Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

A Horse Named Steve is exceptional! March 3, 2017

steveA Horse Named Steve, by Kelly Collier, (April 2017, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771387361

Recommended for readers 4-8

Steve is a horse that’s just fine as he is, but he thinks he can be better. He wants to be exceptional. He finds a beautiful gold horn lying on the ground in the forest, and that’s it: he’s found the pass to being exceptional! He ties the horn on his head and showboats to all of his woodland friends, who are so taken, they find items to tie on their own heads: sticks, rocks, anything they can find. But Steve accidentally loses his horn – oh no! What’s an exceptional horse to do when he loses his exceptional horn?

A Horse Named Steve is hilarious in its side commentary (notes throughout the book explain words like devastated: “that means really, really bummed”, or refer to his moods: “Mr. Mopeypants”) and its execution of an image-obsessed horse, but kids will get it: it’s not what you wear, or how you look. The commentary adds a little wink, wink, nudge, nudge humor to kids, bringing them in on the joke, and the raccoon that isn’t quite as enamored of Steve gives kids an entry point to a discussion: why doesn’t he think Steve’s so great? Do you think Steve is treating his friends with respect? What really makes our friends special?

Kelly Collier’s two-color ink and watercolor art, finished in Photoshop, is adorable and fun. Steve’s physicality plays up his ego for laughs, and there are visual jokes aplenty, especially when his golden horn slips from on top of his head to under his chin. Playing with fonts brings more humor to the page by emphasizing different words and making Steve’s very name a standout with curlicues and bolding.

You can have a lot of storytime fun with this book: make horns with your readers! For older readers, pair this one with Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches for a good discussion on the value we place on appearances.

 

Narwhal & Jelly: Besties under the sea! February 28, 2017

narwhalNarwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, by Ben Clanton, (Dec. 2016, Tundra Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781101918715

Recommended for ages 5-8

Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal is a wild imagination. Jelly is… not. That’s okay by Narwhal, they both bond over a mutual love of waffles, parties, and having adventures! Together, the two friends recruit other sea friends into their own little group and read the best book ever – so what if it doesn’t have words or pictures? They have imagination!

This hybrid intermediate novel/graphic novel is perfect for beginning readers (psst… and grown-ups) who love silly jokes, adorable art, and fun. Kids will enjoy this Odd Couple under the sea, and learn that friends don’t have to enjoy all of the same things to get along. The art is squeal-worthy adorable, and the dialogue between the two friends is light and fun. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea has hit it big with readers, too: the book has received multiple awards and praise, including a starred Kirkus review, designation as the Best of the Year in 2016 by both Amazon and Kirkus, and was put on the Texas 2×2 Reading List.

 

If you lovsupernarwhaled Narwhal’s first book, get ready: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt (May 2017, Tundra, $12.99, ISBN: 9781101919194) is coming in May! In their second outing, the two best friends become super heroes – now, if they could just figure out what their powers are… As with the first book, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt features three short stories connected by the overall plot thread: in this case, being a superhero and a friend. Friendship, imagination, and self-esteem are enduring themes.

Ben Clanton has some fun extras available online. His website links to his Instagram, if you want to see even more of his art as he posts it; the site hosts his blog, which spotlights even more of his artwork, including this awesome “Jellin'” piece:

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There’s also a Narwhal and Jelly site, with comics, printables, jokes, and early art mock-ups. This is a super-fun set to add to your graphic novels and intermediate books, and you can display with the veritable plethora of narwhal-related books coming out, like Jessie Sima’s Not Quite Narwhal and Wendell the Narwhal by Emily Dove. Make a display and feature some non-fiction narwhal and jellyfish-related books, or get a whole sea life shelf up, featuring fiction and nonfiction for some related reads.

 

What is it that Lou can’t do? February 10, 2017

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.

 

And they lived happily ever after… January 3, 2017

princess-princessPrincess Princess Ever After, by Katie O’Neill, (Sept. 2016, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781620103401

Recommended for ages 9-13

Princess Sadie is so over the princes and their lame rescue attempts that she quietly sabotages her own rescues – that is, until Princess Amira happens along. Mohawked and determined to strike out on her own, in no mood to settle down to standard princess life herself, Amira frees Sadie and gives her self-esteem a much-needed boost. Joining forces, the two princesses face a jealous sorceress who has a very personal grudge with Sadie, and discover that they can create their own happily ever after, no princes necessary.

I adore this story. It has so many empowering messages, I want to hand copies of them out to every kid I see, every classroom I visit. It’s a story of doing it yourself; of self-esteem and loving yourself; of the freedom to love. The cartoon art is bright, happy, and even includes the cutest little dragon to fall in love with, because at heart, this is a princess story. It’s soft and feminine while delivering a strong, gorgeous message. Display and booktalk this with the Princeless and Lumberjanes series of comics and trade paperbacks – and read them yourself! They’re fantastic!

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This book has received a lot of buzz, including a lovely Lambda Literary review and a 2016 Best Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels nomination from the CYBILS. It was also awarded best book/graphic novel and shortlisted for best overall comic in the first annual Autostraddle Comic and Sequential Art Awards. Visit Katie O’Neill’s website to see and read more about her work.

This is an important book to have in your collections, and an adorable fantasy tale on top of it. Why wouldn’t you want a one-two winner like this?

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Art courtesy of StrangelyKatie.com

 

Who’s the newest and fairest of them all? December 27, 2016

charmedCharmed, I’m Sure, by Sarah Darer Littman, (Sept. 2016, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481451277

Recommended for ages 8-12

What happens when you’re the daughter of the fairy tale world’s version of Brangelina – Snow White and Prince Charming – and you can’t get a date for the Fall Festive school dance? This is Rosie White Charming’s dilemma in Charmed, I’m Sure. She grits her teeth and asks her mom – now a lifestyle blogger for her hugely famous brand – for help, receiving a complete makeover and magic compact from Snow White. At first, it’s great – guys are noticing her! Her friends think she looks fabulous! – but things aren’t always what they seem. Rosie swears the compact is talking to her, and it’s sounding a heck of a lot like the magic mirror that her evil step-grandmother used; next thing she knows, her friends are mad at her, and so is the cute guy she was talking up at the coffee joint. Rosie isn’t giving up, though – she’s going to find a way to get her happily-ever-after.

Charmed, I’m Sure is another fun entry into the flipped/fractured fairy tale genre for middle graders. It’s fun, has some cameos from other famous fairy tale offspring, and the characters are light and silly. There’s a nice message about staying true to yourself, and Snow White gets her message across to her daughter in a very sly way that will make you realize that she knows a lot more than she lets on. (Like most parents, am I right?)

A fun addition to your fun fairy tales collection. Talk it up with Jen Calonita’s Fairy Tale Reform School series and The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper for extra fun reading!

 

Life in Motion: Misty Copeland’s inspiring autobiography, edited for young readers November 24, 2016

misty-copelandLife in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Young Reader Edition), by Misty Copeland, (Dec. 2016, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 978148147979

Recommended for ages 8-12

Misty Copeland is amazing. The first African-American principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre didn’t start ballet until her early teens and has faced poverty, racism, criticism, and injury to do what she loves. In this young readers edition of her autobiography, she tells readers about the trials and triumphs she’s lived, the hard work she’s put in, and the sacrifices she’s made to get where she is in the dance world. We read about the custody battle between her mother and ballet teacher when she was 15; the rampant racism she’s endured, and she holds up to the light the eating issues that run rampant in the ballet community. We also read about amazing achievements, like her dancing on tour with Prince and her joy at meeting the dancers that inspired her the way she inspires a new generation of children.

Misty does not shy away from diversity here: she embraces it, giving us the names of the African-American dancers that went before her. She also doesn’t hide the fact that she’s taken some heat for being “too mainstream”; that bringing ballet to the masses is looked down upon – thankfully, that’s something she disagrees with. Ballet and dance, the arts, are for all – if she can inspire another kid to put on a pair of toe shoes, or sign up for hip hop classes because it’s something they love, she’s done right. Copeland is all about embracing your passion. Her confidence and gratitude come through in equal measure, and she dispenses advice for living and building one’s self-esteem throughout the book. Embrace your strengths and never give up – these are the lessons that kids will come away with after spending some time with Misty Copeland.

There are photos in the finished book (I’ve got an egalley), and more on her home page. You can also find her on the American Ballet Theatre page, which also has a section on education and training for readers interested in learning more. Display and booktalk this with Copeland’s picture book (illustrated by Christopher Myers), Firebird.

This book is a must-add to biography collections. Booktalk and display this if, like me, you’ve got kids that need to see someone smashing stereotypes and making it to the top of her (or his) game. If you have dancers in your home or your life, give this book to them and let them watch this ABC Sunday Spotlight from 2014.

 

Sometimes, being a princess ain’t all it’s cracked up to be… I Am NOT a Princess! October 3, 2016

princess_coverI Am NOT a Princess!, by Bethany Burt/Illustrated by Brenda McCallum, (Oct. 2016, Schiffer Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764352126

Recommended for ages 3-6

Eliza loved to twirl and twirl, and she loved dressing up like a princess. She flashed her beautiful dress, jewelry, and glass slippers; but Mom asked her to go grocery shopping with her. Grocery shopping?! Princesses don’t grocery shop! They have servants to do that sort of thing for them! Honestly! She twirls away, turning down opportunities to go biking with her best friend and play baseball with her brother and his friends. Princesses don’t do things that could get their dresses dirty! When Eliza’s dad offers to let her help him paint – something she loves to do – and she turns it down because princesses don’t paint, her dad asks her what princess do, then. Eliza realizes that, come to think of it, princesses – at least, the way she’s thinking of them – don’t do much other than twirl and look pretty. That’s no fun! Maybe she doesn’t want to be a princess, after all!

I have to admit, I was conflicted while reading this book. I grew up loving my Barbies and I see little girls around me, including my niece, love their Princesses, and they aren’t the type to turn down getting good and dirty while wearing a tutu. I can see where a little girl who may have a certain vision of being a princess in her head – the princesses that are waited on hand and foot and twirl around looking pretty – may need a slight dose of reality, but enjoying Disney Princesses isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Princesses like Merida and Mulan and Belle sure teach us that.

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I Am NOT a Princess is a good book to emphasize the importance of play-acting and the importance of having a strong sense of self. You can be a princess, and you can – and should – help around the house and go out and play. If you’re worried about a mixed message, talk about the positive characteristics of princesses: Belle’s love of reading and refusal to be bullied by the Beast; Merida’s skill with a bow and arrow; Mulan’s ability to train and fight toe to toe with the men in her army; Ariel’s rebellious nature. The most important characteristic any princess or prince needs is a good self-esteem.

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The cute art will appeal to readers, as will the pink and pastel colors. Eliza is adorable, and her twirling makes her especially fun and girly. I love the clear, glossy crown on Eliza’s head on the cover of the book; it’s a nice, added touch that will draw eyes (and fingers) to the book. Little girls in my library are always asking for “Princess Books”, so this, along with Kate Beaton’s Princess and the Pony, Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious books, Catherine Hapka’s Sofia the First, and my Disney Princess books, will make for a fun display. Just make sure that the little girls in your life know that balance is good – you can be a princess and help around the house and enjoy getting dirty; it’s not a one or the other choice.

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