Posted in Uncategorized

Books for Pet Lovers

It’s another roundup! This time, I’ve got books for pet lovers: large, small, stinky, all here!

 

Not That Pet!, by Smriti Prasadam-Halls/Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, (Feb. 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217766

Ages 2-5

Mabel is so excited: her family is letting her choose the family pet! Her first choice is a bit unorthodox – it’s an elephant – but hey, the elephant keeps the plants watered and pulls weeds, right? When the elephant seems to be a bit too big, the family asks her to make another choice. And another. And another. Mabel’s penchant for choosing unusual pets is upending her family in the most hilarious of ways: ants crawl into her dad’s pants, a snake gets a little too huggy, and skunk… well, you can guess what the skunk does. Can Mabel find a pet that’s going to fit in with her whole family? The hijinks are hilarious and Rosalind Beardshaw’s colorful, cartoony illustrations bring this family to big, colorful life as they try to acclimate to each new pet. The multi-generational, biracial family – Mabel’s mom is South Asian, her dad is white, and mom’s parents live with the family, as shown in a house cross-section. The story bounces humorously along, words in caps for emphasis; this will make a spectacular read-aloud. Mabel and her little brother have a sweet relationship, as he follows her through the book, engaging with each new pet she brings home. A good add to storytime collections.

 

 

Hat Cat, by Troy Wilson/Illustrated by Eve Coy, (Feb. 2022, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536213669

Ages 4-8

An elderly man visits the park to feed squirrels every day, and one day discovers that a kitten has taken up residence in his hat! He takes the kitten home, naming it Hat, and lavishes Hat with love and affection. He won’t let Hat outside to roam, though; he is afraid Hat won’t come back, and he’s afraid for the squirrels. But one day, the man doesn’t come home. A few days later, a woman and child arrive to take care of Hat, and an open door gives Hat the chance he’s waited for: he heads outside, but he doesn’t chase the squirrels and he doesn’t run away. He finds the Man’s hat, left on the bench, and he curls up to sleep in it. And when the Man finally comes back home, he, his caregivers, and Hat all sit together, outside, enjoying the day. Hat Cat is a moving story of friendship and companionship. Pencil and watercolor illustrations give a soft, gentle feel to the story, with the Man and Hat in their cozy book- and plant-filled home. When Hat realizes the Man is gone, the loneliness communicated is just heartbreaking: tiny Hat, standing against a door, the sun shining in, feels so big and empty, and the reunion between Hat and Man bring a warmth and coziness back to the story. The old man presents as white; the caregiver and her daughter are brown-skinned. Details like family photos on the wall give the old man a life beyond the confines of the book. A gorgeous book that evokes emotion.

 

Big Dog, Little Dog, by Sally Rippin/Illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, (March 2022, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 9781684643837

Ages 3-6

A big dog learns about friendship in this adorable story, originally published in the UK in 2021. Big Dog has a good life with his male human, even if it feels a little lonely, from time to time. But things change when Big Dog’s human meets a lady, who has a Little Dog. The two humans move in together, and Big Dog is not thrilled about sharing his home with Little Dog, who interprets things like “Sit”, “Up”, and “Come” very differently. Big Dog has had the run of the house, and now Little Dog – who’s better behaved – seems to be stealing his thunder. Big Dog goes on a campaign of chaos to try framing Little Dog, but when he goes too far, he’s put out for the night; Little Dog refuses to go to sleep without Big Dog, and raises a ruckus indoors until the two are reunited, leading to a friendship between the former rivals. Little Dog calms some of Big Dog’s rebellious nature, and Big Dog teaches Little Dog that it’s okay to take a mud bath every now and then. Big Dog’s owner presents as white, Little Dog’s owner is brown-skinned. Endpapers show Big Dog running across a park in the opening spread, and being joined by Little Dog in the closing. The dogs are expressive from their faces to their active tails, and the illustrations show the amusing difference between Big Dog’s and Little Dog’s interpretations of commands like “UP!” (he lies on the couch; Little Dog jumps into his human’s arms) and “Walkies!” (he takes off, dragging his human being him; Little Dog walks alongside his human). Great for dog fans and kids with new siblings, Big Dog Little Dog shows kids that even the roughest of beginnings can lead to a sweet ending. Adorable for storytime reading.

 

 

We Love You, Magoo, by Briony Stewart, (March 2022, Kane Miller), $14.99, ISBN: 9781684643646

Ages 2-6

A lovable cartoon pup has his own ideas about what a dog should do in this giggle-worthy rhyming look at a dog’s life. Alternating spreads show Magoo contemplating what he thinks he should be doing – chowing down on bacon and eggs at the breakfast table, taking the car wheel, chewing a bunch of toys – and what he should be doing, like eating kibble from his bowl, sitting in his dog house, or playing with a tennis ball. Spreads fall into a question and answer format, making it easy for kids to chime in with the repetitive answer, “No, Magoo. This is for you”. Magoo’s facial expressions and body language are adorably played for laughs, and the sweet ending will melt hearts. The bold, bright artwork and big, black fonts make this an excellent readaloud choice that will get little ones gleefully taking part in your storytime. Originally published in Australia in 2020, We Love You, Magoo is new to U.S. shores and has a companion book, Where Are You, Magoo? that I hope makes its way here.

Author-illustrator Briony Stewart’s webpage has more information about her books, including the Magoo books.

 

 

 

Posted in picture books

Blog Tour and Giveaway: My Grandma’s Photos

The latest children’s book to hit American shores, courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids, is the beautiful and poignant My Grandma’s Photos, originally published in Turkey in 2019.

My Grandma’s Photos, by Özge Bahar Sunar/Illustrated by Senta Urgan,
Translated by Amy Marie Spangler
(Jan. 2022, Amazon Crossing Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542031158

Ages 5-8

Seen through a child’s eyes, My Grandma’s Photos is the story of an aging grandmother, a grandchild, and a group of old photos that transports Grandma from her chair back into her robust, joyful life. She takes Ali, her granddaughter, into this beautiful world with her, and Ali sees her grandmother’s life unfold before her eyes: family picnics, climbing trees, becoming a master seamstress, falling in love and marrying Ali’s grandfather. It’s beautiful and moving; at moments, it brings on the tears, but they’re cleansing, renewing. Grandma lives her life once again and Ali finally sees her grandmother’s vibrant, full life as she’s never done before.

 

Senta Urgan’s artwork captures the essential moments, using pastels and collage to create living photos that exist outside the borders to reach out and draw both Grandma and Ali into their world. The artwork is the heartbeat to this fantastic story; Urgan uses real photos and illustrates a world around them, blending them together with photos and sketches, to create a dreamlike landscape where readers can play along with the characters. An essential story to have on hand to give to readers who may have aging family members.

 

 

“A gentle book about remembering, as well as grieving, a life well lived.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“This depiction of a tender, loving relationship is touched with magic, and Ali’s participation in his grandmother’s experiences brings them both much joy.” ―Booklist

“[A] beautiful, heartfelt story about loss and love.” ―School Library Journal

One lucky winner will receive a copy of My Grandma’s Photos, courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids (U.S. and Canada addresses). Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Amazon Crossing Kids aims to increase the diversity of children’s books in translation and encourage young reading from a range of cultural perspectives.

Özge Bahar Sunar is a former teacher turned children’s author. She has written multiple picture books, including the bestselling The Hedgehog and the Exhibit, illustrated by Ceyhun Şen, which was translated into seven languages. Sunar lives with her two children in Antalya, Turkey, where she loves to think up new stories while hiking in the wild. Find her on Instagram @ozgebaharsnr.

Senta Urgan is a graduate of Mimar Sinan University, where she studied sculpture. Since 2010 she has been illustrating books for children, including picture books and novels, and also works as a graphic designer. She is the founder of the brand Mala Hermana Handmade, where she exhibits her illustrations and ceramic art. Find her on Instagram @toporulkesindekikes.

Amy Marie Spangler is a cofounder of Istanbul-based AnatoliaLit Agency, and a commercial and literary translator with numerous books and short stories to her credit. Find her on Twitter @Amy_Spangler.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: A Christmas Too Big!

Thanksgiving arrives this week, and you know what that brings… the Christmas Blitz! Are you ready? Yes? No? Well, there’s a book for that:

A Christmas Too Big, by Colleen Madden, (Nov. 2021, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542028004

Ages 4-8

A Christmas Too Big arrives with perfect timing. Our narrator, Kerry, is a young girl happily making a fall leaf craft when she realizes it: “The day after Thanksgiving, my family goes TOTALLY BERSERK with CHRISTMAS”. Comics panels reveal the frenetic excitement with which her family embraces Christmas: the holiday songs that start even before Thanksgiving, given full reign the day after; the TV shows on every single channel; the decorations, the commercials, it’s all too much – Christmas is just too big! Going out to clear her head, Kerry lends a helping hand to her Spanish-speaking neighbor, Mrs. Flores, who invites her in for some hot cocoa. The two spend the afternoon quietly making colorful paper flores de Navidad, and enjoying a quiet, handmade holiday afternoon. Kerry helps Mrs. Flores use her Christmas gift from her family, living in Mexico, and decides to introduce some of her happy holiday traditions at home, too.

The story is so perfect for this time of year, which can be stressful and overwhelming for everyone, especially kids who don’t feel like they get a chance to transition from one season or holiday to the next. The story also provides a welcome answer to the mass commercialization of the holiday, offering a quieter, more meaningful alternative to Kerry – and to families who may seek something less slick and shiny. The use of Spanish and English to tell Mrs. Flores’s story adds real meaning to our multicultural world and how kindness stretches across languages. Bilingual endpapers showing different objects we associate with Christmas, like fancy presents (regalos elegantes) and manoplas (mittens) introduce new vocabulary. A flores de Navidad craft at the end is perfect for a post-storytime craft (that I will absolutely be introducing in my library).

Colleen Madden grew up in a crazy Christmas house and, like Kerry, she found a break by spending time with her neighbor who was from another country. She has illustrated many children’s books, including the bestselling What If Everybody? series, written by Ellen Javernick, and the picture-book adaptation of All I Want for Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey. She recently published Monkey Walk, her debut as both author and illustrator, and is currently working on her first graphic novel. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.

 

“An intergenerational friendship and a busy holiday made meaningful set this title apart.” Kirkus Reviews

“Madden’s bilingual tale strikes both humorous and poignant notes; the visual blend of comic-style panels, playful fonts, speech bubbles in both English and Spanish, and traditional spreads offers readers plenty to celebrate.” Publishers Weekly

Posted in picture books

Spring and Summer stories to make you smile

With Spring and Summer come a lighter type of picture book: open spaces, verdant greens, cheery yellows, happy colors and stories about enjoying the outdoors. I’ve got a few picture books here that are perfect for those longer, warmer days.

Free, by Sam Usher, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536217049

Ages 4-7

The boy and his grandfather from Sam Usher’s Seasons With Grandad series are back! In Free, the boy and Grandad care for a sick bird who returns to them every day. Grandad looks up new ways to get the bird to reunite with other birds, but it looks like their new feathered friend needs a bit of help, so they gather their equipment and strike out to find a tree for their new friend. Sam Usher brings his touch of magical realism to this story of a boy, his grandfather, and a little bird that needs their help, elevating it from sweet to simply extraordinary. Ink and watercolor illustrations are expressive and provide a soothing, intimate feel to the storytelling and the relationship between Grandad, Boy, and Bird. Riots of color in strategic moments make for a delightful surprise. I love Sam Usher’s books, so this one is a definite buy for me.

Free has a starred review from Kirkus.

(UK edition image taken from Amazon.com: the US edition notes that one of the birds “was sick”.)

 

Sweet Pea Summer, by Hazel Mitchell, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536210347

Ages 4-8

A girl’s her father brings her to spend the summer with her grandparents when her mother has to go into the hospital. To keep her occupied, her grandfather invites her to help in his garden, asking her to look after his snow peas. She learns to care for them and nurture them, taking great pride in the growing pods, and her grandfather suggests she may even get to enter them in the flower show when the season ends. So what happens that causes the flowers to start dying? Stumped, the girl tries multiple fixes until she discovers the reason. A gently told story of love, nurturing, perseverance and determination, this is a beautifully illustrated story, with colorful spreads of the English countryside and cheery gardens. There are so many details to discover in the sprawling townscape and countryside, from bustling businesses and commuters to the playful garden animals hopping and frolicking around the greenery. A book that encourages readers to endure hard times and embrace the support around them, Sweet Pea Summer is a good warm-weather read. Have some sweet pea coloring pages handy for an accompanying storytime activity. Pair with Zee Grows a Tree for a storytime about the love between nature and kids.

Visit Hazel Mitchell’s author webpage for more information about her books, her artwork, and a host of printable activities about her book, Toby.

 

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, retold by Georghia Ellinas/Illustrated by Jane Ray, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217735

Ages 4-8

The companion to last year’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a dreamlike, picture book interpretation of the famous Shakespeare comedy, great for new audiences. The Fairy Kingdom is up in arms as King Oberon is in a disagreement with his wife, Queen Titania; a group of young nobles arrive in the magical forest from Athens, all in love with the wrong person; and Puck, a mischievous servant of King Oberon’s decides to stir up some trouble just for the fun of it. Retold from Puck’s perspective, this is a very readable, enjoyable breakdown of the hilarious story of mistaken identity, love, and mischievous fairies. Shakespeare’s famous ending, “If we shadows have offended…” closes the story. The artwork is a tapestry of beautiful color, artwork that captures the playful spirit of the play and the otherworldly characters in the story. Moonlight figures heavily in the artwork, a glowing sheen adding illumination and bringing out the details in each character. A great read-aloud idea for older classes (1-3 grades, for instance), consider an Introduction to Shakespeare display for your Children’s Room with books like Anna Claybourne and Tilly’s Where’s Will?, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review series by Ian Lendler and illustrated by Zack Giallongo, and Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, by Henry, Joshua, & Harrison Herz. Visit ilustrator Jane Ray’s website for free printable coloring pages.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

My Red Hat connects generations

My Red Hat, by Rachel Stubbs, (Feb. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212716

Ages 3-7

A grandparent passes on their red hat to their grandchild. More than a hat, it’s a connection between the two: a hat to keep the child warm or cool, to let them stand out… or not, to capture dreams and hide from fears. The two imagine all the places the hat will take them together, creating an enduring bond between them. This child will have a keepsake from their grandparent forever; the grandparent has given a piece of themselves. This story of love, memory, and generations is Rachel Stubbs’ debut, and it’s a quiet, lovely meditation. Spare text amid the blue and red-colored ink and graphite artwork gives depth and poetry to the story, and the artwork is dreamlike, evoking memory. A beautiful story.

My Red Hat has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

#BooksfromQuarantine: Into the Tall, Tall Grass

Into the Tall, Tall Grass, by Loriel Ryon, (Apr. 2020, McElderry Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534449671

Ages 10-14

This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Yolanda Rodriguez-O’Connell and her twin sister, Sonja, are part of a magical family. Every generation is bestowed with a gift of some sort: in Sonja’s case, she can control bees. Butterflies flock to her grandmother, Wela. Their family has been the talk of the town for generations, calling the family brujas: witches. Since her grandfather’s death a year ago, Yolanda has distanced herself from her best friend, Ghita, and her sister; Ghita and Sonja have found solace together, making Yolanda feel like even more of an outsider. The girls live with their ailing Wela while their father is on his last deployment, but she has fallen into a mysterious sleep, and the girls are facing placement in foster homes. Wela awakens one night and tells Yolanda that she must take her to the last pecan tree on the family land to put things right and Yolanda, convinced this will save Wela, agrees. Yolanda begins a journey filled with revelations along with Wela, her dog, Sonja, Ghita, and Ghita’s brother, Hasik.

Wow. There’s gorgeous magical realism throughout this compulsively readable novel. There’s a family mystery wrapped up in generations of secrets and anguish and a fascinating subplot about relationships: the relationships between sisters, relationships between people and the land, and burgeoning relationships. Sonja and Ghita explore a relationship, and Yolanda navigates her own conflicted feelings for Hasik, who has a crush on her. The descriptions of the land are so rich, readers will feel the grass brushing their legs, the pecans in their hands, and the feel of butterflies in their hair. The meditation on grief and loss, and preparation for loss, is powerful. The tie between the magic thread that runs in the Rodriguez family and the world around them is incredibly described, written almost poetically. I loved everything about this book.

Into the Tall, Tall Grass has a starred review from School Library Journal.

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

More #Books from Quarantine: A Road Trip with Grandma in When I Hit the Road

When I Hit the Road, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, (May 2020, Sourcebooks Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492640257

Ages 9-12

Samantha is about to be a seventh grader, has a mother and older sisters who are over-achievers, and desperately wants to make her own mark on something. She ends up with a summer vacation she wasn’t quite expecting: accompanying her workaholic mother to her grandmother’s Florida condo, and journaling in her “Dear Me” journal to promote her mom’s company. What ends up happening is even less expected: Mom has to rush home, leaving Sam in Florida, where she ends up on a karaoke road trip with her grandmother, her grandmother’s best friend, and a really, really cute boy.

I love Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s books because they’re created to read in easily readable, fun, descriptive bursts: journal entries, lists, letters; she has a gift for a tween voice, and writes with a light, funny voice that puts readers at ease and invites introspection. She plays with her multigenerational characters; in this case, giving readers a karaoke-loving senior citizen and a tween who feels the pressure to be someone, constantly measuring herself up against those around her. The road trip is wacky and wonderful – thrift store bowling shirts, a car full of Bibles, a tour of terrifying road stop bathrooms – and will make readers laugh out loud, especially if they’ve had the dubious honor of being on the dreaded Family Road Trip. Sam’s voice comes through clearly, and I loved her referencing her future self looking back and reading the entries.

Ms. Cavanaugh navigates complex mother-daughter relationships here, too: we have the relationship between Sam’s mother and grandmother, Sam and her grandmother, and Sam and her own overachieving mother, all of which are loaded with moments for deep discussion. This would be a great choice for a mother-daughter book club.

Turn up some karaoke (YouTube has dozens of pages, including Sing King), bake some cookies, and enjoy an evening with Sam and her family. This is a great read for tweens who want a fun read with a summery vibe.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

DC Zoom is bringing it to young graphic novel readers!

I have been loving the two DC original graphic novel lines. DC Ink, for YA, has been one hit after the next with Mera, Harley Quinn, and Raven, for starters; DC Ink’s lineup so far – Superman of Smallville, Dear Justice League, and The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid – have rivaled the until-now unchallenged Dog Man on his bookshelf. I received a handful of new and upcoming DC Ink titles recently, wrestled them back from my kid (he’s got them back now, it’s fine), and dove in.

Black Canary: Ignite, by Meg Cabot/Illustrated by Cara McGee, (Oct. 2019, DC Zoom), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-4012-8620-0

Ages 8-12

In DC Comics, Black Canary is a formidable metahuman whose Canary Cry is a sonic screech that brings bad guys to her knees. She’s also a pretty awesome fighter, and a musician. In Ignite, she’s 13-year-old Dinah Lance, daughter of a detective with an interest in police work, and lead singer and guitarist in a band. All she wants to do is win the battle of the bands at school and get her dad’s permission to join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy, but a mysterious person shows up in her neighborhood and starts causing trouble for Dinah. Dinah’s voice is also getting in the way, causing havoc when she laughs, yells, or sings too loud, and it’s landing her in the principal’s office. A lot. When the mystery figure attacks her as she works in her mother’s florist store, yelling about a “Black Canary”, Dinah discovers there’s more to her – and her family – than meets the eye, and it’s time for her to take charge of her voice and channel her inner superhero.

One of the great things about the DC young readers and YA books is that they’re bringing on authors kids know, or I know and can talk up to my kids. The Princess Diaries is HUGE here, and her Notebooks of a Middle School Princess books make her a Very Big Deal in the kids’ room here at the library. Having her take on one of my favorite DC women was a treat.Meg Cabot gives Dinah a realistic teen voice, giving her real-world problems to balance out the fact that she’s a metahuman with power: she’s always in hot water with her principal; her dad wants to keep her safe and tries to squash her interest in police work; she has trouble with her friends; she wants to be a rock star! There’s a nice nod to the Black Canary legacy, and I love the illustrations: Cara McGee even manages to include the famous Black Canary fishnets, making them part of Dinah’s punk teen look. Together, Meg Cabot and Cara McGee capture the spirit of an enduring DC character and make her accessible to younger readers. (Now, go watch Arrow, kiddies!)

 

Diana, Princess of the Amazons, by Shannon & Dean Hale/Illustrated by Victoria Ying, (Jan. 2020, DC Zoom), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401291112

Ages 8-12

Diana of Themyscira is growing up in an island paradise where she’s surrounded by loving “aunties” and her mother. But, at age 11, she’s also the only child on the island, and she’s lonely. She decides to take matters into her own hands and forms a child from clay – just like the story of Diana’s own birth – and prays that the gods will give her a friend. Imagine her surprise when she discovers that her wish has come true, and Mona, the friend she dreamed of, is in front of her and ready to take on the world! But Mona doesn’t have the same idea of fun that Diana does, and starts leading Diana toward more destructive, mean-spirited fun. Mona starts putting some ideas in Diana’s head that could have disastrous consequences for Themyscira – can she reign herself and Mona in before catastrophe?

Shannon Hale and Dean Hale are literary powerhouses. They’ve created graphic novels (Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack; most recently, the Best Friends and Real Friends autobiographical graphic novels); they’ve had huge success with their Princess in Black series of intermediate books, and Shannon Hale is a Newbery Medalist for her 2006 book, Princess Academy. They’ve written books in the Ever After High and Marvel’s Squirrel Girl series; they’ve written picture books: in short, they are rock stars. Asking them to write a Wonder Woman story for kid, you know you’re going to get something good. They deliver. Diana, Princess of the Amazons isn’t about Wonder Woman; it’s about a lonely 11-year-old girl who is so excited to have a friend, that she’ll follow anything that friend says or does, even when it puts her at odds with her mother and the adults around her. She’s frustrated because she can’t get the adults to listen to her; she feels clumsy and like she can’t measure up; she’s a self-conscious young teen. It’s an entirely relatable story that kids will read, see themselves in, and read again. I loved this book, and I loved the cute little nods to Wonder Woman throughout, like her being concerned about the cheetah population (one of Wonder Woman’s main foes is Cheetah) and having familiar characters like Antiope appear. Victoria Ying’s illustration will instantly appeal to Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Shannon and Dean Hale fans. It’s colorful, with beautiful landscapes and cartoony artwork. Add this one to your graphic novel stacks, without question. Introduce your realistic readers to Wonder Woman!

One last note: While this is – as most of the DC Zoom books are – suggested for readers ages 8-12, you can go a little lower on this one. My 7-year-old gobbled this one up quite happily.

Green Lantern: Legacy, by Minh Lê/Illustrated by Andie Tong, (Jan. 2010, DC Zoom), $9.99, 978-1-4012-8355-1

Ages 8-12

What a fantastic new Lantern story! Tai Pham is a 13-year-old child of Vietnamese immigrants, living in an apartment with his family, above his grandmother’s grocery store, The Jade Market. (Ahem.) The store is the target for vandals; the front plate window continues to be smashed as the neighborhood deteriorates, but his grandmother will not consider closing the store or selling, saying, “We will not let fear drive us from our home. Not again”. When Grandmother dies, Tai inherits her jade ring… and discovers that there was a lot more to her than she let on, when he learns about the power behind the ring, and meets John Stewart, from the Green Lantern Corps. As Tai tries to understand the weight his grandmother carried, keeping her neighborhood safe, and come to terms with his new status as a Green Lantern, he also discovers that there are those out there who would do him harm, and that not everyone who approaches him in the wake of his grandmother’s death is a friend.

This is a great new Green Lantern origin story, with a fantastic multicultural cast and mission. Author Minh Lê authored one of my favorite picture books from  last year, the award-winning Drawn Together; also a multi-generational tale of a grandparent and grandchild coming together through their different experiences of American and Vietnamese culture. He creates a solid, relatable story about growing up in an immigrant community under siege by crime and the threat of gentrification, and creates a superhero story where a hero, imbued with the power of the universe in his hand, makes the welfare of his cultural community a priority. Tying Tai Pham’s grandmother’s story as a Lantern into the family’s flight from Vietnam is incredible: Minh Lê’s story, powered by Andie Tong’s powerful images, are unforgettable. Even the Lantern costume both Tai and his grandmother wear are culturally influenced and I can’t wait to read more.

Zatanna and the House of Secrets: A Graphic Novel, by Matthew Cody/Illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani, (Feb. 2020. DC Zoom), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-4012-9070-2

Ages 8-12

I love that characters like Swamp Thing (well… Swamp Kid) and Zatanna are getting in front of younger audiences with DC Zoom. Zatanna and the House of Secrets is the origin story for Zatanna, a magician who can actually wield real magic. A young teen, she lives in a rambling house – “a certain house on a certain street that everyone talks about” – with her stage magician father and their rabbit, Pocus. Sick of the bullies at school, Zatanna – much like Black Canary in Ignite – loses her temper, with interesting consequences that change everything. When Zatanna comes home and finds her father mysteriously gone, she learns that her house is much, much more than a home, and she’s much, much more than a kid with a pet rabbit.

Matthew Cody can write superheroes; he’s written middle grade novels Powerless, Super, and Villainous, and he’s written graphic novels. He gives Zatanna so much more depth than “that magician chick who says things backwards”; something I’ve heard her referred to by people who don’t really know much about the character or the comic. As with the most successful superhero books, Matthew Cody makes Zatanna relatable: a kid who fends of bullies; who experiences upheaval with the Mean Girls over who to be seen with versus who’s social poison; a kid who’s grieving the loss of her mother and who loves her father, who’s doing the best he can. There’s an unlikely friendship that two characters have to learn to navigate, and a sidekick that kids will immediately love. Yoshi Yoshitani’s artwork is bold, cartoony fun. This one can skew a little younger than 8-12, too. Enjoy.

Posted in picture books

Love makes us rise: Love Love Bakery

Love Love Bakery: A Wild Home for All, by Sara Triana Mitchell/Illustrated by H2 Alaska, (May 2018, Lucid Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1632961976

Ages 5-8

Love Love Bakery is a book I received last year, and am kicking myself for not getting to it sooner. Based on a bakery in Texas, Love Love Bakery is a love letter to coffeehouse culture: inclusive, a little chaotic, and delicious, with a strong sense of community. Bakers John and Jane get the shop ready in the morning as Jane’s son has breakfast on the porch. He leaves for school with his friends, telling mom “not to let things go nuts today”. The barista joins John and Jane, and the shop comes to life as the neighborhood wakes up and drops by. Sure enough, the place gets a little nuts, but it’s a chaotic joy that brings people together over coffee and conversation.

H2 Alaska’s watercolor artwork brings a comfortable, warm feel to the story, and introduces neighborhood people that may be familiar to readers, whether we’ve spotted them at our local Starbucks or the indie coffee place in town: the paint-spattered artist, the chattering book group, the new person in town looking for somewhere to be. We have a diverse, multi-generational crowd coming together in a place that welcomes all. The storytelling is comforting, describing a routine day in a convivial community, and offers a look at the sheer numbers that go into making a day’s worth of coffee and baked goods. There’s coffee and baking-related (groan-worthy) punnage, a glossary at the end, and a recipe for pretzels.

Love Love Bakery is a sweet read that you can pick up online. Sara Triana Mitchell’s author website has more information about her books.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

This Grandparents Day, let your kids read the stories to their grands

Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family, by Elizabeth Zunon,
(May 2019, Bloomsbury USA), $17.99, ISBN:  978-1-68119-640-4
Ages 5-9

A girl and her father bake a cake and reminisce about “Grandpa Cacao” – her father’s father – and his life working on a cacao farm on the African Ivory Coast. Lush images come to life through Elizabeth Zunon’s oil paint, collage and screenprint artwork; there’s gorgeous texture and movement across the landscape, and Grandpa Cacao appears as a pale image, illustrating his existence as a “mythical figure” in the girl’s imagination. Inspired by the author’s own “Grandpa Cacao”, this is a heartwarming link across generations and celebrating the joy of creating together and uniting families. Back matter includes author’s notes and maps on the realities of the cacao trade, the sobering perseverance of child labor, and fair trade. There are notes on the science and history of chocolate, and a cake recipe to try with the kids.

Grandparents Day Idea: Talk to kids about their grandparents’ stories. Where are their grandparents from? Do they have memories of growing up to share? Does the family have any special recipes that have been handed down through generations?

 

Looking for Yesterday, by Alison Jay, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 9781536204216
Ages 4-7

A young boy tries to use science to figure out how to travel back in time, so he can relive the great day he had the day before. When he asks his grandfather for advice, he learns that memories are great, but it’s exciting to look forward to the possibilities of adventure in the here and now. Alison Jay gives her character a wonderfully childlike reasoning process – yesterday was so great, let’s try to get back there and live it again! – and has him go through the motions of working on the science to make it happen; her crackled oil artwork giving a vintage-looking life to the story. As the boy calculates going faster than light speed, we see his mind at work: he’s flying around the world, wearing a cape; using a time machine that looks like a giant unicycle; configuring a garbage can into a rocket. The boy’s grandfather walks him through a photo album as he recounts the past, drawing the boy into his adventures as the two fly on a scrapbook to see mountain tops, whales, and hot air balloons. The grandfather-grandson relationship is warm and loving, communicated with warm colors and body language. A great book to encourage kids to seize the day.

Grandparents Day Idea: Get out the photo albums and show kids your adventures! Show them your childhoods, talk to them about playing with your friends; going to school; exciting and ordinary things you did as a child. See how things are different, and how things are the same.

 

My Grandma and Me, by Mina Javaherbin, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 9780763694944
Ages 4-8

This autobiographical story of a the author as a young girl and her grandmother, living in pre-revolutionary Iran, brought me to tears with it beautiful storytelling. The opening line – “In this big universe full of many moons, I have traveled and seen many wonders, but I have never loved anything or anyone the way I love my grandma” – poetically brings to life that everlasting love between grandparents and their grandchildren. Mira Javaherbin invites us to glimpse into her life as we see her lay across her grandmother during morning prayer; send down baskets to buy bread from the boy on his bicycle, bread piled high in a basket; waiting for her grandmother to break fast during Ramadan, so she can eat with her; hiding under a table strewn with her grandmother’s chadors, as she “helps” her make news ones. Lindsey Yankey’s mixed media illustrations create a cozy, welcoming space for us to spend time reading Mina’s story. Mina’s best friend and her grandmother are Christian; Mina and her grandmother are Muslim. The two girls play together while their grandmothers craft and enjoy each other’s company; each goes to their own house of worship and prays for the other. It’s a quietly strong celebration of two cultures, two faiths, living and playing together. With starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, this loving look at the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter is a perfect gift book and storytime book.

Grandparents Day Idea: Do you have memories of your grandparents that you’d like to share with your kids? Talk to your kids about spending time with your grandparents as a child, or as an adult, if you have stories to tell. Ask them what they like to do when they’re with grandparents. Do they like to play board games together? Do they read together?
Around the Table that Grandad Built, by Melanie Hauser Hill/Illustrated by Jaime Kim, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick),
$16.99, ISBN: 9780763697846
Ages 3-7
A sweet take on the classic cumulative story, The House that Jack Built, this heartwarming story assembles a multicultural family for a celebration centering around a table that Grandad built. Each part of the celebration is warm, inclusive, and participatory: cousins gather sunflowers; Mom’s sewn napkins that go with the dishes; glasses come from Mom and Dad’s wedding, and flatware comes from Dad’s grandma, all coming together to create a global table where the family enjoys squash, tamales, samosas, and other tasty fare, all prepared by members of the family. It’s a celebration of family steeped in tradition, linked across generations. The acrylic, crayon, and digital artwork adds to the handmade feel of the story and is rendered with bright primary colors, making this an upbeat story that will work for any family gathering. (Definitely keep this one on hand for Thanksgiving.)
Grandparents Day idea: Prepare a favorite dish with your grandkids, or create something with them. If you have little ones, try a no-sew project, or consider a craft that brings your generations together – handprints are always a good choice, and you can easily take some inspiration from the choices out there, while making it your own.
Grandpa’s Top Threes, by Wendy Meddour/Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick),
$16.99, ISBN: 9781536211252
Ages 3-6
Henry loves to talk to his Grandpa, but Grandpa hasn’t been talking much these days; preferring instead to silently work on his garden. When Henry nudges Grandpa by indulging in his favorite game – Top Threes – Grandpa finally starts talking, giving thoughtful answers that ultimately rebuild the bridge between them. And then we find out what’s really going on: Grandpa is mourning Granny. In a moment that’s at once touching and heartbreaking, Henry asks Grandpa who his three favorite Grannies are, citing his favorites as his two grandmothers, plus the granny from Red Riding Hood. Grandpa recounts his favorite three memories of Granny as his three favorites, including the Granny that first held Baby Henry. The simple, moving prose is eloquent and full of feeling; full of aching and loss, and yet, instilled with deep affection and love for a grandchild and for a spouse. A beautiful, tender story that you may need a tissue or two for, but one not to be missed. Daniel Egnéus’s watercolor illustrations are digitally assembled, giving a mixed media, textured feel to the layers of the story with each turn of the page. Make this one available to kids who have lost a grandparent, and encourage them to talk about their Top Threes.
Grandparents Day idea: Talk about your Top Three moments; Top Three grandmas and grandpas, or Top Three anything.
Our Favorite Day, by JoowonOh, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5362-0357-8
Ages 3-6
Grandpa has a routine he keeps to: a morning cup of tea, some light housework, and a bus ride into town, where he has lunch at his favorite dumpling shop, but Thursday is the best day of the week for Grandpa and his young granddaughter. It’s their day, and Grandpa is making sure it’s a good one! He chooses some crafting materials at a craft shop on his trip to town, gets two orders of dumplings to go, picks some flowers, and is ready to greet his granddaughter with a hug when she bounds out of the car! Together, the two enjoy their lunch, make a kite, and head out to fly it. With a narrative consisting of both omniscient narration and word-balloons, this adorably illustrated story is a wonderful way to celebrate grandparents and grandkids spending time together, and illustrates how important each is to the other. Grandpa has his own routine, but he lives for those Thursdays; he’s ready and waiting for his best buddy to arrive, and she can’t wait to get there. The affection and time they spend together is heartwarming and shows the mutual benefits of a multigenerational relationship. Joonwon On’s watercolor, gouache, and cut paper artwork creates texture and a scrapbook-like environment to envelop the reader. An absolutely adorable, touching story of grandparents and their grandkids.
Grandparents Day Idea: Craft together! Make a fun project together: it can be a kite, like the story shows, but it can be as easy as coloring together. I used to save a bag of fabric scraps from old clothes; when my Nana came to visit, I’d dump the bag on the table, and we’d make clothes for my dolls together. The craft doesn’t matter; the time you spend together does.