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Picture Book Review – Anzu and the Art of Friendship

 

ANZU AND THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP

Written by Moni Ritchie Hadley

Illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama

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

 

Anzu_and_the_Art_of_Friendship_cover_friends_making_origami

 

REVIEW:

Patience and the practice required for paper folding (aka origami) offer the promise of friendship in Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama.

If your child isn’t already familiar with origami, this multilayered picture book provides a gentle introduction to the beloved Japanese art form while also tackling a topic that should resonate with young readers: making new school friends after moving. When Anzu starts a new school, “her stomach folds in knots.” At the same time, the teacher Mr. Lee informs the class they are beginning a unit on origami.

 

AnzuandtheArtofFriendship int1 mrlee introduces Anzu
Interior art from Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Readers have already seen Anzu’s creations hanging in her bedroom courtesy of Takeyama’s bold and expressive art that appears to be digitally rendered. That, along with Ritche Hadley’s prose, lets us know from the first page that Anzu adores origami. It’s especially sweet when Anzu’s ojiisan (grandfather) gives her a tsuru (crane) for good luck. Maybe Anzu’s origami skills can help her forge new friendships with her classmates.

Pretty soon Anzu sees her good intentions go unappreciated. She is disappointed that her classmates look for an easy, often silly way out despite her offers of help. At night she explains to Ojiisan what’s been happening. He thoughtfully suggests she try to be patient. The next day is not much better. Anzu’s classmates seem frustrated and look for quick solutions such as scissors and tape. Again she complains to Ojiisan. He compares the skill of creating origami with that of making new friends. She needs to give it time. Still, Anzu is sad about her move and misses her old friends.

 

AnzuandtheArtofFriendship int2 classmate wearing hat dances
Interior spread from Anzu and the Art of Friendship written by Moni Ritchie Hadley and illustrated by Nathalia Takeyama, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Things look up for Anzu the next day when “Mr. Lee displays an origami frog figure.” Always an attention-getter, the frog inspires curiosity and joy. But Anzu’s classmate Alex is frustrated he cannot put the frog back together after he’s unfolded it. This time, after Anzu does all the required folding, creasing, etc., she demonstrates how it can hop. Instead of losing interest, Alex asks Anzu to show him how to do it. At last! Anzu also tells Alex that the frog or the Kaeru, “is a symbol of good luck and a safe return when traveling.” Alex realizes the Kaeru is something meaningful he can give to his father to take on his next business trip. His interest in the paper creation prompts Anzu to come up with fun ways to engage her formerly reluctant classmates (see illustration above), and it works! Folding leads to friendship and Anzu’s spirits soar.

All the work involved in making origami as well as the symbolism of each figure serve as perfect metaphors for this book’s themes of perseverance, empathy, and kindness. Young readers will rejoice when they see how Anzu has truly mastered the art of friendship. They’ll also see the rewards of not giving up, whether that involves sticking with a tough project or trying to make a new friend. While in real life these things may take a little longer, the positive message conveyed in Anzu and the Art of Friendship makes this book easy to recommend.

The special meaning of the origami figures included in the story is explained in the back matter.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

BUY THE BOOK:

Support a local independent bookshop by clicking here to purchase Anzu and the Art of Friendship.

FIND THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

MONI –

Click here for Moni’s website.

https://www.instagram.com/bookthreader

https://www.twitter.com/bookthreader

https://www.facebook.com/bookthreader

 

NATHALIA –

Click here for more about Nathalia.

https://www.instagram.com/natztak

https://www.twitter.com/natztak

https://www.facebook.com/nathalia.takeyama/

Read a guest post by Moni about her debut picture book, The Star Festival.

Find out about The Star Festival here.

 

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Picture Book Review – The Perfect Plan

 

THE PERFECT PLAN

Written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99; Ages 3-6)

 

 

The Perfect Plan cover

 

 

Starred Reviews – Foreward Reviews, Kirkus

 

In The Perfect Plan, author/illustrator Leah Gilbert takes the reader along on a magical journey with Maya, the main character who hopes to build a special place for dreaming and playing in the forest. Through perseverance and teamwork, she builds a fort grander than anything she could have imagined in Gilbert’s enchanting second picture book.

 

The Perfect Plan by Leah Gilbert Opening Spread
Interior spread from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

Transporting readers through spreads of tall brown trees and tiny yellow birds, Gilbert’s art encompasses all the beauty of an inviting forest. Tiny Maya gazes upward toward the sky envisioning a tree fort with a ladder to climb and windows to see out of. “’It will be the most INCREDIBLE and WONDERFUL tree fort in the world!’ she imagined.”

 Maya is a determined child, and quite the planner, and returns to her bedroom with her black cat by her side to research and design the perfect tree fort. “When she was sure she had thought of everything, she headed outside.”

With her perfect page turns, Gilbert returns the reader to the colorful green forest and the most perfect spot to build a fort. Gilbert depicts Maya pulling and pushing and thinking, but having trouble building a fort alone. Maya realizes that sometimes in life we need help and asking for help is okay. She begins by selling the idea of a fort to three little brown beavers. “I’m building the most OUTSTANDING and ORIGINAL tree fort in the world! Will you help me?” and of course they eagerly agree.

 

The Perfect Plan by Leah Gilbert 28
Interior art from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

 

Gilbert’s beautifully expressed words convey that not everyone is good at every job. This is an awesome reminder for both parents and kids! We see that beavers are great at cutting and chopping branches, but not so good at dragging heavy items. Gilbert introduces the kind moose and tells him that she is building “the STRONGEST and STURDIEST tree fort in the world!” Two big brown bears happily agreed to build and stack the frame, and the yellow birds with their natural ability to fly high “twisted and twirled, weaved and wound. Now all the branches were secured.”

 When Maya and the animals scanned the finished fort, Maya began to think something was missing only to be interrupted by a big storm. Maya ran for cover looking back at the fort, while worried that it would be ruined. But upon returning to the spot “Maya couldn’t believe her eyes. ‘It’s Perfect.’” Gilbert paints delightful purple flowers that have bloomed from the rain and the fort is now “far more than she had even imagined it would be.”

 

 

The Perfect Plan last page
Interior spread from The Perfect Plan written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert, Bloomsbury ©2021.

 

Gilbert celebrates creativity and shows children the importance of perseverance and teamwork. Kids see that magical things can happen when putting their heart and soul into something. The words can be re-read with new meanings found in the message each time, while the soft colorful art inspires kids to get out a paintbrush and create their own hideaway.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle

SLOTH & SQUIRREL IN A PICKLE

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrated by Kelly Collier

(Kids Can Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

The dill-ightful title of this new picture book, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey with adorable art by Kelly Collier, will immediately grab you even if it doesn’t immediately grab sloth whose slow motion throughout the story is one of the recurring elements that make it hysterical to read-aloud. I’m talking Lucy and Ethel hysterical. You may not see my smile as I’m writing this, but trust me it’s here now and was for every page as I was eager to see how things played out for the pair of pickle-packing pals. 

This humorous friendship tale begins with Squirrel deciding he’d like to get a bike to go FAST!, but after seeing the price tag at the bike shop, realizes it’s too costly. Sloth points out that the pickle company next door is seeking pickle packers. If they work hard, together the two should be able to earn enough to afford the bike.

In their interview, the friends meet Mr. Peacock who Collier has imagined with bushy eyebrows, a stern face, and office accessories all in a pickle green palette. Perfect! This character cracked me up. I could even hear his voice as he preps his new employees to start working. It doesn’t take long for Squirrel and Pickle to discover that the packing process is slippery hence much breakage. By noon they haven’t packed more than six jars. More comical chaos ensues when, given a second chance, Sloth unknowingly makes a major LOL mess of labeling and the new hires are fired.

 

Sloth and Squirrel int1
Interior art from Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle written by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kelly Collier, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

With the money earned from the six successfully packed pickle jars, and lots of free, unsellable jars of pickles now in their possession, the friends are nowhere closer to buying the bike. That is until a melting ice pop incidentit simply cannot be eaten fast enough by a slothleads to the invention of a cool new, no-brain-freeze alternative to ice pops. Suddenly the money comes pouring in and the pals purchase the bike. Sadly, Sloth’s lethargy makes going fast on the bike as Squirrel had previously envisioned a non-starter. Sloth, however, has a better idea that even at his pace will bring them up to speed.

 

Sloth and Pickle int2
Interior art from Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle written by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kelly Collier, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

Between Cathy’s witty plot, prose, and characters and Collier’s creative illustrations that must be carefully studied for all the added touches readers might not see at first, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle beautifully addresses the “What if” question many authors ask themselves when developing a story: What if a slow animal and a fast animal became friends? In this case, the friendship endures despite the differences and it flourishes as the pals persevere in their pursuit of a bike. This well-crafted and extremely funny picture book is a great way to discuss cause and effect and determination. It also shows kids that money doesn’t grow on trees even if Sloth hangs out in one. Money has to be earned and then the joy of having bought something with the fruit (or pickle) of one’s labor tastes especially sweet or in this funny case maybe salty too!

 

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Middle Grade Books – An Interview With Margaret Finnegan About Happy Endings

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET FINNEGAN

AUTHOR OF DEBUT MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL

WE COULD BE HEROES

 

 

For Autism Awareness Day 2020, I’m delighted to share this interview with author Margaret Finnegan about her debut middle grade novel We Could Be Heroes and her take on happy endings. At the end Margaret’s also included some helpful resources for readers.

INTERVIEW

GOODREADSWITHRONNA: Can you tell us a little bit about We Could be Heroes?

MARGARET FINNEGAN: We Could be Heroes is about Hank Hudson and Maisie Huang, two very different kids. They become friends as they try to help a dog with epilepsy—Booler—who is tied day and night to a tree. Their friendship is complicated by the fact that Hank has autism, and so he can’t always tell if Maisie is really trying to be his friend or if she is manipulating him for her own reasons.

GRWR: Your book deals with some very serious issues, but it is always funny and it ends on an adorably happy note. These days, a lot of middle-grade fiction is embracing more complicated and ambivalent endings, what made you decide to go full on happy?

MF: I wrote this book for my daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth is not Hank, but she did inspire a few of his qualities, such as his painful aversion to really sad stories. She feels so connected to the characters she reads about—and she feels their heartbreaks and pain so personally—that for a number of years she refused to read new novels. The uncertainty was too much for her. So she read her favorite books over and over. Hank is like that too. When We Could be Heroes opens, Hank is trying to destroy a tragic book his teacher has been reading to the class. He can’t take how sad it makes him.

Since I set out trying to write a book that Elizabeth would read, I knew from the start that it would have to have a big, sloppy happy ending. But Hank needed a happy ending too, and I think he earned it. Like any hero, he is tested and found worthy of reward. But more than that, in a meta sort of way, the story needed a happy ending that would contrast the terrible ending of the story within the story—the one Hank’s teacher is reading the class.

GRWR: Do you think Hank and Maisie’s happy ending can last?

MF: I’m not sure. Maisie’s mom definitely has her doubts. And although Hank and Maisie are “rewarded” something amazing, I think that reward will present Hank—who struggles with change and unpredictability—with challenges. But challenges can help us grow, so I guess that isn’t a bad thing.

GRWR: There are so many challenges that young readers face today—like climate change. How does that factor into thinking about happy endings? Don’t we need books that go to those dark places so kids can see their reality reflected and then face that reality with resiliency? Or is there still a needat least sometimesfor “big, sloppy, happy endings”?

MF: We need all kinds of stories with all kinds of endings—and there are many wonderful middle-grade novels that go dark and yet are filled with transcendent beauty. Those books actually win lots of awards. But unabashedly happy endings also have something important to offer readers. Our kids are not growing up in bubbles. They have a whole world of experiences and entertainments that teach them the complexities and hardships of the world. And it is exactly when things are going horribly that some readers need stories that make them laugh and that instill hope.

I have been very open about the challenges Elizabeth has had with autism and epilepsy. There was a long stretch of years where she was being bullied, experiencing lots of seizures, and dealing with horrible medication side effects. And what were the books she turned to repeatedly during this time? The Fudge books by Judy Blume. They made her feel good. They made her believe that better was possible. She knows about the pain of the world. She lives it. She—like many others—longs for stories that remind her that there is joy and fun in the world and that sometimes—just sometimes—everything turns out great. 

Read a review in Publishers Weekly about We Could Be Heroes here.

Click here for a link to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Click here for autism information from the National Institutes of Health.
Click here for autism information from the Autistic Self Advocacy network.

ABOUT MARGARET

Author Margaret FinneganMargaret Finnegan is the author of We Could Be Heroes.
Her work has appeared in FamilyFun magazine, the LA Times, Salon,
and other publications. She lives in Southern California, where she enjoys
spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really
good chocolate cakes. Connect with her @margaretfinnegan.com
or on Twitter @FinneganBegin.

 

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