#IMWAYR: Picture Book Pandemonium, Part 13!

This is part 13 of Picture Book Pandemonium and I started drafting it on Friday the 13th, so let's hope we don't have any bad omens here! We certainly have one good omen, which is that I'm finally back to blogging—and I'm officially on summer break! I still have some college responsibilities to take care of, but no classes, so I should have much more time to read books and write blog posts and read everyone else's blog posts too. I can't wait!

Anyway, now for the post! I checked out 7 picture books from the library, so I'm reviewing 4 today and 3 next week—let's dive in!

What book is it? The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story, written by Tina Cho and illustrated by Jess X. Snow

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

Who recommended it? Cheriee Weichel at Library Matters!

What does the publisher say? "Dayeon wants to be a haenyeo just like Grandma. The haenyeo dive off the coast of Jeju Island to pluck treasures from the sea--generations of Korean women have done so for centuries. To Dayeon, the haenyeo are as strong and graceful as mermaids. To give her strength, Dayeon eats Grandma's abalone porridge. She practices holding her breath while they do the dishes. And when Grandma suits up for her next dive, Dayeon grabs her suit, flippers, and goggles. A scary memory of the sea keeps Dayeon clinging to the shore, but with Grandma's guidance, Dayeon comes to appreciate the ocean's many gifts.

Tina Cho's The Ocean Calls, with luminous illustrations by muralist Jess X. Snow, is a classic in the making."

What stood out to me? I had never known about the haenyeo tradition in South Korea until hearing about this book, and after reading it, I am in awe of these women’s bravery, their connection to one another, and the way they diligently serve their communities while making a living.

But beyond the tradition itself, this is also a story of the love between a girl, Dayeon, and her grandma, as well as a story of overcoming fear and following in the footsteps of those who come before you. I recently reviewed a book called Three Ways to Be Brave that I didn’t totally click with, but this story is a really lovely example of a child being brave that young readers will connect with!

I appreciated that the story itself is not an explanation of the haenyeo tradition, since the characters themselves would likely not tell the story that way. Still, two pages of informative back matter explain this tradition’s connections to history and present day in more detail.

And Jess X. Snow’s illustrations are truly gorgeous, with dynamic viewpoints that capture the movement, tension, and freedom of the divers, as well as rich medleys of color that bring the ocean to life.

What’s my verdict? A beautifully illustrated depiction of an amazing tradition—and it’s relatable for young readers too!

What book is it? Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma, written by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Teresa Martinez

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

Who recommended it? Jeanne Walker HarveyMichele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook, and Linda Baie at TeacherDance!

What does the publisher say? "Joanna Ho’s lyrical writing and Teresa Martinez’s vibrant art weave together to tell an inspiring story of Yo-Yo Ma, who challenges conventions, expectations, and beliefs in order to build bridges to unite communities, people, and cultures. A beautiful picture book biography to enjoy and share in the home and the classroom.

Before Yo-Yo Ma became one of the most renowned and celebrated cellists, he wanted to play the double bass. But it was too big for his four-year-old hands. Over time, Ma honed his amazing talent, and his music became a reflection of his own life between borders, cultures, disciplines, and generations.

Since then, he has recorded over a hundred albums, won nineteen Grammy Awards, performed for eight American presidents, and received the National Medal of the Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, just to name a few accomplishments.

Staying true to himself, Yo-Yo Ma performed at the US-Mexico border at the Rio Grande on April 13, 2019, as part of his multi-continent 'Bach Project' tour to prove a point—through music, we can build bridges rather than walls between different cultures."

What stood out to me? One of the wonderful things about reading picture books like this one is that you learn truly incredible things you would not have otherwise known about, and you are reminded that the world isn’t completely awful, and there will always be people working to make a difference.

I will have to become more familiar with Yo-Yo Ma's music than I currently am, now that I have read this incredible story. But this book is about more than his music, or even his entire life story (although it touches on that too)—it is about one single performance of his at the U.S.-Mexico border, in which people standing on both sides of the Rio Grande were united as they listened to the same incredible music by the same incredible cellist.

There are so many powerful stories about prejudice that make us aware of its awful impacts on the world, but this book is careful not to give the haters a voice—this is a story of love, unity, joy, and music, and that comes through on every page.

Joanna Ho, author of the explosively popular Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, writes in stunning, gorgeous verse. Just listen to the opening:

"On the banks of the Rio Grande,

feet planted on the soil of one nation,

eyes gazing at the shores of another,

Yo-Yo Ma played a solo

accompanied by an orchestra of wind and water."

And she weaves so many topics into her verse with an astonishingly gentle, non-pedantic touch: Yo-Yo Ma’s accomplishments, the way the entire world is contained within the multinational parts of his cello, and even the history of the almost-forgotten music by Bach that he performed.

And to seal the deal, Teresa Martinez’s illustrations are light and luminous, with musical notes flowing across the numerous, varied spreads.

What’s my verdict? A portrait of an inspirational human being and humanity’s ability to truly come together, captured in verse and illustrations working in tandem—don’t miss this one!

What book is it? Also, written and illustrated by E. B. Goodale

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

What does the publisher say? "A moving story that follows one family through generations of time spent together and shows readers that memories allow us to connect to the past, the present, and also each other.

This gorgeously illustrated book explores the power of memory, teaches children subtle lessons about the passing of time, and celebrates the cherished bonds we share with those we love.

Perfect for reading together every day, or for giving on occasions like graduation, Mother's Day, and birthdays."

What stood out to me? This book is a short, sweet, and visually gorgeous tale of family and memory, written and illustrated by the illustrator of Windows!

From page to page, we move back and forth in time, examining the memories a grandma, a mother, a child, and a cat have made at the grandma’s home, surrounded by fields of blueberries. The surprising ending just might tie back to the back flap of the book, so make sure to check that out…and while you’re at it, do NOT forget to read the blurb on the last page saying what the illustrations are made of. Seriously. It’s so genius.

E. B. Goodale’s illustrations of the present are lush and colorful, and her illustrations of the past are a vivid yet faded purple. The red bird on the cover acts as almost a memory “cue,” appearing on each spread and reminding these characters of what their past lives were like.

The mingling of past and present ties back to the thought-provoking central theme of this book: memory allows us to be in the present day and also in the past at once.

What’s my verdict? A beautiful and creative story of our pasts and the people we love—perfect for anyone who wants to reminisce (and also perfect as a gift)!

What book is it? This Is a School, written by John Schu and illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison

(Here's a link to preview the illustrations.)

Who recommended it? Earl Dizon at The Chronicles of a Children's Book Writer, Lisa Maucione at Literacy On the Mind, Linda Baie at TeacherDance, and Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook!

What does the publisher say? "A school isn’t just a building; it is all the people who work and learn together. It is a place for discovery and asking questions. A place for sharing, for helping, and for community. It is a place of hope and healing, even when that community can’t be together in the same room. John Schu, a librarian and former ambassador of school libraries for Scholastic, crafts a loving letter to schools and the people that make up the communities within in a picture book debut beautifully illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison."

What stood out to me? I feel like most of us know John Schu for being a super-popular book blogger (as in, so popular he interviews other authors all the time). However, we can now expand our understanding of him, because with this book, he is now a published author! And as an educator (as so many of my fellow book bloggers are!), he has written this lovely depiction of a flourishing school community.

Repetition-filled prose and vibrant, multicolored illustrations by Veronica Miller Jamison give us a look at the diverse lives of several young students as they learn, become friends, make mistakes, overcome challenges, and care for one another. The illustrations are detailed and bring the world of the story to life, filling in the plot as the words give the story both rhythm and theme.

I’m feeling a bit short on thoughts because there’s not a hugely explicit plot to expound upon here, but I just want to emphasize both that this story is a wonderful reminder to young readers that the communities they spend much of their lives in have meaning and purpose, and also that this story is a wonderful reminder to educators and other adults that they really do shape the lives of their students by creating a meaningful community that gives students the space to learn!

What’s my verdict? A breezy, delightful story about a school and the students and educators that make it up!


That's all I have for this week—I hope you found a delightful new picture book (or several) to read!

My favorite book of the week: Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma


  1. These all seem like wonderful picture books. Thanks for sharing each one.

    1. I'm glad these books sound appealing to you! Thanks so much for stopping by, Carol!

  2. I just read This is a School. It's a great introduction to school for little ones. I think I will check out Also. It sounds great. Thanks for the review.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed This Is a School—I didn't even think of it that way, but it is a great intro to school for the very youngest readers! And Also is definitely worth a read if you get a chance. Thanks so much for stopping by, Rosi!

  3. I am glad you enjoyed he Ocean Calls. It's such a brilliant book on so many levels.
    I saw Yo Yo Ma play in Vancouver once. He is brilliant and kind. I am looking forward to reading this one.

    1. I really did—I am so glad you recommended that one to me! And that is amazing that you heard Yo-Yo Ma play once—I really hope you enjoy Playing at the Border as well. Thanks so much for stopping by, Cheriee!

  4. I bookmarked Ocean Calls & Also, Max, both sound like wonderful stories. I am glad you enjoyed the Yo-Yo Ma story & did notice that the "book is about more than his music. We are blessed to have him in our lives. This is A School is also a gem, one that needs to be in every classroom, maybe then those students can write their own story? Thanks for coming by my blog from last week. It's great to have you back sharing & I imagine a very nice thing to be finished with school for a while! Happy times!

    1. I'm glad I was able to introduce you to a few new titles, Linda! I agree, just from reading that book, I can tell that this world is better with people like Yo-Yo Ma in it. And that would be fascinating—I'd be curious what kinds of stories students might write about their own school, after reading This Is a School! I'm very glad to be back to sharing as well, and yes, it is definitely nice to be done with school for a few months—so much reading time! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. I will keep an eye out for these! I've starting wandering into the children's area and pulling out some picture books, just for me.

    1. That's wonderful, Beth—picture books really are addictive, and it's great to get ahold of a few whenever you can. (Part of me wants to take an afternoon, go to my library, and read as many picture books as I can in one sitting!) Thanks so much for stopping by!

  6. Max, these are wonderful suggestions. I especially love the way you write about illustrations - something I personally find challenging. I'm a water rat so The Ocean's Call is right up my alley. I didn't know anything about the Haenyeo tradition in Korea, and look forward to learning more. We've got a Yo-Yo Ma musical garden here in Toronto and I remember hearing him play there once (probably at its inauguration). I'm not surprised it's your favourite pick. I'll definitely pick up Also. One of the books I'm reviewing next month (All From a Walnut) deals with memory and loss, so this one definitely resonates. Being a new blogger, I wasn't aware of John Schu, but now I am! I bet you are SO GLAD to be finished school and reading what you want again! Thanks for another terrific post. We missed you while you were away!

    1. Thank you for all the kind words, Linda! The only reason I can write semi-well about illustrations is that I've practiced on 70-ish graphic novels—and sometimes, they're still impossible to describe! There's definitely something about them that does not translate into words, even roughly. I'm so glad all of these books are fitting for you—they actually mentioned (and illustrated) the musical garden in Playing at the Border, so it's even cooler that you actually live near it! And yes, I am very glad to have time to read what I want now! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. These all sound wonderful! I am so out of touch with the picture book world - I always appreciate your round-ups, Max! Thanks!

    Book By Book

    1. I'm glad I get to bring these books to your attention—even if I don't read a certain genre, getting to hear about it from you and other bloggers is always so nice, since I get to know that the book exists and there are people out there enjoying it! Thanks so much for stopping by, Sue!


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