Tag Archives: picture book

Book Reviews: March 2020 Picture Book Roundup: Important Lessons and Cartoonish Animals

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Click to visit BN's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

A Whale of a Mistake by Ioana Hobai. Page Street Kids-Page Street, 2020.

I have been waiting for the release of this book since going to a talk by an editor for Page Street Kids who had an ARC with her. The cover is SPLENDID. The illustrations are SPLENDID. I adore the color scheme.  I hadn’t been able at that talk to spend time with its text. The text actually fell a little flat to me. I know that this book was inspired by the author’s divorce, though the text for children speaks more broadly to any large or seemingly large mistake. I was reminded strongly of Kobi Yamada’s What Would You Do series, and I think if I was not so familiar with these books, I would like this one better. It would be more standout. Still, this is a message that Yamada has yet to cover, and it is a good message—that large mistakes when we take a step back from them, are small in the face of a vast universe, and become less frightening to rectify when seen from this perspective.  This book just feels like it should be part of that series, and in that way, the contrasts of blues and salmons seem out of place; I expect sepia, and I expect my round-faced, medieval-ly dressed protagonist, not someone white-faced and blue-haired.

The mistake here is represented as a whale that takes the protagonist out to sea, away from help and community, and then shrinks as she faces it and steers it back towards land.  In much the way that Yamada’s problem seems overwhelming until it is faced and reveals its opportunity.

****

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You Will Be Found by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman (inkymole). Little, Brown-Hachette, 2020.  Intended audience: Teens and young adults.

The text of this picture book, shelved at Barnes & Noble right now in the teen section though I think it is absolutely for any age, is the lyrics from the song of the same title from the musical Dear Evan Hansen. This song in particular has always made my eyes sting, and it could not have come out at a more appropriate time. The song in the musical (to my understanding from memorizing the soundtrack but never having actually seen the play) is the speech given by the title character, Evan Hansen, at a school assembly honoring the memory of a schoolmate who has committed suicide. This speech is filmed by one of the students and goes viral.  The general message is that we are never alone, that there is always help.  The illustrations in this edition are watercolors in mostly blues and purples but with flashes of yellow and warmer colors and one page that is a rainbow of text. It all looks very modern and very soothing. I think the illustrations chosen represent the text on the pages well. If you need this reminder (and I think we all probably need this reminder), this is a good book to keep on a coffee table. Is it as moving as the song? Probably not. Can I read the book to myself without singing the song in my mind? Also no. So my impression of it may be skewed.  The text isn’t 100% word for word, but it is near enough. I am glad though that the authors opted against keeping in, for example, the bridge text of the newscasters and Facebook comments and likes. I think it makes for a stronger book as it is than if they had done. For what this is, this is excellently done. I’ve read several books the texts of which are song lyrics, and I think this has been my favorite.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse by Jonathan Stutzman and illustrated by Heather Fox. Henry, Holt-Macmillan, 2020.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.  Intended release May 2020.

I received an ARC of this book about a lazy llama who doesn’t want to clean. His friend Alpaca loves to clean though. So Llama invents the Replicator 3000, into which he tricks his friend Alpaca. Two Alpacas clean Llama’s house with ease, but Llama wonders what he could do with more Alpacas. The legion Alpacas get loose and wreck havoc by cleaning the town. Llama sits happily in his clean home with a pizza. The pizza draws the many Alpacas back to Llama’s home, where Llama realizes his mistake and rectifies it with a reverse switch. But now he and Alpaca are both at his home in time for dessert, and Llama has only one slice of cake. And a Replicator 3000. This book is silly. But this book made me smile. Llama’s unthinking hijinks remind me of Pig the Pug, though Llama’s illustration style is even more cartoonish, sharing Pig’s and Trevor’s bulbous eyes but simplifying even more their bodies. I like this better than Blabey’s books though. Alpaca is unhurt. Llama is unhurt. Everyone gets cake. The damage is not permanent. And if Stutzman has a Replicator 3000 and a cleaning alpaca, now would be the time to release a legion of alpacas on the world and scrub everything clean.  I also enjoyed the framing of this story, opening with “By dinner, Llama will unleash a great Alpacalypse upon the world” and continuing to mark the passage of time by Llama’s meals, which include second lunch and second dinner.  Llamas eat often like hobbits.

****

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How to Catch a Unicorn by Adam Wallace and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is narrated not by the would-be-captors but by the unicorn herself. Bored, she sets off for the zoo, but she is spotted by some kids who set out to capture her. She eludes their creative traps occasionally helped by the zoo inhabitants, so you could use this book as an animal primer. The unicorn lore in this was… interesting. A good bit of it I had never heard and I think was made up by Wallace for this story rather than pulled from previously established lore. You can’t say that any of its wrong, though, as unicorns, if they ever existed, exist no longer.

***

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How to Catch a Dinosaur by Adam Wallace and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is the fourth book that I’ve read from this series (missed from this blog is How to Catch a Dragon, a book written for the Chinese New Year; I may go back to review those picture books eventually). This one is about a boy who hopes to win a school science fair by catching a dinosaur. Though ultimately unsuccessful in his hunt, his contraptions for catching the dino do snag him the trophy. I was pleasantly surprised by the modern dino facts that this book alludes to: that some dinos had feathers, that dinos are nearer to birds than other living creatures. In this particularly the “better luck next time” refrain that ends of each of the the books in this series is jarring because the narration and the perspective changes from the children to the dino for this last line.

***1/2

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: December 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Big Names and Series Continuations

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by A. G. Ford. Chronicle, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The characters from previous Construction Site books return. Each is gifted new equipment from an anonymous donor that I presume to be the company who thanks them for their work throughout the year. My anti-capitalist self found a great deal to be cynical about in this set up. The company provides their workers with something that they need to perform for the company but frames that equipment as a gift to make the company seem kinder? Hmmm….  I am almost certain that I am seeing an unintentional parallel between today’s corporate structures and those of this book; I don’t think that Rinker intentionally set out to write a pro- or anti-capitalist book, one that lauds the company’s gesture or reveals the manipulative behavior of the company in the mask of Christmas—especially, as I have said, since the company is never definitively named as the gift-giver. And certainly her intended audience isn’t going to consciously wonder or even consider the ethics of the company’s behavior.

The pattern to this book is similar to Mighty, Mighty Construction Site with each vehicle’s task for the day described before the truck is put to sleep with a “Goodnight.” The vehicles’ work is finally revealed in its finished form: a new fire station. I wonder if that signals an upcoming book in the same world. Mighty, Mighty Fire Station anyone?

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and author's bio.

Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? by Brianna Caplan Sayres and illustrated by Christian Slade. Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book was something of a disappointment. I liked the illustrations, and it fit well thematically with the required book for our story time, Construction Site on Christmas Night. The text… well, to start, it never answered the questions it asked. I expected an answer eventually, thought that I was going to get a book written stylistically like Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs series, questions then answers. This was the first book in this series (books that are titled in the pattern of Where Do X Sleep at Night?) that I had ever read. I’m guessing that this book is written in the style of the series, and if I’d known that and been prepared for it, I might not have minded it so. I did appreciate that this book seems to celebrate more than many others do that family and friends’ gatherings that mark the holiday. We had fun finding the little mouse in each of the illustrations.  This is definitely a book whose illustrations outshone its text.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and trailer.

The Cool Bean by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This has been I think my favorite by this duo. The POV bean used to hang out with a group of other beans, but as they got older, he grew apart from the other beans. They became “cool,” and he did not. He thinks that he’s lost his friends, but then when the not-cool bean gets into some embarrassing scrapes at school, dropping his lunch, falling on the playground, each time the cool beans help him out. He realizes that his friends haven’t changed so much, that they are still kind, still friends, even if their interests and wardrobes have diverged and if the cool beans have found new skills at which they excel. Their small gestures of kindness improve the POV bean’s outlook, give him self-confidence and confidence in the kindness of his friends. Kindness not clothes or special skills make beans cool. This was a story to which I related. I grew up in a small town and coolness only came as we hit upper elementary school. The old stereotypes of 80s and 90s movies didn’t hold up. One of the coolest girls in our school was also one of the most generous and softest, and her kindness did a lot to cheer me up on more than one occasion. That said, check out the band Smoke Season because while we haven’t kept up I hear that she’s been doing well for herself.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, audio sample, reviews, and author's bio.

The Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel. Penguin Random, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This was a surprisingly fun book. The reader is asked to make a silly face (there is a mirrored surface in the book) to make the serious goose laugh. And that—not the silly hats or the tasty treat of the previous pages—is what turns the serious goose who won’t smile into a silly goose who is buoyantly happy and barks like a dog to be silly. The rhyming is a lot of fun. There is a good bit of adult humor with the narrator threatening the audience with lawyers for violating a direct commandment from the Order of the Serious Geese and Gooses. The proceeds for the sales of this book benefit children’s hospitals.

****

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The Kindness Book by Todd Parr. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

Although my opinion may be colored by having to rush through it as I’d lost two members of my audience entirely and the last’s attention was split between coloring and listening and waiting for her family to return, I read this one after reading Kindness Makes the World Go Round, and honestly it paled in comparison. There’s no plot. This is a good overview though of the kind things that a person can do for others, for the community, for strangers and loved ones, for oneself, for animals. There is actually a pretty strong emphasis on being kind to oneself; it’s mentioned thrice. I appreciated the inclusion of characters of limited physical mobility with the gray-haired woman whose wheelchair rests beside her bed and another whose cane rests by her chair. Todd Parr’s bright colors and simple drawings and simple text hide a deeper message as almost always.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: November 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Sing Along

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Snow Blows White

Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order and summary.

The Soundtrack Series: Let It Go by the Disney Book Group. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

You probably almost all know this book by heart already. This is the lyrics and illustrations to match the original animation of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen. Nothing really spectacular here, but if you need the lyrics for, say, a sing-along story time, it is a helpful book to have on hand. The book comes with a CD of the single. According to the description, the CD is a karaoke, instrumental version, and a sing-along version of the song. It’s a good song, but I’m not sure that the picture book is a necessary publication. I was surprised how few of my littles at story time did sing along with the book and I (we were a cappella). I had one who definitely knew the chorus, but that was all the backup that I got.

***

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Reindeers Are Better Than People by the Walt Disney Company. Disney, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I had sort of hoped that this would be the lyrics to the song like the Soundtrack Series: Let It Go—only because I was doing a sing-along story time. It was not. I still sang the song for the kids, and I only missed a line. I pulled it up on my iPod and let Jonathan Groff sing us through it once too. It’s such a delightful, short song. Instead of lyrics, this is a very brief introduction to the characters of Frozen, seemingly narrated by Kristoff (I would guess because of his “thing with the reindeer”), two sentences or for each of the main adventurers. The kids at story time laughed at and seemed to very much enjoy the characters that they knew with reindeer antlers.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary. 

Anna, Elsa, and the Secret River by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Denise Shimabukuro and Elena Naggi. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is a new adventure for children Anna and Elsa. Note: I have not yet seen the new film, but I don’t believe that this particular adventure is portrayed in the film. Anna convinces Elsa to chase after a magical river that might provide answers to why Elsa is born with magic mentioned in a lullaby. The sisters use their senses to search for the river, but the sun begins to rise before they find it. As soon as they decide to return to the castle, they wake in their beds, but was the adventure a dream or did they really venture out of the castle and into the woods? The illustrations in this are beautiful, and Rosenbaum does a good job capturing the personalities of the two sisters as I understand them from the first Frozen film. The introduction to the senses—sight, smell, hearing—was a nice touch too.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and sample.The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  Penguin Workshop-Penguin Random, 2019.

In previous Crayons books the crayons have written to Duncan.  Now the crayons are the recipients, receiving letters and postcards and gifts from friends and family in a sweet celebration of reaching out to loved ones at the holidays.  The book has the same offbeat humor and insightful comments on our use of colors that the previous books did.  Many of the characters are from previous books, their adventures expanded here, and I think the book made less sense as a standalone for that reason.  The concept of the crayons and their letters was not well explained in this book (I’m giving it five stars anyway but suggest reading The Day the Crayons Came Home first; meet Esteban).

I grew up with my mother’s love of the interactive picture book, The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg.  This book reminded me of that with its letters and postcards and gifts in envelopes attached to the page while the envelopes’ contents remained separate, able to be taken from the book and read.  This book includes ornaments to hang on a Christmas tree, games, and a gluten-free cookie recipe to try in addition to letters and postcards.  There was also a Hanukkah greeting and paper dreidel to make!  Reading it could easily be spread out over a day or several days if one stops to interact with all the contents.

I had a small audience for this one, but they did better with this story than they have with the length of any of the other Crayons books.  I struggled to balance the book and the separate pieces.  If you’re reading it aloud, make sure you have somewhere to lay the book down to hold up the envelopes’ contents.

*****

 Click to visit BN's website for links to order, summary, trailer, and reviews.

Jack Frost vs. the Abominable Snowman by Craig Manning and illustrated by Alan Brown. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

I am excited to have an introduction to choose your own adventure style stories for such a young audience, although the Choose Your Path series name is more fitting. The endings for this story cannot change; there is only one. A reader can however choose which character to follow through the story. There is a lesson here about not having to be locked into one way of reading. When I let my story time children choose their path, they did miss one adventure with Abe the Abominable Snowman, so if they read it a second time, there might be a surprise for them. The instructions to turn to this or that page were included in the rhyming text, and sometimes that felt awkward, but reading it aloud without any prep time, it was nice to have a catchy way to explain to the audience how we could choose between following either of the two racers.

***

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Cookies for Santa: The Story of How Santa’s Favorite Cookie Saved Christmas. Illustrated by Johanna Tarkela. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebooks Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

This was a pretty long book for story time, and required me to skip a bit of the text—though, again, I didn’t get to prep. With more time before reading, I might have been able to trim it more effectively. I barreled through to the ending, but the kids’ attentions were wandering. This is yet one more picture book trying to begin a new Christmastime tradition (like Elf on the Shelf, like Santa’s Magic Key), though this is my favorite of the traditions that picture books have yet tried to begin—and may already be a tradition for many. This tradition is to make a particular type of cookie: Chocolate Krinkle Cookies.

The Kringle family cookbook, which Santa uses every year to make cookies for his helpers and family, is missing. Santa cannot get the recipe right without. He has no cookies to share as he usually does. His helpers and family feel unappreciated and become uncooperative, not helping him prepare for Christmas any longer.

Meanwhile in a library, Abigail who reads cookbooks for fun, finds the Kringle cookbook. She brings it home, and the odd ingredients in the cookbook confuse her family.

In a televised address, Santa confesses to feeling like he should cancel Christmas because he is so upset that he lost the cookbook. Abigail and her family realize what they have, and rush to the America’s Test Kitchen studio to get help with the recipe, not having time to mail the book back to Santa in time for Christmas. The cooks there figure out substitutes for all of the magical ingredients. They televise the recipe and encourage the world to bake the cookies that Santa could not and leave them for him.

On his rounds, Santa finds the cookies left for him, and cheers up considerably. Abigail and her family leave the book for him in addition to the cookies.

In addition to being long, I didn’t really like any character in this story. Santa is not jolly. He, the elves, reindeer, and Mrs. Claus are too focused on the gifts that come with the season. The insertion of America’s Test Kitchen was clunky and clearly an advertisement for the company. I think reading aloud I actually left out the trademarked brand, and I think that the text ought to have done too.

The story I think would have been better without the inclusion of Abigail and her family and without the inclusion of America’s Test Kitchen, perhaps instead a story about Santa losing his cookbook and his family and friends reminding him of the Christmas spirit. The idea that the world gets to give back to Santa is sweet, though.

I could never decide whether I was imagining that the stack of these books smelled a touch like peppermint and chocolate, though they are not advertised as scented.

Kirkus suggests a chance that Abigail and William’s mom might be Asian, but I’m not sure that I see the same.

The book does include the recipe in the backmatter.

**

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Cookiesaurus Christmas by Amy Fellner Dominy and Nate Evans and illustrated by AG Ford. Hyperion-Disney, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I did not realize that Cookiesaurus was a series until I began to research for this review, though this is only the second in the series. Cookiesaurus, whose pleas and excuses make up the text of the story, wants to be the cookie left out for Santa. He knocks other cookies off the plate, making several messes and hurting his friends. Near the end, he realizes that his friends have been hurt by his actions and apologizes and helps the cookies back onto the plate. As a reward, he is chosen to top the Christmas tree. The style of writing reminds me of Mo WillemsPigeon books.

***

Making the World a Kinder Place

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Stir, Crack, Whisk, Bake: A Little Book about Little Cakes. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebook Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is an interactive book on the line of Don’t Touch the Button! and Press Here. My audience member was shy and nervous about participating. The text reads like instructions for an app game, especially “Use your finger to drag each [ingredient] to the counter.” The end result of these interactive instructions is a batch of cupcakes for a “special day.”  This is a way to “bake” together with a little one without the mess, but the result is only “cupcakes.” I can’t eat “cupcakes.” I can see where a family might use this one though, to make a little feel as though they had been included in the baking process.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Sunny Day: A Celebration of Sesame Street by Joe Raposo and illustrated by Christian Robinson, Selina Alko, Brigette Barrager, Roger Bradford, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Ziyue Chen, Joey Chu, Pat Cummings, Mike Curato, Leo Espinosa, Tom Lichtenhelf, Rafael López, Emily Winfield Martin, Joe Mathieu, Kenard Pak, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls, and Dan Santat. Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The text of this book is the lyrics of the theme song that opens episodes of Sesame Street. Each illustrator gets a single page spread. The book celebrates diversity. As a bookseller, I enjoyed the challenge of identifying each illustrator and have yet to convince myself that I have solved the puzzle. I believe the illustrators are listed in the order that they appear, but I would have to double-check that. The text works best, I think, as a sing-along, but there was a verse that neither I nor the young parents at my story time remembered.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

People in Your Neighborhood by Jeff Moss and Sesame Street. Sterling, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I remembered this song only after looking it up, and I did not find this exact version of the song. I was able to sing the chorus for story time but not the verses. The book does come with a CD, but reading a book intended for sale to another, I did not use it for story time. The book introduces children to several professions including postman and fireman. The book suggests that putting on the clothes of such a profession makes one such a professional.

This book has been available at Barnes & Noble for several months now, at least since November when it was a required story time read, but it appears that it will be getting a wider release in February 2020.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, info about Thunberg, info about the 350.org, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico. Frances Lincoln Children’s-Quarto, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

Greta Thunberg, Time’s Person of the Year 2019, is in another picture book. This one makes fantastic her battle against the giant corporations—here literal giants. Greta lives in a forest. The forest animals come to Greta to ask for her help because the Giants are destroying their home. Greta makes a sign and stands in the Giants’ way. They bowl past her, but other human inhabitants of the forest watch, and slowly begin to join her protest until the Giants are forced to pay attention to the crowd. In this story, the Giants mend their ways and begin to live more sustainably, making the forest better for all those who live in it. The giants are portrayed as being greedy and busy but blind to their destruction rather than heartless. I really like the illustrations in this one. I like the hope in this one even if I believe it to be misplaced.  Greta is portrayed though as more magical than she is, given the ability to speak to animals, and that is a dangerous line to walk, but then, this is clearly a fantasy if the antagonists are literal giants so a heroine who can talk to animals is not unusual in such a story.

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

People of Color in Books That I Read in 2018: Part 2: Picture Books

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This review is SO FAR OVERDUE! I was prompted to look for it again as 2019 comes towards a close and I began to think about doing a recap of the representation of people of color across the books that I read THIS year. That being said, I want to get this information out to those seeking it. All the lists like this one that I have done can be found here.  There are lists that include novels too.

Looking at 2018’s numbers, 28% percent of the books that I read included a person of color in any capacity—which is 1% more than 2017’s numbers. However, only 12 books that I read in 2018 included a person of color as the protagonist, a dismal 7% of my total books read, less than half as many as in 2017. That’s terrible. That’s on me. I did not this year seek out as many picture books to read independently as I have done in other years. Only 1 of the 12 books with a person of color as the protagonist was a book mandated for story time. I was not this year running independent, reader’s choice story times.

Picture and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

I did not complete every month’s picture book review in 2018, and now it seems too late, so this is the first time some of these stories are mentioned on this blog. Where possible, I have included links to my full reviews.

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington. 2018.  This is a biography of Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space. Mae is told by her white teacher seek a more practical career than astronaut, but her parents tell her it’s possible, and she succeeds.

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. 2015.  This is an introduction to the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginian couple whose court case legalized interracial marriage in the USA.

Two Problems for Sophia by Jim Averbeck and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. 2018.  Sophia’s giraffe is causing a lot of trouble for her family. Every character’s skin is a different shade, from Grand-mama’s darker skin to Sophia’s father’s light. I’d guess that Sophia herself is biracial.

Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice! by Loryn Brantz. 2018.  I thought that the primary character of Feminist Baby was white but looking online I realize that her family is interracial. One of the babies with whom she “stand up tall” is darker skinned than she is.

Goodnight Football by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Christina E. Forshay. 2014.  There are many crowd scenes that allow Dahl to show off the hues of humanity. An African American family is featured. 

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub. 2015.  Saya’s mother immigrated to America from Haiti without papers and is taken to an immigration detention center and separated from her family. Saya’s family are all darker skinned. The judge is a dark skinned woman too.

Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. 2018.  The protagonist, Cece, is I think biracial and darker skinned, her mother darker skinned and her father light skinned with dark hair. Isaac, her best friend, is light skinned with black hair, possibly Asian.

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach. 2017.  Santa is a black man, living with his white husband, who helps him around the house and with his business. This book is shelved in the adult humor section at Barnes & Noble, but it is a picture book, and I think could be read and enjoyed by children.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat.  2018.  A boy struggles to connect with his grandfather who only speaks Thai. The two end up communicating by drawing together.

Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. 2018.  The protagonist Jerome has darker skin and pink hair. The background characters are of varying hues. One girl, whom he thanks, wears a hijab.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

I Am Enough by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. 2018.  The girls represented in this story are mostly dark skinned. A few look like they could be of Asian descent. A few are lighter skinned. One wears a hijab.

Love by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long. 2018.  Latinx and African American and Asian America and white and biracial families are all represented. One girl wears a hijab and a long dress while relaxing in the grass.

First Explorers, Book 5: Astronauts by Christiane Engel. 2017.  Some of the astronauts in this little, lift the flap board book about the profession are darker skinned.

Salam Alaikum: A Message of Peace by Harris J and illustrated by Ward Jenkins. 2017.  A diverse cast illustrates this picture book version of Muslim, British singer Harris J’s song of the same title, the chorus of which is Arabic for “peace be upon you.” 

The Peace Book by Todd Parr. 2017.  Todd Parr often illustrates his humans with no likeness to the colors of human skin: green and blue for example. There is a snake charmer in a turban and a woman in what I think is meant to be a niqab. The story, about sharing and caring for the Earth, implies that more than one group of people are meant to be represented.

The Forever Tree by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lucas. 2018.  The grandfather who first finds the tree for humanity is lighter skinned. But among the first families to discover the tree are people with darker skin and black hair. Among those who save the tree are people of darker and lighter skin too.

Animal or nonhuman protagonist with a secondary character who is a POC with a speaking role

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. 2018.  Elliot and Mouse search across New York City for the spirit of Christmas but are unsuccessful. They find a letter to Santa that has gone astray and travel to the suburbs to answer it, meeting a new friend, Noelle, who is darker skinned. The New Yorkers in the group scenes have different skin tones.

Corduroy Takes a Bow by Viola Davis based on characters by Don Freeman. 2018.  The family from Corduroy visit a children’s theater production. Corduroy is the protagonist, but Lisa and her family are dark skinned, usually interpreted as African American. It looks as though the actress playing Mother Goose might have a darker skin tone than the other actors on stage too.

Neck & Neck by Elise Parsley. 2018.  The zoo patrons have different skin tones. The boy who holds the giraffe balloon has darker skin and dark hair. The protagonist is definitely Leopold the giraffe.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Fancy Nancy: Oodles of Kittens by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2018.  Nancy and her best friend Bree each bond with a kitten. Bree is more of a secondary than a background character in this picture book.

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt. 2015.  The prince in this Cinderella retelling is darker skinned.

Animal or nonhuman protagonist with diverse background characters

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates. 2018.  The umbrella really is the protagonist. Characters of different skin tones are all represented. A woman wears a hijab. This is a story about acceptance and sharing space, sharing kindness.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. 2018.  Penelope Rex, a T-Rex, is the protagonist but her delicious classmates are a diverse bunch, including a hijabi and a yarmulke-wearing Jewish boy.

How to Catch a Snowman by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton. 2018.  One of the three children trying to catch this snowman is African American. I would say though that the snowman, who appears to also be the narrator of the story, is the protagonist.

White protagonists with a person of color as a background character

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. 2018.  Juno herself may be white, though I am not entirely certain, but some of the women throughout history whom she becomes are not, included are Egyptian Cleopatra, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, and African Americans Serena Williams and Misty Copeland. Unfortunately because Juno becomes these women by stepping into their shoes, none of them are depicted as themselves. The ballerinas on the page around Juno as Misty have a variety of skin tones, and Egyptian are depicted serving Juno as Cleopatra.

Princesses Save the World by Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim and illustrated by Eva Byrne. 2018.  The two princesses whose kingdoms are in peril are both dark skinned. The princesses who convene at the Pineapple Kingdom’s palace to devise a solution to their problems seem to be from all over the world. 

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis. 2018.  The prince on his search for a bride—a partner—visits other kingdoms; the royal families of some are darker skinned. His knight appears also to have a darker complexion than does the prince, though whether that is his less-pampered life of knight errantry or genetic I am not certain.

I Am Neil Armstrong by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos. 2018.  Neil Armstrong is of course himself white, but he meets with Katherine Johnson in the books, who is African American, and in the museum there is an African American boy.

The Magician’s Hat by Malcolm Mitchell and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. 2018.  The magician is white but the library audience is diverse.

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2005.  At the restaurant there is an African American family.

Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2007.  In this, Nancy plays with other children and their dogs. One of those girls is Bree, who is African American, but in this Bree is not yet named, though her dog is. To be fair, neither of Nancy’s friends are named.

Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2014.  Nancy has never been to a wedding, but Bree has, and it is from Bree’s questions and experiences that Nancy imagines the wedding before arriving at the cabin. But Bree is only in two pages of this book.

How to Scare a Ghost by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. 2018.  The main kids portrayed are white but at least one of the trick-or-treaters and one of the families offering candy Halloween night are African American.

Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. 2018.  In the Star Wars films, Darth Vader is portrayed as white, though in this picture book, he is completely masked and cloaked in black. The kids sent by the narrator to ask him questions and climb all about him are a diverse bunch.

Builder Brothers: Big Plans by Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott and illustrated by Kim Smith. 2018.  Not all of the adults at the Scott family’s outdoor barbeque are white. The woman in the hardware store is African American.

A First Introduction to Audrey Hepburn by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Amaia Arrazola. 2018.  This biography of Audrey Hepburn includes her in her later life traveling the world to visit and help more impoverished countries in Africa and India. The book portrays her enjoying her time with the children in these countries, playing soccer with the kids in Africa and sitting quietly beside a pond with kids in India.

I have one more book to note: Moon by Alison Oliver (2018). I want to be the first to admit that I may have this one totally wrong. The girl, Moon, is purple. She has classmates who are darker skinned than herself. I want to include this on the list of books that include a person of color but I don’t know where to put it.

Do you think or know that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Reviews: October 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Monsters, Monster Trucks, Female Icons, and Daniel Tiger

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, samples, and author's bio.

Elbow Grease vs. Motozilla by John Cena and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Penguin Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first Elbow Grease, though I’m not sure that I could put my finger on why if you asked me to do; perhaps it just isn’t living up to my expectation now that I have a more favorable expectation for Cena’s books. In the first, Elbow Grease learned the worth of his personality and how to use his skills, and his brothers learned to respect Elbow Grease. Now Elbow Grease is craving some of the adulation that his brothers receive. He decides that they need to defeat the biggest, baddest new truck in the monster truck world, and he devises a plan for he and his brothers with the help of a contraption made by their female mechanic Mel to work together to take down the monster. I don’t know. The plot and the lessons both fell more flat in this one for me, though the length was better, shorter. I really do think that this is just a case of my expectations being too inflated from the success of the previous book.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and activities.

No More Monsters Under Your Bed! by Jordan Chouteau and illustrated by Anat Even Or. JIMMY Patterson-Little, Brown-Hatchette, 2019.

This book relied too heavily on its gimmick—a patch that according to the tale turns you invisible to monsters—in much the same way that Santa’s Magic Key was an explanation of why a person was giving you a key or The Elf on the Shelf is an explanation of why someone wants to give you a creepy elf plush. It begins by introducing a boy who is scared of monsters and then describing all the different types of monsters that scare him. His parents give him a patch which when pressed turns him invisible to monsters, which erases his fear. Becoming bored without anyone to scare, the monsters move on, and the boy passes on his patch to another friend, who passes it to another, and so on, until it reaches the reader, I suppose, who gets the patch by buying the book. This isn’t really teaching a reason to not fear so much as it is preaching a belief in a token.  It is though I suppose a lesson in sharing tools that have helped you.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, trailer, reviews, activities, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Juno Valentine and the Fantastic Fashion Adventure by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I did I think like this one just a bit better than the first of Eva Chen’s books. Chen has changed the rules of her magical closet. Now, Juno does not become the women whose clothing she obtains but rather interacts with famous historical women, who gift her clothing and advice on her quest to capture her brother who has trespassed in the magical closet—and it isn’t until I am writing this now that I have to wonder about the implications of a boy intruding on a woman’s private space, a space held open for interactions with other women. Does his interaction with the space change the space and how? Certainly now the conversations that Juno has with the other women have become conversations about her brother, how Juno can catch up to her brother. It does pass the Bechdel test, though the conversations with named women are either about catching Finn or about Juno’s clothes. In her wanders through the closet, Juno gains not only the means to apprehend her brother but a unique outfit for school photo day, which earns her the title “Most Likely to Be Herself and No One Else,” a little ironic since she is quite literally borrowing the fashions of the others.  Her class is a diverse group that includes children of many hues, a child in a wheelchair, and a child wearing what appears to be a patka, a head covering for Sikh boys.  Her teacher, Miss Dahlia, is a black woman, a thing that is more rare in a picture book than you would expect and than it ought to be.  I read an ARC.  The book is out now.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

Peek-a-Flap: Boo by Rosa Von Federer and illustrated by Gaby Zermeño. Cottage Door, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 2+.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little board book which has suggestions for celebrating the Halloween holiday, labels to make it a primer, and facts about the holiday—a few of which even I did not know. I still love how sturdy these Cottage Door Press board books seem. Most other flaps are cardstock, but these are the layered cardboard that make up board book covers and pages. The illustrations are bright.  This is a Halloween book that is more about how humans celebrate with costumes and candy than centering any of the monsters.

****

Daniel Tiger

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and activities. 

Big Enough to Help adapted by Becky Friedman and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2015.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-1, Ages 3-6.

Daniel isn’t big enough to do everything, but there are many things that he can do, and there are some things that he has to do be small to do, like play in his new playhouse. “Everyone is big enough to do something” is the refrain of this book.  Reading this aloud, I avoided the ending catchphrase, which is unfamiliar to me, and any singing (on all three of these).

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

Daniel’s First Fireworks adapted by Becky Friedman and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2016.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-2, Ages 3-7.

Daniel helps his little sister overcome her fear of the fireflies, which she has never seen, by holding her hand and showing no fear himself. She holds his hand as does his dad as the fireworks start, and they are louder than Daniel thought that they would be.  This is a sweet story about encountering new things and helping others experience new things that might be frightening.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

Daniel Chooses to Be Kind adapted by Rachel Kalban and illustrated by Jason Fruchter. Simon Spotlight-Simon & Schuster, 2017.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-2, Ages 3-7.

Daniel asks King Friday what it is like to be king, and Friday declares him king for the day. He gives Daniel a list of things that he needs to bring to the castle at the end of the day. It’s never quite clear what King Friday intended to do with these items. After acquiring them, Daniel gives them all away in the course of the day to cheer up or help his friends. He never acquires replacements for the items that he gives away, which seemed a little odd honestly.  Though Daniel visits shops, he doesn’t seem to pay.  There’s seems to be some economy run on trade of services.  I really don’t remember much of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood anymore, and I have never seen Daniel’s Tiger’s Neighborhood.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

LGBTQIA+ Representation in the Books That I Read in 2018

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I’m realizing now in October that I never posted about the books with LGBTQIA+ representation that I read in 2018. I posted about the books that I read in 2017 during 2018’s Pride Month, but during 2019’s Pride Month I was laid up with a sprained ankle, sad that I was missing the month’s events, and I suppose in that pain-induced haze I missed my opportunity to participate by posting a celebration of LGBTQIA+ representation in literature.

But, surprise! It turns out that there is an Ace Awareness Week (October 20-26, 2019), and I am beginning writing this post on Ace Awareness Week’s first day! (Unfortunately there are no openly ace characters in this list from 2018. Ace characters are particularly difficult to find, though I have now found several and read about one: Felicity Montague from Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy; you will hear more about her in future posts.)

I read far fewer books with LGBTQIA+ characters in 2018 than I would have guessed: 8 books out of a total of 163. I don’t even know if I want to do the math to find out that dismal percentage (.05% if I round up to the nearest hundredth decimal place… which actually is higher than the percentage from 2017). I have no excuses but can report having read 15 such books as of October 20 in 2019. Here’s to hoping again that next year’s percentage is higher.

We need more LGBTQIA+ representation in books for all ages, and we are getting it, but sometimes the turning of the tide feels awfully slow.

But without further dismal ado, let’s see what books I discovered in 2018:

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis.  Little Bee-Simon & Schuster, 2018.

A prince does not connect on a romantic level with any of the princesses that he meets, but when he and a knight join together to battle a dragon, there is an immediate spark. The two marry and the kingdom and the royal family rejoice. This is a beautifully illustrated picture book.

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

The Heroes of Olympus, Book 5: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2014.

In the previous book in the series, one character is forced to out himself as gay before another and before Cupid. In this book he becomes a hero to both demigod camps, outs himself to his former crush, and develops another crush on a boy who likes him back. He accepts his homosexual identity in ways that he had not in the previous books.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan.  Hyperion-Disney, 2018.

Riordan doesn’t shy away from Apollo’s bisexuality in this novel, bringing up again that one of the loves of Apollo’s many centuries was Hyacinthus. Apollo is both the protagonist and the POV character for this series.

Teen (Ages 13-19) 

Timekeeper, Book 1 by Tara Sim.  Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2016.

Danny’s love for Colton is forbidden not just because the two of them are boys. These two are the series’ OTP, but there is at least one other gay or bisexual character who kisses Danny.

The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.  Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

The Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater.  Scholastic, 2016.

In these books, two of the protagonists fall for one another, two protagonists who happen to both be boys. One of the boys is bisexual, earlier dating a third protagonist in the series.

Adult (Ages 20+)

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach.  Harper Design-HarperCollins, 2017.

This was shelved in the adult humor section of Barnes & Noble, the writer having credits in late night comedy show script writing. Santa is helped by his loving husband in his stressful business. The gooey eyes that these two make at one another are adorable.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss and illustrated by EG Keller.  Chronicle, 2018.

This was published by the crew of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in response to the first of a series of picture books released by Charlotte Pence and her mother Karen Pence, the family of Vice President Mike Pence, who has pushed anti-LGBTQ laws in his home state of Indiana. The first book of the Pences’ uses the Pences’ rabbit, Marlon Bundo, to explore the White House and the president’s role. In this parody, Marlon Bundo meets the bunny of his dreams, a boy rabbit. Their love is cheered by their friends, but a Stink Bug that looks a bit like Mike Pence himself shouts that they can’t be married. Their friends suggest that differences should be celebrated. The friends vote the Stink Bug not in charge, and the bunnies are married by a cat who brings her wife to the ceremony. This too is shelved in the adult humor section of Barnes & Noble, but I know it ended up in several middle school classrooms. “Stink Bugs are temporary, but love is forever.”

And I’m realizing too that I never actually wrote a review for this book.  So, we’ll count this as a review space for it too.  This was a good book for what it was, a pointed jab at the Vice President and his anti-LGBTQ policies and a reminder of the power of democracy.  Was it a great book when compared to other picture books?  Not really.  The story is a bit too heavy-handed to be enjoyable apart from its political message.  But I like that this book exists.  It’s a flare of hope in a dark world and its publication was a petty, successful attempt to overtake the sales of Charlotte and Karen Pence’s book with profits benefiting The Trevor Project and AIDS United, though it was well-received by the two Pences, which was almost a flare of hope in itself.  Almost.  The publication of this book probably boosted sales of the Pences’ book too, and the proceeds for their book went too to charities, Tracy’s Kids and The A21 Campaign, so really, everyone won when this book was published.  The two bunnies and their friends are wonderfully cute, Marlon in his bow tie and Wesley in his glasses, the badger with his shirt cuffs.

***

Do you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Reviews: September 2019 Picture Book Roundup: A Few Good Books

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and activity.

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez and illustrated by Jamie Kim. HarperCollins, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The text and the illustrations in this picture book are both beautiful! This sentiment is beautiful! A little girl, frustrated by repeated questions that imply that she and her family are not from “here,” asks her abuelo’s advice on how to answer them. Her abuelo gives her a beautifully lyrical answer: She is from each of the strong and brave ancestors before her, she is from the beautiful land that they came from, and she is from the love of her family, “my love,” her abuelo says, “and the love of all those before us.” I assume that the girl like the author is Argentine American, but there is no specific reference to the country. There is mention of the Pampas, but the lowlands stretch across several countries in South America. This is a book about feeling proud of one’s heritage and provides a comfort and an answer to the too often asked question. I don’t share Méndez’s heritage, but I was still stirred by Méndez’s words and sentiment and Kim’s illustrations. I think I would be even if I had never met the first generation of my family to immigrate to this country. I think this book will stir something in everyone. I do think, though, that more than the text, I will remember the sentiment and the illustrations.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, excerpt, sample pages, reviews, activity, and author's and illustrator's bios.

How I Met My Monster by Amanda Noll and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Flashlight, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This is the third in a series of books but the first one that I have read thoroughly enough to write a review for this blog. The illustrations in this are so wonderfully saturated and detailed and fun. This book reminds me somewhat of Monsters, Inc with its concept of monsters learning the rules for haunting a child at night. These monsters don’t seek the child’s terror, though. Instead their goal is to keep the child in bed until they are asleep, an aid not a trial for parents. A class of small monsters and their teacher emerge from beneath a boy’s bed and try to frighten him into bed, but the boy doesn’t find them particularly scary, mostly funny, though one, Gabe, is kind of awesome and just a little scary with his long claws, gurgling stomach, and feigned penchant for human toes. The boy enjoys being just a little scared though. The book ends with Gabe proclaiming that this seems like “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and an illustration of Gabe curled up beneath the boy’s bed, looking like an overlarge canine or feline. This was just the right length for my group of three littles at story time. Anything longer would have been too much. They enjoyed counting the eyes under the bed and shouting out the colors of the monsters. They wanted the monsters names sooner than the story supplied them though.

****

Click to visit the author's page for links to order and summary.

A Busy Creature’s Day Eating! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Here’s an unusual alphabet book, which begins with breakfast food and, the creature running out of food, devolves into eating all sort of unusual things like Furniture, Gravy, a Hoagie, Ice cream, and a Jacket. And then at O, the creature begins to feel sick from its unusual diet and runs to the Potty. It is cared for, given basic foods to calm its stomach, Vomits anyway, is kissed by its guardian (XO-XO-XO), and sleeps away the ache: Zonked. The story is completely gender-neutral, which is a nice change, with no actual indication that the guardian is a biological parent. I liked that this included unusual words beside those more typically used in alphabet primers. I liked that this has a storyline. So many alphabet books are list books without a story. I have read clever alphabet primers before: Animal Homes ZXA: an Out of Order Alphabet Book, Animalphabet, and even A is for Awful: A Grumpy Cat ABC Book and Arctic Bears Chase. This is still perhaps the only one that really tells a story, though, a story that makes sense (Arctic Bears tries to build a story from one sentence, but it is a fairly nonsensical story). For what this is, this is a very good, a very unique book. I am surprised that no one that I know of has done this before, but no one that I know has done it. Willems does it with characters’ exaggerated expressions and humor in the text.

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: August 2019 Picture Book Roundup: A Month of Inspirational Reads

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Out of work for almost the entirety of June and July, I didn’t read any picture books during those two months to review, so we’re leaping from May to August.

Be Kind

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, awards list, sample, reviews, and author's bio..

We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I have yet to read Palacio’s Wonder, so I can’t speak to how similar or dissimilar this picture book is to the novel. This picture book left me a bit unimpressed. It introduces us to an unnamed character depicted as having one eye and his dog, Daisy. He narrates from the first person, saying that he does things that other kids do but doesn’t look like other kids. I am pleased to see that the other kids are depicted in a range of colors and gender presentations including one wearing a hijab. When his and Daisy’s feelings are hurt by the mean things said by other kids, he puts space helmets on them both and imagines them traversing the galaxy and visiting Pluto where there is a race of one-eyed aliens. The narrator hopes that people will change the way that they see, since he can’t change the way that he looks, and that they will come to see him and themselves as wonders. This book offers one coping mechanism for kids who are bullied—imagining themselves away and the world different—and may help kids who are bullied to feel understood.

***

Be Loud, Be Proud, Be You

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample, reviews, teacher's resources, and activities.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

There has recently been a wealth of picture books about particularly the worth of girls and the worth of girls of color. This one’s text does not particularly stand out among that crowd. It’s not a story so much as a series of affirmations, well intentioned and sweet but forgettable. I listened to a woman reading the book on YouTube, and it definitely rings better if read like a poem. But I would have to turn the pages so quickly to read it as she did that I feel I wouldn’t be appreciating enough the illustrations, which I find far more memorable than the text. The illustrations feature very realistically rendered girls of all colors and shapes, and include a girl in a wheelchair playing with a jump rope and a girl in a hijab. From the cover a young black girl with natural hair stares directly out at the world with a fairly neutral expression, wearing only a hint of a smile, and hers is certainly a memorable and eye-catching face amid the shelves. The characters mostly float in a white environment, the horizons and a few trees and pieces of playground and gym equipment sketched in with chalky lines.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, trailer, and reviews.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, audio excerpt, trailer, reviews, and activity.Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse and Paris Rosenthal and illustrated by Holly Hatam. HarperCollins, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Dear Boy, by Paris and Jason Rosenthal and illustrated by Holly Hatam. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

These are written in the form of letters and advice on how to interact with oneself and with the larger world in more healthy and affirming ways. Hatam’s characters are simple, most without noses or any shading to the faces, but the settings when she decides to include them are detailed, including some mixed media art. The format and even some of the text is echoed between books. Occasionally these books take a moment to combat toxic masculinity. Reading aloud, I skipped some of the greetings, the “Dear Girl”s and “Dear Boy”s. The final lines of each read “Dear Boy/Girl whom I love,” but I did not find this as awkward to read to strangers in a story time environment as I do, say, Nancy Tillman’s books about parental love. These are a good length. I like the books’ suggestion to “whenever you need an encouraging boost, […] turn to any page in this book.”

***     ***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

Isabella: Artist Extraordinaire by Jennifer Fosberry and illustrated by Mike Litwin. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2018.

This is a book for artists and art-lovers more even I think than it is for kids. The text is full of allusions to and puns related to famous art pieces like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans framed in a narrative about her family deciding what to do with a day off. All of the puns are marked in a different font style. In the end, Isabella proposes that they use the house as a museum to her artwork. This must have been a very fun book for Litwin to illustrate, incorporating Isabella and her family into famous pieces done in famous styles. The original art pieces are included with their attributions in the back. I don’t like that the characters are referred to as “the father,” “the mother,” and “the little girl”; that reads very awkwardly to me, but that is a very small critique. The educational value and the fun illustrations bump this story up a star. It’s a good classroom addition.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and other titles in the series.

Elle the Entrepreneur by Andrea B. Newman. Petite, 2016.  Intended audience: Grades 1-3.

I found this story heartwarming. Elle makes centerpieces for the family dinner table with flowers that she picks from the garden during the summertime. Her dad suggests making centerpieces for the neighbors, and with her parents’ help, Elle makes flyers and sets prices. She traverses the neighborhood with her flyers and is rebuffed at the first few houses but at the third house meets her first client. Her success leads to a dream of one day owning and decorating elegant restaurants. Her family is wonderfully supportive. Elle is very sweet towards her brother, deciding early on that she will save her earnings to buy him a new baseball for his birthday, and gently deflecting him when he wants to play and asking him to color with her instead. She’s the sort of businesswoman that I as a 30-year-old woman experimenting myself with business ideas can look up to. I don’t know that I would have found this a particularly exciting or engaging read though as a child—unless perhaps an adult had paired it with a business-like endeavor that I had initiated, a lemonade stand or yard sale or some such. I would remind writers that ending a story with “the end” is often awkward.

****

Search Your Feelings

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's bio.

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and illustrated by Max Lang. Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

There are a lot of good lessons here: the physical manifestations of grumpiness and of happiness as Jim Panzee tries to mask his grumpiness so that his friends will stop calling him grumpy and stop trying to cheer him but also the vital lesson that sometimes grumpiness has no definite cause, sometimes it must be felt, but it will pass like the sting from a boo-boo. Jim Panzee’s friends’ prodding questions about his well-being just make him grumpier because he can’t answer them. They suggest things that make them happy, but Jim doesn’t want to do any of those things. I am reminded reading this story of a favorite that I have not seen for a while: Grumpy Pants. Grumpy Pants had a similar lesson about grumpiness not always having a reasonable cause and not always having an easy cure. I like that Grumpy Monkey proposes so many things to try to alleviate grumpiness even if none of them help Jim Panzee. The suggestions made by Jim’s friends are certainly more socially acceptable than the one used by the penguin in Grumpy Pants (at least to try in a public setting) and also more fun to act out during a story time. The bright red cover of grumpy monkey while certainly making it stand out among other books actually is too red and too glaring for me, inciting feelings of anger and danger, but the inside is hardly red at all and far more palatable to me; don’t let the cover turn you away.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas. Sterling, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This monster’s friend helps him sort out his confused feelings. She lays out jars for the monster’s feelings, and helps him identify each feeling. Each is a different color: happiness is yellow, blue is sadness, red is anger, black is fear, and green is calm. And there’s one more: an unnamed, pink feeling that surrounds the monster with hearts. There is a flat version of this book, but because the pop-up was available to me, I read that. One of the last pages in this pop up, allows the reader to put the sorted feeling into the bottles, a white bottle-shape covering and uncovering the colorful feelings with pull-tabs. I was reminded of Inside Out reading this book, with its emotions depicted as colors: yellow Joy, blue Sadness, red Anger, purple Fear, and green Disgust. The book was I think originally published in Spanish in 2012. This English pop-up version was published the same year that the film was released, 2015. The pop-ups were the great draw of this book. They are fairly delicate pop-ups, not suited for toddlers without adult supervision. My little at story time did well with I and his father there. We let him play with the tabs and run his fingertips along the blue, taut twine used for rain, the twine used to hang the hammock in the calm illustration.

**** 

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: May 2019 Picture Book Roundup: A Few Brand New Books

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Fun aside:  I was looking over my stats for this blog.  This past month in particular, I seem to have been getting a lot of views from readers all the way across the globe in Hong Kong.  Hi, Hong Kong readers!  Welcome to the blog!

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, author's and illustrator's bios, and activity sheets.

If I Was Sunshine by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Loren Long. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

The store received a review copy of this poetic picture book. There’s a definite pattern to the text, stanzas that begin with analogies “if i was A, and you were B” or “if you were C, and i was D” “i’d call you E and you’d called me F” (Fogliano writes all in lowercase). There’s little to the text itself.  The book’s meaning emerges through the reader’s reckoning of the relationships between the four varying objects of the stanzas. The text is accompanied by Long’s soothing and brightly colored illustrations, mainly of creatures interacting with nature.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

A Friend Like Him by Suzanne Francis and illustrated by Dominic Carola and Ryan Feltman. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The trailers have me excited for this new live-action remake, which I haven’t actually seen as of writing this review. I was excited to have the chance to theme a story time around the story.  This book was a decent length for my young audience and told the story in a different way than did the 90s cartoon. This story centers the story of Aladdin on Genie, on Genie’s experience of being trapped in the lamp for millennia, occasionally emerging to grant wishes for wealth or power or fame to greedy masters, on his meeting Aladdin, a new master without that creepy look in his eyes, whom Genie instantly likes and grows to like more and more until they actually call one another friends. The message of friendship being the ultimate prize, the greatest thing to be wished for, and the best wish to grant is heartwarming. The perspective is fresh. The text is sweet without being saccharine, funny without being corny.

****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

High Five by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Dial-Penguin Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I… kind of expected better from the creators of Dragons Love Tacos and Dragons Love Tacos 2. As a note, I read this first to myself and then to a crowd of children, but always with the idea of reading it to a crowd and dreading reading it to a crowd. My fears proved unfounded. I feared that every kid would want to high five the page as required by the story. I had only one little friend who was willing to high five the pages, and I had to do so first the first few times that the book required before he wanted to join in the interactive fun. I think this book would be better one-on-one and one-on-one between a reader and a listening child with whom the reader already has a playful relationship.

This story enters the reader into a high five competition. We are first introduced to our trainer, a yeti-ish creature called Sensei with a bunch of trophies on his shelves. Sensei walks the reader through the best techniques for high fiving. To win the competition, he warns, the reader will need flare. The competition begins, and the reader is pitted against a flurry of creatures (a kangaroo joey and its mother, a snake, an octopus), until we are paired with an elephant against whom we had trained. The award for winning the competition (which the reader does) is a trophy at the end of the book that takes up a two-page spread and requires the book to be turned 90 degrees to view properly.

The text mostly rhymes with the instruction to “HIGH FIVE” breaking the rhythm and highlighting the command even more.  The illustrations are done in a bold neon palette colored pencil with a lot of white.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.