Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

There’s got to be rain to get rainbows…

Rain Before Rainbows, by Smriti Prrasadam-Halls/Illustrated by David Litchfield, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212839

Ages 3-7

A rhyming story that reminds us to look for the light in the dark places, Rain Before Rainbows features a young girl and her companion fox leaving a castle, shrouded in fog. She looks back, as the two travel into the rain, and the two forge a path through the dark, across mountains, fighting the elements and their own nightmares until finally arriving at a sun-drenched wood, with new animal friends waiting to care for them. The verse is hopeful, optimistic, yet acknowledges that struggle often accompanies success: “Rain before rainbows, / Clouds before sun, / Night before daybreak, / The old day is done.” The artwork takes readers across fantastic landscapes, colorful and surreal, as the companions journey through forests, where wraithlike dragons await, and dreamlike foxes spirit them away. It’s a hopeful end to what’s been a difficult year for most, and I’m choosing it to kick off my New Year’s Eve posts in the hope that it will give some comfort to you as it has to me. A good book to have in hand when caregivers and kids ask for books on getting through tough times.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

#SummersCool: Picture Book Party!

Want to keep the kiddos reading and learning this summer? Picture books are the way to go! Fiction, non-fiction, a great mix of the two, picture books have them all and they’re fun to read with and to your littles. Give some of these a whirl:

Rover Throws a Party, by Kristin L. Gray/Illustrated by Scott Magoon, (March 2020, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780525646488

Ages 3-7

I get such a kick out of the Rover books that have been hitting shelves, introducing the Rovers as kid-friendly robots wandering around Mars. This latest one, Rover Throws a Party, inspired by the Curiosity Rover, is a great mix of fiction and non-fiction for preschoolers and early elementary learners. Rover is planning the best party in the universe to celebrate an anniversary on Mars, and there is so much to do! Will someone – or something – join Curiosity to celebrate? As the Curiosity trundles through each spread, there’s a fun story to read; a step in the party planning, and a fact about Mars or the Curiosity, related to the storyline. As Curiosity captures a sunrise, the accompanying fact tells readers that Mars sunrises and sunsets appear blue; Curiosity invites NASA to the party, and we discover that it takes about 20 minutes for a radio transmission to reach Earth from Mars. The digital artwork is bright and fun, instantly eyecatching, and just adorable: Curiosity wears a party hat on the cover; how can you pass that up? Endpapers feature NASA Mission Control and the Mars landscape, with party invitations and confetti strewn about. An author’s note, a bibliography, and Rover fast facts make this a storytime, science time pick.

Visit illustrator Scott Magoon’s website for some more info on Rover Throws a Party, including a link to fun printables (and storytime videos)! Author Kristin L. Gray’s website has link to her blog, information about her other books, and author fun facts.

 

The Blunders: A Counting Catastrophe!, by Christina Soontornvat/Illustrated by Colin Jack, (Feb. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201093

Ages 3-7

The Blunder Kids are driving their mom CRAZY. The 10 brothers and sisters “blundered” the laundry, the bathtub, and let the hamsters out and the dogs in. Momma Blunder needs a break, so she sends them out to go play, telling them to be back by sunset. No problem! The kids go play outside by the creek, but when it’s time to go home, the headcount doesn’t quite match up. No matter who’s counting -and each and every kid takes a shot at counting! – there are only 9 Blunders! Can you figure out where the mistake is? Thank goodness, Mom saves the day.

This is a sweetly fun story, based on a favorite folktale. Teachers and parents responsible for headcounts will get a big kick out of this, as (spoiler alert!) each child leaves themselves out of the counting, always leaving them one short. It’s great for interactive storytelling, because you can get kids counting along with you and asking them if they can figure out who’s missing and why. The digital illustrations are bright, bold, and characters have expressive faces that kids can easily read. The different headcounting methods are good for a laugh (“Raise your hand if you’re lost”), and the excuses for being late are just hilarious. Great for counting storytimes, and if you have Loud House fans, sign them up as Reading Buddies to read this one to younger readers; I got a real Loud House vibe from the big family and the general mayhem that goes along with them. So much fun for math-type reading.

Author Christina Soontornvat has a great author website with more info about the author herself, all of her books, and videos with book trailers and interviews. Illustrator Colin Jack has worked on books and for Dreamworks; check out his Instagram for more of his illustration.

 

Creature Features, by Big Picture Press/Illustrated by Natasha Durley, (March 2020, Big Picture Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536210439

Ages 3-8

This is a fun animal book for younger kids: preschoolers to kindergarteners are the sweet spot, with older kids enjoying the cool animals that they may not see in animal books. Vibrant colors set off the pages, and each spread features animals with unusual, alliterative, characteristics: Enormous Eyes; Nice Noses; Excellent Ears; Terrific Tails; Dreaded Defenses; Huge Horns; Wonderful Webbed Feet; Lovely Long Necks; Tremendous Tongues, and Fantastic Fur. There’s an introductory paragraph about how these characteristics help the animals, and questions for observant readers to discover and answer. There is always something new to discover here, and the larger size and heavy cardboard pages make this a great transitional book for kids moving from board books to picture books. I enjoy books that give kids a look at different animals, and this has a bunch of good ones, including a sea hare (doesn’t look like a rabbit), an aardwolf (not in the Nice Noses section!), and narwhal, who’s become a popular picture book subject over the last few years. Worth the purchase for your animal book collections.

 

Ocean! Waves for All (Our Universe), by Stacy McAnulty/Illustrated by David Litchfield, (May 2020, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250108098

Ages 4-8

Stacy McAnulty’s Our Universe books have been home runs here at home. My kiddo – who just turned 8 in quarantine! – has asked me to get each one as it comes out, ever since I introduced him to Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years at a bookstore a couple of years ago. Ocean: Waves for All is the fourth book in the series; this is the nonfiction STEM series to spend your budget dollars on. Plus, it’s written in the voice of a surfer, which opens up amazing storytime readaloud possibilities for me. Win-win.

Ocean is the dude. Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian, it’s all excellent Ocean. Ocean is super laid-back, proud of itself – and why shouldn’t it be? Ocean covers over 71% of our world. Ocean is free: “no flag. No nationality. My waves are for all.” But DUDE! People visit outer space more than Ocean; what’s up with that? And Ocean is in some serious trouble, too; people are filling Ocean up with garbage; Ocean’s creatures are struggling to survive, and glaciers and icebergs are melting too fast. Loaded with amazing facts, Ocean is gorgeously illustrated and superbly written, and comes with a serious message: take care of our planet. Take care of our ocean. Ocean is drawn with a friendly face, big, blue eyes, and a smiling (and sometimes scared) mouth. Endpapers are bursting with color, giving readers a glimpse of the underwater landscape. Slip off the book’s cover to see a different view of Ocean. Don’t miss it.

Illustrator David Litchfield’s website has more of his artwork and links to his blog. Author Stacy McAnulty has a great author website with info about her books, activity sheets, and curriculum guides. It’s a great reference resource and storytime resource (SO MANY COLORING SHEETS).

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

David Almond asks: Why should children be at war?

War is Over, by David Almond/Illustrated by David Litchfield, (May 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536209860

Ages 9-12

Taking place in the UK in 1918, War is Over asks a timeless question: why do we expect children to fight our wars? Not having a child’s presence on the front, but the psychological war; the “us” and “them” mentality that permeates everything we do. John is a young boy whose father is fighting in the trenches of France while his mother works in a munitions factory. John’s teacher tells – bellows, really – that the students are fighting alongside the grownups, fighting the enemy in Germany that includes the children of Germany. But John certainly doesn’t feel like anyone is his enemy. When a classmate’s uncle tries to speak to the children, telling them that they are children and NOT at war with anyone, he’s attacked and taken away from the children, but he’s touched something in John,  who sees a sketch of a young boy among the man’s scattered papers. It’s a drawing of a German boy named Jan, the same age as John. John imagines he and Jan become friends, and dreams of a better world where children are children, not enemies, and create a peaceful world together.

This is a strong story of a sensitive boy trying to make sense of a world gone mad. It’s a story that’s as relevant today as it was in 1918, when the story takes place. David Litchfield’s black-and-white illustrations are moody, evocative, packing strong emotions. Visit his website to see some of his work from War Is Over. Poignant and ultimately hopeful, War is Over is a story that will resonate with kids and adults alike.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, picture books, Tween Reads

Musicians, poets, activists: When Paul Met Artie

Simon and Garfunkel are two of the most famous names in music history. The names of their songs are less titles now, more legends: The Sound of Silence; Bridge Over Troubled Water; The Boxer… think of one, and you immediately find yourself closing your eyes and listening to the haunting melodies, the perfect union of the two singers’ voices.

When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon & Garfunkel, by G. Neri/Illustrated by David Litchfield,
(March 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763681746
Recommended for readers 8-12

How else could the story of Simon & Garfunkel be told, but in verse? G. Neri, whose books Chess Rumble, Tru & Nelle, and Ghetto Cowboy combine free verse with prose storytelling, shines here, giving readers the rise, fall, and rise of the duo, beginning with their 1981 reunion concert in Central Park, then tracing their lives together from the beginning, as two boys in Queens who discover their love of music and their voices together. Each spread is a different song title, evoking a different period in their lives: “My Little Town” describes the Queens neighborhood where they grew up; “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” looks at their early success as Tom & Jerry. “Bleecker Street” looks at Paul’s life in Greenwich Village, and Art’s in Berkeley, where they both discover folk singers and activism; “Bookends” sees the two in a car, on New Year’s Day, 1966, listening to their number-one song, “The Sound of Silence”, on the radio. There’s an Afterword, discography, bibliography, and Musical Connections section, a chronological timeline of song influences.

G. Neri manages to fit a lifetime – into 48 pages. We learn that Paul Simon loves baseball and Art Garfunkel was going to be a math teacher; we discover that they were famous and potential has-beens by age 18; that they dreamed of making it big, and when fame failed them, wanted to just make music for the sake of making music. The digital artwork captures the Kew Gardens, Queens, neighborhoods as easily as it captures a small street in Paris, and the crowd at Central Park. This isn’t a picture book for beginning readers; it’s a beautifully illustrated volume of a moment in music history, in verse.

I’m a Queens girl, and you can’t be from Queens (or be a Queens College graduate) without Simon & Garfunkel being part of your DNA. My eldest went to the same high school as the duo; there’s an auditorium named for Art Garfunkel when you walk in the door. Reading When Paul Met Artie took me on a wonderful trip back to a Queens that I remember as a little girl, when I’d sit in the backseat of my uncle’s car as he listened to Simon & Garfunkel on the radio. Music fans and those of us who grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s music will love this beautiful book.