Reading Two New Yearswritten by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.
The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.
Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.
The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.
Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.
Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.
I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.
Tad Lincoln’s boundless energy annoyed almost everyone but his father, President Abraham Lincoln. But Tad put that energy to good use during the tough times of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln guided Tad’s wriggle on visits to hospitals, to the telegraph office, and to army camps. Tad greeted visitors, raised money for bandages, and kept his father company late into the night. This special and patient bond between father and son was plain to see, and before long, Tad had wriggled his way into the hearts of others as well. Beth Anderson and S. D. Schindler follow Tad’s antics during the Civil War to uncover the generous heart and joyful spirit that powered Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle.
Colleen Paeff:Hi Beth! Congratulations on a busy couple of years! If I’m not mistaken, your debut picture book, An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution, came out in 2018 and by the end of 2023, you will have eight picture books out in the world, all nonfiction! That’s amazing! How do you manage to be so prolific?
Beth Anderson: Thank you, Colleen! It’s all very surreal! I don’t feel prolific. It takes me a long time to get a manuscript in shape. I think the surge for 2022 is due to a few manuscripts that I had worked on earlier that are finally making it out in the world, along with a scheduling change. I feel like my production of new stories has slowed as I learn to juggle more tasks. Only three of the eight technically qualify as nonfiction, but I think all but one will be shelved as biographies.
CP: Your books have covered stories from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. When you started writing for children did you know you would focus on mostly true stories from history or has your career evolved that way over time?
BA: I started off playing with fiction. But when I worked on a story I’d become familiar with in college (which sat in my head for a very long time!), I found my niche with historical stories. I love the discovery of little-known bits of history that open your eyes to a wider understanding of the world. The bonus of humor is irresistible. And ultimately, if a story opens your heart, too, that’s the best!
CP: Do you have a favorite time period to write about?
BA: While I don’t have one favorite, I find the era surrounding the American Revolution fascinating. It may be because there is so much more there than what made it into textbooks and curriculum. There are so many contradictions and ironies, and so many aspects of revolution playing out in people’s lives. I love that Hamilton, the musical, has brought intense interest to that time along with new ways of looking at it. Suddenly history is popular culture! Gotta love it!
CP: Absolutely! I love that Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle shows readers a side of Abraham Lincoln that we don’t usually see in books. How did you discover this sweet relationship and what made you decide it would make a good book?
BA: I started out looking into Tad Lincoln as the instigator of the first presidential turkey pardon. (Lincoln had previously granted a pardon to one of Tad’s toy soldiers. 😄) When I dug deeper looking for the heart of the story, I discovered the very tender relationship between father and son. Each provided the other with what they desperately needed. Tad provided joy and hope when his father was in the depths of despair. And Papa patiently guided Tad with love and understanding when everyone else just wanted to shut him down. It was powerful to see a child play such an important role, and that became the heart of the story. For me, the goal is always to find the humanity in history, to connect as people. Seeing Lincoln as a caring father is a great reminder that historical figures are much more complex than the images we usually encounter.
CP: In the back matter you mention that the book focuses on one year in Tad Lincoln’s life. Why did you choose to limit yourself to one year and what made you choose 1863?
BA: As I collected stories of the two, I found a sort of transformation of Tad in 1863. By focusing on that year, I could eliminate some of the other Lincoln events, like Willie’s death and the assassination, and really hone in on Tad and Papa. I found an arc of events that took Tad from disruptive, to well-intentioned annoying, to slowly finding ways to appropriately help his father and others. The turkey pardon became a culminating event in which Tad found his voice and agency.
CP: What are some of your favorite stories about Tad that didn’t make it into the book?
BA: One that was cut—he sawed up the dining room table and used barrel staves to construct rocking chairs for the Old Soldiers’ Home. His toolbox disappeared after that one.
There are stories about Tad and Willie playing with the bell system in the President’s House and causing problems. They also played on the roof with pretend cannons, and they found all sorts of fun stuff in the attic. Tad used to ride his pony as “security detail” to accompany his parents in the carriage. There are many touching anecdotes that helped me get to know him.
CP: What fun stories! What do you hope readers will take away fromTad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle?
BA:I hope children will see goodness and capableness in themselves and others despite what might appear to be annoying behavior or uncomfortable differences. To me, the story is about perspectives, too. Incapable boy vs a child with learning differences. Undisciplined trouble vs unbridled good intentions. The President’s House vs home.
CP: How do you go about finding little-known stories from history? Do you have any favorite resources?
BA: I subscribe to various news feeds, keep my eyes and ears tuned for possibilities, and often find something while I’m looking into a different topic. I explore history sites sometimes, but there’s no one place.
CP: How do you keep your research organized?
BA:I’ve slowly developed my system. I use a spiral for gathering information. I label the first page Table of Contents and use what has become a standard list of things I know I’ll need – like sources, contacts, title ideas, structure ideas, key concepts/themes, back matter possibilities, teacher ideas, timeline, character details, and much more. I need to be able to sort what I find into usable categories and capture ideas as they pop so I can locate those pieces when I need them. I did a post on my blog a few years ago called Organization Optimization. I often buy used copies of books I need so I can mark them up. I copy or print a lot of articles and relevant pages to have in hand. I keep all my accumulated pieces in a pocket file. [see the photo of spiral below]
CP: That sounds like a terrific system! I will definitely be stealing some organization ideas from you! What are some of the most surprising things you’ve learned in researching your books—all of them, not necessarily just the most recent?
BA: Now that I think about it, I think they are all about something that surprised me—like Ben and Noah’s efforts to change our spelling and “Smelly” Kelly’s nose. I guess that’s a lot of what draws me to a story.
A few tidbits. I was surprised to learn that Black men could have served on a jury in New York in 1855. To attend court, Elizabeth Jennings’ family would have had to walk across the ice to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn in February 1855. I was totally shocked that James Kelly pulled a 30” eel out of a subway sink drain. There are phones in the subway tunnels marked by blue lights. Horns were used as hearing aids—per S. D. Schindler’s illustration in Tad’s story. I didn’t know that men paid bounties for others to serve in their place in the Continental Army. (So really, the wealthy finding a way out of military service is nothing new. Actually, I get those surprises often, that some of the problems and situations we have are really nothing new.) Every story is full of surprises. There are the ones that bring you to the story, and then so many more as you write and vet for accuracy.
CP: Those kinds of surprises are what I love about writing nonfiction! What’s next for you, Beth?
BA:2022 is a busy year with three releases! REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT: LEADING THE MINUTE WOMEN IN THE FIGHT FOR INDEPENDENCE, illustrated by Susan Reagan, releasing Feb. 1, and FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, illustrated by Caroline Hamel, releasing May 3 are up for pre-order now. CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, illustrated by Anne Lambelet, comes out Nov. 15.
I’m on pins and needles waiting to see what Jeremy Holmes does for our 2023 release, THOMAS JEFFERSON’S BATTLE FOR SCIENCE: BIAS, TRUTH, AND A MIGHTY MOOSE. And there’s another title in process, as yet unannounced.
CP: Incredible! I look forward to reading them all! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat.
BA: Thanks so much for inviting me to share TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE with your readers! I’m honored!
Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and a penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, ponders, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. She’s the award-winning author of TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE, “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical picture books on the way, including three more stories of revolution, wonder, and possibility in 2022.
MUDDY: THE STORY OF BLUES LEGEND MUDDY WATERS
Written by Michael Mahin
Illustrated by Evan Turk
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Booklist
Don’t miss the biography of the man and his music in Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters.
The story of blues legend Muddy Waters is told in prose which reads like one of his songs, filled with both sweetness and longing. Author Michael Mahin does a fine job of recreating for a young reader the life of Muddy Waters from his childhood days to one of the high points of his career, the creation of his first album.
All along the way through the book, beside those sweet and longing words of the author, are Evan Turk’s amazing illustrations that take your breath away. They look like the blues! They look like Muddy Water’s story and some of his soul. Strong lines paint the bold story of the legend, and color reaches out to convey the emotion that Muddy was going through at different times in his life. Truly these are some of the most unique illustrations to appear in a picture book. The people in Muddy’s life reach high in church, bow low over a harmonica, every movement is full of energy. Muddy’s grandmother appears as a larger than life character. She takes up so much room in one memorable two-page spread that one cannot escape the dominant presence she must have had in Muddy’s life. There is some kind of motion everywhere, in the playing of music, in the form of Muddy’s grandmother as she hangs her laundry while dancing to Muddy’s music, and in the movement of Muddy himself as he plays and sings.
The often repeated words, “But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told.” tell the story of a man who would not be dictated to by any boss but himself, and who successfully turned that persistence into a sound that the music world had never heard before, a precursor to rock and roll. This is a story that shows a child that sometimes staying true to yourself is one of the hardest battles, but ultimately one of the best. Muddy never gave up on his music the way he heard it, never listening to naysayers. All of us have something like that call in our lives. Muddy teaches us through his experiences to listen to that call, be true to it and to never stop believing that one day it will enable each of us to add a new sound to the world. One passage accompanied by a striking depiction of Muddy singing reads like music:
He called up the sticky heat of a summer
night, the power of love, and the need
for connection in a world that was
so good at pulling people apart.
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters is an incredibly powerful picture book in every respect and is highly recommended. At the bookstore where I work, this is a staff favorite because we all agree that it is one of the most extraordinary picture books we have seen this year. Muddy is a wonderful introduction to the life of a legend as well as an inspirational and evocative experience of art so well matched to the man and his blues that you can almost hear the music playing.
This hardcover picture book will be available September 5, 2017 but can be pre-ordered now.
Cecil’s choice of soothing blue, purple, and green oil paint colors and brush-stroke technique are the perfect match for Joosse’s book, reminiscent of Mem Fox’s lyrical prose and poetry blend. Silver tears of loneliness make their way through the castle, across the moat, around the glen and at last reach a bug-eyed sleeping dragon in his cave who has been dreaming of a girl for a friend. The dragon follows the trail of tears, back around the glen, across the moat, and through the castle to at last find his girl.
An unlikely, forever friendship ensues as the dragon chases away the monsters and giants from the little girl’s life and she in turn sings him beautiful lullabies to help him sleep. They know that although they are very different on the outside, they are “exactly the same size in the middle” where it counts. It is refreshing to find a book with an atypical princess (she’s not your usual beauty) flying off on an unusual dragon (he’s protective, not scary).
Now I can’t wait to read this perfect little book to two perfect little girls in my life.
NOTE: Though not a new picture book to review (this one’s from 2012), Lovabye Dragon was one that stood out as an exception.
Read about: Hearts, How Do Lions Say I Love You?, Junie B. My Valentime, Born From The Heart & Will You Still Love Me If …?
♡Our Valentine’s Day Roundup Part 2 from Ronna Mandel♡ features a selection of faves for the whole family!
This Valentine’s Day, which also happens to be International Book Giving Day, is a perfect time to share books and share love. The picture books we’ve highlighted yesterday and today say I LOVE YOU in oh so many wonderful and creative ways. The best part of Valentine’s Day is that, since it’s all about finding ways to demonstrate feelings of love and affection, you can read these books all year ’round and the message remains the same. There’s never a bad time to show someone how much you care. And inside the pages of a picture book, there’s lots of love to be found!
♥♥♥ Heartsby Thereza Rowe (Toon Books, $12.95, Ages 3 and up). The bold graphics in this First Comic For Brand New Readers will draw kids in and the heartwarming storyline will keep them interested. Penelope the Fox accidentally drops her heart into the ocean where all sorts of hazards await. However, a friendly chicken on top of a British double-decker befriends the fox and together they go in search of the lost heart. Will Penelope find the missing heart or will she find something else on her journey? Hearts is all hearts.
How Do Lions Say I Love You?by Diane Muldrow with illustrations by David Walker ( A Little Golden Book/Random House Books for Young Readers, $3.99, Ages 2-5). It’s easy to see why your little ones will gravitate towards this charming story of all the different ways animals say “I love you.” With catchy rhyme, Muldrow introduces us to a hen saying “I love you” to her chicks with a cluck. She goes on to show us love-struck swans, giraffes, nightingales, peacocks, horses, elephants, lions, wolves, bears, cows and mourning doves.
Mourning doves like
to bill and coo.
And that’s how they
say I love you.
With its adorable, muted pastel colored illustrations, How Do Lions Say I Love You? is certain to please as it gently depicts the love shared in families with examples children will find hard to resist.
Born From The Heartby Berta Serrano with illustrations by Alfonso Serrano (Sterling, $14.95, Ages 3 and up). When I first glanced through my review copy of Born From The Heart, and its artwork spoke to me so strongly, I didn’t even have to read the story to get a sense that I was going to love this book. This picture book which presents the idea of adoption in the most captivating way, is one I am delighted to recommend to new parents. One of my favorite lines in the book is when the main characters Rose and Charlie visit the doctor to see how they might have a baby and the doctor tells them they need “1 pound of love, 2 cups of enthusiasm and 1 1/2 tablespoons of patience.” Soon Rose’s heart began growing as the couple awaited the arrival of their new baby. When the time was right, they flew far and wide and “crossed landscapes of unimaginable color” until they came to a little house in the middle of a green valley. Rose’s heart burst when she saw her little one. She “kissed the beautiful face one hundred million times.” Alfonso Serrano (the author’s brother) has captured the magic of that moment in an illustration so spectacular yet so simple. Rose is lying in the grass with her baby on top of her. The embrace is priceless. We cannot see Rose’s face, but feel her ecstasy.
Based on Berta Serrano’s experience adopting her son, Born From The Heart, is a truly magical, moving and empowering story for parents that I hope all adoptive parents will read and then share with their child when the time is right.
Will You Still Love Me If …?by Catherine Leblanc with illustrations by Eve Tharlet(Minedition, $16.99, Ages 3-8). Asking his mom lots of questions so many children have asked, Little Bear learns that there is nothing quite as forgiving and enduring as a mother’s love. Whether he tears his clothes, makes a mess, breaks his bed or looks horrendous, he wonders and “wants to be sure,” his mom will still love him. Will it be always and forever, he begins to ponder, even if one day she dies? With the most sensitively worded response, his mom assures him that he’ll still feel her presence. “But I’m still here and I’m not dead yet.” It’s true that youngsters have these thoughts and it’s great this picture book addresses them in a way that’s light and positive. “And what if one day you love someone else more than you love?” Little Bear is unrelenting. “More than you?” Mom asks. “That’s impossible! I might love someone in a different way …” This momma bear knows all the right things to say and is so genuine, loving and supportive that kids will love her just as much as Little Bear. Between the gorgeous artwork and the appealing prose, Will You Still Love Me If …? is the kind of book I would have felt comfortable reading to my kids when they were young and I didn’t have all the answers.
Junie B. My Valentime by Barbara Park with illustrations by Denise Brunkus (Random House Books for Young Readers, $5.99, Ages 3-7). Everybody’s favorite first-grader is back and better than ever in this hilarious sticker and Valentine’s book (30 are included!) with Junie’s VALENTINE acrostic-style take on Valentine’s Day. This companion book to the bestselling Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime! isfilled with fun, original full-color cards just perfect to give out to classmates, friends and family. My favorite Valentine’s Day card – the one where Junie’s written “Will you B. my Valentime? YES or NO? YES ⃞ YES ⃞ (Ha! I did not draw a NO box! That’s hilarious!)” And it really is!
Why not make your own printable Valentine’s Day card by clicking here, too?