A Grandmother’s Love – Jordan Scott’s New Picture Book

Lynn:My Baba's Garden There is a saying that goes, “If nothing is going well, call your Grandmother.” Cliches develop for a reason. There is usually real truth behind each saying and as a Grandmother myself, I am here to tell you that the love between a grandparent and grandchild is a special thing. Each relationship is unique of course but for many that bond is as fundamental as breathing and bone deep. There are countless picture books about this relationship and I am continually awed by their sheer range of creative exploration. Proving my point is the new book by poet Jordan Scott and illustrator Sydney Smith, My Baba’s Garden (Holiday/Neal Porter, 2023). This is the team that created the award-winning book I Talk Like a River (Holiday/Neal Porter, 2020).

Here, a young boy remembers being taken each morning to his Grandmother’s small house to eat breakfast and then be walked to and from school. The two talk little but much is communicated between the pair in gestures and small moments. Told in beautiful simple sentences, the boy relates his Grandmother’s habits of scooping up bits of spilled oatmeal, kissing the food, and placing it back in the boy’s bowl. Together they slowly walk to school, stopping to pick up worms they find on the sidewalk and placing them safely in a carried jar of dirt. In the garden after school, they gently release the worms into the rich soil.

Some time later, the boy’s grandmother moves into the house with them. Now the boy brings her breakfast and in a heart-melting series of panels, he kisses an apple slice and hands it back to her, returning her gift of tenderness.

Scott relates in a preface that his grandmother came from Poland where she suffered greatly and had little food. Like so many of that generation, love was expressed through cooking and sharing food and in the small gestures of caring. The text reflects these evocative glimpses of memory: a bowl of oatmeal so large he thinks he could swim in it, the cozy kitchen filled with food stored everywhere, the sights and scents of the garden in the sun. In turn, Sydney Smith’s illustrations also capture these memories in panels of varied sizes: two hands clasping, one old, one young, a slicker-clad boy waving to a figure gazing down from a window. Several of these sequences are wordless, as Smith skillfully extends the story, illuminating the bond between the two.

My Baba’s Garden is an exquisite and deeply moving book for all generations and a brilliant example of how words and pictures can work together to form something bigger than both. And—I dare you to read this without crying!

Scieszka’s Dada Nonsense to Send Off 2022

Real Dada Mother GooseLynn: I have a tendency toward morose reflection in the last week of a waning year. An antidote is needed and I found an outstanding one in Jon Scieszka’s The Real Dada Mother Goose: A Treasury of  Nonsense (Candlewick, 2022). This delightful book is just what the reading doctor prescribed for diverting gloom and eliciting laughter.

Just to refresh: Dada is creating art through humor and absurdity. And what could be better to take us smiling into the New Year? Scieszka takes his start with the classic collection The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright, published by Rand McNally in 1916. Trust me, it is just the platform for an incredible dive into what imagination and humor can do. Scieszka chose 6 well-known Mother Goose Rhymes. He begins each of 6 chapters with the original rhyme and then follows with Dada word play on the rhymes. Hey Diddle Diddle, for example, has the Dada treatment applied with a Haiku, a recipe, a Pop Quiz and a map.  Hickory Dickory Dock appears in Egyptian Hieroglyphs, a Crossword puzzle and an “N + 7” code. Each new poem is a puzzle and each is a wonderfully clever.

Julia Rothman’s illustrations are done in mixed media. They are created in the style of the original Mother Goose book but, using Dada style, she includes whimsical touches including a yellow goose that appears throughout the book. The book design too is masterfully done making it appealing, easy to read and to appreciate the many details while also giving a nod to the reader’s sense of the absurd.

Also provided are Notes on all the forms, puzzles and codes used throughout the book. These are really fun to read and it is impossible not to want to instantly start creating your own versions. Included here too is a Mother Goose history and information about Blanche Fisher Wright.

This would be a fantastic book to use in a language arts classroom to read aloud, as a sponge activity with real value and as a writing prompt. I guarantee it will take you into the New Year smiling.

Madani’s Best Game – a Story of the Beautiful Game

Lynn: Madani's best gameI hope this World Cup, despite its many issues, is bringing love of the Beautiful Game to more Americans and bringing a clearer understanding of how it is loved around the world. I know many American children now play soccer on recreational and school teams but the book I am writing about today is about how millions of kids really play the game and what it can mean. Madani’s Best Game (Eerdman’s, 2022) is by Spanish author Fran Pintadera and translated from Spanish.

A young narrator confides the story of his neighborhood team where the best player was the one who could kick the ball the hardest – until Madani arrived. Not only is Madani the best football player anyone has ever seen but he stands out because he plays barefoot. Madani can do everything with a ball: slide it, twirl it, pass it and SCORE! When Madani has the ball, the whole world stops to watch. The team knows Madani has been saving his money. He walks instead of taking the bus, he gives up his afternoon snacks and his tells the team that when he has enough he is going shopping downtown. With an important game coming up, the team hopes his going to buy a pair of cleats. With cleats, Madani would be unstoppable! 

I will leave it for you to discover what Madani uses his saved money to buy but the result will melt every reader’s heart.Truly this is the story of a game often played barefoot, on dusty ground or city streets, sometimes with patched balls or balls made of anything available. But wonderfully, this is also a story of a game uniting people from all over, breaking barriers of immigration and poverty. And, it is also a story of love.

Raquel Catalina’s warm illustration are done in pencil, colored pencil and gouache and they beautifully bring the energy and spirit of the story to life. This is a terrific book to read aloud during this World Cup season, or any football season, and to use as a discussion starter.

A is for Alphabet Books…and Oboe

Lynn:A is for oboe I can’t celebrate Picture Book Month without reviewing an Alphabet Book! Long-time readers know it is one of my favorite types of picture books. My love of them began farther back than I’d like to admit and in fact, I still own my battered copy of Hillary Knight’s ABCs purchased for me by my father before I was even born. I’ve loved them ever since and have quite a collection. For me, alphabet books are a testament to the extraordinary creativity that illustrators continue to bring to what could be a mundane genre. They continue to be ever-fresh and brilliantly original.

A Is for Oboe: The Orchestra’s Alphabet (Penguin/Dial, 2021) by Laura Auerbach and Marilyn Nelson proves my point! Like all outstanding books, this is far, far more than an alphabet book. In the talented hands of composer, conductor, and pianist Auerbach and multi-award-winning poet Nelson, this remarkable lyrical book is an introduction to the orchestra, its sections, musical terms, and instruments. It gifts readers with lyrical poems for each letter of the alphabet, each cleverly delivering its assigned letter in unusual ways. For example, A is for the note A played by the oboe to tune the orchestra and W is for the new and exciting music written by today’s young composers. Each poem is a little puzzle to unlock and each begs to be read aloud.

Illustrator Paul Hoppe uses ink on paper with his dynamic and energetic drawings, reinforcing the message that the orchestra of our time is diverse in race, ethnicity, age, and gender and is a living experience for all to enjoy.

The vocabulary is often challenging but in accessible ways and is a valuable addition to music and English language classes as well as being terrific for shared reading with an adult. This is a gem and belongs in all collections. It will certainly be in mine!

The Sweetest Scoop – What’s Your Flavor?

Lynn: sweetest scoopWhat kid doesn’t love ice cream? And who hasn’t heard of or tasted one of  Ben and Jerry’s crazy flavors? The new picture book The Sweetest Scoop: Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Revolution by Lisa Robinson had me smacking my forehead and wondering, “Oy! Why didn’t I think of that????” It’s a kid-perfect book, right? Could there be a better book for a classroom intro to biography or nonfiction?

Well, I didn’t think of it so thanks to Lisa Robinson who did! Ben and Jerry were childhood pals and even though they had different skills and interests, their friendship remained strong as they both struggled to find the right path. The friends decided their best plan was to go into business together. But what? The two tried several things. Bagels came first but they settled on a true love—Ice Cream. The boys bought an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont, rolled up their sleeves, and started to work. First, they had to fix leaks and resurrect the furnace, and then came the challenges of actually making great ice cream. And then there were the flavors! How DO you break up enough toffee bars to put Coffee Bar Ice Cream into production? Well, our boys persevered, created their signature wacky flavors to stand out, and Ben & Jerry’s was a huge success. Were there challenges ahead? You can bet your waffle cone it was often a Rocky Road! Have you ever heard of the Flavor Graveyard or the Pillsbury Boycott that aimed to put them out of business? I hadn’t and this sweet book filled me up with fascinating facts.

The Sweetest Scoop is a delicious book, combining an inspiring story of two hard-working men who wanted to succeed at something they loved and do it in a way that upheld their strong beliefs such as sustainable manufacturing and activism. Robinson’s text has a breezy grooviness appropriate for the boys’ 60’s spirit and sprinkles plenty of humor throughout, including groan-worthy riddles here and there. “How do you make a milkshake? Give a cow a pogo stick!” Stacey Innerest’s chalk and watercolor illustrations are totally chill too.

Back matter includes an Author’s Note, Timeline, and Sources. My only wish was for a list of flavors used over the years—AND for a great big cone to eat as I read!

Whatever your favorite flavor, Cherry Garcia, Chunk Monkey, or Save Our Swirl, you’ll love this perfect treat of a picture book!

How To Draw a Duck – Mr. McCloskey’s Marvelous Mallards

LyMr. McCloskey's Marvelous Mallardsnn:  November is Picture Book Month and what better way to celebrate than writing about a picture book that celebrates a classic and much-loved picture book? Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings (Viking, 1941) won the Caldecott and is still treasured by children. The story behind McCloskey’s book has been told in Leonard Marcus’ book, Caldecott Celebration (Walker, 2008) and now Emma Bland Smith brings that inspiring story to children in Mr. McCloskey’s Marvelous Mallards (Calkins Creek, 2022).

Having published his first book, young Robert McCloskey was searching for an idea for a second book. He remembered watching a pair of Mallards and their ducklings waddling into Boston’s Public Gardens all in row. Bingo! But getting the illustrations right turned out to be much harder. He sketched and sketched, only to have his editor, the legendary May Massee reject them all. McCloskey was determined to do better! He started by first bringing home a box of live ducklings to observe and sketch. Still not satisfied, he next brought home adult ducks to add to the chaos in his apartment before finally setting them all free on a pond at a friend’s home. This time his editor loved the sketches and text and an enchanting picture book came to life.

Smith tells this story wonderfully for children with just the right touch of humor and stressing McCloskey’s persistence and hard work to get the drawings just right. Illustrator Becca Stadtlander does a lovely job depicting the famous author/illustrator and his signature illustrations working in gouache and colored pencils in place of McCloskey’s iconic warm brown tones. It is a charming look at the artistic process as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how a book is created. A perfect pairing of books for any story hour or classroom.

And, if you missed our earlier post, To McCloskey’s Ducklings with Love, check that out as well as Nancy Schon’s book Ducks on Parade about the sculptures of McCloskey’s ducks created for the Public Gardens in 1987.

A Thoughtful New Look at Bullying and Hunger

Lynn: Lunch every dayKids have dealt with bullying through the ages and many youth books involve that issue.  So while it is not unusual to address bullying, it is rare to find a new approach to an old but serious issue. Kathryn Otoshi does just that in her new book, Lunch Every Day (KO Kids Books, 2022)

Powerful and emotional, Otoshi’s remarkable picture book is told from a young bully’s point of view, providing readers with a glimpse of what may propel his actions targeting “skinny kid.” Without excusing the bullying, the story asks readers to consider the large issues of abuse, bullying, power, and empathy. That is a lot in one short picture book but Otoshi does it brilliantly and in a pitch-perfect voice for young readers.

The moving act of kindness by skinny boy’s mother moved me to tears and is all the more remarkable as this story is based on the real-life experience of Jim Perez, a well-known anti-bullying educator.

What a discussion starter this book is!!!! Perfect for story-hours and classrooms!

Cindy: The fall holiday food drives are upon us, and it was always hard to watch the homeroom competitions for highest contributions when I knew that more than half of our student population qualified for free or reduced lunches due to poverty level. I’m always reminded of a rant that singer-songwriter Harry Chapin did on a live album. “What are these kids going to eat the next day?” Solving world hunger is a bigger problem than one picture book can address, but the act of kindness here is a good start. And so is showing that bullying almost always stems from deeper problems.

In addition to the moving story, Otoshi’s illustrations are strikingly effective and create a feel of smudgy chalk. Bold lines and intense colors provide a sense of mood while the facial details are often indistinct. This changes abruptly in the scenes with the mother talking to the bully in a subtle choice that emphasizes the power of the moment.

I do hope that Otoshi and Perez’s story makes it into every school library and classroom. Every kid should have Lunch Every Day.

These Virus Picture Books Are Infectious Reading

Cindy and Lynn: we know, we know. We’re all really tired of hearing about “the virus.” But, after two years of COVID quarantines, infections, shut-downs, mask mandates, and remote work if you still don’t know how to explain what a virus is, how it works, and how scientists study them and try to defeat the bad ones, this round-up of nonfiction picture books may help you focus the microscope. If you have other virus books for a young audience to recommend, leave us a comment. 

I’m a Virus! by Bridget Heos (Crown, 2022)I'm a Virus by Bridget Heos

From a sick girl’s sneeze to her friend’s nose, a common cold virus explains how it invades, multiplies, and attacks to spread from person to person. The science, which also covers the body’s immune response, is infused with humor and illustrations that help the information go down like a spoonful of sugar! Covid-19 is mentioned, as is Smallpox and Jenner’s first vaccine. A double-page spread introduces the many types of white blood cells and their jobs in defending you from illness. A glossary, suggested reading and bibliography round out this first entry in the Science Buddies Series.

Secret Life of Viruses by Mariona Tolosa SistereThe Secret Life of Viruses: Incredible Science Facts About Germs, Vaccines, and What You Can Do to Stay Healthy by Mariona Tolosa Sisteré Ellas Educan Collective (Sourcebooks, 2021)

Vibrant and humorous illustrations complement solid information written by a women’s science collective about a wide variety of viruses. Topics include how the body defends itself, viruses in history, and the benefits of some viruses. A True/False quiz at the back reinforces important content.

Dr. Fauci by Kate MessnerDr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner (Simon & Schuster, 2021)

This picture book biography of the current director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, begins in his childhood as a curious child of parents who owned a pharmacy and continues through his medical education and his work under seven U.S. presidents. Backmatter includes: How Do Vaccines Work?, Are Vaccines Safe?, and Dr. Fauci’s Five Tips for Future Scientists, a Time Line, Recommended Reading, and Fauci family photos.

Tu Youyou's Discovery by Songju Ma DaemickeTu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria by Songju Ma Daemicke (Albert Whitman, 2021)

Like Dr. Fauci, Tu Youyou was interested in medicine and research from a young age, partially due to her own struggle with tuberculosis as a teen. In 1969, an illness called Malaria, spread by mosquitoes, was killing people worldwide and became the focus of her research and experiments. This nonfiction biography picture book emphasizes the persistence needed in medical research as doctors search for answers and cures, and highlights the scientific process as well as gender discrimination. For her work, Youyou was honored with a Nobel Prize in 2015, the first Chinese woman to receive one.

Planting a Love for Nature: Park and Garden Picture Books

Lynn and Cindy: We have gardens and parks on our minds! Who doesn’t in these sweet early days of summer when the world is green and inviting? A lovely bouquet of picture books has landed on our doorsteps that will delight any budding gardener. Enjoy and share!

Uncle John's city gardenUncle John’s City Garden (Holiday House, 2022) by Bernette G. Ford

Little Sissie and her brothers work with their Uncle John to plant a garden in the middle of the city. Each child chooses seeds and carefully tends the plants with the goal of a glorious succotash at the season’s end. A bounty crop means a neighborhood celebration and lots of sharing. Frank Morrison’s vibrant oil illustrations make every page delicious. Succotash recipe included!

Celia Planted a Garden: the Story of Celia Thaxter and HerCelia planted a garden Island Garden (Candlewick, 2022) by Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt.

Celia Thaxter loved flowers from the time she was a young child. She especially loved the color they brought to her gray, white, and black life on the island where her father tended a lighthouse. Her love for gardening bloomed as gloriously as the flowers she tended and the nature writing she nurtured. Melissa Sweet’s colorful illustrations are perfect for this picture book biography, and you’ll be inspired to plant some seeds of your own.

Park connects usA Park Connects Us (Owl Kids, 2022) by Sarah Nelson.

This lovely picture book celebrates all the ways parks benefit us. Simple sentences and charming illustrations by Ellen Rooney make this a joyous choice for a summer read aloud. Back matter provides information on the history and creation of Central Park in New York City.

Room for Everyone: A Wild Inclusive Ride

Lynn:room for everyone In Zanzibar on a day “hotter than peppers”, Musa and his sister get aboard the daladala for an excursion to the beach. In the delightful Room for Everyone (S&S/Atheneum, 2021) by Naaz Khan, the bus keeps stopping and each stop adds more and more hilarious passengers. Musa is sure they will be squished.  First, there is a boy and his goats, then an old man and his bicycle, and a diving team and all their equipment! With each addition, Musa gets more and more worried but his sister assures him there always room for everyone. And of course, she is right. By the time they arrive at the beach, Musa, too, is joining the bouncy refrain that there is always room for everyone.

Joyful and buoyant repeating verse makes this cumulative tale a delight to read aloud. Merce Lopez’s vibrant illustrations are brightly colored and exuberant with lots of humorous touches that will delight young readers. Giggles abound!

Always Room for One More by Sorche Nic LeodhasCindy: This story is a fun twist on the Scottish folktale, Always Room for One More, perhaps best remembered in the version by Sorche Nic Leodhas, which won the 1966 Caldecott Medal for Nonny Hogrogrian’s wonderful illustrations.

In this East African spin on the motif, each additional set of riders (from one to ten) adds an element of culture, arts, sports, food, or occupation to the bus painting a community as colorful and energetic as the mixed-media illustrations. The theme of including all is especially appreciated. A short glossary of Swahili and Arabic terms is included as well as an author’s note about her own book-inspiring fun ride on a daladala. Don’t miss this literary ride!