Last week I had to head up to my mom’s house to do some cleaning out after a pipe bust in an old bedroom. In the process I brought home several boxes of picture books I’d had as a child. Of course there were timeless old classics like Mike Mulligan, Cat in the Hat, and One Morning in Maine, but also oodles and oodles of books that I’d completely forgotten about as well as a few little gems that I loved, but which are pretty obscure and I bet you have never heard of. So for our reviews today, indulge me in a little time travel. Yes, I generally focus on books published in the past couple years, but looking back at books from the 60s and 70s (I am the youngest, so many of my books were hand-me-downs) just might teach us a few lessons about how much the market has changed!
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!
It’s pretty amazing how my book review excursions work out sometimes. I was a little limited by time tonight, because my dog was at the groomer, so I wandered around picking out random books to read, putting a few back that weren’t quite right (I won’t post a review unless I can be completely honest about loving the book) and settled on these five lovelies. I did not start off with any kind of theme like I sometimes do. I just chose books that were new releases (all in 2021!) and that happened to catch my eye. And yet, in the end, they all seemed to coalesce around a theme: be who you are.
Featuring: The Briar Patch, Bangor, Maine (Where I had my first book signing to debut “The Great Holiday Cookie Swap” last October!)
In New England, school vacations are run a bit differently from most of the rest of the country. We have a week off in February, and a week off in April. So Maine schools were out this week and I had the chance to get back North to visit my hometown and my favorite independent bookstore, The Briar Patch. Bangor Maine’s nickname is the “Queen City,” and this little bookstore, stuffed to the gills with wonderful books (including piles everywhere you look) is definitely a gem in the Queen’s crown. Owner Gibran Graham and the lovely Abby gave me glowing recommendations for several of these books, then set me loose to explore on my own, just like good book sommeliers should! I hope you find your OWN gem as you explore today for Independent Bookstore Day! Read on for the reviews of MY favorites!
Between the pandemic and the chaos of being a teacher right now, I don’t get out to explore new books as often as I used to, but when I do, it sure is amazing to see how many fun and creative new picture books are out there. I wanted to focus on books published since the start of the pandemic, since they are most likely to need some “extra love,” but a couple just jumped out at me and begged to be read, so I couldn’t refuse!
Title: Sweety Author/Illustrator: Andrea Zuill Publisher/Date: Schwartz & Wade; Illustrated edition (March 26, 2019) The “gist”: Sweety’s aunt calls her a “square peg,” since she just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, but does that mean she should change? My favorite part: I loved that of all creatures, Sweety was a naked mole rat– and there was a sweet note about how the illustrator was thankful they liked clothing so there was no worry about drawing “embarrassing” parts! My response as a reader: Sweety’s story resonated with me greatly, because I never had many friends growing up. My social skills weren’t great, and I preferred the company of adults much of the time. My dad once told me he was proud I didn’t have friends because it meant I had not sacrificed who I was and tried to be like the popular kids. But life without friends can be lonely and painful. It wasn’t until I got to college that I met “kindred spirits.” I hope that kids reading Sweety will realize they don’t have to change and things WILL get better. My “take-away” as a writer: Who knew that all this time I could have written about my lonely childhood? Then again, childhood trauma is what makes a good writer, right?
Title: How to Meet a Mermaid Author: Sue Fliess Illustrator: Simona Sanfilippo Publisher/Date: Sky Pony (June 16, 2020) The “gist”: The title says it all: this book takes you through the steps of where to find mermaids, how to make a crown to entice them, etc. My favorite part: I love that the children basically have a magical moment of turning into mermaids and then when it is over, they are kids again! How fun! My response as a reader: Who doesn’t love mermaids, right? Not only are they super fun, but they are really popular right now, so I bet kids would love this! (I did!). My “take-away” as a writer: This book is part of a whole series of “Magical Creatures and Crafts” which includes books about Unicorns, Christmas Elves, etc. all of which pair a story with some crafts families can make– genius idea!!
Title: This is NOT that kind of Book Author: Christopher Healey Illustrator: Ben Mantle Publisher/Date: Random House BYR (October 15, 2019) The “gist”: In this very “meta” kind of book, the characters are all confused about just what kind of book they find themselves in. My favorite part: I love the apple! Similar to “Groot,” he pops in repeatedly with “I am an apple!” and is simply adorable! My response as a reader: This is the best picture book I have read in while— I am a sucker for books that break the fourth wall or play with the concept of picture books (Julie Falatko’s Snappsy is another big favorite!) My “take-away” as a writer: While the characters in this book are essentially “stock” characters, they do not seem one dimensional and they all fit really well with the plot, ultimately working really naturally together to create a plot.
Title: The Same, but Different, Too Author: Karl Newson Illustrator: Kate Hindley Publisher/Date: Nosy Crow; (March 19, 2020) The “gist”: Told in sparse and simple rhyming text, this book highlights what unites us even though we may look different or have different talents. My favorite part: The illustrations have a great “Richard Scarry” quality which makes them seem really timeless. (Just googled their two names, by the way, and Hindley lists Scarry as an inspiration– she can feel proud, because she nailed him!) My response as a reader: This would make a splendid board book for very young readers– the text is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss (without the outlandish made-up words) and has a similar “feel good” moral. My “take-away” as a writer: Simplify, simplify! I didn’t count, but I would be surprised if this text topped 300 words, but it doesn’t need more than that. What can I cut in my own writing?
Title: Gurple and Preen Author: Linda Sue Park Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster BYR (August 25, 2020) The “gist”: Gurple and Preen are robots whose spaceship has crashed. They use random objects which come out of the broken crayons to fix the spaceship. My favorite part: I adore Debbi Ohi and her art, and one of her taglines is “You never know what will come out of a broken crayon.” (I highly recommend her Flickr page for more brilliant examples!) So, I just loved seeing his concept turned into a whole book! My response as a reader: I would love reading this with a little one and asking them to anticipate what you could do with each of the items that comes out of the crayons! My “take-away” as a writer: This book made me even more respectful of the amazing partnership between author and illustrator. I have no idea if Linda Sue and Debbie worked together on the plot for this, but there is truly no separating the text from the pictures here and if I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn they had to come from one person! Bravo, Ladies!