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 picture books, Preschool Reads

Babymoon celebrates that magical bonding time with a new baby

Babymoon, by Hayley Barrett/Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763688523

Ages 3-7

“We’ll invite the world in soon, but for now – we’re on our babymoon”.

When new parents bring home their little bundle for the first time, there’s usually a line of well-wishers waiting to get in the door and visit, cuddle, and gush over the new arrival(s), but those days are also a big adjustment, too. Sometimes, you just want – need – some more time in that intimate bubble; more time to cuddle, gaze, and enjoy your new family, before letting the outside world in. It’s a time many refer to as The Babymoon, and Hayley Barrett and Juana Martinez-Neal have come together to create a gorgeous book celebrating that magical time.

Told in a gentle rhyme, this story of a mom, dad, and new baby is just gorgeous. It’s a celebration of discovery as a family; of “delighting in each small surprise”; of cuddly naps; of nursing; of lullabies and yawns; of connecting and figuring out one another. I adore award-winning illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal’s artwork – her book, Alma, is a beautiful look at the origin of a child’s name, and here, she uses warmly colored, soft, acrylic, colored pencil, and graphite artwork on handmade textured paper to capture the sheer wonder – and sleepiness, and even confusion – of this exquisite moment in time. Ms. Martinez-Neal creates illustrations that speak to readers; reaching up through the page and drawing them in, heart-first, to the story.

Babymoon is a lovely read-aloud and gift to new siblings, and assures kids (and adults alike) that it’s okay to keep the world outside for just a little bit longer, as they navigate this new little person. It’s a perfect baby shower gift, inviting new parents and parents-to-be to relax and enjoy this new time: everyone else can, and will, wait.

Babymoon has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Alma and How She Got Her Name is a beautiful family story

Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal, (Apr. 2018, Candlewick Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9355-8

Recommended for readers 4-8

Alma is a little girl with a big name: Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela! She asks her Daddy how she ended up with six names, and her dad tells her the beautiful story behind each name.

I adore this book. So many of us have interesting origins for our names: some of us are named for family members; some for historical figures; some, just because our parents really thought the names were cool and interesting. Here, little Alma learns, through beautifully illustrated spreads, about her family history and her place within that history. We tend to put our hopes and dreams into a child’s name; Alma reveals those inspiring stories through Alma’s father, as he tells Alma her own story.

The drawings are largely monochromatic; black pencil on ivory pages, with washed reds and pinks (and the occasional blue) to liven things up. The names get star treatment, with beautiful, expressive fonts and pictures of namesakes throughout.

I can’t say enough good things about Alma. She belongs in every storytime and every shelf, because every family deserves to explore their history together. Candlewick has a great activity kit that will help kids create their own family trees and research their name(s); it’s free for downloading through their site.

Alma and How She Got Her Name has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal. The book is available in English and Spanish.