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

Socially smart storytelling: Sara Varon’s New Shoes

New Shoes, by Sara Varon, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439207

Recommended for readers 8-12

Francis the Donkey is the best shoemaker in his village, using the finest materials to handcraft beautiful shoes. One day, he gets the most exciting news: his favorite calypso singer, Miss Manatee, is coming to sing in his village, and she wants him to create a special pair of new shoes just for her! He’s so excited, but he’s out of the special tiger grass that’s integral to his shoe designs. He asks his friend and supplier, Nigel the Squirrel Monkey, to go into the jungle and get some more tiger grass, but when Monkey doesn’t come back as expected, Francis has to go find him… will he get back to his village AND be able to make Miss Manatee’s shoes on time?

I am a Sara Varon fan. I loved Sweater Weather, and my library kids adore Robot Dreams. I love her cartoony illustration, her bright colors, and in the case of New Shoes, the deeper messages found in her story. Francis is a genuinely kind character who is mortified when he discovers that his shoe materials have been acquired via shady means, and immediately sets to putting things right. When Francis realizes he has to make special accommodations for his newest client, he does the work, researching how to make the best footwear for Miss Manatee. Nigel is big enough to admit his mistakes, apologizes, and helps Francis grow his own materials responsibly.  There are strong messages about fair trade and honesty, good business practices, sustainability, and consideration of others’ differences to be found here, all told in a story that kids can understand without dumbing down the message. It’s smart storytelling with a social conscience that respects the reader. What more can you ask from your books?

I can’t wait to put New Shoes on my graphic novel shelves. It’s got a little nonfiction snuck in, as Francis travels, with his guide book, through the South American jungle and encounters such inhabitants as the capybara, jaguar, and three-toed sloth; it’s got a moral compass, a main character who loves calypso music, and it’s just fun reading.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Spork shows readers that there’s a place for everyone

sporkSpork, by Kyo Maclear/Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, (Apr. 2017, Kids Can Press), $8.95, ISBN: 978-1-77138-805-4

Recommended for ages 4-8

One of the most maligned utensils in history has its moment in the sun with Kyo Maclear’s Spork. His mom’s a spoon. Dad’s a fork. And poor Spork doesn’t fit in with either group, no matter how hard he tries. He tries to cover up his tiny tines, to fit in with the spoons; he wears a pointy hat to emphasize those tines to hang with the forks – neither attempt works. Just as he’s resigned to languishing in the utensil drawer, someone comes along that shows Spork that everyone has a place and a purpose.

Spork is adorable. It’s a story about standing out and finding your own value, just as you are. It’s a sweet story with a strong message about distinctiveness and the beauty of diversity. Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations are soft, sweet, adorable; loaded with personality and feeling, love, and ultimately, joy.

Put this one in your collections, for sure. Read it, have a spork workshop where kids can personalize their own Spork. File down the edges – some of those plastic sporks can be a little sharp; for younger readers, print out a paper spork template, like this fun one from the Kingdom Hearts Wiki, or this really cute stock photo. Put out crayons, yarn, pom poms, stickers, whatever you have to let the kids personalize their Spork. Enjoy!

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Image source: KyoMaclearKids.com

Author Kyo Maclear has an author webpage with a book trailer for Spork and some fun Spork facts. Kids Can Press has great educator resources, including a One-of-a-Kind certificate you can hand out after your Spork workshop and discussion points for before, during, and after the storytime.

Previously published in hardcover, Spork received a starred review from Kirkus and multiple awards, including the 2011 Bank Street Children’s Committee Best Children’s Book of the Year and the 2010 Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities.