I say…

They Say Blue is easily a favorite picture book from 2018. I love books keen on inspiring thought and creativity in children–and adults.

they say blueThey Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki.  Abrams/Groundwood/Anansi, 2018.

Hardcover Picture book, 40 pages.

They Say Blue is the kind of picture book you need to balance all those books about manners. That isn’t to say it’s a book of mischief (though we should always have plenty of those). It’s just one that engages with the world and our childhood in the loveliest of ways.

TheySayBlue interior
interior pages by Jillian Tamaki

They Say Blue is about play, imagination, investigation, questioning what we are told. And to persist, even if one flight of fancy is deflated by a downpour.

I could never build a boat light enough to sail on a golden ocean.

It’s just plain old yellow grass anyway.

More energetic flights are dense with image, action, and words; then Tamaki will shift pace with darker tones, larger images, fewer, quieter words.

theysayblue interior 2
interior pages by Jillian Tamaki

One of my favorite spreads is about the crows the girl and her adult are looking at from the window:

We wonder what

They are thinking

When they look at us.

What they see.

Their dark eyes won’t tell.

They just pull their big bodies into the air.

The book is carries a rhythm of its own, perhaps closer to that of a child’s moods during the course of a day or in the course of season. Paired with nature, there is suggestion that a child’s desire to explore it is also natural. And in the discovery, there are things we discover about ourselves.

interior pages by Jillian Tamaki

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Jillian Tamaki and also talented cousin Mariko Tamaki are novel-writers and comic book creators for juvenile, young adult and grown-up audiences. You should check out their joint and individual work.





smiling men and small spaces

If middle-grade fiction isn’t your thing, and Russian History and Fairytales are, Katherine Arden is author of the excellent The Bear and The Nightingale (of The Winternight Trilogy).

small spaces coverSmall Spaces by Katherine Arden. Putnam (Penguin), Sept. 2018

Hardcover, 224 pages. Ages 8-13.

Mark your annual calendars for September 1st in anticipation of corn maze and scare crow season; the time of year when children get on yellow school buses and take a trip to a local farm. You’ll want to take advantage of this deliciously creepy seasonal read.

In the spirit of creepy tale-tellers like Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Auxier, or Holly Black, the whimsy that delights us, can also tilt and tint toward dark; and the grief that orbits everything round a loved-one, can also invite the haunting of unsavory figures—like “the smiling man.”

Eleven-year-old Ollie uses books to escape the fresh grief the tragic loss of her mother brings. It’s Ollie’s regard of books that has her rescuing the one some crazed lady tries to the throw in the creek. The book is called Small Spaces, published in 1895 by a Beth Webster, and it tells a tragic family story set in Smoke Hollow (years before it would become Valley Mist Farm).

The book comes with two refrains Ollie will have to decipher once she and her classmates find themselves caught up in a Webster family legacy of deals with a devilish figure.

“You must avoid large spaces at night, keep small.”

“Until the Mist becomes Rain.”

Evansburg is a small Vermont town, and one Ollie (not Olivia to you) was comfortable in, until her adventurer mother died. She hiked with her mother, tapped maple trees, solved mathematical equations in her head, and learned chess. Her mother named the rooms in their warm, colorful house nicknamed the Egg, where her father made the syrup and whose love language is cooking, baking, and crafts. She raised her hand, played softball, was in chess club and had friends at school, but now she wanted to be left alone.

But everyone was required to go on the field trip to potentially haunted and evidently successful eco-tourist destination: Valley Mist Farms. It’s educational in ways Ollie couldn’t anticipate thanks to a disturbing new bus driver and an old family cemetery. The bad things begin when the bus breaks down on the road home and a heavy mist arrives.

Fortunately, Ollie minds the broken watch that belonged to her mother and has the nerve to believe the bus driver’s warning. She exits the bus and runs for it.

Two other students join her. Newly imported from the city, sensitive and clumsy: Coco. And popular, hockey player, best friend to a boy who bullies Coco: Brian. Brian who surprises Ollie with his love of reading (and memorization of Alice in Wonderland’s “Jabberwocky”), seems to have developed a fascination with Ollie.

What follows is a race against time and an escape from a horrible threat. The trio use all their resources from hiking and boy scouts and climbing to survive a full night and day traversing a farm that appears to exist on another plane. There is the puzzle of how to evade capture, rescue their classmates, and get home. It involves the Websters, the smiling man, his hellish hound, the scarecrows and the ghosts—and Ollie’s mom.

Ollie and her mom and her dad are the heart of the story; her (new) friendships and their adventure nestle in; and the horror rounds it all out nicely. Arden draws good characters and writes some exhilarating terror. I especially enjoyed the countdowns on the watch, the villains, and the frustrating and brilliant riddle in “Until the Mist becomes Rain.”

It takes all the wits and nerve Ollie has to survive, and the considerable lung capacity and a strong pulse on the part of the reader to get to the end of the book. I wouldn’t allow yourself to think that just because this is a Juvenile Fiction that everyone is going to make it out in their skin. Part of the scare is compounded by each revelation that not everyone has.

Some will never leave you, some have become the haunting of a place, some have become the scarecrow with the stitched on grin.

line clipartRecommended for grade-schoolers who enjoy an adventure, a fright, and/or friendship stories. Small Spaces could be enjoyed anytime, but Autumn leading into Halloween would make it more fun.  For readers of Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Auxier, Holly Black, or R.L. Stine.


a cute comic

I’ll read all things First Second.

check please coverCheck Please! #Hockey, Vol 1 by Ngozi Ukazu

First Second, 2018

“A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.” –jacket copy

check please interior
interior panel by Ngozi Ukazu

Check Please! #Hockey is structured around a vlog, hosted by Bitty who is beginning his college career at Samwell University. He’s been recruited to play hockey, and while he proves quick and agile on the ice, he is terrified of being checked. Home in Georgia, he’d been a competitive figure skater and played co-ed club hockey (no checking).

check please interior 3
interior panel by Ngozi Ukazu

The comic follows his confrontation with his fear, his value to the team, and the drama of his teammates on and off the ice. Off the ice, Bitty moves from the dorm into the Haus with his teammates, where we become better acquainted with one of Bitty’s other passions: baking.

check please interior 2
interior panel by Ngozi Ukazu

Check Please! #Hockey is cute. Bitty and the bros are amusing. They are rough and sensitive and provide plenty of witty banter. The star, Bitty, is the most charming—terribly sweet. The artwork is nice and appealing, pretty simple and straightforward. It’s all pretty simple and straightforward, with one little surprise at the end. I’m not sure we were to see that one coming and I didn’t take the time to reread the book to look for clues.

check please interior 5
interior panel by Ngozi Ukazu

Check Please! #Hockey is pretty popular and I didn’t regret its amusement, but I was a bit underwhelmed. I agree that is great that Ukazu has written a queer narrative “filled with a cute romance, zero toxic masculinity, and a really great sense of male comradery” (The Mary Sue)—which is why I’d recommend hunting this one down for the read, but I’d spend the lit-budget elsewhere.

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Recommended for those who like sports stories, bros, baking and/or need something light. For those who enjoy the comic strip format from newspapers.

Readers of Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsch, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks, or Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill.



The creator of The Journey has a new picture book, so naturally, I had to read it.

me and my fear coverMe and My Fear by Francesca Sanna

Flying Eye Books, 2018.

Hardcover Picture book, 40 pages.

Our unnamed narrator’s fear was a healthy, manageable size before she moved. Now it keeps her isolated, she doesn’t eat, and “at night, in my new room, Fear dreams so loudly that I can’t sleep.”

Me And My Fear interior 3
interior illustration by Francesca Sanna

Her Fear is a secret and its depicted as a white creature that when manageable, she can carry, or it takes little space beside her. As it grows it carries her and surrounds her and can be difficult to budge. And while you, and the protagonist think she’s the only one with Fear, a friendly classmate who reaches out to be her friend reveals he has a Fear, too. And then more and more appear. The reader and the narrator come to realize that “everyone else has a fear, too.”

The realization is carried through at the level of endpapers. On the opening endpaper, you can barely see them (I didn’t notice them at all at first), and you’ll still not see them as clearly as you do on the closing endpaper. That a Fear is reading The Scariest Book Ever is especially amusing.

Something else to notice: the summery imagery behind when the girl was more carefree shifts to the sweater-weather and rain of a school-year setting when she feels new and uncertain. These are images that translate well with children, consciously or no.

Me And My Fear interior
interior illustration by Francesca Sanna

I appreciate how Fear doesn’t always appear to be unreasonable, and when it becomes out-sized, it is still not always unreasonable. The problem is that Fear becomes a limiting and thus unhelpful companion. Fear can also get out of hand; it is a terrible moment when she admits she’s lonely and how “Fear says it’s because nobody likes me.” She is in a new place, her name is mispronounced, she can’t understand others around her and they can’t understand her—things that cause fear. Loneliness causes Fear. But a classmate proves the lie wrong, that maybe she is liked. Of course, you had that sneaking suspicion that someone wanted to befriend her already, because you recognize the boy. The boy who, sneaking under the table, beneath Fear, is able to extend friendship through art (not unlike what this book is doing).

Francesca Sanna’s way of showing the interaction between a person and their fear invites empathy. There is a lot to love in these 40 pages, but I love is how the Fear that was once isolating, becomes a means of connection. The reader/listener witness the girl’s struggle, and we also witness how once her Fear stops hogging the view (perspective), in an echoed classroom scene, that she “started to notice that everyone else has a fear, too…” You turn the page and even the grown-ups have their Fears. Having Fear is something we all have in common.

Me And My Fear interior 2
interior illustration by Francesca Sanna

Visually appealing and accessible, Me and My Fear will find a broad audience to move and inspire the reader/listener to wonder about other people’s stories and lives—especially those stories and lives immigrants.

Sanna’s imagination invites our own. Her characters invite a consideration of what someone who is new might be experiencing; and to consider how we can make them feel less alone, certainly less afraid. The boy (and the author) offer art. There is a suggestion of making effort when it comes to language, culture, and certainly trying not to mispronounce a name, “even though it was just an accident.” It would be a nice exercise to have after reading the book through, considering what encouraged her Fear to grow/stay big, and what we could do to inspire a confidence to make Fear a more manageable healthy size again.

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Recommended for anyone and everyone.

*I will try to remember to review The Journey—it blew me away. In the meantime, read it.




Marwan’s Journey

marwans journeyMarwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias, Laura Borràs, Illus.

minedition, 2018. Hardcover Picture Book, 36 pages. Ages 6-10.

“Marwan is a young boy on a journey he never intended to take, bound for a place he doesn’t know. On his journey, he relies on courage and memories of his faraway homeland to buoy him. With him are hundreds and thousands of other human beings, crossing the deserts and the seas, fleeing war and hunger in search of safety.” Jacket copy.

One of the most painful realizations is identifying how much a children’s book Marwan’s Journey is. That storytelling tradition in the repetition of lines, “one, two, three…” of words: walking and walking… This is the story of a child, for another child to hear…and participate. Isn’t that what we do with the counting, with the repetitions, we invite the listener to participate and anticipate. And also, to remember.

Borràs’ illustrations are a perfect counterpart to de Arias’ text; both are exquisite on the page. Both guide us from warm, life-giving scenes toward darker images, back toward words of hope, of a return where a home is propped up by trees.  A spread full of family enjoying one another, only to be followed by a tiny silhouette carrying a pack against a barren landscape, to be followed by a line of packs with so few belongings, what memories that can be carried.

marwans journey interior 2
interior illustration by Laura Borràs
marwans journey interior
interior illustration by Laura Borràs

The tough moments happen in the dark: the grief, the fear, the bad guys in tanks. But in the dark can also come dreams, the remembrances that offer images of daylight.

“I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth.”

Along Marwan’s Journey, we see an underlying hope of how culture and tradition has made these journeys before you and with you; perhaps they may someday return to their birthplace.

“One day, I will return.

I will not hesitate.

I will plant a garden with my hands,

Full of flowers and hope.”

“Every night I will pray that the night never, never, never goes so dark again.”

Beautiful. Gentle in the way a child might absorb it, so there’s no forgetting it. We’ve all had to learn how to walk, one foot in front of the other, one, two, three… Marwan’s Journey finds a marvelous number of ways to connect with the reader, a powerful means of drawing out our deepest empathic responses. Here, de Arias and Borràs introduce us to a child and removes the demand or challenge to respond. Instead, they rest in our hands a story from which we can’t possible look away.

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Recommend for all ages. It has the visual, textual, and compositional appeal for the widest possible audience. Set this on the shelf with Sanna’s The Journey and Trottier’s Migrant.



an invitation

Native American Heritage MonthAlso: take a moment to check out Debbie Reese’s review at American Indians in Children’s Literature blog as she will interact with the book in a different way and offers insight on the book’s significance for Native readers. “There’s many points in Bowwow Powwow where the words or art tell us that this is an #OwnVoices story! The three people who gave us this book know what they’re doing. I highly recommend it for every school and public library. I know–I’m going on a bit about its significance to Native readers–but non-Native readers will enjoy it, too.”

bowwow summerBowwow Powwow: Bagosenjige-niimi’idim by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe).

Illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe)

Translated by Gordon Jourdain (Lac La Croix First Nation)

Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018.

Bilingual: Ojibwe/English hardcover Picture book, 32 pages.

Windy Girl talks about the things she loves and they lead us to the end of summer and a powwow where she eventually falls asleep and dreams of a bowwow powwow. Her dreams are inspired by her relationship with her dog Itchy Boy and a traditional dance she’d learned about from her Uncle that day, as well as all the stories she’s collected over time.

Interior illustration from Bowwow Powwow by Jonathan Thunder
Interior illustration from Bowwow Powwow by Jonathan Thunder

I can’t say I’m loving the style of illustration, but I find the color palate appealing, and I am interested in where finer details show up: flags, clothing, ornament… I do love the way the author uses the dreamscape to continue in a storytelling that is appealing and educational. We are invited into another way Windy Girl participates in her inheritance and and how she is able to imagine what she’s seen and heard for herself. That we can share in that meaning-making is a gift that resonates with the whole of the book. Where her Uncle and the Elders may guide her, Windy Girl (and Itchy Dog) becomes the reader’s guide.

Interior illustration from Bowwow Powwow by Jonathan Thunder

Child offers a lot of opportunity for further exploration. I’m intrigued by a tradition that asks someone “to dance for those unable to dance,” and the one the author returns to in a note on the last page. There is a dance that was “inaccurately designated as the ‘Begging Dance’ by anthropologists.” Child explains that the “performances were not considered ‘begging’ but instead displays of generosity in which friendship was enacted among extended families, clan relatives, and visitors. Songs were part of the performance and recognized the relationship between people and animals.” Her explanation is emphasized by the story you just read as you notice the interplay between Windy Girl and Itchy Dog and the incorporation of animals in the imagery and the dreamscape.

Brenda Child’s Bowwow Powwow celebrates powerful traditions and a dynamic culture in a deceptively straightforward manner. Bowwow Powwow is fun and inviting, depicting the very generosity of spirit and connection Child describes in her note.

line clipartRecommended for the classroom, because it is not only educational, but entertaining. I think it could inspire a student to dream what their traditions could look like with the participation of their own experience driven imaginations.



Native American Heritage Month

Welcome to November {er, 2nd}.  November is Native American Heritage Month!

Native American Heritage Month
Authors: Lisa Charleyboy, Tim Tingle, Louise Erdrich, Joseph Bruchac Cynthia Leitich Smith


Over the course of the month (and beyond), find events and books and artwork that feature the voices of Native American, Indigenous, First Nations people. Support #ownvoices work.

Some resources of the book-related kind:

A primary resource you’ll see referenced everywhere: Deborah Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL).

American Indian Library Association (AILA) Breaking down public perceptions of who Native Americans are. Elevating conversation around Native American issues. Promoting Native education, literacy, and community.

Books and Islands: reviews books by Native authors of the Americas, including but not limited to those identified as American Indian, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian.

Oyate: a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity, and that all people know that our stories belong to us.

Seattle Public Library offers good booklists.

{If you’d like to write a review, I will host you…or link you}

I will link back reviews below.

Picture Book :  Bowwow Powwow : Bagosenjige-niimi’idim by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe). Illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe) Translated by Gordon Jourdain (Lac La Croix First Nation).