Posted in picture books

Women to Know: Frida Kahlo

The Two Fridas: Memories Written by Frida Kahlo, Illustrated by Gianluca Folì, (March 2021, Schiffer Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9780764361166

Ages 5-8

When most people think of Frida Kahlo, they usually think of adult Frida, with flowers in her hair and thick eyebrows. Maybe they’ll think of her love for animals and her many pets. The Two Fridas, taken from the artist’s own diary, introduces readers to a younger Frida; a child who creates an imaginary friend and a fantasy world. The “other” Frida is a friend that will always listen to Frida’s “secret problems” and will always play and laugh with her. The Two Fridas is a peek into a child’s imaginary world; artwork in shades of grey, black and white has minimal, quiet color to emphasize Frida’s journey into her fantasy world. At the conclusion, we realize that this is Frida’s own recollection, as the art moves into an artist’s workroom, with the Frida people have come to know, seated and working on a self-portrait. The Two Fridas lets children know that it’s okay to have an imaginary place to go, an imaginary friend to spend time with, and to take that joy with you into adulthood. A biographical note on Kahlo talks about the artist’s relationship to her sisters, the ailments that kept Frida home, even bedridden, and the imaginary friend that meant so much to her that she dedicated a painting to her in 1939. Originally published in Spanish in 2019, The Two Fridas provides a new look at an iconic artist.

For more information about Frida Kahlo, visit The Frida Kahlo Foundation and The Blue House, the museum located in Frida’s former residence.  The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has a page dedicated to her. Education.com has a free, downloadable biography worksheet on the artist, and Teachers Pay Teachers has many free activities for all ages, including Llamame Spanish’s Spanish-language biography worksheet, Art with Mrs E’s coloring sheet, Lindsey Carter’s Frida paper doll, and Fun for Spanish Teacher’s presentation.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Squishy McFluff is off to tea with the Queen

Squishy McFluff: Tea with the Queen, by Pip Jones/Illustrated by Ella Okstad, (May 2019, Faber & Faber), $16.95, ISBN: 9780571337279

Ages 3-7

Squishy McFluff, the Invisible Cat, meets the Queen for tea in his first picture book! He and his favorite human, Ava, are off to London with Ava’s family for some sightseeing, but Squishy – and therefore, Ava – have other plans. Slipping into Buckingham Palace, they happen upon the Queen herself, who’s looking over a grocery list for her corgi. Ava boldly introduces herself and Squishy (still invisible) to HRH, who insists they both stay for tea, and sends her home with invisible crowns for herself and Squishy.

Squishy McFluff is the star of a British chapter book series that looks absolutely adorable (can we get these in the States?); Tea with the Queen is the first Squishy picture book in the series. Told in rhyme from Ava’s point of view, the story is charming and perfect for tea party storytime. The story will appeal to kids’ imaginations – ask them if they’ve ever had imaginary friends or pets! – and get the creative juices flowing. Endpapers are dotted with crowns and cat paws, and Ella Okstad’s artwork is sweet and colorful, with Squishy being a dominant character, albeit a transparent one.

I love a good tea party book, and this will join my shelf. Pick this one up for yours if you have readers who love animal stories, tea parties, and stretching their imaginations. Enhance a storytime activity with some of the suggestions and downloadables on the Squishy McFluff website, including coloring pages and a dot-to-dot activity.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

The Snow Lion: An imaginary friend provides courage

The Snow Lion, by Jim Helmore /Illustrated by Richard Jones, (Oct. 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 9781682630488

Ages 4-8

Cora is a little girl in a new house. She’d like to have someone to play with, but she’s terribly shy. Luckily for her, a friendly snow lion introduces himself and invites her to play. He disappears against the white, white walls of the house, making for a fun game of hide-and-seek. The Lion manages to nudge Caro out of the house to go play in the park, where she meets a boy named Bobby; from there, Bobby introduces her to his friends. When Caro’s mom decides to invite Caro’s new friends over to paint the house, the Snow Lion smiles and tells her that it’s time for him to move on – but that she’ll always know where to find him.

The Snow Lion is a comforting tale about moving and being the new kid. Caro’s imaginary friend – we see her reading a book about lions on the title page – is there to support her while she gains the courage to make new friends. The paint and Photoshop artwork is subdued, and the Lion is a quietly supportive presence, first blending into walls, then standing out against blue, yellow, and red backgrounds as he and Caro play together. Even though the Snow Lion moves on, he’s a guiding presence by the story’s end. Gray and white endpapers feature snow lions, snowflakes, and geometric shapes.

A gentle story for kids who have recently moved, are about to move, or just need a little something to lean on.

Author Jim Helmore’s author website has free downloadables related to his other books. Illustrator Richard Jones’ webpage has more to say about The Snow Lion and his other work.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

June Picture Book Roundup

There are so many good books for Summer Reading hitting shelves in June! Let younger readers explore new worlds and meet new friends with some of these picture books.

Seven Pablos, by Jorge Luján/Illustrated by Chiara Carrer, Translated by Mara Lethem, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702534

Seven boys share the same name. Seven short vignettes share the stories of seven lives, taking readers from the copper mines in Chile to a refugee family living in Mexico, from a garbage dump in Peru to a streets of the Bronx, New York. Seven Pablos sheds light on the living conditions of children around the world in sparse, quietly powerful text. Graphite pencil art creates a dreamlike atmosphere for this lyrical story by Poet Jorge Luján.

Seven Pablos is deeply moving and continues to call attention to the plight of migrant and refugee families around the world. One scene expresses the rage these kids hold within them, as one Pablo tells a visiting poet that he wants to be a “big guy in a uniform” so he can “beat people up and get away with it”. A refugee Pablo recites a poem – in actuality, written by a 9-year-old Argentine child – where he imagines soldiers crushing roofs with their boots. Luján ends his story with the beautiful reminder that there are many Pablos in the world, and each one has a heart that beats with the rhythm of our world.

The Turtle Ship, by Helena Ku Rhee/Illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage, (June 2018, Lee and Low Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781885008909
Recommended for readers 6-12
This folk tale is based on Korean history. A boy named Sun-sin dreams of seeing the world with his pet turtle, Gobugi, and discovers his chance when the king announces a contest: design the best battleship to defend the land. The winner will receive ten bags of copper coins and the chance to travel with the royal navy. After a few failed attempts at a design, Sun-sin notices that his turtle is strong, slow, and steady, and decides that the best design will be based on Gobugi. At first, he’s laughed at in the king’s court, but when a cat tries to attack the turtle, the king and his court all see that there is something to the boy’s idea. Thus, the Korean Turtle Ships were created, and the boy grew to be famed Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
The story is best served by the incredible paper collage artwork, created using paper from all over the world. The art gives the story drama, color, and texture, and the story itself is as good for read-alouds as it is for independent reading. This is a nice addition to historical collections and cultural folktales. An author note on the Korean Turtle Ships provides some background on the legend of Yi Sun-sin and the Turtle Ship design.

Johnny, by Guido van Genechten, (June 2018, Clavis Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781605373775

Recommended for readers 3-5

Johnny is an adorable spider with a secret to share, but everyone’s afraid of him! Wanna know his secret? It’s his birthday, and he wants to share his cake! This adorable book by Guido van Genechten is a good story to read when talking to kids about judging others based solely on appearances.

I have to admit, I needed to read this one a couple of times because I felt so bad for Johnny! It’s his birthday, and he’s all alone because everyone’s afraid of him! And then I figured it out: that’s the point. I mean, I know it was the point to begin with, but having Johnny celebrate with only the reader by the story’s end leaves a reader feeling badly – and that’s the time to talk about empathy. Ask kids how they would feel if people didn’t want to be near them because someone didn’t like the way they looked. Ask how they would feel if they had a birthday party and no one came! And then, for heaven’s sake, throw Johnny a birthday party: have some cupcakes and fruit punch, and sing Happy Birthday to the poor guy. He deserves it. Guido van Genechten’s cute, expressive, boldly outlined artwork is instantly recognizable and appealing to younger readers.

 

Swim Bark Run, by Brian & Pamela Boyle/Illustrated by Beth Hughes, (June 2018, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510726963

Recommended for readers 3-7

Daisy the Bulldog is so proud of her humans, Brian and Pam, when they compete in triathlons. She wonders if she could train and compete like they do, and decides to enlist the help of her fellow doggie buddies, Rascal, Atticus, and Hobie, to hold their own Dog-Athlon! Daisy is full of energy at first, but when she starts getting tired, a familiar face at the finish line gives her the boost she needs!

Swim Bark Run is a cute book about physical activity, competition and cooperation, and determination. The digital artwork is bright and cute, giving the dogs happy, friendly faces and includes a nice amount of action as the pups train for their big day. There are positive messages about working together and encouraging one another. This is a cute additional add for readers who like animal books and books about physical fitness.

Seven Bad Cats, by Moe Bonneau, (June 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492657101

Recommended for readers 4-7

A child gets ready to go out on a fishing boat, but seven bad cats make progress very difficult. I love this rhyming, counting tale of seven cats who do what cats do best: get in the way! They eat from the traps, take naps on the oars and steal the child’s gloves, and generally make themselves a nuisance until the boat flips over, and the cats band together to save the day. The book counts up from one to seven until the boat flips everything over, including the story, and the countdown from seven back to one ends the fun. The watercolor artwork adds a nice, watery feel to this seafaring tale, and the cats are hilarious, using their whole bodies to get up to all sorts of no good; even appearing in mug shots on one page. They sprawl, they curl, they stretch, and they swim – they may not like it, but a cat’s gotta do what a cat’s gotta do! This one is a thoroughly enjoyable add to storytime and concept collections. Give this to your cat loving kids! (Also good for a readaloud with flannels or beanie babies.)

 

Finn’s Feather, by Rachel Noble/Illustrated by Zoey Abbot, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702398

Recommended for readers 4-8

In this touching story about grief, loss, and remembrance, a young boy named Finn finds a feather at his doorstep. It’s white, amazing, perfect. It has to be from his brother, Hamish, and Finn tells his mother and his teacher, who take a deep breath and smile; Finn doesn’t understand why they aren’t as excited as he is. His friend Lucas is, though: it’s got to be an angel’s feather, it’s so perfect, and the two friends take Hamish with them on the playground, running with the feather as if it were an additional friend. Finn uses the feather as a quill to write a note to Hamish that evening, and sets the envelope holding the letter in a tree, so the wind will carry it to Hamish.

Inspired by author Rachel Noble’s loss, this moving story about a sibling grieving and remembering is gentle, understanding, and an excellent book to have available for children moving through grief. The soft pencil artwork and gentle colors provide a calming, soothing feel to the story.

 

Ready to Ride, by Sébastien Pelon, (June 2018, words & pictures), $17.95, ISBN: 9781910277737

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young boy finds himself bored on a day home, until his mother sends him out to play. An imaginary friend joins him, and together, they learn to ride a bike! This is a fun, light story about imagination and getting outdoors to play. The imaginary friend is a big, white, two-legged figure – think yeti without the shag – wearing a pointy pink hat and protectively towers over the boy, helping him learn to ride the bike. When the boy heads home after a day of play, his new friend disappears, which is a bit of a letdown. Maybe he’ll show up again. There’s a “Certificate for a Super Cyclist” at the end of the book; a cute prize for kids who learn to ride. This one is an additional add if you’ve got kids who like bike-riding.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

An imaginary friend will always have your back in Crenshaw

crenshawCrenshaw, by Katherine Applegate (Sept. 2015, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250043238

Recommended for ages 9-13

Newbery winner Katherine Applegate is back, following up the award-winning The One and Only Ivan with Crenshaw, the tale of an imaginary friend who knows when his boy needs him.

Jackson’s family is having a rough time of it. His dad is chronically ill, and his mom is having a hard time making ends meet. They’re hungry and they’ve sold their furniture and are looking at the possibility of living in their minivan. Again.

And just like that, Crenshaw appears. Jackson’s childhood imaginary friend is a huge cat who just shows up when he’s needed. And Jackson needs something to believe in; something to cling to. Will Crenshaw be enough?

Katherine Applegate brought me to tears with The One and Only Ivan, and here, she continues her talent for drawing readers in with an emotional tale of friendship and resilience. Applegate addresses a social issue we don’t read much about, but exists: homeless families, transient families, and the effect this has on the children. She also shows us that all friends matter – even the ones we create to get us through the rough times.

Crenshaw will be out in September. Get it on your classroom and library shelves. This would be a great book to recommend and read for a social issues lesson and discussion. My sons’ elementary school takes part in the annual Penny Harvest program, where students collect pennies (or greater denominations, but every penny helps), and then decides on organizations to donate the total to. Wrapping this book reading around a Penny Harvest program or a canned food drive could lead to a meaningful discussion about helping others and bringing attention to families in need.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Incredible Three and A Half Superheroes is a silly superhero story… kinda.

titaah_superheroes_side_crThe Incredible Three and a Half Superheroes, by Frank Schmeiβer/Illus. by Jörg Mühle, Translated from German by David H. Wilson, (April 2015, Little Gestalten), $19.95, ISBN: 978-3-89955-740-4

Recommended for ages 10+

Imagine if Doug, the Wimpy Kid, his buddy, Rowley, and Fregley, the weird kid, started their own superhero group. Now you’ve got an idea of what to expect with The Incredible Three and a Half Superheroes. Headed by Sebastian Appleby-Krumble, aka The Brain, the three middle school friends and classmates are a quirky group of kids from class 6A, taught by the lovely Mrs. Daffodil. Their nemeses, class 6B (for bums, among other things), are taught by the awful Mr. Devill. Things have gone missing from Mrs. Daffodil’s class, and the school administration thinks that she may not be able to control her class. To save her teaching position and reputation, the Incredible Three and a Half (the half being Martin “The Chameleon’s invisible friend, a shy chicken) must find out exactly who the real culprit(s) are.

If that wasn’t enough on its own, Sebastian also has his awful – but wealthy – Aunt Boudicea – staying with them for her birthday festivities. Sebastian’s mother is going crazy trying to feed the woman and her husband, and create an entertaining birthday song and dance routine for Sebastian to perform to entertain her at her birthday party!

The book is written in middle grade style, but the language tends toward a slightly higher level. There’s more profanity than I expected in a middle grade book, so this may be an issue for some families. Written in first-person from Sebastian/The Brain’s point of view, and illustrated with black and white line drawings throughout, this will appeal to fans of The Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and other books in the diary/journal genre. There’s a lot of running back and forth between plot and subplot, and the writing becomes hectic, but kids will likely get a kick out of the craziness of planning a party for Sebastian’s crazy aunt and shrugging off the constant indignities she – and his classmates – toss his way.

Not a bad purchase for home and public libraries, but school libraries will likely be turned off by the language.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

The Imaginary: Peek into the world of imaginary friends

imaginaryThe Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold (March 2015, Bloomsbury USA) $16.99, ISBN: 9780802738110

Recommended for ages 9-13

Ever have an imaginary friend when you were growing up? Do you remember when you grew out of your friend? The Imaginary looks at what happens to imaginary friends when children move on.

Rudger is Amanda’s imaginary friend. He just appeared one day, when she dreamed him up. But when there’s an accident, Rudger finds himself alone – and fading! He has to find Amanda, because his very existence may depend on it – but there’s also a super-creepy man who can see Rudger, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because he’s in the market for a new friend.

The Imaginary is huge fun for middle graders. They’re probably at the age where they remember having an imaginary friend (or… shhh… maybe still have one), so this will spark recognition and sympathy. As Rudger tries to find Amanda, they’ll love seeing other imaginary friends he comes in contact with, and the “big bad” is deliciously creepy, ala Lemony Snicket. It’s a solid story about friendship, loyalty, and growing up, with some chuckle-worthy humor mixed in. Emily Gravett’s illustrations add some beautiful depth to the story and the reader’s imagination.