Posted in Uncategorized

Cultures collide, and blend, in When I Found Grandma

When I Found Grandma, by Saumiya Balasubramaniam/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781773060187

Ages 5-8

Maya is an Indian girl living in America with her family. She’s thrilled when her Grandma arrives from India for a visit, but she quickly finds things that rub her the wrong way. She doesn’t want Grandma to call her by her full name, Mayalakshmi, and she wishes Grandma didn’t wear her sari and noisy bangle bracelets when she pops in for a visit to Maya’s classroom. She isn’t crazy about the food Grandma makes, and she really, really doesn’t like her family’s decision to celebrate the Holi festival by visiting a temple so Grandma can pray, rather than go for their planned trip to a fair. But it turns out that when Maya needs help, Grandma’s the first one on the scene.

Two generations work things out together in this sweet, authentic story about a grandmother and granddaughter; it’s a cultural and inter-generational story of understanding, compromise, and, above all, love. The story text will resonate with kids and adults alike, and opens so many avenues for discussion between generations and cultures. The soft ink and watercolor artwork reflects emotions touched on the book; namely, familial love. The cover is a beautiful expression of intimacy and affection between grandmother and grandchild; something ever-present in both the text and artwork.

In a library system as diverse as mine, this is a must-add to collections. In less diverse areas, it’s an important book for generating understanding and respect for other cultures and how we look at our elders.

 

 

Posted in Early Reader, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Natural world nonfiction for young learners: See to Learn: Forest

See to Learn: Forest, by Kate Moss Gamblin/Illustrated by, Karen Patkau, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781554988792

Ages 4-7

This first book in a new nonfiction picture book series encourages little learners to look at a location – in this case, a forest – and really see: see different footprints that travel the forest floor; the different leaves carpeting the ground; moss covering a stump. Forest encourages readers to think: is that moss older than your grandparents? What changes do seasons bring with them? What happens during the passage of day to night?

The quiet text promotes introspection, curiosity, and presence, and the interrelationships between nature – trees are referred to as our “cousins” – and our planet. Everything here exists for readers to observe and ponder, and Forest encourages them to think of nature, the world, and their place in it.

This is a great way to talk about the natural world and basic concepts with kids: talk about colors, talk about different functions, talk about different stages of life, whether you’re a human grandparent or a young caterpillar. We all age; we all exist; we all interact with the natural world. Let kids see themselves in nature, and they’ll respect it and care for it. Further reading provides additional resources for younger and middle grade readers. An author’s note explains the rationale and thinking points for the series.

I’m looking forward to more books in this series. See to Learn: Forest is a great addition to primary and elementary science collections and programming. This will fit nicely with Kate Messner’s nonfiction books, Over and Under the Snow, Over and Under the Pond, and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, for elementary readers; for primary readers, you can’t miss with Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s books, Green and Blue; and Denise Fleming’s In the Tall, Tall Grass, and In the Small, Small Pond.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A search for the Biggest Puddle in the World and a lesson on the water cycle!

The Biggest Puddle in the World, by Mark Lee/Illustrated by Nathalie Dion, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781554989799

Ages 4-7

Siblings Sarah and Charlie go to stay with their grandparents for six days; at first, it rains, allowing the two to explore the old house, but they’re itching to get outside and wander. Finally, the weather lets up, and they head out, with their grandfather, on a nature walk. Big T, their grandfather, promises to show them the biggest puddle in the world, and encourages Sarah to keep a puddle map; all the while, explaining the water cycle: the rain comes down and collects in the puddles; the water in the air become the clouds in the sky. The clouds are made up of water from ponds and rivers and the biggest puddle in the world, which, the kids discover, is the ocean!

This is a great way to lead in to a discussion and/or lesson about the water cycle. The story and illustrations are all about the joy of being a kid: they enjoy spending time with grandparents; jump in puddles; explore nature, and find ways to keep themselves occupied when stuck inside on rainy days. Big T gives them a simple, illustrative way to understand the water cycle and how puddles collect, form bigger puddles, and eventually, become part of the clouds, which bring the rain. He encourages learning, and invites the kids to use hands-on learning by exploring and mapping their day.

The real and digital watercolor artwork is soft, with earth tones and faded colors, allowing nature to calmly take its place as the focal point of the story. Grasses gently move in an imagined breeze; the ocean stretches across a spread as Big T watches his grandchildren and their dog play, boots left on the sand.

A nice bridge between fiction and nonfiction, and a good addition to science storytime.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A loving Moon watches and wishes…

Moon Wishes, by Patricia Storms & Guy Storms/Illustrated by Milan Pavlovic, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781773060767

Ages 4-7

A sweet bedtime story, a loving meditation from caregiver to child, Moon Wishes sees a gently illuminated moon overseeing nature, animals, and humans alike, and wishing all that’s good upon all it touches. The poetic text reads like a parent or caregiver’s loving murmur to a sleepy child, with phrases like, “If I were the moon, I would paint ripples of light on wet canvas and shimmer over dreams of snow…”, and “…if I were the moon, I would make myself big and bright and strong with love so that I could shine on you”. It’s soothing and gentle, comforting and and perfect to read to the little ones curled up in your lap or surrounding your storytime circle.

The watercolor illustrations give a dreamlike depth to the authors’ voices, presenting gently illuminated landscapes, a kind-faced moon lighting the way for animals and humans alike. The colors are soft and bright, landscapes moving from snowy icebergs through waters, forests, and towns. A lovely addition to picture book collections and bedtime storytime.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Climbing Shadows: Poems inspired by children, for children

Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children, by Shannon Bramer/Illustrated by Cindy Derby, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781773060958

Ages 4-7

A small, sweet collection of poems inspired by kindergartners, Climbing Shadows offers a child’s-eye view of moments like a bad day at school (“I’m going to go home and tell my dad/today was hard it was so hard/I don’t want to go anymore/I want/to be a puddle”) or a child’s explanation of imagination (“I see things in my head come loose on the paper and there are my eyes here, and my names and my trees and faces and crazy squiggles and also this is a drawing of my family because I usually draw what I miss or what I love”). There are 20 poems in this collection, created by poet Shannon Bramer during the time she worked as a lunchtime supervisor for a kindergarten class. She eventually began reading poetry to them and explained that she was also a poet; the kids’ fascination grew as they learned that anyone could be a poet – “a poet could be a mom” – and a poem could be about anything. Shannon Bramer wrote these poems for her “kindies”.

The poems are sweet, short, and are a nice introduction to poetry for children; they show that a poem doesn’t have to rhyme, and can ramble, freely, like a thought or a stream. Cindy Derby’s watercolor, India ink, and digital collage illustrations are often dreamlike, with muted colors that set the stage for Ms. Bramer’s words to transport readers. It’s a great way to get kids writing about what’s on their minds at the moment. An author’s note explains how the author was inspired by the kids and is just as lovely to read as the poems are, with each child’s name illustrated around the page.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

March Picture Books

Astro Pea, by Amalia Hoffman, (March 2019, Schiffer Publishing), $9.99, ISBN: 9780764356988

Ages 3-6

Pete the Pea pops out of his pod, finds a carrot rocket ship and blasts off into space! When his ship collides with a satellite, he’s rescued by a shuttle full of corn kernels, who also provide him with a ride back home to Earth. This adorable picture book stars a cast of vegetables posing as heavenly bodies. Pete zooms by cauliflower star clusters, asparagus satellites, corn shuttles, and mushroom parachutes. It’s a fun story about space and exploring, and a sweet story about making new friends.

The artwork is bright, with primary colors leaping off the jet black background of outer space. The anthropomorphic veggies have smiley little faces, and the simple artwork and text makes for an attention-grabbing storytime selection. Display, booktalk, and read Astro Pea with your healthy eating books, like Eating the Rainbow by Rena D. Grossman and Lois Ehlert’s classics, Growing Vegetable Soup or Eating the Alphabet.

The artwork also lends itself to an interactive storytime and craft. The artwork can be recreated with colorful chalk and black construction paper, letting the kids create their own outer space adventures. Make some felt veggies and let the kids identify each of them as they come up throughout the story. There so many ways to enjoy this adorable book – there’s even a free coloring page available through author Amalia Hoffman’s website. Astro Pea is a cute add to your picture book and storytime collections.

Bravo, Chico Canta, Bravo!, by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez/Illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling, Translated by Elena Iribarren, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $9.95, ISBN: 9781773062198

Ages 7-10

Originally released in hardcover in 2014, this mouse tale is all about the benefits of being bilingual. This release is the paperback version, written by superstar author Pat Mora and her daughter, Libby Martinez. Chico Canta is the youngest mouse in his family; they live in a theatre and love to watch the performances, and yelling “Bravo!” along with the audiences.The family loves the theatre so much, they decide to put on their own production, getting right to work. But Gato-Gato, the cat, is always sneaking around, and Chico saves the day when he uses his own knack for languages to alert everyone on opening night.

This is such an adorable story, embracing the gift of a multi-lingual household. Chico’s mom, Mrs. Canta, speaks many languages (English, Spanish, Italian, Cricket, Spider, and Moth) and encourages her children to develop their own skills. Chico saves the day when he uses his own developing language skill – a dog’s bark – to scare off the cat and save the day. The family works together on the production, everyone working on their own task. The artwork is full of rich color, with adorable animal faces. An author’s note from Pat Mora describes how she and her daughter were inspired to write the story after reading a book of Mexican-American folktales. An inspirational add to collections, especially in communities with multicultural families. I’m always telling parents at my library that the more languages kids know, the better!

Friends, by Geraldo Valério, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9781773061023

Ages 3-6

A girl and her frog go fishing, but are disappointed when the fish aren’t biting. She and the frog start making silly faces in the water, and their reflections come to life! The girl’s reflection transforms into a mermaid, and the two sets of friends enjoy a day of underwater adventure where the two girls discover glowing pearls, which they turn into matching necklaces. It’s a sweet, wordless story about friendship and imagination, with bright pastel, color pencil, and acrylic artwork. Pre-readers will love to look at the pictures and tell you what they see happening. Invite your readers to draw their own underwater adventure.

There’s wonderful detail in every spread, with little seahorses and jellyfish popping up. The frogs have their own little underwater romp, so encourage your readers to spot them! This one is a cute additional add to your wordless books.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Funeral takes a sensitive look at a child’s perception of death

The Funeral, by Matt James, (Apr. 2018, Groundwood Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781554989089

Recommended for readers 4-7

A young girl named Norma attends a funeral for her great-uncle Frank; she’s excited to see her favorite cousin, Ray, but she also has questions – Uncle Frank was old, right? Is Uncle Frank still a person? – and the whole funeral service is confusing, maybe even a little boring. At the end of the day, as Norma and Ray play together, they’re both pretty confident that Uncle Frank would have enjoyed his funeral.

This is a refreshing story about grief and loss, because it focuses on the kids’ perspective. It’s a social gathering – we adults see it that way, too, but kids still have the innocence to mix their confusion at the whole idea of death with the joy of seeing family and friends that they may not see as often. Norma knows what’s expected: she models a sad face in the mirror; she quietly sits through the service, patiently waiting to spend time with her cousin. Death brings conflicting feelings and questionss, sure, and we can’t always give them the best answers, but at the end of the day, love and understanding is the best way to go. And why wouldn’t Uncle Frank have enjoyed a big party in his honor? The Funeral celebrates the optimism and hope that comes from a child’s perspective. It’s wonderful, and the mixed media artwork gives color and texture to the story.

 

The Funeral has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Fun with words: A Storytelling of Ravens

A Storytelling of Ravens, by Kyle Lukoff/Illustrated by Natalie Nelson, (May 2018, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781554989126

Recommended for readers ages 5-8

If you loved Lane Smith’s There is a Tribe of Kids (2016), you’ll get a kick out of A Storytelling of Ravens, which finds new animal collectives to name and puts each group in an amusing context. A nuisance of cats blames some wayward yarn on a sleeping dog; a trip of sheep looks away from one clumsy member in pure embarassment; a knot of toads get their tongues in a – well, a knot, really – over a tasty fly. Where There is a Tribe of Kids follows one child through animal groups as he searches for his tribe, the animals are at the silly focus of this book, which shows readers how to have more fun with words – something I thoroughly enjoy doing in my storytimes. Tell your kiddos that a group of jellyfish is known as a smack, and they will have fun with that for HOURS. Trust me. I have a five-year-old, I know. The art is an eclectic mix of gouache paint, ink drawings, found photographs, and digital collage, giving the book a funky, vintage art feel. This one is fun for English classes, fun for nature/science classes, and fun for storytime – try introducing it to readers during an animal storytime. I think I’m going to give some flannels a shot with this one, now that I think of it.

Pair this with more wordplay books like TOON’s Wordplay graphic novel by Ivan Brunetti, Michaël Ecoffier’s Take Away the A, or Tara Lazar’s hilarious book, 7 Ate 9.

Posted in Historical Fiction

Redemption in the Old West: The Outlaw

The Outlaw, by Nancy Vo, (May 2018, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781773060163

Recommended for readers 5-9

A small town in the Old West is terrorized by an Outlaw, who disappears one day. But when a mysterious stranger rides into town and starts making repairs and improvements, it draws close attention from some of the townspeople. Can even the meanest outlaws get redemption?

This is a beautifully created story of redemption and empathy. The spare text finds power in its brevity, with powerful mixed media images to enhance the story. The Outlaw quietly comes back to town – has he had a moment of clarity? – to make life in the town better, but when he’s recognized, any goodwill he may have built up is dashed: until a young boy stands up to the crowd. And sometimes, a voice of reason is all it takes to set change in motion. Not everyone will be on board, but the value; the importance, of taking a stand is the important thing. The Outlaw brings strong themes of empathy and redemption to readers, and with it, the opportunity for solid discussion about forgiveness and whether or not good deeds balance out terrible wrongs.

Author-illustrator Nancy Vo’s webpage has more of her artwork, links to her blog, and information about her books.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

It takes love to Build a Better Tree Fort

The Better Tree Fort, by Jessica Scott Kerrin/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (March 2018, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781554988631

Recommended for readers 4-8

A boy named Russell and and his dad move into their new home. Russell sees the giant maple tree in their yard as a perfect spot for a tree fort, so he and his dad set to work designing it, and – after multiple trips to the lumber store – build it together. It may not look like the tree fort in Russell’s imagination, but it is perfect. He and dad eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches in the fort, unfurl their sleeping bags for a tree fort sleepover, and enjoy each other’s company in the tree fort. When Russell sees construction workers in the yard three houses over, he realizes there’s another tree fort going up, so he heads over to meet his neighbor, a boy named Warren. Warren’s tree fort has it all: a balcony, escape slide, even electricity. After all, his dad bought the plans and paid for the builders to come build it. But all Warren can focus on is what it doesn’t have (a kitchen sink). Russell heads back home to his perfect tree fort, made with his father, for some quality time.

This is a sweet story about appreciation that makes for great reading and discussion. It’s nice to see a story about the relationship between father and son – a single dad, it would appear, from the text. They create this tree fort together, building it with their own two hands, sharing the time together. Warren and his dad – who isn’t present in the story – present a foil for readers: the dad with money but no time, and the child who doesn’t appreciate what he’s got. Russell goes home to his dad, who wants to hang out with his son, in the tree fort that they made together. The experience is what counts, not the gewgaws that make it fancy. It’s a great message to communicate to kids and parents alike: spend time together. Create together.

 

The ink, watercolor, and pencil crayon art uses subdued colors and perspective to tell the story: the giant, overwhelming shelves at the lumber store; the chaos of materials surrounding Russell and his dad as they try to figure out how to bring the tree fort to life; the colors of the sunset as they sit in the fort, eating sandwiches and sitting on sleeping bags. It’s a great story for a storytime and one-on-one cuddle time. Talk to your readers about appreciation, and about things they do with their grownups that they enjoy: do they cook with family? Play board games, or solve puzzles? Which tree fort did they like more, and why?

Jessica Scott Kerrin is an award-winning Canadian author who writes picture and middle grade books. You can learn more at her website. Find more of Canadian illustrator Qin Leng’s beautiful artwork (including artwork from another book I adore, Shelter) at her website.