My Blue is Happy

MyBlueIsHappy

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

Silver Linings: It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon & A Good Day

ToughToLoseBalloon copy

Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random), Jarrett J Krosczka

AGoodDay

Image Credit: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), Kevin Henkes

Searching for the positive, for the silver lining, can be pretty rough. When you’re knee deep in sadness and frustration, it’s almost impossible to see the bright side. A big part of growing up is learning how to bounce back from these moments and A Good Day and It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon beautifully & creatively discuss this topic for children.

In A Good Day, four young animals have a bad day; little yellow bird loses his favorite feather and the other animals also face frustrating situations. But then, things slowly get better for each of them and even a little girl’s day brightens. This small book packs a big punch; it’s about relationships, interconnectedness and perspective. Sometimes things don’t get better but usually they do. The story is lovely in its pacing, format and emotion. The art is, as usual for Henkes, strikingly simple. Children will enjoy looking at the bright watercolor animals. I love how he draws their furrowed brows!  Continue reading

Wait

Wait

Image Credit: A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press (MacMillan), Antoinette Portis

First of all, the cover illustration wraps around to the back of the book…so 10 points to Gryffindor!!

Secondly, what a precious book that speaks loudly to the idea of quiet, slow moments. Wait is about paying attention to the details and it encourages readers to slow down and enjoy.

There are only three words spoken in the entire book. In Wait, a busy mother rushes through the city with her young son in tow while she says “Hurry” and he says “Wait.” She encourages his curiosity about the world around him while kindly nudging him on to their destination. I love how they’re in two different worlds mentally but are still very connected; she holds his hand lovingly.

This book is so clever! Portis uses foreshadowing in the illustrations to give the reader hints about what’s coming next. Be sure to keep an eye on the truck with the fish and though it seems like Mom says no to the delicious rainbow treat, maybe they’ll get another rainbow treat later!

Wait 2

Image Credit: A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press (MacMillan), Antoinette Portis

The first time I finished this book, I thought “Oh that’s sweet” but as I re-read it for this review, I realized how complex it is! Portis’ illustrations are bold & confident with rich colors. The wide pages are perfect for depicting movement since the story starts at one point and ends at another. It’s a great story about city life, relationships and appreciating the little things! Check it out!

P.S. This book pairs excellently with Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith which is another beautiful book about a city commute.

 
Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: City Life, Beginning Readers, Patience, Relationships, Diversity
Book Info: Wait by Antoinette Portis, 2015 A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press (MacMillan), ISBN: 9781596439214

Quackers

Quackers

Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random House), Liz Wong

It’s hard being a cat-duck…duck-cat…cat duckity duck. Something like that.

When it boils down to it, at one point or another we all struggle with our identity and it can be hard figuring out where you fit in. In this delightful book, Quackers knows that he’s a duck since he’s surrounded ducks but why does he look different? One day he meets another duck (that looks like him!!) and learns that he’s something called a cat…curious. After spending a day with the cats, though he does love doing cat things, he starts to miss his feathered friends. The duck life is quite nice; Quackers is happy being a cat AND a duck!

Liz Wong’s artwork is very sweet. With a palette of mostly grays, whites, oranges and beautiful greens, she takes us to a duck pond and the farm. Pretty shades of green, swaying grasses contrast with Quacker’s bright orange and brown fur and the white feathers of the ducks. She’s awesome at drawing expressions! Half the fun of the book is reading the speech bubbles and looking at the characters’ expressions.

Hope you’ll take time to enjoy Quackers with your family and classroom. What a great debut! 🙂

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Humor, Identity, Acceptance, Fitting In, Friendship, Relationships, Family, Discussion, Animals
Book Info: Quackers by Liz Wong, 2016 Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9780553511543

 

 

 

 

The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window

TheTreeintheCourtyard

Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random House), Jeff Gottesfeld/Peter McCarty

In her diary, Anne Frank tells us about a beautiful chestnut tree that grew outside of her window. This book imagines the events of Anne’s life through the tree’s lens and while doing so, we are reminded of the shock of loss and the horrors of war.

In The Tree in the Courtyard, a horse chestnut tree grows to love the young Anne Frank for her vivacious spirit. Jeff Gottesfeld gives us a very unique perspective of a very familiar and tragic moment in history. The story is very moving; when I walked away from this book, I couldn’t help but think two things 1) Anne Frank was a beautiful writer 2) What a great way to honor her spirit and help children learn not only about history but also about compassion and perspective.

The tree never fully understands exactly why war is happening but it feels and knows the effects of it (much like a child, perhaps). As it grows steadily, it connects to Anne and the occupants of the annex. It likes to watch Anne get lost in her writing and makes sure to blossom beautiful for her. But one day the occupants of the annex are suddenly taken away and only Anne’s father comes back, visibly changed. The tree is distraught. As years pass, other people occupy the annex but the tree finds irony in the fact that people put more love into its care than they did for Anne’s well-being. The symbolism of the chestnut’s saplings spreading around the world and living on, like Anne’s words, is powerful.

Peter McCarty’s illustrations fill the pages in a warm, beautiful brown. The shortened bodies with large heads and expressive faces, deep shadows and hatch marks are signature McCarty. I especially love how he illustrates Anne with her dark, soulful eyes and wispy hair and I love how he gives life to the tree; its limbs seem to stretch lovingly towards Anne and the annex. On the pages that depict soldiers and air raids, straight lines with white space are drawn harshly (like sharp blasts) while on other pages, the lines are softer and ultimately more comforting.

This picture book will surely encourage young readers to learn more about Anne. I hope teachers and parents will use this book to not only discuss Anne Frank, WWII and the Holocaust but to also teach the importance of compassion, love and hope.

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: Reflection, Inspiration, Brilliance, Discussion, History, Family, Relationships, Hope, Love, Peace, Judaism, World War II, Nazi Occupied Netherlands, Holocaust, Tragedy, Resilience, Anne Frank, Perspective
Book Info: The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld/Illustrated by Peter McCarty, 2016 Alfred A. Knopf (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9780385753975

My Heart Fills With Happiness

MyHeartFillsWithHappiness

Image Credit: Orca Book Publishers, Monique Gray Smith/Julie Flett

I’m so glad to finally read this little book! Board book format is perfect for this story because it’s meant to be handled, loved and explored. My Heart Fills With Happiness is a much needed depiction of modern Native families; children’s publishing doesn’t have enough and I’m excited to welcome this story!

The families in this book are so happy and loving. Simple sentences accompany an illustration; children can study the art and work towards reading on their own. This story will evoke memories and inspire new memory-making in your family. Sometimes the simplest things put a smile on your face and make your heart full.

Julie Flett! I’ve already reviewed Wild Berries; I’ve expressed my love for her illustrations and once again, she’s created beautiful images to cherish. Her art paired with Monique Gray Smith’s lovely words (the font is also perfect!) is beautiful. This is a great new book to add to your collection and I hope it’ll be well loved alongside all your chewed up and cherished board books. 🙂

 

Recommended for: Babies, Toddlers, Early Readers
Great for: Family, Relationships, Siblings, Love, Everyday Life, Read-Aloud, Native Families, Nature, Happiness, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Discussion, Vocabulary
Book Info: My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith/Illustrated by Julie Flett, 2016 Orca Book Publishers, ISBN: 9781554987290

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

ShiningStar

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Paula Yoo/Lin Wang

Whenever I see photograph of Anna May Wong…SLAY QUEEN, SLAY!   >_<

Anna May Wong grew up in LA washing clothes in her parents laundry and healing from the hateful slurs from her white peers at school. She started skipping school to watch actors on movie sets and was inspired to act. Though she was discouraged by her parents (good Chinese girls didn’t act), as a teenager she won a role as an extra in a film (her dad allowed it because they needed the money). She did extra roles for years until her first big role in Bits of Life in 1921. She played the wife of a Chinese man (White actor in yellowface) but they could’t kiss because it was against the law. She was disturbed by the yellowface but pressed on for the money and experience.

ShiningStar2

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Paula Yoo/Lin Wang

She’d continue to rise but her roles were very stereotypical and demeaning of Asian women. Anna May moved to Europe and achieved fame there but when she came back, hoping to score the lead role in The Good Earth, they gave it to…a white actress. She was fed up with discrimination and was caught between her desire to resist the racist roles AND follow her dream of acting in the US. During a trip China (she faced some criticism there for accepting stereotypical roles) to learn more about her heritage and to visit her retired parents, her spirt was renewed. Her father reminded her to always be proud of her race and fight to respectfully represent her people. She’d continue to act, but only in non-stereotypical Asian roles!

Lin Wang’s watercolor and acrylic illustrations are gorgeous. I just LOVE the way Yoo and Wang open the book; the illustration of the train rushing towards Anna May is extremely dramatic and dynamic! Wang really brings to life the glamour and grace of Anna May Wong.

What a good book! Anna May Wong isn’t as well known as she should be…The efforts she made towards improving the representation of Asian Americans in film isn’t as well known as it should be. With the current state of diversity in the film industry (not enough has changed), it’s especially important to go back and learn about those who’ve paved the way!

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Determination, Confidence, Girl Power, Role Model, Women’s History Month, Acting, Film Industry, Discrimination, Racism, Stereotypes, Ant-Miscegenation Laws, Diversity, Cultural Relativism, History, Film History, Asian American, Chinese American, Dreams, Family, Relationships, Discussion, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo/Illustrated by Lin Wang, 2009 Lee & Low Books, ISBN: 9781600602597

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

TalkinAboutBessie

Image Credit: Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), Nikki Grimes/E.B. Lewis

“…Bessie made me believe I could be anything.” – Young Fan

I’ve been wanting to review a book about Bessie Coleman for quite a while. I found two contenders and ultimately I chose this one over Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman. Though that book is also good, Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman is a stronger book in execution, creativity and memorability. It has more heart and that’s exactly what Bessie was about. I recommend Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman for younger readers.

Talkin’ About Bessie has a unique concept; 20 family members, acquaintances and friends come together after Bessie Coleman’s funeral to speak about her. Instead of a straightforward non-fiction narrative style, we get something special; reflection based on fact, crafted by author, Nikki Grimes.

Bessie grew up poor in segregated Texas, picking cotton with her many siblings. She loved numbers and words from an early age and her mom always encouraged her to read the bible. Though her father left their family  when she was young (which left her little time for childhood), she kept dreaming. When an adult, she moved to Chicago and after taking many jobs found inspiration from the blacks who ran the newspaper The Defender. She decided to go to France and get her pilots license and when she set her mind on that goal, she was determined to follow through! Bessie Coleman became the first person of African descent in the US to get an international pilot’s license and came back to the US to became an aviatrix. She wanted to encourage blacks to fly and worked towards raising funds to open a flight school for her people. Her personality was bigger than life and she was (and still is) an inspiration.

Nikki Grimes’ writing is great. The characters’ various speaking styles bring them to life. Each page has a “photo painting” in the corner  with the name of the person speaking and a gorgeous full page illustration. This is a nice design. One aspect of the book that didn’t make sense to me though was the character “Laundry Customer.” She’s a white character who employed young Bessie and her family (created by Grimes). Her words are very privileged and she makes it clear that Bessie was, from an early age, challenging and out of line for a young Negro girl. So why would she be present at Bessie’s funeral?? Though I understand the author’s desire to help us understand the segregated world Bessie lived in, it seems out of place and the other characters do a fine job of creating context for readers.

E.B. Lewis’ art is absolutely beautiful. This kind of story requires a very straightforward type of illustration that serves to compliment/enhance the words. His watercolors are meticulous and he does a great job of creating place, mood and character. I hope you’ll take the time to read this excellent book that honors Bessie Coleman’s spirit!

 

P.S. Here’s some backstory from the author Nikki Grimes! Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Womens History Month, History, Black History, African-American, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Aviation, Determination, Confidence, Inner Strength, Family, Relationships, Struggles, Segregation, Racism, Sexism, Tragedy, Role Model, Dreams, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes/Illustrated by E.B. Lewis, 2002 Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780439352437

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

TheQuickestKid

Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison

Sometimes it’s better to be friends than rivals, especially when you’re working towards the same goal!

In The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, Alta’s role model is the amazing sprinter Wilma Rudolph. The story takes place in 1960 when everyone in Clarksville, Tennessee is preparing for the big parade to celebrate Wilma’s 3 Gold Medals at the Rome Olympics. Wilma is the fastest woman in the world and Alta is the fastest kid in Clarksville. She’s confident in her feet. Problem is there’s a new girl named Charmaine who’s just as confident in her speed and struts around like she rules the block! It doesn’t help that she has shiny new sneakers while Alta’s are worn down. Nevertheless, Alta challenges her to a race!  On parade day, Alta and her friends struggle to get their bulky banner to the parade site and reluctantly accept Charmaine’s help. Relay-style (just like Wilma and her team) they arrive at the parade to celebrate their champion! Representation really matters and I can’t imagine how much Wilma meant to young black girls in the 60s (and now!).

TheQuickestKid2

Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Pat Zietlow Miller/Frank Morrison

I enjoyed the writing of this book; there’s a nice rhythm and just the right amount of sass and confidence. Morrison’s beautiful watercolor illustrations pair perfectly with the words. Just take a look at the cover! Alta knows exactly who she is! Throughout the story, we see determination, confidence, worry, shame and happiness on her face and in her body language. My favorite spread is when she’s ready to run, banner in hand with furrowed brows, chanting “Wil-ma Ru-dolph. Wil-ma Ru-dolph” in her head to boost her heart and her feet.

Just gorgeous!

P.S. Check out author Pat Zietlow Miller’s awesome Nerdy Book Club post about the process of making this book/finding the right story. Also check out this great photo of Wilma with her parents during the parade! ❤

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Determination, Confidence, Friendship, Rivals, Relationships, Teamwork, Sports, Track and Field, Black Girl Magic, African American, Diversity, History, Segregation, Clarksville TN, Wilma Rudolph, Rhythm, Read-Aloud
Book Info: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller/Illustrated by Frank Morrison, 2015 Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452129365

Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook

RagweedFarmdog

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Anne Vittur Kennedy

This is, hands down, one of the funniest picture books of 2015! Love it. It makes me miss my crazy Ibizan hound Loki and his shenanigans…

In Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook, Ragweed is a confident little fellow. He wrote a handbook so that other dogs can follow his lead on how to be the best farm dog ever. Ragweed tells us all the things that are not a farm dog’s job BUT…if a farm dog were to do them, there might be biscuits involved. He really shouldn’t wake the farmer but…if he does he’ll get a biscuit to go away! He knows EXACTLY what he’s doing. The writing of this book is very formulaic and funny and kids will be able to follow along easily. There’ll be lots of laughs and maybe a few “ewwws” too? 😉

Anne Vittur Kennedy’s beautiful acrylic paintings really create the spirit of farm life and Ragweed is so adorable! That little scoundrel with his huge eyes, scraggly hair and long snout is sure to win your heart. He also has great expressions and the animals do too (they know to keep an eye on him!). Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Humor, Animals, Dogs, Relationships, Farm Life, Love, Read-Aloud
Book Info: Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763674175