The Year of the Sheep by Oliver Chin

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The Year of the Sheep: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac
written by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Alina Chau
(Immedium, $15.95, Ages 4-8)

Year-of-the-sheep-cvr.jpgThe Year of the Sheep, book number ten in Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series, is our recommended picture book read for the 15 day Chinese New Year festival. Combined with Chau’s stylized illustrations in a rainbow of colors, the prose in The Year of the Sheep demonstrates the personality of one particular little lamb Sydney, the story’s main character.

Prone to wandering off on her own, Sydney clearly marches to the beat of a different drummer. Not one to follow the herd led by young shepherdess Zhi and her dog Dao, Sydney lets her curiosity lead her astray and often into trouble.

When a fierce storm causes boulders to fall and block a river, the animals’ lifeblood is threatened. Sydney and Zhi wonder what can be done. “Brainstorming. Sydney started drawing her ideas. After many tries, she sketched one that they both liked.” This solution for the dried up river, should it succeed, would give Sydney a chance to show she could be part of the flock. With the cooperation of some unlikely partners, Sydney et al  enact the plan and to everyone’s delight, “The river flowed again!”

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Interior spread from The Year of the Sheep: Tales of the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Alina Chau, Immedium, ©2015

 

Parents will enjoy sharing this picture book about the rewards of being a team player. The book’s back matter  lists the years from 1919 onwards that are Years of the Sheep, the next one being 2027. There is also a  handy description of the qualities individuals born in the Year of The Sheep may have. These include being “approachable, easy-going, and cooperative.”  Readers will find a scannable QR code is provided for those interested in downloading an interactive app for the book. Free coloring pages are available on Immedium’s website.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


A FINE DESSERT: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins

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One of BuzzFeed’s 25 Ridiculously Wonderful Books to Read with Kids in 2015

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal, & Booklist

A FINE DESSERT:
Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

by Emily Jenkins, illustrations by Sophie Blackall
(Schwartz & Wade Books, $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

Read Cathy Ballou Mealey’s rave review then enter our giveaway to win a copy! 

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Jenkins and Blackall combine Literature, History and Home Economics into one most scrumptious and delightful course in their stellar new title A FINE DESSERT. Following one sweet treat – blackberry fool – through four families, four cities, and four centuries, the book succeeds in creating an authentic and engaging portrayal of food history perfect for children and adults alike.

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Interior spread from A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Schwartz & Wade ©2015.

Readers will follow the creation of blackberry fool from the first scene – a field in Lyme, England in 1710, where a mother and daughter are shown picking blackberries. Smoke curls from the cottage chimney, and berry juice stains their white aprons. They return home where the mother milks the cow, skims the cream, and whips it for fifteen minutes with a wooden twig whisk. Combined with the squashed and strained berries, the mixture is iced outdoors in a hillside pit. Finally it is served for dessert by candlelight in front of a roaring fire.

The tale next leads us to a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina in 1810 where once again the dessert will be prepared. Readers will immediately notice changes not only to the characters and the setting, but also to the methods, preparation, family, and society where the dessert is served. More changes are revealed in the third preparation, set in Boston, Massachusetts in 1910 and finally in a modern portrayal in San Diego, California in 2010. Each segment is tied together by various text details and artistic elements, and especially focuses on the gusto with which the delicious treat is enjoyed. The child always gets to lick the bowl clean!

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Interior spread from A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Schwartz & Wade ©2015.

This book is a must-have for classrooms because of the infinite and engaging connections to Common Core teaching. It is also a wonderful book for families to bring right into the kitchen to prepare the blackberry fool recipe provided at the back. There is also an extensive note from the author about exploring history, research, and food preparation methods as a way to encourage conversations about work and social roles. The illustrator’s note is equally charming, and discusses the materials she used to create the unique purple endpapers.

Jenkins and Blackall have choreographed a delightful rhythm and repetition connecting the words and images throughout this book. There are endless marvelous discoveries on page after page that encourage readers to flip between the tales, uncovering similarities and differences that will challenges them to think and question. Have a second or third helping of A FINE DESSERT – you will be glad you did!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey 

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

WIN A COPY!
Leave a comment below about your favorite dessert then follow us on Facebook for a chance to win a copy of this scrumptious picture book. No entries after 11:59p.m. PST on February 18, 2015. One lucky winner will be randomly selected on Thursday Feb. 19, 2015. If you do not leave a comment and follow GRWR on  Facebook you will forfeit your chance to win. If you are not on Facebook, following on Twitter will qualify instead.

 


The Night Before Hanukkah by Natasha Wing Blog Tour & Giveaway

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The Night Before Hanukkah
written by Natasha Wing
with illustrations by Amy Wummer
Blog Tour & Giveaway (signed copy!)
(Grosset & Dunlap, $3.99, Ages 3-5)

Night-before-hanukkah-cvr.jpg“This book was challenging to write since the Festival of Lights lasts eight days,” said Wing. “But with input from my high school friends, I showed a family celebrating Hanukkah in both modern and traditional ways.”

 

GRWR Review:
It’s not easy to take Clement Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and make it work for the Festival of Lights, but Wing does it and I commend her. Aside from Adam Sandler, not many can find the appropriate words to rhyme, but I knew once I read the opening line, that Wing had found a way in this jovial Jewish holiday read-aloud:

‘Twas the night before the
eight days of Hanukkah.
Families were prepping from
New York to Santa Monica.

Wing takes readers into the home of a 21st century family celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah. This loving family of four shows that Hanukkah is not just about getting gifts. It’s about lighting the candles on the Hanukkiah (a special Hanukkah menorah) each night and reflecting, spending quality time together, playing games, sharing, helping others, and remembering the story of the first Hanukkah. In fact not a Hanukkah passes without Jews around the world recounting the tale of the brave Maccabees and the crushing defeat of their adversaries when they retook their holy temple. Wummer’s joyful  watercolors depict a crowd of Jews from that era celebrating because one night’s oil for the menorah actually lasted eight nights!:

Before their wondering eyes, a miracle took place:
the glory of Hanukkah for all Jews to embrace.

Of course it wouldn’t be Hanukkah without latkes and jelly donuts (symbolic foods cooked in oil ) and Wing makes sure to include these. She’s even introduced the dreidel, the spinning top game of chance played with chocolate coins (aka Hanukkah gelt). I’m so happy to be able to share The Night Before Hanukkah with you and am sure you’ll want a copy to enjoy with your children. Thanks to Natasha Wing for signing a copy of her book to give away to one reader. Please scroll down to enter the giveaway.

About The Night Before Series:
Based on the popular story, The Night Before Christmas, Wing’s stories are about families celebrating holidays and milestones in kids’ lives such as the first day of school and losing a tooth. Her titles include The Night Before Easter, the original book in the series, which was published in 1999, and The Night Before Kindergarten, the highest-selling title, which has regularly been on bestseller lists since its publication in 2001. The Night Before Hanukkah released on October 2, 2014, and there are three more titles on the way including The Night Before The Fourth of July out this spring.

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Author Natasha Wing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, ©2014.

About Bestselling Author Natasha Wing:
Natasha Wing graduated from Arizona State University in 1982 with a B.S. in Advertising. Wing lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband, Dan and their cat, Purrsia. They moved to Colorado for the outdoor life and Wing was “happy to find a thriving writing community and a library that is open seven days a week with excellent programs for writers.” She has been publishing for 22 years and is a frequent presenter at conferences and schools and loves to Skype with classrooms.

To find out more about Natasha Wing’s books, please check out her wonderful website: www.natashawing.com.

Read Ronna’s review of  The Night Before My Birthday.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
a Rafflecopter giveaway


WINTERFROST by Michelle Houts

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WINTERFROST written by Michelle Houts
(Candlewick, $16.99, Ages 8-12 )

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Michelle Hout’s WINTERFROST brings readers to the forests of Denmark for a sweet fantasy adventure that is perfect for the holiday season.

The Larsen family Christmas celebration takes an unexpected turn when the parents are called away, leaving 12-year-old Bettina in charge of the farm and her 1-year-old sister, Pia, for a few days. Bettina, a mature and responsible girl, is undaunted by the challenge. She’s confident that she can manage alone, especially since nothing ever happens on the sleepy island of Lolland in mid-winter.

But in the hustle and bustle of preparations, the family forgets to leave a bowl of warm, bubbling rice pudding in the barn on Christmas. Just as many families leave cookies for Santa, the Danes leave rice pudding for the nisse, tiny kind and clever elves who tend the livestock and stoke the fires. Klakke, the Larsen’s young and curious nisse, is hurt and resentful of the family’s forgetfulness, so he steals baby Pia from her carriage as she naps in the sunshine.

Bettina begins a frantic hunt for the baby until darkness falls. Unable to sleep, she finds a long-forgotten book belonging to her grandfather entitled How to Care for and Keep Your Nisse. From the book, Bettina learns that a disgruntled nisse might resort to mischief. Suddenly, she realizes that the forgotten bowl of rice pudding may have been the indirect cause of Pia’s disappearance.

Bettina’s belief in the nisse tenuously restored, she heads into the forest to look for Pia and enters a fantastic world of mythology and Danish folklore. Fans of tiny people stories like The Borrowers or The Littles will delight in the details that Houts incorporates, such as walnut shell chairs, firefly lanterns, and thistledown socks. The creative and unusual setting is a charming springboard for Bettina’s nisse adventures, following her as she flies on the neck of a goose, then a seagull, seeking a way to free her sister from a long-standing nisse family feud.

Hout’s unique, imaginative tale is a whimsical read for those just stepping into chapter books. The Nordic setting adds a fun twist to the fantasy adventure, and the brave, clever Bettina is an engaging heroine who thinks on her feet. Wrap up WINTERFROST as a perfect gift for young readers to enjoy during a snowy winter school vacation!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey 

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


Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford

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Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford
with illustrations by Stacey Schuett
(Creston Books, 2014. $16.95, Ages 4-11)

“What do you do when your celebration needs a candle, but yours are all gone?”

winter-candle-cvr.jpgNana Clover needs a candle for her Thanksgiving meal. The Danziger family forgot to get a havdalah candle. The fifth candle on Kirsten’s St. Lucia crown broke. Donte’s baby brother, Jamila cheerfully eats the Faith candle for the Kwanzaa kinara. How will Faruq and Nasreen’s father find their new apartment during a power outage?

A ” … bumpy, drooping candle” is passed from one neighbor to the next in a close knit and supportive apartment community. At first, the candle is seen as quite ugly. Kirsten worries that everyone will laugh at her if she uses it in her crown. Donte wonders how his family will be able to “… talk about faith with that sorry thing…” The Danziger children complain that it is not braided and only has one wick. Grandpa Danziger, hushing his grandchildren, tells them ” … a candle is blessed by what it does, not by how it looks. It’ll shine.”

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Interior artwork from Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford with illustrations by Stacey Schuett, Creston Books, ©2014.

Sure enough, when lit, the “frumpy” little candle glows more brightly and seems to last longer than other candles. All the celebrations go through without a hitch. Nasreen and Faruq are able to use it to guide their father to their new apartment where all the neighbors have gathered to welcome the family.

A lovely and heartwarming story for the holidays (and everyday) about sharing, caring, and supporting others’ needs and traditions.

Schuett’s rich illustrations glow as warmly and as brightly as the story’s candle.

Author Ashford concludes with a brief note about the holidays mentioned in her story.

Visit Creston Books to read more about the award-winning author and illustrator. This story has many wonderful curriculum connections: research, writing, crafts and more. Please see the excellent curriculum and activity guide the publisher created for this book.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 


Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell – Blog Tour

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IMANI’S MOON BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY

Today we’re excited to share Cathy Ballou Mealey’s review of Imani’s Moon written by JaNay Brown-Wood along with Ronna Mandel’s Q&A with illustrator Hazel Mitchell. Plus we’ve got a great book giveaway!

Principal’s Award (National Association of Elementary School Principals): Picture Book of the Year

REVIEW: IMANI’S MOON is written by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press, $17.95, Ages 5-8)

Hazel_Imanis MoonCover high resImani, the smallest child in her African village, has been teased mercilessly by the other children because of her size. Their heartless jabs are just beginning to take a toll on Imani’s self-confidence when her mother tells her the legend of the brave moon deity Olapa. Inspired by a dream in which she stands hand in hand with the lunar goddess, tiny Imani awakens with the desire to do something great, to touch the moon.

In pursuit of her dream, Imani tries to reach the moon by climbing a tall tree, and building herself a giant pair of wings. The village children, even a snake and a chimpanzee, scoff at her valiant but failed attempts to reach the sky. But Imani’s mother still believes in her, offering the tale of Anansi the spider as a soothing and inspirational bedtime story. “A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplishes it,” she reassures her young daughter.

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Interior spread from Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell, Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2014.

Although discouraged, Imani attends a village celebration featuring the adumu, a special Maasai warrior jumping dance. She is particularly fascinated by one dancer who jumps higher and higher with each beat. Imani wakes the next morning, determined to try jumping her way to the moon. All day and into the night Imani jumps, a little higher each time. Despite her aching legs and throbbing feet, Imani keeps her focus on the moon, resolute on her goal.

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Interior spread from Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell, Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2014.

Readers will yearn for Imani’s success in the face of her faith and tiny warrior-like endurance, and cheer when her persistence is ultimately rewarded by the moon goddess herself.

Gleaming and triumphant with arms stretched wide, the cover of Imani’s Moon welcomes readers into this magical story touched with mythology, folklore and story-telling traditions. Mitchell’s watercolor illustrations offer sharp contrast between the soft earth tones of the African landscape and the rich, star-studded night skies. Lovely details abound, from cuddly goats to beaded jewelry and colorful shuka robes.

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Interior spread from Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell, Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2014.

This sweet, inspiring fantasy will rouse young readers to leap for their dreams, and dance, spellbound, until they hold the proverbial moon in their hands.

Don’t miss the charming book trailer at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DS1yRoBITEk

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Medley

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional PDF file copy of Imani’s Moon and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Q&A WITH HAZEL MITCHELL: 

Good Reads With Ronna: Imani is a beautiful person and a wonderful role model. She feels so real. Did you have someone in mind when you drew her?

Hazel Mitchell: Thank you! It’s lovely to know that. I didn’t have a particular child in mind when I began. The text conveyed a strong sense of Imani to me. So that’s where I started. And then I spent a lot of time looking at photos of Maasai children, who are very charming and full of character. So I began to make sketches. I did have a live model, but mostly for positions and expression and not for facial features. But she was a very lively model and I think that came across!

GRWR: The artwork in Imani’s Moon is joyful, even despite the local girls teasing Imani for being small. That’s an impressive accomplishment. What medium do you generally work in? Or, do you approach each picture book as a blank canvas that you’re eager to experiment with?

HM: I am glad the illustrations gave you such a good feeling – I feel I accomplished my task. I do approach each book with an open mind. I let the manuscript, the age group and the subject suggest to me the mood, the characters and what might work with medium. Sometimes an editor/art director tells me that they like something particularly that I have done before and that is the starting point. But mostly I am left to my own devices. I don’t have one set style, so I guess it can be a leap of faith on the publisher’s part sometimes! Having said that, I’m experimenting much more in my work, using more watercolour, collage and mixing in digital techniques. Imani’s world spoke to me of rich colours and textures and dramatic effects, so I had a lot of fun with this book!

GRWR: What tends to be the hardest part of working on a new picture book: Starting it? Trying to capture the author’s vision while remaining true to yourself? Finishing the book, or waiting for the next assignment to roll in?

I personally find the initial roughs the hardest part, but also the most interesting. It’s where the first thoughts of the book come out. It can be frustrating, as the vision is only half formed and sometimes it’s exhausting. The hardest part is trying to keep the freshness that you have in the initial sketches. Once you get to finals, the vision is there and it’s time to have some fun with technique and any little surprises that come along that you didn’t expect. After the book is finished, it’s like you gave birth. Then it incubates, until it finally arrives in book form. Then it’s a love/hate relationship!

GIVEAWAY: Hazel Mitchell has kindly offered one lucky reader a signed copy of Imani’s Moon. Please enter the Rafflecopter below and good luck!

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Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty

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“Celebrate the holidays with faith, family, friends … and food!”

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Charlesbridge, $17.95, Ages 4-8).

⭐︎Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Rabbi-Benjamins-Buttons-cvr.jpgWhat’s the best part about Jewish holidays? The time spent with family welcoming in the Jewish New Year (it’s 5775 now), the world’s birthday? Maybe it’s rejoicing during the harvest festival, Sukkot, that arrives five days after Yom Kippur. That’s when we spend time in the sukkot, or huts, that harken back to when the Israelites built temporary homes of palms and branches as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Whatever the holiday, another essential element is the food, the delicious, traditional food we eat whenever we celebrate.

A new picture book, Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons, humorously exemplifies how much food is intertwined with every Jewish holiday, and I know how true this is because it’s when I pack on the pounds every year!

Beloved by his happy congregation, Rabbi Benjamin is bestowed with a handmade vest featuring four shiny buttons at the New Year’s service. “How the rabbi smiled when he put on that beautiful vest! It fit just right.” But alas, with a year’s worth of holidays including Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Chanukah and Passover and a year’s worth of dining on delicious meals, the rabbi’s belly expands. So what do you think happens next? Yes, all the buttons eventually pop off, often landing in a dish of fabulous food.

Reinhardt’s watercolor illustrations are as rich as the food Rabbi Benjamin is served at every holiday.  They’re cheerful, radiant, expressive and perfectly reflect the rabbi’s favorite saying, “A happy congregation is the sunshine of my heart.”

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Interior spread from Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014.

To solve his dilemma, Rabbi Benjamin performs various good deeds, or mitzvot, within his community from planting a garden to climbing into a congregant’s attic to hide some Chanukah gifts. Over the course of the following year, the rabbi’s positive actions help his belly dwindle down in size. But without buttons, how can he fasten his vest and wear it for the approaching New Year’s service?

After reading this picture book, children will appreciate how one good deed begets another, often when least expected. Also, rather than pull out the elastic waist pants, perhaps more apples and less strudel couldn’t hurt!

Make sure you check out the end pages for a glossary of words used in the story. I love that a mouth watering selection of recipes for such traditional dishes as honey cake, latkes, matzoh ball soup and strudel are also included. There’s also an Educator’s Guide available for downloading by clicking here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel