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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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Picture Book Review – Yuna’s Cardboard Castles

 

 

YUNA’S CARDBOARD CASTLES

Written by Marie Tang

Illustrated by Jieting Chen

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

 

 

Yuna's Cardboard Castles cover Yuna in Japan with origami

 

In Yuna’s Cardboard Castles, the heartwarming picture book debut from author Marie Tangillustrated by Jieting Chen, readers meet Yuna, who has just moved with her family to America from Japan. Like most children in that situation, Yuna is filled with concerns about what life will be like in her new home and how she’ll make new friends. The extra challenge Yuna faces is that she doesn’t speak English yet. While she misses her old friends and all that is familiar, Yuna is eager to find a way to connect with local kids.

 

 Yuna's Cardboard Castles int1 Yuna longed for the colors and shapes
Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

It’s great to see Yuna take the initiative to look for ways to break the ice with the children in her neighborhood. At first, she tries making balls out of colorful paper. The results are lovely and impressive, highlighting her skills. However, Yuna feels discouraged after noticing children already have balls to play with. Onto the next option.

Thinking about where she used to live, Yuna longs to reproduce that environment where there were pointy buildings and rice cake stands. She cleverly uses cardboard and scissors to construct her very own stand but she’s at a loss to find the words to explain her project and the food on display. So, the neighborhood kids return “back to their tea parties.”

 

Yuna's_Cardboard_Castles_int2_Yuna_kept_cutting
Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

And though with her talent, Yuna can build almost anything she wants, she still feels the disconnect without the language to communicate. She is sad, frustrated, and isolated.

When a boy’s kite gets tangled in her yard, the two soon find common ground with their paper creations. Teaming up, their imaginations soar, and playing together becomes second nature. Soon, the neighborhood kids can’t help but engage with Yuna and the exciting cardboard world she’s constructed with her new friend. Chen’s vivid illustrations convey energy, enjoyment, and make-believe, filling each page with wonder to inspire children as they read  Tang’s thoughtful story.

When my family lived overseas for 10 years, our children played with other children from around the world whether we traveled to Germany, France, the Canary Islands, Italy, or Greece. Watching kids connect despite not having the words is always joyful to watch. Play is a universal language bringing diverse children together wherever you are. Yuna’s Cardboard Castles was inspired by Tang’s childhood experience of moving from Hong Kong to the United States. In the book, Yuna demonstrates how, just as Tang did as a child, using origami and corrugated boxes can open up worlds of opportunities for friendship when you have only a minimal grasp of your new country’s language. While the immigration experience is different for every child, Tang’s book creatively captures the emotion Yuna feels while presenting a positive way to cope that is empowering. Four pages of backmatter include detailed instructions to make an origami boat … “that can actually float!”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Five New Children’s Books for Pride Month

 

CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR PRIDE MONTH

~ A ROUNDUP ~

Free Pride Clipart

 

Grandad's Pride cover Grandad carrying Pride flag at paradeGRANDAD’S PRIDE
Published in Partnership with GLAAD Series
Written and illustrated by Harry Woodgate
(Little Bee Books; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Following up the success of Grandad’s Camper, is Grandad’s Pride featuring the same characters readers got to know previously. Much like that book, I was immediately pulled into this story by the folksy art and in this case, a focus on the inviting locale by the sea.

When playing in Grandad’s attic, Milly, who is visiting once again for the summer, stumbles upon Grandpa’s old Pride flag. Curious what Pride is, Milly gets a wonderful description from Grandad who used to participate in marches and other Pride events when Gramps was still alive. “Pride is like a giant party where we celebrate the wonderful diversity of our communities and demand that everyone should be treated with
equality and respect – no matter who they love or what gender they are.” After hearing how important Pride had been for Grandad, Milly suggests they go to the city to participate in the next Pride event, but Grandad no longer feels comfortable in the big city.

Milly proposes a locale parade in the village instead and soon the entire village is involved. Not only does her idea present the opportunity to get to make new friends, it also is a moving way to honor Gramps’ memory. Grandad leading the parade in his pink camper is a fitting way to kick off this new tradition and not even a brief downpour can curtail the festivities.

You’ll want to read this lovely picture book slowly to take in all the details that Woodgate has included from the slogans on the posters, the diversity of the primary and secondary characters and the big heart this story exudes on every page. I could easily live in this welcoming community and can’t wait to see what Milly and Grandad get up to next!

 

I Can Be Me! cover diverse circle of kidsI CAN BE … ME!
Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez
(Lee & Low; $19.95, Ages 4-7)

For starters, I want to point out illustrator Gonzalez’s art description on the credits page: “The illustrations are rendered with pencil, watercolors, colored pencils, and love.” If the inclusion of the word ‘love’ doesn’t speak volumes about the care and thought that went into creating this picture book, I don’t know what does.

Newman’s masterfully crafted rhyming couplets take the reader through spread after jubilant spread as readers follow the real and make-believe activities of six diverse and “splendiferous” children and one plucky pooch. Imagination rules as the youngsters try out dress up, and pretend play where anything except the judgment of adults is possible. “I can aim for the basket and practice my throws,/ or wear a pink tutu and twirl on my toes.” There is no need to label and no need to discuss gender, race, or religion. Prepare for pure enjoyment. Kids being “their true selves” is what’s celebrated on every delightful page of this recommended read.

Click here for a Teacher’s Guide

 

The Wishing Flower girls wishing on dandelionTHE WISHING FLOWER
Written by A.J. Irving
Illustrated by Kip Alizadeh 
(Knopf BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

This uplifting, inclusive picture book about making a like-minded friend and experiencing a first crush is getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so. The cover alone conveys the pleasure these two girls find in each other’s company then the prose and art throughout continue to capture that emotion. Author Irving states in her website intro, “My deepest wish for my readers is for them to feel seen and special,” and The Wishing Flower beautifully accomplishes that.

We first meet Birdie as she’s wishing on a dandelion to find a friend who shares her interests. “Birdie felt inside out at home and at school.” She generally kept to herself clearly not connecting with other kids until … Sunny “the new girl” arrives in her class. With her nature name, Sunny, like Birdie, enjoys all the same things: reading, rescuing, and painting. The girls are drawn to each other and Birdie “blushed when Sunny sat next to her at lunch.” She knew she needed to be brave to pursue the friendship and looks for the biggest wishing flower. At recess playing Red Rover, Sunny calls for Birdie, and Birdie’s heart soars. That excitement is palpable in the warm, emotive illustrations that bleed off the page. When this wonderful day spent together with her new friend ends, it’s so rewarding as a reader to see the two happy souls have had their wishes come true.

 

You Need to Chill! cover curly haired girl in yellow heart sunglassesYOU NEED TO CHILL!:
A Story of Love and Family

Written by Juno Dawson
Illustrated by Laura Hughes
(Sourcebook Jabberwocky; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

“In the next ten years, I don’t think there will be many classrooms in America where there isn’t a gender-diverse child, and the rest of the students will have to be friends with that kid. And how to you manage that? You manage it like the child in the book does. With kindness and humor and inclusion and with playfulness.” According to bestselling author Dawson, this is the goal of her debut picture book and I appreciated her introducing the topic in a light-hearted way that emphasizes a people-not-gender-first approach to identity.

I love when a story begins with artwork only before the title page as it does here. The main character is walking with an older girl to school. Once the main character gets settled in, her classmates begin asking where her brother Bill is. They haven’t seen him in a while. This is a fun part to read aloud as the girl’s classmates take wild guesses about where her older brother can be. “Was he eaten by a WHALE or SHARK? Was he munched up just like krill?”/ “That simply isn’t true,” I say./ “And hey, you need to chill.” With inquiring young minds bombarding the girl with a constant flow of zany questions (illustrated as whimsically as those questions), the cool retort calms everyone down. The repetition of “Hey, you need to chill,” is catchy and I can imagine children being eager to say it along with the narrator. While the kids are curious and confused, they also say they’re concerned. I’m glad that was included.

The little girl tells her classmates that her older brother Bill is now Lily. She honestly explains how the change took getting used to but ultimately, as the art shows, she knows that Lily is still the same deep down inside and very loved. She’s her sister’s ally. And as such, together the two can tell anyone who has a problem with Lily being a trans girl to just chill.

While the rhyme is not always even, the spirit, energy, and humor of this important story about a transgender child coupled with the buoyant art carry it along and make You Need to Chill! a worthwhile, fulfilling, and accessible read. Read about genderspectrum.org, a charity working to create gender sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens.

 

DUCK, DUCK, TIGER
Written and illustrated by Brittany R. Jacobs
(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Lili felt she didn’t belong, like a tiger among ducks. And if people found out more about her, she was sure she’d be left alone. Her solution then was to be more like a duck. If she changed things about herself then she’d fit in. And no one would know any better. No one would know her secret.

There was a catch, however. Trying to be someone she wasn’t made Lili feel sad. It’s definitely not easy to pretend to be something you’re not. So, after realizing this, she needed to confide in someone, someone who’d make her feel safe. Lili “revealed her secret” to Gran. “Her heart really raced.” But Gran confirmed that no matter who Lili was, one thing was certain. She was loved. And she should feel proud of who she was. Afterall, “Not everyone is a duck, and not all ducks flock together.” What is important is being her authentic, unique self. It may be tough, but in time, Lili could rest assured that she’d find her pride.

I always enjoy a picture book that offers hope to any child in Lili’s position, so they’ll know that one day they will be welcomed by people who appreciate the real them. This powerful message of acceptance should resonate with many young readers who feel like the other for whatever reason, not simply for being queer. I was surprised to learn that Jacobs is a self-taught artist. The gentle green palette she uses works well with the purple of her alter-ego, the tiger. I will note that in places the meter of the rhyme is not perfect and the rhymes slant in spots where ‘day’ is paired with ‘stayed’ or ‘terrible’ with ‘unbearable.’ However, picture books such as this affirming one are needed to bring comfort to children with its beautiful message of letting “your heart be your guide.”

 

Click here to read a review of a fave Pride picture book from last year.

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Holiday Gift Guide – Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun

PLAY-DOH HELPS KIDS MAKE MAGIC THIS CHRISTMAS

Cover art for Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun
Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun, by Susan Amerikaner with art by Kara Kenna, Silver Dolphin Books, 2013.

Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun, written by Susan Amerikaner and illustrated and digitally composed by Kara Kenna (Silver Dolphin Books, $14.95; Ages 3 and up), is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

Christmas is upon us, which undoubtedly means presents. Why not combine two perennial kid favorites—Play-Doh and books—and delight the youngsters in your life? Silver Dolphin Books and Hasbro have done exactly that. The Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun set includes four cans of Play-Doh, a plastic knife and roller, and 15 projects wrapped into a 32-page activity book.

Santa is on his way to Jolly Town, and Penguin, Cat, and Dog need your help to get the town ready! Help them prepare a tree, a candy cane, a bow, advent candle, a stocking and 10 more fun, Christmas-themed items. Each project is presented in three easy-to-follow steps with accompanying photographs.  Then the project is highlighted in the two-page spread artwork.

Time for presents! Let’s make one.

1. Shape two square in any colors you like. Make one thinner than the other. Then make five small rolls.

2. Put the thin square on top of the bigger one. Flatten the rolls into strips and fold them over. Roll out several tiny round pieces.

3. Use the folded strips to make a bow. Make a ball for the middle of the bow. Decorate with the tiny round pieces.

This gift is ready to go under the tree! Great job! Maybe next year you can work at the North Pole!

The artwork consists of Play-Doh figures on a backdrop. They’re fun and inviting scenes. See the cozy fireplace where you can hang your stockings. Step into Mrs. Claus’ kitchen where she’s busy baking gingerbread cookies, with your help, of course! Watch the snowflakes cover the trimmed tree!

Create some Christmas memories with the Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun activity book and set.

 

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Imagine All The Fun

51y8ExSkxHL._SL500_AA300_ Molly Lou Melon is a little girl with big hair and a gigantic imagination. This second book in the Molly Lou Melon series, Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, Ages 4-7)  is all about making the most of playtime. Molly Lou has a toy chest overflowing with all the toys any child could want, but her grandmother tells her how things were in the olden days when there weren’t a lot of fancy toys and action figures to play with. Back then kids made toys themselves out of things they found laying around and out of their imaginations.

So Molly Lou Melon takes what she learns from her grandmother and fills her playtime with magical tree houses and hand painted boxcars. And instead of watching TV, she watches the wondrous clouds while lying in the grass and finds endless hours of entertainment there. One day Molly Lou invites her new neighbor, Gertie over to play. Gertie brings her fancy dollhouse to show her new friend, while Molly Lou shows Gertie her tree root palace.  Can these new friends agree on how they will play together? Fancy toys or imaginative ones?

The glorious illustrations by David Catrow in this fantastic book are just as imaginative as Molly Lou Melon herself. They are colorful and wispy and full of great detail. Your child will enjoy examining every single page and lingering a while. What you’ll appreciate most about this book is that both the illustrations and the words by author/teacher Patty Lovell will inspire your children to get creative for playtime. And they might just ask you to lie on a blanket with them outside and look up at the clouds for a while to see what you can see. What could possibly be better than that?

large_stand-tall-molly-lou-melon_001If you love this book, as I know you will, check out the first book in the series, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, also by Patty Lovell and David Catrow.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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