Storytelling Math

I know school is out for the weekend, but I want to talk about Charlesbridge’s wonderful Storytelling Math series today. Each book in the series is written by a different author, but they all focus on a child of color as they play, build, and discover the way mathematical concepts shape the world around them.

You may have heard me rave about this series after reviewing Bracelets For Bina’s Brothers by Rajani LaRocca a while back, but today I want to focus on the newest additions to the series. Released earlier this month, Usha and the Big Digger by Amitha Jagannath Knight and Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson both capture the spirit of the series by sharing stories that relate mathematical concepts while entertaining young readers.

Usha and the Big Digger by Amitha Jagannath Knight, Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

Focusing on geometry and spatial sense, Usha and the Big Digger follows a young girl named Usha as she stargazes with her sister, Aarti. Usha and Aarti can’t agree on what they see in the stars—where Aarti sees the Big Dipper, Usha sees the Big Digger. The girls ask their cousin Gloria to settle their debate once and for all, but Gloria sees the Big Kite in the stars. With stunning illustrations by Sandhya Prabhat, this delightful story teaches young readers the importance of perspective and how we all see things differently. Complete with a note about constellations in different cultures and activity suggestions in the back matter, Usha and the Big Digger is a wonderful addition to bookshelves everywhere.

About The Author:

Amitha Jagannath Knight has lots of experience with sister squabbles as she grew up with an identical twin. (They are still best friends.) Amitha lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two children, and two cats. This is her debut book.

About The Illustrator:

Sandhya Prabhat is an independent animator and illustrator from India. She has published nearly a dozen picture books. She also animates videos and designs e-stickers.

Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson, Illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight

Look Grandma! Ni Elisi! highlights the mathematical concepts of volume, capacity, and area through the story of a young Cherokee boy who is selling his homemade marbles at his family’s booth at the Cherokee National Holiday. His grandma tells him he has to take up a small amount of table space, and Bo searches for the perfect container. The wonderful illustrations by Madelyn Goodnight perfectly capture all of Bo’s efforts to find a container that will hold all his marbles while fitting on the mat. The backmatter also contains a glossary of Cherokee words, a note about Cherokee marbles, and math activity suggestions for further reading.

About The Author:

Art Coulson is Cherokee from Oklahoma and comes from a family of storytellers. Some of his earliest memories are of listening to stories and reading books on his grandmother’s lap. Art now writes his own books for young readers, including Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army. He lives with his family in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

About The Illustrator:

Madelyn Goodnight is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, whose work reflects her love of childhood. She holds a degree from Rhode Island School of Design and lives in Oklahoma. She is the illustrator of The Pear Tree.

Storytelling Math is led by TERC, a non-profit made up of teams of math and science education and research experts dedicated to STEM education. To learn more about TERC and their efforts to inspire and engage millions of learners nationwide every year, please visit terc.edu.

You can learn more about the other titles in the Storytelling Math series and access activity kit downloads and author interviews on Charlebridge’s website at charlesbridge.com.

Thank you so much to Charlesbridge for providing me with review copies of these wonderful additions to the Storytelling Math series.

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Flashback Friday – Hot Pot Night!

I can’t think of a more timeless topic for a picture book than food, so for Flashback Friday this week, I am thrilled to feature Hot Pot Night! by Vincent Chen. This delightful picture book celebrates food, community, and diversity while capturing the joy of sharing food with your neighbor.

Title: Hot Pot Night!
Author/Illustrator: Vincent Chen
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Published: September 8, 2020
Format: Picture Book

Vincent Chen’s debut follows a young Taiwanese boy as he invites the residents of his apartment building over for a communal meal, portraying the way communities can come together to care for one another. Each neighbor brings a different ingredient that combines into one amazing meal, creating a lovely metaphor for the way that each individual neighbor adds up to a greater whole of the community. With the rhythmic text, Hot Pot Night! is also a fantastic choice for a read aloud, encouraging young readers to chant along.

The illustrations are wonderful, too. I have to admit, my toddler got his hands on this one before it made its way to my desk, and he literally carried it around saying “Mmmm!” asking the adults in the house to read it to him all day. If you can make a toddler hungry with your illustrations, you’re doing something right!

Complete with a hot pot recipe in the back, Hot Pot Night! is a wonderful addition to bookshelves everywhere. You can pick up a copy wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Charlesbridge for sending me a review copy of this wonderful book. I can already tell this will be a new favorite in our household!

About The Author:

Vincent Chen is a recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in illustration. He enjoys watching films, collecting art books, and eating copious amounts of potato chips. Ever since he was a kid, he has loved sharing hot pot with his family and friends. This is his first book.

You can find Vincent online at vinchenart.com, on Twitter @carrot_boi, and Instagram @c4rrotboi.

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Author Spotlight: Don Tate

For today’s Author Spotlight, I am interviewing award-winning author and illustrator, Don Tate, whom you may know from his many critically acclaimed children’s books, such as Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping,, High-Flying Harlem Globe Trotters, Carter Reads The Newpaper, and Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. Today, we will be discussing his most recent release Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football Playing Artist Ernie Barnes.

Don, Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m so excited to chat with you about Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes! Would you like to start by telling us a bit about the book?

Thank you for inviting me. PIGSKINS TO PAINTBRUSHES: THE STORY OF FOOTBALL-PLAYING ARTIST ERNIE BARNES (Abrams) tells the story of a kid who was bullied because of his love of art. So often in our society, boys are expected to excel at sports. They’re supposed to do macho things, whatever that is. And when they don’t, they’re often labeled as weak. This was the case with young Ernie Barnes who loved art, poetry, and playing musical instruments. “I was always off somewhere decorating stuff,” Barnes once said. But eventually, in middle and high school, he gave in and played football. He practiced, built himself up, and became quite the sports star, eventually playing in the professional football leagues. But art remained in his heart. After an injury, he quit playing football and started an art career.

What inspired you to create this book? What drew you to Ernie Barnes’ story?

I grew up watching the television show GOOD TIMES. Some of Ernie Barnes’ artwork was featured on that show. For years I thought JJ Evans, the teenage artist on the show, painted that artwork. The real artist was Ernie Barnes, I learned later. My favorite piece was SUGAR SHACK, which displayed at the end of the show behind the credits. Ernie Barnes inspired me as a young artist, as I tried to mimic his style of art. And I know that many other African American illustrators of today’s youth literature were inspired by him. I wanted to write a story that would introduce today’s generation of young artists to Ernie Barnes!

Title: Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes
Author/Illustrator: Don Tate
Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers
Published: August 17, 2021
Format: Picture Book

What was the research process like for Pigskins to Paintbrushes

Ernie Barnes’ memoir FROM PADS TO PALETTE was my primary source, but I also relied on numerous interviews he’d given which were printed in newspapers and magazines. I was especially excited about a biography written about Barnes by famed author Alex Haley, which can be found here: https://alexhaley.com/2018/08/11/ernie-barnes-artist/.  

Which of Ernie Barnes paintings is your favorite and why?

As mentioned, SUGAR SHACK was always a favorite. I loved the portrayal of African Americans dancing, bodies graceful and elongated. Such joy! Other favorites were from his BEAUTY OF THE GHETTO series, like SPRINGBOARD, which features two young girls jumping on a teeter-totter; and THE DRUM MAJOR. Hanging in my studio is a painting of THE ADVOCATE, which is a depiction of an African American lawyer surrounded by books and images representing law. I have a kid who is planning to attend law school in the near future, and this painting reminds me of my son. I was never a sports person, so while I liked his football paintings, I loved the images he created of the Black community even more. 

You are both an author and illustrator. Does your research process look different for books that you are writing and illustrating than from the titles you illustrated for other authors?

When I’m illustrating, I’m always concerned more with what things might have looked like. For instance, in PIGSKINS TO PAINTBRUSHES, there is a scene that Barnes described in his memoir, where, as a child, he’s in a lawyer’s study looking at art books. I really have no idea what that would have looked like, so I need to do some research in order to make an educated guess. 

You are best known for your picture book biographies. Is there something specific that keeps you coming back to the genre?

I like reading biographies. In fact, it was Richard Wright’s memoir BLACK BOY that finally hooked me into reading. I often tell myself that it’s time to tackle some other genre. But then why? I love bios, so that’s likely where I will stay.

If you could spend a day with anyone you’ve written or illustrated a biography about, who would you choose and how would you spend the day?

The Harlem Globetrotters! Wouldn’t that be a blast?!

Who would you say are your biggest influences as an artist? And as an author?

Funny you should ask. I’ve long been influenced by Ernie Barnes. While my artwork today looks nothing like his, my work has always been figurative. I always strived to capture movement and rhythm, and of course I enjoy creating positive and fun images of Black people.

As an author, it’s more difficult to think of a specific influence. When I first started writing, I started reading a book written by a newspaper colleague. His name was Rob Borsellino, and he wrote a column at the DES MOINES REGISTER where we worked. He also wrote a book called “SO I’M TALKING TO THIS GUY.” I read that book so many times! I loved his conversational style. Oftentimes, reviewers describe my work as “conversational,” and I suppose studying Rob’s work influenced me there.

You are one of the founding hosts of Brown Bookshelf. Can you tell us a bit about The Brown Bookshelf and its mission?

The Brown Bookshelf is a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, with book reviews, author and illustrator interviews. You can find more about the Brown Bookshelf at thebrownbookshelf.com. I can’t say how much I love my co-contributors there and the impact they are making on the publishing world. They make publishing a better place.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

Keep in mind, I am not an official spokesperson for Ernie Barnes or the Ernie Barnes Family Trust. I’m simply an author and illustrator, excited to share his story. For more information about Ernie Barnes and to see his artwork, please see the official Ernie Barnes website at erniebarnes.com

To learn more about Don and his work be sure to visit him online at dontate.com, and on Instagram @devas_t and Twitter @devas_T.

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Three Lines In A Circle

Did you know that the peace symbol was developed in 1958 by an activist in London protesting nuclear weapons? Well, I didn’t until I read Three Lines in a Circle by Michael G. Long. This wonderful picture book provides young readers with a history behind the peace symbol and the man who created it.

Title: Three Lines in a Circle
Author: Michael G. Long
Illustrator: Carlos Vélez
Publisher: Flyaway Books
Published: August 31, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Three Lines in a Circle introduces young readers to Gerald Holtom, the man who designed the popular symbol, and the many peace movements that the sign has been a part of. Beginning with the London to Aldermaston March against nuclear weapons, all the way to nationwide protests for racial justice in 2020, readers will follow along as the world embraces Gerald’s symbol and demand peace, justice, and equality.

The illustrations by Carlos Vélez are so wonderful! I love the way the peace sign is sprinkled throughout the illustrations, creating a perfect opportunity to engage readers by finding them throughout the story.

The back-matter contains an informative author’s note, along with a timeline of peaceful protests across the world. Opening the door to further history lessons, Three Lines in a Circle would make a great addition to classroom and school libraries.

Three Lines in a Circle officially releases next week (August 31, 2021), but you can preorder your copy today at Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Flyaway Books for generously providing an advance copy of Three Lines in a Circle for me to review!

About the Author:

Michael G. Long has written books for all ages on civil rights and peacemaking in mid-century America, including the stories of Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, Jackie Robinson, and Mister Rogers. He lives in Pennsylvania.

About The Illustrator:

Carlos Vélez has illustrated more than twenty books for children and has been recognized with illustration awards from the Catalog of Illustrators of Children’s and Youth Publications and the National Fund for Culture and the Arts. He lives in Mexico City.

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New Release Round Up – August 24, 2021

Happy Tuesday, everybody! It’s new release day again! As always, I rounded up the titles I am most excited about to share with y’all today, and there are a LOT to talk about this week.

As always, these titles will have inclusive characters (think racial and cultural diversity, LGBTQ+ representation, diverse family structures, disability representation, and more), and fall into a range of genres in both fiction and nonfiction categories.

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission from purchases made, with no additional cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and continue bringing content to you.

Board Books

The Life Of Basquiat by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein, Illustrated by Citlali Reyes

“Introduce your little ones to the famous graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, in both English and Spanish.

Known for his contributions to graffiti and neo-expressionism, Jean-Michel Basquiat became one of the youngest household names in the world of art. The Haitian-Puerto Rican prodigy used his obsessive scribbling and skull designs to paint his legacy through New York—and worldwide.

Parents will discover this biography book on Basquiat to be an encouraging story to their little ones hoping to express themselves through creativity, imagination, and, most importantly, perseverance.”

Families Grow by Dan Saks, Illustrated by Brooke Smart

“A rhyming, light-hearted celebration of the different ways a family can grow.

A wish began your journey
And now that you are here
Our family has grown with love
With love for you, my dear.

This warm appreciation of love invites the youngest readers to share in the joy and excitement of expecting families. The lyrical, rhyming text subtly references pregnancy, surrogacy, and adoption, gently touching on the different ways a family can grow. The book’s celebratory yet comforting tone incites both appreciation and understanding, leaving readers with a lasting message of unconditional familial love. Includes a simple glossary at the end.”

Picture Books

Yefferson, Actually by Katherine Trejo and Scott Martin-Rowe, Illustrated Karla Monterrosa

“On his first day as the new kid in school, shy Yefferson’s name is consistently mispronounced to his discomfort and embarrassment. With his family’s support, Yefferson finds the courage to stand up for himself and his namesake.

Yefferson, Actually is wonderful new picture book to embrace in the pantheon of classic Back to School stories. Follow sweet and unassuming Yefferson – proudly pronounced with the sound the Y makes in Spanish, not the J in English – as learns to overcome what is a common, but often undiscussed hurdle for all shy kids entering a new school year: correctly teaching people how to say your name correctly.

In a picture book market that too often doesn’t highlight Latinx boys as the main characters of their own stories, Yefferson stands up and stands out for his kindness, gentleness, and strength when he treats others how he wants to be treated. Perfect for lovers of King of Kindergarten and Alma and How She Got Her Name, Yefferson, Actually is the debut picture book for both authors and the illustrator, and the first book in a new series centered on Yefferson and his friends’ adventures.

This back-to-school book is the perfect addition for your little one’s at-home library, as it will motivate them to stand up for themselves and realize that their familial roots came from growing seeds of pride and history.”

Iris Apfel (Little People, Big Dreams #64) by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Illustrated by Kristen Barnhart

“In this book from the critically acclaimed, multimillion-copy best-selling Little People, BIG DREAMS series, discover the life of Iris Apfel, the vivacious (and accidental) fashion icon.

Growing up in Queens, New York, little Iris was the only child at family events. Her grandmother would open a giant bag of fabric, filled with every color and pattern, and let her play with fabric scraps. This inspired a lifelong love of fashion. Famous for her eclectic style, built around oversized glasses, bright colors, and bold jewelry, Iris was the subject of an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when she was just 84 years young. This inspiring book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the style icon’s life.”

Where Three Oceans Meet by Rajani LaRocca, Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan

“A child, mother, and grandmother travel all the way to the end of the earth in this picture book that celebrates multigenerational love—perfect for fans of Drawn Together and Alma.

“I want to see what’s at the end of the earth!”

Sejal, Mommy, and Pati travel together to the southern tip of India. Along the way, they share meals, visit markets, and catch up with old friends.
For Pati, the trip retraces spaces she knows well. For Mommy, it’s a return to the place she grew up. For Sejal, it’s a discovery of new sights and sounds. The family finds their way to Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet, and delight in making it to the end of the earth together.
This own voices picture book celebrates the beauty of India and the enduring love of family.”

Chapter Books

She Persisted: Ruby Bridges by Kekla Magoon, Illustrated by Gillian Flint

“Inspired by the #1 New York Times bestseller She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger comes a chapter book series about women who stood up, spoke up and rose up against the odds!

In this chapter book biography by NAACP Image Award-winning author and Coretta Scott King Honor recipient Kekla Magoon, readers learn about the amazing life of Ruby Bridges–and how she persisted.

As a first grader, Ruby Bridges was the first Black student to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. This was no easy task, especially for a six-year-old. Ruby’s bravery and perseverance inspired children and adults alike to fight for equality and social justice. Perfect for back-to-school reading!

Complete with an introduction from Chelsea Clinton, black-and-white illustrations throughout, and a list of ways that readers can follow in Ruby Bridges’s footsteps and make a difference!”

Middle Grade

Carry Me Home by Janet Fox

“Twelve-year-old Lulu and her younger sister, Serena, have a secret. As Daddy always says, “it’s best if we keep it to ourselves,” and so they have. But hiding your past is one thing. Hiding where you live—and that your Daddy has gone missing—is harder.

At first Lulu isn’t worried. Daddy has gone away once before and he came back. But as the days add up, with no sign of Daddy, Lulu struggles to take care of all the responsibilities they used to manage as a family.

Lulu knows that all it takes is one slip-up for their secret to come spilling out, for Lulu and Serena to be separated, and for all the good things that have been happening in school to be lost.

But family is all around us, and Lulu must learn to trust her new friends and community to save those she loves and to finally find her true home.”

Graphic Novels

The Little Wooden Robot and The Log Princess by Tom Gauld

“For years, the king and queen tried desperately to have a baby. Their wish was twice granted when an engineer and a witch gave them a little wooden robot and an enchanted log princess. There’s just one catch, every night when the log princess sleeps, she transforms back into an ordinary log. She can only be woken with the magic words “Awake, little log, awake.”

The two are inseparable until one day when the sleeping log princess is accidentally carted off to parts unknown. Now it’s up to her devoted brother to find her and return her safely to the kingdom. They need to take turns to get each other home, and on the way, they face a host of adventures involving the Queen of Mushrooms, a magic pudding, a baby in a rosebush, and an old lady in a bottle.”

That’s all I have for today. I hope you all enjoyed reading about these new releases, and hopefully you found one or two to add to your young reader’s shelves!

Did I miss any releases you’re excited for? Be sure to share in the comments below!

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Flashback Friday – Counting Kindness: Ten Ways To Welcome Refugee Children

Like many of you, my heart is aching for everyone in Afghanistan as they face the devastating capture of their country and collapse of their government. What is happening in Afghanistan is incredibly complex and far too nuanced to sum up in one blog post. So today, instead of focusing on the decades of conflict, I would like to share a book that I believe will be essential in classrooms in the countries accepting Afghani refugees.

Title: Counting Kindness: Ten Ways To Help Refugee Children
Author: Hollis Kurman
Illustrator: Barroux
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Published: September 8, 2020
Format: Picture Book

Originally released in September 2020, Counting Kindness by Hollis Kurman is a counting picture book that encourages empathy in children, helping them to understand the plight of refugees and migrants. Gently explaining the many reasons children and their families might need to leave their countries, Counting Kindness provides a glimpse into the refugee experience for children who have not experienced it themselves, and acts as a mirror for those who have.

The illustrations by Barroux are warm and inviting, perfectly capturing both the joy of being welcomed into a new community and the pleasure we can all find in showing kindness to our neighbors.

The back matter contains a list of organizations working to help refugee and migrant families and children, including Amnesty International, which endorsed the book and will receive 10% of the author’s profits.

If you would like to show your kindness to the citizens of Afghanistan today, please consider donating or volunteering with one of the following organizations.

Counting Kindness is available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. There will also be a Spanish/English bilingual edition released later this year, which is available for preorder now. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support.)

Thank you so much to Charlesbridge for providing me with a review copy of Counting Kindness. I hope it finds its way into classrooms to welcome refugee children everywhere.

About The Author:

Hollis Kurman is a writer, poet, and active participant in numerous causes and enterprises on both sides of the Atlantic. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University, she is chair of the Ivy Circle in the Netherlands, a founder of the Human Rights Watch Netherlands Committee, and a member of the HRW Global Women’s Rights Advisory Council and Save the Children Supervisory Board. A frequent participant and speaker in conferences and seminars, she lives in Amsterdam and New York.

About the Illustrator:

Barroux was born in Paris and grew up in Morocco. He is author and illustrator of many books, published all over the world, and children in need is a special theme of his. From the 2005 Enfantasie Award to the English PEN Award and the Prix Médecins Sans Frontières in 2015, he has won numerous honours and awards. His books include Where’s the Elephant? and Welcome!

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Author Spotlight: Rajani LaRocca

It’s time for an Author Spotlight again, and I am so excited to be interviewing Rajani LaRocca, the brilliant and prolific author who is taking the kidlit world by storm. Rajani has published six books since her debut in 2019 in both middle grade and picture book categories.

Rajani, I am thrilled to be chatting with you today! I was originally introduced to your writing when I reviewed Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers, but you have so many other titles! Would you mind introducing yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s readers and tell us a bit about the kinds of books you write?

Thanks so much for having me! I was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now live in the Boston area, where I practice medicine and write books for young readers. I’ve always been an omnivorous reader, and now I’m an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, in poetry and prose. I’m inspired by my childhood and background, science and math, nature, cooking, and just about everything I see. 

Your latest picture book, Where Three Oceans Meet, is being released this month. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?

Where Three Oceans Meet is about a little girl named Sejal who travels to the tip of India — Kanyakumari, where they say three oceans meet — with her mom and grandmother. It’s a fun road trip, where the three women see interesting sights, visit people they care about, and eat delicious food. And Sejal discovers what’s at the “end of the earth” is what she’s had all along: the love between mothers and daughters, love that transcends distance and transcends time.

What inspired you to write Where Three Oceans Meet?

I was inspired by a trip I took when I was a kid with my family, including my mom and grandmother, through South India to Kanyakumari. I thought about all the beautiful things we saw on that trip, and how what I treasured most was the little moments we spent together along the way.

If young readers only take away one thing from Where Three Oceans Meet, what message would you most want them to walk away with?

Even if they are far away, the people we love are still with us, giving us strength and joy.

Title: Where Three Oceans Meet
Author: Rajani LaRocca
Illustrator: Archana Sreenivasan
Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers
Published: August 24, 2021
Format: Picture Book

All of your books seem to have mathematical themes, and I was so glad to see the pattern continue with the theme of three in Where Three Oceans Meet. Was there any significance to the number three, or was it a stylistic choice?

I hadn’t really thought about the fact that there was a number in this book, but now that you point it out, of course there is! Three is an important number which symbolizes unity in many cultures. Because this book was inspired by a trip to Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet — The Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean — I decided to craft the story about three women in a family making a journey together. I also use the metaphor of a braid, which involves three strands of hair woven together, to symbolize the characters’ relationships. 

Archana Sreenivasan created such beautiful illustrations to match your gorgeous story of love and family. This is your second book to be illustrated by Archana. Did the process differ between Where Three Oceans Meet and Seven Golden Rings?

I first worked with Archana for my debut picture book, Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math, which was published by Lee & Low Books in October 2020. That book is set in ancient India and involves a math puzzle and an explanation of binary numbers in the author’s note. It won the Mathical Award for Grade 3-5!

The process was very similar for both books in that I had minimal involvement while Archana was doing her work! Archana is such an incredible artist, and her sensibility for each book was perfect—which is even more impressive, since the styles of these books are very different. In Seven Golden Rings, her style is more cartoon-like, and Archana illustrated the math puzzle and the thinking that went into it in the most precise and ingenious way! The writing in Where Three Oceans Meet is more lyrical and emotional, and Archana’s style and use of color matches  perfectly. I know that Oceans reminded her of her own family—especially her grandmother—and this shines through in all the little details she included to make this family seem real.  

Do you have a standout spread that is your favorite? If so, which one?

I love ALL the spreads—they are overflowing with love and joy! My favorite is about three fourths of the way through the book, when Sejal isn’t feeling well and overhears her mom and grandmother talking about how much they miss each other, since the grandmother lives in India and Sejal and her mom live in the U.S. Archana depicts memories and longing and love so beautifully on the page that it brings me to tears.

Where Three Oceans Meet is your fifth release in 2021! I’m blown away at the amount of work you can produce in a year, especially considering your job as a doctor and role as a wife and mother. Do you have any advice for writers (like myself) who struggle to keep producing new work consistently?

I always recommend that people find ways to write in the “nooks and crannies” of their days. We don’t need to write for hours at a time; sometimes writing for a few minutes is all we can do, and that’s fine! As a working mom, I have written in my car (while parked!) and at piano lessons, early in the morning and late at night, on my laptop, scrawled on napkins, and dictated into my phone. It’s important to catch the muse while you can and to put in the time even when the muse is in hiding! 

I also find that setting small goals helps me, as well as making lists of current projects and their statuses.

Can you tell us what is next for you? Do you have any upcoming 2022 release we should know about?

After Where Three Oceans Meet, I have two more picture books coming in 2021! My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris will release on August 31, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have written a Little Golden Book about our wonderful Vice President!

The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA releases September 14! This is my first nonfiction picture book (and the first picture book I ever drafted!), written in rhyming verse and explaining the basics of genetics to kids. It also touches on the limits of our genes and how our actions also determine who we are.

In March 2022, I have a picture book coming with Candlewick called I’ll Go and Come Back. This story of my heart is about a girl who visits her family in India and feels lonely and homesick. Then her grandmother makes her feel better through play and reading and food. When the grandmother visits the girl in the U.S. and feels homesick herself, her granddaughter makes her feel better. The story is built around a phrase people use in Tamil: they never say “goodbye,” but instead “I’ll go and come back,” which holds the promise of return.

My second middle grade novel with HarperCollins comes out in fall 2022. It’s called Switch, and it’s about musical twin sisters who grow apart, impersonate each other at their summer camp on a dare, and find that music helps them find their way back to each other. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

These past two years have been so hard for so many reasons. That makes the stories we tell, the art we create, more important than ever. But it’s also important that we practice self-care and give ourselves a break, too. Take the time to bring yourself small moments of joy, and remember that reading and thinking and spending time with loved ones nourishes the creative spirit. 

That is such a great reminder, and one I really need to hear. Thank you for that, and for taking the time to answer all my questions!


To learn more about Rajani and her work, you can visit her online at www.RajaniLaRocca.com and on Twitter @rajanilarocca and Instagram @rajanilarocca.

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Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent

If you’re looking for a picture book biography about a lesser known artist with a unique story, I have the perfect pick for you today. Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess and Kara Kramer shares the remarkable life story of Corita Kent, an artist, educator, nun, and activist who unapologetically spread a powerful message of love and justice.

Title: Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent
Author: Matthew Burgess
Illustrator: Kara Kramer
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books
Published: August 24, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Make Meatballs Sing introduces readers to Corita Kent when she was known as Frances Elizabeth Kent, a young girl who loved to read, draw, and daydream throughout her childhood in Hollywood, California. As a teenager, young Frances shocked those closest to her by following her religious calling and joining the Order of The Immaculate Heart, becoming Sister Mary Corita. Through her duties as a nun, Corita continued to follow her passion for art and creativity, teaching young children and eventually joining the art department of the Immaculate Heart College, where she studied art history and printmaking. Corita became an accomplished teacher, sharing the art of serigraphy, or silkscreen.

Corita’s religious beliefs had a great influence on her work, but she was also inspired by the Civil Right Movement. She often spoke out against poverty, war, and injustice in her work, which didn’t always go over well with the leaders of the Church, but did make her a recognized and celebrated public figure who left a mark on the world.

The illustrations in Make Meatballs Sing are fantastic! Kara Kramer perfectly captures the spirit of Corita Kent’s work. The range of bright colors, textures, fonts and patterns on every page mirror Corita’s prints, providing the perfect backdrop for her fascinating story.

The extensive back matter featuring a timeline and informative author’s and illustrator’s notes also make this a fantastic selection for classroom and school libraries.

Make Meatballs Sing will officially be released next week (August 24, 2021), but you can preorder your copy today. Preorders are available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Enchanted Lion Books for sharing a review copy of Make Meatballs Sing with me. I am so honored to share this loving tribute to Corita on Mutually Inclusive today!

About The Author:

Matthew Burgess is a full-time professor at Brooklyn College and a part-time teaching artist in New York City public schools. He was fascinated by the lives of saints as a child, and now he loves sharing the stories of his artistic heroes with young readers. Matthew is also the author of Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings and Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring. He lives with his husband in Brooklyn and Berlin.

You can find Matthew online at matthewjohnburgess.com, on Twitter @MatthewBurgessJ, and Instagram @MatthewBurgessJ.

About The Illustrator:

Kara Kramer is a mixed media artist, and illustrator who loves to PLORK with all mediums. She has taught creative art workshops for both children and adults. Ever since she was little, her happiest hours are spent moving her hands to make something new. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

You can find Kara online at karakramerillustration.com and on Instagram @beinginthemaking.

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New Release Round Up – August 17, 2021

It’s Tuesday again, so y’all know what that means: It’s time to talk about new releases again!

As always, these titles will have inclusive characters (think racial and cultural diversity, LGBTQ+ representation, diverse family structures, disability representation, and more), and fall into a range of genres in both fiction and nonfiction categories.

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission from purchases made, with no additional cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and continue bringing content to you.

Board Books

Being You: A First Conversation About Gender by Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli, Illustrated by Anne/Andy Passchier

“Developed by experts in the fields of early childhood and activism against injustice, this topic-driven board book offers clear, concrete language and beautiful imagery that young children can grasp and adults can leverage for further discussion.

While young children are avid observers and questioners of their world, adults often shut down or postpone conversations on complicated topics because it’s hard to know where to begin. Research shows that talking about issues like race and gender from the age of two not only helps children understand what they see, but also increases self-awareness, self-esteem, and allows them to recognize and confront things that are unfair, like discrimination and prejudice.

This second book in the series begins the conversation on gender, with a supportive approach that considers both the child and the adult. Stunning art accompanies the simple and interactive text, and the backmatter offers additional resources and ideas for extending this discussion.”

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes

“Now in board book, the bold, bright colors of India leap off the page in this fresh and funny picture book retelling of how Ganesha came to write the epic poem of Hindu literature, the Mahabharata.

“Ganesha is just like any other kid, except he has the head of an elephant and rides around on a magical mouse. And he loves sweets, especially the traditional dessert laddoo. But when Ganesha insists on biting into a super jumbo jawbreaker laddoo, his tusk breaks off! Ganesha is terribly upset, but with the help of the wise poet Vyasa, he learns that what seems broken can actually be quite useful after all. With vibrant, graphic illustrations, expressive characters, and off-beat humor, this is a wonderfully inventive twist on a classic tale.”

You can also read my full review of Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth for more detail.

Picture Books

Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua by Gloria Amescua, Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

“As a young Nahua girl in Mexico during the early 1900s, Luz learned how to grind corn in a metate, to twist yarn with her toes, and to weave on a loom. By the fire at night, she listened to stories of her community’s joys, suffering, and survival, and wove them into her heart.

But when the Mexican Revolution came to her village, Luz and her family were forced to flee and start a new life. In Mexico City, Luz became a model for painters, sculptors, and photographers such as Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, and Tina Modotti. These artists were interested in showing the true face of Mexico and not a European version. Through her work, Luz found a way to preserve her people’s culture by sharing her native language, stories, and traditions. Soon, scholars came to learn from her.

This moving, beautifully illustrated biography tells the remarkable story of how model and teacher Luz Jiménez became “the soul of Mexico”—a living link between the indigenous Nahua and the rest of the world. Through her deep pride in her roots and her unshakeable spirit, the world came to recognize the beauty and strength of her people.”

Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes by Don Tate

“From acclaimed author and illustrator Don Tate, the rousing story of Ernie Barnes, an African American pro football player and fine artist
He realized how football and art were one and the same. Both required rhythm. Both required technique. Passing, pulling, breaking down the field—that was an art.

Young Ernie Barnes wasn’t like other boys his age. Bullied for being shy, overweight, and uninterested in sports like boys were “supposed” to be, he instead took refuge in his sketchbook, in vibrant colors, bold brushstrokes, and flowing lines. But growing up in a poor, Black neighborhood during the 1930s, opportunities to learn about art were rare, and art museums were off-limits because of segregation laws. Discouraged and tired of being teased, Ernie joined the school football team. Although reluctant at first, he would soon become a star.”

Frankie Gets a Doggie by Amy Huntington

“There’s love for everyone in this sweet, rhyming story about a toddler and father who share an outing to the animal shelter, where they find a dog that’s the perfect addition to their family!

Frankie and Dad are going on an adventure! They head to the local animal shelter where they meet all kinds of dogs, until they find just the right one. But how will Kitty react to their new pet? Here is a charming, accessible story about adopting a pet and giving it a loving home that’s perfect for dog- and animal-lovers, and an ideal gift for any family considering pet ownership.”

When We Fly by Jess McGeachin

“A beautiful father-daughter story celebrating love, loss, and healing, and one bird’s broken wing that may prove impossible to fix.

Lucy has always been good at fixing things–the wonky mailbox, broken watches, even Dad’s old binoculars. And Lucy is happy to help her dad; they share a special bond. It’s just the two of them, after all. So when Lucy finds a tiny bird with a broken wing, she’s sure she can fix him too–but not everything that’s broken can be fixed.

A tender and loving story about loss, healing, and the special connection between fathers and daughters.”

Chapter Books

Aven Green Baking Machine by Dusti Bowling, Illustrated by Gina Perry

“Now that third-grader Aven Green has retired from sleuthing, it’s time to conquer a whole new world: baking!
Aven knows she’s an expert baker of cakes and cookies since she’s been baking with her mom for a really long time. Plus no one bakes quite like she does. She cracks eggs with her feet and measures sugar and flour with her feet (plus measuring cups), since she was born without arms. And now Aven has her eye on the prize: a beautiful blue ribbon for baking at the county fair. So she teams up with her friends Kayla, Emily, and Sujata. But it turns out they all have very different tastes and a lot of opinions about baking. Talk about a recipe for disaster!”

Middle Grade

Playing A Dangerous Game by Patrick Ochieng

This whip-smart coming-of-age novel sees a group of boys embark on a madcap, high-stakes adventure of survival and friendship.

Lumush and his three friends live with their families in Railway Estate, spending their free time in the countryside or in the yards behind the estate, playing a game of chance called pata potea next to the wreck of an old car. When the boys’ attention begins to wander farther, they discover a deserted house believed to be haunted. As they explore the house, they learn that it’s not ghosts they have to fear but the malevolent Mwachuma. By day he works in his junkyard, but by night he and his accomplices steal coffee from the railway yard and smuggle it into the “ghost house.” As the young boys are drawn into this criminal underworld, they face a mounting danger that threatens both themselves and their families.

With rich storytelling and gripping adventure, Playing a Dangerous Game is a brilliant debut set in 1970s Kenya from a talented new voice in children’s fiction.”

The Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang

“Meilan Hua’s world is made up of a few key ingredients: her family’s beloved matriarch, Nai Nai; the bakery her parents, aunts, and uncles own and run in Boston’s Chinatown; and her favorite Chinese fairy tales.

After Nai Nai passes, the family has a falling-out that sends Meilan, her parents, and her grieving grandfather on the road in search of a new home. They take a winding path across the country before landing in Redbud, Ohio. Everything in Redbud is the opposite of Chinatown, and Meilan’s not quite sure who she is–being renamed at school only makes it worse. She decides she is many Meilans, each inspired by a different Chinese character with the same pronunciation as her name. Sometimes she is Mist, cooling and invisible; other times, she’s Basket, carrying her parents’ hopes and dreams and her guilt of not living up to them; and occasionally she is bright Blue, the way she feels around her new friend Logan. Meilan keeps her facets separate until an injustice at school shows her the power of bringing her many selves together.

The Many Meanings of Meilan, written in stunning prose by Andrea Wang, is an exploration of all the things it’s possible to grieve, the injustices large and small that make us rage, and the peace that’s unlocked when we learn to find home within ourselves.”

Threads of Peace: How Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Changed the World by Uma Krishnaswami

“A lawyer and activist, tiny of stature with giant ideas, in British-ruled India at the beginning of the 20th century.

A minister from Georgia with a thunderous voice and hopes for peace at the height of the civil rights movement in America.

Born more than a half-century apart, with seemingly little in common except one shared wish, both would go on to be icons of peaceful resistance and human decency. Both preached love for all human beings, regardless of race or religion. Both believed that freedom and justice were won by not one, but many. Both met their ends in the most unpeaceful of ways—assassination.

But what led them down the path of peace? How did their experiences parallel…and diverge? Threads of Peace keenly examines and celebrates these extraordinary activists’ lives, the threads that connect them, and the threads of peace they laid throughout the world, for us to pick up, and weave together.”

Graphic Novels

Lola’s Super Club #2: My Substitute Teacher is a Witch by Christine Beigel, Illustrated by Pierre Fouillett

“Join Lola and her quirky and hilarious super club of crocodiles, sharks, dinosaurs (in undies), skeletons, and her cat Hot Dog, for a death-defying adventure to… her elementary school. When Lola’s teacher is out sick due to a “small accident,” a miserable substitute takes over her history class. Weird things start happening like resident Friendly Falls middle-aged villain, Max Imum, joining the class and calling the sub “Mommy,” students disappearing, and the class adding real monsters to the curriculum. Today’s lesson is simple… survive until the bell.”

I hope you all enjoyed reading about these new releases, and hopefully you found one or two to add to your young reader’s shelves!

Did I miss any releases you’re excited for? Be sure to share in the comments below!

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How To Make A Friend

Today, I’m sharing a clever picture book that teaches young readers all about friendship and persistence. How To Make A Friend by Stephen W. Martin and Olivia Aserr provides a hilarious step-by-step guide for how to make friends, and maybe also how to stop them from destroying the world.

Title: How To Make A Friend
Author: Stephen W. Martin
Illustrator: Olivia Aserr
Publisher: Clarion Books
Published: July 27, 2021
Format: Picture Book

How To Make A Friend tells the story of a young girl as she follows all the steps to build a robot friend. But, as our main character finds out, sometimes friendships don’t go exactly as we plan. Sometimes your robot friend might turn out to be a bit evil, build an army of other friends, and try to destroy the city. If that’s the case, you have to stop them, and you might even find a true friend along the way.

I absolutely adored How To Make A Friend! I can’t wait to read this one aloud to my nieces because I know the far-fetched story and the humor will have them completely hooked. It honestly reminded me of cartoons from the 60’s or 70’s, though those cartoons were generally missing a female lead with an interest in STEM. I also appreciate the fact that How To Make A Friend doesn’t feel like a book marketed to “girls in STEM”. It’s a fully fleshed out story with elements of STEM, social emotional learning, and lots of humor, making it a perfect read for everyone.

The illustrations by Olivia Aserr are wonderful and move the story along perfectly. Stephen Martin’s text reads almost like a handbook, which makes room in the illustrations for storytelling. The text and illustrations combine perfectly to create an almost cinematic experience.

Whether you’re looking for a book to help a child through a difficult friendship or to highlight failed first attempts, I would highly recommend How To Make A Friend. You can pick up a copy wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Clarion Books for providing me with a copy of this fantastic book!

About The Author:

Stephen W. Martin is a writer on the shows Trash Truck and Bravest Warriors and the author of the picture books Charlotte and the Rock and Stewart’s Best Pen. He and his wife are on the run from their robot best friend in Los Angeles.

Website: stephen-w-martin.com
Twitter: @Stephen_W_M

About The Illustrator:

Olivia Aserr paints backgrounds for animation and also illustrates children’s books. She lives, swing dances, and creates in Los Angeles with her dog, Bonnibel. Telling fantastical and diverse stories is her passion.

Website: oliviaaserr.com
Twitter: @oliviaaserr
Instagram: @oliviaaserrillustration

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