February Picture Book Reviews: Tell your own story!

My darling husband knows the best present for Valentine’s Day is time in a bookstore! So I am thankful to have time to bring you this month’s book reviews! I was torn between catching up with the new releases I have been dying to read, focusing on Black History month, checking out some award winners, or just grabbing some of those fabulous finds by authors and illustrators I know I love. So this month brings us a little of everything– in fact they could not be more different from each other, and they are all stories unique to their authors!

Title: It will be OK
Author: Lisa Katzenberger
Illustrator: Jaclyn Sinquett
Publisher/Date: 
Sourcebooks Explore (February 2, 2021)
The “gist”:  Giraffe is scared of a spider and won’t come out of his tree, but his friend Zebra supports him and lets him know “It will be OK.”
My favorite part: I loved that when Giraffe finally approaches the spider, the spider is scared of HIM!
My response as a reader: 
This is an important topic written in a gentle way that would appeal to a lot of kids, especially those with anxiety. Similar to Emily Kilgore’s The Whatifs, readers learn that facing fears head on can sometimes take the fear away– but if it doesn’t, well, the support of a friend is the next best thing.
My “take-away” as a writer:
 I have a son with anxiety, and he has inspired one of my manuscripts which explores the conflict between extroverts and introverts. It is nice to see these books finally getting on the shelves so kids can learn some of these social-emotional coping skills!

Title: My Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World
Author: Malcolm Mitchell
Illustrator: Michael Robertson
Publisher/Date: 
Orchard Books (December 29, 2020)
The “gist”:  Henley panics when his teacher assigns him to bring in his favorite book– he tries to love reading, but finds it really hard. In the end he finds just the right solution– writing his own story!
My favorite part: I loved Malcolm’s introduction on the very first page, letting the reader know that he really loved the idea of reading and recognized how important it was, but he was vulnerable enough to admit it was hard for him. My heart went out to him for sharing that he even struggled reading items in the grocery store when he was in college.
My response as a reader:
 I think this would be a great choice for a lot of kids who might be embarasssed to admit they don’t love reading. It is also an awesome motivator for kids to write their own stories!
My “take-away” as a writer:
Frequent readers of my blog will recognize one of my aphorisms: there are stories only YOU can tell. Malcolm’s story is definitively not MY story and I could not have written this– but we are all called upon to find OUR stories.

Title: Little Fox and the Wild Imagination
Author: Jorma Taccone
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Publisher/Date: 
Roaring Brook Press; Illustrated edition (September 8, 2020)
The “gist”:  Little Fox is in a bad mood, but his dad draws him out of it by starting them on a binge of wild imaginative adventures.
My favorite part:Father Fox is such an awesome dad! My favorite moment is when he realizes taking little Fox for ice cream might not have been a great idea!
My response as a reader: 
Dan Santat is a rockstar– I love anything he has done, which is notable since he has done both tender emotional pieces (Drawn Together, After the Fall), and hilarious ones like this (and Dude, etc.). I saw him speak on a panel at a conference once, and it was a great art lesson even for a non-artist like me!
My “take-away” as a writer:
When I read books like this, I sometimes get a little discouraged– these guys are the “cool kids” — even with a “wild imagination” of my own, I can’t imagine coming up with such cool and over the top ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s still room on the shelf for books like mine, but these guys are kind of in a different league.

Title: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
Author: Joanna Ho
Illustrator: Dung Ho
Publisher/Date: 
HarperCollins (January 5, 2021)
The “gist”:  The girl in the story is sometimes envious of the eyes of some of her classmates, which are like “sapphire lagoons,” but she soon notices that her eyes are also special, and connect her to her mother, grandmother and sister.
My favorite part: I love the culture embedded in the illustrations such as the traditional dresses and dancing dragons.
My response as a reader: 
I love reading stories that introduce me to new worlds, particularly those with strong emotional family connections like this one. And the title is such a perfect image! (I will add the minor caveat that if your family includes adoptive children, it may not be as appropriate since it centers on the belonging that comes with looking like your family members).
My “take-away” as a writer:
Like Malcolm Mitchell’s story above, this is definitely a story I can’t tell, but Joanna Ho’s beautiful imagery and language is a great lesson in lyrical writing.

Title: Nerp!
Author/Illustrator: Sarah Lynne Reul
Publisher/Date: 
Sterling Children’s Books; Illustrated edition (March 3, 2020)
The “gist”:  Neither baby nor pet wants their dinner (Nerp!) even though Mom gives lots of options, all using wonderful nonsense language.
My favorite part: This has a fantastic “Jabberwocky”feel to it– a perfect mix of recognizable words and complete fabrications. For example “Would you eat oogley boogley scrumplenosh?” So fun!
My response as a reader: 
I loved this enough that I made my 15 year old read this in the middle of the store. He was not as effusive as I am, but he is not very vocal on his best days. I would LOVE to read it to a kid in the target demographic– I am sure little ones would love it!
My “take-away” as a writer:
It would be an amazing writing exercise to create new language and tell a story with it. The limited language is somewhat similar to another favorite, This Orq. He Cave Boy by David Elliot and Lori Nichols. I am much better at lyrical and flowery than short and sweet, but it is a great thing to work on!

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