Sep 30, 2018

Emily, 10 Year Old Champion: Nonfiction Series

Author/photographer Cathleen Burnham is back with Book Four in the WAKA series of nonfiction picture books featuring young environmental activists. EMILY, 10 Year Old Champion of Rainforest Animals in Need is another story of young people making a difference.
Crickhollow Books, 2018

There is no doubt that young readers (or readers of any age) will be drawn to the cover image. Sloths are currently the IT animals of social media, and this baby sloth, hugging a stuffed animal and nestled in the arms of a young girl, is downright irresistible.

This is the fourth book in the WAKA series (World Association of Kids and Animals). All are authored by and feature photographs by Cathleen Burnham. Emily, a ten year old girl living in Costa Rica, volunteers for a local agency, Kids Saving the Rainforest. In this case Emily has written and presented a play for the public and joined a group saving titi monkeys (squirrel monkeys) by building overhead rope routes for the troops of monkeys who travel freely throughout the village and the surrounding forest. Without those passages and adaptations, the monkeys would be killed crossing streets with heavy auto traffic or crossing on electric wiring overhead. 
Photos of Emily include the cover above, collecting suitable leaves for animals in the sanctuary, and taking an abandoned baby sloth for a "walk" through the forest to sample edible leaves and develop survival skills for later release. 
The author and publisher (Crickhollow Books) have developed a format and narrative non-fiction style that is informative and inspiring, inviting readers to return again and again. The narrative and back page make it clear, by example and without preaching, that kids have the capacity to positively impact their environments and improve the lives of animals who share those spaces with humans. The photo captions, sidebars, specific events, and irresistible animals make the books prime examples of nonfiction content, offering ideal material for framing questions, summarizing, doing further research, and exploring local possibilities for kid-activist engagement.

You can read about the story-behind-the-story of how these books came about from the documentary photographer/author HERE.
I've shared my thoughts about the previous titles in prior posts.
Book One- DOYLI to the RESCUE (Here), 
Book Two- TORTUGA SQUAD (HERE), and 
Book Three- TONY and His ELEPHANTS (HERE)

This is a series that merits everyone's attention and should be on library and classroom shelves. Each title, including this latest, offers entertainment and information across many ages and will quickly become reader-favorites. 

Check out the books and related projects at 
You can also explore the Costa Rican nonprofit organization that helps Emily and other kids become empowered to help the environment and animals: Kids Saving the Rainforest.  

I reviewed a publisher's copy and would like to share it. You can enter a giveaway by adding a comment about this or earlier WAKA/Burnham books in the series. Also,  in a separate comment, share some ways you might use this book with kids.  Each person commenting (from USA or Canada) will be entered in a random giveaway of a copy of the latest book, EMILY. Deadline for comments is Friday, October 5 at midnight, CDT. If your name is chose I'll contact you via email, and the winner's name will be  added to this post after the drawing. 

And the winner of the giveaway is ANNETTE! Thanks for reading and sharing the news about this great new book for kid-activists!

Sep 23, 2018

Paul Writes (A Letter): A Chris Raschka Picture Book

It should come as no surprise that I'm a longtime fan of picture books by Chris Raschka. Who isn't? His books, many of them award-winners, are characterized by playfulness, lighthearted humor, affection, and gentle sincerity. This is true in books featuring adolescents (YO! YES?) and books for preschool audiences (IF YOU WERE A DOG, Swenson), whether he authors the book himself or is illustrating the text for other authors. And now he has taken on the incredible challenge of adapting and illustrating excerpts from the letters of Saint Paul in the New Testament. 
Eerdmanns Books for Young Readers

Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co. is widely recognized for their catalogue of distinguished religious, philosophical, and cultural books for adult readers Their children's imprint, Eerdmanns Books for Young Readers, sets a high bar and publishes many award-winning books but doesn't limit their focus to topics of the parent press. 

You can see in the categorical index on their home page, copied here, that their publishing interests are diverse and they appeal to a wide range of readers' interests and ages. 
In the case of Raschka's recent book, there has been a perfect pairing of artist, content, and publisher. A quick Internet search will link you to hundreds, probably thousands of books aimed at making Biblical content kid-friendly and accessible. 
But PAUL WRITES (A LETTER) is so much more than that. Raschka has produced a book that humanizes and energizes a character whose name graces Christian and Orthodox churches around the world. 
I can't recall ever seeing images of Paul that are not austere, severe, and distant from modern life. A bit of digital digging on my part revealed that Raschka's Paul appears to be a more accurate portrayal of Paul than the many classic images would suggest. Post-conversion, he seemed to view his role as man-of-the-people. Paul was both Roman citizen and Jew, he traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean regions at a time when that was far from common, and he used letter-writing (in Hebrew, Greek and Latin) to sustain and expand a long-distance ministry. In all that, he seems to have foreshadowed today's globe-trotting evangelists and tele-ministry superstars. 
But in Raschka's hands, Paul's whiskered, balding persona is appealing and far from formidable. With slight shifts on facial features and posture, Raschka's Paul reveals a wide range of emotions: peaceful or puzzled, weary or worried, anxious or aggravated. 
The text is not a simple attempt to "translate" or "modernize" established Biblical language. Instead, Raschka has mined the extensive text attributed to Paul and extracted nuggets of wisdom that comprise a story, of sorts. This little book takes even the youngest readers on Paul-the-Disciple's life journey. The passage references at the bottom of each page allow easy referencing, but my feeling is that the blend of casual and classic letter-writing expressions used here should (and do) stand on their own merit. Each double spread begins, as letters should, with a "Dear Friends" greeting, including updates, plans, questions, and advice. 
The authenticity, simplicity, and heartfelt wording that Raschka utilized makes so much sense, and will be readily absorbed by even the youngest audiences. My favorite?
There is faith.There is hope. There is caring for others. The greatest is caring for others.
Words to live by, I'd say. Especially in current times. Raschka's short forward says that Paul used letter writing to change the world. Few could argue the point. But the success of this book is that it offers Paul's wisdom and comfort and advice in ways that invite repeated readings and reflection. It brings Paul into our laps and into our lives, at any age. With those messages comes the possibility that we,the readers, might act to change the world. After all, Paul's epistles follow the book of  ACTS. And it the ACTS of our lives to which Paul's letters are addressed. 

The endpaper maps are clearly labeled, but Raschka's style, the cheerful colors, and portrayal of charming villages, ports, and other details offer a delightful, intriguing, blurry-edged childlike feel to a corner of the world that, even today, suffers many trials and challenges. 
This was true in Paul's day, and in ours. 
In his corner of the world and in ours.
Paul's words, and Raschka's book, offer hope. 

Sep 10, 2018

The GIFT of TIME: Two Picture Books

Before the busy back-to-school season becomes a blur of sports, recitals, dioramas, homework and assorted holidays, pause for a moment to think about the power of quietly, peacefully being present. 

Marvin (Armstrong)

A recent post celebrated the power of nighttime reading, especially with picture books (HERE). This Marvin cartoon (Armstrong) turns my attention to the power of daytime hours. (Look closely at his dad's tablet tucked into the back of Marvin's pants.) Routines and obligations (or self-absorbed distractibility) can take over, but the books in this post offer wise advice, reminders of something Marvin already knows: time spent together is the greatest gift of all. 
little bee books 2018

Pat Zietlow Miller, New York Times Bestselling author of BE KIND, reviewed HERE, Is back with LORETTA'S GIFT. illustrated by Alea Marley. In this charmer, MIller's characteristic love and lyricism shine through a tale of growing families. When young Loretta hears the news that she'll have a new baby cousin, she's on board and eager to give a gift. She's even willing to give away her own belongings, but realizes that they won't be the best choices.

It's a remarkable accomplishment when any picture book that's NOT focused on the changing seasons can manage to span more than a day or two, let alone reach beyond the span of a full year. These two books do just that, and both do it well. In both books I believe the span of time serves the topic well, revealing how quickly time passes, whether dealing with newborns or school years. 
From the days of diaper changes right through to Gabe's first birthday, Loretta calms her baby cousin's tears, organizes and tugs his tiny clothes into place, and otherwise showers him with her greatest gifts: time and attention. The story circles back to remind Loretta and her family that sharing laughter and tears, hugs and cheers is the best gift of all.

Although a day may come when it doesn't merit comment, it's worth noting that the text makes absolutely no references to the race of the these characters. The story explores universal truths, ones that apply across continents, ages, races, and circumstances. Until recently, the illustrations would most likely have been Caucasian. Marley's lovely depictions of characters of color, including little Gabe's mixed identity, might not have been considered in the past. Now, they are a welcome indicator of the publishing industry's slowly bending curve toward justice, representing ALL people in all kinds of books and stories.
Candlewick Press 2018

Next up is A GIFT FROM ABUELA, which is written and illustrated by Cecilia Ruiz. These two new titles pair perfectly, offering rich content in their own spaces and providing countless discussion starters to compare and contrast their text, the settings, the characters, the art, and the gently-conveyed messages.
In this tender but intense story, Niña grows with Abuela from a welcomed infant (like Gabe) through to later childhood. 
Those years pass quickly in page turns showing laughter and habits that establish their loving relationship. It reaches into the age when Niña grows beyond her days spent with Abuela. That time period also spans economic downturns in their hometown, Mexico City, presented through direct text and also through subtly changing details in their surroundings and expenses. 
During the process, Abuela's demeanor gradually saddens, while Niña's awareness of those changes increases. Near the book's end, the child's effort to give Abuela the gifts of time and attention feels like a satisfying conclusion, an interesting flip side to Loretta's gifts to her tiny cousin. 
But Ruiz has imbued this story with rich resources for finding another layer. That plummeting economy, the change in the currency and in life's circumstances open discussions to bigger issues. And those circumstances allow Niña to offer an even bigger gift to Abuela-- returning the love and comfort they shared so many years before. 

The pair in A GIFT FROM ABUELA are more secure in the early pages, struggling more over passing time. The title itself suggests that it was Abuela's efforts to give her grandchild treats and even something special, like a vacation, that demonstrated her love.The title works well in those earlier pages, and yet it fits even better with Niña's inspired resolution shows, in a warm and meaningful way, that Abuela's REAL gift has been received and welcomed. 
Unlike the first story, which could occur anywhere in the world, the plot of Abuela's story depends on a very particular time and place. And yet it, too, is universal. The families in LORETTA'S GIFT are blessed with economic security, but that doesn't prevent them from recognizing the value of attention, time, and talents as gifts. 
Only a fool would say that no one enjoys physical gifts, that money doesn't matter. 
These books don't say that. 
I'm so enthused about the extent to which these two books work well together to foster empathy, to convey the value of spending meaningful time together, and to raise awareness that relationships are treasures to be nurtured.
Please, check them both out. Read them carefully.
Please, share them widely.
Please, encourage kids to discuss openly and explore deeply. 
And please, spend time with kids you love. 
Really, spend that time.
It's priceless.

Sep 2, 2018

Good Night Rituals with BOOKS, and More!

I began working on this post by searching for previous posts in which I discuss the importance of bedtime books in my childhood. I addressed the importance of books from birth onward in this post. It seems I never directly addressed the powerful role my own parents played (BOTH Mom and Dad) in shaping me and my siblings as lifelong readers. I honestly cannot remember a night that didn't include time spent with read-aloud/follow-along books, most often with the kids all piling into one of our beds like puppies. 
I grew up at a time when publishing children's books and our limited economic conditions meant access to books was NOTHING like the current plethora of glorious choices available to families today. Our home kid-lit library contained only about five or six traditional-tale anthologies and a couple of well-worn Disney books (based directly on the movies). Here's a look at our nightly go-to collection: 

Repetition was NEVER an issue, since both Mom and Dad loved to read, recognized the impact of ritual, and would interpret the voices, drama, and humor of those stories with unlimited variations of expression and style. 

Now that school is back in session, it's a perfect time to establish reasonable bedtimes with a read-aloud ritual. To encounter resistance to summer's end and summer habits is not uncommon and becomes most clear at bedtime. The first two books here reflect some of that normal pattern in ways that are both amusing and comforting, while also serving to ease the day to its end in the best possible way- with books!
GOOD NIGHT! GOOD NIGHT! is written and illustrated by Carin Berger. If yours is already a GOOD NIGHT MOON family, you'll recognize some parallels with this book, but also appreciate its delightful, unique approach. The back cover question says it all: Will these silly little bunnies EVER go too sleep? 
The spare text combines with simple but charming collage illustrations to make the problem and the pattern clear:  After early page turns revealing familiar rituals, there this: 
"Good-night hugs. AGAIN. 
Good-night... DANCES!

It's a sheer delight, a giggle-inducing discovery that holds up during repeated readings. 
A less subtle version of bedtime resistance can be found in 10 LITTLE NINJAS, written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Nate Wragg. I wrote about this book and bedtime battle in a prior post that included other great bedtime books. You can check those out, here. It would be fun to include both of these titles in a nightly rotation. The kids will be reciting along with you, easing themselves to sleep in the process. 

What matters even more than the books you use (or how limited your selection of books may be) is the message your children will absorb, the feelings they'll develop, the sense of empowerment they'll gain. You'll transmit all that and more by spending a few minutes at your child's bedside each night sharing books, stories, and even music. You'll be raising book-lovers and readers. That's absolutely true.
But you'll also be raising individuals who have an enormous capacity to see themselves as competent actors on the world stage.

I say that in a purely anecdotal and personal way. I was privileged to grow up in a stable, loving home with plenty of daily squabbles but a huge amount of security. Trying to separate the effects of our nightly readings from the other hours of the day and say definitively that this variable made the difference in my own life is unsupportable, but feels undeniable. I know with certainty that all of it mattered, but those nightly minutes with Mom or Dad are some of the warmest memories of my long life. And what I gained from them stretches far beyond literacy.  

Author Michael Leannah must know this truth, too. Perhaps that awareness comes from his own childhood experiences, but I'm certain it also comes from his perspective and practice as a parent. His recent release, GOODNIGHT WHISPERS is illustrated by Dani Torrent. (If you or the kids in your lives have had concerns about frequently reported acts of violence in our society, you'll want to know about Michael's earlier picture book, MOST PEOPLE, review and interview HERE.)
I'm confident of Michael's agreement because his text cuts to the heart of the bedtime ritual. 
In his story the loving father does not read to his growing child, but begins with nightly whispers and progresses to a lifetime of loving whispers. Each whisper is an affirmation of his daughter's goodness, strength, persistence, skills, determination, and capacity to succeed in the world. In a very real sense this dad's day-to-day reassurances and comforts are the opposite of the much-maligned lament that "kids today" are over-praised and becoming "snowflakes". 
Instead, the situation-specific whispers acknowledge a child's shortcomings, failures, and struggles while providing reassurance that the dad has seen and values the unique qualities, inner strengths, and attitudes his daughter displays amid the challenges of life. 
What matters in this book, in the  whispers, bedtime stories, and even family dinnertable time, is the consistency of the practice, the ritual, and the many ways in which the messages convey confidence and love. 
So, YES to reading at bedtime, for all of the literacy and life practices that will develop. 
But an even more powerful YES to doing things intentionally with kids, on a consistent and caring basis. These will be the moments, repeated daily, that will seep into the characters of kids and carry them on through life. 

To read about another family ritual, here's an archived Father's Day post about the FUNNY PAPERS.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.