Posted in Animal Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Picture Book Roundup: Cats and Dogs, Bears, Birds, and Dinosaurs!

I’m still going through my BookExpo bags (okay, I’ve moved them from one area of my room to another), but in the meantime, I’ve got picture books to talk about! Some are available, some are up-and-coming, all are a pleasure to read. Let’s take a look at what’s good!

SumoKitty, by David Biedrzycki, (Aug. 2019, Charlesbridge), $18.99, ISBN: 9781580896825

Ages 5-9

A stray cat hangs around a sumo training center, hoping for some food. He’s about to be thrown out by the manager when one of the sumo shrieks: a mouse! Looks like the kitty has a new job and a new home, which he quickly becomes accustomed to. But the good life makes him lose his edge: he’s gained weight and the mice come back with a vengeance. Tossed back out into nature, Kumo, a kind sumo, lets the cat back in, but levels with him: the mice have humbled the cat like the sumo’s main opponent, the yokozuna, has humbled him. From there, SumoKitty starts a faithful training routine, inspired by Kuna’s disciplined regiment. When a mouse dares show up in the dojo next time, SumoKitty is there, pushing and tossing the mouse and his friends around until they clear out for good. He’s rewarded by not only being welcomed back to the dojo, but he’s given a sweet topknot haircut, too. He also gets a front row seat at the next sumo tournament, where he watches his friend Kumo face his own demons and takes on his longtime opponent.

A sweet story about overcoming challenges, SumoKitty is loaded with Japanese sumo terms and wise observations like “Fall down seven times; get up eight” and “Even monkeys fall from trees”. Adorable SumoKitty is cartoonish with large, expressive eyes and exaggerated facial expressions, while the sumo artwork appears inspired by Japanese woodblock paintings. The black and white endpapers give readers a before-and-after glimpse into the story, with a mouse running in a Zen garden as someone maintains the area; later, SumoKitty is fast asleep on a rock in the same Zen garden, no maintainer, and no mouse present. It’s a sweet peek into sumo culture and an all-around fun read. Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Happiness are nice readalikes to SumoKitty; for a good giggle and a more madcap take on sumo, you can’t go wrong with David Wisniewski’s Sumo Mouse, which has been a favorite in my home since my eldest (now 20) was in Kindergarten and continues to be required reading with my first grader.

 

Hey, Dog, by Tony Johnson/Illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, (June 2019, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580898775

Ages 4-8

A boy finds a dog hiding in a bush. The dog is afraid, runs, but the boy returns, time and again, to care for the dog, leaving him food, water, even an umbrella propped up to cover him in the rain. The boy confides in his mother that the dog is skinny and has scars; he refuses to give up on Dog, determined if not to earn his trust, then to care for him.

Hey, Dog crushed me. It’s just gorgeous writing that packs an emotional punch. The boy’s relationship with his mother, who is nervous – her son is trying to care for a strange dog that could very well bite him, right? – but supports her empathetic child, helping him in any way she can and the boy’s quiet resilience in the face of Dog’s fear and mistrust will make you have hope for people after all. The boy is written so wonderfully, whether he’s asking a shopkeeper if his dog food “is the most luscious” or when he drops to his knees, tears “warming his face”, as he tries to comprehend how anyone could have it in them to hurt an animal. Dog is illustrated to provoke another emotional gut punch; his cringing and reticence come through so viscerally, it’ll bring tears to your eyes. Seeing this poor pup, single paw raised, ribs poking through his coat, and trusting once more to lick the boy’s hand make this story a powerful, must-have book for you collection. Read this, hand this to kids, talk about the need for empathy in our world.

 

 

Bear’s Book, by Claire Freedman/Illustrated by Alison Friend, (May 2019, Templar Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536205718

Ages 4-8

Bear loves to read, but his favorite book of stories has been read to bits! He decides to create his own story, but holy writer’s block, he can’t think of anything! He decides to go for a stroll and see if inspiration hits, and meets several friends along the way. When he returns home and goes over his day, he realizes that the best inspiration comes from one’s own adventures!

This is an adorable story of inspiration and friendship, and fits nicely with Small Moments writing prompts. Bear’s adventure is a series of small moments, pulled together to create a lovely adventure. He’s inspired by his friends, and they have all enjoyed their friend’s company for a day. A fold-out spread publishes Bear’s story for his friends – and our – enjoyment. Mixed media illustrations are gently rendered with soft earth tones.  This one is a sweet storytime pick, and good inspiration for a Summer Reading creative writing program.

 

 

My Name Isn’t Oof!: Warren the Warbler Takes Flight, by Michael Galligan/Illustrated by Jeremiah Tramell, (May 2019, Little Bigfoot), $17.99, ISBN: 9781632171931

Ages 4-8

A little bird tries to fly after watching his siblings take off, but he falls, landing with a giant, “Oof!” Naturally, every animal in the forest has an opinion, and to add insult to injury, they all call him “Oof”! The chipmunk says he forgot to jump; the Mouse says he needs to spread his wings; Squirrel says he has to flap. While they all have feedback aplenty on Warren’s flying prowess, they manage to bonk, push, and trip one another up, but Warren – who keeps protesting this new nickname – finally takes to the sky, to everyone’s cheering!

A cute story of perseverance with some hilarious physical comedy, My Name Isn’t Oof! will have younger readers giggling during a read-aloud, especially if you move around and act out the story. The repeated phrase, “My name isn’t Oof!” is a good discussion point to get kids talking about how unwanted nicknames can stick; you can also point out that while all the animals jump to find fault with Warren’s first flight, they’re just as clumsy as he is: no one is perfect! Back matter includes a paragraph on the Townsend Warbler, the kind of bird our star Warren is, and what readers can do if they find a baby bird fallen from a nest. Suggest Charlie Alder’s Daredevil Duck as a readalike for more humorous stories of overcoming obstacles.

 

 

How To Take Care of Your Dinosaur, by Jason Cockcroft, (May 2019, Nosy Crow), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536205688

Ages 3-6

Taking care of your very own dinosaur is a very big job! How to Take Care of Your Dinosaur is here to help. Written similar to a handy-dandy manual, the book takes a look at some of the more light-hearted moments in pet parenting a dinosaur. Taking your dino for a walk? Bring a bucket and a shovel, there’s no pooper scooper that’s built for this job. Dinos can be a little tough on sharing, so make sure to get them around new people and encourage them to make friends! The book stresses the importance of routine when caring for your dinosaur; something parents and caregivers will appreciate!

Digital illustrations are adorable and feature soft colors. The endpapers add to the fun: the front endpapers show a mailman struggling under the weight of a gigantic package (the egg); the back endpapers show a brick wall, papered with “Dino Sale” flyers, and feature the poor mailman laboring with two giant packages this time.

A fun storytime addition. Pair with Dragons Get Colds, Too for a fun, wacky pet-related storytime.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Unicorn Day: All are welcome!

Unicorn Day, by Diana Murray/Illustrated by Luke Flowers, (June 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492667223

Ages 3-7

It’s Unicorn Day! All the unicorns come out to play and show their unicorn pride; they shine up their horns, they fluff up their manes, and they sing the Unicorn Day song as they dance and celebrate. But what happens when a horse tries to fit in with a fake horn on Unicorn Day? Why, the unicorns embrace him and get back to celebrating! Unicorn Day is for everyone!

Sliding down rainbows? Raining cupcakes? A glitter fight? This is the best book ever! Unicorn Day is an adorable tale of fun, celebration, and inclusivity. No mean unicorns here! These unicorns know how to have fun and want everyone around them to feel as happy and loved as they do. The rhyming text has a festive feel, and Luke Flowers’ colorful, vibrant art will get your little readers up and marching. Alligators, octopus, even a yeti parade across the page, all sporting unicorn horns and megawatt smiles. I love the joyful feel of the story, and the positive message about making space for everyone. Author Diana Murray has a free, downloadable activity kit available that has everything you need for your own unicorn party, including tasty recipes, a pin-the-horn on the unicorn game, invitations, and name tags. This Craftiness is Not Optional post also has a cute step-by-step to make your own glittery unicorn horns using scrapbooking paper. Want to make unicorn balloons? Here’s a template from the Minidrops blog; the post is in German, but the pictures are there to guide you.

Slip this into your Pride storytimes, your unicorn storytimes, and your anytime storytimes. It’s feel-good storytelling, and a must-have for your collections!

Seriously, though, check out Diana Murray’s author website. I’ve been a fan for several years now; she’s got goodies attached to most of her book pages, and her books are consistently wonderful. Follow Luke Flowers on Instagram to see more of his adorable artwork, and because he’s a great guy who personalizes books at his signings. (My 7-year-old is still thrilled with his ‘Be T-Rexcellent’ message and drawing on his copy of One More Dino on the Floor.)

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Can friendship can make Spiky less prickly?

Spiky, by Ilaria Guarducci/Translated by Laura Watkinson, (June 2019, Amazon Crossing Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542040433

Ages 4-8

Spiky is one of the new books from Amazon’s new imprint, Amazon Crossing Kids, publishing children’s books in translation. Originally published in Italian, Spiky tells the story of a rather prickly fellow named Spiky. He’s brown and covered with spikes, and he’s a big bully. His spikes keep everyone around him at arm’s length, and he just revels in being mean; he pulls the wings off butterflies, he puts birds in glass jars, and he pokes holes in snail shells, all for the sake of being mean. But one day, his spikes start falling out. Before he knows it, Spiky is now a big, pink, spikeless marshmallow who isn’t scary at all. How the tables have turned! Bernardo, a kind bunny, befriends Spiky and shows him how nice it is to be surrounded by friends, especially when there are no spikes to stand between them. Eventually, Spiky’s spikes come back and he begins to re-embrace the Bad Side, but his heart just isn’t in it anymore. Bernardo still sees his friend under all those spikes, and that kind gesture is all Spiky needs to realize that feeling good is pretty darn awesome.

Spiky is a sweet story about a bully who changes his ways and the difference having one good friend can make. Spiky is raised to be mean – the story even notes that his father sends him to “the best school for badness in the whole country” – giving readers a heads-up, particularly us grown-ups, that children learn what they live. Raised and encouraged to be mean, Spiky’s badness runs unchecked until he finds himself in a vulnerable position. From here, Bernardo the bunny comes in and nudges the story into a sweet one of redemption and friendship, leading Spiky down a very different, upbeat path by showing him kindness.

A cute story for storytime, and offers some good moments for discussion with preschoolers to second graders. Ilaria Guarducci’s Facebook page also offers some adorable Spiky artwork that you can have your kiddos easily create: get some brown (and pink) construction paper, a box of toothpicks, some glue, and voila!

See more of Ilaria Guarducci’s artwork at her blog.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

When Pencil Met Eraser… a story of friendship

When Pencil Met Eraser, by Karen Kilpatrick & Luis O. Ramos, Jr./Illustrated by German Blanco, (May 2019, Macmillan), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250309396

Ages 3-6

Ever wonder how Pencil and Eraser met? This adorable story provides the origin story for one of history’s most enduring dynamic duos. Pencil loves to draw and he likes to work alone; that is, until Eraser shows up and starts “enhancing” Pencil’s work. Pencil, challenged, starts creating more and more, only to have Eraser put finishing touches that make everything more dynamic, with more depth and interest. Eraser is relentlessly upbeat, making him an adorable and amusing foil to the grumpy Pencil. When the two collaborate on a maze, their future together is sealed: together, they’re unstoppable.

When Pencil Met Eraser is a story about teamwork, about friendship, and about creativity. It’s very similar to Max Amato’s Perfect, and I love both books’ use of erasure to create art. Pencil is adorable, with a wide-open smile and who performs acrobatic moves throughout the story, as he buzzes around Pencil’s creations; Pencil is a sweet curmudgeon, with hands pressed to his hip area and a slash for both eyebrows and mouth. He softens up and reveals a sweet smile all his own.

Macmillan offers a free, downloadable activity kit for When Pencil Met Eraser that makes a great storytime enhancement! Try some erasure art with your storytime groups, and see what the kids come up with. Add this to your friendship storytimes for laughs.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads

Keira Gillett wraps up Aleks Mickelsen’s trilogy with the Eighth Fox Throne War

Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War, by Keira Gillett/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan/maps by Kaitlin Statz, (May 2019, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 9781942750123

Ages 10+

The second trilogy in Keira Gillett’s Zaria Fierce series is loaded with the epic battles, dragon fights, and complex relationships that have defined the series, but most important, the friendship between the core characters: Aleks, Zaria, Christoffer, Geirr, and Filip, the original group of friends from Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest, have been through a lot together: kidnapping by trolls; magical fantasy worlds and the discovery that Zaria and Aleks are royalty within this magical realm; fantastic beasts (who always seem to know where to find them), and epic battles, just to name a few. In this last Aleks Mickelsen adventure, Fritjof, the chaos dragon, is still causing trouble in Niffelheim, and Aleks and his friends – the original gang, plus stag lord Henrik, Airi the raven, Aleks’s fey sister, Nori – are ready to take him down. If they can get through the army of dwarf ravagers on their trail and past the warring fey courts, that is.

Aleks continues to grow as a character in the Eighth Fox Throne War. Ever conflicted over whether to embrace his fey gifts or abandon them to remain human, he makes decisions based on the good of a people who don’t want him: he’s a changeling, and is on the receiving end of a lot of prejudice and anger. The fact that he’s king isn’t helping. There’s intrigue and war on a previously untold level here, so upper middle graders and middle schoolers are more the target audience for this series. The characters have grown up, are experiencing first love (Filip and Zaria, now Aleks and Saskia, a Winter Court fey and love interest), and are in fights for their lives and the lives of both Niffleheim and the modern world.

Relationships are at the heart of every Keira Gillett fantasy, and that’s what makes these books so good. The high fantasy aspects – the dragons, the epic conflicts, the grandiose ceremonies – they’re brilliant, but the emotion, the investment in these characters and their ties to one another, is what makes it all come together. Eoghan Kerrigan’s artwork is as fantastic as ever, bringing Keira Gillett’s incredible creatures and characters to life ; Kaitlin Statz’s maps help readers place themselves in the story.

Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War is a strong conclusion to another character arc in the Zaria Fierce series. Give this series to your high fantasy fans and watch them ask for more. (Ahem… nudge your Magnus Chase readers to explore this one!)

Author Keira Gillett is having a virtual book launch party on May 23 from 10:30-midnight! Put on your pajamas and join for a book reading, trivia, bingo, and a Q&A session!

Posted in Uncategorized

Two picture books about summer… and life

Waiting for Chicken Smith, by David Mackintosh, (May 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207712

Ages 4-8

A young boy waits for his friend to show up at the family’s summer rental in this story about summer, relationships, and change. The boy, a child of color, narrates the story as he waits for Chicken Smith to show up. The boy talks about Chicken Smith, his dog, Jelly, and the fun summers the two friends have had in the past as he waits, holding a “crazy shell from the gas-station shop” as a gift. Where the heck is his friend? Readers know; in the beautifully detailed pages, we see an empty cabin with a “Summer Rental” sign. The boy’s sister finally manages to get his attention, and the two glimpse a whale: something he and Chicken Smith have never been able to catch together, not even with binoculars. The boy and his sister head back to the cabin and enjoy their evening together, and he wonders if he’ll see Chicken Smith next year.

Originally published in the U.K., Chicken Smith is a story about change and summer friendships. Readers feel the boy’s longing as he waits for his friend; it’s in his voice as he recalls summers past, the cool shell he found for him, and the fact that he’s so focused on waiting for Chicken Smith that he ignores just about everything going on around him. His sister is finally able to get through to him through sheer persistence, and that’s when the Chicken Smith spell is broken: there’s a whale to watch. The story is almost achingly sad at points; when the boy askis, “What is taking Chicken Smith so long, anyway? We’re missing out on everything”, we just know he won’t be there this year – and sure enough, the next page shows an empty cabin, and the boy describes the windows being shut and seeing a cobweb with a fly in it. David Mackintosh pulls readers and the narrator back from the brink by giving us a new relationship to discover: the relationship between the boy and his sister, brought together by the whale. The two go back to their cabin and look at his whale book, then make plans to go on a shell hunt. The boy ends on an optimistic tone, hoping he’ll see Chicken Smith next year, but deciding to enjoy his sister’s company for this year. The pen, pencil, ink, watercolor, and kraft paper artwork come together to create a child’s scrapbook-like feel for summer memories.

Waiting for Chicken Smith has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Sea Glass Summer, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, (May 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763684433

Ages 5-8

A boy named Thomas explores the beach by his grandmother’s seaside cottage. Using his grandfather’s magnifying glass, he discovers the complex beauty in nature: grains of sand look as big as rocks, and clamshells have swirls of color. But the discovery of sea glass is what really fascinates Thomas. Learning how sea glass is made – a piece of glass, dropped into the sea, becomes worn smooth and cloudy over time – and that his grandfather said that “every piece of sea glass has a story all its own” fuels his imagination; he finds himself dreaming of ship christenings and ships caught in storms; stories that could give rise to the found glass on the beach. When he and his grandmother head back to the mainland, the magnifying glass shatters, and he tosses the glass into the sea. Years later, a girl named Annie discovers sea glass on the beach, and brings her discovery to her grandfather, an older man she calls Papaw Tom.

Sea Glass Summer is a moving inter-generational story that beautifully recreates the feel of summer: warm, lazy days on the beach; the smell of the sea air, the grains of sand, rough against your fingertips, the smooth sea glass in the palm of your hand. In between these cozy summer memories, there’s a story that reaches across decades, linking a grandfather and his granddaughter, in a story that stirs the imagination and tugs at the heartstrings. An author’s note notes that sea glass was more common in the days before recycling awareness.

I loved Sea Glass Summer. This one is a summer classic.

Sea Glass Summer has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Patience is hard: Now? Not yet!

Now? Not Yet!, by Gina Perry, (June 2019, Tundra), $17.99, ISBN: 9781101919521

Ages 3-6

Peanut and Moe, the two monster friends from Too Much! Not Enough! are back in another story of negotiation. The two buddies are on a camping trip, and Peanut wants to go swimming. Moe has other plans, though; thus begins the back and forth of “Now?” and “Not yet”. Peanut is dying to get in the water, but Moe is methodical: Moe wants to hike; snack; set up camp, all while Peanut bounces up and down, asking the same question, until finally, in a burst of frustration, yells, “NOW! NOW! NOW!” Moe, just as frustrated, yells back, “NOT YET!” The two friends take a break from one another, during which Peanut gets camp set up, and Moe dashes by, ready for a swim. The two finish their day by a campfire, happily enjoying one another’s company over s’mores.

Now? Not Yet! beautifully captures toddler and preschooler (okay, and many, many adults) behavior. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out with my kids, having this same scenario play out. Every parent and caregiver will see themselves and their little ones in this story, and every kid will empathize with Peanut’s desire to do what he wants, only to be made to wait. Frustration? Kids and adults feel it, so the meltdown spread will resonate with your storytime group for sure. I’ve asked the kids in my storytime how many times they’ve felt like Peanut, and gotten loads of hollers and stomps; when I’ve asked parents if they have ever felt like Moe, I’ve gotten knowing nods and smiles. The moral of the story? Patience and compromise pay off.

Gina Perry’s books are popular with my storytime crowd: Small is still in high demand, and Now? Not Yet! really got through to kids and caregivers alike. The artwork is adorable, bright, and cherry. Peanut is small, peanut-shaped, and has floppy ears; Moe is big, blue, kind of boxy, with a long pink nose. They both have big, expressive eyes. The endpapers look like layouts of the camping excursion, each laid out by one of the duo: the front papers is more orderly, with defined art and a dotted line path to show the duo’s trip; the back papers are a hand-drawn memory of the day, with dotted lines, circling birds, campfires, s’mores, and a big lake with flippers, a beach ball, and a life preserver.

I love Now? Not Yet!, and will be putting this into regular storytime rotation. If you have toddlers and preschoolers are regular storytimes, consider adding this one. There’s a free, downloadable activity kit that includes a fun nature scavenger hunt, coloring sheets, and fun instructions to make your own indoor camping site, which I need to do with my kiddo, stat. Gina Perry’s author page has more free printables, including instructions on how to draw both Moe and Peanut.

Want more Peanut & Moe? Of course you do. Check out this adorable trailer!