Novels in verse are powerful. Jane Kuo’s debut middle grade,In the Beautiful Country, is a novel in verse set in 1980 about ten-year-old Ai Shi, an American immigrant from Taiwan. What a good format choice for a novel reflecting the experience of children new to the U.S.! Especially accessible for English language learners and for reluctant or struggling readers, the short, straightforward poems are no less engaging for those who read with ease.
I love how a poem gives me broad strokes of what is happening, takes me to the correct emotional address, and then I get to fill in the details. Wait, that sounds wrong. Kuo’s book, for example, gives me many details, things I wouldn’t know to imagine myself, that help me understand Ai Shi’s experience. It’s more like a connect-the-dots puzzle. Rather than broad strokes, the poems set down carefully-placed images and details, the dots. Then readers use their imagination to get from one dot to the next and draw a complete understanding of who Ai Shi is, what she values the most, and what she goes through as she and her parents face the disappointing reality of their new life.
The story begins when Ai Shi is anticipating moving to “the beautiful country” (the Chinese name for America) and follows her through a year of adjusting to life as Anna, American fifth-grader. Before moving, Ai Shi says America is her “happily ever after place,” but once she’s here, reality hits hard. She dreads going to school with her limited English:
I used to love school,
the place where I was the loudest girl in class.
Now I’m robbed of words.
Suddenly, I have nothing to say.
Her family struggles to keep their heads above water financially. They sold everything to buy an American fast food restaurant, depending on a fraudulent profit record the seller provided. Ai Shi thinks the items she left in Taiwan will be replaced with better California models, but that’s not how it goes.
I was particularly touched by a poem about the family’s new apartment. Ai Shi sleeps in the lone bedroom; her parents sleep on a fold-out couch in the living room. The only entertainment is watching television, and Ai Shi thinks their new set is broken. Really, it’s just black-and-white. The poem ends:
I sit facing the flickering television.
This TV is twice as small as our old one.
in the land of more,
our world is so small.
Racism adds isolation and a sense of injustice to Ai Shi’s disappointment. She is teased at school: “It’s as if making fun of my food / has become a group lunchtime activity.” When the class is learning about alliteration, a bully waits until they are on the playground to share his example: “Ching Chong Chinaman.” At the store, her parents face customers who have no patience for their problems with English.
Last week, a man became very huffy and puffy,
as if not understanding English
was some kind of insult.
It gets worse when someone throws a brick through the store’s large front window in the middle of the night. The poem “Nothing is Missing” describes the violation, ending, “They didn’t take anything. / They took so much.”
It is painful seeing through Ai Shi’s eyes when her family is struggling. I always say that if a book makes me cry, it had better be for a good purpose. Being sad with Ai Shi is worth it, helping me develop more understanding of and empathy for immigrants, children and adults alike. But I am especially enthusiastic about recommending this book because Kuo doesn’t leave Ai Shi or the reader in insurmountable pain. When the family considers giving up and going back to Taiwan, their dynamics change. It is a pleasure to keep reading and see how their shared values put them on a path to an authentically hopeful future.
Struggling to belong, Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol discovers her voice in Singing with Elephants, a beautifully moving middle-grade novel in verse written by Newbery honoree and Pura Belpré Award-winning author, Margarita Engle.
The story takes place in 1947 in Santa Barbara where Oriol lives with her family. She helps take care of injured animals in her parents’ veterinary clinic, located near a “wildlife zoo ranch” that has connections to Hollywood (6). Grieving the recent death of her grandmother and facing hardships at a school that is unwelcoming to immigrants, she struggles with loneliness–until she befriends “la poeta” Gabriela Mistral who has moved near Oriol’s home (12). While the meeting (and subsequent story) is fictional, the poet is a real person, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature. Oriol is relieved to have found someone who speaks her native tongue, but little does she know the unexpected gift she’ll be receiving from her new friend: learning the language of poetry.
These lessons are for all of us. “There is no better home for emotions than a poem,” la poeta advises, “which can easily be transformed into a song” (27). The book is rich with simple yet profound expressions of love, loss, heartache, and wholeness. As we learn along with Oriol, poetry is the soul’s way of singing, whether that soul is human or animal. This lesson becomes more apparent as Oriol’s connection to the animals she cares for grows stronger and stronger, in particular her relationship with a pregnant elephant named Chandra whose rhythmic sways and sounds remind her of poetry.
Through her mentor’s gentle encouragement and guidance, Oriol’s writing blossoms–from using it as a source of healing to using it as a force for change. Bit by bit, she “no longer yearn[s]” for Cuba and Abuelita “every moment of every day” (106). And when a famous movie star takes special interest in Chandra, Oriol drafts “poetry-petition[s],” eventually organizing a protest against animal abuse (188). Fighting for her beloved elephants, Oriol finds a sense of belonging.
Singing with Elephants is the kind of book readers will want to read again and again, catching the pieces of poetry missed from the previous read. An author’s note at the end details Cuban cultural traditions as well as Gabriela Mistral’s life. A list of further readings about and by the poet is also included.
BUG ON THE RUG – Pug is snug on his rug. But what happens when along comes BUG?! With a claim to the rug?! The two engage in a hysterical, rhyming battle of wits and strength until Slug asks the necessary questions and helps them find common ground. Rhyming is an important developmental reading skill. It teaches phonics (decodable text) and helps young readers infer content. This is a fun story to build those skills–and is an epic read-aloud!
INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIA GHOLZ:
Welcome to GoodReadsWithRonna, Sophia! I’m excited to have you as my guest to learn more about your wonderful new picture book BUG ON THE RUG.
GoodReadsWithRonna: I’ve read that as a child you enjoyed horses. I’m curious where pugs fit into the big picture—was it the rhyming potential, their utter adorableness, or something else?
Sophia Gholz: Thanks, Ronna! I’m excited to be here to celebrate BUG ON THE RUG with you.
I often referred to myself as a “barn rat” as a kid and spent as much time with horses as I could. To this day, the smell of a farm still feels like home. While there were always barn cats, dogs, and a slew of other characters in the mix, there weren’t any barn pugs, unfortunately. My love of little dogs actually came about in adulthood. When I lived in New York City, I had a Brussels Griffon who everyone mistook for a pug. I just adore little foofy pooches and their giant personalities. But pug love aside, the true inspiration behind this book is my younger brother. I have lovingly referred to my little brother as Bug for his entire life. I feel very lucky to call him one of my best friends. But much like Pug and Bug, it took my brother and me a long time (and a few trials) to reach best friend status.
GRWR:Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re a plotter, did you know the whole story before you set out to write it? If you’re a pantser, what was it that motivated you to tell this story and keep at it?
SG: I’m a total panster. I find that if I plot out a story then the story no longer feels fresh and exciting for me. I like to write as a reader—learning something new with each page turn. So, I go off feeling, emotion, and what story I want to read in that moment. This often means heavy (and I mean, HEAVY) revisions later. But that initial excitement and mood is what I try to capture in the first draft and that same feeling is what keeps me going. With that said, I do a lot of mental pre-plotting and generally have a sense of where I want the story to go before I begin. I do sometimes start writing and realize I’m going in the completely wrong direction and have to start over. In those cases, I end up working out some plot issues or character problems before I really get going. But aside from the occasional false start, I don’t usually write anything out before I begin.
GRWR:Did you have as much fun, any LOL moments, writing this story as I had reading it?
SG: My goodness, yes! I had SO much fun writing this book. Like I mentioned above, I try to write as a reader and don’t really plot ahead of time. So, as those words were coming out, I was giggling along as the voyeur. One of the most fun moments I had while writing this was when Pug rethinks his day. I had a great time coming up with a ton of absurd things Pug might have done during his daily routine.
GRWR:I adore a rollicking rhyming read-aloud like yours. Does rhyming come easily for you?
SG: Thank you! Rhyme has always felt natural to me. When I began writing years ago, my first picture book manuscripts were mostly in rhyme. However, I admit that I wasn’t a trained rhymer. Once I really began digging into the varying rules of rhyme and meter, I grew very afraid. I was so scared that I’d unintentionally blow it that I fully stopped rhyming. It’s taken me a few years of practice and determination to come full circle with a rhyming text, and I couldn’t be happier. Rhyme is so much fun to play with and write!
GRWR:You have two new books, both humorous although one is nonfiction. What do you enjoy most about writing in each category?
SG: You know, I don’t really see them as different categories when I write. For me, I try to write nonfiction the same way I write fiction. The only difference is that I have preexisting pieces of the puzzle when I write nonfiction. But I like to write each with the mentality of just having a fun or interesting story to tell. That said, I do enjoy all the cool facts I learn while researching nonfiction subjects. Education never ends!
GRWR:Sophia, this book is an uproarious and engaging approach to teaching phonics to children eager to learn how to read. Was that always your intention or did it just happen organically?
SG:When I first heard BUG ON THE RUG referred to as a great learning tool for emergent readers, I was so happy … and surprised! I did not initially have this in mind when I wrote the book. For me, it was about reading these words out loud and having a ton of fun. I’ve always enjoyed playing with sounds, alliteration, and tongue twisters. This book is a bit of an ode to that. But I understand how important teaching phonics in fun ways is, especially as I’ve helped my own little kiddos learn to read. With that in mind, I truly hope young readers have a great time with this book.
GRWR:Susan’s art captures both the heart and humor of your story. What did you think when and if you saw sketches or finished art? Which is your favorite spread and why?
SG:I am obsessed with Susan’s art! OBSESSED. Fun fact: I’d been eyeing Susan’s work online for a while and was a big fan before we worked together. So, I was thrilled when Sleeping Bear said they thought she would be a great fit for this manuscript. When I saw the initial sketches, I was flipping out. Seriously. Susan’s art is hilarious! Plus, she completely surprised me in the best of ways. For example, I originally envisioned Pug inside his home when I wrote the book. But Susan created the setting outside, and it made so much more sense. Susan added her own hilarious spin to this manuscript, and I feel so lucky to have worked with her. I think my favorite spread is probably the last page. Pug’s expression is priceless!
GRWR:What do you hope young readers will take away from BUG ON THE RUG?
SG:Humor aside, this book is ultimately about empathy, sharing, and taking ownership of our actions. I hope readers can see themselves here and know that people can have disagreements, but still be friends. Owning our mistakes is difficult. But it’s important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, just as it’s important to learn to forgive and move on.
GRWR:What can we expect next?
SG: I’d love to see more of Pug and his friends! In the meantime, A HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER (AND OTHER POTTY TOOLS), illustrated by Xiana Teimoy, is a humorous nonfiction picture book that’ll roll into bookstores this August. Everything else is still top secret for now. Stay tuned!
GRWR:Thank you, Sophia. It’s been delightful chatting with you. I wish you and Susan much success with BUG ON THE RUG.
INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BATORI:
Welcome to the blog, Susan, and congrats on your latest picture book! I adored DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT! which I also reviewed here so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to ask about your art in BUG ON THE RUG.
GoodReadsWithRonna: I immediately noticed the lovely European-like city and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Did you set this story in Budapest where you live and if so, why?
Susan Batori:Sadly there are no snow-capped mountains in Budapest. Originally, the story written by Sophia, was set in a small Swiss town. That is why I drew small, red roof European-ish houses and you can find a cable car which is often seen in Switzerland. The story was rewritten later but we decided to keep the drawings with the Swiss landscape.
GRWR:When you read Sophia’s manuscript, what were your thoughts about how you wanted to illustrate the story?
SB: When I read Sophia’s manuscript I fell in love with it at the first glance. I felt this is my story too because I love the funny and witty tales, these are very inspiring and so easy to illustrate. After reading the manuscript I immediately saw the pictures, compositions, and the characters in my head. There was a little challenge because of the disparity of sizes of the pug and the bug, but I hope I solved it well.
GRWR:What medium did you use to create the illustrations and was there anything about the story that influenced your decision?
SB: I work on a computer and a digital tablet. I love them because they make my work much easier and the publishers like it too. It makes work simple. Besides I can imitate the aquarell feeling, paper textures, and the brush strokes. My digital illustrations are often mistaken for a “real” drawing.
GRWR:What is your process like from when you receive a new manuscript to submitting final art?
SB: After reading the manuscript I use the internet for finding help about the characters or the background. In this case, I started to search pug videos. I try to figure out what kind of things make a pug a pug, or a slug a slug. I mean how they move or sit, what their colors are, what if I draw a smaller nose or shorter legs to them … etc. This is a very useful activity and it entertains me. So I start sketching the characters and show them to the client. Next, I design the composition of the pages and with the publisher, we try to find the best solutions. Then I am ready for coloring where I try to deliver some kind of atmosphere or feeling. In this book, I wanted to illustrate a summer-mountain feeling with a lot of greens. If everyone is happy with the colored pages I send them to the art director. That’s all. Easy peasy. :)
GRWR:The dynamic of the character interaction cracks me up, especially when slug shows up. Was any particular character, Pug, Bug, or Slug, especially fun to work with?
SB: Haha! Yes, Slug is really a funny character. It was interesting because in each book I illustrated there was a character who was my favorite but here all three were my favorites. They have their own humorous personality.
GRWR:I loved your art in Robin Newman’s DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT!, and love it here, too. I see a common thread of a humorous conflict and sweet resolution in both stories. Do you enjoy illustrating humorous picture books? Are there any challenges you must consider?
SB: Aww, thank you! Somehow I am very good at illustrating feelings, especially humorous actions and facial expressions. I just LOVE working on hilarious books or stories, and drawing funny animals is my favorite job. It makes me happy and I believe if I am happy while I am working on these, the children will be happy too while they are reading them.
I wouldn’t be a good illustrator without humour.
GRWR:Do you have a favorite spread?
The first page when Pug hugs his rug, I find it so cute.
Then there is the “rug-fight” scene. This is the most dynamic page in the book.
And I just love the very last page when everyone is on the rug. I think that is very funny.
GRWR:Any plans to write and illustrate your own books?
SB:I have a few ideas but there is no time for them … yet. ;)
THANK YOU FOR THE GREAT QUESTIONS!
GRWR:Thank you for making us smile!
Sophia Gholz is a children’s book writer, music lover, avid reader, and the award-winning author of The Boy Who Grew a Forest and Jack Horner, Dinosaur Hunter! She lives in Orlando, Florida.
From POW! Kids Books: “While playing on the beach in her coastal town, a young girl comes across a sea turtle ensnared by a wire. Her town is home to a factory that has provided jobs for many of her neighbors, including her mother, but it has also been dumping garbage from a pipe into the waters…Unable to forget the sight of the struggling turtle, she inspires the townspeople to compel the factory to change its destructive ways.”
A true picture book, the story in Pessoa’s lively art is never alluded to in Esenwine’s spare, poetic text.
Yet they pair beautifully to give readers a concrete example of how one life can make a huge impact for good.
In a recent interview with Esenwine, the author states that his inspiration for the book came as he was navigating the COVID pandemic with his children. “I was wondering how to help my children feel like they had some control of their life…I spent some time kicking around ideas, and the phrase “I am today” came to me. I thought about that for a while and realized that kids are always being told they are the “Future”…but what if a child doesn’t want to wait?”
This thought-provoking read-aloud would make an excellent addition to the elementary school classroom as teachers cover science and social studies topics like conservation and social change, but it could also be used as a writing prompt for persuasive essays during language arts.
Welcome to our annual Christmas books roundup. Today author, editor, and reviewer Christine Van Zandt has chosen seven of her favorite new books for you to enjoy. We hope it gets you in a festive mood.
Tomie dePaola’s death this year hit the children’s lit community hard. Reading his posthumous Hurry, Santa! is bittersweet. The clever title led me to think that, certainly, all kids want Santa to hurry to their houses, yet, the twist here is that once Santa’s suited up, he faces the same dilemma that many bundled up kids do: he forgot to go potty before suiting up.
This 14-page board book gives Santa just enough time to get dressed and undressed again. As dePaola has in more than 260 children’s books, his art delights us. This book is a lighthearted farewell to his devoted fans. Note: Book says it was previously published as Get Dressed, Santa.
Sandra Boynton’s books are best-sellers because of her fun rhyme and lively art. Her 32-page board book, Christmas Parade, is another resounding hit. Kids will enjoy hearing the animal band boom boom and rat-a-tat-tat through town. I love that “chickens with silver bassoons [are] followed by piggies with Christmas balloons.” And Santa is (of course!) a rhino.
Emma Dodd’s 24-page picture book rhyming Christmas Is Joy shares holiday enthusiasm from a reindeer family’s perspective. As with Dodd’s other books, this one is beautifully crafted using minimal words to convey emotion. Heartwarming art captures the book’s cheerful theme; metallic silver accents add fun by evoking glistening snow and ice. This book is part of Emma Dodd’s Love You Books series.
The book’s smaller size (eight x eight inches) helps little hands easily hold on. Like a perfect cup of cocoa, the story comforts you: “Christmas is happiness, / smiles of surprise, / the warmth of affection / that lights up your eyes.”
Tracey Corderoy’s rhyming picture book, Mouse’s Night Before Christmas, uses Clement Clarke Moore’s famous first stanza to launch into a different direction, telling us “it wasn’t quite so” that not a creature was stirring. Rather, little Mouse prowls about, wishing he “had a friend to give gifts to.” The story cleverly weaves in some original lines while spinning a new tale.
The art by Sarah Massini warms wide spans of white or gray with muted, lively colors. A nostalgic touch makes Mouse, Santa, and the town seem welcoming and familiar. My favorite scene is the surprise ending where the story reduces to two characters enjoying each other’s company—Mouse is irresistibly cute!
A Jim Benton Christmas book—yes! If you’re like me and your shelves have more Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein books than you can count, then Benton’s Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer is the holiday book for you. In the beat of Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” Benton’s story gives a glimpse of the mayhem at Santa’s workshop. When Comet breaks up a fight between two elves, Stinky and Stanky, he ends up with a broken leg, unable to fly. In the confusion, Santa forgets the toys, so Comet must figure something out.
The rhyming text flows easily when read aloud and Benton’s art keeps you laughing as cast-wearing Comet tries saving the night—if only Santa would answer his phone! Luckily, Comet’s a trouper when faced with the humungous bag: “He tried with a lever. / He tried with a hoist. / He tried till his forehead/ was reddened and moist.” Go, Comet, go!
When it comes to Christmas, I always think of opossums—what, no I don’t! But, why not? “Milo’s family never missed the big Christmas parade. His passel came for the popcorn, sticky nuts, and bits of peppermint sticks. / Milo came for the view.” He’s fascinated with the parade and how people work on building it year-round. Readers will hope Milo’s dream of being in the parade comes true.
Milo’s Christmas Parade boasts adorable art, from the opossum wearing an ornament on his tail to his close-knit family helping out in the shop. Extra points for the book having a different (secret) image under its jacket.
If you enjoyed Emily Gravett’s Meerkat Mail, then check out Meerkat Christmas. When Sunny, a meerkat who lives in the Kalahari reads about what it takes to achieve the Perfect Christmas, he leaves the desert in search of the supposed elements to achieve holiday excellence.
While on his travels, he corresponds with his family back home. The seven festive lift-the-flaps (designed to look like Perfect Magazine and Sunny’s cards) feel realistic and are a fun way to tell pieces of the story.
Gravett’s vibrant art captures the humor as Sunny encounters obstacles around the world. My favorite holiday treats are the Kalahari candy canes. The recipe calls for 25 assorted snakes, red paint, white paint, and paintbrushes! “Bend each snake into a candy cane shape and hang on tree or cactus.” This book stands out for its interactive design and clever, hilarious art. Peek under the jacket for surprise alternate back and front cover images.
This seven-book roundup covers wickedly wonderful Halloween season reads. From a gentle book about the fall season to spooky ghouls, goblin-witches, ghosts, vampires, a witch’s hut, and a haunted house, we’ve got you covered.
With whimsical art in blacks, whites, and grays offset with oranges and foil accents, The Little Kittenembodies the spirit of autumn. Leaves blow across the pages, bringing movement that propels Ollie on her adventure. As promised by the title, there is a little kitten, but also Ollie’s cat, Pumpkin. Nicola Killen’s art and storyline
beautifully convey the playful, loving spirit of this book. It’s a pleasure to see a gentle story that’s engaging and fulfilling—it even has a surprise ending, shh!
I’m a sucker for a great book title and just had to read Marcus Ewert’s She Wanted to Be Haunted—plus, what a great idea! As promised, Clarissa, an “adorable and pink” cottage finds herself disappointed with her appearance. Her father is a castle and her mother a witch’s hut, but Clarissa got the short end of the broomstick with her undeniable cuteness. “Daisies grew around her, / squirrels scampered on her lawn. / Life was just delightful! / —and it made Clarissa yawn.”
What kid hasn’t felt bored when things were mellow and nice? Susie Ghahremani’s hand-painted artwork brings Clarissa to life in (dreaded!) upbeat colors. Inside, on Clarissa’s fuchsia, wallpapered walls, we sneak a peek at her family’s photos and, yes, she’s surely the oddball of the bunch. My favorite scenes involve the surprise ending. If you want to know if Clarissa’s attempts to gloom-down her appearance work, you’ll have to read the book. Trust me, the ending is awesome! Click here for a coloring page.
Scritch Scratch—the title of this middle-grade novel by Lindsay Currie will get under your skin as all good spooky books should. Because, of course, this sound is made by the ghost haunting Claire. Prior to this, science-minded Claire absolutely did not believe in ghosts and found her Dad’s ghost-themed bus tour and book embarrassing. So why did this ghost choose her? Claire’s too afraid to sleep and should have plenty of time to solve this mystery. However, since her BFF’s hanging around with the new girl, Claire may need to figure it out alone.
I’ve never been on a haunted bus tour, but, after reading this book I want to if they’re all as interesting as the one in this story. “Forgotten” facts about Chicago are cleverly woven in—what a great way to sneak in a history lesson! Click here for a discussion guide.
This book opens with a warning from the Embassy that “[b]y signing, you hereby accept all responsibility for any death, dismemberment, or condemnation to the Eternal Void that results from reading.” How irresistible! When Jake Green receives a kind of creepy package in error, a fun adventure ensues dodging bonewulfs and their master Mawkins (a grim reaper). Accompanied by ghosts Stiffkey, Cora, and, an adorable fox named Zorro, the unlikely group tries to avoid being sent into the Eternal Void—a fate worse than death.
Will Mabbitt’s well-developed characters are very likable and Taryn Knight’s art plays up the humor. I appreciate the Embassy of the Dead’snew ideas about ghosts and their companions such as Undoers (someone who helps a ghost trapped on the Earthly Plane move on to the Afterworld). Mabbitt nails a perfectly written ending. I’ll gladly follow Jake and his friends onto the next book in the series. Click here to read a sample chapter.
Fans of the beautifully made Ologies series won’t be disappointed in the latest addition, Ghostology. Packed full of stories, this book will keep you haunting its pages because there’s so much information from psychics and mediums, to fakes and frauds. Want to know what’s in a ghostologist’s field kit (sketchbook, accurate timepiece, and, of course, a ghost-detecting device, just to name a few items), or how to hunt ghosts? You’ve come to the right place. Pay attention to the “Types of Ghosts” chapters.
Beyond reading, the book is a sensory experience with its sealed pages, official documents envelope, flaps, and textures. If there’s such a thing as a coffee table kid’s book, this is it. The icy blue color scheme of the cover is offset by a large faceted red “gem.” Raised letters just beg you to run your hand over them and invite you to look inside. The thought and detail in this book are phantom-astic!
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
In Aliza Layne’s middle-grade graphic novel, Beetle & the Hollowbones, Beetle is a twelve-year-old goblin-witch being homeschooled by her gran. Beetle, however, would rather hang out with her current BFF Blob Ghost at the old mall (where they are inexplicably trapped). When Beetle’s previous BFF, Kat Hollowbones, returns home after completing her sorcery apprenticeship at a fast-track school, their friendship isn’t the same. Kat’s aunt Marla is the wonderfully drawn skeletal antagonist.
With well-developed characters and plenty of action, this fast-paced book will bewitch you. The struggles of moving through school and friendships falling apart are accurately depicted. The panels, grouped into chapters, capture your attention with their fantastic illustrations, engaging colors, and lively text. I like how Layne includes some concept art at the end, inspiring other artists with a behind-the-scenes peek.
Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite is a YA short story anthology with the goal to “expand on and reinvent traditional tellings.” How awesome is that?? Editrixes Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Porter’s story, “Vampires Never Say Die,” is a suspenseful, modern tale about a teen and vampire who meet online. They also provide the introduction and insightful commentary after each piece, delving into the many areas of the vampire myth. There are so many wonderful things in this collection; I’ll give you a few nibbles to whet your appetite.
“Bestiary” by Laura Ruby is set in a near dystopian future; Jude works at the zoo and has a special connection with animals. This story stood out for me because the reader must piece together the truth. It’s quite a different twist on thirst and the theft of blood and humanity.
“Seven Nights for Dying” by Tessa Gratton opens with the line, “Esmael told me that teenage girls make the best vampires” (because they’re “both highly pissed and highly adaptable, and that’s what it takes to survive the centuries”). We follow Esmael’s chosen girl through a week of uncertainty as she considers joining the undead. This cleverly layered story demands to be reread to truly appreciate Gratton’s well-crafted words.
Weaving in old superstitions, “The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig expands upon the Victorian tradition of burying their loved ones with a bell (allowing them to call for help if mistakenly buried alive). Set at the turn of the century, Will is a graverobber for all the right reasons—he wants to become a doctor, and “acquiring” freshly buried bodies allows him to trade for a spot at the back of the amphitheater where dissections take place. With only a few glimpses at Will’s thoughts, we find out volumes about his struggles.
This anthology breathes life into the short story and lets readers appreciate the many perspectives and styles from a very talented array of writers. My favorites tend to have unexpected endings. There’s something for everyone. Just read it already!
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS FROM RONNA e IT’S HALLOWEEN, LITTLE MONSTER Written by Helen Ketteman Illustrated by Bonnie Leick (Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7) e When I began reading It’s Halloween, Little Monster, one of the Little Monster series of picture books, I thought I was reading about the first time I took my son out trick-or-treating 15 years ago. All he had to do was see one or two kids in scary costumes and he hightailed it home before anyone could say boo! I’m so glad Helen Ketteman wrote this picture book because I’m sure it’s going to help make the first Halloween experience for reluctant little ones a lot easier.
In this gentle rhyming story, Little Monster heads out for Halloween accompanied by his dad. The reassuring presence of a parent sets the tone. Dad will be right there to calm Little Monster’s fears no matter who or what they encounter. “Don’t fret Little Monster. / See there in the street? / That’s not really a ghost— / it’s a kid in a sheet!” e Together the pair see all kinds of spooky creatures while trick-or-treating, but the dad anticipates what might frighten his child and is always one step ahead. I like how the papa monster not only comments on assorted pirates, witches, and vampires but scary sounds, too. Leick’s muted blue and purple toned palette of the detailed illustrations will only add to the enjoyment of this charming Halloween read. It’s an enjoyable pairing of prose and art. By the time the surprise ending happens, Little Monster’s smiling just like the children having this story read to them. e e
OTHER RECOMMENDED HALLOWEEN SEASON READS: e CHRISTOPHER PUMPKIN by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet with art by Nick East
(Board Book for Ages 0-3, Little Brown BYR) e THAT MONSTER ON THE BLOCKby Sue Ganz-Schmitt with art by Luke Flowers
(Picture Book Ages 4-8, Two Lions) e THE REVENGE OF THE WEREPENGUINby Allan Woodrow with art by Scott Brown
(Middle Grade illustrated novel for Ages 8-12, Viking BYR)
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Come join me on Crust Boulevard for a visit inside the fridge where Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast live. If you haven’t read the previous three books in this hilarious series, that definitely won’t detract from your enjoyment of the popular food friends’ fun and frolic.
In Short & Sweet, the latest installment from author Josh Funkand illustrator Brendan Kearney, time may be running out for Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. The meal-worthy mates have discovered they’re going stale! Fortunately, their new friend, Baron von Waffle, suggests they “check out Professor Biscotti’s brochure,” for what could be a cure.
Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast decide the professor’s despoiling machine is what’s needed to save them so, accompanied by the Baron, they head to the laboratory.
In just minutes the decaying duo gets zapped back to health. However, one slight glitch in Professor Biscotti’s device has caused the food friends to shrink down to kid-size. They also do not seem to recognize their pal Baron von Waffle and dash off in fear.
The chaos that’s occurred has caused the Baron’s feelings to be hurt. He’s worried Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are so scared of him that he’ll lose their friendship. While the professor works on fixing her despoiling machine, Baron von Waffle works on a way to lure his pals back to the lab.
Meanwhile, the frightened food first finds safety at a nearby pasta playground and then a local library. I love how Funk, a huge fan of libraries, has successfully fit one into his story. In a way, it’s a love of reading that leads Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast back to Baron Waffle. He believes he’s come up with a clever way to entice the two breakfast food buddies back to the lab and hopefully, with Professor B’s help, maximize them back to friend-size! Will the teeny twosome be restored to grown-ups? Well, I certainly won’t be a spoiler!
The premise of this picture book is such fun and adds a new dimension to the zany, adventure-packed Lady P and Sir FT collection. Once again, the talented team of Funk and Kearney have brought us a read-aloud that starts its rollicking from the very first spread. Filled with wordplay that easily rolls off the tongue, Short & Sweet can also boast engaging, well-metered rhyme in a fast-paced story that kids will want to hear over and over. Kearney’s high-spirited art is bursting with visual treats. You’ll find cucumber footrests at Professor Biscotti’s lab, punny book titles in the library, and perhaps my fave, Juice Springsteen sporting his trademark headband above his brow while rockin’ out atop a pot pie in the final spread. There’s lots to love in book #4 so get a copy, get comfy, and get ready to be entertained. Just remember not to read on an empty stomach!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast: SHORT & SWEET
Josh Funk is the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more.
For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.comand on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.
Clickhereto order a copy of Short & Sweet. If you’d like other books in the series, click here.
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 and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above. Thanks!
Hound Won’t Go, written by Lisa Rogers and illustrated by Meg Ishihara, tells the story of a stubborn basset hound who calls all the shots during a walk with his human. When he lies down in the crosswalk, she can’t get him out of the intersection, not even with a treat or a tug on the leash. As horns blare, she is worried, while Hound is adorably— if smugly—satisfied. Finally, a storm breaks with terrifying claps of thunder. Hound changes his mind and drags his human all the way home, double-time.
I love this book, and not just because I love basset hounds. The writing is crisp, with one or two rhyming sentences per page. The diction can be understood by the youngest listeners but is still interesting and specific. “Light flashes/Hound dashes,” the text begins, as Hound and his human enter the crosswalk. Soon, though, “Traffic delay/Hound’s in the way.” Rogers conveys a lot of personality in few words:
Time to go.
Hound says no.
Hound lies down.
Anyone who has cared for a strong-willed but amiable dog recognizes the frustration and even embarrassment that the human feels. But all readers will feel calm, safe, warm, and happy by the time the contretemps resolves with, “Rain puddles./Hound cuddles.”
While the text makes a good case for how adorable this obstinate fellow is, Meg Ishihara’s art makes it impossible not to love him. She uses Hound’s eyes, mouth, and posture to show all his moods, ranging from playfully defiant to rub-my-belly relaxed. Working in Photoshop and Procreate, Ishihara paints Hound using digital brushes with lots of texture to emulate real paint strokes. He has long velvety ears, short legs, and a rich tri-color coat. Black outlines lend him a cartoony feel, although in some illustrations the definition comes from contrast between bold colors rather than actual outlines. In the first half of the story, there are vibrantly colorful cars, bicycles, and clothing, but the backdrop is gray and white. When the thunderclap sets Hound in motion, however, the background comes to life, too. Hound bolts through a park full of greenery and flowers to reach his home furnished in warm welcoming colors.
I recommend this book for all ages, and especially, but not exclusively, to dog lovers. I shared Hound Won’t Go with my favorite three-year-old, and she loved completing the rhymes, for some odd reason putting the most gusto into anticipating the word “No.” She has requested the book several times since, even over video chat. Just what the doctor … or vet? … ordered: a picture book that both the reader and the listener can enjoy, over and over.
Click herefor an activity kit. On Rogers’ website there’s also a fun hound craft for kids.
This may not be your typical Mother’s Day, but you can still make it special. So, wherever you are, please consider adding a good book to any celebration that you may be planning. Support moms while also helping independent bookstores around the country when you make your reading selections. Check out Indiebound.org,Bookshop.org today or call your local independent bookseller for curbside pickup available in many parts of the country.
What’s wonderful about this unassuming little die-cut board book is that it’s full of surprises that will entertain parents as well as children. Adorably illustrated throughout, the book has a circle cut-out on the cover focusing in on the sweetest little bear . Each page turn reveals how much he loves spending time with Mommy, Daddy, and the two of them together. All kinds of hands-on treats await youngsters because there are flaps to lift and pages to flip as well as a big gatefold illustration and sturdy, glossy pages. Little Bear’s parents pass him between them, Daddy picks him up like an airplane and is comforted by him when he’s sad. My favorite spread is the one where Little Bear rubs noses with his mommy because that’s something my son and I always used to do. Not only ideal for Mother’s Day, Mommy, Daddy, and Me! would make a great Father’s Day gift or story time interactive read.
Part of the New Books for Newborns series, this 16-page board book would make a great baby shower or Mother’s Day gift. Hand in Hand’s gentle, soothing verse coupled with its charming illustrations will capture the attention of infants and toddlers. Created with the littlest readers in mind, the story introduces children to a little girl heading out to the park with her mom and a floral decorated ball. “Me/You/We, two/Hand in hand/Through and through.” Mother and child spend time together in all kinds of play and tender moments depicted in scenes that reassure children of their mother’s love. The read aloud quality of the prose invites sweet story times for little ones just becoming acquainted with books.
This moving debut picture book with its spare yet lyrically written text explores the extent to which a mother will go in her efforts to conceive a child via IVF. Sherhant honestly shares the emotional and difficult journey she experienced using metaphors that are beautifully illustrated by Keller. The purple and blue palette is just the right combination of warmth and heart. While not an adoption story, I felt the same strong message of commitment and love as I felt when reading I’ve Loved You Since Forever and Born From the Heart. “I loved you before I met you. I felt you in my arms before I could hold you. But the road was long, and the way was hard.” In an author’s note at the end, Serhant explains how she wanted to write this book “for mothers and fathers who have had a similar road to parenthood.” I’m so glad she channeled her quest into a picture book that will mean so much to so many families who’ll be able to read this to their miracle children one day. I have a friend with her first child from IVF due this fall and, having watched her heartbreak then hope this past year and half, I know just how much this book will resonate with her.
I’m so glad children have a picture book that celebrates an alternative family arrangement in such a positive way. The main character, Carol Olivia Clementine, is six-years-old. “I live with Mama Rose right now,” she explains. While the young reader never learns the reason for the separation, or the relationship between Mama Rose and Carol, that never detracts from the story. Duncan’s upbeat prose, and carefully placed gentle repetition, “My mother and father live far away. I wish we lived together. I wish that they were here,” lets us know that Carol is aware of her situation, yet happy and cared for as if she were Mama Rose’s own child. Mama Rose treats Carol just like any mom would whether that’s teaching her how to tell time, making her eat all her veggies, sending her upstairs to clean up her messy bedroom or complimenting her on a job well done.
Duncan tells us in the Author’s Note that her Aunt was raised with her by her mother and says “It is love that defines our relationships.” A family friend can serve as a mother, as can a guardian or another relative as was the case in Duncan’s household. Regardless of what brought Carol into Mama Rose’s home, Barlow’s charming and cheerful watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and gel pen illustrations feel hopeful. They depict a little girl who misses her parents—we see her make drawings of her parents and can spot a picture of them on Mama Rose’s wall—but who also accepts the love of Mama Rose. “Mama Rose is my home.”
“May loved to visit Grama every summer and watch the stars.” So begins this picture book that is definitely not just for Mother’s Day, though it does get its heart from the nurturing relationship of Grama and her granddaughter, May. “Then one cold day, May came to live with her.” From that the older reader can gather that May has lost her parents or perhaps Grama has just become her guardian for other reasons. Either way, she’s always there for May, to offer love, hugs and inspiration. What’s so sweet about this story is how the pair share the love of stars, birds and dreaming. Grama encourages May who, we learn from a succession of first day of school spreads over the years, has a passion for outer space. “May wanted to take off to the stars one day.” Winning at school fairs leads to a month at space camp where May’s dreams are finally realized. She’ll become the world’s youngest astronaut, but before she heads off anywhere, she must have a hug from Grama. What Nielander shows in her 40-page book’s text and illustrations is how important it is to reach for the stars while having someone on Earth who helps keep you grounded and confident. With that and a hug, who knows what else May might achieve in her life.
Wednesday, April 22, is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day which will be celebrated around the globe. Read below about some new picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, that Christine Van Zandt recommends to help your children understand the significance of this holiday.
One of my favorite things about Henry Cole’s gorgeous, wordless picture book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey, is the prologue. I was hooked from the first image: a forest where one tree—colored brown—stands out. Cole’s amazingly detailed black-ink drawings are juxtaposed by brown-colored items: the tree, first made into paper, becomes an unassuming lunch bag.
In the Author’s Note, Cole shares how, in 1970 for the first Earth Day, he decided to not throw out has lunch bag that day. Or the next one. Eventually, he used that bag about 700 times! Then, when he went to college, he passed the velvet-soft bag to his younger friend who used it for another year. Wow! This really hit home with me. I’m conscientious about noncompostables, but will now consider the possibilities of paper products.
Using a humble brown bag as its central element, the story follows the bag’s journey from creation to conclusion. We are emotionally engaged with the little boy as he grows to adulthood and the family members we meet along the way. This story drives home the messages that even seemingly insignificant choices matter and that kids have the power to change things. These workhorse lunch bags are relatively inexpensive and typically don’t garner a second thought. Cole’s true-life story brings this simple item to the front page of his book and the forefront of our attention. Bravo! ★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
When I think of the mischievously adorable Peter Rabbit, of course his creator, Beatrix Potter, comes to mind. But, who was the woman behind this famous character? Linda Elovitz Marshall’s picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbitfills in the blanks.
Potter was a bright artistic girl who lived in the city but cherished the family’s summers in the country. Too soon, it was back to the constraints of being a Victorian-era girl. Focusing on her drawings, Potter, later, was able to land a job—but only because the publisher thought she was a man. Throughout the story, we see Potter pushing against and past the bonds of what a woman was “supposed to do.” While these actions were commendable, Potter also took on the role of conservationist, buying up more than 4,000 acres of beloved land to keep it peacefully undeveloped; her donation to the UK’s National Trust allowed the area’s preservation.
The illustrator, Ilaria Urbinati, enlivens Potter’s story in a muted old-fashioned style complementary to the text. Be sure to check beneath the cover for a clever second image: a before-and-after of Potter in her cherished landscape.
This behind-the-scenes look at Potter’s life will engage kids because it’s relatable and inspirational—showing you can make a career doing what you love, break through societal limits, and care for our planet. What Potter managed in her 77 years was exceptional. ★Starred Review– Foreward Reviews
Land Wilson’s rhyming picture book, The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon: A Story About Friendship and Loving Our Planet, is a gentle story packing a powerful message. Little Sofia befriends the Moon and, one night when he’s blue, she imagines herself up there, seeing the Earth from a new perspective. The Moon sadly tells her, “With dirty waters, land, and air, it looks as though she’s in despair. Her people seem so unaware that what Earth needs is better care.”
Sue Cornelison’s soothing images are in the muted tones of a bedtime book, yet, the swoops of sparkles throughout give the story movement and feeling. Once Sofia realizes she must share her findings, we’re shown glimpses of children from around the world doing their part to help our planet.
The end matter provides explanations of how the Earth’s air, land, and water are polluted, followed by simple suggestions such as creating less trash and eating less meat. In the Author’s Note, Wilson shares how astronauts love looking back at our planet, but how that distance also brings an understanding of Earth’s vulnerability and precious importance. Wilson urges us to make the Earth’s well-being a priority: “When people work together, our power grows. But we need to work faster, harder, and smarter”—a message that should be taken to heart as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I like how Wilson’s commentary is both realistic and optimistic, hopefully inciting readers to action.
Written by Mia Wenjen
Illustrated by Nat Iwata
(Lee & Low Books; $18.95, Ages 4-7)
Sumo Joe, the charming and gently rhyming debut picture book by Mia Wenjen with art by Nat Iwata, opened my eyes to the history and popularity of this world renown Japanese style of wrestling. More than just a sport, “Sumo” writes Wenjen in the back matter glossary, “can be traced back to ancient Shinto rituals that were practiced to ensure a bountiful harvest and to honor the spirits.”
Wenjen’s chosen a fun way to introduce young readers to the sport and keep them interested by focusing on siblings Joe and his younger sister Jo. While the two share a close relationship, only Joe participates in sumo wrestling at home on Saturdays with his friends. I love how Iwata’s expressive illustration below shows Jo’s disappointment at not being included in the activity that traditionally has been for “boys-only.” Her tote bag clues us into where she might be going while her brother practices.
Throughout Joe’s sumo session, readers learn about the different terminology and traditions tied to the sport of trying to knock one’s opponent out of the ring. Perhaps most familiar is the outfit or special belt called a Mawashi. Due to the complexity of tying it, someone else has to wrap it around the wrestler. Compared to this, tying a tie seems easy and maybe even less tickly! The stomp move, called shiko, is intended to rid the space of demons. That makes total sense to me. Other moves in the drills that Joe and his buddies work on are also explained which is not only fascinating, but meaningful. Kids will be able to watch sumo with a better appreciation of why the wrestlers do what they do.
While Jo may understand what her brother’s doing, she’s tired of being left out. She returns from her outing ready to jump into action as Akido Jo. Yes, little sis has been getting lessons in the martial arts and challenges her big brother to a match. Joe’s pals say she’s not allowed, but Joe honors his sister’s wishes and the two face off in a lively, but loving and respectful contest of Sumo versus Akido.
Iwata’s upbeat, digitally rendered artwork complements Wenjen’s words and brings a wonderful energy to the story. I recommend Sumo Joe to parents, teachers and librarians eager to find out more about this traditional Japanese sport presented in an engaging and dynamic way. The author’s note plus the illustrated glossary round out what is an enlightening and delightful read.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Sumo Joe as part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.
MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHostsHERE.
Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom (or anywhere) read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.
Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.
What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!
There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this year—with or without a power outage.
I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?
Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★ starred review – Kirkus Reviews
Back in the olden days when kids still wrote letters, I had a pen pal named Melanie Vafiades from London. I never met her so for all I know she could have been a dragon like George’s pen pal in dear Dragon (I mean don’t most dragons live there?), or perhaps she was a unicorn (England’s full of enchanted forests, right?). I’m all for active imaginations and making new friends sight unseen which is exactly what author Josh Funk’s new picture book inspires. Kids’ll love the premise of this endearing story that pairs human students (unbeknownst to them but not their teachers) with dragons as pens pals.
Between Funk’s cheerful, well-paced rhyming text (the students were told to put their correspondence in verse) and Montalvo’s light-hearted, inviting illustrations, readers will get a strong sense of how the two main characters grow from being reluctant about having to actually write something to someone they don’t know, and do it in rhyme no less, to discovering interesting things about each other over the course of the assignment.
The illustrations capture how George, the human, and Blaise, the dragon, innocently interpret the descriptions in each other’s letters based on their personal paradigms. Consider George’s science project volcano (see first image above) as compared to Blaise’s real one, or George’s backyard cardboard fort (see second image) versus Blaise’s and you’ll get the point both author and illustrator have humorously driven home. As the two students continue to write, readers will notice the degree of familiarity increase with every new letter. What ensues when our earthbound boy and his new flying, fire-breathing friend ultimately meet up in person can only be described as pure positivity in picture book form. Funk’s story presents the perfect opportunity to reinforce the important message that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover, although the cover of dear Dragon is pretty darned adorable!
Every April during National Poetry Month, we like to share some poetry books we hope children will enjoy reading, ones that perhaps will pave the path towards a greater appreciation of poetry. The books don’t have to be in rhyme although our littlest readers do love the sound of cats and bats and rats who wear hats. If you’re interested in exposing youngsters to all different kinds of poetry, consider the following picture books and also ask your librarian for suggestions or head to your local independent bookstore today.
My Chinatown: One Year in Poems Written and illustrated by Kam Mak (HarperCollins; $6.99, Ages 4-8)
Reading My Chinatown allows to us experience a young boy’s adjustment to New York’s Chinatown after moving there from Hong Kong. This realistically illustrated (at first I thought photographs filled the book) story is divided into seasons beginning in winter and ending again in winter, a full, activity-filled year later. We see the boy not enjoying his new country’s New Year celebration. Instead, he spends time reflecting on his grandmother’s pickeled kumquats back in Hong Kong. All the while the narrator wonders, “But how can it ever be a good year thousands of miles away from home?” His feelings of detachment are strong. Always thinking of his former home, the young boy resists learning English, wanting to cling to his comfortable past rather than risk moving forward. Being given a board game like the one he had at home marks a turning point in the story. From the calming rhythm of his mother’s sewing machine, to a dragon boat race in Queens, from the familiar sound of mah-jongg tiles “slapping the table”, to making new friends, as the seasons pass, the narrator is starting to feel at home. And, at last, taking part in the following New Year’s festivities, it’s clear that he finally feels that Chinatown is where he belongs.
A Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young Written by Michael Rosen Illustrated by Chris Riddell (Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 3-7)
It’s never too early to read poetry to children. And Rosen, a former UK Children’s Laureate sure knows it! In this accessible and varied collection of over 30 poems, there’s something for everyone including silliness and seriousness, sounds and interactive play. Young children are going to find themselves asking for these fun, often humorous poems to be read over and over again. Without even realizing it, kids’ll learn animal sounds, emotions, counting and some clever puns – read I Went to see what I mean – while appreciating the punchy rhymes, fast pace and kid-oriented topics. Current UK Children’s Laureate, Riddell, has provided artwork that feels more like the prolific illustrator Shirley Hughes than the Riddell illustrations we’ve seen accompany other children’s books. His range and talent are showcased in this collection that begs to be on little ones’ bookshelves.
Visit “The Land of Words” with NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Winner, Eloise Greenfield. She’ll take you and your children through pages of inspiring poems as her lyrical language rains down on you and waters the soul. With over 20 wonderful poems in the collection, In The Land of Words felt like a mentor’s embrace, a call to action to create and an urging to just soak up every moment.Greenfield was spot on, if you can say that about a poem, in both rhythm and description of the patience involved when fishing in To Catch a Fish. I particularly enjoyed Making Friends about how something as simple as making a silly face can be the start of a friendship. Flowers is a touching tribute to stepparents. This one shares the pride and love a stepfather feels at his stepdaughter’s solo performance. Books, Story, and Poet/Poem will speak to readers and writers everywhere. This line, from books, especially resonated for me, “New faces and new voices, I listen and I see, and people I have never met mean everything to me.” If you love words, don’t miss this collection complemented by Gilchrist’s multi-media artwork that includes felt, embroidery and what looks like markers, making this book all the more satisfying. Overall I found myself quite enchanted by the cleverness from start to finish.