In this edition of Indie Spotlight, our monthly thematic roundup of BookLife titles, we're celebrating illustrated children's books and graphic novels.
History, Mythology, and Folk Tales
Dreaming of California
Grant Collier, illus. by Stephanie Lowman, ISBN 978-1-935694-50-2
About the book: Dreaming of California tells the story of Pandora the Pelican, who does not want to go to sleep. But when she does doze off, she dreams that she can travel back in time. Pandora goes on exciting journeys and sees ancient sea creatures, saber-toothed cats, and giant sloths.. Each of Pandora’s adventures is based on real events that occurred in California.
Author statement: “Both Stephanie Lowman and I went to school in California, so we wanted to do a children’s book on the state. Our goal was to bring California’s past back to life in meticulous detail. I spent several months photographing across California to capture images for this book. Stephanie studied fossils of prehistoric creatures and compared them to fossils of living animals to learn how they might have looked. She then spent about one year drawing all of the animals and people line by line. For the story, I wanted to teach the history of California using rhyming text. This involved a lot of writing and rewriting in order to maintain a good flow, while still telling the story I wanted to tell.”
The Gingerbread Man 2: What Happened Later?
Stephen Dixon, ISBN 978-1-976966-17-0
About the book: The Gingerbread Man 2 is a rhyming sequel to the traditional folk tale that kicks off following the dramatic ending of the original story. This story follows the fox on his journey back to the bakery with his newfound desire to bake. Find out what happens when he makes an oven full of little gingerbread men, and whether a happier ending is in store.
Author statement: “I really enjoy making up stories for my two young children and have always loved to write, draw, and paint. My three-year-old son loved reading the story of the Gingerbread Man, though not the sudden ending, and one night asked a simple question: ‘What happened next?’ The silly story told that night eventually turned into my debut picture book! I am also an architect and relished the opportunity to illustrate the story, breaking away from sketching buildings to draw baking foxes, cheeky gingerbread men, and crumb-munching pigeons!”
Kid Beowulf: The Tarpeian Rock
Alexis E. Fajard, ASIN B08ZJVX6NQ54
About the book: Twin brothers Beowulf and Grendel are lost in ancient Italy and forced to fight for their freedom in the gladiatorial games. In the arena the brothers battle fearsome warriors, take on deadly beasts, and meet another pair of twins, Romulus and Remus. It all leads to the founding of the world’s most epic city: Rome. Kid Beowulf: The Tarpeian Rock is the fourth book in the ongoing Kid Beowulf series of graphic novels.
Author statement: “I hope readers enjoy this story as much as I did creating it. It was really fun to delve into the origins of Roman mythology and add my particular twist to it.”
The Bedtime Knight
Katie L. Carroll, ISBN 978-0-9989254-6-2
About the book: When the lights turn off at bedtime, a young mouse’s imagination runs wild. Daddy Knight charges to the rescue and sheds light on what the shadows really are. Then he empowers his daughter to turn the scary shadows into fun imaginings.
Author statement: “As a child with an overactive imagination, I often had trouble falling asleep at night. I wanted to write a story that showed kids how they can take control of their imaginations and create their own stories with them.”
Jennifer Miller-Joseph, ISBN 978-1-947927-60-2
About the book: I Can follows a little girl’s efforts to conquer some of her fears. Heavily influenced by her grandmother, she navigates through the different scenarios that she finds herself in at different stages of her life.
Author statement: “My children are the inspiration behind me writing I Can. I was deeply moved as I witnessed them during the early stages of their lives attempting to grasp new concepts and activities. Even through times of frustration and fear, they never gave up, eventually conquering the tasks that were before them. I Can is also a tribute to my grandmother, a way of thanking her for the major impact she has on my life.”
The Little Monster
Sheri Fink, ISBN 978-1-949213-27-0
About the book: Little Monster is counting down the days until his birthday. When his parents decide he’s finally old enough to get his own bedroom, he’s too embarrassed to admit that he’s afraid of the dark. Following a series of humorous missteps to cure his fear, the Little Monster discovers that he can have fun in the dark and relax at night in his own room, just in time for his big birthday sleepover party. This glow-in-the-dark storybook empowers kids to face their fears, share their feelings, and find ways to sleep peacefully at night.
Author statement: “I’m thrilled to share The Little Monster and his adventures in overcoming his fear of the dark with readers. Each page throughout the book features glow-in-the-dark elements that will encourage kids to actually want to turn off the flashlight after reading each page, enabling them to discover ways to feel comfortable in the dark while having fun. This is the seventh book in The Little series of social-emotional learning books.”
My Body’s Mine: A Book on Boundaries and Sexual Abuse Prevention
Kayla J. W. Marnach, ISBN 978-1-71901-198-3
About the book: My Body’s Mine is written in the style of a sing-song poem and empowers children to take ownership of their bodies. The caregiver guide educates adults on how to confidently start conversations regarding personal boundaries and uncomfortable situations with their children.
Author statement: “I worked with therapists to create my Can-Do Kids series for three-to-eight-year-olds. I wanted to give children safe strategies to protect themselves and present the material in a relatable, nonthreatening way. I have been thrilled and humbled by the success parents and professionals have experienced discussing what can be a very difficult subject using My Body’s Mine.”
My Cat is Blue
Sarah Sommer, ISBN 978-1-64543-959-2
About the book: When her beloved cat gets a case of the blues, one little girl tries everything to help. As she discovers that she may not have the cure, she develops a case of the blues herself. Asking for help leads to an important discovery about love and loss as the illustrations evolve from grayscale to full color.
Author statement: “I want children reading the book to see that sadness is one of many emotions and, with love and support, those feelings can change and evolve into something different. My hope is that those struggling through a tough time or watching someone close to them struggle will see that these emotions don’t last forever.”
Who Will Hear Begonia?
Bonny Gable, ISBN 978-1-73471-760-0
About the book: This picture book aims to help children cope with the confusion, disappointment, or fear they may experience when a loved one struggles with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. It demonstrates to readers that, although the illness brings about changes, their connection to that person through love remains the same.
Author statement: “I wrote this story after witnessing my mother suffer from Alzheimer’s disease for 20 years. I hope it can be of help to families with children who may be perplexed by how the illness affects their beloved grandparent, aunt, or uncle. A portion of the proceeds from this book is donated to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. We look forward with hope for a cure.”
Wonder and Adventure
The Leaning Tower of Pizza
Derek Taylor Kent, ISBN 978-1-949213-31-7
About the book: A diverse group of kids tell one another about the amazing places they’ve heard about, and their imaginations run wild with possibilities. This book introduces readers to the joys of travel, experiencing new cultures and foods, and learning about famous monuments, landmarks, and artwork.
Author statement: “As a lover of food, travel, cultures, architecture, and art, it was such a joy to create a children’s book where the reader can truly see the world through a child’s eyes. During college, I studied both Italian and theater in Italy, and it’s been my favorite travel destination for food and art ever since. I knew I always wanted to set a book in Italy! Then I remembered that when I was a kid, I thought the Leaning Tower of Pisa was actually the Leaning Tower of Pizza because pizza came from Italy, so it made sense to me. As I grew up to become a children’s author, I thought about that and wondered what might happen if kids mistook other famous landmarks and monuments for crazy structures of food, and thus the idea for this book was born. Readers get to visit the Waffle Tower in France, the Grape Wall of China, and even the Louvre to view the Donut Lisa. Bon voyage and bon appetit!”
Life in the North (The System Apocalypse Book 1)
Tao Wong, ISBN 978-1-989458-38-9
About the book: All John Lee wants to do was get away from his life in Kluane National Park for a weekend—hike, camp, and chill. Instead, the world comes to an end in a series of blue boxes. Animals start evolving, monsters start spawning, and he’s got a character sheet and physics-defying skills. Now, he has to survive the apocalypse, get back to civilization, and not lose his mind.
Author statement: “I adapted my comic series over a period of two years from my LitRPG novel, Life in the North. This is a passion project due to my love for the medium. Comics can convey, in the graphics and images, certain aspects of the world that are hard to depict to a reader in words.
Nicole Magistro, illus. by Alice Feagan, ISBN 978-1-73652-330-8
About the book: Through the power of imagination and the pleasure of reading, a very brave girl and her furry friends set sail for a magical island made of books.
Author statement: “I love books and the book world! Making connections about what we read and the world around us is critical, and equally so is the escape that books and stories provide to us. They are there for us, always, in times of our greatest need. I want to pass that message along to as many children as I can.”
Witches Three Count on ME!
Lynda Bouchard, ISBN 978-1-73518-119-6
About the book: It’s Halloween, and a mischievous little boy has run away from home. He wanders through the dark forest behind his house and comes upon a frightful scene—three witches up to no good! They see him, too, and that’s when the magic begins. How will the boy outsmart the witches as they try to capture him? Told in rhyme and through the prism of a child’s imagination, this story shows that daring and wit come in handy when three witches are out to get you.
Author statement: “As a literary publicist, I had been quite content on my side of the writer’s fence. But an unfinished manuscript left behind by my late husband, and my desire to complete it in his honor, changed all that! Yates Davis began this children’s story as a challenge from his nephew to write ‘something scary about witches and poisonous stuff.’ It turns out that children grow up much faster than books are written and, in this case, a first draft outlives the author. The handwritten draft included notes in the margins that I used to rework the rhyme and improve the story structure. One of the advantages of self-publishing is that I was able to work very closely with my illustrator, who brought our words to pictorial life. The unfinished manuscript was a parting gift. It made me an author.”
Bubbie’s Magical Hair
Abbe Rolnick, ISBN 978-0-9995291-9-5
About the book: Bubbie, like many grandmothers, turns the ordinary into the spectacular and the mundane into something miraculous. In Bubbie’s Magical Hair, the lyrical text combines with playful illustrations to take readers on a whimsical journey as Bubbie and her grandchildren grow older, reminding us of all the ways grandparents bring us joy, comfort, and inspiration.
Author statement: “When I became a Bubbie, I had the overwhelming desire to share my legacy and that of my own Bubbie with my grandkids. Bubbie's hair is a metaphor. As Bubbie ages and the grandkids grow older, Bubbie’s hair reflects changes. When she cuts her hair, she lets go of parts of her life and releases her living history to the world. Birds take bits into their nests. Bunnies take the pieces into their burrows. The children see renewal each year.”
You Can’t Kiss a Bubble
Karen A. Wyle, illus. by Siski Kalla, ISBN 978-1-73555-860-8
About the book: What can you do with a bubble? Many children—and adults—find bubbles fascinating, even enchanting. And yet they’re so different from most things we enjoy, lasting only a few moments. This little book, with its lovely and whimsical illustrations, looks at both the charm and the transitory nature of bubbles, and reminds us that we can take joy even in the impermanent.
Author statement: “I began writing picture book manuscripts in 1991, when I was expecting our first daughter. I wrote quite a few such manuscripts in the following years, before I began writing novels in 2010. I waited for self-publishing technology to advance to the point where I felt I could publish a picture book of sufficient quality, and then began the delightful task of finding illustrators. You Can’t Kiss a Bubble, while not the first one I wrote, is the first one I’m publishing. I no longer remember what gave rise to it, but I’d hazard a guess that I was blowing bubbles with one or both daughters.”
You’re Only Two Once
Marta Costello, ASIN B09BTKLLYW
About the book: You’re Only Two Once follows a typically strong-willed and curious toddler through a day in the life, from predawn breakfast to bedtime. The illustrations highlight the mischievous moments. while the text reminds the reader this funny phase will pass quickly and should be embraced for all its heartwarming tenderness.
Author statement: “The idea for this book came from watching my son hang upside down from the handles on the car ceiling. Even though I was in a hurry, I stopped and took in the moment as he gymnastically dangled rather than buckling up. The silly acronym YOLO popped into my head and I was off. I think the ‘terrible twos’ get a bad rap, and it’s worth remembering that this precious, if frustrating, part of parenting can be better appreciated if you have a sense of humor.”