Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

It’s all in how you see it… Do You Believe in Unicorns?

Do You Believe in Unicorns?, by Bethanie Deeney Murguia, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $14.99, ISBN: 9780763694685

Ages 3-7

Do You Believe in Unicorns is fun and absolutely magical. It’s a visual wink that starts out with the horse on the cover: a white horse in a top hat. The story that follows is a conversation between the narrator and the reader, who we think must be a unicorn. But that’s crazy, right? It’s just a horse in a hat! Or is it? The narrator comes up with excuses as to why the horse can’t be a unicorn – his hair is a mess; he’s trying to keep dry in the rain – while our cartoony friend, sporting a knowing smile, prances through the book, eventually joined by other unicorns – HORSES! – wearing hats. But wait! The horses left their hats behind! And here’s where the joke is just perfect: the horses appear in front of spires, mountain peaks, and blades of grass. So, are those unicorns, or just expertly placed visual puns? Like the story says: “Maybe you can only see unicorns if you believe in them.”

What a way to bring magic into someone’s day. The cartoony art makes the unicorn/horse instantly kid-friendly, and its knowing smirk lets on that there may be more than meets the eye at play here. The facial expressions are an outright hoot, as our horse side-eyes other hat-wearing horses and admires himself in a mirror. It’s a lovely way to let kids know that there may be magical moments all around them, and a wonderful way to remind adults of the days when we believed in unicorns, too (and may still). And keep your eye on the lizard at the end of the story: he may be more than he appears, too. An absolute must-add to collections and great gift choice.

Do You Believe in Unicorns has starred reviews from Kirkus and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, and is a Junior Library Guild selection. I think I’m adding this to my Caldecott longlist.

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Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A dad and son share special time during the Night Shift

Night Shift, by Karen Hesse/Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763662387

Ages 4-7

It’s a Friday night, and a boy and his dad head out at sundown for his father’s night shift as a school custodian. The pair ride to school on the boy’s father’s motorcycle, and as Dad cleans, the boy finds ways to himself busy; the two listening to a ball game on the radio. They eat their packed lunch together, and the boy reads to his father until he falls asleep on the couch. When Dad’s shift has ended, he wakes his son up, and they share a ride back home, where the boy cleans out his father’s lunch box, and curls up next to him on the recliner, drifting to sleep in his father’s embrace.

This gentle story shows a special relationship between father and son. The quiet blues and brows and mixed media are calming and provide a feeling that we’re getting a private glimpse into this family’s loving bond. The moment father and son unwrap their sandwiches and eat together is such a touching moment, the son genuinely happy to share this time with Dad as he leans into him, smiling; Dad smiling down on him. Dad gently puts his sleepy son into his jacket as they get ready to leave at 4 a.m. The boy curls into his father, head nuzzled into the crook of his father’s neck; his father’s head is turned away from readers, cheek on his son’s head. It’s a wonderful story that tells readers that quality time is what you make of it.

Narrated by the son, the prose shows a boy so aware of everything around him: the smell of the fish as they drive over the bay; the scent of the lilacs by the school; the sigh of the building as his father opens the door to the school; even what he imagines is the scene at the baseball game on the radio, “where the sun is shining on an emerald field”. Karen Hesse gives readers a feast for the senses and G. Brian Karas uses color to accent special moments throughout the text, be it the green couch that the boy naps on, his red sneakers, or the purple lilacs by the school building.

Night Job is a Junior Library Guild selection and has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Karen Hesse is a Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction winner. G. Brian Karas has illustrated more than 90 children’s books.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

How islands raised an activist: Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña, by Marsha Diane Arnold

Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña, by Marsha Diane Arnold/Illustrated by Angela Domínguez, translated by Adriana Dominguez, (Sept. 2018, Lee & Low Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9780892394135

Ages 4-8

This bilingual English/Spanish story is based on the life of Galápagos Islands conservationist Valentina Cruz. Raised on the island, Valentina grew up surrounded by beauty: the blue-green sea, the playful penguins and sea lions, the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks, and her father’s two tortoises, Carlitos and Isabela. Valentina goes away to school, but promises the animals and her islands that “I will not forget you… And I will help to keep you safe.” It’s a promise she keeps, returning to the islands on school holidays, camping out on remote islands to live and learn among the different flora and fauna, eventually becoming a biologist who returns to the islands to teach visitors to love her home as she does, and about the importance of preservation and conservation.

Author Marsha Diane Arnold met Valentina on a 2007 trip to the Galápagos and was inspired to write Galápagos Girl in the hope that readers would learn, as Valentina did, to help keep nature safe. Under threat from invasive species, active tourism, and encroaching humans, plant and animal life on the Galápagos is increasingly vulnerable. With bright, tropical colors and bold illustration, Pura Belpré Honoree Angela Dominguez transports readers to the magical islands; she communicates the feeling that we’re seeing something truly special as Valentina moves among unique plants and animals that aren’t found anywhere else on Earth. We’re given a special, secret pass to paradise as we turn each page of Galápagos Girl, and reading it with an unabashed sense of wonder will inspire that spark in a storytime group. An author’s note and a note about the Islands explains Marsha Diane Arnold’s first meeting with Valentina and provides background on the Islands. Five pages of information about the animals introduced in the story adds nice background information to the story, as does a solid bibliography. The bilingual text makes it accessible to Spanish and English-speaking readers.

The storytelling gives readers a glimpse at Valentina’s passion for conservation and illustrates how growing up with a respect for nature creates a better world for everyone. Galápagos Girl is a worthwhile add to storytime collections, bilingual collections, and natural history collections. There’s a free Animals of the Galápagos matchup download available at the Lee & Low website.

Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture-book author. Her past titles include the Smithsonian Notable Book The Pumpkin Runner and Lost. Found., which received three starred reviews. Marsha was inspired to write this story after traveling to the Galápagos Islands, where she met Valentina Cruz and had the opportunity to swim with sea lions and dolphins. She lives with her family in Alva, Florida. You can find her online at marshadianearnold.com.

Angela Domínguez is the author and illustrator of several books for children, including the Children’s Book Press title Let Me Help! / Quiero ayudar!Marta Big and Small, and Maria Had a Little Llama, which received the Pura Belpré Illustration Honor. In 2016, she received her second Pura Belpré Honor for her illustrations in Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina. When Angela is not in her studio, she teaches at the Academy of Art University, which honored her with their Distinguished Alumni Award. She lives in Virginia. Visit her online at angeladominguezstudio.com.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Interrupting Chicken discovers The Elephant of Surprise!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763688424

Ages 4-8

The current storytime favorite in my home is the newest one from David Ezra Stein! Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is the follow-up to 2011’s Caldecott Medal winner, Interrupting Chicken, and reunites readers with the dynamic duo of Chicken and his dad. In this outing, Chicken has learned about a valuable literary tool: the elephant of surprise. Papa tries to correct him, telling him that he must be referring to the element of surprise, but Chicken knows what he heard. He and Papa turn to the books for proof, and sure enough, through three classic fairy tales and one of Papa’s own stories – drawn by Chicken, naturally – darned if that elephant doesn’t show up at the most hilarious moments!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is laugh-out-loud hilarious. My 6-year-old and I cackle through each reading, especially when the delicious moment of suspense arises. We read the fairy tale excerpt. I give him the side eye as I linger over the page. He giggles uncontrollably, turns the page with me, and…

Just like that.

 

There’s everything to love about this story: the so-familiar feel of the dialogue between caregiver and child (especially when that child is convinced they are right), the fun of playing with language and following a kid’s thought pattern through storytelling, and the vibrant, fun artwork throughout the book, especially the handwriting dialogue fonts and the drawn-in, colorful elephant inserting itself right into those fusty, bland-colored classics.

Add this one to your shelves, right next to its companion book, Interrupting Chicken. It’s essential bedtime, storytime, anytime reading for kids, and would make a fun surprise guest in a creative writing program or ELA class. I think I may have to add this one to my Mock Caldecott list for 2018.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Book Tree: Books as resistance!

The Book Tree, by Paul Czajak/Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, (Sept. 2018, Barefoot Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781782854050

Ages 4-8

A boy named Arlo gets so wrapped up in his book that he doesn’t catch it in time when it slips, falls, and thumps the mayor on the head, prompting the official to tear up all the books, telling the people that “I will tell you what you need to know”. Luckily, a single page manages to float away and plant itself in the earth, where it will eventually grow; in the meantime, though, life is pretty awful without books: schools have nothing to teach; actors have nothing to act; and story time becomes nap time, because there’s nothing to read. Arlo begins making up his own stories, which feed the fledgling book plant, so Arlo writes and reads to the plant until it grows into a fantastic book tree, yielding ripe new stories, which Arlo harvests and shares with the town, which blossoms, once again, thanks to the fresh infusion of knowledge. Even the mayor ultimately discovers the joy to be found in a book.

Talk about a timely story. With an autocrat who’s afraid of books (“Books are dangerous! I don’t trust them. They act like seeds, which grow into ideas, and ideas turn into questions.”) and tries to control the flow of knowledge, reading becomes the ultimate act of resistance. The Book Tree also illustrates a very gloomy life without stories: no storytimes; no theatres; no new learning. Taking away the written word takes away a culture, a history, a civilization – why else are libraries and archives deliberately targeted during times of war?

Paul Czajak also shows how quickly people can lose interest in reading if it isn’t nurtured: Arlo reads his original stories out loud to an ignorant populace. Thanks to Arlo’s determination, the buried page hears him and thrives; he nurtures the love of reading, the new ideas feeding the plant, until it blossoms – and finally, boredom brings readers back to the tree, where Arlo hands out more books, sparking the public’s interest again. The Book Tree eloquently captures society today, making it a cautionary tale as much as it’s an inspirational one. Rashin Kheiriyeh’s oil paint and collage artwork gives a lovely crispness to the work, and brings the books to life by making them stand out against the page. Arlo, with his little beret and blue hair, is a little counterculture activist for a new group of readers. Her collage and drawn artwork present a fantastic contrast, really letting the stories yet to be told flow from books and Arlo’s imagination. I particularly love the dragon emerging from a book in her tree, seeming to joyfully respond to Arlo’s narrative.

 

Paul Czajak’s Monster books have been a favorite on my library shelves for a couple of years; I’m looking forward to seeing the kids enjoy The Book Tree. Add this one to your activist collections, and make sure to stick this one on your Banned Books Week storytime for next year.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Stuff of Stars explores the beauty in science, love

The Stuff of Stars, by Marion Dane Bauer/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763678838

Ages 4-8

“In the dark, in the dark, in the deep, deep dark…” with this opening phrase, Newbery Honor winner Marion Dane Bauer and Caledecott Honor winning illustrator Ekua Holmes create a breathtaking story of the Big Bang, our connection to the stars, and celebrate the miracle of birth.

Marion Dane Bauer’s lyrical verse, set to Ekua Holmes, swirling hand-cut, digitally assembled marbled paper artwork gives readers a sense of being part of something much larger than themselves. The verse cradles readers, carrying them through the waiting, first for the Bang! and its expansions that form the planets and stars; through the formation of our planet and the life upon it, and through more waiting, dreaming, growing… and then a final burst upon the world: a child, made of stardust, breathing the same air, made of the same carbon, that formed the earth so long ago. Finding the figures within the ebb and flow of the greater art spreads cements our connection to the earth and one another. The book leaves me feeling small, yet overflowing with gratitude, every time I read it; whether I’m cuddled with my son, or I’m by myself and just want the comfort of its pages.

An absolute must-read, and a wonderful addition to picture book collections, fiction or non-fiction. Pair this with Jordan Crane’s graphic novel, We Are All Me, for exciting new takes on the science of life.

The Stuff of Stars has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Delivery Bear has a message about being yourself

Delivery Bear, by Laura Gehl/Illustrated by Paco Sordo, (Sept. 2018, Albert Whitman & Company), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-8075-1532-7

Ages 4-7

Zogby is a big, brown bear who’s wanted to be a Fluffy Tail Cookies delivery animal ever since he was a cub. When he finally gets his chance, he’s up against a few obstacles: management is a little concerned that he doesn’t have “the Fluffy Tail Cookies look”, and his trial run is less fluffy, more… terrifying. He tries to change his appearance to be less scary to his little woodland customers, but no one wants to give the big guy a chance! It’s time for Zogby to put the lyrics to the Fluffy Tail jingle to work: You are special! You are YOU! Zogby comes up with his own original song to put the animals at ease, and before he knows it, he’s being invited in for tea and giving out bear hugs.

Delivery Bear is an adorable story about judging other based on appearances, and about appreciating yourself for who you are.The book is loaded with comic moments of a friendly cartoon bear trying to be friendly, and wide-eyed little animals screaming in terror, but there are plenty of teachable moments to talk over with readers; most notably, why Zogby had to change his approach to be accepted. Is it right or wrong to change for someone else? There is a lot to talk about here. (There’s also the question of whether or not the hiring manager was facing a lawsuit for not hiring Zogby, based on appearances, but I digress.)

With cartoony, kid-friendly artwork and a sweet story about self-acceptance, Delivery Bear is a cute add to storytime collections. Author Laura Gehl has a bunch of free downloads on her author website, including curriculum guides and coloring sheets for her Peep & Egg series, and One Big Pair of Underwear (which is a storytime standard for me).