Fitting In – The Power of Belonging in Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared

BE PREPARED
Written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol
(First Second; $12.99, Ages 10-14)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

book cover illustration from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

 

Be Prepared, a middle grade graphic novel written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, is the book I needed in middle school. Aside from the fact that I never actually got to go to summer camp, I imagine my experiences would have been eerily similar to the protagonist’s trials and tribulations, including the torture of the unknown when it came to outhouse bathrooms. (I did go camping a lot and have never met a Port-a-Potty I liked, but then, who has?). The expressive and verdant illustrations truly capture the specific tumultuous emotions of tweens and beyond and captured my heart with the integrity and honesty given to this age group.

int artwork by Vera Brosgol from Be Prepared

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

Even though your kids are back to school with visions of summer lingering in their heads, Brosgol’s novel will help quell some of those summer pangs. Written from the perspective of a young Russian girl named Vera who is trying to fit in with her peers, Be Prepared simultaneously pulls the reader into an immediate place of recognition as well as a fresh perspective from a Russian family. 

int art from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

While her friends have big houses and to-die-for birthday parties, Vera struggles to gain acceptance in her smaller home she shares with her Mom and little brother. When Vera finds out from a Russian friend at Temple that a special summer camp exists geared towards Russian kids, she almost explodes with delight at the thought of going to a camp where she can relate to her peers and make some new friends. Since her school peers have been to sleep away summer camps and trips all over the world, Vera listens intently and absorbs information as they talk extensively about it all, hoping that following this summer she’ll have camp stories to share as well.

Int artwork from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

Vera and her brother have never been to summer camp, and she is determined to convince her mom that they should both go. And they do. As the first day of camp approaches, Vera is bursting at the seams. Her younger brother remains apprehensive. Thrown into the midst of a tent with two older campers who are seasoned participants, Vera’s welcome is not what she had in mind. Initially frowned upon for being so young, Vera’s artistic skills impress the older campers and they start asking for drawings. In return, Vera is suddenly at the center of attention she always thought she wanted. But giving away her art quickly turns into giving away her contraband candy stash as well as turning a blind eye to other campers she might have a genuine connection with. When Vera is caught with candy in her shared tent by the camp counselor, every bunk is raided until all the candy is gone, and Vera’s popularity with the older girls plummets. Adding to Vera’s stress and dismay is the fact that her younger brother seems to be enjoying camp just fine and isn’t anxious to leave as soon as possible like she is.

int artwork from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

The turning point for Vera is her camp counselor encouraging her to find friends that don’t ask for something in return for “friendship.” Soon Vera finds out that a young camper with a missing guinea pig is an interesting and fun person to hang out with. At the end of camp both Vera and her younger brother come to terms with some of the pros and cons of summer camp on the drive home and, in a tender moment of sibling connection, find out that they have both struggled. 

Check out Be Prepared and feast your eyes on the amazing artistry and storytelling skills of Vera Brosgol, an author your kids are sure to want more of.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.

Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.

Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”

But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.

Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Great Summer Reading! Five Novelty Book Faves For Toddlers & Preschoolers

A ROUNDUP OF UNIQUE BOOKS
FOR TODDLERS & PRESCHOOLERS

 

 

I Thought I Saw a Dinosaur! cover illustrationI Thought I Saw A Dinosaur!
Written and illustrated by Lydia Nichols
(Templar Books; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

I Thought I Saw A Dinosaur! by Lydia Nichols is part of the “I Thought I Saw A” series—the other title right now being I Thought I Saw A Lion!  This compact square-shaped, 10-page board book includes a slide-and-seek feature that encourages manually dexterity. Just move the easy-to-spot loop (it looks like a ring-shaped life preserver) in every spread to the opposite end of the cut-away area and presto, behold the dino! It could be anywhere in the house. Maybe behind the sofa or maybe in the shower (the shower curtain is my favorite slider). One thing is for sure, this chartreuse green dino is adorable and friendly so youngsters will be thrilled to find it. Nichols’s artwork has a cool retro feel, but most of all it’s warm and welcoming and makes for an entertaining game of slide-and-seek at home or on the road.

 

Cover art from Take a Look: More Fun Together! by Liesbet Slegers Take a Look: More Fun Together!
Written and illustrated by Liesbet Slegers
(Clavis Books; $12.95, Ages 18 months and up)

What’s more fun than playing alone? Playing with a friend! In fact, everything’s more fun together and toddlers will agree. First they’ll see bear resting, but after they slide apart the sturdy board book pages, they’ll see bear’s pal revealed. Is bunny crawling into her empty burrow? Nope her little ones await her! Use this 12-page book to discuss friendship, types of animals then come up with your own take on the colorful cast of characters including a cat, an elephant, a fish and some kids. Each slide-and-see page of Take a Look. More Fun Together!, a delightful interactive board book, holds a sweet surprise. An adorable year round read.

 

book cover die_cut art from TouchThinkLearn: Wiggles

TouchThinkLearn: WIggles
by Claire Zucchelli-Romer
(Handprint Books/Chronicle Kids; $17.99, Ages 2-4)

Let one, five or ten fingers linger on every page to explore the tactile fun that is TouchThinkLearn: Wiggles. The “fluorescent die-cut dots and playful, grooved paths” will entertain and engage children as they learn about shapes, color and movement in a totally unique way. According to Handprint Books, “The premise is simple: Hear an instruction, repeat its words, and playfully trace out its action.” Children won’t be able to resist. I couldn’t either, from my very first touch of the book’s spine and cover. The spirals inside pulled me in, but maybe it will be the the squiggles, dots or zigzags for your toddlers and preschoolers. Whatever captures their interest, they’re sure to find new ways to interact with this 26-page, vibrantly colored board book. Its innovative design and exuberant language promises to spark sensory curiosity in little learners. Find half a dozen other books in the terrific TouchThinkLearn series including Little Critters, Fly and ABC.

 

Sam's Hamburger cover artworkSam’s Hamburger
Written and illustrated by David Pelham
(Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Samantha’s sad that her burger’s been stolen, “And that’s the second one this week!” she cries to her brother who has a plan—concoct something that resembles a burger only fill it with fake food designed to hide creepy crawlies. What a wonderfully distasteful way to get back at the thief! That’ll certainly give the culprit something to chew on. This convincing, cleverly designed three-dimensional, lift-the-flap book is not for those who easily get queasy. Sam’s Hamburger is a satisfying sequel to the best-selling Sam’s Sandwich, first published in 1990. It will introduce a new generation of young readers to this bright, bold, over-the-top, but cooked to perfection recipe for sweet (or sour) revenge.

 

cover illustration from We're Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

The award-winning classic from 1989 has had many iterations, but this latest, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book, is one I think will please even Bear Hunt purists because it’s just so much fun. There are seven transforming pages including the cover in this 20-page board book. Each one brings movement and excitement to the spread where the changing pictures have been designed. The pull-down tabs switch from illustration only to illustration and the beloved sounds we all love repeating and in many cases have memorized: Swishy swashy! Splash splosh! Squelch squerch! Stumble trip! Hoo woo! and the ultimate, IT’S A BEAR! So when thinking of a baby shower gift, add this version to your list and help new parents have a beautiful day or plan on having one yourself!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Check out another board book roundup here.

 

 

 

 

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Epic 18 Twofer Tuesday: Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! and Iver & Ellsworth

Unlikely friends have delightfully different,
unexpected adventures in two new picture books
from debut, Epic 18 authors.

PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!
Written by Cate Berry
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
(Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

&

IVER & ELLSWORTH
Written by Casey W. Robinson
Illustrated by Melissa Larson
(Ripple Grove Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! cover imageWhat do a penguin and a shrimp have in common? It’s their dogged insistence that PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!, no matter what sleep aids and comfy settings surround them. Author Berry poises the pair in the midst of a typical toddler bedtime routine. With toothbrushing over and jammies on, Penguin and Shrimp remain positive that they are not heading to bed. Their anti-bedtime speech bubbles pop in counterpoint across the page, tracking their sleep evasion tactics despite big soft beds, cozy covers, or squishy soft pillows.

The story quickly ramps up as the pair celebrate colorful fireworks, escape from lions, swing on rainforest vines and ride hot air balloons. Minute by minute, they grow zanier and more out-of-control as their desperate-but-denied need for sleep escalates. Song, jokes, and the arrival of a uni-hippo aside, the pair confidently assert that,  “One thing this book will never do is make you tired … This book will never make you yawn.”

Santoso’s comic digital art contradicts and amplifies the duo’s predicament in bright, strong colors and crisp outlines. Penguin and Tiny Shrimp gush personality with big eyes and expressive mouths which eventually–inevitably–transition to droopy eyelids and gigantic yawns. The fun and games draw to an appropriately snoozy conclusion that will ring true with all parents who must wrangle not-sleepy kids and toddlers to bed.

 

Iver & Ellsworth cover illustration Another unlikely pair, a solitary senior factory worker and an immense, inflatable polar bear, star in IVER & ELLSWORTH, a sweet story about steadfast friendship and devotion. Iver, a trim, mustachioed gentleman with square rimmed spectacles, packs his lunch and heads to work in an urban factory. Ellsworth, a chubby and observant bear, remains tethered to the factory roof. High above the city, the stationary bear watches the world rushing by. Iver visits at lunchtime, offering commentary on the view and bustling traffic.

Robinson makes it clear that the two share a bond built over many years. Iver tenderly cares for Ellsworth season after season. He dries away spring rain, sweeps away autumn leaves, and clears snow before his daily final check to make certain the anchor ropes are secure. But one day, the day Iver is retiring from his factory job, he is slow to perform his tasks and say farewell to his faithful, inflatable friend.

Illustrator Larson employ several wordless spreads to show us the separate adventures that unfold next. Iver begins to embrace retirement, and Ellsworth becomes unmoored from the factory roof. Her delicate pencil and watercolor images are restrained and subtle, ranging from muted gray greens to glorious rosy sunsets. The peaceful landscapes pair beautifully with Robinson’s spare, understated text, leaving ample room for readers to absorb and appreciate this unique friendship tale that ends with joyful reunification. IVER & ELLSWORTH is a cozy book perfect for reassuring readers that true friendship endures.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Read another of Cathy’s recent Epic 18 reviews here

 

Trailer for PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! here:  

Can World Cup Aspirations be Found Here? The Field by Baptiste Paul

THE FIELD
Written by Baptiste Paul
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 Cover illustration from The Field

 

“is a debut masterpiece of collaboration and skill,” says reviewer Ozma Bryant.

In a friendly game of soccer (futbol), the magic of not only the sport but the players involved, comes into brilliant light splayed across the pages of The Field, a debut picture book by Baptiste Paul.

 

The Field written by Baptiste Paul int. art by Jacqueline Alcántara

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

With a tropical rainstorm threatening the game, the players band together, solidifying their connection through love of playing ball and sportsmanship. Challenges such as the weather won’t intrude on this precious time together. The story, I might add,  is really about a group of kids—the “main character” is never mentioned by name but she’s on all the pages.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

My favorite moment is when one of the opposing players is knocked down, and our main character, in her white jersey #3, reaches her hand out to him on the muddy ground asking, “Ou byen? You okay?” He responds, “Mwen byen. I’m good.” You can practically reach out and touch the splattered mud and rain that splashes across the pages as the players muscle on through, seeing the game to completion.

The sun creeps back out as the game continues, even as Mamas call the players home. Hearing a firm command “Vini, abwezan! Come now!” the children end the game then go their separate ways to rest up and rejuvenate for a new day of play.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

Caked with mud and filth, children slip into tubs of warm water, smiling …  reveling in the magic that is a game well played. Dreams of new games and friendship forming float overhead, as the field lingers even in sleep.

Alcántara’s gorgeous art propels the reader forward with spare language infused with Creole words from the author’s native home in the Caribbean. The author of this amazing story explains in the back matter that Creole is rarely written, mostly spoken, and so new words are constantly being added or old ones modified in this language. A Creole Glossary is also included.

One of my dear friends hails from Haiti, and speaks Creole. He was the initial reason I was excited to read this book and learn from it. One of the first things I learned from him was that soccer was also ‘futbol’. When I saw the young girl on the cover, I wanted to put this book into his young daughter’s hands immediately. I must ask if she plans to watch the FA Cup this weekend!

I am so thankful for this incredible book and hope to share it with many readers who can also identify with its themes of friendship, connection, teamwork and not giving up in the face of adversity.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

Click here for educator and librarian resources.

Read another review by Ozma Bryant here.

 

Albie Newton by Josh Funk – Wunderkind or What?

ALBIE NEWTON
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Ester Garay
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5-9)

 

Albie Newton cover image

 

Happy Book Birthday to author Josh Funk and illustrator Ester Garay on the publication of their terrific new picture book, Albie Newton, today! I know I’m not alone when I say how excited I get when a Josh Funk book arrives on my doorstep. I carefully unwrap the package, cradle the book in my hands, study the cover close up (this one’s a dazzling red I first saw when the cover was revealed on social media), smell the new book smell, feel the smoothness of the pages and then savor the surprise of his story. And, like previous Funk picture books, this one does not disappoint. It’s witty like so many of Funk’s books and is written with well-metered rhyme and no superfluous words or sentences to tell the tale of the titular main character. To put it another way, it simply works wonderfully like one of Albie Newton’s well constructed inventions!

Albie Newton is smart, but when his passion for inventing collides with his desire to make friends, it causes a bit of a brouhaha in his new preschool. Watch out what you’re doing fellow preschoolers because the new kid in class, Albie Newton, just may have his eye on what you’re playing with. The thing is that while Albie thinks his plan to “construct a special gift before the school day ends,” will win him friends, it ends up doing the opposite.

 

Interior illustrations by Ester Garay from Albie Newton by Josh Funk

Interior artwork from Albie Newton written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Ester Garay, Sterling Children’s Books ©2018.

 

How’s a child prodigy to know? Taking things from others, whether it’s for your top secret invention or not, is not looked upon kindly by other kids. If you seem to show off too much or swipe things without asking, that’s bad manners. People may actually misconstrue such behavior and label it self-centered, single-minded and rude. Fortunately classmate Shirley is clued in. Certain kids excel in some ways and not in others. Shirley realizes Albie is oblivious to the havoc he is unintentionally wreaking and wonders if maybe his cool creation can take everyone’s mind off the mess he’s made trying to forge new friendships. Will they let Albie off the hook? As it turns out, Shirley’s one darn clever preschooler, only in a different way than Albie.

With Albie Newton, Funk has honed in on the meaningful topic of a child’s desire to make friends while not necessarily knowing how to do it. Just because Albie doesn’t know the right way to go about befriending others doesn’t mean he can’t learn how nor does it mean that having friends doesn’t matter to him.

Garay’s upbeat and eye-catching illustrations will charm and entertain Albie Newton readers. I would recommend looking at the artwork more than once to catch all the clever things she’s included. From the cute kitty, the fabulous facial expressions and the colorful kids’ clothing to the pictures hanging on the wall, random book titles and ultimately Albie’s invention itself, there is so much to enjoy. The diverse classroom population and student names also provide a positive representation for youngsters to see and hear when they read the picture book or are being read to.

Albie’s social skills may not be as fine tuned as his inventions, but that doesn’t mean his heart’s not in the right place. It often takes a caring person like classmate Shirley in this case, to gently lead the way.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Here are links to my other GRWR reviews of Josh Funk books:
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast

Dear Dragon

It’s Not Jack and The Beanstalk

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