I love it when picture book art begins on the copyright page and continues onto the title page giving readers an early taste of what’s to come. That’s what first struck me about author-illustrator Paula Cohen’sdebut, Big Fish, Small Dreams. In fact, Cohen’s charming digitally colored pencil drawings include Shirley’s right foot being lifted out of her shoe when the small girl nails the word fish on the title page just mentioned, an actual black-and-white family photo hanging on the wall, to Hebrew lettering under the sign “Gefilte Fish .40/piece.” Then there are the evocative outfits and old-fashioned food packaging helping to transport readers back in time to the small family grocery store inspired by her grandparents’ shop in Upstate New York.
Each family member in the book has a major role to play, Uncle Morris stocked the shelves and no one made a taller tower. Papa kept the store tidy and helped customers. But, it seems there was one item, a staple to the immigrant Jewish family that others in the neighborhood would not buy, gefilte fish. “No one would even Try it.” I have to say I could relate to the reluctance of the neighbors. My grandmother would serve jarred gefilte fish, and the only way I would eat it was smothered in horseradish sauce. Learning that some families made it homemade, however, did change my feelings towards this Jewish specialty.
Shirley may be young but she believes she has big ideas to sell this stuffed fish. Cohen illustrates signs near the cash register—Follow Me to Fish and This Way to Fish. And we see the smile on the brown-haired girl with orange ribbons in her braids standing near the store’s gefilte fish table. She thinks of how to make things faster, prettier, and more modern. Yet nothing would move those cans of gefilte fish.
Shirley’s family says they didn’t come to America for their daughter to solve problems, but then a miracle happened. The family rushes to the hospital when it’s time for Aunt Ida to have her baby leaving the store in the hands of Mrs. Gottlieb who Cohen draws snoring in the back of the store. This is when young Shirley and her precious white cat get busy. She decorates the store and offers “serve yourself pea soup.” But her biggest idea comes when Mrs. Hernandez arrives to purchase tomatoes and a pound of kugel. Shirley packs up her order nicely and places a surprise inside the bag. The drawing of Shirley innocently placing the tin of homemade gefilte fish in the brown paper bag is quite a sweet moment. More customers arrive and more gefilte fish is distributed with the sign “Buy Anything And Get A Surprise” hanging on the wall.
A grey, yellow and brown illustration of the neighborhood apartment building shows neighbors from various ethnicities tasting this new treat with smiles on their faces, but when Mama and Papa return from the hospital to an empty pot and no cash in the register our little protagonist is sent upstairs to go to bed early. The next morning neighbors are lining up for this Jewish delight: gefilte fish. And Mama and Papa couldn’t be prouder. “You know Shirley, you have some pretty good ideas in that keppele after all,” said Mama. Cohen weaves some wonderful Yiddish words into her story making the characters come alive on the pages. (Keppele means little head in Yiddish).
Cohen’s back matter tells the meaning of the Yiddish words she uses. She also explains the story of gefilte fish, along with supplying the Russ Family Salmon and Whitefish Gefilte Fish recipe. I loved learning about Paula’s family story. Both her words and drawings leave the reader feeling like they knew her. Sadly, before this book had a chance to reach readers’ hands in early 2022 Paula passed away suddenly. She is a woman I would have loved to have met. She recorded a beautiful video of herself emotionally opening the box that contained the book, and I am so grateful she had that joyful moment. Sharing this book with friends and family is a great way to assure that Paula’s story will not be forgotten. May her memory be a blessing.
Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Read the Publishers Weekly obituary for this talented author-illustrator hereand visit her website here.
Rosemary Wellsintroduces the reader to her family’s history in the telling of a rocking chair built by her great-great-grandfather. We travel with the author of more than one hundred books for children, and winner of the Christopher Award, on the road imagining where the chair may have traveled inThe Welcome Chairwith illustrations by the lateJerry Pinkneywho has earned seven Caldecott Medals, five Coretta Scott King Awards, five Coretta Scott King Honors, five New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Awards, and the Original Art’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Learning about family history is so much fun, and reading the story of Sam Seigbert who was born in 1807 in Bavaria, and brought to life by Wells from a family diary, was quite fascinating. Wells’s great-great-grandfather was destined to be a carpenter, but his father insisted that he study the Torah to become a Rabbi like him and his grandfather. “It’s settled. You will not work with your hands like a country bumpkin.” But that was not what Sam wanted, so at age sixteen he cut off his sidelocks, so no one would bully the Jewish boy, and hiked north to find work as a deckhand on a freighter for three pfennigs a day. The captain noticed Sam could read and write and offered him a job logging inventory on the ship. When the ship docked, Sam “darts away across the Brooklyn docks into the screeching, shrieking, filthy, clanging, terrifying, ugly and beautiful young city of New York.”
Pinkney’s extensive experience led him to execute the illustrations with contour drawing and watercolor washes, and pictures using burnt okra Prismacolor pencils and pastels. It was a perfect choice to showcase the 19th century as Sam meets Able Hinzler, and his wife Klara, and is hired on to become the bookkeeper and apprentice carpenter for Hinzler’s Housewright shop. When Magnus Hinzler is born, Sam carves a cherrywood rocking chair for Klara to sit in comfortably with the word “Willkommen” meaning Welcome in German across a panel. This is the start of the chair that had many lives.
As told by Wells, Sam moves to Wisconsin with the Hinzler family. “The rocking chair goes with them. One evening he meets Ruth and falls in love with her gentle laugh and green-gray eyes. When their firstborn, Henry, arrives Sam carves Baruch Haba—Hebrew for “Welcome”—right under “Willkommen,” into the chair’s panel so that Henry will know his heritage.
When Wells was ten, her grandmother showed her the diary that was written in spidery old German by Wells’ great-great-grandmother Ruth Seigbert and read it to her. She decided to write a memoir of the diary in the first half of The Welcome Chair that ends in 1918 and brought to life the rest of the story through stories she was told.
In 1863, Henry was killed in Gettysburg and his younger sister Helen eventually married Harry Leopold. They moved to New York, and you guessed it, the chair travels east by railway. When Helen hires Irish girl Lucy as the family seamstress, she gives Lucy the chair as a wedding present and the word “Failte”—Irish for “Welcome” is spelled out with brass letters.
We watch the clothing and people change, showing Pinkney’s research, along with the timeline. Years have now passed and the chair moves from trash on the sidewalk picked up by a junkman, to Santo Domingo nuns living in Newark, New Jersey who carve “Bienvenido” in Spanish into the wood. When the nuns pass away, the chair is placed in a rummage sale in 2010 where Pearl Basquet’s mother grabs it. “’Our Welcome Chair needs a new word,’” says Pearl.” Her father chisels “Byenvini”—the Haitian word for Welcome.
This is a beautifully told story tracing the history of what was, to the present of what could have been. If these walls could talk what would we know about old family heirlooms? Wells and Pinkney give readers a beautiful glimpse into the “what-if.” Grandparents can read this meaningful story to their grandchildren, and tell their family history to be shared from generation to generation.
“Inspired by six-year-old Gianna Floyd’s words about her father, George Floyd, in the wake of his murder, this picture book centers the loving relationship between fathers and children.” – Publishers Weekly
This picture book resonated with me having just recently lost my dad making it my first Father’s Day without him. The lyrical stanzas describing love, truth, comfort, learning, heroes, trust, and pride unfold at a perfect pace as we glimpse special moments and lessons learned passed down from father to child.
Peopled by a diverse group of fathers and children and narrated from a child’s point of view, this picture book beautifully explores the importance and influence of fatherhood, especially for those of color. Using the powerful refrain “Daddy speaks” throughout, the text addresses simple activities (bedtime stories) to impactful insights only elders who’ve been there can share. “Daddy speaks LEARNING when he says, “’Listen up. This world isn’t always fair. This world isn’t always kind. And this you’ll need to know.’” Lewis’s moving watercolor illustrations present a realistic portrait of the characters in a warm palette that complements Henderson’s meaningful prose. The book includes a must-read author note at the end.
I love how author-illustrator Brian Biggs has taken the “dad as superhero” story and turned it on its head. They’ll also see a father very active in caring for his daughter. Despite that, it’s obvious to little Abigail (aka Awesome Girl) that her father is not really listening to her or believing her amazing adventures. His priority is getting her bathed, while Awesome Girl’s goal is to serve mankind, rescue her cat from a tree (even though it doesn’t need rescuing), and “Save the day!”
When Abigail remains in the tub and her father goes to make dinner, her need to fight for truth and justice is once again spurred into action. A purple octopus monster abducts Abigail’s dad and is threatening him for not believing in his daughter. Awesome Girl, with her fab feline sidekick, must rid the city of this menace. And she does so in a cool, comic-book-style action sequence! In an adorable show of solidarity, Awesome Dad emerges safe and impressed following his daughter’s show of strength. Seeing is believing in this delightful story. The mixed-media art along with the hand lettering in My Hero brings energy and entertainment to this thoroughly satisfying read. Don’t miss the bonus treat hiding under the dust jacket!
Meet a variety of daddies doing all sorts of daddy things with and for their children. The premise of Ekster’s picture book is simple: Dads are all different and approach their lives and childrearing in their own unique way. And just as no two dads are alike, no two kids are either.
For little ones, the fun part will be both the read-aloud aspect and hopefully seeing a father (or father-figure) between the pages they can relate to whether it’s a dad who goes to work dressed in a suit, in a uniform, or in pajamas working from bed. Some dads are sporty while others like to read (and ultimately nap!). I also enjoyed Mac-lean Alvarez’s vivid artwork depicting these same fathers throughout the story often interacting in scenes where the older reader or caregiver can point out details included such as a dad who missed catching his daughter and ends up in the doctor’s office. More a concept story than one with a plot, Some Daddies delivers in demonstrating that there is no one type of daddy, but since there is no one type of kid, that’s just fine.
Click here to find more Father’s Day book reviews.
In the sweet picture book, Until the Blueberries Grow, it’s time for Ben’s great-grandpa to move—into a home he can care for on his own. But Ben is not ready to say goodbye. Maybe Zayde (Yiddish for grandpa) can stay until the blueberries grow . . . or the grapes are ripe . . . or the snow falls . . . or the flowers bloom.
From Kirkus: “Ben tries to convince his great-grandfather to stay in his house just a little longer as the two celebrate a yearly cycle of Jewish holidays together. This sweet story of family abounds with food, flowers, and quality time with loved ones.”
As a loving great-grandfather, Zayde always seems to find a reason to spend a little more time at home with his great-grandchild.
Until he can’t.
Sally Walker’s expressive art pairs perfectly with Jennifer Wolf Kam’s dialogue-driven storyline to depict a beautiful, multigenerational relationship between Ben and Zayde. This charming story would make an excellent introduction to Jewish terms and holidays, yet it’s the universal challenge of dealing with change that makes this story relatable to any child, regardless of religious affiliation.
This is the time of year when many people attend graduations. And not just high school and college graduations. They go to all kinds of graduations from kindergarten to massage school and lots more in between. But the road taken may have been long and winding with obstacles and indecisiveness. And what of the road ahead? That’s why it’s so lovely to have a book such as The Pathby Bob Staake that celebrates the journey as much as the accomplishment. In other words, this book is ideal not just for the graduate, but for celebrating individuality as well.
Acclaimed New Yorker cover artist and author and/or illustrator of more than 50 books, Bob Staake brings readers both young and old a picture book that simply and gorgeously addresses the highs and lows of life’s pathways. They are not always straightforward.
Written in second person, the prose does not always promise that things will be easy and that’s the honesty that appeals to me. It’s also how Staake’s stunning illustrations and color palette convey this message. The path doesn’t always lead to ribbons and rainbows. But as things begin looking up for the traveler, the colors begin to lighten up, too.
This is a picture book about possibilities. It’s not just about the path we choose but about our outlook, and our perspective. I think reading The Path together with kids can help them not only look at what choices exist but it can also help them understand what taking each one will mean, and how to forge their own unique way in the world. What a super conversation starter for parents, caregivers, and teachers about self-reliance at an age when children are beginning to assert their independence.
Find an exclusive bonus print from Bob Staake inside the jacket.
The dynamic duo of I Am a Thief by Abigail Rayner (author) and Molly Ruttan (illustrator) have created a new picture book sure to spark conversations about this timely issue.
Violet used to love birthday parties, but now that she has celiac disease, she’s not allowed to eat pizza, cake, or anything else with gluten. Violet feels alone until she discovers that some animals have dietary restrictions as well. While standing up for her animal friends, she realizes she can do the same for herself. And when it’s time to celebrate Violet’s birthday, there isn’t a single gluten-containing crumb in sight!
Filled with pluck and humor, this informative story provides a great opportunity to discuss this increasingly common condition with children who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance as well as those who know people who have it and are seeking to learn more about it.
Watch the trailer and hear about illustrator Molly Ruttan’s experiences working on Violet on the North/South blog.
Click here to find Violet teacher resources including activities and coloring pages.
INTERVIEW WITH MOLLY RUTTAN
Molly Ruttan: Before I start, I want to thank you for featuring me on your amazing blog, Ronna! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my new book!
GoodReadsWithRonna:I’m happy to be able to showcase you and your artwork here today and I appreciate that, in the midst of all your promotion, you made time to answer these questions.
GRWR:What would you say, as an author-illustrator with several books under your belt, is the biggest challenge when illustrating someone else’s manuscript as compared to your own? Is the approach the same?
MR: As an author-illustrator, the process of working with the text and the pictures at the same time feels very natural to me. When I work with a manuscript someone else has written, I shift my process a bit. Jumping into a manuscript that someone else has written is like diving into the deep water, as opposed to wading out there. But the deep dive is part of the joy, and as I work on mapping out the book and making the little dummies I begin to develop a solid connection to it. The connection becomes even stronger as I go through the process of finding the characters. By the time I have all the characters and their setting, and I have begun the full-size book dummy, I have become so familiar with the story that the process feels very much the same from that point forward. Of course, not being able to touch the words can sometimes be frustrating, but I have found that often it will push me to dig for visual solutions that are extremely satisfying to find.
GRWR: Was there much research involved about celiac disease before you could begin your sketches?
MR:I didn’t have to do a lot of research about celiac disease beforehand because, being somewhat gluten-intolerant myself, I knew enough about it to get started. Abigail Rayner, being the author and celiac-disease expert, reviewed my drawings along the way and made helpful suggestions. Our editor worked closely with the Celiac Disease Foundation, including sending the final draft of the book to them for review. And since NorthSouth Books is an international publisher and a German version of the book is also being released in DACH (Germany, Austria & Switzerland,) European gluten-free guidelines were also verified. For my own part, the end pages required the most research ahead of time, as I wanted to depict the grains and different plants as accurately & specifically as possible.
GRWR: How would you describe the particular technique that you use for illustrating? Please tell us how you achieved the look of the gluten clouds that accompany the crumbs!
MR: I would describe my technique as a wonderfully messy collaboration between traditional and digital media! I work with charcoal and pastel on watercolor and other papers. I use a charcoal pencil for the drawings, pastels for the color, and charcoal stencils for the gradation, shading and textures. Naturally, charcoal and pastel dust gets everywhere as I scan (I don’t spray my drawings because of a slight allergy to the fixative). Then the less-messy part of the process starts as I wipe down my scanner and paint digitally in Photoshop. I love the blend of charcoal linework and texture with the pastel color & texture I can create this way. Sometimes I also add liquid acrylic washes and texture as well. I love working traditionally but I also love all the options working digitally provides.
To create the gluten clouds that accompany the crumbs throughout the book, I used a slightly advanced photoshop technique. I scanned in all the stenciled swirly shapes I had created with charcoal-like I usually do, but then I colorized them using the channels. I love this technique – it gives me incredible flexibility because I can make the charcoal any color I want! And I love how the pastel and charcoal textures merge.
GRWR:What gave you the idea to make the evil gluten crumbs into characters?
MR: What—do you mean to tell me crumbs aren’t really alive?? Haha, seriously though… the idea to make the crumbs into characters was a collaboration. There was an art note in the manuscript suggesting “evil crumbs moving between food items via hands”, and my wonderful editor, (who I had worked with before on my first book with Abigail Rayner, I am a Thief!) remembered how I had animated the jewel I had done for that book and suggested I could do something similar with the crumbs in this book. What the crumbs looked like was obviously up to me, and I decided it would be more fun to make them grumpy, argumentative and disgruntled rather than straight up evil– I wanted to have more variety of expression, and I didn’t want them to be too scary.
GRWR: Did you always imagine Violet in a super-hero type outfit?
MR: In the text, Violet “takes desperate measures to defy the crumbs at school”, and there was an art note suggesting that she makes some sort of ridiculous protective suit. Since I had the idea to make crumb “clouds”, I gave her a suit based on rain gear, including an umbrella. But I felt something was still missing—so in my doodles, I spontaneously added a cape, and Violet’s superhero avatar sprung into being! I loved this solution because it freed me to play with her as that identity as she helps her animal friends. It also perfectly emphasized her heroic journey. I often find that the spontaneous solutions that come to me through drawing are the most fun and rewarding!
GRWR: You capture the expressions on Violet’s face and her body language so well. Does this process take a long time until you feel you get it right?
MR: Some drawings fall into place and others take a long time, but I usually get the gist of what I want right away in sketches, and then refine the expressions & poses when I make final drawings. When I’m drawing, I catch myself unconsciously making faces that match the expressions I’m drawing – this is when I’m grateful that I work alone, haha! I like getting into the position and acting out what I’m trying to draw too. It helps me feel what the characters are experiencing and helps the drawing of it.
GRWR: Were the beautiful and info-filled illustrated endpapers your idea? It’s great how in the front you depict foods containing gluten and in the back, you show which grains, starches, or flours can be part of a gluten-free diet.
MR: Thank you! I really enjoyed illustrating the end pages! I knew from the beginning that there would be back-matter on the back end pages – originally it was one page for the “About Celiac disease”, and a spread for a recipe and the rest of the information. When my editor saw my sketches, she suggested we would drop the recipe and spread out all the information across the two end-page spreads. I loved this idea, and we decided it would be fun to separate the gluten and gluten-free information to the front and back spreads, just the way the kids separated the food on the picnic table!
GRWR: Can you share with us any new projects you are working on?
MR: I recently submitted all the final art for my next author/illustrated book, Something Wild, published by Nancy Paulsen Books.It’s about stage fright—something I have battled my entire life. The book tells the story of a girl who loves to play her violin but is terrified of the upcoming recital. She imagines all kinds of wild things she wishes would happen to keep her from having to perform. It’s a subject very close to my heart and I’m excited about it! It comes out in a year—April 2023.
I’m currently illustrating another book which I’m also very excited about, written by Stacy Lynn Carroll, called The Yowlers, also published by Nancy Paulsen Books. It’s about a grumpy family who transforms as they experience the joys of goodwill and graciousness under the influence of new, happy neighbors. This book is slated for April 2024.
I also have a very active critique group that keeps me busy with sharing new ideas. I have one book almost ready to go back out on submission. My list of things to work on is always very long!
GRWR:And finally, can you offer aspiring illustrators any word of advice that you got as a beginning illustrator that has stayed with you over the years?
MR: I love the Oscar Wilde quote: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” As a twin, this quote has been particularly helpful for me in all aspects of life! But thinking of this as it applies to my own art has been—and continues to be—also very helpful. It goes along with what my wonderful teacher and mentor Marla Frazee once told our class—that often we tend to think that what comes easy for us isn’t valuable or legitimate because it’s easy. It is just the opposite! Not everyone finds doing whatever that is that you do, easy. Lean into what flows out of you, inspires you, and gives you joy.
GRWR: Thanks so much for all your great answers, Molly. It’s so fascinating to get inside the head of creators!
MR: You are so welcome!! And thank you so much, Ronna, for having me on your fantastic blog! I know you have been through a lot lately, and I really appreciate your taking the time to support me and my new book.
BUY THE BOOK
• Below is a link to order a signed copy from Molly’s local independent bookstore, Once Upon a Time. When ordering, be sure to write in the comments section that you want a signed copy. And if you’d like the book to be personalized, please include the name. The book also comes with a bookmark!
Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the Cooper Union School of Art, New York. She currently lives, works, and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles.
Her titles include her author/illustrator debut, The Stray, from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, and I Am A Thief! along with Violet and the Crumbs by Abigail Rayner for NorthSouth Books. Molly has two additional titles forthcoming with Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency.
The picture book, Neverwoof: The Dog that Never Barked, by author-illustrator Gabe Jensen is a delight. No matter how often I read this story, it still makes me laugh. Neverwoof, a charming orange mutt, has an interesting life, going through his days without a sound: “He chased a siren—woo woo woo. / He saved a baby—boo hoo hoo. / He got high-fives from the fire crew. / But never did he woof.” Until the day he seemingly must bark. Does he? I won’t tell beyond saying to expect a plot twist!
Coupled with the spare, rhyming text is Jensen’s fantastic art. The limited color palette effectively uses what he calls “two clashing colors.” Neverwoof’s personality shines through as does his love for his family. My favorite spread comes toward the end when Neverwoof faces his ultimate challenge with a thief known as Stinky Sue—giggling is guaranteed.
The art, like the text, is deceptively simple. Yet, each time I delve into it, I find something new in the background. It may just be the headline on a discarded newspaper or the cat that makes an appearance throughout, however, these details add depth and humor. The book’s smaller size (7 x 10 inches, hardback) fits well in young hands, the debossed cover is fun to touch, and there’s no dust jacket to lose.
“Can we talk?” If little ones don’t recognize this signature question from the late comedian Joan Rivers, perhaps parents or grandparents reading the board book to them will. Rivers is just one of the more than three dozen famous Jews presented in this board book that I wish I’d written. Told in rhyme, My First Book of Famous Jews written by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Julie Wilsonis a fabulous introduction to the talented individuals who have made lasting and significant contributions to science, literature, music, film, politics, and the judiciary—even activism, an important inclusion.
It’s never too soon to start sharing the broad impact Jewish people have made in every field. This book sings the praises of everyone from Anne Frank to Helen Frankenthaler, from Steven Spielberg to Gloria Steinem in their respective categories. Wilson’s vibrant art throughout this 24-page book brings members of the tribe alive, in particular Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Bella Abzug, and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Descriptions of these iconic figures are brief. “EMMA GOLDMAN rallied to help workers unite./ “BERNIE SANDERS said “’Health care is a human right.’” But just enough to make a great introduction and prompt further reading as kids get older.
A helpful page of back matter expands on some of the people mentioned. This board book offers a great jumping-off point for a conversation about Jewish identity and the influence and importance of these famous Jews with children during year-round and especially during Jewish American Heritage Month.
I recommend this sweet, satisfying board book that shines a loving light on Black children enjoying various mother/child activities throughout the course of a day. Told in succinct and spry rhyme, the text allows a parent or caregiver to read at a quick pace or stop with each new scene to discuss what’s happening in the art. Speaking of art, Corrin’s expressive illustrations immediately draw our eyes in so we focus on the joy, and other emotions taking place as different children spend special one-on-one time with their mamas whether that’s making pizza, being given a bath, or getting tucked into bed.
There is so much to like about this picture book from the two-mom parents, a biracial couple, to the beautiful art that is filled with special details, and the loving familial relationship evident on every page. And though not a “Mother’s Day” book per se, it felt right to include it here.
In this story, one parent, Mommy, goes away on a business trip and the child recounts day by day how she misses her from the Sunday departure to the Sunday return a week later. LaCour details little things from a child’s perspective that mark her mom’s absence and how Mama is there to help ease the little girl’s sadness.
Added to that are Juanita’s delightful illustrations that invite lingering. One that is especially touching is when the child has her head down on the kitchen table, uncomfortable that with Mommy gone, she is not in the middle of her parents. Tender moments are conveyed in both art and prose. One very realistic event is when Mommy comes home. Readers will see the girl anticipating her mother’s return and notice that over several spreads her mood seems to go from the excitement of preparing a bouquet to sadness as she recalls how much missing she had done over the week. But after explaining her feelings to her mom, and being validated, the little girl can now once again revel in being back in the middle.
In this rollicking read-aloud (A Proud Partnership between glaad + little bee books) readers are introduced to a variety of moms in a clever take on all kinds of mothering. While the rhyme is not always spot on, the overall theme of the book is hard to resist. Coupled with the lively and diverse characters spread throughout the book in the colorful and expansive art, All Moms is a book I think children will appreciate.
We meet moms who are sporty, moms who are musical, moms who fix cars, moms who are crafty, as well as those who “are early and others are late.” The book depicts moms as bosses, moms as doctors, single moms who “work twice as hard to make our lives fun.” There are dads who give hugs like moms, a grandma and grandson, and moms who “give snuggles. Some play pretend. Some moms read stories or help you make friends.” Since “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to accelerating LGBTQ acceptance,” there’s a terrific spread of a Pride Parade with people carrying rainbow flags, and Equality, Love Has No Limits and Love is Love signs. All Moms is a good reminder that moms come in all shapes, ages, sizes, and colors with assorted interests but most important is that “all moms’ love is as big as the sky.”
BUG ON THE RUG – Pug is snug on his rug. But what happens when along comes BUG?! With a claim to the rug?! The two engage in a hysterical, rhyming battle of wits and strength until Slug asks the necessary questions and helps them find common ground. Rhyming is an important developmental reading skill. It teaches phonics (decodable text) and helps young readers infer content. This is a fun story to build those skills–and is an epic read-aloud!
INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIA GHOLZ:
Welcome to GoodReadsWithRonna, Sophia! I’m excited to have you as my guest to learn more about your wonderful new picture book BUG ON THE RUG.
GoodReadsWithRonna: I’ve read that as a child you enjoyed horses. I’m curious where pugs fit into the big picture—was it the rhyming potential, their utter adorableness, or something else?
Sophia Gholz: Thanks, Ronna! I’m excited to be here to celebrate BUG ON THE RUG with you.
I often referred to myself as a “barn rat” as a kid and spent as much time with horses as I could. To this day, the smell of a farm still feels like home. While there were always barn cats, dogs, and a slew of other characters in the mix, there weren’t any barn pugs, unfortunately. My love of little dogs actually came about in adulthood. When I lived in New York City, I had a Brussels Griffon who everyone mistook for a pug. I just adore little foofy pooches and their giant personalities. But pug love aside, the true inspiration behind this book is my younger brother. I have lovingly referred to my little brother as Bug for his entire life. I feel very lucky to call him one of my best friends. But much like Pug and Bug, it took my brother and me a long time (and a few trials) to reach best friend status.
GRWR:Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re a plotter, did you know the whole story before you set out to write it? If you’re a pantser, what was it that motivated you to tell this story and keep at it?
SG: I’m a total panster. I find that if I plot out a story then the story no longer feels fresh and exciting for me. I like to write as a reader—learning something new with each page turn. So, I go off feeling, emotion, and what story I want to read in that moment. This often means heavy (and I mean, HEAVY) revisions later. But that initial excitement and mood is what I try to capture in the first draft and that same feeling is what keeps me going. With that said, I do a lot of mental pre-plotting and generally have a sense of where I want the story to go before I begin. I do sometimes start writing and realize I’m going in the completely wrong direction and have to start over. In those cases, I end up working out some plot issues or character problems before I really get going. But aside from the occasional false start, I don’t usually write anything out before I begin.
GRWR:Did you have as much fun, any LOL moments, writing this story as I had reading it?
SG: My goodness, yes! I had SO much fun writing this book. Like I mentioned above, I try to write as a reader and don’t really plot ahead of time. So, as those words were coming out, I was giggling along as the voyeur. One of the most fun moments I had while writing this was when Pug rethinks his day. I had a great time coming up with a ton of absurd things Pug might have done during his daily routine.
GRWR:I adore a rollicking rhyming read-aloud like yours. Does rhyming come easily for you?
SG: Thank you! Rhyme has always felt natural to me. When I began writing years ago, my first picture book manuscripts were mostly in rhyme. However, I admit that I wasn’t a trained rhymer. Once I really began digging into the varying rules of rhyme and meter, I grew very afraid. I was so scared that I’d unintentionally blow it that I fully stopped rhyming. It’s taken me a few years of practice and determination to come full circle with a rhyming text, and I couldn’t be happier. Rhyme is so much fun to play with and write!
GRWR:You have two new books, both humorous although one is nonfiction. What do you enjoy most about writing in each category?
SG: You know, I don’t really see them as different categories when I write. For me, I try to write nonfiction the same way I write fiction. The only difference is that I have preexisting pieces of the puzzle when I write nonfiction. But I like to write each with the mentality of just having a fun or interesting story to tell. That said, I do enjoy all the cool facts I learn while researching nonfiction subjects. Education never ends!
GRWR:Sophia, this book is an uproarious and engaging approach to teaching phonics to children eager to learn how to read. Was that always your intention or did it just happen organically?
SG:When I first heard BUG ON THE RUG referred to as a great learning tool for emergent readers, I was so happy … and surprised! I did not initially have this in mind when I wrote the book. For me, it was about reading these words out loud and having a ton of fun. I’ve always enjoyed playing with sounds, alliteration, and tongue twisters. This book is a bit of an ode to that. But I understand how important teaching phonics in fun ways is, especially as I’ve helped my own little kiddos learn to read. With that in mind, I truly hope young readers have a great time with this book.
GRWR:Susan’s art captures both the heart and humor of your story. What did you think when and if you saw sketches or finished art? Which is your favorite spread and why?
SG:I am obsessed with Susan’s art! OBSESSED. Fun fact: I’d been eyeing Susan’s work online for a while and was a big fan before we worked together. So, I was thrilled when Sleeping Bear said they thought she would be a great fit for this manuscript. When I saw the initial sketches, I was flipping out. Seriously. Susan’s art is hilarious! Plus, she completely surprised me in the best of ways. For example, I originally envisioned Pug inside his home when I wrote the book. But Susan created the setting outside, and it made so much more sense. Susan added her own hilarious spin to this manuscript, and I feel so lucky to have worked with her. I think my favorite spread is probably the last page. Pug’s expression is priceless!
GRWR:What do you hope young readers will take away from BUG ON THE RUG?
SG:Humor aside, this book is ultimately about empathy, sharing, and taking ownership of our actions. I hope readers can see themselves here and know that people can have disagreements, but still be friends. Owning our mistakes is difficult. But it’s important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, just as it’s important to learn to forgive and move on.
GRWR:What can we expect next?
SG: I’d love to see more of Pug and his friends! In the meantime, A HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER (AND OTHER POTTY TOOLS), illustrated by Xiana Teimoy, is a humorous nonfiction picture book that’ll roll into bookstores this August. Everything else is still top secret for now. Stay tuned!
GRWR:Thank you, Sophia. It’s been delightful chatting with you. I wish you and Susan much success with BUG ON THE RUG.
INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BATORI:
Welcome to the blog, Susan, and congrats on your latest picture book! I adored DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT! which I also reviewed here so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to ask about your art in BUG ON THE RUG.
GoodReadsWithRonna: I immediately noticed the lovely European-like city and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Did you set this story in Budapest where you live and if so, why?
Susan Batori:Sadly there are no snow-capped mountains in Budapest. Originally, the story written by Sophia, was set in a small Swiss town. That is why I drew small, red roof European-ish houses and you can find a cable car which is often seen in Switzerland. The story was rewritten later but we decided to keep the drawings with the Swiss landscape.
GRWR:When you read Sophia’s manuscript, what were your thoughts about how you wanted to illustrate the story?
SB: When I read Sophia’s manuscript I fell in love with it at the first glance. I felt this is my story too because I love the funny and witty tales, these are very inspiring and so easy to illustrate. After reading the manuscript I immediately saw the pictures, compositions, and the characters in my head. There was a little challenge because of the disparity of sizes of the pug and the bug, but I hope I solved it well.
GRWR:What medium did you use to create the illustrations and was there anything about the story that influenced your decision?
SB: I work on a computer and a digital tablet. I love them because they make my work much easier and the publishers like it too. It makes work simple. Besides I can imitate the aquarell feeling, paper textures, and the brush strokes. My digital illustrations are often mistaken for a “real” drawing.
GRWR:What is your process like from when you receive a new manuscript to submitting final art?
SB: After reading the manuscript I use the internet for finding help about the characters or the background. In this case, I started to search pug videos. I try to figure out what kind of things make a pug a pug, or a slug a slug. I mean how they move or sit, what their colors are, what if I draw a smaller nose or shorter legs to them … etc. This is a very useful activity and it entertains me. So I start sketching the characters and show them to the client. Next, I design the composition of the pages and with the publisher, we try to find the best solutions. Then I am ready for coloring where I try to deliver some kind of atmosphere or feeling. In this book, I wanted to illustrate a summer-mountain feeling with a lot of greens. If everyone is happy with the colored pages I send them to the art director. That’s all. Easy peasy. :)
GRWR:The dynamic of the character interaction cracks me up, especially when slug shows up. Was any particular character, Pug, Bug, or Slug, especially fun to work with?
SB: Haha! Yes, Slug is really a funny character. It was interesting because in each book I illustrated there was a character who was my favorite but here all three were my favorites. They have their own humorous personality.
GRWR:I loved your art in Robin Newman’s DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT!, and love it here, too. I see a common thread of a humorous conflict and sweet resolution in both stories. Do you enjoy illustrating humorous picture books? Are there any challenges you must consider?
SB: Aww, thank you! Somehow I am very good at illustrating feelings, especially humorous actions and facial expressions. I just LOVE working on hilarious books or stories, and drawing funny animals is my favorite job. It makes me happy and I believe if I am happy while I am working on these, the children will be happy too while they are reading them.
I wouldn’t be a good illustrator without humour.
GRWR:Do you have a favorite spread?
The first page when Pug hugs his rug, I find it so cute.
Then there is the “rug-fight” scene. This is the most dynamic page in the book.
And I just love the very last page when everyone is on the rug. I think that is very funny.
GRWR:Any plans to write and illustrate your own books?
SB:I have a few ideas but there is no time for them … yet. ;)
THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT QUESTIONS!
GRWR:Thank you for making us smile!
Sophia Gholz is a children’s book writer, music lover, avid reader, and the award-winning author of The Boy Who Grew a Forest and Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter! She lives in Orlando, Florida.
From the publisher: Sometimes things are really tough. It’s just too hard. You’ve had enough. Grumble, rumble, bump and roar, the struggle bus is at your door.[The Struggle Bus] is a must-have picture book for any reader struggling with new experiences and managing emotions … Incorporating her experience as an elementary school counselor, Koon uses the accessible theme of vehicles to make this social-emotional concept perfect for the preschool and early elementary crowd. It’s also a great tool for caregivers to start conversations with children about acknowledging difficult feelings and facing fears.
From the inside of a grumbly-rumbly bus, readers travel through the process of helpless overwhelm to joyous triumph in this rhyming, growth-mindset picture book from debut author-illustrator, Julie Koon.
Koon’s muted color palette soothes as she tackles the unsure (and at times overwhelming) feelings a child encounters when facing new challenges and learning we all “have what it takes to do hard things.” A repeated refrain invites the youngest listeners into the storytelling while ample back matter offers teachers and caregivers more information to use during classroom or at-home discussions. A delightful debut for both author and publisher, The Struggle Bus is a wonderful addition to the school SEL library.
Available now in time for Women’s History Month is Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers. This new picture bookintroduces children to the young main character in the morning when she’s squeezing her eyes shut to recall her favorite dream. In this scene, she dreams of being able to fly, soaring above “a place her baba described as the carpet of a million sunflowers.” While having flying dreams is not uncommon, readers soon see more of the fantasy element come into play when, after getting up, Loujain joins her father to get their wings out of the shed. The joy in Loujain’s face as she makes believe she can fly is palpable. But in reality, she’d never fly anywhere because she was a girl, and girls were forbidden to fly. How could this possibly be fair?
The sunflowers Loujain fantasized visiting were in a picture taped to her wall and she was determined to see them. While her father knew the harsh reality, her mother did not want to discourage her daughter. But at school kids teased Loujain for thinking a girl could fly when only boys were allowed. Loujain pleaded with her father to give her lessons. His wife told him, “Why should flying be only for boys?” Especially, she added, “if we all can use wings?”
Loujain had the good fortune to have open-minded, caring parents and a father who clearly agreed that it was not right to keep girls from spreading their wings and taking to the skies. Her baba lovingly trained her and after preparing her, they set out the very next day on the journey to see the amazing sea of sunflowers.
The powerful symbolism conveyed in this story will not be lost on children who perhaps in their lifetime have experienced or heard about gender bias whether in sports, academics, employment, the arts, or in other fields. Of course in this case it’s a metaphor for the real-life Loujain AlHathloul who made history for challenging the ban on women’s right to drive cars in Saudi Arabia and was imprisoned because of it. She is no longer in prison, but her restrictive release conditions and her dream of bringing more freedoms for girls and women are described in the authors’ note.
Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers invites multiple reads and discussions in the context of women’s rights/gender bias and discrimination, perseverance and persistence as well as pursuing one’s dream. Green’s gorgeous and energetic art, created in acrylic gouache and colored pencil adds to the enjoyment of each read. I love her varied composition from page to page and the glorious color palette she’s chosen. Every spread, especially ones with the sunflowers, feels so expansive and full of possibility, just right for this hopeful and empowering picture book.
Seeing just the title alone ofDeborah Underwood’s latest picture book, Bearnard Writes a Book, of course, I knew I had to read it. After all, I write books too! Perhaps Bearnard would share some valuable information about how to go about this often overwhelming process. And I was right.
Bearnard offers to write a story for his goose friend Gertie. He promptly gets a paper and pencil and sits down to think . . . and think . . . and think. Soon, there are crumpled-up pieces of paper lying at his feet from all his unsuccessful attempts. Gertie, of course, asks if the story is ready and Bearnard admits he doesn’t know how to write a story. She suggests maybe he needs some help which gives him the idea to ask the Queen of Storybook Land for assistance.
Off they go and when Bearnard and Gertie arrive at the Storybook Land gate, the sentry gives them a map to follow, the Ultimate Walking Guide for Storybook Land. First stop is the Library (get inspired by reading), followed by Character City (choose your characters), Setting Village (choose your setting) Problem Plaza (choose a problem for your character to have), and The Writers’ Room (write your story then rewrite it to make it even better). In this final location, Bearnard does succeed in writing a story . . . but it’s not a very exciting one. He decides to take a thinking walk around Storybook Land and when he does, new and exciting ideas come to him. Returning to the Writers’ Room, he revises the story and produces an exciting story, much to the joy of Gertie, who decides to try her hand at poetry since while she was in the library, she read some poems written by her great-great-great grandgoose in a book entitled Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. The final picture shows the two good friends writing away. What a sweet ending!
Underwood simplifies the creative writing process—which is not simple as anyone who has attempted it knows—in an entertaining book. Misa Saburi’scolorful illustrations jump off the page with excitement, showing just how thrilling it can be to create one’s own story. The expressions are spot on in Bearnard’s face as he goes through each step in the writing process. And I loved that in all of the illustrations where Bearnard is working on his story he is doing so the old-fashioned way with pencil and lots of paper. Kudos for going back to the basics. No computers here!
This picture book would make an excellent classroom introduction for children just beginning to learn how to write stories and even though this picture book is targeted for ages 4–8, all writers, young or old, would enjoy the boost that this book gives. Budding authors rejoice, this one’s for you! And, if you enjoy this, be sure to check out the companion book by Deborah Underwood and Misa Saburi, Bearnard’s Book.
An ancient philosophy of many African cultures, ubuntu means “I am, because you are” and embraces the idea that “a person is a person through other people.” Opening lines emphasize this interconnectedness: “When I look into your eyes, I see myself.” On the following page, readers will need to turn the book vertically to enjoy a spread that illustrates this love, not only for others but for the natural world and all creation.
In loving, lyrical language, Moahloli’s text helps us realize that though the time we spend with others and the kindnesses we share may seem like small, inconsequential acts, they’re in fact powerful expressions of our deep love for each other and for our own selves. “[W]hen I laugh as I hear you laugh, when I hold your hands as you cry, I love you, and I love myself, too.” Similarly, if we choose to “hurt,” “tease,” or “ignore” another, we are committing those very acts on ourselves.
Rendered in digital media, McDonald’s bold and beautiful jewel-toned illustrations place an endearing cast of characters front and center in virtually every page. Readers are drawn into the smiling faces and welcoming gaze of an inclusive group of children from all backgrounds and abilities, playing together in country, city, and oceanside settings.
A great conversation starter for themes of community, friendship, kindness, and love, I Am You shines light on the truth that we are all one.