A brave hero doesn’t always mean a big hero in Nicolò Carozzi’s beautifully worded and illustrated picture book Brave as a Mouse, his debut picture book in the US.
Through simple text and stunning art, Carozzi draws our attention to Mouse’s new friendship with the homeowner’s fish. Mouse asks the fish, “Would you like to play?” and with a simple “YES!” both creatures enjoy each other’s company, swimming together. Mouse blows through a straw, and the fish enjoys jacuzzi-style bubbles.
However, the fun stops when other housepets want to “play.” Three ominous shadows cast on the wall next to the fish’s bowl are plain but powerful images foretelling of the dangers ahead.
As the homeowner’s beloved fat cats encircle the fishbowl, Mouse has a “wild … bold … [and] brave idea” to entice the three to follow him, all the way to the pantry where they gorge themselves on cat food.
While the felines sleep off their big meal, Mouse uses the time to fulfill an even wilder, bolder, and braver idea that includes the help of other mice living in the house. Straight lines, calm, muted colors, and minimalist illustrations keep us focused on the rescue plan. Children and adult readers will enjoy the action-packed adventure as Mouse risks his own safety to protect his new friend. A more subtle, though important theme is the infectious nature of Mouse’s bravery and kindness.
For those interested in quieter books on themes of friendship and compassion as well as those who like a good old fashion story when the good guys win, this picture book will delight again and again.
It was Ripple the dolphin’s first day in her new aquarium and she was excited to make some new friends, but the water was still and quiet and all the animals looked scared and unhappy. So begins the picture book How to Make a Shark Smile written by bestselling authors, siblings and happiness pros, Shawn Achorand Amy Blankson, with illustrations byClaudia Ranucci.
The story opens with a smiling grey and white dolphin surrounded by the deep blue sea, and colorful plants and baby fish, anxious to make new friends. But as Ripple swims around looking for someone to play with “she saw electric eels with no zing.” She even notices “the seahorses weren’t horsing around.”
A spiky, black dotted, puffed up yellow blowfish appears with big bulging eyes and mouth wide open. Ranucci’s drawing shows the reader that our new friend is feeling anxious. As Ripple swims near “the blowfish began yelling, Shark alert! Shark alert! And Ripple realizes the blowfish, Bob, must think that she was the shark!” Ripple explains that she is a dolphin not a shark and the relieved Bob explains that Snark “the biggest, meanest shark ever seen eats entire tanks of fish when he wasn’t even hungry.” With a sweet smile still painted on Ripple’s face, the dolphin explains how she won’t let a shark spoil her happiness, the main message of this story.
Ripple invites Bob to play but Bob says “he is just a bite-sized fish trying to make it in the world.” Ripple replies, “Oh, my friend, it’s not my size or speed that makes me powerful or brave. It’s my mindset! I believe that my behavior matters. And today I choose to be happy.”
Snark is illustrated with an angry face swimming above Bob, whose face still displays fear. Ripple’s smile, however, remains constant. Ripple tells Bob she will teach him to play a game with Snark and this game will change Snark’s mindset. See if you think this game sounds familiar. Ripple looks into Bob’s face for seven seconds and tells him to try not to smile. Of course he smiles. The game catches on and soon the entire tank is laughing. That joy catches Snark’s attention, but being born means playing games is not his thing. Ripple challenges him, a deal is struck and Bob steps in to play the smile game with Snark. What ensues is unavoidable delight for the participants and for youngsters.
The colorful drawings depict the fish community coming together as they learn that happiness is a state of mind and a choice that’s up to them. Even outside of the tank the silhouettes of tourists can be seen snapping photos and watching in wonder as a “shark, a blowfish, and a dolphin” play together. Surely this was a sight to see!
The “Ripple effect” could be felt from that day on and the young reader learns that happiness can be a choice. Happy is as happy does! Achor and Blankson, who are both experts on cultivating happiness and have given TED talks on the subject, list helpful ways to develop a positive mindset in the back matter. They recommend fitting one or all of these techniques into your daily routine. This book is a great resource for teachers who are introducing mindfulness into their lesson plans, giving young kids tools they will take with them throughout their lives.
Channel your inner Australian and read Aaron Blabey’s silly picture book Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananaswith an accent so the words “piranhas” and “bananas” rhyme. It’s worth the effort for the laughs you’ll receive from your child. You see, Brian the friendly looking piranha has a taste for bananas, much to the chagrin of his carnivorous buddies. Actually, Brian’s appetite encompasses quite a variety of fruits and vegetables. When he gleefully asks, “Well, I bet you’d like some juicy plums?” The others set him right: “That’s it Brian! We eat bums!” (Americans, we’re talking about butts here.) Kids will howl over this line and the accompanying illustration.
The art throughout is humorously exaggerated and expressive with the abundance of white skillfully allowing the fish to be the focus. Happy-go-lucky Brian’s just not dissuaded from wanting to share his vegetarian tendencies, while the other piranhas make it toothily clear that they’re meat eaters.
Details make this book stand out in my mind. The front and end papers’ factual information about piranhas and bananas come with a twist. For example, the list of what piranhas eat includes “old ladies who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time” and “little children who’ve actually been pretty good”—unless they get lucky and run into Brian instead.
Aaron Blabey is the award-winning and New York Times best-selling author of the Pig and Pug picture-book series, and The Bad Guys middle-grade series (movie adaptation in development with Dream Works Animation).
PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE
Written by Vivian Kirkfield
Illustrated by Jill Weber
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
I’m always happy to welcome a new picture book with an original take on the holiday into the mix of Passover stories. Today I’m reviewing Vivian Kirkfield’s charming Pippa’s Passover Plate with illustrations by Jill Weber so you’ll have time to pick up a copy to read before and during your family’s upcoming Seders.
The premise of this read aloud tale told in rhyme is that Pippa the mouse cannot locate her Seder plate, a plausible predicament even for humans! The pressure’s on because this concerned pip squeak must find the plate before sundown and the start of her Seder (the traditional annual ritual where people of Jewish faith gather with friends and family to eat, read, share stories and celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt).
Kirkfield clearly has fun with the verse and her meter is spot-on throughout the book:
“Pippa climbs up on a chair,
stretches up–the cupboard’s bare!
Teetor-totter–hold on tight!
Weeble-wobble–what a fright!”
At the start of her search, Pippa asks Sphinx the cat if it’s seen the plate. After no luck there, Pippa is told to try Snake. Each time she must approach an ominous new creature, Pippa is filled with dread, and the following repeating and repeatable refrain …
… adds to the page turn appeal of the story since the little mouse must face her fears in order to find the missing plate. Her potential predators, however, don’t seem to want to do her harm.
When Owl wisely suggests that Pippa “question Golda Fish” (great name btw), it seems an easier, less scary task to undertake. Weber’s wonderful artwork here in addition to elsewhere in the book complements the text where Golda is described as quite enchanted with herself. Since a mirror isn’t available, a brass Seder plate in which she can admire her reflection is apparently the next best thing. I love Weber’s palate of all shades of yellow, a cheerful color to counter any feelings of danger when Pippa meets Sphinx, Snake and Owl. How the plate landed in the lake is up for debate so why not ask your child? I’m sure they’ll spin some wild tales. The good news is that Pippa can now prepare the Seder.
No longer fearful of the animals, Pippa invites them all to her Seder and the story ends with a frame-worthy illustration of the Seder plate, and the special food that goes on it. I do wish there had been one page of back matter that included a description of what each of the six food items represents in relation to Passover. Nonetheless that’s easily found online and the majority of readers will know and can explain that to their children. For teachers planning to read Pippa’s Passover Plate to a class, I recommend having this information on hand for inquiring minds. It also couldn’t hurt to include info on what matzo is and why a piece of it gets hidden during the Seder since it’s mentioned on the second to last page when the friends are gathered together to celebrate the holiday.
I recommend this adorable picture book which provides the perfect opportunity to discuss Passover traditions, especially for little ones ages 3-6 who will find Pippa’s plight engaging and most enjoyable. Happy Passover!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Find a Passover book review from last year by clicking here.
Todd Parr, with his signature bold and bright style, gently approaches one of the toughest experiences of life with hope and the assurance of healing in The Goodbye Book.
Saying goodbye is never easy and sorting out the myriad emotions that arise from such an experience can seem impossible. At first glance, I felt Parr’s touching book was simply making the “7 stages of grief” more accessible to children, but, in fact, the book deals with the issue of loss in a more in-depth and complex manner.
Parr establishes a safe distance for children to relate to such scary feelings through his main character, the goldfish. As readers, we immediately sense the feeling of sadness after the goldfish is separated from his friend. Supporting characters, a girl and black & white dog, are also grieving. Through the simplicity of their expressions, you can feel a multitude of emotions; they don’t merely look sad but confused and even emotionally numb. At the same time, it’s important to note- herein lies the beginning of healing because the sadness is shared among friends.
But the pain of the loss is very fresh in the fish’s heart, so the range of emotions is wide: “You might be very sad. You might be very mad. You might not feel like talking to anyone.” Your daily activities, like eating and sleeping, may be interrupted. You may also withdraw from activities you once enjoyed, like going to a birthday party. When you’re grieving doesn’t it seem everybody else is happy and living a perfect life? The celebration makes your sadness even more painful, and you think you’ll never be able to experience that kind of joy again. So when the goldfish drops the party hat and swims away from the party, we know exactly what he’s feeling.
The most touching page for me is when the fish sets a table for two “pretend[ing] it didn’t happen.” The expression on his face is heart wrenching, but through his sadness we readers realize–the fish is beginning to accept what has happened. Through the passage of time and the memories of good times shared he “eventually …start[s] to feel better.” We see positive changes in our fish’s behavior. We see him reaching out to someone, talking to his friend, the dog, and expressing his feelings through drawing. Most importantly, our hero’s actions show us there are things we can do to help with the coping process. We need not feel ashamed of our feelings and can open up whenever we’re ready.
The Goodbye Book can be used by parents and educators alike to talk about the spectrum of loss: from leaving behind a friend or relative who lives far away to the final farewell we experience when a loved one dies. As Parr shows us, healing is not a linear path from grief to happiness; acceptance takes time. In the end, the assurance of love is all we need to cope and recover. We find comfort in knowing that someone we love will be there to listen to us and hold us.
A gentle and loving approach to the tough subject of loss, Todd Parr’s The Goodbye Book is ideal for healing hearts.
Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
“Ignorance equals bliss in this amusing, cleverly executed tale.” – Kirkus Starred Review
Anyone who has ever gone fishing or known someone who has, has told, or been told, a fishing tale. An eight inch long fish becomes two feet long, and we’ve all heard of the big fish that got away. In Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, (Schwartz & Wade Books 2014, $17.99, Ages 4-8), Mrs. Doreen Randolph-Potts has a fish tale to tell of her own, only hers is true!
Boiger uses watercolor, gouache, pencil, and colored pencil on unbleached Fabriano watercolor paper to achieve the vibrant watery world Doreen travels through, happily ignorant of the perils lurking around her. Doreen is swimming upstream to visit her second cousin twice removed, who’s just had 157 babies, when she sees a delicious dragonfly which is, unbeknownst to our heroine, a fisherman’s lure. “GOODY!” Doreen cries. “How lucky for me! A lovely snack for my journey!”
A myriad of fish look on sympathetically, as the narrator bemoans Doreen’s bad luck.
It’s not a dragonfly.
Oh, poor Doreen. No.
It’s a HOOK.
And it’s not a treat.
It’s a TRAP.
And the one thing you’re not is lucky.
I adore how Lloyd-Jones has written Doreen’s story from the perspective of a child who has never had their innocence taken away by having had a bad experience. Always positive, Doreen exclaims, “BRAVO!” and thanks the Great Blue Heron, who swoops in and takes her from the fisherman, for helping her on her journey upstream. (Of course, he intends to eat her!)
Parents, and fish afficianados, don’t fret. By hook or by crook, Doreen makes her way to her reunion with her second cousin twice removed, and her 157 babies, unharmed. This is a perfect cautionary story. It allows the reader to see the dangers Doreen faces for themselves, but with a sense of lightheartedness that opens the door to deeper conversation.