(Sterling Children’s Books, $16.95, Ages 3 and up)
InBest Day Ever by debut picture book author Michael J. Armstrongwith art by Églantine Ceulemans,William is a serious overachiever with an emphasis on the serious. Having completed five of the items on his list (yes, list), of summer goals, including learning to speak Spanish and getting a black belt in karate, he’s now ready to tackle #6: Have the most fun ever. The catch is that William’s fun meter device keeps flashing red, a frowning emoji face, whenever he attempts to enjoy himself. See for yourself in the illustrations below.
William’s happy-go-lucky neighbor, Anna, knows how to entertain herself without following any guidelines. And she’d love for William to join her. Kids will laugh at how she calls William every nickname except his proper name in the beginning, a clue into her spirited nature. Young readers will also easily notice the stark contrast between the two children because of the realistic order depicted in the scenes with just William, and the zany, imagination-rich chaos in Anna’s. Can William carry on his attempts at by-the-book play when this carefree girl keeps getting in his face?
Well, it seems Anna’s persistence pays off. What I love about this story is the fun that readers have as they watch William, following Anna’s non-judgmental prompting, learn to lighten up and have his very own, book-free, best day ever. A bonus, of course, is the new friendship he’s made that wasn’t even on his list!
Ceulemans’ art, a delightful blend of childlike whimsy and a study in contrasts, reflects the two main characters’ polar opposite personalities. The vibrancy and creative quality of the illustrations pairs perfectly with the story’s plot about letting loose and seeing the magic in unstructured imaginative play. I hope reading Best Day Ever encourages more kids about the positive power of pretending.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click hereto read a review of another picture book illustrated by Églantine Ceuleman.
The poems celebrate diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but in experience. Brantley-Newton welcomes all kinds of girls with differing hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. Girls can be an “Explorer,” a “Negotiator,” “Shy,” or just plain “Weird.” Each type of girl is recognized and validated.
Biblical principles weave throughout the poems. They call for making change in the world through kindness, grace, and “fight[ing] the good fight of love.” As “The Day I Decided to Become Sunshine,” “Warrior,” and “Girl Fight” emphasize, participating in this change is a willful decision girls can make. “I decided to be a light/ by holding a door/ open for others to come through.” “Respectfully/ with humanity/ and lovingly,” girls can empower the world by “fighting for … what [they] believe.”
Just as important, girls can empower themselves. Poems such as “I Love My Body,” “Gumbo Me,” and “My Crown” send positive body messages and celebrate the uniqueness of each girl. Each one is enough just for being herself. ”[T]o be the me/that I’m supposed to be” is one of the most life-giving statements a little girl can hear.
Framing Brantley-Newton’s reassuring words are her captivating illustrations. Layers of pattern, color, and texture overlap to energize and uplift, placing each girl in center stage so that every reader can see herself in these pages.
This book is like a blanket of love. It would make a wonderful gift for that upcoming (virtual?) baby shower, birthday party, first day of school, or any occasion caregivers want to send a clear message of appreciation to the little girl in their life.
Author-illustrator Hanna Cha’s debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, tells the tale of Soe-In, the smallest child in a Korean village. But, being little doesn’t slow her down. Soe-In manages burdensome chores using wit and perseverance. When the sun disappears and the chieftain needs a volunteer, only Soe-in steps forward.
In the forest, she finds the spirit tiger is real, and in really big trouble—he’s swallowed the sun! Like the villagers, the spirit tiger first discounts Soe-In’s ability to help. However, brave, imaginative Soe-In saves the day.
Cha’s art shows the movement and mood of this powerful story. I enjoyed the images of the tiger because feline fluidity is difficult to capture. Her Author’s Note explains tigers are revered by Koreans; their country is shaped like one. The tiger as their spirit animal appears in countless Korean stories as a symbol of respect, strength, and dignity, both as a deity and a threat.
A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019 ★Starred Review – Kirkus An Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book 2019
Bilal Cooks Daalby Aisha Saeed is an upbeat picture book about friendship and cooking. When Bilal’s friends wonder why it takes his Pakistani family all day to make daal, he introduces them to the process, letting them choose the color of lentils for the stew they will enjoy together at dinnertime. As the day goes by, Bilal worries a bit that his friends won’t like the taste, but the delicious dish pleases everyone, demonstrating how food brings people together.
Anoosha Syed’s art focuses on the kids enjoying their day of play, a variety of emotions clearly captured. The daal’s vivid descriptions (“small like pebbles, but shaped like pancakes”) come to life through the illustrations. Close your eyes and let the simmering daal awaken your senses.
The Author’s Note explains daal is a staple food in South Asia, but lentils are enjoyed in many other places. Saeed’s recipe for Chana Daal is similar to what I grew up with in my household, bringing back warm memories. In these months of the pandemic where many of us are cooking wholesome meals, this hearty and healthy dish will please while filling the house with amazing aromas all day long.
A Junior Library Guild Selection A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year ★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal
Summer Bird Blueby Akemi Dawn Bowman opens with a car crash. Seventeen-year-old Rumi Seto loses her only sister Lea, who’s also her best friend. Their mother, unable to deal, puts Rumi on a plane to Hawaii for an indefinite stay with Aunty Ani, their Japanese-Hawaiian side of the family.
Lea, two years younger, was the outgoing, happy-go-lucky sister. Rumi, the opposite personality type fits her “ruminating” name; often, she’s stuck in her head, turning things over, unable to step forward into everyday life. Though quite different, the sisters, shared a love of music, playing instruments together. They would randomly come up with three words, then write a song about it. (Summer Bird Blue, refers to the unwritten song that haunts Rumi after Lea dies.)
Rumi suffers in the angry and depressive stages of grief, vacillating between lashing out and crawling into bed for days on end. Her new surroundings include neighbors Mr. Watanabe (a grumpy octogenarian who becomes an unlikely companion) and Kai (the too-handsome, too-cheerful boy next door). As Rumi becomes closer to Kai, they go on a date, but kissing surfaces her confusion over her possible asexuality. Believing other teens have easy crushes and romance, Rumi’s self-doubt compounds after losing Lea.
The story’s lovely scenes centering around Rumi’s deep bond with music resonated with me. The moving descriptions include Rumi’s regard for Lea’s guitar, and Mr. Watanabe’s piano and ukulele. When transported into this world, Rumi’s passion ignites. However, anything musical involves Lea, and Rumi cannot process what to do without her sister, which furthers the painful introspection and turmoil.
I appreciate Bowman’s choice to spotlight a troubled, roughhewn protagonist struggling with a complexity of issues. Writing about grief, sexuality, and trying to understand life itself are ambitious undertakings, yet Bowman succeeds in weaving a truthful, heartfelt story that includes both honestly bitter moments and lyrically beautiful ones.
Find out more about Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month hereand here.
In this heartwarming story about companionship, award-winning author and illustrator Simon Jamesshows readers that you don’t have to be perfect to find your perfect fit. Mr. Scrufftells the story of a large, scruffy dog who had no one until he finds his certain someone, even if it’s someone that may not have been initially considered the perfect match.
The story opens in a park setting of fall colored leaves and happy people walking their children and pets. Running ahead on the grassy pathway is a little dog named Polly, with her curly hair and red ribbon on top of her head. We turn the page and see a woman walking Polly in a stroller, who also has curly hair and a red ribbon on top of her head. “She belongs to Molly.” Simon’s illustrations clearly show that these two are visually quite the match.
They say dogs start looking like their owners and that is definitely the case with the dogs we meet. (My own dog Bailey had red hair matching my husband’s!) Eric, hairless, with his nose pointed in the air, is on a leash crossing the street with a hairless man. “He belongs to Derek.”
“But who’s this? It’s Mr. Scruff …” We find the unkempt bottom heavy beige dog with a long face sitting alone inside a cage surrounded by a dog bed, a bowl and a toy ball. The next room shows the vet with a small boy and his small dog.
Page after page of adorable artwork in ink and watercolor with a warm Quentin Blake quality introduces readers to various dogs whose names and features resemble their beloved owners. “But things are looking rough for poor old Mr. Scruff. Wait a minute! Who’s this?”
The seemingly sad story of Mr. Scruff takes a positive turn when an unsuspecting new character is introduced. He is small, not big; black not beige; young not old and his name does not rhyme with Mr. Scruff. But “They seem to like each other.” The boy, Jim, and his parents know Mr. Scruff “needs a place to call his very own and that is what matters.”
This poignant story of companionship is a super fun read with its uplifting rhymes. The drawings and story left me with a smile on my face, demonstrating that we can always find friends that are both similar and not so similar. Teachers and parents alike can share the message that we are surrounded by a whole world of people who may look different than us, but who still may be our most perfect companions. Jim gave Mr. Scruff a chance and together they became an absolutely perfect fit! And what happens to the little dog named Tim and scruffy, old Mr. Gruff? Shhh! You have to read the book to find out …
Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Read a review of another picture book about friendshiphere.
WHERE IS MY BALLOON? Written by Ariel Bernstein Illustrated by Scott Magoon (Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
I became an Owl and Monkey fan after reading the hilarious I Have a Balloon so I was eager to read the second picture book featuring this adorable pair. In Where is My Balloon? by Ariel Bernsteinwith illustrations by Scott Magoon, Monkey’s looking after Owl’s adored red balloon and accidentally pops it while playing with it. Ooops!
Rather than immediately owning up to what he did, Monkey first brings Owl a pillow and claims it’s the red balloon. The humor is in how long the charade will go on and what wild items Monkey will present to his friend in an effort to placate him. The ultimate goal—avoid telling the truth about what happened. As in the previous story, Magoon’s artful expressions conveyed on the faces and in the two characters’ body language adds to the enjoyment. The generous use of white space keeps our eyes glued to the two animals’ antics. We watch closely as Monkey seeks out silly substitutes for the balloon. After a chair, a fire engine and a parachute don’t do the trick, Monkey, wracked with guilt, breaks down and confesses. Then he apologizes.
The illustrations of Owl’s reactions to his popped balloon are some of my favorites. As his despairing and frenzied mood heightens, Owl tears up the sock, also accidentally. The scene when the bird realizes what he’s done cracks me up as he subtly tries to kick the ruined sock off the tree top, out of Monkey’s sight. With the shoe now on the other foot (or in this case perhaps sock is more appropriate), Owl attempts the same subterfuge that had been done to him. Only this time the significance of Owl’s sporting a yellow hat with a red star is not lost on Monkey whose resigned response is classic.
Where is My Balloon? is a super story to share with children when you’re looking for a tale that tackles the topic of being honest and asking for forgiveness in a light and lively way. Bernstein’s tight turn of phrase and Magoon’s playful art will keep kids engaged with every page turn. While youngsters may be well aware of what’s going on after the pillow is offered, they’ll be delighted to read along or be read to in order to find out how the dilemmas get resolved. Even adult readers will be charmed by this clever circular story making it a fun go-to read for story time or anytime!
It’s that time of year again when we review the best back-to-school books. For 2019 there are many so we’re going to present them over several days.
FLIGHT SCHOOL Written and illustrated by Lita Judge (Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)
Award-winning author illustrator Lita Judge’s sweet story is now available in board book format and is as charming as ever, and Penguin is just as precious.
There are all kinds of schools but one thing they have in common is that people, or in this case, birds, attend so they can learn things. Enter Penguin. He’s come to Flight School to learn to fly. The teacher tries to point out that Penguin, who claims to have “the soul of an eagle” is a penguin and therefore cannot take to the skies like his classmates. Penguin remains unconvinced.
Attempt after funny attempt, the persevering Penguin fails at flying while his classmates “took to the wind.” He is heartbroken and considers giving up. Fortunately for him, Flamingo figures out a way to get the bird soaring … even if it’s not a permanent solution and that suits Penguin just fine. With its adorable, expression-filled art and upbeat message, Flight School is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to follow your dreams and how friends can help.
Bunny and his forest friends are back for more good times in Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School. In this 40-page picture book, Bunny’s library buddy, Josie, confides in her animal pal that school starts the following week and she’s worried she won’t make any friends.
Bunny hatches a plan to go to Josie’s school to be a friend for her and along the way he runs into Porcupine. Porcupine wants to come with Bunny so the two carry on toward Josie’s school. As the pair journey on, the group gets larger as more and more forest friends want to join in.
Soon there’s Bunny, Porcupine, Bear, Bird, Mouse, Raccoon, Frog, Squirrel and Mole. Nine buddies for Josie. As they hunt for Josie, first Squirrel, then Bird, Mouse and Bear become distracted in various classrooms. I can’t blame them. The basketball game, the music room, and cafeteria were indeed tempting places to be, but Bunny is determined to find his friend.
With everyone gone, (yes, Porcupine “dipped into the art room, and now he was stuck”), Bunny carries on by himself. Alone in the school library, Bunny is impressed. He is eventually joined by the gang. They see Josie through the library windows enjoying her classmates at the playground. When the critters head outside, the fun multiplies. They, too, easily make friends and are happy for Josie, and for themselves.
Silvestro’s hopeful and humorous story is a great one to share at back-to-school time. Mai-Wyss’s lovely water-color illustrations depict a diverse group of children where all look welcome. I noticed a wheelchair ramp in front of the school and a young boy in a wheelchair playing ball with a friend. Bunny and his furry friends provide a gentle reminder for any child starting school that quite often they’re not the only ones interested in making new friends.
It is so easy and entertaining to read Chris Van Dusen’sIf I Built a School, which follows the first in the series, If I Built a House. Between the nod the artwork makes to the “Jetson’s” TV show and the rollicking rhyme that accompanies every spread, I could easily see children re-reading this picture book again and again every back-to-school season.
Jack, the picture book’s narrator, has a fantastic imagination and tells the playground aide, Miss Jane, just what type of school he’d build instead of the plain school where we first meet him.
This school is beyond your wildest dreams and I’m not sure I’d get any work done there because I’d be too busy zooming through clear transportation tubes from towering pod building to towering pod building. Then there are the floating “hover desks” that resemble bumper cars, one of my favorite amusement park rides. Holograms of historical figures teach lessons and in gym the basketball court is a trampoline! At lunchtime, well you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it’s like a robotic automat that serves up any type food, “simple or weird—from PB & jelly to squid lightly seared.”
I pored over every single spread so as not to miss a single thing Van Dusen designed. That includes a sweet blue-nosed, black and white pup who features in almost every illustration along with several disabled characters, one a child in a wheelchair and the other a dog with wheels supporting his back end. The gym and recess illustrations are terrific and, together with younger readers, parents can read the story aloud then help point out all the different activities kids can get up to. If you’ve got a child with an active imagination or one who’s looking for STEAM inspiration, you’ve come to the right book!
See Chris at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA on Saturday, August 31st. And check out his blog to find out about September visits that may be close to where you live.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here’s a link to last year’s roundup of the best back-to-school books 2018.
ANGRY COOKIE Written by Laura Dockrill Illustrated by Maria Karipidou (Walker Books; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Written byLaura Dockrilland illustrated byMaria Karipidou, Angry Cookie is a hilarious and clever way to engage young children with the topic of emotions. Ironically, the conversation begins because of Angry Cookie’s every effort to shut us out.
On the book jacket, Cookie warns us readers with an adorably menacing look, “You opened the book! You better not read it … I am very angry, and there is NOTHING you can do about it!” He calls us (silly) names, he bids us an abrupt farewell, and even tries to end the story prematurely with a curt “The end.”
Try as he may, he knows he can’t get rid of us. In fact, our presence begins to slowly shed light on his dark mood. Though he may feel anger gives him a sense of power, we see it’s his way of protecting his hurt feelings. Dockrill’s sense of humor creates a safe space for children to approach the issue of anger and the multiple layers of emotion it masks. When you’re angry every little thing gets on your nerves—even the fact that you have to use the “grown-up spicy” toothpaste when the “delicious, yummy, strawberry-pudding” one ran out. But it’s never about the toothpaste … or the bad haircut … or the ice cream parlor running out of your favorite “most wonderful vanilla sundae.” Underneath the anger, feelings of rejection, pain, and loneliness trouble Cookie. Illustrations wonderfully balance this vulnerable side of the story. Karipidou’s soft pastels create a friendly space with Cookie being at the center of many pages, drawing our attention to his voice (and, on two occasions, his butt!).
Once his anger is gone, Cookie can finally see the truth—that the person he found “annoying” is really the friend he needed to care about him and lend a listening ear. Feeling validated, Cookie can shed off his former perspective and start enjoying the things that previously bothered him. He can separate himself from his feelings and recognize that, though he was acting like a “grumpy lump,” he’s not the same cookie anymore.
This book is a wonderful resource parents, educators, and caregivers can use to talk to young children about how anger feels as they’re going through it themselves or when they notice it in someone else. Angry Cookie will leave readers feeling anything by angry.
I practically live in my local library so I’ve always found books about them quite appealing. Josh Funk’s latest, Lost In The Library, is no exception. Even the colors illustrator Stevie Lewis has used look like library colors: warm browns and beiges, deep rusts, soft greens and grays. I could even feel the cool hallways, hear the echoes of feet and the crisp flipping of page turns and, last but not least, smell centuries-worth of books, some old and dusty, others new and slick.
That brings me to Funk’s wonderful story about two iconic library lions who sit atop plinths in front of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. Patience and Fortitude, so dubbed by Mayor LaGuardia, have rested in those spots since the 1930s. Lost in the Library, a rhyming picture book, begins with Fortitude noticing that Patience is missing. He then heads into the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (aka the Main Branch) to find his friend and, thanks to his search, provides readers a vicarious visit inside this 100 plus years-old library. While hunting in the wee morning hours before opening time, Fortitude meets various statues, paintings and even a lion fountain located throughout the building’s abundant and beckoning rooms and halls. Each new encounter brings him closer to Patience with hints for savvy youngsters that the lion is no stranger to the vast corridors of the NYPL.
During a well-timed moment of reflection, Fortitude shares how he and Patience weren’t always pals. In fact Fortitude initially mistook Patience’s shyness for rudeness but with time the lions grew close. The main feature that helped form the bond of their friendship was Patience’s gift of storytelling. “Fortitude cherished each one.” Determined now to find his buddy, Fortitude, with the help of a trusty Visitor’s Guide, finally locates Patience in the place most adult readers likely suspected, The Children’s Center. With its bright, welcoming colors, the room is filled with everyone’s favorite books by their beloved authors and illustrators. It seems the storytelling lion’s secret source was there on the shelves of the library all along!
There aren’t a lot of people in the story, but artist Lewis has given those who briefly appear a cool retro style which adds to the timeless quality of the library’s decor so beautifully illustrated. And I love how Funk seamlessly weaves Fortitude’s quest for Patience with the library tour and notable library attractions. I cannot wait to go back to NYC to have another visit and I bet attendance has soared since this book’s publication! The back matter includes interesting information about the library’s lions and other facts that even I, a former New Yorker, didn’t know. This touching tribute to libraries everywhere and the enduring power of great stories will endear it to readers young and old. Getting lost never felt better.
Be Prepared, a middle grade graphic novel written and illustrated by VeraBrosgol, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
What 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.
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:
THE FIELD Written by Baptiste Paul Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
“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.
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.
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.
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.
ALBIE NEWTON Written by Josh Funk Illustrated by Ester Garay (Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5-9)
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.
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.
BUT THE BEAR CAME BACK Written by Tammi Sauer Illustrated by Dan Taylor (Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-6)
In the charming new picture book, But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Dan Taylor, it’s a classic case of “You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone” which so many of us know oh too well.
What’s an unsuspecting kid supposed to do? When a hulking brown bear toting a tiny blue suitcase knocks on his front door, eager to enter and become friends, a little boy (the story’s narrator) sends him away with the reminder that “bears do not belong in houses.” The sweet and gentle looking bear is persistent and on his second visit he’s got a flamingo in tow. Once again the big guy is told to leave. Determined to become pals, Bear returns not once but multiple times, intent on insinuating himself into the little lad’s life, all in the nicest possible way. Taylor’s tender and top notch illustrations clearly depict the boy’s displeasure with the bear’s benign presence, but it’s not easy to stop a bear from wanting to read together, paw paint or commandeer the bathtub.
When finally the story’s narrator yells for the bear to go home, Bear departs and doesn’t come back. That’s when the youngster soon finds out that doing things he had done with the bear are now no longer fun alone. So he enlists the help of his neighbors and posts missing bear signs in the vicinity. He even sets out a bowl of berries. When he’s finally convinced Bear will never return, the boy is delighted to get just one more knock on the door. The bear has come back and the narrator is truly grateful. The final line, “And that was that,” is a wonderful rhetorical device we see repeated many times throughout the story so that when Bear does indeed come back it is not only expected, but fitting and satisfying.
But the Bear Came Backprovides a welcome conversation starter to have with kids. I can imagine parents and/or teachers pausing at certain points while reading the story with children to chime in and say, “He sure didn’t appreciate Bear when he was around, did he?” or “Is this a good way to make a friend or keep one?” The narrator’s behavior in the beginning of the book versus in the end are examples of what the right and wrong ways to treat other people are, how to be respectful and how important it is to be grateful for our friends (old and new) and family because “You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone.”