Written by Jacqueline Véissidand illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Caspian Finds a Friendbegins with a quotation on its dedication page that captures the essence of the book: “What you seek is seeking you.” Written by the Persian poet Rumi, this profound statement hints at our deep connection to each other, even if we may not quite understand or see it yet. Through patience and quiet determination, we will certainly experience this truth.
From the first page, Brown’s illustrations are completely mesmerizing. The vastness of the “cold gray-blue sea” speaks to little Caspian’s loneliness and longing for a friend. The soft color palette and gentle lines indicating movement radiate outward. Everything in Caspian’s environment is casting out a light, past the great beyond of the sea. The lighthouse where he lives and even the sun are reaching out to seek love. Nearly every page is a double page spread helping readers connect with Caspian’s gentleness and faithfulness in “wondering, waiting, wishing for a friend.”
Though “no one arrives,” the little boy does not grow disheartened. Instead, he has a “new thought” and sends out to sea a message in a bottle. There’s an undeniable meditative quality in this process. We see Caspian emptying out his vase, rolling up his note to put inside, and placing the flower back in the vase-perhaps a gift to the receiver and a sign to us readers of his generous heart. In this step by step way, Veissid’s lyrical language slows us down, helping us feel safe and calm.
As days “sink into weeks [and] weeks into months,” Caspian’s hope never falters; his patience for a response gets rewarded. The little boy rows out to sea to meet his new companion, a bear who is just as eager as Caspian to make a new friend.
Caspian Finds a Friend is excellent for bedtime or anytime parents and caregivers are looking to settle little ones down. Themes of love, patience, friendship, and mindfulness will encourage readers (and listeners) to return to this story again and again. I find this book especially relevant for our current time as it shows us the power of our imagination to bring healing and comfort.
Wednesday, April 22, is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day which will be celebrated around the globe. Read below about some new picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, that Christine Van Zandt recommends to help your children understand the significance of this holiday.
One of my favorite things about Henry Cole’s gorgeous, wordless picture book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey, is the prologue. I was hooked from the first image: a forest where one tree—colored brown—stands out. Cole’s amazingly detailed black-ink drawings are juxtaposed by brown-colored items: the tree, first made into paper, becomes an unassuming lunch bag.
In the Author’s Note, Cole shares how, in 1970 for the first Earth Day, he decided to not throw out has lunch bag that day. Or the next one. Eventually, he used that bag about 700 times! Then, when he went to college, he passed the velvet-soft bag to his younger friend who used it for another year. Wow! This really hit home with me. I’m conscientious about noncompostables, but will now consider the possibilities of paper products.
Using a humble brown bag as its central element, the story follows the bag’s journey from creation to conclusion. We are emotionally engaged with the little boy as he grows to adulthood and the family members we meet along the way. This story drives home the messages that even seemingly insignificant choices matter and that kids have the power to change things. These workhorse lunch bags are relatively inexpensive and typically don’t garner a second thought. Cole’s true-life story brings this simple item to the front page of his book and the forefront of our attention. Bravo! ★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
When I think of the mischievously adorable Peter Rabbit, of course his creator, Beatrix Potter, comes to mind. But, who was the woman behind this famous character? Linda Elovitz Marshall’s picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbitfills in the blanks.
Potter was a bright artistic girl who lived in the city but cherished the family’s summers in the country. Too soon, it was back to the constraints of being a Victorian-era girl. Focusing on her drawings, Potter, later, was able to land a job—but only because the publisher thought she was a man. Throughout the story, we see Potter pushing against and past the bonds of what a woman was “supposed to do.” While these actions were commendable, Potter also took on the role of conservationist, buying up more than 4,000 acres of beloved land to keep it peacefully undeveloped; her donation to the UK’s National Trust allowed the area’s preservation.
The illustrator, Ilaria Urbinati, enlivens Potter’s story in a muted old-fashioned style complementary to the text. Be sure to check beneath the cover for a clever second image: a before-and-after of Potter in her cherished landscape.
This behind-the-scenes look at Potter’s life will engage kids because it’s relatable and inspirational—showing you can make a career doing what you love, break through societal limits, and care for our planet. What Potter managed in her 77 years was exceptional. ★Starred Review– Foreward Reviews
Land Wilson’s rhyming picture book, The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon: A Story About Friendship and Loving Our Planet, is a gentle story packing a powerful message. Little Sofia befriends the Moon and, one night when he’s blue, she imagines herself up there, seeing the Earth from a new perspective. The Moon sadly tells her, “With dirty waters, land, and air, it looks as though she’s in despair. Her people seem so unaware that what Earth needs is better care.”
Sue Cornelison’s soothing images are in the muted tones of a bedtime book, yet, the swoops of sparkles throughout give the story movement and feeling. Once Sofia realizes she must share her findings, we’re shown glimpses of children from around the world doing their part to help our planet.
The end matter provides explanations of how the Earth’s air, land, and water are polluted, followed by simple suggestions such as creating less trash and eating less meat. In the Author’s Note, Wilson shares how astronauts love looking back at our planet, but how that distance also brings an understanding of Earth’s vulnerability and precious importance. Wilson urges us to make the Earth’s well-being a priority: “When people work together, our power grows. But we need to work faster, harder, and smarter”—a message that should be taken to heart as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I like how Wilson’s commentary is both realistic and optimistic, hopefully inciting readers to action.
Princess Alice always takes her soft, warm and snuggly blankie to bed until one day it goes missing in Have You Seen My Blankie? The picture book, told in rhyme, is written by speech and language therapist Lucy Rowland, with colorful full-page illustrations by Paula Metcalf.
The book opens to Princess Alice’s bedroom with purple walls, a large canopy bed and more toys than most kids would know what to do with. But the toys aren’t as important to Alice as her white and orange blankie she is shown cuddling on her bed. “This blankie was so cuddly! So soft and warm and snuggly!”
“But one day … it went missing!” Metcalf shows Princess Alice searching under her bed, the piano, the couch pillows, and even inside the toilet (she stands on a stool for this drawing!) Each illustration shows her princess crown on top of her head which I found adorable. Princess Alice hurries to the palace door and asks her brother, who is upside down swinging on a tree (but his crown doesn’t slip), “Do you have my blankie, Jack?” Jack explains that after he used her beloved blankie as a curtain, a giant took it from him and wouldn’t give it back! Rowland offers some laugh out loud brother sister dialogue kids will love.
Princess Alice’s search begins as she tracks down Giant Jim who says, “Yes, I had your blankie but I used it as a hankie.” Each illustration depicts beautiful detail of the scene. We know Giant Jim is a chef by the apron he is wearing, and the rolling pin in his hand. His outdoor table is set for tea, and his smile shows the reader he is a nice giant.
Page by page Princess Alice continues her search for her beloved blankie. “But then she saw her blankie with a dragon who looked cranky.” Alice felt a little scared. “That’s my blankie she declared.”
Alice has an idea and works with the dragon to find him a replacement, so he will return her blankie. The detailed drawings and fun rhymes, take the listener into an imaginary world of magical kingdoms, giants and snuggly teddy bears. Princess Alice shows love and compassion for the dragon who took her blankie. Knowing how important it is to sleep with something soft and warm, she wipes away his tears. strokes his head, and promises she will find something that’s just right.
This sweet story teaches children about kindness and compassion, even for someone who may have caused them harm. They’ll be happy when two unlikely characters become friends: ” … inside a royal palace lives a young princess named Alice. And now there is a dragon who will often come to stay!” Have You Seen My Blankie? is a comforting bedtime story for any child who, while still needing a security blanket or stuffed animal to cuddle, will feel reassured to learn that even a big dragon needs a snuggle at bedtime.
GOODNIGHT, ANNE Written by Kallie George Illustrated by Genevieve Godbout (Tundra Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
Goodnight, Anne, a welcome tribute to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, makes me smile! Everything about it is suitably comfortable, yet also dreamy.
Anne (with an “e”) goes about her little world saying goodnight to everyone and everything around her. Page after page of Genevieve Godbout’s warm, winsome illustrations beckon the reader to join Anne as she remembers all the people and places she loves before she finally goes to sleep. Older readers already familiar with Anne will welcome the familiar names, but younger readers will not lose out. Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Diana, Mrs. Lynde and Miss Stacy all make appearances in the book.
Some of the things that Anne says goodnight to, such as stars, trees, and flowers, younger readers already know. There are just enough Anne references to please any fan, yet not so many that anyone would feel left out if they had not already heard Anne’s story. In fact, it will send them in search of more of Anne’s stories!
Kallie George’s writing is simple yet lovely, making the book just right for children. It will see them off to bed beautifully. Anne would be so pleased to know that her story would see someone off to bed beautifully! All around it’s a treat of a book that cherishes the spirit of the original work. I have a feeling that both the author and artist worked very hard to honor Anne’s story and L.M. Montgomery’s writing. They certainly have accomplished that, and that was no easy task. Congratulations to both of them on a book Anne would have adored. Be sure to pick up Goodnight, Anne for any kindred spirit you might know who would enjoy Anne’s company at an early age. We all know someone who reminds us of Anne!
If Animals Said I Love You is a charming and worth-waiting-for companion to Ann Whitford Paul’s and David Walker’sIf Animals Kissed Goodnight, and this new bedtime tale does not disappoint.
There are lots of different ways that animals say I love you to their family and friends, and young readers will welcome how creatively they show their love any time of day or night in this picture book. Although the story’s star is Gorilla who appears several times throughout the book in addition to being featured in the beginning and end, children will also get to meet nine other animals including Whale, Boa, Lion, Secretary Bird, Cheetah, Spider, Ostrich, Impala and Alligator.
Can you guess how a Whale might say these three important words? Would it be in whale song? Perhaps, but only partially. “Whale would sing it and, from his spout, shoot some heart-shaped bubbles out.” And what about Boa? “Boa would hiss, “Hatchlings, come please. Time for a loving, squish-hugging squeeze.”
Each individual animal grouping demonstrates its love in a unique way, one that youngsters will want to imitate whether that be the slap-slap chest pound from Gorilla or the big tail swish and shower splashity-splish of Alligator.
Paul’s lyrical text is playful and inviting. It’s hard to resist repeating the whappity-whaps, click-clacks and heapity-heaps. Walker’s soothing artwork is a sweet accompaniment to Paul’s well-paced rhythm and rhyme. His animals are adorable and endearing and never stagnant until the closing spread seen below. From twisty Boa to leapity-leaping Impala, these animals’ motions move the reader to turn the page for another new treat of words and illustrations.
If Animals Said I Love You may be packed with tons of heart-warming animal love and affection, but rest assured, there’s always room for more hugs and kisses and I love yous at the end as you tuck your own little one into bed.
Unlikely friends have delightfully different, unexpected adventures in two new picture books from debut, Epic 18 authors.
PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! Written by Cate Berry Illustrated by Charles Santoso (Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
IVER & ELLSWORTH Written by Casey W. Robinson Illustrated by Melissa Larson (Ripple Grove Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
What do a penguin and a shrimp have in common? It’s their dogged insistence that PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!, no matter what sleep aids and comfy settings surround them. Author Berry poises the pair in the midst of a typical toddler bedtime routine. With toothbrushing over and jammies on, Penguin and Shrimp remain positive that they are not heading to bed. Their anti-bedtime speech bubbles pop in counterpoint across the page, tracking their sleep evasion tactics despite big soft beds, cozy covers, or squishy soft pillows.
The story quickly ramps up as the pair celebrate colorful fireworks, escape from lions, swing on rainforest vines and ride hot air balloons. Minute by minute, they grow zanier and more out-of-control as their desperate-but-denied need for sleep escalates. Song, jokes, and the arrival of a uni-hippo aside, the pair confidently assert that, “One thing this book will never do is make you tired … This book will never make you yawn.”
Santoso’s comic digital art contradicts and amplifies the duo’s predicament in bright, strong colors and crisp outlines. Penguin and Tiny Shrimp gush personality with big eyes and expressive mouths which eventually–inevitably–transition to droopy eyelids and gigantic yawns. The fun and games draw to an appropriately snoozy conclusion that will ring true with all parents who must wrangle not-sleepy kids and toddlers to bed.
Another unlikely pair, a solitary senior factory worker and an immense, inflatable polar bear, star in IVER & ELLSWORTH, a sweet story about steadfast friendship and devotion. Iver, a trim, mustachioed gentleman with square rimmed spectacles, packs his lunch and heads to work in an urban factory. Ellsworth, a chubby and observant bear, remains tethered to the factory roof. High above the city, the stationary bear watches the world rushing by. Iver visits at lunchtime, offering commentary on the view and bustling traffic.
Robinson makes it clear that the two share a bond built over many years. Iver tenderly cares for Ellsworth season after season. He dries away spring rain, sweeps away autumn leaves, and clears snow before his daily final check to make certain the anchor ropes are secure. But one day, the day Iver is retiring from his factory job, he is slow to perform his tasks and say farewell to his faithful, inflatable friend.
Illustrator Larson employ several wordless spreads to show us the separate adventures that unfold next. Iver begins to embrace retirement, and Ellsworth becomes unmoored from the factory roof. Her delicate pencil and watercolor images are restrained and subtle, ranging from muted gray greens to glorious rosy sunsets. The peaceful landscapes pair beautifully with Robinson’s spare, understated text, leaving ample room for readers to absorb and appreciate this unique friendship tale that ends with joyful reunification. IVER & ELLSWORTH is a cozy book perfect for reassuring readers that true friendship endures.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Read another of Cathy’s recent Epic 18 reviews here.
Trailer for PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! here:
It’s Day 2 of this terrific picture book blog tour. And for parents who need a way to get their little ones off to the land of nod, we’re guessing the timing couldn’t be better!
“I’m not ready!” “I keep thinking about today .” “I don’t feel tired.”
How do you respond to hearing those words at bedtime, especially if you know it’s not procrastination, but more a case of simply not wanting a wonderful day to end? It’s difficult because we all at one time or another have experienced that hyped-up, can’t turn my brain off feeling just like our kids.
Feet, Go to Sleep by Barbara Bottner is the perfect read aloud picture book response to these occasional protestations. But frankly, it’s also a lot more. Reading Feet, Go to Sleep is an original way to teach children a popular relaxation technique (referred to in yesterday’s postas Savasana) for winding down to ensure a speedy visit to dreamland. Along the way, children can practice the process of putting each part of their body to sleep just like Fiona, the book’s main character, while recounting their day’s events either to their parents or to themselves.
It’s no wonder young Fiona can’t easily settle down. Her busy day at the beach with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandma, was packed with family fun and activities. Fiona keeps thinking about it all. First there was the dash to the beach. That involved toes gripping flip-flops. Then came feet. Watch out for splashes as they go “stomping in the waves at the ocean’s edge.”
Toes were easy. They went right to sleep. “What’s next?” asked Mama. “Feet, go to sleep!”
Thoughts of her carefree day continue as she pictures herself building a sand castle, launching a seaweed attack against cousins, munching down some scrumptious picnic lunch, then …
“Shoulders, go to sleep,” said Fiona, giving them one last roll before they lay still.
Shoulders were for rubbing with sunscreen.
Playing carries on with a beach ball toss, followed by an outdoor shower back at home and then a barbeque at dusk, and bedtime. But can Fiona fall asleep when she’s tuned in to grown up voices chatting outside her open window?
Smith’s spot on illustrations have captured all the action and joy of a sunshiny day at the beach, so much so that you’ll find yourself ready to grab the sun block and join the group. And the blues she uses for her bedtime spreads are soothing and slumber-inducing.
Together Bottner and Smith have got it right with this lovely to look at and delightful to read story. I can’t think of a single over-tired child (or parent) who wouldn’t benefit from the simple steps provided, starting way down with toes, and feet, then moving all the way up the body and ending with …
“Eyes, go to sleep,” whispered Fiona.
If my kids were still young, I’d welcome the chance to introduce this powerful, yet peaceful way of releasing tension from their bodies, that’s cleverly wrapped inside an ebullient beach day bedtime story.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Check out all the great bloggers on this tour to get a variety of perspectives on Feet, Go To Sleep.
AN EXCLUSIVE GIVEAWAY! See below. Plus, if you follow us on Facebook and let us know in the comments below, we’ll give you an extra entry. An additional comment on our Facebook post for this blog tour gets you yet another entry. Good luck!
A Heartwarming & Breathtaking Picture Book Featuring Both a Badger & The Night as Characters
☆Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Elsa and the Night (Little Gestalten, $19.95, Ages 5-8), a sophisticated picture book by Jöns Mellgren translated from Swedish by Anita Shenoi, is the story of Elsa whose profound sadness after losing a close friend has prevented her from getting any sleep for 30 years.
When the Night shows up at Elsa’s house, “it’s getting light,” outside. But this particular Night is cup-sized, dark and “trembling like a sewing machine …”
Initially Elsa stores the Night into an old cake tin, and puts him the basement boiler room of her apartment building. But while the Night is safely tucked away, the towns-creatures grow tired. Elsa realizes she must revive the Night to help everyone and, in spite of her 30 year insomnia, she couldn’t just let the Night fade away.
When Elsa and the Night spend time together, the Night learns of Elsa’s loss so many years before. Elsa’s best friend, Olaf, an elephant, passed away after getting ill while the two were stranded on an island together. Elsa remained to work in the lighthouse there until electricity replaced the gas lamps.
A touching and unique new friendship blossoms as does compassion. The two friends team up as Elsa takes the Night to see where Olaf is buried. Under the loving care of the Night, Elsa soon falls asleep and is carried by the Night as it becomes larger and begins spreading across the sky.
“Then the Night hums a song about the moonlight and warm slippers. It empties the streets and puts an end to all the quarrels. It goes from house to house, tucking everyone into bed.
I found myself reading this picture book over and over again to see how Mellgren so magically melds his poetic prose with his artwork. The colors are bold, the lines are sharp and there’s a clean graphic design look to each page. Mellgren’s also added some wonderful touches such as an umbrella the Night carries on Elsa’s recommendation which of course gets smaller and smaller as the Night grows in intensity. Parents will want to point out how the Night gets bigger and bigger, but only if the kids haven’t already fallen asleep! Prepare to be moved by this original tale of friendship lost and found.
Don’t Turn the Page!(Creston Books, $16.95, Ages 3-6) is a cozy bedtime tale that capitalizes on a universal truth: Children will resist going to bed. Burk and Downing cleverly execute this idea as a book-within-a-book featuring a cuddly hedgehog and a sleepy bear cub.
Although Sami Hedgehog doesn’t want to stop playing with blocks, she is eager to hear just the first page of her new book. Cuddled on the couch, we – the readers – peer over Mama Hedgehog’s shoulder to learn about sleepy Little Bear of Rambling Woods who is getting ready for bed. Although they stop after one page, Sami begins to wonder “How do bears get ready for bed?” so Mama reads on. Inspired by Little Bear, Sami is gently encouraged to follow her own bedtime preparations step by step, page by page.
Burk divides the text into rhythmic rhyme for obedient Little Bear’s nightly routine. Sami’s story is told in prose, punctuated perfectly with her repeated, resistant command, “Don’t turn the page.” Mama Hedgehog is ever patient and reasonable, adapting to Sami’s sleepy pace as the book unfolds.
Downing masterfully weaves the two tales seamlessly together through clever illustrations that show clues of the story-in-story on each page in alternating fashion. Different typefaces and thick page borders also reinforce the message about which story is being told and ties it neatly together in the end. The creatures are charming, and the soft colors are rich and muted. A special treat are the book’s endpapers, which echo the animal’s pajamas!
Don’t Turn the Page! is an endearing winner for bedtime reading. There may be no guarantee that kids will ever willingly get ready for bed, but I’m willing to bet that they will ask for this book to be read again and again.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
– Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Sleepyheads written by Sandra J. Howatt and illustrated by Joyce Wan, (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, $16.99, Ages 2-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun sets quite late in the summer. I relied on room-darkening blinds and soft music to lull my toddlers to sleep when the sun was still shining. If only I had owned a copy of Sandra Howatt’s delightful, yawn-inducing Sleepyheads about a decade ago!
Howatt’s story begins outdoors under soft moonlight with a delightful assortment of cuddly creatures snoozing in nests, trees, caves and waves. The cozy dozers – bear, duck, rabbit, pig – are relaxed and content. Quiet oozes throughout the soft “S” assonance sprinkled through the rhyming lines. While an owl keeps vigil (This one’s not a sleepyhead – this one slept all day!) we transition inside the house where the cat and dog are sound asleep. There is one last special sleepyhead to be found, where a pillow, bed and blanket await.
Wan’s illustrations are perfectly sweet, soft and soothing. Fuzzy, thick-edged images reinforce the look of deep night sky, with subtle pops of pink, green and brown. The creatures are rounded into large, simple shapes that are just right for little ones learning animal names and homes. The night sky is sprinkled with luminous, glowing stars as tiny fireflies dot pages in a lovely rhythm.
Sleepyheads is just long enough, just soft enough, and just dreamy enough to cause even the most sleep-resistant tots to rub their eyes. Kirkus gave Sleepyheads a starred review, calling it “A superb execution of soporific shapes and sounds perfect for the bedside table.” Perfect for sweet nighttime tuck-ins!
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Welcome to the EVEN MONSTERS Virtual Tour & Giveaway courtesy of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky!
Be sure to scroll down to devour every last morsel of our exciting EVEN MONSTERS by A.J. Smith art contest, giveaway, interview & EVEN more!!
MONSTER ART CONTEST:Even the bravest little monsters can be scared of what’s lurking in a closet or under the bed. Author and illustrator A.J. Smith’s family-friendly picture book, Even Monsters(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99, Ages 4-8 ) written and illustrated by A.J. Smith, is perfect for helping children understand that sometimes the things we are afraid of are not scary at all. In fact, they can be quite funny – see Fur of The Loom undies above!! To help kids overcome their fear of the dark and see how silly monsters can be, A.J. invites them to participate in the Monster Art Contest. Children ages 2-9 can send in their best monsters drawings for the chance to have their art animated into their own music video! The best 100 drawings will appear in a special Even Monsters art gallery, and the top 20 drawings will be animated into their own music video. WOW!
Hi AJ! EVEN MONSTERS is ADORABLE and something both my kids would have loved when they were younger. There’s something to discover on every page meaning kids will want to go back again and again to see if they can find something new. GRWR:With that last sentence in mind, did you deliberately include those tiny cute orangey-red, big-eyed creatures for kids to seek out on every page (and perhaps count)?
A.J. SMITH: Certainly I want the story to be fun and engaging in its own right, but yes, the little cooties were added as a way to extend the life of the story by inviting kids to come back for multiple reads and explore the book for cooties. Taking it even a step further, kids can print and play this cootie-counter game: http://www.evenmonsters.com/cootieCounter.pdf
GRWR: I noticed a lot of broken items scattered throughout the book and thought you got into the young monsters’ heads quite well. Were you a monster when you were growing up?
A.J. SMITH: Kids (and monsters) can sometimes be destructive even when intentions are at their best. That said, I was an exceptionally gentle and thoughtful child who never did anything wrong. It’s possible my parents may have their own perspective on the matter, however.
GRWR:What prompted you to take this picture book one step further by introducing the digital element where kids (with help from their parents) can scan the QR codes throughout the book for assorted fun activities?
A.J. SMITH: I like the idea that a children’s book is a toy. Yes, it’s hopefully an eventual gateway to bigger literary endeavors. But in the meantime, a picture book should encourage interactivity and play. QR codes were just one more way for me to help facilitate that, which then brings you to more content online that revolves around Even Monsters. GRWR: Aside from the fact that you’re obviously very talented, what else would you say influenced you to first enter the world of animation and designing?
A.J. SMITH: Thanks for the kind words. I’ve always liked to draw from a young age … Always enjoyed cartoons and books. I could talk all day about specific influences from pop culture to everyday events in childhood. But mostly I just always wanted to create stories and make people laugh. Animation, design, illustration, and writing became the best ways (for me) to make that happen.
“So wonderful it demands to be read out loud.” – Brian Selznick, Caldecott Medalist, author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret
What’s not to love about a picture book that conveys a heartwarming message about bedtime stories and the simple joy of reading together? In The Snatchabook, (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, $16.99, ages 3 and up) by Helen Docherty with illustrations by Thomas Docherty, a book I’ve seen on bookstore shelves everywhere I go, readers will be immediately pulled in by the images of animal families settling down for the night in warm, glowing rooms.
Welcome to Burrow Down, invitingly depicted by T. Docherty, a quaint forest community dotted with cozy tree hollow homes, mole holes and rabbit warrens. Nighttime is a special time to hear all sorts of tales, a time when children are ready to let their imaginations soar. But suddenly all the bedtime books begin disappearing right before everyone’s eyes. H. Docherty wastes no time in setting the stage for a great mystery, though a subtle clue is given in the second spread (hint: look near the moon). Who is stealing all the stories?
Enter Eliza Brown, a bunny determined to catch the thief red-handed, or winged, because she really hasn’t the slightest idea who or what the culprit could be! Eliza sets a trap using a pile of books as bait and waits … and waits. When at last a long shadow appears, she braves the unknown and conquers her fear shouting:
“Stop stealing all our books, right now! Just give them back, I don’t care how!”
Hovering just outside the window is a small, rodent-like creature with dragonfly wings, a long skinny tale and large, lonely eyes appealing to Eliza for forgiveness, “I’m just a little Snatchabook.” Snatchabook didn’t mean to swipe all the books, he explains to Eliza. He simply had no one to read them to him. In a wonderfully satisfying ending, H. Docherty has Eliza teaming up with the Snatchabook to right his wrongs, return all the books while finding a few good bedtime story readers to feed his imagination and soul.
Yawns are contagious as is the new book I Dare You Not to Yawn($15.99, Candlewick Press, ages 4 and up) by the winning combination of author Hélène Boudreau and illustrator Serge Bloch. I happen to adore Boudreau’s inner-child channeled sense of humor and Debbie Glade is a huge Serge Bloch fan. So what’s not to love?
“Yawns are sneaky. They can creep up on you when you least expect them.”
It’s true. Watch out, kids! DO NOT YAWN!
This cleverly conceived cautionary tale is a bit conspiratorial, too. The author/narrator is speaking directly to children to teach them the signs of an approaching yawn and how to keep said yawn from … yawwrrr – popping out. Why does this matter you might ask? Because, along with eye rubbing, the yawn is a major indicator that someone (and that someone is you, kiddo) is getting sleepy. And the only place that gets you is the dreaded Put To Bed.
Bloch’s bold colors and whimsical characters delight the eye. Yawns have never looked this funny. “And WHATEVER YOU DO,” warns Boudreau, “don’t think of droopy-eyed baby orangutans holding their long arms out for a hug from their mamas …” No that simply won’t do. Practice all the suggested skills needed to shove that yawn right back where it came from and then, only then, will you be the master of your bedtime. But if you cannot keep that stubborn yawn from escaping, it just might be your body playing one last round of dare before you drift off to dreamland.
Reviewer Debbie Glade shares her opinion of a cuddle up and get cozy bedtime book.
In a sea of picture books, the cover of Sweet Dreams ($16.95, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Ages 3 and up), written by Rose A. Lewis and illustrated by Jen Corace really caught my eye, beckoning me to open it to see what’s inside.
With simple rhyming verse from mother to child, the pages are filled with descriptions about the animals living nearby and what they do at night. The book is meant to be read slowly, and the beautiful watercolor pictures are meant to inspire. While children learn a bit about animals, they are lured ever so gently to sleep.
“And the very teeny, tiny mouse
Soaking wet from a big puddle,
Curled up under the moonflowers’ vines,
Just waiting for a cuddle.”
Simply put, Sweet Dreams is a charming bedtime story with outstanding illustrations and that calming quality all parents of young readers need to rely on from time to time to get their active kids to sleep.
I sure wish I could throw a snowball once in a while, but that’s not likely to happen here at my home in Miami. At least in place of the real thing, I am able to enjoy three unique books about winter. One features a snowman, one is about a mommy grizzly bear and her cub and one is about -get this – a sledding pig. Let’s get started!
Making a Friend ($16.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ages 4 and up), by bestselling author, Alison McGhee, is one of those really cozy books you want to read to your child in bed on a snowy night. It’s a story about a boy who is dreaming of winter and is longing for a snowman friend. The first snowfall finally arrives and his dream comes true, but soon the weather warms and he is wondering where the snowman went. The seasons change and he soon discovers something important about his snowman friend and about life. What I like about this book is that so much of the story is told through the wonderful illustrations by artist, Marc Rosenthal. It’s just a subtle, comforting story that celebrates the right of every child to make a snowman, come the first snowfall of the season.
Every child’s library needs some really simple books that warm the heart and feed the soul.Starry Night, Hold Me Tight ($12.95, Running Press Kids, ages 4 and up) by Jean Sagendorph is one of those books. Told in simple rhyme, it is about a day of play and a starry night in the life of a cub and his mommy. The charming illustrations by Kim Siebold, done in black and white on a silvery blue background are fitting for the story. This is a perfect book for a bedtime story for very young children.
Can it be that author Leo Timmers was on Breckinridge with me in 1983 when I “skied” for the very first time, and my chaotic downhill adventures inspired him to write this book?Oops! ($5.95, Clavis Publishing, ages 3 and up) is a funny, darling book about a pig that has lost all control as he sleds down hill. He is forced to make instant decisions to keep from crashing into other creatures on the mountain. Young readers learn the difference between words such as “over,” “under,” “around” and “between.” Trained in graphic design, Mr. Timmers’ illustrations are colorful and crisp and very cartoon-like. Both parents and kids will get a good laugh out of the story and are sure to enjoy reading it over and over again.