my papi coverMy Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

Illustrated by Zeke Peña

Kokila, 2019.

Hardcover Picture book, 40 pages.


After a long day of carpentry, work he’s pursued since arriving in the US, Papi still finds time and energy for his hija. Our narrator introduces us to her family and her home before she even expands upon it from the back of her papi’s motorcycle.

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interior pages from My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

She’ll note all the things that make her community home, the words she learns/knows (“I’ve learned words like carburetor and cariño, drill and dedication”), the places (Abuelito’s house), things (the gummy bears at the market), the relationships (greeting the librarian). Quintero and Peña move us through time, not only the present and past (race cars and immigrant worked lemon groves), but we glimpse the future—change in motion in the closing of a shop to the building of a new housing development (over the lemon groves). We glean both a sadness and an excitement that both read equally as “this is life”: things change.

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interior pages from My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

In the end, however, there is another constant: that “home is the feeling you take with you” (see back cover). Home is a place you leave and return to and also carry about in memory, in relationships, on the back of motorcycles…

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interior pages from My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

Zeke Peña employs warm hues, and illustrates a story alive with movement. The array of color from the sunset captured in a puddle they ride through spread out around them. I love the text bubbles calling out greeting both of name, and bilingual tongue. The format is playful and incorporates the imagination into the portraiture of a life and relationship. One of my favorite pages demonstrates how beautifully writer and illustrator work together to translate a scene animated by text and image: “When he lifts me onto the smooth black seat his hands don’t feel rough, they don’t feel tired—they feel like all the love he has trouble saying.” Papi is kneeling, his big hands buckling her helmet; in a panel, he is lifting her “lista?” “si.” The strength and gentleness and care so nicely translated.

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interior pages from My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

The specificity in the descriptions and places and relationships read like a deeply personal memory of the creator’s, and it inspires a return or reaching out for our own stories as deeply moving and rooted.

I love the sense of adventure, joy, and the deep rootedness of family and community found in Quintero’s words and Peña’s pictures. My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a beautiful picture book; an absolute must.


Of note: I love the narrator in her pink shirt and unicorn embellished helmet speaking words like carburetor and drill and seen elbows deep in a tool box.


Isabel Quintero was born and raised by Mexican immigrant parents in Southern California’s Inland Empire. She earned her BA in English and her MA in English Composition at California State University, San Bernardino. Her debut YA novel, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, won the 2015 Morris Award for Debut YA Fiction and the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.

Zeke Peña is a cartoonist and illustrator from El Paso, Texas. He studied Art History at the University of Texas at Austin and is self-taught in illustration and painting. He has published work with VICE.com, Latino USA, The Believer Magazine, The Nib, Penguin Random House, Holt/Macmillan and Cinco Puntos Press. In 2018 he received the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for a graphic biography he illustrated titled Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide.



a little mayhem is good

MMIAS KWMia Mayhem is a Superhero! (Book #1) by Kara West

Illustrated Leeza Hernandez

Little Simon, 2018

Hardcover Early Chapter book, 128 pp.

Ages 5-8.

Mia: “I’m starting to believe that a little mayhem is okay.”

After finishing book one, I believe that a little mayhem is more than just okay—it’s pretty great.

Mia Macarooney receives a letter to the PITS (Program for In Training Superheroes) three years late. After her parents explain that they are all of them superheroes, some of Mia’s experiences start to make sense: her strength and speed. Her parents reassure her that with some training, she’ll be better able to control her abilities.

[[Mom isn’t a just flight attendant: she can fly on her own. And Dad isn’t just a Veterinarian: he can talk to animals. And repair things with a zap from his hands.]]

After these awe-inspiring discoveries, Mia learns that she can cause time freeze—that’s new. What isn’t new is the chaos that seems to follow; or her fear of heights.

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interior pages from Mia Mayhem is a Superhero! by Kara West & Leeza Hernandez

We get to come along to her first introduction to the PITS as well as her first day. She gets a costume (in a series of hilarious attempts), has to pick a name, takes a tour and has her assessment. West guides an energetic, humor-filled narrative (Mia’s), and Hernandez rounds off the comedic timing with the posture and expression of a singular personality.

The creative minds behind Mia Mayhem seem to be having some fun; but what is a superhero story without a bit of fun with the naming. Her best friend is Edison “Eddie” Stein, whom you’ll be unsurprised to learn is supersmart. There is Dr. Sue Perb (get it? superb?). Professor Stu Pendus.

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interior illustration from Mia Mayhem is a Superhero! by Kara West & artist: Leeza Hernandez

Mia Mayhem will make for a fun read for the emerging read to share with their caregiver. Illustrations grace most pages and the font and spacing is friendly. The action is delightful in both text and illustration (pages 92-93 had me laughing out loud). Mia is a fun, engaging character surrounded by an equally promising cast of animals, friends, family, classmates, and superpowers. I’m going to have to follow this series (maybe gift a couple book 1s).

A few notes: I love how POC characters are in places of import, and in the majority.

I love that even though it’s a superhero story and understands the need for secret identities, the parents encourage Mia that it is important to have people to confide in.


Kara West would love to be a superhero, mostly so she can ask squirrels what they’re so nervous about. She lives in Chicago with her own cats, who, unlike Chaos, spend more time sleeping than causing trouble. Thank goodness.

Leeza Hernandez, an award-winning illustrator and now children’s book author, hails from the south of England, but has been living in New Jersey since 1999. She works as an art director at a local magazine and in her spare time, creatively noodles with new ideas for books in her art studio. She loves to experiment with printmaking, pen and ink, digital collage, and painting.



art in the hands of poets

dancing hands coverDancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

by Margarita Engle  ; Illus. Rafael López

Hardcover Nonfiction Picture book, 40 pp.

Two incredible creators on one project? Yes, please–and thank you!

Let’s just gaze upon that cover shall we?! What follows inside the pages will surely be a feast for the eyes and ears. And they are. The poets in word and pictures tell the story of a courageous child prodigy traversing a time and place full of beauty at first, and later, at war. Neither storyteller shrinks back from the dark and it only serves the light Teresa brings to the landscapes/lives she encounters.

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illustrations from Dancing Hands by Rafael López 

I love the kindnesses extended in the story where the inhospitable can also be found. I love the way Engle translates the humanity of her historical figures, returning them to a life we can relate to and admire. Teresa Carreño is inspiration today and our troubled times. Art is of such great import; a gift.

“The memory of meeting past challenges now helped her fingers dance, celebrating the way life had turned out to be a mixture of all sorts of feelings, happy and sad.”

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illustrations from Dancing Hands by Rafael López 

The words and pictures are deeply moving. The image of the day Teresa’s family fled Venezuela, her bowed head, the tumultuous sea overlaid—remarkable.

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illustrations from Dancing Hands by Rafael López 

Do make the time, and shelf space for Dancing Hands. Ages recommended seem to be 4-6 most places, but there are details older readers will better appreciate.


Margarita Engle was the 2017­–2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and received the 2019 NSK Neustadt Prize. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including Soaring EarthWith a Star in My HandThe Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner; and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN Literary Award for Young Adult Literature winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture book Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award. Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She continues to visit Cuba as often as she can.

Rafael López was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates acclaimed children’s books including The Day You BeginBravo!, Drum Dream Girl We’ve Got the Whole World in Our HandsBook Fiesta!, and Dancing Hands. Rafael divides his time between Mexico and California.



her island

my island cover

After reading Time for Bed, Miyuki, I had to look up more by the illustrator. Coincidentally, My Island is a 2019 publication that was hitting my feeds.

My Island by Stéphanie Demasse-Pottier

Illus. by Seng Soun Ratanavanh

Princeton Architectural Press, 2019.

Hardcover Picture book, 24 pages.

My Island is so stinking adorable…and not in the dismissive way. I would’ve owned this one and read it with my child daughter (who is sitting at the table now re-reading a grown-ass-adult novel by Mieville (that is also, coincidentally, a highly imaginative story about the layering of worlds)).

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interior pages from My Island by Stéphanie Demasse-Pottier & Seng Soun Ratanavanh

The pencil-work, patterns and color palette that drew my attention in Miyuki, are present in My Island. The addition of the sewn/stitched is especially lovely in Demasse-Pottier’s story of a girl who constructs a world from her imagination. Stitches outline images that are the very part of the fabric of the story of “an island that has no name.” The idea of the whale being formed out of the waves sets a strong thematic tone in the first page. As does the second with the flowers inside the ‘snow globe’ and the snowy scene outside of it–where the small bird is bigger than our narrator whose very head becomes an island on the following page, a tree sprouting from it (that same bird now tiny and without winter apparel).

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interior pages from My Island by Stéphanie Demasse-Pottier & Seng Soun Ratanavanh

Follow the repeated images, not only in text, as the story and its narrator builds its world/island. The island is hospitable and charmingly strange, full of food, friends, “bric-a-brac,” and activity. Her shelter looks like a blanket fort or bird house or globe.

“Inside my house, on my island, I feel at home.

There is no door, you can come in.”

But the welcome comes with a qualifiers (and one of my favorite pages): “If you know how to sing,/if you know how to share,/if you know how to dream.”

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interior pages from My Island by Stéphanie Demasse-Pottier & Seng Soun Ratanavanh

The last text-yielding page, “if you know how to dream,” is the first to place our narrator in a real-world context of a room, her shoes on, playing with a house with red thread (her inspirations about her). It is the turn to the next page that returns us to the island, quiet, rich in color and context, an invitation. It’s the same rich blue-green expanse we remember from her in the globe with the words “you can come in,” the same star patterns being hung with care from the clouds above her house.

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interior pages from My Island by Stéphanie Demasse-Pottier & Seng Soun Ratanavanh

Demasse-Pottier speaks with a quiet, steady hand, and she’s partnered with an illustrator who echoes its whimsy and delight. The island feels safe and like childhood; steeped in nature and imagination and deep vibrant warm color.


Stephanie Demasse-Pottier lives and works in France as a librarian specializing in children’s books. My Island is her first book to appear in English.

Painter and illustrator Seng Soun Ratanavanh lives in Paris, where she graduated from the School of Fine Arts. Her work includes the celebrated Time for Bed, Miyuki.


Brech, Cornelia, “and”…

Cornelia and the Jungle MachineCornelia and the Jungle Machine by Nora Brech

Translated Don Bartlett [wh.male, Norway]

Gecko Press, 2019. Orig. published in Norway, 2017

Hardcover Picture Book, 32 pp.

[new home/moving.]

Cornelia is not pleased with the new house, and as you look around the room, you can guess why. And from the first, the house looks lonely. On a wordless page, she loses it; and in familiar parental fashion, she’s sent outside. I have to say that those woods do not look any less creepy than the house, but she finds a ladder and climbs it. Maybe she saw what the reader/listener will notice: little houses with little ladders, and a hammock and tire swing…

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interior images from Cornelia and the Jungle Machine by Nora Brech
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interior image from Cornelia and the Jungle Machine by Nora Brech

The climb is a long one but she’s met with a mail box and welcome sign…and a boy with an eye patch named Fredrik. His is quite the treehouse! [Notice the objects borrowed/shared from the original room.] Most important, however, is the Jungle Machine. I enjoyed it at this age, but this is a book that I would’ve loved as a child. Physically, the book is a larger one, but you appreciate the effort to increase the scale for detail and the book’s immersive qualities. I adore the color palette, the details, the imagination; the wordless pages of adventure.

Cornelia makes a friend in Frederik and there are those promises of returning another day. And it’s noticed that when Cornelia returns home the porch and front door are prominent (less overall looming composition). She’s situated in another room now, at a cozy dining table with food and family. [Note the feather, which is even more promising than the glimpse of Frederik’s home in the trees…]

interior image, Cornelia and the Jungle Machine by Nora Brech

Cornelia and the Jungle Machine is a beautiful childhood in nature and adventures book. It has a magical quality that translates into incredible possibilities if a child is willing or able to look for it.

I wonder what will follow “and” in Cornelia’s next adventure…


Recommended for Aaron Becker’s Journey fans. Brought Bridge to Terabithia to mind.

Nora Brech was born in 1988 and lives in Oslo, Norway. She works as an illustrator and has a degree in drawing. Cornelia and the Jungle Machine is her first book as both author and illustrator.






I read fewer Early & Beginner and Chapter Books now that I’m no longer working at the bookstore. Still, I try to keep interest. Here are 2020 titles that have caught my attention.


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C/  A new Yasmin! book by Saadia Faruqi called Yasmin The Writer (Picture Window)—JANUARY

C/  A new Stella Diaz [Never Gives Up] by Angela Dominguez (Roaring)—JANUARY

C/  The Amazing Life of Azaleah Lane by Nikki Shannon Smith (Picture Window)—JANUARY

C/  A new Questioneers: Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion by Andrea Beatty (Illus. David Roberts) (Amulet) —MAY


Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee (Aladdin)—FEBRUARY


E/ A new “Chick and Brain” book: Egg or Eyeball? by Cece Bell (Candlewick)–MARCH

E/ A new “Jack BookJack Goes WestJack at the Bat,  Jack at the Zoo by Mac Barnett, Illus. Greg Pizzoli (Viking)—APRIL