March Picture Book Reviews: Perseverance and Joy!

This month’s picture book choices are all about persistence and belief in beauty!

I was so excited to look for books to review this afternoon — so many I have been wanting to read– and yet I also wanted to honor some Asian authors as part of efforts to #stopasianhate. After I ran around grabbing books like a kid in a candy shop I realized they do have a bit of a thread running through them– strong characters, or characters who wish they were strong, stories of stepping out of the shadows and becoming who you were meant to be…all stories we all need right now after a long winter of struggling through a pandemic.

Title: We are Water Protectors
Author: Carole Lindstrom
Illustrator: Michaela Goade
Roaring Brook Press; Illustrated edition (March 17, 2020)
The “gist”:  The water connects us and is part of us. It has memory and power — it is up to all of us to protect water, but it is particularly in the soul of the Native Americans who make their voice heard in this book.
My favorite part: Any one of the two-page spreads in this book could be in an art gallery or hanging on your wall. The starry skies, flowing water, hands clasped as families, etc. — all so beautiful and evocative!
My response as a reader:
 When you see the Caldecott medal sticker on a book, you know you are in for something special. This book is inspiring and makes me wish I could stand with those who protest the “black snake.”
My “take-away” as a writer:
 One thread which comes back over and over in my reviews is the idea of telling a story only you can tell. Though certainly WE are all water protectors in a way, Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade are clearly telling a story which is so deeply a part of who they are, it is the definition of #ownvoices.

Title:Finding Beauty
Author/Illustrator: Talitha Shipman
Beaming Books; Illustrated edition (February 9, 2021)
The “gist”:  In sparse text, the story describes how a girl has been beautiful since she was born, but learns to see beauty in everything around her, including things others might not find beautiful.
My favorite part: Although it made me cry, the scene of beauty finding you when you are sad (as a girl mourns her buried pet) is subtle but really lovely.
My response as a reader:
 I love the simplicity of this book and I can definitely imagine reading it with my children when they were small– it’s a like a little prayer of thankfulness.
My “take-away” as a writer:
 When I knew my book would be published in 2020, I joined a group for authors with books releasing in 2020. Talitha was a founder of that group and has been a wonderful cheerleader for all of us even though her book’s release date was pushed back due to Covid. I love the supportive friends I have made in the writing community!

Title: Ten Little Dumplings
Author: Larissa Fan
Illustrator: Cindy Wume
Tundra Books (January 5, 2021)
The “gist”:  In a small town in China, a family has 10 sons. This is also the premise of a famous Chinese folktale, but it happens to be a true story– except in this case the town celebrates and honors the 10 brothers while overlooking their little sister.
My favorite part:I will admit, I really wasn’t sure where the story was going at first until the sister was introduced. The twist was a wonderful surprise!
My response as a reader:
I really loved the personal story in the back matter describing how the story was based on her father and his siblings. Who thought that a book which spends half of its pages focusing on the development of 10 boys would end up highlighting the girl in the end!?
My “take-away” as a writer:
Hey, guess what! Here is another story that only Larissa could tell! What is YOUR story?

Author: Kobe Yamada
Illustrator: Elise Hurst
Compendium; Illustrated edition (December 15, 2020)
The “gist”:  A boy asks a talented sculptor how he does it and learns that it takes…time and practice.
My favorite part: I love it when the sculptor takes the boy into the garden where he keeps his “failed” sculptures.
My response as a reader:
I would love to own almost every book I review, but very few of them end up on my bookshelf– this was one of them. I had my 11 year old son read it as well and he actually admitted that he liked it. We are struggling with him to learn the same lessons as in the book (both in art, and in his violin lessons as well as in school subjects), so it was very timely.
My “take-away” as a writer:
It was surprising to me that this book was not author illustrated, seeing as it centers around art. I was very impressed with how well the illustrations capture the story. The illustration gives it a dream-like quality, hinting at detail but not giving away everything. Thus, the reader can bring their own impressions to the story.

Title:The Magical Yet
Author: Angela DiTerlizzi
Illustrator: Lorena Alvarez
Little, Brown BYR; Illustrated edition (April 21, 2020)
The “gist”:  See that little pink smiley spirit on the girl’s head? That is the “yet” — add it to anything you can’t do, and you can keep going until someday you can do it!
My favorite part: I really love how the artist personified the concept of “yet” as a little spirit that is with you cheering you on! Not only is it adorable, but it is a great way to think of feeling supported. It reminds of Emily Kilgore’s lovely “Whatifs” (reviewed here recently). As a Christian it is also a way to think of the holy spirit supporting you and guiding you to great things.
My response as a reader:
I’m a teacher, and for the past ten years or so, the concept of “mindset” has been huge in the education world. Having a fixed mindset means saying things like “I am not good at math,” or “I will never be able to speak German fluently.” A growth mindset means transforming those statements: with the help of “yet.” So this is an awesome book for any classroom!
My “take-away” as a writer:
This is a rhymed story, but it doesn’t hit you in the face with the rhyme– the meter doesn’t always fall into place perfectly, but it has a good conversational quality that might have been stilted if it had been shoehorned into perfect alignment. I write both in rhyme and prose, but in this case, I think rhyme works well because it gives it more of a magical quality.

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