Vega is a girl who’s not thrilled with summer vacation this year. Her parents have moved her from Portland, Oregon, to a new life in Seattle, and she’s miserable. She’s left behind her best friend, Halley, and to add insult to injury, her dads are sending her off to Camp Very Best Friend, hoping she’ll make some new friends. When the Camp VBF bus pulls up, Vega’s got a strange feeling about this camp… and it only gets weirder once she and the other campers arrive! Cell phones don’t work, and the counselors are just… different. Together with fellow campers Qwerty (like the keyboard), and twins Gemma and Isaac, Vega decides to get to the bottom of this odd camp in a hilarious story about making friends! Early in the story, Vega Googles how to make friends; each piece of advice she receives heads a different chapter, giving readers a humorous idea of what to expect. The characters are likable, and dialogue and story move at a good pace, and readers are going to love this summer camp story. Artwork is colorful with cartoon-realistic characters, similar to Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale’s characters. A good book to hand to introverts – Camp VBF is filled with kids who don’t find it that easy to make friends, until they’re put into the unusual situation that sets the stage for this story. Vega is interested in astronomy, Qwerty relates to computers “better than people”, and Gemma and Isaac are all about rocks and minerals, so there’s a nice little STEM/STEAM thread quietly running through the story. A fun summer story that satisfies wanderlust.
It’s snowing! The ground is covered in white, wonderful snow and Oscar the dog can’t wait to get outside and play! His boy, Matt, however, isn’t quite awake yet, and Oscar can’t find enough to keep busy in the backyard until Matt is ready, so he decides to go off exploring on his own, and makes a new friend while he’s outside. He and Daisy, another dog, play together, make snow dogs and snow angels together, and romp happily through the snow; once Matt and and Daisy’s girl come looking for them, they become snow friends, too! With brief, easy-to-read sentences to help newly independent readers along and hold the attention of lapsitters, Snow Friends is a great readaloud pick. Will Hillenbrand’s mixed media artwork adds warmth even to the bluish-white winter snow, giving a feel for the crisp cold, infused by the warmth of play. Snow Friends celebrates winter, the spirit of play, and the fun of making new friends.
Margery Cuyler is an award-winning author who’s collaborated with award-winning artist Will Hillenbrand. You can visit Margery Cuyler’s author webpage for more information about her books, honors, and photos. Will Hillenbrand’s website has information about his books, a gallery of artwork, and free downloadable, printable activities.
It’s a good day when Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant put out another book, especially when that book is one of the (NOT) books, starring two of my favorite fuzzy friends. Tomorrow is that day, my friends.
It Is (Not) Perfect, by Anna Kang/Illustrated by Christopher Weyant,
(May 2020, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542016629
Purple and Brown are enjoying a day at the beach, gleefully constructing a sand castle. After an initial round of consideration, each decides it’s not yet perfect, adding little finishing touches. But it seems like all their friends around them (you’ll catch very familiar faces and legs) have an opinion, too. As Purple and Brown try to appease everyone, driving themselves to include every change, the sweet little sandcastle becomes and overwrought palace… and Mother Nature hasn’t yet contributed her opinion.
What makes something “perfect”, and at what point do we appreciate something (or someone) simply for what it is? These are the questions posed here, and Kang and Weyant do so in a way that takes a potentially overwhelming or upsetting subject and makes it fun for kids to digest and laugh at. Most of us are people pleasers at heart, and kids more than most are easily stressed out trying to make everyone around them happy at their own expense. It Is (Not) Perfect shows them the sillier side of what happens when you try to please everyone, while showing readers that there’s always something waiting around the corner, that doesn’t care about anyone’s idea of perfect. Be happy and embrace what you’ve got! If you think its perfect, it is. And so are you.
Psst…publisher Two Lions has a Teachers Pay Teachers page, with loads of downloadables available for free, including educator guides and activity kits for You Are (Not) Small.
Christopher Weyant’s artwork is familiar and adorable, with lots of familiar friends from past (Not) books, a bright beach setting, and enthusiastic dialogue balloons that make this so much fun to read with a partner (like my 7 year old). He brings such life to Anna Kang’s fun storytelling; a sense of play runs throughout all of the artwork.
Yet another must-add to my storytime collection – and yours! – and a great inspiration for sand castles everywhere. Don’t let quarantine woes get you down: make moon sand with your kids at home. It will be PERFECT.
Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small as well as series titles That’s (Not) Mine, I Am (Not) Scared, and We Are (Not) Friends. They also wrote and illustrated Eraser, Can I Tell You a Secret?, and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can also be seen in The New Yorker, and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their rescue dog. Visit them at www.annakang.com and www.christopherweyant.com.
Twitter: @annakang27 @chrisweyant05
Facebook: Anna Kang – Author; Christopher Weyant
“Colorful cartoon illustrations add a lightheartedness to what could be a stressful real-life situation for kids. Another life lesson neatly packaged in child centric humor.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This award-winning duo have created a lovely tribute to the old adage that perfect is the enemy of good. Recommended for purchase for all collections.” —School Library Journal
As I write this, it’s almost 70 degrees in New York. In November. So what’s left to do when you’ve unpacked all your Fall and Winter clothes? Think SNOW. So, join me in thinking chilly thoughts with some of these books.
This fun nonfiction companion to Adam Wallace & Andy Ellerton’s How to Catch an Elf (2016) is all about STEAM for the holidays! Learn how to build 12 elf traps this Christmas, and take your pick of 12 bonus Christmas activities! Projects tend to run fairly simple, with most of the materials being found around the house. The projects encourage you to experiment with materials, too: swap things out! Add things! Take each construction and make it your own! Difficulty is measured in candy canes (1 for easy, 2 for intermediate, 3 for difficult) and Elf Appeal (how it will appeal to the elves you’re trying to nab). Projects are laid out step by step, with photos to guide you along, and digital artwork adds a fun flavor to the festivities. There are STEAM connections that explain how each project connects to science, and Did You Know? facts boxes add some fun Christmas facts throughout. Make an Elf Door, stick some tea light snowmen on your fridge (or locker), and get to work on your Elf Snatcher 500 while you snack on a Reindeer Cupcake.
Librarians and educators: PROGRAM IN A BOOK. This, my friends, is your December STEAM programming, right here!
Two siblings enjoy a snowy day in this rhyming counting story! The story begins, as the best ones do, with a snowfall, while two children of color sleep snug in their beds – until their ONE pup wakes them up! The kids rise and shine, play with the pup and eat their breakfast, then it’s time to go out and play, as sister and brother meet their SIX friends for some winter fun and games. The text is light and fun, counting everything from a pup to ten snowballs – and then we count backwards, from nine buttons on a snowman’s chest to one sleepy puppy at the end of the day. The children are a multicultural group, and the detail on their clothes and the scenery itself is breathtaking. The mixed media artwork brings winter scenery to life, from sweaters with intricate Fair Isle designs, and beautifully detailed snowflakes. One Snowy Day pairs up nicely with other snowy day books and makes a nice winter concept book for your shelves.
Sourcebooks is rocking the Christmas picture books! This is the latest book by How to Catch… series author Adam Wallace, and this time, Santa needs help from his fellow holiday heroes! Santa’s too sick to deliver Christmas presents, so it’s up to the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Witch, and Leprechaun to save Christmas – but they’re not so great at this Christmas thing. The Tooth Fairy is hiding presents under pillows, and the Leprechaun is taking spare change from the houses they visit. Santa’s got to step in, but is it too late? Is Christmas done for? C’mon, you know it’s not. The gang gets their act together after a quick pep talk from Santa, and each hero plays to his or her strengths to make Christmas amazing! This is a fun story about teamwork, and a laugh out loud comedy of errors. (Psst… if you want to screen the movie, Rise of the Guardians, you can compare the heroes in the book versus the ones in the movie.) The digital art is bright, kid-friendly, and cartoony; end papers offer brief character descriptions of Santa and the gang. The book is set up with graphic novel-type panels and word balloons, so you can offer this one to your fledgling graphic novel readers to get them in the holiday spirit. This one’s a fun take on the “Santa needs help!” story theme, and should go over pretty well in libraries (and as a stocking stuffer).
A boy and his father go into the woods to hunt, and are separated during a snowstorm. The boy is rescued by a group of animals, who care for him and befriend him. When the bear in the group takes the boy back through the snow to find his father, Dad is grateful, and befriends the animals, too.
The art says it all in this stunning, wordless story. As father and son head into the woods, the snow comes down in the shapes of woodland animals: deer, foxes, hares, ethereal in their delicacy and beauty. Lost, the boy sleeps, shivering, under velvet skies with constellations creating animal shapes around him. When the animals accept the boy into their group, they dance, feast, and paint on cave walls; at that moment, the boy remembers his father and how desperately he misses him (Mom is present only in old family photos hanging in the home), signaling to his new friend, Bear, that it’s time to find Dad. At the story’s end, father and son enjoy a spring day, sitting on a hill with their animal friends.
The artwork alternates between panels and full bleed pages and is dreamlike in its subdued beauty. The endpapers bookend the story, with driving snow on the front papers, and a cave painting of the boy, his father, and the animals, playing together, on the back papers. The artwork is soft, and goes from the cold outdoor artwork to warm interiors both in the family home and in the company of the animals.
I love this book, and can’t wait to share it with my little readers, so I can hear their stories. This one’s a wonderful add to your winter collections – booktalk this one with Raymond Briggs’ wordless classic, The Snowman.
Recommended for readers 5-10
Chan is new to the neighborhood and wants to make some friends. The best way to go about it? Go door by door, of course! Told in the first person, we follow Chan along and meet the neighbor kids, who are from Bosnia, Indonesia, Poland, Afghanistan, Turkey, the Netherlands, Suriname, the U.K., South Africa, and Italy. Each new friend introduces Chan, and the reader, to a fun activity, food, and greetings in each language. The kids all gather together at the end for a celebration, where they share food and friendship.
Originally published in Belgium and Holland in 2015, Chow Mein and Potstickers is an initiative by Inclusive Works, a Dutch organization that promotes diversity and inclusiveness – and what better way to accomplish that than by having children serve as our example? Chan is our guide, as the new kid who wants to make friends. By playing together, Chan – and readers – learn about the ways kids all over the world have fun; we learn how to greet one another in global languages, and finally, we share food together. All great ways of promoting peace and togetherness. My son’s pre-k class had an international day where we did something similar; they sang “It’s a Small World” in 15 different languages and ate food that parents contributed from their native countries. This is a great story to read for a similar occasion; it’s a great story to read to our preschoolers and beyond to promote the global village we call our world.
Each 2-page spread features a new child Chan encounters; backgrounds are light, washed out, to bring the realistic artwork of the children to the forefront, with bright faces and clothing, surrounded by colorful toys. The vocabulary is set off with smiling icons for hello and good-bye, and a colorful sketch of each food the kids eat together.
This is a solid addition to diversity collections. It’s similar to How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, in that it stars a character who travels the world (well, in this case, the world in a diverse neighborhood), meeting different people from different cultures, and sharing food together. Get some recipe cards together and hand them out with coloring sheets for a multicultural storytime!
Recommended for ages 9-13
Bryan Biggins is a middle school kid who’s obsessed with his favorite video game, Sovereign of Darkness, and obsessed with finding the secret advanced level of play once he beats the game. Time and again. His friends try to tell him to give it up, but Bryan’s not having it; sure enough, one night, he thinks he’s accessed the secret level, but the game just shuts off. When he wakes up the next morning, he’s discovered that his life is the new level! He’s got stats, and more importantly, he gains and loses HP (health points, hit points). People at school are talking to him weirdly, like the teacher that sends him on a quest to get a Twinkie from the teacher’s lounge, past a group of dieting teachers. What happens if all his hit points are used up – or worse, if he runs out of coins to continue? Is this the way the rest of his life is going to go?
This is one of those books that’s too much fun to read and booktalk. A kid wakes up living his own videogame, but the videogame is life as we know it? That’s perfect class trip or reading group discussion material! Bryan is EveryKid, and his friends are fun, along for the ride. Bryan is center stage here, and that’s just fine, because he’s a funny, upbeat narrator that readers will like going on the adventure with. Give this to your gamers, display with C.J. Farley’s Game World, and the insane amount of Minecraft fiction that’s out there.
I’ve enjoyed Pauline Oud’s board books for little ones; she always has such adorable faces on her cartoony toddlers. Clavis Books has just released two more in her Little Billy-Bob series – numbers 3 and 4, I believe – and they’re great for toddlers and their favorite grownups to snuggle up and read together.
Little Billy-Bob Eats It All Up (Nov. 2016, $12.95, 978-1605372969) stars Little Billy-Bob, in his ever-present footie pajama set and animal eared-hood, and his friend, Fifi, similarly dressed. The two friends are playing together when their tummies start rumbling: it’s time to eat! Together, the two eat a healthy lunch and notice their happy bellies fill up.
Little Billy-Bob goes through his bedtime ritual: brushing his teeth, climbing out of his bed to say goodnight to the moon, his pets, and his toys in Good Night, Little Billy-Bob (Nov. 2016, $12.95, 978-1605372952).
Toddlers will see themselves in Little Billy-Bob (and Fifi!) as they go through rituals that toddlers are beginning to master on their own: feeding themselves; drinking water from a cup; brushing teeth, and getting ready for bed. Each book begins with the same rhyme, opposite Little Billy-Bob reading his own book, and invites readers to curl up in a lap and enjoy reading and cuddle time. Both books also offer questions throughout the book, helping readers further engage their little ones: Can you brush your teeth just like little Billy-Bob? Do you see the moon, too? Do you see their empty tummies too Do you think they should eat something? These questions are fun springboards for questions of your own; I like to use questions that have kids incorporate their own experiences. For instance, “Remember when your belly growled this morning? Did you eat breakfast when your tummy grumbled?”
Each story ends with a counting summary of the story subject: “One slice of toast and you will grow; two slices of apple and pear. What else do you like?”
These aren’t quite board books, but the covers are board and the heavy stock pages will stand up to multiple readings. The art is cartoony and fun, and it’s nice to see some diversity with Fifi, who is a child of color. Illustrations are pastel and calming, boldly outlined for definition, against pastel backgrounds. These are my first experience with the Billy-Bob books, but I do love Pauline Oud’s artwork and highly recommend her other series, Ian, Lily and Milo, and Piggy. Check out her website for more about the books, and see more books from Clavis’ Fall lineup right here. These are sweet little books about toddler daily routines that little ones will enjoy – and they invite you to cuddle up and read, which is my personal mission, so they’re a win for me.
Recommended for ages 6-10
Papercutz continues their graphic novel license domination with every little girl’s (okay, just about every little girl) best friend, Barbie. In this first graphic novel under Papercutz, we get a brief history of Barbie comics (first published by Dell in 1962, later, in the ’90s, by Marvel) and an original Barbie story where she tackles a big fashion show panic with her enthusiasm and quick thinking. Her best friend, Liz, helps Barbie make everything fall right into place, and mega-fashion designer Whitney Yang is grateful when the dynamic duo save the day.
Alitha Martinez’s art is on point. It’s bright, fun, and looks consistent with other Barbie illustrated books and media. The friends talk about what inspires their creativity, embrace science (Barbie even creates a special ink to help her combine her doodling and fashion design), and think on their feet to solve problems. A diverse cast of characters makes this an all-around fun read for Barbie fans to enjoy. There’s a preview for the second volume of the Papercutz import series, Sisters, at the end.
I’ll add this one to my shelves – Barbie has a strong fan following here at my library; I can think of two sisters in particular that will be thrilled to see this appear on my graphic novels shelf. I may buy one copy for now, just to get it on the shelves, but invest in the hardcover copy when it’s published in January.
Recommended for ages 14+
A group of friends heads up to a cabin for a weekend of drinking and bonding, a last hurrah before they head to university, and their separate ways. Mackenzie grudgingly goes at her best friend, Courtney’s, behest; it’s the first time they’ve all gotten together since two of their group died in a car accident months ago. The night starts off innocently enough, but when Mackenzie wakes up the next morning, Courtney and her boyfriend, Josh, have been brutally murdered. There’s a killer among them, and Mackenzie and Josh’s brother, Blake, find themselves drawn to one another as they try to figure out who could have done this.
The Cabin is a YA whodunit. Mackenzie is desperate to find out which of her friends could have done this, partially because she wants so badly to believe that an outside force did this; that none of her friends could have the ability to betray and do something so horrific, let alone to friends in their social circle. Blake, Josh’s estranged brother, is closed off, arrogant, and trusts no one except Mackenzie. As the two dig deeper into Mackenzie’s friends’ backgrounds, they start discovering that everyone has secrets, but what would drive someone to kill? The police, especially investigator Wright, are a bit hapless – Wright is borderline obsessed with making either Blake or Mackenzie confess their guilt, and comes off more as a mustache-twirling villain than someone who’s actually helpful. Mackenzie’s parents are a bit oblivious, despite their obvious concern for their daughter. The pace is a bit slower than most whodunits, and the biggest problem here for me was that I didn’t really like any of the characters, including our heroine. The final couple of chapters kept me on edge, though, and the ending was nicely executed.
Add to your YA mystery shelf if you have a strong readership and if you have fans of the slow burn.