Thursday, February 27, 2020

Picture Book Roundup #3

It's time for a picture book roundup! Here are ten of my favorite recent picture books. Need more picture book recommendations? Check out my prior picture book roundups.


Are Your Stars Like My Stars? by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Heidi Woodward Sheffield. (Sterling, 2020). With gorgeous, rich illustrations, this book asks if the colors one person sees around them are like the colors another person in a different part of the world sees. Each spread or two features a different color and compares, for example, the gold in a bright field of sunflowers to the gold in a shining arrangement of candles or the pink of a sunset to the pink of cotton candy. This is a celebration of life and families around the world and could be used in storytimes about multiculturalism or colors.

The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk. (Orchard Books, 2019). Your brain is kind of a big deal. Not only does it control all the body stuff you never have to think about (like your heart beating or how to feel sad), it controls all your muscles, makes memories, and thinks! This hilarious, cartoony book will tell you all about it and give you plenty of laughs as you go along. Hand this to kids curious about the human body or young readers who are interested in science and biology.


Double Bass Blues by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez (Knopf, 2019). Almost completely written in onomatopoeia, the surreal illustrations and sounds of the city tell a story of a boy playing an instrument bigger than himself. Nic plays the double bass, both in the school orchestra and jamming at his grandfather's apartment with his buddies. After an arduous trip through the city lugging his giant instrument, Nic finds the sounds of the city influencing his music. This is an ode to the lengths that young musicians will go to for their art and a great book for aspiring orchestra members.

Feast of Peas by Kashmira Sheth (Peachtree, March 2020). This is a super cute and funny story about a simple farmer named Jiva who is very much looking forward to eating the peas he is growing. Each day his friend Ruvji stops by to admire the peas and each time the peas are ripe, Jiva comes out to his garden to find all the pea pods picked! Could it be rabbits? Ghosts? Hmmm. With its repetitive refrain and silly situations and pictures, this is a book that begs to be read aloud and I would definitely try it on an elementary school audience.


Fix That Clock by Kurt Cyrus (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2019). Adorable! In fun, rhythmic rhyming text that partially matches the cadence of Hickory Dickory Dock, this picture book shows a crumbling old clock and the steps that a group of builders take to fix it. This is sure to be a hit with young construction fans, but also add it to units or storytimes on Mother Goose. My favorite part is at the end when the builders use their scraps to build houses for all the previous critter occupants of the clock (bats, swallows, mice).

Hosea Plays On by Kathleen M. Blasi, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Sterling, 2020). A celebration of the power of music, this book is a tribute to a real street musician from Rochester, NY who used his talent to spread a love of music by playing and by encouraging other musicians. Playful, colorful illustrations set the scene for this joyous book as Hosea reaches the day he's earned enough money busking to purchase a trumpet for a neighbor who's been wanting to learn to play.


Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (Tilbury, 2020). This book is an encouraging and empowering love letter to many different shades of brown found on many different shades of people. The rich poetic text is powerful and I can see parents and teachers wanting a copy of this book on their shelves to impart a positive message to the kids in their lives. I don't know that it's a book I necessarily see kids reaching for themselves, but with the right adult to share it, I think it's an inspiring book.

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki (Schwartz & Wade, 2019). Here's an artist you didn't know you needed to know about. Tyrus Wong immigrated to the United States as a child, using forged documentation to get around the Chinese Exclusion Act. He went on to become an influential artist who revolutionized the art for Disney's Bambi but was only credited as a "background artist". This wonderful picture book biography is a sure bet for young artists.


Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (Simon & Schuster, 2019). Wow wowie wow! The illustrations in this book are simply stunning. Sulwe has always been self-conscious about the color of her skin - she's much darker than the rest of her family. After she prays to God to change her, she's visited by a night star who tells her a legend about day and night and why BOTH are important for the world. This is a powerful own-voices message of self-acceptance written by a woman who herself felt bad about having dark skin until she began to see dark skinned role models. Here's hoping that Sulwe may help more children who are feeling the same way.

Swim, Swim, Sink by Jenn Harney (Little, Brown, 2020). Storytime alert! This funny, rhyming book features a family of ducks who go out for a swim.... except one of them sinks. (I didn't know a duck COULD sink, did you?) Determined to join his family and to continue the sweetly rhyming story, this duckling tries many solutions to his problem. I love the rhythmic rhyming story that keeps getting interrupted, adding humor, and the funny things the duckling tries to join his family in the water. Use this for a storytime on sink or float or about ducks or swimming.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Hot Chocolate StoryWalk

Abby pours hot chocolate while a beautiful family poses in front of the first StoryWalk frame. Full disclosure: this is my brother and his beautiful family! 

This weekend, we had a fabulous, super easy event to promote our StoryWalk, a Hot Chocolate StoryWalk. It was the brainchild of our Marketing Coordinator who thought it would be a good way to encourage families to come out during the winter months when our StoryWalk might not see as many guests. He was totally right and I was super excited that so many people made it out to see The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (a favorite favorite of mine) before we switch it over for our spring story.

We lucked out with a beautiful, sunny day that wasn't too cold for February and we saw over 100 people during the 2 hours of the event. We mainly advertised via social media and sent out an email blast. Our Parks Department cross posted on their social media, too. I definitely saw some library families that I know, some of whom had visited the StoryWalk before and some not.

Honestly, all we did was purchase hot chocolate, hand out drinks and snacks, and direct people where to go for the StoryWalk. And we got SO MANY great comments about the event on Facebook. We will definitely do some similar events in the future because it was very easy to set up and run and seemed to have a big impact for the amount that we spent on it.

The nitty gritty...

We purchased hot chocolate from a local coffee shop and it cost about $100 for a cambro that served 50. We tried to pour half cups (for the kids, at least) to make the hot chocolate stretch farther and because a full adult hot chocolate is a lot to drink for little kids. We told everyone that they were welcome to come back and get more if they wanted. We did also use 3 cans of whipped cream.

We had coffee donated, so there was that for adults too. We have found that many coffee shops are willing to donate coffee for events, but we have not had luck with getting hot chocolate donated due to the cost of making it. We also provided individually packaged snacks - Goldfish crackers, cookies, etc. and small waters.

While the hot chocolate was the star of the show, we did have several kids who just wanted water or snacks. I think it was great to have a variety. A couple of things (which may be obvious, but they're things I hadn't thought about before the event)...

  • Pour it yourself. That way you can control the portions and try to prevent waste. Plus, there's no risk of a young person accidentally scalding themselves or anything. We were glad we did this! 
  • Keep any packaging you can for nutritional info. We had one child who was diabetic and their parents wanted to check the carb content of the whipped cream we use. When serving food at a kids' event, I think it's always a best practice to keep all packaging. Lots of families want to check it for a variety of reasons. 
  • Ask the coffee shop to make the hot chocolate at child temperature! I do not have any kids, so this did not occur to me, but we definitely should have done that. We didn't have any problems with it, but after one parent asked about the temperature we definitely warned everyone else that it might be a little hot. Having them make it child temperature probably would have been a better call. 
  • Get extra cups! Since we were doing half-pours, we definitely needed the extra cups that we brought. We were super glad to have planned ahead on that one. 
  • Bring paper towels. We were really glad we did this, too. 
We had thought about doing a craft, but elected not to since the temperatures during the time of our event were predicted to be in the high 40s. We didn't need it and I doubt very many people would have done it, anyway. They were there for the Walk and that's what they did! 

Next time we do this, I would definitely like to send a staff person around the walk to take pictures of families. Since there were just two of us there, we pretty much just manned the table the whole time. It wasn't so crowded that we needed two people at the table every minute, but families tended to arrive in groups, so it was nice to have two when that happened so that there wasn't a long line. 

We've got another event planned with some community partners for the spring and the success of this one has got me really excited about that one! 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

When Stars Are Scattered

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. Grades 4-8. (Dial Books, April 2020). 264 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher. This book comes out on April 14 - pre-order today! 


"What's your Plan B?"

The camp is supposed to be temporary. Most people at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya dream of moving somewhere else - to America or Canada to start new lives. But not Oman. All Omar wants is for the war in Somalia to be over so they can go home. To find their mom. To become a farmer like his dad was. To get back to their lives.

Now they've been at the camp for seven years and Omar is offered a spot at the school in the camp to get his education, but he doesn't see the point. He doesn't need a degree to be a farmer like his dad. And going to school would mean leaving his little brother for hours at a time. The two of them haven't been separated since they arrived together at the camp, separated from their mother who is still missing. Omar's not sure how Hassan would do without him and it's Omar's responsibility to take care of him. They might be the only family each other has left.

Why go to school when the war could end any day and he might go back home? If he could get back home, it would be worth the nights tossing and turning from bad dreams. It would make up for the days of empty bellies when their food ran out. He would be so happy to see his mother's smiling face again.

But what if that's never going to happen?

Attending school would mean leaving Hassan for just a few hours each day and then coming right back.

But then, their mother thought she was coming right back, too...

This is a true story about a kid growing up in a refugee camp. Refugee camps are supposed to be temporary, but with many refugees needing new homes, it's possible for people to spend a long time waiting in a camp. This riveting graphic novel memoir shares the day-to-day life of people living in a refugee camp and the unforgettable story of one man who grew up in a camp and went on to make life better for many refugees. 

My thoughts:

Okay, I don't know why I'd never thought about this, and this sounds terrible, but it honestly never occurred to me that there are people living whole lives in refugee camps. This is a book that definitely opened my eyes and I think it's going to do that for a lot of readers. It's an incredibly moving story and so well done by Mohamed and Jamieson. It doesn't shy away from the terrible realities of being forced from your home and having to make do as you wait for better opportunities, but it presents it all with a kids-eye-view that makes it very accessible to young readers.

Omar's emotions come through so readily in the graphic novel format and I think that's a format choice that's going to capture the interest of a lot of readers. Reading this book, I put myself in Omar's place, missing his parents so much, feeling torn between taking care of his brother and pursuing opportunities to give them a better future, and the constant fear that those opportunities might never come. Omar sees adults who have given up on any hope of a different future. The process of being granted asylum in another country is cumbersome and selective and some people are just never chosen.

This is an inspirational story written with a lot of heart and I loved getting to know these characters. This is a book that's going to put this issue at the forefront of a lot of minds and it's definitely one to know about and to purchase for your library shelves. 



The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Little, Brown, 2014. While The Red Pencil is a novel in verse and When Stars Are Scattered is a graphic novel, both portray child refugees in Africa with an immediacy that doesn't shy away from horrific events but makes them accessible to young readers. Both stories are ultimately hopeful. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Six New Picture Books to Celebrate African American History Month

How are you celebrating African American History Month this year? Reading or sharing a book is a great way to celebrate and today I'm highlighting six new picture books that would make great choices for reading with a child or putting on display at your library.

Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Ages 5-8. Harper, 2020. When a little boy is nervous to start school, his grandfather not only tells him to be brave, but takes him back in his time machine to show him moments in his own life where he had to be brave. With whimsical illustrations and stirring words, this is a heartfelt tribute to everyday triumphs and the enduring love of family.

Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World by Cheryl Hudson, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson. Grades 3-7. Crown, 2020. Each spread in this new collective biography features an influential African American woman with a portrait and a brief biography. This book is published in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison. Grades 2-5. Here's another great choice if you're looking for collective biographies. This one features African American men. With cute illustrations, this one skews a bit younger than Hudson's collection above. Harrison has published several similar collective biographies to check out: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball's Negro Leagues by Leah Henderson. Grades 1-4. Capstone, 2020. Finally! A picture book biography of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, African American baseball player who played in the Negro Leagues (yes, with the boys!) for three years in the 1950s. Sprightly text matches a sprightly personality in this biography that's perfect for young sports fans and women's history. Chapter book readers may also be interested in Michelle Y. Green's A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, which was published in 2004 and is a great read.

Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome. Grades 1-5. A girl and her family make their way north via the "Overground Railroad" as part of the Great Migration in the 1930s. In free verse poem and with striking mixed media illustrations, the Ransomes portray this journey, taken by so many, in a hopeful tone. I love the play on the Underground Railroad in the title; this book would make a great compliment to any book you're reading about the Underground Railroad since it portrays another era of history that is maybe less talked about.


Patricia's Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Alleana Harris. Grades 1-5. Sterling, 2020. This handsome picture book biography depicts the life and innovation of Dr. Patricia Bath, an opthamologist who invented laser treatment for cataracts. This book not only celebrates an achievement by an African American inventor, it celebrates a successful women in a STEM field. This is a great story to know.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

5 Picture Books about Love but Not Valentine's Day

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and this is the perfect time to celebrate love! I know holiday books tend to get checked out really quickly at libraries, so if you've waited until the last minute to put out a display or to visit your library to pick out some books, here are some books that celebrate love without being Valentine's specific (so they might still be on the shelves!). Not into Valentine's Day or already got your books picked out? These are perfect to share anytime.

The I Love You Book by Todd Parr. Ages 2-6. Little, Brown, 2009. C'mon, you knew I was going to put a Todd Parr book on here. I super love his affirming messages, bright childlike illustrations, and moments of humor that keep things really fun. If you don't have Todd Parr on your shelves or in your storytime, you need to fix that right away!

Little You by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett. Ages 0-2. Orca, 2013. This tender board book is all about celebrating love for young children. It's a perfect bedtime readaloud and would make a super new baby gift. I love the muted, cut paper illustrations and the essential message about how important children are to their parents. 

Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom by Marilyn Singer. Ages 5-9. Knopf, 2011. This cute, punny book of short poems imagines love poems animals might share with each other. It has funny, cartoony illustrations and is short enough for a bedtime readaloud or could be broken up into lunchbox poems to send along to school. This one will be a hit with animal lovers and pet owners.


Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato. Ages 4-8. Balzer + Bray, 2016. When two worms fall in love, they want to get married! But who will wear a dress and who will wear a suit? It turns out it doesn't matter because Worm loves Worm (and because scientifically worms are both male and female). This is a really sweet story celebrating love and a relationship where gender is not a factor and a wonderful way to introduce young children to the rainbow of gender and relationships in our world. Or, y'know, a worm can just be a worm.


Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell. Ages 4-8. Atheneum, 2011. This one is a fun readaloud and was a surefire February hit when we'd visit our afterschool groups for storytime. Mortimer is looking for love, but he hasn't met the right lady yet. He goes to the gym, but his arm keeps falling off. He's put up an account on, but no dice. How's a guy supposed to meet a ghoul? This is a perfect choice for young readers who like something a little scary but also funny and for skeptics who think think they're too cool for love stories. And there's a sequel if you like this one: Zombie in Love 2 + 1 (Atheneum, 2014).