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Picture Book Review – Letters to Live By

LETTERS TO LIVE BY:
AN ALPHABET BOOK WITH INTENTION

Written by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough

Illustrated by Åsa Gilland 

(RUNNING PRESS KIDS; $17.99; AGES 4-8)

 

Letters to Live By cover

 

Learning the alphabet is a must for kids so naturally alphabet books are popular. However not all alphabet picture books teach the importance of setting intentions while beginning a new day, week, or even year until Letters to Live By. This book features beautiful art by graphic designer Åsa Gilland and encouraging words by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough.

The reader sees a capital ‘A’ drawn on a brick wall beside a tiger and crawling snakes. The art excites two girls with large backpacks pointing at the wall. Two words sit on the bottom of the page: Appreciate Art. The joy on the sweet girls’ faces is evident. Simple words. Big message. Great conversation starter.

Appreciating Gilland’s art is easy when the reader turns each page filled with colorful pastels and sweet drawings. The Capital ‘F’ hovers over the red-headed boy and the shaggy white dog, who may have accidentally eaten the boy’s red shoe. (I personally think it was all just a misunderstanding). Riddiough simply writes Forgive Friends. What a great lesson for kids to see that you can still be friends when one may have made a mistake, even furry ones.

 

ForgiveFriends spread
Interior illustration from Letters to Live By: An Alphabet  Book with Intention written by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough and illustrated by Åsa Gilland, RP Kids ©2022.

 

Riddiough continues the alphabet with the letter ‘G’, Give Generously, the letter ‘H’, Have Heroes and the letter ‘I’, Invite Imagination. Each letter is a chance to pause and discuss the intention depicted with little ones or start a conversation with school-aged children.

Turning to a soft-pink page in the background, readers see a happy-faced girl demonstrating her side stretch. She is accompanied by orange-beaked birds, one doing the same stretch as the letter ‘M’ lingers above with the second bird watching from above—Move Mindfully. Ahh, a great time to pull out the yoga mat!

 

MoveMindfully spread
Interior illustration from Letters to Live By: An Alphabet Book with Intention written by Lisa Frenkel Riddiough and illustrated by Åsa Gilland, RP Kids ©2022.

 

Page turn after page turn allows the reader to find the intention that best fits the mood they may be in that day. Teachers can use this opportunity to discuss an incident that may have occurred at school using the letter ‘P’ for example, learn to Practice Peace. Parents will have lots to talk about with the letter ‘Q’ for Quit Quarreling for those with siblings that may not be seeing eye-to-eye.

The book ends with all the characters gathered together on a two-page spread surrounded by the alphabet, and the drawings that bring each message together. Riddiough’s final message: “We each have the power to make our world a better, happier place. We all have the alphabet to guide us.”

This picture book is a fabulous new way to teach the alphabet while also teaching valuable life lessons. It can be read and re-read whenever a child needs a simple reminder of how to set intentions. “Which letters will you live by?”

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – I Hear You, Forest

 

 

I HEAR YOU, FOREST

Written by Kallie George

Illustrated by Carmen Mok

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 3-7)

 

I Hear You Forest cover

 

When a child walks through the forest and hears its majestic sounds, we’re reminded by author Kallie George that the forest needs to be heard in I Hear You, Forest, with breathtaking illustrations by Carmen Mok .

As a new mom, George knows the importance of helping babies and toddlers juggle their emotions. And the simple words, “I hear you” let them know they are heard and they are respected. The story takes the reader on a walk, guided by the child protagonist, stopping to hear what the forest has to say while feeling George’s love of nature in the gentle prose. The full-page green palette, surrounded by yellow flowers and tiny birds, serenades the dark-haired girl taking time to metaphorically stop and smell the roses (although there are no roses just tall trees and happy wildlife).

 

I Hear You Forest int art1
Interior spread from I Hear You, Forest written by Kallie George and illustrated by Carmen Mok, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

The young girl in the red jumpsuit lays motionless on the forest ground with yellow birds flying overhead, and white rabbits hopping happily across the grass. “Creak, creak. I hear you, Trees, stretching skyward. Are you trying to tickle clouds?”

 

I Hear You Forest int art2
Interior spread from I Hear You, Forest written by Kallie George and illustrated by Carmen Mok, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

The words are simple but the message is strong, as Mok’s art shows her stopping to notice the nature around her. She is living in the present moment. Such a wonderful message to learn at a young age. What child hasn’t done this on a sunny day? Peaking behind the green leaves, the girl spies a nest with eggs. “So that’s where Robin hides her eggs.”

Interacting with her new forest friends, the child holds a blinking contest with a frog and sings along with the soft blue stream. Mok’s illustrations bring the reader into the story as if they too were sitting on a forest floor. Her face takes in the smells of nature standing under a squirrel-packed tree limb. “Nibble, nibble. I hear you, Squirrels, tasting treasures. Is it time to stop and snack?”

Through each lush and atmospheric page turn, we meet new animals and feel the empathy the child experiences for the beauty and marvel that surrounds her. Holding her mother’s hand, the girl simply says “I (heart) you, Forest.” As she turns, she witnesses the animals watching them walk away.

Sitting in my backyard as I write, listening to the birds singing nearby, I feel just what the young girl felt. It’s powerful, rewarding, and relaxing, too. I encourage parents to read this book to their children and then take them on a stroll through their local park or forest. You’ll truly enjoy the outdoors when you stop, listen and learn. I’m pleased to know this is the first in a series of books and look forward to reading the other books that follow because “The forest has lots to say … if you listen.” 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

#nature #interconnectedness #communication #empathy #imagination #awareness

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Too Many Bubbles

 

TOO MANY BUBBLES: A STORY ABOUT MINDFULNESS

By Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma

Illustrated by Mags DeRoma

(Sourcebook Kids; $12.99; Ages 3-7)

 

 

Too Many Bubbles cover art with mouse

 

 

When Izzy the mouse’s brain fills up with more and more bubbles of unwanted thoughts he escapes to a special spot to quiet his mind in Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma’s interactive picture book Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness, the first in the Books of Great Character series, with illustrations by Mags DeRoma.

My focus was omnipresent when I began writing this review, and even though I have taught mindfulness, reading this book was a reminder of the importance of deep breathing to escape the crazy bubbles in my own mind. DeRoma’s soft blue illustrations of Izzy riding his two-wheeler in his blue striped shirt and red helmet with “only one little thought bubble. It bubbled up one day, a rough day, and just hung there.” We all know those days, but Izzy’s thought bubbles just wouldn’t go away.

 

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Interior spread from Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness written by Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma and illustrated by Mags DeRoma, Sourcebook Kids ©2021.

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DeRoma illustrates two bubbles with squiggly lines above Izzy’s head. The reader doesn’t know what is bothering Izzy, but whatever it is his thoughts just won’t go away. That night Izzy is wide-awake when he should be sleeping, while his stuffed red mouse is fast asleep. Of course, the mouse sleeps with a toy mouse. And the next day Izzy is trying so hard to go through his day as he climbs the slide at the park while more bubbles appear. “At first, it was simply peculiar. But when another popped up, and another, and another, they started to really get in the way of things.” It’s easy to feel the sadness in Izzy’s blue face.

Trying to enjoy a spaghetti dinner is not easy when Izzy’s mind is crowded with more bubbles. It was inevitable that “Izzy was pushed clean off the page.” Red, pink, blue, yellow, and orange bubbles cover the center spread with no Izzy in sight. When the reader turns the page, a red-faced Izzy fills the two-page spread and instead of giving up Izzy knows “something had to be done.”

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Interior spread from Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness written by Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma and illustrated by Mags DeRoma, Sourcebook Kids ©2021.

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We all have that special spot we like to escape to when challenges set in. Mine is sitting in my yard listening to the birds and squirrels run by. Izzy’s spot is the beach. As Izzy digs his little mouse toes in the sand, “there was a little more space for all the bubbles.” Watching a little white bear blow his bubbles towards the sea, our protagonist looks up and “Izzy took a deep breath in. Izzy let the deep breath out.”

The interactive book concludes when the reader is asked to assist Izzy by gently blowing on the bubbles. This is a fabulous way to teach mindfulness breathing to children. Izzy’s big deep breath makes everything a little bit brighter as the bubbles float away into the sky.

A LITTLE MORE MINDFUL is included in the back matter exploring ways kids can let go of thoughts taking over their day. “What is mindfulness? It is being aware in the present moment,” DeRoma and Peck explain. The mindfulness exercises are great tools for teachers to assist their students, or parents to share with their kids when a day is not going the way it should. And the adult reader can utilize these tools as well. Peck and DeRoma are founders of the boutique kids brand, Silly Street, whose mission is to help children grow character through play—and they’re also sisters-in-law.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – Catching Thoughts

CATCHING THOUGHTS

Written by Bonnie Clark

Illustrated by Summer Macon

(Beaming Books; $17.99; Ages 3-8)

 

Catching Thoughts cover

 

Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere in Catching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clark with illustrations by Summer Macon.

It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.

The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.

Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”

A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.

 

CatchingThoughts layout colorfulballoons
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.

Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.

 

  • Review by Ronda Skernick Einbinder

 

Click here to order a copy of Catching Thoughts

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