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Picture Book Review – Two New Years

 

TWO NEW YEARS

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Two_New_Years_cover_multicultural_Chinese_Jewish_family_celebrating

 

Reading Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.

 

Two New Years int1 family celebrating rosh hashanah and lunar new year.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.

Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why  Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.

The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the  depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.

 

 

Two New Years int2 sweeping troubles out the door and casting old mistakes into stream.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.

Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.

I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Sora’s Seashells

SORA’S SEASHELLS
A Name Is a Gift to Be Treasured

Written by Helena Ku Rhee

Illustrated by Stella Lim
With Ji-Hyuk Kim

(Candlewick Press $17.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Sora's Seashells cover Sora and Halmoni at beach picking shells

 

 

Sora’s Seashells, written by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Stella Lim with Ji-Hyuk Kim, is so much more than a beach or summer story. It’s a multi-layered, moving, and intergenerational picture book about a grandmother and granddaughter relationship. Gentle in tone with art that beautifully captures the book’s mood, the story is also about loss, and passing kindness forward to other’s lives, including strangers. Additionally, Sora’s Seashells addresses the meaning of a name and how it can bring joy.

 

Sora's Seashells int1 Sora and Halmoni comb for shells
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

When Sora’s grandmother (Halmoni), visits each summer from South Korea, the pair spend special time together gathering seashells at the beach. Though lovely, the prettiest shell that Halmoni picks is intended for someone else. “It’s a gift,” Halmoni tells Sora, left “For anyone who sees its beauty.” Sora is a bit confounded at first. Parents, however, may explain to children being read the story what a thoughtful gesture Halmoni has made.

Not quite understanding the largesse in Halmoni’s action of spreading kindness, Sora tucks away a few of her favorite finds when she and Halmoni go back to the beach the next day. Later at home, Halmoni can be seen in art glancing from Sora’s bedroom door at her granddaughter who inspects her collection that brings her such happiness.

 

Sora's Seashells int2 empty bench at beach
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

At the beginning of Kindergarten, some classmates tease Sora about her unusual name, wondering if it’s really supposed to be Sara. The bullies persist over several weeks but Sora chooses not to tell her parents. When she learns her Halmoni has passed away, she is beset by sadness for so many reasons all at once. Sad she’ll no longer be able to spend summers with Halmoni. Sad at remembering times together and the way Halmoni said Sora’s name. And sad how the bullies treated her at school. “I hate my name. I want to be Sara!” Sora tells her parents through a steady stream of tears.

A restorative trip to the beach and learning that her name means seashell in Korean, helps Sora get things in perspective. Most of all, Sora’s mom explains that Halmoni felt finding a perfect shell was like receiving a wonderful gift. Sora was that gift!

And if that doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, when Sora shares the meaning of her name at show and tell, and gives each of her classmates a shell, including those who’d teased her, my eyes welled up with tears. She knew she mattered, took the high road, and was rewarded. I was especially touched when Sora left her last shell on the bench at the beach exactly as Halmoni had. What a meaningful way to end the book.  The art, rendered in warm watercolor and finished digitally, is soothing and sensitive. Full of caring and love, hope, and kindness, Sora’s Seashells is the kind of feel-good read that is easy to recommend.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Anzu and the Art of Friendship

 

ANZU AND THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP

Written by Moni Ritchie Hadley

Illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama

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

 

Anzu_and_the_Art_of_Friendship_cover_friends_making_origami

 

REVIEW:

Patience and the practice required for paper folding (aka origami) offer the promise of friendship in Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama.

If your child isn’t already familiar with origami, this multilayered picture book provides a gentle introduction to the beloved Japanese art form while also tackling a topic that should resonate with young readers: making new school friends after moving. When Anzu starts a new school, “her stomach folds in knots.” At the same time, the teacher Mr. Lee informs the class they are beginning a unit on origami.

 

AnzuandtheArtofFriendship int1 mrlee introduces Anzu
Interior art from Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Readers have already seen Anzu’s creations hanging in her bedroom courtesy of Takeyama’s bold and expressive art that appears to be digitally rendered. That, along with Ritche Hadley’s prose, lets us know from the first page that Anzu adores origami. It’s especially sweet when Anzu’s ojiisan (grandfather) gives her a tsuru (crane) for good luck. Maybe Anzu’s origami skills can help her forge new friendships with her classmates.

Pretty soon Anzu sees her good intentions go unappreciated. She is disappointed that her classmates look for an easy, often silly way out despite her offers of help. At night she explains to Ojiisan what’s been happening. He thoughtfully suggests she try to be patient. The next day is not much better. Anzu’s classmates seem frustrated and look for quick solutions such as scissors and tape. Again she complains to Ojiisan. He compares the skill of creating origami with that of making new friends. She needs to give it time. Still, Anzu is sad about her move and misses her old friends.

 

AnzuandtheArtofFriendship int2 classmate wearing hat dances
Interior spread from Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Things look up for Anzu the next day when “Mr. Lee displays an origami frog figure.” Always an attention-getter, the frog inspires curiosity and joy. But Anzu’s classmate Alex is frustrated he cannot put the frog back together after he’s unfolded it. This time, after Anzu does all the required folding, creasing, etc., she demonstrates how it can hop. Instead of losing interest, Alex asks Anzu to show him how to do it. At last! Anzu also tells Alex that the frog or the Kaeru, “is a symbol of good luck and a safe return when traveling.” Alex realizes the Kaeru is something meaningful he can give to his father to take on his next business trip. His interest in the paper creation prompts Anzu to come up with fun ways to engage her formerly reluctant classmates (see illustration above), and it works! Folding leads to friendship and Anzu’s spirits soar.

All the work involved in making origami as well as the symbolism of each figure serve as perfect metaphors for this book’s themes of perseverance, empathy, and kindness. Young readers will rejoice when they see how Anzu has truly mastered the art of friendship. They’ll also see the rewards of not giving up, whether that involves sticking with a tough project or trying to make a new friend. While in real life these things may take a little longer, the positive message conveyed in Anzu and the Art of Friendship makes this book easy to recommend.

The special meaning of the origami figures included in the story is explained in the back matter.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

BUY THE BOOK:

Support a local independent bookshop by clicking here to purchase Anzu and the Art of Friendship.

FIND THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

MONI –

Click here for Moni’s website.

https://www.instagram.com/bookthreader

https://www.twitter.com/bookthreader

https://www.facebook.com/bookthreader

 

NATHALIA –

Click here for more about Nathalia.

https://www.instagram.com/natztak

https://www.twitter.com/natztak

https://www.facebook.com/nathalia.takeyama/

Read a guest post by Moni about her debut picture book, The Star Festival.

Find out about The Star Festival here.

 

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Best New Children’s Books for Father’s Day 2023

FATHER’S DAY BOOKS

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

REVIEWS:

Dads Can Do It All Cover dads doing many activitiesDADS CAN DO IT ALL!
Written by Ted Maass
Illustrated by Ekaterina Trukhan

(Grosset & Dunlap; 8.99, Ages 0-3)

I reviewed Moms Can Do It All! last month and am happy to share its equally charming companion, Dads Can Do It All! with you.

Maass and Trukhan engage children with their easy rhyme and vibrant art in this 18-page board book. “There are dads who sing songs and write music with words, and there are dads who take care of dogs, cats, and birds.” Little ones are encouraged to believe in themselves and in what they might be one day. Dads are shown role modeling in myriad jobs from mail carriers, farmers, construction workers, chefs, and nurses to firefighters, clerks, hairstylists, astronauts, and homemakers. The variety of occupations depicted can open the door for discussing all kinds of positions people have at an age when children love to dress up and play pretend. 

Like the companion board book, here readers are treated to bold colors and simply shaped characters that will capture and hold young ones’ attention. With its convenient bookplate for personalization, this book can be gifted to new dads by anyone including baby! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Papá’s Magical Water-Jug ClockPapas Magical Water-Jug Clock cover boy giving out water
Written by  Jesús Trejoa
Illustrated by Eliza Kinkz
(Minerva; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

If you enjoy picture books that entertain on many levels and are more than a Father’s Day book, that’s what you’ll get with this delightful debut from Jesús Trejoa, a popular Mexican American comedian. The multiple hooks of this father-son tale such as humor, gardening and equipment, animals and nature, diversity, and grown-up jobs, will pull in young readers. The family closeness and joyful illustrations will keep them reading.

Is Papá’s water-jug clock truly magical? That’s what children will find out as little Jesús joins his father on a hot and busy Saturday to help out in the family landscaping business. “Remember to drink lots of agua,” his mama reminds him with some innocent foreshadowing before her son starts loading up the van. Papá has already told Jesús that when the water runs out the work day is over meaning the water jug serves as a clock as well as a much-needed source of hydration. That is if Jesús didn’t give away so much water at each home they visited!

Jesús encounters animals every place they go. First cats, then a dog, and even peacocks. Kids should note the ever-present purple skateboard throughout that whimsically provides rides for these creatures along the way. Is the lad deliberately being mischievous by offering water to the animals because he wants to use it up and end the day early or because he genuinely is concerned about the animals’ welfare and doesn’t realize the repercussions of his actions? It’s magical, right?

Then there’s Jesús’s hard labor on such a hot day. Readers see him frequently splash water on his face to cool off. It is fun watching what Jesús gets up to because of Kinkz’s childlike, loose-lined art, created using multimedia including pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, crayons, and queso. In addition to the magical water jug, I always find it magical when the art and prose pair so harmoniously as they do here.

When eventually Jesús tells Papá that the jug is empty, Papá explains that the jug is not really magical and there are many more stops before they can go home. Beyond surprised at this revelation, the little boy worries he’ll be fired, unaware of the simple solution – request water at the next stop. Once reality sets in, the father and son team must make tracks to finish up all the while having laughs along the way. Now Jesús can appreciate that “Time and water are precious. We don’t want to waste them.” The sweet love between father and son is palpable on every page, and the gentle life lesson conveyed makes this a “read again” story. Don’t miss the comical endpapers too! Also available in Spanish – El Barrilito Mágico de Papá. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Ramen for Everyone cover boy with bowl of ramenRAMEN FOR EVERYONE
Written by Patricia Tanumihardja
Illustrated by Shiho Pate
(Atheneum BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

A March/April 2023 Indie Next Pick
A Junior Library Guild Selection

Another great father/son bonding book is Patricia Tanumihardja’s Ramen For Everyone with illustrations rendered in sumi ink, pencil, and digital media by Shiho Pate. The main character, Hiro, has been studying Dad’s technique of cooking the perfect bowl of ramen every Sunday night for as long as he can remember. But when his seventh birthday arrives, Hiro decides he’s ready to make ramen for the family.

With illustrations of Dad chopping the meat, seasoning the broth, and cutting the vegetables it’s hard not to want to run out and get a bowl of ramen—or better yet make it yourself. Let’s make ramen! Hiro says standing beside Dad at the cooking block. Yes, chef! Dad responds with his arms poised straight by his side. The roles have now been reversed! Hiro’s hair is pulled back in a grey cap as he Thwacks, Thumps, and Bumps his way into the kitchen attempting to make the noodles soft and springy. You got this! His dad says supporting him from the side.

Mom, sister Mia, Dad, and dog Sushi watch as the eggs slip through Hiro’s fingers and the pork falls apart. Shiho Pate perfectly depicts anger on Hiro’s face as Dinner is ruined! He throws the food in the trash. Dad sits crossed-legged on the kitchen floor with his hand on Hiro’s head. It isn’t perfect like yours, Hiro says. Ramen doesn’t have to be perfect, Dad replies.

Hiro and Dad return to the kitchen together to create a meal that both Mom and Mia will enjoy. Cheesy ramen for Mom, Asian Pears for Mia, and for Dad, who loves Hawaiian pizza, pieces of pineapple are a delight in his bowl.

The back matter tells how Ramen is a popular Japanese noodle of Chinese origin and how it has been popularized over the last few years in the United States. Tanumihardja also lists Kitchen Rules telling kids that cooking is fun but you need to wash your hands. Great cooking also takes time. Reading Ramen for Everyone together is a terrific way to get a father and son (or daughter) into the kitchen to create dishes. An Easy Miso Ramen recipe is included and introduces new dishes to add to the family menu. So, if you don’t feel like cooking, you can always bring in ramen bowls this Father’s Day.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

When Daddy Tucks Me In cover girl hugging father WHEN DADDY TUCKS ME IN
Written by Sacha Cotter
Illustrated by Josh Morgan
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $18.99, Ages 4+)

The little girl narrator of this charming picture book rushes out of bed to greet her daddy after he returns home from his medical job that involves working late. Early on we’re clued into the important role of keys in this imaginative story when the girl notes the “jingle, jangle, jingle in the lock of our door.”

From here on in, readers are treated to a slew of fun-sounding, made-up words such as when the little girl proclaims her dad is the “… best tucker-in-er-er in the whole wide world.” On top of that, onomatopeia is peppered throughout the story adding to its read-aloud appeal. We quickly realize how Dad’s packed keychain unlocks the heart of this tale as the narrator inquires about what each key is used for. Is she stalling for time with her dad? It doesn’t matter because we are curious too!

The lumpy, bumpy key leads to Dad’s yarn about a fantastical Zippenburger that takes him zippling off to work with a “Zippeny, zappeny, zippen …” A tiny key unlocks a treasure chest that’s hidden away and only he can find using his
“pirate’s map.” Morgan has filled every spread with whimsical details that one look will not suffice. His art, created in Adobe Photoshop using digital painting and found textures, will hold your child’s attention and delight them. In this particular illustration, there’s a swinging monkey in a pearl necklace, a chest filled with gold, a spider, a snake, and even the little girl’s cat who manages to insert himself into every humorous scene. As a cookie lover, my favorite key is the curly, curvy one that opens the door at her dad’s workplace to a cookie-making machine and conveyor belt. There Dad sits stuffing his face. With each key’s purpose conjuring up wild tales such as the one to a corral where Dad’s woolly mammoth Stanley lives or the one that opens a rocket so Dad can collect space noodles, threads of your child’s dreams are being sewn.

As the story and your child wind down, Cotter brings readers back to the key that started us off, the simple metal one that opens the front door to the narrator’s house and to her! What a satisfying way to end When Daddy Tucks Me In and send your little one off to sleep. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Daddy Dressed Me cover girl hugging dad who sewsDADDY DRESSED ME
Written by Michael Gardner and Ava Gardner
Illustrated by Nadia Fisher
(Aladdin BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Daddy Dressed Me is co-written by thirty-nine-year-old fashion blogger, Michael Gardner, and his confident and thoughtful young daughter, Ava Gardner, who loves pink, getting manicures, and modeling her dad’s unique creations. That alone should fill your heart and give you a reason to read this book with your own child.

The digitally rendered illustrations by Nadia Fisher open to Dad and Ava back to back with Dad wearing an apron for cooking, standing next to a toolbox for building, and cans of paint on the floor for decorating. He’s good at making things.

We see him cooking and painting a mural but what Daddy was best at was sewing. He makes dresses for Ava every year for the holidays and a dress for the Daddy-Daughter dance. When Daddy drops Ava off for Kindergarten, Ava chooses to make a picture frame for Daddy during arts and crafts. But when Miss Sydney announces that everyone should dress in their best clothes for Move Up Day (saying goodbye to Kindergarten and hello to first grade) Ava begins to worry. Would they still make crafts? What about story time?

During dinner, Daddy asks Ava how school was and she tells him about Move Up Day and that she is worried about reciting a poem. Maybe I can make you a special dress, Daddy suggests to Ava who melts into his hug. We see drawings of different dress choices for Ava to choose from. Together they go to the store to find the perfect fabric and Ava finds one that a real princess would wear. She draws a picture of her dream dress. Daddy is a bit worried that it may be complicated but he agrees. Together they practice the poem while Ava helps Daddy with the dress. Ava’s words flowed with more confidence and Daddy’s sewing machine began to whir faster than ever before. When Miss Sydney called Ava’s name she recited the poem perfectly wrapped in the dress that Daddy designed.

The back matter explains the story behind the story of how Michael Gardner used creativity as a way to process his internal struggles. He says, “God turned my pain into power.” Gardner dedicates this book to the memory of his firstborn daughter, Madison-Sole, whose blessed memory he honors in all that he does. This story beautifully highlights what determination, patience, and love can do. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

SOON TO BE RELEASED:

The Coolest Beard cover boy helping dad shaveTHE COOLEST BEARD
Written by Betty Tekle
Illustrated by Nicholas Alexander
(Albert Whitman; $18.99; Ages 4-8, Preorder now, releasing 6/22)

Tenderness and empathy abound in storyteller Betty Tekle’s picture book The Coolest Beard, in which a boy goes with his father to the barbershop and sees the kindness that is shown between his dad and the men who talk about ‘grown folks’ business while getting haircuts and beard trims.

The adults are seated talking on a couch, a cane leaning on Mr. Williams’ knee, but when young Isaac asks, when I grow a beard, I can talk and listen to grown folks’ business? His dad responds, By the time you get a beard, you’ll be one of the grown folks. Nicolas Alexander’s colorful detailed drawings illustrate the Black cultural tradition of the barbershop as a community and family space. And his drawings of the father’s long furry beard are the envy of young Isaac. Some of my favorite illustrations are the humorous spot art pictures of Isaac imagining himself with a beard.

Isaac does not have the patience to wait for a beard to grow, so he rubs Dad’s beard oil all over his face to speed up the process. The adorable illustrations of father and son in the bathroom with Dad rubbing the oil on his beard are made sweeter when we see Isaac doing the same.

Week 1: Nothing yet; Week 2: Still nothing. His cute little dog is intently staring at him and waiting for the beard to grow. By the time he reaches Week 6, Dad’s beard oil has been used up and he wonders if olive oil may do the trick.

When Saturday morning barbershop time comes around, Isaac and his doggy see that his face is as soft and empty as the day before. Isaac feels awful about using up the beard oil and confesses to Mom and Dad. Dad says that going with him to the barbershop will make him feel better.

That’s when Cliff the barber has a plan and places Isaac in the barber chair. When Isaac opens his eyes, he sees that Cliff has rubbed shaving cream all over his cheeks and chin resembling Santa Claus. Now that he has his version of a beard, Isaac is invited over to talk with the grown folks learning that Mr. Williams has broken his hip and that Dad has offered to run errands for him. Other guys offer to help as well. I didn’t realize that grown folks’ business is just adults helping each other, Isaac thinks when Dad offers Mr. Williams money to pay his bills since he’s unable to work. Isaac now sees that it’s not just the beard that makes his dad cool, but his care and generosity toward his friends.

Though not out yet, The Coolest Beard celebrates this unique aspect of fatherhood while honoring the men in children’s lives who teach their kids about acts of loving-kindness. Preorder today. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

 

MORE RECOMMENDED READS FOR FATHER’S DAY

Daddy and Me cover multiple dads kidsDADDY AND ME
Written by Gary Urda
Illustrated by Rosie Butcher
(Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

 

 

 

A Bed of Stars cover dad son in truck stargazingA BED OF STARS
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

How To Catch a Daddysaurus cover assorted toolsHOW TO CATCH A DADDYSAURUS
Written by Alice Walstead
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Daddy & Me Side by Side cover father son walking in woodsDADDY & ME, SIDE BY SIDE
Written by Pierce Freelon and Nadia Fisher 
Illustrated by Nadia Fisher
(Little, Brown BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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Five Children’s Books for Women’s History Month

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS

FOR

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

Just Wild Enough cover of primatologist Mireya Mayor in MadagascarJUST WILD ENOUGH:
Mireya Mayor, Primatologist

Written by Marta Magellan
Illustrated by Clémentine Rocheron
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Picture book biographies such as Just Wild Enough are exactly why I love nonfiction and why I especially love Women’s History Month. Part of the She Made History collection, this book brings primatologist Mireya Mayor to the attention of young readers and might just plant the seed for some of them to study the fascinating and important field of primatology.

From a young age, animals were always a part of Mayor’s life. She could never have enough pets whether they were cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, a chicken, or a snapping turtle. At the same time, she felt that nothing was quite wild enough. This phrase is often repeated and is backed up by many impressive examples throughout the bio.

While she attended university, Mayor was also an NFL cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins. Yet her dream to be a primatologist persisted. People she knew couldn’t see why she’d want to visit jungles and study primates. In fact, one of my favorite lines in the book is when some researchers told her she didn’t look like a scientist. Magellan writes “But what does a scientist look like, anyway?”

Much to everyone’s surprise, Mayor eventually ended up on the island of Madagascar to study inky-black lemurs. There she was hired by National Geographic “as its very first woman wildlife TV reporter.” Still, nothing she experienced was quite wild enough. Her tenacity took her deep into one of the last virgin rainforests. Always one to look closer, Mayor discovered a new species of mouse lemur. But finding that species also meant the need to speak with the prime minister since the mouse lemur’s habitat was being devastated. Using fire, people stripped “the trees from the rain forest for fuel.” When Mayor met him she asked if he could declare the rain forest a national park thus ensuring the mouse lemurs’ survival. He agreed!

Magellan’s chosen to introduce kids to an inspirational woman in a well-balanced presentation of the life of a primatologist. I enjoyed learning about Mayor’s colorful and conscientious life. The art helps young readers see what some of Mayor’s responsibilities were and the text helps them understand her motivation. Dubbed the female Indiana Jones, she continues to this day to promote the protection of endangered species and the importance of conservation. Rocheron’s artwork takes us on the football field and into the jungles with illustrations that work well in this bio but would also look great on a TV show. Four pages of back matter include a Glossary, Author’s Note, About Mouse Lemurs, and Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve.

 

Dolly!-The Story of Dolly Parton and Her Big Dream Dolly playing guitarDOLLY!:
The Story of Dolly Parton and Her Big Dream
Written  by Robyn McGrath
Illustrated by Ellen Surrey
(LBRY/Christy Ottaviano Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I know very little about Dolly Parton so I couldn’t wait to dive into this picture book. What I learned is that Dolly grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and is the fourth of twelve children so it’s no surprise she became a performer. What better way to make your presence known?

Dolly’s musical prowess showed up when she was five years old and “composed her first song about her handmade corncob doll, Tiny Tasseltop.” She could be found singing to her animals at home or in church and loved listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio on Saturdays along with her family. The music moved her. The Partons occasionally found time for music sessions together playing “some Appalachian porch pickin’ music.” Dolly easily moved from instrument to instrument learning as she went. And, growing up dirt poor, Dolly channeled unpleasant experiences of bullying into her music, her musical dreams motivated by her mama’s singing and stories. Dolly’s primary dream was to be onstage at the Opry but was always told the same thing – she was too young.

Did that stop Dolly? Like the other women in this roundup, Dolly didn’t take no for an answer and persevered. And though she had farmwork to take care of, she still wrote and sang songs, never losing sight of her dream. Her uncle Bill observed her talent and after Dolly got her first guitar, he not only encouraged her but helped her get her first radio and TV gigs. Despite being well received by audiences, that didn’t mean an automatic entrée for Dolly into the Grand Old Opry.

Then one day Dolly’s big dream was realized when “another singer agreed to let Dolly go onstage in his place at the Grand Ole Opry!” After three encores that night, the rest is history. Dolly went on to dazzle audiences on TV as her career took off. To this day her singing and songwriting still thrill fans and she’s added philanthropy to her playbook. Back matter details her literacy, health care, and marriage equality initiatives. I got a kick out of her Dollyisms also included. Here’s my favorite from the book: “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you got to put up with the rain.” The pairing of McGrath’s prose with Surrey’s art is a winning combination. It was probably not easy to narrow down what to focus on in such a storied life, but McGrath’s homed in on highlights such as her close family life and self-confidence that help readers understand Dolly’s drive. You can also feel Dolly’s energy in the bold illustrations.

 

A Life of Service Tammy Duckworth in wheelchairA LIFE OF SERVICE:
The Story of Senator Tammy Duckworth
Written by Christina Soontornvat
Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
(Candlewick Press; 18.99, Ages 5-9)

Soontornvat shows readers how there is so much more to Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth’s life than meets the eye. Her commitment to serving our country has remained steadfast despite facing a life-changing accident in 2004.

Written using a straightforward chronological structure, this bio shares that Tammy was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and growing up she and her family moved around Southeast Asia. Because of her father’s job working for the United Nations, she saw people from all walks of life who had been displaced due to war and were living as refugees. Her caring about others was instilled at a young age and never left her.

When her father lost his job, he moved everyone to Hawaii where at times Tammy was the sole breadwinner. Her drive and caring never faltered and she worked hard at school despite the family’s tough financial situation. After high school, Tammy continued on to college and graduate school knowing she wanted to serve her country, just not how.

Tammy found fulfillment in the ROTC, then joined the Illinois Army National Guard. She also fell in love and got married. Fascinated by aviation, she mastered operating a Black Hawk helicopter eventually becoming her unit’s commander. When the US decided to invade Iraq, Tammy did not agree but chose to stay with her company in Balad, Iraq as battle captain. Near the end of a mission, on Nov. 12, 2004, her helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. Tammy almost didn’t survive. The result – one leg lost and one partially lost from the knee down. And though the pain was debilitating, Tammy’s fellow vets provided motivation. She’d get better and return to combat. But that was not to be.

In rehab for 13 months, Tammy was the most senior ranked vet and soon found she was helping others navigate benefits and other challenges they encountered. With this experience under her belt it was no surprise she was asked to run for Congress. And though she lost the first time, she didn’t the second time! Not one to shy from breaking the glass ceiling, Tammy also won her Senate race where “she racked up a long string of firsts,” including being the first female amputee to serve in Congress, and the first senator to give birth while in office. To this day Tammy Duckworth is a force to be reckoned with as she fights for disability rights, immigration, and refugee protections, helping vets find work, and supporting family needs.

Dow Phumiruk’s art brought Tammy into my home (and heart) as I followed her childhood to her military years to her rise and influence in politics. Together with Soontornvat’s thoughtful prose, A Life of Service introduces young readers to a role model worthy of a place in Women’s History Month and Women’s History in general. I am glad to have learned her story. Backmatter includes a helpful timeline of major events in Tammy’s life, suggested reading as well as her “Ongoing Legacy of Service.”

 

Wonderful Hair cover Annie Malone with clientWONDERFUL HAIR:
The Beauty of Annie Malone
Written by Eve Nadel Catarevas
Illustrated by Felicia Marshall 
(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

Annie’s story is one of perseverance and success, and more impressive since it happened around the turn of the 19th century when Black women were denied the same opportunities as whites. Annie’s neighbor and friend, Lillie even said to her, “Black girls like us grow up to be maids, washerwomen, or cooks.” But from a young age, Annie found herself interested in hair care as Black women were seeking “the same fashionable hairstyles white women had.” She was determined to follow her own path.

As a girl, Annie had friends and family coming to her for she had a way with Black women’s hair. And she knew it was going to be her destiny. That vision took her from strength to strength.

Annie asked her herb doctor Aunt Mary to create a product a product to help make hair grow. Too many women she knew had bald patches from harsh hair straightening products and remedies “to tame rebellious curls and kinks.” Aunt Mary’s product launched Annie’s career. When Annie decided to make one even better, she called it “Wonderful Hair Grower” and charged 25 cents for it. With her growing beauty business, Annie moved to Brooklyn, Illinois and sold her products from a horse-drawn wagon.

Annie’s company continued to thrive and relocated to St. Louis. There, she expanded her line of self-care items to include shampoo, conditioner, soap, and lipstick. “She named her company Poro, a West African word for physical and spiritual growth.’ Because Black women’s products weren’t sold in stores, Annie went door-to-door selling. As demand increased, she trained women to ” operate their own hair salons.” She even launched Poro Beauty College! At one point she had 75,000 beauty agents worldwide and even had a store at St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904!

So now, when you hear that Sarah Breedlove was the first self-made Black female millionaire because of her hair-care company Madam C.J. Walker, you’ll know that in fact she was trained by Annie Malone who can truly claim that accomplishment. I enjoyed how Catarevas brought  Annie’s story to life buoyed by occasional quotes such as “One dime will do,” said by Aunt Mary who charged her niece that sum for her hair-growing mixture. Coupled with Marshall’s illustrations that had an oil painting quality because of the visible brushstrokes, Catarevas grounds readers in an era where change was on the horizon, and entrepreneurs like Annie who reached out and grabbed opportunities could realize her dreams.

Josephine and Her Dishwashing Machine cover inventor surrounded by dishesJOSEPHINE AND HER DISHWASHING MACHINE:
Josephine Cochrane’s  Bright Invention Makes a Big Splash

Written by Kate Hannigan
Illustrated by Sarah Green
(Calkins Creek; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

Sometimes I wonder if all our household conveniences have already been invented but there was a time when this was not the case. In the 1870s and ’80s, following the civil war, inventors were hard at work around the world developing new products and devices to make life easier in homes, on farms, in offices and factories, and at hospitals. Enter Josephine Garis Cochrane, a woman with a neat idea.

Green’s full-page illustrations depict a woman who is wealthy enough to have a maid. She also probably grew up not lacking the necessities in life being the daughter of a bridge builder and great-granddaughter of a steamship designer. It didn’t hurt that inventiveness was in her blood. So, when Cochrane noticed what bad condition her dishware was in from all the handwashing it had endured, she knew there had to be a better way. While there had been an earlier version of a dishwasher that “just splashed water around,” Josephine wanted her invention to actually clean.

After trying to fashion the dishwasher herself, Josephine enlisted the talents of a mechanic, George Butters, to help her. At first, things looked bright but when Josephine’s husband died, she was ready to throw in the towel. But we know, since there’s a book about her, she didn’t throw in the towel. Instead, with George’s assistance, she “tested and tinkered and pushed and persevered until she was satisfied.” You’ll note how Hannigan’s use of water and cleaning-related language to share her story is spot on (pun intended!).

At last, her dishwasher was ready to be patented! But without investors, Josephine’s nascent business could not succeed. Those male investors were not likely to bet on a business run by a woman in the late 19th century. Fortunately for this enterprising woman, she decided to exhibit her invention at the Columbian Exposition (aka the Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893. Not only did her dishwasher win first place for “best mechanical construction” it also won her orders from across the country. Hotels, restaurants, schools and even hospitals wanted one. “The Garis-Cochrane Dish-washing Machine Company soon outgrew the backyard shed.” Her company grew and thrived. Well into her seventies, Josephine continued to sell her dream with the ultimate goal of getting it into homes.

I chose to review this story because the topic is so relatable and also because it’s not a cradle-to-grave biography. It focuses on Cochrane as a grown woman determined to create the best possible dishwasher in order to free up people to have time to enjoy other activities. Hannigan’s included several quotes throughout the book from Josephine that attest to her spirit. When others might have given up, she never did. Green’s lively and lovely artwork added to my enjoyment. I’m glad she included pictures of the patents, too. Comprehensive back matter sheds light on what it was like for a woman inventor and business owner to try to get her product out into the world when modern appliances such as toasters and irons were not to be seen until 1913, the year Josephine died. More pages are devoted to Notable Women Inventors and a Timeline of Fascinating Inventions.

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS

CHEF EDNA: 
Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis
Written by Melvina Noel
Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
(Cameron Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
Available for Pre-order now

A STORY IS TO SHARE:
How Ruth Krauss Found Another Way to Tell a Tale
Written by Carter  Higgins
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
(Abrams BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I AM TEMPLE GRANDIN
(Ordinary People Change the World)
Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Rocky Pond Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

SPLASH!: 
Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change
Written by Elisa Boxer
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 6-10)

A TAKE-CHARGE GIRL BLAZES A TRAIL TO CONGRESS:
The Story of Jeannette Rankin
Written by Gretchen Woelfle
Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
(Calkins Creek; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

DAZZLIN’ DOLLY:
The Songwriting, Hit-Singing, Guitar-Picking Dolly Parton
Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
(Calkins Creek; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

CLOAKED IN COURAGE:
Uncovering Deborah Sampson Patriot Solder
Written by Beth Anderson
Illustrated  by Anne Lambelet
(Calkins Creek; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

 

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Three Children’s Books for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

A ROUNDUP OF RECOMMENDED READS

FOR

ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

 

 

tiny feet between the mountains cvrTINY FEET BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS
Written and illustrated by Hanna Cha
(Simon Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

Author-illustrator Hanna Cha’s debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, tells the tale of Soe-In, the smallest child in a Korean village. But, being little doesn’t slow her down. Soe-In manages burdensome chores using wit and perseverance. When the sun disappears and the chieftain needs a volunteer, only Soe-in steps forward.

In the forest, she finds the spirit tiger is real, and in really big trouble—he’s swallowed the sun! Like the villagers, the spirit tiger first discounts Soe-In’s ability to help. However, brave, imaginative Soe-In saves the day.

Cha’s art shows the movement and mood of this powerful story. I enjoyed the images of the tiger because feline fluidity is difficult to capture. Her Author’s Note explains tigers are revered by Koreans; their country is shaped like one. The tiger as their spirit animal appears in countless Korean stories as a symbol of respect, strength, and dignity, both as a deity and a threat.

bilal cook daal coverBILAL COOKS DAAL
Written by Aisha Saeed
Illustrated by Anoosha Syed
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019
Starred Review – Kirkus

An Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book 2019

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed is an upbeat picture book about friendship and cooking. When Bilal’s friends wonder why it takes his Pakistani family all day to make daal, he introduces them to the process, letting them choose the color of lentils for the stew they will enjoy together at dinnertime. As the day goes by, Bilal worries a bit that his friends won’t like the taste, but the delicious dish pleases everyone, demonstrating how food brings people together.

Anoosha Syed’s art focuses on the kids enjoying their day of play, a variety of emotions clearly captured. The daal’s vivid descriptions (“small like pebbles, but shaped like pancakes”) come to life through the illustrations. Close your eyes and let the simmering daal awaken your senses.

The Author’s Note explains daal is a staple food in South Asia, but lentils are enjoyed in many other places. Saeed’s recipe for Chana Daal is similar to what I grew up with in my household, bringing back warm memories. In these months of the pandemic where many of us are cooking wholesome meals, this hearty and healthy dish will please while filling the house with amazing aromas all day long.

summer bird blue cvrSUMMER BIRD BLUE
Written by Akemi Dawn Bowman

(Simon Pulse; $18.99 HC, $12.99 PB, $9.99 eBook, Ages 12+)

A Junior Library Guild Selection
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman opens with a car crash. Seventeen-year-old Rumi Seto loses her only sister Lea, who’s also her best friend. Their mother, unable to deal, puts Rumi on a plane to Hawaii for an indefinite stay with Aunty Ani, their Japanese-Hawaiian side of the family.

Lea, two years younger, was the outgoing, happy-go-lucky sister. Rumi, the opposite personality type fits her “ruminating” name; often, she’s stuck in her head, turning things over, unable to step forward into everyday life. Though quite different, the sisters, shared a love of music, playing instruments together. They would randomly come up with three words, then write a song about it. (Summer Bird Blue, refers to the unwritten song that haunts Rumi after Lea dies.)

Rumi suffers in the angry and depressive stages of grief, vacillating between lashing out and crawling into bed for days on end. Her new surroundings include neighbors Mr. Watanabe (a grumpy octogenarian who becomes an unlikely companion) and Kai (the too-handsome, too-cheerful boy next door). As Rumi becomes closer to Kai, they go on a date, but kissing surfaces her confusion over her possible asexuality. Believing other teens have easy crushes and romance, Rumi’s self-doubt compounds after losing Lea.

The story’s lovely scenes centering around Rumi’s deep bond with music resonated with me. The moving descriptions include Rumi’s regard for Lea’s guitar, and Mr. Watanabe’s piano and ukulele. When transported into this world, Rumi’s passion ignites. However, anything musical involves Lea, and Rumi cannot process what to do without her sister, which furthers the painful introspection and turmoil.

I appreciate Bowman’s choice to spotlight a troubled, roughhewn protagonist struggling with a complexity of issues. Writing about grief, sexuality, and trying to understand life itself are ambitious undertakings, yet Bowman succeeds in weaving a truthful, heartfelt story that includes both honestly bitter moments and lyrically beautiful ones.

 

Find out more about Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month here and here.

 

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Middle Grade Fiction – I’m OK by Patti Kim

I’M OK
Written by Patti Kim
(Atheneum BYR; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

I'm OK book cover

 

In the middle grade novel I’m OK by Patti Kim, twelve-year-old Ok Lee’s world begins to fall apart when his father dies suddenly. Even though his mother works three jobs, they barely get by. To help out financially, Ok starts braiding girls’ hair at school and resolves to win the talent show’s $100 prize—though he doesn’t have a talent in mind.

The flawed characters in I’m Ok weave together realistically in a story about the imperfect lives of recent immigrants and middle schoolers. Ok’s unwitting sidekick is Mickey McDonald, a girl with the biggest hair and a personality to match. Her family’s also poor but she doesn’t care what other people think. Mickey adds a lively, funny element to a story that also depicts race and social class discrimination. Set at an indeterminate time, Americana details such as Enjoli perfume or the TV shows “Charlie’s Angels” and “MacGyver” will resonate with older readers.

The ending feels genuine and opens the door to talking about why life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect or want. Ok is bound to his mother, and her decisions direct their future.

This was June’s book-of-the-month at Chevalier’s Books’ middle-grade book club in Los Angeles. I’m Ok was well liked by all. The animated discussion considered many interesting elements of this novel including nice story-writing details such as how the story is bookended by two similar yet quite different scenes.

 

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