Monthly Archives: February 2019

Perfect Pairing –  Robots at the Beach

It may not be beach weather where you’re at (YET!), but it’s never too early to “think Summer” and think about who, or what, you’ll bring to your favorite beach.

Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway

Author: Tim McCanna

Illustrator: Tad Carpenter

Publisher/Date: Paula Wiseman Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)/2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: robots; making friends; innovation; beach; rhyming

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The world’s cutest robot goes on a rhyming, deep-sea adventure with two new friends in this sweet and silly companion to Bitty Bot.
Fish and coral. Crabs and snails.
Stingrays, turtles, sharks, and whales. 
Giant squid! A sunken ship!
“Now we’re talking. What a trip!”

Bitty Bot is back—and he is not excited about his family vacation to Botco Bay. Luckily, new friends make everything better. Bitty Bot and his new pals build a submarine using supplies they find at the beach:
Bottles, barrels, buggy, bench, 
hammer, pliers, socket wrench, 
soda cans, a coil of rope, 
drainpipe for a periscope.
Off they go on an underwater adventure!

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

How to Code a Sandcastle

Author: Josh Funk

Illustrator: Sara Palacios

Publisher/Date: Viking, Penguin Young Readers (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: coding; robots; sand castles; beach; STEM

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

From the computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code comes this lively and funny story introducing kids to computer coding concepts.
Pearl and her trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal, need to build a sandcastle before summer vacation is over, and they’re going to do it using code. Pearl breaks the big we-need-a-sandcastle problem into smaller steps, then uses conditionals, loops, and other basic coding concepts to tell Pascal exactly what to do. But building a sandcastle isn’t as easy as it sounds when surfboards, mischievous dogs, and coding mishaps get in the way! Just when it looks like the sandcastle might never work, Pearl uses her coding skills to save the day and create something even better: a gorgeous sandcastle kingdom!

Read a review at Biracial Bookworms.

I paired these books because it’s not every day that you see a robot at the beach! Written in quick-paced rhyme, Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway features a bored robot who uses his skills to build a submarine with friends. In How to Code a Sandcastle Pearl brings her “trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal” to the beach and codes him to build a sandcastle. Written by software engineer/picture book author Funk and filled with coding how-to information (including a terrific Guide to Coding), How to Code a Sandcastle is a Girls who Code Book with a Foreword by Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. Both books involve problem solving, and both are humorous read-alouds.

Looking for similar reads?

See Tim McCanna’s Bitty Bot and Josh Funk’s Albie Newton.

PPBF – La Frontera: El viaje con papá~My Journey with Papa

I’ve had this picture book on my radar for a while and was thrilled to find it in the bilingual section of my local library. And now I get to share it with you!

Title: La Frontera: El viaje con papá~My Journey with Papa

Written By: Deborah Mills & Alfredo Alva

Illustrated By: Claudia Navarro

Publisher/Date: Barefoot Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-11

Themes/Topics: immigration; family; coyote; autobiography; bilingual

Opening:

When I was young, my family lived in the small village of La Ceja in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato. For over 100 years, my family had lived there.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy, Alfredo, recounts the journey he and his father take from their home in Mexico to seek a better life in Texas.

Links to Resources:

  • Alfredo and his father travel by bus, inner tube, walking, and truck. Draw a picture showing one or more of these ways to travel. Can you think of other ways to travel?
  • Alfredo tells the true story of moving from Mexico to Texas and starting a new school there. Have you ever moved? Describe your journey and how you felt about it;
  • Check out the back matter where you can learn more about “borders and culture”, “immigration”, and “Alfredo’s story”;
  • Watch the book trailer -in Spanish with English text.

Why I Like this Book:

La Frontera tells the true story of a young Mexican boy, Alfredo, and his father as they journey from their home in south-central Mexico to a new life in Texas. As the story opens, Alfredo is happy at his home surrounded by a loving family, friends, and even a special donkey, Fernando. But Alfredo’s father worked in the pinyon pine trees with Alfredo’s uncle and grandfather. As the grandfather grew older, he was no longer able to work, the family’s earnings declined, and Alfredo and his brothers were “always hungry”. Because there was no other work in the region, Alfredo’s father sought a better life in the United States, bringing his eldest son, Alfredo, with him.

I think that by setting the idyllic rural scene and showing how the family’s fortunes changed, the authors help readers understand why someone would leave their family and home to undertake an arduous, at times dangerous, journey. I think it also helps readers empathize with Alfredo, and gives a name, and face, to immigrants. Although this true story occurred almost 40 years ago, I think it is relevant today as “illegal immigration” across the southern US border tops headline news.

While the details of the actual journey were eye-opening, including being swindled by the “coyote” smuggler, I found Alfredo’s descriptions of his first days at school most interesting. The reality of not understanding English, of feeling apart and alone, of missing Mama and siblings, are important, I think, for children to understand as they welcome non-English speakers to their classrooms. For new immigrants reading this story, I think it may be helpful for them to see how Alfredo slowly learned English and became “a Texan”, as it may encourage them as they strive to integrate.

Thanks, in part, to Reagan’s immigration amnesty, Alfredo’s story has a happy ending, as readers learn at the end of the story and in the back matter.

Navarro’s brightly-colored graphite, acrylic and collage illustrations bring a Mexican folk art feel to the story, reminding readers of Alfredo’s cultural heritage.

A Note about Craft:

In the back matter, readers learn that La Frontera is a true story about Alfredo and his father, and that Alfredo and a neighbor, Deborah Mills, wrote the story together. As a non-#OwnVoices author, I was intrigued and pleased to learn how a non-#OwnVoices author could help write this timely and important story.

I appreciate that Alva and Mills used first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story. I also appreciate that the editors chose to use English and Spanish side-by-side to render La Frontera more accessible in schools and classrooms with both Spanish and English speakers. And I particularly appreciate the choice of a Mexican illustrator to show, in a way, that Alfredo stayed true to his cultural roots.

Barefoot Books is an independent publisher “founded by two young mothers in England in 1992 and based in Cambridge, MA” that publishes “books for children that encourage discovery, compassion, creativity and global awareness.” Its mission is to “share stories, connect families, inspire children”.

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 – for the Dogs (Rescue)

Sadie, our “island girl”

As the mother of a rescue pup,  I know how much these pups are loved and how much we all enjoy reading heartwarming furever home tales. Today, I’m pairing two wonderful recent dog rescue picture books.

 

A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal 

Authors: Margarita Engle with Amish Karanjit and Nicole Karanjit

Illustrator: Ruth Jeyaveeran

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press (an imprint of Sterling Publishing Group)/2018

Ages: 5-8

Themes: dogs; rescue; Nepal; holiday

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

It’s the Festival of Lights in Nepal, and today is the day to honor dogs! Brothers Alu and Bhalu wander the streets of Kathmandu, passing by twirling kites and bamboo swings, looking for a dog to feed. But as night falls, their task begins to feel hopeless, until they spot a small black dog who is in need of a friend. This sweet story presents an important Hindu holiday through the eyes of two young boys, making it relatable for both those familiar with the holiday and those reading about it for the first time.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

Operation Rescue Dog

Author: Maria Gianferrari

Illustrator: Luisa Uribe

Publisher/Date: Little Bee Books/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: dogs; rescue; missing family

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This sweet story about a girl named Alma and a stray dog named Lulu shows how a girl and a dog can rescue each other.
Lulu’s ears flap in the wind
as the rescue truck rolls into the lot.
Lulu’s tail thumps—
Everything smells . . . new.
Lulu sleeps under the moon, drinking from mud puddles and covered in ticks until she is rescued. She waits for the Operation Rescue Dog truck, scared and uncertain.
Alma misses her Mami, who is far away in Iraq. Alma wears Mami’s scarf around her like a hug. She wonders: Can a dog feel like a hug?
In this heartwarming and moving picture book, a lonely child and a lonely dog come together and find warmth, companionship, and love in each other.

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

I paired these books because both involve bringing a new dog into the family and both feature diversity. The story in A Dog Named Haku takes place in Nepal, a mountain kingdom in the Himalayas. We learn that dogs are honored there during a holiday, and the two brothers in the story find and bring home a homeless puppy, Haku, and share their family’s feast with him. In Operation Rescue Dog, Alma misses her soldier mother and thinks a dog will be the perfect “surprise friend for Mami’s return”. Alma and her Abuela set off to meet the Operation Rescue Dog truck as, in a parallel story, pup Lulu journeys to meet Alma and find her forever home.  Reading these books together shows that the human-animal bond is universal and that families of all types have room for four-legged friends. Both books also feature helpful back matter.

Looking for similar reads?

See Toby (Hazel Mitchell, 2016), Found. (Jeff Newman & Larry Day, 2018), The Story of Moose: How a Big Dog on a Little Island Found Love…After Nearly 5 Years in a Shelter (Laurie Damron, 2016).

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!