HOW TO CATCH A MONSTER Written by Adam Wallace Illustrated by Andy Elkerton (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $10.99, Ages 4-8)
Plus a Rafflecopter Giveaway
A USA Today Bestseller!
From the creators of the New York Times bestselling How to Catch a Leprechaun and How to Catch an Elf!
There’s a monster in my closet,
with claws, and teeth, and hair,
and tonight, I’m going to scare him!
He lives just right through there …
Get ready to laugh as a young ninja heads into the closet to meet the monster that’s been so scary night after night! But what if things aren’t what they seem and our monster isn’t scary at all? What if our ninja hero is about to make a friend of the strangest sort?
GO BIG OR GO GNOME Written by Kirsten Mayer Illustrated by Laura K. Horton (Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.
A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?
Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.
Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Matthew Cordell’s notable picture book, Wolf in the Snow, balances a chilly winter landscape with warm sentiments of kindness. A young girl in a red triangular-shaped parka loses her way home from school when snows obliterates the path. At the same time, the severe weather separates a wolf cub from its pack. The two youngsters find one another and the girl’s thoughtfulness sets the story’s tone.
The only words in this book are plaintive sounds: whines, barks, howls, exhausted huffing. Children not yet literate can easily follow the images. Be sure to view the pictures before the title page which convey important information about the girl, her parents, and their dog. These also start us with the idea that, though the girl becomes lost, she is not alone—help will come, though not necessarily in the manner expected.
Blowing snow illustrations are bookended by ones of cozy comfort, communicating a safe opening and conclusion. Icy storm and natural colors contrast sharply with the bright jackets worn by adults and children. Wolves are depicted with distinction.
Animal lovers will appreciate the resounding connection between humans and creatures. Wolf in the Snow reminds us that helping one another is an idea without boundaries.
MERVIN THE SLOTH IS ABOUT TO DO THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD Written by Colleen AF Venable Illustrated by Ruth Chan (Greenwillow Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Lots of letters and cute, colorful animals fill the picture book page stage in Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World. Mervin moves so, so, slowly, just as one might expect a sloth to do. Thank goodness for the quirky cast of energetic and inquisitive characters that show up to pepper him and his red panda buddy with questions!
The title of the book drops slowly into the book pages and hangs as a continuous prop for a bird, gazelle, prairie dogs and many other animals. Puzzled by the meaning of the title, they all make suggestions about exactly what it isill he fly? Dig? Or even go “gazelling”? It’s a great opportunity for reading partners to imagine and discuss what activities other species might think are the “Best Things in the World.”
So slowly, almost imperceptibly, Mervin’s arms are lifting up. Does this offer any clues to impatient readers? Will he fight a shark? Turn into a robot? The animals wait, wait, wait. Their quirky speech bubbles get quieter, then a little testy, before they stride off to more thrilling adventures. But Red Panda patiently persists – he must know Mervin better than anyone. In fact, he just might be Mervin’s best friend!
Chan masterfully builds suspense by adding comic critters one by one onto a simple background, allowing young readers to get to know their personalities through goofy expressions and funny speech bubbles. By the middle of the book, the pages have filled with a colorful riot of animals, bubbles, and letters crowding Mervin, who steadfastly maintains his center stage placement. Venable’s simple, silly dialogue compels readers to continue flipping pages until the final reveal.
It’s high time that a picture book combined a red panda and a sloth as main characters, and Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the Worldwill definitely appeal to young readers that appreciate their comic and cuddly friendship.
Click here for Mervin’s sloth-themed paper craft and more!
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
WE FOUND A HAT Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
We Found a Hat concludes Jon Klassen’s terrific hat trilogy. In this book, two turtles find a hat. One hat. It looks good on both of them, creating a dilemma.
Unlike Klassen’s other “hat” books, this one is told in three parts: Finding the Hat, Watching the Sunset, and Going to Sleep. Each section advances the story with Klassen’s expected deadpan humor. With slim text (less than two hundred words), the images carry the story.
As night begins to fall in the desert, the two turtles settle in. One, however, can’t quite take his eyes off the hat. We expect the turtle to misbehave—that’s been the theme in the other two books. Does it? As the stars come out and the other turtle falls asleep, we find out.
Jon Klassen is the author and illustrator of many award-winning books, including the first two books in the hat trilogy: Caldecott Medal recipient, This is Not My Hat, and the Theodor Seuss Geisel award winner, I Want My Hat Back. His minimal text and clever illustrations meld to bring us unexpected conclusions.
DEAR DRAGON Written by Josh Funk Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★ starred review – Kirkus Reviews
Back in the olden days when kids still wrote letters, I had a pen pal named Melanie Vafiades from London. I never met her so for all I know she could have been a dragon like George’s pen pal in dear Dragon (I mean don’t most dragons live there?), or perhaps she was a unicorn (England’s full of enchanted forests, right?). I’m all for active imaginations and making new friends sight unseen which is exactly what author Josh Funk’s new picture book inspires. Kids’ll love the premise of this endearing story that pairs human students (unbeknownst to them but not their teachers) with dragons as pens pals.
Between Funk’s cheerful, well-paced rhyming text (the students were told to put their correspondence in verse) and Montalvo’s light-hearted, inviting illustrations, readers will get a strong sense of how the two main characters grow from being reluctant about having to actually write something to someone they don’t know, and do it in rhyme no less, to discovering interesting things about each other over the course of the assignment.
The illustrations capture how George, the human, and Blaise, the dragon, innocently interpret the descriptions in each other’s letters based on their personal paradigms. Consider George’s science project volcano (see first image above) as compared to Blaise’s real one, or George’s backyard cardboard fort (see second image) versus Blaise’s and you’ll get the point both author and illustrator have humorously driven home. As the two students continue to write, readers will notice the degree of familiarity increase with every new letter. What ensues when our earthbound boy and his new flying, fire-breathing friend ultimately meet up in person can only be described as pure positivity in picture book form. Funk’s story presents the perfect opportunity to reinforce the important message that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover, although the cover of dear Dragon is pretty darned adorable!
It’s the adventure of a lifetime when best friends—and self-proclaimed superheroes—defeat bad guys of their own invention.
It’s wonk ’em time when Bucky and Stu have to stand up to Phat Tyre, TrashMan and Hose-Nose. No matter that the bad guys are all made out of household items that Bucky and Stu have assembled themselves—these bad guys don’t stand a chance against the boys’ power moves. Still, it’s quite a surprise when their latest villain, the giant Mikanikal Man, gets zapped during a lightning storm and comes to life! The battle—and thrill—of a lifetime ensue. Full of surprises and laughs, this upbeat, action-packed story celebrates imagination, creativity, and friendship in even the most unexpected forms. Cornelius Van Wright’s hilarious illustrations are full of surprises and are perfect for portraying the high-speed antics of two enthusiastic boys.
Q & A:
GRWR: This is a wonderfully imaginative and humorous tale that actually encourages and celebrates make believe and pretend play. How or when did the seed of this story get planted in your mind?
Cornelius Van Wright: Thank you for your kind compliment. The seed to this story came a couple of years ago when I painted a picture of a boy playing chess with a robot. I painted it for fun but people asked me what was the story behind it. So I thought about the picture and slowly this story came to me.
GRWR: As an author/illustrator, does the story come first or do you picture the characters and draw them then see where they take you?
CVW: For me the images always come first. I tried writing words first but it did not work for me. I see the world in images.
GRWR:Bucky and Stu remind me of so many kids at this age – inventive and full of big ideas. Were you primarily interested in exploring the friendship aspect of this book or the adventure the boys seek?
CVW: The relationships came before everything else. Bucky and Stu’s adventure is based on their relationship and that relationship extends to the Mikanikal Man.
GRWR:Is there one particular spread in the book that’s your favorite and why?
CVW: Visually I enjoyed the scene when the boys face certain DOOM after ticking off Mikanikal Man. But story wise, I care for the scene where The Mikanikal Man Spins Bucky and Stu around and around and the boys say, “We can fly!” This was the boys’ inner dream becoming reality.
GRWR:Do tummy rumbles take your mind off whatever you’re doing like they do for Stu and the Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Yes, this part is autobiographical.
GRWR:Are the boys modeled after anyone you know?
CVW: Bucky and Stu are modeled after two friends I met my first year in college. One was very thin and angular (Bucky) and his best buddy was rounder with shaggy blond hair (Stu). I always wondered what they were like as kids. So this was my first sketch of what I thought they would look like.
GRWR:What would you like the takeaway for readers of this story to be?
CVW: I would love for kids to play using their creativity and imagination.
GRWR:Who were some of your favorite authors and illustrators as a child and who do you admire now?
CVW: As a child my mother bought me lots of Little Golden Books and Big Little Books (many of which I still have). Today I admire Jerry Pinkney’s art and Mo Willems’s and Oliver Jeffers’s storytelling.
GRWR:What would you use in your office to build your own Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Lots of Amazon boxes and empty towel rolls!
GRWR:Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
CVW: I am continuing exploring kids going into imaginative lands and using their wits (and anything else on hand) to get them out of trouble! I make the sketches into books (with Scotch Tape bindings) and show them to publishers.
Check out the downloadable CCSS-aligned curriculum guide here.
Cornelius Van Wright wrote and illustrated When an Alien Meets a Swamp Monster, and has also illustrated several other picture books, including Princess Grace (by Mary Hoffman) and Jingle Dancer (by Cynthia Leitich Smith). His work has appeared on Reading Rainbow and Storytime and has been exhibited with the Society of Illustrators. He lives in New York City.
BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN Written by Mary McKenna Siddals Illustrated by Patrice Barton (Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
The essence of childhood play is beautifully conveyed in Mary McKenna Siddals’ sing songy picture book, Bringing the Outside In. In this ode to outdoor pleasures, four pals spend carefree time galavanting in nature and their joy is contagious. Siddals’ rhymes and Barton’s seasonal artwork make every page loads of fun to read aloud and look at any time of year.
I must add here that even if there were no lovely, action-filled illustrations by Patrice Barton, you could still imagine the scene easily: kids dashing about with rain jackets and umbrellas, splishing and sploshing to their hearts’ content. Whether in the garden or at the beach, in the rain or in the snow, the children always find something to do outside. Then, when they’re inside, they can delight in the memory of having been together by looking at photos.
Siddals has included simple yet catchy repetition to engage the youngest of readers who’ll want to have the story read over and over. Bringing the Outside In is a great book to encourage outdoor play with the promise of wonderful treasures of nature to discover everywhere.
WHERE’S THE PARTY? Written and illustrated by Ruth Chan (Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3 to 6)
– is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Filled with silly charm and endearing characters, Ruth Chan’s debut picture book WHERE’S THE PARTY? is a cheerful delight for fans of parties, plans, cats and cake.
Georgie, our furry feline hero, is the hostess with the mostest when it comes to special celebrations. He’s gathered friends for pool parties, topiary competitions, Pie Day, and ice cream truck fests. So it is no surprise when he wakes up with a smile on his face, ready to plan a spectacular party, choose the biggest cake in the bakery, and invite all his friends.
With his furry arms wrapped around a triple-tiered pink, white and blue party cake, Georgie sets out to each friend’s doorstep to issue his invitations in person. Alas, his best friend Feta the dog is too busy making pickles, and Lester the mouse has to untangle a string of lights. Ferdinand the mole can’t be enticed from his hole, and Sneakers (non-specific species) is intently snipping away at his latest evergreen masterpiece.
One by one, Georgie realizes he will not be able to round up any guests for his fiesta. His party hat droops, his whiskers dangle dejectedly, and he nibbles at the party cake to console himself. Eventually it is dark and there is no cake remaining, so Georgie trudges home. But wait, it can’t end there can it? No! Of course one’s picture book friends always come through in magnificent fashion, and it is best to discover the tiny, delightful details for oneself.
Chan’s critters are simple and goofy, with exaggerated features like buck teeth, floppy ears, and fanged underbites. Georgie the cat is a wide-eyed, cuddly character, full of strong feelings that he expresses clearly in toddler-like fashion. Chan tucks tiny, noteworthy details into every illustration, slyly winking at urban architectural excesses and applying silly Scarry-style labels on mugs, posters and cross-stitch samplers.
A super fun Activity Guide available on the publisher’s website provides a cake recipe, printable cake toppers, a party hat pattern, games and coloring pages. Download your own at this link and get ready to party!
ROSE AND THE WISH THING A Journey of Friendship Written and Illustrated by Caroline Magerl (Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3 – 7)
… is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey
A delicate, rich tale, Rose and the Wish Thingis, as its subtitle suggests, a “journey of friendship” between a young girl and the magical creature that springs from her imagination as the result of a wish.
On the first page, Rose stares wistfully, perhaps glumly, from her window. She’s a small figure looking out at a large, unfamiliar cityscape. Boxes are unpacked, and Mama puts her to bed with stories and shadow puppets, but Rose can’t sleep. She looks out from her new window with a telescope that resembles a simple, curled cardboard tube. Then she wishes for … something. Far away, that something – a long eared, soft muzzled furry critter – awakes. Straightaway, it sets off on a journey to Rose in a battered, tagged, stamped box.
And what a journey! In enthralling double page spreads Magerl depicts the creature riding gondola- style through a snowy mountain pass, then blown higher than the clouds by a striped sail, and washed over turbulent seas above cresting waves. These elegant travel scenes, intricately hashed with tiny black lines, show the tiny animal, brave and steadfast, battling the elements on its quest.
Rose waits. And waits. She snuggles with her dog, beats a saucepan drum, draws her wish creature, and worries that the thing will not come. Eventually her family begins to help in her search, heading out into their new city to find the sea and “listen to the hush and growl of the waves.” The box and the creature finally reach their destination, washing near the pier. Rose’s mother helps her stretch far, far out to pluck her new friend from the water.
Magerlalternates the large, exciting spreads of the Wish Thing’s journey with vignettes from Rose’s warm, caring home life, compelling the reader to keep turning the pages. The tale unfolds at a gentle pace, perfectly balanced between lilting text and soft, misty illustrations. The mysterious look of the Wish Thing, accompanied on its travels by playful flying fish-birds, adds to the enchanting, magical air of the story.
This Australian import, first published under the title Hasel and Rose will fascinate young readers who ponder faraway lands or imagine unconventional travel. For those who have also felt new and alone, this tale of longing and friendships found will touch a deep chord.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of ROSE AND THE WISH THING from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.
I LOVE YOU ALREADY! Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies (Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8) Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.
LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5) Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!
Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”
WORM LOVES WORM Written by J.J. Austrian Illustrated by Mike Curato (Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8) Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.
When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.” The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.
CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUG Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler (Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5) Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.
LADYBUG GIRL AND THE BEST EVER PLAYDATE Written by Jacky Davis Illustrated by David Soman (Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
LADYBUG GIRL: THE SUPER FUN EDITION Written by Jacky Davis Illustrated by David Soman (Dial Books for Young Readers; $18.99, Ages 3-5)
Ladybug girl first came into my older daughter’s life about 6 years ago when she was 6, and since then my 4-year-old now loves her! I must admit that I love her too! My favorite page is of Ladybug girl frowning in her room with tons of toys around her and “There’s nothing to do.” It truly reflects the child experience!
The original book, if you haven’t read it, is genius and is sure to bring you back to your childhood. Ladybug girl is rejected by her older brother, but that doesn’t stop her. She shows confidence and finds things to keep her busy and opportunities to serve.
The new Super Fun Edition come with a few punch out paper dolls and sticker outfits between the final endpapers. They are pretty easy to play with and you can see below how much fun my daughter had with them.
Exciting extras: With a poster (printed on the inside of the book jacket), a CD of the audio narration, and reusable paper-doll-style stickers, this gift edition has added value for fans of the series. A new, luxurious package, including redesigned cover with foil effects, makes this edition especially attractive and collectible.
The new book, Ladybug Girl and the Best Ever Playdate has many similar qualities as the original. The sweet message that life can be fun with the simple things. Ladybug girl is faced with a realistic event that happens in many children’s lives: A playdate. She is excited, but is she mainly excited to see her friend or the toy her friend is bringing? At first, it appears Lulu (AKA Ladybug Girl) only wants to play if they can play with the toy, but eventually she finds out that spending quality time with her friend means more than any toy.
Kids ages 3-5 (and maybe even 6) are sure to love the book! I think it is geared more toward girls, but boys may enjoy it just as much (especially with the awesomely cute hound, Bingo)
Across America the back-to-school season is in full swing. Some kids are returning to school, others are first timers. Many are not just entering a new school, but starting again in a new city. I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, introduces three students, Maria from Guatemala, Jin from South Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia, beginning their educational life in an entirely different country, our country, and facing perhaps the biggest challenge when many have come here under a variety of circumstances.
We easily get into the head of each character and learn their hopes and fears. There are new words to learn, sounds strange to their ears and memories of life back home that at first makes adjusting difficult at many levels. Who hasn’t been new at something, full of apprehension and self-doubt? Will I ever learn the new ways in this new land?
“Back home I knew the language. My friends and I talked all day long. Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds.”
“Here I am alone. Here I am confused. Here I am sad.”
But when Maria uses some newly acquired English words in an attempt to join a soccer game, “someone understands.” The same for Jin when he discovers a fellow classmate also shares his love of super heroes and creating comics. Fatimah’s artistic talent attracts positive attention, too. Ultimately the story reinforces a positive message of acceptance, encouraging our kids to see life through someone else’s eyes and maybe make an interesting new friend at the same time.
O’Brien’s lyrical language gently moves the story forward and helps us walk in the main characters’ shoes. We understand they are not whining or complaining, just expressing real concerns that children in their situations are apt to feel. Often though, assisted by O’Brien’s evocative, muted watercolor illustrations, few to no words are required.
In the end page’s A Note from the Author, O’Brien explains that children like Maria or Fatimah, “may have left home not by choice but by force, fleeing from political persecution, violence, or war.” Others, like Jin “may have left behind close family members.” Keeping this in mind when you read the story with your children, you’ll help build awareness and empathy that may encourage youngsters to reach out to children just like Maria, Fatimah or Jin in their schools and make them feel welcome and a part of the community.
To learn about I’m Your Neighbor — a project cofounded by O’Brien promoting the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups — please head to www.imyourneighborbooks.org.
First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.
As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.
Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].” The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.
It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.
Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person. Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.
My curiosity is always piqued by books that contain maps inside their front and rear covers. Happily, Dragon and Captain has got ’em! Here’s why. Maps play a crucial role in this story, presented in comic-style format.
This original picture book features two main characters who happen to be next door neighbors. It’s also clear the boys are friends who’ve played a pretend game of Dragon and Captain countless times, if Dragon’s map is any indication. Dragon, a boy in a dragon robe, and Captain, a boy with a tri-cornered hat, have their work cut out for them the morning the story opens. Captain, it seems, has lost his ship!
Together, Captain and Dragon must brave the unknown by going through a forest, down a cliff and ultimately to the sea in their quest to find the missing vessel. Armed with a compass, a telescope, the map, and massive amounts of imagination, Dragon and Captain set off on a creative adventure (in the backyard) as their moms chat nearby.
Dragon and Captain must foil a bunch of pirates’ plan to commandeer Captain’s ship. Can the duo stop this dastardly deed and get home in time for lunch? Well this reviewer won’t say, but you can probably guess the answer by the expressions on the boys’ faces in the illustrations below!
Between Allabach’s pleasing prose and Turnbloom’s terrific artwork, the team of Dragon and Captain and their active imaginations come to life in this thoroughly enjoyable role playing romp. Picture books like this one should certainly spark children’s interest in inventing their own games of make believe.