The dill-ightful title of this new picture book, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey with adorable art by Kelly Collier, will immediately grab you even if it doesn’t immediately grab sloth whose slow motion throughout the story is one of the recurring elements that make it hysterical to read-aloud. I’m talking Lucy and Ethel hysterical. You may not see my smile as I’m writing this, but trust me it’s here now and was for every page as I was eager to see how things played out for the pair of pickle-packing pals.
This humorous friendship tale begins with Squirrel deciding he’d like to get a bike to go FAST!, but after seeing the price tag at the bike shop, realizes it’s too costly. Sloth points out that the pickle company next door is seeking pickle packers. If they work hard, together the two should be able to earn enough to afford the bike.
In their interview, the friends meet Mr. Peacock who Collier has imagined with bushy eyebrows, a stern face, and office accessories all in a pickle green palette. Perfect! This character cracked me up. I could even hear his voice as he preps his new employees to start working. It doesn’t take long for Squirrel and Pickle to discover that the packing process is slippery hence much breakage. By noon they haven’t packed more than six jars. More comical chaos ensues when, given a second chance, Sloth unknowingly makes a major LOL mess of labeling and the new hires are fired.
With the money earned from the six successfully packed pickle jars, and lots of free, unsellable jars of pickles now in their possession, the friends are nowhere closer to buying the bike. That is until a melting ice pop incident—it simply cannot be eaten fast enough by a sloth—leads to the invention of a cool new, no-brain-freeze alternative to ice pops. Suddenly the money comes pouring in and the pals purchase the bike. Sadly, Sloth’s lethargy makes going fast on the bike as Squirrel had previously envisioned a non-starter. Sloth, however, has a better idea that even at his pace will bring them up to speed.
Between Cathy’s witty plot, prose, and characters and Collier’s creative illustrations that must be carefully studied for all the added touches readers might not see at first, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle beautifully addresses the “What if” question many authors ask themselves when developing a story: What if a slow animal and a fast animal became friends? In this case, the friendship endures despite the differences and it flourishes as the pals persevere in their pursuit of a bike. This well-crafted and extremely funny picture book is a great way to discuss cause and effect and determination. It also shows kids that money doesn’t grow on trees even if Sloth hangs out in one. Money has to be earned and then the joy of having bought something with the fruit (or pickle) of one’s labor tastes especially sweet or in this funny case maybe salty too!
Norman’s owner, the story’s narrator, is proud of his talented fish and wants “everyone to know it,” so it’s no surprise that he enters the upcoming Pet-O-Rama where he can demonstrate how truly awesome Norman is.
Kids will love all the cool tricks that Norman can perform on command including swimming in circles, blowing bubbles and a flip through a hoop that’s pretty impressive. But the pièce de résistance is how, when Norman’s owner plays a particular song on the tuba, Norman can sing and dance to it. This goldfish has got the moves and the Pet-O-Rama participants and attendees will be blown away by him. But the competition is fierce with bunnies, dogs, snakes, and lizards all going for glory.
When it’s finally Norman and his owner’s turn in the spotlight, the goldfish appears to freeze up, hide and not respond to his cues. Remembering his nervous feelings from that very morning, Norman’s owner realizes that the goldfish is experiencing stage fright. With a welcome whisper of encouragement and a performance tip to turn the tide from his human friend, Norman not only completes the practiced routine, he wows the crowd and judges to capture the prize.
Bennett’s story about helping a friend in a time of need and lifting their spirits offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to discuss what a friendship encompasses. It’s also a gentle exposure to stage fright or speaking in front of a class—fears many young children might have—and how a compassionate friend can make all the difference in conquering that fear. Coupled with Jones’s vibrant, deeply saturated cartoon-like art, Bennett’s funny and sweet look at friendship through the eyes of a child and his pet goldfish, is a definite winner.
Originally published in Spain, The Day Saida Arrived is a powerful story of friendship and love that bridges the gap between cultural differences.
The book begins by looking at the issue of immigration through the lens of a classmate whose heart is stirred with compassion to befriend a new student from Morocco. Reading the sadness and silence in Saida’s “large amber eyes,” the narrator sets out to find her friend’s words, thinking Saida has lost them. But after a discussion with her parents, the narrator realizes Saida indeed has words-yet she doesn’t want to “bring them out.” They are “different from the words” used in her new surroundings. The narrator’s father explains to his daughter: “In Morocco, … yours wouldn’t work either.”
Once the narrator understands this all-important lesson of seeing herself in the other person’s struggle, she sets out to help and learn from Saida. Together, in this reciprocal relationship, the two friends share a wealth of new words. Double page spreads of Arabic and English words playfully interact. Some are easily remembered, some are “carried off by the wind,” while those that were forgotten earlier return like “good weather.” In fact, throughout the pages we see graceful Arabic and bold English letters flying about, blown by the wind like butterflies, “sometimes look[ing] like flowers and other times like insects.” The illustrative theme of nature is beautifully consistent, comparing the process of language acquisition to the ebb and flow of the natural world.
Through poignant scenes and lyrical language, we see the girls’ mutual respect and friendship blossom. In trust and appreciation, they exchange stories and treats from each other’s culture. A side by side spread of the English and Arabic alphabets in the backmatter extends the opportunity for readers to learn.
A touching story that breaks boundaries, The Day Saida Arrived is a wonderful addition to the school and home library.
Find book resources including a Teacher’s guide and a coloring page here.
Here’s an interesting interview with the book’s translatorLawrence Schimel Read about author Susana Gómez Redondohere. See more art from illustrator Sonja Wimmerhere.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Click here to order a copy of The Day Saida Arrived. e
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!
BEACH BATTLE BLOWOUT WELCOME TO WONDERLAND #4 by Chris Grabenstein, Illustrated by Kelly Kennedy, (Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)
If you’re looking for an upbeat beach read or a book that keeps the summer feeling going strong as back-to-school time begins,Beach Battle Blowout is it. The fourth installment in the Welcome to Wonderland series continues with fast-paced silliness. Likeable main character P.T. Wilkie lives in “the funnest place on Earth” (a funky motel) with his mother and his grandfather who is Florida’s “other Walt.” P.T.’s best friend, Gloria Ortega, lives there too because her sportscaster dad moves around a lot for TV gigs.
Previous books focused more on P.T. wondering about the identity of his father; here, his questioning is mentioned in passing but with significance. Dad or no Dad, something exciting is brewing again. This time, the Hottest Family Attraction contest, hosted by Florida Fun in the Sun magazine, focuses on smaller attractions like the Wonderland Motel. To find winning strategies, Gloria serves as the brains and financial whiz, while P.T. follows in his grandfather’s footsteps weaving wacky stories that entertain the guests. Their competitors have larger, newer, and fancier offerings, but the Wonderland has heart.
Short chapters and 70+ comic-style illustrations engage even reluctant readers. Mix a cast of friendly characters—and maybe a few “villains”—with adventure and mystery and you get this middle-grade page-turner. Don’t miss the funny and spot-on Storytelling Tips at the end.
The first book in the Welcome to Wonderland series is a New York Times best-seller, a winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, and on the Sunshine State Young Readers Award list. Chris Grabenstein is also author of the successful and popular Mr. Lemoncello series.
NOW? NOT YET! Written and illustrated by Gina Perry (Tundra Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
A sweet and spot on take of differing priorities, Gina Perry’s picture book, Now? Not Yet!, is a super summer read. The two pals, Peanut and Moe, first seen in Too Much! Not Enough! are back to share more contrasting but relatable personality traits.
Before even reaching the title page, readers will see that, in the opening endpapers artwork, Perry depicts a beautiful woodsy setting for a story with blue lines delineating the characters’ journey from start to finish. I wanted to jump into the illustration! A more simplified version of this scene is also included at the end. Such a cool feature!
The pals are going camping but Peanut is impatient. He’s got a one track mind and it’s set on swimming. Moe, on the other hand, knows that fun and games have to take a back seat to the journey (hiking in the woods), facing several obstacles along the way (getting lost, Peanut falling) and ultimately setting up camp. All the while Peanut keeps asking Now? Now? Now? When the Now? turns into Now! it’s clear Peanut has waited long enough. But at the same time, he’s never once pitched in. Moe’s been doing everything himself. And more still needs to get done. With the two friends at odds, Moe runs off. Now he’s not a happy camper. Parent can ask their children if they feel they’re more like Moe or Peanut and discuss why.
Peanut and Moe need to work things out soon otherwise their special time together camping will be ruined. Luckily Peanut sees the light, finishes the chores, but realizes helping out is all fine and dandy but what good is being prepared when Moe’s not around to play with? Here’s where parents can point out some subtle actions in the illustrations that might indicate Moe’s got a fun surprise in store. Perry’s artwork is vibrant and inviting, adding a pleasing lightheartedness to this friendship story of cooperation and empathy.
We love people who share! If you want to help spread the cover reveal ❤, please link
back to this page so that others can enter our exclusive We Can Be Heroes giveaway.
We’re thrilled to share this exciting first look at the cover of Margaret Finnegan’s debut middle grade novel, We Could Be Heroes. We’re also delighted to offer an exclusive giveaway for a chance to win an autographed bound manuscript. Please see details below.
What I Love About The Cover:
After the cool title (who doesn’t love this Bowie song?) pulled me in, I found the cover’s rich color combination very appealing. And then there’s the boy, the girl and the dog—I’m curious where they are, how they are connected to one another and what point/scene in the book this particular illustration represents—so I asked Margaret. She said she didn’t want to give away too much, but did offer this: “In the cover, fourth graders Hank, Maisie and sweet pitbull Booler look down over their hometown of Meadowlark, Montana.” By the way, if you’re wondering who created the fabulous cover illustration, that would be artist Alexandra Bye.
About the Book:
When Hank Hudson accidentally sets his school on fire, Maisie Huang thinks she has finally found someone brave enough to help her rescue a neglected dog named Booler.
Together, the two outsiders will create a friendship born of difference, imagination, and a commitment to being the heroes of not only Booler’s story, but their own.
Release date 2/25/20 from Atheneum.
About the Author:
Margaret Finnegan’s work has appeared in FamilyFun, LA Times, Salon and other publications. When she is not writing she teaches writing to students at Cal State LA. And when she is not doing either of those things she is probably watching movies with her family, walking her new puppy, Walt, or baking really good chocolate cakes.
Keep Up With The Author:
Follow Margaret to be sure you’re first to know when WE COULD BE HEROES is available to pre-order in addition to other updates. In the meantime, be sure to add her novel to your Goodreads TBR list.
What a privilege it’s been, Margaret, to offer readers this chance to see your beautiful cover out in the kidlitosphere on Good Reads With Ronna. I can’t wait to get to know Hank and Maisie better!
Margaret is excited to be able to offer one winner a signed and bound copy of her WE COULD BE HEROES manuscript courtesy of Atheneum! To enter this giveaway please leave a comment on this post. Get a bonus entry for following the blog @goodreadsronna on Twitter. Receive another bonus entry for following Margaret on Twitter as detailed above and then please be sure to let us know you have by mentioning that in your comment. NOTE: (Comments appear once moderated by GRWR.) This unique giveaway opportunity (for U.S.residents only) will end at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, June 27. The winner will be announced via Twitter on June 28. Good luck and thanks for stopping by the blog to celebrate Margaret’s cover reveal!
SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR AND HIS BEST FRIEND FOREVER (PROBABLY) Written by Julie Falatko Illustrated by Tim Miller (Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Rarely, is a sequel to a fantastic picture book better than the first.
Don’t get all excited. Alright, it’s not necessarily BETTER, but by golly it sure is just as incredible as the first and every page enjoyable to the fullest.
Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably) written by Julie Falatkoand illustrated by Tim Miller is a picture book all kids can appreciate in terms of friendship woes. From as early as they can talk with friends, children are ready to define their friendships into categories––quickly going from “You’re my best friend!” to “You’re not invited to my party!” within the course of a day or even hours.
What’s so terrific about this book is the way you see two friends who are at odds find a way to share their joy. Sometimes friends need space, sometimes friends need a breather before they can play. And that’s okay.
Tim Miller’s comic style illustrations bring Snappsy and Bert’s (the narrator) struggle to find common ground to life with laugh out loud scenarios cleverly constructed by Julie Falatko.
At one point Bert exclaims, “Let’s play pinochle! Wear pizza hats! Braid my hair!” to an exasperated Snappsy who just wants time to himself and has no clue what pinochle is or how in the world to braid a chicken’s hair. As Snappsy spends time alone he realizes how much fun it is to be with his friend Bert, and invites him in to play.
Don’t miss the chance to share Snappsy The Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably), a new and entertaining read by the same team behind Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to be in This Book). My preschool kids request this book multiple times daily and I never tire of reading it aloud and hearing their giggles of sheer delight.
MEET DANIELLE DAVIS, AUTHOR OF ZINNIA AND THE BEES Written by Danielle Davis Illustrated by Laura K. Horton (Capstone Young Readers; $14.95, Ages 9-12)
Yesterday, August 1st, was the debut of local L.A. author Danielle Davis’s new middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees. Today I’m totally tickled (but not stung mind you!) to share my recent interview with Davis as she weighs in on the who, what, when, where and why of her delightful magical realism story. But first I’d like to share some of my own thoughts. If you’re eager to get to the Q&A with Danielle, please feel free to scroll down. Below that you’ll also find a trailer for the novel.
Zinnia, the main character in Danielle Davis’s Zinnia and the Bees, struggles with several relationships throughout this introspective, humorous, and totally absorbing book. It’s filled with many of those confusing, sometimes immobilizing emotions that I recall experiencing in middle school (which was called junior high back then). Added to that are accounts of several uncomfortable situations Zinnia finds herself immersed in which will surely resonate with today’s tweens. And though she may seem to avoid friendships, she ultimately realizes that those connections are what she really needs. Her mom, a widow, dentist and community activist, always seems otherwise occupied. She practically lives at her practice, leaves impersonal post-it notes and is more into her rescue dog than her daughter. Then there’s Zinnia’s brother Adam. The book opens with a wacky and wonderful yarn bomb episode that pulls readers into the story and demonstrates the siblings’ close relationship, despite the six years age gap.
On that very same day, Adam skips out on Zinnia and her mom, no warning, no note, nothing to let her know where he’s gone. That, after all they’ve shared, hurts more than also losing her group of friends NML, Nikki, Margot and Lupita. When they were pals they were NMLZ, but now Z was on her own. That is until a clever and curious neighbor’s nephew comes to town for summer. Far from perfect, yet not easy to push away, Birch demonstrates to Zinnia the magic of nature and the transformative quality of a good friend. His timing couldn’t have been better because after a visit to the local ice cream parlor, where some ice cream got in her hair, Zinnia has attracted a colony of crazed and kooky honeybees who find what they hope will be temporary accommodations in her long curly hair.
As Zinnia tries to make sense of her brother-less world, she’s also trying to figure out a way to get the bees off her head. We get vivid glimpses of a close relationship Zinnia has with her aunt, without which would make her mom’s indifference more intolerable than it already is. After all, it was her mom who pushed Adam away.
The humor shines through when reading the perspective of the hiveless bees hanging out in Zinnia’s hair. They get a chance, every several chapters or so, to share their thoughts on being homeless. This gives readers a chance to get into the bee narrator’s head and think about bees in a whole, hysterical new way. I now bravely scoop dive-bombing bees out of my pool instead of letting them drown thanks to Zinnia and the Bees! (No bees were hurt in the making of this novel, but do not attempt a rescue if you are allergic to bees!)
Davis has crafted a quirky and creative story where the presence of yarn in many ways can be seen as a connector of people, as well as something safe and comforting. The bees represent a longing for home, and Zinnia’s need to be heard and loved unconditionally, like her brother. There are truly many layers to the story of Zinnia and the Bees making this debut novel from Danielle Davis such a sweet, satisfying and thoughtful read.
Review by Ronna Mandel
Good Reads With Ronna:What was the genesis forZinnia and the Bees?
Danielle Davis 🐝: The idea for this book came from an image my husband passed along to me that had come to mind of someone with bees on and around their head. I was interested in fairy tales and stories that contained an element of the bizarre and even wacky, so the idea appealed to me immensely. With his permission, I ran with it (this is one of many reasons the book is dedicated to him). I wanted to know more about the way the bees might be a stand in for anxiety and navigating difficulties. And I wanted to know more about the person who found themselves in this predicament.
GRWR: Zinnia struggles with several relationships throughout the book and, after her brother Adam’s abrupt departure, she feels completely abandoned and alone. Then a swarm of hiveless honeybees takes up residence in her curly hair. Since the bees feature prominently in your story, can you talk about the significance of this magical realism element and how you decided to have two different perspectives recount the story?
DD 🐝:I was curious about Zinnia, but I was also curious about those insects. Disappearing bees were in the news quite a bit when I was first writing this story, and I’d heard about agricultural bees who traveled around with beekeepers to pollinate fruits and vegetables for humans (it’s a real thing!). So, I dreamed up a colony of bees who, while happy enough in their existence, felt like something was missing and yearned for freedom. I wanted to hear from them, and hoped readers would too. Writing the bee sections was really fun for me—they’re communal and existential and, I hope, hilarious (they always made me laugh!).
GRWR: A yarn bombing episode propels the plot line forward. Zinnia finds comfort in knitting and it feels like there is some symbolism with yarn. Was that intentional? Also, Zinnia has practically yarn bombed every item in her bedroom. As a child, were you a knitter like Zinnia? Is there any particular reason you chose knitting versus another craft since I know you share a lot of crafts on your picture book blog, This Picture Book Life?
DD 🐝:While the yarn symbolism was, admittedly, unintentional, it’s certainly there since yarn can provide comfort and so relates to the concept of home, which is at the heart of the novel. For me, I’d made Zinnia a knitter in the vein of any artist or maker (or writer) who experiences that sensation of flow when immersed in their preferred activity (plus, I’d recently learned about yarn bombing). For Zinnia, knitting is a way she soothes her anxiety, helps make sense of her world, and takes her mind off, well, everything. It’s a way for her to both focus and escape.I was certainly not a knitter—Zinnia is way more talented than I am! But for me, reading was similar to what knitting is for her. As a child, books were a way to soothe my anxiety, focus, and escape. Stories also, subconsciously I imagine, helped me make sense of the world.
GRWR: Your sense of place, your characters, voice, dialogue and plot all come together seamlessly to create, like the knitted lens covers for Birch’s binoculars, a cleverly crafted story. What was the easiest part for you to write and which is the hardest?
DD 🐝:Thank you, and what a neat question! Once I crafted this for a middle grade audience (I started it as something for adults—what was I thinking?), the first draft was pretty easy to write. I was emerging from a very challenging period in my own life, so writing the first draft of Zinnia and the Bees felt sort of effortless and full of joy as an extension of that unburdening. The interactions between Zinnia and Birch were natural and fun to write, as were the bee sections, where I could be as wacky and dramatic as I wanted. But all the revisions that followed, which were numerous and spanned years, were probably harder in general. And then working with my editor, Ali Deering at Capstone, was a little of both. She had brilliant ideas for making the story better in important ways and I got to prove to myself that I could create under her amazing direction and necessary deadline. The harder part was that having an editor meant I also had the pressure of knowing this was going to be a real, published book and that someone might actually read it someday.
GRWR: Though I really like Zinnia and her aunt Mildred, I’m especially fond of Birch who is visiting his Uncle Lou, the neighbor, for the summer. The friendship that slowly grows between Birch and Zinnia is so satisfying. Is there one character you relate to the most or is there a little bit of you in each one?
DD 🐝: I’m super fond of Birch as well—such a patient, loyal friend. While I’m confident there are parts of me in Zinnia, she feels to me like her own person (yes, these characters totally feel like real people to me!). I have a real soft spot for Birch’s Uncle Lou and both he and Zinnia’s Aunt Mildred are examples of the positive, caring adults every kid deserves to have in their lives.
GRWR: Dr. Flossdrop, Zinnia’s mom, is a memorable character. She’s distant, domineering and definitely not warm and fuzzy like the wool Zinnia knits with or her brother Adam whom she adores. How did you develop this dentist who relates better to her rescue dog than her own daughter?
DD 🐝: I knew I wanted Zinnia and her mom to start out feeling as different as possible and then learn that, emotionally, they have a lot in common even if it’s hard to tell from the outside. As for a neighborhood activist dentist who adopts a terrier and brings it to her office? I guess I was going for zany, and someone who would be as infuriating as possible to Zinnia.
GRWR: Do you have a preference when it comes to picture books and middle grade novels and which one do you read more of yourself?
DD 🐝: As in childhood, in adulthood I first fell in love with picture books, and then found middle grade novels. I read and enjoy both consistently, but I’m a bit more immersed in picture books in terms of quantity because of myblog.
And The Red Treeby Shaun Tan is my very favorite book.
GRWR: Where is your favorite place to write?
DD 🐝: I usually write in my apartment. I like the ease and comforts of home (like having neverending cups of tea when working), but I can still hear the sounds of the city and know it’s there. I like to revise out somewhere, preferably a coffee shop.
GRWR: How long did Zinnia and The Beestake you from concept to completion?
DD 🐝: I began the story in 2008, wrote the first middle grade draft in 2010, I believe, and sold it to and edited it for Capstone in 2016, and now it’s out in 2017.
GRWR: Can you talk about your passion for literacy and your volunteer work?
DD 🐝: I’ve been lucky enough to have the ability to volunteer with both WriteGirl and Reading to Kids respectively here in Los Angeles. The former is an organization that mentors teen girls through weekly one-on-one meetups to write together. Plus, the monthly workshops are epic and full of working writers sharing strategies and stories with teens. (And, an amazing WriteGirl who’s headed to college this fall is interning with me over the summer!)
The latter holds reading and crafting events at L.A. area elementary schools one Saturday a month. It is a total joy to participate and each child gets a free book to take home as well. That’s around 800 books given to 800 kids each month! It’s a privilege to be a small part of what the organization is doing to serve kids in my city. I wrote about the experience a couple of years agohere.
GRWR: Can you think of anything else I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share with readers about either Zinnia and the Bees or you?
DD🐝: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a huge treat to be featured on Good Reads With Ronna!
Visit Danielle’s website here. Find her at Twitter here. Find her at Instagram here. Click here to see Danielle’s Facebook page And click here to for her Pinterest boards. Visit illustrator Laura K. Horton’s website here.
A UNICORN NAMED SPARKLE Written and illustrated by Amy Young (Farrar Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)
Carving out a new niche in the unicorn-book market may seem a difficult task, but A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young accomplishes this task with humor and flare. When Lucy finds a mail-away ad stating, “Unicorn, 25 cents,” she, of course, sends her quarter off to Unicorn City, New Jersey, barely able to wait.
Meanwhile, Lucy imagines all the wonderful things they’ll do together. She’ll name her unicorn Sparkle and “he will be blue with a pink tail and pink mane.” To ease him into her world, she plans to give him a cupcake.
When the big truck rumbles up, Lucy’s cupcake disappears in one chomp. I must note that this is a great image—just the unicorn’s mouth coming out of the shipping crate, snapping down the cupcake – terrific! What emerges from the shipping crate doesn’t quite match Lucy’s expectations. “He had spots. His ears were too long. He smelled funny. Oh, and he had fleas.” And that’s just the beginning.
Playing together doesn’t go the way she planned either. So Lucy does what every frustrated shopper would: she phones Unicorns, Inc., and tells them to take Sparkle back. While she awaits the truck’s return, Lucy gets to know Sparkle and even stands up for him when neighborhood kids tell her that Sparkle looks like a goat. Of course we all know that Sparkle is a “special kind of unicorn.”
In this tale of friendship and discovery, Lucy comes to the conclusion that you may not get what you expected—and that can be just fine too.
Author and illustrator Amy Young’s A Unicorn Named Sparkle is a truly enjoyable read, ideal for the pre-K crowd. And her vivid, expressive images are well-matched to the text. Sparkle may not be the handsome unicorn we imagined, but he surely will capture our hearts.