Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

Posted on

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


Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert

Posted on

Written by Marcus Ewert & illustrated by Lisa Brown
(Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Reviewer Cathy Ballou Mealey just can’t keep mummy about this picture book!


A loyal and loving feline searches for his devoted owner, a young Egyptian queen in Marcus Ewert and Lisa Brown’s clever picture book MUMMY CAT. The catch? He’s just woken from a hundred year’s sleep after having been mummified and entombed in a beautifully decorated pyramid.

For young readers, the tale works on the simplest level as the pet seeks to reunite with his owner. The determined, inquisitive cat is appealing and adorable despite his elaborate linen wrappings. The tomb is bright and colorful, filled with interesting artifacts, a swirling moth, and cute little mice. Even a few spiders and cobwebs are so delightfully depicted that timid listeners will have nothing to fear.

As he wanders though the pyramid, the cat gazes fondly at painted murals showing his past life with the queen, Hapshupset. Indeed, the murals tell a more complex story within the story about a jealous, scheming sibling that complicated the young queen’s life. This aspect of the book will hold enormous appeal for older readers. Looking beyond the captivating mural images, we slowly decode the devious actions of Hapshupset’s sister and her evil lion-monkey.

An author’s note explains mummies, cats, queens and hieroglyphics for readers who want to know more, and seventeen hieroglyphs hidden within the illustrations are spelled out in more detail.

Ewert’s rhyming text is short yet descriptive, moving the story forward at a steady pace. Deep within this maze of stone, a creature wakes up, all alone . . .Spanning the full scope of this once-a-century event, Ewert leads us from the sun setting over hot desert sands into the tomb, through the night, and closing as the sun is beginning to rise. The spare but rich narrative leaves plenty of opportunity for Brown’s engaging, creative illustrations to flourish and add poignant, tender touches.

Just as Egyptian priests tucked magical amulets and symbolic treasures into a mummy’s linens, Ewert and Brown have slipped countless sweet delights into the pages of MUMMY CAT. Turn the pages slowly and savor them one by one. I’m certain you will also be en-wrap-tured by its many charms!

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey


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


A Giveaway to Celebrate 10 Years of Stink Moody

Posted on


It’s Children’s Book Week and We’re Celebrating.

We’re delighted to get all Stinky with it as the Stink series marks ten years on the scene. And what better way to celebrate Judy Moody’s hilarious and curious younger brother than with a generous giveaway of books courtesy of Candlewick Press! We’ll be following up this giveaway with an in-depth interview with author Megan McDonald so please watch this space.

If you’ve read or heard of the popular Judy Moody series of books by Megan McDonald, then you’ll also be familiar with Judy’s younger brother, Stink. The last decade has seen Stink get his own book series (he’s got more than nine titles now if you count his Stink-O-Pedias) while growing in popularity, so much so that he’s even getting his own celebration from publisher Candlewick Press. The best thing about the Stink series is how McDonald weaves STEM into every plot, whether it’s about the solar system, sharks and guinea pigs or sneaker sniffing, and makes it fun. There are fascinating facts along with Reynolds’ funny cartoons included in every book so children learn while laughing. Sure to pull in reluctant readers, these chapter books are filled with just the right amount of illustrations, Stink-y humor, and lovable characters to keep kids coming back for more.

SharkSleepovercvr.jpgIn honor of this super sniffer, letter S loving “spotlight stealer,” we’re singing Stink’s praises and giving away three books including a brand new illustrated first chapter book and two new paperback releases. All books are perfect for adding to your child’s collection or for giving away to a fun-loving fan or school library.

Stink and the Shark Sleepover by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick; $4.99, Ages 6-9)

When a first chapter is called There Will Be Sharks you just have to read on! The Moodys have won an overnight trip to the aquarium and everyone’s going to be there including Stink’s best buddy Webster, that oh-so-annoying classmate, Riley Rottenberger, and sharks, lots of ’em. But there’s just one catch, after an evening full of activities, Stink’s heard a scary story about Bloody Mary and he’s creeped out so much that he can’t fall asleep. A ghostly red glow and mysterious noise coming from a door nearby doesn’t help matters. Stink might have to pull a prank, or two, because Judy is sleeping a little too peacefully in the presence of sharks.

Click here to read a sample chapter.
Click here to download an activity kit.
Click here for a teacher’s guide.

MasterofDisastercvr.jpgJudy Moody and Friends: Stink Moody in Master of Disaster by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Erwin Madrid (Candlewick; $12.99, Ages 4-6)
Geared for “newly independent readers,” the Judy Moody and Friends series will breed a whole new flock of Judy and Stink fans. There are just a few chapters, large print, colorful illustrations and an engaging storyline. As this story begins, Judy and Stink are sleeping out in the backyard in the hopes of seeing comet P/2015OZ4, also known as the Sherman-Holm comet. Or in Stink’s case, the Sherlock-Holmes comet. The space theme is carried through when Stink, convinced that a giant asteroid is speeding toward Earth, decides to build an asteroid-proof bunker in the basement, transforming into Asteroid Boy to save the day.

Interior artwork from Stink Moody in Master of Disaster by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Erwin Madrid, Candlewick Press ©2015.

TheBigBadBlackoutcvr.jpgJudy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick; $6.99, Ages 6-9)

With its cool glow-in-the-dark title on the cover, this paperback edition of Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout is certain to entice some nighttime reading under the covers by flashlight. A big storm, a blackout and time off from school – what could get more exciting than that? Add Grandma Lou visiting with a host of her pets to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for fun family time together. And some great stories to boot. Speaking of boots, Judy and Stink are going to be needing them with the amount of rain that’s in store.  But there are double rainbows at the end plus tips on what things kids can do during a blackout (reading books by candlelight, flashlight or headlamp is one of ’em) making this book a must-have for any home library.

Interior artwork from Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press ©2015.

Visit to learn more about the character and his super series of books.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GIVEAWAY BONUS: Follow us on Facebook at, then let us know and we’ll give you an extra two entries in the giveaway! Valid, too, if you’re already a fan. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders

Posted on

Written and illustrated by Katie Saunders
(Little Bee Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)



Meet Archie, the main character of this adorable new picture book, Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders, inspired by her actual experience when she was expecting her second child.


Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.


Archie has noticed something different at home. His mom is looking BIGGER. She shows him the ultrasound image, something I haven’t seen in other books, but was happy Saunders thought to include it.

“This is your baby sister growing in Mommy’s tummy,” she says.

Archie is going to be a big brother. Unlike most older siblings usually concerned about a new child stealing the show, this little lad only briefly wonders if he wants a baby sister because what he really likes are “cars, trains, and playing ninjas.” The only objection he seems to have about the changes afoot is all the pinkness that’s filling the house.

He is ABSOLUTELY sure that he doesn’t like fluffy, frilly, very pink things.


Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.

For a lot of parents, Archie may seem to be the ideal son, but that’s what’s so sweet about this simple picture book. Olive Marshmallow is actually a super story to share with kids about the imminent arrival of another family member because it’s completely positive, setting it apart from so many of the rivalry-themed books. While those books are very important, and do indeed serve a purpose for helping kids find the words for feelings they may not otherwise be able to articulate, it’s refreshing to read a more innocent approach. Plus the switched on mom in the story is a reassuring presence. While things may not remain the same once the baby comes along, there will be twice the number of toys, and someone to play with (eventually). So it’s no surprise that from the moment Archie meets his marshmallow of a baby sister, it’s love at first sight.

In addition to the upbeat text, this feel good book exudes such joy as a result of Saunder’s lovely palate of soft pinks and baby blues. Her illustration style is a delightful blend of Lauren Child meets Nick Sharratt that kids will love. And you’ll notice she’s included a pet kitty you can point out to your child for some good laughs. Hint: Look for the cat dressed up in a tutu and crown. Things may not be the same anymore for Archie, but they sure will be better!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

How to Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg/Book Giveaway

Posted on

Written by Madelyn Rosenberg & Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8)



I LOVE all things tea party and Madelyn Rosenberg’s How To Behave at a Tea Party is no exception. I found myself itching to know how this adorable and entertaining picture book ended because its premise – not all tea parties go according to plan – is such fun! The cover, with the tea party hostess’s younger brother under the table reminded me of the numerous of tea parties my daughter threw many years ago. I recall running interference for her as my son’s trains and web of tracks seemed to always wind their way towards her precariously arranged party table.

Julia, the picture book’s narrator, is determined to show her little brother Charles the ins and outs of hosting a tea. Naturally you start by creating unique invitations, hand delivering them to the guests. Charles, contentedly playing with toys alongside his dog and pet frog, has a look of apprehension on his face, as do the pets. Julia’s instructions continue,

Next, you put on fancy clothes.
Wear a fancy hat.
Underwear does not count as a hat.

and though Charles and company try their best to cooperate, the results of their efforts (or lack thereof) are hysterical as witnessed in the illustration of the frog with undies covering one eye looking very much like ’40s film star, Veronica Lake. And let it be known, big sis does NOT want the McKagan brothers invited to tea, “Or the frog.” But it’s obvious from Rosenberg’s succinct and spot on prose along with Ross’s humorous illustrations that Julia is not getting her way, warranting her to “take deep breaths and count to seven.”



Interior artwork from How To Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg and illustrated by Heather Ross, Katherine Tegen Books, ©2014.


The juxtapositioning of Julia’s attempts to remain calm and in control of her tea party while watching its decorum slowly go downhill after a series of colorful mishaps is a big part of this book’s appeal. Another is watching the chaos ensue and seeing all the kids’ (and animals’) reactions as depicted so perfectly by Ross. This “Manners! What manners?” tea party provides a great jumping off point for discussion about appropriate and inappropriate behavior while at the same time demonstrates that it’s okay if things go off course. In fact, many times it’s actually a lot more fun!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light

Posted on

Louise-Loves-Art-cvr.jpgCELEBRATE THE LOVE OF ART

Author/Illustrator Kelly Light has created characters who are both lovable and relatable in Louise Loves Art, (Balzer and Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins, $17.99, Ages 4-8). Truly a work of art, Light’s first picture book, Louise Loves Art, will leave you satisfied, and wanting more at the same time. With a sparse text, (only about 130 words), you’d think it would be difficult to tell much of a story. Fuhgeddaboudit! (Sorry. Fellow former Jersey girl, Light, must have brought it out in me). This is a story brimming with a child’s passion for creative expression as well as a tale of sibling dynamics.

As the title says, Louise loves art. She draws all kinds of things, a frog, a sailboat, and her little brother Art. Young readers will enjoy seeing her work displayed throughout the house. Art watches and idolizes his big sister, as she tries to create a masterpiece: a picture of her cat.

To be a great artist, you have to notice everything.
Every line…
every curve…
Wait–hold that pose! I will capture your cat-ness!

But while Louise is engrossed in finding the perfect place to display her pièce de résistance, she fails to notice Art, his attempts to get her attention, and “his own” creation.


Interior artwork from Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light, Balzer & Bray ©2014.

Unlike Art’s inability to capture his sister’s eye, Light has no trouble getting our attention on and off the page. Frequently seen sporting red lipstick and matching eyeglasses, while on her book tour, Light told me, “Strong, by Lush Cosmetics, is the color of lipstick I like. Louise is a strong character.” Yes, she is, and with her primarily black and white and red all over style of artwork, Light makes that very clear. Using a black Prisma color pencil on vellum, scanning her drawings into the computer, and coloring them in Photoshop with “Louise Red” (also known as Pantone 1788), has her illustrations popping off the page.


Interior artwork from Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light, Balzer & Bray ©2014.

Louise inspires her brother, and Light’s book encourages children across the country to pick up a pencil and draw. In a time when art classes are being cut or eliminated from schools, it’s good to shed a little “Light” on the subject.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

And Then Comes Christmas by Tom Brenner

Posted on

Written by Tom Brenner and Illustrated by Jana Christy
(Candlewick, $15.99, Ages 4-8)


When your children seem especially eager for Christmas to come, then it’s time to reach for Brenner and Christy’s gentle, sequential countdown story AND THEN COMES CHRISTMAS. In a lovely lyrical style, Brenner follows a When/Then narrative that evokes all the special sights, sounds and smells of the season. “When the days barely start and they’re over again, and red berries blaze against green shrubs, and bare branches rake across the sky … Then hang boughs of fir or spruce or pine, dotted with cones and bits of holly, welcoming winter.”

In a snowy setting that looks vaguely like rural New England, two siblings engage in holiday traditions at school, at home and in the community. Brenner introduces wonderful imagery (“Wrap yourself in layers and tumble out of doors to romp in snow as smooth as bedcovers”) and accessible yet descriptive vocabulary (blaze, cling, dwindle) to set a joyous anticipatory scene. Visiting Santa, selecting a tree, baking goodies and making gifts are just a few of the holiday highlights.

Interior spread from And Then Comes Christmas by Tom Brenner with illustrations by Jana Christy, Candlewick Press ©2014.

Christy’s illustrations balance cool, snowy outdoor landscapes with warm, cozy interiors. The blotted, misty edges add to an overall dreamy glow with lots of child-like appeal. The sister and brother are a cheery pair of role models, cooperative, considerate and connected. Parents will certainly hope young listeners feel inspired to recreate the satisfying scenes with as much seasonal spirit as these two do! Following the family’s lively little black dog throughout the book will be a fun attention-keeper for little ones.

AND THEN COMES CHRISTMAS is a well-paced picture book that highlights many of the special down-to-earth holiday moments that children savor. It is a lovely choice to add to your family’s Christmas reading traditions!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of AND THEN COMES CHRISTMAS and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.