Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season – Part Two

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BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS
A ROUNDUP – PART TWO

 

As promised, Good Reads With Ronna continues this year’s roundups of great Christmas books and activities to share with your children before and during the holiday. There are so many terrific new books to choose from that we felt it was important to review as many as possible so you could find some special ones that appeal to everyone in the family.

 

 

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Emma Randall cover imageThe Twelve Days of Christmas
Illustrated by Emma Randall
(Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages3-7)

The traditional Christmas song about a partridge in a pear tree can get to feeling a bit cluttered by the time seven lords are leaping around, but in The Twelve Days of Christmas, Emma Randall’s illustrations are a breath of fresh winter air, clear and colorful throughout. For example, each leaf and pear in the partridge’s tree is separate, forming a lovely mosaic that could be Swedish or Ukrainian. The characters are drawn in a homey style that reminds me of Jessie from Pixar’s “Toy Story,” with old-fashioned winter afternoon-wear replacing cowgirl duds. There are plenty of visual details to search for and enjoy, and of course you can sing the song while searching if caroling is your jam.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

 

Susan Jeffers Jingle Bells cover imageJingle Bells
Written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Susan Jeffers offers a new interpretation of another classic holiday song, Jingle Bells. Her cover illustration gives us the main characters: a boy carrying a gift, a girl snuggling a dog, a beautiful horse, and lots of snow, including raised sparkling snowflakes just asking to be touched by little fingers. Open the book and the front endpaper lays out the path the sled will follow, from the children’s barn, over a river, through a forest and on to a little house. Working with such a familiar song, Jeffers takes the opportunity to include new things for readers to ponder. The children would like to stay bundled up in the sled, but their dog is determined to discover every winter animal playing or hiding in the white world outside the sleigh. Readers can look for the animals, too; the last two pages identify them for reference. Near the end, we find out where the children are going and who will receive their gift. In a surprise, the story shares some insight about what it might be like to have a famous neighbor. Add this one to your songbook collection.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

A Charlie Brown Christmas Deluxe Edition cover imageA Charlie Brown Christmas
Deluxe Edition
(Part of Peanuts)
By Charles M. Schulz
Adapted by: Maggie Testa / Illustrated by: Vicki Scott
(Simon Spotlight; $19.99, Ages: 4-99)

I tried to share my favorite holiday television special with my own kids twenty years ago — and it didn’t really work. Maybe the animation techniques or sound quality didn’t hold up, or maybe I had loved it partly because I could only see it once a year, whenever CBS decided to air it. At any rate, my kids couldn’t relate to my anticipation. I opened A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe Edition (Peanuts) hoping this book might be a way to share the Peanuts magic more successfully with my grandchildren. I’ll know for sure when I see them before the holidays, but I’m thinking this version is a “yes!”  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

This deluxe edition, by Maggie Testa (Adapter), Charles M. Schulz (Author), and Vicki Scott (Illustrator), is big, with an almost-velvet red cover framing a smiling Charlie Brown holding his special little Christmas tree. The endpapers are sheet music of the Christmas carols “Jingle Bells” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The art throughout pops with bold colors and stylized shading. In case you’re unfamiliar with the characters or story, Charlie Brown is a kid who has few friends and can’t do anything right. He is correspondingly depressed, yet embodies optimism, always coming back to try again. In the Christmas story, his true friend Linus thinks he knows how to cheer up Charlie Brown. “You need to get involved. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?” Charlie Brown takes charge, but after he gets a straggly little tree to decorate the stage, the other kids convince him he’s ruined everything again. Later, led by Linus, everyone comes together to decorate the tree. It shapes up like only a cartoon tree could, and the true spirit of Christmas shines. This adaptation hits the important notes I remember from the animated special, including my favorite scene: Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 after assuring Charlie Brown, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More!
Authors: Valerie McKeehan, Valentina Harper, Thaneeya McArdle,
Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam
(Design Originals, an imprint of Fox Chapel Publishing; $19.99, Ages 6+)

With a title like Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More! it’s no surprise that this book contains cards, envelope templates, and gift tags. The “more” includes bookmarks, mini cards, full-page images called frameables, and scrapbook paper (which makes nice two-sided gift wrap). Most pages are perforated and easy for a child to use on their own. Kids can choose an item, then draw or write on the mostly blank second side—some have short quotations. The envelope templates are straightforward as are the instructions for bookmark tassels or fridge magnets.

The artwork is that of best-selling artists Thaneeya McArdle, Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam, Valentina Harper, and Valerie McKeehan. A variety of styles showcases the holiday sentiments. Images are produced on thick paper and in full color—except for a few in black and white for self-coloring. While most pictures are appropriate for a range of holidays, in keeping with the book’s title, many of the quotes on the back of the cards refer to Christmas and some are of a religious nature. If the quotes aren’t suitable, the card’s second page can be omitted and used as postcard-size instead.

If you’re strapped for time, Christmas Paper Crafting can give your cards a more homemade feel. It may also be less costly than buying individual greeting cards or boxed card sets. Kids who enjoy making their own choices and crafting will appreciate the freedom to pick what they like then to embellish a bit, adding their special seasonal touch.  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Mary Englebreit's Color ME Christmas Book of Postcards coverMary Englebreit’s Color ME Christmas
Book of Postcards
(HarperCollins; $9.99, Ages 4+)

I picked up Mary Engelbreit’s Color ME Christmas Book of Postcards because it looked like a fun, creative project to do with my granddaughter, coloring in holiday postcards, gift tags, and ornaments illustrated with designs in Engelbreit’s signature vintage style. I love that at Christmastime, every arts and crafts project is also an opportunity for young kids to make presents for the people they care about. The book is printed on thick card stock, so after coloring, the items will be ready to mail, tie onto gifts, or hang on the Christmas tree. Paired with a package of colored pencils or markers, these postcards make a wonderful gift for any young visitors you may be expecting. Recommended for ages 4 and up, in other words, for anyone who’s a kid at heart like me.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

 

 

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Three

Holiday Gift Books Guide


Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz by Michael Morpurgo

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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)

 

cvr image Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of Oz

 

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.

int image Toto shoe Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of OzMore 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.

 

Int image Lion Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of OzMorpurgo, 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

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


Halloween Books Roundup 2017

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THE BEST HALLOWEEN PICTURE BOOKS OF 2017

by Christine Van Zandt

 

cvr image Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds Art by Peter BrownCreepy Pair of Underwear!
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Brown
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Two things are clear from the start of this book: Jasper needs some underwear and, he’s not a little bunny anymore. He persuades his mother to buy a pair of underwear advertised as, “So creepy! So comfy!” That night, Jasper wears them to bed and the trouble begins.

In Aaron Reynolds’s 48-page picture book, Jasper soon decides that, even though he’s a big rabbit, the underwear’s “ghoulish, greenish glow” and magical powers are a bit much. Instead of bothering his parents or confessing why he’s jumpy, he finds ways to rid himself of the dreaded underwear. When they keep coming back, Jasper self-reliant attitude conflicts with his fears

int artwork by Peter Brown from Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds

Interior spread from Creepy Pair of Underwear! written by Aaron Reynolds with illustrations by Peter Brown, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2017.

Peter Brown brilliantly conveys the somber mood in black and white images, offsetting the unusual underwear in neon green. When Jasper finally entombs his problem, Brown rewards the reader with a two-page wordless spread of darkness followed by Jasper’s eyes, surprised and oversized at the absolute blackness he has achieved.

The text’s refrain cleverly changes along with Jasper’s perspective. Acting like the big rabbit he professes to be, Jasper solves his own dilemma. Reader and rabbit receive an illuminating conclusion.

The team of Reynolds and Brown scored Caldecott honors with their previous book, Creepy Carrots! Featuring the same rabbit and a humorous plot, Creepy Pair of Underwear! will haunt you to read it again.

 

Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo!Tad Hills' Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo! cvr image
Written and illustrated by Tad Hills
(Random House Children’s, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo! brings us a Halloween adventure with this pair of favorite feathered friends Duck and Goose. This 40-page picture book will engage young children who, during this time of year, are eager to ask, What are you going to be for Halloween?

Goose, unclear on the concept states he’s going to be himself, of course, because “it’s important to always be yourself.” And, rightly so. But, fun soon follows when their friend, Thistle, appears and boldly states that she’s not telling them about her costume. It’s a secret. Then she cautions them to beware of the swamp monster tomorrow when they go trick-or-treating.

Of course, the mention of that ghoul haunts Goose that night and the next when he sets out, ready to collect candy. All seems okay until he’s told the swamp monster is looking for them!

In this book, Tad Hills continues the beloved series wherein emotions are explored in a gentle manner. Throughout, his illustrations, are expressive, capturing Goose’s trepidation. Particularly well depicted is the forest trick-or-treating scene—such fun to see how animals celebrate.

Children can relate to the slight apprehension surrounding Halloween that is paired with the excitement of get dressed up and, in the end, sorting their bounty.

 

cvr art for Halloween Good Night by Rebecca Grabill art by Ella OkstadHalloween Good Night
Written by Rebecca Grabill
Illustrated by Ella Okstad
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Halloween Good Night, a rhyming 32-page picture book, counts from one to ten using charmingly ghoulish families. Rebecca Grabill employs some standard spooky Halloween creatures such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Refreshing additions include wood imps, globsters, and boggarts. “Lurking in the swampland, lanterns glowing like the sun, sits a massive mama globster and her bitty globby one.”

The captivating cadence of the lines is spiked with clues enticing the reader to question where everyone is going. Soon, we find ghosts “sail through your door” and boggies wait in your closest for “your bedtime once again.” This removal of the so-called fourth wall makes the audience part the story.

A not-at-all-spooky conclusion is followed by a quick countdown from ten to one. Because the number sequences are handled with interest even older kids will engage with this “counting book”—there is much more to the story.

Ella Okstad delightfully illustrates the funny scenes (such as seven goblins dumpster diving with Granddaddy Goblin). Colorful images infuse the shadowy darkness with mischief and humor.

Halloween Good Night shows us that monsters can be playthings like dolls or stuffed animals. Instead of fright, they bring delight.

 

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

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

 


All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

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ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson
(Dial BYR; $20.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover image for All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
A New York Times Editor’s Choice
An Autumn Kids’ Indie Next List top pick

 

Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel, All’s Faire in Middle School, provides a much-needed glimpse into alternative lifestyles. Twelve-year-old Imogene has been homeschooled by parents who work at Florida’s Renaissance Faire. When Imogene starts public school for the first time, she faces a very different world than at the faire where she is a knight-in-training.

Each chapter begins with brief synopsis of the brave heroine’s plight, conveyed in somewhat Old English. With much of the book set at the faire, readers gain insight into this medieval reenactment where people choose which role to play. Imogene never wanted to be the princess, but she questions whether she is destined to be a knight—maybe she’s more like Cussie, the hermit. Sometimes, Imogene behaves like the dragon.

The story explores Imogene’s turbulent journey to self-discovery. This is a tale of acceptance, forgiveness, friends, and blossoming sexuality. Imogene is every preteen, learning what it takes to fit in at school. She is teased for wearing thrift-store clothes with the wrong shoes. Imogene’s family becomes an embarrassment to her when they show up still dressed in Elizabethan costume and think nothing of it. Before entering sixth-grade, Imogene hadn’t noticed her family was different and how this is viewed suspiciously.

As with Jamieson’s successful Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl, in All’s Faire, the protagonist is a tough girl struggling with prepubescent emotions. The love of Imogene’s family—including her “faire-mily”—is a constant. Even when at odds with her parents and brother, in the end, Imogene realizes that the bullies and popular kids at school are something to suffer in passing. Her philosophy of what’s important shifts—and that makes all the difference.

Imogene makes unkind choices, acting out against others because of her own frustration. Her journey to finding the right path is a realistically portrayed ongoing battle. In life, there are no easy answers. Family can embarrass us by just being themselves. We all make mistakes, yet, each day, we can choose which character we wish to play. The book concludes with an understanding that, if you believe there are happy endings in sixth-grade, then you haven’t attended middle school—a declaration which will resonate with readers everywhere.

 

 

  • 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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The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

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THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET
Written by David Barclay Moore
(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore cover image

 

Starred Reviews: Bulletin, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness, VOYA

The Stars Beneath Our Feet  by David Barclay Moore introduces us to Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul, a twelve-year-old boy reeling from his older brother’s recent murder. Lolly almost thinks it’s a joke, that Jermaine will reappear and everything will be fine. However, the heaviness in Lolly’s chest makes him realize life is unfair: “it’s all about borders. And territories. And crews.”

For years, Lolly built Legos per the box’s instructions because they provided relief from the real world. When Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend begins giving him garbage bags full of Legos, it unleashes his imagination but their apartment isn’t big enough for his artistic endeavor. At his community center after-school program, Lolly finds the storage room a peaceful retreat where he can build alone, forgetting about everything else until he must share his space and blocks with a quiet girl the kids call Big Rose.

When Rose does speak, she repeats comforting words to herself: “Your mama, your daddy—they were buried under the ground, but they’re stars now, girl, stars beneath our feet.” Her seemingly obscure statements affect Lolly. Their unlikely friendship evolves to include an understanding of shared pain. In the Harlem projects, death is too commonplace.

Throughout the book, Lolly and his best friend, Vega, feel pressure to join a gang for protection; yet, that’s what led to Jermaine’s death. Lolly wavers between fear, anger, and acceptance of what seems to be his only path. The question of how to fit in pulls Vega away as they search for their own answers, boys on their way to becoming men.

Moore’s book reveals our world’s imperfections and complications. Yet, hope shines through. We relate to Lolly’s conflicting emotions and understand his worries about the future. We all must decide how to best live our lives. The Stars Beneath Our Feet shares a glimpse of one boy’s journey.

  • 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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Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale by Corey Rosen Schwartz

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TWINDERELLA: A FRACTIONED FAIRY TALE

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz
Illustrated by Deborah Marcero
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Book cover Twinderella by Corey Rosen Schwartz art by Deborah Marcero

 

Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale delights with its clever premise: Cinderella has a twin! In this 32-page picture book, Tinderella is a math whiz who divides the girls’ grueling tasks precisely down the middle. They each do, “Half the folding, half the mending, half the mean stepsister tending.”

 

Interior spread from Twinderella by Corey Rosen Schwartz with art by Deborah Marcero, G. P. Putnam’s Sons ©2017.

 

Following the traditional story, on the night of the Royal Ball, Cinderella tearfully summons her “fairy godmom.” The fairy sparkles up some party dresses for the girls with accessories that Tin splits into two sets. However, when Prince Charming falls for both sisters, a dilemma ensues. Which sister should he wed? Luckily, Tin is again quick of mind and suggests a fabulous formula that, with some magic, may just work out.

This retelling enchants with its spot-on rhyme. The addition of the “fractioned” facts smartly introduces simple math, demonstrating in a straightforward manner how parts of a whole fit together.

 

Interior spread from Twinderella by Corey Rosen Schwartz with art by Deborah Marcero, G. P. Putnam’s Sons ©2017.

 

Marcero’s artwork combines the timeless feel of a “Cinderella” story with a modern edge. Black spaces are skillfully presented—from classroom blackboards showing mathematical formulas to shadowy silhouettes in the margins.

 

Interior spread from Twinderella by Corey Rosen Schwartz with art by Deborah Marcero, G. P. Putnam’s Sons ©2017.

 

Schwartz, author of The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks, and Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears continues to reign supreme with her funny adaptions of fractured fairy tales. In Twinderella, the girls, of course, live happily ever “half-ter.”

  • 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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Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz

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PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE
Written by Laura Amy Schlitz
Illustrated by Brian Floca
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz cvr image

 

Starred Reviews- Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Princess Cora and the Crocodile is an 80-page illustrated early chapter book about a princess who must always be a “good girl.” When Princess Cora’s Fairy Godmother answers her wish for a pet, instead of the “great, furry, golden dog” of her dreams, the princess receives a headstrong crocodile. He tries to give Cora a day off and, because the three adults in charge of the princess’s rigorous schedule barely glance at the girl, the crocodile’s disguise initially succeeds.

The ensuing mischief will tickle children—they are insiders on silliness being played on the rigid, demanding authority figures. The crocodile tries to not swat anyone with his tail or bite them, but succumbs when instigated. Kids will laugh as he rips the King’s trousers and chews on his rear end. Meanwhile, instead of bathing, studying, and skipping rope, Princess Cora relaxes in nature. After the crocodile’s overzealous intervention, Princess Cora returns to set things right. The adults finally register the girl’s dissatisfaction and recognize other ways to properly raise a princess.

Floca’s ink, watercolor, and gouache images capture the humor as both the crocodile (dressed in a frock and mop wig) and the princess come undone. The crocodile’s antics cleverly contrast against Princess Cora’s quiet day.

A skilled storyteller, Schlitz satisfies her audience utilizing a child’s universal wishes. Princess Cora and the Crocodile will delight early readers as well as younger children. The heart of this princess and animal tale shows a kid needing a break from adult-imposed overscheduling—a message with modern appeal.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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