If ever there was a year of wonders, I think 2020 would be it, both for adults and children, the whole world over. For this reason, I found Cheryl B. Klein’sA Year of Everyday Wondersespecially meaningful though clearly her thoughtful book was created without the pandemic in mind.
The book follows a young girl, along with the people in her world, through all the “firsts” during the year. Some of the lines are poetic, like “First green in the gray” when spring arrives or “First gold in the green” when fall arrives. The hopeless romantic in me liked the scenes of “First cold” when the protagonist is ill, which is immediately followed by “First crush” when a classmate of hers offers his tissue box. Equally touching was how “Second crush” comes about. The book eventually comes full circle as it begins and ends with “First day of the new year.” These seemingly small events of childhood will resonate with readers young and old who have likely experienced one or all of the beautifully depicted moments, the memories of which may last a lifetime.
Qin Leng’s illustrations, rendered with ink and watercolor, portray each wonder with simplicity and emotion. There is lots of white space around many of the pictures, instilling a sort of quiet feeling, which is perfect for reading with your youngsters and reminiscing about all the “firsts’ they have had and will have in the future, depending on their ages.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this review, 2020 was a year like no other, a year of many firsts for everyone: first lockdown, first virtual classroom learning, and first masks. With this last one, I admit that my mind is so focused on the pandemic in our new world that when I actually read the line “First masks” in A Year of Everyday Wonders, it took me a minute to realize that it was not referring to pandemic masks. Let’s hope that 2021 is a year of wonders indeed, of only the best kinds that children should experience.
★Starred Reviews – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal
Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili e Click hereto read another book review by Freidele.
Holly loved experiments. But not today. It was slime day. And she didn’t want to touch anything sticky.
My son has sensory processing issues which we first noticed when he was a baby. He cried when hearing the vacuum cleaner, coffee grinder, car horns, and blaring music. As he got older he also actively avoided loud people, shouting and rough and tumble behavior from his peers. These were not the only things that clued us into his sensory challenges. He didn’t like touching sand or walking on it, and never got into Play Doh, unlike his older sister, because of the smell and consistency. His diet was and still is limited, but he’s faced a lot of these sensory issues head on and has learned ways to adapt. He even traveled to Japan last summer, tried a host of new foods and was flexible when encountering the many different customs there.
Not everyone understands the challenges that children face with sensory processing issues that often accompany autism. Author Jen Malia, a woman who lives with autism and sensory issues does. It’s fantastic that Too Sticky!is available to help open people’s eyes and to encourage empathy for kids coping with sensory stimuli that can be overwhelming, and even immobilizing at times. You may also not be aware that it’s not as easy to recognize in girls.
We meet the main character, Holly, at breakfast time at home. Lew-Vriethoff’s expressive and upbeat illustrations offer an excellent example of how kids like Holly react negatively to something that to other kids may seem like nothing—getting sticky pancake syrup on her hands. From both the art and prose, readers know immediately what makes this young girl uncomfortable. Holly is also reminded that “her science class would be making slime today” which gets her worrying.
What’s also terrific in this same scene is how Holly’s older sister, Noelle, is understanding and apologizes after her fork falls on the floor making a loud and sudden noise. Here Malia adds that Holly replies, “It’s okay,” because that social skill was taught to her by her father. Family support, guidance and modeling acceptable behavior are crucial for children on the spectrum.
At school, Holly’s mother explains to her second grade teacher, Miss Joy, that during slime play, Holly would like to have soap and water at her desk because “She doesn’t like sticky hands.” I remember having to discuss these same types of things with my son’s teachers since my son wasn’t old enough to self-advocate.
Throughout the school day, Holly dreads the approaching slime time. In fact she’s unable to focus on much else. She begins the science experiment reluctantly with the less difficult portion sensory-wise. Miss Joy then finds a clever way to get the overly cautious student to feel curious and involved. Her encouragement and compassion are evident in her dialogue and her poses. What could have been an upsetting experience turns out to be a positive one. It helps, too, that Holly’s not teased by her classmates and that her accommodations have been taken into consideration.
Since the main character experiences “the world differently” than her neurotypical classmates, readers see that it’s hard for Holly to navigate the many uncomfortable situations she faces at school. Her sensory issues and autism color a lot of her reactions and moods which is quite common. While the premise of Too Sticky! may appear straightforward and easily resolved, for children like Holly, such is not the case in real life.
Malia adds a candid Author’s Note describing how both she and her daughter live with Autism Spectrum Disorder and her goal in writing the picture book. With one out of every fifty-nine children in the U.S. diagnosed with ASD, it’s important more children, parents, teachers and caregivers learn about how these children experience the world. With Holly, readers on the spectrum can see a mirror on themselves. Too Sticky!is the ideal read not only for parents and children with these sensory issues, but for anyone wanting to understand the experience and struggles kids like Holly deal with on a daily basis. The backmatter also includes an easy slime recipe perfect for indoor science activities and silliness.
As all budding young chefs and their parents know, it’s not easy getting a recipe just right. In the new picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, these delicious dumplings are Amy’s nemesis. There are a lot of things that can go wrong; luckily, Amy’s Chinese-American family has got it down and will teach her step by step.
High-spirited Amy will appeal to kids who like expressive, relatable, and funny main characters (à la Fancy Nancy). Amy is skillful at many tasks—including eating bao all day—but it’s frustrating that her bao just don’t turn out right.
Charlena Chuacaptures Amy’s personality in the lively illustrations, from silly expressions (trying to tie her shoes while brushing her teeth) to earnest ones (focused on pinching the dough just right). Throughout, a cute white cat follows Amy’s escapades.
Kat Zhang’s uplifting story shows that imperfection tastes just as good and, with a little bit of ingenuity, kids can solve their problems by trying something new. Amy’s resourcefulness left me smiling; kids are amazing.
The book concludes with a time-consuming (3+ hours) but mouth-watering, in other words worth it, recipe for bao that I tested with my daughter. We appreciated the tip about cooking a spoonful of filling before making the dumplings—great advice which allowed us to adjust the flavors. Enjoy!
TWO TOUGH TRUCKS by Corey Rosen Schwartz + Rebecca J. Gomez Illustrated by Hilary Leung (Orchard Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
In Two Tough Trucks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomezwith art by Hilary Leung, Mack and Rig, two vehicles with very different personalities, are heading off for their first day of Truck School. Red Mack is confident and bold. Blue Rig is reluctant and nervous. This sentence describes them to a T: “Two trucks off to school for their first day of class. One riding the brakes. One hitting the gas.”
When the aptly named teacher, Miss Rhodes, pairs the two trucks for a circuit on the track, Mack takes off and doesn’t look back. Rig on the other hand finds the course daunting, facing what seems like one insurmountable challenge after the other. The next drill takes the class to a hill, one which Mack knows he can easily climb. Rig doesn’t feel so sure and comes in “dead last.” The two trucks don’t really connect, each one thinking little of the other. “My partner’s a drag,” is Mack’s take. “That hotshot,” said Rig, “He sure loves to brag.” What will your children think of the characters? It’s a great opportunity to seek their input. The repetition of VROOM! ZOOM! throughout invites sound effects and participation by the littlest readers
It’s not looking hopeful for these two six-wheelers. If there’s a way forward towards friendship, it’s eluding them. But then there’s light on the horizon for Rig when the class is tasked with learning how to go backward while hauling cargo. That’s when Rig excels at last! Hold on! Was that a look of doubt creeping onto blundering Mack’s face? Exasperated, the big, red truck is ready to give up. VROOM! DOOM?
With this shift in ability, Rig’s gained confidence but not a big head. He kindly helps his partner tackle the task until Mack masters it, too. Schwartz and Gomez get youngsters engaged with the colorful characters and the pace of this story. Kids’ll cheer as the vehicles bond after accomplishing what they needed to as a team. It’s wonderful to see how working together with positive attitudes yields mutual success.
Leung’s lively illustrations emphasize the individual vehicles. Rig wears a camouflage design bandana and Mack, a baseball cap to match his trim. I like the movement the illustrations convey and how the southwestern style art palate bleeds off the page. Of note and adorable is how, in the end, after a friendship has developed, the two pals have exchanged head ware. Have your kids also keep an eye out for the cute turtle and roadrunner who appear in multiple spreads.
Two Tough Trucks is clearly more than a first day of school picture book. It’s a super rhyming story about learning to get along, having each other’s back and being a good sport. The title works too. Each vehicle has its strengths and weaknesses, true. It’s not letting those areas that need improvement immobilize them that makes them tough, especially together as a team. Rev up your engines and make tracks to your nearest bookstore for a copy of Two Tough Trucks today!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here’s a link to a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz. Here’s alink to a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz + Rebecca J. Gomez.
It’s that time of year again when we review the best back-to-school books. For 2019 there are many so we’re going to present them over several days.
FLIGHT SCHOOL Written and illustrated by Lita Judge (Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)
Award-winning author illustrator Lita Judge’s sweet story is now available in board book format and is as charming as ever, and Penguin is just as precious.
There are all kinds of schools but one thing they have in common is that people, or in this case, birds, attend so they can learn things. Enter Penguin. He’s come to Flight School to learn to fly. The teacher tries to point out that Penguin, who claims to have “the soul of an eagle” is a penguin and therefore cannot take to the skies like his classmates. Penguin remains unconvinced.
Attempt after funny attempt, the persevering Penguin fails at flying while his classmates “took to the wind.” He is heartbroken and considers giving up. Fortunately for him, Flamingo figures out a way to get the bird soaring … even if it’s not a permanent solution and that suits Penguin just fine. With its adorable, expression-filled art and upbeat message, Flight School is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to follow your dreams and how friends can help.
Bunny and his forest friends are back for more good times in Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School. In this 40-page picture book, Bunny’s library buddy, Josie, confides in her animal pal that school starts the following week and she’s worried she won’t make any friends.
Bunny hatches a plan to go to Josie’s school to be a friend for her and along the way he runs into Porcupine. Porcupine wants to come with Bunny so the two carry on toward Josie’s school. As the pair journey on, the group gets larger as more and more forest friends want to join in.
Soon there’s Bunny, Porcupine, Bear, Bird, Mouse, Raccoon, Frog, Squirrel and Mole. Nine buddies for Josie. As they hunt for Josie, first Squirrel, then Bird, Mouse and Bear become distracted in various classrooms. I can’t blame them. The basketball game, the music room, and cafeteria were indeed tempting places to be, but Bunny is determined to find his friend.
With everyone gone, (yes, Porcupine “dipped into the art room, and now he was stuck”), Bunny carries on by himself. Alone in the school library, Bunny is impressed. He is eventually joined by the gang. They see Josie through the library windows enjoying her classmates at the playground. When the critters head outside, the fun multiplies. They, too, easily make friends and are happy for Josie, and for themselves.
Silvestro’s hopeful and humorous story is a great one to share at back-to-school time. Mai-Wyss’s lovely water-color illustrations depict a diverse group of children where all look welcome. I noticed a wheelchair ramp in front of the school and a young boy in a wheelchair playing ball with a friend. Bunny and his furry friends provide a gentle reminder for any child starting school that quite often they’re not the only ones interested in making new friends.
It is so easy and entertaining to read Chris Van Dusen’sIf I Built a School, which follows the first in the series, If I Built a House. Between the nod the artwork makes to the “Jetson’s” TV show and the rollicking rhyme that accompanies every spread, I could easily see children re-reading this picture book again and again every back-to-school season.
Jack, the picture book’s narrator, has a fantastic imagination and tells the playground aide, Miss Jane, just what type of school he’d build instead of the plain school where we first meet him.
This school is beyond your wildest dreams and I’m not sure I’d get any work done there because I’d be too busy zooming through clear transportation tubes from towering pod building to towering pod building. Then there are the floating “hover desks” that resemble bumper cars, one of my favorite amusement park rides. Holograms of historical figures teach lessons and in gym the basketball court is a trampoline! At lunchtime, well you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it’s like a robotic automat that serves up any type food, “simple or weird—from PB & jelly to squid lightly seared.”
I pored over every single spread so as not to miss a single thing Van Dusen designed. That includes a sweet blue-nosed, black and white pup who features in almost every illustration along with several disabled characters, one a child in a wheelchair and the other a dog with wheels supporting his back end. The gym and recess illustrations are terrific and, together with younger readers, parents can read the story aloud then help point out all the different activities kids can get up to. If you’ve got a child with an active imagination or one who’s looking for STEAM inspiration, you’ve come to the right book!
See Chris at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA on Saturday, August 31st. And check out his blog to find out about September visits that may be close to where you live.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here’s a link to last year’s roundup of the best back-to-school books 2018.
This time of year always brings so many emotions to students and parents alike as the realization settles in of a summer more than halfway over. I always remember the back-to-school preparation in my household as a fun yet chaotic time of paper everywhere, backpacks filled, and of course, shiny new books! This month we’ve got a variety of books covered including Hello School!, I Love You All Day Long, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School.
A brand-new picture book for preschool or kindergarten students eager to start the school year isHello School!(Nancy Paulsen Books, Ages 3-5) written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The title of the book captures the energetic possibilities that come with experiencing school for the first time. Each page shows a different part of the school day from greeting classmates, circle time, nap time, and recess all told with soft-colored illustrations. I love the little speech bubbles on each page that demonstrate children’s reactions about going to school. For example, when talking about new favorites, one child says, “Orange is my favorite,” and another carefully asks, “Can every color be my favorite?” prompting a parent or teacher reading this aloud to answer “Yes!” Once Upon A Time is excited to host Priscilla Burris on Sunday, August 12 at 2 pm to share this new picture book and the new school year so mark your calendars so you don’t miss this fun event.
Sometimes children new to the school experience need a little help getting over their anxiety and one picture book that does this well is I Love You All Day Long(Harper Collins BYR, Ages 4-8) written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The story starts with little Owen asking, “Do I have to go today, Mommy?,” prompting his mother to respond yes as you carefully see her packing a lunch box. Then the real trouble is revealed, “But you won’t be with me!” and the story unfolds as the illustrations show Owen finding new friends, having fun, making mistakes, and overcoming challenges all with the reminder that his mother loves him even when she is not right there with him. The tone is perfect as it is not overtly a back to school book and is instead more about a mother-son relationship. I find this book to be a beautiful story that would be perfect to read the night before or morning of the big first day of both preschool or even college.
Finally, I am eager to share with you my new favorite early reader series, Mr. Monkey (Simon & Schuster BYR, Ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Jeff Mackwith two titles out this season, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cakeand Mr. Monkey Visits a School. In this paper over board book we follow Mr. Monkey and his wacky adventures sure to delight readers who laugh with Amelia Bedelia or the Elephant and Piggie books. Each page has only two to five simple sentences that easily match the colorful and animated illustrations inside, perfect for kindergarten and first grade readers who are still puzzling out context clues to understand the words on the page. A great addition to any library at home or at school.
Reviewed by Jessica Palacios
You can click on the coloredlinks for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
A ROUNDUP OF OUR FAVORITE NEW BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS
With Labor Day kicking off the traditional start of a new school year, what better way to ease little ones into the classroom than with a great selection of back-to-school books to read as they settle into a new routine?
Underwood sure knows how to make parents and children laugh out loud. Here Comes Teacher Cat is full of sight gags that never fail to surprise and delight. So as not to spoil it for you, I’ll just say that once again Cat has outdone himself in cattitude. Whether you love the narrator having a one-sided dialogue with a cat who uses signs to communicate, or the laziness of this feline forever yearning to nap, Underwood’s got it all here when Cat is called in to substitute for Ms. Melba at Kitty School. The only problem is that Cat hasn’t a clue what to do first. When he approaches teaching with his own Cat brand of humor and zeal, there’s no holding him or the kitties back causing quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. What will Ms. Melba find upon her return from the doctor? Why, a very clean classroom, a confident Cat and happy kitties of course. Just don’t open the closet Ms. Melba! Fans of Underwood’s humor and Rueda’s low-key spot on artwork will not be disappointed in this Publishers Weekly starred picture book. Oh and don’t miss the opening illustrations before the title page.
Starting Kindergarten can be scary for most kids, but what happens if you’re a twin? In Twindergarten, author Ehrlich, a mom of twins, tackles the topic gently and thoughtfully, touching on the many issues twins might experience being separated at school for the first time. Though Zoe and Dax are as close as peanut butter and jelly at home, they wonder how they’ll cope being in different classes during the day. They soon learn that Kindergarten is not only fun, it’s a place where they can make new friends, try new things and still see each other during recess. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. Debut illustrator Abbott puts the emphasis on the main characters clothed in darker outfits in her illustrations making it easy to zoom in how Zoe and Dax are interacting with their environment. Not only for twins, Twindergarten shows the rewards of attending school and how children can be separated from siblings or friends and still thrive.
How enjoyable it was to read this clever spin on a back-to-school book. In Don’t Go to School, it’s young Benno who’s excited to leave while his mom wants him to remain at home. “Don’t go to school!” she wailed. And I laughed! The humor was not lost on me since I could relate to the mother in this lovingly illustrated picture book. I think there are lots of parents, like me, who have experienced separation anxiety when sending their child off on the new adventure and life stage that is attending school. Mommy is encouraged by Benno using language much like a parent would to reassure their new student. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” said Benno. “You’ll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice!” Zepf is clearly familiar with first day jitters and her tantrum scene may ring a bell with others, only this time it’s Mommy who’s lost it. My favorite part of the story is when Benno takes some of his own kisses and tucks them in his mother’s pocket so she can feel his love even when they’re apart. This comforting story will empower youngsters while also providing tips on adjusting to the big change in their lives.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF PASSOVER Written by Linda Leopold-Strauss Illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau (Kar-Ben; Hardcover, $17.99; Paperback, $7.99; eBook, $6.99, Ages 4-9)
Any child who has ever celebrated a holiday when someone special couldn’t attend will relate toA Different Kind of Passover.But even those who haven’t will appreciate the sentiments expressed and the lovely twist author Linda Leopold-Strauss has added in this heartwarming story I’m delighted to share.
Grandpa is sick and has just come back home from the hospital. That means the Passover seder will be different this year and narrator Jessica wonders how that will change things, especially now that she’s going to ask the Four Questions in Hebrew. And since she’s finding it hard to imagine a seder without Grandpa, Jessica soon realizes it doesn’t have to be that way. Grandpa may be nearby tucked in bed, and wearing pajamas, but how convenient that “… Grandpa’s door opens to the dining room?” notes an enthused Jessica. When Grandpa questions his participation in such attire, Grandma remarks, “Does God care if you’re in your pajamas?” The plan is hatched and the seder will take place with most things remaining the same as always and just a few things different like Grandpa reclining in bed and cousin Mark “getting to sip sweet wine instead of grape juice, since he has just had his bar mitzvah.”
The joy of family and tradition in this story is wonderfully conveyed through Tugeau’s muted illustrations. I love the varied perspectives he shares, especially the ones where we know it’s Grandpa looking out on his family seated around the dining room table. Nothing says everyone must be in the same room for a seder so when Jessica comes up with the great idea to include Grandpa by leaving his bedroom door open, it’s symbolic in so many meaningful ways. Leopold-Strauss has created a sweet and thoughtfully written seder story that will resonate with young readers for years to come.
A little race car settles down after a long, tiring day in this new going-to-bed book for little ones into all things automobile. It’s a quick read with approximately 200 words but it’s packed with cuteness! Adorable illustrations accompany the quiet rhyming text as the race car gets ready for bed and has sweet dreams. I’d highly recommend this book as a fun alternative to any animal-themed bedtime books. It’s sure to be a much requested going-to-bed story.
This is a clever, witty book written from a young boy’s perspective about when he learned how to operate several trucks and big machines. It’s hilarious how the author gets you believing that at such a young age, this boy is using a cement mixer, backhoe, 18-wheeler … you name it and this boy has probably operated it! You come to find out they are all toy trucks he’s operated and his room is like a parking lot, but when he grows up he’d love to drive a truck. Great rhyme teaches about various large trucks, and wonderfully bold and bright illustrations make this book one of my new favorites!
Duck gets on a tractor, after all he rode a bike before! After pressing a few petals and trying various things he turned a “shiny little piece of metal by the steering wheel.” Pretty soon all the farm animals are hopping on for the ride, saying their regular animals sounds by thinking something different. The animals end up going onto the main road past the diner and it’s such a sight to see that nobody can quite believe all those animals are on a tractor. Yet once the diner crowd goes outside there’s no trace of the animals. The farmer must have just left the tractor on! Another great book from David Shannon with spectacular illustrations that are sure to enthrall kids ages 4-8.
DEAR DRAGON Written by Josh Funk Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★ starred review – Kirkus Reviews
Back in the olden days when kids still wrote letters, I had a pen pal named Melanie Vafiades from London. I never met her so for all I know she could have been a dragon like George’s pen pal in dear Dragon (I mean don’t most dragons live there?), or perhaps she was a unicorn (England’s full of enchanted forests, right?). I’m all for active imaginations and making new friends sight unseen which is exactly what author Josh Funk’s new picture book inspires. Kids’ll love the premise of this endearing story that pairs human students (unbeknownst to them but not their teachers) with dragons as pens pals.
Between Funk’s cheerful, well-paced rhyming text (the students were told to put their correspondence in verse) and Montalvo’s light-hearted, inviting illustrations, readers will get a strong sense of how the two main characters grow from being reluctant about having to actually write something to someone they don’t know, and do it in rhyme no less, to discovering interesting things about each other over the course of the assignment.
The illustrations capture how George, the human, and Blaise, the dragon, innocently interpret the descriptions in each other’s letters based on their personal paradigms. Consider George’s science project volcano (see first image above) as compared to Blaise’s real one, or George’s backyard cardboard fort (see second image) versus Blaise’s and you’ll get the point both author and illustrator have humorously driven home. As the two students continue to write, readers will notice the degree of familiarity increase with every new letter. What ensues when our earthbound boy and his new flying, fire-breathing friend ultimately meet up in person can only be described as pure positivity in picture book form. Funk’s story presents the perfect opportunity to reinforce the important message that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover, although the cover of dear Dragon is pretty darned adorable!
PEDDLES Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton (A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Today we’re heading off to the farm with Elizabeth Rose Stanton’s charming picture book, Peddles. Peddles is not an ordinary pig. Your regular old run of the mill pig doesn’t have big ideas and it’s these big ideas that will make kids eager to read on. Peddles certainly does all the things – and I do mean all – that pigs are wont to do, but for Peddles, the routine pig stuff isn’t enough for this dreamer.
Thoughts of pizza, taking to the sky like a bird or into space like an astronaut fill his head.
To his porcine pals he may seem to have his head in the clouds, but it’s really just Peddles yearning for something different, something more. And then one day, more arrives in the form of a barn dance. Suddenly this little porker is determined to boogie on down just maybe not with the people he sees. The catch is Peddles thinks all he needs is the fancy footwear to dance the dance. But when it appears he’s got four left trotters, it turns out he really requires more than just a pair of cowboy boots. He needs his pig community to help him realize his dream.
Stanton’s sparse language coupled with the soothing pale palette of her fresh and exuberant pencil and watercolor artwork create a more than satisfying read. There’s something so wonderful about the way she uses a lot of white on many of the pages so the reader’s eyes get right to the good stuff. Maybe the best way to describe it is dreamy just like her adorable main character, Peddles! If you know a child who follows his heart and not the crowd, Peddles is a celebration of that admirable individuality.
RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE Written by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
Reviewer Hilary Taber calls Raymie Nightingale, “A rare and hopeful song.” But after reading her review, you’ll discover, as with all DiCamillo’s books, it’s that and so much more
Raymie Clarke is preparing herself to enter the Little Miss Florida Central Tire competition. Her father has recently run off with a dental hygienist, and Raymie is determined to win so that he will see Raymie’s picture in a newspaper and will, of course, come back to his family. This is the initial plan, but like most plans it doesn’t turn out the way that Raymie originally intended. First of all she needs to learn how to twirl a baton in order to win the competition. It is during those baton twirling classes that she meets her “rancheros”, her new friends who become like family. Gritty, but sweet Beverly, and storyteller extraordinaire Louisiana, help her through this hard time. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is more than just a little girl with a big dream to get her father to come home. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is destined for adventures with her new friends that show Raymie that she is the hero of her own difficult time. Raymie finds that somewhere in her is a person who is stronger than the storms of life. She also learns that, with help from her friends, she can manage to make her way to a new life full of goodness and grace. It is a life that she could have never imagined when she began making her plans to turn things around. Kate DiCamillo delivers yet another wonderful novel that makes you believe again in the strong, incredible power of friendship and hope.
It is that rare quality of combining sorrow with sweetness that makes every book she writes life affirming. Every book is like watching a sweet spring creep over a winter world. Often as a children’s bookseller, I see an absolute faith placed in her books by the children who read them. Even though the story might be hard to read, the children show a willingness to take the journey with Kate. Time and time again I wonder what it is that they are feeling when they look at her books in their little hands. I think it’s something akin to knowing that she is telling them the truth. There is a certain peace in that. Kate tells us that life is hard, but you should always hope. Hope is real, hope is something to hold on to, hope is the stuff of life.
On a personal note I feel that Kate DiCamillo is the E.B. White of our generation. Like White she is adept in the art of condensing profound thoughts into short, but amazing sentences. I was honored to meet her recently and to have my copy of Raymie Nightingale signed. I think it’s worth noting that beyond the wonderful writing is a very brave writer. Kate has personally been through the very hard experience of having an absent father, and she has courageously taken up the task of writing about this time in her life. That had to be difficult. Ultimately I think her bravery in writing about this time in her life will help to heal others who have gone though something similar. So, here is to one amazing writer who is also incredibly resilient, just like Raymie.
Come back tomorrow to read Hilary’s interview with Kate DiCamillo to get the inside scoop. Download a teacher’s guide here. Download a book discussion guide here.
Madeline Whittier has read more books than you, but she hasn’t been outside her house for as long as she can remember. The protagonist in Nicola Yoon’s #1 New York Times Bestseller, Everything, Everything, lives an air-locked, filtered existence, with no outings and virtually no visitors, because she’s “basically allergic to the world.” She has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or “bubble baby disease.” While she could have grown to be a weird or bitter eighteen-year-old, it’s clear from the funny drawings and comments with which she annotates her life that she has remained sweet, optimistic and thoughtful.
Since Madeline’s father and brother were killed in an accident when she was a baby, Madeline and her mom are almost everything to each other. Then Olly moves in next door, with his all-black wardrobe, his parkour litheness, and his off-the-wall sense of humor. Madeline realizes she won’t really have everything unless she can leave her germ-free house and be Outside with Olly.
I enjoyed the unusual format of the book, its short chapters that don’t necessarily follow each other, the hand-written notes and drawings. Appropriate as well as charming, the format reinforces how Madeline feels about herself: “If my life were a book and you read it backward, nothing would change.” Before Olly, her “life was a palindrome — the same forward and backward.”
That being said, eventually sequence matters, and the real “Book of Maddy” — Everything, Everything — is different if read backward. In the interest of not giving away too much, I won’t tell you the questions the book made me ask beyond “What would it be like to be a bubble-baby?” But rest assured Yoon’s novel provokes other thoughts as well, about the nature of love, and risk, and life itself.
The dedication in Anna Dewdney’s latest, Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa, reads “For grandparents everywhere, and the little llamas who love them.” And if you’ve got a little llama fan, this sweet tale of a first overnight away from home, is sure to delight.
Dewdney’s rhyme is impeccable and infectious and the premise relatable, making this new picture book the perfect read-aloud and go-to bedtime story for Grandparent’s Day on September 13th.
Mama Llama brings her son to spend the night with his grandparents.
“Mama’s picture in a frame. Different. Also just the same.”
But, as he settles in, little Llama realizes he’s forgotten to bring along his beloved plushy, Fuzzy Llama!
Rather than dwell on Llama Llama’s disappointment and despair, Dewdney shows young readers all the fun activities he gets up to with Gram and Grandpa. There are some good distractions to be found; A ride on the tractor, pulling up carrots in the garden, woodworking, trying new foods and scanning the night sky, all destined to become cherished memories.
It’s only when Gram spots tears at tuck in time that
“Llama’s lips begin to quiver. Llama starts to shake and shiver. Llama needs his Fuzzy near, but FUZZY LLAMA ISN’T HERE!”
Grandpa comes to the rescue with a more than suitable substitute, his very own “special toy” from childhood to keep his grandson company. Content, cared for, and comfy, little Llama learns that a grandparent’s love can make any house feel like home. Dewdney’s empowering story and sympathetically illustrated characters combine to make Llama Llama Gram and Grandpamy pick not only to allay the fears of any reluctant overnighter, but ultimately to celebrate the joys of grandparenting.
Young readers are assured of a toe-tapping, page-turning good time inMUSIC CLASS TODAY!, a new picture book from the hip creator of the toddler pop-culture sensation Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals, David Weinstone. Weinstone’s interactive preschool music program has been joyfully translated into book form, capturing all the egg-shaking, scarf-tossing, stick-tapping excitement that little ones love.
As children gather eagerly for the start of music class, one young lad hangs back. Staying near his mother and clutching a cheery stuffed frog, he watches as the class begin to whirl, twirl, and dance along with the teacher’s song. Each child participates in his or her own way, whether jiggling, flopping or listening. Vogel perfectly captures all the energy and chaos of distractable little kids who yawn, sing, stretch, suck their fingers, or check their noses while jamming to the beat.
The narrator proceeds smoothly through the rhyming song/story, remaining calmly observant of the rolling eggs, flying shoes, and racing around pandemonium. His unmistakable goal is to reassure the young boy that he can join in when the moment is right. A gentle refrain “That’s all right, that’s okay. Whenever you’re ready, come on over and play,” punctuates the tale regularly.
As expected, the hesitant observer gradually warms to the idea of participating in the class. He smiles, stands up, dangle-dances his froggy to the music, then gradually picks up a pair of cymbals to join in a jubilant parade. “Everybody’s in the band. Hooray!” sings the teacher. After helping clean up the instruments and sing goodbye, the little music-maker and his frog are reluctant to leave and eager to return.
Vogel’s illustrations are dazzling and fun, endowing each child with a unique personality and vibrant striped or polka-dotted outfits with fabulous colorful socks. My favorite kid had a single front tooth and sported a green googly-eyed dinosaur ushanka.
Paired with a free download of Weinstone’s musical version of the song, the tale’s catchy plink-plunk beat is absolutely infectious. The publisher offers an activity kit (PDF) with supplemental activities including a coloring page, word match, iron-on decal, and directions for making simple instruments from recycled materials. MUSIC CLASS TODAY! is sweet, simple musical fun for the littlest of book and music lovers!
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I received a copy of MUSIC CLASS TODAY! from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.