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The Hollywood Reporter cracks the covers of the newest celebrity-penned narratives for kids — surprisingly, these titles discuss everything from cultural diversity and culinary curiosity to existentialism and war.
HOW ROLAND ROLLS
Written by Jim Carrey; illustrated by Rob Nason
Some Kind of Garden Media, $16.95, 68 pages, ages 4-8, Sep. 24
Jim Carrey has penned his first book, How Roland Rolls — dedicated to his 3-year-old grandson, born in 2010 — to help explain the inherent interconnectness of humanity to young children and console them about the vastness of the world. The book follows Roland, a well-intentioned wave of water who conquers life’s hardships like encountering an enemy or drifting away from a friend, but fears that his existence will end once he hits the sand. What Roland learns after his existential crisis is that he is just one part of a whole — the entire ocean, as every person is part of humanity. “When children realize how ultimately safe and unlimited they are — how they’re part of something infinitely bigger and completely worthwhile — it’s a huge relief, and totally fulfilling,” says Carrey in a release, also noting that he was in awe of the immeasurable waves in Malibu when he first moved to Los Angeles. “Each wave travels all around the world. The first drop of water ever is still here now! That’s pretty profound stuff. I found that fascinating and comforting.”
As a child, Carrey feared what would happen to him if he lost his own parents, who were smokers. “But when we realize that beneath the surface of things — the activities of our lives — we are all connected, all one energy, that fear of loss gets softened,” says Carrey. “At times, it disappears entirely.” Though a complicated topic for a small child to comprehend, Roland carries readers to the conclusion with fun graphic font effects and foldout pages (feeling small in comparison to the wide-open ocean requires a panoramic perspective). And illustrator Rob Nason (Anastasia, Thumbelina) used Carrey for inspiration to characterize not only the Ace Ventura-reminiscent surfer that occasionally appears, but also Roland himself — the last pages of the book reveal a set of selfies that served as Nason’s springboard for the wave’s face.
MY MOM IS A FOREIGNER, BUT NOT TO ME
Written by Julianne Moore; illustrated by Meilo So
Chronicle Books, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 5-8, Aug. 27
Julianne Moore’s fourth children’s book — and the first outside her Freckleface Strawberry series — centers on the diversity within a single family. It follows an American girl who explains ways in which her immigrant mother is distinct, from why she speaks with an accent to where her favorite childhood songs are from. The actress wrote the book in memory of her mother, who emigrated from Scotland at age 10 and often called her “wee one,” a common Scottish nickname. “I always accepted that my mother was from another country, it was just something that was just a fact,” Moore told THR at a reading on Sep. 10 with families at NYC’s Round-the-Clock Nursery, hosted by nonprofit First Book. “For most of us as Americans, it is a fact. We talk a lot about multiculturalism, [but] we don’t talk about what the differences are between a parent from another culture and a child who is in this culture, and what that tension is.”
Moore’s text cites habits that appear offbeat to others, such as wearing traditional garb on holidays, adhering to cultural adages, and referring to your parents as “Maman,” “Mutti” or “Opa” — or anything other than “Mom” and “Dad.” And Meilo So‘s corresponding watercolor illustrations simultaneously salute multiple ethnicities while also educating readers about different cultures; one page lists how to say “I love you, Mom” in five other languages, while another challenges children to identify lesser-known festivals from around the world. But altogether, the book teaches kids about the universality of motherhood, no matter what country your family is originally from. Says Moore, “There’s a dichotomy that the person who maybe seems different within a society or culturally is the person who is the most familiar one in the world to you.”
RECIPE FOR ADVENTURE: NAPLES! and PARIS!
Written by Giada De Laurentiis; illustrated by Francesca Gambatesa
Grosset and Dunlap, $6.99, 144 pages, ages 7-11, Sep. 3
Besides launching a lifestyle app and finalizing plans to open a restaurant in Las Vegas, celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis introduces her Recipe for Adventure series. The books follow Alfie and Emilia, a brother-sister duo who rarely travel or even seek to learn more about other countries and cultures. That all changes when their relative Zia Donatella visits, cooking authentic meals from faraway places that, when sampled by the siblings, magically transport them to the country the food is from. When the only familiar thing is each other, the two embark on adventures to talk to locals, indulge in street eats and participate in native traditions, all while strengthening the unique bond they have together.
The book series’ characters are based on the author and her family: Zia Donatella embodying her own aunt, actress Raffaella De Laurentiis, Emilia is a stand-in for the Food Network star as a child and Alfie as her real-life brother, who passed away from melanoma 10 years ago at age 31. “Today, it’s really cool for your kid to like to cook and cool to be different, to have a different ethnicity, to live in different countries — when I was a kid, it wasn’t,” De Laurentiis tells THR of getting teased for her initial language struggles, offbeat lunch menu and weird-sounding name. She admits it was “very difficult at first” to write a book that’s more prose than recipes. What’s resulted are various adventure stories in culinary globetrotting, filled with foreign phrases, landmarks and foods, and narrated with a voice of youthful, know-it-all snark that other kids should find authentic. Switching locations with each book, De Laurentiis only picked places she had personal ties to, but also held universal food appeal: Her family hails from Naples and her culinary degree was earned in Paris. A third book that zooms in on Hong Kong (“I just visited for the first time last year and I fell in love!” she says) will be released Jan. 7, 2014, and a fourth will bring readers to a city in the U.S.
YEAR OF THE JUNGLE
Written by Suzanne Collins; illustrated by James Proimos
Scholastic Press, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 4 and up, Sep. 10
Hunger Games trilogy author Suzanne Collins reverts to her years writing for youth television programming like Scholastic Entertainment’s Clifford’s Puppy Days for Year of the Jungle, her latest book release for her youngest audience yet. To her, it’s the perfect age for kids to begin digesting the complicated concept of war. Suzy, the protagonist in the autobiographical picture book, is based on a 6-year-old Collins and her family during the year her father was deployed in Vietnam. Suzy refers to it as Viet Nam and envisions it as the “jungle,” but what appears as a picturesque backdrop in children’s cartoons soon morphs into a terrifying place, especially as images of the first televised war creep into her family’s home. She begins to understand where her father is, and why exactly he asks her to “Pray for me.”
For three years, Collins thumbed through postcards and gifts her father gave her while he was overseas. “I felt like there was a story here, but every time I tried to visualize the book, I drew a blank,” says Collins. “My fear was, with the subject matter, that the impulse would be to make the art dark and very serious.” Seasoned illustrator and close friend James Proimos captures childlike fascination and fear when transforming the jungle from a home for friendly animals to a field for frightening war tools. The book also reassures readers that despite any parent’s absence, their love for their children will never leave. “I hope people will read the book, even if they don’t have a deployed family member, even if they’re not part of a military family,” says Collins. “Maybe it will help some kids understand what other kids might be going through if they have a parent deployed overseas.”
METTA’S BEDTIME STORIES
Written by Metta World Peace with Heddrick McBride; illustrated by HH-Pax
Heddrick McBride, $12.95, 34 pages, ages 4-11, Sep. 10
Beyond basketball, Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) has dabbled in rap music, stand-up comedy and food fare (he is co-owner of L.A.’s healthy eats chain Saladish). He adds authorship to his abilities with the release of Metta’s Bedtime Stories, featuring everyday lessons such as aspiring to dream big, wishing good be done unto others, and looking positively forward toward a new day. The basketball forward’s favorite lesson teaches young readers to take responsibility for their own actions, while another that consoles fear of the dark is based on his real-life phobia. Though the five stories are indeed short — most resolve by the fifth page — their messages come through clearly, and a portion of the proceeds benefits Xcel University, World Peace’s nonprofit helping community centers and at-risk youth, as well as his father’s foundation, The Artest Foundation. “I like when we raise money so the fans are part of the foundation,” World Peace tells THR. “They are the ones making it possible to change other people’s lives. I get so much of the credit, but it’s not my money, it’s theirs. We want to continue to give the fans credit — give them the opportunity to give back, and show them the impact they’re making.”
The book was first quietly released in May with a Los Angeles Lakers color scheme, and a new version reflecting his New York Knicks allegiance was released on Sep. 10. “It’s definitely great to be back in New York — it’s a big opportunity for me to go home and play in a city that’s just as entertaining as L.A.,” says the Queens, N.Y., native. “I played here at a young age and now, until I’m old and I can’t really play anymore! So this is gonna be fun.”
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