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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Finding Community at the 2017 Kweli Conference in NYC

 

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This Cincinnati girl hopped on a plane and became a New Yorker for a few days!

On April 8th, I woke up bright and early and took the train to downtown Manhattan for the Kweli: Color of Children’s Literature Conference. As I walked down the massive hallway of The New York Times building and rounded the corner, I saw conference organizer, Laura Pegram’s smiling face and I knew I was at home. I felt immediately welcome and energized for a day of connecting with authors, illustrators and publishing industry professionals. My friend/debut author Traci Sorell found me right away and gave me a huge hug; it was so great to finally meet her in person!  Continue reading

NightLights

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Gorgeous.

NightLights is a new graphic novel about a magical girl who draws outside of the lines. Sandy has trouble fitting in; she’s a day-dreamer, a creative-type, and is misunderstood by not only her peers but her teachers.

Sandy has power. She takes the lights that appear in her bedroom and turns them into whimsical creatures. In her dreams she interacts with them and doodles them in the morning (and during class). Her classmates bully and tease her for having her head in the clouds until one day, a new girl named Morphie befriends her and tells her how good her art is. Interestingly enough, Sandy is the only person who can see Morphie but as she grows closer to the magical girl, she starts to feel uneasy.

Morphie is a greedy being; greedy for Sandy’s delicious & beautiful drawings. Even worse, Morphie begins to make Sandy question her creativity and independence; “And once you realize that you need me to tell you how brilliant you are, nothing will keep us apart!” she says.

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Morphie…is Sandy’s insecurity.

This story excellently explores the emotional difficulty of “not fitting in.” Sandy doesn’t think linearly; her mind blossoms with color and creatures and magic and so she has trouble in her rigid Catholic school. Insecurity slowly starts to creep in. As she battles herself, she finds strength by embracing her creativity (and even her insecurity and fear). This is such an important message for readers of all ages.

Alvarez creates a setting inspired by her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia (but dipped in colorful fantasy that rivals Miyazaki). NightLights works well as a graphic novel; each panel’s dialogue and illustration are well crafted. Her attention to detail and use of color is amazing! She weaves reality with fantasy to create a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Readers will feel uneasy when Sandy interacts with Morphie & the twisted monsters she’s forced to create. They’ll also feel proud of her as she explores the beauty of her mind. I had a really great conversation with illustrator Erin Baker who pointed out the motif of “eyes” in this book. Sandy’s eyes are extremely expressive and the eyes of her fantasy creatures are fascinating and creepy.

There’s a lot packed into this graphic novel and I’m really excited for it to release in the United States. I hope you’ll check out NightLights!

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Insecurity, Determination, Power, Diversity, Community, Family, Confidence, Creepy, Fantasy, School Life, Daydreamers, Creative Thinking
Book Info: NightLights by Lorena Alvarez, 2017 Nobrow, ISBN: 9781910620137

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), Michelle Edwards/G. Brian Karas

 

Happy New Year!! 😀

2017 is going to need a heaping spoonful of kindness. Kindness and consideration for others. But it’s not just “consideration” that we need, it’s holding people in our hearts. There’s a difference there. A deeper level of connection.

In A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, we meet Sophia and Mrs. Goldman who are close friends and neighbors. Mrs. Goldman has cared for and loved Sophia since she was a baby, when she knit her her first hat. Because Mrs. Goldman is so busy knitting for everyone else, she doesn’t have a hat to keep her head warm and Sophia decides to do something about it! Though she only vaguely remembers how to knit (her speciality is making pom-poms), she determinedly works on a special hat for her friend. It turns out a little lumpy but it’s beautiful because it’s a gift for her friend.

What I like so much about this book is that it’s very honest; two good friends love each other and work to take care of each other. The story is simple but touching storytelling and charming illustrations make it a winner. Children will learn Yiddish words like keppie (head) and mitzvah (good deed) too!  I love that Sophia is Latino and Mrs. Goldman is Jewish but it isn’t dwelled upon; there’s a great message of community and love here.

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Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), Michelle Edwards/G. Brian Karas

 

Karas’ sweet mixed media illustrations are full of gorgeous pale pinks, browns and blustery blues and greens. The illustrations are very soft, which adds to the comfortable, homey feel of the story. Sophia, with her determined expressions, brown skin and no-sense side-ponytail is a great character for children to emulate; even though she gets frustrated, she keeps working towards her goal!

Edwards even includes a pattern for Sophia’s Hat at the end of the book (Edwards writes for Lion Brand Yarn) so that children can dive into knitting themselves. What a sweet book about friendship and knitting! I hope you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did.

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Mitzvah, Love, Caring, Selflessness, Determination, Creative Thinking, Kindness, Relationships, Diversity, Community, Knitting
Book Info: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards/Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, 2016 Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House LLC), ISBN: 9780553497106

Let’s Celebrate Diwali

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Tim Palin

 

It’s almost Diwali, the festival of lights, so why not celebrate with this cool picture book!? 🙂

Let’s Celebrate Diwali tells the story of Harini and her friends. These four friends are in the same classroom and on Diwali, they share their Diwali stories. Harini is Hindu, Dhimen is Buddhist, Urvi is Jain and Amrit is Sikh. Dressed in traditional outfits, they take turns telling how they celebrate the holiday and readers learn how rich Diwali is. It’s important that their teacher, Ms. Lo, gives her students the ability to share their cultures and religions during circle time. Her classroom is a safe and welcoming space for all religions and cultures which is something children need to see and experience.

Harini and Urvi learn that they both light diyas for Diwali but the stories their families tell are different. This book does a great job of highlighting cultural diversity and respect; all the students in the classroom are engaged during circle time and ask great questions. At the end of the story, Anna, who does not celebrate Diwali, wishes for a special Diwali outfit too and Harini lets her wear her dupatta (scarf) and bangles. Harini races home and can’t wait to share the new Diwali stories she learned at school. Maybe readers will be inspired to learn more about the stories featured in this book!

I love the addition of a pronunciation guide + definitions of the vocabulary in the text. Anjali Joshi’s cute and relatable story is one that children will connect to and learn a lot from. I enjoyed Tim Palin’s vibrant and happy illustrations. I especially like the design of the cover; the bright, blocky letters mimic the bright lights and exciting fireworks of Diwali. The round faces of the children in the book are warm and inviting.

Here is a cute Paper Diya craft from blogger Artsy Craftsy Mom that pairs well with this book.  Just like Harani and Urvi, you’ll have diyas in your home this Diwali.

 

Happy Diwali! ❤

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Holidays, Cultural Relativity, Cultural Diversity, India, Diwali, Friendship, Community, School Life, Family, Respect, Religion, Celebration
Book Info: Let’s Celebrate Diwali by Anjali Joshi/Illustrated by Tim Palin, 2016 Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), ISBN: 9781631774218

Celebrating Our Grandmothers

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Image Credit: Inhabit Media Inc., Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Charlene Chua

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/ Elizabeth Zunon

Today I’m doing a double review of two excellent books that explore relationships with grandmothers. Fishing with Grandma and Don’t Call Me Grandma are very different stories that feature loving and powerful grandmothers.

Don’t Call Me Grandma wasn’t what I expected it to be. From reading the title alone, I assumed it would be about a grandmother who doesn’t want to be reminded of her age but that’s not what it’s about at all! Vaunda Micheaux Nelson writes really great books by the way; I’ve already reviewed The Book Itch and Bad News for Outlaws. This book tells the story of a little girl and her relationship with her glamorous Great-Grandmother Nell. Great-Grandmother Nell has a strong personality; she’s very prickly but is also loving (in her own way). Nell’s great-granddaughter is slightly scared of her but because she knows how special she is, she works hard to get close to her.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks scenes in this book because they tell us more about Great-Grandmother Nell. The scene about Nell’s first heart-break is very moving, though it’s not the kind of heart-break you might expect. Great-Grandmother Nell is ninety six  years old and has lived through the civil rights movement and more. I’m glad to see this story discuss race and being a Colored girl (and later a Colored woman) in the United States.

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations are beautiful. Her style is a mix of watercolor, pen, markers, collage and pencil. Great-granddaughter favors Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandmother’s warm brown face is full of rich lines and wrinkles. All the beautiful perfume bottles on her vanity and the scene where she teaches her great-granddaughter how to blot her lipstick reminds me of my grandmother. For the flashback scenes, Zunon uses blotchy watercolors that give the feeling of hazy memory. Check out this behind the scenes blog post about how Zunon created the illustrations!

Great-Grandmother Nell is a strong grandmother and so is Anaanatsiaq (grandmother) in Fishing with Grandma. She drives an ATV and is always down for an adventure! In the story, a little boy and girl are excited to visit their favorite elder. Their visit starts with string games and fresh bannock from the oven but the children are eager for a little more adventure. They decide to go jigging for fish on the ice and Anaanatsiaq shows them how to dress for the cold. She also shows them to how to check the ice for thickness (safety first) and how to use traditional tools!

One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s full of Inuktitut words and describes Inuit fishing tools. Children can learn a bit of another language while enjoying a story about a loving indigenous family. Another plus is that the story is co-written by Inuit elder Susan Avingaq…so it’s a story about indigenous peoples written by an indigenous woman for children all over the world. This is the power of #ownvoices.

After the family has a successful day of fishing, Anaanatsiaq explains that the extra fish they caught will go to elders who can’t make it out to the lake. It’s important to give and think of others and also important to learn traditional skills, she says. These are good lessons for children all over the world to take away.

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Image Credit: Inhabit Media Inc., Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Charlene Chua

Charlene Chua’s digital illustrations are so clean and vibrant. I love how she brings their community to life and I especially like the spreads on the blue ice and underwater with the beautiful Arctic char. I like how she uses streaks of color to fill space; it creates a pretty effect. Her characters have such bright expressions and rosy cheeks! Annanatsiaq is loving and protective of her curious grandchildren; her happy face shows a lot of pride. They’re adventurers just like her!

I hope your family will take time to enjoy these two stories about grandmothers. Maybe you can even read them with your grandmothers!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Grandmothers, Relationships, Teamwork, Ice Fishing, Siblings, Love, Indigenous Peoples, Community, Diversity, Strong Women
Book Info: Fishing with Grandma by Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Illustrated by Charlene Chua, 2016 Inhabit Media Inc., ISBN: 9781772270846

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Grandmothers, Racism, History, Relationships, African American, Strong Women, Patience, Understanding
Book Info: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, 2016 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781467742085

A Piece of Home

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jeri Watts/Hyewon Yum

Creating a new ordinary.

Not everyone wants to stand out, especially if your family moves to a new country and you suddenly feel different from everyone else. Hee Jun is a self proclaimed “ordinary” Korean boy and his grandmother is a highly respected teacher in Korea…until Hee Jun’s father gets a job in West Virginia and everything changes. Hee Jun’s family goes through a roller coaster of emotions until they find comfort and familiarity in their new lives.

Jeri Watts does a great job of depicting Korean culture and children’s emotions during times of change. This story was inspired by a Korean student who desperately wanted her to understand him and felt out of place in his new home of Virginia. As great as her storytelling is, the book wouldn’t be what it is without Hyewon Yum’s authentic voice coming through in the art. From the first page, I felt like I was back on the side streets surrounding my 초등학교 (elementary school). My school had a 떡볶이 (spicy rice cake) shop across the street just like the high school Hee Jun’s grandmother teaches at. I love how Yum incorporates Korean words and sentences into the illustrations. Her art is evocative and she’s great at characterization and creating story.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jeri Watts/Hyewon Yum

I really connected to this book because (as you can probably guess) I used to live in Korea. I graduated from college and almost immediately flew over to start a new life as an English teacher. Similar to Hee Jun, I felt out of control and confused at times. He also reminds me of my students, especially the ones who wanted to get to know me but didn’t have confidence in their ability to communicate with me. I made them feel uncomfortable in their own space, which must’ve been nerve-wracking! The world caters to native English speakers but Native English speaking countries rarely cater to non-native English speakers! >_< Like Hee Jun’s grandmother, immigrants bring richness into the United States that shouldn’t be ignored just because they struggle with English.

The other day I snapped this photo of 무궁화 (Mugungwha/Rose of Sharon) growing near my house. It made me think of my city of 대구 and my friends and students there.
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I hope you enjoy A Piece of Home as much as I did. I think a lot of children will be able to relate to it!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Immigration, Friendship, Korea, Korean Culture, Inner Strength, Difference, School Life, Diversity, Discussion, Language, Confidence
Book Info: A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts/Illustrated by Hyewon Yum, 2016 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763669713

What Can You Do With a Paleta?

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Image Credit: Tricycle Press (Ten Speed Press), Carmen Tafolla/Magaly Morales

What Can You Do With a Paleta? is a joyful celebration of summer and community. The little girl’s barrio is rich, vibrant and full of juicy paletas!  Summertime isn’t complete without a cold sweet treat to cool you down and in this book we learn all the things that can be done with a paleta…

Food is community; it brings people together. In the girl’s barrio, the tinkling bell of the paleta wagon mixed with the smell of fresh buttery tortillas is distinct and welcoming. We follow her as she shows us how a paleta can help make new friends, how an icy blue one leaves a big blue mustache and how giving someone a paleta can make their day! I love how Carmen Tafolla opens the book with a lyrical, visual description of the barrio and ends with the same words. This creates the feeling of being invited to the barrio and as we leave, we’re reminded of the sweet smells, flavors and sights of our visit. It’s lovely!

Magaly Morales’ illustrations are bold, rich and earthy. Her style reminds me of Yuyi Morales’ older work (Sand Sister). We get to peek through the windows of the houses in the community and Morales’ use of pink, orange and yellow acrylics washes the pages in warmth. Brown faces are smiling, laughing and enjoying the hot summer! The paletas, in all their vibrant colors, look refreshing and delicious.

I hope you’ll enjoy What Can You Do With a Paleta? It’s the perfect summer read-aloud. 🙂

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Love, Mexican Culture, Food Culture, Summertime, Friendship, Fun, Happiness, Diversity, Siblings, Read-Aloud
Book Info: What Can You Do With a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla/Illustrated by Magaly Morales, 2009 Tricycle Press (Ten Speed Press), ISBN: 9781582462219

Apple Pie 4th of July

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Janet S. Wong/Margaret Chodos-Irvine

I found this book by happy accident while shopping in one of my local indie bookstores. The cover drew me in and the content impressed me too. Can’t you tell from the cover that the little girl has some sass? Ha!

The Fourth of July is a very straight-forward holiday for some and complicated for others so I couldn’t pass up a book that features diverse perspectives. In Apple Pie 4th of July, a girl doesn’t understand why her family’s Chinese restaurant/corner store HAS to be open on the 4th of July; no one wants Chinese food on the holiday and she’s missing the parade! Her immigrant parents simply don’t get it. But maybe her parents know something (fireworks ARE from China by the way…) and maybe her holiday will turn out fun in the end!

There’s a lot packed into this book. Though she thinks she knows exactly what it means to be American and she underestimates her parents’ understanding of American culture, she learns that their Chinese-ness fits perfectly in. She’s growing up and finding her way. I really enjoyed the writing; I like the way Wong breaks up sentences and spreads them across the pages. The illustrations are beautiful; Chodos-Irvine’s linocuts are dynamic, with strong shapes and lines. She’s also excellent at characterization. Wong and Chodos-Irvine know how to use space effectively to tell a great story.

AHH how refreshing; of course I had to find something a little different for my 4th of July post! 😉

Happy Fourth! Now I’m ready for a slice of apple pie…

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Fourth of July, Holidays, Asian American, Chinese American, Diversity, Immigrants, Perspective, Restaurant Life, Discussion, Community, Chinese Food, Lessons, Celebration
Book Info: Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong/Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine, 2006 Voyager Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), ISBN: 9780152057084

It’s Ramadan, Curious George

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s the month of Ramadan, a time for Muslims around the world to pray, reflect, and fast with loved ones. Last night at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, at least fifty people were killed and the shooter seems to be Muslim.  In this time of sadness, this tragedy has already resulted in increased Islamophobia and racism towards Muslims in our country.

We MUST love and understand each other. Hatred has no place here.

It’s Ramadan, Curious George is an important and sweet addition to the Curious George book series. We need more books that are mirrors for Muslim children and this is one more to add to your shelf. There’s already a Happy Hanukkah, Curious Georgemany Christmas books, and now we have one to celebrate Ramadan! I hope this cute book makes it into the hands of Muslim children who need it and any child who wants to learn more about Ramadan and Islam.

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s Ramadan, Curious George is a tabbed board book; its sturdy size and format is perfect for little hands to grasp. Each tab highlights a chapter of the story with a small illustration. The story follows Curious George, The Man with the Yellow Hat and their new friend, Kareem. Kareem is going to try fasting for Ramadan for the first time and Curious George is actually helpful!  😉  He cooks delicious food with Kareem’s family and helps Kareem make it through his tough first day of fasting. The book also discusses the importance of sharing with others; Curious George helps with a food drive at the mosque and even inspires a new tradition! At the end of Ramadan, they happily celebrate Eid together and Curious George is glad to have experienced it all.

Hena Khan (Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns) did another great job with this one. Her informative rhyming text with Mary O’Keefe Young’s sweet illustrations is perfect. You’ll want to keep this book on your shelf not only for Ramadan, but all year long. Books like this are not only important for children who need them but are also important for fostering respect and understanding of different cultures at an early age. I hope you’ll enjoy it with your family!

Ramadan Mubarak!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Community, Ramadan, Religion, Relationships, Love, Respect, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Cultural Relativism, Cultures, Understanding, Discussion, Animals, Read-Aloud
Book Info: It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan/Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young, 2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544652262