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An Interview with AlphaBot Author and Illustrator Vicky Fang

 

RAJANI LAROCCA INTERVIEWS VICKY FANG,

AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR OF

ALPHABOT

(MIT Kids Press/Candlewick Press; 14.99, Ages 3-7)

AlphaBot cover mix and match robots

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Found your circuit-board head? Your voice-control torso? Your hydrojet feet? Hooray! You’ve made one of the 729 mix-and-match robots that are possible with this innovative flip-flap book. Alongside the bright and cheery illustrations of robot parts is a basic alphabetical listing of terms—from android to gearsneural network to program, wheels to Z-drive—and a basic definition of each. With a concealed spiral binding and sturdy card stock pages to hold up to enthusiastic flap-turning, AlphaBot is full of appeal for young robot lovers, preschoolers who love machines, and anyone looking for STEM books for the younger set. Back matter includes a brief explanation of the three key abilities of robots: to sense, think, and act.

INTERVIEW:

Rajani LaRocca: How did you come up with this idea?

Vicky Fang: ALPHABOT actually started off with the title! As a former designer of robots for kids, I think about robots a lot, haha. Once the title and the idea of a robot alphabet book were in my head, I knew I wanted to make something interactive. I thought about different novelty formats (flaps, cutouts, etc.) until I had the idea for mix-and-match flaps. This meant kids would be able to mix-and-match the A-Z robotics terms to create their own robots. How fun and exciting! I spent a long time thinking about what terms would work and making paper dummies to prove out the concept.

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RL: What kind of challenges did you face coming up with a novelty book idea like this?

Alphabot int2 circuit fan treads
Interior illustrations and text from AlphaBot written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, MIT Kids Press ©2023.

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VF: This book was definitely a puzzle to put together! I have several paper dummies where I was working to make sure I could make all the terms work together. Once I had a working dummy, it was also challenging to sell the book! Novelty books are expensive to construct, so even though several editors were interested, it took time to find a publisher that could figure out how to make the numbers work. I’m so glad that MIT Kids Press/Candlewick found a way and I’m so happy with the quality of the book!

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RL: I see a strong parallel between this book and your debut, INVENT-A-PET. What do you see as the similarities and differences between them?

VF: I love introducing kids to STEM concepts, but really, I want kids to be creative problem solvers. This is at the heart of both books! Even though INVENT-A-PET is a fiction story about a girl inventing fantastic pets and ALPHABOT is about non-fiction informational book about creating robots, you can see that both books invite kids to be inventive! Maybe the different approach will appeal to a different kid, but hopefully, all kids find a way to engage their imagination from the STEM content in these books.

AlphaBot int1 gears hydrojets
Interior illustrations and text from AlphaBot written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, MIT Kids Press ©2023.

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RL: I loved the mix of familiar and not-so-familiar terms in this book! Was it hard to come up with a concept for each letter of the alphabet?

VF: There were letters that were more challenging than others, especially to make sure they would work in their positions in the book (head, torso, or feet.) I tried several different options, as well as shifting which flaps the letters would fall on. But since I was also illustrating, I was able to think creatively about how these robot parts might work and all fit together!

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RL: What do you hope kids get from this book?

VF: Well, of course, I hope they understand robots a little bit better! The back matter is a pretty simple explanation of the capabilities of robots and came from my engineering partner, Chaitanya Gharpure. Hopefully, kids understand a little bit more about how robots work and what kinds of parts they might have!

But ultimately, as I was saying before, I want kids to have fun and be creative, I hope that this book sparks their imagination and gives them the confidence to create.

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RL: What’s next for you?

VF: I am very excited about my next early reader series, BEST BUDDIES, illustrated by Luisa Leal, which is releasing in October with Scholastic. It’s about a dog named Sniff and a cat named Scratch who are best friends and get into mischief at home. It’s been fun to explore themes of friendship and teamwork with these two characters who approach things differently, but together.

After that, I have many more books coming! I’m currently working on a new early chapter book series, AVA LIN, about a relatable and funny 6-year-old Chinese-American girl with a knack for getting herself into—and out of—trouble. Keep an eye out for it, launching with Candlewick in June 2024!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support a local independent bookstore and get a signed copy. (Please type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.lindentreebooks.com/alphabot.html

Also: https://vickyfang.com/books/alphabot/

AUTHOR BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter (X): https://twitter.com/fangmous

IG: https://www.instagram.com/fangmousbooks/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fangmousbooks

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor and Walter Award-winning middle-grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She has always been an omnivorous reader, and now is an omnivorous writer of novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, in poetry and prose. You can learn more about her atwww.RajaniLaRocca.com.

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An Interview with The Glow Show Author-Illustrator Susi Schaefer

 

 

AIXA PÉREZ-PRADO INTERVIEWS

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

SUSI SCHAEFER

ABOUT HER NEW PICTURE BOOK

THE GLOW SHOW

(SOURCEBOOKS EXPLORE; $14.99, AGES 4-8)

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The Glow Show cover purple octopus

 

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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

Glow is a bioluminescent squid who loves to dance and twirl. And the faster he twirls, the brighter he GLOWS! He loves to show off his skills … and becomes quite a show-off with a bad attitude. He doesn’t like sharing the spotlight. And when he ditches his friends in search of fans, he loses his glow! Can Glow find his way home—and if he does, will his friends take him back?

As readers follow Glow’s journey, they’ll learn all about bioluminescence and fascinating ocean creatures along the way.

INTERVIEW:

Aixa Pérez-Prado: Congrats on your picture book, THE GLOW SHOW! How did you get into creating books for young readers?

Susi Schaefer: Thank you so much for the interview. I was born and raised in Austria, where I completed an apprenticeship as a glass painter. That style still influences my illustrations today.

Once I reached my early twenties, I got a case of Wanderlust and came to the U.S. to work as a nanny. While reading tons of picture books to the kids, I fell in love with the format. Eventually, I studied graphic design and worked in that field for many years.

And once I had my own kiddos, I decided to try my hand at illustrating and writing.  With the help of the SCBWI and my critique groups, I steadily improved my craft until I landed an agent in 2016. THE GLOW SHOW will be my third book.

 

The Glow Show int2 welcome to the Shallows sign
Interior spread from The Glow Show written and illustrated by Susi Schaefer, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

APP: Tell us what inspired this book.

SS: I am a huge nature lover and have always been fascinated by the ocean, partially because I grew up in a landlocked country. Soon after arriving here, I got my scuba diving certification to explore the underwater world for myself.

Then, a few years ago, we had a lot of bioluminescent plankton in the surf here in Southern California. I really became interested in glowing marine life.

Also, I wanted to tell a story about friendship versus followers or fans. And that’s how that idea for THE GLOW SHOW was born.

 

The Glow Show int3 glow twirls look at me
Interior spread from The Glow Show written and illustrated by Susi Schaefer, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

 

APP: Can you share your process?

SS: For this book, I started by illustrating a finished underwater scene, including a purple, bioluminescent squid. I loved the character so much that I began to write a messy first draft of the manuscript. After a couple of revisions, I created the dummy. The feedback from my critique group was very positive, and I decided to share the idea with my agent. She loved it and helped me refine the dummy. And then, we sent it out on submission and found a wonderful home.

My illustration process is digital collage combined with traditional watercolor washes. First, I create manual sketches on paper, then bring them into Procreate on my Apple iPad Pro and finalize each file in Photoshop on my Mac.

 

APP: Are you working on any projects you can tell us about?

SS: Yes, I am thrilled to share that I have recently signed two more contracts, one as an illustrator for a book scheduled for publication later in 2023 and the second as an author/illustrator for a book coming in 2025.

 

APP: Where can people find you out there?

SS: swww.susischaefer.com and on Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to buy the book from Bookshop.org

 

 Author Susi Schaefer Photo Credit Rich Schaefer
Susi Schaefer Photo Credit Rich Schaefer

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Born and raised in the Austrian Alps, Susi Schaefer trained as a glass painter in the medieval town of Rattenberg. After moving to Southern California for sun and adventure, Susi studied graphic design. She’s the illustrator of ZOO ZEN by Kristen Fischer, author-Illustrator of CAT LADIES and THE GLOW SHOW. Susi lives in North Tustin, California, with her family. www.susischaefer.com

Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

 

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Aixa Pérez-Prado is a native of Argentina who immigrated to the US as a small child. She is a writer, illustrator, translator, sensitivity reader and professor with a PhD in Social Science and Education. Aixa has lived in several different countries, and draws inspiration for her stories and illustrations from diverse locations. Her passion is writing and illustrating picture books aimed at giving diverse children a chance to see their multilayered identities represented through stories that resonate with heart and humor. Aixa writes in Spanish and English and enjoys mixing languages in her prose. Similarly, she loves illustrating by employing different techniques in a whimsical style that includes watercolor, acrylic, ink, and digital. She especially enjoys combining all of these elements through collage. Her 2023 books are CITY FEET (Reycraft), and OUR WORLD: ARGENTINA (Barefoot Books), and coming in 2024, MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Lee & Low). Aixa is represented by Joyce Sweeney from the Seymour Agency.

Twitter: @ProfessorAixa

Instagram: @aixasdoodlesandbooks

 

 

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Elisa Boxer Interviews Author Kirsten W. Larson

 

AN INTERVIEW

WITH

KIRSTEN W. LARSON

AUTHOR OF

THE FIRE OF STARS

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

The Fire of Stars cover Cecilia Payne

 

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

INTERVIEW:

Elisa Boxer: I’m so happy to be here interviewing my Soaring 20s colleague and friend Kirsten W. Larson about her newest picture book, The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made Of. It’s an absolutely stellar book! Kirsten weaves together two stories in one: The creation of a star, and the evolution of astronomer Cecilia Payne, who discovered what stars are made of …

Kirsten, you make the dual narrative structure look easy. But I know it is anything but! Did you set out with the intention to write a dual narrative? If not, at what point in the process did you decide on this format?

Kirsten W. Larson: This was a last-minute decision, believe it or not. In May 2017, my agent Lara Perkins (of Andrea Brown Literary Agency) and I were preparing to sub this book as a run-of-the-mill picture book biography. Meanwhile,  I was working on a blog post featuring Hannah Holt’s query letter for THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY (Balzar + Bray, 2018). The book itself was still over a year away from release, but the query stuck with me. Hannah pitched her biography of Tracy Hall, who invented lab-produced diamonds, asa two-tale picture book—a turn and flip. … The two stories meet in the middle with a shared phrase.”

That was a total lightning bolt moment. I finally saw a way to add more hooks to my story and appeal to readers of both biography and informational books – by telling two stories at the same time. I went back and added the story of star formation alongside Cecilia’s formation as a star scientist.


EB:
That’s fascinating! The story is so seamlessly woven, I never would have guessed that it was a last-minute decision. What was the most challenging part about writing a book with this structure?

KWL: I think what sets this book apart from other parallel biographies (and made it very challenging to write) was the idea of having a shared line of text on every spread that applied to both stories – the star and Cecilia. It seemed like a good idea when I came up with it, but then it proved to be much harder to pull off. At one point I told Lara I couldn’t do it, and we should forget about it. But she kept encouraging me. She knew I could do it. But it was so, so hard.

Then, once I was working with editor Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books, she had the additional idea of wanting to be able to read those shared lines only, without the additional text about Cecilia, and have it make sense for the youngest readers. The whole thing was a real puzzle, but I’m so happy we were able to get everything to work. It makes this book truly special.

 

EB: I’m so glad that Lara kept encouraging you, and that you stuck with it. You’ve created the perfect mentor text for aspiring authors of dual narratives. What advice would you give them?

KWL: I think this is a case where you have to be careful about the form not overtaking the writing, much like when you are writing poetry or even lyrically. For me, it helped to plot out both stories independently, step by step. I nailed down Cecilia’s major plot points, asking myself questions like “What’s the inciting incident?” “What’s the all is lost moment?” etc. Then I wrote down step-by-step how stars formed before trying to line the two stories up and brainstorming what language might connect them. I am a very visual writer, and I actually thumbnailed the stories in my journal trying to match things up and experimenting with language. You can see some of my journal pages here.

 

EB: I love the scene at the beginning, where Cecilia’s mother sets her down in the snow, and she expects a warm blanket, but instead finds her toes freezing! “It’s the first time Cecilia learns things aren’t always as they seem,” is such a powerful statement that foreshadows her discoveries to come. At what point in your research did you come across that particular anecdote, and how instrumental was it in building your scenes and threading that theme?

 

The Fire of Stars int1 young Cecilia Payne with mother in snow
Interior art from The Fire of Stars written by Kirsten W. Larson a nd illustrated by Katherine Roy, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

KWL: The theme of this book was always the “ingredients” of a successful scientist, characteristics like being a good observer, curiosity, passion, and persistence. The book always showed how Cecilia exhibited those characteristics even as a child. For example, the scene where she watches slimy slugs in the garden was there from the start as was the scene about the bee and the bee orchid, which really set her on her quest for discovery.

But, to your question, I came across that story of Cecilia and the snow very early on in my research. Yet even though I knew about that story from the beginning, I didn’t include it until I started working on the parallel structure! I needed something that came before Cecilia in the dust and dirt of the garden, something that nodded to the star she would become.

That’s when I added this moment in the snow. I just tracked down a document on my computer when I “unwrote” Cecilia’s story, summarizing what needed to happen spread-by-spread in a line or two. That’s the last thing I wrote before I pieced the two stories together.

 

EB: Those same ingredients of curiosity, passion, and persistence clearly apply to you and your research as well! Can you tell us a bit more about your research process?

KWL: This book was a bit of a departure from my usual research process. Typically, I like to start with secondary sources for context before digging into primary sources to hear my characters’ voices in letters, diaries, and autobiographies.

At the time I started my research, there weren’t many book-length secondary sources about Cecilia at all. Dava Sobel’s GLASS UNIVERSE wasn’t out yet, nor was Donovan Moore’s biography. So I moved pretty quickly to primary sources like Cecilia’s published autobiography, her oral history from Harvard, and her research papers including her dissertation.

I did a lot of research around the edges, including the women who worked at Harvard Observatory and the field of astronomy and astrophysics to understand what was known in the field of astronomy at the time Cecilia was working. I talked to physicists and astronomers to discern the magnitude of her contributions.

EB: How much of yourself do you see in Cecilia?

KWL: What I’ve learned through this book and WOOD, WIRE, WINGS is that “STEM people” and “creative people” have so much in common. We’re all creative. We’re all problem solvers. We all take feedback. We all fail. So, yes, I feel a great affinity for Cecilia, especially that feeling of being lost and feeling hopeless, as well as that thrill of the shiny bright moment when an idea comes together and a new piece of knowledge or art comes into the world.

 

The Fire of Stars int2 astronomer Cecilia Payne studying stars
Interior art from The Fire of Stars written by Kirsten W. Larson and illustrated by Katherine Roy, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

EB: Speaking of shiny and bright and everything coming together, Katherine Roy’s illustrations are breathtaking. What was it like seeing her preliminary sketches and watching them evolve?

KWL: Katherine’s work on this book is incredible, and it’s such a thrill to see her splattering paint and using toothbrushes to give the impression of star formation. 

The original visual idea for this book, which I put in art notes for our editor, was to split the story horizontally, with the star’s story on the top and Cecilia’s below. I saw some early sketches, and it wasn’t working the way we hoped. The star story seemed very disconnected from Cecilia’s. When Katherine shifted the two stories to a side-by-side the whole thing really started coming together. This just goes to show you the tremendous power of illustrators who know far more about visual storytelling than authors do. This book was such an adventure!

EB: I couldn’t agree more, from a reader’s perspective, that this book is an incredible adventure! One of my new all-time favorite picture books. Thank you so much for giving all of us a peek into your process.

Click here to purchase a copy of the book.

Click here for the publisher page for a good way to access activities, discussion topics, etc.

Social Media Links: @kirstenwlarson @kroystudio (Twitter) @chroniclekids

 

AUTHOR BIO:

Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of the picture books: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, February 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). She also is the author of the middle-grade, graphic nonfiction, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023), along with 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Visit her website at https://kirsten-w-larson.com

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times and Fast Company. She has reported for newspapers, magazines, and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books including The Voice That Won the VoteA Seat at the TableOne Turtle’s Last Straw, SPLASH! (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection), Covered in Color (called “compelling from cover to cover” in a Kirkus starred review) and Hidden Hope (called “an important true account to add to all collections” in a School Library Journal starred review). Elisa lives in Maine, and has more children’s books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – The River That Wolves Moved

 

 

THE RIVER THAT WOLVES MOVED:
A True Tale from Yellowstone

Written by Mary Kay Carson

Illustrated by David Hohn

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99,  Ages 5-9)

 

 

The River That Wolves Moved cover wolves river fish in Yellowstone

 

The title of Mary Kay Carson’s new picture book drew me in: The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone. What?! How? I wanted to find out. Using the structure of “The House That Jack Built,” we learn why wolves are a crucial part of the ecosystem. Without them, elk overpopulate, overgraze, and, ultimately, cause muddied rivers to forge different paths.

Pages incorporate new lines while repeating what’s come before. Additional information is provided below the main text to paint a broader picture of each animal’s contribution to diversifying the environment.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int1 pack of wolves along river
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. In the subsequent years, wolves were legally hunted, trapped, and poisoned by rangers and ranchers. By the early 1900s, wolves were gone. Facts are presented in a manner that kids can understand and, rather than seeing wolves as the bad guys, we learn they are helpful and necessary.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int2 walking along the riverbank
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

The illustrations by David Hohn capture the beauty of nature through the eyes of a young girl and her grandfather. Evocative, warm art combined with the lyrical text make this important topic accessible for the youngest child, hopefully fostering environmental stewardship.

 

 

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Picture Book Review by Armineh Manookian – The Black Hole Debacle

THE BLACK HOLE DEBACLE

Written by Keri Claiborne Boyle

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99; Ages 4-7)

 

The Black Hole Debacle cover

 

 

 

Written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, The Black Hole Debacle is the perfect choice for any child who has a deep wonder for outer space and an appreciation for stories with heart and humor. 

An astronomer at heart, Jordie “even name[s] her dog Neptune.” When a literal out-of-this-world incident happens in her class one day, she is more than excited to explore it. A little black hole, “churning in [her] desk” is eating anything and everything around it and is hungry for more.

 

The Black Hole Debacle int1 bedroom classroom
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Like finding a pet, Jordie decides to keep the black hole, bringing it along with her on the bus ride home. After devouring belongings in her backpack, the black hole starts gobbling items in the closet where Jordie has put it to hide from her parents. The black hole doesn’t discriminate; all items are fair game–with one humorous exception. 

 

The Black Hole Debacle int2 schoolbus
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Readers will love this zany concept of a black hole that appears out of nowhere and causes problems of cosmic proportions. Adding to the delightful absurdity is its disdain for Jordie’s unicorn underwear that it spits out on more than one occasion. Like Boyle’s language, Melmon’s adorable and vivid illustrations add personality and pizazz to the antics of this one-of-a-kind character.

 

 The Black Hole Debacle Neptune the dog
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

When Jordie discovers Neptune’s empty collar, she finally decides enough is enough and finds a clever way to reclaim her possessions including her beloved dog. She sends the black hole back to where it belongs–in a galaxy far, far away. 

A fun, early elementary-grade-level read, this STEM picture book includes intriguing facts about black holes and a link for further study. 

Click here for a teaching guide.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Picture Book Review – Look and Listen

 

 

LOOK AND LISTEN

Written by Dianne White

Illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford

(Holiday House; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

Look and Listen cover

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journaltar

 

From the Publisher: “In this exciting guessing game for budding nature lovers, a child takes a walk to explore the sights and sounds in a garden, across a meadow, and along a brook … Dianne White’s playful text is paired with the vibrant collage artwork of Amy Schimler-Safford.”

 

Look and Listen int1 garden
Interior spread from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

Dianne White’s simple, rhyming text introduces young readers to the colors and sounds of creatures that live in each ecosystem using a riddle-like structure that invites page turns. At the same time, Amy Schimler-Safford’s gorgeous, collage-style art encourages little eyes to seek and find the hiding creature …

 

Look and Listen int2 sunflowers
Interior spread from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

making this a truly interactive and enjoyable reading experience.

 

Look and Listen int3 bee
Interior art from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

Accessible backmatter in Look and Listen offers readers and/or teachers more information about the habitats and animals highlighted in the book. This radiant picture book inspiring all five senses would make a great read-aloud for preschool classrooms to use just before a nature walk or trip to a National Park.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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Wordless Picture Book Review – Whirl

 

 

WHIRL

by Deborah Kerbel

Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon 

(Owlkids Books; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Whirl cover

 

 

From the Publisher: “A stray maple seed, is picked up by the wind and begins a long, wordless journey through a local neighborhood…Eventually, it finds a place to rest …Years later, a family that encountered the whirligig on its journey takes a walk in the forest and meets the seed again—this time as a fully grown maple tree.”

 

Whirl interior art1
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

In this appealing wordless picture book with inviting art and a diverse cast of characters, Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon describe the unpredictable journey a seed takes as it whirls its way through a family’s backyard, past the wheels and paws of several park visitors, into the hands of a few curious kids, and onto the artwork of another.

 

 

Whirl interior art2
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

Before, eventually being found (and fought over) by birds and accidentally planted by a dog.

 

Whirl Interior art3
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

In time, the seed sprouts and grows, and is discovered by another park visitor who delights over its “magic.” A swirl of wind grounds the story and guides the reader through this visual tale perfect for spending time in nature. A back page of maple seed facts also offers readers inspiration for conducting their own research into similar topics.

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review – Wake, Sleepy One

 

 

WAKE, SLEEPY ONE:

California Poppies and the Super Bloom

by Lisa Kerr

Illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun

(West Margin Press; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

From seed to “super bloom,” debut author, Lisa Kerr, introduces readers to the California desert poppy in a combination of lyrical and expository nonfiction text. From the publisher: “A lyrical ode to California’s most treasured wildflower, Wake, Sleepy One gently captures the quiet strength of the poppy in all its breathtaking wonder.”

 

Wake Sleepy One int1 desert
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

As the sleepy poppy wakes, it “rises” from the ground “reaching” for the sun and “waiting” for her time to shine. This “tiny dancer” swirls and twirls in the breeze as it is joined by hundreds of other waking seeds in a rare natural phenomenon of the desert super bloom.

 

Wake Sleepy One int2 poppies wake
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Lisa Powell Braun’s charming artwork supports Kerr’s spare text and offers a variety of reading options for this book. The youngest of listeners will be able to grasp the story’s concept and watch the poppy “wake…rise…reach…wait…unfold…dance” and “shimmer” with a simple reading of each page’s single italicized line. Preschool and kindergarten listeners will delight in the added emotional tension of the entire main text, while older readers will appreciate the facts in Kerr’s nonfiction sidebars.

 

Wake Sleepy One int3 backmatter
Interior art from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Two full spreads of stellar backmatter add to its usability in the classroom, and make this a perfect resource for learning about desert landscapes!

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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STEM Picture Book Review – Good Night, Oppy!

 

GOOD NIGHT, OPPY!

Written by James McGowan

Illustrated by Graham Carter

(Boyds Mills Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

Good Reads With Ronna is thrilled to be the third stop on the Good Night, Oppy! Blog Tour. I didn’t hesitate to join in when I heard that James McGowan’s debut picture book was about the Mars rover, Opportunity. I live less than a mile or so from NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) where the rovers are created, maintained, and communicated with so I was eager to learn more about Oppy. She was first launched in 2003 when I still lived abroad and was raising children, with little time to think about planetary exploration.

 

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Interior spread from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

 

In McGowan’s story, he’s anthropomorphized the rover and introduced us to Oppy, one of two rovers on the Red Planet in 2004 searching for signs of past life. He blends the fictionalized narrative of hard-working and fun-loving Oppy, a solar-and-battery-powered robot roaming Mars and reporting back to her handlers on Earth, with fascinating scientific facts on most spreads. Plus, the onomatopoeia of the sound effect “Ping! Ping!” before a command from Earth adds an extra atmospheric touch that kids will enjoy repeating.

Readers learn that Oppy, as an Interplanetary Detective, remained in daily contact with “Teams of scientists and engineers …” who command and operate spacecraft using the Deep Space Network (a system of huge antennae throughout the solar system).  I always wondered how that worked! In fact, my friend’s husband was one of those JPL experts who, among other key responsibilities, received Oppy’s real-life signals on Earth. Equipped with cameras and other equipment for info transmission, Oppy’s job was to photograph and navigate Mars, report back and explore, explore and explore. In fact, over her lifetime she trekked twenty-eight miles providing invaluable information about the Red Planet for scientists and engineers.

 

 

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Interior art from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

Having successfully dodged many potential disasters, things changed for Oppy in June of 2018 when she went to recharge her battery. She needed a place where the sun could reach her solar panels unobstructed, but a powerful dust storm approached. Getting a message to Earth was impossible as layer upon layer of dust covered her panels. Oppy’s power was running low. With the sun obscured, she’d be unable to recharge. She managed to outrace the worst of the storm and transmit one last time to Earth before losing power forever.

What a game changer the rovers have been! Some of Oppy’s finds have been groundbreaking including her discovery of the mineral hematite on the surface of Mars meaning that at one time there had been groundwater. Another time Oppy got stuck in a sand dune and the process of getting her out required clever commandeering (see art above). That unfortunate experience also helped future rovers and technicians know what areas to avoid! Oppy was productive and persevered well beyond what the teams had ever expected. McGowan’s Author’s Note explains that both Opportunity and her sister rover, Spirit, were designed for ninety-day missions yet Spirit worked for six years while Oppy “worked for almost fifteen years!”

 

 

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Interior spread from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

 

Carter’s expansive illustrations in an array of red tones depict the vastness and dryness of Mars. Spreads are never stagnant and present an expressive Oppy on the go, investigating, soaking up the sun, and receiving commands from Earth that dictate which activities to pursue. I like how several times we’re transported to JPL command central for a different perspective of Oppy’s daily life. And, as the massive storm that ultimately ended Oppy’s career bore down on Mars, I felt sad when Oppy fell silent. By humanizing the rover, McGowan’s made Oppy’s contributions feel that much more important than they already are. Presenting Oppy’s story in this way makes it more compelling to younger readers and those more reluctant to pick up a STEM book. I learned so much and children will too. Such a great way to make kids care about our universe. Thank you and good night, Oppy! If you want to read more about Good Night, Oppy!, check out the other bloggers on the tour listed below.

 

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for coloring pages.

 

Oppy Blog Tour

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An Interview with Colleen Paeff Author of The Great Stink

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

COLLEEN PAEFF

AUTHOR OF

THE GREAT STINK:

HOW JOSEPH BAZALGETTE SOLVED

LONDON’S POOP POLLUTION PROBLEM

(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99, Ages 4 to 8)

 

 

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SHORT SUMMARY

The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem combines history and engineering to tell the true story of how one amazing engineer cleaned the stinking River Thames and stopped a deadly cholera epidemic by building London’s first modern sewer system. Illustrations by Nancy Carpenter provide humor, historical details, and plenty of STEM-related discussion starters, while the book’s back matter delves into “Poop Pollution Today” with tips to help young readers keep the waterways in their own communities clean.

 

INTERVIEW

Ronna Mandel: Welcome, Colleen! After two years of your fantastic interviews on this blog, it’s now your turn to answer some questions for our readers!

I’m so excited to share this Q+A about your debut picture book that kept me riveted. And who can close a book that opens with the Queen on her throne, and not the royal throne, but the euphemistic one!?

Now let’s go back to the day the idea for The Great Stink hit you like the foul odors you write about. Where were you and what do you remember thinking about when you first saw those three unforgettable words?

Colleen Paeff: I was reading How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman while waiting for a plane at the airport in Atlanta, Georgia, and I came across a line about “The Great Stink of 1858.” There wasn’t much information about it, so I did a quick Google search because the name was so intriguing. When I realized the Great Stink was caused by poop polluted water and an engineer saved the day by cleaning the River Thames, I knew this story had all the makings of a terrific children’s book.

 

RM: I’m so glad you did. What did your visit to the Crossness Pumping Station in London teach you?

CP: So much! First of all, it convinced me that I wanted to tell this story. The beam engines at the pumping station are incredible and a nonprofit group has been working on restoring them to their former glory, which was really nice to see! While I was there, I was very surprised to learn that Bazalgette’s plan involved pumping sewage back into the river, a practice that continued until 1887 when they started dumping raw sewage directly into the North Sea instead. (!!!) This continued until 1998!

 

 

Colleen at Crossness
Colleen visiting the Crossness Pumping Station.

 

RM: Who knew about all that raw sewage re-dumping so late into the 20th century? Not me! I could gag thinking how much North Sea shrimp I ate back in the ’90s when I lived in Frankfurt!

Your opening paragraph quickly pulls readers in and back in time. I’m curious if you had to work hard to get it as perfectly stinky as it now is? All those superb synonyms spoke to me!

CP: The first sentence is exactly the same as it was from my very first draft. The rest of the paragraph is probably pretty close. I knew I wanted to use all those synonyms for stink and I worked hard to get the right rhythm and then to match that rhythm in the penultimate sentence of the book. The rest of the book didn’t come so easy, though!

 

RM: How did you react when you heard Nancy was illustrating your book and again when you saw the preliminary artwork? What particularly struck you?

CP: I was already a huge Nancy Carpenter fan. She’s illustrated books written by some of my favorite authors (like Michelle Markel, Jonah Winter, Alexis O’Neill!!), so I felt incredibly honored to discover she’d agreed to create the art for my very first book. And, I felt really lucky to be working with a publishing team that thought to ask her! I didn’t see any illustrations until Nancy had completed sketches for the entire book and I was blown away. I really loved how she depicted the cholera epidemics and how Joseph Bazalgette’s character shines through every time we see him. And there’s so much humor! I died laughing when I saw the way our names are floating in the murky waters of the Thames on the cover of the book!

 

RM: I can just imagine. It’s so clever. And just look at the bird on the left side of the cover and those stench-sick people on the bridge. Too funny, although I don’t think anyone was laughing at the time.

I’ve always been fascinated with old England, London especially. I know you love it, too. Do you think that, knowing what you know about the sanitation problems that began in the early 1800s due to population growth and the use of flush toilets, whenever you read stories about this time period you’ll always be thinking about poop? In other words, has your research tainted your image of the Victorian era?

CP: It hasn’t tainted my image of the Victorian era, but it’s made watching movies set in that time period a little more difficult to enjoy because I can’t stop thinking about how the outdoor scenes should have more filth.

 

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Interior spread from The Great Stink written by Colleen Paeff and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Margaret K. McElderry Books ©2021.

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RM: I feel the same way. And speaking of filth and now knowing the illness it can cause, we learn that Bazalgette was thirteen during the first Cholera epidemic. But by the time more deadly outbreaks come in the late 1840s, he’s already working as an engineer mapping London’s sewer system with the goal of making London “a better, cleaner, healthier place to live.” Were you surprised that no one had thought about this sooner? Can you speak to why his initial plan didn’t get wide approval and how it eventually did? 

CP: They had been talking about updating London’s sewers for decades. In fact, Bazalgette’s predecessor, Frank Forster, is largely thought to have died from overwork due to the stress of his job. A big part of the problem was finding the money to pay for such an enormous project. But when the problem started impacting the people in power—the Houses of Parliament are right on the Thames where the stench was intense—and people started to die by the thousands, they suddenly found the money and they found it fast.

 

 

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Interior spread from The Great Stink written by Colleen Paeff and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Margaret K. McElderry Books ©2021.

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RM: There is SO much interesting, eye-opening stuff in The Great Stink, Colleen. Tell me what you had to leave out that you SO wish you could have kept in?

CP: I wish I could have included how Dr. John Snow tracked the source of London’s 1853 cholera epidemic to a water pump on Broad Street not far from Bazalgette’s office. It’s such a fascinating story. Grownups can read more about it in Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World.

 

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Colleen at the location of the Broad Street Pump

 

RM: As a bonafide Anglophile, I’m adding that book to my TBR list! How long did it take for you to gather all your research material and write the book?

CP: I started my research in August of 2016 and the manuscript went on submission in May of 2018. But I wasn’t working on that story alone for the whole time. I had other books I was writing and researching. I don’t work on different projects simultaneously, but I will work on one book for a while, send it out to my critique partners, and work on something else while I’m waiting on their feedback. Or sometimes if I can’t figure out how to solve a particular problem with a manuscript, I set it aside for a few months while I work on something else.

 

RM: What is it about nonfiction that resonates with you?

CP: I love nonfiction because it allows me to really dig into subjects that fascinate me. I never imagined I would be fascinated by sewers, though! I visited several wastewater treatment facilities over the course of my research and was astounded by the science behind how they treat waste. I was even more astounded by some of the amazing things they’re doing with human waste these days!

 

RM: Sounds like that could be fodder for a second sewage-themed book. :) Do you have any tried and true research tips you can share with other authors starting their nonfiction journey?

CP: Keep track of where you find your information! I’m terrible at doing this, but it makes things so much easier when it comes time to copy edit and fact check a manuscript. I’ve started keeping an “Info Dump” file on Scrivener for each research project and I include source information for every fact. My hope is that later, when I’m fact-checking, I’ll be able to do a word search that will take me to the original source. I’m crossing my fingers that it works!

 

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Colleen visiting the Sir Joseph Bazalgette Memorial on the Victoria Embankment in London

 

RM: Ditto! I’ll be curious to hear how that works out.

Here’s my chance to officially wish you a happy book birthday! Yay! It must have seemed like 2021 was so far off when you first began The Great Stink. But at last, your book is out there on bookshelves (signed copies are at Once Upon a Time Bookstore). What are you most looking forward to?

CP: I can’t wait to hear the reactions of my young readers and to start doing school visits!

RM: By the way, if you’re reading this before 6pm PST or 9pm EST on 8/31/21, there’s still time to register for the virtual book launch this evening here: The Great Stink book launch with Colleen Paeff and Nancy Carpenter via Zoom | Once Upon a Time (shoponceuponatime.com)

 

 

Colleen with her new book at local indie Once Upon a Time
Colleen with her new book at local indie Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, CA.

 

RM: What resources for creatives do you turn to for inspiration and to keep your prose fresh?

CP: Books and long walks.

 

RM: Do you have any advice for nonfiction book authors who are seeking new subjects and people to write about?

CP: Pay attention to everything. News stories. Little tidbits in books you’re reading. Stories people tell you. Email newsletter content. (I love Atlas Obscura, Smithsonian, and JSTOR’s newsletters.) And if anything piques your interest, dig deeper—look for stories that have lots of angles. The Great Stink touches on germ theory, engineering, history, and environmental science, so teachers should be able to use it in the classroom in lots of different ways. I imagine that was one thing that made it appealing to my editor—though I’ve never asked. Maybe I should!

 

RM: I was one of the passionate members of your picture book study group. Please tell readers the benefits of creating this kind of group. 

CP: Our picture book publisher book club was THE BEST! When I first got serious about writing for kids (after many years of dabbling) I decided that the best way to learn what made each publishing house or imprint unique, would be to get a big pile of picture books published by the same house and read them all at once. So every month, I checked out about 25 books published in the last five years by one publisher, say Chronicle Books, for example, and invited other picture book enthusiasts (including you!) over to my house and we would take turns reading books aloud. The following month, we might do books from Roaring Brook or Holiday House. At first, we only read books from places that accepted unsolicited manuscripts because most of us were unagented, but after the first year, we broadened our scope. There were so many benefits to creating this group. We learned a ton about the market and what was being published. We started to pick up on the subtle (or not so subtle) differences in the books coming from different publishing houses. And, best of all, we made lasting friendships. I think that book club was one of the best things I ever did for myself as a writer.

 

RM: Before we say goodbye, I’m sure everyone wants to know what’s on the horizon for you?

CP: My next book, Rainbow Truck, comes out in 2023 from Chronicle Books. I co-wrote it with Hina Abidi and Saffa Khan is illustrating. It tells the story of a Pakistani decorated truck trying to discover her true purpose as she makes deliveries around the country. If you have never seen a decorated truck from Pakistan, Google it! They’re incredible!! And, in the meantime, I’m working on a new picture book biography and I’ve got a few other projects on the back burner, too. Thanks so much, Ronna, for interviewing me. I’m really glad to be celebrating my book’s birthday with you!

RM: And thank you, Colleen, for taking the time to go into such fascinating detail about The Great Stink. It’s been wonderful!

 

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Colleen Paeff Photo Credit: Warren Paeff

BRIEF BIO

Fueled by English breakfast tea, a burning curiosity, and a love of research, Colleen Paeff writes picture books from a book-lined office in an old pink house with a view of the Hollywood sign. She is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi (Chronicle Books, 2023). Find her online at www.colleenpaeff.com and on Twitter and Instagram @ColleenPaeff.

 

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CLICK HERE TO BUY COLLEEN’S BOOK

 

LINKS

Website: www.colleenpaeff.com

Newsletter: https://www.colleenpaeff.com/newsletter/

Twitter: @ColleenPaeff

Instagram: @colleenpaeff

 

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Kids Picture Book Biography – The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

 

 

 

THE POLIO PIONEER:
DR. JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by Lisa Anchin

(Knopf BYR; $17.99; AGES 4-8)

 

 

The Polio Pioneer book cover art of Jonas Salk

 

A topic on everyone’s tongues these days is vaccinations. When she wrote this book, Linda E Marshall likely had no idea how relevant her book would be today and how once again, an innovative vaccine is saving lives around the world. 

 

The book opens with four-year-old Jonas Salk sitting on top of his father’s shoulders during the victory parade celebrating the end of World War I. But Jonas doesn’t understand the cheering when all he sees are injured soldiers. Jonas, readers learn, sees things differently. Find out about the man and the story behind the life-changing vaccine he developed in THE POLIO PIONEER: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall with illustrations by Lisa Anchin.

 

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Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

Anchin’s art brings a warmth to the subject of science painting in soft colors of oranges and blues as the reader walks through the life of the main character Jonas. Whether that’s refereeing his friends’ games when not reading because he knows the rules or helping his Yiddish-speaking mother learn English after his Jewish family migrates to New York City. The kindness and love of the Salk family are depicted with each page turn as the family celebrates Shabbat with freshly baked Challah and Jonas’ inner thoughts are shown “when Jonas prayed that he might someday, help make the world a better place.”

 

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Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

Marshall writes about the financial difficulties the Salk family faced, but Jonas kept moving forward “attending the City College of New York where tuition was free and where, unlike at many other colleges and universities, Jews were welcome.” With a grin on his face and apron tied around his neck, Jonas discovers chemistry while mixing liquids amongst classmates in the college lab. Salk is determined to gain a better understanding of science so that he can make medicines to help people and decides to become a doctor. Illustrated wearing glasses and a white lab coat, Jonas enters medical school where he befriends his teacher Dr. Thomas Francis and the pair team up with an idea as the flu is killing millions. “What if … a person was given some flu virus that was killed by chemicals so it could not cause disease?” Dr. Salk and Dr. Francis thought this could be a way of fighting the flu. And they were right.

 

 

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Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

  With men, women and children lined up on the streets, dressed in their Sunday bests, a nurse in white stands next to one of Anchin’s realistic illustrations with a chalk-written sign reading FLU VACCINE CLINIC. “Since then, flu shots have saved thousands of lives each year.”

“But another disease was raging … Polio”. Readers see Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair in the oval office, as others are lined up in beds, victims of this new disease. People are shown hiding in their homes, just as we all have done these past fifteen months from COVID, and the similarities are not unnoticed. Today’s scientists learned a lot from Dr. Salk. “He and his team of scientists labored day and night, night and day.”

 

 

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Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

“On April 12, 1955, Dr. Francis joins the team and announced to the world: “The vaccine WORKS!” POLIO could be CONQUERED!” Dr. Salk continued his studies by establishing the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where they have worked on cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many other problems.

Marshall writes in a way that makes a tough topic easy to follow with her understandable language and flowing sentences, while Anchin’s drawings transport the reader to 1918 and beyond. The timing of the release of this book last year during the pandemic could not have been more prescient and still resonates today with over 49% of the population vaccinated for Covid-19. As for polio, America has been free of the disease since 1979 due to the amount of participation. Maybe a picture book about our current pandemic will be next to teach future kids about what we have been experiencing. Marshall’s book is fabulous for elementary-age children and higher. In the Author’s Note, Marshall heartwarmingly explains the backstory behind her reasons for writing the book and how Dr. Salk is her hero. She thanks the Salk family for sharing family stories and photos, including writings from Michael Salk, grandson to Jonas. Dr. Salk, as Marshall tells, was a Mensch, the perfect Yiddish word to describe a man whose good work, kindness, and dedication helped make the world a better place. And he did. 

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Kids’ Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Becoming a Good Creature

BECOMING A GOOD CREATURE

Written by Sy Montgomery

Illustrated by Rebecca Green

(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

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Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Sy Montgomery’s New York Times best-selling memoir, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, inspired the picture book, Becoming a Good Creature. Herein she conveys her beliefs that we can—and should—learn from animals. Montgomery’s fundamental messages include “respect others,” “find good teachers,” and “see for yourself.” She encourages us to take a closer look at the world and everything inhabiting it. In doing so, we are bound to “love little lives” and find ways to nurture them because we’re all in this together.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

While naturalist and adventurer Montgomery has led an extraordinary life, traveling the world and living with animals, we don’t have to fly far away to find something worth exploring.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

During the pandemic, my family has discovered and interacted with previously overlooked insects in our garden. Becoming a Good Creature reinforces such behavior. It also shows that women can make their own families and forge their own paths.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

Rebecca Green’s paintings, full of delightful animals, depict Montgomery from girl through woman and showcase how curiosity inspired her positive interactions with animals around the globe. For example, alongside the beautifully poignant illustrations of an octopus, a young Montgomery wonders what could we possibly have in common with them; the answer is playing! This uplifting book stresses the importance of communication and caring—much-needed actions for successful coexistence on our planet.

  • Click here then scroll down the page to learn more about Rebecca Green’s artwork.
  • Read a review of another picture book about animals here.

 

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Picture Book Review – Dozens of Doughnuts


DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS

Written by Carrie Finison

Illustrated by Brianne Farley

(G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99; Ages 3-7)

 

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Sharing batch after batch of homemade doughnuts is what thoughtful friends do. But what’s LouAnn the bear to do just before hibernation when her stomach growls from hunger and no doughnuts remain? Such is the predicament presented in Carrie Finison’s debut counting/math practice picture book DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS with illustrations by Brianne Farley.

Farley’s fun art introduces the reader to a variety of delicious-looking doughnuts, each numbered to 24. Pink Sprinkles, Swirly, Jelly-Filled, and Nibbled (with a bite taken from this purple glazed doughnut) set the stage for the story to come.

A big brown bear is seen through her kitchen window busy stirring the big bowl of batter. She’ll eat some sweet treats, then, warm and well-fed, she’ll sleep away winter, tucked tight in her bed. The orange and yellow leaves show off the colors of fall as we see a beaver nearing the front door.

 

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Interior spread from Dozens of Doughnuts written by Carrie Finnison and illustrated by Brianne Farley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons ©2020.

 

Although one dozen doughnuts are hot from the pan and ready for LouAnn the bear to devour, an unexpected DING-DONG! gets the story going in a whole new direction. Do you have enough for a neighbor to share? Woodrow the beaver asks. The reader counts the 12 red doughnuts on the large plate as LouAnn places 6 doughnuts on her plate and 6 doughnuts on Woodrow’s plate. Now the real counting begins.

 

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Interior spread from Dozens of Doughnuts written by Carrie Finnison and illustrated by Brianne Farley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons ©2020.

 

With DING-DONG! after DING-DONG!, Finison’s rhymes welcome friend after friend at the bear’s front door. You’re welcome. Dig in! I’ll make more, says LouAnn. She measures and mixes as fast as she can. Clyde the Raccoon, Woodrow, and LouAnn are seen with four doughnuts on each plate, but note the smile leaving our kind-hearted bear’s face. Page after page, we see more friends arriving until there are no doughnuts remaining for our generous and exasperated hostess LouAnn.

She’s ready to sleep through the snow, ice, and sleet. But winter is near, and there’s nothing to eat! As the page turns, LouAnn lets loose a dramatic ROAR! and readers see the group of friends scram. Soon though they’re back, having realized they need to make things right for their pal. They return the kindness and become the bakers. (Another great lesson for young readers).

 

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Interior spread from Dozens of Doughnuts written by Carrie Finnison and illustrated by Brianne Farley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons ©2020.

 

This sweet (after all it is about doughnuts) rhyming book is such an entertaining and clever way to teach kids how to count to 12 and also divide 12 by 2, 4, or 6. Conveying the importance of sharing is the icing on top. I felt empathy for LouAnn, who almost began hibernation hungry until her friends came through for her. Finison’s words show young readers why being considerate matters while cleverly sneaking in how to count and divide. Plus we see how many flavors of yummy doughnuts can be made!
NOTE: Read this book after a meal otherwise be sure to have donuts on hand!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity

 

THE BOY WHO DREAMED OF INFINITY:
A Tale of The Genius Ramanujan

Written by Amy Alznauer

Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

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Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

 

Did you know Srinivasa Ramanujan was one of the greatest mathematicians the world has seen? I didn’t, but was thankful to come across The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauer and learn a little bit about this man whose amazing accomplishments are still studied today.

 

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THE BOY WHO DREAMED OF INFINITY. Copyright © 2020 by Amy Alznauer. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Born in a small South Indian village in 1887, Ramanujan began questioning the world at an early age: “What is small? And what is big?” He spent endless hours writing and erasing on his slate, trying to capture his thoughts about numbers and size. “Ramanujan was a number theorist, a person who studies the properties and patterns of numbers.” This book’s examples make these large concepts easy to understand such as when Ramanujan takes food to the man by the river who claims to see odd creatures that aren’t there. To this, Ramanujan says, “Sometimes even invisible things can be real.” Kids can relate to this while their parents have a greater understanding of what Ramanujan meant.

This self-taught genius felt alone with his thoughts until reaching out to Cambridge University in England because of its great mathematical center where he finally connects with top mathematician, G. H. Hardy (whose pamphlet on infinity Ramanujan had recently discovered). Just six years after making that connection, Ramanujan died in 1920, at the age of thirty-two. “The profound originality of his ideas has been a source of inspiration for mathematicians ever since.”

 

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THE BOY WHO DREAMED OF INFINITY. Copyright © 2020 by Amy Alznauer. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Daniel Miyares’s lovely illustrations show us Ramanujan’s India blended skillfully with the boy’s thoughts. One of my favorite scenes discusses how numbers whisper to Ramanujan in his sleep; he tries catching ideas before they disappear. The accompanying art has multiple images of Ramanujan leaping and climbing on numbers, set against a night sky. Get this book for the kid in your life with big thoughts—whether anyone else can see them or not.

 

 

  • Click here to order a copy of The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity.
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/19/20

 

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