Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford

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Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford
with illustrations by Stacey Schuett
(Creston Books, 2014. $16.95, Ages 4-11)

“What do you do when your celebration needs a candle, but yours are all gone?”

winter-candle-cvr.jpgNana Clover needs a candle for her Thanksgiving meal. The Danziger family forgot to get a havdalah candle. The fifth candle on Kirsten’s St. Lucia crown broke. Donte’s baby brother, Jamila cheerfully eats the Faith candle for the Kwanzaa kinara. How will Faruq and Nasreen’s father find their new apartment during a power outage?

A ” … bumpy, drooping candle” is passed from one neighbor to the next in a close knit and supportive apartment community. At first, the candle is seen as quite ugly. Kirsten worries that everyone will laugh at her if she uses it in her crown. Donte wonders how his family will be able to “… talk about faith with that sorry thing…” The Danziger children complain that it is not braided and only has one wick. Grandpa Danziger, hushing his grandchildren, tells them ” … a candle is blessed by what it does, not by how it looks. It’ll shine.”

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Interior artwork from Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford with illustrations by Stacey Schuett, Creston Books, ©2014.

Sure enough, when lit, the “frumpy” little candle glows more brightly and seems to last longer than other candles. All the celebrations go through without a hitch. Nasreen and Faruq are able to use it to guide their father to their new apartment where all the neighbors have gathered to welcome the family.

A lovely and heartwarming story for the holidays (and everyday) about sharing, caring, and supporting others’ needs and traditions.

Schuett’s rich illustrations glow as warmly and as brightly as the story’s candle.

Author Ashford concludes with a brief note about the holidays mentioned in her story.

Visit Creston Books to read more about the award-winning author and illustrator. This story has many wonderful curriculum connections: research, writing, crafts and more. Please see the excellent curriculum and activity guide the publisher created for this book.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

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Goatilocks and the Three Bears by Erica S. Perl

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Goatilocks and the Three Bears written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Arthur Howard
(Simon & Schuster, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

goatilocks-and-the-three-bears-cvr.jpgWe know the story of curious Goldilocks, the little girl who goes a bit overboard snooping around the bears’ house. But Goatilocks? Why not? In this picture book, Perl has fractured the beloved fairy tale in a way that parents may see coming, but is still sure to make (human) kids laugh.

This kid, Goatilocks, happens to live nearby three bears who happen to be setting off on a walk (check out Papa Bear’s camera). Not one to shy away from private property, Goatilocks decides to check the place out while the residents are gone. However, rather than following tradition by sampling all three bowls of porridge and ultimately consuming the baby’s portion, this kid not only enjoys the baby’s porridge, but proceeds to devour the entire bowl, and spoon! So you can just imagine what Goatilocks gets up to with the furniture she tries out. And when I say some stuffing’s involved I don’t mean Stovetop!

When at last the guilty goat is discovered, you may think you know what happens next. But remember this is a fractured fairy tale and anything goes! Suffice it to say that thankfully this little kid has a conscience …. and is not the only one in the neighborhood with a boundless appetite!

Howard’s simple, and sweet illustrations are perfect for this picture book. They’re funny, full of expression and don’t overwhelm the story. In other words, they’re just right

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper

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Lowriders in Space written by Cathy Camper
and illustrated by Raul The Third (Raul Gonzalez III)
(Chronicle Books, 2014; paperback $9.99, hardcover $22.99, Ages 8-12)

✩Starred Reviews – Kirkus & Publishers Weekly

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Last month I met the editor of Lowriders in Space at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers an Illustrators) event and her enthusiasm about this new graphic novel was contagious. I couldn’t wait to read it and find out what all the buzz was about.  Now I know and intend to spread some serious bajito y suavecito (translation: low and slow) love your way! Lowriders in Space worked for me on so many levels, but I’ll start with Camper’s creative storyline since that’s what will capture kids’ attention and it’s what drives this novel forward.

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Interior artwork from Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Raul The Third, Chronicle ©2014.

Middle grade readers will easily get on board with Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria, the three amiable and unusual main characters whose impressive automobile-related skills help them reach new heights. The trio are eager to leave the used car dealership where they work and in order to do so they decide to enter the Universal Car Competition. With its grand prize haul of  “… a carload of cash and a solid gold steering wheel,” winning the UCC would provide the seed money needed to open their own garage. They immediately get started with a broken down shell of a car, ” … so slow it didn’t even go.” Then, utilizing their individual expertise (Lupe’s a self-taught auto-mechanic – YES, she fixes cars like a girl, Elirio’s a detail artist, and Flapjack’s an eight-armed cleaning marvel), they make a plan of action. The three contribute whatever funds they can muster up and find spare rocket parts at an old airplane junkyard. Will the resulting lowrider be special enough to win first place?

Camper’s tale is unique and engaging. It’s obvious she had a blast writing it. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it with anything but Raul’s original artwork and the impressive interplay between text and illustration. His ballpoint pen illustrations in black, blue and red on a yellowy-beige background are going to grab readers (even the most reluctant ones), pull them in and keep them thoroughly entertained. He’s created a retro feel that joyfully took me back to my youth, when buying comic books with my allowance was a much anticipated weekly outing. This book deserves multiple visits to pick up the many details included, so read, observe and admire.

Another highlight for me was how Camper’s incorporated many Spanish words and phrases for the reader to learn. Whenever there’s an * readers can find the translation below, plus there’s a glossary in the back with Mexican-American slang, car and astronomy terms (oh and don’t miss this section because there’s more to read afterwards and readers can get their appetites whet for Book 2).  So, in addition to having a strong Latino female character who repairs cars, Lowriders in Space also introduces readers to the culture of lowriders, it mixes in facts about outer space, and is equally accessible to reluctant readers as well as those simply seeking a rollicking ride that’s totally cosmic and caliente. In other words, this lowrider delivers!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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