PPBF – Aliana Reaches for the Moon

I don’t often have the pleasure of introducing an about-to-be-published book to readers, but sometimes the moon and stars align (pun intended), and today is one of those days.

Title: Aliana Reaches for the Moon

Written By: Laura Roettiger

Illustrated By: Ariel Boroff

Publisher/Date: Eifrig Publishing/February 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: STEAM; family; moon; creativity

Opening:

Aliana lives in the Rocky Mountains, where the night sky holds more stars than you can dream of and the moon shimmers like gold.

Brief Synopsis:

Aliana uses scientific knowledge and everyday objects to create the perfect birthday present for her younger brother.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Aliana Reaches for the Moon features a spunky young scientist who experiments to find just the right birthday present for her beloved younger brother. I love how Aliana researched the moon, prisms and light, and then put that research into practice by repurposing everyday objects, including bottles from the recycling bin, into an experience her brother would never forget. I think kids will enjoy following along with Aliana as she experiments. I particularly appreciate that Aliana “thought outside the box” and, in fact, used no kits to create her gift. I also love that her creation was a shared experience, rather than a material object. Finally, I love that Aliana’s family is Latinx, as evidenced in the illustrations and the terms she uses for her parents, Papá and Mamá, but that the story doesn’t raise difficult issues like discrimination or immigration, but rather celebrates creativity, acting as a mirror for young Latinx children that they, too, can reach for the moon.

Although the story’s climax and several other scenes occur at night, Boroff injects light to brighten these night scenes by adding light to the characters’ faces and by depicting them wearing light-colored clothing. Look for the orange family cat that adds a bit of whimsy to most spreads.

A Note about Craft:

At its heart, Aliana Reaches for the Moon is a book about a creative and science-loving young girl AND a loving family. In almost every scene, readers see Aliana researching and creating. They also see her as part of a loving family in which the parents put up with her messiness, younger brother Gus tags along to the library and to the treehouse, and Aliana uses her newly-gained knowledge and skills to create the perfect birthday present for Gus. I think by combining these layers, Roettinger creates a picture book that is more than the sum of its parts.

Visit Roettiger’s website to learn more about this debut picture book author, and read an interview with Roettiger on Susanna Hill’s Tuesday Debut to learn about the creation of Aliana Reaches for the Moon.

Visit Boroff’s website to see more of this debut illustrator’s work.

Eifrig Publishing is an independent publisher whose mission “is creating books that are good for our kids, good for our environment, and our good for our communities.”

I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Valentiny Contest: The Snurrple

It’s that time of year again when I and many other children’s writers (perhaps we’ll top 214 this year?) sharpen our pencils to share our love & creativity for…

Susanna Hill’s 4TH ANNUAL PRETTY MUCH

WORLD FAMOUS VALENTINY WRITING CONTEST!!!

valentiny writing contest 2019!

~ FOR CHILDREN’S WRITERS~

The Contest (copied from Susanna’s site):  since writing for children is all about “big emotion for little people” (I forget who said that, but someone did so I put it in quotes!) and Valentines Day is all about emotion, write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone feels guilty!  Your someone can feel guilty themselves or make someone else feel guilty.  They may feel guilty for good reason, or just because they think they should!  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone guilty (can be the main character but doesn’t have to be) and is 214 words (get it? 2/14 for Valentines Day 🙂  You can go under the word count but not over! (Title is not included in the word count.)

And so, I present, my humble but heart-felt entry, at 204 words (including the poem in the self-made “illustration”)…

The SNURRPLE

“Ta da! Finished! Fifteen shimmering, glimmering Valentines! Oh no! I forgot that pesky new boy, José! What’ll I do? I know. I’ll write a quick poem and scribble a picture. He should be happy I’m even making him a Valentine.”

“Brilliant! He’ll think Snurrple’s a real thing, some English word he hasn’t heard. Should keep him wondering for hours. Maybe he’ll stop pestering me, stop asking “what’s this” and “how do you say that in English….’”

*****

Guess I wasn’t the only one to forget about José. His pile’s SO small. He’s holding my Valentine. He’s smiling. Grinning. Looking right at me. He’s turning it around. Staring at the words. Looking confused. Spelling it out:

S-N-U-R-R-P-L-E

“Hey, José! You don’t know the mighty Snurrple? Why everyone knows that.”

“Right, everybody?”

Everyone’s laughing! Except José. At José! His eyes look so big. His face is bright red. He’s blinking. Is that a tear?

“Hey! José! It’s a joke.”

“I made up the Snurrple to…”

“Ummm…”

“I thought…”

“Maybe…”

“Hey, José! Want to come to my house after school? We can draw Snurrples and create other crazy creatures. Together.”

“Hey, José! Amigos?”

******

Text of the POEM, for those who couldn’t read it:

Roses are red,

Violets are purple,

I hope you like

This bright blue Snurrple.

Happy Valentine’s Day! And check out the other entries – a great way to bring smiles to the faces of your loved ones & spread love to those who shared their creativity.

Perfect Pairing – of  Books about Walls, Art & Community

As Valentine’s Day is coming, I thought I’d pair a few books that show how we can share love through creative pursuits that strengthen our communities.

 

Hey Wall: A Story of Art and Community

Author: Susan Verde

Illustrator: John Parra

Publisher/Date: A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: art; community; wall; street art

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

One creative boy.
One bare, abandoned wall.
One BIG idea.

There is a wall in Ángel’s neighborhood. Around it, the community bustles with life: music, dancing, laughing. Not the wall. It is bleak. One boy decides to change that. But he can’t do it alone.

Read a review at Children’s Books Heal.

 

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Author: F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell

Illustrator: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: HMH Books/2016

Ages: 4-7

Themes: murals; art; community; wall

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What good can a splash of color do in a community of gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big. Pick up a paintbrush and join the celebration!

Read a review at All the Wonders.

I paired these books because they show how something that we generally think of as a barrier, something that can divide us, can also unite us. In Hey Wall, the unnamed young narrator addresses the wall directly and shows readers how that old, “lonely concrete” wall can be changed with “pencil”, “paints”, and “dreams” to tell the story of the community, that is “somethin’ to see”. In Maybe Something Beautiful, the young protagonist spreads color across a gray city, one picture at a time, until she partners with a muralist to bring color to all. I love how children lead the way to transformation in both books, I love the multicultural communities depicted, and I love the centrality of art to bringing communities together. How will you share beauty, and love, in your neighborhood or city today?

Looking for similar reads?

For another creative treatment of walls, see The Wall in the Middle of the Book  .

PPBF – Alma and How She Got Her Name

What’s in a name? A lot, if you ask most kids, and even some adults. I’m one of those adults who still wonders about my Irish first name since neither I, nor the parents who adopted me as an infant, are Irish (although I do have a March birthday and like spring green). I also chose names for my own children that aren’t immediately shortened into nicknames nor readily identifiable as a particular nationality. But they all have a middle name from a grandparent, in a nod to family history. Because isn’t family what it’s all about?

Title: Alma and How She Got Her Name

Written & Illustrated By: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: name; identity; family history; Latinx; multicultural; Caldecott honor

Opening:

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela had a long name—too long, if you asked her.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl unhappy with her long name learns the story of each of the relatives whose names she bears and learns to embrace her history and her future.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Alma and How She Got Her Name is such a sweet, kid-relatable story with such heart. I immediately fell in love with Alma and her story-telling father. Through the introduction of Alma’s ancestors, readers meet the strong family that came before her, and learn about Alma’s heritage. We also see how each of their many attributes come together to form a new, unique person, Alma, who is ready to tell her own story.

I love the message of celebrating each person’s unique talents while cherishing what we have in common with family members. I also love how the story ends on a forward-looking note as Alma prepares to write her story. In an Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal asks readers about the story of their names and asks what story they’d like to tell.

Alma and How She Got Her Name is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book – not surprisingly. An illustrator-author, Martinez-Neal shows so much of the story in the graphite, colored pencil and print transfer illustrations. For instance, nowhere in the text does it mention Peru as the country from which Alma’s ancestors hail, but the bookshelves contain many references to Peru, including a piggy bank with PERU on its flank, perhaps to collect coins to save for a trip to visit family. The books gracing many of the pages bear titles in
Spanish, and other items, like dolls and toys, are South American folk art pieces. For curious young listeners, a small bird appears somewhere in almost every spread – I loved watching it accompany Alma and her father on her journey of discovery.

A Note about Craft:

In the Author’s Note, Martinez-Neal shares that she, too, has a too-long name that she felt was “the most old-fashioned, harsh, ugly, and way-too-Spanish name in all of Lima, Peru”. Alma, then, is somewhat autobiographical. I think it’s a wonderful lesson to authors to mine their own past to write stories that show universal themes.

At its most basic, Alma’s story is one conversation that occurs in one room. But by showing Alma interacting with her ancestors and at times mimicking their actions, the illustrations caused at least this reader to feel as if I’d undertaken a journey – both in time and distance.

Learn more about Martinez-Neal and her other work, including La Princesa and the Pea, the winner of the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration, by visiting her website.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing of Objects on Journeys

When I saw the haunting cover of Almost to Freedom in my local library, I had to read it. It immediately brought to mind another picture about another child at another time in another part of the world.

 

Almost to Freedom 

Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Illustrator: Colin Bootman

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books (a division of Lerner Publishing Group)/2003

Ages: 6-10

Themes: slavery; Underground Railroad; doll; journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lindy and her doll Sally are best friends – wherever Lindy goes, Sally stays right by her side. They eat together, sleep together, and even pick cotton together. So, on the night Lindy and her mama run away in search of freedom, Sally goes too. This young girl’s rag doll vividly narrates her enslaved family’s courageous escape through the Underground Railroad. At once heart-wrenching and uplifting, this story about friendship and the strength of the human spirit will touch the lives of all readers long after the journey has ended.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 

The Dress and the Girl

Author: Camille Andros

Illustrator: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: immigration; memory; journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A little girl and her favorite dress dream of an extraordinary life. They enjoy simple pleasures together on a beautiful Greek island. They watch the sunset, do chores, and pick wildflowers on the way home. One day, the dress and the girl must leave the island and immigrate to the United States. Upon arrival, the girl is separated from the trunk carrying her favorite dress, and she fears her dress is lost forever. Many years later, the girl—now all grown up—spots the dress in a thrift store window. As the two are finally reunited, the memories of their times together come flooding back. While the girl can no longer wear the dress, it’s now perfect for her own daughter—and the new journey of a girl and her dress begins. Featuring lush illustrations, The Dress and the Girl is a stunning picture book about memory and the power of the items we hold most dear.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both recount journeys of important inanimate objects that accompany their special persons through difficult life changes. The main character and narrator in Almost to Freedom is Sally, a rag doll who is “best friends” with Lindy, an enslaved girl, who is by Lindy’s side as Lindy is whipped, and who accompanies Lindy and her family as they flee slavery utilizing the Underground Railroad. In The Dress and the Girl, the unnamed pair do everything together, until they are separated accidentally following a journey to America. In both of these books, I think the presence of these beloved objects brings comfort to the children. I think telling these stories by focusing on the objects rather than on the children enables readers to witness the events but be somewhat removed as well, something that I found particularly helpful when reading about Lindy being whipped.

Looking for similar reads?

See Ella & Monkey at Sea, about a young girl and her stuffed monkey who move to America.

PPBF – Thank You, Omu!

Regular readers won’t be surprised that I maintain a to-be-read list of picture books. I also maintain a stack of to-be-reviewed picture books, and I try to maintain a schedule of reviews that reflect some sort of logic. Today’s selection was on that stack, and I couldn’t resist bumping it up on the review schedule after learning the wonderful news that its creator, Oge Mora, received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award this past Monday, and today’s Perfect Picture Book is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book. I wasn’t surprised by this news, and I don’t think you’ll be either, as Mora’s debut picture book truly is a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Thank You, Omu!

Written & Illustrated By: Oge Mora

Publisher/Date: Little Brown Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc./2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: kindness; sharing; community; stew; multigenerational; multicultural

Opening:

On the corner of First Street and Long Street, on the very top floor, Omu was cooking a thick red stew in a big fat pot for a nice evening meal. She seasoned and stirred it and took a small taste.

Brief Synopsis:

Smelling Omu’s delicious red stew, neighbors arrive at Omu’s apartment, and she shares with all of them until there’s nothing left.

Links to Resources:

  • With the help of an adult, cook a “thick red stew”;
  • Ask an older relative or friend about special foods they enjoyed preparing or eating as a child. Make, and share, that special food;
  • Does your family have a special name for a grandparent or older relative? Discover the language and meaning of that term, and why your family uses it;
  • View a Book Chat video with Mora.

Why I Like this Book:

Thank You, Omu! is a joyous book of community and caring. Debut author-illustrator Mora shows readers the meaning of that old adage, that “it’s in giving that we receive”, as Omu shares bowl after bowl of her thick red stew.

Readers learn at the outset that Omu (pronounced AH-moo) means “queen” in the Igbo language spoken in parts of Nigeria. To Mora, per an Author’s Note, that term also signifies “grandma.” As is clear in the text and illustrations, Omu is a caring woman, who shares willingly with neighbors and community members until “it was finally time for dinner” but the pot “was empty.” I think kids will relate to Omu’s generous spirit and especially to her feelings of disappointment when she discovers that she has nothing to eat for dinner. I think they’ll especially appreciate the book’s ending (which I won’t reveal here!).

Mora invites readers to experience Thank You, Omu! with all of our senses. “[S]crumptious scent[s]” and a “most delicious smell” of “thick red stew” simmering waft their way to hungry neighbors. I could almost smell and feel the stew on my tongue as I read. Likewise, the visitors showed their hunger by licking lips and watering mouths. Mora illustrates her text with colorful cut-out collage artwork incorporating floral patterns, acrylic paint, pastels, patterned paper, and clippings from old books. I think this conveys an upbeat, joyful feeling. The image of Omu, clad in sunny yellow, radiates, like her sharing disposition, throughout the story.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Mora recounts the memory of her grandmother cooking “what was often a large pot of stew” as she danced and swayed to the radio. She further relates that “[e]veryone in the community had a seat at my grandmother’s table.” It’s clear that not only has this memory had a significant impact on Mora’s life but that she’s recreated that sense of sharing and community in Thank You, Omu! I think because these scenes are etched in Mora’s heart, they resonate with readers. What caring characters fill your memories that can help bring heart to your stories? And what terms, such as Omu, can you use in your writing to add layers, such as multiculturalism, to the story?

The Main Character of Thank You, Omu! is Omu, an elderly woman. So how is this story kid-centric? First, I think children (and adults) like to read about caring elders. I also believe that Omu’s willingness to share is child-like, as she never questions whether her visitors are hungry or whether they don’t have other sources of food. Finally, the first visitor is a young child with whom, I think, kids will identify. Interestingly, he also has the last word of the story (but I won’t spoil it & tell you what that is).

Visit Mora’s website to see more of her artwork and find out about upcoming picture books.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – Safe & Snug With Me

As winter holds sway in the northern hemisphere, I’ve paired two picture books from a talented author and illustrator duo that are perfect for a cozy read by a fireplace.

You’re Safe With Me

Author: Chitra Soundar

Illustrator: Poonam Mistry

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: animals; stormy weather; environment; reassurance

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When the moon rises high and the stars twinkle, it is bedtime for the baby animals of the Indian forest. But tonight, when the skies turn dark and the night grows stormy, the little ones can’t sleep. SWISH-SWISH! CRACK-TRACK! FLASH-SNAP! goes the storm. Only Mama Elephant with her words of wisdom can reassure them, “You’re safe with me.”

Read a review at Library Mice.

 

You’re Snug With Me

Author: Chitra Soundar

Illustrator: Poonam Mistry

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2018

Ages:  4-8

Themes: animals; polar bears; Arctic; conservationism; reassurance

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

At the start of winter, two bear cubs are born, deep in their den in the frozen north. “Mama, what lies beyond here?” they ask. “Above us is a land of ice and snow.” “What lies beyond the ice and snow?” they ask. “The ocean, full of ice from long ago.” And as they learn the secrets of the earth and their place in it, Mama Bear whispers, “You’re snug with me.”

Read a review at Read It, Daddy!

I paired these books because they’re beautifully written and illustrated by the same pair and feature similar ecological themes. But while You’re Safe With Me features several different jungle animals in tropical India, You’re Snug With Me focuses on one polar bear Mama and her cubs in the frozen north. I enjoyed Soundar’s lyrical storytelling in both, and I especially appreciated how Mistry adapted her distinctive illustration style to two radically different environments. Although these may not technically be a series yet, I hope that this talented pair collaborate on a future environmental tale.