Search Results for: picture book gems

the king of kindergarten + crown craft!

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton (2019).

This picture book veritably bubbles with confidence, joy, triumph, and whimsy and was created by a dream team: Derrick Barnes, best known for the incredible Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut and Vanessa Brantley-Newton, who has many gorgeous books under her belt. (The author and illustrator have collaborated before as well on Ruby and the Booker Boys.)





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“The morning sun blares through your window like a million brass trumpets.

It sits and shines behind your head—like a crown.”



Using the metaphor of a king going off to their kingdom for the first time, a child embarks on a first day of kindergarten. They’re buoyed by encouraging parents, a friendly teacher, and the knowledge that they’ve got this. And it’s especially nice to see a Black child as the focus of this empowering off to school book.


The King of Kindergarten sets a child’s mind at ease. It says that school doesn’t have to be scary, especially when you’re meant to be there, you have a place, you’re on a mission of soaking it up, of learning, and of kindness too.



The illustrations are as vibrant and reassuring as the words. Kindergarten is absolutely fizzing with fun and color, shapes and swirls. And that sun appears on many pages, shining behind the main character’s head—”like a crown.” Spotting the crown (there from the first spread on the character’s PJ’s!) and sun motifs is part of this delightful experience.

Read this one before school starts to get any young reader “ready to reign” (and play and learn and share and nap).


Big thanks to Penguin for review copy and images!



The crown, sun, and colorful swirls of the art in this book were our inspiration for a crown craft to match. I enlisted Jen Pino from Vroman’s (who once contributed some picture book gems to this blog) because she is a passionate book person, a super talented craft person, a bookstagrammer, and a friend.


Over to Jen!

Hi! First off, I want to say a huge thank you to Danielle Davis for letting me be a part of celebrating this joyous book! I am a huge Vanessa Bantley-Newton fan and when I heard that Danielle wanted to do a craft around The King of Kindergarten, I immediately had to join in. A little about me: I absolutely adore crafting, but am not the greatest with providing instruction. However, I also believe that there are many different ways to create, so for those who are like me, this one’s for you.


We are going to make a crown worthy of a royal kindergartener.


What you’ll need:


Colored paper

Something round

Puffy paint and markers


Craft twine



To start off, I took craft twine and strung it around the top of my head as a sort of measuring device. I guess you could also use a tape measure. I then cut the twine at the right place and taped it to the table where I was working. From there, I lined up all of my yellow paper, glueing each at the seams, until it appeared that I had enough. A ruler would also be helpful for this process, if you have one on hand. I didn’t and so I drew a line where the twine ended on my paper and folded over the excess to meet that line. Then I was able to draw a straight line up and use that to cut that excess off.

After I had the right length, I drew the outline of a crown and then erased all lines that I didn’t need. Because I didn’t have a ruler, I again used the straight edge of another piece of paper to draw a line where the bottom of the crown should be.Then I proceeded to cut out the crown and the length that would wrap around my head.

Next, I got to work on a sun. Vanessa Brantley-Newtwon illustrates all these gorgeous suns throughout the book and I wanted to make sure I had one on my crown. This would be for the back, so that the crown could be worn on either side. Use any circular object and trace the top to get the base of your sun. Then you can draw some sun flares to cut out as well. After I had everything cut out, I glued all the pieces of the sun together and used my puffy paint and markers to give it a smile and blushed cheeks.

For the front of the crown, I wanted to include lots of swirls and pops of color, like Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s, whenever the characters are thinking or imagining. I drew out some blue swirls and a red blob and glued them to my crown, cutting off all excess paper. Next, I took my gold puffy paint and swirled it over the crown with my fingers (make sure you have something underneath your work!). I then added some white puffy paint details, a rainbow with my markers, some cut-out letters and another green swirl. Finally, when everything was glued down and had time to set (make sure your paint has time to dry), I glued both ends of my crown together.


And that’s it!



Thank you for this royal crown for this royally delightful book, Jen!!

Jen Pino works at the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California, Vroman’s Bookstore. She’s worked there for almost 9 years and loves all things related to children’s books. Currently, she is the Book Buying Department Administrative Assistant and School Coordinator. Check out her bookstagram: Confessions of a Starstruck Bookseller (@coasbookseller), where she shares what’s new at Vroman’s Bookstore, reviews books, features gift guides, and showcases booksellers! Or take a look at her blog!


one fairy tale, two versions: the red shoes


The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson (translated by Anthea Bell), illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki


This one is a strange fairy tale, as we know. Dark and dripping with remorse. But its progeny alone is iconic! The Red Shoes film. Dorothy’s ruby slippers! (Kate Bush had her Red Shoes too.)


(And lucky for us, Look At These Gems recently posted loads of pictures from the film!)


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I’ve always thought of this story as about the dangers of desire and vanity. How it can control us.

But in rereading this version, I was struck by how the main character, Karen, wore her first pair of red shoes on the day of her mother’s funeral. Then they were taken away, and when she had the chance again for new shoes, she chose red ones again. They’re the red of a princess’s shoes, so yes, they’re luxurious. But might it also be that Karen’s trying to recreate a memory of her mother? Don’t we all have something from childhood we still long for because it connects us to an important time?



Iwasaki’s watercolors almost resemble cut paper, their shifting weights and tones are so pronounced. They’re mesmerizing and this book really is about those illustrations. Sad and evocative, some spare, some blooming over a whole page. Delicate but bursting.

Aren’t they wonderful?




p.s. There’s an art museum in Tokyo dedicated to Chihiro Iwasaki and since I’ll be there in April, I just might have to visit and report back!!


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The Red Shoes illustrated by Sun Young Yoo and written by Gloria Fowler (2008).



This is a retelling . There’s still a girl, Karen. And there are still red shoes.

Other original elements appear as well—a princess, an executioner—but they’ve been weaved to tell a different tale. Not one that curses Karen (Fowler omits all of Anderson’s religious themes), but one that celebrates creativity and beauty and self-reliance. 




In Fowler’s rendering, Karen’s mother is a shoemaker who’s secretly making the girl lovely red shoes.  She makes the connection of the girl to her mother, through the shoes, the heart of the story.

That connection allows Karen to make shoes for a princess after her mother dies, and more shoes after that. She even opens her own shop: “The Red Shoes.” In this version, Karen is a creative entrepreneur! She uses needle and thread to stitch her true calling.




The illustrations are pen and ink, black and white. We must imagine that pop of red, just as Karen imagines her future.


Images via AMMO Books





You  may be interested in my post on two different picture book versions of Hansel & Gretel as well.








how to + the art of julie morstad

howto-by-juliemorstadHow To by Julie Morstad is not your typical how to book. It shows how to do the very best things in the most imaginative ways.

Go fast. Go slow. See the wind, feel the breeze, be a mermaid.


It’s magical yet completely down to earth. Earthy even. Simple. But sophisticated.  Wise. I think this book embodies children beautifully. They often know how it’s done, right?

How To_2

But sometimes kids need reminders too. Especially nowadays. That you feel the breeze by riding a bike, become a mermaid by lounging in the bathtub, wash your face in the rain. Why of course you do.




How To reminds me in theme of Nikki McClure’s prints and in subject and style to Amy Cutler‘s artwork.

How To_3

You might remember Julie Morstad’s illustrations from When I Was Small or the other Henry Books by Sara O’Leary. Can I just give a shout out to Simply Read Books for publishing such gems?!




I was a fan of Julie Morstad‘s work before I knew it included picture books. So I’ll leave you with these, some of my favorites of her illustrations. Earthy, simple, sophisticated, and magical, don’t you think?




How to Make a Kite


“Wing Trim”



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grandfather’s journey + storycorps

grandfathersjourneybyallensayIt’s hard to pinpoint, but I think my love of picture books as an adult started with this one. Get out the tissue! At least I do when I read it. Every single time.

All  of Allen Say‘s books are gorgeous gems.

This one’s told so simply, mostly as biographical facts, but some of them will just break your heart. Every book Say makes has such straightforwardness, beauty, history, emotion.

And the illustrations. Each is an exquisite painting (not done justice by my photos). The book won a Caldecott Medal in 1994.




Grandfather’s Journey is a story of three generations and two places: Japan and California. The old place and the new world. Two homes, across the sea. Back and forth. Loving both. Belonging to both.


It’s s an immigrant’s story of course, told by a grandson about his grandfather.

Anyone who’s left one place for another place will deeply understand. I once moved from a place I loved in Asia, Hong Kong, to another unfamiliar place, California. It took a  long time, but I came to love that place too. I haven’t been back in eighteen years, but I badly want to go back and visit the first.


“He remembered the mountains and rivers of his home. He surrounded himself with songbirds, but he could not forget.”


 “Finally, when his daughter was nearly grown, he could wait no more. He took his family and returned to his homeland.”


“But a war began. Bombs fell from the sky and scattered our lives like leaves.”


“So they returned to the village where they had been children. But my grandfather never kept another songbird.”




An organization I think of  when it comes to stories, and family stories, is StoryCorps. They know what they’re doing. They’ve recorded 45,000 of them in the ten years they’ve been around. Regular people’s voices and true tales.

Here’s the deal. You take someone with you and interview her/him. StoryCorps records it. If there isn’t a booth near you, there’s a mobile airstream that travels around collecting stories. My friend Tracy, who interviewed her mother, describes the experience as: “a wonderful opportunity to connect with someone you care about and capture their story.”



“We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters. At the same time, we will create an invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations.”


 You can listen to the StoryCorps podcast. But my favorites are the select stories  animated by The Rauch Brothers. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll laugh and cry and be moved by these animated shorts.

These particular videos all deal, in some way, with living in two different worlds, like Grandfather’s Journey does:

Eyes on the Stars.” An African American little boy during segregation wanting to join a vast new world in space.


Sundays at Rocco’s.” The special gathering an Italian family created every Sunday  over a meal. Until they no longer could and everything changed.

Facundo the Great.” Elementary  kids in the 50s with Latino names went by Americanized names at school. Until a new kid arrived.

John and Joe.” The world before and after losing both your kids on September 11th.

And “Q & A.” In which a seventh grader who has Asperger’s syndrome interviews his mother. It’s a beautiful exploration of one other’s worlds.

I’m off to have a good cry.