All the Way to Havana

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Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), Margarita Engle/Mike Curato

This is one of my most anticipated releases of 2017 and there’s a lot to love about it. All the Way to Havana celebrates the resilience of Cuban people, Cuba’s car culture, the importance of family and…it’s really pretty. Like REALLY pretty. It’s nothing new that Mike Curato is a very skilled illustrator, but he really stepped it up for this book.

All the Way to Havana is a flowing poem full of onomatopoeia. It’s a fun and lively read-aloud for little ones. The story starts with a little boy ready to head into the big city of Havana for his cousin’s zero-year birthday…but ACK! their old car, Cara Cara, doesn’t want to start, so he has to tinker on it with his dad to get it running. Once the car is running, it’s a crowded journey because his family gives rides to their neighbors, but before they know it, they arrive in Havana! At the party, the baby is too little to know what’s going on but the family has fun playing, eating and resting together. The trip home is a quiet one and the next day, the little boy is back working on the car with his dad, never giving up on it.

I love how Engle compares the hard metal of Cara Cara with nature. Cara Cara sounds like a chicken (cluck cluck & pío pío) and looks like the blue of a clear sky. The old car is a part of their family and they treat it lovingly. As much as All the Way to Havana is a book about family, it’s also a book about the gorgeous vintage cars of Cuba! Just take a look at the pretty endpapers! Even though the US still imposes trade restrictions upon Cuba (this is why they have so many old cars), Cubans take what they have and make it beautiful and lasting!!

AllTheWaytoHavanaInterior

Image Credit: Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), Margarita Engle/Mike Curato

The gorgeous illustrations bring readers to Cuba; they are so SMOOTH. The story starts in the country on a clear, beautiful day. Curato introduces us to smiling, blue-eyed brown boy holding a big present for his baby cousin. Curato’s mixed media illustrations are earthy, bright and super detailed. This is a CAR book, so almost every spread centers and highlights the beauty of Cara Cara and other cars just like it. The little boy is a friendly narrator; it’s fun to follow him and his family as they glide along the dirt roads to the city. It feels like we’re also cramped in the back seat of the old Chevy Delray. As we travel to the party, we pass a barber, a busy market, kids playing in the streets and many happy brown people of all shades (woo hoo!). There’s so much to look at in these illustrations but they’re not busy at all.

It’s crucial in kidlit to get it right. To do research. To be invited in. I like to reference Jacqueline Woodson’s article Who Can Tell My Story (check it out, really) because in it she discusses the importance of being invited (“My hope is that those who write about the tears and the laughter and the language in my grandmother’s house have first sat down at the table with us and dipped the bread of their own experiences into our stew.”). Mike Curato went to Cuba to research this book and Margarita Engle’s cousins showed him around. That is AWESOME & important. 🙂

All the Way to Havana is a beautiful collaboration between two master storytellers. I’m really excited to own this book. Let’s celebrate it, y’all!! Please add this one to your collections. I hope this book wins a Caldecott and/or Pura Belpré award next year. It is a delight.

 

P.S. Check out Mike Curato discussing All the Way to Havana and doing a live-drawing of Cara-Cara (and Little Elliot!) here. Also, make sure you take off the book’s jacket for a surprise. 😉 Vroom-Vroom!

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Cuba, Cuban Culture, Cars, City Life/Country Life, Perseverance, Determination, Colors, Read-Aloud
Book Info: All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle/Illustrated by Mike Curato, 2017 Henry Holt and Company (Macmillan), ISBN: 9781627796422

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New York is My Playground

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Image Credit: POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), Jane Goodrich/Bob Raczka

City life. Movement. Happy kids.

New York is My Playground is a joyful romp though New York City. Goodrich’s vibrant photographs accompany Raczka’s playful words in this simple and beautiful book. It’s more of a collection of photographs with text than a story; one huge spread shows a little boy “holding up” a large red sculpture and he says “I feel like I can do anything in New York.”

This book showcases the hustle & bustle of New York but also explores the fact that you can find a quiet, restful spot when you need it. Curious kids twist, run, jump and play on every page. I love the diversity of the kids and the energy of the photography. Goodrich’s shots are dynamic! The typography, with its vibrant colors, is fun; it looks like graffiti covering the city landscape. Instead of sitting in straight lines on the page, the typography is blended & bended into the city landscape. It’s really visually interesting.

This is a fun one! Kids in New York might recognize familiar spots and kids not in New York have the opportunity to check out a new city. New York is My Playground, with words like “running,” “dancing,” and “jumping,” is great for getting kids up and moving during story time!

Enjoy!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: City Life, New York, Movement, Diversity, Read Aloud, Friendship, Family, Photography, Exploration, Feelings, Colors
Book Info: New York is My Playground photographs by Jane Goodrich/Text by Bob Raczka, 2016 POW! (powerHouse Packaging & Supply, Inc.), ISBN: 9781576877890

Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children

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Image Credit: Cartwheel Books (Scholastic), Sandra L. Pinkney/Myles C. Pinkney

First of all, Happy Black History Month!! I always learn something new this month, so I hope you do too.

I really enjoyed Shades of Black; I recommend it as a board book and as a picture book.

Why is this book important?? Self love. It celebrates the complexity and beauty of black identity. Black people have a long history of complicated feelings about our skin color that’s connected to racism, mixed-heritage, and social constructs of beauty (White as most beautiful). For example, have you heard of the The Brown Paper Bag Test?  It was a way in which upper class & lighter-skinned Black people discriminated against darker-skinned Black people. During American slavery, lighter-skinned slaves were usually house slaves. In many cultures around the world, lighter skin is more desirable; some people even bleach their dark skin to be lighter. Hair is another complicated issue intertwined with skin color in the Black community; there’s “good hair” & “nappy hair”…

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A well worn loved copy of Shades of Black

So…a book for children that celebrates all shades of Blackness as beautiful? I’m all about it. Plus, it’s available as a board book for toddlers? This is awesome. Toddlers may not be thinking about their skin color just yet, but seeing positive images of children that look like them, that they can smile at, is important for healthy development.

Sandra L. Pinkney begins Shades of Black with “I am Black. I am Unique” in large, bold letters and it’s repeated several times throughout the text. Her words are paired with Miles C. Pinkney’s beautiful & vivid photographs. Sandra compares various shades of brown skin to colorful foods; the children in the photos are joyful and curious. She also talks about Black hair (“My hair is the soft puffs in a cotton ball and the stiff ringlets in lamb’s wool.”) and compares our eye colors to those found in semiprecious stones. At the end of the book, she reminds Black children that they come from ancient kings and queens; a fact that the institution of slavery tried to snuff out!!

I highly recommend Shades of Black; it shows that books written by #ownvoices are necessary…and beautiful! Pick up this book and read it with your child; the children’s smiles are infectious. Black children are gorgeous! ❤

**P.S. Shades of Black won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work!

 

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Empowerment, Positivity, Kid Faces, African-American, Black History Month, Happiness, Black Hair, Colors, Foods, Opposites, Diversity, Own Voices
Book Info: Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney/Photographs by Myles C. Pinkney, 2006 Cartwheel Books (Scholastic), ISBN: 9780439802512

 

 

Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Native Art

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Image Credit: Native Explore (Native Northwest/Garfinkel Productions)

Something a little different & original for an ABC board book, yeah?

Native Northwest works to create quality learning tools for children. Native Explore (their division for children) works with Native artists and proceeds from their products go back to educators and indigenous learning programs. All the artists whose work is featured are listed on the back of the book by their name & nation. Because Native art is often appropriated, it’s encouraging to see a collection of authentic native art for children in such an approachable medium.

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Image Credit: Native Explore (Native Northwest/Garfinkel Productions)

I was drawn to this book because the images really pop! Little ones will enjoy the vibrant colors as they chew on the pages. The format is very simple; each page teaches a letter, a word and features an illustration. E is for a bright magenta Eagle and R is for a dynamic red, black and white Raven.

Another board book by this company that I really enjoy is Good Night World; in it we see all types of animals slow down and prepare for sleep. I hope you’ll take some time to check out their board books; here’s a link to their Educational Resources page. I really hope they’ll do a touch and feel board book next!

 

Recommended for: Babies and Toddlers
Great for: ABC, Early Learning, Early Childhood Development, Colors, Animals, Native Americans, Native Artists, Word Association
Book Info: Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Native Art, 2010 Native Explore (Native Northwest/Garfinkel Productions), ISBN: 9781554761647

My Blue is Happy

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jessica Young/Catia Chien

My Blue is Happy is refreshing. It looks at how we connect colors to different emotions/experiences and how color carries different meaning for everyone. How the young girl in the story interprets her world isn’t so black and white. HER blue isn’t sad…it’s happy and joyful. She doesn’t see yellow as her mother does, cheerful and warm; her yellow is worried and frantic. She sees colors from a very rich perspective and they are special to her. As we follow the girl’s colorful daily life, we meet her family members too and get to see how they interpret color.

Jessica Young’s writing is pretty and visual. Good thing she was paired with Catia Chien whose warm acrylic illustrations work perfectly with the text. She uses scratchy, long streaks of color to create magical scenes. Chien is not afraid of color, she uses it confidently. This book has great potential in the classroom and home to spark creative thinking and lively discussion about color! It could also work well in therapy and counseling because it very vividly discusses emotion and feeling. I hope you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did!  🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Emotions, Perspective, Personalities, Colors, Similes, Relationships, Family, Quiet Moments, Discussion, Animals
Book Info: My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young/Illustrated by Catia Chien, 2013 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763651251

Strawberries Are Red

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Petr Horáček

This is such a charming little board book! Reading it puts a smile on my face so I hope little ones will love it just as much.

A simple concept executed well can make a memorable book and board books that keep it simple are usually the most effective for learning. In Strawberries Are Red, children can make a fruit salad while learning colors and fruits. Simple sentences like “Oranges are orange” are paired with vibrant watercolor and crayon illustrations. The crayon-resist watercolor illustrations really glow. The light outline of the crayon helps the fruit to stand out against the rich watercolor washes. So pretty!

I love the way Horáček designed the book. When you flip each page, you can see the fruit from the page before, building up fruits until the last page where suddenly…all the fruits are in a bowl! Yummy! Check out Strawberries Are Red; it’s perfect for summertime. Now I want a fruit salad…

 

Recommended for: Babies and Toddlers
Great for: Contrast, Colors, Fruit, First Concepts
Book Info: Strawberries Are Red by Petr Horáček, 2002 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763614614

Orange Pear Apple Bear

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Image Credit: Little Simon (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), Emily Gravett

This chunky board book is smart and the illustrations are beautiful. On the surface it’s a simple word-picture association book for early vocabulary learning but then…things get funky as Gravett starts to MIX IT UP! Bear has the best expressions. Have you ever seen an Apple Bear? I sure haven’t! But he doesn’t seem to mind too much and keeps on juggling the fruit until…he gets a little hungry!

The watercolor illustrations in Orange Pear Apple Bear are vibrant and sure to attract your baby’s attention. The use of white space draws the eye to the images, making them pop. Blotchy colors and sketchy strokes bring bear and the fruits to life. Bear is a cute and curious guy, and your family will enjoy his antics!

P.S. Once again, clever use of the front and end endpapers! Shouldn’t leave tasty fruit uneaten, right?

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Image Credit: Little Simon (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), Emily Gravett

 

Recommended for: Babies and Toddlers
Great for: Early Learning, Animals, Vocabulary, Word Association, Colors, Shapes, Humor, Foods, Fruit, Rhyme, Read-Aloud
Book Info: Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett, 2011 Little Simon (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), ISBN: 9781442420038

Ask Me

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bernard Waber/Suzy Lee

Ask Me, written by Bernard Waber and posthumously published with illustrations by Suzy Lee is so sweet. The little girl in the story enjoys a fun day with her dad. As they spend time together, she asks him to ask her questions about her likes and reminds him about things she loves. They’re both attentive towards each other while being totally a part of their autumn surroundings. Their relationship is very solid and loving and I appreciate the fresh style of the writing; the story is essentially dialogue between the two. The pace and delivery of the story (also the illustrations) remind me of another great book about a father and daughter, Sidewalk Flowers.

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bernard Waber/Suzy Lee

Lee depicts a messy piggy-back ice cream treat, romping through the falling leaves and dad pretending to be a bear. These are just a few of the tender moments in this book. I love the way she uses colored pencil and long, scratchy strokes to create the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows of fall leaves. Not only is the story comforting, but the colors and her sketchy-style of illustration is as well and readers will love this father-daughter relationship. What a cute book!

P.S. Another book that starts on the end pages (like Remy and Lulu)! Watch them get ready for their day out. 🙂

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Relationships, Father-Daughter, Colors, Animals, Autumn, Nature, Community, Read-Aloud, Love, Environment, Discussion
Book Info: Ask Me by Bernard Waber/Illustrated by Suzy Lee, 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780547733944

Before After

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Anne-Margot Ramstein/Matthias Arégui

Before After is a neat book that can be enjoyed by people of all ages; it works just as well as a gift for an inquisitive child as it does sitting on a coffee table. It’s a very conceptual book in that there are no words and only sets of illustrations that show before…then after. Some of the sets of illustrations work together to tell a short story, and we might see a image later in the book that we saw before. Most of the images are connected in some way and this is the beauty of the book! Creating a story. It’s great for storyboarding and sparking imaginative thinking; who do you think ate all this cake and why? Why’d they leave one piece?

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Anne-Margot Ramstein/ Matthias Arégui

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Anne-Margot Ramstein/ Matthias Arégui

Some before and afters span a few hours, others thousands of years!! One of my favorite sequences is Octopus -> Ink. Carrier Pigeon -> Feather for a quill which sits in the ink. Quill and ink -> Typewriter. Carrier Pigeon -> Letter ready to mail. Airplane jetting off (from a city we’ve maybe seen before?)

Ramstein and Arégui’s digital illustrations are beautiful with clean lines and a wide range of colors. I like how striking they are with an outline of color that makes the images pop. They do an amazing job of storytelling and help the reader to think about beginnings, endings, the sequence of events, results, processes, building up and tearing down, time and life and death. Whew that’s a lot for one book right? Before After is pretty amazing and very worth experiencing.

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Animals, Colors, Storyboarding, Storytelling, Imagination, Discussion, Time, Process, Imagination, Inquisitive Minds, Wordless
Book Info: Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui, 2013 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763676216

Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings

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Image Credit: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House), Matthew Van Fleet

 

Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings was one of my go-to baby book recommendations as a bookseller because it combines so many important topics for early childhood development into one book! It teaches vocabulary (great adjectives), shapes, colors, counting, animals AND is a “touch and feel book.”

Each page introduces a new animal, shape and color. Children see the shape, can touch the shape and open the fold…to meet an animal! They can even practice counting them. The layout of this book is very smart and Matthew Van Fleet also includes a game at the back of the book. His illustrations are always very cute, bright and inviting. I enjoy the Bumpy Brown Toads the most! They have great expressions. Van Fleet is one of the best author/illustrators for novelty children’s board books. If you haven’t heard of him, be sure to check out this one and his other books like Tails, Dog, Cat, Munch! and Alphabet.

P.S. Though this book is sturdy, it’s not quite a “board book.” You’ll have to supervise little people who love to rip rip rip!

 

Recommended for: Babies and Toddlers
Great for: Vocabulary, Adjectives, Touch and Feel, Multi-Sensory, Counting, Colors, Animals, Shapes
Book Info: Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings by Matthew Van Fleet, 1995 Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9780803717596