STARFISH Written by Lisa Fipps (Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal
I soaked up every last word of Starfish, the Printz Honor-winning debut by Lisa Fipps, and could easily dive back in and read it all over again because I felt such a strong connection with the main character, Ellie. This moving middle-grade novel told in verse takes us inside Ellie’s head as she navigates life at school and at home where she is not only bullied by classmates for being overweight but by her mother as well.
Early on readers learn that Ellie lives by her Fat Girl Rules (e.g. Make yourself small; If you’re fat, there are things you can’t have), finding refuge in her pool at home “starfishing” as she spreads out freely claiming her space. She also finds comfort in the company of her BFF, Viv, who moves away, but remains an ally from afar. Ellie’s father is a psychiatrist, compassionate and loving. On the other hand, Ellie’s mother is a writer whose harsh “words gut me like a fish.” She is always after Ellie to diet, and presses her to consider bariatric surgery, even going so far as to take her to doctors for evaluation. I ached along with Ellie as her mom mistreated her by constantly focusing on the bad rather than loving the good. Home should be a safe place for Ellie but it isn’t. It’s a constant reminder of how she is not meeting expectations between her demanding mother, her insulting older brother, and her non-supportive older sister who dubbed Ellie “Splash” at her fifth birthday party following a cannonballing incident. Tensions spill over into everything Ellie does.
With Viv gone, Ellie and her neighbor Catalina become fast friends with Catalina’s parents and siblings offering her the kind of family life and acceptance she wishes she had at home. A therapist Ellie begins to see, referred to as Doc in the book, provides the kind of insight and strategies Ellie can use to approach the bullies who think nothing of fat-shaming this bright, beautiful adolescent. Doc helps Ellie learn to appreciate herself and her gifts, reminding her that “No matter what you weigh, you deserve for people to treat you like a human being with feelings.” This sentiment will resonate with many young readers who can use so much of what Fipps writes as a reassuring resource for any bullying and self-doubt they may be experiencing.
The intimacy of this book comes from the verse and Ellie’s powerful voice. It’s as if we’re living each experience with her and cheering for her as she takes on the bullies and turns the tables on them without having to compromise by losing a single pound. Fipps drives home the point that bullies are the ones with the issues, not those being picked on. She shows how kids, whether big or small, tall or short, can embrace their uniqueness and love themselves for who they truly are not just how they appear. It’s no surprise how much praise this novel received. I hope you’ll share it with kids you know so they can walk in Ellie’s shoes and understand what size-based discrimination feels like and how to be a part of the change needed.
Max and Molly take a ride into town with Mom. Regardless of how “spacious gracious” their automobile is, they’re squished and squashed. They jiggle, wiggle, push, and shove until Mom devises the perfect plan to change their perspective. Here’s a hint, quack-quack, oink-oink. Before long, the car appears more like a zoo! You’ll have to read the book to discover the rhyming words the kids use to tame this situation.
Rhyme pairings and onomatopoeias make this a hilarious read-aloud that kids will want to read time and time again.
The talented Dana Wulfekotte’s[The Remember Balloons] whimsical illustrations demand attention. It’s the type of book I would purchase from the cover alone! Soft muted tones make space for raucous and active spreads. Animal lovers are sure to notice charming and articulate details in this cast of animal characters, such as a pig wearing a flat cap and a giraffe sporting a jogging suit. The representation of diverse families allows children from different identities and cultures to see themselves in this book.
The oldest of four kids, Rebecca, and her family took many car trips. Since she and her siblings were absolute angels, she’s sure nothing in her past inspired this story!
So what are you waiting for – More? Pick up a copy of this book for a ton of fun! e
The traditional children’s book launch is typically at a bookstore, someone’s home, or occasionally at a venue related to the subject matter. Prior to the pandemic I attended several book birthday parties and launches every month, but since being stuck at home, I’ve begun watching them on Facebook and Instagram or via Zoom. I was so impressed with Molly Ruttan’s Instagram launch in May that I asked her if we could discuss the ins and outs of creating a virtual book launch. As a special bonus, Molly’s kindly offered to share her Instagram Live launch today so please scroll down to watch. Please note that due to copyright protections Molly’s book reading ofThe Strayhas been edited out. You can also read my review of the picture book here.
GoodReadsWithRonna:What made you choose to do your virtual launch on Instagram rather than on another platform like Facebook?
Molly Ruttan:First I want to say thank you, Ronna, for having me on your excellent blog. It is truly an honor to be featured here.
As I watched the world closing down because of the pandemic, I realized I needed to start planning a virtual book launch for my debut author/illustrator book THE STRAY, (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Randomhouse). The idea was extremely intimidating—I struggle with keeping up with social media, and I had no experience with live social media events, at all. On top of that I am terrified of public speaking and don’t feel terribly photogenic! But a good friend from my book critique group, April Zufelt, met with me several times (virtually) and provided such an ongoing and positive pep talk that she convinced me into thinking I might be able to pull it off! We chose Instagram Live because she was most familiar with it and so could teach me how it would work
GRWR: Did you make an outline for the presentation? Tell us about how you came up with the program.
MR:I tend to get like a deer in headlights when I’m put in front of a camera—winging it would not be a good idea—so I knew I would need an outline of the itinerary posted where I could see it, to help me keep on track. I put it on a bulletin board, and then while I rehearsed I kept adding notes and reminders to the point where I needed a second bulletin board! Then with my nerves rattling I decided to keep the whole display up during the live show. I didn’t end up using it that much, but it was nice to know it was there.
Outlines and lists were also crucial for my preparation. I made lists every step of the way. I had a vision that I wanted the launch to be like a birthday party, and I wanted it to be interesting for kids. I had previously made a hat of my main character Grub, for Halloween, so I knew right away I would wear it, and it also gave me the idea for the craft.
I proceeded by brainstorming other things I might do at a birthday party/live presentation with kids present. Once I got a good idea of what I wanted to include, I wrote out a schedule for myself to keep track of what I needed to make time for each day. In the months before, I had started making swag, but I had stopped when things started to shut down. With April’s encouragement I decided to proceed with ordering it and using it for a week-long Instagram giveaway to generate interest.
I also created several short animations as invitations and reminders. (I had previously animated my own book trailer). It was additionally tricky because at the time, we were in lockdown. But fortunately a few days before the event the lockdown lifted, so my (grown) daughter Sydney offered to come over and help me. That was a godsend. (We were still very careful not to get too close to each other, though!) Sydney helped me adjust the flow of the presentation and organize the props so that everything would be at hand at the right time. She arranged the background and framed the scene. I rehearsed virtually in front of her and April, and we refined. My book launch day happened to fall on my Dad’s birthday, so the day before the event I baked cupcakes and decorated one of them to match the book, so I could light a candle and blow it out, to celebrate both of them.
GRWR:Which type of online launch do you think best highlights an author or author/illustrator’s picture book: Q+A, talking head, combination of both, or something else?
MR: I think this is something that really depends on the type of book you’ve written, and who your audience is. It also depends if you are the writer, the illustrator, or both. I had trouble finding any launches to view in preparation— this was still pretty early on. I viewed one that was done in a Q+A format, and although I found that format interesting, it didn’t have quite the energy I wanted. Since my launch I’ve seen some interesting power-point type presentations, and/or pre-recorded video demos within a Q+A, which I thought worked well. I think it also depends on the tech you have available. I work on a desktop MacPro that doesn’t have a camera on the monitor, so doing a Zoom-type presentation where I could share my screen wasn’t an option. In the end I think any format can work as long as you keep your audience in mind and speak to them. I got through it by imagining that I was talking to kids.
GRWR:How much time should someone expect to prep for their launch?
MR: Again, I imagine it depends on the type of book you’ve written, and what you plan to do. I gave myself a month, which wasn’t a lot of time, especially since in addition to preparing for the launch activities, I was also ordering the swag & creating the animated announcements. Plus I was busy with work. I would advise giving yourself more than a month! Write out what you want to do way ahead of time and create a schedule. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!
GRWR:How long a program should it be?
MR: Regarding the length of the event, as I mentioned before, I rehearsed and then revised places that went too long or could be expanded. My launch took about 45 minutes because that was how long it took to get through everything. It was longer at first because the craft took forever! I realized I needed to make some of the craft pieces before-hand and have them ready, like in a cooking show, and that worked much better. I’ve seen some launches that are simply an introduction and then a reading; their launches are much shorter than mine was. I think short & sweet is great; longer is great too if you have a presentation that is engaging. (The launch video I’ve posted on You Tube is much shorter because I took out the book reading.)
GRWR:Do you recommend including a giveaway to viewers during the launch?
MR:I would recommend it! I believe people truly enjoy winning things, and I get a lot of joy giving presents to people. Announcing the winners was a fun way to end the “party” and having a winner to announce the next day (from the giveaway during the event) was a great way to follow up on social media. I also ended the “party” by showing the beautiful activity sheets that my sister had made. It felt a little like handing out party favors– something for everyone!
GRWR:What was the hardest thing you encountered when creating your presentation? For example, looking at camera, not having a live audience to gauge interest, keeping on schedule, figuring out the tech, etc.?
MR: Aside from getting over my stage fright, and trying to remember everything without squinting at my notes that were pinned up everywhere, the hardest thing for me was the social media tech. I had decided early on that I wanted to “film” the event at my table in my studio, so that I could have all my art supplies and craft materials in view. I thought it would be as simple as attaching my phone to an old lamp stand, but it wasn’t. Among other things, like lighting and sound, Sydney figured out how to connect her phone feed to her laptop so I could see what I was doing—something that would have caused me to have a meltdown! She also helped me with Instagram afterwards. Good tech people are invaluable!
GRWR:In terms of feedback from viewers, was there a particular part of your talk that was most popular?
MR:Because of the way that I was filming, I was unable to see comments as they came in during the event. When I watched the recording afterwards I was truly awed and touched by the enthusiasm of my audience. It’s hard to pinpoint if any one thing stood out—there was a lot of response all the way through it. One of the things I had done was a draw-along demo, with a giveaway attached to it. I was delighted to see so many pictures flooding in after the event! All in all it was well attended, topping out at about 70 people logging on, with between 30-40 at any one time.
GRWR:Was there a call to action, so to speak, when you do an IG live event so that people watching will buy the book and get it signed like they do at an in person event? How do you and other people launching handle that aspect?
MR:In terms of making the book available to buy, I put a message in my Instagram bio, with the link to my page on the Penguiun/Random House site, which has many different choices of venues. At the end of the party I instructed people to the link. Unfortunately there was no way of signing the books, using that method. I did make book plates, some of which I had signed and sent to a local bookstore, but I didn’t mention that; I had only sent a handful. Of course I signed the books that were in my giveaway, but I have been thinking about how to honor the people who bought my book at the launch … maybe I will do another IG “call to action”, so I can send out the rest of my name plates! I am honestly not sure what other people do. Launching a book during a pandemic is definitely a work in progress!
GRWR:What was the one most useful pieces of advice you were given about doing a virtual book launch during the pandemic?
MR: I was pretty stressed out getting all of this together—I almost lost sight of the fun and joy in it. April kept telling me not to worry so much about it, and to enjoy the time and the process. It was really good advice, and it made a huge difference. It kept me in touch with how much I live in eternal gratitude for having a book that I have created, in my hands. I have tried to keep her advice in mind ever since, for my life!
In the end, I really don’t know how my launch compares or if it was even successful! But I did it. I pushed through fear and stress, I had a great time, and I learned to laugh at myself, to boot. Thank you so much for your time and interest in my book birthday party, Ronna!
And thanks Molly for your honest and helpful insights into putting a virtual launch together. This info is going to come in handy for a lot of authors and illustrators over the next few months.
It’s not every day that a creature from far off in the galaxy crash lands its UFO on Earth. So when it does, inThe Straywritten and illustrated byMolly Ruttan, the thoughtful thing to do is bring the alien home if you happen to encounter it. That’s exactly what the family in Ruttan’s debut picture book does. Ironically the family doesn’t seem to get that he is not a dog, at first, like when they note he didn’t have a collar, and give him among other things, a Frisbee and a bone, which adds to the hilarity of the situation. The author illustrator has not only created an amusing and fun way to tell the story of finding a stray, she’s brought it heart and that’s a wonderful combination.
In summary, after the family find the stray, an out-of-this-world kind of dog, they bring it home and name the pet Grub. Now Grub’s no ordinary stray and gets up to all sorts of mischief. Yet, despite his errant ways, the family still love him. That message of unconditional love shines in every illustration. And adorable Grub knows how to create chaos. You’ll see exactly what havoc Grub can wreak in the neighborhood street spread below. This is a scene you’ll want to look at closely with kids because Ruttan’s ensured there’s a lot going on.In fact, the entire book’s a delightful visual romp filled with energetic art in a bluish palette, blending whimsy and emotion on every page.
No matter what the family does and how much love they bestow upon Grub, he doesn’t seem to be happy. That makes them wonder “… if it was because he already had a family somewhere else.” This key element of The Stray, that everyone lost belongs somewhere and helping them find their way home is kind, will be a comforting one for children. Seeing Grub’s adoptive family go through the experience together to locate his outer space family is also reassuring. Young readers will be happy when it turns out Grub’s Earth family didn’t have to try very hard.
In interviews Ruttan’s mentioned that she always wanted The Stray to have a dual story line, one in which she drew upon her own family’s experience of finding strays over the years paired with comical things going on in the illustrations which weren’t mentioned in the spare text. That works so well here that kids will be pointing things out to their parents as the story is read. Ruttan’s also added a few “Easter eggs” to the illustrations, for those hard-core fans of UFO lore, like the portrait of Barney and Betty Hill on the wall in living room, the symbols found in the 1947 wreckage at Roswell on the Frisbee, and others.Don’t forget to peek under the book jacket because the case cover art is different.
The engaging art was created with charcoal, pastel, and a little liquid acrylic paint thrown in. The final art was made using digital media. Whether you’re seeking a bedtime story or one to share at story time, The Stray will find a way into your heart as it did mine.
Come back tomorrow for an interview with Molly about how she launched her picture book during the pandemic when bookstores were closed.
NOTEWORTHY FACT:Today is the 51st anniversary of the first moon landing! While it’s not a UFO event, it’s a significant day for humankind and space.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Find out more about The Strayin my January 2020 cover reveal with a guest post by Mollyhere.
Download fun activities to accompany your reading of The Strayhere.
Adopting an extraterrestrial leads to hilariously mixed results!
When a family goes for a stroll one morning and encounters an adorable little creature with no collar or tag (who just happens to be sitting in the wreckage of an unidentified crash-landed object), they happily adopt the lovable stray. They name him Grub and set about training him, but that works surprisingly . . . poorly. Taking him for awalk is an unexpected adventure, too. As hard as they try to make Grub feel at home, it’s just not working. Could he already have a family of his own? Maybe he isn’t really a stray, after all–just lost. But how on earth will they be able to find his family when he seems to come from somewhere . . . out of this world?
FROM THE AUTHOR ILLUSTRATOR:
This book was so much fun for me to create, and combines three of the many things I love: family, animals, and science fiction! The family in the story is modeled after my own close-knit family. They stick together from the start to the finish. Grub, the stray, is found destitute and alone, and like many of the strays I have personally cared for, enthusiastically accepts the family’s invitation to take him in. Putting this story into the context of UFOs and visitors from space was pure joy for me; I have spent many an hour with binoculars, gazing at the night sky and wondering who might be out there! Plus, hasn’t everyone sometimes wondered if their pet has come from somewhere unearthly?
ABOUT THE COVER:
To create the art for the cover, I again combined things I love. First I got messy with charcoal, pastel, and a little liquid acrylic paint thrown in. Then I composed the final art with digital media. The final result is very similar to the original comp, shown here with a visitor at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico. They approved!
HOME IN THE WOODS
Written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus
“This book is inspired not only by the stories from [my grandmother],” says Wheeler, “but by the entire generation that experienced the Great Depression. They will soon be gone, and if we haven’t yet collected their stories, the time is now.”
Home in the Woods, the latest picture book by Eliza Wheeler is a treat for the eyes and soul. The embossed title on the book jacket is gorgeous as is the winter scape underneath. The water color and ink artwork is simply stunning.
Travel back in time as this compelling story, based on Wheeler’s grandmother’s life in the Wisconsin woods during the Great Depression, pulls readers right into each meticulously and movingly illustrated page.
Told from the perspective of Wheeler’s grandmother, Marvel, Home in the Woods introduces readers to the six-year-old and her seven siblings along with Mum, a newly widowed and stoic 34-year-old. This 40-page book unfolds over four seasons beginning in Summer when the time is ideal to move into an abandoned tar-paper shack they find in the woods. “You never know what treasures we’ll find,” says Mum. While Marvel doesn’t believe the rundown hut can ever be a treasure let alone a home, she carries on nonetheless relying on the closeness of her family and her mother’s optimism. That energy is conveyed in scenes like the one where seven of the siblings (the youngest, at 3- months-old, is at home with Mum) happily collect berries. Wheeler subtly shows how nature plays an important role in both the family’s struggle and survival.
The blue tones of Summer shift when Autumn arrives and “rust and ruby leaves” provide a beautiful backdrop for this season’s art. Everyone in the family pitches in whether it’s splitting wood to heat the shack or pulling weeds and picking “veggies.” As baby Eva munches a carrot, Mum cooks preserves and the children prepare for winter by stocking up the cellar with whatever they were able to harvest.
On a visit to Bennett’s General Store, the siblings look longingly at the inviting shop window, but they have learned how to do without. They can only afford to “buy some basics.” Cleverly, the kids have invented a game they’ve dubbed General Store that keeps them entertained for hours. Beside the hut, Marvel displays “mud sweets,” little Lowell is the jeweler, older sister Bea sells fine hats (note the creativity of the hats Mum is admiring), and the others all find fulfilling counters to man.
When Winter’s bitter winds blow, the family huddles by the pot-belly stove as the two oldest boys “trek out to hunt for food.” Blue tones return, but the flames of the fire, the glowing lantern, the gold in the children’s crowns, and in the patchwork pieces as Mum teaches Bea to quilt all depict a warmth that is the fabric of this loving family. Marvel shares how her brother Rich teaches her to read in another touching illustration that is rich with contentment.
The illustration above clues readers into Mum’s silent fears for her family while the words, “But Mum stays awake into the night …” tell us what we’ve guessed all along. Living in the woods, barely eking out a living, and supporting her family of nine has taken its toll on this strong woman. Mum prays for her children to get safely through winter and the Depression.
The cycle of seasons culminates in Spring. “The cottonwoods are all in bloom” and a spirit of rebirth and renewal fills everyone’s hearts just as the family’s pail is filled with fresh milk at Erickson’s Farm. The children rejoice in the thrilling sound of birdsong and the blossoming of flowers. Enveloped by hope, the family has gotten through the harsh Wisconsin winter and emerged to find that the power of togetherness, teamwork and love has brought to them the promise of better days ahead and the true meaning of home.
The King of Kindergarten written by Newberry honoree Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, transforms the average day at kindergarten into an extraordinary, royal adventure.
It’s fun to read Barnes’ regal language. As Mom says, “today” her little boy is going to be the “King” and, with this encouragement, he prepares to venture out confidently. Brushing his “Royal Chiclets,” he dresses himself and “wolf[s] down a tower of pancakes.” I love the emphasis here on growth, maturity, and independence. Being “deliver[ed] … to a grand fortress” (a.k.a. school), he joins the “round table” where he cheerfully exchanges greetings with his classmates. The royal theme continues during circle time, recess, lunchtime, and beyond, each opportunity allowing him to exercise his noble code of honor by braving playground politics, sharing his royal bounty (in the form of an extra cup of chocolate pudding), and showing kindness to his friends. Vibrant colors invite us readers to participate in the little boy’s “Kindergarten Kingdom;” flowing shapes excite us with anticipation of what’s next on his adventure.
A great way to introduce the school day to budding kindergartners, The King of Kindergarten shows us how a little change of perspective can rewrite a potentially scary event into a magical tale.
See Derrick Barnes on August 31 at Little Shop of Stories, LLC in Decatur, GA
TRUMAN Written by Jean Reidy Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal
Written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, Truman is a heartwarming story of the loving relationship between a pet and his owner. But it can also be read as a tale about the challenges a younger sibling faces as his older sister starts school.
There is no doubt readers of all ages will fall in love with Truman. How could you not? He’s “the size of a donut—a small donut—and every bit as sweet.” In simple yet powerful ways, Reidy and Cummins express the affection Truman and Sarah share. Sarah isn’t merely Truman’s owner; she’s “his Sarah” (my emphasis) who shares the same “peaceful and pensive” personality as her adorable tortoise. Humble shapes and bursts of yellow throughout paint a happy home with decor that brings back memories of my own childhood, notably, the Felix the Cat look-a-like clock on the wall.
This particular day, though, is “truly unsettling” because Sarah is acting different. She eats a “big banana” at breakfast, “clip[s] on a blue bow in her hair,” “strap[s] on a backpack SOOOOOO big thirty-two tortoises [can] ride along in it,” and leaves extra food for Truman. Most shockingly, she boards the number 11 bus, that mysterious bus he can see from his window riding in the “honking,” “growling” city below. Truman spends the day in worrisome wonder as to where Sarah could possibly be and why it’s taking her so long to return.
Through Reidy’s funny tone and Cummins’ artistic perspective, Truman’s journey out of the safety of his tank, and his determination to find his beloved owner is as endearing as it is humorous. Of all the challenges Truman faces, my favorite is his crossing of the living room rug—“That glorious … ENDLESS rug” made all the more imposing by the mean looking toys along his path we see through Truman’s eyes. When he hears the number 11 bus, he’s ready to cross the threshold, but Sarah is back in time to reunite with her pet and congratulate him on his bravery.
Truman encourages all of us facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with the message cleverly written on city bus #11: See New Sights! Hear New Sounds! Think New Thoughts!
Can an honorable pirate be loyal to more than one captain? This is the question posed in Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten! written by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Eda Kaban.
Equipped with the pirate basics (treasure map, spyglass, and cutlass), Emma storms into school, this first day of kindergarten, determined to set sail once again in last year’s ship commanded by “the roughest, toughest, awesomest preschool pirate cap’n ever”—Cap’n Chu. Yet, it’s a new year and, as Ms. Chu gently reminds Emma, Cap’n Chu has “‘a new band of pirates” to lead. Despite attempts by Cap’ns Chu and Hayes (Emma’s new teacher) to interest Emma in her outer-space-themed kindergarten classroom, Emma sails back to Cap’n Chu’s ship, fiercely allegiant to her pirate roots.
When Ms. Hayes’ class pet needs feeding, Emma shows interest and discovers all the fun activities in the kindergarten class: a nature center, an art studio, a reading nook, and science station. What’s the one thing missing? “NO CAP’N CHU!” Back in Ms. Chu’s classroom, everything blows out into a full mutiny. This is where the book provides a great opportunity for caregivers to talk about just how confusing and conflicting emotions can be. At the heart of Emma’s protest is feelings of fear and loss at having to accept this major childhood transition and perhaps, even, feelings of guilt as devotion to one person may feel like betraying another. With heartwarming affirmation from Ms. Chu, Emma is ready to “‘open the shuttle hatch’” of her new classroom, bringing her own pirate spin to the kindergarten space station.
A great picture book for talking about transitions, Pirates Don’t Go To Kindergarten! will draw in seafarers and landlubbers alike.
DANIEL’S GOOD DAY Written and Illustrated by Micha Archer (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)
The people where Daniel lives always say, “Have a good day!,” but Daniel wonders what is a good day? The curious young boy strolls through his neighborhood to find out and discovers a wonderful world full of answers as varied as his neighbors. Micha Archer’ssignature award-winning collage illustrations return in Daniel’s Good Day, a story about finding happiness while living in the present moment, and the perfect companion to Daniel Finds a Poem.
Daniel is a friendly child who takes a walk from his home to his grandmother’s house where passing neighbors wave and say, “Have a good day!” with smiles on their faces. We see a man walking his dog; a woman painting a house; and sanitation workers emptying neighbors trash cans into their trash truck.
We are first introduced to Mrs. Sanchez, an atypical scene teaching kids that both women and men can take on any job, who is hanging on a ladder while painting the outside of a home. “What makes a good day for you?” he asks. “When skies are clear so I can paint,” she tells him.
As Daniel continues on his route to Grandma’s house, he meets Emma who is flying a kite wishing for a steady wind, and a bus driver who just desires “a please and a thank you.”
Turning page after page, I discovered that each person craved happiness for the action they were doing in the present moment. The neighbors’ answers did not involve what they wanted from the past or want in the future. The gardener was focused on her flowers, so craved bees, and the mail carrier was happy seeing dogs wagging their tails as he delivered the mail.
When Daniel arrives at Grandma’s house her day is made complete by him giving her a hug. The sweetness in the story is with the ending when Daniel tells his Mom what a good day is by repeating all the things the neighbors told him, written in a poetic stance to entertain the listener.
Archer’s oil and collage artwork introduces the reader to Daniel who independently embarks on a quest for an answer through a diverse cozy small town. The lush artwork depicts blossoming trees and people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, drawing in the listener who will be captivated by the many colors.
The simple yet meaningful sentences teach youngsters about all the wonderful and diverse people they are surrounded by in their community, while reminding the adult reader that happiness can be found in the moment, and that kindness can be given by looking up at people (not down at cell phones) and reminding them to Have a good day!
Drawn Togetheris one of my favorite picture books of 2018 and not just because it has a clever title. Lê’s spare text perfectly captures the tale of a boy and his grandfather who are separated by words but find a way to connect through drawing—a feel-good story that crosses cultures and time.
Santat’s gorgeous art alternates between vivid modern color for the grandson’s images and a black-and-white traditional style when the grandfather draws. The book’s beauty will move you. The publisher includes clever details such as a sharp pencil on the spine and a surprise image beneath the cover; the two characters’ contrasting art styles serve as lovely bookends.
This book would make an ideal gift for that special child in your life who speaks a different language than you do, although any child will find it speaks to them about connectivity and family ties. It is also befitting for kids who love to draw because the book shows how pictures open up worlds.
★Starred Review – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The Day You Begin isn’t about the day you’re born. Instead, this heartening 32-page picture book invites you to make a space for yourself in the world. Woodson grabs the reader from the empathetic first line, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Those words give voice to the uneasiness we all experience. Yet, to forge connections we must learn to take a chance and open up. López takes the story beyond the words. His colorful artwork imaginatively captures the emotional tone, showing conflicting feelings of hope and despair, isolation and togetherness.This lovely tale reaches hearts of all ages. The Day You Begin would be an ideal gift for graduates, people seeking to begin anew, or anyone who needs a nudge to remember that life is a beautiful blend of our differences.This story was inspired by a poem in Woodson’s New York Timesbest-selling memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness,School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is THE book for that kid on your holiday shopping list who loves extraordinary facts. Who knew there was a school in Iceland dedicated to the study of elves, or that fireflies in Tennessee blink in sync with one another?Travel to destinations in forty-seven countries on every continent in this entertaining journey to 100 real places. The book opens with a clever Packing List and Adventure Plan (Table of Contents). Readers can randomly choose places to explore, or read the book straight through. Each two-page spread highlights segments that are stand-alone entries, yet there’s a teaser at the end connecting a topic from that country to the next one. For example, after reading about how Cambodians built their own bamboo trains called “norries” (when the war damaged their rail system), you’re invited to read about another do-it-yourself system of transportation in Colombia—homemade zip lines! Parents who find themselves unable to put this book down can ask Santa for the adult version: #1 New York Times best-seller, The Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Whether young or old, the Atlas Obscura books take you on a fascinating spin around the globe delivering strange facts in the most delightful way.
This time of year always brings so many emotions to students and parents alike as the realization settles in of a summer more than halfway over. I always remember the back-to-school preparation in my household as a fun yet chaotic time of paper everywhere, backpacks filled, and of course, shiny new books! This month we’ve got a variety of books covered including Hello School!, I Love You All Day Long, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School.
A brand-new picture book for preschool or kindergarten students eager to start the school year isHello School!(Nancy Paulsen Books, Ages 3-5) written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The title of the book captures the energetic possibilities that come with experiencing school for the first time. Each page shows a different part of the school day from greeting classmates, circle time, nap time, and recess all told with soft-colored illustrations. I love the little speech bubbles on each page that demonstrate children’s reactions about going to school. For example, when talking about new favorites, one child says, “Orange is my favorite,” and another carefully asks, “Can every color be my favorite?” prompting a parent or teacher reading this aloud to answer “Yes!” Once Upon A Time is excited to host Priscilla Burris on Sunday, August 12 at 2 pm to share this new picture book and the new school year so mark your calendars so you don’t miss this fun event.
Sometimes children new to the school experience need a little help getting over their anxiety and one picture book that does this well is I Love You All Day Long(Harper Collins BYR, Ages 4-8) written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The story starts with little Owen asking, “Do I have to go today, Mommy?,” prompting his mother to respond yes as you carefully see her packing a lunch box. Then the real trouble is revealed, “But you won’t be with me!” and the story unfolds as the illustrations show Owen finding new friends, having fun, making mistakes, and overcoming challenges all with the reminder that his mother loves him even when she is not right there with him. The tone is perfect as it is not overtly a back to school book and is instead more about a mother-son relationship. I find this book to be a beautiful story that would be perfect to read the night before or morning of the big first day of both preschool or even college.
Finally, I am eager to share with you my new favorite early reader series, Mr. Monkey (Simon & Schuster BYR, Ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Jeff Mackwith two titles out this season, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cakeand Mr. Monkey Visits a School. In this paper over board book we follow Mr. Monkey and his wacky adventures sure to delight readers who laugh with Amelia Bedelia or the Elephant and Piggie books. Each page has only two to five simple sentences that easily match the colorful and animated illustrations inside, perfect for kindergarten and first grade readers who are still puzzling out context clues to understand the words on the page. A great addition to any library at home or at school.
Reviewed by Jessica Palacios
You can click on the coloredlinks for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
In justunder 60 words on 14 sturdy pages, Llama Llama Gives Thanks, based on the characters created by Anna Dewdney, perfectly and joyfully conveys what the holiday is all about — celebrating together with friends and family, trying new foods and giving thanks not just on Thanksgiving but throughout the year. A message worth remembering and easy to understand when shared by Dewdney’s beloved characters.
Otis Gives Thanks, a 30 page board book, is certain to appeal to old Otis fans and bring new ones on board. Long’s popular tractor is grateful for so many things on the farm where he lives and works. Whether he’s hopping over hay or settling down to sleep, Otis is always thankful for playful moments, hard work and friends. This beautiful book radiates warmth with its stunning artwork of muted hues and feeling of a bygone era. Every page is a tribute to the heartland where our food is grown and a caring community including farmers love the land and the country, just like Otis does. www.otisthetractor.com
This sweet interactive board book invites young readers to help Baby find his cuddly turkey. By lifting assorted flaps and searching behind seasonal flowers, a gate, a basket, the fridge, in the kitchen and behind the door, Baby is introduced to a colorful variety of Thanksgiving items until his plush toy turkey is found. With just the right amount of flaps to entertain and engage, Where is Baby’s Turkey makes an ideal gift this holiday season for those just learning what Thanksgiving is all about.
The Ugly Pumpkin
Written and illustrated by Dave Horowitz
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $7.99, Ages 2-5)
Move over duckling, here comes The Ugly Pumpkin! Horowitz’s hit, The Ugly Pumpkinis now in board book format with its humorous illustrations and rhyming first person text. Ideal for both Halloween and Thanksgiving, this tale is about a distinctly shaped pumpkin who is frequently mocked, never gets picked and is left to wander on his own to find someplace where he’ll be accepted and belong. The mood picks up when he discovers “a garden that was overrun with squash. I noticed something very odd and then thought, O my gosh …” This little pumpkin was a happy little pumpkin when he learns he’s really a squash! And for him, that was definitely something to be thankful for! Horowtiz’s whimsical illustrations add another layer of zaniness to a funny story that easily engages kids since it’s impossible not to empathize with the long, thin orange narrator.
If you’ve ever visited New York’s Tenement Museum, this historical fiction picture book will surely resonate with you. But even if you haven’t, from the very first page you’ll be transported back to the Lower East Side in November of 1918. Americans were overseas fighting and at home an influenza pandemic swept across the country making thousands of children, rich and poor, orphans. The disease did not discriminate. In the two-room tenement of nine year old Loretta Stanowski, or “Rettie” as she was known, looked after her consumptive mother and three younger siblings. Her father was a soldier somewhere abroad. So, to earn money to support the family during her mother’s illness, Rettie cleaned rags. She also longed for the upcoming Ragamuffin Parade which many now say was the precursor to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But would the city call off the event since so many people were ill and public gatherings had been stopped to prevent the influenza from spreading? During the Ragamuffin Parade, wealthy people would line the streets and give pennies to the raggedy clothed children who asked, “Have ya anything for Thanksgiving?” There would also be a scramble at busy street corners were pennies were tossed in the air and kids would scramble to collect as many as possible, hence the name. The parade would provide a much needed opportunity to bring in extra money. Putting food in the mouths of her family was Rettie’s top priority as was staying healthy so when her tenement building’s manager came down with the flu and was quarantined, an opportunity for Rettie to earn more money presented itself. This moving story is a well-written and engaging resource for anyone interested in daily life in early 20th century New York, although these scenes likely played out in cities across America. As the war came to end on November 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 28 a day of Thanksgiving. To this day we gather together as Americans to share a meal and reflect on our many reasons to be thankful. Between Noble’s well-researched story and Gardner’s evocative illustrations, Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is a treat. The spirited young Rettie is an inspiring main character and her devotion to her family shines through on every page. An author’s note at the end provides more details for young readers as does an archival photo circa 1910 of the ragamuffins. Despite having grown up in New York, I’d never heard of this parade and appreciate Noble’s successful efforts at capturing the time, place and people struggling daily on the Lower East Side.
What happens when it seems your sister is allergic to Christmas? Find out in Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree, a thirty-two-page children’s picture book, the fourth in the series. What begins as the best Christmas ever—the first year sisters Maple and Willow are getting a real Christmas tree—soon becomes problematic when Maple starts sneezing.
To quell Maple’s symptoms, the tree is placed outside. Willow’s sharp words make Maple feel sad about ruining their Christmas. That night, Willow regrets her outburst and has an idea to mend the bad feelings between them. Her ingenious solution takes some hard work but she can’t wait until morning time and, instead, wakes up Maple to show her the big surprise.
Nichols’ slim text complements her whimsical artwork which captures the girls’ emotions well. The cheerful pencil drawings leave plenty of white space on the page, evoking a cold winter scene, a nice contrast to warmth of the sisters.
The Christmas Eve Tree begins in a forest of Christmas trees where one was planted carelessly, “so that when the wind blew strong it fell sideways onto its neighbor and had no chance to grow.” In this thirty-two-page children’s picture book, we find this little tree is about to get thrown out on Christmas Eve until a homeless boy asks if he can have it. Taking care to not snap its crooked branches, the boy plants the tree in a cardboard box. We share the tree’s thoughts, finding it goes from feeling pitiful to proud when recognizing that it belongs to someone.
In the boy’s homeless village, the tree’s boughs are decorated and an accordion plays a Christmas song to which they sing along. Soon the passersby stop to join in, creating a lively community. “The little fir tree felt it would burst with happiness, because clearly the boy had forgotten that tonight he would be sleeping in a cardboard box.”
Days later, the boy moves on, sadly leaving the mostly dead tree behind. The street sweeper notices some green shoots and, instead of discarding the tree, cleverly plants it in a corner of the park where it lives on, providing a gathering place for people and animals.
The book’s rich watercolor images by Sutton have an old-time feel; their saturated colors contrast with the ivory paper. While the fir straightens out and grows a thicker trunk, the concluding pictures show us that its branches are still sparse. Yet, it doesn’t matter because, in the end, everyone is happy—including the tree.
NOTE: “Delia Huddy worked as an editor in children’s publishing in a long career that included many happy years at Julia MacRae Books in London, after which she became editorial director at Random House UK. She was also an author of novels, picture books, and younger fiction. At the end of her life, in 2005, Delia Huddy was working on the text for The Christmas Eve Tree.”
The great spruce, Alec’s favorite climbing tree, captures the attention of some men who are passing through town. Astounded that his parents agree to let the tree be cut down for the city’s Christmas celebration, Alec places himself between it and the chainsaw, imploring that they borrow the tree instead. Soon everyone is digging.
A tugboat transports the tree to the city; Alec and his grandpa accompany their tree on this delightful voyage. In downtown, when Alec flips the switch to light the tree, a young girl declares it the most wonderful tree ever and asks if it can stay. Alec explains that the tree is just visiting then gives her a pinecone and instructions on how to plants the seeds.
The tree returns home to grow even taller. Later, when Alec climbed the tree and “looked hard enough through his telescope, he could just make out the tiny sapling that took root in the big city square.” Alec’s love of nature demonstrates how one person’s courage and creativity can directly impact the environment.
The Great Spruce is a forty-page children’s picture book enlivened with colorful images. Gibbon’s acrylic ink and colored pencil style works for both the serene country scenes as well as the busy cityscapes.
A little race car settles down after a long, tiring day in this new going-to-bed book for little ones into all things automobile. It’s a quick read with approximately 200 words but it’s packed with cuteness! Adorable illustrations accompany the quiet rhyming text as the race car gets ready for bed and has sweet dreams. I’d highly recommend this book as a fun alternative to any animal-themed bedtime books. It’s sure to be a much requested going-to-bed story.
This is a clever, witty book written from a young boy’s perspective about when he learned how to operate several trucks and big machines. It’s hilarious how the author gets you believing that at such a young age, this boy is using a cement mixer, backhoe, 18-wheeler … you name it and this boy has probably operated it! You come to find out they are all toy trucks he’s operated and his room is like a parking lot, but when he grows up he’d love to drive a truck. Great rhyme teaches about various large trucks, and wonderfully bold and bright illustrations make this book one of my new favorites!
Duck gets on a tractor, after all he rode a bike before! After pressing a few petals and trying various things he turned a “shiny little piece of metal by the steering wheel.” Pretty soon all the farm animals are hopping on for the ride, saying their regular animals sounds by thinking something different. The animals end up going onto the main road past the diner and it’s such a sight to see that nobody can quite believe all those animals are on a tractor. Yet once the diner crowd goes outside there’s no trace of the animals. The farmer must have just left the tractor on! Another great book from David Shannon with spectacular illustrations that are sure to enthrall kids ages 4-8.
It’s the adventure of a lifetime when best friends—and self-proclaimed superheroes—defeat bad guys of their own invention.
It’s wonk ’em time when Bucky and Stu have to stand up to Phat Tyre, TrashMan and Hose-Nose. No matter that the bad guys are all made out of household items that Bucky and Stu have assembled themselves—these bad guys don’t stand a chance against the boys’ power moves. Still, it’s quite a surprise when their latest villain, the giant Mikanikal Man, gets zapped during a lightning storm and comes to life! The battle—and thrill—of a lifetime ensue. Full of surprises and laughs, this upbeat, action-packed story celebrates imagination, creativity, and friendship in even the most unexpected forms. Cornelius Van Wright’s hilarious illustrations are full of surprises and are perfect for portraying the high-speed antics of two enthusiastic boys.
Q & A:
GRWR: This is a wonderfully imaginative and humorous tale that actually encourages and celebrates make believe and pretend play. How or when did the seed of this story get planted in your mind?
Cornelius Van Wright: Thank you for your kind compliment. The seed to this story came a couple of years ago when I painted a picture of a boy playing chess with a robot. I painted it for fun but people asked me what was the story behind it. So I thought about the picture and slowly this story came to me.
GRWR: As an author/illustrator, does the story come first or do you picture the characters and draw them then see where they take you?
CVW: For me the images always come first. I tried writing words first but it did not work for me. I see the world in images.
GRWR:Bucky and Stu remind me of so many kids at this age – inventive and full of big ideas. Were you primarily interested in exploring the friendship aspect of this book or the adventure the boys seek?
CVW: The relationships came before everything else. Bucky and Stu’s adventure is based on their relationship and that relationship extends to the Mikanikal Man.
GRWR:Is there one particular spread in the book that’s your favorite and why?
CVW: Visually I enjoyed the scene when the boys face certain DOOM after ticking off Mikanikal Man. But story wise, I care for the scene where The Mikanikal Man Spins Bucky and Stu around and around and the boys say, “We can fly!” This was the boys’ inner dream becoming reality.
GRWR:Do tummy rumbles take your mind off whatever you’re doing like they do for Stu and the Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Yes, this part is autobiographical.
GRWR:Are the boys modeled after anyone you know?
CVW: Bucky and Stu are modeled after two friends I met my first year in college. One was very thin and angular (Bucky) and his best buddy was rounder with shaggy blond hair (Stu). I always wondered what they were like as kids. So this was my first sketch of what I thought they would look like.
GRWR:What would you like the takeaway for readers of this story to be?
CVW: I would love for kids to play using their creativity and imagination.
GRWR:Who were some of your favorite authors and illustrators as a child and who do you admire now?
CVW: As a child my mother bought me lots of Little Golden Books and Big Little Books (many of which I still have). Today I admire Jerry Pinkney’s art and Mo Willems’s and Oliver Jeffers’s storytelling.
GRWR:What would you use in your office to build your own Mikanikal Man?
CVW: Lots of Amazon boxes and empty towel rolls!
GRWR:Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
CVW: I am continuing exploring kids going into imaginative lands and using their wits (and anything else on hand) to get them out of trouble! I make the sketches into books (with Scotch Tape bindings) and show them to publishers.
Check out the downloadable CCSS-aligned curriculum guide here.
Cornelius Van Wright wrote and illustrated When an Alien Meets a Swamp Monster, and has also illustrated several other picture books, including Princess Grace (by Mary Hoffman) and Jingle Dancer (by Cynthia Leitich Smith). His work has appeared on Reading Rainbow and Storytime and has been exhibited with the Society of Illustrators. He lives in New York City.
FROM WOLF TO WOOF!:
The Story of Dogs Written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)
Available April 11th, this new book, From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs, blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction. Author and illustrator Hudson Talbottdescribes this children’s picture book as his “myth of origin” in which “a myth reveals a greater truth about life in the form of a simple story.”
In this engaging story for children, Talbott writes and illustrates an imagined beginning where the first lone wolf puppy, cast out of his pack, soon befriends another loner: an orphan boy. The two build trust in one another and learn that, together, they survive better than alone.
A particularly heartwarming image is when the boy first makes contact with the wolf, petting his snout. From there, everything changes.
The two outsiders are joined by other misfits. Though confrontations occur against the wild wolves and the wild humans, the new group gets along exceedingly well. In these lines we see the importance of inclusion and collaboration: “Everyone worked together and shared the food. No one was left out.”
Thousands of years of evolution then changes humans from hunters and gatherers to herders and farmers. Previously wild wolves become domesticated dogs where they continue to adapt to our needs, developing specializations such as guarding, transporting, and, most important perhaps, comforting.
Children will be thrilled that their beloved pet was once a wild wolf. It’s mind-boggling to consider that Chihuahuas, bulldogs, and sheepdogs originate from a similar ancestor. Talbott’s reimagining of the first contact between boy and wolf is a believable tale that offers an explanation as to how man’s best friend has evolved at our side throughout human civilization. The next time you listen to your dog’s howl, you will be transported back through time, back to when he was a wolf.