Posted in Preschool Reads, picture books

Where Butterflies Fill the Sky evokes memories of home

Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home, by Zahra Marwan, (March 2022, Bloomsbury USA), $18.99, ISBN: 9781547606511

Ages 4-8

Zahra is a young girl living in Kuwait, where “the desert reaches all the way to the sea and one hundred butterflies are always in the sky”. She is surrounded by love and by family; by her ancestors, who watch over her. When her father and mother tell her they are no longer welcome in the only home she has known, forcing the family to move far away to New Mexico, she feels unmoored: will her ancestors know where to find her? She misses her aunts, and misses being surrounded by people who speak her language. Slowly, though, Zahra and her family discover moments of familiarity: of music; of friendship; of belonging. Eventually, Zahra discovers that she can hold onto her home, where she has her aunts who love her and her ancestors who watch over them, and she can make this new “place of high desert” a home, with new friends and new traditions. Back matter includes the story of Zahra’s family and a word about the art. Zahra Marwan’s ink and watercolor artwork is dreamlike, to match her memories of her childhood. Colors are warm, influenced by her desert upbringing and move and her feelings of family. She tells her story in spare prose that creates images that will leave their mark on readers’ hearts. Endpapers with butterflies and balloons provide a link with the story. Invite readers to create butterflies or balloon crafts as an extension activity. Booktalk Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies by Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So and talk about the use of butterfly migration in stories about immigration. Visit Zahra Marwan’s website for more about her books and her illustration.

Where Butterflies Fill the Sky has a starred review from School Library Journal and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
Posted in Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Books About Nature to Brighten Your Spring

It’s time for a roundup! This time, we’ve got nature books to enjoy now that the Spring weather finally looks like it’s going to stick around. Get comfortable by your favorite tree, or sit in the warmth of the sun, and enjoy some of these Spring-y books.

Be Thankful for Trees : A tribute to the many & surprising ways trees relate to our lives, by Harriet Ziefert/Illustrated by Brian Fitzgerald, (March 2022, Red Comet Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781636550206

Ages 4-8

This is a fantastic way to introduce younger readers to all the great ways people and animals depend on trees! A rhyming tale expounds on the seven big things trees provide: food; comfort; music; art; recreation; home, and life. Colorful illustrations shows trees in nature, and how they’re used in day-to-day life, from providing a forest full of animals with food, to a kitchen table seating a family for dinner; from a child playing a piano, to a bird feeding her babies high up on a branch. Each area opens with a repetitive question and answer: “Would life be satisfying/good/possible without trees? It would not!” During a read-aloud, it’s the perfect opportunity for interaction; invite your littles to tell you what they think. The verse reminds also readers that trees are essential to life on earth, and the man-made disasters that threaten them, like deforestation and forest fire; Ziefert encourages readers to “explore a cool forest with its pine-scented breeze” and to “remember forever, BE THANKFUL FOR TREES!”. Playful, cheery color illustrations add to the fun verse, and golden leaves pop from the blue endpapers, really making this a wonderful book for early childhood natural science readalouds.

Author Harriet Ziefert has written hundreds of children’s books. You can see more of illustrator Brian Fitzgerald’s work at his website.

Visit Red Comet’s book detail page for a free, downloadable Teachers Guide. TeachersPayTeachers has a wealth of free learning activities about trees. I really like the idea of adopting a “class tree” and journaling observations over the course of a school year, as Robynn Drerup’s class has. Amanda Whitaker also has a fun tree journal for kids. Our Time to Learn’s Tree Animals Coloring sheet is great to hand out after a readaloud.

Firsts and Lasts: The Changing Seasons, by Leda Schubert/Illustrated by Clover Robin, (March 2022, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536211023

Ages 4-8

Every season comes with its own unique firsts and lasts. Leda Schubert and illustrator Clover Robin beautifully capture these moments in Firsts and Lasts: The Changing Season. Organized by season, the book offers gentle observation designed to provoke memories and warm feelings as we follow family through the year: Spring is the last time they (and we) wear snowsuits and build snow forts, but it’s the first time they see new grass, and wash the car; in the Fall, it’s the last time for things like going to the ice cream stand, but it’s the first time for seeing wooly caterpillars and jumping in leaves. Cut paper illustrations add a playful whimsy and the colors capture the feelings for each season; crisp winter skies and warm autumn leaves; bright spring flowers and lush summer landscapes. It’s a wonderful illustration of the transition nature – and people! – go through from season to season, and offers opportunities for kids to share their observations on seasonal change.

First and Lasts has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

KB3Teach has a fun Seasons Cut and Paste activity on TeachersPayTeachers that nicely extends this book. Teresa Tretbar’s Amazing Literacy has seasonal coloring pages and posters for you to hand out, too.

Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits, by Olaf Hajek (Illustrations) and Annette Roeder (Text), (Apr. 2022, Prestel Junior), $19.95, ISBN: 9783791375069

Ages 6-9

Olaf Hajek has made beautiful art from vegetables and flowers; now, fruit gets the Hajek treatment in Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits. Annette Roeder returns to provide fun and interesting profiles on 25 fruits, like the pomegranate, also known as the “apple of discord” that was created, according to Greek myth, by an angry goddess of strife and discord; the banana, whose curve is slowly being bred out of the fruit in order to make for easier stacking; and the fig, whose juice can help against insect bites. Factual information on each fruit’s countries of origin, and other names and varieties of each fruit run across the bottom of each profile, and – as we’ve come to expect from Hajek – colorful, stunning portraits are the star of the show in this oversized volume. A fox and a woman collect orange juice from giant fruits hanging from a tree in one painting; another woman serves cherry cake to a young boy and a bird as cherries hang from a tree and provide a headdress; a porcupine carries a gigantic blackberry and raspberry on its back through a field. Hajek’s playfully surreal artwork is sure to catch eyes and make new fans as they pore through the pages of this gorgeous book. Great for art sections and 634 sections (fruits, naturally!).

Visit Olaf Hajek’s illustrator webpage for more of his work.

 

What’s Cooking in Flowerville? Recipes from Balconies, Rooftops, and Gardens, by Felicita Sala, (Apr. 2022, Prestel Junior), $14.95, ISBN: 9783791375182

Ages 6-10

Flowerville is a bustling, multicultural neighborhood where everyone loves to grow and share food! Beginning in April, the book takes readers through the year, month by month, with Flowerville citizens tending to their plants: in April, Maria chops down her asparagus spears; in July, Ramon tests the floating ability of a cucumber as his parent waters the plants. Each month features a new recipe, made with ingredients shown in the artwork. In July, we get creamy tzatziki sauce; in November, roasted beet dip. Warm and colorful artwork shows families and friends sharing food and friendship, and gardening tips and recipes make this a handy gardening guide for families and classes. Pair with Francine Sala’s What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street and Cynthia Cliff’s Pie for Breakfast for a worldwide trip for the palate.

Felicita Sala’s webpage has more of her illustration work, and a link to her food illustration is a must-see.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Two Lions Celebrates Children’s Book Week with FREE EBOOKS

Happy Children’s Book Week! I just got the news that Two Lions/Amazon Publishing is offering free ebooks to celebrate this week!

You may recognize some of these books (especially my best T-Rexter buddy, Dexter); you may even have hard copies. But now, you can get e-copies to have handy whenever the occasion pops up – impromptu storytimes, long train rides (or car rides, if you and the kiddos don’t get car sick), or just those lovely “I’m so BOOOOOOOORED” moments that pop up, whether you’re visiting, sitting and waiting for a parent-teacher meeting, or out at a restaurant that actually has flatware on the tables.

Two Lions has a website ready for you to view and download your books, along with discussion prompts and reading tips, courtesy of Amazon’s nonprofit partner, Reading is Fundamental.

Now, go get your books!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Before the World Wakes, by Estelle Laure

Remember those mornings when you were a kid, when you were awake before everyone else woke up and it felt like you were the only person in the world? That spirit of magic and anticipation is the heart of Estelle Laure and Paola Zakimi’s Before the World Wakes.

Before the World Wakes, by Estelle Laure/Illustrated by Paola Zakimi,
(April 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542028837

Ages 4-7

Two siblings awaken in the wee hours of the morning and explore the world around them, enjoying each other’s company. It’s the best time of day: it’s not too bright; there’s not a lot of noise; they aren’t rushing to be anywhere. Estelle Laure’s lyrical prose evokes the best childhood memories and makes them available to a new audience, brought to life by Paola Zakimi’s gentle watercolor, pencil, and gouache illustrations. Phrases like, “The stars say good morning at the same time / they say good night, / and we watch the moon pull them home, / as night and day hold hands” beautifully capture the gentle time before the hectic rush of the day begins; the spread brings the words together by illustrating a waking sky, moving from midnight blue to soft blue, stars and moon still twinkling in the sky, with a pink and yellow dawn moving in from the east and bringing secrets of the day with it: flowers perking up to greet the sun, and snails creeping out to snack on morning dew. Perspectives shift from close-up portraits of the children watching the world awaken around them, moving out to glimpse them dancing in their blanket capes, to their toes squishing into the “wet grass that is cold but not too cold”. Before the World Wakes is a joyful celebration of childhood, of exploration, and of the anticipation of a new day.

A great sensory storytime read aloud, inviting kids to talk about how they “feel” their days begin: the warmth of a blanket versus the shiver of cold air when they emerge from their blankets; the feel of a floor – grass or otherwise! – under their feet, the sounds of the morning, from the birds outside to the chatter in their homes as everyone starts their day.

“The poetic text and charming pictures celebrate a special time and universal feelings” – Booklist

Estelle Laure is the author of six young adult novels, including This Raging Light, Mayhem, Remember Me, and the City of Villains series, and the picture book The Perfect Pet for You, illustrated by Amy Hevron. She lives with her family in New Mexico, where you can often find her walking the dogs and watching the sun rise before the world wakes. For more about Estelle, visit www.estellelaure.com or on Instagram: @estellelaurewrites

Paola Zakimi is the illustrator of Secrets I Know by Kallie George, Teddy & Co. by Cynthia Voigt, The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains by Annie Silvestro, and Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Viessid. She is also a doll maker and fine artist and lives in Argentina. Her favorite part of the early morning is listening to the buzz of the bees while the sun comes out all bright and beautiful. You can learn more about her at www.paolazakimi.com or Instagram: @paolazakimi
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Earth: We’ve only got one.

What do you do when you have some really cool, new, science-y stories? You put together a supercool Science Storytime!

Only One, by Deborah Hopkinson and Chuck Groenik, (Apr. 2022, Anne Schwartz Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399557033

Ages 4-8

A young girl talks to her friends and family about the story of the universe from the Big Bang to the development of our big blue dot, planet Earth, and how it evolved to sustain life. As the narrative progresses, we see that she’s leading her group to a tree planting event. Only One is perfect Earth Day reading, filled with interesting observations about the formation of the universe and the planets, and about our own planet’s uniqueness and ability to host a multitude of diverse life forms: “But though there are seven billion of us, / we are unique, / with bodies, brains, fingerprints, / and feelings of our own”. Arcylic, ink, and Photoshop illustrations beautifully bring the story to life, bringing the girl’s story to life through vivid word balloons and showing the group small against the giant scale of a forest, the clouds, and the atmosphere; pulling back, a spread shifts to show a diverse group of people coming together to plant trees against a forest shore. Additional resources guide readers to more information about caring for our planet and about climate change. A lovely reminder that we have one planet and to be mindful stewards, while empowering readers to take action. Miss Becca’s Classroom on TeachersPayTeachers has a free downloadable climate change activism activity that would make a good display piece or storytime handout for readers in grades K-2.

 

Posted in picture books

Happy Book Birthday to I Love Strawberries!

I Love Strawberries!, by Shannon Anderson/Illustrated by Jaclyn Sinquett, (Apr. 2022, Feeding Minds Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781948898065

Ages 4-8

Jo is a young girl who LOVES strawberries; so much, that she wants to grow her own. Can she convince her parents that’s she’s responsible enough for the task? Told through Jo’s journal entries and narration, this fun STEM story is perfect for springtime reading. Jo is an immediately likable and funny narrator who goes from adding red marker lines on her face in an attempt to look older in a flash to a thoughtful strawberry farmer who journals her process, from planting grass seeds for her rabbit and raising money for her strawberry plants to protecting her fledgling strawberry crop from “bird attacks” and using her newly grown fruit in recipes. She’s enterprising, growing a small business out of her flourishing strawberry plants, and she may have a new plan for the next year. A fun, informative story with a biracial main character and a step-by-step process in growing and maintaining one’s own food. Green endpapers feature burgeoning strawberry plants, and back matter includes information on growing strawberry plants and pest management. The I Love Strawberries! page on Feedings Minds’s website is loaded with free downloadable goodies, including coloring pages and an educator’s guide.

If you have the budget for it, consider a fun grab-and-go planting project – it doesn’t have to be strawberries! Include a little notebook so kids can journal their progress like Jo does!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Pruett and Soo!

A robot and alien make friendship and life colorful in this adorable story by Nancy Viau.

Pruett & Soo, by Nancy Viau/Illustrated by Jorge Lacera,
(March 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542043427
Ages 4-7

Pruett is an adorable little robot with a computer monitor for a head, living on Planet Monochrome, where everything is… well, monochrome. Signs all over the place remind citizens to “Blend In. Wear Only Black, Gray, or White. Be Calm”, and encourage them to never ask questions, never play, and never use colorful crayons. That all changes when Soo, a colorful alien from Planet Prismatic, shows up in class one day! She’s a friendly extrovert who wants to share crayons and talk to her new classmates, and is stymied by the distanced reaction she gets. Pruett, who desperately wants to break out of his black, white, and grey world, sees Soo being rebuffed and becoming progressively sadder and lonelier, takes the chance: a colorful exclamation point lights up above his head, and he invites Soo to play tag. The two friends have so much fun together, that they spread a little of their joy – and their color – through the classroom. A colorful, playful story about taking the first step and affecting positive change, Pruett and Soo combines picture book narration with comic book word balloons to denote conversations between characters. The story begins in monochromatic black, white, and gray, and uses color to show the infectious fun Soo and Pruett bring to Planet Monochrome; a change reflected in the characters’ mannerisms and fonts, which become as colorful as Soo’s with time. The digital illustrations will delight young video gamers familiar with 8-bit games like Minecraft and Roblox.

Bottom line: Don’t let anyone dull your color. Change the world by adding some color! Pair this with F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, and Rafael López’s book, Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, to illustrate how bringing color to a landscape brings positive change.

“The unlikely friendship at the heart of this allegorical picture book is touching. Viau’s writing is engaging.” Kirkus Reviews

“Highlighting the value of asserting one’s individuality in the face of pressures to conform, this vivid episode can stand alone or fit neatly into a storytime. – Booklist

Nancy Viau is the author of a number of books for children including Storm Song, illustrated by Gynux; Today Is a Beach Day!, illustrated by Charlie Alder; First Snow, illustrated by Talitha Shipman; and the Samantha Hansen series. A former teacher, she currently lives in New Jersey and travels around the solar system in her imagination. Learn more at nancyviau.com.

Twitter: @NancyViau1

Instagram: @nancyviau1

Facebook: Nancy Viau

 

Jorge Lacera was born in Colombia and grew up in Florida. He attended Ringling College of Art and Design and has worked as an artist or art director at major gaming studios and entertainment companies. He is the illustrator of Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies by Megan Lacera and XO, Exoplanet by Deborah Underwood. He lives in Canada with his family. Learn more at studiolacera.com.

Twitter: jlacera

Instagram: jlacera

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Apple and Magnolia: A STEM story woven into a friendship tale

Apple and Magnolia, by Laura Gehl/Illustrated by Patricia Metola, (Feb. 2022, Flyaway Books), $18, ISBN: 9781947888357

Ages 3-7

Apple and Magnolia are two trees with a connection, witnessed by a young girl of color named Britta. She enjoys the tree’s relationship to one another; her father and sister may not believe her, but her grandmother assures her that “unusual friendships can be the most powerful of all”. When Magnolia begins to show signs of being ill, Britta does her best to stay by her friends and support them both, using the scientific method to help facilitate the trees’ connection to the other: she connects two cups to a string so they can hear each other; wrapping a scarf between the two to feel each other’s warmth; measuring the distance between the trees to see if they are growing closer together, and journaling her findings, all with the support and love of her grandmother. Britta’s father and sister are largely for comic relief, providing the devil’s advocate side of science: the nay-sayer. Cheery illustrations that look like they could be taken from Britta’s own journal make this a wonderfully playful readaloud, including endpapers that depict Britta’s sketches of the trees and their flowers and fruit. Inspired by the science of trees and how they communicate with one another, Apple and Magnolia is a great storytime readaloud and perfection for a STEM storytime or Discovery Club-type story. Author Laura Gehl’s website has a free downloadable Educator’s Guide for Apple and Magnolia, plus resources her many of her other books.

For more information about trees and their relationships to one another, visit this NPR article on an ecologist who’s studied trees; this article from Smithsonian magazine; and this article from One Tree Planted. Andy Hirsch’s Science Comics Trees: Kings of the Forest also delves into these complex and amazing relationships.

Apple and Magnolia has starred reviews from Kirkus and Foreword Reviews.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

What is The Most Important Thing?

The Most Important Thing, by Antonella Abbatiello, (March 2022, Red Comet Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781636550220

Ages 3-6

A group of animals has a discussion about what each considers “the most important thing”. Is it to have long ears, to hear any potential danger? Quills, to protect oneself? Maybe it’s a long neck, to keep an eye out for danger. Each animals takes a turn expounding on why a quality they possess is the most important, and the other animals envision themselves with those traits in amusing, large-size foldout spreads, and the recurring rhyming phrase, “That could be true. / Perhaps it is so. ‘ It could be [trait], / but how can we know?” helps readers with predicting what’s coming next. A wise owl weighs in with the importance of uniqueness and variety being important, bringing home the message that everyone is unique; everyone has a special quality that makes them special and important. Flaps are sturdy and fun to fold out, and the illustrations of elephants with quills; flying snakes and foxes; giraffes and alligators with gopher teeth, and more make this a home run for storytime reading.

The Most Important Thing was originally published in Italy in 1998, and it beautifully holds up today. Download the free activity kit through the Red Comet website and have copies on hand for a storytime activity.