skip to Main Content

Middle Grade Book Review – Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

LOOK BOTH WAYS: A TALE TOLD IN TEN BLOCKS

Written by Jason Reynolds

Illustrated by Alexander Nabaum

(Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books; $17.99, Ages 10-14)

 

look both ways book cover

 

∼A National Book Award Finalist∼

Starred Reviews – BCCB, Booklist, BookPage, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, SLJ

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.

 

 

Share this:

Kids Picture Book Review – Two Tough Trucks

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS
by Corey Rosen Schwartz + Rebecca J. Gomez
Illustrated by Hilary Leung
(Orchard Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Two Tough Trucks Book Cover

 

In Two Tough Trucks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez with art by Hilary Leung, Mack and Rig, two vehicles with very different personalities, are heading off for their first day of Truck School. Red Mack is confident and bold. Blue Rig is reluctant and nervous. This sentence describes them to a T: “Two trucks off to school for their first day of class. One riding the brakes. One hitting the gas.”

 

Two Tough Trucks Int1

Interior spread from Two Tough Trucks written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung, Orchard Books/Scholastic ©2019.

 

When the aptly named teacher, Miss Rhodes, pairs the two trucks for a circuit on the track, Mack takes off and doesn’t look back. Rig on the other hand finds the course daunting, facing what seems like one insurmountable challenge after the other. The next drill takes the class to a hill, one which Mack knows he can easily climb. Rig doesn’t feel so sure and comes in “dead last.” The two trucks don’t really connect, each one thinking little of the other. “My partner’s a drag,” is Mack’s take. “That hotshot,” said Rig, “He sure loves to brag.” What will your children think of the characters? It’s a great opportunity to seek their input. The repetition of VROOM! ZOOM! throughout invites sound effects and participation by the littlest readers

 

Two Tough Trucks int2

Interior spread from Two Tough Trucks written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung, Orchard Books/Scholastic ©2019.

 

It’s not looking hopeful for these two six-wheelers. If there’s a way forward towards friendship, it’s eluding them. But then there’s light on the horizon for Rig when the class is tasked with learning how to go backward while hauling cargo. That’s when Rig excels at last! Hold on! Was that a look of doubt creeping onto blundering Mack’s face? Exasperated, the big, red truck is ready to give up. VROOM! DOOM?

With this shift in ability, Rig’s gained confidence but not a big head. He kindly helps his partner tackle the task until Mack masters it, too. Schwartz and Gomez get youngsters engaged with the colorful characters and the pace of this story. Kids’ll cheer as the vehicles bond after accomplishing what they needed to as a team. It’s wonderful to see how working together with positive attitudes yields mutual success.

 

Two Tough Trucks int3

Interior spread from Two Tough Trucks written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung, Orchard Books/Scholastic ©2019.

 

Leung’s lively illustrations emphasize the individual vehicles. Rig wears a camouflage design bandana and Mack, a baseball cap to match his trim. I like the movement the illustrations convey and how the southwestern style art palate bleeds off the page. Of note and adorable is how, in the end, after a friendship has developed, the two pals have exchanged head ware. Have your kids also keep an eye out for the cute turtle and roadrunner who appear in multiple spreads.

Two Tough Trucks is clearly more than a first day of school picture book. It’s a super rhyming story about learning to  get along, having each other’s back and being a good sport. The title works too. Each vehicle has its strengths and weaknesses, true. It’s not letting those areas that need improvement immobilize them that makes them tough, especially together as a team. Rev up your engines and make tracks to your nearest bookstore for a copy of Two Tough Trucks today!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Here’s a link to a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz.
Here’s a link to a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz + Rebecca J. Gomez.

Share this:

Kids Picture Book Review – Little Sock by Kia Heise and Christopher D. Park

LITTLE SOCK

Written by Kia Heise and Christopher D. Park

Illustrated by Christopher D. Park

(Sleeping Bear Press; $14.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Little Sock book cover art

 

Have you ever walked outside with one blue striped sock and one green striped sock hoping no one will notice the mismatch because you have no idea where their mates have gone? In Little Sock, sociology professor Kia Heise’s debut picture book with her husband, illustrator and writer, Christopher D. Park, the reader discovers how the sock feels when it has gone missing!

Little Sock, with his big black eye and line for a mouth, lives in a dark drawer with all the other yellow striped matched socks. While the other socks are sleeping soundly, Little Sock gets an inquisitive look drawn on his face (otherwise known as the heel). His life seems mundane. “Little Sock gets worn. Little Sock gets dirty. And Little Sock gets washed.”

Park’s adorable sock drawings show the other socks reading books while in the wash, or just relaxing in the heat of the suds and water while Little Sock’s mouth is opened wide as if screaming.

 

LittleSock 10 11 interior

Interior artwork from Little Sock, written by Kia Heise and Christopher D. Park and illustrated by Christopher D. Park, Sleeping Bear Press ©2019.

 

“All the other socks seem happy, but Little Sock dreams of something different.” But then he learns of a magical city called Sock City and his adventure begins. The pages turn from white to black as Little Sock makes his way through a secret tunnel in the back of the dryer. We feel Little Sock’s emotions as he bravely sets out to find this new place. When our brave friend finds the light at the end of the tunnel, the pages turn from black to yellow, and bright colors of round shaped buildings, green mountains and boats gliding in the sea loom ahead. Little Sock sees “so many different socks doing different things. Everyday is a NEW ADVENTURE.”

 

LittleSock 24 25 interior

Interior artwork from Little Sock, written by Kia Heise and Christopher D. Park and illustrated by Christopher D. Park, Sleeping Bear Press ©2019.

 

This sweet picture book got me thinking about where my missing socks have been hiding out and allows kids to think outside the box (or drawer). A book that spurs the imagination of both kids and adults can easily be a great source for starting a conversation with your children about trying new things. The creativity of this story made me laugh, but the deeper meaning of being brave and exploring life outside our own little bubble is a great message that all kids need to hear. Heise spends her days teaching students about the world around them, and she’s taken what she’s learned to teach all children to be brave. The lesson I took from this book was that until we step outside our own path, or dryer in the case of Little Sock, we have no way of knowing what wonderful experiences the world has to offer. Little Sock reminds us to do something today that we didn’t do yesterday.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Read another review by Ronda here.

Share this:

Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part Three – A Roundup

 

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART THREE

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

 

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! coverTHE PIGEON HAS TO GO TO SCHOOL!
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
(Hyperion Books for Children; $16.99, Ages 4-7) 

When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.

Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”

Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!

pigeonpresents.com

 

Take Your Pet to School Day coverTAKE YOUR PET TO SCHOOL DAY
Written by Linda Ashman
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

“Enough!” says Mr. Paul. “It’s clear —

these animals should not be here.

Now, why would someone change this rule?

Pets do NOT belong in school!”

If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.

Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.

 

I'm Trying to Love Math coverI’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH
Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton
(Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”

What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers⁠—and a whole page of pi⁠—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.

•Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Share this:

Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part Two

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART TWO

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

The King of Kindergarten cvrTHE KING OF KINDERGARTEN
Written by Derrick Barnes
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

The King of Kindergarten written by Newberry honoree Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, transforms the average day at kindergarten into an extraordinary, royal adventure.

It’s fun to read Barnes’ regal language. As Mom says, “today” her little boy is going to be the “King” and, with this encouragement, he prepares to venture out confidently. Brushing his “Royal Chiclets,” he dresses himself and “wolf[s] down a tower of pancakes.” I love the emphasis here on growth, maturity, and independence. Being “deliver[ed] … to a grand fortress” (a.k.a. school), he joins the “round table” where he cheerfully exchanges greetings with his classmates. The royal theme continues during circle time, recess, lunchtime, and beyond, each opportunity allowing him to exercise his noble code of honor by braving playground politics, sharing his royal bounty (in the form of an extra cup of chocolate pudding), and showing kindness to his friends. Vibrant colors invite us readers to participate in the little boy’s “Kindergarten Kingdom;” flowing shapes excite us with anticipation of what’s next on his adventure.

A great way to introduce the school day to budding kindergartners, The King of Kindergarten shows us how a little change of perspective can rewrite a potentially scary event into a magical tale.

See Derrick Barnes on August 31 at Little Shop of Stories, LLC in Decatur, GA

 

Truman book coverTRUMAN
Written by Jean Reidy
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

Written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, Truman is a heartwarming story of the loving relationship between a pet and his owner. But it can also be read as a tale about the challenges a younger sibling faces as his older sister starts school.

There is no doubt readers of all ages will fall in love with Truman. How could you not? He’s “the size of a donuta small donutand every bit as sweet.” In simple yet powerful ways, Reidy and Cummins express the affection Truman and Sarah share. Sarah isn’t merely Truman’s owner; she’s “his Sarah” (my emphasis)  who shares the same “peaceful and pensive” personality as her adorable tortoise. Humble shapes and bursts of yellow throughout paint a happy home with decor that brings back memories of my own childhood, notably, the Felix the Cat look-a-like clock on the wall.

This particular day, though, is “truly unsettling” because Sarah is acting different. She eats a “big banana” at breakfast, “clip[s] on a blue bow in her hair,” “strap[s] on a backpack SOOOOOO big thirty-two tortoises [can] ride along in it,” and leaves extra food for Truman. Most shockingly, she boards the number 11 bus, that mysterious bus he can see from his window riding in the “honking,” “growling” city below. Truman spends the day in worrisome wonder as to where Sarah could possibly be and why it’s taking her so long to return.

Through Reidy’s funny tone and Cummins’ artistic perspective, Truman’s journey out of the safety of his tank, and his determination to find his beloved owner is as endearing as it is humorous. Of all the challenges Truman faces, my favorite is his crossing of the living room rug“That glorious … ENDLESS rug” made all the more imposing by the mean looking toys along his path we see through Truman’s eyes. When he hears the number 11 bus, he’s ready to cross the threshold, but Sarah is back in time to reunite with her pet and congratulate him on his bravery.

Truman encourages all of us facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with the message cleverly written on city bus #11:  See New Sights! Hear New Sounds! Think New Thoughts!

Pirates-Dont-Go-To-Kindergarten-cvrPIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN!
Written by Lisa Robinson
Illustrated by Eda Kaban
(Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Can an honorable pirate be loyal to more than one captain? This is the question posed in Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten! written by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Eda Kaban.

Equipped with the pirate basics (treasure map, spyglass, and cutlass), Emma storms into school, this first day of kindergarten, determined to set sail once again in last year’s ship commanded by “the roughest, toughest, awesomest preschool pirate cap’n ever”Cap’n Chu. Yet, it’s a new year and, as Ms. Chu gently reminds Emma, Cap’n Chu has “‘a new band of pirates” to lead. Despite attempts by Cap’ns Chu and Hayes (Emma’s new teacher) to interest Emma in her outer-space-themed kindergarten classroom, Emma sails back to Cap’n Chu’s ship, fiercely allegiant to her pirate roots.

When Ms. Hayes’ class pet needs feeding, Emma shows interest and discovers all the fun activities in the kindergarten class:  a nature center, an art studio, a reading nook, and science station. What’s the one thing missing? “NO CAP’N CHU!” Back in Ms. Chu’s classroom, everything blows out into a full mutiny. This is where the book provides a great opportunity for caregivers to talk about just how confusing and conflicting emotions can be. At the heart of Emma’s protest is feelings of fear and loss at having to accept this major childhood transition and perhaps, even, feelings of guilt as devotion to one person may feel like betraying another. With heartwarming affirmation from Ms. Chu, Emma is ready to “‘open the shuttle hatch’” of her new classroom, bringing her own pirate spin to the kindergarten space station.

A great picture book for talking about transitions, Pirates Don’t Go To Kindergarten! will draw in seafarers and landlubbers alike.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Read more back-to-school book reviews here.

Share this:
Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: