Monthly Archives: September 2019

Marvelous New Picture Books Mondays: “B Is for Baby”


Written by Atinuke

Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank


Publisher’s Synopsis: “Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank, creators of the award-winning Baby Goes to Market, pair up again for a bright and beautiful first book of words.”

From the cover of the book you might think this is a cute ABC book meant for babies, BUT it’s about what all the special letter “B” can stand for! At the same time, it is telling a sweet story about a brother, his baby sister and Baba. It gives a glimpse into their lives set in West Africa. Little does the brother know that his baby sister is actually quite curious and adventurous.  Not only do the illustrations show this adorable baby girl but the illustrations surprisingly flow well even though the words all have to start with the letter “B”. There are gorgeous two page spreads that beautifully complement the simple word sentences and tell a large part of the story as Baby and her brother travel to Baba’s house.


This book also does a phenomenal job of showing the beauty of Africa through a small child’s eye. The illustrations are bright and large, perfect for sharing aloud with a group of toddlers. The pages are filled with realistic cute animals, people, and landscapes. Children love playing with the sounds made by letters and words. The rhythms made by combinations of the two are like a sympathy to their ears. If what they are hearing has a melody, they are more likely to remember it and want you to read it again.


I absolutely LOVED this book, it was adorable, entertaining, and dynamic. I could definitely see it being hilarious to children and the illustrations were extremely impressive with their attention to detail. This book could be used in a lesson to a group of kids who are learning about the letter “B”! I would most likely recommend this book for ages 3 and up.

Blog Post: Kaylann Boyd

Free Fridays: “The Quilt”


For this week’s “Free Friday” blog post, I just had to pick The Quilt written and illustrated by Ann Jonas in 1984. I stumbled across this book at the library the other day and was instantly drawn into its cover art, ultimately deeming this book a true classic. IMG_7630

The book’s quilted endpapers are the same fabric as the inside of the little girl’s own quilt—the book itself literally and figuratively cloaks the reader with the story, bringing them inside the girl’s world. The title page shows a sewing machine, which can bring up a discussion for readers about how the quilt itself was made.


The book’s language is very simple and straightforward—it starts with, “I have a new quilt.” The book is from the little girl’s perspective—she explains how her parents made the quilt for her, and introduces her stuffed animal Sally, inviting the reader inside her world. The story uses dramatic irony– at one point, the little girl can’t find the cloth used to make Sally, but Sally herself can as she’s right next to it, adding a playful element for the reader.

The simple and relatable language makes space for the illustrations to truly shine. Sparse, white backgrounds enable the quilt, the little girl, and her stuffed animal Sally to take the spotlight. Once the little girl brings the reader to her bed, through her bedroom window, we can see it getting darker and darker, as the room itself gets darker–can you find that fabric in the illustration below?



Then, throughout the night, the little girl imaginatively envisions her quilt as a magical little town with many different areas to explore. The story’s turning point occurs as the little girl can’t find Sally, who fell (or hopped?!) off the bed!


As she looks for Sally, the background becomes black and the little girl travels, in her imagination to many different places, all evoked with a variety of bright, contrasting colors. The little girl explores a circus, a neighborhood, a lake with boats and ducks, a forest, and more. 


In the morning, as the sun is rising, the little girl sees Sally at the edge of a cliff (her bed!) and ends up on the ground with her: “Good morning, Sally.”



I absolutely love how we never learn the name of the child herself. This is a very realistic depiction of children as they don’t often go up to people and say “my name is ____,” unless they were scripted to do so. Children just start talking about their lives, through the lens of imagination, which is exactly what happens in this story.

Additionally, It is very important to represent the experiences of people of all colors in children’s literature—the little girl in this book is a person of color, which is another one of its qualities that drew me in. Although written by a white woman, the author doesn’t center the story around the little girl’s race as many white authors do in children’s books, seen in either their story or illustrations. Ultimately, this book is a great storytime treat for children of all ages—I even read this to a fourteen-year-old who absolutely loved it! Definitely pick this book up at the library if you see it, you won’t regret it!

–Emma Waldman

Traditional Thursday: Windows


The book I’m choosing to highlight today as a “Traditional Thursday” post is not inherently traditional because of its age.  Rather, this fairly new story, Windows, flooded the pages and my mind with a traditional evening activity.

Windows is a 2017 picture book written by Julia Denos and illustrated by E.B. Goodale.  The cover of the book, with its beautiful sunset sky with silhouetted houses and tress, immediately caught my eye and the boy talking his dog on a walk sold me completely.

When I opened it, I realized you don’t want to overlook the endpapers on this book either!

The front endpaper displays the neighborhood in which the story takes place with a beautiful setting sky.  The back endpaper displays the same shot of the neighborhood after the sky has “fallen asleep” with windows illuminated.

The story is about a boy walking his dog around his neighborhood before the neighborhood goes to bed.  As they walk, attention is drawn to what may be happening around the boy’s neighborhood in each window: a hug, or a piano, or someone learning to dance just to name a few.

The mood is quiet and calming.  What I most love about this book are the beautiful illustrations and the fact that it is told in second person.  The story ends with the sweet lines “Then you arrive home again, and you look at your window from the outside.  Someone you love is waving at you, and you can’t wait to go in. . . So you do.” This, in addition to the beautiful full bleed illustrations with no frames, creates a homey mood that makes you feel like you are a part of the story.  I loved Windows and the way it highlighted a beloved traditional evening activity.  I hope you’ll love it too!


Winners Wednesdays: The Stuff of Stars


The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Ekua Holmes is the 2019 winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrators Award.

This book explores the creation of the world from the beginnings of nothingness to the cells that make up you and me. Bauer’s poetic words are brought to life through Holme’s vivid illustrations. Holmes is able to capture the beautiful yet volatile nature of our Earth. Readers can easily follow the illustrations which show how in the beginning there was nothing, depicted by a dark void, and then suddenly there was a burst that created everything we have now. As the effects of the burst become more complex and pronounced, so do the colors of the story.


Her illustrations are abstract and flow into each other to show how we are all intricately connected to not only each other but to the Earth itself. Bauer and Holmes describe this book as a celebration of every child and the imprint that they will leave on this Earth.

Though I do not own this book yet, I definitely plan on buying it. I think that readers of multiple ages will gain something from reading this book. Readers young and old will appreciate the illustrations and adults will love the song-like words of the story. 


~Zoe Browne

Trendy Tuesday: La Princesa and the Pea


Today’s trendy Tuesday features La Princesa and the Pea, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Meal. La Princesa and the Pea is a relatively new book, published in 2017. Additionally, it provides a culturally and linguistically diverse twist on The Princess and the Pea. This makes the book trendy because as those who work in fields that incorporate children’s literature emphasize the importance of diversity in children’s literature, more culturally diverse books are written and published.


La Princesa and the Pea, follows the same basic plot as The Princess and the Pea, the prince’s mother wants to ensure he marries someone perfect.  To ensure this, she tests them by placing a pea under twenty mattresses to see if they notice. However, this version does have a twist! At the end of the story, it is revealed that the prince put stones and pitchforks “en la cama” to help her pass the queen’s test.


 La Princesa and the Pea also maintains a rhyming pattern in both languages throughout the story. The author does an excellent job of using the languages to complement each other in the rhyme scheme, for example, “fleece” and “gris” (grey). Lots of upper-level vocabulary is used, like, “hassle”, “galore” and “trudged” which is good, because it is important to introduce new vocabulary through reading.


The illustrations in this book are based on the weaving and embroidery of the indigenous people of Peru. More specifically, the illustrator (who is also Peruvian) chose two remote communities to highlight throughout the book. It is important that the illustrator and the characters in the book are of the same identity group, as it ensures that the depiction of the group is accurate and culturally competent. Furthermore, Martinez-Meal visited the places that she based her illustrations on, making them even more authentic.


Marvelous New Picture Books: High Five


For today’s Marvelous New Picture Book Monday, I’m highlighting a book I found this weekend that quickly became a favorite.  High Five written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri is a funny and interactive book that demands to be read with plenty of enthusiasm and reader participation.  The books itself is large and bright with fun neon illustrations on mostly white pages.  The illustrations are full of creative creatures that invite the reader into the story.

High Five is told by a high five trainer who considers himself the ‘sensei of high fives.’  While he is describing the big high five championship competition that occurs each year, the reader gets a chance to exhibit a champion worthy high five of their own.



And . . .




When the reader high fives the page, they get to see how powerful their own high fives are as the elephant character crashes into the wall on the next page.  Immediately, the reader is entered into the championship competition against the world’s best high fivers.







The remainder of the book introduces the reader to their competitors for each round of the tournament.  After several rounds of high five-ing against gigantic bears, sneaky lizards, and an octopus with 8 hands, the reader wins and is awarded the High Five Trophy in the form of a full bleed golden illustration.

I love that this book combines reading with a fun interactive activity.  It is certainly one I hope to have in my own classroom one day.  I would love to read this one on one with a child and see what kinds of unique high fives they create!

Free Fridays: “What a Beautiful Morning”


Today’s “Free Friday” on Neely’s News showcases “What a Beautiful Morning,” written by Arthur A. Levine and illustrated by Katie Kath. Throughout his book, Arthur A. Levine takes you through a young child’s journey as he watches his grandfather begin to lose his memory. This heartfelt story really hits home for those of us who have dealt with watching a love one lose their memory and those of us who have had to help a child cope with this type of situation.

This image is the front cover of “What a Beautiful Morning,” illustrated by Katie Kath.

The illustrations in this book were one of the first features of the book that caught my eye. This book is dealing with a hard topic for young children to understand: the topic of memory loss. Therefore, I found the light colors and beautiful brush strokes to be a very appropriate way to lighten up a book about this subject. However, the illustrator had a very good use of intentional colors. Throughout the book, when the grandfather is having a moment of memory loss or is getting confused, the illustrator shows this in the images by using gray and bland colors instead of the more vibrant colors used initially. The use of color throughout the illustrations serves as a great tool for young children when reading the book. The colors convey different feelings and emotions, feelings of confusion perhaps, that occur throughout the book.

In this image, the grandfather is forgetting what to do during breakfast time.









As for the writing style, the author approaches this topic by having the story be told from the perspective of a narrator. While reading the book, you get to watch the story of the grandfather’s memory loss unfold before your eyes. Because we don’t have access to any of the inner thoughts of the characters, we as the readers have to use the pictures and context to get inside the character’s minds.

The young boy, Noah, plays an important role in the story. He is the key character, in my opinion, that really allows you children to use this book as a window or a mirror. I feel that this is a great book to read to children to help introduce them to these types of issues. Additionally, this book could be used to help children who may be struggling with a loved one losing their memory. In the story, Noah’s grandmother is a strong character who begins to take on the role that the grandfather once played. The grandmother still encourages Noah to be with his grandfather and interact with him in different ways than he is used to.

Noah, the young boy, is singing and dancing, but also becoming tired because it is a lot of singing for one person to do!

As the book progresses, Noah, with the help of his grandmother, is able to help his grandfather remember things and is able to interact with his grandfather through music. Singing songs is something this family does a lot and the songs help the grandfather remember what to do. This is something that I have personally experienced with my own grandmother who has lost her memory. There is some power to music that helps her to remember things and feel calm. Not only does the role of music act as a potential coping mechanism but it also is a great way for teachers to bring music and the arts into the classroom.

Overall, this book has come to hold a special place in my heart. Even for those of us who have not directly experienced memory loss, this book will tug at your heart but also help children to remember to make the best of everything no matter how hard.

-Amanda Epp

Traditional Thursdays: Off to School, Baby Duck!


Hannah Rosen

Today’s traditional Thursday features a book that is nearing its twentieth anniversary. The children’s picture book Off to School, Baby Duck, which was written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Jill Barton, describes a child’s natural fear of going to school for the first time.

The book cover, illustrating Baby Duck happily going to school.


Even though this book is not new, the message that it sends is timeless and extremely relevant today. This book depicts a situation that almost all children going to preschool or kindergarten experience. In the book, Baby Duck is reluctant to leave her house in the morning. She is dragging her feet on the way to school. She does not want to leave her little sister or her parents.

In this illustration, Baby Duck’s reluctance in clear. The image captures the expression of a nervous child.

An interesting aspect of this book is that it is her grandpa, not her parents, who helps her to become comfortable with the idea of going to school. He is the one who tells her that it will all be alright. He listens to her fears and then goes up to the teacher to help Baby discover that she should not be worried. This communicates the importance of grandparents in the life of children. It depicts how grandparents can have a role and relationship with the child that the parents often cannot assume. The grandparent has a greater depth of knowledge and experiences to draw from, and, as someone who usually does not spend as much time as the parents with the child, can spot when something is wrong with a different perspective. Grandparents are sometimes less threatening and more comforting than parents. Many books today forget about the importance of having a strong relationship with grandparents, and I was happy to see it shine through this story.


Some aspects of this story are a little dated. For example, the names of the characters are not the most empowering. The protagonist, Baby Duck, goes by “Baby”. Children who are going into kindergarten do not want to think of themselves as babies, and therefore should not be called babies. Baby’s little sister is named “Hot Stuff” which is a strange name and also not really appropriate as the name of a baby sister. Also, all of the ducks at the school look generally the same. There could have been a little more diversity amongst the ducks.  Otherwise, the book has held up well for this time period.

The illustrations in the book are bright and appealing for children and adults alike. The illustrations of Baby Duck really capture the emotion of being nervous for school. Baby Duck really does look like a young child in the way that she positions herself and shows her emotion through her face and body language. The book is pleasant all around: in its illustrations, its story, and its message of bravery and new beginnings.

This final page shows Baby Duck’s new excitement for school and all of the new experiences she will encounter inside.

Winner Wednesday: Du Iz Tak?


Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis is a 2017 Caldecott Medal Honor Book and won The E.B. White Read Aloud Award for the category picture books in 2017. I had never heard of this book before, but while perusing the Internet and the shelves of the library, I stumbled upon it and immediately, my interest was sparked. The book tells the story of the life cycle of a plant through the experience of insects that occupy the same habitat. The twist is that it is told entirely in a made-up bug language, so it’s up to readers to piece together what is happening in the story, since the words are unlikely to be of a lot of help. The dialogue isn’t just nonsense and gibberish, it was actually created very intentionally by the author, so that each made-up word actually corresponds to an actual word in the English language. The book has even been translated into other languages and it follows the same pattern in those languages as the book in English does; there’s even one written in Chinese characters!

Since the writing appears unreadable, there is a heavy reliance of the reader on the illustrations. And they don’t disappoint. The background is white on almost every page and every page is set in the same place, with just the plant growing and the insects moving around it. This demonstrates how the plant is changing and growing as the book progresses and makes it clear to the audience what is going on in the story in the absence of concrete words describing it. I also really liked the way the illustrations were done, with great attention paid to the fine details, for example the clothes the insects were wearing or the inside of the log (which doubled as an insect’s home).

This book has potential to be a great learning tool for English language learners in the class or for other students that may be struggling with reading. Not only does the book not rely very heavily on words, which would make it appealing for struggling readers since they could focus on the pictures to tell the story instead of the words, but it could also be used to promote phonological awareness in students. Since these are made up words and students are not going to be familiar with them, they will really have to focus on the letter sound correspondences and in what order the letters are strung together in order to ensure that they are pronouncing the word the best they can using their phonological skills.




Overall, I think that this book could serve a variety of different purposes in the classroom and is a cute and quirky way to show children that reading is not necessarily all about the words on the page and to allow students to have an opportunity to explore books that at first glance may not quite make sense to them.

-Emma Garcia


Trendy Tuesdays: Ibtihaj Muhammad’s “The Proudest Blue”


So, what makes this book Trendy? For one, The Proudest Blue is brand new- the hard cover published just a week ago. More generally, this book follows in the recent trend in children’s literature of including more diverse characters as the central subjects of the story. Ibtihaj Muhammad, one of the authors, is a medalist for the USA with the 2016 Olympics fencing team who also happens to wear a hijab. With almost a week now passed since the annual commemoration of 9/11, many of the discussions I have heard as an educator have been about how we can inform children about what happened that is sensitive to the trauma of the tragedy. An aspect of the repercussions of that day that was not discussed was how it affected American Muslims and invited waves of hate and discrimination that they had to endure. I believe it is important to highlight this, especially with the current political climate of othering.

The book has full wrap around jacket art

Now, to the book. The story follows two sisters, Faizah and Asiya, on their first day of school. But it isn’t just any first day. It is Asiya’s first hijab day, with her wearing it to school for the first time. Faizah is in awe of how beautiful the hijab is and looks forward to her own first hijab day. She gets questions about her sister’s new hijab in class and must find the courage to proudly explain what it is. It isn’t long before a boy at the school makes fun of Asiya’s hijab, calling it a “tablecloth” on her head. Interestingly, this is the same word Ibtihaj remembers a bully using when making fun of her hijab.

Spread showing silhouettes of boys making fun of Asiya’s hijab in the verso page

The text, cowritten with S. K. Ali, captures the pride Faizah has in her sister’s hijab and her own identity. She calls her sister a “princess” wearing the hijab. There are several double page spreads where Faizah describes Asiya’s blue hijab using similes that compare it with the sky and the ocean. The illustrations accompanying these spreads is beautifully done by Hatem Aly, as the hijab flows across the gutter into the other page, taking center stage. In fact, many of the illustrations are full bleed spreads that show the connection between the two sisters and the connection the hijab has to their identity. Even the jacket features full wraparound art that shows Asiya’s hijab bleed into the ocean and sky. The endpapers show the sisters with their parents and offer a bookend to the story for those observant enough to notice.

A spread in the book showing the blue hijab flow from page to page

There are several good chapter books for children that touch on the topic of islamophobia. Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Towers Falling displays its effects on Sabeen and what 9/11 has changed for her life. Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree shows the unwelcoming nature of Samar’s neighbors. But there are not any picture books that I have encountered that address this issue. The Proudest Blue addresses the issue of islamophobia subtly, displaying it as a form of bullying. However, it is a book about more. It is a book about sisters who stick by each other; about children who are proud of who they are, even in the face of ridicule. Importantly, Ibtihaj makes the point in her author’s note that children of color who are not Muslims or hijabis can also relate to the experience of being “othered.”

-Elias Ukule