The poems celebrate diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but in experience. Brantley-Newton welcomes all kinds of girls with differing hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. Girls can be an “Explorer,” a “Negotiator,” “Shy,” or just plain “Weird.” Each type of girl is recognized and validated.
Biblical principles weave throughout the poems. They call for making change in the world through kindness, grace, and “fight[ing] the good fight of love.” As “The Day I Decided to Become Sunshine,” “Warrior,” and “Girl Fight” emphasize, participating in this change is a willful decision girls can make. “I decided to be a light/ by holding a door/ open for others to come through.” “Respectfully/ with humanity/ and lovingly,” girls can empower the world by “fighting for … what [they] believe.”
Just as important, girls can empower themselves. Poems such as “I Love My Body,” “Gumbo Me,” and “My Crown” send positive body messages and celebrate the uniqueness of each girl. Each one is enough just for being herself. ”[T]o be the me/that I’m supposed to be” is one of the most life-giving statements a little girl can hear.
Framing Brantley-Newton’s reassuring words are her captivating illustrations. Layers of pattern, color, and texture overlap to energize and uplift, placing each girl in center stage so that every reader can see herself in these pages.
This book is like a blanket of love. It would make a wonderful gift for that upcoming (virtual?) baby shower, birthday party, first day of school, or any occasion caregivers want to send a clear message of appreciation to the little girl in their life.
SNOW SISTERS! Written by Kerri Kokias Illustrated by Teagan White (Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
When swirling snowflakes fill the morning sky, two creative, independentSnow Sisters!react in unique and complementary ways throughout author Kerri Kokias’sdebut picture book.
The title page, a peek into their cozy shared bedroom, hints at the distinctive personalities of each sister. One girl lies sprawled across her bed with toys and clothes strewn about, while the other sleeps tucked in tight with toys in a row and an alarm clock nearby. After they wake, the first sister, on left hand pages, dresses in snow gear and rushes outside. She throws, builds, and tracks alongside a fluffy squirrel. Her sister, on right hand pages, opts for indoor comforts. She keeps busy with books, baking and snowflake making.
Kokias’s clever parallel text draws us into their individual worlds right up until an exciting mid-book switcheroo. When the outdoors becomes too cold and wet for one sister, the second is drawn outside after spotting a chubby bunny from the window. “Bye!” the sisters greet one another as they trade indoor and outdoor delights. Each embarks on re-visiting fresh interpretations of the words we heard in the beginning: baking, making, throwing, building, etc. The short, simple, active verbs make this book a reading experience that is very accessible for young ears and eyes.
White’shomey illustrations utilize a purple-pink palette for one sister, and orange-peach tones for the other, complementing their respective brunette and auburn hair colors. Interior scenes are accented with mellow teal greens, contrasting with the beautiful outdoor images glowing with purple and pale grey snow. Young readers will enjoy discovering amusing repeated details from scene to scene, whether it be favorite stuffed toys or paper snowflakes.
The final spread repeats the book title, Snow Sisters!, and shows us how the two have found a time and place to come together and share their snowy fun. Readers young and old, with or without siblings, will appreciate the abundant and inclusive approaches for having fun and celebrating snow in this delightful, cheery debut.
This year there are more fab Father’s Day books than I’ve ever seen before so I found it rather difficult to narrow down my favorites to just a few. Here are some of this year’s Father’s Day books I recommend.
Hammer and Nails Written by Josh Bledsoe Illustrated by Jessica Warrick (Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8) Josh Bledsoe wrote this story about my husband, or at least he could have because the father in Hammer and Nails (love the wordplay in this title) has a heart of gold with a touch of pink. When his daughter’s playdate plans fall through, it’s dad to the rescue, declaring a daddy daughter day. The pair agree to trade off on completing their lists of activities they’d intended to do before things changed.
If you’ve ever known a father to play dress up with his daughter and even agree to have his hair and nails done, you’ll find that guy here, bonding beautifully with his child. At the same time, the dad asks his daughter to step outside her comfort zone to pound some nails into loose boards on their fence amongst other chores. “Princess, sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun. Try it.” Everything about Hammer and Nails is fun and upbeat from Warrick’s silly scene of a laundry fight to daddy and daughter getting down with some celebratory moves. With each new page turn, this book will fill young readers with the joy of experiencing quality and creative time spent with a caring dad.
Beard in a Box Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter (Knopf BYR: $17.99, Ages 4-8) Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of Father’s Day book, Beard in a Box arrives! A boy who is convinced the source of his dad’s coolness and power is his beard, decides it’s time to grow one of his own. Only he can’t, despite multiple imaginative efforts. Lo and behold, what should happen to be on TV while this lad is despairing his lack of facial hair – a commercial touting the amazing kid-tested, dad-approved Beard in a Box from SCAM-O. This simple five-step program appeared to work and there were all kinds of bristles available -from the Beatnik to the Biker, the Lincoln to the Santa. What the commercial failed to say was that after following all the required steps, the user had to wait 10-15 years to see results.
When little dude tells his dad how he was ripped off, he notices his father’s beard is gone. Can that mean his dad has lost his coolness? Maybe not with Cotter’s clever examples proving you can’t judge a dad by his beard! The hilarity of Beard in a Box begins with the cover and continues all the way through to the endorsements from satisfied Beard in a Box customers on the back cover: “Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Trust me on this.” – Bigfoot A not-to-miss new read for Father’s Day or any day you need a good laugh or your child yearns for a five o’clock shadow.
Dad School Written by Rebecca Van Slyke Illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7) Kids go to school to learn their ABCs so when a little boy’s dad says he also went to school, the youngster figures it had to be Dad school. Van Slyke and Burris have teamed up again after last year’s hit, Mom School, to bring readers a glimpse of all the skills a father must acquire to parent successfully.
“At Dad school, I think they learn how to fix boo-boos, how to mend leaky faucets, and how to make huge snacks …” There is a lot of wonderful humor in both the text and artwork that will not be lost on parents reading the story aloud, especially the parts about dads learning how to multi-talk or their failure to learn how to match clothes, brush hair, and clean the bathroom. Dad School is totally entertaining from start to finish, only I wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I loved the little boy’s imagination and am certain your kids will, too.
Monster & Son Written by David LaRochelle Illustrated by Joey Chou (Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 2-4) Here’s a fresh take on Father’s Day, a look at the father/son dynamic from all kinds of monsters’ point of view. Filling the pages of this wild ride are yetis, werewolves, dragons, serpents and skeletons sharing their own special, often “rough and rowdy” type of love.
Chou’s visuals are modern. They feel bold and imaginative with colors perfectly suited for a monstrous read. LaRochelle has written Monster & Sonusing well-paced rhyme that adds to the various father/son activities featured on every page. Whether stirring up waves for a game of catch or frightening off a knight coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, these monster dads all have one thing in common, and though it may be giant-sized, it undeniably love.
The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers Written by Avi (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up) This collection of seven short stories is sure to move middle grade readers and make them think about their own relationships with their fathers and grandfathers. According to the jacket flap, what the stories have in common is that they each explore the question: “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Each story features a new character facing a different situation.
Stories flows easily one to the next meaning they can be read in one sitting or just one at a time. I’ve chosen three to highlight here. In the book’s opening story, Dream Catcher, Paul is an 8th grader who feels disconnected from his father. When circumstances require him to spend a week of school break with his estranged grandfather in Denver, Paul begins to understand the demons that have plagued his grandfather and caused the estrangement. Both Paul and his grandfather work together to forge a new relationship leaving the reader with hope that Paul’s father and grandfather may too at last be reconciled.
Beat Up introduces Charlie who has plans to attend a church dance despite a friend’s warning that gangs may be present. Though the dance goes off well, Charlie gets surrounded by a gang then beat up on his way home, only to be chastised by his unforgiving father for having pretended to be hurt and knocked out rather than fighting back and putting himself at greater risk. “Biderbiks don’t cry” is what Charlie’s dad believes, but Charlie is clearly not a coward for having sought a safe solution to his assault. Beat Up is a powerful tale of a son’s courage to speak up in the face of his father’s unjust fury.
Departed deals with the accidental death of Luke’s father before their camping trip that shakes up a family. When what appears to be the father’s ghost remains around the apartment, Luke realizes what he must do with his father’s ashes to set his soul free, and thus come to terms with his father’s passing. While there are not always happy endings, there are certainly realistic, satisfying, and sometimes heart wrenching conclusions offering much to learn from the various young men’s approach to life and the father/son dynamic.
Papa Seahorse’s Search by Anita Bijsterbosch (Clavis; $14.95, Ages 1-4) A sturdy lift-the-flap counting book about a Papa Seahorse looking everywhere for his missing little seahorse. Numbers introduced range from 1-10 and the cast of characters making appearances behind and in front of the assorted flaps include a colorful puffer fish, sea turtles, angelfish, sea snake, crabs, a sea anemone, jellyfish, octopuses and shrimp. This book will provide interactive fun for pre-schoolers and toddlers alike.
Superhero Dad Written by Timothy Knapman Illustrated by Joe Berger (Nosy Crow; $15.99, Ages 3-7) Kids will relate to the main character’s über admiration for his father in this rhyming read-aloud, Superhero Dad. Though not a new concept, the idea of a dad who can make a super breakfast though he’s only half awake, or make monsters disappear, is one that is always appealing to children. Coupled with comic book styled artwork, and a definitely cool die-cut cover, this humorous take on what qualities qualify for superhero-dom is a fast paced, fun read that is sure to please for Father’s Day.
Gator Dad Written and illustrated by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7) If you’re looking for something original, this is it. The father in Brian Lies’ Gator Dad knows how to show his kids a good time and that’s evident on every wild and wacky gator-filled page. Intent on squeezing in the most fun a day can offer with his three gator kids, Gator Dad can make roaming aimlessly in the park an adventure, make bath time the best time, and make bed time stories come alive. It’s obvious this dad gains the greatest joy giving his gator-all in everything he does with and for his children.
Meet Baby Animals on The Day They Are Born With A Book of Babies by Il Sung Na & reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
Spring is just around the corner. It’s the time when bulbs blossom into flowers, leaves sprout from buds on tree branches, and baby animals are born.
Take a journey around the world with a duck who has just become the father of five noisy ducklings. You’ll see many different animals in this beautifully illustrated picture book, A Book of Babiesby Il Sung Na (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.99, Ages 0-3) and your little ones will learn that some are hatched, some are not; some have scales, some have fur; there are single births, and multiple births; and daddys sometimes play a bigger role than mommys in raising their young (as in the case of the seahorse), but at the end of the day, all types of babies must go to sleep. Father duck comes home after his adventures and finds that even his noisy ducklings get sleepy.
A Book of Babies is a perfect gift for a new parent, soon-to-be big brother or sister, and would also be a sweet, but healthy addition to any Easter basket. Sparse, but lyrical text, and illustrations done in all the colors of the rainbow, make this the perfect book to hold the attention of even the youngest ‘reader.’
Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Newbery medalist Cynthia Voigt (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 8-12) is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.
Mister Max (Book 1 in a trilogy) is middle grade fiction at its most entertaining. There are 25 chapters with curious titles such as Chapter 4 “In which Max doesn’t want to get out of bed, Grammie is bossy, and Madame Olenka enters the scene” to lure readers into the story. There are at least seven illustrations by Iacopo Bruno scattered throughout the novel, but since I read an ARC (advanced readers’ copy), the final artwork was still to come. However the rough sketches I saw looked exactly how I’d pictured certain scenes and I liked what Bruno chose to detail for every illustration. They certainly help ground the reader in the time period.
This first Mister Max installment takes readers to a country never named, but that sounds a lot like England. Kids will also note that the time period is never mentioned nor is the type of currency which leaves lots open for interpretation and imagination. The port city where all the action (and there’s plenty of that) takes place comprises Old Town and New Town (there’s a map included in the beginning). It’s in Old Town where we meet twelve-year-old Max (a lad with unusually colored eyes) and his parents Mary and William Starling in their cozy dining room circa early 1900s, perhaps in the Edwardian era. The Starlings, founders of the Starling Theatrical Company, earn a comfortable living, but excitement is more or less vicarious. So, when they receive a mysterious invitation from an Indian Maharajah to journey by sea and then help him establish a theatrical company of his own, the promise of such an exotic adventure is hard to resist.
I was immediately transported to this masterfully created land where Max’s parents are then kidnapped at embarkation and he is left to fend for himself. Tweens will be easily hooked on the mystery of what’s happened to the adults and a bunch of other mysteries which ensue. Voigt’s colorful cast of characters, by the way, are as equally engaging as the storyline.
Readers will likely relate to Max’s desire for independence, a big theme often repeated throughout the book. But how can he manage on his own? Thankfully there’s his Grammie, the librarian, living just across the way to make sure he continues to eat and be educated. Having grown up in the theatre, Max is adept at creating new personas like his actor parents. This skill will serve him well as he seeks out employment opportunities to keep the money coming in while also attending to his studies.
It isn’t long before the mystery of Max’s parents’ disappearance starts unfolding as the appearance of certain suspicious indivuals helps shed light on what may have happened. All the while Max is finding other mysteries cross his path. Hired first by a father and daughter looking for a lost dog, Max begins to earn money solving these problems (or crimes?) wearing theater costumes and using lines from various plays his father’s performed in. And though many people in the novel refer to Max as a detective, he is adamant he is not a detective, but rather a “solutioneer.”
The intertwining of some sub-plots is fun as readers watch most things fall into place as the book progresses. For example, Max’s involvement in finding a lost treasure may also be the link to resurrecting a failed romance. And his sense of consciousness grows as the caseload does.
When the book ends with Chapter 25 entitled “In which what is lost is – in a way – found,” readers will be happy to find this is really not the end and will be eagerly awaiting Book 2.
Take your children on a journey back in time to learn about a man compelled to make pictures from a very young age. I let A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin ($17.99, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 5-8) simply wash over me as I read about an artist whose works I now so want to discover and enjoy.
From the team behind the Caldecott Honor-winning A River of Words (that would be Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet) comes this remarkable, uplifting story of an African American WWI veteran who couldn’t stop drawing even with a war wound that badly damaged his right arm. I found myself rooting for this determined and resourceful man and was thrilled when fame finally caught up with him.
There are just so many interesting elements in this absorbingly written and creatively imagined and illustrated picture book. These include newspaper headlines, quotes, glimpses of the artist at work, some of his art and back pages with notes galore from both author and illustrator, further reading suggestions, websites and a map of where in the U.S. you can see Pippin’s art. Suffice it to say you will not be disappointed when reading about Horace’s youth in first Pennsylvania then New York, his assorted trials and travails following WWI all the way up to his eventual recognition some four plus decades later as a folk artist when he was once again living in Pennsylvania. The way this award-winning team of Bryant and Sweet have managed to capture the essence of all that was Horace Pippin, from his love of the feel of charcoal to his impressive drive to retrain himself to draw inspired by an iron poker, deserves tremendous praise.
What happens when your dad, who grew up celebrating Christmas, and your mom, who grew up celebrating Hanukkah, get married and raise a family? They celebrate both holidays, that’s what!
In the 21st century when more and more families are interfaith ones, it’s common to find beautifully decorated Christmas trees alongside brightly glowing Hanukkias (the special Hanukkah Menorah with places for 9 candles).
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama written and illustrated by Selina Alko ($16.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 5 and up) brings the right mix of both family traditions in an easy to understand, thoughtfully illustrated picture book. I think it’s fantastic how the family featured in the story embrace both holidays. Together they prepare a meal for the last night of Hanukkah including turkey stuffed with cranberry kugel dressing while Mama makes “jelly donuts and fruitcake for dessert.” Throughout the home readers will see festive decorations of Mogen David (Jewish stars), candy canes, mistletoe and poinsettias.
And while there are indeed gifts galore for the two holidays celebrated, it’s really not about the gifts, but about families being together. The story of the miracle of the oil that lasted eight nights is shared for all to enjoy. Soon after presents are unwrapped from under the Christmas tree, the family relaxes and soaks up the last vestiges of the blended holiday festivites that will become memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Also included in the end pages is the Cranberry Kugel Dressing Recipe if your family would like to add this delicious food to your seasonal repast repertoire. So get out your dreidels, your Hanukkah gelt, string lights up on your Christmas tree, and celebrate all the positives of being a blended 21st century family.
Dog Loves Drawing by author/illustrator Louise Yates ($16.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, Ages 4 and up) is a most imaginative book. It is a story about Dog who loves reading books so much he opens his own book store. One day his aunt sends him a blank book, which he finds to be refreshingly different than the books he’s used to reading. This one is a blank book – a sketch book with no words and no pictures. So Dog sharpens his pencil and gathers his brushes and draws a stickman. Miraculously that stickman comes to life and together, with one drawing after another, they doodle their way into a glorious imaginative adventure.
I have no doubt that Dog Loves Drawing will stir up creativity in your child in a most clever and original manner. Dog teaches us that we are limited only by our own imaginations. What’s better than a dog who loves to read and owns a book store? The darling drawings are made to look like those a child might make, but only more advanced. And I love the fact that Dog writes his aunt a thank you note for the sketch book she gave him. I’m a major advocate of writing thank you notes!
Before Dog Loves Drawing was written, Yates penned Dog Loves Books. Both of these titles would be a lovely addition to any child’s library. Consider making a holiday gift package with a set of colored pencils and a sketch book for the child in your life.
Ronna Mandel reviews Mine!($6.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 1 and up) by Shutta Crum with pictures by Patrice Barton.
I’m particularly partial to board books with few to no words so that parents can spend more time discussing what’s going on in a story than actually reading. This is exactly the case with Mine!
Two toddlers on a play date find fun and friendship as one proclaims all the toys are “Mine!” and the other sits patiently watching calamity after hilarious calamity ensues as the other gathers up all that’s hers (or his because the toddlers’ genders are not pronounced). When the child, not keen on sharing, notices the visiting child pick up one dropped toy, the chaos begins. Enter playful pup and you can guess the rest. The story unfolds seamlessly with tumbles and tosses that need no description because the artwork is so vivid.
The joyfulness of this story is evident from giggles and grins galore on the characters’ faces including the dog (okay the dog doesn’t giggle, but he does woof). You will love the beautiful illustrations by Patrice Barton, and your children will be captivated by Mine! as will you.