Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
(Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Two parent and child dyads share and celebrate cherished cultural connections in beautiful new picture books by debut authors that will touch and delight the heart.
Debut author Thompkins-Bigelow depicts a child’s wonderful, busy day in MOMMY’S KHIMAR.“A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears” says a young Muslim girl who loves to dress-up in her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves. Fun and fancy are foremost in her mind as she incorporates the beautiful khimars in her imaginative play. The yellow khimar – another term for hijab – is her favorite and she dreams of wearing it like a queen, or a superhero, flying through the sky like a star.
Mama sees the girl at play, but smiles tenderly rather than scolds. The scarf carries her familiar, motherly fragrance of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon, making it even more special to her daughter. The girl is also loved and celebrated by her father, teachers and her grandmother, wrapped in tangible and intangible messages of love and welcome.
Glenn’s bright, sunny illustrations are sweet and appealing, using vibrant colors that compliment the warm, well-rounded story and keep the focus squarely on the girl’s fun. The energetic images cool to soft blue-purples as night falls and the beloved khimar returns to her mother’s closet. Even in her dreams the heroine recalls the tender embrace of her family and community, but her mother most of all. A delightful depiction of an ordinary day in the life of a cheerful and charming child.
★Starred reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME is the book title, but the inquisitive heroine’s full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Alma complains that her name is “too long” and “never fits.” In fact, Alma must tape an extra piece of paper to her page to accommodate all six! Soon, the how and why of the family stories behind each and every name is revealed in compelling, engaging descriptions.
When Alma’s father explains the rich history of the names she bears, Alma’s incredible imagination brings them to life. Aided by family photos and icons, her father’s story reveals Alma’s namesakes and the common bonds they share. Like her grandmother Sofia, Alma adores books. Like her grandfather Jose, Alma loves to draw and paint. Candela was Alma’s activist grandmother, and aunt Pura was deeply spiritual.
Alma wears delightful striped red pants, a perky red hairbow, and a red string around her left wrist. Her sweet, expressive face moves from solemn to astonished, serene to silly as she “meets” her ancestors and discovers the common bonds that they share. Martinez-Neal, recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, uses a restrained color palette and imbues the well-designed textual components with meaningful symbols. Broad, double page spreads pace the story smoothly and linger for maximum impact on each name’s meaning. The final reveal for the name “Alma” is a warm, satisfying and ultimately empowering one for the little girl who has been enriched by the love and history of her family past and present. ALMA is a tender tale, a treasure for all readers who will wonder about their own name history.
★Starred reviews – Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
•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.
Read reviews of other #Epic18 debuts here:
I am Famous & Shark Nate-
The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort
HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY
Written and illustrated by Jessie Sima
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Harriet … oh, amazing and wonderful Harriet, the star of HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY along with her two incredible dads, will make readers all Sima fans if they aren’t already!
My students couldn’t get enough of this brilliant 48-page story … from Harriet’s desire to dress-up no matter what the occasion to her phenomenal imagination and charm, they were hooked.
Harriet is SO excited about her upcoming dress-up themed birthday party, and the task at hand is to venture into the city with her dads to buy party supplies since everything else has been taken care of. One stipulation: She’s asked not to “get carried away” when searching for birthday hats at the store. But in Harriet’s world getting carried away comes easy and she soon finds herself wandering off in her penguin costume with real life penguins. She becomes stranded on an iceberg and realizes she must make her way back to her dads at the store and find the party hats before it’s too late.
When her attempts at leaving the penguins don’t pan out, Harriet’s helped by an orca and some delightful pigeons. Harriet returns to her dads and has the best dress-up birthday party ever … with only ONE of her party attendees getting carried away!
This is one of those stories that will be requested numerous times since it provides a unique, yet fully relatable, experience for youngsters. The writing is quick to action and paced beautifully for children to silently take in every delicious illustration that accompanies the beautiful prose. My favorite moment is when a penguin tells Harriet to “lose the bow tie” she has proudly put on over her penguin costume. Instead, she adjusts her fabulous red bow tie and does things her own way.
Read HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY and delight in her message of inclusivity, imagination and pure joy
All interior artwork from Harriet Gets Carried Away by
Jessie Sima courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ©2018.
THE DIGGER AND THE FLOWER
Written and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler
(Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Kirkus, School Library Journal
The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler adds a welcome new dimension to the popular construction trucks theme: thoughtfulness about the area being destroyed. When Digger finds a flower, watching over it becomes his hobby. His level of involvement escalates when the flower’s land is surrounded; eventually, it succumbs to new building.
Digitally created images contrast Digger’s sunny yellow with the muted black, gray, and white urban surroundings. The bright blue and green of the small flower imbues this cityscape, awakening something within Digger and compelling him to act. Even without the text, this vivid story is delightful.
Int. spread The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler, Balzer & Bray. Art copyright 2018 © by Joseph Kuefler.
In Joseph Kuefler’s 48-page picture book, we are shown humanity and kindness—a powerful message that addresses our need to care for the environment and one another. Yet, the book can also be read simply as another cool story about big machines.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
Looking for another great book on kindness?
Check out Christine’s review of Wolf in the Snow.
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.
LA LA LA:
A STORY OF HOPE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La La by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.
Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.
We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.
I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.
Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.
La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.
Check out this link to a helpful teacher’s guide.
LA LA LA. Text copyright © 2017 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Jaime Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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.
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.