B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano

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B IS FOR BEAR: A NATURAL ALPHABET
Written and illustrated by Hannah Viano
(Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

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Hannah Viano dedicates her new alphabet book to “…all of those who let children run a little wild, climbing trees and splashing in puddles. It is worth all the laundry and lost mittens.” It is a delightful sentiment for a book that will inspire a strong appreciation for the natural world in readers both young and old.

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Interior artwork from B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano, Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books, ©2015.

The illustrations in B is for Bear are perfectly stunning. Although they appear to be woodcuts at first glance, the process is even more interesting. Viano uses a graceful papercutting technique, carving thick outlines from black paper with an X-ACTO knife. She then adds soft pastel colors digitally in a rich range from gold to olive to amethyst. The look is at once classic and contemporary, as the bold lines capture the energy and motion inherent in her natural subject matter.

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Interior artwork from B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano, Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books, ©2015.

The alphabet letters, upper and lowercase, are suspended at the top of each page, punched in a white font onto the thick black border around each illustration. The natural keywords that she selects range nicely from animals (J for Jackrabbit) to natural objects (P for Pebble). Below the bottom border Viano provides clear but poetic descriptions as well as a few additional fascinating facts. For example, from L for Lightning Bug, “Call them fireflies or lightning bugs or Lampyridae. They fill a summer night with magical lights.”

Viano adeptly shows natural objects of all sizes, from massive mountains and soaring waves to tiny dandelion puffs and Queen Anne’s lace florets. The variety keeps the A to Z alphabet format interesting and surprising, with a fair mix of unusual versus familiar subjects for children. The book as an object itself is lovely, with sturdy proportions perfect for small hands. The pages are printed on thick, smooth, semi-matte paper that lends a sophisticated, organic feel.

B is for Bear, and for book, beautiful and breathtaking!

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of B IS FOR BEAR from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 


ABC Universe

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ABC UNIVERSE IS OUT OF THIS WORLD!
by the American Museum of Natural History
(Sterling Children’s Books; $7.95, Ages 2-5)

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Bring Nebulas and Supernovas into your child’s bedroom with ABC Universe, the latest in the AMNH board book collection. Your budding astronomer will thoroughly enjoy this new, oversized (10 X 10) board book created in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History. Kids will take a trip to outer space while learning about everything from an Astronaut to a Zenith and lots more in-between.

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Moon
The Moon is the only natural object
to move around Earth. It is also the

only other world in outer space
that humans have ever visited.

Added features include extra large letters that youngsters can trace with their fingers. This design also assists with visual memorization as children flip through the pages again and again. There are several easy to understand descriptions in every spread. Actual photographs fill colorful, sturdy pages in this entertaining exploration of the cosmos just right for introducing early learning concepts to preschoolers.

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Reprinted with permission from ABC Universe © 2015 by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by CVADRAT/Shutterstock, maryo/Shutterstock, and NASA/SDO/Goddard.

Visit amnh.org to learn more.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Around the World With Children’s Books

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THREE BOOKS FOR KIDS
TO PIQUE THEIR CURIOSITY ABOUT TRAVEL

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By Marion Billet
(Nosy Crow; $14.99; ages 2-5)

The cute creatures of Littleland are getting ready to travel. First, they must make sure they have everything they need, such as a camera, suitcase, umbrella, and sun hat. Next, they’re off to 14 countries to explore and learn.

This country is called the Netherlands. It is famous for its pretty windmills and colorful flowers. People here often bicycle to work and school. It’s windy today! Hold on to your hats, little ones! /This is the beautiful city of Venice in Italy. Here, they have canals, so people can travel around in boats instead of cars! In Italy, people often eat pizza for lunch. Do you like pizza, too? /Now the little ones are going to see a magnificent building called the Taj Mahal. They are in India, where it is very hot! There are all sorts of ways of traveling in India—some people even ride elephants! /The little ones have arrived in China just in time to join a festival! The dragon is dancing to the music! How many people are inside the costume?

The language is age appropriate with just enough information for growing minds. The digitally created illustrations are bright, eye catching and filled with iconic landmarks. Each spread features nine “can you see?” cultural items, such as flags, for little eyes to find. For example, the United Kingdom has a red phone booth, Australia has a boomerang, Japan has a teapot, Egypt has a pyramid, and Finland has a sleigh.

Littleland Around the World is a great book for your children to start learning about the world.

 

ChildrensActivityAtlascvr.jpgChildren’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World
Written by Jenny Slater and illustrated by Katrin Wiehle and Martin Sanders
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95; ages 5-9)

Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is filled with tons of information for older children. A “how to use the atlas” introduction explains the keys to the maps and biomes, how a world map is made, and how to use a grid reference. The book’s twelve sections cover North America, South America, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, Russia and Eurasia, Middle East and South Asia, China and Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Arctic and Antarctica. Each section includes a description and a map of the area, flags of the region, a fact file of the largest mountain range, country, desert, lake, and longest river, and a highlighted topic, such as the Amazon rainforest, oil production, tea plantation, and volcanoes.

Northern Africa: The scorching hot Sahara Desert covers most the northern part of Africa. There is very little rain here and water is hard to find. Many desert people are nomads who move from place to place to find food and water. Most people in this part of Africa live in cities along the coasts or in the great Nile river valley, where the soil is rich enough to grow cotton, rice, vegetables, and fruit. South of the Sahara there is more rain, so farmers here grow cocoa, groundnuts, and coconuts. The section includes a six-step explanation of where chocolate comes from.

The book includes an index and over 250 stickers of flags, landmarks, and animals. Six pre-filled postcards from the continents and a passport are also included. Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is a useful text for learning more about the continents and their inhabitants and resources.

 

Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure
By Jackie Clark Mancuso
(La Librairie Parisienne; $17.95; ages 3-7)

Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure is a tale of a dog, Hudson, who along with his owner, leave the heat of Paris and head out to the beautiful countryside. Their adventure begins with their stay in an old stone house in the middle of a vineyard. Provence is a magical place. My book says artists come here to paint because it’s so beautiful. And the Provençal dogs work. I want to do what they do, so I can feel the magic.

Hudson is curious and he meets a lot of canine friends. Gaston is a border collie who herds sheep. Hudson tries, but the sheep aren’t so easy to move. Philippe is a truffle hunter! “Truffles are smelly mushrooms that grow underground near trees. They’re delicious! I have been specially trained to sniff them out because people like them too.” Hudson tries, but finding truffles isn’t as easy as eating them. Hudson and his owner watch the Tour de France. It’s exciting, but the cyclists are too fast and Hudson can’t keep up. What can he do to be a Provençal dog? Of course, he can paint like the artists who find inspiration! So he begins to paint doggy portraits, is busy for the next month, and holds an art show.

Hudson in Provence is a fun way to learn about French culture. French phrases are aptly woven into the story, and are an easy, contextual way to learn basic words. The book features a handy glossary (or le petit dictionnaire) with translation and pronunciation. The artwork is in the style of gouache paintings, and it matches the feel of the book perfectly. You can enjoy the book trailer at vimeo.com/120236763.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan


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.


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.


Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain

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Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain 
(Candlewick, $12.99, Ages 2-5)

Peppa-Pig-Snowy-Mountain-cvr.jpgThe holidays are over, but winter is here for a while yet. One of the best features of winter is playing in the snow. In Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain, a family vacation means lots of adventures—sledding, ice skating, and skiing. But the Pig family has forgotten something! How can they go sledding without the sled? Never fear, Peppa has an idea. “Whee!” she says. “A Daddy sled!” Good old Dad gives Peppa and George a ride down the slope on his tummy. Next, the family goes skating, which isn’t easy for everyone. Peppa skates…and falls…and tries again. Mummy Pig helps. Peppa is skating! Now it’s time to ski, but Daddy Pig doesn’t like heights and Peppa’s song about sitting in the ski lift isn’t helping calm his nerves. “Don’t look down!” says Mummy. But Daddy does look down. He topples out of the ski life. Where did Daddy Pig go? Young readers will laugh when Daddy Pig emerges and just wait until they see Mummy Pig’s hijinks on the skis!

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Interior spread from Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain, Candlewick Press ©2014.

 

Peppa Pig is a preschool favorite. With age-appropriate language and concepts, as well as fun and colorful characters, it’s easy to see why.

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As an added bonus, the inside of the book jacket is a coloring poster.

Visit the Peppa Pig website by clicking here.

 

Read about more Peppa Pig books here:

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan


Kuma-Kuma Chan by Kazue Takahashi

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Beloved Japanese Children’s Book
Makes Its English Debut

Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear written and illustrated by Kazue Takahashi
(Museyon Press, 2014; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

“I sometimes wonder what Kuma-Kuma Chan does during the day?”

Kuma-Kuma-Chan-cvr.jpgJapanese author and illustrator Kazue Takahashi poses a seemingly simple question in Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear, this small, slim, 2001 Japanese picture book for young readers, newly translated into English. However, the deceptively simple answers and accompanying illustrations reveal an important, almost Zen-like quality that should resonate with all of us.

Kuma-Kuma Chan (“cute little bear”) lives alone in the mountains, in a place difficult for visitors to reach. So how does he spend his day? Well, after waking up, he fixes himself a big salad with lettuce and tomatoes from his own garden. As he pours milk in his coffee, he draws small pictures. He carefully sweeps the house and does some shopping. Then a nap is in order. Later, he gazes at the clouds and listens to the falling rain. In the spring, he pulls weeds, and in the summer he needs to cut his fur to stay cool. Fall is good for love songs and winter would is perfect for reading and following a patch of sunlight around the room.

Alone, but not lonely, Kuma-Kuma lives an unhurried, simple but purposeful life, free from all the clutter and distractions of our modern world. He enjoys his solitude and finds joy in his routines, taking time to live in the moment, and observe what’s going on around him.

Takahashi’s illustrations complement the calm and contemplative narrative and the cuddly Kuma-Kuma Chan. Using a kid-friendly design, Takahashi frees the double page spreads from distractions and accentuates the picture book’s simplicity by focusing children’s attention on one simple and easy-to-read sentence opposite a tiny, sparingly colored illustration.

A tender and soothing story for our jammed packed lives and especially appropriate around the frantic “holidaze.” Use this story as a discussion starter on how we could live and benefit from, at least periodically, a less complicated life like Kuma-Kuma Chan’s.

Visit  Museyon to learn about Kazue Takahashi. The publisher also has displayed several of the book’s pages here.

Kazue ends her story with the sentence “I’m happy to think that Kuma-Kuma Chan has fun during the day and that he is doing well.” I am, too.

May you always have fun and do well.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro