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Pull up a chair and dig into a four-course feast of picture books! These books offer innovative depictions of what it means to express gratitude, to share a meal and to be both welcoming and welcomed.

Thankful

“Every year when the first snow falls, we make thankful chains to last us through December,” explains the narrator of Thankful. She is stretched out on her bedroom floor, surrounded by a halo of colorful construction paper, hard at work transforming it into a paper chain. As she lists the things for which she is thankful, readers glimpse scenes of her life with her parents, new sibling and pet dog, at her school and with her friends. 

Author Elaine Vickers’ text is wonderfully evocative. The girl’s list includes concrete and sensory observations, such as gratitude for “the spot under the covers where someone has just been sleeping” and “a cloth on my forehead when I feel sick.” In a humorous beach scene, the girl reflects that she is thankful “for wind and sand—but not at the same time.” 

Readers will be entranced by Samantha Cotterill’s outstanding and unique art. To create her illustrations, Cotterill creates miniature 3D interiors, populates them with cutout characters, then photographs each diorama. She includes charming details, including real lights in various rooms and shining car headlights, along with construction paper chains so realistic in appearance that you’ll feel you could almost touch them. Colorful and original, Thankful will spark young readers to create their own thankful chains—and may inspire them to try their hand at making diorama art, too.

Let Me Fix You a Plate

The excitement of family gatherings is at the heart of Let Me Fix You a Plate: A Tale of Two Kitchens, inspired by author-illustrator Elizabeth Lilly’s annual childhood trips to see her grandparents. The book follows a girl, her two sisters and their parents as they pile into a car and drive first to West Virginia to their Mamaw and Papaw, then continue to Florida to visit their Abuela and Abuelo, before they finally return to their own home.

Lilly’s energetic illustrations capture these comings and goings, as well as the abundant details the narrator observes in her grandparents’ homes. At Mamaw and Papaw’s house, she sees a shelf of decorative plates and coffee mugs with tractors on them, eats sausage and toast with blackberry jam and helps make banana pudding. Abuela and Abuelo’s house is filled with aunts, uncles and cousins and the sounds of Spanish and salsa music. The girl picks oranges from a tree in the yard and helps make arepas. 

Throughout, Lilly’s precise prose contributes to a strong sense of place. “Morning mountain fog wrinkles and rolls,” observes the girl on her first morning in West Virginia, while in Florida, “the hot sticky air hugs us close.” Lilly’s line drawings initially seem simple, almost sketchlike, but they expertly convey the actions and emotions of every character, whether it’s Mamaw bending down to offer her granddaughter a bite of breakfast or a roomful of aunts and uncles dancing while Abuelo plays guitar. Like a warm hug from a beloved family member, Let Me Fix You a Plate is a cozy squeeze that leaves you grinning and a little bit breathless. 

Saturday at the Food Pantry

“Everybody needs help sometimes” is the message at the heart of Saturday at the Food Pantry, which depicts a girl named Molly’s first trip to a food pantry with her mom. 

Molly and her mom have been eating chili for two weeks; when Molly’s mom opens the refrigerator, we see that it’s nearly empty. In bed that night, Molly’s stomach growls with hunger. Molly is excited to visit a food pantry for the first time, but she isn’t sure what to expect. As she and her mom wait in line, Molly is happy to see that Caitlin, a classmate, is also waiting with her grandmother. Molly greets her enthusiastically, but Caitlin ignores her. “I don’t want anyone to know Gran and I need help,” Caitlin explains later.

Molly’s cheerfulness saves the day, and the girls’ interactions contribute to a normalizing and destigmatizing representation of their experience. Molly asks her mom questions that reveal how the food pantry differs from a grocery store. Mom must check in before she begins shopping, for instance, and there are limits on how many items customers can have. “Take one bundle” reads a sign in the banana basket. 

Author Diane O’Neil captures her characters’ trepidations head-on. Mom smiles “just a little, not like when they played at the park” at the volunteer who signs her in, and Molly is confused and sad when her mom tells her to put a box of cookies back because “the people in charge … want us to take sensible stuff.” Gradually, however, the occasion transforms into a positive experience for all. 

Food insecurity can be a sensitive topic, and O’Neil—who went to a food pantry when she was a child—handles the issue in a reassuring, informative way. A helpful end note from the CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository explains that millions of people in the United States need help just like Molly and her mom, and provides readers resources to find it. 

Illustrator Brizida Magro is a wizard of texture, whether depicting Molly’s wavy hair or the wonderful array of patterns in coats, sweaters and pants. Her ability to capture facial expressions and convey complex emotions is also noteworthy; it adds to the book’s emotional depth and makes the eventual smiles all the more impactful. The pantry shoppers’ diversity of skin tone, age and ability underscores how food insecurity can affect anyone. Saturday at the Food Pantry brims with sincerity and a helpful and hopeful spirit.

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

“In one place or another, at one time or another, in one way or another, every single one of us will find ourselves in search of acceptance, help, protection, welcome,” writes Mary Lee Donovan in her introduction to A Hundred Thousand Welcomes, illustrated by Lian Cho.

With poetic text that reads like an invocation, the book is a fascinating around-the-world tour that explores the concept of welcome. On each page, a household from a different culture entertains guests. Many pages include the corresponding word for “welcome” in that culture’s language, including words and phrases in Indonesian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Lakota Sioux. Back matter from Cho and Donovan explains the inspiration that sparked their collaboration and offers more information about the many languages spoken throughout the world and a detailed pronunciation guide to all of the words in the book.

Cho’s art is a multicultural feast of families and friends enjoying each other’s company. There’s a German chalet where kids play in the snow, a Bengali family greeting visitors who arrive in a small, colorful vehicle and more. The disparate scenes culminate in two shining spreads. In the first, people of all ages and nationalities share a meal at a table that’s so long, it can only fit on the page thanks to a breathtaking gatefold. In the next, an equally long line of kids sit atop a brick wall, chatting with each other and gazing up at a night sky full of stars as one child turns around and waves at the reader.

Although many picture books celebrate the fellowship of friendship and the love that flows during family gatherings, A Hundred Thousand Welcomes encourages readers to go one step further, to ready their own welcome mats and invite neighbors and strangers alike into their homes and hearts.

Four picture books offer innovative depictions of what it means to express gratitude, to share a meal and to be both welcoming and welcomed.

No one does an art thriller quite like B.A. Shapiro, and with such as novels The Art Forger and The Muralist, she’s carved out quite the niche by blinding literary thrills with questions of authenticity, value, museum politics and the inner workings of various historical art scenes.

Shapiro’s next novel, Metropolis, arrives this spring from Algonquin Books, and BookPage is delighted to reveal its cover and an exclusive excerpt!

First, read a bit about Metropolis in the official synopsis from Algonquin:


This masterful novel of psychological suspense from the New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger follows a cast of unforgettable characters whose lives intersect when a harrowing accident occurs at the Metropolis Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

But was it really an accident? Was it suicide? A murder? Six mysterious characters who rent units in, or are connected to, the self-storage facility must now reevaluate their lives. We meet Serge, an unstable but brilliant street photographer who lives in his unit, which overflows with thousands of undeveloped pictures; Zach, the building’s owner, who develops Serge’s photos as he searches for clues to the accident; Marta, an undocumented immigrant who is finishing her dissertation and hiding from ICE; Liddy, an abused wife and mother, who re-creates her children’s bedroom in her unit; Jason, who has left his corporate firm and now practices law from his storage unit; and Rose, the office manager, who takes kickbacks to let renters live in the building and has her own complicated family history. 

The characters have a variety of backgrounds: They are different races; they practice different religions; they’re young and they’re not so young; they are rich, poor, and somewhere in the middle. As they dip in and out of one another’s lives, fight circumstances that are within and also beyond their control, and try to discover the details of the accident, Shapiro both dismantles the myth of the American dream and builds tension to an exciting climax.


Metropolis hits bookstores and libraries on May 17, 2022. While you wait, we’re delighted to reveal the cover from designer Sara Wood and art director Christopher Moisan. Plus, an exclusive excerpt after the jump!


BOSTONGLOBE.COM, JANUARY 7, 2018. Cambridge, MA—Rescue workers were dispatched to the Metropolis Storage Warehouse at Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street in response to a 911 call at 11:15 this evening. At least one person was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital with critical injuries after a fall down an elevator shaft. Details are limited, and neither police nor hospital officials identified the victim. Questions were raised about what people were doing at the self-storage facility at that hour, and police are investigating other violations concerning the building. This is a developing story. It will be updated.

ONE

Zach 

May 2018

It’s Rose’s fault. It’s Aetna’s fault. It’s Otis Elevator’s fault. All of the above and none of the above. Zach Davidson hovers at the edge of the crowd, but at six two it’s tough to blend into the background. The auctioneer doesn’t know Zach is the recipient of the money from the forthcoming sales, and he wants to keep it that way, although he doesn’t know why this matters. He isn’t even sure why he’s come, unless as some perverse form of self-flagellation. 

“Most of you know the rules,” the auctioneer begins in her booming voice, “but I’m going to go over them quickly. Due to foreclosure of the building, the contents of twenty-two abandoned storage units are up for sale. The minimum bid is one hundred dollars. Cash only. I’ll open the door to each unit, and you’ll have five minutes to see what’s inside, and then I’ll start the auction. You may not cross the threshold. You may not touch anything. You may not ask me any questions, because I don’t have any answers. You take it all or you leave it all. Then we move on to the next unit. Is this clear?”

There’s a murmur of acceptance, which echoes off the concrete walls and floor, the steel-reinforced ceiling. They’re standing outside Rose’s old office, the woman Zach shouldn’t have relied on. Every direction he looks pisses him off. Rose’s empty desk, the dim bulbs, the peeling paint. He turns his back on the yellow police tape stretched across the elevator.

It’s been almost four months since it happened, and still no one knows for sure if it was an accident, a suicide attempt, or a murder attempt. Could be any of them, but it doesn’t make all that much difference. He’s screwed any which way. Damn elevator. Damn Rose. Damn hard luck. 

He follows the auctioneer as she marches down a corridor lined with heavy metal doors, each imprinted with a round medallion containing a large M intertwined with a smaller S and W. Metropolis Storage Warehouse. One hundred and twenty-three years old. Six stories high. Ninety feet wide. Four hundred and eighty feet long. Almost four hundred storage units of various sizes and shapes; some even have windows. Zach knows it well.

Author B.A. Shapiro

The potential bidders are a mixed bunch. Two men in ratty clothes smell as if they’ve been sleeping on the street, which they probably have. Another three look like lawyers or real estate developers, and there’s a foursome of gray-hairs who appear to have just stepped off the golf course. A gaggle of middle-aged women in running shoes sends stern glances at a girl clutching a pen and a pad of paper, who seems far too young to be the mother of the children she’s yelling at. Male, female, tall, short, fat, slim, white, Black, brown, rich, poor, clever, or not so clever. Like the inner recesses of Metropolis itself, a diverse assemblage that stands in contrast to the archipelago of cultural and economic neighborhoods Boston has become. 

Zach has owned Metropolis for ten years, bought at a ridiculously low price in a quasi-legal deal that looked to be the way out of the consequences of his bad choices. Although it still belongs to him, however temporarily, he has no idea what’s behind any of the doors. The building had a well-deserved shady reputation when he purchased it, and he concluded he was better off not knowing what people were storing in their units. In retrospect, a little prying might have averted this mess.

The auctioneer, a beefy woman with biceps twice the size of Zach’s, takes a key from her backpack and dramatically twists it into the lock. Then she slides the ten-foot-wide fireproof door along its track on the floor to reveal a murky room, lumpy with shadowy objects. She reaches inside and flips on the light. 

“Take it all! Leave it all!” she cries. “Five minutes!”

Revealed by naked light bulbs hanging from the eleven-foot ceiling, #114 is decidedly dull. An old refrigerator, an electric stove, a bunch of mismatched chairs, a couple of mattresses, clothes overflowing from open cartons scattered all over the floor. There are at least two dozen sealed boxes lined up against the far wall and a four-foot pile of empty picture frames ready to topple. Everything is coated with what appears to be decades of dust. Zach groans inwardly. He needs every cent he can squeeze out of this auction, and no one’s going to bid on any of this junk. 

But he’s wrong. After the auctioneer starts rippling her tongue in an impenetrable torrent of words, people start raising their hands. When the contents go for $850, Zach is flabbergasted. The other units surely contain more impressive stuff than this and should generate even higher bids.

Some do, some don’t, and two are completely empty. 

“Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!” 

When the auctioneer unlocks the door of #357, there’s a collective gasp. The interior looks like a stage waiting for the evening performance to commence: a complete upscale office suite, including a desk, bookshelves, and a small conference table surrounded by four chairs. Bizarre. It goes for $3,500. 

On the fifth floor is a tiny and perfectly immaculate unit: a neatly made single bed, an intricately carved rolltop desk, a chair, a small bureau. Nothing else. One thousand dollars. In #454, there’s another bizarre tableau. Creepy, actually. It appears to belong to a couple of teenagers. Two desks piled with books and trophies, walls covered with movie posters, and corkboards adorned with invitations and photos and newspaper clippings. Did they come here to study? To hide? Zach stretches his neck in as far as he can without the auctioneer cutting it off. 

She almost does. “Step back, sir!” she yells, her voice stiletto-sharp. “This minute!” Everyone looks at him as if he’s committed a heinous crime. “Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!”

Annoyed, he does as she orders, but he wants to see more, surprised to find himself interested in the lives lived here. This is something he’d never considered before, or to be more correct, he had thought about it, but only as a means to get the bad guys out of the building and clean up his own act. Now the questions surge. Who were these people? Why these particular items? And, most intriguing of all, why did they leave so much behind? 

Unit 421 is another stage, but this one is freakish in its attention to detail. It’s a double unit with two round windows, and it looks like an upscale studio apartment, perhaps a pied-à-terre. Against one wall, a queen-size bed is covered by a rumpled silk bedspread and an unreasonable number of pillows. A nightstand holding a lamp and a clock sits to its right side; a large abstract painting is centered over the headboard. At the other end of the unit is an overstuffed reading chair, a writing desk, and a sectional couch, also with too many pillows, facing a large-screen television. In the corner, there’s a small table, two chairs, and a compact kitchen featuring cabinets, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a fancy hot plate. 

“Take it all! Leave it all! Five minutes!”

This time there’s no doubt in Zach’s mind to whom the unit belongs, or rather, to whom it had belonged. Liddy Haines. He closes his eyes and presses his forefinger to the bridge of his nose in an attempt to make the horrific image go away, which it does not. Six thousand dollars. 

Unit 514 was apparently used as a darkroom, and from the looks of it, also as a bedroom. He stares at the sheets pooling at the edge of a cot, at the dirty clothes heaped on the floor. He’s seen three beds in three different units over the last hour, and he clenches his fists to contain his anger. If Rose didn’t know people were living here, she should have. It was a lawsuit waiting to happen—even if it wasn’t the lawsuit now upending his life. An irony he’d appreciate more if he weren’t so damn furious. 

In contrast to Liddy Haines’s unit, there’s no expensive furniture here, but there is a lot of high-quality photographic equipment. A long table edges the south side of the room, overflowing with trays, chemicals, jugs, paper, an enlarger, and an assortment of spools, filters, thermometers, and timers. A clothesline with pins attached stretches over the jumble, and there are at least a dozen five-gallon Poland Spring containers, most of them full, along with another dozen warehouse-size cartons of energy bars. 

A Rolleiflex camera is perched atop a stack of cartons, its well-worn leather strap dangling. Zach recognizes it because of the nature photography he’s been doing lately, his current obsession. Highpointing, climbing the highest peak in every state, was his last one, and that’s what got him into taking landscape pictures in the first place. But his interest in mountaineering has been waning—thirty-two states is more than enough—as his new interest in photography has waxed. He’s usually only good for one obsession at a time, dropping the previous one when another grabs his fancy. He’s an all-in or all-out kind of guy. 

The Rolleiflex is a twin-lens reflex, medium format, which hardly anyone uses anymore. But if you know what you’re doing, it takes remarkable photos. Zach rented one when he was at Bryce last year, and the first time he looked down into the viewfinder—which is at waist, rather than eye, level—he was blown away. 

The vastness of the mountains and the big sky in front of him were perfectly reflected through the lens, without the tunnel vision effect of a standard camera. When he returned to Boston, he kept it a few extra days and experimented with street photography. The cool part is that because you’re looking down rather than directly at your subject, no one is aware they’re being photographed. Vivian Maier, arguably one of the greatest street photographers ever, used a Rolleiflex. 

Zach leans into the unit as far as the Nazi will allow, searching for pictures. There are a few lying about, but it’s difficult to see them from the hallway. The ones he can see are all square rather than rectangular, a feature of the Rolleiflex. He tilts his head and squints at a photo on the end of the table closest to him: a striking black-and-white with afternoon sunlight cutting a diagonal across the image. 

A man is standing in front of an open door with an arched top; the word “Office” can be clearly read behind his head. His shoulder leans against the doorframe, one knee slightly bent. His eyes stare off into the distance. Before Zach understands what he’s seeing, his stomach twists. It’s a photograph of him.


Photo of B.A. Shapiro by Lynn Wayne. Excerpt from Metropolis © 2022 B.A. Shapiro. Reprinted with permission of Algonquin Books.

BookPage reveals the cover and an excerpt of B.A. Shapiro’s novel Metropolis.

Educator Tiffany Jewell’s book for teen readers, This Book Is Anti-Racist, became a #1 New York Times and indie bestseller in 2020. In her next book, The Antiracist Kid, Jewell brings her expertise as an antiracism and anti-bias facilitator to middle grade readers eager to discover how they can learn about and take action against racism. The book also includes illustrations by Eisner Award-nominated artist Nicole Miles.

Here’s the official description from Versify, Jewell’s publisher:


What is racism? What is antiracism? Why are both important to learn about? In this book, systemic racism and the antiracist tools to fight it are easily accessible to the youngest readers.

In three sections, this must-have guide explains:

  • Identity: What it is and how it applies to you
  • Justice: What it is, what racism has to do with it and how to address injustice
  • Activism: A how-to with resources to be the best antiracist kid you can be

This book teaches younger children the words, language and methods to recognize racism and injustice—and what to do when they encounter it at home, at school and in the media they watch, play and read. 


The Antiracist Kid hits shelves at libraries and bookstores everywhere on August 16, 2022, and BookPage is thrilled to reveal its amazing cover below! The cover was illustrated by Nicole Miles and designed by Samira Iravani. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Jewell after the reveal. Just scroll down!

How did you feel the first time you saw the finished cover for The Antiracist Kid?
I was totally excited to see this beautiful and fun cover! I immediately showed my children, who were equally as excited. Nicole Miles is brilliant and I’m so excited she’s illustrating the book! I can’t wait for everyone to see it!

After the success of This Book Is Anti-Racist, what drew you to create a book for younger readers? What excited you about the idea and was rewarding as you worked on it?
I’ve been wanting to write a book for younger readers since I first started working on This Book Is Anti-Racist! I love working with young learners and honestly, it’s the group I feel most comfortable teaching, working and collaborating with.

One of the things I love most about this new book is that it’s a series of questions that kids have asked me, their caregivers, teachers, librarians, other adults in their lives and each other. Questions like: Why do people have different skin colors? Where did race come from? Is it OK to talk about differences? Why do some people have more power than others? And so, so, so many more! This book is like a conversation between me and the reader where we get to do some big work around understanding what racism is and how to actively work toward a just community and world! I’m so excited there will be a book like this for younger kids, because you are never too young to learn about racism and to start the lifelong work of antiracism!

One of the things you bring to both of these books is years of experience in the classroom, working with young people. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and how it shaped The Antiracist Kid?
The Antiracist Kid grew out of the work I’ve done with kids for over almost two decades. Young children are curious. They want to know who they are, who the people around them are, what is happening in their lives (and beyond) and why things happen the way they do. They are so creative and such amazing problem solvers. They’re great observers, but they don’t always have the vocabulary and language to fully understand what it is they are witnessing and experiencing. 

In my classroom, we spent our time learning about our own identities and those of our classmates and peers, and building community. We did this alongside learning how to read and write, building our mathematics skills, exploring science and diving into history, and it was so exciting and purposeful and necessary! My students always shared with me what they wanted to know and it is because of them—and ALL the young people with big questions—that I continue to do this work. All of my years of teaching and working with children and their families have led me to the work I am doing now, and I’m so grateful I get to do this. 

Can you talk a little bit about your hopes for this book? How do you hope a young reader who reads it feels when they turn that last page and finish reading it? What do you hope they do next?
I hope this book becomes a go-to book for all young readers and their caregivers! I hope they’ll see themselves in this book and know that they are not too young to talk about, learn about, understand and stand up against racism. I hope The Antiracist Kid becomes a well-loved book and is in every home and classroom and library around the country. I hope all readers will pick it up without fear. I hope this book will inspire everyone who reads it to share it, to work collectively and to work together to eradicate systemic racism and injustice!

The Antiracist Kid will be published in August 2023. That's a long time from now! Can you recommend some books for kids to read in the meantime?
Yes! There are so many amazing books! I’ll share some of our family favorites and the ones students I’ve been working with are enjoying right now too!

  • Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
  • Stamped (for Kids) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul, illustrated by Rachelle Baker
  • Jo Jo Makoons by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert
  • You Matter by Christian Robinson
  • I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
  • Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Jamie Kim
  • What Will You Be? by Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Kate Alizadeh
  • We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
  • Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham
  • You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel
  • Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
  • Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
  • My Two Border Towns by David Bowles, illustrated by Erika Meza
  • Change Sings by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long

Photo of Tiffany Jewell © James Azar Salem.

Photo of Nicole Miles © Danielle Hamilton.

Educator Tiffany Jewell’s book for teen readers, This Book Is Anti-Racist, became a #1 New York Times and indie bestseller in 2020. In her next book, The Antiracist Kid, Jewell brings her expertise as an antiracism and anti-bias facilitator to middle grade readers eager to discover how they can learn about and take action against […]

Tips for Teachers is a monthly column in which experienced teacher and children’s librarian Emmie Stuart shares book recommendations and a corresponding teaching guide for fellow elementary school teachers.


I rely on books with powerful messages and strong curricular content for the foundation of my lessons. But as I looked at my students recently, I realized they needed some levity and laughter. Setting aside standards and pacing guides, I shifted gears and pulled out Peggy Rathman’s Officer Buckle and Gloria, Ryan T. Higgins’ Mother Bruce, Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown’s Creepy Carrots and my entire James Marshall collection. Using my silliest voices and making sure to pause in just the right places, I read the books aloud. Their masks did not mask my students’ laughter. Their delight was evident in their twinkling eyes and relaxed body language.

Teachers know when their students are feeling anxious, somber or weary. When you sense heaviness in your classroom, gather your students around you and share these three books. They are lighthearted. They are well executed. They are unexpectedly tender. And they are silly. Your students’ spirits will be lifted as they briefly forget their worries and share moments of humor and cheer with their teacher and friends.


Have You Seen Gordon by Adam Jay Epstein and Ruth Chan book coverHave You Seen Gordon?
By Adam Jay Epstein

Illustrated by Ruth Chan

Gordon, a purple tapir, lives in a world buzzing with the activities of busy anthropomorphic animals. Have You Seen Gordon? begins like a normal seek-and-find book, as an upbeat narrator asks readers if they can find Gordon—but then this quirky story takes a turn for the unexpected. Initially, Gordon cooperates, behaving like the typical subject of a seek-and-find book, hiding in plain sight among illustrator Ruth Chan’s bustling spreads, but he becomes disillusioned with hiding and places himself in easily spotted locations. When the narrator accuses him of “not hiding at all,” Gordon declares, “I don’t want to hide anymore. I’m proud of who I am. From now on, I want to stand out.”

The narrator selects another animal for readers to find, this time a blue rhinoceros who is a construction worker. But she quickly interrupts the narrator and announces, “I have a name. It’s Jane. And I’m kind of shy. I don’t like a lot of attention.” Teeming with humorous details and energy, this witty and winsome adventure will win students’ affection. Be prepared for repeat readings!

  • Foundational skills

Fostering early literacy skills is an area of instruction that I tend to overlook when I’m planning lessons and talking about books with pre- and emerging readers. The energetic and detailed scenes in Have You Seen Gordon? provide a fun and engaging opportunity for students to work on early phonemic awareness skills. This can be a whole-class activity if you have a way to display the book’s scenes enlarged, such as with an overhead projector or smart board device, or a small-group activity if you have several copies of the physical book. Here are the prompts I used with my students.

  • Can you find three things that start with the letter G?
  • I wonder what we can find that starts with the “ch” sound?
  • I spy something that rhymes with the word rain. What do I spy?
  • How many bikes are in this illustration?

 

  • Wordplay

Have You Seen Gordon? is packed with humorous semantic devices. Begin by offering students a brief definition of wordplay. I used Merriam Webster’s definition, “the playful use of words,” followed by my own explanation: “Wordplay is when letters, words and sounds are creatively used to make us laugh.” Show students examples of various forms of wordplay including puns, idioms and spelling manipulation.

Reread the book and see how many examples of wordplay students can spot. Point out and explain instances of wordplay that are unfamiliar for younger students. Older students can extend this activity by creating and illustrating wordplay of their own.

  • Collaborative scene

Gordon and friends are depicted in a range of different environments, from a city street to an art museum, a mall and a campground. Make a comprehensive list of all the settings. Ask students if they can think of other distinct settings they could add to the list. Next, narrow the list down to four settings and let students vote on which scene to create collaboratively.

Roll out a piece of butcher paper and let students work in pairs to illustrate the background of the scene. When they’re not working on the background, students will draw and color their own creatures. Once the background is finished, position the students’ creatures on the butcher paper to create a full scene similar to those in Have You Seen Gordon?


Vampenguin by Lucy Ruth Cummins book coverVampenguin
By Lucy Ruth Cummins

After waking up early one morning, the Dracula family heads to the zoo. Their first stop is the penguin house, filled with all different kinds of penguins. It’s here that the youngest Dracula, whose skin is paper white and who wears a black cape and yellow shoes with a matching yellow pacifier, slides out of the stroller and enters the penguin enclosure. Meanwhile, a small penguin takes the child’s place in the stroller. The rest of the Dracula family, oblivious to the switch, continues their zoo expedition.

Author-illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins’ straightforward text continues to recount the family’s day without acknowledging the switcheroo, while the illustrations depict the shenanigans of the youngest Dracula and the little penguin. Replete with vampire jokes, the silly antics in Vampenguin elicited audible giggles from my students.

  • Words and pictures

Explain how in some picture books, the story depends on the pictures and the pictures depend on the words. Some picture books can be understood without their illustrations, but many cannot. I love to demonstrate this interplay by asking students to imagine a picture book we have just read being adapted to an audiobook.

This concept is expertly executed in Vampenguin because Cummins’ text tells one story and her illustrations tell another. Read the book again without showing the illustrations to the class as you do so. Invite students to share what is missed in the absence of the pictures. Does the story make sense? Is it even the same story? Explore other picture books with strong text and illustration interdependency.

  • Creative writing

Ask students to brainstorm which zoo exhibit they would like to join for a few hours, like the youngest member of the Dracula family does. (Begin by establishing that zoo creatures cannot harm or eat students for the purposes of this exercise). Provide books about animals commonly found at the zoo and give students time to take notes about animal behavior. Students will blend their research and their imagination to write first-person narratives of an afternoon in an animal exhibit. Turn on some zoo cams for inspiration as students work on their stories.


The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess by Tom Gauld book coverThe Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess
By Tom Gauld

In this tale of sibling loyalty and love, cartoonist and New Yorker cover artist Tom Gauld weaves together old and new, funny and tender. The king and queen are happy as they rule their kingdom, but they long for children. An inventor and a witch step in and bequeath them with “a wonderful, intricate little wooden robot” and a princess magically brought to life from a log in the witch’s basket of firewood. Unfortunately, the princess’s enchantment comes with a catch: Every night, she turns back into a log until she is awakened with some magic words. One morning, an overzealous and uninformed maid spies the log in the princess’s bed and tosses it out the window.

Filled with grief, the princess’s wooden-robot brother immediately leaves on a quest to find her. His journey contains “too many adventures to recount here,” but his perseverance—driven by his love for his sister—is rewarded. The princess demonstrates her love, too, when she courageously saves her brother on their way home.

Like most fairy tales, this familiar yet novel picture book will captivate young imaginations, but it achieves something more. Its young heroes suggest to children how their lives are also stories and they can also live with courageous and persevering love.

  • Shape art

Tom Gauld’s simple-seeming cartoon illustrations are filled with geometric shapes. Go on a “shape hunt” in the book and find ways that Gauld uses simple shapes to create characters and settings.

Using paper punches and paper to make shapes of varying sizes, colors and patterns. Group the shapes on paper plates and let students choose several shapes to transform into a setting or a character. Give students time and space to trade shapes with one another or to gather additional shapes as they work on their creations.

  • Exploring theme

Theme is one of those elusive concepts that is embedded in most English-language arts educational standards. I often struggle to teach students how to differentiate between a story’s main idea and its theme, but The Little Wooden Robot and Log Princess has a definite theme: the loyal, selfless love between siblings.

After determining the theme, ask students to identify details in the story that support the theme. With older students, discuss how fairy tales treat themes differently than other fictional storytelling forms or even nonfiction. Ask students how The Little Wood Robot and the Log Princess might help them understand how to be a better sibling or friend?

  • Fairy tale elements

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess contains many familiar fairy tale tropes. Before reading the book aloud to your students, discuss common elements of fairy tales. This is the list I discussed with my third graders:

  • A beginning and an ending
  • Good versus evil
  • Repeating numbers
  • Magic
  • An antagonist
  • A moral

Share a few additional fairy tales (I recommend Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel, Rachel Isadora’s Hansel and Gretel and Ai-Ling Louie and Ed Young’s Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China) and fill in a graphic organizer. After reading The Little Wooden Robot and Log Princess, compare it to other fairy tales. What is the same? What is different? Fill the graphic organizer and discuss the most prominent similarities and differences.

Teachers know when their students are feeling anxious, somber or weary. When you sense heaviness in your classroom, gather your students around you and share these three books. They are lighthearted. They are well executed. They are unexpectedly tender. And they are silly.

These contemporary romances are ensconced in the world of professional athletics and fitness, but emotional lifting takes greater precedence than squats.

In The Dating Playbook, the second rom-com in Farrah Rochon’s knockout Boyfriend Project series, a personal trainer with a struggling practice teams up with a high-profile former NFL player facing multiple hurdles to give him a second chance at playing pro ball.

Taylor Powell has always felt like the black sheep in her high-achieving family. While her siblings soared, school meant suffering and panic attacks for Taylor. She squeaked by in high school, but her lack of college degree has been the deciding factor in several lost professional opportunities. Now she works as a personal trainer and has a tight circle of female friends, a sisterhood of women (introduced in The Boyfriend Project) who all learned through social media that they were dating the same sad-sack, low-rent player. And yet, despite their generosity and support, their professional prowess exacerbates her feelings of failure by comparison, a situation made worse by Taylor’s undiagnosed ADHD.

Jamar Dixon, on the other hand, is used to being a star. He excelled at football and got a dream job playing professionally right out of college. But an injury in his first season cut his career short. Taylor’s relative anonymity will help Jamar keep his training a secret, away from the prying eyes of the press and the public pressure to come back better than ever. And apart from the overdue bills that this lucrative gig will help Taylor pay for, being the architect of a successful comeback for a football star could be just the career-making boost she needs. To make sure Jamar’s training remains a secret until he’s ready to return and she’s ready for the spotlight, they agree to pretend to date in order to throw everyone off the scent.

It’s a great setup and well executed, with each character scratching just the right itch for the other. They both have a lot riding on their professional partnership and ample reason to keep it under wraps. Like the best rom-com couples, Taylor and Jamar are much more than the sum of their individual parts. They’re absolutely lovely together, making Rochon’s choice to have the friend group play a lesser role in this installment a wise one. The Dating Playbook is a gentle and relatively low-angst romance that makes a great comfort read in stressful times.

The comedy is a bit broader and the chemistry is more volatile in Alexis Daria’s crazy, sexy, cool second-chance romance A Lot Like Adiós.

After a young lifetime of being badgered and bullied by his parents, Gabe Aguilar was desperate to get out of the Bronx and away from his judgmental and domineering father. In an act of defiance, unbeknownst to Michelle Amato, his best friend and next-door neighbor whom he always had a crush on, Gabe applied to UCLA, got a scholarship and left everything behind, including the friendship that sustained him for most of his life. Thirteen years later, Gabe is a physiotherapist and co-owner of a successful Los Angeles gym called Agility. Michelle and Gabe are thrown together again when Fabian, Gabe’s business partner, sees a splashy marketing campaign that Michelle designed and recruits her to work on the launch of their first East Coast branch.

Gabe and Michelle have a ton of unresolved sexual tension, and they’re both curious about and longing to see each other. The main challenge, apart from the fact that he thoroughly ghosted her in order to make a fresh start in LA and never really explained why, is that Gabe isn’t ready to deal with being back in New York. Even beyond his issues with his family, not knowing how to push back against other people’s expectations has long been a problem for him.

Michelle’s terms for accepting the job include Gabe staying with her on this trip, so they can hash out their differences. She wants closure, so she engineers a little forced proximity to force the issue. To say that the scheme works is an understatement. Gabe and Michelle share a connection that is instinctual and hot like fire—not just habanero or scotch bonnet hot, but ghost pepper hot. In the bedroom, at the zoo, in the basement gym, everywhere they go, there’s heat. Daria masterfully blends that steam with character building and emotional connection from the start. Their love scenes are nothing short of spectacular, full of communication and creativity as well as physical spark.

Daria portrays Gabe with particular sensitivity. His character is specific and concrete, his wariness, dysfunction and emotional pain palpable on the page. In an effectively cringeworthy scene, Gabe’s worst fears come true when he and his father finally come face-to-face. It’s tender but also funny in a Larry David-esque way, excruciating and human all at once. Unfortunately, the story skims over his path to healing, narrowing the steps Gabe takes to mend his psychological wounds to one significant epiphany with not much in the way of follow-up. Readers’ mileage may vary when it comes to the resolution and HEA, which lean hard on embracing the love and support of family, making it almost sound like a miracle cure. It’s a curious note in an otherwise truly irresistible arrangement.

These contemporary romances are ensconced in the world of professional athletics and fitness, but emotional lifting takes greater precedence than squats.

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