All in a Days Work: A Review of Stillwater and Koo Save the World

Stillwater and Koo Save the World (A Stillwater and Friends Book)
Jon J. Muth
Scholastic Press
Ages 4 to 8
February 7, 2023

Koo, a young giant panda, wakes up inspired to change the world and enlists his thoughtful Uncle Stillwater to help fix it all—today. As they go about their day, Koo proceeds to have giant expectations of what he would like to do, but Stillwater teaches him that making small changes in the environment, and helping the community, can be their own meaningful way to change the world.

Told using a variety of animals, humans, and anthropomorphic pandas, the diverse characters reflect the diversity of the world and all the characters that might need kindness. Pandas as symbols of peace and friendship in Asian countries, are the main character in this story as they try to bring small improvements to the world around them. The pace of the story changes from rapid excitement as Koo suddenly wakes up one day and instantly ropes his uncle into the expectations of wanting to save the whole world, then slows only when Stillwater speaks to Koo about making small differences in the world around him. As the pace changes, the tone of the story changes to one of acceptance and encouragement of his personal efforts Encouraged by his uncle, Koo begins to bring joy to those around him through small but meaningful actions, such as cleaning his room and making a cake for the neighbors. These realistic everyday chores and acts of thoughtfulness offer young readers clear examples of how their actions impact the world around them. Drawn with pencil and granulated watercolors, the airy but vivid illustrations exemplify the beauty in the world around Stillwater and Koo and why they want to help save it. Stillwater and Koo Save the World is an uplifting story about wanting to make giant differences in the world by doing something small, inspiring readers to make meaningful changes in the world regardless of age.  

 

Best Friends Forever: A Review of When a Friend Needs a Friend

When a Friend Needs a Friend
Roozeboos (Anne Roos Kleiss)
Scholastic
February 7, 2023
Age 4-8

Creativity and imagination rule for best friends Aya and Oskar. But when Oskar is feeling sad, Aya isn’t sure how to help him get back to enjoying their adventures. With guidance from some caring adults, she finds a way to understand his big feelings, give him space, and offer support until he is ready for fun again. In this thoughtful exploration of friendship, Roozeboos illustrates both the experience of sadness in oneself and in a loved one, and how working through our own feelings of confusion and rejection can help support a friend. Mixed media collage art, with a naïve sensibility, complements the chaos of both creativity and emotion found in the story. Rich natural tones play well with vibrant oranges and turquoise and add a sophistication to the guileless art. Despite simple faces, she captures the feelings of both central characters as they move from joy to sadness to understanding. Spreads that depict the passage of time let both Aya and Oskar feel their feelings and come through them to a new perspective on their surroundings and each other.

Empathy and compassion shine in a gentle story about accepting a friend and their feelings without trying to fix them.

Roundhouse Kick Retelling: A Review of Little Red Riding Hood and the Dragon

Little Red Riding Hood and the Dragon
Ying Chang Compestine
Illustrated by Joy Ang
Abrams Books for Young Readers
November 1st, 2022
Ages 4 to 8

Little Red Riding Hood and the Dragon depicts a refreshing Chinese twist on the age-old folk tale of Little Red Riding Hood, as told by the wolf from the original. But this Little Red knows kung fu and carries a sword, which is why her mother feels safe sending her to grandmother, or Nainai’s house, when she’s sick. Making her way to Nainai’s house, Little Red is tricked by a dragon and uses her quick wit and traditional Chinese instruments to save Nainai and herself, making her the hero of her own story.

Although Little Red Riding Hood knows how to defend herself, she doesn’t use much force when trying to escape the dragon’s belly, just cleverness. This provides deeper character depth than the original tale. More in line with the original tale, many other characters in this picture book aren’t focused on besides Little Red Riding Hood. As the big bad wolf is looked at as an antagonist in other folktales, his perspective as narrator is a unique element that refocuses the story now on a Chinese dragon as the antagonist. The digital art and vivid colors in Ang’s illustrations lend a modern sensibility to the ancient setting and traditional tale, and add a further twist to the retelling. Detailed backmatter contains Compestine’s author note on her inspiration for this twisted tale, her motivation to include certain Chinese elements, and a deeper look into Chinese culture and heritage. Young readers will enjoy this “real” version of the story, and grown up readers will get a chuckle out of the wolf’s audience in the final spread. Messages of empowerment, problem-solving, and not waiting for a huntsman savior are the real beauty of this twisted tale.

The Circle of Life: A Review of This Is the Sun

This Is the Sun

This Is the Sun
Elizabeth Everett
Illustrated by Evelline Andrya
Science Naturally
October 2022
Ages 4-7

A vibrant geometric sun shines its rays on the undulating earth below. Thus begins this brilliant and bouncy circle of life story told as a cumulative tale to the rhythm of “The House That Jack Built.” Moving from the sun, to the tree, to the flower, and so on Everett walks readers though the tale with simple text, easily digestible by preschool story times or early independent readers. Lush, full-color, digital collage illustrations complement the spare text. With text to the left of the spread and full-page illustrations to the right, Andrya layers in each new element of the story and introduces a seek-and-find component. Can you find the bug, on the leaf, on the tree? The text and art are both reminiscent of Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar. This familiar format, combined with the cadence of a well-known nursery rhyme, lends the nonfiction text to story time in a way most NF does not. Adding to its utility, the book will be available in both English and Spanish, with teacher resources available on the publisher’s website after publication.

This deceptively simple story elegantly introduces the complex topic of our interdependent ecosystem and helps young readers see their place in it.

Paving the Way For Future Generations: A Review of Bessie the Motorcycle Queen

Bessie the Motorcycle Queen
Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Illustrated by Charlot Kristensen
Scholastic Inc. / Orchard Books
September 20, 2022
Ages 6 to 8

Through rhyming verse, Bessie the Motorcycle Queen tells the story of little-known adventurer, Bessie Stringfield. A Black motorcyclist, she was known for her spontaneous, cross-country motorcycle rides, flair for the dramatic, and ability to cruise easily past her white, male competitors. Fighting against conditions in the Jim Crow-era South, Bessie was often forced to sleep under the stars when motels rejected her, was chased by Klan members, and cheated out of her race winnings. The impulsive, determined, and highly skilled Bessie gives author Charles Smith, Jr. plenty of tales for an action-packed ride. His verse maintains a quick pace and fun tone, despite some heavy content, even if some lines are a bit clunky. The sherbet-flavored color palette, laid over the modern digital paintings, immediately places the story in the 1920s. Elements like her wheat penny, which she flipped to decide her next location, add to the period details and her legend. The rough, lineless illustrations feel cartoon-like and energetic, with Bessie and her motorcycle significantly more detailed than everything else, keeping the reader’s eyes always on her. The backmatter includes an author’s note explaining his discovery of Bessie’s story, and the inspiration he found in her bravery, as well as a bibliography with books and online articles for additional reading on Bessie.

With races, car chases, and daring motorcycle stunts, this tall tale of an overlooked historical figure shines a spotlight on her bravery and spirit in a story of empowerment.

A Review of Bibbidi Bobbidy Academy: Rory and the Magical Mix-Ups

Bibbidi Bobbidi Academy: Rory and the Magical Mix-Ups
Kallie George
Illustrated by Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Disney Hyperion
October 11,2022
Ages 5-8

Living as a non-magical being her whole life, Rory Spellington enrolls in Bibbidi Bobbidi Academy so she can achieve her dream of becoming a fairy godmother. Her excitement about finally attending the Academy fades when all of her spells turn into disasters. Only with the help of her new friend, Mai, and her experience living in the non-magical world does Rory learn that having magic doesn’t make all wishes come true; listening and being there for someone is the best way to grant any wish.

This imaginative and magical tale starts by providing a map of Bibbidi Bobbidi Academy so readers can visually follow along on Rory’s adventures. Including a map of the academy encourages readers creativity as they delve into the story and adds to the adventure. Bright, vivid colors and attention to detail in the illustrations make each chapter a magical tale on its own*. Although the academy name and characters within the story have references to Disney movies, familiarity isn’t necessary to follow along. To adjust to the age-appropriate reading level, George spells out complex words, using word play to complement Rory’s magical spell-casting challenges, and normalizes learning differences for the reader. George’s tone follows Rory’s time at the academy from excited and animated in the beginning, then slowly dwindles to discouraged as Rory’s spells end in disaster, and back to festive as Rory completes her first magical assignment with flying colors, helping a child with his first wish. With an overtmoral, the author makes it clear to young readers that nobody can be a perfect fairy or non-magical person, but if you are motivated to fulfill your dream, then try your hardest, even when there might be magical disasters.

* Review based on ARC

Favorites: 2022 Back to School Picture Books

New shoes, new school supplies, and maybe new anxieties—back to school season is here! Whether you’re sending off the kids from your home, home library, or welcoming them into your classrooms, these 2022 picture books are full of reassurance (and sometimes silliness) to help with a smooth transition into the norms and routines of the school year.

KINDergarten cover art

KINDergarten: where kindness matters every day
Written by Vera Ahiyya
Illustrated by Joey Chou
Penguin/Random House Studio
June 2022
Age 4-8Leo is nervous about kindergarten, especially his new teacher’s request that the class contribute ideas to kindness pledge. Leo prefers quiet. What if he can’t figure out what to say? As Leo meets his classmates, and hears their ideas about kindness, he realizes his actions can speak just as loudly as their words. Vibrant colors and geometric illustrations lend a joyful tone to this reminder about all the ways we can show kindness to others.

Purple School cover art

The World Needs More Purple Schools
Written by Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart
Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Penguin/Random House Children’s Books
June 2022
Age 3-7

Penny Purple and her friends are back and bringing their plans for a more curious, respectful, and cooperative world to their classroom—and yours. Bright and joyful illustrations combine with silliness galore to explore Penny’s school community and everything the students and teachers do as good citizens and friends. 

Everything in Its Place cover art

Everything in Its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging
Witten by Pauline David-Sax
Illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
Penguin/Doubleday
July 2022
Age 3-7

An introverted young book-lover finds solace (and an escape from recess) by volunteering in the school library. Forced to face a week of recess on her own, an all-female motorcycle group inspires her to take a risk on opening up in order to find a like-minded friend. A mix of blue pencil drawings, watercolor, and collage are brilliantly combined to bring the girl’s interests, experiences, and imagination together in one cohesive and lovely ode to books and belonging.

Hurry, Little Tortoise cover art

Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School!
Written by Carrie Finison
Illustrated by Erin Kraan
Penguin/Random House Studio
July 2022
Age 3-7

Little Tortoise is determined to be on time for her first day of school. Passed by classmate after classmate, her dedication turns to despair when she’s knocked on her shell. A rescue by her teacher, Mr. Sloth, gives just the pick me up she needs to build confidence and get to class right on time. A sweet tale of perseverance to illustrate that moving at your own pace doesn’t diminish your place in the crowd.

This is a School cover art

This is a School
Written by John Schu
Illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison
Candlewick
March 2022
Age 3-7

Through simple text and lively art, this diverse and vibrant school community comes to life and introduces young students to the rhythms and learning within. Identifying locations, experiences, and emotions tied to the school day and beyond, Schu gently welcomes readers to the world of school. Differences in culture, ability, skill, and social-emotional experience are celebrated in vignettes exploring all the school building and school community might offer and what community members have to offer in return.

Bedtime for Creatures Great and Small: A Review of Sleep

Sleep cover art

Sleep
Barbara Herkert
Illustrated by Daniel Long
Albert Whitman & Co.
October 1, 2022
Ages 4-8

Humans require less sleep as they grow older. Grey whales float on the water’s surface to breathe while they sleep. Most mammals and birds exhibit signs of REM sleep, which means they may dream like humans. All living things with a nervous system need sleep, from dogs to insects to sharks to us; sleep specifics just depend on the type of animal and its habitat. Sleep, written by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Daniel Long, dives deep into the world of slumber with detailed facts about sleep patterns, cycles, and the differences between sleep needs and experiences in humans and animals.

Filled with a lush color scheme and vivid images, the book resonates calm, perfect for this topic of sleep and making it a relaxing bedtime read. Each image is digitally illustrated, in a similar style to mixed media collages, but shaded to bring out depth and textures, which brings each animal to life. Long’s images are vibrant, but simply detailed, keeping them from distracting from the information provided on each page. Sedate pacing prevents the fact-heavy text from overwhelming readers. With a background in biology and fine arts, Barbara Herkert provides facts in a tone filled with admiration for the natural world that complements the extraordinary details she provides. The author also includes a glossary and additional resources as backmatter for those who would like to continue researching the world of sleep. Working through interesting information on humans and animals, the book takes young readers on a mind-opening adventure into the world of sleep and the extraordinary world we live in.


Growing a Reader: Garden Pictures Books for Spring 2022

Spring has sprung! Or I’m sure it will any time now. And with it comes the chance to get outside (finally!) and enjoy nature, feel the sunshine, and play in the garden. This spring the publishing world has supplied us with a bumper crop of titles to inspire gardeners of all ages. With picture books and board books, fiction and nonfiction, there is something to inspire all of us to grab our garden tools and start digging. Happy reading (and planting)!

BOARD BOOKS:

My Garden: My World in 100 Words
Happy Yak, illustrated by Marijke Buurlage
Quarto
Published April 12, 2022
Ages Birth to 3

This bright and bouncy vocab primer explores the seasons and fun to be had in nature with simple word to illustration connections. Broken into easy to interpret categories, each spread includes object, action, and emotion words, and with a nod to social emotional learning, color-coded dots indicate actions and emotions.

PICTURE BOOKS:

Behold Our Magical Garden: Poems Fresh from the School Garden
Allen Wolf, illustrated by Daniel Duncan
Candlewick
Published March 8, 2022
Ages 8-12

Part poetry collection, part gardening guide, and all fun. Wolf’s poetry and thoughtful end notes weave English language arts lessons, with STEM topics in verses full of curiosity, wonder, and interesting biology facts. The diverse class groups and detailed digital drawings are an engaging combination sure to inspire garden clubs to start planning.

The Fairy Garden
Georgia Buckthorn, illustrated by Isabella Mazzanti
Quarto
Published April 5, 2022
Ages 4-7

Mimi dreams of a fairy garden and works diligently to plant, prune, and tidy her garden until it’s perfect—for people, not fairies. With a little encouragement from its former inhabitants, she lets go and grows a beautiful and wild garden for the fairies to thrive. Lovely, soft-focused, colored pencil illustrations evoke a magical setting for dreaming of fairy-folk. Illustrated endnotes include rules for creating a fairy-friendly garden, adorable housing included.

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS:

Little Homesteader: A Spring Treasury of Recipes, Crafts, and Wisdom
Angela Ferraro-Fanning, illustrated by AnneliesDraws
Quarto
Published March 22, 2022
Ages 6-8

A fun and fact-filled celebration of spring’s natural wonders. Full of wholesome, hands-on ways to enjoy the foods, plants, and holidays that make spring so lovely, including crafts, recipes, and gardening tips. Vibrant colored pencil illustrations of veggies, bugs, and animals also include two rosy-cheeked children enjoying all the fun.

The Gardener of Alcatraz: A True Story
Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Jenn Ely
Charlesbridge
Published April 5, 2022
Ages 7-10

Elliott Michener, sent to Alcatraz as a convicted counterfeiter, changed both his life and the island prison when he discovered a passion for gardening. Without white-washing Michener’s crimes or intentions, Bland Smith treats his story with empathy and his transformation from criminal to landscaper with dignity. Ely’s thoughtful use of color swings from dreary to cheerful (and back) in attentive accordance to the mood of the text. Back matter includes a dual timeline for Alcatraz Island and Michener, extensive notes on both, and a bibliography and author’s note.

Planting a Garden in Room 6: From Seeds to Salad
Caroline Arnold
Charlesbridge
Published March 15, 2022
Ages 3-7

With a little help from their teacher, the students in room 6 will learn how to plant and tend a garden. Step-by-step explanations and photos cover everything from seed sprouting to planting to harvesting and taste-testing. A tool guide, Q&A, vocabulary terms, and both digital and hard copy resources complement the extremely detailed text. Planting a Garden in Room 6 is the third book in the collaborative series between Arnold and kindergarten teacher, Jennifer Best.


Which titles would you add to this list?

Queen Quest: A Review of The Queen in the Cave

Queen in the Cave
Júlia Sardá
Candlewick Studio
May 24, 2022
Ages 5 to 9

Franca dreams of a queen in a cave. Feeling a strange need to abandon all she once enjoyed, Franca recruits her younger sisters, Carmela and Tomasina, to journey with her on her quest through the dark forest to find the queen. Although her sisters become afraid of the forest and the creatures they meet, Franca motivates them with her own blooming confidence to continue. When Franca, Carmela, and Tomasina finally reach the cave, they are given the most unexpected surprise in discovering the identity of the queen.

This imaginative picture book explores themes of overcoming one’s fears, being curious about the unknown, and being brave enough to keep going through life. Although Franca recruits her sisters in the beginning of the quest to travel with her, she learns that it’s okay to drift apart from the people and activities she once enjoyed, indicating the transition from childhood to adulthood. The illustrations and tone of the story also exhibit the shift, starting with a lighthearted tone and clean portrayal of the sisters and moving to a heavier tone and a darker color scheme focused on Franca. The fantastical illustration of the forest and the creatures fill each page with hidden objects that catch the attention of any reader and make them want to look again to see new objects that one might have missed. The fairytale-like tone of this picture book for older children, emphasizes the reality of growing up and learning to embrace your individuality, couched within a whimsical adventure.