Posted in picture books

Celebrate World Meditation Day with Already a Butterfly

It’s World Meditation Day, and to relax and ease yourself into a meaningful day, I’ve got a gorgeous book to share with you, by Julia Alvarez and Raúl Colón.

Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story, by Julia Alvarez/Illustrated by Raúl Colón,
(June 2021, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781627799324

Ages 5-9

Mari Posa is a young butterfly who has way too much to do and not enough time to do it: she has to gulp down nectar, pollinate a whole field, do her wing exercises, and then she has her future to think about! There’s just no time to enjoy being a butterfly, or take in the beautiful flowers she meets through her day… Luckily, a flower bud named Bud is there to teach Mari the secret with feeling happy “being just who I am”. Raúl Colón’s watercolor, pencil, and crayon artwork is dreamlike, with gorgeous images of nature and person-butterfly hybrids cascading across the pages. Together, Julia Alvarex and Raúl Colón have created an story with purpose, where a child of color is not only the star of the book, but one who experiences joy simply by acknowledging her own existence. Her name, Mari Posa itself, is a lovely nod to Latinx culture; mariposa is a Spanish term for butterfly. Helpful meditation techniques help lead kids and caregivers through the process, from breathing, to visualization, to being aware of one’s surroundings. I love this beautiful story. Perfect for a yoga and/or mindfulness storytime, before bedtime, or celebrating the beautiful beginning to a new day.

An author’s note on author Julia Alvarez’s own experience with meditation and her granddaughters, while volunteering at the Marisposa DR Foundation, describes her inspiration for Already a Butterfly and includes photos of Ms. Alvarez with her Mariposas in training. Colorful endpapers sprout flowers that readers will want to stop and enjoy again and again.

Print out some copies of the author’s Tips for Meditation, and make them available to your families! If there was ever a time to encourage our kids to practice mindfulness and meditation, this is it.

 

Julia Alvarez (@writerjalvarez) is the author of numerous bestselling and award-winning novels including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of Butterflies, collections of poems, and works of nonfiction as well as picture books. She has won the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature, and the National Medal of Arts.

Raúl Colón (@raul.colon.7140) has illustrated several highly acclaimed picture books, including Draw!; the New York Times-bestselling Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt; Susanna Reich’s José! Born to Dance; and Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. Mr. Colón lived in Puerto Rico as a young boy and now resides in New City, New York, with his family.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

We only get one world. Books to help us care for it.

Bea’s Bees, by Katherine Pryor/Illustrated by Ellie Peterson, (March 2019, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764356995

Ages 5-8

Beatrix is a young girl who loves to listen to and watch the bees buzzing around their hive in a tree on her way home from school. They zig and zag from flower to flower, and head back to the hive, weighed down with pollen and nectar. But one day, the tree is silent, and Bea discovers that the flowers by the tree have all been cut down. She take a trip to the library and researches bees: what flowers they like to feast on, the important part bees play in our own food web, and how some bees are an endangered species. She takes action, planting seeds for mint, clover, and flowers that bees like; she encourages others to plant wildflowers, even handing out seed packets; she even does her science fair project on bees. Can Bea’s dedication bring the bees back to the tree? A moving story about the impact one person can make on helping the environment, Bea’s Bees is realistic fiction that weaves information about bees, environmental impact, and activism seamlessly into the story of a young girl. Back matter has more information about being a friend to bees, and the artist’s rendering of plants that Bea grows in her garden will encourage readers to grab their shovels and some seeds. Endpapers feature dancing, realistic bees against a white backdrop. A good pick to put aside for Earth Day. Read and display with Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann’s award-winning Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera. If you’re doing grab-and-go bags, consider handing out some seeds for flowers that will grow in your area and that bees enjoy. I looked at the NY State Parks blog and found this article; the Native NY Gardens website also has helpful information. Buggy and Buddy has adorable and affordable craft ideas and books to feature.

 

The Tiny Giant, by Barbara Ciletti/Illustrated by Cathy Morrison, (Sept. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764360299

Ages 5-8

On the heels of Earth Day is Arbor Day (April 30th in 2021), and The Tiny Giant is great Arbor Day reading. A tiny acorn falls from a blue jay’s mouth, and settles into the ground as the seasons, and life, goes on around it. As the seasons change, the seed within the acorn swells and bursts through, with roots anchoring a tentative sapling poking up through the dirt. The sapling will grow until one day, it will provide acorns for future trees, too. The Tiny Giant plays with perspective, shifting from traditional left-right reading to top-bottom as the tree grows, letting storytime listeners see the exciting shift as the tree grows tall. One and two-sentence spreads use beautiful language to describe the sights unfolding: “…blossoms parade along the branches of the tall oak”, “Buds dress in sleeves of summer’s glory”, “…warm summer rain feed the little seed as it sends a single spare thread of life toward the sky”. The story is about a tiny acorn, but the incredible, detailed artwork shows the life that goes on around the acorn as it begins its journey into a mighty tree; seasons pass, animals wander the landscape in search of food and shelter, leaves curl and wither in the snow, and ripe blackberries burst through the pages as spring arrives. It’s a celebration of life and nature, a look at seasons, and a primary STEM story. Wonderfully done. Back matter includes artwork on North American acorns, Arbor Day Fun Facts, and how readers can grow their own oaks from acorns. Endpapers are decorated with leaves and acorns, faded and pale against a light blue background. The Arbor Day Foundation has a kids corner with digital games and printable coloring sheetsPBS Cartoon Nature Cat has an Arbor Day episode, available with teacher materials, on the PBS website.

 

Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies, (Aug. 2020, Chronicle Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781452176802

Ages 6-8

A girl discovers a love of butterflies, a desire for advocacy, and defines a place for herself in her new home in the U.S. Told in first person narration, a girl reads about butterflies as she learns English, and learns that butterflies, “make a long, long journey, just like we did. They have to be strong to fly so far”; as she becomes a more proficient English reader, she learns that the monarch butterfly population is faltering because of environmental impact: milkweed, the plant they eat and lay eggs on, is being decimated by climate change and by farmers who use chemicals to keep it from growing in fields. She gains the confidence to become an activist, motivating her classmates to take action and create a monarch way station that will create a safe space for monarch butterflies. The girl’s story runs parallel to the caterpillar to butterfly life cycle: she feels herself transforming into someone confident, strong, ready to take a stand. The story moves easily between the girl’s narrative and “book excerpts” that provie the nonfiction text and maps the girl reads, letting readers feel like they’re sharing the same book with the narrator. A quiet subplot about immigration makes itself known as the girl wonders if she belongs in her new life; these doubts diminish as she gains more confidence in herself through her activism. Endpapers illustrate a beautiful kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering across the page. Back matter is written with children and adult readers in mind, including a guide to getting a monarch way station up and running, monarch facts, booklists for young environmental activists and grown-up activists and educators, and a rich list of Internet resources.

BookRiot has a nice list of butterfly books; I also recommend Caroline Arnold’s Butterflies in Room 6. and activism books like Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter to Our Planet by April Pulley Sayre, The Honeybee by Kirsten Hall, and Greta and the Giants: Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Stand to Save the World by Zoë Tucker are great display ideas. The Spruce Crafts has a list of 15 butterfly crafts that hit that grab-and-go budget sweet spot.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

It’s Spring… time to raise the butterflies!

Butterflies in Room 6, by Caroline Arnold, (March 2019, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580898942

Ages 3-7

Spring is getting closer and closer, and that means that science classrooms all over the place are going to introduce their little ones to the life cycle of a caterpillar/butterfly. We’ve done it in my home, and each of my kids has done it in school, and it’s exciting every time. Butterflies in Room 6 revisits the Kindergarten students of Room 6 – a new group, since Hatching Chicks in Room 6 was published in 2017 – as they raise butterflies, starting from teeny, tiny caterpillar eggs.

Full-color photographs and informative text take this STEM/STEAM story through the step-by-step process by which the class observed and cared for their caterpillars; feeding them, observing the stages of life, moving the chrysalises to a larger, netted environment, the exciting emergence of the painted lady butterflies from their cocoons, and their release into the world! Leaf-shaped callouts throughout the book provide additional caterpillar and butterfly facts, and back matter provides butterfly questions, vocabulary, and a nice list of online and print resources for further reading.

Butterflies in Room 6 brings a real-world look into a primary classroom – it’ll get kids excited about science, especially if this is one of your classroom projects. Pair this with The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the classic that my kids all read in their kindergarten classes, Deborah Heiligman’s From Caterpillar to Butterfly.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Empathy and fun make up the heart of The Sinking of Captain Otter

The Sinking of Captain Otter, by Troy Wilson/Illustrated by Maira Chiodi, (Oct. 2018, OwlKids Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781771473118

Ages 4-7

Kelpy is an otter who loves the sea and fancies himself a sea captain. He’s got the heart for it. The head for it. He’s even got the hat for it! Building a ramshackle ship from scraps, that’s everything he could ever dream of, he sails the high seas, despite the cruel jokes and jabs from pirates, sharks, other otters, even the waves themselves. Sure, he cries a little, but he loves his ship and that’s that. But one day, he meets Blistering Blastering Butterbeard, a teeny, tiny pirate on a teeny, tiny boat of his own, who challenges Kelpy. Well, Kelpy can’t help it: he laughs, too. And Butterbeard cries a little. And then he cries a lot. Kelpy knows he has to do the right thing, and proceeds to cut up his ship to make Butterbeard feel better, telling him that his cannonball sunk the ship. Face to face, the two adversaries know what they have to do: rebuild their ships and play on!

Captain Otter is a story about empathy and doing unto others (or otters, as the case may be): Kelpy knows what it’s like to be laughed at and poked fun at, so when he does it to someone else – and sees the repercussions of his actions – he makes amends, paving the way to a brand new friendship. It’s a sweet story whose repetition drives home the important points of the story, particularly persistence and devotion (“He loved his ship. He loved her from keel to cabin to crow’s nest. So he took a deep breath, straightened his hat, and sailed on”). Scuttling his own ship to make Butterbeard feel better is a completely selfless act that opens the door to a friendship between the two; something we see as the two laugh together, play together, and share tea together, along with a black bird that appears in the story. It’s a good story for storytimes and to start a discussion on doing what you love, and how our actions affect others.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Stories of Fearless Females – First Second’s got you covered!

First Second consistently puts out great graphic novels for readers, no matter what age. Fiction or non-fiction, kids, teen, or adult, if it’s coming from First Second, I read it, love it, and get it on my shelves. This spring, there’s something for everyone, with some amazing ladies taking the reins and heading up their own books – plus, a nonfiction collection profiling women who broke the rules and beat the daylights out of the mold-maker, while they were at it.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu,
(March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728691
Recommended for readers 12+

First up is Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World; profiles of 29 outstanding women from across time, across the world. We know many of their names, but did you know their accomplishments? Did you know that Margaret Hamilton, who defined Wicked Witch with her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, embraced her terrifying alter ego  – and used her as a bargaining chip for higher pay in Hollywood? How about Temple Grandin, whose research on farm animals led to major changes in the factory farming industry and a push toward animal well-being? Not bad, for someone whose father wanted her institutionalized when she was diagnosed with autism as a child.

I could gush on and on about Brazen. It’s a must-add to your collections; display and booktalk right next to Sam Maggs’ Wonder Women, Jason Porath’s Rejected Princesses, and National Geographic’s Book of Heroines. Bagieu creates perfect, bite-sized biographies of these phenomenal women, making readers want to know more. A list of 30 more rebel ladies who rocked the world whets appetites at the end of the book, and we even get a little bio on our author/artist, Pénélope Bagieu. I’ve enjoyed her previous graphic novels, Exquisite Corpse (for grown-ups) and California Dreamin’, the story of musician Mama Cass. Don’t pass up putting Brazen in your teen space.

 

Star Scouts: The League of Lasers, by Mike Lawrence,
(March 2018, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626722811
Recommended for readers 8-12

The much-anticipated sequel to 2017’s Star Scouts is here! Avani Patel is rocking the Star Scouts, so much that she’s been invited to join a secret society of elite scouts: The League of Lasers. Sounds awesome, right? But there’s a catch: she has to survive her initiation challenge. While on her way to the planet where she’s supposed to undergo her challenge, her ship throws her off course and crash lands onto a strange planet. With a methane atmosphere. And she’s stranded with Pam, her nemesis. Together, the two Scouts have to figure out how to survive – and to do that, they need to put their differences past them.

I love this series for so many reasons: there’s a child of color leading the pack; there are messages about resilience and teamwork; and most importantly, it’s just so much fun! Mike Lawrence’s dialogue between characters is never slow and never dull, and always believable. He tackles middle grade situations like disagreements and jealousy between friends, but always makes sure to bring things to a resolution through talking and mutual understanding. The humor is smart and the artwork is engaging. Give this to all your Zita the Spacegirl fans and tell them to make space in their hearts for the Star Scouts.

 

Scarlett Hart, Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgwick/Illustrated by Thomas Taylor,
(April 2018, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626720268
Recommended for readers 10-13

YA author Marcus Sedgwick (Saint Death, Ghosts of Heaven) writes for middle grade with the start of a new series about a teenage monster hunter following in her parents’ footsteps. Scarlett Hart is the orphaned daughter of legendary monster hunters, determined to carry on the family business. The only thing is, she according to the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities (just call it The Academy), Scarlett’s underage, and hunting monsters is against the law. Luckily, Scarlett’s manservant, Napoleon, is there to help, driving Scarlett around London and acting as the face for her kills so they can get paid on hang onto their family estate. The sticky wicket is Count Stankovic, her parents’ – and now Scarlett’s – archrival, who always manages to show up and take credit for her work while threatening to rat her out to the Academy. Naturally, the monster situation gets out of control, and Scarlett roars into action, danger and the law be darned!

Scarlett Hart is a fun monster-catching adventure romp, with a dieselpunk feel and a spunky young heroine. Thomas Taylor is the original illustrator of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and knows fantasy art. There’s humor, adventure, and fun to be had; a nice start to a new graphic novel series. Give these to your Delilah Dirk readers, and consider re-introducing readers to Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack.

 

The City on the Other Side, by Mairghread Scott/Illustrated by Robin Robinson,
(April 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626724570
Recommended for readers 9-13

It’s early 20th-century San Francisco, and Isabel is bored. Her high-society mother expects her to be quiet, well-behaved, and flawless – clean, pressed, clothes in perfect repair. She’s shuttled off to her artist father for the summer, but he’s too wrapped up in his work to pay much attention to her, either. Taking matters into her own hands, Isabel explores the woods by her father’s home and stumbles into a fairy world: a world where two kingdoms are at war! She receives a magical necklace to keep safe, and, with the help of some new companions, sets off to end the war before it destroys the fairy world and our own world.

 

The City on the Other Side is high fantasy mixed with historical fiction, making for an exciting adventure for middle grade fantasy fans. The heroine is a girl of color, of Spanish origin; she’s smart, determined, and sick and tired of being treated like she’s an object for someone’s mantelpiece. She’s a good role model for readers who enjoy Zita, Avani from Star Scouts, and Maddy from Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Bayou Magic.

 

Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly Battle, by Charise Mericle Harper,
(April 2018, First Second), $13.99, ISBN: 9781626724877
Recommended for readers 8-10

The third Crafty Cat comic book has Birdie – whose alter ego is crafty superheroine Crafty Cat – ready to take the lead role in her school play about bugs. The problem is, everyone wants the role: it’s a butterfly! Anya is back, and she wants to be the butterfly, too – and Anya always seems to get her way. Looks like a job for Crafty Cat!

I really enjoy the Crafty Cat series, and so do my library kids. Birdie is a likable character who always manages to find a way to make the best of a lousy situation; she uses crafts – and by extension, her superhero identity as Crafty Cat – to help her focus and see different possibilities. Crafty Cat is an optimistic book with an upbeat character, and it’s great fun for kids to have as a go-to on the shelves. This volume comes with five butterfly-related crafts, including a butterfly with moving wings, a hair clip, and a bookmark.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Westly: A Spider’s Tale is a good, middle-grade fable

westlyWestly: A Spider’s Tale, by Bryan Beus (Sept. 2015, Shadow Mountain), $15.99, ISBN: 9781629720685

Recommended for ages 9-13

In a contained garden of a glass chandelier, a young caterpillar is born into royalty. Destined to inherit the crown of the Monarch Butterfly kingdom, he is spoiled and naïve until he emerges from his cocoon – and he’s not exactly what he expected. Instead of a regal monarch, he’s a spider. Horrified by his appearance and afraid he’ll be ostracized from butterfly society, he runs away and lives down below, among the “dirt eaters” – the bugs that live below, on the ground. Not knowing he comes from the arrogant butterflies, they take him in and teach him how to live – but what Westly doesn’t realize is that he holds the key to uniting both societies.

Blending a graphic novel feel with a moral fable storytelling voice, Bryan Beus’ debut novel is a great read for middle graders. It’s kind of A Bug’s Life meets The Ugly Duckling, with a kind-hearted, unworldly main character who goes on a classic hero’s journey to grow up, mature, and come into the leader he’s meant to be. There are wonderfully classic elements here: the villain, the wise old sage, and the curmudgeon with the heart of gold being just a few touchstones that children and adults alike with recognize and embrace. Black and white sketches throughout the book hold the reader’s interest and have a comforting, classic feel.

 

This is a solid choice for school libraries and classrooms, especially for middle grade read-alouds and units on fairy tales and fables. Animal fiction always does well in my library, so I know this one will be happily received.

Bryan Beus is the winner of the Kirchoff/Wohlberg Award from The New York Society of Illustrators. His author website offers a sneak preview of Westly‘s first two chapters, plus an adorable webcomic called Peter and Li. Westly is Mr. Beus’ first book, but I’m hoping to see more.

Posted in Preschool

Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay is a gorgeous book about new beginnings and friendship!

buterfly parkButterfly Park, by Elly MacKay (2015, Running Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0762453399

Recommended for ages 3-8

A young girl moves from her home, surrounded by green and butterflies, to a new house, where she hears horns and sirens, and everything looks the same. Until she finds the gates to a park next door, that read “Butterfly Park”. Thrilled, she drops in – but there are no butterflies to be found in the park! She sets to work with her neighbors to create a place that the butterflies will return to again and again.

This book delivers such positive messages in a beautiful setting. Created with collage and diorama, the art seemingly takes on an extra dimension, inviting the reader to join in the quest to bring the butterflies to Butterfly Park. The characters, known only as The Girl and The Boy, facilitate this by easily allowing any child reading the book to become The Girl or The Boy, chasing butterflies and planting flowers with nectar that the butterflies will love.  The entire neighborhood comes together to help The Girl create the garden, illustrating the value and the fun in teamwork. The girl’s determination to make the best of her move and her new surroundings will resonate with anyone who’s had to move and start over.

The book’s cover folds out into a poster featuring plants that attract butterflies, and the final pages fold out into a beautiful panorama of a community butterfly garden. Kids will likely want to get some seeds and tools and plant their own gardens after reading this book – and they should! It’s springtime! Show kids they can create a garden anywhere – container gardens and houseplants are just as much fun to work with as outdoor gardens.

Join #TheButterflyTrail at Running Press’ Butterfly Park site and learn more about the book and the author.