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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.

 

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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.”

 

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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.

 

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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!

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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. 

 

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

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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)

 

 

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.

 

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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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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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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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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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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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Kids Picture Book Review – Jacob’s Fantastic Flight

JACOB’S FANTASTIC FLIGHT

Written and illustrated by Philip Waechter

Translated by Elisabeth Lauffer

(Blue Dot Kids Press; $17.95; Ages 3-8)

 

 

Jacobs Fantastic Flight cvr

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly

 

What better way to travel to the sea than to fly, and I don’t mean by airplane! Jacob’s Fantastic Flight, by German author illustrator Philip Waechter, and translated by Elisabeth Lauffer, takes the reader on Jacob’s family vacation where he foregoes flying by plane with mom and dad, and instead sets off with courage to fly solo.

Waechter begins his whimsical tale by introducing readers to baby Jacob, flying before walking and surrounded by his parents, mouths agape, as their baby takes flight from his carriage to beyond the treetops. Each page pulls the reader in with colorful illustrations and intricate detail. Waechter’s vision of the story is beautifully expressed in his uplifting art.

At first his parents were pretty concerned because having a kid like that was a little weird. But they soon got used to him flying and figured, “So be it—he’s our son, and he’s perfect just the way he is!” And he’s quite helpful when he flies to the top of a tree to pick the big red apple!

 

Jacobs Fantastic Flight
Interior spread from Jacob’s Fantastic Flight written and illustrated by Philip Waechter, Blue Dot Kids Press ©2020.

 

As Jacob grows bigger, the family decides it’s time to take a vacation to the sea. After accompanying his parents to the airport, Jacob then waves goodbye and takes off flying on his own. Here begins the real adventure for the boy as he befriends birds, a flock of 83, while admiring the scenery along the way. He saw blue mountain lakes and golden wheat fields and smelled meadows full of flowers—beautiful!

Soon a notorious new character is introduced, Mr. Mortar, the evil birdcatcher. It wasn’t long before a little bird blundered into his net. When Jacob and the birds realize their count is off they work together to devise a plan and save their bird pal Hubert, with Jacob taking the lead.

 

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Interior spread from Jacob’s Fantastic Flight written and illustrated by Philip Waechter, Blue Dot Kids Press ©2020.

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Jacob finally catches up with his very happy parents who welcome him with hugs and kisses. I can only imagine the worry they must have felt thinking their son was flying alone. The family of three turned into a family of four as Hubert the rescued bird was now included in the family trip.

For all those kids who have imagined themselves flying, this is a wonderful adventure. It is also a heartwarming and much needed story about a boy whose difference is also his special power, one that gives him confidence, self-esteem and courage. This is a great conversation starter about helping others in need.

 

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Skernick Einbinder

 

Click here to read another picture book review by Ronda.

 

 

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Three Kids’ Picture Books About Hope

A ROUNDUP OF THREE KIDS’ PICTURE BOOKS

ABOUT HOPE

 

Here’s a fantastic selection of picture books about hope providing a great way to lift spirits at home while spending meaningful time with your children.

 

IfYouCometoEarth cvrIF YOU COME TO EARTH
Written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall 

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

As a big Ivy and Bean fan, I’ve enjoyed two-time Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall’s art for years. Her author-illustrator 2018 picture book, Hello, Lighthouse, was a top book. Now, If You Come to Earth, follows with its amazing accomplishment of summing up, well, everything. This 80-page book is big in size and in heart. Addressed as a letter to “Dear Visitor from Outer Space,” the story includes factual matter such where our planet’s located (and that “the blue stuff is water”) to how “We live in all kinds of homes. / In all kinds of families.” The narrator Quinn’s voice is that of a helpful, insightful child who provides personal details about how “every body is different,” except for their identical-twins friends—yet even then the narrator notes one has a mole. The wide world comes together as a unit as Quinn explains and welcomes an unknown visitor.
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This comprehensive yet personal explanation describes our world exceptionally well. In the back matter, Blackall reveals twenty-three kids gave her lots of ideas, and how she didn’t expect this book to take five years. To me, five years to create this sounds reasonable with its all-encompassing subject matter and massive number of illustrations. Blackall’s talents range the gamut, from her expertise in capturing facial expressions to lifelike renditions of plants and animals. If You Come to Earth belongs in classrooms, houses, and spaceships everywhere.

 

TheWorldNeedsMorePurplePeople cvrTHE WORLD NEEDS MORE PURPLE PEOPLE
Written by Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart
Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

#1 New York Times bestseller! 

Coming out during the heated election year, The World Needs More Purple People, feels well-timed. Beyond stating, “purple is a magic color made when red and blue work together,” Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart’s New York Times best-selling picture book avoids politics by simply stating, “the best things are purple.” As someone fond of the color (and the sentiment), I agree.

The story’s serious recommendations (ask questions, give good ideas, and help someone) are balanced with fun (“We laugh at donkey dances and hairy elephant knees”). Daniel Wiseman’s engaging, kid-friendly art accents the humorous text. My favorite lines: “Purple questions are the kind that help you learn something really BIG about the world or something really small about another person” and “Purple people come in every color you can dream up and every size you can think up.” This book engages young reader with important issues by encouraging curiosity and silliness.

 

ThereIsaRainbow coverTHERE IS A RAINBOW
Written by Theresa Trinder
Illustrated by Grant Snider
(Chronicle Books; $15.99, Ages 3-5)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal

There Is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder is a feel-good picture book filled with hope and reminders that we’re in this together. Inspired by the rainbows her children drew during while sheltering in place for the pandemic, the book expresses our universal experiences such as having to stay separated from family or friends, and attending online school.

Illustrations by Grant Snider perfectly fit the spare, lyrical text. A rainbow of colors glows against a white backdrop. Echoing a child’s style of drawing, Snider elevates that sentiment with details capturing this time in our lives.

Beyond the pandemic, this beautiful picture book “encourages readers to look past their immediate surroundings and find comfort, community, and inner courage—which are all closer than we might think.” And if that’s not enough, peek under the book jacket for a fun, different cover art!

Click here to read a recent picture book about hope reviewed by Christine.

Click here to read a review of another picture book about hope.

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – One Last Shot

ONE LAST SHOT

Written by John David Anderson

(Walden Pond Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

One Last Shot cover

 

 

In John David Anderson’s One Last Shot, twelve-year-old Malcolm Greeley navigates life carefully. School is endured, and his home life is a minefield where he painstakingly interprets what’s said—and what’s not said—to keep the peace between his contentious parents. He’s sure that if he can just do everything right, then things between his mom and dad will get better, that they have to.

Malcolm doesn’t realize he needs a friend until Lex’s miniature golf ball and her comical call of “Five!” lands at his feet. With an unwanted push from his wacky golf coach, Malcolm soon finds a something in Lex he’s been sorely missing. While his steadfast mother accepts and understands him, Malcolm is unsettled around his father, an award-winning jock of many sports, who pushed Malcolm into Little League. When Malcolm is given an out, he takes it, only to be subtly pressured into competition mini golf. With Dad, it’s all about winning, but Malcolm’s not wired that way no matter how he tries. He’s a natural at putting, yet dreads the competitive aspect. The voices in his head add to the stress of executing each shot perfectly.

Though I don’t typically gravitate stories centered around competitive sports, I picked up One Last Shot because I’m a fan of Anderson’s other books Granted and Posted (also middle grade). One Last Shot’s a winner with its fully developed, imperfect characters. I appreciated the creative manner in which the story unfolds; the structure adds interest. Each of the eighteen chapters opens with the description of a mini golf hole and closes with how Malcolm scored on that hole. Sandwiched between, we’re shown Malcolm’s life in flashback scenes.

This would be an ideal read for a kid with parents in the bitter pre-divorce stage since Malcolm comes to understand his parents’ troubles are not about him and cannot be fixed by him. Sometimes, parents need to split up for their own good—an upsetting time that’s hard to live through, but, hopefully, better in the long run.

Click here to read a sample.

 

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

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Kids Book Reviews – Three New Christmas Picture Books for 2019

CHRISTMAS PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

 

Long Ago On a Silent Night cvrLONG AGO, ON A SILENT NIGHT
Written by Julie Berry
Illustrated by Annie Won
(Orchard Books, $17.99, Ages 3-8)

Written by Printz Honor recipient Julie Berry and illustrated by Annie Won, Long Ago, on a Silent Night connects the Biblical story of the birth of Christ with the birth of a mother’s newborn babe. Ancient and modern times meet to express the promise of peace, joy, and hope the Christmas season brings.

Won’s glowing, airy illustrations produce a dreamlike effect. Interchanging pages of light and dark color highlight the story’s juxtaposing themes: extreme joy and the deep mystery of the miracle of birth. Just as a “piece of heaven fell to earth” when God became flesh “at that sacred birth,”the mother feels her boy “came straight from heaven, too” from “the moment” she held him. Berry’s tender language, told in elegant verse form, captures the holiness of the relationship between mother and child, and in a broader sense, humankind’s relationship with the Christ Child. Though He had the power to “one day calm a tempest wild,” Jesus instead chose to save the world through His “gentleness” and humility. The birth of the baby is a reminder of the ripple effect of God’s loving kindness throughout the generations.

A great addition to your Christmas picture book collection, Long Ago, on a Silent Night highlights the relevance of the Nativity story to our modern times.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

TomiedePaolas Christmas Tree Book cvrTOMIE DEPAOLA’S CHRISTMAS TREE BOOK
Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Beloved children’s author/illustrator Tomie dePaola offers us a picture book full of fun facts about the most widespread of all Christmas traditions: the Christmas tree.

In its second edition, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book begins with a family visiting a Christmas tree farm to pick out their own tree. The children’s curiosity about “how Christmas trees [got] started” leads to a fascinating discussion of the historical role “decorated trees and branches” have played during the holiday season.  As far back as the Middle Ages, decorated evergreens were used during church plays and transitioned into people’s homes after the plays were no longer performed. It’s interesting to learn about the varied forms of the evergreens and shrubs as more people brought the plants indoors for decor. The children’s questions guide the family’s discussion naturally and fluidly in a gentle way that doesn’t feel like the reader is getting a “lesson.” We learn of other major transitions: the arrival of the Christmas tree in America, the addition of lights on the tree, and even the evolution of the Christmas tree stand. One piece of history is particularly delightful (and a matter of presidential importance) but you’ll have to get the book to find out!

Though much of the book presents factual information, the story arc takes readers from beginning to middle to end as we watch the family purchase, transport, and decorate their tree. The addition of the grandmother in the second half of the book adds a personal touch to the historical facts as she shares with her grandchildren her memories of Christmas trees long ago. As always, dePaola’s muted color palette, familiar shapes, and soft lines provide warmth and comfort to his words.

Perfect for school reports or for quelling those myriad questions from curious little ones, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book will both educate and entertain. Click here for bonus materials from the publisher’s website.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Dasher Book CoverDASHER
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Growing up as part of a demanding traveling circus is not much of a life for Dasher, a little doe with an adventurous soul. The harshness of hot days does not compare to the magical place in Mama’s stories where the weather is cold, the air crisp, “and the ground was always covered with a cool blanket of white snow.” Dasher’s days are filled with meeting children which she loves. At night, however, surrounded by her family, she wishes upon the North Star for the home Mama has described.

When one windy night’s unusual circumstances bring Dasher into contact with Santa and his tired horse, Silverbell, it’s as if her wish were answered. Because his sleigh filled with massive amounts of toys is getting too heavy for just Silverbell, Santa invites Dasher to help pull his sleigh. There’ll be no looking back now. Only something is missing. Her family. Of course, Santa makes that wish come true, too, when he takes Silverbell and Dasher back to the circus and invites Dasher’s family to join the sleigh. Now everything’s in place for Christmas to be perfect!

Dasher, the wonderfully imagined and illustrated tale of Santa’s team of reindeerbefore Rudolph came alongfeels believable and satisfying. The old-fashioned look of the art (done in watercolor, gouache, pencil, and pastel) depicting J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie and filled with rural folk dressed in their late 19th century garb, adds to the feeling the story is real. Youngsters will be easily convinced, too, and love the lyrical way Tavares has woven together all the threads of this charming origin story so skillfully. Let yourself be transported back in time with this clever tale that will have you convinced this is exactly how Santa’s reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen came to pull Santa’s sleigh.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another roundup of Christmas books here.

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Middle Grade Nonfiction Book Review – The Life Heroic

THE LIFE HEROIC

How to Unleash Your Most Amazing Self

By Elizabeth Svoboda

Illustrated by Chris Hajny

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

 

The Life Heroic book cover

 

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and so do heroic actions. The Life Heroic by Elizabeth Svoboda is her first children’s book and follows her adult novel, What Makes a Hero? An award winning science writer, Svoboda weaves what she has learned into stories and books to help kids and adults tap into their highest potential to become everyday heroes.

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

The colorful emoji like art created by Chris Hajny is woven into each page with bold print highlighting the sentences meant to leave the reader with the most impact. Chapter 1, “What it Means to be a Hero,” includes the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger. He successfully landed Flight 1549 after a power loss to the aircraft’s engines forced a Hudson River landing. Sullenberger then worked with his crew to help the passengers get out safely through the cabin’s emergency exits.

Landing a plane in the river is not the only way to be considered a hero, Svoboda explains. Ten-year-old Ethan had traveled to Mozambique with his father. One day, while kicking a soccer ball, Ethan discovered kids in the village lived on less than a dollar a day. Those children had to create makeshift soccer balls out of things like trash bags wrapped in twine. “I thought to myself, I have six or seven soccer balls just sitting in my garage,” so he decided to give his ball as a parting gift. This one gesture gave Ethan the idea to donate soccer balls to the village. Others had a need that he could help fix.  Eventually he created the non-profit Charity Ball, which now donates soccer balls to countries in need around the world.

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

Each engaging chapter provides ideas on how to find your own heroism. Chapter 4 is called “Seek Mentors and Role Models.” In it readers are recommended to “always be on the lookout for people whose lives are examples of the way we would like to conduct our own lives, interact with the world, savor joys and overcome challenges.” Svoboda suggests putting a portrait up in your room, or somewhere else you’ll see it often, of your role model so on tough or frustrating days it will help remind you of the heroic qualities you want to demonstrate no matter what challenges you face.

Stories go back and forth from everyday people to heroes from history such as Frederick Douglass. The follow-up section, “Questions for Discussion,” highlights the main talking points of each chapter. For example Chapter 8 talks about how helping others sometimes forces us to face our own pain and hard times. It asks the reader to think about some tough or difficult situations they’ve been through and what advice they would give others going through the same thing.

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

“Aimed at kids, this book is also fascinating for adults. With thorough research and drawing on her expertise writing about science, Svoboda offers some remarkable takeaways about heroism”:

  • Most heroes are ordinary people
  • There is a hero inside everyone
  • The ability to be courageous can be strengthened, just like a muscle
  • Going through tough times can sharpen heroic instincts
  • Being a hero doesn’t have to involve tackling an intruder or fishing someone from an icy lake—and in fact, most often doesn’t!

This thought provoking guide can be read chapter by chapter or by skimming through the bolded font. Svoboda’s book is a powerful read for tweens and teens interested in the big questions in their minds about what kind of life to lead and what actually creates meaning.

I’d also recommend it for teachers who’d like to develop talking points from the book to ask questions to students. Parents can also use this book as a tool to discuss heroism with their children. The Life Heroic reminds us that wearing a mask and cape is not necessary to be a hero, and encourages us to rethink the assumption about heroism; people who make the biggest impact aren’t always the ones who make headlines, in fact, all of us can embark on heroic quests to make a difference on issues that matter. I know The Life Heroic will resonate with young readers and hope it finds its way onto bookshelves in libraries as well as homes.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here for another review by Ronda.

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Kids Picture Book Review – My Name is Wakawakaloch!

MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH!
Written by Chana Stiefel
Illustrated by Mary Sullivan
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch! book cover

 

 

With My Name is Wakawakaloch!, Chana Stiefel has written a story that will resonate with so many children as it has with yours truly, someone with a name that people rarely pronounce correctly. I’ve been called Ronnie, Rhoda, Rona and Rhonda (always sung back with the Beach Boys’ “Help Me” for effect), and Ronald. It means so much to me when people actually hear my name and repeat it correctly. So when I received my review copy of Stiefel’s new picture book I was eager to read what the main character, plucky, pig-tailed Wakawakaloch, had to deal with. And when I did, it cracked me up.

Even readers who have an easy name to pronounce should get their hands on a copy of My Name is Wakawakaloch! because it’s a great way to step into someone else’s shoes (although everyone’s barefoot in this picture book!) to understand the frustration that this adorable main character feels. Set in the Stone Age featuring funny “Flintstones”-like artistic touches from illustrator Mary Sullivan, this charming picture book also invites read-aloud opportunities, especially when it comes to saying the hysterical names that Stiefel’s made up.

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch int spread1 by Mary Sullivan
Interior spread from My Name is Wakawakaloch! written by Chana Stiefel and illustrated by Mary Sullivan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2019.

 

When classmate Boog in Sabertooth Safety Class hollers “Look out, Wammabammaslamma!” Wakawakaloch shouts back, as she constantly has to, “That NOT my name!” I relate to the young Neanderthal’s rage, remembering all the different things kids called me in school. Also worth noting – these are cave kids conversing so the grammar or lack thereof really adds to the read-aloud experience. Sullivan’s illustrations of the characters wonderfully and whimsically portray a full range of emotions and actions at play throughout the story (and don’t miss her endpapers, too).

When the exasperated Wakawakaloch expresses to her parents how much she wishes she had a different name, one that could be found on a T-shirt, they don’t even get what a T-shirt is which I totally love. So will young readers. Stiefel doesn’t mention key chains, but that’s another unusual name story!

 

My Name is Wakawakaloch in2t illustration by Mary Sullivan
Interior spread from My Name is Wakawakaloch! written by Chana Stiefel and illustrated by Mary Sullivan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2019.

 

Wakawakaloch’s folks send her to the local Elder called Mooch who has a sharp sense of humor despite stinking “like rotting mammoth poop.” She tells him her troubles and he in turn tells her she needs to be a backwards seer in addition to a forward thinker. She leaves Elder Mooch more annoyed than satisfied but as she tosses and turns in bed that night, a vision on her cave’s walls sheds light on what the Elder was talking about. Her ancestor and namesake was brave and heroic and now it’s time for Wakawakaloch to follow in her footsteps. What her newfound wisdom leads to will be a spoiler if I spell it out, but suffice it to say it fits this entertaining story to a T! Kids will laugh along with Wakawakaloch, not at her, while also appreciating that while a simple name may be nice, sometimes something special can be found in one that’s a bit more complicated and uncommon, or maybe I should say both on the (cave) wall as well as off the wall?

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a review of another book illustrated by Mary Sullivan on this blog.

 

 

 

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Kids Book Review – My Heart by Corinna Luyken

MY HEART
Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

my heart book cover art

 

Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’s rhyming picture book, My Heart, about perseverance through difficult emotional times, will resonate with readers. The spare lyrical text explains what can happen to a heart: “some days it is cloudy and heavy with rain” or “it’s a whisper that can barely be heard.”

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 07
Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

Details make this book special. On the cover, a golden heart-shaped flower glows hopefully as a girl tends it. The story’s carefully chosen evocative words and yellow-accented black-and-white images set the differing moods. Kids of varying ages and backgrounds depict our universal feelings.

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 08
Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

If you look closely, each page has hidden heart-shaped images. From a playground slide and a puddle, to constellations and leaves. Love Luyken’s stunning artwork? Check under the cover for a bonus illustration.

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 13
Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

This book can cheer someone up or just let them know you love them. A heart can experience myriad things, and “a heart that is closed can still open again.”

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

 

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