Written by Rachel Noble
Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(Enchanted Lion; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
STERLING, BEST DOG EVER
Written and illustrated by Aidan Cassie
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-6)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
A feather. A fork. These things mean more than they seem when viewed through the loving eyes of a family in two new picture books, FINN’S FEATHER and STERLING, BEST DOG EVER from debut authors.
FINN’S FEATHER features an upbeat and energetic child who discovers a white feather on his doorstep. He runs to show the new treasure to his mother, explaining that the feather is from his brother, Hamish. His mother responds with a deep breath and a big hug. His teacher’s reaction is likewise muted. But Finn’s friend Lucas understands and shares in his delight. Together they find ways to include the special feather in their playtime.
With the feather as an equal, adventuresome partner, it is as if Finn’s deceased brother is right beside them, sharing in the delight of a spring day. When Finn finally decides to write a letter to Hamish, he uses the feather as a pen. “I whish you were here,” he writes, and secures his message in a tree branch.
Abbott’s warm illustrations are clear and soft, setting off the emotional tale with gentle tenderness. Simple and generously spaced, the images leave ample room for Noble’s text to carry deeper meaning. The pastel color palette is attractively textured, drawing readers’ eyes to the ever-present, symbolic feather. This poignant book is ideal for helping children understand the range of complex emotions, grief and happiness, that accompany our experiences of loss and remembrance.
It’s a fork, or a dog, that stars in STERLING, BEST DOG EVER. Although no home has ever wanted to keep Sterling, he is determined to find a family. Outside the Butlery Cutlery Factory, he comes up with a plan to be shipped inside a package of utensils. Sure, he may have to disguise himself as a fork to succeed, but he’s resourceful!
The Gilbert family is skeptical but accepting of Sterling, and their dog-obsessed daughter is delighted beyond measure. But Sterling’s role is not entirely clear. Did the family want a fork, a dog, or should he try to be a whisk, a rolling pin, or a chandelier? Young readers will giggle at Sterling’s enthusiastic attempts to carve out a place for himself in the new family order.
Cassie’s illustrations are colorful, humorous and well-paced. Even when attempting to fill-in as an inanimate household item, Sterling is imbued with emotion, expression and energy. His earnest efforts and the girl’s equally passionate yearning to help her “dog-fork” assimilate are heart-tugging and funny at the same time. STERLING is a quirky, clever tale of self-acceptance and love that will hold special appeal for readers with rescue dogs.
• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Click here to read another recent review by Cathy.
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
THE THREE LITTLE PUGS
Written and illustrated by Nina Victor Crittenden
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
THE LITTLE RED FORT
Written by Brenda Maier
Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
The following pair of pleasing picture books, The Three Little Pigs and The Little Red Fort feature updated and revitalized tales with fresh characters and wonderful word choices in two debut stories sure to delight young readers.
Pugs replace pigs in Crittenden’s humorous THE THREE LITTLE PUGS, while the huffing-puffing wolf becomes a snoozy-sleepy cat who takes over the pugs’ cozy bed. Playing off the traditional story’s theme to build with straw, sticks or bricks, the pugs employ familiar household substitutes. Drinking straws, drumsticks and snaplock toy bricks don’t help the pups oust the cat from their wicker bed basket. How can the pug trio broker a lasting peace with the snoozing intruder?
Crittenden’s light, bright illustrations are perfectly suited to the short, sweet text full of rhyme and repetition. There is plenty of action from the busy and resourceful pups to keep the pages turning quickly. While this pug-a-licious tale could convince a few toddlers to embrace their nap schedules, the twist ending also lends itself as a fresh bedtime story selection perfect for a cuddle and a snuggle, pug-style.
The Little Red Hen becomes an able, ambitious little sister in Maier’s THE LITTLE RED FORT. Young Ruby wants to build a backyard fort, but her brothers refuse to help. When they say “You don’t know how to build anything,” Ruby shrugs and responds “Then I’ll learn.” She forges ahead with drafting plans, gathering supplies and cutting boards. Along the way she is skillfully assisted by the adults in the family (parents and a grandmother!) Once the fort is finished, Ruby is satisfied with some peaceful solo playtime until her brothers express an interest in her awesome project. Will they find a way to make it up to Ruby after scorning her efforts? The clever twist ending is modern, engaging and satisfying for all.
Sánchez puts bold colors and loose, sketchy lines to vibrant use, portraying pig-tailed Ruby with determination and enthusiasm. The large, textured images are well-matched to Maier’s subtle patterned prose, echoing the traditional text in format and expanding the storyline to contemporary sensibilities. Determination, cooperation and creativity are powerful themes woven into the story with care while simple childhood fun and warm family life will be foremost in readers’ minds.
- Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
THE GREAT RACE:
STORY OF THE CHINESE ZODIAC
Written and illustrated by Christopher Corr
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto; $17.99, Ages 3-6)
A new retelling of The Great Race, a classic Chinese folk tale, comes to us from author-illustrator Christopher Corr. In this version of the Chinese zodiac story, the Jade Emperor, realizing he doesn’t know his age, creates the Great Race in order to start measuring time. The first twelve animals to cross the river get a year named after them. Each animal’s story ensues. For those unfamiliar with the animals, they are the rat, ox, horse, goat, monkey, dog, pig, snake, tiger, rabbit, rooster and last but definitely not least, the dragon.
This 32-page picture book contains an abundance of brilliantly colored illustrations. Shorter scenes are set in oval shapes against bright white backgrounds. In visually exciting two-page spreads, the Jade Emperor interacts with various animals; black text is subdued into the art. Corr “works in gouaches, painting on Italian and Indian handmade papers as though he’s using a pen” and “takes a great deal of inspiration from his travels—to India, North Africa, and New England, for instance.”
All told, The Great Race: Story of the Chinese Zodiac is another wonderful way to enjoy the stories of the twelve animals representing the Chinese zodiac.
All artwork provided courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto Books ©2018.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
THE BEST NEW
CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel
Written by Jeffrey Burton & Chani Tornow
Illustrated by Sanja Rešček
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)
The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.
Way Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm
Written by Linda Glaser
Illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3-8)
I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!
Little Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Gloria Koster
Illustrated by Sue Eastland
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!
Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas
Written by Pamela Ehrenberg
Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)
Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.
(www.themenschonabench.com; $19.99, Ages 3 and up)
Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.
Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.
TOTO: THE DOG-GONE AMAZING STORY
OF THE WIZARD OF OZ
Written by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
(HarperCollins Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 8-12)
The beautifully illustrated middle-grade chapter book, Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz gives voice to Toto, providing an interesting and refreshing viewpoint. Each chapter orients the reader to current day as Papa Toto recounts his adventures to seven sleepy puppies; only Tiny Toto always stays awake until the tale’s end. Kids will enjoy Papa Toto’s sausage cravings—delicious food is scarce on that long yellow brick road.
More than 250 full-color drawings by Emma Chichester Clark create vivid, engaging scenes; Papa Toto is Chichester Clark’s recognizable black scruffy dog. Both artist and writer are masters at their craft. A former Children’s Laureate, Morpurgo has published over 130 books. His novel, War Horse, was successfully adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway play and a Golden Globe-nominated film by Steven Spielberg.
Morpurgo, an expert storyteller, introduces new generations to the timeless Wizard of Oz. Whenever Dorothy says, “Home is home, and home is best,” Toto woofs, “You’re so dog-gone right.” A gentle reminder to appreciate life before a twister strikes.
As the story progresses it becomes clear that Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion possess what they seek; they just don’t know it. The surprise, of course, is believing in an all-powerful wizard who proves to be “nothing but a humbug, a low-down trickster, a miserable fraudster.” However, with some “upside-down thinking,” the way home is within reach.
Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of Oz Text copyright © 2017 by Michael Morpurgo.
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Emma Chichester Clark. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
A ROUNDUP OF DELIGHTFUL DIE-CUT BOARD BOOKS
Three new books your children will love!
Masha and Her Sisters
by Suzy Ultman
(Chronicle Books; $9.99, Ages 2-4)
Masha has four sisters and though they’re very different from one another, they fit together just beautifully in this treat for matryoshka doll fans. Presented in a clever 10 page, die-cut novelty book format, these colorful, folksy nesting dolls may be ubiquitous in Russia but never cease to entertain youngsters and adults. I know because I have a rather large collection of them at home from my many trips to Moscow and St. Petersburg. A great intro to Russian culture and storytelling because little ones can create their own tales about each sister represented: Natasha, Galya, Olya, Larisa, and Masha.
All About Spot
by Eric Hill
Frederick Warne/Penguin BYR; $9.99, Ages 3-5)
I don’t know any child who isn’t enamored of this adorable yellow dog with brown spots. This 10 page dic-cut board board in Spot’s familiar shape, is sturdy enough to withstand countless hours of reading and is a perfect way to share the carefree joys of childhood, or puppyhood in Spot’s case. Using simple rhyme, Hill brings Spot out into the rain and sun, introduces a few of his friends all having fun and makes spending time with Spot a highlight of any little one’s day.
Big Bug Log (A Bugsy Bug Adventure)
by Sebastien Braun
(Nosy Crow/Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 3-7)
Designed to resemble a log, this new die-cut board book is full of trails to follow, flaps to lift and lots of irresistible bug characters your kids will adore. “Bugsy Bug is going to see his grandma. She lives somewhere inside the Big Bug Log.” Now it’s your child’s turn to help Bugsy Bug choose the correct way to get there while encountering some cool places along the way including Mrs. B’s Treats, a busy restaurant, a library, a bedroom, a spider’s web and charming house on Hopper Street that Bugsy Bug’ grandma calls home. Definitely recommend picking up a copy of this and all Braun’s other board books, too!