Readers and Writers: Picture books that teach and touch the heart

·5 min read

Aug. 7—There's a lot of learning in today's picture books, from how to manage screen time to respect for a transgender mother, and what to do with a nose-picker. To touch hearts, there's a lonely dog who finds his place in Minnesota.

"Screen Time Is Not Forever" by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen (Free Spirit Publishing )

In these new entries in the top-selling Best Behavior series, Elizabeth Verdick uses rhythmic prose and Marieka Heinlen adds colorful illustrations to help kids understand why "screen time" should be limited.

The Best Behavior books are meant to guide children to choose positive behaviors and are available in two versions: a durable board book for ages 1-4 ($8.99) with simple, two- and three-word sentences, and in paperback with more text for older children ($11.95).

The board book begins "Screens/are/for a little/downtime,/a not-too-long/time." Urging the little ones to push the button and "Make the screen STOP," the following pages urge kids to "jump and run, swing and sing, find a friend, play pretend..." In the end, "Remember,/screen time is/not forever ... Spend more time TOGETHER."

The paperback helps older kids understand how to be "screen time smart" and that screen time is "one little part of our life ... Bigger parts are Family time, Friendships, Reading, Sleeping, Playing, Moving!" There are suggestions for families to make a screen schedule, with specific start and stop times. But there are also benefits to using screens, such as video chatting, finding educational apps, games and shows.

Both books include additional information and activities for adults to help navigate screen time and screen-free time for children.

"Yep, That's My Mommy!" by Jean Mountain; illustrated by Ashley Finch (Strive Publishing, $20)

Miguel doesn't know what to say when his classmates tell him, "Your daddy's here." That's not a man; it's his mommy. This story follows Miguel and his mom through the seasons, as they have fun and learn to navigate misunderstandings. Miguel's mom explains simply when he asks what transgender means: "For me, it means that I was born a boy,/but always saw myself as a girl./I never felt like a boy and inside I knew I was a girl."

Ashley Finch's illustrations are big and bold, with beauty in the mommy's strong face.

Mountain writes that she was born into a Native American family of 14 children and learned at an early age the struggle for a strong self-identity, from finding out she was Black to acknowledging her gender identity. As the transgender mother of four young children, she wants to teach families, educators and the public how to address her respectfully, and to raise awareness of how others' reactions to her gender identity affects her children. (Copies are available at: strivepublishing.com.)

"What are you going to do with that Booger?" by Roxy Humphrey, illustrated by Marina Saumell ($19.99.)

The title of this mildly icky but funny book is a real-life quote from a kindergarten teacher. Roxy Humphrey laughed when she heard it, but she wondered what the child would answer.

In this story, Mason is "playing with something sticky" and his teacher asks the question. His responses — keep it, hide, share it, play with it, eat it — all draw "nooooooos" from teacher and his classmates. Finally he realizes he needs to put it in a tissue and throw it away.

The author says she named the central character after her son, "the biggest booger picker of all," because when he heard she'd written this story he told her she had to name the boy after him.

This book joins what we call the subgenre of bodily functions books that began with Mr. Poop and includes farting, and now boogers, all of which are hilarious to the under-5 crowd.

"Sully" written and illustrated by Christie Lindemann (Self-published, $10)

In this little nonfiction paperback, Emel and Devon find Sully living in a forest in Istanbul, Turkey, where shelters are required to release dogs when they run out of kennel space. Nearly a million homeless dogs in Turkey must find their own food, water and a safe place to sleep, and many live lonely, desperate lives. Sully, the golden retriever, was eating scraps.

"The woman's name was Emel./When she saw Sully she could tell,/that he seemed lonely/and needed a home./She decided to help him/find a family of his own."

So Sully and Devon made the 5,500-mile journey from Istanbul to Minneapolis. When they arrived they were greeted by members of RAGOM (Retrieve a Golden of the Midwest), carrying welcoming signs. Sully was adopted by Christie and "was cherished from the start. He made everyone smile with his huge heart."

The story continues when Sully is certified as a therapy dog visiting hospitals and schools.

"Sully spreads joy to everyone he meets./He likes to do tricks and he gets lots of treats./People smile when they see him, and gently rub his ears./ Sometimes they are sad, and his fur catches their tears."

This is a simply-told story for little ones who are always touched by animals. Lindemann's cartoon-style drawings are fun and photos of real-life Sully are included, as are contacts for Pet Partners, promoter of pet therapy, and North Star Therapy Animals (northstartherapyanimals.org.)

Contact the author at: christiejlindemann@gmail.com Order the book at: shop.ragom.org.

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