Author: Matt de la Peña
Illustrator: Loren Long
Published January 9th, 2018
Summary: From Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long comes a story about the strongest bond there is and the diverse and powerful ways it connects us all.
“In the beginning there is light
and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed
and the sound of their voices is love.
A cab driver plays love softly on his radio
while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city
and everything smells new, and it smells like life.”
In this heartfelt celebration of love, Matt de la Peña and illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.
Kellee’s Review: I sat here for a long time trying to figure out how to put into words how I feel about this book. I just can’t, but I will try.
Let me give you some history. At ALAN in 2016, I believe, Matt was a speaker, and he shared how he’d written a poem about love to share with his daughter when the world didn’t seem so loving. Matt’s daughter is approximately Trent’s age and she’s his first just like Trent is, so I completely understood his feelings–the reality that we’ve brought children into this hard world. When Matt read his beautiful words, I cried. It was beautiful. At the end of the poem, he let us know it was going to be a book, and I had very high expectations.
Then at NCTE 2017, I heard that Penguin had a finished copy. I thought that there was no way that the book could live up to what I expected. But then I read it. And I cried again. I, probably rudely, found Matt right away, maybe interrupting a conversation he was having with someone else, to tell him what a beautiful book he and Loren had created. Matt’s poem had been about love, but the book is about LOVE. Love in the sense that every one needs to start thinking about–love between every person. Empathy. Understanding. Tolerance. Unity. Love for all humans.
And as I read it over and over (after I was lucky enough to receive a copy), I couldn’t think of a kid I didn’t want to share it with. I wanted to share it with my son to talk about how much I love him and how he should love all of human kind; I wanted to share it with my friend who is a 2nd grade teacher, so she could share it with all of her students; I wanted to share it with my students, so we can discuss about the love and acceptance found in each spread and each word; and I am so happy to be sharing it here with all of you so that it can be in every person’s life.
Also, please read this amazing article by Matt de la Peña: “Why We Shouldn’t Shield Children from Darkness” from Time and Kate DiCamillo’s follow-up “Why Children’s Books Should Be a Little Bit Sad” where she answers a question de la Peña posed in his article as well as this Twitter thread from Sayantani DasGupta where she explores the need for joy in the darkeness! It truly embodies my parenting and teaching philosophy: that although kids are kids, they are also humans and future adults; life should be about being real and about happiness.
In the end, I want to just thank these two amazing men for writing this phenomenal book that I so feel is needed so badly right now, and thank you for including nothing but truth within it including inclusion of all types of people and children and situations and cultures and races and ethnicities, etc.
Ricki’s Review: I am really looking forward to seeing Matt de la Peña next month during his tour! This book is absolutely stunning, and we will certainly be purchasing many copies to give as baby shower gifts. The entire text simply emanates love. It is honest, poetically, and it treats children as the intelligent people that they are. The illustrations are simply marvelous and the words dance across the page. I simply don’t have the words to share how absolutely beautiful this book is. When I think of this book, I think about a warm, cozy house and two little boys on my lap. And these little boys make me feel love, love, love.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’ll talk about one scene specifically, which happens to be my favorite.
As soon as I saw this scene, I wanted to show it to students and have discussions with them. How does this scene make them feel? Who is the family? What are they watching? What clues did they use to answer these questions?
Then I would add in the word that accompany the scene:
“One day you find your family
nervously huddled around the TV,
but when you asked what happened,
they answer with silence
and shift between you and the screen.”
And I would ask them how these words change the inferences they made about the spread.
Lastly, I would ask them why this stanza would be in a poem about love, how it fits with the theme, and what it represents.
Another idea that I brainstormed with my friend Jennie Smith are:
- Recreate my experience by sharing the poem first with the circumstances I shared above. Then reread the poem to them but with the illustrations.
- After the first read, you can also have them make their own illustrations analyzing the words then compare/contrast the choices that Loren Long made with what they did.
- Why did the author and illustrator include tough scenes in their picture book about love?
- Which scene represents love the most for you?
- Which scene are you glad they included?
- How does the poem differ with and without the illustrations?
- What different purposes could this poem of love be perfect for?
Flagged Passages: *psst!* Matt may have told me this is (one of) his favorite spreads:
Read This If You Love: Love. (But seriously, read this. Period.)
If Picasso Painted a Snowman
Author: Amy Newbold
Illustrator: Greg Newbold
Published October 3rd, 2017 by Tilbury House Publishers
Summary: If someone asked you to paint a snowman, you would probably start with three white circles stacked one upon another. Then you would add black dots for eyes, an orange triangle for a nose, and a black dotted smile. But if Picasso painted a snowman…
From that simple premise flows this delightful, whimsical, educational picture book that shows how the artist’s imagination can summon magic from a prosaic subject. Greg Newbold’s chameleon-like artistry shows us Roy Lichtenstein’s snow hero saving the day, Georgia O’Keefe’s snowman blooming in the desert, Claude Monet’s snowmen among haystacks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic snowman, Jackson Pollock’s snowman in ten thousand splats, Salvador Dali’s snowmen dripping like melty cheese, and snowmen as they might have been rendered by J. M. W. Turner, Gustav Klimt, Paul Klee, Marc Chagall, Georges Seurat, Pablita Velarde, Piet Mondrian, Sonia Delaunay, Jacob Lawrence, and Vincent van Gogh. Our guide for this tour is a lively hamster who—also chameleon-like—sports a Dali mustache on one spread, a Van Gogh ear bandage on the next.
“What would your snowman look like?” the book asks, and then offers a page with a picture frame for a child to fill in. Backmatter thumbnail biographies of the artists complete this highly original tour of the creative imagination that will delight adults as well as children.
Review: Trent and I are really big fans of this one! It has become a regular bedtime book. Amy & Greg Newbold did a fantastic job teaching about art and artists while at the same time adding an entertainment factor through an imaginative and narrative aspect. Now, my experience reading this book for the first time is very different than Trent’s and other readers’ experiences will be like because of prior knowledge. Since I already knew the artists, I could pick out the style elements that were included in the snowman artwork, loved many of the snowmen because of how much it did look like the artists’ work, and even found aspects funny. Trent, on the other hand, read the book from a different lens because he saw all the snowmen first then we talked about each artist and using the back matter and internet, he learned about each of the artists.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: It would be so interesting to use the book in both ways: either with giving background knowledge ahead of time or introducing the book then the artists. And the book does such a wonderful job promoting creative freedom and sharing that each artist has their own style and medium which would lead to some really great opportunities for students to explore what their artistic style would be.
- [After studying an artist not in the book] How do you think ____ would paint/make/create a snowman?
- What parts of each artist’s style did the Newbolds utilize when creating If Picasso Painted a Snowman?
- Which snowman creation was your favorite? Why?
- After reading the back matter, which artist would you like to learn more about?
- Compare and contrast a “regular” snowman which each snowman in the book. Compare and contrast the different types of snowmen.
Author Interview: I was lucky enough to ask Amy & Greg interview questions. I chose to ask:
-How did you choose which artists to highlight in your book?
-How did you each prepare for writing the book?
-Any specific reason for the choice of a hamster?
-Other than art history, what do you hope readers get from the book?
Amy: I got the idea for If Picasso Painted a Snowman while visiting the Musee Picasso in Paris, France. Pablo Picasso’s work was so inventive, and I wondered what it would look like if he created a snowman. That was the beginning of the book. I knew right away certain artists that I wanted to include in the book, including Georges Seurat, Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian, and Salvador Dali. In the beginning, I wanted to include all my favorite artists, but as the project took shape, it became more important for me to include artists who made a significant contribution to art. Greg and I discussed each artist, as he had to envision how to paint a snowman in the style of that painter. He brought in artists like Paul Klee and Roy Lichtenstein. It was a wonderful experience to research each of these artists and we both gained a deeper appreciation for their work.
The actual writing of the book took place over many months. Some of the lines in the book came easily, while others took quite a bit of time to figure out. I read the text out loud multiple times and made changes if the words weren’t flowing. Greg and I also participated in a workshop at a writing conference where we were able to get critiques on the book during the writing process. Testing out the manuscript in front of a group really helped. I didn’t write the biographies of each artist until we had signed our contract with Tilbury House to do the book. Once we had a contract, I got busy researching so I could write something that is hopefully informative and interesting about each of these amazing painters.
Greg: This project was so much fun that it often felt like playing rather than work. Before beginning a piece, I researched the artist’s style, the materials and techniques that they used and what motifs and design quirks made them unique. Each piece was a treat to work on and for the most part, I feel that I captured some of the essence of what each artist was known for. I learned many new processes but probably the most fun I had was imitating Jackson Pollock’s drip style “action paintings”. Some people look at Pollock’s work and assume that they could do it since all you have to do is splatter paint around. After more study I realized that Pollock’s work is far from random and unplanned. There is an interesting rhythm and process in the way he layered paint. I had a great afternoon in the back yard dancing around my canvas laid on the ground deciding where the next splash of paint would look the best and trying to put it there. My Pollock turned out pretty well and was also used as the endpapers of the book. I was so entertained by the process that I want to do it again.
I designed the hamster in honor of a family pet named Max. He is the visual tour guide through the book, and you can see evidence of him on nearly every page. His presence adds another dimension to the book as he does things like carry a ruler to get straight lines on the Mondrian piece. In another picture, he wears Picasso’s striped shirt, or Monet’s beret. The hamster is not in the text, but offers several fun references for readers in the know. Keep an eye out for him and his wardrobe changes throughout the book!
Amy & Greg: We both hope that this book encourages artists of all ages to have fun with art. It is simply an introduction, an invitation to try different techniques and styles, use unexpected colors, explore and distort shape and line. By looking at the variety of ways artists painted in history, we hope kids understand that they can find and express their own creative vision.
Read This If You Love: Art!; Biographies of artists such as The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock, Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone, A Splash of Red by Jennifer Fisher Bryant; The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds; Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Björk; Seen Art? by Jon Sciezska; The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt; Perfect Square by Michael Hall; My Pen by Christopher Myers, Paint Me a Picture by Emily Bannister, Mini Museum Series
**Thank you to Nicole Banholzer for providing a copy for review and to Amy & Greg Newbold for their answers!**
Inky’s Great Escape: The Incredible (and Mostly True) Story of an Octopus Escape
Author: Casey Lyall
Illustrator: Sebastia Serra
Published: November 7, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books
Goodreads Summary: Inky’s Incredible Idea for an Ingenious Escape .
Based on a true story, this tale follows a daring, Houdini-esque octopus as he performs his greatest escape act yet.
In April 2016, The New York Times published an article about an octopus named Inky who escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand through a drainpipe and into the sea. In this charming fictionalized account, Inky, worn out from his exciting life in the ocean, has retired to the aquarium. There he quietly plays cards, makes faces at the visitors, and regales his tankmate Blotchy with tales of his past adventures. Then Blotchy dares Inky to make one more great escape: out of their tank. Will Inky succeed?
Ricki’s Review: Inky! This is a fun, thrilling text that will surely entertain a classroom of kids. I can imagine all of the questions that would accompany a read-aloud of this book. When my son and I read it, the first thing we did was research Inky’s story on the internet (see Kellee’s review for more info about this). We talked about all of the exciting ways that an octopus might escape from an aquarium. I love how the author creatively interpreted Inky’s story and made it a sort of challenge from Inky’s friend Blotchy. This made me chuckle. This text is versatile and could be used in many ways in the classroom, and it has high appeal. Kids will love it.
Kellee’s Review: Although Inky’s Great Escape is a fictionalized version of the events that happened at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2016, if you go and research about the escape, you’ll learn that the Inky truly is one incredible octopus! Although Lyall used creative freedom to build up Inky’s backstory (he’d retired to the aquarium after many daring escapes, and only escaped from the aquarium because Blotchy challenged him), much of the escape sequence was what truly transpired when Inky made his escape. Kids will fall in love with Inky’s bravery, personality, and with his contrasting friend, Blotchy, who stayed behind. With colorful full page illustrations and two octopuses with character traits and personalities that will start conversations, Inky’s Great Escape is going to be a favorite read aloud and classroom library book in elementary classrooms (and would be a great companion to a cephalapoda discussion!).
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might take some time to point out New Zealand on a map and to research the habitat in New Zealand. They might specifically look into Inky’s story and how the author took a bit of creative license to interpret the truth a bit. Teachers might also ask students to create their own escape stories with another animal. They could illustrate these and bind them into books!
Discussion Questions: Why does Inky decide to escape? What does he do?; What is Blotchy’s role in the story? How might we compare this to situations in our lives?; What is the true story? How did the author creatively interpret that story?
Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!
Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone
Author: Alice Brière-Haquet
Illustrator: Bruno Liance
Published December 5th, 2017 by Charlesbridge Publishing
Summary: “To be young, gifted, and black.”
A stunning picture-book biography of the High Priestess of Soul and one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.
With evocative black-and-white illustrations and moving prose, readers are introduced to Nina Simone, jazz-music legend and civil-rights activist. Shared as a lullaby to her daughter, a soulful song recounts Simone’s career, the trials she faced as an African American woman, and the stand she took during the Civil Rights Movement. This poignant picture book offers a melodic tale that is both a historic account of an iconic figure and an extraordinary look at how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go for social justice and equality. A timeless and timely message aptly appropriate for today’s social and political climates.
Review: Although Nina is just a taste into who Nina Simone was as it only introduces her talent as a pianist and shares her beliefs in regards to civil rights. Set up as a lullaby that Nina is singing to her child, the story recounts her love of music and learning about the racism within our nation as well as a story where she stood up to inequality at one of her piano concerts. The lyrics and illustrations are dreamy and perfectly fit the purpose of the story: to introduce and intrigue the reader when it comes to Nina Simone.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I do wish that there had been back matter that went more in depth into Simone’s contribution to jazz and civil rights; however, without them existing, this nonfiction picture book allows for a perfect change for inquiry. Now that students have been introduced to Nina, have stations/centers focusing on different parts of her life, jazz, or the Civil Rights Movement.
- How does the illustration on the bus use the idea of the piano to symbolize the relationship between White and Black citizens in the early 1900s?
- What techniques do the author and illustrator use to make the book seem lullaby-eque?
- How did the imagery of the single black chair symbolize the racism that occurred at Simone’s concert?
- How does the author tie in Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement?
“‘The white keys are whole notes and the black keys are flats, or half notes,’ my teacher explained.
I asked why.
‘Because that’s just the way it is.’
Yes, that’s the way it was. White was whole. Black was half. It was that way everywhere and for everyone.
I could have held it against people. Or worse, I couldn’t believed I was worth less than other people.
Black people were nothing but half notes on a huge ivory keyboard.
But no. I did not agree with this.
The notes had to mingle and dance together in the air so these lies would disappear.”
Read This If You Love: Andrea Davis Pinkney picture book biographies, Jazz, Learning about the Civil Rights Movement
Landscape with Invisible Hand
Author: M. T. Anderson
Published: September 12, 2017 by Candlewick
Summary: National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson returns to future Earth in a sharply wrought satire of art and truth in the midst of colonization.
When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth – but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents’ jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv’s miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. And since the vuvv crave anything they deem “classic” Earth culture (doo-wop music, still-life paintings of fruit, true love), recording 1950s-style dates for the vuvv to watch in a pay-per-minute format seems like a brilliant idea. But it’s hard for Adam and Chloe to sell true love when they hate each other more with every passing episode. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he’s willing to go – and what he’s willing to sacrifice – to give the vuvv what they want.
- Futuristic, dark satire that is an unusual, intelligent social commentary
- Forces readers to think deeply about their personal, social, and political lives
- Somewhat non-linear story with an interesting layout: each chapter has a title that corresponds with the artwork created by the main character
- Stylistically, Anderson chooses every word with intention. The text is a 149-page novella that features chapters that can be taught instructionally as vignettes.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to begin by looking closely at the text for short passages that they find particularly interesting or inspiring. Students might write a one-pager that a) unpacks the passage they chose, and b) examines the passage through the lens of a topic that they find particularly interesting and relevant. For example, they might connect a passage to the following topics which are relevant in the text:
After the students have written several one-pagers and explored a variety of topics, they might select one topic that interests them most. They can research scholarship about the topic and look across the entire text for relevant passages.
Sample research paper topics:
Examining economic disparities and classism within Landscape with Invisible Hand
Finding the soul: M.T. Anderson’s treatment of love and art in Landscape with Invisible Hand
Discussion Questions: Do you think M. T. Anderson had a purpose for writing this text?; What kind of social commentary does this text offer?; What does it tell us about love? Society? Humanity?; How does Anderson use art to enhance the story?; How is the text structured? How does this enhance your reading?
Flagged Passage: “We are tiny figures, faceless, pointing at wonders, provided for scale, no lives of our own, surveying the landscape that has engulfed us all.”
Read This If You Loved: Feed by M. T. Anderson; Books by Scott Westerfeld; The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Thank you, Candlewick!
Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale
Author: Corey Rosen Schwartz
Illustrator: Deborah Marcero
Published September 5th, 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Summary: Have you heard the story of Cinderella? Well, you don’t know the half of it.
Cinderella and her lesser-known twin, Tinderella, split everything right down the middle. They each do half the housework, half the mending, and half the mean step-sister tending. When the Prince throws a ball, their fairy godmother sends them both, and they dance the night away with the prince. But he simply can’t choose between Cin and Tin, and they are in need of some clever thinking and just a pinch of magic. The Prince agrees to share his kingdom half and half, and the fairy-godmother makes him a twin too, so they can all live happily ever after. Cin and the Prince rule the kingdom, while Tin and the Twin win all the kingdom’s math competitions. It truly is a happily ever half-ter.
Review: I am a huge fan of fairy tale retellings. I think they are a perfect way to bring attention to something, tell a unique story, or teach students because it is set in a basis of prior knowledge that most students already have thus allowing for a comfortable base to scaffold up from. With Twinderella, the story of Cinderella is used to teach about fractions and division while also telling a story of two sisters that find a way to make sure they can live happily ever half-ter.
Schwartz and Marcero are a perfect team to tell these twins’ story in a way that not only teaches but entertains. The balance was done so well between the math concepts and narrative. You learn how the twins make it all work, and you root for them to be happy.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When I finished this book, I immediately texted my friend who teaches 2nd grade because I know that it is perfect for the classroom! It meets standards for second grade because of the focus on fairy tales and retellings and is a perfect introduction to easy fractions that they will begin looking at in 3rd grade.
- How is Twinderella different from the traditional Cinderella stories?
- How did Tinderella make sure that everything was split equally between the two sisters?
- What math concepts were taught in the story?
- With the quadruplets, how would chores and such needed to be divided?
Read This If You Love: Math, Fairy Tale Retellings
**Thank you to Penguin Young Readers for providing a copy for review!**
The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street
Author: Lindsay Currie
Published October 10th, 2017 by Aladdin
Summary: A girl unravels a centuries-old mystery after moving into a haunted house in this deliciously suspenseful mystery.
Tessa Woodward isn’t exactly thrilled to move to rainy, cold Chicago from her home in sunny Florida. But homesickness turns to icy fear when unexplainable things start happening in her new house. Things like flickering lights, mysterious drawings appearing out of nowhere, and a crackling noise she can feel in her bones.
When her little brother’s doll starts crying real tears, Tessa realizes that someone—or something—is trying to communicate with her. A secret that’s been shrouded in mystery for more than one hundred years.
With the help of three new friends, Tessa begins unraveling the mystery of what happened in the house on Shady Street—and more importantly, what it has to do with her!
Review: I always go in tentatively to spooky books because I am so jumpy and also really don’t enjoy when the only point of a book is to scare the reader. But I could tell right away that Shady Street was going to completely exceed other just-scary books because it was about so much more. Sure, there was definitely a shady mystery and some really scary moments, but it was all entwined with a story about friendship, family, identity, and moving. Lindsay Currie did a perfect job balancing the two goals of the book: to scare the reader and to make the reader care so much about her characters.
In addition to the plot development being on point, Shady Street‘s characters were each were fully-developed to give every reader someone to connect with. I also liked how Currie included actual Chicago folklore and landmarks to enhance the story (and as a girl who lives in Florida and loves Chicago, I loved the Florida truths throughout also). Check out Currie’s website for behind the scenes info, and here’s a video of Lindsay Currie on a walking tour through Graceland cemetery, one of the settings of the book:
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students are going to love this story because it is a perfect mix of ghost story and coming-of-age story, so classroom, school, and public libraries all definitely need to have a copy–once one students reads it, the word is going to get out, and it’ll never be on the shelf!
In the classroom, using Lindsay Currie’s website and video, Shady Street is a good example of author’s decision-making, how the setting of a story can impact the plot, and how an author uses the setting to affect the mood.
- How would the story have been different if Tessa had not gone to the pond the first time?
- Why do you think Inez chose Tessa?
- Did the story end how you thought it was going to?
- How did the author use the setting to affect the mood of the story? The plot?
- Which character do you connect with the most? Explain.
- What caused Inez to act the way she did?
- Similar to what Tessa did at the end for Inez, create a name plate for yourself with illustrations that identify you.
- Explain the act of condensation.
Flagged Passages: “The door clicks shut behind her, and I grab a pair of jeans off the chair I slung them over last night. My sketchpad is open just slightly and I stop in my tracks, confused at the small blur I can see in the upper left-hand corner of the sheet. It’s grayish black, like I started something then just barely ran the bad of my thumb over it.
‘What in the–‘ I start, bending closer to the page.
I didn’t draw anything last night. I was so tired from carrying boxes all over this ginormous place that I crawled into bed without even brushing my teeth.
I stare at the mark. It’s small and shaped like an upside-down L. Lifting the book and giving the paper a tap, I watch asn the unwelcome spot becomes dust again and drifts into the air. There will still be a darkened area there, but I’ll camouflage it with shading later. Still. There’s something about the mark that bothers me. Something off.”
**Thank you to Lindsay Currie for providing a copy of the book for review!**
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