I kinda sort of made my first Cannonball in January 2024. Except it didn’t happen because though I had the last three books read, I did not have them written up. I could have done it before the last day of January, but I didn’t review everything I had read, as this year was for fun reading and reviews were second. Or I guess I could say I was waiting for three special ones. So we’ll go with that and those books were only found on January 31st (even though I had them hidden in a box for a few weeks and months for one), and are called Kobe Eats Pizza! And Helps Make It, Too by Ashley Wian and illustrated by Joy Ang, and with Cate Berry; The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie dePaola (which I had not read before, despite my love of his work) and Black Girls A celebration of you! by Dominique Furukawa and Erika Lynne Jones doing illustrations. All books are slightly oversized picture books, more square than regularly shaped. They make great lap-books for easier reading.
Kobe is a kid who makes pizza by themselves in Kobe Eats Pizza! Actually, mostly by himself as they do need a little help from a tattooed parent. We only see the parents arms and part of the torso until later in the story. The big thing about the book is not how the pizza is made, though that is part of it, but how modern everything is. The parents are hipsters with their tattooed arms, clothes and haircuts. Kobe is male, but has longer blonde hair and of course, cooks (not usually a “boy thing” by society standards). The artwork is cute and cartoony. Wian and Ang take a story that we know and love (cooking pizza) but it’s fresh. There are extras about the author and their family, plus a pizza recipe. The book is slightly older text-heavy, but the artwork allows for it to be for younger readers/listeners. It can work in a classroom or one-on-one. Overall it is cute and not too edgy, so it can work for most people’s tastes as well.
Furukawa’s story is not new, we have had books that deal with the celebration of black girls before, but it has a little something that makes it not the same as others. Black Girls is simple and empowering without being pretentious or over the top. It is sweet, funny, and bright. The illustrations are realistic but not “real-real” and are lighthearted. Things are fun and bouncy. I would like to see this book done in a board book as it works for many levels and ages as a message, but the picture book format does limit the child who’s not ready for a traditional hardcover. The musical text helps things move quickly and keeps you reading along as you see the rainbow of girls that we are celebrating. It is a nice book and a great way to introduce the theme to a younger crowd, or to a mixed group of people.
And of course Tomie dePaola is a beloved author and illustrator of mine, and while The Birds of Bethlehem is pure dePaola, there were a few bumps for me. However, this does not take away from my love and enjoyment. The birds speaking/telling the events they have witnessed are a smidgen uneven. Yet, the build up does feel “bird-like,” that is if birds talked to other bird species. You can adapt for multiple levels as there is a color element (the red bird speaks, or the blue one) as well as a religious aspect. It tells the nativity story from an outsider’s point of view. The birds are completely observers to the action and events around them. Things are simple, not overly polished but have nice colors and details.