Happy New Year’s Eve everyone! Taking this leap into a whole new decade has got us thinking about intentions. What can we take into the year that will help us be the best we can be? What are the skills that will allow us to embody the characteristics of a good activist, ally, friend, and voice for change? So, we decided on 7 of them and will be posting books that we feel portray the skills, one each day for the first week of January! We hope they will inspire you as much as they do us, and maybe make your reading list a bit longer! We hope everyone has a safe and joyous New Year, and see you tomorrow for our first post of 2020!
Written by: Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by: David Roberts
For ages: 4 years and up
Topics Covered: STEM, Feminism, Family, Imagination, Creativity, Self-Esteem.
Summary: Rosie is a shy child, but she loves to build things at night when she’s alone in her room. She wasn’t so shy until she made her uncle a special hat to keep the pythons off his head (he’s a zookeeper) and he laughs at her. Confused, she thinks she shouldn’t share her inventions with anyone which is why she only builds alone in her room.
Until her great-great-aunt Rose shows up. Rose used to build airplanes, but has never flown. Rosie decides to help her achieve her dream…but will she get laughed at? It turns out yes, but Rose explains to her that it doesn’t mean she should quit or hide away. Sometimes helicopters made out of cheese are just funny! And just because something ultimately fails, it works for a minute. And that is a stepping stone to success!
This book is super cute, and we love seeing young girls interested in STEM! This book impresses upon readers the importance of sticking to a project even if it fails a few times. This whole series is great, and we’re especially excited to read Sophia Valdez, Future Prez!
- Why do you think Rosie was embarrassed when her uncle laughed at her?
- Have you ever invented anything?
- What do you think is the most important thing that Rosie’s aunt Rose told her?
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Andrea Beaty was raised in southern Illinois in a town so small she knew everybody and their pets. And they all knew her. Andrea was one of six kids and we spent our summer days traipsing through the fields and forests hunting for adventure. Always, it was fun and often, they laughed so hard they blew Orange Crush or Grape Nehi Soda out their noses. She still avoids Grape Nehi … just in case.
Andrea was a big reader as a kid and LOVED Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon Mysteries. Then she moved on to Agatha Christie books and then the classics. Don’t tell anyone, but her secret ambition is to star in a Broadway musical and Andrea is often tempted to break into song and dance at very odd moments. Mostly in the frozen food section of her grocery store! They have very good lighting.
Andrea attended Southern Illinois University and studied Biology and Computer Science. After that, she worked for a computer software company. Andrea helped people with their computer problems (“Did you try turning it off and on again?”) and some technical writing. Andrea didn’t know at the time, but tech writing was great training for writing for kids because it taught her to be a fierce self-editor.
Now, she lives in Chicago with her family. Andrea visits lots of schools each year to share her love of reading and her writing journey with kids and educators.
When David Roberts was at school, he claims he wasn’t very good at anything so the teacher would give me projects to produce big pictures for the school hall. He remembers doing one of Death rowing in a boat on the river Thames with a dead dog floating past!
David has always been drawing ever since he was a very small child and then when he left school at 16, he went to Art College. There, David did a foundation course trying out all different types of art practice. The thing David thought he wanted to do the most was costume and fashion design so he did a degree in fashion design.
David ended up being a children’s book illustrator and it was always his dream to do this! Although David tried to pursue a career as a fashion illustrator first. When he met Christine of Artist Partners she pointed out to him that he was drawing characters and perhaps he should focus more on publishing and in particular children’s books.
Written by: Matt Mendez
Cover Art by: Dana Ledl
For ages: Young Adults
Topics Covered: Growing Up, Latinx Identities, Racism, Sports, Alcohol & Marijuana Use, Family, Incarceration, Filmmaking, Friendship, Police Brutality, Pregnancy.
Summary: This book was one of those stories that everything I anticipated to happen did not happen, I was constantly surprised at the deft storytelling of Mendez’s plot line. Told from three viewpoints, the reader gets the full scope of what life is like for these characters. Barely Missing Everything is a text that normalizes the experiences of working Latinx families barely making it, and the dreams that accompany hardly making ends meet.
Juan and his best friend JD are almost out of high school, and both love basketball. (I don’t particularly even like sports, but this book is incredible!) Fabiola is Juan’s mom, and she’s just holding on while trying to balance raising Juan, their awful landlady, a surprise pregnancy, and Juan getting arrested after a party he attended got broken up by police. So many of these moments in the book made me cringe and think “No! Why that decision?!” but the plot is so believable the reader can imagine knowing these characters and caring about them, wanting what’s best for them in the long run, which led to those protective thoughts.
Each character we come across has hopes and dreams, desperately wishing to escape their situation for a better one. This is a book that normalizes the experiences of marginalized populations, and allows for diverse experiences to be broadcast to a wide audience. Barely Missing Everything is emotional, raw, and impossible to put down. I mean Jason Reynolds said the book is “sure to bring a quake to the literary landscape” so really what else can we say to convince you to read it?
Simon and Schuster were kind enough to send us this book, but all opinions are our own along with the decision to review the book!
About the Author & Cover Artist:
Matt Mendez has worked on airplanes all of his adult life and is the author of the YA novel Barely Missing Everything and the short story collection Twitching Heart. He earned his MFA from the University of Arizona where he also taught creative writing. His work has appeared in Pank, The Literary Review, Huizache, and other places. Matt is from El Paso, Texas but now lives with his wife and two daughters in Tucson, Arizona. You can visit him at mattmendez.com or follow him on Twitter @mgmendez.
Dana Ledl is the cover artist for Barely Missing Everything! She lives in Prague, and is a freelance graphic designer.
Written by: Julie Merberg
Illustrated by: Mai Kemble
For ages: 4-8 years
Topics Covered: Tomboy, Acceptance, Family, Sports, Social-Emotional Development.
Summary: Shelby likes to climb trees, dig for worms with her best friend Nate, and wear nothing but her dirty red high tops. Shelby’s neighbor Sophie always wants her to have tea parties and dress up like princesses but Shelby is NOT interested. One day Shelby gets home and her parents present her with several dresses and some news-Shelby is going to be a flower girl in a wedding and she gets to dress up fancy! Shelby declares that she is SO not wearing a dress! She wants to wear a baseball hat, not a tiara. She wants to weather sneakers, not high heels. What will Shelby do? Is there a compromise to be made? Will she HAVE to wear a dress?
We all have to compromise sometimes, to make others happy. What is not fair, is someone that feels like they must constantly suppress who they are in order to be taken seriously, not teased, or receive positive attention from classmates and family members. This book is cute because of course wearing a fancy dress for one occasion isn’t everyone’s favorite, but Shelby is able to retain a bit of her personality in the end. This makes it memorable for everyone!
- Have you ever had a big event like Shelby did, being a flower girl?
- How do you feel when you are asked to do something you don’t want to do?
- How do you compromise with others?
- What is your advice to people that sometimes have to do things like wear a fancy dress when they don’t want to?
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Julie Merberg is the author of many children’s books including My First Book of Girl Power, My First Book of Feminism (for Boys), In the Garden with Van Gogh (and the rest of the best-selling Mini Masters series), How is Mona Lisa Feeling?, and My Favorite Shoes. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, the writer David Bar Katz, their four hilarious sons, and a sweet mutt named Alvy Singer. Julie Merberg began her publishing career 30 years ago as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster—which now handles sales and distribution for Downtown Bookworks. Many years as an editor and then as a packager led her to launch Downtown Bookworks as a book packaging company in 2005. But it was her experience as a mother of 4 boys that compelled her to start a children’s publishing company with the mission of keeping kids engaged in reading and the world around them. The list reflects her passions—science and nature, the arts, girl power (and her husband’s passion—super heroes). She has written many of our books including My First Book of Feminism (for Boys), Baby’s First Eames, My First Book of Girl Power, and My First Jewish Baby Book. Julie lives in Tribeca with her husband, their sons, and a rescue mutt named Alvy who sleeps under her desk and protects her from delivery people.
Mai Kemble was born in Long Beach, CA in 1981 and raised in Huntington Beach, CA. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach in 2005 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration. She is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) since winning the Illustrator Contest for “Crusin’” in 2007, and was also one of their Featured Artists in 2008. Since then, she has illustrated several picture books with various publishers.
Mai currently lives in Lancaster, CA with her husband Joshua Kemble (Xeric Grant Winner for NUMB/comic book artist/designer/illustrator), their son and two dogs.
Email Mai by clicking here.
Mai also enjoys creating images that feature pets and other favorite animals. See these featured on various merchandise for purchase at her Society6 page or contact her via Facebook to stay-up-to date with these ever growing images.
You can follow Mai on Instagram @maikemble
Written & Illustrated by: Keith Negley
For ages: 3 years and up
Topics Covered: Social-Emotional Learning, Gender, Gender Stereotypes, Toxic Masculinity, Friendship, Family, Tenderness, Sadness, Love.
Summary: This is an adorable book that helps to dispel myths that create toxic masculinity. Focusing on “tough guys” like superheroes, ninjas, and bikers, the book talks about how everyone feels feelings and it’s ok to show them.
The book’s wording is simple and assuring, the bright illustrations giving plethora of examples when a person might be feeling strong emotions like frustration or sadness. This book is also great for decoding emotions on others’ faces, and provides rich opportunities for discussion about social-emotion skills that can branch off to brainstorming about how to problem-solve or make a sad friend feel better.
There are so many distressing stereotypes that people feel pressure to fulfill. This includes the ultra-masculine sports enthusiast and the delicate flowery ballerina, none of escape unscathed. We as educators and caregivers have the power to take some of the pressure off to conform, and we are obligated to do as such. Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) is great because of it’s simplicity, it can be read to young audiences and begin to counteract the negative effects of forced toughness.
This book was sent to us by Flying Eye, but all opinions are our own!
About the Author & Illustrator:
Keith’s work has appeared on book covers, children’s books, t-shirts, album covers, posters, skateboard decks, and even a watch. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and New Yorker in addition to many other national publications. He received his BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2000, and his MFA from The School of Visual Arts in New York City in 2013 and doesn’t regret the student debt one bit. He’s won 4 medals from the Society of Illustrators, a medal from the Society of Illustrators West, and 2 medals from the 3×3 International Illustration annual. His book Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) received a Kate Greenaway Medal nomination in 2016. His most recent book Mary Wears What She Wants was released in January 2019 with Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins). Keith resides in the mountains of Bellingham Washington with his wife and two boys surrounded by giant spiders and teaches illustration at Western Washington University.
Written by: Jason Reynolds
Cover Art by: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
For ages: YA Middle Grades
Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Family, Grief, Death, Social-Emotional Growth, Sports, Women in Sports, Growing Up, Coping, Friendship, Black Culture & Identity.
Summary: Patina is just trying to do her best at a new school and on a new elite track team that she is now a part of. Patina, or Patty for short, can run like a flash. But what is she running from? A lot of things. She’s running to deal with the new rich kid school she now attends, ever since her aunt and uncle adopted Patty and her younger sister Maddy. She’s running because her mom doesn’t have legs anymore, and that’s why she can’t care for Patty and Maddy anymore (even though they see her regularly). She’s running to prove to everyone that she belongs on the team.
This book is fantastic. It is the second of a four-part series about the track team Patina is a part of, each book profiling a different member of the team in the same friend group. Patty is dealing with a lot in her life: a new family structure, caring for her sister and both of their hair (since their aunt who they call Momly (mom+Emily) is white), a brand new school AND a crummy group project.
The reader is privy to Patty’s innermost thoughts, and how she just wants to successfully navigate her life and responsibilities. Her father’s death and her mother developing the diabetes that eventually took her legs is still very raw. Patina is struggling to understand that her mother developed diabetes because during the grieving process she would bake all of Patty’s father’s favorite treats constantly, eventually losing toes, feet, and legs. When Momly and Maddy get into a car accident, can Patina imagine life without them both? The accident and subsequent injuries coupled with a huge track meet for Patty is the culmination of the plot, and leaves the reader wanting to immediately begin the next book in the series!
About the Author & the Cover Artist:
Jason Reynolds is one of the most important YA authors right now, he has such finesse and talent with words. Here is the About section from his website, because we can’t say it any better than he already has:
“Well, if you’ve made it here, that means you’ve survived the huge picture of my face! Congrats! And to reward you, I’m going to tell you all about…me. Sorry. No cake. No confetti. No money falling from the ceiling…this time.
So, I’m a writer. And when I say I’m a writer, I mean it in the same way a professional ball player calls himself an athlete. I practice everyday and do the best I can to be better at this writing thing, while hopefully bringing some cool stories to the world. The stories are kinda like my slam dunks. Except, I’m dunking words. In your FACE! Ha!
I graduated from the University of Maryland (where I spent about 65% of my time writing and reciting poetry all over campus…yeah, that was me) with a B.A. in English, then packed my bags and moved to Brooklyn because somebody told me they were giving away dream-come-true vouchers.
And if I ever find the person who told me that… let’s just say, no one was giving away anything. ANYTHING. Lucky for me I had all these crazy stories to keep me going. Ten years later, here I am, doing my best to string together an “ABOUT” section on my own website about my own books. Crazy.
Here’s what I know: I know there are a lot — A LOT — of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don’t actually hate books, they hate boredom. If you are reading this, and you happen to be one of these boys, first of all, you’re reading this so my master plan is already working (muahahahahahaha) and second of all, know that I feel you. I REALLY do. Because even though I’m a writer, I hate reading boring books too.”
Vanessa Brantley Newton was born during the Civil Rights movement, and attended school in Newark, NJ. She was part of a diverse, tight-knit community and learned the importance of acceptance and empowerment at early age.
Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was the first time she saw herself in a children’s book. It was a defining moment in her life, and has made her into the artist she is today. As an illustrator, Vanessa includes children of all ethnic backgrounds in her stories and artwork. She wants allchildren to see their unique experiences reflected in the books they read, so they can feel the same sense of empowerment and recognition she experienced as a young reader.
Vanessa celebrates self-love and acceptance of all cultures through her work, and hopes to inspire young readers to find their own voices. She first learned to express herself as a little girl through song. Growing up in a musical family, Vanessa’s parents taught her how to sing to help overcome her stuttering. Each night the family would gather to make music together, with her mom on piano, her dad on guitar, and Vanessa and her sister, Coy, singing the blues, gospel, spirituals, and jazz. Now whenever she illustrates, music fills the air and finds its way into her art.
The children she draws can be seen dancing, wiggling, and moving freely across the page in an expression of happiness. Music is a constant celebration, no matter the occasion, and Vanessa hopes her illustrations bring joy to others, with the same magic of a beautiful melody.
Written by: Susan Edwards Richmond
Illustrated by: Stephanie Fizer Coleman
For ages: 3 years and up
Topics Covered: Nature, STEM, Birds, Girls Outdoors, POC-Centric Narratives, Environmental Activism, Culture & Traditions, Friendship, Community Involvement.
Summary: We love this book for so many reasons! The plot follows a real-life bird counting event that takes place all over the USA on Christmas Day. Citizen Scientists count birds in their local area and report back what they’re found to team leads. This helps get an accurate representation of bird populations in different areas. The story follows Ava and her mother as they travel around their community with a friend named Big Al.
It’s really great to see the representation of girls outdoors, specifically a family of color! Especially in the States, where we are inundated with Christmas (consumerism, religion, decor) it’s refreshing to have a book that briefly mentions the day that the Bird Count takes place, but there is no emphasis on the holiday itself. There are plenty of people who don’t celebrate it, and having this option to be outdoors and help scientists count birds is a really fun alternative. On each page as well, Ava keeps track of the birds she counts. This helps introduce math and keeping a tally of objects counted to readers. Throughout the book there are tips and descriptions of the birds, helping the reader become more familiar as well. In the back there is a list of the birds featured in the book and an author’s note with more information about the Audubon Society’s annual bird count so you can be a Citizen Scientist too! Overall, we really enjoyed the book and are excited to be able to participate in our own Bird Count on day.
This book was sent to us by Peachtree as part of the Best Books of 2019 project. All opinions are our own!
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Susan Edwards Richmond is the author of the children’s picture book, Bird Count (Peachtree) about a child who becomes a Citizen Scientist for a day in her town’s Christmas Bird Count. A passionate birder and naturalist, Susan teaches preschool on a farm and wildlife sanctuary in eastern Massachusetts. She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, and is an award-winning poet with five collections of nature-based poetry for adults, including Before We Were Birds (Adastra Press) and Birding in Winter (Finishing Line Press). She is happiest exploring natural habitats with her husband and two daughters, and learns the native birds wherever she travels. Check out her website for a great Q&A!
Stephanie Fizer Coleman is the illustrator for Bird Count. Here is a blurb from her website to learn a little bit more about her!
“I’m an illustrator, designer and generally curious girl living in lovely but misunderstood West Virgina. I was lucky to grow up in a rural area, with a babbling brook and lush forest just a few feet from my back door; I find that the love of nature I developed as a child still influences my work today.
After seriously studying ballet and getting my BA in History, I found my true passion in illustrating and have been working as a freelance illustrator since 2008.
I work in Photoshop and Procreate and have developed a style of working that blends both digital and traditional elements. I enjoy playing around with patterns, textures and brilliant colors in my work. Animals are my favorite subjects to illustrate and I’m thrilled to be illustrating the kinds of books I would have loved when I was a little library-goer.
My client list includes Caterpillar Books, Hallmark, American Greetings, Clarion Books, HarperCollins, Charlesbridge, Peachtree, Highlights, Mudpuppy, Sellers Publishing, Millbrook Press, Design House Greetings, and Walker Books.
When I’m not tucked away in my studio working on a book, you’ll find me tending my vegetable garden, experimenting with new vegan recipes in the kitchen, or curled up with a book and a hot cup of tea.”