Skip to content

Picture Book Review and Interview – A Spider Named Itsy by Steve Light

 

A SPIDER NAMED ITSY

Written and illustrated by Steve Light

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

BRIEF REVIEW:

Author-illustrator Light’s newest picture book is one that encourages perseverance. Like Dan Santat’s After the Fall, a bevy of books is available showing children that many people need multiple attempts to ultimately succeed and that’s okay.

While I always sang this as the Eensy Weensy Spider, no matter how you’ve sung it, I think you’ll adore the unique approach of this captivatingly and whimsically illustrated picture book! It is such a clever take that imbues the beloved nursery rhyme sing-along with even more meaning. Perseverance and kindness take center stage in this recommended picture book. Read it as a companion to sharing the song with little ones. I can even see it being a jumping-off point for discussions with older kids about how they envision the prequel or sequel to any song they enjoy.

Q&A with Author/Illustrator Steve Light

Q: What drew you to write about this very famous spider?

A: As a teacher of three-year-olds, I was always fascinated that at least half of my class would enter my classroom already knowing the classic rhyme Itsy Bitsy Spider. When I was a kid and sang it I always wondered: Why does the spider go up the waterspout in the first place? What was up there? As a storyteller, this made for an interesting exercise in trying to answer that question. As an illustrator it allowed me to create a whole bug world around Itsy Bitsy Spider.

 

A Spider Named Itsy int1 sitting sipping unaware.
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Did you encounter any challenges while writing or illustrating the book?

A: My first challenge was figuring out a good reason for Itsy to climb up the waterspout. Then how to draw insects that were friendly. Also how do I make the reader care and feel for Itsy as a character? Hopefully, I accomplished all of these. The other challenge was drawing Itsy with eight limbs-I gave him four legs and four arms but it was challenging to draw!

 

Q: Do you have a favorite illustration from the book? If yes, why is that your favorite?

A: I actually love the endpapers. I had so much fun drawing all those bugs. But I also love the page where the bugs are getting washed out. I loved drawing the water and the energy of that page. The water and the way I drew it was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints.

 

Q: Please tell us a little about your illustrating process.

A: All of my illustrations are hand-drawn. There is no computer or digital work in the illustrations. I start with lots of drawings. Designing the characters and the world that they live in, even down to Itsy’s bed, mailbox and teapot. Then sketches for each page. Once we have an approved sketch from my Art Director and Editor I can do full-sized drawings for each page. Then I can go to the finished illustrations. I put the approved full-sized drawing on my light box and place a piece of watercolor paper on top of it. I can then see the drawing and start inking. I use a fountain pen that uses a zebra G nib or point. This nib allows for the thick and thin line variation that gives so much interest to the line work. Then I can watercolor the inked illustration using Daniel Smith watercolors and a sable brush. The “web” lines that Itsy creates were drawn last using an old fashioned dip pen and opaque acrylic ink, a purple color that I custom mixed.

 

 A Spider Named Itsy int2 rain washed out Itsy Bitsy
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Did you need to do any research for this book? If yes, what kind of research?

A: I researched many kinds of bugs and insects for Itsy to meet on his journey. Many of them are fascinating but sadly did not make it into the book. After all the research I picked bugs more for their personality because the story is more about Itsy’s journey and finding a family.

 

Q: What’s your favorite part of the writing and/or illustrating process?

A: I love the start of an idea for a book there are so many possibilities on how the story can be told and illustrated. I also like doing the final illustrations as I love escaping into these worlds. As a kid, that is why I drew, to escape the harsh realities of life. I found hope and peace in the worlds I would create, I still do.

 

Q: If you could only do one or the other, would you prefer the writing or illustrating, and why?

A: I would illustrate. I have been drawing since I was three years old. I draw every day. I also tell stories with my drawings so I feel I would still be “writing” if I had to stop writing words to tell stories, but I love both.

 

A Spider Named Itsy int3 what a mess washed out spider and bugs
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Final Question – what are you hoping your fans will take away re your newest book for kids?

A: I am hoping that they realize that everyone gets “washed out.” The important thing is that you climb back up again.

 

 

WEBSITE:

SteveLightArt.com

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Facebook – Steve.Light.90
Twitter (X) – SteveLight
Instagram – StevLight

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Cloud Babies

 

CLOUD BABIES 

Written by Eoin Colfer

Illustrated by Chris Judge

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

Cloud Babies cover family looking at cloud animals

 

 

New York Times best-selling author of the children’s fantasy series Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer takes young readers on a journey with six-year-old Erin whose imagination allows her to look up and imagine animals made of clouds until one day life takes her on a different path where looking up at the sky no longer matters.

Cloud Babies: Sometimes All We Need To Do Is Look Up is a heartfelt and much-needed picture book that will be meaningful for both kids who have spent time in the hospital, and their friends, as well as others who have not. The digital illustrations by Chris Judge, whose family experience with illness inspired this story, bring life to the pages with photos of mountains, lakes, and blue skies filled with clouds drawn as cats, dragons, foxes, and polar bears – all the cloud babies Erin saw as she looked towards the sky. “It’s a snappy-happy crocodile!” she would shout, looking over the river with Mom and Dad supporting her by her side.

 

Cloud Babies int1 Erin's first word was cat
CLOUD BABIES. Text copyright © 2022 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Chris Judge. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

But one day a sad dog cloud can be seen through Erin’s bedroom window, a harbinger of trying times ahead. (See the art below.) Readers learn that Erin will need to spend some time in the children’s hospital. This gut-wrenching scene shows Dad carrying Erin and her stuffed animal. Mom holds a large bag and is guided by the nurse to the children’s ward. There are rows of beds each with various children tucked under the covers next to buzzing machines that beeped. We are introduced to a doctor named Bernadette, and Albert who brings extra-special meals. These spreads convey the kindness Erin receives from all the adults working so hard to make her better, bringing light to an otherwise traumatic situation. But Erin continues to play cloud babies with her Dad. On days when her Dad cannot visit, she even plays the game with other patients.

When Dr. Bernadette gives them the great news that Erin can go home, but would still need “hospital days,” we turn the page to see her return to school. Everyone had grown so tall. Erin shares her story of the cloud babies with the class but teacher Ms. Rose turns it into a lesson on how clouds are formed. “Maybe cloud babies are for little kids.” When she returned for “hospital days” she noticed that the hospital friends were different from the school friends. She learned to keep her two worlds apart. Erin missed seeing the cloud babies in the sky.

Tucked in Mom’s arms on a hospital day, Mom tells her that most of her classmates will never see her real, warm, loving, important hospital life. Working in the family garden, Mom gets an idea and suggests it to Ms. Rose. Classmates are invited to the hospital to be Book Buddies. Surrounded by her hospital and school friends, Erin teaches them how to play the cloud game. “‘Cloud babies do make you feel better,’ Ms. Rose says.”

 

Cloud Babies int2 Mom and Dad were worried
CLOUD BABIES. Text copyright © 2022 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Chris Judge. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

The story ends with greens, blues, and red drawings of fluffy cloud babies in the sky with all the friends looking up. “Sometimes, when you’re down,” said Erin, “all you need to do is look up.” On the copyright page, Eoin Colfer shares a note with readers explaining that if you are lucky enough to be strong and healthy, perhaps you can be especially kind and understanding to children in your school who have spent time in a hospital. This page also explains that “All the children’s pictures in this book were painted by Juno and Joey Judge.”

This tender, thoughtful story pulled on my heartstrings as I spent time in the hospital when I was five and a story like this would have meant so much to me. It brings comfort to children facing hard times and guides those who want to give support but are not sure how to start. To see more of Chris Judge’s cloud babies log on to Instagram @adailycloud.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

Share this:

Children’s Picture Book Review – The Winter Bird

 

THE WINTER BIRD

Written by Kate Banks

Illustrated by Suzie Mason

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

The Winter Bird cover

 

 

Written by Kate Banks and illustrated by Suzie Mason, The Winter Bird is a comforting and heartwarming story of friendship and perseverance, helping readers discover the quiet strength of patience and hope. 

During the time of year “when the sun [goes] to bed early,” brown bear and hedgehog prepare for their annual winter routines. Nestled in a thicket and nursing a broken wing, the nightingale watches the geese, starlings, and swallows fly away. “‘What will happen to me?’” the nightingale asks. As a spring bird, it “‘knows nothing of winter.’” 

 

The Winter Bird int1 injured nightingale watches geese fly
THE WINTER BIRD. Text Copyright © 2022 Kate Banks. Illustrations Copyright © 2022 by Suzie Mason. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

“‘You will learn … You will learn,’” hoots the owl who, along with other friendly animals like the rabbit and gray squirrel, provide food and shelter, helping the nightingale survive its new icy surroundings. 

Adapting to the slow, winter rhythm of nesting, waiting, and wondering, the nightingale learns the beauty in both the harshness and brilliance of the season. In lovely, lyrical language, we watch the landscape change as “the cold cre[eps] in on icy feet” and “the waltz of winter” begins. Beautiful illustrations in soft browns and grays, rounded edges, and spots of bright color let readers know:  though the storm is coming, all will be well.

 

 

The Winter Bird int2 forest animals in snow
THE WINTER BIRD. Text Copyright © 2022 Kate Banks. Illustrations Copyright © 2022 by Suzie Mason. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Throughout it all, the nightingale does what it knows how to do–sing. Whether singing of “winter’s woes” or “winter’s wonders,” it brings comfort to both itself and the other animals around it. A spring bird, the nightingale patiently learns how to “become a winter bird, too.” 

A soothing picture book for bedtime or quiet time, The Winter Bird invites readers to bundle up, settle in, and enjoy the wonder of winter.  

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Share this:

Picture Book Review – The Path

THE PATH

Written and illustrated by Bob Staake

(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

The Path cover

 

This is the time of year when many people attend graduations. And not just high school and college graduations. They go to all kinds of graduations from kindergarten to massage school and lots more in between. But the road taken may have been long and winding with obstacles and indecisiveness. And what of the road ahead? That’s why it’s so lovely to have a book such as The Path by Bob Staake that celebrates the journey as much as the accomplishment. In other words, this book is ideal not just for the graduate, but for celebrating individuality as well.

 

The Path int1
Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

Acclaimed New Yorker cover artist and author and/or illustrator of more than 50 books, Bob Staake brings readers both young and old a picture book that simply and gorgeously addresses the highs and lows of life’s pathways. They are not always straightforward.

 

The Path int2
Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

Written in second person, the prose does not always promise that things will be easy and that’s the honesty that appeals to me. It’s also how Staake’s stunning illustrations and color palette convey this message. The path doesn’t always lead to ribbons and rainbows. But as things begin looking up for the traveler, the colors begin to lighten up, too.

 

The Path int3
Interior spread from The Path written and illustrated by Bob Staake, mineditionUS/Astra Publishing ©2022.

 

This is a picture book about possibilities. It’s not just about the path we choose but about our outlook, and our perspective. I think reading The Path together with kids can help them not only look at what choices exist but it can also help them understand what taking each one will mean, and how to forge their own unique way in the world. What a super conversation starter for parents, caregivers, and teachers about self-reliance at an age when children are beginning to assert their independence.

Find an exclusive bonus print from Bob Staake inside the jacket.

Share this:

Picture Book Review for Women’s History Month – Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers

 

 

LOUJAIN DREAMS OF SUNFLOWERS:
A Story Inspired by Loujain AlHathloul

Written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery

Illustrated by Rebecca Green

(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

.

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers covr

 

Available now in time for Women’s History Month is Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers. This new picture book introduces children to the young main character in the morning when she’s squeezing her eyes shut to recall her favorite dream. In this scene, she dreams of being able to fly, soaring above “a place her baba described as the carpet of a million sunflowers.” While having flying dreams is not uncommon, readers soon see more of the fantasy element come into play when, after getting up, Loujain joins her father to get their wings out of the shed.  The joy in Loujain’s face as she makes believe she can fly is palpable. But in reality, she’d never fly anywhere because she was a girl, and girls were forbidden to fly. How could this possibly be fair?

 

Loujain Dreams int1
Interior spread from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

The sunflowers Loujain fantasized visiting were in a picture taped to her wall and she was determined to see them. While her father knew the harsh reality, her mother did not want to discourage her daughter. But at school kids teased Loujain for thinking a girl could fly when only boys were allowed. Loujain pleaded with her father to give her lessons. His wife told him, “Why should flying be only for boys?” Especially, she added, “if we all can use wings?”

 

Loujain Dreams int2
Interior spread from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

Loujain had the good fortune to have open-minded, caring parents and a father who clearly agreed that it was not right to keep girls from spreading their wings and taking to the skies.  Her baba lovingly trained her and after preparing her, they set out the very next day on the journey to see the amazing sea of sunflowers.

 

Loujain Dreams int3
Interior art from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

The powerful symbolism conveyed in this story will not be lost on children who perhaps in their lifetime have experienced or heard about gender bias whether in sports, academics, employment, the arts, or in other fields. Of course in this case it’s a metaphor for the real-life Loujain AlHathloul who made history for challenging the ban on women’s right to drive cars in Saudi Arabia and was imprisoned because of it. She is no longer in prison, but her restrictive release conditions and her dream of bringing more freedoms for girls and women are described in the authors’ note.

 

Loujain Dreams int4
Interior art from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers invites multiple reads and discussions in the context of women’s rights/gender bias and discrimination, perseverance and persistence as well as pursuing one’s dream. Green’s gorgeous and energetic art, created in acrylic gouache and colored pencil adds to the enjoyment of each read. I love her varied composition from page to page and the glorious color palette she’s chosen. Every spread, especially ones with the sunflowers, feels so expansive and full of possibility, just right for this hopeful and empowering picture book.

Follow Lina AlHathloul on Twitter here.

Find out more about Uma Mishra-Newbery here.

Find out more about Rebecca Green here.

Learn more about the #FreeJoujain campaign here.

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Chicken Chickens

 

CHICKEN CHICKENS

Written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

The charming Chicken Chickens by author-illustrator Valeri Gorbachev is back after 20 years, just in time to help a new generation of children overcome being labeled a “chicken” when feeling fearful about experiencing something new.

This 40-page picture book is about twin chickens who go to a playground with Mother Hen for the very first time. The soft colors of green, yellow, and brown bring warmth to a busy playground of cats on swings, turtles in sandboxes, and dogs on seesaws. When Mother Hen walks in holding each chicken’s fingers in hand, “The little chickens were a little scared. There was so much going on all around them.” Many children will be able to relate to that initial stimulus overload.

 

Chicken Chickens int1
Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

Still holding each other’s fingers (hmm do chickens have hands?), the chickens freeze up with their beaks wide open, observing the flurry of activity going on around them. Gorbachev’s art perfectly conveys the poultry’s feeling of being overwhelmed by the crowds. Despite the park animals showing kindness by asking the chickens to play and welcoming them into the new environment, we hear the chickens say, “No, thank you,” they replied. “We’re just little chickens.”

They watch pigs spinning around on the merry-go-round, but decline the offer to join them since they might get dizzy. They look up at the big cats swinging but decline the offer to swing since they might fall off. When the reader turns the page, they are drawn into the blue sky and brown slide with smiling and laughing frogs and mice playing. With eyes wide open, the chickens decline. “We’re just little chickens.”

 

Chicken Chickens int2
Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

When they get the courage to climb the stairs to the top of the slide, the twin chickens become immobilized when looking down. “Slide down!” shouted one of the frogs. “Don’t be such chicken chickens!” That’s when the big brown beaver with the white buck teeth climbs to the top of the slide and tells the chickens not to worry “Everybody is afraid the first time they slide.” Beaver suggests the chickens hold on to his tail as they slide together giving the chickens the confidence they need.

 

Chicken Chickens int3
Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

This incredibly sweet story about conquering one’s fears is a wonderful addition to every home and school library. It’s a lesson not only in realizing that everyone has fears of some sort, but also models how important showing kindness and empathy is toward a friend who may be struggling in certain situations. I found this book extremely heartfelt, and am so pleased that it has been reprinted for children who never had the chance to read it the first time around. The play on words using chickens as the protagonists made me laugh. “Hurray for the chicken chickens!”

Click here to read a preview.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Share this:

Children’s Picture Book Review – Saturday at the Food Pantry

 

SATURDAY AT THE FOOD PANTRY

Written by Diane O’Neill

Illustrated by Brizida Magro

(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Saturday at the Food Pantry cover

 

 

Part of Albert Whitman & Company’s Social and Emotional Learning collection, Saturday at the Food Pantry by author Diane O’Neill and illustrator Brizida Magro encourages discussions about food insecurity and highlights the truth that all of us need help sometimes.

As their food supply dwindles and Mom pours the last cup of milk to make her special “fancy milk” drink, Molly learns they’ll be visiting a food pantry the next day. “What’s a food pantry?” Molly asks. “It’s a place for people who need food,” Mom answers. “Everybody needs help sometimes.” 

 

Saturday at the Food Pantry int1
Interior art from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

In gentle ways, O’Neill and Magro illustrate the characters’ hesitance and anxieties while they wait in line for the pantry to open. Molly sees her classmate, Caitlin, standing in line with her grandmother. To Molly’s surprise, Caitlin expresses feelings of shame for being there. Walking back to her mom, Molly feels confused. Is “there something wrong with needing help?” Once inside, even Mom “look[s] like she want[s] to be invisible.” But Molly reminds her, “Everybody needs help sometimes.” Later, Molly points out to Caitlin ways they themselves helped “cheer up” the grown-ups in the pantry.  

 

 

Saturday at the Food Pantry int2
Interior art from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

Open, honest conversations between Caitlin’s grandmother and Mom about finding and keeping employment allow for a safe space to share. Muted illustrations using straight, geometric lines provide a sense of structure, order, and calm. With minimal background in the settings, Magro allows readers to focus on each individual character, driving home the point: everyone is important, everyone needs help, and most of all, we need each other. A note in the back matter for adults and caregivers about food insecurity by Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, provides additional details on child hunger and resources to help. 

 

Saturday at the Food Pantry int3
Interior spread from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

Whether in the classroom or family room, readers young and old can benefit from this positive, heartfelt message of hope.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Share this:

Picture Book Review – Brave as a Mouse

BRAVE AS A MOUSE

Written and Illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi 

(Random House Studio; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

BraveasaMouse cover

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

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. 

 

BRAVEASAMOUSE_int1
Interior spread from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

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.

 

BRAVEASAMOUSE_int2
Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

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.

 

BRAVEASAMOUSE int3
Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

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. 

 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian 
Share this:

Picture Book Review – Mop Rides The Waves of Life

MOP RIDES THE WAVES OF LIFE:

Written by Jaimal Yogis

Illustrated by Matthew Allen

(Plum Blossom; $16.95, Ages 5-8)

 

Mop Rides The Waves cvr

 

Mop loves to surf the ocean waves but when life doesn’t go the way he wants it to go, Mom tells him “he’s a great surfer but needs to learn to surf life” in Mop Rides The Waves of Life, written by Jaimal Yogis, author of numerous books and an avid surfer, with illustrations by surfer and artist, Matthew Allen.

This book of mindfulness takes the reader through a week in the life of Mop, a boy with an adorable head of hair that resembles a mop. Allen’s illustrations of not only Mop’s full head of hair, but the hair of all the characters (Mom’s long hair is pulled back and his friend Sammy’s hair is shaved on the sides with short natural hair on the top of his head) provide a great feel for the personalities of each character.

 

Mope Rides The Waves int1
Interior spread from Mop Rides The Waves of Life written by Jaimal Yogis with illustrations by Matthew Allen, Plum Blossom Books ©2020.

 

Mop is having a great weekend. He “loves to wait for just the right wave … TO RIDE!” But on Monday, Mop returns to school and his frustration at teasing and other issues gets the best of him. He reacts rather than ignores. The rest of the week remains status quo. The colorful watercolor art, so right for a book about surfing and life, perfectly captures the anger on Mop’s face when things don’t go as expected. And Allen’s drawing of the boy sitting alone in the classroom with an open book pretty much explains it all to readers who may have also experienced missing recess at one time.

Things aren’t much better at home when Mom makes him clean the van on Wednesday “And on Thursday we ran out of my favorite cereal. It was officially a BAD week.” That’s when Mom decides to take Mop surfing after school. Sitting on the sand in easy sitting pose wearing yoga attire, Mom teaches Mop how to surf life. “You start by feeling your breath go in and out like the tides. Breathing mindfully helps you notice the emotional waves inside.”

Readers see the words Fear, Anger, and Sadness written inside the waves as Mop sits on his yellow surfboard. Life’s ups and downs are as natural as the ocean’s waves explains his mother. Mop then recalls his Mom’s words of wisdom as he glides under the waves and flips his board. He deals with it. He’s learned from his mother’s powerful surfing metaphors that “falling is the best way to learn.”

 

Mop Rides The Waves int2
Interior spread from Mop Rides The Waves of Life written by Jaimal Yogis with illustrations by Matthew Allen, Plum Blossom Books ©2020.

 

Happily, the end of Mop’s school week improves as he takes these tools into his life away from the ocean. He even apologizes to those friends that he became angry with. And when those angry feelings pop up again in math class, Mop focuses on his breathing, “in and out like the tides. I remembered angry waves are natural.”

Young readers see how Mop reacts to frustrating situations and how they, too, can learn to surf life with calmness and soothing breaths. This charming picture book, with its economy of words and original take on teaching mindfulness to kids, is a helpful and enjoyable read for all the Mops out there. Don’t we all occasionally have trouble getting along with others, or just going with the flow? Kids learn that even if they aren’t familiar with surfing, they can still study the lessons of the waves by bringing mindfulness and the joys of surfing to life. I am passing my copy over to my surfing brother-in-law who teaches elementary school.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Too Sticky!

TOO STICKY!
Sensory Issues with Autism

Written by Jen Malia

Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Too Sticky cover

 

Holly loved experiments.
But not today.
It was slime day.
And she didn’t want to
touch anything sticky.

 

My son has sensory processing issues which we first noticed when he was a baby. He cried when hearing the vacuum cleaner, coffee grinder, car horns, and blaring music. As he got older he also actively avoided loud people, shouting and rough and tumble behavior from his peers. These were not the only things that clued us into his sensory challenges. He didn’t like touching sand or walking on it, and never got into Play Doh, unlike his older sister, because of the smell and consistency. His diet was and still is limited, but he’s faced a lot of these sensory issues head on and has learned ways to adapt. He even traveled to Japan last summer, tried a host of new foods and was flexible when encountering the many different customs there.

Not everyone understands the challenges that children face with sensory processing issues that often accompany autism. Author Jen Malia, a woman who lives with autism and sensory issues does. It’s fantastic that Too Sticky! is available to help open people’s eyes and to encourage empathy for kids coping with sensory stimuli that can be overwhelming, and even immobilizing at times. You may also not be aware that it’s not as easy to recognize in girls.

e

interior art6 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

We meet the main character, Holly, at breakfast time at home. Lew-Vriethoff’s expressive and upbeat illustrations offer an excellent example of how kids like Holly react negatively to something that to other kids may seem like nothinggetting sticky pancake syrup on her hands. From both the art and prose, readers know immediately what makes this young girl uncomfortable. Holly is also reminded that “her science class would be making slime today” which gets her worrying.

 

interior art9 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

What’s also terrific in this same scene is how Holly’s older sister, Noelle, is understanding and apologizes after her fork falls on the floor making a loud and sudden noise. Here Malia adds that Holly replies, “It’s okay,” because that social skill was taught to her by her father. Family support, guidance and modeling acceptable behavior are crucial for children on the spectrum.

At school, Holly’s mother explains to her second grade teacher, Miss Joy, that during slime play, Holly would like to have soap and water at her desk because “She doesn’t like sticky hands.” I remember having to discuss these same types of things with my son’s teachers since my son wasn’t old enough to self-advocate.

Throughout the school day, Holly dreads the approaching slime time. In fact she’s unable to focus on much else. She begins the science experiment reluctantly with the less difficult portion sensory-wise. Miss Joy then finds a clever way to get the overly cautious student to feel curious and involved. Her encouragement and compassion are evident in her dialogue and her poses. What could have been an upsetting experience turns out to be a positive one. It helps, too, that Holly’s not teased by her classmates and that her accommodations have been taken into consideration.

 

int art12 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

Since the main character experiences “the world differently” than her neurotypical classmates, readers see that it’s hard for Holly to navigate the many uncomfortable situations she faces at school. Her sensory issues and autism color a lot of her reactions and moods which is quite common. While the premise of Too Sticky! may appear straightforward and easily resolved, for children like Holly, such is not the case in real life.

Malia adds a candid Author’s Note describing how both she and her daughter live with Autism Spectrum Disorder and her goal in writing the picture book. With one out of every fifty-nine children in the U.S. diagnosed with ASD, it’s important more children, parents, teachers and caregivers learn about how these children experience the world. With Holly, readers on the spectrum can see a mirror on themselves. Too Sticky! is the ideal read not only for parents and children with these sensory issues, but for anyone wanting to understand the experience and struggles kids like Holly deal with on a daily basis. The backmatter also includes an easy slime recipe perfect for indoor science activities and silliness.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Share this:

Middle Grade Nonfiction Book Review – The Life Heroic

THE LIFE HEROIC

How to Unleash Your Most Amazing Self

By Elizabeth Svoboda

Illustrated by Chris Hajny

(Zest Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

The Life Heroic book cover

 

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.

TheLifeHeroic 00 Intro Ribbon
Interior artwork from The Life Heroic written by Elizabeth Svoboda and illustrated by Chris Hajny, Zest Books ©2019.

The colorful emoji like art created by Chris 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.

TheLifeHeroic 07 Chap7 Toolbox
Interior artwork from The Life Heroic written by Elizabeth Svoboda and illustrated by Chris Hajny, Zest Books ©2019.

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.

TheLifeHeroic 07 Chap7 Trophy2
Interior artwork from The Life Heroic written by Elizabeth Svoboda and illustrated by Chris Hajny, Zest Books ©2019.

“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.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here for another review by Ronda.

Share this:

Young Adult Novel Review – Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein

CURSED
by Karol Ruth Silverstein
(Charlesbridge Teen; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

Cursed Book Cover

 

I loved Cursed, the debut YA novel by Karol Ruth Silverstein, even before I read it because the cover spoke to me, and was perfect. Now, having finished the book, I can confirm how well this cover works. Its dual-meaning title presented in a bold red printer’s-block-style lettering, the warning on the bottom, along with the emojis capture the entire essence of the story. I think you’ll agree once you’ve read Cursed, too.

When I attended the book launch and heard Karol read from the opening chapter I couldn’t wait to find a chunk of time to finally read the novel undisturbed. In so many ways this is Karol’s story, an #ownvoices novel not only in that Karol authored it, but she has also lived with the chronic illness she writes about honestly and creatively using spot on “sarcasm, and bouts of profanity” that you will sorely miss when the novel ends. To give you an idea of what to expect, Karol recently tweeted this:

“Hi, I’m Karol. My book, #Cursed from @CharlesbridgeYA is about 14 year-old Erica (aka Ricky), who’s newly diagnosed with a painful chronic illness and seriously pissed off about it. It’s funny, frank and full of f-bombs.”

With that in mind, join me in Rickyville where the journey of Erica (aka Ricky and annoyingly Ricky Raccoon to her dad) Bloom is presented in 62 brief chapters with teasing titles that will add to your reading pleasure. I know that may sound semi-snarky but it’s so Ricky-like and snarkiness is one of her secret weapons, well not so secret. Six months prior to the story’s beginning, Ricky was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an illness of the joints, although she doesn’t immediately share that information with readers. She simply describes the excruciating pain and major inconveniences she has to deal with on a daily basis and that’s a big part of what’s fueling her f-bombs.

The cursing is also what gets Ricky into trouble at school, when she eventually goes. Early on in the novel, written in first person-present tense, Ricky explains how she’s actually been cutting school while hiding it primarily from her father, Dr. Dad (a dentist-doctor), and mother and sister. There’s tons of stuff she can’t deal with at glorious Grant Middle School, one being that as a ninth grader she has to attend a middle school and not a high school. Another reason is that it’s a new school because she’s moved into her divorced dad’s Batch Pad⁠—Ricky gives everything neat nick names including The-Disaster-Formerly-Known-as-my-Parents—in a different part of Philadelphia from her family home. Add to that how difficult it is getting to school and then having to navigate the building when any part of her body can hurt at any given moment with the dagger-like or burning pain usually in her knees, feet and ankles. It doesn’t help matters that when she finally does return to Grant she feels humiliated by the things typical girls her age do “when their biggest worry is looking their best all day.”

There’s a strong cinematic sense conveyed in Cursed because Karol not only hails from Philly where the story is based, but she also has a screenwriting background. It’s easy to picture every place described in the novel. From the city itself and Dr. Bloom’s Batch Pad, the school with its grueling long corridors to the nurse’s office where she spends a lot of time and becomes friends with Oliver. From the waiting room outside the principal’s office, her speech teacher, Mr. Jenkins’ classroom, to the music room where her crush Julio practices, and the doctor’s office where she gets her intravenous medication. Add these strong visuals to the already compelling, engrossing and downright funny storytelling and at once you are totally in Ricky’s head as she tries to cope emotionally and physically with her disability as she approaches age 15.

Once Ricky’s Charade (skipping school) is discovered, she’s got to work her butt off to graduate with her class or risk being held back aka Operation Catch-Up-So-I-Can-Get-The-Hell-Out-of-This-Crap-Ass-School. Helping her accomplish this is the friendship she’s cautiously allowing to blossom with Oliver, a childhood cancer survivor who has such a can-do attitude that some of it has to rub off on Ricky, right? I felt hopeful when Ricky met Oliver. At her old school after having been diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis and telling her friends “… they all abandoned me. I can’t risk that again.” Oliver is not the abandoning type. But is Ricky?

Some of my favorite scenes in Cursed are the ones where Ricky’s vulnerabilities and strengths are exposed like when I learned how much she dislikes her current arthritis specialist, Dr. Blickstein (aka Dr. Blech-stein) because he never speaks to her and treats her like she’s invisible, choosing instead to relay info to her mom. When she finally decides to change doctors and finds one who’s caring and truly interested in her feelings, I wanted to cheer out loud. Another time, when she comes to the aid of a girl who’s part of a clique, I felt her compassion. She may try hiding that side of herself, but as a reader I knew she had a lot of it just by her observations about the people around her. And wait until her final project, the speech in Mr. Jenkins’ class. That’s all I’ll say or I may start sobbing.

Watching Ricky grow from being a teen who feels cursed, “Like you did something horrible in a past life,” and unable to be comfortable in her own skin to one who is more willing to come to terms with her illness and more open to letting people get close to her is what kept me turning the pages. I mean that’s in addition to the dynamite dialogue, witty asides and meaningful insights into living with arthritis. It was a privilege to get to know Ricky. The changes in her arrive slowly and are sometimes subtle, but they do happen making it all the more worthwhile to be on her team. Stick with Ricky and you’ll be rewarded with this read.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here to read an interview with Karol by author Lee Wind on The Official SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Blog.

Click here to read more on “How Stories about Disability Help Create Empathy” at We Need Diverse Books.

Read another YA novel review here.

Share this:

Middle Grade Fiction – I’m OK by Patti Kim

I’M OK
Written by Patti Kim
(Atheneum BYR; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

I'm OK book cover

 

In the middle grade novel I’m OK by Patti Kim, twelve-year-old Ok Lee’s world begins to fall apart when his father dies suddenly. Even though his mother works three jobs, they barely get by. To help out financially, Ok starts braiding girls’ hair at school and resolves to win the talent show’s $100 prize—though he doesn’t have a talent in mind.

The flawed characters in I’m Ok weave together realistically in a story about the imperfect lives of recent immigrants and middle schoolers. Ok’s unwitting sidekick is Mickey McDonald, a girl with the biggest hair and a personality to match. Her family’s also poor but she doesn’t care what other people think. Mickey adds a lively, funny element to a story that also depicts race and social class discrimination. Set at an indeterminate time, Americana details such as Enjoli perfume or the TV shows “Charlie’s Angels” and “MacGyver” will resonate with older readers.

The ending feels genuine and opens the door to talking about why life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect or want. Ok is bound to his mother, and her decisions direct their future.

This was June’s book-of-the-month at Chevalier’s Books’ middle-grade book club in Los Angeles. I’m Ok was well liked by all. The animated discussion considered many interesting elements of this novel including nice story-writing details such as how the story is bookended by two similar yet quite different scenes.

 

Share this:

Middle Grade Book Review – All the Greys on Greene Street

ALL THE GREYS ON GREENE STREET
Written by Laura Tucker
Illustrated by Kelly Murphy
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

 

All the Greys on Greene Street book cover

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly
Junior Library Guild Selection

 

In the new middle grade novel, All the Greys on Greene Street, twelve-year-old Olympia is trying to solve a mystery with her two friends, Alex and Richard. She knows her father, an art restorer, has left the country. She knows why her mother hasn’t gotten out of bed since her father left. And she knows something is amiss with an art piece her father and his business partner and devoted friend, Apollo, have been working on restoring. What she doesn’t know is why her father decided to leave so suddenly and why there are people knocking on the doors of her parents’ Soho loft, demanding answers.

All The Greys On Greene St Int3All the Greys on Greene Street is Laura Tucker’s debut novel, a historical fiction story set in 1981 when Soho’s large industrial lofts housed artists instead of chain stores and the subway cost 75 cents. Narrated in first-person by Olympia, (Ollie to her family and friends) Ollie is a keen observer, and tries to make sense of the complex adults in her life. She is devoted to her parents and to Apollo, whose studio she visits and who cares for her like his own child. When her father leaves, Ollie tries but can’t rally her mom to get out of bed. She hides her mother’s depression, trying to move through her world as if everything is fine. For weeks, she gets herself to school, concentrates on school projects and eats lots of canned soup. She refuses to ask for help or even share what’s happening with her mom. She manages to convince the neighbors that things are okay, but her friends discover her secret. Ollie pleads for secrecy, but Richard and Alex refuse, and betray her trust. Ollie is just beginning to work through her feelings when catastrophe rocks their neighborhood.

All the Greys on Greene St int1Like the title suggests, Ollie has the eye of an artist. Everyone in her life encourages her to look closely at her world and really try to understand what is happening. Kelly Murphy’s pencil illustrations help the reader see what Ollie sees and what she draws. And the writing is beautiful. There are no easy answers and there is no villain, just friends trying to do their best with what they have. Tucker offers some very smart history and art lessons imparted with the lightest touch. Apollo teaches Ollie about color and craft and the lessons will stay with the reader, as much as they impact Ollie.

 

All the Greys on Greene St int2Kids and parents were different in 1981 and these sixth graders are allowed to navigate New York City in a way that tween and teen readers with hovering helicopter parents might be surprised by. But even with absent parents and independence, Ollie and her friends are never alone. Their own friendship, their strong community and their neighbors keep them safe. Readers might be tempted to compare Ollie to Harriet, from Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. They both have keen observation skills, but Ollie is softer and savvier than Harriet. Ollie’s biggest lessons are about how to ask for help, and friends who become family and how some of life’s hardest questions have more than one answer.

Interior artwork by Kelly Murphy from All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker courtesy of  Viking Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

  • Reviewed by Guest Reviewer Cynthia Copeland
    Cynthia Copeland is a television and digital producer, who is always writing on the side. She is currently writing a YA contemporary novel. She lives in Pasadena, California with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @listenupbucko and she’ll share the small mystery that author, Laura Tucker revealed to her about the novel, All the Greys on Greene Street
Share this:

Tween Book Review: Where Will Your Secrets Take You?- Riverland by Fran Wilde

RIVERLAND
Written by Fran Wilde
(Amulet Books; $17.99, Ages 10-14)

 

cover illustration from Riverland by Fran Wilde

 

Starred Review – Booklist, Shelf Awareness

In Riverland a debut (older) middle grade novel by Fran Wilde, Momma promises everything will be all right, but sisters Eleanor and Mike know better. Things aren’t OK, no matter how hard they try to be good. The girls weave stories about how “house magic” will fix whatever’s wrong this time. When Poppa breaks the family heirloom (a glass witch ball), a river appears in their secret hiding place and the girls venture to a place where dreams grow in reeds.

A heron made of metal, glass, and driftwood explains that nightmares are made of “failed dreams, smoke, and the river mist” and that “the same magic that kept dreams and reality apart also held back the nightmares.” Anassa, a snake-headed monster, upsets the balance. As the damage in one world seeps to the next, the sisters try to understand their family’s guardian’s agreement while facing new kinds of danger and the possibility of never returning home. Sisterly love fiercely connects them, yet Eleanor worries her temper dooms her to become like Poppa.

Lines between fantasy and reality blurred long before the enchanted river. The girls and their mother live fearfully in denial, unwilling to admit Poppa’s abusive nature. Though Eleanor’s new friend Pendra and Pendra’s mom (school guidance counselor) surmise something’s wrong, Eleanor keeps up the façade and her friend at arm’s length; without confirmation others are powerless to help.

Riverland depicts children trapped in a dysfunctional home and the ways in which they escape reality. This important book shows a family’s coping mechanisms for domestic violence. Older middle graders and YA readers may be best suited to recognize and process the nuances of this story.

 

 

Meet the Author:

Saturday, May 11 at 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011

Monday, May 20 at 7:00pm
Children’s Book World
10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Share this:
Back To Top