Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

To let go… just a little bit: Somewhere

Somewhere, by Robie Harris/Illustrated by Armando Mariño, (Feb. 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536207354

Ages 4-6

A young girl and her father go for a walk in the park. She wants to go somewhere she’s never been before, so she kisses her father goodbye and wanders off to explore. She’s aware of every sight and sound, every color and texture, and collects souvenirs to bring back to Daddy, who’s waiting for her… so they can go somewhere else together. Watercolor and ink illustrations envelop the reader in a verdant, colorful setting that goes from park to adventurous landscape that provides a sense of wonder as the girl becomes smaller against the large bushes and trees she encounters, the flora and fauna she interacts with, and the perspective of the artwork. It’s a poetic story about a small moment in time that every parent and caregiver knows is coming: that moment where we have to let go, even just a little bit, to encourage a child’s independence. Here, the girl’s father is close, but never intrusive; he lets his child return to him after having a solo adventure. Once reunited, the two discover another new “somewhere” together. Keep this one in mind for Father’s Day, too; it’s always great to get a father-daughter book. Pair with Mi Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero and Hope Lim’s I Am a Bird. Get a teacher tip card from Candlewick’s website.

Robie Harris a New York Times best-selling author whose books include It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health and It’s NOT the Stork! A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends. Visit her website for more about her books and for class visit information. Armando Mariño is an award-winning Cuban artist; you can find more of his artwork at his website.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books for your Spring radar!

Spring always brings some good books to read. In April and May, there’s a little something for everyone – come and see!

April Books

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, by Sarah Hampson/Illustrated by Kass Reich,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383615
Recommended for readers 4-8
Dr. Archibald Coo is a sophisticated pigeon who’s tired of the way he and his fellow pigeons are treated by humans. They’re shooed at, swatted, and treated like a general menace. Dr. Coo remembers when pigeons enjoyed a higher profile in history: in ancient Greece, they delivered news about the Olympic Games; during World War I, they carried messages across battlefields. Now? pfft. So Dr. Coo and his pigeon friends organize and decide to strike: they disappear from every public space, leaving a confused public wondering what happened. Dr. Coo heads over to the mayor’s office a history of the pigeon and a note, asking for tolerance, opening the door to a new era of pigeon-human relations. It’s a cute urban story with a wink to New York and other urban spaces, and has a nice thread about inclusivity and diversity running through the book. Gouache paint and colored pencil art makes for a soft illustration, with attention to the different types of pigeons – there are! – in the cityscape. This would be cute to booktalk with James Sage’s Stop Feedin’ Da Boids!

My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button/Illustrated by Christine Battuz,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383561
Recommended for readers 4-6
Kitty gets to school and knows something’s up when her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, isn’t there to meet her. What’s going on? There’s another teacher there today! How does school even work when your teacher is absent? This sweet rhyming tale about a student’s first substitute teacher is great for younger kids who are just getting into the swing of school routines and provides some fun advice for coping with and adjusting to unexpected change. Kitty teaches readers some coping strategies, including helping out her friends and the teacher by contributing to class and modeling good behavior using cues she learned from her teacher, that the substitute may not be aware of. This is an animal story, so kids will enjoy seeing the “ginormously tall” teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Omar; pigs, elephants, bears, a whole menagerie of students. Hand-drawn artwork and digital collage come together to create colorful, textured, cartoony fun. This one’s a good addition to preschool and primary collections.

Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star, by Chris Tougas,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781771388399
Recommended for readers 1-3
One of my favorite books coming out this season is this adorable board book! Set to the tune of everybody’s favorite classic song, this sweet and funny version is all about where not to go: not in a plane, not on Grandpa’s knee, not at a puppet show. Luckily, the poor Little Star gets relief by the story’s end, and sits on a potty to… “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star”. It’s adorable with the cutest digital art. Little Star is beyond cute, and gender neutral! Sing along at storytime – I know I’ll be throwing plenty of voice inflection (“Did you just pee on this page?”) and leg-crossing as I read this one. Absolutely adorable, must-add, must-give for collections and toddlers everywhere.

May Books

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, by Alice Kuipers/Illustrated by Diana Toledano,
(May 2018, Chronicle), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452152325
Recommended for readers 7-9
Polly Diamond is an aspiring, biracial young writer who discovers a magic book on her doorstep one day. Not only does the book write back to her when she writes in it, Everything she writes in the book happens in real life! At first, Polly is psyched: who wouldn’t be, right? But you know how it goes… for every magic journal action, there’s a pretty wild reaction! Written in the first person, with excerpts from Polly’s book, including a pretty great intermediate-level book list for awesome display purposes (“Read Polly Diamond’s favorite books HERE!”). Chapter book readers who love books like Juana and Lucas (on Polly’s favorites list), Jasmine Toguchi, and Katie Woo will thoroughly enjoy Polly’s adventures. There are short, descriptive sentences and a nice amount of new words – Polly is an aspiring writer, after all! Lots of fun for chapter book readers; I’d have kids create their own aquariums as a related craft.

Old Misery, by James Sage/Illustrated by Russell Ayto,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781771388238
Recommended for readers 5-10
Readers with a darker sense of humor (and parents who are Gorey fans) will get a chuckle out of Old Misery, the story of a cranky old woman named – you got it – Old Misery, and her old cat, Rutterkin. She’s broke, and the apples keep disappearing from her apple tree! Lucky for Old Misery, she’s not completely heartless and feeds a wandering visitor, who grants her one wish: she wants all the apple thieves to be caught in the tree until she lets them go! Old Misery decides to play a little risky game when Death himself shows up at her door – and she sends him to the apple tree. Be careful what you wish for! The black and white, pen and ink artwork has a creepy, quirky feel to it, which will appeal to kids who like Lemony Snicket’s work, but may go over some kids’ heads. Old Misery narrates the story, offering an opportunity for a fun read-aloud.

Binky fans, Gordon’s got his own adventure! For readers who love Ashley Spires’ Binky the Space Cat graphic novels will love Gordon, fellow member of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) and Binky’s house-mate, as he finds himself traveling through time to stop an alien invasion. But Gordon travels back too far – before PURST even exists! He’s got to get back to his normal time and set things right! This is fun reading for graphic novel fans, and a nice addition to a popular series. There’s time-travel, problem-solving, aliens, and humor, along with fun art.

See How We Move!: A First Book of Health and Well-Being, by Scot Ritchie,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781771389679

Recommended for readers 5-8
Author Scot Ritchie’s multicultural group of friends are back together again. Last time we save them, they visited a farm to learn how to grow grains and vegetables in See How We Eat!; this time, Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Sally, and Martin are training as their swim team, The Flying Sharks, prepares to compete. They learn about using proper equipment for different activities, warming up before beginning your activity, teamwork and encouragement, goal-setting, nutrition, the mind-body connection, and more. There are suggestions for fun activities and words to know, all coming together to give kids a fun story about a group of friends staying strong and having fun together while encouraging kids to create lifelong habits of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. I like this See How! series; it offers a wealth of information on healthy living, made accessible to younger readers. I can easily read this in a storytime and get the kids talking about the different ways they play, how they eat, and good habits to get into.

The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Sandy Nichols,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN; 978-1-77138-574-9
Recommended for readers 4-8

Zaida, Eli’s grandfather, gets bagels from Merv’s Bakery every Sunday morning. One morning, when no bagels show up, Eli gets a phone call: Zaida’s fallen on his tuchus and can’t get the bagels! Eli and his family aren’t the only ones waiting on bagels, either – Eli visits Zaida, only to discover that Zaida’s friends are verklempt, too. No bagels! What a shanda, as my stepdad would say! Eli helps care for his zaida and keep him company, but he knows the best way to cheer Zaida up, and heads to the bagel store on his own the very next Sunday. This story is the most charming book about grandparents and grandchildren, loaded with compassion, a wink and nudge type of humor, and loads of fun, new Yiddish terminology. If you’re an urban dweller, like me, these words are kind of a second language: Zaida is grandfather, and tuchus is your bottom; there’s a little glossary of other Yiddish words that show up in the story, too. (Verklempt is overwhelmed with emotion, and shanda is a shame – you won’t find them in the story, but all I could hear was my stepdad when I read this, so there you go.) I loved the sweet storytelling, the compassion and the decision to act on Eli’s part, and Zaida and his group of friends were wonderful. It’s got an urban flavor that everyone will enjoy, and is good storytelling. Use this story as an opportunity to get your kids talking about relationships with their grandparents: what do you call your grandparents? Do they cook, bake, or shop for food? Do you go with them? (I’d love to get some bagels to hand out with my group… hmmm…) The acrylic artwork has a soft, almost retro feel, but really emphasizes the relationship story with colors, gentle expressions, and soft lines.

The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw,
(May 2018, Tundra/Penguin Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735264120

Recommended for readers 4-8
A fox who loves nature and botany goes on a quest for a rare plant to add to his collection. The Golden Glow is a plant from the Wellhidden family, and only grows high in the mountains. There’s not even a picture of it; it’s never been described. Fox packs his supplies and heads off to the mountains, meeting different animals and noting different plants and trees along the way. When Fox finally reaches the mountaintop, he waits… and discovers the Golden Glow! It’s stunning! It’s breathtaking! And Fox realizes that “the golden glow is more beautiful here on the mountaintop than it ever would be in a vase in his living room”. Part story and part nature journal, The Golden Glow is just gorgeous and teaches a respect for nature. The angular art draws the eye in; there’s so much to see on every page, every spread. Flouw creates detailed lists of Fox’s hiking pack, plus trees and flowers that he encounters on his way, and a map of different zones on the way up to the mountain, from the foothill to snow zones, all in beautiful detail for younger readers to enjoy. Fox’s decision to leave the flower where it is presents a love of and respect for nature that can lead to a great discussion on conservation. Bright red endpapers with angular design could be a topographic map of the area – talk about how different areas look from above! I know it’s way early, but I’ll quietly whisper this one now: Caldecott contender.
Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

Happy British National Tea Day! Spend it with The Queen!

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, by Kate Hosford/Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, (March 2017, Carolrhoda Books), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-4677-3904-7

Recommended for ages 5-10

A pampered queen is fed up with her usual cup of tea and demands that her butler take her in search of the perfect cup of tea. The duo travel via hot air balloon to gorgeous, green, tea-growing lands and meet three children: Noriko, from Japan; Sunil, from India, and Rana, from Turkey, all of whom teach the Queen to make tea as they do – after she snuggles a kitten, dribbles a soccer ball, and dances. The Queen, noticeably more relaxed with each trip, returns home, invites the children to a tea party, and greets them, hair askew, smiling, and happy.

The soothing repetition of this story, combined with Gabi Swiatkowska’s colored pencils and the strong individual characters Kate Hosford creates all come together to give readers a story about unity, multiculturalism, and letting your hair down. The Queen’s transformation from stuffy and coddled to open and self-sufficient is a joy to watch. Each new experience, each new child she meets, expands her world view, signified by the different teas she enjoys.

The tea rituals are also repetitive in their own way; each ingredient is laid out, and the steps in making each tea are illustrated, inviting readers (with adult help) to make their own tea. An author’s note at the end touches on the history of tea and the author’s inspiration in coming up with the Queen.

This makes a great addition to a multicultural storytime, or a fun addition to a food-related storytime (have some cooled tea prepared for kids to try). I read this one with my 4 year old, who loved the idea of traveling by balloon and meeting new kids – wasn’t so interested in the tea – and that’s the whole point of the book. Talk to kids about being self-sufficient and open to new experiences, and you’ll be just fine.

Want a Queenly storytime? Pick up Gabi Swiatkowska’s own book, Queen on Wednesday (2014), and see how the two monarchs match up.

Updated: Lerner Books just posted an interview with the author AND downloadable tea recipes!

Don’t forget to enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance to win a copy of How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea!

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Beautiful historical fiction: Outrun the Moon

outrun the moonOutrun the Moon, by Stacey Lee (May 2016, GP Putnam Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399175411

Recommended for ages 11+

Mercy Wong is a teenage Chinese-American girl living in 1906 San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her father labors as a launderer, her mother a fortune teller; her young brother Jack is sickly. Mercy wants to give her family much more in life, so she uses her wits and a bit of bribery to gain admission to the exclusive St. Clare’s School for Girls, convinced that she will learn the life skills and business acumen she needs to succeed in life. Life at St. Clare’s is frustrating: it’s essentially a finishing school for spoiled rich girls, and the Chinese girl is seen as beneath them – including by the school’s headmistress. Mercy’s determination is put to the ultimate test when the 1906 earthquake devastates San Francisco, destroying her school and Chinatown. Mercy pulls herself and her schoolmates together as they wait to be reunited with their families in the temporary park encampment. As the days press on and more news circulates about the devastation, Mercy sets a new task for herself: to ease the suffering of those around her.

I loved, loved, loved this book. Stacey Lee weaves a beautiful, powerful work of historical fiction, choosing a moment in time when people were forced to come together: black, white, Asian, wealthy, poor, the earthquake was the great equalizer. How the survivors chose to move forward often left me open-mouthed, as prejudices – racial and class (or perceived class) – prevailed.

Mercy Wong is the kind of protagonist whose name every reader needs to know. She’s smart, witty, determined, and full of love for her family. She has hopes and dreams, and she refuses to let other people’s ways of thinking narrow her own scope. When intimidated, she presses onward. She’s a survivor even before the earthquake hits, and in its aftermath, she becomes so much more: she becomes a beacon.

Stacey Lee brings every single character in this book to beautiful life. Every character moved me to a reaction, whether it was disgust, anger, or affection. She also reminded me that I’m as quick to judge others – even literary characters – on surface impressions – just as these seemingly skin-deep characters judge those around them. She unpacks these characters as the book progresses, and while their actions are still small-minded and cruel, the reasons are explained. She also weaves aspects of Chinese culture and true historical details into her narrative, giving us a work of historical fiction from a time period not usually touched on, through the eyes of a narrator with a very unique perspective.

I just told a colleague that I want to wrap myself up in Stacey Lee’s words; they’re beautifully written and just curl around you, even when describing dark, aching moments.

Author Stacey Lee is a We Need Diverse Books founding member. Her previous book, Under a Painted Sky, received starred reviews from PW and Kirkus, and Outrun the Moon has received a starred Kirkus review. You can read an excerpt at the Entertainment Weekly website.

Add this book to your collections, booktalk it for summer, and give it to anyone who loves good literature.


Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Is Jasper John Dooley Public Library Enemy #1?

jasper john dooleyJasper John Dooley: Public Library Enemy #1, by Caroline Adderson/Illustrated by Mike Shiell (Apr. 2016, Kids Can Press), $15.95, ISBN: 9781771380157

Recommended for ages 7-10

Poor Jasper! He borrowed a book from the library, so he could practice reading. He wanted his skills to be sharp when it was his turn to sit on the big, comfy chair at the library and read to Molly the dog, that’s all! But Jasper accidentally dropped the book in the tub and drowned it, and THEN, his father set it on fire by trying to dry it in the stove. And THEN, he shot it with a fire extinguisher! Now, Jasper and his dad are Book Killers, and he’s terrified that he owes the library $2500 for the book! How can he raise that much money before Wednesday, when it’s his turn to read to Molly?

This is the sixth book in the Jasper John Dooley early chapter book series, and it’s adorable; great for young readers who are ready to advance from Easy Readers to chapter books. Jasper is very likable, and his reasoning will click with readers: his mom reads in the bathtub, so it should be easy, right? He misjudges a decimal point when trying to determine the price of the book he needs to replace, and comes up with $2500 instead of $25. He feels huge responsibility for the library book in his care, which provides opportunities for discussion about responsibility and taking care of others’ belongings, as well as realizing that everyone makes mistakes – even parents – and that, yes, accidents happen.

This is the first Jasper John Dooley book I’ve ever read, but I would like to get these on my library’s shelves, because they’re great reading. Like most series fiction for emerging and newly independent readers, you don’t need to read from book one to pick up the series; they’re independent stories with characters that you’ll get to know right away. Black and white llustrations add to the enjoyment of the story. You can easily have a read-aloud with this book: classes will get a kick out of it! Good role models, sweet humor based on misunderstanding, solid discussion points make this a good addition to your series collections.

Learn more about the Jasper John Dooley series on the Kids Can Press webpage.

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

Playing Juliet is perfect for middle grade drama fans!

61608100684480LPlaying Juliet, by JoAnne Stewart Wetzel (Nov. 2015, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781634501835

Recommended for ages 9-14

Twelve year-old Beth wants nothing more than to be an actress. She participates in her local children’s theatre productions and gets great reactions, but her parents think this is just “kid stuff” and push her toward being a lawyer, just like her dad. When the announcement that the children’s theatre is going to close, though, Beth and her best friend, Zandy, are crushed. The theatre director announces that the last play the company will put on will be the first play that opened the theatre 50 years ago – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – and Beth is beside herself. She’s desperately wanted to play Juliet, but she’s grounded and can’t even audition. How is she going to be part of this production? Even more important, how can she make her parents understand that acting, not law, is her true passion?

Playing Juliet is loaded with theatre fan terms and inside secrets. Every chapter begins with a quote from Shakespeare, and the text itself is full of superstition (did you know that wearing real jewels or the color blue can be considered bad luck?) and behind-the-scenes action. Beth is a likable heroine with a likable best friend and strong support group around her. She’s also got the relatable frustration of having her parents choose her career path for her (my dad always told me I was going to be a doctor), and the dual dread of disappointing them or having them trivialize her desire to be an actress. Her parents aren’t the bad guys here, either – they just want what’s best for their daughter, and are supportive of her in every other way, including fair discipline, as you’ll see in the story.

Tweens – particularly girls – are going to enjoy this book for the strong female characters and the bravery they display in fighting for what they believe in. It’s a solid story about friendship, family, taking chances, and pursuing your goals. Author’s notes about the theatre and quotes from Shakespeare round out this novel. Pair this with Raina Telgemeier’s Drama for middle schoolers!