Review: HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS

It’s a strange time right now. There’s uncertainty and anxiety and cabin fever. And, in difficult times, there are stories. Stories can entertain, transport, and comfort. And, picture books, in particular, foster closeness between reader and listener, parent and child.

That’s why I’m highlighting a fabulous new picture book, which is itself an ode to books and the beauty of a bedtime story. HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS by Janet Sumner Johnson and illustrated by Courtney Dawson is a perfect read for your favorite bookworm.

HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS is a new release from Capstone Publishing.

First a summary:

Shailey loves bedtime, especially reading with her dad. But her dad starts a new job, and it gets in the way of their bedtime routine. So Shailey takes action! She fires her dad, posts a Help Wanted sign, and starts interviews immediately. She is thrilled when her favorite characters from fairytales line up to apply. But Sleeping Beauty can’t stay awake, the Gingerbread Man steals her book, and Snow White brings along her whole team. Shailey is running out of options. Is bedtime ruined forever?

This picture book has loads of humor with unexpected and fun twists on familiar stories. Kids will love guessing who’s going to apply to be Shaileys reader next and what havoc they might wreak. Dawson’s playful art complements Johnson’s clever text, giving the story a light and fun feel (and who doesn’t need that right now?).

But, in the end, it’s the story’s heart that makes it an instant bedtime classic. Because, in the end, there’s no replacing Dad at bedtime. There’s no replacing the coziness of reading with someone you love. And, in difficult times, there’s no replacing the closeness between reader and listener, parent and child.

So grab a copy of HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS here and enjoy a heartwarming story in difficult times.

Stay safe and healthy, friends!

Nonfiction Picture Book Perfection: WATER IS WATER

This is the third in my series of nonfiction picture book reviews (read the first and second) that explores what makes outstanding nonfiction. Have a nonfiction picture book you love? Let me know in comments!

WATER IS WATER (written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin) is a book that I beg my children to read–not that they object. It’s the kind of book that amazes me with its simplicity and poetry. The kind of book I wish I wrote.

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Photo credit: my four-year-old.

WATER IS WATER follows the water cycle. It has a wonderful concept, built-in tension for every page turn, perfect rhyme, and a satisfying conclusion (not always easy to pull-off in nonfiction). It is simple, but never simplistic–a great feat for a picture book in my opinion.

Each part of the water cycle is described with kid-relatable examples that celebrate the simple joys of childhood. I love that Paul has taken a science concept and turned it into something familiar and wondrous, beautiful and inviting.

Jason Chin’s art adds an entire storyline that is exclusively told in the illustrations, which perfectly compliments Paul’s sparse poetry.

This book is one my toddler begs for again and again (and he’s not my bookworm child) and one I adore reading.

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Perfection: GRAVITY

This is the second in my series of nonfiction picture book reviews (read the first here) that explores what makes outstanding nonfiction. Have a nonfiction picture book you love? Let me know in comments!

My four-year-old loves asking questions. Right now, everything is “why?” Or “what does that mean?” He particularly loves asking the definitions of little words like “if” or “unless.” And let me tell you–defining the connecting words is hard. Like the proverbial fish defining “water,” I struggle to relate the simplest concepts because they simply are.

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So, when I read Jason Chin’s GRAVITY, I was impressed. Gravity itself is much like the air we breathe. It’s omnipresent, taken for granted. But Chin describes it beautifully by leaning into its simplicity.

A talented (and celebrated) author-illustrator, Chin lets the art do much of the talking. Many of the spread feature more illustrations than words and plays with the idea of what would happen without gravity. I particularly enjoy that he incorporates a copy of the book itself into the art.

Though the text itself is sparse, ample backmatter provides a more scientific grounding on the subject.

Nonfiction Picture Book Perfection: GIANT SQUID

Opening GIANT SQUID (written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohman) is a revelation. It’s beautiful. It’s strange. It delights in the beautiful strangeness of this world we live on. And one beautifully, strange creature in particular. This creature is, of course, the titular Giant Squid.

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GIANT SQUID is lyrical, but it’s lyricism always clarifies, never confuses. It expertly uses backmatter to leave the main text free to follow its theme–in this case, mystery. I adore picture books that explore nature while illuminating a theme, and this is the best example I’ve come across.

Because the theme, the subject, the lyricism, and the art work so well together, the overall effect is breathtaking. The reader in immersed in the mystery of this strange, beautiful creature. And left wanting to know more–the starting point of all good science.

Preschooler-Approved Picture Book: EVERYONE LOVES A PARADE*

New year, new books! (hooray!)

If EVERYONE LOVES A PARADE* written by Andrea Denish and illustrated by Guilherme Franco is any indication (debuting April 28th), 2020 will be a fabulous year for picture books.

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This story’s heart lies in its refrain: everyone loves a parade–or at least almost everyone (if you want to know what the asterisk is for, you’ll have to read it yourself.)

The word everyone is at the heart of this inclusive story. Propelled forward by strong, visual language, EVERYONE LOVES A PARADE* marches through nine kinds of parades–from military homecoming to Chinese New Year to LGBTQ+ pride. 

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That the last parade is Fourth of July seems fitting because this book–like America at its best–is proudly pluralistic. Not a melting pot, but a place where each individual can be celebrated for who they are.

Older kids and educators will enjoy the book’s backmatter, which details each celebration. Younger kids (like mine) will enjoy the joyful art, zippy verse, and, well, the parades.

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Like a parade itself, this book leans into a musical cadence and is energetic from start to finish. Unlike a parade, its’s over too soon and leaves you wanting more.

Check out the book trailer on YouTube, and pre-order EVERYONE LOVES A PARADE* (out April 28th from Boyd Mills Press) at Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

Last-Minute Holiday Gift: THE PENCIL EATER

Are you staring down December with a few question marks left in your holiday shopping list? THE PENCIL EATER by Stacey Corrigan and Steve Page might be just the ticket for any teachers, homeschoolers, and pencil-losing students in your life!

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I haven’t had much reading or writing time lately, thanks to moving over a thousand miles. But when I unpacked my kid’s books in our new house, his first request was THE PENCIL EATER.

So, what makes this book so awesome?

Teachers and parents have long pondered: where on earth are all our pencils going?  This story offers a delightfully, unexpected answer–told from the perspective of the long-suffering pencil-munching monster itself.

If you’ve ever wondered (and, really who hasn’t?) the lengths such a monster will go to in order to steal your pencils, you will wonder no longer. The story follows the Pencil Eater through the many dangers of pencil-poaching until at least it reaches a satisfying (and delicious) ending.

This book has kid-appeal for days, thanks to Corrigan’s fun text and Page’s lively art. Each page turn offers an exciting new scene for kids to sink their (metaphorical) teeth into.

So, if you’re still looking for the perfect gift for a special teacher, homeschooler, or student in your life, look no further. THE PENCIL EATER is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Spooktacular Read: SPOOKY AND THE GARGOYLE

When the air turns crisp and leaves begin to fall, it’s time to add some spooky to your (and your kids’) reading diet. Teresa Traver’s charming picture book, SPOOKY AND THE GARGOYLE is just the ticket.

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It follows the unlikely friendship of a white cat named Spooky and a gargoyle named Eben. Despite her name, Spooky isn’t fearsome. In fact, she’s often fearful. But with some help from Eben, she finds her inner spookiness and helps a friend along the way.

I love how this book approaches issues surrounding fear, which are front of mind for many kids this time of year. Spooky and Eben’s friendship is a gentle one. Spooky is not ridiculed for being a scaredy cat; she’s encouraged. She’s aware of her smallness, but Eben never underestimates her. The book models how kids can support one another in the context of a fun and engaging story.

SPOOKY AND THE GARGOYLE makes a great read for classroom, homeschoolers, or even preschool-aged kids. The lovely quality of the writing and fun illustrations keep the younger set engaged.

Discussion questions and activities are available here.

 

Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy: Harvest Moon

Fall! Pumpkins to carve, cookies to bake, back-to-school germs to endure. I certainly didn’t have time to enter a writing contest this month, until…

I saw that Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez at Math is Everywhere was inaugurating the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy. I took a tiny peek at the prompts, and well, I couldn’t resist.

Those who know my work know that I love writing lyrical stories about science and nature. And when I saw prompt #5 of a full moon, I had to write about the harvest moon (the first full moon after the autumnal equinox).

All entries are required to be under 200 words, and mine clocks in at a speedy 115. There’s more to say about the autumnal equinox, but, alas, I have cookies to bake.

Hope you enjoy!

 

Harvest Moon

Every year, in late September,

Something magical happens.

The center of the sun lines up

with the Earth’s equator.

 

This tiny, transformative moment–

Invisible to human eyes—is when fall begins.

When nights grow long and days short.

When the sun’s reign ends, and the moon’s begins.

 

And, the moon celebrates.

 

She dances across the sky.

Every night, a slightly different shape.

Sliver, crescent, half, until…

 

Fall’s first full moon—or the Harvest Moon.

 

Round as a pumpkin,

The Harvest Moon rises just as the sun sets.

 

Low in the sky,

Painted in the sun’s waning orange light,

It looms larger than life.

 

As if to say,

“I am your moon,

And this is our night.”

 

 

Back-To-School Read: TWO TOUGH TRUCKS

Think a truck book can’t be filled with musicality, empathy, and friendship? Think again! TWO TOUGH TRUCKS written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung (out today from Scholastic) puts a new spin on vehicle books by wrapping up a sweet story in a tough cover. It’s also a perfect back-to-school read, especially for kids having a bumpy start to the school year.

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From the title alone I knew TWO TOUGH TRUCKS would be a hit in my house. I have two small truck lovers–not unlike the titular trucks, Mack and Rig. What I didn’t expect was how the text would hum and zip through a multi-layered story that touches on empathy, growth, and friendship before crossing the finish line.

Without further ado, let’s get to the story. First, a synopsis:

Two trucks off to school for their first day of class. One riding the brakes. One hitting the gas.

Mack and Rig couldn’t be more different. One loves the fast lane. The other, the off-ramp.

But when they’re forced to pair up on their first day of school, can Mack and Rig figure out a way to get along and learn what it really means to be a tough truck? Get ready to vroom and zoom your way to fun and friendship with these two lovable and tough trucks!

What my preschooler loves about this book

As expected, this book is incredibly kid-friendly.

Vehicle sounds are always a hit, but TWO TOUGH TRUCKS elevates the form to pure poetry. The rhythm and rhyme are sure to appeal to even the most reticent reader, and Leung’s eye-catching illustrations complement the text’s energy.

The story follows literal twists and turns–moving quickly across landscapes. Clever page turns build suspense and keep kids fully engaged in the story.

What I love about this book

Under the story’s energetic packaging are surprisingly gentle themes, including one of my favorites–the growth mindset.

Mack and Rig have different problems, both familiar to most parents and teachers. One struggles with a new assignment. The other breezes at first, but wants to quit when things get hard. In the end, they help each other through obstacles and become friends along the way.

Set on the first day of school, TWO TOUGH TRUCKS is hopeful read for kids who will be encountering new challenges and personalities in their classrooms.

And one that will keep them smiling from beginning to end. Order it here (or get it at your favorite bookstore!)

 

Preschooler-Approved Picture Book: TRUCKER AND TRAIN

There was never any doubt that a a book called TRUCKER AND TRAIN would end up a Preschooler-Approved Picture Book. If there’s one thing my kid loves more than trains, it’s trucks. But, Hannah Stark’s wonderful debut (illustrated by Bob Kolar) goes well beyond its kid-friendly premise to create something magical.

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TRUCKER AND TRAIN arrives at the station on August 6th from Clarion Books. Let’s start with a synopsis:

Trucker, the big rig, loves to rule the road with his size, strength, and mighty horn. The other vehicles swerve and shake as Trucker blasts past, expecting them to follow along in awe. Then Trucker meets the louder, stronger, and kinder Train. He sees how the other vehicles gleam and swoon when Train is around. And he wonders, Why don’t they ever gleam at me?

Trucker just wants Train to go away . . . until a broken railroad crossing signal changes everything. Can Trucker use his size and strength for the good of his fellow vehicles before it’s too late?

Why My Preschooler Loves This Book

This book is kid-friendly from start to finish. My preschooler particularly loved Stark’s deft use of onomatopoeia (trains in our home will forever go “tic-a-tic-a-clack, tic-a-tic-a-clack). The story is packed full of wonderful sounds and rhythm that suggesting a buzzing and lively highway. Entering TRUCKER AND TRAIN’s world is guaranteed fun.

There are also great educational hooks that my kid ate up. Counting by twos? Yes, please! Easy-to-read repeated words? Youbetcha! The engaging story sneaks in the educational bits so they go down as easily as veggies hidden in mac-and-cheese.

Why I Love This Book

Seeing my kid so excited about reading always melts my heart. But, there’s so much here to love. All the great sounds mean I make my kid laugh when I read it–and it’s fun for me every time. And, above all, the story’s message of friendship and kindness is a winner.

Order your copy here.  Learn more about TRUCKER AND TRAIN–with fun activities coming soon–on Hannah’s website.