Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Over the Shop and found families: a lovely combination

Over the Shop, by JonArno Lawson/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (Jan. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201475

Ages 3-7

This story needs no words to communicate a gentle tale of how a building becomes a home. A little girl and her grandparent run a storefront grocery and need a tenant for the run-down apartment in the building. When a couple sees the potential in the apartment, the little girl pitches in to help; she’s excited to have new friends in her home! The good feelings spread, and the entire building starts taking on a new life as everyone starts working together to breathe new life into the building – even the next door neighbor is taken into the fold. A quiet story of queer pride and the families we make, the wordless ink and watercolor story is about acceptance, love, and warmth. Invite your Littles to tell you what they see going on in this story.

Over the Shop has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. The Mombian blog has a wonderful review of Over the Shop, too.

Posted in Uncategorized

Cultures collide, and blend, in When I Found Grandma

When I Found Grandma, by Saumiya Balasubramaniam/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781773060187

Ages 5-8

Maya is an Indian girl living in America with her family. She’s thrilled when her Grandma arrives from India for a visit, but she quickly finds things that rub her the wrong way. She doesn’t want Grandma to call her by her full name, Mayalakshmi, and she wishes Grandma didn’t wear her sari and noisy bangle bracelets when she pops in for a visit to Maya’s classroom. She isn’t crazy about the food Grandma makes, and she really, really doesn’t like her family’s decision to celebrate the Holi festival by visiting a temple so Grandma can pray, rather than go for their planned trip to a fair. But it turns out that when Maya needs help, Grandma’s the first one on the scene.

Two generations work things out together in this sweet, authentic story about a grandmother and granddaughter; it’s a cultural and inter-generational story of understanding, compromise, and, above all, love. The story text will resonate with kids and adults alike, and opens so many avenues for discussion between generations and cultures. The soft ink and watercolor artwork reflects emotions touched on the book; namely, familial love. The cover is a beautiful expression of intimacy and affection between grandmother and grandchild; something ever-present in both the text and artwork.

In a library system as diverse as mine, this is a must-add to collections. In less diverse areas, it’s an important book for generating understanding and respect for other cultures and how we look at our elders.

 

 

Posted in Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

It takes love to Build a Better Tree Fort

The Better Tree Fort, by Jessica Scott Kerrin/Illustrated by Qin Leng, (March 2018, Groundwood Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781554988631

Recommended for readers 4-8

A boy named Russell and and his dad move into their new home. Russell sees the giant maple tree in their yard as a perfect spot for a tree fort, so he and his dad set to work designing it, and – after multiple trips to the lumber store – build it together. It may not look like the tree fort in Russell’s imagination, but it is perfect. He and dad eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches in the fort, unfurl their sleeping bags for a tree fort sleepover, and enjoy each other’s company in the tree fort. When Russell sees construction workers in the yard three houses over, he realizes there’s another tree fort going up, so he heads over to meet his neighbor, a boy named Warren. Warren’s tree fort has it all: a balcony, escape slide, even electricity. After all, his dad bought the plans and paid for the builders to come build it. But all Warren can focus on is what it doesn’t have (a kitchen sink). Russell heads back home to his perfect tree fort, made with his father, for some quality time.

This is a sweet story about appreciation that makes for great reading and discussion. It’s nice to see a story about the relationship between father and son – a single dad, it would appear, from the text. They create this tree fort together, building it with their own two hands, sharing the time together. Warren and his dad – who isn’t present in the story – present a foil for readers: the dad with money but no time, and the child who doesn’t appreciate what he’s got. Russell goes home to his dad, who wants to hang out with his son, in the tree fort that they made together. The experience is what counts, not the gewgaws that make it fancy. It’s a great message to communicate to kids and parents alike: spend time together. Create together.

 

The ink, watercolor, and pencil crayon art uses subdued colors and perspective to tell the story: the giant, overwhelming shelves at the lumber store; the chaos of materials surrounding Russell and his dad as they try to figure out how to bring the tree fort to life; the colors of the sunset as they sit in the fort, eating sandwiches and sitting on sleeping bags. It’s a great story for a storytime and one-on-one cuddle time. Talk to your readers about appreciation, and about things they do with their grownups that they enjoy: do they cook with family? Play board games, or solve puzzles? Which tree fort did they like more, and why?

Jessica Scott Kerrin is an award-winning Canadian author who writes picture and middle grade books. You can learn more at her website. Find more of Canadian illustrator Qin Leng’s beautiful artwork (including artwork from another book I adore, Shelter) at her website.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Picture Book Roundup: Bears, Babies, Bats, and more!

In my continuing struggle to get on top of my review list, I present another roundup; this time, with picture books!

Priscilla Pack Rat: Making Room for Friendship, by Claudine Crangle,
(March 2017, Magination Press), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1433823350
Recommended for readers 4-8

Priscilla is a very sweet rat who loves to collect things, but when she’s invited to friends’ birthday parties, she finds that she has a hard time even parting with the gifts she chooses for her friends! When Priscilla’s house finally crashes around her, she realizes that her friends are worth much more than being surrounded by stuff. Magination Press is an imprint of the American Psychological Association; this is a book designed to discuss clutter and hoarding tendencies in kids, and it does so in a mild, easy manner. This can easily be a kids’ story on sharing and giving, no red flags necessary. Adorable felted characters and found objects create a visually interesting story that you can also turn into a little game of I Spy with little ones: there are plenty of things to find! A note to parents and caregivers advises parents on what to do if children have trouble parting with possessions, the differences between hoarding and collecting, and ways to help kids organize their belongings. A nice add to developing empathy collections and for caregivers and educators who need books to address behaviors.

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn
(Sept. 2017, OwlKids Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771472517
Recommended for readers 4+

Letters to a Prisoner is getting rave reviews, with good reason. The wordless picture book, inspired by the letter-writing campaigns of human rights organization Amnesty International, is so impactful, so relevant, and so necessary. A man is arrested during a peaceful protest, injured by a soldier who also pops the man’s daughter’s balloon. The man is thrown in a solitary jail cell, where he befriends a mouse and a bird. When letters arrive, the guard takes joy in burning them in front of the man, but the joke’s on the guard: the smoke from the burning letters serves as a worldwide beacon. Groups of people all over send the man letters; they arrive, en masse, and turn into wings with which the prisoner soars above the helpless, infuriated guard. The watercolor over black ink sketches adds an ethereal feel to this beautiful story of hope and social justice. The book’s wordlessness allows for every reader to come together, transcending language, to take part in this inspirational story. An author’s note tells readers about Amnesty International’s inspiration. Display and booktalk with Luis Amavisca’s No Water, No Bread, and talk with little ones and their parents as you display the book during social justice and empathy themed storytimes. Letters to a Prisoner has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Quill and Quire.

 

I Am Bat, by Morag Hood,
(Oct. 2017, OwlKids Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492660323
Recommended for readers 3-7

One of my favorite picture books this year. Bat is adorable. And he loves cherries. DO NOT TAKE HIS CHERRIES. He is quite serious about this, so you can imagine his distress when his cherries start disappearing! The reader’s clued in, naturally – we see paws and ants sneaking cherries out of the book’s margins while Bat stares at us, demanding to know what’s going on. The animals leave him a pear, which Bat embraces – and the story is ready to begin again. There’s bold, black fonts to make for expressive storytime reading, and Bat and Friends are just too much fun to read and play along with. Absolutely delightful storytime reading; just make sure you read this one before you get it in front of your group: you will squeal with glee the first couple of times you read it. Print out bat masks for the kids to color in as part of your storytime craft.

Shelter, by Céline Claire,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771389273
Recommended for readers 3-7

A storm’s approaching, and two strangers – brothers – arrive in the forest. They stop at several animal family homes, offering a trade for shelter; they have tea, can anyone offer them some food? A place to ride out the storm? We see each family, safe and with full larders, turn them away. A young fox feels terrible about this, and runs out to give the brothers a lamp, which they use to find shelter. But as fate would have it, the storm is even more trouble than the families expected, and soon, they’re asking the brothers for shelter: which is cheerfully given. This kind, moving story about kindness and succor is perfect for illustrating the power of empathy. Qin Leng’s watercolor and ink illustrations are soft and gentle, a perfect match for Céline Claire’s quiet narration. Shelter offers the perfect opportunity to talk about putting kind thoughts into practice; whether it’s sharing with others or offering friendship to someone who needs it.

The Little Red Wolf, by Amelie Flechais,
(Oct. 2017, Lion Forge),$19.99, ISBN: 9781941302453
Recommended for readers 6-10

A slightly macabre twist on the traditional Little Red Hiding Hood tale, The Little Red Wolf is a story about a little wolf who, on the way to visit an ailing grandma, encounters an awful human girl. The message here is consistent with the original fable: there’s a strong stranger danger warning, but also a reminder that every side has a story, every villain has an origin. The art is beautiful and dark; an additional add for collections where readers may be ready for darker fantasy.

Middle Bear, by Susanna Isern/Illustrated by Manon Gauthier,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388429
Recommended for readers 3-7

The middle child gets lots of love in this adorable picture book. Middle Bear is the second of three brothers; not small, but not big; not strong, but not weak; not a lot, not a little… “he was the middle one”. He has a hard time feeling special until the day his parents both fall ill and the three cubs have to get willow tree bark from the mountain top, to help them get well. When big brother is too big, and little brother is too little, it’s up to Middle Brother to save the day: he is, to quote that other story starring three bears, “just right”. The emphasis on bear’s “middleness” will drive home the point that he persevered and succeeded as is, through determination. Manon Gauthier cut paper collage, pencil, and mixed media illustrations add texture and a childlike sense of place in the story. There’s a good lesson about empathy to be learned here, too; the bear’s brothers and parents all support him and let him know that what he may see as being a challenge – being the middle one – is what makes him the perfect bear for the job. Perfect storytelling for middle children who may be feeling the frustration of being too big for some things, not big enough for others.

No Room for Baby!, by Émile Jadoul,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388412
Recommended for readers 3-7

Leon’s baby brother, Marcel, has arrived! Leon’s excited, but a little concerned about where the baby’s going to go when he’s not in his crib. He certainly can’t go in Leon’s room. And there’s no room on Mama’s lap for him; there’s only room for Leon. And Daddy’s shoulders are just too high. After Leon thinks on the situation, he discovers the best possible place for his baby brother: in his arms. This is the such a sweet story about becoming an older sibling; it addresses the fears an older sibling may have when a new baby joins the family, and it allows the sibling to work through his fears and come to his own happy decision. At no point do Leon’s parents correct him or force the baby on him; they stand back and let him reason things out for himself. It’s an empowering story with a sweet sense of humor. The simple black pencil, crayon and oils illustration feels childlike and will easily appeal to readers. I’m looking forward to adding this one to my new baby bibliography.