Posted in Preschool Reads, picture books

Where Butterflies Fill the Sky evokes memories of home

Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home, by Zahra Marwan, (March 2022, Bloomsbury USA), $18.99, ISBN: 9781547606511

Ages 4-8

Zahra is a young girl living in Kuwait, where “the desert reaches all the way to the sea and one hundred butterflies are always in the sky”. She is surrounded by love and by family; by her ancestors, who watch over her. When her father and mother tell her they are no longer welcome in the only home she has known, forcing the family to move far away to New Mexico, she feels unmoored: will her ancestors know where to find her? She misses her aunts, and misses being surrounded by people who speak her language. Slowly, though, Zahra and her family discover moments of familiarity: of music; of friendship; of belonging. Eventually, Zahra discovers that she can hold onto her home, where she has her aunts who love her and her ancestors who watch over them, and she can make this new “place of high desert” a home, with new friends and new traditions. Back matter includes the story of Zahra’s family and a word about the art. Zahra Marwan’s ink and watercolor artwork is dreamlike, to match her memories of her childhood. Colors are warm, influenced by her desert upbringing and move and her feelings of family. She tells her story in spare prose that creates images that will leave their mark on readers’ hearts. Endpapers with butterflies and balloons provide a link with the story. Invite readers to create butterflies or balloon crafts as an extension activity. Booktalk Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies by Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So and talk about the use of butterfly migration in stories about immigration. Visit Zahra Marwan’s website for more about her books and her illustration.

Where Butterflies Fill the Sky has a starred review from School Library Journal and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
Posted in Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Books About Nature to Brighten Your Spring

It’s time for a roundup! This time, we’ve got nature books to enjoy now that the Spring weather finally looks like it’s going to stick around. Get comfortable by your favorite tree, or sit in the warmth of the sun, and enjoy some of these Spring-y books.

Be Thankful for Trees : A tribute to the many & surprising ways trees relate to our lives, by Harriet Ziefert/Illustrated by Brian Fitzgerald, (March 2022, Red Comet Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781636550206

Ages 4-8

This is a fantastic way to introduce younger readers to all the great ways people and animals depend on trees! A rhyming tale expounds on the seven big things trees provide: food; comfort; music; art; recreation; home, and life. Colorful illustrations shows trees in nature, and how they’re used in day-to-day life, from providing a forest full of animals with food, to a kitchen table seating a family for dinner; from a child playing a piano, to a bird feeding her babies high up on a branch. Each area opens with a repetitive question and answer: “Would life be satisfying/good/possible without trees? It would not!” During a read-aloud, it’s the perfect opportunity for interaction; invite your littles to tell you what they think. The verse reminds also readers that trees are essential to life on earth, and the man-made disasters that threaten them, like deforestation and forest fire; Ziefert encourages readers to “explore a cool forest with its pine-scented breeze” and to “remember forever, BE THANKFUL FOR TREES!”. Playful, cheery color illustrations add to the fun verse, and golden leaves pop from the blue endpapers, really making this a wonderful book for early childhood natural science readalouds.

Author Harriet Ziefert has written hundreds of children’s books. You can see more of illustrator Brian Fitzgerald’s work at his website.

Visit Red Comet’s book detail page for a free, downloadable Teachers Guide. TeachersPayTeachers has a wealth of free learning activities about trees. I really like the idea of adopting a “class tree” and journaling observations over the course of a school year, as Robynn Drerup’s class has. Amanda Whitaker also has a fun tree journal for kids. Our Time to Learn’s Tree Animals Coloring sheet is great to hand out after a readaloud.

Firsts and Lasts: The Changing Seasons, by Leda Schubert/Illustrated by Clover Robin, (March 2022, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536211023

Ages 4-8

Every season comes with its own unique firsts and lasts. Leda Schubert and illustrator Clover Robin beautifully capture these moments in Firsts and Lasts: The Changing Season. Organized by season, the book offers gentle observation designed to provoke memories and warm feelings as we follow family through the year: Spring is the last time they (and we) wear snowsuits and build snow forts, but it’s the first time they see new grass, and wash the car; in the Fall, it’s the last time for things like going to the ice cream stand, but it’s the first time for seeing wooly caterpillars and jumping in leaves. Cut paper illustrations add a playful whimsy and the colors capture the feelings for each season; crisp winter skies and warm autumn leaves; bright spring flowers and lush summer landscapes. It’s a wonderful illustration of the transition nature – and people! – go through from season to season, and offers opportunities for kids to share their observations on seasonal change.

First and Lasts has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

KB3Teach has a fun Seasons Cut and Paste activity on TeachersPayTeachers that nicely extends this book. Teresa Tretbar’s Amazing Literacy has seasonal coloring pages and posters for you to hand out, too.

Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits, by Olaf Hajek (Illustrations) and Annette Roeder (Text), (Apr. 2022, Prestel Junior), $19.95, ISBN: 9783791375069

Ages 6-9

Olaf Hajek has made beautiful art from vegetables and flowers; now, fruit gets the Hajek treatment in Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits. Annette Roeder returns to provide fun and interesting profiles on 25 fruits, like the pomegranate, also known as the “apple of discord” that was created, according to Greek myth, by an angry goddess of strife and discord; the banana, whose curve is slowly being bred out of the fruit in order to make for easier stacking; and the fig, whose juice can help against insect bites. Factual information on each fruit’s countries of origin, and other names and varieties of each fruit run across the bottom of each profile, and – as we’ve come to expect from Hajek – colorful, stunning portraits are the star of the show in this oversized volume. A fox and a woman collect orange juice from giant fruits hanging from a tree in one painting; another woman serves cherry cake to a young boy and a bird as cherries hang from a tree and provide a headdress; a porcupine carries a gigantic blackberry and raspberry on its back through a field. Hajek’s playfully surreal artwork is sure to catch eyes and make new fans as they pore through the pages of this gorgeous book. Great for art sections and 634 sections (fruits, naturally!).

Visit Olaf Hajek’s illustrator webpage for more of his work.

 

What’s Cooking in Flowerville? Recipes from Balconies, Rooftops, and Gardens, by Felicita Sala, (Apr. 2022, Prestel Junior), $14.95, ISBN: 9783791375182

Ages 6-10

Flowerville is a bustling, multicultural neighborhood where everyone loves to grow and share food! Beginning in April, the book takes readers through the year, month by month, with Flowerville citizens tending to their plants: in April, Maria chops down her asparagus spears; in July, Ramon tests the floating ability of a cucumber as his parent waters the plants. Each month features a new recipe, made with ingredients shown in the artwork. In July, we get creamy tzatziki sauce; in November, roasted beet dip. Warm and colorful artwork shows families and friends sharing food and friendship, and gardening tips and recipes make this a handy gardening guide for families and classes. Pair with Francine Sala’s What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street and Cynthia Cliff’s Pie for Breakfast for a worldwide trip for the palate.

Felicita Sala’s webpage has more of her illustration work, and a link to her food illustration is a must-see.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Really Bird is great for preschool and kindergarten SEL collections

Red Comet Press debuted a new Easy Reader series that is great for preschoolers and kindergarteners and SEL collections. Really Bird is a round, blue bird that lives in a city park and spends time with friends Cat and Pup. Really Bird is REALLY enthusiastic about things: “They call me Really Bird because when I’m happy, or sad, or thirsty, or scared, I’m REALLY happy, or REALLY scared… or REALLY thirsty!” Sound familiar? If you’ve spent any time around young kids, it should! The first two books hit shelves in April; let’s take a peek inside.

I Really Want a Bigger Piece! (A Really Bird Story), by Harriet Ziefert/Illustrated by Travis Foster, (Apr. 2022, Red Comet Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781636550190

Ages 4-7

Really Bird, Cat, and Pup are having a blueberry pie picnic, but each has different ideas on how big a slice they should get. Pup feels like slices should be in size order; Really Bird is starving, so he wants a really big piece, and Cat is frustrated that his piece is messy and missing crust. Can the friends figure out how to share the pie to make everyone happy? The story is laid out in similar fashion to popular Easy Readers like Elephant and Piggie, the Ballet Cat books by Bob Shea, and Cece Bell’s Chick and Brain books, with the narration taking place as dialogue between the characters. The friends state the problem – how to figure out sharing the blueberry pie – and offer different steps to solve the issue, with pluses and minuses (plus – dog gets the biggest piece; minus – Really Bird gets the smallest!); the characters work together to resolve the problem, and all is well at the end! Discussion questions and an activity help kids reflect on what they’ve read and apply it to their experiences. Cartoony characters with bold colors and outlines make this an eye-catching book that makes for a great read-aloud, read-along, or read together.

 

 

 

I Really Want to Be First! (A Really Bird Story), by Harriet Ziefert/Illustrated by Travis Foster, (Apr. 2022, Red Comet Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781636550183

Ages 4-7

Really Bird and friends are together again! Really Bird is usually last when the friends walk together, but decides today’s the day he’s going to be first! Now that Really Bird is the leader, he takes his friends on a hike that isn’t really easy if you aren’t a bird! Cat and Pup help one another down from a tree, and Really Bird is so focused on being first, he’s ready to start an argument over it. Thankfully, cooler heads prevail and the day is saved. Really Bird is a recognizable voice for young children who are still working on social skills and taking turns, and the story illustrates equity and equality through taking turns and in going on an adventure that isn’t always fair to everyone – all three can climb the tree, but it’s certainly going to be easier for friends with wings! Discussion questions prompt conversation and insight. The story has the comforting familiarity of starting out in the same way: an introduction to Really Bird, the park where he lives, and the origin of his name, along with an introduction to the book’s topic: “Today I REALLY want to be First!” versus “Today I REALLY want a bigger piece!”

 

 

Red Comet also sent me an adorable Really Bird plush to accompany at me at storytime! According to Red Comet’s website, he should be available now. Take a look at this cutie!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

What does the first cat in space eat? Pizza, of course!

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Shawn Harris, (May 2022, Katherine Tegen Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9780063084087

Ages 7-12

Two award-winning kidlit powerhouses come together for a laugh-out-loud tale about a cat, a toenail-clipping robot, and a group of hungry rats posed to devour the moon. Rats from another galaxy are eating the moon! What is the Earth to do? Dispatch a cybernetically enhanced cat – First Cat – to take care of business. Accompanied by a stowaway robot who believes he’s destined for greater things than clipping toenails, and a ship’s computer who’s furious at being upstaged from a larger part in the story, First Cat lands on the moon, and the adventure begins: frozen wastelands, living forests, churning waters (Sea of Tranqulity? HA!) and dangers at every turn. There are repeating gags that get funnier with every utterance, and readers will giggle themselves silly as First Cat tries, time and again, to have a mouth-watering slice of pizza. Artwork is boldly outlined and colorful, hilariously communicating the madcap storytelling.

Did you know First Cat is Instagram famous? Kids can watch First Cat’s live adventures on Instagram or the First Cat webpage, where they can also sign up for the newsletter! The graphic novel includes sheet music and links to songs from the series. The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza is perfect for summer reading your readers will love.

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza has a starred review from Publishers Weekly and is on the May/June 2022 Indie Next Kids List.

Posted in Graphic Novels

Graphic Novel bonanza continues! Let There Be Light, by Liana Finck

Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation, by Liana Finck, (Apr. 2022, Random House), $28.99, ISBN: 9781984801531

Ages 14+

Artist Liana Finck reimagines the Book of Genesis in her latest graphic novel; here, god is a woman wearing a crown and wielding a wand, creating the world and populating it but not quite satisfied. She creates Man, then creates Lilith (Adam’s first wife), creating Eve when Lilith storms out and leaving Adam bereft. It’s assumed God presents as male – something that irks the Creator throughout the book, as rendered in amusing and outraged footnotes – which ends up being the reason behind why humans are unable to view the face of God. Let There Be Light tells the stories of Cain and Abel, the “Begats” (an hilarious look at all the babies being born to centuries-old men, seemingly without female assistance), Joseph, Abraham, and others. Simple black and white line drawings get spots of color for emphasis. God is a more human deity in this book, with neuroses and anxiety, making her a more compassionate figure.  An author’s note touches on Kabbalist concepts and its influence on her story. An amusing and thought-provoking retelling.

Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation has a starred review from Booklist. Visit Liana Finck’s webpage for more information on her books and her artwork.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Monsters of Rookhaven is all about Family

The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Pádraig Kenny/Illustrated by Edward Bettison, (Sept. 2021, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250623942

Ages 10-14

Mirabelle loves her very unique family: there’s Uncle Bertram, who can transform into a grizzy bear, and Aunt Eliza, entirely made up of spiders. There are the twins, Dotty and Daisy, who can be a little cruel, and Odd, who travels through portals. There’s Gideon, the newest addition to the family, and the mysterious Piglet; and there’s Uncle Enoch, who presides over the group. They have an agreement with the English village that separates them by way of a magical border: they don’t cross the border and eat the townsfolk, and the village keeps them fed and safe from the outside world. But Jem and Tom, two orphaned siblings, discover a tear in the magic and find their way into Rookhaven, with consequences for everyone on both sides of the border.

This book is gorgeous; beautifully macabre and perfect for kids who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. The narration moves swiftly along but is never rushed; it’s deliberate and takes its time creating the world of Rookhaven and the post-War English countryside; we meet a group of people devastated by war and the grief and loss it brings, making them susceptible to the worst type of manipulation. We meet another group of beings, specially gifted but assumed terrible, also suffering from grief and loss, with the added confusion of having two very human children stumble into their secure world and turn things upside down. Pádraig Kenny masterfully brings these elements together with dark humor and gentle moments, tension and terror mixed with wonder and pain. Edward Bettison’s blackwork illustrations add the perfect moodiness to the story. An excellent choice for book groups

The Monsters of Rookhaven is out in hardcover now and will be released in paperback this September, to coincide with the hardcover release of the next Rookhaven book, The Shadows of Rookhaven.

The Monsters of Rookhaven has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Graphic Novels Bonanza Begins with Button Pusher!

Button Pusher, by Tyler Page, (Apr. 2022, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250758330

Ages 10-14

What did I do on vacation? I read books and played tabletop games! Starting off my graphic novel bonanza is Button Pusher, Eisner-nominated cartoonist Tyler Page’s memoir of living with ADHD. Tyler begins as a rambunctious 8-year-old who can be the class clown or lose track of a lesson as the teacher is speaking. He cuts up a school bus seat but doesn’t really know why he did it, when asked. His teachers think he just likes to be a troublemaker, but that isn’t it, and his mother takes him to the doctor to find out what’s going on, leading to his ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – diagnosis. While the memoir centers on Page’s ADHD, and how he moves toward functioning with (and without) medication and treatment, the story also revolves around his school and home life, including the troubled relationship between his parents and his father’s own undiagnosed neurodivergence. The story is incredibly readable and offers sensitive portrayals of Tyler Page and his mother, who works toward understanding and helping her son while in a difficult marriage. Page also touches on male adolescent anxiety, particularly Tyler’s body image issues when he realizes that the medication is contributing to weight gain. Back matter includes an author’s note, samples of Page’s childhood art, and his working process. An informative and outstanding introduction for middle graders to understanding ADHD.

Button Pusher has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: Before the World Wakes, by Estelle Laure

Remember those mornings when you were a kid, when you were awake before everyone else woke up and it felt like you were the only person in the world? That spirit of magic and anticipation is the heart of Estelle Laure and Paola Zakimi’s Before the World Wakes.

Before the World Wakes, by Estelle Laure/Illustrated by Paola Zakimi,
(April 2022, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542028837

Ages 4-7

Two siblings awaken in the wee hours of the morning and explore the world around them, enjoying each other’s company. It’s the best time of day: it’s not too bright; there’s not a lot of noise; they aren’t rushing to be anywhere. Estelle Laure’s lyrical prose evokes the best childhood memories and makes them available to a new audience, brought to life by Paola Zakimi’s gentle watercolor, pencil, and gouache illustrations. Phrases like, “The stars say good morning at the same time / they say good night, / and we watch the moon pull them home, / as night and day hold hands” beautifully capture the gentle time before the hectic rush of the day begins; the spread brings the words together by illustrating a waking sky, moving from midnight blue to soft blue, stars and moon still twinkling in the sky, with a pink and yellow dawn moving in from the east and bringing secrets of the day with it: flowers perking up to greet the sun, and snails creeping out to snack on morning dew. Perspectives shift from close-up portraits of the children watching the world awaken around them, moving out to glimpse them dancing in their blanket capes, to their toes squishing into the “wet grass that is cold but not too cold”. Before the World Wakes is a joyful celebration of childhood, of exploration, and of the anticipation of a new day.

A great sensory storytime read aloud, inviting kids to talk about how they “feel” their days begin: the warmth of a blanket versus the shiver of cold air when they emerge from their blankets; the feel of a floor – grass or otherwise! – under their feet, the sounds of the morning, from the birds outside to the chatter in their homes as everyone starts their day.

“The poetic text and charming pictures celebrate a special time and universal feelings” – Booklist

Estelle Laure is the author of six young adult novels, including This Raging Light, Mayhem, Remember Me, and the City of Villains series, and the picture book The Perfect Pet for You, illustrated by Amy Hevron. She lives with her family in New Mexico, where you can often find her walking the dogs and watching the sun rise before the world wakes. For more about Estelle, visit www.estellelaure.com or on Instagram: @estellelaurewrites

Paola Zakimi is the illustrator of Secrets I Know by Kallie George, Teddy & Co. by Cynthia Voigt, The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains by Annie Silvestro, and Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Viessid. She is also a doll maker and fine artist and lives in Argentina. Her favorite part of the early morning is listening to the buzz of the bees while the sun comes out all bright and beautiful. You can learn more about her at www.paolazakimi.com or Instagram: @paolazakimi
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Danger on Mount Choco is the epic adventure kids needed

Blue, Barry & Pancakes: Danger on Mount Choco, by Dan & Jason, (Jan. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250255570

Ages 6-8

The third Blue, Barry and Pancakes adventure is another laugh-out-loud hit. The three friends enter an epic sundae-making contest this time, in the quest to win a trophy for Barry’s trophy room. But the winning ingredient can only be found at Mount Choco… are the friends up to the task? Of course they are! In usual hilarious, frenetically paced style, Blue, Barry and Pancakes set out on an adventure that brings laughter, disagreement, adventure, and ice cream sundaes. It’s not necessary to read the previous books before picking up Danger on Mount Choco, but why wouldn’t you? These books are great.

Don’t forget to download a free activity kit from the first Blue, Barry and Pancakes adventure at Macmillan’s website!