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23Apr 24

A New Poetry Middle Grade Graphic Novel – Poetry Comics

 

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH SO …

 IT’S TIME FOR

POETRY COMICS

Written and illustrated by Grant Snider

(Chronicle Kids; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Poetry Comics cover four panels of tree in four seasons.

 

 

★ Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

 

Reading a well-crafted poem always fills me with awe. I wonder how the poet made it look so easy. The words flow magically on the page yet I know the great skill involved in composing one. That describes my first impressions of this middle-grade graphic novel. Add to that the joyful comic-style artwork and you’ve got the winning Poetry Comics by Grant Snider, a celebration of seasons and so much more, beginning with spring.
Poetry Comics int1 sprinting through sprinkler.
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.
Snider’s book puts four seasons of poetry at children’s fingertips. He captures the everyday world from their perspective. Here’s a short one I love. “Joy is the feeling of sprinting through the first sprinkler of spring.” (See the art above.) It resonated with me even though I no longer partake in this warm weather ritual. Seeing the child’s delight in this activity, filled my heart and reminded me of when my kids were growing up.
Another in this section that will spark imaginations, is the impressive “Shape Story” where the mix of shapes and verse morph into a clever story about a girl flying a kite on a sunny but windy day as rain clouds roll in. (See the art below.)
Poetry Comics int2 Shape and Balloon poems
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.
Poems come in vibrant colors and various lengths. They feature end rhymes, subtle internal rhymes, assonance, consonance, and an uplifting lyrical quality that matches the cheerful illustrations. I found myself pausing frequently to admire this engaging approach. As I read I felt this book would have inspired me as a child to try my hand at composing a poem or two along with drawings or doodles. I think it’s going to do the same for young readers today. Teachers can embrace this book for its multiple entry points whether that be for comic and graphic novel fans, reluctant readers, or poetry lovers who want to stretch that creative muscle more.
Poetry_Comics_int3_summer_ferris_wheel Poetry Comics int3 summer ferris wheel
Interior art by Grant Snider from Poetry Comics written and illustrated by Grant Snider, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this unique poetry book but instead, I recommend you see for yourselves and let me know what you think.

Click here for another National Poetry Month review.

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19Apr 24

Picture Book Review – Lost Words: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope

 

 

LOST WORDS:
An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope

Written by Leila Boukarim

Illustrated by Sona Avedikian

(Chronicle Kids; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

Lost Words cover Armenian families in picture frames on wall

 

 

On a seemingly ordinary day, a little boy helps Mama prepare mante dumplings. His life is suddenly and dreadfully interrupted when he receives a knock at the door. “‘You must leave with the others,’” his mother pleads while getting him and his sisters ready for the long journey ahead. She stuffs their pockets with dried fruit and nuts and sews gold coins into the lining of their coats just “in case.”

 

Lost Words int1 Armenian mother urging children to leave.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

 

The little boy has “so much … to say” to Mama, but his words are “lost”—a repeated sentence expressing devastation and shock over his new reality. He and his siblings must leave their parents behind to escape persecution. Along with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians, he is forced to walk through the Syrian desert “for days. For weeks. For months”—phrases also repeated throughout the book illustrating his heartache and longing for wholeness. 

Like the sparse words of Boukarim’s refrains, simple and soft illustrations carry deep emotional weight. The gentle, almond-shaped eyes of Avedikian’s characters convey much grief and worry. Their facial expressions are often at the center of the pages.

 

Lost Words int2 our long journey began.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

 

As the boy becomes a man and starts a family of his own, “love and laughter” begin to heal the “dark space[s]” of his heart, though the question of family history remains unanswered. That is, until, years later, his grandchild asks, “Where are we from …?” Suddenly and wonderfully, his words return to tell the story of loss, love, and resilience. The story of Armenia. 

 

Lost Words int3 in the heat and in the dust crossing desert.
Interior spread from LOST WORDS: An Armenian Story of Survival and Hope written by Leila Boukarim and illustrated by Sona Avedikian, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

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For teachers, librarians, parents, grandparents, and anyone interested in stories about survival and hope, Lost Words which is based on a true story, sensitively and beautifully illustrates the courage to speak one’s truth. An author and illustrator’s note, a brief history of the 1915 Genocide, facts about Armenia, and a glossary are included in the backmatter

Find out more at the Chronicle website here.
Find out more about the author, Leila, here.
Find out more about the illustrator, Sona, here.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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18Apr 24

Three New Children’s Passover Books for 2024

 

 

NEW CHILDREN’S PASSOVER BOOKS

Passover Clip Art

 

 

 Afikoman Where'd You Go cover kids in treehouse afikoman on roofAFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO?:
A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure
Written by Rebecca Gardyn Levington
Illustrated by Noa Kelner
(Rocky Pond Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
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There’s a mischievous personified piece of matzoh on the loose in the pages of Afikoman, Where’d You Go? and I got such a kick out of looking for him. Your kids will too! This picture book is not only written in well-crafted rhyme, it’s also relatable to anyone who’s ever attended a Seder, Jewish or not.
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At the Passover seder, youngsters are always eager to start the traditional search for the afikoman which happens halfway through the meal. The Glossary, helpfully included at the start of the story, defines the afikoman as “The piece of matzoh that is symbolically broken and then hidden, as part of a ritual during the seder.” Children hunt for him around the house or in a particular designated room. The process varies from house to house. In this tale, the kids check out every place indoors with no luck. The wily matzoh, like the Gingerbread Man, is one step ahead. Next up, the backyard.
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Part of the fun is searching every single spread to see where Afikoman is hiding. I have to admit there was one spread where I could not locate the clever cracker! That’s the bathroom scene which I’ve checked multiple times. And when I did spot him, I laughed out loud a few times. The catchy refrain, “Is he hiding somewhere high? Is he hiding somewhere low? Afikoman? Afikoman? Afikoman? WHERE’D YOU GO?” adds to the read-aloudability.
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When the afikoman is finally found, it’s time to return to the table and continue the seder. Here’s where the author and illustrator have included a satisfying surprise ending. The detailed artwork (created using pencil, ink, and Photoshop) includes a determined family dog who, along with a diverse group of kids, team up to track down Afikoman and enjoy themselves the entire time. One of my favorite illustrations is the children’s messy bedroom. It’s hard to know if the kids did that or if it was like that already! Sure to invite multiple readings for the holiday, Afikoman, Where’d You Go? easily gets a thumbs up from me.

 

Everybody's Book cover hiding Haggadah in Mosque bookcase.EVERYBODY’S BOOK: 
The Story of the Sarajevo Haggadah
Written by Linda Leopold Strauss
Illustrated by Tim Smart
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

A richly recounted nonfiction story as colorful as the history of the titular Sarajevo Haggadah, Everybody’s Book is an enlightening read. I had the good fortune to visit Sarajevo at the end of 1989 before the city was ravaged by war but hadn’t heard about the famous Haggadah. I’m happy to have had the chance to learn. If the topic is of further interest, parents can also learn more by reading Geraldine Brooks’ The People of The Book.

The book opens with an introduction explaining how the storied Sarajevo Haggadah was first given to a bride and group circa 1350. Readers then learn that in “the late 1400s” the expulsion of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition was a scary time. In Spain, Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave. Lives were upended and never the same. Many families fled with nothing but the family that owned what became known as the Sarajevo Haggadah took it with them when they escaped. Over time the Haggadah changed hands multiple times eventually landing in Italy to a new generation of owners and ultimately to Bosnia where it continued to be used “during Passover Seders.”

“By 1894, the family that owned the Haggadah had fallen on hard times …” Alas the treasured family heirloom was sold. It was bought by the National History Museum of Sarajevo, a religiously diverse and mostly tolerant city where it was revered. The museum managed to keep the Sarajevo Haggadah safe until WWII broke out.

When the Nazis tried to get their hands on it, the fast-thinking museum director fabricated a web of lies but that didn’t stop the Nazis from searching the museum albeit to no avail. It is said that the curator then took the Haggadah to “a remote village, where an imam of a small mosque hid it among sacred Islamic texts.” When the war ended the Haggadah was returned to Sarajevo but peace there remained fragile.

After WWII, “Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats became part of unified Yugoslavia under one leader.” Following his death in 1980, tensions that had been simmering over the years reached a climax, and fighting among the three groups began. “In 1991, Serbs attacked Bosnia.” Another war threatened the safety of the Sarajevo Haggadah. When the museum was bombed the following year, a Muslim university professor helped rescue the book once again. This new war saw the destruction of the National and University Library of Sarajevo though citizens “formed a human chain to save whatever books they could. By this time, not just Bosnians knew about the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, and the world worried about this treasure.

One of my favorite spreads is the one that depicts a Passover Seder in 1995, in the midst of the war. “Christian, Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim leaders joined Jews at Sarajevo’s only remaining synagogue …” During the Seder, the Bosnian President, a Muslim, arrived with the Haggadah to assure all those in attendance that it was safe. When the war ended and the Bosnian National Museum was constructed, the Sarajevo Haggadah was restored and placed among other historic treasures for all to see. Everybody’s Book could now truly be enjoyed by everybody. Tim Smart’s watercolor art has a sketch-like, loose quality showing the flow of time and the ever-changing circumstances the Sarajevo Haggadah endured. This picture book is an important one that emphasizes how the power of people from all religions and walks of life can make a difference when they find common ground. How lucky we all are that this marvelous book from a marriage over 670 years ago has survived. Oh, the stories its pages could tell!

ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS:
A
PASSOVER CELEBRATION IN 14 STORIES
Edited by Chris Baron, Joshua S. Levy, and Naomi Milliner
Illustrated by Shannon Hochman
(Amulet Books; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

While there could be a plethora of themes for a Passover anthology, selecting the 14 steps of the Seder as an entry point is perfect. It’s what drew me to this book in addition to the title. It did not hurt that a host of bestselling and award-winning authors and one author-illustrator embraced and wrote about one particular step. Their instructions were only to approach the topic in any way they desired. This made for a fascinating and engrossing read. If I had the time, upon finishing my first read-through, I could have started all over again. It’s just that good!

As I dove in, I never knew what type of story would greet me, and that’s only one part of the magic of this holiday collection. Whatever way you choose to read On All Other Nights, you will be treated to a variety of top-notch middle-grade voices, approaches, plots, and characters. You can read it all in one sitting, devouring every delicious and meaningful step, or take it one short story at a time, savoring each one slowly like the Seder meal itself. At the start of each story, there is a brief, helpful description of the step. I was impressed at how creative the stories tackled each subject. Apropos of the title are also four thoughtful questions (the Four Questions being an important element of the Seder which generally the youngest asks) tweens can contemplate or parents and teachers can use for discussions.

Just like there are many kinds of Jewish ethnicities around the world (e.g. Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and more) and different branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and more), there are many different stories in this collection. Each story has a unique style and appeal. I loved the story featuring an Autistic character, Myra, who could not stand the smell of gefilte fish. It especially resonated with me having a son with sensory processing disorder for whom certain smells can drive him out of a room as it did for the girl in this story. Another story that’s stayed with me is the one about a family of Romanian immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side. In it, the brother and sister are tasked with getting the maror (bitter herb) for the Seder from their father’s pushcart. At his sister’s behest, the brother retells a fairy tale about a witch and a memory spell. This relates to the brother’s annoyance that his sister does not seem to remember much of their life in Romania before emigrating. Later on, the younger sister cleverly and courageously helps her brother rescue a new Polish immigrant being beaten up, revealing some surprising truths.

The fourteen On All Other Nights contributors include: Chris Baron, Ruth Behar, Adam Gidwitz, Veera Hiranandani, Amy Ignatow Sarah Kapit, Joshua S. Levy, Mari Lowe, Naomi Milliner, Soifya Pasternack, R. M. Romero, A. J. Sass, Laura Shovan, and Laurel Snyder.

Black and white art accompanies every chapter and the captivating cover invites children to think about their own role in the Seder. Readers are treated to tempting recipes in the backmatter from celebrated chefs and professionals. Contributor bios and acknowledgments can also be found there. At a recent signing event, editor Joshua S. Levy explained that the anthology is a mirror and window book. It communicates core human values to a wide audience with universal appeal. And that same evening, Chris Baron said the challenge with the anthology was “How do you breathe life into these steps?”  To which I say “Exactly like On All Other Nights did. Brilliantly!”

Click here to read last year’s roundup.

Also Recommended:

Why_on_This_Night_cover_Jews_and_Red_Sea_partingWHY ON THIS NIGHT?:
A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration
Written by Rahel Musleah
Illustrated by Louise August
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 7-11)

Publisher Description:

The rich traditions of Passover come alive in this contemporary family haggadah. Updated from the original 2000 edition, this holiday favorite is available again for families to treasure. As children and adults gather at the seder dinner to remember the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom, this creative, yet authentic haggadah will guide and engage them. Lushly illustrated, with blessings and text of every major section of the haggadah in Hebrew, English translation, and transliteration, the welcoming and accessible style of Why On This Night? will make it a treasured seder companion year after year.

 

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16Apr 24

Five Children’s Books for Earth Day 2024

 

EARTH DAY 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

 

Love, The Earth cover Earth with a face watching child.LOVE, THE EARTH
Written by Frances Stickley
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood
(Candlewick Press; $17.99,  Ages 3-7)

In Love, the Earth, by Frances Stickley, our beautiful blue planet promises to take care of us, if only we will take care of it. Scenes unfold showing us all the Earth has to offer: “Please share my food, my lakes, my land . . . / and try to lend a helping hand.” Yet, we also see that the Earth can’t do it without us.

The mixed-media illustrations by Tim Hopgood are lush and layered. The Earth is present throughout, either smiling benevolently or saddened when its land is covered in litter. The book concludes with the Earth signing off, “With All My Love, the Earth,” a heartfelt reminder of how the planet has sustained a truly vast amount of life.

 

Solar Bear cover boy and polar bearSOLAR BEAR
Written by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
(HarperKids; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

In Beth Ferry’s rhyming picture book, Solar Bear, a magical solar bear gathers bears from around the globe to share stories about species extinction. By shining their glowing light “[on] otters, sloths, and manatees. / On coral reefs and chimpanzees,” they hope to foster a generation of “solar kids” who learn as much as possible about our animals, mindfully use resources, and talk to others to encourage environmental stewardship.

The art by Brendan Wenzel illuminates the animals. This is beautiful but also a preview of how close many of them are to becoming ghosts. When the solar animals interact with children worldwide, the love and hope come through in his illustrations rendered in “watercolor, pencil, acrylic, colored pencil, and pretty much everything else under the sun including an iMac.” While this blurb is funny, it’s also a great representation of pulling together to create. The heartwarming image on the cover sets the tone for this hopeful but urgent request for action.

 

Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet cover boy dog tree.GREEN: THE STORY OF PLANT LIFE ON OUR PLANET
Written by Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Nicola Davies’s nonfiction picture book, Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet, opens with a line about how the tree pictured doesn’t seem to be doing much, just standing around being big and green. However, we come to find the many fascinating things that trees do from the huge importance of photosynthesis to its opposite: respiration, which keeps our air in balance. We learn the history of how plants have trapped carbon dioxide, changing the air from toxic to inhabitable for all kinds of life forms.

Emily Sutton’s illustrations showcase the color green. One scene shows green existing only on a single rooftop apartment building in a city where industry is upsetting the world’s delicate balance. The story finishes with a heartwarming companion image to the opening one that sums up why green is the “most important color in the world.”

 

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth cover Sona among plants.SONA SHARMA: LOOKING AFTER PLANET EARTH
Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Jen Khatun
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 6-9)

In Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth (book two of the Sona series by Chitra Soundar), Sona Sharma’s personality continues to shine. This time, Sona and her friends Renu and Joy learn that the Earth is in trouble. Their teacher, Miss Rao, has them pledge to help look after the planet. Well-meaning Sona takes this to heart and starts making changes at home—without anyone’s consent. Who needs lights? Diapers—no more!

While the story is funny, the reality of this crisis comes through, showing ways we all can pitch in. The setting is vivid as are the characters. I particularly like how much of the plot is centered around the town’s annual kolam-making contest (“traditional designs that people draw in front of their homes to celebrate the winter months and the festival season”). Paatti (Grandma) uses rice flour to make the design but Sona’s other grandmother, the President, includes colored powders, glitter, and plastic decorations. Sona’s determined to stop participants from using artificial, bad-for-the-environment art supplies, but the contest is happening soon and it seems the rules allow these materials. Or do they . . .?

The black-and-white sketches by Jen Khatun throughout bring us right into Sona’s world showing her multigenerational family and the lovely kolam designs.

 

Be a Nature Explorer! cover backpack on grass.BE A NATURE EXPLORER!:
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES
Written by Peter Wohlleben

Illustrated by Belle Wuthrich
English translation by Jane Billinghurst
(Greystone Books; $12.95, Ages 6-10)

Fans of Peter Wohlleben’s best-selling books about trees will be glad to see he now has a hands-on guide for children in an easy-to-carry size to encourage exploration of nature, Be a Nature Explorer!: Outdoor Activities and Adventures. This illustrated 100-page book contains 52 activity ideas to keep kids busy for many outings, or even when they’re just in the backyard.

“Following Slugs and Snails” is one of my favorites because I find these creatures fascinating. I learned that snail shells almost always spiral to the right (clockwise) and sit on the right side of their bodies. If you find a snail whose pattern runs counterclockwise, they’re called “snail kings”—so exciting, like finding a four-leaf clover! You can even record a snail or slug’s slime trail imprint onto a piece of plastic wrap, then add that to your journal as part of your collection and for further observations.

This fun guide’s pages are enlivened with illustrations by Belle Wuthrich, and photos. This winning combo elevates this book to the top of my list for gift-giving. Pair this welcoming book with a blank journal and watch kids get their nature explorer groove on. Parents will thank you!

 

 

Click here to read reviews from last year’s roundup.

 

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11Apr 24

Picture Book Review – Love Grows Here

 

LOVE GROWS HERE

Written by Chloe Ito Ward

Illustrated by Violet Kim

(Albert Whitman & Company; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Love Grows Here cover Asian girl holding title poster.

 

 

Shopping in an outdoor market with her grandmother, Obā, Aiko immerses herself in the tastes, sights, smells, and sounds of her surroundings. Ward’s economy of “warm and welcoming” words paints a bustling scene full of joy, excitement, and love—that is until a hurtful encounter with a stranger changes everything. His racist words “sharp like scissors, cut,” causing Aiko to feel confused, afraid, and heartbroken. 

 

Love Grows Here int1 Go Back to Your Own Country.
Interior art from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Stopping by a ramen shop, Aiko tells Obā’s shin-yū (best friend) about what happened earlier. In turn, Mrs. Nakano shares her experiences of confronting hate when she and her family were forced to live in a Japanese internment camp. As Aiko learns of a particularly painful part of her history, she struggles to understand why people would act so unkind. Obā eloquently expresses the root of all discrimination:  “Sometimes the fear in your heart plants roots and grows into anger.” Fear and anger. Aiko wonders, “[w]here else were they growing?” 

When they pass by Miss Chon’s café and see that it has been vandalized, they help clean up. Aiko decides then and there how to respond to the fear and anger—through a radical act of kindness. 

 

Love Grows Here int2 this is our country!
Interior spread from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Walking back home, she shares something dear to her that she had purchased from the market, handing it out to strangers as she passes along the way and watching their faces light up with joy. 

Whether at home or in the classroom, Love Grows Here provides opportunities to talk about hard but necessary topics:  racism, anti-Asian hate, and Japanese American history. Equally important is discussing the antidote Aiko chose to fight the hatred around her. Her actions echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Visit the author’s website here.

Visit the illustrator’s website here.

 

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09Apr 24

Picture Book Review – A Place for Rain

 

 

A PLACE FOR RAIN

Written by Michelle Schaub

Illustrated by Blanca Gómez

(Norton Young Readers; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

A Place for Rain cover children in rain beside a rain barrel

 

 

From the Publisher: “A spring storm brings the chance to build a rain garden in this charming, actionable picture book about protecting our waterways.”

From Publishers Weekly: “An upbeat problem-solving story…”

 

 

With rhyming verse and bright, colorful illustrations, Michelle Schaub and Blanca Gómez tell an upbeat story of rain

 

A Place for Rain int1 drizzle turns to roar downpour.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

that gives kids a hands-on way to participate in conservation—rain gardens—in the newly released A Place for Rain!

A unique concept in the picture book space, this book would make a great classroom read-aloud for Earth Day or throughout Earth Month to promote environmental awareness.

 

A Place for Rain int2 make a trail of stone or bricks.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Simple and cheerful illustrations that begin even before the title page fill the book and help encourage page turns.

 

A Place for Rain int3 make room for rain backmatter.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Backmatter offers a step-by-step guide to help families create their own rain gardens at home, additional conservation resources, as well as a cautionary line to call your utility company before you start digging. A recommended for all who care about our planet.

Click here to download an Educators’ Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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05Apr 24

Two New Picture Books for Eid al-Fitr

EID AL-FITR PICTURE BOOKS

 

 

 

Noura's Crescent Moon cover girl look up at colorful crescent moonNOURA’S CRESCENT MOON
Written by Zainab Khan
Illustrated by Nabila Adani
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

In Zainab Khan’s picture book debut, readers meet Noura as Ramadan, a lunar holiday observed by Muslims, is ending. As the story begins she’s eager to see the Eid moon. Her father explains that in “… all the years I went with my parents to find the new moon, I only saw it once: a tiny sliver.” Readers soon see the beautiful dress Noura’s mother has made for Eid (the end of Ramadan) prayer and also find out that “Ramadan can’t be more than 30 days, so Eid has to start tonight or tomorrow night.” The daytime fasting ends and three special days of celebrations begin.

Some Muslims head to nearby mountains or the highest point around to watch for the Eid moon which is exactly what Noura’s family plans to do. Noura hopes the clouds will not obstruct her view. “Moon, please come out. I’d like to see you on my first fast.” On the hilltop, families gather for picnics and to await the moonrise. If it doesn’t appear, that means one more day of fasting. At sunset, that day’s fasting is over, and Noura enjoys a delicious picnic iftar of potato pakoras, dates, tamarind chutney, and her favorite, pink (rose) milk. Just when everyone thinks there will still be one more day of Ramadan, the clouds part, revealing a beaming crescent moon. This is also one of my favorite spreads in the book. The gradient purple sky leads our eyes to the far right where the crescent moon glows.

There’s a glossary in the backmatter but the context of the story along with the lovely illustration clues help make this picture book easy to understand and such a delight to share with children. Eid Mubarak! Happy Eid!

 

Looking for the Eid Moon cover two little girls under starry sky one holding binoculars.LOOKING FOR THE EID MOON
Written by Sahtinay Abaza
Illustrated by Sandra Eide
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

From the beginning of this charming picture book, sisters Sara and Lulu begin looking for the moon. Of course, later there would be a party with family and friends where Sara could wear her star-themed dress but “For years, the moon marked important Muslim holidays and dates. And Eid wouldn’t begin until the crescent moon was spotted.”

Sara and Lulu head out to the backyard equipped with a blanket, binoculars, and a flashlight. They search and search the sky with no luck. If there is a moon out, it’s blocked by clouds. The girls get scared on their own and, as the big sister, Sara takes it upon herself to help allay Lulu’s fears. Her thoughtfulness is a lovely element in this story. When their mother eventually says it’s time to go back indoors she tells them the moon has been spotted. Lulu cries. She wanted to be the first to see the Eid moon. To quell Lulu’s disappointment, Sara devises a creative and secret plan: crafting glowing moon rocks filled with coins courtesy of the Eid moon accompanied by a rhyming poem.

Eide’s artwork is cheerful and readers will get a sense of the sisters’ emotions in every illustration. I liked the spread where the girls’ mom flashes her flashlight. “Look! A moonbeam!” Lulu’s excitement is precious.

Not only was this picture book inspired by the author’s family tradition, Looking for the Eid Moon also conveys a caring sibling relationship and a great role model for young readers. The author’s note in the backmatter explains the two Eid holidays that occur annually. “Eid al-Fitr is a three-day holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan (the month of fast). Eid al-Adha is a four-day holiday that begins at the end of pilgrimage, in which Muslims travel to the city of Mecca for worship.”

 

Other Recommended Reads:

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr cover family celebrating holidayRAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR
Written by Sara Khan
Illustrated by Nadiyah Suyatna
(words & pictures; $14.99, Ages 5-10)

“Assalaamu alaykum!
Peace be upon you!”

Opening this joyful-looking picture book, I was greeted by a message of peace. The narrator, a young girl named Raya tells readers that she’s excited to share info about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrated when Ramadan ends as you’ve learned from the reviews above. We’re introduced to her parents whom she calls Mama and Aba as well as her sweet little kitty.

One illustration shows Raya gifted with a special calendar with “a good deed suggestion for each day of the month.” Raya explains how one feature of Ramadan is daylight fasting, but she is too young to partake. I like that Khan has shared Raya’s introspection as she wonders what it will be like to abstain from eating and drinking when she is older. Readers learn that in addition to fasting, it’s important to be on one’s best behavior to please Allah or God.

As noted in the other picture books, the meal to end the fast is called iftar and always features a date. Rayah points out how her family is culturally diverse so there is no one traditional meal making it an opportunity to try lots of different foods. And since Ramadan is a time of giving to those less fortunate, Raya tells readers how members of her family help out in a food kitchen or by donating toys and clothes to charity. Selfless giving is a way to get closer to Allah. This also includes praying and reading “the Qur’an—the holy book of Islam.”

When Ramadan ends it’s time to celebrate breaking the fast or Eid al-Fitr. Muslims spend quality family time and also come together as a community to have fun, decorate their homes, eat delicious meals, and continue performing acts of kindness. Rayah, like most children, describes how she enjoys getting and giving gifts and buying new clothes for the holiday. One tradition for girls and women, Rayah explains is: “Getting pretty henna patterns applied to my hands.”The book’s backmatter includes eight pages packed with facts, a quiz, a recipe, and a card-making activity providing an excellent introduction to anyone eager to learn about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. With its colorful art, accessible text, and multicultural characters this new picture book would be an ideal addition to any home, school, or public library’s collection.

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02Apr 24

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Pizza, Pickles, and Apple Pie

 

 PIZZA, PICKLES, AND APPLE PIE:

 The Stories Behind the Foods We Love

Written and illustrated by David Rickert

(Kane Press; $19.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 Pizza Pickles and Apple Pie cover three humorous historical characters with food.

 

 

Though the title, Pizza, Pickles, and Apple Pie: The Stories Behind the Foods We Love, is somewhat serious-sounding, you can tell from the silly antics on the cover that this book is going to be a lot of fun. Beginning with breakfast, we take a trip through time and around the world discovering facts about kid-approved foods from waffles to apple pie.

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Pizza Pickles and Apple Pie int1 before breakfast
Interior illustrations from Pizza, Pickles, and Apple Pie: The Stories Behind the Foods We Eat by David Rickert, Kane Press ©2023.

 

I appreciated the multicultural tidbits such as the wide array of popular pizza toppings: squid and eel (Japan), ginger and tofu (India), or peas, corn, and raisins (Brazil). The evolution of popcorn interested me: all those popping kernels were first contained in an 1800s popcorn popper but it was the invention of the microwave that made popcorn the number two thing people use their microwaves for (heating leftovers is the first). And, birthday parties will never be the same for me now that I know blowing out candles increases the bacteria on the surface of the cake.

The extra sections in the back can give kids hours of busy time. For example, they can research their own favorite food, learn how to create a food comic, and there’s a step-by-step on how to draw people’s facial expressions.

 

Pizza Pickles and Apple Pie int2 ice cream becomes cool.
Interior illustrations from Pizza, Pickles, and Apple Pie: The Stories Behind the Foods We Eat by David Rickert, Kane Press ©2023.

 

 

While the target audience for this book is grades 3-7, I can see younger kids enjoying this book because of its easy-to-follow comic panels. The sections with longer text will appeal to older kids; the activities can be tailored to all ages. Overall, this humorous food history book is one that kids can devour again and again.

Read more about author-illustrator David Rickert here.

 

Read another food-related book review by Christine here.

 

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29Mar 24

Easter Picture Book Review – I am Not the Easter Bunny!

 

 

 

I AM NOT THE EASTER BUNNY!
Written and illustrated by T. L. McBeth
(Flamingo Books; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

I am Not the Easter Bunny! cover bunny in bowtie with basket and eggs.

 

Sometimes kids (and parents) want to read something laugh-out-loud funny at Easter and I am Not the Easter Bunny! fits the bill. Written and illustrated by T. L. McBeth, this delightful picture book features a narrator in conversation with the titular main character who, as we read on, is doing everything in his power to convince the narrator that he is NOT the Easter Bunny. “It’s just that it would be SO EXCITING to meet the actual Easter Bunny, you know?” the narrator remarks. And yes, it sure would be!

 

I am Not the Easter Bunny! int1 bunny denying he is the Easter Bunny to narrator.
Interior spread from I am Not the Easter Bunny! written and illustrated by T. L. McBeth, Flamingo Books ©2024.

 

The narrator asks a lot of good questions and offers insightful observations. One of my favorite responses to the narrator’s curiosity is right in the beginning. “Not every bunny is in the Easter business. In fact, my mother is a very successful dentist.” As the conversation between the narrator and the rabbit continues, young readers’ suspicion will grow seeing spread after spread of Easter Bunny-like behavior. Recognizable examples help little ones spot holes in the bunny’s story and add to the humor.

When the bunny steps out with a basket, the narrator notes it. The bunny claims it’s to go grocery shopping. When the narrator wonders why the bunny is buying eggs, the bunny is aghast at being followed into the store. But why does Bunny have jelly beans on his shopping list? Bunny’s behavior may make children believe his denials but as the story continues they will realize he is protesting way too much like a character right out of “Hamlet.”

 

 

I am Not the Easter Bunny! int2 an awfully suspicious grocery list.
Interior spread from I am Not the Easter Bunny! written and illustrated by T. L. McBeth, Flamingo Books ©2024.

 

The is-he or isn’t he back and forth keeps kids guessing and turning the page. The clever ending will satisfy all readers who, at some point, may have started feeling guilty about mistrusting the fluffy white bunny who seems to be just trying to get on with his day. With speech bubbles for the rabbit character and text for the narrator, I am Not the Easter Bunny! invites multiple reads and role-play over the holiday. Use McBeth’s cheerful color scheme for decorating Easter eggs after reading the book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

Additional Recommended Reads:

Is This Easter cover dogs staring at eggIS THIS … EASTER?
Written and illustrated by Helen Yoon
(Candlewick Press; $10.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

Bear Finds Eggs cover bear bunnies mole eggs.BEAR FINDS EGGS
Written by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Click here for last year’s Easter Roundup.

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26Mar 24

Nonfiction Picture Book Review for Women’s History Month – Chef Edna

 

 

CHEF EDNA:
Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis

Written by Melvina Noel

Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

(Cameron Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Chef Edna cover queen of southern cooking edna lewis.

 

This mouthwatering, treat of a book introduces readers to Edna Regina Lewis, with illustrations that pair deliciously with the prose. I was ready to book a trip to the South to sample all the tasty cuisine mentioned in Chef Edna written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Just look at that inviting cover! It speaks to exactly what this picture book is all about.

 

Chef Edna int1 when Edna grew up on a farm.
Interior spread from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

Growing up on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, Edna was one of six children. She spent her childhood “cooking with her mother, Mama Daisy.” Life on a farm offered fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, and fish year-round as well as the opportunity for young Edna to learn every recipe. She made her mama’s biscuits “so many times she could make them by heart.” That and other tricks, such as listening to a cake to know whether it’s done (A bubbling sound meant it needed to cook more. No sound meant it was done.) became ingrained in Edna.

 

Chef Edna int2 making biscuits
Interior art from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

When Edna’s father passed away, she left home at age 15 to work to help support her mother and the family. She headed to New York and did a host of jobs. Her seamstress skills brought her to the attention of celebrities and soon she was “making clothes for movie stars.” One of my favorite illustrations not shown here is of Edna strolling down a Manhattan street wearing one of her own designs with African motifs and “bright, bold colors.” And, while this brought in much-needed money, Edna still yearned for the farm in Freetown, being with family, and enjoying all the delicious Southern food she was raised on.

Edna met many people through her seamstress work. She “catered events and threw dinner parties for her new friends.” Everyone appreciated her scrumptious cooking infused with a love of the South. Demand grew. It’s easy for us to forget that today, with such a variety of food available that, in late 1940s New York, a female chef, let alone a Black female chef, serving up flavors of her hometown down south, was not common on the Upper East Side where she opened a restaurant with a partner. Famous people including poets, playwrights, and even a First Lady flocked there to see for themselves what Southern cuisine was all about.

 

Chef Edna int3 simple pure ingredients.
Interior spread from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

With New York now her home, Edna continued to seek out “fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish. Fresh seasonal farm-to-table ingredients for Southern cooking,” at Union Square Green Market. When I was growing up that market had long disappeared but it’s back again which I know would make Edna smile. Cabrera’s artwork in muted tones with brush strokes showing, conveys a thriving market of a bygone era.

In her lifetime, Edna the granddaughter of formerly enslaved people, worked at many different jobs where her creativity was put to good use whether as a window dresser, a seamstress, a cooking teacher, a cookbook author, or a chef. This “Grand Dame of Southern Cooking” worked in her later years to preserve Southern food, and was honored not only with numerous awards, but was featured on a U.S. Postal stamp in 2014! Since dates are not mentioned, readers may not always get a clear sense of the timespan in this biography but it’s clear from the art and backmatter that Edna never really slowed down noting that Edna worked “well into her early seventies.” The author has chosen an inspiring subject for this picture book that might even influence young readers to pursue a career as a chef.

After you finish the book, be sure to read Noel’s interesting Author’s Note and try your hand at Edna’s “Biscuits for Two or Three.” I know I will! Don’t forget to look under the book jacket for a sweet “undies” surprise from Cabrera.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Want to read more for Women’s History Month? Click here.

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21Mar 24

Picture Book Review – Looking for Happy

 

LOOKING FOR HAPPY

Written by Ty Chapman

Illustrated by Keenon Ferrell

(Beaming Books; $18.99; Ages 5-8)

 

Looking for Happy cover a boy and his different moods.

 

 

Author Ty Chapman says, “Some days, Happy is hard to find,” and that’s the theme in Looking For Happy, a heartfelt picture book about a Black child who is usually happy but on this day he struggles to shake the blues.

Digital animator and illustrator Keenon Ferrell introduces the story with a vibrant blue visible outside the window beside a smiling boy listening to music and dancing. He’s happy at this moment in time. But the next page depicts a new day, and the smile is missing from his face. “Today, though, nothing makes me happy.” The reader sees that there isn’t always a reason for feeling sad, but the boy tries his best to escape his gloomy mood. He reads a book about fighting dragons, another about scuba diving, and then a book about space. Nothing. His brain can’t focus. This is very relatable.

 

Looking for Happy int1 a boy listening to music at home.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

Even though his little sister is laughing in front of the television he can’t crack a smile. He’s just blue. The day continues as he spends time with friends but he’s just not feeling it so he goes home. Lying flat down on the living room couch, he tells Grandma he’s not happy and with sweetness and support Grandma replies that everyone feels like that sometimes. She suggests they go for a walk.

 

Looking for Happy int2 a sad boy on sofa watched by his grandma.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

The neighborhood park is filled with older kids playing basketball and an elderly woman walking her fluffy brown dog. Everyone looks happy but the boy is still feeling sad inside. They continue their walk, holding hands, searching for something to put a smile on his face. The boy describes his feelings as rocks in his chest. Chapman brings words to feelings that are often hard to describe. The boy wants to go home but then hears a wonderful sound. Illustrations of musical notes float through the playground and the boy runs towards the sound.

Ferrell’s art reflects his African American heritage and love for music with the park musician playing the saxophone. “You have a song you want to hear?” the man asks with Grandma whispering the name of her grandson’s favorite song in his ear. This is when the story begins to change. We see his body move with the beat of the music and a smile appears on his face. Grandma joins in and together they sing and dance. “The rocks in his chest are gone.”

 

Looking for Happy int3 boy and his grandma at park.
Interior spread from Looking for Happy written by Ty Chapman and illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

This thoughtful tale conveys how music helps to remove bad feelings and models for kids that “sometimes a happy song is right around the corner.” Chapman’s literary accomplishments are quite impressive and his writing in this story flows like the notes from a saxophone. What a great lesson showing that sometimes there isn’t always a reason for feeling a little down and that in those cases, maybe we all just need time to pass or to hear an uplifting tune. This is not only a lesson for kids but a lesson for anyone needing comforting words to get them through a difficult day.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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07Mar 24

An Interview with Nora Nickum, Author of This Book is Full of Holes

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS

NORA NICKUM,

AUTHOR OF

THIS BOOK IS FULL OF HOLES

Illustrated by Robert Meganck

(Peachtree; $18.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 
Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This book is chock full of holes—shallow and miles deep, microscopic and visible from space, human-caused and natural, mysterious and maddeningly familiar.

When you think of holes, what comes to mind? Maybe the irritating hole in your sock. Or the hole on the shelf where you plucked out this book. But did you know there are holes that suddenly devour entire gas stations? Big holes in the ocean that are visible from space? Small holes in balls that prevent a backyard home run?

A hole is a part of something where there’s nothing at all. Holes are investigated by scientists, used by artists, designed by engineers, and fixed by problem-solvers. They can be natural or human-made, big or small, plentiful or scarce, mysterious or painfully familiar. Many are important to our everyday lives, whether we give them credit or not.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: THIS BOOK IS FULL OF HOLES is so fun and fascinating! You cover such a wide range of holes. How did you decide what to include and how to organize them?

Nora Nickum: Brainstorming all different kinds of holes was a fun part of the process. But the book did require a good structure so it wouldn’t be just a list. I was intrigued by the fact that a hole seems like empty nothingness, but in fact, it can be really useful, or annoying, or dangerous, or life-saving. And holes appear in all different STEAM disciplines, from engineering and ecology to music and art. I began writing about all the different qualities that holes could have, and eventually shaped it into a consistent opposite structure on every spread. Readers will find fascinating examples of how holes can be tiny or enormous, form slowly or quickly, be used to speed something up or slow something down, and so on.

 

KT: The idea of a hole is both really concrete and really abstract. For example, the idea that a hole can be closed on the bottom as well as open. I wouldn’t have said an indentation was a hole, even though there are other holes with bottoms that I do think of as holes, like golf holes. So it gets a little mind-bendy when you start thinking about what makes a hole a hole! Were there challenges in figuring out how to explain those concepts?

NN: That’s one of the things that made this topic so fun for me! I spent time researching definitions of holes, and felt like I got to a place where I had a solid one that wasn’t full of holes itself (haha). And I started the book with that definition: “A hollow place. An empty space. A part of something where there’s nothing at all.” 

 

KT: That’s such an intriguing definition! Which type of hole is your favorite? I was fascinated by blue holes and the holes in airplane windows—I hadn’t heard of either before!

NN: Those two kinds of holes were the genesis of the book! I used to travel a lot and often wondered why there was a tiny hole in the airplane window. And later, when I read about blue holes in the ocean and saw beautiful photos taken from the air, I was really intrigued and thought about doing a picture book focused on those, but it turned out there hadn’t been a lot of research about blue holes yet. Then a light bulb went off in my head and I combined them into a book about holes, which let me add lots of other fascinating examples. My favorite hole in the book is actually the seal’s breathing hole in the Arctic ice–I liked that I could make the same hole represent both of the opposing concepts, danger versus safety. And I love how Robert Meganck illustrated it with one scene carrying across both pages, with the seal and the polar bear.

 

ThisBookisFullofHoles int1 Seal and polar
Interior art from This Book is Full of Holes: Text © 2024 Nora Nickum. Illustrations © 2024 Robert Meganck. Used with permission from Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

 

KT: Wow, that’s such a fun origin story! I love it when things come together like that. Were there holes that didn’t make it into the final book?

NN: Yes, sadly. Buttonholes, groundhog burrows, swimming holes, and holes in pinhole cameras were on my list at one point or another, but ultimately cut. Some types of holes didn’t make it in because they didn’t fit the opposites structure as nicely as I wanted. Others were too straightforward to feel interesting or to merit any sidebar text. Fortunately, all of my favorites made it in! 

 

KT: I’m glad you didn’t have to cut any of your favorites! The illustrations are great and add so much humor. Did any of them surprise you?

NN: Robert Meganck’s illustrations are so creative and funny, while also being accurate in the ways that are important for a nonfiction book. The one showing a person threading a needle was his idea–I hadn’t been that specific in the manuscript, and I updated the sidebar text to reflect his art. And I love how Robert has hidden other kinds of holes in the background of several illustrations (see what you can find in the “speed something up…slow it down” spread). But the illustration that might surprise readers the most is the one they’ll find on the flip side of the book jacket–it’s a big hide-and-seek playground scene where kids can search for all different kinds of holes!

 

ThisBookisFullofHoles int2 car and wiffle ball.
Interior art from This Book is Full of Holes: Text © 2024 Nora Nickum. Illustrations © 2024 Robert Meganck. Used with permission from Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

 

KT: Kids will love that! I think my favorite is how the front and back cover play off each other. So clever! I also love the backmatter—how did it develop? Including hole-related idioms was such a good idea!

NN: The idioms in the back matter–like “loophole” and “square peg in a round hole”–were originally in the main text, but as my editor and I worked more on the opposites structure, we decided they didn’t quite fit there. I also revised the back matter later to discuss the actual holes that those terms refer to, like loopholes in castle walls, before talking about their current usages in English. I was so eager to see how Robert would depict those idioms, and of course his fabulously quirky art there is delightful.

 

KT: Do you have any suggestions for other great picture books that could be paired with yours?

NN: Definitely! A bundle of books about holes would be a whole lot of fun. I’m excited about Skylaar Amann’s new picture book, Alone Sometimes: Everybody Needs a Hole in the Ground, which also releases in March 2024. And I love Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s funny book Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. Melissa Stewart and Amy Hevron also have a wonderful nonfiction book about animals called Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks.

 

KT: What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?

NN: Some giggles, for one thing. But I also hope it will make readers look at the world around them differently, seeing holes and patterns and making connections they hadn’t made before. It was really fun for me to brainstorm different kinds of holes with my family, looking at things in our kitchen, outside on walks, and other places, and I think kids will have fun doing the same! 

KT: I know I definitely will! Thanks for sharing with us—it’s been a “hole” lot of fun!

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase a copy and support independent bookstores via Bookshop.org. 

Visit the Publisher’s Page here for more info.

 

AUTHOR BIO:

Nora Nickum is the author of This Book is Full of Holes (Peachtree, 2024) as well as the middle-grade book Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest (Chicago Review Press, 2023). Both are Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections. Her stories and articles have appeared in children’s magazines like CricketLadybug, and Muse. Nora also leads ocean conservation policy work for the Seattle Aquarium. She lives on an island in Washington state. Learn more about her at www.noranickum.com

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AUTHOR’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

IG: https://instagram.com/noranickumbooks

Author website: www.noranickum.com

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023) was a Bookstagang Book of the Year and a Cybils Award Finalist. Find her at katrinatangen.com.

Katrina’s Social Media:

Website: https://katrinatangen.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/katrinatangenauthor

Instagram: @katrinatangen

Twitter (X): @katrinatangen 

Threads: @katrinatangen 

Bluesky: @katrinatangen.bsky.social 

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05Mar 24

Middle Grade Book Review – The Jake Show

THE JAKE SHOW

Written by Joshua S. Levy

(Katherine Tegen Books; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

e

The Jake Show cover featuring three boys Jacob Jake Yaakov e1709342039991.

 

 

I deliberately avoided reading anything about The Jake Show by Joshua S. Levy before uploading it onto my iPad. I’d also committed to reviewing it for Multicultural Children’s Book Day before it received its esteemed Sydney Taylor Honor. I had no idea what a treat was in store for me.

The main character, seventh-grader Jake, is in a tricky situation at home or should I say homes since his parents are divorced and both have remarried. At his mom’s place, he’s called Yaakov and feels pressured to conform to her wishes. She is a religious Orthodox Jew and her husband is a Rabbi. When he’s with his dad he’s Jacob because his dad is a secular Jew, at one point even forgetting some Hanukkah details, and his second wife isn’t Jewish. Readers will understand this boy’s dilemma. Jake, the middle ground name he uses at school, must constantly perform to please each parent while not knowing what he truly wants, only that it’s taking an emotional toll on him. It’s one thing when you’re in a film, TV show, or on stage; when the project is done you go home and cast aside your role. In Jake’s case, that’s when the acting begins.

Jake starts a new school as the book opens and is quickly welcomed by two classmates, Tehilla and Caleb. Jake is pretty sure he’ll be leaving this school since previously he’s had to attend schools either only his mother wanted or his father wanted. So, why bother making friends when you’re just going to leave because one parent is not happy? This begs the question of why the adults in Jake’s life seem to have all the agency and Jake none.

When Jake decides to attend Camp Gershoni for the summer at his friends’ urging, he knows it’s time to take matters into his own hands since neither parent will agree it’s the suitable choice. I was happy Jake chose to go camp but I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the myriad lies he tells. He concocts a wild plan straight out of an “I Love Lucy” episode. That airport scene, which includes outfit changing, is hysterical and I could see the entire scene playing out in my head as I cheered for him. All through his elaborate scheme, Tehilla is urging Jake to come clean but he’s in too deep.

Levy has infused The Jake Show with the perfect amount of humor to counter some of the serious issues presented. Much of the LOL moments are due to his friendship with Caleb and Tehilla who, outliers themselves, may understand Jake better than he can understand himself. I found myself eager to see what antics the trio would get up to next and that was facilitated by chapters that seemed to speed by. Secondary characters including Jake’s stepparents feel well-developed and bring levity into his home life. Jake needed to be seen and they saw him.

Readers learn that Jews come from all walks of life, some well off, some not. Tehilla and her mom struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Caleb, who is wealthy, despite the trying times he’s faced since coming out, can count on the support of his family, Tehilla, and now Jake. Yet the more Jake becomes preoccupied with his elaborate scheme and the more he lies to keep up the pretense, the harder it is to see certain truths: truths about his friendships and his family that he is just one more lie away from losing if he doesn’t own up to his charade.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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22Feb 24

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – A River of Dust

 

A RIVER OF DUST

Written by Jilanne Hoffmann

Illustrated by Eugenia Mello

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-10)

A River of Dust cover North Africa to Amazon.

 

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
A Junior Library Guild Selection
An ALA 2024 Notable Picture Book

 

Before even opening up A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, I was dazzled by the dusting of gold on the title that I hadn’t noticed in photos.

Told from an engaging personified point of view, this picture book’s narrator introduces itself in the third spread. “I am dust, the dust of North Africa.” Readers are told that this dust connects continents and I, for one, was eager to find out how. The concept fascinated me; dust describing what an important role it plays in the ecosystem as it makes its way from “a ribbon of land spread between the Sahara Desert, to the north, and tropical savanna, to the south. Land that stretches from the Red Sea, in the east, to the Atlantic Ocean, in the west.” Wow! I never thought about dust this way before.

 

A River of Dust int1 millions of years ago.
Interior spread from A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

 

The flow of Hoffmann’s lyrical prose shares just the right amount of information for young readers to absorb. The warm muted desert tones of Mello’s illustrations rendered digitally and filled with flora and fauna, combine with the text to convey the importance of dust in our world. Each spread shows movement as the dust is carried across the pages. Older kids will pick up details that may not necessarily resonate with Kindergartners yet there is still so much for them to glean.

 

A River of Dust int2 I come from the Sahel.
Interior spread from A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

While all readers learn that much of the dust disappears in myriad ways along the journey from North Africa to the Amazon, they’ll also find out how crucial the remaining dust is. Its cargo, precious phosphorus, is vital for the “rain-washed, depleted soil.” It will nourish the trees and help maintain the ecosystem.

 

A River of Dust int3 I fly across the Atlantic.
Interior spread from A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

I wanted to know more about this layered, lush, and poetic picture book because of the wide age range. I asked Hoffmann how she feels the book can meet the differing needs and interests of the youngest to oldest audience members. What she told me would be helpful for parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians to incorporate into any reading. Its broad reach is what makes the book so appealing.

“I think that kindergarten through 5th grade can get things out of the book, at different levels of comprehension. When I read it to younger kids, I focus on how we’re all connected, and how two continents maintain their connections, despite being separated for a LONG time, something that littles understand, because they miss people in their lives who may live far away, or they remember what it was like to be left by a parent on their first day of school. And how they stay connected through phone calls, or letters, or even Zoom calls. I also talk simply about phosphorus, and how dust carries it, and how it’s a mineral like calcium and iron, things that their bodies need to grow and be healthy (and how every living thing on this planet requires those things).”

 

A River of Dust int4 the dust of North Africa
Interior spread from A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Info-packed pages of backmatter complete A River of Dust with facts for the oldest and most curious of readers. Even if you’re not scientifically minded, there is something in these six pages for everyone. Hoffmann explained this to me.

“The older kids get more info about how scientists figured this out through satellites, info about plate tectonics, how scientific understanding continues to change/evolve, etc. So the book can be understood simply or in a more complex way. My educator guide provides a ton of different activities across the curriculum for K-5, including a PE game.”

Be sure to check out the helpful and detailed learning resources available on Hoffman’s website to access the impressive educator’s guides, activities, and more. Pick up a copy today and let your kids be armchair travelers on this illuminating journey alongside dust that never ceases to amaze as it educates.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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16Feb 24

Board Book Review – Pablo Dreams of Cats

 

PABLO DREAMS OF CATS

Written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder

(Atelier Enfants; $18, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats Cover Dog Painter Pablo

 

Publisher Summary:

Pablo dreams of painting cats. But his pack doesn’t approve and the cats just dash away from him. Will this painter ever be able to make the art he dreams of?

Dutch artist Timo Kuilder’s first children’s book introduces us to an imaginative dog who is infatuated with cats, celebrating diversity and inviting all animals to conquer their misconceptions, and embrace everyone.

Review:

This adorable board book, Pablo Dreams of Cats, the debut from Timo Kuilder, features the titular canine painter on its cover in elegant profile, wearing an artist’s smock, with tools tucked securely into the pocket. And that beret he dons tilted just so, speaks volumes. I was Team Pablo there and then. But if that doesn’t pull readers in, perhaps the appealing opening line, “Pablo is not a regular dog,” will.

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats int1 Pablo is not a regular dog.
Interior art from Pablo Dreams of Cats written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder, Text and Illustrations © 2023 Timo Kuilder, Atelier Enfants

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Young readers soon learn that Pablo is a creator, passionate about painting. Using his paws and tail, he applies paint to the canvas while his pack prefers playing with bones. Kuilder introduces the tools of the trade that Pablo needs including a “sturdy brush, a painting knife, and a small wooden palette to mix his paints.” The graphic-style art is easy on the eye and the warm palette is pleasing.

Pablo is enamored with cats. They are his subject of choice though his fellow dogs find that hard to believe. How can a dog like cats? Don’t they typically not get along? Still, Pablo persists, trying to capture their likeness in paint. Except the cats are scared of Pablo. I love that Kuilder’s mentioned that often Pablo ends up only paining their behinds. That is sure to get laughs.

 

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats int2 dogs admiring paintings of cats.
Interior art from Pablo Dreams of Cats written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder, Text and Illustrations © 2023 Timo Kuilder, Atelier Enfants

 

After the urging of his friends, Pablo gives up trying to paint cats and turns to birds instead. They do not cooperate either. Pablo tosses in his beret. No more painting. Then, one day, a cat appears, unafraid and willing to pose for Pablo. Pablo paints and paints, happy he has found his muse and it shows in his beautiful paintings. Even his initially reluctant pack cannot deny the “magnificent” works of art. It’s great to find board books that inspire preschoolers to reach for some paint and brushes to try their little hands at art. I encourage parents, teachers, and caregivers to have some supplies close at hand after sharing this sweet story that challenges stereotypes and tips its cap at inclusivity and creativity.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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13Feb 24

Picture Book Review – My Dog Just Speaks Spanish

 

MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH

Written and Illustrated by Andrea Cáceres

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 2-5)

My Dog Just Speaks Spanish cover girl hugging spanish speaking dog.
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Author-illustrator Andrea Cáceres walks a girl and her loyal Spanish-speaking dog through their neighborhood in her debut picture book My Dog Just Speaks Spanish, an engaging immigration story showing that love transcends any language.
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int1 hola=hello
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Cáceres’ warm-toned digitally rendered art opens with young Aurora hugging her cuddly white and brown furry best friend, Nena, both drawn with smiles on their faces. When the reader turns the page, they see Aurora seated on the hardwood floor of her bedroom surrounded by items taped with notes translating Spanish into English. Cama=Bed; Zapatos=Shoes; Pelota=Ball. What a great way to learn a new language! Well, that is if you are interested in learning a new language but readers soon learn Nena wants no part in this. Ripped yellow sticky notes are scattered on the hardwood floor with one small paper innocently sticking out of Nena’s mouth. Oops, I think she’s been caught red-handed. Oh, Nena!
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int2 girl and dog in bedroom.
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Aurora’s Mom waves goodbye from the apartment window while Aurora commands the leashed Nena to Sientate! Nena obediently does what she is told. She doesn’t know the word Sit, but she recognizes the sound of Sientate! As the two stroll into the park, suddenly the leash falls from Aurora’s hand because Nena decides the brown squirrel climbing the tree is more intriguing than the leisurely walk. Aurora orders her to Wait! but English is not the language Nena knows. Espera! Aurora shouts. Nena obeys looking up to watch the squirrel. Aurora then lays down a blanket with a plate of oranges for her and a bowl of water for her dog. Nena doesn’t know the command Come! but does understand Vente!
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int3 at the park
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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The dogs at the dog park respond to fetch but Nena only joins in when she hears buscala! Walking home, the two encounter a woman pushing a child in a stroller who shouts perro! Nena is pleased to hear a word she knows spoken by a Spanish speaker. Returning home, Spanish is the chosen language Aurora speaks to Nena. A drawing of a dark-haired girl and her white and brown dog is surrounded by hearts and the words Mejores Amigas! fills the page. Whatever language is spoken, they are truly best friends.
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This heart-warming story portrays the kindness between a girl and her pet and is a great tool to use for teaching Spanish words to English-speaking kids, as well as teaching English to Spanish-speaking kids. Cáceres’ work as an art director/illustrator, much of it featuring dogs, has appeared in many product campaigns. The backmatter explains that dogs can identify when different languages are spoken. Cáceres’ silky terrier named Tobi, who the reader may be able to spot in the book, moved with her from Venezuela to the United States and is an expert in performing tricks commanded in Spanish. This picture book is also available in Spanish.
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• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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09Feb 24

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Valentines for All

 

VALENTINES FOR ALL

Written by Nancy Churnin

Illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska

(Albert Whitman & Co.; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Valentines for All cover Esther Howland in center of Valentine

 

 

In Valentines for All, award-winning author Nancy Churnin sheds light on entrepreneur Esther Howland, a woman in 19th-century Massachusetts who had the keen foresight to sense there was a market in the United States for Valentine’s Day cards. Monika Róża Wiśniewska’s art details how the delicate nature of the cards lent themselves to be custom-made and highly desirable.

Back in the 1800s, women were generally not involved in business. Societal norms meant there were few careers for women outside the home. This picture book biography shows children how Esther broke that mold and persevered. When her father returned from a trip to England with a beautifully handmade Valentine’s Day card to demonstrate his love for her, Esther felt encouraged to pursue making something similar for Americans.

 

Interior art from Valentine for All written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Esther’s handmade Valentine’s Day card business took off with a bang thanks to the financial and sales support from her father and brothers, all in the family business. Before this, “most Americans thought the holiday was a waste of time.” Not only was this venture a success but it continued to thrive for decades. Its peak, perhaps, was during the Civil War when soldiers missed family and their sweethearts. Originally designed to be messages of love, wartime meant that exchanging cards “could ease pain.”

When the demand for handmade cards increased, Esther needed assistance. Another innovation employed by Esther was the assembly line, years before Henry Ford utilized the same approach. She gathered friends and each one was assigned a task to help make the cards efficiently.

 

Valentines for All int2 a team of Esther's friends
Interior art from Valentine for All written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

In 1866 Esther fell and never fully recovered from her injury. Though she required a wheelchair she kept the business functioning. As time passed, Esther realized there was a need for more than Valentine’s Day cards. Cards could convey remorse, celebrate birthdays, friendship and so much more. These greeting cards filled a gap in the marketplace but with the growth of printing presses, hand-crafted cards were soon replaced by printed ones.

Readers learn in the Author’s Note that Esther eventually merged her business with a competitor’s son and then they sold it entirely in 1880. Esther retired so she could look after her ailing father but surely felt great satisfaction in the meaning her cards had brought to an entire nation.

Backmatter also provides ideas for creating Valentine’s Day card poems and an annual contest to enter.

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07Feb 24

Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2024- An Interview with Mari Lowe

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARI LOWE

WINNER OF THE SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD

FOR

THE DUBIOUS PRANKS OF SHAINDY GOODMAN

(Levine Querido; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

 

stba24 blog tour schedule banner

 

We’re thrilled to be back for another year, this time sharing a must-read middle grade novel, The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman by Mari Lowe. This novel not only addresses universal issues school girls deal with daily but one that brings the Orthodox Jewish community into the forefront in an insightful and meaningful way for readers of all backgrounds. Click here to see the full list of books and participants on the blog tour this week: 2024 Blog Tour: Sydney Taylor Book Awards – Association of Jewish Libraries

 

 

SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD WINNER
NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD WINNER

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, Shelf Awareness
Kirkus Top 10 Middle Grade Novels for Fall ’23

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

SHAINDY is a twelve-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl who struggles in school and has no good friends. She watches with envy as her next-door neighbor, GAYIL, excels socially and academically. They have little to do with each other, and it comes as a surprise when Shaindy looks out her window one September evening and sees Gayil staring out at her from her own window with a sign reading: want to know a secret?

The secret (at first) is that Gayil has a key fob that will allow them to break into their school after hours. Together, they set up a harmless prank in their classroom. But under Gayil’s instigation the mischief becomes malice, and Shaindy sees that the pranks and humiliations are targeted only at certain girls. But what could they have in common?

With the fear of Gayil’s fury and her own reluctance growing, Shaindy comes to the terrifying conclusion that if she can’t figure out how to stop it, the next target could be her.

INTERVIEW:

GOODREADSWITHRONNA: Congratulations, Mari, on winning the 2024 Sydney Taylor Book Award for best middle grade novel, The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman. Two years and two wins in a row, has it sunk in yet?

MARI LOWE: It’s honestly been incredible. I never imagined that Shaindy would be so fortunate, and I’m still kind of shocked by the whole thing! But I’m also grateful that these books have left an impact and I hope that they will continue to do so– it’s every writer’s dream.

 

GRWR: I read that you came up with the story concept while at home with your family. Have they influenced your writing journey or did you always know you wanted to write?

ML: Well, I’ve always wanted to write! I read very young and started making up my own stories soon after that, and writing became as instinctive as breathing for me. But I don’t think that I really considered writing in this genre, with Orthodox Jewish characters, until my kids were old enough to read chapter books. And there were just so few where they could see themselves! What few portrayals there were of Orthodox Jews were fleeting and often inaccurate, and I wanted to give them mirrors– and, for other readers, a window into our world, where children are the same regardless of culture.

 

The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman cover Shaindy in Heelys.

 

 

GRWR: The premise of The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman is that 6th grader Shaindy would love to be friends with Gayil Itzhaki, “her tall, willowy with perfect hair” neighbor, so when Gayil surprisingly invites Shaindy to join her in pulling off a bunch of pranks, it’s hard to say no. While they are pitched as harmless “fun between friends” as the pranks increase in hurtfulness, Shaindy begins having doubts. It was clever how you included the class lesson on the four steps of Teshuva, especially given the significance of the girls’ negative actions as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approach. It helped ground the story. Can you speak to the dilemma that Shaindy faces?

ML: Those four steps of forgiveness feel so apt in all cases– because it isn’t about saying sorry, paying lip service or just regretting the way you’ve hurt someone, it’s about taking responsibility and vowing to do better moving forward. It’s about growth! For Shaindy, someone who has so often been overlooked and neglected by her classmates, there are two elements in the pranks: both the desire to belong, with Gayil, and this kind of underlying, dismissive sense of well, they’ll be fine, because they have what I don’t. It’s mean-spirited and petty, and I don’t think that Shaindy fully acknowledges that part of it until she really takes that step back midway through the book and evaluates not just the ways that she’s been hurt but the ways that she has hurt, in turn. She has to find strength within herself to break away from Gayil, but also to not become Gayil– someone who lashes out and seeks to continue that cycle of pain.

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GRWR: Your novel resonated with me which is why I could not put it down. Growing up I had a lot of Shaindy in me. That feeling Shaindy describes as “I’m the shadow, the girl no one notices …” And I knew girls like Gayil (“destined to shine” in Shaindy’s eyes) and her BFFs, Rena, and Devorah who seem to have it all. Now, looking back, would you say this story emerged as the result of any past experiences you’ve witnessed as a teacher or encountered yourself when you were in middle school?

ML: Oh, definitely! I’ve had a lot of classes like Shaindy’s, where the girls are all sweet and enthusiastic and a teacher’s dream– but there are those moments of unpleasantness when you know to look for them. There are the girls suffering at the fringes, and there is no easy way to pull them in from the outside, even as a teacher! Maybe especially as a teacher. I’ve spent a lot of time pairing girls up, encouraging new combinations, all in an effort to have every girl find her place. I don’t identify more or less with any of the girls in the book– I think I’ve had my moments when I’ve been each of them. But I definitely remember the Shaindy weeks, the times when I felt completely isolated and inferior, and I drew on a lot of those emotions to construct a girl who feels very universal to me. So many women and girls have told me that they identify with Shaindy. I think that Shaindy is who we feel like in our roughest adolescent moments, and I wanted desperately to give her strength of self in her story.

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GRWR: As writers we’re often told, write what you know, and you’ve done that by using Fairview, the purpose-built Orthodox Jewish community, as the backdrop of The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman. I appreciated the loving and respectful glimpse into the school, family, neighborhood, and home lives of the main characters yet did not feel I had to be more religious to understand the novel. The challenges Shaindy coped with were moral and social, things any middle schooler could relate to. Why do you think Shaindy often says her classmates are nice and are not bullies, that’s not something that would occur at Bais Yaakov middle school yet still feels lonely and socially othered?

ML: Thank you! I really try to find universality in my specific cultural experiences. I think that there’s a certain level of expectation in Bais Yaakovs that is inculcated young: that we must be perfect, respectful and kind and caring and inclusive, and it’s an admirable thing, of course! But at the same time, a lot of girls wind up focused on giving off the appearance of those traits, performing them without feeling them. Interestingly, my most religious classes tend to be better-behaved, but also much more competitive and sometimes more likely to ice out an outsider. They rarely bully others– that’s something that can be quantified as Bad, and they are never Bad– but there is a certain level of disdain for those who can’t fit into the perfect mold, who don’t have it all down like they do (and deep down, so few girls do have it all down, and they’re all a little insecure about it– a tale as old as time). And I wanted the girls to confront that, a bit, too, how you don’t have to bully someone to make them miserable.

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GRWR: There is subtle foreshadowing for readers about what’s to come and what big issue Shaindy will ultimately have to deal with, one in fact that I never expected. Did you outline the book so that you knew in advance what would happen to Shaindy and her relationship with Gayil? Or, as her character’s emotional development evolved, did it occur organically and present itself to you?

ML: I started the book knowing a few things– Gayil’s initial proposition to Shaindy, Gayil’s end goal for it, and Gayil’s motivations. I started it knowing very little about Shaindy! But I think that she was easy to understand and to drop into her head. She sees herself as unlovable, but as I spent more and more time with her, I really began to love Shaindy and see her strengths, too. And by the time we get to the moment when everything changes, I was clear on where she would go from there– because I genuinely knew that she had it within her! Though when I initially finished the book, it was with a sweet last few pages which resolved the conflict neatly and left everyone friends. My agent talked me out of that, though! It couldn’t be sweet and simple– it had to feel real to Shaindy’s character growth and the messages of the story. Forgiveness is one thing; friendship and trust are another entirely.

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GRWR: Tzivia is one of my favorite characters. It’s a shame that Shaindy cannot pick up on Tzivia’s friendly overtures because she’s too intent on being friends with Gayil, the “it” girl of the grade. Nor does Shaindy spot Gayil’s meanness (unlike Tzivia) until it’s too late. Shaindy’s loyalty does not serve her well. Are these common friendship errors girls make?

ML: Oh, there are so many girls I want to shake sometimes and tell these girls are not for you. I think that in middle school, it’s so easy to get caught up in the magic of the girls who seem to have it all, who are beloved and surrounded by friends, without realizing that you might just be a bad match. It isn’t about some girls being nice or mean– most girls, I think, are both and neither. But a strong personality might overpower a milder one. A girl who is self-conscious and comes off as competitive because of it won’t mesh well with another girl like that. There are power dynamics and personality conflicts at work in many middle school interactions, and it’s hard to find the right friends for you, even if that person seems like such a good friend to the others around her. And Shaindy is starry-eyed and caught up in Gayil because Gayil is so perfect, to her eyes, that she hardly notices Tzivia until the stars have dissipated. It’s very common, especially while girls are still figuring out who they are– because until you have that confidence of self, it’s easy to be drawn to the girls who are all confidence and overlook quieter, more reliable friends.

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GRWR: Over the course of the novel, Shaindy’s relationship with Bayla, her older sister, improves, and Shaindy also becomes less hard on herself, more open to new friendships. What can readers learn from Shaindy’s rollercoaster (or should I say rollerblades and Heely’s) ride from her brief and tumultuous false friendship with Gayil?

ML: Middle school is a time all about finding your place and yourself. We spend a lot of time searching around us for the key to it all– what will make us stronger, smarter, more popular, happier. Shaindy gets caught up in all of that, looking for the actions and interactions that can change her. But in the end, very few of those changes are really going to come from others but within. We get really immersed in friends and social issues these years because they feel like they’re what define us. But Shaindy comes to understand that it isn’t a friendship with Gayil or the class’s treatment or even her sister’s dismissiveness that defines her: it’s who she is, and what choices she makes. And once she grasps that, the rest falls into place. She finds her real friends, her confidence, and new maturity, and she becomes someone who can take back her own power.

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GRWR: Before I say goodbye, I’m curious what your menagerie of pets consists of and whether any pet in particular keeps you company when you write.

ML: Right now, I have NOTHING KIND to say about the cat who is stubbornly napping behind me so I can’t lean back (save my back, please). I’m kidding! He’s fantastic, except for his propensity to walk on the keyboard when I’m trying to write. He generally takes the clacking of my keyboard as an invitation to curl up and nap beside me.

It’s not much of a menagerie anymore. I have a fifteen-year-old friendly corn snake, and at the time of the bio, we had two adorable hamsters (gifted to my son as a sorry-we’re-not-getting-a-cat present) and a cat (who came soon after). Sadly, over two isolated incidents, several months, and accidentally ajar doors apart, we are down to a snake and a cat. Over the years, I’ve kept a variety of pets– frogs, mice, ducklings, kittens, and even, briefly, a hedgehog. We’ve been contemplating chickens– popular in the neighborhood, and I do consume a Gaston-level number of eggs a day, anyway– but none of those yet!

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GRWR: What a treat it’s been having this opportunity to chat, Mari. I hope everyone who reads this gets a copy of The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman and enjoys it as much as I did!

Support an independent bookseller and purchase a copy here.

Mari-Lowe-headshotAUTHOR BIO:

Mari Lowe has too little free time and spends it all on writing and escape rooms. As the daughter of a rabbi and a middle school teacher at an Orthodox Jewish school, she looks forward to sharing little glimpses into her community with her books. She lives in New York with her family, menagerie of pets, and robotic vacuum. Find her at Mari Lowe – Books by Mari Lowe and on Twitter (X) @marilwrites.

 

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06Feb 24

An Interview with Author Christine Van Zandt

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MILKWEED FOR MONARCHS

AUTHOR CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT

Illustrated by Alejandra Barajas

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Milkweed for Monarchs cover monarchs flying in milkweed plants.

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Bold, gold, the chrysalis gleams. And deep down inside . . . the butterfly dreams.

Every year, monarch butterflies migrate to warmer climates for overwintering months. However, changing environments make it continually more difficult to find food and places to lay eggs. In this nonfiction picture book, the monarch’s life cycle is detailed in lyrical verse as stunning art accompanies each stage in the butterfly’s life.

The most recognizable butterfly, monarchs are classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and face drastic challenges when it comes to locating food sources–milkweed. Milkweed for Monarchs is the perfect resource for young readers to learn more about these beautiful insects and how they can foster monarch-friendly environments in their own backyard. Backmatter includes actionable ways for readers to help this vulnerable species.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: How did you decide to write about butterflies in your new nonfiction picture book, Milkweed for Monarchs?

Christine Van Zandt: During the pandemic, we bought a milkweed plant with the vague idea that we were helping butterflies in some way. Little did we know that our plant was loaded with eggs and soon we had a bunch of very cute caterpillars. Sadly, they were eaten by various predators in our garden, but that set me out on this journey, wondering about monarchs.


GRWR:
What eats monarchs? I thought they were poisonous.

CVZ: When the monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, they do retain some of the plant’s toxins. And they have the bright “stay away” body markings consisting of yellow, white, and black stripes. But they still end up being dinner for other insects, spiders, birds, lizards, and mammals. In our garden, we’ve seen ants carrying little caterpillars away; raccoons and birds pluck them off.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int1 flitter flutter wings
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: Did you encounter any obstacles trying to sell this book?

CVZ: It took me a while to figure out how to write it. I tried it in prose and verse, in fiction and nonfiction. The version that ended up working best was a short rhyming poem with facts in sidebars and in the backmatter.

An earlier version of this manuscript won first place at SCBWI-LA’s 2021 Writers Day and also earned me the annual Sue Alexander Grant. Even so, when the manuscript went out on submissions, some publishers passed stating they already had a monarch book on their list and they didn’t want to compete against their own products.


GRWR:
So it sounds like butterfly books are considered evergreens like dinosaur, alphabet, or things-that-go books?

CVZ: Yes they are, so both my area of focus for the story and how I presented the text had to come from a fresh angle. I’m passionate about trying to help the monarchs. The western monarch’s population went from 4.5 million in the 1980s to fewer than 2000 butterflies in 2020. The just-in 2023 count shows the population is still ~95% down.

Monarchs need milkweed because that’s the only plant their caterpillars can eat; that became my focus, how the milkweed plant is essential for this insect’s survival. Milkweed plants are also amazing: they get eaten down to nothing and keep regrowing. I welcome munched-on plants in my yard because that means insects are being sustained through their life cycle which, in turn, benefits the larger food web.


GRWR:
As picture book writers we’re often told not to write in rhyme unless it is extremely well executed. Was that a problem you encountered?

CVZ: I actually didn’t but I also feel my rhyme was solid by the time we sent it out on submissions because I’d applied the various checks such as scansion. However, writing in rhyme makes revisions much harder because each round with the publisher meant not just updating the text but also redoing the rhyme. Sometimes I had to scrap stanzas and write new ones.

And rhyming books have limitations because they are not as likely to be translated into a foreign language since so much more is involved in translating poetry, though it does happen. With my first book, A Brief History of Underpants—which was written in prose—a Korean-language translation came out not long after it was published. I’d love for Milkweed for Monarchs to be translated, especially into Spanish since many monarch butterflies overwinter in Mexico’s mountains and the butterflies have been part of Mexican culture for generations. Also because the gorgeous illustrations are by Alejandra Barajas who is from Mexico.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int2 beyond human borders
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: While the main text of the book is a short poem, the facts in the sidebar and backmatter are in prose, right?

CVZ: Yes, and that meant switching my brain back and forth as we worked through the various drafts!

GRWR: How did you do that?

CVZ: I would read through one pass focusing only on the poem, then on another pass, I’d work on the facts.


GRWR:
Beyond being a gardener, are you involved with monarchs in other ways?

CVZ: We’ve had our garden designated a sanctuary which basically means that we promise to garden without pesticides, providing a certain number and variety of different kinds of milkweed plants including native ones, and also providing nectaring plants for the butterflies and other pollinators.

Beyond that, I’ve applied for and been granted free plants for a local LAUSD inner-city school and started their butterfly garden. I’ve also volunteered for Xerces for several years now, helping count the butterflies overwintering along the Southern California coast, and uploading that data to their central database.


GRWR:
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

CVZ: I hope my book imparts a sense of wonder and a feeling of hopefulness. It doesn’t take much to make a difference whether for the monarchs or for other creatures in our world.


GRWR:
Thank you, Christine, for sharing your amazing experience with us today. I’ve learned so much!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support independent booksellers by purchasing a copy of Milkweed for Monarchs here.

FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

•Christine Van Zandt 

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/christinevz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/christine.vanzandt.9

Instagram: christinevanzandt9

Bluesky: christinevanzandt.bsky.social

•Alejandra Barajas 

Instagram: ale.barajas.illustration

•Publisher – Beaming Books

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/BeamingBooksMIN

Facebook: www.facebook.com/BeamingBooksPublishing

Instagram: www.instagram.com/beamingbooksmn

 

 

Christine Van Zandt author photo
Author Christine Van Zandt Photo Credit: Marlena Van Zandt

AUTHOR BIO:

Christine Van Zandt is an editor, writer, and award-winning author. Her nonfiction picture books include A Brief History of Underpants (becker&mayer! kids, 2021) and, Milkweed for Monarchs (Beaming Books, 2024). She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family. You can find her at www.ChristineVanZandt.com.

 

 

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18Jan 24

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Butt or Face?

 

BUTT OR FACE?
Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At?

by Kari Lavelle

(Sourcebooks Explore; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Butt or Face cover can you tell which end is shown?

 

 

 

“The silly, simple premise is carried out splendidly; younger readers will be entranced by fascinating photos, bright colors, and googly eyes galore, while older readers will appreciate fast-fact boxes, clear explanations, and endless animal puns.”―Booklist, STARRED Review

 

When I saw the cover of this picture book by Kari Lavelle, I was immediately pulled in by the hilarious photo and questions posed by the title, Butt or Face?: Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? The cover image is an okapi’s rear with googly eyes added, but all the other animal parts are unaltered photos. If you’re someone who likes to play games and laugh, this book’s for you.

 

 

Butt_or_Face_int1_Cuyaba_dwarg_frog
Interior photos and art from Butt or Face? Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? by Kari Lavelle, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

Each quiz begins with a photo to analyze. Turn the page to see more of the animal along with lots of cool and unusual facts. I love the beautiful but deadly—watch out siblings!—orchid mantis (insect) whose appearance is otherworldly. While some of the information tells you basics such as where an animal lives, there are plenty of fascinating things like discovering a fish that’s really not a great swimmer. My favorite details are the ones that will make kids squeal in delight like the pearlfish that lives in a sea cucumber’s bottom. Yes, really.

 

Butt or Face int2 okapi and mole
Interior photos and art from Butt or Face? Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? by Kari Lavelle, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

Once kids know the answers, they’ll want to test their friends and share this book repeatedly. Beyond this being a learning tool at home and in classrooms, the book’s full-color photos are gorgeous. I’m ready for the sequel (out in April 2024) that continues on in this manner.

 

 

 

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16Jan 24

An Interview with Maria Wen Adcock

 

 

CHARLOTTE CHENG INTERVIEWS

MARIA WEN ADCOCK,

AUTHOR OF

IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE

ILLUSTRATED BY REA ZHAI

(Clarion Books; $9.99, Ages 0-4)

 

It's Chinese New Year Curious George girl CG playig with paper dragon

 

 

 

INTERVIEW:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE [Clarion Books], which is a perfect book to introduce Chinese New Year traditions to little ones. In this interview conducted by Charlotte Cheng, author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], Maria discusses her process for writing the book, her experience seeing the book published, and much much more. 

Thanks for taking the time to share your author journey with us today! 

 

Charlotte Cheng: Curious George is such a household name. What was it like infusing this classic with your Chinese heritage?

Maria Wen Adcock: I grew up reading Curious George, so it was an incredible honor to work on IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE. Children around the world are familiar with Curious George, so it makes learning about Chinese culture more accessible when children see him celebrating this holiday. I’m so proud to share my Chinese heritage with young readers through an iconic character like Curious George! 

 

CC: For those who are curious, what’s the difference between the terms Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year?

MWA: Lunar New Year is an overarching term for many Asian countries, beyond China, that celebrates the new year based on the moon cycle. Under the term Lunar New Year are subsets: Chinese New Year, Vietnamese New Year called Tet, Korean New Year called Seollal, Indonesian New Year called Imlek, and more. Each country has its own unique New Year traditions. For example, in China, when it is the Year of the Rabbit, in Vietnam it’s the Year of the Cat. Chinese New Year is celebrated with red envelopes, but Korean New Year does not. 

Chinese New Year refers to the holiday that Chinese people celebrate using customs specific to their culture. Though some countries may celebrate their new year in similar ways, such as getting together with families and eating certain foods, not all the traditions are the same. For example, one Chinese New Year tradition involves hanging a sign upside down on the front door. The word on the sign is Fú (福), a Chinese character meaning good luck and fortune. In Chinese, the word for “upside-down” is Dào (). This sounds similar to another word, also called Dào (), which means “to arrive.” So hanging the Fu sign upside-down means good luck and fortune will arrive. This custom is very specific to Chinese New Year.

 

CC: Why did you choose to focus on Chinese New Year for the book?

MWA: The publisher wanted the book to delve deeper into the traditions and symbolism of Chinese New Year. They chose me to author the book so I could tap into my lived experience as a Chinese American to authentically speak to how the holiday was celebrated. Given the book only has seven tabbed pages to work with, space was a premium. I did the best I could to provide readers with as much information as possible about the Chinese New Year.

If this book had focused on the Lunar New Year, to be inclusive and accurate, we would have needed to mention all the different countries under that umbrella term and highlight their unique traditions. But given the limitations of space, we wouldn’t have been able to provide more depth – likely just a mention – and we thought this wouldn’t do it justice.

 

 

Interior illustrations from It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George written by H. A. Rey and Maria Wen Adcock, and illustrated by Rea Zhai, Clarion Books ©2023.

 

 

CC: Chinese New Year is celebrated in so many different ways since China is so diverse. How did you select which traditions to highlight in the story?

MWA: I was able to pull from my childhood growing up in a Chinese American household when deciding which traditions to include in the book. There were so many traditions to choose from. I narrowed them down to highlight the most commonly celebrated ones. 

 

CC: What was it like working on the book with the publishing team and what was your favorite part of the process? 

MWA: My editor, Bethany Vinhateiro, led the process and provided guidelines on format requirements for the Curious George series of tabbed board books. All of the books in this series featured 7 tabs with themes, and each tab included 4 stanzas in rhyme with 4 lines in each stanza. She encouraged me to ensure that Curious George’s personality came out in my story, which I was familiar with given that I had grown up with his stories.

Bethany worked with the illustrator, Rea Zhai, to bring my story to life. I did not directly communicate with the illustrator, which is typical in traditional publishing. Instead, Bethany sent me drafts of the illustrations so that I could ensure they accurately reflected the customs of Chinese New Year. I really enjoyed the process of seeing the illustrations, providing feedback, and then viewing the revisions.

 

CC: When you finally got to see the illustrations for the book, did you see any fun surprises in the images?

MWA: The cover took my breath away as it captured the heart and spirit of Chinese New Year. I was pleasantly surprised to see the title of the book printed in gold foil, which is one of the traditional colors of Chinese New Year in addition to red, which represents good luck. I loved how the Man in the Yellow Hat changed his usual yellow tie to a red one to celebrate Chinese New Year. The illustrations did an amazing job of bringing the holiday to life.

 

CC: What was it like launching your book during Chinese New Year? Any favorite memories from your launch party or school visits?

MWA: Launching my book during Chinese New Year was the perfect timing given its storyline. The weeks leading up to Chinese New Year traditionally include a lot of preparation and teaching the children about the holiday taught them how they could celebrate Chinese New Year with their own families at home. 

I was so thrilled with my launch party at Huntington Public Library where I work in the Youth and Parent Department for my day job. They provided incredible support, and there were over 150 people in attendance – the maximum the auditorium could hold. My sister flew in from Michigan to help me which I appreciated so much. 

The school visits were so fun. The kids were incredibly curious and engaged with my presentation which not only included a book reading but also provided interesting details behind the reasons for each of the traditions mentioned in the book. I really enjoyed interacting with the students!

 

CC: For those who are interested in writing children’s books, what advice would you like to give them? Where should they start?

MWA: I would recommend joining your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org). They offer workshops to hone your craft and access to many agents and editors. The organization can also help you find a critique group which is an invaluable tool for elevating the quality of your manuscripts.

CC: It’s been a pleasure learning about your experience Maria. Happy writing and congratulations on your book!

BUY  THE BOOK HERE:

Support local independent bookstores by clicking here to make your purchase.

e

Author Maria Wen Adcock Photo Credit Maria Wen Adcock
Author Maria Wen Adcock Photo Credit: Maria Wen Adcock

AUTHOR BIO:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George [2023] published by Clarion Books/Harper Collins. Maria is a first-generation Chinese-American writer and founder of the award-winning multicultural parenting blog www.BiculturalMama.com. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Bloomberg News, Newsday, and Huffington Post. Maria is a board member of Multicultural Kid Blogs, an organization supporting diverse parenting bloggers, and co-host of the annual event Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Follow: Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

 

 

e

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books including Night Market Rescue and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curriculum for a variety of companies including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop. You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her on Instagram @charlottemakesbooks or Twitter @charlottedraws

ILLUSTRATOR LINKS:

Website: https://reazhaiart.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zhazhazhaart/

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09Jan 24

Middle Grade Novel Review – Remember Us

 

REMEMBER US

Written by Jacqueline Woodson

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $18.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Remember Us cover graffitied wall and basketball.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Indie Next, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal

 

In Remember Us by Jacqueline Woodson, twelve-year-old Sage and her widowed mother live in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in the house that was her father’s childhood home. She has strong connections to her firefighter father, who was killed in the line of duty. Like him, she loves basketball and dreams of playing professionally.

Sage’s tight-knit community is affected by the near-constant threat of fires breaking out all over the city during one summer in the 1970s. Homes and even lives are lost. Survivors leave, the neighborhood changes and childhood friendships shift. Some of Sage’s friends are more interested in being glamorous than in joining her, as they once did, in a game of basketball. Hardest of all is the revelation that her mother wants to leave the only home, her father’s home, that Sage has ever known.

Basketball is the only constant in her life. Freddy and his family move into the neighborhood and she finds out this kind boy loves basketball as much as she does. They become fast friends. One day, Sage experiences a traumatic event that shakes her to her core and leads to a harrowing act of destruction as she wrestles with doubts about who she is and what she wants to be.

Will she join the girls who paint their nails … or will she remain true to herself?

Using vivid and lyrical prose, Woodson draws on her Brooklyn roots and actual events to poignantly and richly capture the story’s characters and Sage’s neighborhood during a tense and fearful summer. Exquisitely written, Woodson once again explores the theme of memory and storytelling (Brown Girl Dreaming, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) in this spare novel of a young girl grappling with change and learning the importance of memories and the value of moving on.

Click here for a teacher’s guide.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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27Dec 23

Picture Book Review – Way Past Sorry

 

WAY PAST SORRY

Written by Hallee Adelman

Illustrated by Josep Maria Juli

(Albert Whitman; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Way Past Sorry cover mcKat feeling sorry

 

 

Author Hallee Adelman has taken big feelings and put them into words and actions in this helpful picture book about a young girl who breaks a promise to her best friend and now, feeling Way Past Sorry needs to find a way to remedy the situation and save her friendship.

In this latest book in Adelman’s series that teaches kids how to manage powerful emotions in social situations, we meet Kat who is on her way to a class trip with her classmates and best friend Sage. Josep Maria Juli, who also illustrated Adelman’s Way Past Embarrassed, paints a blue bus with students seated side by side, well, everyone except Sage. Kat had promised her best friend that she would sit with her on the trip but instead sits beside Meera. I have no doubt this is probably a situation many children have experienced. The art complements the story and keeps it simple so as not to distract from the relationship issues.

 

Way Past Sorry int1 on bus Meera and I shared secrets.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Leaving the bus, Kat attempts an apology but Sage ignores her.”I felt way past sorry.” When the students are asked to pair up, Sage is left with their teacher Mr. Pish. She walks towards him with sunken shoulders and no smile on her face. And Kat, dressed in her yellow shirt and blue pants, is also missing a smile.

Sometimes problems grow bigger, even when it’s the last thing we want, and that’s what happens when Kat is asked why she wasn’t Sage’s buddy. Making a bad situation worse, Kat responds, “Sage didn’t want to sit with me …” not wanting the kids to know she was the one who created the problem. She feels awful getting hugs she didn’t deserve.

Adding insult to injury, readers see Kat’s tongue sticking out at Sage when she’s confronted with her lie. This is such a relatable problem and a great lesson for kids to learn at a young age. Mr. Pish watches the girls’ interaction with a disappointed look. Kat dreams this day could start over, but we all know, especially young readers, that just isn’t possible.

 

Way Past Sorry int2 in planetarium wishing on a star.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Everyone returns to class. But for Kat, “… my day couldn’t start again. I felt stuck with my sorry. After a while, Meera said, ‘You’re not being fun.'” Apropos of a class science project, Kat asks Mr. Pish, “… if good scientists make mistakes, do you think good friends do too?” She remembers good times with her best friend drawing on the floor. Completing the ice cream-making assignment, she hands a cone to Sage asking her if they can talk at lunch. This part is a mature example. Communicating feelings instead of ignoring what happened is a lesson kids will carry through into all of life’s ups and downs.

As we approach the final pages, feelings are unpacked. “She told me how I had made her feel. And I listened really well.” Kat admits her mistakes and Sage tells her she’s a great friend. A friendship mended and a happy ending. Other recommended books in the Great Big Feelings series include Way Past Lonely, Way Past Afraid, and Way Past Jealous, all teaching kids they are not alone when big feelings arise.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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21Dec 23

Best New Christmas Books for 2023

 

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

COUNTDOWN FOR NOCHEBUENA:
A Celebration of Christmas Eve
Written and illustrated by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
(Little, Brown YR; Available in H/C $15.99 + Board Book $7.99; Ages 0-3)

Countdown for Nochebuena by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom brings young readers a bouncy bilingual picture book (and board book) inspired by the author-illustrator’s Cuban American heritage. There is lots to love about Hernández Bergstrom’s story, from her use of English and Spanish made understandable to non-Spanish speakers with easy-to-follow illustrations that are rich in culture and drenched in color and spirit to the counting structure in Spanish starting at one then working up to 12 before going back down. Perhaps the most meaningful part for me is how the story begins and ends with family.
Children will be captivated by the different aspects of this Christmas Eve celebration where we’re introduced to vocabulary (with a glossary in the backmatter) that describes the action in each scene. We see tables (mesas) invitingly decorated, irresistible and delicious nougat desserts (turrones), and kids (muchachos) making handclapping music. Adults dance and the countdown to presents (regalos) is on everyone’s minds. Then it’s wrapping paper ripped, cleaning up the mess, a cortado for the drive home armed with leftovers and memories of special time spent with family. This truly festive and loving look at Nochebuena is sure to fill many hearts this holiday. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Goodnight Santa cover kids and Santa in sleighGOODNIGHT SANTA
Written by Michelle Robinson
Illustrated by Nick East
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $8.99, Ages 1-4)
What a sweet bedtime board book, just one in a popular series, to share with toddlers and preschoolers who are eager for Christmas and need a calming read to help them settle in.
The gentle rhythmic rhyme coupled with the charming, muted jewel tones of the artwork makes this an ideal story to share in the lead-up to the holiday. Like the classic Goodnight Moon, the repetition of the word goodnight will lull little ones to sleep. “Goodnight snowman. Goodnight choir. Goodnight stockings by the fire.”
An older sister enjoys her snow globe, a little brother looks out for Santa, reindeer await on rooftops as Santa delivers toys after a magical trip to Santa’s workshop, and just the right amount of text to keep things low-key as children can dream about Christmas Day. First published in picture book format, this new 28-page board book provides a sturdy alternative for younger readers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

We Disagree About This Tree cover Bear Mouse and TreeWE DISAGREE ABOUT THIS TREE
Written and illustrated by Ross Collins
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 2-5) 

Whether you’re a fan of the two previous Bear and Mouse books or if you’re new to the series, you’ll enjoy the playful (sometimes cranky) antics as these two housemates debate over how the Christmas tree should be decorated. The over-the-top—and even upside-down—trees will give the kids lots of giggles. Collins’s rhyming text is a fun read-aloud and his art captures the range of emotions these friends experience as they navigate toward their just-right holiday tree.

Companion books include There’s a Bear on My Chair and There’s a Mouse in My House. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

Otto the Ornament cover happy Otto hanging from a Christmas tree.OTTO THE ORNAMENT
Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings
(Random House Children’s Book; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

With Otto the Ornament, Troy Cummings has created a rewarding Christmas story your kids will want to read year-round! You’ll first be greeted by cheerful ornament-filled endpapers and Christmas tree-shaped text on the copyright page. Early on I could see that Cummings nailed it when it comes to the book’s festive mood in the illustrations that had me eager to turn the page.

Otto, a snazzy multi-colored Christmas ornament, is rather full of himself. Bouncing out of a box, this new ornament on the block announces, “ME­RRY CHRISTMAS, BULBS AND BAUBLES! I’M OTTO! I’M HERE TO BEDECK THE HECK OUT OF YOUR TREE!” He’s warmly welcomed to the décor family which includes a candy cane, a green glass bell, a wooden Santa, and a mitten kitten. They invite him to take his place in the middle of the tree. But Otto feels the only spot he deserves is at the top. He soon finds fault with the other ornaments who then have no need for him and vice versa.

Otto’s search to hang on a tree suitable for his awesomeness, while humorous to the reader who want him to have his comeuppance following his appalling behavior, soon proves futile. After claiming what he considers his rightful spot atop a massive city tree not unlike the one at Rockefeller Center, a shocking event plummets him down into the storm drain. Cummings art perfectly captures Otto’s transformation. Emotionally shattered, disheveled, dented, cracked and paint-chipped, Otto realizes he’s lost his bragging rights. Meeting an unexpected lost ornament in the storm drain helps Otto get on the right track. In rescuing the mitten and taking him back to his pair, Otto learns where his true home and friends are. He also sees what really matters, making this not only a learning moment for little ones but a moving one as well. Being the best and brightest ornament doesn’t mean much if it means being alone. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

 

Elves are the Worst cover elf on stepladder beside goblinELVES ARE THE WORST! 
Written and illustrated by Alex Willan

(Simon Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Santa’s elves look like goblins, right? Gilbert the Goblin makes the comparison and decides to sneak into Santa’s workshop in elvish disguise to see if all the tales about these super cute, hardworking (blech) creatures are true. However, Gilbert soon finds that maybe it’s not that they’re so perfect, but, rather, that they know how to work together as a team.

Gilbert is as lovably funny as ever whether in disguise or just as his goblin-y self. Alex Willan’s adorable art appeals to kids as does the almost graphic layout style with panels on many pages.

Other books in this series include Unicorns Are the Worst, Dragons Are the Worst, and Yetis Are the Worst. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Our Italian Christmas Eve brother and sister smiling in front of cheesecake and dessertsOUR ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE
Written by Danielle Sedita and Francesco Sedita

Illustrated by Luciano Lozano
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Along with lively artwork by illustrator Luciano Lozano, sibling author duo Danielle and Francesco Sedita have written a colorful tale inspired by their childhood that is not only joyful and funny but mouthwatering too.

Readers learn right from the start courtesy of the brother and sister narrators that while other families celebrate on Christmas Day, their family celebrates on Christmas Eve. They head to Aunt Babe’s for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, something I loved learning about. It’s also traditionally meatless. I enjoyed the big family energy since it reminded me of holiday get-together sat my aunt’s when I was growing up.

The book is a virtual food frenzy with all the various fish dishes depicted including bread stuffed with oysters and spaghetti with clam sauce. But the best part is how the kids get to pitch in and how much it’s appreciated. It seems Uncle Robert has forgotten to bring the struffoli for dessert so the kids make cheesecake, a recipe they’ve made before with their mom. The children note the family dynamics which play out each year, always ending on a note of love. Now that everything has turned out well and just when you thought the stuffed family would be loosening belts and napping, Aunt Babe says, “Andiamo!” It’s time for midnight Mass.

One of my favorite spreads is an overhead perspective where readers can see the platters of food set out on the dining room table. In addition to being a heartwarming story, Our Italian Christmas Eve is a visual feast for the holiday season.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney cover Santa on snowy roof staring at chimneyHOW DOES SANTA GO DOWN THE CHIMNEY?
Written by Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews- Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

This hilarious book explores all the possible ways Santa may be able to fit down our chimneys and what he does when there isn’t one. Kids will be onboard from the start because these are the questions and possible solutions that they are tossing about: Does he shrink down? Can he squeeze through the mail slot? Feet first or head? And how does he keep from getting dirty?

Mac Barnett’s spot-on text plus Jon Klassen’s lol art equals a hit with kids everywhere as they weigh in about theories and probably pose some of their own. Timeless questions are seriously considered yet balanced with plenty of humor and mystery. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Christmas Ahoy! cover festive boats and lighthouse.CHRISTMAS AHOY!
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Kayla Stark
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Holiday boat parades are magical and Erin Dealey’s rhyming picture book brings families right in so they can experience the festivities. Counting from one to ten, different kinds of vessels are introduced in fun ways that kids can relate to such as “Five fishers harmonize, ever so merry. / Six dancers twirl on the Sugar Plum Ferry!”

Kayla Stark’s art pops out from the beautiful blue background, highlighting the action—I love a reindeer-filled yacht! The informative backmatter adds another element, providing some background on fourteen of the ships including sailboat, dory, and barge. With its many interesting angles, this book is sure to be a hit with families and in classrooms. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Dasher Can't Wait for Christmas cover child and Dasher in snowy woods.DASHER CAN’T WAIT FOR CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

Matt Tavares’s picture book has a classic feel as he captures Dancer’s young exuberance when she (a little bit too eagerly) heads out on her own to test her flying skills. Kids who can’t wait until Christmas will totally understand and feel for Dasher when her adventure doesn’t turn out as she planned.

This beautifully illustrated book brings a beloved reindeer front and center, giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes on at the North Pole before the big night. The story is both cautionary and uplifting, one that kids will turn to again and again. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

24 CHRISTMAS STORIES:
Faith and Traditions from Around the World
Judith Bouilloc, Various Authors
Sky Pony Press

IT’S NAVIDAD, EL CUCUY!
Written by Donna Barba Higuera
Illustrated by Juliana Perdomo
Harry N. Abrams

A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA
Written by Deb Adamson
Illustrated by Anne Zimanski
McSea Books

ELMORE THE CHRISTMAS MOOSE (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written by Dev Petty
Illustrated by Mike Boldt

DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE SLEIGH! (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

SANTA YETI
Written by Matthew Luhn
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
Kane Miller Books

 

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19Dec 23

Picture Book Review – Barn in Winter

 

 

 

BARN IN WINTER:
SAFE AND WARM ON THE FARM

Written by Chambrae Griffith

Illustrated by Taia Morley

(Cottage Door Press; $9.99; Ages 1-4)

 

 

Barn in Winter cover barn as snow falls

 

 

From the publisher:

“Winter has come to the farm and covered everything in a blanket of icy snow. But where is the cow? Where are the pig and the goat? They are snuggly and snoozy, dozy and dreaming, tucked in all toasty, safe, dry and warm inside the cozy barn. Celebrate winter with this beautiful keepsake book that any farm-loving toddler is sure to love!”

 

Review:

Chambrae Griffith and Taia Morely deliver Barn in Winter, a gorgeous book introducing preschoolers to a farm in winter and its personified barn. With adorable farm animals filling the pages, this sturdy board book is sure to charm little ones.

 

Barn in Winter int1 barn feels a chill
Interior spread from Barn in Winter written by Chambrae Griffith and illustrated by Taia Morely, Cottage Door Press ©2023.

 

Griffith’s rhyming text feels hushed and snuggly—almost reverent—like the quiet that comes before a storm. Morely’s art is the perfect complement, with warm, saturated colors and a blanket-like texture that begs to be printed and hung on a nursery room wall.

 

 

Barn in Winter int2 out of the storm cuddly and cozy cow
Interior art from Barn in Winter written by Chambrae Griffith and illustrated by Taia Morely, Cottage Door Press ©2023.

 

A perfect read-aloud before a long winter’s nap. Barn in Spring will be available in spring 2024

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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12Dec 23

Picture Book Review – Bing Bang Pling

 

BING BANG PLING

Written by Deb Adamson

Illustrated by Candice Hartsough

(McSea Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

 

Bing Bang Pling cover girl and building tools.

 

Do you have a budding builder in your home? Since I’ve never constructed anything more involved than a Lego set, I vicariously enjoyed all the measuring, sawing, and hammering in Bing Bang Pling, a rhyming read-aloud written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough.

From the upbeat first sentence, “So excited! Today’s the day. First we work, then we play,” readers are pulled into the main character’s activity helping her parents build a swing set.

 

Bing_Bang_Pling_int1_truck_backs_up_delivery Bing Bang Plint int1 truck backs up delivery.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

After the building materials are delivered (see spread above), the girl counts out the nuts and screws. When I was her age, I would have done the same thing. Big pieces of wood are a lot less fun. Adults will appreciate the text’s mention of how the instruction sheet for putting together the swing set might not be that easy to understand. Another important detail is showing all the protective gear needed before embarking on this family project. Children need to know that being around tools means safety first.

 

Bing Bang Pling int2 Daddy finishes sawing.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

Lots of the tasks the main character does do not require a lot of supervision such as chalk-lining, sanding, painting, and digging holes (to mount the frame). Hartsough is careful to show her just observing the more labor-intensive work not meant for kids due to sharp blades.

 

Bing Bang Pling int3 Mommy raking spreading mulch.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

When reading aloud, parents, teachers, and librarians can play up the sounds each piece of equipment makes and then discuss the individual functions of the tools once the book is finished. I like how the illustrations include a cute ginger kitty who, like my two cats, doesn’t want to miss out on any action.

Adamson and Hartsough have created a likable story demonstrating that spending quality time together can mean lots of things whether going to a park, playing a board game, or as in this case, constructing a swing set for all to enjoy. For me, the big takeaway is empowerment and how, with some help and guidance from adults, kids can get involved and feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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05Dec 23

Picture Book Review – Harold the Iceberg Melts Down

 

HAROLD THE ICEBERG MELTS DOWN

Written by Lisa Wyzlic

Illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse

(Feiwel & Friends; $18.99; Ages 3-6)

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down cover Harold worrying.

 

 

Kudos to Canadian debut author Lisa Wyzlic who has brought attention to climate change, and coping with big feelings in the original, humorous, and heartwarming Harold the Iceberg Melts Down.

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down int1 Harold liked to watch documentaries.
Interior art from Harold the Iceberg Melts Down written by Lisa Wyzlic and illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse, Feiwel & Friends ©2023.

 

The story opens with the reader being introduced to sweet, worrier Harold, a small green head of Iceberg lettuce. Rebecca Syracuse’s digitally rendered illustrations, full of whimsy, bring to life the vegetables residing in the refrigerator, and with each page turn the reader finds something new to laugh about. It took a second look for me to notice the television set was resting on a cube of butter (because, after all, it is living in a refrigerator).

One day Harold decides to watch a documentary to help ease his worries and turns on the television to learn that icebergs are melting. Syracuse depicts a variety of stickers placed on fruits and vegetables that we find in the grocery store (also in endpapers art). She illustrates Harold’s sticker with the word ‘lettuce’ partially hidden under a fold so only the word ‘Iceberg’ is visible. “I am an iceberg. See?” He announces to his friends as he stands on an upside-down sour cream container. “Though they didn’t really talk about how I ended up in a fridge…” Subtle humor like this should bring smiles to adult readers.

The other foods listen to his ramblings because sometimes feelings just need to be talked out. He tells Carrot, Tomato, Celery, and the Olives that he could slow down his demise if he moved to the freezer. The only problem is that the freezer is closed and under construction. So he decides it’s best to go to the very back of the fridge. “Maybe it’s colder there?”

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down int2 in the dark freezer.
Interior art from Harold the Iceberg Melts Down written by Lisa Wyzlic and illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse, Feiwel & Friends ©2023.

 

The pages turn dark and lonely as he is separated from the slice of pizza and veggie friends. He begins to worry even more. “Why didn’t the documentary tell me how to survive longer?” His friends try to help by telling Harold to count to ten and blow bubbles. He is focused only on the impending doom. While blowing the bubbles another friend from the lettuce family tells him that “he is an iceberg lettuce and lettuce doesn’t melt. ” Ooh, that’s a relief! But Harold begins to realize that even though he is safe real icebergs are melting. “What are we doing to help them?” It is too big a problem for these little guys to make a difference. Harold takes a deep breath and thinks up a plan. The slice of pizza and juice box high-five his idea. Together the refrigerator friends create posters that read Save The Planet and Save Our Bergs (their ability to write made them even more enduring).

Back Matter lists Harold’s Tips to Combat Climate Change which include turning off the tap to save water when brushing your teeth. Another list titled Harold’s Tips for Cooling Down explains the things you can do to release stress and anxiety from your body such as listening to soothing music and getting fresh air. Great tips for social and emotional learning.

Wyzlic’s book offers ideas to help children going through tough moments showing them that no matter how small they may be they have the power to do things to help change the world. I’d love to see this book in classrooms everywhere. It’s also a great read for story times and can spark many interesting discussions. Harold fans will be delighted to know the next book in the series, Harold the Iceberg is Not a Super Food, comes out this summer.

Click here for a downloadable activity kit.
Click here for some coloring pages.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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30Nov 23

Best New Hanukkah Books for Kids 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF

THE BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS

FOR KIDS 2023

REVIEWS:

Latke's First Hanukkah cover Latke lighting menorahLATKE’S FIRST HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg
(Viking BYR; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Little ones will love meeting Latke, a lovable creation of author-illustrator Alan Silberberg’s whimsical imagination. What’s great about his books is that parents will be entertained reading them as much as their kids. The new 16-page board book, Latke’s First Hanukkah, is no exception. Add various voices for the characters during a read-aloud and you’re set!

Applesauce and Sour Cream get into a tiff over which topping tastes better, the Dreidels along with Latke spin ’til they drop, dizzy but likely delighted, and the sufganiyot (jelly donuts) “are full of joy (and jelly).” As each night gets underway, the counting of the candles continues as do the antics of Latke’s colorfully illustrated guests. Of course, included in the company is gelt, and on night six, the one that made me LOL was when Babka, Challah, Bagel, Kugel, Blintz, and Falafel arrived.  There is much to enjoy here so why not join Latke for some laughs and a memorable first Hanukkah celebration?

 

HANUKKAH UPSIDE DOWNHanukkah Upside Dow cover upside down child handing dreidel to rightside up child
Written by Elissa Brent Weissman

Illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
(Abrams BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m so happy there’s a new international-themed Hanukkah book to be added to bookshelves everywhere. Its illustrations are charming and kid-friendly with characters I’d love to try drawing myself (I particularly enjoyed the spread with everyone eating sufganiyot or jelly donuts)  with Cousins Noah and Nora may live continents apart (Noah’s in New York and Nora’s in New Zealand), but it’s clear from their chats on the phone or via text that they are close. As Hanukkah approaches, the two set up a competition to see who has the best Hanukkah. Both also disagree on which cousin lived upside down on the planet, something many kids may think about and find funny.

This new slant on celebrating the eight-day Festival of Lights is clever as both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres’ differences are highlighted as the Hanukkah celebrations get underway. In New York, it’s winter and one day behind. In New Zealand it’s summer. In New York, it got dark early while in New Zealand, the sun set late. Despite that, on the first night of Hanukkah, both cousins lit the chanukiah or Hanukkah menorah. While Noah wore boots, Nora went barefoot, yet they both ate yummy latkes. I love this spot-on comparison:  “Noah threw snowballs. Nora did cannonballs.” Whether skating or surfing, or learning the local languages, the Jewish cousins find the challenge they’ve tasked themselves with to be a tough one. They say the same prayers. Do the same good deeds and spend time with loved ones. So whose celebration is the best? And is it really about the differences?

Though the main characters may live thousands of miles apart, the beauty in this story is that ultimately the similarities between the cousins’ Hanukkah festivities, and their relationship are what counts and what will stand out to young readers.

 

Eight Nights of Lights cover child holding menorah and dreidel.EIGHT NIGHTS OF LIGHTS: 
A Celebration of Hanukkah
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Hilli Kushnir
(HarperCollins BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I’ve never seen anything quite like this interactive picture book that engages young readers all Eight Nights of Lights! The design invites children to participate safely (no real candles or matches are involved) in the Hanukkah celebration which they can enjoy in one read or return to each night.

On the first night, kids meet the narrator Lena, and her kitty, Pickles as they prep the menorah and learn its family history from her father. The educational elements are introduced so the youngest readers can learn about Hanukkah traditions. “It was the first night of the holiday, so there was just one candle to put in the menorah. Plus the shammash, the helper candle. The shammash was used each night to light all the other candles.”

The story progresses to the next night when readers remove the second candle from the book’s paper menorah to see what happens with Lena and her family. Different aspects of the holiday are shared every night; from dreidel playing to the story of the heroic Maccabee brothers, from giving presents to giving to others (tzedakah), from making latkes to eating jelly donuts, from a Hanukkah hike to acting out the Maccabee story with cousins. The story concludes with a fun Hanukkah party at the synagogue on the eighth night that includes cookie decorating, pin the shammash on the menorah, and singing and dancing to beloved Hanukkah songs. I can easily see children asking for this book every year as part of the celebration. It also makes a wonderful gift.

Watch this video to see exactly how unique this interactive picture book is.

MORE NEW HANUKKAH BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

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21Nov 23

Picture Book Review – Challah Day

 

CHALLAH DAY

Written by Charlotte Offsay

Illustrated by Jason Kirschner

(Holiday House; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

 

 

Challah Day Cover family admiring challah

 

 

Have you ever tasted challah French toast? Better yet, challah stuffing at Thanksgiving? I adore it! My husband scores big points when he brings some challah home. You may compare it to brioche, but there are some differences setting them apart, the biggest being butter. There is no dairy in challah. Try it sometime and I have a feeling you’ll agree with me.

So now let’s find out about Challah Day written by Charlotte Offsay and illustrated by Jason Kirschner, a rhyming picture book released this past summer that I’ve been eager to read as not only a fan of the bread but of the author, too!

 

Challah Day spread 1 pour the yeast in.
Reproduced with permission from Holiday House Publishing, Inc. Text copyright © 2023 by Charlotte Offsay. Illustrations copyright © 2023 by Jason Kirschner. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

The story introduces a jubilant young narrator describing challah day at her house. Together, her family members ready the dough for this delicious egg bread. Challah is eaten on Shabbat (Sabbath) as well as throughout the year except on Passover. She takes readers through all the steps via top-notch rhyme (see sample below) making this an irresistible year-round read-aloud.  As the preparations get underway, the words flow off the page and little tummies may start to growl. Baby is humorously included in the illustrations as well as an adorable corgi who just happens to be in the right place at the right time.

 

Yeast and sugar – water’s warm,
mix and watch those bubbles form!
Crack the eggs – one… two… three… four
Extra if some hit the floor.

 

The above stanza is from one of my favorite spreads in the kitchen where so much of the story’s action unfolds. Kirschner’s even spelled out Challah Day on the fridge in the form of magnets. Clever! The palette with lots of pale pinks and greens is pleasing and upbeat with a slightly retro feel, especially in Baby’s hairstyle and the kitchen design.

Everything comes together when the challah is cooked and special guests arrive—Grandma and Grandpa! Now that we’ve seen how it’s all done, it’s time to light the Shabbat candles and then enjoy the challah homemade with heart and lots of fun too! So much joy has gone into the baking and now we can delight (albeit vicariously) in the delicious taste of every last morsel. The love this family shares as they practice this beautiful tradition emanates from every page and spending time with them cooking may just get your family to start doing likewise.

 

Challah Day spread2 homemade challah from the heart
Reproduced with permission from Holiday House Publishing, Inc. Text copyright © 2023 by Charlotte Offsay. Illustrations copyright © 2023 by Jason Kirschner. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

There are even four pages of back matter including an Author’s Note, interesting info about challah (find out what the braiding symbolizes), and the recipe that the author uses to make her family’s challah which I am eager to bake!

Click here to download the recipe kit.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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20Nov 23

Thanksgiving Picture Book Review – Little Mole Gives Thanks

 

LITTLE MOLE GIVES THANKS

Written by Glenys Nellist

Illustrated by Sally Garland

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Little Mole Gives Thanks cover mole preparing feast

 

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Little Mole’s big table is all set for his fancy fall feast, and he can’t wait to welcome
three very important guests. . . In this fourth installment in the Little Mole series, author Glenys Nellist
and illustrator Sally Garland team up again to bring a welcoming and inclusive tale . . . [of] comfort when
things don’t go the way they planned.”
From School Library Journal: “Soft, autumnal illustrations bring the reader to a crisp day in the forest
and create an inspiring tale of friendship.”

Review:

In LITTLE MOLE GIVES THANKS, the newest addition to Beaming Book’s LITTLE MOLE series, Little Mole plans and prepares a fancy forest feast for some very special guests.
e
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int1 Little Mole beamed waiting for guests
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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But when none of his invited guests can come, Mole is devastated.
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int2 Principal Porcupine cancels
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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Until his community gathers around him to make things right and remind him that friends and family are
the best (and most important) guests of all.
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int3 the fanciest forest feast ever.
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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Reminiscent of the biblical story of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22 and Luke 14), Sally Garland’s soft,
textural art pairs well with Glenys Nellist’s sweet autumnal story to depict a perfect tale for
Thanksgiving, full of friendship and community.
e
Click here for an activity kit.
e
• Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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16Nov 23

An Interview with I Ship Author Kelly Rice Schmitt

 

SHANNON ANDERSON INTERVIEWS

KELLY RICE SCHMITT

AUTHOR OF

I SHIP:
A CONTAINER SHIP’S COLOSSAL JOURNEY

Illustrated by Jam Dong

(Millbrook Press; $19.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

I Ship COVER container ship at port

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

Come aboard a massive container ship as it pulls into port, loads up with cargo, and heads out to the open ocean. The ship’s voyage includes starry skies and stormy seas, swift currents and unforeseen delays. Through it all, the crew keeps working—with goods to keep the world going, they must carry on.

Rhythmic text from Kelly Rice Schmitt and delightfully detailed illustrations from Jam Dong provide a riveting look at the journey of one mighty ship.

 

INTERVIEW:

Shannon Anderson: Congratulations on your new book, I SHIP: A CONTAINER SHIP’S COLOSSAL JOURNEY. This is even more exciting because it’s your debut! This is a story about a ship’s journey, but what was the journey of this manuscript? How did it get acquired?

Kelly Rice Schmitt: It’s fun to think of my writing journey paralleling the journey of Ship. Just like a container ship, it takes a lot of people and a lot of preparation to launch a book. I SHIP’s publication journey began with an amazing online retreat put on my SCBWI Ohio-North called the Triple Scoop ReTreat. I highly recommend this conference if they ever do it again. Attendees met with a published author mentor in small groups (created by the hosts according to MS style/ appeal, etc) for 2 Saturdays in a row, getting live feedback on an MS and then having time to revise in between in order to prepare the story for a live reading and feedback with an editor. My editor, Carol Hinz, loved the first version of I SHIP, which was originally focused specifically on the 2021 Suez Canal Crisis, where the Ever Given container ship was stuck in the canal and halted global trade for weeks. She thought the story would be more timeless if it were a general shipping book. The final option of the conference was the chance to add on a paid critique follow-up with the editor after you have revised with their notes. Carol had a few more suggestions and invited me to revise and then submit it to her! I did, and she acquired I SHIP. It was very exciting!

 

SA: What inspired you to write about a container ship?

KRS: After having multiple jobs related to energy ships in my energy trading and supply career, I knew I just HAD to write something about shipping for kids. I loved the idea of a shipping process book, but it took many years to find the right way to tell that story. It wasn’t until a critique partner, Christine Abely, suggested writing about a container ship getting stuck, like what happened in the 2021 Suez Crisis with the Ever Given, that I had a path forward with specifically writing about a container ship. 

 

I Ship int1 container ship bridge
Interior spread from I Ship: A Container Ship’s Colossal Journey written by Kelly Rice Schmitt and illustrated by Jam Dong, Millbrook Press ©2023.

 

 

SA: This story is told from the ship’s first-person point of view. What caused you to choose this perspective?

KRS: I was inspired to use a first-person point of view while participating in Vivian Kirkfield’s #50preciouswords challenge, in which writers must tell a compelling story using only 50 words. While writing what is now going to be a follow-up to I SHIP (yay!) I was pushing myself to distill a very complex topic for kids into something simple and relatable. With only 50 words, I realized I could be both brief and emotional by telling the story through the eyes of the subject matter! I felt it also added a connection point for kids, bringing them more directly into that world.

 

SA: There is SO much to learn from this book. Readers can not only learn throughout the pages of the story but also through your glossary of shipping terms and STEM back matter information. What was your research process like for this book?

KRS: In addition to reading many adult books and watching media on the history and technology of container shipping, I also consulted with Youtuber Bryan Boyle to help us with accuracy. I loved his content (Youtube: @bryanboyle) following his journeys at sea as a U.S. Merchant Marine and thought he could help us convey this story with details that would resonate with people like him who work on these gigantic ships and, also, in the land-based jobs that support them. Bryan helped us make changes to both the text and art to better reflect real-life shipping. He was extremely helpful, and I hope we achieved that goal. I love back matter, and I had a lot of fun creating it for I SHIP. I hope everyone checks it out! There is also an activity guide that can be found here (https://lernerbooks.com/teaching_guides/804) with more fun activities, experiments, and coloring pages for PREK-5th graders to interact with the book. 

 

 I Ship int2 container ship en route the world is waiting
Interior spread from I Ship: A Container Ship’s Colossal Journey written by Kelly Rice Schmitt and illustrated by Jam Dong, Millbrook Press ©2023.

 

SA: What do you hope readers will learn or take away from reading this?

KRS: I hope readers of all ages discover details about the amazing shipping process that enables 80 to 90% of global trade. Container ships, their ports, and the incredible teams that run them are the backbone of the global economy, and we can see the ripple effects in the supply chain when elements of their journey are interrupted. Urgent medication and vaccines may be delayed, toys may not arrive for a holiday, certain produce may not be available due to weather conditions on the journey at sea, in publishing—books due for a release date are delayed. Surprisingly, many of us know little about an industry that fundamentally impacts our daily lives.

 

SA: Do you have other projects ready to deliver to the world?

KRS: You have such great puns today, Shannon! I’m excited to share that I SHIP is the first in what will be a series of STEM books, all told in first person tense. The second book will be released in Fall 2024 and hopefully will be announced soon! I also have an unannounced forthcoming fiction picture book in progress with Knopf Books for Young Readers (a PRH imprint).

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Support your local independent bookseller or click here to purchase a copy.

AUTHOR BIO:

Kelly Rice Schmitt Headshot Photo Credit Kyle Murphy
Kelly Rice Schmitt Photo Credit ©Kyle Murphy

Kelly Rice Schmitt is a former energy trader and children’s writer who loves getting small humans excited about big ideas . . . like container shipping! Although she has scheduled ship logistics and tracked energy shipments around the world, she has never worked on a container ship. Kelly lives in North Carolina with her husband, young children, and many stacks of books. I Ship is her debut book.  Keep up with Kelly at www.kellyriceschmitt.com or follow her on social media.

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15Nov 23

Young Adult Novel Review – Something Close to Magic

 

SOMETHING CLOSE TO MAGIC

Written by Emma Mills

(Atheneum BYR; $19.99, Ages 12+ )

 

Something Close to Magic cover

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

If you enjoy food and fantasy, Emma Mills’s Something Close to Magic will satisfy those cravings. In seventeen-year-old Aurelie’s world, people avoid magic because there are supposedly too many bad consequences: eating food prepared magically is said to later increase your hunger twofold. Once Aurelie seemed to have abilities and studied the supernatural at school. Now she’s alone in the world, serving unending days in an unpaid apprenticeship. Magic is far from her mind until a dashing stranger named Iliana walks into Basil’s Bakery and stirs things up. Iliana is a Finder (bounty hunter) and needs Aurelie’s abilities as a Seeker to help locate the people she’s tracking.

The teens soon set off on an adventure along with Quad (a troll who often steals the show with her clever lines delivered in a deadpan manner) and Prince Hapless (who seems to live up to his surname—assigned to royalty according to their personality traits). All four main characters are delightful in their unique ways. The story’s twists take the reader to interesting places as we peel back layers of deception. I appreciated how the budding romance with Prince Hapless plays out. Quad may be my all-time favorite troll!

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10Nov 23

Picture Book Review – Dear Star Baby

 

 

DEAR STAR BABY

Written by Malcolm Newsome

Illustrated by Kamala Nair

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 3-8)

 

 

Dear Star Baby cover family look at stars

 

 

I wish Dear Star Baby had been around when I was a child. It would have helped me understand the silence in my house when my mom came home from the hospital following her two miscarriages. Thankfully Malcolm Newsome and Kamala Nair’s picture book is available for young readers now to help them cope with the loss as a result of either miscarriage or stillbirth in a moving, meaningful way.

 

Dear Star Baby int1 we're having a baby
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

The narrator of the story is a boy who dreams of becoming an older brother. He’s ecstatic when he learns that his dream will come true. The tale is told via a letter he’s writing to the unborn sibling. The spreads in the book when the family is preparing for the baby’s arrival are full of joy and light. “Mama took me shopping. She let me pick your blankets and a toy (well, two toys).”

 

Dear Star Baby int2 mom in hospital I knew something was wrong.
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

Sadly, “Mama needed to rest in bed …” but she soon needed to go to the hospital where she miscarried. The touching spread above is told in language easy for youngsters to understand, and never speaks down to them. The loss of his unborn sibling is gently shared by the boy’s parents in a loving and caring moment. “She said you went to be with the stars instead.”

 

Dear Star Baby int3 in car returning from hospital now I wonder which star you are.
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

At home, the grieving child sees changes in his parents. His mother cries and there is not much conversation with his father as they deal with the loss. But being together helps and being held helps even more. So when the family looks at the night sky and discusses their Star Baby, everyone has a different feeling which is absolutely fine. Dad sees Star Baby far away and Mama feels him close by. There is no right answer, no right way to feel. What matters is being able to experience the grief and ultimately healing in a way that works for each individual. That’s why I loved this sentence from the child, “I think you’re in both places. Here with us even though I can’t see you.”

Nair’s warm palette for her art is soothing for this sensitive topic.  I especially liked the evening scenes where the night sky bursting with stars conveys hope and comfort like the hugs the family shares.

Newsome’s Author’s Note brought me to tears when he wrote about his own personal experience after his wife’s miscarriages and I’m so glad he wrote Dear Star Baby so others can benefit too. This is a thoughtfully written book that will prompt important discussions for families dealing with grief and bereavement.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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07Nov 23

Early Reader Review – Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers

 

 

DIRT AND BUGSY BUG CATCHERS

Written by Megan Litwin

Illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn

(Penguin Young Readers; Available in trade paperback $15.99,
and hardcover, $4.99; Ages 6-7)

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers cover two friends ready to catch bugs

 

 

Author Megan Litwin and illustrator Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn have created an Early/Progressive Reader Level 2 book for young readers learning to use picture and context clues, recognize beginning, middle, and ending sounds, and predict what will happen in the text in this sweet story of friendship Dirt and Bugsy: Bug Catchers, Book #1.

The book opens with an illustration of best pals Dirt, who, of course, has dirt on his face, and Bugsy, who is wearing a ladybug t-shirt. Panczyszyn depicts smiles on their faces and arms around each other’s shoulders showing the bond between these friends. Her illustrations are joyful with wonderful detail.

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int1 bugs that crawl bugs that slide
Interior spread from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

Using both short and long sentences, Litwin guides the reader with words that explain the different kinds of bugs the boys like to catch. Bugs that crawl. Bugs that slide. The reader learns about various bugs as they crawl on the boys’ arms and down their legs. Dirt and Bugsy don’t mind. They love bugs!

The action changes when rain begins to pour down on the boys and their bugs. The progressive reader can use the more in-depth plot to figure out how the boys will find a solution to their problem. This is a great way for readers to decipher the problem and come up with a solution.

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int2 Dirt and Bugsy are outside
Interior spread from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

Litwin’s words guide children to think about how rain affects the bugs and how they can use their brains to come up with a plan. The plot has been set, and a problem has arisen, so the reader can now stop and think of solutions before continuing to read. This is a fabulous way to teach kids about plot development.

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int3 They spy. They dig.
Interior art from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

 

Together the boys decide they can build a shelter and that shelter will be a bug barn. Panczyszyn draws a beautiful, large red barn with a sign that reads ALL BUGS WELCOME as imagined by the pair but when the page is turned, the real bug barn is three cardboard boxes with towels tied to sticks to shield the rain. That problem is solved But now—they have no bugs.

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int4 they give each bug a room.
Interior art from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

 

Setting off individually, the boys spy, dig, lift, and sift placing the bugs in glass jars. They give the bugs individual names and play games until the rain stops. And then the bugs crawl, slide, and fly home. The story ends with talking quotes teaching the reader about quotation marks and dialogue tags.

The back matter outlines How To Be A Good Bug Catcher. I can see kids getting psyched to go out and search for their own bugs. There is also a suggestion for other Level 2 books and some Level 3. Once kids fall in love with the series, they can move on to book #2 in the series, Beetle Mania available now.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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02Nov 23

An Interview with Illustrator Michelle Jing Chan

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MICHELLE JING CHAN,

ILLUSTRATOR OF

LUNAR NEW YEAR

Written by Mary Man-Kong

(Big Golden Books; $10.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

 

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

ABOUT LUNAR NEW YEAR

Celebrate the Lunar New Year and learn about all of its traditions with this Big Golden Book!

Every year, millions of Asian families come together to celebrate the first new moon in the sky. Now preschoolers can learn about the zodiac animals, the delicious food, the exciting parades, and all the fun traditions. Filled with colorful illustrations and simple, yet informative text, this Big Golden Book is perfect for reading again and again to the whole family. Happy Lunar New Year!

INTERVIEW:

Q: What initially drew you to the manuscript for Lunar New Year: A Celebration of Family and Fun?

Growing up, I read many Golden Books, but never one about my own culture. When I first read this manuscript, I was so excited to see a story about a holiday that I grew up celebrating and with characters who reflected me and my family. I’m thrilled that this next generation of Asian children will get to grow up seeing themselves represented in ways that we didn’t have. It was also a treat to bring the words of Mary Man-Kong, the author, to life! She has written several other stories for Golden Books, Disney, and other licensed properties.

 

Lunar New Year int1 all together at mealtime
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: What was your process for illustrating the cover?

The art director, Roberta Ludlow, provided very detailed guidelines for illustrating the cover and each spread–which I really appreciated. For the cover, she and the team at Golden Books wanted two children in traditional outfits running with a dragon. I started with three different rough sketches. 

Lunar New Year Cover Rough Sketches
Rough sketches by Michelle Jing Chan for the Lunar New Year cover illustration.

 

Once the team picked their favorite, I filled in base colors and finally rendered the details and lighting.

 

Q: What traditions are covered in this book?

Though this book mostly focuses on 春节 (The Spring Festival, aka the Chinese term for Lunar New Year), it also touches on other cultures and countries that celebrate Lunar New Year, including Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

 

Lunar New Year int2 special red decorations hung on doors of houses
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: What was your favorite part about illustrating this book?

I designed the family to look like mine! The parents and grandma are modeled after my own, and the designs for the little girl and boy are based on my brother and me as kids.

 

Q: What do you love most about how the book turned out?

I love how the festive scenes like the fireworks and dragon scenes remind me of my own childhood celebrating Lunar New Year with my family!

 

Lunar New Year int3 a beast with sharp teeth
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: Do you have other projects in the works?

Yes! I have three other picture books releasing in 2024 (MAMIE TAPE FIGHTS TO GO TO SCHOOL by Traci Huahn, Crown/Penguin Random House; STAY ANGRY, LITTLE GIRL inspired by the words of Madeleine L’Engle, FSG/Macmillan; GOODNIGHT SOUNDS by Debbie S. Miller, Bloomsbury). My author-illustrator debut picture book, CELEBRATING DONG ZHI: THE WINTER SOLSTICE is releasing in 2025 with Bloomsbury.

 

BUY THE BOOK

Support a local independent bookstore and purchase a copy here.

Paper Boat Booksellers in Seattle – Order by phone at 206-743-8283, via email at bookorders@paperboatbooksellers.com, or in person.

Or from Bookshop.org here.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

FOR ILLUSTRATOR MICHELLE JING CHANG

Website: www.michellejingchan.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/michellieart

IG: www.instagram.com/michellieart

TikTok:  https://www.tiktok.com/@michellieart

FOR AUTHOR  MARY MAN-KONG

Website: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/18838/mary-man-kong/

 

 Michelle Jing Chan Photo-Credit M Mendelsohn
Illustrator Michelle Jing Chan Photo Credit: M. Mendelson

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Michelle Jing Chan is a queer Chinese American author-illustrator who works on picture books and comics for kids and teens. Ever since she could hold a pencil, Michelle has loved using art to bring the daydreams in her head to life. Her work has been featured in the Wing Luke Museum, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. When not drawing, Michelle is petting the neighborhood cats, obsessing over a book, or getting jump-scared by spooky TV shows. Visit Michelle at www.michellejingchan.com or on social media @michellieart.

e

AUTHOR BIO:

Mary Man-Kong is a children’s book editor and author living in New York City. When she’s not editing or writing, she loves traveling with her amazing family on awesome adventures.

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31Oct 23

Board Book Review – Dia de Muertos

 

 

DÍA DE MUERTOS:
A Papel Picado Lift-the-Flap Book

Written by Dori Elys

Illustrated by Alicia Más

(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages birth and up)

 

 

Dia de Muertos cover children holding papel picado food flowers

 

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

In the vein of Coco, this bright board book highlights the beauty of Día de Muertos with colorful lift-the-flaps that look just like papel picado revealing details of the holiday.

 

REVIEW:

This 14-page interactive board book written by Dori Elys and illustrated by Alicia Más is not only lovely to look at, but it’s also made the Día de Muertos holiday accessible to little ones. Right from the opening line, we’re greeted in Spanish and English:

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome!
It’s Dia de Muertos.
Won’t you join us
in this colorful celebration?

Every spread is decorated with the traditional papel picado cut paper folk art although here it’s been die-cut onto two-colored sturdy flaps.

 

Dia de Muertos int1 Bienvenidos Welcome
Interior spread from Día de Muertos written by Dori Elys and illustrated by Alicia Más, Little Simon ©2023.

 

Lifting each flap reveals some helpful information about the traditions. The one pictured above explains when the Mexican holiday takes place annually. Not sure when? It’s November 1 to November 2.  Under the candles flap below the meaning of altars is explained. This “showcase of love” honors those who’ve passed away. Spanish words such as ofrendas (offerings), mira (look), and familia (family) are introduced with the art providing more ways to decode new vocabulary.

 

Dia de Muertos int2 altars honor family
Interior spread from Día de Muertos written by Dori Elys and illustrated by Alicia Más, Little Simon ©2023.

 

In these vibrantly illustrated pages, kids will learn that Día de Muertos is a joyful occasion where family, food, flowers, photos, candles, animal guides, and skulls play a big role. And, the loved ones who are gone from our physical world (the land of the living) are very much alive in our hearts. The holiday has become popular around the world, allowing people of various backgrounds to honor the memory of those who’ve passed on.

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23Oct 23

Seven New Halloween Books for Kids

 

 

HALLOWEEN BOOKS 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

PEEKABOO PUMPKIN
Written by Camilla Reid
Illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 0-2)

The eight pages of this adorably illustrated interactive board book will easily entertain little ones. On their own or with a parent’s help, children will find the bright, bold Halloween-themed graphics irresistible. Slide the tab and a mouse emerges from a grinning grandfather clock. Friendly-looking flames light up a candelabra and a ghost greets a black cat from behind a door. The text is spare but gently rhymes so a read-aloud is ideal to accompany the fun activity for busy little hands. More books are available in this popular series.

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

FIRST NIGHT OF HOWLERGARTEN
Written and illustrated by Benson Shum
(Penguin Workshop; $18.99, Ages 4-6)

What’s Halloween without werewolves? The story opens with an invitation “to your first night of Howlergarten.” Children are told they’ll transform into their true were-selves for the first time making me curious to see how Shum would depict this. He does so by introducing readers to Sophie, a sweetly drawn biracial main character worried she won’t transform despite assurances from her parents that they’ll love her no matter what.

The clock on Sophie’s nightstand shows 6 p.m. “Good evening, Sophie.” Her teacher welcomes her to class where she soon meets Emma, an overly confident classmate not concerned in the least about transforming, unlike Sophie. When werewolf skill practice begins, Sophie doesn’t excel at anything. Did this mean she was destined to remain human? Sophie makes new friends and finds the training that follows improves her outlook. But her fears return as the full moon rises. Buoyed by her buddy Teddy, the kids clasp hands and countdown to transformation time. When, in a clever twist, things don’t turn out as expected, the werewolf pack shows empathy and accepts everyone, bushy tails, padded paws or not.

This heartwarming picture book can also be read when starting school for the first time, moving up to a new year, or for its SEL elements about acceptance.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Skull cover girl holding skullTHE SKULL:
A Tyrolean Folktale

Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 6-9)

Starred Reviews: Booklist, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book, Kirkus,
Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness

This eerie tale begins before the title page when we find that, one night, “Otilla finally ran away.” And run she does, into the forest, until she’s someplace unfamiliar and (maybe) someone is calling her name. Coming upon a “very big, very old house,” her knocking is answered by a skull! From there, the story unfolds—but I can’t tell you how, you have to read the book. Let me just say that Jon Klassen’s creepy, unexpected reimagined version of this folktale has crept onto my Top Ten favorite Halloween books. It has heart. It has twists. It has a talking skull!

Klassen’s art feels familiar in Otilla’s wide-eyed expression, yet there’s enough new to keep his illustrations fresh. In one of my favorite scenes, Otilla and the skull don decorative Tyrolean masks (after the skull says they’re just for show!) and dance in an empty ballroom.

I appreciate the craftsmanship of his writing with the parallels he alludes to between the two main characters. This book will be one I return to for many Halloweens to come.

It’s written as a chapter book of sorts with sections and clever subheadings, but the book will also appeal to picture book readers. It’s flawlessly executed, an example of an author-illustrator at a career peak.

After the story, Klassen explains the history of how he came to write this story and how tales evolve in the telling.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Scariest. Book. Ever. cover haunted castle flying bat skullSCARIEST. BOOK. EVER.
(Goosebumps House of Shivers #1)
by R.L. Stine
(Scholastic Paperbacks;  $7.99, Ages 8-12)

If anyone knows how to tell a scary story, it’s R.L. Stine. Scariest. Book. Ever. grabs hold of you from the first page when the twins, Billy and Betty, are left in the remote Wayward Forest where their Uncle Wendell (probably) lives. They have no memory of him but hear he’s quite the storyteller of strange and frightening tales. When he finally shows up and says he’s got the scariest book ever they don’t quite believe him until they come face-to-face with nightmarish creatures and must help their uncle keep the book out of the wrong hands lest true terror be unleashed.

This book is like a roller-coaster ride: once you turn that first page, you’re along until the end, holding your breath, wondering what’s around the next turn.

As a kickoff for Stine’s new Goosebumps House of Shivers series, Scariest. Book. Ever. does not disappoint. It has frightful creatures, plot twists, fast-paced action, and, in true Stine fashion, humor. I’m a fan of his books but was still impressed that he can keep conjuring intriguing tales to scare us with.

There’s a reason this best-selling author is one of the most popular children’s authors in history. Pick up this book; you won’t be able to put it down.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Crimson Twill Witch in the Country cover Crimson frog apple treeWITCH IN THE COUNTRY|
(Crimson Twill series)
Written by Kallie George

Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 7-9)

Crimson Twill is a likable young witch who does very non-witchy things from the way she dresses to brewing lemonade in her cauldron. In Witch in the Country, the latest installment in the series, Crimson’s friends Mauve and Wesley and Dusty the broom are coming to visit her from New Wart City. Crimson has everything planned, a list of her favorite things from ripening rotten apples and gathering broom straw to croaking the frogs (to catch their misty, green frog breath!). When things don’t work out, Crimson is disappointed until she remembers something important.

As with the other books in Kallie George’s beloved series, the stories are heartfelt and fun. Crimson’s unique witchiness is adorable and she’s a likable character that I will keep following as the books explore more of her world.

The evocative black-and-white illustrations throughout give us a thorough glimpse into Crimson’s country lifestyle. Can I come visit and croak frogs too?

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Cursed Moon cover scary tree and kids riding bikeTHE CURSED MOON
by Angela Cervantes
(Scholastic Press; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

Sixth-grader Rafael “Rafa” Fuentes loves writing and telling ghost stories but when his strange cat-lady neighbor begs him not to do so on the night of the eerie, blood moon, Rafa doesn’t listen to her. He soon realizes her crazy warning may be true when his tale about The Caretaker (who drowns unsuspecting kids in the pond) seems to come true.

Beyond this, we learn about Rafa’s family and how he doesn’t really feel like he fits in at school. Telling terrifying tales has gotten him a tiny bit of social status but, at best, it’s wobbly.

I like how Angela Cervantes develops the connection and community of Rafa’s family, friends, and neighbors. That Rafa’s mom is finally coming back from being incarcerated adds a unique angle as we see the complex (and opposite) emotions he and his sister have about this homecoming.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Nightmare King cover very scared looking ShaneNIGHTMARE KING
by Daka Hermon

(Scholastic Press; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

The nightmares Shane’s been having make him not want to sleep, but he can only do that for so long. As he fights with the scary images in his mind, he begins to wonder if the Nightmare King will capture him in this winner-takes-all game of tag. Dream scenes become increasingly scary and it seems there’s no escape for Shane the next time he slumbers.

Daka Hermon accurately shows us Shane’s love of playing basketball. Since his recent near-death accident, he wants nothing more than to get back to the top of his game and avoid butting heads with the bully who’s more than ready for Shane’s permanent removal.

Just as in Hide and Seeker (Scholastic, 2020), Hermon takes a seemingly fun game and imbues it with sinister twists and turns.

 

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS:

Check out this interview about The Book Crew Needs You!, another great new Halloween book.

Happy Halloweenie cover vampire hot dogHAPPY HALLOWEENIE
Written and illustrated by Katie Vernon
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5 )

Cute or Scary? All Black or All White? Weenie is trying to decide what to wear for Halloween in this adorably illustrated board book with spare text.

 

 

 

 

Lila and the Jack-O'-Lantern cover girl observing glowing pumpkin in windowLILA AND THE JACK-O’-LANTERN:
Halloween Comes to America
Written by Nancy Churnin
Illustrated by Anneli Bray
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

“An Irish immigrant moves to America bringing a now beloved Halloween tradition.”

 

 

 

How to Spook a Ghost cover kids in Halloween costumesHOW TO SPOOK A GHOST
(Magical Creatures and Craft series)
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Simona SanFilippo
(Sky Pony Press; $19.99, Ages 3-6)

Brave kids investigate a strange noise and make a new ghostly friend.
A rhyming picture book with added Halloween history, puppet craft, and costume-making tips.

 

The October Witches cover witches flying over treeTHE OCTOBER WITCHES
Written by Jennifer Claessen
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

“Practical Magic meets Hocus Pocus in this sweet and enchanting middle-grade fantasy novel about a young witch who must uncover the secrets of her family’s past to end their longstanding internal feud.” A debut novel ideal for the Halloween season.

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19Oct 23

Young Adult Fantasy – A Hunger of Thorns

 

A HUNGER OF THORNS

 by Lili Wilkinson

(Delacorte Press; $19.99, Ages 14+)

 

 

A Hunger of Thorns cover

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Be swept away by a lush, witchy tale about forbidden magic and missing girls who don’t need handsome princes to rescue them. Perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood.

REVIEW:

Lili Wilkinson’s A Hunger of Thorns is a fairy tale and coming-of-age story for today’s teens. Maude, a daughter of witches, lost her magic four years ago when she got her period. She’s a talented storyteller: “telling a story felt exactly like doing magic—reaching for invisible threads and weaving them together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.” But now that she can no longer pull mettle and animate objects, the fragile hold she had over her unruly BFF, Odette, crumbles. When Odette goes missing, Maude knows how these stories work: she must be a hero and save her.

Though lovingly raised by her grandmothers, Maude still aches to know what really happened when her mother went “bad” and the details surrounding her death. Witches have their magic controlled, directed toward inane things like making enchanted stockings that will not run or self-heating instant dinners. Maude’s world, of course, has a handsome prince and a terrifying beast (the Tatterdemalion), however, both are reimagined into something unexpected.

In this carefully crafted story, females are told how to act, what’s right and what’s wrong, and what happens when you push or break those societal boundaries. Wilkinson’s characters are complex and likable which made me root for them as they’re pressured to be neat and presentable, to lead a mundane life seemingly for the greater good. But what of our true natures? As the dedication says, this book is for “every good girl who has a wild girl inside.” An amazingly creative tale about finding forgotten things and remembering who we once were.

Listen to a sample by clicking here.

 

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18Oct 23

Picture Book Review – Cloud Babies

 

CLOUD BABIES 

Written by Eoin Colfer

Illustrated by Chris Judge

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

Cloud Babies cover family looking at cloud animals

 

 

New York Times best-selling author of the children’s fantasy series Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer takes young readers on a journey with six-year-old Erin whose imagination allows her to look up and imagine animals made of clouds until one day life takes her on a different path where looking up at the sky no longer matters.

Cloud Babies: Sometimes All We Need To Do Is Look Up is a heartfelt and much-needed picture book that will be meaningful for both kids who have spent time in the hospital, and their friends, as well as others who have not. The digital illustrations by Chris Judge, whose family experience with illness inspired this story, bring life to the pages with photos of mountains, lakes, and blue skies filled with clouds drawn as cats, dragons, foxes, and polar bears – all the cloud babies Erin saw as she looked towards the sky. “It’s a snappy-happy crocodile!” she would shout, looking over the river with Mom and Dad supporting her by her side.

 

Cloud Babies int1 Erin's first word was cat
CLOUD BABIES. Text copyright © 2022 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Chris Judge. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

But one day a sad dog cloud can be seen through Erin’s bedroom window, a harbinger of trying times ahead. (See the art below.) Readers learn that Erin will need to spend some time in the children’s hospital. This gut-wrenching scene shows Dad carrying Erin and her stuffed animal. Mom holds a large bag and is guided by the nurse to the children’s ward. There are rows of beds each with various children tucked under the covers next to buzzing machines that beeped. We are introduced to a doctor named Bernadette, and Albert who brings extra-special meals. These spreads convey the kindness Erin receives from all the adults working so hard to make her better, bringing light to an otherwise traumatic situation. But Erin continues to play cloud babies with her Dad. On days when her Dad cannot visit, she even plays the game with other patients.

When Dr. Bernadette gives them the great news that Erin can go home, but would still need “hospital days,” we turn the page to see her return to school. Everyone had grown so tall. Erin shares her story of the cloud babies with the class but teacher Ms. Rose turns it into a lesson on how clouds are formed. “Maybe cloud babies are for little kids.” When she returned for “hospital days” she noticed that the hospital friends were different from the school friends. She learned to keep her two worlds apart. Erin missed seeing the cloud babies in the sky.

Tucked in Mom’s arms on a hospital day, Mom tells her that most of her classmates will never see her real, warm, loving, important hospital life. Working in the family garden, Mom gets an idea and suggests it to Ms. Rose. Classmates are invited to the hospital to be Book Buddies. Surrounded by her hospital and school friends, Erin teaches them how to play the cloud game. “‘Cloud babies do make you feel better,’ Ms. Rose says.”

 

Cloud Babies int2 Mom and Dad were worried
CLOUD BABIES. Text copyright © 2022 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Chris Judge. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

The story ends with greens, blues, and red drawings of fluffy cloud babies in the sky with all the friends looking up. “Sometimes, when you’re down,” said Erin, “all you need to do is look up.” On the copyright page, Eoin Colfer shares a note with readers explaining that if you are lucky enough to be strong and healthy, perhaps you can be especially kind and understanding to children in your school who have spent time in a hospital. This page also explains that “All the children’s pictures in this book were painted by Juno and Joey Judge.”

This tender, thoughtful story pulled on my heartstrings as I spent time in the hospital when I was five and a story like this would have meant so much to me. It brings comfort to children facing hard times and guides those who want to give support but are not sure how to start. To see more of Chris Judge’s cloud babies log on to Instagram @adailycloud.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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12Oct 23

Picture Book Review – The Pie That Molly Grew

 

THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW

Written by Sue Heavenrich

Illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg

(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Pie That Molly Grew cover Molly with huge pumpkin

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Beginning with the planting of a single seed, the journey of bringing a pumpkin to harvest comes to life for young readers. Under Molly’s watchful eye and care, each stage of growth is showcased. And at the end, Molly’s lovely pumpkin is turned into a delicious pie for one and all to share in a celebration of gratitude. Back matter includes fun facts about pumpkins, the important pollinators who help them grow, as well as a pumpkin pie recipe.”

 

Review:

It’s amazing what comes from a single seed—a plant, a bountiful harvest, a delicious recipe—but on another level that seed also sprouts tradition and community. And that’s the story Sue Heavenrich and Chamisa Kellogg tell in their new book, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int1 this is the seed
Interior art from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Following the cumulative structure and rhyme scheme of A House That Jack Built, Heavenrich follows a plant’s journey from seed to sprout … vine to flower … and fruit to table while touching on science concepts like photosynthesis and pollination. Illustrator, Chamisa Kellogg, adds to the book’s seasonal appeal with textural artwork in muted tones.

And while I’m not usually a fan of cumulative stories (or stories that riff on a familiar rhyme), this one is exceptionally well-written. Nothing comes across as forced or monotonous. It flows wonderfully. The phrases are varied each time they appear yet never deviate from the established rhyme pattern. I also love that each variation inspires a deeper understanding of the scientific processes involved in growing plants.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int2 this is the vine
Interior spread from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Accessible backmatter offers readers and/or teachers more information about pumpkins, pollinators, and a pie recipe. A delight to read! Click here to download a pdf of kids’ activities.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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10Oct 23

An Interview with Sara E. Echenique Author of Our Roof is Blue

 

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS SARA E. ECHENIQUE,

AUTHOR OF

OUR ROOF IS BLUE

Illustrated by Ashley Vargas

(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 5-8;
also available in Spanish as NUESTRO TECHO ES AZUL)

 

 

Our Roof is Blue cover blue tarp covers roof in Puerto Rico after hurricane

 

Nuestro Techo is Azul cover spanish edition

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This heartfelt story of resilience follows two siblings as they work to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Maria destroys their home in Puerto Rico.

Before an intense hurricane hits their home in Puerto Rico, Antonio told his sister vibrant stories each night. During the storm, they huddled with their parents in a closet and hear the storm blow the roof right off their home. After the storm, their family uses a temporary blue tarp for a roof, and Antonio stops speaking. Gradually the siblings imagine their blue roof playfully–as the ocean above them or a parachute helping them fall from the sky. As the narrator helps her little brother feel safe once more–and after the family and community build a new roof–the little boy begins to speak again.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: One of the reasons Our Roof is Blue is so touching is that it was inspired by your own childhood. Did you do research too?

Sara Echenique: Oh, absolutely. In addition to drawing from my personal experiences with hurricanes, I spoke with family and friends on the island who lived through Hurricane Maria, and read article after article about the experience of Puerto Ricans on the island post-Maria. I spoke with parents of children who have lived under blue tarp roofs to better understand their own experiences. And for the book’s back matter, I researched pretty extensively the latest science on climate change, and how it is exacerbating hurricanes and other major weather events.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int1 Antonio tell me a story
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: I thought this was a color book at first, so the storm came out of the blue for me (so to speak)! I think that made it even more impactful. Was it hard to find the right level of scariness?

SE: That’s so funny because you just never know what a reader is going to take into your story. My own young children have always been drawn to books that don’t shy away from the truth. I went into writing this story knowing that I needed to trust my readers, both old and young, because they want and need these types of stories. Unfortunately, many of them will be impacted by inclement weather events stemming from climate change at some point in their lives. I wanted to be honest about that, but it was important to me that it didn’t feel hopeless or inaccessible. Yes, the storm is scary, but my hope is that it doesn’t overshadow their bond, and their use of play, imagination and storytelling to help each other.

 

KT: It’s heartbreaking how many kids this story is directly relevant for. But you did a great job finding that balance. One of the ways you do that is through the central image of the roof and its colors. How did that evolve?

SE: I drew from several mentor texts, including A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams. Among so many beautiful parts of her book, I was drawn to how, on its surface, the story could be about a chair, but she brings depth and layers to the experience. I tried using the roof this way to make the tragedy more accessible, which allowed me to anchor Antonio and his sister’s emotional journey around their roof’s visible journey.

 

KT: I really love the sibling relationship—was that always part of the story?

SE: Yes (and thank you)! Throughout the story’s many, many iterations, their relationship was always central. Family is such an important part of the Puerto Rican community. I was fortunate to grow up with siblings who anchor me, and am raising children who will hopefully feel the same way. In Our Roof is Blue, Antonio and his sister were always going to find the other side of trauma because of, and for, each other.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int2 parachuting gently down
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: How did you become a writer?

SE: I’ve always loved reading and writing, filling dozens of notebooks throughout my childhood. I dreamt of becoming a veterinarian who writes stories about their job (like James Herriot) and got in the habit of scribbling haphazard character profiles of all the people in my life. I put that particular dream on pause when I pursued my English degree from Williams College and law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. Shortly after having my oldest two children, I reconnected meaningfully with children’s literature and rediscovered writing as a creative outlet. Several years (and one additional child later), my writing dream has become a reality!

 

KT: What was your favorite book as a kid?

SE: I can’t choose just one! I most fondly remember the Babysitters’ Club series by Ann M. Martin, which my mom often read along with me. It was a glimpse into life on the mainland and I vividly remember my heart racing when I discovered a new book in the Scholastic Book Fair flyer. I love that the series has had a revival in graphic novel form and now get to enjoy re-reading them with my own daughter.

KT: I loved the Babysitter’s Club too! Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at Our Roof is Blue. It’s going to be a meaningful book for so many people.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase from Books and Books.

Click here to purchase from Bookshop.org.

Click here to purchase via the Publisher’s Page.

 

Author Sara Echenique photo credit Rebecca Zilenziger
Sara E. Echenique Photo Credit: Rebecca Zilenziger

AUTHOR BIO:

Sara E. Echenique is a Puerto Rican lawyer and children’s author living in South Florida with her three young children, husband, and their rescue dog, Luna. She acquired a degree in English from Williams College and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. After almost a decade practicing as a litigator in cold New York City, Sara decided to move her family to a place that felt more like her childhood home.

Roaring Brook Press published her debut middle-grade book, Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente in September 2022 in both English and Spanish, which received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was long-listed for the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund’s Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World. Charlesbridge Publishing published her debut picture book, Our Roof is Blue (Nuestro techo es azul), in April 2023 in both English and Spanish.

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut picture book, Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023), uses riddles to introduce biomimicry.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AUTHOR:

Twitter: @autoraechenique 

IG: @autoraechenique 

Website:  www.saraechenique.com

ILLUSTRATOR:

Ashley Vargas

Instagram: @art.ley

Website: https://artley.myportfolio.com

PUBLISHER:

Twitter: @charlesbridge

IG: @charlesbridgepublishing 

Facebook: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc

INTERVIEWER:

Twitter: @katrinatangen 

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: Katrina Tangen Author

Website: www.katrinatangen.com

PROMO GROUP BUSY PBS:

Twitter: @busyPBs

IG: @busypb

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05Oct 23

Young Adult Book Review – Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay

 

YOUR PLANTATION PROM IS NOT OKAY

Written by Kelly McWilliams

(Little, Brown BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

 

Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay cover

Starred ReviewBulletin of the Center for Children’s Books  

 

High school senior Harriet Douglass has grown up on the Westwood Plantation in Louisiana.  Her parents spent years converting the former plantation into a museum that tells the stories of generations of enslaved people who lived and suffered there. Although Harriet’s mother succumbed to cancer, Harriet and her father continue to maintain the plantation and provide educational programs to help visitors gain insight into America’s painful history with slavery and race.

Nearby Belle Grove Plantation has just been purchased by soap opera actress Claudia Hartwell and her social media influencer daughter, Layla. Claudia’s plans are to turn Belle Grove into a romantic venue for weddings and other events, completely disregarding the horrific history behind the plantations. Harriet is angry and disgusted by the attempt to romanticize history at the expense of those who toiled and suffered on them.

Layla and Harriet first meet at school when Layla defends Harriet from a white teacher’s microaggressions. Harriet is surprised by Layla’s awareness of the subtle discrimination and cautiously begins a tentative friendship. When Layla comes up with a plan to publicly pressure Claudia into canceling a celebrity wedding at Belle Grove, Harriet agrees to assist. The plan, using social media, is successful in shaming Claudia, but fails to stop the wedding. And lands both girls in trouble. Later, when the school decides to hold its prom at Belle Grove, Harriet feels betrayed when Layla, desperate for her mother’s attention, refuses to help. Harriet turns to her old friend, now boyfriend, Dawn, who uses his film and social media skills to help Harriet strip away plantation romanticism and tell the real story of what happened in the lives of the enslaved.

Harriet, tough but vulnerable, struggles with grief and mental health issues stemming from her traumatic final meeting with her mother. Her PTSD includes rage and subsequent blackouts. Fearful she could hurt someone, she has turned away from many of her friends. Through counseling, Harriet learns to control her rage and begins to realize that her old friends can be valuable allies in her campaign to end romanticizing plantation life through the stories of the enslaved.

In Your Plantation Prom is Not Okay, Kelly McWilliams has written a powerful and wide-ranging book that not only explores the complex issues stemming from systemic racism but sympathetically and realistically treats grief and mental health.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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03Oct 23

Picture Book Review – Who Ate What? A Historical Guessing Game for Food Lovers

 

WHO ATE WHAT?:

A Historical Guessing Game for Food Lovers

Written by Rachel Levin

Illustrated by Natalia Rojas Castro

(Phaidon; $19.95, Ages 5-8)

 

Who Ate What cover international foods and locations

 

 

Who Ate What? A Historical Guessing Game for Food Lovers by Rachel Levin is such an engaging book kids may forget they’re learning! The book is organized chronologically from cavepeople through what food of the future may be. In each of the ten historical groups, there are 15 food objects that kids will have fun looking for, especially when they realize three of these items are “off the menu.” I couldn’t help but play along—and I missed at least one in each section! For example, I guessed that cavepeople drank milk but then, when I turned the page, found that early humans couldn’t digest animal milk. One of my favorite “on the menu” items was hedgehog. These prickly critters were eaten by ancient Egyptians, and baked in a manner (thankfully) that removed the spines.

 

 

who ate what int1 what did cave people eat
Interior spread from Who Ate What? written by Rachel Levin and illustrated by Natalia Rojas Castro, Phaidon ©2023.

 

Each section has interesting edge-to-edge illustrations showing life during that period masterfully rendered by Natalia Rojas Castro. I especially like how she handles silly items such as delivered pizza or “ew” things like human eyes.

 

who ate what int2 cave people ate acorns
Interior spread from Who Ate What? written by Rachel Levin and illustrated by Natalia Rojas Castro, Phaidon ©2023.

 

 

This nonfiction picture book educates, entertains, and (best of all) is enjoyable. Kids will gravitate to the pages about Vikings, ninjas, and pirates, but if you want to know which group ate snakes and which one ate flamingos, you’ll have to read the book.

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29Sep 23

An Interview with Building a Dream Author Darshana Khiani

 

KIRSTEN W. LARSON INTERVIEWS DARSHANA KHIANI,

AUTHOR OF BUILDING A DREAM

Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

(Eerdmans BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

An unforgettable tale of persistence and problem-solving, based on the amazing true story of a Thai soccer team who made their own place to play.

In Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, atop a network of stilts, floats the village of Koh Panyee—where a group of boys loved soccer but had nowhere to practice. Where could they find space to dribble, juggle, shoot, and score? The boys looked out at the water and started gathering tools. Even while their neighbors laughed, they sawed wood, hammered nails, and tied barrels together. The team worked for weeks to build Koh Panyee’s first floating field—a place to practice, and a place to transform their community…

 

INTERVIEW:

Kirsten W. Larson: Building a Dream is such a fascinating story, and I loved reading that you discovered the story of the boys of Koh Panyee in a commercial! Did that unusual story spark result in any research challenges, since you weren’t starting with a book or article, for example?

Darshana Khiani: Yes, yes, yes! This story was probably not the best choice for my first foray into nonfiction: a true story from another country, a different language, and one that was likely not well-known or covered by the media. But I LOVED this story. I must have watched the video a zillion times.

Getting the research was a challenge. I searched for Thai newspapers written in English, scoured YouTube, reached out to the team that produced the commercial, and had a friend help get an email translated into Thai that I then sent to the Facebook account for the current soccer team in Koh Panyee. My attempts to reach out to the villagers went unanswered, but I was able to find a few newspaper articles and a couple of video interviews done by other sports outlets.

 

KWL: Why did you feel a personal connection to this story? What made it one you had to tell?

DK: I’m a sucker for movies based on a true story, where you see real people overcome challenges and succeed. In this humanitarian commercial, I was inspired by how the boys faced their environmental and societal challenges with perseverance, hope, and ingenuity. At a deeper level, I think this mimics my own writing journey. I faced a variety of challenges (personal, professional, etc) on my seven-year journey to get that first book deal. But in the end, I persevered with the help of my kidlit friends, without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

 

Building a Dream int1 racing along the waterfront
Interior spread from Building a Dream written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Eerdman’s BYR ©2023.

 

KWL: What influenced your decision to fictionalize Building a Dream? What elements did you make up and why?

DK: The general rule in nonfiction is there should be three sources for every fact. Given the challenges of getting the research, verifying the facts was even harder. I had dates from the commercial and the newspaper articles, however, there were a couple of discrepancies such as when the boys played their first game on the mainland. In a video interview, there is mention of the boys playing on a small tract of land but then the village grew, and they could not play on that land anymore. There was no mention of this in the commercial or in my other sources. Since I couldn’t fill in the gaps and call it nonfiction, I re-positioned it as fiction based on a true story. This turned out to be beneficial since later on I was asked to revise for greater emotional connection, and I was able to achieve this by naming a few of the boys and giving them dialogue.

 

KWL: Did writing about an unfamiliar culture create any unique obstacles? 

DK: Since the main focus of this story was perseverance and overcoming the environmental challenges, I think it turned out fine. I did reach out to some Thai friends for sensitivity readings and a reader mentioned that one of the qualities of Thai people is ingenuity. The people living in Koh Panyee certainly had plenty of that. So I worked that quality into one of the boy’s lines.

I considered adding in Thai expressions or food to bring in the senses into the scene, but quickly realized I was out of my league. Whatever I came up with would likely be inaccurate. So I abandoned that idea.

 

KWL: Dow Phumiruk is such a powerhouse illustrator. What was your reaction when you first saw her sketches and then her final art?

DK: From the sketches, I could tell she was trying to capture the unique setting for this story, which made me so happy. In the final art, I love how Dow’s illustrations have a dreamy quality with soft blues and greens. My favorite spread is the one which gives a birds-eye view of the village: a storefront selling clothing, a fisherman paddling in with his day’s catch, and the boys rushing over to watch the game at Uncle Hemmin’s cafe. I enjoy this glimpse into daily life.

Building a Dream int2 the boys had nowhere to play
Interior art from Building a Dream written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Eerdman’s BYR ©2023.

 

 

KWL: What message do you hope young readers will take away from the story?

DK: I want kids everywhere to know that following your dreams is not easy and can take a long time. But if you stay dedicated to your goal, work hard, face the many challenges, and most importantly believe in yourself then you can reach your dream too.

 

KWL: What a fabulous message. Thank you so much, Darshana!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase the book.

Access activities, discussion topics, etc. here.

 

Darshana Khiani photo by Lisa Noble
Darshana Khiani Photo © Lisa Noble

AUTHOR BIO:

Darshana Khiani is a computer engineer, children’s book author, and a South Asian kidlit advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her books include How to Wear a Sari (Versify), an Amazon Editors Pick, and I’m an American (Viking). She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling.  Find out more about Darshana here.

LINKS FOR DARSHANA’S SOCIAL MEDIA:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/darshanakhiani

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/darshanakhiani/

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Her books include WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle). Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, dog, and two curious kids. Learn more at KirstenWLarson.com. Find her on Twitter @kirstenwlarson and on Instagram @kirstenwlarson.

 

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21Sep 23

An Interview with AlphaBot Author and Illustrator Vicky Fang

 

RAJANI LAROCCA INTERVIEWS VICKY FANG,

AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR OF

ALPHABOT

(MIT Kids Press/Candlewick Press; 14.99, Ages 3-7)

AlphaBot cover mix and match robots

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Found your circuit-board head? Your voice-control torso? Your hydrojet feet? Hooray! You’ve made one of the 729 mix-and-match robots that are possible with this innovative flip-flap book. Alongside the bright and cheery illustrations of robot parts is a basic alphabetical listing of terms—from android to gearsneural network to program, wheels to Z-drive—and a basic definition of each. With a concealed spiral binding and sturdy card stock pages to hold up to enthusiastic flap-turning, AlphaBot is full of appeal for young robot lovers, preschoolers who love machines, and anyone looking for STEM books for the younger set. Back matter includes a brief explanation of the three key abilities of robots: to sense, think, and act.

INTERVIEW:

Rajani LaRocca: How did you come up with this idea?

Vicky Fang: ALPHABOT actually started off with the title! As a former designer of robots for kids, I think about robots a lot, haha. Once the title and the idea of a robot alphabet book were in my head, I knew I wanted to make something interactive. I thought about different novelty formats (flaps, cutouts, etc.) until I had the idea for mix-and-match flaps. This meant kids would be able to mix-and-match the A-Z robotics terms to create their own robots. How fun and exciting! I spent a long time thinking about what terms would work and making paper dummies to prove out the concept.

e

RL: What kind of challenges did you face coming up with a novelty book idea like this?

Alphabot int2 circuit fan treads
Interior illustrations and text from AlphaBot written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, MIT Kids Press ©2023.

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VF: This book was definitely a puzzle to put together! I have several paper dummies where I was working to make sure I could make all the terms work together. Once I had a working dummy, it was also challenging to sell the book! Novelty books are expensive to construct, so even though several editors were interested, it took time to find a publisher that could figure out how to make the numbers work. I’m so glad that MIT Kids Press/Candlewick found a way and I’m so happy with the quality of the book!

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RL: I see a strong parallel between this book and your debut, INVENT-A-PET. What do you see as the similarities and differences between them?

VF: I love introducing kids to STEM concepts, but really, I want kids to be creative problem solvers. This is at the heart of both books! Even though INVENT-A-PET is a fiction story about a girl inventing fantastic pets and ALPHABOT is about non-fiction informational book about creating robots, you can see that both books invite kids to be inventive! Maybe the different approach will appeal to a different kid, but hopefully, all kids find a way to engage their imagination from the STEM content in these books.

AlphaBot int1 gears hydrojets
Interior illustrations and text from AlphaBot written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, MIT Kids Press ©2023.

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RL: I loved the mix of familiar and not-so-familiar terms in this book! Was it hard to come up with a concept for each letter of the alphabet?

VF: There were letters that were more challenging than others, especially to make sure they would work in their positions in the book (head, torso, or feet.) I tried several different options, as well as shifting which flaps the letters would fall on. But since I was also illustrating, I was able to think creatively about how these robot parts might work and all fit together!

e

RL: What do you hope kids get from this book?

VF: Well, of course, I hope they understand robots a little bit better! The back matter is a pretty simple explanation of the capabilities of robots and came from my engineering partner, Chaitanya Gharpure. Hopefully, kids understand a little bit more about how robots work and what kinds of parts they might have!

But ultimately, as I was saying before, I want kids to have fun and be creative, I hope that this book sparks their imagination and gives them the confidence to create.

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RL: What’s next for you?

VF: I am very excited about my next early reader series, BEST BUDDIES, illustrated by Luisa Leal, which is releasing in October with Scholastic. It’s about a dog named Sniff and a cat named Scratch who are best friends and get into mischief at home. It’s been fun to explore themes of friendship and teamwork with these two characters who approach things differently, but together.

After that, I have many more books coming! I’m currently working on a new early chapter book series, AVA LIN, about a relatable and funny 6-year-old Chinese-American girl with a knack for getting herself into—and out of—trouble. Keep an eye out for it, launching with Candlewick in June 2024!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support a local independent bookstore and get a signed copy. (Please type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.lindentreebooks.com/alphabot.html

Also: https://vickyfang.com/books/alphabot/

AUTHOR BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter (X): https://twitter.com/fangmous

IG: https://www.instagram.com/fangmousbooks/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fangmousbooks

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor and Walter Award-winning middle-grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She has always been an omnivorous reader, and now is an omnivorous writer of novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, in poetry and prose. You can learn more about her atwww.RajaniLaRocca.com.

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19Sep 23

Picture Book Review – Adam and His Tuba

 

ADAM AND HIS TUBA

Written by Ziga X Gombac

Illustrated by Maja Kastelic

Translated by Olivia Hellewell

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Adam_and_His_Tuba_cover_Adam_leaving_circus_tent

 

 

Starred review – Foreword Reviews

 

The Von Trapeze circus family travels the world in their painted wagons performing to audiences who reward them with flowers and applause. But, not everyone in the family enjoys acrobatics, or applause, in Slovenian author Ziga X Gombac’s picture book Adam and His Tuba illustrated by Maja Kastelic.

 

Adam and His Tuba int1 Grandma Antonia breathing plumes of fire.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

I love how each family member’s first name begins with the letter ‘A.” There’s Grandma Antonia, who breathes blazing plumes of fire; Grandpa Angus who swallows swords; Papa Alexi and Mama Anastasia who bravely walk the tightrope; and twin sisters Aria, who rides a unicycle, and Alea who crawls into cannons. But what trick does the youngest son Adam perform?

Everything in the Von Trapeze family is just as it should be. Except … Young Adam is illustrated sitting alone in a tent surrounded by stage props and a unicycle while he’s reading what appears to be a book, but my guess is that it’s sheet music. The family tries desperately to get him to participate in the acrobatics. Grandma Antonia tried to spark an interest in fire-breathing. But it was no use. The reader sees a drawing of Grandma trying to put out the flame, as Adam stands behind her with his hands clasped together. Grandpa Angus tries to teach Adam how to handle a sword but instead finds his cape cut in half. It was no use.

 

Adam and His Tuba int2 Von Trapeze family closed the doors quietly.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

The Von Trapeze family gathers in a tent to try to come up with a solution. “He could iron everybody’s clothes and darn their socks,” one family member called out. “Why don’t we ask Adam what he likes doing?” The family wasn’t sure who called out that question, but as soon as it happened they heard a magical melody. Sitting on the bed with an enormous tuba was Adam. He played with so much skill. The family couldn’t believe what they were hearing and why didn’t anyone ever notice him before? The family had been so caught up in their own circus tricks they hadn’t paid much attention. The family felt awful but Adam wasn’t sad or mad. From that day forward the world-famous Von Trapeze circus family featured a new performer.

 

Adam and His Tuba int3 Adam and his tuba accompanies family circus act.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

This enchanting story about choosing your own path, even when it goes against the rest of the family, is a good message for young readers and a good conversation starter. What is right for one family member isn’t always right for another. The family realized they had been so focused on their own stuff they hadn’t noticed Adam. And when they eventually did, how wonderful that everyone could agree that Adam’s contribution to the circus made it that much better. Adding to the pleasure of this 40-page picture is the excellent artwork. Slovenian illustrator Maja Kastelic uses warm sepia colors throughout the story: black, gold, and orange, lovely bursts of light, and characters with red flushed cheeks that give the book an appealing historic vibe. A recommended read for kids who want to make their own kind of music in this world.

Find out more about the translator here.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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08Sep 23