Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Grace and Box: Friends Forever

Grace and Box, by Kim Howard/Illustrated by Megan Lötter, (Jan. 2021, Feiwel and Friends), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250262943

Ages 3-6

A little girl’s family gets a refrigerator box, and she gets a new best friend. Grace gets Box, and proceeds to have all sorts of wonderful adventures: Box is a home, a rocket, a tent, even ruins in Rome! There seems to be no end to the fun Grace and Box will have together, but one day… Box looks a little under the weather. He’s a little saggy; one of his walls has a rip. Grace decides that he needs a break, and takes care of him, bandaging him, letting him rest, even feeding him soup, but he’s still droopy. What’s a kid to do? Reinforce Box and play on! Grace and Box is a story about invention, inspiration, and the joy of creation. Bright digital artwork is appealing and expressive. Grace and her dog have loads of crafting material to share with Box, who has a sweet, drawn-on face that always has a smile for Grace. Rather than ditch Box when he gets a little worn down, Grace patches him up and keeps playing with him; a nice divergence from disposable culture. As a mom who’s had a cardboard fort in my living room since Christmas, I can appreciate Grace and Box’s relationship. Rhyming text is easy to read and colorful artwork pops off the bright white pages. Pair with Antoinette Portis’s Not a Box and Not a Stick. 

Visit author Kim Howard’s webpage for free resources, including a discussion guide and drawing activity.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Back to School stories!

Step right up, I’ve got a bunch of back to school stories for your readers!

Pearl Goes to Preschool, by Julie Fortenberry, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207439

Ages 3-5

Pearl is the youngest and smallest student at her mother’s ballet school, but when Mom suggests that Pearl try out preschool – a school full of kids her age! – she’s got some questions: Is there dancing? Do they have stories? What else is there to do? Mom answers all of Pearl’s questions, and Pearl mulls it over, finally deciding that yes, she, and her stuffed mouse, Violet, are ready to try out preschool. Narrated from little Pearl’s point of view, this is an adorable story for kids getting ready for preschool: questions get answers, there’s a routine to the day, and best of all, Pearl has a wonderful day – and dances! Digital illustrations are soft, with muted pastels and lovely illustrations of ballet dancing and the relationship between a mother and her child. An adorable addition to school stories.

A free, downloadable activity kit features a Pearl paper doll with two outfits! Try to print it out on a heavier card stock, so it’s durable. Brightly has a good list of ballerina books for preschoolers, Scholastic has a list of books for beginning preschoolers.

 

Play Day School Day, by Toni Yuly, (June 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536202830

Ages 3-7

It’s always a good day for a Toni Yuly book, and her latest, Play Day School Day, captures a sweet moment between a little boy and his older sister. Mona, a young girl, is excited for the first day of school; her younger brother, Milo, asks what she does at school. “Lots of things”, Mona replies, and tells him about a typical school day, from riding the bus, to practicing reading, writing, science, and math. She tells him that sometimes, one must sit quietly at school, but other times, one can run around and be loud with friends. Mona makes school sound pretty great! The two siblings share their day in a garden or backyard, playing together with their black cat. Toni Yuly’s spare prose is to-the-point and enticing, giving Milo a wonderful vision of school. The story text is bold and black, easily readable against the bright white background, and Toni Yuly’s mixed media artwork is bright, cheerful, and vibrant. Play Day School Day is a fun school story for school-aged children and their younger siblings.

Pair Play Day School Day with Anna McQuinn’s books, Lola Reads To Leo.

 

I Got the School Spirit!, by Connie Schofield-Morrison/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, (July 2020, Bloomsbury Kids US), 9781547602612

Ages 4-7

She’s back! The exuberant, spirit-filled little girl from Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison’s previous books, I Got the Rhythm! and I Got the Christmas Spirit! is back and ready for school in her newest story! Brushing her teeth, and getting dressed, she’s filled with the spirit, which stays with her and powers her – and her friends – through the school day! The spirit helps her comfort a scared friend on the school bus and enjoy her school day; it helps her kick a ball at recess, and propels her right into her mother’s arms at the end of her school day, leaving her ready to do it all again the next day. Filled with small moments that make up a school day, and with gorgeous, evocative oil painting, I Got the School Spirit! is the picture of Black Joy, and a picture book that will get kids excited about their own upcoming school days. Sound effects throughout: the stomp, stomp of shiny new shoes, zip, zip! of a school bag, and crunch, munch, sip! of lunchtime makes this a perfectly interactive read-aloud. A definite must-add to your back-to-school/first day of school collections.

For more Black Joy book selections, refer to these articles and lists from School Library Journal, We Are Teachers, Brightly, and Helping Kids Rise.

All Welcome Here, by James Preller/Illustrated by Mary GrandPré, (June 2020, Feiwel and Friends), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-15588-7

Ages 4-7

James Preller, author of the Jigsaw Jones chapter book series, and Mary GrandPré, whose illustrations we all know and love from Harry Potter, come together to present a collection of haiku poems about the first day of school. Covering subjects like new school supplies, the fear of boarding the bus, and class pets, all students will find themselves in the words and mixed media illustrations in the book. Moments like “Growing Up”, as a parent sighs after waving goodbye to the school bus, and “Principal K”, the new principal who has a dab of shaving cream on his ear, show kids that we grownups have our own first-day jitters, too. It’s not easy saying goodbye to our littles and it’s a little scary when the first day of school is your first day of work, too! Other poems celebrate first-day stalwarts like name tags on desks, the Reading Rug (it was the Circle Time rug when my elder boys were was in grade school), and running errands – and choosing a friend to accompany – all find their voice here. “Library” is a touching nod to school libraries everywhere: “…the whoosh and thrum / of the school’s heart beat”. Colorful and buoyant, with a diverse group of students and teachers, All Welcome Here is a thank you letter to schools, teachers, and students everywhere.

A free, downloadable storytime kit encourages readers to write their own haikus and make their own name tags.

 

I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is in the Principal’s Office, by Jancee Dunn/Illustrated by Scott Nash, (June 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201987

Ages 3-8

A delightfully hilarious companion to Jancee Dunn and Scott Nash’s 2017 book, I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is in Trouble Today, I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is in the Principal’s Office is all about you – the principal is speaking to you, isn’t she? – and your teddy, who stashed away in your backpack and went to school with you today; Teddy, along with your friends’ stuffed animals, who all did the same thing, waited until everyone was in assembly to burst out of their schoolbags and wreak havoc all over your school! They wrote their names with condiments and tied up the coach; they trapped the art teacher in glue and rolled around in finger paint. As the principal details everything that went on during the day, parents will have to suppress their giggles – just like poor Mr. Krimple, standing next to the principal – as they imagine the principal’s tone of voice. But are you really in the principal’s office? Is there even a principal? Or is it an imaginative little girl playing school? Way too much fun to read and act out, I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is in the Principal’s Office is fantastic reading… and will put a new spin on playing school, I’m sure. The colorful digital illustrations showcase a group of stuffed toys having the time of their lives throughout school, as teacher chase them through the chaos. The title page begs for a real-life storytime setup, featuring a bunch of guilty-looking toys sitting uncomfortably on chairs, some covered in paint, waiting to be claimed by their children. Just great fun to read.

 

When Pencil Met the Markers, by Karen Kilpatrick & Luis O. Ramos, Jr./Illustrated by Germán Blanco, (July 2020, imprint), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250309402

Ages 4-8

The companion to 2019’s When Pencil Met Eraser, also by Karen Kilpatrick, Luis O. Ramos, Jr., and Germán Blanco, is about teamwork, friendship, and coloring outside the lines. A group of markers loves to color, but Purple sees things differently. He colors outside the lines, which drives the other markers CRAZY. They confront Purple, telling him his creativity is a mistake and that he doesn’t fit in. Dejected, Purple sets out on his own and meets Pencil and Eraser, who inspire him to look at things differently: he doesn’t need lines! As Purple creates, Pencil and Eraser fill in the area around his work, making gloriously purple grapes, butterflies, birds, and cupcakes. The creative team’s work draws the attention of the other markers, who ultimately learn that coloring outside the lines can be fun, and Pencil says – in a tribute to Bob Ross – that “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents!” It’s a great story to read to kids, while reminding them that it’s good to approach life with a flexibility and attitude, and to color outside the lines every once in a while. Be creative, take chances, and don’t be afraid to be the Purple Marker. The digital artwork has bright, primary colors that pop off the bright white background; dialogue between the markers, Pencil, and Eraser are bold and rounded, while the narrative text is more of a Roman font, not bolded. Endpapers let Purple – and, later, the other markers – show off their scribbly best. Full of lessons that respect the reader, When Pencil Met the Markers is perfect for school stories like Eraser, by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant, The Day the Crayons Quit/The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, and A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery. Visit the When the Pencil Met website to sign up for their newsletter and get a free, downloadable activity book.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Lola Dutch is just TOO MUCH!

Lola Dutch, by Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681195513

Recommended for readers 3-7

Lola Dutch is a little girl whose life motto may well be, “Go big or go home”. She starts her day by sliding down the bannister of a grand stairway, landing on her cushy friend, Bear’s, belly. She is bursting with ideas, and this is going to be an AMAZING day. She has grand ideas for breakfast, which turns into a several course meal for Lola and her animal friends, Gator, Pig, and Crane; a trip to the library for some “light reading” yields a Herculean amount of books. Lola’s inspired to create art, and begins producing work that the masters would be cowed by, including a Sistine Chapel-esque work on her ceiling, starring Lola and friends. At bedtime, seems overwhelmed. Everything’s quiet for the night, but Gator’s got cold feet, Pig is snoring, and Crane kicks in her sleep. Frazzled, Lola cries out, “This is ALL TOO MUCH!” and wants something simple and comforting: a hug from Bear.

We all have a little Lola in us, don’t we? I know I get those moments where I want to READ ALL THE BOOKS and end up reserving 5 books, which will sit on the pile I have at home; from there, I’ll want to straighten up all my bookshelves, and to do that, empty all the shelves on the floor so I can go through them, which will inevitably end up with me, sidetracked, coming back hours later to just shove everything on the shelves until the next time I get inspiration. Lola’s friend Bear is her guardian, and knows his charge too well: he takes a deep breath at breakfast, and often repeats the phrase this book is built on: “you are a little bit much”. At the end of the day, though, it’s a warm hug that’s all Lola really needs.

Lola Dutch is cute, if a bit manic; she just has a lot of energy to devote to each day. The pencil, gouache, and watercolor artwork is soft, largely pink, and has lots of kid appeal. Endpapers spotlight Lola sitting on the windowsill, reading (under Bear’s watchful eye, below) and using a telescope, and the cover of the book converts into a dollhouse that kids can play with; the back flap comes with paper dolls of Lola and Bear to cut out and play with. There are great extras on the Lola Dutch webpage, including paper dolls of Crane, Gator, and Pig; a coloring sheet, and a book hunt challenge and certificate (psst… good for Summer Reading programs at the library).

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Colorama sparks color memory

Colorama: From Fuschia to Midnight Blue, by Cruschiform, (March 2018, Prestel), $24.95, ISBN: 978-3-7913-7328-7

Recommended for readers 10+

You know how a color can evoke a memory, or a feeling? Maybe the color red evokes the memory of reading Little Red Riding Hood as a child; maybe yellow brings back the time you had a favorite pair of rain boots. Colorama: From Fuschia to Midnight Blue works on that idea; memory through shades of color. There are 133 different colors in here, varying monochromatic shades of whites, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, violets, browns, blacks, and grays. Each spread includes an illustration of a color; a description of a color memory, and a full-page swatch of the color. You won’t believe how many shades you’ll find in here; it provides minds with a color palette to draw from, whether through color or through words, and it’s loaded with memory prompts for art and writing ideas. There’s something new to learn with each turn of the page: Milk owes its color to milk proteins and globs of fatty matter; shrimp and flamingoes both owe their coloring to the pigment astaxanthin, and the kiwi fruit is named after the kiwi bird, because the hairy fruit resembles Australia’s national bird’s plumage. There’s an incredible amount of information to be found in this beautiful volume!

(source: Cruschiform website, where pictures are featured from the French text)

This is a multi-purpose reference book that works for upper middle grade, middle school, and high school students that also works as a gift book for a budding artist. Appendixes include a color palette in order of presentation in the book and a thematic index that lays out colors by themes including mammals, birds, clothes and fabrics.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Wanda’s Better Way – good STEM reading!

Wanda’s Better Way, by Laura Pedersen/Illustrated by Penny Weber, (July 2017, Fulcrum Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-68275-014-8

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young girl finds a better way to do things as she goes through her day. The grownups around her think she’s not interested in the task at hand, but she’s really at work observing problems and creating workarounds – and then goes on to engineer them. When Wanda’s dance teacher suggests she consider gymnastics because she doesn’t appear interested in dance, we discover that she’s engineering a solution to the cluttered and messy dressing room. When she offers to help her landscape designer mother, she finds a solution that will keep squirrels out of a bird feeder. When she helps her chef father in the kitchen, she finds an easier way to separate eggs – and makes that her science fair project!

With short, easy to read and understand sentences and realistic illustrations, Wanda’s Better Way is a nice way to introduce STEM concepts and the scientific method to younger budding scientists and readers. Wanda’s ideas come to her in step-by-step thought bubbles and she’s illustrated with a light bulb going off over her head when solutions to come her. It’s a time-honored and effective way to communicate ideas! Kids will see how Wanda works out the problem and can discuss how she implements her solutions. Wanda tries on different career ideas while talking to her mother and father; something many kids will be familiar with. We’re often our kids’ first exposure to careers, so why wouldn’t they consider doing what we do? Wanda ultimately decides that she wants to be a scientist, which offers a nice topic for discussion: Wanda wants to be a scientist because she realizes her strength in figuring out problems. What are you really good at, and what can you do with your talent?

Wanda and her brother are biracial, with an African-American mother and white father. It sends a positive message about girls of color taking an interest in STEM! There is a two-page, age-appropriate explanation of the scientific method.

I’d put this with my Andrea Beaty books – Ada Twist, Scientist, Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Iggy Peck, Architect – and my other STEM picture books, like Ashley Spires’ The Most Magnificent Thing and Kobi Yamada’s What Do You Do With a Problem? and What Do You Do With an Idea? Great for STEM storytimes, and if you have blocks or other maker goodies handy, you can let the kiddos play for a little while and work up their own engineering challenges.

Laura Pedersen is an author, humorist, and playwright. Her website offers more information about her books and theater projects. Illustrator Penny Weber’s website has a gallery of her artwork.

Posted in Preschool Reads

The Tiny Tale of Little Pea

The Tiny Tale of Little Pea, by Davide Cali/Illustrated by Sébastien Mourrain, (Sept. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388436

Recommended for readers 4-7

So begins the tale of Little Pea, who could sleep in a matchbox, ride a grasshopper, and wore his doll’s shoes, while his clothes were lovingly hand-sewn by his mom. When it’s time for Little Pea to go to school, he realizes just how small he is. He’s too small for his desk. Too small to play the flute. Definitely too small for gym class. But is Little Pea’s confidence shaken? No way! He finds his own place in the world, painting postage stamps and living in a home that fits him just right.
Little Pea is a cute story with a main character who has a lot to say about resilience. He doesn’t let his perceived weakness stop him from living life on his terms; it’s a strong message for kids who hear, “You’re too little for that” once too often. Self-acceptance, creativity, and individuality drive the story, and every reader can take something away from it. Sébastien Mourrain comes up with wonderful scenes to demonstrate Little Pea’s size, bringing to mind some of my favorite parts of E.B. White’s Stuart Little. It’s a sweet story that will add to a storytime or individual reading.
Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Little Blue Chair: the power of sharing, the power of home

Little Blue Chair, by Cary Fagan/Illustrated by Madeline Kloepper, (Jan. 2017, Tundra Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-77049-755-9

Recommended for readers 3-7

A little boy outgrows his favorite blue chair, so his mother puts it on the curb with a sign reading, “Please take me”. From there, Little Blue Chair follows the chair as it’s passed from hand to hand: it’s used as a replacement seat on a plant stand; a ferris wheel; a bird feeder; a throne, and a chair for elephant rides. It travels to amusement parks, houseboats, and beaches, ultimately coming full-circle as it arrives back where it began. It’s a sweet story about a favorite belonging – it could easily be a toy, as in Kate DiCamillo’s The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane – and the power of home, but it’s also a story about the permanence of objects. The chair is never thrown in the trash; it’s used again and again, serving different purposes for different people, all of whom love the chair while they have it. It’s a journey home.

Madeline Kloepper’s ink and pencil illustrations, finished digitally, a soft and gentle, calming to the reader. The palette of opaque greens, reds, dark yellows, and gray-blues gives the story almost dreamlike feel; a child’s imagination realized, from one boy using the chair as a tent, to another using it as a throne, his stuffed toys as subjects. Everything in this world has a story; everything has a value. Read this with your little ones and talk about the stories their toys hold. If you’re in a school, talk about the desks: what stories could they tell?

courtesy of Madeline Kloepper’s website

I’d love to pair this with Mirielle Messier’s The Branch and compare the two stories. They’re both books about reusing and repurposing; one, a child’s chair; the other, a branch from a favorite tree.

Cary Fagan is an award-winning children’s author. See more of Madeline Kloepper’s illustration at her website.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Enter a dream world with Nightlights

nightlights_1Nightlights, by Lorena Alvarez, (March 2017, Nobrow), $18.95, ISBN: 9781910620137

Recommended for ages 9+

Sandy loves the stars that appear out of the darkness in her bedroom each night. She plays with them, catches them, creates wonderful dreams with them, and in the morning, creates drawings that cover her room. A new girl named Morfie shows up at Sandy’s strict Catholic school and befriends her, but she also starts showing up in Sandy’s dreams, demanding Sandy’s time and drawings. Sandy’s exhausted, but Morfie is always there, always asking her to draw for her.

Nightlights is an unexpected, beautiful graphic novel that looks at fear, insecurity, and creativity. The colorwork is stunning and the dream sequences are breathtaking. Lorena Alvarez’s imagination runs free on the pages of her novel, and she invites readers to join her for the ride.

Nightlights is a very good addition to graphic novel collections and has received a starred review from Kirkus. See more of Lorena Alvarez Gomez’s beautiful and colorful illustration at her website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Barbie goes graphic via Papercutz: Fashion Superstar #1

barbie_1Barbie: Fashion Superstar, by Sarah Kuhn/Illustrated by Alitha Martinez, (Oct. 2016, Papercutz), $7.99, ISBN: 9781629915876

Recommended for ages 6-10

Papercutz continues their graphic novel license domination with every little girl’s (okay, just about every little girl) best friend, Barbie. In this first graphic novel under Papercutz, we get a brief history of Barbie comics (first published by Dell in 1962, later, in the ’90s, by Marvel) and an original Barbie story where she tackles a big fashion show panic with her enthusiasm and quick thinking. Her best friend, Liz, helps Barbie make everything fall right into place, and mega-fashion designer Whitney Yang is grateful when the dynamic duo save the day.

Alitha Martinez’s art is on point. It’s bright, fun, and looks consistent with other Barbie illustrated books and media. The friends talk about what inspires their creativity, embrace science (Barbie even creates a special ink to help her combine her doodling and fashion design), and think on their feet to solve problems. A diverse cast of characters makes this an all-around fun read for Barbie fans to enjoy. There’s a preview for the second volume of the Papercutz import series, Sisters, at the end.

I’ll add this one to my shelves – Barbie has a strong fan following here at my library; I can think of two sisters in particular that will be thrilled to see this appear on my graphic novels shelf. I may buy one copy for now, just to get it on the shelves, but invest in the hardcover copy when it’s published in January.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

The Branch gets a new lease on life after a storm

thebranchThe Branch, by Mireille Messier/Illustrated by Pierre Pratt (Sept. 2016, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771385640

Recommended for ages 3-7

A little girl’s favorite tree branch comes clattering down during an ice storm. A neighbor teaches her how to repurpose the branch, to create new memories.

What a great book to communicate so many ideas! First, we have the imagination of the tree branch. As the little girl says, the branch,”was my castle, my spy base, my ship…”, and she experiences the grief of losing the branch when she spies it on the sidewalk. She doesn’t want to part with it right away, so her mother allows her to hold onto it for a little while – long enough for the girl to encounter her neighbor, who tells her that the branch is “full of potential! …it means it’s worth keeping”, and we learn that he builds things from salvaged wood, and encourages the little girl to think about what the branch could become. When she uses her imagination and reaches into herself to reimagine the branch, she and the neighbor work together to give the branch new life.

In addition to imagination, we’ve got reusing/recycling, which is great for the environment; showing a child unwilling to discard a tree branch as a casualty of the storm, and finding ways to recreate it will get kids thinking about what they could create with objects in the world around them: cereal boxes could become robots or cities for superheroes to protect; old cans can become pencil holders; soda bottles can become terrariums. There are thousands of ideas on the Internet, so there’s no need to wait for Earth Day to come around again to make kids aware of the fun things they can make when they reduce/reuse/recycle.

Finally, we’ve got making: the whole creative process is here: sketching out plans, sawing, planing, drying the wood, waiting, waiting, waiting. It’s a great book to feature with The Most Magnificent Thing, HowToons, and fun nonfiction books, like those in the Make series. Encourage kids and parents to work together on anything from paper airplanes (great use of catalog paper) to repurposing a tree branch – large or small – of your own.

Mireille Messier is a Toronto-based author who’s had over a dozen books published in French. She’s also one of the French reviewers for the National Reading Campaign. Her website is available in English or French and offers information about her books, school visits, and her blog. Pierre Pratt is an award-winning illustrator of over 50 books for children. He lives and works in Montreal, Quebec, and in Lisbon, Portugal.