HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG
Written and illustrated by Jen Betton
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Written by Holly Thompson
Illustrated by Jen Betton
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
One talented creator’s works grace two new picture books, Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant, featuring wonderful animal illustrations. Both books are reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sure, on Instagram every hedgehog looks cute and cuddly. But in this story, woodland friends are fearful of his prickles when HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, the debut author-illustrator title from Jen Betton. Perhaps he got out of his cozy nest the wrong way, but Hedgehog wakes feeling “down in the snout and droopy in the prickles.” Smart and resourceful, he knows just what he needs to feel better. But who will hug Hedgehog? Rabbit and Raccoon refuse, and Turtle won’t even wake up. Then an ominous shadow seeks into the clearing. It’s a fox! He’s not afraid, but should Hedgehog be?
Betton’s text is smooth and rhythmic with vivid verbs and comforting refrains. Her woodland scenes feature crisp white and lush, deep blue-greens that make creamy-brown Hedgehog pop as the star. Plentiful double spreads and a clever mix of perspectives keep scenes entertaining from one page turn to the next, and expressive animal faces convey emotions without ambiguity. A gentle ending brings comfort and happy closure, plus a new friend who can see beyond Hedgehog’s thorny accoutrements.
Betton also lends her prolific talents to TWILIGHT CHANT, a beautiful and poetic science picture book written by Holly Thompson. Readers follow a family leaving the shore as the sun begins to sink and shift to twilight hours. Thompson’s lyrical text directs attention to the animals that become active at this time of day – the “crepuscular creatures emerge” – with smoothly rhythmic repetition that reads aloud beautifully. As deer graze, swallows skim, foxes sniff and bats swerve, each page turn leads to a new creature and heightens our appreciation of this calm yet intensely busy twilight time
The illustrations, rich with gold and rose dusky tints, showcase each animal and its setting with both realism and softness across double spread pages. The family wends their way home slowly, tucked in as a careful through-line to emphasize our environmental interconnectedness. The deepening sky colors conclude with purpley nightfall – making this title a perfect, calming bedtime selection. An author’s note clearly explains what twilight is and gives more information about the intriguing animals encountered in the story. A poetic masterpiece infused with subtle science and soothing imagery, TWILIGHT CHANT is one of a kind.
• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Find another recent #Epic18 picture book review here.
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.
Written by J. H. Diehl
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
– A Junior Library Guild Selection –
In Tiny Infinities, the debut middle grade novel by J. H. Diehl, the summer when Alice turns thirteen, her family’s structure disintegrates. Her mother has become a bedridden recluse, her father moves out, and Alice’s two brothers are temporarily placed with their aunt. Alice willfully stays at the family home, erecting the Renaissance tent her parents met in, resolving to sleep in the backyard until her father returns. Due to finances, cell phones, internet, and camps are cut. Earning money babysitting is bittersweet—Alice’s parents are too distracted to pay much attention. Alice discovers each family has complications. Piper, the young girl she watches, has an undiagnosed loss of speech and possibly hearing.
This quiet story considers deep issues including how one family member’s illness or injury affects everyone. Because of her parents’ split and her mother’s inability to recover, Alice loses touch with close friends rather than explain.
Swimming keeps Alice centered; she’s determined to get her name on her swim team’s record board. A friendship with the new girl, Harriet, develops. Harriet’s keen observations while somewhat off-putting are also perceptive: she advises Alice to switch to backstroke. While this is another change, Alice eventually realizes that she likes swimming backwards without seeing where she’s going; it gives her confidence in her ability to maneuver the pool, and life. Alice and her friends learn from one another how to find their way—realizing it is their way to find.
Tiny Infinities is an honest coming-of-age middle-grade novel. Alice understands for the first time that there is “no line between hot and cold, or warm and cool, love and not love. Tiny infinities [are] always going to be there.”
Fireflies play a clever role in the novel throughout. Beneath the book’s beautiful glimmering jacket is a stunning smooth casewrap adorned with fireflies. The brightly contrasting endpapers offer a pop of color.
• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
THE DAY I RAN AWAY
Written by Holly L. Niner
Illustrated by Isabella Ongaro
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 2-6)
Written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, The Day I Ran Away shows loving parents creatively assuaging little Grace’s frustration during a challenging day.
It’s bedtime and Grace begins sharing her day with her father who gently reflects her feelings: disappointment at not being able to wear her purple shirt, anger at finding out her favorite cereal is “all gone,” repentance for having lashed out at Mom, and betrayal for not being recognized for her creativity (in using a purple marker to transform her white shirt into her favorite color). As spunky Grace narrates her day, it’s clear to us readers she’s more concerned about telling a good story than disobeying her parents. “No, Silly, you can’t run away to your room,” she tells her dad after he incorrectly assumes the bedroom is her go-to runaway hideout. I like how Dad playfully adds to the drama of her story: “Like a princess in a tower,” he compares her to after Grace explains she was “Banished to [her] bedroom.”
Interior illustration from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, Flashlight Press ©2017.
These endearing exchanges between father and daughter are enhanced by Ongaro’s colorful illustrations. Double page spreads guide the story. On the left side of the page we see the written words (Dad’s words are in orange and Grace’s are in purple-of course!) and the day’s events are illustrated on the right. This technique makes reading the story, for even very little ones, easy and fun to follow. Hand sketched and digitally colored, the illustrations feel warm and safe, especially in details like the scalloped fringes on Mom’s sleeves and kitchen tablecloth.
Interior illustration from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, Flashlight Press ©2017.
While the subject matter of running away can be controversial, the lighthearted interaction between parent and child encourages respect and space for children’s emotions. After all, when Grace finally decides to run away, she remembers and obeys a fundamental house rule. “I’m not allowed to cross the street!” she tells her father and solves her predicament by following her mother’s suggestion. Camped out in the yard, Grace is in her pop up tent, steps away from the kitchen and Mom’s cookies. In fact, this presence of food (and the comfort it connotes) I felt was a quiet nod to Where the Wild Things Are. Max returns from his adventure to find dinner on the table, piping hot–as if he never really ran away from home in the first place.
While our darker emotions can make us feel miles away, our parents’ love and validation always bring us back home.
- Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Read another review by Armineh here.
Smart, capable, solution-seeking girls star
in two new picture books
from debut author-illustrators reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
THE BREAKING NEWS
Written and illustrated by Sarah Lynne Reul
(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
Written and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey
(Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reul brings us a glimpse of a community struggling to cope with upsetting developments, and highlights the role that a girl fulfills to restore and heal them. The book opens with a family happily engaged in potting plants at the kitchen table. But a television in the background interrupts with unsettling news, distracting the parents and disrupting the normal rhythm of life. The little girl, round-eyed and tender-hearted, notices the changes all around her. She becomes determined to act and restore balance to her family, school and community.
Advised by her teacher to look for helpers, our heroine undertakes big and small acts of generosity and kindness. Bold gestures – washing dishes, putting on a silly show, and inventing imaginary force fields – fall flat. But slowly she discovers that many small gestures performed with love and care – tending to the dog, reading to her brother, caring for the recently-potted plant – begin to make a difference.
THE BREAKING NEWS is a helpful, heart-filled book. It bridges the gap between acknowledging distressing events and supporting the family circle where children learn to cope and counter sadness and fear. Reul’s balanced blend of warm and grey toned illustrations underscore the message of empowerment and hope. Reul brings together a brighter future and stronger community by the book’s end, making this a timely, helpful resource for families to discuss broader community issues.
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
It’s techno-trouble for clever Charlotte, the heroine of DOLL-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey, because she doesn’t comprehend the purpose of her new toy, a doll. With her trusty canine sidekick Blutooth, Charlotte is constantly on call for fixing the gadgets and devices that break and baffle her family. However, her constant coding and tinkering spark concern from her parents, who want Charlotte to unplug a bit.
The new “human-shaped pillow” doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm until a hidden battery pack is revealed. Charlotte tackles a doll upgrade, much to Blutooth’s dismay. Will his doggie destruction thwart Charlotte’s creative coding and clicking, or will it lead to a new appreciation for her technological ingenuity?
This STEM-friendly tale will appeal to young readers who appreciate and alternate between toys with and without power buttons. McCloskey’s action-filled, colorful characters are expressive and engaging. The scratchy, sketched appearance balances a sophisticated use of cartoon-panels. Full page illustrations pace the story nicely. Speech bubbles blend dialogue smoothly with text, while background details hint cleverly at Charlotte’s tools and organized interests. DOLL-E 1.0 is a smart, engaging and creative story with lots of contemporary charm.
- Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Read another recent #Epic18 set of book reviews by Cathy Ballou Mealey here.
Written by Taye Diggs
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★ Starred reviews in Kirkus and School Library Journal.
Librarian Dornel Cerro reviews Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs with illustrations by Shane W. Evans.
“I’m a beautiful blend of dark and light, I was mixed up perfectly, and I’m JUST RIGHT!”
Mike, an exuberant and energetic boy rushes from one place to another in his superhero cape:
“I like to go FAST!
No one can stop me
as the wind combs through
my zigzag curly do”
It’s clear that Mike is a well-loved, confident and joyful child. However, although Mike is comfortable with the color of his skin and the “WOW” of his hair, sometimes his diverse heritage causes people to stare and wonder:
“Your mom and dad don’t match,”
they say, and scratch their heads.
There’s pressure at school to choose a group to belong to:
“Some kids at school want me to choose
who I cruise with.
I’m down for FUN with everyone.”
Using rich vocabulary, gentle humor, rhyme, and a hip-hop like rhythm, Diggs offers a inspirational message. The author uses the diversity in the foods we eat to vividly (and deliciously) capture the differences in human appearances. Mike’s mother’s skin is “… rich cream and honey …” and Mike describes himself as:
“I’m a garden plate!
Garden salad, rice and beans-
This is not only a fantastic read-aloud, but a wonderful starting place for positive discussions on image, esteem, diversity, friendship, and inclusion. Adults sharing the story can easily design extension activities to reinforce the book’s theme. What do words like “fused” and “blended” mean? How do these words apply to people? How many references to multicolored or “mixed” things can children find in the book’s illustrations? What kinds of theatre, music, movement, and dance activities could help children express their understanding of the book?
Evans complements Digg’s bouncy and humorous text with textured illustrations consisting of watercolors and cut pieces of fabric. There are many two-page spreads of Mike, dominated by all that wonderful “zippy” hair and the book is awash in multicolor images: even Mom’s apron and Mike’s cape contain a rainbow of colors.
Mixed Me! is a highly recommended read for all children and adults who work with this age group.
Visit the publisher to see interior artwork and other reviews. Check out Digg’s and Shane’s Chocolate Me! website for information about their earlier book which also sends a positive message about skin and hair type. Read Diggs’ tribute to his long time friend, Shane W. Evans, in The Horn Book. See Scholastic for a biographical sketch on Evans and other books he’s illustrated.
THE WONDERFUL FLUFFY LITTLE SQUISHY
by Beatrice Alemagna, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
(Enchanted Lion Books. $18.95, Ages 4 to 8)
- is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Edith – or “Eddie” as she is called – is a five-and-a-half year old charmer with straw-spikey hair, a pert pug nose, and a bright fuchsia hoodie in Beatrice Alemagna’s The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy. She also has a problem – it is her mother’s birthday and she needs to find the perfect present, stat. Overhearing something about a “fuzzy – little –squishy” leads her to assume that her sister might scoop the “right” gift for their mother before Eddie. So our intrepid heroine abandons a steaming teacup and sprints into the streets of her charming French village in search of the fuzzy little squishy gift.
In her wonderful walkable neighborhood, Eddie visits the baker, the florist, a clothing boutique, the antique dealer, and the butcher. She asks each adult for assistance in finding a squishy, fluffy or fuzzy something. Although they listen to her plea and try to help, each giving her a tiny treasure (except the grumpy butcher), none have the elusive gift she seeks. Discouraged, Eddie heads home in the falling snow.
Suddenly, she hears giggles over head and spies “it” – an adorable fluffy little squishy at last! A long-tailed, four legged, be-whiskered poof that is as pink as can be. Eddie immediately knows that this creature has a thousand uses, from pillow to plant to paintbrush. The small gifts from her neighborhood friends come into play as Eddie rescues the Squishy from a series of near disasters and discovers something wonderful about herself as well.
Alemagna excels in depicting enticing shop windows and displays, bursting with scrumptious pastries, delicate flowers, intriguing antiques, and a fold-out triple spread butcher shop. Her illustrations incorporate bursts of energy and action that draw the eye across the page, from steaming cup to falling snow and gushing fountains. Even little Squishy looks as though he might have been zapped by an electrical socket, shocking his fur into uncontrollable chaos. Excellent depictions of winding cobblestone streets, crowded village shops and slate roofed homes will help children appreciate the European sensibilities of this magical adventure story. And they will certainly find Eddie an irrepressible and appealing heroine whose quest is as quirky as it is delightful.
THE WONDERFUL FLUFFY LITTLE SQUISHY was recently awarded the 2016 Mildred L. Batchelder Award by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association. The Batchelder Award is given to the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.
- Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of THE WONDERFUL FLUFFY LITTLE SQUISHY from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.