Tuesday, September 17, 2019 | | 2 comments
In case you weren’t reading my blog last winter, I am in love with Oge Mora’s art! I bought… oh, 5 or so? copies of her debut picture book Thank You, Omu! and gave them to the small children in my life. It was that. good. So when I saw that Mora was doing a signing at ALA, I bought a copy of her new book, Saturday, without hesitation. And friends? It is delightful. Gorgeous, intricate illustrations paired with a lovely story make for another future classic. Saturday is outstanding.

saturday by oge mora book cover
Today would be special. Today would be splendid. It was Saturday! But sometimes, the best plans don’t work out exactly the way you expect...

In this heartfelt and universal story, a mother and daughter look forward to their special Saturday routine together every single week. But this Saturday, one thing after another goes wrong–ruining storytime, salon time, picnic time, and the puppet show they’d been looking forward to going to all week. Mom is nearing a meltdown...until her loving daughter reminds her that being together is the most important thing of all.

Author-artist Oge Mora’s highly anticipated follow up to Caldecott Honor Thank You, Omu! features the same magnificently radiant artwork and celebration of sharing so beloved in her debut picture book.

In Oge Mora’s second picture book, Ava and her mother look forward to Saturday each week, because Ava’s mother has to work the other days (Sunday-Friday). Saturdays have a special routine, and a treat at the end – but this Saturday doesn’t go as planned! Each time something doesn’t turn out, mother and daughter take a deep breath and move on, determined that the day will still be special. On the surface, Saturday is a story of family togetherness, but it also includes lessons on continuing through life with a positive attitude instead of getting frustrated in the face of obstacles, valuing people over things, and making your own fun no matter what happens.

One of the things I loved about Mora’s debut was that although the story had the look and feel of a classic, it also contained the touchstones and details that set it in a particular cultural community and neighborhood (African-American, immigrant). Mora’s Saturday does the same, but even more so. While any parent and child with too little quality time together will identify with the story, it will be especially poignant for working mothers, single parents, and African-American families (the salon scenes!). That doesn’t mean it won’t be a classic (it will)! The themes in Saturday are universal, and the story is told so charmingly that I can see this book being requested over and over again for storytime, bedtime, and any time.

But let’s get to the Art, with a capital “A” intended – the true highlight of a Mora picture book (and yes, I feel comfortable saying that after only two books!). Mora works in a bright palette, using paint markers, patterned paper, and old book clippings. The layering of cut paper pieces adds texture and dimension to each scene, and the vivid patterns and colors are a feast for the eyes. Mora is also excellent at imbuing her spreads with motion – choosing to portray things that are happening “mid-shot,” and including rounds of changing character looks on a single page. I also love the inclusion of hand-cut letters that distinguish the text and add excitement (“zoom” and “Saturday” are the two most frequently singled out words).

Listen, it’s just a beautiful book, through and through. Mora is a fantastic artist and a good storyteller, and she has a crew at her publisher (Little, Brown) who compliment her art with gorgeous design. I want to keep this book to myself forever, but I suppose I’ll share it with some lucky little in my life!

Recommended for: fans of vibrant, diverse picture books in the vein of The Last Stop on Market Street and The Snowy Day, and any and all readers ages 4 and up.

Saturday will be released by Little, Brown on October 22, 2019.

a big mooncake for little star

The American Library Association's (ALA) annual conference was in DC this year, and so of course I went! Two days spent tooling around the exhibit hall, meeting authors and librarians and publishing folk – what's not to love? And then of course there were the moments of literary serendipity, like happening by a signing for Grace Lin’s Caldecott Honor picture book A Big Mooncake for Little Star! I hadn’t yet read this title, but I knew Lin from her middle grade books, and like any self-respecting former library brat, I knew that a Caldecott sticker meant “GOOD THINGS INSIDE.” I’m happy to say it’s several levels better than good.

a big mooncake for little star by grace lin book cover
Pat, pat, pat…

Little Star’s soft feet tiptoed to the Big Mooncake.

Little Star loves the delicious Mooncake that she bakes with her mama. But she’s not supposed to eat any yet! What happens when she can’t resist a nibble?

In this stunning picture book that shines as bright as the stars in the sky, Newbery Honor author Grace Lin creates a heartwarming original story that explains phases of the moon.

In this picture book, novelist Lin both writes and illustrates a story about a mother, a daughter, and a too-tempting mooncake in the sky. It’s too delicious to leave alone, so each night Little Star takes a bite of the mooncake after she goes to bed. Little by little, the mooncake disappears, just like a waning moon, until all that’s left is a trail of glittering crumbs.

There’s obvious symbolism throughout the book: the mooncake as the moon, growing smaller every night. Both mother and daughter wear star pajamas that melt into the black, nighttime background. And of course, Little Star’s name (or nickname) fits the bill as well. All of these (and more in the endpapers) will delight younger readers just beginning to notice and appreciate the different ways language can be used, as well as adults.

There are other elements that will be familiar to children as well: bedtime routines, sneaking food when you’re supposed to be asleep, “tricking” your parents/adults, and so on. Taken together with the symbolism, and the striking art, the book feels like a fable or legend – something epic that explains natural phenomena in story form. Lin illustrated the book in gouache paint on paper, and each page is glossy and dark with white font and bright painted illustrations that draw the eye. The unique design is a welcome change from the default of negative white space. It also makes sense for a book set at night.

Another welcome element? Both Little Star and her mother are Asian (making this an #ownvoices book), and mooncakes are a culturally Asian food associated with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. I believe that diversity in books for young people is so important, and I’m thrilled that children will see themselves, and possibly their cultural heritage, represented in this beautiful, epic story. Seeing yourself as the protagonist in a story can be the catalyst to believing in your own future! And for others, there will be learning about mooncakes, Moon Festivals, and cultural traditions different from their own (and appreciation for a simple bedtime story!).

In all, A Big Mooncake for Little Star is a gorgeous, charming, and deceptively simple picture book packed with symbolism and meaning. It will appeal to readers of all ages and it’s a must for any child’s shelf.

Recommended for: any and all readers ages 4+, and especially anyone who enjoys exceptional picture books with mythological themes.

Fine print: I picked up a final copy of this book from the publisher at ALA for possible review. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

my island

Right away, when you see the cover of Stéphanie Demasse-Pottier and Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s picture book My Island, you sense that it will be whimsical, and maybe a little strange. After all, there’s a girl standing on top of an enormous seashell, and there’s a bird on top of her head! What’s happening? She’s also holding kites with stitched threads in her hands. The overall feeling is that this book will require some imagination – and it does, a bit – but it also encourages flights of fancy and dreaming as well. It’s a feast for the eyes and the daydreaming part of your soul.

my island by stéphanie demasse-pottier and seng soun ratanavanh book cover
A young girl imagines a lovely island populated by thousands of birds, where she picnics with her animals, plays games, reads, and collects flowers. You too are welcome on this island, if you know how to dream. Gorgeous, colorful illustrations accompany this gentle yet impactful story that celebrates the imagination of young readers.

Do you know how to sing, how to share, and how to dream? Then you are welcome on the unnamed island and in the house found in this book! While the story itself is minimal, it includes just enough detail to go along with gorgeous page spreads full of charming, vibrant detail. Animals, flowers, sea creatures, birds, and more sail, dance, perform, and go to parties on each page. The scale changes again and again, so readers are left to imagine why and/or how certain elements and characters are growling larger or smaller, depending on the circumstance. The constant is the little girl and her chickadee bird friend – you’ll see them adventuring together on every page spread.

Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s art is meticulous, gorgeous, and worth the read alone. Her patterned illustrations create a pencil, watercolor, and stenciled wonderland full of unlikely capers and situations, à la Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Flower garden snow globes, sea snail-back islands and paper boat sailors, picnic basket parties and more are rendered in shades of yellow, teal, and red are all at once charming, inventive, quaint, and marvelously-detailed – so much so that they require long perusal (or multiple re-reads!).

In all, My Island is an ode to the imagination, and is sure to be a hit with children and adults alike.

Recommended for: curious readers ages 4-7 who enjoy magical visuals that prompt day dreaming, and picture book aficionados of any age with a penchant for gorgeous illustration.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

be prepared

Did you go to summer camp as a child? I did, for a week-long religious camp when I was in 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. It was a summer highlight (along outdoor summer swim team!), and I have vivid recollections of camp-wide water balloon fights, arts and crafts, lakeside activities, and drinking coffee for the first time. But because the camp I went to was religion-focused, and only a week long, I always envied the girls in The Parent Trap or in books who went away to camp for months, or whole summers even, and pulled complex pranks! I wanted a taste of that freedom, independence, and mischief. Vera Brosgol’s middle grade graphic novel Be Prepared is an autobiographical take on her own summer camp experience – which wasn’t what she expected at all, and yet formative all the same. And (bonus!) it made me feel a bit better about never being sent away for a whole summer!

be prepared by vera brosgol cover
In Be Prepared, all Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there's one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.

Vera is sure she's found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the "cool girl" drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!

When young Vera’s attempts to make friends with girls from her suburban school go embarrassingly (and hilariously, in retrospect) awry, she decides that Russian summer camp is the answer to her problems. Surely there she will fit in and find people who will appreciate her! But it turns out that at camp Vera has just exchanged one miserable experience for another – and the camp doesn’t have running water!

Brosgol’s camp story chronicles experiences that will be familiar and/or recognizable to all – feeling different or excluded, wanting to fit in, and having a “thing” or experience built up so much in your head that turns out to be not-so-great after all. Brosgol treats her past self with grace and humor, drawing laughs out of her audience as she remains true to past events, hurts, and relationships.

Be Prepared is a dose of reality – the kind that will make you tear up in sympathy for young Vera’s plight and feelings, laugh at an unexpected turn of events, and at the end, sigh with contentment. It’s a story well-told, and beautifully illustrated. It’s a perfect summertime read for the tween set, and adult readers will find much to sympathize with as well. Brosgol’s art, dialogue, and pacing all combine to create a book that you won’t want to put down, and will want to put in others’ hands ASAP as soon as you’re done.

A good portion of the hilarity in Be Prepared comes from Brosgol’s depiction of her younger self – especially her eyes. They’re almost as big as her face, surrounded by glasses, and intensely expressive – here you can see all of Vera’s anxiety, worry, and disappointment laid bare. Brosgol imbues her art with emotion, and the reader feels it. The page spreads illustrated in shades of olive green, black and white will appeal to fans of cartoons and animation, and though panel sizes vary, the focus is nearly always Vera and her reactions to various experiences.

Be Prepared is a summer camp memoir that’s perfect for fans of Lucy Knisley’s Relish and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, and any graphic novel fan who is ready for a story filled with humor and heart!

Recommended for: graphic novel readers ages 8+ who enjoy the work of Shannon Hale and Raina Telgemeier, and anyone who went to camp or wanted to go – and found it different than they expected!

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.
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