I’M OK Written by Patti Kim (Atheneum BYR; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
In the middle grade novel I’m OK by Patti Kim, twelve-year-old Ok Lee’s world begins to fall apart when his father dies suddenly. Even though his mother works three jobs, they barely get by. To help out financially, Ok starts braiding girls’ hair at school and resolves to win the talent show’s $100 prize—though he doesn’t have a talent in mind.
The flawed characters in I’m Ok weave together realistically in a story about the imperfect lives of recent immigrants and middle schoolers. Ok’s unwitting sidekick is Mickey McDonald, a girl with the biggest hair and a personality to match. Her family’s also poor but she doesn’t care what other people think. Mickey adds a lively, funny element to a story that also depicts race and social class discrimination. Set at an indeterminate time, Americana details such as Enjoli perfume or the TV shows “Charlie’s Angels” and “MacGyver” will resonate with older readers.
The ending feels genuine and opens the door to talking about why life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect or want. Ok is bound to his mother, and her decisions direct their future.
This was June’s book-of-the-month at Chevalier’s Books’ middle-grade book club in Los Angeles. I’m Ok was well liked by all. The animated discussion considered many interesting elements of this novel including nice story-writing details such as how the story is bookended by two similar yet quite different scenes.
✩Starred Review – Publishers Weekly Los Angeles Times Holiday Books Guide Amazon.com Best Books of the Year
I am utterly charmed by Brandon Stanton’s new nonfiction picture book, Little Humans (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 2-6) and am singing its praises to all who’ll listen. Most of you know Stanton from his blog, and #1 New York Times Bestseller, Humans of New York. In this adorable picture book he’s collected a wonderful, diverse array of photographs of the children of New York. The accompanying text is affirming to all “little humans” everywhere that they are capable of doing big things! Of course they may need to ask for help, they may just need a hug or two, but by and large they can accomplish many things on their own. For example, as the book states they can, “Put on a show, to make you proud of what they know!” I’m a big fan of books that affirm that children should be credited for knowing as much as they do. They know a lot!
The photographs of the children take up nearly each entire page. Many of them are taken on the eye level of the child or children in the photograph. This means there was some considerable time that Brandon Stanton had to spend on his knees or, as the dust jacket on the inside flap shows, actually on the ground to get such great shots! These large as life photos help to remind the reader that these little humans may be small, but they are so much more than that. They’re full of life, and are being met by Stanton literally on their own level on every page. In these photos Stanton helps to bridge the gap of space that exists between children and adults.
So many colorful personalities present themselves, and each child has his or her own unique style of awesome! The smile inducing photos range from one child in particular being singled out, to groups of many children. The photos of children of different ethnic and religious backgrounds are especially important for me to see, as I continue to try to support diverse children’s books. I very much appreciate the diversity of personality type, too. However, it’s the sweet face of every child featured in this book that pleases me most. Every child is warmly celebrated. Little Humans is a perfect book for a holiday gift for a little human you might know, and would definitely be a great present for a teacher. Well done, Brandon Stanton! Once again, you show us the beauty of all humanity.
Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk with illustrations by Alexandria Neonakis is reviewed by Hilary Taber.
When I first saw the cover of Sweetest Kulu (Inhabit Media, $16.95, Ages 0-6), I knew I was hooked. I said to a friend, “I think this is the dearest picture book cover I have ever seen!” I still think so! Of course I wondered what “Kulu” meant. The back of the book provided me with the information I needed.
Kulu is an Inuktitut endearment given to babies, and younger children. The author, Celina Kalluk, is Inuit and an acclaimed throat singer. Her book is as sweet as the sweetest Kulu pictured on the cover. This charming picture book is a gentle lullaby poem from a mother to her child. It tells the story of the day that artic animals from the surrounding region hear about the birth of Kulu, for the wind has spread the news about this remarkable baby.
“Melodies of Wind arrived, sharing stories of how the weather forms, and telling you to always listen closely. Wise wind had learned your name, charming Kulu, and invited the world to meet you.”
Each animal that comes to see Kulu bestows a gift upon the baby, much as the fairies in Sleeping Beauty bestowed a gift to the newborn girl. However, each gift beautifully reflects the tie between nature and this brand new arrival, this bundle of joy. One of my favorite pages shows the nobility of the Caribou juxtaposed with the small, sweetly sleeping Kulu on his back:
“Caribou choose patience for you, cutest Kulu. He gave you the ability to look to the stars, so that you will always know where you are and may gently lead the way.”
Such wonderful gifts are given by each animal that they far outweigh the gifts given to Sleeping Beauty of beauty and riches. Each gift connects the baby with the land, with the gift of believing in yourself, the ability to give love, the predisposition to help those in need, and so on until you know that Kulu will be guided by these lessons for life. Kulu, in being blessed by the wind and each animal, will always be a blessing to others along the path of life. I can’t think of a better way for a life to begin. Illustrator Alexandra Neonakis brings to life each scene with adorable, but also breathtaking illustrations that combine the sweetest Kulu with each animal who has come to visit.
This is one of those books that make you want to hug it to you, because it’s that good and true. If I had a child, I would want that child to have the blessings of a good character that Kulu receives. As an aunt, I wish these for my nephew for they make for a truly happy and fulfilling life. Children will love learning the names of each arctic animal. The magical, rhythmic language of the book will be a wonderful bridge between the activities of the day, helping children transition peacefully into their just-before-bed reading.
Sweetest Kulu would make an ideal present for a new baby in your life, and an excellent baby shower gift as well. The whole world seems to be in love with Kulu in this book, and I am too! Take the opportunity to purchase this book now if you have little ones to read to, and buy another to stash away for that baby shower you know you will be invited to! I will be buying one especially for my nephew, who is to me one of the sweetest children there ever was! I want him to learn these important lessons so that they will be a blessing to him all of his life, and guide him to true happiness.
Like a delicious French pastry, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau(Abrams Books for Young Readers; 2014, $16.95, Ages 4-8) is a treat not only to behold, but to be enjoyed frequently perhaps with some steaming hot cocoa. After what may be my fourth or fifth reading I can still say I’m on my Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau honeymoon and continue to find wonderful things to devour on every page.
Observant readers will pick up clues that hat maker extraordinaire, Madame Chapeau is either a war widow, her soldier husband, or maybe her father, having fallen in combat; his hat on a kitchen chair as a sad reminder. Alone and lonely, even on that one night a year, her birthday, Madame Chapeau dresses up, resplendent in her birthday bonnet and takes a stroll to Chez Snooty-Patoot, “the best place in town.” But when she tumbles en route, a crow grabs her headpiece and flies off.
“My hat! My hat! Come back with my hat! You simply can’t steal someone’s bonnet like that! Someone quite special once made that for me. You can’t steal my hat and fly off to a tree!”
Before she can say “baguette,” a baker offers her his trademark tall white hat and so begins the parade of people willing to help out with a loaner. From a policeman to a cowboy, to a Scotsman and a spy, to Charlie Chaplin – we all know his hat as we do the mime’s – total strangers yet lovely souls are being so very kind. I’m delighted, too, that both Beaty and Roberts chose to include such a diverse depiction of Parisians as it’s one of the most multi-cultural cities I know.
Without her special hat, but a birthday cake that’s been paid for, Madame makes her way to Chez Snooty-Patoot to dine alone or so she thinks! Meanwhile, an adorable young black girl whose mother was getting a fitting in Madame Chapeau’s earlier on in the story, is tailing the hat maker, yarn and needles in hand. (At one point we even see a mouse donning a cap matching the girl’s outfit!) NOTE: watch out for this mouse and his hats, as well as the dog and cat belonging to Madame.
“Excuse me, madame,” said a girl dressed in plaid. “I made you a gift from some yarn that I had. I made it myself, and I just want to say, I hope you enjoy it … and Happy Birthday!”
This original new picture book, told in flawless, flowing rhyme is filled to the brim with exquisite, finely detailed watercolor and ink illustrations. Whether read-aloud or to oneself, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, is like having a front row seat at Paris Fashion Week (paying homage to many designers) without the expensive price tag that goes along with it.
Click here to download a Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau hat activity sheet.
NOTE: Author Andrea Beatty added some cool info in the comment section which I’m paraphrasing here:
Beaty and Roberts show up in the restaurant. (She has a pen and is wearing Rosie Revere’s cheese hat. Roberts has a paint brush. Plus Iggy Peck’s parents make a cameo, too! All of the hats in the book are based on real hats. Some are David Roberts’ actual millinery designs.)
Click here for a link that shows some of the inspiration Roberts drew upon for his illustrations!
There’s a terrific twitter contest going right now to win 1 of 4 copies of the book. To enter, simply tweet a pic of yourself wearing a hat. #HappyBirthdayMadameChapeau. Winners will be announced on November 1!