[review] Champion Chompers, Super Stinkers and Other Poems by Extraordinary Animals by Linda Ashman and Aparna Varma

When it comes to the animal kingdom, just who is the tops?

Who’s the fastest flyer, the smallest mammal, the best long-distance runner?

Readers of all ages will have fun guessing the best of the best in Champion Chompers, Super Stinkers and Other Poems by Extraordinary Animals (Kids Can Press, 2023). In Linda Ashman’s lively, cleverly crafted mask (persona) poems, 19 animal contestants compete for the top prize by hinting at their identities, proudly citing what makes them amazing in some way.


No dreary cave,
No teensy cup,
No rocky shore will do.

I want the best:
A spacious nest
And dazzling penthouse view.

Each poem appears on a righthand page with an illustration showing only part of its body (a tail, a wing, a neck, a trunk). Readers then flip to the next page for a full view of the animal, its claim to fame, and a paragraph of fascinating facts, including how the animal’s superlative features were measured.

Poems are playful, engaging, and brim with personality. Who can resist such a fun guessing game while learning about creatures from the land, sea, and air? There’s a nice mix of familiar animals (skunk, crocodile, giraffe) with less familiar ones (Pronghorn, Eurasian Hoopoe, Etruscan Shrew). I was especially happy to see two of my favorite animals included: elephants and sloths (that sloths are the slowest of mammals makes me love them even more; besides, we both really like just hanging around). 🙂

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mari takabayashi: animal adorableness

Why, hello.

Fancy a little cup of tea and a yummy snack? 

Welcome to Mari Takabayashi’s cozy world, where adorable animals eat, play, and relax together or with their human friends.

I discovered Mari’s work by lucky happenstance one day while browsing the internet. Something about her naive, childlike style caught my eye, and upon further investigation, I learned she was a children’s book author and illustrator (where have I been?). 

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[colorful review] Rainbow Shopping by Qing Zhuang

Are you up for a little food shopping? Come along then, let’s go!!

New York’s Chinatown is our destination, as we read about a Chinese American girl and her mother buying ingredients for a family dinner. Written and illustrated by Qing Zhuang (“ching juong”), Rainbow Shopping (Holiday House, 2023) is a delectable feast for the senses that touches the heart.

The story opens on a rainy Saturday, where a little girl who feels “as gray as a pigeon” is in bed sketching. She’s wistful and lonely, missing her native China. Everything is different in New York, and her parents and grandmother are always busy working.

But on this Saturday, her mom pulls her out of bed, telling her that since everyone will be home for dinner, they need to go to Chinatown for special ingredients. After a long subway ride, they first stop at the bakery for a snack: strawberry cheesecake for her, a sesame ball with red bean filling for her mom.

Then it’s time to shop! They get fresh garlic, ginger, scallions and bamboo shoots, sweet red persimmons, mysterious mushrooms that “curl like thunderclouds,” and the bumpiest squash among “rows of vegetables in a hundred greens.”

They next explore “long aisles of noodles, sauces, spices, pickles and tea,” making sure to add medicinal herbs for Grandma and “numbingly hot peppers for Dad” to their cart. At the seafood section, the girl notes “the fish seem to stare,” right before she rounds the corner to the candy aisle — were she grabs everything (but Mom says can only have one bag)!

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a little taste of Spring is for Strawberries by Katherine Pryor and Polina Gortman

Happy National Strawberry Month!

What better way to celebrate the merry month of May than with fresh strawberries? April through June is peak picking season for these sweet delectable beauties, and there’s no better place to score a couple of quarts than your local farmers market.

As we learn in Spring is for Strawberries by Katherine Pryor and Polina Gortman (Schiffer Kids, 2023), the farmers market is much more than a place to buy and sell local seasonal produce. Unlike shopping in a big grocery store, farmers markets offer us a chance to get up close and personal with those who actually grow our food. As we return to our favorite vendors week after week (or year after year), sometimes casual pleasantries can blossom into meaningful friendships.

In this delightful story, two girls — one, a farmer’s daughter whose family has brought their spring crop to the market, and the other, a city child whose family shops there, become friends and continue to celebrate each season’s bounty throughout the year.

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[review] Today I Am a River by Kate Coombs and Anna Emilia Laitinen

If you could choose to be any animal, plant, or aspect of nature, what would it be?

In Today I Am a River (Sounds True, 2023), Kate Coombs and Anna Emilia Laitinen invite readers to immerse themselves in the natural world by engaging in imaginative play. What could be more fun than pretending to be a spider, a tree, a cloud, or even the wind? In so doing, children gain new insight into Mother Nature’s beauty, power and magic.

This companion book to Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems, contains fourteen meditative, winsomely illustrated free verse poems that are life affirming and self empowering, reminding children that the imagination knows no bounds. The more we learn about the world around us, the more we realize there is simply no end to the wonder. This is how the collection begins:

I can be anything --
reaching high,
curling small,
leaping, whirling,
stopping to see --

I can be anything,

Kate’s beautifully crafted lyrical verses sing with spontaneity and gorgeous imagery. Children can’t help but respond to the unique first person voices and personalities in the poems, and will enjoy considering perspectives other than their own. As in “The River,” phrasing, movement, and rhythm have been polished to perfection.


Today I am a river.
Here I come!

I ride down a mountainside,
flow boldly
across a wide valley,
explore a canyon
written in cursive --

I reach rocks and stones,
stumble and rumble,
leap and bound,
tumble around.

But still I flow.
Fast or slow, I find my way.

Inside I know
where I want to go.

I head for the sea. The be of me.
The big blue heart and soul of me.

Today I am a river.
Here I come!
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