On June 30th, I attended Cincinnati Library’s very first Drag Queen Story Hour at our Northside Branch! It was a fun way to end Pride Month in Cincinnati and was very well attended for being Cincinnati’s first go at this fast-growing library trend. If you want to learn more about Drag Queen Story Hours, click here.
After a bit of a wait (she was getting ready in the bathroom), Ms. Amaya made a glamorous appearance, read two stories and sang songs with everyone. After she put on her special reading glasses, she began with the Todd Parr classic, It’s Okay to Be Different and later read A Peacock Among Pigeons. In between stories we got moving & shaking to songs like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “The Hips on the Drag Queen (Go Shake Shake Shake).” Northside Library did an great job with this event. They made sure to have a table with books available for check out. A few featured books were I am Jazz, Morris Micklewhiteand the Tangerine Dress and George, three books that discuss identity and trans youth. They even had a craft table at the back of the room where kids decorated and bedazzled crowns to take home.
The mood in the room was happy and vibrant. Everyone was smiling, dancing and having fun. I had a conversation with an author friend (who recently attended a Drag Queen Story Hour in her neighborhood) about whether or not Drag Queen Story Hours are as subversive as they’re advertised to be, especially if kids don’t understand what they’re experiencing. At our story hour, the kids ranged in age from infancy to 6 or 7 years old. There wasn’t any discussion, by library staff or Ms. Amaya, about what exactly a Drag Queen is or what Pride Month celebrates. Drag Queen Story Hours can be enhanced by parents having discussions with their kids about Drag Queens, performance, queerness, inclusivity, and identity. This might help fill in gaps of understanding, introduce new concepts and maybe even inspire questioning kids in attendance.
Drag Queen Story Hours are perfect events for libraries because libraries are community centers & welcoming spaces for all types of people. They’ve always been centers for learning and growth. These story hours are a welcome addition to more inclusive programming for children & families nationwide!
This is one of my favorite board books this year! It’s very cheeky (literally) and imaginative. This Is Not a Book has Jullien’s signature humor and creativity; if you haven’t read Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise yet, please do!
First things first, this is not a book. It is a tool for play and discovery. Open the first page to see a monster ready to eat you, the next page is a laptop for you to use and keep flipping to find a refrigerator full of delicious food and more. I repeat, this is NOT a book! Jullien adds little details to his art that make it fun. Pay attention to expressions, themes, and place. Some of the pages are meant to be moved too; the butterfly can’t flap its wings if you don’t flap the book! I love Jullien’s use of bold black line; his style is very distinct and strong. The format of this board book is very clever; though only a rectangle, this…object…can transform into many different things. 😉
I hope your toddler will enjoy this book! If you’re looking for something different and fun to “read” check this one out. It’s perfect for sparking fun discussions with children because this book is what you make of it.
Recommended for: All Ages Great for: Storytelling, Imagination, Discussion, Humor, Animals, Play, Pretend-Play Book Info: This is Not a Bookby Jean Jullien, 2016 Phaidon Press Inc., ISBN: 9780714871127
Duncan Tonatiuh’s work is some of the most important work in children’s literature right now. His books speak truth, teach our realities and his art isn’t too bad. 😉 He creates picture books that cover topics like immigration, city vs. rural life, friendship, art history, discrimination, prejudice, determination and history. You can read my reviews for Funny Bones and Salsahere.
Funny Bones was the very first book I reviewed for my blog, so it holds an important place in my blogging life. Through reading and experiencing his books, I became more interested in learning about him. He’s a very cool person! Let’s get on to the interview…
Alia: Q1. What are three words to describe yourself?
Duncan: Thats a tough one. One would be responsible or dependable.
Alia: Yeah I know! I like to ask people this though…
Duncan: Creative maybe? Smart sounds conceited but something to do with being a thinker. Thoughtful? That is what I can think of for now.
Alia: That’s great. Thank you.
Duncan: Calm maybe?
Duncan: No problem.
Alia: Q2. Congratulations on your baby daughter! Has having a child influenced how you see yourself as a storyteller?
Duncan: I’m sure it has. But I’m not quite sure how yet. It’s definitely had a huge impact in my life. My world does not revolve around me anymore by any means. And I feel an enormous and unconditional love for my daughter. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Alia: Q3. The first time I saw your books, your art made me cheer. It’s such a beautiful display of indigeneity. The Mixtec codex influence. Do you mind discussing your style and how it developed?
Duncan: I went to design school in New York City. There is a large Mixtec community there. I became friends with a Mixtec guy named Sergio. For my senior thesis I decided to make a small comic book about his journey from his small village in the south of Mexico to working as a busboy in a restaurant in New York.
One of the first things I did when I began that project was go to the library to look up Mixtec artwork. I found images of Mixtec codex from the 15th century. I was blown away by them. I grew up in Mexico, so I was familiar with Pre-Columbian art but never paid much attention to it. When I saw images of the codex at the library I decided I would make a modern day codex of Sergio’s story.
I began emulating the drawings from the codex. I drew every one in profile. I stylized their ears to look like a number 3. I drew the character’s entire bodies, etc. I collaged my drawings digitally though to make them feel more modern.
Alia: That’s awesome! You kind of touch on that modern day application of art in your book about Diego Rivera. How he’d view the world now and create it in his style. I love how you take ancient art from your culture and make it modern for today’s children. I really really like how you use digital collage too! It makes the images pop.
Alia: No problem!
Image Credit: Dear Primo, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Duncan Tonatiuh
Q4. What was your favorite food growing up?
Duncan: Hmmm. Maybe enchiladas or pozole. When I was a kid I asked my mom why my Dad always got to pick what we were having for lunch. She said it was because he gave her the money to buy the food. At some point I got a job after school helping out a jewellery maker. When I got paid I gave the money to my mom and asked her to make enchiladas.
Alia: Hahaha. That sounds like something my mom would say. 🙂
Alia: Q5. Your books are very powerful and full of history and perspective. They also have the ability to reach any child in the world. What do you hope children take away from your books?
Duncan: Thanks! Well, first and foremost I hope they find my books entertaining and interesting to look at. I make books about things that interest me. Hopefully young readers will find those things interesting and important too. I try to have a message in my books but I hope they don’t feel preachy or didactic.
When it comes to Latino children I hope they see themselves, their family and their community in the books. Hopefully they feel pride and realize that their voices and stories are important. For non-Latino children, I hope they learn about a different culture. With books like Pancho Rabbit or Separate Is Never Equal, I hope that they feel empathy and understanding of the struggles Latino children and people have to face sometimes.
One of the most rewarding moments I’ve had as an author is when a group of 4th graders from an Elementary in Texas wrote a multi-voice poem about their border crossing experiences after they read Pancho Rabbit. I feel my book encouraged them to speak and realize that their voices and stories are important. Let me find the link:
Alia: Thank you for sharing and that is amazing. I’m glad for your books because it is so important to not only share stories, but to create stories that children can relate to. Children of color sometimes need that boost, that representation. That’s why diverse books are so important. For teaching and learning, and inspiring as in the case of those 4th graders! 🙂
Alia: Q6. Congratulations on all the recent honors (Sibert Award/Pura Belpré Honor/NCTE Honor) for Funny Bones! Have you received any feedback from kids on that book?
Duncan: Thank you! I’ve received a few calavera drawings from students. And I’ve seen projects that they’ve created at school for the Day of the Dead. I look forward to receiving more feedback from kids and seeing how they respond to the book and what resonates with them.
Alia: How cool! When I was a teacher in Korea, I learned about Day of the Dead to share with my students. In Korea, they have a holiday called Chuseok where they also honor ancestors, make an altar of food, and clean graves. They seemed to connect with it, especially since they saw some cultural similarities. They were a little surprised about the calaveras though. But when I showed them the sugar skulls, they wanted to taste them. lol!
Q7. For the book Salsa, you illustrated words that weren’t your own. What was it like working with Jorge Argueta?
Duncan: The majority of picture books are written by one person and illustrated by another one. The publishing company pairs the two together. I did not meet Jorge until after I had illustrated the book. That is often the case with picture book authors and illustrators. I enjoyed illustrating Jorge’s book and we have become friends, but we didn’t work on that book together; at least not at the same time.
I finished illustrating a book recently for another author, a woman named Susan Wood. We’ve only met once very briefly. I enjoy illustrating other people’s stories but I like writing and illustrating my own books the best because I have a little more control. I can change the text or the illustrations as I need and hopefully that makes the book flow more smoothly.
Alia: That’s really interesting. I’ve also noticed that for some smaller publishers, the author can have some say in who they’d like to work with and there’s more dialogue during the creative process. I think the book came out really nicely.
Maybe also, like any piece of art, a book that is written and illustrated by you is your complete piece and like you said, you can tweak and bend the product to be exactly what you like and want to say.
Duncan: Definitely. And I’m not sure but I think the publisher asked Jorge if he thought I would be a good fit for the manuscript he wrote. He didn’t give me comments on my illustrations and sketches but he had the opportunity to look at some of my work first I believe.
Alia: Thanks for the insight!
Q8. You touched on it a bit above but are there any upcoming projects you can share with the public yet?
Duncan: I have two picture books coming out this fall. One will be called The Princess and the Warrior; A Tale of Two Volcanoes. I wrote and illustrated it. It’ll be published by Abrams. The book is my own version of the origin legend of two volcanoes that are outside of Mexico City: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The story is set in Pre-Columbian times and it has some similarities to Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet.
The second book is called Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist. It’s written by Susan Wood and illustrated by yours truly. It’ll be published by Charlesbridge. The book is about a Mexican composer who is considered the creator of lounge music. It was fun to illustrate. It’s a groovy and swanky book with a lot of hand-drawn text in it.
Alia: Oh man, I’m looking forward to both!!
Duncan: Thanks! Me too!
Alia: Side note: While studying your books for this interview, it was fun to see how your art style has evolved over time. In Dear Primo compared to Funny Bones, your lines now are a little cleaner, the hands of the people are smaller and they have necks! So interesting to see.
Duncan: Yeah. That is true. Sometimes I miss some of the rawness of Dear Primo. I am hoping to experiment a little more with upcoming projects. I want them to still be in my style but I also want them to evolve or change a little depending on the project.
Alia: Looking forward to how your style grows.
Q9. Any place or food you really recommend during a visit to your hometown of San Miguel de Allende?
Duncan: San Miguel is a great place to visit. A few years ago it was voted “Best City in the World” by Traveler’s Magazine. I think one of the things that visitors like about it is that there is nice combination of high-end and cheap options. There are some really good fancy restaurants but also great cheap street tacos.
My favorite place in town is probably the library. It has a wonderful courtyard. I love going there to write, draw and read. Some good places for visitors are the crafts market, the botanical garden, the Fábrica la Aurora -an old factory that was converted into art galleries- and the hot springs.
Alia: Fábrica la Aurora sounds sweet! A great space for creativity. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Duncan for taking time to talk with me. I really enjoyed our conversation and I’m excited for all the books coming from you (this year and years to come!). Yay!
“A box of colored pencils is as close as you can get to owning a piece of the rainbow.”
Written and Drawn by Henrietta is about the unpredictability of storytelling, going with the flow and letting your mind take you on a journey. Henrietta is just as surprised about what happens in her story as readers are! We get to follow her creative process and listen in on her discussions with her cat Fellini as she writes and illustrates an EPIC story.
This funny and clever book actually starts on the front endpaper. Henrietta shares wisdom about the power of books. Next we see her holding a shiny new box of pencils which she’ll use to create the title page of her story about a three headed monster with only two hats. Her protagonist “Emily” seems very stressed about the noises coming from her wardrobe and Henrietta even scares herself! Hahaha. Her story progresses and Huey, Dewey and Louie Bluie (the three headed monster) accompanies Emily into the wardrobe (It was made in Narnia, see…) where adventure awaits. Henrietta knows all the tricks to make an engaging story.
Liniers’ writing and illustration are excellent. But when you read this book, you won’t think about him because he creates a loveable character who has complete control of the reins of this book. He’s mastered the “Kid Art” style of illustration and the pages are alive with bold strokes, gnarly teeth and wild colors. Henrietta is confident in her skill and it’s fun to see the story develop. TOON BOOKS are special because they’re comic leveled-readers. Many kids are into comics and graphic novels these days and I can’t recommend this TOON Book enough. I have my fingers crossed for another installment of Henrietta’s story. I hope your child will love this book and be inspired to create!
P.S. Be sure to read Liniers’ dedication. 🙂 It’s very sweet. AND this book is also available in Spanish!
Recommended for: Age 6 and up Great for: Discussion, Humor, Clever, Friendship, Puns, Relationships, Storytelling, Suspense, Writing a Story, Storyboarding, Inspiration, Creative Thinking Book Info: Written and Drawn by Henriettaby Liniers, 2015 Liniers & TOON Books (RAW Junior, LLC.), ISBN: 9781935179900
Two Mice is a nice little mouse-sized adventure book. I imagine in the mouse world, if Roger Cheesebert rated books, he’d give it four cheddars and I suspect this book is already legend. I’m imagining little mice children sitting around the fire while Grandma Mouse reads this tale.
This little book has a big heart. The simple text focuses on numbers and counting; younger readers can read this book and feel confident that they know all the words in front of them! It also shows that sometimes you don’t need many words to tell a great story. In this story, two mice live together in one house and after a meal of three cookies (one mouse looks a little annoyed!) they set out for the day. Three boats with two oars…what adventures await?
I’m a big fan of Sergio Ruzzier’s storytelling and art. I recently reviewed his book A Letter for Leo which is one of my favorites! I love how he creates complete little worlds on each spread. His attention to detail is wonderful and the watercolor paintings are lovely (I always love his skies!). You’ll love all the funny expressions of his characters. Teachers, this book would be perfect for lessons about travel, adventure, storytelling (beginning/middle/end) and “best travel stories.” Hope you will enjoy Two Mice!
Recommended for: All ages Great for: Animals, Friendship, Action/Adventure, Counting, Determination, Vocabulary, Humor, Read-Aloud, Discussion Book Info: Two Mice by Sergio Ruzzier, 2015 Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), ISBN: 9780544302099
Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Naomi Howland
I recently discovered this lovely book about Chanukah and latkes. Who doesn’t like latkes?? So delicious.
In this folktale, Sadie lives in a drafty house with her four little brothers and they’re so poor that they always worry about their next meal. On the first night of Chanukah, as Sadie collects firewood, she meets an old woman and kindly offers the wood to her. For her kindness, the old woman gives her a magical frying pan and tells her the words to use it but she must remember to keep them a secret! When Sadie puts the pan on the stove and whispers the words, a feast of latkes appear in the pan. On the last day of Chanukah, her naughty brothers wait for her to leave the house then try to use the pan. But of course they didn’t hear the words correctly and soon the entire village is overflowing with tender, salty, delicious latkes!!
Howland’s gouache and colored pencil illustrations are folksy and beautiful. The story takes place in Russia and she includes colorful folk art flower borders in the illustrations. The character of Sadie is based on an old photograph of her grandmother and the story itself is inspired by The Magic Porridge Pot by The Brothers Grimm. Howland is also kind enough to include a recipe for latkes at the end of the book and there’s a note about Chanukah/Chanukah traditions for readers who aren’t familiar with the holiday.
Happy Chanukah! I hope you’ll seek out this cute story about family, culture and sharing with community. I’m off to find some latkes…
Recommended for: All ages Great for: Chanukah, We Need Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity, Holidays, Food Culture, Religions, Family, Folktale, Morals, Magic, Kindness, Family, Community, Celebration, Storytelling, Russia, Latkes Book Info: Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat: A Chanukah Story by Naomi Howland, 2004 (Reprint) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780618492954
Sweet and reflective. I must say that 2015 is producing some AMAZING wordless picture books and this one is no exception.
In the Author’s Note, Guojing tells us that this book is a reflection of her feelings of loneliness while growing up in China in the 80s under the one-child policy. A generation of lonely children, she says, was created by this policy and The Only Child definitely has a note of melancholy to it.
In this wordless story, a very young girl is left alone while her parents go to work. She finds a photo album, is reminded of her grandmother and sets out to visit her. Unfortunately, she falls asleep on the bus and wanders the woods alone, lost, afraid and crying. From behind a tree in the snowy woods comes a majestic stag who comforts her then whisks her away to the skies. In the sky world, she discovers more wonderful creatures that assuage her loneliness.
Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade (Random House Children’s Books), Guojing
Guojing is a great storyteller. This is a rather long and complicated wordless book/graphic novel; each panel is well executed and the story flows effortlessly. Her pencil drawings are lovely. The young girl’s emotions are so well drawn and the stag has beauty, quiet power and strength. There is a magical feeling to her drawings and the gray of the pencil adds to the cold wintry mood of the book. This is a great one for a cold, winter evening with a cup of cocoa or tea. Enjoy!
Recommended for: All ages Great for: Emotions, Friendship, Family, Whimsy, Winter, Storyboarding, Storytelling, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, China, One Child Policy Book Info: The Only Child by Guojing, 2015 Schwartz & Wade (Random House Children’s Books), ISBN: 9780553497045
Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books, Mini Grey
Oooh Hermlin is the cutest and smartest mouse around. 🙂 I love this book so much. I think I’ve found a new picture book niche that I enjoy; mysteries! I recently reviewed the book Shark Detective which is also a great one.
As you read Hermelin the Detective Mouse, pay attention to the first few pages; really look at the illustrations and read the text. It just might help you solve the mysteries! Hermelin is a little mouse who one day realizes that he can read. Off he goes typing with the typewriter in the attic of his house. He notices that his neighbors have quite a few stolen and lost things in the neighborhood so he sets out to solve some mysteries. Hermelin deftly solves all the cases and his neighbors, not knowing his identity, invite him to a party in his honor. BUT…let’s not forget that Hermelin is a MOUSE…and guess what many people are afraid of? You guessed it. Oh no Hermelin, be careful!
Mini Grey is a clever storyteller and illustrator. There’s so much going on in her illustrations and this is a GOOD thing. You can read the book several times and find new things like little notes on trash, letters on discarded paper, and facial expressions of important characters. She is amazing at composing a scene. They’re busy but very interesting to look at; like when solving a mystery, the closer you look, the more clues you’ll find. Your family will really enjoy reading Hermelin together and soon you’ll have little detectives running around your house!
Recommended for: All Ages Great for: Mystery, Friendship, Discussion, Animals, Storytelling, Community Book Info: Hermelin the Detective Mouse (as told to)Mini Grey, 2013 Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books), ISBN: 9780385754330
Image Credit: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Daniel Miyares
In Float, a boy sets out for the day, ready to explore with his freshly crafted paper boat. Though it begins to rain, he’s not worried at all and sends his boat sailing through the puddles. He splashes joyfully but before he knows it, rushing water whisks his boat away! Though he’s sad when he finds it limp and unfolded, he realizes that a fresh sheet of paper and a new day bring the possibility of new adventures!
Miyares uses a mostly gray palette that evokes cool, rainy day feelings. I love the page with lines of heavy gray-white rain. The boy is vibrantly dressed in yellow rain gear as he moves joyfully across the page. Miyares’ watercolor illustrations are manipulated digitally and I like how the sharp angles of the paper boat match the angles of the boy’s hat, coat and boots. The wordless aspect of this book is great for storytelling; it’s easy to begin a quiet discussion about how the boy feels during every stage of the story. Float is one of this year’s best wordless picture books with it’s attention to detail and simple yet endearing story of imagination.
P.S. The endpapers of the book add something special; take time to look at them and grab a piece of paper.
Recommended for: All Ages Great for: Storytelling, Storyboarding, Discussion, Imagination Book Info: Floatby Daniel Miyares, 2015 Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9781481415248
Oh this is quite a special little book. Clotilde Perrin’s At the Same Moment, Around the World gracefully tackles the concepts of cultural diversity and global time zones. It’s quite a difficult concept to grasp, at any age, the idea that even though it may be five o’clock in the evening and you’re eating dinner, in another part of the world, someone is eating their breakfast and starting a new day.
Each page introduces a new person going about their day in their respective country. The first page shows Keita in Senegal helping his father count fish at six am. His day starts very early but at the same moment an hour later in Paris, Benedict is eating breakfast and getting ready for school. I love how this book shows global families, relationships and everyday culture. The story ends where it begins; and so does the trip around the globe.
The illustrations are very unique and beautiful; Perrin’s pencil drawings are scratchy and very detailed with warm colors and the human figures have large heads with almond eyes. It’s obvious she put a lot of research into this book because there are little details like Arabic, French and Japanese words woven into the scenery. She also hides clocks, watches and globes within the illustrations. At the back of the book, there’s a large fold out map that reintroduces every character in the book and points to their respective time zone. This is a pretty smart addition to the book, as it further visually teaches the concept of time zones. This is a GREAT book to add to your classroom and use to teach your kids about not only other cultures, but global time as well.
Recommended for: K-1st Grade and up Great for: Cultural Diversity, Time Zones, Geography, Discussion, Storytelling Book Info: At the Same Moment, Around the Worldby Clotilde Perrin, 2014 Chronicle Books LLC, ISBN: 9781452122083