Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads

Happy Book Birthday to Goblin by Eric Grissom and Will Perkins!

Goblin, by Eric Grissom/Illustrated by Will Perkins, (June 2021, Dark Horse Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781506724720

Ages 10-14

Rikt is a stubborn young goblin who argues with his parents and storms off to bed. He wakes to the smell of smoke, and discovers his home is under attack by a raiding party of humans. His parents are slain, and he’s forced to run into the woods to escape with his life. Angry, grieving, alone, Rikt vows revenge, but where does he begin? A benevolent deity intervenes and sets him on a path to what he thinks will give him the tools to exact vengeance – but along the way, he meets friends and learns a great deal about himself.

Goblin is a gorgeously illustrated fantasy graphic novel. The colors are as incredible as they are horrible at points: the insidious curling of the smoke around Rikt when he awakens; the firelight as his home burns; the colors dance across the page, looking almost real. Will Perkins brings Rikt’s grief and terror to the page, using color and shadow, to hit readers in the feelings. The majesty of the Goddess as she appears to Rikt is one of the best panels I’ve read so far this year.

Let’s talk about Eric Grissom’s writing: his dialogue is wonderful, with humor, pathos, and wisdom throughout the book. He expertly addresses negative stereotypes, and the damage it wreaks, in a fantastic setting. Think of your own literary biases: when you think of a goblin, do you think of a loving family? A sweet, typical kid? Probably not: and that’s the point of the story. Rikt often hears that goblins are “filthy monsters”, or “dirty filthy thieves”. Grissom touches on the cycles of violence that cause generation after generation to kill (see Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down for a brilliant, meditation on this cycle) and even hints at the violence against indigenous populations, with the murder of Rikt’s family. There is an incredible amount of wisdom waiting in this book. Perfect for fantasy fans and middle schoolers. A must-add to your shelves.

 

Posted in picture books

Zonia’s Rain Forest is perfect for Earth Day

It’s Earth Day! Give your Mother Planet a hug!

Zonia’s Rain Forest, by Juana Martinez-Neal, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536208450

Ages 4-8

Zonia is a little girl who lives in the rain forest with “those she loves”. She visits her animal friends, enjoying their company and learning from them; when she heads home, she discovers, in horror, a landscape destroyed: trees chopped down; the land brutalized. She runs to her mother, telling her the forest needs help, and her mother responds that she must answer. Sagely, the little girl acknowledges that we all must answer. There is so much beauty in this book, it’s almost indescribable: Juana Martinez-Neal uses mixed media on handmade banana bark paper to create a textured, stunning rainforest landscape. Zonia, a member of the Peruvian Amazonian Indigenous Asháninka, wears plant-based paint on her face on the cover; inside, her rosy cheeks and little smile give her a playful expression that invites readers to befriend her. Zonia’s mother nurses her baby brother as she sees Zonia off for the day’s adventures. The rainforest colors are vibrant, alive, on the page, and a bright blue butterfly is our guide – is us – following Zonia through her interactions. When she encounters the pillaged rainforest, her horror, her confusion, reaches out and touches readers. When she speaks her final line in the book: “We all must answer”, it’s more than a call to action. It’s an accounting. Powerful, beautiful, and necessary for collections. Endpapers are an orange-on-orange swarm of butterflies flying across the spreads. Back matter includes a word about the Asháninka people in both English and Asháninka, with a link to Juana Martinez-Neal’s webpage, which contains an Asháninka translation to Zonia’s Rain Forest. The book also includes facts about the Amazon, threats to the Amazon, selected sources, and the names of Zonia’s animal friends.

Juana Martinez-Neal is a Caldecott Honor winner. Her author webpage has a wealth of resources about Zonia, including a teacher guide and links to videos and podcasts.

Zonia’s Rain Forest has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

#HomesCool Reads: Math & Nature

There are so many great books that have come out, and are coming out in the next couple of months! With school having started for some kids (NYC doesn’t go back until after Labor Day), I’m transitioning #SummersCool into #HomesCool, since a lot of us will be learning in either a blended or completely remote environment. For everyone who’s back in a classroom, or had to make the decision on how to schedule your children for learning, hang in there. And thank you, teachers!

Up this time, we’ve got folk tales using math and logic; we’ve got lion queens in India, and an archaeologist who discovered Peru’s ancient cultures. Let’s go!

Sharuko: El arqueólogo peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello, by Monica Brown/Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Translated by Adriana Domínguez, (Aug. 2020, Lee & Low Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9780892394234

Ages 7-11

This bilingual (English/Spanish) biography of Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, nicknamed “Sharuko”, is a beautifully written, illustrated, and translated story of Julio Tello, an Indigenous boy growing up in late 1800s Peru, who became a leading expert in Peru’s Indigenous culture. As a boy, Sharuko – a nickname meaning “brave” in Quechua, the language spoken by the Indigenous people of Peru – explored caves and burial grounds in the Peruvian Andes. As he got older and continued his education, he read articles about skulls he had found as a child, which were sent to the city of Lima to be further studied. The article inspired Julio to devote his medical school training to study Peru’s indigenous history; going on to prove that Peru’s Indigenous culture was established thousands of years before, not inherited from other countries, as was the pervasive belief. He awakened pride in his country’s ancestry and its cultural legacy and became a hero to the people of Peru.

Elisa Chavarri’s watercolor and gouache artwork is colorful, with maps, beautiful landscapes, and artifacts all coming together to tell Julio Tello’s story. Author Monica Brown tells Tello’s story in a way that will captivate readers and possibly inspire new generations of archaeologists and anthropologists. The Spanish translation is parallel to the English text, which helps learning readers (like me!) learn the flow of the language, be it Spanish or English. Back matter includes an afterword a note on the illustration, and additional sources. I need more picture book biographies in my Spanish/bilingual collection. Happy to add this one.

Sharuko: El arqueólogo peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello has starred reviews from The Horn Book, Booklist, and School Library Journal.

 

The Lion Queens of India, by Jan Reynolds, (Sept. 2020, Lee and Low Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781643790510

Ages 6-8

Award-winning photojournalist Jan Reynolds introduces readers to the Lion Queens – a group of female forest guards who track and protect the lions in the Gir Sanctuary. Narrated by Rashila, the first Lion Queen, readers learn about a day in the life of the Lion Queens; from patrolling areas on motorcycle to checking on food and water availability for the lions. There are facts about lions throughout, and Rashila talks about the different lions’ personalities, the “Web of Life” balance in the Gir, and the growing lion population, coming back from the brink of extinction. The Queens work with communities to educate and inform; they discuss conservation and preservation and how to live alongside the lions without hurting the habitats that both human and lion rely on to survive. Back matter includes an author’s note and bibliography. The book is filled with beautiful photos of the lions of the Gir Sanctuary and Rashila and her fellow Lion Queens, and the sentences are brief and to the point, making this a great nonfiction book for emerging readers and for storytimes. It’s an exciting subject to introduce to kids – especially on a Career Day! Consider looking up the Lion Queens of India documentary from Animal Planet to have on hand.

 

Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math, by Rajani LaRocca/Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, (Oct. 2020, Lee and Low Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9781885008978

Ages 6-10

Set in ancient India, Bhagat is a boy living with his mother. They are poor and they are hungry, but a chance to win a place at the Rajah’s court as a singer gives Bhagat some hope for bettering their circumstances. As he leaves for the Rajah’s city, his mother gives him the last of their wealth – seven gold links from her wedding necklace – to pay for his food and lodging, and Bhagat knows he must be careful in budgeting, as he doesn’t know how long it will take for the Rajah to see him and he doesn’t want to overpay and run out of money. Bhagat uses math to work out how to safely pay his way and keep the innkeeper satisfied, and his math skills lead to a happy resolution.

There are lessons in computational thinking and mathematics, and has the building blocks for coding units here. An author’s note explains the mathematics at work in the story, touching on binary numbers, base 10, and the history of mathematics in the ancient world. The digital artwork is bright, warm, and attractive, with clear illustrations explaining Bhagat’s use of the golden rings. A solid addition to your fables/folk tales and math tales like the Sir Cumference series, One Grain of Rice, and The Grapes of Math.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

It’s Earth Day! Resources and reading for you and your family

It’s Earth Day! I’ve got more books to gush about, and some resources, too.

We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom/Illustrated by MIchaela Goade, (March 2020, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250203557

Ages 3-10

The first book up is one of the most visually stunning books I’ve read this year – and the lyrical prose reads like a prayer, a poem, a witnessing. Inspired by the Standing Rock Water Protectors who protested the Dakota Pipeline, We Are Water Protectors is created by indigenous author, Carole Lindstrom, and illustrator, Michaela Goade. Phrased as a story passed down through generations, about the sustaining life we receive from water, it also stands as a witnessing and call for help as we face the continued debasing of our planet’s natural resources. The artwork has traditional details, like a traditional skirt worn by the main character; swirling patterns inspire thoughts of water and its place in our life cycle; deep blues, purples, and orange inspire the dreamlike, womblike, atmosphere created by water. It’s a book that should give you chills as you read it, and is quietly urgent in its plea for action and positive, forward movement. Notes about Water Protectors, a glossary, and list of further reading add valuable resources to this story; an Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge inspires kids to take action.

If you don’t want to mess up your book, or have a library book (please don’t write in it or tear the page out!), you can print a copy of the pledge, and activities to help readers realize their place in the world as stewards of our future, in this free, downloadable activity kit.

We Are Water Protectors has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Bookpage.

 

Some Earth Day things to do with your family today:

Earth Day 2020: Earth Day’s official website let readers tune into Earth Day events via webcast, including protests in Spanish and English, through the Earth Day Live link. Find Earth Day events on the general website.

The American Museum of Natural History is going all out for Earth Day, holding Earth Fest 2020; a collection of virtual celebrations to take part in, including Field Trip Earth, a global field trip around the world using interactive data-visualization software. Join a botany watch party and make a mini garden, learn to make your own instruments out of household objects like rubber bands and cardboard boxes, and travel to Venus and Mars and hang out with Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

National Geographic Kids has great, easy ways for kids to get involved in taking care of the world.

Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, filled with videos, activities, and information on Earth Day.

NASA has Earth Day projects, videos, and images of our big, blue marble!

Zoos are getting in on Earth Day with virtual field trips and activities. Check out:

The San Diego Zoo

The Virginia Zoo

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Phoenix Zoo

 

Protect our planet: it’s the only one we have!

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books

In First Laugh Welcome, Baby!, a family waits…

First Laugh Welcome, Baby!, by Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood/Illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, (Aug. 2018, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580897945

Ages 5-8

A Navajo family waits for baby’s first laugh. Who will be the first to hear it? Will nima-sami (grandmother) hear it, as she tucks Baby in for a nap? Will it be big sister (nadi), who cooks Baby a tasty meal? Maybe it will be nima (mama), who sits weaving while Baby rests in a papoose. Or will it be cheii (grandpa), who splashes Baby with water? Everyone in the family is waiting, kissing, tickling, hugging, and singing, as Baby squirms, yawns, frowns, until… suddenly… a smile! Let the First Laugh celebration begin!

First Laugh Welcome, Baby is a beautiful look at a Navajo tradition; the First Laugh Celebration is a child’s first formal welcome into a family and clans. The lyrical story is filled with Navajo words and glimpses of Navajo life, woven into a story about the joy of a baby’s first laugh and the celebration it brings to families and communities. Jonathan Nelson’s pencil, acrylic, and Photoshop artwork create a loving portrait of a family that spends time together both in the city and on a Navajo reservation; they eat together, enjoy nature together, and socialize together in settings primarily illustrated with earthy tones and bold lines.

Back matter includes author’s notes from the late Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood, and an illustrator’s note from Jonathan Nelson; a note about the First Laugh Celebration, and ceremonies in other cultures, including Muslim, Nigerian, and Jewish families.

Nancy Bo Flood’s Soldier Sister, Fly Home is a powerful middle grade story about a Navajo family; First Laugh is a wonderful picture book that introduces younger readers to First Nation families. Please, please, please, put these and other books by indigenous authors and illustrators in your bookshelves and in front of your readers.