Outside Over There

Image Credit: HarperCollins, Maurice Sendak

Image Credit: HarperCollins, Maurice Sendak

Happy Halloween!

Ah, such a delightfully creepy holiday deserves an equally creepy book review. Today I’ll discuss Maurice Sendak’s 1982 Caldecott Award winning book, Outside Over There. Let me just put this out there, I like Maurice Sendak but I think Where the Wild Things Are is a bit overrated. I like many of his other books much more, including this one. The color palate is very muted and his style is more realistic. There’s a lot going on in the detailed illustrations and they are very fantastical.

In Outside Over There, little Ida’s dad goes away to sea and leaves his family to fend for themselves. While Ida’s mother looks forlorn and sits in her arbor daydreaming, Ida takes care of business. She plays her wonder horn to soothe her baby sister but she doesn’t watch her carefully. Two goblins sneak through the window and steal her sister, leaving a baby of ice. Ida goes “beast mode” and sets off to find her sister BUT she goes through the window backwards and falls into…outside over there. Creepy right?

The writing of this book is very beautifully done; there’s some rhyme and it is reminiscent of classic western literature like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Outside Over There isn’t for everyone but it’s definitely worth a read and a look, especially if you are a fan of Sendak’s work.

Recommended for: All ages (with caution due to kidnapping/creepy goblins)
Great for: Creepy Tales, Sisterhood
Book Info: Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak, 1981 HarperCollins, ISBN: 9780060255237

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Ball

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mary Sullivan

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mary Sullivan

This post is dedicated to my good friend Scott and his doggie Fuhlonnie (Yellow Dog) who recently passed away. She was a GREAT doggie and she loved her ball, right Scott?  🙂 So does the yellow doggie in this lovely book.

Ball has only one word in the entire book. Can you guess what it is? Yup, it’s “ball.” What makes this book memorable is how clever Sullivan is with her storytelling and how charming her illustrations are. The book is set up comic-book style so you have to follow the panels to read the story. It’s about a day in the life of an energetic and lovable dog who just wants someone to play ball with. The members of the family either have to go to school, are busy or are just plain rude! It’s quite a fun book; I chuckle every time I read it. I recommend the board book form of this book because it is very sturdy and in my opinion, looks the best stylistically. This book is great for toddlers, early elementary (could make for great storyboarding/creative thinking lessons) and for ALL dog lovers. Ball…ball?…ball!!

Recommended for: Toddlers, 1st graders and dog lovers  😉
Great for: Storyboarding, Creative Thinking, Discussion
Book Info: Ball by Mary Sullivan, 2013 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544313613

Cakes in Space

Image Credit: Random House, Philip Reeve/Sarah McIntyre

Image Credit: Random House, Philip Reeve/Sarah McIntyre

Who doesn’t want to read a book about monster cakes in space?? Who could pass up a funky cover like this? Cakes in Space is FUN, snarky, totally ridiculous and a great story. This book is a stand-alone but it’s also the second in the Not-So-Impossible Tale Series by the amazing team, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. Their first book, Oliver and the Seawigs, is also awesome.

The book opens with Astra and her family heading to the new planet of Nova Mundi which is 199 years away. Before they’re locked into their pods for hibernation, Astra’s rumbling belly leads her to the ship’s “Nom-a-tron” to get a snack. She asks for the ultimate cake. The machine takes an unusually long time to process her request so she goes back to her pod to hibernate. Unfortunately the machine takes her request too literally and…MAKES CAKES THAT ARE ALIVE!! Astra wakes from her hibernation before everyone else, but 99 years have passed and the cakes have had 99 years to evolve and have taken over the ship! She has to fight the cakes and along the way she makes new friends, trusts her gut and uses her smarts.

McIntyre’s sci-fi illustrations are very cute and inviting. She only uses a few colors; orange, black, brown and gray and it works surprisingly well. This book is a mix between a picture book and a chapter book because there’s an illustration on just about every page. If you have a child who is a little trepidatious about jumping into larger chapter books, this is a great bridge for them because it isn’t too long and it has lots of pictures! It’s also one of my recommended read-aloud books for families.

Recommended for: 2nd Graders and up, Children ready for longer chapter books
Great for: Friendship, Sci-fi, Action/Adventure, Girl Power, Read-Aloud, Diversity
Book Info: Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve/Illustrated by Sarah McIntyre, 2014 Random House, ISBN: 9780385387927

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Image Credit: Bloomsbury USA, Sarah J. Maas

Image Credit: Bloomsbury USA, Sarah J. Maas

I can’t resist a good Beauty and the Beast inspired story. I also can’t resist a well-written romance, especially one with powerful a heroine. Sarah J. Maas’ lush writing will pull you into her complex, romantic world of dark magic and Faeries. If you already love her bestselling Throne of Glass series, you won’t be disappointed. Maas is marketing this novel as “New Adult” though it is sectioned in Young Adult as well. This book is definitely for the upper age range of teen due to violence and some sexual situations.

A Court of Thorns and Roses opens on a cold wintry evening with huntress Feyre tracking a deer. Her family is depending on her for a kill. She kills an abnormally large wolf that turns out to be more than a wolf; it’s a shape-shifting High Faerie of the realm Prythian. A few hours later another beastly wolf bursts through her door and takes her to his realm as punishment. A life for a life he says. As Feyre is trapped in his realm and in his house, she learns more about Tamlin, her captor and immortal Faerie. Their strong personalities clash but slowly, they start to respect and fall for each other. He needs her and she must fight for him as darkness threatens to change his world forever.

Feyre and Tamlin don’t give up on each other and the most enjoyable aspect of the novel for me was seeing the development of their relationship and the sacrifices they make. Feyre is a strong woman! She doesn’t let him push her around and loves him fiercely. Teens (and adults) who value excellent storytelling with a healthy dose of romance, fantasy and action will enjoy the first novel in this new series.

Recommended for: Older Teens to Adult
Great for: Girl Power, Action/Adventure, Romance, Fantasy, Love, Inner-Strength
Book Info: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, 2015 Bloomsbury USA, ISBN: 9781619634442

Ten, Nine, Eight

Image Credit: Tupelo Books (HarperCollins), Molly Bang

Image Credit: Tupelo Books (HarperCollins), Molly Bang

While browsing the web, I saw the cover of this book and immediately had flashbacks. I’m a very visual person and the last time I’d seen this cover was when I very little. I’d completely forgotten about this book, and so, I set out to find it.

Molly Bang covers a lot of important basics here; love, family, counting and warm illustrations. Her oil illustrations really shine and you can’t help but smile while looking at them. The cover illustration is very reminiscent of Goodnight Moon in composition. I especially recommend this book in board book form because it is the perfect size for toddlers to hold. Formulaic, descriptive lines like “Ten small toes all washed and warm” create a comfortable feeling and little ones will enjoy going to bed with this book.

We see a black father loving his child. This is important because it isn’t depicted often, in all types of media. This little book celebrates their love for each other. Regardless of ethnicity, the father-daughter relationship is underrepresented in picture books (but luckily that is changing). Ten, Nine, Eight is a great book for counting, vocabulary and bedtime and it just happens to feature a beautiful, black family.  🙂

Recommended for: Toddlers
Great for: Counting, Vocabulary, Bedtime, Family, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Father-Daughter, African-American
Book Info: Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang, 1983 Tupelo Books (HarperCollins), ISBN: 9780688149017

Hooray for Fish!

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Lucy Cousins

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Lucy Cousins

Lucy Cousins is great. She really understands what kids like. Hooray for Fish! has a little bit of everything and her illustrations are so vibrant and fun! If her name isn’t ringing a bell, she is most famous for her Maisy book series (the little white mouse). I discovered this book in one of my elementary school classrooms in Korea. My Kindergarteners loved it very much; they especially loved the page where you have to count the fish. The students in front always got up and touched the page to count them out loud.

Though this is mostly a concept book, little fish swims through the ocean to find the fish he loves the most and along the way, he meets all types of fish. He even meets an Ele-fish (yes…an elephant-fish)!! After meeting many new friends, he finally finds his mama fish and they share a fishy-kiss. I recommend the large, hardcover edition of this book but it’s also nice as a board book. Teachers, this book has great lesson potential. Your students can create their own fantasy fish or you can assign opposite words to pairs and they work together to make two fish. Your classroom will be full of colorful fish. Hooray!

Recommended for: Toddlers and Kindergarteners
Great for: Colors, Counting, Vocabulary, Opposites, Rhyme
Book Info: Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins, 2005 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763627416

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

Image Credit: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, John Steptoe

Image Credit: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, John Steptoe

Can we just take a moment to admire how beautiful the cover is? It’s easy to see why this book won a 1988 Caldecott Honor Award. This is one of my absolute favorite books from my childhood because it was one of the first books in which I saw a reflection of myself. Look at that beautiful black girl on the front!

Author/illustrator John Steptoe created this African-Cinderella story after being inspired by African folktales published in a collection called Kaffir Folktales by G.M. Theal in 1895. Theal was a South African historian who also felt it was his duty as a Christian White male to civilize the Africans. So from African roots to colonization to a Black artist living in Brooklyn, these stories traveled and inspired. Steptoe created a book that celebrates Africa. He uses water soluble inks applied by brush and pen and with this technique, his illustrations glow. They are so beautifully vibrant!

In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Mufaro has two daughters named Manyara and Nyasha. Manyara is a rotten person and treats her humble and kind sister Nyasha horribly. One day it’s announced that the Great King is looking for a new wife and only the most worthy woman will become his Queen. Manyara’s selfishness catches up with her and Nyasha’s gentle nature and kindness give her all the treasures she deserves. This twist on the western Cinderella tale is very sweet and is full of morals for people of all ages to learn from. If you have a child who loves Cinderella stories, add this one to their collection! You’ll enjoy reading it together.

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Fairytales, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Morals, History, Discussion
Book Info: Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, 1987 Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, ISBN: 9780688040451

Respect My Canon! (Please)

Image Credit: American Girl

Image Credit: American Girl, http://www.americangirl.com

I didn’t grow up reading classics that may be a part of your personal canon. I wasn’t very interested in books like Little House on the Prairie or Ramona the Brave because I had my trusty Berenstain Bears books AND several books that featured little black girls. I connected to those images unconsciously. Naturally, content was the most important thing to me in a book, but how could I not want to see someone like me? A black girl doing cool things?! Yeah, let’s read about that! [Shout out to the American Girl, Addy]

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters was one of my favorites growing up and still is; click here to read my post about it. My father was very Afrocentric, so I had many books about Africa and Black History on my bookshelf. I went to a mostly African-American Catholic elementary school and was lucky enough to have as my second grade teacher Mrs. Reid, who taught us about Black History. I distinctly remember the day we learned “We Shall Overcome.” This is where I come from. So I often wonder why it’s “expected” that I’ve read certain western children’s classics, especially in my personal reading time, as a child. I respect the western children’s classics but I don’t necessarily relate to them.

I’m just asking you to respect my canon. It is powerful too. More importantly, respect the fact that many children of color have a hard time connecting to what they read. Every child is different. Some kids, you throw any book at them and they’ll devour it. Other kids have to find that one perfect book they can relate to, that lights a spark for them. These kids might see a positive representation of themselves in a book and think quietly, “Oh hey, I can do that too?” and then they’re off. That’s all it takes. So guess what we need? MORE of these books. Let’s encourage these books in order to support these authors to get these stories out there for our children.

A Handful of Stars

Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Cynthia Lord

Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Cynthia Lord

Sweet Summery Goodness is the best way to describe this novel. Cynthia Lord creates a story of friendship set in the backdrop of a blueberry field. It’s a quick read and like the star of a blueberry, this novel is star.

Lily lives with her grandparents and helps them out in their general store. Her dog Lucky is going blind but she desperately tries to save money to get his eyesight back. Her personality is a little uptight and she is doggedly (ha!) focused on her goals. One day, Lucky romps through a blueberry field and almost runs into the busy road but Salma, a young migrant worker, lures him back to safety with her sandwich. The friendship between these two young girls begins with Lucky and he binds them together.

I enjoyed this book so much because in addition to encouraging readers to step outside of their comfort zones/be more open-minded, it also discusses Mexican migrant workers and the troubles that families have settling into new places. Salma desperately wants to feel like she belongs, to establish roots and to have real friends. Lily learns how to view the world more vibrantly though her friendship with Salma. Their worlds combine and they are both better for having found each other.

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Friendship, Community, Diversity, Tween Life, Social Issues
Book Info: A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, 2015 Scholastic Press, ISBN: 9780545700276

Bee-bim Bop!

Image Credit: Sandpiper: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Linda Sue Park

Image Credit: Sandpiper: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Linda Sue Park/Ho Baek Lee

Linda Sue Park’s sweet, lyrical Bee-bim Bop! follows a family making a traditional Korean dish and is a great story time book. It’s also an excellent cultural book for younger readers (especially toddlers).  Bibimbap is one of the most well known Korean dishes in the United States and this book brings the cooking process to life.

Bibimbap

Two delicious types of bibimbap (비빔밥)

Bee-bim Bop! is close to my heart because it reminds me of my life in Korea; especially when I lived with a host family. The sound of the rice cooker boiling in the kitchen, watching my host mother chop vegetables, and finally sitting down to eat a meal together was one of the best things about my host family life.  Koreans love to spend time together by eating, drinking and talking.

Ho Baek Lee’s bright watercolor illustrations translate the rhythm of the story well. Little ones will enjoy seeing the mischievous dog who just wants some delicious food to eat. At the end of the book, there is even a recipe for families to try to make their own special bibimbap. Park not only creates a delightful story but she also successfully teaches about Korean culture in the simplest way; through food, family and rhythm!

Recommended for: Toddlers and young children
Great for: Story time, Rhythm, Cultural Diversity, Food Culture
Book Info: Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park/Illustrated by Ho Baek Lee, 2005 Sandpaper (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), ISBN: 9780547076713