My Brother the Duck – Scientific Method at Work in a Picture Book

Lynn: Take one “fledgling scientist,” aka young Stella Wells, who is clearly not pleased about the impending addition to the family, and add a father’s joke. “You’re waddling,” he tells Stella’s mom, “We must be having a duck.” Stella is not amused because if a “baby was bad enough, a duck was unacceptable.” Stella decides much more research is required and sets out to gather facts to prove her hypothesis. Pat Zietlow Miller takes on the scientific method in her very funny new picture book, My Brother the Duck (Chronicle, 2020).

When the new sibling arrives and her parents name him Drake, Stella sets to work. Enlisting her best friend and fellow researcher, they tote up the accumulated proof. Drake not only sounds like a duck, he looks like a duck! Deciding the facts were not yet conclusive, the team consults an expert, their teacher who tells them:

“If it looks like a duck

and sounds like a duck,

it’s probably a duck.”

Just as Stella decides that maybe having a duck in the family wouldn’t be so bad, her ongoing observations yield a startling new discovery.

I took to this picture book like a duck takes to water! Miller’s sly text wonderfully assisted by Daniel Wiseman’s cheery digital illustrations made me laugh out loud. Young readers will have no trouble getting the jokes so delightfully presented on each page and along the way, they’ll acquire a little more understanding of the scientific method. This picture book fits the bill for both classrooms and lap-time reading.

Cindy: Fits the “bill?” Lynn does love her puns, but the book does just that. A new sibling can be a strange thing to understand for a young child but as this new baby brother “fledges,” his older sister grows comfortable with him. Wiseman has as much fun with his ducky illustrations and hidden “eggs” in the brightly colored art as Lynn does with her puns. Make note, the twist ending will have everyone laughing.

Pair this with the classic Are You My Mother? (Random House, 1960) by P.D. Eastman for added fun.

 

One Little Bag – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Lynn: I am writing this post as I start the second week of self-isolation and as I do, I am thinking about how differently I am already seeing my world. Some things matter more to me and some seem completely irrelevant. I don’t know how much we will be changed by the events of COVID-19 but I suspect that many of us will feel an even deeper commitment to caring for each other and caring for our world. I loved Henry Cole’s book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey (Scholastic, April 2020) the moment I read it. Now, two months later, I find I love it even more for several reasons.

This is the story of a little brown paper bag, first used to bring home a flashlight a single dad buys at a store with his young son. Keep on eye on that flashlight because it will appear almost as often as the little brown bag that gets used and re-used and used again as the wordless story continues. The bag next holds the boy’s lunch. The father has drawn a red heart on the bag and in the small vignettes that follow the bag is used in a variety of other ways, holding marshmallows for a camping trip, music for guitar practice, and tools to repair a first car. The bag goes off to college with the boy, holds a wedding ring, a bear for a new baby, and checkers for a game between a grandson and his grandfather. This cycle of life tale ends with a heart-melting scene in which the paper bag holds a new tree planted in the forest to celebrate a life.

Cole’s style and detailed illustrations have always enchanted me, offering new rewards with each reading. There is most often an underlying sweetness to Cole’s work too that never fails to please along with a welcome dash of humor. Those things are strongly at work in this new book too. Each exquisitely drawn page holds clever details, the sweetness of life’s ordinary and special moments and a lot of smiles. While the book is wordless, there is a message that comes through strongly about the importance of taking care of each other and taking care of the planet, and of re-using what we have. In a time when so much feels out of our control, this story and this message seem more important every day.

Cindy: I may have to use my stored paper bags for toilet paper if the hoarding doesn’t abate. I haven’t been able to buy a roll since this COVID-19 emergency started. I grew up with a mother who was born during the Great Depression and we reused everything. Plastic bread wrappers were rinsed out and clothespinned to the kitchen curtain rod to dry and reuse. So this book, with its creative journey of one paper bag, is dear to my heart and will be to yours, as well, once you’ve read it. Henry Cole’s work is well known, and his talented art is on full display here. Six double-page spreads show the journey from a tree in the forest through the manufacturing of a paper bag to its use at the grocery before we even get to the title page. Working in three colors, his black ink drawings feature touches of brown as the bag comes to life and small red hearts are added to the bag, one by one, through the years of use. These color choices keep the focus on that bag.

While reading this book, I suspended belief as the bag lasted through generations…that’s one tough bag. But then I read the Author’s Note and learned that Henry used a paper lunch bag for three years of school…and then willed it to a friend who used it for another year. He was moved by the events of the first Earth Day in 1970 to reuse that bag. And reuse it he did. This book will publish just a few weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of that first Earth Day. What a great book to have on hand to remind us of the importance of conserving our resources.

 

Two New Picture Books Stroll NYC’s Central Park

Cindy: A Green Place to Be: the Creation of Central Park (Candlewick, 2019), a debut picture book by Ashley Benham Yazdani, is not just for New Yorkers. Many readers will enjoy the stroll through the pages of watercolor scenes highlighting the history and the building and the enjoyment of New York City’s famous park. As the city grew, green space was quickly disappearing. A design contest was held and the winners, architect Calvert Vaux and landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted submitted a design built to scale on a scroll two feet three inches wide and ten feet two inches long! Then the hard work of clearing and shaping the land began. Ice skating on the lake began in the winter of 1858 and slowly other sections were completed and open to the public after careful attention to details, future vision, and the philosophy that the park should be for everyone, no matter their social class or status. One double-page spread shows and names the thirty-four unique bridges and archways in the park that will have park visitors looking at the structures in a new way. More details and some interactive elements are included in the backmatter. Can you find all twenty-two gray squirrels in the pages of this book?

Lynn: Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux’s extensive planning, hard work, and attention to every detail resulted in a spectacular garden. But Madelyn Rosenberg imagines a denizen of the park that never showed up in those original plans in a delightful picture book titled, Cyclops of Central Park (Penguin/Putnam, 2020). Did any of you New Yorkers realize there is a Cyclops nestled into a cave in the midst of Central Park and of course he takes care of a flock of sheep? Cyclops is content to stay safely in his cave in Central Park, protecting his sheep and he worries about the dangers of venturing out of the park. But Eugene (it would be Eugene!) goes missing out in the dangerous world and Cyclops has to be brave and go looking. But no luck! Cyclops has to call in the troops—I mean flock—to join the search.

What a fresh, imaginative, funny, gorgeous, and downright adorable book this is! As Cyclops searches New York and its attractions, he and sheep discover a whole city full of fun. He visits an art museum, the Statue of Liberty, and best of all, Coney Island! Victoria Tentler-Krylov’s brightly detailed illustrations are packed with funny details that made me laugh out loud. Bright splashes of color make each page a joy. I’d love some of these originals for my house! With the lost Eugene safely in tow, they all retire back home. “There’s no place like cave,” Cyclops says but it is clear he is now ready to have more adventures.

Don’t Forget These! – Roundup of Late 2019 Picture Books Plus One

Lynn and Cindy: We do our best to look for and review as many books as possible during the “book” year but sometimes we don’t see those late publishing books until the new season begins. We don’t want you to miss some of these terrific books in the heady rush of 2020 publications. So here is a quick roundup of picture books that are just too good to miss!

The Hen Who Sailed Around the World by Guirec Soudee (Little, Brown, 2018)

A true story of a young Frenchman, Soudee, who spent 3 1/2 years sailing around the world and through the Northwest Passage with his traveling companion, Monique, a chicken. Soudee brought Monique along to provide eggs to eat but Monique turned out to be as adventurous and curious as Soudee himself. She loved sailing and the adventure, perching on Soudee’s shoulder, investigating the ice in the Arctic and “helping” Soudee sail. This absolutely charming chronicle is told in simple language for young readers and illustrated with wonderful photographs, some of them spectacular aerial drone shots and some downright adorable. This one is a can’t miss for story time reading either with a big group or snuggled up with your little chick in a cozy nest.

 

Bear is Awake by Hannah E. Harrison (Penguin/Dial, 2019)

Adorable entry into one of my favorite genres – quirky alphabet books! Bear wakes up mid-winter to begin an alphabetic adventure with a new friend, a young girl who is trying to figure out just what Bear should be doing in the winter! The story begins on the first page with Awake, next to Big Bear and Cozy Cabin and then on, page by page and letter by letter through the alphabet. There are wonderful and sometimes unusual choices for each letter including a terrific vocabulary challenge with O – Oblivious Officer and Outlandish Outfit and ends of course with ZZZZZ’s.

Harrison’s illustrations are such a delight! Sweet and very funny, they provide extra cues and lots of humor on every page. F and N completely cracked me up! I don’t know how I missed this one last year but make sure you don’t!

 

Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler (Penguin/Random/Nancy Paulsen, 2019)

An evocative and deeply moving story of Depression-era poverty and family resilience. The exquisite illustrations made me tear up. This is an important story for today’s generations who think not having the latest phone is cruel deprivation.

 

The Underhills: A Tooth Fairy Story by Bob Graham (Candlewick, 2019)

As a childhood fan of The Borrowers, The Underhills, featuring child tooth fairies April and Esme, delighted me to no end. With their parents off on a “job” retrieving a lost molar, the girls and their new baby brother and dog are dropped off at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the weekend. The tooth fairy grandparents live in a teapot in a vacant lot near the airport. The details, under Bob Graham’s delightful pen, are charming. An emergency lost tooth sends the girls off on a tricky mission at the airport and the scenes there are full of big spreads of small stories for children to examine. I had missed the first book about this tooth fairy family, April and Esme, Tooth Fairies (2010), but I will be hunting it down before you can say “bicuspid!”

 

16 Words: William Carlos Williams & “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers & Chuck Groenink (Schwartz & Wade, 2019)

So much depends upon a writer and illustrator to create a beautifully simple picture book. This one introduces physician and poet, William Carlos Williams, and sifting through facts from his life, imagines the inspiration for his most famous poem. Simply lovely.

 

Small in the City by Sydney Smith (Neal Porter, 2019)

The title says it all. An unseen narrator provides tips on navigating the bigness of the city as someone small. Sydney Smith’s breathtaking illustrations provide a wonderful perspective on the theme and while we as readers are as worried as the small person shown searching, we get reassurance at the end.

 

Being Edie is Hard Today by Ben Brashares (Little, Brown, 2019)

Remember Judith Viorst’s classic, Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Atheneum, 1972)? Alexander and Edie are kindred spirits. Edie’s story also has humor and hope that tomorrow will be easier but along the way, it has a darker edge to it. For many children being themselves or just being is very hard every day. Often adults don’t understand. This book will be going to my school counselor’s office where I think the pages will become quite worn. Elizabeth Bergeland’s pencil and watercolor illustrations are as unique as Edie and perfect for the story. A quiet gem that deserves wide readership.

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!