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Five Children’s Books for Earth Day 2024

 

EARTH DAY 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

Starred Review – Booklist

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

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

 

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

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

Starred Review – Kirkus

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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An Interview with Building a Dream Author Darshana Khiani

 

KIRSTEN W. LARSON INTERVIEWS DARSHANA KHIANI,

AUTHOR OF BUILDING A DREAM

Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

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

 

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

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

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

 

INTERVIEW:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase the book.

Access activities, discussion topics, etc. here.

 

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

AUTHOR BIO:

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

LINKS FOR DARSHANA’S SOCIAL MEDIA:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/darshanakhiani

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

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

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

 

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An Interview by Maria Wen Adcock with Night Market Rescue Author Charlotte Cheng

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLOTTE CHENG

AUTHOR OF NIGHT MARKET RESCUE

ILLUSTRATED BY AMBER REN

(ROCKY POND BOOKS; $18.99, AGES 4-7)

 

Night Market Rescue cover night market dog GoGo lanterns family

 

 

INTRO:

Charlotte Cheng is the author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], illustrated by Amber Ren. Her picture book was released to the world on May 2, 2023. In this interview conducted by Maria Wen Adcock, author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE and founder of the parenting blog BiculturalMama.com, Charlotte discusses her inspiration for the book, Taiwanese traditions, and more.

INTERVIEW:

Maria Wen Adcock: What inspired you to write Night Market Rescue?

Charlotte Cheng: My family comes from Taiwan, and although I was born in the US, we made trips back to Taipei as often as we could to visit family. Each time we visited, my parents brought me to famous Taiwanese night markets so I could soak in the tastes and joys of their childhood.  To this day, I can still recall the smells of sizzling sausage and the sights of colorful goods. I wanted to share these fond memories with others and chose to do so by writing Night Market Rescue!

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MWA: Why did you decide to use a stray dog as the main character? How did you come up with his name? 

CC: I was struggling to figure out how to write Night Market Rescue with an interesting perspective. A few years ago, we also learned that some street dogs rely on night markets to survive. I started exploring how a night market could be seen through the eyes of a street dog. In fact, during one of our family trips to Taiwan, I spent time taking photos of night markets from a dog’s perspective. I then chose to name the dog GoGo as the word “gou” is also the Chinese word for dog.

At the same time, we started helping rescue organizations and fostered a few dogs. Eventually, we decided to rescue one ourselves. His name is Waldo, and he is a proud and integral member of our family. In fact, GoGo might look a little like Waldo because we shared photos of him with Amber Ren, the talented illustrator for Night Market Rescue.

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Night Market Rescue int1 stray GoGo finds new place page 03
Interior art from Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng with illustrations by Amber Ren, Rocky Pond Books ©2023.

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MWA: What Taiwanese traditions did you want to make sure you featured in the book?

CC: I focused a lot on sounds, tastes, and textures. I wanted people to feel like they’re with GoGo as he explores the night market. Some specifics I made sure to include were the scooters (one of Taipei’s preferred modes of transportation), sizzling sausage (a famous Taiwan treat), and haggling grandmas (a staple of any Asian market).

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MWA: Why did you think it was important to write a book highlighting Taiwanese culture? 

CC: Taiwan is a small island packed with a fascinating history. From Dutch castles to lantern festivals to marble canyons and mountains that rise above the clouds, my parents devoted a lot of time sharing their culture with me. I now have a young daughter and hope stories like Night Market Rescue will be an opportunity for me to do the same. Furthermore, Taiwan is a place that many people don’t have a chance to visit. I hope Night Market Rescue will be a way for them to learn about this special island.

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Night Market Rescue int2 Taipei market GoGo and lanterns Page 04
Interior spread from Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng with illustrations by Amber Ren, Rocky Pond Books ©2023.

 

MWA: What was the process like working with the publishing team?

CC: I’m a collaborative creature at heart, so working with the publishing team was a dream come true! Lauri Hornik is the President of Rocky Pond Books, a new imprint at Penguin. The moment Lauri acquired Night Market Rescue, she immediately began working with me to refine the manuscript. The book is in rhyme, so revisions were a little tricky, but the story is so much stronger now!

I then got to see this story come alive through the talented hands of our illustrator, Amber Ren. It began with character designs and pencil sketches. Then she added vibrant colors that brought movement and energy to each page. Throughout each stage, the Rocky Pond team invited me to provide feedback and suggestions. Sometimes, I even sent specific photos of my dog Waldo to help highlight how Taiwanese street dogs behaved in different scenarios! It was a pleasure witnessing the images transforming into the final illustrations that are now found in the book.

There are many others at the Rocky Pond team that have contributed to making Night Market Rescue as well: from art direction and book design to marketing and publicity. I’ll be collaborating with Lauri and her team on four more books over the coming years. I’m greatly looking forward to working with them all again, and I’m so grateful to be a part of the Rocky Pond family!

 

MWA: What did you and your publishing team love the most about the illustrations? 

CC: Amber Ren is such a creative and detailed illustrator! She captured the sights and sounds of a Taiwanese night market with vibrant and colorful images that just jump from the page. There are so many details that I hope readers will catch. Someone is drinking boba in the background because the beverage was invented in Taiwan. Even my Ama makes an appearance as she briskly bargains with a vendor! Amber also hand-wrote each vendor sign in traditional Mandarin, and she even incorporated feedback from my parents on the exact phrasing of some of the vendor names. Most of all, Amber managed to illustrate the full spectrum of GoGo’s emotions – from curiosity to loneliness to joy. You root for GoGo because he’s so charming and eager when exploring the night market. I could not imagine working with a better illustrator than Amber, and I hope we can work together again!
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MWA: Do you have any books or projects coming up? If so, please describe them.

CC: I actually have several books coming out over the next few years! In 2024, Roar Choo, illustrated by Dan Santat, will be published by Rocky Pond Books. It’s a story of how a dragon recovers from a cold through the help of a phoenix friend. In the same year, A Name for Sister, illustrated by Sophie Diao, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s a magical new sister story inspired by a centuries-old naming tradition from China. In 2025, Rocky Pond Books will also publish two more of my stories: I Miss You Most (2025), illustrated by Xindi Yan, and Icy Fruit (2025), illustrated by Vivian Mineker. Both of these books are inspired by my two grandfathers. You can sign up for my newsletter or follow me on social media to stay updated about these books.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Charlotte’s local indie store:

https://www.thereadingbug.com/book/9780593531723

IndieBound:

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780593531723

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/charlottedraws

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charlottemakesbooks

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlottechengdesigns

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Charlotte Cheng Photo Credit Airecel Brady
Charlotte Cheng Photo Credit: Airecel Iris Brady

ABOUT AUTHOR CHARLOTTE CHENG:

Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books, including Explore China: A Mulan Discovery Book and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curricula for a variety of companies, including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop.

You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her social media sites above.

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ABOUT INTERVIEWER MARIA WEN ADCOCK:

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

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT AMBER REN, THE ILLUSTRATOR:

https://www.amber-ren.com

https://twitter.com/AmberRenArt

https://www.instagram.com/ren.amber

http://amber-ren.tumblr.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/amber-ren-1921a092

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Picture Book Review – The Moon from Dehradun

THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN:
A Story of Partition

Written by Shirin Shamsi

Illustrated by Tarun Lak

(Atheneum BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

The Moon From Dehradun cover girl baby brother and doll

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

Inspired by the true-life events of the author’s mother, The Moon from Dehradun written by Shirin Shamsi and illustrated by Tarun Lak is a powerful and poignant story of the 1947 Partition of India.

 

The Moon From Dehradun int art1 girl with doll while mother cooks
Interior art from The Moon From Dehradun written by Shirin Shamsi and illustrated by Tarun Lak, Atheneum BYR ©2022.

 

Azra can hear the anger on the street just outside her home. “‘[People] are afraid,’” her Ammi says, “‘because our home has been divided ….’” Azra and her family have been living in Dehradun for generations. She tells her doll, Gurya, they will have to leave “‘in five days,’” but when Abba comes home frantic and distressed, it’s clear staying any longer will be far too dangerous. 

The book gracefully manages complex and difficult topics such as displacement and political unrest by filtering them through young Azra’s perspective. The focus is on her feelings:  feelings of fear in not knowing what’s to come, heartbrokenness for leaving Gurya behind in the rush to depart, and anger at her baby brother for “making” her forget to grab her beloved doll before leaving home forever. “My heart sinks like a stone in a well.” Azra expresses her grief in beautiful, lyrical language. The finality of the move and loss of home and place is gently emphasized by the refrain, “We cannot go back.” Lak’s use of muted colors in browns, pinks, and blues and sweeping scenes amplifies the sadness and confusion underway during the mass uprooting caused by the Partition.

 

The Moon From Dehradun int2 hurried departure for Lahore
Interior art from The Moon From Dehradun written by Shirin Shamsi and illustrated by Tarun Lak, Atheneum BYR ©2022.

 

The long train ride leads Azra and her family to Lahore where friendly neighbors, familiar spaces, and a surprise discovery provide hope for a new home and new beginnings.  

Educational and inspirational, this book is a moving story of courage, hope, and resilience. 

Back matter includes a glossary, author’s note, and information about the Partition.

Click here for a Reading Group Guide.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – Amah Faraway

AMAH FARAWAY

Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias 

Illustrated by Tracy Subisak 

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Amah Faraway cover

 

Starred Reviews – School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

Cultural connections, intergenerational love, and adventure-seeking await readers in author Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrator Tracy Subisak’s touching Amah Faraway

Since “[v]ideo chats [aren’t] the same as real life,” Kylie is nervous about visiting her Amah who lives so far away in Taipei, despite their weekly time together online. Once they arrive, Amah encourages Kylie to explore the city together,  “Lái kàn kàn! Come see!” But Kylie finds everything strange:  Amah’s apartment, dining with her extended family, city life, the night market. Everywhere they go, Kylie hesitantly “trail[s] behind Amah and Mama.”

 

Amah Faraway int1
Interior art from Amah Faraway written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, Bloomsbury Children’s Books ©2022.

 

But on the day they visit the hot springs, something changes for Kylie. Dipping her toe in the warm water, she relishes in the joy of that moment and, in the days to follow, all the other experiences Taipei has to offer. From this point on, Greanias cleverly flips the lines of the story, repeating the same lines as the first part, but this time in reverse order with slight changes in context and punctuation to emphasize Kylie’s wholehearted embrace of the culture around her. 

 

Amah Faraway int2
Interior art from Amah Faraway written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, Bloomsbury Children’s Books ©2022.

 

Amah’s welcoming refrain has now become Kylie’s. “Lái kàn kàn!” she calls out to Amah and Mama as she leads them to the places Amah has taken her before, only now Kylie sees them with fresh, new eyes. Energetic lines in a soft color palette weave through the book which includes Taiwanese Mandarin text in speech bubbles inviting readers to join in on the fun. 

Included in the back matter are the Taipei sights mentioned in the story,  meanings behind Taiwanese foods, and a note from both the author and illustrator about their experiences visiting their own grandmothers in Taiwan.

An engaging story set in a vibrant, diverse city, Amah Faraway illustrates how to face your fears by leaning on familial love.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Middle Grade Graphic Novel – Saving Sorya

 

SAVING SORYA:

Chang and the Sun Bear

by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung

Illustrated by Jeet Zdung

(Dial BYR; $23.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Saving Sorya cover

 

 

★ Starred reviews – KirkusSchool Library Journal

 

Striking artwork and a timely topic support the compelling story of one girl’s dogged determination to reintroduce a rescued sun bear to its native habitat.

 

 

The author of Saving Sorya, a renowned Vietnamese conservationist, uses the wonderfully creative graphic novel format to present a fictionalized account of events that inspired her career choice.

After witnessing a horrific instance of animal abuse, young Chang decides to become a conservationist. She works hard to learn the many skills she’ll need for this profession including: how to identify and draw forest flora and fauna and wilderness survival skills. Chang faces many challenges due to her youth and societal attitudes towards gender and how conservationists are viewed by traditional medicinal practitioners, who need animals for some preparations. Her efforts and determination pay off when she lands volunteer positions with a rescue center and learns how to take care of wild animals. Eventually, Chang is assigned the responsibility of rehabilitating Sorya, a young sun bear, and returning her to the wild.

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Saving Sorya int3
Interior art from Saving Sorya by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung and illustrated by Jeet Zdung, Dial BYR ©2021.

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Together, Chang and Sorya journey through the Vietnamese forests in search of a home for Sorya. In addition to training a frightened animal how to survive on her own, Chang faces challenges created by man-made problems which have impacted the environment: clearing forests for agriculture, logging, construction, and poaching exotic animals to create traditional Vietnamese medicines. Finally, Chang finds a place:

“And when the forest began to fill with the sounds of wildlife … that’s when I knew Sorya could live there.”

Sorya meets and bonds with another sun bear, and finally Chang, sure that Sorya will not only survive but thrive, is able to leave her.

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Saving Sorya int5
Interior spread from Saving Sorya by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung and illustrated by Jeet Zdung, Dial BYR ©2021.

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Illustrator Jeet Zdung’s breathtaking illustrations, in the tradition of classical Vietnamese art, capture the forest and the creatures that inhabit it. Eye-popping colors of exotic animals, painstaking details, varying hues, and shadowing create the lushness of the forest with breathtaking beauty.

Chang’s extraordinary field notebook, in which she records her observations, is a STEM teacher’s dream. Zdung uses pages from the notebook to tell the story. Chang details her discoveries as well as some of the equipment and personal things she has brought with her.

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Saving Sorya int1
Interior art from Saving Sorya by Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung and illustrated by Jeet Zdung, Dial BYR ©2021.

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Zdung’s interest in manga art is evident in some illustrations and how the characters are portrayed, which creates an interesting juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary art styles. Black-and-white illustrations in manga style blur otherwise disturbing images of abuse and death. But Chang’s persistence determination, and passion, distract from the few disturbing images in the story … and give us hope.

Find out more about author and conservationist Trang Nguyen here and illustrator Jeet Zdung here

I highly recommended Saving Sorya which is sure to inspire many children to find out what they can do to protect the environment and save wild animals.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Middle Grade Nonfiction Book Review – The Floating Field

THE FLOATING FIELD:

How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field

Written by Scott Riley

Illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien

(Millbrook Press, $19.99, Ages 7-11)

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The Floating Field cover

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Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

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Call him adventurous, but author Scott Riley traveled all the way to Koh Panyee, Thailand, to research and write The Floating Field, a middle grade nonfiction picture book. A soccer lover himself, Scott read about Prasit and a group of boys who built a floating soccer field in a village where open space is reserved for the essential buildings. He packed his bags to see the hand-built field for himself!

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TheFloatingField int1
Interior spread from The Floating Field written by Scott Riley and illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien, Millbrook Press ©2021.

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This inspiring story begins with an early morning scene, fisherman-dad off to work, doughy, sugary-treats at the local coffee shop, and Prasit and his friends making plans to play soccer the moment the fleeting sandbar surfaces across the waters. The timing is crucial as it is dependent on the moon and the tides, the opportunity occurring only twice a month.

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TheFloatingField int3
Interior spread from The Floating Field written by Scott Riley and illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien, Millbrook Press ©2021.

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After watching a 1986 World Cup game on TV, Prasit and his friends dream of becoming a team and having a real soccer field. Taking inspiration from their village built on stilts, they decide to build a deck on the water. A series of overhead illustrations give a bird’s eye view of the construction, one plank at a time. Equally satisfying, the process illustrates the camaraderie between the group of determined friends, despite doubting villagers. My favorite spread shows one boy lying flat on his back across the newly built wooden deck, exhausted, but radiating a smile that embodies a sense of accomplishment, pride, and joyfulness. Soon, the boys’ enthusiasm and practice attract even the community. 

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The Floating Field int4
Interior spread from The Floating Field written by Scott Riley and illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien, Millbrook Press ©2021.

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I don’t want to give away the end of the story. But, you bet there are games played. I couldn’t help but cheer on these boys as their limitations became their strengths in the game of soccer.

Photos, Prasit’s perspective, and a pronunciation guide of soccer terms in Thai round out the extensive back matter. This is a book for soccer players, soccer lovers, friendship partakers, diverse culture lovers, DIY builders, dreamers, or anyone who loves a good story!

 


Click here to buy a copy today.
 

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Find out more about the illustrators here.
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Read a review of another nonfiction sports-themed
middle grade book here.
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Five Children’s Books for Armchair Traveling

TRAVEL & MAP BOOKS FOR KIDS

– A ROUNDUP-

I love everything about travel, the new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. And getting there is also a big part of the excitement. But right now, staying home during the pandemic means we have to find other ways to get that thrill. There are travel programs and international webcams to watch, online museums to visit, and best of all, there are books to read. Take advantage of the variety of books that kids of all ages can enjoy for unique vicarious experiences. I hope you’ll share these books so that, while at home, your children can adventure both near and far simply by turning a page.

 

 

TinyTravelers INDIA cvrTINY TRAVELERS TREASURE QUEST: INDIA
Written by Steven Wolfe Pereira + Susie Jaramillo
Illustrated by Meiyee Tan + Abigail Gross

(Encantos; $12.99, Ages 3-6)

Help your kids become global citizens by introducing them to a vast array of fascinating destinations in this fabulous board book series. The 28-pages in Tiny Travelers Treasure Quest: India provide an engaging illustrated journey into the heart of India. My first trip to India was over 30 years ago and yet that trip has remained with me all these years because of the scenic beauty, the delicious food, the warm, welcoming people, and the majesty of the monuments such as the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Kids, parents, teachers, and librarians will love how the book is filled with facts about the “language, history, food, nature, music, and more,” in every colorful spread. There’s a seek-and-find element woven into the text that parents can choose to play with their children during the first reading, or return to the next time. Top that off with the rhyming prose, “Bollywood movies / are one of a kind. / They have dancing, singing / and costumes combined!” and kids will be hooked. Find more info and books in the series including China, Mexico, Puerto Rico at TinyTravelers.com.

MyFirstBookofLondon coverMY FIRST BOOK OF LONDON
Written and illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Walker Books U.S.; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Covering 15 topics, My First Book of London, a large-format picture book, is just one title in this fun series that combines vibrant graphic illustrations, brief narrative and simple words to give an overview of the most well-known attractions and things to do in this beloved city. I actually laughed out loud when on the first spread I saw that for Buckingham Palace not only was Queen Elizabeth II included, but also a Corgi! I wasn’t quite sure why a fire engine was featured, (must look that up) but I’m glad that the “flag-waving crowd” and “Changing of the Guard” were depicted. Arrhenius has zeroed in on London’s museums, too, one of my favorite things about this city. There is a museum for everyone’s interests, from the famed British Museum with its mummy collection to the V&A Museum (Victoria & Albert), my personal fave. Use the book as a dictionary, as a seek-and-find book, or simply as a wonderful way to get familiar with what makes this English city so popular.

LuluandRockyinIndianapolis cvrLULU AND ROCKY IN INDIANAPOLIS
Written by Barbara Joosse
Illustrated by Renée Graef
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

The fourth book in this beautifully illustrated U.S. travel series is Lulu and Rocky in Indianapolis, informational fiction that is part story, part travelogue, and 100% interesting! The books all feature fox cousins, main characters Lulu and Rocky, and their penguin pal Pufferson. There is a welcome consistency in how each story begins the same way making it easy to read the books out of order. First readers get a sneak peek at Aunt Fancy composing a letter, then comes a map of the featured city (in this Indiana’s state capital), followed by Lulu receiving the purple envelope in which Aunt Fancy invites her to bring Pufferson to meet up with Rocky at the destination. Once together the trio embarks on an adventure in a different city that will make you want to pack your bags and hit the road to join them. Kids’ll discover that there is so much more to the “Hoosier’s paradise” than the famed motor race. In the backmatter’s two-paged “More to Know” section, each attraction visited is described in more detail so you can plan a future trip to Indy. Make sure to include the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world!

50MapsoftheWorld cover50 MAPS OF THE WORLD
Written & researched by Kalya Ryan and Ben Handicott
Illustrated by Sol Linero
(Wide Eyed Editions; $30, Ages 7-10)

Another picture book for armchair travelers is the detailed 50 Maps of the World, recommended for tweens. Not your mother’s atlas, this large-format book is an easy way for kids to connect with our world through travel, culture, historical and current famous personalities, geography and animals without leaving home. There is a helpful intro so kids know what to expect before diving in. What I love about this book is not just how good it feels to hold in your lap, but I also appreciate how much info has been packed into every page so there are multiple ways to approach it. Take South Africa for example. Sometimes you may pick up the book to learn the key facts about its largest cities, population, official languages, etc. Other times you may want to find out about its natural attractions such as Hole in the Wall, Tugela Falls, or Kruger National Park. You can even study a timeline or discover who once called this country home such as Elon Musk, cricketer De Villiers, Nelson Mandela, inventor Thato Kgatlhanye, or actress Charlize Theron.

Cities in Layers coverCITIES IN LAYERS: Six Famous Cities Through Time
Written by Philip Steele
Illustrated by Andrés Lozano
(Big Picture Press; $22.00, Ages 8-12)

What makes Cities in Layers so cool and accessible is how it takes kids back in time to two previous eras in history per city in addition to the present time via fact-filled pages, bright visual maps, as well as info about people who lived there. There’s even a cleverly designed “die-cut  element,” that “allows readers to really peel back layers of time.” This visually appealing large-format, 64-page picture book will delight tweens as they see the changes in the six famous cities unfold right before their eyes. Starting with an intro and a timeline, the book then covers Rome, Italy; Istanbul, Turkey; Paris, France; Beijing, China; London, U.K.; and New York City, U.S.A. Cities in Layers would be the perfect companion to stories from those time periods. When looking at London from 1863, kids could learn about authors from the Victorian era, or they could read about the Great Depression when checking out the map of NYC from 1931. What’s interesting is that Steele has chosen different centuries to focus on for each city so while the pages for Paris zero in on 1380, 1793, and today, the section on Istanbul covers 550 ce, 1616 as well as the present day.  A two-page spread at the end ponders what future cities will look like while addressing population growth, the scarcity of resources, and technology. This fascinating read combines history, maps, architecture, and progress with its unique perspective that will no doubt spark interesting discussions.

Also, check out these other books:

OUR WORLD: A First Book of Geography
Written by Sue Lowell Gallion
Illustrated by Lisk Feng
(Phaidon; $18.95, Ages 2-5)

A read-aloud introduction to geography for young children that, when opened and folded back, creates a freestanding globe.

 

 

Maps DeluxeEdition coverMAPS: Deluxe Edition
Written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska & Daniel Mizielinski
(Big Picture Press; $50, Ages 10 and up)

Discover the world in this updated edition of the beloved bestseller,
featuring twenty-four all-new maps. A great large-format book for budding cartophiles and travel enthusiasts.

 

 

 

 

BIGFOOT VISITS THE BIG CITIES OF THE WORLD
Written and illustrated by D. L. Miller
(Little Fox; $14.99, All Ages)

A seek-and-find challenge for the whole family!

 

 

 

Looking for more Around the World books to share with your children? Check out the Pinterest board from Candlewick by clicking here: https://www.pinterest.com/candlewickpress/around-the-world/

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Picture Book Review – A Gift for Amma

A GIFT FOR AMMA:

Market Day in India

Written by Meera Sriram

Illustrated by Mariona Cabassa

(Barefoot Books; HC $16.99,
PB English or Spanish $8.99, Ages 4-9)

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Foreword Reviews, School Library Journal

Few picture books will trigger your wanderlust more than the beautiful A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India, written by Meera Sriram and Illustrated by Mariona Cabassa. The story follows a young girl as she shops at an outdoor Indian market to find a gift for Amma—or Mother. But really, it is a celebration of color, the senses, and love.

 

2020 06 Gift for Amma Interior
Interior spread from A Gift for Amma written by Meera Sriram and illustrated by Mariona Cabassa, Barefoot Books ©2020

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Each spread introduces readers to not just the various items in the market, but to a vibrant color palette of dizzying loveliness. Pink is not just pink. It is lotus pink, like the flowers and sweet treats the girl considers buying for Amma. Likewise, green becomes peacock green, and orange become saffron orange. But, in such a poly-chromatic world, how can a gift of any one color ever suffice? This is the question the at heart of the story—and it is such a good one that you might suddenly look at your black and white wardrobe and ask yourself: What was I thinking?
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AGiftForAmma Interior lotuspink small
Interior spread from A Gift for Amma written by Meera Sriram and illustrated by Mariona Cabassa, Barefoot Books ©2020

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Readers will also love the final two spreads, which provide more information about not just the merchandise available at the outdoor markets of Southern India, but about the history of outdoor markets themselves.

A Gift for Amma is the perfect antidote for these days of remote learning and armchair traveling. It will give you hope. There is still so much waiting for us in the days ahead. And—if we are lucky—they will be very colorful.

 

Click here to order a copy of A Gift for Amma.

Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/19/20

 

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An Interview with Author Suzanne Kamata About Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters

AN INTERVIEW

WITH AUTHOR  SUZANNE KAMATA

 

PopFlies CVR

 

POP FLIES, ROBO-PETS, AND OTHER DISASTERS

Written by Suzanne Kamata

Illustrated by Tracy Bishop

(One Elm Books; $16.99, eBook available, Ages 9-14)

 

 

INTRO

The release of this fast-paced and interesting middle grade novel was scheduled around Major League Baseball’s Opening Day events. We all know that’s been delayed due to the pandemic, but there’s no reason kids cannot enjoy the thrill of baseball season between the pages of an engaging novel. Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters offers readers just that with its insider’s perspective on the sport along with the ups and downs of being on a team. But that’s only part of the story as the title hints. It’s a diverse novel set in Japan that addresses repatriation, dementia, special needs, and bullying. Read below to find out more. Also a pdf of discussion questions is available here.

SUMMARY

Thirteen-year-old Satoshi Matsumoto spent the last three years living in Atlanta where he was the star of his middle-school baseball team—a slugger with pro potential, according to his coach. Now that his father’s work in the US has come to an end, he’s moved back to his hometown in rural Japan. Living abroad has changed him, and now his old friends in Japan are suspicious of his new foreign ways. Even worse, his childhood foe Shintaro, whose dad has ties to gangsters, is in his homeroom. After he joins his new school’s baseball team, Satoshi has a chance to be a hero until he makes a major-league error.

INTERVIEW

PopFlies int page 031 R
Interior illustration from Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters written by Suzanne Kamata and illustrated by Tracy Bishop, One Elm Books ©2020.

GOOD READS WITH RONNA: When did the idea hit you to write a middle grade novel about a school baseball team set in Japan?

SUZANNE KAMATA: Hmmm. I did write a picture book baseball story, which was published in 2009, at my son’s request. Around that time, I started writing an adult novel based on my husband’s experience as a Japanese high school baseball coach. Originally, Satoshi was a character in that novel. Later, maybe about ten years ago, a friend suggested that I write a YA novel about Koshien, the extremely popular Japanese national high school baseball tournament. I took Satoshi out of my adult novel and tried to write a YA novel about him. Even later, readers suggested that it seemed more like a middle grade novel, so I made adjustments. That’s the long answer. I guess the short answer would be that I never set out to write a middle grade novel about a school baseball team in Japan.

GRWR: Let’s talk first about the pop flies portion of your novel’s title. With Major League Baseball put on hold due to the Corona Virus, readers get to vicariously experience the sport in your book. Have you been a baseball mom and, because you write about it so convincingly, do you enjoy baseball?

SK: I do enjoy baseball. My husband was a high school baseball coach for 12 years, and I used to go to his games. So, first, I was a baseball wife. My son played baseball from elementary school throughout high school, and I also taught at a couple of high schools in Japan that were known for their strong baseball teams. I feel like I know a lot about high school baseball in Japan, but I often checked with my husband and son about the details. I read an early draft to my son, and he corrected a few things.

GRWR: Upon his return to his old school, Tokushima Whirlpool Junior High, a private school founded by his grandfather, the main character Satoshi Matsumoto’s old friends and classmates “are suspicious of his new foreign ways.” I love how your book honestly explores the struggles of this thirteen-year-old’s readjustment upon returning to rural Japan after three years living in Atlanta. Can you speak to the pros and cons of the international experience to help readers understand his mixed emotions and the changes that occur in people after a move abroad.?

SK: Personally, I feel that there are no cons to having lived or traveled abroad. I am sure that many kids in Japan don’t feel that way now, but when they grow up they will understand the value of these experiences. For my own children, having a foreign mom and growing up with additional cultural elements (like the tooth fairy, and macaroni and cheese, and speaking English at home) set them apart and perhaps made them feel a bit lonely at times. This was especially true since we lived in a small town in a conservative, somewhat remote part of Japan. However, I wanted them  to understand that there was a world beyond the one that they lived in, that even though they were in the minority in the town where we lived, they had a tribe out there somewhere. When you live abroad, you start to look at your own country differently. You can see things that people who have never left cannot. I think, in many ways, you begin to appreciate your own country and culture more. In the book, Satoshi goes through the same thing.

GRWR: The novel’s supporting characters include Satoshi’s grandfather (Oji-chan) who now has dementia and once had a chance for a promising career in baseball before WWII, and younger sister, Momoko , age four, who has cerebral palsy and uses sign language to communicate and leg-braces or a wheelchair for mobility. Are they based on actual people in your life and how are special needs and disabilities treated in Japan?

SK: Yes and no. For many years, we lived with an elderly relative who showed signs of dementia, and my daughter is multiply disabled. She is deaf and has cerebral palsy, and, yes, she has leg braces, uses a wheelchair, and communicates mostly via sign language. But these characters are fictional.

As in the book, children with special needs and disabilities are not usually mainstreamed. There are separate schools for children who are deaf, blind, or who have intellectual or physical disabilities. For the record, my two children, who are twins, went to two different schools.

Children with disabilities, or some other difference, are sometimes bullied.

While accessibility is gradually improving, there is still a degree of shame in Japan surrounding mental health issues and disability. To be honest, certain members of my Japanese family don’t approve of my writing about disability so openly, even though I am writing fiction. However, I think it’s important to do so.

GRWR: A bully named Shintaro plays a prominent role in this story. He bullied Satoshi before his move abroad, and the fact that his dad has ties to gangsters makes him all the more scary. He picks on both Misa, a new student who is biracial and Satoshi, sometimes quite aggressively. Is bullying common in Japanese culture and how does the approach to dealing with bullying in school differ in Japan than in the U.S.?

SK: Bullying is a persistent problem in Japan. Typically, teachers try not to intervene, with the thinking that kids should try to work things out by themselves. Japanese schools have classes in morality, where they might discuss bullying, but most schools don’t have counselors, and some classes have up to 40 students, which is a lot for one teacher to manage.

PopFlies page 205 r
Interior illustration from Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters written by Suzanne Kamata and illustrated by Tracy Bishop, One Elm Books ©2020.

GRWR: There’s a crucial part of the story where Satoshi’s ego is on full display when he chooses to ignore instructions from his coach. I was surprised by this display of disobedience, especially given all the examples of students being raised to be very respectful. Do you think there are too many rules in a Japanese student’s life and that’s why Satoshi preferred his life in America? Here is good spot to ask you to speak to any cultural differences about being a team player in the US and in Japan.

SK: Independence is valued more in the United States, whereas conformity is valued more in Japan. As a teacher, I have come into contact with many students who have gone abroad for a year or more. They are different when they come back. Generally, they enjoy the sense of freedom and self-expression that they experienced in the U.S. Satoshi enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere of American school, and he finds it hard to buckle down. Also, in Japan, it’s not good to stand out. It’s better to be humble and to give credit to your teammates than to draw attention to your abilities.

GRWR: Satoshi’s grandfather has a therapeutic robo-pet seal known as Nana-chan. Where did this unusual idea come from because it’s sweet, funny and a plot driver as well?

SK: I first read about these therapeutic robo-pet seals in a Japanese textbook, and then I later saw one in person at a science exhibition. I was immediately charmed – a seal! How random! —  and I wanted to put it into a story.

GRWR: I like that there are illustrations included by Tracy Bishop in every chapter although I only saw an ARC and am not sure if there were any changes made before publication. Did you always picture the novel with illustrations?

SK: No. Actually, I didn’t expect that the novel would be illustrated, but I love having my work illustrated, so I was very excited about it. I am glad that the illustrator is Japanese-American, and that she was familiar with what I wrote about. I was very happy with the final result.

GRWR: What advice can you offer to readers who may have international students at their schools here in America?

SK: As they say, “variety is the spice of life.” Make an effort to get to know people who are different from yourself. Be patient with students from other cultures when they make “mistakes” or do something differently from you. You can learn so much from people from other countries.

I would also encourage students to read books, such as mine, about kids in other countries and from other cultures. There’s nothing like a book to build empathy.

GRWR: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

SK: If readers enjoy this book, perhaps they would be interested to know that I have written two other novels that  have a connection to Japan, and are appropriate for middle grade readers – Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible and Indigo Girl. Both feature Aiko Cassidy, a biracial girl with cerebral palsy who aspires to be a manga artist.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my writing!

BIO

Author Suzanne Kamata
Photo of Suzanne Kamata by © Solveig Boergen

Award-winning author Suzanne Kamata was born and raised in the United States, but has lived in Japan for over half of her life. Suzanne raised two kids and now lives with her husband in Aizumi, Japan.

Website: http://www.suzannekamata.com

Thank you so much, Suzanne, for your honest, enlightening replies. I loved learning about your experience as an ex-pat living and raising a family in Japan and how it’s informed your writing. I hope readers will get a copy of Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters to find out all the things Satoshi dealt with upon his return to Japan. Good luck on your works-in-progress (an adult novel and several picture books), too.

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Kids Picture Book Review – SumoKitty

SUMOKITTY
Written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki
(Charlesbridge; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

“Fall down seven times; get up eight.” These words reveal the central message of SumoKitty, a heartwarming story about never giving up. Set in a Sumo wrestling training center, a hungry stray cat is given a job chasing mice in exchange for food. All is well until the kitty gains so much weight he can no longer hold up his end of the bargain and is kicked out of the center.

 

SUMOKITTY FNL sprd1
Interior spread from SumoKitty written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki, Charlesbridge ©2019.

 

With words of wisdom shared by Kuma, the head rikishi (wrestler), we journey with Kitty on his path back to mice-chasing shape. Kuma tells Kitty, “After the rain, the earth hardens,” adding “When life gets tough, Kitty, it makes you stronger.” Kitty is determined to get back into the center and imitates the rikishi’s training, the way only a feline can. “When he attacked the teppo (striking post), I attacked my scratching post.” When Kitty gets another chance to earn his keep, he uses many of the Sumo moves he’s observed, successfully ridding the training center of mice and earning the name SumoKitty!

Youngsters will delight in following kitty on his journey from hungry stray to official mouse chaser and finally, a beloved and respected member of the Sumo wrestling family.

 

SUMOKITTY FNL sprd2
Interior spread from SumoKitty written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki, Charlesbridge ©2019.

 

Author/illustrator Biedrzycki includes many Japanese terms related to Sumo wrestling, providing readers with an added layer of authenticity. His varied illustration layouts, from full-page spreads to comic book style blocks of action, keep the reader engaged and entertained.

 

SUMOKITTY FNL sprd3
Interior spread from SumoKitty written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki, Charlesbridge ©2019.

 

The many wise sayings woven throughout SumoKitty add depth and complexity to this sweet, uplifting story. Each quote provides an opportunity to discuss its deeper meaning and children will identify with and root for Kitty as he perseveres, and is ultimately triumphant. Readers will be comforted by the fact that as hard as life can become, what matters most is that, like SumoKitty, we must we never ever give up.

Click here for an activity guide.

Read a review of another picture book by David Biedrzycki here.

  • Guest Review by Lisa Bose – writer, reader, mother, teacher and wife – not necessarily in that order.

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Shubh Diwali!

SHUBH DIWALI!
Written by Chitra Soundar
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Shub Diwali book cover

 

Every fall I celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, better known as Hanukkah, which lasts eight days. But there is another Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus called Diwali that is “celebrated across five days,” depending on where one lives. This year Diwali begins on Sunday, October 27 so I wanted to share this new picture book about the holiday called Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua.

From the very first pages when “Grandpa watches the waning moon. The festival is coming soon,” readers feel a sense of anticipation knowing that something wonderful is about to happen. Chua’s cheerful and brightly colored artwork depicts preparations underway as a multi-generational Indian family tidies their home in the days leading up to Diwali. I love how we see everyone involved, even the adorable dog, eager for the celebration to begin.

 

Shubh Diwali IN01
Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

Told in rhyme, Shubh Diwali! introduces youngsters to the numerous holiday customs such as hanging bunting made from mango leaves, creating striking Rangoli art (“traditional floor decorations and patterns made from rice flour and colored powders”), and wearing new clothes. There’s plenty of storytelling by elders, in this case recounting tales of gods who “fought evil against all odds,” as well as time together with the whole family to reflect when hymns are chanted and bells are rung. Of course there’s also a lot of eating and playing because, well because that’s what happens when there’s a houseful of kids and adults!

 

Shubh Diwali IN02
Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

The picture book is filled with a diverse group of friends and neighbors who are invited to share in the lovely and meaningful Diwali rituals such as lighting the lamps, exchanging presents and candy, and watching brilliant fireworks light up the skies. I learned in the interesting back matter that on the third day of this festival, which happens to be when the New Year is celebrated, people “offer food and support to those less privileged than themselves.” Also the fifth day, called Bhai Dooj, is devoted to brothers and sisters getting together to “celebrate their love for one another.”

 

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Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

I recommend sharing this charming picture book with children so, like me, they can learn about Diwali and its beautiful traditions. There are many holidays based on the lunar calendar and it’s a good idea to expose kids to as many as possible in order to gain a greater understanding of different cultures at home and abroad and maybe make our world a little smaller.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

Read a review about another book illustrated by Charlene Chua here.

 

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