★Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
Whale sang a song of happiness and hope, day after day, night after night for his ocean friends. But even with the roaring waves above him, Whale thought how quiet and lonely the sea could be in award-winning and best-selling author and illustrator Anna Pignataro’s lyrical picture book The Heart of A Whale.
Gorgeous watercolor illustrations of blues and greens take the reader through the ocean floor as Whale sings “a cheerful symphony for a sad urchin,” and “an orchestra for a ballet of ocean flowers.” Yet as he buoys spirits, bringing magic and wonder to the other sea creatures, Whale wonders why he has no song to fill his empty heart.
Whale sings while swimming through “the seagrass taller than the forest and through the wild and tangled undergrowth.” But even with all the sea creatures and sounds around him he feels “how quiet the sea could be at times.” Pignataro illustrates Whale curled up in a fetal position with only the blue ocean by his side. The reader feels the sadness Whale is holding deep inside, even if on the outside he is surrounded by millions of sea creatures. But as he lies alone he lets out a sigh.
“His sigh drifted away like a wish,” and Pignataro’s illustrations change to a sea of big fish and small fish in varied shapes and sizes gathering together for Whale. The sigh passes “over dreaming turtles and forgotten treasures and reaches other whales in the sea “all the way to the whale with the empty heart.” Pignataro touches the reader further by illustrating the pink heart alone in the whale.
The tender wordless spread of Whale meeting another whale while smiling at each other brings optimism. Following an eager page turn, the next page spread reveals the two whales together singing about “happiness and hope, magic and wonder” and the reader knows Whale’s heart is full.
This sweet book of friendship and kindness is a great read for both parents and teachers. It introduces young kids to the importance of empathy, and how we should remember that even if someone looks happy on the outside they may feel lonely on the inside. Children can never hear the message enough of how we must all look out for each other. Pignataro’s poetic language and lush illustrations invite discussion between adults and children on the importance of listening, and understanding the emotions of others, a social emotional lesson one is never too young to learn. This book belongs on every preschool and kindergarten classroom bookshelf, and would be helpful in some higher grade classrooms as well.
In the new picture book, Mitzvah Pizza, written bySarah Lynn Scheergerand illustrated byDeborah Melmon. Daddy Day is the best day of the week for Missy! Daddy brings the money and she brings the fun during their special time together. But today Missy plans to use her savings from Hanukkah and extra chores so she can be the one doing the buying.
The reader is introduced to the multi-colored city streets of Philly as the story unfolds. Dark haired Missy with her sweet round face and Daddy with his zipper jacket and baggy pants hold hands surrounded by men, women, babies and dogs and a sign reading The Pizza Corner above a red bricked corner eatery. In the past, Missy spent her money on a beaded necklace that broke and cinnamon candies that burned her tongue. Those mishaps made deciding what to buy on this outing hard. But there’s time to figure that out because Missy and her dad are taking a break to eat. Pizza!
The story takes a different direction when another girl and her daddy happen to be in front of the line. The two dads simultaneously ask, “What would you like?” Missy shouts out cheese and the other girl yells mushroom then they smile at each other, big and wide, with images of cheese and mushroom pizzas yummingly displayed in thought bubbles.
When Missy’s new friend Jane pays with two stickies removed from The Pizza Corner’s wall, Missy begins to question why sticky notes are being exchanged for pizza. As the reader turns the page, they’ll see handwritten blue, yellow, purple, red and pink sticky notes with messages reading “Peace”, “Enjoy”, “Hope this Helps”, and “Pizza on me!”
When Daddy and Missy reach the front of the line, the man behind the counter asks Daddy if he’d like to make a donation to the Piece O’Pizza Fund. Daddy replies “Sure, it’s a mitzvah.” Mitzvah means good deed in Hebrew and Jewish children are raised knowing that giving back to those in need is the biggest mitzvah of them all. In fact another Hebrew work, tzedakah, means “giving to others while not making them feel as if they’ve been helped.” What wonderful values to instill in children!
After eating the pizza, Missy and Jane continue the fun by going to the park, not wanting to say good-bye, and Missy tells Jane about her upcoming birthday party inviting her to come. It’s when Missy and Daddy walk away from the park, that Missy realizes buying one sticky was nice but she has a mitzvah in mind to spend her money and they return to The Pizza Corner.
In this thought provoking story about giving back, young children will discover that they can make a difference with a mitzvah towards hungry people or just by being a good friend. The book’s back matter introduces us to Scheerger’s inspiration for the book, Mason Wartman, owner of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia. A customer had asked him if he could buy a slice of pizza for someone who couldn’t afford it. This sparked the generous sticky note idea and now Wartman serves free pizza to thirty to forty hungry people every day! He even hired some of them to work in his shop! As Missy showed me, the next time I find myself in Philly, I plan on heading over to Rosa’s Fresh Pizza to place a sticky on the wall as my mitzvah for the day!
DANIEL’S GOOD DAY Written and Illustrated by Micha Archer (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)
The people where Daniel lives always say, “Have a good day!,” but Daniel wonders what is a good day? The curious young boy strolls through his neighborhood to find out and discovers a wonderful world full of answers as varied as his neighbors. Micha Archer’ssignature award-winning collage illustrations return in Daniel’s Good Day, a story about finding happiness while living in the present moment, and the perfect companion to Daniel Finds a Poem.
Daniel is a friendly child who takes a walk from his home to his grandmother’s house where passing neighbors wave and say, “Have a good day!” with smiles on their faces. We see a man walking his dog; a woman painting a house; and sanitation workers emptying neighbors trash cans into their trash truck.
We are first introduced to Mrs. Sanchez, an atypical scene teaching kids that both women and men can take on any job, who is hanging on a ladder while painting the outside of a home. “What makes a good day for you?” he asks. “When skies are clear so I can paint,” she tells him.
As Daniel continues on his route to Grandma’s house, he meets Emma who is flying a kite wishing for a steady wind, and a bus driver who just desires “a please and a thank you.”
Turning page after page, I discovered that each person craved happiness for the action they were doing in the present moment. The neighbors’ answers did not involve what they wanted from the past or want in the future. The gardener was focused on her flowers, so craved bees, and the mail carrier was happy seeing dogs wagging their tails as he delivered the mail.
When Daniel arrives at Grandma’s house her day is made complete by him giving her a hug. The sweetness in the story is with the ending when Daniel tells his Mom what a good day is by repeating all the things the neighbors told him, written in a poetic stance to entertain the listener.
Archer’s oil and collage artwork introduces the reader to Daniel who independently embarks on a quest for an answer through a diverse cozy small town. The lush artwork depicts blossoming trees and people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, drawing in the listener who will be captivated by the many colors.
The simple yet meaningful sentences teach youngsters about all the wonderful and diverse people they are surrounded by in their community, while reminding the adult reader that happiness can be found in the moment, and that kindness can be given by looking up at people (not down at cell phones) and reminding them to Have a good day!
Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’srhyming picture book, My Heart, about perseverance through difficult emotional times, will resonate with readers. The spare lyrical text explains what can happen to a heart: “some days it is cloudy and heavy with rain” or “it’s a whisper that can barely be heard.”
Details make this book special. On the cover, a golden heart-shaped flower glows hopefully as a girl tends it. The story’s carefully chosen evocative words and yellow-accented black-and-white images set the differing moods. Kids of varying ages and backgrounds depict our universal feelings.
If you look closely, each page has hidden heart-shaped images. From a playground slide and a puddle, to constellations and leaves. Love Luyken’s stunning artwork? Check under the cover for a bonus illustration.
This book can cheer someone up or just let them know you love them. A heart can experience myriad things, and “a heart that is closed can still open again.”
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
A HUG IS FOR HOLDING ME
Written byLisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Lisk Feng
($14.99; Abrams Appleseed, Ages 3-5)
Written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Lisk Feng, A Hug is for Holding Me highlights how the natural world quietly and profoundly speaks to us about love.
Exploring the wilderness, a father and daughter take note of speckled eggs “nestled in a tree” and “eggs hold[ing] hatchlings warm and snug.” In plain language, the little girl also expresses the restorative and nurturing power of cocoons and seashells. It’s as if everything in nature is embraced in an eternal hug, kept safe from harm. And from this fact, she knows she too can feel the same love and protection from the simple act of giving and receiving a hug.
I also admire the illustrator’s techniques in further drawing us into the little girl’s perspective. We readers (of all ages) are like children, looking up at the big, wide world. Each page in this 24 page book is a wide-angled, double page spread. The leaves of trees are drawn in big, sweeping shades of blue and green, objects are defined by their general shape and color, and Dad appears towering-almost giant sized. Visual details are absent but not because they’re lacking. While the world is big, creation is hard-wired to nurture and care. On land, in the sea, and in our hearts, we can rest assured of this truth, which is the one detail that really matters. We just need childlike faith to see it.
A great read especially for Valentine’s Day, A Hug is for Holding Me is a book preschoolers will love to cuddle up with.
The best Valentine’s Day gifts are the simple pleasures of food, fun, and friendship as author Jonathan London and illustrator Andrew Joyner show in Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and Duck is distressed she may not have a valentine. Taking a hint from her feathered friends nearby, she decides to send invitations-in secret to Hippo, Turtle, Pig, and Elephant, asking each to meet at the park at 4pm and to “bring something for [his/her] Valentine.” Every card is decorated with a “big red heart on it,” though it’s clear Hippo holds an extra special place in Duck’s heart because his card is the only one that has a “red rose … above a big red heart.”
And so the fun begins! Every time a friend receives a card, she or he begins wondering just who that valentine might be. Each hopes for someone specific. Turtle, for example, sees the picture of the “big red heart” on the card as a pizza that’s missing a slice. This makes sense, of course, because his special friend is Pig who works at the local pizzeria, Pig’s Pizza.
As the anticipation builds, kids will no doubt love being “in” on the secret, and they will roar with laughter watching Duck stealthily drop off the cards to avoid detection. Well … while the characters may not see Duck, little wandering eyes will most definitely notice a feathery behind sticking out of a bush or two!
The onomatopoeia popular in London’s beloved “Froggy” series is thankfully present here as well, helping preschoolers and early elementary children “read” the story. And even if readers are new to the “Duck and Hippo” series, they can sense the strong friendship between the characters and learn important values of sharing and kindness. I also like the hidden “lesson” of time-telling. Whenever the time of day is mentioned in the story, Joyner cleverly includes a clock to indicate the time, with the hour and minute hands in contrasting colors. From illustrating a grandfather clock to an alarm clock to a pocket watch, Joyner invites readers to discover all the fun and different ways of telling time—there’s even a sundial in Turtle’s yard!
By 4:00 the secret is finally out, though Duck’s love for her friends is evident from the start. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to create an opportunity for everyone to gather and express their gratitude for each other.
In What is Given from the Heart, celebrated author Patricia McKissack and debut picture book illustrator April Harrison define the true meaning of gift giving.
“Already poor,” little James Otis and his mother “got poorer last April” after the sudden death of his father. Having lost the family farm in June, they move into a “run-down shotgun house in the Bottoms.” Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, more loss follows: James’ house floods and his dog Smitty disappears. Yet as long as they have their health and strength, his mother reminds him, they “‘are blessed.’”
Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, James slowly begins to understand his mother’s courageous words. When Reverend Dennis requests the congregation to prepare love boxes for the needy, he includes on his list a mother and daughter who have “‘lost everything in a fire.’”
For the first time in a long time, James begins to change perspective. Thinking about another person’s pain makes him aware of what he does have. Tucked “warm and toasty” under Mama’s quilt, James reviews in his mind all the items he owns that might be useful to Sarah. When he sees Mama repurposing the “‘only nice thing’” she has to make a handmade gift for Mrs. Temple, he reflects on how he, too, can sacrifice a beloved belonging to the benefit of someone else’s happiness.
McKissack’s themes of compassion, kindness, and empathy are carried through Harrison’s soft color palette and endearing mixed media art. Though the items in the house are sparse, we can see the love abiding in James’ home from the family pictures hung on the walls. My favorite illustration is the close up of James and the pensive expression in his eyes, as he ponders what is in Sarah’s heart and the kinds of things she might like to receive.
Despite having very little, James comes up with a beautiful gift that Sarah gratefully accepts. Handmade and straight from the heart, James’ gift helps Sarah know that she is seen and understood. This is a priceless gift every one of us can treasure.
A wonderful read for older elementary children, “What is Given from the Heart” reaches the heart not only on Valentine’s Day but everyday of the year.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
For more Valentine’s Day book suggestions, click here.
Two wonderful new books with a Hanukkah theme are reviewed below. However, though both books are Hanukkah-themed, these particular choices convey more about family and togetherness, an important part of the holiday, than about the Hanukkah story itself.
I loved the feeling Hanukkah Hamster gave me as I was reading. Edgar, the cab driver, finds a hamster in his cab and, being a bit lonely living away from family in Tel Aviv, reluctantly brings him home. Gently but hesitantly he incorporates the animal into his Hanukkah celebrations. As Edgar dreads having the real owner claim the hamster, and sharing pictures of his “lost” hamster on his cell phone, it becomes clear that the little rodent, now called Chickpea, has become a big part of Edgar’s family. To my delight, a surprise, big-hearted resolution saves the day. I could easily see this story being read aloud to an elementary school library audience where kids might not know about lighting candles on a menorah, but certainly can relate to a lost pet! Ceolin’s artwork adds just the right mix of warmth and light to this terrific tale! Buy the book here: Hanukkah Hamster
All-of-a-Kind Family HANUKKAH, which is based on the classic books by Sydney Taylor, and written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Caldecott Award-winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky, is a gorgeously illustrated longer picture book set in the turn of the century. With a glossary of terms and various notes from author and illustrator, you could easily use this book to cook up some delectable potato latkes!
Being from a large family with three sisters (and the lone brother), I can relate to this new story by Jenkins. The youngest girl, Gertie who is four-years-old, has older siblings and is always wanting to do whatever the older sisters are doing—even when it’s clear she is too young. As the day progresses and the special latkes are being prepared (“… potatoes peeled, and potatoes grated, onions chopped …”) Gertie just demands to be included in the kitchen, but her tantrum sends her to her room until Father kindly finds a way for Gertie to take part in the festivities. Jenkins’ rhythmic text makes you almost drool over the wonderful smells invoked from the baking the family is doing. Zelinsky’s illustrations capture the era completely and fill them with emotion, exuberance and tenderness. This is a classic story of family with warmth, joy and love all cooked in those delicious latkes! See the author page here for her NY tour dates.
• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios, Owner
Once Upon a Time Bookstore
NOTE: Good Reads With Ronna makes no commission or profit from the sale of any book in this post. Our goal is to encourage the love of reading great books while supporting local independent bookstores.
Here are last year’s recommended reads for Hanukkah.
POE WON’T GO Written by Kelly DiPucchio Illustrated by Zachariah OHora (Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
POE WON’T GO written by Kelly DiPucchiowith pictures by Zachariah Ohora, will consistently charm your children and delight adults through multiple re-reads. The artist behind WOLFIE THE BUNNY infuses this picture book with his clever and colorful style that often reminds me of the Corduroy books I read as a child.
Unassuming pachyderm Poe just won’t go. He has mysteriously landed in the middle of Prickly Valley only to remain sitting in the middle of traffic amidst the outcries of the townspeople.They try everything to make him go; including one of my favorite artistic spreads of the book that includes a motivational speaker with a sign proclaiming “You Can GO!”
When the Mayor gets involved things quickly escalate and our poor Poe sits miserably in the mess he has created just by existing. When Marigold, a young child who has taken an interest in Poe, speaks up, the Mayor is hesitant to listen. Backed up by a reporter covering the case, Marigold simply speaks to Poe and finds out what he is waiting for. The incredulous Mayor watches the young child and on-site reporter solve the dilemma and Poe happily goes on his way, reminding the reader that sometimes all it takes is a little kindness and patience to discover the problem at hand. Listening to Poe’s perspective made all the difference.
I highly recommend POE WON’T GO for preschool and elementary teachers everywhere and any parent eager to jumpstart a discussion about how easy it is to make and be a friend.
Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
Click here for a review of another Kelly DiPucchio book.
Click here for a review of another Zachariah OHora book.
MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow (Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
THE REMEMBER BALLOONS Written by Jessie Oliveros Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte (Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.
Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.
Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.
In THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”
But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.
Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus.Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? With our recommendations for the best new Mother’s Day books around! And, whatever you may do, wherever you may go, take some time to read together with your children at home, in a park, on a train, at a bookstore or in a library. Books make memorable gifts and, with an added personal message, will be cherished for years to come.
In A Heart Just Like My Mother’s, when Anna, who loves and admires her mother is inspired to help a homeless man by saving up her Tzedakah money, she realizes she and her mom share something in common—a big heart. This lovely picture book is a wonderful way to explain the Jewish tradition of performing an act Tzedakah which Nargi defines not so much as charity but doing the right thing by helping others. But it’s also the story of a little girl who starts out thinking she could never be as creative, funny or caring as her mother until she realizes what she has to offer. By collecting Tzedakah money and providing food for the homeless man, Anna’s selfless act of kindness brings her closer to her mother and proves to herself that she too has qualities worth being proud of. I love Cis’s illustrations too. There’s a warm, folksy feeling about them that adds to the positive vibe that emanates from the pages making A Heart Just Like My Mother’s such an enjoyable read.
With its starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, Forever or a Dayby Sarah Jacoby will make a thoughtful gift this holiday for those seeking something at once out of the ordinary as well as heartwarming. It conveys its beautiful message with spare yet evocative text and in just 20 pages. At first I thought it was a picture book about the future, but then it dawned on me that it’s about being present and spending time together with loved ones and making meaningful moments now. Adults and children may experience different reactions when reading the book but that’s to be expected. Sophie Blackall, Caldecott Medal-winning and New York Times–bestselling illustrator of Finding Winnie, says it best: “Sarah Jacoby’s ethereal exploration of time rushes like a passing train, shimmers like a setting sun and allows us, just for a moment, to appreciate the beauty of standing still.” Prepare to be moved by the compelling art that complements the lyrical language of Forever or a Day.
Precious pairings of mothers and and animal babies from bluebirds and bunnies to otters and owls fill the pages of Today show co-host Hoda Kotb’s debut picture book, I’ve Loved You Since Forever. Kotb adopted her daughter, Haley Joy, in February 2017 and her happiness at becoming a mother is infectious and evident throughout this delightful picture book. Gentle rhyme, a repeated refrain (there was you … and there was me), a rewarding wrap up and exuberant illustrations all work wonderfully together. I’d pick up I’ve Loved You Since Forever for any new parent on your holiday list. In addition to Kotb’s lovely language, there’s a sense of warmth and closeness from the special bond of parenthood depicted in Mason’s tender scenarios. Whether or not you’re an adoptive parent, I’m sure these lines will resonate with you as they did with me: Before otters swam together/and rivers reached the sea/there was you and there was me/waiting for the day our stars would cross/and you and I turned into we. Awww!
In 176 color pages and 12 clever chapters, author Hale deftly delves into the world of motherhood from various perspectives that readers will find fascinating. The introduction says the book “explores the changing role of motherhood through the images and shared cultural moments that have captured it best: magazines, advertisements, greeting cards, television shows, movies, songs, and other pop culture ephemera.” Choose a chapter at a time because this comprehensive and enlightening book is meant to be savored slowly (like a 1950s TV mom’s best casserole) and cannot be read in one or even two sittings. I love the breadth of the material that’s been included and am partial to the earlier chapters that cover motherhood in the eras before I was born including The Nineteenth Century, The Pre-War Years, World War I, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, World War II, The 1950s (although note that American Momdoes go all the way to present day 21st century). I learned, for example, that between “1885 and 1905, there were around eleven thousand magazines and periodicals published in the United States—and about 88 percent of the subscribers were women,” that Betty Crocker was a fictional character, that Eleanor Roosevelt “broadened the role” of first lady and that on I Love Lucy they couldn’t say the word pregnant on the show! Through Hale’s insightful lens on motherhood, we’re taken on an entertaining jaunt through fashion, food, first ladies, feminism, photography, film and literature that pays tribute to the ever changing role of mothers in American life and touches on aspects of this expansive topic in ways that will interest every reader, male or female.
If you’re looking for a fun, original board book for Mother’s Day, look no further than From Mother to Mother Written and illustrated by Emilie Vast
Translated from French by Julia Cormier
(Charlesbridge; $7.99, Ages 0-3)
Simple in concept, but rich in design elements, this 14-page board book is perfect for little ones who adore the pull-apart Matryoshka dolls. Every other page takes a child back several generations of a mother’s mother’s mother’s mother who in turn gave birth to a child eventually bringing the reader to the present. “And not long ago, I gave birth to you … my very own child. A mother’s love goes on and on and on.” What a beautiful sentiment to share with a young child while cuddling them close and showing them all the different colored pages, each with unique and nature-inspired artwork. There’s also a version for dads!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read our Mother’s Day recommendations from 2017 here.
Read Cathy Ballou Mealey’s review of Love, Mama here.
Written and illustrated by Mira Bartók
(Candlewick Press; $21.99, Ages 10-14)
Read Our Author Q & A Today & Attend a Book Signing on Friday, 11/10 in West Hollywood
Scroll down to find out more!
The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók and soon to be a major motion picture, garnered a great amount of attention, and deservedly so, even before the book deal was done. Reminiscent of classic literary odysseys and the best of contemporary fantasy, with a sprinkling of steampunk, The Wonderling opens in a thrillingly dreadful orphanage for young groundlings – part creature, part human. In this Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Children, all pleasures, especially music, are forbidden. But the hero of the story, a young one-eared fox-like groundling yearns for friendship and love. All he has is a half memory of a special song that will lead him to his destiny. After staging a daring escape with the help of a small mechanical bird, Trinket, the Wonderling sets off on a glorious adventure through forests and wild country, to the shiny city of Lumentown, ruled over by the High Hats, where he will discover the mysterious Songcatcher and unlock the secrets of his past.
Written in stunning prose and decorated with Mira’s exquisite illustrations, The Wonderling is a hugely enjoyable and original fantasy filled with vivid and eccentric characters and a plot that twists and turns. You will find echoes of King Arthur, of Dickens, of Kenneth Grahame; you will find brave mice in armor, and giant crows that terrorize the skies; you will find innocence, humor, hope, and ultimately triumph.
GOOD READS WITH RONNA INTERVIEWS MIRA BARTÓK:
GRWR: Can you please speak to the world building you so brilliantly created for The Wonderling – did you have certain places and buildings in mind when you wrote the novel and drew the map?
BARTÓK: The settings I created for the book came from various places—books, images online, dreams, my imagination, and travel. I probably gleaned the best ideas from looking at Gustav Doré’s images of 19th century London and Henry Mayhew’s 19th century descriptions of London’s poor. Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London was also essential, as was actually walking about in that wonderful city. I also spent many hours looking at maps from classic children’s books and in library archives. The feeling of Gloomintown, the City Below the City, came from a combination of re-reading Dickens’s Hard Times, looking at old engravings of London’s sewer system, and studying Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno. A crazy mix!
GRWR: I’m thrilled there’s going to be a second book because I cared about your characters, well the good ones anyway! Who did you have the most fun imagining and why?
BARTÓK: I definitely had the most fun writing about Quintus, my Fagin/Artful Dodger Rat groundling! Mostly because he’s funny, he loves to make up songs (therefore, I get to make up his lyrics), and he’s complicated. He’s a thief, a rogue, and an opportunist, but he’s also a really good guy.
GRWR: In addition to sharing a strong sense of hope and tolerance, your story also touches upon the power of dreams. Do dreams influence your writing?
BARTÓK: I can’t even begin to tell you how much! Sometimes entire scenes are mapped out in my dreams. I have very epic dreams populated with many different kinds of creatures. If only I could sleep all the time and have some machine transmit my dreams directly into books, I’d probably finish my books sooner!
GRWR: The Wonderling gives a voice to the marginalized. I especially liked when Arthur, who was marginalized himself as a groundling, befriended Peevil, the mouse and Trinket, the bird. Was that one for all and all for one teamsmanship one of your intentions?
BARTÓK: Not really. I knew Arthur would make one good friend, but I had no idea he would make so many. I realized half way through writing the book that part of his journey is learning that he has friends who have cared about him all along.
GRWR: Wire, Miss Carbunkle, Sneezeweed, Mardox the manticore and even His Excellency the powerful White Hat, were so vivid and nasty, yet so unique in character. How difficult was it to create the villains?
BARTÓK: Easy as pie! I lOVE creating villains! But Miss Carbunkle was harder to write about since she has more of a backstory. She is and will continue to be the most complex villain, therefore she is the most interesting and difficult to write about. She will transform a little in Book Two, and her character will deepen in surprising ways. The Man with the White Gloves and Wire are really sociopaths and will continue to be nasty little fellows in Book Two. And I will, I am sure, have a ball writing about them!
GRWR: What is it about the Victorian era that interests you?
BARTÓK: I think that era appeals to me because I see such a parallel between the Industrial Revolution and all the problems we are going through today. And in London, things were exceedingly hard for children, women, immigrants, and the poor. When I read about the nightmarish working conditions for children in the coal pits during that time, and how horrible living conditions were for poor immigrants living in Spitalfields, it’s hard not to think of the sweat shops of today, or the global refugee crisis, and the rise in homelessness. The Victorian Era was also a time of great and wondrous technological inventions, just like today. And like today, people often didn’t think of the ramifications of the technology they created, for better or for worse.
GRWR: Quintus, your Fagin of sorts, is an intriguing individual. What can a character like him bring to the story for young readers who may not be familiar with any Dickens?
BARTÓK: I think he can bring a sense that some characters who do bad or illegal things aren’t always bad through and through. Sometimes there’s a good reason for their misconduct. And there’s also room for them to change and grow.
AUTHOR BIO: Mira Bartók is a writer and artist whose New York Times best-selling memoir, The Memory Palace: A Memoir,
won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. The Wonderling is her first novel for young readers.
She lives in Western Massachusetts.
MEET MIRA BARTÓK THIS FRIDAY IN WEST HOLLYWOOD!
Mira Bartók discusses and signs The Wonderling at Book Soup on November 10th
Event date: Friday, November 10, 2017 – 7:00 p.m.
Event address: Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Below is an abbreviated schedule of upcoming appearances. Find a full listing of Bartók’s events on her website.
· Monday, November 13 in Portland, OR: Public book reading and signing at 7 p.m. at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005
· Saturday, December 2 in New Salem, MA: New Salem Town Library reading and signing event from 2-4 p.m. at Swift River School, 149 West St., New Salem, MA 01355
· Wednesday, December 13 in Northhampton, MA: Local author series event from 7-8:45 p.m. at Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton MA 01060
Everyone’s favorite, Tucker, is back in Tucker Digs Easter! This adorable white dog is excited about the arrival of spring “when there’s lots of soft dirt for digging!” In fact, he’s such a pro at digging all kinds of holes to hide his bones and toys that it’s no surprise when the Easter Bunny recruits him to help dig holes for the big Easter egg hunt. But what happens after the pair dig and hide so well that the children cannot find any eggs? Then it’s Tucker to the rescue to dig, dig, dig again to find those well hidden eggs and bring smiles to all the children’s faces. This 28 page board book is a great way to make new Tucker fans while getting youngsters excited about the upcoming holiday.
The Easter Egg Written and illustrated byJan Brett (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $8.99, Ages 3-5)
Do you love Jan Brett? Then you’ll be delighted The Easter Egg is now available in board book format with a gorgeous foldout spread adding to this book’s appeal. Hoppi is going to decorate his “first-ever Easter egg!” and he wants it to be extra special. Searching for ideas, Hoppi visits various friends for inspiration. Everyone is so helpful and eager to assist him, offering super suggestions and samples. But everything looks so hard to do. It’s only when Hoppi spots a fallen blue robin’s egg that he realizes what he must do. After caring for the egg and eventually befriending the baby robin, Hoppi’s good deed is rewarded by the Easter Bunny in the most satisfying way. As always, Brett’s artwork is a treat to behold. Easter-themed borders surround each sturdy page and pictures of Hoppi’s rabbit friends busy creating their egg masterpieces hug the sides. Be sure also to point out to children all the robin activity woven into each border at the top of almost every page because that’s a whole other story in itself!
Now a charming 32 page board book, The Story of The Easter Bunny transports readers to what appears to be a quaint English village filled with thatch roofed cottages and cobblestone streets. It’s here that “,,, a round old couple were making Easter eggs.” As they dutifully toiled away, their little rabbit watched. He watched until he learned their tasks by heart so that one day, when the round old couple overslept, the little rabbit knew just what he had to do. The tables turned and now the round old couple were helping their little rabbit until one day they were simply too old to continue. Afraid that the village children would find him out, the little rabbit moved to “… a shadow-filled wood nearby.” There, with help from his friends, he carried on the tradition he had learned so well and to this day the Easter Bunny continues to spread cheer by delivering his baskets to children everywhere. Sharing this store requires carefully studying the stunning spreads so as not to miss a single detail Lambert’s included. I think some yummy chocolate should be required to accompany very reading!
Matthew Cordell’s notable picture book, Wolf in the Snow, balances a chilly winter landscape with warm sentiments of kindness. A young girl in a red triangular-shaped parka loses her way home from school when snows obliterates the path. At the same time, the severe weather separates a wolf cub from its pack. The two youngsters find one another and the girl’s thoughtfulness sets the story’s tone.
The only words in this book are plaintive sounds: whines, barks, howls, exhausted huffing. Children not yet literate can easily follow the images. Be sure to view the pictures before the title page which convey important information about the girl, her parents, and their dog. These also start us with the idea that, though the girl becomes lost, she is not alone—help will come, though not necessarily in the manner expected.
Blowing snow illustrations are bookended by ones of cozy comfort, communicating a safe opening and conclusion. Icy storm and natural colors contrast sharply with the bright jackets worn by adults and children. Wolves are depicted with distinction.
Animal lovers will appreciate the resounding connection between humans and creatures. Wolf in the Snow reminds us that helping one another is an idea without boundaries.
THE PEDDLER’S BED
Written by Lauri Fortino
Illustrated by Bong Redila
(Ripple Grove Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)
Lauri Fortino’s debut picture book, The Peddler’s Bed, is a feel good story that reads like a folktale, and simply begs to be shared with the entire family. Illustrator Bong Redila’s artwork, mixing ink with watercolor, complements Fortino’s engaging text and brings a magical and colorful quality to the book as seen in the images included in this post.
The Peddler’s Bed is about a hard working old man who is greeted by a traveling peddler. Upon his cart is a fine bed, “crafted … from the hardy oak trees that grow on the other side of the hills …” Tending his garden, the little man looks up and then, showing common courtesy, gives the salesman his undivided attention. When the peddler promises then demonstrates how this wondrous bed doesn’t squeak, my guard went up, convinced the peddler was laying on a hard sell with the end goal of taking advantage of the polite, maybe naive little man. I just had to read on to find out what Fortino was planning.
Clearly impressing the old man, the traveling salesman offers the bed “at a very fair price,” only the little man hasn’t a penny to spare. When the peddler proposes to give the man the bed provided he “can think of a way to make my oak bed squeak by sunset,” he’s assured the comfy bed will be his, and cannot refuse the challenge.
Hopeful of the prospect of winning such a fine bed, the little man shares the shade of his porch then prepares dinner for the salesman as the two enjoy each other’s company. Fortino’s peppered the story with lots of teasing, red-herring squeaks everywhere inside and outside the old man’s tiny house, everywhere except the bed.
Realizing he’s lost the bet, the man accepts the peddler’s invitation to try out the bed anyway and proceeds to fall into a deep, squeak-filled (snoring) sleep. The final gesture by the departing peddler, one of kindness and generosity after noting the little man’s grace and hospitality despite his hand-to-mouth existence, is one that will reward readers in the best possible way. The Peddler’s Bed is a charming story of humanity and brings a renewed faith in the random kindness of strangers found in the most unexpected places in the most delightful ways.
Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.
I LOVE YOU ALREADY!
Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies
(Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.
LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING
Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!
Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”
WORM LOVES WORM
Written by J.J. Austrian
Illustrated by Mike Curato
(Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.
When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.” The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.
CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUG
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5)
Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.
“Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar …” and so begins this poignant picture book with four square sepia toned panels showing the Hanukkah Menorah being lit. Yet with the turn of a page, and the colors going black, the family huddling in fear, synagogues are burnt, the storefront windows of Jewish businesses are broken and life as Oskar and his family knew it was forever changed. Oskar and the Eight Blessings focuses on Oskar as a refugee, only the year is 1938 not 2015. He’s come to America, sent by his fearful parents, immediately following Night of the Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), when it became clear that all Jewish people in Nazi Germany were in grave danger. Landing in New York City, with only the name and photo of his Aunt Esther, Oskar must navigate the cold, big city by himself and make his way 100 blocks up Broadway from the pier in Lower Manhattan.
Not only is Oskar and the Eight Blessings a unique and engaging Hanukkah book, so is the way this book is presented. Unlike typical picture books with a title page followed by the story, this tale unfolds with the awful events precipitating Oskar’s departure, and the title page then becomes part of a two-page spread featuring the city’s dramatic skyline as Oskar’s ship pulls into port. It’s not just the seventh night of Hanukkah as Oskar heads uptown, “it was also Christmas Eve.” The first blessing Oskar receives is from a woman feeding pigeons. Sensing his hunger, she offers Oskar a small loaf of bread. This sustenance helps him carry on so that he can reach Aunt Esther before sundown when the Hanukkah candles would be lit. Along Oskar’s journey, he encounters New Yorkers and others (Eleanor Roosevelt) who bestow upon Oskar another six random acts of kindness that tie into that time period and more importantly, that feed his soul and keep him going until he’s walked all the way to Aunt Esther’s, the eighth blessing.
Back matter includes an informative Author’s Note, a glossary, as well as a map showing Oskar’s stops on his long day’s trek. I’m so glad I can share this uplifting Hanukkah story filled with evocative scenes and moving text, and use it as a jumping off point to reflect with my family on our blessings this holiday season.
Beloved storyteller and Nobel Prize winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of The Parakeet Named Dreidelis brought to life by debut picture book illustrator, Suzanne Raphael Berkson. In its latest iteration, The Parakeet Named Dreidel, perhaps the best known from Singer’s Hanukkah collection of stories from The Power of Light, with page after page of joyful watercolor illustrations, seems ideal for a new generation of readers.
This heartwarming tale of lost and found and love never fails to bring a smile to my face. In this picture book, the narrator Singer is recounting a tale from ten years earlier when he was looking out the frost covered window with his son, David. It was the eighth day of Hanukkah and the Menorah burned brightly on their windowsill. During a game of dreidel, David discovered a parakeet on the ledge outside the window “perhaps attracted by the light.” This casually recollected tale, though actually carefully constructed to keep us turning the pages, takes us through that eventful evening after Singer and son David encouraged the parakeet to come inside from the cold. This yellow-green bird appeared trained and could even play dreidel by pushing the wooden top with its beak, so surely someone had lost and must be missing it. Because of its game playing skills, David named the parakeet Dreidel, but set out with his dad the next day to find its owner. The most revealing trait of Dreidel’s was his ability to speak Yiddish! On occasion, the family heard the parakeet say, “Zeldele, geh schlofen” (Zeldele, go to sleep). Yet despite his uniqueness, the parakeet went unclaimed.
Nine years went by and we see, through Raphael Berkson’s playful art, that Dreidel has grown to be a member of the Singer family, often sitting alongside the author as he typed. By this point, David has become a college student and, as fate would have it, attended a party where, while telling the story of Dreidel, he happened to meet the actual Zelda of whom Dreidel had long ago spoken. She was Zeldele, the original owner. The two college students soon became a couple, Zelda was reunited with her long lost pet, and Dreidel was credited with bringing the pair together. My favorite illustration is the Chagall-like one included here that depicts the loving young couple as jubilant new parents floating amongst all the significant items in their relationship. This book brought home the serendipity of life and the love a pet can bring into a family’s home. Raphael Berkson has selected a wonderful story to show off her talent and make me look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.