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A Review + Interview – Karol Silverstein Interviews Author Elaine Dimopoulos

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MIDDLE-GRADE AUTHOR ELAINE DIMOPOULOS

BY KAROL SILVERSTEIN

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow (Book #1)

Written by Elaine Dimopoulos

Illustrated by Doug Salati

(May 16, 2023, Charlesbridge, Ages 8-11)

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow cover bunnies fleeing.

e

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow (Book #2)

Written by Elaine Dimopoulos,

Illustrated by Doug Salati

(May 21, 2024, Charlesbridge, Ages 8-11)

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow cover rabbit chased by birds.

 

 

INTRO + REVIEWS:

I came to these wonderful books a little backwards—that is, I read book 2 first! The good news is you do not need to have read the first book to thoroughly enjoy the second. The even better news is that both books are equally enchanting!

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow int1 Rabbits in Root Room.
Interior art from The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2023.

In The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow, we’re introduced to expert storyteller Butternut. Storytelling is a way of life for her colony of rabbits, led by the wise Grandmother Sage. Along with storytelling techniques, Butternut and her many siblings are taught to stick to their own kind and avoid unnecessary danger.

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow int2 Fierce Owl Flying
Interior art from The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2023.

All that changes when Butternut befriends a joyful robin named Piper. Her new first and best friend believes that all creatures have good in them and crave one another’s company. Butternut’s anxieties—which she calls her “brambles”—spin into overdrive when Piper suggests they befriend a wounded faun, but the more she pushes past her fears, the more confident she becomes. When the need for the titular remarkable rescue arrives, Butternut must convince her family to be as brave as she’s become to help save a litter of coyote pups. The experience changes life in the meadow for the better.
 Starred reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow welcomes back Butternut and all her meadow friends. But exciting new creatures, a traveling theater troupe of wild turkeys, enter stage right. The talented turkey thespians are marvelous storytellers, which makes Butternut a bit jealous. When the troupe enlists the meadow dwellers to put on a fabulous play, Butternut’s brambles tell her that something’s not quite right with these grandiose gobblers. She senses her friends and family are in danger but struggles to figure out what, exactly, the wild turkeys are up to and how thwart their plans.   Starred review – Kirkus Reviews

 

The first-person storyteller style employed by author Dimopoulos for both books is pitch-perfect, as are Salati’s delicate illustrations. Butternut herself spins her tales with dramatic precision, utilizing tension, foreshadowing, plot twists, and character building as any great writer would. And though the books’ characters are animals, their emotions and motivations are very relatable to human listeners. In particular, Butternut’s “brambles”—which sometimes are overwrought and hold her back and sometimes grant her heightened and accurate insights—are a wonderful metaphor for young readers who are learning to navigate and interpret their own inner thoughts.

INTERVIEW:

I asked Elaine Dimopoulos to tell me a little more about the creation of this delightful duology. Here’s what she had to say:

Karol Silverstein: The tradition of storytelling, begun by Butternut’s Grandmother Sage, is a way of life for the rabbits of Milkweed Meadow. Why rabbits and why storytelling?

Elaine Dimopoulos: In 2017 I moved to a suburban home near a meadow and saw rabbits frolicking on our lawn every morning and evening. They delighted me and my family. I decided to write about a young rabbit who lives on the border of a lawn and a meadow and who grows curious about the human family in the house although her elders have told her to stick to her own kind. The emphasis on storytelling came from my many years teaching writing. I had been rolling craft concepts around in my head for so long—conflict, tension, voice, character growth—and wanted to create a narrator who was an expert storyteller and who commented metafictively on the story as she was telling it. I had a lot of fun creating Butternut’s narrative voice.

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow int1 Butternut and Piper.
Interior art from The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2024.

 

KS: Butternut’s “brambles”—which readers will likely recognize as similar to their own worries and anxieties—are an important part of her character. Was her anxiety a characteristic you set out to explore from the beginning or did it develop as she revealed herself to you?

ED: I knew Butternut would have anxiety from the very beginning. I’d noticed an increase in anxiety in the students I taught and began to think about how many children out there were having anxious thoughts these days. I wanted to create a character they might see themselves in, who learns to manage her anxiety, act bravely, and live a full life.

 

KS: In the second book, a traveling theater troupe of wild turkeys comes to the meadow, and the Gobblers entrance the inhabitants with their theatricality. Why wild turkey and why theater?

ED: In addition to rabbits, I have gorgeous wild turkeys on my lawn! The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow is a sequel, and I really wanted to get turkeys into the first novel, but there wasn’t room. I’m so thankful I got the chance to include them in Book 2. Here’s a photo I snapped. They’re such divas!

 

Wild Turkeys in yard of Elaine Dimopoulos

 

 

As for theater, I acted through middle school, high school, and college. I love performing and knew I could write about it with expertise. I also loved the idea of the meadow creatures putting on a midsummer show.

 

KS: Redemption—and characters who change and/or turn out to be different than they first seem—is featured in both books. Why is it important to explore this theme in kids’ books?

ED: It seems to me these days that we are quicker than ever to criticize and slow to forgive. We all make mistakes, adults as well as children. If we change our mind about something and apologize, we should be able to earn forgiveness. This is an important part of human connection. We ought not to lose the ability to extend kindness to each other and to turn the page on the past.

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow int2 Turkeys and Piper.
Interior art from The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2024.

 

KS: Was there always going to be a second book (or more)? If so, how much of the plot for The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow did you have set in place before publishing the first book? If not, how did you and Charlesbrige decide to continue Butternut’s story, and what sort of decision-making went into creating the storyline of The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow?

ED: I wrote the first novel wishing that I could continue the story of these characters. Nothing was guaranteed, however, so I didn’t focus on setting anything up for book 2. The sequel was happily greenlighted before the first book came out, so I was able to influence, of all things, the map endpapers. I figured out that there would need to be a little clearing in the oak forest where the performance in the second novel would take place and also a swing set clubhouse where Butternut and the little female human from the house would meet. Doug Salati was kind enough to add these elements to the endpapers of book 1 so there would be continuity.

I knew I wanted to include a theatrical troupe of turkeys in the sequel, but I was struggling with Butternut’s central conflict. My editor, Julie Bliven, helped me see that Butternut ends the first novel confident in her storytelling abilities, so it would be interesting if this confidence was shattered when a new art form entered the picture. I ran with this idea!

I hope to write even more stories set in Milkweed Meadow. The first two books are set, respectively, in spring and summer, so I’d love to complete a seasonal quartet and write an autumn and a winter book. We’ll see!

 

Huge thanks to Karol and Elaine for this informative interview!  – Ronna

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Belmont Books (signed & personalized): https://www.belmontbooks.com/book/9781623544270

Bookshop.org: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow a book by Elaine Dimopoulos and Doug Salati (bookshop.org)

Publisher’s Page: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow – Charlesbridge

 

Elaine Dimopoulos Headshot Photo Credit Ars Magna Studio
Elaine Dimopoulos Photo Credit: Ars Magna Studio

AUTHOR BIO:

Elaine Dimopoulos is the author of several novels for children, including the critically acclaimed Milkweed Meadow series, Turn the Tide, winner of the Green Earth Book Award in Children’s Fiction, and the young adult fast-fashion dystopia, Material Girls. Elaine served as the Associates of the Boston Public Library Writer-in-Residence and has taught writing at Simmons University and GrubStreet. She lives in Massachusetts. She lives in Massachusetts with her spouse, two children, and a Balinese cat named Plato. www.elainedimopoulos.com

 

 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA:

• Author Elaine Dimopoulos

https://twitter.com/ElaineDimop

https://www.instagram.com/elaine_dimopoulos/

• Illustrator Doug Salati

https://dougsalati.com/

Doug Salati Photo Credit: Erin V Carr

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Doug Salati is the creator of the picture book Hot Dog, recipient of the Randolph Caldecott Medal and Ezra Jack Keats Award. His first book was In a Small Kingdom by Tomie dePaola, and his second, Lawrence in the Fall by his partner, Matthew Farina, was an Ezra Jack Keats Illustrator Award Honoree, a Society of Illustrators Original Art Show selection and Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection. Doug lives and works in New York City.

 

 

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Karol Ruth Silverstein (she/her/disabled) is an award-winning children’s book author and longtime SCBWI member. Her debut young adult novel, Cursed (Charlesbridge Teen, 2019), was loosely drawn from her experience of being diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at thirteen and won the Schneider Family Book Award in 2020. Originally from Philadelphia, Karol now lives in West Hollywood, California, with two unmanageably fluffy cats. Find her online at
Author Karol Ruth Silverstein.

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Picture Book Review – How to Talk Like a Bear

 

HOW TO TALK LIKE A BEAR

Written by Charlie Grandy

Illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

(Flamingo Books; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

How to Talk Like a Bear cover Bear speech bubble turtle.

 

Can you speak Bear? If you missed How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths when it came out last year, now’s your chance to get it because it’s such a playful picture book not only for the audience listening but for the reader as well.

I happen to love meta stories and this one does it so well. Bear announces he is going to teach the reader or readers how to talk like a bear to which the kid in speech bubbles who represents the audience responds, “Why on earth would I want to talk like a bear? I’m just a kid!” Think of the convincing back and forth in Todd Sturgell’s Except Antarctica. Bear explains that it’s an effective means of communication and the corresponding uproarious illustration (below), sure to immediately crack kids up, shows Bear roaring at an outdoor cafe where patrons run off in fear for their lives.

 

How to Talk Like a Bear int1 roaring Bear scaring cafe guests.
Interior spread from How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths, Flamingo Books ©2023.

 

Bear talk is not as easy as it may seem. It is open for interpretation just like when we adults attempt to speak a foreign language and think we told the taxi driver to take us to the train station but instead proposed marriage! There are important subtle differences. In this case, the trainee’s roar may not have conveyed what it was supposed to so readers end up seeing the bear told to get his haircut. Did you know that saying “ROOOAARR” rather than”ROAAARRRR” is the difference between wanting a sandwich and wanting to get into beekeeping. It seems some serious focus and visualization are needed to get the desired results.

 

How to Talk Like a Bear int2 let's start with some yoga.
Interior spread from How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths, Flamingo Books ©2023.

 

Grandy and Griffiths deliver an inventive and humorous storytime picture book that warrants multiple reads. Slow down while reading to make sure every page turn packs its punch. Allow kids to repeat the parts in the speech bubble for added enjoyment. Plus the adorable art – Bear is such a cutie full of funny facial expressions – ultimately reminds young readers that Bear is still a cub who must learn that all the well-rehearsed growls and roars may not get kids what they want if their parents have anything to say about it! And if you love this, be on the lookout for How to Talk Like a Chicken coming this September.

 

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Best Mother’s Day Books 2024

 

 

BEST MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

I Really Like Mom cover Bear holding cub.I REALLY LIKE MOM
Written by Su-an Lee
Illustrated by So-ra Kim
Translated by Paige Morris
(Abrams BYR; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

“With a sweet, universal message and charming illustrations full of irresistibly cute animals, author Su-an Lee and illustrator So-ra Kim’s picture book I Really Like Mom is a loving tribute to moms everywhere.”

Translated from Korean, this upbeat picture book featuring many different animal mom and child pairs will make young readers feel good all over. “I really like Mom,” is repeated throughout the story as it reinforces all the special things moms do. Whether it’s tucking their child into bed, or whipping up a yummy breakfast, Moms work their magic. Moms sing sweet songs and give loving kisses. “She praises me for playing nicely with my friends
as we take turns sharing my favorite toy.” I’m glad Lee chose to include that compliment since a mom’s praise means so much to children. The story ends with a human mom and her child cuddling at bedtime bringing a full day to a calm close. Kim’s included an adorable ladybug who crawls in through a bedroom window early on and is fun to spot in various scenes. Her soft-looking, sweet digitally created illustrations add to the charm of this celebration of moms. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Mamá's Panza cover Mamá hold son.MAMÁ’S PANZA
Written by Isabel Quintero
Illustrated by Iliana Galvez 
(Kokila; $18.99, Available in Spanish, Ages 3-7)

“Mamá’s Panza is a young boy’s love letter to his mother, along with a celebration of our bodies and our bellies.”
“Panza is another word for belly,” says a little boy on the first page as his mother performs a yoga pose. He goes on to describe many types of bellies. Some are “Big, round, soft, or small and hard … ” His favorite panza belongs to his mamá.
This heartwarming story is a gently lyrical ode to one boy’s mother from when she first felt his movements in her belly before he was born to the present. I loved the language and the gorgeous artwork in the spreads during Mamá’s pregnancy. Sentences such as “Mamá dressed her panza in bright colors and flowers to show the world that she was blooming,” convey a joyful spirit that can be seen on every page. Mamá’s panza is a fun place to play like a “whole mountain to climb,” and a comforting place to be cradled at day’s end. Best of all, not only does this child adore his mamá’s panza but she does as well. It carried him during her pregnancy and kept him alive. It “keeps me alive as well. How could I not love it?” Such a moving testament to self-love and body positivity. How could I not adore this touching book? • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Mother's Day Here I Come cover princess mom with kids at tea party.MOTHER’S DAY, HERE I COME!
Written by D. J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Emanuel Wiemans
(Grosset & Dunlap; $6.99  Paperback Original, Ages 4-6)   

Celebrate Mother’s Day with this collection of sweet and funny poems from the author of the hugely popular Kindergarten, Here I Come! The bestselling Here I Come! series offers parents and kids a way to learn about new experiences, holidays, and life events. Each book in the series features delightful poems about all the different moments and traditions children can expect, as well as a page of stickers.

This cheerful picture book, a new one in the bestselling series, is packed with poems on different mom-centric subjects. Here’s one depicting kids jumping on the bed called “Wake up!” which should resonate with moms (and dads) everywhere.

On Mother’s Day, Mama slept late,
but her three little cubs couldn’t wait . . .

They jumped on her bed.
“ Wake up!” they all said.
“ We’re ready to go CELEBRATE!”

From moms around the world to working moms, from handmade cards (legible or scribbled) to macaroni jewelry gifts, Steinberg addresses aspects of mothers’ lives in fresh, fun ways. Diverse characters populate the book and Wiemans’ art brings an added touch of humor to complement each poem.

Like the other books in this series, Mother’s Day, Here I Come! is sure to be a hit with children who want to honor their moms (or mums) on Mother’s Day. Kids’ll love the page of stickers too! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Illustrated by Tatiana Kamshilina
(Doubleday BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)
This book is an homage to the adults who have taken on the role of mother for children who have lost their biological parent and children who get an extra adult to love. Stephanie Stansbie’s
picture book Always Your Stepmom is a companion book to Always Your Stepdad inspired by the
loss of her biological father at age one and the addition of her new father at the age of five.
Tatiana Kamshilina’s illustrations take the reader back in time when a smiling redheaded woman
appears on the doorstep to meet the son of what we assume is her boyfriend. The dark-haired boy
smiles as he accepts a book from this unfamiliar lady. Stansbie writes in rhyme making this sweet story a heartfelt read. The trio creates new life experiences exploring national parks, while still honoring the boy’s past with photos from when he learned his first words. If I had been there when you learned your first words, I could never have cherished you more.
As the reader turns the page, new photos are placed in the photo album of the dad, his son, and the stepmom and the new life they have created together. As a new stepmom, she is shy and awkward during the boy’s fifth birthday party. We see the change in family dynamics a year later at his sixth birthday party when the kids are frolicking and she is socializing with other adults.
I’ll love you forever. You’ve changed me for good! This beautiful tribute to blended families is a loving bedtime read for both adults and children and a wonderful addition to our Mother’s Day Roundup. •Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The_I_Can_Say_Mama_Book_cover_photo_of_mom_and_babyTHE I CAN SAY MAMA BOOK:
A MY FIRST LEARN-TO-TALK BOOK
Written by Stephanie Cohen
(Source Books; $9.99, Ages 0-3 years)

Licensed and Certified Speech Language Pathologist Stephanie Cohen has created a board book designed to teach babies words used in daily routines, along with one of the best first words a baby can say “Mama.” Each page shows a photograph of a mother and her child with word bubbles expressing what Mama is teaching the baby to say.

The opening page is designed to attach a photo of Mama and each page after shows the action and the saying. “Hi, Mama!” The laughing baby says while being lifted by Mama out of the crib. “Up, Mama.” “Kiss, Mama.” “Hug, Mama.” Individual pages of vivid photos of diverse mothers show the bond between the two.

As the babies age, the words change. “Walk, Mama” and “Book, Mama” with Mama and child reading together. This is also a great book for potty training as the child learns words like “Pee-Yoo Mama” which should make everyone laugh. The back matter explains how this book should be used and how repetition is vital in teaching these keywords. “Just remember to pause each time after saying ‘mama,’ to allow your childtime to respond.” My favorite lesson in the book was Cohen explaining that “the more you read this book aloud to your child, the more engaged your child will be.” What a great first Mother’s Day to have your child’s first word be mama!
Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Additional Recommended Reads for Mother’s Day or Grandparents’ Day:

Written and illustrated by Tania de Regil
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
 Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
During her mother’s pregnancy, Julia is separated from her parents for the first time when she is brought by her grandma to spend the summer away in author/illustrator Tania de Regil’s picture book Something About
Grandma. Before reading the words on the opening pages, I was drawn into the mixed media artwork of purple and blue birds flying in the sky and the stunning landscape of Grandma’s little house in a town at the foot of the mountain in Mexico City.
Handwritten letters are dropped into the trees, clothing, flowers, and Julia’s bicycle representing

poems written by her great-grandfather and handwritten by her grandmother. De Regil’s creativity in showing us the importance of these poems was truly felt. Julia adores everything her grandma does from cooking meals with fresh herbs grown in the garden to somehow knowing when Julia sneaks out to pick daisies and limes. Grandma seemed to know everything.

Grandma sits quietly on the terrace under the night sky writing things in a notebook. Grandma
had many secrets. But the story changes when Julia receives a letter from Mom and Dad. She realizes she misses home. Grandma’s sweet brown striped cat sits on the couch looking over her shoulder knowing something is making Julia sad. Grandma, and the cat, cuddle with Julia to help make her feel better. Grandma makes her delicious hot chocolate and entertains her with tricks and games.
The reader turns the page to see Mom and Dad walk through the back door with a new bundle of joy in Mom’s arms—Julia has a new baby brother. Julia snuggles with her family as she turns the pages of the photo album Grandma had shared with her and it’s exactly what they needed. Julia looked at Grandma and smiled.
This is a moving story that depicts the love grandparents have for their grandchildren—and the adoring love the grandchild has for the grandparent. It teaches the reader that no matter how much they may miss their home that time spent with grandparents is a magical experience for all. This is a perfect new Mother’s Day read, and it is available in Spanish.  •Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here for another Mother’s Day Roundup.

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Blog Tour Day 2 for Explorer Academy Vela, The Sailor Cipher

 

BLOG TOUR FOR EXPLORER ACADEMY VELA
Book 1: THE SAILOR CIPHER

Written by Trudi Trueit

Illustrated by Khadijah Khatib

(NatGeo Under the Stars; $10.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

EAVela-BlogTourBanner

 

GoodReadsWithRonna is delighted to share this excerpt from Explorer Academy Vela: The Sailor Cipher (Book 1) available in paperback now. Get ready to get hooked!

 

ABOUT EXPLORER ACADEMY:

Adventure, danger, and school on a ship! In a special school to become an explorer, Cruz Coronado embarks on important global missions with his classmates. But he’s hunted by a murderous threat. A threat that seems linked to his mother’s murder. Cruz hopes that by finding his mother’s clues left around the world, he’ll learn her secret formula and unmask his nemesis.

 

Blogpost #2: Book Excerpt

by Trudi Trueit

 

The first chapter of THE SAILOR CIPHER has Sailor and the rest of Team Cousteau (Cruz, Emmett, Lani, and Dugan), testing the Universal Cetacean Communicator, a helmet which can translate the songs and calls of whales and dolphins into human language! Here, they’re on a boat in the Chesapeake Bay preparing to rendezvous with a pod of dolphins. Cruz is wearing the UCC helmet. The plan is for Sailor to go into the water with him as his dive buddy, while the rest of the team remains in the boat to direct the mission with Fanchon (the tech lab chief who designed the UCC),

Sailor York called it the do-or-die point.

It was the moment right before a mission began. In those tense few minutes, as you waited for the “go” signal, you could either psyche yourself up or psyche yourself out. Everything depended on the choice you made.

It was exciting. It was exhilarating. And it was . . .

Now!

Looking out across the bay, Sailor filled her lungs with one last breath of fresh sea air before lowering the dive helmet onto her head. She was alone but for a fluttering heart and her own thoughts. As her dive buddy, Cruz Coronado, connected the hoses between her rebreathing helmet and oxygen tank, Sailor tried not to think about her shoulders cooking in the September sun or the swim fin pinching her left baby toe or the grilled cheese sandwich doing cartwheels in her stomach. Most of all, she tried not to think about how much was riding on their mission—because the answer was everything.

Do or die.

“Comms check.” Emmett’s voice rang out in Sailor’s helmet. “Oops! Hang on, minor glitch.”

Sailor couldn’t help a snort. In trying to put on a headset thinner than a spaghetti noodle, Emmett had gotten it tangled in his emoto-glasses. Emmett had a passion for technology, and the frames were his own invention. They tapped into his brain waves, changing shape and color based on his moods. At the moment, the circular frames were switching colors faster than a broken traffic light. It was a comfort to Sailor to know that even cool-headed Emmett was as jittery as she was. “Okay, all set,” said Emmett. “Sailor, do you read me?”

“Affirmative.”

When Cruz, Fanchon, Dugan, Jaz, and Lani gave similar replies, Emmett pronounced all comms operational. Jaz let them know the comm link among everyone would remain open throughout the mission.

“My pre-check diagnostic shows all UCC systems are functioning normally,” relayed Fanchon. “Cruz and Sailor, be sure to keep a distance of at least thirty feet between the dolphins and yourselves. Don’t overstay your welcome. Dugan will start the stopwatch once you’re in position. Remember, if you sense any stress or haven’t made contact in fifteen minutes—”

“We’re to break off and return.” Cruz took the words out of her mouth.

Respect for wildlife was their top priority. Everyone knew they were here to communicate with the dolphins, not to disturb or frighten them.

“The pod is a mile northeast of our position, heading due south,” alerted Lani.

“This is it!” Emmett’s voice rose in pitch. “Divers, stand by for ‘go.’”

Sailor’s heartbeat thundered in her ears. She shut her eyes against the blinding diamonds of sunlight reflecting off the water. Exhaling, she pushed away all the thoughts that cluttered her mind—the scorching heat, her throbbing toe, a somersaulting sandwich . . .

“Sailor?” Cruz’s voice was so quiet she barely heard him.

She opened her eyes and turned to him. “Yeah?”

“Thanks for jumping in with me.” Cruz held out his hand.

Sailor grinned and took it. “Any time.”

“GO!”

 

Sailor is in for a BIG surprise over the next few pages. Read THE SAILOR CIPHER to find out what happens next!

 

Author TrudiTrueit 2024
Trudi Trueit, Explorer Academy series author.

AUTHOR BIO:

Trudi Trueit writes the award-winning EXPLORER ACADEMY fact-based fiction series for National Geographic, which has been translated into 20 languages. She is the author of more than 100 fiction and nonfiction titles for kids, including MY TOP SECRET DARES AND DON’TS, THE SISTER SOLUTION, and THE SECRETS OF A LAB RAT series (Simon & Schuster). A Seattle native, she makes her home in Everett, WA with her photographer husband and lives to serve the whims of their three cats. And yes, Trudi Trueit is her real name (by marriage)!

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A New Poetry Middle Grade Graphic Novel – Poetry Comics

 

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH SO …

 IT’S TIME FOR

POETRY COMICS

Written and illustrated by Grant Snider

(Chronicle Kids; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Poetry Comics cover four panels of tree in four seasons.

 

 

★ Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

 

Reading a well-crafted poem always fills me with awe. I wonder how the poet made it look so easy. The words flow magically on the page yet I know the great skill involved in composing one. That describes my first impressions of this middle-grade graphic novel. Add to that the joyful comic-style artwork and you’ve got the winning Poetry Comics by Grant Snider, a celebration of seasons and so much more, beginning with spring.
Poetry Comics int1 sprinting through sprinkler.
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.
Snider’s book puts four seasons of poetry at children’s fingertips. He captures the everyday world from their perspective. Here’s a short one I love. “Joy is the feeling of sprinting through the first sprinkler of spring.” (See the art above.) It resonated with me even though I no longer partake in this warm weather ritual. Seeing the child’s delight in this activity, filled my heart and reminded me of when my kids were growing up.
Another in this section that will spark imaginations, is the impressive “Shape Story” where the mix of shapes and verse morph into a clever story about a girl flying a kite on a sunny but windy day as rain clouds roll in. (See the art below.)
Poetry Comics int2 Shape and Balloon poems
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.
Poems come in vibrant colors and various lengths. They feature end rhymes, subtle internal rhymes, assonance, consonance, and an uplifting lyrical quality that matches the cheerful illustrations. I found myself pausing frequently to admire this engaging approach. As I read I felt this book would have inspired me as a child to try my hand at composing a poem or two along with drawings or doodles. I think it’s going to do the same for young readers today. Teachers can embrace this book for its multiple entry points whether that be for comic and graphic novel fans, reluctant readers, or poetry lovers who want to stretch that creative muscle more.
Poetry_Comics_int3_summer_ferris_wheel Poetry Comics int3 summer ferris wheel
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this unique poetry book but instead, I recommend you see for yourselves and let me know what you think.

Click here for another National Poetry Month review.

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Picture Book Review – Lost Words: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope

 

 

LOST WORDS:
An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope

Written by Leila Boukarim

Illustrated by Sona Avedikian

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

 

 

Lost Words cover Armenian families in picture frames on wall

 

 

On a seemingly ordinary day, a little boy helps Mama prepare mante dumplings. His life is suddenly and dreadfully interrupted when he receives a knock at the door. “‘You must leave with the others,’” his mother pleads while getting him and his sisters ready for the long journey ahead. She stuffs their pockets with dried fruit and nuts and sews gold coins into the lining of their coats just “in case.”

 

Lost Words int1 Armenian mother urging children to leave.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

 

The little boy has “so much … to say” to Mama, but his words are “lost”—a repeated sentence expressing devastation and shock over his new reality. He and his siblings must leave their parents behind to escape persecution. Along with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians, he is forced to walk through the Syrian desert “for days. For weeks. For months”—phrases also repeated throughout the book illustrating his heartache and longing for wholeness. 

Like the sparse words of Boukarim’s refrains, simple and soft illustrations carry deep emotional weight. The gentle, almond-shaped eyes of Avedikian’s characters convey much grief and worry. Their facial expressions are often at the center of the pages.

 

Lost Words int2 our long journey began.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

 

As the boy becomes a man and starts a family of his own, “love and laughter” begin to heal the “dark space[s]” of his heart, though the question of family history remains unanswered. That is, until, years later, his grandchild asks, “Where are we from …?” Suddenly and wonderfully, his words return to tell the story of loss, love, and resilience. The story of Armenia. 

 

Lost Words int3 in the heat and in the dust crossing desert.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

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For teachers, librarians, parents, grandparents, and anyone interested in stories about survival and hope, Lost Words which is based on a true story, sensitively and beautifully illustrates the courage to speak one’s truth. An author and illustrator’s note, a brief history of the 1915 Genocide, facts about Armenia, and a glossary are included in the backmatter

Find out more at the Chronicle website here.
Find out more about the author, Leila, here.
Find out more about the illustrator, Sona, here.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Three New Children’s Passover Books for 2024

 

 

NEW CHILDREN’S PASSOVER BOOKS

Passover Clip Art

 

 

 Afikoman Where'd You Go cover kids in treehouse afikoman on roofAFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO?:
A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure
Written by Rebecca Gardyn Levington
Illustrated by Noa Kelner
(Rocky Pond Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
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There’s a mischievous personified piece of matzoh on the loose in the pages of Afikoman, Where’d You Go? and I got such a kick out of looking for him. Your kids will too! This picture book is not only written in well-crafted rhyme, it’s also relatable to anyone who’s ever attended a Seder, Jewish or not.
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At the Passover seder, youngsters are always eager to start the traditional search for the afikoman which happens halfway through the meal. The Glossary, helpfully included at the start of the story, defines the afikoman as “The piece of matzoh that is symbolically broken and then hidden, as part of a ritual during the seder.” Children hunt for him around the house or in a particular designated room. The process varies from house to house. In this tale, the kids check out every place indoors with no luck. The wily matzoh, like the Gingerbread Man, is one step ahead. Next up, the backyard.
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Part of the fun is searching every single spread to see where Afikoman is hiding. I have to admit there was one spread where I could not locate the clever cracker! That’s the bathroom scene which I’ve checked multiple times. And when I did spot him, I laughed out loud a few times. The catchy refrain, “Is he hiding somewhere high? Is he hiding somewhere low? Afikoman? Afikoman? Afikoman? WHERE’D YOU GO?” adds to the read-aloudability.
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When the afikoman is finally found, it’s time to return to the table and continue the seder. Here’s where the author and illustrator have included a satisfying surprise ending. The detailed artwork (created using pencil, ink, and Photoshop) includes a determined family dog who, along with a diverse group of kids, team up to track down Afikoman and enjoy themselves the entire time. One of my favorite illustrations is the children’s messy bedroom. It’s hard to know if the kids did that or if it was like that already! Sure to invite multiple readings for the holiday, Afikoman, Where’d You Go? easily gets a thumbs up from me.

 

Everybody's Book cover hiding Haggadah in Mosque bookcase.EVERYBODY’S BOOK: 
The Story of the Sarajevo Haggadah
Written by Linda Leopold Strauss
Illustrated by Tim Smart
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

A richly recounted nonfiction story as colorful as the history of the titular Sarajevo Haggadah, Everybody’s Book is an enlightening read. I had the good fortune to visit Sarajevo at the end of 1989 before the city was ravaged by war but hadn’t heard about the famous Haggadah. I’m happy to have had the chance to learn. If the topic is of further interest, parents can also learn more by reading Geraldine Brooks’ The People of The Book.

The book opens with an introduction explaining how the storied Sarajevo Haggadah was first given to a bride and group circa 1350. Readers then learn that in “the late 1400s” the expulsion of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition was a scary time. In Spain, Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave. Lives were upended and never the same. Many families fled with nothing but the family that owned what became known as the Sarajevo Haggadah took it with them when they escaped. Over time the Haggadah changed hands multiple times eventually landing in Italy to a new generation of owners and ultimately to Bosnia where it continued to be used “during Passover Seders.”

“By 1894, the family that owned the Haggadah had fallen on hard times …” Alas the treasured family heirloom was sold. It was bought by the National History Museum of Sarajevo, a religiously diverse and mostly tolerant city where it was revered. The museum managed to keep the Sarajevo Haggadah safe until WWII broke out.

When the Nazis tried to get their hands on it, the fast-thinking museum director fabricated a web of lies but that didn’t stop the Nazis from searching the museum albeit to no avail. It is said that the curator then took the Haggadah to “a remote village, where an imam of a small mosque hid it among sacred Islamic texts.” When the war ended the Haggadah was returned to Sarajevo but peace there remained fragile.

After WWII, “Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats became part of unified Yugoslavia under one leader.” Following his death in 1980, tensions that had been simmering over the years reached a climax, and fighting among the three groups began. “In 1991, Serbs attacked Bosnia.” Another war threatened the safety of the Sarajevo Haggadah. When the museum was bombed the following year, a Muslim university professor helped rescue the book once again. This new war saw the destruction of the National and University Library of Sarajevo though citizens “formed a human chain to save whatever books they could. By this time, not just Bosnians knew about the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, and the world worried about this treasure.

One of my favorite spreads is the one that depicts a Passover Seder in 1995, in the midst of the war. “Christian, Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim leaders joined Jews at Sarajevo’s only remaining synagogue …” During the Seder, the Bosnian President, a Muslim, arrived with the Haggadah to assure all those in attendance that it was safe. When the war ended and the Bosnian National Museum was constructed, the Sarajevo Haggadah was restored and placed among other historic treasures for all to see. Everybody’s Book could now truly be enjoyed by everybody. Tim Smart’s watercolor art has a sketch-like, loose quality showing the flow of time and the ever-changing circumstances the Sarajevo Haggadah endured. This picture book is an important one that emphasizes how the power of people from all religions and walks of life can make a difference when they find common ground. How lucky we all are that this marvelous book from a marriage over 670 years ago has survived. Oh, the stories its pages could tell!

ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS:
A
PASSOVER CELEBRATION IN 14 STORIES
Edited by Chris Baron, Joshua S. Levy, and Naomi Milliner
Illustrated by Shannon Hochman
(Amulet Books; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

While there could be a plethora of themes for a Passover anthology, selecting the 14 steps of the Seder as an entry point is perfect. It’s what drew me to this book in addition to the title. It did not hurt that a host of bestselling and award-winning authors and one author-illustrator embraced and wrote about one particular step. Their instructions were only to approach the topic in any way they desired. This made for a fascinating and engrossing read. If I had the time, upon finishing my first read-through, I could have started all over again. It’s just that good!

As I dove in, I never knew what type of story would greet me, and that’s only one part of the magic of this holiday collection. Whatever way you choose to read On All Other Nights, you will be treated to a variety of top-notch middle-grade voices, approaches, plots, and characters. You can read it all in one sitting, devouring every delicious and meaningful step, or take it one short story at a time, savoring each one slowly like the Seder meal itself. At the start of each story, there is a brief, helpful description of the step. I was impressed at how creative the stories tackled each subject. Apropos of the title are also four thoughtful questions (the Four Questions being an important element of the Seder which generally the youngest asks) tweens can contemplate or parents and teachers can use for discussions.

Just like there are many kinds of Jewish ethnicities around the world (e.g. Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and more) and different branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and more), there are many different stories in this collection. Each story has a unique style and appeal. I loved the story featuring an Autistic character, Myra, who could not stand the smell of gefilte fish. It especially resonated with me having a son with sensory processing disorder for whom certain smells can drive him out of a room as it did for the girl in this story. Another story that’s stayed with me is the one about a family of Romanian immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side. In it, the brother and sister are tasked with getting the maror (bitter herb) for the Seder from their father’s pushcart. At his sister’s behest, the brother retells a fairy tale about a witch and a memory spell. This relates to the brother’s annoyance that his sister does not seem to remember much of their life in Romania before emigrating. Later on, the younger sister cleverly and courageously helps her brother rescue a new Polish immigrant being beaten up, revealing some surprising truths.

The fourteen On All Other Nights contributors include: Chris Baron, Ruth Behar, Adam Gidwitz, Veera Hiranandani, Amy Ignatow Sarah Kapit, Joshua S. Levy, Mari Lowe, Naomi Milliner, Soifya Pasternack, R. M. Romero, A. J. Sass, Laura Shovan, and Laurel Snyder.

Black and white art accompanies every chapter and the captivating cover invites children to think about their own role in the Seder. Readers are treated to tempting recipes in the backmatter from celebrated chefs and professionals. Contributor bios and acknowledgments can also be found there. At a recent signing event, editor Joshua S. Levy explained that the anthology is a mirror and window book. It communicates core human values to a wide audience with universal appeal. And that same evening, Chris Baron said the challenge with the anthology was “How do you breathe life into these steps?”  To which I say “Exactly like On All Other Nights did. Brilliantly!”

Click here to read last year’s roundup.

Also Recommended:

Why_on_This_Night_cover_Jews_and_Red_Sea_partingWHY ON THIS NIGHT?:
A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration
Written by Rahel Musleah
Illustrated by Louise August
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 7-11)

Publisher Description:

The rich traditions of Passover come alive in this contemporary family haggadah. Updated from the original 2000 edition, this holiday favorite is available again for families to treasure. As children and adults gather at the seder dinner to remember the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom, this creative, yet authentic haggadah will guide and engage them. Lushly illustrated, with blessings and text of every major section of the haggadah in Hebrew, English translation, and transliteration, the welcoming and accessible style of Why On This Night? will make it a treasured seder companion year after year.

 

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Five Children’s Books for Earth Day 2024

 

EARTH DAY 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

 

Love, The Earth cover Earth with a face watching child.LOVE, THE EARTH
Written by Frances Stickley
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood
(Candlewick Press; $17.99,  Ages 3-7)

In Love, the Earth, by Frances Stickley, our beautiful blue planet promises to take care of us, if only we will take care of it. Scenes unfold showing us all the Earth has to offer: “Please share my food, my lakes, my land . . . / and try to lend a helping hand.” Yet, we also see that the Earth can’t do it without us.

The mixed-media illustrations by Tim Hopgood are lush and layered. The Earth is present throughout, either smiling benevolently or saddened when its land is covered in litter. The book concludes with the Earth signing off, “With All My Love, the Earth,” a heartfelt reminder of how the planet has sustained a truly vast amount of life.

 

Solar Bear cover boy and polar bearSOLAR BEAR
Written by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
(HarperKids; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

In Beth Ferry’s rhyming picture book, Solar Bear, a magical solar bear gathers bears from around the globe to share stories about species extinction. By shining their glowing light “[on] otters, sloths, and manatees. / On coral reefs and chimpanzees,” they hope to foster a generation of “solar kids” who learn as much as possible about our animals, mindfully use resources, and talk to others to encourage environmental stewardship.

The art by Brendan Wenzel illuminates the animals. This is beautiful but also a preview of how close many of them are to becoming ghosts. When the solar animals interact with children worldwide, the love and hope come through in his illustrations rendered in “watercolor, pencil, acrylic, colored pencil, and pretty much everything else under the sun including an iMac.” While this blurb is funny, it’s also a great representation of pulling together to create. The heartwarming image on the cover sets the tone for this hopeful but urgent request for action.

 

Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet cover boy dog tree.GREEN: THE STORY OF PLANT LIFE ON OUR PLANET
Written by Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Nicola Davies’s nonfiction picture book, Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet, opens with a line about how the tree pictured doesn’t seem to be doing much, just standing around being big and green. However, we come to find the many fascinating things that trees do from the huge importance of photosynthesis to its opposite: respiration, which keeps our air in balance. We learn the history of how plants have trapped carbon dioxide, changing the air from toxic to inhabitable for all kinds of life forms.

Emily Sutton’s illustrations showcase the color green. One scene shows green existing only on a single rooftop apartment building in a city where industry is upsetting the world’s delicate balance. The story finishes with a heartwarming companion image to the opening one that sums up why green is the “most important color in the world.”

 

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth cover Sona among plants.SONA SHARMA: LOOKING AFTER PLANET EARTH
Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Jen Khatun
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 6-9)

In Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth (book two of the Sona series by Chitra Soundar), Sona Sharma’s personality continues to shine. This time, Sona and her friends Renu and Joy learn that the Earth is in trouble. Their teacher, Miss Rao, has them pledge to help look after the planet. Well-meaning Sona takes this to heart and starts making changes at home—without anyone’s consent. Who needs lights? Diapers—no more!

While the story is funny, the reality of this crisis comes through, showing ways we all can pitch in. The setting is vivid as are the characters. I particularly like how much of the plot is centered around the town’s annual kolam-making contest (“traditional designs that people draw in front of their homes to celebrate the winter months and the festival season”). Paatti (Grandma) uses rice flour to make the design but Sona’s other grandmother, the President, includes colored powders, glitter, and plastic decorations. Sona’s determined to stop participants from using artificial, bad-for-the-environment art supplies, but the contest is happening soon and it seems the rules allow these materials. Or do they . . .?

The black-and-white sketches by Jen Khatun throughout bring us right into Sona’s world showing her multigenerational family and the lovely kolam designs.

 

Be a Nature Explorer! cover backpack on grass.BE A NATURE EXPLORER!:
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES
Written by Peter Wohlleben

Illustrated by Belle Wuthrich
English translation by Jane Billinghurst
(Greystone Books; $12.95, Ages 6-10)

Fans of Peter Wohlleben’s best-selling books about trees will be glad to see he now has a hands-on guide for children in an easy-to-carry size to encourage exploration of nature, Be a Nature Explorer!: Outdoor Activities and Adventures. This illustrated 100-page book contains 52 activity ideas to keep kids busy for many outings, or even when they’re just in the backyard.

“Following Slugs and Snails” is one of my favorites because I find these creatures fascinating. I learned that snail shells almost always spiral to the right (clockwise) and sit on the right side of their bodies. If you find a snail whose pattern runs counterclockwise, they’re called “snail kings”—so exciting, like finding a four-leaf clover! You can even record a snail or slug’s slime trail imprint onto a piece of plastic wrap, then add that to your journal as part of your collection and for further observations.

This fun guide’s pages are enlivened with illustrations by Belle Wuthrich, and photos. This winning combo elevates this book to the top of my list for gift-giving. Pair this welcoming book with a blank journal and watch kids get their nature explorer groove on. Parents will thank you!

 

 

Click here to read reviews from last year’s roundup.

 

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Picture Book Review – Love Grows Here

 

LOVE GROWS HERE

Written by Chloe Ito Ward

Illustrated by Violet Kim

(Albert Whitman & Company; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Love Grows Here cover Asian girl holding title poster.

 

 

Shopping in an outdoor market with her grandmother, Obā, Aiko immerses herself in the tastes, sights, smells, and sounds of her surroundings. Ward’s economy of “warm and welcoming” words paints a bustling scene full of joy, excitement, and love—that is until a hurtful encounter with a stranger changes everything. His racist words “sharp like scissors, cut,” causing Aiko to feel confused, afraid, and heartbroken. 

 

Love Grows Here int1 Go Back to Your Own Country.
Interior art from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Stopping by a ramen shop, Aiko tells Obā’s shin-yū (best friend) about what happened earlier. In turn, Mrs. Nakano shares her experiences of confronting hate when she and her family were forced to live in a Japanese internment camp. As Aiko learns of a particularly painful part of her history, she struggles to understand why people would act so unkind. Obā eloquently expresses the root of all discrimination:  “Sometimes the fear in your heart plants roots and grows into anger.” Fear and anger. Aiko wonders, “[w]here else were they growing?” 

When they pass by Miss Chon’s café and see that it has been vandalized, they help clean up. Aiko decides then and there how to respond to the fear and anger—through a radical act of kindness. 

 

Love Grows Here int2 this is our country!
Interior spread from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Walking back home, she shares something dear to her that she had purchased from the market, handing it out to strangers as she passes along the way and watching their faces light up with joy. 

Whether at home or in the classroom, Love Grows Here provides opportunities to talk about hard but necessary topics:  racism, anti-Asian hate, and Japanese American history. Equally important is discussing the antidote Aiko chose to fight the hatred around her. Her actions echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Visit the author’s website here.

Visit the illustrator’s website here.

 

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Picture Book Review – A Place for Rain

 

 

A PLACE FOR RAIN

Written by Michelle Schaub

Illustrated by Blanca Gómez

(Norton Young Readers; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

A Place for Rain cover children in rain beside a rain barrel

 

 

From the Publisher: “A spring storm brings the chance to build a rain garden in this charming, actionable picture book about protecting our waterways.”

From Publishers Weekly: “An upbeat problem-solving story…”

 

 

With rhyming verse and bright, colorful illustrations, Michelle Schaub and Blanca Gómez tell an upbeat story of rain

 

A Place for Rain int1 drizzle turns to roar downpour.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

that gives kids a hands-on way to participate in conservation—rain gardens—in the newly released A Place for Rain!

A unique concept in the picture book space, this book would make a great classroom read-aloud for Earth Day or throughout Earth Month to promote environmental awareness.

 

A Place for Rain int2 make a trail of stone or bricks.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Simple and cheerful illustrations that begin even before the title page fill the book and help encourage page turns.

 

A Place for Rain int3 make room for rain backmatter.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Backmatter offers a step-by-step guide to help families create their own rain gardens at home, additional conservation resources, as well as a cautionary line to call your utility company before you start digging. A recommended for all who care about our planet.

Click here to download an Educators’ Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Two New Picture Books for Eid al-Fitr

EID AL-FITR PICTURE BOOKS

 

 

 

Noura's Crescent Moon cover girl look up at colorful crescent moonNOURA’S CRESCENT MOON
Written by Zainab Khan
Illustrated by Nabila Adani
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

In Zainab Khan’s picture book debut, readers meet Noura as Ramadan, a lunar holiday observed by Muslims, is ending. As the story begins she’s eager to see the Eid moon. Her father explains that in “… all the years I went with my parents to find the new moon, I only saw it once: a tiny sliver.” Readers soon see the beautiful dress Noura’s mother has made for Eid (the end of Ramadan) prayer and also find out that “Ramadan can’t be more than 30 days, so Eid has to start tonight or tomorrow night.” The daytime fasting ends and three special days of celebrations begin.

Some Muslims head to nearby mountains or the highest point around to watch for the Eid moon which is exactly what Noura’s family plans to do. Noura hopes the clouds will not obstruct her view. “Moon, please come out. I’d like to see you on my first fast.” On the hilltop, families gather for picnics and to await the moonrise. If it doesn’t appear, that means one more day of fasting. At sunset, that day’s fasting is over, and Noura enjoys a delicious picnic iftar of potato pakoras, dates, tamarind chutney, and her favorite, pink (rose) milk. Just when everyone thinks there will still be one more day of Ramadan, the clouds part, revealing a beaming crescent moon. This is also one of my favorite spreads in the book. The gradient purple sky leads our eyes to the far right where the crescent moon glows.

There’s a glossary in the backmatter but the context of the story along with the lovely illustration clues help make this picture book easy to understand and such a delight to share with children. Eid Mubarak! Happy Eid!

 

Looking for the Eid Moon cover two little girls under starry sky one holding binoculars.LOOKING FOR THE EID MOON
Written by Sahtinay Abaza
Illustrated by Sandra Eide
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

From the beginning of this charming picture book, sisters Sara and Lulu begin looking for the moon. Of course, later there would be a party with family and friends where Sara could wear her star-themed dress but “For years, the moon marked important Muslim holidays and dates. And Eid wouldn’t begin until the crescent moon was spotted.”

Sara and Lulu head out to the backyard equipped with a blanket, binoculars, and a flashlight. They search and search the sky with no luck. If there is a moon out, it’s blocked by clouds. The girls get scared on their own and, as the big sister, Sara takes it upon herself to help allay Lulu’s fears. Her thoughtfulness is a lovely element in this story. When their mother eventually says it’s time to go back indoors she tells them the moon has been spotted. Lulu cries. She wanted to be the first to see the Eid moon. To quell Lulu’s disappointment, Sara devises a creative and secret plan: crafting glowing moon rocks filled with coins courtesy of the Eid moon accompanied by a rhyming poem.

Eide’s artwork is cheerful and readers will get a sense of the sisters’ emotions in every illustration. I liked the spread where the girls’ mom flashes her flashlight. “Look! A moonbeam!” Lulu’s excitement is precious.

Not only was this picture book inspired by the author’s family tradition, Looking for the Eid Moon also conveys a caring sibling relationship and a great role model for young readers. The author’s note in the backmatter explains the two Eid holidays that occur annually. “Eid al-Fitr is a three-day holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan (the month of fast). Eid al-Adha is a four-day holiday that begins at the end of pilgrimage, in which Muslims travel to the city of Mecca for worship.”

 

Other Recommended Reads:

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr cover family celebrating holidayRAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR
Written by Sara Khan
Illustrated by Nadiyah Suyatna
(words & pictures; $14.99, Ages 5-10)

“Assalaamu alaykum!
Peace be upon you!”

Opening this joyful-looking picture book, I was greeted by a message of peace. The narrator, a young girl named Raya tells readers that she’s excited to share info about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrated when Ramadan ends as you’ve learned from the reviews above. We’re introduced to her parents whom she calls Mama and Aba as well as her sweet little kitty.

One illustration shows Raya gifted with a special calendar with “a good deed suggestion for each day of the month.” Raya explains how one feature of Ramadan is daylight fasting, but she is too young to partake. I like that Khan has shared Raya’s introspection as she wonders what it will be like to abstain from eating and drinking when she is older. Readers learn that in addition to fasting, it’s important to be on one’s best behavior to please Allah or God.

As noted in the other picture books, the meal to end the fast is called iftar and always features a date. Rayah points out how her family is culturally diverse so there is no one traditional meal making it an opportunity to try lots of different foods. And since Ramadan is a time of giving to those less fortunate, Raya tells readers how members of her family help out in a food kitchen or by donating toys and clothes to charity. Selfless giving is a way to get closer to Allah. This also includes praying and reading “the Qur’an—the holy book of Islam.”

When Ramadan ends it’s time to celebrate breaking the fast or Eid al-Fitr. Muslims spend quality family time and also come together as a community to have fun, decorate their homes, eat delicious meals, and continue performing acts of kindness. Rayah, like most children, describes how she enjoys getting and giving gifts and buying new clothes for the holiday. One tradition for girls and women, Rayah explains is: “Getting pretty henna patterns applied to my hands.”The book’s backmatter includes eight pages packed with facts, a quiz, a recipe, and a card-making activity providing an excellent introduction to anyone eager to learn about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. With its colorful art, accessible text, and multicultural characters this new picture book would be an ideal addition to any home, school, or public library’s collection.

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Easter Picture Book Review – I am Not the Easter Bunny!

 

 

 

I AM NOT THE EASTER BUNNY!
Written and illustrated by T. L. McBeth
(Flamingo Books; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

I am Not the Easter Bunny! cover bunny in bowtie with basket and eggs.

 

Sometimes kids (and parents) want to read something laugh-out-loud funny at Easter and I am Not the Easter Bunny! fits the bill. Written and illustrated by T. L. McBeth, this delightful picture book features a narrator in conversation with the titular main character who, as we read on, is doing everything in his power to convince the narrator that he is NOT the Easter Bunny. “It’s just that it would be SO EXCITING to meet the actual Easter Bunny, you know?” the narrator remarks. And yes, it sure would be!

 

I am Not the Easter Bunny! int1 bunny denying he is the Easter Bunny to narrator.
Interior spread from I am Not the Easter Bunny! written and illustrated by T. L. McBeth, Flamingo Books ©2024.

 

The narrator asks a lot of good questions and offers insightful observations. One of my favorite responses to the narrator’s curiosity is right in the beginning. “Not every bunny is in the Easter business. In fact, my mother is a very successful dentist.” As the conversation between the narrator and the rabbit continues, young readers’ suspicion will grow seeing spread after spread of Easter Bunny-like behavior. Recognizable examples help little ones spot holes in the bunny’s story and add to the humor.

When the bunny steps out with a basket, the narrator notes it. The bunny claims it’s to go grocery shopping. When the narrator wonders why the bunny is buying eggs, the bunny is aghast at being followed into the store. But why does Bunny have jelly beans on his shopping list? Bunny’s behavior may make children believe his denials but as the story continues they will realize he is protesting way too much like a character right out of “Hamlet.”

 

 

I am Not the Easter Bunny! int2 an awfully suspicious grocery list.
Interior spread from I am Not the Easter Bunny! written and illustrated by T. L. McBeth, Flamingo Books ©2024.

 

The is-he or isn’t he back and forth keeps kids guessing and turning the page. The clever ending will satisfy all readers who, at some point, may have started feeling guilty about mistrusting the fluffy white bunny who seems to be just trying to get on with his day. With speech bubbles for the rabbit character and text for the narrator, I am Not the Easter Bunny! invites multiple reads and role-play over the holiday. Use McBeth’s cheerful color scheme for decorating Easter eggs after reading the book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

Additional Recommended Reads:

Is This Easter cover dogs staring at eggIS THIS … EASTER?
Written and illustrated by Helen Yoon
(Candlewick Press; $10.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

Bear Finds Eggs cover bear bunnies mole eggs.BEAR FINDS EGGS
Written by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Click here for last year’s Easter Roundup.

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Picture Book Review – Looking for Happy

 

LOOKING FOR HAPPY

Written by Ty Chapman

Illustrated by Keenon Ferrell

(Beaming Books; $18.99; Ages 5-8)

 

Looking for Happy cover a boy and his different moods.

 

 

Author Ty Chapman says, “Some days, Happy is hard to find,” and that’s the theme in Looking For Happy, a heartfelt picture book about a Black child who is usually happy but on this day he struggles to shake the blues.

Digital animator and illustrator Keenon Ferrell introduces the story with a vibrant blue visible outside the window beside a smiling boy listening to music and dancing. He’s happy at this moment in time. But the next page depicts a new day, and the smile is missing from his face. “Today, though, nothing makes me happy.” The reader sees that there isn’t always a reason for feeling sad, but the boy tries his best to escape his gloomy mood. He reads a book about fighting dragons, another about scuba diving, and then a book about space. Nothing. His brain can’t focus. This is very relatable.

 

Looking for Happy int1 a boy listening to music at home.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

Even though his little sister is laughing in front of the television he can’t crack a smile. He’s just blue. The day continues as he spends time with friends but he’s just not feeling it so he goes home. Lying flat down on the living room couch, he tells Grandma he’s not happy and with sweetness and support Grandma replies that everyone feels like that sometimes. She suggests they go for a walk.

 

Looking for Happy int2 a sad boy on sofa watched by his grandma.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

The neighborhood park is filled with older kids playing basketball and an elderly woman walking her fluffy brown dog. Everyone looks happy but the boy is still feeling sad inside. They continue their walk, holding hands, searching for something to put a smile on his face. The boy describes his feelings as rocks in his chest. Chapman brings words to feelings that are often hard to describe. The boy wants to go home but then hears a wonderful sound. Illustrations of musical notes float through the playground and the boy runs towards the sound.

Ferrell’s art reflects his African American heritage and love for music with the park musician playing the saxophone. “You have a song you want to hear?” the man asks with Grandma whispering the name of her grandson’s favorite song in his ear. This is when the story begins to change. We see his body move with the beat of the music and a smile appears on his face. Grandma joins in and together they sing and dance. “The rocks in his chest are gone.”

 

Looking for Happy int3 boy and his grandma at park.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

This thoughtful tale conveys how music helps to remove bad feelings and models for kids that “sometimes a happy song is right around the corner.” Chapman’s literary accomplishments are quite impressive and his writing in this story flows like the notes from a saxophone. What a great lesson showing that sometimes there isn’t always a reason for feeling a little down and that in those cases, maybe we all just need time to pass or to hear an uplifting tune. This is not only a lesson for kids but a lesson for anyone needing comforting words to get them through a difficult day.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – The Jake Show

THE JAKE SHOW

Written by Joshua S. Levy

(Katherine Tegen Books; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

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The Jake Show cover featuring three boys Jacob Jake Yaakov e1709342039991.

 

 

I deliberately avoided reading anything about The Jake Show by Joshua S. Levy before uploading it onto my iPad. I’d also committed to reviewing it for Multicultural Children’s Book Day before it received its esteemed Sydney Taylor Honor. I had no idea what a treat was in store for me.

The main character, seventh-grader Jake, is in a tricky situation at home or should I say homes since his parents are divorced and both have remarried. At his mom’s place, he’s called Yaakov and feels pressured to conform to her wishes. She is a religious Orthodox Jew and her husband is a Rabbi. When he’s with his dad he’s Jacob because his dad is a secular Jew, at one point even forgetting some Hanukkah details, and his second wife isn’t Jewish. Readers will understand this boy’s dilemma. Jake, the middle ground name he uses at school, must constantly perform to please each parent while not knowing what he truly wants, only that it’s taking an emotional toll on him. It’s one thing when you’re in a film, TV show, or on stage; when the project is done you go home and cast aside your role. In Jake’s case, that’s when the acting begins.

Jake starts a new school as the book opens and is quickly welcomed by two classmates, Tehilla and Caleb. Jake is pretty sure he’ll be leaving this school since previously he’s had to attend schools either only his mother wanted or his father wanted. So, why bother making friends when you’re just going to leave because one parent is not happy? This begs the question of why the adults in Jake’s life seem to have all the agency and Jake none.

When Jake decides to attend Camp Gershoni for the summer at his friends’ urging, he knows it’s time to take matters into his own hands since neither parent will agree it’s the suitable choice. I was happy Jake chose to go camp but I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the myriad lies he tells. He concocts a wild plan straight out of an “I Love Lucy” episode. That airport scene, which includes outfit changing, is hysterical and I could see the entire scene playing out in my head as I cheered for him. All through his elaborate scheme, Tehilla is urging Jake to come clean but he’s in too deep.

Levy has infused The Jake Show with the perfect amount of humor to counter some of the serious issues presented. Much of the LOL moments are due to his friendship with Caleb and Tehilla who, outliers themselves, may understand Jake better than he can understand himself. I found myself eager to see what antics the trio would get up to next and that was facilitated by chapters that seemed to speed by. Secondary characters including Jake’s stepparents feel well-developed and bring levity into his home life. Jake needed to be seen and they saw him.

Readers learn that Jews come from all walks of life, some well off, some not. Tehilla and her mom struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Caleb, who is wealthy, despite the trying times he’s faced since coming out, can count on the support of his family, Tehilla, and now Jake. Yet the more Jake becomes preoccupied with his elaborate scheme and the more he lies to keep up the pretense, the harder it is to see certain truths: truths about his friendships and his family that he is just one more lie away from losing if he doesn’t own up to his charade.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Board Book Review – Pablo Dreams of Cats

 

PABLO DREAMS OF CATS

Written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder

(Atelier Enfants; $18, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats Cover Dog Painter Pablo

 

Publisher Summary:

Pablo dreams of painting cats. But his pack doesn’t approve and the cats just dash away from him. Will this painter ever be able to make the art he dreams of?

Dutch artist Timo Kuilder’s first children’s book introduces us to an imaginative dog who is infatuated with cats, celebrating diversity and inviting all animals to conquer their misconceptions, and embrace everyone.

Review:

This adorable board book, Pablo Dreams of Cats, the debut from Timo Kuilder, features the titular canine painter on its cover in elegant profile, wearing an artist’s smock, with tools tucked securely into the pocket. And that beret he dons tilted just so, speaks volumes. I was Team Pablo there and then. But if that doesn’t pull readers in, perhaps the appealing opening line, “Pablo is not a regular dog,” will.

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats int1 Pablo is not a regular dog.
Interior art from Pablo Dreams of Cats written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder, Text and Illustrations © 2023 Timo Kuilder, Atelier Enfants

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Young readers soon learn that Pablo is a creator, passionate about painting. Using his paws and tail, he applies paint to the canvas while his pack prefers playing with bones. Kuilder introduces the tools of the trade that Pablo needs including a “sturdy brush, a painting knife, and a small wooden palette to mix his paints.” The graphic-style art is easy on the eye and the warm palette is pleasing.

Pablo is enamored with cats. They are his subject of choice though his fellow dogs find that hard to believe. How can a dog like cats? Don’t they typically not get along? Still, Pablo persists, trying to capture their likeness in paint. Except the cats are scared of Pablo. I love that Kuilder’s mentioned that often Pablo ends up only paining their behinds. That is sure to get laughs.

 

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats int2 dogs admiring paintings of cats.
Interior art from Pablo Dreams of Cats written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder, Text and Illustrations © 2023 Timo Kuilder, Atelier Enfants

 

After the urging of his friends, Pablo gives up trying to paint cats and turns to birds instead. They do not cooperate either. Pablo tosses in his beret. No more painting. Then, one day, a cat appears, unafraid and willing to pose for Pablo. Pablo paints and paints, happy he has found his muse and it shows in his beautiful paintings. Even his initially reluctant pack cannot deny the “magnificent” works of art. It’s great to find board books that inspire preschoolers to reach for some paint and brushes to try their little hands at art. I encourage parents, teachers, and caregivers to have some supplies close at hand after sharing this sweet story that challenges stereotypes and tips its cap at inclusivity and creativity.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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