My apologies for letting the ball drop on my April book reviews, but I’m back and so excited to share five new picture book reviews for May. I’m even more excited to share a wonderful new bookstore with you that JUST opened this weekend! Booktenders is owned by Rick and Michelle Clarke, and it’s going to make my book shopping a LOT easier! Although I’ll admit I’m guilty of abusing my Amazon Prime subscription, or stopping in at my local Barnes & Noble for a latte and a bestseller, I would much rather support an independent bookseller, where my money will not only go back into the local community, but where the owners know me and can give me recommendations — and vice versa! The owners let me know that they could definitely use a little help keeping up with the current picture book scene since their kids have mostly outgrown picture books (In my opinion, there’s no such thing as outgrowing picture books, but you know teenagers…). I’m happy to oblige, but for this month, let’s take a look at five current picture books these folks already have on the shelves!
Title: I’m not Scared, YOU’RE Scared!
Author: Seth Meyers
Illustrator: Rob Sayegh Jr.
Publisher/Date: Flamingo Books (March 15, 2022)
The “gist”: Bear is kind of a homebody and certainly not an adventurer, but when his brave friend rabbit asks him to come along on an adventure, he reluctantly joins her — until it just gets too scary.
My favorite part: I love that this is not just a story about being brave, it’s also about learning to be assertive– at one point bear is able to own up to it and say “You know what, yes, I am scared!” I wanted to cheer for him!
My response as a reader: This is definitely a book with awesome read aloud potential — not only is there fun dialog and great parenthetical asides, but the repetition of “I’m not scared, YOU’RE scared!” would be a fun call and response for kids.
My “take-away” as a writer: Ok, I’ll admit that as a writer who has been submitting to agents and publishers for many years, I’m a bit biased against picture books by celebrities. I will even be honest and say that I am not sure this book would have been published if it weren’t by a celebrity since the word count is rather high. But I’m not bitter– Seth is a funny guy and this is a funny book. I can be a big enough person to recommend a book even if the author didn’t have to slog through the query trenches first.
Title: Just Try One Bite!
Author: Adam Mansbach and Camila Alves McConaughey
Illustrator: Mike Boldt
Publisher/Date: Dial Books (March 22, 2022)
The “gist”: Told in rhyme, a group of kids try to convince their parents to eat healthy and try new foods.
My favorite part: There were some cute bribes for trying the new foods. Some might have a problem with that, but I’m a mom. I’ve been there.
My response as a reader:I love stories that twist something common on its head (“How to babysit a Grandma” comes to mind) and this works well. My children have been known to be the “reasonable” ones in our family at times– my younger son’s favorite foods are broiled salmon and steamed broccoli and he’s argued for that meal over McDonalds on several occasions. The kids are all right!
My “take-away” as a writer: Technically, this book counts as a bit of a celebrity picture book as well, since Ms. McConaughey happens to be the wife of…THAT famous McConaughey, but as with the previous book, I do try to take the content at face value. That said, my lesson here is that you can’t please everyone. I usually avoid reading other reviews before I write mine, but in this case I was checking some facts and noticed several negative reviews for this book which argued it gave bad nutritional advice (Seriously? It advises against making a jar of mayo your meal…I’m ok with that). While I’m speaking as a fat woman who is all for body positivity and not shaming food choices, reviewers might want to lighten up a bit. This is a cute book and really just focuses on making reasonable choices and trying new things.
Title: How to Tap a Maple
Author: Stephanie Mulligan
Illustrator: Connie Rand
Publisher/Date: McSea Books (April 18, 2021)
The “gist”: Luke and Layla visit their grandfather and learn the art of maple sugaring (and so do the readers!)
My favorite part:I loved the spot when they accidentally tapped an oak tree– it is neat to point out the uniqueness of the maple (although actually there are a few other trees one can tap, just not the oak!)
My response as a reader: I’ve naturally got a soft spot for books about Maine, and having a Canadian husband means I’ve also got a soft sport for stories about maple syrup! There are lovely extra touches too like the Maine chickadees!
My “take-away” as a writer: The book has some good back matter including the necessary vocabulary for maple sugaring (like spiles and brix). The more I write, the more I become aware of back matter and how helpful it can be for parents and teachers.
Title: Strange Planet: The Sneaking, Hiding, Vibrating Creature
Author/Illustrator: Nathan W. Pyle
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins (June 1, 2021)
The “gist”: Two aliens are observing and commenting on what it’s like to have a cat. But really, when put that simply, you loose all the magic. You have to read it to understand.
My favorite part:I love when the “vibrating creature” lies down on their “observation documents”!
My response as a reader: I have been a big fan of Nathan Pyle’s comic for a long time, so it is fun to see this concept in picture book form! I think kids would love the decoding involved in figuring out what is meant by terms like “hydration cylinder.”
My “take-away” as a writer: Wait, does this guy count as a celebrity since he has had a successful comic career before publishing this picture book? Eh, maybe, but I don’t think my writing lesson can be that I have to be famous for something else first. Or maybe the lesson is to write what you know?
Title: Memory Jars
Author/Illustrator: Vera Brosgol
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press (May 25, 2021)
The “gist”: When her grandmother lets her know that jars can be used to preserve things, she starts putting all her treasures in them.
My favorite part: I love the reference to the girl’s grandfather who has passed. It’s poignant without being too sappy and the story moves along quickly.
My response as a reader: We pick a lot of blueberries every year and those memories will stick with my boys just like they do with the main character here. My 16 year old son read this one and was excited to note there was a recipe for blueberry jam in the back, so we might try that recipe next summer.
My “take-away” as a writer: There’s so much great description and emotion here — lines like “They tasted like sweet sunshine” and “She ate until her fingers were purple and her stomach felt like a big blueberry.” Lots of lessons in making the words leap off the page with “showing” and not just “telling”– I can feel the sticky fingers!