Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders

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OLIVE MARSHMALLOW
Written and illustrated by Katie Saunders
(Little Bee Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

 

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Meet Archie, the main character of this adorable new picture book, Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders, inspired by her actual experience when she was expecting her second child.

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Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.

 

Archie has noticed something different at home. His mom is looking BIGGER. She shows him the ultrasound image, something I haven’t seen in other books, but was happy Saunders thought to include it.

“This is your baby sister growing in Mommy’s tummy,” she says.

Archie is going to be a big brother. Unlike most older siblings usually concerned about a new child stealing the show, this little lad only briefly wonders if he wants a baby sister because what he really likes are “cars, trains, and playing ninjas.” The only objection he seems to have about the changes afoot is all the pinkness that’s filling the house.

He is ABSOLUTELY sure that he doesn’t like fluffy, frilly, very pink things.

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Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.

For a lot of parents, Archie may seem to be the ideal son, but that’s what’s so sweet about this simple picture book. Olive Marshmallow is actually a super story to share with kids about the imminent arrival of another family member because it’s completely positive, setting it apart from so many of the rivalry-themed books. While those books are very important, and do indeed serve a purpose for helping kids find the words for feelings they may not otherwise be able to articulate, it’s refreshing to read a more innocent approach. Plus the switched on mom in the story is a reassuring presence. While things may not remain the same once the baby comes along, there will be twice the number of toys, and someone to play with (eventually). So it’s no surprise that from the moment Archie meets his marshmallow of a baby sister, it’s love at first sight.

In addition to the upbeat text, this feel good book exudes such joy as a result of Saunder’s lovely palate of soft pinks and baby blues. Her illustration style is a delightful blend of Lauren Child meets Nick Sharratt that kids will love. And you’ll notice she’s included a pet kitty you can point out to your child for some good laughs. Hint: Look for the cat dressed up in a tutu and crown. Things may not be the same anymore for Archie, but they sure will be better!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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The Tiny Traveler Board Book Series by Misti Kenison

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The Tiny Traveler: France, A Book of Colors &
The Tiny Traveler: Egypt, A Book of Shapes

Written and illustrated by Misti Kenison
(Sky Pony Press; $5.95, Ages 0-2)

I love to travel, in fact my whole family does, and I can’t think of a better bug to catch than the travel bug. So, when I read about Misti Kenison’s new board book series introducing shapes and colors through foreign destinations, I had to check them out. What a clever way to get the littlest members of your family thinking about faraway lands and all the delights in store when venturing abroad.

The Tiny Traveler: France, A Book of Colors france-cover includes the Moulin Rouge and a dancer in a red dress, a purple rose window of a cathedral, three slices of cheese inside a baguette, a white Arc de Triomphe, a black beret, an orange sunset outside the Louvre, a finely manicured green garden that could be the Tuileries, a brown gargoyle decorating Notre Dame, and last but not least, the Eiffel Tower. It’s gray during the day but turns a sparkling blue at night. As you can see from the cover, the illustrations are colorful yet unembellished. Youngsters are given clues with each page color to help them recognize the word which is always in upper case. The best part, you don’t even need to know the famous landmarks to be able to give your child a taste of France and the colorful scenery on offer.

The Tiny Traveler: Egypt, A Book of Shapesegypt-cover  puts the famed Great Sphinx right into your toddler’s hands, but before that there are the pyramids. “The front of the pyramid is a TRIANGLE.” There’s an Egyptian mummy’s rectangular beard, a square on the camel’s rug which covers his hump, and of course, “The sphinx’s head is a HEXAGON.” Kenison’s found a jar to use for an oval shape, hieroglyphics indicating a cross (this example is a bit challenging), a star in a geometrically-patterned window, and a heart shape on the back of a beetle (scarab). Finishing up their shape tour of Egypt, children will see a spread with the sun, followed by the last spread of a crescent moon, both high above ancient minarets in magical looking day and nighttime settings. There is a bold geometric example of the shape on the text page opposite each monument or item described and it’s also outlined in the scene so finding it is easy.

The Tiny Traveler board books are a fun and different way to educate your toddlers about the basic concepts of colors and shapes all from the comforts of your favorite rocking chair. I have no doubt after sharing these books, parents will find their children looking for shapes and colors in all they encounter.

- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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ONE PLASTIC BAG: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul

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ONE PLASTIC BAG:
Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Written by Miranda Paul
Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
(Millbrook Press; $19.99, Ages 5-9)

 

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One gusty day in early spring, a plastic bag snagged onto a bare branch of a tall maple tree in my backyard. In even the lightest breeze, it would whistle and snap in an irritatingly syncopated rhythm. I wished – to no avail – that newly sprouting green leaves would dampen the twisting, flapping, rustling and puffing. I encouraged squirrels to snatch the bag for nest-lining. I thought about climbing a ladder with rake in hand to yank it down. Finally one windy wonderful fall day, it was gone!

My plastic bag story is neither inspiring nor life-changing, but Miranda Paul’s new book ONE PLASTIC BAG is the complete opposite. Paul conveys the true story of Isatou Ceesay, a Gambian woman who uncovers a creative solution to reduce plastic trash in her community. Carelessly discarded plastic bags were causing problems. Water collected in the ugly plastic trash heaps and became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Goats were sickened by eating the bags, and burning bags produced terrible smoke.

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Interior artwork from One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon; Millbrook Press ©2015.

Ceesay devises a way to clean the bags and turn them into plastic strands that can be crocheted into purses. She organizes groups of village women to work together, cleaning trash from their community, producing income from the sale of the purses, and empowering the women in the process.

Paul uses simple lyrical devices to tell the story, employing a counting refrain throughout that “One becomes two. Then ten. Then a hundred.” Following the story of Ceesay, readers will quickly catch on to the idea that the actions of one person can ripple far and have a broader impact for the greater good.

The text brings Gambia to life by weaving elements of sounds, smells and color throughout the story in a manner that always seems natural and organic. Illustrator Elizabeth Zunon used her personal collection of patterned papers and shopping bags to make bright, engaging collage images that ring with authenticity.

ONE PLASTIC BAG is a wonderful story for classrooms and families alike who are interested in true stories about ordinary people finding a way to make a positive change in the world. The back of the book contains an informative author’s note, a timeline, glossary, and a list of other biographies about inspiring change makers.

Don’t miss this beautiful and inspiring true story from West Africa. You may find, as my daughter did, that you will never look at a plastic bag in the same way ever again!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of ONE PLASTIC BAG from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Swing Sisters by Karen Deans

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CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH WITH
SWING SISTERS:
THE STORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL SWEETHEARTS OF RHYTHM
Written by Karen Deans
Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
(Holiday House; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

 

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In 2014 and 2015 readers have been treated to a number of fantastic narrative nonfiction picture books. Today’s review features yet another add-it-to-your-collection book, the story of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm as recounted in the impressive Swing Sisters.

Back in the very early 20th century, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones established an orphanage called Piney Woods Country Life. It was here that he would ensure African American children could thrive and he did so not only by letting kids be kids, but also by having them do work at the school “to earn their keep.” Using this same philosophy, he organized a school band “just for girls,” to “help raise money for the school.” Anyone involved in the band had to consider their role as an additional job on top of school work and other responsibilities at Piney Woods.

The girls played a kind of music called swing. It was jazz music that brought people to their feet, “that music was filled with energy!” It also touched people from all walks of life because it made them feel alive and excited. The girls’ group, named The Sweethearts by Dr. Jones, eventually left Piney Woods to launch a career starting in Washington, D.C. They traveled by bus and performed all over America. Their hard work and dedication helped them hit the “big-time,” at one point playing to a crowd of thirty-five thousand at the Howard Theater in Washington!

By this point the band was known as The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and though America’s Sweethearts were consummate entertainers, they still encountered gender and race discrimination. The Jim Crow laws meant they couldn’t work together with white people, so for the most part they played “for black audiences.” Since their band was multi-racial, they were essentially breaking the law in certain states. There was even one occasion when white band members had to flee or risk arrest. I was happy to learn that during WWII, the USO “arranged a six-month tour for the band to travel to France, Belgium, and Germany.” But at the same time I’m disappointed that, despite having played for the troops abroad, the group’s USO tour is something we rarely hear about.

L.A. local Cepeda’s acrylic-and-oil artwork, with its retro woodcut look and expressiveness, is a bonus. He’s captured the era through a rainbow of colors that dazzle and delight. And, how lucky for us that Deans has chosen to shed light on this group of talented and committed female musicians who were throwing rocks at the glass ceiling way before other women thought it was even possible. Their days on the jazz circuit made inroads for countless women performers who would follow in their swinging footsteps. There’s not a dull sentence in this story thanks in part to the subject matter, but also owing a great deal to Deans’ talent. She’s brought the experience of being a trailblazing band to life in a richly crafted picture book that begs to be shared with early school goers.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to read an enlightening interview with author Karen Deans.

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Half-Life by Tina Ferraro Book Blitz

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Half-Life by Tina Ferraro
Leap Books, 2015 (March 24),
108 pp., Kindle Edition $1.99
& Rafflecopter Giveaway

 

Probably not a good idea to take advice from your dead twin sister.

Half-Life, Tina Ferraro’s new YA novella from Leap Books, is my favorite kind of ghost story: one in which the ghost is someone you are happy to see and wish would stick around. I’ve read several of Ferraro’s teen romances — she’s been a finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA award twice — and while the supernatural twist is new, the elements I enjoy most in her books are all here: a main character who is frank, funny, and a bit clumsy; family dynamics that are real and give the story depth; and a sweet, good-hearted love interest. Thankfully, the love interest is not the ghost in question (that could get awkward!). Rather, the ghost is main character Trisha Traynor’s identical twin sister Chessie, who died from a virus when the twins were just five. Soon after Chessie died, Abby Lowe became Trisha’s best friend, helping fill the void Chessie left in Trisha’s life.

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Now that Trisha and Abby are sophomores in high school, Abby is obsessing over a new boyfriend, and Trisha feels like she’s been dumped. Who can you turn to when your best friend turns away? Trisha’s mom is always super busy, determined to live exclusively in the present so she doesn’t have to address her grief and guilt over the death of her child. Since Mom’s no help, Trisha finds support in a very unexpected place. On Halloween night, Chessie appears as a reflection in a mirror with a plan to help Trisha fix her friendship with Abby. The first action item: get Trisha a boyfriend of her own, pronto.

Sensing a supernatural time limit (Chessie keeps consulting an invisible wrist watch), Trisha sets her sights on attainable Chadwick O’Reilly instead of her longtime crush, drop-dead gorgeous Kirk Maxwell. But Trisha’s choices aren’t all working out so well. The more she sees of Chadwick, the creepier he looks. She assumes Kirk is out of her league, but maybe he’s actually interested? And not even Chessie can understand why Trisha is willing to risk everything to get on the good side of her mean-spirited next-door neighbor, Dawn Dupree.

– Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

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tn3Author Bio: Tina Ferraro been writing since she learned to hold a pencil, and sold upwards of a hundred short stories to national magazines before turning to novels. She is the author of three Random House novels, The ABC’s of Kissing Boys, How to Hook a Hottie and Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress, which have received distinctions such as the ABA Book Sense Award and two RITA nominations.

Her fourth YA, The Starter Boyfriend, has spent time on Amazon’s Top 100 Lists. She lives in Los Angeles with her rocket scientist husband, two cats and whichever of their three young adult children is in town. When not writing, she enjoys playing Facebook Scrabble, swimming, and chasing coyotes out of her neighborhood.

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RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Others on the Blitz:

March 16th

Word to Dreams

A Little Bit of R&R 

Twinning for Books 

March 17th

Tattered Book Blog 

Somewhere Over Yonder 

Forever Lost In Other Worlds 

March 18th

After the Last Page 

Electively Paige 

Queekie Girl Reads 

March 19th

Reese’s Reviews 

CiCi’s Theories 

Girl With Pen 

March 20th

Michelle’s Minions 

Lindsay and Jane’s Views and Reviews 

Good Reads with Ronna 

March 23rd

Jessica Bayliss 

Ali’s Books 

Emma Michaels 

 

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FRED by Kaila Eunhye Seo

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FRED
Written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo
(Peter Pauper Press; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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The back cover of FRED, a new picture book, teases readers by posing an interesting question: “What would you do if you had the ability to see and believe in things that others could not?”  It is a compelling invitation to dive into the magical and mystical world of the protagonist, Fred, a small town boy whose imaginary friends fill his world with fun.

Seo builds a fantasy story in which our ordinary day-to-day activities like walking, reading, and shopping are enhanced by kindly gentle creatures who help us by moving branches and providing shade. We can’t see these delightful furry, multi-eyed, prong-horned critters who have the best of intentions, but lucky Fred can! Together he and the creatures jump, swing, and slide and become the best of friends.

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Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

When Fred gets a bit older, he starts school and his days are filled with new, human friends. But his faithful companions remain nearby, looking in the classroom windows, stretching beside him in gym class, and chomping in the cafeteria. After school, Fred wants to play with his new friends. Day after day, the critters wait patiently for Fred, until their hope slowly fades away. Then one day, Fred forgets about them entirely and doesn’t even see them anymore.

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Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

Seo’s talents lie squarely in the illustration arena, and her black and white scenes are filled with delightful details and crisp composition. Fred’s imaginary friends are cuddly and fierce some at once, with wide set round eyes, horns striped like party hats, and wonderfully shaggy fur. They have sweetly fanged smiles and enthusiastic expressions. On the fateful day that Fred ages away, their sad, droopy faces will wring your heartstrings.

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Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

Seo restores color, light and joy to the last pages through Fred’s chance encounter with a special, generous girl. This gentle tale is a sweet balm for little readers who like cuddly monsters, imaginary friends, and happy endings. FRED can’t guarantee that you will begin to see benevolent beasts, but you may find a small flicker of hidden magic in your heart.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of FRED from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Click here for a Common Core Teaching Guide

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Bird & Squirrel on Ice by James Burks

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Bird & Squirrel on Ice
Written and illustrated by James Burks
(Scholastic/Graphix; $8.99, Ages 7-10)

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I knew I was in for a treat when I picked up James Burks’ most recent Bird & Squirrel graphic novel called Bird & Squirrel on Ice. This second book in the series brings the buddies to the South Pole where they’ve crash landed, despite Bird’s over-confident insistence on calling it “Another perfect landing!” They immediately encounter spear-wielding Sakari, an absolutely adorable purple-hued penguin who proclaims Bird to be The Chosen One.

“Legend tells of a day when a winged bird will fall from above …
And bring peace and prosperity to our penguin village.”

But there’s a catch. Being The Chosen One means battling to free the villagers from the voracious and exhausting appetite of The Great Whale. It doesn’t take long before the honor of becoming The Chosen One goes straight to Bird’s head, annoying the heck out of Squirrel. However, Bird’s antics while soaking up his newly found celebrity, will crack kids up! Burks definitely gets the mix of humor and adventure right in Bird & Squirrel on Ice, and is certain to pull in even reluctant readers. His colorful characters, gallivanting through panels filled with lots of chilly blues, are perfect for the South Pole setting. Scenes of ice and snow are fantastic as are all the ones including the penguin villagers and The Great Whale.

When Squirrel and Sakari learn that Bird is actually going to be sacrificed to appease the whale “for the good of the village,” these two team up and eventually get a rather reluctant Bird on board. The buddies and their penguin pal launch a last ditch effort to save Bird from being served up as whale food and in doing so demonstrate the bonds of friendship and trust.  This fast-paced story with its fantastic artwork and several satisfying plot lines invites multiple reads for those just getting into graphic novels, as well as for those more well-versed in the pleasures of this format.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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