I am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer

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I AM MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
(ORDINARY PEOPLE CHANGE THE WORLD)
Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

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This fabulous nonfiction series called Ordinary People Change the World asks the question, “What makes a hero?” Then, while his latest, I am Martin Luther King, Jr. takes its place alongside seven previously published titles, author Meltzer answers that question. By honing in on certain positive traits of the young King, the biographer immediately pulls readers in while introducing this great man born 87 years ago.

As a child, MLK got “into a lot of accidents,” but never let unfortunate circumstances keep him down. Recounted in first person, King tells us, “No matter how many times I fell, I kept getting back up.” Enamored with the power of language, King surrounded himself with books, ultimately becoming the powerhouse speaker who, at age 35, won a Noble Peace Prize and is still frequently quoted today. His negative experiences with segregation and racism began at an early age. But, rather than hate, King’s parents taught the angry young boy “that it’s better to have more love in your life than hate.” He also learned that the color of his skin did not make him any less of a person. “You are as good as anyone,” his mother told him. Throughout his formative years, King felt the injustice in society and was determined to make changes. Influenced by the writings of Thoreau and Gandhi, MLK strove to eliminate segregation peacefully, without violence.

The arrest of Rosa Parker for refusing to give up her seat on a bus prompted a yearlong boycott of the buses in Montgomery, Alabama by black people. It worked! This was a pivotal time for the growing civil rights movement. King gave a moving speech about justice and moral courage, but was also arrested for orchestrating the boycott. King’s strategy led to countless other protests, and sit-ins as he helped give voice to a people whose growing calls for equality needed to be heard. The Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama and then the massive March on Washington were turning points in history culminating with MLK’s powerful I Have a Dream speech. Soon after “the president and Congress passed new laws for civil rights,” but the work for equality was still not over. Black people had no rights to vote and that, too, had to be overcome. Eventually, it was.

Conveyed via text and speech bubbles, and illustrated in Eliopoulos’s fun-to-look-at comic-style (who can resist the mustachioed, mini-sized, black suited MLK narrator), I am Martin Luther King, Jr., is an ideal way to introduce youngsters to one of America’s great leaders. Not only does Meltzer share some of the most important aspects of MLK’s life with children, but he makes it meaningful, memorable and moving for such a short book. The back matter includes a timeline, some photos, as well as sources and further reading for kids. I thoroughly enjoyed this kid-friendly picture book that combines Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inspirational story along with “Dr. King’s actual dialogue whenever possible.” It clearly demonstrates to children how one individual, armed with only a dream and determination, can make a huge difference and a lasting impression in the world.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Children’s Books for Inauguration Day

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Best Books for Inauguration Day 2017

 

As our nation’s 45th president, Donald Trump, is sworn in, it feels fitting to share these three presidential-themed picture books looking at all aspects of a presidency including leadership qualities, first ladies and pets. Enjoy the variety!

 

cover image of President SquidPresident Squid
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Sara Varon
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Meet Squid. He’s going to be president and he’s going to be “the greatest president who ever lived.” Towards this goal Squid’ll do five things other presidents have done including:
1. Wearing ties.
2. Living in an enormous house (don’t miss the shark who has just taken a bite out of Squid’s home and is quickly leaving the scene.
3. Being famous and having a book named after him.
4. Talking so everyone has to listen.
5. Bossing everybody.
But somehow the way Squid conveys those qualities doesn’t seem to go over too well with all the other fish in the sea. It takes a very little sardine stuck in a clamshell to explain the true qualities of a special leader which Squid attempts to do. Ultimately though, this all proves to be too exhausting and the way Squid sees it, it might be even better to be king!
Though published last year, the tongue-in-cheek humor of this story still resonates today. Reynolds has found a fun way to help parents make kids laugh while starting the conversation about ego, leadership and character. Varon’s illustrations depicting a hot pink squid jump off the page and grab our attention just like Squid wants.

Cover image of What's The Big Deal About First LadiesWhat’s The Big Deal About First Ladies
Written by Ruby Shamir
Illustrated by Matt Faulkner
(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

One of the What’s The Big Deal About new series of books, this entertaining and informative picture book is a timely read as we welcome on the second foreign-born first lady to the White House, the first being Louisa Adams. Melania Trump is following in the footsteps of some amazing women including Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and so many more.

Author and former White House staffer (including two years working in the first lady’s office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then leading her NY Senate office), Ruby Shamir poses a bunch of questions that kids might ask about the role of first lady. She answers them but doesn’t rely on lengthy responses. Rather she uses fact boxes to highlight some of the most meaningful and interesting contributions America’s first ladies have made.

“I’m so excited to offer young readers a window into the most important contributions this diverse array of patriotic women have made to our culture and history,” says author Shamir. “Even when women’s opportunities were hampered by custom or law, America’s first ladies turned an ill-defined, very public role into an opportunity to serve our country and shine a spotlight on our finest ideals.”

What’s The Big Deal About First Ladies helps young readers gain insight into the many responsibilities of a first lady. The following examples will also help youngsters appreciate the positive impact first ladies can make on our country: Did you know that Abigail Adams was not only a first lady but the first second lady (Vice President’s wife)? Or that Julia Grant opened up White House events to curious reporters? Or that Grace Coolidge was famous for having a pet raccoon named Rebecca, and having taught deaf children, she got her husband to pay attention to people with disabilities? Mary Todd Lincoln was the first first lady to welcome African Americans to the White House as guests. And when Eleanor Roosevelt learned opera singer Marian Anderson was banned from a concert hall for being African American, Roosevelt was instrumental in getting her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead!

Shamir’s keen curation of which first ladies to cover invites curious children to delve deeper with additional reading.  Faulkner’s artwork gives a loose interpretation of the featured women, honing in on some key aspects of the first ladies’ lives and breathing life into every scene. There’s also a handy list in the back matter of all the presidents, their term dates and the first ladies’ names that, along with the fascinating content, make this an excellent addition to any classroom or library.

Cover image from Presidential PetsPresidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary,
Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House
Written by Julia Moberg
Illustrated by Jeff Albrecht Studios
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $7.48, Ages 3-7)

A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens?
Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces with each turn of the page.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Ada Twist, Scientist Written by Andrea Beaty

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ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST
Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by David Roberts
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $17.95, Ages 5-7)

 

Cover image from Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

 

Ada Twist, Scientist is the third rhyming picture book from Andrea Beaty and David Roberts featuring an extraordinary child whose talents can be problematic. Ada Marie Twist doesn’t speak until age three then asks “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose?” “Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?” Her parents tell her that she will figure it out.

Throughout the chaotic story, Ada tries to find the source of a terrible smell. Though the reader is never told where it comes from, children will be happy to help Ada out. The crazy antics of Ada’s experiments are illustrated in vivid detail.

When her parents finally have enough, they send Ada to the family’s “Thinking Chair.” In this pivotal page, we see small Ada surrounded by white space—with a sharpened red pencil surreptitiously nearby. Kids gleefully grasp what comes next as Ada cannot contain her big thoughts.

Thankfully, her parents understand. “They watched their young daughter and sighed as they did. What would they do with this curious kid, who wanted to know what the world was about? They smiled and whispered, ‘We’ll figure it out.’” Together, they help Ada become a young scientist . . . if only Ada could figure out where that awful smell originates.

Readers of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect will notice that Miss Lila Greer’s second-grade class (including students Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck) make cameo appearances in Ada Twist, Scientist. Graph-paper backgrounds again evoke mathematical calculations which contrast nicely with the colorful, humorous images.

Teaching guide and activities available here.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Happy New Year 2017!!

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A NEW YEAR MEANS NEW STORIES TO SHARE

Dear Readers, 
We’re hard at work sorting through stacks of books to bring you a whole new batch of kidlit reviews, interviews and giveaways in 2017. Most importantly, we want to wish you a happy, healthy and story-filled New Year!

 


Christmas Tree Picture Books Roundup

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CHRISTMAS TREE PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP
By Christine Van Zandt

 

Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree
Written and illustrated by Lori Nichols
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

What happens when it seems your sister is allergic to Christmas? Find out in Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree, a thirty-two-page children’s picture book, the fourth in the series. What begins as the best Christmas ever—the first year sisters Maple and Willow are getting a real Christmas tree—soon becomes problematic when Maple starts sneezing.

To quell Maple’s symptoms, the tree is placed outside. Willow’s sharp words make Maple feel sad about ruining their Christmas. That night, Willow regrets her outburst and has an idea to mend the bad feelings between them. Her ingenious solution takes some hard work but she can’t wait until morning time and, instead, wakes up Maple to show her the big surprise.

Nichols’ slim text complements her whimsical artwork which captures the girls’ emotions well. The cheerful pencil drawings leave plenty of white space on the page, evoking a cold winter scene, a nice contrast to warmth of the sisters.

 

The Christmas Eve Tree
Written by Delia Huddy
Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

The Christmas Eve Tree begins in a forest of Christmas trees where one was planted carelessly, “so that when the wind blew strong it fell sideways onto its neighbor and had no chance to grow.” In this thirty-two-page children’s picture book, we find this little tree is about to get thrown out on Christmas Eve until a homeless boy asks if he can have it. Taking care to not snap its crooked branches, the boy plants the tree in a cardboard box. We share the tree’s thoughts, finding it goes from feeling pitiful to proud when recognizing that it belongs to someone.

In the boy’s homeless village, the tree’s boughs are decorated and an accordion plays a Christmas song to which they sing along. Soon the passersby stop to join in, creating a lively community. “The little fir tree felt it would burst with happiness, because clearly the boy had forgotten that tonight he would be sleeping in a cardboard box.”

Days later, the boy moves on, sadly leaving the mostly dead tree behind. The street sweeper notices some green shoots and, instead of discarding the tree, cleverly plants it in a corner of the park where it lives on, providing a gathering place for people and animals.

The book’s rich watercolor images by Sutton have an old-time feel; their saturated colors contrast with the ivory paper. While the fir straightens out and grows a thicker trunk, the concluding pictures show us that its branches are still sparse. Yet, it doesn’t matter because, in the end, everyone is happy—including the tree.

NOTE: “Delia Huddy worked as an editor in children’s publishing in a long career that included many happy years at Julia MacRae Books in London, after which she became editorial director at Random House UK. She was also an author of novels, picture books, and younger fiction. At the end of her life, in 2005, Delia Huddy was working on the text for The Christmas Eve Tree.”


The Great Spruce

Written by John Duvall
Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

The great spruce, Alec’s favorite climbing tree, captures the attention of some men who are passing through town. Astounded that his parents agree to let the tree be cut down for the city’s Christmas celebration, Alec places himself between it and the chainsaw, imploring that they borrow the tree instead. Soon everyone is digging.

A tugboat transports the tree to the city; Alec and his grandpa accompany their tree on this delightful voyage. In downtown, when Alec flips the switch to light the tree, a young girl declares it the most wonderful tree ever and asks if it can stay. Alec explains that the tree is just visiting then gives her a pinecone and instructions on how to plants the seeds.

The tree returns home to grow even taller. Later, when Alec climbed the tree and “looked hard enough through his telescope, he could just make out the tiny sapling that took root in the big city square.” Alec’s love of nature demonstrates how one person’s courage and creativity can directly impact the environment.

The Great Spruce is a forty-page children’s picture book enlivened with colorful images. Gibbon’s acrylic ink and colored pencil style works for both the serene country scenes as well as the busy cityscapes.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/


Best Hanukkah Books 2016 – A Roundup

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BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
A Roundup by Ronna Mandel

 

Hanukkah Delight!
Hanukkah Delight by Leslea Newman book coverWritten by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy Husband
(Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4)

An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as:
Friends and neighbors to invite, 
Ancient blessings we recite.
Gleaming candles burning bright,
Crispy latkes taste just right.

 

A Hanukkah With MazelA Hanukkah With Mazel by Joel Edward Epstein
Written by Joel Edward Stein
Illustrated by Elisa Vavouri
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, $6.99 eBook, Ages 3-8)

Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazel is flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.

Yitzi and the Giant Menorah cover imageYitzi and the Giant Menorah
Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar
(Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.


Debbie Powell’s Walk This World at Christmastime

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WALK THIS WORLD AT CHRISTMASTIME
Written by Big Picture Press
Illustrated by Debbie Powell
(Big Picture Press; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

Walk This World at Christmastime, a twenty-four-page picture book, is an interesting and unusual addition to your holiday books. Set up as an advent calendar, the relatively sturdy lift-the-flap windows numbering one through twenty-five reveal images and accompanying text. Each page has additional flaps for curious fingers to discover, bringing the total of interactive windows to more than seventy. The left-hand page contains a four-line loosely rhyming poem and the concluding line “Where am I?” Beautiful background illustrations and clues beneath the flaps help readers solve this question (the answer is provided on the right-hand page).

A younger child will enjoy the many tactile experiences and the colorful, abundant pictures. Older kids will gain a deeper understanding of how different cultures celebrate Christmas around the world, learning our similarities such as “Candles at Christmas are a symbol of the triumph of light over darkness.” New ways to celebrate will be discovered as well: “The Gävle goat is a giant Swedish Yule goat made from straw.” Diversity in religious practices are explained: “In Lalibela, Ethiopia, Christian pilgrims dressed in white robes flock to the beautiful rock churches.” Interspersed historical tidbits inform, for example, that the first advent calendar was made in Germany in 1851.

Many pages have fun food facts. “The Chinese give gifts of apples on Christmas Eve,” “Enjoy a Lebanese Christmas feat of kibbeh pie—made from minced meat and bulgur—along with tabbouleh and honey cake.”

Walk This World at Christmastime concludes with an easy-to-follow world map depicting the book’s journey. A dotted line connects the countries and continents, uniting our world through our holiday celebrations.

Read about illustrator Debbie Powell here.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/


Dreidels on the Brain by Joel ben Izzy for Readukkah

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DREIDELS ON THE BRAIN
By Joel ben Izzy
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Dreidels on the Brain car

 

 

When I adore a book, and I did adore Joel ben Izzy’s Dreidels on The Brain, I tend to read every last word from the dedication to the acknowledgements. In doing so I happened to find this gem at the bottom of the copyright page:

“This is a work of fiction… and of friction–the kind that filled the author’s childhood. Although much is based upon actual people, places, and events from his life, he has taken great liberties in all these realms–as well as spelling–to recount a story set over the course of the eight days of Hanukkah, 1971.”
There’s more, but you’ll just have to get a copy to read on.

Ben Izzy is a renowned storyteller and Dreidels on The Brain is his first foray into fiction for kids, middle grade readers to be precise, and I hope he writes more. His ability to convincingly convey time, place, character, conflict and voice was not lost on this reader who grew up in that era. Dreidels on The Brain is so much more than a Hanukkah story. It’s a heartwarming coming-of-age novel filled with memorable laugh out loud moments and it seems to have fun with itself and the reader who will quickly catch on to all the zany things Izzy’s included. He’s spelled Hanukkah a ton of different ways and, when he gets the opportunity, does the same with ketchup. On top of this there are lots of jokes, insight into magic tricks, great cultural references, and just the right amount of Yiddish words added to an already winning mix.

As mentioned above, Dreidels on The Brain is set in 1971, Temple City, California, just east of Los Angeles with no temple to be found. The main character’s Jewish family (whose last name shall not be revealed here) actually attends a temple or synagogue in nearby Rosemead. Joel, the self-proclaimed funny-looking main character, is short, has braces, wears glasses, and is the odd man out as the school’s only Jewish student.

Nine chapters take readers through Joel’s eight days and nights of Hanukkah. Ben Izzy has managed to seamlessly weave magic, miracles, matzoh balls, and music from Fiddler on The Roof into an unforgettable story of a boy, on the cusp of adulthood according to the Jewish religion, wanting to be anyone, but himself. This all plays out over the Hanukkah holiday while touching upon faith, family, friends, and one particular female named Amy O’Shea. Readers will find it easy to root for the lovable protagonist and, like him and the message of his dreidel game, wish that a great miracle could happen there.

Joel, a tween with soon-to-be teen angst, is questioning his belief in God as he navigates his role as school dork, token Jew, and the youngest son in his family of five including two older brothers. His parents are struggling financially, but his mom never gives up hope for better times ahead. His dad, unemployed, is always on the verge of creating the next must-have invention, all while coping with his debilitating arthritis. Although it’s clear there’s much love in Joel’s family, as seen through the eyes of this twelve-year-old boy, there’s not much to be desired about his life. For example, he never gets a Hanukkah present as it’s simply not affordable. Joel does manage to make some spending money by performing magic tricks at parties, but when classmate Amy suggests they team up because an assistant will add to a magic show’s appeal, Joel finds himself falling for this girl he considers to be way out of his league.

The plot lines center around Joel having to perform a magic show at his grandma’s nursing home, his dad needing surgery over Hanukkah, and an invitation from the principal to present the Hanukkah story to the entire school at a special assembly. Will everything go according to plan convincing Joel that miracles can happen? “All I can do is answer the way Jews always do–with another question. Why not?”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel for #Readukkah