Guest review by Kristi Mahoney
In Bear’s Bicycle, written by Laura Renauld and illustrated by Jennie Poh (Beaming Books, 2021) we are reunited with the lovable cast of characters first introduced by this author/illustrator combo in Porcupine’s Pie (Beaming Books, 2018). In this follow-up book, Bear wants to learn to ride his bike for the upcoming Summer Scoot. After multiple trips to the library to find a how-to guide, Bear discovers that doing everything by the book doesn’t always work out. Bear’s Bicycle is an endearing story about practice, perseverance, and the importance of friendship. Add in Jennie Poh’s whimsical illustrations and you have a book that will leave you feeling as warm and fuzzy as bear himself.
Laura Renauld’s writing style is delightfully consistent with her original story in this series. It’s filled with things that I personally love in a book and appreciate as a writer: orderly lists, fun-to-say onomatopoeia, distinct voice, and bonus back matter that will delight anyone teetering on whether or not to take on a two-wheeler.
And if you happen to fall in love with this woodland cast as fast as I did, you won’t have to wait long to see more of them. Cruise on over and pencil in the release date of the third book in this series, Squirrel’s Sweater (Beaming Books, anticipated September 21st, 2021).
To learn more about Laura visit here.
~Review by Amanda Smith
Go with the Flow (First Second, 2020) is written and illustrated by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann, co-creators of the online comic series The Mean Magenta and is the book I wish I had when I was a teen.
Brit, Sasha, Christine and Abby are four sophomore friends, who share laughs, rides, cookies and quiet conversations about their struggles with their periods. These four girls could not be more different in ethnicity, body types, personalities, and menstrual experiences, which makes this book super relatable to its YA audience. (No one-note, perfect, fictional girls here!) Upbeat Abby, fierce defender of women’s rights, decides to address the lack of feminine products in their school’s bathrooms after Sasha has a period emergency. Her passion and determination to be heard leads to hurt feelings, teetering friendships, and important lessons about listening. Brit deals with excruciating cramps that forces her to miss several days of school per month. She has to face well-meaning but clueless male teachers, and experiences anxiety about what might be wrong with her. Go with the Flow also addresses other teenage topics such as boys (the nice ones and the “fart bags”), sexual identity, generational and cultural gaps, activism, and kindness, without ever being preachy.
This YA graphic novel, filled with interesting facts throughout and containing oodles of relevant backmatter, is geared towards a more mature audience. However, it is a must-read, helping teens feel more comfortable about their changing bodies, and opening their eyes to what peers might be experiencing. Readers will recognize themselves within these pages, and all the characters will inspire them to be their best selves.
Bravo for bravery! Lily and Karen unabashedly tackle a subject that has been dubbed as “inappropriate” and “gross” for generations. In Abby’s words “you know, the patriarchy, and all that (barf)”. They deliver a plot focused on the menstrual cycle with lots of heart and tons of humor. They give the reader relatable characters, who feel as real as flesh-and-blood friends. They sprinkle thought-provoking ideas and acts of kindness throughout, educating and arming their readers with knowledge, courage, and hope. If you are feeling hesitant about your own work in progress with “taboo” themes, study Go With the Flow for a dose of daring.
Browse the original Mean Magenta comics here: themeanmagenta.com/
Learn more about Karen at www.karenschneemann.com/
To learn more about Lily, visit lilywilliamsart.com/
~ Guest Review by Megan Litwin
In What If, Pig? by Linzie Hunter (HarperCollins, 2021), we meet Pig and Mouse, and a supporting cast of colorful, cheerful animal characters. Pig is so kind and fun and generous that one day he decides to throw a party for all his friends. But Pig is also a worrier. A tremendous worrier. He worries that the party is a terrible mistake. A series of “what if” worries follow and spiral out of control. (Sound familiar, anyone?) Fortunately, Pig has good friends…friends who, as it turns out, sometimes worry too. The vibrant, colorful art and dynamic font that mimics Pig’s growing anxiety are perfect complements to the snappy text. What If, Pig? is a thoughtful book about friendship and kindness, worry and wonder. And a timely one too. As the world keeps changing and as perennial back-to-school worries crop up, this book offers a gentle springboard for discussion.
Purposeful repetition can be a powerful tool in picture books, and Linzie Hunter does a fabulous job playing with repetition in her text. The use of “what if” as a sentence starter throughout the book, and also in the title, gives this a rhythmic hum, a predictable beat. But not too predictable. Hunter continually surprises the reader by changing the nature of the “what if” and the meaning behind it. “What if” thinking can be worrisome and negative, but it can also be wonderous, hopeful, and full of positive possibility.
What if you read a book that warmed your own sometimes-worrisome heart so much that you told everyone about it?
You can learn more about Linzie Hunter here.
~ Review by Kelly Carey
I am not always a big poetry fan and almost never a poetry collection champion, but Night Wishes (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2020) has won me over. Poetry collections usually offer up a shared theme, but can lack a continuous story and solid character. Not true with Night Wishes! This collection of poems, selected by Lee Bennet Hopkins, is masterfully arranged to capture the wistful and chaotic moments of bedtime with a prominent beginning, middle and end. From the opening poems, "Bed", "Pillow" and "Blanket" that give the reader the anchor of place, to the poems that recall the day now gone and the hopes for the sweet dreams found in slumber, to the final poem, "Bed Again" that encourages our sleepy child to explore a new day, Night Wishes is a gem. Hopkins has set the poems in an order that reads from poem to poem into a joyful page turning story. Caregivers looking for a peaceful bedtime read or teachers reaching for a book as part of a poetry unit will not be disappointed.
When honing your writing skills, it is always helpful to study the mastery of fellow authors. In Night Wishes, you get the benefit of poems by thirteen fellow authors. Use Night Wishes to consider the power of sparse text, word choice, and cadence. All three attributes are essential building blocks for both poetry and prose and all three are on full display in Night Wishes.
In addition, this collection of poems provides ample examples of smart metaphors and lyrical similes. Both writing devices can be tricky to manage without sinking into common boring tropes or forced sugary language, the authors in Night Wishes each hit the mark with their own unique writing voice.
To learn more about Lee Bennett Hopkins visit leebennetthopkins.com.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
MEL FELL (Balzer & Bray, 2021) is a delightful picture book about a baby kingfisher who takes a leap—much to the chagrin of her brother and sister—and learns how to fly...by falling. It’s a story about trying new things and trusting the process, and young readers take the leap with Mel as she falls down, down, down, all the while letting her instincts be her guide. Mel’s nature neighbors all try to help, but Mel can sense this is what she needs to do, and her intuition does not steer her wrong. Cheerful, engaging illustrations heighten the upbeat energy of this story.
Tabor incorporates light visual humor and tightly written text (the word count is under 300 words including speech bubbles/asides) to convey a message about trusting your instincts and learning to spread your wings. He avoids the trap of explaining or naming the message of his story. Rather, he allows Mel’s adventure to do the heavy lifting and trusts his young readers to glean their own take-away from the young bird’s experience. This picture book is a strong example of conveying a message in a completely non-didactic manner. A true mentor text for concise, subtle writing.
To learn more about Corey R. Tabor, visit his website at www.coreyrtabor.com.
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