Written by Glenys Nellist
Illustrated by Sally Garland
(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-6)
I wish Dear Star Baby had been around when I was a child. It would have helped me understand the silence in my house when my mom came home from the hospital following her two miscarriages. Thankfully Malcolm Newsome and Kamala Nair’s picture book is available for young readers now to help them cope with the loss as a result of either miscarriage or stillbirth in a moving, meaningful way.
The narrator of the story is a boy who dreams of becoming an older brother. He’s ecstatic when he learns that his dream will come true. The tale is told via a letter he’s writing to the unborn sibling. The spreads in the book when the family is preparing for the baby’s arrival are full of joy and light. “Mama took me shopping. She let me pick your blankets and a toy (well, two toys).”
Sadly, “Mama needed to rest in bed …” but she soon needed to go to the hospital where she miscarried. The touching spread above is told in language easy for youngsters to understand, and never speaks down to them. The loss of his unborn sibling is gently shared by the boy’s parents in a loving and caring moment. “She said you went to be with the stars instead.”
At home, the grieving child sees changes in his parents. His mother cries and there is not much conversation with his father as they deal with the loss. But being together helps and being held helps even more. So when the family looks at the night sky and discusses their Star Baby, everyone has a different feeling which is absolutely fine. Dad sees Star Baby far away and Mama feels him close by. There is no right answer, no right way to feel. What matters is being able to experience the grief and ultimately healing in a way that works for each individual. That’s why I loved this sentence from the child, “I think you’re in both places. Here with us even though I can’t see you.”
Nair’s warm palette for her art is soothing for this sensitive topic. I especially liked the evening scenes where the night sky bursting with stars conveys hope and comfort like the hugs the family shares.
Newsome’s Author’s Note brought me to tears when he wrote about his own personal experience after his wife’s miscarriages and I’m so glad he wrote Dear Star Baby so others can benefit too. This is a thoughtfully written book that will prompt important discussions for families dealing with grief and bereavement.
★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.
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.
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.
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.
Discover how a young girl gains healing and hope as she processes the loss of a loved one in this beautifully sensitive story.
… Whether children choose to use art as their outlet or find another way, the message is clear: they can carry the memories of their loved ones with them. An ending Note to Parents features guidance from a licensed children’s counselor about how to use the book and where to find additional resources. Written from a place of personal experience, this story strives to bring comfort to children hurting after loss.
Tiffany Golden: Let’s start with a speed round…
Okay, now down to the serious stuff….
TG: Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
Amanda Davis: My love for art and writing stems back to my childhood. My father passed away when I was young, and I turned to art and writing to cope and process my emotions. This is what led me to teach art and later write and illustrate children’s books. I want to show kids the power in our stories-whether through writing, reading, or visual art. In 2012, I took a continuing education course at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, called, Illustrating Children’s Books, with illustrator Ilse Plume. This course was eye-opening for me and kick-started my career in kidlit. I realized that children’s books combine all three of my passions: art, writing, and stories. After completing that course, I dove headfirst into the craft of writing and illustrating for children (while balancing my job as a full-time high school teacher). I joined SCBWI, 12×12, and found a local and online critique group. I tried to soak in all the knowledge I could about the kidlit industry. I began to query literary agents and editors with a few of my stories. Looking back, I probably queried those stories too early, but hey, that’s part of the learning process. The story that finally landed me an agent and later a deal is my debut creative nonfiction picture book titled 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, which published in 2021 with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group.
MOONLIGHT MEMORIES is my second picture book with the wonderful team at WorthyKids. The story is beautifully illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan and released earlier this month. This story holds a special place in my heart as it was inspired by my own personal experience with loss.
As mentioned above, my father died when I was young. After his death, I was unsure of how to cope with this unexpected loss. I don’t remember many people talking to me about it or being given any resources to help me process. It wasn’t until I found art and writing that I was able to fully process the thoughts and emotions surrounding his death. I found my outlet. I found my voice. I soon realized that my father would always live on through the memories I was creating with my words and visuals.
MOONLIGHT MEMORIES tells the story of a young girl who is dealing with the loss of a loved one and finds comfort and healing through creativity. I have a third (unannounced) nonfiction picture book forthcoming that also has themes of loss and healing in it. Clearly, this is an important topic to me, ha! I hope my books can offer hope to readers and foster meaningful dialogue to help children process and heal from essential life events.
TG: What inspires your work?
AD: My own experiences inspire my creativity. I like to write and draw about the things I’ve been through in my life (both joyous and difficult), the places I travel, people I meet, and the lessons I’ve learned. I’m inspired by kindness, nature, animals, and family. Often these aspects find their way into my work. Creativity is all around us, we just need to pay attention.
TG: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
AD: There is no right or wrong way to get published. Each person’s story is different. Sometimes it’s a short, smooth journey, and sometimes it’s long and bumpy. Try not to compare. Instead, keep going. With every pass, send another query out. This industry has taught me not to take anything personally. You want to work with an editor or an agent who is going to love your work wholeheartedly. The truth is, not everyone is going to. And that’s okay. Art is subjective. With that in mind, there is strength in solidarity. This can be a very isolating business if we let it, so remember to reach out for help and to connect. The children’s book industry is one of the most welcoming communities I’ve been a part of. There is so much talent and wisdom. Connect with people. Ask questions. Never stop learning from one another. We are all on this creative journey together.
AD: Thank you for interviewing me, Tiffany, and thanks for hosting us, Ronna! Thanks to all those for reading and supporting my work!
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Local indie for signed copies (Upon checkout, type in the comments how you’d like the book personalized): https://www.
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of MOONLIGHT MEMORIES, 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, and a yet-to-be-announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.
Tiffany Golden writes picture books, middle-grade, and YA fiction, mostly inspired by her experiences as a Black, disabled woman. She is also the winner of Lee and Low’s New Visions Award for 2021. She teaches creative writing to third-to-fifth grade students, is a member of SCWBI, and received the Judith Tannenbaum Teaching Artist Fellowship.
★Starred Review – Kirkus
Following up the success of Grandad’s Camper, is Grandad’s Pride featuring the same characters readers got to know previously. Much like that book, I was immediately pulled into this story by the folksy art and in this case, a focus on the inviting locale by the sea.
When playing in Grandad’s attic, Milly, who is visiting once again for the summer, stumbles upon Grandpa’s old Pride flag. Curious what Pride is, Milly gets a wonderful description from Grandad who used to participate in marches and other Pride events when Gramps was still alive. “Pride is like a giant party where we celebrate the wonderful diversity of our communities and demand that everyone should be treated with
equality and respect – no matter who they love or what gender they are.” After hearing how important Pride had been for Grandad, Milly suggests they go to the city to participate in the next Pride event, but Grandad no longer feels comfortable in the big city.
Milly proposes a locale parade in the village instead and soon the entire village is involved. Not only does her idea present the opportunity to get to make new friends, it also is a moving way to honor Gramps’ memory. Grandad leading the parade in his pink camper is a fitting way to kick off this new tradition and not even a brief downpour can curtail the festivities.
You’ll want to read this lovely picture book slowly to take in all the details that Woodgate has included from the slogans on the posters, the diversity of the primary and secondary characters and the big heart this story exudes on every page. I could easily live in this welcoming community and can’t wait to see what Milly and Grandad get up to next!
For starters, I want to point out illustrator Gonzalez’s art description on the credits page: “The illustrations are rendered with pencil, watercolors, colored pencils, and love.” If the inclusion of the word ‘love’ doesn’t speak volumes about the care and thought that went into creating this picture book, I don’t know what does.
Newman’s masterfully crafted rhyming couplets take the reader through spread after jubilant spread as readers follow the real and make-believe activities of six diverse and “splendiferous” children and one plucky pooch. Imagination rules as the youngsters try out dress up, and pretend play where anything except the judgment of adults is possible. “I can aim for the basket and practice my throws,/ or wear a pink tutu and twirl on my toes.” There is no need to label and no need to discuss gender, race, or religion. Prepare for pure enjoyment. Kids being “their true selves” is what’s celebrated on every delightful page of this recommended read.
Click here for a Teacher’s Guide
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal
This uplifting, inclusive picture book about making a like-minded friend and experiencing a first crush is getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so. The cover alone conveys the pleasure these two girls find in each other’s company then the prose and art throughout continue to capture that emotion. Author Irving states in her website intro, “My deepest wish for my readers is for them to feel seen and special,” and The Wishing Flower beautifully accomplishes that.
We first meet Birdie as she’s wishing on a dandelion to find a friend who shares her interests. “Birdie felt inside out at home and at school.” She generally kept to herself clearly not connecting with other kids until … Sunny “the new girl” arrives in her class. With her nature name, Sunny, like Birdie, enjoys all the same things: reading, rescuing, and painting. The girls are drawn to each other and Birdie “blushed when Sunny sat next to her at lunch.” She knew she needed to be brave to pursue the friendship and looks for the biggest wishing flower. At recess playing Red Rover, Sunny calls for Birdie, and Birdie’s heart soars. That excitement is palpable in the warm, emotive illustrations that bleed off the page. When this wonderful day spent together with her new friend ends, it’s so rewarding as a reader to see the two happy souls have had their wishes come true.
“In the next ten years, I don’t think there will be many classrooms in America where there isn’t a gender-diverse child, and the rest of the students will have to be friends with that kid. And how to you manage that? You manage it like the child in the book does. With kindness and humor and inclusion and with playfulness.” According to bestselling author Dawson, this is the goal of her debut picture book and I appreciated her introducing the topic in a light-hearted way that emphasizes a people-not-gender-first approach to identity.
I love when a story begins with artwork only before the title page as it does here. The main character is walking with an older girl to school. Once the main character gets settled in, her classmates begin asking where her brother Bill is. They haven’t seen him in a while. This is a fun part to read aloud as the girl’s classmates take wild guesses about where her older brother can be. “Was he eaten by a WHALE or SHARK? Was he munched up just like krill?”/ “That simply isn’t true,” I say./ “And hey, you need to chill.” With inquiring young minds bombarding the girl with a constant flow of zany questions (illustrated as whimsically as those questions), the cool retort calms everyone down. The repetition of “Hey, you need to chill,” is catchy and I can imagine children being eager to say it along with the narrator. While the kids are curious and confused, they also say they’re concerned. I’m glad that was included.
The little girl tells her classmates that her older brother Bill is now Lily. She honestly explains how the change took getting used to but ultimately, as the art shows, she knows that Lily is still the same deep down inside and very loved. She’s her sister’s ally. And as such, together the two can tell anyone who has a problem with Lily being a trans girl to just chill.
While the rhyme is not always even, the spirit, energy, and humor of this important story about a transgender child coupled with the buoyant art carry it along and make You Need to Chill! a worthwhile, fulfilling, and accessible read. Read about genderspectrum.org, a charity working to create gender sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens.
Lili felt she didn’t belong, like a tiger among ducks. And if people found out more about her, she was sure she’d be left alone. Her solution then was to be more like a duck. If she changed things about herself then she’d fit in. And no one would know any better. No one would know her secret.
There was a catch, however. Trying to be someone she wasn’t made Lili feel sad. It’s definitely not easy to pretend to be something you’re not. So, after realizing this, she needed to confide in someone, someone who’d make her feel safe. Lili “revealed her secret” to Gran. “Her heart really raced.” But Gran confirmed that no matter who Lili was, one thing was certain. She was loved. And she should feel proud of who she was. Afterall, “Not everyone is a duck, and not all ducks flock together.” What is important is being her authentic, unique self. It may be tough, but in time, Lili could rest assured that she’d find her pride.
I always enjoy a picture book that offers hope to any child in Lili’s position, so they’ll know that one day they will be welcomed by people who appreciate the real them. This powerful message of acceptance should resonate with many young readers who feel like the other for whatever reason, not simply for being queer. I was surprised to learn that Jacobs is a self-taught artist. The gentle green palette she uses works well with the purple of her alter-ego, the tiger. I will note that in places the meter of the rhyme is not perfect and the rhymes slant in spots where ‘day’ is paired with ‘stayed’ or ‘terrible’ with ‘unbearable.’ However, picture books such as this affirming one are needed to bring comfort to children with its beautiful message of letting “your heart be your guide.”
Click here to read a review of a fave Pride picture book from last year.
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.
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.
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.
Support a local independent bookshop by clicking here to purchase Anzu and the Art of Friendship.
Click here for Moni’s website.
Click here for more about Nathalia.
Find out about The Star Festival here.
Glow is a bioluminescent squid who loves to dance and twirl. And the faster he twirls, the brighter he GLOWS! He loves to show off his skills … and becomes quite a show-off with a bad attitude. He doesn’t like sharing the spotlight. And when he ditches his friends in search of fans, he loses his glow! Can Glow find his way home—and if he does, will his friends take him back?
As readers follow Glow’s journey, they’ll learn all about bioluminescence and fascinating ocean creatures along the way.
Aixa Pérez-Prado: Congrats on your picture book, THE GLOW SHOW! How did you get into creating books for young readers?
Susi Schaefer: Thank you so much for the interview. I was born and raised in Austria, where I completed an apprenticeship as a glass painter. That style still influences my illustrations today.
Once I reached my early twenties, I got a case of Wanderlust and came to the U.S. to work as a nanny. While reading tons of picture books to the kids, I fell in love with the format. Eventually, I studied graphic design and worked in that field for many years.
And once I had my own kiddos, I decided to try my hand at illustrating and writing. With the help of the SCBWI and my critique groups, I steadily improved my craft until I landed an agent in 2016. THE GLOW SHOW will be my third book.
APP: Tell us what inspired this book.
SS: I am a huge nature lover and have always been fascinated by the ocean, partially because I grew up in a landlocked country. Soon after arriving here, I got my scuba diving certification to explore the underwater world for myself.
Then, a few years ago, we had a lot of bioluminescent plankton in the surf here in Southern California. I really became interested in glowing marine life.
Also, I wanted to tell a story about friendship versus followers or fans. And that’s how that idea for THE GLOW SHOW was born.
APP: Can you share your process?
SS: For this book, I started by illustrating a finished underwater scene, including a purple, bioluminescent squid. I loved the character so much that I began to write a messy first draft of the manuscript. After a couple of revisions, I created the dummy. The feedback from my critique group was very positive, and I decided to share the idea with my agent. She loved it and helped me refine the dummy. And then, we sent it out on submission and found a wonderful home.
My illustration process is digital collage combined with traditional watercolor washes. First, I create manual sketches on paper, then bring them into Procreate on my Apple iPad Pro and finalize each file in Photoshop on my Mac.
APP: Are you working on any projects you can tell us about?
SS: Yes, I am thrilled to share that I have recently signed two more contracts, one as an illustrator for a book scheduled for publication later in 2023 and the second as an author/illustrator for a book coming in 2025.
APP: Where can people find you out there?
Click here to buy the book from Bookshop.org
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
Aixa Pérez-Prado is a native of Argentina who immigrated to the US as a small child. She is a writer, illustrator, translator, sensitivity reader and professor with a PhD in Social Science and Education. 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 through stories that resonate with heart and humor. Aixa writes in Spanish and English and enjoys mixing languages in her prose. Similarly, she loves illustrating by employing different techniques in a whimsical style that includes watercolor, acrylic, ink, and digital. She especially enjoys combining all of these elements through collage. Her 2023 books are CITY FEET (Reycraft), and OUR WORLD: ARGENTINA (Barefoot Books), and coming in 2024, MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Lee & Low). Aixa is represented by Joyce Sweeney from the Seymour Agency.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Author Jane Sutton and illustrator Debby Rahmalia’s picture book, Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile, was easy to enjoy. It brought me back to my childhood as I recalled all the Yiddish words my parents and other relatives used when I was growing up. I knew conversations were about money when I heard them use the word gelt. When kinder was mentioned, they were talking about me, my brother or my cousins. Yet this book is so much more than a book to introduce Yiddish to young readers. It’s a sweet, thoughtful story about how Gracie comes up with a way to help her grieving Bubbe (grandma) following her Zayde’s (grandfather) death.
Rather than come right out and tell Bubbe what she’s doing, Gracie uses her genuine curiosity to take her grandmother’s mind off her husband’s death by having her focus on something else. What a mature approach!
Gracie may not have been grieving to the extent that her Bubbe was, but she still felt the loss. Her late Zayde had taught her many things and she missed spending time with him. And she could not help but notice how sad Bubbe was. So when Bubbe told her she didn’t feel like drawing a picture together and called her Bubala, recalling how “Zayde and I loved using Yiddish words together,” Gracie grew interested in finding out more.
By asking Bubbe to teach her Yiddish words, Gracie is able to help her grieving grandmother engage and at the same time continue doing something meaningful. They can spend time together as Bubbe shares more Yiddish words and their meanings while keeping the memory of Zayde alive. In the end, not only does Gracie bring back Bubbe’s smile, but she also bonds with her in joyful new ways that heal them both. Sutton’s tenderly written multigenerational story of bereavement and healing is treated with care in Rahmalia’s cheerful illustrations that depict Bubbe’s loving relationship with her granddaughter. With its unique Yiddish angle, this picture book is a thoughtful, educational, and accessible read for children processing a loss.
For the last day of Fat Bear Week, I’m delighted, (or should I say overjoyed?) to share my thoughts on Julie Hedlund’s uproarious read-aloud picture book, Over, Bear! Under, Where? with humorous art by Michael Slack.
Now don’t get me wrong, the titular Bear may be on the big side, but he’s actually a kind soul simply looking for pals to play with. But when you’re a bird (Over), a mole (Under), or a hot-dog dog (Dog) and that much smaller, a bear can be scary. That scenario is what unfolds to hilarious results as Over and Under hang out at the park.
With wordplay galore, a relatable premise, and high marks for its readability, Hedlund’s book manages to entertain in just under 100 carefully chosen words. Young readers will adore the interplay of art and text as they see Over and Under’s punny back-and-forth banter on the see-saw and at their BBQ. They even invite a hot-dog dog called Dog to join them but run for their lives after spotting Bear in what is clearly a massive misunderstanding.
Bear, we soon learn, wants to play, too, but Over, Under and Dog do not realize this right away. It’s only when Under points out a dejected-looking Bear … down that the trio makes amends and in doing so, makes a new friend.
Hedlund’s spare text may make adult readers think, “Oh hey, I could do that.” When in fact, to be able to convey the emotional heart of this story with so few words, is no easy task and takes a pro. It also takes terrific illustrations that bring the story to life, my favorite illustrations being those below.
There’s even a page of helpful backmatter providing examples of the compound words that were essential to inspiring this story’s humor when they were presented as separate words helped by just a comma in many places. Parents, teachers, librarians, and caregivers will not tire of sharing this whimsical, original tale with its clever take, “You can’t judge a bear by its behind.” So Fat Bear Week or not, this book’ll keep you from hibernating.
Badger woke up in a bad mood! After working in his garden, he starts to feel better but knows he must make amends when he finds out that his grumpy, rude remarks from the morning have left his friends upset with him in The Bad Mood! written by Moritz Petz, with illustrations by Amélie Jackowski. Now available as an unjacketed hardcover, this beloved classic has been translated into more than ten languages.
Bad moods are quite contagious and relatable to most children and adults. Like Badger ultimately realizes, a bad mood can consume all of our senses. Jackowski’s drawing of Badger’s long face says it all as does Petz’s prose when Badger says, “I’m in a bad mood today! This might be dangerous. Maybe I’d better stay at home.” If only he’d gone with his gut.
Deciding that his forest friends should notice that he is in a bad mood, Badger angrily sets out to begin his day. “Everybody ought to know how miserable I feel.” The pale green sky is the only thing calm as he stomps away from the door of his treehouse causing the mail to fly out of the mailbox.
Turning the page, the reader is greeted by cheerful Raccoon with his long striped black-and-white tail and yoyo in hand. Raccoon does what we assume he does whenever he is greeted by a friend and wishes Badger a good morning. “’Good morning? What’s so good about it?’ Badger replied, and stomped off.” Raccoon stood there shocked that not even so much as a goodbye was offered!
Badger’s mood becomes more explosive when Moose asks if he slept well and Badger counters it is “none of your business.” Badger is pleased with his response liking that both Deer and Raccoon know he is in a bad mood. He continues along his walk and passes more friends and “He was as rude to them as he could be.” This becomes a teachable moment for parents and caregivers. A discussion on how to treat people may even be initiated by little ones who realize this behavior does not win friends.
After Badger’s walk, he begins to work in his garden and as he was “digging and weeding, the strangest thing happened. His bad mood just slipped right off him.” But when he went out to play with the animals in the late afternoon the woods were silent. Unfortunately, the tables had turned and Raccoon was in a bad mood. So were Squirrel, Mouse, and Hare.
It is then that Badger confides in Crow and the two come up with an idea to have a “bad-mood party.” Jackowski’s gorgeous art decorates the forest with smiling friends and colorful lanterns. Children see a happy scene when Badger asks for forgiveness and it’s given.
Petz’s words model for youngsters how to apologize when they have done something they are not proud of. This beautifully written story is sure to invite multiple reads. Its simple but valuable lesson, that it’s normal to sometimes be in a bad mood, reminds kids that taking a deep breath is much better than taking it out on your friends. The Bad Mood! needs to be added to the mindfulness section in school classrooms.
Take one glass-half-full girl named Gitty and add one glass-half-empty bird named Kvetch and you’ve got the makings of one unusual and entertaining pair of pals in the new picture book, Gitty and Kvetch. Although he kvetches (complains) a lot, Kvetch is more realist than pessimist which is a quality I love and appreciate.
The story opens with Gitty painting a picture and seeking out her “unflappable friend” so he can accompany her on the “perfect day to hang the perfect painting in our perfect, purple tree house.”
A great touch is how Gitty’s dialogue is colored purple throughout the book while Kevtch’s is appropriate in blue. Yiddish words are successfully infused into the story as the friends shlep off together. No matter what Gitty sees, including cow poop, her upbeat mood cannot be brought down by Kvetch’s seemingly gloom and doom.
Even when a storm approaches, Gitty sees “the perfect cloud covering the perfect sun on the perfect day to hang the perfect painting.” Her enthusiasm for all she encounters is infectious and a stark contrast to her friend Kvetch. That is until the delightful drizzle becomes a heavy rain. When Gitty sees her perfect painting has been ruined by the rain, she is distraught. Here the roles of the BFFs suddenly shift and it’s time for Kvetch to rise to the occasion to cheer up Gitty. That’s when an idea he has convinces his friend, in the most perfect colorful way, what perfect is really all about.
Kvetch’s Glossary of Yiddish words on the endpapers is a wonderful way for him to explain all the words used in the story. I found more and more to enjoy in this story with every read. Landy’s cheerful and energetic illustrations kept my interest, inviting me back for more. Pritchard’s prose, especially the repetition, flowed easily over the fast-reading 48 pages with lovely alliteration. The story should resonate with young readers who have likely found themselves in a similar predicament at one time or another. The dynamic of Gitty and Kvetch provides the opportunity for kids to see the power of friendship and empathy at play.
When Izzy the mouse’s brain fills up with more and more bubbles of unwanted thoughts he escapes to a special spot to quiet his mind in Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma’s interactive picture book Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness, the first in the Books of Great Character series, with illustrations by Mags DeRoma.
My focus was omnipresent when I began writing this review, and even though I have taught mindfulness, reading this book was a reminder of the importance of deep breathing to escape the crazy bubbles in my own mind. DeRoma’s soft blue illustrations of Izzy riding his two-wheeler in his blue striped shirt and red helmet with “only one little thought bubble. It bubbled up one day, a rough day, and just hung there.” We all know those days, but Izzy’s thought bubbles just wouldn’t go away.
DeRoma illustrates two bubbles with squiggly lines above Izzy’s head. The reader doesn’t know what is bothering Izzy, but whatever it is his thoughts just won’t go away. That night Izzy is wide-awake when he should be sleeping, while his stuffed red mouse is fast asleep. Of course, the mouse sleeps with a toy mouse. And the next day Izzy is trying so hard to go through his day as he climbs the slide at the park while more bubbles appear. “At first, it was simply peculiar. But when another popped up, and another, and another, they started to really get in the way of things.” It’s easy to feel the sadness in Izzy’s blue face.
Trying to enjoy a spaghetti dinner is not easy when Izzy’s mind is crowded with more bubbles. It was inevitable that “Izzy was pushed clean off the page.” Red, pink, blue, yellow, and orange bubbles cover the center spread with no Izzy in sight. When the reader turns the page, a red-faced Izzy fills the two-page spread and instead of giving up Izzy knows “something had to be done.”
We all have that special spot we like to escape to when challenges set in. Mine is sitting in my yard listening to the birds and squirrels run by. Izzy’s spot is the beach. As Izzy digs his little mouse toes in the sand, “there was a little more space for all the bubbles.” Watching a little white bear blow his bubbles towards the sea, our protagonist looks up and “Izzy took a deep breath in. Izzy let the deep breath out.”
The interactive book concludes when the reader is asked to assist Izzy by gently blowing on the bubbles. This is a fabulous way to teach mindfulness breathing to children. Izzy’s big deep breath makes everything a little bit brighter as the bubbles float away into the sky.
A LITTLE MORE MINDFUL is included in the back matter exploring ways kids can let go of thoughts taking over their day. “What is mindfulness? It is being aware in the present moment,” DeRoma and Peck explain. The mindfulness exercises are great tools for teachers to assist their students, or parents to share with their kids when a day is not going the way it should. And the adult reader can utilize these tools as well. Peck and DeRoma are founders of the boutique kids brand, Silly Street, whose mission is to help children grow character through play—and they’re also sisters-in-law.
It only takes a quick glance at the title to know that we’re in for a treat! In Bella’s Recipe for Success, the debut picture book by Ana Siqueira, we can assume that Bella, the Latina main character, will be engaging in disastrous recipes, resulting in a delicious and successful outcome.
The story begins with Bella and her Abuela in the kitchen. As her siblings brag about piano playing and cartwheeling, Bella wonders about herself. She attempts to discover her own talents but loses hope and resigns herself to not being good at anything. Taking comfort with her Abuela, she asks to make polvorones con dulce de leche. To Bella’s surprise, her brother and sister make mistakes too. So she persists. Sometimes the dough is hard as a rock. Other times it crumbles apart. But Bella keeps trying. She beats, blends, stirs, and bakes her way to success! In the end, she realizes that she is good at more than baking polvorones!
Ana Siqueira does a great job writing language that reads quickly and light in the spirit of cheering Bella up. She creates delightful similes comparing her somersaults to jirafas rolling downhill and dulce de leche to cocodrilo skin. Spanish words are easily understood through context and round out the setting in the Latinx, intergenerational home. Playful images by illustrator Geraldine Rodriguez also capture Bella’s emotional journey making this an engaging book for young readers.
This book reinforces that everyone makes mistakes and that they are okay and even necessary to achieve success. It is el perfecto libro for kids who might need a little boost in confidence.
A sweet bonus: The polvorones con dulce de leche cookie recipe at the end of the story. Are you ready to put your baking talents to the test?
Order signed copies of BELLA’S SECRET FOR SUCCESS here.
or from the publisher here: Bella’s Recipe for Success | Beaming Books
Find more about Ana and her books at: https://anafiction.com/
This 18-page, die-cut board book for little ones invites readers to explore all the lovely cut-outs of snowflakes while learning about their magic effect on all who see them. Children will see all the different places snowflakes fall in a rhyming text that highlights the word snowflakes to help with word recognition. The exuberant illustrations are achieved by hand-cutting, something parents can try with kids. Every joyful scene as snow falls all around is colorful and will motivate kids to go outside to play. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Award-winning deaf poet Raymond Antrobus, and partially deaf author-illustrator Polly Dunbar, tell a story with feeling and emotions that only those who have lived a non-hearing life could tell in Can Bears Ski? Antrobus’s picture book debut takes the reader into the life of Bear who awakens in the morning by shakes on the banister, and stairs flinching, but not quite sure what Dad Bear is saying. The young bear is confused with everyone’s question of “Can Bears Ski?” Is that what all the bears are asking? The sweet drawings of Bear’s confused face as Dad Bear speaks are heartwarmingly touching. Turning the page, Bear is surrounded by all the young bears in school who are laughing but our main character doesn’t know why. What a wonderful read for children going through their own difficulties with deafness. The excitement is palpable when Bear receives hearing aids, and we see the happiness on his little brown face. Antrobus wrote a book that he said he could have used as a child. I love the strong connection of this father/son duo and the happiness the bear feels when he realizes that Bears CAN Ski! – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal
Acclaimed author Mac Barnett, winner of the Caldecott Honor and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Extra Yarn sends a polar bear on a majestic adventure through snow, visiting seals and hunkering in caves, while each page turn asks where is he going? A Polar Bear in The Snow features illustrator Shawn Harris’s white torn-paper illustrations layering white-on-white hues and bursts of blue. I read the book a few times, including once to a first grader that I tutor, and with each read, I discovered new aspects of the art I hadn’t noticed before. There is excitement as the story progresses while readers ponder will the polar bear be alright as he wanders through the snow. The turquoise art that suddenly appears is truly beautiful to view when the polar bear sees his reflection in the water. That blue continues through the remainder of the story until returning to the white pages of snow. Barnett leaves a lot of room for a child’s imagination with each delightful read. – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Living in Southern California, I don’t have a lot of experience with the changing of the seasons. But reading London-based author-illustrator Simona Ciraolo’s 32-page picture book If Winter Comes, Tell It I’m Not Here, showed me the relationship of a big sister and her little brother as she warns him to beware because summer won’t last forever. The expressive soft colors depicting the young main character floating in the still turquoise water invite the reader into the moment as he relishes his love for swimming. His sister warns him that summer is going to end soon, as we turn the page to the red and orange colors of the changing seasons. This is a fabulous book for both parents and teachers to share with kids who live in a place where they see the leaves fall and the cold rain turn to snow. It’s also for those of us who could eat ice cream all year and bask in the sun but sure would love to throw a snowball once in a while and cuddle with the family on the couch. The boy comes to realize that living in the moment can be an adventure no matter what time of year. – Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Raccoon’s qualities will resonate with many young readers and that made me really appreciate the premise of this adorable picture book. Since Raccoon has invested a lot of time perfecting his snowman-making skills he’s now offered to help his friends work on finessing theirs. The catch is that he’s so busy focusing on creating yet another perfect snowman that he neglects helping out his friends. In fact, he hogs all the good stuff needed to make one he considers just right.
Rabbit can only find dirty snow. Fox cannot master the snowball shaping and poor Mouse cannot find a single worthwhile item to use for decoration. When it’s time to check in with everyone’s progress, Raccoon is less than complimentary. He criticizes their humble efforts and offends everyone leaving him feeling “perfectly awful.” And rightly so!
When Raccoon realizes how selfish and hurtful he’s been to his pals, Raccoon convinces them to give it one more go. Unlike the first attempt, this time Raccoon’s encouragement makes all the difference. With his friends all pitching in, they create a charming snowman far from perfect by Raccoon’s original standards but perfectly wonderful just the same. This snowman has been built on forgiveness and friendship, so who really cares how it looks? What matters is that when working together, everyone’s contribution counts. Wish’s art is lovely, full of white space that works well for the wintery environment. And the forest animals’ expressive faces add to the reading enjoyment.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel