Dear Dragon

deardragon

Image Credit: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), Josh Funk/Rodolfo Montalvo

Like the dragon Blaise Dragomir, this excellent book has flown a bit under the radar. Josh Funk writes really amusing books and this is my favorite one so far! Dear Dragon has themes of kindness, inclusiveness and discovery; kids will enjoy watching these characters fall into friendship!

Blaise Dragomir (dragon boy) and George Slair (human boy) are matched through a poetry/pen-pal assignment in their classes. I love how the language they use is formal at first but as they get closer, it becomes more familiar. The boys have no idea that they’re different species; their friendship grows over several months. It’s fun to see how each boy imagines the life of the other; different experiences lead to different perspectives. When Blaise reads about George building a fort with his dad, he imagines two dragons hammering A REAL FORT, that protects a castle! He has no idea that George’s fort is built of cardboard (and that he is human! 😉  ). Their classes finally meet in the spring and though it’s quite a surprise, they roll with it!

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Image Credit: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), Josh Funk/Rodolfo Montalvo

 

Though dragons and humans don’t have the best history of peaceful interactions, these boys overcome that and recognize the goodness in each other. Children can relate to overcoming differences (and learned prejudices and fear) to connect with others. Also, at first Blaise and George don’t enjoy writing much, but though the project, they gain more confidence in their skills (as they gain a friend).

As with most excellent picture books, the synergy between the text and illustrations is phenomenal. Montalvo’s watercolor, ink and graphite illustrations are warm and so detailed! I happened to see the book’s cover months before it published and I remember being SO excited to see a brown boy with bushy hair! It’s not common to see brown boys on the cover of picture books so I’m glad to have one more gem to recommend. Montalvo brings Funk’s writing to life in a beautiful way.

I really enjoyed Dear Dragon and I hope you will too! In addition to being a very good read aloud, this book is perfect for pen-pal projects. Maybe a new (dragon?) friend is waiting…

 

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Open-Mindedness, Courage, Acceptance, Read-Aloud, Rhyme, Humor, Pen-Pal, Inclusiveness, Diversity, Adventure, Animals
Book Info: Dear Dragon: A Pen-Pal Tale by Josh Funk/Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016 Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), ISBN: 9780451472304

Teeny Tiny Toady

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Can you say “Modern Classic?” The story and art feel old in the best way. This book feels warm and happy, like sitting snuggled on Grandma’s lap as she reads you The Three Little Pigs and a slice of her chicken pot pie sits comfortably in your belly. Yup, Teeny Tiny Toady feels familiar…and EPIC.

The story starts in a super dramatic way; a big bad human picks Mama Toad up and traps her in a bucket! Cute little Teeny Toady rushes to get her seven big, burly, body-building older brothers to help her but they insist they can handle the situation themselves. The Toady Bros struggle to rescue their mother; every one of their attempts fail and of course they’re too busy to listen to their teeny sister’s suggestions! Before they know it, they’re in trouble too and Teeny must find courage & strength to become a Teeny Hero. There’s something to be said for brains over brawn and her Mama believes in her from the very beginning. 😉

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Esbaum’s rhyming text is delightful and sounds great when read aloud. She’s a very good storyteller; the pacing, drama, humor and characters are perfect. This story teaches an important lesson for little ones; have faith in yourself and even if you’re little, you can do big things! Yamaguchi’s digital illustrations are magical; lush greens, soft colors and warty chubby toad bodies fill the pages. The toads ARE.SO.CUTE. My goodness. I love how she illustrates and characterizes them; their expressions and personalities are great and feel inspired by Disney and/or anime (especially their eyes!).

One of my favorite spreads is when Teeny thinks up her plan; Esbaum’s text floats and curls from left to right alongside the swirls of leaves and color straight to Teeny’s brain! What a great story! You will fall in love with this family. Teeny Tiny Toady deserves a spot near your favorite fairy tales and fables.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Fables, Lessons, Inner Strength, Creative Thinking, Determination, Rhyme, Family, Relationships, Siblings, Girl Power, Read-Aloud, Animals, Love
Book Info: Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum/Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi, 2016 Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), ISBN: 9781454914549

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

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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!).

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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

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Patricia Hruby Powell/Christian Robinson

A passionate woman full of energy, charisma and magic was Josephine Baker.

Patricia Hruby Powell uses the metaphor of volcano to describe Josephine’s personality and I think this is perfect. Ever since a little girl, she bubbled and popped and fizzled with pent up energy to perform and dance. She was born poor in segregated St. Louis to a single mother who also loved to dance. They shared a love of vaudeville. As a child she started out in the group The Jones Family but quickly moved on to The Dixie Steppers. Even in a chorus line she stood out with her distinct, silly style. She got hitched, went to broadway and used her smarts to get onstage and SHINE.

Look how spunky and charming she is in the film Zouzou (1934)!

Though she loved to perform, Josephine was tired of segregation and just barely getting by. She got the chance to head to Paris where as soon as she stepped off the steam ship, she wasn’t discriminated against because of her color and felt truly beautiful! She took Paris by storm, charming the entire city, headlining shows, staring in movies and drawing crowds with her energy and risqué banana skirts. She was in every way fabulous, scandalous and daring. When war came she spied for France and became a hero.

As she got older, she remarried and adopted twelve children from all over the world; her rainbow tribe. Though she worked hard to support her children and keep up her lavish lifestyle, she was put out of their mansion, the bills too much to pay. Luckily her friends helped her family and years later, at sixty-seven years old, she decided to give the US one more try. It was a success! America loved her and dear Josephine danced herself to eternal sleep.

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Patricia Hruby Powell/Christian Robinson

The rhythm and energy of the writing in this book suits Josephine’s personality. It’s broken very cleverly into “acts” of her life. Robinson’s illustrations, as usual, are vivid and beautiful. His signature long bodied figures are perfect for Josephine’s limber body. The book opens with a red curtain, each “act” is introduced by a scene on a stage and finally, after we finish reading the story, the red curtain returns, flowers stewn on the floor below it. I love this touch. It brings the story full circle; she lived for performance. Robinson says in the end notes that he’s been connected to Josephine Baker’s story ever since he was young and it’s very evident in the loving way he depicts her.

Josephine has become one of my favorite biography picture books. It’s one that my bookstore never carried and I kept reading about online. I kept thinking “I’ve GOT to read that book!” After reading Josephine (or maybe even during, like I did), you’ll want to look up photographs and videos of this AMAZING woman. What a woman she was…

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Dance, Vaudeville, African-American, Segregation, Determination, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Confidence, Courage, Rhythm, Energy, Paris, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-Fiction, Discussion, Biography
Book Info: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell/Illustrated by Christian Robinson, 2014 Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452103143

Brick by Brick

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Image Credit: Amistad (HarperCollins), Charles R. Smith Jr./Floyd Cooper

This book is a tribute to the slaves who built the White House, a building never meant for their Black Bodies…but yet!

The writing of Brick by Brick is beautiful. Charles R. Smith Jr. plays with the word “hand” by focusing on the slaves’ hands while describing their position as hands, as workers. Slave hands, white hands and free black hands worked together but slave hands did the most of the hard work to build the original White House for John Adams. They hauled stone, laid brick and sawed through logs with blistered, tired, bleeding hands. They suffered while their slave owners took the money earned.

Yet, as oppressed people do, they survived, thrived and learned. As the White House came to completion, slaves were taught new skills to finish the fine interior work of the house. With these new skills, they were able to save money and work towards paying for their freedom. Brick by brick they built the massive structure but they also built a way out of enslavement. I love how Charles R. Smith Jr. works NAMES into the story. We read and speak aloud the names of these amazing people. By including the actual names of slaves who worked on the White House, he brings them to life for us and honors them.

Cooper’s illustrations, as usual, are skilled and moving. He depicts the slaves’ warm dark brown skin, strong hands and raw expression beautifully. For another example of his beautiful work, check out Ruth and the Green BookBrick by Brick‘s words and illustrations create a portrait of the people who built one of the most important buildings in our country. The White House is a symbol of “freedom” yet it was built by the hands of those who were not free. This book is excellent for sparking discussion and is important because it covers a part of history that may not be very well known. Enjoy this book, read the Author’s Note and talk, talk, talk!

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for:  Toil, Pain, African-American, Family, History, Slavery, Injustice, Rhythm, Rhyme, Read-Aloud, White House History, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Discussion
Book Info: Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr./Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, 2013 Amistad (HarperCollins), ISBN: 9780061920820

Water is Water

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Image Credit: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), Miranda Paul/Jason Chin

In this rhythmical, science read-aloud, we follow a brother and sister through seasons and the water cycle. Like the water cycle, the story is cyclical. It starts in spring-time when the siblings spot a lone turtle in their pond. Water goes into a glass and in a dish for the turtle but it also becomes steam for the hot cocoa they share with their father! Miranda Paul tells a story of water changing in a unique way. Steam is steam but it also changes form to become clouds, which can form low to become fog and on and on.

As I write this review, there’s a light rain and it’s very foggy where I am. Snow is leftover from yesterday and it’s starting to melt as the rain hits it. Maybe I should call my friends and have a snowball fight like the children in this book?!  🙂  Jason Chin does an amazing job of pairing Miranda Paul’s poetic lines with bright and colorful illustrations. He creates a very complete world with his art; after finishing Water is Water, I felt like I knew how to travel from the family’s house to the lake, to school and back again! His watercolor and gouache clouds and fall leaves are beautiful and I enjoyed little details like the reflective, wet pavement on the school grounds.

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Image Credit: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), Miranda Paul/Jason Chin

The facts at the back of the book about the water cycle are GREAT because they refer to scenes in the book. Children can make connections between the story’s words, illustrations and terms like “evaporation.” This book is for storytime and for science class! Paul writes in an easy to understand way that young children can grasp. The story will make them smile and by the end of the book, they’ll understand how water moves from form to form.

Oh and hey, the children’s parents are black and white!! The story isn’t ABOUT their interracial family…they just happen to be so. It’s a quietly powerful display of diversity. Also the siblings’ friends are very diverse and happy. I love seeing happy children of many ethnicities in a picture book.

Be sure to check out Water is Water with your classroom and family…and go out and play in the rain!!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Relationships, Diversity, Weather, Seasons, Science, Water Cycle, Recycling, Imagination, Community, Animals, Nature, Read-Aloud, Rhythm
Book Info: Water is Water by Miranda Paul/Illustrated by Jason Chin, A Neal Porter Book, 2015 Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), ISBN: 9781596439849

Freedom in Congo Square

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

In this beautiful book, we learn about the slaves of New Orleans who toiled and eagerly anticipated their day of rest because on that day, they headed to Congo Square to let their bodies flow freely and revel in the music and culture of home. Congo Square was their place of freedom, their chance to celebrate who they were and simply enjoy each other’s company. Eventually Jazz would develop out of the music played at this space.

Freedom in Congo Square has an excellent Forward and Author’s Note that I highly recommend reading. Taking time to summarize and teach the history is important because it adds to the experience of the book. Children with knowledge of slavery will easily understand how important a day to rest, a day to celebrate was to slaves. It’s easy to see the joy and relief in their bodies as they dance and sing and drum. Weatherford’s poetic language and description of plantation life during each day of the week builds anticipation for what readers know is coming, that glorious Sunday.

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Image Credit: Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

The rhythm and rhyme of this book is great for reading aloud to children and Weatherford always has the coolest illustrators for her books. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century is both textually and visually gorgeous. Freedom in Congo Square is no different. Christie’s collaged paintings are inspiring; the slaves have black, beautiful skin highlighted with blue-gray and long, limber bodies. Their long limbs are bent over in the cotton field BUT are also outstretched in jubilation at Congo Square. I love the bright, joyful colors of his paints and the cover of the book is striking with its use of yellow and black.

This is an excellent book that tells the story of an important safe and creative space for enslaved people during Slavery. What a great new release for 2016! If your family takes a trip down to New Orleans, why not add Congo Square to your list of places to visit?

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and Up
Great for: History, Slavery, Celebration, Determination, Music, Music History, New Orleans, Community, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Oppression, Spirituality, Discussion, Days of the Week, Rhyme, Rhythm, Read Aloud, Jazz, African American, Africa
Book Info: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2016 Little Bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781499801033

I Like Myself!

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Karen Beaumont/David Catrow

 

It’s the beginning of a new year! This is when we start thinking about how to improve ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.

I Like Myself! happily celebrates identity and self esteem. It has a universal message and glows with positive energy; exactly what kids need to see. The little girl in this book isn’t worried about what you think because she’s focused on how awesome she is. The rhythm of the writing is catchy and comfortable and as she tells her story, we learn that she loves not only the physical aspects of her appearance but also loves her character. Even a lion is a little afraid of her WILD side and she’s cool with that! With her trusty dog by her side, she’s not letting anything bother her and is ready for the world.

“No matter if they stop and stare, no person ever anywhere can make me feel that what they see is all there really is to me.”

Beaumont’s writing reminds me of Seuss and so does Catrow’s style of illustration. He combines bright and vibrant colors with long, windy bodies, dramatic shapes and expressive faces. The fluid energy of the watercolors seems barely bound by pencil and ink; wiggles of color bounce on the page. I can’t say how much I love seeing a little brown girl with a wide smile, bright cheeks and twisty hair on the pages! She’s gorgeous and so is this book because it promotes self-confidence in a wonderful way.

 

Recommended for: All Ages! What a message…
Great for: Confidence, Self-Esteem, Girl Power, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Discussion, Rhyme, Rhythm, Imagination, Inspiration, Read-Aloud
Book Info: I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont/Illustrated by David Catrow, 2004 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780152020132

That Book Woman

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Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Heather Henson/David Small


That Book Woman
is one of my favorite finds of this year. I LOVE this book. I found it sandwiched in the picture book stacks at my bookstore and it was actually on its way back to the publisher due to low sales. I’m telling you, I found some interesting books that way. This book tells the story of a family in the remote Appalachian mountains of Kentucky and is beautifully written both in style and in the smooth rhythm of Appalachian dialect.

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Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Heather Henson/David Small

Cal holds a grudge against his sister Lark whose nose is always in book. He’s working hard and she’s always…readin’. Hmph. Well he doesn’t want to sit still reading “chicken scratch” and he’s baffled as to why a woman (in britches!) rides around bringing free books and why his sister treats those books so reverently. Pap though, he encourages his daughter’s love of reading and offers to the Book Woman what they can. Though all kinds of weather, the Book Woman rides her horse up the mountains and keeps coming to trade out books and Cal just can’t make sense of it! He starts to think that maybe…that woman is brave, maybe it’s worth seeing what’s so great about those books and what makes her so determined to share them.

That Book Woman is inspired by the real women who braved remote regions called the Pack Horse Women. Be sure to read the Author’s Note in the back to learn more about these amazing women who dared to work outside the home and do their best to improve literacy.

The art in this book is so right for the story. The soft watercolors and pastel chalk with heavy ink outlines are beautiful and David Small is so spot on with Cal’s expressions. Cal is so dang surly at first and we watch him soften as his curiosity gets the better of him. I love the scene of Pap and Lark together, a poke of berries in his hands as they gaze at each other. If you have a house full a readers who also love history, please check out That Book Woman. It’s a great story!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Reading, Literacy, Encouraging Reading, Discussion, History, Appalachian, Rhythm, Siblings, Family, Perspective, Growing Up, Girl Power, Pack Horse Librarians, Works Progress Administration, Rural Life, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books
Book Info: That Book Woman by Heather Henson/Illustrated by David Small, 2008 Atheneum Books for Young Reader (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781416908128

Drum Dream Girl

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Margarita Engle/Rafael López

Do you feel the beat? Have a desire to make music and feel rhythm in everything around you? Cuban-American poet Margarita Engle’s new picture book is about the Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga who dared to drum when it was taboo for a girl to do so.

Drum Dream Girl dreams of drums; she can’t help it because the music is a part of her but on her island of Cuba in the 30s, only boys can drum and even her father discourages her drumming. She continues to dream in drumbeats and every sound is a rhythm. Despite what everyone thinks, she drums and drums and even joins an all girl dance band formed by her sisters. Though he tells her once again that she shouldn’t play the drums, her father finally comes around and takes her to a teacher who nurtures her talent and helps her grow into a gifted drummer. Millo Castro Zaldarriaga would go on to be a world famous musician and her music, her defiance and passion, would inspire female musicians in her home and no doubt, around the world.

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Margarita Engle/Rafael López

Passion, color, music and hope fill the pages through Raphael López’s glowing illustrations. He uses acrylic paint to create warm brown skin, large hands, wide expressive eyes, colorful flowers and birds and these details bring the island of Cuba to life. There’s often a smiling sun or moon shining down on Millo as she drum-dreams. Similar to Raul Colón’s illustrations in Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, López draws a whirling strand of colorful ribbons to depict music. Engle’s poetry is beautifully descriptive and great for reading aloud. Drum Dream Girl will inspire you to learn more about Millo and it will make you feel like you’re in Cuba, sitting in a café on a hot summer night, sipping a drink and enjoying the sound of drums.

P.S. If you’re looking for more info about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, check out the book Anacaona: The Amazing Adventures of Cuba’s First All-Girl Dance Band by Alicia Castro, published by Atlantic Books, London, 2007. Thanks for the info Margarita Engle and Tony Koehler!  🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Defiance, Non-Fiction, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Read-Aloud, Rhythm, Family, Poetry, Gender Non Conformity, Girl Power, Music, Music History, Cuba, Dreams, Drums, Biography, Jazz, Girls in Music, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle/Illustrated by Rafael López, 2015 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544102293