13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich

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13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich, illustrated by David Clark (9781580898904)

In this hilarious reverse counting book, various creatures consume the thirteen flies. The various flies are given their specific species names as they are eaten. Facts are also shared about each of the predators. The book is inviting and offers a humorous take on the science of eating flies. There are frogs that eat them, spiders, other insects, fish, birds, bats, and even one human (who eats the last fly by mistake!) And remember, even as these 13 flies are eaten, more are emerging all the time.

Heavenrich takes clear glee in sharing strange and fascinating ways that flies can be eaten. She shares facts that will have children turning the pages to discover the next amazing piece of information. Even those who think they know all about insects, frogs and animals will be intrigued by some of the data. After all, who wouldn’t want to learn about a fungus that turns a fly into a zombie!

The art in this nonfiction picture book adds to the joy of the text. Clark creates dramatic moments with his humorous illustrations, depicting the last moments of each fly’s life just before they are eaten. The googly-eyed flies are full of gangly legs, beating wings and despair.

The ultimate in gross and cool nonfiction. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos

Cover image for Your Mama.

Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9781328631886)

This picture book cleverly riffs on the “Yo Mama” jokes. Each set of pages starts with a full joke, including “Your Mama so sweet, she could be a bakery” and “Your Mama so strong, she like a marine.” Then the story takes over and explains how this little girl’s mother is all that and more. Examples like her high heels shoes that no one else can walk in, being public library VIPs, and making the perfect costumes. This mother loves road trips, good jokes, and makeup. She stands up against injustice, has friends everywhere, and loves her daughter more than she will ever know.

The humor at the center of the book, taking often negative “Yo Mama” jokes and turning them on their head is a real pleasure. The Latinx protagonists are both strong women with the text slowing with English and Spanish. It’s a pleasure to see a fully realized mother, who is modern, focused and still able to be a great Mama. This woman has real dimension on the page, allowing readers to see their own amazing mothers here too.

The art in this book shows the warm love between mother and daughter, from bouncing on couch cushions, to living room performances, to being out and about together. The setting is urban and friendly, the streets bustling with friends and relatives. From her long curly hair to her high heeled shoes, this is a mother with plenty of attitude and self confidence to share with her daughter.

A celebration of Mamas both sweet and spicy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Versify.

Applesauce Is Fun to Wear by Nancy Raines Day

Cover image for Applesauce Is Fun to Wear.

Applesauce Is Fun to Wear by Nancy Raines Day, illustrated by Jane Massey (9781951836054)

In this charmer of a picture book, toddlers wear all sorts of food. Applesauce in the hair and toast as a nice flat hat. Milk can make a mustache and yogurt can cover your tummy. Mashed banana makes a great set of gloves for your hands and ice cream can cool your toes. Peas are great to roll on the floor and spaghetti makes celebratory confetti. Chocolate cake covers your face. Then it’s all cleaned up in the end with bubbles in the tub.

Simple and engaging, this title has fun and rollicking rhymes for toddlers to enjoy. The delight in messiness is great fun, with a focus on foods that littles ones will likely have enjoyed already. After all, it’s a lot more fun to wear your food than eat it sometimes.

Massey’s illustrations add to the appeal of the title with a diverse cast of toddlers show using simple lines and colors. They are merry in their messes. She has caught the naughty grins of children having great fun.

A terrific toddler read for those who don’t mind a mess. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Cameron Kids.

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn by Shannon Hale

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn by Shannon Hale, illustrated by Leuyen Pham (9781419750915)

Kitty thinks she might be a unicorn. She puts a horn on her head and feels wonderfully unicorny. But the others don’t see her that way. Parakeet and Gecko remind her that she is a cat. But Kitty continues to be a unicorn with hooves and a horn. She even says “Neigh!” Still, Parakeet and Gecko don’t see her as anything but a kitten. When a real unicorn arrives, Kitty flops away, dejected that she can’t be anything like the shining unicorn in front of her. But the unicorn surprises Kitty with his own secret, that he sees himself as a Kitty-Corn. Suddenly Kitty realizes that she too is a Kitty-Corn and has a new friend who supports her and sees her that way too.

What starts out with dressing up and pretending becomes something much deeper in this book that explores identity and the right to be who you are. Kitty faces real derision from Parakeet and Gecko, who live on the margins of the page and comment on who Kitty thinks she is. They are rude and horrible, speaking to Kitty as if they are the only ones who can define who she is. With the arrival of Unicorn, the book changes to one of allyship and friendship.

Pham’s illustrations play into the fuzzy and sweet start of the story. Unicorn’s arrival is stunning, hooves first and then the full reveal. When he goes on to tell the truth about himself, Pham’s illustrations stay just as bright and pink and purple as before. The change happens not in the world around them, but in the magic of their connection.

A brilliant and crafty look at unicorns, kitty-corns and identity. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

Is Was by Deborah Freedman

Cover image for Is Was.

Is Was by Deborah Freedman (9781534475106)

Throughout a day in a meadow, readers will explore what is happening now and then what also was. The sky is blue until the rain comes. The rain was falling and now is puddles for animals to sip from. The fox is stalking the yellow bird who was drinking from the puddle. The buzz from the bees is in the sunshine. The shadow of a hawk is where the chipmunk was. Quiet comes to the meadow as the light changes to evening with its pinks and purples where blue once was. A child swinging in the evening joins their mother on the porch to watch the sky change and enjoy the quiet that is nightfall and the day that was.

Freedman excels at using only the words needed to keep the story flowing. The movement of now to past swirls past the reader again and again as time moves forward and circumstances change slowly and quickly. The wildlife in the meadow is a marvelous look at change as is the weather and the sky itself. It creates a vibrant look at the creatures themselves, their interaction and the sweep of the day as it passes with rain and sun.

The illustrations are full of color and light. From the golden sun of buzzing bees to the blue of rain to the pinks of the sunset arriving. Freedman allows some of the pages to stand with few or no words, showing the meadow grasses, stone wall and flowering trees, allowing the quiet to be still for the reader too.

A lovely look at our world as moments pass. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Strange Nature: The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss by Gregory Mone

Cover image for Strange Nature.

Strange Nature: The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss by Gregory Mone, illustrated by Levon Biss (9781419731662)

Levon Biss is a photographer who usually took pictures of celebrities and politicians. When his son brought him a regular garden beetle, the two of them looked at it under a microscope and were amazed at what they saw. Biss then selected 37 insects from the collection of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to photograph. He used special lenses, cameras and lights to take thousands of pictures of each insect. Those many images were then combined to create the Microsculpture project. The images were enlarged and shown in museums around the world. This nonfiction picture book explores the images created from the Microsculpture project and offers information on each of the insects.

Mone’s text is limited to explaining how Biss got into photographing insects and then moves into sharing scientific information and fascinating facts about each insect. The book includes a glossary and an encouragement to head to the Microsculpture website to learn even more. Mone’s information is nicely selected offering enticing facts, measurements and also pointing out the most interesting parts of the photograph to the reader.

The portraits are incredibly detailed and beautiful. From the lighting that captures each insects iridescence to the incredible shapes of their bodies and armor. The book offers close ups of various parts of each insect, allowing readers to see eyes, legs, heads and more up close. These images are transformative, letting all of us know that we walk in a world of tiny amazing monsters.

Remarkable photographs that will have you leaning in close to see even more, if you dare! Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson

Cover image for The People’s Painter.

The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Evan Turk (9781419741302)

Ben Shahn was born in Lithuania and at age four saw his father taken banished for demanding workers’ rights. From a very young age, Ben drew, even though paper was scarce in Lithuania, so he drew in the margins. When his father ends up in America, he brings Ben, his mother and his brother to join him. Ben goes to school, learning a new alphabet instead of the Hebrew one that he learned in Lithuania. He is soon identified as a promising young artist at school, but his family must send him to work in order to survive. Ben works for a lithographer, hand-lettering signs while going to art school at night. But art school isn’t what he is looking for. They teach landscapes rather than the people and stories that Ben wants to paint. Inspired by stories of injustice, Ben painted about current events, creating series of paintings that while not pretty were inspiring. He went on to document the Great Depression using photography, hired by the government several times as an artist. Ben continued to paint the people who were invisible to others.

Levinson captures the story of Shahn’s life with a focus on what drove him to create art, linking it to tragedies in his homeland and his family. Her writing is full of admiration for his hard work and insistence that he paint what he wanted to rather than what he was being told to do. His belief in sharing the stories of those less fortunate shines in her words, revealed by her stellar writing that is both clear and also evocative.

Turk’s art pays homage to Shahn’s throughout the book. Made with gouache, acrylic, pencil, chalk and linoleum block prints, the illustrations are textured and layered. They include versions of some of Shahn’s most iconic works. Turk’s use of bold color, deep shadow and light create a marvelous background for Shahn’s life story.

A great picture book biography that speaks to the intersection of art and political statement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

9 June Picture Books to Wake Your Brain Cells

A crop of new starred fiction and nonfiction picture books coming out this month to enjoy! Lots of diversity and inclusion titles to share and love.

Best Day Ever! by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Leah Nixon

Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder

A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi by James Yang

Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai

Faraway Things by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

I Is for Immigrants by Selina Alko

My America by Karen Katz

Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz, illustrated by Micah Player

Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott by Joyce Scott with Brie Spangler, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Free by Sam Usher

Cover image for Free.

Free by Sam Usher (9781536217049)

The grandson and grandpa from Usher’s Seasons series return with the first in a new series. One of the birds outside was sick, so the boy and his Granddad made a cozy bed for it and read a book of bird facts. After having some water, the little bird was feeling better and they put him back outside. Now it was time for breakfast and they made pancakes together. The bird returned for a breakfast of berries. At lunch, they built triple-decker sandwiches and the bird returned again. They took him back outside to help him find his friends. At tea time, the bird returned again and they did some more research. Now it was time for them to help the little bird return to the tree he needed, so they set off to reach the top of the mountain. Happily, the bird’s many friends were there to greet him and shared their midnight feast with the humans too.

Usher blends the mundane and the imaginative into a seamless story that glides from the normal happening of finding a sick bird and steadily becomes something magical and wondrous. I loved Usher’s first book series and am so pleased to see him return with another series with these charming characters, the boy with big ideas, the grandfather who grounds him and the magic that takes over both their lives at times. The writing is simple and lovely. The focus on meals here is a treat that will have readers wanting to make their own pancakes, triple-deckers and tea.

The art is a delightful mix of smaller illustrations on white backgrounds and full-page illustrations that show the garden at Granddad’s house. There is an endearing quality to the images that show the beautiful relationship of the grandfather and grandson.

A joy to see beloved characters return. Make sure to have tea and snacks on hand when you share this one. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Templar.