“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.

The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach

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

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

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

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

 

Gratitude: Thank You For My Dreams

Cindy: In a world that is programmed to focus on discord, disgust, and disappointment, we need daily reminders to focus on the good. To look for the helpers. To be grateful. Prayer books for young children abound, but not everyone prays the same way or wants to pray. Thank You For My Dreams: Bedtime Prayers of Gratitude (Andrews McMeel, 2019) by HSH Prince Alexi Lubomirski and sons is a new book that fills a gap in this category even with the word prayer in the title. In Lubomirski’s introduction, he answers his son’s question about prayer this way: “I explained that saying ‘thank you’ to God or the universe (or whatever he wanted to call it) was very important.”

The book’s format is a single thank you statement on each page, organized in three sections (morning, day, evening), and dictated by one of Lubomirski’s two sons. He said they struggled to name more than five items to begin but quickly warmed up to the bounty of items we can be thankful for each day:

Thank you for our tongues that help us to taste things like vegetables, bananas, and spicy sauces.

Thank you for my feelings, so that I know when I feel happy or sad or angry or silly.

Thank you for electricity so that we can have lights in our house even when it is dark outside, so we can see each other and read books and play.

Tracey Knight’s silhouetted diverse figures grace brightly colored backgrounds and are coupled with a childlike font to create a graphic-art style that is simple, clean, and appealing for its intended young audience. Mentions of meditation practices, healthy eating, and environmentally friendly actions infuse the thank yous, in a child-authentic way, but there are plenty of silly thank yous as well. The author’s profits from the book benefit Concern Worldwide.

Thank You for My Dreams will appeal to families that enjoy Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You (Random House, 2018) with Jonny Sun’s line illustrations. Surely, it will serve as a springboard to start your own family gratitude practice.

I’m thankful for authors, illustrators, marvelous publishing teams, bookstores, and libraries. How ’bout you?

Nine Months: A Picture Book for Siblings While They Wait

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

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

Grasp.

Clasp.

Ears that can hear.

Sing as she listens.

Tell her you’re near.

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

Hop to It – Cynthia Lord’s New Rabbit Books

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

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

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

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

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

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