Finn’s Feather & Sterling, Best Dog Ever, Two New Books by Epic18 Debut Authors

FINN’S FEATHER
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 book cover illustrationFINN’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.

 

Sterling, Best Dog Ever book cover illustrationIt’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.

Back to School Books Are What We’re Reading on Wednesdays With Once Upon a Time

“What We’re Reading”
WEDNESDAYS WITH ONCE UPON A TIME
A Roundup of Back-to-School Booksback to school clip art

 

This time of year always brings so many emotions to students and parents alike as the realization settles in of a summer more than halfway over. I always remember the back-to-school preparation in my household as a fun yet chaotic time of paper everywhere, backpacks filled, and of course, shiny new books! This month we’ve got a variety of books covered including Hello School!, I Love You All Day Long, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School.

 

Hello School! by Priscilla Burris cover artA brand-new picture book for preschool or kindergarten students eager to start the school year is Hello School! (Nancy Paulsen Books, Ages 3-5) written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The title of the book captures the energetic possibilities that come with experiencing school for the first time. Each page shows a different part of the school day from greeting classmates, circle time, nap time, and recess all told with soft-colored illustrations. I love the little speech bubbles on each page that demonstrate children’s reactions about going to school. For example, when talking about new favorites, one child says, “Orange is my favorite,” and another carefully asks, “Can every color be my favorite?” prompting a parent or teacher reading this aloud to answer “Yes!” Once Upon A Time is excited to host Priscilla Burris on Sunday, August 12 at 2 pm to share this new picture book and the new school year so mark your calendars so you don’t miss this fun event.

 

I Love You All Day Long book cover artSometimes children new to the school experience need a little help getting over their anxiety and one picture book that does this well is I Love You All Day Long (Harper Collins BYR, Ages 4-8) written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The story starts with little Owen asking, “Do I have to go today, Mommy?,” prompting his mother to respond yes as you carefully see her packing a lunch box. Then the real trouble is revealed, “But you won’t be with me!” and the story unfolds as the illustrations show Owen finding new friends, having fun, making mistakes, and overcoming challenges all with the reminder that his mother loves him even when she is not right there with him. The tone is perfect as it is not overtly a back to school book and is instead more about a mother-son relationship. I find this book to be a beautiful story that would be perfect to read the night before or morning of the big first day of both preschool or even college.

 

Mr. Monkey Visits a School book cover illustration by Jeff MackMr. Monkey Bakes a Cake cover illustration by Jeff MackFinally, I am eager to share with you my new favorite early reader series, Mr. Monkey (Simon & Schuster BYR, Ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Jeff Mack with two titles out this season, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School. In this paper over board book we follow Mr. Monkey and his wacky adventures sure to delight readers who laugh with Amelia Bedelia or the Elephant and Piggie books. Each page has only two to five simple sentences that easily match the colorful and animated illustrations inside, perfect for kindergarten and first grade readers who are still puzzling out context clues to understand the words on the page. A great addition to any library at home or at school.

 

  • Reviewed by Jessica Palacios

 

You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time mom and daughter booksellers Maureen and Jessica PalaciosOnce Upon A Time
“Your family bookstore”
2207 Honolulu Ave. Montrose, CA 91020
818.248.9668
http://www.ShopOnceUponATime.com

Closed on Wednesday, July 4th
Story time: Every Thursday at 11 am

(Pictured at left, mom and daughter booksellers, Maureen and Jessica Palacios.)

 

Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant Feature Artwork by Jen Betton

HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG
Written and illustrated by Jen Betton
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

TWILIGHT CHANT
Written by Holly Thompson
Illustrated by Jen Betton
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

One talented creator’s works grace two new picture books, Hedgehog Needs a Hug and Twilight Chant, featuring wonderful animal illustrations. Both books are reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Hedgehog Needs a Hug cover art by Jen BettonSure, on Instagram every hedgehog looks cute and cuddly. But in this story, woodland friends are fearful of his prickles when HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, the debut author-illustrator title from Jen Betton. Perhaps he got out of his cozy nest the wrong way, but Hedgehog wakes feeling “down in the snout and droopy in the prickles.” Smart and resourceful, he knows just what he needs to feel better. But who will hug Hedgehog? Rabbit and Raccoon refuse, and Turtle won’t even wake up. Then an ominous shadow seeks into the clearing. It’s a fox! He’s not afraid, but should Hedgehog be?

Betton’s text is smooth and rhythmic with vivid verbs and comforting refrains. Her woodland scenes feature crisp white and lush, deep blue-greens that make creamy-brown Hedgehog pop as the star. Plentiful double spreads and a clever mix of perspectives keep scenes entertaining from one page turn to the next, and expressive animal faces convey emotions without ambiguity. A gentle ending brings comfort and happy closure, plus a new friend who can see beyond Hedgehog’s thorny accoutrements.

 

Twilight Chant by Holly Thompson cover illustration by Jen BettonBetton also lends her prolific talents to TWILIGHT CHANT, a beautiful and poetic science picture book written by Holly Thompson. Readers follow a family leaving the shore as the sun begins to sink and shift to twilight hours. Thompson’s lyrical text directs attention to the animals that become active at this time of day – the “crepuscular creatures emerge” – with smoothly rhythmic repetition that reads aloud beautifully. As deer graze, swallows skim, foxes sniff and bats swerve, each page turn leads to a new creature and heightens our appreciation of this calm yet intensely busy twilight time

The illustrations, rich with gold and rose dusky tints, showcase each animal and its setting with both realism and softness across double spread pages. The family wends their way home slowly, tucked in as a careful through-line to emphasize our environmental interconnectedness. The deepening sky colors conclude with purpley nightfall – making this title a perfect, calming bedtime selection. An author’s note clearly explains what twilight is and gives more information about the intriguing animals encountered in the story. A poetic masterpiece infused with subtle science and soothing imagery, TWILIGHT CHANT is one of a kind.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Find another recent #Epic18 picture book review here.

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.

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Finding a Way Forward – Tiny Infinities by J. H. Diehl

TINY INFINITIES
Written by J. H. Diehl
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

– A Junior Library Guild Selection –

cover illustration from Tiny Infinities by J. H. Diehl

In Tiny Infinities, the debut middle grade novel by J. H. Diehl, the summer when Alice turns thirteen, her family’s structure disintegrates. Her mother has become a bedridden recluse, her father moves out, and Alice’s two brothers are temporarily placed with their aunt. Alice willfully stays at the family home, erecting the Renaissance tent her parents met in, resolving to sleep in the backyard until her father returns. Due to finances, cell phones, internet, and camps are cut. Earning money babysitting is bittersweet—Alice’s parents are too distracted to pay much attention. Alice discovers each family has complications. Piper, the young girl she watches, has an undiagnosed loss of speech and possibly hearing.

This quiet story considers deep issues including how one family member’s illness or injury affects everyone. Because of her parents’ split and her mother’s inability to recover, Alice loses touch with close friends rather than explain.

Swimming keeps Alice centered; she’s determined to get her name on her swim team’s record board. A friendship with the new girl, Harriet, develops. Harriet’s keen observations while somewhat off-putting are also perceptive: she advises Alice to switch to backstroke. While this is another change, Alice eventually realizes that she likes swimming backwards without seeing where she’s going; it gives her confidence in her ability to maneuver the pool, and life. Alice and her friends learn from one another how to find their way—realizing it is their way to find.

Tiny Infinities is an honest coming-of-age middle-grade novel. Alice understands for the first time that there is “no line between hot and cold, or warm and cool, love and not love. Tiny infinities [are] always going to be there.”

Fireflies play a clever role in the novel throughout. Beneath the book’s beautiful glimmering jacket is a stunning smooth casewrap adorned with fireflies. The brightly contrasting endpapers offer a pop of color.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

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Flashback Friday Featuring The Day I Ran Away by Holly L. Niner

 

THE DAY I RAN AWAY
Written by Holly L. Niner
Illustrated by Isabella Ongaro
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 2-6)

cover illustration from The Day I Ran Away

 

Written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, The Day I Ran Away shows loving parents creatively assuaging little Grace’s frustration during a challenging day.  

It’s bedtime and Grace begins sharing her day with her father who gently reflects her feelings: disappointment at not being able to wear her purple shirt, anger at finding out her favorite cereal is “all gone,” repentance for having lashed out at Mom, and betrayal for not being recognized for her creativity (in using a purple marker to transform her white shirt into her favorite color). As spunky Grace narrates her day, it’s clear to us readers she’s more concerned about telling a good story than disobeying her parents. “No, Silly, you can’t run away to your room,” she tells her dad after he incorrectly assumes the bedroom is her go-to runaway hideout. I like how Dad playfully adds to the drama of her story: “Like a princess in a tower,” he compares her to after Grace explains she was “Banished to [her] bedroom.”

 

int artwork by Isabella Ongaro from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner

Interior illustration from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, Flashlight Press ©2017.

 

These endearing exchanges between father and daughter are enhanced by Ongaro’s colorful illustrations. Double page spreads guide the story. On the left side of the page we see the written words (Dad’s words are in orange and Grace’s are in purple-of course!) and the day’s events are illustrated on the right. This technique makes reading the story, for even very little ones, easy and fun to follow. Hand sketched and digitally colored, the illustrations feel warm and safe, especially in details like the scalloped fringes on Mom’s sleeves and kitchen tablecloth.

 

int artwork by Isabella Ongaro from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner

Interior illustration from The Day I Ran Away written by Holly L. Niner and illustrated by Isabella Ongaro, Flashlight Press ©2017.

 

While the subject matter of running away can be controversial, the lighthearted interaction between parent and child encourages respect and space for children’s emotions. After all, when Grace finally decides to run away, she remembers and obeys a fundamental house rule. “I’m not allowed to cross the street!” she tells her father and solves her predicament by following her mother’s suggestion. Camped out in the yard, Grace is in her pop up tent, steps away from the kitchen and Mom’s cookies. In fact, this presence of food (and the comfort it connotes) I felt was a quiet nod to Where the Wild Things Are. Max returns from his adventure to find dinner on the table, piping hot–as if he never really ran away from home in the first place.

While our darker emotions can make us feel miles away, our parents’ love and validation always bring us back home.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

    Read another review by Armineh here.

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The Funeral by Matt James Depicts a Child’s Take on The Ritual

 

THE FUNERAL
Written and illustrated by Matt James
(Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press; $18.00, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Matt James’s forty-page picture book, The Funeral, opens with a ringing phone at Norma’s house. A few days later, her family’s going to great-uncle Frank’s funeral. Norma has to practice her sad face in the mirror because, in actuality, she’s thrilled to miss a day of school and see her favorite cousin.

While the text engages our senses, the vivid illustrations capture the story’s emotional heart. In church, grays contrast with the bright colors of the stained-glass windows, “swirling song” of the organ, and familiar smell of Norma’s mom’s purse. The acrylic and ink art on Masonite has a layered qualify because of dimensional elements made from cut paper, masking tape, rolled-up twine, cardboard, and scroll-sawn Masonite (all painted with acrylic).

 

The Funeral by Matt James int. artwork

Interior illustrations from The Funeral written and illustrated by Matt James, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press ©2018.

 

This exploration of a funeral from Norma’s viewpoint demonstrates that, while she does reflect on the gravity of the occasion, it’s the details adults may take for granted that influence her perceptions of this unusual day. The girl’s wondrous childhood curiosity allows for philosophical questions alongside simple acts of fun.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

Read another recent review by Christine here.

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