Three award-winning authors, two from Minnesota and one from Wisconsin, are celebrating new picture books. John Coy offers a mother’s tender recollection of her child’s first steps. Dave LaRochelle combines science fiction and math and makes it funny, and Miranda Paul tells the story of Little Free Library founder Todd Bol.
“On Your Way” by John Coy, illustrated by Talitha Shipman (Beaming Books, $17.99). In this charming story, a mother recalls the day her child took his (or her) first steps: “You sat on my lap as the sun rose, / then squirmed down to crawl around.”
As baby crawls, “Cat and kittens crept around a corner … Dog and puppies bounded by the barn.” When he tried to stand, “I knelt down and held out my arms, / you wobbled, tumbled, plopped … you tottered, stumbled, flopped.” But baby finally takes first steps: “soon, you crept, / waddled, hopped, / and bounded.” In the end, Mom leans against a tree that her son is climbing: “Now you’re big / and move in so many ways, / but I remember those very first steps, / how far you’ve come,” and as the child walks into the sunlight with his dog, “and how far / you’ll go.”
Everything about this book for 3- to 5-year-olds is just right. The text is lyrical and the lively illustrations help tell the story, especially Shipman’s depiction of animals. Her drawings capture the baby’s tentative steps and then the child’s joy in splashing through puddles and other busy activities, always accompanied by a black-and-white dog
Coy, who lives in Minneapolis, writes picture books (“Strong to the Hoop”), as well as novels for young adults (“Crackback”) and the 4 for 4 middle grade series about four friends in four sports. He’s won about every award around, including a Cooperative Children’s Book Center Charlotte Zolotow Honor for best text in a picture book (“Two Old Potatoes and Me”) and the University of Minnesota’s Kerlan Children’s Literature Collection Award in recognition of singular attainments in the creation of children’s literature.
If Coy isn’t writing, you’ll probably find him in a classroom. He loves teaching kids and adults, and often uses the students’ feedback as a book progresses.
Coy will launch “On Your Way” at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at the Red Balloon Bookshop, 891 Grand Ave., St. Paul, and will read aboard Valley Bookseller’s Story Time Trolley at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, in Stillwater.
“I Was an Outer-Space Chicken” by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Gorman (Sterling Children’s Books, $6.95). “Tall Dave” LaRochelle combines sci-fi and math in this goofy but smart little paperback about Lamar and Lexie, co-captains of the school’s Math All-Stars Team. They are a powerful pair, Lexie explains, because Lamar “is good at taking charge and making a plan of action. That’s helpful when our math team is stuck on a problem and we can’t agree on how to solve it. I, on the other hand, I am good at noticing the details that other people sometimes overlook.”
The friends are in an elevator when there’s a flash of green light — and they find themselves in a small metal cage being stared at by a creature with a furry purple face: “Two wiry antennae sprouted from the top of its head, each topped with an eye the size of a ping-pong ball.” The kids have been captured by a befuddled alien named Fooz who thinks they are chickens. Fooz asks them to feed Fluffy, Puffy, and Muffy, “quivering eight-foot (towers) of goo.” And here’s the partners’ first puzzle: Fluffy eats twice as much as Puffy, and Puffy eats twice as much as Muffy. How much food does each creature get?
There’s a villain named Lumfur, and if the kids want to get away, they have to solve math and logic problems, figure estimates and decipher codes.
Aimed at middle-graders, “I Was an Outer-Space Chicken” is funny, and the two young protagonists are endearing. Also, math-challenged adults might learn some problem-solving.
LaRochelle, a resident of White Bear Lake, is a former elementary school teacher who has written or illustrated more than 30 books, including picture books, puzzle books, and a novel for young adults, “Absolutely, Positively Not,” about a teen who’s struggling to convince himself he is absolutely, positively not gay. That book is on the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults.
Three of LaRochelle’s books have won Minnesota Book Awards: “The Best Pet of All,” “It’s a Tiger” and “Moo!” He also loves to meet with young students and share his picture books with them.
LaRochelle will sign “I Was an Outer-Space Chicken” and the second in his Alien Math series, “Planet of the Penguins,” as well as his picture book “Isle of You,” which helps children learn self-esteem, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 23, at Lake Country Booksellers, 4766 Washington Square, White Bear Lake.
“Little Libraries, Big Heroes” by Miranda Paul; illustrated by John Parra (Clarion Books, $17.99). Todd Bol, who began the Little Free Library movement in his front yard in Hudson, Wis., died in 2018. But his generous spirit remains in the form of 75,000 Little Libraries in 88 countries.
In “Little Libraries, Big Heroes,” award-winning author Paul, who lives near Green Bay, Wis., tells Todd’s story, describing him as an “ordinary hero” who didn’t feel very heroic in school:
“Even though his mother had been a teacher who loved books, reading was difficult for him. He was often scolded for asking too many questions, and was told that he wasn’t a good student. … Todd’s mom disagreed. She told him he was gifted and had something big to offer the world. ‘You could do anything,’ she said.”
Memories of Todd’s mom gave him the idea to create a little one-room schoolhouse to house books, made out of an old door, positioning it in his yard. At first nobody came, but when they did, “Todd told them about his mom. People loved his story. It reminded them of ordinary heroes they knew.”
Soon the little library became the center of the neighborhood and Todd “felt his nifty box of books had potential.” So he called his friend Rick Brooks and these two “ordinary guys” learned to design and paint the small structures. But nobody came to buy them, so they went on the road “with thirty tiny libraries, planting them like seeds between Madison, Chicago, and Minneapolis.”
The media picked up Todd’s story, and soon there was enthusiasm across the country, with libraries springing up around the United States. Each had a caretaker, called a steward, ordinary citizens who became “community heroes.”
Little Libraries are all over the Twin Cities, in people’s yards, public spaces, in front of businesses, fire and police stations, and churches. Children see them every day and maybe take books from them, so kids should enjoy hearing about the man who began the project and why he thought books could help people be kind to one another. And those who are feeling as Todd did in school, that they aren’t good enough somehow, might take courage from knowing how this ordinary guy sparked a worldwide program.
John Parra, who lives in Queens, N.Y., illustrates the book with colorful drawings, including a nerdy one of Todd that probably delighted him. The author worked closely with Bol and the organization in writing the book, and Todd was able to see it in its final stages before his death.
Miranda Paul, author of more than a dozen books for children, is a founding member of the organization We Need Diverse Books. She has two other books out this spring. “Nine Months: Before a Baby is Born” earned four starred reviews and was selected as a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor for nonfiction. “I’m a Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon” was called “a beautiful book about an important topic and the man behind a movement” by Booklist.