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Picture Book Review – Way Past Sorry

 

WAY PAST SORRY

Written by Hallee Adelman

Illustrated by Josep Maria Juli

(Albert Whitman; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Way Past Sorry cover mcKat feeling sorry

 

 

Author Hallee Adelman has taken big feelings and put them into words and actions in this helpful picture book about a young girl who breaks a promise to her best friend and now, feeling Way Past Sorry needs to find a way to remedy the situation and save her friendship.

In this latest book in Adelman’s series that teaches kids how to manage powerful emotions in social situations, we meet Kat who is on her way to a class trip with her classmates and best friend Sage. Josep Maria Juli, who also illustrated Adelman’s Way Past Embarrassed, paints a blue bus with students seated side by side, well, everyone except Sage. Kat had promised her best friend that she would sit with her on the trip but instead sits beside Meera. I have no doubt this is probably a situation many children have experienced. The art complements the story and keeps it simple so as not to distract from the relationship issues.

 

Way Past Sorry int1 on bus Meera and I shared secrets.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Leaving the bus, Kat attempts an apology but Sage ignores her.”I felt way past sorry.” When the students are asked to pair up, Sage is left with their teacher Mr. Pish. She walks towards him with sunken shoulders and no smile on her face. And Kat, dressed in her yellow shirt and blue pants, is also missing a smile.

Sometimes problems grow bigger, even when it’s the last thing we want, and that’s what happens when Kat is asked why she wasn’t Sage’s buddy. Making a bad situation worse, Kat responds, “Sage didn’t want to sit with me …” not wanting the kids to know she was the one who created the problem. She feels awful getting hugs she didn’t deserve.

Adding insult to injury, readers see Kat’s tongue sticking out at Sage when she’s confronted with her lie. This is such a relatable problem and a great lesson for kids to learn at a young age. Mr. Pish watches the girls’ interaction with a disappointed look. Kat dreams this day could start over, but we all know, especially young readers, that just isn’t possible.

 

Way Past Sorry int2 in planetarium wishing on a star.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Everyone returns to class. But for Kat, “… my day couldn’t start again. I felt stuck with my sorry. After a while, Meera said, ‘You’re not being fun.'” Apropos of a class science project, Kat asks Mr. Pish, “… if good scientists make mistakes, do you think good friends do too?” She remembers good times with her best friend drawing on the floor. Completing the ice cream-making assignment, she hands a cone to Sage asking her if they can talk at lunch. This part is a mature example. Communicating feelings instead of ignoring what happened is a lesson kids will carry through into all of life’s ups and downs.

As we approach the final pages, feelings are unpacked. “She told me how I had made her feel. And I listened really well.” Kat admits her mistakes and Sage tells her she’s a great friend. A friendship mended and a happy ending. Other recommended books in the Great Big Feelings series include Way Past Lonely, Way Past Afraid, and Way Past Jealous, all teaching kids they are not alone when big feelings arise.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Picture Book Review – Adam and His Tuba

 

ADAM AND HIS TUBA

Written by Ziga X Gombac

Illustrated by Maja Kastelic

Translated by Olivia Hellewell

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

 

 

 

Adam_and_His_Tuba_cover_Adam_leaving_circus_tent

 

 

Starred review – Foreword Reviews

 

The Von Trapeze circus family travels the world in their painted wagons performing to audiences who reward them with flowers and applause. But, not everyone in the family enjoys acrobatics, or applause, in Slovenian author Ziga X Gombac’s picture book Adam and His Tuba illustrated by Maja Kastelic.

 

Adam and His Tuba int1 Grandma Antonia breathing plumes of fire.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

I love how each family member’s first name begins with the letter ‘A.” There’s Grandma Antonia, who breathes blazing plumes of fire; Grandpa Angus who swallows swords; Papa Alexi and Mama Anastasia who bravely walk the tightrope; and twin sisters Aria, who rides a unicycle, and Alea who crawls into cannons. But what trick does the youngest son Adam perform?

Everything in the Von Trapeze family is just as it should be. Except … Young Adam is illustrated sitting alone in a tent surrounded by stage props and a unicycle while he’s reading what appears to be a book, but my guess is that it’s sheet music. The family tries desperately to get him to participate in the acrobatics. Grandma Antonia tried to spark an interest in fire-breathing. But it was no use. The reader sees a drawing of Grandma trying to put out the flame, as Adam stands behind her with his hands clasped together. Grandpa Angus tries to teach Adam how to handle a sword but instead finds his cape cut in half. It was no use.

 

Adam and His Tuba int2 Von Trapeze family closed the doors quietly.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

The Von Trapeze family gathers in a tent to try to come up with a solution. “He could iron everybody’s clothes and darn their socks,” one family member called out. “Why don’t we ask Adam what he likes doing?” The family wasn’t sure who called out that question, but as soon as it happened they heard a magical melody. Sitting on the bed with an enormous tuba was Adam. He played with so much skill. The family couldn’t believe what they were hearing and why didn’t anyone ever notice him before? The family had been so caught up in their own circus tricks they hadn’t paid much attention. The family felt awful but Adam wasn’t sad or mad. From that day forward the world-famous Von Trapeze circus family featured a new performer.

 

Adam and His Tuba int3 Adam and his tuba accompanies family circus act.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

This enchanting story about choosing your own path, even when it goes against the rest of the family, is a good message for young readers and a good conversation starter. What is right for one family member isn’t always right for another. The family realized they had been so focused on their own stuff they hadn’t noticed Adam. And when they eventually did, how wonderful that everyone could agree that Adam’s contribution to the circus made it that much better. Adding to the pleasure of this 40-page picture is the excellent artwork. Slovenian illustrator Maja Kastelic uses warm sepia colors throughout the story: black, gold, and orange, lovely bursts of light, and characters with red flushed cheeks that give the book an appealing historic vibe. A recommended read for kids who want to make their own kind of music in this world.

Find out more about the translator here.

  • 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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Best New Children’s Books for Father’s Day 2023

FATHER’S DAY BOOKS

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

REVIEWS:

Dads Can Do It All Cover dads doing many activitiesDADS CAN DO IT ALL!
Written by Ted Maass
Illustrated by Ekaterina Trukhan

(Grosset & Dunlap; 8.99, Ages 0-3)

I reviewed Moms Can Do It All! last month and am happy to share its equally charming companion, Dads Can Do It All! with you.

Maass and Trukhan engage children with their easy rhyme and vibrant art in this 18-page board book. “There are dads who sing songs and write music with words, and there are dads who take care of dogs, cats, and birds.” Little ones are encouraged to believe in themselves and in what they might be one day. Dads are shown role modeling in myriad jobs from mail carriers, farmers, construction workers, chefs, and nurses to firefighters, clerks, hairstylists, astronauts, and homemakers. The variety of occupations depicted can open the door for discussing all kinds of positions people have at an age when children love to dress up and play pretend. 

Like the companion board book, here readers are treated to bold colors and simply shaped characters that will capture and hold young ones’ attention. With its convenient bookplate for personalization, this book can be gifted to new dads by anyone including baby! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Papá’s Magical Water-Jug ClockPapas Magical Water-Jug Clock cover boy giving out water
Written by  Jesús Trejoa
Illustrated by Eliza Kinkz
(Minerva; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

If you enjoy picture books that entertain on many levels and are more than a Father’s Day book, that’s what you’ll get with this delightful debut from Jesús Trejoa, a popular Mexican American comedian. The multiple hooks of this father-son tale such as humor, gardening and equipment, animals and nature, diversity, and grown-up jobs, will pull in young readers. The family closeness and joyful illustrations will keep them reading.

Is Papá’s water-jug clock truly magical? That’s what children will find out as little Jesús joins his father on a hot and busy Saturday to help out in the family landscaping business. “Remember to drink lots of agua,” his mama reminds him with some innocent foreshadowing before her son starts loading up the van. Papá has already told Jesús that when the water runs out the work day is over meaning the water jug serves as a clock as well as a much-needed source of hydration. That is if Jesús didn’t give away so much water at each home they visited!

Jesús encounters animals every place they go. First cats, then a dog, and even peacocks. Kids should note the ever-present purple skateboard throughout that whimsically provides rides for these creatures along the way. Is the lad deliberately being mischievous by offering water to the animals because he wants to use it up and end the day early or because he genuinely is concerned about the animals’ welfare and doesn’t realize the repercussions of his actions? It’s magical, right?

Then there’s Jesús’s hard labor on such a hot day. Readers see him frequently splash water on his face to cool off. It is fun watching what Jesús gets up to because of Kinkz’s childlike, loose-lined art, created using multimedia including pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, crayons, and queso. In addition to the magical water jug, I always find it magical when the art and prose pair so harmoniously as they do here.

When eventually Jesús tells Papá that the jug is empty, Papá explains that the jug is not really magical and there are many more stops before they can go home. Beyond surprised at this revelation, the little boy worries he’ll be fired, unaware of the simple solution – request water at the next stop. Once reality sets in, the father and son team must make tracks to finish up all the while having laughs along the way. Now Jesús can appreciate that “Time and water are precious. We don’t want to waste them.” The sweet love between father and son is palpable on every page, and the gentle life lesson conveyed makes this a “read again” story. Don’t miss the comical endpapers too! Also available in Spanish – El Barrilito Mágico de Papá. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Ramen for Everyone cover boy with bowl of ramenRAMEN FOR EVERYONE
Written by Patricia Tanumihardja
Illustrated by Shiho Pate
(Atheneum BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

A March/April 2023 Indie Next Pick
A Junior Library Guild Selection

Another great father/son bonding book is Patricia Tanumihardja’s Ramen For Everyone with illustrations rendered in sumi ink, pencil, and digital media by Shiho Pate. The main character, Hiro, has been studying Dad’s technique of cooking the perfect bowl of ramen every Sunday night for as long as he can remember. But when his seventh birthday arrives, Hiro decides he’s ready to make ramen for the family.

With illustrations of Dad chopping the meat, seasoning the broth, and cutting the vegetables it’s hard not to want to run out and get a bowl of ramen—or better yet make it yourself. Let’s make ramen! Hiro says standing beside Dad at the cooking block. Yes, chef! Dad responds with his arms poised straight by his side. The roles have now been reversed! Hiro’s hair is pulled back in a grey cap as he Thwacks, Thumps, and Bumps his way into the kitchen attempting to make the noodles soft and springy. You got this! His dad says supporting him from the side.

Mom, sister Mia, Dad, and dog Sushi watch as the eggs slip through Hiro’s fingers and the pork falls apart. Shiho Pate perfectly depicts anger on Hiro’s face as Dinner is ruined! He throws the food in the trash. Dad sits crossed-legged on the kitchen floor with his hand on Hiro’s head. It isn’t perfect like yours, Hiro says. Ramen doesn’t have to be perfect, Dad replies.

Hiro and Dad return to the kitchen together to create a meal that both Mom and Mia will enjoy. Cheesy ramen for Mom, Asian Pears for Mia, and for Dad, who loves Hawaiian pizza, pieces of pineapple are a delight in his bowl.

The back matter tells how Ramen is a popular Japanese noodle of Chinese origin and how it has been popularized over the last few years in the United States. Tanumihardja also lists Kitchen Rules telling kids that cooking is fun but you need to wash your hands. Great cooking also takes time. Reading Ramen for Everyone together is a terrific way to get a father and son (or daughter) into the kitchen to create dishes. An Easy Miso Ramen recipe is included and introduces new dishes to add to the family menu. So, if you don’t feel like cooking, you can always bring in ramen bowls this Father’s Day.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

When Daddy Tucks Me In cover girl hugging father WHEN DADDY TUCKS ME IN
Written by Sacha Cotter
Illustrated by Josh Morgan
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $18.99, Ages 4+)

The little girl narrator of this charming picture book rushes out of bed to greet her daddy after he returns home from his medical job that involves working late. Early on we’re clued into the important role of keys in this imaginative story when the girl notes the “jingle, jangle, jingle in the lock of our door.”

From here on in, readers are treated to a slew of fun-sounding, made-up words such as when the little girl proclaims her dad is the “… best tucker-in-er-er in the whole wide world.” On top of that, onomatopeia is peppered throughout the story adding to its read-aloud appeal. We quickly realize how Dad’s packed keychain unlocks the heart of this tale as the narrator inquires about what each key is used for. Is she stalling for time with her dad? It doesn’t matter because we are curious too!

The lumpy, bumpy key leads to Dad’s yarn about a fantastical Zippenburger that takes him zippling off to work with a “Zippeny, zappeny, zippen …” A tiny key unlocks a treasure chest that’s hidden away and only he can find using his
“pirate’s map.” Morgan has filled every spread with whimsical details that one look will not suffice. His art, created in Adobe Photoshop using digital painting and found textures, will hold your child’s attention and delight them. In this particular illustration, there’s a swinging monkey in a pearl necklace, a chest filled with gold, a spider, a snake, and even the little girl’s cat who manages to insert himself into every humorous scene. As a cookie lover, my favorite key is the curly, curvy one that opens the door at her dad’s workplace to a cookie-making machine and conveyor belt. There Dad sits stuffing his face. With each key’s purpose conjuring up wild tales such as the one to a corral where Dad’s woolly mammoth Stanley lives or the one that opens a rocket so Dad can collect space noodles, threads of your child’s dreams are being sewn.

As the story and your child wind down, Cotter brings readers back to the key that started us off, the simple metal one that opens the front door to the narrator’s house and to her! What a satisfying way to end When Daddy Tucks Me In and send your little one off to sleep. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Daddy Dressed Me cover girl hugging dad who sewsDADDY DRESSED ME
Written by Michael Gardner and Ava Gardner
Illustrated by Nadia Fisher
(Aladdin BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Daddy Dressed Me is co-written by thirty-nine-year-old fashion blogger, Michael Gardner, and his confident and thoughtful young daughter, Ava Gardner, who loves pink, getting manicures, and modeling her dad’s unique creations. That alone should fill your heart and give you a reason to read this book with your own child.

The digitally rendered illustrations by Nadia Fisher open to Dad and Ava back to back with Dad wearing an apron for cooking, standing next to a toolbox for building, and cans of paint on the floor for decorating. He’s good at making things.

We see him cooking and painting a mural but what Daddy was best at was sewing. He makes dresses for Ava every year for the holidays and a dress for the Daddy-Daughter dance. When Daddy drops Ava off for Kindergarten, Ava chooses to make a picture frame for Daddy during arts and crafts. But when Miss Sydney announces that everyone should dress in their best clothes for Move Up Day (saying goodbye to Kindergarten and hello to first grade) Ava begins to worry. Would they still make crafts? What about story time?

During dinner, Daddy asks Ava how school was and she tells him about Move Up Day and that she is worried about reciting a poem. Maybe I can make you a special dress, Daddy suggests to Ava who melts into his hug. We see drawings of different dress choices for Ava to choose from. Together they go to the store to find the perfect fabric and Ava finds one that a real princess would wear. She draws a picture of her dream dress. Daddy is a bit worried that it may be complicated but he agrees. Together they practice the poem while Ava helps Daddy with the dress. Ava’s words flowed with more confidence and Daddy’s sewing machine began to whir faster than ever before. When Miss Sydney called Ava’s name she recited the poem perfectly wrapped in the dress that Daddy designed.

The back matter explains the story behind the story of how Michael Gardner used creativity as a way to process his internal struggles. He says, “God turned my pain into power.” Gardner dedicates this book to the memory of his firstborn daughter, Madison-Sole, whose blessed memory he honors in all that he does. This story beautifully highlights what determination, patience, and love can do. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

SOON TO BE RELEASED:

The Coolest Beard cover boy helping dad shaveTHE COOLEST BEARD
Written by Betty Tekle
Illustrated by Nicholas Alexander
(Albert Whitman; $18.99; Ages 4-8, Preorder now, releasing 6/22)

Tenderness and empathy abound in storyteller Betty Tekle’s picture book The Coolest Beard, in which a boy goes with his father to the barbershop and sees the kindness that is shown between his dad and the men who talk about ‘grown folks’ business while getting haircuts and beard trims.

The adults are seated talking on a couch, a cane leaning on Mr. Williams’ knee, but when young Isaac asks, when I grow a beard, I can talk and listen to grown folks’ business? His dad responds, By the time you get a beard, you’ll be one of the grown folks. Nicolas Alexander’s colorful detailed drawings illustrate the Black cultural tradition of the barbershop as a community and family space. And his drawings of the father’s long furry beard are the envy of young Isaac. Some of my favorite illustrations are the humorous spot art pictures of Isaac imagining himself with a beard.

Isaac does not have the patience to wait for a beard to grow, so he rubs Dad’s beard oil all over his face to speed up the process. The adorable illustrations of father and son in the bathroom with Dad rubbing the oil on his beard are made sweeter when we see Isaac doing the same.

Week 1: Nothing yet; Week 2: Still nothing. His cute little dog is intently staring at him and waiting for the beard to grow. By the time he reaches Week 6, Dad’s beard oil has been used up and he wonders if olive oil may do the trick.

When Saturday morning barbershop time comes around, Isaac and his doggy see that his face is as soft and empty as the day before. Isaac feels awful about using up the beard oil and confesses to Mom and Dad. Dad says that going with him to the barbershop will make him feel better.

That’s when Cliff the barber has a plan and places Isaac in the barber chair. When Isaac opens his eyes, he sees that Cliff has rubbed shaving cream all over his cheeks and chin resembling Santa Claus. Now that he has his version of a beard, Isaac is invited over to talk with the grown folks learning that Mr. Williams has broken his hip and that Dad has offered to run errands for him. Other guys offer to help as well. I didn’t realize that grown folks’ business is just adults helping each other, Isaac thinks when Dad offers Mr. Williams money to pay his bills since he’s unable to work. Isaac now sees that it’s not just the beard that makes his dad cool, but his care and generosity toward his friends.

Though not out yet, The Coolest Beard celebrates this unique aspect of fatherhood while honoring the men in children’s lives who teach their kids about acts of loving-kindness. Preorder today. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

MORE RECOMMENDED READS FOR FATHER’S DAY

Daddy and Me cover multiple dads kidsDADDY AND ME
Written by Gary Urda
Illustrated by Rosie Butcher
(Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

 

 

 

A Bed of Stars cover dad son in truck stargazingA BED OF STARS
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

How To Catch a Daddysaurus cover assorted toolsHOW TO CATCH A DADDYSAURUS
Written by Alice Walstead
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Daddy & Me Side by Side cover father son walking in woodsDADDY & ME, SIDE BY SIDE
Written by Pierce Freelon and Nadia Fisher 
Illustrated by Nadia Fisher
(Little, Brown BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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An Interview with The Glow Show Author-Illustrator Susi Schaefer

 

 

AIXA PÉREZ-PRADO INTERVIEWS

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

SUSI SCHAEFER

ABOUT HER NEW PICTURE BOOK

THE GLOW SHOW

(SOURCEBOOKS EXPLORE; $14.99, AGES 4-8)

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The Glow Show cover purple octopus

 

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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

Glow is a bioluminescent squid who loves to dance and twirl. And the faster he twirls, the brighter he GLOWS! He loves to show off his skills … and becomes quite a show-off with a bad attitude. He doesn’t like sharing the spotlight. And when he ditches his friends in search of fans, he loses his glow! Can Glow find his way home—and if he does, will his friends take him back?

As readers follow Glow’s journey, they’ll learn all about bioluminescence and fascinating ocean creatures along the way.

INTERVIEW:

Aixa Pérez-Prado: Congrats on your picture book, THE GLOW SHOW! How did you get into creating books for young readers?

Susi Schaefer: Thank you so much for the interview. I was born and raised in Austria, where I completed an apprenticeship as a glass painter. That style still influences my illustrations today.

Once I reached my early twenties, I got a case of Wanderlust and came to the U.S. to work as a nanny. While reading tons of picture books to the kids, I fell in love with the format. Eventually, I studied graphic design and worked in that field for many years.

And once I had my own kiddos, I decided to try my hand at illustrating and writing.  With the help of the SCBWI and my critique groups, I steadily improved my craft until I landed an agent in 2016. THE GLOW SHOW will be my third book.

 

The Glow Show int2 welcome to the Shallows sign
Interior spread from The Glow Show written and illustrated by Susi Schaefer, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

APP: Tell us what inspired this book.

SS: I am a huge nature lover and have always been fascinated by the ocean, partially because I grew up in a landlocked country. Soon after arriving here, I got my scuba diving certification to explore the underwater world for myself.

Then, a few years ago, we had a lot of bioluminescent plankton in the surf here in Southern California. I really became interested in glowing marine life.

Also, I wanted to tell a story about friendship versus followers or fans. And that’s how that idea for THE GLOW SHOW was born.

 

The Glow Show int3 glow twirls look at me
Interior spread from The Glow Show written and illustrated by Susi Schaefer, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

 

APP: Can you share your process?

SS: For this book, I started by illustrating a finished underwater scene, including a purple, bioluminescent squid. I loved the character so much that I began to write a messy first draft of the manuscript. After a couple of revisions, I created the dummy. The feedback from my critique group was very positive, and I decided to share the idea with my agent. She loved it and helped me refine the dummy. And then, we sent it out on submission and found a wonderful home.

My illustration process is digital collage combined with traditional watercolor washes. First, I create manual sketches on paper, then bring them into Procreate on my Apple iPad Pro and finalize each file in Photoshop on my Mac.

 

APP: Are you working on any projects you can tell us about?

SS: Yes, I am thrilled to share that I have recently signed two more contracts, one as an illustrator for a book scheduled for publication later in 2023 and the second as an author/illustrator for a book coming in 2025.

 

APP: Where can people find you out there?

SS: swww.susischaefer.com and on Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to buy the book from Bookshop.org

 

 Author Susi Schaefer Photo Credit Rich Schaefer
Susi Schaefer Photo Credit Rich Schaefer

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Born and raised in the Austrian Alps, Susi Schaefer trained as a glass painter in the medieval town of Rattenberg. After moving to Southern California for sun and adventure, Susi studied graphic design. She’s the illustrator of ZOO ZEN by Kristen Fischer, author-Illustrator of CAT LADIES and THE GLOW SHOW. Susi lives in North Tustin, California, with her family. www.susischaefer.com

Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

 

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Aixa Pérez-Prado is a native of Argentina who immigrated to the US as a small child. She is a writer, illustrator, translator, sensitivity reader and professor with a PhD in Social Science and Education. Aixa has lived in several different countries, and draws inspiration for her stories and illustrations from diverse locations. Her passion is writing and illustrating picture books aimed at giving diverse children a chance to see their multilayered identities represented through stories that resonate with heart and humor. Aixa writes in Spanish and English and enjoys mixing languages in her prose. Similarly, she loves illustrating by employing different techniques in a whimsical style that includes watercolor, acrylic, ink, and digital. She especially enjoys combining all of these elements through collage. Her 2023 books are CITY FEET (Reycraft), and OUR WORLD: ARGENTINA (Barefoot Books), and coming in 2024, MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Lee & Low). Aixa is represented by Joyce Sweeney from the Seymour Agency.

Twitter: @ProfessorAixa

Instagram: @aixasdoodlesandbooks

 

 

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Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – A Penny’s Worth

”’

A PENNY’S WORTH

Written by Kimberly Wilson

Illustrated by Mark Hoffman

(Page Street Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

From the Publisher: “Hot off the printing press, Penny feels like a million bucks. But as other coins and bills are spent while she sits forgotten, she begins to doubt her value … Refusing to be short-changed, she sets out to find her purpose at any cost.”

From Kirkus Reviews: “Combining a dash of math with buckets of good humor, this book is certainly like money in the bank.”

 

REVIEW:

Fresh and fun, A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman combines loads of money-themed puns with a subtle message on self-worth that young readers will love.

 

 

A Penny's Worth int1 cool your copper
Interior spread from A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

Kimberly Wilson’s debut shines like a new penny under the expert care of Mark Hoffman’s humorous art that will entice children to spend time searching out each detail on the page.

 

A Penny's Worth int2 eyes on me
Interior spread from A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

 

And the silliness continues in Wilson’s pun-filled backmatter that not only offers fun facts about pennies, but illustrates the value of each coin and bill featured in the text. I expect this book will become a favorite in elementary classrooms around the country.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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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.

 

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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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Picture Book Review – The Path

THE PATH

Written and illustrated by Bob Staake

(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

The Path cover

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Picture Book Review – The Struggle Bus

 

THE STRUGGLE BUS

 Written & illustrated by Julie Koon

(Kind World Publishing; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Struggle Bus cover

 

 

From the publisher: Sometimes things are really tough. It’s just too hard. You’ve had enough. Grumble, rumble, bump and roar, the struggle bus is at your door. [The Struggle Bus] is a must-have picture book for any reader struggling with new experiences and managing emotions … Incorporating her experience as an elementary school counselor, Koon uses the accessible theme of vehicles to make this social-emotional concept perfect for the preschool and early elementary crowd. It’s also a great tool for caregivers to start conversations with children about acknowledging difficult feelings and facing fears.

 

The Struggle Bus int1
Interior art from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

From the inside of a grumbly-rumbly bus, readers travel through the process of helpless overwhelm to joyous triumph in this rhyming, growth-mindset picture book from debut author-illustrator, Julie Koon.

 

The Struggle Bus int2
Interior spread from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

Koon’s muted color palette soothes as she tackles the unsure (and at times overwhelming) feelings a child encounters when facing new challenges and learning we all “have what it takes to do hard things.” A repeated refrain invites the youngest listeners into the storytelling while ample back matter offers teachers and caregivers more information to use during classroom or at-home discussions. A delightful debut for both author and publisher, The Struggle Bus is a wonderful addition to the school SEL library.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review – How Beautiful

HOW BEAUTIFUL

Written by Antonella Capetti

Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

 

How Beautiful cover

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Life is simple for the little caterpillar who appreciates sleeping, eating, and crawling around until an unknown thing calls him beautiful setting him off on an adventure in the forest to answer the question, “what does beautiful mean?” How Beautiful is written by Italian school teacher and picture book author Antonella Capetti and illustrated by bestselling picture book illustrator Melissa Castrillón.

Castrillón’s stunning illustrations capture the serenity and peacefulness the caterpillar feels while resting in the forest leaves. From the lovely warm golds and reds, we can imagine what life is like for the caterpillar as he talks to the bee and rests inside a red flower. “He never questioned anything.”

 

How Beautiful int1
Interior spread from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Soon a hand with thin fingers lifts the caterpillar off the ground. Caterpillar is confused by this unusual twig because it has no leaves and moves faster than any twig he has ever seen. The opposite page introduces a new scene with Unknown Thing standing in front of  the caterpillar (ódraws a pig-tailed girl in the distance) who says, “’You’re so beautiful.’ Then it gently laid him and the twig down, and as suddenly as it arrived, it went away.”

 The unquestioning little white bug with the big pink cheeks begins to question for the very first time, so he embarks on a journey to find out if others in the forest know what beautiful means. He begins by asking the big purple-hued bear with bees buzzing by. “’Oh, this is beautiful,’ the bear answered. Lifting up a honeycomb between its paws.” But the blackbird nearby disagreed.

 

How Beautiful int2
Interior spread from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Hmm, it was time to ask others living in the forest. Frolicking in the yellow leaves are three squirrels and the caterpillar asks them “What does beautiful mean?” Honeycomb is not their answer. Instead, they reply that they like dry leaves. Blackbird again disagrees. “Those are not beautiful. Those are fun.”

 

How Beautiful int3
Interior art from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Caterpillar begins to feel sad when he previously felt so content. The once happy-faced caterpillar is now depictd with a sad face as confusion takes over his thoughts. He asks a deer which ends up being no help. “If only he could go home to his leaf, and get rid of the blackbird and the bothersome question.” The page darkens as night sets in and the tired animals of the forest lay on the ground looking up at the sky. “How beautiful! They all exclaimed.” They finally agreed.

Capetti’s prose provide great conversation starters asking the reader, what do you consider beautiful? Why do two people (or animals) who are asked the same question give different answers? Teachers will be delighted to come up with questions to ask during storytime. Capetti’s story opens up a topic of self-discovery for young kids to understand that sometimes questions have more than one answer. How Beautiful is written and illustrated in a thought-provoking way, showing children that it is okay to question what they don’t know. This story shines a light on how the animals may have had different opinions about what is beautiful but by the end of the day, they all found something they could agree on.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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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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Picture Book Review – The Perfect Plan

 

THE PERFECT PLAN

Written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99; Ages 3-6)

 

 

The Perfect Plan cover

 

 

Starred Reviews – Foreward Reviews, Kirkus

 

In The Perfect Plan, author/illustrator Leah Gilbert takes the reader along on a magical journey with Maya, the main character who hopes to build a special place for dreaming and playing in the forest. Through perseverance and teamwork, she builds a fort grander than anything she could have imagined in Gilbert’s enchanting second picture book.

 

The Perfect Plan by Leah Gilbert Opening Spread
Interior spread from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

Transporting readers through spreads of tall brown trees and tiny yellow birds, Gilbert’s art encompasses all the beauty of an inviting forest. Tiny Maya gazes upward toward the sky envisioning a tree fort with a ladder to climb and windows to see out of. “’It will be the most INCREDIBLE and WONDERFUL tree fort in the world!’ she imagined.”

 Maya is a determined child, and quite the planner, and returns to her bedroom with her black cat by her side to research and design the perfect tree fort. “When she was sure she had thought of everything, she headed outside.”

With her perfect page turns, Gilbert returns the reader to the colorful green forest and the most perfect spot to build a fort. Gilbert depicts Maya pulling and pushing and thinking, but having trouble building a fort alone. Maya realizes that sometimes in life we need help and asking for help is okay. She begins by selling the idea of a fort to three little brown beavers. “I’m building the most OUTSTANDING and ORIGINAL tree fort in the world! Will you help me?” and of course they eagerly agree.

 

The Perfect Plan by Leah Gilbert 28
Interior art from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

 

Gilbert’s beautifully expressed words convey that not everyone is good at every job. This is an awesome reminder for both parents and kids! We see that beavers are great at cutting and chopping branches, but not so good at dragging heavy items. Gilbert introduces the kind moose and tells him that she is building “the STRONGEST and STURDIEST tree fort in the world!” Two big brown bears happily agreed to build and stack the frame, and the yellow birds with their natural ability to fly high “twisted and twirled, weaved and wound. Now all the branches were secured.”

 When Maya and the animals scanned the finished fort, Maya began to think something was missing only to be interrupted by a big storm. Maya ran for cover looking back at the fort, while worried that it would be ruined. But upon returning to the spot “Maya couldn’t believe her eyes. ‘It’s Perfect.’” Gilbert paints delightful purple flowers that have bloomed from the rain and the fort is now “far more than she had even imagined it would be.”

 

 

The Perfect Plan last page
Interior spread from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

Gilbert celebrates creativity and shows children the importance of perseverance and teamwork. Kids see that magical things can happen when putting their heart and soul into something. The words can be re-read with new meanings found in the message each time, while the soft colorful art inspires kids to get out a paintbrush and create their own hideaway.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

 

 

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Early Graphic Novel – Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite!

BURT THE BEETLE DOESN’T BITE!

Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires

(Kids Can Press; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

burt the beetle doesnt bite cover

 

 

Sticky Burt is a bug who hugs!

 

Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! is the first in a new series by Ashley Spires, the author and illustrator of The Most Magnificent Thing and the Binky adventure series.

Meet Burt, he’s a ten-lined June (or watermelon) beetle. Burt has feathered antennae, a large body, a sticky abdomen, and can flail his legs when he falls on his back (but needs assistance flipping over). He notices that other insects have special or “super” abilities. A bumblebee is a “super hard worker” and ants can carry heavy loads. So what makes Burt special? Well, he’s trying to figure this out. As Burt meets more insects and learns about their amazing features, he wonders what his “super” ability is. Would winking count? How about hanging out around porch lights? Trying to imitate other insects’ super abilities doesn’t work either and Burt continually ends up on his back.

 

Burt The Beetle int2-3
Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

When Burt discovers a spider web with insects trapped in it, he’s amazed to find that their super abilities cannot free them from the web. As the venomous spider taunts Burt, he realizes he does have some super abilities. Burt’s a hugger and he happens to be sticky, too. Furthermore, he’s big and heavy enough to tear up the spider’s web when he falls on it, saving the other insects–and landing on his back once again. This time he has very grateful friends to help him flip over!

Burt The Beetle int4-5
Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

Cheerful and upbeat humor shines in this book. Commenting on his feathery antennae, Burt notes “it’s a style choice.” Gentle quips are exchanged between characters. When the spider, firmly stuck to Burt’s abdomen, asks “is this ever going to end?” Burt replies “I guess you’re stuck with me. Get it?” Exaggerated bodies and expressive faces, especially “bug” eyes, add to the enjoyment. 

 

Burt The Beetle int18-19
Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

e

Spires has created a graphic novel designed for younger readers, especially those new to the graphic novel format. The panels are clean and well organized, without a lot of distractions. The number of characters and speech bubbles in a panel are kept to a minimum and the print is bold and slightly larger than usual.  This book is appropriate for independent readers or as a read-aloud for emerging readers.  

The book includes some themes which could be used to invite children to discuss character and friendship. Burt’s search for what makes him unique is something children also explore for themselves. Perseverance is a challenge for children, but Burt’s positive “can do” type of behavior in the face of repeated failures may encourage them to keep trying. He takes care of his friends and “doesn’t bite because that’s not how you make friends.”

Lastly, this graphic novel engages children in the natural world around them, weaving in factual information about insects and including “awesome insect super facts” in the back matter. Hopefully, it will inspire children to continue exploring the world of insects and their “super” abilities. 

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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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)

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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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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