June 22 – It’s National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month

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About the Holiday

National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month ushers in a full summer of delicious and nutritious eating with bushels of scrumptious strawberries, blueberries, peppers, squash, lettuce, tomatoes, and so much more. Whether you enjoy the season’s delicacies in a smoothie, as dessert, or as the highlight of a main course, the flavor of locally grown produce can’t be beat. June is also a perfect time to get kids involved in gardening and learning about the growth cycle of plants, fruit, and vegetables from the tiniest seed to ready to pick. Today’s book cleverly combines children’s fascination with this wonder of nature with their own beginnings. 

How You Came to Be

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

 

Little ones are always interested in where they came from and how they were born, and parents fondly remember all those months of anticipation and love that led up to the birth of their child. But how can a mom (or dad) relay those special feelings and extraordinary changes in a way that a toddler or preschooler can understand?

In How You Came to Be, a mother talks lovingly to her baby using sweet, conversational language that is straightforward and sure to make both adult and child smile. Carole Gerber begins with the moment of conception when “…a wiggly little cell from another / joined a round little cell from me. … Together these two tiny cells formed / one brand-new cell that would become YOU.” Then with each month, Gerber offers size comparisons to a fruit or a vegetable to help little ones visualize their growth and the developmental changes that came with it, from a pea in the first month to a melon in the ninth.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2022, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2022. Courtesy of Rise x Penguin Workshop.

Along the way, kids discover that in the second month they were the “size of a kidney bean. / Your head was really big, / with lots of room inside / for your brain to grow.” They also learn about how their face was taking shape and the umbilical cord that nourished them. In the fifth month, little ones find out that while they were now the size of a banana, their bones were beginning to develop, their legs were getting longer, and they were able to kick. “Sometimes when I rubbed my belly, / I felt you thump back. / Was that your way of saying hello?” What a wonderful line for a mom to read to show a little one how strong their bond is and how long they’ve been communicating.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2022, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2022. Courtesy of Rise x Penguin Workshop.

“In the ninth month,” the mother narrator says, “you were large enough and strong enough to come out into the world.” She recalls all of the preceding months and ends with this message that every child will want to hear: “I loved you from the beginning / and I always will.”

Back matter includes a glossary of five words that adults can use for extended discussions with their child, a list of stages as a fetus develops the ability to move and the five senses. Two paragraphs also describe a vaginal birth and a C-section birth in language that is age accessible.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2022, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2022. Courtesy of Rise x Penguin Workshop.

It’s easy to imagine a parent and child reading How You Came to Be while snuggling, giggling, and being amazed together. Carole Gerber’s scientifically sound and charming storytelling will make this book a family favorite, and offers a fun way to revitalize grocery shopping as well!

Sawsan Chalabi’s gorgeous illustrations, which juxtapose lush depictions of fruit and vegetables entwined with vines or growing on trees or in gardens with images of mothers thinking about and preparing for their baby’s arrival and are placed on velvety black backgrounds, draw readers of all ages into the marvels of birth. Her two-page spread of a mother cradling her newborn surrounded by wildflowers is as simply beautiful as the expression of love the page’s verse contains.

A tender and evocative way for parents and children to share their exquisite bond and unending love, How You Came to Be will make a much-appreciated baby shower or new baby gift and a favorite addition to family bookshelves as well as public library collections.

Ages 2 – 4

Rise x Penguin Workshop, 2022 | ISBN 978-0593225738

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sawsan Chalabi, her books, and her artwork, visit her website.

National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month Activity

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Play with Your Food Games

 

Young children will have fun testing their memory and matching these fruits and vegetables from today’s book.

To Play a Memory Game

  1. Print two copies of this Play with Your Food Memory Game Template
  2. Cut the cards apart
  3. Place the cards randomly face down on a table 
  4. Turn over one card and try to find it’s match. If the images on the card match, put them aside. If the cards don’t match put them back on the table and try again until a match is made. Continue playing until all the cards are matched.

To Play a Matching Game

  1. Print two copies of this Play with Your Food Matching Game Board Template
  2. Cut one template into individual fruit and vegetable cards
  3. Let toddlers or preschoolers match the individual cards to the fruit and vegetables on the game board

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You can find How You Came to Be at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 25 – It’s Middle Grade Monday

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Review by Jakki Licare

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

By Janae Marks

 

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Zoe, an aspiring baker, receives a letter on her 12th birthday from her biological father, Marcus, who is incarcerated for murder. She’s sure her mother won’t let her read his letter so she secretly hides it. She isn’t sure if she should write back because her bio dad must be a monster to have murdered someone. But he sounds so nice in the letter that Zoe decides to write back just this once to see if she can get some answers. As she’s trying to write back to her dad, her ex-best friend and next-door neighbor, Trevor, tries to hang out with her. After making it clear that they aren’t friends anymore, Zoe finishes her letter and mails it.

Zoe discovers that the Food Network is auditioning kids for a children’s baking show, and she begs her mom and step dad to let her audition. They aren’t sure if she’s ready, but they agree to think about it and even get her an internship at a local bakery. Over the next couple of weeks, Zoe sneaks out letters as she writes back and forth with Marcus. Zoe tells Marcus about her job at the bakery and how she wants to make her own recipe. Marcus tells her about his life in prison and how he’s going to college online. He suggests she tries to make a cereal cupcake.

After some prodding from Zoe, Marcus confesses that he’s innocent of his crime, but had a bad lawyer and ended up wrongly convicted. Zoe wants to continue writing to Marcus, but doesn’t like hiding it from her mom, so she asks her mom if she can write to Marcus. Her mother absolutely refuses, and Zoe decides she must keep lying.

Zoe is sickened by the idea that her dad is innocent and stuck in jail, but what if he’s just lying to her? Zoe decides to do some research at the library. Trevor finds her reading books about incarceration, and he listens as she explains that she wants to find out if her dad is really innocent. He helps her research and they start to talk. Zoe confesses she heard him bad mouth her to his basketball friends. Trevor apologizes and they decide to work things out.

Zoe decides she must find Marcus’s alibi witness and find out if Marcus is telling the truth or not. She begs Marcus for the name of his alibi witness and sets off trying to find the lady he met at a tag sale. She hits a lot of dead ends, but with Trevor’s help she stumbles across the person who fits the description Marcus gave her.

Unable to reach the woman by email, Zoe and Trevor sneak off to Harvard, where she teaches. When they find her, she says she doesn’t remember Marcus. Zoe is devastated that she trusted Marcus. She thinks that he must have been lying to her and that he did kill someone. Zoe and Trevor get back late, and their parents are furious that they ran off. While Zoe is waiting for her mom to get home, she gets a text from the professor saying she does remember Marcus and to call her back.

Zoe’s mom is furious when she finds out why Zoe went to Harvard on her own and absolutely livid to discover that she’s been secretly writing to Marcus. She takes away Zoe’s phone before she can call the professor back. Several days later Zoe’s mom and step dad tell her they’ve been in contact with the professor and that she did have an alibi for Marcus.

Over the next several weeks, a friend of her stepdad who is a lawyer and lawyers from the Innocence Project work together to assemble a case to appeal Marcus’s verdict. When they take it to trial, Marcus and his attorneys win. At the end, Zoe’s mom admits that she was wrong about Marcus and shouldn’t have thrown out Zoe’s letters. Zoe is still grounded for lying and running off to Harvard, but she uses the time to reconnect with her family. On his next birthday, Marcus gets to celebrate with his family at home. And while Zoe never realizes her dream to audition for the Food Network show, she does create a cupcake based on her dad’s suggestion, and the bakery where she’s interning adds it to their menu. She’s proud to take this as a success.

Review

 

Janae Marks’ uplifting and timely contemporary novel takes you on a quest for justice that is filled with memorable characters and strong friendships. From the Desk of Zoe Washington is a compelling introduction for kids to the problem of racism in our justice system and will open up a lot of meaningful discussions.

Zoe is a spunky, upbeat, and determined twelve-year-old middle-class twelve-year-old. It’s her determination that ultimately brings about Marcus’s appeal, but we also see Zoe’s determination through multiple facets of her life. I love how she’s willing to prove to her parents she’s ready to audition for the Food Network. I like how she gives herself her own challenges too. No one asks her to come up with her own recipe, but she tackles that task and the problems involved in creating her own recipe herself. She doesn’t give up after the first batch of cupcakes comes out too sweet, but instead spends her time problem solving. She creates a system of small batches of cupcakes with different amounts of sugar until she finds the perfect recipe.  

Marks tackles the incredibly complex issue of wrongful incarceration with beautiful sensitivity. This is highlighted in the way Marks slowly changes commonly held views of prisoners. Zoe starts off reading her father’s letter and being surprised that he sounds nice instead of like a scary villain from a tv show. Marks also debunks the idea that only guilty people go to jail, a concept that many young readers may not understand. She introduces statistics on how black men are more likely to go to jail than white men and shows that an indifferent lawyer can lead to wrongful conviction.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington never feels depressing because Marks balances Zoe’s ambition of becoming a pastry chef along with her father’s storyline. Marks even manages to tie the two together by having Marcus make a suggestion in his letter to make a cereal cupcake. Forgiveness is a strong theme in From the Desk of Zoe Washington. In the beginning, Zoe is not speaking to her best friend Trevor, and he has no clue why. It isn’t until almost halfway through the book that we learn she heard Trevor dissing her to his teammates.

Marks does a superb job in showing how awkward it is to discuss hurt feelings but also how necessary it is to talk them through so there’s a chance for understanding and forgiveness. Here’s how Zoe describes her impressions of their conversation: “But it was like when you drew something in pencil and then tried to erase it—the pencil lines would mostly go away, but sometimes the indent would still be there, so you could still sort of see what had been erased. That’s how Trevor’s apology felt….”

Zoe’s mom also has her own issues with talking through problems. She’s so devastated by Marcus’s arrest that she closes off her heart and is unwilling to let Marcus hurt her baby. Zoe’s mom apologizes at the end, but Marks gives us enough of the scenario to see why Zoe’s Mom felt so betrayed. I think kids can relate to and learn a lot from these story lines leading to an understanding of how to open up to others.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington is an outstanding middle-grade read for those interested in social justice and the intricacies of family relationships and friendship. If your kids enjoy Joan Bauer’s Close to Famous or Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, then From the Desk of Zoe Washington is a must read. 

Parental Considerations: racism, racial slurs, and talk of murder.

Ages 8-12

Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins, 2020 | ISBN 978-0062875853

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You can find From the Desk of Zoe Washington at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review