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Picture Book Review – What’s Your Name?

WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

Written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

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

 

 

What's Your Name cover kids greeting kids

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

When author-illustrator Bethanie Deeney Murguia discovered her parents almost chose another name for her it got her thinking about the importance of names and what they do, and the idea for What’s Your Name? was created.

 

What's Your Name int1 children greeting children
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

This relatable and diverse picture book takes young readers on a reflective journey through the meaning behind their own names. The book opens with two pages of orange talking bubbles listing names from Alina to Xavier and Ana to Eli. There are short names, like Bo, and longer names like Zachariah. There’s even my son’s name, Adam. Turning the page, we find lush green spread of lawns and bushes, and grey stone bridges, with walking dogs sniffing hellos. Murguia’s illustrations not only include adults and children of various ethnicities but one child in a wheelchair and another on a skateboard. Greetings are expressed by kids with Hi, Hola, and Good Morning before announcing their given names because Everyone has one … or maybe a few.

 

What's Your Name int2 a name is a meeting
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Murguia writes in playful rhyme explaining to the reader the many ways names are used. When Lena greets Elijah they high-five as they pass. When the spotted brown dog goes farther than allowed, his fluffy-haired owner calls Buster stopping him in his tracks. A name can be common, familiar, and known. A name can be rare, unique, all your own. Cherimoya explains to new friends that her name is like the fruit but you can call me Cherry! And the worker at the burger stand gets a lot of responses when he calls out the common name Bob. Murguia explains to kids that names honor families when they are named after a loved one or historic people such as Malala and Frida.

The colorful art beautifully tells the story with greens, oranges, and greys visually showing the reader that autumn leaves are the reason behind a baby girl’s name. A boy shouts to a crowd, with his hands beside his lips, yelling Hey…you! with an illustration of confused people with mouths wide open wondering who he is calling. If only he knew the name of the person he was looking for he wouldn’t need to shout.

 

What's Your Name int3 names honor family
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Naming your child is a huge decision. Will your baby’s personality or character reflect the name you have chosen or vice versa? Will your child be clumsy yet her name is Grace? Do you choose the name Cole if your child’s eyes are pitch black? This book will spark conversations about how your child got their name and how their parents did as well. A discussion will be a beautiful introduction to family history, or how a name just felt right. This book made me laugh because my own name is spelled differently than what people expect, but I guess you would say that is what makes it unique. Because if it were different, would you still be you? The book’s last line reads what’s yours? and provides a great jumping-off point for a first-day-of-school read for teachers who are getting to know their new students.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Five New Children’s Books for Pride Month

 

CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR PRIDE MONTH

~ A ROUNDUP ~

Free Pride Clipart

 

Grandad's Pride cover Grandad carrying Pride flag at paradeGRANDAD’S PRIDE
Published in Partnership with GLAAD Series
Written and illustrated by Harry Woodgate
(Little Bee Books; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Following up the success of Grandad’s Camper, is Grandad’s Pride featuring the same characters readers got to know previously. Much like that book, I was immediately pulled into this story by the folksy art and in this case, a focus on the inviting locale by the sea.

When playing in Grandad’s attic, Milly, who is visiting once again for the summer, stumbles upon Grandpa’s old Pride flag. Curious what Pride is, Milly gets a wonderful description from Grandad who used to participate in marches and other Pride events when Gramps was still alive. “Pride is like a giant party where we celebrate the wonderful diversity of our communities and demand that everyone should be treated with
equality and respect – no matter who they love or what gender they are.” After hearing how important Pride had been for Grandad, Milly suggests they go to the city to participate in the next Pride event, but Grandad no longer feels comfortable in the big city.

Milly proposes a locale parade in the village instead and soon the entire village is involved. Not only does her idea present the opportunity to get to make new friends, it also is a moving way to honor Gramps’ memory. Grandad leading the parade in his pink camper is a fitting way to kick off this new tradition and not even a brief downpour can curtail the festivities.

You’ll want to read this lovely picture book slowly to take in all the details that Woodgate has included from the slogans on the posters, the diversity of the primary and secondary characters and the big heart this story exudes on every page. I could easily live in this welcoming community and can’t wait to see what Milly and Grandad get up to next!

 

I Can Be Me! cover diverse circle of kidsI CAN BE … ME!
Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez
(Lee & Low; $19.95, Ages 4-7)

For starters, I want to point out illustrator Gonzalez’s art description on the credits page: “The illustrations are rendered with pencil, watercolors, colored pencils, and love.” If the inclusion of the word ‘love’ doesn’t speak volumes about the care and thought that went into creating this picture book, I don’t know what does.

Newman’s masterfully crafted rhyming couplets take the reader through spread after jubilant spread as readers follow the real and make-believe activities of six diverse and “splendiferous” children and one plucky pooch. Imagination rules as the youngsters try out dress up, and pretend play where anything except the judgment of adults is possible. “I can aim for the basket and practice my throws,/ or wear a pink tutu and twirl on my toes.” There is no need to label and no need to discuss gender, race, or religion. Prepare for pure enjoyment. Kids being “their true selves” is what’s celebrated on every delightful page of this recommended read.

Click here for a Teacher’s Guide

 

The Wishing Flower girls wishing on dandelionTHE WISHING FLOWER
Written by A.J. Irving
Illustrated by Kip Alizadeh 
(Knopf BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

This uplifting, inclusive picture book about making a like-minded friend and experiencing a first crush is getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so. The cover alone conveys the pleasure these two girls find in each other’s company then the prose and art throughout continue to capture that emotion. Author Irving states in her website intro, “My deepest wish for my readers is for them to feel seen and special,” and The Wishing Flower beautifully accomplishes that.

We first meet Birdie as she’s wishing on a dandelion to find a friend who shares her interests. “Birdie felt inside out at home and at school.” She generally kept to herself clearly not connecting with other kids until … Sunny “the new girl” arrives in her class. With her nature name, Sunny, like Birdie, enjoys all the same things: reading, rescuing, and painting. The girls are drawn to each other and Birdie “blushed when Sunny sat next to her at lunch.” She knew she needed to be brave to pursue the friendship and looks for the biggest wishing flower. At recess playing Red Rover, Sunny calls for Birdie, and Birdie’s heart soars. That excitement is palpable in the warm, emotive illustrations that bleed off the page. When this wonderful day spent together with her new friend ends, it’s so rewarding as a reader to see the two happy souls have had their wishes come true.

 

You Need to Chill! cover curly haired girl in yellow heart sunglassesYOU NEED TO CHILL!:
A Story of Love and Family

Written by Juno Dawson
Illustrated by Laura Hughes
(Sourcebook Jabberwocky; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

“In the next ten years, I don’t think there will be many classrooms in America where there isn’t a gender-diverse child, and the rest of the students will have to be friends with that kid. And how to you manage that? You manage it like the child in the book does. With kindness and humor and inclusion and with playfulness.” According to bestselling author Dawson, this is the goal of her debut picture book and I appreciated her introducing the topic in a light-hearted way that emphasizes a people-not-gender-first approach to identity.

I love when a story begins with artwork only before the title page as it does here. The main character is walking with an older girl to school. Once the main character gets settled in, her classmates begin asking where her brother Bill is. They haven’t seen him in a while. This is a fun part to read aloud as the girl’s classmates take wild guesses about where her older brother can be. “Was he eaten by a WHALE or SHARK? Was he munched up just like krill?”/ “That simply isn’t true,” I say./ “And hey, you need to chill.” With inquiring young minds bombarding the girl with a constant flow of zany questions (illustrated as whimsically as those questions), the cool retort calms everyone down. The repetition of “Hey, you need to chill,” is catchy and I can imagine children being eager to say it along with the narrator. While the kids are curious and confused, they also say they’re concerned. I’m glad that was included.

The little girl tells her classmates that her older brother Bill is now Lily. She honestly explains how the change took getting used to but ultimately, as the art shows, she knows that Lily is still the same deep down inside and very loved. She’s her sister’s ally. And as such, together the two can tell anyone who has a problem with Lily being a trans girl to just chill.

While the rhyme is not always even, the spirit, energy, and humor of this important story about a transgender child coupled with the buoyant art carry it along and make You Need to Chill! a worthwhile, fulfilling, and accessible read. Read about genderspectrum.org, a charity working to create gender sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens.

 

DUCK, DUCK, TIGER
Written and illustrated by Brittany R. Jacobs
(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Lili felt she didn’t belong, like a tiger among ducks. And if people found out more about her, she was sure she’d be left alone. Her solution then was to be more like a duck. If she changed things about herself then she’d fit in. And no one would know any better. No one would know her secret.

There was a catch, however. Trying to be someone she wasn’t made Lili feel sad. It’s definitely not easy to pretend to be something you’re not. So, after realizing this, she needed to confide in someone, someone who’d make her feel safe. Lili “revealed her secret” to Gran. “Her heart really raced.” But Gran confirmed that no matter who Lili was, one thing was certain. She was loved. And she should feel proud of who she was. Afterall, “Not everyone is a duck, and not all ducks flock together.” What is important is being her authentic, unique self. It may be tough, but in time, Lili could rest assured that she’d find her pride.

I always enjoy a picture book that offers hope to any child in Lili’s position, so they’ll know that one day they will be welcomed by people who appreciate the real them. This powerful message of acceptance should resonate with many young readers who feel like the other for whatever reason, not simply for being queer. I was surprised to learn that Jacobs is a self-taught artist. The gentle green palette she uses works well with the purple of her alter-ego, the tiger. I will note that in places the meter of the rhyme is not perfect and the rhymes slant in spots where ‘day’ is paired with ‘stayed’ or ‘terrible’ with ‘unbearable.’ However, picture books such as this affirming one are needed to bring comfort to children with its beautiful message of letting “your heart be your guide.”

 

Click here to read a review of a fave Pride picture book from last year.

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Recommended Read for Pride Month – Strong

 

NEW PICTURE BOOK FOR PRIDE MONTH

 

Pride graphic

It may be the last day of Pride Month, but here’s a book worth celebrating year round!

 

Strong coverSTRONG
Written by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood
Illustrated by  Nidhi Chanani 
(Little Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Strong is the kind of feel-good picture book that demonstrates to children, through a real-life example, the benefits of being true to themselves and following their dreams.

In this accessible biography, readers learn how, from an early age, Rob Kearney showed an affinity for lifting heavy things whether that was milk bottles or bags filled with groceries. As he grew so did his strength. He could easily pull a tug-of-war rope or lift cheerleaders sky-high. This powerful ability made him feel good about himself as his interest in weightlifting blossomed. “But Rob’s favorite sport was weightlifting. It required him to use every muscle in his body.” Sentences like this one give readers a wonderful understanding of what it was that appealed to Rob and why he ultimately pursued weightlifting as a career.

 

 

Strong int baby
Interior spread from Strong written by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, Little Brown YR ©2022.

 

Rob’s life was forever changed after being introduced to the Strongman competition at age 17. He learned it was SO much more than lifting heavy weights. To qualify, he’d have to be able to pull a vehicle, flip an enormous tire, lift a log over his head, and lots more that’s described in fascinating backmatter. The art and prose depict how committed Rob became and how he trained before school by running, swimming, and lifting all sorts of things. At his fittest, he could lift over 400 pounds which is more than a refrigerator!

 

Strong int2 kid
Interior illustrations from Strong written by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, Little Brown YR ©2022.

 

Without ever stating the main character’s queerness outright, the authors describe how, when not in his workout garb, Rob had a truly original style with his hair cut in a Mohawk, along with a flair for dressing in bright, bold colors and patterns that were 100% him. They also show Rob coming in last place at his first competition which is realistic as well as smart to demonstrate to children. People do not automatically win. Success takes hard work. And Rob was determined. He also was in love. Chanani’s vibrant art pairs perfectly with the text and reflects Rob’s personality in all its Strongman glory.  A favorite spread of mine is below.

 

Int art3 fire engine
Interior spread from Strong written by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, Little Brown YR ©2022.

 

While training Rob met Joey who motivated Rob to be himself. While it’s not clear how long after meeting Joey Rob went on to win the North American championship, what is clear is that Rob’s personal growth helped him overcome any challenges such as bullying and self-doubt he may have had on his journey. This picture book, full of hope and positivity is recommended for any child questioning their self-worth. Rob’s candid Author Note on how being openly gay helped “smash stereotypes” about sexual orientation and perceived strength reminds me of my former gay roommate in London who was a proud tri-athlete in the ’80s when laws still criminalized homosexuality. I believe this book does a great job of acknowledging and encouraging any children feeling unsure about themselves whether that relates to their sexuality or their self-confidence.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Also highly recommended:

The Rainbow Parade coverTHE RAINBOW PARADE
Written and illustrated by Emily Neilson
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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A Review Plus an Interview with Author Dana Middleton

A REVIEW PLUS AN INTERVIEW

WITH

 DANA MIDDLETON

AUTHOR OF

NOT A UNICORN

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

 

 

 

 

REVIEW

Dana Middleton’s third novel will delight middle-grade readers who enjoy a story that blends contemporary issues with just the right amount of magical realism and likable, relatable characters who would be fun to hang out with.

Readers learn early on that the main character, Jewel, age 13, has a unicorn horn on her forehead. Her friend Mystic  likes it because it makes Jewel different, the way she feels and Nicholas believes it’s cool and magical. “Are you kidding?” he tells her at one point, “You don’t have to have a horn to be different.” These three spend their time at the “freak” table (where Jewel has found refuge following an unintentional impaling of a fellow student who survived), discussing ‘the horn,’ comics, the upcoming French essay competition, and the popular kids. As the story progresses, Carmen, Jewel’s invisible magical guardian unicorn begins to play more of a role in the plot.

In her apartment, Jewel lives with her mom, and early on her grandmother moves in and shares her bedroom. The family is portrayed as lower-class where money is tight and Jewel’s mother wants her to have a better life. “You are going to graduate from college. Got it? You’re not going to end up like me.” While they clearly care for Jewel, they don’t seem to grasp how much Jewel struggles with the horn and wants to have it removed. But doing so involves great risk. It also means a huge expense, a trip to Los Angeles, and initially going behind her mother’s back.

As the story unfolds, Jewel’s lost friendship with her former best friend Emma rears its head again at the prospect of her horn being surgically removed and becoming popular. Complicating things is Mystic’s stealing a necklace from Emma’s pal, Brooklyn, the ultimate popular girl. There’s so much for Jewel to consider and weighing heavily on her is having been offered a chance to tell her “horn” story in French at the competition she has dreamed of.  At the same time, calling attention to it will make her feel like she doesn’t fit in even more, and reconciling those two feelings are taking their toll on her. Additionally, it turns out that reuniting with Emma may not be all Jewel hoped it would be.

The good news is that Jewel ultimately gets her wish and has her horn removed in Los Angeles. But the horn, it seems which bonded her to Carmen, will kill the unicorn unless she can find a way to save her.  It’s here Dana has cleverly tied in a graphic novel that Jewel has been working on with Nicholas called Highwaymen. When the storyline mixes the graphic novel into the quest to save Carmen, there is action and adventure around every turn that will keep readers in suspense in the best possible way.

I loved how when the book ended, the characters stayed with me and filled me with hope. The thoughtful and exciting journey Jewel took brought her to a place where she could finally embrace her horn and her uniqueness. Coming to terms with what made her different ends up being the biggest and most satisfying magic Jewel, and readers, experience.

Since I could not put down Dana’s latest book I felt compelled to ask her some questions to satisfy my curiosity. I hope you’ll scroll down now or return to the interview below when you’ve finished reading Not a Unicorn.

INTERVIEW

GoodReadsWithRonna: Welcome to the blog, Dana. I’m thrilled to discuss your latest middle-grade novel, Not a Unicorn. Do you recall how the idea for it came to you?  

Dana Middleton: Actually, it was all Jewel. This girl with a unicorn horn showed up in my mind and wouldn’t let go.

 

GRWR: Was it a long time until you fleshed out the story? 

DM: It did take quite a while, in part because I thought the idea was so weird and I wondered if people would get it. And then I thought, maybe people would think I was weird, too! Like Jewel, I had to accept all the parts of me (even the weird ones) to be able to write this. I was sure about one thing early on though—that there would be three parts to this story concerning Jewel’s horn. I won’t spoil it here, but that initial structure never wavered. I knew how it had to go, but I wasn’t sure if I could write it.

 

GRWR: One of my favorite parts of the story is the friendship between the main characters, the “different” kids Jewel, Mystic, and Nicholas. I love how they stayed with me after the story ended because I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. What did you draw upon when writing them?

DM: I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them, too! Nicholas was loosely based on a friend of my nephew’s, and Mystic came from someplace unknown. And then Carmen, Noah, and Tall Ethan wandered in. I felt like it was so important to get these characters right because each of them had such a profound effect on Jewel.

 

Dana signing books OnceUponaTime
Dana signing books at Once Upon a Time bookstore in L.A. Photo Credit: ©Jessica Palacios.

 

GRWR: I’m a Francophile like Jewel. Is there any of you in her or maybe the popular girls like Brooklyn or Emma? 

DM: Like you, I am a Francophile! I studied French and even went to study at the Sorbonne for a summer during college. I always wanted to travel and by imbuing Jewel with this desire, it created conflict because of course, she felt like she couldn’t be seen in big spaces. I always had this picture in my mind of Jewel looking up at the Eiffel Tower because she’d become brave enough to go there.

And as far as Brooklyn and Emma are concerned, I definitely wasn’t either of them. But Brooklyn, that girl turned out okay. She became someone I didn’t quite expect.

 

GRWR: How did your hometown in Georgia influence the setting or anything else in the novel? 

DM: My family moved to the mountains of North Georgia (to a town called Dahlonega) when I was a teenager and that’s the town where Jewel lives. It’s a mixture of Dahlonega past and present, and some of it made up in my mind. I thought if you had a unicorn horn on your head, it would probably be best to live in the relative safety of a small town. That also created for Jewel more fear about the possibilities of venturing into the outside world.

 

GRWR: Can you speak to what it was like incorporating the graphic novel/comic you created called Highwaymen into the plot?

DM: Let me just say that Highwaymen was a complete surprise to me. I had no idea how that would develop in the story but it kept developing into something and I kept following. I really love Highwaymen, and like Jewel, I have a soft spot for Esmeralda. She’s so bad-ass awesome!

 

GRWR: What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing Not a Unicorn?

DM: Trusting that it would all work out. I guess a lot of writers feel this way, but sometimes I wasn’t sure I could make this book what I wanted it to be. I was very blessed to have an agent and editor who believed in Jewel and helped me to make it the best book that I could.

 

GRWR: If young readers took away one thing from your novel, what would you hope that would be? 

DM: The best question for last! I hope this book helps young readers accept who they are more deeply. Because we all have something that we just wish we could change— it may not be a unicorn horn, but it’s something. If Jewel can help someone accept their ‘difference’ and make it into their superpower, then my job is done.

My sincere thanks to Dana for taking the time to chat with me about Not a Unicorn. Here she is below with author Jill Diamond during her virtual book launch.

Dana with author Jill Diamond at Virtual Book Launch

BUY THE BOOK

Purchase Dana’s book here: https://danamiddletonbooks.com/books/not-a-unicorn/ 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: https://danamiddletonbooks.com/

 

Author Dana Middleton
Author Dana Middleton Photo Credit: ©Peter Atkins

BRIEF BIO

Dana Middleton is a middle-grade author of contemporary novels for young readers who enjoy a dash of fantasy and mystery. Her latest book, Not a Unicorn, is from Chronicle Books. She is also the author of The Infinity Year of Avalon James (a Young Hoosier Book Award nominee and Oregon Battle of the Books selection), and Open If You Dare. Dana grew up in Georgia, but lives in Los Angeles with her British husband. You can visit her online at danamiddletonbooks.com.

 

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn

 

Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Corn

Written by Shannon Hale

Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

(Abrams BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

itty-bitty-kitty-corn cover

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

 

Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Corn, written by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, begins on the front endpapers with Kitty who is gazing admiringly at a picture of a unicorn. But how, she wonders, can she make herself into one?

She gets an idea and takes out her crafts box, removing paper, paint, and glue. She makes herself a colorful horn out of paper and ties it to her head with a piece from her purple ball of string. Now, the text takes off with Kitty looking in the mirror and seeing a unicorn in the reflection. “She feels so perfectly unicorn-y.” But much to her dismay, Parakeet and Gecko tell her she’s not a unicorn, just a cat, bursting Kitty’s bubble of happiness as a unicorn. This scenario repeats itself with Kitty becoming more and more dejected. It is not until she meets Unicorn who shows Kitty that she herself is actually a Kitty-Corn just like her, that Kitty is able to be who she really is and sees Unicorn for who she is too.

 

Itty Bitty Kitty Corn int1
Interior art from Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn written by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Abrams BYR, ©2021.

 

At forty-eight pages, this length exceeds today’s standard for a fiction picture book title and allows for a more relaxed reading experience with the young listener. Each page has very few words and lots of white space which allows the expressive illustrations to shine through. The most ardent of non-cat lovers will melt at the sight of Kitty.

 

Itty Bitty Kitty Corn int2
Interior art from Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn written by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Abrams BYR, ©2021.

 

Everyone, both children and adults alike, has an idea of how we perceive ourselves and how we want to be perceived by others. This is our reality when we look in the mirror each day and when we venture out into the world. Itty-Bity-Kitty-Corn’s positive message of instilling in children the notion that they can be anything they want to be, no matter the naysayers they may come across is very self-affirming. We should all have the confidence that Kitty finds in her friendship with Unicorn to be our true selves and see others in their true light as well.

  • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

KittyCorn_Downloadable_ActSheets.pdf (abramsbooks.com)

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Kids Picture Book Review – Birds of a Feather

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

Written by Sita Singh

Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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BirdsofaFeather cover

 

Join me as we journey to the Himalayan jungle where we’ll meet Mo, a stunning snowy white peacock, in Sita Singh’s picture book debut, Birds of a Feather, with illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Coleman.

 

BirdsofaFeather 6-7
Interior spread from Birds of a Feather written by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Philomel Books ©2021.

 

Much loved and accepted by his more colorful friends, Mo is the one who, in time, begins to feel different. He finds no pleasure playing hide-and-seek and he doesn’t have dazzling plumes like his pals.

 

BirdsofaFeather int8-9
Interior art from Birds of a Feather written by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Philomel Books ©2021.

 

With their encouragement, he often shrugs off his self-doubt. That is until a sign announcing The Annual Dance in The Rain event, the biggest day in the jungle, reinforces Mo’s feeling of being different. He can’t have his blues brightened at the Color Salon, or find a reason to shop at the Bird Boutique like all the others. To him his bird feathers are boring.

When he feels down, Mo’s friends continue to build him up with caring words like “Colors don’t make the bird!”, “You’re still a peacock!” and “Go, Mo, Go!” Does it help? Temporarily. Mo knows he lacks those bright, bold, beautiful feathers of his peacock peers. But when a dark storm on the night of dance makes it impossible for anyone to see, and the peacocks are tripping over each other’s trains and in a general fowl mood, Mo, watching the action from a distance, realizes he actually does possess something special. His bright and brilliant glowing white feathers light up the darkness and the dance. The night’s festivities are illuminated, and fantastic, even for Mo!

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BirdsofaFeather 18-19
Interior spread from Birds of a Feather written by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Philomel Books ©2021.

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Now that everyone can see, Mo, at last, sees something toothat what he had all along that made him different is what makes him unique and wonderful. Singh’s story about the power of friends and a supportive community is delightful and will lift readers’ spirits as they watch Mo’s spirits rise and shine. I love how Singh introduces us to a character so beloved by his friends who at first is unable to see his own self-worth while everyone else can.

Adding to the inspiring quality of Singh’s tale are Fizer Coleman’s lush illustrations in jewel tones created digitally with traditionally painted gouache and watercolor textures. Together they offer readers not only a charming and visually appealing read, but a helpful one in regards to social and emotional development as well. It’s great for parents, teachers, and librarians to have such a positive picture book celebrating diversity and differences for this age group. The book concludes with interesting back matter about peacocks—the national bird of India and features “a fact sheet on these beautiful creatures, their environment, their behaviors, and more!” Did you know that a group of peacocks is called a party? Well, party on now with Mo and company in Birds of a Feather.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – A Girl’s Bill of Rights

A GIRL’S BILL OF RIGHTS

Written by Amy B. Mucha

Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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When Amy B. Mucha wrote A Girl’s Bill of Rights, she was not planning to publish it. Mucha says, “I wrote it years ago, only for myself! Like so many women, I was raised to be a people pleaser and put others before myself. Writing this was a way to help me declare and own my rights to have my own opinions, feelings, and preferences. And it helped!” But after a while, she thought her book could also be an inspiration for many girls and women. And by taking a chance and submitting her pitch during a Twitter pitch event, she got a like from Beaming Books, and voilà – a beautiful and inspiring book was born.

“I have the right to look how I look and wear what I wear.” That’s how it begins.
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AGirlsBillofRights int1
Interior art from A Girl’s Bill of Rights written by Amy B. Mucha and illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda, Beaming Books ©2021.
AGirlsBillofRights int2
Interior art from A Girl’s Bill of Rights written by Amy B. Mucha and illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda, Beaming Books ©2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And from there, more beautiful spreads with diverse girls talking about all the rights we, girls, have.

I love Sonda’s illustrations showing diverse girls – diverse races, body types, abilities, and disabilities. This makes the message even stronger that we all have the same rights to choose our path, have our own feelings, and say yes and no when we need to.

This book will be an empowering tool to show girls their rights and that they can be whatever they want to be. “Si, se puede.”

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AGirlsBillofRights int4
Interior spread from A Girl’s Bill of Rights written by Amy B. Mucha and illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda, Beaming Books ©2021.

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And today, on International Women’s Day, when we celebrate so many achievements by so many girls, it’s important to keep on inspiring them to fight for their rights.

  • Guest Review by Ana Siqueira

Order the book here link

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Ana Siqueira
Children’s Book Writer and Educator

EL PATO QUIERE UVAS
Teacher’s Discovery 2019
BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS – 
Beaming Books- Summer 2021
IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA
Simon Kids- Summer 2022
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Read a review of another girl-power-themed picture book here.

 

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Picture Book Review – I Love Me!

I LOVE ME!

Written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss

Illustrated by Beth Hughes 

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and illustrated by Beth Hughes, the picture book I Love Me! honors self-love and the beauty of difference. 

Textual and visual body positive images permeate throughout the book. Readers will enjoy a decidedly inclusive group of children distinct in body shape and varying shades of eye, hair, and skin color, including vitiligo. Varieties in head coverings also nod to different faith traditions. There’s an emphasis, too, in loving ALL of  ourselves from the “tip of [our] nose all the way down to [our] ticklish toes” and from our “mouth and chin all the way down to [our] knees and shins.” 

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I Love Me int Spread
Interior spread from I Love Me! written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and illustrated by Beth Hughes, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

The physical body is celebrated as a whole and each part, specifically, for its function in each and every way that function presents itself. Each kind is worthy and embraced. From one page to the next, children from a broad range of abilities (those who use crutches, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, and wheelchairs and those who don’t) are depicted enjoying the same activities like swinging, dancing, or playing dress up in ways that feel right to them. Hughes’ vibrant patterns and textures combined with horizontal lines add movement and excitement to every child-centered page. Surely, the book’s wholehearted, loving message will provide every little reader the opportunity to see themselves in these pages.

The book’s upbeat rhythm and rhyming text make it a great read-aloud for little ones who need to know just how beautifully and wonderfully they are made. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Click here to order a copy of I Love Me! or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/21/20

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Picture Book Review – Kat and Juju

KAT AND JUJU

Written and Illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani

(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Kat and Juju cover

 

Written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Kat and Juju is a gentle story of friendship, identity, and the courage to be your own self. 

Kat is a tender-hearted little girl who finds “wonder in places no one else” thinks to look.

 

Int1 KAT AND JUJU 2020 Kataneh Vahdani
Interior art from Kat and Juju written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Two Lions ©2020.

 

Vahdani’s illustrations direct our eyes to a curious play of shadows that fascinates Kat and helps us understand her unique perspective. Her connection to such things others don’t understand causes her to stand out as different. And her shy personality gets in the way of talking to the other children. Consequently, she often feels lonely.

Her hope lies in her upcoming birthday gifta “very best friend” to call her own. On her special day, a big, red, fluffy bird named Juju arrives at her doorstep. Kat soon finds out that as loveable as he is, Juju is nothing like her. His loud and outgoing personality easily draws the attraction and affection of the other kids. As much as Kat wants to “let go” and join Juju’s “happy dance,” she can’t surrender the fear of what others will think of her.

 

Int2 KAT AND JUJU 2020 Kataneh Vahdani
Interior art from Kat and Juju written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Two Lions ©2020.

 

Then a chance discovery of a vulnerable “birdie” (chick) in need of care helps Kat face her fear. With help and encouragement from best friend Juju, Kat nurtures the chick to health. Sometimes these caregiving activities feel safe and familiar to Kat, like feeding and giving medicine. However, at other times, they involve risk-taking and getting outside of her comfort zone, especially as Kat and Juju try to help the birdie learn to fly. Anxious and terrified, Kat nevertheless participates. Vahdani’s background in animation, and contrasting color palette provide a safe space for experimentation and exploration. Through this exciting and challenging process, Kat helps out her little friend and, just as important, discovers the freedom to be herself.

 

Int3 KAT AND JUJU 2020 Kataneh Vahdani
Interior art from Kat and Juju written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Two Lions ©2020.

 

For little ones (including me) who may feel different for being on the quieter side, Kat and Juju shows that perseverance can lead to a “happy dance” of inner strength and self-affirmation.

Visit Kataneh on Instagram: @KatandJuju.
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   • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

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.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous 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.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn 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.

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The Bad Seed written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald

THE BAD SEED
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Harper Collins Children’s; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

After reading The Bad Seed  written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, I truly appreciated its deep message about the value we place on ourselves and others based on behavior.

Here’s where the review gets interesting though; while this is a children’s picture book geared towards ages 4-8; I feel it’s also a great book for older kids and even adults!

Younger kids, especially in the world we live in today, know the power words hold over someone. When reading to a younger crowd, as a teacher, I would explain that words like “bad” and “good” are labels. We all make mistakes sometimes. Why is the seed labeled this way? For older children the book serves as a reinforcement of what they hopefully know to be true, there’s always room for self-growth.

The story follows a little sunflower seed who loves his family dearly on their Sunflower head home. As the seeds scatter when it’s nature’s time for them to drop off the beloved plant, they become separated.

 

Int_art_p14_BadSeed
The Bad Seed Text copyright © by Jory John 2017 Illustration copyright © by Pete Oswald 2017

 

Our once loved and happy seed protagonist quickly becomes traumatized by events beyond his control (such as a man at a baseball game nearly swallowing him and then being spit out- with a permanent crack in his once whole shell!) The seed isn’t so happy anymore and is convinced that he is bad (something anyone with trauma in their life can relate to, as it is often the victim left feeling at fault).

He begins to act out by deciding “not to care anymore” which he does by not listening to others, lying, and not washing his hands, among other things. But what our dear seed needs desperately, is for someone to connect to. To see his cracks and accept him, showing him that he can be whole again from the inside out. Children often act out when they need help, and our little seed is a perfect example of someone needing intense care.

He eventually tires of his “bad” behavior and starts working on being “good” again. I say these words in quotes because the truth is none of us lives in a world of black and white/good or bad people. It requires constant awareness to make positive choices to be your very best self and not let a label define you.

We never know someone else’s background- their own unique make-up and history, so labeling them as “bad” or “good” means that we miss out on why they are behaving that way to begin with. With children especially, curiosity goes a long way in sorting out behavior that doesn’t work. We are all moving through each moment trying to meet needs. Some strategies we try are better than others, and The Bad Seed, through both its humorous art and prose, illustrates that beautifully. Pete Oswald’s expressive and whimsical illustrations truly capture the emotions of this little seed in a way many children can relate to so they can instantly guess at how he is feeling.

I recommend this book as a tool to show that we never know what someone else has been through. Being curious, asking questions, and offering kindness before judging and criticizing would be best whenever possible in life.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

 

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Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker – A Giveaway Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion!

A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY
FOR
BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER
by Shelley Johannes

Disney-Hyperion sent Good Reads With Ronna a copy to check out,
and we’re delighted they’re partnering with us for the giveaway!

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker cover image

Read the review then scroll down to enter the giveaway today!

 

REVIEW:
In Shelley Johannes’s charming debut, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, the main character is appealing in a cute and quirky way. She’s someone whose personality will no doubt resonate with many different thinkers when they see themselves reflected on the pages of this delightful new chapter book series for tweens and pretweens.

Beatrice approaches life from a creative and different perspective. In other words, she does her best thinking upside down. Up until third grade, this singular skill has been accepted, even rewarded by her school teachers. But things are about to change as the summer of second grade ends and it’s time to head back to school. Not one to make promises easily unless it’s very important (a running sight gag throughout this illustrated story), and involves her BFF Lenny Santos, Beatrice is dressed and ready for third grade in her ninja attire as was agreed upon when second grade ended. The outfits signified the girls’ participation in a secret plan called Operation Upside that was supposed to be put into action on day one. Then why does Lenny, unrecognizable in pink instead of her brother’s black hand-me-downs, seem to have forgotten? Maybe her new friend and neighbor Chloe has something to do with it and that’s why they’ve also chosen desks right next to each other! Beatrice, on the other hand, has to sit up front, under the watchful eyes of the strict Mrs. Tamarack.

Beatrice is determined to find a way to convince Lenny to reconsider the mission when it’s obvious that, with Chloe now in the picture, the stealth operation has been put on hold. Being an upside down thinker, Beatrice develops an unusual and risky plan that winds up including a dangerous fall and a clandestine visit to the staff room, something no ordinary student could ever concoct. Will Beatrice win back her friend and give Operation Upside a reboot? It seems there’s a lot at stake for this thoughtful third grader whose resilience is demonstrated in the most original ways, and who is certain to inspire young readers rooting for her success.

Johannes does a terrific job of engaging readers right from The Very Beginning, the title of Chapter One. Young Beatrice is hanging onto a branch in the first of many marvelous illustrations “created with felt-tip pen, brush marker, and colored pencil on tracing paper,” and using only black, grays and orange. And it works wonderfully. There’s occasional rhyme and an easy flow from chapter to chapter in this 155-page book kids should breeze through. The problem-solving and different thinker theme is age appropriate and should encourage interesting conversations about creativity, inclusiveness and friendship. The 20 chapters are short and Johannes makes sure there are no loose ends which can sure get in the way if you’re an upside down thinker! I’m eager to see what this amiable tween who marches to her own drummer gets up to in Book#2.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GENERAL DETAILS:
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
By Shelley Johannes
Release September 19, 2017
Recommended chapter book for ages 7-10

ABOUT THE BOOK …
Beatrice does her best thinking upside down.

Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!

Can Beatrice use her topsy-turvy way of thinking to save the mission, mend their friendship, and flip things sunny-side up?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Shelley Johannes previously spent ten years in architecture—
where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the
greatness of black turtlenecks. She lives in Michigan with her husband
and two sons. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book
she’s written. Find her online at shelleyjohannes.com.

 

 

FIND OUT MORE:
Visit the Official Site here.
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Like Disney Books on Facebook
Hashtags #BeatriceZinker #UpsideDownThinker

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:
Be An Upside Down Thinker!
One (1) winner receives:
Copy of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
And branded pencil case and notepad!

Open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.
This giveaway ends 10/12/17 12:00am PT so don’t wait! Enter today
for your chance to win a copy and cool BZUDT swag!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

GO BIG OR GO GNOME
Written by Kirsten Mayer
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.  

 

Cover image of Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

 

 

There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.

A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?

Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.

Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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