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.

A Perfect Spot – A Perfect Science Picture Book for Young Readers

Lynn:

I Perfect spotadore Isabelle Simler’s exquisitely beautiful illustrations! Each new book is a new and wondrous visual treat. Her newest, A Perfect Spot (Eerdmans, 2022) has instantly joined Plume, My Wild Cat, and The Blue Hour as some of my favorites.

Here, a tiny Seven Spotted Ladybug completes her metamorphosis and flies off looking for the perfect spot to lay her eggs. A twig, a rosebush, a tall oak, each looks safe but the instant she lands hidden insects reveal themselves. The tired ladybug finally finds a safe place and the cycle begins again.

This is a wonderful way to discuss camouflage and the ways insects employ it to stay hidden for safety or to hunt their prey. Each scene is meticulously detailed and the results are as informative as they are gorgeous.

Back matter includes larger illustrations of each of the insects in the story with accompanying scientific information. Did you know that you can tell the age of a Seven Spotted Ladybug by the depth of their color? This is a glorious purchase for any library and sure to delight young readers, especially those with a passion for insects.

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.

Help Mom Work From Home!

Help Mom Work From Home by Diana MurrayCindy: Almost two years into the pandemic and many families may have set up work and school areas at home and figured out technology needs and apps, but it really hasn’t gotten any easier and the novelty has definitely worn off. Help Mom Work from Home (Little, Brown, 2021) by Diana Murray is just the humorous look at the situation that might ease some stress.

With Dad and baby out of the house, Mom sits down to work with help from her toddler “boss.” After fixing mom’s hair and organizing her office supplies—crayons and glitter can’t be ignored—mom’s helper mimics her work and provides snacks and yoga breaks. It’s a looooong day but the evening together with the whole family, and some takeout pizza to let mom relax, is as good as a paycheck. The jaunty rhymes and fun illustrations by Cori Doerrfeld work well together.

Lynn: Oh the stories!!! From tales from my son and daughter-in-law, to young colleagues at work, I’m convinced that my own frustrations with my spouse pale in comparison! Although why he thinks it’s OK to read his morning newspaper articles with me when I’m deep in trying to write something intelligible at 8am is a mystery to me. But it’s nothing like dealing with a 4-year-old intent on “helping.”

This little one in our story clearly wants to help but as all parents working from home know well, those efforts often create nothing but chaos. Concentrate?? Yeah, right! It’s only when Mom finds tasks the toddler can manage like moving boxes, sticking on labels or assisting in some relaxing yoga stretches that she can get anything done. Nap time anyone???

This is a totally charming story and illustrations and it clearly comes from true experience. The underlying truth is that there are benefits from working from home but productivity may not be one of them. This timely picture will please both grown-ups working remotely and their helpers.

Collage Creativity: Two Picture Books

Cindy: From the bright work of painted tissue paper from Eric Carle in the Very Hungry Caterpillar to the complex creations of Melissa Sweet, children (and adults) are mesmerized by books illustrated with collage. We have two picture books to highlight in this post by other award winning illustrators of this delightful medium. 

Dream Street by Tricia Elam WalkerFirst up is Dream Street (Random/Anne Schwartz, 2021) by Tricia Elam Walker and illustrated by Ekua Holmes. This inspiring story is based on memories of cousin creators, Tricia and Ekua, who did their own dreaming on the streets of Roxbury, Massachusetts. 

Each two page spread introduces someone from the Dream Street neighborhood.. There’s retired mail carrier, Mr. Sidney, reading the paper on his front stoop dressed “to the nines” happy to be free from his uniform who encourages everyone to not “…wait to have a great day. Create one!” Belle dreams of being a lepidopterist, a scientist who studies butterflies, as she catches and releases those she observes. Azaria’s dream is go win a jump rope trophy. Ms. Sarah has “stories between the lines of her face that she’ll share when you come close.” She listens to the dreams as she watches the children grow. Two little girls read and draw and dream of creating a book about the people they know on Dream Street.  The collage art is created from comic strips, newspapers, fabrics, stamps, maps, and many more curated bits. Art teachers might use this with students to create their own portrait, neighborhood scene, or personal dream.  Some dreams do come true, and Tricia and Ekua’s is manifested in a hopeful, colorful, moving tribute to the power of believing in yourself, and in having others believe in you and your dreams. 

Lynn: everybody in the red brick buildingOur second wonderful collage book is Everybody in the Red Brick Building (Harper/Balzer+Bray, 2021). It is by Anne Wynter and illustrated by the gifted Oge Mora. This cumulative tale is perfect for a bedtime book, building up energetically at first and then slowing down in pace and tone to a delightfully sleepy ending.

“Everybody in the red brick building was asleep,” the story begins, “UNTIL Baby Izzie sat up in her crib and howled. WAAAAAAH!” The baby wakes up a boy and his parrot, a girl who decides to set off her toy rocket, which terrifies a cat who leaps onto a car, which sets off the alarm WEEEYOOOOWEEWYOOO….. You get the fun sequence of events, each one accompanied by terrific kid-pleasing sound effects. Before long, the whole building is awake. Then in a double page spread filled with sweet vignettes, sleepy parents intervene, the lights go out and the story slows, the sounds are quiet shhhhs, ting tings, and the pah-pum’s of a mother’s heart cradling Baby Izzy. Soon everybody in the building is asleep and little readers will be too.

Oge Mora’s gorgeous collages are wonderfully rich with glowing colors and cleverly chosen textures. This is a glorious book to read aloud while reveling in the masterful illustrations.

Let Me Fix You a Plate – a Picture Book of Love, Family and Food

Let Me Fix You a Plate by Elizabeth LillyLynn: The holiday season is beginning and many families are preparing to journey to family celebrations. No matter the culture, families will share food and love—the heart of any gathering. Elizabeth Lilly’s new picture book, Let Me Fix You a Plate: a Tale of Two Kitchens (Holiday, 2021) chronicles the experience of so many of us whose families are a mix of cultures.

A young girl tells the story of her family rising early and driving “hours and hours” to arrive in the mountains of West Virginia. Her Mawmaw opens the door and says, “Let me fix you a plate.” The warm scenes that follow are full of sharing, food, and love. In the bright kitchen, the family enjoys blackberry jam on toast and banana pudding. The child notices that her father and grandfather drink their coffee in just the same way. Then the family piles back in the car, traveling on to Florida where they are greeted by their Abuela inviting them to “come and eat.” Here the delights are tostones, flan, and arepas with queso blanco. The cultures may be different but the sharing of love through food is the same.

At the end of the week the young family journeys home again, arriving late and tired—and hungry! Following their own tradition, the family celebrates home with waffles before drifting off to sleep.

Lilly’s evocative book wonderfully depicts the way so many families share their love—through food. Her charming illustrations are warm and bright and enhance the text beautifully, helping with terms that may be unfamiliar. It is impossible not to smile while reading the book. An added pleasure are the end pages which show the sights and objects found in each of the kitchens that the family visits.

This brought back so many childhood memories for me although my family visits involved kuchen, rindsrouladen and spatzel, then matzoh ball soup, latkes and brisket.  Whatever your culture, food is love and this lovely story tells that so well.

A Saucy Read: Tomatoes for Neela

Tomatoes for Neela by Padma LakshmiCindy: My husband rarely gets credit for his support of Bookends Blog or his suggestions for my to-read list. He saw an interview with the host of Top Chef and Taste the Nation, Padma Lakshmi, on this Today Show segment about her new picture book, Tomatoes for Neela (Viking, 2021) and told me he wanted to read it and that I should consider it for the blog. Now, I’m not a fan of “celebrity author” childrens books, but this one, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Juana Martinez-Neal is an exception. I am a fan of any food books that encourage healthy eating and that promote families spending time cooking together. Lynn found the book at the public library and read it and then handed it off to me the day I had spent the morning canning tomatoes and tomato sauce! Perfect timing.

IMG-2622Young Neela loves to cook with her amma (mother) and copies their recipes in her own notebook just like her amma and her paati (grandmother) have always done. To Neela, these books seem magical, like a wizard’s spell book. A trip to the green market that day is highlighted by a stunning display of tomatoes in all sizes, shapes, and colors. I could hang that spread on my tomato red  kitchen wall and never tire of looking at it. The acrylic and colored pencil illustrations beautifully showcase the the fruit and the love between Neela and her amma and their joy in purchasing such treasures in season.

In addition to the lessons on making the sauce and dishes using the sauce (recipes included), the story is infused with family tradition, Indian culture, and information about tomatoes and the farmworkers who bring those fruits to market. The backmatter includes more information including a list of books for children about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

I wish I’d read this gorgeous book before canning this year, as I didn’t fry my garlic before adding it to the sauce, nor did I know to cut x’s in the bottom of my tomatoes before boiling them to loosen the skins, but I will try both next year. I learned to can tomatoes from my mother but it became a tradition my father and I did together every August while my mother was selling antiques on the weekends. 

It is one I continue with my husband as I spend the day thinking of my father and enjoying the satisfaction of putting away a bit of summer to enjoy in the cold days of winter. 

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Grief and Loss for the Youngest Readers

Lynn and Cindy: Grief and loss is a sad part of the natural cycle of life even for our youngest readers. This past year’s events have made that experience much more widespread. Difficult even for mature individuals, the struggle to understand loss can be particularly challenging for young children. We have reviewed other helpful books in the past and we have recently found more sensitively written picture books that are a wonderful addition to the list. Books cannot cure grief but they can help children understand that what they feel is normal and begin to heal.

My Nana’s Gardenmy nana's garden (Candlewick/Templar, 2020) by Dawn Casey.

This lovely gentle picture book shows the story of the changing seasons in a garden and the relationship that flourishes there between a grandmother and young granddaughter. The delicate illustrations show the passing years as the child grows taller and the grandmother frailer as they share their joy in the natural world. Then, with a page turn, readers find a stark and wintry scene and the grandmother’s empty chair. The young girl stares out of the house at the snow covered garden. But the renewing cycle of life returns and the reassuring story reveals the following seasons of the enduring beautiful garden and the new generations that come to share in Nana’s garden. Quietly encouraging, this beautiful told tale reaffirms the love of a shared experience and the healing cycle of life.

Tears (Owlkids, 2021)tears by Sibylle Delacroix.

“Everyone cries,” begins this wonderful picture book that addresses an experience that is universal. For a young child, tears and crying are a fundamental part of their lives. But they may not have really thought about the complexity of what lies behind the tears or the variety of ways in which we cry. Delacroix uses simple sentences in this story for the youngest readers, with examples that they will easily understand. She reinforces each example with adorable illustrations created in soft aqua and white tones, often using teardrop shapes in the sketches. While this is not specifically a book about grief, it is a book that young children will find both interesting and comforting.

The Boy and the Gorilla (Candlewick, 2020) by Jackie Azúa Kramer.

Boy and the Gorilla by Jackie KramerThis gentle, spare picture book story will help many young children who have lost a parent. In the story, a gorilla follows a young boy home from his mother’s funeral. The boy asks the gorilla questions like “How do you know when someone has died?” Or “Will we all die?” The gorilla answers in short, truthful sentences, “Yes. We all do. But you have many more kites to fly.” The gorilla stays with the boy through the dark days as he and his father struggle to rise from their own grief to connect fully with each other. Eventually, the boy and his father find their way back to each other and that connection is wrapped in a big hug surrounded by a gorilla hug before he wanders off, perhaps to help the next child who needs him. Cindy Derby’s expressive watercolors highlight the moods and emotions with a mostly somber palette that lightens on the brighter days. Even in the darkest times, though, there are tiny sparks of color…a red cardinal, red and blue kites, bright crayons, hinting that while the dark is overwhelming, there is still joy to be found. This is simply a  beautiful book to share in hard times.

Ten Beautiful Things – A Picture Book Journey to Home

Ten beautiful thingsLynn: Something has happened in young Lily’s life. Molly Beth Griffin’s Ten Beautiful Things (Charlesbridge, 2021) opens with a scene showing a young girl in a car seat. She has an Iowa map open on her lap and a backpack and stuffed animal ride beside her. The scene on the next page widens to show a small car rolling through the dark night, an older woman at the wheel. “Let’s try to find ten beautiful things along the way,” says Gram. Griffin never reveals what has happened but Lily’s chest is “hollow” and her eyes and posture are sad. “There’s nothing beautiful here,” she says. “Lily felt the complaints starting in her belly again, coming up her throat and nearly out her mouth.” But one by one, slowly the world provides a different answer for Lily.

A golden sunrise across the fields, a red-winged blackbird, a swan shaped cloud and even the earthy rich smell of mud at a rest stop, unfold before Lily’s eyes as they travel. And at journey’s end, there is number 10—Gram’s reassuring hug as they stand before Lily’s new home. “We’re ten,” Gram said.

I dare you to read THAT line and the rest of the final text without a tear in your eye and a crack in your voice! This reassuring and moving story is a gift for every child feeling uprooted, sad, and facing a new life. I especially value that Griffin leaves Lily’s particular issues unknown, allowing each child to put themselves and their own situation into the story. The book, while acknowledging the difficult and the sad things that kids experience, is sweetly reassuring. The simple suggestion of looking for those ten beautiful things is concrete and doable even for young children and something that can help with those “hollow spots” within us at least for a while.

Maribel Lechug’s digital illustrations are warm and expressive and she takes full advantage of the extra wide format. The two-page spread of the dark clouds of a thunderstorm sweeping over the Iowa farmland is particularly effective. While the small vignettes scattered across a white page, showing Lily in her car seat, sadly curled into herself, tell readers volumes without a word needed.

This journey with Gram and Lily is not to be missed.