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.
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.
WhenAmy B. Muchawrote A Girl’s Bill of Rights, she was not planning to publish it. Mucha says, “I wrote it years ago, only for myself! Like so many women, I was raised to be a people pleaser and put others before myself. Writing this was a way to help me declare and own my rights to have my own opinions, feelings, and preferences. And it helped!” But after a while, she thought her book could also be an inspiration for many girls and women. And by taking a chance and submitting her pitch during a Twitter pitch event, she got a like from Beaming Books, and voilà – a beautiful and inspiring book was born.
“I have the right to look how I look and wear what I wear.” That’s how it begins. e
And from there, more beautiful spreads with diverse girls talking about all the rights we, girls, have.
I love Sonda’s illustrations showing diverse girls – diverse races, body types, abilities, and disabilities. This makes the message even stronger that we all have the same rights to choose our path, have our own feelings, and say yes and no when we need to.
This book will be an empowering tool to show girls their rights and that they can be whatever they want to be. “Si, se puede.”
And today, on International Women’s Day, when we celebrate so many achievements by so many girls, it’s important to keep on inspiring them to fight for their rights.
In A Girl Like Youteacher/coach/author Frank Murphy, and first time picture book author Carla Murphy, along with illustrator Kayla Harren, celebrate all the wonderful ways there are to be a girl in this world and empower girls to be strong, daring, brave and bold.
Harren’s beautifully composed art introduces a diverse group of people and age ranges packed together as our confident main character stands amongst them with her companion dog right by her side reminding the reader that there may be billions of people but you are the only YOU there is! The eye-catching water colors brighten the pages as the reader travels through the life of this young girl as she runs for student council, stands up for herself and finds new talents. And in each colorful circular drawing her sweet little pup is always there for support. Bold letters highlight that Brave, girl, try new things.
Young readers see that there are endless possibilities and that childhood is a great time to try new things. (Adults will see that it’s not too late for them either). The authors’ words tell the reader that she can work hard at things. Mistakes are essential to success. So stick with it. As the reader turns the page, another line of bold letters say Bold girl, speak up. Harren paints girls of all sizes raising their hands in schooI.
This empowering picture book teaches children about friendship, thoughtfulness and empathy, topics so crucial to our times, while emphasizing how important taking care of yourself is in order to fulfill your dreams. Smart girl, take care of your heart. Embrace and care for the body you are in. Your unique traits are what make you especially beautiful. And ESPECIALLY you!
Witnessing America’s first Black and South Asian female vice president being sworn in has helped girls see that their dreams can come true. Reading this book is a another great example showing girls they should take pride in being [the] one and only you. Unlike anyone else, ever before. Murphy and Murphy’s words resonate. Simple yet powerful, they recognize everyone’s uniqueness
The Author’s Note explains how children are treated differently whether boy, girl or other gender identity and that their purpose for this book was to help kids feel empowered to find their passions and strengths. Pediatric nurse, Carla Murphy, encourages the reader to make choices that serve their health. Writing teacher, Frank Murphy, includes a writing activity for kids to create a gratitude journal with parents or teachers asking them to record three things a day.
This story, a companion title to A Boy Like You, brought joy to my heart and I believe will positively impact children and adults who read it as well. Its beautiful, warm message should be read over and over again because the world needs a girl … a caring and strong girl, a bold and brave girl, an unstoppable girl. A girl like you.
Written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Kat and Juju is a gentle story of friendship, identity, and the courage to be your own self.
Kat is a tender-hearted little girl who finds “wonder in places no one else” thinks to look.
Vahdani’s illustrations direct our eyes to a curious play of shadows that fascinates Kat and helps us understand her unique perspective. Her connection to such things others don’t understand causes her to stand out as different. And her shy personality gets in the way of talking to the other children. Consequently, she often feels lonely.
Her hope lies in her upcoming birthday gift—a “very best friend” to call her own. On her special day, a big, red, fluffy bird named Juju arrives at her doorstep. Kat soon finds out that as loveable as he is, Juju is nothing like her. His loud and outgoing personality easily draws the attraction and affection of the other kids. As much as Kat wants to “let go” and join Juju’s “happy dance,” she can’t surrender the fear of what others will think of her.
Then a chance discovery of a vulnerable “birdie” (chick) in need of care helps Kat face her fear. With help and encouragement from best friend Juju, Kat nurtures the chick to health. Sometimes these caregiving activities feel safe and familiar to Kat, like feeding and giving medicine. However, at other times, they involve risk-taking and getting outside of her comfort zone, especially as Kat and Juju try to help the birdie learn to fly. Anxious and terrified, Kat nevertheless participates. Vahdani’s background in animation, and contrasting color palette provide a safe space for experimentation and exploration. Through this exciting and challenging process, Kat helps out her little friend and, just as important, discovers the freedom to be herself.
For little ones (including me) who may feel different for being on the quieter side, Kat and Juju shows that perseverance can lead to a “happy dance” of inner strength and self-affirmation.
MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow (Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
THE REMEMBER BALLOONS Written by Jessie Oliveros Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte (Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.
Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.
Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.
In THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”
But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.
Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus.Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY
Written by Lindsey McDivitt
Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)
One of the best parts about reviewing children’s books is learning about someone or something new. That’s exactly what happened after readingNature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Storyby Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of traditionally published picture books about people with disabilities, but there are more now than there used to be and that’s a good thing. Authors like McDivitt are making a difference by writing about diverse individuals and topics which I truly appreciate and why I jumped at the chance to review Nature’s Friend.
This inspiring debut picture book biography introduces children to the art and writing of Gwen Frostic, someone about whom, as I mentioned above, I knew nothing prior to reading the book. And now I’m eager to see her art in person and you will be, too. Born in Michigan in 1906, Frostic contracted an illness as an infant that left her physically disabled. But with the positive influence of her mother, Gwen never avoided doing all the things that her brothers and sisters did. “I never knew I couldn’t do something,” is the overarching message of Nature’s Friend, a quote in McDivitt’s book that captures the essence of who Gwen was—a bright, creative and resourceful woman who never let perceived obstacles hold her back. She clearly was ahead of her time.
Gwen’s mother, a former teacher, could have taught her daughter at home because in the early 20th century it was more common for disabled children to stay at home. Instead, Mrs. Frostic “sent Gwen to school and pushed her to learn.” While the bullying might have painful, the young girl chose to focus on her academics and was an adept student. In fact, it was also due to her mother’s encouragement and guidance that Gwen’s weak hands grew stronger as her mother had her practice sketching. Gwen, who had embraced nature at an early age, would find later in life that this experience greatly influenced her career path.
At age 12, Gwen’s family moved to Detroit. It was there in high school that she learned mechanical drawing and other skills not typically part of a girl’s curriculum. Someone wrote in her yearbook, “Her brush, her pencil and her pen will make this world a better place!” But pursuing a career in art wasn’t necessarily going to provide for her. The tides turned in her favor when wealthy and influential people began purchasing her designs. What joy and satisfaction it must have been for Frostic when her art was chosen to be exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair! Soon though her grand plans were put on hold due to WWII. She went to work at the Ford Motor Company to help the war effort by designing “tools for building the airplanes.”
In addition to Gwen’s airplane construction work, at home she remained drawn to art, eventually purchasing a printing press and starting her own business. Frostic called it Presscraft Papers Stationary Company and based it first in Frankfort, Michigan and then on the Betsie River to be closer to nature. The back matter states that Frostic created greeting cards and books that “celebrated Michigan plans and wildlife.” She was awarded countless honors in her lifetime and worked in her shop well into her 90s.
Ewen’s serene artwork conveys Frostic’s love of nature on every page. I also felt the movement and emotion as Gwen clenched her sketching pencil, smelled the fresh Michigan air in the beautifully rendered outdoor scenes and watched the changing fashions go by as Gwen matured. The illustrations, coupled with McDivitt’s honest and uplifting prose that applauds determination and individuality, promises hope and invites creativity (there’s a craft included at the end), make this a wonderful and worthwhile read for not only kids, but for adults too who may be unfamiliar with Frostic.
Everything about Gwen Frostic was unique, from her art to her attitude. Rather than let society define what she could and couldn’t do as a woman and as a person with disabilities, she wrote her own rules and lived happily and successfully by them. Considering the era she lived in, it’s especially encouraging to read about female trailblazers like Gwen Frostic who forged ahead with their talents allowing their heart to guide them.
“As long as there are trees in tiny seeds … there will be miracles on earth.” – Gwen Frostic, A Walk With Me
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.
THIS IS IT
by Daria Peoples-Riley
(Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
★Starred Review – School Library Journal
When a young dancer hesitates nervously at the studio audition door, her mirror-shadow self comes to life to encourage, support and reassure her in This Is It, a charming debut from author-illustrator Daria Peoples-Riley.
“Look at me,” commands a tutu-clad shadow, hands on her hips. The young girl, stiff and uncertain, looks askance but listens to the shadow’s message about challenge, confidence and poise. Slowly, the girl stretches, bends, leans and finally embraces the shadow’s exhortations. “Listen to the hum of your heart’s song,” says the shadow and reminds her to hear the melodies that flow from her elbows to her knees.
The delightful pas-de-deux, girl and shadow, pass together through a grey, concrete cityscape where bridges, staircases and sidewalks accentuate the opportunity for movement and energy. Red, green and pink shrubbery soften the silent, stiff buildings, while the curves of splashing fountains and smoky vents echo the dynamic pair’s swirling, twirling exuberance.
Peoples-Riley employs a mixture of free-verse and concrete poetry that showcase the strength and grace of the young dancer in definitive, certain terms. Moving in deliberate, thoughtful progression, the phrases carefully build up the young dancer’s inner confidence and ultimately celebrate her beautiful self-expression. While the shadow keeps all the spoken lines, it is the girl who ultimately shines in the triumphant, starring role.
Most young dancers become accustomed to studying their reflections in the dance studio mirror. This Is It will inspire them to look for a supportive, encouraging shadow that has also been with them every step of the way, both in and out of the spotlight.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
THE BAD SEED
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Harper Collins Children’s; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – School Library Journal
After reading The Bad Seed written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, I truly appreciated its deep message about the value we place on ourselves and others based on behavior.
Here’s where the review gets interesting though; while this is a children’s picture book geared towards ages 4-8; I feel it’s also a great book for older kids and even adults!
Younger kids, especially in the world we live in today, know the power words hold over someone. When reading to a younger crowd, as a teacher, I would explain that words like “bad” and “good” are labels. We all make mistakes sometimes. Why is the seed labeled this way? For older children the book serves as a reinforcement of what they hopefully know to be true, there’s always room for self-growth.
The story follows a little sunflower seed who loves his family dearly on their Sunflower head home. As the seeds scatter when it’s nature’s time for them to drop off the beloved plant, they become separated.
Our once loved and happy seed protagonist quickly becomes traumatized by events beyond his control (such as a man at a baseball game nearly swallowing him and then being spit out- with a permanent crack in his once whole shell!) The seed isn’t so happy anymore and is convinced that he is bad (something anyone with trauma in their life can relate to, as it is often the victim left feeling at fault).
He begins to act out by deciding “not to care anymore” which he does by not listening to others, lying, and not washing his hands, among other things. But what our dear seed needs desperately, is for someone to connect to. To see his cracks and accept him, showing him that he can be whole again from the inside out. Children often act out when they need help, and our little seed is a perfect example of someone needing intense care.
He eventually tires of his “bad” behavior and starts working on being “good” again. I say these words in quotes because the truth is none of us lives in a world of black and white/good or bad people. It requires constant awareness to make positive choices to be your very best self and not let a label define you.
We never know someone else’s background- their own unique make-up and history, so labeling them as “bad” or “good” means that we miss out on why they are behaving that way to begin with. With children especially, curiosity goes a long way in sorting out behavior that doesn’t work. We are all moving through each moment trying to meet needs. Some strategies we try are better than others, and The Bad Seed, through both its humorous art and prose, illustrates that beautifully. Pete Oswald’s expressive and whimsical illustrations truly capture the emotions of this little seed in a way many children can relate to so they can instantly guess at how he is feeling.
I recommend this book as a tool to show that we never know what someone else has been through. Being curious, asking questions, and offering kindness before judging and criticizing would be best whenever possible in life.
Written and illustrated by Mira Bartók
(Candlewick Press; $21.99, Ages 10-14)
Read Our Author Q & A Today & Attend a Book Signing on Friday, 11/10 in West Hollywood
Scroll down to find out more!
The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók and soon to be a major motion picture, garnered a great amount of attention, and deservedly so, even before the book deal was done. Reminiscent of classic literary odysseys and the best of contemporary fantasy, with a sprinkling of steampunk, The Wonderling opens in a thrillingly dreadful orphanage for young groundlings – part creature, part human. In this Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Children, all pleasures, especially music, are forbidden. But the hero of the story, a young one-eared fox-like groundling yearns for friendship and love. All he has is a half memory of a special song that will lead him to his destiny. After staging a daring escape with the help of a small mechanical bird, Trinket, the Wonderling sets off on a glorious adventure through forests and wild country, to the shiny city of Lumentown, ruled over by the High Hats, where he will discover the mysterious Songcatcher and unlock the secrets of his past.
Written in stunning prose and decorated with Mira’s exquisite illustrations, The Wonderling is a hugely enjoyable and original fantasy filled with vivid and eccentric characters and a plot that twists and turns. You will find echoes of King Arthur, of Dickens, of Kenneth Grahame; you will find brave mice in armor, and giant crows that terrorize the skies; you will find innocence, humor, hope, and ultimately triumph.
GOOD READS WITH RONNA INTERVIEWS MIRA BARTÓK:
GRWR: Can you please speak to the world building you so brilliantly created for The Wonderling – did you have certain places and buildings in mind when you wrote the novel and drew the map?
BARTÓK: The settings I created for the book came from various places—books, images online, dreams, my imagination, and travel. I probably gleaned the best ideas from looking at Gustav Doré’s images of 19th century London and Henry Mayhew’s 19th century descriptions of London’s poor. Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London was also essential, as was actually walking about in that wonderful city. I also spent many hours looking at maps from classic children’s books and in library archives. The feeling of Gloomintown, the City Below the City, came from a combination of re-reading Dickens’s Hard Times, looking at old engravings of London’s sewer system, and studying Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno. A crazy mix!
GRWR: I’m thrilled there’s going to be a second book because I cared about your characters, well the good ones anyway! Who did you have the most fun imagining and why?
BARTÓK: I definitely had the most fun writing about Quintus, my Fagin/Artful Dodger Rat groundling! Mostly because he’s funny, he loves to make up songs (therefore, I get to make up his lyrics), and he’s complicated. He’s a thief, a rogue, and an opportunist, but he’s also a really good guy.
GRWR: In addition to sharing a strong sense of hope and tolerance, your story also touches upon the power of dreams. Do dreams influence your writing?
BARTÓK: I can’t even begin to tell you how much! Sometimes entire scenes are mapped out in my dreams. I have very epic dreams populated with many different kinds of creatures. If only I could sleep all the time and have some machine transmit my dreams directly into books, I’d probably finish my books sooner!
GRWR: The Wonderling gives a voice to the marginalized. I especially liked when Arthur, who was marginalized himself as a groundling, befriended Peevil, the mouse and Trinket, the bird. Was that one for all and all for one teamsmanship one of your intentions?
BARTÓK: Not really. I knew Arthur would make one good friend, but I had no idea he would make so many. I realized half way through writing the book that part of his journey is learning that he has friends who have cared about him all along.
GRWR: Wire, Miss Carbunkle, Sneezeweed, Mardox the manticore and even His Excellency the powerful White Hat, were so vivid and nasty, yet so unique in character. How difficult was it to create the villains?
BARTÓK: Easy as pie! I lOVE creating villains! But Miss Carbunkle was harder to write about since she has more of a backstory. She is and will continue to be the most complex villain, therefore she is the most interesting and difficult to write about. She will transform a little in Book Two, and her character will deepen in surprising ways. The Man with the White Gloves and Wire are really sociopaths and will continue to be nasty little fellows in Book Two. And I will, I am sure, have a ball writing about them!
GRWR: What is it about the Victorian era that interests you?
BARTÓK: I think that era appeals to me because I see such a parallel between the Industrial Revolution and all the problems we are going through today. And in London, things were exceedingly hard for children, women, immigrants, and the poor. When I read about the nightmarish working conditions for children in the coal pits during that time, and how horrible living conditions were for poor immigrants living in Spitalfields, it’s hard not to think of the sweat shops of today, or the global refugee crisis, and the rise in homelessness. The Victorian Era was also a time of great and wondrous technological inventions, just like today. And like today, people often didn’t think of the ramifications of the technology they created, for better or for worse.
GRWR: Quintus, your Fagin of sorts, is an intriguing individual. What can a character like him bring to the story for young readers who may not be familiar with any Dickens?
BARTÓK: I think he can bring a sense that some characters who do bad or illegal things aren’t always bad through and through. Sometimes there’s a good reason for their misconduct. And there’s also room for them to change and grow.
AUTHOR BIO: Mira Bartók is a writer and artist whose New York Times best-selling memoir, The Memory Palace: A Memoir,
won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. The Wonderling is her first novel for young readers.
She lives in Western Massachusetts.
MEET MIRA BARTÓK THIS FRIDAY IN WEST HOLLYWOOD!
Mira Bartók discusses and signs The Wonderling at Book Soup on November 10th
Event date: Friday, November 10, 2017 – 7:00 p.m.
Event address: Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Below is an abbreviated schedule of upcoming appearances. Find a full listing of Bartók’s events on her website.
· Monday, November 13 in Portland, OR: Public book reading and signing at 7 p.m. at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005
· Saturday, December 2 in New Salem, MA: New Salem Town Library reading and signing event from 2-4 p.m. at Swift River School, 149 West St., New Salem, MA 01355
· Wednesday, December 13 in Northhampton, MA: Local author series event from 7-8:45 p.m. at Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton MA 01060
A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY
BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER
by Shelley Johannes
Disney-Hyperion sent Good Reads With Ronna a copy to check out, and we’re delighted they’re partnering with us for the giveaway!
Read the review then scroll down to enter the giveaway today!
REVIEW: In Shelley Johannes’s charming debut, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, the main character is appealing in a cute and quirky way. She’s someone whose personality will no doubt resonate with many different thinkers when they see themselves reflected on the pages of this delightful new chapter book series for tweens and pretweens.
Beatrice approaches life from a creative and different perspective. In other words, she does her best thinking upside down. Up until third grade, this singular skill has been accepted, even rewarded by her school teachers. But things are about to change as the summer of second grade ends and it’s time to head back to school. Not one to make promises easily unless it’s very important (a running sight gag throughout this illustrated story), and involves her BFF Lenny Santos, Beatrice is dressed and ready for third grade in her ninja attire as was agreed upon when second grade ended. The outfits signified the girls’ participation in a secret plan called Operation Upside that was supposed to be put into action on day one. Then why does Lenny, unrecognizable in pink instead of her brother’s black hand-me-downs, seem to have forgotten? Maybe her new friend and neighbor Chloe has something to do with it and that’s why they’ve also chosen desks right next to each other! Beatrice, on the other hand, has to sit up front, under the watchful eyes of the strict Mrs. Tamarack.
Beatrice is determined to find a way to convince Lenny to reconsider the mission when it’s obvious that, with Chloe now in the picture, the stealth operation has been put on hold. Being an upside down thinker, Beatrice develops an unusual and risky plan that winds up including a dangerous fall and a clandestine visit to the staff room, something no ordinary student could ever concoct. Will Beatrice win back her friend and give Operation Upside a reboot? It seems there’s a lot at stake for this thoughtful third grader whose resilience is demonstrated in the most original ways, and who is certain to inspire young readers rooting for her success.
Johannes does a terrific job of engaging readers right from The Very Beginning, the title of Chapter One. Young Beatrice is hanging onto a branch in the first of many marvelous illustrations “created with felt-tip pen, brush marker, and colored pencil on tracing paper,” and using only black, grays and orange. And it works wonderfully. There’s occasional rhyme and an easy flow from chapter to chapter in this 155-page book kids should breeze through. The problem-solving and different thinker theme is age appropriate and should encourage interesting conversations about creativity, inclusiveness and friendship. The 20 chapters are short and Johannes makes sure there are no loose ends which can sure get in the way if you’re an upside down thinker! I’m eager to see what this amiable tween who marches to her own drummer gets up to in Book#2.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
GENERAL DETAILS: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
By Shelley Johannes
Release September 19, 2017
Recommended chapter book for ages 7-10
ABOUT THE BOOK … Beatrice does her best thinking upside down.
Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!
Can Beatrice use her topsy-turvy way of thinking to save the mission, mend their friendship, and flip things sunny-side up?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Shelley Johannes previously spent ten years in architecture—
where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the
greatness of black turtlenecks. She lives in Michigan with her husband
and two sons. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book
she’s written. Find her online at shelleyjohannes.com.
FIND OUT MORE:
Visit the Official Site here.
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Like Disney Books on Facebook
Hashtags #BeatriceZinker #UpsideDownThinker
Be An Upside Down Thinker!
One (1) winner receives:
Copy of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
And branded pencil case and notepad!
Open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.
This giveaway ends 10/12/17 12:00am PT so don’t wait! Enter today
for your chance to win a copy and cool BZUDT swag!
MUDDY: THE STORY OF BLUES LEGEND MUDDY WATERS
Written by Michael Mahin
Illustrated by Evan Turk
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Booklist
Don’t miss the biography of the man and his music in Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters.
The story of blues legend Muddy Waters is told in prose which reads like one of his songs, filled with both sweetness and longing. Author Michael Mahin does a fine job of recreating for a young reader the life of Muddy Waters from his childhood days to one of the high points of his career, the creation of his first album.
All along the way through the book, beside those sweet and longing words of the author, are Evan Turk’s amazing illustrations that take your breath away. They look like the blues! They look like Muddy Water’s story and some of his soul. Strong lines paint the bold story of the legend, and color reaches out to convey the emotion that Muddy was going through at different times in his life. Truly these are some of the most unique illustrations to appear in a picture book. The people in Muddy’s life reach high in church, bow low over a harmonica, every movement is full of energy. Muddy’s grandmother appears as a larger than life character. She takes up so much room in one memorable two-page spread that one cannot escape the dominant presence she must have had in Muddy’s life. There is some kind of motion everywhere, in the playing of music, in the form of Muddy’s grandmother as she hangs her laundry while dancing to Muddy’s music, and in the movement of Muddy himself as he plays and sings.
The often repeated words, “But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told.” tell the story of a man who would not be dictated to by any boss but himself, and who successfully turned that persistence into a sound that the music world had never heard before, a precursor to rock and roll. This is a story that shows a child that sometimes staying true to yourself is one of the hardest battles, but ultimately one of the best. Muddy never gave up on his music the way he heard it, never listening to naysayers. All of us have something like that call in our lives. Muddy teaches us through his experiences to listen to that call, be true to it and to never stop believing that one day it will enable each of us to add a new sound to the world. One passage accompanied by a striking depiction of Muddy singing reads like music:
He called up the sticky heat of a summer
night, the power of love, and the need
for connection in a world that was
so good at pulling people apart.
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters is an incredibly powerful picture book in every respect and is highly recommended. At the bookstore where I work, this is a staff favorite because we all agree that it is one of the most extraordinary picture books we have seen this year. Muddy is a wonderful introduction to the life of a legend as well as an inspirational and evocative experience of art so well matched to the man and his blues that you can almost hear the music playing.
This hardcover picture book will be available September 5, 2017 but can be pre-ordered now.
SHE PERSISTED: 13 American Women Who Changed the World
Written by Chelsea Clinton
Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
(Philomel; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★ Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
She Persisted, Chelsea Clinton’s historical picture book, celebrates thirteen strong and inspirational American women who overcame obstacles because they persisted. Featured are Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, and Sonia Sotomayor. The book’s opening line, “Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy” sets the tone. With perseverance comes progress.
Each woman’s legacy is summarized in only one paragraph and includes the motivational words “she persisted”; the text is offset by corresponding images and a relevant quote. More personal than a history textbook, these bite-size biographies share a glimpse into the adversity overcome to achieve individual dreams. The book’s concluding words, “They persisted and so should you,” reinforces camaraderie and illuminates the message that, if you stick with it, you, too, can evoke change.
Alexandra Boiger’s watercolor and ink images contrast muted tones alongside bright colors to effectively showcase these important moments. The opening two-page spread includes pictures of fourteen women; though not mentioned in the text, Hillary Clinton is depicted here.
She Persisted would make an encouraging gift for young girls “stepping up” through grades in elementary school. It would seem fitting that Chelsea Clinton write an accompanying book for boys.
Chelsea Clinton is the author of the New York Times bestselling It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going! and, with Devi Sridhar, Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why? She is also the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, where she works on many initiatives including those that help to empower the next generation of leaders. She lives in New York City with her husband, Marc, their daughter, Charlotte, their son, Aidan, and their dog, Soren. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChelseaClinton or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/chelseaclinton.
Alexandra Boiger grew up in Munich, Germany, and studied graphic design before working as an animator in England and then at Dreamworks SKG in the United States. She is the author and illustrator of Max and Marla, and the illustrator of more than twenty picture books including the Tallulah series, and When Jackie Saved Grand Central. She has received the Parents’ Choice Award and has been featured on numerous state reading lists. Alexandra lives in California with her husband, Andrea, daughter, Vanessa, and two cats, Luiso and Winter. You can visit her online at www.alexandraboiger.com.