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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:

 

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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. 🙂 

 

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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. 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.” 

 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

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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
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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.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – This Is a Sea Cow by Cassandra Federman

THIS IS A SEA COW
Written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

This Is a Sea Cow cover

 

This Is a Sea Cow, the debut picture book by Cassandra Federman, will have kids laughing out loud at story time especially at the lines about how much a sea cow weighs, how her milk “squirts out of her armpits!” and the size of their brains. Federman knows how to quickly pull her readers into this funny and informative story about the popular underwater mammal perhaps better known as a manatee. The titular sea cow actually prefers to be called a manatee for multiple reasons kids will learn about. Fact: Happy faces plastered with huge grins will appear throughout the duration of this book.

 

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Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

One thing I particularly adore about This Is a Sea Cow is the format Federman uses. The story unfolds as a child’s school book report about sea cows. Soon, however, the sea cow, who is the subject of the report, begins responding to the facts presented. This interactive approach is certain to engage young readers. I’m guessing they’ll start talking back to the book much like the audience does in an English pantomime.

At first the adorable blue-crayon-colored sea cow disputes most of what the student writes when it’s not complimentary. Fact: weight of 1,000 pounds. Response: “Hey! That’s personal information.” With each eagerly awaited page turn, youngsters will note how the student author highlights a fact or two the sea cow cannot disagree with. There’s the small size of its brain (see bottom illustration) and how small-brained explorers  thought sea cows were mermaids. The report’s flattered blue subject basks in being considered the mythical water nymph. Those irresistible illustrations are some of my faves.

 

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Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

The book’s colorful, kid-like artwork cleverly incorporates a variety of features guaranteed to keep a child’s interest. There are speech bubbles (just some of the bubbles they’ll read about … the others being gassy ones), hand lettering, hand drawings, and paper cutouts. Interspersed with these are photos of real objects such as scissors, crayons, shells, staples, paper clips and a backpack.

 

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Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

The pleasing twist at the end will charm children who, like the second grade writer, easily fall for the sea cow, small brain, gassiness, toenails and all! And if that’s not sweet and silly enough, several other cute creatures chime in after being mentioned. Federman’s adept use of kid-friendly prose in this light-hearted look at the much-loved manatee will make this a regularly requested read for animal lovers.

Helpful back matter provides kids, parents and teachers with additional interesting info about sea cows like where they live and how fast they can swim. The names of several websites where readers can adopt a manatee or help injured ones are also included. Head over to your local independent bookseller to pick up a copy today and make a manatee (and me) happy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Find This Is a Sea Cow activities for children on the Albert Whitman website here.

Read a review about more sea creatures here.

 

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It’s Group Hug Time – A Pandemonium of Parrots

A  PANDEMONIUM OF PARROTS AND OTHER ANIMALS
Written by Kate Baker
Illustrated by Hui Skipp

(Big Picture Press; $16.99, Ages 7-9)

 

 

A Pandemonium of Parrots (and other animals) by Kate Baker is a rhyming picture book chock full of clever animal groups and fascinating facts about every type of animal. Did you know that a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance? How fitting is that?

 

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A PANDEMONIUM OF PARROTS AND OTHER ANIMALS. Copyright © 2016 by The Templar Company Limited. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

As a preschool teacher, I could not stop myself from becoming more excited with each page turn knowing that this excellent book is not only for fun and entertainment purposes, but it also provides the ideal opportunity for learning in a colorful and unique way. Each page features a number of colorful animals doing different activities while inviting the reader to join in a search-and-find mission by asking questions like, “Who is sleeping?” or Who is swimming backwards?” or “Who just went fishing?” etc. I can already imagine my students gleefully pretending to be each animal presented. Kids will find they can identify individually with any number of specific animals in the groups depicted.

 

interior spread 2 from A Pandemonium of Parrots
A PANDEMONIUM OF PARROTS AND OTHER ANIMALS. Copyright © 2016 by The Templar Company Limited. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

A Pandemonium of Parrots is the perfect precursor to a zoo field trip or story time on any day of the week when your child is looking for a book about their favorite creatures. The helpful back-matter includes incredible facts about each type of animal group such as the fact that some beetles are strong enough to snap a pencil! Youngsters will not be disappointed with this fresh and interesting take on animal groups with illustrations by Hui Skipp that are richly colored, captivating and full of life.

Check out A Pandemonium of Parrots and enjoy the pretend play it is sure to inspire.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
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A Dog Wearing Shoes by Sangmi Ko

A DOG WEARING SHOES
Written and illustrated by Sangmi Ko
(Schwartz & Wade Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

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Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

In A Dog Wearing Shoes, a lovely picture book about being lost, found, lost and found again, we are first introduced to Mini and her mom stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. There is a wonderful sense of being in the midst of a big bustling city, yet through the warm and humorous dialogue and engaging illustrations of black and white (with a pop of color) we are given a more intimate view of Mini’s world. When a small dog with huge eyes, no collar and wearing shoes wanders into traffic, every car screeches to a halt. Mini begs to keep the lost dog. Mom agrees. “We’ll have to take him home for now.”

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Interior artwork from A Dog Wearing Shoes by Sangmi Ko, Schwartz & Wade Books ©2015.

After a couple of days, Mom tries to convince Mini that the dog might be missing his owner. But Mini is certain that her new dog is happy. “He has no collar, he belongs to me.” All is well until the day the dog breaks loose from his leash and runs off. The once lost dog is lost again. After lots of tears and even more hugs from Mom, Mini and her mother go to the Pet Adoption Center, the best place to find lost pets. When the little dog with big eyes is found everyone is happy. Mini now knows that this dog wearing shoes was never really hers to keep. She realizes that someone else must love and miss this dog too. Soon after tacking up “found” posters throughout the city, the owner shows up. The illustrations of the happy reunion are joyous. Even Mini is happy.

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Interior artwork from A Dog Wearing Shoes by Sangmi Ko, Schwartz & Wade Books ©2015.

 

This very satisfying story ends with Mini returning to the Pet Adoption Center to find a dog of her own. Sangmi Ko has created a highly enjoyable debut book based on a true story. From beginning to end, this humorous yet gentle fast paced story is filled with heart and soul. The consistent attention to active visual storytelling will engage readers, prompting them to want to examine and relive each page over and over again. The back matter holds an extra treat where readers can learn How to Adopt a Dog.

  • Reviewed by Lisa Saint

 

Today’s guest reviewer, Lisa Saint, has just completed writing and illustrating her first picture book and is now working on a middle grade historical fiction novel based on true events. Lisa is a painter and teaches writing, illustration and book making in South Pasadena, California.

 

 

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ANIMALIUM by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott

 

Animalium
curated by Jenny Broom (author) and Katie Scott (illustrator)
(Big Picture Press, $35.00, Ages 8-12 – but will be enjoyed by all ages!)

 

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness

Animalium-cvr.jpgTurn off the TV, power down the devices, and take the children to the museum … simply by opening up this visually impressive book! Colorful, intricately drawn animal life forms, will instantly grab children’s attention.

Beginning with its oversize format and a bronze-colored admittance ticket, the book’s design was intended to create (or recreate) a museum visit. Turn the pages and step into the “museum.” At the “Entrance,” the “curators,” Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, welcome children and invite them to “See for yourself how the tree of life evolved from the simple sea sponge into the diverse array of animals found on Earth today (p.1).”

A breath-taking two page spread of the “Tree of Animal Life” follows. The curators explain that this unusual tree illustrates ” … how organisms that appear to be very different have … evolved from one another over millions of years … (p. 5).” Children (and adults) will find it fascinating to follow the branches up from the stem (Invertebrates) to see the development of, and interrelationships between, animal life forms. For example, a lungfish and a cockatoo once shared the Vertebrate branch. The curators note that the further away from the stem a species is, the more the species has evolved in order to survive.

As children continue turning pages, they enter individual “galleries” (or book chapters) which are ” … arranged by shared characteristics and in evolutionary order to show how the animal kingdom… (p.1) ” developed over eons of time into invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

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Interior spread from Animalium by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, ©2014 Big Picture Press.

 

The curators encourage their young visitors to ” … look for characteristic similarities and read the text to find out more about how the animals are comparable. (p.1).” Each gallery also sports a “habitat diorama” where children can learn about the ecosystem that supports those animals and how they have adapted to life in that environment. In examining the Arctic Tundra, children will learn that many of the mammals there, such as the polar bear, are predatory carnivores, requiring the protein found in meat to help fuel the energy these animals need to keep warm.

Broom’s narrative is engaging and flows smoothly. While age appropriate, it is not simplistic nor condescending. Scientific vocabulary (cnidarian, amphibian, phylum) is used throughout the book with the meanings gracefully woven into the narrative.

Two page spreads feature general information and characteristics about a group of animals. A “Key to the plate” presents information specific to the animals found in the accompanying illustration, numbered like a field guide. Scott makes excellent use of the book’s oversized format with a stunning full-paged spread of the Emperor Penguins and a diagram of the Nile Crocodile’s skeleton. Other spreads, such as the European frog, cover the bottom halves of two pages. This enables Scott to effectively and sequentially depict the frog’s five stages of development from frogspawn to adult. Her intricate pen and ink drawings, digitally colored, are reminiscent of work done by artists and naturalists like John James Audubon.

Additional material in the book includes a preface by Dr. Sandra Knapp of the Natural History Museum of London, England stressing the importance of biodiversity and a “Library” of several online resources.

Check out Big Picture Press to see several images from the book and Candlewick Press for information on the author and the illustrator and to order your copy. Watch the YouTube book trailer below, too.

So visit a “museum” that never closes-and keep children engaged for many hours. Animalium is a highly recommended middle grade nonfiction book for home, schools, and public libraries plus there’s never an admission fee.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Throwback Thursday: Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui

Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui
with illustrations by Jade Fang 
(Libros Publishing, 2013, $19.99, Recommended for ages 4 and up)

Olinguito-Speaks-Up-cvr.jpgThe recent discovery of the Olinguito, a new species of mammal resembling “…a cross between a cat and a furry teddy bear …” prompted Ecuadorian author Cecilia Velástegui to write a contemporary children’s fable about respect for others and for the world’s wildlife.

Shy Olinguito helps forgetful Tómas, an ancient Galapagos tortoise, recall how he ended up far from his native island and in Ecuador’s cloud forest. Due to Tómas’ memory loss and confusion, the other animals think his stories are “tall tales” and tease him. Olinguito finds the other animals treatment of Tómas disrespectful and sets out to help Tómas prove the truthfulness of his stories. With Olinguito’s support, Tómas reveals the twists and turns that took him from his island home to the cloud forest.

While the story focuses on its moral: “honor our elders and cherish our wildlife,” Velástegui uses the fable to gently point out the threats to the diverse wildlife referred to in her story. Through the long-lived and widely traveled Tómas, Velástegui hints at mankind’s devastating impact on the nature. In his narrative, Tómas refers to several “friends” who are now “gone” or “rarely seen” such as the Pinta Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, the Galapagos Petrel, and the cloud forest’s Harlequin Frogs.

Despite the dismay readers will experience over the loss of the many and striking species, the book ends on some positive notes: Olinguito shows young readers the importance of respect for others and the natural world and of standing up for friends who are being bullied or teased. Again, through Tómas, children will learn that some species, such as the Galapagos Pink Land Iguanas, are thriving and that other new species, such as the Galapagos deep sea catshark have been discovered.

Additional front and end material includes a brief note on the discovery of the olinguito, a “Facts/Datos” page, a colorful map of South America dotted with cheerful symbols marking significant cultural, historic, and wildlife locations, and photos of an olinguito and a giant tortoise.

As the book is bilingual, the layout consists mostly of two page spreads. On the left are the English and Spanish versions of the story. The right side features an accompanying illustration. Occasionally, illustrator Fang takes advantage of the expanse of the two page spread to create an illustration that floats across both pages. The illustrations contribute to the story, realistically capturing characteristics of the animals in the misty and diffused light of the cloud forest.

Primarily a fable, use this picture book with younger children as bibliotherapy for social and/or emotional issues around respect, aging, friendship, teasing and bullying. This book could be used with older children to introduce them to South American geography and ecosystems, threatened or extinct or new animal species, and the effects of exploration, colonialism, and development on the natural world and indigenous people. Needless to say it could also be used with children as a springboard for writing their own fables.

Visit the Olinguito Speaks Up website for more author info, facts, and a book trailer.

The author won First Place in Adventure Fiction at the International Latino Book Awards for her adult novel Missing in Machu Picchu.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Peter Panda Melts Down! by Artie Bennett

PETER PANDA MELTS DOWN!

Written by Artie Bennett

Illustrated by John Nez

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Peter Panda Melts Down! by Artie Bennett with illustrations
by John Nez, Blue Apple Books, © 2014

Artie Bennett has either done his homework very well or happens to know a little boy just like his main character, Peter Panda, because he’s captured him to a T (for temperamental)! In Bennett’s latest picture book, Peter Panda Melts Down! (Blue Apple Books, $16.99, Ages 2-5), we meet the melt down king, a three-year-old who tends to lose it, so to speak, when he doesn’t get his way.

We’ve all witnessed or personally dealt with children’s temper tantrums, but Peter’s are presented with such finesse as Bennett’s characters are wont to, that the humor is not lost on the parent reader. When Peter sets his sights on a chocolate bar at the supermarket and mama firmly says “No!” young Peter Panda melts “dowwwwnnn!” When he has to leave the playground sooner than he wants …

“Uh-oh.
Here it comes.
Here comes that frown.
Peter Panda melts dowwwwnnn!”

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Interior artwork from Peter Panda Melts Down! by Artie Bennett with illustrations by John Nez, Blue Apple Books, © 2014

Peter Panda’s typical toddler reactions are expected, but funny nonetheless and part of the reason is Bennett’s tight writing and relatable examples, but the other part is because of John Nez’s expressive illustrations. They’re not over the top and they’re not too simple, they’re just right. And despite being such high maintenance, Peter Panda’s precious, too.

Little ones will just love the assortment of situations Peter Panda faces that he just can’t handle. From his dinner time drama to his bath time boo hoos to his bedtime brouhaha, Peter Panda’s melt downs make for entertaining reading. While throughout the day, a very understanding Mama Panda has remained calm and in total control, Peter Panda’s final flexing of his toddler muscles makes Mama Panda melt-down, too! There’s nothing like a good laugh to open the flood gates of discussion and parents will certainly find reading Peter Panda Melts Down! a great way to get the tantrum conversation started … that is unless your child melts dowwwwnnn, too!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Add A Book of Babies by Il Sung Na To Any Easter Basket

Meet Baby Animals on The Day They Are Born
With A Book of Babies by Il Sung Na
& reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

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A Book of Babies by Il Sung Na, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Spring is just around the corner. It’s the time when bulbs blossom into flowers, leaves sprout from buds on tree branches, and baby animals are born.

Take a journey around the world with a duck who has just become the father of five noisy ducklings. You’ll see many different animals in this beautifully illustrated picture book, A Book of Babies by Il Sung Na (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.99, Ages 0-3) and your little ones will learn that some are hatched, some are not; some have scales, some have fur; there are single births, and multiple births; and daddys sometimes play a bigger role than mommys in raising their young (as in the case of the seahorse), but at the end of the day, all types of babies must go to sleep. Father duck comes home after his adventures and finds that even his noisy ducklings get sleepy.

A Book of Babies is a perfect gift for a new parent, soon-to-be big brother or sister, and would also be a sweet, but healthy addition to any Easter basket. Sparse, but lyrical text, and illustrations done in all the colors of the rainbow, make this the perfect book to hold the attention of even the youngest ‘reader.’

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Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

Extraordinary Jane, a new picture book
written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison,
is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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Extraordinary Jane written and illustrated
by Hannah E. Harrison,
Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin, © 2014.

Kids will fall in love with Jane, a circus dog, and the most adorable and extraordinary character in Harrison’s new picture book, Extraordinary Jane (Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-5). Jane might be a mutt although she reminded me of a little fluffy, white Maltese my family once rescued. But that really doesn’t matter because what Jane definitely is is lovable, precious, friendly and loyal. And while these qualities make her so very special, Jane clearly doesn’t realize these things about herself.

The book opens with a spread of antique-style circus posters, none of which show Jane. From these first illustrations readers know they’re in for a treat with Harrison’s warm, inviting and detailed artwork. Parents will love the opportunity to scour each page for the fine details Harrison’s included so they can point them out to younger children. Older kids may find them on their own. Written with few words, the story is still easily understood and helped along by the circus characters’ many expressions and emotions which say so much.

“She wasn’t graceful like her mother [who rides atop a galloping horse], or mighty like her father.” We see the daddy dog lifting a humongous elephant while Jane struggles to pull a pail of water nearby. Jane has to cover her ears when her daring brothers are blasted out of circus cannons and, fearful of heights, Jane could never attempt to traverse the tightrope like her sisters.

“Jane was just Jane.” And just being Jane meant being loved by all the circus members despite an array of things she was unable to do (and humorously conveyed in Harrison’s illustrations). My favorite image is of Jane looking down from the trapeze as “She tried to find her special talent.” She does not look happy in the least!

Everyone knew what was good about her, especially the Ringmaster and ultimately, Jane.  This ideal read-aloud book is great for story time, bedtime and any time a parent wants to reinforce the message to their child about how they should celebrate themselves. I’m looking forward to Harrison’s next book because if it’s half as good as Extraordinary Jane, it will still be super.

If you enjoy Harrison’s artwork, click here to read our review about another book she illustrated called Just Like You.

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Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go 40th Anniversary

Scarry’s Books Are Back & Good Reads With Ronna’s Got ‘Em!

Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go 40th Anniversary Edition
40th Anniversary Edition of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry, Golden Books, 2014.

The most well-known Richard Scarry’s books including Cars and Trucks and Things That Go (Golden Books, $15.99, ages 3-7), now classics, were first published when I was a teenager. And while I may have missed growing up with his books, my kids fortunately did not. Now I can look forward to the day when I’ll share Richard Scarry’s books with my grandchildren because there’s a timeless quality to the humor in his stories that will entertain generations to come. It’s true some of Scarry’s books have been updated and made more politically correct, but for the most part, characters like Lowly Worm, Huckle Cat, Bunny Rabbit and the Pig Family along with all their antics will help Scarry’s popularity endure.

Did you know that Scarry’s first books were published by Golden Books back in the  ’40s and by the time he died in 1994 he had sold over 100 million copies of his books worldwide in more than 20 languages? No wonder some of his most beloved books are in the Busytown series – he must have been very busy himself writing and illustrating over 150 books! Scarry was even posthumously awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Society of Illustrators in 2012. Now that speaks volumes.

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go is an ideal intro for children fascinated with anything and everything vehicularly related. There are tractors and tow trucks, vans and buses, trucks and cars, cherry pickers and cement mixers, as well as trains, planes and dune buggies. In other words, if it moves it’s in there.  And your kids will want to study every single page not once, but over and over again because Scarry’s packed so much into every illustration.  And if that’s not enough, there’s also tons of activity going on, from log-loading trucks lifting to ditch-diggers digging. Why not build up the suspense for your children and have them watch out, perhaps even try to predict things, because with a Richard Scarry, book you never know what’s going to happen next.

In a nutshell, “The Pigs are going to the beach to have their picnic.” Will they make it there in their broken-down truck while dodging all sorts of wild and crazy obstacles along the way? Then Dingo Dog, who has “knocked down all the parking meters” with his awful driving, will be pursued by Officer Flossy (a fox) who wants to give that rascal a ticket. And don’t forget to remind kids to search for Goldbug, a tiny creature who can be found somewhere in every spread. This is truly transportation at its best!

I don’t know who was more excited to see this 40th Anniversary review copy show up at our house, me or the kids? All I know is my murder mystery will remain on the night table tonight while I get nostalgic and swap my cloak and dagger for some crane and digger!

Eager to explore more of Scarry’s books? There are several more titles now available including Richard Scarry’s Best Bunny Book Ever; Richard Scarry’s Nicky Goes to the Doctor; Richard Scarry’s Pie Rats Ahoy; Richard Scarry’s Best Nursery Tales Ever; and Richard Scarry’s Bunnies.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Turkey Tot by George Shannon

Share Turkey Tot with your kids this fall and all year ’round!

Turkey Tot (Holiday House, $16.99, available in ebook format, ages 3-6) by George Shannon with illustrations by Jennifer K. Mann, is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

Turkey Tot cover art
Turkey Tot written by George Shannon with illustrations by Jennifer K. Mann, Holiday House, 2013.

Turkey Tot. The title made me think it might be a good book to review this time of year. Other than having a turkey as the main character, this book has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. That is, unless you want a book with a turkey in it who would be smart enough to think of a way to escape being cooked for dinner! But that’s not the story.

Turkey Tot, written by George Shannon with artwork by award winning illustrator Jennifer K. Mann, is so engaging with its repetitive verse and brightly colored illustrations, I almost didn’t notice the lessons hidden in the story.

Chick, Hen, Pig, and Turkey Tot are four friends who all want the same thing; sweet juicy blackberries. The only problem is the blackberries are too high on the bush for any of them to reach. Turkey Tot, being quite the visionary, gets excited when he finds some string, and decides that if he could only find balloons, he and his friends could all float up to the blackberries. There are no balloons to be found, but Turkey Tot finds a hammer, nails, and two tin cans. His friends don’t share in his excitement, think he is being silly, and go off to take a nap leaving Turkey Tot, who “has been different since the day he hatched,” alone.

Little ones will see how sometimes, being different is a good thing, especially when you set a goal and have the creativity, ability, and determination to think outside of the box to achieve it.

 


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Little Owl’s Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney

MaryAnne Locher reviews Little Owl’s Orange Scarf

Cover image of Little Owl's Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney
Cover image of Little Owl’s Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney from Knopf Books for Young Readers 2013.

Whenever someone asks me, “What’s your favorite color?” I always give the same answer: ANYTHING but GREEN! I can’t imagine how I would feel if I didn’t get to pick out my clothes, or even worse, was forced to wear a color I didn’t like. This is exactly what many parents do when they don’t guide their children to make their own choices. In Little Owl’s Orange Scarf (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 4-8), written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney, it is precisely what mother owl does when she makes Little Owl wear an itchy, too long, very orange scarf.

Little Owl comes up with some creative ways to misplace his scarf, but mother owl is just as good at finding it. But, when Little Owl’s class takes a trip to the zoo, the scarf is left behind despite Mother’s efforts to recover it.

Mother, being a wise old owl, decides to include Little Owl when she makes him a new scarf. He goes to the yarn store with her and even gets to pick out the color. The finished product is soft, just the right length, and NOT orange. Little Owl and Mother are both happy. At the end of the story we discover that the orange scarf is being put to good use by a certain long necked creature at the zoo.

The sparse text and simple illustrations combine to make a great picture book. Parents and children alike should get a hoot out of Little Owl’s Orange Scarf.

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Sweet, Sweet Dreams

sweetdreams-gfReviewer Debbie Glade shares her opinion of a cuddle up and get cozy bedtime book.

In a sea of picture books, the cover of Sweet Dreams ($16.95, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Ages 3 and up), written by Rose A. Lewis and illustrated by Jen Corace really caught my eye, beckoning me to open it to see what’s inside.

With simple rhyming verse from mother to child, the pages are filled with descriptions about the animals living nearby and what they do at night. The book is meant to be read slowly, and the beautiful watercolor pictures are meant to inspire.  While children learn a bit about animals, they are lured ever so gently to sleep.

“And the very teeny, tiny mouse

Soaking wet from a big puddle,

Curled up under the moonflowers’ vines,

Just waiting for a cuddle.”

Simply put, Sweet Dreams is a charming bedtime story with outstanding illustrations and that calming quality all parents of young readers need to rely on from time to time to get their active kids to sleep.

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