Téo’s Tutu

Téo’s Tutu by Maryann Jacob Macias + illustrator, Alea Marley

Dial, 2021. 32pp

What a delightfully perfect addition to the glaringly white cisgendered ballet book shelves. What an excellent addition to picture book shelves period.

The first remarkable thing after lingering in awe at the hair in Téo’s family, is that when they are recalling the Swan Lake performance that inspired Téo’s interest in ballet, the ballerina had dark brown skin and black hair. “If you can see it you can be it,” is the maxim that came to mind. But then, when has that stopped other creators from rendering that muse in paler hues.

from Téo’s Tutu by Maryann Jacob Macias & Alea Marley

Swan Lake is not Téo’s first muse; the story opens with the energy of he and his parents, Amma and Papí dancing, “These were the hands that twirled him during the cumbia and waved to the bhangra beat when they all danced at home.”

“But ballet was nothing like cumbia or bhangra,” we are reminded. And we learn that Téo is going to venture even further into difference, wearing the ballet costumes that are gender assigned to girls culturally—and from the get-go.

Instructor Ms. Lila is supportive, the environment normalized to personal expression. One of the boys will ask with a child’s curiosity in a quiet sequence, and that is it—until the recital and they get to pick their costumes. This is when the outside world intrudes—as is a popular ingredient in ballet stories; the awareness of an audience and an expectation. “As he grabbed his leotard, Téo felt everyone’s eyes on him. This wasn’t the kind of audience he wanted.” A consciousness enters the story that what may be allowed and even nurtured in some contexts may not be in others. What should also be noted here is the illustration on this page. Téo sits between the two girls and two boys, Téo foregrounded, his back to the others in the circle. What Téo doesn’t see is that they are preoccupied with their own articles of clothing. Only one is looking in his direction and there is nothing in his expression to suggest judgement or concern. Who’s eyes is Téo (&/or the author) referring to?

from Téo’s Tutu by Maryann Jacob Macias & Alea Marley

Notice, too, the facing pages, the warm tone of the circle, framing the scene on the left, the scene of a classroom and its students surround a spilled open box full of possibilities and their teacher encouraging them to “Please choose the costume you’d like to perform in.” This is safety, familiarity, the comfortably contained space. Opposite is unframed open white space, a different expression of possibility. It suits the tonal shift of the story of addressing the outside.

Téo will take and try both costume options at home and demonstrate how they affect him. Marley continues to be excellent here in rendering his experience, the blues and blacks, the rigid lines of the square, of his legs and arms. You can see him rock between stiff legs. That gentle look of distress. The opposite page distinctly effervescent, the circle, the stars, the pink, orange, and yellow palette. One just isn’t Téo, and certainly not the Téo we’ve come to get to know and love.

When that last line of the page is posed–“But what if the audience doesn’t love him back?”—it’s hard not to answer: how could they not? But we also understand how hard it is to put our vulnerable authentic selves out there. We understand the nature of performance—even as (especially as?) a child.

The turn of the page finds Téo looking in the mirror, the page another blue box. Fortunately, he follows the invitation of those yellow curling vines and stars and notes surrounding his Amma at the door to his room (not-gendered, btw). Téo enters a page framed only by his dancing parents and familiar colorful lines that express movement, music, and joy. This is just one of many loving family portraits in the picture book; my favorite is to come as it is recital day.

from Téo’s Tutu by Maryann Jacob Macias & Alea Marley

Amma: “These are the ways we must be brave sometimes.”

Papí: “Tú eres valiente.”

Those familiar with Marley’s work will continue to enjoy her excellent use of color, in tone and lighting. I spoke of her framing and juxtaposition, of her added complexity to the narrative (re: the gaze).  I love her skill with movement, both that of a singular figure and that of the composition of a page—and her ability to sweep you up in the story, not only directing our gaze, but complementing the narrative. I was especially impressed with the 4 page sequence from they “gathered” to “walked onto the dark stage” to the “curtain opened.” Facing us, rotated and facing away, then the left to right as they move across the stage. It is the story in two pages: they gather, they move through back stage in the dark—holding hands—and then sent off to ‘flutter’ + ‘twinkle,’ ‘poised’ + ‘balanced.’ It carries all the tension building from the beginning and releases it. It functions as another aspiration, and in the end will affirm the effort and the art. I believe the writer of the words is persuasive, but Marley’s hand creates the impact here. All those visual elements she’d been threading, her skill to move and move us, is such a pleasure to see weave and build to such lovely concluding pages.

Maryann Jacob Macias and Alea Marley’s book is one of gentleness and delight that will appeal to audiences beyond dance-book shelves, because it is about what it can mean to be a part of something tender and wonderful—your self, your family, your community, your culture. It is about the power of that nurturing environment and the anxiety/uncertainty of when we are inspired/provoked to move beyond it. Téo does this more than a few times and with such grace, with such valiance. That arabesque he’d struggled with now “poised and balanced.”


Maryann Jacob Macias is a graduate of the City College of New York, CUNY and the Solstice MFA Low-Residency Program at Pine Manor College. Our family is Indian and Colombian, and we love to enjoy and explore the many shared characteristics of our cultures. This is her first picture book.

Alea Marley is a picture book illustrator. Born in the UK with Barbadian roots, she is currently based in North England. Other titles: The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh (by Supriya Kelkar); For more glorious hair: Get Up, Elizabeth! and This is Ruby (by Sara O’Leary) And Dance: Charlotte and the Nutcracker (by Charlotte Nebres) and Goodnight, Little Dancer (by Jennifer Adams).


if you’ve noticed it has been a while, thank you.

a lot has been going on. primarily, I’ve been re-reading, just reading, or moving our household one state over during a pandemic. I hope that you, too, have been well.

I’m going to try to update a few things here, but know (remember) that I am mostly over on Instagram these days : th3lostgirl .

the return of enola holmes

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche 

by Nancy Springer

Wednesday, 2021.

MG/YA MYS, 261pp (HC)

Cover designer: Olga Grlic. Artist: Tara Phillips

Years after publishing book 6: The Case of the Gypsy Good-Bye in 2010, Nancy Springer delighted this fan by bringing Enola Holmes back in Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche in 2021. Okay, there was some trepidation, what with wondering about how the Netflix release of Enola Holmes (Harry Bradbeer 2020) might influence the work. And it did, I think–where Sherlock was concerned, but I needn’t have worried. Reintroducing us to the series via Sherlock Holmes himself was not only amusing, but it was really, really clever.

One of the things that drew me to the series early on is both Enola’s boldness and her vulnerability. Springer had resolved some of those emotional arcs in book 6 and she honors that in her new book, and moves us forward in providing new opportunities for Enola’s continual growth/evolution in regards to relationships, fashion, etc.

One of the primary draws of this historical fiction series is how Springer really does use knowledge and perspectives that Enola (as a girl/woman), not Sherlock (as a man) could bring to a case. The Black Barouche also brings us Springer’s wonderful skill for hi-jinks in a novel that also features some truly dark realities from the time period (though, sadly, not unique to that time & place). 

I don’t know if there are plans for more installments, but Springer and her Enola continue to impress and entertain.

where home can be found

Home is in Between by Mitali Perkins

Illustrated by Lavanya Naidu

FSG 2021 Picture book, 40pp Includes Glossary

“The space between cultures doesn’t have to be a barrier; for children who grow up there, it can become a threshold of gratitude to celebrate the best of many worlds.”—Author’s Note

interior pages from Home is in Between by Mitali Perkins & Lavanya Naidu

Home is in Between tells the story of a young girl who moves with her family from a village in Bengal to the United States (as had the author when she was seven). Shanti (a name that in Bangla means “peace”) finds herself between two cultures, continuing to grow in her first culture while learning to navigate a second one. The book portrays the joy derived from both worlds, even as it recognizes the challenges. Shanti begins to learn the art of code-switching and Perkins and Naidu illustrate how exhausting it is and becomes so beautifully.

interior pages from Home is in Between by Mitali Perkins & Lavanya Naidu

After Shanti rests (a wonderful and remarkable inclusion), she finds confidence and inspiration in her experiences and brings communities together.

Perkins and Naidu make the two homes easy to follow, the left and right sides, the white space in the middle, the color palette. The panels for those “Back and forth” pages are so well done. The use of color tones to create contrast; and while the oranges and yellows are warming to the left, the blues and purples cooler tones aren’t necessarily unwelcoming—but they do successfully translate difference. Shanti herself is dynamic; bright with movement and expression—her elephant companion is a great partner in this.

interior pages from Home is in Between by Mitali Perkins & Lavanya Naidu

The illustrations are absolutely charming. Please someone animate this book—and don’t change a thing. Perkins and Naidu are quite the collaborative pair: vibrant, accessible, skilled. Home is in Between is a pleasure to read. And I think what it brings to our bookshelves is invaluable.


Mitali Perkins has written several books for young readers, including Between Us and Abuela, Forward Me Back to You,You Bring the Distant Near (a National Book Award Nominee, a Walter Honor Book, a South Asia Book Award Winner, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, and a Shelf Awareness 2017 Best Book of the Year), Rickshaw Girl (a NYPL Top 100 Book), and Bamboo People (an ALA Top 10 YA novel). Mitali was born in India and currently resides in Northern California.

Lavanya Naidu is an animator and illustrator from Kolkata. A graduate of the National Institute of Design (Ahmedabad), she has worked with Google, Amazon, Cartoon Network, Godrej and several Indian publishing houses. Her illustration credits include Razia Learns to Swim (Divya Panicker) and Kittu’s Very Mad Day (Harshikaa Udasi).


The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken

Dial 2021. Picture book, 56pp

The Tree in Me is a poem in pictures and words that lingers even as it moves, drawing you onward and inward…toward wondrous realizations. Of what? Of an interconnectedness: within, without, between. The progressions are lovely, and complex. I can see this book resonating in different ways for different audiences, but always nourishing, like that pie, like that sun…

The Tree in Me speaks to an aliveness, a hope, a love.

interior image from The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken

Colors are warm, bright, layered; both impressionist and defined. And sometimes dark, like when the roots go deep making the pink leaves and mushrooms vibrant on the page; and when the child is made small by comparison to the height and breadth of a tree.

There are so many lovely moments in Luyken’s images:

  • “The tree in me / is strong. / It bends,” and note the joy that illustration to which it bears witness.
  • The movement of lines that make up the bark of the tree on “It’s a bird-squirrel-worm.”
interior pages from The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken

There is so much pleasure and celebration in this book; its images and imagination worth internalizing.

If you are familiar with me at all, you’ll know that I will always tell you Luyken’s work is a must; The Tree in Me is no exception—if anything, she creates a renewed urgency. Child or Grown, do yourself a favor and find a moment or ten to linger over this one and soak it all in—and share it.

interior pages from The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken


Corinna Luyken makes art in the Pacific Northwest, where she is inspired by small things (like hearts, tree, and mistakes); and by big things (like love, nature, and the web of relationship that connects us all). She is the author/illustrator of two previous picture books, My Heart (a New York Times Best Seller) and The Book of Mistakes, and the illustrator of Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse and Nothing in Common.

My Review of My Heart

We All Play kimêtawânaw

I never purchase a book gift for a baby (and their family) without reading it first. But times such as they are, I hadn’t been able to get ahold of a copy of Julie Flett’s latest. But I bought it for dear friends on the occasion of their first child anyway—because it’s Julie Flett.

I finally read it.

We All Play kimêtawânaw by Julie Flett

Greystone Kids, 2021. Picture book, 40pp

Includes: List of Animals + Pronunciations at the back.

We All Play kimêtawânaw is gorgeous, friends. Absolutely perfect. I will continue to gift it.

interior pages from We All Play kimêtawânaw by Julie Flett

Julie Flett’s use of color and texture, how she captures movement in a plant or an arm or the hair… The balance in her compositions, her use of the white page as backdrops. I’m in love with the bubbles in this book, the washes; the underwater divers, both of them, the arm, the melanin. The sounds, the moods she composes in the expressiveness of her figures, their bodies and faces: the animals’ eyes.

interior pages from We All Play kimêtawânaw by Julie Flett

The diction is rich, resonant. Really, the structure is intriguing. We are given a variety of animals performing the verbs in a sequence that forms a lovely cadence. Interjected, like a chorus is “We play, too! kimêtawânaw mîna” over a double-spread of children (in different seasons/climates/environs) at play. I love looking at the images of the children and imagine how they play out the words that precede their page, e.g. how the sledding children slip, slide, rumble, roll, wiggle, wobble.

interior pages from We All Play kimêtawânaw by Julie Flett

The inclusivity, the interconnectedness of “We” and “All” is reinforced by showing all the creatures out-of-doors, aligning the children with the land (and water) alongside other creatures. Flett will also emphasize the collective with compositions of pairs or more, with adults with small ones, with postures of affection and ease and energy (read: delight, joy).

The scenes in nature read like childhood in that it is all movement, interactive, experiential.

interior pages from We All Play kimêtawânaw by Julie Flett

Like any other creature of the land, there is not just a time for play, but for rest. Flett creates a natural progression, gathering her words and her cast, shifting into a delightful lull, “Slowly, side by side, animals fall asleep. We do, too. nîstanân mîna…zzz” It’s here in these final two compositions that we get the colorful Autumn leaves both among the illustrations of the animals and the children strengthening the likeness between them; a punctuation mark.

We All Play kimêtawânaw is a delight. It is gentle and playful, and visually stunning. It’s an absolute must own.


Julie Flett is a Cree-Metis author, illustrator, and artist. She has received many awards

A great interview with Flett at Art of the Picture Book

an invitation

Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Pēna

Illustrated by Christian Robinson  

Putnam 2021. Picture book, 40pp

Matt de la Pēna & Christian Robinson of The Last Stop on Market Street team are back together for Milo Imagines the World and yes, it is as truly gorgeous an experience as the first.

interior pages from Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Pēna & Christian Robinson

This author is not afraid to commit a large quantity of words on the page, rich with details. His partner will give you plenty of visual enjoyment while you listen (or read) with rapt attention. Matt de la Pēna and Christian Robinson are magical, interesting, interested.

As Milo and his sister make their way on the subway, Milo illustrates the stories of the lives he imagines his fellow passengers living after they exit the train. And then, in a delightful turn of events, he is asked to re-imagine those lives. And so are we…

What do we think this “monthly Sunday subway ride” is about? Where could he and his sister be going? And why is Milo “a shook-up soda”? What pictures would we draw, and what details would we include (or exclude)?

And why does Milo imagine the way he does in those first sets of drawings? And in what ways does he change them?

interior pages from Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Pēna & Christian Robinson

Milo Imagines the World is an invitation none of us should refuse. It’s a wonderful time spent with Milo. And it’s one of those important books—one of those lives-changing works. It’s a gift, an absolute pleasure.


Matt de la Peña is the Newbery Medal-winning author of Last Stop on Market Street. He is also the author of the award-winning picture books Carmela Full of Wishes, Love, and A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis, and seven critically acclaimed young-adult novels. Matt teaches creative writing and visits schools and colleges throughout the country. 

Christian Robinson received a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for his art in Last Stop on Market Street. He is the author and illustrator of the picture books Another and You Matter, and he has illustrated many more, including Carmela Full of Wishes, the Gaston and Friends series, School’s First Day of School, and The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade

My Reviews of Christian Robinson’s Another & You Matter

making children feel seen

Meesha Makes Friends by Tom Percival

Bloomsbury 2021. Picture books, 32pp

interior pages from Meesha Makes Friends by Tom Percival

Percival finds really refreshing solutions to time-worn experiences: like Anger, or Difference, or in the case of this Big Bright Feelings book: Making Friends. Something that ties all the books together thus far is how Percival doesn’t make the character be anyone they are not. It is Meesha being her creative maker self that makes a friend—and the realization that others might just be receptive as a fellow creative.

Being genuine, not all her attempts in the story work. Many readers will understand why calling “Tag! You’re It!” to a crying boy with a scraped knee (being comforted by another friend) may not be understood. And the vignette above it, the children don’t look mean, just confused.

interior pages from Meesha Makes Friends by Tom Percival

Percival and the story are patient and kind—compassionate. And the solution falls into place in a non-preachy message well-received. She doesn’t interact perfectly in any given situation, that’s reality, and relatable, but an opportunity will present itself.

I love these books in that they never feel forced. And they are all just really beautifully illustrated; they translate well into relatable emotions and experiences. The clever use of a grid paper background on that one page that captures Meesha’s worry over Josh: a subtle delineation from reality; a nod to her imagining/constructing something. I also dig the bubble-vignettes on that page. I love the use of a limited palette, the use of it to draw the eye, to create distinctions, without allowing it to distract you from Percival’s skill with detail.

interior pages from Meesha Makes Friends by Tom Percival

Meesha Makes Friends is visually and emotionally engaging. It’s a great book for every child, whether they have a tricky time making friends or not.


My review of Ravi’s Roar

About the Big Bright Feelings series from Percival: these are “kid-friendly entry points into emotional intelligence topics–from being true to yourself, to worrying, to anger management, to making friends. These topics can be difficult to talk about. But these books act as sensitive and reassuring springboards for conversations about mental and emotional health, positive self-image, building self-confidence, and managing feelings.”

Tom Percival is a writer, artist, video producer and musician. He is the author of many picture books for children, including Herman’s Letter, Herman’s Holiday, Bubble Trouble, By the Light of the Moon, and his bestselling Big Bright Feelings series, which includes Perfectly NormanRuby’s WorryRavi’s Roar and Meesha Makes Friends.
Tom lives in Stroud with his partner and their two young children.

thank you Galliez & Ratanavanh

Thank You, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez

Illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh

Princeton Architectural Press 2020. Orig. 2018 Merci, Miyuki! Picture Book, 32pp

I love Time for Bed, Miyuki (2018), and when Patience, Miyuki (2019) proved a strong follow-up, of course, I had to seek out this next Miyuki story—and to be transparent—anything Seng Soun Ratanavanh.

interior pages from Thank You, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez & Seng Soun Ratanavanh

Seng Soun Ratanavanh returns with signature whimsy and vibrant play with color and patterns. Like the earlier books, our illustrator will occasionally visualize the text in a more literal fashion, but most often she creates atmosphere. She echoes and sometimes creates a necessary tension with the text. I love the delicate, yet bold nature in the work.

interior pages from Thank You, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez & Seng Soun Ratanavanh

In this installment, Grandpa begins his day with tai chi, an activity Miyuki claims “is too hard!” Ever patient, Grandpa gently chides Miyuki, “Can’t you see I’m taking care of myself?” he asks. Miyuki’s reply is loving—and energetic, “I can take care of you too, Grandpa. I’ll make you some tea!”

interior pages from Thank You, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez & Seng Soun Ratanavanh

She becomes this restless figure fluttering about Grandpa’s stillness. While still advocating for himself, Grandpa can’t resist using Miyuki’s desire to spend time with him as an opportunity to teach her about meditative practices. Grandpa is loving and finds Miyuki delightful—because she is. Her vivaciousness is welcome, her curiosity nurtured.

Thank you, Miyuki is a nice addition to mindfulness shelves—something more along the lines of Jon J. Muth’s Zen series. It’s also a good relationship story—with self, others, and our surroundings.

one little dumpling

Ten Little Dumplings by Larissa Fan. Illustrated by Cindy Wume

Tundra 2021. Picture Book, 48 pp

Features: Family, Siblings, Gender, Artists, Taiwanese culture.

In the village of Fengfu, “If one son is lucky, then ten must be great luck indeed!” And it is here that you’ll be tempted to start counting the boys in matching yellow outfits in the energetic bustle. And if you are counting heads, you’ll notice an 11th. A figure with an orange hat infiltrates the pictures, peeking, tucked, watching…but hasn’t yet appeared in the text. But the story isn’t about the one daughter though is it?

“Their parents called them their ten little dumplings.

Not only because as babies they were round like dumplings,

But also because, like sons, dumplings are auspicious,

Bringing prosperity and success.”

The visual story of the boys is active and interesting. And the words find them extraordinary—which is easy to believe. And even easier to believe they grow up well. And if you didn’t notice little sister, she introduces herself and reveals that she is not only the narrator, the person you’ve been listening to the whole time, but she shows you where she was the whole time: listening, studying, learning…discovering her own talent. She was only one of one and in her own panel (read: portrait), alone on her own page when we learn that she “made [her] own way in the world.”

Interior pages from Ten Little Dumplings by Larissa Fan & Cindy Wume

The transition from the brothers childhood to the sister is a lovely sequence of disentangling. We follow the boys until they are grown, “successful and respected.” Then we review to find the sister’s childhood in the midst of the brothers’ until she, too, has left the house. The last we see of the brothers is when they come to see their sister’s artwork, the ten in her space, observing and listening and learning. And then we move into a story that belongs to the sister in her adult life with a child—a life that has familiar echoes but with just the one child and her parents: “My own wonderful girl. My little dumpling. How lucky am I!”  And she does look very lucky indeed!

The book can carry multiple readings for an incredibly broad audience.

I like the hide-and-seek type books that reward sharp eyes, and what a perfect way to think about a book that hopes to invite curiosity about the stories of the backgrounded or unaddressed characters. The sister was invisible to the listener, but the observer was invited to wonder “who is that?”, spying her at the edges. And the life of a daughter looks so different when she is the only child… Both households look happy and full of life.

Interior pages from Ten Little Dumplings by Larissa Fan & Cindy Wume

Ten Little Dumplings will resonate with those raised in households or cultures that preference their sons, or even those overshadowed by their more epic sibling. But the story isn’t interested in talking about the sons and star siblings so much as its sharing a mere observation and maybe a bit of amusement at the exaggerated status the mythic confers upon its subject; like that village song written about the boys, “Their brushstrokes flow like music.” Fan has nothing negative to say about the ten little dumplings. The narrator is as fascinated as everyone else. No, the revelation of the only daughter is the actual story and holds the focus. Remember that it is the sister who is the narrator, and later to be discovered: the artist and author—and not only literally.

The book we are holding/reading is created by two women, two daughters in some household and/or culture full of sons. It is the author who, though entertained by stories of 10 brothers in both her family and cultural lore, is curious about the story of the sister. “My father grew up in Taiwan where he was one of ten brothers. […] I heard a lot about my father’s brothers growing up. […] What I didn’t realize until I was older was that my father also had a sister! Learning this made me wonder about who is left out of the stories we are told and why” (Author’s Note).

Interior pages from Ten Little Dumplings by Larissa Fan & Cindy Wume

Ten Little Dumplings is beautiful, clever in its subversion. It subverts expectations, tricks the reader into reading a story about someone else—and you’ll forgive them because the experience is delightful. The sister/daughter is a great story and storyteller. We are fortunate that someone took notice, wondered…and imagined.

For all the libraries, Fan and Wume are engaging and entertaining; the work is delightfully illustrated.

Recommended for those who enjoy charming and unusual stories; who like sibling books, artist-centric books, and childhood stories in general. This is excellent want to engage in conversations around sex/gender preference and/or erasure at a familial or greater cultural level.

In some ways, Madeline comes to mind…maybe it’s the yellow? And the counting and the finding one in a crowd.

LARISSA FAN is an artist and writer whose short films have screened at festivals worldwide. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and has an MFA in Film Production from York University. Larissa grew up with three brothers and competes with them as to who can make the best dumplings. Ten Little Dumplings is her first picture book. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

CINDY WUME is an illustrator and picture book maker. She completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art at 2016. Her debut picture book The Best Sound in the World was published in 2018, and her work has been exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. This story is special to her because she also believes women can be great dumplings. Cindy lives in Taipei, Taiwan.

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