Here Comes a New School Year – A Back-to-School Books Roundup

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A ROUNDUP OF OUR FAVORITE
NEW BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

With Labor Day kicking off the traditional start of a new school year,
what better way to ease little ones into the classroom
than with a great selection of back-to-school books to read as they settle into a new routine?

 


Here Comes Teacher Cat
Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood cover image

Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Underwood sure knows how to make parents and children laugh out loud. Here Comes Teacher Cat is full of sight gags that never fail to surprise and delight. So as not to spoil it for you, I’ll just say that once again Cat has outdone himself in cattitude. Whether you love the narrator having a one-sided dialogue with a cat who uses signs to communicate, or the laziness of this feline forever yearning to nap, Underwood’s got it all here when Cat is called in to substitute for Ms. Melba at Kitty School. The only problem is that Cat hasn’t a clue what to do first. When he approaches teaching with his own Cat brand of humor and zeal, there’s no holding him or the kitties back causing quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. What will Ms. Melba find upon her return from the doctor? Why, a very clean classroom, a confident Cat and happy kitties of course. Just don’t open the closet Ms. Melba! Fans of Underwood’s humor and Rueda’s low-key spot on artwork will not be disappointed in this Publishers Weekly starred picture book. Oh and don’t miss the opening illustrations before the title page.

TwindergartenCover image for Twindergarten by Nikki Ehrlich
Written by Nikki Ehrlich
Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(HarperCollins; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

Starting Kindergarten can be scary for most kids, but what happens if you’re a twin? In Twindergarten, author Ehrlich, a mom of twins, tackles the topic gently and thoughtfully, touching on the many issues twins might experience being separated at school for the first time. Though Zoe and Dax are as close as peanut butter and jelly at home, they wonder how they’ll cope being in different classes during the day. They soon learn that Kindergarten is not only fun, it’s a place where they can make new friends, try new things and still see each other during recess. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. Debut illustrator Abbott puts the emphasis on the main characters clothed in darker outfits in her illustrations making it easy to zoom in how Zoe and Dax are interacting with their environment. Not only for twins, Twindergarten shows the rewards  of attending school and how children can be separated from siblings or friends and still thrive.

Don’t Go to School!Don't Go to School! cover image Sterling Children's Books
Written by Máire Zepf
Illustrated by Tarsila Krüse
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4+)

How enjoyable it was to read this clever spin on a back-to-school book. In Don’t Go to School, it’s young Benno who’s excited to leave while his mom wants him to remain at home. “Don’t go to school!” she wailed. And I laughed! The humor was not lost on me since I could relate to the mother in this lovingly illustrated picture book. I think there are lots of parents, like me, who have experienced separation anxiety when sending their child off on the new adventure and life stage that is attending school. Mommy is encouraged by Benno using language much like a parent would to reassure their new student. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” said Benno. “You’ll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice!” Zepf is clearly familiar with first day jitters and her tantrum scene may ring a bell with others, only this time it’s Mommy who’s lost it. My favorite part of the story is when Benno takes some of his own kisses and tucks them in his mother’s pocket so she can feel his love even when they’re apart. This comforting story will empower youngsters while also providing tips on adjusting to the big change in their lives.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Best Hanukkah Books 2016 – A Roundup

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BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
A Roundup by Ronna Mandel

 

Hanukkah Delight!
Hanukkah Delight by Leslea Newman book coverWritten by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy Husband
(Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4)

An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as:
Friends and neighbors to invite, 
Ancient blessings we recite.
Gleaming candles burning bright,
Crispy latkes taste just right.

 

A Hanukkah With MazelA Hanukkah With Mazel by Joel Edward Epstein
Written by Joel Edward Stein
Illustrated by Elisa Vavouri
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, $6.99 eBook, Ages 3-8)

Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazel is flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.

Yitzi and the Giant Menorah cover imageYitzi and the Giant Menorah
Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar
(Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.


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

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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.

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Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson

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PEG + CAT: THE PIZZA PROBLEM
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson
(Candlewick Entertainment; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Peg and Cat: The Pizza Problem book cover

 

Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem is another wonderful book from the creators of the popular educational PBS show, Peg + Cat! You don’t need to be familiar with Peg + Cat to enjoy this book because their characters shine through in the text and illustrations.

Peg and her cat open up Peg’s Pizza Place and are excited to serve the first customers when she gets an order for half a pizza among the orders of whole pizzas. At first she doesn’t know what half a pizza is, but luckily her friends come and help her realize that half a pizza is just one pizza cut down the middle, a semi-circle. Peg and Cat continue to fulfill new orders and provide entertainment for the customers, but then there is a dilemma! Peg gets four more orders and there’s only enough ingredients to make two and a half pizzas. Luckily, some of the orders were for half pizza pies, so she just might have enough to satisfy everyone.

Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem is a terrific book for kids ages three through seven who will appreciate the bright and cheerful illustrations while learning helpful math concepts.  The story really had some good twists and turns, so much that it kept me engaged because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I’m always happy to see math concepts being introduced and taught in real-to-life scenarios so kids can grasp the concepts easily. I also enjoyed the part where Peg got so stressed and had to be reminded to count down from five to one to calm down–an important lesson kids and adults both need.

Thank you Jennifer Oxley and Bill Aronson for your great work with Peg + Cat! We look forward to what other fun math related books you create.

Download an activity kit here.

Read Lucy’s review of Peg + Cat: The Race Car Problem here.

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch