Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

My Dad, My Rock: A book for dads who love being dads

My Dad, My Rock, by Victor D.O. Santos/Illustrated by Anna Forlati, (Apr. 2022, Linguacious), $13.99, ISBN: 978-164962-122-1

Ages 4-7

“I never met my grandpa. / And my grandpa never met my dad.” Oliver spends time with his father and constructs a list of what he’d like to tell his grandfather, if he were ever to meet him, about his father: how he can climb on his shoulders and pretend he’s on top of the world; how he teaches him to do things on his own; how he always reads to him at bedtime, and how he comforts him when he cries. Father and son spend their time together, enjoying each other’s company, and My Dad, My Rock is a moving story about a dad who enjoys being a dad, with all the learning that goes with the territory. Oliver’s dad isn’t afraid to cry or be silly, and lavishes affection on his child; it’s a beautifully positive portrayal of fatherhood and manhood.

Inspired by the author’s family history, it’s a lovely tribute to father-child relationships, with soft and gentle artwork to accompany the quiet text. Perfect for lapsit, cuddle time reading.

 

 

Preorder link for My Dad, My Rock.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Celebrating Happy Papas!

Happy Papas, by Kathleen T. Pelley/Illustrated by Mariya Prytula, (July 2018, CWLA Press), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1587601682

Ages 3-6

A companion to Happy Mamas (2016), Happy Papas celebrates dads in both the animal and human world, taking readers through a Happy Papas kind of day: as the sun pops up; as the sun sails high; as the clouds and sun play peek-a-boo; as the shadows gather, and finally, as the moon blooms. Otter dads, meerkat dads, tiger dads, and all sorts of human dads celebrate the day-to-day joys of fatherhood as they play, protect, cook for, and cuddle their little ones.

Written in verse, the storytelling moves along at a soothing cadence, with sound effect words like “screech and squawk”, “giggly wiggly”, “wade and wallow”, and “slide and pop”, using both alliteration and rhyme to play with language. There are all kinds of Happy Papas, and all kinds of Happy Babies and Kids. Perfect for storytime, the soft colors and realistic illustrations will attract readers’ attention, and the simple black font lets the artwork take center stage.

This is a sweet tribute to dads, and a lovely read-along with Happy Mamas for a Mom and Dad tandem bedtime reading, or a Family Storytime.

Author Kathleen Pelley has a podcast and literacy resources on her website. You can find more of Mariya Prytula’s watercolor artwork at her website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

We all want a Little Small

My Little Small,by Ulf Stark/Illustrated by Linda Bondestam, Translated by Annie Prime, (March 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $15.95, ISBN: 9781592702091

Recommended for readers 4-7

Originally published 2014 in Swedish as Min Egen Lilla Liten, this is a touching story about a lonely Creature that allows for some interpretation with readaloud audiences. A lonely gray Creature lives inside a mountain cave, living in darkness because the sun will hurt her; possibly kill her. She longs for something to love and care for: “someone small to sing to and care for”. She tries to share her affection with the moon, whose rays shatter when she attempts an embrace. But one ay, a stray spark from the sun finds its way into her cave, and her heart soars. The spark tells her stories about the sun, and the colors visible in the daylight: the blue ocean; the yellow deserts; the green forests; the animals and birds that live above. While the Creature is enchanted by the spark, calling it her Little Small, the spark must hurry back to the sun before dark.

The Creature in this story is gendered female in the text, but this is open to interpretation: The Creature can easily take on any preferred pronoun the reader wishes; it’s a gray, amorphous shape with large, expressive eyes, a bulbous, black nose, and sharp white teeth. It’s nowhere near scary; rather, it’s kind of cute. Creature’s story is the big thing here: the desire to love and care for a Little Small; the same desire that fuels parents and caregivers; the same desire that moves children to attach themselves to a Lovey. My Little Small is also a reminder that our time together is short, and to fill those moments with joy – a nice nod to us adults to stop sweating the small stuff. The artwork is bold, with textured grays giving life to Creature and her environs, and bold, bright colors populating the spark’s tales of life outside. The spark itself is tiny and bright, giving off rings of warm, yellow light.

Words Without Borders calls My Little Small a “sweetly eccentric book”, and that seems about perfect, so I’ll leave it at that. It may not appeal to every reader, but it does reach down and get to the heart of the desire to love and protect. Sunrise, 2013 comic by Heather L. Sheppard, from a few years ago, makes a good readalike with absolutely adorable artwork. If you can find it (it’s a digital comic, available through Comixology), give it a read.

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

March picture book roundup

There are some adorable picture books publishing in March and April! Let’s take a look at some – there are some great storytime reads to be found!

A Fire Truck for Chuck, by Annika Dunklee/Illustrated by Cathon,
(March 2018, OwlKids), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771472852
Recommended for readers 3-6

A little boy named Chuck visits a yard sale with his mom, where he sees it: a fire truck! And it’s only a buck! What luck! Mom buys Chuck the truck, who proceeds to play with it everywhere. Including the mud. Yuck! Chuck is afraid his fire truck is lost forever, but joyfully finds out otherwise. Thanks, Mom! This adorable story of a boy and his truck is perfect for kids who love their vehicle stories – and there are many! You don’t need to be a car and truck fan to love this story, too – toddlers and preschoolers will all empathize and understand the love between a kid and his or her favorite toy. While not exactly a rhyming story, A Fire Truck for Chuck uses the easily rhyming word to weave humor and fun into the story. Cartoony illustrations are bold and bright and will get kids’ attention.

 

I’m a Duck, by Eve Bunting/Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand,
(March 2018, Candlewick Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-8032-9
Recommended for readers 3-6
This adorable rhyming tale about overcoming fears is especially great for pre-K 3 and 4-year-olds. A little duck recounts the tale of falling into the lake as an egg; saved by his mother, he’s grown up too scared to go swimming, “…and that is bad. A landlocked duck is very sad”. With some encouragement from family and friends, and a little bit of practice in safe, shallow puddle, little Duck is ready to face his fears – and succeeds! I’m a Duck illustrates the importance of encouragement and positive reinforcement in addition to the power of facing one’s fears (and the emphasis on safety is a relief for caregivers). Mixed media illustrations give a snuggly, cuddly feel to the animals in the story. I love Eve Bunting’s books, and am thrilled to add this one to my shelves.

George is a happy old hound dog who just wants a nap. Farmer Fritz, his human, heads off to a retirement cabana and leaves George in charge: and that means helping the new family navigate life on the farm! Poor George; these folks are hapless, which means George is herding cows, finding lost siblings, and generally saving the day. Not only can he not get his nap in, he can’t get these folks to figure out his name, which goes through several name changes throughout the story. Full-panel artwork alternates with graphic novel-like panels to provide a fun romp. Short, concise sentences and farm animal shenanigans make this a fun read-aloud choice. Ask the kids what they’d like to call George – or how he could finally get his new family to figure out his name! A fun story for animal fans.
Not ‘Til Tomorrow, Phoebe, by Julie Zwillich,
(March 2018, OwlKids), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771471725
Recommended for readers 4-7
The second book in the Phoebe series (the first, Phoebe Sounds It Out, was published in March 2017) introduces kids to the concepts of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and just as importantly, patience. Phoebe’s day is full of “tomorrows”: Mama will make her pancakes tomorrow; she’ll get ice cream after her haircut tomorrow; musicians will visit her class – you guessed it – tomorrow. Frustrated, Phoebe turns to her grandmother, who bakes cookies and teaches Phoebe the best way to turn today into tomorrow: get a good night’s sleep. Kids will understand Phoebe’s frustration, for sure; you can even introduce the story by asking kids, “Who’s tired of hearing about all the good things that will happen TOMORROW?” As with Phoebe Sounds It Out, the illustrations are bold and expressive, with soothing colors to put kids in the mind to listen and learn. There’s a lovely relationship between grandparent and grandchild here. Phoebe is a child of color.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Parenting ain’t easy for The Big Bad Fox

big-bad-foxThe Big Bad Fox, by Benjamin Renner, (June 2016, First Second), $15.99, ISBN: 9781626723313

Recommended for ages 7-12

The Fox really isn’t that big or that bad… at least, no one at the barnyard seems to think so. The chickens beat up on him every time he shows his face, and he’s really getting hungry! Together with the Wolf, the two predators hatch a plan: steal some eggs, wait for them to hatch, then eat the chicks while they’re still young and defenseless! Failproof, right? Sure: for the Wolf, anyway; he goads Fox into doing all the work.

The Fox manages to steal some eggs, and sits on them until they hatch, but the unexpected happens when the chicks think he’s their Mommy – and he ends up falling in love with the little ones! Meanwhile, back at the barnyard, Momma Hen is sick and tired of the lazy barnyard dog who’s supposed to be protecting them, so she gathers a group of hens and forms a Fox Extermination Club!

big-bad-fox_1big-bad-fox_2

This is a laugh-out loud, adorable story for intermediate and middle grade readers. Parents will get a kick out of this one, too – Fox learns some real lessons in parenting here: he doesn’t get much sleep, and they’re all over him all the time. We see Fox grow as a parent and a character – he never really had it in him to be a bad guy, after all. This book is straight out of Foghorn Leghorn-era Looney Tunes, and I loved every second of reading it. Benjamin Renner’s watercolors are adorable, giving the characters a soft, cartoony look, with giant google eyes. The wolf is dour and narrrow-eyed, but never too harsh for little ones.

big-bad-fox_3big-bad-fox_4

This one’s great for your humor loving readers, your animal fiction fans, and your graphic novel fans. A definite add to the shelves.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Reasons to Smile spreads joy

reasons_covvReasons to Smile: Celebrating People Living with Down Syndrome, by Andrea Knauss & Elizabeth Martins (Feb. 2016, Schiffer Publishing), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764350405

Recommended for ages 12+

The world has been pretty horrifying lately. As I was straightening up my TBR pile, I found this book; it had fallen behind the stack and was passed over for a couple of months. Having finished it, I think that it was less of a mistake and more fortuitous timing: I needed this book at the moment I found it.

Reasons to Smile compiles 56 short profiles, celebrating people living with Down sydrome. Most are written by family and friends, and a few are written by those living with Down syndrome. Each profile features a picture, usually of the person spotlighted.

I’m not going to lie: you will well up reading some of these stories, but it will be a joyful welling up. The love, courage, and guidance coming from these writers made me feel just a little bit better about our world. I love that Andrea Knauss and Elizabeth Martins compiled this book out of love for their daughter and sister, Anna. Andrea writes that she’s “Anna’s Mom”; I’ve been “Will’s Mom”, “Alex’s Mom”, and now, “Gabe’s Mom”, and that little sentence connected this mom and I. We love our children. We fight for our kids. Knowing each other’s challenges brings us together just a little bit more.

Also included in the book is the renowned essay, “Welcome to Holland”, by Emily Perl Kingsley, which makes things so much easier to grasp. Another mom suggests giving this book as a baby shower gift to moms who may need it. I agree, but I’d take it one step further and put this on middle school reading lists. I see you raising an eyebrow, but stay with me. There are some great nonfiction works on summer reading lists, I see them. And disability in tween and teen lit is finally recognized and encouraged. A beautiful book on inspirational essays, featuring stories about families working with Down syndrome would be a smart move, to show the joy that comes hand in hand with the challenges; to show the smiles and read about the optimism and affection these families bring to the world.

I loved reading Reasons to Smile. It made me want to be a better person and a better mom. You can visit Andrea Knauss’ website, The Mighty, and find resources on parenting, Down syndrome, autism, and more.