POE WON’T GO Written by Kelly DiPucchio Illustrated by Zachariah OHora (Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
POE WON’T GO written by Kelly DiPucchiowith pictures by Zachariah Ohora, will consistently charm your children and delight adults through multiple re-reads. The artist behind WOLFIE THE BUNNY infuses this picture book with his clever and colorful style that often reminds me of the Corduroy books I read as a child.
Unassuming pachyderm Poe just won’t go. He has mysteriously landed in the middle of Prickly Valley only to remain sitting in the middle of traffic amidst the outcries of the townspeople.They try everything to make him go; including one of my favorite artistic spreads of the book that includes a motivational speaker with a sign proclaiming “You Can GO!”
When the Mayor gets involved things quickly escalate and our poor Poe sits miserably in the mess he has created just by existing. When Marigold, a young child who has taken an interest in Poe, speaks up, the Mayor is hesitant to listen. Backed up by a reporter covering the case, Marigold simply speaks to Poe and finds out what he is waiting for. The incredulous Mayor watches the young child and on-site reporter solve the dilemma and Poe happily goes on his way, reminding the reader that sometimes all it takes is a little kindness and patience to discover the problem at hand. Listening to Poe’s perspective made all the difference.
As a preschool teacher, I could not stop myself from becoming more excited with each page turn knowing that this excellent book is not only for fun and entertainment purposes, but it also provides the ideal opportunity for learning in a colorful and unique way. Each page features a number of colorful animals doing different activities while inviting the reader to join in a search-and-find mission by asking questions like, “Who is sleeping?” or Who is swimming backwards?” or “Who just went fishing?” etc. I can already imagine my students gleefully pretending to be each animal presented. Kids will find they can identify individually with any number of specific animals in the groups depicted.
A Pandemonium of Parrots is the perfect precursor to a zoo field trip or story time on any day of the week when your child is looking for a book about their favorite creatures. The helpful back-matter includes incredible facts about each type of animal group such as the fact that some beetles are strong enough to snap a pencil! Youngsters will not be disappointed with this fresh and interesting take on animal groups with illustrations by Hui Skipp that are richly colored, captivating and full of life.
Check out A Pandemonium of Parrots and enjoy the pretend play it is sure to inspire.
FRONT DESK Written by Kelly Yang (Arthur A. Levine Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)
★Starred reviews – Booklist, Kirkus and School Library Journal
Where do I possibly begin with Kelly Yang’s FRONT DESK?
FRONT DESK is a timely and needed narrative for so many reasons. And Yang, as demonstrated in her debut novel, is one heck of a storyteller. She’s destined to be anauthor that kids and adults clamor to meet so they can soak up her pearls of wisdom. Drawing from firsthand experiences and keen insights from when she arrived in America as a Chinese child immigrant along with her parents, Yang’s tale provides many kids a chance to find themselves and find hope inside the pages of this moving middle grade historical novel.
It’s 1993 when we meet our heroine Mia Tang. At 10-years-old, Mia is one of the most empathetic, intelligent, persevering characters of this age I have seen in a long time. The truth is there are so many like her whose voices deserve to be heard. I am grateful to Yang that tweens now have a chance to get to know this plucky protagonist and her struggles. Mia’s family are employed at a hotel with unpleasant owners after working for a short time at a restaurant where they were taken advantage of, then fired shortly after. While the hotel seems like a dream come true at first with free rent, the negatives and danger of managing the hotel take their toll on the family.
One of the moments that broke my heart is when Mia is sitting with one of the “weeklies” at the motel she helps run with her parents. The “weeklies” stay at the hotel for a week at a time, paying a lump sum. An older Black gentleman, Hank, is sitting slumped over, defeated by yet another instance in his life where he is targeted for a crime he did not commit simply because he isn’t White. He’s been labeled for so long that at this point he has no more will to fight. He exposes this vulnerability to Mia, and it is a powerful and haunting exchange. Hank isn’t feeling sorry for himself, nor is he bitter or angry when he has every right to be. He’s just tired, the kind of tired you cannot possibly understand unless you’ve been judged by the color of your skin your whole life. Mia later advocates for him and shows us how you are never too young or too old to stand on the side of justice and equality for all.
Resiliency. Mia and her family, along with the “weeklies” and some other friends, have this in abundance. Even when their own families decline to help them in their hour of need, their community rallies around them so they can take control of their destinies.
I dog-eared many pages to go back and look over for this review, and I’m still at a loss as how best to describe my favorite parts because there are so many. I’ve also purchased more than one copy of this book to give to others. It is one of those stories that will creep into your heart and linger there for quite a while.
FRONT DESK needs to be in every school library and as many homes as possible.
Julie Falatko’s new chapter book, TWO DOGS IN A TRENCH COAT GO TO SCHOOL with pictures by Colin Jack and edited by the incredible Matt Ringler at Scholastic, is a book you will want to hug after you finish howling with glee.
I know this book is MEANT for kids (8-12) but I would hand this book to anyone: The Bus Driver. Grandpa. Children of all ages (I understand the audio version is hilarious, making it perfect for summer road trips). Squirrels. Okay, maybe not squirrels, because, as the story’s heroes, Sassy and Waldo, know—like good dogs do—squirrels are unpredictable to say the least. In fact, in TWO DOGS IN A TRENCH COAT GO TO SCHOOL, the squirrels that drive Sassy and Waldo to extreme lengths to protect their home remind me of how many other unpredictable areas of life tween-aged kids go through.
We can’t predict what goes on around us in the world all the time or even half the time. And, if you’re like me, you’re a parent who has no idea when the next bought of tears or drama will unfold at your child’s school. Well, this is a book you can confidently and lovingly put into their hands to give them a break from the intensity the world so often places on their young shoulders.
Meet the doggedly delightful Sassy and Waldo. They’re on a mission to help their boy, Stewart deal with stuff at school. The evil overlord (aka The Dreaded Information Sheet and Big Project Coming Up At School) is causing undue anxiety for their beloved kid. How can they help? When Waldo stands on top of Sassy and covers them with a trench coat, they turn into Salty, a new student at Bea Arthur Elementary School where Stewart is enrolled.
The side-splitting, laugh-out-loud dialogue alone will keep you and your kids eagerly flipping pages and ready for book two in the series so I won’t overshare. This is definitely a book that should be enjoyed to the fullest with fresh eyes.
I will tell you though that Sassy and Waldo have already secured a place in my heart, being the incredible doggy heroes many of us need right now. They deserve all the meatballs they desire and will probably share them with the author of this brilliant new series. Reminiscent of HANK THE COWDOG by John R. Erickson, only instead of two cowdogs from the South caring for a ranch, here we have two dedicated pups keeping their home and favorite human safe.
Julie Falatko’s TWO DOGS IN A TRENCH COAT GO TO SCHOOL will melt your heart. Unless you’re a squirrel just trying to get by in a world that is nuts.
Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
Look for Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Start a Club by Accident (book #2 in the series) due out early 2019.
Reviewer Ozma says ”Here is Our family dog, Ruggedo, with a plush co-conspirator ready to save the day should my own child ever need it at school.”
After 40 years it’s about time we have a children’s book that captures the glorious strength of social activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, as well as Gilbert Baker, the man behind the internationally renown Rainbow Flag. PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag is a wonderfully written, honest introduction to the LGBTQ movement and offers the chance for all kids to understand its history.
In clear and direct prose, PRIDE takes readers up to Milk’s death, stating that his assassination came at the hands of people who, “Did not think like Harvey, or feel like him, or love like him.” Then the story continues and shows that Baker remained a gay rights activist helping others reclaim hope and pride with the Rainbow Flag for the rest of his life. My favorite moment in the book is a glorious two-page spread, see below:
PRIDE conveys an important, timely message that we all have the power to give hope, spread love, and reach places that may seem unimaginable to us, especially when things seem so dark in life. That’s when we need symbols of hope more than ever, and the Rainbow Flag is a strong reminder and nod to inclusivity that we all need, regardless of sexual orientation. The helpful back matter includes a great timeline, reading recommendations and photographs.
Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
Read another recent LGBTQ themed picture book review here.
THE FIELD Written by Baptiste Paul Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
“is a debut masterpiece of collaboration and skill,” says reviewer Ozma Bryant.
In a friendly game of soccer (futbol), the magic of not only the sport but the players involved, comes into brilliant light splayed across the pages of The Field, a debut picture book by Baptiste Paul.
With a tropical rainstorm threatening the game, the players band together, solidifying their connection through love of playing ball and sportsmanship. Challenges such as the weather won’t intrude on this precious time together. The story, I might add, is really about a group of kids—the “main character” is never mentioned by name but she’s on all the pages.
My favorite moment is when one of the opposing players is knocked down, and our main character, in her white jersey #3, reaches her hand out to him on the muddy ground asking, “Ou byen? You okay?” He responds, “Mwen byen. I’m good.” You can practically reach out and touch the splattered mud and rain that splashes across the pages as the players muscle on through, seeing the game to completion.
The sun creeps back out as the game continues, even as Mamas call the players home. Hearing a firm command “Vini, abwezan! Come now!” the children end the game then go their separate ways to rest up and rejuvenate for a new day of play.
Caked with mud and filth, children slip into tubs of warm water, smiling … reveling in the magic that is a game well played. Dreams of new games and friendship forming float overhead, as the field lingers even in sleep.
Alcántara’s gorgeous art propels the reader forward with spare language infused with Creole words from the author’s native home in the Caribbean. The author of this amazing story explains in the back matter that Creole is rarely written, mostly spoken, and so new words are constantly being added or old ones modified in this language. A Creole Glossary is also included.
One of my dear friends hails from Haiti, and speaks Creole. He was the initial reason I was excited to read this book and learn from it. One of the first things I learned from him was that soccer was also ‘futbol’. When I saw the young girl on the cover, I wanted to put this book into his young daughter’s hands immediately. I must ask if she plans to watch the FA Cup this weekend!
I am so thankful for this incredible book and hope to share it with many readers who can also identify with its themes of friendship, connection, teamwork and not giving up in the face of adversity.
HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY Written and illustrated by Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Harriet … oh, amazing and wonderful Harriet, the star of HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY along with her two incredible dads, will make readers all Sima fans if they aren’t already!
My students couldn’t get enough of this brilliant 48-page story … from Harriet’s desire to dress-up no matter what the occasion to her phenomenal imagination and charm, they were hooked.
Harriet is SO excited about her upcoming dress-up themed birthday party, and the task at hand is to venture into the city with her dads to buy party supplies since everything else has been taken care of. One stipulation: She’s asked not to “get carried away” when searching for birthday hats at the store. But in Harriet’s world getting carried away comes easy and she soon finds herself wandering off in her penguin costume with real life penguins. She becomes stranded on an iceberg and realizes she must make her way back to her dads at the store and find the party hats before it’s too late.
When her attempts at leaving the penguins don’t pan out, Harriet’s helped by an orca and some delightful pigeons. Harriet returns to her dads and has the best dress-up birthday party ever … with only ONE of her party attendees getting carried away!
This is one of those stories that will be requested numerous times since it provides a unique, yet fully relatable, experience for youngsters. The writing is quick to action and paced beautifully for children to silently take in every delicious illustration that accompanies the beautiful prose. My favorite moment is when a penguin tells Harriet to “lose the bow tie” she has proudly put on over her penguin costume. Instead, she adjusts her fabulous red bow tie and does things her own way.
Read HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY and delight in her message of inclusivity, imagination and pure joy
THE RABBIT LISTENED by Cori Doerrfeld is a book that, as a preschool teacher, I want to thrust into parents’ hands to read over and over again with their preschool/TK/Kinder children. Quick to the point, with language that works around a universal issue that children (and adults) must handle, while not talking down to the intended audience.
Emotional intelligence, empathy, the very things we need so much in this world, resonate loudly and clearly in this gorgeous story. Doerrfeld’s illustrations are touching and relatable throughout each character’s struggle to cope with the problem at hand.
The young protagonist, Taylor, has built something from his imagination that took no little skill to master with his hands. He’s worked so hard on his block creation, only to have it knocked down in a rubble of despair and lost hope. His animal friends want to help. They want to fix, throw away, remind him of better creations yet to come. Taylor, however, doesn’t need this. The animals all walk away, frustrated by their inability to help him, missing an opportunity to connect with his pain.
Then rabbit hops over. Rabbit is quiet. Rabbit listens. Rabbit doesn’t tell Taylor how or when or why he should get over his loss. Rabbit is there, and stays with the boy throughout his processing of an event gone wrong. And when the young protagonist is ready to rebuild again, rabbit is there to support him.
How often do we seek comfort from someone and get the opposite from a well meaning heart? Sometimes we simply need to be allowed our feelings, our disappointment and ill thoughts. Then, and only then, when we are ready, can we consider beginning again.
I recommend this book highly for anyone who struggles to help a child cope when they are just not READY for all the suggestions on how to move forward.
Give them the time and space.
Give them permission to vent.
Support them when they are ready to build again. And always listen.
THE BAD SEED Written by Jory John Illustrated by Pete Oswald (Harper Collins Children’s; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – School Library Journal
After reading The Bad Seed written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, I truly appreciated its deep message about the value we place on ourselves and others based on behavior.
Here’s where the review gets interesting though; while this is a children’s picture book geared towards ages 4-8; I feel it’s also a great book for older kids and even adults!
Younger kids, especially in the world we live in today, know the power words hold over someone. When reading to a younger crowd, as a teacher, I would explain that words like “bad” and “good” are labels. We all make mistakes sometimes. Why is the seed labeled this way? For older children the book serves as a reinforcement of what they hopefully know to be true, there’s always room for self-growth.
The story follows a little sunflower seed who loves his family dearly on their Sunflower head home. As the seeds scatter when it’s nature’s time for them to drop off the beloved plant, they become separated.
Our once loved and happy seed protagonist quickly becomes traumatized by events beyond his control (such as a man at a baseball game nearly swallowing him and then being spit out- with a permanent crack in his once whole shell!) The seed isn’t so happy anymore and is convinced that he is bad (something anyone with trauma in their life can relate to, as it is often the victim left feeling at fault).
He begins to act out by deciding “not to care anymore” which he does by not listening to others, lying, and not washing his hands, among other things. But what our dear seed needs desperately, is for someone to connect to. To see his cracks and accept him, showing him that he can be whole again from the inside out. Children often act out when they need help, and our little seed is a perfect example of someone needing intense care.
He eventually tires of his “bad” behavior and starts working on being “good” again. I say these words in quotes because the truth is none of us lives in a world of black and white/good or bad people. It requires constant awareness to make positive choices to be your very best self and not let a label define you.
We never know someone else’s background- their own unique make-up and history, so labeling them as “bad” or “good” means that we miss out on why they are behaving that way to begin with. With children especially, curiosity goes a long way in sorting out behavior that doesn’t work. We are all moving through each moment trying to meet needs. Some strategies we try are better than others, and The Bad Seed, through both its humorous art and prose, illustrates that beautifully. Pete Oswald’s expressive and whimsical illustrations truly capture the emotions of this little seed in a way many children can relate to so they can instantly guess at how he is feeling.
I recommend this book as a tool to show that we never know what someone else has been through. Being curious, asking questions, and offering kindness before judging and criticizing would be best whenever possible in life.
LA LA LA: A STORY OF HOPE Written by Kate DiCamillo Illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La Laby Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.
Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.
We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.
I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.
Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.
La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.
SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR AND HIS BEST FRIEND FOREVER (PROBABLY) Written by Julie Falatko Illustrated by Tim Miller (Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Rarely, is a sequel to a fantastic picture book better than the first.
Don’t get all excited. Alright, it’s not necessarily BETTER, but by golly it sure is just as incredible as the first and every page enjoyable to the fullest.
Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably) written by Julie Falatkoand illustrated by Tim Miller is a picture book all kids can appreciate in terms of friendship woes. From as early as they can talk with friends, children are ready to define their friendships into categories––quickly going from “You’re my best friend!” to “You’re not invited to my party!” within the course of a day or even hours.
What’s so terrific about this book is the way you see two friends who are at odds find a way to share their joy. Sometimes friends need space, sometimes friends need a breather before they can play. And that’s okay.
Tim Miller’s comic style illustrations bring Snappsy and Bert’s (the narrator) struggle to find common ground to life with laugh out loud scenarios cleverly constructed by Julie Falatko.
At one point Bert exclaims, “Let’s play pinochle! Wear pizza hats! Braid my hair!” to an exasperated Snappsy who just wants time to himself and has no clue what pinochle is or how in the world to braid a chicken’s hair. As Snappsy spends time alone he realizes how much fun it is to be with his friend Bert, and invites him in to play.
Don’t miss the chance to share Snappsy The Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably), a new and entertaining read by the same team behind Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to be in This Book). My preschool kids request this book multiple times daily and I never tire of reading it aloud and hearing their giggles of sheer delight.
URSA’S LIGHT Written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero (Peter Pauper Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★ Starred Review – Booklist
As a preschool teacher, it is not lost on me when a child has a BIG idea, but may need some help executing the plan. Ursa’s Light, the debut picture book by author and illustrator Deborah Marcero, is about a young bear, Ursa, who has BIG ideas that often leave her peers and parents scratching their heads in wonder.
Ursa the bear knows that she is meant to FLY. She studies animals and planes in flight, intent on finding a solution, often encouraged by her baby brother. Just when she is about to give up, we discover that she was indeed meant to fly, but there is more than one way to SOAR.
One of my favorite moments in the story is when Ursa’s failed attempts at flying make her doubt herself, and her baby brother is wearing a shirt that reads ‘believe.’ What a beautiful moment, and something I strive to teach my kids, when one of us is down, someone else can help lift us UP.
What is so brilliant about Ursa the bear, is that she isn’t attempting to outshine anyone; instead, she is allowing her unique inner light to pour out, inspiring not only her baby brother, but everyone around her.
I fell in love with the energy and emotion of the illustrations which Marcero’s website describes best here: “When the pencil is done… I ink the lines in and add color with all the media I had used all along : woodblock cuts, watercolor, gouache, ink wash, etc. But instead of meshing everything together on paper with scissors and glue, I taught myself how to collage them in Photoshop. Ursa’s face is that same woodblock cut as my very first piece above, and all the textures and colors I integrate are things that I come up with using brushes and inks and watercolors on my drawing table.” I hope it’s obvious how much I adore this book and can’t wait to bring in Ursa’s Light for my preschoolers! I have a feeling they are going to want me to help them fly too!