Meet Burt, he’s a ten-lined June (or watermelon) beetle. Burt has feathered antennae, a large body, a sticky abdomen, and can flail his legs when he falls on his back (but needs assistance flipping over). He notices that other insects have special or “super” abilities. A bumblebee is a “super hard worker” and ants can carry heavy loads. So what makes Burt special? Well, he’s trying to figure this out. As Burt meets more insects and learns about their amazing features, he wonders what his “super” ability is. Would winking count? How about hanging out around porch lights? Trying to imitate other insects’ super abilities doesn’t work either and Burt continually ends up on his back.
When Burt discovers a spider web with insects trapped in it, he’s amazed to find that their super abilities cannot free them from the web. As the venomous spider taunts Burt, he realizes he does have some super abilities. Burt’s a hugger and he happens to be sticky, too. Furthermore, he’s big and heavy enough to tear up the spider’s web when he falls on it, saving the other insects–and landing on his back once again. This time he has very grateful friends to help him flip over!
Cheerful and upbeat humor shines in this book. Commenting on his feathery antennae, Burt notes “it’s a style choice.” Gentle quips are exchanged between characters. When the spider, firmly stuck to Burt’s abdomen, asks “is this ever going to end?” Burt replies “I guess you’re stuck with me. Get it?” Exaggerated bodies and expressive faces, especially “bug” eyes, add to the enjoyment.
Spires has created a graphic novel designed for younger readers, especially those new to the graphic novel format. The panels are clean and well organized, without a lot of distractions. The number of characters and speech bubbles in a panel are kept to a minimum and the print is bold and slightly larger than usual. This book is appropriate for independent readers or as a read-aloud for emerging readers.
The book includes some themes which could be used to invite children to discuss character and friendship. Burt’s search for what makes him unique is something children also explore for themselves. Perseverance is a challenge for children, but Burt’s positive “can do” type of behavior in the face of repeated failures may encourage them to keep trying. He takes care of his friends and “doesn’t bite because that’s not how you make friends.”
Lastly, this graphic novel engages children in the natural world around them, weaving in factual information about insects and including “awesome insect super facts” in the back matter. Hopefully, it will inspire children to continue exploring the world of insects and their “super” abilities.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly
What better way to travel to the sea than to fly, and I don’t mean by airplane! Jacob’s Fantastic Flight, by German author illustratorPhilip Waechter, and translated by Elisabeth Lauffer, takes the reader on Jacob’s family vacation where he foregoes flying by plane with mom and dad, and instead sets off with courage to fly solo.
Waechter begins his whimsical tale by introducing readers to baby Jacob, flying before walking and surrounded by his parents, mouths agape, as their baby takes flight from his carriage to beyond the treetops. Each page pulls the reader in with colorful illustrations and intricate detail. Waechter’s vision of the story is beautifully expressed in his uplifting art.
At first his parents were pretty concerned because having a kid like that was a little weird. But they soon got used to him flying and figured, “So be it—he’s our son, and he’s perfect just the way he is!” And he’s quite helpful when he flies to the top of a tree to pick the big red apple!
As Jacob grows bigger, the family decides it’s time to take a vacation to the sea. After accompanying his parents to the airport, Jacob then waves goodbye and takes off flying on his own. Here begins the real adventure for the boy as he befriends birds, a flock of 83, while admiring the scenery along the way. He saw blue mountain lakes and golden wheat fields and smelled meadows full of flowers—beautiful!
Soon a notorious new character is introduced, Mr. Mortar, the evil birdcatcher. It wasn’t long before a little bird blundered into his net. When Jacob and the birds realize their count is off they work together to devise a plan and save their bird pal Hubert, with Jacob taking the lead.
Jacob finally catches up with his very happy parents who welcome him with hugs and kisses. I can only imagine the worry they must have felt thinking their son was flying alone. The family of three turned into a family of four as Hubert the rescued bird was now included in the family trip.
For all those kids who have imagined themselves flying, this is a wonderful adventure. It is also a heartwarming and much needed story about a boy whose difference is also his special power, one that gives him confidence, self-esteem and courage. This is a great conversation starter about helping others in need.
Reviewed by Ronda Skernick Einbinder
Click hereto read another picture book review by Ronda.
The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.
The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?
The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.
Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.
One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.
The poems celebrate diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but in experience. Brantley-Newton welcomes all kinds of girls with differing hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. Girls can be an “Explorer,” a “Negotiator,” “Shy,” or just plain “Weird.” Each type of girl is recognized and validated.
Biblical principles weave throughout the poems. They call for making change in the world through kindness, grace, and “fight[ing] the good fight of love.” As “The Day I Decided to Become Sunshine,” “Warrior,” and “Girl Fight” emphasize, participating in this change is a willful decision girls can make. “I decided to be a light/ by holding a door/ open for others to come through.” “Respectfully/ with humanity/ and lovingly,” girls can empower the world by “fighting for … what [they] believe.”
Just as important, girls can empower themselves. Poems such as “I Love My Body,” “Gumbo Me,” and “My Crown” send positive body messages and celebrate the uniqueness of each girl. Each one is enough just for being herself. ”[T]o be the me/that I’m supposed to be” is one of the most life-giving statements a little girl can hear.
Framing Brantley-Newton’s reassuring words are her captivating illustrations. Layers of pattern, color, and texture overlap to energize and uplift, placing each girl in center stage so that every reader can see herself in these pages.
This book is like a blanket of love. It would make a wonderful gift for that upcoming (virtual?) baby shower, birthday party, first day of school, or any occasion caregivers want to send a clear message of appreciation to the little girl in their life.
I’M HAPPY-SAD TODAY: Making Sense of Mixed-Together Feelings Written by Lory Britain, PhD Illustrated by Matthew Rivera (Free Spirit Publishing; $15.99, Ages 3-8)
“Grandma, I am so SA-MAD!”
Oh … why, Momo?” I asked my 8-year-old granddaughter.
“I’m SAD that my parents won’t let me do what I want today and I am so MAD at them!” she replied passionately.
Thus began my journey to explore children’s complex feelings and to write I’m Happy-Sad Today: Making Sense of Mixed-Together Feelings. Most books and early childhood materials focus on children selecting one feeling that represents how they feel. Yet, “mixed-together” feelings are common in childhood and throughout adulthood. Exploring the emotional life of children through this lens enriches our understanding and support of children.
All children are faced with confusing, conflicted and ambivalent feelings during situations ranging from the “every day” such as their first sleepover to confusing and devastating situations involving abuse from a known adult. Often when children are struggling with coping skills, unrecognized mixed-together emotions are present. Children’s ability to understand both their own emotions and the emotions of others improves their inner emotional life, coping skills (self-regulation) and contributes to healthy relationships with those around them.
We can help children recognize all of their feelings, validate how they are feeling, and give them the lifelong tools to accept and express these feelings in developmentally appropriate ways. And to quote my book, I’m Happy-Sad Today, “When I’m older, sometimes I’ll still have different feelings mixed together inside of me. And that’s okay!”
We’re delighted to share the following enlightening guest post by author Jodi Mays.
How do you teach a feeling or emotion? For some parents this is as difficult as asking what a color smells like, and yet kids today are bombarded with messages and imagery that does just that. From television, to magazines and social media, kids are picking up these impressions from an early age. So, how do you make sure the right messages are getting through to them? This was a question that plagued me when my son was young. How do I teach my son about emotions and self-esteem?
It was easy for me to say, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Or to remind him to be aware of others feelings but, as most parents may agree, it is not always what you say that imparts the best lessons. As a family, we have always been drawn to reading; turning to books to pass the time and getting lost in worlds both big and small. Reading became a way for us to tackle many of these tough ideas, which led to some incredible conversations about everything from self-esteem to compassion and kindness; conversations that may have been too difficult to broach on their own, without the help of books. It was these conversations that led me to write my first children’s book with the hope that I could pass along some of the same valuable lessons of self-worth and acceptance. After all, building a strong foundation of confidence and self-esteem is important for everyone and the basis that I hope will carry my child confidently into the future.
It is with this in mind that I want to share some of my favorite books on acceptance and self-esteem.
The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss: You can’t really go wrong with this classic book. In The Sneetches, Dr Seuss weaves a story that teaches self-worth and acceptance, which is extremely fun to read. The Sneetches are born either with or without a star on their tummies, which leads an unscrupulous monkey to take advantage of their differences. In time the Sneetches learn to accept and embrace each other’s differences.
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy: In this book Lucy is the subject of ridicule for her favorite food, spaghetti in a hot dog bun. Lucy stands by her choice even when others are mean and mock her for being one-of-a-kind. When these same friends need help, Lucy has the courage to make the right choice. This story is truly empowering for any child who has ever felt different from the crowd.
For School Agers
Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud: This book contains beautiful illustrations that pair easily with simple prose to help younger children learn how to be “bucket fillers.” It teaches children to show their appreciation with simple acts of kindness and love, which will not only boost the self-worth of those who get their buckets filled but also those who do the filling as well. It reminds children that a little kindness and acceptance can make the world a better place.
Unstoppable Me; 10 Ways to Soar Through Life by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer: This book builds on Dr. Dyer’s first book, Incredible You, and the ideas of “no limit thinking.” Kids are encouraged to embrace what makes them unique instead of simply trying to fit in. It embraces all of the wonderful quirks and qualities that every child is born with and teaches them to use these special traits to navigate stressful situations and enjoy life’s wonderful moments.
Freckle Juice by Judy Blume: No one defined a generation of young readers, struggling to navigate through life’s challenges better than Judy Blume. In her book Freckle Juice, she weaves the story of a young boy who simply wants to look different than he does. As young people sometimes do, he trusts the wrong person to help “fix” his problem with her secret recipe for freckles. This book is a classic for anyone who ever felt like they were missing a key feature to make them perfect.
Tween You and Me by Deb Dunham: Switching gears, Tween You and Me is a non-fiction book for tweens and parents living with tweens. It is a thoughtful and practical guide to navigating changing bodies, relationships and feelings in a way that encourages both self-expression and responsibility as well as lessons in respect for the young reader. Growing up is hard enough. Nurturing healthy self-esteem only adds to the challenge. Tween You and Me acts as a road map for the journey ahead.
For Young Adults:
The Creative Journal For Teens, Making Friends With Yourself by Lucia Capacchione: A combination of journal and how-to, this book offers teens a safe way to work through some of the complex challenges they face in everyday life. Written by a registered art therapist, this book can help teens to clarify their goals while strengthening their self-confidence by giving them a safe place to write down their feelings in a somewhat structured environment. For any teen that has difficulty expressing their emotions, this book can be a valuable tool.
The Skin I’m In by Sharon G Flake: This book is geared toward more mature, young adult readers and touches on race and class as well as self-esteem. It follows a young girl, Maleeka Madison, as she and her mother struggle with the death of her father. In her attempts to become more popular she finds herself the target of bullies. Throughout the story Maleeka has an internal battle to discover who she really is and who her real friends are. The Skin I’m In weaves a story about self-confidence, friendship and the consequences of trying too hard to fit in.
– By Jodi Mays
Jodi Mays is a free-lance writer. She divides her bi-coastal living between Malibu, CA and Longboat Key, FL. She moved with her family to Innsbruck, Austria with 5 English-German dictionaries and 15 duffle bags at a young age and still resides there at times throughout the year. She has one son with whom she traveled the world while he competed in International Junior Tennis Tournaments. She uses her colorful adventures as a modern-day gypsy as inspiration for her writing. THE DAY WE RODE THE RAINBOW is the first book of an interactive and fun series called ‘The Book Series with a Purpose.’ She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.