Oddbird (2021)

by Derek Desierto
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250765314
Publication: May 25, 2021

Oddbird_page

Desierto is the illustrator of multiple books but Oddbird is his debut. The story follows a bird who isn’t like the rest of the other birds, who just wants to swim in the pool. Because he is different, not nearly as colorful as the other birds are, he is singled out. He finds a way to blend himself in with them, but ultimately finds that just being himself is best.

The book highlights being unique and accepting yourself the way you are even if other’s won’t necessarily do so at first. Apart from the positive storyline, the simple illustrations and the vibrant colors are some of the most memorable things about the book. I enjoyed the book. The nieces and I will be drawing some of our own birds after they finish with their online classes.

I had a chance to participate in a virtual meet with the author, and it was a complete joy to hear him speak about the book and the thought went into creating the different birds. He mentioned wanting to create birds that were simple enough for children to draw, and I appreciate that he took that into consideration. Not only does Oddbird offer a compelling story of being true to yourself, it also gives children an opportunity to create their own unique bird–any shape and any size, all sorts of colors and even different types of eyes. I’ll stop while I’m ahead, otherwise I might continue to rhyme.

The One and Only Sparkella (2021)

by Channing Tatum
Illustrated by Kim Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250750754
Publication: May 4, 2021

**I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Sparkella_sparkle

Ella, or Sparkella as she likes to be called, isn’t nervous at all about her first day at a new school. She is unapologetically herself with her glitter, her shimmers, and her sparkles. A rough first day leads Sparkella to revert to being “normal,” but she feels even worse. After helping her dad out with his own rough day, Sparkella decides she’d rather continue to be herself.

The One and Only Sparkella is an endearing book about embracing your individuality. It’s especially sweet because her dad plays an active role in encouraging her to be herself. He not only supports her individuality and sense of fashion, he sparkles right along with her. The illustrations are as whimsical and enchanting as Sparkella. I read this with my niece and she adored the book. We both recommend it!

THAO (2021)

by Thao Lam
ASN/ISBN: 9781771474320
Publication: April 21, 2021


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

This has been a year of so many great children’s books being published. THAO is one I immediately liked. On the surface, Thao is a simple story about having a name that is continually mispronounced but names hold a lot of power. Our identities are often intertwined with our names and have the ability to negatively affect us when no one seems to get it right; thus, the desire to have a name that is more familiar and easier to pronounce–I am speaking from personal experience. Individuals with unfamiliar names (and potentially even those with unconventionally spelled names) will be able to relate to Thao Lam’s story and will applaud the ending, which encourages individuals to be proud of their name and who they are.

My name was an unusual one in the area I grew up as well as spelled phonetically different from how it is pronounced, so it was hard to get my name write. I always hated the beginning of the school year and when we had substitutes. I desperately wanted to be called Victoria because I was obsessed with a TV show with a heroine named Victoria. I can empathize with Thao’s experience, but it took me a lot longer to be proud of my name. I adored the book and Lam’s illustrations and collages.

The Sharey Godmother (2021)

by Samantha Berger
Illustrated by Mike Curato
ASN/ISBN: 9781250222305
Publication: April 13, 2021

**I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own. **

Shari T. Fairy, the Sharey Godmother, is a godmother I can get completely behind! Shari loves to share, from her lunch to the cake she likes to bake and decorate. When her friends begin to question what she gets in return, she also begins to wonder what might happen if she stopped sharing. Shari realizes it’s not what she gets in return; sharing is just part of who she is. I love the message the book conveys. The illustrations are charming, with a mix of drawings and photos, add to how endearing the book is. (**GIVEAWAY**)

As my nieces like to say, “SHARiNG IS CARING.

Tacos_sharing

Sharing for the sake of sharing is what underlies The Sharey Godmother. I am always sharing food! I love food…and so does the rest of the family.  It doesn’t happen only during special occasions. The family shares food throughout the year, whenever it’s an “I made this dish that you have to try” or an “I made your favorite dish” kind of day. We usually pack it up and drop it off. (It’s just about an everyday type of thing.)

Laab_sharing

When we share tacos (my weakness are pickled purple onions added on top) or laab (the more herbs and the sourer it is, the merrier), it’s never about what we’re getting in return. We are always genuinely sharing our love for one another. Just as it is for Shari the Sharey Godmother, sharing is a part of who we are, and there is joy that comes with it.

GIVEAWAY

In sharing the “love,” you have the opportunity to win a finished print copy of The Sharey Godmother (US/Canda Only). You don’t have to sign-up or subscribe to anything unless you want more entries. You can enter the Rafflecopter below. If the widget isn’t showing up, you can also enter by clicking here. The giveaway ends 04/30/2021 at 12 AM PST.

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Yang Warriors (2021)

by Kao Kalia Yang
Illustrated by Billy Thao
ASN/ISBN: 9781517907983
Publication: April 13, 2021


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Led by Master Me, ten cousins train daily in the Ban Vinai refugee camp. They have to in order to protect their families, which includes a plan to search for fresh vegetables after a week without any. They embark on this dangerous mission, leaving behind the five-year-old author to await her sister Dawb and the rest of the warriors’ return.

While I was born in the U.S., my family arrived as refugees.  I grew up hearing stories about life in Laos and the refugee camps, a life so vastly different from my own. The perspective of the author at five years old offers a different view of the refugee experience and affords an opportunity for children today to try to understand and possibly to even relate to the children in the book. Yang crafts an engaging story from memories of her time in Ban Vinai, drawing from the heroism of her older sister Dawb and her cousins. It’s a story of brave children in an adverse environment doing their best to survive.

The illustrations were exceptional, helping connect me to my family and the past of my people. I may not have experienced life in Ban Vinai, but the illustrations helped to tie my childhood to the Yang Warriors–what child hasn’t “trained” to prepare for their battles ahead? It may have been under different circumstances with different training for different missions, but the intent being similar, protecting those we care about.

It’s a heroic story that needs to be shared. It’s the perfect story to create opportunities to help my nieces and nephews begin to understand their roots.

Eyes that Kiss in the Corner (2021)

by Joanna Ho
Illustrated by Dung Ho
ASN/ISBN: 9780062915627
Publication: January 5, 2021

This is the book I needed when I was growing up. My eyes were an attribute I was very insecure about because they were just one of many things other kids teased me about. Eyes that Kiss in the Corner highlights the uniqueness, the beauty of eyes that look like mine. They’re special because they reflect those of my parent’s, passed from one generation to the next. They are “eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” They “crinkle into crescent moons and sparkle like the stars.” The book impaled my heart with such warmth and positivity. If only someone had described my eyes as such when I was younger, it would have made a world of difference. Eyes that Kiss in the Corner celebrates diversity and promotes self-love. It’s not just about acceptance, but appreciating yourself just the way you are.

Something’s Wrong! A Bear, a Hare, and Some Underwear (2021)

by Jory John
Illustrated by Erin Kraan
ASN/ISBN: 9780374313883
Publication: March 23, 2021


**I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own (and that of my nieces).**

BearandUndewear

At first, it’s not quite clear what exactly is going on. The cover and the title will surely make you raise your eyebrows. We have a bear and some underwear, so of course something is wrong. Even all the other animals are wondering why there is a bear with some underwear. The kids found it hilarious! A bear…with UNDERWEAR?! They knew exactly what was wrong! It’s not until the hare that everything becomes clear. It’s a cute book with lovely illustrations. The bear and his underwear that even has a place for his tail…heh. The ending of the book is not only funny but underlines the importance of friendship. Even adults will smile at the truth of it.

Cars, Signs, and Porcupines! (2021)

by Ethan Long
ASN/ISBN: 9781250765987
Publication: March 2, 2021
Series: Happy County #3

**I was provided a complimentary copy from the publisher. I voluntarily read it and played activities with it. All opinions are my own…and that of my nieces of course.**

In Cars, Signs, and Porcupines, kids get the opportunity to learn about Happy County while porcupines go on the loose, subsequently learning about things they might see around the communities they live in. findsomethingblueAt first glance, it can seem a bit overwhelming because many of the pages have a lot going on, but once the reading begins and the fun starts, the feeling quickly subsides. The pages are colorful and bustling with so many potential activities beyond what’s written in the book.  It encourages children to interact with each other and with adults. My nieces and I spent more than an hour perusing the pages, going over the content, and playing “I Spy.”  One of my nieces was ruthless spying “something blue” while the other went easy on me with “something black and white.” We had a great time with it! My nieces loved it and were not ready to close the book.

Sock on the Loose (2021)

by Conor McGlauflin
ASN/ISBN: 9781250304575
Publication: February 23, 2021


**I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

I have lots of nieces so I try encouraging them to read more by reviewing and purchasing children’s books and middle grade books. They tell me that when they come over, it feels like they’re in a library. Best compliment ever! I recently dropped of two middle grade reads for the two older nieces. Here’s a children’s book I got a chance to take a peek at and it’s definitely a fun read!

SockontheLoose02Sock on the Loose is an imaginative story of what happens when a sock goes missing. When you only find one sock, rest assured the other side isn’t really lost so much as on an adventure. It’s out discovering what it likes and finding new friends. The adventures are fun and the illustrations are made memorable with its vivid colors. My nieces adored it, especially the sock’s visit to the watermelon cave. The story promotes identity and pushes kids to step out of their comfort zone by trying to find out new things they might like. 

I was lucky enough to be a part of the promotional tour for the book’s release.  My sock Sprightly and I went on a walk because it’s really beautiful around here this time of the year.  Sprightly got a chance to hang out (heh) and admire the beautiful blossoms. Sprightly photobombed the one below.  That’s what happens when a sock is on the loose!

SockontheLoose03

Sharing the Refugee Experience: The Paper Boat (2020) and The Most Beautiful Thing (2020)

Recently, I had the opportunity to review two children’s books, both providing a glimpse into the refugee experience. As a child of refugees, I grew up with the mentality that I encompass the hopes and dreams of my parents and their sacrifices. My success is not necessarily my own. My parents drilled this into me at a young age, but I don’t think I truly understood this until I was older. (While it remains a heavy burden, some days are easier than others.)

What was this idea of communal success? What were my parents’ sacrifices? Why was it important for them to see me succeed (other than being their child of course)? These ideas, these concepts were already difficult to comprehend but made more so when I was underrepresented at school and couldn’t find books that remotely shared anything close to the story of my life or that of my parents’. Lessons in the classroom were not exactly helpful either.

When I was in around 9 years old, I had an assignment to write about my ancestors in the United States. Who was I supposed to write about? My ancestors tilled the fields of China and roamed the jungles of Laos. I had no ancestors in the U.S. whom I could lay claim to, unlike my friends who discovered their connections to individuals like Annie Oakley. The first people in my family to come to the United States were my aunt and her husband, who arrived in the late 1970s just a few years before my parents. With the parameters set, I didn’t see any other option but to write about my aunt and her family. Ancestors were relatives and my aunt was a relative, right? And my aunt was in the United States, right? That fulfilled the assignment requirements…right?

When I think back on this assignment, it often feels like blasphemy. I come from a culture that believes our ancestors continue to watch over us even after they pass, bringing fortune and helping us to overcome the bad. And, I couldn’t share their stories, their accomplishments. I’ve never forgotten this experience. This memory is one that lingers, often appearing at the most unexpected moments but bringing with it my hopes and wishes for the future, for change.

The incessant call for diversity in publishing, especially as the demographics of the United States shift to become minority-majority, is an opportunity for stories that better reflect the plethora of rich narratives in our communities. When I came upon The Paper Boat (2020) and The Most Beautiful Thing (2020), I was overwhelmed with emotions. I wish I had these stories to read when I was growing up to better understand my parents, to better understand my history, to know that I wasn’t alone.

**I was provided a copy of each book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed them. All opinions are my own. I will be purchasing them for my personal library to share with nieces and nephews.**


The Paper Boat (2020)
by Thao Lam
ISBN: 9781771473637
Publication: September 15, 2020
Goodreads Summary


Children of Southeast Asian refugees like myself will appreciate the harrowing journey Lam shares of a girl and her family’s escape from Vietnam. Presented without words, readers must interpret the story through images illustrated with collage art. It encourages a more intimate connection by having readers closely observe the actions and emotions on each page so when readers finally reach the author’s note, there is a greater emotional impact. The Paper Boat provides an opportunity to share the sacrifices of our families, passing down stories to a younger generation so they may understand their history is not only one filled with pain but also courage and hope.

Thao Lam is an award winning author and has written several children’s books that include her collage art. She was only two when her family fled Vietnam. She currently resides in Canada and is also an art buyer for an educational publishing company.


The Most Beautiful Thing (2020)
by Kao Kalia Yang
ISBN: 9781541561915
Publication: October 6, 2020
Goodreads Summary

The Most Beautiful Thing is the heartfelt story of a Hmong girl and her relationship with her grandmother. It’s a simple and meaningful story with the lesson that beauty is more than just what we can see or buy. The book is beautifully illustrated with an array of colors reminiscent of traditional Hmong clothes. I would have appreciated a book such as this when I was growing up, one with a character who looks like me and shares a similar family history. I cannot wait to share this book with my nieces once it is published so they can also see themselves reflected in the books they read.

Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong American author, public speaker and teacher who has garnered several awards for her books. Born in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in 1980, she came to the United States with her family when she was seven. Currently, she resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.

**For those who do not read Hmong or are unsure how to pronounce the Hmong words, the phonetic spelling of each at the beginning of the book is helpful.

I would love to know what books you have read that you wished had been published when you were growing up? What books would you love to share with children?