Vol. 1 Issue 6, June 2021

Warm weather, summer break, and family vacations abound as life begins to return to normal after a most challenging time for us all. At Children’s Literature, while still busy working with publishers, authors, and creating a new booking service for authors and illustrators, we are settling into our summer by reading lots of memorable books and writing reviews. In this ChildrensLit Now issue, we are taking a break from our normal newsletter features to spotlight some of the interesting books we have had the privilege of reviewing this year. Great stories abound this year from new authors and established authors alike.

Shelley Oakley
Director, Children's Literature


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ChildrensLit Notable Reviews

The Butterfly Who Flew in the Rain
By: Ori Gutin
Illustrated by: Winny Kwong-Sito
Publisher: Mascot Books
ISBN: 9781643074290
Reviewer: Heidi Green

Young readers who struggle with fear of change or new situations, or those who know what it is to feel blue and worried, will see themselves in the pages of caterpillar Cody’s story. It is a rainy day when the small caterpillar named Cody hatches from his egg, perilously poised at the end of a stick. The other animals are all too busy hiding from the weather to acknowledge this new arrival in the forest. The isolation is hard on Cody, but he persists until, one day, he notices a strange sensation and then a tremendous transformation. By the time he emerges from his chrysalis, the skies have cleared, the other animals have gathered, and they are overjoyed to meet Cody, the newly-hatched butterfly! Joy shared is indeed multiplied. But what will happen when the rains return? Has Cody learned how to overcome adversity? Gutin’s story provides context for discussing a range of feelings, from loneliness and sadness to joy and even seasonal depression. In the science classroom, this story supports discussion of life cycles, and in primary grades, it supports literacy work with rhyming words. Kwong-Sito’s watercolor illustrations convey the beauty and emotion of this tale and prove to be an excellent companion to Gutin’s rhyming text. When Cody is sad, the illustrations are dominated by brown and blue tones; when he is happy, yellow adds brightness and warmth. In this way, the artwork helps to set the tone for the story and makes it even more appealing for the reader or listener. Backmatter includes information about social-emotional learning, guided questions, and details on downloading the author’s guide. Additionally, an exploration of key life lessons about perseverance and perspective makes this title recommended for elementary school and public library collections. Gutin’s experience as a mental health advocate and current training to be a youth therapist provide an authority to this book, which would be a valuable asset for elementary guidance counselors and classrooms alike.

Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality
By: Susan Hughes
Illustrated by: Nicole Miles
Publisher: Kids Can Press
ISBN: 9781525302497
Reviewer: Sarah Swan

Victor and his twin sister, Linesi, happily attended school together for many years. But when she reached a certain age, she was told to stay home, do domestic chores and get water for the day. It was the same for all their friends. Girls, according to their society, didn’t need to be educated since they would just marry and do “women’s work.” Victor didn’t think it was fair or right. He knew Linesi was as smart as he was and deserved an education. At first, he didn’t know what to do to address the unequal treatment; then, he realized that they could switch off. One day, Victor would carry the water and Linesi would go to school. The next day, they would reverse roles. At night, they would study together. Soon, other boys were switching roles with their sisters too. This book is a good, practical, lesson in equality; it provides a solid basis for discussion about practices that can lead to greater equality. This story includes some Malawian words, with cleverly placed translations.

The Middle Kid
By: Steven Weinberg
Publisher: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 9781452181806
Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer

The frustrations and joys of being the middle kid in a family with three children are candidly exhibited by the narrator, as the reader tags along on a typical day. Exact times are noted: 6:59 a.m. awaken; 7:26 a.m. breakfast. After spilling orange juice on his drawing, big brother decides to toughen up middle kid by placing him in a trunk in the attic. Later in the morning, middle kid and little sister's stuffed animal bungee jumping episode ends in disaster. The best part of the day is when Mom offers a "breather" and takes middle kid to the library. By the end of the day, middle kid has experienced feelings of joyful belonging and irritating isolation. Throughout it all, he keeps drawing pictures or expressing his desire to be drawing. The active, cartoonlike illustrations contribute to the fast-paced zany day. The story is a bit autobiographical, as Weinberg reveals in the notes that he was a middle kid who loved to draw whenever possible.

The Lion Queens of India
By: Jan Reynolds
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
ISBN: 9781643790510
Reviewer: Heather Christensen

At one time, the Asiatic lion ranged from India to Greece. Today, about five hundred of the cats are all that remain, and they are found only in the Gir sanctuary in Western India. After her brother decided not to take the physical test to become a forest ranger in Gir, Rashila Vadher became the first female guard. Since then, she has been joined by a number of other women, popularly known as the Lion Queens for their work protecting and promoting this group of lions. Reynolds tells the story of how Vadher and her fellow rangers have been instrumental in increasing the numbers of this rare breed of animals. Full-color photographs show the lions, which are a little smaller than the African variety, as well as Vadher and her fellow rangers caring for injured lions, building water troughs, and educating neighboring communities about the role of lions in the region’s ecology. The brief account would make a suitable read aloud for a lesson on endangered animals or biomes. An extensive author’s note and bibliography provide extra information to those wanting to know more about India’s lion population. Give to readers not quite ready for the "Scientists in the Field" series who want to know more about careers in animal sciences.

Robert and the World’s Best Cake
By: Anne-Catherine Behl
Publisher: NorthSouth Books
ISBN: 9780735844315
Reviewer: Kathryn Kardiff

Not many things bring people together quite like a party, especially when it’s a cake party! Robert and his father are enjoying a quiet morning on their balcony, reading and knitting respectively, when Robert makes a decision. He will bake a cake—a gigantic cake—and share it with his father, his cuddly toys, and his dog, Mopsi. The father-son duo wastes no time getting to work on invitations for this cake party, but a gust of wind carries the completed invitations away. No matter, the party must go on! Dad mixes the batter (which appears to have the consistency of a dough), then Robert piles it, shapes it, and adds decorations. Just as they are about to enjoy their cake-like creation (whether or not it is an actual, edible cake is up to the reader to decide), the doorbell rings. It would seem the invitations found their way into the hands of an eclectic mix of individuals who share one important thing in common: a love of cake! Creativity, imagination, and bonding share the driver seat of this story, which subverts traditionally-held ideas of family structure and gender stereotypes with visual and story cues, without being preachy.

No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives and Secret Loves
By: Lee Wind
Publisher: Zest Books
ISBN: 9781541581623
Reviewer: Tara Baker

Wind takes readers on a life-changing journey through the often untold and hidden history of LGBTQIA+ people. Censored throughout history, Wind uses primary sources to explore the lives of twelve of the most famous historical figures. The primary source material is bolded throughout the book and includes the author’s own interpretations. Readers also have an opportunity to form their own thoughts and views. Each chapter ends with a question for the reader to reflect on. Every hidden history is revealed in an informative and respectful manner. Included in the non-fiction text are a table of contents, additional resources for reference, an index, and definitions of relevant acronyms and symbols that are an integral part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is an informative acknowledgment of history. Wind has created a safe space for young adult readers who are in need or who want to help create a safe space for their peers.

Murder on the Baltimore Express
By: Suzanne Jurmain
Publisher: Little Bee Books
ISBN: 9781499810448
Reviewer: Joyce Rice

The 16th president of the United States is a well-known lawyer and politician from the history books. Abraham Lincoln was an unknown when he ran for president against Stephen Douglas. Douglas was a great orator, but Lincoln spoke to the common people. Douglas was well known in political circles, but Lincoln was a newcomer. History books will tell you about his simple upbringings, his famous speeches, his support for Civil Rights and his early demise. History books have overlooked the plot to kill the incoming president on the Baltimore Express train. Written in clear, concise language, the author has brought the reader a new way of looking at these early days of President Lincoln’s presidency and the friends he made along the way. There is intrigue, daring, conspiracies and a divided country, much like we see today. Lincoln had to trust his life to others and move forward without looking over his shoulder. The themes of loyalty, honesty, patriotism and family are important to this story. Middle school students will enjoy this easy-to-read biography of a great man and his rise to fame through integrity and truth. This title will also appeal to high school freshmen who are reluctant readers.

Mary Anning
By: Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Illustrated by: Popy Matigot
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
ISBN: 9780711255548
Reviewer: Mary Lanni

Two hundred years ago, very little was known about the animal and plant life that existed before the arrival of humans. Mary Anning was the youngest of ten children, and in order to support her family financially, she helped her father collect and clean fossils to sell to wealthy tourists. As time went on, Mary became adept at identifying the most captivating specimens, and she ultimately unearthed the first complete skeleton of the Ichthyosaurus. Though less educated than her male peers, Mary Anning managed to learn how to read and write, and her contributions to the field of paleontology are profound and widespread even today. This delightful addition to the Little People, Big Dreams series follows the pattern established by the numerous previous installments. Elegantly bound with a canvas spine, readers begin learning about Mary’s world through the endpapers that are adorned with images of bones and fossils. Blues, yellows, and greens dominate the illustrations, reinforcing the fact that Mary found most of her curiosities by the sea. The humans in Mary Anning’s world are all light-skinned and dressed in fashions of the early 1800s in England, giving readers an understanding of what her environment might have looked like. Short sentences and paragraphs are used to tell Mary’s story and are separated from the images so as not to interfere with the visuals. These phrases are direct and accessible to young readers who may be new to nonfiction narratives about real people. A timeline of Mary Anning’s life is found at the end of the book and includes a synthesized biography for readers wishing to learn more. This is a lovely addition to the Little People, Big Dreams series and is an informative biography for young elementary school-aged readers.

The Grumpy Fairies
By: Bethan Stevens
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
ISBN: 9780711249417
Reviewer: Nancy Masterson

Fairies are "good, kind, and sweet." They live in the forest and help to keep it clean and bright. Most fairies are joyful and enjoy working in the forest, but what happens if some of the fairies are grumpy and refuse to do the forest work? What if they are grumpy to the point of "foot-stompy, frowny, bottom-lip-sticky-outy kind of grumpy?" Well, according to this book, they get eaten by a giant goblin! This silly and enchanting book teaches children the importance of helping others with happy hearts. The gentle and child-friendly illustrations bring light to the story as the rhythmic dialogue keeps the reader enthralled. Children (like fairies) have choices. Will they be joyful helpers or grumpy helpers? In this motivational tale, fairies fortunately choose to be joyful and avoid the wrath of the giant goblin! Teachers and parents may utilize this book to teach manners or simply as an entertaining storytime or bedtime story.

Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business
By: Bree Galbraith
Illustrator: Morgan Goble
Publisher: Kids Can Press
ISBN: 9781525303272
Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer

Wednesday is determined to become an entrepreneur. She is going to own her own business and make tons of money. She is starting now, even though she is in third grade. She has a lengthy list of possible business ideas, but she is sure a better idea is brewing in her mind. Then, an unfortunate incident with a classmate causes her to promise the delivery of a "secret keeper" by the next morning. She solves the problem with the help of a friend and her younger brother. Unexpected consequences follow. But, her secret keepers turn out to be in popular demand, and she is on her way to creating a successful business. Wendy is a likeable young girl of mixed race with two moms. Her story is told in a conversational tone that will appeal to readers. The illustrations contribute to the overall tone of the book, with cartoonlike, wide-eyed characters representing a variety of ethnicities. A good choice for those seeking beginning chapter books.

Mosquitoes: An Augmented Reality Experience
By: Sandra Markle
Publisher: Lerner
ISBN: 978-1728402727
Reviewer: Francine Jackson

Once again, Lerner Publications presents a set of books containing “augmented reality,” pages that work with your phone app to depict the subject in 3D. With this book, the publisher has added bugs to its repertoire of books to be read with your Smartphone. Here, mosquitoes are shown in different orientations, and readers can even see how the female pierces our skin to draw our blood. Also, they can see the four stages of a mosquito’s life, from egg mass to wriggly larvae to pupae, with their hard exoskeletons, and finally, the resultant adult. Readers know that, in addition to creating very itchy spots on the bodies they bite, mosquitoes are responsible for many diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, and encephalitis. This book lists many ways to control the number of these creatures and prevent bites, including avoiding stagnant water, spraying, and covering with mesh. Since mosquitoes are most effective in warm weather, readers might also benefit from learning about climate change. Mosquitoes are a major pest and may seem a potentially unsavory topic. Still, this book provides a good warning of how such a small insect can be a threat to humans, and a reminder of how we can protect ourselves from them. The bottom line is a great reminder to be careful when venturing outside during mosquito season.

Eye of the Hurricane: Weather Warriors
By: Alexander Lowe
Illustrated by: Sebastian Kadlecik
Publisher: Norwood House Press
ISBN: 9781684508570
Reviewer: Abby Maiwald

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stand in the eye of a hurricane? In this comic book-style intermediate reader, child readers follow along as a professor and her family track a hurricane off the coast of Florida. Lowe presents information about hurricanes, including what a hurricane is, why they are a problem, how scientists track hurricanes, and what to do during a hurricane in an engaging and visual manner. Each page includes easy-to-read information, colorful pictures, and important tips for hurricane safety and evacuation. Children ages six to ten will enjoy this graphic presentation of information about hurricanes. This text would be an ideal choice for a classroom library, an independent reading choice for a child fascinated by weather, or a family read-aloud focusing on weather preparedness and safety. At the back of the book, readers can find a glossary and a list of resources for further reading. Readers and educators may be interested in other titles from the “Weather Warriors” series, including: Inside the Tornado, Whiteout, Drought Daze, and Hail Alley.

A Fox Called Herbert
By: Margaret Sturton
Publisher: Andersen Press USA
ISBN: 9781728424118
Reviewer: Greg Romaneck

Herbert is a very unusual and creative rabbit. Ever since he can remember, Herbert has been fascinated by foxes. In many ways, he has wished he was a fox. So, Herbert begins to act like a fox, and to dress like one. He makes his own set of fox ears; small and pointy, they help him to feel more like a fox. Herbert also had his little sister paint red stripes on his fur, so he looks more fox-like. One day, Herbert and his sister cut up their mommy’s best red dress and make bushy fox tails out of the fabric. Their mother is unhappy about her son’s obsession with being a fox. One day, walking home from an outing, Herbert's mother sees him, dressed as a fox, playing with two young foxes. She tells him to stop thinking he's a fox. Herbert is adamant that he is a fox. Pausing, she looks down at her lovely and creative little son and hugs him, finally realizing that Herbert has to be himself, whether it includes his foxy identity or not. Told with a lovely touch, and illustrated in a charming way, this is a powerful reminder that parents need not only to accept their children's unique qualities, but to nurture them, too. Every child has their own identity, orientations, and talents. This thoughtful picture book is a wonderful reminder for parents and other adult caregivers.

Have You Ever Seen a Flower?
By: Shawn Harris
Publisher: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 9781452182704
Reviewer: Kathryn Kardiff

Illustrator Harris makes his authorial debut in this vibrant picture book about mindfulness and the deep connections to be found between all living things. The story begins with a little girl as the only spot of life and color in a drab, gray city. We see her travel away from the city, into a natural world bursting with color and vitality. The text propels us along with her on a journey of growth and self-discovery, asking readers, “have you ever seen a flower? I mean really…seen a flower?” By posing such questions, the reader is encouraged to pause along with the little girl and utilize all of their senses to connect with the natural beauty and life that abounds all around. As the story moves along, our protagonist comes to understand that she is growing and changing, just as the flowers in the fields themselves are stretching and reaching towards the sun. Harris’s use of vivid, neon colors is a testament to the simple, pure joy of being alive. We are all of us flowers, waiting for our moment to bloom. A thought-provoking, eye-catching debut.

Pierre & Paul: Dragon!
By: Caroline Adderson
Illustrated by: Alice Carter
Publisher: Owlkids
ISBN: 9781771473286
Reviewer: Mary Lanni

Sometimes, treasure is found in the most unlikely places. Pierre and Paul are best friends who love to explore together. Though Pierre speaks French and Paul speaks English, the two understand each other perfectly. Together, they feel emboldened to confront any obstacle they face, real or imagined. Taking out the trash becomes an epic adventure filled with dragons, danger, and treasure hunting, ultimately returning Pierre and Paul to Paul’s home, where other exciting possibilities await. This is a stunningly executed story of two boys who use their imaginations to transform their quotidian surroundings into an unforgettable experience. Presented in both English and French, this book does not follow the traditional bilingual structure. Instead of including the entirety of the story in each language separately, the two are intertwined in this narrative, with context and illustrations aiding in comprehension. Readers fluent in both languages will find that the story flows smoothly, often not realizing which language is being used at any given point. Bilingual families as we as learners of either French or English will appreciate the accessible approach of this unique and engaging story, as the premise itself transcends language. Colorful illustrations blend Pierre and Paul’s real surroundings with hand-drawn additions in marker that depict the imaginary world the two friends create. Soft outlines and watercolor give the book a warm and welcoming visual appeal. Though differing in appearance, the two boys display a symmetrical, innate sense of adventure that enhances both their friendship and the plot. Colorful and heartwarming, this story is a delightful addition to bilingual collections for young elementary school-aged readers with an interest in fantasy and imaginative adventures.

Elephant’s Music
By: Monika Filipina
Publisher: Magination Press
ISBN: 9781433835056
Reviewer: Kasey Giard

Edward the Elephant wants to play music with all his friends, but every time he tries, he ruins the song. The only sounds he can make are awful. So instead, Edward decides to cheer his friends on from the audience, where he never misses a performance. One day, after waking up late, Edward charges toward the sound of his friends' music, his steps creating a drum beat through the jungle. It turns out there was a musical instrument for Edward all along! He joins the band, on the drums. Vibrant illustrations accompany this sweet, humorous story, introducing readers to the charming Edward and the band of musical animals. Filipina uses subtle moments in the story to teach important lessons about friendship without being preachy in any way. When Edward discovers he can't play any of the instruments, he finds another way to be with his friends: celebrating their accomplishments with them. It's his commitment to support his friends which leads him to the discovery that he can in fact be part of the band. Recommended.

Children’s Literature Reviewer Spotlight

Heather Christensen

Children's Literature Reviewer Heather Christensen has been reviewing books with Children's Literature since 2007. Heather is the district and high school librarian for Portales Municipal Schools. She has taught in public schools for over seven years and is a past chair of New Mexico’s Advocacy for School Libraries. Heather has also served on several award committees, including The Land of Enchantment Book Award, VOYA’s Nonfiction Honor List, and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults.

Heather likes to read almost everything except romances and horror and especially loves books with a good twist or surprise ending. If stranded on a deserted tropical island, Heather would make sure she had brought plenty of books to keep her occupied. Books such as Harry Potter, Matilda, The Snowy Day, Emma by Jane Austen, Peterson’s Field Guides (edible plants & probably birds), Holy Bible & The Book of Mormon.

When not at school, reading, or reviewing books, Heather likes to bake, knit, sew, hike, travel, be surrounded by music (choir, voice, & piano), and spend time with family.


ChildrensLit Highlights

ChildrensLit Now is accepting proposals for articles from children’s and YA literature professors. Proposals may include but are not limited to: current book trends within children’s and YA literature, children’s and YA author/illustrator analysis, representation in children’s and YA literature, the benefits of reading on the growing child. Email your proposal to shelley.oakley@childrenslit.com

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