Kat and Juju
Author: Kataneh Vahani
Published July 1st, 2020 by Two Lions
Summary: An unlikely duo star in a charming story about being different, finding courage, and the importance of friendship in the first book in a new series from an award-winning animation director.
Kat likes doing things her very own way, but sometimes she doubts herself. So when a bird named Juju arrives, Kat hopes he’ll be the best friend she’s always wanted. He’s outgoing and silly and doesn’t worry about what others think—the opposite of who she is. Bit by bit, with Juju’s help, Kat discovers her strength, and how to have a friend and be one—while still being true to herself.
Praise: “This debut gently encourages personal growth while reinforcing the value of being different.” —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author: Kataneh Vahdani is a children’s book author and illustrator. Kat and Juju is her first picture book series. She is currently directing her original feature animation movie. Kataneh has been a professor for over seventeen years and she also saves fallen baby birds and rescues them. Together with her students, they have raised over 13 fallen injured baby birds and set them free once they were ready to fly away. Sometimes in her classes, birds fly from the head of one student to the other.
Visit Kataneh on Instagram: @KatandJuju.
Kellee’s Review: Kat feels like she doesn’t fit in with her peers: she worries, follows the rules, and doesn’t know how to let go and have fun, so she hopes and hopes that her birthday animal best friend will finally give her someone to play with and feel included; however, the problem is Juju, her new animal friend, is nothing like her. But it is through their time together that Kat realizes that her and Juju can be friends even if different and Kat even finds it in herself to do her own happy dance!
I do hope that the message that comes across to readers is that everyone should be whomever they are and others will accept you. I could see some reading it as Kat needing Juju to change her to get others to like her, but I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as Juju just showing and helping Kat see what an amazing person she is.
One of my favorite things about this book is the illustrations–the way that color is used so intentionally and are just so fun!
Ricki’s Review: I think we all have this yearning to be more ____ or more ____. As an adult, I really identified with Kat. As I always work to improve myself, I try to be more like other people I admire. This made for a phenomenal conversation with my children. We talked about people who we admire and how we can take slivers of these people to be better versions of ourselves, but we don’t need to (and shouldn’t) be these people. We are individuals with our own strengths.
This book is beautifully written and it is clear to readers the care and precision the author took to characterize Kat and Juju. I felt like the author was deeply connected to and understanding of the emotions that kids face. The friendship between these two characters is quite magical. I am looking forward to and excited about reading other books by this author.
Please Note: Together, we did find one aspect of the text that we wanted to comment about. We were concerned with an image of the characters wearing sombreros and playing instruments traditionally attached to mariachi music. For us, this felt like cultural appropriation. We would encourage all authors to avoid images where characters dress up in costume like this (see, for instance, the Clifford the Big Red Dog Halloween book where Clifford dresses up like a Native American). We write this not as a critical attack of the book but instead, as a way that we think all of us (authors, illustrators, teachers, publishers, etc.) can work together to think carefully about the images we portray. This does not take away from our desire to read more adventures of Kat and Juju.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Along with a read aloud of this book, great discussions could happen focusing on self-esteem, worrying, and friendship. It could also offer opportunities for critical thinking about the concept of cultural appropriation.
- If you were going to have an animal best friend, what type of animal would you want? What would its personality be like?
- Why was Kat so worried that others wouldn’t like her? Should anyone ever feel that way?
- Were there times in the book that Kat’s peers could have been more interactive to make Kat feel more accepted?
- Why is it important to have all sorts of different types of people in the world?
- Is it okay to worry? If you are worrying too much, what should you do?
- How are Kat and Juju like other two-character, opposite friends books like Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad?
Read This If You Love: Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival, I’m Bored series by Michael Ian Black, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton
**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway!**
This is My America
Author: Kim Johnson
Published: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
GoodReads Summary: Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.
Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the […]
This is My America
Author: Kim Johnson
Published: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
GoodReads Summary: Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.
Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?
Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.
Review: This is a book that will stick with me forever. The characters are powerfully written, and the plot unfolds itself beautifully. It tackles complex themes that offer excellent fodder for classroom discussion. Some of these include implicit and explicit racism, the ripple effects of White supremacy and racism, White privilege, and injustices in the judicial system. I could go on. This book is truly exceptional, and I envision it winning some big awards this year. There is so much to unpack and so much to admire in Johnson’s writing. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you buy no other book this summer, buy this one. It will make you think deeply about equity and justice.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I highlighted so many passages of this book while I was reading it. There are so many sections that would make phenomenal close readings in the classroom. I highly recommend pairing this text with portions or all of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
Discussion Questions: What are some of the injustices in this text?; How can we, as a society, work to change these injustices?; How do the injustices have a ripple effect on other characters?; How does Johnson layer the plot to elevate the reading and message of the text?
Flagged Passage: “Corinne never held that memory [of Daddy getting arrested], but I know she feels it in everything we breathe. It’s in the polite nods across the street we have to make, the way our family turns down our music when there are others around. Say yes ma’am and no sir. Leave our jackets and backpacks in the car when we go shopping.
It’s in the way I carry myself that tells our story now. I can’t risk being accused of anything. Because if something goes wrong or missing, I know it’s in the back of someone’s mind that maybe I had something to do with it. And it’s in the way that the voice of the strongest woman I know stumbles when saying, ‘Hello, Officer’ as she walks through the visitation gates to see Daddy.”
Read This If You Loved: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; X by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles;
The Blue Giant
Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottle
Published May 26th, 2020 by Pavilion Books Ltd.
Summary: A poignant and timely picture book introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.
Coral and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.
Coral and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?
This stunning follow-up to Katie Cottle’s debut picture book The Green Giant is another entertaining and beautiful eco-tale from the 2017 winner of the Batsford Prize. It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas.
About the Author: Katie Cottle is an illustrator and printmaker living and working in Bristol, U.K. Her work is often informed by the marks and colors created through traditional lithography. She also works digitally, using an iPad, and occasionally paints with gouache. The Blue Giant is her second book, following on from The Green Giant.
Review: Katie Cottle has caught onto something big with the format of this and her Green Giant book: it truly brings our environment to life and shows the harm that we are doing to it. The anthropomorphism of the ocean makes it even easier to connect to it as an entity as it shows how we are hurting it, and it shows what Meera DOES to try to reverse the effects we’ve caused.
In addition to the theme and story, I also really liked the illustrations. The author’s use of line is used expertly to show movement, and I loved all of the colors to really bring the story to life.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is perfect for any discussion of water pollution and the environment. It shows a problem, a potential soultion, and hope for the future. It also specifically talks about single-use plastics which may be a new topic for many students.
- What is something you can do to help the ocean?
- What does Meera do to help the ocean?
- How does our actions effect the ocean?
- What is an animal that is effected by our pollution?
- What is a single-use plastic that you use that you could replace?
- What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?
- Why did the author give the ocean a voice in the book?
Read This If You Love: Learning about the environment
**Thank you to Media Master Publicity for providing a copy for review!**
Author: Sandra Le Guen
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Illustrator: Stéphane Nicolet
Published June 1, 2020 by Amazon Crossing Kids
Summary: “There’s a new girl at school. She never stops looking up at the sky! She likes the stars and comets.”
Jeannette tells her mom about her new classmate, who also loves astronomy but seems sad. She realizes it’s not easy to move to a new place. So the next day, at recess, Jeannette asks Iliana to play.
At first, it’s a little hard to communicate because Iliana is learning a new language. The girls have to use their hands and their drawings. But they keep trying, and, soon, Iliana tells Jeannette about her difficult journey as a refugee who had to leave her country. Then their families meet, and Iliana’s parents share their story too. The girls’ friendship blooms, as limitless as the sky and their imaginations.
Originally published in France and brought to life with wonderfully expressive artwork, this is a book about sharing stories and finding refuge in friendship, family, and a new home.
Kellee’s Review: This book is beautiful. It shows pure empathy for a young girl, and her family, who needs all love in the scary new situation she is in. Their journey was harrowing and being in a new place where they do not speak the language must be completely overwhelming; however, this was something they felt no choice in doing because of the horrors of war back at their home. But sadly, refugees have been villainized–once again fear winning over empathy. However, The Refuge puts a narrative to the journey that many children and families face just to stay safe. And it is such a well-crafted narrative with beautiful illustrations–just an overall excellent book. A must read for ALL ages.
Ricki’s Review: Magnificent. This book is truly and utterly magnificent. I am quite hopeful it will win some of the major literary awards. Whew! The writing depicts the myriad emotions that Iliana might have experienced on her journey, and Jeannette has such deep empathy for her classmate. The illustrations take the book to the next level. I would purchase a spread of this book and frame it for the wall in my office—the illustrations are that captivating. We share some of the illustrations below. There’s one illustration in which Iliana is carrying a giant boat on her back, and a star hangs from a string on the front. Two small children walk up the top of the steep boat. The words match the illustrations, and yet the illustrations have deeper, metaphoric meaning. This would be a terrific book to study at the high school and college level. It would sustain several classes of discussion. I plan to purchase a copy to use in my Teaching Reading class. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it highly.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Metaphor is powerfully used in this text (both in the writing and illustrations). This would be a magnificent text to use as a mentor text for the instruction of metaphor. Students might select a written metaphor to illustrate and an illustrated metaphor to write in words to consider the flexibility and power of the use of metaphor. Then, they might craft their own metaphors related to the story.
- Choose one illustration that you like. What is the surface level meaning? What is the deeper meaning attached to the image?
- How does Jeannette demonstrate empathy for Iliana?
- What did you learn about refugees?
- Why do you believe the author titled the book The Refuge instead of Refugee?
- How do the illustrations and writing work together?
- What creative techniques does the author use?
- What creative techniques does the illustrator use?
Read This If You Love: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
**Thank you, Barbara at Blue Slip Media, for providing copies for review!**
Rosie: Stronger Than Steel
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Expected Publication: April 1st, 2020 by Two Lions
Summary: A brave tractor farms for freedom in a story inspired by women who acted with courage and strength in American factories and on British farms during World War II.
This is our Rosie,
stronger than steel.
She’ll plow all the land
with a turn of her wheel.
Built by women in the United States and sent to England to dig and plow alongside female farmers during World War II, Rosie the tractor does whatever is needed to support the war effort. She works day and night to help grow crops for the troops…even when she has to hide in the fields. This is because she knows, like the women who built her and the women who farm with her, that they all must do their part.
Inspired by the group of American women collectively known as “Rosie the Riveter” and the British Women’s Land Army, this is a story about taking action and coming together for the greater good.
About the Author: Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family in Peninsula, Ohio, where she often sees tractors from the 1930s and 1940s. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com. Twitter: @lindsaymward
★“More than the sum of its parts, this is a wildly successful and well-researched shaping of the picture-book form to true historical sheroes.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
★“This ‘little tractor that could’ sort of tale pays tribute to the iconic Rosie the Riveter persona from the US and the British Land Girls of the Women’s Land Army during WWII. Fans of Loren Long’s Otis, Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy, and like sturdy, dependable workhorses will welcome Rosie into the fold, but the historical perspective adds an unusual dimension to her story.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Vocabulary is rich, and the younger set will appreciate the intermittent rhymes. The style of Ward’s colored pencil and cut-paper illustrations reflect the period of the tale. ” —School Library Journal
Review: During World War II, our students’ lessons usually focus on the war itself and the horrific events because of the war, but there was so much more going on to ensure that our countries continued to run while all of our armed forces were at war. We don’t often enough hear about how women were essential to this effort, and Rosie shows us another side to this. Rosie represents not only the tractors made by women who helped keep our plants and crops healthy and edible, but she represents all women that stepped up to do jobs that before then they had been told they were not good enough for. This story, beautifully crafted and illustrated by Lindsay Ward, is a call for strength whenever faced with unprecedented times.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Rosie is a great addition to history lessons about World War II and the home front efforts of women. Her story is also a great read aloud–maybe during Women’s History Month, or whenever!
- Did you know anything about what happened on the home front before reading Rosie?
- How does Rosie the tractor represent the women’s work on the home front?
- How does Rosie impact the war effort?
- What does the Rose on her body represent?
- What is the theme of Rosie?
- Why do you think the author wrote the book from Rosie’s point of view in first person?
Read This If You Love: Historical fiction picture books, Learning about history
**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**
Room on our Rock
Authors: Kate & Jol Temple
Illustrator: Terri Rose Baynton
Published September, 2019 by Kane Miller Press
Summary: Two seals are perched on a rock. When others need shelter, do they share it? Room on Our Rock celebrates the truth that there are two sides to every story. This clever picture book has one story that can be read two different ways.
There are two ways to read this story. When read from front to back, the seals believe there is definitely no room on their rock for others. But when the book is read from back to front, the seals welcome others to shelter on their rock. A heartwarming story about sharing and compassion.
Review: I loved the idea of a book that can be read front to back or back to front with two very different messages. I remember a poem that I read when I was younger that did this (what was it called?! Do you know??), and the craft that it would take to create this, specifically well done and beautifully, is just mind blowing to me. On top of that the story and message of Room on our Rock is just so special.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The discussions that teachers will be able to have with students about this book will be deep and poignant. Then students can have the opportunity to try to create their own front and back stories.
- What is the message if you read the book forward? Backward?
- What do you think the author’s purpose was in making two stories in one?
- What is the author trying to teach the reader?
- Has there been a time when you made sure to make space for someone that needed it?
Read This If You Love: Fiction animal stories, Books that teach a lesson, Cleverly written books
**Thank you to Kane Miller Press for providing a copy for review!!**
Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln
Author: Shari Swanson
Illustrator: Chuck Groenink
Published January 14th, 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books
Summary: Based on a little-known tale from Abraham Lincoln’s childhood, this charming picture book written by debut author Shari Swanson and illustrated by acclaimed artist Chuck Groenink tells a classic story of a boy, his dog, and a daring rescue.
Deeply researched and charmingly told, this is the true story of one extra-special childhood rescue—a dog named Honey.
Long before Abraham Lincoln led the nation or signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he was just a barefoot kid running around Knob Creek, Kentucky, setting animals free from traps and snatching frogs out of the jaws of snakes.
One day, young Abe found a stray dog with a broken leg and named him Honey. He had no idea that the scruffy pup would find his way into Abe’s heart, become his best friend, and—one fateful day—save his life.
About the Author: Shari Swanson is a debut author who has been a middle school language arts teacher as well as an appellate lawyer. She received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she wrote her thesis on musicality in picture books. She lives in Southern California with her husband and their dog, Honey. To learn more, and to download a free curriculum guide and activity kit, visit her website: shariswanson.com.
Facebook: Shari Swanson, Author
Author Q&A: Thank you to Shari for answering some questions for us and you!
Q: Why did you specifically choose this moment in Abe’s life to focus on? What did you hope to add to the Abe Lincoln narrative?
A: This story captivates me for several reasons. First, I love that we see Abe as a child—prone to distraction, earnest and loving, and with a deep compassion for animals. I feel it adds depth to our understanding of him as a man and makes him relatable to current children who might share these characteristics. Second, that Abe might not have grown up to be a man and our president without Honey gives me shivers. I believe Honey is an American hero, and that Abe’s kindness to Honey came back to bless him later. Kindness is something that causes ripples to go out and touch others in ways we usually never see. Finally, this is one of very few stories that features Lincoln’s mother, Nancy. Very little is written about his Kentucky years with Nancy, and she died shortly after the Lincolns moved to Indiana. That mother-son bond was important to him and is precious. I hope that this story fleshes out the narrative of Lincoln by showing his compassion from an early age as well as how his behavior was rooted in kindness. I also feel this story helps us appreciate the fragility of life and how interconnected everything is.
Q: What type of research did you do to prepare?
A: I’ve been twice to Kentucky to walk where Lincoln walked and explore the hills and hollows where he grew up. I’ve descended into several of the known caverns there to picture how he might have felt when he got stuck. I’ve been to all of the Lincoln museums and national sites in Kentucky to soak it in and ask lots of questions. I’ve read every book I could find on Lincoln’s Kentucky years, including chapters in larger biographies, pored over primary sources, like interviews, auction receipts, and land sale documents. For the timeline, I dove deep into every resource I could find, skimming for references to Lincoln with animals, loving that his affection for animals stayed with him all the way until the end. It makes me cry to think of his dog Fido and his horse, Old Bob, at his funeral. The picture of Old Bob, riderless, in the funeral procession, is powerful. Most all of this didn’t make it into the book, but I love research, and, as a former appellate lawyer, I’m a stickler for detail.
Q: Tell us your journey of your debut picture book.
A: My journey on this book began years ago when I was teaching middle school. We were reading an excerpt from Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln and a sentence about Abe’s childhood caught my attention. I wanted to know more about his best friend then and their adventures. I threw myself into research, discovered Austin Gollaher, Abe’s best friend, and had my local library send for a copy of his narratives. Back then, the book was dusty and old in a college archive room. Now it is available online. I had the deep pleasure of telling Russell about my hopes to write a picture book about Lincoln’s childhood, and he encouraged me. When I was getting my MFA, I learned how to take the massive amount of information I had and draw out just a thread for a picture book narrative. HONEY is the culmination of those efforts.
Q: Lastly, what do you hope is the readers big take away from Honey?
A: I hope children and adults fall in love with Honey and his boy. I hope readers feel the story is both grounded in its time and timeless.
**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for the copy for review and giveaway & to Shari Swanson for her participation!**
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