Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Niki Nakayama’s blends cultures in her chef story

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, by Jamie Michalak & Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Yuko Jones, (Sept. 2021, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374313876

Ages 4-8

Niki Nakayama, the master chef behind the California restaurant n/Naka, shares her story in this lovely picture book biography from children’s book authors Jamie Michalak, Debbi Michiko Florence, and illustrator Yuko Jones. Beginning with Ms. Nakayama’s childhood in California, the story gives us 13 “bites”: 13 defining moments in the chef’s life, to parallel her 13 course menus at n/naka. The Japanese-American chef developed a love of global cuisine as a child; her mother blended Japanese and American foods and flavors together to make meals like meatloaf with soy sauce, or teriyaki turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Ms. Nakayama began creating her own recipes as a child, eventually traveling the world to sample cuisines from different cultures. When she returned to the United States, she apprenticed as a sushi chef, ultimately opening her own restaurant, n/naka, where she now creates 13-course tasting “storytelling” menus. Back matter includes a timeline of Niki Nakayama’s life, an explanation of terms used in the story, and the chef’s own childhood wonton pizza recipe. The story flows from moment to moment in the chef’s life, touching on frustrations like having her family dote on her brother, and having her family agree to finance her first restaurant, but agree to give up her dream if it was not successful. Spreads show Nakayama and her family gathering at their own table, and families gathering to eat at n/naka, illustrating the power of community that eating together brings. Spreads show colorful foods from all over the world sprawl across pages, and diners speaking different languages as they enjoy a creative master chef’s food.

You can visit n/naka’s website and see Chef Nakayama’s profile; you can see a promo for her Chef’s Table episode on Netflix below.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Magic for All! The Gilded Girl fights for magical equality

The Gilded Girl, by Alyssa Colman, (Apr. 2021, Farrar Straus Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374313937

Ages 8-12

This middle grade book about magic feels like it’s set in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-era New York, and has such a strong social class storyline that makes it so relevant today. Magic exists in the world, but it’s been co-opted by the wealthy. When magical winds blow, you either “kindle” – take on the magic that manifests itself with the winds, or “snuff” – have your magic snuffed out, leaving you with no gifts. The wealthy have warped the entire idea that magic must run free, and the process has become more and more precarious as magic is limited, cornered, controlled. Izzy is a 12-year-old girl working as a maid in a prestigious school for magic run by the awful social climber Miss Posterity. She has plans to kindle on her own and leave Miss Posterity, to seek her younger sister who was taken from her when her parents died. Emma is a 12-year-old girl with a wealthy father who enrolls as a student with Miss Posterity. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake upends Emma’s life, but bonds her with Izzy as the two plan to free themselves from Miss Posterity’s crushing yoke. With the help of a house dragon (in the form of a cat) and some friends on the inside and outside of Miss Posterity’s, the two may just start a revolution. The story is a journey for both Emma and Izzy; Emma begins as a child of privilege who learns big lessons when the tables turn. Izzy learns how to let her guard down and rely on people other than herself. It’s a study in friendship, in social class, and social change; having the recent immigrants living in New York City tenements in an area called “The Tarnish” is like reading a fantasy version of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives. The house dragon, in the form of a cat, is a wonderful addition to the story and injects some levity and cuteness into the storyline. (My own house dragon, Tiger, was not amused at being found out.)

Great fantasy for middle graders; if you’re a New York history fan like I am, you can talk for days about the implications of magic being kept out of the literal hands of immigrants and the poor and how the wealthy warped the natural flow of magic by making it unattainable except to the privileged. Must-read! Enjoy a discussion guide (spoilers in some of the questions, look at your own risk) courtesy of the publisher.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Summertime Rumble! Beach Toys vs. School Supplies

Beach Toys vs. School Supplies, by Mike Ciccotello, (June 2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux), $17.99, ISBN: 9780374314040

Ages 3-6

It’s beach toys versus school supplies in a sandcastle contest to beat all sandcastle contests! Shovel is relaxing at the beach when Ruler shows up to start working. Shovel doesn’t want to think about school just yet! The two decide to find out who’s better – beach toys or school supplies – with a sandcastle building contest, and the two teams set to work. Just as the winner is determined, a big wave threatens to wipe out one of the castles: will the two groups work together to save the castle and enjoy the summer?

An adorable look at the balance between work and play, Beach Toys vs. Sand Castles is filled with fun and wry observations about both sides: the school supplies naturally only want to work and appear pompous, while the beach toys are all about fun. Messages about teamwork and respecting the need for a work and play balance come across playfully and with equal weight to both sides. Cartoon artwork is colorful, with anthropomorphic supplies bearing fun, exaggerated expressions. Endpapers show the toys and supplies standing off against one another; look for my favorite, the backpack, pocket unzippered to reveal a menacing box of colored pencils shaking a fist.

Absolute fun, with a free, downloadable activity kit, to boot! Find it here. Read this to your preschoolers and kindergarteners who may be annoyed by already seeing school supplies creeping back into stores and assure them that there’s room for both.

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

Intermediate Book Bundles!

I’ve been bundling again, and Macmillan was kind enough to give me some book bundling ideas from their imprints. This bundle is a mix of intermediate chapter books and graphic novels, and I think this will be a super popular mix.

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, (July 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 9780374304102

Ages 6-9

I read the first Jasmine Toguchi book back in 2017 and loved this fresh new face on my chapter book shelves! Since then, there have been three more Jasmine Toguchi books, and I know my library kids enjoy Jasmine as much as I did. In her first book, 8-year-old Jasmine really wants to be part of the mochi-making process when her grandmother flies in from Japan, but she’s not 10 yet, so her family says, “no way”. But Jasmine is set on building up her arm strength to be able to heft that mochi hammer. An author’s note and microwave mochi recipe at the end introduce readers to Japanese culture, and Jasmine is a spunky, smart young heroine that readers can immediately feel close to; she could be a friend at school or from the neighborhood. Black and white illustrations throughout are playful and let us into Jasmine’s world.

Author Debbi Michiko Florence’s website is amazing, from the adorable and colorful mochi at the top of the page, to the printable activities tied to each of her books, to her colorful and blog, always loaded with photos and updates.

 

Doggo and Pupper, by Katherine Applegate/Illustrated Charlie Alder, (March 2021, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250620972

Ages 6-9

Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate and illustrator Charlie Alder join together to create an adorable story of two dogs. Doggo is a family dog who has his routines, like taking naps, walking the family’s daughter, and snuggling little family members. He has calming pursuits, like watching TV, even skateboarding, but it’s a pretty routine life, even if he does wistfully remember his younger, wilder days. When the family decides to get a new puppy, Doggo’s world is turned upside down! Pupper wants to talk ALL NIGHT. He is silly and lazy and… he’s a puppy! When Pupper gets sent to charm school, he returns home a different, more sedate Pupper, which gets Doggo thinking… he misses that wacky little Pupper. He quietly takes the pup out for a night of fun, where the two can let their wild sides out with no damage: or charm school. A sweet story of friendship and enjoying childhood, Doggo and Pupper is a story early graphic novel readers will love. Cat, the family cat, is there to add wisdom to the story, and Doggo has sage advice about puppies at the end of the story; good advice for anyone considering a Pupper of their own. Colorful collage and digital artwork are adorable, and the story is organized into easily readable chapters that give kids a place to pause.

Doggo and Pupper has a starred review from Booklist.

 

Blue, Barry & Pancakes, by Dan & Jason, (March 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255556

Ages 4-8

Childhood best friends Dan and Jason give kids a new graphic novel series about the hilarity of friendship. Blue is a worm, Barry is a frog, and Pancakes is a giant bunny, who live in the same house and get into the wackiest of situations. In this first graphic novel, Barry is just about to finish his tower of waffles when Pancakes insists they hit the beach. When Barry and Pancakes start playing with Blue’s collector beach ball, a giant whale eats it and sends the trio off into a silly adventure that will have every reader giggling uncontrollably (at least, my 8 year old did). The facial expressions, the frenetic pace of the action, and the “what next?” moments all make this the graphic novel kids will be asking for this summer. Reading takes you everywhere? It sure does here, as the trio goes from home, to the beach, to the inside of a whale, a rowboat, a UFO, the inside of a volcano, and more! If you asked one of your library kids to make up an adventure right on the spot, I guarantee you they’d come up with something very close to Blue, Barry and Pancakes. Endpapers show off other items in Blue’s collection, which makes me wonder what we’ll see in future adventures…

This is the first in a planned trilogy – the second one is due out in a matter of DAYS (stay tuned). Visit Dan and Jason’s website to see more about their projects, including Blue, Barry and Pancakes.

 

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say!, by Angela Dominguez, (Jan. 2018, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-858-5

Ages 7-9

I read the first Stella Diaz book in 2018 and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this shy second grader who had to find her voice. Stella Diaz loves fish and learning about the oceans and ocean life; she loves spending time with her mom and brother, and loves spending time with her best friend Jenny. She’s also incredibly shy and can’t find the words she wants to use, so she tends to stay quiet, afraid she’ll speak Spanish instead of English, or pronounce her words wrong. Either way, she’s made fun of by the class Mean Girl, but when her teacher assigns presentations that means Stella will have to speak in front of the class, she works to defeat her fears and find her voice. It’s a wonderful story about friendship, making new friends, and facing challenges. It’s infused with Mexican culture and Spanish language, inspired by the author’s own story of growing up Mexican-American, and features black and white illustrations throughout. There are two additional Stella Diaz books now, with a third coming next year – I’ve got books 2 and 3 on my desk right now, so keep an eye on this space for more.

Visit author Angela Dominguez’s website for more about her books!

 

How are you feeling about the book bundles talking? Too much? Not enough? Less description, more visual? I’d love to hear what you think!

Posted in picture books

Dear Librarian: A moving memoir

Dear Librarian, by Lydia M. Sigwarth/Illustrated by Romina Galotta, (June 2021, Farrar, Straus, Giroux), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374313906

Ages 4-8

Librarian Lydia M. Sigwarth’s picture book memoir was inspired by Ira Glass’s public radio show, This American Life. At the age of 5, Lydia’s family moved from Colorado to Iowa. WIthout a home of their own, Lydia, her six siblings, and parents stayed at relatives’ homes, but had no place of their own – until Lydia’s mother took her to the library, where she found a Library Home in the stories, the programs, and in the librarian, who always had time for a hug, to read a book with Lydia, and make her feel safe. Inspired to become a librarian thanks to “her” librarian, Lydia’s experiences illustrate both the library as emotional home for those who may not have anywhere to go; the emotional work of the librarian, and the love so many of us have for what we do. Romina Galotta’s illustrations capture the magic hidden in the ordinary; we see young Lydia walk into the library for the first time, flowers blooming out of shelves and sprouting up from book pages, just waiting for her. The warm atmosphere of the children’s room will bring a smile to any library lover’s face; I ached, missing my library even more, seeing the puppet show theatre and toy bins lining the floor of Lydia’s childhood library. Most of all, I loved the panel where Lydia’s librarian leans forward as Lydia approaches the desk; the two share a smile, connected, as Lydia’s flowers, bloom up from the librarian’s desk, letting readers know that this is part of her magical, safe space. She wanders through the stacks, accompanied by a whale; she and her librarian fight dragons together; she is where she needs to be. Now a librarian, Lydia connects with the children in her room, making paper dolls, sharing books and hugs, and connecting at that desk, robots and flowers present: she is someone else’s safe place now. An afterword from Lydia Sigwarth talks about her experiences in the library and reconnecting with her librarian Deb Stephenson, thanks to This American Life.

I was lucky enough to attend a librarian chat with Lydia Sigworth and her publisher, and it was one of the best experiences! Lydia Sigwarth is amazing, folx; I just wanted to talk books with her forever. She’s upbeat, inspirational, and such a positive force. I’m thrilled that she had a chance to share her story with us. Dear Librarian is a book every library should have handy – and that every librarian should read, because what we do makes an impact (and we need to remember that!).

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Jory John is sure that Something’s Wrong… but what could it be?

Jory John has a new picture book coming out and it is laugh-out-loud hilarious and so sweet. Something’s Wrong – the story of “A Bear, A Hare, and Some Underwear”, is read-aloud, sight gag GOLD. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this trailer.

I’ve got Something Wrong mini-celebrations going on all week – watch this space and join the fun!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Two more Thanksgiving Books, just in time!

I’ve got two more Thanksgiving books for the Littles, just in time for the big day on Thursday!

See, Touch, Feel: Happy Thanksgiving, by Roger Priddy (Aug. 2020, Priddy Books U.S.), $7.95, ISBN: 9781684490738

Ages 0-3

Another adorable Roger Priddy book for the littlest of Littles! See, Touch, Feel Thanksgiving is a rhyming book of gratitude for food, nature, pets, and friends, with tactile pages for little explorers to touch and feel. They can run their fingers across the ridged corn husks and nubby corn, soft and smooth textures of handpainted trees, glittery rain, and a fuzzy dog. Colorful, with photos and childlike artwork sharing space, this is a book that will be a joy to sit down with, put your Kiddo in your lap, and let them know how thankful you are for them. Use the book as inspiration, if you have paints, and let them make their own hand-stamped crafts. A sensory feast for the hands and eyes!

 

If Animals Gave Thanks, by Ann Whitford Paul/Illustrated by David Walker, (Sept. 2020, Farrar Straus & Giroux), $9.99, ISBN: 9780374388737

Ages 3-6

The latest in the If Animals… series, this rhyming story welcomes readers with colorful fall leaves across endpapers. Inside, the author wonders what different animals would give thanks for, if they could: Rabbit would give thanks for being able to hop and for his thick fur; Crow, for the sky and the ability to fly; Turtle, for his hard shell. Meanwhile, the story returns to Bear, who’s gathering ingredients to make all sorts of delicious food for his friends at a harvest table! A kind story of gratitude and friendship, it’s a gently illustrated, softly colored story with colorful sound effects that invite readers to join in with multiple readings, whether it’s a chomp-chomp, chewy-chew, or a shuf-shuffle, or a pickety-pick. Great storytime pick.

Posted in Uncategorized

Halloween March! The Ghosts Went Floating

The Ghosts Went Floating, by Kim Norman/Illustrated by Jay Fleck, (July 2020, Farrar Straus & Giroux), $17.99, ISBN: 9780374312138

Ages 3-6

Inspired by the classic favorite, “The Ants Go Marching”, The Ghosts Go Floating is a Halloween counting story where ghosts, skeletons, witches, mummies, zombies, and more all join a march by the light of the moon. Where are they going? You can only find out if you read the story!  Colorful, friendly ghouls and ghosts march across the pages with with rosy cheeks and friendly faces. The repetitive text lets kids jump in and be part of the storytelling, calling out the “Boo-Rah!” cheer and “moon, moon, moon”, which leads into the next group of monsters to join the dance: “The goblins galloped, six by six, / Boo-rah! Boo-rah! / while waving clubs and pointy sticks. / Boo-rah! Boo-rah! / The goblins galloped, six by six. / They dragged their knuckles on pointy bricks / and they all trooped up the hill, / in the chill. / by the light of the moon, / moon, moon, moon”.

Halloween fun, and a must for readalouds. Just make sure to have treats ready for your little goblins and werewolves! Pair with Tony Mitton’s and Guy Parker-Rees’s The Spooky Hour for Halloween Party fun.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books about friends make back to school all better!

So how’s everyone doing? My kids went back to school as fully remote students today… it’s got to get better, right? RIGHT? I will say that one thing that’s been a saving grace during this has been the ability to get together with friends. We wear our masks, we sit out in the open, and our kids are able to run around together and get some much-needed friend time in.

My older son, a high school senior (WOW), has been active throughout the quarantine by gaming and videochatting with his friends; he’s just started meeting up with them in public parks and spaces, so that’s helped him, too.

Seeing my 3rd grader brighten up when he saw all his friends online (the remote learners all have the same class for now) was amazing. He saw a bunch of these kids yesterday, but seeing him light up at the thought of having ALL of his school friends in his class was wonderful: “Mom! There’s Harry! And Rahwi! And Miles!” He went down the line, calling out every one of his friends, and it helped him engage with the teacher and ease into a fairly stressful day (for me, anyway).

Having said that, I thought I’d talk up some books about friends that are just right for readalouds this time of year, when we’re making new friends and greeting existing friends. Enjoy some buddy time with your littlest friends and read a few of these.

Lost Beast, Found Friend, by Josh Trujillo/Illustrated by Nick Kennedy and Melanie Lapovich, (June 2020, Oni Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781620107423

Ages 3-7

This rhyming story of friends helping one another is absolutely adorable. Keelee is a young girl living on an island, who discovers a big, purple beast one day! The poor beast is lost and scared, and Keelee comes to the rescue by calming and befriending the Beast, and journeys with her new, lost friend across the island to find Beast’s home. The rhyme is so comforting; it’s a joy to read and listen to, and kids will ask for this one again and again. The colors are just incredible: so vibrant and happy, with adorable characters and lush landscapes. I love spending time with this story and can’t wait to bring this to my preschoolers. It’s a sweet story of friendship that appeals to all ages.

 

 

Will You Be Friends With Me?, by Kathleen Long Bostrom/Illustrated by Jo de Ruiter, (July 2020, WorthyKids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781546033806

Ages 0-3

I love board books! Will You Be Friends With Me? is an adorable board book that’s all about celebrating the little things that make us individuals: “I like orange. / You like pink. / I use crayon. / You use ink.” Each phrase ends with the question, “Will you be friends with me?”; it’s an invitation to embrace these fun differences and celebrate the choices available to us. Featuring a soothing rhyme scheme and a gently illustrated group of diverse children, this is an adorable story for storytime and cuddle time. It’s a sweet way to introduce personal preferences and remind toddlers and preschoolers that we don’t always have to like the same things to be friends: in fact, liking different things just gives us that much more to talk about. Don’t miss the free, downloadable companion activity sheets, courtesy of publisher, Hachette.

 

The Same But Different Too, by Karl Newson/Illustrated by Kate Hindley, (March 2020, Nosy Crow), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212013

Ages 2-6

Another book about celebrating what makes us unique, The Same But Different Too is a rhyming look at what makes us the same – but different, all at once. Diverse children and animals join together to celebrate what we have in common, and what makes us each a special individual: children play hide and seek with a zebra, against a striped wall: “I am playful. / You are too. / I can’t hide as well as you”;  a child and a tiger wait at a rainy bus stop, while another child dives underwater with jellyfish, a whale, and a squid: “I am wet. / You are too. I can splash and swim like you.” The pencil artwork and digitally colored illustrations are lively, cartoony, and fun. This one is a guaranteed win for storytime.

 

The Word for Friend, by Aidan Cassie, (June 2020, Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374310462

Ages 4-8

Kemala is a pangolin who’s moved, with her family, to a new country! She loves to talk and can’t wait to make new friends… but she realizes that their words are different from hers. She doesn’t understand the language here in her new country, and she curls into a little ball, feeling alone. But not to worry! A friendly anteater named Ana introduces herself to Kemala as she sits by herself at recess, cutting animal shapes from leaves. The two bond over a shared love of crafting, and before Kemala knows it, she’s laughing and learning how to communicate, with and without words. A timely story of kindness, empathy, and being the new kid, The Word for Friend is touching and heart-aching at points. Aidan Cassie makes us ache for Kemala when she realizes that “all her wonderful words were missing”; and we rejoice as Kemala and Ana discover how to communicate together with the puppets they create, giving Kemala the confidence she needs to come out of her little ball. An author’s note introduces readers to Esperanto, Kemala’s “new language”, and provides phrases used throughout the book. There’s a note about pangolins, too! (If you love them and want more pangolin stories, may I steer you to Tracey Hecht’s Nocturnals series?) The artwork has earth colors and softer, less cartoony versions of animals like foxes, otters, raccoons, and, naturally, a pangolin and an anteater. The endpapers are stunning, with black, intricate cutout artwork of animal puppets that become part of the story, set against a brown/beige background.

A gorgeous story of friendship and language that you shouldn’t miss. Keep this with books like Anne Sibley O’Brien’s Someone New and I’m New Here, and Chana Stiefel’s My Name is Wakawakaloch!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A Place Inside of Me is necessary reading

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart, by Zetta Elliott/Illustrated by Noa Denmon, (July 2020, Farrar Straus Giroux), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30741-7

Ages 4+

This has been an ugly year; there’s no better way to put it. Let this Black Lives Matter poem by award-winning author, poet, and playwright Zetta Elliott and illustrated by the fantastic Noa Denmon, be the must-read book that will start important conversations and inspire hope and joy. A young Black child works through his shifting emotions over the course of a year in A Place Inside of Me: summertime brings joy, and hoops with friends at the basketball court; the joy turns to sorrow as the news covers a story about a child being shot, and sorrow becomes fear, which festers into anger. Anger isn’t enough to satisfy the hunger for justice and freedom, and with the end of Fall and Winter, comes Spring, bringing pride, peace, compassion, hope, and love; a wish for brighter futures and better days, and a reminder that Black Lives Matter.

Zetta Elliott’s verse is powerful, loaded with emotion like pain, anger, and hope; Noa Denmon’s artwork is colorful and vibrant, with an expressive child who invites us to follow through their dialogue. Color sets the child apart in the foreground, as washed backgrounds show them skateboarding against a neighborhood, playing basketball against a mural-painted wall in the court, and the neighborhood barber shop, where a look at photos on the wall lets you rest your eyes on a rendering of a slave ship’s blueprints. It’s a reminder of a history where Black lives most certainly did not matter. There’s a poster of Malcolm X in the child’s room, and a collection of Black faces like Beyonce’s, Mae Jemison’s, Martin Luther King’s, and Jackie Robinson’s form a stunning display as the child raises his arms in a gesture of pride. See more of Noa Denmon’s artwork at her Instagram, @noadenmon.

If you can’t understand why Black Lives Matter, rather than “all lives mattering”, I beg you, please read this book.