Wow, I haven’t done a set of reviews in a while! Sorry about that! My day job gets in the way sometimes! However, having just submitted my semester grades this past Wednesday, my husband insisted I have some “me time” and go off to read picture books. He’s a good guy!
What an overwhelming selection of great stuff is out there right now! So hard to choose! I am going with some of my favorite authors this time– almost all of them are sequels of a sort. Let’s dig in!!
Title: Sophia Valdez, Future Prez
Author: Andrea Beaty
Illustrator: David Roberts
Publisher/Date: Harry N. Abrams (November 5, 2019)
Read if you loved… Rosie Revere: Engineer
The “gist”: Sofia is tired of the huge trash pile in her neighborhood and decides the town needs a new park. But that will take some work!
My favorite part: I really appreciated her anxiety that she felt everyone was counting on her and she might not be able to accomplish her goal. Heroines and leaders aren’t always confident all the time, no matter how they look on the outside.
My response as a reader: When I saw this book title, I assumed she would be running for class president or something. The fact that she wasn’t actually trying to be political, but instead actually DO something makes it much more meaningful!
My “take-away” as a writer: While I was sitting in the bookstore looking at picture books today, a little girl came up to me and we talked about books for a while. She honestly looked EXACTLY like Sofia Valdez. She showed me some of her favorites and said she had read Rosie Revere but not this one. I asked if she would like me to read it to her and I did, noting that SHE could be president someday too. She gave me a big smile and it reminded me that she is exactly the audience Andrea Beaty (and I) write for. It was a great moment.
Title: Bruce’s Big Storm
Author & Illustrator: Ryan Higgins
Publisher/Date: Disney-Hyperion (September 3, 2019)
Read if you loved… Any of the Mother Bruce stories
The “gist”: Poor Bruce. He just wants his peace and quiet, especially when hunkering down for a storm. Too bad his woodland neighbors have other ideas!
My favorite part: I was very amused to find the little “Easter egg” — Bruce is reading a book by “Ame D.” which can only be a nod to fellow kidlit-ster Ame Dyckman (author of many fun books such as Wolfie the Bunny and Horrible Bear!)
My response as a reader: I loved that in a crisis, not only does Bruce show his true helpful character, but he actually accepts the help of others, too. Over the course of the many Bruce books, his character remains consistently grumpy, but Ryan lets JUST enough of his sweet character come through without giving us a complete change.
My “take-away” as a writer: Ryan actually just lives in the next town over, and we were lucky enough to go to a signing years ago — a signed poster from which hangs in my boys’ bedroom. So Ryan’s work reminds me that if he can make it big from our little corner of the world, maybe I can too. (Even if I am not an amazing artist like he is!)
Title: The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: Ross MacDonald
Publisher/Date: Disney-Hyperion (October 15, 2019)
Read if you loved… 7 ate 9
The “gist”: In another “Private I” mystery, capital letters have gone missing and it is up to the detective to find them!
My favorite part: Tara Lazar is so amazing with wordplay. This is one of only two books I let myself bring home today, because I know I can read it over and over.
My response as a reader: I have been so looking forward to reading this ever since I brought home “7 ate 9”– such a clever premise and so well done, it’s like reading a sketch from Sesame Street.
My “take-away” as a writer: Another reason I bought Tara’s book today is a little thank you for the hard work she does putting on a fantastic annual event for writers called Storystorm. Through her blog and social media, she facilitates a challenge for writers (of all genres) to record 30 ideas in 30 days (they could be a completely fleshed out plot or as simple as “penguins riding bicycles”– but don’t take that one, it’s mine!). I only accomplished 25 ideas this January, but that is 25 more than I had at the start of the year and now I have some great inspiration to turn to as I write through the next months. Thanks, Tara!
Author: Adam Rex
Illustrator: Claire Keane
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books (October 1, 2019)
Read if you loved… The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
The “gist”: If you’ve ever talked with a very young child and been totally worn down by all the “why’s”, you will appreciate that they might just have the power to defeat a supervillain.
My favorite part: OK, if I have any loyal readers left (or ever had any), they might remember that I love pointing out books that don’t “follow the rules.” One rule is that the protagonist has to solve their own problem. On the surface, the little girl here does nothing but say “why” through the entire book, so perhaps it seems like she doesn’t solve anything– but I will not spoil the ending except to reveal that she might have been genius after all.
My response as a reader: I am old enough to remember some really early computer technology including a software program called ELIZA which was like a very basic therapist– it would ask questions like “Really?” and “Tell me more about that.” Talk therapy is actually a lot like that– sometimes it helps just to get it all out. In that respect, this little girl is on the right track.
My “take-away” as a writer: It occurs to me that I could use a similar questioning system to develop the plots to some of my stories– just keep asking why characters are doing what they are doing!
Title: The Cool Bean
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Pete Oswald
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins (December 3, 2019)
Read if you loved…The Bad Seed or The Good Egg
The “gist”: Bean used to have a set of friends, but now they are all cool beans and he feels left out.
My favorite part: I really identified with Bean’s early backstory– the idea that he and the cool beans USED to be friends and then suddenly were not. I had a neighbor growing up was my best friend until we started going to school and then suddenly she was much closer with other kids at school than with me. Years later I still remember how much that hurt.
My response as a reader: My two boys each identified with the previous two books in this series, one with Bad Seed, the other with Good Egg. I wondered about this new book and if its story would resonate–and it did. With me. I have never felt like one of the cool kids and have never been great in social situations. I definitely felt Bean’s insecurity!
My “take-away” as a writer: Looking at the construction of this story, I like that Bean’s problem was not solved in a predictable way. I think the typical response would have been to vilify the cool beans and say “who needs ’em.” Jory John’s actual approach was unique and I really appreciated it. (No spoilers!)