-on father at home, never shirking his parenting responsibilities just like Boxer Baby’s father. I admire this exhausted dad’s fortitude. So who do you think will be the winner?

 

Daddy Tell Me a Story cover girl asking father for bedtime story.DADDY, TELL ME A STORY
Written by Kathleen Long Bostrom
Illustrated by Ela Smietanka
(WorthyKids; $18.99, Ages 4-7)

Kathy Bostrom is a storytelling pro. She is adept at capturing a child’s perspective and her latest picture book is no exception. In this charming story, readers meet a dad and his daughter at bedtime. When she asks for a story and he replies which one, she tells him he can make it up. “You always tell the best stories!”

And so the tale weaving begins. The father makes up a story about a queen and Sophie, the little girl, says, “Make her a princess.” He invents a pink unicorn as a character, but Sophie envisions a purple dragon with orange strips and golden wings. As the constantly revised bedtime story progresses, Daddy pretends to be scared eliciting warm reassurances from his spunky daughter. Together the pair work collaboratively as Sophie builds on what her father shares. He of course is amenable to helping in whatever way he can as the story evolves.

When the tale ends, Sophie decides that being a princess is boring. That’s when she comes up with a new ending sure to please everyone. Bostrom bookends this tale by having Sophie once again compliment her father’s storytelling ability before falling asleep. I’m glad Bostrom brought readers back to the beginning emphasizing the sweet daddy-daughter relationship and their storytime routine.

The engaging text marries nicely with Smietanka’s digital art. Colors are dazzling where they should be and become more muted as Sophie moves closer to drifting off. She’s incorporated upbeat elements into many of the spreads that children will enjoy noting. Bostrom encourages parents and caregivers to invite children to create their own story together.

 

Back Home: Story Time with My Father cover dad telling daughter a story.BACK HOME: Story Time with My Father
Written by Arlène Elizabeth Casimir
Illustrated by Ken Daley
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

This is one of those books that invites multiple readings not only because of the engaging and touching lyrical text but also because the art reaches out and wraps you in its arms. I was pulled into this picture book about a young Haitian American girl, Lune, whose father’s stories are about his birthplace, his homeland or “lakay” a Haitian word meaning back home.

In the rich colorful stories of his childhood, the father recounts episodes from growing up in Haiti. They include humor like the boy falling on his bottom after attempting to get mangoes off a tree. “Sometimes the stories are memories … colored with joy and sorrow.” Such is the memory of his fierce and charming mother who did whatever it took to provide for her family. The medicine man story tells of how a family’s love and community can help an ill child as much or even more “than the medicine in his pouch.”

One particular spread stayed with me, lush with jewel tones depicting the girl imagining what “lackay” was like for her father. It was an unfamiliar land for her though it was brought to life by her father’s recollections. Golden light shines on her Mommy saying  it’s late and time to go to sleep but Lune is “going to wait for Daddy.” Her father holds multiple jobs, saving up for a house while also sending money home to his parents in Haiti. Yet, no matter how long he’s worked or how tired he is, Lune’s dad makes time to tell her stories, stories of “lackay.” Lune’s father’s tales have such a positive impact on her. The magic of a place she does not know but has experienced through her father’s stories has found its way to her heart and soon she will begin sharing stories of her own.

There is a Haitian glossary in the back matter as well as a page of Author’s Notes, one for Caregivers and Teachers and the other for kids. The first encourages “modeling and sharing our narratives.” The rewards are plentiful. Even though my parents grew up in the Bronx of the 1930s and 1940s and not the “lackay” of this story, I felt Casimir’s story spoke to me. I am grateful to know my parents’ stories and will continue to share them along with my own. The second note lets kids know they all have stories to tell. I hope this meaningful picture book will speak to all readers who can help their children understand how important stories are in our lives. Casimir’s motivating and caring words will hopefully prompt a new generation of storytellers.

 

WITH DADWith Dad cover boy and dad walking with fishing rods.
Written by Richard Jackson
Illustrated by Brian Floca
(Neal Porter Books/Holiday House, for ages 4–8)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, The Horn Book
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Brian Floca, Caldecott Medalist, and Sibert Honoree shares his interpretation of With Dad, a story written by the late editor and author Richard Jackson. Floca and Jackson had been making books together for over 25 years, but sadly Jackson passed away before the artwork had begun. That left many questions unanswered but ultimately it was decided to set the story in the early 1950s and I’m so glad about that decision. Not that it would not have worked set in the present, but the nostalgic quality of the art representing the era following WWII adds to the carefree ambiance and closeness of the main characters.

The picture opens with a boy on his dad’s lap helping to drive their Jeep through a small road in the woods. That illustration beautifully captures the special father-son relationship. The pair are heading towards a campsite where they’ll experience the great outdoors by setting up camp, digging a fire pit, fishing, and catching their dinner. The excitement the dad exhibits when his son reels in a fish is exhilarating. I love how that is contrasted with how the lad feels grossed out as he learns to gut the fish before frying it. His father adds, “You’ll see,” he said, “an owl might come for those tonight.” Naturally, we want to see that so Floca skillfully shows us the owl swooping in at the end of the story.

Throughout the book, readers see how the young boy looks up to his father. The father loves spending time with his son too. That’s especially evident in the scene where the dad says they’ll sleep back to back to stay warm. What a tender moment. The story then fast-forwards to the dead of winter. Readers learn the dad is serving in the war. The child fondly thinks back to that “famous fishing trip.” All he wants is for his father to return home safely so they can pick up where they left off that memorable last summer. While this story focuses on a boy whose father is in the military, children with a parent away for myriad reasons would find this heartfelt read rewarding and reassuring.

 

If You Run Out of Words cover dad in spaceship waving to daughter below.IF YOU RUN OUT OF WORDS
Written and illustrated by Felicita Sala
(Abrams BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus

On the dedication page of this picture book, author-illustrator Sala writes: “To Nina, my dear girl, whose question inspired this book.” The question that the curious child in this story asks her father is a clever and interesting one.

“What happens if you run out of words? Will you have any left for me?” It makes sense that when a kid constantly sees their parent blah, blah, blahing away like the daughter in this story sees her father doing, she’d worry he might not have enough words left for her.

Needing reassurance just like the bunny gets from his mother in the classic The Runaway Bunny, the little girl in this story poses questions to her father that range from logical in the beginning to whimsical as the tale continues. This zaniness is matched by the colorfully saturated fantastical art that is a delight to explore. Sala’s illustrations for this book were made with gouache, ink, watercolor, colored pencils, and oil pastels and are full of emotion. Sometimes the body language and expressions on the father’s face cracked me up.

Funny scenarios ensue based on the questions the girl asks. Some children might love it when the dad visits Elves’ Word Factory determined to show his daughter the lengths to which he’d go to replenish his word supply. Others might like when the father is under the sea and a rescue boat run by pirate mice captures him and ties him up on their vessel. Following her father’s high-sea adventure, the girl wonders if her dad will have forgotten her. That’s when he tells her that no matter the length of the journey to return to her, forgetting her would simply be impossible. He shows her that he owns an infinite amount of words. In fact, it’s the three most important ones that he whispers in her ear to meaningfully end this captivating tale of devotion.

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

LIKE FATHER LIKE SON

HOW TO CATCH A DADDYSAURUS

MY DADDY IS A COWBOY

SUPERDADS! Animal Heroes

ALWAYS YOUR STEPDAD

THE I CAN SAY DADA BOOK

MERDADDY

 

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Picture Book Review and Interview – A Spider Named Itsy by Steve Light

 

A SPIDER NAMED ITSY

Written and illustrated by Steve Light

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

BRIEF REVIEW:

Author-illustrator Light’s newest picture book is one that encourages perseverance. Like Dan Santat’s After the Fall, a bevy of books is available showing children that many people need multiple attempts to ultimately succeed and that’s okay.

While I always sang this as the Eensy Weensy Spider, no matter how you’ve sung it, I think you’ll adore the unique approach of this captivatingly and whimsically illustrated picture book! It is such a clever take that imbues the beloved nursery rhyme sing-along with even more meaning. Perseverance and kindness take center stage in this recommended picture book. Read it as a companion to sharing the song with little ones. I can even see it being a jumping-off point for discussions with older kids about how they envision the prequel or sequel to any song they enjoy.

Q&A with Author/Illustrator Steve Light

Q: What drew you to write about this very famous spider?

A: As a teacher of three-year-olds, I was always fascinated that at least half of my class would enter my classroom already knowing the classic rhyme Itsy Bitsy Spider. When I was a kid and sang it I always wondered: Why does the spider go up the waterspout in the first place? What was up there? As a storyteller, this made for an interesting exercise in trying to answer that question. As an illustrator it allowed me to create a whole bug world around Itsy Bitsy Spider.

 

A Spider Named Itsy int1 sitting sipping unaware.
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Did you encounter any challenges while writing or illustrating the book?

A: My first challenge was figuring out a good reason for Itsy to climb up the waterspout. Then how to draw insects that were friendly. Also how do I make the reader care and feel for Itsy as a character? Hopefully, I accomplished all of these. The other challenge was drawing Itsy with eight limbs-I gave him four legs and four arms but it was challenging to draw!

 

Q: Do you have a favorite illustration from the book? If yes, why is that your favorite?

A: I actually love the endpapers. I had so much fun drawing all those bugs. But I also love the page where the bugs are getting washed out. I loved drawing the water and the energy of that page. The water and the way I drew it was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints.

 

Q: Please tell us a little about your illustrating process.

A: All of my illustrations are hand-drawn. There is no computer or digital work in the illustrations. I start with lots of drawings. Designing the characters and the world that they live in, even down to Itsy’s bed, mailbox and teapot. Then sketches for each page. Once we have an approved sketch from my Art Director and Editor I can do full-sized drawings for each page. Then I can go to the finished illustrations. I put the approved full-sized drawing on my light box and place a piece of watercolor paper on top of it. I can then see the drawing and start inking. I use a fountain pen that uses a zebra G nib or point. This nib allows for the thick and thin line variation that gives so much interest to the line work. Then I can watercolor the inked illustration using Daniel Smith watercolors and a sable brush. The “web” lines that Itsy creates were drawn last using an old fashioned dip pen and opaque acrylic ink, a purple color that I custom mixed.

 

 A Spider Named Itsy int2 rain washed out Itsy Bitsy
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Did you need to do any research for this book? If yes, what kind of research?

A: I researched many kinds of bugs and insects for Itsy to meet on his journey. Many of them are fascinating but sadly did not make it into the book. After all the research I picked bugs more for their personality because the story is more about Itsy’s journey and finding a family.

 

Q: What’s your favorite part of the writing and/or illustrating process?

A: I love the start of an idea for a book there are so many possibilities on how the story can be told and illustrated. I also like doing the final illustrations as I love escaping into these worlds. As a kid, that is why I drew, to escape the harsh realities of life. I found hope and peace in the worlds I would create, I still do.

 

Q: If you could only do one or the other, would you prefer the writing or illustrating, and why?

A: I would illustrate. I have been drawing since I was three years old. I draw every day. I also tell stories with my drawings so I feel I would still be “writing” if I had to stop writing words to tell stories, but I love both.

 

A Spider Named Itsy int3 what a mess washed out spider and bugs
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Final Question – what are you hoping your fans will take away re your newest book for kids?

A: I am hoping that they realize that everyone gets “washed out.” The important thing is that you climb back up again.

 

 

WEBSITE:

SteveLightArt.com

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Facebook – Steve.Light.90
Twitter (X) – SteveLight
Instagram – StevLight

 

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Best Mother’s Day Books 2024

 

 

BEST MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for another Mother’s Day Roundup.

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A New Poetry Middle Grade Graphic Novel – Poetry Comics

 

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH SO …

 IT’S TIME FOR

POETRY COMICS

Written and illustrated by Grant Snider

(Chronicle Kids; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Poetry Comics cover four panels of tree in four seasons.

 

 

★ Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

 

Reading a well-crafted poem always fills me with awe. I wonder how the poet made it look so easy. The words flow magically on the page yet I know the great skill involved in composing one. That describes my first impressions of this middle-grade graphic novel. Add to that the joyful comic-style artwork and you’ve got the winning Poetry Comics by Grant Snider, a celebration of seasons and so much more, beginning with spring.
Poetry Comics int1 sprinting through sprinkler.
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.
Snider’s book puts four seasons of poetry at children’s fingertips. He captures the everyday world from their perspective. Here’s a short one I love. “Joy is the feeling of sprinting through the first sprinkler of spring.” (See the art above.) It resonated with me even though I no longer partake in this warm weather ritual. Seeing the child’s delight in this activity, filled my heart and reminded me of when my kids were growing up.
Another in this section that will spark imaginations, is the impressive “Shape Story” where the mix of shapes and verse morph into a clever story about a girl flying a kite on a sunny but windy day as rain clouds roll in. (See the art below.)
Poetry Comics int2 Shape and Balloon poems
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.
Poems come in vibrant colors and various lengths. They feature end rhymes, subtle internal rhymes, assonance, consonance, and an uplifting lyrical quality that matches the cheerful illustrations. I found myself pausing frequently to admire this engaging approach. As I read I felt this book would have inspired me as a child to try my hand at composing a poem or two along with drawings or doodles. I think it’s going to do the same for young readers today. Teachers can embrace this book for its multiple entry points whether that be for comic and graphic novel fans, reluctant readers, or poetry lovers who want to stretch that creative muscle more.
Poetry_Comics_int3_summer_ferris_wheel Poetry Comics int3 summer ferris wheel
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this unique poetry book but instead, I recommend you see for yourselves and let me know what you think.

Click here for another National Poetry Month review.

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

 

 

LOST WORDS:
An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope

Written by Leila Boukarim

Illustrated by Sona Avedikian

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

 

 

Lost Words cover Armenian families in picture frames on wall

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

e

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

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

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

 

LOVE GROWS HERE

Written by Chloe Ito Ward

Illustrated by Violet Kim

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

 

 

Love Grows Here cover Asian girl holding title poster.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Visit the author’s website here.

Visit the illustrator’s website here.

 

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Picture Book Review – Looking for Happy

 

LOOKING FOR HAPPY

Written by Ty Chapman

Illustrated by Keenon Ferrell

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

 

Looking for Happy cover a boy and his different moods.

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Way Past Sorry

 

WAY PAST SORRY

Written by Hallee Adelman

Illustrated by Josep Maria Juli

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

 

 

Way Past Sorry cover mcKat feeling sorry

 

 

Author Hallee Adelman has taken big feelings and put them into words and actions in this helpful picture book about a young girl who breaks a promise to her best friend and now, feeling Way Past Sorry needs to find a way to remedy the situation and save her friendship.

In this latest book in Adelman’s series that teaches kids how to manage powerful emotions in social situations, we meet Kat who is on her way to a class trip with her classmates and best friend Sage. Josep Maria Juli, who also illustrated Adelman’s Way Past Embarrassed, paints a blue bus with students seated side by side, well, everyone except Sage. Kat had promised her best friend that she would sit with her on the trip but instead sits beside Meera. I have no doubt this is probably a situation many children have experienced. The art complements the story and keeps it simple so as not to distract from the relationship issues.

 

Way Past Sorry int1 on bus Meera and I shared secrets.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Leaving the bus, Kat attempts an apology but Sage ignores her.”I felt way past sorry.” When the students are asked to pair up, Sage is left with their teacher Mr. Pish. She walks towards him with sunken shoulders and no smile on her face. And Kat, dressed in her yellow shirt and blue pants, is also missing a smile.

Sometimes problems grow bigger, even when it’s the last thing we want, and that’s what happens when Kat is asked why she wasn’t Sage’s buddy. Making a bad situation worse, Kat responds, “Sage didn’t want to sit with me …” not wanting the kids to know she was the one who created the problem. She feels awful getting hugs she didn’t deserve.

Adding insult to injury, readers see Kat’s tongue sticking out at Sage when she’s confronted with her lie. This is such a relatable problem and a great lesson for kids to learn at a young age. Mr. Pish watches the girls’ interaction with a disappointed look. Kat dreams this day could start over, but we all know, especially young readers, that just isn’t possible.

 

Way Past Sorry int2 in planetarium wishing on a star.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Everyone returns to class. But for Kat, “… my day couldn’t start again. I felt stuck with my sorry. After a while, Meera said, ‘You’re not being fun.'” Apropos of a class science project, Kat asks Mr. Pish, “… if good scientists make mistakes, do you think good friends do too?” She remembers good times with her best friend drawing on the floor. Completing the ice cream-making assignment, she hands a cone to Sage asking her if they can talk at lunch. This part is a mature example. Communicating feelings instead of ignoring what happened is a lesson kids will carry through into all of life’s ups and downs.

As we approach the final pages, feelings are unpacked. “She told me how I had made her feel. And I listened really well.” Kat admits her mistakes and Sage tells her she’s a great friend. A friendship mended and a happy ending. Other recommended books in the Great Big Feelings series include Way Past Lonely, Way Past Afraid, and Way Past Jealous, all teaching kids they are not alone when big feelings arise.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Best New Christmas Books for 2023

 

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

COUNTDOWN FOR NOCHEBUENA:
A Celebration of Christmas Eve
Written and illustrated by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
(Little, Brown YR; Available in H/C $15.99 + Board Book $7.99; Ages 0-3)

Countdown for Nochebuena by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom brings young readers a bouncy bilingual picture book (and board book) inspired by the author-illustrator’s Cuban American heritage. There is lots to love about Hernández Bergstrom’s story, from her use of English and Spanish made understandable to non-Spanish speakers with easy-to-follow illustrations that are rich in culture and drenched in color and spirit to the counting structure in Spanish starting at one then working up to 12 before going back down. Perhaps the most meaningful part for me is how the story begins and ends with family.
Children will be captivated by the different aspects of this Christmas Eve celebration where we’re introduced to vocabulary (with a glossary in the backmatter) that describes the action in each scene. We see tables (mesas) invitingly decorated, irresistible and delicious nougat desserts (turrones), and kids (muchachos) making handclapping music. Adults dance and the countdown to presents (regalos) is on everyone’s minds. Then it’s wrapping paper ripped, cleaning up the mess, a cortado for the drive home armed with leftovers and memories of special time spent with family. This truly festive and loving look at Nochebuena is sure to fill many hearts this holiday. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Goodnight Santa cover kids and Santa in sleighGOODNIGHT SANTA
Written by Michelle Robinson
Illustrated by Nick East
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $8.99, Ages 1-4)
What a sweet bedtime board book, just one in a popular series, to share with toddlers and preschoolers who are eager for Christmas and need a calming read to help them settle in.
The gentle rhythmic rhyme coupled with the charming, muted jewel tones of the artwork makes this an ideal story to share in the lead-up to the holiday. Like the classic Goodnight Moon, the repetition of the word goodnight will lull little ones to sleep. “Goodnight snowman. Goodnight choir. Goodnight stockings by the fire.”
An older sister enjoys her snow globe, a little brother looks out for Santa, reindeer await on rooftops as Santa delivers toys after a magical trip to Santa’s workshop, and just the right amount of text to keep things low-key as children can dream about Christmas Day. First published in picture book format, this new 28-page board book provides a sturdy alternative for younger readers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

We Disagree About This Tree cover Bear Mouse and TreeWE DISAGREE ABOUT THIS TREE
Written and illustrated by Ross Collins
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 2-5) 

Whether you’re a fan of the two previous Bear and Mouse books or if you’re new to the series, you’ll enjoy the playful (sometimes cranky) antics as these two housemates debate over how the Christmas tree should be decorated. The over-the-top—and even upside-down—trees will give the kids lots of giggles. Collins’s rhyming text is a fun read-aloud and his art captures the range of emotions these friends experience as they navigate toward their just-right holiday tree.

Companion books include There’s a Bear on My Chair and There’s a Mouse in My House. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

Otto the Ornament cover happy Otto hanging from a Christmas tree.OTTO THE ORNAMENT
Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings
(Random House Children’s Book; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

With Otto the Ornament, Troy Cummings has created a rewarding Christmas story your kids will want to read year-round! You’ll first be greeted by cheerful ornament-filled endpapers and Christmas tree-shaped text on the copyright page. Early on I could see that Cummings nailed it when it comes to the book’s festive mood in the illustrations that had me eager to turn the page.

Otto, a snazzy multi-colored Christmas ornament, is rather full of himself. Bouncing out of a box, this new ornament on the block announces, “ME­RRY CHRISTMAS, BULBS AND BAUBLES! I’M OTTO! I’M HERE TO BEDECK THE HECK OUT OF YOUR TREE!” He’s warmly welcomed to the décor family which includes a candy cane, a green glass bell, a wooden Santa, and a mitten kitten. They invite him to take his place in the middle of the tree. But Otto feels the only spot he deserves is at the top. He soon finds fault with the other ornaments who then have no need for him and vice versa.

Otto’s search to hang on a tree suitable for his awesomeness, while humorous to the reader who want him to have his comeuppance following his appalling behavior, soon proves futile. After claiming what he considers his rightful spot atop a massive city tree not unlike the one at Rockefeller Center, a shocking event plummets him down into the storm drain. Cummings art perfectly captures Otto’s transformation. Emotionally shattered, disheveled, dented, cracked and paint-chipped, Otto realizes he’s lost his bragging rights. Meeting an unexpected lost ornament in the storm drain helps Otto get on the right track. In rescuing the mitten and taking him back to his pair, Otto learns where his true home and friends are. He also sees what really matters, making this not only a learning moment for little ones but a moving one as well. Being the best and brightest ornament doesn’t mean much if it means being alone. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

 

Elves are the Worst cover elf on stepladder beside goblinELVES ARE THE WORST! 
Written and illustrated by Alex Willan

(Simon Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Santa’s elves look like goblins, right? Gilbert the Goblin makes the comparison and decides to sneak into Santa’s workshop in elvish disguise to see if all the tales about these super cute, hardworking (blech) creatures are true. However, Gilbert soon finds that maybe it’s not that they’re so perfect, but, rather, that they know how to work together as a team.

Gilbert is as lovably funny as ever whether in disguise or just as his goblin-y self. Alex Willan’s adorable art appeals to kids as does the almost graphic layout style with panels on many pages.

Other books in this series include Unicorns Are the Worst, Dragons Are the Worst, and Yetis Are the Worst. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Our Italian Christmas Eve brother and sister smiling in front of cheesecake and dessertsOUR ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE
Written by Danielle Sedita and Francesco Sedita

Illustrated by Luciano Lozano
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Along with lively artwork by illustrator Luciano Lozano, sibling author duo Danielle and Francesco Sedita have written a colorful tale inspired by their childhood that is not only joyful and funny but mouthwatering too.

Readers learn right from the start courtesy of the brother and sister narrators that while other families celebrate on Christmas Day, their family celebrates on Christmas Eve. They head to Aunt Babe’s for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, something I loved learning about. It’s also traditionally meatless. I enjoyed the big family energy since it reminded me of holiday get-together sat my aunt’s when I was growing up.

The book is a virtual food frenzy with all the various fish dishes depicted including bread stuffed with oysters and spaghetti with clam sauce. But the best part is how the kids get to pitch in and how much it’s appreciated. It seems Uncle Robert has forgotten to bring the struffoli for dessert so the kids make cheesecake, a recipe they’ve made before with their mom. The children note the family dynamics which play out each year, always ending on a note of love. Now that everything has turned out well and just when you thought the stuffed family would be loosening belts and napping, Aunt Babe says, “Andiamo!” It’s time for midnight Mass.

One of my favorite spreads is an overhead perspective where readers can see the platters of food set out on the dining room table. In addition to being a heartwarming story, Our Italian Christmas Eve is a visual feast for the holiday season.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney cover Santa on snowy roof staring at chimneyHOW DOES SANTA GO DOWN THE CHIMNEY?
Written by Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews- Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

This hilarious book explores all the possible ways Santa may be able to fit down our chimneys and what he does when there isn’t one. Kids will be onboard from the start because these are the questions and possible solutions that they are tossing about: Does he shrink down? Can he squeeze through the mail slot? Feet first or head? And how does he keep from getting dirty?

Mac Barnett’s spot-on text plus Jon Klassen’s lol art equals a hit with kids everywhere as they weigh in about theories and probably pose some of their own. Timeless questions are seriously considered yet balanced with plenty of humor and mystery. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Christmas Ahoy! cover festive boats and lighthouse.CHRISTMAS AHOY!
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Kayla Stark
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Holiday boat parades are magical and Erin Dealey’s rhyming picture book brings families right in so they can experience the festivities. Counting from one to ten, different kinds of vessels are introduced in fun ways that kids can relate to such as “Five fishers harmonize, ever so merry. / Six dancers twirl on the Sugar Plum Ferry!”

Kayla Stark’s art pops out from the beautiful blue background, highlighting the action—I love a reindeer-filled yacht! The informative backmatter adds another element, providing some background on fourteen of the ships including sailboat, dory, and barge. With its many interesting angles, this book is sure to be a hit with families and in classrooms. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Dasher Can't Wait for Christmas cover child and Dasher in snowy woods.DASHER CAN’T WAIT FOR CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

Matt Tavares’s picture book has a classic feel as he captures Dancer’s young exuberance when she (a little bit too eagerly) heads out on her own to test her flying skills. Kids who can’t wait until Christmas will totally understand and feel for Dasher when her adventure doesn’t turn out as she planned.

This beautifully illustrated book brings a beloved reindeer front and center, giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes on at the North Pole before the big night. The story is both cautionary and uplifting, one that kids will turn to again and again. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

24 CHRISTMAS STORIES:
Faith and Traditions from Around the World
Judith Bouilloc, Various Authors
Sky Pony Press

IT’S NAVIDAD, EL CUCUY!
Written by Donna Barba Higuera
Illustrated by Juliana Perdomo
Harry N. Abrams

A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA
Written by Deb Adamson
Illustrated by Anne Zimanski
McSea Books

ELMORE THE CHRISTMAS MOOSE (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written by Dev Petty
Illustrated by Mike Boldt

DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE SLEIGH! (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

SANTA YETI
Written by Matthew Luhn
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
Kane Miller Books

 

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Picture Book Review – Harold the Iceberg Melts Down

 

HAROLD THE ICEBERG MELTS DOWN

Written by Lisa Wyzlic

Illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse

(Feiwel & Friends; $18.99; Ages 3-6)

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down cover Harold worrying.

 

 

Kudos to Canadian debut author Lisa Wyzlic who has brought attention to climate change, and coping with big feelings in the original, humorous, and heartwarming Harold the Iceberg Melts Down.

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down int1 Harold liked to watch documentaries.
Interior art from Harold the Iceberg Melts Down written by Lisa Wyzlic and illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse, Feiwel & Friends ©2023.

 

The story opens with the reader being introduced to sweet, worrier Harold, a small green head of Iceberg lettuce. Rebecca Syracuse’s digitally rendered illustrations, full of whimsy, bring to life the vegetables residing in the refrigerator, and with each page turn the reader finds something new to laugh about. It took a second look for me to notice the television set was resting on a cube of butter (because, after all, it is living in a refrigerator).

One day Harold decides to watch a documentary to help ease his worries and turns on the television to learn that icebergs are melting. Syracuse depicts a variety of stickers placed on fruits and vegetables that we find in the grocery store (also in endpapers art). She illustrates Harold’s sticker with the word ‘lettuce’ partially hidden under a fold so only the word ‘Iceberg’ is visible. “I am an iceberg. See?” He announces to his friends as he stands on an upside-down sour cream container. “Though they didn’t really talk about how I ended up in a fridge…” Subtle humor like this should bring smiles to adult readers.

The other foods listen to his ramblings because sometimes feelings just need to be talked out. He tells Carrot, Tomato, Celery, and the Olives that he could slow down his demise if he moved to the freezer. The only problem is that the freezer is closed and under construction. So he decides it’s best to go to the very back of the fridge. “Maybe it’s colder there?”

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down int2 in the dark freezer.
Interior art from Harold the Iceberg Melts Down written by Lisa Wyzlic and illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse, Feiwel & Friends ©2023.

 

The pages turn dark and lonely as he is separated from the slice of pizza and veggie friends. He begins to worry even more. “Why didn’t the documentary tell me how to survive longer?” His friends try to help by telling Harold to count to ten and blow bubbles. He is focused only on the impending doom. While blowing the bubbles another friend from the lettuce family tells him that “he is an iceberg lettuce and lettuce doesn’t melt. ” Ooh, that’s a relief! But Harold begins to realize that even though he is safe real icebergs are melting. “What are we doing to help them?” It is too big a problem for these little guys to make a difference. Harold takes a deep breath and thinks up a plan. The slice of pizza and juice box high-five his idea. Together the refrigerator friends create posters that read Save The Planet and Save Our Bergs (their ability to write made them even more enduring).

Back Matter lists Harold’s Tips to Combat Climate Change which include turning off the tap to save water when brushing your teeth. Another list titled Harold’s Tips for Cooling Down explains the things you can do to release stress and anxiety from your body such as listening to soothing music and getting fresh air. Great tips for social and emotional learning.

Wyzlic’s book offers ideas to help children going through tough moments showing them that no matter how small they may be they have the power to do things to help change the world. I’d love to see this book in classrooms everywhere. It’s also a great read for story times and can spark many interesting discussions. Harold fans will be delighted to know the next book in the series, Harold the Iceberg is Not a Super Food, comes out this summer.

Click here for a downloadable activity kit.
Click here for some coloring pages.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Thanksgiving Picture Book Review – Little Mole Gives Thanks

 

LITTLE MOLE GIVES THANKS

Written by Glenys Nellist

Illustrated by Sally Garland

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Little Mole Gives Thanks cover mole preparing feast

 

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Little Mole’s big table is all set for his fancy fall feast, and he can’t wait to welcome
three very important guests. . . In this fourth installment in the Little Mole series, author Glenys Nellist
and illustrator Sally Garland team up again to bring a welcoming and inclusive tale . . . [of] comfort when
things don’t go the way they planned.”
From School Library Journal: “Soft, autumnal illustrations bring the reader to a crisp day in the forest
and create an inspiring tale of friendship.”

Review:

In LITTLE MOLE GIVES THANKS, the newest addition to Beaming Book’s LITTLE MOLE series, Little Mole plans and prepares a fancy forest feast for some very special guests.
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int1 Little Mole beamed waiting for guests
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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But when none of his invited guests can come, Mole is devastated.
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int2 Principal Porcupine cancels
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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Until his community gathers around him to make things right and remind him that friends and family are
the best (and most important) guests of all.
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int3 the fanciest forest feast ever.
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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Reminiscent of the biblical story of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22 and Luke 14), Sally Garland’s soft,
textural art pairs well with Glenys Nellist’s sweet autumnal story to depict a perfect tale for
Thanksgiving, full of friendship and community.
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Click here for an activity kit.
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• Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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Picture Book Review – Dear Star Baby

 

 

DEAR STAR BABY

Written by Malcolm Newsome

Illustrated by Kamala Nair

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

 

 

Dear Star Baby cover family look at stars

 

 

I wish Dear Star Baby had been around when I was a child. It would have helped me understand the silence in my house when my mom came home from the hospital following her two miscarriages. Thankfully Malcolm Newsome and Kamala Nair’s picture book is available for young readers now to help them cope with the loss as a result of either miscarriage or stillbirth in a moving, meaningful way.

 

Dear Star Baby int1 we're having a baby
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

The narrator of the story is a boy who dreams of becoming an older brother. He’s ecstatic when he learns that his dream will come true. The tale is told via a letter he’s writing to the unborn sibling. The spreads in the book when the family is preparing for the baby’s arrival are full of joy and light. “Mama took me shopping. She let me pick your blankets and a toy (well, two toys).”

 

Dear Star Baby int2 mom in hospital I knew something was wrong.
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

Sadly, “Mama needed to rest in bed …” but she soon needed to go to the hospital where she miscarried. The touching spread above is told in language easy for youngsters to understand, and never speaks down to them. The loss of his unborn sibling is gently shared by the boy’s parents in a loving and caring moment. “She said you went to be with the stars instead.”

 

Dear Star Baby int3 in car returning from hospital now I wonder which star you are.
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

At home, the grieving child sees changes in his parents. His mother cries and there is not much conversation with his father as they deal with the loss. But being together helps and being held helps even more. So when the family looks at the night sky and discusses their Star Baby, everyone has a different feeling which is absolutely fine. Dad sees Star Baby far away and Mama feels him close by. There is no right answer, no right way to feel. What matters is being able to experience the grief and ultimately healing in a way that works for each individual. That’s why I loved this sentence from the child, “I think you’re in both places. Here with us even though I can’t see you.”

Nair’s warm palette for her art is soothing for this sensitive topic.  I especially liked the evening scenes where the night sky bursting with stars conveys hope and comfort like the hugs the family shares.

Newsome’s Author’s Note brought me to tears when he wrote about his own personal experience after his wife’s miscarriages and I’m so glad he wrote Dear Star Baby so others can benefit too. This is a thoughtfully written book that will prompt important discussions for families dealing with grief and bereavement.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Cloud Babies

 

CLOUD BABIES 

Written by Eoin Colfer

Illustrated by Chris Judge

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

Cloud Babies cover family looking at cloud animals

 

 

New York Times best-selling author of the children’s fantasy series Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer takes young readers on a journey with six-year-old Erin whose imagination allows her to look up and imagine animals made of clouds until one day life takes her on a different path where looking up at the sky no longer matters.

Cloud Babies: Sometimes All We Need To Do Is Look Up is a heartfelt and much-needed picture book that will be meaningful for both kids who have spent time in the hospital, and their friends, as well as others who have not. The digital illustrations by Chris Judge, whose family experience with illness inspired this story, bring life to the pages with photos of mountains, lakes, and blue skies filled with clouds drawn as cats, dragons, foxes, and polar bears – all the cloud babies Erin saw as she looked towards the sky. “It’s a snappy-happy crocodile!” she would shout, looking over the river with Mom and Dad supporting her by her side.

 

Cloud Babies int1 Erin's first word was cat
CLOUD BABIES. Text copyright © 2022 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Chris Judge. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

But one day a sad dog cloud can be seen through Erin’s bedroom window, a harbinger of trying times ahead. (See the art below.) Readers learn that Erin will need to spend some time in the children’s hospital. This gut-wrenching scene shows Dad carrying Erin and her stuffed animal. Mom holds a large bag and is guided by the nurse to the children’s ward. There are rows of beds each with various children tucked under the covers next to buzzing machines that beeped. We are introduced to a doctor named Bernadette, and Albert who brings extra-special meals. These spreads convey the kindness Erin receives from all the adults working so hard to make her better, bringing light to an otherwise traumatic situation. But Erin continues to play cloud babies with her Dad. On days when her Dad cannot visit, she even plays the game with other patients.

When Dr. Bernadette gives them the great news that Erin can go home, but would still need “hospital days,” we turn the page to see her return to school. Everyone had grown so tall. Erin shares her story of the cloud babies with the class but teacher Ms. Rose turns it into a lesson on how clouds are formed. “Maybe cloud babies are for little kids.” When she returned for “hospital days” she noticed that the hospital friends were different from the school friends. She learned to keep her two worlds apart. Erin missed seeing the cloud babies in the sky.

Tucked in Mom’s arms on a hospital day, Mom tells her that most of her classmates will never see her real, warm, loving, important hospital life. Working in the family garden, Mom gets an idea and suggests it to Ms. Rose. Classmates are invited to the hospital to be Book Buddies. Surrounded by her hospital and school friends, Erin teaches them how to play the cloud game. “‘Cloud babies do make you feel better,’ Ms. Rose says.”

 

Cloud Babies int2 Mom and Dad were worried
CLOUD BABIES. Text copyright © 2022 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Chris Judge. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

The story ends with greens, blues, and red drawings of fluffy cloud babies in the sky with all the friends looking up. “Sometimes, when you’re down,” said Erin, “all you need to do is look up.” On the copyright page, Eoin Colfer shares a note with readers explaining that if you are lucky enough to be strong and healthy, perhaps you can be especially kind and understanding to children in your school who have spent time in a hospital. This page also explains that “All the children’s pictures in this book were painted by Juno and Joey Judge.”

This tender, thoughtful story pulled on my heartstrings as I spent time in the hospital when I was five and a story like this would have meant so much to me. It brings comfort to children facing hard times and guides those who want to give support but are not sure how to start. To see more of Chris Judge’s cloud babies log on to Instagram @adailycloud.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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

 

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS SARA E. ECHENIQUE,

AUTHOR OF

OUR ROOF IS BLUE

Illustrated by Ashley Vargas

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

 

 

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

 

Nuestro Techo is Azul cover spanish edition

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

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

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

 

INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

KT: How did you become a writer?

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

 

KT: What was your favorite book as a kid?

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

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

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase from Books and Books.

Click here to purchase from Bookshop.org.

Click here to purchase via the Publisher’s Page.

 

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

AUTHOR BIO:

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

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

INTERVIEWER BIO:

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

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AUTHOR:

Twitter: @autoraechenique 

IG: @autoraechenique 

Website:  www.saraechenique.com

ILLUSTRATOR:

Ashley Vargas

Instagram: @art.ley

Website: https://artley.myportfolio.com

PUBLISHER:

Twitter: @charlesbridge

IG: @charlesbridgepublishing 

Facebook: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc

INTERVIEWER:

Twitter: @katrinatangen 

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: Katrina Tangen Author

Website: www.katrinatangen.com

PROMO GROUP BUSY PBS:

Twitter: @busyPBs

IG: @busypb

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An Interview with Building a Dream Author Darshana Khiani

 

KIRSTEN W. LARSON INTERVIEWS DARSHANA KHIANI,

AUTHOR OF BUILDING A DREAM

Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

(Eerdmans BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

An unforgettable tale of persistence and problem-solving, based on the amazing true story of a Thai soccer team who made their own place to play.

In Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, atop a network of stilts, floats the village of Koh Panyee—where a group of boys loved soccer but had nowhere to practice. Where could they find space to dribble, juggle, shoot, and score? The boys looked out at the water and started gathering tools. Even while their neighbors laughed, they sawed wood, hammered nails, and tied barrels together. The team worked for weeks to build Koh Panyee’s first floating field—a place to practice, and a place to transform their community…

 

INTERVIEW:

Kirsten W. Larson: Building a Dream is such a fascinating story, and I loved reading that you discovered the story of the boys of Koh Panyee in a commercial! Did that unusual story spark result in any research challenges, since you weren’t starting with a book or article, for example?

Darshana Khiani: Yes, yes, yes! This story was probably not the best choice for my first foray into nonfiction: a true story from another country, a different language, and one that was likely not well-known or covered by the media. But I LOVED this story. I must have watched the video a zillion times.

Getting the research was a challenge. I searched for Thai newspapers written in English, scoured YouTube, reached out to the team that produced the commercial, and had a friend help get an email translated into Thai that I then sent to the Facebook account for the current soccer team in Koh Panyee. My attempts to reach out to the villagers went unanswered, but I was able to find a few newspaper articles and a couple of video interviews done by other sports outlets.

 

KWL: Why did you feel a personal connection to this story? What made it one you had to tell?

DK: I’m a sucker for movies based on a true story, where you see real people overcome challenges and succeed. In this humanitarian commercial, I was inspired by how the boys faced their environmental and societal challenges with perseverance, hope, and ingenuity. At a deeper level, I think this mimics my own writing journey. I faced a variety of challenges (personal, professional, etc) on my seven-year journey to get that first book deal. But in the end, I persevered with the help of my kidlit friends, without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

 

Building a Dream int1 racing along the waterfront
Interior spread from Building a Dream written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Eerdman’s BYR ©2023.

 

KWL: What influenced your decision to fictionalize Building a Dream? What elements did you make up and why?

DK: The general rule in nonfiction is there should be three sources for every fact. Given the challenges of getting the research, verifying the facts was even harder. I had dates from the commercial and the newspaper articles, however, there were a couple of discrepancies such as when the boys played their first game on the mainland. In a video interview, there is mention of the boys playing on a small tract of land but then the village grew, and they could not play on that land anymore. There was no mention of this in the commercial or in my other sources. Since I couldn’t fill in the gaps and call it nonfiction, I re-positioned it as fiction based on a true story. This turned out to be beneficial since later on I was asked to revise for greater emotional connection, and I was able to achieve this by naming a few of the boys and giving them dialogue.

 

KWL: Did writing about an unfamiliar culture create any unique obstacles? 

DK: Since the main focus of this story was perseverance and overcoming the environmental challenges, I think it turned out fine. I did reach out to some Thai friends for sensitivity readings and a reader mentioned that one of the qualities of Thai people is ingenuity. The people living in Koh Panyee certainly had plenty of that. So I worked that quality into one of the boy’s lines.

I considered adding in Thai expressions or food to bring in the senses into the scene, but quickly realized I was out of my league. Whatever I came up with would likely be inaccurate. So I abandoned that idea.

 

KWL: Dow Phumiruk is such a powerhouse illustrator. What was your reaction when you first saw her sketches and then her final art?

DK: From the sketches, I could tell she was trying to capture the unique setting for this story, which made me so happy. In the final art, I love how Dow’s illustrations have a dreamy quality with soft blues and greens. My favorite spread is the one which gives a birds-eye view of the village: a storefront selling clothing, a fisherman paddling in with his day’s catch, and the boys rushing over to watch the game at Uncle Hemmin’s cafe. I enjoy this glimpse into daily life.

Building a Dream int2 the boys had nowhere to play
Interior art from Building a Dream written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Eerdman’s BYR ©2023.

 

 

KWL: What message do you hope young readers will take away from the story?

DK: I want kids everywhere to know that following your dreams is not easy and can take a long time. But if you stay dedicated to your goal, work hard, face the many challenges, and most importantly believe in yourself then you can reach your dream too.

 

KWL: What a fabulous message. Thank you so much, Darshana!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase the book.

Access activities, discussion topics, etc. here.

 

Darshana Khiani photo by Lisa Noble
Darshana Khiani Photo © Lisa Noble

AUTHOR BIO:

Darshana Khiani is a computer engineer, children’s book author, and a South Asian kidlit advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her books include How to Wear a Sari (Versify), an Amazon Editors Pick, and I’m an American (Viking). She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling.  Find out more about Darshana here.

LINKS FOR DARSHANA’S SOCIAL MEDIA:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/darshanakhiani

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/darshanakhiani/

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Her books include WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle). Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, dog, and two curious kids. Learn more at KirstenWLarson.com. Find her on Twitter @kirstenwlarson and on Instagram @kirstenwlarson.

 

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