Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

Posted on

GO BIG OR GO GNOME
Written by Kirsten Mayer
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.  

 

Cover image of Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

 

 

There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.

A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?

Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.

Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Children’s Books for Inauguration Day

Posted on

Best Books for Inauguration Day 2017

 

As our nation’s 45th president, Donald Trump, is sworn in, it feels fitting to share these three presidential-themed picture books looking at all aspects of a presidency including leadership qualities, first ladies and pets. Enjoy the variety!

 

cover image of President SquidPresident Squid
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Sara Varon
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Meet Squid. He’s going to be president and he’s going to be “the greatest president who ever lived.” Towards this goal Squid’ll do five things other presidents have done including:
1. Wearing ties.
2. Living in an enormous house (don’t miss the shark who has just taken a bite out of Squid’s home and is quickly leaving the scene.
3. Being famous and having a book named after him.
4. Talking so everyone has to listen.
5. Bossing everybody.
But somehow the way Squid conveys those qualities doesn’t seem to go over too well with all the other fish in the sea. It takes a very little sardine stuck in a clamshell to explain the true qualities of a special leader which Squid attempts to do. Ultimately though, this all proves to be too exhausting and the way Squid sees it, it might be even better to be king!
Though published last year, the tongue-in-cheek humor of this story still resonates today. Reynolds has found a fun way to help parents make kids laugh while starting the conversation about ego, leadership and character. Varon’s illustrations depicting a hot pink squid jump off the page and grab our attention just like Squid wants.

Cover image of What's The Big Deal About First LadiesWhat’s The Big Deal About First Ladies
Written by Ruby Shamir
Illustrated by Matt Faulkner
(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

One of the What’s The Big Deal About new series of books, this entertaining and informative picture book is a timely read as we welcome on the second foreign-born first lady to the White House, the first being Louisa Adams. Melania Trump is following in the footsteps of some amazing women including Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and so many more.

Author and former White House staffer (including two years working in the first lady’s office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then leading her NY Senate office), Ruby Shamir poses a bunch of questions that kids might ask about the role of first lady. She answers them but doesn’t rely on lengthy responses. Rather she uses fact boxes to highlight some of the most meaningful and interesting contributions America’s first ladies have made.

“I’m so excited to offer young readers a window into the most important contributions this diverse array of patriotic women have made to our culture and history,” says author Shamir. “Even when women’s opportunities were hampered by custom or law, America’s first ladies turned an ill-defined, very public role into an opportunity to serve our country and shine a spotlight on our finest ideals.”

What’s The Big Deal About First Ladies helps young readers gain insight into the many responsibilities of a first lady. The following examples will also help youngsters appreciate the positive impact first ladies can make on our country: Did you know that Abigail Adams was not only a first lady but the first second lady (Vice President’s wife)? Or that Julia Grant opened up White House events to curious reporters? Or that Grace Coolidge was famous for having a pet raccoon named Rebecca, and having taught deaf children, she got her husband to pay attention to people with disabilities? Mary Todd Lincoln was the first first lady to welcome African Americans to the White House as guests. And when Eleanor Roosevelt learned opera singer Marian Anderson was banned from a concert hall for being African American, Roosevelt was instrumental in getting her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead!

Shamir’s keen curation of which first ladies to cover invites curious children to delve deeper with additional reading.  Faulkner’s artwork gives a loose interpretation of the featured women, honing in on some key aspects of the first ladies’ lives and breathing life into every scene. There’s also a handy list in the back matter of all the presidents, their term dates and the first ladies’ names that, along with the fascinating content, make this an excellent addition to any classroom or library.

Cover image from Presidential PetsPresidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary,
Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House
Written by Julia Moberg
Illustrated by Jeff Albrecht Studios
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $7.48, Ages 3-7)

A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens?
Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces with each turn of the page.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Ada Twist, Scientist Written by Andrea Beaty

Posted on

ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST
Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by David Roberts
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $17.95, Ages 5-7)

 

Cover image from Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

 

Ada Twist, Scientist is the third rhyming picture book from Andrea Beaty and David Roberts featuring an extraordinary child whose talents can be problematic. Ada Marie Twist doesn’t speak until age three then asks “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose?” “Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?” Her parents tell her that she will figure it out.

Throughout the chaotic story, Ada tries to find the source of a terrible smell. Though the reader is never told where it comes from, children will be happy to help Ada out. The crazy antics of Ada’s experiments are illustrated in vivid detail.

When her parents finally have enough, they send Ada to the family’s “Thinking Chair.” In this pivotal page, we see small Ada surrounded by white space—with a sharpened red pencil surreptitiously nearby. Kids gleefully grasp what comes next as Ada cannot contain her big thoughts.

Thankfully, her parents understand. “They watched their young daughter and sighed as they did. What would they do with this curious kid, who wanted to know what the world was about? They smiled and whispered, ‘We’ll figure it out.’” Together, they help Ada become a young scientist . . . if only Ada could figure out where that awful smell originates.

Readers of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect will notice that Miss Lila Greer’s second-grade class (including students Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck) make cameo appearances in Ada Twist, Scientist. Graph-paper backgrounds again evoke mathematical calculations which contrast nicely with the colorful, humorous images.

Teaching guide and activities available here.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Posted on

ALSO AN OCTOPUS
Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

  • is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

also-an-octopus

 

Looking for a terrific tale about waffle spaceships and eight-legged ukulele players? Well Also An Octopus is definitely the book for you! Wondering how writers come up with ideas for books about waffle spaceships? Then this is STILL the book for you! Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall has crafted a funny, clever story about following the spark of an idea through wild gallops of imagination until it takes shape as a book. But this can happen if and only if one follows the basic rules of the road, which are explained with flair and humor.

The tale begins with a blank page. An unseen narrator gently reminds us that all stories do begin this way, on an empty page, screen or canvas, until a character appears. Perhaps it is a little girl, or an adorable bunny, or a ukulele-playing octopus. But that grinning octopus, surrounded by bloopie bubbles and wearing a pom-pom topped knit cap, has to want something. What the character wants, explains the narrator, will make the story become interesting. And if the octopus wants an awesome purple spaceship, it has to be difficult to get. If he can simply get one from the drugstore the story will be too silly, short and dull. So perhaps the octopus will have to make the spaceship himself, out of odds and ends like soda cans, glue, string, umbrellas, glitter and waffles.

Have you fastened your seatbelt yet? Because this story is just about to take off! Or is it? “I’m not really qualified to build a spaceship ….” remarks the octopus, a tentacle rubbing his puzzled head. Nope, that spaceship doesn’t fly, so now our hero has an even bigger problem to solve. He has to find a rocket scientist!

Tokuda-Hall subtly teaches the constructs of story-telling within the boundaries of this absurdly whimsical tale. Step-by-step, the hapless octopus is tossed and turned through the imaginary gyrations of the narrative, experiencing the emotional highs and lows of a plot-driven concept. As illustrated by Benji Davies, the engaging and expressive characters will appeal to readers young and old.  The seemingly retro color palette ranges from mustard yellow to blue, orange, and luscious deep eggplant, displayed in large, bright spreads nicely balanced and evenly spaced. Davies tucks amusing random details into the scenes, like a curly-tongue armadillo and motorboat-driving hamster. Those details, in turn, will inspire young listeners to create new stories of their own.

Create new stories? Yes, because everyone has a bit of nothing, a virtual “blank page” on which to begin. And thus Also An Octopus comes full circle after a rollicking adventure that is as awesome as a purple spaceship dotted with waffles. Remember those bloopie bubbles that swirl around our eight-limbed hero? They burst into sparkly stars once he reaches outer space, a twinkling celebration of this delightful adventure into the world of story-making.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Also An Octopus from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Witch-Themed Halloween Picture Books Roundup

Posted on

WITCH-THEMED HALLOWEEN BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

Goblin Hoodgoblin-hood
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Piper Thibodeau
(Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 3-5)

In this Halloween-themed rhyming picture book, Goblin Hood and the gremlins of Scarewood Forest work together year-round making candy. “In the forest of Scarewood, where gremlins made sweets, a creature named Goblin Hood guarded their treats.”

Everything is going well . . . until a witch swoops by, stealing the candy and turning the gremlins against Goblin Hood. Silly illustrations depict the witch directing gremlins to bag it all up and load it on her broom while she reclines on a mountain of candy, feasting on the spoils.

Lurking outside, the Halloween hero of Scarewood Forest, Goblin Hood, plans. Soon, he leaps into action, capturing the witch using licorice, taffy, and gum stashed in his pack.

Goblin Hood reprimands the witch, “You’ll have to make up for the things you did wrong. And help make the Halloween treats all year long.” Not a bad deal for the witch.

The morale of the story: work together while fostering friendships—even with candy-stealing witches. And, don’t disappoint those cute trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.

Piper Thibodeau’s vivid, funny illustrations in Goblin Hood are a treat for a young child with a sweet tooth and sense of humor.


grimelda-the-very-messy-witchGrimelda: The Very Messy Witch
Written by Diana Murray
Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Katherine Tegen Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

In Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, Grimelda wants to make pickle pie, but cannot find her pickle root. “She used her broom to fly, not sweep. Her floors had dirt six inches deep.”

Clever wordplay leads us through Grimelda’s house as she searches for the missing ingredient. We discover her scream cheese spread and rot sauce, but no pickle root—not even in the swamp out back where she finds last summer’s bathing suit.

As any cook knows, it’s critical to use right ingredient. Grimelda flies over to the general store where, alas, pickle root is sold-out and, “All Baby Dragon Sales Are Final.”

Reluctantly, Grimelda sweeps up. When the clutter clears, along with the pickle root, she discovers her long-lost comb. Finally able to untangle her locks, another surprise enables her to return her house to disarray. “Grimelda breathed a happy sigh. At last, she’d make that scrumptious pie!” Or, will she . . .

Heather Ross’s ingenious illustrations show a spider sneaking off throughout with the pickle root—sure to be a favorite with kids who notice subtly hidden pictures. Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch provides a wealth of images for young readers to explore.

hubble-bubble-the-super-spooky-fright-nightHubble Bubble, The Super-Spooky Fright Night
Written by Tracey Corderoy
Illustrated by Joe Berger
(Nosy Crow; $6.99, Ages 6-9)

Hubble Bubble, The Super-Spooky Fright Night, the first book of a new middle-grade series, contains three stories: The Super-Spooky Fright Night, Teddy Trouble, and Granny Makes a Splash. On the opening pages, we are introduced to Pandora and her witchy grandmother, Granny Crow whose ideas are, well, “just a bit . . . different.”

The tales follow Pandora and Granny Crow from Halloween party with musical broomsticks to birthday party where stuffed animals talk, and, finally, on a delightful school trip at a swimming pool. With each occasion, we find Granny ready with her wand, casting spells to help out: “It was time to liven things up a bit, Granny style!” Of course, her well-meaning ways have funny consequences.

Joe Berger’s illustrations on every page make the book visually bewitching. Black, white, and orange ink enlivens the text with color. The abundance of images may help advance picture-book readers to chapter books with these visual clues.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

 


Brunhilda’s Backwards Day by Shawna J.C. Tenney Blog Tour

Posted on

BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY BLOG TOUR
Written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney
(Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-8)

 

Brunhilda's backwards day book cover

 

It’s day three of the Brunhilda’s Backwards Day Blog Tour and I’ve got this question to ask readers: What comes to mind when you think of a witch – someone mean and warty riding a broomstick and wearing a pointy hat, with a cat as a sidekick, and always up to no good? That sounds exactly like the witch in Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, the debut picture book from author and illustrator Shawna J.C. Tenney.

 

Interior artwork of Brunhilda the witch from Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Tenney takes us through a typical Brunhilda day, from her start getting out of “the wrong side of the bed,” and putting on her ugliest outfit (because what witch do you know who wears designer dresses?), to finding great satisfaction in chanting troublesome spells:

Lumpy grumpy fly pie stew!!
Hocus Pocus
hippity hoppity spew!

 

Oh the wickedly witchy things she concocts to annoy people!  But it seems Brunhilda isn’t alone in brewing up mischief. Her feline friend, who all along appears rather reluctant to wreak havoc, has some plans of her own!!

 

Interior artwork from Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

When Bruhilda awakens the following day, her warts are gone, she has only oatmeal not spider mush to eat for breakfast, and horror of horrors, her ugly dress has turned into a “fluffy pink ball gown.” And try as she might to do all her awfulness, Brunhilda soon finds herself unable to be cruel. In fact she actually delights in bringing joy to the children and families she ordinarily would upset.

 

Interior spread of Brunhilda in ruffly pink ball gown Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Seeing Brunhilda’s transformation in both words and illustrations is pure pleasure. There’s even an early foreshadowing Tenney’s included on the book’s title page illustration showing the wicked witch pouring water on her cat. Tenney’s text, in a fabulous font, is simple, and succinct. It’s surrounded by lots of lovely white space which also serves to contrast the empowering pink, pulsating purples and gorgeous greens in the artwork.

 

Interior artwork of magical playground in Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Brunhilda’s Backwards Day begs to be read aloud with a cackling voice and a crooked finger, while pointing out all the magical goings on in the vibrant artwork.  I totally enjoyed this charming Halloween treat and have no doubt your kids will fall under Brunhilda’s happy spell.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

Find out more about the blog tour here.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-2-07-20-pm

 


Reluctant Readers Love Timmy Failure and Tom Gates Series

Posted on

TIMMY FAILURE & TOM GATES
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR RELUCTANT READERS

Huzzah and hooray! A world class detective and a passionate doodler are back in the continuing series of two popular Candlewick Press middle grade books.

If you’re not familiar with either either Timmy Failure or Tom Gates, please take a look at earlier reviews of previous titles right here at Good Reads with Ronna (see below). Both series are a hit with fans of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and employ a diary or journal style novel filled with pen and ink illustrations. The illustrations not only add to both series’ humor, but, as one of my students, a reluctant reader (and now big fan) told me: the illustrations increase his understanding and enjoyment. Both are recommended for ages 8-12.
So check out more hilarious adventures– and misadventures– of Timmy Failure and Tom Gates.

Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection (#4)Timmy Failure Sanitized For Your Protection book cover
Written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis
Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

The young “ … founder, president, and CEO of Failure, Inc, the greatest detective agency in the nation …” is forced to go on a road trip to Chicago to help his mom’s boyfriend move, instead of working on his latest case: the theft of money from a school fundraiser. Extremely put out, Timmy endures miles of cornfields and country-western music with his mother, Doorman Bob, his polar bear ex-partner, Total, arch-enemy and “criminal mastermind,” Molly, and her family. Like the Pink Panther’s clueless Inspector Clouseau, the equally clueless Timmy accuses everyone but the actual thief and tries to elicit confessions from the innocent while advising them on their “Carmen Miranda” rights. Can Timmy solve the case while far away in Chicago? Can he trust Molly, one of his many suspects, to help him find the crook? Be prepared for “greatness!” Visit Candlewick Press for information on the books and see Pastis’ wonderful Timmy Failure website for more information on the series, the characters, trailers for each book, and activities.

Read Good Reads with Ronna’s past reviews of the Timmy Failure series here.
Tom Gates Everything's Amazing (Sort of) book coverTom Gates: Everything’s Amazing (Sort of) (#3) 
Written and illustrated by Liz Pichon
Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Tom has a lot on his mind and some big problems. Not his usual problems: an irritating older sister, an obnoxious classmate who is always trying to get him in trouble, school, teachers, and math homework. Actually, any homework.

No, he’s got much bigger worries than that. His birthday is coming up and no one seems to notice the wish list he’s conveniently posted on the refrigerator door. His weird, but sweet grandmother has promised to whip him up a special birthday cake. Not so good … she’s been known to mix jello and peas together. His parents have promised to take him and four of his friends to Dino Village for his birthday (where his father works). Four friends? No problem, he’ll invite best “mate” Derek, Norman, and two others. Things quickly go awry, when Amy, the girl he has a crush on, sees the invitations and asks if she can come … and bring a friend. He agrees before realizing the numbers (there’s that pesky math again) don’t add up to four.

His band, Dog Zombies, which includes Derek and Norman, has been “volunteered” by Principal Keen to perform at the school dance. The inexperienced trio, with only one previous engagement under their belts, is going to need a lot of practice. A lot! Even worse, Tom’s father, a loveable and delightfully quirky man, has been hired to be the DJ at the school dance. He plans to wear his dinosaur costume from Dino Village … and silver disco boots. Positively cringe-worthy.

Will this doodler and homework dodger get what he wants for his birthday? Will he figure out how to include Amy and his four friends at Dino Village? Will the Dog Zombies go up in flames at the school dance? And then there’s his father … and his grandmother’s special birthday cake. Read the book and be prepared for a laugh-out-loud experience!

Oh, in case you don’t speak British (“choon” means an excellent tune), Pichon has included a British to American glossary. Don’t forget to check out the recipe for Tom’s “Doodle Toast” at the end of the story.

Visit Pichon’s and Candlewick’s websites for more information on the author and the series as well as fun activities.

Check out Good Reads with Ronna’s earlier reviews of previous titles in the Tom Gates series:

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (#1)

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff) (#2)

  • Reviewed by Dornel CerroVisit Dornel’s blog, Mile High Books, here.