A slight tension fills the air as dark clouds approach Noah’s house. In the backyard, restless salamanders slither “to and fro” and beetles and mice try to take shelter. Getting his tools from the yard, Noah’s father makes a thought-provoking comment: “It’s going to be a beauty.” What is? The preparation, the storm, the aftermath?
Just as Noah’s parents work hard to prepare for the storm, Noah, similarly, takes thorough care of his garden friends’ needs. For shelter, he builds an ark out of his wagon and fills the space with all the comforts of home: food, furniture, water, and light from a flashlight. Whatever his parents provide for him and his sister, Noah, in turn, provides for his critters.
Rocco’s detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations emphasize this give and take motion. On the left side of the page, we readers see the actions his parents take and on the right we see Noah mimicking that action. When the storm arrives, the illustrations once again draw similarities between the two. Both groups huddle, share food, and pass the time with calming activities. One double-page spread is particularly poignant as it draws our attention to the slats of wood—wood that boards Noah’s window and wood that houses in his garden friends. It’s a powerful image of protection and community despite the raging rain “splash[ing] down like silver swords thrown from heaven.” Banks’ imagery captures, too, the beauty and danger of their situation.
When the clouds suddenly retreat and the “sun turn[s] its light back on,” Noah is treated to a wide and stunning rainbow. A sign of the covenant between God and the earth in the original story, the rainbow here represents a symbol of peace and restoration. Two by two the creatures leave the ark and resume their roles in Noah’s garden.
So what was “going to be a beauty” after all? Dedication in caring for one another, the sense of community during troubled times, and the healing qualities of the natural world are all beautiful themes in this story. For animal and nature lovers, for those familiar and new to Noah’s Ark, for those needing a quiet bedtime story and a suspenseful adventure, Noah Builds an Ark is for any child who enjoys a timeless tale.
YOU ARE LIGHT by Aaron Becker (Candlewick Studio; $15.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews –Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
In Aaron Becker’s You Are Light, the 16-page board book’s inspirational poem is integrated with twelve quarter-sized die-cut translucent circles. These brightly colored circles ring a flower-like sun. While beautiful on its own, the book literally illuminates when held to the light. With each page turn, some disks become holes (perfect for small fingers!), until the sunset subsides to a moonlit scene.
You Are Light’s rhyming text explains how light interacts with the world and, in conclusion, how “This light is you. And you are light.” This book will thrill young readers and be sought after repeatedly for its “wow” factor and because the simple words resonate upliftingly.
COMPOST STEW: AN A TO Z RECIPE FOR THE EARTH Written by Mary McKenna Siddals Illustrated by Ashley Wolff (Tricycle Press/Random House Children’s Books; $15.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3 and up)
For International Compost Awareness Week I wanted to check out Mary McKenna Siddals’ popular picture book, Compost Stew, because it’s always recommended for Earth Day as well as when a well-crafted “green-themed” book is needed to share its important content. It turns out that while I had’t read it before, it felt so familiar because my daughter, around age five or six, used to make her own variation of compost stew although quite unintentionally! Who knew then that it would have helped our garden grow or that we were accidental environmentalists?
Earth’s resources are not infinite so it’s important for children to learn early on to treat our planet with respect, and how. In Compost Stew readers will be treated to a recipe for outdoor fun from A to Z beginning with “apple cores” and “bananas, bruised” all the way through to “yellow pine shavings” and “Zinnia heads.” But the best part is reading about what other ingredients get added to the environmentally friend concoction. Adding to the appeal of this story are illustrator Ashley Wolff’s “collage illustrations using recycled and found materials.” Not only do they pair perfectly together with Sidall’s prose, but looking at the newspaper and other items Wolff has incorporated into the artwork may yield some surprises like the stew itself.
Siddals’ story, though eight years old, feels as fresh and appropriate today as it would have when first published. And caring for our planet never goes out of style! Having reviewed several of Siddals’ other picture books (Bringing the Outside Inand Shivery Shades of Halloween) I should have known there would be catchy, clever rhyme involved bringing a bonus to this already engaging and educational story.
A helpful “Chef’s Note” is included as back matter so that youngsters will know what truly constitutes compost and what does not.
Grass clippings Hair snippping and an Insect or two
Just add to the pot and let it all rot into Compost Stew.
For example, egg shells are okay but not meat or dairy. Siddals also smartly advises readers to check with authorities for local regulations. Keeping that in mind, it’s time to start looking around to see what might go into your very first compost stew. Happy cooking!
THE DIGGER AND THE FLOWER Written and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler (Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Kirkus,School Library Journal
The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler adds a welcome new dimension to the popular construction trucks theme: thoughtfulness about the area being destroyed. When Digger finds a flower, watching over it becomes his hobby. His level of involvement escalates when the flower’s land is surrounded; eventually, it succumbs to new building.
Digitally created images contrast Digger’s sunny yellow with the muted black, gray, and white urban surroundings. The bright blue and green of the small flower imbues this cityscape, awakening something within Digger and compelling him to act. Even without the text, this vivid story is delightful.
In Joseph Kuefler’s 48-page picture book, we are shown humanity and kindness—a powerful message that addresses our need to care for the environment and one another. Yet, the book can also be read simply as another cool story about big machines.
Everyone’s favorite, Tucker, is back in Tucker Digs Easter! This adorable white dog is excited about the arrival of spring “when there’s lots of soft dirt for digging!” In fact, he’s such a pro at digging all kinds of holes to hide his bones and toys that it’s no surprise when the Easter Bunny recruits him to help dig holes for the big Easter egg hunt. But what happens after the pair dig and hide so well that the children cannot find any eggs? Then it’s Tucker to the rescue to dig, dig, dig again to find those well hidden eggs and bring smiles to all the children’s faces. This 28 page board book is a great way to make new Tucker fans while getting youngsters excited about the upcoming holiday.
The Easter Egg Written and illustrated byJan Brett (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $8.99, Ages 3-5)
Do you love Jan Brett? Then you’ll be delighted The Easter Egg is now available in board book format with a gorgeous foldout spread adding to this book’s appeal. Hoppi is going to decorate his “first-ever Easter egg!” and he wants it to be extra special. Searching for ideas, Hoppi visits various friends for inspiration. Everyone is so helpful and eager to assist him, offering super suggestions and samples. But everything looks so hard to do. It’s only when Hoppi spots a fallen blue robin’s egg that he realizes what he must do. After caring for the egg and eventually befriending the baby robin, Hoppi’s good deed is rewarded by the Easter Bunny in the most satisfying way. As always, Brett’s artwork is a treat to behold. Easter-themed borders surround each sturdy page and pictures of Hoppi’s rabbit friends busy creating their egg masterpieces hug the sides. Be sure also to point out to children all the robin activity woven into each border at the top of almost every page because that’s a whole other story in itself!
Now a charming 32 page board book, The Story of The Easter Bunny transports readers to what appears to be a quaint English village filled with thatch roofed cottages and cobblestone streets. It’s here that “,,, a round old couple were making Easter eggs.” As they dutifully toiled away, their little rabbit watched. He watched until he learned their tasks by heart so that one day, when the round old couple overslept, the little rabbit knew just what he had to do. The tables turned and now the round old couple were helping their little rabbit until one day they were simply too old to continue. Afraid that the village children would find him out, the little rabbit moved to “… a shadow-filled wood nearby.” There, with help from his friends, he carried on the tradition he had learned so well and to this day the Easter Bunny continues to spread cheer by delivering his baskets to children everywhere. Sharing this store requires carefully studying the stunning spreads so as not to miss a single detail Lambert’s included. I think some yummy chocolate should be required to accompany very reading!
WE FOUND A HAT Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
We Found a Hat concludes Jon Klassen’s terrific hat trilogy. In this book, two turtles find a hat. One hat. It looks good on both of them, creating a dilemma.
Unlike Klassen’s other “hat” books, this one is told in three parts: Finding the Hat, Watching the Sunset, and Going to Sleep. Each section advances the story with Klassen’s expected deadpan humor. With slim text (less than two hundred words), the images carry the story.
As night begins to fall in the desert, the two turtles settle in. One, however, can’t quite take his eyes off the hat. We expect the turtle to misbehave—that’s been the theme in the other two books. Does it? As the stars come out and the other turtle falls asleep, we find out.
Jon Klassen is the author and illustrator of many award-winning books, including the first two books in the hat trilogy: Caldecott Medal recipient, This is Not My Hat, and the Theodor Seuss Geisel award winner, I Want My Hat Back. His minimal text and clever illustrations meld to bring us unexpected conclusions.
Bruce Springsteen, Superstorms, and Fortune Telling on the Boardwalk
Inspiration for Mira Forecasts the Future
Guest Post for Good Reads With Ronna
By Kell Andrews
Brief Summary of Mira Forecasts the Future: Telling the future is a gift: you either have it, or you don’t. And Mira, daughter of the famous fortune teller Madame Mirabella, just doesn’t. When Madame gazes into the crystal ball, magic swirls. When Mira looks . . . nothing. Then one day Mira gets a pinwheel and a windsock, she finds her own form of “magic” in the science of predicting the weather—and saves the day for everyone! This engaging tale, with a fun touch of science thrown in, helps kids understand that we all have our own special talent.
Guest Post: I’m a Belmartian by marriage, which means I claim the beach town of Belmar, NJ, as a home. During Superstorm Sandy, Belmar’s boardwalk was destroyed, and many homes were damaged or demolished.
My beach town was on my mind when I was looking for a picture book idea, and it combined with a line from a Bruce Springsteen song, “Asbury Park, Fourth of July (Sandy).” “Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do.”
Sandy, storms, boardwalks, fortune tellers — they all came together in Mira Forecasts the Future, the story of the daughter of a boardwalk fortune teller who can’t see the future with magic, so she learns to predict the weather with science.
Mira learns about weather, and this book is the story of a girl who saves a surfing contest and the day. It doesn’t take place in the present or in the past, despite Lissy Marlin’s gorgeous Boardwalk Empire inspired ilIustrations, but somewhere in between.
It doesn’t take place in New Jersey — it could be Coney Island, Santa Cruz, or any beach town. Boardwalks and beach towns seem like tourist traps to those visiting, but there are real people who live there. I wanted to capture a warm small-town environment — flavored with salt water taffy and pizza by the slice, soundtracked by calliope music and the crash of waves.
Kell Andrews, author of Mira Forecasts the Future.
In Mira Forecasts the Future, I mixed together facts and fiction, and not just about the weather. There was a real Madam Marie, Marie Castello, who told fortunes on the Asbury boards, just as her granddaughter still does. Madam Marie was never arrested, so the fortunes she told must have come true.
There isn’t a real Mira. I hope instead there are a lot of them — kids who learn to use science to learn about nature, forecast the future, avert disaster, and make the world a better place.
Visit Kell Andrews’ website hereto find out more about the author, book signings and more.
FROM WOLF TO WOOF!: The Story of Dogs Written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)
Available April 11th, this new book, From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs, blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction. Author and illustrator Hudson Talbottdescribes this children’s picture book as his “myth of origin” in which “a myth reveals a greater truth about life in the form of a simple story.”
In this engaging story for children, Talbott writes and illustrates an imagined beginning where the first lone wolf puppy, cast out of his pack, soon befriends another loner: an orphan boy. The two build trust in one another and learn that, together, they survive better than alone.
The two outsiders are joined by other misfits. Though confrontations occur against the wild wolves and the wild humans, the new group gets along exceedingly well. In these lines we see the importance of inclusion and collaboration: “Everyone worked together and shared the food. No one was left out.”
Thousands of years of evolution then changes humans from hunters and gatherers to herders and farmers. Previously wild wolves become domesticated dogs where they continue to adapt to our needs, developing specializations such as guarding, transporting, and, most important perhaps, comforting.
Children will be thrilled that their beloved pet was once a wild wolf. It’s mind-boggling to consider that Chihuahuas, bulldogs, and sheepdogs originate from a similar ancestor. Talbott’s reimagining of the first contact between boy and wolf is a believable tale that offers an explanation as to how man’s best friend has evolved at our side throughout human civilization. The next time you listen to your dog’s howl, you will be transported back through time, back to when he was a wolf.
Winter is definitely here! With parts of the country still under a blanket of snow, it’s a good time to share some cold-weather stories. So find a comfy chair, gather up your books, blanket, and a mug full of hot cocoa and read on.
Curious About Snow by Gina Shaw A Smithsonian Book (Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 6-8) Winter time = snow in many parts of the world. Curious About Snow is a great book for curious minds! It helps little children to understand the basic structure of ice crystal, shows many photographs of snowflakes, and will probably make you want to go play in the snow! The book introduces the reader to Wilson Bentley, a man born in 1865, who dedicated his life to studying and photographing snow. You’ll be sure to learn a lot of facts while reading this book! While this Smithsonian book can certainly be loved by all ages, its target audience is elementary school children.
The Little Snowplow Written by Lora Koehler Illustrator by Jake Parker (Candlewick; $15.99, Ages 3-7) The Little Snowplow reminds me of The Little Engine That Could for all the right reasons.You’re sure to love this book if you’re craving a story to encourage your little one about perseverance and practice. The little snowplow practices everyday just in case he’ll be needed for a big job. He continues to try hard even though the bigger snow equipment don’t think he’s useful. Then comes the day where his size and his capabilities save the day! Click here for an activity.
The Bear Report Written and illustrated by Thyra Heder (Abrams; $17.95, Ages 4-8) Great storytelling happens within the beautiful artwork of Thyra Heder in The Bear Report. A young girl named Sophie is reluctant to do her homework about polar bears. After doing a minimalist job, a kind real-life polar bear shows up in her house to show her there are more interesting things where he lives. They go exploring the arctic while the polar bear shows her his favorite things – eating, sleeping, sliding. Sophie and the bear thoroughly enjoy the day together. When she returns home, Sophie is excited to share information about her new friend. This book received a star from Kirkus Reviews.
Toys Meet Snow: Being the Wintertime Adventures of a Curious Stuffed Buffalo, a Sensitive Plush Stingray, and a Book-loving Rubber Ball Written by Emily Jenkins Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 3-7) This trio is loveable! Who knew a stuffed buffalo toy, a plush stingray, and a rubber ball could be so entertaining? Even though I had not read the previous trilogy of Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party, and Toys Come Home I was easily able to fall in love with these characters as I got to know them. While their ‘Little Girl’ owner is away, the toys see the first snowfall of the season. The inquisitive buffalo gets replies from the poetic stingray and bookwormish ball. They proceed to make their way to the wintery outside world and return after a full day of outdoor play. A great book for a winter’s day!
Winter’s Child Written by Angela McAllister Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith (Templar Books/Candlewick $16.99, Ages 3-7)) The fresh illustration style and heartwarming story in Winter’s Child are sure to make this book a classic! This is a storybook, which has much more text than the trending picture books, but it is well worth the read. A young boy, Tom, lives with his mother and Nana. It has been the longest winter they have ever seen and they begin to run out of needed food and supplies. Young Tom goes out to play each day as young children do and he meets a friend. They explore and have fun together for several days, but as time goes on the little family is getting worried that they won’t be able to eat or stay warm much longer. Eventually we find out Tom’s friend is Winter’s child and he didn’t want to sleep. Winter’s child, upon seeing that Tom’s family is being negatively affected, calls for his father. Winter takes his child and the following day signs of spring appear. This beautiful story almost made me cry as I read it to my kids. I was moved by its many great messages of friendship, family bonds, and sacrifice. I highly recommend it!
Welcome to Multicultural Children’s Book Day! We’re delighted you stopped by. We’ve got a review of a terrific and unique picture book from our friends at Story Quest Books today. But before you get the scoop on Sunbelievable, please take a few minutes to learn more about MCCBD and help us celebrate and promote diversity in kidlit. Use the hashtag #ReadYourWorld and spread the word!
THE MISSION OF MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY: The MCCBD team’s mission is to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.
This multiple award winning picture book will draw young readers in immediately with its magical mood, vibrant colors and creative artwork done by cleverly combining photography and collage. Readers will feel as though they’ve stepped inside the book alongside the two adorable main characters.
The charming story opens with sisters YaYa and Leen at the beach as dusk approaches after what was clearly a busy afternoon of building sandcastles and collecting shells. Later, back at home, when it’s bedtime, little Leen doesn’t want to go to sleep so big sister YaYa makes up a story to lull her sister off to dreamland. While bringing inventive ideas into her whimsical tale of the sun’s power and all the wild and zany things it can do, YaYa manages to enthrall and entertain Leen. Does the sun really teach at Firefly School? Can flowers talk to each other? Can the sun talk to birds? Can it scrub its rays clean? The interplay between the siblings is delightful and soon Leen is joining in with a story of her own. Both girls happily drift off to sleep full of sunbeams and the promise of a beautiful sunrise the next morning.
Using peppy dialogue that kids can relate to, the authors have created a fast-paced story with jump-off-the-page illustrations that not only complement the text, but definitely add another layer of appeal to Sunbelievable. I also love the playful handling of the topic of the sun’s various roles that provide inspiration for these two young girls’ imaginations. What better way to put your own child to bed at night than with a picture book that fills growing minds with new STEM ideas to dream about? I can just hear the conversation you’ll have with your child after reading this story! This is not only a sun power story, but a girl power one as well.
In the back matter, you’ll find helpful educational information about the sun courtesy of NASA’s Chief Technologist, Robert D. Braun, Ph.D. Also included is a Firefly Lullaby poem. Its accompanying music can be listened to online at StoryQuestPublishing.com.
But why is this book included in Multicultural Children’s Book Day you may ask? Because, children of all races, ethnicities, and abilities should be represented in literature so that, as the MCCBD mission states, young readers can “see themselves within the pages of a book.” Sunbelievableis an excellent example!
RELATED ACTIVITY: Making a fun sun print (aka a Cyanotype) This easy activity requires the advance purchase of sun print paper available online or at a photo supply store. Another option is to use red or black construction paper. Once you have chosen the paper, head outdoors with your child and look for things found in nature like leaves, flowers or sticks and arrange them in a design. If you prefer, look around the house for a spoon, a coaster or a coin from your wallet. It’s recommended to use items with clear, defined borders as the goal is to have good contrast for the finished print. Place the item/s on the paper and leave out in the sun for at least five minutes. What is happening is the sun is fading the exposed part of the paper thus creating an image where the item/s were placed! After time sitting in strong sunlight, the paper can be rinsed under the faucet. Your child will soon see the image appear and in doing so learn about the power of the sun, or solar energy.
MCCBD now has its own Paper.li! A Paper.li is a free online newspaper that aggregates information on the topic of multicultural books for kids from all over the Internet. Please feel free to subscribe and stay up-to-date with this topic.
Classroom Reading Challenge: Help spread the word about our Classroom Reading Challenge. This very special offering from MCCBD offers teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children’s book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well.
What we could really use some help with is spreading the word to your teacher/librarian/classroom connections so we can get them involved in this program. There is no cost to teachers and classrooms and we’ve made the whole process as simple as possible. You can help by tweeting the below info:
Teachers! Earn a FREE #Multicultural Kids Book for Your Classroom! #teachers, #books #teacherlife http://ow.ly/UUy96
We kicked off National Poetry Month with a terrific poetry book and we’ll end the month the same way!
Let’s look atCHANGES: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow with illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke and an introduction by Zolotow’s daughter, writer Crescent Dragonwagon (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $16.99, Ages 3 and up). The late, great, award-winning author and poet, Charlotte Zolotow, wrote many of the poems I learned as a child. Perhaps you recall some of them, too.
Now with this collection of her seasonal poetry gathered together for the first time, you can share the 28 poems and watch youngsters experience the same joy you did upon hearing them years ago. The selection of poems begins with spring and finishes in winter. The book closes with a touching poem called So Will I that might even bring a tear to your eye as it did to mine.In this poem a young narratorrecounts hearing his grandfather’s beautiful memories of nature from his youthful days. This poem, like the others, as Dragonwagon so aptly points out, is “deceptively simple, transparent and refreshing as a glass of clean, clear, cold spring-water.” Drink up!
The opening poem, Change, with its subtle message, is one of my favorites. Here’s how it begins:
This summer still hangs heavy and sweet with sunlight as it did last year.
In addition to Zolotow’s cyclical poems with evocative titles such as The Spring Wind, Crocus, By the Sea, Beetle, The Leaves and The First Snow, another treat of Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collectionis that it’s full of gorgeous illustrations. Beeke’s watercolor artwork is vibrant and cheerful, composed with a light touch and full heart. With each turn of the page, there’s something pleasing to look at whether it’s a small insect on a book in The Fly or a snowy woods teeming with life in Here.
In this centenary of Zolotow’s birth, it’s wonderful that we can celebrate her contribution to children’s literature, and recognize the brilliance of her poetry which continues to resonate today as strongly as it did when first written.
Fun and Fruit is a tale about sisters Charlotte and Claire who live surrounded by magical trees which grew wonderful fruits with thousands of different colors and aromas. They devise a game in which over the course of a week, they pick a color a day, think of fruits with that color, create stories based on the fruits, and eat the fruits as snacks. On Friday the color was green, and Charlotte told her sister why pears were her favorite fruit. “When I eat them, I close my eyes and feel little sparkling stars in my mouth that make me dream.” Claire thought about grapes. “They’re little, they’re always cuddled up close together, and they remind me of the friends I always want to be with,” she said. Charlotte and Claire include their friends in their game, and all have a good time eating the healthy snacks.
The artwork by Edie Pijpers is just darling and the bright, bold colors really capture the essence of the story. The page with the children making a fruit-infused milk shake had me practically salivating: the colors are so lush and the food looks scrumptious. The illustrations of the magical fruit trees and the birds with music notes are delightful, and the moon as a banana shining over a landscape of fruit put a smile on my face. The simplicity of the children’s features, which adds to the innocence of the storyline, also drew me in.
I must mention that I feel there were lost opportunities here. With the push for diverse books and multicultural inclusion within the United States’ children’s book industry, I really wish that the characters’ Spanish names had been kept. When I’m reading a story about Spanish children living in Spain, I want to see Carlota, Clara, Emilia, and Josue, not Charlotte, Claire, Emily, or Josh. Keeping the original names would have added to the authenticity. Also, I think it would have been ideal to include Spanish words and phrases, as many parents and teachers look for opportunities to incorporate another language into children’s education. For example, when mentioning apples, it would have been opportune to say manzanas, for oranges, naranjas, for red, rojo, and so on. However, Fun and Fruit is a story that emphasizes creativity, as well as healthy eating, and is worth reading.
Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.
In Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.
Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?
This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.
In Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.
My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.
The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.
The recent discovery of the Olinguito, a new species of mammal resembling “…a cross between a cat and a furry teddy bear …” prompted Ecuadorian author Cecilia Velástegui to write a contemporary children’s fable about respect for others and for the world’s wildlife.
Shy Olinguito helps forgetful Tómas, an ancient Galapagos tortoise, recall how he ended up far from his native island and in Ecuador’s cloud forest. Due to Tómas’ memory loss and confusion, the other animals think his stories are “tall tales” and tease him. Olinguito finds the other animals treatment of Tómas disrespectful and sets out to help Tómas prove the truthfulness of his stories. With Olinguito’s support, Tómas reveals the twists and turns that took him from his island home to the cloud forest.
While the story focuses on its moral: “honor our elders and cherish our wildlife,” Velástegui uses the fable to gently point out the threats to the diverse wildlife referred to in her story. Through the long-lived and widely traveled Tómas, Velástegui hints at mankind’s devastating impact on the nature. In his narrative, Tómas refers to several “friends” who are now “gone” or “rarely seen” such as the Pinta Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, the Galapagos Petrel, and the cloud forest’s Harlequin Frogs.
Despite the dismay readers will experience over the loss of the many and striking species, the book ends on some positive notes: Olinguito shows young readers the importance of respect for others and the natural world and of standing up for friends who are being bullied or teased. Again, through Tómas, children will learn that some species, such as the Galapagos Pink Land Iguanas, are thriving and that other new species, such as the Galapagos deep sea catshark have been discovered.
Additional front and end material includes a brief note on the discovery of the olinguito, a “Facts/Datos” page, a colorful map of South America dotted with cheerful symbols marking significant cultural, historic, and wildlife locations, and photos of an olinguito and a giant tortoise.
As the book is bilingual, the layout consists mostly of two page spreads. On the left are the English and Spanish versions of the story. The right side features an accompanying illustration. Occasionally, illustrator Fang takes advantage of the expanse of the two page spread to create an illustration that floats across both pages. The illustrations contribute to the story, realistically capturing characteristics of the animals in the misty and diffused light of the cloud forest.
Primarily a fable, use this picture book with younger children as bibliotherapy for social and/or emotional issues around respect, aging, friendship, teasing and bullying. This book could be used with older children to introduce them to South American geography and ecosystems, threatened or extinct or new animal species, and the effects of exploration, colonialism, and development on the natural world and indigenous people. Needless to say it could also be used with children as a springboard for writing their own fables.
Visit the Olinguito Speaks Upwebsite for more author info, facts, and a book trailer.
The author won First Place in Adventure Fiction at the International Latino Book Awards for her adult novel Missing in Machu Picchu.
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; November 2014, $17.99; ages 6-10)
Living in southern California, my children and I can only imagine winters with the landscape covered in snow and animals nestling against the cold. Luckily, we have Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, a new picture bookby Joyce Sidman. Twelve poems capture how animals and nature manage during the north’s long and often freezing season. Some subjects, such as tundra swans and snowflakes, are cute and others like springtails (also known as “snow fleas”) and skunk cabbage, not so much. Cute or not, all topics are fascinating. Here is the first stanza of Chickadee’s Song:
From dawn to dusk in darkling air
we glean and gulp and pick and snare,
then find a roost that’s snug and tight
to brave the long and frozen night.
Facts accompany the various poetic forms. For instance, for chickadees, we learn that “weighing less than a handful of paperclips…spending every waking moment searching for food…chickadees hunt for seeds, berries, and hidden insects to build up a thin layer of fat, which must last them all night.” That is just a little tidbit of the plentiful information given. The book also includes a glossary. This makes for a wonderful way to teach poetry, science, and vocabulary from one source.
The artwork by Rick Allen adds to the feeling of a frosty winter. The book’s description states, “The individual elements of each picture… were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks… and then hand-colored. Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations.” Keep your eye out for the beautiful red fox that guides the reader through most of the pages.
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold gives us a glimpse into the natural wonders of winter.