Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

#HomesCool Reads: Math & Nature

There are so many great books that have come out, and are coming out in the next couple of months! With school having started for some kids (NYC doesn’t go back until after Labor Day), I’m transitioning #SummersCool into #HomesCool, since a lot of us will be learning in either a blended or completely remote environment. For everyone who’s back in a classroom, or had to make the decision on how to schedule your children for learning, hang in there. And thank you, teachers!

Up this time, we’ve got folk tales using math and logic; we’ve got lion queens in India, and an archaeologist who discovered Peru’s ancient cultures. Let’s go!

Sharuko: El arqueólogo peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello, by Monica Brown/Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Translated by Adriana Domínguez, (Aug. 2020, Lee & Low Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9780892394234

Ages 7-11

This bilingual (English/Spanish) biography of Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, nicknamed “Sharuko”, is a beautifully written, illustrated, and translated story of Julio Tello, an Indigenous boy growing up in late 1800s Peru, who became a leading expert in Peru’s Indigenous culture. As a boy, Sharuko – a nickname meaning “brave” in Quechua, the language spoken by the Indigenous people of Peru – explored caves and burial grounds in the Peruvian Andes. As he got older and continued his education, he read articles about skulls he had found as a child, which were sent to the city of Lima to be further studied. The article inspired Julio to devote his medical school training to study Peru’s indigenous history; going on to prove that Peru’s Indigenous culture was established thousands of years before, not inherited from other countries, as was the pervasive belief. He awakened pride in his country’s ancestry and its cultural legacy and became a hero to the people of Peru.

Elisa Chavarri’s watercolor and gouache artwork is colorful, with maps, beautiful landscapes, and artifacts all coming together to tell Julio Tello’s story. Author Monica Brown tells Tello’s story in a way that will captivate readers and possibly inspire new generations of archaeologists and anthropologists. The Spanish translation is parallel to the English text, which helps learning readers (like me!) learn the flow of the language, be it Spanish or English. Back matter includes an afterword a note on the illustration, and additional sources. I need more picture book biographies in my Spanish/bilingual collection. Happy to add this one.

Sharuko: El arqueólogo peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello has starred reviews from The Horn Book, Booklist, and School Library Journal.

 

The Lion Queens of India, by Jan Reynolds, (Sept. 2020, Lee and Low Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781643790510

Ages 6-8

Award-winning photojournalist Jan Reynolds introduces readers to the Lion Queens – a group of female forest guards who track and protect the lions in the Gir Sanctuary. Narrated by Rashila, the first Lion Queen, readers learn about a day in the life of the Lion Queens; from patrolling areas on motorcycle to checking on food and water availability for the lions. There are facts about lions throughout, and Rashila talks about the different lions’ personalities, the “Web of Life” balance in the Gir, and the growing lion population, coming back from the brink of extinction. The Queens work with communities to educate and inform; they discuss conservation and preservation and how to live alongside the lions without hurting the habitats that both human and lion rely on to survive. Back matter includes an author’s note and bibliography. The book is filled with beautiful photos of the lions of the Gir Sanctuary and Rashila and her fellow Lion Queens, and the sentences are brief and to the point, making this a great nonfiction book for emerging readers and for storytimes. It’s an exciting subject to introduce to kids – especially on a Career Day! Consider looking up the Lion Queens of India documentary from Animal Planet to have on hand.

 

Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math, by Rajani LaRocca/Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, (Oct. 2020, Lee and Low Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9781885008978

Ages 6-10

Set in ancient India, Bhagat is a boy living with his mother. They are poor and they are hungry, but a chance to win a place at the Rajah’s court as a singer gives Bhagat some hope for bettering their circumstances. As he leaves for the Rajah’s city, his mother gives him the last of their wealth – seven gold links from her wedding necklace – to pay for his food and lodging, and Bhagat knows he must be careful in budgeting, as he doesn’t know how long it will take for the Rajah to see him and he doesn’t want to overpay and run out of money. Bhagat uses math to work out how to safely pay his way and keep the innkeeper satisfied, and his math skills lead to a happy resolution.

There are lessons in computational thinking and mathematics, and has the building blocks for coding units here. An author’s note explains the mathematics at work in the story, touching on binary numbers, base 10, and the history of mathematics in the ancient world. The digital artwork is bright, warm, and attractive, with clear illustrations explaining Bhagat’s use of the golden rings. A solid addition to your fables/folk tales and math tales like the Sir Cumference series, One Grain of Rice, and The Grapes of Math.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A little Joy goes a long way…

Joy the Elf, by Carmen Gil/Illustrated by Zuriñe Aguirre, (June 2018, NubeOcho), $15.95, ISBN: 9788494692611

Recommended for readers 4-8

Mateo is a boy who loves his tiny elf friend, Joy. She can be found in the most unexpected of places; his daddy’s beard, or in the sound of his grandparent’s car when they arrive for a visit. But the mean Ragdoll Witch doesn’t want Joy hanging around, so she cast a spell on Joy to keep her away from Mateo, and proceeded to give the boy everything he wished for: a fancy tablet, cool roller skates, even a giant dragon. And the more Mateo got what he wished for, the more Joy disappeared, until she finally became invisible. A fish and a fairy got together and created a counterspell, which slightly altered the gifts to be a little off – a mountain bike became a boat trip with Mateo’s grandparents; a video game became a library book – and with each small, slightly off-kilter gift, Joy came back.

The moral of the story? If you get everything you want, you don’t appreciate it; find your Joy in the simplest of moments. Joy the Elf is a bit heavy on the moralizing, but it does open up a nice discussion about finding happiness outside of the expensive things in life. The collage artwork is colorful and eye-catching. Joy the Elf was originally released in Spanish in 2017.

 

Joy, by Corrinne Averiss/Illustrated by Isabelle Follath, (July 2018, words and pictures), $17.95, ISBN: 9781910277669

Recommended for readers 4-8

Fern is a little girl who loves her cheerful Nanna, but lately, Nanna’s been very down. She’s not baking yummy butterfly cakes, she’s not keeping up her home, and she just sits and looks very sad. Fern’s mom mentions that the joy has gone out of Nanna’s life, prompting Fern to seek it out and bring it back! She discovers all the places you can find joy, and brings them to Nanna. The message is wonderfully clear: joy is wonderful, but it’s not a given; sometimes, it needs an infusion. The best part? Joy is also something that can be shared!

Joy also enlightens readers to the issue of elder depression. Nanna shows the signs of someone dealing with depression: Nanna looks sad. She’s stopped her daily routine; she appears to have stopped cleaning her home, grooming her cat, taking care of her appearance. Her daughter, Fern’s mother, is worried, and Fern, being a child, takes the most direct course of action. No one is relying on a little girl to cure her grandmother; she’s acting appropriately for a child, and seeking out things that will make her grandmother happy again. It works, and now, Fern understands that sometimes, people can become sad. The artwork flows with the storyline; happy Nanna has a bright, clean home, with butterflies zooming around; sad Nanna and her home are depicted in darker gray and black shades. Fern’s quest for joy brings us back to bright color and upward movements. This is a book that opens up the chance for discussions about feelings and empathy, and the importance of our family relationships.

Posted in Animal Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Dormouse is afraid to sleep alone… do you have space for him?

Dormouse and His Seven Beds, by Susanna Isern/Illustrated by Marco Somà, (April 2018, NubeOcho), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-946926-6-6

Recommended for readers 3-6

Green Forest is a pretty quiet, uneventful place until the morning that Rabbit wakes up to discover Dormouse is sleeping in his carrot box. Dormouse apologizes, and says he couldn’t sleep, so he decided to try a new bed. This quickly becomes a habit: Dormouse tries out Robin’s tie drawer, Deer’s antlers, Tortoise’s glasses case, Mouse’s cuckoo clock, and Squirrel’s music box! The animals have a talk with Dormouse: this has to stop; he’s giving everyone a fright! Dormouse disappears the next day, worrying his neighbors. When they start a search, they discover him in Gray Forest, in Wolf’s sock! After a quick rescue, they discover the reasoning behind Dormouse’s wandering: he doesn’t want to sleep alone.

This story is perfect for preschoolers who may have similar fears, and the parents and caregivers who wake up to discover an errant foot or arm lodged in a hip, the small of a back, or a neck. (Speaking from experience.) Dormouse’s desire for company overrides his sense of propriety, leading him to sneak into his neighbors’ homes to be near someone at night; understandably, it’s a little nerve-wracking to wake up with someone unexpected in one’s home, and the group confronts Dormouse, not giving him a chance to explain himself. Parents will understand the guilt the animal friends feel when Dormouse disappears, and both parents and caregivers will appreciate the arrangement everyone comes to for future sleepovers. A sweet addition at the tale’s end gives Dormouse a chance to pay it forward.

Marco Somà’s illustration is just beautiful, with small details that will keep readers noticing something new with every read; from the carrot wallpaper in Rabbit’s home, to the owl’s face built into Owl’s home, and beyond. The blue tinge throughout the artwork lends a peaceful vibe to the story, making this a loving bedtime read, perfect for snuggling with the kiddos before they fall asleep in their own beds (or at least, start out there).

Released in 2017 in Spanish (978-84-946926-5-9), Dormouse and His Seven Beds is part of nubeOCHO’s nubeclassics line, and reads like a classic fable should.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A Chesapeake Fable: Wind and Oyster Jack

Wind and Oyster Jack, by Marcia G. Moore/Illustrated by Heather Crow, (Nov. 2017, Schiffer Publishing), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764354229

Recommended for readers 6-10

Oyster Jack is a Chesapeake Bay waterman, out on his boat, Dinah, harvesting oysters. Their friend, Wind, helps them by lifting Dinah’s sails and allowing the boat to move. The weather is getting chilly, though, and Wind is cold. She asks Oyster Jack to share his coat and his blanket, but he can’t – he needs them for himself! – so Wind goes off to find a coat of frost, and a blanket of snow, that she hears about on Jack’s radio. They don’t fit Wind, and Oyster Jack and Dinah are stuck without Wind. Finally, Oyster Jack comes up with a solution that will make everyone happy.

This sweet story, set in the Chesapeake Bay area, is a nice way to introduce different areas of the States to readers, and a good way to talk about the different careers that flourish in different areas and environments. There’s an explanation of the skipjack – the type of boat watermen use when they go out harvesting – at the end, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a good section on the area’s geography and facts; the Maryland Sea Grant website has a section on the oyster trade and current restoration efforts. The narrative sounds much like a modern-day fable, with the Wind interacting as a living being with Oyster Jack; the resolution explains the windsock’s origin.

This is a text-heavy story, making it a good choice for older readers who can process deeper and longer text. The artwork appears to be watercolor and has an Impressionist feel. The wind has a visible face, and breathes in swirls that cascade through each spread. The light glimmers on the water, and the snow softly blankets the town. Most pages are full-bleed; a few exceptions for large blocks of text are plain, bright white. Bunches of oysters set the tone on the endpages.

If you want to introduce readers to the Chesapeake Bay area, this is a good place to start.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Hispanic Heritage Month: nubeOcho picture books

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I love nubeOCHO picture books. I discovered the publisher when I was at the PLA conference last year; I was a children’s librarian in a largely monolingual Spanish-speaking community, with outdated books on the shelves in their language. I was buying books in Spanish that I knew how to search for: Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Percy  Jackson – but I needed to find new books that spoke to the kids and their cultures. I found that publisher in nubeOCHO, who simultaneously publishes Spanish and English language copies of their books that are perfect for my kiddos. I could read a storytime book in English, interjecting some Spanish words where I knew how, and the parents could borrow the Spanish copy to take home and read with their kids. I am forever grateful.

This season, nubeOCHO has a couple of adorable books out – available in English and Spanish – for beginning readers and cuddlers. Enjoy.

The Perfect Animal (El animal perfecto), by Raquel Diaz Reguera, (Sept. 2017, nubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-8494633393
Recommended for readers 4-8

The kids at school have to dress up as an animal; Valentina wants to be “the perfect animal”. But what does that mean? Valentina considers several animals: elephants, bears, bats, birds, and more. She notes their strengths and their “curiosities” – noted throughout the book as fun facts, paper-clipped to the pages, written on note paper. So which one is the perfect animal? Why pick just one? There’s vibrant art throughout the book, plus fun facts kids will love (elephant are the only mammals that can’t jump, which makes really good sense). The Perfect Animal is part of nube’s Egalite imprint; publishing stories that emphasize equality and that illustrate the richness of diversity.

A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise (Una sopresa para tortuga), by Paula Merlan/Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, (Oct. 2017, nubeOCHO), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-946333-4-8
Recommended for readers 4-8

Mrs. Tortoise sees her reflection one morning, and it really brings her down. Her shell looks old and worn out, and it’s really making her feel old and sad. Luckily for her, Birdie, her best friend, is there to cheer her up! He bops around to the sky, the flowers, the wind, and clouds to help decorate her  shell and cheer her up, but it seems like everything just makes Mrs. Tortoise feel worse; she loses her temper and snaps at Birdie, but even that doesn’t stop him. When Mrs. Tortoise goes to apologize to Birdie, she discovers that forgiveness and friendship are all that matter (and a little help from the rainbow doesn’t hurt). Washed-out watercolor art splashed across each page spread creates beautiful artwork that readers will gravitate to – especially when Mrs. Tortoise’s shell is covered in flowers! (I see art project at storytime here!) This is a sweet story about friendship and going the extra mile for a friend. A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise is part of nube’s Somos8 imprint, exploring first sensations and challenges kids meet.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Preschool Reads

Bow-Wow-Meow takes a sensitive look at identity

Bow-Wow-Meow, by Blanca Lacasa/Illustrated by Gómez, (May 2017, nubeOCHO), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-94515-7-5

Recommended for readers 4-8

Fabio’s a dog that really isn’t into doggish things. He doesn’t play fetch, he doesn’t roll over to have his belly tickled, he doesn’t wag his tail, and he doesn’t bark. His family tries to teach him how to act like a dog: they throw sticks, they roll around on the floor, and they bark at him. Fabio is uninterested. One night, Max, a little boy in the family, discovers that Fabio is going out at night, and follows him: right into a group of cats engaging in very catlike behavior, from coughing up hairballs to playing cards (hey, are you with your cat 24/7?). Max can’t believe how happy Fabio is as he sharpens his claws, climbs drainpipes, chases mice, and bow-wow-meows along with his feline friends. The next morning, when Max’s parents try to get Fabio to act like a dog, Max quietly acknowledges Fabio, making him the happiest member of his family.

Recognition and visibility are important. When Max acknowledges Fabio, when he sees Fabio for who he really is, Fabio’s whole world changes; Max’s world widens that much more. Bow-Wow-Meow sensitively handles identity and diversity for young readers. By telling Fabio’s story using dogs and cats, kids are entertained and enlightened in a sweet, fun way that leaves the pathways open for discussion again and again. Gómez’s bold artwork is fun and expressive and will appeal to storytime audiences. Younger readers may struggle with some pages, where the black text is superimposed over a dark background.

I’d love to read this with Jules Feiffer’s Bark, George, for a good storytime on diversity and animals. You can also display and pair this with books like Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, by Christine Baldacchino, or Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman. Mothering.com has a good article with recommendations for kids’ books that defy gender.

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

Mighty Jack is a new twist on a beloved fable

mightyjack_1Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke (Sept. 2016, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781626722651

Recommended for ages 9+

Jack is home for the summer, taking care of his autistic sister, Maddy, while his mom works two jobs to make ends meet. Maddy doesn’t talk often, but when she does, it’s about something that she’s passionate about – and she’s passionate about the box of seeds she discovers at a flea market. Before Jack knows what he’s agreed to, he’s traded his mom’s car for the seeds. Maddy’s happy, but Mom is not.

The seeds are planted, and a magical garden grows, delighting Maddy and their neighbor, Lilly, until things get a little out of hand. When a dragon appears one night, telling Jack that there’s evil in the heart of the garden, Jack is faced with tough decisions and their consequences.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Ben Hatke’s books. From Zita the Spacegirl to Little Robot, to his storybooks (Julia’s House for Lost Creatures and Nobody Likes a Goblin), I love his very human characters – even when they’re a little something other than human. He brings the magical garden to life with vibrant greens, reds, yellows and purples, and his dragon is beautiful and menacing, all at once. Hatke weaves a very real story about a struggling family into his fantasy tale, and that’s where his strength lies: making the everyday extraordinary.

This is a definite add to your graphic novel bookshelf, and you’ll find yourself wondering when the next volume is due out. Because there has to be one, right? After that ending? Don’t leave me hanging, Ben!

Take a look at some more of Mighty Jack:

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Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate

The power of stories: The Storyteller

storyteller-1The Storyteller, by Evan Turk (June 2016, Athenum), $18.99, ISBN: 9781481435185

Recommended for ages 5-10

Every now and then, you get an epic in storybook form. The Storyteller is such a tale. We sit down and listen to the storyteller: the narrator of the book, who tells us how the Kingdom of Morocco formed at the edge of the great, dry Sahara desert; how there were fountains of cool water, and storytellers to bring the people together. We also learn that as people forgot the perils of the desert, they forgot about the storytellers, too – except for a single boy, who happened upon a storyteller while in search of a drink of water. The storyteller spun tales for the boy, always leaving him thirsty for more stories.

Once a sacred duty to preserve a culture’s collective memory, the advent of television, movies, and the Internet whittled away at the practice of storytelling. What The Storyteller gives us is a beautifully complex, layered tale that illustrates the power of storytelling, an art that – according to the author’s note at the end of the book – is at long last making a comeback.

Mr. Turk’s art has an ancient feel to it, capturing the story’s spirit using a variety of instruments: water-soluble crayon, colored drawing pencils, inks, indigo, sugared green tea, a heat gun, and fire. The final product made me feel like I was holding a revered story scroll, reading tale straight from history.

storyteller-2

Evan Turk received the New Illustrator Honor from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation for Grandfather Gandhi. Find more of his artwork at his author website. The Storyteller has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

This is a picture book more for school-age kids than little ones. The publisher suggests ages 4-8, but I’d bump it up to ages 5-10, because I feel like Kindergarteners would be better able to sit through the story and lose themselves in this tale. I also feel like this would be a great book to skew a little older with; for instance, upper elementary grades that have storytelling/fairy tales units would have great success introducing this book to classrooms.

storyteller-3

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Preschool Reads

The Ugly Dumpling puts a new spin on a beloved fable

ugly dumplingThe Ugly Dumpling, by Stephanie Campisi/Illustrated by Shahar Kober (Apr. 2016, Mighty Media), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-938063-67-1

Recommended for ages 3-7

There once was an ugly dumpling who didn’t look like the other dumplings. This made him feel really badly, until along came a cockroach, whose heart reached out to the dumpling’s, and showed him the beauty of the world.

Sounds familiar, right? Well… kinda. The latest update of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fable The Ugly Duckling, The Ugly Dumpling looks beyond the surface to tell a sweet story about friendship, being different, and being proud of it. The dumpling, living in a restaurant, was uneaten and ignored because he didn’t look like the dumplings around him, but when he takes up with the cockroach, he realizes that the world around him is beautiful and so is his place in it – and he learns that he’s not a dumpling like those boring other guys after all! But the sweetest part of the story comes when the cockroach is discovered by the other food and the customers – and Dumpling realizes that it’s his turn to reach out to a friend in need.

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Told in short, sentences with key words emphasized by beautiful artwork, like the “hiss” of a wok and a “thwack” of a cleaver, The Ugly Dumpling teaches kids not only that it’s okay not to fit in, but encourages them to accept one another’s differences – celebrate them! – and reach out to anyone who may feel ostracized and alone. I can’t think of a kinder, more valuable message to teach our kids these days.

Shahar Kober’s art is a perfect complement to Stephanie Campisi’s sweet story. I’m not a bug fan by any stretch of the imagination, but he manages to create a bug companion that is adorable and as touching as the cockroach in Wall-E (and that’s a HUGE thing for me to say). And think about it – what creature is as reviled as a roach? Ratatooie made mice in the kitchen a cute thing, we all love Desperaux, so by taking a cockroach – no doubt someone who’s all too aware of being an outsider and disliked – and having him reach out to a poor dumpling to say, “It’s okay – there’s so much beauty in the world around you,” is a beautiful gesture borne out of a true understanding of The Golden Rule. Kober manages to make a dumpling sympathetic and emphathetic, with kind words wrapped around him to give him life.

dumplingbowl

I love this story and can’t wait to read it with my preschoolers. It’s a great add to libraries and collections that promote tolerance and kindness among children, and maybe some adults could stand to learn a thing or three from its message, too.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Westly: A Spider’s Tale is a good, middle-grade fable

westlyWestly: A Spider’s Tale, by Bryan Beus (Sept. 2015, Shadow Mountain), $15.99, ISBN: 9781629720685

Recommended for ages 9-13

In a contained garden of a glass chandelier, a young caterpillar is born into royalty. Destined to inherit the crown of the Monarch Butterfly kingdom, he is spoiled and naïve until he emerges from his cocoon – and he’s not exactly what he expected. Instead of a regal monarch, he’s a spider. Horrified by his appearance and afraid he’ll be ostracized from butterfly society, he runs away and lives down below, among the “dirt eaters” – the bugs that live below, on the ground. Not knowing he comes from the arrogant butterflies, they take him in and teach him how to live – but what Westly doesn’t realize is that he holds the key to uniting both societies.

Blending a graphic novel feel with a moral fable storytelling voice, Bryan Beus’ debut novel is a great read for middle graders. It’s kind of A Bug’s Life meets The Ugly Duckling, with a kind-hearted, unworldly main character who goes on a classic hero’s journey to grow up, mature, and come into the leader he’s meant to be. There are wonderfully classic elements here: the villain, the wise old sage, and the curmudgeon with the heart of gold being just a few touchstones that children and adults alike with recognize and embrace. Black and white sketches throughout the book hold the reader’s interest and have a comforting, classic feel.

 

This is a solid choice for school libraries and classrooms, especially for middle grade read-alouds and units on fairy tales and fables. Animal fiction always does well in my library, so I know this one will be happily received.

Bryan Beus is the winner of the Kirchoff/Wohlberg Award from The New York Society of Illustrators. His author website offers a sneak preview of Westly‘s first two chapters, plus an adorable webcomic called Peter and Li. Westly is Mr. Beus’ first book, but I’m hoping to see more.