Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

February Picture Books: little elephants, fabulous females, and being your own self!

The Smallest Elephant in the World, by Alvin Tresselt/Illustrated by Milton Glaser, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781592702619

Ages 4-8

Originally published in 1959, The Smallest Elephant in the World is back in hardcover! A small elephant, no bigger than a housecat, leaves the jungle to get away from the bullies who make fun of him. He ends up in the care of a boy named Arnold, whose mother does NOT want an elephant for a house pet. Arnold tries some creative fudging to convince his mother otherwise, but Mom’s not fooled that easily. Where will the Smallest Elephant find a home?

This adorable story about friendship and finding one’s own place in the world is as relevant and sweet today as it was when it was released 60 years ago. Milton Glaser’s vintage illustration is bold, with bright oranges and greens standing out against the black and white page backgrounds. The elephant’s face is expressive; sweet and friendly, and he’s adorably tiny when shown in scale.

The Smallest Elephant in the World brings a nice touch of our childhoods back to our children’s collections. Gen X kids like me will fondly remember the art and silly-sweet storytelling, and pass that love onto a new generation. Let your kiddos draw their own tiny elephants, and give them things to measure against: a book, a shelf, a ruler, or your foot!

 

A is for Awesome! 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World, by Eva Chen/Illustrated by Derek Desierto, (Feb. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250215994

Ages 2-5

An Instagram star and creator of Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes spotlights outstanding women in this abcedary. Juno Valentine is our guide, introducing readers to some of her favorite “sheroes”. There are standard favorites here: Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, and Malala are all here, side by side with feminist figures like megastar Beyonce, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dorothy Hodgkin, fashion icon Iris Apfel, and author Ursula K. LeGuin. There’s a mirror here for “X, Y, Z: the Extraordinary You, and the Zillions of brilliant, brave adventures you will have”, which makes for big fun during storytime. Collage artwork is bright and textured, with differing fabrics and hairstyles. The addition of Roman goddess Venus feels a little off, but every other featured female is flesh and blood real, and the grouping has a nice diversity. Each woman has a one-line description; some have quotes attributed to them.

I love a good board book, and this one makes my cut. Add this in time for National Women’s in March, and plan your storytimes now.

Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon, by JonArno Lawson/Illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702626

Ages 4-8

A long-legged white bird doesn’t feel like he fits in with his flock, but feels a connection when making eye contact with a little girl. The bird ponders his existence and explores the human world, not noticing until the snow falls that his flock has migrated without him. He catches up with his flock and they sit together on a rooftop, “alone and together, over the rooftops, and under the moon”.

I’ll be honest, I had to read this one a few times to really get it. It’s very open to interpretation, and while the gist of the story is about a bird who isn’t sure about his relationship to himself and within his community, I’ve seen other picture books handle this in a more linear fashion. and I’m not sure that little ones will get it. Some of the text gets lost in the mixed media collage artwork, which could impede a readaloud. The collage artwork tells the story in surreal, dreamlike fashion, which may be the best way to get the message of this story across: the bird feels alone, connects with humans, explores, and ultimately, finds peace within himself and within his community. It’s a beautiful message to communicate to younger children who are starting to socialize in groups and may feel out of place; it’s also a strong message to older children, who can break down the introspective message here. I’d love to see this as a school-wide readalong in elementary schools that still have them, so kids from K-5 can each take a turn at deciphering its meaning to them as individuals.

It’s an interesting book that may take a few reads to unpack, but worth it for the discussions that can follow.

 

What If? What Makes You Different Makes You Amazing!, by Sandra Magsamen, (Feb. 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492637103

Ages 0-4

“What if your hair was big and orange and really bright? What if one eye was green and the other eye was blue as night?” The rhyming text takes readers through all sorts of ways we can stand out from the crowd, with adorable illustrations – a purple lamb, a swaying monkey – and extols the virtues of individuality. The text assures readers that being different is special, and good for you: it can give your spirit a lift; it would be dull if everyone were the same. Sandra Magsamen embraces uniqueness, and makes sure her readers do, too, pointing out how being different can help in certain situations. After all, someone quiet can be a big help when putting a bandage on an injured crocodile. Pair this with Todd Parr’s books, especially It’s Okay to Be Different and Be Who You Are, for a feel-good readaloud. The artwork is colorful, never overpowering, with upbeat, yet calming colors and bold outlines.  What If? is a cute picture book for collections where Todd Parr does well.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Crescendo, where a child is a symphony in composition

Crescendo, by Paola Quintavalle/Illustrated by Alessandro Sanna, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9781592702558

All ages

Written to a growing baby in utero, Crescendo beautifully marks milestones in development with loving observations and illustrations. Each spread reflects on a week of pregnancy, with each month presenting a woman in side view, her body growing to accommodate her baby and forming a landscape upon which birds soar, plants bloom, and horses roam. Beginning with the fifth week of pregnancy: “you are as big as a sesame seed”, the text is beautifully presented as a mother’s thoughts. At week 20, “patterns are drawn on your fingertips for you and you alone”; at week 27, “you cannot see, but you sense the light”. At week 39, “Mother earth is ready to greet you”, and at week 40, mother holds baby and the text reads, “And so am I”.

This is a great baby shower gift, and a lovely book to return to time and again, curled up with your baby and child as they grow, revisiting the magic of “when I lived in your belly”. It’s a beautiful journal of pregnancy and birth, filled with wonder. Back matter that includes a month-by-month breakdown of developmental milestones that inspired the text. The watercolor artwork is almost ethereal, with muted, washed out color that soothes. Originally released in Italy, Crescendo is a book that would make for a cuddly Mommy and Me storytime and would pair nicely with Kate Hosford’s Mama’s Belly and Thrity Umrigar’s When I Carried You in My Belly.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Support Noodle Equality with Noodlephant!

Noodlephant, by Jacob Kramer/Illustrated by K-Fai Steele, (Jan. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $18.95, ISBN: 9781592702664

Ages 4-7

Noodlephant is an elephant who loves noodles – and she believes in sharing! Her noodle parties are all the rage, until the bossy kangaroos decide that only kangaroos get to eat noodles. Breaking the law will land offenders in “the zoo”: which isn’t a very fun place to be! Sticks and twigs don’t cut it for Noodelphant and her friends, so they invent the Phantastic Noodler, a machine that makes pasta out of anything put into it: pens turn into penne, cans into cannelloni, pillows into ravioli! The kangaroos are ready to make a bust – will kindness save the day?

Noodlephant is a fun, wacky look at creative civil disobedience and injustice. The kangaroos are oppressive and mean, forbidding other animals from enjoying anything the kangaroos deem exclusive to their little group. The pushback is creative and silly enough to get a laugh out of readers while encouraging them to think about bullying and exclusion. Occasional verse lends a subversive air that kids will understand and appreciate: “When the laws are so unjust, misbehavior is a must!” Sometimes, you just have to break the rules. K-Fai Steele’s cartoony art is bold, bright, and loaded with noodley fun.

Pair this one with Miranda Paul’s The Great Pasta Escape for a pasta-riffic storytime. A nice add to your picture book collections and a fun, discussion-provoking add to social justice storytime.

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Pumpkins… Pumpkins Everywhere! Arthur Geisert’s Pumpkin Island is overrun!

Pumpkin Island, by Arthur Geisert, (Nov. 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702657

Ages 4-7

This “what if?” story is inspired by the real-life town of Elkader, Iowa. In Pumpkin Island, a rising river washes away a pumpkin, which cracks and spills open on a small island near Elkader, releasing its seeds, which immediately begin sprouting vines and growing pumpkins. The pumpkins start showing up all over town, prompting the residents to do all sorts of things, from creating delicious recipes to constructing catapults (ever hear of Punkin Chuckin?). But the vines keep growing, and the pumpkins are everywhere. When Halloween arrives, the pumpkins get one last glorious moment, before the townfolk cut the vines and mulch the pumpkins, but even then, pumpkins take on a life of their own, with beautiful flowers sprouting from the compost.

Readers will get a kick out of this “nature gone wild” story, which pairs nicely with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. It’s a short, simple story with a touch of fantasy and humor that will get kids giggling. The artwork bustles across each spread to give the feel of a busy town trying to accommodate all of these pumpkins!

A fun Fall story that works for collections where seasonal books are popular.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Bear and Wolf: A tale of two friends

Bear and Wolf, by Daniel Salmieri, (Feb. 2018, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702381

Recommended for readers 4-8

Bear and Wolf discover one another walking through the snow one day; they wander together, enjoying the sights and sounds of the snowy forest, glancing at an owl flying overhead, and peering into a frozen lake to see the sleeping fish. They part so Bear can hibernate in his den, and Wolf can run with his pack. When Spring returns, the friends reunite across the green forest.

With cool color shades to welcome winter and warm earth colors to celebrate spring, Bear and Wolf is less a story about seasons than about renewal: of friendship and of nature. It also honors the joy of taking one’s time, noticing the details, enjoying the journey. The gouache, watercolor, and crushed colored pencil artwork provides texture and yet, is soft and comforting. Bear and Wolf is a serene story that is nicely paired with books like Tiny, Perfect Things or The Magic Garden. A must-add to storytime shelves.

Bear and Wolf has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and is on my Caldecott shortlist.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

June Picture Book Roundup

There are so many good books for Summer Reading hitting shelves in June! Let younger readers explore new worlds and meet new friends with some of these picture books.

Seven Pablos, by Jorge Luján/Illustrated by Chiara Carrer, Translated by Mara Lethem, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702534

Seven boys share the same name. Seven short vignettes share the stories of seven lives, taking readers from the copper mines in Chile to a refugee family living in Mexico, from a garbage dump in Peru to a streets of the Bronx, New York. Seven Pablos sheds light on the living conditions of children around the world in sparse, quietly powerful text. Graphite pencil art creates a dreamlike atmosphere for this lyrical story by Poet Jorge Luján.

Seven Pablos is deeply moving and continues to call attention to the plight of migrant and refugee families around the world. One scene expresses the rage these kids hold within them, as one Pablo tells a visiting poet that he wants to be a “big guy in a uniform” so he can “beat people up and get away with it”. A refugee Pablo recites a poem – in actuality, written by a 9-year-old Argentine child – where he imagines soldiers crushing roofs with their boots. Luján ends his story with the beautiful reminder that there are many Pablos in the world, and each one has a heart that beats with the rhythm of our world.

The Turtle Ship, by Helena Ku Rhee/Illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage, (June 2018, Lee and Low Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781885008909
Recommended for readers 6-12
This folk tale is based on Korean history. A boy named Sun-sin dreams of seeing the world with his pet turtle, Gobugi, and discovers his chance when the king announces a contest: design the best battleship to defend the land. The winner will receive ten bags of copper coins and the chance to travel with the royal navy. After a few failed attempts at a design, Sun-sin notices that his turtle is strong, slow, and steady, and decides that the best design will be based on Gobugi. At first, he’s laughed at in the king’s court, but when a cat tries to attack the turtle, the king and his court all see that there is something to the boy’s idea. Thus, the Korean Turtle Ships were created, and the boy grew to be famed Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
The story is best served by the incredible paper collage artwork, created using paper from all over the world. The art gives the story drama, color, and texture, and the story itself is as good for read-alouds as it is for independent reading. This is a nice addition to historical collections and cultural folktales. An author note on the Korean Turtle Ships provides some background on the legend of Yi Sun-sin and the Turtle Ship design.

Johnny, by Guido van Genechten, (June 2018, Clavis Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781605373775

Recommended for readers 3-5

Johnny is an adorable spider with a secret to share, but everyone’s afraid of him! Wanna know his secret? It’s his birthday, and he wants to share his cake! This adorable book by Guido van Genechten is a good story to read when talking to kids about judging others based solely on appearances.

I have to admit, I needed to read this one a couple of times because I felt so bad for Johnny! It’s his birthday, and he’s all alone because everyone’s afraid of him! And then I figured it out: that’s the point. I mean, I know it was the point to begin with, but having Johnny celebrate with only the reader by the story’s end leaves a reader feeling badly – and that’s the time to talk about empathy. Ask kids how they would feel if people didn’t want to be near them because someone didn’t like the way they looked. Ask how they would feel if they had a birthday party and no one came! And then, for heaven’s sake, throw Johnny a birthday party: have some cupcakes and fruit punch, and sing Happy Birthday to the poor guy. He deserves it. Guido van Genechten’s cute, expressive, boldly outlined artwork is instantly recognizable and appealing to younger readers.

 

Swim Bark Run, by Brian & Pamela Boyle/Illustrated by Beth Hughes, (June 2018, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510726963

Recommended for readers 3-7

Daisy the Bulldog is so proud of her humans, Brian and Pam, when they compete in triathlons. She wonders if she could train and compete like they do, and decides to enlist the help of her fellow doggie buddies, Rascal, Atticus, and Hobie, to hold their own Dog-Athlon! Daisy is full of energy at first, but when she starts getting tired, a familiar face at the finish line gives her the boost she needs!

Swim Bark Run is a cute book about physical activity, competition and cooperation, and determination. The digital artwork is bright and cute, giving the dogs happy, friendly faces and includes a nice amount of action as the pups train for their big day. There are positive messages about working together and encouraging one another. This is a cute additional add for readers who like animal books and books about physical fitness.

Seven Bad Cats, by Moe Bonneau, (June 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492657101

Recommended for readers 4-7

A child gets ready to go out on a fishing boat, but seven bad cats make progress very difficult. I love this rhyming, counting tale of seven cats who do what cats do best: get in the way! They eat from the traps, take naps on the oars and steal the child’s gloves, and generally make themselves a nuisance until the boat flips over, and the cats band together to save the day. The book counts up from one to seven until the boat flips everything over, including the story, and the countdown from seven back to one ends the fun. The watercolor artwork adds a nice, watery feel to this seafaring tale, and the cats are hilarious, using their whole bodies to get up to all sorts of no good; even appearing in mug shots on one page. They sprawl, they curl, they stretch, and they swim – they may not like it, but a cat’s gotta do what a cat’s gotta do! This one is a thoroughly enjoyable add to storytime and concept collections. Give this to your cat loving kids! (Also good for a readaloud with flannels or beanie babies.)

 

Finn’s Feather, by Rachel Noble/Illustrated by Zoey Abbot, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702398

Recommended for readers 4-8

In this touching story about grief, loss, and remembrance, a young boy named Finn finds a feather at his doorstep. It’s white, amazing, perfect. It has to be from his brother, Hamish, and Finn tells his mother and his teacher, who take a deep breath and smile; Finn doesn’t understand why they aren’t as excited as he is. His friend Lucas is, though: it’s got to be an angel’s feather, it’s so perfect, and the two friends take Hamish with them on the playground, running with the feather as if it were an additional friend. Finn uses the feather as a quill to write a note to Hamish that evening, and sets the envelope holding the letter in a tree, so the wind will carry it to Hamish.

Inspired by author Rachel Noble’s loss, this moving story about a sibling grieving and remembering is gentle, understanding, and an excellent book to have available for children moving through grief. The soft pencil artwork and gentle colors provide a calming, soothing feel to the story.

 

Ready to Ride, by Sébastien Pelon, (June 2018, words & pictures), $17.95, ISBN: 9781910277737

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young boy finds himself bored on a day home, until his mother sends him out to play. An imaginary friend joins him, and together, they learn to ride a bike! This is a fun, light story about imagination and getting outdoors to play. The imaginary friend is a big, white, two-legged figure – think yeti without the shag – wearing a pointy pink hat and protectively towers over the boy, helping him learn to ride the bike. When the boy heads home after a day of play, his new friend disappears, which is a bit of a letdown. Maybe he’ll show up again. There’s a “Certificate for a Super Cyclist” at the end of the book; a cute prize for kids who learn to ride. This one is an additional add if you’ve got kids who like bike-riding.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

We all want a Little Small

My Little Small,by Ulf Stark/Illustrated by Linda Bondestam, Translated by Annie Prime, (March 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $15.95, ISBN: 9781592702091

Recommended for readers 4-7

Originally published 2014 in Swedish as Min Egen Lilla Liten, this is a touching story about a lonely Creature that allows for some interpretation with readaloud audiences. A lonely gray Creature lives inside a mountain cave, living in darkness because the sun will hurt her; possibly kill her. She longs for something to love and care for: “someone small to sing to and care for”. She tries to share her affection with the moon, whose rays shatter when she attempts an embrace. But one ay, a stray spark from the sun finds its way into her cave, and her heart soars. The spark tells her stories about the sun, and the colors visible in the daylight: the blue ocean; the yellow deserts; the green forests; the animals and birds that live above. While the Creature is enchanted by the spark, calling it her Little Small, the spark must hurry back to the sun before dark.

The Creature in this story is gendered female in the text, but this is open to interpretation: The Creature can easily take on any preferred pronoun the reader wishes; it’s a gray, amorphous shape with large, expressive eyes, a bulbous, black nose, and sharp white teeth. It’s nowhere near scary; rather, it’s kind of cute. Creature’s story is the big thing here: the desire to love and care for a Little Small; the same desire that fuels parents and caregivers; the same desire that moves children to attach themselves to a Lovey. My Little Small is also a reminder that our time together is short, and to fill those moments with joy – a nice nod to us adults to stop sweating the small stuff. The artwork is bold, with textured grays giving life to Creature and her environs, and bold, bright colors populating the spark’s tales of life outside. The spark itself is tiny and bright, giving off rings of warm, yellow light.

Words Without Borders calls My Little Small a “sweetly eccentric book”, and that seems about perfect, so I’ll leave it at that. It may not appeal to every reader, but it does reach down and get to the heart of the desire to love and protect. Sunrise, 2013 comic by Heather L. Sheppard, from a few years ago, makes a good readalike with absolutely adorable artwork. If you can find it (it’s a digital comic, available through Comixology), give it a read.

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A grand expedition awaits in your backyard

The Grand Expedition, by Emma Adbåge/Illustrated by Anne Prime, (Apr. 2018, Enchanted Lion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781592702459

Recommended for readers 3-7

Two siblings head to their backyard for an adventure! They take the time to prepare food (coffee and pickles) and provisions (blankets, tent, jump rope). They head out, set up camp, and… eat all the pickles. And sit. And then the mosquitoes come out. And then one sibling has to poop, which seals the deal: they’re heading back inside. They end the evening cozy, with their dad, indoors.

This is the stuff of childhood. Originally published in Sweden, this is the kind of story that appeals to kids of all kinds: the campout. I grew up in an apartment, and my kids spent their early years in one, so living room campouts were the answer (who doesn’t love a sturdy blanket and pillow fort?) The kids pack like kids – minus the snacks, because they’ve only got pickles, but you get the point – and head out to an adventure that is greater in the imagination than in actuality. Once they get out there, there’s not a whole lot to do, and the lack of indoor plumbing is a dilemma. The adventure continues into the home, where the boys end the evening still on an adventure, this time, in the comfort of home. This is a fun story for a pajama readaloud – can you build blanket forts in your library, classroom, or living room? Bring the stuffed animals, sit in your PJs, and enjoy a comfy campout. The illustrations lend to the imaginary feel, with muted watercolor and line drawings giving a hazy, dreamlike feel to the story.