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Picture Book Review – Looking for Happy

 

LOOKING FOR HAPPY

Written by Ty Chapman

Illustrated by Keenon Ferrell

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

 

Looking for Happy cover a boy and his different moods.

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Catching Thoughts

CATCHING THOUGHTS

Written by Bonnie Clark

Illustrated by Summer Macon

(Beaming Books; $17.99; Ages 3-8)

 

Catching Thoughts cover

 

Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere in Catching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clark with illustrations by Summer Macon.

It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).

 

CatchingThoughts layout rd5
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.

The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.

Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”

 

CatchingThoughts_Layout
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”

A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.

 

CatchingThoughts layout colorfulballoons
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.

Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.

 

  • Review by Ronda Skernick Einbinder

 

Click here to order a copy of Catching Thoughts

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