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.

Country Kids – City Kids

Cindy and Lynn: Moving is never easy, and it’s even harder when you are a child who loves nature and you learn you have to move to the city. We have two picture books that might help ease that move or make any big change a little easier.

Martin and the River (Groundwood, 2022) by Jon-Erik Lappano.

Martin and the River by Jon-Erik LappanoMartin has a river flowing through the fields behind his house and he spends his days catching frogs and “watching the great blue herons soar like dragons over the water.” When his mother takes a job in the city and Martin learns they will have to move, he is devastated. Promises of museum visits and subway rides do nothing to soothe him. Martin spends time at his river trying to scheme a plan but fails to come up with any good ideas. His parents wisely take him on some visits to the city before the big move. Martin’s imagination comes to his aid and he sees bits of nature and animals in the bustling city, but his heart melts when he sees the park…with a river.

Josée Bisaillon’s mixed media art contains beautiful scenes of the nature that Martin loves and is filled with small details of the plants, flowers, birds, and animals that Martin cherishes. It’s easy to see why he doesn’t want to leave.

Carmen and the House That Gaudi Built (Owl Kids, 2021) by Susan Hughes.

Carmen and the House that Gaudi BuiltLike Martin in the previous book, Carmen is a country child who loves the woods around her home. She spends hours there exploring with her invisible Salamander friend, Dragon. Carmen is devastated when she learns her father has commissioned a house in the city and that soon the family would move there. When the architect, Señor Gaudi, visits, Carmen refuses to come inside to meet him but Señor Gaudi, standing on the lawn somehow sees her AND Dragon. As the new house progresses, Carmen sees the beauty of nature reflected in the designs. After two years, the house is finished and Carmen must leave her friend behind. But the finished house has an amazing wild beauty. Most astonishing of all is the beautiful stone salamander wrapped around the roof. Carmen has found a home in the city.

Susan Hughes has created a fictional story about a very real house. The Casa Batllo was redesigned and renovated for the Batllo family in 1904. Situated on one of Barcelona’s most fashionable streets, the house featured a wavy exterior and curved interior walls. Tall windows, skylights and interior courts provided light. A mosaic made of pieces of glass decorated the front of the house and all was topped with a spiny ridge along the roof line resembling a salamander. The house was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its impact is just as stunning today as it was in 1906.

I have been lucky enough to visit the Casa Batllo and it remains one of my favorite buildings in the world. Hughes includes an Author’s Note that provides the historical facts about the Casa, the Batllo family, and her thoughts on the creation of this picture book. A full-color photograph of the Casa is included. My hat is off to the photographer as the image somehow avoids all the tram power lines, streetlights, and signs that marred my own photos! My hat is also off to Susan Hughes, illustrator Marianne Ferrer, and this book for bringing the remarkable Señor Gaudi to a new generation.

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.

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!

Food Insecurity – A Reassuring Picture Book

Lynn: Saturday at the Food PantryI am one of the lucky people who doesn’t have to worry about having enough food each week but for more than 50 million Americans that issue is a constant worry. Hunger in America climbed by more than 20 million in 2020 alone. School people across the nation are painfully aware of how many of our students go to bed hungry each night. As a school board member, one of our biggest concerns about closing school for any reason is that many of our children will not eat that day without the meals they get at school.

I’ve been looking for books that address this issue for young children so I am excited to write about a wonderful picture book by Diane O’Neill, Saturday at the Food Pantry (Albert Whitman, 2021) that is just what so many families need to read.

The story is about a single mom and her young daughter who are facing food insecurity for the first time. The refrigerator is pretty bare and the young mother and her daughter head to the local food pantry. As they wait in the line for the pantry to open, Molly sees another girl from her class but Caitlin turns away, embarrassed. Molly reassures her, repeating what her mother told her last night, “Everybody needs help sometimes.” Molly coaxes Catlin into drawing pictures for the people in line and Molly and her mom discover Caitlin and her grandmother are neighbors. Soon Molly and her mom are picking out the healthy food shown on the shelves.

The text is simple, straightforward and reassuring. Not only is the food pantry process shown but the story addresses the feeling of shame many people feel when seeking assistance. For the millions of children needing assistance, this is a welcome story of comfort and shared experiences. The truth is simple—everyone does need help sometimes and there is nothing wrong with accepting it.

Cindy: My first encounter with Albert Whitman books was during my early days of being a children’s librarian in the 80s in a large public library. There were books about first dentist and doctor visits and other activities that young children might be experiencing for the first time. I’m grateful that there are now books to cover an even wider range of first experiences. Saturday at the Food Pantry covers a lot of the emotions of seeking assistance but it does so in a bright and encouraging story full of compassion but not treacly sympathy. Lynn has shared stories with me about a new food pantry in Holland, MI with a similar set-up, where families can browse and select from grocery store-like shelves. Picking out the foods they need most and “shopping” for them rather than receiving a box of pre-selected items must bring more dignity to the process. Magro’s illustrations are a great complement to the uplifting story. I hope it gets wide readership, by those who frequent a food pantry, and those who need to learn about the need for them. A Note for Adults at the end from the CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository provides information about seeking help with food assistance. I’ll be making another donation to Feeding America today. I also second Lynn’s idea (mentioned in her Goodreads review) of buying copies of this book and donating it where it can do additional good.