Wow, it’s been a month since my last post– sorry folks! In the meantime, I’ve been working on helping my mentee with manuscript edits for “FicFest,” I helped bring a great group of kids to the national Speech & Debate competition in California, and I finished up teaching my classes for the year– finals started today! Happily, I also squeezed in a trip to Barnes & Noble yesterday, so I have a new crop of picture book reviews. Even better, they are ALL for books published within the last month– in fact, one of them technically hasn’t even been officially released! Enjoy!
Title: Mira Forecasts the Future
Author: Kell Andrews
Illustrator: Lissy Marlin
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books (June 2016)
The “gist”: Mira is sad she lacks her mother’s gift as a fortune-teller until she realizes she really can tell the future: the weather!
My favorite part: There are too many books out there where silly adults don’t listen to kids. I love that Mira proves herself to be smart and trustworthy and when it counts, all her adult friends stand behind her and say “Listen to Mira!”
My response as a reader: This book is great on several levels– smart young female doing science? Yes! Discovering your niche? Yes! I also love the coming together of the sort of gypsy/Roma carnival boardwalk vibe with the hard science of meteorology. There aren’t all that many picture books about meteorology and this has just enough non-fiction elements without feeling too “sciency” for the reader who wants a fun story.
My “take-away” as a writer: As I mentioned, I love the blending of fiction and non-fiction in this book. I have a few manuscripts which do the same thing — a bit of guerilla education never hurt anyone– but I have to make sure that the main character is engaging, because in this book, we don’t care about the weather at all until we care about Mira.
Title: Frankie the Blankie
Author: Jennifer Sattler
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury USA/Children’s (May 2016)
The “gist”: Doris the gorilla is ashamed of carrying her blankie, Frankie, but doing without it is too difficult. Happily, she figures out a solution.
My favorite part: I could totally feel that punch in the gut Doris felt when her friends said blankies were for babies. With two boys of my own, I was always worried they would get a cutting remark like that about something they loved. And whether or not they actually ever did, I know they were sometimes afraid they would.
My response as a reader: There’s so much creativity here in all the different uses for the blanket, and although the idea of a child with a beloved blanket is not that new (Linus, anyone?), the story is still totally endearing.
My “take-away” as a writer: I’m not sure how many words are in this book, but it feels really short. And yet, it definitely does all it sets out to do– there is a clear problem, Doris solves the problem, and everyone is happy! The pacing is spectacular: the story seems to swing from tree to tree like Doris and you swing along with it.
Title: The Saddest Toilet in the World
Author: Sam Apple
Illustrator: Sam Ricks
Publisher/Date: Aladdin (June 2016)
The “gist”: Danny will sit just about anywhere but on the toilet. So the poor toilet feels completely neglected…and runs away! Naturally the family has to go looking for him!
My favorite part: I think the title is my favorite part. When I mentioned it to my boys later, they had fun brainstorming just what would happen. The book that follows is just as absurd as it sounds. In the same vein as “The Day the Crayons Quit,” another inanimate object expresses its disgust with a child and hits the road.
My response as a reader: Face it, I’m not the target audience for this book. For the first 4-5 pages I was not impressed. I didn’t roll my eyes, but I thought about it. My kids are potty trained. I’m potty trained. Do I really need to…wait, he runs away? Ok, you got me. He wears a scarf and hat? Bwahaha! He goes on the subway? Yeah, I’m finishing this one.
My “take-away” as a writer: Rule breaker! Another rule breaker! Don’t write about inanimate objects! Oh yeah? Well, if you can do it well, you can write about anything you want! And it helps to have as good an illustrator as Sam Ricks. I’m going to be seeing cute little “smiles” in my toilet lids now for a long time.
Title: You Belong Here
Author: M. H. Clark
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault
Publisher/Date: Compendium Inc. (July 2016)
The “gist”: “The stars belong in the deep night sky, and the moon belongs there too, and the winds belong in each place they blow by, and I belong here with you.” This is the first stanza of an illustrated poem which brings the reader on an affirmation of love and belonging. Yeah, it sounds a little sappy, but it’s really beautiful.
My favorite part: Mostly, I am in love with how beautifully the illustrations play with the text. But then there’s this stanza…Here, read it yourself:
My response as a reader: This entire book reads like a warm hug– it’s a mother and child painting by Mary Cassat. It’s a song of love to a newly adopted child. But it’s also screaming to be read aloud at someone’s wedding. If I were still dating my husband, I’d buy him this book. And we’d get all sappy together about it. Yes, we could still do that, but we’re not as sappy anymore. So I’ll just pretend.
My “take-away” as a writer: I write a lot of poetry and rhymed picture books and I also read a lot of bad rhyming. The rhyme in this one is spot on. It feels completely timeless, from the neat and tiny cursive writing to the old-fashioned black fabric-bound cover. Trust me, if you’ve got a new love and you don’t know how to tell them how you feel, you can read them this book.
Title: Can I tell you a Secret?
Author: Anna Kang
llustrator: Christopher Weyant
Publisher/Date: Harper Collins (May 2016)
The “gist”: Monty is a frog with a problem. As he reveals to the reader, he’s a frog who’s…gulp…afraid of the water.
My favorite part: I’m a total sucker for breaking the fourth wall. It can be gimmicky, but as Gypsy Rose Lee said, “Ya gotta have a gimmick!” In this case, poor Monty is so adorable in his anxiety, the reader just loves being his confidante!
My response as a reader: I’m instantly reminded, of course, of the other fantastic fourth-wall-breaker with a water-dwelling green main character which came out this spring: Julie Falatko’s fantastic “Snappsy.” Snappsy is also a tad neurotic, but he’s more “adult” about it. Meanwhile, Monty reminds me of my youngest son, who is anxious about a LOT of things, including swimming. In fact, Monty seems to have a bit too easy a time of overcoming his fear of the water, which is probably my only complaint about the book. But truly that’s ok in the end, because ultimately swimming wasn’t the biggest fear he had– his biggest fear was actually admitting he was afraid. Which isn’t a bad lesson, all told.
My “take-away” as a writer: Kang’s quick pacing in her dialog with the reader feels very authentic and helps accentuate Monty’s worried nature. I’m working on a manuscript about my son’s anxiety issues. I think a lot of kids have them, so I’m really glad this book exists. (Though of course there’s room for mine too, once it’s accepted).
It’s amazing how many fantastic books have come out just in the last 6 weeks, folks! The shelves are crowded, but you can’t go wrong with any of these!