Posted in picture books

Freedom Soup celebrates an important New Year tradition

Freedom Soup, by Tami Charles/Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, (Dec. 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763689773

Ages 5-10

Belle and her grandmother, Ti Gran, are making soup – but it’s not just any old soup, it’s Freedom Soup. As the girl and her grandmother dance and cook, Ti Gran tells Belle the history behind the Haitian soup: it’s the history of Haiti, the history of revolution and freedom, and the history of family, as the recipe is passed from generation to generation. As the two create the recipe, readers are witness to a celebration, watching grandmother and granddaughter dance and cook, the girl learning from her grandmother about food, history, and life.

The very story in Freedom Soup teems with rhythm and movement. Belle and Ti Gran listen to Haitian music as they prepare the soup; the two dance as they cook, and the ingredients come alive with their own movement: garlicky herbs click clack as Belle mashes them; ribbons of steam dance; the soup’s delicious scent swirls around the kitchen, all coming together to set the stage for Ti Gran’s story about Haitian slaves making soup for their masters and finally, triumphantly, making soup for themselves to celebrate their independence. Belle and Ti Gran celebrate Haiti’s freedom, too, as does the rest of their family, who arrive to eat soup, dance, and celebrate. The story reads like a poem, inviting the reader in by tempting their senses with sights and smells. Jacqueline Alcántara’s mixed media illustration creates a warm, homey setting, with prominent yellows and browns, calming blues and childhood kitchen whites. There’s movement on each spread, making this a book you’ll want to move with as you read it (and you should!). Back matter includes a recipe for Freedom Soup, and a note from the author about her husband’s Ti own Gran, who inspired the book.

Put Freedom Soup on your shelves and add it to your New Year’s storytimes. With relatively little about the Haitian revolution available for children, particularly younger children, this is an excellent start – or addition – to collections.

Freedom Soup has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Shelf Awareness.

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

My First Book of New York: See All the Sights!

My First Book of New York, by Ingela P. Arrhenius, (Sept. 2019, Walker Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536209907

Ages 3-7

Artist Ingela P. Arrenhuis is quickly becoming a favorite early childhood author illustrator of mine. Her Christmas and Halloween board books and her large picture book, City, are adorably illustrated, with bright, bold, eye-catching colors that early readers and learners are immediately drawn to. Similar to City, My First Book of New York is an oversized book and gives readers an armchair tour of the boroughs I love so much, with bright white and orange endpapers loaded with New York icons: the Statue of Liberty; the Flatiron Building, subway cars, pizza, hot pretzels, and more. Each spread introduces readers to a different area of New York: 4 of the five boroughs are spotlighted (sorry, Staten Island), with New York City getting most of the space: Rockefeller Center, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Harlem, Central Park, Wall Street, Times Square, and Broadway all get their moments to shine here, as do activities like shopping, structures including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Grand Central Station, and destinations like museums. There is brief text introducing the attraction to place readers; the left hand page is a full-page illustration of each selection; the right hand page is dedicated to placing the reader within that area by showcasing attractions around it: shopping, for instance, features an illustration of shoppers crossing Fifth Avenue; on the right hand side, illustrations of Tiffany & Co., Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Saks Fifth Avenue windows, FAO Schwarz, Union Square Greenmarket, a SoHo boutique, and a limousine all place the reader.

This is the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to it. My First Book of London, Austin, Texas, or Chicago, anyone?

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

More Halloween books for your spooky read-alouds!

Hide and Seek, by Katie May Green, (July 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763696061

Ages 4-7

Welcome back to Shiverhawk Hall, where the paintings won’t stay put! The companion to 2015’s Seen and Not Heard, Hide and Seek is a standalone rhyming picture book that tells the story of a group of playful paintings who clamber out of their frames for a day of hide and seek fun in the surrounding gardens and woods. Twin sisters turn out to be too good at the game, leading their friends on a chase until the rain sends them running back home to the comfort of their frames. The rhyming scheme is a joy to read and sets a perfectly lovely, eerie setting to the story. The charcoal artwork is colorful but never bold and loud, creating an atmosphere just eerie enough to be Addams Family-creepy, not nightmare-inducing scary. The ghostly sisters have  matching white dresses, long, black hair, and wide-eyed expressions; all the children wear period clothing, with loads of ruffs, ballgowns, buckled shoes, and sailor oufits. Pale pink endpapers give readers a glimpse into the forest, with imprints of leaves, animal tracks, and local fauna. Perfect for a creepy storytime read where you don’t want to terrify your little ones, but give them a delicious case of the willies.

 

The Right One for Roderic, by Violeta Nay, (July 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536205725

Ages 5-7

Roderic is the latest ghost in a long line of Roderics, but he’s also the smallest ghost in his family. He’s really not a fan of the boring white sheets that everyone in his family wears; it makes him feel even smaller than he already is, because hardly anyone notices him to begin with! Roderic starts experimenting with his look, adding hats and scarves to his ensemble, and comes up with a new look that he loves: but his family doesn’t. Roderic heads to the city, hoping to find a more fashionable group of people, but discovers that in a big city, he’s just as invisible as he was at home. He returns home, tweaks his style, and tells his family that he’s happy to be different and will wear what he wants: and his family, encouraged by his fashion sense, decides to take some chances on their own, too! The digital illustrations are adorable, making Roderic a sweet little ghost in the world. The ghosts are cute, not scary; they’re white, sheet-wearing blobs with big, round eyes and smiley faces. Roderic’s fashion experimentation is played for laughs and to broach discussion about individuality, finding what feels comfortable and good for you, and owning it. For Roderic to tell his family how he feels is a major step; it encourages kids to talk about what makes them feel comfortable or uncomfortable, happy or sad. A sweet story with a positive message.

 

Frankie’s Scared of Everything, by Mathew Franklin, (Oct. 2019, Building Block Press), $$19.95, ISBN: 9781944201227

Ages 3-6

Frankie tries to get to sleep at night, but it’s really hard when his mind won’t stop whirling. During the day, he’s got schoolwork, sports, and the neighbor’s dog with an attitude; at night, all the thoughts in his brain come together to send crashing, creaking robots; scraping, scratching dinosaurs; wailing, flailing sea creatures, and fuming, booming molemen after him! He runs to his mom, who calms him down by telling him that imaginations are tricky – they can make the simplest things into pretty scary stuff; by encouraging him to embrace his wild imagination, though, Frankie’s able to go back to those freaky creeps with a new outlook. Artist and author Mathew Franklin creates a wild, day-glo dreamscape, with bold, neon colors popping off a black and sepia background to create Frankie’s scariest nightmares. The sound effects and fonts are big, with easily readable white fonts that stand out against the dark spreads. The monsters aren’t scary so much as BIG: they take up the better part of each two-page spread, and the artwork has an incredible graffiti/tattoo flourish. Text is presented in word balloons and pieces of paper taped to the pages. Endpapers are black, with neon dots splashed across them, looking like a drop-cloth or a universe waiting to reveal itself. It’s a fun book that will work for a Halloween story, a story about facing fears, and a story about embracing your imagination. Publisher Building Block Press has some free printables on their website; not currently Frankie-related, but something to keep an eye on.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Halloween’s a-comin’!

I loooooove Halloween. I’m one of those wackos that start decorating the first week of October (I’ll be going out to the garage to get my decorations tonight), and I’ve already started stockpiling goodies to stock for my trick-or-treaters at home and the library, plus goodies to hand out to my kiddo’s class. For Halloween storytime, I hand out little trick or treat bags with a mini-coloring book, like this Five Little Pumpkins rhyme from DLTK, some stickers, and a little trinket or two.

Halloween storytimes are the best, because I go nuts. I dress up, we sing great Halloween songs and dance to videos, and I stockpile Halloween stories to read and display. So here are some of the newer books I have on my Halloween storytime pile.

Pick a Pumpkin, by Patricia Toht/Illustrated by Jarvis, (July 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207644

Ages 3-7

The folks who brought us 2017’s Pick a Pine Tree are back with a Halloween story from the pumpkin patch. This rhyming story brings a family to the pumpkin patch, where they pick the perfect pumpkins; bringing them home, they assemble a pumpkin carving crew, their tools, and create the coolest Jack O’Lanterns you could wish for! The kids don their Halloween costumes for a night on the town while the Jack O’Lanterns guard their homes. Easily readable, with a soothing rhyme cadence, this is perfect storytime reading. The pencil, chalk, and paint artwork uses warm and vibrant Fall colors, and creates fun Jack O’Lantern faces for the kids to love. Don’t miss this one; you’ll come back to it for regular holiday reading. Have Jack O’Lantern coloring sheets ready to hand out post-storytime.

Pick a Pumpkin has a starred review from Booklist.

 

Where’s the Witch?, by Ingela P. Arrrhenius, (July 2019, Nosy Crow), $8.99, ISBN: 9781536207538

Ages 0-3

Christmas authors are getting into the Halloween spirit this year! Ingela P. Arrenhius’ board book, Where’s Santa?, was perfect toddler holiday reading and exploring last year. This year, she introduces kids to Halloween concepts, using her bold, bright, expressive art to send kids searching for Halloween icons: a witch, a skeleton, a spider, and vampire, all hidden behind shaped felt. The final spread asks, “Where are you?” and hides a mirror behind a felt ghost, letting toddlers see themselves for the final reveal. These books are adorable, and little fingers will love exploring and discovering their Halloween friends. Pair this with A Mischief of Monsters for a monstrously good storytime! (I know, that was painful, but it was right there.) Order two if you can, and keep one in your storytime collection: this one will get beaten up in circulation.

Give Me Back My Bones!, by Kim Norman/Illustrated by Bob Kolar, (July 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763688417

Ages 4-8

A rhyming anatomy lesson and hide-and-seek all in one book! A stormy night has wreaked havoc on a poor pirate skeleton, whose bones have been scattered all over the sea floor. The rhyme incorporates proper biological terms for the bones, including mandible, metacarpals, scapula, and femur. The endpapers lay it all out for you, too: the front endpapers feature the scattered skeleton, with all his parts labeled; the back endpapers have our skeletal friend reassembled, with everything labeled so kids can see how they come together. As the rhyme proceeds through the book, encourage kids to look for the old buccaneer’s bones, and for any other pirate gear he may be missing: his hat, sword, earring, peg leg, and more have all been scattered to the seven seas, too! The digital artwork is bright, bold, and fun, showing the skeleton reassemble amid curious marine life, all of whom have taken ownership of the shiny skeletal treasures. The cover of the book doubles as a poster, with our pirate skeleton assembled and labeled. Could be a fun decoration! Kids will love it if you read this in an improvised pirate voice, just make sure you have some water nearby to soothe your throat. That pirate rasp can leave you parched.

Don’t miss this one. Give Me Back My Bones! has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Happy Book Birthday to Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi!

Weird Little Robots, by Carolyn Crimi/Illustrated by Corinna Luyken, (Oct. 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763694937

Ages 8-12

Two girls discover their mutual love of tinkering and science in this quirky, fun, illustrated novel. Eleven-year-old Penny Rose is new in town, and doesn’t really have any friends yet – unless you count the little robots she makes in her shed. She makes them out of found objects, and tinkers lovingly with them, giving them names and looking after them every day. Lark, her neighbor, is a quirky girl next door who loves birds and tinkers with found objects given to her by the crows; she makes birdhouses to keep her friends safe from the elements. The two girls become friends and create an entire town for the little robots… and when a mysterious wind sweeps through their town, it brings some surprises with it! But while Penny and Lark enjoy one another’s company, a secret science club at school offers Penny membership in their society. Penny feels the tug between her new best friend and a group of like-minded science friends, but making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons could cost Penny her best friend and the robots that she loves so much.

This is such an unconventional, enjoyable book! I love the idea of making creations out of found objects, and the touch of magical realism infused in this story makes it a joy to read. It’s a STEM story, a friendship story, and a comforting story about second chances. The little robots have their own personalities, each reflected in their names, bestowed on them by Penny. Penny is more tech-focused, while Lark prefers the world around her, showing that making and tinkering presents endless creations. The black and white illustrations throughout give life to the story and keep readers interested as they move through the book.

There’s a downloadable guide with discussion questions and activities, making this a good idea for an ELA/Science partnership or book club/Discovery Club program. I can’t wait until my library’s copy arrives, so I can start telling kids how much they need to read this book. Maybe it’s time for a secret science society at MY library… hmmmm…

 

“[A]uthor Crimi infuses this unassuming transitional novel with compassion, humor, and a refreshing storyline in which girls organically weave a love for science into their everyday lives. Illustrations by Luyken add to the guileless sensibility. A contemplation on the magic of friendship told with sweetness, simplicity, and science.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

Carolyn Crimi enjoys snacking, pugs, Halloween, and writing, although not necessarily in that order. Over the years she has published 15 funny books for children, including Don’t Need Friends, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, There Might Be Lobsters, and I Am The Boss of This Chair. Weird Little Robots is her first novel.

For more information, and to download a free classroom guide for Weird Little Robots, visit her website.

Twitter: @crims10

Corinna Luyken is the author-illustrator of The Book of Mistakes. She lives with her husband and daughter in Olympia, Washington.
Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

A little mouse has a big adventure in Douglas

Douglas, by Randy Cecil, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick), $19.99, ISBN: 9780763633974

Ages 5-8

Iris Espinosa goes to the movies one day, and ends up taking a small mouse home with her when it curls up in her pocket to nap. She names the mouse Douglas, after her favorite actor, Douglas Fairbanks, and Douglas ends up having a big adventure on the way back home to the movie theatre! A companion to Randy Cecil’s Lucy (2016), Douglas is also told in four acts, and is an exciting adventure filled with cats, humans, chases, and escapes.

The black-and-white artwork gives a lovely, vintage feel to the artwork, especially when Randy Cecil places readers into a more specific time frame by recalling a screen star from Hollywood’s Golden Age (Fairbanks was active in the 1920s and 1930s). There are mini-stories throughout the main story that make this so much fun to read: Iris’ sister meeting her boyfriend’s mother, with Douglas tagging along for the ride; the vigilant six-toed cat; Everett Dunn, who desperately wants a pet of his own; Mrs. Pennington and her large hat. There’s so much to enjoy while reading Douglas, and it’s a book kids will want to come back to, because there’s something new to discover each time. As Douglas Fairbanks had his own swashbuckling adventures, so does Douglas.

Douglas has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

A change in perspective: Mr. Posey’s New Glasses

Mr. Posey’s New Glasses, by Ted Kooser/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (Apr. 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763696092

Ages 6-9

Mr. Posey is an older gent who’s feeling down. When he puts his glasses on, everything looks boring. Everything is just the same, same, same, and he wants to do something about it! He heads to the thrift store with his young friend, Andy, and starts trying on glasses from a big barrel, with… interesting results. The star-shaped glasses transport him to a field, where he can see all the constellations in the night sky, but it’s much too dark for him. The stripy brown frames bring him underwater, where some mean-looking fish swim around him, menacingly. The big, round lenses send the room spinning, and the cat=shaped frames put him in a field, pursued by dogs! Nothing clicks for him, no matter how many frames he tries on – and then, Andy notices that his glasses are dirty. Once Mr. Posey cleans his glasses, everything is clear and colorful again! Mr. Posey’s New Glasses is all about how we see things; what filters we have in place that color how we enjoy – or are brought down by – the world around us. There’s a lovely inter-generational friendship between Mr. Posey and his young friend, Andy; Andy also helps give Mr. Posey some perspective, noticing his dirty glasses and rejuvenating his attitude. The story is fun, and meatier than most picture books; this one is good for first to third graders. The digital artwork is tinged with a tan overlay and muted colors for most of the book, letting readers experience things as Mr. Posey does, but once he clears his glasses up, color becomes more lively, with pink store signs, blue skies, and colorful buildings. The thrift store is eclectic and has a great feel to it. This is a great book to start a discussion on how one’s outlook can affect mood, and how imagination can help spice things up. (Psst… glasses craft!)

Ted Kooser is a former US Poet Laureate and has a weekly column on American life in poetry available on his website.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Angry Cookie is working through a bad mood

Angry Cookie, by Laura Dockrill/Illustrated Maria Karipidou, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536205442

Ages 3-7

Angry Cookie is NOT having a good day. From the first page, he’s mad and he wants readers to know it, calling the reader a nosy noodle and complaining about his annoying roommate, running out of his favorite toothpaste, getting a bad haircut, and having the ice cream parlor run out of his favorite sundae. He’s really, really mad, and there’s nothing you can do about it, you hear? But… once he realizes that the readers are sticking around, paying attention to him, he warms up a little, and lets us in on what’s really bugging him: no one listens to him. Nobody sticks around. Once Cookie realizes that he’s being heard, he softens up and even cracks a smile.

Angry Cookie zooms in on what we all really want: to be heard. And preschoolers, in particular, can relate to Cookie: they don’t want that burning, minty toothpaste, they want the fruity-flavored kind (this has been a HUGE issue in my own home), and they don’t want a stupid haircut, and heaven help us if a sibling is on his or her nerves or if a favorite snack isn’t available. Angry Cookie shows readers that it’s okay to be frustrated by things, and that someone is always there to listen. It’s a fun look at managing emotions, with laughs and snorts to be had along the way. The digital artwork is bright and bold, with all text communicated through word balloons and spoken by Cookie. Cookie is round and has a mop of wild red hair, blue overalls, and big, round eyes.

This is a good one for feelings and emotions collections, and a cute storytime pick. I’d pair with Claire Messer’s Grumpy Pants, The Bad Seed by Jory John, and – naturally – any of Mo Willems’ Pigeon books for a display or storytime on emotions and feelings.

Posted in Family Storytimes, picture books, Preschool Reads, Storytime, Toddler Reads

Saturday Storytime: Mindfulness and Wonder

I had a Saturday storytime a couple of weeks ago, and used it as a testing ground for some new books. A nice theme of mindfulness emerged, with a smidgen of wonder underneath; the kids and parents alike seemed to really enjoy this one. I created a short YouTube playlist to show videos for the singalong parts of the storytime; you can use this one, too, or build on it. Now, onto the books!

You Are Light, by Aaron Becker, (March 2019, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536201154

Ages 2-8

I started off with this gorgeous board book by Aaron Becker. The cover has a beautiful die-cut sun and circles; when you hold it up to the light, the effect is really stunning. The book is a rhyming meditation on the relationships between everything in our world: “This is the light that brings the dawn/to warm the sky and hug the land/It sips the sea to make the rain,/which waters wheat to grow the grain”. Each page highlights a facet of the world: sun, fire, water, wheat, leaves, a flower, the moon, and finally, a multicolored mandala with a human form inside of it. The die-cut circles shift in color as each spread progresses, always keeping the readers’ attention and reminding us that all things are connected, including us. The watercolor art is elegant, simple, and lovely; the pacing and text is thought-provoking and soothing. I saw parents cuddle their little ones while the bigger kids reveled in the shifting colors on each page. Aaron Becker does it again, bringing a board book with incredible depth for readers to love. This is going into my regular storytime rotation: it’s beautiful to look at, soothing to read and hear, and inspires thought and affection.

Aaron Becker is a Caldecott Honor-winning author of the Journey picture book trilogy and A Stone for Sascha. His author website has a wealth of free downloadables for parents, caregivers, and educators. You Are Light has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.

The Whole Wide World and Me, by Toni Yuly, (Feb. 2019, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763692636

Ages 2-6

A young girl considers the world and her place in it in this beautifully illustrated book. This is another story about how we, and nature, are all connected; the story reads like a gentle meditation: “Like a flower/in a field…/like a fish…/in a pond…/like a cloud…/in the sky…/so am I”. It’s a story of being present, being mindful, and reads almost like a mantra. This would easily be as at home in a yoga or meditation storytime as it is in a traditional storytime. The ink, charcoal, torn tissue, cut paper, and digital collage artwork comes together and provides texture, with bright, bold colors adding a sweet, childhood feel that will bring the grownups in the room back to days when they would climb a tree, lay on the grass, or stick their toes in the water in a pond or at the beach. The artwork is perfect for a post-storytime craft where kids can make their own torn paper collage art.

The Whole Wide World and Me was another hit; I encouraged the kids to stretch to touch the clouds and pretend they were trees; bloom like a flower, spreading their hands wide and raising them up over their heads; and waving like a leaf floating from a tree. I’d pair this with Tiny, Perfect Things and Gina Perry’s Small for another storytime, too.

The Whole Wide World and Me has a starred review from Kirkus.

Stardust, by Jeanne Willis/Illustrated by Briony May Smith, (Feb. 2019, Nosy Crow), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536202656

Ages 3-8

A little girl dreams of being a star, but she always ends up in her sister’s shadow. Whether it’s finding her mother’s ring, knitting a scarf for her grandfather, or entering a costume contest, the girl’s sister outshines her in everything she does, but Grandpa is in her corner, cheering her on. He tells her that of course she’s a star: he explains the Big Bang Theory to her and how we are all made of stardust, and that she just “shines in [a] different way” from her sister. It’s a message that stays with the girl, as we later discover.

Stardust is one of those stories we can all relate to: there’s always someone better, smarter, funnier… sibling or no, Stardust speaks to us all and reminds us that we all have gifts, we all have something that makes us special – we’re just special at different things. The mixed media artwork gives a multilayered feel to the story, and Briony May Smith’s use of shadows give depth to her spreads. The spreads devoted to the birth of the universe are breathtaking, and placing the girl and her grandfather within those spreads is genius; it gives a real sense of the universe and our place in it, and a source of inspiration for kids everywhere.

The kids enjoyed this one, especially the outer-space spreads. I’d pair this with The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer and Jordan Crane’s We Are All Me for future storytimes and displays.

 

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Get down with Bear Moves!

Bear Moves, by Ben Bailey Smith/Illustrated by Sav Akyüz, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763698317

Ages 3-7

This companion to I Am Bear (2016) gets kids up and dancing along with our favorite big, purple bear. Bear has some moves to tell you about, and this rhyming story has a beat that invites you to slip right into a rap/read. Bear – at first appearing in a white skinny tank and tidy whities – is here to dance. His squirrel and bunny assistants don’t seem too excited about the situation, but Bear won’t be denied. Hit the music and watch him bust a move; whether he’s Furry Breaking, holding a stance, doing the Running Bear, or the Robot. He finds a lady partner to tear up the floor with, but before too long, Bear is tuckered out, to the chagrin of his lady.

Big, bold colors and thick black lines make this an instant eye catcher, and the infectious rhyme makes this a storytime must. I just read this at a Saturday storytime, and the kids shrieked and giggled. You can’t sit still reading this book! Get the kiddos up and dancing; show them how to do a robot, and get them to pose in their best stance. Hilarious moments abound, including a quick snack break that takes Squirrel by surprise, and a trio of shaking booties twisting to the beat. This book is a workout and a storytime hit in one volume. An irresistible add to storytime and picture book collections.