I wish Dear Star Babyhad been around when I was a child. It would have helped me understand the silence in my house when my mom came home from the hospital following her two miscarriages. ThankfullyMalcolm NewsomeandKamala Nair’spicture book is available for young readers now to help them cope with the loss as a result of either miscarriage or stillbirth in a moving, meaningful way.
The narrator of the story is a boy who dreams of becoming an older brother. He’s ecstatic when he learns that his dream will come true. The tale is told via a letter he’s writing to the unborn sibling. The spreads in the book when the family is preparing for the baby’s arrival are full of joy and light. “Mama took me shopping. She let me pick your blankets and a toy (well, two toys).”
Sadly, “Mama needed to rest in bed …” but she soon needed to go to the hospital where she miscarried. The touching spread above is told in language easy for youngsters to understand, and never speaks down to them. The loss of his unborn sibling is gently shared by the boy’s parents in a loving and caring moment. “She said you went to be with the stars instead.”
At home, the grieving child sees changes in his parents. His mother cries and there is not much conversation with his father as they deal with the loss. But being together helps and being held helps even more. So when the family looks at the night sky and discusses their Star Baby, everyone has a different feeling which is absolutely fine. Dad sees Star Baby far away and Mama feels him close by. There is no right answer, no right way to feel. What matters is being able to experience the grief and ultimately healing in a way that works for each individual. That’s why I loved this sentence from the child, “I think you’re in both places. Here with us even though I can’t see you.”
Nair’s warm palette for her art is soothing for this sensitive topic. I especially liked the evening scenes where the night sky bursting with stars conveys hope and comfort like the hugs the family shares.
Newsome’s Author’s Note brought me to tears when he wrote about his own personal experience after his wife’s miscarriages and I’m so glad he wrote Dear Star Baby so others can benefit too. This is a thoughtfully written book that will prompt important discussions for families dealing with grief and bereavement.
(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 5-8;
also available in Spanish as NUESTRO TECHO ES AZUL)
This heartfelt story of resilience follows two siblings as they work to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Maria destroys their home in Puerto Rico.
Before an intense hurricane hits their home in Puerto Rico, Antonio told his sister vibrant stories each night. During the storm, they huddled with their parents in a closet and hear the storm blow the roof right off their home. After the storm, their family uses a temporary blue tarp for a roof, and Antonio stops speaking. Gradually the siblings imagine their blue roof playfully–as the ocean above them or a parachute helping them fall from the sky. As the narrator helps her little brother feel safe once more–and after the family and community build a new roof–the little boy begins to speak again.
Katrina Tangen:One of the reasons Our Roof is Blue is so touching is that it was inspired by your own childhood. Did you do research too?
Sara Echenique: Oh, absolutely. In addition to drawing from my personal experiences with hurricanes, I spoke with family and friends on the island who lived through Hurricane Maria, and read article after article about the experience of Puerto Ricans on the island post-Maria. I spoke with parents of children who have lived under blue tarp roofs to better understand their own experiences. And for the book’s back matter, I researched pretty extensively the latest science on climate change, and how it is exacerbating hurricanes and other major weather events.
KT: I thought this was a color book at first, so the storm came out of the blue for me (so to speak)! I think that made it even more impactful. Was it hard to find the right level of scariness?
SE:That’s so funny because you just never know what a reader is going to take into your story. My own young children have always been drawn to books that don’t shy away from the truth. I went into writing this story knowing that I needed to trust my readers, both old and young, because they want and need these types of stories. Unfortunately, many of them will be impacted by inclement weather events stemming from climate change at some point in their lives. I wanted to be honest about that, but it was important to me that it didn’t feel hopeless or inaccessible. Yes, the storm is scary, but my hope is that it doesn’t overshadow their bond, and their use of play, imagination and storytelling to help each other.
KT: It’s heartbreaking how many kids this story is directly relevant for. But you did a great job finding that balance. One of the ways you do that is through the central image of the roof and its colors. How did that evolve?
SE:I drew from several mentor texts, including A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams. Among so many beautiful parts of her book, I was drawn to how, on its surface, the story could be about a chair, but she brings depth and layers to the experience. I tried using the roof this way to make the tragedy more accessible, which allowed me to anchor Antonio and his sister’s emotional journey around their roof’s visible journey.
KT: I really love the sibling relationship—was that always part of the story?
SE: Yes (and thank you)! Throughout the story’s many, many iterations, their relationship was always central. Family is such an important part of the Puerto Rican community. I was fortunate to grow up with siblings who anchor me, and am raising children who will hopefully feel the same way. In Our Roof is Blue, Antonio and his sister were always going to find the other side of trauma because of, and for, each other.
KT:How did you become a writer?
SE:I’ve always loved reading and writing, filling dozens of notebooks throughout my childhood. I dreamt of becoming a veterinarian who writes stories about their job (like James Herriot) and got in the habit of scribbling haphazard character profiles of all the people in my life. I put that particular dream on pause when I pursued my English degree from Williams College and law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. Shortly after having my oldest two children, I reconnected meaningfully with children’s literature and rediscovered writing as a creative outlet. Several years (and one additional child later), my writing dream has become a reality!
KT:What was your favorite book as a kid?
SE:I can’t choose just one! I most fondly remember the Babysitters’ Club series by Ann M. Martin, which my mom often read along with me. It was a glimpse into life on the mainland and I vividly remember my heart racing when I discovered a new book in the Scholastic Book Fair flyer. I love that the series has had a revival in graphic novel form and now get to enjoy re-reading them with my own daughter.
KT: I loved the Babysitter’s Club too! Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look atOur Roof is Blue. It’s going to be a meaningful book for so many people.
Sara E. Echenique is a Puerto Rican lawyer and children’s author living in South Florida with her three young children, husband, and their rescue dog, Luna. She acquired a degree in English from Williams College and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. After almost a decade practicing as a litigator in cold New York City, Sara decided to move her family to a place that felt more like her childhood home.
Roaring Brook Press published her debut middle-grade book, Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente in September 2022 in both English and Spanish, which received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was long-listed for the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund’s Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World. Charlesbridge Publishing published her debut picture book, Our Roof is Blue (Nuestro techo es azul), in April 2023 in both English and Spanish.
Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut picture book, Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023), uses riddles to introduce biomimicry.
The variety of the 16 thoughtfully crafted poems in Since the Baby Came written byKathleen Long Bostrom coupled with the adorable, soft-focus illustrations by Janet Samuel merits multiple reads. If a new sibling is coming into your life, or maybe a relative or friend’s life, this book delivers!
It begins with “Surprise,” a seemingly simple, yet emotionally-packed three-line Haiku poem called a Senryu – “Surprise!” Mama says./”We are having a baby!”/Nobody asked me. And the poems continue to deliver page after page. My favorite things about Since the Baby Came is the inclusivity of the biracial main characters, and the natural trajectory the story takes as the soon-to-be older sister and then actual older sister confronts her emotions. The ups and downs portrayed feel genuine, something young readers in the same or similar boat will relate to. In “Mama is Having a Baby” the little girl notes how her toys are pushed aside to make room for the crib. She also points out, “Nobody says when he’s coming./And nobody wants to say how.”
The balanced blend of seriousness and humor also kept me engaged. In “Look at Me!” the child insists she’s fun to be with when the grownups are devoting all their time to “oohing” and “ahhing” at her baby brother. The cute family dog, who appears in many spreads, is sporting snazzy sunglasses in the poem. Parents can suggest their children look out for the dog as they follow along. And “Diaper Volcano” is a poop-centric poem about, you guessed it, baby bro’s overflowing diapers. It’s hilarious, unapologetic, and will crack kids up. “Suppertime” is a funny limerick, a type of poem I’ve always adored, about the baby’s unbecoming mealtime behavior. I could rave about all the other poems, but you really need to read these on your own to find your faves!
As the little girl’s moods ebb and flow, she experiences anger, fascination, remorse, discovery, and ultimately love, all while readers watch Baby Brother grow along with his sister’s sentiment. Sister’s emotional growth is a rewarding highlight.
A sweet “Surprise – Part 2” bookends this charming story that’s easy to read aloud and return to again and again. WaterBrook is a publisher committed to uplifting Christian voices but this book does not feel overly religious at all. G-d is mentioned several times in meaningful ways and one poem mentions Jesus. Since the Baby Came is an easy book to recommend. It exudes warmth and thoughtfulness and will no doubt encourage conversations on the subject with new older siblings. Two pages of backmatter in the 40-page picture book explain the types of poems used, making it useful for the classroom as well as at home.
Rajani LaRocca, recipient of a Newbery Honor and Walter Award forRed, White, and Whole, is back with an evocative novel in verse about identical twin sisters who do everything together—until external pressuresthreaten to break them apart.
Darshana Khiani: What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?
Rajani LaRocca:Mirror to Mirror started with a single poem. In April 2020, I took an online workshop with renowned poet Lesléa Newman in which she talked about several types of formal poetry, including the ghazal—a poetic form, often set to music, that is popular in South Asia and the Middle East. Inspired by the workshop, I wrote a ghazal about a twin lamenting that her sister had changed and the two were no longer close.
So then I started thinking: why did these two grow apart? What happened to them? And I started to create the characters. Because ghazals are often sung, I knew that the twins would be musical. I also thought that one would be hiding a secret that was eating away at her—and that secret would be the heart of her separation from her beloved twin.
DK: What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?
RL:One challenge I faced was the same one I always face when writing a dual-POV book: how do I make the voices distinct from one another? How do I make sure each one moves the story forward? At first, I wrote Maya’s voice in poetry and Chaya’s in prose, but that felt jarring. When my editor suggested I change it so that both voices were in poetry, that felt much better, but I still had to work hard to make the voices different from one another using the content and attitude in the poems, as well as structure, imagery, and word choice. The book starts with a couple of short paired poems, each titled “She’s the One,” where the twins express how they think about each other. These poems were drafted during that first revision, and I thought they vividly set the tone of the book and established the viewpoints of each twin.
I interviewed several sets of identical twin sisters for this story, and it was fascinating! Not only were they closer than other siblings, but some described each other as “soulmates.” They told me stories about eerie connections they had, and how no matter what else was going on in their lives, their bond was unshakable.
But there is room for misunderstanding even in the closest relationships. I tried to create a story where each twin thinks she’s doing something to help the other, but instead drives a wedge between them.
2020-2021 were difficult years for me and my family. Thanks to the pandemic, we had to contend with separation, illness, anxiety, and death. It was challenging to write a book at this time, but I had to keep going.
DK:What do you hope young readers get from this book?
RL: I wanted to explore anxiety and mental health in a poetic way. I wanted to show that people can struggle not only with symptoms but also with telling others, even those who know them, that they are struggling. I wanted to depict the helplessness we can feel when someone we love is going through something hard.
I hope that young readers understand that we all go through difficult times, even when we are surrounded by friends and family. I hope they learn that although we may sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression, we don’t have to deal with these feelings alone, and it’s important to share with those we love and trust because only through sharing can we start to get help.
DK: You are a doctor and a prolific award-winning writer, so clearly you’ve got this writing thing figured out. What do you feel are the key ingredients to keep the writing flowing?
RL: You’re too kind, Darshana! I feel very fortunate to be writing books for young people today. Here’s my advice:
Write what you love, what you’re interested in, what makes you happy. Don’t worry about what anyone else is writing.
Write a lot! I always try to have multiple projects going.
Figure out what’s most challenging for you to do, and work on that when you’re at your best. For example, drafting (as opposed to revising) novels is challenging for me, so when I’m working on drafting a novel, I make sure to devote time to this in the morning when I’m refreshed and less likely to get interrupted. In contrast, I find that I can draft a picture book or revise something (long or short) at just about any time.
Live your life! It’s important to do things other than write to feed that writing soul. Spend time with family, friends, and in nature.
Support your friends and other creators.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. In publishing, there are only so many things we can control—including making our books as good as they can possibly be.
Have fun! I always try to write from a place of joy.
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. Learn more about Rajani and her books at www.RajaniLaRocca.com. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.
Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.
When Tally’s twin brother Max is the passenger in a tragic car crash with a drunk driver, who is killed, Tally decides a winter break trip to Israel will be the remedy to get him back on track inHaley Neil’s debut YA novelOnce More With Chutzpah.
High school senior Tally seems to have her life in order. The plan is to attend Boston College with Max, where their non-Jewish mother teaches religion, and share a dorm room with her best friend Cat. But life doesn’t always go as planned, especially since the car accident six months earlier. Her father’s side of the family is Jewish, and her uncle lives in Israel, so Tally sees the exchange program as the perfect getaway for Max to reenergize so they can follow the plan she always had for them.
The story begins at the airport, saying goodbye to mom and dad, where the reader feels Tally’s anxiety about traveling by plane for the very first time and going far from the comforts of home. She is grateful she has Max. As the story unfolds, Tally meets new people, experiences the history of her Jewish family, begins to question her sexual identity, and begins to realize her brother may not be the only one struggling.
This heartfelt come-to-age novel brought me back to swimming in the Dead Sea, eating hummus and falafel in the Shuk in Tel Aviv, and visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Tally also sadly learns what camp her father’s family was taken to during the Holocaust. Tally’s anxiety and confusion about life are relatable for many teens. A mid-novel surprise takes the reader off-guard as we travel, courtesy of Neil’s transportive prose, on an unexpected journey.
Once More with Chutzpah tackles the conflicts in Israel, the challenges that teens experience while discovering themselves, and the power of friendships both new and old. This original Israeli-focused YA novel introduces the reader to LGBTQ, mixed religions, feminism, and native Israelis, and gives teens a quick background on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These thought-provoking topics are written beautifully for teens grappling with their own identities. Available in paperback in February 2023.
“Would knowing how you were going to die change the way you choose to live?” That question drove coauthors Jessica Koosed Ettingand Alyssa Embree Schwartz to write their YA, Fade into the Bright. From the opening pages, eighteen-year-old Abby’s voice pulled me in: “Obviously, it happened right before Christmas. Because don’t all extremely shitty things happen right around the holidays?” This refers to the news Abby and her older sister Brooke receive from their estranged father. In his brief letter, they discover he’s tested positive for Huntington’s disease. The girls have a 50/50 chance of also carrying the gene for this fatal degenerative brain disorder (described as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS all rolled into one). Typical onset happens between your thirties and fifties.
Both sisters decide to undergo the required six-month pre-testing genetic counseling. Older sister Brooke tests negative, but Abby’s not so lucky. Suddenly, her plans to attend college—and do pretty much anything else with her life—seem futile; Abby escapes to a remote part of Catalina Island to stay the summer with her aunt. (Though I live in Los Angeles and have visited Catalina, the book’s setting provided me with scenery I had not experienced: “rugged and rustic, completely removed.”)
The story unfolds, alternating between chapters in the present day and those flagged as “before.” I like the designation of “before” because it’s true, when something life-changing happens there is that moment before it happened, then everything else follows. Abby’s ups and downs feel real as she wonders what to do while she waits for symptoms to appear. A job at the beach keeps her busy enough to keep panic mostly at bay, but brings with it the complications of whether she should (or could) tell her new friends about all of this, and what to do when she starts falling for her charismatic and attractive coworker, Ben.
The heart of this story revolves around family and how this disease brings people together, pulls them apart, and how to live with everyone’s results. Sister dynamics can already be complex; add in Huntington’s and a layered, emotional story is born. As Abby says about this disease, “It tells you your ending, but leaves out the important parts, like the how and the when.” Still, the characters choose to move forward and, overall, the book feels inspirational.
Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz know a thing or two about relationships since they’re probably as close as sisters, having been BFFs for more than twenty years and cowriters for most of that period. Their seamless process works; Fade into the Bright is a beautifully written book about such a difficult topic. Huntington’s is near to Jessica because she has watched her family deal with similar situations to those depicted in the book. I’m thankful these writers brought awareness to this disease and the far-reaching impact of a diagnosis.
There are over a dozen terrific books in the Citizen Kid series and the latest, Walking for Waterby award-winning author Susan Hughes, is no exception. This story, inspired by “the recent experience of a thoughtful and fair-minded 13-year-old Malawian boy” takes readers to the landlocked country in southeastern Africa to meet eight-year-old twins Victor and his sister, Linesi.
Readers know right from the start that the pair are close. On this day, however, the two who usually do so many things together, including attending school, will now be apart. In Victor and Linesi’s community when girls turn eight they are expected to leave school and help with chores. That includes fetching water five times a day, water used for “drinking, cooking and washing.” Victor enjoys school so he feels bad that his sister has to miss out on the learning just because she’s a girl.
When a new teacher asks the students to think about gender equality in their own lives, Victor doesn’t have to look far to find an example. And when he tries to share what he learned in school with his sister, Victor sees she is too exhausted from her day’s work to concentrate on math. This realization prompts Victor to propose a plan to his mama and sister, one that involves taking turns doing the chores enabling Linesi to alternate days at school with him. Yes!! I cheered when I discovered the selfless gesture of Victor.
This caring approach to gender equality is not only welcomed by Victor’s teacher but it’s emulated by Victor’s best friend, Chikondi who takes over for his sister, Enifa, on alternate days. The friends can now share what they learn with their sisters who are less tired and in turn, the sisters can do the same.
IllustratorNicole Milesbrings warmth, heart, and simplicity to her illustrations. The book, described by the publisher as a graphic novel/picture book hybrid format, allows Miles to not only have fun with her art but to add more activity to the spreads. A particular favorite, with its rich earthy tones, is of Victor joining the girls and women on their way to collect water.
This hopeful, engaging, and educational story will be an eye-opener for children on many levels. It not only demonstrates the power of one innovative individual to effect change, in this case for gender equality, but it also presents traditions and lifestyles different from ours. Additionally, it shows how important the need still is for access to clean water in the 21st century. Hughes’s Author’s Note and resources as well as a glossary of Chichewa words in the back matter (which are peppered throughout the story) provide additional avenues to further explore topics raised in Walking for Water. I’m glad that Hughes chose to use the twins as her focus for this story because of the sharp contrasts between the siblings that readers will understand immediately. Hughes mentions in the back matter that change is coming to Malawi and hopefully more opportunities for girls to pursue their aspirations will follow.
This middle-grade novel stands alone—in an amazing house that cares for three seemingly trapped sisters, Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine. Years ago, their parents left the girls this note, “Wait for us. Sleep darkly.” Outside, the house is surrounded by silver grass seeking opportunities to slither in—and it talks!
How have the stranded sisters gotten by? We learn in the opening line, “The house dressed Mayhap Ballastian in blue on the day her sister disappeared.” What a great way to start the story! I don’t want to reveal all the crazy-wonderful things, but have to share my favorite: the droomhunds, loyal doglike creatures. Since the sisters are unable to sleep (I can’t tell you why), each hund “could press itself into the tight space of a person’s mind.” Brushing them first helps because “the softer the droomhunds’ fur was, the more restful the girls’ sleep would be.” Cool stuff, right?
When fourteen-year-old Winnow, the eldest sister, leaves the house, problems arise. Upon her return, Mayhap (twelve-year-old middle sister and main character) questions the rift between them. However, Winnow falls into a troubled sleep, her eyes turning silver, her droomhund missing. Plot twists ensue.
Chewins’s writing is too lovely to rush reading through. This imaginative literary fantasy seeped in strangeness is also very much a siblings story. The relationship between the girls feels truthful and honest, even when set in such an unusual world.
Max and Molly take a ride into town with Mom. Regardless of how “spacious gracious” their automobile is, they’re squished and squashed. They jiggle, wiggle, push, and shove until Mom devises the perfect plan to change their perspective. Here’s a hint, quack-quack, oink-oink. Before long, the car appears more like a zoo! You’ll have to read the book to discover the rhyming words the kids use to tame this situation.
Rhyme pairings and onomatopoeias make this a hilarious read-aloud that kids will want to read time and time again.
The talented Dana Wulfekotte’s[The Remember Balloons] whimsical illustrations demand attention. It’s the type of book I would purchase from the cover alone! Soft muted tones make space for raucous and active spreads. Animal lovers are sure to notice charming and articulate details in this cast of animal characters, such as a pig wearing a flat cap and a giraffe sporting a jogging suit. The representation of diverse families allows children from different identities and cultures to see themselves in this book.
The oldest of four kids, Rebecca, and her family took many car trips. Since she and her siblings were absolute angels, she’s sure nothing in her past inspired this story!
So what are you waiting for – More? Pick up a copy of this book for a ton of fun! e
Author-illustrator Hanna Cha’s debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, tells the tale of Soe-In, the smallest child in a Korean village. But, being little doesn’t slow her down. Soe-In manages burdensome chores using wit and perseverance. When the sun disappears and the chieftain needs a volunteer, only Soe-in steps forward.
In the forest, she finds the spirit tiger is real, and in really big trouble—he’s swallowed the sun! Like the villagers, the spirit tiger first discounts Soe-In’s ability to help. However, brave, imaginative Soe-In saves the day.
Cha’s art shows the movement and mood of this powerful story. I enjoyed the images of the tiger because feline fluidity is difficult to capture. Her Author’s Note explains tigers are revered by Koreans; their country is shaped like one. The tiger as their spirit animal appears in countless Korean stories as a symbol of respect, strength, and dignity, both as a deity and a threat.
A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019 ★Starred Review – Kirkus An Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book 2019
Bilal Cooks Daalby Aisha Saeed is an upbeat picture book about friendship and cooking. When Bilal’s friends wonder why it takes his Pakistani family all day to make daal, he introduces them to the process, letting them choose the color of lentils for the stew they will enjoy together at dinnertime. As the day goes by, Bilal worries a bit that his friends won’t like the taste, but the delicious dish pleases everyone, demonstrating how food brings people together.
Anoosha Syed’s art focuses on the kids enjoying their day of play, a variety of emotions clearly captured. The daal’s vivid descriptions (“small like pebbles, but shaped like pancakes”) come to life through the illustrations. Close your eyes and let the simmering daal awaken your senses.
The Author’s Note explains daal is a staple food in South Asia, but lentils are enjoyed in many other places. Saeed’s recipe for Chana Daal is similar to what I grew up with in my household, bringing back warm memories. In these months of the pandemic where many of us are cooking wholesome meals, this hearty and healthy dish will please while filling the house with amazing aromas all day long.
A Junior Library Guild Selection
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year ★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal
Summer Bird Blueby Akemi Dawn Bowman opens with a car crash. Seventeen-year-old Rumi Seto loses her only sister Lea, who’s also her best friend. Their mother, unable to deal, puts Rumi on a plane to Hawaii for an indefinite stay with Aunty Ani, their Japanese-Hawaiian side of the family.
Lea, two years younger, was the outgoing, happy-go-lucky sister. Rumi, the opposite personality type fits her “ruminating” name; often, she’s stuck in her head, turning things over, unable to step forward into everyday life. Though quite different, the sisters, shared a love of music, playing instruments together. They would randomly come up with three words, then write a song about it. (Summer Bird Blue, refers to the unwritten song that haunts Rumi after Lea dies.)
Rumi suffers in the angry and depressive stages of grief, vacillating between lashing out and crawling into bed for days on end. Her new surroundings include neighbors Mr. Watanabe (a grumpy octogenarian who becomes an unlikely companion) and Kai (the too-handsome, too-cheerful boy next door). As Rumi becomes closer to Kai, they go on a date, but kissing surfaces her confusion over her possible asexuality. Believing other teens have easy crushes and romance, Rumi’s self-doubt compounds after losing Lea.
The story’s lovely scenes centering around Rumi’s deep bond with music resonated with me. The moving descriptions include Rumi’s regard for Lea’s guitar, and Mr. Watanabe’s piano and ukulele. When transported into this world, Rumi’s passion ignites. However, anything musical involves Lea, and Rumi cannot process what to do without her sister, which furthers the painful introspection and turmoil.
I appreciate Bowman’s choice to spotlight a troubled, roughhewn protagonist struggling with a complexity of issues. Writing about grief, sexuality, and trying to understand life itself are ambitious undertakings, yet Bowman succeeds in weaving a truthful, heartfelt story that includes both honestly bitter moments and lyrically beautiful ones.
Find out more about Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month hereand here.
Written by Mia Wenjen
Illustrated by Nat Iwata
(Lee & Low Books; $18.95, Ages 4-7)
Sumo Joe, the charming and gently rhyming debut picture book by Mia Wenjen with art by Nat Iwata, opened my eyes to the history and popularity of this world renown Japanese style of wrestling. More than just a sport, “Sumo” writes Wenjen in the back matter glossary, “can be traced back to ancient Shinto rituals that were practiced to ensure a bountiful harvest and to honor the spirits.”
Wenjen’s chosen a fun way to introduce young readers to the sport and keep them interested by focusing on siblings Joe and his younger sister Jo. While the two share a close relationship, only Joe participates in sumo wrestling at home on Saturdays with his friends. I love how Iwata’s expressive illustration below shows Jo’s disappointment at not being included in the activity that traditionally has been for “boys-only.” Her tote bag clues us into where she might be going while her brother practices.
Throughout Joe’s sumo session, readers learn about the different terminology and traditions tied to the sport of trying to knock one’s opponent out of the ring. Perhaps most familiar is the outfit or special belt called a Mawashi. Due to the complexity of tying it, someone else has to wrap it around the wrestler. Compared to this, tying a tie seems easy and maybe even less tickly! The stomp move, called shiko, is intended to rid the space of demons. That makes total sense to me. Other moves in the drills that Joe and his buddies work on are also explained which is not only fascinating, but meaningful. Kids will be able to watch sumo with a better appreciation of why the wrestlers do what they do.
While Jo may understand what her brother’s doing, she’s tired of being left out. She returns from her outing ready to jump into action as Akido Jo. Yes, little sis has been getting lessons in the martial arts and challenges her big brother to a match. Joe’s pals say she’s not allowed, but Joe honors his sister’s wishes and the two face off in a lively, but loving and respectful contest of Sumo versus Akido.
Iwata’s upbeat, digitally rendered artwork complements Wenjen’s words and brings a wonderful energy to the story. I recommend Sumo Joe to parents, teachers and librarians eager to find out more about this traditional Japanese sport presented in an engaging and dynamic way. The author’s note plus the illustrated glossary round out what is an enlightening and delightful read.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Sumo Joe as part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.
MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHostsHERE.
Written by Chitra Soundar
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Every fall I celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, better known as Hanukkah, which lasts eight days. But there is another Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus called Diwali that is “celebrated across five days,” depending on where one lives. This year Diwali begins on Sunday, October 27 so I wanted to share this new picture book about the holiday called Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua.
From the very first pages when “Grandpa watches the waning moon. The festival is coming soon,” readers feel a sense of anticipation knowing that something wonderful is about to happen. Chua’s cheerful and brightly colored artwork depicts preparations underway as a multi-generational Indian family tidies their home in the days leading up to Diwali. I love how we see everyone involved, even the adorable dog, eager for the celebration to begin.
Told in rhyme, Shubh Diwali! introduces youngsters to the numerous holiday customs such as hanging bunting made from mango leaves, creating striking Rangoli art (“traditional floor decorations and patterns made from rice flour and colored powders”), and wearing new clothes. There’s plenty of storytelling by elders, in this case recounting tales of gods who “fought evil against all odds,” as well as time together with the whole family to reflect when hymns are chanted and bells are rung. Of course there’s also a lot of eating and playing because, well because that’s what happens when there’s a houseful of kids and adults!
The picture book is filled with a diverse group of friends and neighbors who are invited to share in the lovely and meaningful Diwali rituals such as lighting the lamps, exchanging presents and candy, and watching brilliant fireworks light up the skies. I learned in the interesting back matter that on the third day of this festival, which happens to be when the New Year is celebrated, people “offer food and support to those less privileged than themselves.” Also the fifth day, called Bhai Dooj, is devoted to brothers and sisters getting together to “celebrate their love for one another.”
I recommend sharing this charming picture book with children so, like me, they can learn about Diwali and its beautiful traditions. There are many holidays based on the lunar calendar and it’s a good idea to expose kids to as many as possible in order to gain a greater understanding of different cultures at home and abroad and maybe make our world a little smaller.
Review by Ronna Mandel
Read a review about another book illustrated by Charlene Chua here.
The Broken Bees’Nestby Lydia Lukidis with illustrations by André Ceolin is part of the Makers Make It Work Series. “The goal of each Makers Make It Work book is to pique children’s interest through an engaging story about making, show how it translates to everyday life, and get kids excited about exploring new ideas and creating things with their own hands.” Lukidis has chosen bees and beekeeping as her topic and it’s really quite fascinating since I happen to know a local beekeeper but have no idea what’s involved. Additionally, bee colonies are under constant threat from pesticides and, in certain circumstances even Mother Nature, so we need to pay more attention to helping these invaluable pollinators thrive.
Arun and his little sister, Keya, were looking for the perfect place for a treehouse. When Arun spotted a huge oak he knew it was the one. However there was a catch. A colony of bees had already made that tree its home. Arun also noted that it looked like the beehive was broken. That couldn’t be a good thing. Fortunately for the kids, their neighbor, Dr. Chen, was a beekeeper who kept bees in homemade wooden beehives in her backyard. She also sold honey at the local farmers’ market. She’d know what to do.
Curious and eager to help, Dr. Chen accompanied the siblings to the tree where the broken bees’ nest was located. Keya wasn’t as keen as her brother and worried about getting stung. It helped that Dr. Chen was a pro and recommended wearing protective clothing which she provided for the children. Once she confirmed the comb was damaged, most likely by a honey-loving raccoon, she explained how they’d smoke out the bees. What a cool experience for Arun!
Once they safely secured the Queen Bee and the hive, they brought them to Dr. Chen’s. That’s when it was time to start the fun and very sticky honey prep work.
At home following a busy day, Keya wondered if the bees would be happy in their new home especially now that she and Arun intended to use their old home, the massive oak, for their tree house. Arun had a plan that he felt certain would help his sister feel better. It didn’t hurt that Dr. Chen stopped by the next morning and assured everyone that the bees were adjusting well. She even dropped off a jar of honey the kids had helped package. Lukidis brings the story to a satisfying ending, one that includes the parents, a special picnic and a sweet surprise.
The artwork by Ceolin depicts diverse characters working together both as neighbors and STEM explorers and is a great fit with Lukidis’s easy-to-read and always interesting text. Throughout the 32 pages of The Broken Bees’ Nest, factoids about honeybees are incorporated into little boxes (as shown in several illustrations above) where the info can help enlighten young readers whether mentioning that honey was discovered inside the Egyptian pyramids or what a honeycomb is. Then, in the book’s back matter, there are some questions teachers or parents can ask to engage children once they’ve finished the story. Also included is an educational activity—planting a bee-friendly garden of blue, purple and yellow flowers that are sure to attract some honeybees.
The Broken Bees’ Nest is a leveled reader for the educational market targeting K-3. Kane Press, a division of Lerner Publishing, distributes their books to libraries, and schools. But Lukidis’s book is also available on Amazon for individuals to purchase. Lukidis says “It’s an especially fun read for parents so they can introduce STEM topics to their children starting at a young age.” And I agree! Got a budding beekeeper at home or a child keen on nature and helping our environment? Then order your copy of the bookhere so you and the entire family can begin learning about the importance of bees in our world.
A LITTLE CHICKEN
Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Dan Taylor
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4 and up)
If your child enjoys sweet, pun-filled, read-aloud stories with an enjoyable mix of humorous artwork, a relatable subject and “the occasional lawn ornament,” pick up a copy of A Little Chicken to meet adorable Dot.
While not all poultry are petrified of every little thing, Dot sure is. From Taylor’s very first illustration in this picture book, readers will see from her school photo that Dot, the chicken, is being frightened by a spider. (NOTE: don’t miss the end papers.) She was indeed a scaredy cat chicken. Wolves, bears and even a lovely, fluttery butterfly terrified her.
Things went from scary to hairy pretty darn quickly when one day Dot knocked an egg out of the coop. Of course this was unintentional, but regardless, she couldn’t let her “soon-to-be sibling” roll away. Dot dashed for the egg but it remained just out of reach with funny obstacles around every corner. As the egg’s momentum carried it off towards the deep dark woods, Dot had to decide if she had it in her to brave the unknown. Was she more than fluff? ABSOLUTELY! She may have been a little chicken but she also knew what mattered in life.
This highly readable, entertaining picture book is perfect for parents prone to making sound effects. It cleverly lets youngsters know it’s okay to have fears but facing them may sometimes yield amazing results, in this case a precious baby sister.
Author Tammi Sauer’s chosen to focus on fear in a way that honors this feeling and provides an easy in for a discussion about this topic with children. The story flows smoothly and little ones will be rooting for Dot along with her farmyard fan club. Sauer’s wonderful way with words is evident in A Little Chicken and she uses all the right ones though quite economically because Dan Taylor’s hilarious illustrations say so much. All the animal characters that inhabit Dot’s world are not scary nor are the lawn ornaments. In fact, I rather hope they’ll make an appearance in another story. Definitely take a crack at this recommended read!
A flower in a field. 🌸 A star in the sky.✨ Simple things seen and sensed through the eyes of a child help them find and define their place in the universe in two beautiful new picture books
from Candlewick Press and Nosy Crow.
STARDUST features a thoughtful young girl who tries and tries to shine as brightly as her talented older sister. She cannot knit as well, find a missing ring first, or design the best outfit for the costume competition. When she seeks solace under the starry night sky, her grandfather joins her for a quiet chat. Once there was nothing, he tells her, but after a BANG and a series of twinkles, stars were born. Willis sends the duo off on an imaginary journey to explore the subsequent creation of planets, moons, seas, trees and even, sisters!
Smith’s richly colored illustrations will carry young readers into the fantastical realm to introduce the Big Bang and how all is created from stardust. The tender relationship between the girl and her grandfather is light and sweet but never heavy-handed, leading to a delightful conclusion that reaches decades into the girl’s future.
The book jacket is generously speckled with silver stars and a shiny title, a bright and cheerful exterior feature that highlights and compliments this book’s encouraging message about being true to yourself.
A tiny red ladybug has captured a girl’s attention on the cover of Toni Yuly’s THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND ME. Open the book, and the ladybug creeps up a single blade of green grass. Suddenly a bright yellow flower dominates the page, as if from the bug’s perspective. Two boots arrive on scene, signaling the girl’s arrival and her tender exploration of the natural wonders that surround her.
The simple lyrical text is placed sparingly on the page, pacing the story with a gentle, slow unfurling from land to sea, sky and mountain.
Yuly’s captivating illustrations are a combination of ink, charcoal pencil, torn tissue, cut paper and digital collage. The colors are bold and textured, beautifully conveying the gritty beach, crisp blades of grass, and fuzzy cotton dandelion seeds. “I am a small part of it all,” proclaims the young naturalist, joyously exploring and connecting with the world around her. Readers will be duly inspired to get outdoors and join the fun.
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.