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.
PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE Written by Laura Amy Schlitz Illustrated by Brian Floca (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews- Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Princess Cora and the Crocodile is an 80-page illustrated early chapter book about a princess who must always be a “good girl.” When Princess Cora’s Fairy Godmother answers her wish for a pet, instead of the “great, furry, golden dog” of her dreams, the princess receives a headstrong crocodile. He tries to give Cora a day off and, because the three adults in charge of the princess’s rigorous schedule barely glance at the girl, the crocodile’s disguise initially succeeds.
The ensuing mischief will tickle children—they are insiders on silliness being played on the rigid, demanding authority figures. The crocodile tries to not swat anyone with his tail or bite them, but succumbs when instigated. Kids will laugh as he rips the King’s trousers and chews on his rear end. Meanwhile, instead of bathing, studying, and skipping rope, Princess Cora relaxes in nature. After the crocodile’s overzealous intervention, Princess Cora returns to set things right. The adults finally register the girl’s dissatisfaction and recognize other ways to properly raise a princess.
Floca’s ink, watercolor, and gouache images capture the humor as both the crocodile (dressed in a frock and mop wig) and the princess come undone. The crocodile’s antics cleverly contrast against Princess Cora’s quiet day.
A skilled storyteller, Schlitz satisfies her audience utilizing a child’s universal wishes. Princess Cora and the Crocodilewill delight early readers as well as younger children. The heart of this princess and animal tale shows a kid needing a break from adult-imposed overscheduling—a message with modern appeal.
PEDDLES Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton (A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Today we’re heading off to the farm with Elizabeth Rose Stanton’s charming picture book, Peddles. Peddles is not an ordinary pig. Your regular old run of the mill pig doesn’t have big ideas and it’s these big ideas that will make kids eager to read on. Peddles certainly does all the things – and I do mean all – that pigs are wont to do, but for Peddles, the routine pig stuff isn’t enough for this dreamer.
Thoughts of pizza, taking to the sky like a bird or into space like an astronaut fill his head.
To his porcine pals he may seem to have his head in the clouds, but it’s really just Peddles yearning for something different, something more. And then one day, more arrives in the form of a barn dance. Suddenly this little porker is determined to boogie on down just maybe not with the people he sees. The catch is Peddles thinks all he needs is the fancy footwear to dance the dance. But when it appears he’s got four left trotters, it turns out he really requires more than just a pair of cowboy boots. He needs his pig community to help him realize his dream.
Stanton’s sparse language coupled with the soothing pale palette of her fresh and exuberant pencil and watercolor artwork create a more than satisfying read. There’s something so wonderful about the way she uses a lot of white on many of the pages so the reader’s eyes get right to the good stuff. Maybe the best way to describe it is dreamy just like her adorable main character, Peddles! If you know a child who follows his heart and not the crowd, Peddles is a celebration of that admirable individuality.
Everyone in the family will love this silly and heartfelt story about doing too much, and trying to be perfect!
Percival’s parents are perfect and they have all the awards to prove it. Percival wants to be perfect, too. He enters every competition, for everything, including the things he doesn’t even like. He’s sure that if he doesn’t do this, his parents won’t love him anymore.
But, being perfect is quite exhausting! So, Percival comes up with a perfect plan to make things easier. Only, it doesn’t. It just makes a big mess!
That’s when Percy finds out that being perfect is not what makes his parents love him. They show him all of their mistakes hidden away in the attic.
It’s then that Percy learns that doing what you love, and working hard at it, is what really matters.
With fun and wonderfully detailed illustrations, and just the right amount of text to tell the story, this book is, well … Perfect!
– Guest Reviewer Jo Ann Banks
Jo Ann Banks is a writer of children’s stories, poems, and silly songs. Jo Ann has such an incredible love of children’s stories that some people say she never grew up. When she hears that, she just covers her ears and sings, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening …”
Squashed inbetween a pet shop and an ice cream store is a magical place called The Change Your Name Store!
Did you want to change your name when you were a little kid? I sure did! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have an exotic sounding name. How cool to be a Ludmila from Russia, a Lenka from the Czech Republic or maybe an Anneke from South Africa! Well in The Change Your Name Store written by Leanne Shirtliffe and illustrated by Tina Kügler (Sky Pony Press, 2014, $16.95, Ages 4-8), you can do just that because a shiny, nice new name is what’s for sale.
Shirtliffe’s chosen rhyme to tell this tale of Wilma Lee Wu who wants a more exciting moniker.
“But one tiny item she longed to throw out. My name! It’s so boring, so blah,” she would pout.
So what happens when young Wilma gets to the store? What do you think she finds out? The proprietor, Ms. Zeena McFouz, is there to assist her customer. Yes, she’ll help her choose. But one rule applies. Wilma must try out the name which involves traveling to where the name comes from. That is absolutely my favorite part of this delightful picture book and it will be for kids, too. Half the fun is looking through Kügler’s cheerful artwork to search for recognizable names which are scattered throughout the store.
Wilma first selects Babette Bijou, but after traveling to Paris and feeling a bit odd with her red beret and café-au-lait, Wilma picks another name. Trying out Samiya bint Sami al Sala brings Wilma to a market in Bahrain where she soon feels overwhelmed by heat. Kids will enjoy the repetition Shirtliffe employs after each of Wilma’s journeys.
And when she returned, she said with a start, “Oh no, that’s not me. I can’t play that part.”
Back at The Change Your Name Store, Wilma’s still got two more names to experience before she realizes the most special name, the one meant just for her, is Wilma Lee Wu, her own name! Rather than discover she’s supposed to be another, Wilma learns that it’s actually being herself that is most ideal of all. The message here is positive and shared in a whimsical way: Wilma Lee’s simply one in a million, so Wilma Lee she will stay!
Extraordinary Jane, a new picture book written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
Kids will fall in love with Jane, a circus dog, and the most adorable and extraordinary character in Harrison’s new picture book, Extraordinary Jane (Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-5). Jane might be a mutt although she reminded me of a little fluffy, white Maltese my family once rescued. But that really doesn’t matter because what Jane definitely is is lovable, precious, friendly and loyal. And while these qualities make her so very special, Jane clearly doesn’t realize these things about herself.
The book opens with a spread of antique-style circus posters, none of which show Jane. From these first illustrations readers know they’re in for a treat with Harrison’s warm, inviting and detailed artwork. Parents will love the opportunity to scour each page for the fine details Harrison’s included so they can point them out to younger children. Older kids may find them on their own. Written with few words, the story is still easily understood and helped along by the circus characters’ many expressions and emotions which say so much.
“She wasn’t graceful like her mother [who rides atop a galloping horse], or mighty like her father.” We see the daddy dog lifting a humongous elephant while Jane struggles to pull a pail of water nearby. Jane has to cover her ears when her daring brothers are blasted out of circus cannons and, fearful of heights, Jane could never attempt to traverse the tightrope like her sisters.
“Jane was just Jane.” And just being Jane meant being loved by all the circus members despite an array of things she was unable to do (and humorously conveyed in Harrison’s illustrations). My favorite image is of Jane looking down from the trapeze as “She tried to find her special talent.” She does not look happy in the least!
Everyone knew what was good about her, especially the Ringmaster and ultimately, Jane. This ideal read-aloud book is great for story time, bedtime and any time a parent wants to reinforce the message to their child about how they should celebrate themselves. I’m looking forward to Harrison’s next book because if it’s half as good as Extraordinary Jane, it will still be super.
If you enjoy Harrison’s artwork, click here to read our review about another book she illustrated called Just Like You.
Good Reads With Ronna is thrilled to share today’s guest post from Carol Weston.
Weston is the author of the popular Melanie Martin novels, AND the woman behind the “Dear Carol” advice column in Girl’s Life magazine! Weston joins us as part of her Ava and Pip(her latest tween book) Blog Tour. If you didn’t read Rita Zobayan’s review of Ava and Pip, here’s the link to bring you up to speed. Also, be sure to scroll down all the way for our giveaway details.
“Have you ever done something you never wanted anyone to know about? Quirky word-obsessed fifth grader Ava did, and now she’s about find out what happens when you let things get too far. Get ready to have fun with Ava who’s ready to do anything to help her older sister Pip finally come out of her shell.”
But now, without further ado, Carol Weston shares her thoughts on a topic confronting many kids, tweens and teens today, and yes Virginia, even when we were growing up in the Dark Ages before social media!
GRWR asked Carol Weston a question and here’s what she wrote.
“As for your tough question …
– ‘Have you ever done something you wish you could take back?'”
Oh man, haven’t we all? That said, while Ava and Pip is about a good kid who does a bad thing, I myself am not racked with guilt about having been a bully or committed any crimes. This is not to say I was a goody goody as a child. I was not, and I will now tell a story I’ve never told before.
When I was in fourth grade, I was a Girl Scout. One day, a dozen of us in forest green dresses and dark green sashes went on a Girl Scout field trip. I’m not sure what badge we were off to earn, but we all arrived at the police station in Westchester, north of New York City, where I grew up. A policeman met us and showed us around.
I was not a little klepto. But apparently back then, I did have a thing for thumbtacks. Not the flat silver kind. The colorful plastic pushpin kind. Yellow! Red! Green! Blue! Well, that day the policeman showed us a giant bulletin board dotted with bright pushpins. I was dazzled. When the policeman started leading our troop into the next room, I lingered behind, looked both ways, and pocketed a few. I truly did. I stole thumbtacks from a police station while wearing a Girl Scout uniform! Was it a bulletin board that showed crime scenes? If so, after I’d done my deed, it may have seemed like there was less crime in Scarsdale, New York, when in fact a little criminal was right in their midst!
Soon afterward, my young friends and I got into making phony phone calls and ringing doorbells and running. In math class, if we were taking a hard multiple choice test, I sometimes took a seat by a math whiz so I could compare my answers with his or hers. And when I worked at a drugstore for minimum wage, I’ll confess that I pocketed a lipstick. Maybe even two. (Three?)
Bundle up Because Sara Louise Kras is Taking us to the Arctic in her new Fiction Book, The Hunted: Polar Prey
Sara Louise Kras, a local L.A. author, makes it easy for kids to forget the warm California sun when she transports them to below zero weather “way up north in the Arctic on the Hudson Bay” in The Hunted: Polar Prey(Speeding Star, $14.95, ages 8-9). With over 30 non-fiction books under her belt, Kras has now forayed into fiction, quite convincingly so, with this early chapter book. I have no doubt that even the most reluctant of readers will find it hard to tear themselves away from The Hunted: Polar Prey with its 21 short, fast-paced chapters and a story inspired by an article Sara once read (see Author’s Note in the back matter to find out more!). The action revolves around the “Global Warming Research Station,” a place that Kras has actually visited in Canada, and where the book’s main character, Jeremy, lives with his scientist parents.
The story is brought to life by alternating four characters’ perspectives. The book opens with the first chapter devoted to the polar bear, low on nourishment, and waiting by an air hole to catch a seal. He grows frustrated when the seal first eludes capture. Kras sets the tone immediately by introducing us to one very angry bear. Readers then meet Jeremy, the story’s 12-year-old protagonist. Kids will get a sense early on, of not only what the main character is thinking, but also what the polar bear is thinking. They’ll learn about fascinating polar bear behavior without even realizing it. The other chapters share viewpoints of Paula, Jeremy’s mom and Felix, Jeremy’s Inuit friend.
Chapter Two of The Hunted: Polar Preyhas Jeremy getting a cell phone call from his mom alerting him to a crisis. The ice floor she was getting samples from cracked sending her drifting out into the Arctic sea. She quickly gives Jeremy her coordinates so he can organize a rescue. But how? His father’s away in Churchill stocking up on supplies and, at age 12, what can Jeremy possibly do to save her? One of Sara’s talents, evident from Chapter One, is her economy of words. She never puts in too many or too few words, again something reluctant readers will appreciate. The story’s the thing here and it moves along as quickly as a snowmobile. Kras also provides the right amount of drama and description to keep it moving forward without over-embellishment.
Once Jeremy learns his mom is floating away and facing imminent danger without provisions or a weapon, and limited cellphone battery power, he knows he must face reality and figure out a plan. The only possibility is enlisting the help of Felix, Jeremy’s Inuit friend along with his dad, Mr. Tugak, to help. The catch is, that even if Mr. Tugak has access to a helicopter, he has stopped flying since a crash shook his confidence and spooked him enough to believe that a horrible curse had been cast over him. Things continue to get interesting as Paula’s piece of ice cracks some more and the polar bear we read about in certain chapters has begun to smell fresh meat. He gets closer and closer as fear begins to envelop Jeremy’s mom.
Kras cleverly incorporates Inuit words like tuvag, or sea ice, into the story and readers learn the immense power of tuvag and how it can kill, hence the urgency in finding Jeremy’s mom. She also explains that, since Mr. Tugak believes an evil spirit haunts him, a shaman advises him to change his name so the spirit can no longer find him. Somehow though, this is not enough to get him back into the helicopter. Fortunately, it’s the thought of not helping his son and his son’s friend that drives him to take action. As the threesome attempt first to locate Paula before they can even try to rescue her, it becomes apparent that this is a life or death situation, a race against time and nature.
Rather than spoil the story by giving away the ending, I will say I was very satisfied with the outcome and the realistic touches Kras did not hesitate to include. These elements are what will pull your reader in and keep him reading. The Author’s Note in the back matter gives details about the inspiration for the book and also gives some insight into polar bears’ behavior and how to find out more.
Come back next week to read my interview with Sara Louise Kras and learn more about polar bears, what else Kras has written and what we can expect to read next.
♡Our Valentine’s Day Roundup from Rita Zobayan♡ features a selection of faves for the whole family!
Valentine’s Day is almost here. For many adults, the day is a fun indulgence of chocolates, flowers, jewelry, and the beverage and meal of choice. With children, however, the celebration is so much purer: to love and be loved. These three books wonderfully encapsulate the true sentiment of Valentine’s Day for children.
We Love Each Otherby Yusuke Yonezu (Minedition, $9.95; Ages 2-5) is a cleverly disguised shapes and colors die-cut board book. Six colorful animal pairs and one trio love each other and form shapes. The red birds are cozy next to each other and create a heart. Parent elephant shelters baby elephant and together they form a gray semi-circle. The cuddly brown bears don’t like to be apart, so they hug and create a square.
The text and drawings are appropriately simple for a young audience. Mice love each other. Rabbits love each other. Cats love each other. The animals are presented on a white background that does not distract from the purposes of the text: to highlight love and to teach shapes and colors. We Love Each Other is a Valentine’s Day book that can be read all year long. What’s a mouse to do when he’s in love with someone a lot taller?
Never Too Little to Love(Candlewick Press, $8.99; ages 3-7), written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Jan Fearnley, chronicles Tiny Too-Little’s quest to kiss his beloved, Topsy Too-Tall, a giraffe. Tiny Too-Little painstakingly and ingeniously stacks items to help him reach the heights:
He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a matchbox,
He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a teacup,
He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a clock,
Tiny Too-Little reaches way up. Wobble…wobble…wobble…CRASH!
Alas, all his hard work is in vain! Poor Tiny Too-Little! But, Topsy Too-Tall loves him and she has an idea. Will her idea work? Will Tiny Too-Little and Topsy Too-Tall finally get their innocent kiss?
Children will enjoy this book, perhaps especially for its unusual use of pages. As Tiny Too-Little stacks his “ladder” of love, the page lengths become progressively shorter. It’s a clever and engaging technique that helps the young reader visualize Tiny Too-Little’s efforts. Jan Fearnley’s artwork is spot on. The pastel colors and endearing details, such as little hearts floating up to Topsy Too-Tall, fit beautifully with the sentiment of the story.
Never Too Little to Love proves that when it comes to true love, your size doesn’t matter. What matter is the size of your heart.
Sometimes being a monster isn’t easy, especially if you happen to live in Cutesville: Home of the Fluffy. Love Monster(Farrar, Straus Giroux, $16.99; ages 4-7) by Rachel Bright presents the heartfelt and brave undertaking of Monster, who does not quite fit in Cutesville.
When everybody loves kittens…and puppies…and bunnies. You know, cute, fluffy things, it’s hard to be a slightly hairy, I-suppose-a-bit-googly-eyed monster. But, Monster is not one to mope and decides to take matters into his own hands. He sets off to look for someone who’d love him, just the way he was.
His journey is not easy, and Monster searches far and wide. Along the way, he must overcome disappointment and fear. And, just as Monster has reached his limits, he unexpectedly learns that things can change in the blink of a googly eye.
In a society that bombards children with the idea that self-worth and overall acceptance are tied to a cuteness factor, this book is a breath of fresh air. I lovethat at no point does Monster attempt to make himself cute or change who he is. No, instead, he looks for a love that will accept him as he is. It’s a powerful message of unconditional love for and acceptance of oneself as being worthy of love.
The illustrations are as monstrously enjoyable as the storyline. Children will have fun reading the titles of Monster’s self-help books and his list of places to look for love.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 6-9), with illustrations by Patrice Barton, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
Parents, how many times have you volunteered in your child’s school and noticed an invisible boy? They’re not easy to see, I know. Like Brian, the main character in Ludwig’s touching and thoughtfully written new picture book, The Invisible Boy, they fly under the radar in schools all over the world.
Illustrator Barton’s drawn Brian in muted grays and white although everyone else is in color. Unlike Brian’s imaginative artwork (wonderfully rendered in kid-style by Barton) depicting Super Brian, he’s not a superhero “with the power to make friends” wherever he goes. Nope. Kids like Brian are the last ones chosen for sports teams, they don’t get invited to parties, in fact other kids don’t even think of the Brians as having feelings. They’re often overlooked in the classroom because they’re quiet and so well-behaved. Typically the teacher has to devote his or her time to dealing with the whiners and the yellers.
The Brians in schools everywhere tend to slip between the cracks like the Brian in this tale. So when a new boy named Justin comes to school and eats Bulgogi with chopsticks, he’s a perfect target for ridicule by the others. “There’s No Way I’d eat Booger-gi” says one nasty kid who, of course, gets a laugh. I thought I’d cry when Ludwig wrote of Brian, “He sits there wondering which is worse – being laughed at or feeling invisible.”
And while Brian may frequently get ignored, he’s smart. So smart that he puts a note in the cubby of new boy Justin, with a drawing of himself eating Bulgogi, “Yum!” The two boys hit it off at recess, but it’s clear Justin’s already made another friend, Emilio, who says it’s his turn to play tetherball. But Justin is kind and doesn’t leave to play with Emilio without first complimenting Brian’s artwork. When Brian wants to partner with Justin on a special project, Emilio holds Justin back. “I’m already with Justin,” says Emilio. “Find someone else.” I could feel my grin spreading when the image of Brian begins to shift from grays and white to greens and blues when Justin tells him the teacher says the special project group can have three people in it. As the friendship grows, and Emilio accepts Brian, too, a once lonely boy becomes visibly happy and colorful.
The Invisible Boy includes important back matter with questions for discussion that parents and teachers can use to prompt kids about the topic of bullying. There’s also recommended reading for adults and kids. With bullying being so prominent in the news, it’s great to have a resource like The Invisible Boy to enlighten youngsters about the pain and heartache of being ignored or ostracized.