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Picture Book Review – Love Grows Here

 

LOVE GROWS HERE

Written by Chloe Ito Ward

Illustrated by Violet Kim

(Albert Whitman & Company; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Love Grows Here cover Asian girl holding title poster.

 

 

Shopping in an outdoor market with her grandmother, Obā, Aiko immerses herself in the tastes, sights, smells, and sounds of her surroundings. Ward’s economy of “warm and welcoming” words paints a bustling scene full of joy, excitement, and love—that is until a hurtful encounter with a stranger changes everything. His racist words “sharp like scissors, cut,” causing Aiko to feel confused, afraid, and heartbroken. 

 

Love Grows Here int1 Go Back to Your Own Country.
Interior art from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Stopping by a ramen shop, Aiko tells Obā’s shin-yū (best friend) about what happened earlier. In turn, Mrs. Nakano shares her experiences of confronting hate when she and her family were forced to live in a Japanese internment camp. As Aiko learns of a particularly painful part of her history, she struggles to understand why people would act so unkind. Obā eloquently expresses the root of all discrimination:  “Sometimes the fear in your heart plants roots and grows into anger.” Fear and anger. Aiko wonders, “[w]here else were they growing?” 

When they pass by Miss Chon’s café and see that it has been vandalized, they help clean up. Aiko decides then and there how to respond to the fear and anger—through a radical act of kindness. 

 

Love Grows Here int2 this is our country!
Interior spread from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Walking back home, she shares something dear to her that she had purchased from the market, handing it out to strangers as she passes along the way and watching their faces light up with joy. 

Whether at home or in the classroom, Love Grows Here provides opportunities to talk about hard but necessary topics:  racism, anti-Asian hate, and Japanese American history. Equally important is discussing the antidote Aiko chose to fight the hatred around her. Her actions echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Visit the author’s website here.

Visit the illustrator’s website here.

 

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Picture Book Review – My Dog Just Speaks Spanish

 

MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH

Written and Illustrated by Andrea Cáceres

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 2-5)

My Dog Just Speaks Spanish cover girl hugging spanish speaking dog.
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Author-illustrator Andrea Cáceres walks a girl and her loyal Spanish-speaking dog through their neighborhood in her debut picture book My Dog Just Speaks Spanish, an engaging immigration story showing that love transcends any language.
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int1 hola=hello
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Cáceres’ warm-toned digitally rendered art opens with young Aurora hugging her cuddly white and brown furry best friend, Nena, both drawn with smiles on their faces. When the reader turns the page, they see Aurora seated on the hardwood floor of her bedroom surrounded by items taped with notes translating Spanish into English. Cama=Bed; Zapatos=Shoes; Pelota=Ball. What a great way to learn a new language! Well, that is if you are interested in learning a new language but readers soon learn Nena wants no part in this. Ripped yellow sticky notes are scattered on the hardwood floor with one small paper innocently sticking out of Nena’s mouth. Oops, I think she’s been caught red-handed. Oh, Nena!
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int2 girl and dog in bedroom.
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Aurora’s Mom waves goodbye from the apartment window while Aurora commands the leashed Nena to Sientate! Nena obediently does what she is told. She doesn’t know the word Sit, but she recognizes the sound of Sientate! As the two stroll into the park, suddenly the leash falls from Aurora’s hand because Nena decides the brown squirrel climbing the tree is more intriguing than the leisurely walk. Aurora orders her to Wait! but English is not the language Nena knows. Espera! Aurora shouts. Nena obeys looking up to watch the squirrel. Aurora then lays down a blanket with a plate of oranges for her and a bowl of water for her dog. Nena doesn’t know the command Come! but does understand Vente!
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int3 at the park
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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The dogs at the dog park respond to fetch but Nena only joins in when she hears buscala! Walking home, the two encounter a woman pushing a child in a stroller who shouts perro! Nena is pleased to hear a word she knows spoken by a Spanish speaker. Returning home, Spanish is the chosen language Aurora speaks to Nena. A drawing of a dark-haired girl and her white and brown dog is surrounded by hearts and the words Mejores Amigas! fills the page. Whatever language is spoken, they are truly best friends.
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This heart-warming story portrays the kindness between a girl and her pet and is a great tool to use for teaching Spanish words to English-speaking kids, as well as teaching English to Spanish-speaking kids. Cáceres’ work as an art director/illustrator, much of it featuring dogs, has appeared in many product campaigns. The backmatter explains that dogs can identify when different languages are spoken. Cáceres’ silky terrier named Tobi, who the reader may be able to spot in the book, moved with her from Venezuela to the United States and is an expert in performing tricks commanded in Spanish. This picture book is also available in Spanish.
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• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – Two New Years

 

TWO NEW YEARS

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Two_New_Years_cover_multicultural_Chinese_Jewish_family_celebrating

 

Reading Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.

 

Two New Years int1 family celebrating rosh hashanah and lunar new year.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.

Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why  Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.

The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the  depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.

 

 

Two New Years int2 sweeping troubles out the door and casting old mistakes into stream.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.

Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.

I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review for Grandparents Day – Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar

 

MAMA SHAMSI AT THE BAZAAR

Written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani 

Illustrated by Maya Fidawi

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar cover Grandmother and grandaughter walking to bazaar

 

 

Written by mother-daughter duo Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar shares the loving bond between grandmother and granddaughter as they venture out to share a new experience together.

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar int1 ready to go to bazaar
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Getting ready to go to the bazaar with her grandmother for the very first time, Samira is afraid she’ll get lost in the crowd. Again and again, she tries to coax Mama Shams into letting her hide under the protection of her veil. “‘Let’s get in line, under your chador, you in front, me behind!’” But each time, Mama Shams responds with a resounding “Na, na, na” followed by an exaggerated explanation of how silly they might look to passersby. “‘I’d look like a fool with four legs below me just like a mule!” 

 

Mama Shamsi at the bazaar int2 Samira and Mama Shamsi near bazaar
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Textually, this lovely rhyming interchange between grandmother and granddaughter adds much humor and whimsy, while also providing a place for young readers of all backgrounds to stay grounded in the story as Mama Shamsi suggests the different types of animals she may be mistaken for if she acquiesces to Samira’s wish.

 

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar int3 Mama Shamsi tells Samira to use her eyes and ears
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Visually, their conversation introduces readers to the bustling capital of Iran, Tehran. Fidawi’s expressive illustrations are wonderfully and thoughtfully detailed from home to city life during the 1960s/’70s, reflecting the time period author Hassani grew up there. My personal favorites include the seated vendor on the street, prayer beads in hand, and chai brewing on a portable burner next to him, a grandmother on the balcony of a nearby apartment hanging clothes to dry, and another vendor selling my favorite Iranian street food: steamed beets. When they finally arrive at the bazaar, Samira feels assured that with Mama Shamsi by her side, she is safe to enjoy and explore her new world. 

For those seeking an intergenerational, diverse, sweet, and/or humorous story with a touch of social-emotional learning, this picture book ticks off all of the boxes. A recommended read for National Grandparents Day and year-round.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – Yuna’s Cardboard Castles

 

 

YUNA’S CARDBOARD CASTLES

Written by Marie Tang

Illustrated by Jieting Chen

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 3-8)

 

 

Yuna's Cardboard Castles cover Yuna in Japan with origami

 

In Yuna’s Cardboard Castles, the heartwarming picture book debut from author Marie Tangillustrated by Jieting Chen, readers meet Yuna, who has just moved with her family to America from Japan. Like most children in that situation, Yuna is filled with concerns about what life will be like in her new home and how she’ll make new friends. The extra challenge Yuna faces is that she doesn’t speak English yet. While she misses her old friends and all that is familiar, Yuna is eager to find a way to connect with local kids.

 

 Yuna's Cardboard Castles int1 Yuna longed for the colors and shapes
Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

It’s great to see Yuna take the initiative to look for ways to break the ice with the children in her neighborhood. At first, she tries making balls out of colorful paper. The results are lovely and impressive, highlighting her skills. However, Yuna feels discouraged after noticing children already have balls to play with. Onto the next option.

Thinking about where she used to live, Yuna longs to reproduce that environment where there were pointy buildings and rice cake stands. She cleverly uses cardboard and scissors to construct her very own stand but she’s at a loss to find the words to explain her project and the food on display. So, the neighborhood kids return “back to their tea parties.”

 

Yuna's_Cardboard_Castles_int2_Yuna_kept_cutting
Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

And though with her talent, Yuna can build almost anything she wants, she still feels the disconnect without the language to communicate. She is sad, frustrated, and isolated.

When a boy’s kite gets tangled in her yard, the two soon find common ground with their paper creations. Teaming up, their imaginations soar, and playing together becomes second nature. Soon, the neighborhood kids can’t help but engage with Yuna and the exciting cardboard world she’s constructed with her new friend. Chen’s vivid illustrations convey energy, enjoyment, and make-believe, filling each page with wonder to inspire children as they read  Tang’s thoughtful story.

When my family lived overseas for 10 years, our children played with other children from around the world whether we traveled to Germany, France, the Canary Islands, Italy, or Greece. Watching kids connect despite not having the words is always joyful to watch. Play is a universal language bringing diverse children together wherever you are. Yuna’s Cardboard Castles was inspired by Tang’s childhood experience of moving from Hong Kong to the United States. In the book, Yuna demonstrates how, just as Tang did as a child, using origami and corrugated boxes can open up worlds of opportunities for friendship when you have only a minimal grasp of your new country’s language. While the immigration experience is different for every child, Tang’s book creatively captures the emotion Yuna feels while presenting a positive way to cope that is empowering. Four pages of backmatter include detailed instructions to make an origami boat … “that can actually float!”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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An Interview with Aixa Perez-Prado about City Feet

 

SUSI SCHAEFER INTERVIEWS AIXA PÉREZ-PRADO,

AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR OF

 CITY FEET

(Reycraft Books; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

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City Feet cover map legs shoes walking on city sidewalk
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PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

This shoe lover’s paradise reveals that a city’s feet are as varied as the people and animals who live there.

INTERVIEW:

Susi Schaefer: Congrats on your picture book, CITY FEET. How did you get into creating books for young readers?

Aixa Pérez-Prado: Thank you very much! I feel like I have been a writer and illustrator since I was a little girl. I was born in Argentina and raised between there and the USA. I later lived in several other countries, including Costa Rica and Morocco. I believe that being multilingual, being a child immigrant, and having lived in many different places are all strong influences on the stories and the illustrations that I create today.

I am a former bilingual kindergarten teacher, a current university professor specializing in diversity education, and, most importantly, a mother of six. All of those experiences led me to read many children’s books over the years and create my own stories for my students and my children. A few years ago, I decided to try to publish some of those stories and started my education in writing picture books.

Part of my education included taking a number of kidlit writing courses, entering online contests, and joining SCBWI. In addition to writing, I started drawing again and creating a few dummies for my stories. CITY FEET is my debut picture book.

SS: Tell us what inspired this book.

APP: I am a city girl at heart, and I love to explore the cities of the world. A few years ago, when I decided I wanted to try to publish in kidlit, I started entering online writing contests, and an earlier version of CITY FEET was a story I wrote for one of those contests, the Early Childhood Book Challenge. The idea was to write a story of 250 words or less, use rhyme, and have the story take place in an urban setting. I came up with about six stories for the contest and was a finalist with a different story, but the beat and rhythm of CITY FEET stuck in my head.

Two years later, I pitched it in Latinx Pitch on Twitter, and Winsome Bingham of Reycraft Books liked my pitch and made an offer. I was not meant to illustrate the book, but when she found out I was also an illustrator (or want-to-be illustrator), she and my agent, Joyce Sweeney, encouraged me to make a dummy. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the book to look, with all characters appearing only from the waist down, as seen from the point of view of a baby in a stroller. I made the dummy and soon after received the offer to be the illustrator. I was thrilled!

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City Feet int1 City Feet walking down the street
Interior spread from City Feet written and illustrated by Aixa Pérez-Prado, Reycraft Books ©2023.

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SS: Can you share your process?

APP: I started by revising the original story and adding an additional stanza to reach the appropriate amount of spreads for a picture book. I then started trying to create the first spread, but the vision in my head wasn’t really working on paper. I went to an illustrator friend, Cristina Keller, and explained what I wanted to do to her. She invited me to her studio, and after showing her some of my sketches, she helped me to map out the first spread. After that, I knew exactly what to do.

My illustration process for CITY FEET is mainly collage created by cutting up different kinds of textured papers that I create and others that I find. I also use fabrics, leaves, petals, and other materials – including banana peels – in my collages. Once I make the collages, I scan them and bring them into Photoshop in different layers to combine and rearrange. I also do some digital collage in Photoshop.

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City Feet int2 dancing feet prancing feet

Interior spread from City Feet written and illustrated by Aixa Pérez-Prado, Reycraft Books ©2023.

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SS: Are you working on any projects you can tell us about?

APP: Yes, I am the author and also the illustrator for a nonfiction picture book that will come out in the Fall of 2024, Mercedes Sosa: Voice of the People, published by Lee & Low. It is a very different kind of story than CITY FEET, with a different feel and somewhat different style. However, my illustration technique will continue to be the use of collage with a variety of materials as well as digital collage for the majority of the artwork.

BUY THE BOOK:

Support independent booksellers and purchase City Feet at the link below.
https://bookshop.org/p/books/city-feet/18947595?ean=9781478881841

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Author Aixa Pérez-Prado headshotAUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Aixa Pérez-Prado, the author/illustrator of CITY FEET is a native of Argentina who immigrated to the US as a small child. In addition to writing and illustrating, Aixa is a translator, sensitivity reader, and university professor. Aixa has lived in several different countries and draws inspiration for her stories and illustrations from diverse locations. Her passion is writing and illustrating picture books aimed at giving diverse children a chance to see their multilayered identities represented with heart and humor. She writes in Spanish and English and enjoys mixing languages in her prose. Similarly, she loves illustrating by employing different techniques in a multimedia whimsical style.

Aixa’s upcoming picture books are OUR WORLD: ARGENTINA (Barefoot Books, 2023) and MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Lee & Low 2024). Aixa is represented by Joyce Sweeney from the Seymour Agency.

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR LINKS:

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Born and raised in the Austrian Alps, Susi Schaefer trained as a glass painter in the medieval town of Rattenberg. After moving to Southern California for sun and adventure, Susi studied graphic design. She’s the illustrator of ZOO ZEN by Kristen Fischer, author-Illustrator of CAT LADIES and THE GLOW SHOW. Susi lives in North Tustin, California, with her family. www.susischaefer.com

Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

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Picture Book Review – Sora’s Seashells

SORA’S SEASHELLS
A Name Is a Gift to Be Treasured

Written by Helena Ku Rhee

Illustrated by Stella Lim
With Ji-Hyuk Kim

(Candlewick Press $17.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Sora's Seashells cover Sora and Halmoni at beach picking shells

 

 

Sora’s Seashells, written by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Stella Lim with Ji-Hyuk Kim, is so much more than a beach or summer story. It’s a multi-layered, moving, and intergenerational picture book about a grandmother and granddaughter relationship. Gentle in tone with art that beautifully captures the book’s mood, the story is also about loss, and passing kindness forward to other’s lives, including strangers. Additionally, Sora’s Seashells addresses the meaning of a name and how it can bring joy.

 

Sora's Seashells int1 Sora and Halmoni comb for shells
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

When Sora’s grandmother (Halmoni), visits each summer from South Korea, the pair spend special time together gathering seashells at the beach. Though lovely, the prettiest shell that Halmoni picks is intended for someone else. “It’s a gift,” Halmoni tells Sora, left “For anyone who sees its beauty.” Sora is a bit confounded at first. Parents, however, may explain to children being read the story what a thoughtful gesture Halmoni has made.

Not quite understanding the largesse in Halmoni’s action of spreading kindness, Sora tucks away a few of her favorite finds when she and Halmoni go back to the beach the next day. Later at home, Halmoni can be seen in art glancing from Sora’s bedroom door at her granddaughter who inspects her collection that brings her such happiness.

 

Sora's Seashells int2 empty bench at beach
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

At the beginning of Kindergarten, some classmates tease Sora about her unusual name, wondering if it’s really supposed to be Sara. The bullies persist over several weeks but Sora chooses not to tell her parents. When she learns her Halmoni has passed away, she is beset by sadness for so many reasons all at once. Sad she’ll no longer be able to spend summers with Halmoni. Sad at remembering times together and the way Halmoni said Sora’s name. And sad how the bullies treated her at school. “I hate my name. I want to be Sara!” Sora tells her parents through a steady stream of tears.

A restorative trip to the beach and learning that her name means seashell in Korean, helps Sora get things in perspective. Most of all, Sora’s mom explains that Halmoni felt finding a perfect shell was like receiving a wonderful gift. Sora was that gift!

And if that doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, when Sora shares the meaning of her name at show and tell, and gives each of her classmates a shell, including those who’d teased her, my eyes welled up with tears. She knew she mattered, took the high road, and was rewarded. I was especially touched when Sora left her last shell on the bench at the beach exactly as Halmoni had. What a meaningful way to end the book.  The art, rendered in warm watercolor and finished digitally, is soothing and sensitive. Full of caring and love, hope, and kindness, Sora’s Seashells is the kind of feel-good read that is easy to recommend.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – What’s Your Name?

WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

Written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

(Candlewick Press; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

 

 

What's Your Name cover kids greeting kids

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

When author-illustrator Bethanie Deeney Murguia discovered her parents almost chose another name for her it got her thinking about the importance of names and what they do, and the idea for What’s Your Name? was created.

 

What's Your Name int1 children greeting children
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

This relatable and diverse picture book takes young readers on a reflective journey through the meaning behind their own names. The book opens with two pages of orange talking bubbles listing names from Alina to Xavier and Ana to Eli. There are short names, like Bo, and longer names like Zachariah. There’s even my son’s name, Adam. Turning the page, we find lush green spread of lawns and bushes, and grey stone bridges, with walking dogs sniffing hellos. Murguia’s illustrations not only include adults and children of various ethnicities but one child in a wheelchair and another on a skateboard. Greetings are expressed by kids with Hi, Hola, and Good Morning before announcing their given names because Everyone has one … or maybe a few.

 

What's Your Name int2 a name is a meeting
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Murguia writes in playful rhyme explaining to the reader the many ways names are used. When Lena greets Elijah they high-five as they pass. When the spotted brown dog goes farther than allowed, his fluffy-haired owner calls Buster stopping him in his tracks. A name can be common, familiar, and known. A name can be rare, unique, all your own. Cherimoya explains to new friends that her name is like the fruit but you can call me Cherry! And the worker at the burger stand gets a lot of responses when he calls out the common name Bob. Murguia explains to kids that names honor families when they are named after a loved one or historic people such as Malala and Frida.

The colorful art beautifully tells the story with greens, oranges, and greys visually showing the reader that autumn leaves are the reason behind a baby girl’s name. A boy shouts to a crowd, with his hands beside his lips, yelling Hey…you! with an illustration of confused people with mouths wide open wondering who he is calling. If only he knew the name of the person he was looking for he wouldn’t need to shout.

 

What's Your Name int3 names honor family
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Naming your child is a huge decision. Will your baby’s personality or character reflect the name you have chosen or vice versa? Will your child be clumsy yet her name is Grace? Do you choose the name Cole if your child’s eyes are pitch black? This book will spark conversations about how your child got their name and how their parents did as well. A discussion will be a beautiful introduction to family history, or how a name just felt right. This book made me laugh because my own name is spelled differently than what people expect, but I guess you would say that is what makes it unique. Because if it were different, would you still be you? The book’s last line reads what’s yours? and provides a great jumping-off point for a first-day-of-school read for teachers who are getting to know their new students.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – Anzu and the Art of Friendship

 

ANZU AND THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP

Written by Moni Ritchie Hadley

Illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama

(Albert Whitman & Co.; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Anzu_and_the_Art_of_Friendship_cover_friends_making_origami

 

REVIEW:

Patience and the practice required for paper folding (aka origami) offer the promise of friendship in Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama.

If your child isn’t already familiar with origami, this multilayered picture book provides a gentle introduction to the beloved Japanese art form while also tackling a topic that should resonate with young readers: making new school friends after moving. When Anzu starts a new school, “her stomach folds in knots.” At the same time, the teacher Mr. Lee informs the class they are beginning a unit on origami.

 

AnzuandtheArtofFriendship int1 mrlee introduces Anzu
Interior art from Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Readers have already seen Anzu’s creations hanging in her bedroom courtesy of Takeyama’s bold and expressive art that appears to be digitally rendered. That, along with Ritche Hadley’s prose, lets us know from the first page that Anzu adores origami. It’s especially sweet when Anzu’s ojiisan (grandfather) gives her a tsuru (crane) for good luck. Maybe Anzu’s origami skills can help her forge new friendships with her classmates.

Pretty soon Anzu sees her good intentions go unappreciated. She is disappointed that her classmates look for an easy, often silly way out despite her offers of help. At night she explains to Ojiisan what’s been happening. He thoughtfully suggests she try to be patient. The next day is not much better. Anzu’s classmates seem frustrated and look for quick solutions such as scissors and tape. Again she complains to Ojiisan. He compares the skill of creating origami with that of making new friends. She needs to give it time. Still, Anzu is sad about her move and misses her old friends.

 

AnzuandtheArtofFriendship int2 classmate wearing hat dances
Interior spread from Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Things look up for Anzu the next day when “Mr. Lee displays an origami frog figure.” Always an attention-getter, the frog inspires curiosity and joy. But Anzu’s classmate Alex is frustrated he cannot put the frog back together after he’s unfolded it. This time, after Anzu does all the required folding, creasing, etc., she demonstrates how it can hop. Instead of losing interest, Alex asks Anzu to show him how to do it. At last! Anzu also tells Alex that the frog or the Kaeru, “is a symbol of good luck and a safe return when traveling.” Alex realizes the Kaeru is something meaningful he can give to his father to take on his next business trip. His interest in the paper creation prompts Anzu to come up with fun ways to engage her formerly reluctant classmates (see illustration above), and it works! Folding leads to friendship and Anzu’s spirits soar.

All the work involved in making origami as well as the symbolism of each figure serve as perfect metaphors for this book’s themes of perseverance, empathy, and kindness. Young readers will rejoice when they see how Anzu has truly mastered the art of friendship. They’ll also see the rewards of not giving up, whether that involves sticking with a tough project or trying to make a new friend. While in real life these things may take a little longer, the positive message conveyed in Anzu and the Art of Friendship makes this book easy to recommend.

The special meaning of the origami figures included in the story is explained in the back matter.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

BUY THE BOOK:

Support a local independent bookshop by clicking here to purchase Anzu and the Art of Friendship.

FIND THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

MONI –

Click here for Moni’s website.

https://www.instagram.com/bookthreader

https://www.twitter.com/bookthreader

https://www.facebook.com/bookthreader

 

NATHALIA –

Click here for more about Nathalia.

https://www.instagram.com/natztak

https://www.twitter.com/natztak

https://www.facebook.com/nathalia.takeyama/

Read a guest post by Moni about her debut picture book, The Star Festival.

Find out about The Star Festival here.

 

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Picture Book Review for Jewish Heritage Month – Seven Good Years

SEVEN GOOD YEARS:
A YIDDISH FOLKTALE

Written by Shoham Smith

Illustrated by Eitan Eloa

Translated by Ilana Kurshan

(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

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Seven Good Years cover Tuvia gold goat and family
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Based on a story from the early 1900s by I. L. Peretz, this thought-provoking Jewish folktale presents the story of Tuvia, a poor hard-working man, living in a ramshackle hut with his children and wife Sorka
when a magical older man offers him a fortune for seven years. How can he pass that
up?
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This terrific retelling of Seven Good Years A Yiddish Folktale, written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa and seamlessly translated by Ilana Kurshan, asks the question – If you were offered a life of wealth for seven years, no less and no more, would you start those years now, wait, or do something unexpected? This is the dilemma our main character must decide.
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Seven Good Years int1 Tuvia was poor
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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Using mostly primary colors, Eloa’s loosely drawn images depict Tuvia dressed with a rope around his waist because he can’t afford a belt, carrying heavy loads in his job as a porter. He does what he can to put food on his family’s plates and educate his children. But when the marketplace empties out, and the merchants pack up their wares and close shop, Tuvia asks himself “What will I do now?” The simple yet expressive illustrations depict a small village in Poland with goats and horses where people live hand to mouth yet seem content with their lot in life.
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When an unusual older man arrives dressed in bright green, Tuvia’s goat nibbles on the man’s blue feathered hat. Meanwhile, Tuvia appears startled and wonders if the man needs help with something. Instead, he has an offer for Tuvia. “Seven good years in which you won’t need to work carrying heavy loads on your back. Seven years in which you’ll be able to buy everything in this market!”
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So how does Tuvia respond? (I’m glad you asked!). Tuvia is in shock, unsure how to respond. “What will happen at the end of the seven years?” Tuvia asks. “You’ll go back to being a porter!” he is told. Tuvia asks if he can go home and discuss it with his wife Sorka. “Go home and ask her. I’ll wait here.”
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Seven Good Years int2 magical man and Tuvia
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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“So what do you say?” Tuvia asks Sorka. And what does Sorka reply? (I’m glad you asked!) Smith inserts the phrase ‘I’m glad you asked’ throughout adding fun repetition to this uplifting tale. Tuvia is concerned about what will happen when they get old and the seven years of gold runs out. Sorka is concerned about feeding the children and paying their teacher. “Go back to the man and tell him that your Sorka says—let the seven good years begin right now!”
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The magical man is shown with a large smile on his face telling Tuvia to go home to his wife and fortune. Arriving at home, Tuvia finds his joyous children behind his ramshackle hut, along with his delighted wife, their skinny goat and … a pile of gold!
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Seven Good Years int3 family rejoices with pile of gold
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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Seven years go by and the benevolent old man returns. Tuvia brings him to his home to tell Sorka that the seven good years are over only for the older man to discover the family still lives in the ramshackle hut and are dressed in the same tattered clothes! The mysterious man feels sorry for the family but the family says no need to feel sorry. It’s clear they are very happy.
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It turns out the family only took the money they needed to educate their children and now
that the children are finished with school, Tuvia tells the older man to give the gold to a needy
family. And what happens after that? (I’m glad you asked!) The next morning Sorka and Tuvia
find a great big pile of gold in their yard! And so begins another seven years of good fortune.
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The interesting back matter tells about Peretz, a prolific author of stories, folktales, plays, and essays in both
Yiddish and Hebrew. It also explains how Seven Good Years reflects Peretz’s appreciation for the simple piety of Eastern European Jews. The book’s message, influenced by what ancient Jewish rabbis teach, beautifully conveys what having riches actually is. “Who is wealthy? One who is content with what they have.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1) This hopeful folktale has been around for over a hundred years and still resonates today. What a meaningful read for Jewish Heritage Month and for parents to teach children that happiness is not dependent on fortune.
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Follow the book’s link here to request an activity guide.
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• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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An Interview by Maria Wen Adcock with Night Market Rescue Author Charlotte Cheng

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLOTTE CHENG

AUTHOR OF NIGHT MARKET RESCUE

ILLUSTRATED BY AMBER REN

(ROCKY POND BOOKS; $18.99, AGES 4-7)

 

Night Market Rescue cover night market dog GoGo lanterns family

 

 

INTRO:

Charlotte Cheng is the author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], illustrated by Amber Ren. Her picture book was released to the world on May 2, 2023. In this interview conducted by Maria Wen Adcock, author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE and founder of the parenting blog BiculturalMama.com, Charlotte discusses her inspiration for the book, Taiwanese traditions, and more.

INTERVIEW:

Maria Wen Adcock: What inspired you to write Night Market Rescue?

Charlotte Cheng: My family comes from Taiwan, and although I was born in the US, we made trips back to Taipei as often as we could to visit family. Each time we visited, my parents brought me to famous Taiwanese night markets so I could soak in the tastes and joys of their childhood.  To this day, I can still recall the smells of sizzling sausage and the sights of colorful goods. I wanted to share these fond memories with others and chose to do so by writing Night Market Rescue!

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MWA: Why did you decide to use a stray dog as the main character? How did you come up with his name? 

CC: I was struggling to figure out how to write Night Market Rescue with an interesting perspective. A few years ago, we also learned that some street dogs rely on night markets to survive. I started exploring how a night market could be seen through the eyes of a street dog. In fact, during one of our family trips to Taiwan, I spent time taking photos of night markets from a dog’s perspective. I then chose to name the dog GoGo as the word “gou” is also the Chinese word for dog.

At the same time, we started helping rescue organizations and fostered a few dogs. Eventually, we decided to rescue one ourselves. His name is Waldo, and he is a proud and integral member of our family. In fact, GoGo might look a little like Waldo because we shared photos of him with Amber Ren, the talented illustrator for Night Market Rescue.

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Night Market Rescue int1 stray GoGo finds new place page 03
Interior art from Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng with illustrations by Amber Ren, Rocky Pond Books ©2023.

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MWA: What Taiwanese traditions did you want to make sure you featured in the book?

CC: I focused a lot on sounds, tastes, and textures. I wanted people to feel like they’re with GoGo as he explores the night market. Some specifics I made sure to include were the scooters (one of Taipei’s preferred modes of transportation), sizzling sausage (a famous Taiwan treat), and haggling grandmas (a staple of any Asian market).

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MWA: Why did you think it was important to write a book highlighting Taiwanese culture? 

CC: Taiwan is a small island packed with a fascinating history. From Dutch castles to lantern festivals to marble canyons and mountains that rise above the clouds, my parents devoted a lot of time sharing their culture with me. I now have a young daughter and hope stories like Night Market Rescue will be an opportunity for me to do the same. Furthermore, Taiwan is a place that many people don’t have a chance to visit. I hope Night Market Rescue will be a way for them to learn about this special island.

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Night Market Rescue int2 Taipei market GoGo and lanterns Page 04
Interior spread from Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng with illustrations by Amber Ren, Rocky Pond Books ©2023.

 

MWA: What was the process like working with the publishing team?

CC: I’m a collaborative creature at heart, so working with the publishing team was a dream come true! Lauri Hornik is the President of Rocky Pond Books, a new imprint at Penguin. The moment Lauri acquired Night Market Rescue, she immediately began working with me to refine the manuscript. The book is in rhyme, so revisions were a little tricky, but the story is so much stronger now!

I then got to see this story come alive through the talented hands of our illustrator, Amber Ren. It began with character designs and pencil sketches. Then she added vibrant colors that brought movement and energy to each page. Throughout each stage, the Rocky Pond team invited me to provide feedback and suggestions. Sometimes, I even sent specific photos of my dog Waldo to help highlight how Taiwanese street dogs behaved in different scenarios! It was a pleasure witnessing the images transforming into the final illustrations that are now found in the book.

There are many others at the Rocky Pond team that have contributed to making Night Market Rescue as well: from art direction and book design to marketing and publicity. I’ll be collaborating with Lauri and her team on four more books over the coming years. I’m greatly looking forward to working with them all again, and I’m so grateful to be a part of the Rocky Pond family!

 

MWA: What did you and your publishing team love the most about the illustrations? 

CC: Amber Ren is such a creative and detailed illustrator! She captured the sights and sounds of a Taiwanese night market with vibrant and colorful images that just jump from the page. There are so many details that I hope readers will catch. Someone is drinking boba in the background because the beverage was invented in Taiwan. Even my Ama makes an appearance as she briskly bargains with a vendor! Amber also hand-wrote each vendor sign in traditional Mandarin, and she even incorporated feedback from my parents on the exact phrasing of some of the vendor names. Most of all, Amber managed to illustrate the full spectrum of GoGo’s emotions – from curiosity to loneliness to joy. You root for GoGo because he’s so charming and eager when exploring the night market. I could not imagine working with a better illustrator than Amber, and I hope we can work together again!
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MWA: Do you have any books or projects coming up? If so, please describe them.

CC: I actually have several books coming out over the next few years! In 2024, Roar Choo, illustrated by Dan Santat, will be published by Rocky Pond Books. It’s a story of how a dragon recovers from a cold through the help of a phoenix friend. In the same year, A Name for Sister, illustrated by Sophie Diao, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s a magical new sister story inspired by a centuries-old naming tradition from China. In 2025, Rocky Pond Books will also publish two more of my stories: I Miss You Most (2025), illustrated by Xindi Yan, and Icy Fruit (2025), illustrated by Vivian Mineker. Both of these books are inspired by my two grandfathers. You can sign up for my newsletter or follow me on social media to stay updated about these books.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Charlotte’s local indie store:

https://www.thereadingbug.com/book/9780593531723

IndieBound:

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780593531723

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/charlottedraws

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charlottemakesbooks

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlottechengdesigns

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Charlotte Cheng Photo Credit Airecel Brady
Charlotte Cheng Photo Credit: Airecel Iris Brady

ABOUT AUTHOR CHARLOTTE CHENG:

Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books, including Explore China: A Mulan Discovery Book and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curricula for a variety of companies, including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop.

You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her social media sites above.

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ABOUT INTERVIEWER MARIA WEN ADCOCK:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George [January 2023], published by Clarion Books/Harper Collins. Maria is a first-generation Chinese-American writer and founder of the award-winning multicultural parenting blog www.BiculturalMama.com. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Bloomberg News, Newsday, and Huffington Post. Maria is a board member of Multicultural Kid Blogs, an organization supporting diverse parenting bloggers, and co-host of the annual event Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Follow: Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT AMBER REN, THE ILLUSTRATOR:

https://www.amber-ren.com

https://twitter.com/AmberRenArt

https://www.instagram.com/ren.amber

http://amber-ren.tumblr.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/amber-ren-1921a092

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An Interview by Rajani LaRocca with I’m an American Author Darshana Khiani

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH DARSHANA KHIANI

ABOUT HER NEW PICTURE BOOK

I’M AN AMERICAN

ILLUSTRATED BY LAURA FREEMAN

(Viking BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

I'm An American cover flags diverse children

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

 

INTERVIEW:

Rajani LaRocca: What was the inspiration for this book?

Darshana Khiani: My initial inspiration came in the Summer of 2017, I watched a YouTube video of a White man conversing with an Asian man about being American. Even though the Asian man answered every question with an answer that was similar if not the same as the White man’s answers, it didn’t matter. The White man would not “see” the 4th generation U.S. born ethnically Chinese man as an American. I was flabbergasted. When is one considered an American? Initially, I wrote a narrative story about a biracial child questioning his identity. Unfortunately, the draft didn’t feel like a picture book and had veered from the heart which was “If America is your home and you believe in the ideals/values of this country then you are American, regardless of color, ethnicity, or even citizenship.”  From a conference critique, I received a suggestion to create a concept book with layered text, set in a diverse classroom. The American values would be prominently featured in the main text with the student’s family backstory in the secondary text.

 

I'm an American int1 classrom
Interior spread from I’m an American written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Laura Freeman, Viking BYR ©2023.

 

RL: What kind of research did you do? How did you decide which people/which stories to include?

DK: Since this book covered immigration history at a higher level, I first started with a middle-grade nonfiction text on immigration history and then dug deeper into specific events and facts delving into topic-specific books.I wrote copious notes of whatever details were significant or interesting to me. I created a spreadsheet with all the different values and then marked which groups had stories or experiences that could help showcase that value. This was important since I wanted to capture as much diverse representation as possible from older immigrant stories to newer ones, immigrants from different regions of the world, as well as those groups who are non-immigrants. 

 

I'm an American int2 MexFilipAmer
Interior spread from I’m an American written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Laura Freeman, Viking BYR ©2023.

 

RL: Laura Freeman’s art is stunning! Was there a lot of revision once the illustrations came in?

DK: There was plenty of revision of the text for a few of the vignettes for accuracy and sensitivity reasons, and even some shuffling around of page spreads for story flow. All good stuff. There weren’t any changes needed as a result of the art. I agree Laura’s art is breathtaking and I do hope she gets some professional recognition for it. I don’t think this was an easy book to illustrate.

 

RL: What do you hope young readers get from this book?

DK: No matter who you are or how you came to the United States, if you believe you are an American then you are. Also for people who’ve been here for generations, to realize that the reasons people immigrate today such as the need for safety or basic human rights is no different than the reason people immigrated in the 17th through 19th centuries. Despite our differences and challenges as a nation is it our values that we continuously strive and try to uphold that make us American.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase I’m an American.

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

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D Khiani headshot by Lisa Noble
Darshana Khiani  – Author Photo ©Lisa Noble.

AUTHOR BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me

MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME 

Written by Roxanne Troup

Illustrated by Kendra Binney

(Yeehoo Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

My Grandpa My Tree and Me cover granddaughter grandfather sit beneath pecan tree

 

There’s a timeless, feel-good quality to Roxanne Troup’s debut fiction picture book My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me, illustrated by Kendra Binney. After finishing it, I wanted to sit back and imagine myself in the bucolic surroundings where the story takes place.

Binney’s appealing artwork transported me to a pecan orchard for the first time where the action unfolds as a little girl spends time with her grandfather and narrates, “My grandpa planted a tree for me on the day I was born.” She also tells us that, despite having an orchard full of pecan trees, Grandpa’s favorite tree is that particular one, thus establishing the strong bond these two characters share.

 

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me int1 girl and grandpa spreading mulch
Interior spread from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

Through changing seasons starting in winter when it’s pruning time, and the annual growth cycle of the orchard, we learn how pecans mature and are harvested. At the same time, the special relationship between the child and her grandpa exudes from the warm, muted illustrations coupled with Trout’s lyrical prose. I especially felt that each time I read the lovely repeating phrase “But not my tree.” In spread after spread the young girl describes how the other pecan trees are treated en masse as part of the commercial harvesting process, while hers receives individualized care from her grandpa. Together the two tend to her tree with love and respect which also serves as a metaphor for their relationship.

 

My Grandpa My Tree and Me int2 prepping pecans for harvester
Interior illustrations from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

At last, when the husks open, it’s harvest time. The joy is palpable on the page. Then “Grandpa attaches a padded arm to his tractor. It hugs the trees’ trunks and shakes until leaves and twigs and pecans rain down.” When it’s her turn and with Grandpa there to savor the experience, the girl uses a long pole to make the pecans drop. The orchard’s pecans will be collected by the harvester for sale but the girl’s pecans will be baked into a scrumptious pecan pie. And, not to spoil the beautiful ending, suffice it to say that Troup and Mother Nature’s miraculous cycle of growth delivers a delightful and very satisfying dénouement in this touching layered tale.

 

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me int3 eating pecan pie time
Interior illustrations from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

 

Troup, who is not a newcomer to writing, knows how to tell an engaging and tender story while infusing interesting information into it, clearly owing to her extensive nonfiction background. The pacing of My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me moves forward easily like the seasons in the orchard. There’s a soothing rhythm to the language that makes the book an ideal read any time of the day, including bedtime. Did you know that pecans are considered a native nut to North America? Find an All About Pecans note detailing the history of the commercial pecan industry along with a helpful glossary in the back matter.

Download a free teacher’s guide here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: I’m thrilled that Roxanne is a reviewer at this blog so subscribe today so you don’t miss her thoughtful coverage.

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Three Picture Books for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

 

PICTURE BOOKS FOR RAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

Moon's Ramadan cover kids on balcony cheering moonMOON’S RAMADAN
Written and illustrated by Natasha Khan Kazi 
(Versify; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m a big fan of personification in picture books so I was curious how Kazi would bring the moon to life in her new Ramadan story. In her debut, she shows a cheerful crescent moon grinning at a diverse group of Muslims across the planet.

Ready for a month of peace and fasting from sunrise to sundown, people are busy cleaning and preparing. Moon’s view of celebrants takes us first to Egypt, then to Turkey. We learn the early morning meal is called Suhoor. The daylight hours are devoted to good deeds and kindness. When Moon glances down at Indonesia, it’s time to break the fast at Iftar. Here we’re treated to a spread of a dining room table filled with all the delicious foods of the holiday including dates. In the United Kingdom, Moon lights the way for children “delivering baskets of dried fruit and honey-soaked pastries.” Zakat, or charity during Ramadan, is discussed by leaders of the community in New Zealand. One example is by putting coins in sadaqah jars for those in need.

As the days pass, Moon grows fuller. So by the time this story reaches Somalia, it is full, signaling the halfway mark of the holiday. An Iman leads worshippers in the nightly prayer of Taraweeh. One of my favorite spreads, in rich purples and blues, is about breaking bread with people of different faiths. Set in the United States. Moon has reached its last quarter and is shaped like a loaf of bread that has risen. In Dubai Moon gets a glimpse of smiles and hennaed hands. A gorgeous star-lit outdoor scene greets a new Moon in Argentina as she “magically melts into mulberry and lavender hues.” People fill the streets as the month of fasting nears its end. First India for Chaand Raat, the night of the moon, and then for our return back to where everything in Kazi’s picture book began, in Egypt for the joyful Eid al-Fitr festivities. The positive energy of Kazi’swarm art, achieved using scanned watercolor textures and digital pencil, and uplifting prose pulsates from the pages!

The endpapers depict the phases of the moon and back matter includes an Author’ Note, a Ramadan Glossary, illustrations of different foods, and Ramadan items such as the lantern, the sadaqah jar, the traditional skullcap, and more. A rewarding read now and for years to come!

 

The Night Before Eid cover grandmother hugging grandchildTHE NIGHT BEFORE EID
Written by  Aya Khalil
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

(Christy Ottaviano Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 Starred Review – Kirkus

Introduce your children to Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that begins with a crescent moon above, by sharing this heart-warming new picture book.

Zain is so excited that Teita has finally arrived from Egypt. Everyone will help her make the delicious dessert called ka’ak that she is known for. She’s brought along special ingredients, too. The mouth-watering cookies take time and patience to make and though Zain is eager to get started, author Khalil takes us back to Egypt via several fabulous flashback spreads to when Zain’s Mama and Teita were younger. That was a time when the whole family would stay up all night to bake the ka’ak and then offer them as gifts to others. Those three pages of recollections convey the significance of this tradition that Zain’s family continues.

Zain brings the cookies to school where they are a hit even with his class’s pickiest eater. This is a super scene because it’s inclusive—there’s a student in a wheelchair, a Black student, a White student, one girl in a headscarf, and one boy wearing a yarmulke. When Zain’s teacher wants the recipe he is filled with pride. Wait until he tells Teita! You can feel the love emanating from the huge hugs and smiles he shares with his teita once home.

The charming illustrations, which include a lively kitty popping up in fun poses and places, have a childlike quality that I find appealing and feels so right for this story. They were created using mixed media including acrylic, oil, ink, spray paint, crayon, and pencil on watercolor paper. The saturation of colors such as pink, orange, and teal adds vibrancy to this tale that is already so full of life.

Seeing the scenes when Mama was a child helps reinforce how the memories of time spent together during the holiday are a cherished part of the experience. Young readers are treated to not only the history of ka’ak going back to the pharaohs’ rule but to the fun involved when everyone pitches in now to help prepare them. Khalil’s prose makes us almost taste their sweetness and shows how important it is to honor this joyful tradition. Six pages of back matter end the book with an explanation of Eid, a ka’ak time line, lovely author photos, and a recipe to try your hand a ka’ak making. Don’t miss this timeless intergenerational story!

 

Zahras Blessing cover girl wishing on the moonZAHRA’S BLESSING
Written by Shirin Shamsi
Illustrated by Manal Mirza
(Barefoot Books; Available in Hardcover $17.99, Paperback $9.99, + Spanish, Ages 4-9)

I loved where this wonderful story went and how the title can be interpreted to refer to more than one blessing that occurs in Zahra’s Blessing. One clue is given in Nirza’s beautiful cover artwork.

The story begins at bedtime with the main character, Zahra, telling her teddy bear that during the Ramadan moon, her mama says “… blessings are all around us during this month.” So Zahra prays for a sister, someone to bake with. I’m adding play with, read to, and love because it’s clear Zahra is a girl full of love.

One blessing during the holiday is to give to others so along with her Mama, Zahra chooses clothing to box up and donate. Afterward, she realizes that she cannot find Teddy, her stuffed animal, despite a thorough search. This loss weighs on her. A sister could help her look for Teddy.

When they bring their items to a refugee shelter, they will also spend time there volunteering. And though Zahra is missing her beloved Teddy, her mother explains the shelter residents have lost so much more since fleeing their homelands. That helps Zahra understand their difficult circumstances. Mama introduces Zahra to “someone special,” a young refugee named Haleema who is painting. This a second clue kids might not pick up on. They may also not get that Haleema refers to her parents in the past tense. Her Baba was an artist she tells Zahra. Her mama was an architect. Here I must note I did wonder if kids will infer Haleema’s parents had died. What is clear is that Zahra and Haleema bond over painting, reading stories, and then breaking the fast together. Soon it was time to go home and I was moved when Zahra longs to find Teddy so she can give him to Haleema who was sad to see her new friend go. Moments like this demonstrate Zahra’s maturity and humanity.

Over Ramadan, Zahra and Haleema spend more time together, growing closer every day. Just before “Eid Day dawned dazzling bright” Zahra’s parents share a delightful secret with her which readers ultimately learn a few spreads later. Zahra’s wish for a sister has come true in the most wonderful way so when Eid festivities end, this family of three grows to a family of four with Haleema! There was no denying the blessing of Ramadan that Zahra’s family could feel.

The two pages of back matter explain the holiday, and its customs, and also address displacement, shelters, and foster care. The interconnectedness of Shamsi’s lyrical writing with Mirza’s jewel-toned, ebullient art makes this a standout story for children. Zahra’s Blessing presents a story of empathy, kindness, and the joy of giving in an engaging and accessible way while beautifully blending the richness of Ramadan and Eid.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Children’s Picture Book – You Can! Kids Empowering Kids

 

YOU CAN!: KIDS EMPOWERING KIDS

Written by Alexandra Strick

Illustrated by Steve Antony

(Candlewick Press; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

You Can! Kids Empowering Kids cover diverse kids

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FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Young people share valuable advice—words they wish they had heard growing up—to inspire, reassure, encourage, and say You’re enough, just as you are.

REVIEW:

You Can! Kids Empowering Kids uses simple phrases with powerful meanings on a journey with fourteen imaginary characters “as they grow from birth to eighteen.” Author Alexandra Strick’s prose opens each page with “You can …” placed alone in the left-hand corner, with inspirational messages spread throughout the book showcasing the power kids have while growing up.

Illustrator Steve Antony’s eye-catching colorful penciled art finished digitally, depicts children growing up before our eyes, and along the way they are being brave, exploring new worlds, and sharing feelings with a friend.

Below is a wonderful spread of kids lined up on the floor listening to a new friend playing the flute. One girl sticks her tongue out at a boy but the reader finds them hugging and “forgiving others and yourself” when seen again as teens. Watching the characters grow from babies to young adults was a fabulous way to experience them believing in themselves, dreaming big, and supporting each other.

 

You Can! int.1 you can be brave little kids
YOU CAN! KIDS EMPOWERING KIDS. Text copyright © 2021 by Alexandra Strick. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Steve Antony. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Whoever young readers identify with, Antony’s diverse art provides the opportunity for children to be able to locate someone that resembles themselves or their actions. The closing pages show what becomes of our new friends. The girl in the wheelchair is an important figure sitting in front of a podium, while the boy with red hair grows up to become a pilot.

One page is filled with crowds of kids gathered together in costumes. There is a child dressed as a purple clown who prefers to follow along, while another walks with a cane choosing to lead the way. (Canes and wheelchairs are not going to prevent any of these kids from doing what they wish to do.) Turning the page, we read “do something big by doing something small, inspire and encourage others, stand up for what you believe in, and make a difference.” The words “Climate Action Now!”  head up a spread of kids picking up trash and collecting water bottles. We see kids working together uplifting each other and remaining friends.

An angled font for “do things you couldn’t do yesterday” accompanies a girl dressed in a green suit and cap swimming the ocean with two friendly whales by her side. When she grows up, we see a drawing of her again dressed in green taking photos of fish in the sea. Each child is matched to a color throughout the story, in this way readers can flip back to the beginning of the pages to remind themselves of the character’s backstory. This was a creative way to follow along with the group of children.

Readers see that it’s not just about doing things for others but doing things for themselves as well. Kids are cheered on as they run a race but it’s not about winning or losing, “Just give it a try,” Strick shares. The blind runner strapped to the guided runner is just one example of this positive and inspiring picture book.

 

You Can! .int.2 diverse people you can believe in yourself
YOU CAN! KIDS EMPOWERING KIDS. Text copyright © 2021 by Alexandra Strick. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Steve Antony. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

The blue sky covers the last spread above with the kids all grown up standing on a green hill with the words “You can believe in yourself, be the best you can, be kind, dream big, and be yourself,” above their heads. That pretty much says it all right there.

In back matter, Strick explains the research behind the picture book, while Antony draws faces of himself and Strick in a zoom room with real kids from all backgrounds. The kids are asked what they feel is important to say in the text. It was heartwarming to learn that these are the words of the young contributors. This book belongs in every classroom to be read to students as a lesson in social-emotional learning. In a world full of chaos, it was gratifying to read a book that gives kids hope. Strick, from the U.K., is the co-founder of Inclusive Minds, a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, and accessibility in children’s literature. 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

 

 

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