Posted in picture books

Books that love beautiful weather

I’ve been going through my TBR as we sit in time out for a little while. Today’s picture book slam is all about books to read while enjoying the beautiful weather. Grab some books (they’re available via ebook – check your libraries or order from your indies; many have ebooks!), sit outside with your littles, and enjoy every moment.

The Bear’s Garden, by Marcie Colleeen/Illustrated by Alison Oliver, (March 2020, Imprint/Macmillan), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250314819

A young girl envisions a community garden from a spilled plant in this story, based on the actual Pacific Street Brooklyn Bear’s Community Garden in Brooklyn, New York. Living in the inner city, the girl sees potential in everything: a cardboard box, a tomato can, a seed. When her tomato can plant falls over, she sees “a baby garden”, and tends to the seedling where it landed. As her plant grows, people being slowing down, admiring her progress. But the girl has to leave, and she worries that without her love, her plants will suffer, so she makes the decision to leave her teddy bear behind. Under the bear’s loving eye, the neighborhood comes together to create a community garden filled with life, color, and love. Colorful and upbeat, The Bear’s Garden illustrates the beauty of imagination, creation, and community coming together. Endpapers are laid out like a map of the boroughs; the back endpapers focuses on Brooklyn, with a colorful burst of flowers noting where the Bear’s Garden can be found.

Consider a planting activity with your own kiddos – I love this Buzzfeed link that has different types of kitchen scraps that you can grow; Kids Gardening has a downloadable planting activity using kitchen scraps.

The Bear’s Garden has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Kaia and the Bees, by Maribeth Boelts/Illustrated by Angela Dominguez, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201055

Ages 4-8

Kaia is a little girl who is pretty brave, but one thing scares her: Bees. She tries to keep it a secret from her friends, but when she’s spooked by a bee flying by her, she turns to her beekeper dad: she wants to go up on the roof with him, to his apiary. She’s doing great with the bees, until she slips her glove off and one stings her finger! Just when Kaia thinks she’s done with bees, she has a moment where she faces her fears and discovers that maybe bees aren’t so scary after all.

A story about bravery and empathy, with a smart message about our environment and urban apiaries, Kaia and the Bees warmly addresses relatable fears – in this case, bees – and how the smallest steps can lead to big progress. Kaia is relatable; she’s brave and smart, but hides her fear of bees until she’s called out on it. Her beekeeper father explains how bees are important to our world, and how his work – the family’s work – as beekeepers helps keep bees safe and healthy. Maribeth Boelts, herself a beekeeper, brings her love of bees and social mindfulness to Kaia’s voice, while Angela Dominguez’s cartoon-realist illustrations give readers an expressive, accessible heroine and a multicultural family living and thriving in an urban setting. Endpapers give readers a peek into a beehive, complete with nonthreatening, cute bees.

There are some interesting facts about honeybees available from NatGeo Kids. Hobby Farms has information on beekeping safety for kids who want to be like Kaia. The New York City Beekeepers Assocation has education on urban beekeeping. Introduce kids to urban beekeeping with Kaia and with Lela Nargi’s book, The Honeybee Man; The Honeybee Conservancy also offers a good list of bee books for children.

 

Hike, by Pete Oswald, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201574

Ages 4-8

A dad and child wake up and hit the trail for a day’s hike. As they walk a trail together, they notice the beauty of their surroundings: spy a family of deer; track a black bear’s footprints; indulge in a snowball fight, and contribute their own offering to the forest: they plant a sprig from a tree. A celebration of the parent-child bond and our world, Hike is largely wordless, relying on the illustrations to tell the story. The colors are warm, drawn from nature, and the father and child share a visibly warm, loving relationship that invites caregivers and their kids to put on their hiking boots – or sneakers! – and explore their world. Be it a backyard, an urban neighborhood, or a suburban landscape, there’s always something to discover together. A sepia set of endpapers present a map, with start and finish points noted.

I loved the idea of a DIY Nature Journal like this one from KC Edventures. Last year, when I was home with my little guy during Spring Break, we made a nature journal with brown paper lunch bags and went wandering around our neighborhood, collecting cool leaves, acorns, and pebbles we found and liked. Kiddo loved it, and I printed out photos I snapped during our walk to add to the pages. The Pragmatic Parent has a great, free Nature Scavenger Hunt PDF that kids will love, too.

Hike has five starred reviews.

 

Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant, by Allan Drummond, (March 2020, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374308995

Ages 5-10

This is nonfiction that appeals to multiple grades. The story of the Noor Solar Power Plant in Morocco’s Sahara Desert – the largest solar power plant in the world – wraps around a story about everyday life in a small village next to the plant. Jasmine and Nadia are two friends who go on a class trip to the plant; during that trip, the girls’ class and readers will learn about Morocco and how the power plant creates jobs and improves the quality of life by bringing turnkey skills, technology, and the magic word, sustainability.

By giving readers relatable guides in the forms of Jasmine and Nadia, readers get a glimpse of life in a small Moroccan village, where the villagers have farm animals and cook on open fires, and the huge sprawl of the power plant and the modernity it brings while honoring the culture of the people who inhabit the area. The teacher engages her students, and readers, by asking thoughtful questions; most notably, “what does sustainability mean?”, to get her students and our readers ready for the school trip that illustrates how the power plant creates sustainability.

Watercolor illustrations and word balloon dialogue make this an enjoyable read. Warm yellows wander through the story, and earth tones and blues bring the reader to the land and its people. The teacher and many female children wear hijab. Sidebars throughout provide more detailed information about Morocco, the power plant, and sustainability. An author’s note showcases photos of workers at the Noor plant and a bibliography provides an opportunity for more reading. Endpapers bookend the story by having Nadia and Jasmine meet before the trip, and head back to school after.

A good addition to STEM collections. Toms of Maine has some easy to do activities to teach kids about solar power. Time for Kids has a 2016 article about the Noor plant.

 

That’s it for this time, I want to get this posted! More books coming!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Humor, Preschool Reads

Welcome to New York. Now, STOP FEEDIN’ DA BOIDS!

Stop Feedin’ the Boids!, by James Sage/Illustrated by Pierre Pratt, (Apr. 2017, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-77138-613-5

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young girl named Swanda moves to Brooklyn. Missing all the local wildlife she used to enjoy, she spots a pigeon on a rooftop and decides to set up a feeder on her fire escape. Since Swanda appears to be new to New York living, she has no idea what can of worms she’s opened, and before she can say, “bagel”, pigeons swarm the fire escape. New Yorkers know all too well what a horde of pigeons brings, and sure enough, Swanda’s neighbors find themselves under siege as the pigeons leave their mark as literally as they do figuratively.

Stop Feedin’ Da Boids is a love letter to New York. Sage and Pratt capture the city’s diversity by giving us a heroine of color, and in the bustling community. The pages are loaded with representatives of different cultures and colors; Hasidim and Rastafarian, women with rollers in their hair, kids running through the street, men chatting with one another. Pratt even captures the New York pigeon to perfection, with the bright yellow eyes that target lock on any scrap of food in the birds’ vicinity, and the grey/black bodies with a hint of color, usually green. Sage nails the New Yawk accent so well when Swanda’s beleaguered neighbors gather together to tell Swanda, “YOU GOTTA STOP FEEDIN’ DA BOIDS!” that any reader, anywhere, will hear it, as clear as a clanging bell.

This makes a great read-aloud – you can go to town with the voice! – and invite the kids to give their best New York accents a whirl. Let them feel like part of the city! There are oodles of New York-centric books to add to a New York/New Yawk storytime: Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny books spotlight Mo’s art over black and white photos of Brooklyn, home of Swanda and the pigeons; Mommy Poppins has a nice list of New York-related books to choose from, and I also love Christoph Niemann’s Subway and Bryan Collier’s Uptown. You could also have a pigeon read-aloud, which gives you an excuse to read Mo Willems’ Pigeon books. (Not that anyone needs an excuse to read Mo.) A fun storytime craft that may or may not get you in trouble: a bird feeder. Or you can do the sticker/coloring sheet thing, too.

Stop Feedin’ Da Boids! received a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Surreal Brooklyn: Vassa in the Night

vassaVassa in the Night, by Sarah Porter, (Sept. 2016, Tor/Forge), $17.99, ISBN: 9780765380548

Recommended for ages 12+

A retelling of the Russian folktale “Vassilissa the Beautiful” introduces readers to a surrealistic, modern-day Brooklyn where magic and mayhem rule the day. Vassa is a teen living with her stepmother, half-sister, and stepsister; she really only gets along with Chelsea, who isn’t even technically related to her. She also has a wooden doll, Erg, that is alive and a bit of a kleptomaniac, but Vassa can’t tell anyone about her, so everyone thinks she’s the one with the problem. Mean-spirited Stephanie sends Vassa to the store in the middle of the night to pick up light bulbs, but the only store open is the awful BY’s, where they behead shoplifters and leave the heads on pikes outside the store. Vassa goes to the store, fully aware that Stephanie is trying to get her killed.

When she arrives at the store, she discovers that the outside of BY’s is just the beginning of the weirdness, and that she’s caught up in it more deeply than she could have guessed. She’d better hold on tight to Erg if she wants to get out alive.

If you love your fairy tales fractured, they don’t come any more flipped than Vassa in the Night. Magical realism fans will embrace this story and so will fans of surrealist writing. Vassa is a smart heroine who undertakes a hero’s journey here; Baba Yaga – called Babs here – is appropriately awful, and Erg emerges as the best sidekick since C-3P0 and R2D2 teamed up. There’s great character development, cringe-worthy moments, and some beautiful storytelling. Every time Sarah Porter describes the swans that gather around Vassa, I just want to close my eyes and listen to the beating of their feathers around me. There will be moments where you have to put the book down and wrap your head around what you’ve just read, but it’s all worth it. Read the original folktale here first if you want a better grasp on the story, or just dive in if you like to live dangerously.

Sarah Porter’s author website has more information about her books, a gallery of artwork (some inspired by her books), and updates from the author.

 

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Add Labyrinth Lost to your TBR NOW.

labyrinthLabyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1), by Zoraida Cordova, (Sept. 2016, Sourcebooks Fire), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492620945

Recommended for ages 13+

Alex lives in Brooklyn with her mom and her sisters. Her dad disappeared a few years ago, and she’s taking it hard, feeling responsible. She’s about to turn 16, so the family is planning her big party. Her Death Day party. Alex and her sisters are Brujas – witches – and they’re the very real thing. But Alex doesn’t want this power. In fact, she suppresses it as much as she can – but keeps that from her family – because she’s afraid of what would happen if she were to let it go. Again.

At her Death Day party, Alex thinks she’s going to cast a spell that would leave her powerless, but something goes haywire, and her entire family vanishes right before her eyes. Now, she’s forced to get help from a Brujo named Nova; they have to travel to the in-between world of Los Lagos to bring her family back, but can Alex even trust Nova? He’s got a lot of secrets and seems to be working from his own playbook.

I loved, loved, LOVED Labyrinth Lost: it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. The story is narrated in Alex’s voice, and she is hilarious. She’s full of snark – “resting witchface” is now a term I need to put into regular rotation – and she wields it like a weapon, guarding herself from the fears that plague her. Unchecked, her power makes her the most powerful witch in her family, and it frightens her, because she’s seen that power loosed once. Zoraida Cordova has a gift for breathing life into her characters; every single character in Labyrinth Lost is amazing. I love the interactions between Alex and her sisters and between Alex and her mother; the Lady and Nova; the characters she meets as she travels through Los Lagos, everyone. Cordova gives us wild fantasy with a realistic tale of a young woman struggling with adolescence. Her adolescence comes with dead relatives, portals to limbo, and witchcraft, but still, adolescence. Steeped in Latin American knowledge and tradition and filled with rich characters, Labyrinth Lost draws you into a world you won’t want to leave. Thankfully, it’s the first in a new series, so hopefully we’ll be visiting with the Brujas again sooner rather than later.

If you haven’t already added this to your YA collections, WHY? If you haven’t picked this up and read it yourself, stop reading this review immediately and go get a copy.

Zoraida Cordova has a great webpage where you can sign up for her newsletter, read interviews and learn more about her books, and follow her on social media.

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

It’s Sweater Weather! (the graphic novel, not the forecast)

sweater weatherSweaterweather, by Sara Varon (Feb. 2016, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626721180

Recommended for ages 10+

You may have seen Sara Varon’s work before – she’s given us fun, all-ages graphic novels like Bake Sale, Chicken & Cat, and Odd Duck, and we’ll also be getting President Squid this year (review coming). She draws friendly, fun animals (and squids) in a cartoon style that makes you just want to curl up with these characters, have a cup of tea, and chat.

Sweaterweather is a re-issue of the original 2003 version, with extra stories and content. It’s done in two-color, and is part graphic novel story collection, part peek into Sara Varon’s creative brain. We have stories, essays, and journal entries existing together, an invite for kids and teens to take a load off and enjoy socially awkward animals wandering around Brooklyn and hey, while you’re here, see what goes on in the mind of a creative person!

Kids who love graphic novels and animal fiction will enjoy Sweaterweather for the stories. Creative kids will appreciate the big picture Sara Varon displays for them, and maybe, get them journaling and doodling on their own.

Sara Varon’s author website is great for burgeoning artists and fans. There are sections devoted to her books and illustrations, updates, and links to pages for her favorite illustrators and designers. She’s also an award-winning author/illustrator: Odd Duck was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Children’s Books of 2013, Bake Sale was named a YALSA Great Graphic Novel for 2012, and Robot Dreams was on Oprah’s Kids’ Reading List in 2008. In 2013, Sara Varon was a Maurice Sendak Fellowship recipient.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the artwork from Sweaterweather.

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