With our lives upended by COVID-19, keeping children reading is an enjoyable pastime for families to give and receive. Here are some new releases for the younger set that will bring on lighthearted giggles at a much needed time.
Children’s author, former Iowan and now Seattle-ite, Dori Hillestad Butler, celebrates the release of her newest series, “Dear Beast,” (2020, Holiday House, ages 6 to 9, $15.99).
Always wanting to write a book in the epistolary form of letters, Butler found the perfect inspiration when her fellow critique partner, an illustrator, was looking for just the right home for a cat named Simon. Butler’s son, Andy, had been wanting a cat and adopted the subdued, all-black beauty for a happily-ever-after ending. But, that wasn’t the end. When Butler’s dog, Mouse, sniffed Andy up and down whenever he came to visit, no doubt smelling the new scent of Simon on “his boy,” this gave Butler the idea she had been waiting for. In the series, the boy character, Andy, is from a divorced family and lives part-time with each parent. When the longtime cat, Simon, suddenly smells the new scent of the dog, Baxter, he puts pencil to paper and writes a letter insisting that the dog’s services are not needed. What ensues is the start of a humorous and endearing friendship bonded (eventually) over their mutual love of Andy, and one that will have young readers eagerly awaiting the next books in the series.
But, that still isn’t the end. Remember, the illustrator critique partner who once owned Simon and was looking for the perfect home for him? As it rarely happens in children’s publishing, Butler suggested him to illustrate “Dear Beast,” and Holiday House agreed. Illustrator Kevan Atteberry gives life to Butler’s characters, convincingly capturing Simon’s constant irritation and haughtiness, as well as the dog Baxter’s unceasing exuberance. With much wit and humor, “Dear Beast” is a charming, truly entertaining reading experience.
Iowa City author and illustrator, Jennifer Black Reinhardt awaits her newest release of “Playing Possum,” (July 2020, Clarion, ages 4 to 7, $17.99). Reinhardt’s main character, Alfred, is a very nervous opossum and when he gets nervous, he freezes. This opossum trait doesn’t serve him well with Life’s experiences, most of which are frightening to him — like exceeding in school or making new friends. Because of this, he is a very lonely opossum. Enter Sofia, a lovely armadillo, whose trait is to curl into a ball when she feels nervous. “So Alfred played dead, and Sofia curled up,” and when they both came to, they realized they had something in common and a dear friendship was born. Through mutual understanding and kindness, animals with other defensive traits learn to trust them — and each other — making friends much easier. Reinhardt’s artistic gifts of both storytelling and creating emotional connections through her witty, whimsical and fanciful characters makes “Playing Possum” a wonderful book for children newly starting school or for those who are navigating friendships for the first time.
A non-fiction bonus involves the additional back matter, a glossary of animals Reinhardt chose to feature in the book. Including realistic artwork of each animal and information relating to their defense mechanisms when fearful, not only will children learn more, it also will serve as a fun talking point and Reinhardt’s realistic art can be compared to her renderings of each animal in the story — work that never fails to charm.
Although this time of COVID-19 is a bit of a hardship on creators of books celebrating their releases, Reinhardt has teamed up with one of Iowa City’s newest coffee shop and combo bookstore venues, Sidekick Coffee and Books, with a special “Playing Possum” release party promotion. Limited to the first 100 preorders by its release date of July 7, purchasers will receive a signed copy of the book as well as an original 5- by 7-inch art print featuring Alfred and Sofia created by Reinhardt for this giveaway. To pre-order a copy, contact Sidekick Coffee and Books at www.sidekickcoffeebooks.com or (319) 569-1010. The books can be picked up curbside, or mailed if purchaser is not local to Iowa City.
‘I am Goose’
Des Moines area author and illustrator, Dorothia Rohner’s new release, “I Am Goose!” (2020, Clarion, ages 4 to 7, $17.99), is a comical spin on the favorite nursery school game, “Duck, Duck, Goose.” When Goose joins the game, he becomes more and more insistent that he is Goose, making for a read-aloud hoot that will have both children and adults laughing. Written with dialogue bubbles emitting from the cast of animal characters (and even an extinct dodo) alongside endearing illustrations by Vanya Nastanlieva, this fast and frolicking combination will guarantee many repeat readings. Although Rohner didn’t illustrate “I Am Goose,” a taste of her sublimely magical illustrations with their lush twilight and botanical backgrounds featuring woodland animals, children, fairies and ladybugs can be viewed at www.dorothiarohner.com. Also on her site, children can download free art to color, as well as other fun activities. Rohner offers online art classes for those who itch to draw and create and firmly believes that everyone can learn how to draw.
Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.