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.

 

Mama Needs a Minute: A Board Book for Overwhelmed Moms

Cindy: My daughter-from-another-mother, a young mother named Alicia, is doing a beautiful job parenting two infant twins and a 2-year-old. Three busy little girls who keep her going night and day. Following her schedule online and in-person is exhausting just to observe! Did I mention she also works part-time outside the home, too, in adult probation and parole? When Nicole Sloan’s new board book, Mama Needs a Minute (Andrews McMeel, 2020), arrived in my review books, I knew who my test reader needed to be. I gifted the book to Alicia with some pampering lotions and waited to hear. She loved this story so much she ordered a copy immediately for her friend, Laura, another mom of twins and two other children. They are both reading it daily to remind themselves that it’s okay to take a minute for themselves.

The mamas in this book might have purple hair or green skin, but they all have one thing in common: they are there to help their child learn, eat, play, etc. but sometimes “Mama needs a minute” to shower, dress, have coffee, or rest. After multiple page turns of mama’s declaration that she needs a minute, the book comfortingly closes with a twist. With the baby quietly nestled in her arms, she proclaims, “This mama just needs a minute…with you.”

Here’s to Alicia and Laura and all mamas who need a minute!

Alicia and her girls.
Laura and her children.

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.

Studio Tour with Children’s Author/Illustrator Greg Pizzoli

Cindy: While we were in Philadelphia for the 2020 American Library Association Midwinter Meetings last weekend we were fortunate to get to tour author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli’s new studio. After several stand-alone children’s books, he is launching a new beginner reader graphic novel series called Baloney and Friends (Disney, April 2020). Baloney, a pig, is joined by three friends: Peanut, a blue horse, bumblebee Bizz, and Krabbit, a crabby rabbit. The four friends are featured in four graphic stories and three mini-comics. There’s even a graphic table of contents to help young readers. While in Greg’s studio he showed us a framed piece of art that Ed Emberley drew for him. Greg said Emberley was an inspiration and he showed us his collection of Ed’s books near where he works. He practiced his drawing with those books as a child and decided to include similar step-by-step lessons in the back of this book so that his readers can draw Baloney and his friends and create their own stories. He has a beautiful space to work and his wife has her studio up a circular staircase so they can share the dog while they work. There’s a lot of talent under this one roof.

Lynn: What a treat to meet Greg and his wife, Kay Healy, at ALA! Greg’s new book about Baloney and friends is perfectly designed for newly independent readers. There are plenty of visual assists, color-coded speech bubbles, and simple decode-able vocabulary. The short stories included are wonderfully silly and guaranteed to gather giggles. It is hard to choose a favorite among them.  The Magic Trick took me right back to the many “Magic Shows” put on at my house by little boys. A sweet and thoughtful story, Feeling Blue, is a real standout and addresses emotions of sadness in a wonderfully accessible way for young readers. I am so happy this is a series and that there will be more stories to come.

Greg and Kay were incredibly kind to open their studios to a bunch of librarians and to give us a peek at their creative processes. Check out Kay’s drawn, screen printed, and stuffed fabric installations which are brilliantly created. I loved her work too and was trying to figure out if any of them would fit in my suitcase. Fortunately, I regained control! Thank you to the wonderful people at Disney/Hyperion and to Greg and Kay for a memorable event.

Cindy: While you wait for Baloney and Friends you’ll want to reread Book Hog, winner of a 2020 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor. Congratulations, Greg! You may have to get that other Geisel medal out of its box and on the wall now that you have a pair to hang!

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.”

 

 

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!

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!

“Children Deserve Important Books!” Thank You, Margaret Wise Brown.

Lynn: As a young librarian I was taught to honor Margaret Wise Brown and as a parent I loved to read her books to my boys. But with all that, I knew very little about the life of this iconic author. Mac Barnett steps up to help me with that glaring error in his new stellar picture book biography, The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown (Harper/Balzer+Bray, 2019)

Right from the start, Margaret was a different soul and Barnett does an outstanding job of bringing that difference forward and letting readers know that it was more than okay. I LOVE Barnett’s writing in this book. He speaks directly to the reader, is conversational, blunt and refreshingly honest with kids, acknowledging some of Brown’s strange actions. Kids probably won’t know of many other authors who skinned a dead pet rabbit and wore its pelt around her waist, swam naked, or blew her entire first book earnings on an entire flower cart and threw a big party! And, Barnett goes on to say, Brown also wrote strange books, at least strange for her time although not so dissimilar, kids will note, to the very book they are reading.

What comes through wonderfully here is that it is OK to be strange and Margaret Wise Brown was strange in some truly important ways. Brown believed that children deserve important books and as Barnett again points out, life is strange and books that reflect that may seem strange but they also “feel true.” Margaret Wise Brown was a champion for children and books and after reading this amazing book, I think Mac Barnett is too.

Cindy: Maybe the reason we knew so little about Margaret Wise Brown is that she thought the stories were more important than the author! Here is the quote that Barnett opens with:

“It did not seem important that any one wrote these stories. They were true. And it still doesn’t seem important! All this emphasis today on who writes what seems silly to me as far as children are concerned.”

No matter, we know a little bit more now about the author of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, The Important Book, The Little Fur Family, and so many more. While Barnett spins the tale, we get to immerse ourselves in Sarah Jacoby’s watercolor and Nupastel paintings. There are bunnies, and dogs, and many flowers and trees, and bunny children reading books or being read to by librarians like Anne Carroll Moore. The scenes are at once familiar and fresh.

And then, Mac Barnett slices into our hearts with his truthful pen, or computer, and says:

“Lives don’t work the way most books do.
They can end suddenly,
as fast as you kick your leg in the air.”

And it goes on and is beautiful and is a tribute that Margaret would have liked, I think. But you’ll have to buy the book and read the rest yourself because I am crying just a little and the words are blurring.

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.