LA LA LA: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo

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LA LA LA:
A STORY OF HOPE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cvr image from La La La by Kate DiCamillo

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of  “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La La by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.

We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.

I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.

 

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.

Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.

La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.

Check out this link to a helpful teacher’s guide.

LA LA LA. Text copyright © 2017 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Jaime Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

    • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant


How To Catch A Monster by Adam Wallace & Andy Elkerton

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HOW TO CATCH A MONSTER
Written by Adam Wallace
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

Plus a Rafflecopter Giveaway 

cover image from How to Catch a Monster

A USA Today Bestseller!

From the creators of the New York Times bestselling How to Catch a Leprechaun and How to Catch an Elf!

There’s a monster in my closet,

with claws, and teeth, and hair,

and tonight, I’m going to scare him!

He lives just right through there …

Get ready to laugh as a young ninja heads into the closet to meet the monster that’s been so scary night after night! But what if things aren’t what they seem and our monster isn’t scary at all? What if our ninja hero is about to make a friend of the strangest sort?

 

Int artwork from How to Catch a Monster

Interior spread from How to Catch a Monster written by Adam Wallace with illustrations by Andy Elkerton, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2017.

 

CLICK HERE FOR A STORY TIME ACTIVITY KIT

 

Int spread from How to Catch a Monster

Interior spread from How to Catch a Monster written by Adam Wallace with illustrations by Andy Elkerton, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2017.

BIO:

Adam Wallace is a children’s writer and cartoonist living in Australia. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling How to Catch series and Only You Can Save Christmas.

Andy Elkerton is a children’s book illustrator based in the United Kingdom.

 

Int image from How to Catch a Monster by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton

Interior spread from How to Catch a Monster written by Adam Wallace with illustrations by Andy Elkerton, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2017.

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Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill

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WOLF CAMP
Written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill
(Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill picture book cover

It’s not Labor Day yet!

The shelves at the library and bookstore may be spilling over with “back-to-school” titles, but let’s hold on to summer silliness and camp craziness for just a bit longer. Truly, there is no one season for learning about how to tackle new experiences, face your fears and make new friends. Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill is a hilarious and heart-warming picture book that will encourage young listeners and little learners to be brave and have fun, and howl in harmony as one of the pack.

Our hero is Homer, a hound dog with scrawny neck and legs, big nose and a tail that wags frantically when he’s excited. Sometimes he acts “wolfish” pouncing playfully on his pink stuffed toy moose from behind the sofa. Homer believes all dogs have a bit of inner wolf, and fantasizes about living like one of the pack, racing through the wilderness with purpose. It seems like a dream come true when an invitation to Wolf Camp (“Where every dog can live as a wolf – for an entire week!”) falls into his kibble bowl.

Homer really wants to go to Wolf Camp. He pesters his human family, bringing the invitation to their attention over and over, until they relent and agree that he can go. “I’m going to be a wolf!” thinks Homer excitedly as he heads off on a big yellow bus. The camp counselors, Fang and Grrr, are actual wolves, sharp-nosed, pointy-eared, shaggy giants. Homer’s fellow campers are a bumbling, fuzzy golden retriever named Rex and Pixie, a teeny-tiny gray Chihuahua. Homer thinks the counselors seem nice, but the wolves appear slightly skeptical about the well-hidden potential in their new recruits. Nonetheless, after a detailed safety talk, the Wolf Camp lessons begin.

Zuill’s pen and ink drawings with watercolor wash are zany, charming and unbelievably expressive. She masterfully contrasts wolf and dog postures and body language, perfectly positioning their poised or clumsy bodies for stalking, howling, tracking and sleeping. The animals’ eye rolls, ear tilts, and tail movements convey oodles of meaning and emotion that enrich the wry, witty text and funny speech bubbles. It’s a guaranteed giggle when Homer pens a classic camp letter to his “people” at home, complaining about the food and bugs.

Wolf Camp is filled with loopy, lupine humor and heart. Readers will root for Homer, Rex and Pixie as they bond, persevere and slowly master the skills necessary for wolf-y, woodsy living. The new pack members succeed in earning Honorary Wolf certificates by the end of the week, but perhaps Homer has been changed forever by his wild experience. You’ll be howling with laughter throughout this silly, sweet and smart story for campers and canines alike.

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Wolf Camp from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin

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THE YEAR OF THE MONKEY:
TALES FROM THE CHINESE ZODIAC

Written by Oliver Chin
Illustrated by Kenji Ono
(Immedium; $15.95, Ages 4-8)

新年好 / 新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo)
‘New Year goodness!’

The_Year_of_the_Monkey

We love getting the word out about Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac and this year we’re delighted to share his latest, The Year of the Monkey. If you know someone born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, and of course, 2016, they were born in the Year of the Monkey. I’m proud to have been born in The Year of the Dog, but I think many readers will enjoy figuring out which family members’ birthdays fall in the Year of the Monkey.

In just 36 pages, you’ll get to learn about the Chinese culture, its New Year, and its organization of time “in cycles of twelve years,” and symbolized by the zodiac circle. This circle consists of animals whose unique personality traits are supposed to be representative of those found in individuals born under that symbol.

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread1

Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

The little monkey Max was born to the Queen and her prankster husband, the Monkey King. “A chimp off the old block,” Max was eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, so much so that when he began school, he found it difficult to sit still and follow the teacher’s instructions. Maybe you know a child like this, or were just like Max when you were a child. Playing a sport is often a great way to channel all this pent up energy and that’s exactly what Max did. His friend Kai introduced him to jianzi, or shuttlecock, and was soon noticed by the coach. “Practice your technique and not your talking and you’ll go far.”

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread2

Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

Encouraged by his father, Max was eager to register for the annual shuttlecock tournament to try to beat the reigning champions. First though, Max, along with his pal, Kai, had to practice, practice, practice to earn a place in the big match. The boys’ commitment to honing their jianzi skills proved successful. While not initially keen on Max pursuing the sport, Max’s mother was impressed with his devotion. She even advised him to find a “special move,” something the Monkey King was thrilled to provide. After making it past the semi-finals and into the finals, the boys were now poised to face off with their formidable opponents, Tiger and Dragon, depicted as three times their size and certain of winning. Though the boys battled valiantly, it looked like they couldn’t defeat the champs. That is, until Max unleashed his powerful “Monkey Spike,” in an upset that allowed the boys to beat the best! Keeping this happy ending in mind, it’s no surprise that, in the book’s back matter, we learn from Chin that “People born in the Year of the Monkey are carefree, curious, and crafty. They are playful, nimble, and persistent. But they can be impetuous and naughty, and sometimes show off. Though they are fond of mischief, monkeys keep their eyes on the prize and are indispensable allies.”

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread4

Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

Children will quickly find themselves rooting for Max and Kai to defeat the Tiger and the Dragon and achieve what seemed like the unattainable. This story of perseverance and triumph is fast-paced and easy to follow. Plus for the first time, there’s text written in simplified Chinese characters making this bilingual book a great introduction for non-Chinese speakers and those already fluent who prefer a translation.The rainbow colored artwork, rendered by Dreamworks Feature Animation storyboard artist, Kenji Ono, brings the story to life as we watch Max and Kai prepare for the big contest.

I can easily see this book on school library bookshelves as its subject matter is really quite universal. The book is filled with strong action verbs, some which may be new to youngsters. These wonderful examples convey how words, complemented by fun illustrations, can add to the overall reading experience even make reading aloud for parents enjoyable and entertaining.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Get downloadable coloring pages here.
Download the app on your iPad, too!


Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley

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TOUGH GUYS (HAVE FEELINGS TOO)
Written and illustrated by Keith Negley
(Flying Eye Books; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

ToughGuysHaveFeelingsToo-364x428

In less than 80 words, Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) manages to convey the important message to children that everyone (except perhaps robots) experiences a wide range of emotions despite any appearances to the contrary. Negley, a well-known illustrator, opens with a wrestler in a locker room feeling nervous while young readers see his opponent waiting in the ring. Then an astronaut is floating in space clutching a photo of his family far, far away. “You might not think it, but tough guys have feelings too.”

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Interior artwork from Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley, Flying Eye Books ©2015.

Ninja best friends can have a disagreement and feel sad or misunderstood. Superheroes, despite being on top of the world, can feel lonely, cowboys can get embarrassed, pirates searching for treasure can feel frustrated, strong, gallant knights don’t always succeed “No matter how strong.” These and  other examples of “tough guys” we may think never experience a “down” moment are all depicted showing their honest feelings. My favorite illustration, and perhaps one of the most powerful, has to be the big burly biker shedding tears over the squirrel in the road he likely has hit accidentally. The message, that it’s okay to get upset, may not be unique, but the way it’s conveyed to children is. The colorful artwork, coupled with the brief yet befitting narrative, allows parents to open a dialogue about feelings and emotions and the need to be authentic.

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Interior artwork from Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley, Flying Eye Books ©2015.

Don’t miss pointing out to children the endpapers in the front of the book showing the young boy, who is ultimately seen reading together with his dad at the story’s end, pretending to be all the characters depicted in Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too), and the endpapers in the back of the book showing the same boy doing all that pretend play alongside his dad. Sharing this picture book with preschoolers is a wonderful way to reinforce the point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having feelings, and that when they do indeed have a feeling of anger, fear, or embarrassment, they’re not alone.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Max the Brave by Ed Vere

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MAX THE BRAVE
Written and illustrated by Ed Vere
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Autumn 2015 Kids’ Indie Next Pick!

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Today we welcome a feisty, fearless new feline into the memorable mix of kitty picture book characters kids adore. Meet Max the Brave, a black kitten (seen on the cover sporting a red super hero cape), keen to chase a mouse. The catch is, Max’s not sure what a mouse looks like.

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Interior artwork from Max the Brave by Ed Vere, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2015.

In this adorable and addictive book, described as a cross between Are You My Mother? and I Want My Hat Back, U.K. author and illustrator Ed Vere fills the pages with humorous attempt after attempt by Max to find the rodent. From an empty tin can to up in a tree, and from an elephant –

“Excuse me, but would you
happen to be Mouse?”

“Eeek, Mouse?!
I’m not Mouse, I’m Elephant,”
says Elephant.
“But I did just see Mouse skitter by.”

– to finally coming face to face with the mouse, but not knowing what he’s looking at, the laugh out loud moments build to an entertaining conclusion. Young readers will find themselves urging Max on, especially when he’s tricked by clever Mouse into believing that the nearby sleeping Monster is actually the mouse that Max has been seeking all along. The comedy that ensues when Max confronts the real monster (with pink toenails) adds to the action and excitement.

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Interior artwork from Max the Brave by Ed Vere, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2015.

This play on identities will also delight parents since many of the characters Max meets on his quest are those who either fear cats or mice. This great read feels like a classic cartoon where we, as the audience, may know the outcome, but delight in the journey.

Bright artwork, fabulous facial expressions on every cute creature Max encounters, along with short sentences placed pleasingly on every page work together making Max the Brave a picture book worthy of multiple reads and huge smiles.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

New Star Wars Epic Yarns Board Book Trilogy from Chronicle Books

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If Kids Haven’t Felt the Force, Now is the Time!
Star Wars Epic Yarns Trilogy:
A New Hope; The Empire Strikes Back;  & Return of the Jedi
by Jack and Holman Wang
(Chronicle Books; $9.99 each, ages 0-2)

 

StarWarsEpicYarnsANewHopeAs fans know, today, May 4th, is Star Wars Day so what better way to celebrate than by sharing a new trilogy of board books from the creative team of Jack and Holman Wang? These 24 paged, sturdy books are ideal for introducing a new generation to an American film icon. The three books, Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope, Star Wars Epic Yarns: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars Epic Yarns: Return of the Jedi do not disappoint, in fact they are quite amazing when you consider how they were made.

StarWarsEpicYarnsEmpireÜber inventive twin brothers, Jack and Holman, have painstakingly recreated classic scenes (12 in fact) using felt as their medium! The 12 scenes in each book were designed using 7:1 scale. The characters and settings, including the desert, swamp, forest and snow, all have been recreated to resemble the original locales. And if that’s not mind-blowing enough, the Wangs have been able to reduce the gist of each plot line down to 12 individual words for little ones to see, hear and learn.

StarWarsReturnoftheJedi
I can picture grandparents, parents and caregivers reading the board books with a huge smile on their faces as they recall major scenes from the Star Wars films that have stayed with them for years, maybe decades.  In the first book, youngsters see the captured Princess Leia conversing with R2-D2 and so the word, princess, is introduced. Luke Skywalker discovers the hidden Death Star plans in the droid, boy, learns to use a lightsaber, meets captain Hans Solo, travels through space, and the colorful cast of characters become heroes in the end.

The story breakdown in the other two board books is similar in that the Wang brothers have perfectly paired words with characters and selected the best scenes to reproduce. Little ones are going to LOVE the Wang’s little green Jedi Master Yoda and be impressed by the commanding stature of Darth Vader, father and laugh at the marvelous monster depiction in felt of Jabba the Hutt.

I sure wish these clever books had been around when my kids were little, but now I can at least look forward to sharing them one day with my grandchildren before they, like millions of others, get hooked on the films!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel