“Trees make perfect pets” by Paul Czajak; pictures by Cathy Gendron

Trees make perfect pets

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published March 2020.

On Abigail’s birthday she announced that she wanted a pet. Agreeably her family came up with different types of pets for her to get, but Abigail wanted a tree. Despite their arguments that trees can’t be pets, she reminds them that trees help us breathe and insists on getting a dogwood tree.

Abigail carts the tree around the neighborhood, listening to others talk about its unsuitability as a pet. Despite the naysayers Abigail loves her tree, and is reluctant to give it an outdoor home until it grows too big. Once its planted all sorts of animals make it their friend, prompting Abigail to say, “A tree is everyone’s best friend!”

Full-page colorful illustrations describe Abigail’s quest to make the tree her pet, and remind readers of why trees are important to everyone.

Recommended for ages 5 to 10.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

“All the way to the top: How one girl’s fight for Americans with disabilities changed everything” by Annette Bay Pimentel; pictures by Nabi H. Ali

All the way to the top

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published March 2020. Includes a foreword by Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins as well as back matter with “The road to the top” (information on activism), “Life before and after the ADA,” a Timeline, and a Bibliography.

Now that she was finally old enough, Jennifer couldn’t wait for kindergarten to start. Unfortunately, because she was in a wheelchair, she was denied admittance to school. At the next school she was allowed to attend – but only if she came after lunch. Jennifer and her family join a group of activists, determined to find a way to change the law to allow better access to public spaces for those with disabilities. Courageously Jennifer and the activists took their protests to Washington D.C., where they abandoned their wheelchairs and crawled up the Capitol steps to make Congress aware of why they were protesting.

Bright, full-color illustrations, as well as information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and those who fought for its passage, make this an important book to have in all public and school libraries. I was moved by the crawl up the steps of the Capitol, and Jennifer’s determination on the YouTube video of the event is clear to see.

Highly recommended for ages 7 to 12.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

“Bedtime for sweet creatures” by Nikki Grimes; pictures by Elizabeth Zunon

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published January 2020.

Bedtime for sweet creatures

Using analogies of animals in a forest, a young child refuses to go to bed when it’s time to do so. Readers can hiss like a snake, while asking mommy to check for monsters, and sneak like a sly wolf to get water, as they are entertained in the toddler’s bedtime antics. Children in the 5 and under set will feel an affinity with the young child’s antics.

Zunon’s full-page colored illustrations, and realistic looking characters, help make this a bedtime book that will become a favorite in many households.

Recommended for ages 5 and under.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

“A library for Juana: The world of Sor Juana Inés” by Pat Mora

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Children’s Book Press. (Includes a Glossary and Author’s Note).

A library for JuanaUna biblioteca para JuanaThis biographical picture book tells the story of Juana Ramírez de Asbaje.

Juana was born near Mexico City in 1648. Her grandfather loved books and, from the age of 3, she loved pretending to read them. Though she and her older sister were allowed to attend school to learn to read and write, her mother knew only boys could go to the university because girls were supposed to stay home. Her mother’s words, and the constrictions of the time against women, didn’t keep Juana from her dreams of studying and writing poetry.

Juana was persistent in wanting to learn so, when she was 10 years old, her mother sent her to Mexico City to live with relatives. This proved to be a good thing because she grew even more in her knowledge, always seeking answers in books, and writing poetry. In time Juana became a lady in waiting for the Viceroy’s wife, enjoying learning from books in the palace library while spreading her knowledge among scholars of the time.

Eventually Juana left the palace to become a nun, and changed her name to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. She continued to expand her library and her learning until her death in 1695.

I had never heard of Juana Ramírez de Asbaje, and enjoyed reading about her persistence and dedication to learning. Vidal’s full page, colorful illustrations are rich with details of the time period such as headgear for men and women, food, clothing, musical instruments, and more.

Young readers will get an education from Juana’s life through Mora’s well-researched book, but will also learn about the time period from Vidal’s equally well-researched illustrations.

(There is also a Spanish translation of the book titled “Una biblioteca para Juana: El mundo de Sor Juana Inés.”)

Highly recommended for ages 7-11.

I received a copy of these books from Lee & Low in exchange for an honest review.


“Zombies don’t eat veggies!”by Megan Lacera and Jorge Lacera

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Children’s Book Press.

Zombies don't eat veggiesMo is a zombie but, unlike his parents, he doesn’t want to eat people. Though he likes chasing them in marathons, and cheering his father on in brain eating contests, his love is for vegetables.

Since his parents dislike vegetables, they refuse to serve it at meals, so Mo grows his in a secret garden. He also has a secret kitchen where he whips up delicious meals made entirely of vegetables. He tries to get his parents to eat tomato soup, but it’s a failure. However when they insist that zombies don’t eat veggies Mo gathers the courage to tell them that he’s eats vegetables and, though he’s different, he’s still their son. His parents accept him as he is, because they love him, and they grow together as a family.

This delightful picture book, with full page, color illustrations, shows the importance of accepting differences. No matter what those differences may be, love should always be the binding ingredient of families. The play on words with zombie foods such as “dori-toes,” “arm-panadas” and “finger foods, “ among others, is very creative.

Includes three recipes.

Highly recommended for ages 5-8.

I received a copy of this book from Lee & Low in exchange for an honest review.

“Agua, aquita”: “Water, little water” Jorge Tetl Argueta

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Piñata Books.

AguaAguitaA little droplet of water narrates its birthplace travels from deep within Mother Earth, describing how it becomes “a river, a lake, an ocean. Drop by drop.” Young readers can use scientific guesses and observations to figure out why water is “one color in the morning and another in the afternoon. And then at night another color.” The interesting riddle of how water can be many colors, yet be colorless; have all flavors, yet have no flavor, and be all shapes yet have no shape will leave them intrigued.

Through full-page colorful illustrations and simple text, the enormous impact water has on the world is unveiled to its readers. The full poem about this water droplet, written in the author’s native language of Nahuat, (spoken by the Pipil-Nahua Indians, a San Salvadorian tribe) closes out this informative book.

Highly recommended for ages 5-9.

“Mayanito’s new friends”: “Los nuevos amigos de Mayanito” Tato Laviera

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press.

MayanitosNewFriendsPrince Mayanito, who lives on a mountain high above the clouds, was looking down on the western hemisphere. Children from other countries, formed out of raindrops, became his friends until they turned into flowers when the sun came out. Determined to search for them, Mayanito began an adventure with all sorts of rainforest creatures, leading to a joyful reunion with his friends. Through rich watercolors in full-page illustrations, Mayanito’s journey comes to life.

Though this bilingual picture book can be used to help teach about the rainforest and other countries, I feel it would have been beneficial to include information about the Mayan culture – especially since Mayanito is Mayan. It also seemed as if the story was incomplete, as it started and ended abruptly.

Despite my misgivings about its incompleteness, I will still recommend it because of its ability to lead to teachable moments.

Recommended for ages 5-9.

“Martí’s song for freedom: Martí y sus versos por la libertad” Emma Otheguy

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). Includes “Afterword,” “Author’s Note,” and a “Selected Bibliography.”

Marti'sSongForFreedomJosé Martí (1853-1895) was born when Spain ruled Cuba with an iron fist. Slave labor on sugar plantations allowed the rich to become richer, oppressing natives of all races. Determined to free his people José advocated for freedom from Spain, which led to imprisonment and deportation. Despite being away from the island he loved, José continued his fight to abolish slavery from his new home in New York through poetry and speeches. Ultimately he gave his life for his country, remembered for the words he left behind which deeply illustrated his love for freedom and justice for all.

Otheguy’s well-researched bilingual picture book tells the story of Cuba’s greatest poet and patriot, as Vidal’s simply drawn, yet colorful paintings, illustrate his struggle in a clear, straightforward manner. It will appeal to older elementary readers, especially those in grades 3-6, and may well be a contender for the upcoming Pura Belpré award. If it wins or places, remember that you read it here first.

Recommended for ages 8-11.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Mama and Papa have a store” AND “La tienda de mamá y papá” written and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling

Rated 4 stars **** Lee & Low. 2016. (First published in 1998 by Dial.)

mamaandpaphaveastorelatiendademamaypapaLee & Low republished these out-of-print editions in both English and Spanish.

In 1938, the author’s parents fled their village in China before the Japanese invaded at the advent of World War II. Settling in Guatemala City, they raised their six children in the back of a grocery store, which sold all sorts of sundries.

Through detailed watercolor drawings, the author shares her memories of a typical day spent playing in the store with her brothers and sisters, meeting Mayan Indians who came from their faraway village to buy colorful thread, and interacting with Guatemalan and Chinese patrons. By the end of the book, readers will have a clear idea of what it was like for a hardworking Chinese immigrant family to make their way in a new world.

I would have preferred to have both the Spanish and English versions in a single book, rather than in two different books, as it would’ve been easier for children learning each language to see the opposite language as they practiced.

Recommended for ages 6-10.



“Rainbow weaver: Tejedora del arcoíris” Linda Elovitz Marshall; illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Rated 5 stars ***** Children’s Book Press. 2016. (Includes “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” and “Author’s Note.”)

rainbowweaverThis bilingual picture book tells the story of Ixchel, who lives in the mountains above Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. She comes from a long line of Mayan weavers, and wants to weave with her mother to help pay for her schooling. Ixchel is too young to weave, and her mother can’t afford thread for her attempts, so she decides to create her own loom and thread from various materials. Her early results are disappointing but she persists and, through recycling colorful plastic bags littering her village, winds up with an item of beauty.

Scans and photos of actual Mayan weavings are used in Chavarri’s drawings. These works, incorporated into her full-page colorful drawings, beautifully illustrate Ixchel’s story and show how Mayan designs resemble rainbows.

Though Ixchel is fiction, a group of weavers in Guatemala create purses, baskets and more from plastic bags and threads, which they sell through cooperatives in the United States and other countries. In the 1980’s an organization called “Mayan Hands” was formed to help these weavers sell their products. Proceeds from the sale of “Rainbow weaver” will not only help weavers, but also help pay for medical care and for their children to go to school.

Recommended for ages 5-10.