THE OLD TRUCK

One of the pleasures of reading picture books for the first time is the way they renew our sense of discovery. Picture books are sprints, but the best ones create richly evocative worlds, compressing time and experience into something that reflects or approximates essential elements of our lived encounters. The first time I read Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey‘s THE OLD TRUCK, a feeling of immense poignancy washed over me. I blinked back tears and tried to sound “normal” as I finished speaking the last page. That’s what an incredible picture book can do.

THE OLD TRUCK, Jarrett & Jerome Pumphrey

The Pumphrey brothers’ book is direct, simple, and fundamental, but also mysterious. Emotionally, THE OLD TRUCK exists firmly in a maternal/parental space or cadence, but who is the steadying and fortifying mother? I think it is the truck–which was there at the beginning, when a pregnant mother is about to give birth, and is there at the end, when the daughter of that mother is now a mother of her own little girl and raising her on the same farm. I also loved seeing a black family centered in this farming story.

The eponymous truck is akin to a tutelary spirit, a household god. And like our gods and watchful spirits, it both gives and receives, supporting the family with its labor, but also in need of rest, repair, and perhaps most importantly dreaming. The truck’s imagination feeds the girl’s imagination. The girl’s imagination, translated into creativity, into hard work, feeds and preserves the family and the family’s way of life.

THE OLD TRUCK is one of those books I’m tempted to keep talking and talking about, but I’ll stop. Go and see for yourself. And scoop up their about-to-be released PB: SOMEWHERE IN THE BAYOU.

FRANK THE SEVEN LEGGED SPIDER

Michaele Razi’s FRANK THE SEVEN LEGGED SPIDER is brilliant. Yes, it’s funny, it’s clever and a little gross, (which, you know, kids) but what I love most about it is the way it raises and never answers a big ole “WHY?”

cover image of Michaele Razi's Frank the Seven Legged Spider

If you don’t know this book, please don’t try to glean its secrets from a YouTube read aloud. It’s gotta be read in person. So, get thyself to your library or bookstore poste-haste.

Now, I don’t want to give away the secret (though it’s killing me not to!). But I do want to talk about that “why?”. Let’s just say something happens to Frank. Something bad and unexpected, and which we the readers can learn the origins of, although Frank never does.

So, quit talking in circles you might be thinking. What’s the big deal? And it’s just this: Razi’s book acknowledges that sometimes bad things happen and sometimes the source of that hurt is surprising. But more than that, we may never get a why – we’re not always owed one and even if we are, tough cookies, baby! Lots of times, it just never comes.

My kiddo spotted the secret on the first read. And it was delightful. Sometimes in life we’re Franks, sometimes we’re what’s on the other side of Frank’s missing leg. Accident? Maliciousness? Circumstantial evidence? No matter – Frank lets it go – the leg, that is – and finds his own mischievous way forward.

I love books like this, so please drop any of your related favorites in the comments. Or tell me what you think about Razi’s book.

MI PAPI TIENE UNO MOTO/MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE

True story: my in-laws, who were high school sweethearts and live in the midwestern factory town they grew up in, used to ride their motorcycles with my now-husband nestled on the gas tank in front of one of them, where he would fall asleep.

The family loves this story, because it’s youth, because they got away with something. Because it’s emblematic of what feels like, from the present, a freer past.

The first time I read Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena’s MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE, I was struck by how much it reminded me of my in-laws and by how much I thought they would love this book. The working class ethos, the motorcycle as the object that brings father and child together as well as connects them to their larger yet close-knit community. And especially the lovingly drawn community – if the passage about the city always being with the young MC didn’t seal the deal, the part about food always tasing better at abuelita’s would!

The short-and-sweet of it: When MC Daisy’s carpenter dad gets home from work, the two set off on a joyful cruise around their city, affirming their deep connection through ritual and celebrating their immigrant neighborhood, in part by noticing what’s changed and changing. Tomorrow we ride again!

As a believer in We Need Diverse Books (vision, “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book”) I love how this book celebrates Latinx culture. Kiddos who live on our block can see themselves in these pages. That’s essential, non-negotiable.

And I also adore what creators from marginalized or underrepresented groups have known and said all along—books that champion marginalized or underrepresented groups are also another way to reflect all of our communities, to find the commonalities while those who are learning about the culture turn new words over on our tongues, discover holidays and traditions, and share the celebration of music or food, and the most universal of all languages – love.

My husband’s hometown has changed a lot over the years. The immigrant community is much larger, and some people struggle with that. Isabel Quintero’s book makes me think that if we could tell everyone to bring their classic cars, their motorcycles and meet in the park to share this book between them, something transformative could happen. And then maybe we could talk about PHOTOGRAPHIC and Graciela Iturbide – an incredible artist.

RESCUING MRS. BIRDLEY

While I was working on a manuscript that you could call an “absurd romp” for aesthetic shorthand, the founder of Inked Voices, a terrific writing community, pointed me to Aaron Reynolds and Emma Reynold’s RESCUING MRS. BIRDLEY. Count me forever grateful.

TL;DR (not that you’d do that!): When Miranda sees her classroom teacher outside of her “natural habitat,” she’s delighted and determined to use the skills she’s gleaned from watching a beloved nature show to rescue her teacher and return her to school. Of course, her whole premise is wrong. Hijinks ensue.

Being true to yourself and change are not necessarily at odds. But I often feel conflicted about change in PBs. So often, it’s the moralizing piece. So often it happens so, so quickly – like, most change takes a lifetime, amiright? – and I think there is often an impetus in PBs that goes something like this – the MC needs to change to become their best selves—more resilient, more tenacious, kinder, more observant.

That’s all well and good (I think I think), but I deeply believe “don’t change, stay your truest self” is a more radical message. Maybe what I really want to say is just this: Sometimes being wrong, really wrong, is the absolute best right. It’s gleeful, self-assured, joyful, and validating. Young readers sit up and take notice and, in our limited one-house study, the books are a form of ear-candy, like a pop song on repeat. The kids are alright. And, damn it, we love them any which way.  

Greetings

Coming at you from Austin, Texas.

Thanks for visiting! I’m a practicing picture book writer and poet. In picture books, I love silly, off-beat yet commercial stories and quirky worldviews that validate and explore the full spectrum of kiddo experience. I like to think of my sensibility along the lines of if William Steig and Tina Fey had a love child–I like strong emotion and slapstick, smart slapstick if possible! The kidlit community is really special, and I’m a proud member of SCBWI, Inked Voices, KidLit Twitter, 12×12, and Storystorm. Additionally, my first book of poetry, Singing Without Melody, comes out with Galileo Press in 2022, after having been a finalist for the 2020 Small Harbor Prize and the 2020 Eyewear Press international prize. Cheers!