It was Ripple the dolphin’s first day in her new aquarium and she was excited to make some new friends, but the water was still and quiet and all the animals looked scared and unhappy. So begins the picture book How to Make a Shark Smile written by bestselling authors, siblings and happiness pros, Shawn Achorand Amy Blankson, with illustrations byClaudia Ranucci.
The story opens with a smiling grey and white dolphin surrounded by the deep blue sea, and colorful plants and baby fish, anxious to make new friends. But as Ripple swims around looking for someone to play with “she saw electric eels with no zing.” She even notices “the seahorses weren’t horsing around.”
A spiky, black dotted, puffed up yellow blowfish appears with big bulging eyes and mouth wide open. Ranucci’s drawing shows the reader that our new friend is feeling anxious. As Ripple swims near “the blowfish began yelling, Shark alert! Shark alert! And Ripple realizes the blowfish, Bob, must think that she was the shark!” Ripple explains that she is a dolphin not a shark and the relieved Bob explains that Snark “the biggest, meanest shark ever seen eats entire tanks of fish when he wasn’t even hungry.” With a sweet smile still painted on Ripple’s face, the dolphin explains how she won’t let a shark spoil her happiness, the main message of this story.
Ripple invites Bob to play but Bob says “he is just a bite-sized fish trying to make it in the world.” Ripple replies, “Oh, my friend, it’s not my size or speed that makes me powerful or brave. It’s my mindset! I believe that my behavior matters. And today I choose to be happy.”
Snark is illustrated with an angry face swimming above Bob, whose face still displays fear. Ripple’s smile, however, remains constant. Ripple tells Bob she will teach him to play a game with Snark and this game will change Snark’s mindset. See if you think this game sounds familiar. Ripple looks into Bob’s face for seven seconds and tells him to try not to smile. Of course he smiles. The game catches on and soon the entire tank is laughing. That joy catches Snark’s attention, but being born means playing games is not his thing. Ripple challenges him, a deal is struck and Bob steps in to play the smile game with Snark. What ensues is unavoidable delight for the participants and for youngsters.
The colorful drawings depict the fish community coming together as they learn that happiness is a state of mind and a choice that’s up to them. Even outside of the tank the silhouettes of tourists can be seen snapping photos and watching in wonder as a “shark, a blowfish, and a dolphin” play together. Surely this was a sight to see!
The “Ripple effect” could be felt from that day on and the young reader learns that happiness can be a choice. Happy is as happy does! Achor and Blankson, who are both experts on cultivating happiness and have given TED talks on the subject, list helpful ways to develop a positive mindset in the back matter. They recommend fitting one or all of these techniques into your daily routine. This book is a great resource for teachers who are introducing mindfulness into their lesson plans, giving young kids tools they will take with them throughout their lives.
I’m a big fan of the BabyLit series and I especially like their alphabet primers, A is for America being no exception. It’s full of simple, relatable examples yet sophisticated with its retro-style art and bonanza of bright colors and detailed scenes.
Paprocki has assembled a pleasing assortment of Independence Day and overall America-themed illustrations including E is for Eagle and M is for Mount Rushmore. Of course it makes sense to share F is for Fireworks but I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Q is for Quill as we see John Hancock writing his easily identifiable cursive signature on the Declaration of Independence.
Playful and pertinent, this charming 32-page board book serves not only as an alphabet primer but as a terrific way to acquaint little ones with our country’s history. From the first colonies to the transcontinental railroad when east met west, from the pilgrims to George Washington, A is for Americahonors our nation’s past and what it means to us now.
My Fourth of July is a joyful look at Independence Day through the eyes of an excited little boy. The holiday tale unfolds with the lad still in his pajamas, something I found so sweet, watching the parade passing by from his screen door then even joining in as shown on the cover. My town has a Memorial Day parade but if it had one on the Fourth of July it would be just like this one, full of kids on bikes carrying pinwheels or waving flags and generally having tons of fun. In fact, we even have a big park where many celebrations take place around the gazebo or bandshell just like in Spinelli’s story.
The boy’s in a hurry to get to the park so the family can claim a picnic table, another thing I could relate to! There are hot dogs galore on the grill and all the other mouth-watering food we associate with Independence Day. This imaginary, small town USA has a flag-draped train that passes through (like a scene out of the film Oklahoma) as well as face painting, organized games, a talent show and a concert at the park. Written as a warm, happy slice of life story with little to no obstacles (unless getting a prime picnic spot counts), Spinelli’s picture book celebrates family, community and tradition. It’s wonderful when everyone makes their way to the baseball field to watch the fireworks with Day’s ebullient illustrations depicting the magical display and the emotions it elicits as the day’s festivities come to an end. If you love a feel good picture book that feels both nostalgic and new at the same time, this one’s for you.
Calling yourself an American is more than watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, or eating fast food. It is believing that all people are equal as told by Rana DiOrio along with debut children’s book author, Elad Yoran, in the forty-page picture book, What Does it Mean to be American? Colorful, feel good illustrations by Nina Mata beautifully convey the many different aspects the authors address. Teachers and parents alike will enjoy this upbeat social studies lesson that educates young children on the importance of being grateful and that dreams can come true by working hard because all Americans have the freedom to choose whom we love, what we believe, what we do, and where we live.
The story begins with an interracial couple and their daughter traveling through the desert surrounded by cactus, mountains and a clear blue sky in a van packed with suitcases. The opening sentence is the question, What does it mean to be American? In the array of artwork, we see the young girl smiling as she attends a half Jewish wedding ceremony; she salutes a woman in military gear; and in another she hugs an older former military man seated in a wheelchair. Being American means having access to abundant natural resources so we see the child walking in the great outdoors, enjoying time in nature while holding her mother’s hand, a reminder to be grateful all year for her family’s many blessings.
As the reader turns the page, our character sees people from all countries working in America and learns to appreciate that people from all kinds of backgrounds have something to offer her, whether it’s playing a game of chess or exercising with an elder in the park. As the little girl sits on her father’s shoulders, he tells her about people in the past who had the creativity to invent new things and that she should be proud of all that Americans have accomplished, yet humble about all we still need to learn. The illustrations take us back to the invention of the computer and the automobile, but also remind us that women fought for their right to vote.
This vital story that every parent must take time with their young kids to discuss, reminds us to become our best self, but that we also have an obligation to help others (something children can NEVER hear enough of!) With mindfulness lessons on the importance of being present mixed in with a rich lesson in our American history, readers learn that the greatest nation in the world can always be better!
In addition to loving the message throughout this book, I got excited reading the back matter. Writers Rana and Elad share that their intention for writing the story was to encourage adults in children’s lives to start meaningful conversations about what it means to be American. With a fabulous history lesson reminding readers what our forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence to a guided list of questions to continue the conversation with young and older children alike, we are reminded about all the amazing people who made America what it is today.
This is a great read for teachers who can jump start a discussion with these initial questions, and then lead into so many other topics. Bravo to the writers who said, Being American means welcoming people from other countries and helping them learn what it means to be American … and appreciating that our differences make us kinder, smarter, healthier and stronger. Don’t miss the other great books in the What Does It Mean to Be …? series.
•Reviewed by Guest Reviewer Ronda Einbinder
Ronda is a teacher/writer who worked for Irvine Unified School District assisting students in grades K-6. She is also a 500-Hour Registered Yoga Instructor, teaching yoga and mindfulness both publicly and privately. Previously, she was a writer and publicist for ObesityHelp magazine and non-profit medical facilities.
Clickhereto read last year’s Fourth of July book reviews.