Category Archives: New Releases

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

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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

I Just Want To Say Good Night

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I Just Want To Say Good Night

This colorful and entertaining picture book is a perfect bedtime story for all ages.  I Just Want To Say Goodnight incorporates the universal story of a child procrastinating their bedtime through a multicultural lens.  The bright and vibrant colors of the illustrations capture the setting in the African village beautifully, while demonstrating sentiment and emotion through the characters as well.  In addition, this book is notably a Caldecott Honor winner.

The book begins with the young girl Lala greeting her father and asking about his day.  The illustrations use the coloring of the sky to indicate that the sun is setting and it is almost the end of the day.  When Lala’s father tells her it is time for bed, she explains that she wants to say good night to a few animals in the village.  She says good night to the fish, the cat, the ants, etc.

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My favorite illustration throughout the book is the double page spread where Lala is saying good night to the monkey.  She kindly bends down to the little monkey’s level and offers him a flower.  The illustration is set with a bright pink and purple sky, and the sun close to the horizon.

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The concept of time passing, and night-time approaching, is wonderfully represented through the illustrations.  As the reader delves deeper into the story, the illustrated sky goes from sunset, to dusk, and then night.  Not only does the sky get darker, but the lighting and contrast in the rest of the illustration develops too.  Lala becomes more of a silhouette as the sky darkens, and shadows begin to appear.

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As time goes on, Lala has difficulty finding anything left to say good night too.  She finally says good nigh to a rock before following her Mama into the house.  Once in bed, she grabs her bed time book, in which the illustration and text both allude to the famous, and classic, bed time board book, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

Author and Illustrator, Rachel Isadora is well-known for her wonderful children’s books in which she seamlessly incorporates playful and relatable stories in African settings and backgrounds.  She truly does a remarkable job of creating books with multicultural themes that children of all ages and ethnicities can thoroughly enjoy.  I absolutely loved this book, for its child-like humor and magnificent pictures, and would recommend it to any parent, family member, or caretaker that is looking for a fun and new book to read during bed time.

 

Casey Quinn

The People Shall Continue/ El Pueblo Seguirá

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The People Shall Continue is a story that tells the history and plights of the indigenous people of America. It was written by Simon J. Ortiz who is a part of the Acoma Pueblo Tribe, and illustrated by Sharol Graves. Originally published in 1977, for its 40th anniversary they republished this special edition in both English and Spanish.

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Told from a third-person perspective, the book begins with how the world came to be. Many years ago, everything was created, and the People were also born. Some say that the People came from many different places, and they went to live in the North, South, East, and West. They had all different jobs, from fishermen to artisans. They were healers and leaders, and they all agreed to take care of the Earth which is the source of all life.            Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.28.39 PM.png

The People, which is how the indigenous people refer to themselves, would visit each other’s lands, and when arguments took place their leaders would remind them that they had to respect one another. Life was hard for them, and when famines or droughts would take place they reminded themselves that they could not take anything for granted and in order to continue, they had to struggle hard for life.            Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.29.30 PM.png

One day something strange started to happen. Men came on the oceans to the Western Coasts. They were strange red-haired men, and they did not stay long. The People then began to hear fearful stories of these strange Spanish men who caused destruction amongst the People. More and more white people came and made treaties with the People to stop their armed fight. The People agreed to live on reservations which had poor land and not much to hunt.          Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.28.31 PM.png

Soon more Americans came and wanted to take the land that the People lived on and change the way that the People lived. They took the children from their families and sent them to schools that were far away. They moved the people into cities across the US, and all the while the People remembered who they were.          Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.29.16 PM

The People looked around them and saw people of all different races and ethnicities being kept down by American power. They realized that they had to share their history with these people as well. They shared their struggles and that they shall continue.

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This book is colorful and weaves the intricate story of the plight of indigenous people in a way that is easily accessible to children without sugar-coating the struggles that they faced.

Jamie Williams

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, tells the story of Arturo Schomburg, a black man living in the Harlem Renaissance. Schomburg collected books, music, art, and other works from Africa and people of African descent to bring to light these often forgotten historical documents and figures. The book follows Arturo’s life from a young black boy in Puerto Rico, curious about the contributions his ancestors made to history, through his journey to New York, and his years of researching and collecting the artifacts of “Africa’s sons and daughters.” When his collection became too big for him to keep, he sold it to the New York Public Library, where it soon became the “cornerstone of the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints.” Arturo Schomburg left a legacy that lives on today; his work has acted as a beacon for scholars all over the world. Through the use of poetry with titles reflecting both the different chapters of Schomburg’s life and the many black historical figures whose work he collected, as well as amazingly realistic illustrations, Schomburg beautifully captures the essence of a man who was always busy working to make sure that his people had their rightful place in history. Written for an older elementary school audience, the book also extends the prime picture book age to include these older children.

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Schomburg gives readers short biographies of many black historical figures, some of whom are well-known today for their contributions to the history of our country. However, while many of these men and women have become household names, their full stories often go untold. The book attempts to bring light to some of the lesser-known aspects of their lives.

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In addition to giving readers more details about many already well-known black historical figures, Schomburg also features many “whitewashed” historical figures: those who were descended from slaves or of African descent but whose ties to Africa are left out of popular history.

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The book ends by returning to focus on the life and legacy of Schomburg himself. As written in the final poem of the book, “Epitaph: 1938”: “There was no field of human endeavor / that he did not till with his determined hand… / or that he did not water with a growing sense / of African heritage and awareness.”

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This book is sorely needed in the world of children’s literature, because it features not only a wide range of black historical figures and those with African heritage, but also the man who made sure that these men and women had their rightful place in history. This book should be read in all schools to ensure that the youth of today get to know this incredible man, and that they can feel the pride of seeing themselves represented in history.

Maya Creamer