Peter Reynolds’ Be You! – Inspiring Even for Curmudgeons

Lynn: One of us here at Bookends is something of a curmudgeon when it comes to “inspirational” books. Ahem, I will leave you to guess which one of us it is but let me just say that one of us usually finds such books waay too sweet, gooey, and simplistic. Eye rolling is also quite often occurs during reading them. However, a notable exception to this prejudice happened when I, oops, when WE read Reynolds’ wonderful new picture book, Be You! (Scholastic, March 2020).

Yes, it is bright and cheery. Yes, it is filled with positive aphorisms. Yes, it is encouraging and uplifting. It even has hearts on the cover and teachable moments in the text!  But, happily, it is also fun, quirky, genuinely sweet and yes, quite inspiring!  Somehow it avoids being treacly and neither of us rolled our eyes once. The text manages to be encouraging but straightforward. The illustrations expand the text with real charm and humor and the attributes addressed are those kids will respond to.

I have a grandson who definitely marches to the beat of his own tambourine Reynolds’ book is made for kids like him. Yay!

Cindy: It’s true, Lynn’s idea of a self-help or inspirational book is a hard-core science fiction read. 😉 She leans to the escapist vs. introspective rule of thumb. But she knows a gem when she sees one and I shouldn’t pick on her further as everyone should be encouraged to “Be You!” The advice here to “Be Curious” or “Be Adventurous” or hardest perhaps, to “Be Patient” is delivered with a charming illustration and an additional suggestion of just how to do that. For instance, “Be Patient” has a young girl lounging on a big clock and the wise advice we all need at such times:

Being more you takes time.
Take a deep breath. Relax.
Let your future unfold at its own pace.
It will be worth the wait.

This book is one for all ages. I’m eager to give it to my middle school counselors. It’s also one that would make a great graduation gift book. Coincidentally, my library secretary saw our review copy of Say Something and thought we should encourage our middle school students to find positive things to say. We created a bulletin board based on his book. We hope to get some teachers to play along and have their students create their own speech bubbles to post around the school. We can all use a little inspiration during the bleak winter days, right?

Ho Ho Ho…liday Books

Cindy and Lynn: For our readers who celebrate Christmas, we have two picture books to add to your holiday shelves or stockings. For all of our readers, we want to say thank you, and wish you a Happy New Year. We are taking a short break from posting to enjoy the holidays and to begin making our special Bookends Award lists for the 2019 publishing year. In the meantime, enjoy these two fun stories!

Cover art for the book Ho Ho HomeworkThat new substitute teacher sure looks familiar in Mylisa Larsen’s Ho Ho Homework (Harper, 2019). Mr. Clausen has a white beard and black boots, his laugh sounds like ho, ho, ho, and he serves milk and reindeer shaped cookies at snack time. The class is sure he is Santa, but Jack isn’t convinced. This is a simple, but happy look at a classroom celebration of the holiday that includes lessons for making a snowflake and adding a wish to the back. Is Santa real? This story with a diverse mix of children (other than everyone celebrates Christmas) will be a good read-aloud for similar classes.

Cover art of the book There's an Elf in Your BookNaughty elves are showing up everywhere, and this time There’s an Elf in Your Book (Random House, 2019). The elf in this book puts forth challenges to see if children can make Santa’s Nice List. He asks them to do a series of things like touch their nose, or blow a Christmas kiss, but they have to be careful because the elf will try to trick them into doing silly naughty things sure to make them giggle. Children who make it through the elf’s participatory tests will be rewarded with an “Official Nice List Certificate.”

 

 

Celebrating the Book – Picture Books for Bibliophiles of All Ages

Bibliophiles come in all ages. Young or old, we share a common bond, a deep and abiding love of books. Even in this fast-paced digital age, we bibliophiles prosper, enriched and strengthened by this mutual ingrained passion. Don’t believe the current folk wisdom. Kids still love books. We see this in our book club and in our schools. Kids still want to hold books, absorb them, collect them, read them over and over, and protect them. Here are two heartfelt picture books that celebrate books and the readers that love them. The holidays are coming fast and these would make treasured gifts to the bibliophiles, both young AND old, on your list.

Lynn: This Book of Mine (Farrar, 2019) is by the renown writing-illustrating team Sarah Stewart and David Small. Stewart’s simple rhyming text celebrates the many ways that readers use books: to be a friend, to comfort after a scary dream, to spark imagination or sometimes just to smell that wonderful booky smell. Small’s charming and humorous illustrations fill the pages in warm shades of purple with a bright splash of color highlighting the book on each page. The cast of characters is diverse in age and race but clearly linked in their shared love of books. A New York Public Library lion is featured on the first and last page of the book in a lovely coda. Appropriate for our youngest bibliophiles as well as those of us who have been turning pages for many decades.

 

Cindy: You won’t be able to miss the neon-bright cover of How to Read a Book (HarperCollins, 2019) by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. This dream team creates something new and fresh with Alexander’s encouraging how-to poem for experiencing a book with all of your senses paired with Sweet’s electrifying collage art. I’m an unabashed fan of Sweet’s artistry, and she stretches yet again with this one. The color palette wakes the reader to the joys of reading. This is no passive act, but one that wakes you if you dig into that clementine and let the juices drip down your chin! A number of creative paper delights await in the turning of these pages. Lynn and I were lucky enough to see some of the original art at a publisher event at the American Library Association and we were in awe. I so want to play in Melissa’s studio!

Don’t miss the author and illustrator notes that provide lovely stories about the creating of this special book.

Kwame’s advice is appropriate for any book, but certainly especially so for both of these visual poetic treats celebrating the wonder of books.

“Don’t rush though:
your eyes need
time to taste.
Your soul needs
room to bloom.”

Picture Books about SCARY Appetites

Stories about scary appetites seem especially fascinating to kids – and if it is all a little gross all the better! Just think for a moment about how many fairy tales you know that have eating terrible things at their center? Remember the witch in Hansel and Gretel, fattening up Hans for the oven, the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk who is going to eat men’s bones or the troll under the bridge who wants the 3 Billy Goats Gruff for breakfast? We’ve recently found two terrific new picture books that take the theme of scary appetites and run with it.

Lynn: Hungry Jim (Chronicle, 2019) by Laurel Snyder is a tale about Jim who wakes up as a lion one morning AND a beastly appetite. When his mother calls him for breakfast, Jim discovers she looks delicious! He didn’t want to eat his mother but… and she WAS delicious! But he was still hungry and the more he ate, the hungrier and wilder he gets until he meets something as big and wild as he is.

This is a hilarious story about the hungry beast we sometimes wake up as and a wonderful tribute to Maurice Sendak who first understood about the wild beast inside all of us. Laurel Snyder’s text is pitch-perfect with an opening sentence that will grab the attention of every kid in the room! Chuck Groenink’s illustrations are equally terrific using lots of 2-page spreads, warm tones, and different perspectives. There is definitely a wild-things feel to the book but it is also very definitely it’s own creation.

Wonderful to use with a group or as a lap book, to use as a discussion starter or writing prompt or simply to enjoy!

Cindy: Families, food, and storytelling combine in this wild tale about Octopus Stew (Holiday House, 2019) by Eric Velasquez. Based on a family story of the time that Eric’s father had to rescue Eric and his grandmother from an overflowing octopus pot, the character Ramsey puts on his superhero cape and finds a way to defeat the ginormous octopus that has his grandmother wrapped in its tentacled arms. The text is infused with Spanish phrases, listed in a glossary in the back. Velasquez’s vibrant action-packed scenes and crazy adventure move the story along quickly, although a foldout spread adds a new dimension to the storytelling. The book jacket blurb presents the option of opening these fold-out pages or skipping them. The choice is yours, but, really, who could resist? The yellow endpapers with white octopus slice rings are a nice touch to the package. (The octopus might not agree!) The back matter also includes an author’s note encouraging the sharing of food and stories and the recipe to try making your own Octopus Stew…grab your copy now and switch up the turkey leftovers with something different!

Cindy and Lynn: As we publish this food-rich post the week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., we want to extend our thanks to our readers who followed us to our new blog home here at Bookendsblog.net. We’re also grateful for those of you who have found us recently. If you find our posts valuable, please share our link with a friend, a teacher, a librarian, or a parent who might enjoy them as well. Thanks!

The Moose of Ewenki: A Picture Book for All Ages

Lynn: One of the great joys of the children’s publishing world today is the small publishers bringing us books from other countries and cultures. This is such a gift to young readers whose understanding of the world will be enriched and expanded by these wonderful books. One of those publishers is Greystone Kids, a Canadian publisher of books by both Canadian and international authors. We have fallen in love with a new book from them, The Moose of Ewenki (Greystone, 2019) by Chinese author, Gerelchimeg Blackcrane and illustrated by Chinese artist Jiu Er.

Set in far northern forests of Mongolia, the story tells of an elder of Ewenki people, a hunter and herder of reindeer, who shoots a moose only to discover sadly that she had a young calf. The little creature follows the old hunter back to his campsite where he feeds and cares for it. Gree Shek names the calf, Xiao Han or Little Moose and raises the baby, including him in his daily life of caring for the reindeer herd, foraging for food and visiting the local village. Little Moose thrives and grows – and grows! In time he grows to adult size but thinks he should still sleep in Gree Shek’s tent, follows him everywhere and doesn’t seem to understand how big he is. After a series of mishaps and dangers, Gree Shek, who is growing older and frailer, realizes that for Little Moose’s own safety he must go into the forest. In some sad scenes that follow, he drives the young moose away and then the old man dies one night in his sleep. The hunters who find him, honor the old hunter by freeing his reindeer herd to join the moose in the forests.

This bittersweet story is full of both humor and tears, an evocative reflection of the life of the Ewenki people. Gree Shek and Little Moose stole my heart and no one who sees Jiu Er’s stunning illustrations will be able to resist this gorgeous book. But, I’ll let Cindy tell you about those!

Cindy: Animal-human bonding stories are popular in children’s literature but this one is a surprise. First, the setting…Inner Mongolia…a region we don’t see often in children’s literature. And then Xiao Han, “Little Moose,” who isn’t so little for long. I couldn’t help but get a flashback to one of my childhood favorites, The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth, but it didn’t linger as this is a very different book, of course. Little Moose peeks out from a bush on the title page but when he steps out from the bush a few pages later his timid gaze will melt the reader’s heart. The illustrations enhance the powerful story beautifully. Full-page spreads are interspersed with smaller vignettes that bring the landscape and its inhabitants to life. Creamy colored paper is perfect for the muted nature palette drawings that convey the humor and the sadness in this gentle story. A Junior Library Guild Section. Don’t miss it.

A Book for All Those Square Pegs: Sweety by Andrea Zuill

Cindy: Sweety is an awkward retainer-wearing naked mole rat and I have the biggest soft spot in my heart for her. Andrea Zuill, thank you for creating Sweety (Schwartz & Wade, 2019) with the *best* illustrations to bring Sweety to life! When her friends share their dolls’ names, Sweety’s response (delivered with great enthusiasm), is:

This is Warrior Princess Zorna! Friend fo the friendless, destroyer of evil, lover of chocolate-beet cake with cream cheese frosting! Her favorite color is aubergine* and my mom made her for me!

*Grammarly didn’t know this color. You will be more worldly, or you can look it up!

Sweety sometimes wishes she were more like her friends, or even is jealous (For instance, Deb’s hair, and I do mean singular—ONE hair). Other times, she is content to be herself enjoying her hobby of fungi identification. The illustrations make me giggle and laugh…but always with Sweety, not at Sweety.

It’s Aunt Ruth who helps Sweety to understand that being a “square peg” is not a bad thing. She advises her niece to stay true to herself and promises that one day she’ll find her people. Zuill dedicates the book to “all those who have accepted their inner oddball.” We all know a Sweety or two…and perhaps some of us have our own inner oddball. Here’s to Square Pegs everywhere!

Lynn: I fell hard for Sweety too. The illustrations just crack me up! Don’t miss Sweety’s family album or vignettes of Sweety trying a different hobby. Even a “normal” hobby like knitting gets its own Sweety style.

But as much as I love the illustrations here, I love Andrea Zuill’s message to kids even more. We’ve said the same thing to the Sweety kids seeking refuge in the library over the years! Be true to yourself and hang in there. You will find your people. Happily in this charming book, Sweety doesn’t have to wait too long before she finds a kindred fungi-loving friend. Queue the secret handshake and make sure to share Sweety and her message to kids everywhere!

Gondra’s Treasure – Dragon Lore History and Blended Families in a Picture Book

Lynn:  Readers might be surprised if we described a new picture book for the PreK-Gr.2 set as an introduction to dragon lore, its history and cultural differences, a story about biracial families and a sweet bedtime tale all in one. But if we then revealed that the author is the talented Linda Sue Park, all would be explained. Park’s new picture book, Gondra’s Treasure (Clarion, 2019), is all of those unusual elements and more and the result is completely charming.

Gondra, a small dragon, confides that her mom’s family is from the West and her Dad’s is from the East. As Gondra goes on to describe her family, readers get an introductory lesson in dragon folklore and the cultural differences in the traditional stories. Gondra’s mother breathes fire and her father breathes mist. Her mother’s ancestors lived in caves with treasure and her father’s had a single magical pearl that could control the weather. Gondra herself is a charming mix of both and this blend is presented along with a loving banter between the parents that is both humorous and reassuring. In what is clearly bedtime routine, Gondra brushes her teeth, dons striped pajamas (with her tail sticking out)  and hauls her stuffed toy and a stack of books off to bed, asking on the way, “What happened to the magic pearl and all the treasure?”

“Oh, that’s right. We don’t need them

anymore – because I’m your treasure.”

While the simple dragon lore is front and center here, the subtle message of loving acceptance and biracial families is the sweetly told heart of this dragon tale.

Cindy: Linda Sue Park’s story is warm and tender and encouraging to children living in many types of blended families. The humor in the tale is brought to life brilliantly in Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s whimsical illustrations. Created in ink, watercolor and collage paper, they are bright and expressive and Gondra made me snort in almost every scene. Unfortunately, I produced neither flames nor mist. Sigh.

Gondra’s attempts to fly and the caution to only breathe fire with an adult present will be familiar to the intended audience who are learning new things or having to wait to learn them. Gondra’s imagination shines as she takes to a swing to soar in the air while she waits for her magic to unfold.

An author’s note explains the lore behind dragons from different regions and some theories related to dinosaur fossil beds as to how people on different continents imagined dragon stories. Or perhaps, dragons are real? Gondra makes me wish it were so.