As their food supply dwindles and Mom pours the last cup of milk to make her special “fancy milk” drink, Molly learns they’ll be visiting a food pantry the next day. “What’s a food pantry?” Molly asks. “It’s a place for people who need food,” Mom answers. “Everybody needs help sometimes.”
In gentle ways, O’Neill and Magro illustrate the characters’ hesitance and anxieties while they wait in line for the pantry to open. Molly sees her classmate, Caitlin, standing in line with her grandmother. To Molly’s surprise, Caitlin expresses feelings of shame for being there. Walking back to her mom, Molly feels confused. Is “there something wrong with needing help?” Once inside, even Mom “look[s] like she want[s] to be invisible.” But Molly reminds her, “Everybody needs help sometimes.” Later, Molly points out to Caitlin ways they themselves helped “cheer up” the grown-ups in the pantry.
Open, honest conversations between Caitlin’s grandmother and Mom about finding and keeping employment allow for a safe space to share. Muted illustrations using straight, geometric lines provide a sense of structure, order, and calm. With minimal background in the settings, Magro allows readers to focus on each individual character, driving home the point: everyone is important, everyone needs help, and most of all, we need each other. A note in the back matter for adults and caregivers about food insecurity by Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, provides additional details on child hunger and resources to help.
Whether in the classroom or family room, readers young and old can benefit from this positive, heartfelt message of hope.
Award-winning author and illustrator Melanie Watt, well known for herScaredy Squirrel picture book series, has created her first graphic novel, Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, featuring a squirrel beset by many (and often improbable) fears about life outside his beloved nut tree. To his credit, Scaredy Squirrel confronts each challenge with an elaborate and hilarious action plan that’s often doomed to failure. From the potential alien landing to deadly dust bunnies, Scaredy Squirrel not only has a plan but a backup as well (play dead).
Since childhood, Scaredy Squirrel has kept himself and his nut tree safe from dreaded “trespassers” who could damage his tree. Who knows when a mammoth may want to uproot it? Or a cat might scratch it. So Scaredy Squirrel has developed a strategy to protect the tree. He places objects around his tree to distract the trespassers, such as a fake tree for the mammoth to uproot or a scratching post for the cat.
However, there’s a downside to this ambitious plan: these objects get dusty and from the dust springs notorious dust bunnies! So this quick-thinking squirrel comes up with a detailed plan to prevent dust bunnies … vacuum all the decoy objects! All well and good until the vacuum gets clogged and now Scaredy Squirrel must develop a plan to unclog the vacuum cleaner. As you can imagine, more problems emerge which entail more plans and greater chaos. Inevitably (despite playing dead) he finds himself face to face with a real bunny who would like to be his friend. Which of course necessitates a new plan …
Watt’s familiar cartoon-like illustrations go nicely with the graphic novel format. Simple geometric shapes are used to create the characters and setting. Faces are wonderfully expressive. Panels are well organized on the pages with a clean and uncluttered look, making this book perfect for newly independent readers. Witty word plays and expressions such as “going out on a limb” and “dust bunnies,” keep the narrative lively and make this a good read-aloud as well. Delightfully quirky features include a “Nutty (Table of) Contents,” and some silly and interactive features to be taken before it is “safe” to begin the story.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers are sure to appreciate that, despite the zany humor of the book, Scaredy Squirrel manages to demonstrate, in a light-hearted way, how children can face their fears and develop problem-solving skills such as writing down action plans, to face real-life challenges. While the age is listed as 6-9, younger children would certainly enjoy having the story read to them.
Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
Click here and here to read more squirrel stories.
Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere inCatching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clarkwith illustrations by Summer Macon.
It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).
Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.
The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.
Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”
I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”
A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.
Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.
Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.
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 and its team of passionate kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate link above. 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.
Every day Charlie kept his routine the same, fearful that something bad would happen if it changed. Anxious Charlie to the Rescue, written and illustrated by Terry Milne, tells the story of Charlie, the little dachshund, who forgets his own fears when his friend Hans needs his help.
“Change is a difficult thing Charlie,” Big Bruce, the large pup with floppy ears, tells Charlie in the opening page as Milne illustrates a shaky Charlie. Milne escorts the reader through Charlie’s day beginning every morning with hopping out of bed, “One, two, three … hop like a flea” to walking once around the fire hydrant on his way to the market and continuing as he walks on the same side of the oak tree.
In the illustrations the little brown dog with the large eyes is surrounded by fire hydrants and soft colored trees set on white paper. His fear continues at night as he checks under the bed and behind the curtains, arranging his toys in a neat row. The picture bubbles depict Charlie’s thoughts as he memorizes what he did today, so he can repeat them tomorrow because today “things turned out ok!”
“Early one morning the phone rang. It was Duck. Their friend Hans was stuck.” Charlie was in such a hurry to save his friend that he and Duck rushed past the fire hydrant and went the wrong way around the old oak tree. Charlie wanted to start all over again, but his friend needed him. He had no time to worry! Charlie’s friends had tried everything to free Hans (who had chosen a pipe to hide in during their game of hide-and-seek), but it was Charlie who had the successful idea.
“On his way home, Charlie felt so happy that he didn’t think about which way he passed the old oak tree.” Charlie collapsed onto his bed and thought “I forgot everything today, but things turned out ok.”
Milne’s colorful drawings and sweet expressions on the animals’ faces draw the reader into this charming friendship circle. And the rhyming prose provide an upbeat rhythm as well as giggles for the reader. The feeling of satisfaction Charlie experiences after helping his friend proves to be greater than his need for routine. This time Charlie realized that “nothing bad would happen and maybe what did happen would be wonderful!” That positive self-talk message is so important.
Anxious Charlie to the Rescue is a helpful read for parents who watch their own young children struggle with anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors, and for children to see they are not alone with these thoughts. It can also lead to meaningful discussions. The idea for this story came from Milne’s own daughter who struggles with anxiety and repetitive behavior. Both children with anxiety, and those who may have a friend or sibling with anxiety, will see that as hard as it is to change behaviors it can turn out okay. Everyone has some fears and Charlie shows young readers that when you let go of those fears wonderful things can happen.