"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!

1.09.2016

The Tree Watcher (2015)

The Tree Watcher
Written and Illustrated by Christopher P. Stanley

A Jump Splash Book

I thought it was interesting that I received two books almost back-to-back which both concerned trees. You will recall, last week I reviewed Chloe Bonfield's beautiful and whimsical, The Perfect TreeThis week, the book is The Tree Watcher, by Ohio teacher and artist Christopher P. Stanley.

He takes an approach which is at once both more realistic and more magical. The images for the story carry this duality... glanced at briefly, they seem quite photo-realistic... some of them almost look like actual photos. He captures the essence and details of different types of trees quite well. However, looking at them more closely, I see the slight unreality to them, the way the leaves swirl like wet paint.

The clouds and the grass have the same effect, like heat waves rising from the pavement, a desert mirage.

Have you ever stopped to stare up at a tree?

The eyes of a child is the POV, and the narration invites us to look at the trees with the same childlike wonder, to marvel at their height, their age, all of the things they offer. The magic of the natural world.

The story is a love letter to the young child, Sam. The trees are just the beginning of the wonders the world holds.

The Tree Watcher

The Tree Watcher

The Tree Watcher

The Tree Watcher



1.02.2016

Amelie Gets Busy (2015)

Amelie Gets Busy
Written by Agatha Rodi

Illustrated by Joanna Scott

BookBaby

Young Amelie is very impressed! She announces this right up front, in case there was any doubt, but to discover by what exactly she is impressed, one must read on.

Amelie spends her days in the village farm with her yiayia - Greek for 'grandma' - and with all of the plants and birds and animals therein.

She is a bit trepidatious at first, but yiayia is there to comfort her and to show her the wonders of life in this small, Greek village.

The flowers, the hedgehogs, the birds feeding their young, they all contain wonder.

Here I come, blooming garden! Oh, I am so impressed!

Finally, after a long and full day of gardening and eating delicious foods - like pink crusted biscuit cake - Amelie takes some of the treasures she has collected and forms a keepsake box so that she can keep the wonderful - and impressive! - memories.

A jay of yiayia's favorite cherry jam
Some pieces of spinach pie and feta cheese
Full of spices and crispy dough.
I always take my village with me,
The blue light and the hues of the rainbow
That make me say wow!
That's why I'm so impressed! 

Amelie Gets Busy

Amelie Gets Busy

1.01.2016

The Perfect Tree (2015)

The Perfect Tree
Written and illustrated by Chloe Bonfield

Running Press Kids

I found this to be a very beautiful, sweet story about a young boy's quest to find the perfect tree - though a bit sinister, a bit macabre, in the atmospheric-sense, which of course I liked. Chloe Bonfield enjoys silhouettes, and she employs them to great effect. The quest seemed epic indeed, and with each tree I felt I was being led to a different planet, a completely different environment.

The text makes it quite clear that Jack is not interested in hugging any trees. He has one mission and one mission only: to chop.

A perfect tree to hack! A perfect tree to stack.

But as he goes from to the next, he comes to realize that there are a great many other uses for trees. Trees can be used as shelters, as homes, as storehouses for the winter, as each forest creature he comes across explains and demonstrates until finally he declares:

"Every tree in the forest is perfect!"

The illustrations really transport the take elsewhere. Chloe is an illustrator and animator living in London, and this is her first picture book, published by Running Press right here in Philadelphia. Knowing now that she's an animator makes sense... I can easily imagine that silhouette scaling that textured and multi-layered mountain


The Perfect Tree

The Perfect Tree

The Perfect Tree

12.11.2015

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingerbread Men (2015)

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingerbread Men
Written by Alyssa Gengeri

Illustrated by Chiara Civati

Mascot Books


The weather outside is frightful, and Mimi has the day off from school. Initially, she is excited to rush outside and make snow angels, have snowball fights... However, her mom still has to  go to work of course, and so Mimi and her little brother, Danny are off to her grandmother's house - or,  Nonni, as they call her.

I like those small details that fill in the minimalist world of the picture book. Too often, parents in picture books don't seem to actually work for a living, they're just always there when the story needs them to be, absent when they're not narrative needed. But with just a couple of sentences, part of the background of Mimi's life is sketched in with some realism.

A quick jaunt through the snowy city, and they've arrived at Nonni's. Now that we've seen a bit of the outside world, people walking with hats and mittens and earmuffs while large flakes fall all around, the interior of Nonni's home seems all the more warm and inviting, exactly the place you'd want to spend your snow day.The activity for the day? Yup, baking gingerbread men.


Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingergread Men

This is the third title in the Mimi's Adventures in Baking series, each one focusing on baking a different item. Chocolate chip cookies and 'allergy-friendly treats' were the previous entries. The author gives the complete recipe, and then shows Mimi and Nonni as they follow it step-by-step.

While Nonni preheated the oven to 325 degrees, Mimi measures 3/4 cup of brown sugar, packed it down tight, and poured it into the mixing bowl. Next, she measured 3/4 cup of soft butter, added it to the sugar, and blended them together until creamy.

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingergread Men

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingergread Men

Alyssa Generi, the author, is no stranger to the world of baking. She's an accomplished pastry chef in New York City. She's writing these books to inspire children to bake, and to show them that cooking is something that can bring the generations together, as it does Mimi and Nonni. I found it to be a very warm, earnest story. There is no conflict, and the only thing at stake is a pressing desire for sweet, baked treats, which is achieved in spades.

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Gingergread Men

Alyssa Gengeri
The author, at work




12.10.2015

A Conversation with Barry Dunlap

Barry Dunlap
Barry Dunlap lives near Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife and four children. He earned a Master's of Arts in English at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he studied under Tim Gautreaux. Barry's poetry, stories and reviews have been published in a number of literary journals.

Most recently, he has ventured into the world of picture books with Mr. Mosquito, illustrated by Ellen Howell.

Why picture books?

About seven years ago, I participated in a training on The Six Traits of Writing. I’d been working as a consultant with the Louisiana Department of Education. It was a "Train the trainer" model. I was trained in order to provide training for teachers in 15 school districts.

The 6 Traits are for all genres of writing. The trainer - Bev Flaten - used different picture books to illustrate different strengths. She used several Cynthia Rylant books, some Margaret Wise Brown… many more. As a result, I developed an appreciation for the medium.

And so where did this particular picture book come from?

It just came to me one morning as I sat at the computer with a cup of coffee. I'm guessing I had probably swatted at a mosquito during the night. My wife and I had discussed in conversation weeks earlier the tidbit about female mosquitoes being the "biters," so I just thought about the humor of a poor, misunderstood male mosquito.

The beauty of the picture book is that big ideas can be communicated through just a few images. Mr. Mosquito conveys the concept of something being threatened because of ignorance. That idea is present, but really, I intended it to be a short, fun way to communicate a fact that many people don't know... that male mosquitoes do not bite.

Mr. Mosquito

It seemed to me that the illustrator really imbued the character with a lot of personality beyond what your words suggested.

Ellen Howell and I have been friends for over ten years. I knew she did fabulous work and had illustrated at least one other children's picture book, so I contacted her to see if she was interested. She told me to send the draft to her and she would see if it inspired her.  It's obvious that it did.

I shared a few descriptions concerning how I envisioned Mr. Mosquito, and her wonderful illustrations made the character come to life.

Why French?

There's a ton of French influence here in south Louisiana, and I thought it would be appropriate to have the mosquito-- what we jokingly call the state bird-- speak with a French accent. Then, I thought, subtitles would be a great way to introduce young readers to the French language. Finally, in hindsight, I think the Henri Le Chat Noir videos had some subliminal influence on the character's accent.

Mr. Mosquito


What would be your dream come true for Mr. Mosquito?

I would love for the book to be used by educators and parents to introduce the French language to their English-speaking children. A friend who has three young children told me recently that when the kids see a mosquito that doesn't try to bite them, they say, "There goes Mr. Mosquito!" Hearing something like that is a real treat to me!

Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.

12.04.2015

Good Shabbos, Everybody (1951)

Good Shabbos, Everybody
Written by Robert Garvey

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education


This one is a bit of an enigma, it seems to me. It was published in 1951, the same year as The Wonderful Farm. I found a first edition for $1,500, and several editions in poor condition which were likewise worth several hundred dollars. So, it's quite collectible. But I couldn't find any other real information about it, other than this brief synopsis:

"Little Mimmy's excitement mounts as she helps mother prepare for the Sabbath and then daddy walks in the door."

But what happens when daddy walks in the door? What? Looks like I'll never know. There were no critical reviews to be found. In his biography of Sendak, Hal Marcovitz completely glosses over this book, and instead refers to A Hole is to Dig, published in 1952, as Sendak's third book. Yet, as far as I can tell, this is his third book. It clearly exists.

I did find some images from various bookseller sites, but unfortunately, they shed little light on Little Mimmy's Daddy:

Good Shabbos, Everybody

Good Shabbos, Everybody

Good Shabbos, Everybody

I can see Sendak has yet to fully come into his own. He was still just 21, hadn't yet developed the look and the style for which he will later be known. Nonetheless, something tells me he was having a lot of fun!

I am Jazz: Transgender picturebook controversy in Wisconsin


From deep within my batcave, I am able to keep my eye on the media as stories about picture books stream past. This past week, two stories left impressions on me, both involving the 2014 picture book I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings and Shelagh McNicholas.

Jazz Jennings is a 15 year old transgender spokesperson with a very popular series of YouTube videos, and has been profiled by Barbara Walters and others, and is considered o be one of the youngest known people to be diagnosed as gender dysphoric. The picture book was published in 2014 and is written from her point of view.

Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia in Orange is the New Black had this to say about the book:

"This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty."


Regardless, on November 30th, this headline graced my Facebook feed:


My first thought was, I wonder if these were the same parents who are boycotting ABC because the new Muppets TV show is 'too adult?' Apparently, a Wisconsin elementary school was planning on hosting a reading of the book, due in no small part to the fact that they have a transgender student, and thought it would be a good show of support and community education. The Liberty Counsel - apparently acting on behalf of several of the parents - did not agree. They threatened to sue the school, and so the school backed out of the event.

I looked up the Liberty Counsel and found that their mission in life is "Restoring the Culture by Advancing Religious Freedom, the Sanctity of Human Life and the Family." In October of this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center categorized them as a hate group. In 2005, they threatened to sue another Wisconsin elementary school in for changing its Christmas pageant lyrics to be 'more secular.'

Prior to that, in 2000, they 'threatened legal action' against a library which hosted a Harry Potter party. "Witchcraft is a religion," they claimed. "And the certificate of witchcraft endorsed a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause."

So, sounds like a swell bunch of folks, is my point.

The second headline, posted just a few days later, read thus:


A co-author of the book, Jessica Herthel, flew in from California for the event outside of Madison, in which the book was read to over 600 people crowding the library. It was a great show of support
from the community. The library staff had been hoping to get at least 15 people there, but were soon overwhelmed by the positive response.

I am Jazz reading


The parents of the transgender student wrote a statement:

"In the midst of all of the media attention that this important matter has stirred up, we just want everyone to remember that at the center of this is a brave little girl who can now be who she really is. And you have all helped to make that happen in a positive way for her and her family. For that, we are, and always will be, truly thankful.”

Herthel said of the event:

“I think it’s a barometer of where we’re at as a society, I think we’re more ready to hear about this issue from a child’s perspective, because we know a child isn’t making a political statement or rebelling against society. Kids don’t know not to tell the truth, and we’re getting more comfortable with that idea.”

Meanwhile, from the depths of Florida, the Liberty Counsel seethes, biding its time, plotting its next attack.

Sources:

The Night Parade (2015)

The Night Parade
Written by Johnny DePalma

Illustrated by Kyle Brown

Umbrelly Books

I sensed a Winsor McCay vibe as soon as I saw the cover, which only increased whilst flipping its pages. The Night Parade is kind of a Pied Piper variant, the stranger marching through town, though it's not rats in tow, it's dreamstuff, nightmares. It seems every night he makes his rounds, this unnamed man, taking the bad detritus of our subconscious lives with him, and leaving behind only the good.

His footsteps fall in rhythm as he leads this Night Parade, calling out the nightmares and the sweet dreams you've made.

They hear his gentle tapping as they tumble from your head, now leaving you to wonder what you've dreamt of in your head.

I suppose this is meant to be a mollifying fable, but there is something a bit eerie going on as well. You can't see him, you can only hear his footfalls echoing through the empty streets... in Kyle Brown's vision of it, those empty streets are all cobblestone, the building seem to lean in, as though anticipating a whispered secret, and from out of the open windows of the sleeping denizens come the dreams. The man marches on, around the globe.

There's a lot of great thought put into the tone of this book, lots of wonderful detail in the overall design of it. I especially loved the typography used.... it gives it kind of a dream-like, home spun quality to it.

The Magpie opens and closes the tale, and can be seen in some of the illustrations, which gives it even greater mythic undertones.
The Night Parade

The Night Parade

The Night Parade

The Night Parade

The Night Parade
This has been a sponsored post.

12.01.2015

Real-life "Heather" Speaks out on Having Had Two Mommies

Image Credits: Women of Grace/Amazon

Strangely fun to see Heather Has Two Mommies show up in my Facebook feed this afternoon, even though the story being referenced was from last March. I like seeing picture books at the heart of controversy. Picture books can push at the culture as no other medium can.

Sometimes, though, it feels like we are past those days. After all, in an era in which same-sex marriage has been legalized across the nation, how could something as benign as a picture book featuring a girl being raised by two moms possibly still be a source of contention?

In the 1980's, Heather Barwick's parents were divorced, and she was raised by her mother and her mother's female partner. "Gay community, I am your daughter," she writes in an open letter published on The Federalist. "Do you remember that book, 'Heather Has Two Mommies'? That was my life."

It is amazing how a game of Chinese Whispers amongst social media alters not just the content of a story, but the tone in which it was written. By the time the story landed in my facebook feed, having been posted by a man who is both a geocentrist and an end-times heralder, it was in the context of, "Look! A woman who was raised by two moms speaks out against the homosexual lifestyle! See, liberals?!!" Of course my dander was raised a few notches. His post linked to an article published on Western Journalism, which suggests that Heather's main contention was that it really is better all-around for children to have both a mother and a father, and therefore same-sex marriage is damaging.

“It’s only now, as I watch my children loving and being loved by their father each day, that I see the beauty and wisdom in traditional marriage and parenting,” they quote Heather as saying.

After reading that article, and returning to facebook, I found that many people had already taken to attacking her in absentia, calling her ungrateful for the parenting that she had, and that her newfound Christian fundamentalism had clearly corrupted her.

I was glad that I took the time to finally read Heather's actual letter in its entirety and without editorializing.

"I still feel like gay people are my people," she writes. "I’ve learned so much from you. You taught me how to be brave, especially when it is hard. You taught me empathy. You taught me how to listen. And how to dance. You taught me not be afraid of things that are different. And you taught me how to stand up for myself, even if that means I stand alone."

However, she goes on to write:

"Gay marriage doesn’t just redefine marriage, but also parenting. It promotes and normalizes a family structure that necessarily denies us something precious and foundational. It denies us something we need and long for, while at the same time tells us that we don’t need what we naturally crave. That we will be okay. But we’re not. We’re hurting."

I have not walked in Heather's shoes, but the best we can do in this life is to love each other as best we are able. I'm not sure what Heather would have preferred... Assuming her parents divorced and her mother was a lesbian... what then? Gay people aren't going to just stop being gay. It is a reality they have to deal with, and that their families and communities will have to deal with as well. I take Heather's point, in a general sense, that it is important for children to have both positive male and female role-models in their lives, but that should not preclude same-sex families from raising their children as best they can, just as my wife and I are raising our son, and parents everywhere do likewise.

11.23.2015

Mr. Mosquito (2015)

Mr. Mosquito
Written by Barry Dunlap

Illustrated by Ellen Howell

Or, as the French say, Monsieur Moustique. This is a bi-lingual picture book, so in case you find yourself in Marseille and in need of addressing the buzzing insect circling your head, should you happen to have a copy of this book close by, you'd be in luck.

It also contains other helpful phrases like Je suis agile et mal compris and Ils aiment m'ecraser et m'ecrabouiller. "I am agile and misunderstood," and "They love to swat me and squish me," respectively.

This is the story of a French mosquito... a French male mosquito... a fact which becomes highly significant at the conclusion. Mr. Mosquito is a misunderstood gentleman, who cannot help who he is. He does not apologize.

The illustrations by Ellen Howell are full of personality. I can just hear the tone and inflection of his voice, a noble Pepé Le Pew in hot pursuit, fearful for his life. I feel his injustice.

Mr. Mosquito

Mr. Mosquito

Mr. Mosquito

The punchline comes at the very end, when we are finally informed that male mosquitoes do not bite. That honor is only for the female of the species. Monsieur Moustique must live his life on the run because of our prejudices. Such is his fate. But at least his dignity is intact!

This has been a sponsored review.

11.20.2015

Wish (2015)

Wish by Leslie A. Susskind
Written by Leslie A. Susskind

Illustrated by TanjTadić

Good Manners Kids Stuff Press

The life-cycle of a dandelion is the subject at play. In thirty pages, we watch as a blown dandelion seed flies. tumbles, soars and flutters throughout cities and through the country, accompanied by simple one-word descriptors.

It's very deceptively simple, and I didn't quite know what I was reading until finally the dandelion seed - anthropomorphized by the artist as a happy little fellow indeed - finally falls to the earth and grows into a dandelion plant itself, plucked and grasped by the hands of another child, eyes squeezed tight in anticipating of further wish-making.

And on it goes. The sky awash in dandelion seeds and - it is to be believed - awash in wishes. I liked the contrast between the magic of the "wish" and the magic of nature itself. The dandelions need for the children to blow on them. It is a symbiotic relationship.

Leslie writes that this is a book she'd been dreaming about for years, and which suddenly "burst into life."


Wish by Leslie A. Susskind

Wish by Leslie A. Susskind

Wish by Leslie A. Susskind

Wish by Leslie A. Susskind


For more information, please visit:

This has been a sponsored review.

Refugee


11.18.2015

L'Ecole des Loisirs 50th Anniversary Exhibition

Posting this to add a touch of class to the blog... If you're in New York, sounds like it will be interesting!

L'Ecole des Loisirs 50th Anniversary Exhibition

11.15.2015

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish

Written by Deborah Diesen

Illustrated by Dan Hanna

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

About 15 years ago I was scuba diving in Fiji. There was a huge rusting hulk of a shipwreck about 80 feet down. At the end of a pole extending above the deck was a small metal basket. Resting in that basket was a pudgy fish about the size of my fist. I swam up and looked right into his eyes and he looked right back with a deep, gloomy frown.

So writes Dan Hanna, illustrator of the Pout-Pout Fish series of books, about his inspiration for the character.

I have been asked to participate in a blog tour - as the kids say - for the latest installment, The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish. Looks like this is the sixth one, unless you count Lift the Flap Tab: Hide and Seek, Pout-Pout Fish, which would then make it the seventh, coming after the previous entry, Sweet Dreams, Pout-Pout Fish. Did you know that there are over 2.5 million Pout-Pout books in print? That's roughly the population of Houston!

In this adventure, Pout Pout fish has to buy presents for his friends for Christmas.

"I hope that Mr. Fish’s latest tale will help children to realize that presents don’t need to be expensive or complicated or splashy," writes Deborah Diesen. "Simple, heartfelt presents that connect us to one another are the best gifts of all. A drawing; a craft project; time spent together; even just a smile! These sorts of gifts are the most cherished and the most enduring. It’s a lesson we grown-ups have to re-learn periodically as well."


I love the creativity of the presents Pout-Pout fish attempts to make for his friends, lots of fun detail to go back to after the tale has been read. I think they may have some of the appeal of the I Spy series, in that kids will try and recognize what the objects were originally before Pout-Pout fish arranged them together.


And it's fun to see the underwater analogues to our land-dwellin' ways.


And it's also fun to... hey, what does that say in the corner? Mr. Limpit's glasses? Ha. We just showed that movie to my son not long ago. I wasn't sure it was even still a part of the cultural landscape. Anyways, little in-jokes like that go a long way to ingratiate a book to me.


I think it's quite possible that this book may inspire children to make their own Christmas presents, as Deborah wrote, so be forewarned if any ungainly contraptions end up in your stocking!

Come out to meet the creators of the book:

Book Tour Schedule

Author Deborah Diesen
November 14, 3pm - Square Books, Oxford, MS
November 16, 3:30pm - Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
November 18, 4pm - Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach, FL
November 19, 7pm - Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA
November 20, 4pm - Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA
Illustrator Dan Hanna
November 15, 11am - WORD Books, Jersey City, NJ
November 16, 4pm - Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville, KY
November 17, 4:30pm - Towne Book Center & Cafe, Collegeville, PA
November 18, 4:30pm - Cover to Cover, Columbus, OH
November 19, 4:30pm - Lake Forest Books, Lake Forest, IL
November 21, 12pm - Anderson’s Book Shop, Naperville, IL
November 21, 2pm - Anderson’s Book Shop, La Grange, IL

Learn more at www.poutpoutfish.com.
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