Should I Stay or Should I Go? Groundhug Day by Anne Marie Pace

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Written by Anne Marie Pace
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
(Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)


Cover image for Groundhug Day


Groundhug Day is a picture book delight that seamlessly weaves a heartwarming and credible friendship story together with Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day holidays. Making a themed book that can be read on more than a few days each year is a feat few authors and illustrators attempt, but the winning combination of Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise have managed to pull this off quite successfully!

Moose is planning a Valentine’s Day party and he’d like to celebrate with all his pals. There is however just one little hitch. While Bunny, Porcupine and Squirrel can attend, if Groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, he’ll “go back into his hole for six more weeks.” In other words, he won’t emerge in time for February 14th festivities. So it’s no surprise that when Groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, he’s quick to head back down, but hints there’s more to it than that. Ever the intuitive one, Moose thinks perhaps his pal is afraid of shadows. Determined to show Groundhog that shadows aren’t scary at all, Moose enlists help from his friends to demonstrate “just how awesome shadows are.”

Here’s where young readers, already drawn into the story, will be treated to several beautiful pages of illustrations (in addition to to all the other striking artwork in warm welcoming tones) showing what wonderful things shadows are and can do. It’s easy to feel the joy both author and illustrator felt about creating this lovely picture book. More fun times are in store because, despite no longer being fearful of shadows, Groundhog must still get his six weeks of sleep! This tale, honoring the support that genuine friendship offers, is both a sweet and satisfying read that has all the feels you’d want from a picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Groundhug Day



Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau

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Written and illustrated by Marie Letourneau
(Tanglewood Publishing; $17.99, Ages 3-7) 

Cover image of Argyle Fox



Author illustrator Marie Letourneau’s latest picture book, Argyle Fox, has a distinctly European feel about it. Maybe it’s Marie’s French sounding last name, maybe it’s the language, or maybe it’s the artwork. It could even be a lovely combination of all three, so I was surprised to read in the jacket flap copy that she actually lives on Long Island in New York, where I grew up!

The tale, one about the payoff that comes from perseverance and resilience, introduces us to Argyle Fox, a well-dressed and determined forest animal. Eager to play outside despite the windy spring weather, Argyle is cautioned by his mama that his desire to make a tower of playing cards on such a blistery day might be in vain. Not easily swayed, the plucky creature tries to no avail. Four more attempts at fun outdoor activities include dressing up like a spider and using yarn to make a web, pretending to be a pirate setting sail on a log ship, playing soccer and kicking what is supposed to be the winning goal, and battling a fire-breathing dragon as a fearless knight. Every time he makes up a new game, Argyle’s pals watch and warn him that the wind might disrupt things. Still he persists. Of course all of Argyle’s creative efforts are ruined by a “Whoosh” of the wind so he heads home. Mama Fox suggests that there still might be something to play with in the wind and leaves her youngster to his own devices. 

There’s a reason Argyle’s name is Argyle and that’s because his mama’s a big knitter. And what do knitters have lots of? Yarn! “Argyle went straight to work. He cut, tied, knitted, painted, and taped. Finally it was finished!” With all his forest friends in tow, this imaginative fox shows off his handmade kite and then gives all his friends their very own custom creations, too! Now the “Whoosh” sound is a welcoming one indeed!

Letourneau’s charming picture book makes for a marvelous read-aloud. Even as I read the book alone I found myself saying “Whoosh” out loud each time it appeared! Parents and caregivers can use the subject matter to start a conversation about imagination, creativity, and persistence after sharing the story. Together they can also look at all the adorable details Letourneau’s included in her illustrations while enjoying the cheery color palette, not to mention taking time to play all the fun games Argyle has played in the book.
With summer break around the corner and kids wanting to be outdoors, Argyle Fox is a welcome inspiration.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Written & Illustrated by Marie Letourneau
Tanglewood Publishing 
Distributed by Publishers Group West 








New Thanksgiving Books for 2016

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– A Roundup of Holiday Books –


Thanksgiving Countingthanksgiving-counting-cvr
A First Celebrations Book
Written by Barbara Barbieri McGrath
Illustrated by Peggy Tagel
(Charlesbridge; $6.95, Ages 0-3)

Going to relatives or friends for Thanksgiving and don’t know what to bring along to keep your little ones occupied and entertained? Why not consider buying a copy of this counting themed board book, part of the Charlesbridge’s First Celebrations series for the youngest readers in your family?  With its vibrant colored turkey cover, this new book introduces the first Thanksgiving and one ear of corn going all the way up to six multi-hued leaves falling from a tree and lots of scrumptious food in between. Thanksgiving Counting is a great way to get your children to observe all the decorations and food around the dinner table while learning to count all the wonderful things that make this holiday so enjoyable.

Written and illustrated by Michael Hall
(Greenwillow Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For Hall fans and those who also appreciate the art of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, Wonderfall is sure to delight. As the jacketflap says, “In this book you will discover 1 colorful tree, 2 scurrying squirrels, and 15 blended words created to celebrate the wonder of fall!” So much goes on around this one majestic oak tree. In 15 brief poems that tell the story of the people and animals that live and work near it, we see what an important role this tree plays as autumn turns into winter. Peacefall, Plentifall, Playfall,  Frightfall, Thankfall, and Watchfall, are just a few of Hall’s wordplay topics that culminate in Snowfall. The stories move from acorns dropping with a plink, plunk, plop to the magic of  fall’s magnificent colors. The tree is there to welcome trick-or-treaters, witness animals enjoying nature’s bounty and provide piles of leaves in which children frolick, and branches in which squirrels chase. A bonus for readers is the five pages of back matter containing great information about the tree, the animals that find shelter in it and get nourishment from its acorns. I’ll weigh in here with one more blended word that happens to be my reaction to reading this charming new picture book – Joyfall!

Thankfulness to Color:thankfulness-to-color-cvr
Gratitude to live and color by
Written and illustrated by Zoë Ingram
(Harper; $15.99, Ages 4 and up)

Coloring books are so popular right now and with the hectic holiday season upon us, there’s no better time to find a few quiet moments with your kids to decompress. Coloring helps foster creativity and mindfulness, and most of all, it’s calming. Adults and children alike will find the designs and quotes that Ingram has provided to be perfectly suited for  Thanksgiving. On the last page of Thankfulness to Color is a list of these quotes including Henry David Thoreau’s “I am grateful for what I am and have,” all of which have been woven into the plethora of beautiful patterns. Keep this book to enjoy with the family or give as a gift to your holiday hostess.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Here are links to our book reviews from previous Thanksgivings:

Written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer


Written and illustrated by Mark Fearing



My Cousin Momo by Zachariah OHora

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by Zachariah OHora
(Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.


Momo, sporting tricolored head and wrist sweatbands along with a 35mm camera strapped around his neck, is exotic from the moment he arrives at his squirrel cousins’ home. From his hardsided yellow suitcase plastered with travel stickers (ACORN AIRWAYS, BUNNYLAND), we know that Momo likes to travel. After all, he is a flying squirrel.

Momo’s cousins and their forest friends can hardly wait for the visitor to soar into the air, but Momo seems shy. Alternative activities – such as playing superheroes or Acorn Pong – are not successful either. Poor Momo is deemed an awkward outsider. The narrator’s younger sister doesn’t hold back in expressing her disappointment, plonking her face with the pong paddle and kicking mushrooms in frustration.

Momo, tearful and dejected, starts to fill his suitcase. Even his camera gets packed away. Pangs of remorse grip his cousins. Thankfully, they redouble their efforts to make Momo feel at home, and discover the upside to trying things in new and different ways.

OHora’s text is direct, dry and funny. He nails the tone of an elementary school age narrator with precision. The illustrations are quirky and hip with inventive twists that capture the characters’ emotional highs and lows in bold, minimalist lines. Chunky black outlines and a dense but muted color palette give MOMO a rich vibrancy that bounces off the page. But there is still enough detail to delight the eye, from fluffy swirled squirrel tails to crisp cupcake liner pleats, OHora excels in depicting enticing textures. Peek under the dust jacket for a hidden surprise!

The last page leaves readers anticipating further funny, squirrely adventures. What could be better than mo’ Momo?

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey


Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of MY COUSIN MOMO from my library and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.


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)


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

Flashback Friday – Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein

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Ol’ Mama Squirrel written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013, $16.99, Ages 3-5) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.


Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013.

Ol’ Mama Squirrel, having raised many litters, refuses to let any creature harm her young. Her loud and insistent scolding (“chook, chook, chook”) and threatening gestures scare away the bravest of foes. However, one day she meets up with a “great, growling grizzly bear …” who’s not so easily frightened.

Repetitive words and phrases (“and that takes care of that”), make this a lively and interactive read-aloud for young children. Simple words and word sounds in large font (“PLONK”) enabled my emerging readers to participate alongside more advanced readers. Together they all roared out the bear’s evil “WA-HA-HA” laugh (I do not have a quiet library).

Stein sprinkles some great vocabulary (“afoul,” “scamper,” “puny”), and puns throughout the story, enriching children’s language and comprehension skills. A dog, frightened away by Mama Squirrel exclaims: “this squirrel is crazy! … “They must put crazy powder in the nuts around here!” Grizzly bear threatens Mama Squirrel: “I’ll eat your whole family tree.”

The humorous and expressive illustrations not only extend the narrative but practically tell the story on their own. Reminiscent of his artistic work in Leaves, Stein uses deft strokes to suggest shapes and animate characters. Soft, muted watercolors and crayons fill in the outlines. Along with framed single page illustrations, Stein uses double page spreads to create larger than life characters, transforming Ol’ Mama Squirrel from a proud mother to a fearsome opponent. My students laughed uproariously at the two page spread of Mama Squirrel snarling “not on my watch buster” as she and her babies escape from grizzly bear.

The Caldecott winning author and illustrator of Interrupting Chicken has another hit on his hands –just ask my K-1 students who proclaimed Ol’ Mama Squirrel “…a superhero!”

Highly recommended for children ages 3 -6, but be prepared for a rousing story time!