(Sterling Children’s Books, $16.95, Ages 3 and up)
InBest Day Ever by debut picture book author Michael J. Armstrongwith art by Églantine Ceulemans,William is a serious overachiever with an emphasis on the serious. Having completed five of the items on his list (yes, list), of summer goals, including learning to speak Spanish and getting a black belt in karate, he’s now ready to tackle #6: Have the most fun ever. The catch is that William’s fun meter device keeps flashing red, a frowning emoji face, whenever he attempts to enjoy himself. See for yourself in the illustrations below.
William’s happy-go-lucky neighbor, Anna, knows how to entertain herself without following any guidelines. And she’d love for William to join her. Kids will laugh at how she calls William every nickname except his proper name in the beginning, a clue into her spirited nature. Young readers will also easily notice the stark contrast between the two children because of the realistic order depicted in the scenes with just William, and the zany, imagination-rich chaos in Anna’s. Can William carry on his attempts at by-the-book play when this carefree girl keeps getting in his face?
Well, it seems Anna’s persistence pays off. What I love about this story is the fun that readers have as they watch William, following Anna’s non-judgmental prompting, learn to lighten up and have his very own, book-free, best day ever. A bonus, of course, is the new friendship he’s made that wasn’t even on his list!
Ceulemans’ art, a delightful blend of childlike whimsy and a study in contrasts, reflects the two main characters’ polar opposite personalities. The vibrancy and creative quality of the illustrations pairs perfectly with the story’s plot about letting loose and seeing the magic in unstructured imaginative play. I hope reading Best Day Ever encourages more kids about the positive power of pretending.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click hereto read a review of another picture book illustrated by Églantine Ceuleman.
TOMORROW MOST LIKELY Written by Dave Eggers Illustrated by Lane Smith (Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Written by celebrated author Dave Eggers and illustrated by Caldecott honoree Lane Smith, Tomorrow Most Likely is a heartfelt (and not-so-quiet) bedtime story that brings affirmation and comfort to young audiences. By juxtaposing the small and the grand, the familiar and the odd, what is and what can be, author and illustrator provide confidence to a little boy facing the big, wide world.
As the boy learns of all the things that will “most likely” happen tomorrow, we readers see how discoveries both big and small will help him embrace the day. “Tomorrow most likely there will be a sky. And chances are it will be blue. Tomorrow most likely there will be a squirrel. And chances are his name is Stu.” Eggers rhymes, repeats key phrases, and describes the day through the familiar, child-centered concept of color. Smith’s vibrant illustrations–rendered in oil paint, pen and ink, paper collage, and digitally–create a bustling neighborhood of towering skyscrapers and confounding traffic signs. But like Eggers, Smith quiets the big city noise with familiarity. The shapes inherent in traffic signs provide a wonderful secondary “lesson” to the story.
Yet another layer is the hidden “lesson” of learning to be present. Watching a big plane “flying high and white and fast and far” is a treat the boy can treasure, if only he’s able to see it the moment before it vanishes into the clouds. He can befriend a little “bright bug, green and red” and discover it’s feeling lonely (because it’s missing Stu).
Though tomorrow will “most likely” be a predictable day, it’s also “most likely” that the unlikely will happen. “Something won’t rhyme.” The little boy will “see something strange. [He’ll] hear something odd.” No doubt uncertainty will be part of his day but, this too can be approached through learning and fun. If the little boy follows his curiosity, he’ll recognize that the strange, far away figure at the end of the street is actually his eccentric and funny friend.
What appears to be one thing can, in fact, be something entirely different. Separated friends, Stu and “bright bug,” will be reunited; a simple rock off the ground can look like a brain, and a cloud can transform into an ice cream treat. The only limit to what can be is the boy’s imagination. His contribution to the world is his interpretation and unique spin on everything he encounters. Tomorrow matters because of his presence in it.
What a loving and empowering way to send off to bed little kids dreaming of what tomorrow will (“most likely”) bring.
A slight tension fills the air as dark clouds approach Noah’s house. In the backyard, restless salamanders slither “to and fro” and beetles and mice try to take shelter. Getting his tools from the yard, Noah’s father makes a thought-provoking comment: “It’s going to be a beauty.” What is? The preparation, the storm, the aftermath?
Just as Noah’s parents work hard to prepare for the storm, Noah, similarly, takes thorough care of his garden friends’ needs. For shelter, he builds an ark out of his wagon and fills the space with all the comforts of home: food, furniture, water, and light from a flashlight. Whatever his parents provide for him and his sister, Noah, in turn, provides for his critters.
Rocco’s detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations emphasize this give and take motion. On the left side of the page, we readers see the actions his parents take and on the right we see Noah mimicking that action. When the storm arrives, the illustrations once again draw similarities between the two. Both groups huddle, share food, and pass the time with calming activities. One double-page spread is particularly poignant as it draws our attention to the slats of wood—wood that boards Noah’s window and wood that houses in his garden friends. It’s a powerful image of protection and community despite the raging rain “splash[ing] down like silver swords thrown from heaven.” Banks’ imagery captures, too, the beauty and danger of their situation.
When the clouds suddenly retreat and the “sun turn[s] its light back on,” Noah is treated to a wide and stunning rainbow. A sign of the covenant between God and the earth in the original story, the rainbow here represents a symbol of peace and restoration. Two by two the creatures leave the ark and resume their roles in Noah’s garden.
So what was “going to be a beauty” after all? Dedication in caring for one another, the sense of community during troubled times, and the healing qualities of the natural world are all beautiful themes in this story. For animal and nature lovers, for those familiar and new to Noah’s Ark, for those needing a quiet bedtime story and a suspenseful adventure, Noah Builds an Ark is for any child who enjoys a timeless tale.
THE NEIGHBORS Written and illustrated by Einat Tsarfati (Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Publishers Weekly
Whether or not children have ever set foot in an apartment building, I’m guessing they’ll want to after reading The Neighbor so they can try their hand at guessing who lives behind closed doors. The narrator of this charming picture book is a little girl who lives “in a building that is seven stories high.” Whenever she heads upstairs and passes by her neighbors’ doors, she imagines, based on clues from each door and its surroundings, just what type of person or persons makes that apartment their home.
Not only is the story packed with wonderful artwork, it’s also full of a bevy of interesting apartment dwellers. Take for example the ground floor flat. It’s got over half a dozen locks and a closed circuit security camera so the youngster figures that inside lives a family of thieves whose assorted hauls range from Egyptian artifacts to a pirate’s treasure. The apartment that has a wheel outside must belong to acrobats. This spread alone (one among many!), with its uni-cycle riding monkey on a slide, an elephant and a fire breathing baby, warrants multiple views and includes a surprise for observant readers. Muddy footprints on a doormat hint at an explorer’s presence on another floor. It’s likely a vampire resides on the floor where the lights always go out on the landing as the narrator makes her way home. Many apartment buildings I’ve visited abroad have the hall lighting on timers so this makes perfect sense since the picture book was translated from Hebrew. I appreciated the Art Nouveau touches in the vampire’s abode as well as his flair for clothing design. The music emanating from the door on floor six means only one thing—it’s party-time as depicted in another detail-rich spread. The little girl reckons the musical family inside “celebrates someone’s birthday at least once a week.”
So what about the girl’s apartment where she lives with her folks? It’s no surprise she finds her parents boring despite loving them. Her bedroom is filled with souvenirs from all over the world and she probably dreams of exotic places and exciting adventures. But, little does she know that, as she drifts off to sleep, her parents are superheroes living a wild life outside her very own bedroom door
Tsarfati’s included a cleverly hidden hamster (note the LOST signs at the book’s beginning) to search for in the comfortably cluttered and colorful illustrations plus one other treat. When her folks check if she’s asleep, the little girl’s eyes look slightly open so she may actually know what her parents get up to. Perhaps it’s a case of the grass is always greener in the other apartments? That it’s open to interpretation is just part of the pleasure derived from reading The Neighbors. I love that the book beautifully incorporates senses such as smell and sound into the story. Parents, caregivers and teachers can take advantage of several possible activities to explore using the book as inspiration. For example, have children create their own doors for you to guess who lives behind them and vice versa. Or maybe cover the illustration after studying the door in the The Neighbors to see what your child can conjure up. This is the kind of book I would have returned to again and again with my children and I hope you’ll agree.
MOMMY’S KHIMAR Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow Illustrated by Ebony Glenn (Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
ALMA Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Two parent and child dyads share and celebrate cherished cultural connections in beautiful new picture books by debut authors that will touch and delight the heart.
Debut author Thompkins-Bigelow depicts a child’s wonderful, busy day in MOMMY’S KHIMAR.“A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears” says a young Muslim girl who loves to dress-up in her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves. Fun and fancy are foremost in her mind as she incorporates the beautiful khimars in her imaginative play. The yellow khimar – another term for hijab – is her favorite and she dreams of wearing it like a queen, or a superhero, flying through the sky like a star.
Mama sees the girl at play, but smiles tenderly rather than scolds. The scarf carries her familiar, motherly fragrance of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon, making it even more special to her daughter. The girl is also loved and celebrated by her father, teachers and her grandmother, wrapped in tangible and intangible messages of love and welcome.
Glenn’s bright, sunny illustrations are sweet and appealing, using vibrant colors that compliment the warm, well-rounded story and keep the focus squarely on the girl’s fun. The energetic images cool to soft blue-purples as night falls and the beloved khimar returns to her mother’s closet. Even in her dreams the heroine recalls the tender embrace of her family and community, but her mother most of all. A delightful depiction of an ordinary day in the life of a cheerful and charming child. ★Starred reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAMEis the book title, but the inquisitive heroine’s full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Alma complains that her name is “too long” and “never fits.” In fact, Alma must tape an extra piece of paper to her page to accommodate all six! Soon, the how and why of the family stories behind each and every name is revealed in compelling, engaging descriptions.
When Alma’s father explains the rich history of the names she bears, Alma’s incredible imagination brings them to life. Aided by family photos and icons, her father’s story reveals Alma’s namesakes and the common bonds they share. Like her grandmother Sofia, Alma adores books. Like her grandfather Jose, Alma loves to draw and paint. Candela was Alma’s activist grandmother, and aunt Pura was deeply spiritual.
Alma wears delightful striped red pants, a perky red hairbow, and a red string around her left wrist. Her sweet, expressive face moves from solemn to astonished, serene to silly as she “meets” her ancestors and discovers the common bonds that they share. Martinez-Neal, recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, uses a restrained color palette and imbues the well-designed textual components with meaningful symbols. Broad, double page spreads pace the story smoothly and linger for maximum impact on each name’s meaning. The final reveal for the name “Alma” is a warm, satisfying and ultimately empowering one for the little girl who has been enriched by the love and history of her family past and present. ALMA is a tender tale, a treasure for all readers who will wonder about their own name history. ★Starred reviews – Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
•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.
HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY Written and illustrated by Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Harriet … oh, amazing and wonderful Harriet, the star of HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY along with her two incredible dads, will make readers all Sima fans if they aren’t already!
My students couldn’t get enough of this brilliant 48-page story … from Harriet’s desire to dress-up no matter what the occasion to her phenomenal imagination and charm, they were hooked.
Harriet is SO excited about her upcoming dress-up themed birthday party, and the task at hand is to venture into the city with her dads to buy party supplies since everything else has been taken care of. One stipulation: She’s asked not to “get carried away” when searching for birthday hats at the store. But in Harriet’s world getting carried away comes easy and she soon finds herself wandering off in her penguin costume with real life penguins. She becomes stranded on an iceberg and realizes she must make her way back to her dads at the store and find the party hats before it’s too late.
When her attempts at leaving the penguins don’t pan out, Harriet’s helped by an orca and some delightful pigeons. Harriet returns to her dads and has the best dress-up birthday party ever … with only ONE of her party attendees getting carried away!
This is one of those stories that will be requested numerous times since it provides a unique, yet fully relatable, experience for youngsters. The writing is quick to action and paced beautifully for children to silently take in every delicious illustration that accompanies the beautiful prose. My favorite moment is when a penguin tells Harriet to “lose the bow tie” she has proudly put on over her penguin costume. Instead, she adjusts her fabulous red bow tie and does things her own way.
Read HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY and delight in her message of inclusivity, imagination and pure joy
THE DIGGER AND THE FLOWER Written and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler (Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Kirkus,School Library Journal
The Digger and the Flowerby Joseph Kuefler adds a welcome new dimension to the popular construction trucks theme: thoughtfulness about the area being destroyed. When Digger finds a flower, watching over it becomes his hobby. His level of involvement escalates when the flower’s land is surrounded; eventually, it succumbs to new building.
Digitally created images contrast Digger’s sunny yellow with the muted black, gray, and white urban surroundings. The bright blue and green of the small flower imbues this cityscape, awakening something within Digger and compelling him to act. Even without the text, this vivid story is delightful.
In Joseph Kuefler’s 48-page picture book, we are shown humanity and kindness—a powerful message that addresses our need to care for the environment and one another. Yet, the book can also be read simply as another cool story about big machines.
The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.
I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!
I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!
Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.
Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.
Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.
LA LA LA: A STORY OF HOPE Written by Kate DiCamillo Illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La Laby Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.
Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.
We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.
I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.
Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.
La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.
ALSO AN OCTOPUS Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall Illustrated by Benji Davies (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Looking for a terrific tale about waffle spaceships and eight-legged ukulele players? Well Also An Octopus is definitely the book for you! Wondering how writers come up with ideas for books about waffle spaceships? Then this is STILL the book for you! Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall has crafted a funny, clever story about following the spark of an idea through wild gallops of imagination until it takes shape as a book. But this can happen if and only if one follows the basic rules of the road, which are explained with flair and humor.
The tale begins with a blank page. An unseen narrator gently reminds us that all stories do begin this way, on an empty page, screen or canvas, until a character appears. Perhaps it is a little girl, or an adorable bunny, or a ukulele-playing octopus. But that grinning octopus, surrounded by bloopie bubbles and wearing a pom-pom topped knit cap, has to want something. What the character wants, explains the narrator, will make the story become interesting. And if the octopus wants an awesome purple spaceship, it has to be difficult to get. If he can simply get one from the drugstore the story will be too silly, short and dull. So perhaps the octopus will have to make the spaceship himself, out of odds and ends like soda cans, glue, string, umbrellas, glitter and waffles.
Have you fastened your seatbelt yet? Because this story is just about to take off! Or is it? “I’m not really qualified to build a spaceship ….” remarks the octopus, a tentacle rubbing his puzzled head. Nope, that spaceship doesn’t fly, so now our hero has an even bigger problem to solve. He has to find a rocket scientist!
Tokuda-Hall subtly teaches the constructs of story-telling within the boundaries of this absurdly whimsical tale. Step-by-step, the hapless octopus is tossed and turned through the imaginary gyrations of the narrative, experiencing the emotional highs and lows of a plot-driven concept. As illustrated by Benji Davies, the engaging and expressive characters will appeal to readers young and old. The seemingly retro color palette ranges from mustard yellow to blue, orange, and luscious deep eggplant, displayed in large, bright spreads nicely balanced and evenly spaced. Davies tucks amusing random details into the scenes, like a curly-tongue armadillo and motorboat-driving hamster. Those details, in turn, will inspire young listeners to create new stories of their own.
Create new stories? Yes, because everyone has a bit of nothing, a virtual “blank page” on which to begin. And thus Also An Octopus comes full circle after a rollicking adventure that is as awesome as a purple spaceship dotted with waffles. Remember those bloopie bubbles that swirl around our eight-limbed hero? They burst into sparkly stars once he reaches outer space, a twinkling celebration of this delightful adventure into the world of story-making.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Also An Octopusfrom the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
It’s the adventure of a lifetime when best friends—and self-proclaimed superheroes—defeat bad guys of their own invention.
It’s wonk ’em time when Bucky and Stu have to stand up to Phat Tyre, TrashMan and Hose-Nose. No matter that the bad guys are all made out of household items that Bucky and Stu have assembled themselves—these bad guys don’t stand a chance against the boys’ power moves. Still, it’s quite a surprise when their latest villain, the giant Mikanikal Man, gets zapped during a lightning storm and comes to life! The battle—and thrill—of a lifetime ensue. Full of surprises and laughs, this upbeat, action-packed story celebrates imagination, creativity, and friendship in even the most unexpected forms. Cornelius Van Wright’s hilarious illustrations are full of surprises and are perfect for portraying the high-speed antics of two enthusiastic boys.
Q & A:
GRWR: This is a wonderfully imaginative and humorous tale that actually encourages and celebrates make believe and pretend play. How or when did the seed of this story get planted in your mind?
Cornelius Van Wright: Thank you for your kind compliment. The seed to this story came a couple of years ago when I painted a picture of a boy playing chess with a robot. I painted it for fun but people asked me what was the story behind it. So I thought about the picture and slowly this story came to me.
GRWR: As an author/illustrator, does the story come first or do you picture the characters and draw them then see where they take you?
CVW: For me the images always come first. I tried writing words first but it did not work for me. I see the world in images.
GRWR:Bucky and Stu remind me of so many kids at this age – inventive and full of big ideas. Were you primarily interested in exploring the friendship aspect of this book or the adventure the boys seek?
CVW: The relationships came before everything else. Bucky and Stu’s adventure is based on their relationship and that relationship extends to the Mikanikal Man.
GRWR:Is there one particular spread in the book that’s your favorite and why?
CVW: Visually I enjoyed the scene when the boys face certain DOOM after ticking off Mikanikal Man. But story wise, I care for the scene where The Mikanikal Man Spins Bucky and Stu around and around and the boys say, “We can fly!” This was the boys’ inner dream becoming reality.
GRWR:Do tummy rumbles take your mind off whatever you’re doing like they do for Stu and the Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Yes, this part is autobiographical.
GRWR:Are the boys modeled after anyone you know?
CVW: Bucky and Stu are modeled after two friends I met my first year in college. One was very thin and angular (Bucky) and his best buddy was rounder with shaggy blond hair (Stu). I always wondered what they were like as kids. So this was my first sketch of what I thought they would look like.
GRWR:What would you like the takeaway for readers of this story to be?
CVW: I would love for kids to play using their creativity and imagination.
GRWR:Who were some of your favorite authors and illustrators as a child and who do you admire now?
CVW: As a child my mother bought me lots of Little Golden Books and Big Little Books (many of which I still have). Today I admire Jerry Pinkney’s art and Mo Willems’s and Oliver Jeffers’s storytelling.
GRWR:What would you use in your office to build your own Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Lots of Amazon boxes and empty towel rolls!
GRWR:Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
CVW: I am continuing exploring kids going into imaginative lands and using their wits (and anything else on hand) to get them out of trouble! I make the sketches into books (with Scotch Tape bindings) and show them to publishers.
Check out the downloadable CCSS-aligned curriculum guide here.
Cornelius Van Wright wrote and illustrated When an Alien Meets a Swamp Monster, and has also illustrated several other picture books, including Princess Grace (by Mary Hoffman) and Jingle Dancer (by Cynthia Leitich Smith). His work has appeared on Reading Rainbow and Storytime and has been exhibited with the Society of Illustrators. He lives in New York City.
PEG + CAT: THE PIZZA PROBLEM Written and illustrated by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson (Candlewick Entertainment; $12.99, Ages 3-7)
Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem is another wonderful book from the creators of the popular educational PBS show, Peg + Cat! You don’t need to be familiar with Peg + Cat to enjoy this book because their characters shine through in the text and illustrations.
Peg and her cat open up Peg’s Pizza Place and are excited to serve the first customers when she gets an order for half a pizza among the orders of whole pizzas. At first she doesn’t know what half a pizza is, but luckily her friends come and help her realize that half a pizza is just one pizza cut down the middle, a semi-circle. Peg and Cat continue to fulfill new orders and provide entertainment for the customers, but then there is a dilemma! Peg gets four more orders and there’s only enough ingredients to make two and a half pizzas. Luckily, some of the orders were for half pizza pies, so she just might have enough to satisfy everyone.
Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem is a terrific book for kids ages three through seven who will appreciate the bright and cheerful illustrations while learning helpful math concepts. The story really had some good twists and turns, so much that it kept me engaged because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I’m always happy to see math concepts being introduced and taught in real-to-life scenarios so kids can grasp the concepts easily. I also enjoyed the part where Peg got so stressed and had to be reminded to count down from five to one to calm down–an important lesson kids and adults both need.
Thank you Jennifer Oxley and Bill Aronson for your great work with Peg + Cat! We look forward to what other fun math related books you create.
BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN Written by Mary McKenna Siddals Illustrated by Patrice Barton (Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
The essence of childhood play is beautifully conveyed in Mary McKenna Siddals’ sing songy picture book, Bringing the Outside In. In this ode to outdoor pleasures, four pals spend carefree time galavanting in nature and their joy is contagious. Siddals’ rhymes and Barton’s seasonal artwork make every page loads of fun to read aloud and look at any time of year.
I must add here that even if there were no lovely, action-filled illustrations by Patrice Barton, you could still imagine the scene easily: kids dashing about with rain jackets and umbrellas, splishing and sploshing to their hearts’ content. Whether in the garden or at the beach, in the rain or in the snow, the children always find something to do outside. Then, when they’re inside, they can delight in the memory of having been together by looking at photos.
Siddals has included simple yet catchy repetition to engage the youngest of readers who’ll want to have the story read over and over. Bringing the Outside In is a great book to encourage outdoor play with the promise of wonderful treasures of nature to discover everywhere.
SWATCH: THE GIRL WHO LOVED COLOR Written and illustrated by Julia Denos (Balzer + Bray; 17.99, Ages 4-8)
Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Coloropens with these compelling lines: “In a place where colors ran wild, there lived a girl who was wilder still. Her name was Swatch, and she was a color tamer. She was small, but she was not afraid.” The story delightfully weavesJulia Denos’s text with her vivid images. Ideal for children ages 4–8, Swatch is the first picture book in which Denos is both writer and illustrator, a task she accomplishes exceedingly well.
As we read on, we get to know this wild girl, Swatch, who dances with colors and does magic. She even learns that, with a little patience, she can hunt down the rare shades. Better still, the colors begin to come to her when called by name. Swatch establishes a reciprocal relationship with them. Until she decides to capture one. And bottle it up in her room.
This leads Swatch on a color-collecting spree. Her room soon overflows with trapped, restless hues.
On Swatch’s search for the last, elusive color—Yellowest Yellow—this color talks to her and asks Swatch what she’s doing. When the girl asks if it would like to climb in her jar, Yellowest Yellow politely refuses. She then acquiesces and watches as Yellowest Yellow unleashes its wild side, reminding our main character that colors should not be tamed. As the girl waits to be eaten, Yellowest Yellow surprises her by exhibiting other attributes of its personality. Together, the girl and the color soar.
While riding this explosion of Yellowest Yellow, Swatch realizes she must release the colors pent up in her room. The results are a masterpiece. Enjoy the beautifully bright illustrations and discover that, perhaps, wild things are better left untamed—whether these wild things are colors, little girls, or other forces of nature.
ROSE AND THE WISH THING A Journey of Friendship Written and Illustrated by Caroline Magerl (Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3 – 7)
… is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey
A delicate, rich tale, Rose and the Wish Thingis, as its subtitle suggests, a “journey of friendship” between a young girl and the magical creature that springs from her imagination as the result of a wish.
On the first page, Rose stares wistfully, perhaps glumly, from her window. She’s a small figure looking out at a large, unfamiliar cityscape. Boxes are unpacked, and Mama puts her to bed with stories and shadow puppets, but Rose can’t sleep. She looks out from her new window with a telescope that resembles a simple, curled cardboard tube. Then she wishes for … something. Far away, that something – a long eared, soft muzzled furry critter – awakes. Straightaway, it sets off on a journey to Rose in a battered, tagged, stamped box.
And what a journey! In enthralling double page spreads Magerl depicts the creature riding gondola- style through a snowy mountain pass, then blown higher than the clouds by a striped sail, and washed over turbulent seas above cresting waves. These elegant travel scenes, intricately hashed with tiny black lines, show the tiny animal, brave and steadfast, battling the elements on its quest.
Rose waits. And waits. She snuggles with her dog, beats a saucepan drum, draws her wish creature, and worries that the thing will not come. Eventually her family begins to help in her search, heading out into their new city to find the sea and “listen to the hush and growl of the waves.” The box and the creature finally reach their destination, washing near the pier. Rose’s mother helps her stretch far, far out to pluck her new friend from the water.
Magerlalternates the large, exciting spreads of the Wish Thing’s journey with vignettes from Rose’s warm, caring home life, compelling the reader to keep turning the pages. The tale unfolds at a gentle pace, perfectly balanced between lilting text and soft, misty illustrations. The mysterious look of the Wish Thing, accompanied on its travels by playful flying fish-birds, adds to the enchanting, magical air of the story.
This Australian import, first published under the title Hasel and Rose will fascinate young readers who ponder faraway lands or imagine unconventional travel. For those who have also felt new and alone, this tale of longing and friendships found will touch a deep chord.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of ROSE AND THE WISH THING from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.