Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Embrace Curiosity! Maia and the Very Tall Wall

Maia and the Very Tall Wall, by Brian Wray/Illustrated by Shiloh Penfield, (Sept. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764360800

Ages 4-7

Maia is a curious little girl who wonders out loud about anything that interests her. She especially wonders about a strange stone wall that’s behind her house. She notices that wall grows as she gets older; as that wall grows higher, Maia grows shyer, keeping her questions to herself. After multiple tries to get to find out what’s on the other side of the wall, she gathers her courage and states that she wants to know what’s on the other side of the wall: and a voice responds! The voice offers to lower a rope; Maia climbs it, and meets another curious girl on the other side. Having found one another, and their voices, the two are free to discover and explore and invite other children to make their own climb. Maia and the Very Tall Wall is an inspiring story that kids will see themselves in as they may have moved from inquisitive to quiet, worried about speaking up in public. It inspires children to embrace their curiosity and encourage it in others. Author Brian Wray and illustrator Shiloh Penfield create thoughtful stories together; here, Shiloh Penfield uses deep and soft colors to keep the story gentle and calming for readers. Brian Wray has a talent for writing about big emotions and feelings for young people; here, he’s captured the apprehension some children develop for fear of “asking too many questions” or “bothering people” and keeping their thoughts to themselves; this story is his way of nudging those worries away. Sharp-eyed readers will notice one of their precious characters, the stuffed rabbit in Unraveling Rose, riding in a baby carriage.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Max’s Box helps kids manage emotions

Max’s Box, by Brian Wray/Illustrated by Shiloh Penfield, (Sept. 2019, Schiffer Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764358043

Ages 4-8

A young boy named Max receives a box from his parents; they tell him he can put everything in the box, so he starts putting his favorite toys in the box but quickly discovers that he can put feelings and emotions in the box, too. Unfortunately, as Max adds feelings to the box – hurt, embarrassment, frustration – the box becomes bigger and heavier to bear, and Max’s quality of life is affected: he can’t do things he used to enjoy, like riding a bike or climbing trees, because of the unwieldy, enormous box. Luckily, a prospective friend and a ladybug lead Max to a joyful, creative solution.

Max’s Box is a clean, easy-to-understand story about emotions, and how suppressing them can cast a shadow over everything we do. As the box first becomes loaded with Max’s physical clutter, his parents buy him a wagon to tote it around, asking him if the Box is getting too big for him. Max’s response, “I can carry it”, will resonate with adults and kids who feel like negative emotions can be a burden on others.  All it takes as a boy willing to keep Max company and a surprise visit from a ladybug to lift Max’s spirits and give him an idea: to create the image of a balloon, floating away; other see this and contribute their own balloons, communicating the value of creative visualization. The grey and white artwork gradually fills in with bright colors as Max and others lighten their loads, sending physical and emotional baggage free. As Max’s dad says, “It’s ok to have all kinds of feelings… but once you feel them, their job is done”. An author note about expressing emotion offers tips for adults who want to help children healthily manage and express their emotions.

A good read-aloud for younger grades that invites discussion. I’d love to see some parent-educator resources for this.