116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Sidekick Coffee and Books in Iowa City has announced its first KidLit Pizzazz Festival featuring 15 children’s authors and illustrators from Iowa from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 14 who will sign their books.
In attendance of this festive event will be Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Tess Weaver, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Claudia McGehee, Katherine House, Barbara Santucci, myself and others. Two recently released titles include three of these local authors and illustrators so readers can meet them and celebrate books together.
What: KidLit Pizzazz Festival
When: 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 14, 2021
Where: Sidekick Coffee & Books, 1310 1/2 Melrose Ave., Iowa City
Authors/illustrators who will attend: Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Michelle Edwards, Jill Esbaum, Wendy Henrichs, Katherine House, Claudia McGehee, Karen Miller, Lisa Morlock, Norene Paulson, Sarah Prineas, Delia Ray, Dorothia Rohner, Barbara Santucci, and Tess Weaver
“Begin with a Bee”
“Begin with a Bee,” (2021, University of Minnesota Press, ages 4-9, $17.95), written by Iowa author and Gazette correspondent, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, in collaboration with Liza Ketchum (Vermont) and Phyllis Root (Minnesota), takes the reader on a little-known seasonal journey of the life of a queen Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee from beginning to end, and beginning again. Beautifully illustrated by veteran Iowa author/illustrator, Claudia McGehee, it is simply gorgeous! Whereas the plight of the honey bee is often highlighted, this book shines the light on one of our nation’s native bees and, sadly, the first to be placed on the Endangered Species List.
“Begin with a Bee” does just that. It begins with the queen bee in the seemingly “dead” of winter, nestled alone in a little hole in the ground. Above the ground are two friends — children — we see throughout the story, living and playing in their natural world while winter turns to spring, and then to summer, and then to fall when the friends head to school. In an Iowa Public Radio interview on “Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebbe,” Briggs Martin and McGehee spoke of their new book and McGehee explained her love of the environmental subject matter and how she gave seasonal structure to the story by using the children to signal the seasons and summer winding down, which, for most bumble bees is also the time of their lives winding down.
Briggs Martin, Ketchum, and Root do a beautiful job of explaining in simple terms how the queen bee (and her amazing one-inch being) provides what is needed to create an entire colony of bees, as well as relaying the bumble bees tremendous importance to our world. McGehee is known and admired for her glorification of the natural world in her beloved artwork and the 40 pages of “Begin with a Bee” is alive and abuzz with it, complimenting the complex, yet clearly-told life cycle of these important pollinators. Teachers and families will appreciate the back matter for more information and for 10 ways to help the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, and, therefore, all pollinators.
“Always By My Side: A Stuffie Story”
Another of Iowa City’s author/illustrators is Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Her latest picture book, “Always By My Side: A Stuffie Story,” (2021, Random House, ages 3-7, $17.99) was inspired by her son’s love and attachment to his stuffed dinosaur when he was a little boy. Many children and parents can relate to the rich relationship a “stuffie” provides, yet Reinhardt’s book goes beyond that. Her talent of capturing the simple, common moments of childhood and elevating them to the monumental and, in this case, the cosmic, is a wonder. The glow of fireflies, the soft feel of unmown grass on bare feet, the joy of blowing bubbles, and the ultimate: finally finding your first true (human) friend.
This book captures not only the gifts of friendship, but of all love, whether a stuffie’s love, a friend’s love, or even a parent’s love. It is feeling the joy and the pain of change and growth, and the constancy that love is, which we all need and, ultimately, what growing up is all about. A great writer and illustrator does this, creating magic with her paintbrush and tears from her words. Putting the two together is what makes a powerful picture book.
The main characters of this story — a boy and his stuffie — experience life together. The stuffie protects the boy, loves the boy and is always by his side. And, even when the inevitable happens and the little boy grows and changes and makes a new friend to experience life with, the stuffie will always be there for him, waiting faithfully until it is needed. The cosmic part of this is that thing which we cannot see — love. And that is what gives this picture book additional meaning beyond a common childhood experience. It is what a parent of a kindergartner standing lost with his or her backpack at the school door, or a young adult going off to college for the first time in a strange city, or even a college graduate moving far away for their first job understands. That love is always by our sides as well.
This is a picture book to touch the hearts of all ages and to grow with the young child well beyond his or her school-aged years. Just be sure to keep a Kleenex handy, and your favorite stuffie.
Wendy Henrichs is a children's author living in Iowa City.