It’s Hippos Go Berserk! For World Read Aloud Day 2018

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This little hippo was all alone until …


Cover image for Hippos Go Berserk!







Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton


I know, I know, there are SO many Sandra Boynton books that beg to be read aloud including Moo, Baa, La La La!The Going to Bed Book, Barnyard Dance! and Blue Hat, Green Hatin fact I still can recite many of them after first reading them over 20 years ago. But Hippos Go Berserk!  has a special place in my heart because both my children adored it and would not let me donate it when they grew too old for picture books. My copy is from 1996 although the book was first published in 1977.

When I think about what makes a story great to read aloud, I think about readability. Is the story easy for a parent, teacher, caregiver or child to read or do words slow them down? Can people take turns reading or pretending to be the characters? Are the pictures depicting some readily understood interpretation of the text? Does the book make you feel good when reading it? Is there fun repetition or engaging language? Can kids anticipate what comes next? Anyone looking at me reading Hippos Go Berserk!, even as an adult, will see a huge grin appear on my face after turning from page one to page two.

“One hippo, all alone, (page one)
calls two hippos (page two)
on the phone.” (page three)

So simple you may think, but the artwork Boynton’s created speaks volumes. First there’s a sad, lonely hippo on page one who decides to make a phone call to two friends. The mood of the story changes with just a flip of the page! Things are looking up.
The bonus is that it’s also a counting story which will hook kids who are eager to see where Boynton is taking the tale. Her hippos’ eyes and posture convey such a range of emotion that youngsters will want to linger on every page to make their assessment of everyone the hippo has invited and NOT invited over. The illustration of five hippos that arrive overdressed cracks me up every time I see it. Will they be invited in to join the other guests? Are they too posh for the crowd or will they fit right in? Help kids count how many hippos have come over, and they’ll be amazed how quickly the initial two friends who were called have now multiplied. Soon word is getting out that a cool party is underway and a big reason why eight hippos sneak in the back. Seeing them tiptoe softly, with one trying not to giggle too loudly, is part of Boynton’s brilliance. Until at last …


The letters are deliberately in all caps, and the bold type invites readers to use an outside voice. The scene is wild. The joint is jumping and hippos everywhere are having a blast, except maybe the ones hired to serve the hors d’oeuvres. With so much zaniness going on, Hippos Go Berserk! will be read over and over again, each time with some new discovery being made in the party spread. Soon kids will know the story by heart, helped by the rollicking rhyme and whimsical artwork. The all-night party must come to an end and before you know it even “The last two hippos go their way.” Somehow though, readers aren’t disappointed because there’s hope that the lone hippo, sitting by the phone just like when the book began, will inevitably pick up the receiver and make another call.

I don’t know if, all those years ago when I first read Hippos Go Berserk!  to my children, I knew that Boynton wrote this delightful story when she was a student at the Yale School of Drama, but now I completely understand why her hippos are so darn dramatic not to mention adorable!


  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel




Best Kids Picture Books for Valentine’s Day

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In-My-Heart-cvr.jpgThis book is great for Valentine’s Day, but is not limited to the holiday.

Even as an adult, feelings are hard to pinpoint, much less express. Written by Jo Witek, with illustrations by Christine Roussey, IN MY HEART: A Book of Feelings, (AbramsAppleseed, $16.95, Ages 2-4), may be a book intended for toddlers, but its universal theme will appeal to all ages.

This beautiful die-cut board book uses colors, shapes, and symbolism to help children identify and verbalize what they are feeling. Witek’s lyrical writing and masterful use of vocabulary are awe-worthy, and are complemented perfectly by Roussey’s fanciful illustrations.


Interior spread from In My Heart by Jo Witek with illustrations by Christine Roussey, Abrams Appleseed ©2014.


When I get really angry, my heart feels as if it’s going to explode!
Don’t come near me!
My heart is yelling, hot and loud.
This is when my heart is mad.

But other times, my heart is cool.
I bob along gently like a balloon on a string.
My heart feels lazy and slow, as quiet as snowfall.
This is when my heart is calm.

Sad, afraid, and shy are emotions which are explored by this perfect pairing of author and illustrator, along with hopeful, brave, and proud, to name a few. Witek ends the book with an open-ended question for the reader, sure to encourage a heart-felt discussion. She asks:

How does your heart feel?

Both Witek and Roussey live in France, and originally published their book in French under the title Dans Mon Petit Coeur, (Editions de La Martiniere/2013). Nothing has been lost in the translation to English, proving the heart speaks a language all its own. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


Guess-How-Much-cvr.jpgIt must have been twenty years ago when I first read the touching tale of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare, and teared up. Then, when my oldest daughter was in high school, her boyfriend gave her a copy of the book for Valentine’s Day. I got choked up again when she let me read it. GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, written by Sam McBratney, and illustrated by Anita Jeram, (Candlewick Press, $9.99, Ages 4-8), is now available in a 4″x4″ special foldout, pop-up book format, and after all of these years, still makes me misty.

A timeless tale of love, this beloved book comes to life with Jeram’s ink and watercolor illustrations of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. In this most recent edition, the characters pop off the pages as they try to outdo one another while expressing their love.

“I love you as high as I can hop!” laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down.
“But I love you as high as I can hop,” smiled Big Nutbrown Hare — and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above.


Interior artwork from Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney with illustrations by Anita Jeram, Candlewick Press, ©2014.


McBratney’s text expands upon the phrase, “I love you this much,” so often heard between parent and child, with his creative prose. The sentiment is appropriate any time, but tucked away in a beautiful red sleeve with a decorative gold title, Guess How Much I Love You  makes the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for loved ones of any age. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


Love-Monster-cvr.jpgThis little Love Monster was a nice little monster living in a land called Cutesville. LOVE MONSTER, written and illustrated by Rachel Bright (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 2-4), is another terrific Valentine’s Day picture book to add to your gift list. Living in a world full of everything cute and fluffy can be hard when you’re a funny looking monster of bright red hue, and googly eyes. Or so it felt that way for our main character who was seeking someone to love him “just the way he was.”

NOTE: Make sure to point out the sign that reads BIG, WIDE WORLD as Love Monster sets off on his search.


Interior artwork from LOVE MONSTER by Rachel Bright, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ©2014.

Monster looked high, low and he even looked “middle-ish,” one of my favorite words in the story. At the Fancy Dress Shop (costume store) he was almost fooled by a monster mask, then again by his shadow, and finally by his reflection. Was there no one for him?  It almost seemed as if he had a dark cloud hanging over his head. But in a moment of pure storybook serendipity, as Love Monster was almost running out of places to look for love, his luck changed.

“You see, sometimes when you least expect it … love finds you.”

Bright’s message is not a new one, but it’s an oh so important one to share with children. How many times have we said something similar to our kids?  This simple tale is one of hope and reassurance for any child feeling they don’t quite fit in.

Bright’s artwork is not only bold and colorful, reflecting Little Monster’s various moods, but unique. Bright’s created her illustrations with solar etching according to jacket copy.  She uses ultraviolet light to create printing plates, a truly illuminating technique!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other New & Noteworthy Picture Books

Zombie in Love 2 + 1 by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Scott Campbell (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)


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Madeline 75th Anniversary Edition by Ludwig Bemelmans, Penguin Young Readers, 2014.

I’m thrilled to highlight the 75th Anniversary Edition of Madeline (Penguin, $25, Ages 3-5) by Ludwig Bemelmans. This slip-cased special edition includes a pop-up spread of Paris featuring a panoramic view with the Eiffel Tower, a familiar landmark, just behind Miss Clavel and “twelve little girls in two straight lines …”

You’re familiar with Madeline, I presume – the adorable, spunky redhead with the yellow wide-brimmed hat? Have you held onto your old copies from when you were a child? Did you also save your Madeline doll or puppet? Was it memories of Madeline that made you first want to visit Paris?

As a reviewer, I was happy to receive a press kit filled with tons of fun facts about both Madeline that I’m eager to share with you.

The Top 5 Things You May Not Have Known About Madeline
(courtesy of

1. Madeline is not an orphan – the old house covered in vines is a boarding school!

2. Madeline is an American by birth and a citizen of the world.

3. Madeline’s last name is Fogg.

4. Madeline gets her red hair from her mother, as seen in Madeline’s Christmas.

5. Madeline’s family owns a ranch in Texas, as learned in Madeline in America.

With over 14 million books sold worldwide, it’s no wonder Madeline remains as popular today as when she first arrived on the scene. And I have a feeling this anniversary might spark an interest in some longtime Madeline fans revisiting this beloved classic series.  Penguin makes it easy. In addition to this celebratory edition, Penguin’s also published A Madeline Treasury, which features all the classic Madeline adventures in one must-have volume; and a reissue of Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeline’s Creator by John Bemelmans Marciano, Ludwig Bemelmans’ grandson and author of the new Madeline titles.

And if all of this isn’t wonderful enough, an exhibit at The New York Historical Society coincides with this 75th anniversary. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA has organized Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans, the first exhibit devoted to the artist in more than 50 years! Make your plans accordingly as this rare treat will be on display from July 4 – October 13, 2014 before it heads back to Amherst.


pop-up spread from Madeline 75th Anniversary Edition by Ludwig Bemelmans, Penguin Young Readers, 2014.

Check out this link to see artist JTMorrow’s blog post that includes lots of great images and details about working on the special pop-up spread along with the art director, Denise Cronin, and paper engineer, Michael Caputo.


– Ronna Mandel


The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson

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Peter Rabbit’s Back for Christmas Thanks to Emma Thompson

cover art of The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit

The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson with illustrations by Eleanor Taylor, Frederick Warne, 2013.

The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Emma Thompson with illustrations by Eleanor Taylor (Frederick Warne & Co., $20, Ages 3-5) arrives just in time for Christmas and is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

Mr. and Mrs McGregor, Peter Rabbit, and Benjamin Bunny appear again in this story inspired by the original tales of Beatrix Potter, but this time a new character, William, appears.

After spoiling their mothers’ attempts at holiday baking, both Benjamin and Peter are sent on errands. They run into their friend, William, a turkey who is foolish enough to believe the special food and treatment he receives from the McGregors is due to his importance. Peter, having lost his father to one of Mrs. McGregor’s pies, and being the good friend he is, decides he must warn William that he is being fattened up for the McGregor’s Christmas dinner. William blanches at the thought, but the three friends, come up with a brilliant idea that leaves the old couple eating nothing but boiled potatoes and winter cabbage on Christmas day. The Rabbit family enjoys a delicious Christmas feast and Mrs. Rabbit even bakes a special barley-cake for William, whose feathers are still too puffed up to fit in the burrow.

I almost forgot I wasn’t reading Miss Potter’s words or enjoying her illustrations, this book was so exquisitely done. Eleanor Taylor’s sprinkling of woodland animals and barnyard critters in all the right places with just the right colors, provides not only beautiful pictures, but an opportunity for story building. This book is certain to ensure a Merry Christmas for all who read it!

If you’re an Emma Thompson fan, click here to read our previous review of her first Peter Rabbit picture book, The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit.