Posted in Uncategorized

Celebrate YOU! How to Have a Birthday

How to Have a Birthday, by Mary Lyn Ray/Illustrated by Cindy Derby, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536207415

Ages 4-8

All the expectations of a birthday are wrapped up in this warm, enjoyable tribute to the most special, most personal, of days. How to Have a Birthday is a celebration of the potential of the birthday: “On the morning of your birthday, you can tell already that the day is not like others. / Maybe you wake early, wondering what will happen. / You know something will. / And that’s your first present: you get to wonder”. It’s a celebration of all the ways we mark the day, from songs and gifts, to rituals and traditions to mark the passing of another year; it’s the power of the birthday wish. The story follows three children as they observe and enjoy their days, in their own ways, with the people in their lives, and the mixed media illustrations are created in warm, soothing colors that wrap readers in their cozy world and invite them in to celebrate. A great birthday story for a special storytime, make reading this a part of your own rituals and traditions.

Posted in picture books

Processing grief with The Boy and the Gorilla

The Boy and the Gorilla, by Jackie Azúa Kramer/Illustrated by Cindy Derby, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763698324

Ages 4-8

A boy’s mother has died. He imagines a gorilla talking to him, working with him through his loss and how to reach out to his father. The boy and the gorilla talk about what happens when we die and where we go; how to feel; how to go on. The boy finds his voice and tells his father that he misses Mom, and the two hold one another, moving on together. It’s hard to read this book with a dry eye. The storytelling is so very gentle, so careful with the reader, and the watercolors pack such beauty and emotion, creating an aching, incredible experience. Add The Boy and the Gorilla to your grief and loss collection, along with Some Days by María Wernicke. It’s an important collection to keep updated and know when to hand them to kids and caregivers.

The Boy and the Gorilla has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Climbing Shadows: Poems inspired by children, for children

Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children, by Shannon Bramer/Illustrated by Cindy Derby, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781773060958

Ages 4-7

A small, sweet collection of poems inspired by kindergartners, Climbing Shadows offers a child’s-eye view of moments like a bad day at school (“I’m going to go home and tell my dad/today was hard it was so hard/I don’t want to go anymore/I want/to be a puddle”) or a child’s explanation of imagination (“I see things in my head come loose on the paper and there are my eyes here, and my names and my trees and faces and crazy squiggles and also this is a drawing of my family because I usually draw what I miss or what I love”). There are 20 poems in this collection, created by poet Shannon Bramer during the time she worked as a lunchtime supervisor for a kindergarten class. She eventually began reading poetry to them and explained that she was also a poet; the kids’ fascination grew as they learned that anyone could be a poet – “a poet could be a mom” – and a poem could be about anything. Shannon Bramer wrote these poems for her “kindies”.

The poems are sweet, short, and are a nice introduction to poetry for children; they show that a poem doesn’t have to rhyme, and can ramble, freely, like a thought or a stream. Cindy Derby’s watercolor, India ink, and digital collage illustrations are often dreamlike, with muted colors that set the stage for Ms. Bramer’s words to transport readers. It’s a great way to get kids writing about what’s on their minds at the moment. An author’s note explains how the author was inspired by the kids and is just as lovely to read as the poems are, with each child’s name illustrated around the page.