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Picture Book Review – Adam and His Tuba

 

ADAM AND HIS TUBA

Written by Ziga X Gombac

Illustrated by Maja Kastelic

Translated by Olivia Hellewell

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Adam_and_His_Tuba_cover_Adam_leaving_circus_tent

 

 

Starred review – Foreword Reviews

 

The Von Trapeze circus family travels the world in their painted wagons performing to audiences who reward them with flowers and applause. But, not everyone in the family enjoys acrobatics, or applause, in Slovenian author Ziga X Gombac’s picture book Adam and His Tuba illustrated by Maja Kastelic.

 

Adam and His Tuba int1 Grandma Antonia breathing plumes of fire.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

I love how each family member’s first name begins with the letter ‘A.” There’s Grandma Antonia, who breathes blazing plumes of fire; Grandpa Angus who swallows swords; Papa Alexi and Mama Anastasia who bravely walk the tightrope; and twin sisters Aria, who rides a unicycle, and Alea who crawls into cannons. But what trick does the youngest son Adam perform?

Everything in the Von Trapeze family is just as it should be. Except … Young Adam is illustrated sitting alone in a tent surrounded by stage props and a unicycle while he’s reading what appears to be a book, but my guess is that it’s sheet music. The family tries desperately to get him to participate in the acrobatics. Grandma Antonia tried to spark an interest in fire-breathing. But it was no use. The reader sees a drawing of Grandma trying to put out the flame, as Adam stands behind her with his hands clasped together. Grandpa Angus tries to teach Adam how to handle a sword but instead finds his cape cut in half. It was no use.

 

Adam and His Tuba int2 Von Trapeze family closed the doors quietly.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

The Von Trapeze family gathers in a tent to try to come up with a solution. “He could iron everybody’s clothes and darn their socks,” one family member called out. “Why don’t we ask Adam what he likes doing?” The family wasn’t sure who called out that question, but as soon as it happened they heard a magical melody. Sitting on the bed with an enormous tuba was Adam. He played with so much skill. The family couldn’t believe what they were hearing and why didn’t anyone ever notice him before? The family had been so caught up in their own circus tricks they hadn’t paid much attention. The family felt awful but Adam wasn’t sad or mad. From that day forward the world-famous Von Trapeze circus family featured a new performer.

 

Adam and His Tuba int3 Adam and his tuba accompanies family circus act.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

This enchanting story about choosing your own path, even when it goes against the rest of the family, is a good message for young readers and a good conversation starter. What is right for one family member isn’t always right for another. The family realized they had been so focused on their own stuff they hadn’t noticed Adam. And when they eventually did, how wonderful that everyone could agree that Adam’s contribution to the circus made it that much better. Adding to the pleasure of this 40-page picture is the excellent artwork. Slovenian illustrator Maja Kastelic uses warm sepia colors throughout the story: black, gold, and orange, lovely bursts of light, and characters with red flushed cheeks that give the book an appealing historic vibe. A recommended read for kids who want to make their own kind of music in this world.

Find out more about the translator here.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Children’s Picture Book Review – My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me

MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME 

Written by Roxanne Troup

Illustrated by Kendra Binney

(Yeehoo Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

My Grandpa My Tree and Me cover granddaughter grandfather sit beneath pecan tree

 

There’s a timeless, feel-good quality to Roxanne Troup’s debut fiction picture book My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me, illustrated by Kendra Binney. After finishing it, I wanted to sit back and imagine myself in the bucolic surroundings where the story takes place.

Binney’s appealing artwork transported me to a pecan orchard for the first time where the action unfolds as a little girl spends time with her grandfather and narrates, “My grandpa planted a tree for me on the day I was born.” She also tells us that, despite having an orchard full of pecan trees, Grandpa’s favorite tree is that particular one, thus establishing the strong bond these two characters share.

 

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me int1 girl and grandpa spreading mulch
Interior spread from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

Through changing seasons starting in winter when it’s pruning time, and the annual growth cycle of the orchard, we learn how pecans mature and are harvested. At the same time, the special relationship between the child and her grandpa exudes from the warm, muted illustrations coupled with Trout’s lyrical prose. I especially felt that each time I read the lovely repeating phrase “But not my tree.” In spread after spread the young girl describes how the other pecan trees are treated en masse as part of the commercial harvesting process, while hers receives individualized care from her grandpa. Together the two tend to her tree with love and respect which also serves as a metaphor for their relationship.

 

My Grandpa My Tree and Me int2 prepping pecans for harvester
Interior illustrations from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

At last, when the husks open, it’s harvest time. The joy is palpable on the page. Then “Grandpa attaches a padded arm to his tractor. It hugs the trees’ trunks and shakes until leaves and twigs and pecans rain down.” When it’s her turn and with Grandpa there to savor the experience, the girl uses a long pole to make the pecans drop. The orchard’s pecans will be collected by the harvester for sale but the girl’s pecans will be baked into a scrumptious pecan pie. And, not to spoil the beautiful ending, suffice it to say that Troup and Mother Nature’s miraculous cycle of growth delivers a delightful and very satisfying dénouement in this touching layered tale.

 

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me int3 eating pecan pie time
Interior illustrations from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

 

Troup, who is not a newcomer to writing, knows how to tell an engaging and tender story while infusing interesting information into it, clearly owing to her extensive nonfiction background. The pacing of My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me moves forward easily like the seasons in the orchard. There’s a soothing rhythm to the language that makes the book an ideal read any time of the day, including bedtime. Did you know that pecans are considered a native nut to North America? Find an All About Pecans note detailing the history of the commercial pecan industry along with a helpful glossary in the back matter.

Download a free teacher’s guide here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: I’m thrilled that Roxanne is a reviewer at this blog so subscribe today so you don’t miss her thoughtful coverage.

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Three Picture Books for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

 

PICTURE BOOKS FOR RAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

Moon's Ramadan cover kids on balcony cheering moonMOON’S RAMADAN
Written and illustrated by Natasha Khan Kazi 
(Versify; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m a big fan of personification in picture books so I was curious how Kazi would bring the moon to life in her new Ramadan story. In her debut, she shows a cheerful crescent moon grinning at a diverse group of Muslims across the planet.

Ready for a month of peace and fasting from sunrise to sundown, people are busy cleaning and preparing. Moon’s view of celebrants takes us first to Egypt, then to Turkey. We learn the early morning meal is called Suhoor. The daylight hours are devoted to good deeds and kindness. When Moon glances down at Indonesia, it’s time to break the fast at Iftar. Here we’re treated to a spread of a dining room table filled with all the delicious foods of the holiday including dates. In the United Kingdom, Moon lights the way for children “delivering baskets of dried fruit and honey-soaked pastries.” Zakat, or charity during Ramadan, is discussed by leaders of the community in New Zealand. One example is by putting coins in sadaqah jars for those in need.

As the days pass, Moon grows fuller. So by the time this story reaches Somalia, it is full, signaling the halfway mark of the holiday. An Iman leads worshippers in the nightly prayer of Taraweeh. One of my favorite spreads, in rich purples and blues, is about breaking bread with people of different faiths. Set in the United States. Moon has reached its last quarter and is shaped like a loaf of bread that has risen. In Dubai Moon gets a glimpse of smiles and hennaed hands. A gorgeous star-lit outdoor scene greets a new Moon in Argentina as she “magically melts into mulberry and lavender hues.” People fill the streets as the month of fasting nears its end. First India for Chaand Raat, the night of the moon, and then for our return back to where everything in Kazi’s picture book began, in Egypt for the joyful Eid al-Fitr festivities. The positive energy of Kazi’swarm art, achieved using scanned watercolor textures and digital pencil, and uplifting prose pulsates from the pages!

The endpapers depict the phases of the moon and back matter includes an Author’ Note, a Ramadan Glossary, illustrations of different foods, and Ramadan items such as the lantern, the sadaqah jar, the traditional skullcap, and more. A rewarding read now and for years to come!

 

The Night Before Eid cover grandmother hugging grandchildTHE NIGHT BEFORE EID
Written by  Aya Khalil
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

(Christy Ottaviano Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 Starred Review – Kirkus

Introduce your children to Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that begins with a crescent moon above, by sharing this heart-warming new picture book.

Zain is so excited that Teita has finally arrived from Egypt. Everyone will help her make the delicious dessert called ka’ak that she is known for. She’s brought along special ingredients, too. The mouth-watering cookies take time and patience to make and though Zain is eager to get started, author Khalil takes us back to Egypt via several fabulous flashback spreads to when Zain’s Mama and Teita were younger. That was a time when the whole family would stay up all night to bake the ka’ak and then offer them as gifts to others. Those three pages of recollections convey the significance of this tradition that Zain’s family continues.

Zain brings the cookies to school where they are a hit even with his class’s pickiest eater. This is a super scene because it’s inclusive—there’s a student in a wheelchair, a Black student, a White student, one girl in a headscarf, and one boy wearing a yarmulke. When Zain’s teacher wants the recipe he is filled with pride. Wait until he tells Teita! You can feel the love emanating from the huge hugs and smiles he shares with his teita once home.

The charming illustrations, which include a lively kitty popping up in fun poses and places, have a childlike quality that I find appealing and feels so right for this story. They were created using mixed media including acrylic, oil, ink, spray paint, crayon, and pencil on watercolor paper. The saturation of colors such as pink, orange, and teal adds vibrancy to this tale that is already so full of life.

Seeing the scenes when Mama was a child helps reinforce how the memories of time spent together during the holiday are a cherished part of the experience. Young readers are treated to not only the history of ka’ak going back to the pharaohs’ rule but to the fun involved when everyone pitches in now to help prepare them. Khalil’s prose makes us almost taste their sweetness and shows how important it is to honor this joyful tradition. Six pages of back matter end the book with an explanation of Eid, a ka’ak time line, lovely author photos, and a recipe to try your hand a ka’ak making. Don’t miss this timeless intergenerational story!

 

Zahras Blessing cover girl wishing on the moonZAHRA’S BLESSING
Written by Shirin Shamsi
Illustrated by Manal Mirza
(Barefoot Books; Available in Hardcover $17.99, Paperback $9.99, + Spanish, Ages 4-9)

I loved where this wonderful story went and how the title can be interpreted to refer to more than one blessing that occurs in Zahra’s Blessing. One clue is given in Nirza’s beautiful cover artwork.

The story begins at bedtime with the main character, Zahra, telling her teddy bear that during the Ramadan moon, her mama says “… blessings are all around us during this month.” So Zahra prays for a sister, someone to bake with. I’m adding play with, read to, and love because it’s clear Zahra is a girl full of love.

One blessing during the holiday is to give to others so along with her Mama, Zahra chooses clothing to box up and donate. Afterward, she realizes that she cannot find Teddy, her stuffed animal, despite a thorough search. This loss weighs on her. A sister could help her look for Teddy.

When they bring their items to a refugee shelter, they will also spend time there volunteering. And though Zahra is missing her beloved Teddy, her mother explains the shelter residents have lost so much more since fleeing their homelands. That helps Zahra understand their difficult circumstances. Mama introduces Zahra to “someone special,” a young refugee named Haleema who is painting. This a second clue kids might not pick up on. They may also not get that Haleema refers to her parents in the past tense. Her Baba was an artist she tells Zahra. Her mama was an architect. Here I must note I did wonder if kids will infer Haleema’s parents had died. What is clear is that Zahra and Haleema bond over painting, reading stories, and then breaking the fast together. Soon it was time to go home and I was moved when Zahra longs to find Teddy so she can give him to Haleema who was sad to see her new friend go. Moments like this demonstrate Zahra’s maturity and humanity.

Over Ramadan, Zahra and Haleema spend more time together, growing closer every day. Just before “Eid Day dawned dazzling bright” Zahra’s parents share a delightful secret with her which readers ultimately learn a few spreads later. Zahra’s wish for a sister has come true in the most wonderful way so when Eid festivities end, this family of three grows to a family of four with Haleema! There was no denying the blessing of Ramadan that Zahra’s family could feel.

The two pages of back matter explain the holiday, and its customs, and also address displacement, shelters, and foster care. The interconnectedness of Shamsi’s lyrical writing with Mirza’s jewel-toned, ebullient art makes this a standout story for children. Zahra’s Blessing presents a story of empathy, kindness, and the joy of giving in an engaging and accessible way while beautifully blending the richness of Ramadan and Eid.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Until the Blueberries Grow

 

UNTIL THE BLUEBERRIES GROW

Written by Jennifer Wolf Kam

Illustrated by Sally Walker

(PJ Publishing; $8.99; Ages 5-8)

 

Until the Blueberries Grow cover

 

 

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.

 

Until the Blueberries Grow int1
Interior spread from Until the Blueberries Grow written by Jennifer Wolf Kam and illustrated by Sally Walker, PJ Publishing ©2022.

 

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.”

Until the Blueberries Grow int2
Interior illustrations from Until the Blueberries Grow written by Jennifer Wolf Kam and illustrated by Sally Walker, PJ Publishing ©2022

 

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.

 

Until the Blueberries Grow int3
Interior spread from Until the Blueberries Grow written by Jennifer Wolf Kam and illustrated by Sally Walker, PJ Publishing ©2022

 

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.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

Click here for a reading guide.

 

 

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Amah Faraway

AMAH FARAWAY

Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias 

Illustrated by Tracy Subisak 

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Amah Faraway cover

 

Starred Reviews – School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

Cultural connections, intergenerational love, and adventure-seeking await readers in author Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrator Tracy Subisak’s touching Amah Faraway

Since “[v]ideo chats [aren’t] the same as real life,” Kylie is nervous about visiting her Amah who lives so far away in Taipei, despite their weekly time together online. Once they arrive, Amah encourages Kylie to explore the city together,  “Lái kàn kàn! Come see!” But Kylie finds everything strange:  Amah’s apartment, dining with her extended family, city life, the night market. Everywhere they go, Kylie hesitantly “trail[s] behind Amah and Mama.”

 

Amah Faraway int1
Interior art from Amah Faraway written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, Bloomsbury Children’s Books ©2022.

 

But on the day they visit the hot springs, something changes for Kylie. Dipping her toe in the warm water, she relishes in the joy of that moment and, in the days to follow, all the other experiences Taipei has to offer. From this point on, Greanias cleverly flips the lines of the story, repeating the same lines as the first part, but this time in reverse order with slight changes in context and punctuation to emphasize Kylie’s wholehearted embrace of the culture around her. 

 

Amah Faraway int2
Interior art from Amah Faraway written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, Bloomsbury Children’s Books ©2022.

 

Amah’s welcoming refrain has now become Kylie’s. “Lái kàn kàn!” she calls out to Amah and Mama as she leads them to the places Amah has taken her before, only now Kylie sees them with fresh, new eyes. Energetic lines in a soft color palette weave through the book which includes Taiwanese Mandarin text in speech bubbles inviting readers to join in on the fun. 

Included in the back matter are the Taipei sights mentioned in the story,  meanings behind Taiwanese foods, and a note from both the author and illustrator about their experiences visiting their own grandmothers in Taiwan.

An engaging story set in a vibrant, diverse city, Amah Faraway illustrates how to face your fears by leaning on familial love.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil

THE ARABIC QUILT:
An Immigrant Story

Written by Aya Khalil

Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

(Tilbury House Publishers; $17.95, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.

The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?

The Arabic Quilt interior1
Interior spread from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.

Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.

The Arabic Quit int2
Interior art from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a classroom guide.

Also recommended for Eid is Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, with illustrations by Sara Alfageeh, Amulet Books.

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Kids Picture Book Review – Shubh Diwali!

SHUBH DIWALI!
Written by Chitra Soundar
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Shub Diwali book cover

 

Every fall I celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, better known as Hanukkah, which lasts eight days. But there is another Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus called Diwali that is “celebrated across five days,” depending on where one lives. This year Diwali begins on Sunday, October 27 so I wanted to share this new picture book about the holiday called Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua.

From the very first pages when “Grandpa watches the waning moon. The festival is coming soon,” readers feel a sense of anticipation knowing that something wonderful is about to happen. Chua’s cheerful and brightly colored artwork depicts preparations underway as a multi-generational Indian family tidies their home in the days leading up to Diwali. I love how we see everyone involved, even the adorable dog, eager for the celebration to begin.

 

Shubh Diwali IN01
Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

Told in rhyme, Shubh Diwali! introduces youngsters to the numerous holiday customs such as hanging bunting made from mango leaves, creating striking Rangoli art (“traditional floor decorations and patterns made from rice flour and colored powders”), and wearing new clothes. There’s plenty of storytelling by elders, in this case recounting tales of gods who “fought evil against all odds,” as well as time together with the whole family to reflect when hymns are chanted and bells are rung. Of course there’s also a lot of eating and playing because, well because that’s what happens when there’s a houseful of kids and adults!

 

Shubh Diwali IN02
Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

The picture book is filled with a diverse group of friends and neighbors who are invited to share in the lovely and meaningful Diwali rituals such as lighting the lamps, exchanging presents and candy, and watching brilliant fireworks light up the skies. I learned in the interesting back matter that on the third day of this festival, which happens to be when the New Year is celebrated, people “offer food and support to those less privileged than themselves.” Also the fifth day, called Bhai Dooj, is devoted to brothers and sisters getting together to “celebrate their love for one another.”

 

Shubh Diwali IN03
Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

I recommend sharing this charming picture book with children so, like me, they can learn about Diwali and its beautiful traditions. There are many holidays based on the lunar calendar and it’s a good idea to expose kids to as many as possible in order to gain a greater understanding of different cultures at home and abroad and maybe make our world a little smaller.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

Read a review about another book illustrated by Charlene Chua here.

 

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Best New Picture Books for Grandparents Day 2019

CELEBRATING GRANDPARENTS DAY 2019

∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

grandparents day clipart

 

 

grandpas top threes coverGRANDPA’S TOP THREES
Written by Wendy Meddour
Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

This charming picture book hit all the right notes with me. The cleverness of the prose and the gorgeous watercolor illustrations that were rendered digitally work together to make Grandpa’s Top Threes an easy-to-read and share, gentle approach to grief (in this case the grandpa’s) and the loss of a grandparent.

Henry is frustrated by his grandpa’s seemingly ignoring him, but his mom tells him to give it time. Parent and caregivers will immediately understand why. When Mom suggests Henry ask his grandpa “if he’d like a sandwich,” Henry puts the perfect spin on the question and engages his grandfather. “Grandpa, what are your top three sandwiches?” As Henry succeeds at getting his grandfather out of himself by continuing to ask for Grandpa’s Top Three, the two return to their loving relationship that existed before Henry’s grandmother’s death. The beautiful ending will tug at your heartstrings in the best possible way.

Grandpas Stories book coverGRANDPA’S STORIES
Written by Joseph Coelho
Illustrated by Allison Colpoys
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness

This moving story is meaningful in so many ways. It’s at once a book that will help youngsters discuss and process the loss of a beloved grandparent as well as a beautiful and poetic tribute to the grandparent grandchild relationship.

The picture book aptly unfolds in seasons where the young main character compares her grandpa to things in the world as varied as springtime, deep space, dreams and stories. “If all the world were springtime, I would replant my grandpa’s birthdays so that he would never get old.” Her other wishes convey to readers that this bright little girl knows her grandfather is ill and while the loss may come as no surprise, the overwhelming feelings of grief will. But thankfully she has special memories from Grandpa and a new journal handmade by him in which she can “write and draw” to express her sadness along with the worlds of love she shared with her grandfather.

Despite the subject of losing a beloved grandparent, the cheerful illustrations rich with expression help this picture book focus on happy times the grandfather and granddaughter have spent together. The terrific takeaway definitely comes from the subtitle, A Book of Remembering, which Grandpa’s Stories does perfectly.

My Grandma and Me coverMY GRANDMA AND ME
Written by Mina Javaherbin
Illustrated by Lindsey Yankey
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading My Grandma and Me. While I never had this close relationship with my grandmother, I enjoyed reading about Javaherbin’s deep abiding love for hers. This picture book, autobiographical and irresistible, takes readers to Iran where the author’s grandmother lived with her family. “When she cooked, I cooked. When she prayed, I prayed like her, too.” Mina’s grandmother welcomed her sweet shadow.

Like me, I’m sure you’ll fly through the pages and read again and again about how young Mina adored her grandmother and spent as much time with her as possible whether at home, next door at her friend Annette’s house or at the mosque. As Mina grows, so does her love and respect for her grandmother who was obviously a wonderful role model for the young girl.

What will also resonate with readers, in addition to the lovely recollections, are the simple moments of grandma and grandchild quality time. In the beginning of the book Yankey shows little Mina lying on her grandmother’s back during namaz, early morning prayer time. From that moment on the love between grandchild and grandparent emanates from every page during playtime, Ramadan and social visits. This enchanting celebration of the bond between generations is a rewarding and recommended read.

  • Reviews by Ronna Mandel

 

Other new recommended reads for Grandparents Day

Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh – a not-to-miss debut about special time together that will leave your heart full. It’s pure happiness in your hands.

Looking for Yesterday by Alison Jay – this charming picture book about looking forward is a STEMish story with breathtaking illustrations you’ll want to look at over and over again and a grandparent grandson relationship that’s full of wisdom and wit.

You can also find a previous Grandparents Day book review here.

 

 

 

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Kids Book: On Yom HaShoah – Hand in Hand by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

HAND IN HAND
 by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum
Illustrated by Maya Shleifer
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 7 and up)

 

Maya Shleifer cvr art _ Hand in Hand by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

 

With recent surveys showing that fewer and fewer adults and children know about the Holocaust, the need to continue sharing this information with new generations by reading books such as Hand in Hand is vital. The annual commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah, which this year begins the evening of May 1 and ends the evening of May 2, is a good time to honestly but sensitively approach the subject both at home and in school for children ages seven and up.

Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s new picture book, Hand in Hand with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, provides the ideal vehicle to start the conversation about what the Holocaust was and how it impacted families. In this case the emphasis is on the tragedy of family separation, a topic with significance even today. Written from the perspective of anthropomorphic rabbits, the story introduces readers to Ruthi, her little brother Leib and their mother. According to the author notes, this family (apart from being bunnies) represents a fictional combination of countless real people whose moving tales of courage and strength inspired Rosenbaum. It’s not clear where the characters live but some of the language, like when Mama escapes late one night, leaving her children, and says—”Don’t worry, my doves. Sometimes walls rise up. Still, there is always a way … forward.”—I get the impression the city is Warsaw. Although it could really be any number of European cities where Jews lived during WWII.

 

int art from Hand in Hand They Hovered Over Our Heads
Interior spread from Hand in Hand written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, Apples and Honey Press ©2019.

 

Rosenbaum effectively employs similes like the one in the illustration above—”They hovered over our heads like tidy rows of storm clouds – threatening to burst.”—to gently establish the ominous presence of Nazi Storm Troopers, perhaps the ones Mama was running away from early on in the story when she departs in haste. Maybe the soldiers had already taken her husband.

 

Hand in Hand siblings separated interior illustration
Interior spread from Hand in Hand written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, Apples and Honey Press ©2019.

 

The strong bond between brother and sister is evident on every page. Ruthi is seven and Leib is four when Mama goes away and she must now look out for him in their mother’s absence. A neighbor brings the children to an orphanage where they remain among hundreds, abandoned or left parent-less. The expression on Leib’s face as depicted in Shleifer’s art, when he is soon adopted, is both powerful and bittersweet. Pulled apart, like the torn photo of the siblings, from the loving hands of her brother, Ruthi refuses to say good-bye. Leib will be saved because of his Aryan “blonde curls and sapphire eyes.” At just seven she must find a way to survive, in the woods, underground, anywhere until the war ends.  Then “The nightmare … came to a halt.

 

Hand in Hand int illustration of Ruthi on boat to new country
Interior spread from Hand in Hand written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, Apples and Honey Press ©2019.

 

In the optimistic illustration of the boat above, it seems as though Ruthi has been sent to Palestine where she lives on a kibbutz and makes a new life for herself in Israel. Years pass. She marries, has children but always, always thinks about finding Leib. Her children and grandchildren urge her to add her name to an enormous list of people seeking family members. But is there any chance to be reunited with a brother who could be living anywhere or perhaps even no longer alive?

 

Searching for her lost sibling int illustration from Hand in Hand
Interior spread from Hand in Hand written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, Apples and Honey Press ©2019.

 

Here’s when we can rejoice. Ruthi’s efforts to locate Leib succeed. It’s heartwarming to see the siblings together once more after decades apart. Now an old man, though still younger than Ruthi, Leib greets her with tenderness, “Shalom, my big sister, Ruthi!” For her part, Ruthi notes “His blue eyes had lost their sapphire luster, but through my tears my heart knew Leib’s strawberry smile.” This framing of a similar line Rosenbaum used in the book’s opening brings the story full round.

I have been moved and impressed with every re-read of Hand in Hand at how well Rosenbaum’s symbolism and subtlety say so much. There’s no need to go into detail about the brutality and harshness of the Holocaust. That’s for parents and teachers to decide before having this important discussion with kids. Each child, especially the younger ones, has a different threshold for how much information about the Holocaust they can handle. What works so well is that Rosenbaum has chosen to focus on a relationship as a way into the subject of war and/or genocide and the aftermath. Shleifer’s illustrations convey the the sorrowful times Ruthi has experienced without Leib but does so delicately and only twice uses very dark tones when Ruthi is first separated from her brother. This touching book is one of boundless love, faith in family and faith for the future. I hope this picture book will resonate with you as much as it did with me.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Find other Holocaust Remembrance Day reads here.

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Two New Joyful Picture Books – Stardust and The Whole Wide World and Me

A flower in a field. 🌸
A star in the sky. 
Simple things seen and sensed
through the eyes of a child
help them find and define their place in the universe
in two beautiful new picture books
from Candlewick Press and Nosy Crow.

 

 

Stardust book cover art

STARDUST
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Briony May Smith
(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

STARDUST features a thoughtful young girl who tries and tries to shine as brightly as her talented older sister. She cannot knit as well, find a missing ring first, or design the best outfit for the costume competition. When she seeks solace under the starry night sky, her grandfather joins her for a quiet chat. Once there was nothing, he tells her, but after a BANG and a series of twinkles, stars were born. Willis sends the duo off on an imaginary journey to explore the subsequent creation of planets, moons, seas, trees and even, sisters!

interior spread from Stardust by Jeanne Willis with art by Briony May Smith
STARDUST. Text copyright © 2018 by Jeanne Willis. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Briony May Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Smith’s richly colored illustrations will carry young readers into the fantastical realm to introduce the Big Bang and how all is created from stardust. The tender relationship between the girl and her grandfather is light and sweet but never heavy-handed, leading to a delightful conclusion that reaches decades into the girl’s future.

 

Stardust by Jeanne Willis with art by Briony May Smith int illustration
STARDUST. Text copyright © 2018 by Jeanne Willis. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Briony May Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

The book jacket is generously speckled with silver stars and a shiny title, a bright and cheerful exterior feature that highlights and compliments this book’s encouraging message about being true to yourself.

 

book cover illustration from The Whole Wide World and Me by Toni YulyTHE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND ME
Written and illustrated by Toni Yuly
(Candlewick; $15.99, Ages 2-5)

A tiny red ladybug has captured a girl’s attention on the cover of Toni Yuly’s THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND ME. Open the book, and the ladybug creeps up a single blade of green grass. Suddenly a bright yellow flower dominates the page, as if from the bug’s perspective. Two boots arrive on scene, signaling the girl’s arrival and her tender exploration of the natural wonders that surround her.

 

interior illustration from The Whole Wide World and Me by Toni Yuly
THE WHOLD WIDE WORLD AND ME. Copyright © 2019 by Toni Yuly. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

The simple lyrical text is placed sparingly on the page, pacing the story with a gentle, slow unfurling from land to sea, sky and mountain.

 

the Whole Wide World and Me by Toni Yuly interior illustration
THE WHOLD WIDE WORLD AND ME. Copyright © 2019 by Toni Yuly. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Yuly’s captivating illustrations are a combination of ink, charcoal pencil, torn tissue, cut paper and digital collage. The colors are bold and textured, beautifully conveying the gritty beach, crisp blades of grass, and fuzzy cotton dandelion seeds. “I am a small part of it all,” proclaims the young naturalist, joyously exploring and connecting with the world around her. Readers will be duly inspired to get outdoors and join the fun.

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Books Make Great Holiday Gifts for Kids – A Roundup

CHILDREN’S BOOKS TO GIVE AS GIFTS

– A HOLIDAY SEASON ROUNDUP –

 

free clip art of Christmas tree

 

cover illustration from Drawn Together by Minh Lê with art by Dan Santat
Interior art from Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat
Interior illustrations from Drawn Together written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, Disney-Hyperion ©2018.
DRAWN TOGETHER
Written by Minh Lê

Illustrated by Dan Santat
(Disney Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Drawn Together is one of my favorite picture books of 2018 and not just because it has a clever title. Lê’s spare text perfectly captures the tale of a boy and his grandfather who are separated by words but find a way to connect through drawing—a feel-good story that crosses cultures and time.
int spread by Dan Santat from Drawn Together by Minh Lê
Interior spread from Drawn Together written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, Disney-Hyperion ©2018.

Santat’s gorgeous art alternates between vivid modern color for the grandson’s images and a black-and-white traditional style when the grandfather draws. The book’s beauty will move you. The publisher includes clever details such as a sharp pencil on the spine and a surprise image beneath the cover; the two characters’ contrasting art styles serve as lovely bookends.

This book would make an ideal gift for that special child in your life who speaks a different language than you do, although any child will find it speaks to them about connectivity and family ties. It is also befitting for kids who love to draw because the book shows how pictures open up worlds. 

Starred Review – BooklistKirkus Reviews, Publishers WeeklySchool Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


THE DAY YOU BEGINThe Day You Begin book cover illustration
Written by Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated by Rafael López
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Interior spread from The Day You Begin
Interior spread from The Day You Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2018.

The Day You Begin isn’t about the day you’re born. Instead, this heartening 32-page picture book invites you to make a space for yourself in the world. Woodson grabs the reader from the empathetic first line, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Those words give voice to the uneasiness we all experience. Yet, to forge connections we must learn to take a chance and open up. López takes the story beyond the words. His colorful artwork imaginatively captures the emotional tone, showing conflicting feelings of hope and despair, isolation and togetherness.This lovely tale reaches hearts of all ages. The Day You Begin would be an ideal gift for graduates, people seeking to begin anew, or anyone who needs a nudge to remember that life is a beautiful blend of our differences.This story was inspired by a poem in Woodson’s New York Timesbest-selling memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

 

 

cover art from Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid

 

Interior spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco with illustrations by Joy Ang, Workman Publishing ©2018.

THE ATLAS OBSCURA EXPLORER’S GUIDE FOR THE WORLD’S MOST ADVENTUROUS KID
Written by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco
Illustrated by Joy Ang
(Workman Publishing; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

 

int. spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid
Interior spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco with illustrations by Joy Ang, Workman Publishing ©2018.

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is THE book for that kid on your holiday shopping list who loves extraordinary facts. Who knew there was a school in Iceland dedicated to the study of elves, or that fireflies in Tennessee blink in sync with one another?Travel to destinations in forty-seven countries on every continent in this entertaining journey to 100 real places. The book opens with a clever Packing List and Adventure Plan (Table of Contents). Readers can randomly choose places to explore, or read the book straight through. Each two-page spread highlights segments that are stand-alone entries, yet there’s a teaser at the end connecting a topic from that country to the next one. For example, after reading about how Cambodians built their own bamboo trains called “norries” (when the war damaged their rail system), you’re invited to read about another do-it-yourself system of transportation in Colombia—homemade zip lines! Parents who find themselves unable to put this book down can ask Santa for the adult version: #1 New York Times best-seller, The Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Whether young or old, the Atlas Obscura books take you on a fascinating spin around the globe delivering strange facts in the most delightful way.

Starred Review – Booklist

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.

Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.

Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”

But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.

Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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A Picture Book and A Chapter Book, Two New Books by Author Hena Khan

CRESCENT MOONS AND POINTED MINARETS:
A MUSLIM BOOK OF SHAPES
Written by Hena Khan
Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

cover illustration from Crescent Moons and Pointed MinaretsCrescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini is a sequel to the duo’s highly praised 2012 book Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors.

Khan’s spare, rhyming text introduces readers to various shapes, but it’s much more than a book about shapes. Every spread spotlights a different aspect of Islam. For example, we learn that a minaret (with a cone-shaped roof) is the tower in a mosque from which the call to prayer is broadcast; a daff is a large circular drum; and the Ka’aba (a word which means “cube” in Arabic) is a holy temple in the city of Mecca. A glossary at the end of the book provides definitions and an author’s note explains the important connection between Islam, shapes, and geometry.

I savored every page of Amini’s exquisite mixed media illustrations. Vibrant colors and detailed patterns, including some incredible tilework, draw the eye in and keep it lingering long after Khan’s lilting, rhythmic text has been read. As an added bonus, every spread depicts a different country (though there’s no mention of it in the main text). In an interview with Deborah Kalb, Khan indicated that Turkey, Tanzania, and Malaysia are represented. I imagine that trying to guess where each scene is set could lead to some terrific conversations.

Usually, shape books are aimed at a very young audience, but Khan and Amini have added so many additional layers to the “shape” concept, that readers of all ages will surely be drawn to this beautiful book. And given that hate crimes against and harassment of Muslims have spiked in the past several years, a book that sheds light on their traditions and family life is especially important. After all, as Khan told School Library Journal in 2013, “Educating kids about different cultures is key to building tolerance and acceptance.”

While readers who practice Islam will enjoy seeing themselves on the pages of this gorgeously illustrated book, as a non-Muslim, I relished the opportunity to learn about some of the traditions, art, architecture, and culture surrounding the world’s second largest religion.

Author website: https://www.henakhan.com/

Illustrator website: https://www.myart2c.com/

 

Author Hena Khan is on tour with her new chapter book, Power Forward, the first in a series. Click here to see if she’s coming to your town!

 

 

POWER FORWARD: ZAYD SALEEM CHASING THE DREAM (BOOK ONE)
Written by Hena Khan
(Salaam Reads; $16.99, paperback $6.99, Ages 7-10)

Cover photo from Power Forward by Hena KhanI have to admit—I don’t read a lot of books about sports. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the first book in Hena Khan’s new chapter book series one bit. I bought a copy of Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream) for my nephew at one of Khan’s book signings (the first on her tour) then, as soon as I got home, read the entire thing in one sitting.

Fourth grader Zayd Saleem eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball. He’s on the D team (for now) but with practice he knows he can make the Gold team. Tryouts are two weeks away and he needs all the help he can get. That’s why he bails on his early morning violin practice and plays basketball instead—and he’s actually improving. But when Zayd’s mom discovers he’s been skipping violin and lying about it, the punishment is harsh: no basketball for two whole weeks. And that means no tryouts.

Zayd narrates his tale with a good dose of humor, but the humor never comes at the expense of emotions. We feel deeply for our narrator as he tries to make space for his own dreams while meeting his parent’s expectations. But something’s got to give—and Zayd will need to stand up for himself if he wants to keep those dreams alive.

Family plays a big role in this story and Khan does a terrific job of crafting real characters that we want to spend time with. Zayd’s got an annoying older sister, a fun-loving uncle, an adoring grandmother, an understanding grandfather, and parents who really want what’s best for their son—readers may find themselves wishing for an invitation to dinner.

Sports fans might open Power Forward for the basketball, but they’ll keep reading for the humor, honesty, and cozy warm feeling of being part of the Saleem family. And luckily, they won’t have to wait too long to join the fun again. The next two books in the series hit the shelves soon. Look for On Point (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream, Book 2) on May 29, 2018 and Bounce Back (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream, Book 3) on October 2, 2018. Let’s hope there are many more to come!

• Both books reviewed by Colleen Paeff

 

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Best Picture Books for National Poetry Month

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

Every April during National Poetry Month, we like to share some poetry books we hope children will enjoy reading, ones that perhaps will pave the path towards a greater appreciation of poetry. The books don’t have to be in rhyme although our littlest readers do love the sound of cats and bats and rats who wear hats. If you’re interested in exposing youngsters to all different kinds of poetry, consider the following picture books and also ask your librarian for suggestions or head to your local independent bookstore today.

National Poetry Month Picture Books My ChinatownMy Chinatown: One Year in Poems
Written and illustrated by Kam Mak
(HarperCollins; $6.99, Ages 4-8)
Reading My Chinatown allows to us experience a young boy’s adjustment to New York’s Chinatown after moving there from Hong Kong. This realistically illustrated (at first I thought photographs filled the book) story is divided into seasons beginning in winter and ending again in winter, a full, activity-filled year later. We see the boy not enjoying his new country’s New Year celebration. Instead, he spends time reflecting on his grandmother’s pickeled kumquats back in Hong Kong. All the while the narrator wonders, “But how can it ever be a good year thousands of miles away from home?” His feelings of detachment are strong. Always thinking of his former home, the young boy resists learning English, wanting to cling to his comfortable past rather than risk moving forward. Being given a board game like the one he had at home marks a turning point in the story. From the calming rhythm of his mother’s sewing machine, to a dragon boat race in Queens, from the familiar sound of mah-jongg tiles “slapping the table”, to making new friends, as the seasons pass, the narrator is starting to feel at home. And, at last, taking part in the following New Year’s festivities, it’s clear that he finally feels that Chinatown is where he belongs.

National Poetry Month Picture Books A Great Big CuddleA Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 3-7)
It’s never too early to read poetry to children. And Rosen, a former UK Children’s Laureate sure knows it! In this accessible and varied collection of over 30 poems, there’s something for everyone including silliness and seriousness, sounds and interactive play. Young children are going to find themselves asking for these fun, often humorous poems to be read over and over again. Without even realizing it, kids’ll learn animal sounds, emotions, counting and some clever puns – read I Went to see what I mean – while appreciating the punchy rhymes, fast pace and kid-oriented topics. Current UK Children’s Laureate, Riddell, has provided artwork that feels more like the prolific illustrator Shirley Hughes than the Riddell illustrations we’ve seen accompany other  children’s books. His range and talent are showcased in this collection that begs to be on little ones’ bookshelves.

National Poetry Month Picture Books In the Land of WordsIn The Land of Words: New and Selected Poems
Written by Eloise Greenfield
Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
(Amistad; $6.99, Ages 4-8)

Visit “The Land of  Words” with NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Winner, Eloise Greenfield. She’ll take you and your children through pages of inspiring poems as her lyrical language rains down on you and waters the soul. With over 20 wonderful poems in the collection, In The Land of Words felt like a mentor’s embrace, a call to action to create and an urging to just soak up every moment.Greenfield was spot on, if you can say that about a poem, in both rhythm and description of the patience involved when fishing in To Catch a Fish. I particularly enjoyed Making Friends about how something as simple as making a silly face can be the start of a friendship. Flowers is a touching tribute to stepparents. This one shares the pride and love a stepfather feels at his stepdaughter’s solo performance. Books, Story, and Poet/Poem will speak to readers and writers everywhere. This line, from books, especially resonated for me, “New faces and new voices, I listen and I see, and people I have never met mean everything to me.” If you love words, don’t miss this collection complemented by Gilchrist’s multi-media artwork that includes felt, embroidery and what looks like markers, making this book all the more satisfying. Overall I found myself quite enchanted by the cleverness from start to finish.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van

In a Village by the Sea
Written by Muon Van
Illustrated by April Chu
(Creston Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly
Junior Library Guild
selection

InaVillage1

 

Inspired by the author’s own life as the daughter of a fishing family in Vietnam, In a Village by the Sea is the story of yearning for the safety and security of home. Told in a circular fashion, Van uses few but poignant words to guide us from the open ocean, to a home atop a hill, and back to the ocean once more. Chu’s beautiful illustrations elicit powerful, conflicting emotions.  

VillageInterior
Interior artwork from In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van with illustrations by April Chu, Creston Books ©2015.

We see fishermen casting their nets amidst choppy waves.  Dark storm clouds gather in the distance; solemn expressions foreshadow the dangers to come.  Details like these are lush in each spread.  In a Village by the Sea is the  kind of book a child would spread out on the floor slowly studying and absorbing each image, like the gentle mist above the mountains where a family dog guides our eyes to a home, the home belonging to one of the fishermen.

Colors here are warm. Reds, yellows, and oranges from the lanterns hanging on the front porch and in the fire roaring beneath the “steaming noodle soup,” as well as the tender eyes of the faithful dog remind us of the things home symbolize. Though the contemplative stare of the central character of the home (the fisherman’s wife) jars our sense of security. Juxtaposed to her serene surroundings, the wife’s gaze is heavy with worry as she awaits the return of her husband.

A particularly breathtaking spread is on pages 16-17 in which we get an aerial view of an orderly and organized home where there’s a place for everything and everything has a place for itself. Every detail is intriguing: the sandals neatly placed right outside the door, prepped vegetables in baskets ready for cooking, a sleepy baby in a bassinet. Even the cricket that lives in the home is appropriately placed-in a “dusty hole” underneath a mat.

VillageInterio
Interior artwork from In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van with illustrations by April Chu, Creston Books ©2015.

Through this extraordinary cricket, we are privy to another layer of Chu’s artistic skills (fully revealed on the last page of the story). “Humming and painting,” the cricket, we come to find out, is the master creator of this story. He is drawing the scene of a “sudden storm,/ roaring and flashing” where the fisherman’s “white boat,” helplessly “crash[es] and roll[s].” As one of the cricket’s hands draws the stormy gray clouds, you can see the pressure point of his brush. It’s as if the story itself is happening in the moment we are reading it, as if we’re experiencing the moment of creation itself. Chu reminds us that, like the fisherman’s dangerous journey, reading involves risk. We readers, too, are at the mercy of fate, unaware of what’s to come next.

Open skies, calm waters, and cheerful yellows at the final pages tell us the end is hopeful.  The fisherman will arrive safely back to his home.  In fact, the cricket’s final creation on the last page ensures it’s just so.

Readers of all ages will undoubtedly connect with In a Village by the Sea. In a world of certain uncertainty, the reassurance of family and love bring all of us home.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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