Mónica and her best friend, Hannah, share a special bond: they are both immigrants.
Mónica is from Bolivia and Hannah is from Israel. Together they form The Homesick Club, complete with a handmade sign they display on their lunchtime table illustrating their favorite memories from their respective homelands. Mónica yearns for the mango trees, green vines, and the “family of hummingbirds” that she and her grandmother would feed every morning. Similarly, Hannah misses the warm weather, sandy dunes, desert whistling wind, and a neighborhood tortoise. Their conversations highlight how different aspects of a landscape make it a unique and special place called home. e
When they meet their new teacher, Miss Shelby, they discover she too is far away from her home, Texas. Ironically, as Mónica and her teacher discuss their different backgrounds, they discover how much they have in common. Mónica’s beautiful transitions from English to Spanish echo Miss Shelby’s “soft and slow” voice, “like…words…stuck together with syrup.” They miss similar things from back home, too: a “big and wide” sky that displays an abundance of stars as well as hummingbirds. Mónica misses seeing them since the big city noise “probably scares them away.” Miss Shelby longs for her favorite hometown dessert, hummingbird cake, “sooooo sweet, like the flowers that hummingbirds drink from.” Gibbon’s bright and friendly illustrations include rich detail that expresses the individual personalities of each character.
In honor of her beloved hummingbirds and a budding friendship with her new teacher, Mónica prepares a surprise to share with everyone during Show and Tell. Through this kind gesture, she is able to bring a little bit of home back to both of them and to us readers who are gifted with the recipe at the end of the story.
A great conversation starter on issues of diversity and geography, The Homesick Club reminds us that though we may look different and come from different parts of the world, we have many experiences connecting us.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookiane e e Clickhereto see How To Bake Hummingbird Cake with Author Libby Martinez e Click here to order a copy of The Homesick Club. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e
Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere inCatching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clarkwith illustrations by Summer Macon.
It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).
Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.
The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.
Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”
I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”
A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.
Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.
Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.
Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of passionate kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate link above. Thanks!
Have you ever woken up one morning and everything goes wrong, putting you in a bad mood? Has it ever happened to one of your children? The answer to both questions is, of course, it has. And that is exactly the scenario that begins the hilarious rhyming verse picture bookMootilda’s Bad Mood.
The story begins with Mootilda waking up with hay in her hair, her pillow gone, and her doll—a cow, what else?—fallen from her bed. She goes to her moomaw cow (as opposed to mama cow) who hugs her and gives her a treat but when this falls, it sets off Mootilda to proclaim, “I’m in a bad mood!” Her mother suggests she goes out to play. Mootilda takes her advice and plays rope with calves, swims with lambs, rides bikes with pigs, and plays ball with ponies. However every single time, something unfortunate happens which leaves Mootilda in an even worse mood than before.
The refrain of “I’m in a bad mood!” reflects Mootilda’s worsening mood as the day progresses with each additional “O” that is added to the word “mood.” When she finally meets up with chickens, who are also in a bad mood, it is Mootilda this time who tries to cheer them up. But when something goes wrong with her attempt, instead of making her mood worse, she laughs about it and finally realizes her bad mood is gone. And with her bad mood gone, she figures out a way she can help others in the future, as shown in the final pictures of the book.
Ranucci’sillustrations are cheerful, bright, and colorful—the exact opposite of the feelings of a bad mood. They make it impossible for any reader who might be in a bad mood to remain that way after perusing through the delightful pictures.
The book is filled with funny animal, cow and moo words, like cow-tastrophe, cow-incidence, and cow-miserate. This wordplay adds to the enjoyment of the book, especially when read aloud and emphasized. But what I really liked about Mootilda’s Bad Mood was that co-authors Rosen Schwartzand Callhave taken a concept that we can all relate to and presented it in such a humorous tale. The story acknowledges and allows everyone, especially kids, to be in a bad mood. It’s perfectly okay to sometimes feel like that, but there are also ways to deal with it and that is a great take-away message.
• Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
Click here to read a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz. Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Claudia Ranucci.
Neander is a typical caveboy. He loves his pet rock, Rock, as well as catching fish which is what he was doing when he catches a glimpse of the most beautiful girl in the prehistoric world in Caveboy Crush. This adorable picture book, written by the NYT bestselling authorBeth Ferryand illustrated by author-illustratorJoseph Kuefler, is a great read-aloud and perfect to share when a child is eager to capture someone’s attention and heart.
Ferry’s words perfectly paint a prehistoric picture. Then Kuefler’s rich colors and sweet drawings of the dark curly haired Neander and the young girl, Neanne, with a bone tied up in her full head of red hair take the reader on a journey through young love. Neander watches the young girl with an archery bow in her hand perched atop an alligator preparing to shoot the fish he was about to catch. “She was short. She was hairy. She was perfect.” Like all young crushes, all is good for Neander until she notices him from afar. “Neander turned six shades of sunset and jumped into the lake. When he finally surfaced, she was gone.”
The reader feels Neander’s sadness as he makes his way home. Papa asks what is wrong with Neander who was cuddling a rock. Kuefler draws a large amount of hair on Neander’s back, Papa’s large shoulders, and Mama’s arms and eyebrows reminding us of the prehistoric time period. Mama tells Papa “Crush,” as she shatters rocks with her bat. CRUSH? (Worth repeating as kids will find out!) The meaning of crush gets misinterpreted by the young boy who sets out to find Neanne, offering her just picked flowers. Neanne, frightened by Neander’s unexpected crushing of the flowers, runs away. There’s humor in young Neander’s determination and assorted attempts to win Neanne’s heart with gift after gift, always prompting her to run away from his crushing.
Undeterred, Neander ventures to the Waves of Salt where he spies a conch shell which gives him an idea. He begins “chipping, chiseling, carving, and creating. It was a work of art straight from the heart.” Will Neanne agree?
This sweet story of young love “crushes” the idea of being put on a pedestal. Caveboy Crush is sure to provide a full on gigglefest with its silly art and poetic writing. Ferry’s great story telling and Kuefler’s illustrations make another perfect match. Valentine’s Day may have passed, but this adorable picture book reminds us it’s never too late for love and lots of laughter.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Clickhereto read a review of a book by Joseph Kuefler.
It was Ripple the dolphin’s first day in her new aquarium and she was excited to make some new friends, but the water was still and quiet and all the animals looked scared and unhappy. So begins the picture book How to Make a Shark Smile written by bestselling authors, siblings and happiness pros, Shawn Achorand Amy Blankson, with illustrations byClaudia Ranucci.
The story opens with a smiling grey and white dolphin surrounded by the deep blue sea, and colorful plants and baby fish, anxious to make new friends. But as Ripple swims around looking for someone to play with “she saw electric eels with no zing.” She even notices “the seahorses weren’t horsing around.”
A spiky, black dotted, puffed up yellow blowfish appears with big bulging eyes and mouth wide open. Ranucci’s drawing shows the reader that our new friend is feeling anxious. As Ripple swims near “the blowfish began yelling, Shark alert! Shark alert! And Ripple realizes the blowfish, Bob, must think that she was the shark!” Ripple explains that she is a dolphin not a shark and the relieved Bob explains that Snark “the biggest, meanest shark ever seen eats entire tanks of fish when he wasn’t even hungry.” With a sweet smile still painted on Ripple’s face, the dolphin explains how she won’t let a shark spoil her happiness, the main message of this story.
Ripple invites Bob to play but Bob says “he is just a bite-sized fish trying to make it in the world.” Ripple replies, “Oh, my friend, it’s not my size or speed that makes me powerful or brave. It’s my mindset! I believe that my behavior matters. And today I choose to be happy.”
Snark is illustrated with an angry face swimming above Bob, whose face still displays fear. Ripple’s smile, however, remains constant. Ripple tells Bob she will teach him to play a game with Snark and this game will change Snark’s mindset. See if you think this game sounds familiar. Ripple looks into Bob’s face for seven seconds and tells him to try not to smile. Of course he smiles. The game catches on and soon the entire tank is laughing. That joy catches Snark’s attention, but being born means playing games is not his thing. Ripple challenges him, a deal is struck and Bob steps in to play the smile game with Snark. What ensues is unavoidable delight for the participants and for youngsters.
The colorful drawings depict the fish community coming together as they learn that happiness is a state of mind and a choice that’s up to them. Even outside of the tank the silhouettes of tourists can be seen snapping photos and watching in wonder as a “shark, a blowfish, and a dolphin” play together. Surely this was a sight to see!
The “Ripple effect” could be felt from that day on and the young reader learns that happiness can be a choice. Happy is as happy does! Achor and Blankson, who are both experts on cultivating happiness and have given TED talks on the subject, list helpful ways to develop a positive mindset in the back matter. They recommend fitting one or all of these techniques into your daily routine. This book is a great resource for teachers who are introducing mindfulness into their lesson plans, giving young kids tools they will take with them throughout their lives.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
★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.
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.
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.
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
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.
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 kid—I 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.
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.
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 this—the Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
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!
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
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.
NOW? NOT YET! Written and illustrated by Gina Perry (Tundra Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
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!
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.
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.
MY HEART Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken (Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’srhyming 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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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)
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.
Drawn Togetheris 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.
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 – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
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
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.
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.
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.
TINY INFINITIES 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 by Sarah Lynne Reulbrings 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.