Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Books about Immigration, Refugees, and Being Kind

It’s been a heck of a year or four. While we’re thinking back and being thankful for what we have, let’s keep in mind those people who need even more kindness, more understanding, more care. And let’s hope that the coming year will be kinder to all of us, and bring understanding and reunion to those who have been taken from their families.

A Journey Toward Hope, by Victor Hinojosa & Coert Voorhees/Illustrated by Susan Guevara, (Aug. 2020, Six Foot Press), $19.95, ISBN: 9781644420089

Ages 6-8

Four children set out across Central America, leaving their homes and families for different reasons, to find a new life in the United States. They come together as they journey through Mexico and form a family unit of their own as they travel into the States in this hopeful story. The children in the book come from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, fleeing violence and poverty, and represent the 50,000 unaccompanied minors who present themselves to the United States border every year seeking asylum and refuge. A Journey Toward Hope weaves these four lives together and gives readers a glimpse into the fear and the peril each child faces in their quest for a better life. Muted colors are beautiful and blend together to tell this quietly powerful tale, and each child is represented by a folk art rendering of an animal that tells readers something about their character: a jaguar, a bird, a monkey, a butterfly.

Back matter includes additional information and resources created by Baylor University’s Global Hunger and Migration Project. Visit A Journey Toward Hope‘s website and the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty to learn even more.

A beautifully written book that deserves a place in collections.

 

Sugar in Milk, by Thrity Umrigar/Illustrated by Khoa Le, (Oct. 2020, Running Press Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9780762495191

Ages 4-8

A young girl arrives in a new country to live with her aunt and uncle. She’s lonely; she misses her friends and her home, and wishes she could make new friends in her new home. Her aunt takes her on a walk one day and tells her a folk tale of how, long ago, people in Persia were forced to leave their home and sought refuge in India; the local king met them and – since language was a barrier – explained, using a glass of milk, that his country had no room to accommodate the new arrivals. The Persian leader took the cup of milk and stirred in sugar; he didn’t spill a drop, thus illustrating that his people would only sweeten everyone’s lives with their presence. The king laughed and welcomed the new people to his land. The girl is inspired to reach out, and discovers that it’s easier than she imagined to make new friends: and she carries around a packet of sugar to remind herself of the tale.

The story is a myth that was part of author Thrity Umrigar’s Zoroastrian upbringing as a Parsi child in India, but will resonate with everyone who hears the tale; especially families of immigrants and refugees. The artwork is stunning; rich, deep colors look like tapestries as the girl’s aunt recounts her story. There are gorgeous touches of cultural artwork throughout the story, including richly woven rugs and artwork. The fall colors are incredible. I’d hang every page of this book up in my library if I could.

Sugar in Milk has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Put a copy in every pair of hands you can find and discuss the need for empathy and understanding, and how a diverse community enriches the lives of everyone in the community.

 

Counting Kindness: Ten Ways to Welcome Refugee Children, by Hollis Kurman/Illustrated by Barroux, (Sept. 2020, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781623542290

Ages 4-7

A sweet counting concept book that encourages kindness and awareness of refugee and immigrant children, Counting Kindness starts by telling readers that “When a place gets so scary that we have to leave home, every kindness counts”. A brown-skinned mother leaves a smoking homestead with her two children and an infant, encountering moments of kindness that include “two hands lifting us to safety; four beds keeping us safe and warm; nine hearts welcoming us to our new school”. The story illustrates, in gentle watercolors, how crucial it is to others to receive kindness and open arms. Back matter includes links to humanitarian organizations. The characters are cartoony and cute, but the message is real; words and text come together to create a heartwarming, yet heart-aching, statement that explains to younger readers as well as school-aged readers that there is a need for welcoming and empathy in our world. Count along with your kiddos as you read; consider, if you have the ability, to count cans or possessions you can donate.

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

Reckless Club “remixes The Breakfast Club for the Instagram generation”

The Reckless Club, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762490400

Ages 9-13

I had to use Kirkus’ line in that opening, because how more perfect can one describe a book? Beth Vrabel, one of my favorite middle grade authors, reaches back into one of the movies that defined my generation and brought it back, with a few nips and tucks, to inspire a new generation. We take one group: a Nobody (Jason), a Drama Queen (Lilith), a Flirt (Wes), an Athlete (Ally, also known as “Sports Barbie”), and a rebel (Rex) all come together at a retirement home one day in the late summer. Each has done something so wrong in their last year of middle school that they’ve got to spend the last Saturday before high school here, helping elderly patients and their principal’s sister, who oversees the home. Each teen is paired with an elder, and their personalities quickly emerge, as does a mystery: is one of the nurse’s stealing from the patients?

The book has wonderful callouts to The Breakfast Club, meaning I’ll get to booktalk this to some of my parents, too. We Gen Xers never get tired of ’80s nostalgia! But the story is so much more than that. Beth Vrabel has the dual gifts of dialogue and character development, giving readers a voraciously readable story that delves into LGBTQ+, self-esteem and acceptance, and race matters.

I love Beth Vrabel’s books. I feel good at the end of a Beth Vrabel story, and I feel like people can and still want to make a difference when I read a Beth Vrabel story. She tells realistic stories about kids we could see in our classrooms, our libraries, and at our dinner tables every day, and provides insights that we may not even realize we’re overlooking. That handsome class president with the dimples may not have it as easy as you think. The drama queen that throws a hissy fit may have hit her last straw with an awful teacher. That star athlete may have something really unhealthy pushing her to excel. It reminds us, as adults, as well as middle graders and tweens, that everyone has something going on under the surface. A final note, a la the Breakfast Club, sums up the group’s experiences of the day, and we can only hope that The Reckless Club has another adventure in store for us soon.

Visit Beth Vrabel’s website for study guides, news about her other books, and info about school visits.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

Lulu the Broadway Mouse is ready for the Great White Way!

lulu the broadway mouseLulu the Broadway Mouse, by Jenna Gavigan,
(Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-6461-6
Ages 8-12

Lulu is a little girl who loves, loves, LOVES the theatre. She lives in New York’s famed Schubert Theatre, where she and her family work side by side with the actors, actresses, and crew to help every production stay on track. Lulu dreams of being of making her Broadway debut, but there’s just one sticking point… Lulu is a mouse. When a young understudy named Jayne joins the cast of the Theatre’s current show, she and Lulu bond immediately over their love of the craft and their frustration with Amanda, the child star and resident mean girl. Will Lulu – and Jayne – ever get that big break?

Written by actress Jenna Gavigan, who made her Broadway debut at the age of 16, Lulu is a fun story that takes a look at dreaming big and navigating the mean girls we all meet in life. The novel also gives a wonderfully detailed peek behind the curtain at the inner workings of a stage show; your drama fans will love it and your animal fiction fans will cheer for Lulu, a lovable heroine who can stand up for herself and her friends.

Booktalk this one with Being Juliet by Joanne Stewart Wetzel for your drama fans who want a good story with a dash of theatre life.

Author Jenna Gavigan’s webpage has a page dedicated to Lulu, links to social media, and background information.

Posted in Uncategorized

Just Breathe… Mallika Chopra brings meditation to kids

Just Breathe, by Mallika Chopra/Illustrated by Brenna Vaughan, (Aug. 2018, Running Press Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0-7264-9158-2

Ages 7-12

Self-help guru Deepak Chopra’s daughter, Mallika, began meditating at age 9. In Just Breathe, she introduces mindful meditation practices to a younger audience. She discusses stress, how stress affects the body, and how meditation can help in her introduction; she ends her introduction with a baseline meditation; something to allow readers to create a “safe, happy place” inside them. Other practices in the book build on this base. Divided into subsequent sections on breathing, moving, being silent, noticing, asking, and creating, she leads readers through breathing and meditation exercises that help reduce stress and anxiety, cope with pain, and get them moving. There are sections on walking meditations, and on yoga, with each breathing exercise lasting anywhere fromn one to five minutes (the introductory exercise is the longest at 15 minutes, but she emphasizes that even one minute of meditation can greatly help).

The artwork is calming, featuring kids of all colors and genders in various stages of mindfulness, from yoga to walking to laying down. The muted colors and gentle expressions add to the calm, meditative feel of the text. Chopra provides prompts for thought throughout the book, which could be really helpful in a guided session where a reader can gently prompt meditative thoughts. Chopra encourages face-to-face interaction and disconnecting from devices, even for a little while; she also brings attention to our inner voices, the power of journaling, and the joy that comes with creativity. She applies these lessons to everyday stressors kids encounter, including bullying or test jitters, providing solid context.

Just Breathe is a solid introduction to mindfulness and meditative practices for kids. I’m looking forward to adding it to my yoga collection, and want to see how a meditation program for school-age kids will go over at my library. I miss my yoga storytime!

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen

The Ultimate Survival Guide to Being a Girl – it ain’t easy out there

The Ultimate Survival Guide to Being a Girl, by Christina De Witte, with Chrostin, (Aug. 2018, Running Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-9043-1

Ages 13+

Being a teen is tough these days! Social media, body image, school, work… teens are under pressure. Webcomic author and illustrator, Christina De Witte, whose comic Chrostin follows the amusing day-to-day adventures of a young milennial, is here to help with advice on tattoos, sex and relationships, periods, mental and physical health, and more. Black and white illustrations starring Chrostin flow throughout the book.

The book may first present as a guide to puberty for tweens, but this is all for teen girls. Read Chrostin and you’ll quickly see that this is a comic for millennials, not up-and-coming kids. The author is only 20, putting her at a good age to offer advice; the book’s conversational tone and laid back language make this an easy read that readers can pick up at any point. The book is divided into 10 chapters, on issues including Internet safety, diversity, society, love, food, and fashion. She emphasizes healthy eating and endorses a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, including some quick and tasty recipes that come together cheaply and quickly; she also shares beauty and fashion hacks for a student’s salary.

The Ultimate Survival Guide to Being a Girl is a good reference to have on your shelves for teens. Want to learn a little more about Chrostin? BuzzFeed has a fun Chrostin article from 2016, and you can follow her on Instagram.

 

Posted in Teen, Tween Reads

An Odyssey of Her Own: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy, by Douglas Rees, (May 2018, Running Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780762463039

Ages 13+

Sixteen-year-old Elektra Kamenides was happy. She had a happy, secure life in the Mississippi college town where her father worked as a scholar on ancient Greece, and her mother, Helen, was an aspiring author. When her mother whisks Elektra and her 13-year-old sister, Thalia, out of Mississippi and away from their father, to go live on a roach-infested shack that alleges itself a houseboat in an area of California called Guadalupe Slough, Elektra is furious. Who wouldn’t be? The entire rug of her life has been pulled out from under her, and she can’t even get her father to return her calls. What is going on? Not even her sister Thalia’s endless optimism can shake Elektra, who decides she’s going to make like Odyseuss and get back to Mississippi. But like her Greek hero counterpart, the gods have other plans in store for Elektra.

Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy peeks into the end of a marriage, a coming of age, and the strength of community. With distance, Elektra sees that the hero she made her father out to be was not necessarily the case; an emergency serves as her wakeup call to make the most of the present, and she discovers that she can survive and thrive in her new community, surrounded by her supportive neighbors. There’s good and colorful character development, including a veteran with PTSD and a Latinx family whose San Jose roots go back for generations. The cast of characters are primarily white and Latinx. There are amusing interludes at the local library, where a neighbor – and later, Elektra – takes out hundreds of books a week to keep circulation numbers strong, for the sake of keeping the library open.

I enjoyed the pace of the storytelling, the characters, the situations, and the relationships between the characters. This one is a good add to your realistic fiction collections.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

August Picture Book Rundown

Loretta’s Gift, by Pat Zietlow Miller/Illustrated by Alea Marley, (Aug. 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1499806816

Recommended for readers 4-8

Loretta is a little girl who’s so excited when she learns that her aunt and uncle are having a baby! Everyone is busy getting ready for the baby; making things, buying things, preparing a room, but try as she might, Loretta can’t seem to make the perfect gift. When Baby Gabe is born, Loretta feeds with him and plays with him; she adores him and he has the biggest smiles for her. At Gabe’s first birthday party, Loretta is sad that she doesn’t have a gift for him yet, but when he falls and hurts himself, Loretta knows just what to do. Turns out, love is the best gift of all.

This gentle story is a sweet way to show kids that the best gifts aren’t bought; they’re already with us. Loretta’s capacity to love Gabe, to make him smile and laugh, and to comfort him, is a gift that means more to him than any toy that will break or be forgotten. The story delivers this message in the most loving of ways, while showing readers about the exciting preparations made for a new baby: the room decorating, the knitting, the collection of family photos, even wrestling with putting together the crib. Getting ready to welcome Gabe involves the whole family. Loretta’s parents makes the wonderful statement that “Babies are a celebration… of love. Of Life. Of hope”, and Loretta’s first response is to look at her aunt’s belly and wonder if all of that and a baby could fit in one belly? It’s an adorable and perfectly childlike reaction.

The artwork is warm, with earthy shades of green, orange, and muted, darker colors; there are some great textured patterns that make me think there may be some collage here. The illustrations give a comfortable, close feel to the story.

Loretta’s Gift is a nice addition to New Baby collections, and a good big brother/sister/relative gift idea.

 

How to Cook a Princess, by Ana Martinez Castillo/Illustrated by Laura Liz, Translated by Ben Dawlatly (Aug. 2018, nubeOCHO), $16.96, ISBN: 9788494692642

Recommended for ages 7-10

Dark fantasy fans with a morbid sense of humor, this one’s for you. No handsome princes are saving the day here: he’s likely to end up in a stew or as a side dish (with frog legs, to be precise). Gingrich the witch is famous for her recipes, and she dishes all here, where she cooks up the best of fairytale royalty. You’ll learn what kitchen utensils are best (a cage should have 12 padlocks and 2 chains, to prevent sneaky princesses from escaping) and how to trap a princess; there are recipes, like the Snow White Stew, which also gives a shout-out to the dwarves for their skill in rearing organic, free-range princess; and there are tasty treats, like little pigs, fairy godmothers, Puss in Boots, and, yes, Prince Charmings. It goes without saying that this hilarious book is best served with a side of tongue in cheek. The pencil artwork is loaded with gasps from horrified – or, really, more very annoyed – princesses and dark shades. This is a book of fairy tales for kids who don’t think they like fairy tales. Booktalk this one with The Lunch Witch graphic novels. How to Cook a Princess was originally released in Spanish in 2017.

 

A Place for Pluto, by Stef Wade/Illustrated by Melanie Demmer, (Aug. 2018, Capstone), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-68446-004-5

Ages 5-8

Pluto is a happy little planet; he’s one of the famous Nine and life’s all good until the day the news breaks: he’s not a planet anymore. He’s confused and sad, and wanders around the universe trying to figure out where he fits in: can he be a comet, like his buddy, Haley? How about a meteoroid or an asteroid? Just when Pluto doesn’t think he fits in anywhere, he meets a whole new group of friends who are just like him: the dwarf planets! This book is just adorable, and it’s my son’s favorite of the BookExpo 2018 haul. It’s a smart approach to explaining Pluto’s history to readers, with a timeline (1930 – Pluto’s a planet! 2006 – Nope, it’s not!) and information on what makes Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea dwarf planets, as opposed to part of the Big Nine. With an upbeat messages about identity, acceptance, and friendship, and adorable artwork, this is a must-add to your planet books. (We sing They Might Be Giants’ “How Many Planets?” planet song – modified to include all the dwarf planets, Haley’s comet, and a few galaxies – at home, after reading this one.)

 

 

The Truth About Dinosaurs, by Guido van Genechten, (Aug. 2018, Clavis Publishing), $18.95, ISBN: 978-1-60537-423-9

Ages 5-10

A chicken walks readers through its family history to prove that they are descended from dinosaurs. Family resemblances include has similar feet and feathers, in addition to that whole egg-hatching business. Presented as a family album, The Truth About Dinosaurs is a fun introduction to dino science for readers, with an accessible illustration of evolution from dinosaur to modern-day birds, and ends with the chicken hatching a rather large dino egg. Guido van Genecthen uses earth tones and his cartoony look to make non-threatening dinosaurs, and the green chicken is an amusing host to the book. The scrapbook features BC dates when showing off the “family photos” throughout history, and each dinosaur’s weight appears on tags that look like amusement part tickets. It’s a cute, additional add for your dino collections.

 

Maximillian Villainous, by Margaret Chiu Greanias/Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow, (Aug. 2018, Running Press Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762462971

Ages 5-8

Poor Maximillian Villainous! He’s from a long line of villainous monsters, but he doesn’t have it in him to be mean. He always finds a way to make up for things his family does, like giving Santa Claus the keys to the family car when his father stole Santa’s sleigh, or sending Mother Nature to a spa when his mother stole her powers. But when his family threatens to get rid of his pet bunny – it’s not a suitably villainous sidekick – he promises to succeed at three evil tasks to make things right. He’s got to steal something; make someone cry, and gain fame by being devious. What his family doesn’t realize is how open to interpretation that is! Maximillian Villainous is a sweet story about being true to oneself, accepting who you are – even if that’s different from how those around you think you should be – and the wonderful power of kind acts. The storytelling is light and plays with interpretation, and the artwork reminds me of Richard Scarry’s bold colors and big facial expressions. Pair this one with Mo Willems’ Leonardo the Terrible Monster for some monsters that aren’t really very monstrous.

 

That’s a taste of what August has in store. What books are you excited for?

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

A mother’s love letter to her daughter: When I Carried You In My Belly

When I Carried You In My Belly, by Thrity Umrigar/Illustrated by Ziyue Chen, (Apr. 2017, Running Press Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-6058-8

Recommended for readers 3-7

A mother explains where all of her daughter’s wonderful qualities were born: as she grew in her mother’s belly. Her mother laughed so hard that baby laughed, too; that’s why she has a great laugh today. Her grandmother’s loving hands built her crib, and grandfather made sweets to eat; that’s why she dreams softly at night and is so sweet. Her mother sangs joyful songs in different languages, and that’s why the girl feels at home anywhere in the world. It’s a sweet love story between mother and daughter, but also illustrates the love and importance of family.

This is a first picture book for author Thrity Umrigar, who hopes that children will come away understanding the importance of family and the importance of being kind and generous. Her text – a mother lavishing praise on her daughter while reminiscing about her pregnancy – combined with Ziyue Chen’s joyful illustrations featuring multicultural characters, invites children to laugh and play together, part of a world community.

This is a great baby shower gift: the story embraces motherhood, empowers mothers to love their bodies (mom happily belly dances with a beautiful bare midriff), and encourages mother-child interaction from the womb. I remember the little tickles and wiggles I felt with each of my boys even now. I remember playing with them, pushing on my belly in one spot and the delight in seeing a little hand (or foot) push back in response. It’s also a good reading choice for a discussion group, to get moms talking with one another, and their children, about their own pregnancies and what they love about their children. When I Carried You in My Belly is a love letter from mother to child, and a love letter to mothers everywhere.

Display this with books on family and individuality. I like Mary Ann Hoberman’s All Kinds of Families, Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers, The Family Book, by Todd Parr, and What I Like About Me, by Allia Zobel-Nolan.

Thrity Umrigar is the bestselling author of a memoir and six novels, including The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and The Story Hour. Her books, articles, and more information is available via her website. Ziyue Chen’s work has been recognized in the 3×3 Picture Book Show (2014), SCBWI’s SI Scholarship (2013), the Society of Illustrators’ Student Scholarship Show (2013), and Creative Quarterly (2012). You can see more of her illustration at her website.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

The Blue Songbird discovers her song

The Blue Songbird, by Vern Kousky, (Apr. 2017, Running Press Kids), $22.49, ISBN: 9780762460663

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young blue songbird wishes that she could sing like her sisters. She wants to sing along with them, but she can’t seem to sing like they do. Her mother encourages her to go and find a special song that only she can sing, and the little bird sets off in search of her special song. She meets other birds and experiences the world, only to discover that, upon reaching home again, her song was inside of her all along.

The sweet story of self-awareness also shows readers that your experiences help make you who you are. The songbird’s song is influenced by her travels and who she met; the music was inside of her all along, but venturing out – and returning home – helped shape the music into a song.

The watercolor artwork is beautiful to look at. The colors are soft and the depiction of the music, as a spray of notes and color, is lovely and stirring. The text encourages kids to explore their world, even if, at a young age, that world is their backyards, their playgrounds, their friends’ homes. At the same time, it reassures kids that they can always return home.

There are so many ways to enjoy and extend the lessons put forth in this story. The little birds can be recreated with thumbprint art. Have little readers make their own songbird families by using watercolor paint, dipping their thumbs into a color, and giving their own songbirds adventures in finding their songs. Encourage kids to go on scavenger hunts – I love this idea for scavenger hunt bags and plan to go on an adventure with my little guy once this crazy NYC weather lets up – to explore the world around them.

Good readalikes for this book include A Song for Papa Crow, by Marit Menzin, and the classic Over in the Meadow. Over the Meadow also makes a good singalong and flannel play.

Vern Kousky is an adjunct professor of English for Touro College and the author of the award-winning book, Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry. You can see more of his artwork, including some interior art from The Blue Songbird, at his website.

Posted in Early Reader, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Blog Tour: Beautiful, by Stacy McAnulty

beautiful_1Beautiful, by Stacy McAnulty, (Sept. 2016, Running Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-7624-5781-6

“Every girl is unique, talented, and lovable… Every girl is BEAUTIFUL.”

Sure, sugar and spice and everything nice, is fine for some, but snips, snails and puppy dog tails are pretty great, too. Stacy McAnulty’s Beautiful sends an empowering message: You can be beautiful when you’re dressed like a pirate, when you’re digging in the garden, or you’re creating your own robot army. Loving yourself is beautiful, and Stacy McAnulty’s empowering message is conveyed by Joanne Lew Vriethoff’s gorgeous artwork, which shows beautiful little girls in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, laughing, having fun, being brilliant, and being beautiful.

This is the best kind of diverse book, because it encourages, it empowers, all kids to embrace life and joy. The message is clear, with pictures that interpret the text in the best way:

BEAUTIFUL_int.indd

BEAUTIFUL_int.indd

The endpapers carry this celebration of beauty by featuring a field of pink, with crayon-drawn butterflies and flowers, and overlaid with brightly colored frogs, bugs, and snails.

This book is for everyone: for the little girl who knows she wants to be the president-ballerina-astronaut when she grows up; for her mom, who wanted (and maybe achieved) the same. For the dad whose little princesses sing “Let it Go” while playing with their Transformers, and the brothers whose sisters are right next to them, scaling a tree on a lazy day. Boys and girls, men and women alike, all need Beautiful in their lives, to remind them to embrace all forms of beauty where they discover them.

You can pre-order Beautiful from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound. You can also add it to your GoodReads.

Make sure you check out the rest of the stops on the BEAUTIFUL blog tour!

8/29 Flowering Minds
8/30 Kids’ Book Review
8/31 My Word Playground
9/1 Stacking Books
9/2 Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books
9/3 MomReadIt
9/5 Enjoy Embrace Learning
9/6 Geo Librarian
9/7 A Foodie Bibliophile
9/8 MamaBelly
9/10 Diapers and Daydreams
9/11 The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
9/12 Unconventional Librarian