I believe I met Bunnie from Brave + Kind Bookshop through Instagram. She was so generously supportive of my novel and when I found out she was starting her very own independent bookstore in Decatur, Georgia, I wanted to support her wonderful endeavor.
I cannot wait to visit in person someday, and I hope you do too!
Big thanks to Bunnie for sharing six picture book recommendations! Over to her!
I was at a point in my life where I wanted to turn a literal next chapter. A fit for my life and family. Something that would leave a lasting impact. I’d like to say I was not heavily influenced by Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail (1995), but it certainly planted a seed all those years ago.
So here am I now with my own little neighborhood shop around the corner. I’m grateful to get to curate a fun selection of kids books that I hope will inspire them to do something Brave, to do something Kind. It certainly makes me feel Brave and Kind to be a part of that.
As I look around the bookshop to finish writing I realize I have almost none of the books from below on the shelves currently because I can’t stop recommending them to our friends at Brave—HA!
I love this book first because the illustrations are just so darn sweet. And the beautiful chocolate girl on the cover just melts me. My first born (of two) is a girl, Andie and we have had our share of favorite dresses. It’s a story about a girl who outgrows her favorite dress but finds a way (with the help of her creative and patient mama) to keep wearing it in different iterations. The story is centered and illustrated around days of the week and seasons and its sing-song nature spins a fun and loving tale of getting older, creating memories, and adjusting to change.
“But One stood up straight like an arrow and said, NO.”
I read this to my son’s (Avery) 1st grade class and they got so into it. They couldn’t wait for me to read the next page! Its use of primary and secondary colors and numbers as characters proves a unique and fresh spin in this story about bullies and standing up for yourself and others. Blue is quiet, and Red is a hothead. One is about friendship and bravery and kindness and a staple on the shelves at Brave + Kind.
“Rigoberto. From Venezuela, your teacher says so soft and beautifully that your name and homeland sound like flowers blooming the first bright notes of a song.”
I’m partial to books that have diverse representation because I believe that everyone deserves (and wants) to see themselves in the stories they read (and watch too). We want to know that who we are and what we have to share with the world is good and enough. Even though we may look different on the outside with things like skin color, the things we eat or like to play, we are more alike than we know. This book’s cast of children is grappling with too poor, too shy, too different, or are they? The story celebrates bravery and stepping out to share your story even when you feel like an outsider. And what you may pleasantly find when you do.
This is an inspiring and courageous story of Leonard (a lion) and his best pal Marianne (a duck) and how these unlikely friends conspire to show those who insist that a lion and a duck should not be friends, that there are many ways to be a lion and many ways to be a friend. Timely and charming, this story will open young readers’ eyes to the importance of trusting their intuition and how choosing kindness in the face of criticism might just change the world.
Dear Girl by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal, illustrated by Holly Hatam (2017).
“Dear Girl, Keep that arm raised. You have smart things to say.”
Oh my gosh I really think all the girls should have a copy of this and women too. Each page is a manifesto for all young girls as they consider what it means to trust and just be themselves. And that they are beyond amazing, just as they are.
Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, and Being Yourself by Matthews Gray Gubler (2019).
“For All the Rumples Everywhere.”
Let me start by saying, I was sobbing by the end of this story. Think, what every single one of us wants is to belong and feel loved and connected. And I believe that our differences are what actually bind us together. Rumple is really weird. One of his eyeballs is literally floating in mid-air the entire book. And his teeth are crooked and skin is green. But if we really think about it, we all have something about ourselves that we feel is weird. (I haven’t always had a gap in my front teeth but I’m starting to like it, I think.) I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read it yet, but there’s an imaginary friend made of old candy and spaghetti and at some point Rumple thinks it’s a great idea to wear a banana on his head to blend in. Its beautifully quirky illustrated pages coupled with its inspiring and important message make this the perfect gift for anyone at all including yourself.
Bunnie Hilliard lives in Decatur, Georgia with her Hubby, Two kids Andie and Avery, and dog Brodie. She’s a stay at home mom (with a few side hustles) turned newest shop girl on the block (7 months and counting). When she grows up she wants to be brave and kind.
This picture book exudes creativity, both in the story and the illustrations that help tell it—photos of marshmallow-people in various scenarios!
It’s the simple story of “most marshmallows.” The ones who watch TV and celebrate birthdays and go to school and all that stuff most people do too. But it’s also a story of those marshmallows who aren’t like most. Because some marshmallows secretly know that all marshmallows can dream big. And this book tells them to do just that.
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The art is where you really spend your time with this one. The adorable marshmallows. And the vignettes, mostly cut paper, but all sorts of other items that are fun to identify and wonder at.
Most Marshmallows is creative, quirky, unusual, and encouraging. It demonstrates with both text and visuals that most things are done a certain way—books even!—but that some marshmallows dream up ways to do things differently. Daringly. Imaginatively.
Rowboat Watkins’s books often shout craft (as in the one I made for Rude Cakes). In this case, marshmallows? Yes, please.
Rowboat was kind enough to share some tips about how he created those marshmallows. Mainly: let the marshmallows get stale first! That way, they harden and become an easier surface to draw on. He also let us in on the pen he used: a brown Micron 01. I opted for a thin, brown marker instead as I found it a little easier to maneuver and plus, my marshmallows were only 0ne-week stale. Little hands might find a marker easier as well.
What you’ll need:
Stale marshmallows (I used jumbo)
A marker or pen (I used these from IKEA in brown, but I’m sure there are many that would work)
That’s it! But you can also use construction paper, tape, and markers to whip up party hats if you would like.
I left my marshmallows out on a plate for about a week. Then, I was ready. I simply drew on each one, trying to get them at least somewhat like the book version. Then, I cut some circles from construction paper and rolled and taped them into party hats.
The first thing you’ll notice about this picture book is that wallpaper from the title. Beautiful, Layered. Nostalgic. Full of wonder. It’s at the heart of this mostly wordless story and contains a whole world that imagination makes possible. A world in which a shy girl gains just the courage she needs through her own creativity and resourcefulness.
We’re introduced to a character who’s just moved to a new house and is unpacking her room. Outside her window, there’s a treehouse with other kids in it. They wave. They’re friendly. But waving back is not so easy when you feel out of place or out of sorts. Shy or scared or sad.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
Crouching—hidden—below the window, the character peels back some wallpaper, releasing a flock of lemon-yellow birds! (And they just so happen to match her shirt.)
She peels back more wallpaper and follows the birds into a whole world of wallpaper, including a creature who is super scary, but who, it turns out, is actually not scary all. The creature is merely unfamiliar. The creature wants to be friends.
The character and creature frolic in fields and play with clouds, all provided by this magical wallpaper. And when she’s back in her room, alone again, the wallpaper isn’t just one pattern anymore. It’s been peeled to reveal all the layers she’s experienced,.
Those layers help her remember that she doesn’t have to be so scared, or that she can be scared and still experience new things. They help her remember that unfamiliar might not be ominous after all. And that by peeling back a layer or two, everyone wants to be seen, welcomed and, accepted. Just like her.
And that leads to hello, and to more possibility.
This is an original, artful, hopeful picture book that invites the reader to dive into paper creations and possibility and what it means to reach out to someone unfamiliar and turn them into a friend.
Such beautiful papers and such a spirited creature can only mean one thing. Paper craft! I wanted to make that creature and I wanted to make sure the creature could move. Really, you could make all kinds of paper stuff from this book! I chose the creature and yellow birds and used brads so they could change position.
What you’ll need:
Sturdy white paper (I used watercolor paper)
Pastels or crayons or markers (I used pastels for the creature, marker for the birds)
I started by tracing the creature on a thin sheet of computer paper. Then, with my watercolor paper behind that, I pressed firmly with pencil to leave an indentation I could then trace on the actual paper I wanted to use. Or you can draw the creature free hand! I did the body, arms, and legs as separate pieces, then cut them out. Be sure to leave the pencil lines and make some white space outside the pencil lines to mimic Thao Lam’s style.
Next, I colored in the creature! And after that, I attached the limbs with metal brads. You can poke holes by either pressing the scissor ends into the paper or folding a bit and making a tiny cut. It’s that simple! Now you have a creature you can move about!
And it’s the same process for the birds if you choose to make those, and there are many shapes that would be fun to draw, cut out, and color from the book. The sky’s the limit!
And check out this gif of the creature moving around!
According to Oge Mora in the afterword, “omu” means “queen” in Nigerian, and it’s what she called her grandma. She remembers: “When my grandmother cooked, she danced and swayed her hips to the radio as she stirred what was often a large pot of stew.”
Omu in this story is cooking too: a thick red stew for dinner.
The stew smells so good that it attracts visitors. Visitors from all over the neighborhood. Visitors who Omu shares her stew with. First, a little neighbor boy, then a police officer, then a hot dog vendor, and so on.
“KNOCK, KNOCK!” Each one is drawn to Omu’s door by the delicious smell.
“THANK YOU, OMU.” Each one says thank you after eating.
We as readers know that the stew cannot last forever, and it doesn’t. Omu has nothing left for herself. Instead of being a story in which the stew is magic and grows to meet the need, it indeed runs out. We are left feeling badly that Omu has doled out all her dinner.
But not to worry. Each visitor from earlier in the day returns, the whole lot of them, with gifts of food and company. Omu’s giving has not gone unreciprocated. In fact, they all have something to give her in return.
This beautiful tribute to Omu’s heart (and her cooking) ends with more giving. Giving back.
I immediately wanted to do a collage paper craft when I read this book, and so in the spirit of the book and just in time for Valentine’s Day, I thought a thank you card would be perfect. Yours can say whatever you like, of course, but “thank you” or “I love you” seem fitting.
What you’ll need:
Paper of all kinds
Glue stick (or Modge Podge)
Start with a piece of construction paper or cardstock and fold it in half. The front will be the front of the card.
I began with the letters, choosing colors that matched the book cover, drawing them with pencil and then cutting them out. After that, from an assortment of papers, I chose the ones I liked or that corresponded to the book and started drawing shapes, cutting them, arranging them, and gluing them down. Hearts seemed in order for this craft, as did a skyline, a bowl of stew, and a home. Make whatever seems right to you!
Finally, write a note inside and share your card with someone you love, someone who’s been generous to you and who you’d like to give back to.
I’m delighted to share my interview with both Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans with you today. They’ve created this picture book, Hands Up!, which is a brilliant, jubilant book that turns a weighty, disturbing phrase around and celebrates the way the Black main character puts her hands up in everyday, beautiful ways.
It follows one little girl exploring all kinds of occasions on which she puts her hands up—waking, playing, learning, doing new tasks, celebrating, and being part of a family, a school, a team, and the wider community. It’s truly beautiful and the bright, textured illustrations feel seventies-inspired and radiate beams of color and joy. So many spreads, like the one below, truly remind me of music.
First, up, Breanna.
This Picture Book Life: How did the concept of Hands Up! come to you and what were you thinking about when you were first developing it?
Breanna J. McDaniel: I was thinking about disruption when I first started writing. I thought about the many instances where violence is the only response to Black people living and mattering in the US and I wanted to disrupt ideas about who Black children are and who they’re allowed to be. The image of Black people surrendering to others with their hands upraised and their humanity in question disturbs my spirit—especially when there are so many other times I’ve experienced this action outside of protest. I pulled on those experiences to focus on the humanity of those fighting for justice and for the right to live.
TPBL: What is your hope for this book? What impact would you like it to have on its readers?
Breanna J. McDaniel: My hope is that people understand that the children who will read it, children from so many experiences, will see themselves as leaders and helpers and beloved ones. My hope is that adults who read it will see the opportunities in their everyday lives to provide support and love to these children who are our past, future and present all brought together in one. These small moments are gifts and if we treasure them, if we take them in and shower grace and love, then we show that we appreciate and care. Children are our hope.
TPBL: Please tell us about the experience of seeing the illustrations for the first time.
Breanna J. McDaniel: I cried of course. There was no way that I could’ve imagined the joy and grace that Shane was able to capture in the illustrations. It does not matter that I’ve seen and admired his other work, even though I have. What he brought together through texture and fluid movement, is a perfectly timed story and a little girl who jumps off the pages!
TPBL: Did you originally have a vision for what the last spread (“As one we say, “Hands Up!”) would depict or was it left to the illustrator in your manuscript? What was important to you to be conveyed in that last instance of the phrase as it connects to the book as a whole?
Breanna J. McDaniel: I wanted there to be a march with signs that are straightforward and I wanted there to be a clear sense of community and purpose. Originally, they were going to be crossing a bridge and I had all sorts of symbolism in my mind for a spread with that image but this ending is perfect. Unity, collectiveness, connectedness, building together, these were all of the things at the forefront of my mind with that last line but I could only use a few words! “As one” I think brings it together.
Next up, Shane.
This Picture Book Life: You include in the artist’s note that in creating this book, “I stopped being afraid of raising my hands up, and stretching them high felt right.” Can you tell us more about your process creating the artwork for HANDS UP! and how that process has had an impact on you and your work?
Shane W. Evans: Process is more about trusting what it is that one sees within. The response to a word is a reaction and a response is one where one thinks, prays and feels something out. To act on impulse means that all that is around us as people brings us favor and that is and was the process for this book. To bring JOY back to the words that were once a warning yet always a joy is the essence of being and doing what one loves. The impact was getting back to the basic joy of creating, that’s a real joy.
TPBL: What was your response when you received this manuscript?
Shane W. Evans: My response was “I get it!” Meaning I see where we needed to go again with a topic that has been long under-spoken about, how do we prepare for joy.
TPBL: For the instances where the visual might have been up for interpretation, how did you make decisions about what to depict? (I’m thinking about “Stretch high! Almost there, hands up” or “Ready for takeoff, hands up!”) Did you and Breanna collaborate around the art?
Shane W. Evans: I meditate on it for a while then I let the pen or pencil show me ways to see it, try and try again… it usually comes, then be clear about the decision. If I recall there was some suggestion as to what to draw although if I say “draw a red apple with hands” you will still see 10 variations if you have 10 different illustrators, so we tend to trust the process and let it be what it needs to be, that’s what collaboration is all about.
TPBL: The artwork throughout is so vibrant and joyful (even a cat jumps with its hands up in one illustration!). What inspired you as you worked on these pieces?
Shane W. Evans: The inspiration is trusting my process and all of the years of doing this work has shown me how to get to the best work with over 50 books and likely 1000’s of drawings from since I was a 5 year old I just know what tools to pick up for what jobs.
Thanks so much to both of you for sharing your responses about your experience making this wonderful book and to Dial Books for a review copy and images!
Good news! I’m giving away one copy of Hands Up! Head over to my Instagram post for a chance to win. (U.S. only.)