Joyce Sidman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Exquisitely executed, weaving poetry, Maria Merian’s artwork, biology, history, and feminism in this award-winning book about a 17th century German woman who lived outside the norms of the time.
Sidman presents excerpts from Merian’s journal, factual evidence of her life events, and 17th century beliefs in the field of entomology and women’s rights. Merian wrote almost solely about caterpillars, which she discovered, through her rigorous self-directed studies, metamorphosized into moths and butterflies. As such, Sidman questions how her subject felt being a progressive women in those times–one who successfully fled her marriage, conducted scientific experiments, published books of her art and discoveries, and traveled alone with her daughter to South America. Acts unheard of at the time!
As describes in Sidman’s author’s note, we do know that Maria Merian had “boundless energy, insatiable curiosity, and superhuman focus – traits that…marked her as a true scientist at a time when the odds were stacked against her.”
This non-fiction book is accompanied by an author’s note, bibliography, and index. It’s obvious appeal is to budding artists and biologists, but it is also a story of passion, will, and girl power. I couldn’t put it down.
Jessie Oliveros, author. Dana Wulfekotte, illustrator.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018
In the same vein as Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge (M. Fox, 1985), THE REMEMBER BALLOONS gently broaches the topic of dementia and memory loss in a child-friendly way. Grandpa holds many more memory balloons than his young grandson and loves to tell the child the story that each one holds. When Grandpa starts to age, he lets go of his balloons, slowly, one-by-one. His grandson is particularly upset when Grandpa releases the memory of their fishing trip together. Except for the vibrant, rainbow-coloured balloons, the illustrations are black and white, allowing young readers to focus on the memories and the joy they bring. Even more beauty lies in the call to action of the child protagonist, who becomes the keeper and teller of Grandpa’s forgotten memories. This picture book is must read for those with and without elderly or forgetful loved ones in their life.
Mo Willems, author. Dan Santat, illustrator. Hyperion Books for Children, 2016
I’m endeavouring to write great math books that are so much fun to read children have no idea they’re learning about math. The picture book, THE COOKIE FIASCO, does just that. It’s so good, and not just the chocolate chip cookie part. But of course it is, it’s created by the powerhouse due of Mo Willems and Dan Santat.
Fun and memorable characters abound as 4 friends try to share 3 cookies . . . as the jacket flap says, they have 1 big problem–everyone wants a cookie! Division has never been so crumbly. My 6 year-old delights in solving the cookie fiasco before the characters.
This is also a great picture book for new readers, as they can choose to read the dialogue of their favourite character. Mine is the squirrel who is fighting for equal cookies for all.
The wink to the reader on the final page does not disappoint. Next, the group needs to figure out how to share three glasses of milk . . .
Jory John, author. Lane Smith, illustrator. Random House, 2018.
My daughter and I have fallen in love . . . with a page turn. And I mean a page turn, people. The themes in GIRAFFE PROBLEMS are friendship and embracing yourself as your are. This picture book features a protagonist with a fairly obvious defining feature. Giraffe complains that their neck is too . . . everything. Bow ties, ties, scarves, bundles of scarves, and mountains of scarves don’t even help it. Such substantial necks don’t hide well behind shrubs or in ditches, either. When giraffe meets turtle, turtle points out all the things that giraffe’s neck can do that turtle’s can’t, like reach and look far and wide. The emphasis on actions rather than appearances is a fabulous message for kids to subconsciously take in.
We know from the moment we meet turtle that they’re verbose and well-articulated. But it’s still absolutely hilarious to find turtle’s 100+-word monologue about the ripening banana of his dreams, which they wish would fall from its great height so that they could sample its sweetness. It’s been seven straight days of waiting, and turtle is clearly frustrated by their inability to secure the fruit.
Giraffe: “You want a banana from a tree?”
Turtle: “That’s what I said, yes.”
Giraffe: “Here you go.”
The story wraps up with neck recognition and bow ties for all, topped with a warm feeling of friendship and turtle’s belly full of banana.
If you’re like my 6 year-old and I, you’ll immediately read it again, because giggling that hard just feels so good. Look what our bellies can do.
Monica Clark-Robinson, author. Frank Morrison, Illustrator. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
We have discovered some beautiful picture books at our library during Black History Month. LET THE CHILDREN MARCH is the most stirring thus far.
Deliberate, readable text and descriptive illustrations share the remarkable story of the peaceful march of children and teens in Birmingham Alabama, May 1963, which led to the desegregation of the city and added momentum to the development of the American Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Looking back, it is clear that the introduction of Birmingham’s children into the campaign was one of the wisest moves we made. It brought a new impact to the crusade, and the impetus that we needed to win the struggle.” -Dr. Martin Luther King
The oil-painted illustrations evoke emotion, capturing the brave, determined faces of the youth, hundreds of whom were sprayed with fire houses, chased by dogs, and jailed for days. A fictional female protagonist narrates the story: “Hate dogged my heals all that day, its yellowed canine teeth sharp–but courage walked by my side and kept me going.”
As seen in Birmingham in 1963, children can make a difference–sometimes all the difference. My daughters have the privileged of being sheltered from many things. This book reminds me that children are strong, resilient, brave, and innovative. They can do so much. We need to let them.
Bunmi Laditan, author. Tom Knight, illustrator. Farrar, Straus, Girroux, 2018.
This picture book highlights the struggle of children sharing their parents’ bed, but it’s the protagonist’s view of her parents that hits home for me. Mommy is full of cozies, smells like fresh bread, and belongs to the child, at least at nighttime. Daddy is gifted at horsie and piggy back rides and wrestling. He thinks that his daughter’s nightlight should perfectly squelch her fears of the dark.
The child questions why Daddy doesn’t like to share a bed with his wife and daughter–is it the child’s bed-wetting? Is he squished? Should his own mommy come over to sing him to sleep?
The little girl hilariously delivers her solution–that Daddy sleep in a cot beside The Big Bed that she shares with Mommy–in an adult-like fashion: “Mommy and I will be right next to you if you need anything. Anything at all,” “Daddy, I see you. I hear you,” and “Tomorrow, we’re going to pick out some special new sheets.”
Unbeknownst to the child, Mommy and Daddy do not share her opinion, yet the reader is left to wonder if her parents will compromise with their precocious offspring; her well-executed, one-sided argument may be deserving of at least one more night in The Big Bed. This picture book will have the whole family laughing, especially children that catch on to the manipulations of the child protagonist.
K. DiPucchio, author. Z.OHora, illustrator. Disney Hyperion, 2018
Kelly DiPucchio is one of my favourite picture book authors. She’s funny. She’s a wordsmith. And she always leaves a few wide open spaces for the illustrator to get really silly. POE WON’T GO did not disappoint. Among other things, it includes alliteration, ‘Easter eggs’ for adults to discover and some darn some cute lines. I chuckled particularly loudly at the person dressed in a peanut costume that tries to entice Poe to go (but he still won’t). The narrator’s comment on this spread is perfection: “Seriously?”
Umpteen attempts of the townspeople and beyond fail to coerce Poe to move from the middle of the only road in Prickly Valley. Then a young girl named Marigold simply asks Poe why he won’t go. No one thought of doing that before, because no one speaks elephant. Marigold does speak elephant (and kitten and hedgehog), and discovers, at last, why POE WON’T GO. The subtle message, of listening hard enough to hear all voices, adds to this picture book’s staying power on home and library shelves.
K. Bolger, author. B. Hodson, illustrator. Harper, 2016.
With his trademark humour throughout and a hilarious, surprise ending, Bolger continues to prove that learning to read can be fun. Make that a hoot. Early readers join Ed and Fred’s adventures on land, sea and sky, sneakily learning the fifty-three most common sight words along the way (yes, 53!).
Coupled with Hodson’s clean, expressive illustrations, FUN WITH ED AND FRED is a very welcome addition to my 6 year-old’s home reading program. Repetition is key to building her confidence at this stage, and repeat we do. With Ed and Fred, I am certain we will still be discovering new nuggets of entertainment at our tenth read . . . the same cannot be said for the pony books we have thus far been suffering through!
You can look for this book at the library (yup, there are 7 sight words in this sentence). Imagine your child’s confidence when they learn all 53.
Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. 60 different illustrators. Timbuktu Labs, 2016.
100 different women. 100 original portraits. 100 quotes. Endless questions from my girls, ages 6 and 10.
My eldest seeks out the pirate stories. My youngest leafs through the pages, flagging portraits she is particularly fascinated by. We all delight in learning about nearly unknown rebel women like Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh who men attempted to erase from history, and those that we know, like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jane Goodall.
The author’s are rebels themselves, who show that perseverance and believing in your project pays off. GOOD NIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS is the largest *ever* crowdfunded original book.
The dedication is to all the rebel girls of the world: “Dream bigger. Aim higher. Fight harder. And, when in doubt, remember. You are right.”
Look also GOOD NIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS 2 (Timbuktu Labs, 2017) and the audio book, narrated by additional fearless women including Alicia Keys and Ashley Judd.
Aree Chung, author/illustrator. Henry Holt and Company, 2018.
How didn’t anyone think of this before? I asked myself after reading this deceptively meaningful picture book about the diversity of colours that result from primary colours mixing. The characters, dots of colour, all have limbs, planting the seed from the start that the story is more than just a lesson in colour theory.
The loud Reds, bright Yellows and cool Blues (I love the convertible and sunglasses) cannot get along and decide to live separately. Eventually, a Yellow notices a Blue and they create Green. The other colours are intrigued, and soon Lavender, Jade and Amber arrive on the scene. The colours ultimately intermix harmoniously in a new city full of all types of colour.
The messages of tolerance and inclusiveness are clear and easy to grasp in this picture book that would serve to introduce these themes to the youngest of readers. This book will also appeal to budding artists–have their paint sets handy if you bring MIXED home from the bookstore.