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.

 

Hello, I’m Here!: A Sandhill Crane Family

Cindy: Author Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder have teamed up again to create another gorgeous and informative nature book, this time about a Sandhill Crane family. Hello, I’m Here! (2019) is told in Frost’s rhyming verse from the view of the chick, starting with his imminent hatching:

It’s getting crowded
inside this egg.
I can’t flap a wing
or stretch out a leg.

The young chick has much to learn before it becomes a colt but mama and papa and a sibling are there to help in the journey. Habitat, food, and dangers like the threat of snapping turtles are presented in the verse and Lieder’s intimate photography.  The journey of the crane chick mirrors the growth and learning of a young child with all of its new adventures and challenges making this a great choice to read aloud in large groups, or within the comforting nest of a caregiver’s lap. Sandhill Cranes are frequent fliers over the bayou behind my house. Listening to their prehistoric sounding call as the mist rises from the water in the early hours is a favorite treat, while a friend down the way usually has a nesting pair in her yard each spring. Frost and Lieder provide an even closer look for those of us who aren’t so lucky to see them in the wild.

Lynn: Frost’s first-person text uses simple vocabulary that is immediate and engaging and yet manages to pack in all sorts of interesting information about cranes including what they eat and what poses a danger to the chicks. A full page of additional information is provided in the back matter as well.

Rick Lieder’s remarkable photographs give young children an on-the-nest look at this enchanting family. Close-up views of the chicks fill the pages, making this one a joy to use with a group or as a lap book. Few children, or adults for that matter, have ever seen a nesting crane family and Lieder’s skill and patience provide this gift to everyone. Be prepared for demands for multiple readings!

On a personal note, Cindy and I belong to the Michigan Bird Watching group on Facebook where other gifted photographers have been posting pictures of a Sandhill Crane family at the Kensington Metro Park that includes an adopted Canada Goose gosling that is being lovingly raised along with their own chick. Here is what some are calling the “Abbey Road” photo of the family, by photographer, Jocelyn Anderson. She has more looks at this incredible family on her website. Thank you, Jocelyn, for allowing us to share your photo with our readers. Heart melting!

Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Anderson Photography, all rights reserved.