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Picture Book Review – Yuna’s Cardboard Castles

 

 

YUNA’S CARDBOARD CASTLES

Written by Marie Tang

Illustrated by Jieting Chen

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 3-8)

 

 

Yuna's Cardboard Castles cover Yuna in Japan with origami

 

In Yuna’s Cardboard Castles, the heartwarming picture book debut from author Marie Tangillustrated by Jieting Chen, readers meet Yuna, who has just moved with her family to America from Japan. Like most children in that situation, Yuna is filled with concerns about what life will be like in her new home and how she’ll make new friends. The extra challenge Yuna faces is that she doesn’t speak English yet. While she misses her old friends and all that is familiar, Yuna is eager to find a way to connect with local kids.

 

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Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

It’s great to see Yuna take the initiative to look for ways to break the ice with the children in her neighborhood. At first, she tries making balls out of colorful paper. The results are lovely and impressive, highlighting her skills. However, Yuna feels discouraged after noticing children already have balls to play with. Onto the next option.

Thinking about where she used to live, Yuna longs to reproduce that environment where there were pointy buildings and rice cake stands. She cleverly uses cardboard and scissors to construct her very own stand but she’s at a loss to find the words to explain her project and the food on display. So, the neighborhood kids return “back to their tea parties.”

 

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Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

And though with her talent, Yuna can build almost anything she wants, she still feels the disconnect without the language to communicate. She is sad, frustrated, and isolated.

When a boy’s kite gets tangled in her yard, the two soon find common ground with their paper creations. Teaming up, their imaginations soar, and playing together becomes second nature. Soon, the neighborhood kids can’t help but engage with Yuna and the exciting cardboard world she’s constructed with her new friend. Chen’s vivid illustrations convey energy, enjoyment, and make-believe, filling each page with wonder to inspire children as they read  Tang’s thoughtful story.

When my family lived overseas for 10 years, our children played with other children from around the world whether we traveled to Germany, France, the Canary Islands, Italy, or Greece. Watching kids connect despite not having the words is always joyful to watch. Play is a universal language bringing diverse children together wherever you are. Yuna’s Cardboard Castles was inspired by Tang’s childhood experience of moving from Hong Kong to the United States. In the book, Yuna demonstrates how, just as Tang did as a child, using origami and corrugated boxes can open up worlds of opportunities for friendship when you have only a minimal grasp of your new country’s language. While the immigration experience is different for every child, Tang’s book creatively captures the emotion Yuna feels while presenting a positive way to cope that is empowering. Four pages of backmatter include detailed instructions to make an origami boat … “that can actually float!”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Big Dreams, Small Fish

 

BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH

Written and illustrated by Paula Cohen

(Levine Querido; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Big Dreams Small Fish cover

 

 

I love it when picture book art begins on the copyright page and continues onto the title page giving readers an early taste of what’s to come. That’s what first struck me about author-illustrator Paula Cohen’s debut, Big Fish, Small Dreams. In fact, Cohen’s charming digitally colored pencil drawings include Shirley’s right foot being lifted out of her shoe when the small girl nails the word fish on the title page just mentioned, an actual black-and-white family photo hanging on the wall, to Hebrew lettering under the sign “Gefilte Fish .40/piece.” Then there are the evocative outfits and old-fashioned food packaging helping to transport readers back in time to the small family grocery store inspired by her grandparents’ shop in Upstate New York.

Each family member in the book has a major role to play, Uncle Morris stocked the shelves and no one made a taller tower. Papa kept the store tidy and helped customers. But, it seems there was one item, a staple to the immigrant Jewish family that others in the neighborhood would not buy, gefilte fish. “No one would even Try it.” I have to say I could relate to the reluctance of the neighbors. My grandmother would serve jarred gefilte fish, and the only way I would eat it was smothered in horseradish sauce. Learning that some families made it homemade, however, did change my feelings towards this Jewish specialty.

 

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Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

 

Shirley may be young but she believes she has big ideas to sell this stuffed fish. Cohen illustrates signs near the cash register—Follow Me to Fish and This Way to Fish. And we see the smile on the brown-haired girl with orange ribbons in her braids standing near the store’s gefilte fish table. She thinks of how to make things faster, prettier, and more modern. Yet nothing would move those cans of gefilte fish.

 

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Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

Shirley’s family says they didn’t come to America for their daughter to solve problems, but then a miracle happened. The family rushes to the hospital when it’s time for Aunt Ida to have her baby leaving the store in the hands of Mrs. Gottlieb who Cohen draws snoring in the back of the store. This is when young Shirley and her precious white cat get busy. She decorates the store and offers “serve yourself pea soup.” But her biggest idea comes when Mrs. Hernandez arrives to purchase tomatoes and a pound of kugel. Shirley packs up her order nicely and places a surprise inside the bag. The drawing of Shirley innocently placing the tin of homemade gefilte fish in the brown paper bag is quite a sweet moment. More customers arrive and more gefilte fish is distributed with the sign “Buy Anything And Get A Surprise” hanging on the wall.

 

 

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Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

A grey, yellow and brown illustration of the neighborhood apartment building shows neighbors from various ethnicities tasting this new treat with smiles on their faces, but when Mama and Papa return from the hospital to an empty pot and no cash in the register our little protagonist is sent upstairs to go to bed early. The next morning neighbors are lining up for this Jewish delight: gefilte fish. And Mama and Papa couldn’t be prouder. “You know Shirley, you have some pretty good ideas in that keppele after all,” said Mama. Cohen weaves some wonderful Yiddish words into her story making the characters come alive on the pages. (Keppele means little head in Yiddish).

Cohen’s back matter tells the meaning of the Yiddish words she uses. She also explains the story of gefilte fish, along with supplying the Russ Family Salmon and Whitefish Gefilte Fish recipe. I loved learning about Paula’s family story. Both her words and drawings leave the reader feeling like they knew her. Sadly, before this book had a chance to reach readers’ hands in early 2022 Paula passed away suddenly. She is a woman I would have loved to have met. She recorded a beautiful video of herself emotionally opening the box that contained the book, and I am so grateful she had that joyful moment. Sharing this book with friends and family is a great way to assure that Paula’s story will not be forgotten. May her memory be a blessing.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Read the Publishers Weekly obituary for this talented author-illustrator here and visit her website here.

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Picture Book Review – The Welcome Chair

 

 

THE WELCOME CHAIR

Written by Rosemary Wells

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

(A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Bookpage, Kirkus

 

Rosemary Wells introduces the reader to her family’s history in the telling of a rocking chair built by her great-great-grandfather. We travel with the author of more than one hundred books for children, and winner of the Christopher Award, on the road imagining where the chair may have traveled in The Welcome Chair with illustrations by the late Jerry Pinkney who has earned seven Caldecott Medals, five Coretta Scott King Awards, five Coretta Scott King Honors, five New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Awards, and the Original Art’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Learning about family history is so much fun, and reading the story of Sam Seigbert who was born in 1807 in Bavaria, and brought to life by Wells from a family diary, was quite fascinating. Wells’s great-great-grandfather was destined to be a carpenter, but his father insisted that he study the Torah to become a Rabbi like him and his grandfather. “It’s settled. You will not work with your hands like a country bumpkin.” But that was not what Sam wanted, so at age sixteen he cut off his sidelocks, so no one would bully the Jewish boy, and hiked north to find work as a deckhand on a freighter for three pfennigs a day. The captain noticed Sam could read and write and offered him a job logging inventory on the ship. When the ship docked, Sam “darts away across the Brooklyn docks into the screeching, shrieking, filthy, clanging, terrifying, ugly and beautiful young city of New York.”

 

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Interior illustrations from The Welcome Chair written by Rosemary Well and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Paula Wiseman Book ©2021.

 

 

Pinkney’s extensive experience led him to execute the illustrations with contour drawing and watercolor washes, and pictures using burnt okra Prismacolor pencils and pastels. It was a perfect choice to showcase the 19th century as Sam meets Able Hinzler, and his wife Klara, and is hired on to become the bookkeeper and apprentice carpenter for Hinzler’s Housewright shop. When Magnus Hinzler is born, Sam carves a cherrywood rocking chair for Klara to sit in comfortably with the word “Willkommen”  meaning Welcome in German across a panel. This is the start of the chair that had many lives.

As told by Wells, Sam moves to Wisconsin with the Hinzler family. “The rocking chair goes with them. One evening he meets Ruth and falls in love with her gentle laugh and green-gray eyes. When their firstborn, Henry, arrives Sam carves Baruch Haba—Hebrew for “Welcome”—right under “Willkommen,” into the chair’s panel so that Henry will know his heritage.

When Wells was ten, her grandmother showed her the diary that was written in spidery old German by Wells’ great-great-grandmother Ruth Seigbert and read it to her. She decided to write a memoir of the diary in the first half of The Welcome Chair that ends in 1918 and brought to life the rest of the story through stories she was told.

 

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Interior illustrations from The Welcome Chair written by Rosemary Well and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Paula Wiseman Book ©2021.

 

 

In 1863, Henry was killed in Gettysburg and his younger sister Helen eventually married Harry Leopold. They moved to New York, and you guessed it, the chair travels east by railway. When Helen hires Irish girl Lucy as the family seamstress, she gives Lucy the chair as a wedding present and the word “Failte”—Irish for “Welcome” is spelled out with brass letters.

We watch the clothing and people change, showing Pinkney’s research, along with the timeline. Years have now passed and the chair moves from trash on the sidewalk picked up by a junkman, to Santo Domingo nuns living in Newark, New Jersey who carve “Bienvenido” in Spanish into the wood. When the nuns pass away, the chair is placed in a rummage sale in 2010 where Pearl Basquet’s mother grabs it. “’Our Welcome Chair needs a new word,’” says Pearl.” Her father chisels “Byenvini”—the Haitian word for Welcome.

This is a beautifully told story tracing the history of what was, to the present of what could have been. If these walls could talk what would we know about old family heirlooms? Wells and Pinkney give readers a beautiful glimpse into the “what-if.” Grandparents can read this meaningful story to their grandchildren, and tell their family history to be shared from generation to generation.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – The Day Saida Arrived

THE DAY SAIDA ARRIVED

Written by Susana Gómez Redondo 

Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

Translated by Lawrence Schimel

(Blue Dot Kids Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

The Day Saida Arrived cover

 

 

Originally published in Spain, The Day Saida Arrived is a powerful story of friendship and love that bridges the gap between cultural differences.

The book begins by looking at the issue of immigration through the lens of a classmate whose heart is stirred with compassion to befriend a new student from Morocco. Reading the sadness and silence in Saida’s “large amber eyes,” the narrator sets out to find her friend’s words, thinking Saida has lost them. But after a discussion with her parents, the narrator realizes Saida indeed has words-yet she doesn’t want to “bring them out.” They are “different from the words” used in her new surroundings. The narrator’s father explains to his daughter: “In Morocco, … yours wouldn’t work either.” 

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Interior spread from The Day Saida Arrived written by Susana Gómez Redondo, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, and translated by Lawrence Schimel, Blue Dot Kids Press ©2020.

 

Once the narrator understands this all-important lesson of seeing herself in the other person’s struggle, she sets out to help and learn from Saida. Together, in this reciprocal relationship, the two friends share a wealth of new words. Double page spreads of Arabic and English words playfully interact. Some are easily remembered, some are “carried off by the wind,” while those that were forgotten earlier return like “good weather.” In fact, throughout the pages we see graceful Arabic and bold English letters flying about, blown by the wind like butterflies, “sometimes look[ing] like flowers and other times like insects.” The illustrative theme of nature is beautifully consistent, comparing the process of language acquisition to the ebb and flow of the natural world. 

 

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Interior spread from The Day Saida Arrived written by Susana Gómez Redondo, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, and translated by Lawrence Schimel, Blue Dot Kids Press ©2020.

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Through poignant scenes and lyrical language, we see the girls’ mutual respect and friendship blossom. In trust and appreciation, they exchange stories and treats from each other’s culture. A side by side spread of the English and Arabic alphabets in the backmatter extends the opportunity for readers to learn.  

A touching story that breaks boundaries, The Day Saida Arrived is a wonderful addition to the school and home library.

Find book resources including a Teacher’s guide and a coloring page here.

Here’s an interesting interview with the book’s translator Lawrence Schimel
Read about author Susana Gómez Redondo here.
See more art from illustrator Sonja Wimmer here.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

  • Click here to order a copy of The Day Saida Arrived.
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  • Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

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Picture Book Review – The Homesick Club

THE HOMESICK CLUB

Written by Libby Martinez

Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

(Groundwood Books; $17.95; Ages 4-7)

 

The Homesick Club cover

 

 

Written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, The Homesick Club expresses the longing for home and connection. 

Mónica and her best friend, Hannah, share a special bond: they are both immigrants.

Mónica is from Bolivia and Hannah is from Israel. Together they form The Homesick Club, complete with a handmade sign they display on their lunchtime table illustrating their favorite memories from their respective homelands.  Mónica yearns for the mango trees, green vines, and the “family of hummingbirds” that she and her grandmother would feed every morning. Similarly, Hannah misses the warm weather, sandy dunes, desert whistling wind, and a neighborhood tortoise. Their conversations highlight how different aspects of a landscape make it a unique and special place called home.
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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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When they meet their new teacher, Miss Shelby, they discover she too is far away from her home, Texas. Ironically, as Mónica and her teacher discuss their different backgrounds, they discover how much they have in common. Mónica’s beautiful transitions from English to Spanish echo Miss Shelby’s “soft and slow” voice, “like…words…stuck together with syrup.” They miss similar things from back home, too:  a “big and wide” sky that displays an abundance of stars as well as hummingbirds. Mónica misses seeing them since the big city noise “probably scares them away.” Miss Shelby longs for her favorite hometown dessert, hummingbird cake, “sooooo sweet, like the flowers that hummingbirds drink from.” Gibbon’s bright and friendly illustrations include rich detail that expresses the individual personalities of each character. 

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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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In honor of her beloved hummingbirds and a budding friendship with her new teacher, Mónica prepares a surprise to share with everyone during Show and Tell. Through this kind gesture, she is able to bring a little bit of home back to both of them and to us readers who are gifted with the recipe at the end of the story. 

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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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A great conversation starter on issues of diversity and geography, The Homesick Club reminds us that though we may look different and come from different parts of the world, we have many experiences connecting us. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookiane
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    Click here to see How To Bake Hummingbird Cake with Author Libby Martinez
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    Click here to order a copy of The Homesick Club.
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    Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/19/20

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