★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Sometimes I just want to read something different. I was in that kind of mood when coming acrossNina LaCour’s YA, Watch Over Me. The striking cover caught my attention: a photo of a girl with downcast eyes and floating hair. When I opened the book, the image had altered slightly, showing her eyes and evoking an unsettling feeling. I couldn’t wait to get reading!
The story begins with Mila leaving her kind (but, having-their-own-baby-now) foster home. She’s found a job on an unconventional farm in Northern California. The couple running it has, over the years, adopted dozens of kids and taken in teens, like Mila, who aged-out of the system, assigning them as teachers for the little ones. Mila’s first student, Lee, is also a troubled outcast. Mila wants to reach him, but struggles to understand her new environment which is both welcoming and excluding.
Along with this self-chosen family comes a land filled with ghosts who dance and play in the distance when Mila returns to her cabin at night. The foggy, rocky coast’s strong atmospheric presence wraps around Mila’s pain. Flashback chapters give glimpses of her life before foster care as the loneliness, trauma, and guilt of Mila’s past escalate into inevitable confrontation.
LaCour’s spare, beautifully written, first-person chapters infuse flashbacks, allowing the reader’s immersion to slowly build in this moving, cerebral story. The dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, revealed in fragments, is emotionally jarring. Yet, Mila’s resilience provides promise for redemption. Conventional lines of reality bend, perfectly suiting the blurred mindset of the plot.
This year World Butterfly Day is on Sunday, March 14 so we’ve rounded up three picture books that will help kids learn about these natural beauties, why they matter, and how we can help them since the Monarchs especially risk going extinct.
Blending story and facts, Deborah Hopkinson’s engaging 68-page picture book, Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies, takes us through a school year via girl new to the US. Just as monarch butterflies travel far, so did her family. The girl learns to read through books like her favorite one with a butterfly on the cover.
The text alternates between the girl’s journey from one spring to the next with her school class and that of the monarch butterfly. As seasons pass, she hopes to see a monarch but realizes that she may not. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed but butterflies have a hard time finding it. “Some people think of milkweed as a useless weed, so they’ve used chemicals to keep it from growing in fields and on farmland. In other places, climate change has been causing droughts that make it difficult for milkweed to grow.”
I can empathize with the girl as she realizes that the “problem is so big, and butterflies are so small.” Though uncomfortable standing in front of her class, the girl gains their support in planting a monarch way station which “needs at least ten plants, with two different kinds of milkweed, and nectar flowers.”
Throughout, Meilo So’s uplifting art enlivens the girl’s growth as she enacts the librarian’s words, “It’s surprising what such a tiny creature can do,” demonstrating the power when we come together as conservationists and activists. Monarch butterflies traverse up to 3,000 miles, from Canada through the US to Mexico. They do not recognize borders, seeking only safe passage to survive from one generation to the next.
Beyond being a heartfelt read, Butterflies Belong Here is a call to action, providing notes in the back matter on how to help by involving your community. This book belongs in your classroom or home, just as these beautiful pollinators belong in our lives.
Meeg Pincus’s nonfiction picture book, Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, investigates where these beautiful butterflies travel, sweeping from Canada through North America, then seemingly disappearing. In 1976, through the work of people from all walks of life, the fact that millions of monarchs overwintered in Southern Mexico’s oyamel groves were finally officially documented because of tags placed on the butterflies.
Kids will enjoy how everyone pitched in: Fred the Canadian scientist, Norah a master organizer of collected data, plus thousands of “science teachers, backyard gardeners, and other curious souls.” The search unravels in a series of questions that figure out this fascinating migration. I appreciate that the back matter points out “history depends on who tells the story—Mexican poet and environmentalist Homero Aridjis asks: ‘Did the white scientists really “discover” the wintering sites that people in Southern Mexico knew about for centuries?’”
One of the book’s final questions, “So, who can make a difference for monarchs today?” is answered in Yas Imamura’s evocative art. The concluding “How to Help the Monarchs” section provides the shocking statistic that “habitats for monarchs are declining at a rate of 6,000 acres a day in the United States.” Steps we can do to help include planting pesticide-free milkweed (the only food the caterpillars can eat) and nectar plants for the butterflies, learning and educating others about the need for conservation, and treading more lightly on our planet—“use less plastic, electricity, water, chemicals; eat more plant-based, local foods.”
Zeena Pliska’s picture book, Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story, shows the monarch butterfly life cycle through the eyes of a newborn caterpillar surrounded by the color green until Orange (a monarch butterfly) soars into view. A friendship grows with the caterpillar wanting to see and know everything while Orange provides gentle guidance. The expressive art by Fiona Halliday zooms in close, providing detail and personality.
Kids will enjoy this relationship story—barely realizing it’s also educational! While much of the book is uplifting, the truth of a monarch’s short existence is handled delicately, with Orange honestly saying they will not be back. The loss is acknowledged and mourned but the main character goes on, boosted by the remembrance of their time together.
I like the circular nature of the story and how personification makes the text accessible to even the youngest kids. Back matter includes detail about the stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (butterfly). Check under the book jacket for a second cover image.
This year choosing books to include in our Recommended Reads for Kids – Black History Month Roundup has been more difficult than ever because there are dozens of excellent ones being published and more on the way. Here is just a small sample of great reads, from picture book to graphic novel to young adult fantasy that are available for kids and teens to enjoy.
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ★Starred Review – Kirkus
The ABCs of Black History is the kind of inspiring book children and adults will want to return to again and again because there is so much to absorb. In other words, it’s not your mother’s ABC book. Written in uplifting rhyme by Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Rio Cortez, this gorgeous 60-page picture book is at once a look back in time and a look to the future for young Black children. However it is recommended reading for children of all races and their families.
Cortez has shined a lyrical light on places, events and figures familiar and less familiar from Black history with comprehensive back matter going more in depth. Take H for example: “H is for Harlem—those big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat. / When Louis and Bessie and Duke owned the stage, / and Langston and Zora Neale Hurston, the page.” J is for Juneteenth and S, which gets double coverage, is for scientists and for soul. Adding to the hopeful tone of Cortez’s rhyme are Semmer’s bold and vibrant graphics which jump off the page. The dazzling colors pull you in and the variety of composition keep you hooked.
The ABCs of Black History is a book you’ll want to read together with your young ones and let your older children discover and savor on their own. It’s not only a visual and aural treat, it’s a sweeping celebration and exploration of Black culture and history that is beautiful, compelling, thought provoking and thoroughly unputdownable! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly
Adapted from the final chapter of Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s autobiography Mighty Justice, We Wait for the Sun is an intimate look at a tender moment in Dovey’s childhood. The book opens with a preface about the main character, Dovey, who grew up to be a legendary figure in the fight for racial equality-all through the influence of her beloved grandmother, Rachel Bryant Graham. Dovey loved to share stories of Grandmother Rachel; this book is the story she loved best.
In “the midsummer night” when it’s “dark and cool,” Dovey and her grandmother walk “through the darkness toward the woods” to pick blackberries. Lyrical language and textural illustrations awaken the senses and draw us into their adventure.
Other women join in and the trip goes deeper still into the forest. Staring at Grandma’s shoes, Dovey is literally following her grandmother’s steps into the darkness. But Grandma Rachel provides comfort and reassurance. “If you wait just a little, your eyes will learn to see, and you can find your way.”
Through such examples of wisdom and encouragement, it’s clear to see why Grandma Rachel was such an inspiration to Dovey and her later work as a civil rights lawyer. As they sit in the forest and listen to its “thousand sounds,” a double page spread shows an aerial view of their meditative moment, immersed in the magic of their surroundings.
And when they reach the berries, they’re every bit worth the wait-plump, juicy, and sweet-like the lush layers of purple, blue, and pink illustrations that display a beautiful berry-colored world as dawn, bit by bit, turns to day. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Grandma and Dovey watch the sun rise in its golden splendor. Grandma’s steadfast waiting for the light, despite the present darkness, is a moving message of hope, resilience, and bravery.
Back matter includes an in-depth note from co-author Katie McCabe chronicling Dovey’s fight against barriers in the law, military, and ministry. For anyone interested in the powerful ways family and history intersect, We Wait for the Sun is a must-have in every library. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
While white Americans eagerly embarked on carefree car travel around the country, in 1930s Jim Crow America the road was not a safe or welcoming place for Black people. In Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, Keila V. Dawson explores the entrepreneur Victor Green and his successful The Negro Motorist Green Book which was borne out of dire need.
Young readers will learn about the limitations that were in place restricting the freedoms of Black Americans to have access to the same conveniences whites did due to segregation laws. For instance, a road trip for a Black family meant bringing food, pillows, and even a portable toilet since most establishments along a route were for whites only. The same applied to hotels, service stations, auto-mechanics and even hospitals. And in “Sundown” towns, where Blacks could work but not live, those individuals had to be gone by sunset or risk jail or worse.
In this fascinating 40-page nonfiction picture book, Dawson explains in easy-to-understand prose exactly what obstacles faced Black travelers and why Green, a mail carrier, together with his wife Alma, decided to publish a directory. Inspired by a Kosher guide for Jews who also faced discrimination, Green began collecting information from people on his postal route about where safe places were in New York.
Eventually, with word-of-mouth expanding interest in Green’s book, he began corresponding with mail carriers nationwide to gather more recommendations for The Negro Motorist Green Book on more cities. Soon everyone from day-trippers to celebrities were using the Green Book. Green even made a deal with Standard Oil for the book to be sold in Esso gas stations where it “flew off the shelves.” Harris’s illustrations take readers back in time with colorful, realistic looking scenes of big old cars, uniformed service station attendants and locations in Black communities that opened their doors to Black travelers. Apart from a break during WWII, the book was sold until the need for it finally ended with the last edition in 1966-67.
Equality both on and off the road was the ultimate goal for Black Americans. That may have improved somewhat from when the first Green Book was published in 1936, but Victor did not live to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted, having passed away in 1960. However there is still a long road ahead because, unlike Victor’s Green Book, racism has not disappeared and being Black while driving can still be dangerous, even deadly.
Dawson dives into this in her five pages of back matter that include a clever roadway timeline graphic from the beginning of Green’s life in 1892 until the Green Book ceased publication. This is a helpful, thoughtfully written book to share with children to discuss racism, and a good way to begin a discussion about self-advocacy, ingenuity, and how to treat one another with respect. It’s also a welcome example of how Green channeled his frustration and dissatisfaction into a guide that ultimately changed people’s lives for the better. Click herefor an essential Educator’s Guide. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Kadir Nelson, in his interesting introduction to James Otis Smith’s graphic novel Black Heroes of the Wild Westpoints out that cowboys, ranchers, homesteaders and other people from the Old West (west of the Mississippi River “during and after the American Civil War”) were historically portrayed in books, movies and TV through a white lens. In reality up to “a third of the settler population was African American.” I couldn’t wait to find out more about Mary Fields, known as “Stagecoach Mary” in her day, Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, and “mustanger” Bob Lemmons, perhaps the original Texas horse whisperer.
All three individuals were forces to be reckoned with. First there’s Mary Fields, born into slavery in Tennessee. In her lifetime, she maintained fierce loyalty to friends, loved children, was generous to a fault, and had strength and energy second to none. She’s most noted, however, for her reputation as a banjo strumming, card playing, first African American female stagecoach driver who never missed a delivery and was not easily thwarted by wolves or bad weather.
I was blown away learning about Bass Reeves’s bravery in outwitting some murderous outlaws on the Most Wanted List. In the account Smith shares, Reeves single-handedly put himself into a dangerous situation by turning up as an impoverished loner looking for any kind of work to earn his keep. By cleverly offering up his services to the mother of the villains, earning her trust, and ultimately that of the bad guys too, he was able to capture them completely off guard. This plus thousands of other arrests cemented his place in history. The best part was how Smith’s illustrations conveyed Reeves in the particular scenario of capturing the outlaws by surprise which in turn surprised and satisfied me immensely.
Last but definitely not least is Bob Lemmons who was hired to corral wild mustangs and whose humane technique was not deadly to any of the horses, something other mustangers had not been able to manage. Smith takes readers on a journey of the senses along with Lemmons as he follows a group of mustangs he intends to wrangle, and details in both art and text how eventually Lemmons becomes one with the stallion leading the “manada” (mares and colts). “Bob knew their habits, their body language, their sounds. Like them, he flared his nostrils sniffing for danger.” You don’t have to be a horse lover to be impressed how Bob’s slow and steady approach made the mustangs think he was one of them.
Eight comprehensive pages of fascinating back matter round off this excellent middle grade read that will no doubt have tweens eager to find out more about these and other Black heroes. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
★Starred Review – Booklist A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The Gilded Ones is book one of a West African-inspired epic fantasy series that will grab you from its first page. When girls turn sixteen, they must undergo The Ritual of Purity where they are bled to see if they can become a member of their village. However, if a girl’s blood runs gold, then she’s found impure and faces a fate worse than death. If Deka’s father had the money, he would have sent her to the House of Purity the year before the ritual, keeping her protected from sharp objects. Instead, Deka must be careful while she worries and prepares.
When Deka fails, she’s tortured until a mysterious woman she names White Hands offers an option out. The empire’s being attacked by seemingly invincible Deathshriek creatures. Deka becomes an alkali soldier fighting alongside other girls like her with powers that make them nearly immortal.
Namina Forna says, “The Gilded Ones is a book about my anger at being a woman. Sierra Leone was is very patriarchal. There were things I was expected to do as a girl because I was a girl.” This emotion is harnessed into the story, revealing societal inequities in an intricately woven plot that will surprise and enflame you.
Deka has the best “sidekick” ever—a shapeshifter called Ixa. Though there are elements of romance, it’s strong females who rule the plot. This book provides a fresh look at the “gods and goddesses” trope. The Gilded Ones is fierce, brutal, and relevant. Read it. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Click here to read another Black History Month review. e
Alex’s Good Fortune, a 32-page early reader, takes us through Alex’s day on Chinese New Year. She invites her best friend, Ethan, over and, together, they prepare for the holiday. Exciting moments (joining the parade and decorating) and mundane ones (sweeping away the bad luck) are illustrated expressively in vibrant colors that accentuate the kids’ emotions. I longed for dumplings as Nai Nai showed the kids how to fold and pinch, fold and pinch.
Back matter includes the pronunciation and meaning of several Chinese New Year wishes, more information about the holiday, and the Chinese zodiac.
Celebrate the Year of the Ox with Benson Shum’s likable book that’s suited for early readers or as a read-aloud story. Xīn xiǎng shì chéng (say: sin see-ang shee che-eng) / May all your wishes come true!
As a big Ivy and Bean fan, I’ve enjoyed two-time Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall’s art for years. Her author-illustrator 2018 picture book, Hello, Lighthouse, was a top book. Now, If You Come to Earth, follows with its amazing accomplishment of summing up, well, everything. This 80-page book is big in size and in heart. Addressed as a letter to “Dear Visitor from Outer Space,” the story includes factual matter such where our planet’s located (and that “the blue stuff is water”) to how “We live in all kinds of homes. / In all kinds of families.” The narrator Quinn’s voice is that of a helpful, insightful child who provides personal details about how “every body is different,” except for their identical-twins friends—yet even then the narrator notes one has a mole. The wide world comes together as a unit as Quinn explains and welcomes an unknown visitor. e This comprehensive yet personal explanation describes our world exceptionally well. In the back matter, Blackall reveals twenty-three kids gave her lots of ideas, and how she didn’t expect this book to take five years. To me, five years to create this sounds reasonable with its all-encompassing subject matter and massive number of illustrations. Blackall’s talents range the gamut, from her expertise in capturing facial expressions to lifelike renditions of plants and animals. If You Come to Earth belongs in classrooms, houses, and spaceships everywhere.
Coming out during the heated election year, The World Needs More Purple People, feels well-timed. Beyond stating, “purple is a magic color made when red and blue work together,” Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart’s New York Times best-selling picture book avoids politics by simply stating, “the best things are purple.” As someone fond of the color (and the sentiment), I agree.
The story’s serious recommendations (ask questions, give good ideas, and help someone) are balanced with fun (“We laugh at donkey dances and hairy elephant knees”). Daniel Wiseman’s engaging, kid-friendly art accents the humorous text. My favorite lines: “Purple questions are the kind that help you learn something really BIG about the world or something really small about another person” and “Purple people come in every color you can dream up and every size you can think up.” This book engages young reader with important issues by encouraging curiosity and silliness.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal
There Is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder is a feel-good picture book filled with hope and reminders that we’re in this together. Inspired by the rainbows her children drew during while sheltering in place for the pandemic, the book expresses our universal experiences such as having to stay separated from family or friends, and attending online school.
Illustrations by Grant Snider perfectly fit the spare, lyrical text. A rainbow of colors glows against a white backdrop. Echoing a child’s style of drawing, Snider elevates that sentiment with details capturing this time in our lives.
Beyond the pandemic, this beautiful picture book “encourages readers to look past their immediate surroundings and find comfort, community, and inner courage—which are all closer than we might think.” And if that’s not enough, peek under the book jacket for a fun, different cover art!
Clickhereto read a recent picture book about hope reviewed by Christine.
Clickhereto read a review of another picture book about hope.
Forget the sourdough bread for now. This scrumptious roundup of family-friendly cookbooks for National Baking Month is meant to tempt you and your children to get cooking together! Start with recipes from Chef Junior, move onto Clean Treats for Everyone and then delight in the deliciousness of Now for Something Sweet.
Five young authors prove that kid’s food doesn’t have to be bland and boring in Chef Junior: 100 Super Delicious Recipes by Kids for Kids! And they cover it all: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, and drinks. The creators range in age from twelve to fifteen, however, the cookbook is suitable for middle graders on up—adults, you will learn from this too! The authors’ definition of “real food” is awesome: “An easy rule of thumb is that if something doesn’t have ingredients, but IS an ingredient (one thing), it is generally healthy for you.”
After some “how-to” instruction, tasty recipes follow, thoughtfully flagged with skill level (easy, moderate, advanced). Because chocolate happens in our household, Mug Brownies were our eleven-year-old daughter’s first choice. Dark chocolate, cashew butter, honey, apricot preserves (or more honey), unsweetened cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking soda come together, producing yummy brownies baked in six oven-safe coffee mugs. Thoughtful ingredients such as the preserves and cashew butter elevate this brownie to something special.
The second recipe tried was Strawberry Cheesecake. Both the crust and filling have only four ingredients each, making this recipe a snap. It received another thumbs-up from the family.
Savory recipes we want to try include Oven Pancake (one-container cooking = less dishes!), Egg-Drop Soup (why have we never made this?), Super-Quick Gravy (because my gravy skills are lacking), and gluten-free Blender Bread. There are also plenty of recipes that use meat, so browse and let your young chef spoil you with a delicious dish.
*The authors are between the age of 12 and 15 and hail from various states in the US (California, Florida, and Michigan), as well as Canada.
Laura Fuentes’s delicious cookbook, Clean Treats for Everyone, gives parents a way to provide healthy snacks for kids using real-food ingredients. Known for her successful MOMables.com and her Family Kickstart Program, Fuentes is a pro at focusing on whole-food family nutrition. This cookbook contains over-fresh and no-bake treats, plus warm drinks, smoothies, and frozen drinks. Clear coding shows which recipes are vegan and which ones omit gluten, dairy, eggs, or nuts. What’s never omitted is kid-approved deliciousness.
While there were many baked treats I couldn’t wait to try, I wanted a quick fix and dove right into making a Matcha Green Tea Frappuccino because I’m all about frozen drinks, no matter the weather. Creamy coconut milk perfectly balanced the matcha’s vegetal notes.
I also made the Coffee Popsicles using coconut milk, instant espresso powder, dates, vanilla extract, and salt. They tasted like a latte on a stick—only better! For kids, swap in decaf.
A two-ingredient recipe that quickly became a must-have in our household was the Homemade Magic Shell. Dark chocolate chips and coconut oil make this magical because it’s no hassle and you know exactly what’s in it. If you’re a label-reader, you’ll know how I feel about the “why are they in there?” list of ingredients found in many foods. This cookbook demonstrates that simple and clean can’t be beat!
The four fabulous women behind Monday Morning Cooking Club have a delectable new Jewish cookbook out called Now for Something Sweet—a title that called to the sweet tooth in me. If you don’t know these ladies, the sisterhood (formed in 2006) is comprised of Lisa Goldberg, Merelyn Frank Chalmers. Natanya Eskin, and Jacqui Israel. Their mission is “to uncover, to persistently test and tweak, and to preserve the many sweet recipes entrusted” to them over their years of collecting. And the results are awesome!
Though I have a long list of recipes I want to try, the one I started with was Hanna Geller Goldsmith’s Chocolate Meringues. Five simple ingredients—dark chocolate, egg whites, salt, caster (superfine) sugar, and vanilla extract—transform into you-can’t-eat-just-one meringue mounds. Bite through the crisp crust for a fudgy middle. These meringues are a step above and will become a welcome addition to my lineup of recipes. Next on my list? Debbie Levi’s Romanian Malai (Polenta Cheesecake), then, for a savory break Leah Koenig’s Onion Pletzels, described as a cross between an onion roll or bialy and a focaccia
I appreciate the specificity of the recipes, reminding me that much of baking is a science. Technical sections like Kitchen Notes (why they use unsalted butter or how to melt chocolate) are balanced with a lovely information about many of the people who contributed the recipes. At the end, in addition to the alphabetically organized index is one sorted into categories: dairy free, gluten free, and for Passover. This at-a-glance reference is truly a time-saver.
Funnyman Josh Funk’s picture books are huge hits and the third book in his fractured fairy tale series, It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood, is sure to connect with audiences everywhere. Little Red’s a smart girl who questions the narrator of the story. If Grandma’s sick, why isn’t Red taking her some medicine? And why send a kid into the woods alone in the first place? I like how the pulled-apart story is cleverly pieced back together. e Art by Edwardian Taylor elevates the story’s hilarity. Red’s expressions say it all. With a crazy cast of characters—did I mention the pirate and Pinocchio?!—kids will be laughing with each page turn. Yet, at the same time, this book teaches kids to think about stories on another level and creatively come up with their own ideas. And that’s a win-win situation for me.
Bao Phi’s Hello, Mandarin Duck! features a duck lost midst the bustling May Day parade. Twins, Hue and Hoa, help it out, meeting friends and neighbors along the way. The duck’s fear of not being understood or accepted in a new place feels genuine and represents the people in similar situations, relying on or hoping for the kindness of strangers.
Dion MBD’s illustrations showcase a diverse community. A sticker and the signs carried in the parade further reinforce the community’s openmindedness. And, though the twins are key, it’s the adorably spunky mandarin duck that stole my heart as it goes from uneasy to dancing with the crowd.
Sally Mallam’s stunning picture book, Dende Maro: The Golden Prince, depicts an African origin tale which begins when there was nothing except a longing. This longing becomes the wind, then a shape until “the sighing of the wind awoke the shape, and in its breath she heard the longing, and understood.” The story continues until everything exists. Beyond the journey, we’re shown how humans “learn and develop their arts, language and mathematics and their ability to settle all over the world; to remake the world.”
The illustrations differ from what’s in many picture books; inspired by ancient African carvings and paintings, Mallam rearranged and colored these collages. I found it fascinating that the “oldest-dated human-made image as yet discovered is a small piece of incised ochre from the Blombos Cave in South Africa that is between 75,000 and 100,000 years old.” Secret picture alert: peek under the cover. This book is a worthwhile addition to home libraries and classrooms as it offers a springboard into many discussions.
Idries Shah’s picture book, The Boy Without a Name, “belongs to a tradition of storytelling from the Middle East and Central Asia that is more than a thousand years old.” Parents of a newborn are told by a wise man to not name the child because he is a “very, very important boy.” Years later, “Benaam” (“Nameless”) and his friend, Anwar, take an insightful journey to visit the wise man.
Realistic illustrations by Mona Caron give the boys depth and character, elevating the tale. The pages at the wise man’s home are spectacular for their attention to detail and wealth of information. Caron has a gift for facial expressions that extends to the animals in the book as well. I would be happy just looking at the stunning images.
Siman Nuurali’s popular chapter-book series features Sadiq, an eight-year-old Somali-American boy living in Minnesota. In Sadiq and the Bridge Builders, Sadiq and his third-grade classmates join the school’s building club where they create a model city that can withstand a natural disaster. Using information from the teachers and sussing out things on their own, the kids succeed.
The book opens with facts about Somalia and Somali terms. Back matter includes a glossary and examples of how to take the story further such as talking about a problem the kids in the book have with their model, writing down examples of how teamwork helped, and drawing your own neighborhood. I like how the extras boost the book’s usefulness in classrooms and are also a boon for parents of bored, stuck-at-home kids.
Click here and here and here to read all of last year’s posts.|
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. Read about our Mission & History HERE.
MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!
Join us on Friday, Jan 29, 2021, at 9 pm EST for the 8th annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day Twitter Party! This epically fun and fast-paced hour includes multicultural book discussions, addressing timely issues, diverse book recommendations, & reading ideas. We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome. ** Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter! Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.
Sy Montgomery’sNew York Times best-selling memoir, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, inspired the picture book, Becoming a Good Creature. Herein she conveys her beliefs that we can—and should—learn from animals. Montgomery’s fundamental messages include “respect others,” “find good teachers,” and “see for yourself.” She encourages us to take a closer look at the world and everything inhabiting it. In doing so, we are bound to “love little lives” and find ways to nurture them because we’re all in this together.
While naturalist and adventurer Montgomery has led an extraordinary life, traveling the world and living with animals, we don’t have to fly far away to find something worth exploring.
During the pandemic, my family has discovered and interacted with previously overlooked insects in our garden. Becoming a Good Creature reinforces such behavior. It also shows that women can make their own families and forge their own paths.
Rebecca Green’s paintings, full of delightful animals, depict Montgomery from girl through woman and showcase how curiosity inspired her positive interactions with animals around the globe. For example, alongside the beautifully poignant illustrations of an octopus, a young Montgomery wonders what could we possibly have in common with them; the answer is playing! This uplifting book stresses the importance of communication and caring—much-needed actions for successful coexistence on our planet.
Click herethen scroll down the page to learn more about Rebecca Green’s artwork.
Read a review of another picture book about animals here.
In The Great Pet Heist, when elderly Mrs. Food slips on some dog barf and ends up too injured to return possibly ever, her pets must fend for themselves. Walt (don’t call me Lucretia) is an Oriental shorthair and the sly female lead. Her sidekick is lovable but slow at times Butterbean, a male long-haired wiener dog, whose claim to fame is his nostril-probe lick. The main crew is comprised of Oscar the smart mynah bird, and the amiable rats Marco and Polo. e
A girl from their building named Madison comes by to take care of the basics, but the pets know it’s hasta la vista soon. Their situation seems dire until they stumble upon a possible criminal in their building who may have enough gold coins to give the animals riches to care for themselves. Once the heist is launched, a series of funny antics will keep you wondering whether these characters will succeed, or if it’s off to the pound.
Throughout, Dave Mottram’s art is beautifully done, adding another layer of humor to Ecton’s story. Though Walt was my favorite character, I fell for Chad the octopus once I saw him rising out of toilet bowls and tripping up the villain. Take a close look at the image next to the title page of The Great Pet Heist to find Chad.
Coriolanus Snow: Anyone who has read or seen The Hunger Games knows this man. Yet, who was he before becoming the evil overload of Panem? In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, we meet Snow at age eighteen. His cousin, Tigris—yes, that Tigris—and his Grandma’am are all he’s got. They haven’t had enough food in ages and aren’t far from losing their once-luxurious housing. Facing an uncertain future upon graduation, Snow must achieve personal recognition at school, in hopes of being awarded funds toward University tuition.
It’s reaping day again and this year the kids from Snow’s class are assigned tributes to mentor as their final project. His District 12 girl is quite a letdown at first. Yet, once she’s in the spotlight, Lucy Gray proves to be a charmer and that may get her through for a while. Snow, at first, sees Gray’s performance in the Games merely as an assignment to score highly on but, soon, a complex relationship builds.
Suzanne Collinsreveals the surprising origin of the Games. The book, as expected, is fast-paced with many plot twists. Snow and his classmates who are also assigned tributes are drilled by Dr. Gaul, the wonderfully creepy Head Gamemaker (who may just lock you in a cage in her lab for fun). She prods kids with questions such as what the Capitol’s strategy should be now that the war is over but may never truly never be won. When questioned whether there is a point to the neon colors of her snakes, she answers, “There is a point to everything or nothing at all, depending on your worldview.” These moments with Gaul reveal the book’s deeper messages about power, whether wielded with a weapon or a rose.
I’m a fan of the trilogy and very much enjoyed this glimpse into what happened decades before the girl on fire burst onto the scene and the screen. I would be happy to continue along with Snow, filling the gap, until the day he sees Katniss Everdeen become District 12’s first volunteer for the 74th Annual Hunger Games. The folk tune, “The Hanging Tree,” reaches across the years, uniting the stories.
Welcome to our annual Christmas books roundup. Today author, editor, and reviewer Christine Van Zandt has chosen seven of her favorite new books for you to enjoy. We hope it gets you in a festive mood.
Tomie dePaola’s death this year hit the children’s lit community hard. Reading his posthumous Hurry, Santa! is bittersweet. The clever title led me to think that, certainly, all kids want Santa to hurry to their houses, yet, the twist here is that once Santa’s suited up, he faces the same dilemma that many bundled up kids do: he forgot to go potty before suiting up.
This 14-page board book gives Santa just enough time to get dressed and undressed again. As dePaola has in more than 260 children’s books, his art delights us. This book is a lighthearted farewell to his devoted fans. Note: Book says it was previously published as Get Dressed, Santa.
Sandra Boynton’s books are best-sellers because of her fun rhyme and lively art. Her 32-page board book, Christmas Parade, is another resounding hit. Kids will enjoy hearing the animal band boom boom and rat-a-tat-tat through town. I love that “chickens with silver bassoons [are] followed by piggies with Christmas balloons.” And Santa is (of course!) a rhino.
Emma Dodd’s 24-page picture book rhyming Christmas Is Joy shares holiday enthusiasm from a reindeer family’s perspective. As with Dodd’s other books, this one is beautifully crafted using minimal words to convey emotion. Heartwarming art captures the book’s cheerful theme; metallic silver accents add fun by evoking glistening snow and ice. This book is part of Emma Dodd’s Love You Books series.
The book’s smaller size (eight x eight inches) helps little hands easily hold on. Like a perfect cup of cocoa, the story comforts you: “Christmas is happiness, / smiles of surprise, / the warmth of affection / that lights up your eyes.”
Tracey Corderoy’s rhyming picture book, Mouse’s Night Before Christmas, uses Clement Clarke Moore’s famous first stanza to launch into a different direction, telling us “it wasn’t quite so” that not a creature was stirring. Rather, little Mouse prowls about, wishing he “had a friend to give gifts to.” The story cleverly weaves in some original lines while spinning a new tale.
The art by Sarah Massini warms wide spans of white or gray with muted, lively colors. A nostalgic touch makes Mouse, Santa, and the town seem welcoming and familiar. My favorite scene is the surprise ending where the story reduces to two characters enjoying each other’s company—Mouse is irresistibly cute!
A Jim Benton Christmas book—yes! If you’re like me and your shelves have more Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein books than you can count, then Benton’s Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer is the holiday book for you. In the beat of Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” Benton’s story gives a glimpse of the mayhem at Santa’s workshop. When Comet breaks up a fight between two elves, Stinky and Stanky, he ends up with a broken leg, unable to fly. In the confusion, Santa forgets the toys, so Comet must figure something out.
The rhyming text flows easily when read aloud and Benton’s art keeps you laughing as cast-wearing Comet tries saving the night—if only Santa would answer his phone! Luckily, Comet’s a trouper when faced with the humungous bag: “He tried with a lever. / He tried with a hoist. / He tried till his forehead/ was reddened and moist.” Go, Comet, go!
When it comes to Christmas, I always think of opossums—what, no I don’t! But, why not? “Milo’s family never missed the big Christmas parade. His passel came for the popcorn, sticky nuts, and bits of peppermint sticks. / Milo came for the view.” He’s fascinated with the parade and how people work on building it year-round. Readers will hope Milo’s dream of being in the parade comes true.
Milo’s Christmas Parade boasts adorable art, from the opossum wearing an ornament on his tail to his close-knit family helping out in the shop. Extra points for the book having a different (secret) image under its jacket.
If you enjoyed Emily Gravett’s Meerkat Mail, then check out Meerkat Christmas. When Sunny, a meerkat who lives in the Kalahari reads about what it takes to achieve the Perfect Christmas, he leaves the desert in search of the supposed elements to achieve holiday excellence.
While on his travels, he corresponds with his family back home. The seven festive lift-the-flaps (designed to look like Perfect Magazine and Sunny’s cards) feel realistic and are a fun way to tell pieces of the story.
Gravett’s vibrant art captures the humor as Sunny encounters obstacles around the world. My favorite holiday treats are the Kalahari candy canes. The recipe calls for 25 assorted snakes, red paint, white paint, and paintbrushes! “Bend each snake into a candy cane shape and hang on tree or cactus.” This book stands out for its interactive design and clever, hilarious art. Peek under the jacket for surprise alternate back and front cover images.
If you follow this blog you’ll know that Christine is a regular contributor and has reviewed such a wide variety of books over the years from board books to young adult novels. I’m thrilled to have her on the receiving end this time around.
Additionally, as a critique partner of Christine’s, I’ve seen this book in its various iterations so to at last see her vision brought to fruition with such humorous artwork is a joy. When her debut turned out to be a nonfiction title as opposed to a fiction one, it was quite an unexpected but super surprise. Then seeing that the cover also featured a reveal wheel, well that just made the wait all the more worthwhile. Turn the wheel slowly to get glimpses of four kinds of undies covered in this 48-page paperback picture book including bloomers, boxers, briefs, and schenti (Egyptian loincloth). If you’ve heard of some other type of underpants they’re likely covered here!
I had such a grin on my face the first time I laid eyes on the cover of A Brief History of Underpants. I love how the book design uses an eye-catching bright yellow circle inside a blue one, to immediately pull our focus to the boy in his red boxers. The red detail on his socks is fun, too. The iconic look of illustrator Harry Briggs’s(a graduate of Art Center College of Design nearby in Pasadena) comic-style art will make the interior spreads shine when coupled with Christine’s punny undie descriptions. The cover character with his black outlining, the kid-friendly fonts, plus the shadowing on the word underpants is a nod to the Captain Underpants series and lets kids know this is definitely going to be an interesting and entertaining read.
The idea for A Brief History of Underpants came about at school—sort of. Christine has been a book volunteer since kindergarten. Other than working with kids in the classroom and bringing in or patching books, that meant helping kids, parents, and teachers select books at the school’s week-long annual Book Fair.
In 2019, nonfiction books were the big thing, prominently featured in displays. Many parents veered their kids toward them. But Christine noticed time and again that kids resisted, stating “nonfiction books are boring” even though many wonderful nonfiction books were offered. These comments led to Christine and her family brainstorming what else could be done to make nonfiction more accessible to kids.
Humor was already a part of Christine’s writing, so writing a funny book was a natural choice, but the right topic was key. Christine’s fourth-grader suggested underwear because kids love underwear. When Christine researched books on this topic, she found they seemed too long. Taking a new angle, she condensed the world history of underpants into short, fast scenes, and the book was born.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Even though Christine Van Zandt is the author of A Brief History of Underpants, she hasn’t found fossilized underwear, but she loves uncovering interesting historical facts that make great books for kids.
She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, daughter, two cats, and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.
In book one, Twinchantment, identical twins Flissa and Sara must act as one person (Princess Flissara) to escape the Kingdom of Kaloon’s Magic Eradication Act which cites twinhood as reason for removal and re-homing. Book two, UnTwistedby Elise Allen, picks up on Ascension Day as the girls officially take their individual places in line for the throne. However, the new Magical Unification Act hasn’t been a simple fix for harmonious living. A top priority in the Kaloonification was bringing together the Mages, Genpos (people without magic from the general population), and Magical Animals at a school called the Maldevon Academy. However, cooperation between the groups is easier said than done, and someone is out to destroy the unity.
Favorite characters of mine from book one continue in UnTwisted: Galric and his adorable black kitten Nitpick, evil lioness Raya, and Loriah—who I’m happy to see has a bigger role. New characters like Zinka enliven the story. Plot misdirection keeps the twins searching for who’s behind the escalating ripples of unrest while they also navigate newfound friendships and how to fit in at school.
Chapters once again alternate viewpoints between Flissa and Sara. Allen successfully extends character development across both books. In UnTwisted, the girls’ individualities take center stage and their sisterly bond fractures. I like how the books show Kaloon progressing from the Magic Eradication Act to the Magical Unification Act, and the problems of both all-or-nothing edicts.
This series will appeal to kids who like books about adventure, magic, and relationships. The delightful Twinchantment novels combine high-stakes action with relatable, dimensional tween issues. It feels there’s more to come from these dynamic twins.
I appreciate animal facts such as Rabbit purring his thanks and Squirrel using her tail for protection from the weather. As the creatures express what makes them thankful, the story loops back to Bear orchestrating a friendly feast.
Kids will want to repeat the soothing animal sounds such as Raccoon’s “chir-chirrrrr.” And we all could use more comfort as we face a socially distanced holiday season. This story embraces the simplicity of gratitude. The art’s soft lines and warm colors welcome readers to join this gentle celebration, where animals from all walks of life enjoy each other’s company while sharing a lovingly prepared meal.
Introducing classics such as William Shakespeare’s The Tempest to young kids seems both important and, well, hard. Let’s face it, adults sometimes need a synopsis when seeing one of his plays. However, this lovely picture book by Georghia Ellinas successfully conveys the heart of the story without overwhelming young kids. Told from Ariel’s viewpoint, the book opens with the irresistible line, “Can you do magic?” The androgynous Ariel goes on to explain that they are a spirit of the air and made of magic—how awesome is that?!
Boosted by Jane Ray’s lovely watercolor images, this retelling comes to life. We feel for Ariel when they are imprisoned in a tree and crying out for help. The scene with Miranda and Caliban delights me the most. Monstrous Caliban’s moping darkness is offset by Miranda as a young girl, brightly dressed and playing in a tree.
Though full of lively images and fantasy, The Tempest’s key message remains “forgiveness is greater than revenge,” an important reminder for an audience this age who may struggle with conflict resolution. I’m happy to see Candlewick is continuing with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another favorite, out in April 2021 by this same talented writer and illustrator duo. Available for pre-order now.