Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The joy of self-expression: John’s Turn

John’s Turn, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Kate Berube, (Feb. 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536203950

Ages 4-8

Every Friday, a school cafeteria turns into a place where kids put on performances for one another: an artistic show and tell. This week, it’s John’s turn, and he’s a little nervous. When it’s time, he changes into his leotard, pants, and ballet slippers, and begins to dance. It’s tense at first, as John’s fellow students watch him, but as John gives himself over to the music and the dance, his confidence builds; his joy is evident. At the end of his dance, his classmates cheer and applaud, and John beams, having shared a special moment with them. Kate Berube’s ink and paint illustrations gracefully capture the tension and anticipation that goes into a performance; those moments where the performer goes through the day with butterflies in their stomach, the worry, the pre-show jitters. He knows kids, and the thinking that ballet dancing is largely thought of as “a girl thing”, and the nervous snickers when the music begins. Mac Barnett’s narration is simple, elegant, to the point, and pausing to let Kate Berube shine during the performance: she beautifully captures the shifting emotions surging through John as he begins his dance; a nervous, almost nauseated feeling on his face at first, moving into a slight smile as he moves through the routine, and the background color shifts from a dull brown to a positively incandescent rose as he loses himself in the emotion of his dance, ending with soft pastels as, cheeks flushed, he takes a bow. It’s a gorgeous story.

John’s Turn has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, and BookPage.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Pineapple Princess is a benevolent ruler… kinda.

Pineapple Princess, by Sabina Hahn, (May 2022, Roaring Brook Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250798367

Ages 4-8

“I am deeply, deeply misunderstood.” Who hasn’t felt like this? The little girl in this story just knows she’s a princess, but no one wants to believe her. So what does she do? She carves her own crown out of a pineapple and pronounces herself The Pineapple Princess! She’s got some devoted subjects, too: a swarm of flies surrounds her, drawn to her sticky, sweet pineapple-y self. At first, she’s delighted to have the attention, but she quickly tires of having bugs follow her around; turning to more tyrannical measures, she decides that she doesn’t want to be a princess anymore… she’s evolved into a warrior queen. Witty, with a touch of chaotic hilarity, Pineapple Princess touches everyone’s – kids and adults alike – inner benevolent dictator. Sabina Hahn’s illustrations give an impish wink to the reader as the princess sets about carving her rule, certain that her deniers will rue the day they didn’t listen to her. And, in the most playful, childlike way, we see her tire of her Pineapple Princess persona, and change gears to something more fun. It’s a perfect storytime book, and embraces the joy of childhood imagination and endless summer days.

See Sabina Hahn’s storytime video here, and download a free storytime kit here. Visit Sabina Hahn’s website and her Instagram page for more of her illustration work.

Pineapple Princess has a starred review from Booklist and is a Kids Indie Next pick.

Posted in Early Reader, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

So Cool/So Cute… So perfect for kids

NatGeo Kids once again rocks my nonfiction section with a new series for younger readers. So Cool/So Cute is perfect for preschoolers through first graders who love animals, whether they’re cool, like dinosaurs, or cute, like puppies. Filled with facts, amusing side commentary, and color artwork and photos, they’re a great add to displays and small enough to fit inside a backpack or Mom’s bag.

So Cute! Puppies, by National Geographic Kids, (Feb. 2022, National Geographic Kids), $6.99, ISBN: 9781426339066

Ages 3-5

Readers who love puppies will love this adorable collection of puppy facts and photos. They’ll come away with fun facts: did you know that playtime is just as important for puppies as it is for kids? It is! Playtime “teaches young pooches important lessons in how to make friends – and keep them”. They’ll learn a little bit about some of the over 400 dog breeds out and about, and how some puppies look very different at birth, like the Dalmatian, born without spots. Clearly labeled photos introduce kids to different dog breeds, and fun word bubbles give the puppies a say in the dialogue-based text. A perfect Dad joke ends this volume and will give readers a giggle.

Want to pair the book with a fun puppy craft activity? Try Ms. Merry’s Build-a-Puppy craft, or some of these creative and fun crafts from The Spruce Crafts.

 

So Cool! Dinos, by National Geographic Kids, (Feb. 2022, National Geographic Kids), $6.99, ISBN: 9781426339042

Ages 3-5

Puppies are so cute, but dinosaurs? They are SO COOL. This little book is filled with dino facts and colorful artwork, with humorous commentary to keep kids laughing while they learn. An armored Ankylosaurus warns readers, “You wouldn’t want to mess with this”, while a peevish Pterosaur gripes that they wouldn’t “want to be a dinosaur anyway”. Readers will find out ways that scientists learn more about dinosaurs, and yes, there is a mention of dinosaur poop (coprolite), to keep them entertained. There’s information about dinosaur descendants that live in our world today, dino babies, and different-sized dinos. Clearly labeled pictures also offer phonetic pronunciation, making dino researchers out of every reader. The ever-present Dad joke closes this volume.

We Are Teachers has a great article with 20 different dinosaur activities for kids. Offer some as a companion activities or have a Dino Day.

There are more So Cool!/So Cute! books available, including Sharks (So Cool!), Koalas (So Cute!), Leopards (So Cool!), and Pandas (So Cute!).

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Thursday by Ann Bowill and Kayla Harden

Thursday, by Ann Bowill/Illustrated by Kayla Harden, (June 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542032896

Ages 4-7

Thursday used to be a little girl’s favorite day of the week, until she learns that her parents are getting a divorce on a Thursday. Now, instead of art class, and popsicles with friends, Thursdays mean that everything will change. Her stuffed unicorn steps in to give the girl a much-needed friend and comfortable shoulder, staying with her to support her through the hard feelings and the move, until Thursday becomes “just Thursday again”. The story moves forward with a gentle sensitivity, told in first person by the unicorn, who repays an act of kindness with love and and concern. The unicorn grows into a larger-than-life-sized companion that the little girl can lean on; when she can stand on her own again, the unicorn shrinks back to a toy-sized stuffie, but never leaves her – always around, ready to take her side if she needs it. Kayla Harden’s digital illustrations glow with optimism, letting readers know that things may be difficult right now, but the sun will always come up the next day, and things will eventually get better. The unicorn has its own cheerful radiance, sharing its warmth with the little girl. Add this one to your SEL (social-emotional learning) collections, and maybe consider adding some stuffed friends to your collection for kids who need a friend to lean on.

 

Ann Bonwill grew up in Maryland surrounded by books. Before becoming an author, Ann worked as a clinical social worker, a Montessori teacher, and an autism therapist. She is the author of multiple picture books and nonfiction books for children, including When Mermaids Sleep, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, and I Am Not a Copycat!, illustrated by Simon Rickerty. Ann has lived in many places, from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Frankfurt, Germany. She currently lives in Virginia with her family. Learn more at www.annbonwill.com.

Kayla Harren is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City with a BFA in illustration. She’s an award-winning illustrator of multiple picture books, including A Boy Like You, written by Frank Murphy, and The Boy Who Grew a Forest, written by Sophia Gholz, among other titles. Her work has been featured in the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Communication Arts, and 3×3 Magazine, and she won the Highlights for Children Pewter Plate Award. She lives in Minnesota with her family. Learn more at www.kaylaharren.com.

Facebook: Kayla Harren Illustrator

Instagram: @kaylaharren

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Great TBR Read-Down: The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass by Anna Priemaza

The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass by Anna Priemaza, (Nov. 2021, Harry N. Abrams), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419752599

Ages 12+

Do not let the cover fool you: The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass is a fantasy mystery that will keep you guessing. Vera Glass is a high school student living in a world where everyone has a magic gift; Vera’s is the ability to open locks, while her mother’s intuition magic makes her a wonderfully empathetic and comforting parent. She lives with her scientist parents and siblings, has a strong faith community, and a solid group of friends, but something just isn’t right. No one can quite voice it, but there’s something missing; something leaving a hole in more and more people’s lives, and Vera is determined to find out what it is. There are a few suspects, including a group of “witches” from the Goth kid group and the organization that Vera’s parents work for. The strength here is in the jarring disappearances that pop up throughout the book: a character is part of the scene, and then they’re just… not. And Vera pauses, trying to remember something just outside of her memory, not able to quite grasp what’s changed; just that there’s an ache she can’t quite shake. Heartbreaking and very readable, Vera is the first-person narrator, written with deep feeling by Anna Priemaza. Vera’s faith doesn’t come across as preachy; it’s a facet of her life, and she has an inclusive group of friends that also includes some atheist representation. The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass examines the feelings we have for those in our lives that go deeper than the surface; deeper than memory.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

STEM Smart: Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad

Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero, by Valerie Tripp/Illustrated by Geneva Bowers, (Oct. 2021, National Geographic Kids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781426373039

Ages 8-12

Izzy Newton, Allie Einstein, and Charlie Darwin are best friends starting Atom Middle School together, when they discover that a friend of theirs who moved away is back! Marie Curie doesn’t seem as friendly as she was when the girls were besties, and she’s got a new friend, Gina Carver, who seems equally standoffish. When the air conditioner in their middle school shows no signs of letting up, the group have to put their science-loving brains to work to figure out how to keep themselves, and the rest of the school, out of deep freeze. Izzy and her friends are all named after scientific icons (you’ll learn more about them in the back matter), and each girl has an interest in an area of science similar to their namesakes. Middle-grade subjects like friendship and working out differences are familiar for readers, and the story examines how misunderstandings arise when people assume and don’t speak to one another. The air conditioning mystery is a science problem that needs to be solved; something the girls do through the scientific method, detailed throughout the story. The pace and dialogue are light and smart, and black and white illustrations run throughout. Back matter includes explanations of scientific terms and profiles of women scientists mentioned in the novel. Absolute Hero – a play on the scientific term “absolute zero” – is the first book in the Smart Squad series, with an additional novel, Newton’s Flaw, available now, and another, The Law of Cavities, coming in October. Visit the Smart Squad webpage for free, downloadable Readers and Educators Guides. Absolute Hero was originally published in hardcover in September 2020.

The S.M.A.R.T. Squad series is shaping up to be a fun STEM-related series for middle graders. Pair with Kate Biberdorf’s Kate the Chemist series.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

End of School Year storytime: This is a School

This is a School, by John Schu/Illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison, (March 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536204582

Ages 4-8

I know, kids are ready to run out the door by now, and you may be thinking, “End of school year storytime? WHAT?” But bear with me, because John Schu’s This is a School is a beautifully crafted look at a community, and how a school is the beating heart of a community. Using brief, definitive sentences, John Schu tells the story: “This is a kid. / This is a kid in a class. / This is a class in a hall. / This is a hall in a school – / WELCOME!” Using repetition, he invites readers to look and listen as he goes through a school day, where children ask and learn, share and help, hope and heal, fail and try; with alternating spreads, we see what happens in the school day, and how it contributes to communities growing, celebrating, transforming. An inclusive group of families and cheerful mixed media artwork present a thriving urban community. What a wonderful way to send learners off into their communities for summer break, and an equally sterling way to welcome them back.

John Schu is a former classroom teacher and school librarian, a former Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs, and a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University. His blog, Mr. Schu Reads, is an excellent resource for anyone who loves kidlit. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter.

Veronica Miller Jamison is an illustrator and textile designer who trained as a fashion designer. She is the illustrator of Suzanne Slade’s A Computer Called Katherine. Find more of her illustration work at her website.

This is a School has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books about Birds

Birds are a great storytime theme: there are great songs and fingerplays, crafts are plentiful and adorable, and there’s a bird for every season. I’ve got some new(ish) bird books for your storytimes right here; let’s see what’s good.

Odd Birds: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Flock, by Laura Gehl/Illustrated by Gareth Lucas, (June 2022, Abrams Appleseed), $8.99, ISBN: 9781419742231

Ages 2-4

Laura Gehl and Gareth Lucas’s companion board book to Odd Beasts (2021) has gone to the birds! Odd Birds is a rhyming look at eight different birds, all with unusual characteristics: “This seabird has a pouch. / This booby has blue feet. / This shoebill’s beak is huge. / This ostrich likes the heat.” Striking, colorful illustration brings these birds to life, with a new spread for every encounter. Back matter includes photos and descriptions on each of the eight featured birds: the magnificent frigatebird; the blue-footed booby; the ostrich; the shoebill stork; the hoatzin; the oilbird; the California condor, and the burrowing owl. An excellent storytime choice.

 

The Song of the Nightingale, by  Tanya Landman/Illustrated by Laura Carlin, (Apr. 2022, Candlewick Studio), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217681

Ages 6-9

A newly created world thrums with color, but the animals are so drab! The Painter sets to work, imbuing each animal with color and patterns, from the striped zebras and blue whales to the golden scarab beetle. As the day comes to an end and the animals head back to their homes, the Painter discovers a shy bird, preferring the quiet and stillness of the nighttime, has come forward for a splash of color. Will the Painter have enough paint left?

This rich story carries the lyricism and storytelling magic of myth and legend. Tanya Landman uses sporadic rhyme, alliteration, and humor to tell her story and enchant readers. Watercolor, acrylic, and pencil illustrations add a dreamlike quality, letting readers easily imagine an omniscient Painter wielding a paintbrush to bring color to their world. Th titular character’s gift adds a final spark of wonder. Endpapers show black and white and colorful menageries. A gorgeous story that wraps itself around readers.

Show kids a picture of a nightingale at National Geographic. Print out some coloring pages and let kids become Painters! Here are some nightingale pictures, and here are some wild animal coloring pages.

 

Chirp!, by Mary Murphy, (March 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217698

Ages 2-6

Mary Murphy has entered that realm of go-to authors I always have ready for anyone who asks me for book suggestions for early readers: Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, Donald Crews, and Mary Murphy. With Chirp!, different birds show off their different songs as the night gradually moves toward a bright new day. A little bluebird demands their turn, and the other birds join in, serenading the new day. Bold, easy-to-read fonts and high-contrast illustrations make this an excellent lapsit choice for babies, too!

With colorful, bold illustrations, cheerful rhymes, and lovable characters, kids love looking at her books, and grownups love reading them. An insta-buy for storytime collections.

 

The Legend of the Storm Goose, by Fiona Halliday, (Feb. 2022, Page Street Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781645673484

Ages 5-8

Fiona Halliday creates a legend, inspired by the Scottish coastline of her childhood, about a magical bird that protects those who live and work along the coast. Erin is a little girl living with her dad and her Nana, and loves hearing her father’s stories about the Storm Goose, a great white bird who protects him while he’s at sea. Shortly after he returns to the sea, a terrible storm hits and she discovers an injured bird, tangled in a net. Is it the Storm Goose? And if it is, who’s protecting her Papa?

The Legend of the Storm Goose is a moving story of grief, loss, and recovery. Illustrations add a mythic quality to the overall look and feel of the story, with the Storm Goose wreathed in gold dust; a shimmering aura. A sensitive story about healing oneself by healing another.

Posted in Uncategorized

A note, and then back to posting

I tried to post about my hiatus being over, but apologizing in advance for my posting schedule being a little sketchy, but I’ve been having a hard time getting up the oomph to do a whole heck of a lot I apologize.

Two weeks ago, I lost my dad. It wasn’t sudden, but it was unexpected, and it’s thrown me into a tailspin. I’m starting to come out of it, but there are some days where it’s all I can do to get out of bed and get to work. If I’m taking longer than usual to respond to emails or get posts up, I hope you understand.

That said, I’m working on getting back to a regular posting schedule. So, once again, thank you for hanging in there with me.

Posted in Uncategorized

Missing Mommy: Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle, by Nina LaCour/Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (March 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536211511

Ages 3-7

A little girl loves her cuddly life with her Mama and her Mommy, but when Mommy has to go away for a week for work, she misses her more than anything. This book just bursts with joy and love, and is spot-on for any child who misses a beloved presence in their lives; something Nina LaCour touches on when the little girl shares her feelings with her class, and her friends weigh in, missing older siblings away at school, parents in another country, and pets that have run away. Nina LaCour embraces the childhood ache of missing a parent and the residual feelings when Mommy returns, and the little girl experiences the mixed emotions upon her return. She’s thrilled to have Mommy back home where she belongs, but confronts resentment at being left in the first place. Kaylani Juanita’s colorful mixed media illustrations show a loving family who lavish affection on one another. Mommy and the little girl are brown-skinned with hair and skin patches that allude to vitiligo. Mama is light-skinned, with lilac hair and tattoos. Inclusive and honest, Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle touches on all the right emotions kids experience when missing someone.

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle has starred reviews from Booklist, Bookpage, and Publishers Weekly.