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Amanda Davis Interviews Tiffany Golden, Author of I Want To Be Big!

 

AMANDA DAVIS INTERVIEWS TIFFANY GOLDEN,

AUTHOR OF

I WANT TO BE BIG!

ILLUSTRATED BY SAWYER CLOUD

(PAGE STREET KIDS; $18.99, AGES 4-8)

 

I Want To Be Big cover small boy large shoes
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SUMMARY:
Amanda’s Review of I WANT TO BE BIG:

“I WANT TO BE BIG is an imaginative and creative read about the desire to grow up and how it may not always be as exciting as it seems. Golden’s text is playful and fun, while the repetition of “big” throughout is sure to be a hit for multiple read-alouds. Cloud’s illustrations are emotive and help bring the themes of familial love to life!”

INTERVIEW:

Amanda Davis: Let’s start with a speed round…
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  • Top three favorite children’s books of all time?  Aw, c’mon. That’s like asking who’s your favorite kid. Of all time?! I love THE DAY YOU BEGIN by Jacqueline Woodson; my nephew and I even went to see the play at the Bay Area Children’s Theater in Berkeley, CA. THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle, classic. My niece and I always read that one. Also, WHEN SADNESS COMES TO CALL by Eva Eland. My aunt sent that one to me after my sister’s passing. 
  • Coffee, tea (or neither)? Decaf tea lattes for the win! 
  • Where is your safe place? Always the ocean.
  • Dogs, cats, (or neither)? I’m allergic to most of our furry friends, but human babies and toddlers are amazing. 
  • Early bird or night owl? Night owl from day one.
  • Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world … Love and observation.

Okay, now down to the serious stuff….

 

AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author/illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs? 

Tiffany Golden: Even though I didn’t illustrate I WANT TO BE BIG! Sawyer Cloud did an amazing job, I always knew I wanted to write. I wanted to create the stories I wanted to see and knew that I had to be a writer to do that. I thought I’d be a screenwriter, though. My undergraduate degree is in film and television. For steady work, I became a Teaching Artist (which is exactly what it sounds like—an artist teaching their craft), and then my love for creating with and for children blossomed. I then wanted to make stories for families to share together.

I think I was afraid to admit I wanted to be an author/illustrator. I thought doing “art-adjacent” stuff like graphic design would be enough, coupled with writing. But, when I was really honest with myself, I wanted to be an author/illustrator. I decided to learn to draw in my mid-forties. It’s so fun and challenging to learn a whole new skill. I most likely won’t illustrate every one of my books, but it will be special when I do. Similar to when illustrators tackle writing. 

 

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Interior illustration from I Want To Be Big! written by Tiffany Golden and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Page Street Kids ©2023.

 

AD: What inspires your work?

TG: My work is mostly inspired by the people I love, especially my late sister, Nicole. I’ve found that one way for me to honor someone is to put their legacy on the page somehow. It can be as simple as a name, a characteristic, or a life viewpoint. I’m surrounded by a wonderful family, each with unique perspectives and mannerisms.

I’m also inspired by my culture. There are so many unique experiences within Black culture, there’s always something to write about, amplify, and celebrate. It is truly a gift.

 

 

IWTBB int2 bigger than everyone
Interior illustration from I Want To Be Big! written by Tiffany Golden and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Page Street Kids ©2023.

 

AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?

TG: Create community. Kidlit is a welcoming and warm world. Make sure you get to know other creators in it. I’ve made so many meaningful connections in critique groups, workshops, book release groups, and many more! Grow your network with wonderful creatives!

 

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Interior spread from I Want To Be Big! written by Tiffany Golden and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Page Street Kids ©2023.

 

TG: Thank you for interviewing me, Amanda, and thanks for hosting us, Ronna! Thanks to all those for reading and supporting my work!

 

BUY I WANT TO BE BIG!:

Bookshop to support local bookstores

Amazon for all other purchases

Click here for an activity guide.

 

Tiffany Golden with nephew Jaiceon photo credit Rose Fruci
Tiffany Golden with her nephew, Jaiceon, the inspiration of I Want To Be Big! Photo Credit: Rose Fruci

AUTHOR BIO:

TIFFANY GOLDEN writes picture books, middle-grade, and YA fiction, mostly inspired by her experiences as a Black, disabled woman. She is also the winner of Lee and Low’s New Visions Award for 2021. She teaches creative writing to third-to-fifth grade students, is a member of SCWBI, and received the Judith Tannenbaum Teaching Artist Fellowship.

Find out more at www.tiffanygolden.comon Twitter @mstee13 and Instagram @tiffany.golden.13

 

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of MOONLIGHT MEMORIES, 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, and a yet-to-be-announced forthcoming titleShe also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.

 

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Five Mother’s Day Books for Children 2023

A ROUNDUP OF
FIVE MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN 2023

 

 

 

 

Moms Can Do It All! cover caped mom holding babyMOMS CAN DO IT ALL!
Written by Ted Maass,
Illustrated by Ekaterina Trukhan 
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

This 18-page rhyming board book lovingly portrays moms as positive role models for little ones. Maass and Trukhan hooked me with an illustration that shows a mom typing on her laptop beside Baby accompanied by this text, “Some moms use their imaginations to become writers, …” Alongside that one, the sentence ends “while others use their courage to become firefighters,” depicting a mom extinguishing a building on fire. Kids will see moms as architects, pilots, athletes, actors, newscasters, and working behind the scenes (in this case behind a camera). The scenes with mom as a homemaker show how busy she is looking after her home and family. Moms also teach, build, nurse, and farm. In fact, children will see there’s actually nothing moms cannot do, which in turn applies to their children when they grow up. An inspiring message to share this Mother’s Day! There’s a place to write in a dedication in the front making this a sweet gift a child can offer to their mom or vice versa!

The colors Trukhan uses in Moms Can Do It All! are bold, bright, and energetic. Her characters, not outlined, are composed of simple shapes that will appeal to the young audience.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Are You My Mommy? cover calf sheep in meadowARE YOU MY MOMMY?
Lift-The-Flap Stories
Written by Yulia Simbirskaya

Illustrated by Katerina Veselova
(Clever Publishing; $10.99, Ages 2-6)

I never tire of lift-the-flap books and I’m sure it’s the same for your kids. Are You My Mommy? is a sturdy 10-page  board book that takes place on a farm. The bucolic setting is a perfect backdrop for Calf’s journey to find his mother.

A nice feature is that as Calf approaches each animal asking if they’re his mommy, the response includes the sound the animal makes. For example “Are you my mommy?” he asks Hen.  Then, lift Hen’s flap to read “No my babies are chicks,” Hen clucks. “Ask Cat.” Here toddlers are also introduced to the various names of animal babies such as chicks, kittens, lambs, puppies, ducklings, foals, and piglets in the artwork under the flap. It ends with six flaps under which are the sounds made by that particular animal. Readers will also find vocabulary words to match the art in the final spread such as sun, house, tractor, bush, and sunflower. If you’re looking for an adorably illustrated interactive book for Mother’s Day that includes an educational element to it, check this one out.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Supermoms!_Animal_Heroes_Flexing_GiraffeSUPERMOMS!: Animal Heroes
Written by Heather Lang and Jamie Harper
Illustrated by Jamie Harper
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

A Junior Library Guild Selection

From the Publisher: “In comics-style panels full of facts and humor, this lively picture book investigates the amazing lengths animal mothers go to in caring for their young.”

Authors Heather Lang and Jamie Harper tap into kids’ fascination with superheroes to share fun (and funny) facts about animal mothers in this first installment of their new Animal Heroes series from Candlewick.

Whether Mom is building a home underground to keep her young safe from predators [groundhogs] or separating her young to keep them safe from each other [strawberry poison frog], kids will find plenty to giggle at in Supermoms!

The classic cartoon-style art in comic-book panels (complete with speech bubbles) pairs perfectly with expository nonfiction text to add humor and instant kid appeal. And maybe…just maybe…inspire young readers to think about all the amazing qualities and sacrifices their own caregivers provide to protect and provide for them as they grow.

Supermoms! would make a great pick for the budding (or reluctant) naturalist, and would be a fun read-aloud for Mother’s Day. I can see it being used in the classroom to discuss the differences between fiction and nonfiction text, and explore dialog and characterization. Its unique backmatter highlights all the “super” characteristics moms have [“super protective,” “super caring,” “super devoted”] and would be an excellent mentor for building students’ adjective vocabulary.
• Reviewed and recommended by Roxanne Troup

 

Mommy Time cover mom with two kidsMOMMY TIME
Written by Monique James-Duncan

Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 This is an extra special Mother’s Day for debut author, and busy stay-at-home mom, Monique James-Duncan who has brought to life the love and caring involved in working from home in Mommy Time, an enduring and timeless picture book showing the love between a mom and her two young children.

It’s not an easy job being a stay-at-home mom (trust me I was one) and they often go underappreciated. James-Duncan takes the reader through a typical day in a mother’s life from waking up her daughter, who is snuggled in bed with her sweet white cat, and getting her ready before sending her off to school time. But special Mommy time continues for her baby boy who she brings to a parent class with other devoted moms and dads.

Ebony Glenn’s endearing digital art depicts a diverse group of parents shown in soft greens, yellows, and blue tones. Her art of modern-day parents doing life, with smiles on their faces, reinforces that it’s not just the moms who stay home with their young kids. A dad with a dark beard is swinging his daughter at the playground, and another bald dad participates in the singing class.

The rhythmic prose adds a fun page-turning quality to this story as “She hurries with the cleanup time. Me? Help? It’s so exhausting time! Sweeping time, laundry time. It’s stinky diaper changing time.”

The busy day continues when sister is picked up from school and Mommy takes her for library time, playdate time, and on this particular day dentist time. I’m exhausted just reading about her day. Throughout the book, Glenn uses spot art to convey a variety of activities to move the story forward. Then she paints Mommy cuddling baby brother in her arms, while sister lays with mouth wide open in the dentist’s chair. When Daddy returns home it’s evening time and dinner time, and Mommy helps with homework time. But the kids’ favorite time is when sister tells Mommy about her day snuggled on her lap for story time. “Love in her eyes, care in her smiles. Tender, precious moments time.”

This book reminded me of all those meaningful moments spent with my kids when they were that age. This timeless story is a wonderful bedtime read for stay-at-home moms as well as for moms and dads who work outside the home. And a big shout-out to James-Duncan, who found time to write her first book when not cooking, cleaning, or grocery shopping for her children. Bravo to all the hardworking moms.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Together With You cover Grandma grandchild walk in rainTOGETHER WITH YOU
Written by Patricia Toht

Illustrated by Jarvis
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I wanted to include a grandmother book on Mother’s Day to extol their importance since many are raising their grandchildren or acting as caregivers and making a huge difference in kids’ lives. What I love about Together With You is what a super job it does of getting into a little boy’s head as he describes the special time spent with his grandmother.

In this well-crafted rhyming picture book, Toht conveys the story via seasons spent together, making it feel like four lovely poems. It begins with spring as showers rain down while Grandma and Grandson “dash through the drops, side by side” as seen on the cover. Jarvis’s illustrations, though created digitally with hand lettering, have a watercolor-mixed-with-pastels look where colors blend into each other.  They switch from the darker, more muted shades of spring to the golden yellows of summer. When the little boy says he’s drippy with sweat, I could feel the change in temperature. When autumn rolls in, the palette becomes more golden with burnt oranges and colors that blend beautifully on the page. The wind pushes again the grandmother and her grandchild as they fly a kite and try to keep their balance. The winter scenes of this adoring pair, whether cozy in jammies or watching snowflakes fall, will warm your heart. I recommend this touching story to share on Mother’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, or for that matter any day you want to celebrate the special bond between a grandparent and grandchild.

 

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Picture Book Review – Neverwoof by Gabe Jensen

 

 

NEVERWOOF:
The Dog That Never Barked

Written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen

(Familius; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Neverwoof cover

 

 

The picture book, Neverwoof: The Dog that Never Barked, by author-illustrator Gabe Jensen is a delight. No matter how often I read this story, it still makes me laugh. Neverwoof, a charming orange mutt, has an interesting life, going through his days without a sound: “He chased a siren—woo woo woo. / He saved a baby—boo hoo hoo. / He got high-fives from the fire crew. / But never did he woof.” Until the day he seemingly must bark. Does he? I won’t tell beyond saying to expect a plot twist!

 

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Interior spread from Neverwoof: The Dog That Never Barked written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen, Familius ©2021.

 

Coupled with the spare, rhyming text is Jensen’s fantastic art. The limited color palette effectively uses what he calls “two clashing colors.” Neverwoof’s personality shines through as does his love for his family. My favorite spread comes toward the end when Neverwoof faces his ultimate challenge with a thief known as Stinky Sue—giggling is guaranteed.

 

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Interior spread from Neverwoof: The Dog That Never Barked written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen, Familius ©2021.

 

The art, like the text, is deceptively simple. Yet, each time I delve into it, I find something new in the background. It may just be the headline on a discarded newspaper or the cat that makes an appearance throughout, however, these details add depth and humor. The book’s smaller size (7 x 10 inches, hardback) fits well in young hands, the debossed cover is fun to touch, and there’s no dust jacket to lose.

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Terrific Table Manners

 

TERRIFIC TABLE MANNERS

Written by Michelle Markel

Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-7)

 

 

 

 

As the busy holiday season approaches, I can’t think of a more timely book to share with your children than Terrific Table Manners, a humorous 64-page illustrated manual written by Michelle Markel with art by Merrilee Liddiard. The publisher’s blurb says, “Inspired by the classic Tiffany’s primer on manners for teens and featuring a familiar cast of characters, Terrific Table Manners is a modern take on table etiquette that follows the course of a proper dinner-party meal.”

To expand on that introduction, I’ll add how enjoyable I found this thoroughly modern approach to 21st-century manners geared for a younger reader. The primer is presented in rhyme (with a smattering of snark) and complemented by retro art with ample white space, lovely linework, and warm tones in a watercolor style. Aptly beginning with the invitation and RSVP chapters, Terrific Table Manners proceeds to the meal itself including the main course, vegetables, and dessert through to the dare-I-say dreaded and oft avoided thank you note.

 

Terrific Table Manners int1
Interior spread from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021.

 

Kids will learn about what to do and what not to do at a dinner party as they’re guided through by Mr. Faris (who went to manners school in Paris) and his co-host/teacher Prudence at the School of Manners and Etiquette. Together these instructors also cover essentials such as making conversation to which silverware to use for which course. That’s not all that matters during a meal. I was delighted to see cell phones mentioned and by mentioned I mean recommended to be shut off! “Cut the chicken off the bone. Bella, please turn off your phone.” While I did wonder how many 5-7 year-olds (the target audience) have telephones, I figured this might be a book an older tween sibling would enjoy since good manners apply to all ages.

 

 

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Interior art from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021.

 

One of my favorite lines in the book happens during the main course. “Don’t hold utensils with your fists! Only cavemen eat like this!” Sound familiar? As the dinner-party class progresses, the children get more out-of-hand and the teacher/hosts become more frustrated and exhausted. Young readers and their parents may find this aspect the most relatable. Having kids sit still at a meal has often been a sore point in many families, and holiday time is no exception. Keeping chaos at bay is crucial to the etiquette pros but ultimately they don’t succeed as witnessed in the last two closing spreads.

 

 

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Interior spread from Terrific Table Manners written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard, Cameron Kids ©2021

 

 

Perhaps all has not been for naught when readers see the lovely thank you notes at the end. Will children finish the book and admit they’ve gleaned a tip or two? We can only hope so! The two pages of back matter detail specific aspects of a dinner party, gently encouraging kids to use proper etiquette and see what a difference it makes even at home and in restaurants. 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Children’s Picture Book Review – My Dog Banana

MY DOG BANANA

Written by Roxane Brouillard

Illustrated by Giulia Sagramola

Translated by Simon de Jocas and Paula Ayer

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

My Dog Banana Cover

 

When neighbors question a boy walking with a banana attached to a red leash, the child confidently explains that he is walking his dog Banana in Roxanne Brouillard’s debut picture book,  My Dog Banana, with charming artwork by Giulia Sagramola, in her first picture book as well.

The cover instantly grabbed my attention because, well, how often have you seen a boy walking a banana on a leash? The boy’s mouth is drawn as a big smile, while the neighbors surrounding him have mouths agape. Even the Lhasa Apso is confused! Sagramola draws a black line directed at each person speaking giving the art a graphic novel feel. “What are you doing?” the boy with the backward green baseball cap asks pointing at the banana. “I’m walking my dog,” the dark-haired boy responds with hand on hip.

 

My Dog Banana IntImage 1
Interior spread from My Dog Banana written by Roxane Brouillard and illustrated by Giulia Sagramola, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Faded green trees are drawn in the background so the reader’s attention is on the latest neighbor introduced with each page turn. We see the confusion with question marks above heads and raised eyebrows. The boy just doesn’t understand why the neighbors don’t see Banana the dog. The people try their best to see what the boy sees, but with each question asked to the boy he has a logical answer in return. “It isn’t moving,the woman returning from a Farmer’s Market says with fruit in her bag. “She is very tired today,” with emphasis on the She, not the It.

 

My Dog Banana IntImage 2
Interior spread from My Dog Banana written by Roxane Brouillard and illustrated by Giulia Sagramola, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Turning each page, more neighbors appear with confused faces. Sagramola’s drawings of hands in the air and pointed fingers add to the humor of Brouillard’s words. The Lhasa Apso goes nose-to-nose with the banana to see if she can get a reaction but no luck. The boy has an answer for everything until the neighbors stop asking questions and begin to laugh. He remains true to himself and doesn’t give in to their laughter. When the boy and Banana finally give up and walk away from the adults and children’s hysterics on the last page, the Banana speaks and says, “Woof! Woof!”

This light-hearted sweet story, with an assortment of diverse characters, will bring laughter to the reader and allow them to question what is real and not real. Did Banana really Woof? Only your imagination can answer that question.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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An Interview with Animals Go Vroom! Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

ABI CUSHMAN

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR OF

ANIMALS GO VROOM!

(Viking Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 2 to 5)

 

 

Animals Go Vroom cover

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

Animals Go Vroom!

Written and illustrated by Abi Cushman

With a nod to Richard Scarry, this inventive picture book surprises readers with every turn of the page!

Hiss! Screech! Roar! It’s a noisy day in Bumperville! But are the sounds what you think they are? That Honk! must surely be a goose. But turn the page and it’s the taxi that a goose is driving! Using cleverly placed die-cuts, this inventive book hints at what is making the sound, but with each turn of the page, it’s an eye-opening surprise and part of an unfolding story that is part guessing game and part giggle-inducing caper. Abi Cushman is the master of surprise and silliness in this absolutely delightful picture book.

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Happy book birthday and congratulations on the release of your second picture book, Animals Go Vroom! Kids are going to love all the unexpected surprises in this book. The way you use die-cuts is so clever. Were they a key element of the story from the start or did they evolve over time?

Abi Cushman: Thank you, Colleen! I am so thrilled to be here. And congratulations to YOU on your wonderful upcoming debut picture book, The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem. It is so wonderfully told, and the illustrations by Nancy Carpenter are fantastic.

CP: Thank you! I love Nancy’s illustrations, too!

AC: To answer your question, yes! I always envisioned die-cuts in the book. My initial thought was about how animal sounds and vehicle sounds sometimes overlap. And so I wanted the book to be a guessing game where readers had to guess who or what was making the sound.

 

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Die-cut windows are a wonderful device for guessing game type books because they give a little peek at the next spread, and then the page turn offers the reveal. 

 

 

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CP: I love the way even the background characters in Animals Go Vroom! have their own stories that play out over the course of the book. That must have been so much fun to illustrate! Can you tell me about coming up with those stories?

AC: Some of the background characters are inspired by family members. The sloth using the walker is based off of my grandmother who would cover great distances at the mall using her walker. She had a cap she’d wear whenever she’d go out. The two bunnies in the background of the bus scene are a tribute to my two house rabbits, Cosette and Coco. 

 

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And then I chose other background characters based on the sounds they make. The artist sea lion shouts out, “Art? Art?” and the baby crow points out the car by calling out, “Cah! Cah!”. The baby crow is actually also based on my son who would do the same thing every time he saw a car when he was younger. 

 

CP: How fun! I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on those sounds! And for more fun, outside of the book, I noticed that you have an Animals Go Vroom! memory game on your website. (It took me 46 seconds and 13 moves to solve it.) How did you come up with that idea and did you create it yourself? If so, how did you develop such impressive skills?!

AC: I have been a web designer/developer for over 15 years, so that coding experience definitely has benefits. Although I don’t specialize in making online games, I was able to find some open source code for a memory game, and then I tweaked it to work on my website and to use the images I created for all the cards. I actually had intended to make a memory game for my first book, Soaked!, but I didn’t have enough time. But Animals Go Vroom! actually worked even better for this sort of game because there is a large cast of characters to choose from.

 

CP: It definitely seems perfect for a game like that. You dedicated this book to your mom “who really loves snakes.” Is that true? Did you have pet snakes in the house when you were growing up?

AC: I showed this illustration:

 

IMG 8885

 

to my brother over a family Zoom so he could see how I made his headphone-wearing daughter into a character in the book, and my mom blurted out, “Oh no! Gross!” And we were all kind of laughing because although we all know she does NOT care for snakes or worms, we thought a cartoony-looking snake drawing might be ok. 

I didn’t set out to make a book that largely featured snakes, but that’s where the story took me since they make that wonderful hissing sound. I thought, “How can I make it so that my mom HAS to read this book with a bunch of snakes?” And so I dedicated it to her, and she did say recently that the illustration of the kid snake on the dedication was okay. :) 

 

dedicationsnake

 

And so to answer your second question, NO. There was absolutely no chance of us having pet snakes when I was growing up.

 

CP: Hahaha! I love that your family shows up in so many different ways in this book. Did you base any other characters on people you know? 

AC: Oh yes. I mentioned earlier that the baby crow is my car-loving son, and the kid snake is based on my niece who wore headphones the entire time we were on a family vacation one time. The mama snake is me. Actually the bear in Soaked! is also me. I guess I follow that advice, “Write what you know.” since I apparently just put myself in all my books.

 

CP: For StoryStorm 2020 you advised people to keep an ugly sketchbook and said the practice freed you up to do the drawings that inspired your debut picture book Soaked! (Viking Children’s Books, 2020). Is there any correlation between the vengeful sketchbook chipmunk at the end of that post and the chipmunk car salesman in Animals Go Vroom? And did any other ugly sketchbook characters make it into this second book? 

AC: Hahaha maybe this is the vengeful chipmunk’s origin story. A car salesmunk who becomes disillusioned with life after getting bonked in the head with a flat tire just hours after making his first sale. 

chipmunk-tire

 

But yes, the whole concept of the book came about from this Ugly Sketchbook character: a sea lion flying a jet going RAWRR! 

 

rawrr

 

This specific character didn’t end up in the final book, but another sea lion made it into the story as an artist just trying to share their beautiful art with everyone.

 

IMG 8884-1

 

CP: I loved the sea lion’s paintings! And I loved the otter taxi passenger, too. I happen to know that he is a published author. I read his research project Funny AND Female and noticed that he didn’t ask YOU to talk about being a funny woman in kidlit. (He’s got some nerve!) So, talk to me about being funny. Where do you find inspiration for your humor? Do you have any tried and true tricks to bring humor to a scene? 

AC: I find inspiration everywhere- TV, movies, books, my family. Unexpected random or absurd things are often very funny. So I like playing around with creating a pattern and then disrupting it with something ridiculous. Being specific helps create that absurd moment. For example, in Soaked!, I create a pattern in the first spread. “Not that badger. Not that bunny.” and then I disrupt it with something specific and out-of-place. “Not that hula-hooping moose.” 

 

Moose Soaked TX 1 Page 04

 

When I was thinking about a passenger for the taxi in Animals Go Vroom!, it was tough because really, it could be ANYONE in the backseat. So I made it fun by thinking of someone who would look glorious with a monocle (an otter, of course), and then I thought it would be pretty ridiculous if in every scene he was eating a different meal and was totally oblivious to the traffic jam. I started with tea because that would be a great contrast to the goose who was having a fit about being stuck behind the bus. And then the next spread, the otter is eating a filet of fish on a plate with a fork and knife. How did he get this fancy meal? Where did he get the utensils? In the next scene, he has an ice cream cone. Did he have the ice cream in the taxi the entire time? Why didn’t it melt? Does he have a freezer in there? I like creating scenes where the reader does a double-take and thinks, “Wait a minute- WHAT?? What’s going on there?” It’s a treat for the curious kid who takes a closer look at the pictures and sees that secondary storyline happening in the background. 

 

spreads_promo_goose_web

 

CP: You teach a couple of classes at Storyteller Academy. What do you enjoy most about teaching other picture book creators?

AC: Most people enrolled at Storyteller Academy have committed to making a real go at improving their craft. So it is incredibly satisfying to see them put in the work every week and make huge gains in their stories. I really believe that if you put in the work- which is to read and analyze current picture books, think about a compelling concept or character, and then just keep plugging away, that you can become a published author. But a lot of people give up. So it is wonderful to see the dedication from Storyteller Academy students. And I can’t wait to see the manuscripts I’ve critiqued become published books in a couple of years.  

 

CP: That’s definitely something to look forward to. Speaking of craft, what are three tools of the illustrator’s craft that you wouldn’t want to be without?

AC: 1. My Bic mechanical pencil. I use a mechanical pencil to draw all the characters in my                     books. I like that the pencil always stays sharp.

  1. My Wacom Cintiq tablet. I color all my illustrations digitally using Photoshop and my tablet. I like to apply the color this way because it is easy to correct mistakes, experiment with color, and keep the color palette consistent across spreads. I can also zoom in to apply details.
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  2. Google image search. Even though my books feature anthropomorphic animals, I still use a lot of reference photos. When thinking about a mouse riding a unicycle, I’ll look at photos of mice to imagine what one would look like sitting upright on a seat. How would its leg look while pedaling? Then I’ll look at photos of unicycles. How can I modify this unicycle if the rider had short (mouse) legs? And now what would it look like if that mouse was not only riding a unicycle but also holding a large cupcake? I have to use my imagination, but I still try to base parts of it on real-life so the illustration looks plausible.

 

mouse-stickers

 

CP: That’s fascinating. So, when you’re working on a story, do the pictures usually come first or is it the words? Do you find one is easier than the other?

AC: I usually think of a very general concept first. For Soaked!, I thought about how when you’re stuck in the rain, it actually becomes pleasant after you become thoroughly soaked. The idea of changing your perspective despite the situation staying the same was intriguing to me. Then for a couple months after that, I kept drawing a bedraggled soggy bear looking very disgruntled in the rain. But the whole thing flew together once I thought of the voice of Bear, the main character. The voice drove the story and the words came pouring out.

For Animals Go Vroom!, I again thought of the concept first: sounds that both animals and vehicles make. After brainstorming sounds and animals, I started to see a chain of events forming, so I made a book dummy to see how it would all work with the die-cuts. I started with a small dummy and gradually increased the size with each revision. From there, I was able to draw in a lot more details as it got closer to its final size, and secondary storylines started forming through the illustrations.

When I’m working on a story, I often see images in my head, and I’ll quickly jot them down as very ugly doodles. I’ll also write down little snippets of text. So in terms of what’s easier for me, I think it’s easy for me to picture little moments in a story. But what is hard is actually rendering those imagined scenes and characters properly in the final art. It’s tough to match the idealized images in my head. Plus, doing the final art is so labor-intensive, and there’s also a deadline. But that being said, it is AMAZING when the art director shows you a PDF of the book with the text properly typeset over the full-color art. It makes all those long hours worth it.

 

CP: I bet! What’s next for you?

AC: I have an unannounced picture book in the works that I’m very excited about. It’s an informational picture book that I would have LOVED as a kid. It’s a book where hopefully kids will be laughing and learning at the same time. 

CP: That sounds wonderful, Abi. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. And congratulations, again, on your terrific new book!

All artwork and photos courtesy of Abi Cushman.

 

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Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman        Photo credit: P.A. Smith

BRIEF BIO: 

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of Soaked! (Viking, 2020) and Animals Go Vroom! (Viking, 2021). She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years, creating websites for libraries, towns, and local businesses. She runs two popular websites of her own: My House Rabbit, a pet rabbit care resource, and Animal Fact Guide, which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids.

 

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TO PURCHASE ABI’S BOOK CLICK
HERE

LINKS:

Website: abicushman.com

Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/dCUjeH

Twitter: @AbiCushman

Instagram: @abi.cushman

Facebook: @AbiCushmanArt

 

FOR MORE ON ABI CUSHMAN:

Animals Go Vroom Origin Story at SLJ’s Fuse 8

Author/Illustrator Spotlight at KidLit411

Picture Book Look Podcast A Conversation with Abi Cushman, Editor Tracy Gates, and Art Director Jim Hoover

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books). Click here for more info.

 

BLOG TOUR DATES

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Kids Picture Book Review – Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt!

DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT!

Written by Robin Newman

Illustrated by Susan Batori

(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

DontCallMeFuzzybutt cover

 

 

If I enjoy saying this book’s title, kids will definitely delight in repeating Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt! They’ll be eager to read the entire book because, sticks and stones aside, what child hasn’t had a run-in with name-calling? And when you’ve got the talented team of Robin Newman and Susan Batori taking on the topic, it promises to be entertaining while making an important point.

Neither Bear nor Woodpecker means to hurl names at one another or hurt each other’s feelings, but sometimes it happens from pent-up frustration. This time it happens when Bear is settling down to hibernate for winter. Because he’s a very light sleeper, Bear makes preparations to assure he is not disturbed. Unfortunately, the tree he has cut down to make a solid door for his den was the location of Woodpecker’s homes.

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Interior spread from Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt! written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2021.

 

Woodpecker asks Rabbit, Mouse, and Squirrel if they’ve witnessed the chopping incident. No luck. Fortunately, his own detective skills lead him to discover that Bear is the culprit so he begins to peck, peck away at Bear’s door. Angered by the commotion, Bear asks the three other animals “Who’s the pesky FEATHERBUTT making that noise?” When Woodpecker gets wind of the name-calling, he confronts Bear. While he doesn’t deny it, Bear is more concerned about getting his shut-eye and leaves for his den, further exacerbating the situation.

Soon after, Woodpecker wakes up Bear to tell him how upset he feels at being called a name in front of everyone. Tension builds beautifully both in Newman’s prose and Batori’s art. Bear is annoyed at having his sleep interrupted and Woodpecker is mad at his houses being destroyed. Now it’s Bear’s turn to get called a name and you can just guess what that is, right? FUZZYBUTT! Once again the meddlesome forest friends have inserted themselves into the drama by blabbing about the big scene they witnessed. Bear, bothered big time, stomps off to bed seething before tears start falling.

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Interior spread from Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt! written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Susan Batori, Sleeping Bear Press ©2021.

 

Now it’s Woodpecker’s turn to make amends and he does so by apologizing to Bear. With newfound respect for one another, the pair concoct a housing plan that is sure to make them both happy, but from a distance! Plus Bear can hibernate knowing that in 243 1/2 days he’ll have a new friend to hang out with.

Batori’s digital artwork, mimicking “colored pencils and watercolor,” makes an already appealing story irresistible. Her characters are charming, her color palette is rich and woodsy and her composition pulls us in immediately. The art, together with Newman’s humorous and skilled writing, offers a totally relatable read-aloud for parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians that will spark meaningful conversation about conflict resolution, gossip, and the hurt caused by name-calling. I’m happy Bear and Woodpecker worked things out and kids will be, too! Just be prepared to hear FUZZYBUTT a lot more frequently in your home after reading this fabulously funny picture book.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Read a review of another book by Robin here.

 

 

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Squish Squash Squished

SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED

Written by Rebecca Kraft Rector

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

 

“Move over!” And get ready for a “jiggety jog” into Squish Squash Squished, the debut picture book by Rebecca Kraft Rector! Anyone who grew up with squabbling siblings is going to love this book!

Max and Molly take a ride into town with Mom. Regardless of how “spacious gracious” their automobile is, they’re squished and squashed. They jiggle, wiggle, push, and shove until Mom devises the perfect plan to change their perspective. Here’s a hint, quack-quack, oink-oink. Before long, the car appears more like a zoo! You’ll have to read the book to discover the rhyming words the kids use to tame this situation.

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Interior art from Squish Squash Squished written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Dana Wulfkotte, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2021.

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Rhyme pairings and onomatopoeias make this a hilarious read-aloud that kids will want to read time and time again.

The talented Dana Wulfekotte’s [The Remember Balloons] whimsical illustrations demand attention. It’s the type of book I would purchase from the cover alone! Soft muted tones make space for raucous and active spreads. Animal lovers are sure to notice charming and articulate details in this cast of animal characters, such as a pig wearing a flat cap and a giraffe sporting a jogging suit. The representation of diverse families allows children from different identities and cultures to see themselves in this book.

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Interior art from Squish Squash Squished written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Dana Wulfkotte, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2021.

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The oldest of four kids, Rebecca, and her family took many car trips. Since she and her siblings were absolute angels, she’s sure nothing in her past inspired this story!

So what are you waiting for – More? Pick up a copy of this book for a ton of fun!
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Click here to order Squish Squash Squished.
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Click here to read another review by Moni.
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Children’s Book Review – A Year of Everyday Wonders

A YEAR OF EVERYDAY WONDERS

Written by Cheryl B. Klein

Illustrated by Qin Leng

(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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BOOK REVIEW

If ever there was a year of wonders, I think 2020 would be it, both for adults and children, the whole world over. For this reason, I found Cheryl B. Klein’s A Year of Everyday Wonders especially meaningful though clearly her thoughtful book was created without the pandemic in mind.

The book follows a young girl, along with the people in her world, through all the “firsts” during the year.  Some of the lines are poetic, like “First green in the gray” when spring arrives or “First gold in the green” when fall arrives. The hopeless romantic in me liked the scenes of “First cold” when the protagonist is ill, which is immediately followed by “First crush” when a classmate of hers offers his tissue box. Equally touching was how “Second crush” comes about. The book eventually comes full circle as it begins and ends with “First day of the new year.” These seemingly small events of childhood will resonate with readers young and old who have likely experienced one or all of the beautifully depicted moments, the memories of which may last a lifetime.

 

YearOfEverydayWonders p008-009
Text from A Year of Everyday Wonders © 2020 Cheryl Klein. Illustrations © Qin Leng. Used with permission from Abrams Books for Young Readers.

 

THE ART

Qin Leng’s illustrations, rendered with ink and watercolor, portray each wonder with simplicity and emotion. There is lots of white space around many of the pictures, instilling a sort of quiet feeling, which is perfect for reading with your youngsters and reminiscing about all the “firsts’ they have had and will have in the future, depending on their ages.

 

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Text from A Year of Everyday Wonders © 2020 Cheryl Klein. Illustrations © Qin Leng. Used with permission from Abrams Books for Young Readers.

 

IN CONCLUSION

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this review, 2020 was a year like no other, a year of many firsts for everyone: first lockdown, first virtual classroom learning, and first masks. With this last one, I admit that my mind is so focused on the pandemic in our new world that when I actually read the line “First masks” in A Year of Everyday Wonders, it took me a minute to realize that it was not referring to pandemic masks. Let’s hope that 2021 is a year of wonders indeed, of only the best kinds that children should experience.

Starred Reviews – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

 

  •  Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
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    Click here to read another book review by Freidele.

 

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Picture Book Review – Best Day Ever

BEST DAY EVER

Written by Michael J. Armstrong

Illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans

(Sterling Children’s Books, $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

 

Best Day Ever book cover

 

In Best Day Ever by debut picture book author Michael J. Armstrong with art by Églantine Ceulemans, William is a serious overachiever with an emphasis on the serious. Having completed five of the items on his list (yes, list), of summer goals, including learning to speak Spanish and getting a black belt in karate, he’s now ready to tackle #6: Have the most fun ever. The catch is that William’s fun meter device keeps flashing red, a frowning emoji face, whenever he attempts to enjoy himself. See for yourself in the illustrations below.

 

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Interior illustrations from Best Day Ever written by Michael J. Armstrong and illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

William’s happy-go-lucky neighbor, Anna, knows how to entertain herself without following any guidelines. And she’d love for William to join her. Kids will laugh at how she calls William every nickname except his proper name in the beginning, a clue into her spirited nature. Young readers will also easily notice the stark contrast between the two children because of the realistic order depicted in the scenes with just William, and the zany, imagination-rich chaos in Anna’s. Can William carry on his attempts at by-the-book play when this carefree girl keeps getting in his face?

 

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Interior illustrations from Best Day Ever written by Michael J. Armstrong and illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

Well, it seems Anna’s persistence pays off. What I love about this story is the fun that readers have as they watch William, following Anna’s non-judgmental prompting, learn to lighten up and have his very own, book-free, best day ever. A bonus, of course, is the new friendship he’s made that wasn’t even on his list!

Ceulemans’ art, a delightful blend of childlike whimsy and a study in contrasts, reflects the two main characters’ polar opposite personalities. The vibrancy and creative quality of the illustrations pairs perfectly with the story’s plot about letting loose and seeing the magic in unstructured imaginative play. I hope reading Best Day Ever encourages more kids about the positive power of pretending.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Églantine Ceuleman.

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – Wrecking Ball (Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 14)

WRECKING BALL
(DIARY OF A WIMPY KID BOOK 14)
Written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney
(Amulet Books; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Wrecking Ball DOAWK14 cover

 

 

The popularity of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid middle grade series is still blazing. Kids at our daughter’s elementary school were counting the days until the release of book 14, Wrecking Ball. Then it was noses in books as they devoured Greg Heffley’s latest escapades. So what’s the appeal of this best-selling series? When I asked kids this question, the answers were simple: the familiar way the book looked, the story’s relatable humor, and its well-known characters. Great reasons since everyone likes comfortably sharing a laugh with a friend.

The title Wrecking Ball refers to construction and destruction to the Heffley’s house. As parents, we can relate to the nightmare of home improvements, remodeling, and house-hunting. Seeing these things from Greg’s perspective is, of course, funny but also very true. From tried-and-true sight gags (plumber’s crack) to the much deeper consequences of starting over elsewhere—the possibilities to reinvent yourself but also the complexity of feelings of being split from your best friend. Kids will be white-knuckled wondering if Rowley’s being written out.

Kinney’s hilarious illustrations accompany every page. I especially enjoyed Greg’s dream house which will be really small (to avoid attracting attention since he’s famous), but include a vast interlinking underground network. [PAGES 40-45] Who hasn’t envisioned what they’d build if they were rich? Greg’s idea of a glass bathtub that sits inside a giant aquarium is a kick. If your tween has some holiday cash to spend, this book is sure to please.

Visit the Wimpy Kid website here.

Fans can add to their collection with The Diary of a Wimpy Kid spinoff book Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid as well as The Wimpy Kid 2020 Wall Calendar.

 

 

Read another middle grade book review by Christine here.

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Kids Book Reviews – Five Holiday Picture Books 2019

 

WINTER HOLIDAY PICTURE BOOKS 2019

∼A ROUNDUP∼

happy holidays clip art

 

vegetables in holiday underwear coverVEGETABLES IN HOLIDAY UNDERWEAR
Written and illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, ages 3-7)

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom (or anywhere) read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.

 

one wild christmas book coverONE WILD CHRISTMAS (Life in the Wild series)
Written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland
(Kids Can Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.

 

peanut butter and santa claus coverPEANUT BUTTER & SANTA CLAUS:
A ZOMBIE CULINARY TALE

Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, ages 3-7)

What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!

snow globe wishes book coverSNOW GLOBE WISHES
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Claire Shorrock
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this yearwith or without a power outage.

the teddy bears christmas surprise cvrTHE TEDDY BEARS’ CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
Written by Bruno Hächler
Illustrated by Anastasia Arkhipova
(Mineedition; $17.99, ages 5-6)

I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?

Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

Read about last year’s picks here.

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