Garden-Themed Books for Spring: Lola Plants a Garden & In Mary’s Garden

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Lola Plants a Garden
Written by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
(Charlesbridge; $15.95, Ages 2-5)

In Mary’s Garden
By Tina and Carson Kugler
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.

Lola-Plants-Garden-cvr.jpgIn Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.

Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?

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Interior artwork from Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014

This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.

 

InMarysGarden-cvr.jpgIn Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.

My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.

The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.

NOTE: If you live in L.A., you can see Tina and Carson Kugler at Once Upon a Time Bookstore at 11a.m. on March 28th.

Here’s a book trailer to enjoy, too.

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Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

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Waiting For the Moment to Arrive:

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
with illustrations by Betsy Peterschmidt
(HarperCollins Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Review – Kirkus
Junior Literary Guild Selection
The Independent Booksellers Association – Kids’ Next Pick for Spring 2015.

Blackbird-Fly-cvr.jpgI love the Beatles! I am a truly devoted fan, so when I came across Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut middle grade fiction novel, Blackbird Fly, I knew I was in for a treat. What I didn’t expect is that the book would address, with truthfulness and clarity, so many of the difficult issues of being in middle school.

After the death of her father when she was four-years-old, Apple Yengko and her mother immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. Apple’s one possession that belonged to her father is his tape of Abbey Road. Now that Apple is in middle school nothing is like what it was in elementary school. In middle school there are now mean girls who used to be Apple’s friends, new friends to make, and Apple is trying to discover who she really is meant to be when she is unexpectedly set apart from the crowd.

More than anything Apple wants to fit in at school, but maybe even equal to that longing is how much Apple really wants a guitar. When social pressures begin to mount up at school, Apple sees no way out of the veritable tornado of difficult times which include being placed on the “Dog Log” at school, a list that the boys make of the ugliest girls. Listening to The Beatles becomes Apple’s way of coping with the changing times she finds herself in. Luckily for Apple her new friends help her to find a way out of all the chaos. She learns that with music and a little help from her friends she can tackle this tough time.

This touching tribute to the power of music to transform a bad time into a better one and how much a true friend can help you had me nodding in agreement many times. I remember these middle school days very well. Who does not remember the days when you just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere, and when friends suddenly turned into popularity seekers? Blackbird Fly speaks right to the middle school student I was.

The message of the book is one that all middle school students should hear. Find out who your true friends are. Find out what you stand for and the kind of person you want to be. Find your passion in life. Follow the truth and be truthful with others. These are hard lessons to learn, but Erin Entrada Kelly presents a sympathetic heroine who is so easy to relate to. Apple is just learning to navigate the tricky waters of growing up. Kelly writes her character so well. Apple is not perfect, but she is trying her best to find her way. I was rooting for this character all the way through the book and the plot kept me so gripped that I read it in one sitting. It’s very seldom that I’ve read a book so perfectly pitched to the middle grade experience that I would hand it to a girl that age and say, “Here, take this book and you will learn so much about the time you are going through. Use this as a guide.” Blackbird Fly is that book.

References to the Beatles are sprinkled thoughout the book. Even though Apple’s favorite Beatle is George, I can still identify with this character. The best Beatle is of course Paul, but I’m open to debate. Still, you don’t have to be a Beatles fan to understand that sometimes you just want to fly away from difficult situations, but you need to learn how to, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” The moment you were waiting to arrive might come after a difficult time. However, if you can be strong like Apple is and stand for what you believe in then I promise you the moment you were waiting for will finally arrive. Blackbird Fly can be pre-ordered now and will be available on 3/24/15.

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber

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Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America by Russell Freedman

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Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America
by Russell Freedman
(Holiday House, $20.00, Ages 10 and up)

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Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Kirkus & Booklist

Nearly fifty years ago, on March 21, 1965, three thousand people, black and white, Christian and Jew, young and old, began a five day march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama’s state capital) to secure voting rights for African Americans. Although this was not their first attempt, it was highly successful. A judge’s ruling that the march was constitutional, and the presence of the Alabama National Guard, paved the way and protected the marchers from police (and segregationists’) brutality. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their numbers had swelled to 25,000. Nothing, not even Ku Klux Klan blockades, could squelch their courage and spirit.

The impact of this march was immediate. Congress approved the 1965 Voting Rights Act and, by the following summer, 9,000 blacks in Dallas county had registered to vote.

In a clear and compelling narrative, Freedman places the march and preceding events in the context of a society that lived under oppressive “Jim Crow” laws, which effectively legalized and enforced segregation. With the aid of powerful and dramatic, black and white photos, the book conveys to young readers the challenges and the dangers black people faced when demonstrating for their democratic rights, especially the right to vote. The well-chosen images further underscore the marchers’ courage and passion in the face of horrific violence and give readers a sense of immediacy, even fifty years after the event.

Because They Marched is an invaluable resource for helping young readers understand the profound impact that the Civil Rights Movement had on our country’s political and cultural history. It is also recommended as a moving tribute to the courage and determination of a people who sacrificed dearly to obtain democratic rights for all.

The book includes a timeline, source notes, and a selected bibliography.

Kirkus gave this nonfiction book a starred review and named it one of the “Best Books of 2014.”

Find an excerpt of this book at Holiday House along with excellent valuable CCSS (Common Core State Standards) and teaching resources.

Read more about Russell Freedman at the National Endowment for the Humanities and see a Library of Congress webcast featuring the author.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
with illustrations by Raul Colón
(Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Booklist & School Library Journal

Leontyne-Price-cvr.jpgI chose to read and review author Carole Boston Weatherford’s nonfiction picture book biography, Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, not only because I’m a HUGE Porgy and Bess fan, but also to honor a powerhouse performer during Black History Month.

Other African-American kids might not have persevered in light of the pervasive prejudice that existed when Leontyne Price was growing up in the deep south, but thankfully she did. Price was born in 1927, just one year after Melba Doretta Liston, another musical talent. She grew up in Laurel, Mississippi to a hard-working, supportive, and music-loving mother and father. At a young age Leontyne found herself moved by the music she heard:  “Singing along to her daddy James’s records and listening to the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts.” Her parents even sold their phonograph so their daughter could get a piano along with lessons.

Like the opera singer Marian Anderson before her, Leontyne felt the music stir within her as she sang in the church choir. Soon she was heading off to college to pursue a teaching career since, in that era, the chances of becoming a successful black singer seemed out of reach. Surely her talent played a part in that educational opportunity as I read online that she received a scholarship to attend university in Ohio. Everything changed however, when her singing talents were heard by the college president who “convinced her to study voice instead.”

It didn’t take long for Leontyne’s star to begin rising when she attended Julliard and began earning acclaim for her singing. Her first break came when she appeared on Broadway in Porgy and Bess. She was also the “the first black singer to star at La Scala, Italy’s famed opera palace.” What I would have given to be in the audience at that performance! Eventually she landed a lead role at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, breaking new ground for generations of African-American performers to come.

Weatherford points out in her Author’s Note that while Leontyne may have achieved great fame, she “still encountered racism in the United States. To her credit, her wondrous voice overcame the obstacles.” This wonderful biography chronicles the life of an iconic 20th century opera singer who followed her dream and ultimately fulfilled it. As an adult, I can recall watching Price on Ed Sullivan but having no idea of what her  challenges would have been to gain recognition and be on TV. In fact, Weatherford says, “Price was the first black opera singer to perform on television in the United States.” What a great story for kids to read who may take for granted the struggles African-Americans like Price faced in the past. Nowadays it may just take a click of a cell phone to get a video made and uploaded onto YouTube for anyone to see, when in the previous century it may have taken an entire lifetime. I like that young readers can use this book as a jumping off point for reading more about influential African-Americans mentioned such as Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry, Kathleen Battle, and Denyce Graves.

Raul Colón’s illustrations bring the same joy to this picture book that Price’s voice brought to anyone who heard it. From the opening spread, what looks like a rainbow of musical notes, takes on the form of a wave and flows through the book on pages when Leontyne sings. I also like the slight fuzziness of the artwork, as if we’re watching Price’s life unfold as seen on the early days of television broadcasting.

Before reading Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century I had no idea all the firsts this amazing woman achieved and I hope her accomplishments will inspire our 21st century children to keep reaching for the stars.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Celebrate National Love Your Pet Day by Supporting Operation ResCUTE

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It’s National Love Your Pet Day

Operation-ResCUTE.jpgWe’re celebrating. Are you? Did you know that today, February 20th, is National Love Your Pet Day? Why not share the love you have for your pet with others? It’s a great opportunity to encourage rescuing shelter animals and to see just how wonderful it feels.

A 501-C nonprofit organization, Operation ResCUTE, offers limited-edition educational book and stuffed animal sets. Buy a set today and save a dog’s life because 100 percent of profits from their sets goes to animal shelters in support of their adoption efforts! The book’s story aims to teach children empathy and about the benefits of adopting, and how to make a difference in the world. The collectible set shown here comes with an illustrated book, stuffed animal dog from the story and an Operation ResCUTE Club Membership Sticker for $29. Available by clicking here.

To give back, consider buying one or more of their sets to donate to your local school or place of worship. The sets also makes a great birthday gift. Your purchase will be helping to share the invaluable lessons that come from rescuing an animal in need.

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Operation ResCUTE founder, Laurie Brown-Negin, with Jingles.

Founded in 2014 by Laurie Brown-Nagin, Operation ResCUTE is on a mission. Its profits (all 100 percent of them!) go directly towards helping shelter dogs get adopted. A life-long animal activist, Laurie has always been passionate about the protection and safety of animals. Inspired by the younger generations, Laurie set out to shift the conversation away from store bought animals and empower young children to understand the benefits of adopting and how each and every one of them can have a positive impact on the life of a shelter animal.

Each limited-edition Operation ResCUTE gift set is packaged in a cage-like gift box and is carefully designed for the children to feel involved and part of the dog adoption process. How rewarding to be able to educate and enlighten children about adopting shelter dogs in need of loving homes.

The first book in the series, The Story of Jingles, is the true story of Laurie’s rescue of Jingles after she found the dog battered and alone in New York City. A new set will launch this spring. Laurie resides in Connecticut with her husband and has two grown daughters and two four-legged “girls.”

Find Operation ResCUTE on social media sites here:

FACEBOOK
TWITTER
INSTAGRAM
LINKEDIN

 

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Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman

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VEGETABLES IN UNDERWEAR by Jared Chapman
(And what else would you expect them to wear?)

VegetablesinUnderwear-cvr.jpgAt last, a picture book that categorically confirms what we’ve suspected all along: underwear is fun-to-wear! In Vegetables in Underwear (Abrams Appleseed; April 2015, $14.95. Ages 2-5), author/illustrator Jared Chapman revels in this most important milestone of life, graduating from diapers to undies.

The celebration starts at the very beginning. The front endpapers show a variety of vegetables dressed in all kinds of snappy attire. On the copyright page, we cheer for the stalk of broccoli whose evident struggle in taking off his shirt brings to hilarious light the technical difficulties of vegetables undressing. By the dedication page, we are well on our way to the underwear party.

Kids will love the lively contrast of color between the stark white pages and vibrant colors of Chapman’s vegetables. Parents and caregivers will appreciate the multiple layers Chapman offers: names of vegetables, colors, opposites, synonymous for underwear (drawers, undies, briefs, underpants—who knew there were so many??), and days of the week. As a side note, we can assume from our hero, the pea, who blissfully runs about holding (not wearing) his underwear that undergarments are optional on Friday. After all, we do have our own ways to celebrate the kick off of another weekend, don’t we? On the opposite side of the emotion spectrum, we also empathize with our friend, the potato, whose “LITTLE UNDERWEAR” creates an embarrassing, shall we say… AHEM…, “cracking” problem that anyone, human or vegetable, can relate. The author himself certainly admits to this fact on the book jacket, but we won’t hold it against him.

We do come to find out on page 27 that, sadly, the underwear club is an exclusive club. “BABIES DON”T WEAR UNDERWEAR. BABIES WEAR DIAPERS!” As such, they are barred from joining the party, complete with confetti and balloons. But, not to worry, for the closing endpapers show them being comforted by a grown up eggplant whose encouraging pat on the head may perhaps give our baby veggies (as well as our preschool audience) all the more reason to ditch the diapers and put on those big boy/girl underpants.

I thoroughly enjoyed this light hearted book and found myself coming back to Chapman’s loveable characters again and again. Head over to your local independent book seller and pre-order your copy today.

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

ArminehManookianEver since reading her first Berenstain Bears book, reviewer Armineh Manookian has made it her life’s ambition to live in that “big tree house down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country.” When she’s not dreaming about Mama Bear’s kitchen, you can find Armineh in her own, working to keep her cubs well fed. (It’s a full time job!) In addition to kitchen duties, she loves cooking up picture book stories spiced with wacky characters who get into all sorts of trouble. How will they work through their problems? As a former preschool teacher and current mentor, Armineh draws inspiration from those little people whose small size disguises the biggest and bravest heart.

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Book Love Blog Hop – Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds by Jim Stoten

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 Share some book love today!

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Image created by Dana Carey

We’ve joined up with this clever Book Love Blog Hop after being tagged by reviewer and blogger, Cathy Ballou Mealey. The goal is to spread some book love which we’re doing for an imaginative picture book from this past September ’14 called Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds (Flying Eye Books, $19.95, Ages 3-7) by Jim Stoten. The Blog Hop is part of Carrie Finison’s innovative Book Love Blog Hop, and we’re sure you’ll agree that it’s an absolutely brilliant concept!

The idea is to help promote children’s books worthy of positive social media attention. But with so many picture books competing for coverage, it’s difficult for every book to get their 15 minutes (or longer) of fame. As bloggers, we can help get the word out about terrific kidlit titles that may have been overlooked, and play our part in sharing some overdue shout outs.

MrTweed-cvr.jpgMr. Tweed’s Good Deeds, a seek-and-find counting book from 1-10, kept me throughly entertained as I dove in to search the first wildly colorful two-page spread. I was on the lookout for 1 kite that had snapped its string. While trying to locate the kite, I noticed so many other marvelous and zany things the author/illustrator included in a park scene: trees resembling paper airplanes and another sporting sunglasses and a hat, an enormous purple dog, an over-sized snail, some ducks on bikes and even an enormous shoe.  Kids’ll have a blast pointing out the various items they notice as Mr. Tweed helps an unhappy little crocodile retrieve his lost kite.

“It felt good to help people,” Mr. Tweed thought to himself, as he left the park.

Next up Mr. Tweed volunteers to find Tibbles and Timkins, 2 adorable kittens belonging to Mrs. Fluffycuddle, that are hiding in a cottage garden. For Americans, the depiction of English scenery is a great introduction to another country although, apart from the double decker buses and no punctuation after Mr. or Mrs., it might be hard to realize the illustrator and book are from the U.K.

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Interior artwork from Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds by Jim Stoten, Flying Eye Books ©2014.

Kids and parents alike will have to use keen observation skills to spot the missing mice in the third spread which is a library packed with shelves and shelves of books. My favorite illustrations were of the pool, the market and the river, but I think youngsters will also enjoy the woods, the bustling street scene, the fair, and the big surprise waiting at the end.

Mr. Tweed’s kind gestures do not go unrewarded! Best of all, parents and kids will also be rewarded by the fun that is certain to be found exploring every inch of every single page in this cheerful, quirky counting picture book with its eye-popping artwork and its positive message. Try a little kindness and see how contagious it can be!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

BOOK LOVE Blog Hop Instructions

1. Pick some books you love (any genre) that you think deserve more attention than they are getting.

2. Post reviews for the books you chose on Amazon/social media. The reviews can be brief – even a short review on Amazon helps. Posting on Goodreads or Shelfari is great, too, or Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. The more places you can publicly proclaim your love, the better!

3. If you want, you can also post the reviews on your own blog, or link your blog back to your reviews on social media.

4. Feel free to display the BOOK LOVE badge designed by Dana Carey on your blog – and if you want, link it back to this post so your visitors know what it’s all about.

5. Tag some friends to do the same! Tag friends through their blogs, or on Facebook.

That’s it! If you don’t want to wait to be tagged, you can jump right in and start reviewing and tagging yourself.

Good Reads With Ronna tags Danielle Davis, Mia Wenjen, Valarie Budayr and Catherine Friess. 

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