Review by Annie Cronin Romano
I have been reading nonfiction picture books more and more often these days. Most have been biographies, but this week I read a nonfiction science picture book, SALAMANDER SKY (Green Writers Press, 2018), that shares a different kind of experience: the springtime migration of the spotted salamander. Through the eyes of a young girl, the reader sees her excitement about witnessing the salamanders’ night journey and her determination to help keep them safe on their travels.
Author Katy Farber uses a narrative writing style to share information about the spotted salamander and the reason for its migration. These scientific facts are folded neatly into the narrative in a manner easily relatable to children. Using soft, appealing illustrations, illustrator Meg Sodano captures the story-like presentation without sacrificing detail.
SALAMANDER SKY is an ideal addition to elementary classrooms and complements several areas of the science curriculum. Young ones will be grabbing their flashlights and begging to scout out the spotted salamanders on rainy April nights! And any book that can spark that interest in a child is worthy of a spot on the bookshelf!
SALAMANDER SKY is a nonfiction nature picture book for children ages 4-8 years old.
By telling the story from the perspective of a young girl, Katy Farber makes this nature topic appealing to young readers and students. The portrayal of the child helping the salamanders safely navigate back to the water gives children an understanding of the importance of conservation and a knowledge that they can make a positive difference in the lives of nature’s creatures.
For more information on Katy Farber’s work, visit her website at www.katyfarber.com.
For info on Meg Sodano’s work, visit her website at www.msodanoillustration.com.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
In CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND, Clayton is devoted to two things: his grandfather and his blues harp (no, it’s not a harmonica!). All Clayton hopes for is a solo with the Bluesmen, the group his grandfather and Clayton perform with in Washington Square Park. So when Clayton’s grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, dies unexpectedly, the soulful melancholy of the blues songs he played becomes all too real. Devastated by his mother’s insistence to rid their lives of all things that remind her of Cool Papa, Clayton takes off in search of the Bluesmen, certain that when he finds them, they’ll take him under their wing and mentor him musically as his grandfather did. And he’ll finally get that solo he’s wanted to play so badly. But life on the run has other plans for Clayton, and his harrowing adventure opens up problems Clayton never dreamed he'd encounter. Throughout the story, Rita Williams-Garcia tenderly and skillfully navigates the emotions Clayton experiences as he struggles with the sudden loss of his grandfather and the resentment he feels towards his mother, who wants to bury Clayton’s love of the blues right along with Cool Papa.
CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND (Amistad, 2017) is a middle grade novel for children ages 8-12. This beautifully written story reads like a blues score with language that captures the very spirit of the music it features.
Rita Williams-Garcia explores the complexity of losing a loved one from the child’s perspective while also depicting the contrasting experiences of the parent. Written in third person, CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND does not shy away from the difficult topic of death; it seamlessly weaves the sadness of loss with the joy of how a person’s impact can keep shining even after he's gone. The characterization is strong, and the wailing tones of a blues melody are captured in every line, making it a laudable example of using linguistic style to elicit the tone of a story.
Rita Williams-Garcia is the bestselling author of many award-winning books, including One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven. For more information on her work, visit her website at https://rita-williamsgarcia.squarespace.com/.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
I must admit, I don’t gravitate to the nonfiction shelves of the children’s section very often. But recently, I’ve been checking out an increasing quantity of nonfiction biography children’s books to read as mentor texts for a project. And it has been an amazing journey of discovery!
Why hadn’t I lingered around those children’s nonfiction shelves more in the past? There are some fascinating and well-written books there! It was difficult to choose just one title for my book pick this week.
Fear not! I narrowed it down and selected the inspiring picture book biography I DISSENT: RUTH BADER GINSBURG MAKES HER MARK (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016), by Debbie Levy.
Levy not only highlights the life events and remarkable career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but she also brings light to the importance of fighting for equality and pursuing your passions in life no matter the odds. Told in relatable language, which include some of Ginsburg’s school-aged experiences and feelings that most children are sure to relate to, Levy shares with energy and light humor the story of the first Jewish woman (and second woman overall) to serve as a justice on the United States Supreme Court. Elizabeth Baddeley’s spirited illustrations and bold use of text illuminate I DISSENT in a manner certain to draw in young readers. The writing and the illustrations work together to convey the vital message that disagreement doesn’t have to be mean-spirited, and voicing your own beliefs can lead to worthwhile outcomes.
I DISSENT: RUTH BADER GINSBURG MAKES HER MARK is picture book biography for children ages 4-8 years old.
With I DISSENT, Debbie Levy has written a strong, inspiring biography which is accessible and interesting to young readers. Far more than a timeline or string of factual events, I DISSENT tells Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story with heart and personality. This makes the biography relatable, especially to children who may feel their dreams are beyond possibility. For writers, it is a strong mentor text for picture book biographies as Levy covers the the major events and shaping influences of Ginsburg's life without the story feeling watered down, and she tackles sensitive topics in a kid-appropriate manner.
For more information on Debbie Levy’s work, visit her website at http://debbielevybooks.com.
For more infomation on Elizabeth Baddeley’s work, visit her website at http://ebaddeley.com.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
If your children enjoy adventure and a hearty laugh, then get your hands on IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017) for a new twist on the classic fairy tale. In this latest picture book by Josh Funk, Jack questions the narrator at every turn, challenging the storyline and often going off-script. In the process, the narrator’s attempt to tell the traditional version of the story is turned upside down by the feisty and strong-willed boy. These twists, and the sassy interactions that ensue, create a funny, high-energy story that children will want to hear (or read) again and again. Edwardian Taylor’s bright, lively illustrations paired with fun cartoon speech bubbles capture the spunk of the story and add humor beyond the text. The perfect read-aloud, IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK will engage young readers with vibrant images and clever storytelling.
IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK is picture book for children ages 4-8. Pick up this witty story for guaranteed giggles!
IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK is a strong mentor text for fractured fairy tales and meta-fiction (breaking the fourth wall). Funk blends the traditional story with modern attitude and language to create an amusing clash between the narrator and the main character.
For more information on Josh Funk’s work, visit his website at www.joshfunkbooks.com.
For info on Edwardian Taylor’s work, visit his website at www.edwardiantaylor.com.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
In THE HIDDEN MEMORY OF OBJECTS, Danielle Mages Amato’s debut young adult novel, fifteen-year-old Megan Brown’s brother has just died, supposedly from a drug overdose. Megan is confused and angry, insisting the Tyler she knew never would have taken his own life, let alone used drugs. When the police start digging further into the circumstances surrounding Tyler’s death, Megan sees the memory of the brother she adored being defaced before her eyes. A talented collage artist, she turns to Tyler’s possessions to find comfort. In the process, she discovers she has an ability to “see” the memories held in those objects. It is a talent that causes Megan much upheaval and pain—literally—and takes her and two friends, Eric and Nathan, on a journey which generates more questions than answers about her brother’s life.
Megan’s devotion to the brother she loved clashes abruptly with the betrayal she feels as she uncovers a side of her brother she never knew existed. In her attempt to makes sense of her newfound visions, Megan enlists the assistance of an artifact historian, Dr. Brightman, who specializes in "murderabilia"—and may have a few secrets of his own. As she seeks the truth about Tyler’s death, Megan learns there is far more to people than can be seen on the surface, even those she thought she knew the best.
THE HIDDEN MEMORY OF OBJECTS, a contemporary young adult novel with a dose of paranormal, grabbed me from chapter one. Megan was a believable, likeable character, and her relationships with Eric, a close classmate, and Nathan, a friend of her brother’s whom she doesn’t recall meeting, add nice dimension to the plot. THE HIDDEN MEMORY OF OBJECTS blends family bonds, mystery, a touch of romance, betrayal, corruption, paranormal abilities, and history into an engaging, multifaceted journey. This beautifully written story kept me turning the pages long after I should have turned out the lights!
Amato’s character development is strong, as she skillfully uses her characters' dialogue and actions to build their personalities for the reader. There is no info dumping here. She delves into the complex emotions that can arise with the tragic, unexpected loss of a loved one and portrays them in a believable manner throughout the story. Contemporary and paranormal genres are blended seamlessly, and every scene and character contribute to the movement of the tightly woven narrative.
For more information on Danielle Mages Amato’s work, visit her website at www.daniellemagesamato.com.
A review by Annie Cronin Romano
Set over a ten-month span during World War II, Lois Sepahban's PAPER WISHES follows ten-year-old Manami and her family as they are uprooted from their home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, to the Manzanar Japanese relocation camp in California. Manami is devastated by this move, particularly when her beloved dog, Yujiin, is not allowed to go with them. The emotional trauma of the move and internment causes Manami to go mute. Unable to verbally communicate, Manami turns to drawing and painting as a means of expressing herself. In her efforts to bring Yujiin back to her family, Manami sends some of her artwork up into the winds in the form of paper lanterns, hoping Yujiin will sense her wishes and find her again.
Sepahban thoughtfully and vividly depicts the confinement of Japanese-American families through Manami’s eyes. Told in the first person, PAPER WISHES skillfully captures Manami’s fears and hopes while strikingly depicting the pride and beauty of her family’s traditions, commitment to one another and, ultimately, Manami’s bravery. PAPER WISHES, a middle grade novel for children ages 9-12, unfolds like a fan into a rich canvas of devotion and courage. Do not let PAPER WISHES pass you by!
Lois Sepahban delves into the tensions of wartime mistrust with tenderness and spare yet vividly poetic language. The novel is structured so that each chapter depicts one month, beginning with March and ending in December. The great emotional distance travelled by Manami and her family during this time is conveyed brilliantly by Sepahban, and the pacing is well-balanced and engaging. Sepahban illuminates this important, morally disturbing event in America’s history with delicacy and emotional depth.
For more information on Lois Sepahban’s work, visit her website at www.loissepahban.com.
A review by Annie Cronin Romano
In COUNTING THYME, Melanie Conklin’s middle grade debut, eleven-year-old Thyme Owens is uprooted from her San Diego home and moved to New York City so her younger brother, Val, can undergo experimental cancer treatment. Thyme is determined to return home by March so she and her best friend can celebrate their birthdays together. Challenges at her new school and having to share a room with her emotionally volatile older sister further spur on Thyme’s desire to return home. Thyme uses her parents’ time reward system—a half hour for doing the dishes, an hour for helping with laundry—to save up enough days to visit her best friend. With each passing day, however, Thyme is making friends and mediating drama in New York, and she feels herself drifting further away from her previous life. These changes heighten Thyme’s desperation to return home. Anger and fear set in as Thyme begins to suspect that returning to San Diego may not be part of her parents’ plan after all. Throughout the story, Conklin tenderly and skillfully navigates the conflicting emotions Thyme experiences as she struggles between the resentment she feels about moving and her fear of losing her brother to his devastating disease.
COUNTING THYME is a contemporary middle grade novel for children ages 10 and up. This beautifully written story is engaging and heartfelt. A must read!
With humor and sensitivity, Conklin delves into the complexity of dealing with what Thyme wants (to go home) versus what she has (a brother with cancer). Written in first person, COUNTING THYME does not shy away from the emotional struggles of having a family member battling a serious illness. Conklin illuminates the importance of selflessness and sacrifice without being preachy or heavy-handed.
For more information on Melanie Conklin’s work, visit her website at www.melanieconklin.com.
Reviewed by Annie Cronin Romano
In this spirited follow-up to Sophie’s Squash, Sophie is off to school, toting her closest friends, two squash named Bonnie and Baxter, along with her. Sophie’s devotion to her squash makes it difficult for her to bond with the other children in her class. Even a boy who brings his beloved stuffed frog to school can’t win Sophie over. As Sophie’s two squash start to fade, she realizes that making room for human friends is an important part of life.
SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016) follows Sophie as she learns to open her mind and heart to making new friends. Colorful, lively illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf perfectly depict Sophie’s progress as she moves from sharing adventures with her two squash to growing relationships with her classmates. Miller’s text and Wilsdorf’s illustrations blend flawlessly to convey a sweet tale of learning how to welcome new friends. SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL is picture book for children ages 3-7. Get your hands on this well-crafted sequel and make some new friends of your own!
In SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, Miller creates a sequel which flows beautifully from Sophie’s Squash yet creates a unique adventure for Sophie. Lessons Sophie learned in the first book are carried over into this follow-up in a seamless, subtle way.
For more information on Pat Zietlow Miller’s work, visit her website at www.patzietlowmiller.com or check out her June 2016 guest blog on this site at http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/guest-blogger-pat-zietlow-miller-talks-sequels.
For info on Anne Wilsdorf’s work, visit her website at www.studiogoodwinsturges.com/anne-wilsdorf1.html.
~ by Annie Cronin Romano
Rodeo Red has a hootin’ good time down on the ranch with her loyal stuffed dog, Rusty. But when a new rancher, Slim, shows up on her land and takes a liking for Rusty, Rodeo Red must figure out how to get Rusty back without displeasing mom, the Sheriff, and dad, the Deputy.
Maripat Perkins’ debut picture book takes a simple yet honest look at the conflict that can build up for an older sibling when a new baby enters the picture. Using humor and delightful cowboy jargon, Perkins’ RODEO RED (Peachtree Publishers, 2015) is sure to delight children, particularly those who may have a younger brother or sister. The story is beautifully illustrated by Molly Idle (Flora and the Flamingo), whose muted earth toned illustrations flawlessly capture Red’s range of emotions. Perkins and Idle take the reader on an amusing, clever adventure with pictures and text that readers will enjoy over and over again. Toss your lasso around RODEO RED, geared towards children ages 4-8, and get your cowboy drawl on!
Perkins’ text is rich and entertaining. RODEO RED a solid example of how to use dialect and wordplay in a lively, engaging manner.
A disagreement erupts between two critters regarding who is big and who is small. The adorable characters learn that everything is relative when two more creatures—one bigger and one smaller—stomp and drop into the middle of their debate. Author Anna Kwan uses minimal text in a magically engaging way, highlighting basic concepts and opposites in her delightfully humorous story. Illustrator Christopher Weyant’s use of simple, fun illustrations and white space makes the banter pop off the page.
YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL is picture book for children ages 3-6. This story is a snappy, charming read-aloud you’ll enjoy sharing with your little one again and again.
Kwan’s artful use of sparse text delivers punch and rhythm to her story. YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL is a strong example of how, in picture book writing, less is often more.
~Annie Cronin Romano
Our favorite mentor texts to guide your writing and revisions.