Category Archives: New Releases

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: “Sulwe” by Lupita Nyong’o

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This week’s marvelous new picture book comes from Academy Award winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o. Sulwe is written by Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. It tells the story of a girl ashamed of her dark complexion until she goes on a nighttime adventure to discover the beauty in her darkness.

Nyong’o uses descriptive language to describe Sulwe’s skin color as “the color of midnight.” She writes that Sulwe did not look like the rest of her family, “not even a little, not even at all.” Her “midnight” darkness is contrasted with her mother’s complexion of “dawn,” her father’s of “dusk” and her sister’s of “high noon.” Nyong’o uses the times of day to extend the imagery of skin complexion.

The book explores a girl’s journey to self-acceptance as she sees her inner beauty. Sulwe is driven to shame over her skin color as her peers exclude her and called her hurtful nicknames like “blackie” and “darky,” while they called her light-skinned sister “ray” and “sunshine”. Driven by this shame, she tries everything from using an eraser on her skin to using makeup to eating bananas to lighten her complexion. After all of these attempts fail, she turns to prayer. Her prayer ends with a rhyme, “if you hear me, my lord, and would like to comply, may I wake up as bright as the sun in the sky” only to find “not a trace of daylight in her midnight skin.” She is consoled by her mother, who tells her to look for her inner beauty. As she goes to bed that night, a shooting star appears in her room and takes her on a journey. She sees the story of night and day as sisters and how people wanted day but not night, calling them names similar to the ones Sulwe and her sister get called: “lovely,” “nice,” and “pretty” for day, and “scary,” “ugly” and “bad” for night. Nyong’o draws this parallel between Sulwe’s experiences and the legend she is told. After realizing that only daylight is exhausting, the people plead to have night back, recognizing her unique beauty as Sulwe claims her own beauty.

This spread shows the descriptions of Sulwe’s family’s skin complexions

Harrison’s full-bleed illustrations complement Nyong’o’s writing and set up a rich contrast between light and dark. We see Sulwe standing on her own against a starry midnight sky in the opening spread. Her attempts to lighten her skin are displayed in panel format. The illustrations grow bolder and brighter as Sulwe goes on her nighttime adventure with a shooting star. The sisters in the legend, night and day, are pictured beautifully, their colors contrasting on each spread, but still mirroring each other as sisters do. In the final spread, we see Sulwe standing alone, this time in a light and bright background.

The most beautiful spread in my opinion, depicting night and day-two sisters in Sulwe’s legend

Nyong’o based the story on similar experiences of being teased for her dark complexion, as she outlines in her author’s note. Though she notes that the fantastical adventure Sulwe goes on is fiction, it symbolizes a journey to self-acceptance that the author did go through. With the obsession with lighter skin as a standard for beauty in African and African American communities, this book is a great way to push back and show children to value inner beauty. Even if this book does not serve as a mirror to a child’s experiences, the theme of self-acceptance is a universal one any reader will connect with.

-Elias Ukule

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Home in the Woods

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Home in the Woods, written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, was released on October 1st and captures the story of one family’s struggle over the course of a year. The front endpapers of the book reveal more context about the story and function as a map of the woods where the family lives.

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The book is divided by season and begins with a family portrait of six-year-old Marvel, her seven brothers and sisters, and their mom. It is quickly revealed that their father recently died, and Marvel and her family must find a new home. They find a shack in the woods and decide to call it home.

This book does not shy away from expressing difficult emotions. Marvel, the narrator, openly expresses that the shack is cold and empty (like she feels inside) and is honest about the financial hardship they endure. Everyone must do their part, as shown throughout the book.

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The book begins with Summer and progresses through the seasons over the course of one year. While the overall color scheme of the book has a lot of gray/green/teal, the colors used also change with the seasons. Above we see the reds, oranges, and yellows incorporated for the Autumn pages in the book. Winter is very white and snowy, and for Spring Wheeler adds pinks and purples and lots of flowers.

As you read along, the seasons, colors, and the family all change as life in the shack becomes their new normal. Wheeler shows Marvel and her siblings playing in the woods, making jam, and doing chores. She makes use of all the space on some pages, but strategically places some images in empty space to make them stand out. The illustrations have an old-timey feel, which makes sense after reading the author’s note.

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At the end, Marvel reflects on the love and warmth her family has brought into the shack. The shack is now warm, bright, and filled with love (like she feels inside!) and this serves as a perfect parallel to contrast her feelings at the start of the book. On the last page, the author’s note tells the story of the author’s grandmother, Marvel, and the shack she lived in with her mom and seven siblings during the Great Depression.

Wheeler’s ability to tell her grandmother’s story is absolutely beautiful and the accompanying illustrations are pleasing for both children and adults. I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I did, and Happy Monday!

-Kelly Santiago

Marvelous New Picture Books: The Good Egg

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Marvelous New Picture Books: The Good Egg

Recently, while browsing the children’s section at Barnes and Nobel, I stumbled across a book with the most adorable cover. Of course, I could not help but pick it up and read it on the spot. Within the first few pages, I knew that I would definitely be buying this book for my future classroom collection.

Jory John and Pete Oswald really outdid themselves with this one. The dynamic duo, who also wrote the very popular book, The Bad Seed, captivate audiences once again with their humorous and heartwarming work. In this book, readers follow the story of the Good Egg. He is always good, very good. The Good Egg spends most of his days helping those around him, making sure that everyone is being good, and doing his part to clean up the messes that everyone leaves behind. Good Egg wishes that others would be as good as he is, but unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want. Eventually, Good Egg decides that he has had enough. He is quite literally cracking under the pressure of trying to keep everyone else good all the time.

Good Egg goes on a journey to heal himself and reflect on what really matters in life. Eventually, Good Egg returns to the rest of the dozen with a new outlook on life. And of course, he is welcomed back with open arms.

 

I would absolutely recommend this book to teachers and anyone that has a position to read to children. Not only are the illustrations some of the cutest I have ever seen, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this book. Even I, at 21 years old, was reminded of some of the more important things in life. Adults can use this book to teach children about balance and self-care. It can also be used to remind kids that not everyone is perfect all the time. It’s okay to enjoy the fun things in life.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the book, I’ve attached a link here!

The Good Egg Book Trailer

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Mary Wears What She Wants

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We are in an age of children’s books that portray messages of acceptance of people from all backgrounds. When I initially saw Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley, I expected the story to be about a gender fluid child but I was very wrong.

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This book follows Mary Walker, one of the first women in history to be known to have worn pants. The book was published this year and discussion of it is fitting given the recent celebration of International Women’s Day. While the story may not be entirely historically accurate, it provides an important window for children to the ways in which the world has changed. It could also be a great conversation starter about the stark gender inequality that exists in other parts of the world and the ways in which not all societies have the privileges that America does. Negley includes a mini-biography of Mary Walker at the end of the book that describes her accomplishments beyond choosing to wear pants that could, likewise, spark interesting discussion with children.

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Beyond the written aspect, the book has lovely illustrations that are unlike those in many children’s books. There is a good mix of simple spreads and more complex ones.

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The book could stand to represent a greater variety of racial diversity, but this may be reflective of the time period in which the story is set. I appreciate the focus on the colors pink and blue, which are traditionally gendered colors and Mary’s yellow clothing to signify her break from normative behavior. I enjoyed the mix of drawn media and the collage element with the cut-out shapes that comprised some of the characters’ clothing.

Overall, I believe the book is well done and would be a worthwhile addition to any classroom library.

-Rita McLaughlin

Free Friday: Heartbeat

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Although this picture book would perhaps fit best under Marvelous New Picture Books, after reading it I could not resist the urge to have it exposed to more people as soon as possible. Heartbeat, a beautiful book published this year that was written and illustrated by Evan Tuck, only took one read to become an instant favorite.

Right away, the colorful cover is an incentive to read and enjoy the book. I definitely recommend (if you are a parent or teacher reading this book) to go ahead and read the author’s note before you read the book, because there will be a lot more details you can notice and be able to pick out in the book.

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When the cover is peeled back, it reveals a different image that later on, would be represented in the story. I personally appreciated the fact that the aesthetic of both covers matched, though they weren’t necessarily meant to be seen together.

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The visual beauty of this book continues with pitch black end pages that melt into the beginning of the story. Perhaps one of the most beautiful pages earlier on was that of the mother and daughter whale’s synergy as they sung together. However, as we approach the climax of the story, the beautiful red and blue hues are disrupted by a sharp jab of white.

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I believe Turk managed to execute this scene beautifully, as the novelty and foreignness of the human spear is very clear, and the typography of the heartbeats induce a panicked feeling of anxiety. Somehow, Turk is so expressive that over the next seven pages, even with nothing but the words “beat” and “heartbeat”, a reader is able to track the path of the baby whale who has now been left all alone.

Turk made the conscious choice to change the baby whale to a white color, and slowly begin to move it through human elements while relating the photos to uses that humans had found for whales (such as candles or as part of weapons).

It was clear both here and in the illustration of the only colorful human (a little girl) that Turk made the distinct choice to use different styles for the whales’ versus humans’ world.

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The way that Turk finally reincorporates color is extremely expressive as it models how one little girl’s voice can reach out and make a difference for the daughter whale who has been wandering almost aimlessly with nothing but a white emptiness till she is “full” again.

This book was sparse on words but was so expressive in terms of illustrations that I would even say it would be a book to look out for for possibly winning the Caldecott Award. The book is able to express the horrors of whale-hunting, of how whales have helped humans in so many ways, and how times have and are changing with new waves of people like the purple girl at the end who want to keep them safe.

I believe that this is an excellent book to read, especially when talking to children in relation to the animal kingdom. I believe the book shows how humans have acted in the past and how things have changed, and can open up the topic of how certain animals have been approached in the past in comparison to the present. This could work for an ocean unit or even a general unit on humans versus the wild.

Overall, the book was a powerful story that celebrated the change in humans’ attitudes towards whale-hunting and their impact on wildlife. I hope that children will read this with an appreciation of the beautiful art but also of the beautiful message: we have come so far, and we will only continue to further enhance our future as we better learn ways to protect and appreciate our dwindling wildlife.

-Hannah Park

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: The Honeybee

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The Honeybee, written by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is a newer children’s picture book that became available May 8, 2018. It tells the story of a hive of honeybees and their yearlong journey from Spring to Spring. The illustrations stood out to me immediately- very pretty yellows and oranges with pops of pink in the flowers and black on the honeybees in the cover art. I am also drawn to anything flying considering birds and flying insects have been of particular interest to my 2-year-old and 4-year-old daughters this Spring and Summer. Why bees do what they do can feel mysterious and often the unknown can be scary for children. This story provides incredible imagery and descriptions of a bee’s life through the fun and information-packed lens a child can grasp.

The inside cover is playful with black and yellow stripes and the cute snippet, “BZZZ… What’s that? So you hear it? You’re near it. It’s closer, it’s coming, it’s buzzing, it’s humming…” with the whizzing bee trail around it. Reading that alone is exciting for the child, the “bzzz” sounds are unique to a bee and are fun to say and read together. It is very foretelling of the fun and exploratory story of the bee and its quest for pollen (as well as what happens after). The tone is fun and the sounds and rhyme of the story give it kind of whirling rhythm that is very fitting to bees movement. The story is accurate as a description of nature- it tells of the bee’s quest for nectar, it’s gathering of pollen, its zooming around, the return to the hive, the dance to show other bees where they found their pollen, the process of changing the chemical makeup to make its honey, how it’s stored, and how they stay in with what they’ve packed away for the Winter all huddled together with their queen. It’s an adventure into the life of bees with the bees themselves and both the writing and the illustrations create the perfect scene.

The illustrations are the right balance of bold yellow and black honeybees and subtle flowers with incredible contrast. The mix is just beautiful- pages of lovely flowers and a whizzing trail immediately followed by a double page spread of a happy, smiling bee.

 

There are pages of soft watercolor flowers and grey background details on a white background followed by a series of pages inside the hive with black background and thin white hexagonal hive patterns. The bees are given facial features that appear friendly and soft and not at all scary. This is great insight to bees as gatherers in nature and not just mean insects with stingers. The flowers contain pops of iridescent orange that emphasize the ultraviolet pattern bees see so they know where to get pollen. The illustrations of nature and the hive and flowers and the bees are slightly whimsical but still based in reality allowing for simple connections to be made between the story and the world around us.

Additionally, within the last few pages of the book, there is a great letter from the author encouraging kids to care about the future of bees and their effect on the environment. I highly recommend the book for children who are interested in nature and the world around them, as well as anyone interested in bees and beautiful books.

By Andrea Runnells

La La La

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Described as a story of hope, La La La by Kate DiCamillo is a nearly wordless picture book that captures the emotions of the process of finding a friend. Jaime Kim’s illustrations use bright colors, incredible detail, and soft features to bring this story to life.

L 2This story follows a little girl’s journey as she explores the world in search of companionship. Everywhere she goes she sings out in the hopes of hearing a response from someone, anyone. Beginning with a daytime world the little girl explores and sings out, but hears no response. As she becomes frustrated she gives up until she sees that the world has changed. It is now nighttime and she decides to venture out again into the world in search of a friend.

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L 4Upon her discovery of the moon, she becomes incredibly hopeful that she has found a companion, but when the moon does not respond to any of her singing she decides to try and get closer. Climbing a ladder up into the sky, she calls with all her might to the moon but receives no answer. Truly defeated, she returns to her lonely, bland world. Eventually the little girl falls asleep, only to be awoken by a strong voice singing out. Her world is light up by a beam of light coming from the source of the singing.

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The little girl finds the rising sun beaming down at her. Finally, the girl’s call of “La” is heard by someone and responded to with an enthusiastic “LA! LA!”. Having found each other and successfully bonded to create a true friendship, the story ends with the rising sun and the little girl singing a beautiful song together.

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The author and illustrator notes at the end of the book discuss the creation of this story as simple designs that became a representation of human experiences. DiCamillo says that the message of the book is to remember that “even if we are small and alone and afraid, if we sing, sometimes someone answers back”. Kim’s note about the process of illustrating this story talks about her personal experiences as a little girl and trying to capture the feelings of loneliness, searching for a friend, and the overwhelming relief and love that comes with finally finding someone. This beautiful and delicate story of the search for friendship tells an incredibly relatable tale through mesmerizing illustrations that leave the reader with a powerful feeling of hope.

 

Josie Mark