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 Beautifulis written by Italian school teacher and picture book authorAntonella 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Before reading How to Change the World in 12 Easy Steps, a new picture book written by Peggy Porter Tierneyand 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.
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.
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.
Written by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman,
and Melissa Stoller
Illustrated by Kate Talbot
(Spork; $17.99, Ages 5-8)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Karen Yin’s debut picture book is truly original, packed with rollicking rhyme, and an important story presented in bold vibrant art from Nelleke Verhoeff. In other words, it’s got all the things a young reader would want in a read-aloud! And then some (100 some to be exact!)
From my first glimpse of the cover, with its beautiful, shiny raised letters along with lots of yellow—which always pulls me in—I was hooked by the look of Whole Whale. Then I dove in and was not disappointed. In fact, I was overjoyed that Yin chose to write this story about tolerance, inclusion, and making room at the table for everyone. We can never have too many picture books out there modeling for kids the benefits of working together to make those who may feel left out, how to be welcomed in. The best part is there is nothing didactic about the presentation. The humor and art provide the way into the story and the suspense keeps young readers engaged and turning the pages.
The premise is a surprisingly simple one starting with the title page depicting a hint of water rising from an as yet unseen whale’s spout. Then comes an almost completely white opening spread with only a sheep, a cat and a spider telling readers what to expect. “An empty page? It’s time to play!/The animals are on their way.” This is followed in the next spread with “One hundred might fit in this tale,” then the especially catchy refrain, “But can we fit a whole blue whale?” Here young readers will spy a different tail (or fluke).
Little by little a bevy of brightly colored beasts fill up the pages of this larger—12×12—formatted book. Kids can spot some animals showing concern on their faces, others enjoying the company. The group, whimsically illustrated by Verhoeff, continues to grow and grow with the refrain repeated for kids to shout out loud. But with so many crowding in to make room for the whale, will chaos or bullying ensue? “So, if they all can get along/One hundred might fit in this throng.”
Kids’ll adore the interaction Verhoeff has depicted amongst the animals as they attempt to make space for Whale. Yin has played with language wonderfully throughout and introduces fun words like throng and unveil as well as a few collective nouns for animals. A big reward is in store for staying the course, a double gatefold four feet long at the end.
While I don’t recommend this book for bedtime, I absolutely recommend it for ALL other times of the day! In fact, I encourage any adult reading it with a child to suggest they bellow out the refrain as they wait in giddy anticipation. Back matter lists the 100 animals in the book, a search-and-count challenge children are certain to accept. I hope you enjoy the WHOLE book as much as I did!
Jet the Cat, the picture book debut from Phaea Crede with another debut for illustrations by Terry Runyan, is a story all the kids and adults will have fun reading. I can almost hear their giggles. It all started when Phaea got inspired by her mom’s cat Eddie. Eddie, unlike other cats, loved to take baths.
“I tried to imagine what other cats might think if they caught Eddie happily splashing around. I figured another cat (named Tom in the story) would look down on Jet, maybe even tell her she wasn’t a real cat if she liked water.”
Tom represents people who think they should tell people what they can or can’t do. Phaea dealt with many Toms in her life. Imagine that one girl even told her that her “name couldn’t really start with a P if it sounded like an F!”
But even though her inspiration was Eddie, when she started drafting Jet’s manuscript, she realized this story was also about something else: her dyslexia. Phaea loved writing stories, but her disability made her give up writing creatively.
“ I decided at age eight that real writers didn’t have dyslexia. Thirty-one years later, I have officially proven myself wrong!”
After revising Jet the Cat (Is Not a Cat) a solid fourteen times (shout out to her critique group Friends with Words), she submitted her story to Lisa Rosinski, senior editor of Barefoot Books. And Barefoot Books and Lisa Rosinski were perfect matches to such a conscious and fun book.
Jet the Cat is a book filled with colorful spreads and repetition. After cat Tom tells Jet she is not a real cat because she loves water, Jet goes on a journey to figure out which animal she can be. But of course, Jet can’t be any of these animals. She can’t be a frog because she sings too loud. She can’t be a bird because she can’t fly. And poor Jet can’t figure out who she is until …
I do not want to spoil the end, so make sure to get a copy of Jet the Cat (Is Not a Cat) to discover the fantastic ending and to read it to your children to make them laugh and think: Are we all the same or does each one of us have a little bit of Jet, the Cat? I LOVE IT!!!
Much loved and accepted by his more colorful friends, Mo is the one who, in time, begins to feel different. He finds no pleasure playing hide-and-seek and he doesn’t have dazzling plumes like his pals.
With their encouragement, he often shrugs off his self-doubt. That is until a sign announcing The Annual Dance in The Rain event, the biggest day in the jungle, reinforces Mo’s feeling of being different. He can’t have his blues brightened at the Color Salon, or find a reason to shop at the Bird Boutique like all the others. To him his bird feathers are boring.
When he feels down, Mo’s friends continue to build him up with caring words like “Colors don’t make the bird!”, “You’re still a peacock!” and “Go, Mo, Go!” Does it help? Temporarily. Mo knows he lacks those bright, bold, beautiful feathers of his peacock peers. But when a dark storm on the night of dance makes it impossible for anyone to see, and the peacocks are tripping over each other’s trains and in a general fowl mood, Mo, watching the action from a distance, realizes he actually does possess something special. His bright and brilliant glowing white feathers light up the darkness and the dance. The night’s festivities are illuminated, and fantastic, even for Mo!
Now that everyone can see, Mo, at last, sees something too—that what he had all along that made him different is what makes him unique and wonderful. Singh’s story about the power of friends and a supportive community is delightful and will lift readers’ spirits as they watch Mo’s spirits rise and shine. I love how Singh introduces us to a character so beloved by his friends who at first is unable to see his own self-worth while everyone else can.
Adding to the inspiring quality of Singh’s tale are Fizer Coleman’s lush illustrations in jewel tones created digitally with traditionally painted gouache and watercolor textures. Together they offer readers not only a charming and visually appealing read, but a helpful one in regards to social and emotional development as well. It’s great for parents, teachers, and librarians to have such a positive picture book celebrating diversity and differences for this age group. The book concludes with interesting back matter about peacocks—the national bird of India and features “a fact sheet on these beautiful creatures, their environment, their behaviors, and more!” Did you know that a group of peacocks is called a party? Well, party on now with Mo and company in Birds of a Feather.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly
What better way to travel to the sea than to fly, and I don’t mean by airplane! Jacob’s Fantastic Flight, by German author illustratorPhilip Waechter, and translated by Elisabeth Lauffer, takes the reader on Jacob’s family vacation where he foregoes flying by plane with mom and dad, and instead sets off with courage to fly solo.
Waechter begins his whimsical tale by introducing readers to baby Jacob, flying before walking and surrounded by his parents, mouths agape, as their baby takes flight from his carriage to beyond the treetops. Each page pulls the reader in with colorful illustrations and intricate detail. Waechter’s vision of the story is beautifully expressed in his uplifting art.
At first his parents were pretty concerned because having a kid like that was a little weird. But they soon got used to him flying and figured, “So be it—he’s our son, and he’s perfect just the way he is!” And he’s quite helpful when he flies to the top of a tree to pick the big red apple!
As Jacob grows bigger, the family decides it’s time to take a vacation to the sea. After accompanying his parents to the airport, Jacob then waves goodbye and takes off flying on his own. Here begins the real adventure for the boy as he befriends birds, a flock of 83, while admiring the scenery along the way. He saw blue mountain lakes and golden wheat fields and smelled meadows full of flowers—beautiful!
Soon a notorious new character is introduced, Mr. Mortar, the evil birdcatcher. It wasn’t long before a little bird blundered into his net. When Jacob and the birds realize their count is off they work together to devise a plan and save their bird pal Hubert, with Jacob taking the lead.
Jacob finally catches up with his very happy parents who welcome him with hugs and kisses. I can only imagine the worry they must have felt thinking their son was flying alone. The family of three turned into a family of four as Hubert the rescued bird was now included in the family trip.
For all those kids who have imagined themselves flying, this is a wonderful adventure. It is also a heartwarming and much needed story about a boy whose difference is also his special power, one that gives him confidence, self-esteem and courage. This is a great conversation starter about helping others in need.
Reviewed by Ronda Skernick Einbinder
Click hereto read another picture book review by Ronda.
Mónica and her best friend, Hannah, share a special bond: they are both immigrants.
Mónica is from Bolivia and Hannah is from Israel. Together they form The Homesick Club, complete with a handmade sign they display on their lunchtime table illustrating their favorite memories from their respective homelands. Mónica yearns for the mango trees, green vines, and the “family of hummingbirds” that she and her grandmother would feed every morning. Similarly, Hannah misses the warm weather, sandy dunes, desert whistling wind, and a neighborhood tortoise. Their conversations highlight how different aspects of a landscape make it a unique and special place called home. e
When they meet their new teacher, Miss Shelby, they discover she too is far away from her home, Texas. Ironically, as Mónica and her teacher discuss their different backgrounds, they discover how much they have in common. Mónica’s beautiful transitions from English to Spanish echo Miss Shelby’s “soft and slow” voice, “like…words…stuck together with syrup.” They miss similar things from back home, too: a “big and wide” sky that displays an abundance of stars as well as hummingbirds. Mónica misses seeing them since the big city noise “probably scares them away.” Miss Shelby longs for her favorite hometown dessert, hummingbird cake, “sooooo sweet, like the flowers that hummingbirds drink from.” Gibbon’s bright and friendly illustrations include rich detail that expresses the individual personalities of each character.
In honor of her beloved hummingbirds and a budding friendship with her new teacher, Mónica prepares a surprise to share with everyone during Show and Tell. Through this kind gesture, she is able to bring a little bit of home back to both of them and to us readers who are gifted with the recipe at the end of the story.
A great conversation starter on issues of diversity and geography, The Homesick Club reminds us that though we may look different and come from different parts of the world, we have many experiences connecting us.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookiane
e e Clickhereto see How To Bake Hummingbird Cake with Author Libby Martinez e
Click here to order a copy of The Homesick Club. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e
One girl with light curly hair and freckles wears glasses and likes to sleep late; her friend looks nothing like her with long straight brown hair and a blue headband, but their smiles are large and what matters most when they swing together on the playground. Two other girls visit the pool with one wearing floaties and looking apprehensive, while the other has no floaties and jumps feet first into the shallow end. Do you need to have the same swimming skills to be friends? Nope! e
Turning the page, readers see friends who are messy and friends who are neat. Bostrom writes in rhyme, inviting the reader to join in with the uplifting beat. “I like salty. You like sweet. What’s your favorite treat to eat? And these stanzas cleverly end by asking “Will you be friends with me?” The repetition will be looked forward to and eagerly said aloud.
This 24-page story concludes with the featured kids lined up together entering their classroom. One boy is using crutches, a girl holds a soccer ball. Their open mouths indicate they have much to say to each other. Young readers see it’s okay to be different because “Life is much more fun that way.” With this theme, parents are given a good jumping-off place to begin conversations about kindness, diversity, and how our differences make life interesting and rewarding.
Ruiter’s pastel-colored illustrations of the diverse children just being kids show that friends come in a variety of shapes, sizes, races, and abilities, and what matters most is including everyone because kindness is the only rule in being a friend.
This is a beautiful story about friendship, diversity, and acceptance. Kids learn the importance of being open to making friends with all kinds of children. Bostrom’s words are few but mighty, as she leaves us with deeper meaning. Will You Be Friends With Me? is a great bedtime story, and the perfect book to share at storytime for preschoolers and Kindergartners because a teacher can never have too many books stacked in the bookshelf about the importance of friendship and inclusion.
Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Click here to order a copy of Will You Be Friends With Me?
Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
Holly loved experiments.
But not today.
It was slime day.
And she didn’t want to
touch anything sticky.
My son has sensory processing issues which we first noticed when he was a baby. He cried when hearing the vacuum cleaner, coffee grinder, car horns, and blaring music. As he got older he also actively avoided loud people, shouting and rough and tumble behavior from his peers. These were not the only things that clued us into his sensory challenges. He didn’t like touching sand or walking on it, and never got into Play Doh, unlike his older sister, because of the smell and consistency. His diet was and still is limited, but he’s faced a lot of these sensory issues head on and has learned ways to adapt. He even traveled to Japan last summer, tried a host of new foods and was flexible when encountering the many different customs there.
Not everyone understands the challenges that children face with sensory processing issues that often accompany autism. Author Jen Malia, a woman who lives with autism and sensory issues does. It’s fantastic that Too Sticky!is available to help open people’s eyes and to encourage empathy for kids coping with sensory stimuli that can be overwhelming, and even immobilizing at times. You may also not be aware that it’s not as easy to recognize in girls.
We meet the main character, Holly, at breakfast time at home. Lew-Vriethoff’s expressive and upbeat illustrations offer an excellent example of how kids like Holly react negatively to something that to other kids may seem like nothing—getting sticky pancake syrup on her hands. From both the art and prose, readers know immediately what makes this young girl uncomfortable. Holly is also reminded that “her science class would be making slime today” which gets her worrying.
What’s also terrific in this same scene is how Holly’s older sister, Noelle, is understanding and apologizes after her fork falls on the floor making a loud and sudden noise. Here Malia adds that Holly replies, “It’s okay,” because that social skill was taught to her by her father. Family support, guidance and modeling acceptable behavior are crucial for children on the spectrum.
At school, Holly’s mother explains to her second grade teacher, Miss Joy, that during slime play, Holly would like to have soap and water at her desk because “She doesn’t like sticky hands.” I remember having to discuss these same types of things with my son’s teachers since my son wasn’t old enough to self-advocate.
Throughout the school day, Holly dreads the approaching slime time. In fact she’s unable to focus on much else. She begins the science experiment reluctantly with the less difficult portion sensory-wise. Miss Joy then finds a clever way to get the overly cautious student to feel curious and involved. Her encouragement and compassion are evident in her dialogue and her poses. What could have been an upsetting experience turns out to be a positive one. It helps, too, that Holly’s not teased by her classmates and that her accommodations have been taken into consideration.
Since the main character experiences “the world differently” than her neurotypical classmates, readers see that it’s hard for Holly to navigate the many uncomfortable situations she faces at school. Her sensory issues and autism color a lot of her reactions and moods which is quite common. While the premise of Too Sticky! may appear straightforward and easily resolved, for children like Holly, such is not the case in real life.
Malia adds a candid Author’s Note describing how both she and her daughter live with Autism Spectrum Disorder and her goal in writing the picture book. With one out of every fifty-nine children in the U.S. diagnosed with ASD, it’s important more children, parents, teachers and caregivers learn about how these children experience the world. With Holly, readers on the spectrum can see a mirror on themselves. Too Sticky!is the ideal read not only for parents and children with these sensory issues, but for anyone wanting to understand the experience and struggles kids like Holly deal with on a daily basis. The backmatter also includes an easy slime recipe perfect for indoor science activities and silliness.
Cover Reveal: We’re so happy and honored to reveal the beautiful new cover of Bird Hugs today. Ged Adamson, whose endearing kid centric artwork is done in watercolor and pencil, has dreamed up a drove of recognizable animals to bring bird’s uplifting story to life. I love the font style and the hint of leaves from above, but most of all I adore seeing the hug front and center. The colors throughout are warm and inviting, the illustrations are playful and, when coupled with the sweet story, make this picture book ideal for sharing with children. The cover shows that Bird, with his enormously long wings, is great at giving hugs. While he can’t fly on his own, having friends who appreciate what he can do, definitely helps him reach meaningful new heights.
Description: Bernard isn’t like other birds. His wings are impossibly long, and try as he might, he just can’t seem to fly. He’s left wondering what his wings are good for . . . if they’re even good for anything at all. But a chance encounter with a dejected orangutan leads Bernard to a surprising discovery: that maybe what makes him different is actually something to be embraced.
About the Author: Ged Adamson is a children’s book author and illustrator. His picture books include A Fox Found a Box; Douglas, You Need Glasses!; Shark Dog!; and Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed). He has also worked as a cartoonist, storyboard artist, and composer for film and TV. He lives in London with his partner, Helen, and son, Rex. To learn more, visit his website:https://gedadamson.myportfolio.com/home-page
Pre-order your copy today by clicking here. The publication date is February 1, 2020.
NOW? NOT YET!
Written and illustrated by Gina Perry
(Tundra Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
A sweet and spot on take of differing priorities, Gina Perry’s picture book, Now? Not Yet!, is a super summer read. The two pals, Peanut and Moe, first seen in Too Much! Not Enough! are back to share more contrasting but relatable personality traits.
Before even reaching the title page, readers will see that, in the opening endpapers artwork, Perry depicts a beautiful woodsy setting for a story with blue lines delineating the characters’ journey from start to finish. I wanted to jump into the illustration! A more simplified version of this scene is also included at the end. Such a cool feature!
The pals are going camping but Peanut is impatient. He’s got a one track mind and it’s set on swimming. Moe, on the other hand, knows that fun and games have to take a back seat to the journey (hiking in the woods), facing several obstacles along the way (getting lost, Peanut falling) and ultimately setting up camp. All the while Peanut keeps asking Now? Now? Now? When the Now? turns into Now! it’s clear Peanut has waited long enough. But at the same time, he’s never once pitched in. Moe’s been doing everything himself. And more still needs to get done. With the two friends at odds, Moe runs off. Now he’s not a happy camper. Parent can ask their children if they feel they’re more like Moe or Peanut and discuss why.
Peanut and Moe need to work things out soon otherwise their special time together camping will be ruined. Luckily Peanut sees the light, finishes the chores, but realizes helping out is all fine and dandy but what good is being prepared when Moe’s not around to play with? Here’s where parents can point out some subtle actions in the illustrations that might indicate Moe’s got a fun surprise in store. Perry’s artwork is vibrant and inviting, adding a pleasing lightheartedness to this friendship story of cooperation and empathy.
HORSE MEETS DOG
Written by Elliott Kalan
Illustrated by Tim Miller
(Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
From the first pages, Horse Meets Dogis a fast dialogue-driven encounter fueled by mistaken identity. Hilarity ensues in a manner that’s easily conveyed to children both in Elliott Kalan’s spare text and Tim Miller’s bold images. The bright colors and stark black lines are reminiscent of a graphic novel.
The takeaway from Kalan’s forty-page picture book is that some friendships have a rocky start and, instead of making assumptions, we can learn from our differences. Children will see the world is bigger than who they are and bigger still than their direct circle of friends.
Elliott Kalan has written for television shows Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Returnand The Daily Show with Jon Stewartand the comic book series Spider-Man and the X-Men.
JULIÁN IS A MERMAID
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Julián is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, is a brilliant debut picture book. As Julián and his abuela leave the public pool, they share the subway ride with some women dressed as mermaids. Julián loves mermaids and feels he is one too. He demonstrates this while his abuela’s away taking a bath. At the crucial moment of discovery, Abuela encourages Julián and takes him to his tribe: a gathering of likeminded people.
Jessica Love’s beautiful sentiment is echoed in her vibrant, festive art done by hand with ink, gouache, and watercolor on brown paper. Richly rendered, expressive characters stand out against muted backgrounds. This 40-page picture book gently shows how easy it can be to accept others. Potentially contentious moments are, instead, depicted with understanding.
Using words sparingly, Julián is a Mermaid captures the colorful expansiveness of our imaginations when given free rein.
About the author: Jessica Love is an illustrator and Broadway actress. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She lives in New York.