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Middle Grade Novel Review – Remember Us

 

REMEMBER US

Written by Jacqueline Woodson

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $18.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Remember Us cover graffitied wall and basketball.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Indie Next, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal

 

In Remember Us by Jacqueline Woodson, twelve-year-old Sage and her widowed mother live in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in the house that was her father’s childhood home. She has strong connections to her firefighter father, who was killed in the line of duty. Like him, she loves basketball and dreams of playing professionally.

Sage’s tight-knit community is affected by the near-constant threat of fires breaking out all over the city during one summer in the 1970s. Homes and even lives are lost. Survivors leave, the neighborhood changes and childhood friendships shift. Some of Sage’s friends are more interested in being glamorous than in joining her, as they once did, in a game of basketball. Hardest of all is the revelation that her mother wants to leave the only home, her father’s home, that Sage has ever known.

Basketball is the only constant in her life. Freddy and his family move into the neighborhood and she finds out this kind boy loves basketball as much as she does. They become fast friends. One day, Sage experiences a traumatic event that shakes her to her core and leads to a harrowing act of destruction as she wrestles with doubts about who she is and what she wants to be.

Will she join the girls who paint their nails … or will she remain true to herself?

Using vivid and lyrical prose, Woodson draws on her Brooklyn roots and actual events to poignantly and richly capture the story’s characters and Sage’s neighborhood during a tense and fearful summer. Exquisitely written, Woodson once again explores the theme of memory and storytelling (Brown Girl Dreaming, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) in this spare novel of a young girl grappling with change and learning the importance of memories and the value of moving on.

Click here for a teacher’s guide.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Picture Book Review – Way Past Sorry

 

WAY PAST SORRY

Written by Hallee Adelman

Illustrated by Josep Maria Juli

(Albert Whitman; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Way Past Sorry cover mcKat feeling sorry

 

 

Author Hallee Adelman has taken big feelings and put them into words and actions in this helpful picture book about a young girl who breaks a promise to her best friend and now, feeling Way Past Sorry needs to find a way to remedy the situation and save her friendship.

In this latest book in Adelman’s series that teaches kids how to manage powerful emotions in social situations, we meet Kat who is on her way to a class trip with her classmates and best friend Sage. Josep Maria Juli, who also illustrated Adelman’s Way Past Embarrassed, paints a blue bus with students seated side by side, well, everyone except Sage. Kat had promised her best friend that she would sit with her on the trip but instead sits beside Meera. I have no doubt this is probably a situation many children have experienced. The art complements the story and keeps it simple so as not to distract from the relationship issues.

 

Way Past Sorry int1 on bus Meera and I shared secrets.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Leaving the bus, Kat attempts an apology but Sage ignores her.”I felt way past sorry.” When the students are asked to pair up, Sage is left with their teacher Mr. Pish. She walks towards him with sunken shoulders and no smile on her face. And Kat, dressed in her yellow shirt and blue pants, is also missing a smile.

Sometimes problems grow bigger, even when it’s the last thing we want, and that’s what happens when Kat is asked why she wasn’t Sage’s buddy. Making a bad situation worse, Kat responds, “Sage didn’t want to sit with me …” not wanting the kids to know she was the one who created the problem. She feels awful getting hugs she didn’t deserve.

Adding insult to injury, readers see Kat’s tongue sticking out at Sage when she’s confronted with her lie. This is such a relatable problem and a great lesson for kids to learn at a young age. Mr. Pish watches the girls’ interaction with a disappointed look. Kat dreams this day could start over, but we all know, especially young readers, that just isn’t possible.

 

Way Past Sorry int2 in planetarium wishing on a star.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Everyone returns to class. But for Kat, “… my day couldn’t start again. I felt stuck with my sorry. After a while, Meera said, ‘You’re not being fun.'” Apropos of a class science project, Kat asks Mr. Pish, “… if good scientists make mistakes, do you think good friends do too?” She remembers good times with her best friend drawing on the floor. Completing the ice cream-making assignment, she hands a cone to Sage asking her if they can talk at lunch. This part is a mature example. Communicating feelings instead of ignoring what happened is a lesson kids will carry through into all of life’s ups and downs.

As we approach the final pages, feelings are unpacked. “She told me how I had made her feel. And I listened really well.” Kat admits her mistakes and Sage tells her she’s a great friend. A friendship mended and a happy ending. Other recommended books in the Great Big Feelings series include Way Past Lonely, Way Past Afraid, and Way Past Jealous, all teaching kids they are not alone when big feelings arise.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Picture Book Review – What’s Your Name?

WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

Written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

(Candlewick Press; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

 

 

What's Your Name cover kids greeting kids

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

When author-illustrator Bethanie Deeney Murguia discovered her parents almost chose another name for her it got her thinking about the importance of names and what they do, and the idea for What’s Your Name? was created.

 

What's Your Name int1 children greeting children
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

This relatable and diverse picture book takes young readers on a reflective journey through the meaning behind their own names. The book opens with two pages of orange talking bubbles listing names from Alina to Xavier and Ana to Eli. There are short names, like Bo, and longer names like Zachariah. There’s even my son’s name, Adam. Turning the page, we find lush green spread of lawns and bushes, and grey stone bridges, with walking dogs sniffing hellos. Murguia’s illustrations not only include adults and children of various ethnicities but one child in a wheelchair and another on a skateboard. Greetings are expressed by kids with Hi, Hola, and Good Morning before announcing their given names because Everyone has one … or maybe a few.

 

What's Your Name int2 a name is a meeting
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Murguia writes in playful rhyme explaining to the reader the many ways names are used. When Lena greets Elijah they high-five as they pass. When the spotted brown dog goes farther than allowed, his fluffy-haired owner calls Buster stopping him in his tracks. A name can be common, familiar, and known. A name can be rare, unique, all your own. Cherimoya explains to new friends that her name is like the fruit but you can call me Cherry! And the worker at the burger stand gets a lot of responses when he calls out the common name Bob. Murguia explains to kids that names honor families when they are named after a loved one or historic people such as Malala and Frida.

The colorful art beautifully tells the story with greens, oranges, and greys visually showing the reader that autumn leaves are the reason behind a baby girl’s name. A boy shouts to a crowd, with his hands beside his lips, yelling Hey…you! with an illustration of confused people with mouths wide open wondering who he is calling. If only he knew the name of the person he was looking for he wouldn’t need to shout.

 

What's Your Name int3 names honor family
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Naming your child is a huge decision. Will your baby’s personality or character reflect the name you have chosen or vice versa? Will your child be clumsy yet her name is Grace? Do you choose the name Cole if your child’s eyes are pitch black? This book will spark conversations about how your child got their name and how their parents did as well. A discussion will be a beautiful introduction to family history, or how a name just felt right. This book made me laugh because my own name is spelled differently than what people expect, but I guess you would say that is what makes it unique. Because if it were different, would you still be you? The book’s last line reads what’s yours? and provides a great jumping-off point for a first-day-of-school read for teachers who are getting to know their new students.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Tiffany Golden Interviews Amanda Davis, Author of Moonlight Memories

 

TIFFANY GOLDEN INTERVIEWS AMANDA DAVIS,

AUTHOR OF MOONLIGHT MEMORIES

Illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan

(WorthyKids; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Moonlight Memories cover art girl holding teddy under moon

 

 

Publisher’s Summary of Moonlight Memories:

Discover how a young girl gains healing and hope as she processes the loss of a loved one in this beautifully sensitive story.
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… Whether children choose to use art as their outlet or find another way, the message is clear: they can carry the memories of their loved ones with them. An ending Note to Parents features guidance from a licensed children’s counselor about how to use the book and where to find additional resources. Written from a place of personal experience, this story strives to bring comfort to children hurting after loss.

 

INTERVIEW:

Tiffany Golden: Let’s start with a speed round…

  • Top three favorite children’s books of all time? This is such a hard one, so I’m going to default to recency here and say, If You Find a Leaf, written and illustrated by Aimee Sicuro (love the imaginative text and mixed media illustrations), Saving American Beach by Heidi Tyline King and Ekua Holmes (loved learning about the life of MaVynee Betsch and am a big fan of Holme’s gorgeous collage art), I Love You Because I Love You by Muon Thi Van and Jessica Love (love the sweet, lyrical text and Jessica Love is another favorite artist of mine). I also love Muon Thi Van’s other book, Wishes, illustrated by Victo Ngai (spare text yet so powerful in both words and imagery)!   
  • Coffee, tea (or neither)? Herbal tea all the way-caffeine makes me jittery! 
  • Where is your safe place? The ocean and anywhere with my pup.
  • Dogs, cats, (or neither)? I love all animals, but our pup Cora is the best. 
  • Early bird or night owl? Used to be a night owl but with an 18-month-old, I’ve been forced to take a serious look at my bedtime routine and have been making an effort to get to bed earlier as part of my self-care. 
  • Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world … a big heart.

Okay, now down to the serious stuff….

TG: Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books. 

Amanda Davis: My love for art and writing stems back to my childhood. My father passed away when I was young, and I turned to art and writing to cope and process my emotions. This is what led me to teach art and later write and illustrate children’s books. I want to show kids the power in our stories-whether through writing, reading, or visual art. In 2012, I took a continuing education course at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, called, Illustrating Children’s Books, with illustrator Ilse Plume. This course was eye-opening for me and kick-started my career in kidlit. I realized that children’s books combine all three of my passions: art, writing, and stories. After completing that course, I dove headfirst into the craft of writing and illustrating for children (while balancing my job as a full-time high school teacher). I joined SCBWI, 12×12, and found a local and online critique group. I tried to soak in all the knowledge I could about the kidlit industry. I began to query literary agents and editors with a few of my stories. Looking back, I probably queried those stories too early, but hey, that’s part of the learning process. The story that finally landed me an agent and later a deal is my debut creative nonfiction picture book titled 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, which published in 2021 with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group. 

 

Moonlight Memories int Spread1 Piper grieving
Interior spread from Moonlight Memories written by Amanda Davis and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, WorthyKids ©2023.

 

MOONLIGHT MEMORIES is my second picture book with the wonderful team at WorthyKids. The story is beautifully illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan and released earlier this month. This story holds a special place in my heart as it was inspired by my own personal experience with loss.

Amanda Davis and her dad when she was young
Amanda Davis and her dad when she was young.

As mentioned above, my father died when I was young. After his death, I was unsure of how to cope with this unexpected loss. I don’t remember many people talking to me about it or being given any resources to help me process. It wasn’t until I found art and writing that I was able to fully process the thoughts and emotions surrounding his death. I found my outlet. I found my voice. I soon realized that my father would always live on through the memories I was creating with my words and visuals.

MOONLIGHT MEMORIES tells the story of a young girl who is dealing with the loss of a loved one and finds comfort and healing through creativity. I have a third (unannounced) nonfiction picture book forthcoming that also has themes of loss and healing in it. Clearly, this is an important topic to me, ha! I hope my books can offer hope to readers and foster meaningful dialogue to help children process and heal from essential life events. 

 

TG: What inspires your work?

AD: My own experiences inspire my creativity. I like to write and draw about the things I’ve been through in my life (both joyous and difficult), the places I travel, people I meet, and the lessons I’ve learned. I’m inspired by kindness, nature, animals, and family. Often these aspects find their way into my work. Creativity is all around us, we just need to pay attention.

 

Moonlight Memories int Spread2 Mama face in stars
Interior spread from Moonlight Memories written by Amanda Davis and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, WorthyKids ©2023.

 

 

TG: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?

AD: There is no right or wrong way to get published. Each person’s story is different. Sometimes it’s a short, smooth journey, and sometimes it’s long and bumpy. Try not to compare. Instead, keep going. With every pass, send another query out. This industry has taught me not to take anything personally. You want to work with an editor or an agent who is going to love your work wholeheartedly. The truth is, not everyone is going to. And that’s okay. Art is subjective. With that in mind, there is strength in solidarity. This can be a very isolating business if we let it, so remember to reach out for help and to connect. The children’s book industry is one of the most welcoming communities I’ve been a part of. There is so much talent and wisdom. Connect with people. Ask questions. Never stop learning from one another. We are all on this creative journey together. 

AD: Thank you for interviewing me, Tiffany, and thanks for hosting us, Ronna! Thanks to all those for reading and supporting my work!

✦                                     ✦                                                                                                    ✦                                                 

TIFFANY’S THOUGHTS ABOUT MOONLIGHT MEMORIES:

This book is such a love letter to those experiencing a profound loss. This book found its way to our family soon after the loss of my sister. There’s a sweetness in looking to the sky and processing through art. The words are heartwarming, and the images are enchanting. This is one we’ll read over again.

 

BUY MOONLIGHT MEMORIES:

Local indie for signed copies (Upon checkout, type in the comments how you’d like the book personalized): https://www.buttonwoodbooksandtoys.com/page/moonlight-memories-amanda-davis

 

Amanda Davis Headshot Photo Credit Angela Wood Photography
Author Amanda Davis Photo Credit: Angela Wood Photography

AUTHOR BIO:

Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of MOONLIGHT MEMORIES, 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, and a yet-to-be-announced forthcoming titleShe also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Tiffany Golden writes picture books, middle-grade, and YA fiction, mostly inspired by her experiences as a Black, disabled woman. She is also the winner of Lee and Low’s New Visions Award for 2021. She teaches creative writing to third-to-fifth grade students, is a member of SCWBI, and received the Judith Tannenbaum Teaching Artist Fellowship.

Find out more at www.tiffanygolden.com on Twitter @mstee13 and Instagram @tiffany.golden.13

WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS FOR AMANDA DAVIS:

Website: http://www.amandadavisart.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/amandadavisart

Instagram: https://instagram.com/amandadavis_art

WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS FOR MICHELLE JING CHAN:
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Five New Children’s Books for Pride Month

 

CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR PRIDE MONTH

~ A ROUNDUP ~

Free Pride Clipart

 

Grandad's Pride cover Grandad carrying Pride flag at paradeGRANDAD’S PRIDE
Published in Partnership with GLAAD Series
Written and illustrated by Harry Woodgate
(Little Bee Books; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Following up the success of Grandad’s Camper, is Grandad’s Pride featuring the same characters readers got to know previously. Much like that book, I was immediately pulled into this story by the folksy art and in this case, a focus on the inviting locale by the sea.

When playing in Grandad’s attic, Milly, who is visiting once again for the summer, stumbles upon Grandpa’s old Pride flag. Curious what Pride is, Milly gets a wonderful description from Grandad who used to participate in marches and other Pride events when Gramps was still alive. “Pride is like a giant party where we celebrate the wonderful diversity of our communities and demand that everyone should be treated with
equality and respect – no matter who they love or what gender they are.” After hearing how important Pride had been for Grandad, Milly suggests they go to the city to participate in the next Pride event, but Grandad no longer feels comfortable in the big city.

Milly proposes a locale parade in the village instead and soon the entire village is involved. Not only does her idea present the opportunity to get to make new friends, it also is a moving way to honor Gramps’ memory. Grandad leading the parade in his pink camper is a fitting way to kick off this new tradition and not even a brief downpour can curtail the festivities.

You’ll want to read this lovely picture book slowly to take in all the details that Woodgate has included from the slogans on the posters, the diversity of the primary and secondary characters and the big heart this story exudes on every page. I could easily live in this welcoming community and can’t wait to see what Milly and Grandad get up to next!

 

I Can Be Me! cover diverse circle of kidsI CAN BE … ME!
Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez
(Lee & Low; $19.95, Ages 4-7)

For starters, I want to point out illustrator Gonzalez’s art description on the credits page: “The illustrations are rendered with pencil, watercolors, colored pencils, and love.” If the inclusion of the word ‘love’ doesn’t speak volumes about the care and thought that went into creating this picture book, I don’t know what does.

Newman’s masterfully crafted rhyming couplets take the reader through spread after jubilant spread as readers follow the real and make-believe activities of six diverse and “splendiferous” children and one plucky pooch. Imagination rules as the youngsters try out dress up, and pretend play where anything except the judgment of adults is possible. “I can aim for the basket and practice my throws,/ or wear a pink tutu and twirl on my toes.” There is no need to label and no need to discuss gender, race, or religion. Prepare for pure enjoyment. Kids being “their true selves” is what’s celebrated on every delightful page of this recommended read.

Click here for a Teacher’s Guide

 

The Wishing Flower girls wishing on dandelionTHE WISHING FLOWER
Written by A.J. Irving
Illustrated by Kip Alizadeh 
(Knopf BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

This uplifting, inclusive picture book about making a like-minded friend and experiencing a first crush is getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so. The cover alone conveys the pleasure these two girls find in each other’s company then the prose and art throughout continue to capture that emotion. Author Irving states in her website intro, “My deepest wish for my readers is for them to feel seen and special,” and The Wishing Flower beautifully accomplishes that.

We first meet Birdie as she’s wishing on a dandelion to find a friend who shares her interests. “Birdie felt inside out at home and at school.” She generally kept to herself clearly not connecting with other kids until … Sunny “the new girl” arrives in her class. With her nature name, Sunny, like Birdie, enjoys all the same things: reading, rescuing, and painting. The girls are drawn to each other and Birdie “blushed when Sunny sat next to her at lunch.” She knew she needed to be brave to pursue the friendship and looks for the biggest wishing flower. At recess playing Red Rover, Sunny calls for Birdie, and Birdie’s heart soars. That excitement is palpable in the warm, emotive illustrations that bleed off the page. When this wonderful day spent together with her new friend ends, it’s so rewarding as a reader to see the two happy souls have had their wishes come true.

 

You Need to Chill! cover curly haired girl in yellow heart sunglassesYOU NEED TO CHILL!:
A Story of Love and Family

Written by Juno Dawson
Illustrated by Laura Hughes
(Sourcebook Jabberwocky; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

“In the next ten years, I don’t think there will be many classrooms in America where there isn’t a gender-diverse child, and the rest of the students will have to be friends with that kid. And how to you manage that? You manage it like the child in the book does. With kindness and humor and inclusion and with playfulness.” According to bestselling author Dawson, this is the goal of her debut picture book and I appreciated her introducing the topic in a light-hearted way that emphasizes a people-not-gender-first approach to identity.

I love when a story begins with artwork only before the title page as it does here. The main character is walking with an older girl to school. Once the main character gets settled in, her classmates begin asking where her brother Bill is. They haven’t seen him in a while. This is a fun part to read aloud as the girl’s classmates take wild guesses about where her older brother can be. “Was he eaten by a WHALE or SHARK? Was he munched up just like krill?”/ “That simply isn’t true,” I say./ “And hey, you need to chill.” With inquiring young minds bombarding the girl with a constant flow of zany questions (illustrated as whimsically as those questions), the cool retort calms everyone down. The repetition of “Hey, you need to chill,” is catchy and I can imagine children being eager to say it along with the narrator. While the kids are curious and confused, they also say they’re concerned. I’m glad that was included.

The little girl tells her classmates that her older brother Bill is now Lily. She honestly explains how the change took getting used to but ultimately, as the art shows, she knows that Lily is still the same deep down inside and very loved. She’s her sister’s ally. And as such, together the two can tell anyone who has a problem with Lily being a trans girl to just chill.

While the rhyme is not always even, the spirit, energy, and humor of this important story about a transgender child coupled with the buoyant art carry it along and make You Need to Chill! a worthwhile, fulfilling, and accessible read. Read about genderspectrum.org, a charity working to create gender sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens.

 

DUCK, DUCK, TIGER
Written and illustrated by Brittany R. Jacobs
(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Lili felt she didn’t belong, like a tiger among ducks. And if people found out more about her, she was sure she’d be left alone. Her solution then was to be more like a duck. If she changed things about herself then she’d fit in. And no one would know any better. No one would know her secret.

There was a catch, however. Trying to be someone she wasn’t made Lili feel sad. It’s definitely not easy to pretend to be something you’re not. So, after realizing this, she needed to confide in someone, someone who’d make her feel safe. Lili “revealed her secret” to Gran. “Her heart really raced.” But Gran confirmed that no matter who Lili was, one thing was certain. She was loved. And she should feel proud of who she was. Afterall, “Not everyone is a duck, and not all ducks flock together.” What is important is being her authentic, unique self. It may be tough, but in time, Lili could rest assured that she’d find her pride.

I always enjoy a picture book that offers hope to any child in Lili’s position, so they’ll know that one day they will be welcomed by people who appreciate the real them. This powerful message of acceptance should resonate with many young readers who feel like the other for whatever reason, not simply for being queer. I was surprised to learn that Jacobs is a self-taught artist. The gentle green palette she uses works well with the purple of her alter-ego, the tiger. I will note that in places the meter of the rhyme is not perfect and the rhymes slant in spots where ‘day’ is paired with ‘stayed’ or ‘terrible’ with ‘unbearable.’ However, picture books such as this affirming one are needed to bring comfort to children with its beautiful message of letting “your heart be your guide.”

 

Click here to read a review of a fave Pride picture book from last year.

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