NEWS!!! Loyal readers know that I’m over the moon about the upcoming publication of my first picture book, THE GREAT HOLIDAY COOKIE FIGHT. The biggest news is that I finally have a PUBLICATION DATE!! Mark your calendars for the big book birthday on October 15, 2020! Yes, it’s over a year away, but I’m sure it will fly by!
In honor of my “due date,” I decided to make a trip to my local big box bookstore and check out just where that book is going to live. In other words, where does “Kyer” fall in the bookshelf? Who will my fellow K and L authors be? Today’s book reviews are all picture books which would be found directly before or directly after my book on the shelf. And they’re all lovely neighbors! Enjoy!
Author: Robin Koontz
Illustrator: Robin Proud
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books (April 2, 2019)
The “gist”: A little girl is obsessed with bugs and frustrated by math– until she discovers how to use her passion to help her master math too!
My favorite part: I loved the “ah-ha” moment when Bug realized that she really COULD do math. As a teacher, that’s the moment which makes everything worth it. We can guide kids to knowledge and understanding, but it’s the moment they accept it for themselves which is really magical.
My response as a reader: While the story is pretty adorable and relatable, I also loved that the illustrations had a great child like quality, almost like Bug was illustrating her book herself and bringing us into her world– it just fit perfectly.
My “take-away” as a writer: This book is the textbook definition of “character-driven” (a common descriptor for picture books which generally revolve around a single character and whose development forms the basis of the plot). The audience loves Bug immediately and as a mentor text, this book is great because little Bug is lovable, but far from perfect. Nevertheless, she is able to solve her problem all by herself. I’ll be putting future manuscripts through the Bug test when I think about whether or not they are truly character-driven!
Title: When Pencil Met Eraser
Author: Karin Kilpatrick & Luis O. Ramos, Jr.
Illustrator: Germán Blanco
Publisher/Date: Imprint (May 28, 2019)
The “gist”: Pencil and Eraser have two very different jobs…or are they really that different?
My favorite part: The illustrations here are so important– I loved how the pictures played together so you could really see how the eraser was an integral part of creating the art.
My response as a reader: I’m all over non-traditional stories like this– from The Day the Crayons Quit, to Red: A Crayon’s Story, to Exclamation Mark, these adventures in anthropomorphic writing items are so much fun. In browsing the Amazon page for this book I found a ton of other books about pencils, and I’ll admit I haven’t read them all, but this one is definitely fun and unique!
My “take-away” as a writer: I’m not sure how many more “new” ideas there are out there, but reading this book definitely inspires me to look around my house and start imagining backstories for everyday objects, even if it’s just as a writing exercise. It’s fun– I highly recommend it!
Author: Lana Wayne Koehler & Gloria G. Adams
Illustrator: Ken Min
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books; 1st Edition edition (March 1, 2016)
The “gist”: The main character would love a pet, but his sister is allergic to everything he brings home (from A-Z)…until he finds the perfect one.
My favorite part: My favorite moment was the one where I realized I’m a complete idiot and I’d been reading an ABC book this entire time. I won’t tell you when in the book that was, just that I very did one of those “palm to the forehead” things. D’oh!
My response as a reader: My husband has allergies, and I know lots of others who can’t have traditional pets because of allergies, so this book fills a good niche. It’s especially nice that it has a satisfying solution. (Though one I’m glad my family didn’t have to resort to– we were able to get a non-shedding rescue dog).
My “take-away” as a writer: While this book is adorable and I generally try to avoid any criticism in the reviews I post on this blog, I will muse aloud at one thing…I generally use Amazon as a quick search to find things like publication information, and there are at least four picture books on Amazon with this exact title (spelled “Ah-choo”) and at least four more with the alternate spelling of “Achoo.” I have to wonder what happens when there are so many books with the same title? Were other titles considered? (In a related vein, it was really hard for me to find Bug on Amazon, since I was instantly given thousands of books about bugs).
Title: No Frogs in School
Author: Alexandria LaFaye
Illustrator: Églantine Ceulemans
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books (August 7, 2018)
The “gist”: Bartholemew loves all his pets and desperately wants to bring them to school, but he also wants to follow the rules, and his teacher keeps making new ones to keep his pets away.
My favorite part: The best part for me was reading the bio of the illustrator and learning she was from Belgium and lived in France. Instantly, my language teacher hat came out and I paged back through the book to see if I could identify anything “European” in the illustrations. Yep! Here’s one example– look at the photo to the right and see if you can tell that this illustrator wasn’t working from a US-perspective:
My response as a reader: Following up on the cultural example from the photo to the right, maybe you noticed the difference, maybe not, but I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t have noticed this was not a North American school unless I’d pointed it out. We have more similarities than differences in this world and I love that this story works no matter where the school is located!
My “take-away” as a writer: At the most recent meeting of my critique group, I told a fellow member that he might consider changing the alliterative names in his manuscript (things like Sally Starfish and Buddy Bear, for example) because they can sound corny and some publishers don’t like them. But there are always books out there to prove you wrong like this one! Some alliteration is beloved in kids books (Two of my childhood favorites, Danny the Dinosaur and Mike Mulligan come to mind) and in this case it works because we are meant to believe that Bartholomew Botts (also alliterative!) named them and any name kids choose is ok.
Title: Mirabel’s Missing Valentines
Author: Janet Lawler
Illustrator: Olivia Chin Mueller
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books (December 4, 2018)
The “gist”: Mirabel is nervous about handing out Valentines, but she feels better when she sees how much they are loved by their recipients.
My favorite part: I loved the beginning when she’s making her Valentines– she is nervous about it but she still very carefully hand makes each one.
My response as a reader: This is such a charming little book and has a real old-fashioned feel, right down to the scrapbook style cover. Having had a son with anxiety, I completely relate to the adorable Mirabel’s anxiety about Valentine’s day and I love her joy at the end.
My “take-away” as a writer: Another book in rhyme! Hooray! I’m glad my “neighbors” include some great rhyming authors. New writers are always admonished from writing in rhyme and they’re sometimes confused because so many rhyming books are still published. The truth is, it’s just really, REALLY hard to do rhyming books well. We’ve all read bad ones. This one isn’t.