HOME IN THE WOODS Written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus
“This book is inspired not only by the stories from [my grandmother],” says Wheeler, “but by the entire generation that experienced the Great Depression. They will soon be gone, and if we haven’t yet collected their stories, the time is now.”
Home in the Woods, the latest picture book by Eliza Wheeler is a treat for the eyes and soul. The embossed title on the book jacket is gorgeous as is the winter scape underneath. The water color and ink artwork is simply stunning.
Travel back in time as this compelling story, based on Wheeler’s grandmother’s life in the Wisconsin woods during the Great Depression, pulls readers right into each meticulously and movingly illustrated page.
Told from the perspective of Wheeler’s grandmother, Marvel, Home in the Woods introduces readers to the six-year-old and her seven siblings along with Mum, a newly widowed and stoic 34-year-old. This 40-page book unfolds over four seasons beginning in Summer when the time is ideal to move into an abandoned tar-paper shack they find in the woods. “You never know what treasures we’ll find,” says Mum. While Marvel doesn’t believe the rundown hut can ever be a treasure let alone a home, she carries on nonetheless relying on the closeness of her family and her mother’s optimism. That energy is conveyed in scenes like the one where seven of the siblings (the youngest, at 3- months-old, is at home with Mum) happily collect berries. Wheeler subtly shows how nature plays an important role in both the family’s struggle and survival.
The blue tones of Summer shift when Autumn arrives and “rust and ruby leaves” provide a beautiful backdrop for this season’s art. Everyone in the family pitches in whether it’s splitting wood to heat the shack or pulling weeds and picking “veggies.” As baby Eva munches a carrot, Mum cooks preserves and the children prepare for winter by stocking up the cellar with whatever they were able to harvest.
On a visit to Bennett’s General Store, the siblings look longingly at the inviting shop window, but they have learned how to do without. They can only afford to “buy some basics.” Cleverly, the kids have invented a game they’ve dubbed General Store that keeps them entertained for hours. Beside the hut, Marvel displays “mud sweets,” little Lowell is the jeweler, older sister Bea sells fine hats (note the creativity of the hats Mum is admiring), and the others all find fulfilling counters to man.
When Winter’s bitter winds blow, the family huddles by the pot-belly stove as the two oldest boys “trek out to hunt for food.” Blue tones return, but the flames of the fire, the glowing lantern, the gold in the children’s crowns, and in the patchwork pieces as Mum teaches Bea to quilt all depict a warmth that is the fabric of this loving family. Marvel shares how her brother Rich teaches her to read in another touching illustration that is rich with contentment.
The illustration above clues readers into Mum’s silent fears for her family while the words, “But Mum stays awake into the night …” tell us what we’ve guessed all along. Living in the woods, barely eking out a living, and supporting her family of nine has taken its toll on this strong woman. Mum prays for her children to get safely through winter and the Depression.
The cycle of seasons culminates in Spring. “The cottonwoods are all in bloom” and a spirit of rebirth and renewal fills everyone’s hearts just as the family’s pail is filled with fresh milk at Erickson’s Farm. The children rejoice in the thrilling sound of birdsong and the blossoming of flowers. Enveloped by hope, the family has gotten through the harsh Wisconsin winter and emerged to find that the power of togetherness, teamwork and love has brought to them the promise of better days ahead and the true meaning of home.
I am Amelia Earhart, (Dial Books for Young Readers, $12.99, ages 5-8 ) by Brad Meltzer with illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos, is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.
What makes a hero? Someone who accomplishes great things? A person who does what others say can’t be done? An individual who sets a positive example for those around them? In a time when there were distinct lines drawn between appropriate male and female behavior, Amelia Earhart pushed the boundaries and accomplished great things.
The book begins with a seven-year-old Amelia, shunning dolls and dresses for “flying” self-made roller coasters off of the tool shed in the backyard. Hardly lady-like for a girl from her time, but Amelia found it so thrilling (crash landing and all) that she developed a love for flying.
We learn that she took her very first flight at the age of 23, worked in various un-ladylike jobs to save up for her flying lessons and to ultimately buy her own plane, before breaking numerous flying records, which included being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
For parents who want to encourage their daughters to be strong, capable women, or show their sons that girls can do anything too, this book, with fun colorful illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos, is the ticket. Let your children’s imagination fly with I am Amelia Earhart.
Pure imagination is Journey, a wordless picture book by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, $15.99, Ages 4-8). Today’s review is by Hilary Taber.
Journeying through the world of this stunning picture book, the audience follows the adventure of a little girl who uses a red marker to literally draw herself from one world into another. Lonely and bored in her own home, the little girl retreats to her room where she uses a red marker to draw a secret, red door. This new world beyond the red door is filled with breathtaking landscapes.
First, blue lanterns in green trees filled with lights lead to moats. The moats in turn lead our heroine to a complex, gray castle. Here she sails through Venetian canals, past golden domes that point to a vast sky. When one mode of transportation doesn’t work any longer, the girl simply uses the magical red marker to draw one that will. She travels by red boat, balloon, and finally a flying carpet. Journey upon journey seems possible. Then comes the moment that the girl sees an elegant purple bird in danger of being kidnapped and caged for life. Suddenly, this imaginative exploration turns into a daring adventure to help a new friend. Every page makes you want to turn to the next to know what happens. Can the little girl save her new friend? Where will this journey take her next? Will she ever get home again? Page after gorgeously illustrated page beckons the reader on.
This wordless picture book has stolen my heart with its detailed watercolor world, and has captured my full attention with all its adventure. Wordless picture books have a magical quality about them in as much as they are able to unite those who cannot read with those who can. Here is an equal playing field where an adult and child can talk their way through the pictures, discussing each page as they go along. Aaron Becker leads us on an imaginative trip well worth taking, exploring the powerful results of creativity united with inspiration and friendship. Of course, the famous Harold and the Purple Crayon comes to mind when reading Journey, but all you really have to do is open the book to look at the fantastic illustrations to see that Becker has made Journey into something entirely his own. Journey has been given starred reviews by Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist! Will this be a Caldecott winner? I certainly hope so!
We hope that the book trailer below for Journey will help you to discover this imaginative picture book for yourself:
Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (Walker Books for Young Readers, $14.99; eBook $6.99, Ages 3-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
The adventures of penguins and puffins will warm your heart in this cozy, kooky story about a perfect pair of thoughtful friends. Fans of Yoon’s Penguin series (Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation) will cheer with delight to read her newest yarn, spinning Penguin’s tale across oceans, ice floes and mountain tops.
When Penguin isn’t knitting, he is usually discovering curious objects and exploring faraway lands. In this adventure, he finds a lost mitten on the ice, but cannot find its owner. He stitches up a new mate, but offers it to a chilled puffin. Then Penguin and his friend Bootsy begin giving away warm knitwear to various cold creatures until they run out of yarn. The puffins hatch a clever plan, leaving Penguin and Bootsy to follow a wooly trail of adventure.
Yoon’s simple text is perfect for the youngest listeners to follow. She blends short dialogue and humorous asides into the bright images. Parents could read these aloud as desired, thus breaking up the story narrative with a lighthearted tone.
The cuddly penguins and huggable arctic critters are thickly outlined in black with bold colored accents. The genius of Yoon’s illustration is the tiny clues and themes woven seamlessly throughout.The penguins’ yarn swirls across the page in sweet heart-shaped loops: Bootsy in purple and green, Penguin in orange and yellow. They float out to sea, singing a silly shanty, atop a heart-shaped ice floe. Finally, a cover image reappears on the last page in a simple, satisfying argyle pattern that symbolically ties up every loose end.
If you have yet to discover the cozy charms of these friendship tales, I recommend that you scoop up the entire trio of Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation (read Ronna’s review in the April 2013 issue of L.A. Parenthere) and definitely this newest heart-warming delight, Penguin in Love.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own. Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins (Candlewick, $15.99, Ages 3-7) is a quiet book. While there was not a lot of action and adventure in its 32 pages, I found myself drawn in by the promise a father made to his little boy, that this would be the summer they saw a deer.
This beautifully illustrated book, with oil paintings by David Slonim, took me back in time to treasured memories of communing with nature. As our civilization takes over more and more land, our jobs (and electronics) take up more and more of our time, and our children are under so much pressure to succeed at such a young age, an outing in nature allows us to reconnect on a deeper level. There are so many lessons that can’t be learned in school.
Take a hike through The Deer Watch, with a boy and his father. Meet the construction crew who, with their noisy equipment scares, the deer away from the corn the hunters left as bait. Ironically, they are saving them while at the same time pushing them out of their natural habitat.
We see all types of interesting wildlife as we turn the pages, but like the young boy in the book, our goal is to see a deer, and more importantly, to have a promise kept. And, just as the boy’s father doesn’t disappoint, neither shall the book.
I adored this moving story of anticipation and discovery, but would recommend it more for children 4-8 years old. Younger children might get a little squirmy as the boy in the story does when he has to wait quietly to spot a deer. However the reward of father and son sharing this special experience is well worth the wait.
Illustrator and author, K. G. Campbell discusses Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures and more with Ronna Mandel!
I had the good fortune to sit down with K. G. (Keith) Campbell earlier this month when he joined Kate DiCamillo for a Flora & Ulyssesbook event at Vroman’s in Pasadena. He’s a charming L.A. local with an intoxicating accent who’s not only an extremely talented and versatile illustrator, but an author, too. This Q & A focuses mostly on his artwork.
Click here now to enter our giveaway. Thanks to Candlewick, we’re giving away 3 copies of Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12). Please write FLORA in the subject line, include your address and enter by midnight on Sunday, November 10, 2013.
GRWR:A quote I read called you an “up and coming illustrator.” How do you know when you’re no longer up and coming, but have arrived? What’s changed?
K. G. CAMPBELL: Well I think that’s a description from Candlewick Press and at the time I’d had only published one book, Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters for which I won the (2013) SCBWI Golden Kite Award. But since then I won the Golden Kite and an Ezra Jack Keats (New Illustrator) Honor for Lester. Flora & Ulysses had just come out and also Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman had also just released. I think you know you’re no longer up and coming when you no longer have to search for work. Candlewick just came to me recently and offered me another project
GRWR:Did you take it?
K. G.: Yes, actually. And also I’ve turned down a few. I guess that’s when you know – when you don’t have to pound the pavement.
GRWR:Tea Party Rulesis with which publishing house?
K. G.:Tea Party Rules is with Viking. My second picture book with Kids Can Press, which is my manuscript, is due to come out next spring. It’s called The Mermaid and the Shoe.
GRWR:Can you please tell us the process when you try to develop the characters after after receiving Kate’s (DiCamillo) manuscript and how long it takes?
K. G.: So obviously the first thing that you do is read the manuscript. You try and get a feel for the characters which isn’t difficult for Kate because her characters are so three dimensional, quirky and hilarious. You look for visual clues you have to be really careful to see if there’s any physical descriptions in there. And you go from there.
Being an LA local, what I tend to do is a little casting. I go in search of the perfect Flora or the perfect Phyllis or whoever it is. But unlike a casting director, I can select from anyone who’s ever lived. They can be friends or family, they can be famous actors They can be TV actors. They can be film actors. They can be theatre actors. They can be fictional. I try to find a type that will fit that character. Then that sort of gives me a feeling how they’re going to react physically in any given situation they’re faced with, expressions and all that stuff. And then I do the sketches based on that. And then, in this case, but it’s not always the case .., well, they always go through the art director and the art director has some input as to whether they think that physical manifestation of the character is appropriate. In this case, because Kate is Kate, they (the sketches) also went to her. Often, usually in fact, they wouldn’t go to the author. The author has very little input in the illustrations. But Kate had something to say. Some characters were modified from my original sketches. Now they are what they are so that’s perfect.
GRWR:Who was the most difficult character to draw or create?
K. G.: I think the most difficult was probably Ulysses himself, because, and it’s actually technical reasons. It’s a middle grade novel so the format is quite small. All of the images are printed as 5×7. I drew them very slightly larger just so it would crisp up as it was reduced, but I didn’t want to draw so much larger that I didn’t know what was going to happen to them. Ulysses is a squirrel and everybody else is a human being and human beings are much larger than squirrels. And in fact, I made Ulysses slightly larger than real life so that he would be visible. So getting the amount of character that we wanted to into Ulysses when his scale was so small, that was the most difficult part.
GRWR:Who was the easiest to draw?
K. G: Phyllis.
GRWR:I love the look of Phyllis. I feel like I’ve met her before.
K. G.: I wanted someone with a crazy, curly hairstyle, girlie, melodramatic. And I actually had a person in mind for Phyllis. She was inspired by a Broadway actress. Phyllis is like my original sketch. Some changed a bit, some changed a lot. But not Phyllis.
GRWR: What medium do you work in?
K. G.: I usually work in water color and colored pencils combined but Flora & Ulysseswas executed entirely with colored pencils, no water colors.
GRWR:You’ve lived in Kenya, Scotland and California. Is one locale particularly more inspiring for you as an artist?
K. G.: Yeah, I would say Scotland, probably. The weather and the atmosphere make it a less attractive place to live, but it’s definitely a very romantic and gothic setting. And it makes for a good location for the kind of gothic stories that I like. Not that Scotland was the setting for either Lester or Ulyssses. It wasn’t. But in my future writing I think some of it will be set there.
GRWR:Since you do not consult with the author, is it scary interpreting their vision or is that a challenge you enjoy?
K. G.: It’s definitely more difficult illustrating for other people’s manuscripts than my own. Obviously not all illustrators are in my position. Not all illustrators write as well so they may not make that comparison. For me I do have that comparison and it’s definitely more difficult and more time consuming because you have more parties involved who make changes, so it becomes a bit more difficult. I wouldn’t say it’s more intimidating or daunting, but it’s more of a challenge.
GRWR:Do you prefer to illustrate others’ books or do the entire book yourself.
K. G.: It’s easier to illustrate my own, but illustrating other people’s work does take me to places that I wouldn’t have gone. So in that sense the product that emerges at the end is perhaps more surprising and unexpected. It becomes something of a team effort almost like a play, I suppose, or when you have several screenwriters working together it becomes a collaborative process and the creation is the product of that.
GRWR:You studied art history, did interior design yet always felt the call to illustrate even as a child. What stopped you from pursuing that from the start?
K. G.: Well that’s quite a complicated answer. And to be honest I’m not 100% sure that I have an answer to that. I was flattered and encouraged to take an academic route as I graduated from high school. My academics were pretty strong and I wound up going to a fairly prestigious school which is Edinburgh University. And really at that point I made the decision not to go to art school and I put down the pencil and I didn’t pick it up again for decades. I got onto a different path.
GRWR:But it was always tugging at you to return to it?
K. G: Yeah. And the more I delved into exploring children’s literature and illustration, the more I felt compelled to do it, the more I felt very strongly that I had the talent and the skill to participate in that world. So I began to take it more and more seriously and so here I am.
GRWR:At that point, did you go back to school?
K.G.: No. As an artist I’m more or less self-taught. I’ve done some life drawing classes. Obviously I’ve done a bit of research on the materials and stuff online, but on the whole you would call me a self-taught artist. I did however go to UCLA and Art Center Pasadena for some night classes in creative writing, in children’s writing and specifically in illustrating. I did a class with Marla Frazee who’s a well-known children’s writer and illustrator who lives here in L.A. She teaches at Art Center. While it wasn’t an art class per se, it wasn’t teaching you to draw, it was teaching you how to use whatever skills you had and whatever style you had to illustrate and how images participate in a book and how they enhance a text. I did a great writing class with Barney Saltzberg who’s another local author/illustrator who has had a string of books published. He teaches a night class at UCLA in writing for kids basically.
GRWR: Did you find when you weren’t working in the field of children’s books that you were still drawn to it, that you still loved wandering around the children’s books department of a bookstore?
K. G.: Oh all the time! In fact I never really stopped reading children’s literature which a lot of my adult peers find a little odd. But definitely my favorite books probably are children’s books or perhaps adult books that have a fairy tale quality to them to some degree. I love sort of sophisticated middle grade novels. Philip Pullman, who wrote The Golden Compass, is one of my favorites.
GRWR:Which illustrators have most influenced you?
K. G.: Edward Gorey, Tim Burton and Lisbeth Zwerger, an Austrian artist.
GRWR:How many hours per day do you devote to your projects?
K. G.: Well, I try to do a full workday. I am my own boss. I’m probably not working a full eight or nine hours, but maybe about six or seven hours a day. And depending on where I am in a project will dictate how much of that time is allocated to illustrating and how much is allocated to writing. An ideal scenario is kind of half and half – three and half hours writing and three and half hours illustrating. Something like that. But in the real world, as deadlines loom for my illustrating projects, I find that the writing has to take a back seat to some extent because the illustrations have to get done and that’s what happens.
GRWR:Any advice for new illustrators?
K.G.: I would certainly say if you haven’t, then take a class, some classes, in illustrating specifically because it is a distinct branch of artistic output and it’s about bringing to a text something that perhaps the text doesn’t already contain. But it has to be complementary. And in many cases, especially in picture books, you’re telling a story along with the text. Sometimes you are a carrying a subplot as well, and you can throw in characters, usually a pet or something, that aren’t mentioned in the main text and you can have things going on, a whole storyline, that’s purely visual. So I think understanding what illustration is is very important. It’s more important than any level of artistic skill or style.
In A Very Witchy Spelling Bee, (Harcourt Children’s Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8) written by George Shannon and illustrated by Mark Fearing, reviewed today by Rita Zobayan, Cordelia is a young witch with aspirations. Not content with practicing spelling words (“Mama, please pass, P-A-S-S, the broccoli”) and magic spells at home, she has her sights set on winning the Witches’ Double Spelling Bee. “I’ve studied. I’ve practiced. I’m ready to win!” she declares to her mother. However, the current champion, a one very nasty Beulah Divine, is delighted to best Cordelia with whatever it takes!
This clever wordplay story—which can encourage interest in word spelling—unfolds as Cordelia and the other contestants compete in the Bee. The contestants must pull a letter and using that letter, change an object into something new. Witch Opal changes ice into mice and mage Madge changes a lock into a clock. But how will Cordelia beat Beulah, who is not only much, much older but also much, much sneakier? Readers will love the twist at the end.
Mark Fearing’s illustrations are spot on. Filled with bright colors and vivid depictions (green witches with warts and moles, anyone?), the art work is fun and just scary enough for young readers. Spiders, cobwebs, and all manner of witchy accoutrements are scattered throughout the book, providing a howling good time in searching for them.
A Very Witchy Spelling Bee is an engaging story that demonstrates how aspiration and competition don’t have to include poor sportswitchship, S-P-O-R-T-W-I-T-CH-S-H-I-P.
The old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” came to mind when I first saw Vampire Baby (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 3-7) . With Halloween right around the corner, it’s the perfect book for all of the little monsters in your life, yet it’s SO much more. Together author Kelly Bennett and illustrator Paul Meisel offer comic relief to the sometimes sensitive new-sibling-on-the-scene situation (in this case blood sucking’s the issue rather than rivalry), give it a new twist and take the bite out of a biting baby.
Tootie, like most newborns, is an adorable, chubby-cheeked baby. She coos and gurgles and captures her big brother’s heart. When Tootie gets her first teeth, (which happen to be upper canines), develops a widow’s peak, favors red foods, and bites everything in sight, her brother is convinced she is a vampire baby! He wastes no time trying to find Tootie a home with a vampire family. However Brother sees red when Tootie is yelled at by the new family’s vampire boy after she has bitten his nose. Only then does he realize that even if she is a vampire baby, she’s his vampire baby.
GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITY!! 3 lucky winners could receive a free signed copy of Vampire Baby + swag. Just LIKE our Good Reads With Ronna Facebook page, then follow instructions below on how to enter. This great giveaway from Kelly Bennett ends 10/31/13.
Just in time for Halloween …
Prizes include an autographed copy of VAMPIRE BABY by Kelly Bennett for your little ghost or goblin – along with fun VAMPIRE BABY swag such as a bookmark, postcard, and fangs.
Today’s guest reviewer, MaryAnne Locher, majored in education and went on to teach pre-school before having children of her own. As a young child, she would create picture books to popular songs, then read them to her family. Now that her two daughters are grown, she has again pursued a career in writing. A New Jersey native, MaryAnne now calls Southern California home.
Who doesn’t love Margret & H.A. Rey’s CURIOUS GEORGE? Well now Kohl’s shoppers can get a bunch of CURIOUS GEORGE books, plushies, a backpack and note cards all for the fabulously low price of $5.00 each! This latest Kohl’s Cares merchandise program runs through the end of September and every purchase you make raises money for their philanthropic program. Did you know that since its inception in 2000, Kohl’s Cares has given more than $208 million towards children’s health and education initiatives across the country?
There are five books available to buy along with five coordinating stuffed animals. Why not get them all and contribute to this great cause? You can keep some for the family and give others as gifts for birthdays or save until the holiday season. Adults can also pick up two cook books: Kids Treats full of tasty ideas and Taste of Home: The Busy Family Cookbook, certain to make mealtime more enjoyable and delicious.
Curious George’s First Day of Schooland Curious George plush
Curious George’s Dinosaur Discovery and Dinosaur plush
Curious George and the Puppies and Puppy plush
Curious George Visits the Zooand Kangaroo plush
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE – Curious George Goes Camping and Moose plush
Curious George Backpack
Curious George Note Cards
See more pictures and get more details by visiting the Kohl’s website here.
As a children’s book author, I first encountered Mack, a therapy dog five years ago at one of my author visits. I was truly overwhelmed by how well trained the dog was and by how much the children loved him. No matter how much those kids poked him, tugged on his hair or even rolled on his back, Mack was patient and gentle. He was a specially trained reading dog who sits with struggling readers as they read to him. What a positive impact that dog had on those kids! Reading to a dog has been proven to be much less intimidating for kids than reading to an adult.
Lola Goes to Work: A Nine-to-Five Therapy Dog ($16.99, Creston Books, Ages 3-8) is a non-fiction book about the daily life of a therapy dog told by the adorable dog herself. Lola, a five-pound Yorkshire Terrier, tells readers how hard she had to work to pass a test to be a therapy dog. The book shows Lola at work, visiting a senior center, putting smiles on the faces of the elderly and visiting a school, where children play with him and read to him.
The author and photographer of the book, Marcia Goldman, has 25 years of experience with therapy based programs. What a fascinating and rewarding job that must be. I’m glad she wrote this book because many people, both young and old, are unaware that therapy dogs even exist. They make people happy, make the lonely feel loved and give kids the confidence they need to read. The story is fun to read and since it is written from the viewpoint of the dog, it sure makes it extra cute.
This book would be fitting for any child and particularly a reluctant reader, who is sure to be inspired to read to a dog just like Lola. Read more about Reading Dogs at these websites and ask if your library participates in a Reading Dog program:
What do gorillas, weird sea creatures, matchboxes, Inuits, puddles and elephants all have in common? They’re all topics of books we’re getting ready to review as part of our summer roundup. There’s something for every age! Here’s a sneak peak:
One Gorilla: A Counting Book
Phenomenal illustrations of primates and simple prose teach little ones how to count.
Weird Sea Creatures
Spectacular photographs of uncommon sea animals along with descriptions will make you wish you could live the life of Jacques Cousteau!
The Matchbox Diary
A little girl sits with her grandfather as he tells the story of his life with matchboxes he saved as mementos in this picture book.
Based on a true story, an eight-year-old Inuit girl faces brutal ridicule while she sets out to learn how to read in this chapter book.
The Deep, Deep Puddle
The strangest things can be found in this giant puddle of a picture book, with awesome illustrations.
Queenie: One Elephant’s Story
The sad but true story of one of the most famous elephants that ever lived.
There are hundreds of books about being different and embracing one’s uniqueness. Ironically, A FUNNY LITTLE BIRD(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $15.99, ages 4-8) by graphic artist Jennifer Yerkes about a lonely, invisible bird, truly stands out!
“When he was seen, other birds made fun of him.” So the little bird set out on his own, all the while accumulating various beautiful items found during his journey, items like magnificent feathers and flowers that would certainly get him noticed. Bringing attention to himself, however, proved to be a double-edged sword when this funny little bird was pursued by a fox. Yet in his haste to escape, his so-called treasures were lost.
Then, like the Rainbow Fish before him, the funny little bird realized that all the accoutrements would not lead to happiness. In fact, it was his invisibility that made him special. This wonderful gift he could share with his pals could also keep them safe. So, it turns out, that this funny little bird learned a most valuable lesson that takes many others years to grasp – excessive pride can push potential friends away and to have a friend you must first be a friend.
In 48 pages, Yerkes’s crsip yet sparse artwork manages to be fluid, fresh and fun, a beautiful blend of Jon Klassen meets Lois Ehlert. A Funny Little Bird is truly this year’s must have for self-esteem building! Get a copy at your favorite independent bookstore today.
Reading a debut picture book is always exciting especially when it’s by a fellow SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) member. Author/illustrator Eliza Wheeler hails from northern Wisconsin, but now calls southern California -L.A. to be precise – her home. With Miss Maple’s Seeds she has created a magical story that is pure, positive and totally appealing.
What child won’t be excited about wee Miss Maple, a Thumbelina-sized, willowweed hatted character who makes a hollow in a tall maple tree her home? Best of all, the benevolent Miss Maple has made it her mission to collect orphaned seeds “that got lost during the spring planting,” with the hopes of nurturing them until they are ready to go off and take root on their own. Wheeler’s color palette is warm like the sun needed for the seeds to flourish, and it conveys a tenderness that will resonate with parents as they share the story with their little ones. Perfect for a bedtime story, Miss Maple’s Seeds has no real demonstrated conflict, only the inference that Miss Maple must watch over her “guests” and keep them safe because, as she repeats throughout the text, “Take care, my little ones, for the world is big and you are small.” Young imaginations will be sparked by the idea of this tiny woman working alongside nature much like they would Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies.
Miss Maple is a comforting, reassuring presence on a cold, rainy night; a friend of the fragile; a strong yet gentle woman who has the seeds’ best interests at heart and knows when it’s time for them to be released to the elements because “… even the grandest of trees once had to grow up from the smallest of seeds.”
Click here for a link to some Miss Maple’s Seeds activity sheets for kids.
I pride myself on reading many different types of children’s books, and every once in a while, I discover an uncharted territory. Walking Through a World of Aromas ($16.95, Cuento de Luz, Ages 7-10 ) written by Ariel Andrés Almada, is a most original and enchanting story that will warm your child’s heart.
Annie is a girl who was born without the gift of sight. From an early age, she understood she was different than other children. She uses touch to make her way through her dark world, and it isn’t long before Annie realizes that her intense ability to smell can guide her through her life. She cooks with her grandmother and learns how to mix spices, sending incredible aromas wafting through the air, attracting the attention of the residents in Annie’s village. The smells make those villagers “curiously happy,” so they come to Annie to taste her magical mixtures of spices and awaken their most splendid emotions.
As the years go by, there is one villager, named Julian, who is around the same age as Annie, and who suffers from sadness and lethargy. No matter what spices she mixes, Annie does not seem to be able to help him. The two start spending a lot of time together, developing a close friendship and admiration. In the end, it is Annie’s grandmother who helps her “see the light,” showing her how to help her friend – and herself.
What I love about this book is that the story has a fairy tale quality, yet the book teaches young readers three very important lessons: 1) We are all unique, and that’s a good thing; 2) We can learn to turn our weaknesses into strengths to find our way in the world; 3) By sharing our strengths with others we can all make the world a much better place. The illustrations by Sonja Wimmer are winsome and so delightful to admire.
It really makes a statement that I, with so many books here waiting to be opened and reviewed, make the time to read this particular book not just once, but twice!
Note: This book has a lot more text than you’d expect from a picture book, but it can easily be read to children too young to read at this level. Also note that this book is available in a Spanish language version.
We reviewed Because Amelia Smiled($16.99, Candlewick, ages 3-7) by David Ezra Stein several months ago and are now excited to be able to give away a copy of the book to two Good Reads With Ronna readers. Are you smiling yet?
In Because Amelia Smiled, Stein effortlessly takes readers on a world tour all because a little girl, Amelia, wore an infectious smile while skipping down the street. For details how to enter and for entire contest rules, please click here or scroll down all the way to the bottom of this page for partial info. The contest ends midnight on April 16, 2013 so don’t wait to enter and good luck!
As Stein says in his jacket flap, “The story of Amelia is bigger than anything that can fit in a book. It’s the story of how we are connected.” I could not agree more. Perhaps you are as fascinated by the idea of six degrees of separation as I am and if so, you will love sharing this picture book with your children.
You may know Stein from his Caldecott Honor–winning Interrupting Chicken. Here againStein’s art flows from page to page, person to person, country to country just the way today’s technological tapestry has brought us all together seamlessly. So, rather than tell the entire story, I suggest you read Because Amelia Smiled to learn what caused Amelia to grin in the first place and then find out how many people are positively affected by Amelia’s smile, including you! For more of our review, please click here.
HOW TO ENTER:
Beginning Monday, April 8 we’re offering two readers the chance to win a copy of Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein. Simply LIKE us on Facebook and also send us your name and contact info in an email toRonna.L.Mandel@gmail.comby midnight Tuesday, April 16, 2013 and you’ll be entered to win a copy of this picture book. Remember to write SMILE in the subject line.
The giveaway opportunity ends at midnight on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 and two winners will be randomly chosen on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. For an additional entry please follow us on Twitter @goodreadsronnatoo! If you don’t provide an email where you can be contacted your chance to win is forfeited.