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Kids Picture Book Review – Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor

JUST ASK!

BE DIFFERENT, BE BRAVE, BE YOU

Written by Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by Rafael López

(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Just Ask Book Cover

 

STARRED REVIEW – Booklist

Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was diagnosed with diabetes as a child, knows just how that feels. In Just Ask!, written by Sotomayor, along with art by award winning illustrator Rafael López, a group of children work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way.

The book opens with a letter from Sotomayor, the first Latina and third woman appointed to the Supreme Court. In it she explains to the reader how she felt different when kids watched as she injected insulin into her arm. But, she says, they never asked why! “If you ever wonder why someone is doing something different from other kids, Just Ask.

 

Just Ask int 4P10

Interior spread from Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

A beautiful assortment of colors adorn the pages as children of various ethnicities, shapes and sizes are seen holding flower pots, pulling wagons and walking through nature. The first character we are introduced to is based on the author, Sonia. She compares the differences in a garden to the differences of people. “Thousands of plants bloom together, but every flower, every berry, and every leaf is different. Each has a different smell, different color, different shape, and different purpose.” She explains to the reader that, like plants, kids are different too. “Each of us grows in our own way, so if you are curious about other kids, Just Ask!”

In one illustration Sonia is sitting inside a large red rose petal injecting the insulin into her arm. The question that is asked is “Do you ever need to take medicine to be healthy?” As the reader turns the page, Rafael, just like the book illustrator’s name says, “I have asthma, which means I sometimes have trouble breathing and use an inhaler to make breathing easier.”

 

Just Ask int 4P12

Interior spread from Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

While working together with smiles on their faces surrounded by rabbits, butterflies and birds each character poses a question to the readers. These in turn are answered by another child who may be feeling “different.” Sotomayor introduces us to characters with dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Anthony is seated in a wheelchair; Madison and Arturo are both blind and use canes; and a boy named Vijay demonstrates sign language because he is unable to hear.

Lopez’s art of rainbows and smiling trees welcomes the child who may also be feeling different into this imaginary place. Just Ask is a great for parents to read to a child who may be going through his or her own personal struggle. Questions such as “Do you ever feel frustrated?” give the child a chance to express emotions.

The story ends with Sonia gathered around all her new friends amidst the beautiful garden they have all created. She tells them, “when something seems different or new I just ask my parents or my teachers and they help me to understand.”

Sotomayor shares a heartwarming story, also available in Spanish, that asks the questions some children may not know how to ask. This is a great and most needed read for the child who may be dealing with something challenging, and the child who has a friend who seems different but they just aren’t quite sure how to ask. López, whose own son has high functioning autism, says “I am energized to give visual voice to Justice Sotomayor’s compelling story about seeing the world through a unique perspective and being you.” This book shows kids that differences can make us stronger and how maybe kids can use that strength and uniqueness to someday be a part of the highest United States court. I hope this book finds its way to library story times and into classrooms because it positively models respectful interaction between kids of all abilities.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Read another book illustrated by Rafael López here.

 

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I Am a Thief Book Review With a Guest Post by Illustrator Molly Ruttan

I AM A THIEF!
Written by Abigail Rayner
Illustrated by Molly Ruttan
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

I Am a Thief book cover

 

Happy Book Birthday 🎂 🎈to I Am a Thief!, written by Abigail Rayner with art by Molly Ruttan, marking her illustrator debut.

I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.

BOOK REVIEW:

Starred Review – Kirkus

The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of  a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.

 

int spread1 IAmaThief

Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.

Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.

 

int spread2 IAmaThief

Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”

I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.

GUEST POST:

Hi Ronna,
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
e
I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
e
One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kidI was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
e
I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
e
Int art IAmaThief

Interior artwork from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be thisthe Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
e
As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
e
BIO:
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Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
e
A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.
e
  • Review by Ronna Mandel
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    e

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Kids Book Review – Now? Not Yet! by Gina Perry

NOW? NOT YET!
Written and illustrated by Gina Perry
(Tundra Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Now Not Yet Book Cvr

 

A sweet and spot on take of differing priorities, Gina Perry’s picture book, Now? Not Yet!, is a super summer read. The two pals, Peanut and Moe, first seen in Too Much! Not Enough! are back to share more contrasting but relatable  personality traits.

Before even reaching the title page, readers will see that, in the opening endpapers artwork, Perry depicts a beautiful woodsy setting for a story with blue lines delineating the characters’ journey from start to finish. I wanted to jump into the illustration! A more simplified version of this scene is also included at the end. Such a cool feature!

 

now not yet 3INT

Interior illustrations from Now? Not Yet! written and illustrated by Gina Perry, Tundra Books ©2019.

 

The pals are going camping but Peanut is impatient. He’s got a one track mind and it’s set on swimming. Moe, on the other hand, knows that fun and games have to take a back seat to the journey (hiking in the woods), facing several obstacles along the way (getting lost, Peanut falling) and ultimately setting up camp. All the while Peanut keeps asking Now? Now? Now? When the Now? turns into Now! it’s clear Peanut has waited long enough. But at the same time, he’s never once pitched in. Moe’s been doing everything himself. And more still needs to get done. With the two friends at odds, Moe runs off. Now he’s not a happy camper. Parent can ask their children if they feel they’re more like Moe or Peanut and discuss why.

 

now not yet 4INT

Interior illustrations from Now? Not Yet! written and illustrated by Gina Perry, Tundra Books ©2019.

 

Peanut and Moe need to work things out soon otherwise their special time together camping will be ruined. Luckily Peanut sees the light, finishes the chores, but realizes helping out is all fine and dandy but what good is being prepared when Moe’s not around to play with? Here’s where parents can point out some subtle actions in the illustrations that might indicate Moe’s got a fun surprise in store. Perry’s artwork is vibrant and inviting, adding a pleasing lightheartedness to this friendship story of cooperation and empathy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Read a review of another friendship story here.

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Kids Book Review – My Heart by Corinna Luyken

MY HEART
Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

my heart book cover art

 

Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’s rhyming picture book, My Heart, about perseverance through difficult emotional times, will resonate with readers. The spare lyrical text explains what can happen to a heart: “some days it is cloudy and heavy with rain” or “it’s a whisper that can barely be heard.”

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 07

Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

Details make this book special. On the cover, a golden heart-shaped flower glows hopefully as a girl tends it. The story’s carefully chosen evocative words and yellow-accented black-and-white images set the differing moods. Kids of varying ages and backgrounds depict our universal feelings.

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 08

Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

If you look closely, each page has hidden heart-shaped images. From a playground slide and a puddle, to constellations and leaves. Love Luyken’s stunning artwork? Check under the cover for a bonus illustration.

 

My Heart Interior hires Page 13

Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

This book can cheer someone up or just let them know you love them. A heart can experience myriad things, and “a heart that is closed can still open again.”

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

 

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Cover Reveal for That’s For Babies by Jackie Azúa Kramer with Illustrations by Lisa Brandenburg

 

IT’S COVER REVEAL TIME!

THAT’S FOR BABIES
Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer
Illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg
Clavis Publishing
($17.95 Hardcover, $9.95 Paperback, Ages 4 and up)

 

It’s such an honor to have been asked to reveal the cover for Jackie Azúa Kramer’s upcoming picture book, That’s For Babies, coming out June 15. And it’s just so adorable! In addition, Jackie’s offering a special giveaway via Twitter. Please scroll down for more details.

 

That's For Babies by Jackie Azúa Kramer cover reveal art by Lisa Brandenburg

 

 

DESCRIPTION

Prunella wakes up on the morning of her birthday and announces, “I’m a big kid now.” She doesn’t want to do any of the things she usually loves. “That’s for babies!” she announces over and over again. Even her favorite doll, Talking Sally, is abandoned. But what happens when a big kid gets scared during the night.

A story about growing up, for little kids and big kids ages 4 and up.

AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PRU!

Good Reads With Ronna: Prunella is a lovely name.

Prunella: That’s for babies. My name is Pru.

GRWR: I hear you celebrated your birthday!

Prunella: That’s for babies. I’m five now.

GRWR: Did you get lots of toys?

Prunella: That’s for Babies. I’m a big girl now.

GRWR: How about tea parties?

Prunella: Hmm, nope. That’s for babies.

GRWR: Are you excited for your book’s debut this June?

Prunella: That’s for babies. But I do like story time!

 

THAT'S FOR BABIES by Jackie Azúa Kramer Illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg

 

JACKIE AZUA KRAMER’S BOOKS

The Green Umbrella (NorthSouth, 2017)

If You Want to Fall Asleep (Clavis, May 2018)

The Boy & the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, 2020)

That’s For Babies (Clavis, June 2019)

I Wish You Knew (Roaring Brook Press, 2021)

We Are One (Two Lions/Amazon, TBD)

Miles Won’t Smile (Clavis, TBD)

How Lilly Ate the Rainbow (FastPencil, 2011)

 

VISIT JACKIE

Jackieazuakramer.com

Twitter @jackiekramer422

Facebook Jackie Azúa Kramer

Instagram

 

TWITTER GIVEAWAY

Visit and RT Jackie Azúa Kramer (@jackiekramer422) and GoodReadsWithRonna (@goodreadsronna) on Twitter for a chance to win a copy of That’s For Babies, but don’t wait because the giveaway opportunity ends at 12am on 2/16. U.S. only.

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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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Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant Feature Artwork by Jen Betton

HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG
Written and illustrated by Jen Betton
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

TWILIGHT CHANT
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.

Hedgehog Needs a Hug cover art by Jen BettonSure, 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.

 

Twilight Chant by Holly Thompson cover illustration by Jen BettonBetton 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.

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Finding a Way Forward – Tiny Infinities by J. H. Diehl

TINY INFINITIES
Written by J. H. Diehl
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

– A Junior Library Guild Selection –

cover illustration from Tiny Infinities by J. H. Diehl

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

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

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Flashback Friday Featuring The Day I Ran Away by Holly L. Niner

 

 

THE DAY I RAN AWAY
Written by Holly L. Niner
Illustrated by Isabella Ongaro
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 2-6)

cover illustration from The Day I Ran Away

 

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.”

 

int artwork by Isabella Ongaro from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner

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.

 

int artwork by Isabella Ongaro from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner

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.

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Solution-Seeking Girls Star in Debut Books The Breaking News & Doll-E 1.0

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)

&

DOLL-E 1.0
Written and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey
(Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

The Breaking News cover illustration 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

cover illustration from Doll-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskeyIt’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.

 

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Mixed Me! Written by Taye Diggs and Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

MIXED ME!
Written by Taye Diggs
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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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-
tasting GREAT!”

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.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna

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

TheWonderfulFluffyLittleSquishy

 

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.

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Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley

TOUGH GUYS (HAVE FEELINGS TOO)
Written and illustrated by Keith Negley
(Flying Eye Books; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

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In less than 80 words, Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) manages to convey the important message to children that everyone (except perhaps robots) experiences a wide range of emotions despite any appearances to the contrary. Negley, a well-known illustrator, opens with a wrestler in a locker room feeling nervous while young readers see his opponent waiting in the ring. Then an astronaut is floating in space clutching a photo of his family far, far away. “You might not think it, but tough guys have feelings too.”

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Interior artwork from Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley, Flying Eye Books ©2015.

Ninja best friends can have a disagreement and feel sad or misunderstood. Superheroes, despite being on top of the world, can feel lonely, cowboys can get embarrassed, pirates searching for treasure can feel frustrated, strong, gallant knights don’t always succeed “No matter how strong.” These and  other examples of “tough guys” we may think never experience a “down” moment are all depicted showing their honest feelings. My favorite illustration, and perhaps one of the most powerful, has to be the big burly biker shedding tears over the squirrel in the road he likely has hit accidentally. The message, that it’s okay to get upset, may not be unique, but the way it’s conveyed to children is. The colorful artwork, coupled with the brief yet befitting narrative, allows parents to open a dialogue about feelings and emotions and the need to be authentic.

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Interior artwork from Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley, Flying Eye Books ©2015.

Don’t miss pointing out to children the endpapers in the front of the book showing the young boy, who is ultimately seen reading together with his dad at the story’s end, pretending to be all the characters depicted in Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too), and the endpapers in the back of the book showing the same boy doing all that pretend play alongside his dad. Sharing this picture book with preschoolers is a wonderful way to reinforce the point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having feelings, and that when they do indeed have a feeling of anger, fear, or embarrassment, they’re not alone.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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