First Words: French from Lonely Planet Kids

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FIRST WORDS: FRENCH
100 French words to learn
Illustrated by Andy Mansfield & Sebastien Iwohn
(Lonely Planet Kids; $12.99, Ages 5-9)

 

Cover image of First Words: French

 

Cover art from First Words book series for childrenIf your holiday plans will take you and your family to a French speaking country or even if you just want to expose your child to a foreign language in a fun and friendly format, Lonely Planet’s First Words: French, one of three books in a new language series for young readers, is definitely worth checking out.

interior image of an umbrella in French from First Words: FrenchParents will like the price and kids will appreciate the travel guidebook’s compact design. There’s a soft cover and 208 durable pages so youngsters will feel like they’re carrying around a book similar to the one Mom or Dad use. They also won’t tire of flipping through the colorful pages packed with bold graphic images of everything a traveler could want from introductory vocabulary. Whether seeking words for food (ice cream, cheese, chicken and fries), travel essentials such as clothing (pants, shoes, t-shirt and coat), more urgent things (toilet, passport, doctor), to modes of transportation (bike, airplane, taxi, car and airplane), kids will find it all there with simple pronunciation examples on every page.

Airplane/avion interior artwork from Lonely Planet's First Words: FrenchAnother great feature that Lonely Planet Kids offers readers is access to a fab free audio pronunciation guide for every word included in the book. Get there via a QR code or use lonelyplanet.com/kids/first-words. I tried it, and though I speak French I still loved having the chance to see and hear how learning a new language in a simple way was presented to children, using a child’s voice. Presenting this book, along with a journal and a disposable camera, will get any child psyched for travel abroad and the chance to be a helpful, knowledgeable companion on the journey.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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.


Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

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HELLO RUBY: ADVENTURES IN CODING
Written and illustrated by Linda Liukas
(Feiwel & Friends; $16.99, Ages 4-8 )

 

Hello Ruby cvr

Linda Liukas’s Hello Ruby is a book that first caught my eye on Kickstarter. In fact, I heavily modeled my Kickstarter project after it since its campaign had tons of contributors and raised over $380,000! After receiving a lot of attention, it got picked up to be traditionally published with an imprint of Macmillan, Feiwel and Friends.

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Interior artwork from Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas, Feiwel & Friends ©2015.

Hello Ruby is all about teaching young kids the building blocks of coding. The book is broken up into nine small chapters. There’s a fairly simple story-line: Ruby needs to find five gems her dad has hidden around the house. Ruby goes on her adventure and starts with a plan by making a map. She ends up in the imaginary world of the map (I was a bit unsure how she got there, but it works with the book). She meets penguins, a snow leopard, foxes, robots, and a young boy on this adventure. As she goes along she is doing things that are the basis of coding.
HelloRubySPREAD2

Interior artwork from Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas, Feiwel & Friends ©2015.

Immediately following the story there’s a thorough and fun activity section that would be done with a child and parent or teacher. The kids (and adults) can learn about the basics of coding, such as strings, sequence, loops, selection, functions, and more! It’s written simply and clearly for young kids to understand.
I loved the adorable illustrations and so will your budding coders! Liukas has a bright, cheerful and kid-like illustration style that complemented the story and activities well. I know it’s the teacher in me, but I’m partial to books that have a teaching element and since my husband is a software engineer, I’m also familiar with these concepts in their basic forms.

A few months ago a friend asked my husband what apps or online activities are out there to help kids with coding and he gave these three sites saying …

If children are young there is scratch.mit.edu. There are also good exercises at code.org. If the kids are a bit older inventwithpython.com has books that teach more “real” programming skills.
With Hello Ruby, Linda Liukas has done a wonderful job portraying and teaching simple coding concepts in an entertaining and hands-on way. I think her website helloruby.com should be added to my husband’s list too. The website has great information and helpful teaching tools, along with some printables. Although it’s listed online for ages 4-8, I’d recommend Hello Ruby for children ages 5-9 (or anyone who wants to learn some fun kids activities that have coding concepts). Happy reading and coding everyone!
– Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

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MAPLE & WILLOW APART
Written & illustrated by Lori Nichols
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

Maple & Will Apart by Lori Nichols

Maple & Willow Apart, the follow up to author/illustrator Lori Nichols’ Maple and Maple & Willow Together, will draw in fans new and old alike as they witness Maple and Willow’s growing sisterly bond.

Done in pencil and digitally colored, the illustrations emphasize the two central characters. The background is simply white with just enough detail to hint at the setting.  At center stage of the book is the sisters’ relationship.

When a major change in their routine takes place, both girls feel this relationship may be in jeopardy. Maple, now old enough to attend “big-girl school,” will be away from home, and her younger sister Willow, for most of the day. While the two pretend this fact doesn’t bother them, their actions speak louder than words.

From Monday through Wednesday, Maple returns home sharing the thrill of her new school life–perhaps a bit too forcefully. Speaking in what seems like a mile a minute, she narrates with open arms, expressive eyes, and a dazzling smile. In true sibling rivalry fashion, Willow subtly strikes back with her own tale of adventures with an imaginary forest friend. In this game of one-upmanship,or rather one-upgirlship, each sibling creates a more fantastic story than the other.  

Though underneath the theatrics lie real emotions:  the fear of separation and the longing to express it. By Thursday morning, the siblings have toned down their contest of words allowing for the natural bonds of sisterhood to take over and heal their friendship. First in pig Latin, then in more candid conversation, Maple shares how she “miss[es] playing at home” with Willow who admits to sharing the same feelings. While younger, Willow finds a way to stay connected with her sister even when Maple is away at school.  

For families who are experiencing a similar change or for parents looking to open a more general discussion of separation, I highly recommend Maple & Willow Apart. The inherent presence of love between family members ensures that no change is too scary to face.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 


Around the World With Children’s Books

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THREE BOOKS FOR KIDS
TO PIQUE THEIR CURIOSITY ABOUT TRAVEL

Littleland Around the World Littlelandcvr.jpg
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


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)

 

One-Plastic-Bag-cvr.jpg

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.


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.