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Picture Book Review – Looking for Happy

 

LOOKING FOR HAPPY

Written by Ty Chapman

Illustrated by Keenon Ferrell

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

 

Looking for Happy cover a boy and his different moods.

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Harold the Iceberg Melts Down

 

HAROLD THE ICEBERG MELTS DOWN

Written by Lisa Wyzlic

Illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse

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

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down cover Harold worrying.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Young Adult Graphic Novel – The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

THE DARK MATTER OF MONA STARR

Written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge

(Amulet Books; $22.99, Ages 12+)

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr cvr


Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

Laura Lee Gulledge’s YA graphic novel, The Dark Matter of Mona Starr, opens with Mona Starr’s best friend, Nash, moving to Hawaii. Mona must now tackle high school alone and, though her family cares about her, she feels like the “creative oddball” in their midst. Mona struggles with depression, calling it the “Matter.” Through the help of a therapist and a new girl, Hailey, Mona begins to notice what starts her spiraling downward and how to catch herself before it becomes all-consuming. Chapter titles such as “Notice Your Patterns,” “Break Your Cycles,” and “Replace What You Can’t Erase” reinforce the steps Mona needs to take to cope.

 

DarkMatterMonaStar INT3
Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

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The book presents depression in a realistic manner, showing the back-and-forth struggle that isn’t solved but, rather, managed. While the insightful text tells a compelling story, Gulledge’s art is a showstopper. In a scene where Mona’s overwhelmed by too many choices, her Matter has a hold of her arms and legs, pulling her to the edges of the page while whispering such things as, “You have nothing to offer” and “You are not good for ANYTHING,” inciting our universal search for meaning in our lives.

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DarkMatterMonaStar INT4
Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

 

I’m blown away by the depth in the images (the art is black and white with hints of yellow) throughout the book. After Nash encourages Mona to write about her confusion, the full-page illustration features Mona as a shadowy outline with little Monas picking away (literally) at her brain, digging deep until she reaches her deepest thoughts. Eventually, with the help of friends, therapy, her art, and writing, Mona finds her way toward a hopeful future.

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DarkMatterMonaStar INT7
Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

 

Make this powerful book an addition to your high school’s library and provide a helping hand to someone battling with their own dark matter. The insightful and heartfelt advice is based in part on Gulledge’s own struggles.

 

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Click here to order a copy of The Dark Matter of Mona Starr or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/28/20

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