During the countdown to Christmas, all the trees on the Christmas tree farm are anxious to be selected and go home with a special family. After all, the trees will play an important part in the Christmas celebrations. They stand a little taller, brush the snow off their branches, and wait to become A Perfect Tree for Christmas. But two trees in Anne Gillespie Lewis’ gently suspenseful story aren’t quite perfect. Though green and pointy-needled, one has a crooked top and the other’s tip is split in two.
The farmer does his best to bolster the pair, giving them extra water and fertilizer. He even tries to straighten the crooked tree by binding it with a colorful scarf. But nothing works, and day after day passes while the trees are passed over by picky families. Still, the piney pair happily watch the children taking hayrides, making snowmen, and warming themselves at bonfires.
Readers will root for a happy ending to this tale, especially when the two tree buddies become separated. As the last tree’s teardrops become frozen crystals sparkling on its branches, a joyous Christmas seems nearly impossible. But do not despair, by the last page the perfect solution is found.
Illustrator Carina Stahlberg has done a superb job rendering these trees full of personality despite their static positions. Who knew trees could smile, grimace, and groan so effectively? She surrounds them with a plethora of adorable wildlife and quirkily cartoonish characters, filling the pages with amusing scenery. Squirrels on skis and dogs of all breeds are fun for young readers to spot in scene after scene.
A finalist in the 2014 Midwest Independent Publishers Association’s book awards, this sweet holiday picture book was inspired by author Anne Gillespie Lewis’ sympathy for a crooked tree she spotted in Brooklyn Center. She couldn’t shake its image from her mind, especially since she had been diagnosed with scoliosis as a girl. Thus A Perfect Tree for Christmas began to take shape, reminding us that no one has to be perfect to be loved.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Nodin Press books are distributed by Itasca Books. Click here if you’d like to *order a copy.
Where Obtained: I reviewed a promotional copy of A Perfect Tree for Christmas and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
*Disclosure: GRWR makes no commission from your purchases and only provides this info as a courtesy to readers since Nodin Press is a regional publisher.
A MUST FOR MOTHER’S DAY!
A Gift for Mama, written by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Alison Jay, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
This is the kind of picture book you will want to read slowly and relish as if you were eating a piece of the finest European chocolate after going off a diet. Simply delicious.
I have a soft spot for stories set in Europe, having lived there over 10 years. Cities with beautiful pedestrian-friendly town squares are abundant, and the Viennese ones where so much of A Gift for Mama (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 4-8) takes place is no exception. Being transported back to a bustling 19th century Vienna is just part of the pleasure children will experience when reading this gorgeous, uplifting new picture book.
Meet Oskar, an adorable lad eager to find something special to give his mother on her birthday, but alas, he has but one single coin. There, much to Oskar’s delight, “in the middle of the market, was a flower seller.” A bright yellow rose beckoned to him so he used his coin to buy a blossom that would be “the perfect present.”
It doesn’t take long to realize that Oskar has a heart of gold. There’s even a golden, sunshiny quality to all the illustrations, helping the reader feel good all over as Oskar’s kindness is demonstrated again and again. As the story unfolds, Oskar’s encounter with an artist – with whom he trades his rose for a “beautiful horsehair paintbrush” – sets off a series of exchanges with a conductor, a singer, a lyricist, an Empress and ultimately a sad little girl, linking one individual to the other, and always demonstrating Oskar’s generosity.
You can almost hear a waltz playing in the background as you turn the pages of this stunning-to-look-at picture book. Between Lodding’s obvious love of Vienna captured in her prose, and Jay’s crackly-style, vivid vignettes of vintage Viennese life, it’s tempting to book a flight to Austria to track down the places depicted in this must-read picture book. A Gift for Mama is at once a touching tribute to a child’s love for his mother while also an homage to glorious Vienna of a bygone era. I’m going back for seconds!
Lost for Words, written and illustrated by Natalie Russell (Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, Ages 4-8), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey. Tapir has a lovely new notebook, and yearns to fill it with something marvelous. If only he could think of something to write! Staring at the page, he tries to come up with of something, anything! But his head is as empty as his page.
Anyone who has suffered writer’s block will identify with this cuddly tapir’s dilemma. And how cute is this Winnie the Pooh-shaped tapir as a main character? He turns to his friends for inspiration, and finds Giraffe writing poetry, Flamingo composing a song, and Hippo writing a story. Poor Tapir! He tries imitating their methods, chewing leaves, wallowing in mud, and humming with his eyes closed. Alas – the harder he tries, the grumpier he gets.
Russell’s illustrations are fun and engaging, using soft lines and gentle blue, green and yellow earthy pastel tones. She draws distinct, beautiful suns over panoramic Central American landscapes and smudges realistic muddy textures onto Hippo and Tapir. The colorful pages are bright and filled with simply sketched details like dragonflies and curly, twisty plant life.
Tapir wanders off by himself to think atop a quiet hill, and finds a creative solution to his blank notebook problem. Although the ending may come as no surprise to experienced picture book readers, it is sure to delight young listeners. This sweet, warmhearted story will win artists of all sorts who observe, appreciate and develop their own creative inspiration.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I borrowed a copy from my public library. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Our Holiday Hiatus
The Message of the Birds Review
We have a Christmas treat for you today – A very special book, The Message of the Birds, a timeless and timely tale not to be missed. But before that, all of us at Good Reads With Ronna would like to wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday season. Whether you’ve already celebrated Hanukkah, are awaiting Santa’s arrival for Christmas, or perhaps partaking in any number of other festivities observed around the world, may your holidays be filled with awe and adventure found in the pages of great books and in the company of family and friends.
While you spend precious time with loved ones or newfound friends, we’re taking time to read all the latest winter picture books and novels we’ve received. We hope you’ll come back to see what we’re reviewing in 2014 and thank you for your continued support!!
The Message of the Birds, written by Kate Westerlund and illustrated by Feridun Oral (Minedition, 2013; $16.99, Ages 4 and up), is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.
The Message of the Birds tugged at my heart. It is a simple, still book, but it is full of the warmth and innocence that parents so often desire for their young children’s lives. The book encompasses a single theme: let there be peace on earth. As the birds in the rafters of the stable watched over the Baby Jesus, they “heard in his voice…the words of a song that they would carry throughout the world…It was a special song of blessing, of joy and good will.” Unfortunately, as old owl explains years later, that message has been forgotten or ignored. But Robin believes that children will listen and understand, and that the hope for a better world lies with them. So, the birds plan to carry the special message by singing to children. It’s a lot of work, full of long journeys, but the birds try their hardest. And something wonderful happens:
“They saw hands linked together—white hands, brown hands, black hands. Children everywhere were joining together. The children had heard the message of the birds, and what had started as a whisper now resounded from shining faces all over the world.”
What a wonderful thought to teach children, especially this time of year.
The illustrations are spot on. The snowy, wintery scenes juxtaposed to the birds’ colorful plumage and children’s cheeriness bring the story alive. And in a way that only a masterful artist can manage, the pictures seem both lively and still.
During what is one of the busiest times of the year for many people, taking a break to enjoy and understand The Message of the Birds is well worth the time.
A Handful of Lies
Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It, by Michael B. Kaplan with illustrations by Stéphane Jorisch, is the third in a series of picture books from Dial Books ($16.99, ages 3-5).
I think a lot of parents know a child like Betty Bunny, funny, genuine, a real character at times but also still a little kid learning her way in the world, even if sometimes it’s the wrong way.
This story finds Betty trying to get out of trouble for breaking a lamp. While her three siblings know she was responsible, Betty claims, “I didn’t do it.” Then it hits her when her brother Bill asks who did. “The Tooth Fairy,” replies Betty, quite pleased she came up with such a good excuse.
It’s not long before Betty’s mom confronts her daughter about breaking the lamp. And Betty still denies having done it.
“Is that the honest truth?” asked her mother.
“No,” said Betty Bunny proudly, “it’s an honest lie.”
The lesson Betty learns about telling the truth is one her whole family jumps in on which is what I especially liked about this picture book. The brothers and sister share their two cents which is how it works in most families. Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It provides a terrific starting point for parents to discuss honesty and the ramifications of crying wolf – if you always lie, when will people believe you? The watercolor, pen and ink illustrations are full of expression and depict the family dynamic in a clear and colorful style certain to delight.
After Betty embraces honesty and tells her dad who has just returned from the gym that he smells, Betty’s dad also teaches her that while telling the truth is good, it’s important not to hurt someone’s feelings. For youngsters learning how to successfully navigate the world of social conventions and manners, lots of baby steps (or in Betty’s case – hops) are required and many mistakes will be made. This book helps by showing children great examples in a very humorous, relatable way.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel