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Picture Book Review – I Love Me!

I LOVE ME!

Written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss

Illustrated by Beth Hughes 

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and illustrated by Beth Hughes, the picture book I Love Me! honors self-love and the beauty of difference. 

Textual and visual body positive images permeate throughout the book. Readers will enjoy a decidedly inclusive group of children distinct in body shape and varying shades of eye, hair, and skin color, including vitiligo. Varieties in head coverings also nod to different faith traditions. There’s an emphasis, too, in loving ALL of  ourselves from the “tip of [our] nose all the way down to [our] ticklish toes” and from our “mouth and chin all the way down to [our] knees and shins.” 

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I Love Me int Spread
Interior spread from I Love Me! written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and illustrated by Beth Hughes, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

The physical body is celebrated as a whole and each part, specifically, for its function in each and every way that function presents itself. Each kind is worthy and embraced. From one page to the next, children from a broad range of abilities (those who use crutches, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, and wheelchairs and those who don’t) are depicted enjoying the same activities like swinging, dancing, or playing dress up in ways that feel right to them. Hughes’ vibrant patterns and textures combined with horizontal lines add movement and excitement to every child-centered page. Surely, the book’s wholehearted, loving message will provide every little reader the opportunity to see themselves in these pages.

The book’s upbeat rhythm and rhyming text make it a great read-aloud for little ones who need to know just how beautifully and wonderfully they are made. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Click here to order a copy of I Love Me! or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/21/20

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Picture Book Review – Catching Thoughts

CATCHING THOUGHTS

Written by Bonnie Clark

Illustrated by Summer Macon

(Beaming Books; $17.99; Ages 3-8)

 

Catching Thoughts cover

 

Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere in Catching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clark with illustrations by Summer Macon.

It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.

The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.

Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”

A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.

 

CatchingThoughts layout colorfulballoons
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.

Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.

 

  • Review by Ronda Skernick Einbinder

 

Click here to order a copy of Catching Thoughts

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Picture Book Review – Too Sticky!

TOO STICKY!
Sensory Issues with Autism

Written by Jen Malia

Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Too Sticky cover

 

Holly loved experiments.
But not today.
It was slime day.
And she didn’t want to
touch anything sticky.

 

My son has sensory processing issues which we first noticed when he was a baby. He cried when hearing the vacuum cleaner, coffee grinder, car horns, and blaring music. As he got older he also actively avoided loud people, shouting and rough and tumble behavior from his peers. These were not the only things that clued us into his sensory challenges. He didn’t like touching sand or walking on it, and never got into Play Doh, unlike his older sister, because of the smell and consistency. His diet was and still is limited, but he’s faced a lot of these sensory issues head on and has learned ways to adapt. He even traveled to Japan last summer, tried a host of new foods and was flexible when encountering the many different customs there.

Not everyone understands the challenges that children face with sensory processing issues that often accompany autism. Author Jen Malia, a woman who lives with autism and sensory issues does. It’s fantastic that Too Sticky! is available to help open people’s eyes and to encourage empathy for kids coping with sensory stimuli that can be overwhelming, and even immobilizing at times. You may also not be aware that it’s not as easy to recognize in girls.

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interior art6 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

We meet the main character, Holly, at breakfast time at home. Lew-Vriethoff’s expressive and upbeat illustrations offer an excellent example of how kids like Holly react negatively to something that to other kids may seem like nothinggetting sticky pancake syrup on her hands. From both the art and prose, readers know immediately what makes this young girl uncomfortable. Holly is also reminded that “her science class would be making slime today” which gets her worrying.

 

interior art9 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

What’s also terrific in this same scene is how Holly’s older sister, Noelle, is understanding and apologizes after her fork falls on the floor making a loud and sudden noise. Here Malia adds that Holly replies, “It’s okay,” because that social skill was taught to her by her father. Family support, guidance and modeling acceptable behavior are crucial for children on the spectrum.

At school, Holly’s mother explains to her second grade teacher, Miss Joy, that during slime play, Holly would like to have soap and water at her desk because “She doesn’t like sticky hands.” I remember having to discuss these same types of things with my son’s teachers since my son wasn’t old enough to self-advocate.

Throughout the school day, Holly dreads the approaching slime time. In fact she’s unable to focus on much else. She begins the science experiment reluctantly with the less difficult portion sensory-wise. Miss Joy then finds a clever way to get the overly cautious student to feel curious and involved. Her encouragement and compassion are evident in her dialogue and her poses. What could have been an upsetting experience turns out to be a positive one. It helps, too, that Holly’s not teased by her classmates and that her accommodations have been taken into consideration.

 

int art12 Too Sticky
Interior artwork from Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism written by Jen Malia and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Albert Whitman & Company ©2020.

 

Since the main character experiences “the world differently” than her neurotypical classmates, readers see that it’s hard for Holly to navigate the many uncomfortable situations she faces at school. Her sensory issues and autism color a lot of her reactions and moods which is quite common. While the premise of Too Sticky! may appear straightforward and easily resolved, for children like Holly, such is not the case in real life.

Malia adds a candid Author’s Note describing how both she and her daughter live with Autism Spectrum Disorder and her goal in writing the picture book. With one out of every fifty-nine children in the U.S. diagnosed with ASD, it’s important more children, parents, teachers and caregivers learn about how these children experience the world. With Holly, readers on the spectrum can see a mirror on themselves. Too Sticky! is the ideal read not only for parents and children with these sensory issues, but for anyone wanting to understand the experience and struggles kids like Holly deal with on a daily basis. The backmatter also includes an easy slime recipe perfect for indoor science activities and silliness.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

JANINE.
Written and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

Janine_CVR.jpg

 

Janine “is one of a kind” and this delightful picture book full of expressive dialogue and artwork, about a special little girl, portrays her uniqueness thoughtfully and unabashedly. I’m so glad this book’s been written because, while there are a spate of books that deal with kids who feel different, Cocca-Leffler knows first hand about children with disabilities and their differences. Janine. is actually based on her experiences raising her special needs daughter, the titular Janine. While Janine certainly marches to the beat of her own drummer, and adults reading the story might find her quirkiness quite charming, one particular classmate in the book certainly does not. That lack of empathy, along with Janine’s authenticity, is the basis for this tale.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Here’s just a snippet from the book’s very brief description of Janine, because for the most part, Cocca-Leffler lets Janine’s words move the story forward and that works so well.

She reads the dictionary
when others are playing
and listens when no one
thinks she is.

That’s how Janine overhears that a private party is being planned by this self-proclaimed “cool kid” and she’s not on the list of guests.

“Janine. You are STRANGE!
You have to
CHANGE!”

Kids with NLD (nonverbal learning disorder/disability), Asperger’s or high functioning Autism, often may be hyper verbal with amazing memories as Janine is depicted, but can often be lacking in social skills. This can make it difficult fitting in with their typically developing peers. Plus, kids can be cruel and insensitive at this age, like the bully who tells Janine she’s not invited to her party. NOTE: I love the illustration that immediately follows the bully’s nasty pronouncement above. One classmate in a red baseball cap who seems to like Janine, tosses his invitation after witnessing the bully’s hurtful behavior.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Ever resourceful, Janine decides to throw her own party …

“and EVERYONE is invited!”

And guess, what? Everyone except the bully wants to go!  With a happy ending like that, it’s easy to see why this book about kindness, and inclusion should be in every classroom and school library. It’s important to note, however, that not all real life situations have such positive outcomes; all the more reason why making available picture books about children with disabilities should be the goal of every school district and school librarian. The sooner we start the conversation about the importance of diversity, whether it’s race, gender or differing abilities, the sooner that bullies will wield less power in the classroom and on the playground and a more tolerant, accepting generation will emerge.

Be sure to read the jacket flap of this book to learn more about Cocca-Leffler’s inspiration for the story and Janine’s commitment to being a “role model to children and adults, encouraging them to focus on abilities, not disabilities.”

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Visit www.JaninesParty.com, created by Cocca-Leffler and Janine as a resource for parents, teachers and students.

Click here to download a Janine. coloring page.

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