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.
Swimming season is upon us so I’ve invited author Stephanie Wildman to talk about her new picture book, Brave in the Water, for parents and caregivers of reluctant swimmers to share with children.
Thank you so much, Ronna, for having me on your blog. I’m excited to tell your readers about my debut picture group Brave in the Water and to encourage them to get in the water!
Learning to swim can be daunting. I should know – I didn’t learn until I was twenty-six years old! I didn’t want my own children to grow up afraid, so I took them for swim lessons at an early age. They both became competitive swimmers. One founded and coached an award-winning swim program for vulnerable youth. One swam for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics, winning a gold medal. So getting them in the water was one thing I did right as a parent, not passing on my own fear. I hope this book reaches children who might be afraid like I was and shows them that they can have fun in the water.
More about the book:
Diante is afraid to put his face in the water, but he is torn because he would like to play in the pool with other children. He’s not afraid to hang upside down on the monkey bars, though, and he’s surprised to learn his grandma is afraid to be upside down in an inverted yoga pose. Can Diante help Grandma and become brave in the water?
Spoiler alert: He can and he does. Grandma tells Diante about the feathered peacock yoga pose that she aspires to do. Diante wants to try it. Grandma explains that “Breathing is important for trying something new.” They practice slow, deep inhalations and exhalations together.
Before trying the pose Diante learns to control his breathing (pranayama).
He wonders if pranayama can help him put his face in the water. He goes back to the pool to try and thinks for a long time, finally remembering pranayama. Finally, step by step, slowly breathing Diante enters the water and puts his face in. He is on his way to learning how to swim.
Here is what Bonnie Tsui, New York Times best-selling author of Why We Swim and Sarah and the Big Wave, said about Brave in the Water in her back cover blurb:
“Being brave is something we work on all our lives. Stephanie Wildman shows us how to help each other through — one breath at a time — to reach the essential joy of the water.”
By the way, I would love you to check out my debut group NewBooksforKids.com. I have been lucky to meet this group of kidlit debut authors, all with books I want to buy and read. Remember you can always support children’s books by requesting your local library to order them or by buying one for a Little Free Library. This group will give you some great ideas.
Thanks again Ronna. See you in the water!
About the Author:
Stephanie M. Wildman served as John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Chair at Santa Clara Law and directed the school’s Center for Social Justice and Public Service before becoming Professor Emerita. Her books include: Brave in the Water (2021); Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America 2d (2021) (with contributions by Armstrong, Davis, & Grillo); Race and Races: Cases and Resources for a Diverse America 3d (with Delgado, Harris, Perea, & Stefancic) (2015); Social Justice: Professionals Communities and Law (with Mahoney & Calmore) (2013); Women and the Law Stories (with Schneider) (2011). She is a member of the Writers Grotto. She is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she is able to sit “criss-cross apple sauce” thanks to her yoga practice.
Where to buy the book:
The book is available for order anywhere books are sold. Here are some links for purchasing online:
A brave hero doesn’t always mean a big hero in Nicolò Carozzi’s beautifully worded and illustrated picture book Brave as a Mouse, his debut picture book in the US.
Through simple text and stunning art, Carozzi draws our attention to Mouse’s new friendship with the homeowner’s fish. Mouse asks the fish, “Would you like to play?” and with a simple “YES!” both creatures enjoy each other’s company, swimming together. Mouse blows through a straw, and the fish enjoys jacuzzi-style bubbles.
However, the fun stops when other housepets want to “play.” Three ominous shadows cast on the wall next to the fish’s bowl are plain but powerful images foretelling of the dangers ahead.
As the homeowner’s beloved fat cats encircle the fishbowl, Mouse has a “wild … bold … [and] brave idea” to entice the three to follow him, all the way to the pantry where they gorge themselves on cat food.
While the felines sleep off their big meal, Mouse uses the time to fulfill an even wilder, bolder, and braver idea that includes the help of other mice living in the house. Straight lines, calm, muted colors, and minimalist illustrations keep us focused on the rescue plan. Children and adult readers will enjoy the action-packed adventure as Mouse risks his own safety to protect his new friend. A more subtle, though important theme is the infectious nature of Mouse’s bravery and kindness.
For those interested in quieter books on themes of friendship and compassion as well as those who like a good old fashion story when the good guys win, this picture book will delight again and again.
Julius and Macy like to play heroes. Julius pretends he’s the defender of the forest, while Macy has a quieter strength. When their snack disappears one night, they decide to track down the only one who could have taken it―the Night Goblin. They both have to be brave in their own ways, and they ultimately discover that the real thief isn’t anything like they imagined.
With its endearing characters, this gently told tale reminds us that we each have courage within us and that kindness can make all the difference.
INTERVIEW WITH ANNELOUISE MAHONEY
GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut, Annelouise! Does it feel surreal right now after all your hard work to hold Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night in your hands? How long has it been since you first began this creative journey in general and specifically for this picture book?
Annelouise Mahoney:Hi Ronna. Thank you so much for having me over today. Yes! Surreal is the perfect word for how it feels. Surreal and grateful! It’s been a long journey into picture books. It took about 10 years of serious focus to break into children’s books and of those 10 years, it took 5 years for the making of Julius and Macy.
GRWR: I adore bravery stories since I was not the bravest of kids, nor were my children. Tell us how you decided on this topic for your picture book.
AM: I adore bravery stories too! I didn’t set out with a definite topic for this book at the beginning. It was more finding the characters that resonated with me and asking questions as I drew them over and over again. So the characters came first. The more I drew Julius and Macy the clearer their story became.
GRWR: Burning question. Are you more Julius or more Macy?
AM: That’s a fun question! Honestly, I think I’m a little bit of both. I love to go after something I’m passionate about but feel bravest with someone by my side. I feel the younger me is more adventurous like Julius, but the older me is more cautious like Macy.
GRWR: Please walk us through your approach to writing and illustrating. Did you conceive the text first and then illustrate it, vice versa, or did everything happen simultaneously?
AM: I’ve learned to stick to the illustrations first. Not full illustrations, but loose sketches of ideas, and build from there. I gather all the loose sketches into a folder and begin placing them into a small thumbnail template. The template is an 8×11 piece of paper where I can see the story in one place. When I can see the story, and feel the visual narrative is working, then it’s time to add the words. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s a lot of experimenting to get the words right. If I start with the text too soon, I usually end up straying from my story.
GRWR:Can we talk about your gorgeous artwork and how you create it?
AM: In the beginning when I’m moving away from the very loose thumbnail sketch and planning out the compositions for each spread, I use Post-it notes to redraw certain elements, or add to what I already have. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s figuring out compositions and looking for how to express a feeling. I’m also looking for areas that may be repetitive and looking for the most interesting way to show the story. There is a lot of experimenting happening at this stage. The Post-it notes help me to not get attached to any single idea as I can just take it off or move it around without having to redraw the whole spread.
When I think what’s happening on the page is working, I scan the sketches into the computer and make the images bigger in photoshop. I’m looking for more specific information I can give to each spread, making sure the compositions work within the trim size and add the text to make sure everything reads well in the space.
This dummy stage will then repeat as I go through revisions with my agent and then my editor until the story is fleshed out and polished.
Once the story is polished, I begin all over again with small thumbnails but this time I’m focusing only on color. For Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, I made a color guide to help me navigate the color choice for each spread before going into final art. I found this part extremely helpful because I was painting in watercolor and I had to know how I was going to approach each painting.
I then repeated the process of scanning in the tiny thumbnails in Photoshop and making them much bigger to fit into the book template. I was interested to see where I need to focus on adding details and how the images read in the true size of the book. It’s checking and double-checking that the text will fit and I’m getting the color transitions right. Once the loose wash looks right and I can see where I’m going, I took large sheets of Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper and cut them down a little larger than print size.
I painted each page in watercolor, with lots and lots of wash layers. I would work on a few spreads at a time so there was time for the paint to dry, and time to look away from a work in progress. There is an uncomfortable moment in each illustration where it looks ugly and messy and doesn’t feel like it will work before it does. When the painting was dry and complete, I scanned each painting into the computer and used photoshop and my Wacom tablet to set each painting into the picture book template provided by my publisher, Two Lions.
GRWR: Now that you have one book under your belt, are you busy with promoting it, or are you also making time for more artistic pursuits?
AM: Promotion does take a lot of time, and I’m enjoying this moment very much. But yes, I’m working on two other book dummies at the moment and I’m hoping to get them submission-ready soon.
GRWR: Do you have a routine you like to stick to when working on a project?
AM: I really need to be flexible as a working mom and often bring my book dummies, Post-it notes and pencils with me wherever I go. As far as a routine, I definitely wake up early each day before the demands of my family take over, and I work at night when there is another wave of calm. Those precious hours are protected for when I really need to concentrate.
GRWR: Is there a spread in Julius and Macy that really resonates with the child in you and the mother in you?
AM:Oh wow, what a beautiful question. The spread of the book with panels of Julius and Macy walking into and through the dark cave resonates with me as a mother. When my daughters were very young they would slip into pretend play very easily. They craved adventure and enjoyed little scary moments where they were challenged to be brave. The Los Angeles zoo has a man-made cave meant for little ones to explore. We’d visit it often and my girls would become more and more brave to venture through it, their imaginations on fire as they explored every corner.
As an author, I find writing a children’s book a bit like walking in the dark. There are times when I don’t know where I’m going, I can’t see the story, I can easily spook myself, but there is the need to keep going even if the unknown feels scary. As a child, I craved adventure stories and had a very active imagination. I think I’d be excited to walk into a cave, as long as I had a friend beside me and it wasn’t completely dark.
GRWR: What would you love for children to take away from reading your book?
AM: I would love children to explore what bravery means to them and see the many ways they’ve been brave in their own life. I’d like children to know that there is a unique form of bravery to reach out to someone, especially when you notice someone struggling to belong, as well as the bravery and trust to reach back.
GRWR: Has anyone in particular been influential in your kidlit career?
AM:I had a brave moment myself, and enrolled in a class taught by Marla Frazee at Art Center College of Design. She lit the way for me when I was really struggling to understand the craft of writing for children. She taught in a way I could understand by breaking things down to get to the heart of the story, finding the emotion in the art, trusting what your sketches are trying to tell you. Most importantly, when writing as an illustrator, stick to the sketching first. I’m still learning and growing, but those lessons influence how I write and how I create a book.
GRWR: What important lesson or invaluable piece of advice have you learned along the way in your children’s publishing experience that you’d like to share today?
AM: I believe that if you want to write for children, be passionate about it. Really put in the time and love to learn the craft. Be passionate about what you are working on. Publishing takes time and you want the love for your story to carry you through the rejections, revisions, and care that will ultimately polish your book better than you could ever do alone.
GRWR: What can we expect next?
AM: I hope to make many more books! That’s really all I want to do. Whether I have the honor of working with another author to create a book together or have the opportunity to publish more of my own stories. It’s the greatest privilege to make books for kids.
GRWR: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to mention?
AM: I’d like to mention to your readers that I have activity pages that correspond to my book available for download on my website. www.WoodlandAbbey.com
Also, I’m a member of a wonderful group of children’s book authors, The Picture Book Scribblers. We are all available for school visits paired by theme or individually. You can find us here https://picturebookscribbl.wixsite.com/home
Thank you so much, Ronna. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you today!
GRWR: What a wonderfully frank and informative interview. Thank you, Annelouise, and best of luck with Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night. e e
Annelouise Mahoney has worked in animation for DreamWorks, DIC Animation, Sony, and Saban Entertainment. She has also worked as a coloristfor Marvel and Image Comics on such series as Uncanny X-Men, Generation X, and others. This is her first picture book, and it was inspired by the depths of her daughters’ friendships and the many ways they are brave, especially with someone on their side. She loves to explore the forest, can’t resist a cave, and has a lot of love for all those named Julius in her life. Annelouise lives in Southern California with her family. Learn more about her atwww.woodlandabbey.com. e Order your copy ofJulius and Macy: A Very Brave Night: Mahoney today.
1. Enter our Twitter giveaway @goodreadsronna for a chance to win a signed copy of Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night together with aspecial Giveaway Prize Package from Annelouise that includes an 8×11 print of cover, a sticker sheet, and a round sticker. Eligible for U.S. only. One winner will be selected at random and announced at 6 pm PDT on Friday, April 9.
WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN!
2. Additionally, five lucky winners will each receive three fabulous books celebrating the art of making and keeping friends, including Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, courtesy of Two Lions. Details and entry form can be found here (US addresses).
Click here to read another recent author-illustrator interview.
Written by Kelly DiPucchioand illustrated by Raissa Figueroa, Oonaintroduces us to an adorable mermaid whose adventurous spirit is “sweet … and a little bit salty, like the ocean where she live[s].”
In fact, Oona was born to be a treasure hunter when she was “no bigger than a scallop.” Her curiosity for finding bigger and better valuables puts her in some precarious situations but with trusted pet Otto by her side, she safely discovers all kinds of gems.
One item, though, is particularly impossible to collect: an “extra sparkly” crown “stuck deep in [a] rift.” Oona’s resourcefulness and determination motivate her to try and try again, but natural forces in the sea-plus a terrifying, toothy surprise-hinder her efforts.
A ship plank that bumps her head “(hard!)” is the last straw. Oona quits trying to get that crown and deserts her beloved sea; yet, she knows in her heart that’s where she belongs.
When treasure washes up on the seashore, Oona’s passion for tinkering is reignited. With her homemade invention, she braves the depths of the rift to try for the crown once more. But the real treasure she finds is experiencing what she’s capable of creating.
The beautiful and lush illustrations completely submerge us into Oona’s underwater world. Shapes are soft, edges rounded, and the jewel-toned color palette is gentle and calm, all echoing Oona’s quiet confidence. I particularly enjoy the way light emanates from the background of the illustrations giving hope and energy to Oona’s searches.
Oona is a treasure trove of multiple layers to hook in a wide range of readers. Mermaid fans, marine life enthusiasts, explorers, and crafters will undoubtedly enjoy this message of persistence and self-belief.
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.
If you love fairy tale retellings, Federico and the Wolfis for you. Rebecca J. Gomez has taken the classic story and not only modernized it, but centered it in the Mexican American culture with great success.
The book’s appeal stems from its endearing main character Federico whose ingenuity and bravery will have young readers rooting for him as he takes on the infamous hungry wolf. And though he sports a hoodie, Federico is definitely not your grandmother’s Little Red. In fact in this version, Federico sets off to the local market “… to buy ingredients to make the perfect pico.” His plan is to get the stuff needed to bring to his abuelo (grandfather), then together the two can make a special salsa. The market art (see below), like so many other illustrations in this delightful picture book, is a razzle dazzle of glorious color and atmosphere. As a reader I wanted to jump into the scene.
On his way to see Abuelo, Federico heads through the city park and deep into the woods on his bike. It’s not long before the famished wolf stops him looking for “grub.” The young boy, however, claims he has no time or food to spare. When he arrives at his grandfather’s shop, Federico notices a suspiciously furry and pawed person beckoning him inside.
At first it might seem that Federico’s been taken in by Wolf’s disguise, providing the kind of suspense kids love. But, once he realizes what he’s up against, the clever lad resorts to clever measures. I won’t spoil the spicy ending, but suffice it to say that because of Federico’s quick thinking, the chances of Wolf ever returning are rather slim. When grandson and grandfather are finally safe from the the wolf’s conniving clutches, the pair can begin to prepare the pico as originally planned.
Chavarri’s vibrant illustrations work beautifully with the prose, helping to set the tone of this excellently executed fractured fairy tale. The pictures are light and lively when Federico is happy and they get darker whenever the wolf is present.
Gomez, with her wonderful use of rhyme, brings a spirited approach to this tale that invites multiple readings. I love how she’s incorporated Spanish words into the story. They not only feel natural, but add to the ambience of Federico’s world. Kids can figure out the words’ meaning many times just by looking at the illustrations such as silla for chair. Readers can also take turns playing the parts of Federico and Wolf for added enjoyment. A glossary in the back matter along with a recipe for the salsa tops off this read aloud treat. By all means, add this new picture book to your story time collection. And, remember to carry some chili powder in your hoodie pocket if you plan a walk in Wolf’s neck of the woods.
Written by Printz Honor recipient Julie Berry and illustrated by Annie Won, Long Ago, on a Silent Night connects the Biblical story of the birth of Christ with the birth of a mother’s newborn babe. Ancient and modern times meet to express the promise of peace, joy, and hope the Christmas season brings.
Won’s glowing, airy illustrations produce a dreamlike effect. Interchanging pages of light and dark color highlight the story’s juxtaposing themes: extreme joy and the deep mystery of the miracle of birth. Just as a “piece of heaven fell to earth” when God became flesh “at that sacred birth,”the mother feels her boy “came straight from heaven, too” from “the moment” she held him. Berry’s tender language, told in elegant verse form, captures the holiness of the relationship between mother and child, and in a broader sense, humankind’s relationship with the Christ Child. Though He had the power to “one day calm a tempest wild,” Jesus instead chose to save the world through His “gentleness” and humility. The birth of the baby is a reminder of the ripple effect of God’s loving kindness throughout the generations.
A great addition to your Christmas picture book collection, Long Ago, on a Silent Night highlights the relevance of the Nativity story to our modern times.
Beloved children’s author/illustrator Tomie dePaola offers us a picture book full of fun facts about the most widespread of all Christmas traditions: the Christmas tree.
In its second edition, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book begins with a family visiting a Christmas tree farm to pick out their own tree. The children’s curiosity about “how Christmas trees [got] started” leads to a fascinating discussion of the historical role “decorated trees and branches” have played during the holiday season. As far back as the Middle Ages, decorated evergreens were used during church plays and transitioned into people’s homes after the plays were no longer performed. It’s interesting to learn about the varied forms of the evergreens and shrubs as more people brought the plants indoors for decor. The children’s questions guide the family’s discussion naturally and fluidly in a gentle way that doesn’t feel like the reader is getting a “lesson.” We learn of other major transitions: the arrival of the Christmas tree in America, the addition of lights on the tree, and even the evolution of the Christmas tree stand. One piece of history is particularly delightful (and a matter of presidential importance) but you’ll have to get the book to find out!
Though much of the book presents factual information, the story arc takes readers from beginning to middle to end as we watch the family purchase, transport, and decorate their tree. The addition of the grandmother in the second half of the book adds a personal touch to the historical facts as she shares with her grandchildren her memories of Christmas trees long ago. As always, dePaola’s muted color palette, familiar shapes, and soft lines provide warmth and comfort to his words.
Perfect for school reports or for quelling those myriad questions from curious little ones, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book will both educate and entertain. Click here for bonus materials from the publisher’s website.
Growing up as part of a demanding traveling circus is not much of a life for Dasher, a little doe with an adventurous soul. The harshness of hot days does not compare to the magical place in Mama’s stories where the weather is cold, the air crisp, “and the ground was always covered with a cool blanket of white snow.” Dasher’s days are filled with meeting children which she loves. At night, however, surrounded by her family, she wishes upon the North Star for the home Mama has described.
When one windy night’s unusual circumstances bring Dasher into contact with Santa and his tired horse, Silverbell, it’s as if her wish were answered. Because his sleigh filled with massive amounts of toys is getting too heavy for just Silverbell, Santa invites Dasher to help pull his sleigh. There’ll be no looking back now. Only something is missing. Her family. Of course, Santa makes that wish come true, too, when he takes Silverbell and Dasher back to the circus and invites Dasher’s family to join the sleigh. Now everything’s in place for Christmas to be perfect!
Dasher, the wonderfully imagined and illustrated tale of Santa’s team of reindeer—before Rudolph came along—feels believable and satisfying. The old-fashioned look of the art (done in watercolor, gouache, pencil, and pastel) depicting J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie and filled with rural folk dressed in their late 19th century garb, adds to the feeling the story is real. Youngsters will be easily convinced, too, and love the lyrical way Tavares has woven together all the threads of this charming origin story so skillfully. Let yourself be transported back in time with this clever tale that will have you convinced this is exactly how Santa’s reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen came to pull Santa’s sleigh.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and so do heroic actions. The Life Heroic by Elizabeth Svoboda is her first children’s book and follows her adult novel, What Makes a Hero? An award winning science writer, Svoboda weaves what she has learned into stories and books to help kids and adults tap into their highest potential to become everyday heroes.
The colorful emoji like art created byChris Hajny is woven into each page with bold print highlighting the sentences meant to leave the reader with the most impact. Chapter 1, “What it Means to be a Hero,” includes the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger. He successfully landed Flight 1549 after a power loss to the aircraft’s engines forced a Hudson River landing. Sullenberger then worked with his crew to help the passengers get out safely through the cabin’s emergency exits.
Landing a plane in the river is not the only way to be considered a hero, Svoboda explains. Ten-year-old Ethan had traveled to Mozambique with his father. One day, while kicking a soccer ball, Ethan discovered kids in the village lived on less than a dollar a day. Those children had to create makeshift soccer balls out of things like trash bags wrapped in twine. “I thought to myself, I have six or seven soccer balls just sitting in my garage,” so he decided to give his ball as a parting gift. This one gesture gave Ethan the idea to donate soccer balls to the village. Others had a need that he could help fix. Eventually he created the non-profit Charity Ball, which now donates soccer balls to countries in need around the world.
Each engaging chapter provides ideas on how to find your own heroism. Chapter 4 is called “Seek Mentors and Role Models.” In it readers are recommended to “always be on the lookout for people whose lives are examples of the way we would like to conduct our own lives, interact with the world, savor joys and overcome challenges.” Svoboda suggests putting a portrait up in your room, or somewhere else you’ll see it often, of your role model so on tough or frustrating days it will help remind you of the heroic qualities you want to demonstrate no matter what challenges you face.
Stories go back and forth from everyday people to heroes from history such as Frederick Douglass. The follow-up section, “Questions for Discussion,” highlights the main talking points of each chapter. For example Chapter 8 talks about how helping others sometimes forces us to face our own pain and hard times. It asks the reader to think about some tough or difficult situations they’ve been through and what advice they would give others going through the same thing.
“Aimed at kids, this book is also fascinating for adults. With thorough research and drawing on her expertise writing about science, Svoboda offers some remarkable takeaways about heroism”:
Most heroes are ordinary people
There is a hero inside everyone
The ability to be courageous can be strengthened, just like a muscle
Going through tough times can sharpen heroic instincts
Being a hero doesn’t have to involve tackling an intruder or fishing someone from an icy lake—and in fact, most often doesn’t!
This thought provoking guide can be read chapter by chapter or by skimming through the bolded font. Svoboda’s book is a powerful read for tweens and teens interested in the big questions in their minds about what kind of life to lead and what actually creates meaning.
I’d also recommend it for teachers who’d like to develop talking points from the book to ask questions to students. Parents can also use this book as a tool to discuss heroism with their children. The Life Heroic reminds us that wearing a mask and cape is not necessary to be a hero, and encourages us to rethink the assumption about heroism; people who make the biggest impact aren’t always the ones who make headlines, in fact, all of us can embark on heroic quests to make a difference on issues that matter. I know The Life Heroic will resonate with young readers and hope it finds its way onto bookshelves in libraries as well as homes.
The King of Kindergarten written by Newberry honoree Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, transforms the average day at kindergarten into an extraordinary, royal adventure.
It’s fun to read Barnes’ regal language. As Mom says, “today” her little boy is going to be the “King” and, with this encouragement, he prepares to venture out confidently. Brushing his “Royal Chiclets,” he dresses himself and “wolf[s] down a tower of pancakes.” I love the emphasis here on growth, maturity, and independence. Being “deliver[ed] … to a grand fortress” (a.k.a. school), he joins the “round table” where he cheerfully exchanges greetings with his classmates. The royal theme continues during circle time, recess, lunchtime, and beyond, each opportunity allowing him to exercise his noble code of honor by braving playground politics, sharing his royal bounty (in the form of an extra cup of chocolate pudding), and showing kindness to his friends. Vibrant colors invite us readers to participate in the little boy’s “Kindergarten Kingdom;” flowing shapes excite us with anticipation of what’s next on his adventure.
A great way to introduce the school day to budding kindergartners, The King of Kindergarten shows us how a little change of perspective can rewrite a potentially scary event into a magical tale.
See Derrick Barnes on August 31 at Little Shop of Stories, LLC in Decatur, GA
TRUMAN Written by Jean Reidy Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal
Written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, Truman is a heartwarming story of the loving relationship between a pet and his owner. But it can also be read as a tale about the challenges a younger sibling faces as his older sister starts school.
There is no doubt readers of all ages will fall in love with Truman. How could you not? He’s “the size of a donut—a small donut—and every bit as sweet.” In simple yet powerful ways, Reidy and Cummins express the affection Truman and Sarah share. Sarah isn’t merely Truman’s owner; she’s “his Sarah” (my emphasis) who shares the same “peaceful and pensive” personality as her adorable tortoise. Humble shapes and bursts of yellow throughout paint a happy home with decor that brings back memories of my own childhood, notably, the Felix the Cat look-a-like clock on the wall.
This particular day, though, is “truly unsettling” because Sarah is acting different. She eats a “big banana” at breakfast, “clip[s] on a blue bow in her hair,” “strap[s] on a backpack SOOOOOO big thirty-two tortoises [can] ride along in it,” and leaves extra food for Truman. Most shockingly, she boards the number 11 bus, that mysterious bus he can see from his window riding in the “honking,” “growling” city below. Truman spends the day in worrisome wonder as to where Sarah could possibly be and why it’s taking her so long to return.
Through Reidy’s funny tone and Cummins’ artistic perspective, Truman’s journey out of the safety of his tank, and his determination to find his beloved owner is as endearing as it is humorous. Of all the challenges Truman faces, my favorite is his crossing of the living room rug—“That glorious … ENDLESS rug” made all the more imposing by the mean looking toys along his path we see through Truman’s eyes. When he hears the number 11 bus, he’s ready to cross the threshold, but Sarah is back in time to reunite with her pet and congratulate him on his bravery.
Truman encourages all of us facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with the message cleverly written on city bus #11: See New Sights! Hear New Sounds! Think New Thoughts!
Can an honorable pirate be loyal to more than one captain? This is the question posed in Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten! written by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Eda Kaban.
Equipped with the pirate basics (treasure map, spyglass, and cutlass), Emma storms into school, this first day of kindergarten, determined to set sail once again in last year’s ship commanded by “the roughest, toughest, awesomest preschool pirate cap’n ever”—Cap’n Chu. Yet, it’s a new year and, as Ms. Chu gently reminds Emma, Cap’n Chu has “‘a new band of pirates” to lead. Despite attempts by Cap’ns Chu and Hayes (Emma’s new teacher) to interest Emma in her outer-space-themed kindergarten classroom, Emma sails back to Cap’n Chu’s ship, fiercely allegiant to her pirate roots.
When Ms. Hayes’ class pet needs feeding, Emma shows interest and discovers all the fun activities in the kindergarten class: a nature center, an art studio, a reading nook, and science station. What’s the one thing missing? “NO CAP’N CHU!” Back in Ms. Chu’s classroom, everything blows out into a full mutiny. This is where the book provides a great opportunity for caregivers to talk about just how confusing and conflicting emotions can be. At the heart of Emma’s protest is feelings of fear and loss at having to accept this major childhood transition and perhaps, even, feelings of guilt as devotion to one person may feel like betraying another. With heartwarming affirmation from Ms. Chu, Emma is ready to “‘open the shuttle hatch’” of her new classroom, bringing her own pirate spin to the kindergarten space station.
A great picture book for talking about transitions, Pirates Don’t Go To Kindergarten! will draw in seafarers and landlubbers alike.
A LITTLE CHICKEN Written by Tammi Sauer Illustrated by Dan Taylor (Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4 and up)
If your child enjoys sweet, pun-filled, read-aloud stories with an enjoyable mix of humorous artwork, a relatable subject and “the occasional lawn ornament,” pick up a copy of A Little Chicken to meet adorable Dot.
While not all poultry are petrified of every little thing, Dot sure is. From Taylor’s very first illustration in this picture book, readers will see from her school photo that Dot, the chicken, is being frightened by a spider. (NOTE: don’t miss the end papers.) She was indeed a scaredy cat chicken. Wolves, bears and even a lovely, fluttery butterfly terrified her.
Things went from scary to hairy pretty darn quickly when one day Dot knocked an egg out of the coop. Of course this was unintentional, but regardless, she couldn’t let her “soon-to-be sibling” roll away. Dot dashed for the egg but it remained just out of reach with funny obstacles around every corner. As the egg’s momentum carried it off towards the deep dark woods, Dot had to decide if she had it in her to brave the unknown. Was she more than fluff? ABSOLUTELY! She may have been a little chicken but she also knew what mattered in life.
This highly readable, entertaining picture book is perfect for parents prone to making sound effects. It cleverly lets youngsters know it’s okay to have fears but facing them may sometimes yield amazing results, in this case a precious baby sister.
Author Tammi Sauer’s chosen to focus on fear in a way that honors this feeling and provides an easy in for a discussion about this topic with children. The story flows smoothly and little ones will be rooting for Dot along with her farmyard fan club. Sauer’s wonderful way with words is evident in A Little Chicken and she uses all the right ones though quite economically because Dan Taylor’s hilarious illustrations say so much. All the animal characters that inhabit Dot’s world are not scary nor are the lawn ornaments. In fact, I rather hope they’ll make an appearance in another story. Definitely take a crack at this recommended read!
GROUNDHUG DAY Written by Anne Marie Pace Illustrated by Christopher Denise (Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Groundhug Day is a picture book delight that seamlessly weaves a heartwarming and credible friendship story together with Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day holidays. Making a themed book that can be read on more than a few days each year is a feat few authors and illustrators attempt, but the winning combination of Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise have managed to pull this off quite successfully!
Moose is planning a Valentine’s Day party and he’d like to celebrate with all his pals. There is however just one little hitch. While Bunny, Porcupine and Squirrel can attend, if Groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, he’ll “go back into his hole for six more weeks.” In other words, he won’t emerge in time for February 14th festivities. So it’s no surprise that when Groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, he’s quick to head back down, but hints there’s more to it than that. Ever the intuitive one, Moose thinks perhaps his pal is afraid of shadows. Determined to show Groundhog that shadows aren’t scary at all, Moose enlists help from his friends to demonstrate “just how awesome shadows are.”
Here’s where young readers, already drawn into the story, will be treated to several beautiful pages of illustrations (in addition to to all the other striking artwork in warm welcoming tones) showing what wonderful things shadows are and can do. It’s easy to feel the joy both author and illustrator felt about creating this lovely picture book. More fun times are in store because, despite no longer being fearful of shadows, Groundhog must still get his six weeks of sleep! This tale, honoring the support that genuine friendship offers, is both a sweet and satisfying read that has all the feels you’d want from a picture book.
LA LA LA: A STORY OF HOPE Written by Kate DiCamillo Illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La Laby Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.
Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.
We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.
I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.
Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.
La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.
HOW TO CATCH A MONSTER Written by Adam Wallace Illustrated by Andy Elkerton (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $10.99, Ages 4-8)
Plus a Rafflecopter Giveaway
A USA Today Bestseller!
From the creators of the New York Times bestselling How to Catch a Leprechaun and How to Catch an Elf!
There’s a monster in my closet,
with claws, and teeth, and hair,
and tonight, I’m going to scare him!
He lives just right through there …
Get ready to laugh as a young ninja heads into the closet to meet the monster that’s been so scary night after night! But what if things aren’t what they seem and our monster isn’t scary at all? What if our ninja hero is about to make a friend of the strangest sort?
WOLF CAMP Written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill (Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
It’s not Labor Day yet!
The shelves at the library and bookstore may be spilling over with “back-to-school” titles, but let’s hold on to summer silliness and camp craziness for just a bit longer. Truly, there is no one season for learning about how to tackle new experiences, face your fears and make new friends. Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill is a hilarious and heart-warming picture book that will encourage young listeners and little learners to be brave and have fun, and howl in harmony as one of the pack.
Our hero is Homer, a hound dog with scrawny neck and legs, big nose and a tail that wags frantically when he’s excited. Sometimes he acts “wolfish” pouncing playfully on his pink stuffed toy moose from behind the sofa. Homer believes all dogs have a bit of inner wolf, and fantasizes about living like one of the pack, racing through the wilderness with purpose. It seems like a dream come true when an invitation to Wolf Camp (“Where every dog can live as a wolf – for an entire week!”) falls into his kibble bowl.
Homer really wants to go to Wolf Camp. He pesters his human family, bringing the invitation to their attention over and over, until they relent and agree that he can go. “I’m going to be a wolf!” thinks Homer excitedly as he heads off on a big yellow bus. The camp counselors, Fang and Grrr, are actual wolves, sharp-nosed, pointy-eared, shaggy giants. Homer’s fellow campers are a bumbling, fuzzy golden retriever named Rex and Pixie, a teeny-tiny gray Chihuahua. Homer thinks the counselors seem nice, but the wolves appear slightly skeptical about the well-hidden potential in their new recruits. Nonetheless, after a detailed safety talk, the Wolf Camp lessons begin.
Zuill’s pen and ink drawings with watercolor wash are zany, charming and unbelievably expressive. She masterfully contrasts wolf and dog postures and body language, perfectly positioning their poised or clumsy bodies for stalking, howling, tracking and sleeping. The animals’ eye rolls, ear tilts, and tail movements convey oodles of meaning and emotion that enrich the wry, witty text and funny speech bubbles. It’s a guaranteed giggle when Homer pens a classic camp letter to his “people” at home, complaining about the food and bugs.
Wolf Camp is filled with loopy, lupine humor and heart. Readers will root for Homer, Rex and Pixie as they bond, persevere and slowly master the skills necessary for wolf-y, woodsy living. The new pack members succeed in earning Honorary Wolf certificates by the end of the week, but perhaps Homer has been changed forever by his wild experience. You’ll be howling with laughter throughout this silly, sweet and smart story for campers and canines alike.
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Wolf Camp from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.