(Knopf Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 8-12)
Happily for Now written by Kelly Jones and illustrated by Kelly Murphy follows Fiona who is sent away for the summer to live with relatives she’s never met because her mother is entering a treatment program for an unspecified addiction. In addition to her mother, Fiona is leaving behind Ms. Davis, who is like a guidance counselor to her (although the text doesn’t state that) but whom Fiona describes as her fairy godmother and whom she wants to emulate. Throughout the summer, she will be able to speak with Mr. Rivera who will also be able to help her with anything she might want to discuss.
Although the storyline involves Fiona’s addicted mother, this is not the main plot of the book and the focus is really on how Fiona tries to lend an eager hand to her quirky extended family, making this middle-grade novel a more light-hearted read.
With the help of her new friend Julia, Mr. Rivera’s daughter, Fiona sets out in her new town to try to help her relatives with their problems, or rather, try to help them help themselves, like any good fairy godmother (although she prefers the term fairy godperson because she is not a mother) who grants wishes might do, since she doesn’t want to just sit around being a princess. Her Aunt Becky’s bakery hardly has any customers because she keeps baking the same boring desserts she’s always made. Her great-uncle Timothy hardly ever speaks but has a secret talent and her great-aunt Alta is all doom and gloom. Can Fiona help them? And if she cannot get her happily ever after, can she at least get happily for now? She’s sure going to try.
Text is interspersed with emails between Fiona and her mother and between Fiona and Ms. Davis, which readers will enjoy, as the story progresses through these exchanges. I eagerly looked forward to reading these email conversations which provided updates on how Fiona’s mother was faring in her treatment program, as well as further guidance from Ms. Davis on Fiona’s fairy godperson training. Fiona, is at times both childlike, as she discusses fairy tales, witches, and the like, and like an adult, as she deals with her mother’s addiction and has to convince her to stay with her treatment program when she wants to leave early. Fiona easily makes us care about her and all the people in her life so that we enjoy spending time with her and want to see her have a happy ending.
Murphy’s black-and-white illustrations are a welcome addition to the pages, adding a lightness to Happily for Now and its tough subject matter. I do think it’s important since it’s not mentioned on the book jacket, for parents and young readers to be aware that, despite the lightness of this story, addiction is still included. However, young people who are living with a parent who is struggling with any sort of addiction or other illness will take comfort in reading such a thoughtfully crafted and thoroughly engaging book in which the protagonist is dealing positively with similar circumstances as they are.
Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to appear on day three (see schedule below) of the Perdu Blog Tour! I hope you’ll take the time to not only read the book review, but to also watch all the fantastic videos that Peachtree Publishing has shared with us.
Richard Jones makes his welcome debut as both author and illustrator with this tale of a lost (perdu in French) dog seeking a forever family. And may I just add here that Perduis precious! Both the main character and the story itself. With his sweet face gracing the book’s cover, it’s easy to be captivated by his faraway, lonely look.
While we never learn where Perdu has come from because he certainly didn’t tie the neck scarf himself, it’s easy to let that mystery go in favor of the bigger mystery at the heart of this moving story—will he ever find a loving home?
Readers first glimpse Perdu on the title page, head down, red scarf around his neck, and walking through a field. As he carries on his journey, he notes that, unlike a nearby fallen leaf, he has no place to be. Poor Perdu!
He wanders over a bridge on the outskirts of town where he’s noticed by a little girl sporting a distinct red knit pom-pomed hat. Determined to find his “somewhere,” like everyone else, the sweet lost little dog continues his search and wanders into the big, anonymous city.
At the same time as Perdu, intimidated by the city size and its throngs of people, the little girl continues her day out with her mother. I love how, at this point in the book, Jones has zoomed in on the girl whose path keeps crossing that of Perdu’s. She is perhaps outside a library or other notable building with a massive lion statue (a nod to The Snow Lion) while Perdu stands at the top of the statue. I wonder if parents or kids will spy him first.
My favorite illustration is the one when the child spots Perdu sitting outside an expansive cafe window where she and her mom are dining. He’s hungry now and tired and cannot resist the temptation of an open door. Inside he wreaks havoc and is reprimanded by patrons. It’s a demoralizing experience for Perdu yet at the same time things probably cannot get much worse.
In a lovely park scene, where both the girl and Perdu have ended up following the restaurant ruckus, the child approaches the dog. She’s holding Perdu’s signature red neck scarf which he lost when he dashed away during the cafe commotion.
Not a lot of words are needed when the simple act of giving back the scarf to the lost dog speaks volumes about the girl’s empathy and Perdu’s trust. It’s a gentle, loving moment that bonds the pair and fills readers’ hearts with hope.
Jones has given young readers a feel-good story about friendship, trust, kindness, and belonging highlighted by the beautiful, inviting art that solidifies the tale. Jones achieves this warm look with paintings he then edits in Adobe Photoshop. I came away from the story feeling happy for both Perdu and the red-hatted girl knowing that they had both truly found each other for all the right reasons.
Julius and Macy like to play heroes. Julius pretends he’s the defender of the forest, while Macy has a quieter strength. When their snack disappears one night, they decide to track down the only one who could have taken it―the Night Goblin. They both have to be brave in their own ways, and they ultimately discover that the real thief isn’t anything like they imagined.
With its endearing characters, this gently told tale reminds us that we each have courage within us and that kindness can make all the difference.
INTERVIEW WITH ANNELOUISE MAHONEY
GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut, Annelouise! Does it feel surreal right now after all your hard work to hold Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night in your hands? How long has it been since you first began this creative journey in general and specifically for this picture book?
Annelouise Mahoney:Hi Ronna. Thank you so much for having me over today. Yes! Surreal is the perfect word for how it feels. Surreal and grateful! It’s been a long journey into picture books. It took about 10 years of serious focus to break into children’s books and of those 10 years, it took 5 years for the making of Julius and Macy.
GRWR: I adore bravery stories since I was not the bravest of kids, nor were my children. Tell us how you decided on this topic for your picture book.
AM: I adore bravery stories too! I didn’t set out with a definite topic for this book at the beginning. It was more finding the characters that resonated with me and asking questions as I drew them over and over again. So the characters came first. The more I drew Julius and Macy the clearer their story became.
GRWR: Burning question. Are you more Julius or more Macy?
AM: That’s a fun question! Honestly, I think I’m a little bit of both. I love to go after something I’m passionate about but feel bravest with someone by my side. I feel the younger me is more adventurous like Julius, but the older me is more cautious like Macy.
GRWR: Please walk us through your approach to writing and illustrating. Did you conceive the text first and then illustrate it, vice versa, or did everything happen simultaneously?
AM: I’ve learned to stick to the illustrations first. Not full illustrations, but loose sketches of ideas, and build from there. I gather all the loose sketches into a folder and begin placing them into a small thumbnail template. The template is an 8×11 piece of paper where I can see the story in one place. When I can see the story, and feel the visual narrative is working, then it’s time to add the words. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s a lot of experimenting to get the words right. If I start with the text too soon, I usually end up straying from my story.
GRWR:Can we talk about your gorgeous artwork and how you create it?
AM: In the beginning when I’m moving away from the very loose thumbnail sketch and planning out the compositions for each spread, I use Post-it notes to redraw certain elements, or add to what I already have. This part of the process takes a long time for me. It’s figuring out compositions and looking for how to express a feeling. I’m also looking for areas that may be repetitive and looking for the most interesting way to show the story. There is a lot of experimenting happening at this stage. The Post-it notes help me to not get attached to any single idea as I can just take it off or move it around without having to redraw the whole spread.
When I think what’s happening on the page is working, I scan the sketches into the computer and make the images bigger in photoshop. I’m looking for more specific information I can give to each spread, making sure the compositions work within the trim size and add the text to make sure everything reads well in the space.
This dummy stage will then repeat as I go through revisions with my agent and then my editor until the story is fleshed out and polished.
Once the story is polished, I begin all over again with small thumbnails but this time I’m focusing only on color. For Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, I made a color guide to help me navigate the color choice for each spread before going into final art. I found this part extremely helpful because I was painting in watercolor and I had to know how I was going to approach each painting.
I then repeated the process of scanning in the tiny thumbnails in Photoshop and making them much bigger to fit into the book template. I was interested to see where I need to focus on adding details and how the images read in the true size of the book. It’s checking and double-checking that the text will fit and I’m getting the color transitions right. Once the loose wash looks right and I can see where I’m going, I took large sheets of Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper and cut them down a little larger than print size.
I painted each page in watercolor, with lots and lots of wash layers. I would work on a few spreads at a time so there was time for the paint to dry, and time to look away from a work in progress. There is an uncomfortable moment in each illustration where it looks ugly and messy and doesn’t feel like it will work before it does. When the painting was dry and complete, I scanned each painting into the computer and used photoshop and my Wacom tablet to set each painting into the picture book template provided by my publisher, Two Lions.
GRWR: Now that you have one book under your belt, are you busy with promoting it, or are you also making time for more artistic pursuits?
AM: Promotion does take a lot of time, and I’m enjoying this moment very much. But yes, I’m working on two other book dummies at the moment and I’m hoping to get them submission-ready soon.
GRWR: Do you have a routine you like to stick to when working on a project?
AM: I really need to be flexible as a working mom and often bring my book dummies, Post-it notes and pencils with me wherever I go. As far as a routine, I definitely wake up early each day before the demands of my family take over, and I work at night when there is another wave of calm. Those precious hours are protected for when I really need to concentrate.
GRWR: Is there a spread in Julius and Macy that really resonates with the child in you and the mother in you?
AM:Oh wow, what a beautiful question. The spread of the book with panels of Julius and Macy walking into and through the dark cave resonates with me as a mother. When my daughters were very young they would slip into pretend play very easily. They craved adventure and enjoyed little scary moments where they were challenged to be brave. The Los Angeles zoo has a man-made cave meant for little ones to explore. We’d visit it often and my girls would become more and more brave to venture through it, their imaginations on fire as they explored every corner.
As an author, I find writing a children’s book a bit like walking in the dark. There are times when I don’t know where I’m going, I can’t see the story, I can easily spook myself, but there is the need to keep going even if the unknown feels scary. As a child, I craved adventure stories and had a very active imagination. I think I’d be excited to walk into a cave, as long as I had a friend beside me and it wasn’t completely dark.
GRWR: What would you love for children to take away from reading your book?
AM: I would love children to explore what bravery means to them and see the many ways they’ve been brave in their own life. I’d like children to know that there is a unique form of bravery to reach out to someone, especially when you notice someone struggling to belong, as well as the bravery and trust to reach back.
GRWR: Has anyone in particular been influential in your kidlit career?
AM:I had a brave moment myself, and enrolled in a class taught by Marla Frazee at Art Center College of Design. She lit the way for me when I was really struggling to understand the craft of writing for children. She taught in a way I could understand by breaking things down to get to the heart of the story, finding the emotion in the art, trusting what your sketches are trying to tell you. Most importantly, when writing as an illustrator, stick to the sketching first. I’m still learning and growing, but those lessons influence how I write and how I create a book.
GRWR: What important lesson or invaluable piece of advice have you learned along the way in your children’s publishing experience that you’d like to share today?
AM: I believe that if you want to write for children, be passionate about it. Really put in the time and love to learn the craft. Be passionate about what you are working on. Publishing takes time and you want the love for your story to carry you through the rejections, revisions, and care that will ultimately polish your book better than you could ever do alone.
GRWR: What can we expect next?
AM: I hope to make many more books! That’s really all I want to do. Whether I have the honor of working with another author to create a book together or have the opportunity to publish more of my own stories. It’s the greatest privilege to make books for kids.
GRWR: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to mention?
AM: I’d like to mention to your readers that I have activity pages that correspond to my book available for download on my website. www.WoodlandAbbey.com
Also, I’m a member of a wonderful group of children’s book authors, The Picture Book Scribblers. We are all available for school visits paired by theme or individually. You can find us here https://picturebookscribbl.wixsite.com/home
Thank you so much, Ronna. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you today!
GRWR: What a wonderfully frank and informative interview. Thank you, Annelouise, and best of luck with Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night. e e
Annelouise Mahoney has worked in animation for DreamWorks, DIC Animation, Sony, and Saban Entertainment. She has also worked as a coloristfor Marvel and Image Comics on such series as Uncanny X-Men, Generation X, and others. This is her first picture book, and it was inspired by the depths of her daughters’ friendships and the many ways they are brave, especially with someone on their side. She loves to explore the forest, can’t resist a cave, and has a lot of love for all those named Julius in her life. Annelouise lives in Southern California with her family. Learn more about her atwww.woodlandabbey.com. e Order your copy ofJulius and Macy: A Very Brave Night: Mahoney today.
1. Enter our Twitter giveaway @goodreadsronna for a chance to win a signed copy of Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night together with aspecial Giveaway Prize Package from Annelouise that includes an 8×11 print of cover, a sticker sheet, and a round sticker. Eligible for U.S. only. One winner will be selected at random and announced at 6 pm PDT on Friday, April 9.
WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN!
2. Additionally, five lucky winners will each receive three fabulous books celebrating the art of making and keeping friends, including Julius and Macy: A Very Brave Night, courtesy of Two Lions. Details and entry form can be found here (US addresses).
Click here to read another recent author-illustrator interview.
Find out what to do when little ones lose their smile in I Miss Your Sunny Smile.
Deb Adamson’s heartwarming 14-page board book, I Miss Your Sunny Smile, invites readers to search for a young boy’s lost smile. Mama helps, hoping to restore his cheer. Could it have dropped or rolled away? What can they do to get it back?
Written in rhyme, this sweet board book shows that sadness is a normal part of life. Warm and playful illustrations by Anne Zimanksiencourage a bright mood and provide soothing comfort. And let’s not forget the ending, sure to delight and put a smile on any young child’s face.
As a big Ivy and Bean fan, I’ve enjoyed two-time Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall’s art for years. Her author-illustrator 2018 picture book, Hello, Lighthouse, was a top book. Now, If You Come to Earth, follows with its amazing accomplishment of summing up, well, everything. This 80-page book is big in size and in heart. Addressed as a letter to “Dear Visitor from Outer Space,” the story includes factual matter such where our planet’s located (and that “the blue stuff is water”) to how “We live in all kinds of homes. / In all kinds of families.” The narrator Quinn’s voice is that of a helpful, insightful child who provides personal details about how “every body is different,” except for their identical-twins friends—yet even then the narrator notes one has a mole. The wide world comes together as a unit as Quinn explains and welcomes an unknown visitor. e This comprehensive yet personal explanation describes our world exceptionally well. In the back matter, Blackall reveals twenty-three kids gave her lots of ideas, and how she didn’t expect this book to take five years. To me, five years to create this sounds reasonable with its all-encompassing subject matter and massive number of illustrations. Blackall’s talents range the gamut, from her expertise in capturing facial expressions to lifelike renditions of plants and animals. If You Come to Earth belongs in classrooms, houses, and spaceships everywhere.
Coming out during the heated election year, The World Needs More Purple People, feels well-timed. Beyond stating, “purple is a magic color made when red and blue work together,” Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart’s New York Times best-selling picture book avoids politics by simply stating, “the best things are purple.” As someone fond of the color (and the sentiment), I agree.
The story’s serious recommendations (ask questions, give good ideas, and help someone) are balanced with fun (“We laugh at donkey dances and hairy elephant knees”). Daniel Wiseman’s engaging, kid-friendly art accents the humorous text. My favorite lines: “Purple questions are the kind that help you learn something really BIG about the world or something really small about another person” and “Purple people come in every color you can dream up and every size you can think up.” This book engages young reader with important issues by encouraging curiosity and silliness.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal
There Is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder is a feel-good picture book filled with hope and reminders that we’re in this together. Inspired by the rainbows her children drew during while sheltering in place for the pandemic, the book expresses our universal experiences such as having to stay separated from family or friends, and attending online school.
Illustrations by Grant Snider perfectly fit the spare, lyrical text. A rainbow of colors glows against a white backdrop. Echoing a child’s style of drawing, Snider elevates that sentiment with details capturing this time in our lives.
Beyond the pandemic, this beautiful picture book “encourages readers to look past their immediate surroundings and find comfort, community, and inner courage—which are all closer than we might think.” And if that’s not enough, peek under the book jacket for a fun, different cover art!
Clickhereto read a recent picture book about hope reviewed by Christine.
Clickhereto read a review of another picture book about hope.
In The Big Sibling Getaway, author-illustratorKorrie Leerintroduces us to Cassie, a new big sister who just needs quiet, a feeling every older sibling experiences at some point.
With a WAH! WAH! WAH!, these onomatopoeia words perfectly describe the frustration of having to accept change in our lives that we don’t necessarily ask for—like welcoming a new sibling when all you’ve known is having parental attention exclusively. Well, that’s what happens to Cassie who needs a break from the crying of her new baby brother.
“There was one box left.” Cassie climbs into the last empty box that carried the new baby items, covering her ears and closing her eyes tightly but “Cassie still heard crying. And so… ”VROOM! Cassie’s imagination transforms the box into a car taking her on a much needed escape. Leer illustrates Cassie’s cardboard car driving up and down the valleys. The soft blues of the ocean, and browns of the sand are peaceful until interrupted by baby wailing.
Leer continues Cassie’s journey as she goes SPLASH! in the ocean and WHOOSH! as she “soared next to birds and through clouds.” But still she heard whimpering. Cassie finally makes it to the moon without a person in sight. “Peace and quiet at last.” Alone with her box and the yellow stars above her, our young heroine lays quietly on her back (savasana pose in yoga) but does she really want complete silence all the time?
When Cassie finds her much needed quiet time, it shows the reader how important taking time for yourself is. However Cassie also realizes that going solo to the moon can be a bit lonely. Sitting on top of her upside down brown box she wishes she had someone to share her imaginary getaways with and realizes maybe having a little brother isn’t so bad after all.
This story reminded me of my own daughter who was not pleased to welcome a new brother. I wish I had this story to read to her when she was young. These simple words of sibling love will resonate with new older siblings. The Big Sibling Getaway is a charming bedtime story, and a great baby shower gift for any mom expecting a second baby’s arrival on the scene.
In A Girl Like Youteacher/coach/author Frank Murphy, and first time picture book author Carla Murphy, along with illustrator Kayla Harren, celebrate all the wonderful ways there are to be a girl in this world and empower girls to be strong, daring, brave and bold.
Harren’s beautifully composed art introduces a diverse group of people and age ranges packed together as our confident main character stands amongst them with her companion dog right by her side reminding the reader that there may be billions of people but you are the only YOU there is! The eye-catching water colors brighten the pages as the reader travels through the life of this young girl as she runs for student council, stands up for herself and finds new talents. And in each colorful circular drawing her sweet little pup is always there for support. Bold letters highlight that Brave, girl, try new things.
Young readers see that there are endless possibilities and that childhood is a great time to try new things. (Adults will see that it’s not too late for them either). The authors’ words tell the reader that she can work hard at things. Mistakes are essential to success. So stick with it. As the reader turns the page, another line of bold letters say Bold girl, speak up. Harren paints girls of all sizes raising their hands in schooI.
This empowering picture book teaches children about friendship, thoughtfulness and empathy, topics so crucial to our times, while emphasizing how important taking care of yourself is in order to fulfill your dreams. Smart girl, take care of your heart. Embrace and care for the body you are in. Your unique traits are what make you especially beautiful. And ESPECIALLY you!
Witnessing America’s first Black and South Asian female vice president being sworn in has helped girls see that their dreams can come true. Reading this book is a another great example showing girls they should take pride in being [the] one and only you. Unlike anyone else, ever before. Murphy and Murphy’s words resonate. Simple yet powerful, they recognize everyone’s uniqueness
The Author’s Note explains how children are treated differently whether boy, girl or other gender identity and that their purpose for this book was to help kids feel empowered to find their passions and strengths. Pediatric nurse, Carla Murphy, encourages the reader to make choices that serve their health. Writing teacher, Frank Murphy, includes a writing activity for kids to create a gratitude journal with parents or teachers asking them to record three things a day.
This story, a companion title to A Boy Like You, brought joy to my heart and I believe will positively impact children and adults who read it as well. Its beautiful, warm message should be read over and over again because the world needs a girl … a caring and strong girl, a bold and brave girl, an unstoppable girl. A girl like you.
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
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Have you ever woken up one morning and everything goes wrong, putting you in a bad mood? Has it ever happened to one of your children? The answer to both questions is, of course, it has. And that is exactly the scenario that begins the hilarious rhyming verse picture bookMootilda’s Bad Mood.
The story begins with Mootilda waking up with hay in her hair, her pillow gone, and her doll—a cow, what else?—fallen from her bed. She goes to her moomaw cow (as opposed to mama cow) who hugs her and gives her a treat but when this falls, it sets off Mootilda to proclaim, “I’m in a bad mood!” Her mother suggests she goes out to play. Mootilda takes her advice and plays rope with calves, swims with lambs, rides bikes with pigs, and plays ball with ponies. However every single time, something unfortunate happens which leaves Mootilda in an even worse mood than before.
The refrain of “I’m in a bad mood!” reflects Mootilda’s worsening mood as the day progresses with each additional “O” that is added to the word “mood.” When she finally meets up with chickens, who are also in a bad mood, it is Mootilda this time who tries to cheer them up. But when something goes wrong with her attempt, instead of making her mood worse, she laughs about it and finally realizes her bad mood is gone. And with her bad mood gone, she figures out a way she can help others in the future, as shown in the final pictures of the book.
Ranucci’sillustrations are cheerful, bright, and colorful—the exact opposite of the feelings of a bad mood. They make it impossible for any reader who might be in a bad mood to remain that way after perusing through the delightful pictures.
The book is filled with funny animal, cow and moo words, like cow-tastrophe, cow-incidence, and cow-miserate. This wordplay adds to the enjoyment of the book, especially when read aloud and emphasized. But what I really liked about Mootilda’s Bad Mood was that co-authors Rosen Schwartzand Callhave taken a concept that we can all relate to and presented it in such a humorous tale. The story acknowledges and allows everyone, especially kids, to be in a bad mood. It’s perfectly okay to sometimes feel like that, but there are also ways to deal with it and that is a great take-away message.
• Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
Click here to read a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz. Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Claudia Ranucci.
Written and illustrated by Kataneh Vahdani, Kat and Juju is a gentle story of friendship, identity, and the courage to be your own self.
Kat is a tender-hearted little girl who finds “wonder in places no one else” thinks to look.
Vahdani’s illustrations direct our eyes to a curious play of shadows that fascinates Kat and helps us understand her unique perspective. Her connection to such things others don’t understand causes her to stand out as different. And her shy personality gets in the way of talking to the other children. Consequently, she often feels lonely.
Her hope lies in her upcoming birthday gift—a “very best friend” to call her own. On her special day, a big, red, fluffy bird named Juju arrives at her doorstep. Kat soon finds out that as loveable as he is, Juju is nothing like her. His loud and outgoing personality easily draws the attraction and affection of the other kids. As much as Kat wants to “let go” and join Juju’s “happy dance,” she can’t surrender the fear of what others will think of her.
Then a chance discovery of a vulnerable “birdie” (chick) in need of care helps Kat face her fear. With help and encouragement from best friend Juju, Kat nurtures the chick to health. Sometimes these caregiving activities feel safe and familiar to Kat, like feeding and giving medicine. However, at other times, they involve risk-taking and getting outside of her comfort zone, especially as Kat and Juju try to help the birdie learn to fly. Anxious and terrified, Kat nevertheless participates. Vahdani’s background in animation, and contrasting color palette provide a safe space for experimentation and exploration. Through this exciting and challenging process, Kat helps out her little friend and, just as important, discovers the freedom to be herself.
For little ones (including me) who may feel different for being on the quieter side, Kat and Juju shows that perseverance can lead to a “happy dance” of inner strength and self-affirmation.
Every day Charlie kept his routine the same, fearful that something bad would happen if it changed. Anxious Charlie to the Rescue, written and illustrated by Terry Milne, tells the story of Charlie, the little dachshund, who forgets his own fears when his friend Hans needs his help.
“Change is a difficult thing Charlie,” Big Bruce, the large pup with floppy ears, tells Charlie in the opening page as Milne illustrates a shaky Charlie. Milne escorts the reader through Charlie’s day beginning every morning with hopping out of bed, “One, two, three … hop like a flea” to walking once around the fire hydrant on his way to the market and continuing as he walks on the same side of the oak tree.
In the illustrations the little brown dog with the large eyes is surrounded by fire hydrants and soft colored trees set on white paper. His fear continues at night as he checks under the bed and behind the curtains, arranging his toys in a neat row. The picture bubbles depict Charlie’s thoughts as he memorizes what he did today, so he can repeat them tomorrow because today “things turned out ok!”
“Early one morning the phone rang. It was Duck. Their friend Hans was stuck.” Charlie was in such a hurry to save his friend that he and Duck rushed past the fire hydrant and went the wrong way around the old oak tree. Charlie wanted to start all over again, but his friend needed him. He had no time to worry! Charlie’s friends had tried everything to free Hans (who had chosen a pipe to hide in during their game of hide-and-seek), but it was Charlie who had the successful idea.
“On his way home, Charlie felt so happy that he didn’t think about which way he passed the old oak tree.” Charlie collapsed onto his bed and thought “I forgot everything today, but things turned out ok.”
Milne’s colorful drawings and sweet expressions on the animals’ faces draw the reader into this charming friendship circle. And the rhyming prose provide an upbeat rhythm as well as giggles for the reader. The feeling of satisfaction Charlie experiences after helping his friend proves to be greater than his need for routine. This time Charlie realized that “nothing bad would happen and maybe what did happen would be wonderful!” That positive self-talk message is so important.
Anxious Charlie to the Rescue is a helpful read for parents who watch their own young children struggle with anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors, and for children to see they are not alone with these thoughts. It can also lead to meaningful discussions. The idea for this story came from Milne’s own daughter who struggles with anxiety and repetitive behavior. Both children with anxiety, and those who may have a friend or sibling with anxiety, will see that as hard as it is to change behaviors it can turn out okay. Everyone has some fears and Charlie shows young readers that when you let go of those fears wonderful things can happen.
Jason Reynolds once again nails it with his unique storytelling skills. In Look Both Ways, ten vignettes cover ten blocks of a neighborhood, following what happens to kids on the same day after Latimer Middle School lets out. Stories overlap and intertwine or do their own thing. Kids are captured in their every dimension from exuberance to anxiety. Boogers, bullying, dogs, and disease—yup, it’s all there.
The most poignant story for me was about Canton, whose mother is a crossing guard at his school. One day, she instinctively rushes forward to push a toddler frozen in the path of a bus out of the way, taking a minor hit herself. A week later, she’s back on duty, but her son doesn’t recover. Mortality is a subject we wish our kids didn’t have to grapple with. Reynolds shows how this boy is traumatized by the incident. Canton feels he can keep his mother safe from harm if he’s there on time each day, watching over her as she works.
How many parents have hovered over their sleeping child for no reason other than to ensure that child’s safety? We all know if something were to happen, the odds are slim that we’d be standing there at the right time with the right response. Yet, we do it—just as Canton believes his presence will somehow safeguard his mother. Before he can fall too deeply into this abyss, the school’s custodian (recalling how a dog made his wife feel better after their daughter went off to college) makes Canton a dog from an old broom. Worrying its tattered top enables the boy to quell his panic attacks.
Throughout, Reynolds captures a child’s emotional scope succinctly and accurately. An older reader will appreciate the craft required to weave these pieces with their connections and resets, forming a cohesive narrative arc. A kid will love the book for being funny, honest, and a different kind of reading experience. No matter where you’re coming from, the book will wow.
See more artwork by cover and chapter headings illustrator Alexander Nabaum here.
I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.
★Starred Review – Kirkus
The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.
The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.
Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.
The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”
I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kid—I was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be this—the Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.
MY HEART Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken (Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’srhyming picture book, My Heart, about perseverance through difficult emotional times, will resonate with readers. The spare lyrical text explains what can happen to a heart: “some days it is cloudy and heavy with rain” or “it’s a whisper that can barely be heard.”
Details make this book special. On the cover, a golden heart-shaped flower glows hopefully as a girl tends it. The story’s carefully chosen evocative words and yellow-accented black-and-white images set the differing moods. Kids of varying ages and backgrounds depict our universal feelings.
If you look closely, each page has hidden heart-shaped images. From a playground slide and a puddle, to constellations and leaves. Love Luyken’s stunning artwork? Check under the cover for a bonus illustration.
This book can cheer someone up or just let them know you love them. A heart can experience myriad things, and “a heart that is closed can still open again.”
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
HAND IN HAND by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum Illustrated by Maya Shleifer (Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 7 and up)
With recent surveys showing that fewer and fewer adults and children know about the Holocaust, the need to continue sharing this information with new generations by reading books such as Hand in Hand is vital. The annual commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah, which this year begins the evening of May 1 and ends the evening of May 2, is a good time to honestly but sensitively approach the subject both at home and in school for children ages seven and up.
Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s new picture book, Hand in Hand with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, provides the ideal vehicle to start the conversation about what the Holocaust was and how it impacted families. In this case the emphasis is on the tragedy of family separation, a topic with significance even today. Written from the perspective of anthropomorphic rabbits, the story introduces readers to Ruthi, her little brother Leib and their mother. According to the author notes, this family (apart from being bunnies) represents a fictional combination of countless real people whose moving tales of courage and strength inspired Rosenbaum. It’s not clear where the characters live but some of the language, like when Mama escapes late one night, leaving her children, and says—”Don’t worry, my doves. Sometimes walls rise up. Still, there is always a way … forward.”—I get the impression the city is Warsaw. Although it could really be any number of European cities where Jews lived during WWII.
Rosenbaum effectively employs similes like the one in the illustration above—”They hovered over our heads like tidy rows of storm clouds – threatening to burst.”—to gently establish the ominous presence of Nazi Storm Troopers, perhaps the ones Mama was running away from early on in the story when she departs in haste. Maybe the soldiers had already taken her husband.
The strong bond between brother and sister is evident on every page. Ruthi is seven and Leib is four when Mama goes away and she must now look out for him in their mother’s absence. A neighbor brings the children to an orphanage where they remain among hundreds, abandoned or left parent-less. The expression on Leib’s face as depicted in Shleifer’s art, when he is soon adopted, is both powerful and bittersweet. Pulled apart, like the torn photo of the siblings, from the loving hands of her brother, Ruthi refuses to say good-bye. Leib will be saved because of his Aryan “blonde curls and sapphire eyes.” At just seven she must find a way to survive, in the woods, underground, anywhere until the war ends. Then “The nightmare … came to a halt.
In the optimistic illustration of the boat above, it seems as though Ruthi has been sent to Palestine where she lives on a kibbutz and makes a new life for herself in Israel. Years pass. She marries, has children but always, always thinks about finding Leib. Her children and grandchildren urge her to add her name to an enormous list of people seeking family members. But is there any chance to be reunited with a brother who could be living anywhere or perhaps even no longer alive?
Here’s when we can rejoice. Ruthi’s efforts to locate Leib succeed. It’s heartwarming to see the siblings together once more after decades apart. Now an old man, though still younger than Ruthi, Leib greets her with tenderness, “Shalom, my big sister, Ruthi!” For her part, Ruthi notes “His blue eyes had lost their sapphire luster, but through my tears my heart knew Leib’s strawberry smile.” This framing of a similar line Rosenbaum used in the book’s opening brings the story full round.
I have been moved and impressed with every re-read of Hand in Hand at how well Rosenbaum’s symbolism and subtlety say so much. There’s no need to go into detail about the brutality and harshness of the Holocaust. That’s for parents and teachers to decide before having this important discussion with kids. Each child, especially the younger ones, has a different threshold for how much information about the Holocaust they can handle. What works so well is that Rosenbaum has chosen to focus on a relationship as a way into the subject of war and/or genocide and the aftermath. Shleifer’s illustrations convey the the sorrowful times Ruthi has experienced without Leib but does so delicately and only twice uses very dark tones when Ruthi is first separated from her brother. This touching book is one of boundless love, faith in family and faith for the future. I hope this picture book will resonate with you as much as it did with me.