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.

 

The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach

Lynn: I loved Ross Burach’s new picture book, The Very Impatient Caterpillar (Scholastic, 2019) from the moment I saw the cover. Burach is totally tuned into an important aspect of young readers. They can be intensely interested in the factual side of a topic while at the same time loving a goofily ridiculous take on it. This picture book presents the important and almost miraculous biological topic of metamorphosis while also managing to yank on the uniquely silly funny bones so typical of little kids.

A rather clueless green caterpillar notices that all his buddies are going somewhere without him. They tell him they are going to metamorphosize. “Wait,” he yells, “You’re telling me I can become a BUTTERFLY?” The caterpillar has no idea what to do and once he finally manages to become a chrysalis he nearly melts down when he discovers he is going to have to wait 2 weeks! My favorite part of this hilarious book is the section depicting the ways the caterpillar tries to pass the time inside the chrysalis.

I’m happy to report that this delightful book has already received 2 big thumbs up from the five-year-old member of our focus group whose teacher had read this to their class as part of a caterpillar unit. He assured me that it was the funniest book EVER!

Cindy: “Are we there yet?” What parent hasn’t heard that refrain from the backseat. Patience is a virtue but is often in short supply these days. This book pokes fun at that while the science and magic spins away and wraps us in a fun information presentation. Burach’s art is a brightly colored mix of pencil, crayon, acrylic paint, and digital coloring. Who knew caterpillars had such expressive tongues and eyes! The art teacher will want to take a look at this one, too! She’s going to need the full 64-pack of crayons for these wild butterflies!

 

Nine Months: A Picture Book for Siblings While They Wait

Cindy: I’m not drinking the water at my school anymore. We have pregnant teachers everywhere you look. In addition, my daughter-from-another-mother just delivered twins and has been helping her two-year-old understand what is happening. Do I have the book for all of them…and for anyone you know who has a baby on the way! Nine Months (Holiday/Neil Porter 2019), written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin, promises to be a new favorite for young families.

Many books feature stories about helping an only child adjust to a new baby in the family, but this one features the baby’s development in utero with detailed illustrations paired with the older sister’s related activities through the seasons as they await the new baby. While showcasing sizes from a 0.1mm fertilized egg to a double page spread with an actual size fetus ready to enter the world, rhyming text documents each stage of gestation. In Month Six (Weeks 22-26), when hearing develops, the sister sings to her mother’s belly:

Grasp.

Clasp.

Ears that can hear.

Sing as she listens.

Tell her you’re near.

Caldecott Honor artist Jason Chin is a perfect illustrator for this blend of fiction and science. His watercolor and gouache art bring to life the tiny features of the fetus and the big scenes outside of the womb with equal success. The backmatter is informative and provides extra discussion opportunities. More About Babies provides extra information, Humans vs. Animals compares gestation times, and a What If…section answers what happens in various other baby development scenarios including more than one embryo, early births, and miscarriage. Whoa, Baby! adds a list of 9 amazing things most babies can do before they’re born, including suck their thumbs and somersault. Whoa, indeed!

Hop to It – Cynthia Lord’s New Rabbit Books

Lynn: Things are really hopping at Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord’s house. As proof, we offer her two new enchanting books that both feature rabbits. They also happen to have the most enticing and adorable covers EVER! In fact, we think all you’ll have to do to promote these is to set them face out on the shelf and stand back. And, since you may never get much chance to read them once the kids see them, here’s what is happening inside those covers.

Lord and her family foster rabbits rescued by Maine’s Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue. They help rescued domestic rabbits learn to trust humans and live in a house so they can be adopted. In her new nonfiction picture book, Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits (Farrar, 2019), Lord tells the story of when two Netherland dwarf rabbits joined the family. Lord’s husband, professional photographer John Bald, decided to photograph their steps toward adoption. It was quite a surprise when one of the rabbits gave birth to four tiny babies. Sadly two of the babies died but the remaining two, Fezzi and Dodger, prospered.

The book introduces the original two rabbits, explains what fostering is and how rabbits are helped to feel safe and comfortable. The story then documents the surprising arrival of the babies and follows their growth and development. Lord uses clear simple text suited to young readers, focusing on rabbit behavior.

The wide format and white background provide the perfect format for John Bald’s enchanting photographs of these irresistible creatures. And if all this cuteness wasn’t enough, charming sketches from illustrator Hazel Mitchell skip through the pages. What reader will not instantly yearn to add a rabbit to their family immediately? Happily, Cynthia Lord was well aware of this and has provided an important final page titled, ” Do You Want Your Own Rabbit for Keeps?” Here she emphasizes the need to do additional rabbit research and offers 5 important questions to answer before becoming a bunny owner.

Cindy: The cover art drew both Lynn and me to Lord’s fiction title, Because of the Rabbit (Scholastic, 2019) and it’s sure to attract young readers. Each chapter opens with a torn scrap of lined paper with a rabbit fact, which also coordinates with the focus of the story in that chapter. Emma’s homeschooling is coming to an end as the book opens. It’s the night before she is off to start 5th grade at a public school and she is nervous about finding a friend and setting a good first impression. Her school supplies are ready, but is she? That night she accompanies her game warden father to rescue a bunny caught in a fence. When they do, they discover it’s not a wild rabbit that can be released, but a pet breed that may have an owner looking for it. Emma convinces her dad that they should take it home to foster until they can find the owner. In addition to bunny wrangling, Emma gets paired with a boy named Jack for a big project. He is on the autism spectrum and friendship doesn’t come easily. As a storyteller, I really enjoyed the integration of trickster bunny Monsieur Lapin’s tales that Emma recounts from her grandfather’s storytelling. Lord writes books that children connect with, and this one will find a ready audience.

Publisher’s Weekly published a Q&A with Cynthia Lord earlier this month that will interest readers who want to know more about Lord’s fascination with bunnies and other animals and her personal experiences that informed her storytelling.

Fate or Chance? Two New Books Explore What Happens Because…

Lynn: Do you believe in fate or coincidence? Maybe you think it’s a divine hand at work, or pure coincidence or perhaps there really is a touch of magic loose in the universe. No matter which way you lean, these are fun concepts to play with, especially in books. Early 2019 has brought us two delightful books that will get kids wondering about fate, magic, and connections.

A Drop of Hope by Keith CalabreseFirst up is a charming debut middle school book, A Drop of Hope (Scholastic, 2019) by Keith Calabrese. Take a town down on its luck, a boy new in town who has made his dying grandfather a promise, a girl whose family has come unglued, and a boy who secretly does chores for his neighbor. Add the town legend of a wishing well, a chance eavesdropping, and a spur-of-the-moment decision and watch what can happen to an entire town from one act of kindness.

Calabrese’s intricate plot traces the ripple effect of seemingly unrelated actions and individuals on the fortunes of an entire town. It’s a little like watching a Rube Goldberg invention: wacky, convoluted, highly entertaining, and it leaves you cheering at the result. There is a large cast of characters to keep track of but Calabrese manages to give them all a separate voice and readers will care about them all. Told in short individual vignettes, the story moves quickly, gaining speed as the connections begin to multiply.

I was given this arc at ALA and the publisher rep said it was a story of “hope that wasn’t cheezy,” and she was so right! It’s also a story of the mysterious forces that connect us all. Give this to a good reader looking for something really different.

Cindy: Because a 4th grader was ahead in her work and because an elementary school librarian gave her jobs and because the girl had a hard time choosing between many subjects she loved, she became a librarian so she could dabble in them all. And over time, because she worked very hard, and she was lucky, she was chosen to serve on award committees and to review and blog for Booklist magazine. Because of that, books like Because (Hyperion, 2019) by Mo Willems and Amber Ren arrive on her doorstep waiting for her to read and promote. Mo writes the “score” here, telling the story of how chance, fate, coincidence, passion, hard work, and serendipity and, yes, perhaps a touch of mystery, results in a young girl finding her passion in a career as a musician and conductor. Amber Pen provides the “performance,” the illustrations, to this moving story of how small moments can result in life-changing opportunities. A colorful trail of musical notes winds through the pages that start and end with musical scores. The opening piece is Franz Schubert’s Symphony no. 8 in B-minor, and the closing piece was composed for the book by Hilary Purrington. Have a listen.

Inventor of Nothing: Rube Goldberg for Kids

Cindy: Just Like Rube Goldberg by Sarah AronsonI’ve long been a fan of Rube Goldberg’s crazy impractical inventions but knew little about his path to producing them. Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines (Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, 2019) by Sara Aronson delivers the goods, and with much less meandering than Goldberg might have used. Children who know nothing about Rube Goldberg or the game of Mousetrap that his work spawned, will still be attracted to the book by the zany cover art that turns the inventor’s name into one of his own silly inventions.

Rube’s childhood interest in art and desire to grow up to be a cartoonist met with dismay and horror from his German immigrant parents who feared for his future. He earned an engineering degree from the University of California, Berkeley and became a city engineer but quit after six months, hating the work. He kept drawing while he did grunt jobs at the San Francisco Chronicle but he never quit drawing. After the 1906 Earthquake, he ended up moving to New York City where his cartooning career took off. His favorite comic work was perfectly timed with the industrial revolution as machines took over many jobs. Goldberg invented nothing useful as he used absurd pulleys, levers, and other more oddball additions to make a simple task very complicated. For instance, a machine to put holes in doughnuts starts with a goat chewing a carrot, that moves a ghost to scare a bird to lay an egg that eventually results in a cannon blasting a ball up through a lump of dough tossed above it by “Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts,” Rube’s cartoon alter ego.

While aimed at a younger audience, older readers (and STEAM teachers) will delight in this introduction to Rube’s work.

Lynn: Sarah Aronson does a wonderful job of bringing readers a sense of Goldberg’s personality, his curiosity, and clear-eyed appreciation of the ridiculous. As he said, machines were a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.” I love illustrator Robert Neubecker’s colorful humorous illustrations that do such a terrific job of capturing Goldberg’s manic style. Kids will be captivated and motivated to create their own Goldberg-type designs.

We can’t resist concluding our post on this engaging picture book by mentioning another tribute to Goldberg and his spirit. The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is a competition held annually at Purdue University. The history of the contest dates back to the 1930s when it began as a competition between two engineering fraternities. Today the contest has been expanded beyond just the university level to include elementary, middle, and high school students and can be done either as a physical or online creation. The competition is meant to celebrate Goldberg’s spirit as well as to encourage and develop an interest in engineering, design, problem-solving, and having fun.

This year’s challenge is to put money in a piggy bank – in as complicated a Goldberg way as possible. Take a peek at this video of the Purdue University team’s solution to the 2017 challenge of putting on a band-aid!

But, wait! There’s more...check out these other titles to extend the learning and the fun:

The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius (Abrams, 2013) by Jennifer George (Goldberg’s granddaughter)

Build Your Own Chain Reaction Machines by Paul LongBuild Your Own Chain Reaction Machines: How to Make Crazy Contraptions Using Everyday Stuff (Quarto, 2018) by Paul Long. Every MakerSpace or STEAM classroom needs this book.

Rube Goldberg Inventions (Simon & Schuster, 2000) by Maynard Frank Wolfe

Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea (Simon & Schuster, 2014) by Anna Humphrey. A middle grade novel about a 5th grader who builds a Rube Goldbergesque machine for her school science fair.