Home Grown: Iowa picture book authors, illustrators celebrate new releases


Local and regional picture book authors and illustrators are enjoying new releases this year with titles that offer something for everyone’s summer reading list.

Iowa City’s own Jennifer Black Reinhardt beautifully illustrates Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate’s latest picture book, “Sometimes You Fly” (2018, Clarion, $17.99, ages 4 to 7). The book is perfect for the graduate in your life or for young parents just beginning the loving, dizzying, and much-too-fast road of parenthood. From a baby’s first birthday to his or her graduation, Reinhardt showcases sweet, humorous and undeniably touching scenes via vignettes of children reaching important milestones with well-represented diversity. The message, “sometimes you fly,” is a reminder of what can happen when one strives.

Young minds can practice counting over summer break with Wisconsin children’s author, Linda Vanderheyden’s “A Horse Named Jack,” (2018, Sleeping Bear Press, $16.99, ages 3 to 7). With lively illustrations by Petra Brown, this romping tale of a “bored, bored, BORED” horse named Jack turns to a wee bit of trouble as he seeks his own entertainment. Young children will enjoy counting up to 10 and back down again with this fun, rhyming adventure. Brown also represents a diversity of children with her fetching art style.

Dixon, Iowa children’s author, Jill Esbaum’s “How to Grow a Dinosaur” (2018, Dial, $17.99, ages 2 to 5), celebrates a perennial picture book topic: a new baby, or … in this case, a new dinosaur. After waiting and waiting, big brother’s sibling FINALLY hatches along with his newfound realization that babies don’t know ANYTHING. He also realizes that he is the perfect one to teach his new sibling everything. This humorous “What to Expect” guide for big brothers and sisters expresses the joys of siblings perfectly and the inherent bonds that come with them.

For additional humorous picture book reading, Des Moines area author Cindy Chambers Johnson enjoys the release of her debut, “Russell Wrestles the Relatives” (2018, Aladdin, $17.99, ages 4 to 8) last month. Russell comes from a long lineage of famous wrestlers, each with their own unique wrestling takedown move. The problem is, Russell did not inherit the wrestling gene and his dreaded family reunion is coming, which means Texas tickleholds, herculean handshakes, and scrawny Russell getting “squished like a toothpaste tube.” Setting a diversion plan into action is fruitless; there is no escaping the well-meaning relatives, but Russell discovers his own wrestling move to the delight of him and his family.

Cedar Rapids children’s author, Charlotte Gunnufson’s humor and imagination shines through in this fun and fishy picture book. Two goldfish, “Prince and Pirate” (2017, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, ages 5 to 8), live happily in their own private tanks until they are plopped together into a tank they reluctantly share. There is no getting along until another plop (“plip,” actually) introduces a frightened dog fish that melts not only their hearts, but also their animosities, thus proving that dogs — and dog fish — can change the world. A fun read aloud with “pirate talk” that will bring on the giggles.

As an imprint of the American Psychological Association, Magination Press publishes books for kids to help them identify, process, and cope with their feelings or with a difficult issue affecting their lives. Debbie Wagenbach, a children’s author from Burlington has created a sweet character in “Big, Bold, Brave Sergio” (2018, Magination Press, $16.95, ages 4 to 8) who, although a snapping turtle, doesn’t fit in with the other snappers who are bullies and who pressure him to bully smaller fish, saying that “squishy” feelings will make him “soft and weak.” When Sergio defends the little fish, the snappers bully him, but when Sergio makes a big, brave and bold decision prompted by one of those “squishy” feelings, the snappers come around to his way of thinking, behaving and coexisting with kindness.


Madison, Wis.’s Pat Zietlow Miller’s editor asked her to write a picture book about kindness, and “Be Kind” (2018, Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, ages 3 to 6) was born. The back cover of “Be Kind” encapsulates the story within: “How two simple words can change the world.” When the main character notices a classmate spill grape juice on herself, leading to everyone laughing, she remembers the advice her mother always gives ... be kind ... and, from this, the main character ponders on kindness’s ability to grow and grow from one small act toward one person to the potential of kindness spreading through the town, then the country, and finally, the entire world. Circling back, the main character finds a way to cheer up her classmate with a gift of friendship from the heart, reminding all of us that the simplest gestures can mean the most when someone is hurting. With darling illustrations by Jen Hill, this is a keeper.

l Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.

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