Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Always look for the rainbows.

There Is a Rainbow, by Theresa Trinder/Illustrated by Grant Snider, (Jan. 2021, Chronicle Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9781797211664

Ages 4-6

Written in the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, There is a Rainbow is about coming through the dark times to the other side. Presented in simple statements, it’s a story of opposites; of going through the hard to get to the better; of our connections to one another, and ultimately, about rainbows. There are kids learning on screens; there are Black Lives Matter signs; there are thank-yous to heroes, all reflecting moments we lived through last year. There is also a thread of hope, in the form of the ever-present rainbow, encouraging us to keep going, because, as the book notes, “On the other side of a storm, there is a rainbow. On the other side of today, there is tomorrow.” For those of us who have come through so much, it’s a supportive message that pushes us to keep moving toward that light at the end of the tunnel. For future generations, There Is a Rainbow will stand as a testament to a moment in time where we stood, resilient, together against unbelievable events. An author’s note talks about writing the book during the pandemic. Grant Snider’s colored pencil artwork adds a gentle touch to the text, but shows strength in the details: trees standing in the wind, a chalk rainbow refusing to wash away in the rain, a series of cheery rainbows hanging in the windows, celebrating our first responders. Download a free activity kit and encourage your littles to talk about their feelings from the past year. Pair with Smriti Prrasadam-Halls and David Litchfield’s Rain Before Rainbows for an inspiring storytime.

School Library Journal calls There Is a Rainbow the “perfect pandemic book”. Can’t put it any better than that. There Is a Rainbow has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, picture books, Preschool Reads

Picture books by graphic novelists and a graphic novel to welcome your week

How’s everyone doing? Are you all getting the hang of school this year just yet? Me, neither. But I do have some fun books to share, so let’s greet Monday with cheery stories.

 

My Pencil and Me, by Sara Varon, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781596435896

Ages 3-7

I love a good meta picture book, and Sara Varon’s latest, My Pencil and Me, fits that bill wonderfully. Sara herself stars in this story, along with her dog, Sweet Pea, and her special pencil. Not sure what to draw, Sara turns to Pencil for advice, and Pencil is ready and willing to guide her! What unfolds is an entertaining romp through the creative process, where Pencil encourages Sara to “go around and collect ideas”, and “draw recent adventures”. Deciding on the setting of a baseball game she attended last week, Sara creates characters and adds a plot: in this case, a baseball game between imaginary and real friends. When an inevitable conflict arises, Sara must put her story in the hands of the imaginary friends to save the day! It’s adorable, it’s filled with humor, and is a smart guide to creative writing that kids will love. A photo of Varon with the real Pencil and Sweet Pea, and some imaginary friends hanging around, places the reader and makes things a little more tangible. Endpapers highlight different pencils, pens, and paintbrushes strewn about the white background, with our very own Pencil smiling up at us, illustrated, and standing out on its own.

Sara Varon’s artwork is always so much fun to enjoy, with imaginative creatures and animals alongside people and real(ish) situations. There’s overall narration and word bubbles, and panels throughout, making this another addition to picture book/graphic novel shelves. She’s great at capturing small moments, and she’s great at telling larger scale stories, all with her relatable author’s voice and charming artwork. Invite your littles to tell you their own story using Pencil’s guidelines – and, of course, have plenty of Pencils on hand for your littles to personify for themselves. (Or crayons, naturally!)

 

Julia’s House Moves On, by Ben Hatke, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250191373

Ages 4-8

In a sequel to Ben Hatke’s 2014 story Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, Julia, her house full of friends, and the House itself all realize that it’s time to move on. The only thing is, things don’t always go to plan, and when things get underway before Julia’s plans are ready, she’s got to do some quick thinking. Because Julia always has a plan. The story of what to do when life gets in the way of your plans, Julia’s House Moves On is about endurance, resilience, and maybe – just maybe – the fact that sometimes, it’s okay to throw your plans to the wind.

I have been a Ben Hatke fan for a long time now, and his work never ceases to bring the wonder. Julia’s House Moves On has stunning watercolor work and a story that brings heartache and joy in equal parts. Moments like Julia’s House soaring through the sky; a Sea Queen holding the House in her hands; moments like these and so many more are just breathtaking to behold. There’s magic in these pages. A must-add for your dreamers and your planners alike.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King: The Graphic Novel, by E.T.A. Hoffman/Illustrated and Adapted by Natalie Andrewson, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781596436817

Ages 7-10

Let the holiday book love commence! The graphic novel retelling of the beloved Nutcracker classic is both fantastic and surreal. Organized into 14 chapters, the story of Marie and Fritz Stahlbaum has all the characters readers have come to know – or discover: Fritz’s Hussar soldiers and Marie’s doll, Miss Clarette, the wicked Mouse King and his army, and the Nutcracker. The story unfolds like a fever dream, shifting between Marie’s dreams and the wide-awake storytimes told by their godfather, the children’s uncle Drosselmeyer. It’s manic, often creepy, and a new spin on the classic tale. Give this to your adventure and fantasy fans. An author’s note talks about the original story versus the adaptation that Natalie Andrewson ‘wanted to tell’.

A frenetic adventure that’s going to be read at Christmastime and beyond.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Flash the Little Fire Engine has a big heart!

Flash the Little Fire Engine, by Pam Calvert/Illustrated by Jen Taylor, (Nov. 2019, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5420-4178-2

Ages 3-6

Flash is a little fire engine who wants to do big things, but every time the alarm clangs at the firehouse, Flash arrives on the scene to discover another truck is there, better able to handle the challenge. Dejected, Flash heads back to the firehouse, only to discover the a sudden snowstorm has blocked the bridge, and there’s a fire in the town square! It’s up to Flash to save the animals in the burning animal shelter!

Flash the Little Fire Engine is a sweet story about a spunky little fire engine, and encourages us kids who were always at the front of the line when we lined up in size order. Flash may be too little for some rescues, but he’s always ready to help – and that determination pays off when the stakes are high and the other trucks can’t get through. The book also gives kids an introduction to other first response vehicles, like an airport crash tender, the ever-popular turntable ladder truck, and an airplane firefighter and foam tender. The text moves between the story narrative and sound effects, which are bolded, larger, and in bright colors, to draw attention and encourage the kids to howl along with you during a storytime reading. The digital illustrations are bright, bold, and give the vehicles big, expressive faces that will instantly appeal to Blaze and the Monster Machines fans. The kids in my library (heck, every library I’ve been at) LOVE vehicle books, and have a special love for fire engines, so I’ll be adding this to the storytime rotation, along with firefighter hat coloring sheets, like this one from Education.com.

Pam Calvert is an award-winning children’s book author. Her books include the Princess Peepers series, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning; more recently, Brianna Bright, Ballerina Knight, illustrated by Liana Hee; and other titles. Formerly a science teacher as well as a writing instructor and coach, she speaks to thousands of children every year. When she’s not speaking or writing, you can find her having fun with her family in Texas. Learn more about her online at www.pamcalvert.com or on Twitter: @PammCalvert.

Jen Taylor is an illustrator and arts-and-crafts enthusiast born and raised in New Jersey. She attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she majored in illustration and animation. She is the illustrator of the Brave Little Camper series as well as the picture book Ninja Camp, written by Sue Fliess. She previously worked in animation on such shows as Sid the Science Kid and MAD. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their corgi, Rocket. Learn more about her online at www.jentaylor.net.

“Calvert deftly finds a new way to introduce kids to different kinds of firefighting vehicles…sure to slip in effortlessly with other firetruck books.” —Kirkus Reviews

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Meditation, Gratitude, and Resilience – Books to help kids grow

Magination Press is the kids’ publishing arm of the American Pscyhological Association, and they cover some great topics for kids. These three books cover mindfulness, gratitude, and resilience: three traits that kids need now, seemingly more than ever.

Bee Still: An Invitation to Meditation, by Frank J. Sileo/Illustrated by Claire Keay, (Aug. 2018, Magination Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781433828706

Ages 4-7

Bentley is a lovable, calm honeybee who lives in a crowded hive. While the other bees are rushing around, Bentley takes a second to gather himself, then settles himself on a nice daffodil in the garden to meditate. He catches the attention of neighboring critters as he sits, eyes closed, centering himself. When Sammy Squirrel finally asks what he’s doing, Bentley happily explains that meditation helps quiet his mind and stay focused. This sounds great to the other animals! Bentley leads the group in a gentle guided meditation, to everyone’s benefit. The motto: “…when life is hard or you just need to chill, think of Bentley and try to bee still“.

This rhyming story about meditation and mindfulness is a great way to introduce preschoolers to the practice. Bentley guides his animal friends in a gentle meditation, and you can guide your storytime kids through a similar one, just by reading the book out loud. It’s a wonderful habit to develop, especially in kids. The muted watercolors and gentle rhyme scheme offer a meditative read; just invite the kids to close their eyes and listen. This is a great wrap-up story for a yoga storytime, or a calming bedtime – or anytime – read. A note to parents and caregivers provides further explanation about meditation, teaching kids to meditate, and how to create a family meditation time.

 

Grow Grateful, by Sage Foster-Lasser & Jon Lasser/Illustrated by Christopher Lyles, (Oct. 2018, Magination Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781433829031

Ages 5-8

This companion book to 2017’s Grow Happy brings back Kiko, the little girl who showed readers how to grow happiness. This time, she’s off on a camping trip with her class, and she’s a little bit nervous about going without her parents, but she’s happy, because her best friend, Jasmine is going on the trip, too. When Jasmine is put in a separate group, Kiko pairs with Camille, who’s also a little unsure about this whole camping and hiking business. At the end of an exciting day, their teacher gathers the kids around the fire and reflects on gratitude, inviting everyone to share what they are grateful for this evening. Kiko realizes she’s got so much to be grateful for, and can’t wait to get home and tell her family!

Grow Grateful teaches a simple but important lesson: gratitude. The entire story is a lesson in mindfulness – being aware of everything around you and your place within the world – and gratitude. Kiko is surrounded by beautiful nature, family, and friends. When she realizes that her parents won’t be on the trip, she still rises to the challenge, grateful for the chance to try something new; when Jasmine is put into another group, she doesn’t sulk or demand to go home, but joins up with another classmate who needs support and offers her own support. She takes in the beauty of nature and enjoys the new experience, filling her with gratitude. It’s a concept nicely explained by Kiko’s teacher, but perfectly summed up when Kiko drifts off to sleep and notes that she “feels happy in my heart”.

The artwork appears to be mixed media, providing a nice mix of texture and color for readers to catch. The characters in the story are multicultural, including Kiko, who has Caucasian parents and a sibling, but appears Asian. A note to parents offers advice for encouraging gratitude. This one’s a good add to storytimes and booktalks.

 

Yes I Can! A Girl and Her Wheelchair, by Kendra J. Barrett, Jacqueline B. Toner, & Claire A. B. Freeland/Illustrated by Violet Lemay, (Nov. 2018, Magination Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781433828690

Ages 4-8

Carolyn is a young girl with a lot of interests: she likes building with blocks, she helps around the house and with her baby brother, and she loves animals and castles. At school, she can do a lot of things her friends can: she gets onto the floor for circle time with the class, she joins in during reading time, and she hands out papers for the teacher. She may be in a wheelchair, but Carolyn isn’t slowed down at all! But when her friend invites her to a trampoline birthday party, Carolyn feels a little uncomfortable. All she can do is watch, while everyone else is bouncing around her – or can she? And when her friends decide to run a race at recess, a boy from another class jeers that she can’t run so she can’t play! Carolyn’s friends rally around her and tell her that she can be part of things – she can be a referee! – even if she isn’t a direct participant.

Yes I Can! is a book that teaches kids empathy. The text reaffirms that Carolyn, a girl in a wheelchair, is an active member of her class and her community. Using Carolyn’s “Yes I Can!” statement illustrates how much Carolyn can do – things that maybe kids didn’t realize using a wheelchair allowed one to do, like scooting across a carpet to join in circle time or feeding a class pet. But the book also examines how kids may feel when they’re left out of an activity, like being at a trampoline party, or being told they can’t take part in an activity because they can’t walk. It engenders a feeling of empathy by letting us ask kids, “How do you think Carolyn feels right now? How would this make you feel?” By having Carolyn’s friends rally around her, the author models positive behavior that lets readers know the right way to be a supportive, empathetic friend.

The group of kids is multicultural, and the artwork is animated with a more realistic bent. An author’s note offers talking points about disabilities, and how to be sensitive when interacting with people with physical disabilities. A solid addition to collections. The Measured Mom blog has a good list of additional children’s books about disabilities.

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

Different Days looks at German internment during World War II

Different Days, by Vicki Berger Erwin, (Oct. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510724587

Recommended for readers 9-13

Eleven year-old Rosie lives with her mother, father, and younger brother, Freddie, in Honolulu, Hawaii. They love their home, their family, their lives, until December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor is attacked and everything changes, seemingly overnight. Rosie’s parents are of German descent, but are American citizens who have lived in Hawaii for most of their lives. It doesn’t matter. They’re rounded up by the military, along with Rosie’s Aunt Etta; they’re detained as German spies, their possessions confiscated. Rosie and Freddie are left alone, and suddenly, their schoolmates and neighbors don’t seem as friendly as they used to be. They’re sent to live with their emotionally distant Aunt Yvonne, who tells her neighbors they are refugee children and never admits to her own German ancestry. Luckily, Aunt Etta is released and takes the children, but this is just the beginning of the struggle: her family’s home has been sold; their possessions and properties now “in storage” or gone, and the children at the new school they attend are quick to call them Nazis. Rosie longs for her family to reunite and for things to stabilize, but these are very different days.

Different Days is based on the true story of 11-year-old Doris Berg, who watched the attack on Pearl Harbor from her home in Honolulu. The next day, her parents and aunt were taken into custody and sent to internment camps. Like Rosie and Freddie, Doris and her sister were sent to an aunt that refused to acknowledge their familial link, and lost her home and possessions. Rosie is a strong, resilient character who wishes she were like her heroine, teen sleuth Nancy Drew, so she could solve the mysteries facing her: who was responsible for informing on her parents and having them detained, and who is this shady Mr. Smith who allegedly “manages” her family’s disappearing property and possessions? She endures the prejudice of those around her, and focuses on small victories, whether it’s having something to eat that day or knowing she’ll visit her mother soon. The novel takes readers into the story of one family affected by the internment of German “persons of interest”; a moment in history not often discussed. The book includes information about Doris Berg and her family’s ordeal, and further information. Different Days is a good addition to historical fiction collections and is as relevant today, when we seek to label others and blame an entire nationality/ethnicity/religion for the actions of a few.

Vicki Berger Erwin writes for both children and adults. You can find out more by visiting her website.

Posted in Preschool Reads

The Tiny Tale of Little Pea

The Tiny Tale of Little Pea, by Davide Cali/Illustrated by Sébastien Mourrain, (Sept. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388436

Recommended for readers 4-7

So begins the tale of Little Pea, who could sleep in a matchbox, ride a grasshopper, and wore his doll’s shoes, while his clothes were lovingly hand-sewn by his mom. When it’s time for Little Pea to go to school, he realizes just how small he is. He’s too small for his desk. Too small to play the flute. Definitely too small for gym class. But is Little Pea’s confidence shaken? No way! He finds his own place in the world, painting postage stamps and living in a home that fits him just right.
Little Pea is a cute story with a main character who has a lot to say about resilience. He doesn’t let his perceived weakness stop him from living life on his terms; it’s a strong message for kids who hear, “You’re too little for that” once too often. Self-acceptance, creativity, and individuality drive the story, and every reader can take something away from it. Sébastien Mourrain comes up with wonderful scenes to demonstrate Little Pea’s size, bringing to mind some of my favorite parts of E.B. White’s Stuart Little. It’s a sweet story that will add to a storytime or individual reading.
Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Goodnight, Boy is beautiful and raw

Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan, (July 2017, One World), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78607-210-8

Recommended for readers 12+

The novel of a boy and his dog is brutal and beautiful, all at once. JC is a Haitian child who’s already experienced a brutal life on the streets and orphanages of Haiti when the earthquake strikes. He’s adopted by a rescue worker and her husband and brought to America, but when his new mother is back in Haiti, his stepfather locks JC and his dog, Boy, in a kennel. The story, told in the form of conversations JC has with Boy, unfolds and we learn about JC’s life, and the terrible moment where he and Boy were banished to the kennel.

Goodnight, Boy goes to dark places, but JC’s voice is strong, clear, and stands as a beacon for Boy and for readers. He always holds out hope that things will get better, taking comfort in the smallest moments of light, like hearing children play or seeing balloons from the kennel. As he tells Boy – and us – his story, we learn about grief and loss, but we learn about perseverance and hope, all the same. An intense read, Goodnight Boy is a strong addition to YA bookshelves and can easily cross over to adult reading. It’s a great book for discussion.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

What is it that Lou can’t do?

louThe Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, by Ashley Spires, (May 2017, Kids Can Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771387279

Recommended for ages 3-7

Lou and her friends are adventurers! They run faster than airplanes, build mighty fortresses, and rescue wild animals. One day, though, Lou’s friends decide to make a nearby tree the location of their pirate ship, and Lou balks. She’s never climbed a tree before. She likes her adventures to be down, on the ground. Her friends scurry up the tree, but Lou’s not going. What will it take for Lou to get up that tree?

Kids will recognize themselves in Lou, whose got a vibrant imagination, a great group of friends, and a healthy fear of a climbing a tree, which – let’s be honest – can be a pretty scary thing. Like most kids, Lou tries to divert her friends’ attention by suggesting “not-up-a-tree games” and stalling (changing her shoes, claiming an injury, spotting an asteroid heading right for them). With her friends’ encouragement, Lou does attempt that climb – and when she doesn’t make it, her friends are right there for her, heading for a playground to continue their game. Is Lou defeated? Nope. She’s going to try again, maybe even tomorrow. Showing a child overcome her fear and her self-reliance when she doesn’t succeed the first time sends a positive message to kids who may struggle with anxiety over new situations; surrounding her main character with supportive friends sends a message to all kids, to support one another and to compromise.

The digital art is fun and will appeal to all kids; the group of friends is diverse and no one is relegated to “girl” or “boy” roles here – they’re all pirates, race car drivers, or deep sea divers. They’re kids, playing together, like kids do.

I loved Ashley Spires’ award-winning book, The Most Magnificent Thing, and her Binky the Space Cat series has been a winner at any library I’ve worked at. I love her positive messages of self-reliance and the power of imagination, and I can’t wait to get this book on the shelves next to my other Spires books. A great book for elementary collections and kids who are learning that it’s okay to be scared sometimes.

Check out Ashley Spires’ website for more of her artwork and information about her books.

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

An imaginary friend will always have your back in Crenshaw

crenshawCrenshaw, by Katherine Applegate (Sept. 2015, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250043238

Recommended for ages 9-13

Newbery winner Katherine Applegate is back, following up the award-winning The One and Only Ivan with Crenshaw, the tale of an imaginary friend who knows when his boy needs him.

Jackson’s family is having a rough time of it. His dad is chronically ill, and his mom is having a hard time making ends meet. They’re hungry and they’ve sold their furniture and are looking at the possibility of living in their minivan. Again.

And just like that, Crenshaw appears. Jackson’s childhood imaginary friend is a huge cat who just shows up when he’s needed. And Jackson needs something to believe in; something to cling to. Will Crenshaw be enough?

Katherine Applegate brought me to tears with The One and Only Ivan, and here, she continues her talent for drawing readers in with an emotional tale of friendship and resilience. Applegate addresses a social issue we don’t read much about, but exists: homeless families, transient families, and the effect this has on the children. She also shows us that all friends matter – even the ones we create to get us through the rough times.

Crenshaw will be out in September. Get it on your classroom and library shelves. This would be a great book to recommend and read for a social issues lesson and discussion. My sons’ elementary school takes part in the annual Penny Harvest program, where students collect pennies (or greater denominations, but every penny helps), and then decides on organizations to donate the total to. Wrapping this book reading around a Penny Harvest program or a canned food drive could lead to a meaningful discussion about helping others and bringing attention to families in need.