Like the cumulative tale and nursery rhyme, “This is the house that Jack built,” Heuiser Hill’s text similarly “builds” the setting up of the dinner table. Grandad initiates the opportunity for a family gathering by constructing “this table,” and the rest of the family pitches in bit by bit—each one contributing a layer or detail that adds richness and diversity. The multifaceted colors, textures, and patterns in Kim’s illustrations reflect the movement and excitement in getting together. In simple lines and shapes, each page highlights the delighted facial expressions of the multicultural family members who have gathered to share a meal made from scratch.
In fact everything set on the table is a hands on, homemade creation. The “sunflowers picked by … cousins,” the “napkins sewn by Mom,” and the meal itself come straight from the heart. Every object has sentimental value. Even the everyday “forks and spoons and knives” honor those loved ones who have passed on. “Gifts from Dad’s grandma long ago,” the utensils allow past generations to be present at the table.
For those who love multicultural and multigenerational themes, Around the Table That Grandad Built is a wonderful addition to the home library. Equally important—especially in this day and age—are the opportunities the book provides to talk about essential values. Thankfulness, hard work, love, and selflessness can be discussed anytime you’re around the table. Consider sharing for Thanksgiving!
Roll With It was an easy choice for my to-read list because it deals with disability. As a disabled author myself, I feel disability representation in books for children is so important and I’m thrilled to see the number of books featuring this element of diversity growing. Author Jamie Sumner has a son with cerebral palsy—the same disability as her main character, Ellie—so I was confident that aspect of the book would be handled with authority and authenticity. What I wasn’t necessarily expecting is a story that packed such an emotional punch on so many different levels.
Ellie and her mom move in with Ellie’s grandparents to help out since her grandfather’s memory issues are getting worse. Life in her grandparents’ trailer park is not exactly ideal for Ellie physically and she dreads starting at a new school as not only “the new kid” but “the new kid in a wheelchair.” Before long though, she connects with two other classmates from the trailer park, the hilarious Coralee and ultra blunt Bert, and Ellie begins to love her new home. She must then convince her mom that they should stay put.
Ellie is relatable and plucky, with a touch of snarky sarcasm, all of which endeared her to me immediately. Her growth as a character had much less to do with the traditional “overcoming her limitations due to her disability” trope and much more to do with making friends, asserting herself, navigating the complex relationship between a tween kid and her mother, and handling her emotions related to her grandfather’s illness. She’s a regular kid with dreams of being a celebrity chef, who experiences the same feelings and challenges as lots of kids her age. The fact that she has CP and is a wheelchair user is neither the main focus of the story nor downplayed. Sumner strikes a perfect balance of making that aspect of Ellie’s life an integral part of the story without it be her only story. Similarly, Ellie’s Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s is treated deftly and not sugarcoated.
Roll With It is not only a fun and interesting read—it’s a great representation for middle grade readers who are wheelchair users themselves and for any reader interested in a moving story which provides insight into a POV not often seen in children’s books.
Guest Review by Karol Ruth Silverstein
Karol Ruth Silverstein writes all genres of children’s books and screenplays. Her debut novel Cursed (Charlesbridge Teen, 2019) is loosely drawn from her experience of being diagnosed with a painful chronic illness at 13. Originally from Philadelphia, she now lives with her two exceptionally fluffy cats, Ninja and Boo. You can read a review of her novel here.
As all budding young chefs and their parents know, it’s not easy getting a recipe just right. In the new picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, these delicious dumplings are Amy’s nemesis. There are a lot of things that can go wrong; luckily, Amy’s Chinese-American family has got it down and will teach her step by step.
High-spirited Amy will appeal to kids who like expressive, relatable, and funny main characters (à la Fancy Nancy). Amy is skillful at many tasks—including eating bao all day—but it’s frustrating that her bao just don’t turn out right.
Charlena Chuacaptures Amy’s personality in the lively illustrations, from silly expressions (trying to tie her shoes while brushing her teeth) to earnest ones (focused on pinching the dough just right). Throughout, a cute white cat follows Amy’s escapades.
Kat Zhang’s uplifting story shows that imperfection tastes just as good and, with a little bit of ingenuity, kids can solve their problems by trying something new. Amy’s resourcefulness left me smiling; kids are amazing.
The book concludes with a time-consuming (3+ hours) but mouth-watering, in other words worth it, recipe for bao that I tested with my daughter. We appreciated the tip about cooking a spoonful of filling before making the dumplings—great advice which allowed us to adjust the flavors. Enjoy!
This charming picture book hit all the right notes with me. The cleverness of the prose and the gorgeous watercolor illustrations that were rendered digitally work together to make Grandpa’s Top Threes an easy-to-read and share, gentle approach to grief (in this case the grandpa’s) and the loss of a grandparent.
Henry is frustrated by his grandpa’s seemingly ignoring him, but his mom tells him to give it time. Parent and caregivers will immediately understand why. When Mom suggests Henry ask his grandpa “if he’d like a sandwich,” Henry puts the perfect spin on the question and engages his grandfather. “Grandpa, what are your top three sandwiches?” As Henry succeeds at getting his grandfather out of himself by continuing to ask for Grandpa’s Top Three, the two return to their loving relationship that existed before Henry’s grandmother’s death. The beautiful ending will tug at your heartstrings in the best possible way.
This moving story is meaningful in so many ways. It’s at once a book that will help youngsters discuss and process the loss of a beloved grandparent as well as a beautiful and poetic tribute to the grandparent grandchild relationship.
The picture book aptly unfolds in seasons where the young main character compares her grandpa to things in the world as varied as springtime, deep space, dreams and stories. “If all the world were springtime, I would replant my grandpa’s birthdays so that he would never get old.” Her other wishes convey to readers that this bright little girl knows her grandfather is ill and while the loss may come as no surprise, the overwhelming feelings of grief will. But thankfully she has special memories from Grandpa and a new journal handmade by him in which she can “write and draw” to express her sadness along with the worlds of love she shared with her grandfather.
Despite the subject of losing a beloved grandparent, the cheerful illustrations rich with expression help this picture book focus on happy times the grandfather and granddaughter have spent together. The terrific takeaway definitely comes from the subtitle, A Book of Remembering, which Grandpa’s Stories does perfectly.
I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading My Grandma and Me. While I never had this close relationship with my grandmother, I enjoyed reading about Javaherbin’s deep abiding love for hers. This picture book, autobiographical and irresistible, takes readers to Iran where the author’s grandmother lived with her family. “When she cooked, I cooked. When she prayed, I prayed like her, too.” Mina’s grandmother welcomed her sweet shadow.
Like me, I’m sure you’ll fly through the pages and read again and again about how young Mina adored her grandmother and spent as much time with her as possible whether at home, next door at her friend Annette’s house or at the mosque. As Mina grows, so does her love and respect for her grandmother who was obviously a wonderful role model for the young girl.
What will also resonate with readers, in addition to the lovely recollections, are the simple moments of grandma and grandchild quality time. In the beginning of the book Yankey shows little Mina lying on her grandmother’s back during namaz, early morning prayer time. From that moment on the love between grandchild and grandparent emanates from every page during playtime, Ramadan and social visits. This enchanting celebration of the bond between generations is a rewarding and recommended read.
Reviews by Ronna Mandel
Other new recommended reads for Grandparents Day
Our Favorite Dayby Joowon Oh – a not-to-miss debut about special time together that will leave your heart full. It’s pure happiness in your hands.
Looking for Yesterdayby Alison Jay – this charming picture book about looking forward is a STEMish story with breathtaking illustrations you’ll want to look at over and over again and a grandparent grandson relationship that’s full of wisdom and wit.
You can also find a previous Grandparents Day book reviewhere.
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.