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1. Author Interview: Monique Gray Smith on My Heart Fills With Happiness & Advice for Beginning Writers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today I'm honored to feature Monique Gray Smith, "a mixed heritage woman of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent" and the author one of my favorite new titles--my official go-to gift book for 2016.

What put you on the path to writing for young readers?

I never set out to write for young readers and to be honest, I never saw myself as a writer.

When Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience first came out, it was marketed to adults, but then it won the Canadian Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature.

This award sends 2500 copies of the winning book to schools and programs across the country, and all of a sudden, Tilly was in the hands of young people, in schools, classrooms and friendship centres and it became a YA book.

Congratulations on the release of one of my favorite new titles, My Heart Fills with Happiness, illustrated by Julie Flett (Orca, 2016)! What was your original inspiration for this title?

Thank you for your kind words about My Heart Fills. Working with Julie was a true privilege. We spoke on many occasions about the message and illustrations; it was a beautiful collaboration.

My Heart Fills with Happiness was inspired when I was facilitating a workshop on our history and resilience at an Aboriginal Head Start program.

At lunch, the children joined us and I witnessed a Kookum (Grandma) sitting in her chair and her grandson came running over to her. He stood in front of her and she took his face in his hands and his whole body changed. His shoulders went back, his chin came up and his eyes lit up.

What I saw was the way she looked at him with such love filled his heart with happiness. This got me thinking about what fills my heart and our hearts as human beings. A couple weeks later, I was visiting with five of my dear friends and as we were talking, the book came.

Literally, in one quick write, it was done. Only one line has been changed. My next children's book, called You Hold Me Up has also been inspired by Aboriginal Head Start. This is such a powerful program in our country and now has been running across our country for over 20 years and has 50,000 graduates. Culture and Language as well as Family Involvement are two of the six components of this program and as a result it is a significant aspect to the healing of Residential Schools in Canada.

What were the challenges between spark and publication, and what lessons were learned along the way?

This book was a gift from the Ancestors, I know that with every fibre of my being, Cynthia.

Her first book!
As I said above, there was only one line change and in the end there were three publishing companies that wanted to purchase it.

There were some miscommunications with the design between myself and Orca Publishing and as a result I think we have both learned the importance of ensuring connection throughout the project.

I know that this is a new way of relationships between author and publisher, but in these times of reconciliation, it is critical we work together instead of the publisher having all the power and decision making.

What did Julie Flett’s illustrations bring to your text? (Full disclosure: I'm a fan.)

Oh Julie! As I said above, it was a privilege to collaborate with Julie. When Orca informed me it was going to be Julie Flett illustrating My Heart Fills with Happiness I literally did a happy dance in my office. Not only do I admire Julie's contribution to literature; both as an author and illustrator, but I also have profound respect for her as a human being.

I think Julie's illustrations bring the words alive. The way she was able to capture the tender nuances on facial expressions and body postures is precious!

And the cover, I have had numerous girls say to me, "look, that's me on the cover." I think that says it all! When a child sees themselves on the pages it is incredibly affirming for them and in some ways, their right to be seen.

We all need to be seen and heard, but for generations literature has not only not seen us as Indigenous people, but especially not Indigenous women and girls.

Let me simply say, Julie's illustrations make this book what it is!

You also are the author of Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience (Sononis, 2013). Could you tell us a little about this book?

Tilly is loosely based on my life through Tilly's journey and the characters she meets they tell aspects of our history as Indigenous people in Canada. It weaves together some of our traditional teachings, culture and ways of being.

It also speaks to my personal journey of alcoholism and recovery and the beautiful relationship Tilly has with her alcohol & drug counsellor, Bea.

How have you grown as writer over time? 

Oh yes, I am still growing...and to be honest, hope to never stop growing. I am not a trained writer, so I need exceptional editing support.

One of the aspects where I feel I have grown the most is being willing to let the story flow through me.

I used to want to interrupt and pause the story, but now I close my eyes and type away or I share what I'm thinking into my phone. Especially dialogue between characters, that seems to come to me in the place between wakefulness and sleep.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Pay attention. Notice your surroundings, the mannerisms of individuals, the ways people speak, how the light looks on the land at different times.

I'd also say, put yourself out there: let others read your work, send it in to contests, send it to publishers. And remember, you will get on of three responses. Yes. Not yet. Or I have something even better in mind.

View of Gonzales Bay from Monique's office
How about Native American/First Nations authors?

Our people are craving to read our stories and stories that they can see themselves and their lived experiences in. Write them, share them. And if writing them isn't necessarily comfortable, talk them.

On most phones, there is the microphone app on email, if you record your story and then send it to yourself by email it will come as text and voila, you have your first draft.

I would also remind you of the importance of ceremony when writing. I find it helps ground me and opens me for the story to come through me. Offerings of gratitude help me every single day, not only when I am writing, but every day.

I would also say read as much as you can and raise up and talk about those you are reading.

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2. New in Nonfiction: Animal Legs

animallegs_cover

Bend your knees or jump up and down, how do you use your legs?

Compare how your legs work with the action of a frog’s legs or the webbing of an otter’s feet in Mary Holland’s new release Animal Legs. This is the third book in the Animal Anatomy & Adaptations series, and a perfect place for young readers to find amazing facts about the lives of animals found in their backyard.

We asked Mary Holland about her inspiration for Animal Legs and here is part of that interview.

A: Whose Animal Legs do you find most interesting?

MH: I’m afraid this is too hard a question to answer, as I find the many different ways that animals use their legs equally interesting.  One of my favorites is a mole’s front paws. They look just like paddles to me, and the perfect tools to dig with. I also find the flap of 12-hairy-tailed-moleskin that goes from a flying squirrel’s front legs to its back legs and allows it to glide through the air a remarkable adaptation. The fact that katydid ears are on their legs is pretty amazing, too!

A: Is there an animal/fact that you wish you could have included in the book or series but it just didn’t fit? 

MH: There are so many animals that have such interesting feet and legs that I can’t even begin to count them, but one group that may have the most is insects. I could only fit a few of them in the book.  Grasshoppers “sing” by rubbing their legs against their wings!  Have you ever looked closely at a cicada’s front legs?  They are pretty scary looking!  Butterflies taste with their feet!

A: What is the most unusual predicament you have faced photographing an animal? 

MH: I got very close to a young skunk in order to photograph it, and before I knew it, I was covered with skunk spray.

I once was trying to find a porcupine at night that was up in a tree, screaming its head off, and suddenly it fell to the ground about three feet from me.  I almost had a head full of quills!10-striped-skunk

I was tracking a bobcat in late spring that had crossed a beaver pond, and the ice, which had started to melt, gave way (I weighed a lot more than the bobcat) and I fell through the ice into the cold water with snowshoes on.  Fortunately, I could touch bottom with the tips of my snowshoes and managed to get out of the pond!

A: What would you like to share with young children about your love for nature? 

MH: I feel so very lucky, as each day I get to discover something new. I never know what I’m going to find.  I head outdoors, and go on what is to me very much like an Easter egg hunt – I look for animals and their signs and rarely do I come home without having found something new to observe and admire.

A: What do you have coming up next? 

MH: I am working on two books.  One is called Naturally Curious Day by Day.  It describes two or three different animals or plants that you might see each day of the year.  I am also writing a book called Otis the Owl, about a young barred owl.

Otis the Owl will fly onto bookshelves in the spring of 2017.

 Learn more about Mary’s new book Animal Legs on Arbordale Publishing’s website. For daily updates with amazing animal facts and photos, follow Mary’s blog Naturally Curious with Mary Holland.


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3. Sprains, Strains, and New Directions

New Akashiya Sai Watercolor Pens: the full set!

Two weeks ago I sprained my ankle. I was on the way to my writer’s group at the Albuquerque Museum and while I was walking through the car park, I stepped on an extended sprinkler head hidden by a covering of gravel. The pain of the event is indescribable: a spike through the ball of my foot, sending me into a contorted loss of balance, that then resulted in a totally twisted ankle and foot. Somehow I limped to my meeting, managed to converse for the next few hours, and then went home to collapse. Ice and pain killers got me through the worst of it, but my foot is still very tender as is my other foot and leg, as well as my back and shoulders from all the strain of hop-hop-hopping along every day to get from A to B.

By the third day of hoppity-hop I wanted to know WHY this had happened to me. Besides knowing that I wasn’t looking where I was going (I rarely do), I wondered if there could be some sort of symbolism or metaphysical lesson to be learned here. I did a quick Google search and got the same message several times over: a sprained ankle is an indication that you are to seek out a new direction. 

Sitting with my foot elevated and my stack of books and journals handy, I decided that the only new direction I wanted at that moment was to close my eyes and nap all day. But apparently the universe had other ideas. Almost immediately after reading several websites each saying the same thing about following new paths, the mail arrived and I received some new pens I ordered online several weeks earlier: a twenty-color set of Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens, along with a sampler set of eleven black drawing pens. Thirty-one pens in total. For a minimalist such as myself, the number was mind-boggling, and thoroughly distracting. It was like when I got a ball of Silly Putty when I was five and had chicken pox.

Right away I forgot about my nap and started to try out my new pens. After all, my journal was right there in front of me. As I was doodling, I then naturally got some new ideas (no, no, please no new ideas): 

  • Why not try Inktober this year? Similar to NaNoWrimo for writers, Inktober is a challenge to produce, and post on social media, an ink drawing a day for the entire month of October. I've always wanted to try it, but never had the courage to post daily. While I was thinking about this, I then had the idea to:
  • Finally start that children’s picture book I’ve been dreaming of since last year, which involves:
  • Learning to draw horses and ponies (the most difficult subject I can think of). 


Three new directions that are entirely do-able, don’t interfere too much with my already carefully-laid plans to work on my new novel, and if anything, enhance what I’m doing already. For instance, I draw every day anyway—so why not just work with ink for a month? And although I am currently marketing my picture book based in Barcelona, wouldn’t it be a good idea to be able to tell editors I am working on a second book? 

An interesting side note about learning to draw horses is that horses have delicate legs and ankles. Their feet must be considered and cared for in a serious and responsible way. Where they walk, how their shoes fit, and how they're exercises all matters. It made me think that what I need to do until the end of the year is to keep my eyes open, pay attention, and sit still long enough to get my work done. 

Thankfully, I can report that my own foot is on the mend and I'm certain I'll be  back to my old self in another week or two. But I also understand that there’s plenty of room for a new self, too--especially the one that gets to sit down all day!

Tip of the Day: According to metaphysical practitioners, there’s a lot we can learn from illness and injuries. In my case, despite the pain and inconvenience, I feel I’ve come through with some valuable insights and renewed energy for my art and writing. The next time you’re under the weather, ask if there is anything you are meant to understand or explore on a deeper level. Like me, you might be surprised at what you discover.

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4. New Voice & Giveaway: Maria Gianferrari on Penny & Jelly

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Maria Gianferrari writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with her dog Becca as her muse.

Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder (2015) led to Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars (2016)(both HMH Books). 

Maria has seven picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books for Young Readers, GP Putnam’s Sons and Boyds Mills Press in the coming years.

Could you tell us about your writing community--your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional, craft and/or professional support?

In the spirit of my main character, Penny, an avid list maker, here are my top five answers:

1. Ammi-Joan Paquette:

I am so grateful for my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Where do I begin? I owe my writing career to Joan, for taking a chance on and believing in me. She has been sage guide, a cheerleader and champion of my writing from the get go.

She’s made my writing dream come true!!

2. Crumpled Paper Critique (CP):

I would not be where I am today without my trusted writing friends and critique partners: Lisa Robinson, Lois Sepahban, Andrea Wang, Abigail Calkins Aguirre and Sheri Dillard. They have been such a wonderful source of support over the years, in good times, and in bad.

Yes—it’s kind of like a marriage—that’s how dedicated we are to each other’s work! They’re smart, thoughtful, insightful, well read, hard-working and the best critique partners one could hope for!

We have a private website where we share not only our manuscripts, but our opinions on books, ideas, writing inspiration and doubts. I treasure them and wish we lived closer to one another to be able to meet regularly in person. Hugs, CPers!



3. Emu’s Debuts:

Like many other writers, I’m quite a shy and introverted person. If you’ve seen that classic hamster ball cartoon about introverts, that’s me! Having a book debut is extremely intimidating.

I was so lucky to have joined the ranks of Emu’s Debuts, so named for clients and debut authors affiliated with Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA).

The Emu’s Debuts blog is a place for sharing thoughts on the craft of writing and illustrating, being debuts, and most importantly, helping launch our books into the world. I have since fledged, but it was so helpful, reassuring and fun to be a part of this community of very talented, kind and generous people. Check out the current flock of Emus.



4. Tara Lazar:

Picture book author extraordinaire, and founder of PiBoIdMo (picture book idea month), Tara has also been a generous supporter, not just of me, but for all the pre and published picture book authors and illustrators out there. Thousands of writers participate and are inspired by guest posts during PiBoIdMo, November’s picture book idea challenge. She shares insights on craft, the field of publishing, new books, interviews, giveaways, etc. on her popular blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), throughout the year.

When the news of the Penny & Jelly sale broke, Tara kindly offered to host me of her blog. Later, she invited to be a contributor for PiBoIdMo, and last year she also participated in my blog tour for Penny & Jelly.

5. Kirsten Cappy of Curious City:

Kirsten’s a kidlit marketing guru and owner of Curious City. She was invaluable in sorting through the mire that is promotion.

Kirsten’s clever and creative and had so many wonderful ideas for promoting Penny & Jelly in ways that would be most comfortable for an introvert like me. She designed a Jelly banner with original art from illustrator Thyra Heder for use as a photo booth so kids could “be” Penny and pose with Jelly, as well as gorgeous postcards and business cards.

I especially love the talent show kit for library and classroom use that Kirsten designed. Please feel free to share and use it.

As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

1. Write What You Love:

Write what you’re obsessed with. This will help you not only endure the inevitable rejections along the way, but also the winding road of revision.

My debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, was released this July. It initially began as an article on suburban coyotes for "Highlights."

Well, "Highlights" rejected it, but I wasn’t ready to let go of my manuscript.

The coyotes kept howling in my head, so it morphed into a poetic picture book.

Several revisions later, it won a Letter of Commendation for a Barbara Karlin grant from SCBWI; many more revisions later, it was acquired by Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press. And I am so in love Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations. They are absolutely stunning!

2. Read. Read. Read:

Then read some more. I once read that before attempting to write one picture book, we should first read 1,000. But don’t just read them, see them as teachers, as mentor texts for your own work.

One of the most helpful exercises is to hand-write or type the words of my favorite picture book texts, to feel the rhythm of the and pulse of the story in my fingers, to get under the story’s skin—see its bones or structure and the way the muscles and sinews, rhythm, refrain and repetition, are bound together. Doing this helps us find a story’s heart, its elusive soul and helps us understand our own work.

Consider joining founder Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo, where picture books are studied as mentor texts. Get ready to dig deep!


3. Don’t Give Up!

Persevere! Keep swimming! Rejection is at the heart of this journey and it’s not usually a linear journey, it’s more circuitous, with ups and downs along the way.

Take it one day, one moment at a time, and celebrate all of your successes, both big and small.

And remember, keep improving your craft, and building your connections, you will get there!

(See #1 again)

4. Play and Experiment:

To find your writing voice, play with different points of view. Change genres. Try out different structural techniques like letters, or a diary format or lists, like I did with Penny & Jelly.

Think about the shape of your story. Is it circular? Could it be a journey? Would a question and answer format enhance it? Does it have a refrain?

I’m not an illustrator, but you can do the same kinds of things to find your visual voice—switch sketching for sewing, or painting for clay. And most of all, embrace your inner kid and have fun!

5. Reach Out:

Connect with your local and online writing community—there are so many valuable resources out there. You’re reading Cynsations, so that’s a great start! If you haven’t already joined SCBWI and found a critique group, that’s a must. As I mentioned above, join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge in November, or Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee to write a picture book a day, which takes place in May.

There’s a plethora of writing groups on Facebook. One I highly recommend is Kidlit411, co-run by Elaine Kieley Kearns and Sylvia Liu. It’s such a wealth of information for authors and illustrators on writing/illustrating craft, on promotion, on submissions for agents and editors, revision—all kinds of things. And to borrow Jane Yolen’s title, above all, Take Joy!

Cynsational Giveaway


Enter to win an author-signed copy of Penny & Jelly: The School Show and Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars. Eligibility: U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

This young and funny picture book introduces the soon-to-be star of her school talent show: Penny. Despite her desire to knock everyone's socks off, Penny's having a tough time deciding on what talent she might have. With a little help from her dog, Jelly, Penny tries out various talents—from dancing to unicycling, fashion designing to snake charming—with disastrous results. That is, until she realizes that she and Jelly have a talent to share that's unlike any other.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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5. Dog Loves Counting

Dog Loves Counting. Louise Yates. 2013. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved reading them late into the night and didn't like to leave them for long.

Premise/plot: Dog knows he should go to bed, but, he's having trouble falling to sleep. He decides to count something--not sheep--to help him sleep. So he opens a book, finds himself inside, of course--Dog gets lost in books, becoming part of the action--and starts to find things to count. He makes friends too, of course.

My thoughts: Of the three books, this is my least favorite. I still love Dog as a character. And I can even relate to not wanting to put down his book and go to bed. But as an adult reader, I can't really lose myself in a book that focuses on counting from one to ten and back again. I just can't. For young children, of course, this one is still recommended. But it feels more 'educational' than the previous two in the series.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Picture Book Monday with a review of It's a book

For many young people today a book is digital file on a tablet. Print books just aren't a part of their lives. I read books in both formats but I generally prefer a printed book. There is something about how a book feels, how it looks sitting on a shelf, and even how it smells that I love. I have books in almost every room in my home, and book cover images appear in frames on my walls.

In today's picture book you will meet a character who has no idea what a print book is. He is puzzled by the book that his friend is reading because it cannot be twitched on, it doesn't noises, nor can you play games on it. What is the point of a book he wonders. What indeed!

It's a BookIt’s a book
Lane Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Roaring Brook, 2010, 978-1-59643-606-0
One day Jackass comes over to where Monkey is reading. Jackass asks Monkey what he has in his hands. Monkey explains that it is a book. Jackass is not sure what a book does so he asks Monkey a lot of questions about the strange object that he is holding.
   Jackass wants to know if you can scroll down with a book or blog with it. Does it have a mouse? Can it make characters fight? Does it tweet or use wi-fi- or make noise like Jackass’s laptop? It turns out that a book cannot do any of these things. Monkey shows Jackass that the book he is reading has a story in it about pirates. In Jackass’s opinion there are too many words. As he takes the book and goes to sit down, Jackass learns that the book does not even have a screen name, nor do you need a password to read it. How bizarre!
   This wonderful book shows young readers all the things that a book isn’t. Then, in a sneaky and completely silent way, it shows us the wonderful magic that can be found in an object that does not need a power cable, upgrades, or a mouse pad.
   With a minimal text, delightful characters, and touches of humor, Lane Smith gives readers a fantastic reading experience.

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7. Dog Loves Drawing

Dog Loves Drawing. Louise Yates. 2012. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved books so much that he opened his own bookshop.

Premise/plot: Dog receives a package from his Aunt Dora. It is a blank sketch book. Dog knows just what to do: he grabs his drawing supplies and draws a door. Not wanting to be alone, he draws some friends: a stick man and a duck. His drawings soon start drawing too. Soon they are joined by an owl and a crab. It is Owl's idea to go on an outing--and it is with the outing that the ADVENTURE begins. (They start out on a train...) Soon Dog's sketchbook is FULL.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one very much. I thought it was fun, playful, creative, charming. I really enjoyed all the drawing adventures. It is, of course, a bit like Harold and the Purple Crayon. I really enjoyed the characterization and the action. For example, "While the duck was arguing with the others about who should drive, the stickman drew himself a driver's hat, scribbled some steam, and...they were off!" I love seeing Dog and Duck argue! The expressions on the crab and owl are pretty priceless as well.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. The Cranky Ballerina by Elise Gravel


The Cranky Ballerina by Elise Gravel is a picture book for both kids AND parents. I am not a helicopter parent by any stretch of the imagination and my kids are not over-scheduled. That said, I have signed them up for various classes and worried that they weren't getting the most out of them as they whined about having to go or, even worse (and predictably) complained about having to practice. Then I worried that I was forcing them to do something that I thought was important but would never be important to them. Then I worried that they would reach adulthood without realizing their creative or athletic potential (why did my mother let me quit piano lessons? And guitar lessons??) and maybe miss out on a scholarship or two. For me, reading The Cranky Ballerina was a huge catharsis. Maybe I am reading too much into Gravel's delightfully charming book, maybe I am just carrying a ton of parental guilt around with me. Either way, The Cranky Ballerina is a fantastic read, whoever you are, whatever lessons you took and whatever lessons your parents let you quit or you let your kids quit...

It's Saturday and Ada wakes up cranky. She hates everything, from her too-tight leotard to her itchy tutu to the car ride. Ada hates ballet.  She hates to practice and her pirouettes are nearly catastrophic. Fourth position sends her swirling into the hall where she head butts a guy dressed in "some kind of pajamas" who asks, "Do you think you could do that again for my class?"



Turns out that guy in weird pajamas is a karate instructor and Ada has all the right moves for his class! "Front kick! Swoosh! Side Punch! Roundhouse kick! Swat!" Ada learns something new and feels something new - a smile spreads across her face as she feels, for the first time, successful at something. The penultimate page of The Cranky Ballerina shows Ada, in her tutu, practicing with the class. The final page turn show a classmate in his ghee thinking, "I hate karate."

Genius! Brilliant! I am in love with Elise Gravel's books and can't wait to see what she does next! 

Source: Review Copy


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9. Review of the Day: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

TheyAllSawCatThey All Saw a Cat
By Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1-4521-5013-0
Ages 4-7
On shelves now

It’s funny. Unless you’re a teacher or librarian, a grown adult that does not work or live with children will come into very little contact with picture books. Then, one day, they produce a few kids and BLAMMO! They are shot into a world they haven’t visited since they were young themselves. They grab frantically at the classics, discover that a lot of them don’t work with very very young children (since when did Horton Hatches the Egg have so many words?!?), and then occasionally turn to the experts for help. And why? Parents’ reasons are not united on this front. Some read to their kids to instill a love of reading. Others to build little brains. Others to simply fill the long hours of the day. Occasionally a parent will also use a book to teach some kind of a lesson. If the parent is unlucky they will get stuck with a book sticky with didacticism (an unpleasant book that sucks all the joy out of the reading experience). But if they are lucky (or they are in the hands of a capable professional) they might find just the right book, teaching just the right lesson. Here’s an example: Let’s say you wanted to teach a kid empathy or how our perceptions change depending on our own experiences and who we are. How do you show that in 32 pages? Well, you could pick up some cloying, toxic dribble that overuses words like “hugs” and “friendship”. Nine times out of ten, that’s what’s going to happen. Or, if you are a clever parent, you pick up a book like They All Saw a Cat. It looks at first glance like it’s just about a cat. Delve a little deeper and you’ll find it about science and art and perception and empathy. And it does it all with very simple sentences, repetition, and a lot of white backgrounds. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

theyallsaw1“The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .” In that walking it is seen. It is seen by a child, a dog, and a fox. It is seen by a fish, a mouse, and a bee. It is seen by a bird, a flea, a snake, a skunk, a worm, and a bat. And what’s important is that this “seeing” changes with every creature. For mice and dogs, the cat is perceived through the lens of their own interactions with it. For worms and bats the cat is only visible through the ways in which it moves through space (vibrations through the ground and the ways in which echolocation shape it). By the end we see a hodgepodge cat, a mix of how each animal sees it. Then the cat comes to the water, viewing its own reflection, “and imagine what it saw?”

The book this actually reminded me of the most was that old Rudyard Kipling story “The Cat Who Walked By Himself”. Unlike that tale we never really get this book from the cat’s perspective. Indeed, the cat is often only visible when others see him. The similarity to Kipling comes with the language. That very first sentence, for example: “The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .” And as in the original art for that story, the cat here is often pictured from the back. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not a book written by one person and illustrated by another can ever be as strong as a book that is written and illustrated by the same artist. They All Saw a Cat makes a fairly strong argument that artist who are also authors are the better way to go. Wenzel’s sentences are so perfectly layered here. If anything, they match the personality of a cat. There aren’t many words, true. But the measured tone is at once soothing and scintillating. I liked how the book broke up the animals. The first three are potential predators. The second three are potential theyallsaw2prey. The final six are strict observers. It also ends perfectly with the best possible sentence. Not all picture books, no matter how beautiful they look, are capable of sticking their landings. This one does.

In this book the publication page (where they tend to describe the artist’s process) gets a little slaphappy. It reads (and I am quoting this precisely), “The illustrations in this book were rendered in almost everything imaginable, including colored pencil, oil pastels, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, Magic Marker, good old number 2 pencils, and even an iBook.” The other day I was listening to a podcast where one of the speakers speculated that including this kind of information in a book changes the adult reader’s perspective. Would I think less of this book if I found out it was done in digital ink? Possibly, though I should note that I was blown away by the art long before I ever turned to see how it was made. And while digital art is great and has its place, I’d like to see the program that replicates what Wenzel’s done here.

theyallsaw3The sheer beauty of the book is what strikes you first when you read it. Consider the two-page spread where on the left-hand side you see the cat through snake vision, and on the right-hand side you see the cat through skunk vision. The snake’s view is a vibrant shock of color, all yellows and reds and blues. The skunk’s in contrast, looks like the soft grainy sepia-tones of an old film. Maybe Casablanca. Put together, side-by-side, the same cat is its own opposite. But if Wenzel were constantly wowing you with eye-popping images that wouldn’t really support the narrative flow. That’s why the pacing of the book is key. Wenzel starts the book out very slowly, with lots of white backgrounds and views akin to what we see as people. The child, dog, and fox all see the cat similarly (though I loved the oversized bell around its neck, indicating the fox and dog’s superior sense of hearing through a visual medium). The fish is the first moment you start to separate from human visuals. The cat’s large, yellow eyes are 80% of the two pages. But it is the mouse’s Basquiat-esque view of the cat that steals the show. The red background, and the cat all teeth and claws, and terrifying eyes is a far cry from the cuddly creature at the start of the story. It’s also the moment when the child readers come to realize that perception is personal.

An interesting criticism of this book is linked precisely to the more science-y aspects of the text. One of the commenters on a blog post I wrote, that included this book, said that, “I desperately wanted some nice science-y back matter to tell us how and why different animals see the cat the way they do. Sure, we can go OH, this animal must be colorblind! This animal ‘sees’ by sonar! But c’mon, throw us an edu-bone here. It felt like such a missed opportunity.” This is an interesting note. We’ve grown used to useful backmatter in this post-Core Curriculum world of ours. Would this book have been stronger if it had contained a science element to it? Yes and no. It would have been a real boon to teachers, you betcha, and probably to perceptive parents who could have turned it into a lesson for young readers. If I had to guess I’d say the reason it wasn’t done may have had something to do with the fact that Wenzel is mixing his fact and fiction here pretty closely. Each animal is “seeing” as it would in the wild, but that is not to say that the art is by any means scientific. The cartoonish quality to the animals (no better exemplified than in the mouse’s bulbous eyes) doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. I would have very much liked notes on the accuracy of the art, but I can understand the fear of asking the reader to take the work too seriously. I don’t necessarily agree, but I understand it.

theyallsaw4How do you discuss this book with kids? Well, you might read it to them, start to finish, and then ask them which picture shows what the cat really looks like. When they select (some will go with the human view but I’ve no doubt a couple will prefer the dog or bird p.o.v.s) you then tell them that actually all the pictures in this book are true. And if you really want to blow their little minds, you tell them that there’s a good chance that the way you see the world isn’t the same way the person next to you does. Everyone, everywhere sees the world different from his or her neighbor. Is it any wonder we have problems? The solution is to try and see things from another person’s view. Now, if the kids think you’re speaking literally or figuratively, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve planted the seed. Or, rather, the book has.

Let us do away with the notion of “cat people” vs. “dog people”. This book is for “people”. End of sentence. And if I got a little crazy in my first paragraph here, filling you in on my view of world peace via picture books, you’ll understand when you read this book. That tired old phrase to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” makes no sense to a kid. But travel a page through another animal’s eyes? There’s never been a better fictional picture book that allows you to do this. If we all see something as simple as a cat this differently, what else might we not see the same? It’s a treat to eye, ear, and mind, but don’t forget. We’re all going to see this book through our own lenses. What will your kids see when they look at it? Only one way to find out.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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10. Dog Loves Books

Dog Loves Books. Louise Yates. 2010. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dog loved books. He loved the smell of them, and he loved the feel of them. He loved everything about them...

Premise/plot: Dog loves books so much that he decides to open a bookstore. Initially disappointed that no one comes to his store, he begins to lose himself in the books he reads. He forgets that he's alone. The story ends with his first real customer. Dog knows just what books to recommend because if there's one thing he loves as much as reading, it is sharing what he reads with others.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. Dog is a character I can relate to easily. I also love to read. Books have always helped me to forget that I was alone. And sharing books? Probably one of the best things ever.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Celebrate After A While Crocodile!

afterwhile_cover

Do you want to spy a reptile?

This week we celebrate the release of After A While Crocodile by Dr. Brady Barr and Jennifer Keats Curtis with illustrations by Susan Detwiler.

In the book, a young girl, Alexa, raises an American crocodile with her class in Costa Rica. The story is her science journal of the experience as the crocodile hatches, grows, and swims off after he is released.

Dr. Brady Barr knew he wanted to work with reptiles after spotting his first alligator in the Florida Everglades. Since, he has traveled the world seeking out lizards, snakes, and other creatures to learn more about the 24 different species. In fact, he is the only one to have afterwhile_page_03captured all 24 species in the wild. Readers can watch Brady Barr comb the jungles, forests, and rivers seeking out reptiles on his Nat Geo Wild show Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr that airs on Saturdays at 10:30.

Co-author Jennifer Keats Curtis is most often found in the wild classrooms of Maryland talking with students about animal conservation and how she helps wildlife by telling stories.

Susan Detwiler’s illustrations bring Jefe and Alexa to life with her detailed realistic style. Like Jennifer, Susan is often found in classrooms talking about her art and love for children’s books.

If you want to spy your own crocodile, a trip on a plane might be in order. Get a copy of After A While Crocodile, download the For Creative Minds section to find out where these crocs live, and educators we have a teaching guide for you too! Visit the book’s homepage for all these downloadable extras. If you just can’t wait to start the croco-fun here is a simple craft for the little ones.

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Simply use popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. Paint the popsicle stick green, and then start in the middle and wrap one pipe cleaner toward the front leaving enough to bend for legs and feet. Then wrap the second pipe cleaner from the middle to the back, also leaving enough room for legs and feet. On the front glue googly eyes and cut teeth from some white paper and glue that to the end. Now you have a crocodile buddy!


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12. Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol



Vera Brosgol, Russian born author of the superb graphic novel Anya's Ghost, has written and illustrated her first picture book and it is brilliant! Leave Me Alone! reads like an Eastern European folk tale with a surprise center. As the jacket flap reads, it is an "epic tale about one grandmother, a giant sack of yarn, and her quest to finish her knitting." A knitter herself, Brosgol created these 25 tiny sweaters as give-aways to promote Leave Me Alone!


Leave Me Alone! begins, "Once there was an old woman. She lived in a small village in a small house . . . with a very big family." Winter is coming and this grandmother needs to get her knitting done but no one will let her. At the end of her rope, the old woman gives the house a cleaning from top to bottom, packs up her things in a large sack and leaves the house shouting, "Leave me alone!"



It turns out that, every where she goes, her balls of yarn are an endless source of fascination to all creatures around her. From bears to mountain goats, she just can't get a break. She climbs up a mountain at night, going so high that, when she reaches the top she keeps climbing - right onto the moon. A page turn takes Leave Me Alone! from folk tale to sci-fi mash-up. It turns out little green moon-men are fascinated by balls of yarn, too. 

Finally, a wormhole provides the quietude needed to get that knitting done. The old woman was, "absolutely, completely utterly alone. It was PERFECT." When thirty little sweaters are finally knit, she tidies up, sweeping "the void until it was a nice, matte black." She has a cup of tea from her samovar and walks back through the wormhole where "everything was right where she'd left it." The juxtaposition of the story and the illustrations, with their Eastern European feel and the outer space elements is marvelous! I can't wait to see what Vera Brosgol does next - in picture books and graphic novels! Actually, I just happen to know (because I read it in an interview she did with Bustle) that Be Prepared, Brosgol's middle grade graphic novel memoir about a summer she spent at a Russian Orthodox camp in upstate New York, will be released in the Spring of 2018! 



Brosgol also created these adorable paintings of the children from Leave Me Alone! to promote the book!




Also by Vera Brosgol:
Anya's Ghost



Source: Purchased


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13. Publisher Interview: CEO Nancy Traversy of Barefoot Books

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

"Barefoot Books was founded in 1992 by two young moms working from home with the dream of creating beautiful books that celebrate diversity, spark curiosity and capture children’s imaginations."

There's been an ongoing conversation about diversity in children's literature. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Children's publishers, and the media industry as a whole, have a huge responsibility to create diverse, inclusive content for kids. Barefoot Books has always been committed to celebrating diversity and inclusion; but our mission, and the task of nurturing empathy in our children, has never felt more urgent than it does today.

As our culture faces what President Obama has called an "empathy deficit," it's important for us to work hard to do better by our children. All children deserve to see themselves, their families and their experiences represented in the books they read. They also need to see and understand others, in order to develop empathy, and grow into compassionate, responsible global citizens, prepared to thrive and contribute in their communities and in professional and academic spheres in the 21st century.

Our children look up to us; they're listening to our conversations, soaking in and internalizing our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and others. It is now more important than ever for parents, educators and caregivers to share diverse and inclusive books with the children in their lives and to start conversations about empathy and compassion.

How is Barefoot Books responding in terms of diverse representation on your list?

This month, we are particularly excited to be introducing what is perhaps our most meaningful, and certainly most timely, publication to date, The Barefoot Book of Children, which empowers caregivers and educators to start important conversations with children about diversity, inclusivity and acceptance.

We worked with a team of both U.K.- and U.S.-based diversity and inclusion experts to represent a wide range of children as accurately as possible; and the result, with meticulously researched hand-painted art by award-winning illustrator David Dean, is a playful, powerful and thought-provoking celebration of both the big ideas and everyday moments that reveal our common humanity and tie us all together.

At Barefoot, we've always been passionate about celebrating diversity of all kinds in our books: it's one of our core values and central to our mission as a company.

We began nearly 25 years ago by publishing myths, legends, folk and fairy tales from all over the world.

We started to introduce children to other cultures more overtly with our "Travel the World" series by author Laurie Krebs, which includes titles like We All Went on Safari, We're Sailing to Galapagos and Up and Down the Andes, all with fascinating additional information about people, cultures, history and more.

However, we aim to celebrate more than just cultural diversity. Many of our picture books - such as Mama Panya's Pancakes and The Girl with a Brave Heart - immerse readers in the experiences of children from around the world and also foster compassion for others.

From The Animal Boogie, which has sold well over two million copies, and our other other best-selling singalongs, to The Boy Who Grew Flowers, which was written by the author for her brother who has autism, our books strive to offer positive, strong, relatable characters to children who may feel different from others.

We also strive to introduce children to other faiths and religions with books like The Wise Fool, a light-hearted introduction to Islamic culture; and The Mountains of Tibet, a gentle story from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

A couple of years' ago, we published My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words, which depicts a multi-racial family in a contemporary urban setting - "Richard Scarry for the 21st century". We worked with Beth Cox, founder of Inclusive Minds, to ensure that we accurately represented people of all races, cultures, abilities and lifestyles.

This book is now available in bilingual Spanish/English and French/English versions.

How about diverse voices (AKA authors) and visions (illustrators)? Do you have a message for those children's book creators?

Being inclusive means relating to each other in ways that give a voice to everyone - and that means publishing books not only for all children, but by a wide range of creators!

When introducing children to cultures from around the globe, it's vitally important to ensure that they're getting an accurate perspective from the authentic voice of a local creator.

From the very beginning, we've commissioned authors and illustrators from all over the world, including Tehran-born Israeli pop star Rita Jahanforuz, author of The Girl with a Brave Heart; Lebanon-born Wafa' Tarnowska, author of The Arabian Nights; and Mexico-born Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales, illustrator of Sand Sister.

We continually strive to find contributors who can provide that authentic voice and vision; it's a core part of our editorial conversation.

How are you doing outreach to Native children and children of color?

Barefoot is unique in the publishing industry because of our emphasis, not only on creating beautiful books, but also on growing a vibrant community of people who share our core values. We sell our books to schools, libraries and independent retailers as well as through our passionate network of home-based sellers called "Ambassadors" who are united by our mission to share diverse, inclusive and inspiring books.

Many of our Ambassadors use their businesses to give back and raise funds to promote causes that are important to them. Some are involved in promoting literacy in various underserved communities whose children have historically been underrepresented in children's books, including children of color. We are so proud of the incredible work our Ambassadors are doing to advance our mission to share stories, connect families and inspire children.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

For nearly a quarter of a century, Barefoot has been creating beautiful books for children that nurture creativity and compassion, and that celebrate diversity in all its forms. Discussions about race, diversity and inclusion are happening everywhere - in homes, in our children's schools, even in their playgrounds.

Books offer an essential and accessible resource for parents and educators to kickstart crucial conversations about these important topics with our children.

Since our founding in 1992, Barefoot has put nearly 20 million books into the hands of children and we would love to make that 100 million!

We believe the time is ripe to build some real momentum and create a movement of people who want to change the conversation and start to create a more accepting, inclusive world for our children.

Find more diverse and inclusive books. Explore our free tools to help start conversations with children about diversity and inclusivity.

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14. The Big Monster Snorey Book by Leigh Hodgkinson


Leigh Hodgkinson's picture books burst with energy, creativity and cleverness and The Big Monster Snorey Book, filled with colorfully crazy, not too scary looking monsters, does not disappoint. 


At first, The Big Monster Snorey Book seems like a very noisy tour of monster land at night with a curious little journalist. Each monster has a different issue, be it "terribly tatty toenails" that make a lot of noise or monsters who "jibber-jabber and bibble-babble in their sleep." 





As the little monster makes his way past the sleeping monsters, he's doing more than being a tour guide. Sharp eyes will notice that he is collecting items as he goes along, recording the nighttime sounds of his fellow monsters. But WHY he is doing this is not revealed until an alarm clock goes off, all the monsters wake up and we discover that, "after a snooze, monsters are alawys VERY hungry" and will start looking for little monsters to eat. From his hiding place, his recorder blaring out the sleep sounds he recorded, the little monster watched them flee, saying, "Hee, hee! I love it when a plan comes together!"  The final page puts it all in place as we see the little monster, safe down a hole, sleeping soundly with his recorder and all the things he gathered along the way.


 More books by Leigh Hodgkinson!

Goldilocks and Just the One Bear



Troll Swap


Magical Mix-Ups


Source: Review Copy

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15. Picture Book Monday with a review of Fuddles and Puddles

Not long ago we brought a new kitten into the household. Our two dogs were thrilled to bits to have a new playmate, but the two cats were appalled and disgusted. They behaved as if a fate worse than death had been placed upon them, and were rude and anti-social for days. Thankfully, the kitten's charms have started to wear down the older cats' standoffish behavior. There is only so much you can do when a little furry person snuggles up against you.

In today's picture book you will see what happens when a large and indulged cat called Fuddles gets a new housemate who is.....prepare yourself.....a puppy!


Fuddles and PuddlesFuddles and Puddles
Frans Vischer
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-3839-1
Fuddles is a fat, lazy, and utterly content cat. His people spoil him rotten and that is exactly how things should be. According to Fuddles. Then one day Fuddles wakes up from a nap, he goes into the kitchen, and he sees that there is a puddle on the floor. Worse still there is a little dog that goes with the puddle. A dog that barks and drools, and makes puddles. Fuddles is “disgusted” and he wants nothing to do with the dog.
   Unfortunately, Puddles does not seem to understand how much Fuddles dislikes him. The little dog follows Fuddles everywhere, even to the litterbox. Fuddles hardly gets a break from the little pest and one day, when Fuddles catches Puddles eating his food, the cat loses his temper. He has had enough, and so he yowls and is so frightening that the dog runs away and he stays away. Fuddles is “delighted.” He has got rid of the dog pest and now life can settle down and go back to the way it was.
   All is well until Fuddles gets himself into a dreadful situation; a situation that means that he needs help and he needs it quickly.
   Many of us hate it when change comes into our lives, especially when that change brings inconveniences and perhaps a little chaos with it. What we often don’t realize is that change can actually be a good thing; it can bring unexpected gifts with it that we did not even know about.  
   With wonderful touches of humor and an appreciation for human (and cat) nature, Frans Vischer brings us a third Fuddles story that will delight readers of all ages.


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16. What is a Child?

What is a Child? Beatrice Alemagna. 2016. Tate. 36 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A child is a small person. They are only small for a little while, then they grow up. They grow without even thinking about it. Slowly and silently, their body grows taller. A child is not a child forever. One day, they change.

Premise/plot: "What is a Child?" That is the question asked and answered by author, Beatrice Alemagna. Her answers are thoughtful, and, at times poetic. She definitely takes the question seriously.

My thoughts: I really found myself loving the text. Here's a phrase that caught me: "The children who decide not to grow up will never grow up. They keep a mystery inside them." And another, "Children want to be listened to with eyes wide open."

While I loved the text, I didn't love the illustrations.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 2 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. A Child of Books

A Child of Books. Oliver Jeffers. 2016. Candlewick Press. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I am a child of books. I come from a world of stories and upon my imagination I float.

Premise/plot: Books are celebrated in Oliver Jeffers' newest picture book. The illustrations are both simple and complex. Many illustrations feature a young girl and boy. Most pages also feature illustrations crafted out of the text of many, many books. For example, a path is created using the text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Or a mountain is created using the text of Peter Pan and Wendy. Or tree branches are created using the text of several fairy tales. Each two-page spread is well-worth an adult's time.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. The narrative itself is beautiful, definitely poetic. I think the narrative is simple enough that it could work as a read aloud for almost any age. (Well, maybe not babies and toddlers and preschoolers with almost nonexistent attention spans.) The illustrations add a lot of depth and complexity. This element would probably be lost for a group read aloud, but, perhaps preserved in reading one on one with a child. Adults could definitely spend a LOT of time looking carefully at every single page. If you've read a lot, you may recognize phrases from the illustrations that 'jump' out at you.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Ferocious Fluffity, by Erica S. Perl and Henry Cole (ages 4-8) -- uproariously funny (cautionary) tale

Just look at this cute little hamster on the cover--but wait, the title says it's ferocious?!? Yes, my friends, things are not always as they seem. And you better listen when your teacher says to be careful...

Ferocious Fluffity: A mighty bite-y class pet
by Erica S. Perl
illustrated by Henry Cole
Abrams, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Right from the get-go, readers will know that Erica Perl wants them to question whether Fluffity is indeed as cute as her name suggests. And her subtitle, "a mighty bite-y class pet" gives a clue about the way she plays with rhymes. The cover only hints how uproariously funny this story is--just wait till Fluffity gets loose.

Mr. Drake's second grade class is so excited when Fluffity arrives as their new class pet. Kids call out, "She's so tiny." "She's so sweet!"/ "Such cute whiskers!" "Such cute feet!" Mr. Drake warns them that they have to wait to hold her, but every kid is yearning to hold her.
"The box was big and tall and wide.
Could there be a pet inside?"
"Look--don't touch," warns Mr. Drake, "Though the children nodded yes, / Did they mean it? Take a guess." Just a few days later, Mr. Drake is late and the class decides to take out Fluffity, passing her around. Right then, the class discovers her true FEROCIOUS nature--biting and chasing everyone down the hall and into the library!
"No one's sure who held her first.
Things got bad. Then things got worse."
Erica Perl's rhyming text is delightful to read aloud, and kids will love how the pacing adds to the excitement. I'd recommend this either as a read-aloud, or for a developing reader to read. They rhymes remind me a lot of Dr. Seuss's beginning readers. As Tasha Sackler says in her review at Waking Brain Cells,
"Perl handles her rhyme with panache, using it to up the frenzied action and to increase the humor as well. The rhyme adds a galloping pace to the book that is wonderful as well as making it a treat to read aloud."
Henry Cole's illustrations amplify the humor, with student's cartoon faces and astonished expressions. Kids will love how he contrasts Fluffity's tiny size to the kids' panicked reactions. His diverse classroom, with its African American teacher, make this even more relatable.
"First she chased them down the hall,
Through the gym, and up a wall."
So my young friends, here's hoping that you listen to your teacher's instructions. You can't always judge a book by its cover, or a pet by its size. (PS: Mr. Cole, I adore the cover and think kids will too.)

Illustrations copyright © Henry Cole, 2016, shared with permission of the publisher. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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19. B is for Big Ben

B is for Big Ben. Pamela Duncan Edwards. 2016. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: A is for the Anglo-Saxons...

Premise/plot: The book is an alphabet book for a much, much older audience. The "main" narrative perhaps is simple enough that it could be read aloud to elementary students. But each page has paragraphs of side text that are weighty indeed. This information would not be of interest to say, first graders or second graders, and perhaps even of limited appeal to older children, say fourth and fifth graders. Emphasis on limited: there will always be readers--no matter their age--who do love HISTORY and are interested in CULTURE.

My thoughts: Well, I really wanted to love this one. I did. I didn't dislike it by any means. I preferred the weighty "side" text that is packed with a LOT of information. I was not overly impressed by the alphabet side of it. For example, "F is for Famous Folk." It goes on in poetic form to add: "There have been many famous people from England through the years--many artists, poets, and writers, scientists, and engineers." Now in the aside, readers learn about Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Victoria, and Robert Scott.

Some of the choices seemed both random and generic. (For example: "Historic Sites" and "Famous Folk." Others seem to be specific and meaningful. (For example, "London," "Guy Fawkes," "Domesday Book," "William Shakespeare," and "Union Jack.")

I found it very informative. But I'm not sure how kids would really respond to it.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts


If you have read Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, then you already know, even without having read it, how marvelous Ada Twist, Scientist is. If you haven't read what I have come to refer to as the STEM trilogy (seriously, these books have SO MUCH teaching potential...) read any or all, and in any order you like. Each book focuses on a creative, curious child driven by a passion, be it building, inventing or asking questions about the world around her and answering her own "whys." And, in each book, our hero faces a challenge, experiences failure, rejection and being misunderstood. This trilogy is almost as much about creativity and expression of creativity as it is accepting and appreciating this passion in a person, which I adore. And these layers are what make Beaty and Roberts's books so easily embraceable and universal. Even if we are not all architects, inventors and scientists, we all have a little bit of these qualities in us and we all value (and want our kids to experience and value) the joy of expression, creation and having a passion.



Oh yeah, and did I mention that Beaty writes the STEM trilogy in absolutely perfect rhyme? Beaty, who also writes novels for kids (Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, Cicada Summer) is a master rhymer - there are never any bumps or head-shakes that happen as you read her books out loud. They FLOW... And, while I do love, love, love Iggy, it's hard not to be super excited about the girl power inherent in Rosie Revere, Engineer (yes, an elderly, pear shaped Rosie the Riveter is a character in the book) and Ada Twist, Scientist, which makes nods to Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie. These books must be read many times and very closely, as Roberts tucks all sorts of nods in his marvelous illustrations, from the titles of books to the furniture and fashions. 



Ada Marie Twist doesn't talk until she is three, but once she figures how to break out of her crib, she is on a "fact finding spree." Her parents have a hard time keeping up with "their high-flying kid, whose questions and chaos both grew as she did." As she grows older, Ada comes to relish the moment when a question takes shape in her mind, this just happens to be the least messy and chaotic part of the process. Happily, her parents also come to terms with the messy and chaotic parts of the process.







I hope that you will purchase any and all of the books in this trilogy for the little people in your life. From the characters and their stories to the rhymes to the magnificent illustrations, these books are about joy - about joy and the qualities that make us human and make life worthwhile - creating, exploring and sharing.










And how cool is this??? A journal! With graph paper pages!





Source: Review Copy


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21. Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith, book design by Molly Leach


It's hard to be different. Especially when you look like everyone else around you. And you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, I mean the snow. That's how Penguin Problems, written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith begins.
It's way too early. Way too cold. Too much squawking. Too much snow. Too bright. For our hero, the grumpy, misanthropic penguin, it's just one thing after another. The "ocean smells to salty," and buoyancy is a challenge, "I sink like a dumb rock." The indignations just don't end. Being hunted stinks. Waddling is an embarrassment. 



Finally, this penguin just can't take it anymore. In the midst of the snow, the ice, the crowds, he raises his little penguin fists and shouts, "I have so many problems! And nobody even cares!" For a moment, Penguin Problems shifts from picture book to novel as a walrus emerges from the tundra to show this penguin that it's not so bad, starting off with, "I sense that today as been difficult, but lo! Look around you, Penguin." The walrus urges the penguin to notice the beauty all around, to simply stand "with your penguin brothers and sisters and elders, who adore you." Yes, things are challenging and yes, we all have difficult moments, "from the walruses to the polar bears, to the whales to the penguins." But, "when you think about it, you'll realize that you are exactly where you need to be."


It's definitely a surprise - a good surprise - when the walrus moment arrives and goes on and on. And, just when you feel like Penguin Problems has taken a turn into the world of sentimental ly sweet picture books, a page turn takes us back to the cranky penguin, who is shrieking, "Who the heck was that guy?! Why do strangers always talk to me? Walruses don't understand penguin problems!" But, with a sigh, the penguin does gradually allow the wisdom of the walrus to sink in...

Source: Review Copy

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22. Picture Book Monday with a review of Return

In 2013 a wordless picture book called Journey came out and it caused quite sensation in the children's book world. In this debut book Aaron Becker tells the story about a little girl who uses magic crayons to go on an adventure. In his next book, Quest, the little girl goes on another journey, one that is packed with even grander adventures, and this time she has a companion with her. Today's picture book is the final title in the trilogy, and just like the first two books in the series, it is wonderfully rich and suitable for anyone who loves beautiful art and storytelling.

ReturnReturn
Aaron Becker
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-7730-5
One day a little girl tries to get her father to spend some time with her, but he is so busy working at his drafting table that she finally gives up, goes downstairs, and uses her magic red crayon to draw a doorway on her bedroom wall. Her father finally realizes that she has gone and so he goes downstairs to investigate, which is when he sees the red door in her bedroom.
   The father goes through the door and finds himself in a beautiful forest where lamps hang from the trees. His daughter’s red ball is sitting at the end of a wooden dock. The father picks up the ball, which is when a self-propelled boat sails up the river. The man gets on board and by the light of the moon he travels to a fantastic city. He can see his daughter, who is sitting in a little red rowboat, on the river ahead of him.
   When the father finally catches up with his daughter she is with a boy, the king of the land, and a beautiful purple bird. The girl is clearly upset with her father for his neglect earlier and she has no interest in trying to make up with him. Just then the boat the father arrived in opens up and soldiers come out of it. They threaten the king, who responds by using a yellow crayon to draw a sword. The king tries to defend himself, but one of the soldiers uses a special device to suck up the sword, the yellow crayon, and the other crayons the king has. The king and the magical box are then whisked away by the enemy.
   The boy quickly draws a large purple gryphon with his crayon and then he and the girl and her father climb on the animal’s back. They fly in pursuit of the kidnappers. They are close to the enemy when one of the soldiers opens the device to suck up the gryphon. The boy is captured by the enemy, but the purple bird, father and daughter fall through the air and land in the water far below. How are they going to save the king and the boy now?
   This is the third book in a trilogy that tells the story of a pair of children who use magic crayons to travel to a world that is full of marvels and adventures. Once again the children are called upon to save the day, but this time the girl’s father also has to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter, who is clearly sorely disappointed in her parent.
   Readers of all ages are going to thoroughly enjoy this rich and exciting wordless picture book.
 

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23. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston


A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston is a treasure box for book lovers. You can open it again and again, over years and decades, and be reminded instantly of the power of words and stories, the joy to be found in words and stories, the comfort of and the magic of words and stories. A Child of Books is for explorers, cautious armchair explorers who read before they venture out and bold adventurers who head into the world and report back.

Starting with the dedication page, A Child of Books sent me out into the world. "The universe is made of stories, not of atoms," a line from Muriel Rukeyser's poem, "The Speed of Darkness," sets the tone perfectly for this picture book. Then, together, Jeffers and Winston dedicate their book to Hubrinek, following with this quote from Primo Levi's 1947 work, If This is a Man / The Truce, "Hubrinek died in the first days of March 1945, free but not redeemed. Nothing remains of him: he bears witness through these words of mine." This quote reminded me of the power of words to keep something that has passed present, but it also made me want to know more about Hubrinek and so I searched him out. 




A collaboration between Jeffers and Winston is a perfect match. I have been reading and reviewing Jeffers's books for years and his love of words and stories, starting with The Incredible Book Eating Boy in 2007, is obvious. Sam Winston, a fine artist who, in Jeffers's words makes "imaginatively crafted limited edition art books," creates typographic landscapes that shine in this picture book format. Using public domain books, the endpapers for A Child of Books are a table of contents (with some extra bits worth searching out) for what can be found making up in the landscapes inside. Text from Treasure Island, Peter Pan and Wendy, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein and lullabies are used to creates mountains, oceans, waves, monsters, caves and trees. 

And the story itself? A meditation on imagination that follows a girl who tells readers, "I am a child of books. I come from a world of stories and upon my imagination I float." Sailing across a sea of words, she reaches a house - your house, my house - where she asks, "if you will come away with me?" A page turn is all it takes to travel over "mountains of make-believe" and through "forests of fairy tales."

A Child of Books ends with these marvelous words, "For this is our world, we're made from stories . . . Our house is a home of invention where anyone at all can come, for imagination is free."

A Child of Books is a book that you will want for yourself and to give as a gift. Stock up now, the winter holidays are just around the corner!

Source: Review Copy

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24. Summer Children's-YA Lit Diversity Conversations

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Over the summer, the children's-YA book community has continued discussing diversity, decolonization, authenticity and representation both throughout the body of literature and the industry. Here are highlights; look for more in quickly upcoming, additional update posts.

Mirrors? Windows? How about Prisms? from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: "...cultural content in children’s books needs to be woven into the story so the authors intention is not stamped all over it." See also Uma on Tolstoy Was Not Writing for Me.

Twelve Fundamentals of Writing The "Other" and The Self by Daniel Jose Older from Buzzfeed Books. Peek: "Every character has a relationship to power. This includes institutional, interpersonal, historical, cultural. It plays out in the micro-aggressions and hate crimes, sex, body image, life-changing decisions, everyday annoyances and the depth of historical community trauma."

Diversity in Book Publishing Isn't Just About Writers -- Marketing Matters, Too by Jean Ho from NPR. Peek: "For past projects, she has researched segmented audiences ranging from retired African-American women's books clubs, South Asian soccer organizations, Trinidadian-interest media outlets both stateside and abroad, to extracurricular programs geared toward South Bronx teens."

Looking Back: Diversity in Board Books by Joanna Marple from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "...that children as young as six months can judge others by the color of their skin. Even if a caregiver never mentions race, children may well use skin color on their own, along with other differences, to judge themselves and others."

Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books from CCBlogC. Peek: "We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators?"

Children's Books and the Color of Characters by Kwame Alexander from The New York Times. Peek: "They all believe I am writing about them. Why is this so much harder for the grown-ups? Is race the only lens through which we can read the world?"

On White Fragility in Young Adult Literature by Justine Larbalestier from Reading While White. Peek: "...we white authors can support Indigenous authors and Authors of Color by reading their books, recommending their books, blurbing their books, and recommending them to our agents. When we're invited to conferences, or festivals, or to be in anthologies, make sure they're not majority white."

When Defending Your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself by Matthew Salesses from NPR. Peek: "Here is a not uncommon experience. Writer Emily X.R. Pan was told by the white writers in her workshop that the racism in her story could never happen — though every incident had happened to her."

There Is No Secret to Writing About People Who Don't Look Like You: The Importance of Empathy as Craft by Brandon Taylor from LitHub. Peek: "The best writing, the writing most alive with possibilities, is the writing that at once familiarizes and estranges; it’s writing that divorces us from our same-old contexts and shifts our thinking about ourselves and the world around us."

How Canada Publishes So Much Diverse Children's Literature by Ken Setterington from School Library Journal. Peek: "Considering that the entire Canadian market is about the size of the market in California alone (roughly 36 million), publishers must rely on sales outside of the country."

Biracial, Bicultural Roundtable (Part One, Part Two) by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "According to a 2015 Pew study, 6.9 percent of the U.S. population is biracial. According to the 2010 Census, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people identifying themselves with more than one race rose from 6.8 million to 9 million."

Cynsational Screening Room



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25. Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy

Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy. Richard Michelson. Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. 2016. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Lenny took a deep breath and looked out at the playhouse stage.

Premise/plot: Richard Michelson has written a picture book biography of Leonard Nimoy. The book opens in 1939 with a young Lenny preparing to sing "God Bless America" at a talent show. He was the son of Russian immigrants--Jewish, and raised so. In fact, his inspiration for the Vulcan hand gesture--live long and prosper--came from a priestly blessing.

Readers learn about his interest in photography and acting. Both would be life-long pursuits and interests.

The book closes with Leonard Nimoy taking on the role of Spock and making it truly his own. The last illustrated spread depicts the first use of the "live long and prosper" from the episode Amok Time.

The next two pages fill out the rest of his life. He was an actor and a director. He was a photographer who displayed his photographs for the public, and, in fact published them as works of art. He was also an author.

The end brings a smile to my face. Before he left home, his mother encouraged him to learn to play the accordion. Acting jobs may come and go, she warned. But musicians can find a way to work. The book ends, "But he never did learn to play the accordion."

My thoughts: I LOVED this one so much. I thought it was very charming and well written. I did indeed find it fascinating. The author's note was great. I love that this book was written by one of Leonard Nimoy's close friends. I loved the personal touch--knowing that Nimoy read and approved of the project.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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