I knew I was going to love No Way, They Were Gay? when I first got the inside scoop about it during author Lee Wind’s book launch earlier this year. But I’d like to add that while I’m sharing my review during Pride Month, it should not by any means be read just in June.
Wind’s excellent young adult nonfiction book is clearly a labor of love and a book that will launch myriad meaningful conversations as it has done in my home. Top on the discussion list is how the history we learn is created by those in power. Wind reminds us that, as educated and questioning readers, we have to always carefully consider any historical information presented, its sources, along with motivations and biases. Were certain details related to certain historical figures’ gender identity, romantic and/or love interests withheld from public accounts to protect a person’s image or reputation such as that of English poet and playwright William Shakespeare, President Abraham Lincoln, India’s independence proponent, Mahatma Gandhi, or First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt? Were there other reasons influencing the decision to downplay, edit, or hide these and others’ true stories? This book delves deep and wide into the “why” and makes us rethink our knowledge of the people Wind has selected.
The exhaustive research collected and carefully conveyed in this book speaks volumes to Wind’s commitment to speaking truth to power while reaffirming respect for and the importance of the individuals included. Would Shakespeare’s sonnets be any less powerful and passionate if they were dedicated to a man? No. Does Gandhi’s relationship with another man mean he was any less of a leader? No. Does Roosevelt’s enduring relationship with Lorena Hickock detract from her contributions to society during an especially trying period in our history? No? So why then do the facts about who these people loved remain disputed or concealed? Wind presents his take with compelling proof and winning arguments, and then asks teens what they think.
No Way, They Were Gay? is divided up into three parts: “Men Who Loved Men,” “Women Who Loved Women,” and “People Who Lived Outside Gender Boundaries.” There’s an excellent and comprehensive Introduction, a Conclusion as well as an Author’s Note, Source Notes, Recommended Resources, and an Index. What I appreciated the most about the intro was that Wind included explanations about gender identity, the acronym LGBTQ and LGBTQIA2+, and labeling in a way that makes them easily understood. The book’s design, featuring fact bubbles, news clippings, images, photographs, and letters, adds to the ease of reading. Throughout the book, primary sources are presented in bold, another great idea. Additionally, there’s a suggestion at the end to read the book chronologically for those who prefer this approach. (See page 251)
Wind’s book is a great jumping-off point for further reading (which he provides) because after finishing each part readers may find themselves asking more questions. In fact, I love that Wind encourages them to. Speaking of further exploration, do not miss a visit to his website which is another helpful resource for tweens and teens. Though the suggested age range by the publisher is ages 12 and up, many 10- and 11-year-olds will welcome the information. I came away from my read of No Way, They Were Gay? both grateful that a thoughtful light has been shed on the lives of so many notable people in the LGBTQIA2+ community throughout history, and happy that Wind has written an indispensable book on queer history that will be embraced for years to come.
A fun spin on the classic Father’s Day gift of a dress shirt and/or tie, this unique rhyming board book invites little ones to lift the tie (flap) and reveal which trophy goes to dad for the things he’s so good at. Whether a father excels at making repairs, cooking, styling hair, or reading bedtime stories, #1 Dad probably covers something a father can claim is his specialty. Paper-cut artwork adds to the enjoyment of this entertaining celebration of dads.
The beautiful pastel colors of oranges and reds carry the heroic red-headed father and his red-headed kids through a magical story of what makes up a true hero in the newly released Dad: The Man, The Myth, The Legend. Mifflin Lowe and Dani Torrent’s picture book begins with portraits on the walls in the family home depicting a superhero father like no other. He lifts cars above his head; travels to the moon; and is stronger than Sasquatch and Thor. Mom says he is a legend in his own mind, Lowe writes which is a pretty great description of many dads.
One great example of this larger-than-life father is when he gets tangled in a hose and his son sees him as Tarzan. This sweet story for young readers makes a big statement that no matter what Dad does, and however mad he may make Mom (speeding in a minivan is not the same as driving a race car), Dad will always be amazing. One of Torrent’s most heart-warming illustrations is of the boy and his sister on Dad’s lap reading with his eyes closed. Dad can do no wrong even when sleeping! And no matter how much Dad drives Mom crazy, she says it just makes her crazy about him. And, if you purchase this book Bushel & Peck will donate another to a child in need!
‘My daddies are amazing—the world’s best king and king,” says the brown-haired child with big brown eyes in Adventures With My Daddies written by debut author Gareth Peter and illustrated by Garry Parsons, illustrator of the best-selling series The Dinosaur That Pooped. The Daddies in this blended family are not the best at everything, but our young narrator really doesn’t care. The Daddies tell adventurous stories But my daddies’ favorite story is … the one that brought them me. Peter’s rhyming text takes the reader on exciting adventures, with colorful illustrations of roaming hills of green grass and deep blue oceans. This LGBTQ+ and adoptive family story shows the power of familial love whether a child has two moms, two dads, or one mom and one dad. What a lovely, upbeat story about diversity and inclusiveness. Click here for an activity sheet.
My Dad is another newly released lyrical rhyming text taking the reader through the one-of-a-kind relationship between a boy and his dad (and the orange cat who is often close by). The sweetness of everyday activities is simply conveyed, like Dad making mornings special because he loves to bake, while the young boy leans his head on the counter with a smile on his face watching Dad pull the cookies from the oven.
Ruiz’s warm color palette brings added charm to this touching story. Delightful detail is shown in the artwork, as the boy sits with one cat slipper on while the other has fallen to the floor (and, of course, the cat stares at the mysterious cat slipper in awe). Dad has the magical ability to make everyday tasks such as shopping, which he says is boring, into an adventure where they pretend they are in the jungle looking for tasty food to eat. The imaginative take on people in line at a store surrounded by monkeys and tigers will make every child eager to go shopping with Dad. This comforting bedtime story for any dad to read to his child reinforces how special the father-son bond can be.
This picture book was written as a love letter to daughter Rumi, and soon to follow son Xander (that is with an X, not a Z as our main character teaches the reader) because authors Ryan Brockington and Issac Webster were unable to find a story about families similar to their own. Illustrator Lauren May depicts framed photos on a wall of all kinds of families because every family is unique in its own way. The take-away from this story is that the most important thing is being raised with lots of love, no matter who you call your parents.
Rumi’s daddies play different roles in her life. Daddy sings her songs, while Dada reads her stories but They both love me THIS much as May illustrates Rumi’s arms opened wide. The family of five—we can’t forget adorable black and white dog Betty—goes for hikes together, while other families eat ice cream or play basketball. May’s illustrations, created with Photoshop Elements, show all sizes and colors of families. The story ends with Rumi sitting on the floor with her green cape and the words Tell me about your family. This conversation starter is a fabulous way for parents to discuss their own family dynamics, or maybe a relative or friend’s family. It is also a perfect school art assignment for young kids.
Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Other Recommeded Reads for Father’s Day or any day to celebrate dads:
Tad and Dad Written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein (Nancy Paulsen Books, $8.99, Ages 1-3)
Hair Twins Written by Raakhee Mirchandani Illustrated by Holly Hatam (Little, Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Let’s give a round of applause to moms everywhere on Mother’s Day with this great selection of Mother’s Day books that perhaps express what children cannot. The pandemic has been a challenge and moms, you stepped up to the plate, or should I say multiple plates, and made things work. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. You wondered if your hard work was appreciated or how long you’d be able to keep the smile on your face. Sometimes you didn’t smile and that’s okay. There were a lot of gray days but you never forgot what it means to be a mother, a grandmother, or caregiver. And those you love are taking this day to remember you and let you know how much they care. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!
The precious board book, a love letter to mommies, is a companion to Leo Loves Daddy, and a wonderful way to share the joy of reading together with mother and child. With diverse characters and warm tones in 18 delightful pages, Ruth Hearson illustrates the tender relationship Leo and Mommy share. Anna McQuinn’s gentle rhymes take the reader through the daily activities, “At yoga class, Mommy lifts Leo with ease. Riding home through the park, Mommy speeds like the breeze.” McQuinn’s Lola Reads series includes Lola Reads to Leo, Lola Gets a Cat, and Lola Loves Stories, all illustrated by Hearson. This is a great Mother’s Day read highlighting the special bond kids share with their moms. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Part of the An Every Day Together Book collection, I Love Mommy Every Day is a sweet book celebrating moms. “Mommy feels like home, a comforting presence wherever I am,” says a blonde-haired child with large purple glasses as she snuggles in bed, while Mommy is reading by her side. Alicia Mas brings the reader in with her eye-pleasing art of various mommies with their children. Her blues, oranges, pinks, and reds surround Otter’s descriptions of all the different kinds of mommies. Turning to the last page, the reader comes across a list that reads, “What do you love best about your mommy?” Numbered from one to three, these questions offer the opportunity for parents to talk to their kids, or have them write (or dictate) on a separate paper, about what makes their mommy so special and lovable. They provide a fun activity for teachers to give students to create an unexpected yet personalized Mother’s Day gift. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
This picture book put a smile on my face as I read through each page trying to decide if I was Zen Mom or Organized Mom, while also wondering which one my adult children would choose. Aura Lewis’ colorful illustrations of trendy moms, outdoorsy moms, and working moms depict, page-by-page, all kinds of moms. Which one are you? The book opens with “What is a Mom?” then explains that moms are not just biological, they are stepmoms, adoptive, foster moms, and even moms-to-be. My favorite pages were under the heading Moms around the World, showing the reader that in Finland, Aiti, gives birth and then is given a box of essentials from the government, and babies can even sleep inside the box; and in India the new mom, Maan, often goes back to her own mom to help her adapt to parenthood. This playful book also conveys genuine gratitude, concluding with, “Thank you to your mom, their mom, and all the moms yet to come.” This is a great read throughout the year.• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
New York Times’ best-selling author Susanna Leonard Hill’s new picture book, Dear Grandma, recognizes all the ways grandmothers are awesome. Written as a letter that begins, “Dear Grandma, Do you know you’re the best?” Each scene shows funny and loving ways: “You’re a jungle gym climber, jump rope rhymer, / storyteller, secret hideout dweller . . .” Grandmas soothe the bad days and nightmares away. They’re also with you through the seasons, whether living close by or staying in contact across the miles.
John Joseph echoes the text’s positive vibes in his colorful illustrations capturing children of the world interacting with their grams. The two-page wordless spread where a toy dragon comes to life is my favorite piece of art; it’s quite funny.
A perfect gift book to show grandma how much you appreciate everything she does. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Most of the time my family eats simply, but, sometimes, I want to make something special. Two yeast recipes I need to fine-tune are English muffins and focaccia so I was happy (and surprised) to find Claire Saffitz’s versions in her Dessert Person cookbook. Don’t fear, there are loads of delicious desserts including cakes, pies, tarts, bars, and cookies along with a category called Fancy Desserts featuring croquembouche and so forth. Check the Recipe Matrix, which plots out recipes on a grid by difficulty level and total time—an at-a-glance time-saver. Read the thorough instructions before beginning to ensure you have the ingredients, time, and equipment.
Because kumquats were in season, I made Ricotta Cake with Kumquat Marmalade. The cake was a hit with a flavor reminiscent of German cheesecake. Its kumquat marmalade topping elevated this dish from comfort food to showstopper. I’ll make the cake again, swapping in a different seasonal topping.
Another recipe my family really enjoyed was Clam and Fennel Pizza with Gremolata, which begins with the Soft and Pillowy Flatbread recipe. (Store-bought pizza dough can be swapped out, but freshly made flatbread is a treat.) After the flatbreads are parbaked, top with the previously cooked clam, garlic, fennel, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes mixture. Bake again, then finish off with a gremolata of flat-leaf parsley, fennel fronds, garlic, lemon zest, and kosher salt. There won’t be leftovers, guaranteed!
Beyond making these amazing creations, the photos are eye candy for us cookbook geeks. The gorgeous Black Sesame Paris-Brest is an image I’m drawn to. This bicycle wheel-shaped French pastry recipe replaces the traditional pastry cream for one made with black tahini. Other pastry cream options include chocolate or coconut variations.
I’ll keep looking at the beautiful pictures as I work my way through the recipes. From relatively simple Miso Buttermilk Biscuits to the two-months-to-make Fruitcake, there are dozens of delectable choices. This is a cookbook I will seek out—as the subtitle promises—to receive “guidance for baking with confidence.” What a wonderful treat for Mother’s Day. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
The title and cover pulled me in and I could not wait to read this hilarious poetry book meant for children and parent, caregiver or any adult to experience together. It’s done so well that kids will laugh while learning some unusual things about the English language that grown-ups may now take for granted. “The illustrated rhymes and delightful ditties” will definitely boost early reading “as each poem teaches a specific sound, spelling, or rule.” There is clever wordplay and just so much to enjoy. I found it hard to narrow down the poems that I wanted to share here, but I’ll try with this one about sounds.
The Man in the Moon The Man in the moon dropped into our school, just yesterday morning round about noon. You may not believe me but I have the proof: there’s a man-in-the_moon shaped hole in the roof!
Some poems in the section on silent letters that I loved include The K on Your Knee, Answer This, Why is That?, A Secret Number, and Christmas at the Castle. In the spellings sections, I’m sure kids will LOL at A Clue, Separate, and A Lot. And in the homophones section, Two, Too, and To is a great one to share as is Which Witch, and A Whole Donut. Especially helpful is the backmatter with exercises and activities to do with children. Tor Freeman’s personified letters and cheerful art bring the poems to life with their quirky charm and vibrant colors. As adults we may have forgotten how hard the peculiarities of our English language are for youngsters to grasp. This book makes it not only educational and entertaining but utterly irresistible!
All around the world, one thing there’s no denying, is we all can look up and see the moon in the night’s sky because, in addition to sharing the air we breathe, we also share the sky and all its treasures. Heidbreder captures the marvel of nature and more in bite-sized poems filling 40 pages of pure delight. In his opening poem, Catch The Sky he writes
Look up! Gaze round! Cast eyes to air. Catch the sky that we all share.
Two-page spreads with poems on opposite pages cleverly take readers around the world to meet diverse characters finding so much wonder everywhere. Whether that’s a squirrel walking a power line or crows heading for home in the evening, there’s always something to enjoy with every page turn. One particular spread I like is a city buildings scape with the first poem showing people on rooftops flying kites. In the foreground of the same spread is a birthday celebration and the poem is about balloons. With the story moving from sunrise throughout the day to nightfall, Catch the Sky can also be an ideal bedtime read that, with the lovely and calming art, should inspire beautiful and sweet dreams.
A POEM IS A FIREFLY Written by Charles Ghigna Illustrated by Michelle Hazelwood Hyde (Schiffer Kids; $16.99, Ages 5-8)
This gentle introduction to poetry is a rhyming tale that tips its hat to nature when describing all the things a poem can be. What perfect inspiration for the littlest poets in your family! A bear and his forest friends share their impressions about what makes a poem which teachers can use as a jumping-off point for creative writing prompts.
A poem is a wild rose, a promise just begun, a blossom new with fragrant dew unfurling in the sun.
Even without the vibrant art, Ghigna’s words are easy to imagine. Yet Hyde’s illustrations are not only cheerful and packed with adorable animals—the moose is my fave—they’re lush with a jewel-toned palette that complements the rich colors of all the animals. Kids will love how poems can be found everywhere, from a laugh to a sigh or in the stars in the sky. Talk about poetry at your fingertips!
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book An NCTE Notable Poetry Book
I have never read a poetry book quite like This Poem is a Nest. Its brilliance will stay with you long after you’ve finished your first reading. I want to emphasize first because you will want to return to it again and again, especially as your moods change. I could not put it down, eager to see how Latham would take her original 37-line, four-part poem, “Nest,” then create what she calls nestlings, 161 smaller poems within it on topics as broad as the seasons, space, the alphabet, relationships and emotions. I read in awe how she took the nest concept and then soared. It begins in 1. Spring
This poem has twigs in it, and little bits of feather-fluff. It’s got wings and birdsong stitched together with ribbons of hope.
Consider this book a key to an alchemist’s lab. It will take children to magical places they have never imagined words could take them, places where they will definitely create gold. Using the concepts of found poems or blackout poetry that Latham explains in the beginning of the book, she makes it all look so easy. But clearly it was not effortless. It obviously takes patience and commitment. This Poem is a Nest resonated with me because I could feel the love and devotion she put into each and every nestling. Latham includes tips in her conclusion to set readers off to find their own nests of inspiration. Wright’s simple black and white spot art is a treat, full of children dreaming, birds flying, and animals playing. I’ll leave you with this beautiful one called Parent Poem: this poem has endless faith in you. ENJOY!
Author-illustrator Douglas Florian deftly tackles those two remote places on our planet known as the Arctic and Antarctica in the most whimsical and unexpected ways in his poetry and art. At the same time he adds important factual information below each poem making this a must-read picture book. In other words, kids can come for the verse, but they’ll stay for the info since there is so much to learn, especially since these areas and their flora and fauna are threatened by climate change. There are 21 poems ranging from those about animals such as the polar bear, blue whale, the Arctic hare, and musk ox to ones about the polar regions, the tundra and climate change. Florian’s included clever wordplay and makes every poem a joy to read aloud especially the one about a ptimid bird called the Ptarmigan whose home is the rocky tundra. I pfound this one about krill especially pfunny:
Fish and penguins, squids and seals, all find krill make splendid meals. Blue whales eat krill by the millions: Millions! Billions! Trillions! Krillions!
Describing his original artwork, The Poetry Foundation said, “Florian’s illustrated poetry books for children often incorporate elements of collage, watercolor, and gouache on a surface of primed paper bags.” Kids will find the humor in the art pairs perfectly with the characteristics of the animals presented whether it’s the Arctic Hare toting an umbrella on a bad hare day or with the menace to small creatures, the very TALONted Snowy Owl. Backmatter includes info about Florian, his interest in natural science, and his engaging art style.
If you have a child that loves to learn while enjoying all different kinds of poems, Spi-Ku is the book for you to share with them. As wonderful as the poems are, so too is the variety of factual information included.
Middle-grade readers quickly learn that “all spiders are arachnids, but some arachnids mite not be spiders.” I always thought a daddy long legs was a spider, but it’s not. I also had no idea that a mite and a tick are part of the arachnid family. For some reason, I thought spiders have antennae but they don’t. What they do have are two main body regions and are “the only arachnids that have a narrow waist called a pedicel connecting the two main body parts.” How closely do you look at spiders? I honestly don’t take the time. At home, when I see a spider, I usually grab a plastic container to catch them and set them free outside.
Bulion breaks down different aspects of spiders. In Spiders on the Move this funny poem says it all.
Fishing Spider Row, row, row my legs, Pairs two and three are oars, My first legs feel the way ahead, Which do no work? My fours!
One of my favorite sections details in poems and prose how clever spiders are. Masters of disguise and creating ploys to catch their prey, these eight-legged creatures are not to be underestimated. There are sections on Spider Mamas, Spider Enemies and topics you might not ever have considered when thinking about spiders such as senses or their interesting courting rituals.
The plethora of poems are presented alongside descriptive paragraphs, and illustrations that are both whimsical, and scientifically accurate. Each one is so distinct and full of character. I applaud Meganck for not creeping me out with his spider art, and I think even mild arachnophobes will likely agree. Readers will find limericks, concrete poems, haiku, free verse, cinquains throughout the book with explanations about these and other poetic forms used in the comprehensive backmatter. Teachers can take advantage of the glossary of common and scientific names, a relative size chart, and more. Here’s a link to a teacher’s guide.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal
Meet Zonia who is Asháninka, the largest Indigenous group that calls the Peruvian Amazon home. While her mom nurses her new baby brother, Zonia frolics among the lush flora and fauna of her beautiful neighborhood, the Amazon Rain Forest, the world’s largest.
This slice of life story introduces young readers to a part of the world whose existence is in danger of extinction as its natural resources are abused. As Zonia plays on her own, she is joined by a butterfly, a sloth, a bird, a jaguar, a dolphin, an anteater, and other local animals whose lives are also in peril if the over-development of the Amazon continues at its current rate. This point is emphasized when at the end of Zonia’s outdoor adventure, she is shocked and angered to see a forest decimated by illegal logging. With their homeland threatened, the human inhabitants will have no choice but to fight back. The red face paint on Zonia’s face, shown “on the last page of the story,” signals strength and determination, symbolic of the struggle ahead.
In promotional material from Candlewick, I learned that Peruvian-born author-illustrator Martinez-Neal created her art on “paper fashioned from banana bark by the hands of the people of the Amazon.” The rich colors have a pastel quality and bleed a bit onto the page, with soft edges and a warmth much like the Amazon itself.
Zonia’s Rain Forest is a call to action to people everywhere. We need to pay attention to what is happening in not only Peru, but the other eight countries the Amazon occupies which includes Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana before their ecosystems are beyond repair. The extensive back matter goes into more detail about what is happening in Amazon and why. Children are given selected resources if they want to learn what they can do. There is also a translation of the story to Asháninka, one of the approximate “three hundred and thirty different languages spoken among the four to five hundred different indigenous groups living there.” The story ends with Zonia telling her mama that the forest needs help. “It is speaking to you,” says Zonia’s mama. “Then I will answer,” says Zonia, “as I always do.” And finally, “We all must answer.” – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Dawn Babb Prochovnic’s picture book, Lucy’s Blooms, is an upbeat multigenerational tale. Lucy wants to win the town’s annual flower-growing competition and receives advice from Gram, but things don’t go as expected. I appreciated Lucy’s family’s love of nature and belief that’s it’s perfectly fine to do things your own way.
Alice Brereton’s vibrant illustrations enhance Lucy’s vivacious personality with facial expressions ranging from delight to frustration (pretty accurate, as any gardener knows).
This book’s joyful celebration of gardening and life resonates with me, as do its moments of humor. My favorite part is the ending—but you’ll have to read the book yourself, I’m not telling!
In Loll Kirby’s nonfiction picture book, Old Enough to Save the Planet, we meet twelve kids (age 7+) from around the world who are taking action against climate change and becoming environmental advocates.
Because bees are in trouble, nine-year-old Eunita in Kenya created a garden to attract pollinators. She posted signs in town, explaining what she was doing for community education and to encourage involvement.
Twelve-year-old Adeline in Indonesia also works with her community. When humans destroyed the natural habitat, flooding problems ensued. Adeline’s group replants native mangrove trees “to create protected areas in the sea to allow new coral reefs to form.”
Each child’s earth-saving contribution is illustrated in great detail by Adelina Lirius using colors found in nature. I appreciate how this book highlights global climate-change problems, while showing how we can pitch in to make a difference. Actions listed in the back matter include eating less meat, thinking carefully before traveling by airplane, setting up a group of people working toward a similar goal, and speaking out at every opportunity. While listed for ages 8-12, please note that it would still be appropriate for ages 6-9.
The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself by Susan Hayes and Penny Arlon is a 64-page reusable, recyclable picture book. In each of the thirty activities, kids take action to safeguard the environment and have tearing the book apart!
Learn how to build a worm bin or bug hotel. Conserve electricity in a clever section called “Chase Away Vampires” which includes cut-out reminders: “Don’t forget to unplug!”
“Have an Eco-Picnic” and meet up with friends or family. (During the pandemic, maintain a safe distance.) Pack mindfully; opt for reusable bottles and cutlery. Skip the plastic and see if you can find a spot you within walking or biking distance—how about your backyard?
Each page has lively art by Pintachan. You’ll want to cut out and use the bookmarks because of their cute illustrations. The creative projects in this book will keep kids busy for hours while teaching them earth-friendly ideas.
Peter Wohlleben follows up his successful middle-grade nonfiction book, Can You Hear the Trees Talking?, with Do You Know Where the Animals Live? It’s clear that animals are important to him and he wants to share his love of them. When asked how young children can help make the world a better place for animals, Wohlleben replied, “The best thing is to be curious. The more we know about animals, the more we learn to treat them with respect. Every animal is a great wonder that deserves to be allowed to live their life.”
This book explores much more than just where animals live—that’s only the first section! You’ll also learn what animals eat, all about animal babies, how animals grow up, animal survival techniques, animal language, [note it’s not plural in the book for some reason] and animal emotions. My favorite section is Animal Language because it explores sounds, body language, sense of humor, and showing off. Remarkably, fish grind teeth and fart to communicate. I was also amazed that “scientists have to use special microphones to hear the laughter of rats.”
Something that’s not a laughing matter is the chapter about how harmful human garbage is to animals. Plastics are a huge problem, from the Texas-size floating mass in the Pacific Ocean to the microplastics ingested by many creatures. Pesticide use kills animals throughout the food chain because, when insects die, then birds starve. However, “farmers who grow food without using pesticides leave part of the fruit behind for animals like caterpillars. Because the animals don’t pay money for this fruit, people have to be willing to make up for the difference.”
With color photos on every page, this book is beautiful as well as informational. Who doesn’t like to look at cute animal pictures?! Throughout, short quizzes test your knowledge. Whether reading or admiring images, this book will entertain and engage kids for hours.
Lucy Bell’s middle-grade nonfiction book, You Can Change the World, belongs in every home and classroom. Problems we’ve created in the world are offset with simple steps we can take to make our planet a healthier place for everyone.
The 224 pages are easy to follow, filled with lively, full-color art and cleverly arranged content to keep kids engaged. Topics include plastic, ethical and environmentally friendly clothing, waste, food, gardening and the outdoors, energy, electricity, and water, animal activism, and an act of kindness. The Group Activities section offers suggestions on how to work alongside friends and family. For example, choose from the environmental documentaries listed and host a movie party offering plastic-free snacks, or just start a conversation about how you have made changes.
Young environmentalists from around the world are featured throughout. At age nine Felix Finkbeiner from Germany discovered that Wangari Maathai in Kenya planted thirty million saplings in thirty years to cover some of Africa’s bare land. Inspired, Felix founded Plant-for-the-Planet with the goal of one million trees per country to offset harmful carbon dioxide emissions. “More than seventy thousand of the children who help Felix are ambassadors for climate justice, and they are between nine and twelve years old.”
This is a book my family will turn to again and again because it offers many useful suggestions: sprout cilantro from those coriander seeds in the spice rack, pay attention to where our food comes from, and put a bucket in the shower to save a little water each time. We’ve given up plastic straws, but I’d hoped that paper to-go drink cups were recyclable—they’re not because most cups are plastic-coated paper! This book puts facts at my fingertips so our family knows the truth before ordering that next hot chocolate. “Worldwide, people use over sixteen billion to-go cups every year.” Think about what a difference we could make if we just used our own drink containers. I’ll enjoy my latte more, knowing I’m not part of this billion-cup problem.
Patricia Newman’s middle-grade nonfiction book, Planet Ocean, delves into our relationship to the sea explaining “how to stop thinking of ourselves as existing separate from the ocean and how to start taking better care of this precious resource.” Chapters explore the Coral Triangle, Salish Sea, and the Arctic. People worldwide are highlighted for their beneficial contributions. Eben Hopson started his own film company in high school to show how the melting ice affected his people’s (the Iñupiat) ability to hunt; at eighteen he became an Arctic Youth Ambassador to further explain the problems of climate change.
This 64-page middle-grade book is as informative as it is gorgeous. Photographer Annie Crawley captures the many aspects of the ocean, from its sheer beauty and wonderful creatures to people interacting respectfully with our environment. Crawley states, “We live in an absolutely incredible world which exists because of our ocean. But it is misunderstood, misrepresented, and undervalued by our society.”
The section “Go Blue with Annie” discusses committing to zero waste, taking climate action, thinking before you eat, and being the voice of our ocean. Examples of these items involve reducing or eliminating the plastics we use, choosing vegetarian meals, and joining with others to bring attention to the need to stop polluting the planet.
I’ll remember Crawley’s words, “What we do on land impacts our source of life. Every drop of water we drink and much of the food we eat starts with the sea. Breathe in and you breathe the ocean.” This book will help young readers better understand and appreciate our ocean’s importance, learning how our daily decisions have far-reaching consequences.
What I love about Passover is the tradition, the same old same old I know and love. It’s comforting as well as delicious. And, since Seder, the meal we enjoy, means “order” in Hebrew, we repeat the same rituals Jewish people have done for centuries to feel a connection to the past. Here are a few new Passover picture books plus a link to a fourth (an interview) to share with your children this year and for years to come.
Fans of Meet the Latkes, get ready for a wild and whimsical ride! This follow-up picture book promises to bring smiles to young readers with its tale of Alfie Koman, a piece of matzah known to hide, who needs to unmuddle the sourdough bully Loaf’s version of the Passover Story. Who enslaved the Hebrews according to Loaf? Pha-roach! With the help of his braided bff, Challa Looyah, Alfie must emerge from undercover to set the record straight. The hilarious artwork is what I’d call the butter on the matzah. It just doesn’t get funnier than this! Don’t miss the adorable book trailer here.
Matzah Craze is a great introduction to matzah and its history for anyone who is unfamiliar with it and the tradition of not eating bread during Passover.
This fast-paced rhyming read opens at lunchtime when everyone in the school cafeteria swaps food except for Noa. You’ll want to slow down to enjoy the Gallegos’s lively art and diverse student body. On this day Noa’s got food in her lunch bag no one recognizes and she doesn’t have enough to share. “All week long, I don’t eat bread. Matzah’s what I eat instead,” she tells her friends.
She then explains how the Jews fled Pharaoh’s oppression with no time in the rush to escape for bread to rise. As her friends walk away, Noa wonders. “Is there more that she could do? Let them taste Passover too?” When she brings in enough matzah to share with her friends the following day, with an assortment of toppings, its popularity causes a matzah craze.
Eating matzah is always a fun part of the holiday. I’m a big fan of chocolate-covered matzah as well as matzah spread with haroset. This food made with fruit and nuts symbolizes the mortar used by slaves in Egypt. I hope anyone reading Matzah Craze will experiment with all the delicious ways to enjoy matzah just like Noa’s friends. There’s also a note in the back matter explaining a bit more about the Passover holiday. Families and teachers will find this picture book helpful to discuss sharing, introducing a new food and its cultural and religious importance to those unfamiliar with it, as well as an enjoyable holiday read-aloud.
Whenever my husband and I went on vacation we always took the kids to a zoo so I was happy to be introduced to the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, aka the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo where this story unfolds.
Ellie the beautiful purple elephant would like to find a family to celebrate the first night of Passover with and she can count on her friend, Kang, the Kangaroo, to join her. Chimp, on the other hand, is not keen on this risky adventure and would prefer to sleep.
Every time Ellie or Kang discuss the seder they’d like to attend, they get all the words wrong and Chimp is quick to correct them which is something children will enjoy. Ellie calls the Haggadah a coloring book. Kang calls it a notebook until Chimp sets them straight. The eager pair plan their escape for the following evening. It seems Zookeeper Shmulik, who cleans Ellie’s habitat, has told her all about Passover and one part especially appeals to her, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”
Naturally to escape the pals will need the help and agility of Chimp who is pretty easy to convince. Once out of the confines of the zoo, Ellie, Kang, and Chimp stroll through the neighborhood in search of a seder. When eventually the animals peek in a well-lit window, they see a beautifully set table and are surprised to discover who the welcoming host is.
I admire Weiser’s atmospheric artwork with people in shadow at nighttime, as well as her lovely color palette perfect for Israel’s warm climate. There’s a fun, retro look to the illustrations that add to the playfulness of Moritz’s story.
I had a smile on my face while reading this entertaining book because it was not only such a sweet animal tale, but it was gently educational without hitting readers over the head. While it does help to have some understanding of the Jewish holiday Passover, readers will still learn about certain Passover words like seder, the traditional meal, some of the foods on the seder plate such as haroset and maror, and what they symbolize as well as the story of how Passover came to be. Back matter goes into more detail about the Passover holiday and also includes photos of the real Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.
Don’t miss Ronna’s interview below with debut picture book author Susan Kusel about her soon-to-be classic,The Passover Guest.
WhenAmy B. Muchawrote 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. e
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.”
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.
In Charlotte Offsay’sdebut picture book, The Big Beach Cleanup, the main character, Cora, is looking forward to the upcoming Crystal Beach Sandcastle Competition which she intends to win. So you can imagine her disappointment when a sign at the beach says it’s “Postponed due to beach conditions.” And what are those conditions you might wonder? The ever-growing problem of plastic and other kinds of trash that wash ashore from the ocean in addition to being left by people are ruining our beaches.
Together with her mom, the pair clean up what they can but four hands will never be enough. The next day Cora and her mom return, this time with Grandpa in tow, but the task of collecting the vast amount of litter and empties feels daunting for just six hands to tackle. Cora’s grandfather also explains how animals mistake the trash for food which further concerns the little girl. Clearly this pollution is wreaking havoc on the environment and its inhabitants. Then Cora comes up with a plan.
Maybe six hands aren’t enough to pick up all the trash, but many hands might be. So Cora creates flyers to post all over town with her mom’s help. When initially people don’t seem to respond to the flyers, Cora’s mom explains that people are busy and there are lots of ways to reduce trash such as cutting back on one-use items and not littering.
Undeterred, Cora continues to ask friends and neighbors to help her in a big beach cleanup and soon “more and more and more hands joined together.” So many people pitch in for this community effort initiated by one very motivated and caring young girl that before long the competition is back on! And though ultimately Cora does not win the contest, she can claim a much bigger and enduring prize—the knowledge and self-satisfaction of having made a difference.
Katie Rewse’s art is at once simple yet expressive and optimistic for a topic like pollution. Her emphasis on conveying the variety of garbage that washes up on the beaches and is left by humans will help children get a good sense of what a big mess the trash, especially plastics, is causing for our planet.
Offsay shares important and easy-to-grasp information for young readers to learn in a relatable way. After seeing how the abundant beach litter disrupts the sandcastle event, children will hopefully realize the impact that they as individuals can have and feel empowered to fight for the cleanliness of our oceans and our beaches. Perfect for Earth Day, The Big Beach Cleanup would also be a welcome year round read for homes, schools and libraries who view environmental conservation not as an option, but as a necessity. An added bonus to buying the book is that all author proceeds from the book are being donated toHeal the Bay.
Click hereto buy a book and support a local indie bookstore.
Click here to read about another environmental-themed picture book.
This year choosing books to include in our Recommended Reads for Kids – Black History Month Roundup has been more difficult than ever because there are dozens of excellent ones being published and more on the way. Here is just a small sample of great reads, from picture book to graphic novel to young adult fantasy that are available for kids and teens to enjoy.
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ★Starred Review – Kirkus
The ABCs of Black History is the kind of inspiring book children and adults will want to return to again and again because there is so much to absorb. In other words, it’s not your mother’s ABC book. Written in uplifting rhyme by Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Rio Cortez, this gorgeous 60-page picture book is at once a look back in time and a look to the future for young Black children. However it is recommended reading for children of all races and their families.
Cortez has shined a lyrical light on places, events and figures familiar and less familiar from Black history with comprehensive back matter going more in depth. Take H for example: “H is for Harlem—those big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat. / When Louis and Bessie and Duke owned the stage, / and Langston and Zora Neale Hurston, the page.” J is for Juneteenth and S, which gets double coverage, is for scientists and for soul. Adding to the hopeful tone of Cortez’s rhyme are Semmer’s bold and vibrant graphics which jump off the page. The dazzling colors pull you in and the variety of composition keep you hooked.
The ABCs of Black History is a book you’ll want to read together with your young ones and let your older children discover and savor on their own. It’s not only a visual and aural treat, it’s a sweeping celebration and exploration of Black culture and history that is beautiful, compelling, thought provoking and thoroughly unputdownable! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly
Adapted from the final chapter of Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s autobiography Mighty Justice, We Wait for the Sun is an intimate look at a tender moment in Dovey’s childhood. The book opens with a preface about the main character, Dovey, who grew up to be a legendary figure in the fight for racial equality-all through the influence of her beloved grandmother, Rachel Bryant Graham. Dovey loved to share stories of Grandmother Rachel; this book is the story she loved best.
In “the midsummer night” when it’s “dark and cool,” Dovey and her grandmother walk “through the darkness toward the woods” to pick blackberries. Lyrical language and textural illustrations awaken the senses and draw us into their adventure.
Other women join in and the trip goes deeper still into the forest. Staring at Grandma’s shoes, Dovey is literally following her grandmother’s steps into the darkness. But Grandma Rachel provides comfort and reassurance. “If you wait just a little, your eyes will learn to see, and you can find your way.”
Through such examples of wisdom and encouragement, it’s clear to see why Grandma Rachel was such an inspiration to Dovey and her later work as a civil rights lawyer. As they sit in the forest and listen to its “thousand sounds,” a double page spread shows an aerial view of their meditative moment, immersed in the magic of their surroundings.
And when they reach the berries, they’re every bit worth the wait-plump, juicy, and sweet-like the lush layers of purple, blue, and pink illustrations that display a beautiful berry-colored world as dawn, bit by bit, turns to day. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Grandma and Dovey watch the sun rise in its golden splendor. Grandma’s steadfast waiting for the light, despite the present darkness, is a moving message of hope, resilience, and bravery.
Back matter includes an in-depth note from co-author Katie McCabe chronicling Dovey’s fight against barriers in the law, military, and ministry. For anyone interested in the powerful ways family and history intersect, We Wait for the Sun is a must-have in every library. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
While white Americans eagerly embarked on carefree car travel around the country, in 1930s Jim Crow America the road was not a safe or welcoming place for Black people. In Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, Keila V. Dawson explores the entrepreneur Victor Green and his successful The Negro Motorist Green Book which was borne out of dire need.
Young readers will learn about the limitations that were in place restricting the freedoms of Black Americans to have access to the same conveniences whites did due to segregation laws. For instance, a road trip for a Black family meant bringing food, pillows, and even a portable toilet since most establishments along a route were for whites only. The same applied to hotels, service stations, auto-mechanics and even hospitals. And in “Sundown” towns, where Blacks could work but not live, those individuals had to be gone by sunset or risk jail or worse.
In this fascinating 40-page nonfiction picture book, Dawson explains in easy-to-understand prose exactly what obstacles faced Black travelers and why Green, a mail carrier, together with his wife Alma, decided to publish a directory. Inspired by a Kosher guide for Jews who also faced discrimination, Green began collecting information from people on his postal route about where safe places were in New York.
Eventually, with word-of-mouth expanding interest in Green’s book, he began corresponding with mail carriers nationwide to gather more recommendations for The Negro Motorist Green Book on more cities. Soon everyone from day-trippers to celebrities were using the Green Book. Green even made a deal with Standard Oil for the book to be sold in Esso gas stations where it “flew off the shelves.” Harris’s illustrations take readers back in time with colorful, realistic looking scenes of big old cars, uniformed service station attendants and locations in Black communities that opened their doors to Black travelers. Apart from a break during WWII, the book was sold until the need for it finally ended with the last edition in 1966-67.
Equality both on and off the road was the ultimate goal for Black Americans. That may have improved somewhat from when the first Green Book was published in 1936, but Victor did not live to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted, having passed away in 1960. However there is still a long road ahead because, unlike Victor’s Green Book, racism has not disappeared and being Black while driving can still be dangerous, even deadly.
Dawson dives into this in her five pages of back matter that include a clever roadway timeline graphic from the beginning of Green’s life in 1892 until the Green Book ceased publication. This is a helpful, thoughtfully written book to share with children to discuss racism, and a good way to begin a discussion about self-advocacy, ingenuity, and how to treat one another with respect. It’s also a welcome example of how Green channeled his frustration and dissatisfaction into a guide that ultimately changed people’s lives for the better. Click herefor an essential Educator’s Guide. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Kadir Nelson, in his interesting introduction to James Otis Smith’s graphic novel Black Heroes of the Wild Westpoints out that cowboys, ranchers, homesteaders and other people from the Old West (west of the Mississippi River “during and after the American Civil War”) were historically portrayed in books, movies and TV through a white lens. In reality up to “a third of the settler population was African American.” I couldn’t wait to find out more about Mary Fields, known as “Stagecoach Mary” in her day, Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, and “mustanger” Bob Lemmons, perhaps the original Texas horse whisperer.
All three individuals were forces to be reckoned with. First there’s Mary Fields, born into slavery in Tennessee. In her lifetime, she maintained fierce loyalty to friends, loved children, was generous to a fault, and had strength and energy second to none. She’s most noted, however, for her reputation as a banjo strumming, card playing, first African American female stagecoach driver who never missed a delivery and was not easily thwarted by wolves or bad weather.
I was blown away learning about Bass Reeves’s bravery in outwitting some murderous outlaws on the Most Wanted List. In the account Smith shares, Reeves single-handedly put himself into a dangerous situation by turning up as an impoverished loner looking for any kind of work to earn his keep. By cleverly offering up his services to the mother of the villains, earning her trust, and ultimately that of the bad guys too, he was able to capture them completely off guard. This plus thousands of other arrests cemented his place in history. The best part was how Smith’s illustrations conveyed Reeves in the particular scenario of capturing the outlaws by surprise which in turn surprised and satisfied me immensely.
Last but definitely not least is Bob Lemmons who was hired to corral wild mustangs and whose humane technique was not deadly to any of the horses, something other mustangers had not been able to manage. Smith takes readers on a journey of the senses along with Lemmons as he follows a group of mustangs he intends to wrangle, and details in both art and text how eventually Lemmons becomes one with the stallion leading the “manada” (mares and colts). “Bob knew their habits, their body language, their sounds. Like them, he flared his nostrils sniffing for danger.” You don’t have to be a horse lover to be impressed how Bob’s slow and steady approach made the mustangs think he was one of them.
Eight comprehensive pages of fascinating back matter round off this excellent middle grade read that will no doubt have tweens eager to find out more about these and other Black heroes. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
★Starred Review – Booklist A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The Gilded Ones is book one of a West African-inspired epic fantasy series that will grab you from its first page. When girls turn sixteen, they must undergo The Ritual of Purity where they are bled to see if they can become a member of their village. However, if a girl’s blood runs gold, then she’s found impure and faces a fate worse than death. If Deka’s father had the money, he would have sent her to the House of Purity the year before the ritual, keeping her protected from sharp objects. Instead, Deka must be careful while she worries and prepares.
When Deka fails, she’s tortured until a mysterious woman she names White Hands offers an option out. The empire’s being attacked by seemingly invincible Deathshriek creatures. Deka becomes an alkali soldier fighting alongside other girls like her with powers that make them nearly immortal.
Namina Forna says, “The Gilded Ones is a book about my anger at being a woman. Sierra Leone was is very patriarchal. There were things I was expected to do as a girl because I was a girl.” This emotion is harnessed into the story, revealing societal inequities in an intricately woven plot that will surprise and enflame you.
Deka has the best “sidekick” ever—a shapeshifter called Ixa. Though there are elements of romance, it’s strong females who rule the plot. This book provides a fresh look at the “gods and goddesses” trope. The Gilded Ones is fierce, brutal, and relevant. Read it. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Click here to read another Black History Month review. e
Alex’s Good Fortune, a 32-page early reader, takes us through Alex’s day on Chinese New Year. She invites her best friend, Ethan, over and, together, they prepare for the holiday. Exciting moments (joining the parade and decorating) and mundane ones (sweeping away the bad luck) are illustrated expressively in vibrant colors that accentuate the kids’ emotions. I longed for dumplings as Nai Nai showed the kids how to fold and pinch, fold and pinch.
Back matter includes the pronunciation and meaning of several Chinese New Year wishes, more information about the holiday, and the Chinese zodiac.
Celebrate the Year of the Ox with Benson Shum’s likable book that’s suited for early readers or as a read-aloud story. Xīn xiǎng shì chéng (say: sin see-ang shee che-eng) / May all your wishes come true!
Little Blue Truck’s Valentine, the latest installment in this popular series, finds Blue delivering cards to all of his friends on the farm. But after delivering all the cards, Blue is sad as he thinks he is not going to be getting any cards in return—or is he? Children will delight in the rhyming text which bounces along as each animal receives a personalized card: an egg-shaped one for Hen, a sail-boat floating one for Duck, and so forth. With the sounds the animals make in bold and in the same colors to match the color of the cards they receive, children will absorb color concepts and animal sounds while enjoying a sweet story of friendship about giving and receiving on this holiday. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
What could be cuter than Bear having a crush on Panda? In Bear Meets Bear, the third book in the Bear and Spider series, that’s exactly what happens to the tea-loving bear when Panda shows up on his doorstep. This lovely delivery person bringing him his new teapot also brings him a fluttering heart.
Finding himself lost for words, Bear watches with dismay as she goes away. Spider, Bear’s BFF, watches as his pal becomes besotted with Panda, ordering teapot after teapot just to see her again. Despite Spider’s encouragement to invite Panda over for tea, at her next appearance, Bear again is speechless. When his final teapot order comes, it’s not Panda but a “gruff raccoon.” Bear cannot bear the pain. He yearns to see Panda so his little friend sets off to find her.
When at last he locates Panda, Spider is now the delivery person as he hands her an invitation. The very next day she reappears at the front door and, on Spider’s urging, Bear welcomes her inside for his favorite spot of tea. Love blossoms, but not over tea this time in a charming surprise ending. In the funny final two-page spread readers will enjoy the trio sharing togetherness while a bunch of animals check out assorted tagged teapots in a yard sale. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
WAYS TO SAY I LOVE YOU Written by Marilyn Singer Illustrated by Alette Straathof (Words & Pictures; $18.95, Ages 4-6)
Between the stunning artwork and the variety of animals featured whose varied ways of expressing their love is fascinating, Ways to Say I Love You is a beautiful book to help spread the love.
Singer’s rhyming story introduces young children to nine creatures including bower birds, cranes and dance flies to peacocks, whales and white-tailed deer. “Furry, finned, or birds of a feather, how do critters get together?” While learning about animal courtship, children will also see a comparison of how of kids, teens and adults show their interest in finding a mate whether by bringing flowers or warbling “love songs, too.”
Straathof’s art, textured and with a muted palate, likely digitally created, blends its warm water-color quality across every page. I was drawn to the appealing folk art style, too. Backmatter details how the nine animals find their mates. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Porcupine is on a mission in the charming picture book Porcupine Cupid. Determined to spread the love for Valentine’s Day, he sets off to find some forest friends for a bit of matchmaking. I just love how we see them hiding from Porcupine in the second spread. Making tracks in the forest then gently pricking his pals with his quill, poor well-intentioned Porcupine only manages to irritate them. Therein lies the humor in this story that works wonderfully with the funny illustrations to convey what the spare text purposely does not.
Once he sees that his quills haven’t had the effect he wanted, Porcupine must find a new way to spread the loving spirit. As a ruse, clever Porcupine pins a poster to a tree alerting all to a town meeting where they can air their grievances. When children realize that his ultimate goal is really to help everyone including Bear, Bunny and Raccoon unknowingly find a mate, they will be pleased as I was at the adorable end results. They may not be matches made in heaven, but the woods is close enough! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Love Is Powerful, inspired by The 2017 Women’s March, is written by art director Heather Dean Brewer, who participated in the March, along with illustrator and Caldecott Honor recipient, LeUyen Pham. It brings home the message that there are all kinds of love including love for people of every race, gender, and religion, from all walks of life.
Readers are greeted with Pham’s eye popping water-color illustrations showing women, men and children creating signs in the windows of their New York city apartments. Turning the page we see our main character, Mari, at her table with crayons. Mama is seated behind her computer, when Mari asks her what they are coloring. “Mama smiled. A message for the world.”
Pham draws people marching passed Mari’s apartment while Mari presses her nose against the window watching with curiosity. “Mari asked, How will the whole world hear?” “They’ll hear,” Mama said, “because love is powerful.”
The loving teamwork of Mama and her daughter working together to create the signs is beautifully conveyed with both Brewer’s inspiring words and Pham’s evocative drawings. Through Mari’s thoughts, we see illustrations of people from all over the world creating their own signs in various languages but the same message is felt. Signs read “Girl Power,” “We will not be silent” and the John Lewis’ quote “We may not have chosen the time. But the time has chosen us.” Ahh, so powerful and so true for today’s political climate.
The streets are packed with more people than Mari could imagine, so again she questions how their message will be heard. “Mama said, ‘They will, little Mari.’” Mari is lifted up on Mama’s shoulders and drawings of red hearts are displayed across the crowd’s heads. We know they are surrounded by like-minded people and lots of love.
Brewer writes, “Mari bobbed above the crowd like a canary fluttering over trees. She felt as tall as one of the buildings.” Holding up her handmade crayoned sign with the words “Love is Powerful,” Mari begins to shout these words then “Through the roar, her voice was heard and someone shouted the message back. Mari yelled again, and more joined in. Again she yelled the message.”
The backmatter displays a letter and photo from the real-life Mari, who explains that she was only six-years-old in 2017 and knew that people were feeling scared and angry. She felt the power as she shouted “Love is Powerful” and the crowd shouted back. This moving and uplifting story needs to be read to children everywhere. Brewer explains that she often felt quiet and small, and felt like no one could hear her. Well, her powerful message of love has been heard now, and she is correct when she says that even the smallest voice has the power to change the world. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Clickhere to read a book we reviewed last year for Valentine’s Day.
In The Passover Guest, written by Susan Kusel and illustrated by Sean Rubin, Muriel assumes her family is too poor to hold a Passover Seder this year, but an act of kindness and a mysterious magician change everything.
GoodReadsWithRonna:Welcome, Susan! Congratulations on your debut picture book, The Passover Guest!
Susan Kusel:Thank you so much for having me here! I am honored to be on this blog
GRWR: How does it feel as a synagogue librarian and indie bookstore book buyer to know your new book, The Passover Guest, has landed on shelves?
SK: It’s an absolutely surreal feeling to know that my book has a spot in some of my favorite libraries and bookstores. I am humbled by the idea of a child pulling it off the shelf and reading it.
GRWR:When did the seed to become a storyteller first plant itself in your soul? Can you recall the first books that sparked your imagination?
SK:I’ve wanted to be a writer for so long, it’s hard to remember the exact moment I started. I do remember the first time I ever wrote a complete book though. It was for a 5th grade English assignment and was about a Russian Jewish girl named Rachel. I remember being very proud of the special folder I put the book into.
My mom used to read to me every night when I was a child and some of my favorite books then were Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry, Walter the Baker by Eric Carle, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and of course, The Magician by I.L. Peretz, adapted by Uri Shulevitz.
GRWR:What inspired you to write The Passover Guest as a retelling of the classic I. L. Peretz’s story adapted by Uri Shulevitz in 1973 rather than create a new tale?
SK:As I mentioned above, The Magician was in regular reading rotation by my mother when I was younger and so it’s a story I’ve been in love with for a long time. When I rediscovered the book in a library as an adult, I still thought it was an amazing story, but I noticed some plot elements that I wished were different. That started me down the path of doing an adaptation of Peretz’s story, a process that took about ten years.
GRWR:Aside from setting the story in 1933 Depression-era D.C. are there any other notable changes you wanted to make for 21st-century young readers?
SK:The most significant change I made was adding the character of Muriel. In the Peretz version, the story is about a couple but I thought that it was very important to add a child character. There are also a number of subtle changes I added, such as Muriel putting a penny in the Magician’s hat, the rabbi coming to Muriel’s seder, the whole community filling the house, the matzah breaking itself in two, and several smaller plot points. My goal was to stay true to Peretz’s message while making the story my own.
GRWR:What were your go-to Jewish holiday books growing up and right now? Do you have a collection?
SK: Jewish stories have always been very important to me, but when I was growing up, we owned very few. Our whole book collection, which took up half a shelf in my brother’s closet, was primarily obtained from library book sales. We supplemented these with library books. I only had a few Jewish books including The Power of Light by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Potato Pancakes All Around by Marilyn Hirsh (which we used then, and I still use now for the latke recipe).
As for now, I am typing this while sitting in my home library surrounded by picture books, including several shelves just for Jewish books. Current favorites include Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel (no holiday list is complete without it!), I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz, The Matzah Papa Brought Home by Fran Manushkin (sadly out of print but still extraordinary), and Here is the World by Lesléa Newman. That’s really just a small sample though because there are so many Jewish holiday books I love.
GRWR:Has your experience on the Caldecott Medal selection committee or as chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee influenced your writing in any way?
SK:One of the most common pieces of advice given to writers is to read extensively in your field. I think those committees, as well as others I’ve been on, have certainly helped me with that. When you are reading hundreds and hundreds of books in a genre, it does give you a better sense of what is currently published. Being on so many committees has helped me see what the conventions are, and how they can be broken and how I can be a better writer.
GRWR:Sean Rubin’s art is as magical as your prose and the mysterious guest himself. Do you have a particular favorite spread from the book you can tell us about?
SK:I think Sean did a truly extraordinary job on the illustrations and picking just one of them is like trying to pick a favorite child. I think his work adds so much to the book and makes it complete.
I could easily go on at length about every individual spread and how much I love it, but if I can only pick one, it would be when Muriel goes to the synagogue to consult the rabbi. Over the course of one continuous spread, Sean shows us four completely separate and distinct scenes and the cause and effect of each one of them. And all of this against the astonishingly beautiful and majestic background of the Sixth and I Synagogue, a D.C. Jewish landmark.
GRWR:Early on in The Passover GuestMuriel meets an unusual street performer to whom she gives her last penny. Can you speak to the story idea of magic and how, especially in tough times, this kind of belief can help people?
SK:I think it’s always a good time to believe in the possibility of magic, especially during difficult times. You never know who that bedraggled stranger might turn out to be. Faith and hope are so important.
GRWR:Where do you find the time to write with all your other commitments? Do you have a daily routine?
SK: I’d love to be able to say that I sit down in the same place at the same time every day and write for the same amount of time. But the truth, as you alluded to in this question, is that I have multiple jobs, commitments, and children, and I do my best to write as much as I can when I can.
GRWR:You mentioned in your author’s note that Passover has always been your favorite holiday, can you tell us why?
SK:I love so many things about Passover: the coming of spring, getting the seder plate ready, singing songs, finding the afikomen, eating too much charoset, being with family, and much more. It’s always been a magical holiday for me and I’m delighted that this book lets me share some of that magic.
GRWR:Are you working on your next book? Will it have a Jewish theme?
SK: I’m working on several next books, all with Jewish themes. I have a real commitment to telling Jewish stories.
GRWR: It’s been wonderful having you as a guest here today, Susan! I really appreciate your thoughtful replies and am looking forward to sharing a review of your book when we get closer to Passover.
Susan Kusel has turned a life as a book lover into many careers as an author, librarian, and buyer for a bookstore. She has served on many book award committees including the Caldecott Medal and the Sydney Taylor Book Award. She loves biking, cross-stitching, and of course, reading. Learn more about Susan on her website and by following her on social media.
Happy Birthday, Trees!, written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber and illustrated by Holly Sterling, is a 12-page board book that just exudes joy and one I can easily recommend for the annual holiday of Tu B’Shevat, a Jewish Arbor Day. Tu B’Shevat or Tu BiShevat has, over the years, grown to become a celebration of nature and the environment and a time to reflect on the importance of trees since we are their only caretakers. This year, the holiday begins on the evening of January 27 and ends the following night.
In this charming rhyming board book, three diverse children go through all the steps of planting a tree with a soothing repetition that reinforces the progression of the actions. First, they dig a hole. Then they carefully place the tree in the hole and, after a few other important steps, the youngsters watch the tree as it grows and changes through the seasons.
I love how Rostoker-Gruber, in such a short story, has managed to convey not only the pleasure of the planting process but the complete cycle a tree experiences. Sterling’s cheerful illustrations full of movement and expression show readers how, in the year following the initial planting, the tree ultimately blossoms, spreading its perfume for all to enjoy. Happy Birthday, Trees! is truly a Tu B’Shevat treet!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Clickherefor a Happy Birthday, Trees! Teaching Guide.
Click here to read a review of another Jewish holiday book.
Young readers will be easily charmed by Li’l Rabbit. Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, now available in a paperback edition, was originally published in 2010 but its story is timeless.
Despite being frustrated during Kwanzaa for multiple reasons in addition to being told he’s too little to help, Li’l Rabbit still looks forward to his favorite part of the weeklong holiday, Karamu, the festive meal served on the sixth night.
But Granna Rabbit is sick and can’t prepare the meal. “Kwanzaa,” Li’l Rabbit recalls his granna telling him, “is a special time when we help each other.” Her words set him off on a search for a Zawadi (gift, often homemade) to cheer her up. During his quest, various forest friends ask him what he’s doing, and after he explains they all remark how they, too, wish there was something they could do to help. It seems Granna Rabbit has always made time to help out these animals and her good deeds have meant so much to them. When Li’l Rabbit returns home empty-handed and disappointed, he is surprised to see the animals he’d encountered celebrating with food, fun, and friendship. What a surprise for Li’l Rabbit to learn from his granna that her spirits have been lifted not only because of what their thoughtful neighbors have contributed but most of all because Li’l Rabbit’s dream made it happen.
Evan’s buoyant illustrations bring the Kwanzaa festivities to life with their rich colors, patterns, and energy. This picture book will resonate with any child who has ever felt left out or too small to make a difference. I appreciated the back matter including The Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa as well as a glossary of words that were used in the story.
Many kids want to pick out books they can read by themselves to improve their skills and feel successful. Parents, teachers, and librarians can’t argue with that. Why not take a look at the Spot (an imprint of Amicus) Holiday series geared to emergent readers? The photographs are beautiful and the text is purposefully simple to encourage beginners while providing an engaging way into diverse cultures and traditions.
In Mari Schuh’s Kwanzaa, as well as all the other series’ books, children can enjoy a search and find feature at the beginning (see the art below), with pictures and words.
“The text uses high-frequency words and repeating sentence structures” empowering new readers while introducing them to new vocabulary via holidays many of their classmates, friends, and neighbors celebrate. Other books in the series include Ramadan, Diwali, Hanukkah, Easter, and Christmas. I’m glad to have discovered this series and look forward to sharing more Amicus books in the future.
Read a review of another diverse holiday picture book here.
I’ve been a fan of Greg Paprocki’s artwork and book design since first discovering his books several years ago. His latest holiday board book for toddlers, Christmas: A Count and Find Primermay be slightly too big for a stocking stuffer, but will easily fit into welcoming hands. Youngsters will happily search each of the 10 spreads to find the correct amount of holiday items corresponding to the respective number. Illustration “4” shows four “cookies and carrots,” but there are also four of many other things such as four stars, four pictures on the wall, four purple ornaments, and four stockings. I like how colors are also worked into the art so adults reading with children can point these out as well. “The last spread contains 10 more holiday-themed objects hidden throughout the book for little ones to find next.” Paprocki’s pleasing retro-style art is another reason to pick up a copy of this entertaining book. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
If your children adore Tad Hills’s character Rocket, this Christmas they’ll fall for Mistletoe. The story begins with a sweet illustration of little Mistletoe who is enamored with all things Christmas. Readers will sense her anticipation to share her favorite holiday experiences like a walk in the snow with her elephant friend, Norwell. He, on the other hand, prefers to avoid the cold and remain cozy indoors sipping tea with his mouse friend beside a blazing fire. No matter how she tries, Mistletoe cannot coax her pal outside. A quiet walk in the snow inspires her and she hatches a creative plan that will not only get her friend outside, but will be the most wonderful gift for Christmas. Kids will excitedly turn the pages to see how much yarn Mistletoe’s surprise project entails (“… elephants are big!”) and watch with delight as she cheerfully offers the gift to Norwell. The spirit of friendship and giving shine in this new holiday book that families can enjoy for years to come. A sparkly cover and special “undies” art underneath the book jacket only add to the charm of Mistletoe. Here’s to more Mistletoe and Norwell tales in the future! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
A Christmas book for readers of all ages and stages of childhood, Lara Hawthorne’s 12 Days of Christmascelebrates the traditional song with double-page spreads of visual masterpieces.
Hawthorne’s illustrations are reminiscent of folk art, festive colors dominant in classic Christmas red and green as well as shades of calming blue. There is a lot to see but bold patterns and vertical lines help the eye manage the details from one space to another.
As young readers listen to the original lyrics, they can dive into these detailed illustrations, playing a sort of I-spy game to find the items mentioned in the song. Older readers who are familiar with the popular Christmas song will enjoy singing aloud the lyrics. While readers explore the items, birds, and people mentioned in the text, they will also be acquainted with familiar, friendly pets that faithfully appear in each spread-making this book a perfect gift for that animal/nature lover on your list.
Secondary lessons abound: counting, memory strengthening, and identifying shapes. There is even a game in the backmatter – “everything from the song hidden in” a beautiful, busy scene that children can discover. An author’s note at the end explaining the Christian origins of the 12 days of Christmas and the history of the song is an added bonus. The fun of exploring The 12 Days of Christmas will undoubtedly last 12 months of the year. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Written by Erin Guendelsberger and illustrated by Elizaveta Tretyakova,Little Red Sleigh is a heartwarming Christmas story about dreaming big despite your size and experience.
Tucked inside the corner of a quaint Christmas shop is Little Red who is longing to become “Santa’s big red sleigh.” Despite discouragement from her friends in the shop, Little Red’s determination to accomplish her goal leads her on a quest to meet Santa and “show everyone what she [is] made of.”
Along her journey to the North Pole, she befriends others who lend a helping hand. Train takes her as far north as the tracks allow; Yellow Truck, who is on his way to deliver Christmas trees to Santa, offers a ride as well.
Impressed by their skill, Little Red wonders if she’ll ever achieve the kind of experience they have. A beautiful refrain speaks to her heart. “Life builds up one car at a time,” says the Train. “Life…build[s] up one tree at a time,” says Yellow Truck. When a snowstorm changes her original plan to visit Santa, Little Red comes to understand how she is meant to build her life up: “spreading joy, one child at a time.”
Little Red Sleigh is perfect for bedtime or anytime you’d like to cozy up by the tree with a good book. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
A little boy plants a little spruce tree, taking extra care to nurture its growth. As the years pass by, we watch both him and the tree grow up. Eventually, the little spruce becomes a magnificent, towering tree and the little boy a proud grandfather.
Joosse’s lyrical language highlights the love and care poured out on this tree, while Graef’s stunning illustrations center the spruce in double-page spreads, showcasing its evergreen majesty. The beauty of the tree (now approaching its end of life) is celebrated communally when it’s taken to the city for all to appreciate. As it winds its way from rural countryside to the big city, a sense of shared excitement and anticipation builds. People gather to watch the decorations being placed, “wait[ing] and wait[ing] and wait[ing]…everybody’s singing…for the lighting…of Everybody’s Tree!” And what a glorious tree it is, shining brightly and sharing its light for all, (including the cover which glows in the dark!).
If you’re looking for a quieter picture book this season, Everybody’s Tree is that gentle holiday story about the joy of sharing and community building. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Click here for our recent roundup by Christine Van Zandt of 7 new Christmas books. Click here for Ronna’s roundup of 5 new Christmas books.