I’m so happy to have Sally from The Curious Reader children’s bookstore in New Jersey here to share some picture book gems she recommends! Sally has wonderful taste in books and her store’s Instagram account is a must follow for the kidlit community!
My first 2017 love. This tale of kindness repaid is perfect in all the right ways: well-paced, beautifully illustrated, and emotionally rich, despite the only words in the whole thing being sounds. I’m hoping this one gets all the recognition it deserves at awards time.
Thyra Heder has only written and illustrated three books, and each one puts a unique twist on traditional picture book storytelling. Her new one is a tender love story between a girl and her pet turtle and is told from each one’s point of view. The pictures are gorgeous and filled with detail, and the inventive structure doesn’t diminish the story’s emotional impact – if anything, its power is enhanced by the two different perspectives. Plus, an absolutely perfect surprise ending.
This one is another top book from this year. The lovely, witty illustrations are worth lingering over, and the build up to the revelation of this city-dwelling croc’s job is masterfully executed. Told mostly in panels, there are a couple of double-page spreads that are breathtaking, and like most wordless books, it just gets better with each read.
I have a theory that one of the most difficult things to pull off successfully is producing content that will make both children and adults laugh – The Muppets, Sandra Boynton, and Mo Willems are all experts at walking this fine line. This Japanese import manages to be hilarious to all ages; a perfect, simple idea, executed with deadpan brilliance. A little boy gets stuck trying to take his shirt off and, after struggling for a bit, gives up and imagines what life would be like with the shirt stuck forever.
One of my least favorite types of kids’ books are the ones that totally forfeit charm and storytelling for a blandly presented be yourself!!!!! message. Ugh. It’s not giving kids enough credit, and is a terrific way to get them to hate books. That’s why books like this one are so great: it’s quirky and well-written and has a really neat Italian feel, PLUS it’s got a bunch of good messages about practice and hard work and staying true to oneself mixed in. Also, Amandina Goldeneyes is just a terrific name.
I believe there is no artistic style that Shaun Tan could not master, and on top of that, he’s a super thoughtful guy with a brilliant, weird imagination. Pretty much all his books are perfect, but this one’s a tiny bit more so. Fifteen odd stories, beautifully and inventively told, some quite powerful, all remarkable.
Everyone should own this book, this tiny little jewel. The narrator imagines what his friend, Kuma-Kuma Chan, does during the day: “He trims the nails of his paws. Then he lines up the cut nails and gazes at them. He lies on his roof and just looks at clouds floating by. He lies on the floor and listens to the sound of rain falling on the roof.” This book will always make me feel at least 30% better, so I keep it right next to my desk.
One of the top five funniest picture books I’ve ever read (Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by the same team is also top five), and the book that made me love Bob Shea. A little boy imagines how he’ll take over the world, in a glorious outline of his “BIG PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!” Unfortunately out of print, this is a book worth tracking down from the library – I guarantee you’ll be quoting it immediately after.
Sally Morgan has been a children’s bookseller for over twelve years, and in 2013 she and her father opened The Curious Reader, a unique children’s bookstore, in Glen Rock, NJ. She tries to read at least one picture book a day.
This picture book meets graphic novel is fantastic in every way! Infused with Korean folklore, gorgeous, action-packed illustrations, and a pair of siblings on a quest to find their grandmother, this is an absolutely delightful adventure.
Halmoni means grandmother in Korean, and this story is two children’s quest for theirs who is missing from her home when they arrive there. They smell her red bean soup, but that, too, is nowhere to be found. One of the most delightful things about this book is the little visual clues sprinkled in the illustrations of Halmoni’s house that foreshadow characters the two kids will meet on their journey: a fox, a tiger, and dokkebi (trickster goblins).
The scenes with each character they meet are funny, playful, and mysterious all at the same time and the sibling dynamic is loads of fun too.
The main characters must interpret all that comes along on their path and figure out how to solve each problem they face. My favorite part is when the kids play rock-paper-scissors with the tiger from the cover in order to get back Halmoni’s red bean soup pot. It’s an action sequence that plays out beautifully, complete with twists and turns and tricks.
And there is a key at the back to explain what characters were saying when they were speaking Korean in the text, as well as a glossary of Korean folktale figures who appear in the book. Julie also shares in the back matter that when she was a child and something disappeared, her parents would say, “This must be the dokkebi playing tricks!” That mysterious, mischievous spirit infuses this terrific tale.
There is a popular Korean folktale where a tiger comes to eat up an old woman living alone in the mountains. It is summer, and the old woman tells the tiger to come back in the winter when it is more hungry. By then, her red beans would be ready for harvesting and the tiger can have red bean soup as well. The tiger thinks this is a great idea and tells the old woman it will be back in winter. Meanwhile, summer and autumn pass and the old woman weeps as she makes red bean soup. She knows she doesn’t have long to live. Luckily, little creatures like the turtle, a mat, a wooden carrier, and even a pile of poo come to her aid in exchange for the red bean soup. They all team up to foil the tiger and throw it over a cliff.
We eat it at home too, but this story of the grandmother was mainly the inspiration [for including red bean soup]. Like a lot of things that I do, this recipe is a bit of a mishmash. Traditionally, there are two types of red bean soup (called Pot-Jook in Korean): the savory kind with rice, and the silky sweet kind with sweet rice balls, which you can add to either type. I like the texture of the savory type and my children like the taste of the sweet version, so I combined the recipe and topped it off with sweet rice balls. By doing this, I end up with a hybrid, a sweet red bean soup/porridge that has the texture of rice pudding. And you can go either way, savory or more sweet, depending on whether you add or omit the sugar.
In this”their picture book life” installment, I bring you the wonderful picture books of Duncan Tonatiuh, award-winning author/illustrator. In my mind, his books expand the boundaries of the form by using new, unexpected story techniques, something I absolutely love and admire. His books ask questions directly of readers and bring the past right into the present and into kids’ lives. They experiment and enlighten. And they always do so in Tonatiuh’s distinctive illustrative style, which is inspired by “Pre-Columbian art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex.”
He’s lived in both Mexico and the U.S. so many of his books explore Mexico’s history and influential figures, as well as Mexican culture in the states.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras (2015). Perfect for learning about Day of the Dead, this book explores the life and art of Posada and how he developed his skeleton or skull calaveras drawings. It also expands boundaries of the picture book form with sections that outline specific artistic processes and funny calaveras poems interspersed within the story. Its many layers are supremely effective.
“I try to make books about things that I’m passionate about
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (2013). This allegorical story follows a young rabbit who desperately misses his father and sets out to follow and find him by undertaking a treacherous journey. The author’s note in the back matter sheds light on the true experiences of undocumented immigrants who cross the border in search of a better life.
“As I spent more time away from Mexico,
I began to miss things that were around me when I was a kid.
I also became interested in issues that affect people of Mexican descent
Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (2011). A biography of Diego Rivera followed by a fascinating exploration of how he might portray our world today and encouragement to readers to make their own murals, inspired by Rivera’s legacy. This is something Tonatiuh does brilliantly with non-fiction: invites the reader directly into the story to participate and imagine how it might affect their own lives.
DANZA! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México (2017). I adore the illustrations of all kinds of dance and performances in this one! Ami, dancer and choreographer, is known for creating “ballets based on the folkloric danzas from the different regions of Mexico.” Her company still performs in Mexico City as they’ve been doing for fifty years.
I hope you’ll check out Duncan Tonatiuh’s books!
You might also be interested in my last Their Picture Book Life on Kyo Maclear.
This is a dear, dear picture book. As the title implies, it contains a guide to making friends with a phantom written by Dr. Phantoneous Spookel, leading ghost expert and poet, and stars one sweet girl and one sweet companion ghost.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
The tone is at once quirky, inventive, and sincere and what gets me the most are the details. There’s a warning not to put your hand through a ghost as that can cause a tummy ache. There’s advice on hiding a ghost in a tissue box when guests come over. It’s those creative bits like bath time in a cauldron, bedtime lullabies of “eerie hums and wails,” and snack time of earwax truffles that truly delight.
The guide has three parts: ghost identification, ghost basics, and growing up with your ghost. The last one takes the main character all the way into adulthood, a certain spirit always by her side. And the ending plays with the idea of a friendship that lasts and lasts and truly goes on forever. You’ll seeeeeee!
Rebecca Green‘s illustrations have those same qualities as the text—quirky and inventive while also being sincere and gentle. This tender ghost story is a win all around.
Baker and cook extraordinaire, Sylvia of Sincerely, Syl, is here with a vanilla marshmallow ghost recipe to bring the sweet ghost from the story to life!! Sylvia works for Tundra, the publisher of How to Make Friends with a Ghost, and we’ve been wanting to collaborate for some time. And then we found the perfect fall book, and Sylvia devised the perfect craft, complete with the ghost’s small mouth (that eats a lot) and rosy cheeks. Plus, each ghost is satisfyingly squishy!!
Makes enough to fill an 8 x 12 x 2 baking pan
½ cup water
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Unsalted butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup golden corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Using the bowl from your stand mixer, pour in the water and gelatin. Let it sit so that the gelatin can bloom.
Brush the melted butter onto the base and side of your baking pan. Set it aside.
Add the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and the other half cup of water into a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring it to a rolling boil and let it boil for about a minute. Then remove it from the heat.
Fit your stand mixer with the whisk attachment and turn it on low to mix the water and gelatin that’s already in the bowl until it combines. Then very slowly and carefully, add the hot sugar and corn syrup mixture into the bowl.
Still mixing on low, add the vanilla extract.
When everything is in the bowl, turn the mixer to high and whisk for 10 minutes until the batter turns white and triples in size.
Stop the mixer, using a spatula, scrape the marshmallow batter into the baking pan. Spread the batter evenly and do your best to level it. A bench scraper or off-set spatula can help.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil, be sure not to touch the batter otherwise it’ll stick. Or use a lid if your baking pan comes with one. Leave the marshmallow to set at room temperature overnight or in the fridge.
The next day, take the foil off and sprinkle icing sugar over the top. Cover the surface evenly so that it won’t be too sticky to handle. Run a knife along the edge of the pan to help loosen the marshmallow slab. Then carefully flip the marshmallow out onto a counter. Sprinkle icing sugar all over the marshmallow – don’t forget the sides.
Use a knife to cut them into squares or roll a cookie cutter in icing sugar before using it on the marshmallow.
Check out that squishy sweetness!
And more creations are over at Sincerely, Syl. Thank you so much for making these most delightful marshmallow ghosts, Sylvia! (Here’s her post with lots of photos!)
Sylvia Chan lives in Toronto, Ontario with a growing collection of books and kitchen supplies. During the day, she works in marketing and publicity for a children’s publishing house. On her time off, Sylvia loves to bake, eat, photograph, draw, and travel. Follow along at sincerely.syl on Instagram or visit her blog at www.sincerelysyl.com.
Today I’m pleased to interview Katie of The Conscious Kid Subscription Box here on This Picture Book Life. Conscious Kid delivers diverse books to kids each month in a library-style service—return the books and get a new batch each month! Plus, their selections are chosen to “reduce bias & promote positive identity development” in youth—an intentional, important mission indeed.
This Picture Book Life: What prompted you to start The Conscious Kid? Please tell us about your journey.
Katie: My partner and I started The Conscious Kid to address two issues: access to diverse representation in children’s literature and bias. Our sons are two and four and it is very important for us to be intentional about surrounding them with narratives and images that center, affirm and celebrate their identities. When I went to our nearest public library to request every children’s book they had featuring Black characters, the librarian came back with a list of three. Out of the thousands of children’s books they had, they only had three featuring Black people–and one depicted a woman praying for her daughter not to have “nappy” hair. Even though it ostensibly checked the box for “representation,” it was not the type of representation or messaging we wanted for our kids. Every library is different, but we knew we weren’t the only ones having this issue at some level.
Creating The Conscious Kid was about making it easy for parents like us to have convenient access to diverse children’s books that not only reflect underrepresented kids, but center and empower their identities.
Our other primary focus is bias. Implicit and explicit bias starts young. Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it. Children express pro-white/anti-Black bias at this same age; and by age five, are strongly biased towards whiteness. Developmental psychologists have argued that the time for change and intervention is in early childhood, when bias is flexible and only just emerging. Children’s books are a very practical way to initiate conversations on race and oppression, and encourage kids to think critically about these issues.
Research has shown that engaging in open, honest and frequent conversations about racial inequality is associated with lower levels of bias in children. In addition, indirect contact with diverse groups through books has been shown to improve attitudes and behavioral intentions towards oppressed groups. For example, children who read books featuring cross-racial friendships report greater comfort and interest in playing with children of different races than those who do not, and these attitude changes persist over time. Stories have been shared in every culture as a means of education and can be used as tools to challenge racism, sexism, and classism (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002). Our library uses counter-stories to challenge deficit-based narratives and narratives where marginalized voices are erased.
TPBL: As I understand it, your subscription box is a lending library. How does it work and what made you choose this particular set up?
Katie: We are a custom-curated delivery service for diverse children’s books. Families, community organizations, and educators subscribe to the library and three new diverse books are shipped directly to their home or classroom on the 1st of each month. The books are shipped with a postage-paid return envelope that is used to mail the books back to us the following month. Subscriptions are for three, six or twelve months, and book selections are customized based on the age (0-18) of the subscribers and any special requests (i.e. books that counter Islamophobia, books with strong female of color protagonists, books presenting families with same-sex parents, etc.). Each book goes through a comprehensive anti-bias screening process before it gets included into our inventory and we prioritize #OwnVoices books that are authored by members of the communities being reflected.
We chose a book rental model because there was no one else delivering diverse children’s books in such a low-cost way. The cost of the subscription is equivalent to the actual cost of shipping the books back and forth. Starting in October, subscribers will have the option to purchase any or all of the titles they receive each month.
Our service is aimed at those who may have barriers to accessing a public library or whose library or local bookstore may not (yet) have the representation they are looking for. While there is growing recognition of the importance and value of diverse children’s books, access and availability remains a challenge. Although some libraries and bookstores have a more diverse selection than others, it can still be a very time-intensive process for parents or educators to locate and select diverse books that do not contain harmful stereotypes or messaging. We spend a significant amount of time advocating for schools and libraries around the country to center more diverse books, so are constantly working towards (and hoping for) a future where there won’t be a need for us anymore.
TPBL: What are three recent picture books that fit with The Conscious Kid mission? Tell us a little about why you like each one.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a report finding anti-Muslim incidents in the United States are up 91% so far in 2017 over the same period last year. Yo Soy Muslim, which translates to “I am Muslim”, is an affirmation to young Muslim-American children growing up in a social context of Islamophobia and xenophobia. This book is a declaration of self and lovingly depicts a father’s journey to support his daughter in finding joy and pride in all aspects of her Muslim, Latina, Tunisian, and American identity. Ages 4-8.
Mama’s Nightingale is the story of an undocumented Haitian mother who is placed in a immigration detention center and separated from her young daughter. Over 16 million people in the US live in “mixed-status” families, in which at least one family member is a noncitizen, whether a green card holder or an undocumented immigrant. A 2013 report found that 150,000 children had been separated from one or both parents as a result of US immigration policies. This book humanizes this issue by showing the impact from the perspective of a child, and exemplifies how young people can use their voices to speak out and advocate for change. Ages 5-8.
Since 9/11, Sikh Americans have become the targets of hate crimes because of their turbans and beards. Islamophobia impacts Sikhs because people assume that Sikhs are Muslims. Sikh author Navjot Kaur wrote this book on the Sikh dastaar (or turban) and explains: “My son’s Sikh identity would be a constant and so would his Deaf identity. The written words rooted a desire for my son – that he should never feel afraid to stand out and be different. My book leads a way forward for any child wondering about personal identity. All children want to see themselves represented in the books they read. A Lion’s Mane takes young readers on a journey to cultures around the world to explore the meaning of the dastaar and help promote our connections as global citizens. This book provides much needed Sikh representation in children’s literature and awareness of the sacred significance of the dastaar. Ages 6-11.
Thank you, Katie, for stopping by and for your good work putting books in the hands of kids!
Katie Ishizuka is a researcher, activist and social worker with a decade of experience working with youth and adults of color involved in the criminal justice system and advocating for community-based alternatives to incarceration. She is published author on Anti-Oppressive Practice for Oxford University Press (2015) and the School-to-Prison Pipeline for the Justice Policy Institute (2013). Katie has her Master of Social Work from Howard University.
Ramon Stephens is a PhD student in Education at the University of California at San Diego, and has his Master of Education from California State University at Long Beach. A long-time proponent of student voice, retention and resilience for marginalized youth, Ramon has developed & run student-driven, culturally-relevant curriculums & after-school programs for students of color in D.C. Public Schools, Long Beach Unified, San Diego Unified and U.C. San Diego.