July Picture Book Reviews: Fish out of Water…

July has been a busy month. School may be out, but even though I have been “on vacation,” my days have been filled. We have been building an addition on our house and it’s finally progressed far enough to move furniture (And books! So many books!) which also involves lots of sorting and de-cluttering. Combine that with some family issues, houseguests and plans for a week-long teacher workshop next week and I’ve had my hands full. Fortunately, I was finally able to get another bookstore visit in and explore some more wonderful new picture book releases– many of which are by authors I already know and love. I rarely go into this with a theme in mind, but yet again they seem to have coalesced into some commonalities. Each of them is about being in a new place and all the nervousness/change that can bring. Enjoy!

Title: The New Kid has Fleas
Author: Ame Dyckman
Illustrator: Eda Kaban
Roaring Brook Press; Illustrated edition (June 15, 2021)
The “gist”:  No one is too sure about the new kid in class, particularly the narrator who is assigned to work with her on a class project!
My favorite part:  It is typical of Ame Dyckman’s zaniness that the new kid seems to literally be raised by wolves and no one raises an eyebrow. (I like to think she isn’t really, but that’s what it looks like to someone on the outside). It’s equally charming that the project they are working on is something about the phases of the moon (noticeable only in the artwork).
My response as a reader:
 Everyone has been in the situation of being the “new kid” in some way or other. I like that this story is told in first-person and we see the change in the narrator progress through the story.
My “take-away” as a writer:
 I love Ame Dyckman! She’s done a ton of other picture books which are always a great combination of kooky and heart-warming, just like her. I loved the “about the author” in the back of this book which described that she moved around a lot when she was young and could relate well to the situation of being the “new kid.”

Title: Kalamata’s Kitchen
Author: Sarah Thomas
Illustrator: Jo Kosmides Edwards
Random House Books for Young Readers (July 20, 2021)
The “gist”:  Kalamata is feeling nervous about going back to school, but the comforting smells and memories of her favorite spices and foods give her confidence that she can face anything.
My favorite part:  I love the way Kalamata projects her fears onto her toy alligator, Al Dente. HE was never afraid at the market. HE is worried no one will like alligators at her new school…
My response as a reader:
 I am a sucker for books which combine a good story with international food — and happily I am usually able to find one of these each month. Kalamata’s Kitchen is a little bit like Bilal cooks Dal, but in this case, she calls on her food memories to help comfort her as she thinks about encountering strange new situations at school. Since smells are closely connected with emotions and memory, this is a great way to help Kalamata feel comfortable. (I had been thinking at the end she might make a little sachet of spices to bring to school and help her).
My “take-away” as a writer:
 Sarah Thomas does a great job of evoking the sights and smells of the Indian market, particularly in her descriptions of the different spices like turmeric which child readers might not be familiar with.

Title: Summer Camp Critter Jitters
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Liz Climo
Dial Books (June 1, 2021)
The “gist”:  All the animals going to summer camp are mighty nervous– will the mouse have to sleep on the top bunk? Will they find out the duck can’t swim? (How embarassing!)
My favorite part:  The scene with the sloth: “I’m so hungry…come here, leaf!” Adorable!
My response as a reader:
 The absolute genius of this book is that pretty much every single concern of these little animals is something that a real kid may have as a legitimate fear. (Ok, kids can’t spray like skunks, but they might do other embarrassing things!) Having a kid who is often nervous about new things/places, I adore how the author and illustrator have created a safe space for these fears to be explored and conquered.
My “take-away” as a writer:
 When you have been following the kidlit world for many years like I have, it’s fun to see familiar authors and illustrators and be able to get excited about their new works. Strangely I somehow missed “First Day Critter Jitters”, a similar book about the first day of school and now I will need to go look it up, but I am a big fan of both John and Climo, so I knew I would love this one.

Title: Bloop
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: Mike Boldt
HarperCollins (July 6, 2021)
The “gist”:  Bloop isn’t feeling very successful on his home planet, but he knows if he can conquer earth, he will be brought back as a hero. He figures that dogs are the ruling species, so he gets a family to adopt him. But maybe he fits in a little too well?
My favorite part: The ending is predictable, but pretty adorable. You just can’t beat that human-dog bond!
My response as a reader:
 As a dog lover (and owner), the idea that aliens would assume dogs were the real leaders on earth because humans take care of their every need (especially picking up their poop) is perfect.
My “take-away” as a writer:
 Tara Lazar is a rock star and I love all her work. This is another home run (although 7 Ate 9 is still my all-time favorite). How she finds time to do so much for the writer community AND write bestsellers is beyond me!

Title: Paris by Phone
Author: Pamela Druckerman
Illustrator: Benjamin Chaud
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (February 9, 2021)
The “gist”:  Josephine dreams herself away to Paris where she experiences all the wonders of French life including a mom who looks suspiciously like her own (but with a scarf). So will she want to stay there forever?
My favorite part:  I enjoyed the rhyming here which is not perfect, but has a great silly feel– like Madeline meets Eloise.
My response as a reader:
I’m a language teacher and lover of travel, so I have been to Paris lots of times, and it is magical, but like Josephine, I always love coming back home.
My “take-away” as a writer:
 The author, Pamela Druckerman, is also author of Bringing up Bébé, and International best seller about French parenting. That is another sign of the old adage: write what you know. Maybe it’s a sign I need to write something about Germany?

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