Tag Archive for: picture books

Scaredy Squirrel series by Melanie Watt

A good friend of mine and I have been mailing each other squirrel-themed items cross country for a while now. Why? Just because we can! It started with a little light-hearted teasing and quickly progressed to mayhem.

Squirrels are polarizing which is great fodder for ongoing, long-distance, smack gifting. On one hand, they are adorable, resourceful creatures of great cunning–symbols of Mother Nature’s whimsy (think Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin). On the other hand, they are evil incarnate–finding ways to destroy gardens and auto electrical systems, vandalizing bird feeders, and taunting neighborhood dogs.

Like opinions about squirrels, the surprises my friend and I have shipped each other have varied widely. They’ve ranged from cute, little earrings perfect for celebrating a gorgeous autumn day to an abomination of a lawn ornament in the form of a plastic stump cradling a cherub with an evil grin feeding an equally evil-looking, bushy-tailed beast. (Guess who found that on her porch!) I wish, though, that before things had gotten out of hand I had found the delightful Scaredy Squirrel picture book series written and illustrated by Melanie Watt.

Watt, a Canadian author and illustrator of children’s books, has created a fun book series with a message. Spanning from 2006 to 2022, her Scaredy Squirrel books have helped kids acknowledge their fears and grow in confidence. In each title, the main character Scaredy is seemingly paralyzed by a fear which grows as he dwells on it. As prepares to face his fear, Scaredy ratchets up the anxiety by creating equally elaborate and ridiculous safety kits and escape plans only to discover that life is full of surprises. Although the surprises interrupt his carefully crafted plans, they demonstrate that obstacles can be overcome, self-confidence can blossom, and a good time can be had by all.

Scaredy truly comes to life in Watt’s delightful illustrations. He practically visibly quivers on the page, adding to the tension of the stories. An anxiety-ridden, germophobic rodent, Scaredy radiates his nervousness to the audience every time he flashes his trademark ear-to-ear grin with tightly gritted teeth. He is fun to watch on the page as he navigates Watt’s elaborate maps and plans and charts; the fitness plans and campground map in Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping display Scaredy’s paranoid preparations at their finest. Watt’s comic-book style–engaging and familiar–introduces the story without overwhelming readers and offers an accessible means of interacting with the book.

The series lends itself to preschool and early elementary audiences through the topics presented and the vocabulary level. The books are great for reading aloud with an adult as they are rich in opportunities to interact with the art and the text. Scaredy’s elaborate maps and escape plans are a hoot, and it’s fun to trace their pathways across the pages together. His antics and his journeys through anxiety-inducing situations offer so many points for kids and adults to talk through tough situations.

However you may feel about squirrels in real life, try one of the Scaredy Squirrel series titles for an amusing, feel-good read. Happy reading!

How to Be A T. Rex by Ryan North and Armadillo Antics by Bill Martin, Jr., and Michael Sampson

How to Be A T. Rex by Ryan North, illustrated by Mike Lowery

Armadillo Antics by Bill Martin, Jr. and Michael Sampson, illustrated by Nathalie Beauvois

As grateful as I am for the magic of finding titles in the Library’s electronic catalog and as helpful as it can be when searching, I still think nothing beats leisurely browsing the shelves for something new (or new-to-me). There’s nothing like strolling through the stacks looking for a title that strikes my fancy. I found a pair of picture books hanging out together, just waiting for someone to pick them. They just so happen to be about animals (of one sort or another) and sources of eye-catching art. Both titles are fun, engaging, and great for reading aloud to little ones.

How to Be A T. Rex, written by Ryan North and illustrated by Mike Lowery, is a great place to start! Its bold art matches well with its brash main character. Sal is a little girl with a BIG agenda–she wants to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex when she grows up. (Or maybe even before then!)  A dinosaur super fan, she loves that T. Rexes get to roar and stomp around and swat things (and people) with their tails. By sheer force of will and to spite her older brother, Sal turns herself into one and immediately initiates a mission of stomping, roaring intimidation. That is, until she’s sent to her room. There she learns the downside of living the dino life–she can’t wear her nifty shoes, her dog doesn’t like her as much, and it’s hard to be anything other than grumpy when all you can do is roar. Fortunately for Sal, she realizes the best of both worlds (human and dino) and invites her friends to be pretend dinosaurs with her.

Sal’s independent spirit comes through in Mike Lowery’s art. Vibrant orange and green and blue saturate the book cover to cover, emphasizing Sal’s energy and determination to live her best dinosaur life. Drawn in comic book style with bold black outlining and lettering (but minus the panel structure), most of the illustrations are full page with boisterous scenes and spirited, exclamatory text. Lowery’s technique is very effective at grabbing the reader’s attention, especially when it comes to showing all the amazing things a T. Rex can do. His illustrations also have a sense of humor and are great for exploring with a little one; Sal’s dinosaur-saturated bedroom is packed with details and worth a second or third look. Find a young person (or T. Rex) to delve into the book with or give it to a young reader to explore. How to Be A T. Rex is silly, rollicking good fun either way.

Despite its name, Armadillo Antics is less a madcap romp and more a relaxed opportunity to revel in rhyme and art. The book is an unhurried journey of the nocturnal mammal as it moves through its “day”. Each two-page spread features a rhyme and illustration depicting a different activity during the animal’s waking hours. For example, antics begin with “Armadillo, Armadillo, Armadillo, run. Romp and play till the night is done.” The rhyme is spread across two pages interspersed with frolicking cut-paper armadillos, cacti, and moon. “Armadillo” is a funny word to say no matter what, and this is no exception. The short rhymes and repetition of the text make this a great book for reading aloud to little ones. Reading aloud, observation, and language exploration are important components of early literacy and are put to good use here. Definitely share this one with toddlers, preschoolers, and early readers.

If Armadillo Antics seem vaguely familiar, it’s because the title is a collaboration of veteran picture book authors who have partnered with a contemporary illustrator who works in similar media as their earlier collaborators. Bill Martin, Jr. had a long career as a picture book author, including the well-known Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with legendary illustrator Eric Carle and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with the equally legendary Lois Ehlert. All of the word repetition and rhyme and charming story of those classics are evident in Armadillo Antics. Although Martin died in 2004, he left an unpublished manuscript of this book, a collaboration with teacher and literacy advocate Micheal Sampson with whom he worked regularly.

Argentinian illustrator Nathalie Beauvois has a style that meshes well with that of Carle and Ehlert. Her collages of cut paper and paint create texture and motion on every page. The armadillo on the front cover wears armor in a tapestry of gold, rust, and brown triangles that are vibrant against the velvety blue background. Most of her palette is more subdued than those of Carle and Ehlert–less vibrant primary colors and more an exploration of natural, earthy tones–yet still full of nuance. This is a great title for practicing observation skills and starting conversations with pre- and early-readers. As a bonus, an armadillo fact sheet is included at the end of the book.

These two picture books proved delightful and fun to read. You can find them and a lot more stories about animals in the Children’s Department. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Happy reading!

Review written by: Beth Snow, Teen Services Librarian

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb! by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb!

written by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker

You know the feeling you get when you hear the ice cream truck coming?  The anticipatory thrill, the bounce-on-the-balls-of-your-feet excitement when you hear the music from down the street?  That’s how I’ve felt while waiting to get my hands on this week’s book!

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb!, written by Veronica Chambers and illustrated by Rachelle Baker, brings the vibrant boldness of its subject to every page.  Even the warm mustard endpapers signal the energy, the vitality of her story.  Chambers and Baker deliver a picture book biography of Shirley Chisholm that is every bit as action-oriented as she was.

The daughter of immigrants from Barbados and Guyana, Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up to become the first Black woman to run for U.S. president.  Chisholm was a voracious reader who earned academic honors in high school as well as college scholarships.  She graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1946 and earned a Master of Arts in education from Columbia University in 1952.  Chisholm, an early childhood educator, ran for a seat in the New York State Legislature in 1964 and won.  She served until 1968 when she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and won, becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress.  Her campaign slogan in that race, “Unbought and Unbossed”, became the theme of her 1972 campaign seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  Chisholm served in Congress until her retirement in 1983 and was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

Shirley Chisholm was a doer, an activist who broke barriers and sought to improve conditions for families and communities.  Veronica Chambers introduces Chisholm to new audiences by capitalizing on her life of action, “Some words, when they connect with the right people, become…magical.  That’s the way it was with Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and verbs.  She understood, almost intuitively, how and why verbs are not just words about being, but doing.  Verbs are words that move the world forward.”

On each page, Chambers highlights a portion of Chisholm’s life, highlighting in color and capital letters a verb related to the brief text.  The verbs anchor each page’s main thought, illustrating its point as effectively and vibrantly as Rachelle Baker’s artwork does.  Chambers chooses her verbs carefully, and they offer a fantastic starting point for further conversation.  They follow Chisholm on her life’s journey and, in addition to obvious choices (dreamed, campaigned, represent, voted, announced, inspired) the verbs reflect her rich experience (honor, listen, earned, help, challenge, convince, planted, pave).  Chambers ends the book with a powerful two-page spread showing a portrait of Chisholm paired with a page full of verbs each in a different, brightly-colored font.  In it, she issues her readers a challenge, “Shirley Chisholm accomplished so much, because she chose her verbs carefully…It’s your turn now. What verbs will you choose?”

Rachelle Baker captures Shirley Chisholm’s energetic spirit in brightly colored illustrations which give off a feeling of motion on every page.  Rich browns and tans ranging from caramel to mahogany to ebony join with piercing blues, lush greens, mustard yellows, and lively oranges to form a palette of saturated colors bursting with activity.  Baker’s art pulls you in as you read.  On the page highlighting a famous Chisholm quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”, I could almost hear the chair dragging across the floor as she pulled it behind her.  I caught myself looking twice to see if her hand really did wave to her neighbors outside the corner store.  Baker created her art digitally on an iPad Pro with spectacular effect so that it lives and breathes and moves on the page.

Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb! opens the door to an unexplored chapter of American history.  It’s a catalyst for important conversations about representation, perseverance, service, and inspiration.  It would be a great read-aloud for pre- and early-readers while independent readers might enjoy it on their own.  I couldn’t wait to read this book, and it was well worth waiting for–I hope you have a chance to read it, too!

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac

Pictures have such power!  Bright and bold or quiet and soft, the stories they tell vary as widely as those told by words alone.  What happens when powerful pictures and beautiful text meet in the same book?  Magic!

Traci Sorell creates magic with her first children’s picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga.  A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, she introduces Cherokee culture with a trip around the seasons giving thanks.  Otsaliheliga is a Cherokee expression of gratitude, akin to “we are grateful”, and Sorell infuses every page with the feeling.  Beginning with uligohvsdi, autumn, her sparse prose describes the natural world and ceremonies and food and art and games and music and history and agriculture–so much that is wonderful about life–in language welcoming her young audience. Sorell’s writing has a quiet beauty about it.  Her words have a rhythm that mirrors nature, “As bears sleep deep and snow blankets the ground…When showers fill streams and shoots spring up…Every day, every season.”

Veteran illustrator Frane Lessac takes Sorell’s text and punches it up all the notches without compromising its delicate delivery.  Lessac uses gouache on paper to create scenes full of zip and vigor that burst from the page in an explosion of color.  Her bold sunset on the book’s cover blends the spectrum of orange in ways that only nature can.  Inside, a summer garden invites you to dig in the rich, brown soil brimming with energy and to pick deep green and red vegetables under a sun so bright you expect the people on the page to break a sweat.  An interior scene bathed in shades of salmon and coral exudes the warmth of winter family visits and warm soup served with buttery bread while outside the window the cold weather gear of cousins feeding the birds pops against the snow.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga is tender and affirming.  A smiling elisi, grandmother, rocks a tiny, new family member amongst the fall leaves while others gather buckbrush to weave baskets.  Three generations brave the winter cold to honor an uncle who has died.  Extended family embrace a relative departing for military service.  Groups of children play a rollicking round of stickball in the summer heat.  The bold illustrations reinforce the text.  It’s a delight to read and to view.

It’s also an engaging introduction to contemporary Cherokee culture and a good OwnVoices title for little ones.  Key Cherokee words appear throughout, and each is presented written in the Roman alphabet, phonetic spelling, the Cherokee syllabary, and English.  The book includes helpful resources at the end–a brief glossary, an enlightening note from the author, and information about the Cherokee syllabary.

From the moment I saw it on the shelf, I couldn’t wait to read this title.  I wish I had had the opportunity to immerse myself in it as a child.  There’s something new to see with every visit, and I love the warmth and security found within the pages.  Traci Sorell has become a new favorite for me among picture book authors.  I can’t wait to see what she does next, and I can’t wait to find more of Frane Lessac’s illustrations!  I hope you have a chance to explore their work, too.