Best Kids Picture Books for Valentine’s Day

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HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY 2015!
❤️A ROUNDUP TO SHARE THE LOVE ❤️

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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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)


Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn

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Booklist Starred Review

Spirit’s Key written by Edith Cohn, (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 8-12) is a middle grade novel packed with emotion, humor, and mystery.

spiritskey-smallAll Spirit Holden’s dad has to do is hold someone’s key, and he can see their future. Spirit comes from a long line of psychics, but for some reason, even though she’s twelve-years-old, the age when her ancestors received their gifts, she hasn’t gotten her powers. When Spirit holds someone’s key, she feels nothing. She is worried her elders didn’t pass along their gifts to her.

Her dad is unusually tired, and hasn’t been able to do readings for the islanders in a while. Spirit doesn’t know how they’re going to survive without the income from his readings. She’s also preoccupied with the mysterious recent deaths of the Baldies, the wild island dogs that the natives believe to be evil spirits. Spirit doesn’t believe the superstitious islanders. She even had a pet Baldy, her beloved Sky, whom she lost to the mysterious illness that was threatening to wipe out all of them. Now, the illness is spreading to the islanders, and her father is quarantined! Spirit thinks she sees Sky everywhere. She can feel him, smell him, and even hear him barking! Could Sky be trying to help Spirit solve the mystery of the dogs’ deaths?

First time author Cohn has created a page-turner of an adventure with colorful characters and vivid settings. She’s incorporated all the makings of a great novel; a flawed, but likable, main character, high stakes for her to succeed on her quest, and the ability to suspend the reader’s sense of reality.

I’d be remiss to not mention the lovely cover design by Eliza Wheeler in which she so perfectly captures the feel and mood of the book. You can judge this book by its cover, and not be disappointed.

Following is a very brief excerpt from Spirit’s Key:

“It’s easy to be brave, child, when you don’t know any better.You don’t understand about the baldies.” Mrs. Borse shudders like the thought of them, even in all her fur, gives her a chill. “You didn’t grow up hearing their history like I did, because you aren’t from around here. But maybe it’s time someone told you a thing or two about those devil creatures.” She pushes me back onto the couch and gets herself comfortable like we’ll be there awhile.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


Little Humans by Brandon Stanton

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Celebrating Children
Little Humans by Brandon Stanton

 

✩Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Los Angeles Times Holiday Books Guide
Amazon.com Best Books of the Year

Little-Humans-cvr.jpgI am utterly charmed by Brandon Stanton’s new nonfiction picture book, Little Humans (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 2-6) and am singing its praises to all who’ll listen. Most of you know Stanton from his blog, and #1 New York Times Bestseller, Humans of New York. In this adorable picture book he’s collected a wonderful, diverse array of photographs of the children of New York. The accompanying text is affirming to all “little humans” everywhere that they are capable of doing big things! Of course they may need to ask for help, they may just need a hug or two, but by and large they can accomplish many things on their own. For example, as the book states they can, “Put on a show, to make you proud of what they know!” I’m a big fan of books that affirm that children should be credited for knowing as much as they do. They know a lot!

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Interior images from Little Humans by Brandon Stanton, Farrar, Straus and Giroux ©2014.

The photographs of the children take up nearly each entire page. Many of them are taken on the eye level of the child or children in the photograph. This means there was some considerable time that Brandon Stanton had to spend on his knees or, as the dust jacket on the inside flap shows, actually on the ground to get such great shots! These large as life photos help to remind the reader that these little humans may be small, but they are so much more than that. They’re full of life, and are being met by Stanton literally on their own level on every page. In these photos Stanton helps to bridge the gap of space that exists between children and adults.

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Interior images from Little Humans by Brandon Stanton, Farrar, Straus and Giroux ©2014.

So many colorful personalities present themselves, and each child has his or her own unique style of awesome! The smile inducing photos range from one child in particular being singled out, to groups of many children. The photos of children of different ethnic and religious backgrounds are especially important for me to see, as I continue to try to support diverse children’s books. I very much appreciate the diversity of personality type, too. However, it’s the sweet face of every child featured in this book that pleases me most. Every child is warmly celebrated. Little Humans is a perfect book for a holiday gift for a little human you might know, and would definitely be a great present for a teacher. Well done, Brandon Stanton! Once again, you show us the beauty of all humanity.

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber


Not Very Scary by Carol Brendler

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Not Very Scary,
written by Carol Brendler and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli,
is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Not-Very-Scary-cvr.jpgI love a good scare on Halloween. But when my kids were little they only wanted to be frightened a teensy, weeny bit, if at all. Are your children like that?  I’d say that Not Very Scary (Farrar Straus Giroux, $12.99, Ages 3-6) by Carol Brendler with illustrations by Greg Pizzoli, is just the right picture book for youngsters who want to feel the excitement and anticipation of Halloween without an ounce of the fear factor.

As the title says, this picture book is not very scary, in fact Brendler’s language has made it wonderfully whimsical and ultimately upbeat with its main character’s positive self-talk. This Halloween-themed tale takes Melly, the charming chartreuse-colored monster, on a walk to see her cousin, Malberta. Melly’s been invited over with the promise of a surprise, but on her journey to her cousin’s she is followed by all sorts of scary creatures, testing Melly’s bravery. She hesitates at first then continues on when she finds:

A coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail!

Melly also encounters two skittish skeletons and three wheezy witches along with a trail of other seemingly frightening fiends. Also out for a stroll are seven frenzied fruit bats, eight spindly spiders, nine rambunctious rats, culminating with ten vexing vultures in this cumulative counting story that is sure to be read aloud to delighted children dozens of times. Parents can point out how the text builds up tension through Melly’s self-reassuring remarks. After seeing the coal-black cat, Melly says “Not the least bit scary,” to my favorite, “Not significantly scary,” upon seeing six sullen mummies. I love how Pizzoli drew each grouping of ghouls looks cautiously at the following set and he’s taken great care to make the characters absolutely adorable, never menacing, and all in marvelous colors. The ghosts grin, the witches balance on brooms and the mummies make some serious dance moves. And of course, the best part is the surprise at Malberta’s place that parents and kids alike will find most pleasing.

 

 


Dare the Wind by Tracey Fern

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DARE THE WIND:
The Record Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud

Dare The Wind: The Record Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud, (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 5-8), written by Tracey Fern and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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DARE THE WIND: The Record Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud, written by Tracey Fern and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Farrar, Straus Giroux, © 2014.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I am thrilled to recommend Dare The Wind, an exciting picture book biography of a brave and inspiring naval pioneer, Eleanor “Ellen” Prentiss. Born in 1814 in the maritime hub of Marblehead, Massachusetts, Ellen “had always felt the sea tug at her heart, strong as a full-moon tide.” Her father, a schooner captain, said she had saltwater in her veins and gave her lessons in the fine points of sailing and navigation.

While other girls stitched samplers and swept floors, Ellen learned that “A true navigator must have the caution to read the sea, as well, and the courage to dare the wind.” She sailed and raced for fun, then married a man given command of a clipper ship called the Flying Cloud. Ellen accompanies him as navigator on an exciting voyage from New York, around the tip of Cape Horn, and into San Francisco. Despite a broken mainmast and a fierce storm, she charts a course that led the Flying Cloud to set the world record for speed along that route, 89 days and 21 hours.

Interior image from DARE THE WIND:
The Record-breaking Voyage of
Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud
Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully,
© 2014 Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The best picture book biographies transport the reader into a new time, place or perspective. Dare The Wind pairs vivid description and elegant illustrations so effectively that you can almost feel the spray of salt water on your face, and hear the weighty snap of thick canvas sails overhead. McCully’s fabulous seascapes masterfully depict the roiling, dangerous journey through grey-green storms, and the deadly blue calm of equatorial doldrums. Fern’s lovely turns of phrase keep readers deeply rooted in the nautical world, as Ellen’s face “turns white as whalebone” and her heart races “like a riptide.” The tale zips along at an engaging, page-turning pace despite the highs and lows of their daring voyage.

An author’s note and glossary provide supplemental information about Ellen Prentiss’ life and the technical tools of her trade as a navigator. There are suggestions for further reading as well as endpages detailing the 1851 voyage of the Flying Cloud. While wind-driven clipper ships became obsolete in the late 1800s, Fern and McCully’s skillful storybook will ensure that the accomplishments of Ellen Prentiss will continue to inspire young readers to pursue their own groundbreaking journeys.

–  Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

 


Best Valentine’s Day Books for Children: We Love Each Other, Never Too Little to Love & Love Monster

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 Read about: We Love Each OtherNever Too Little to Love & Love Monster

Our Valentine’s Day Roundup from Rita Zobayan♡ 
features a selection of faves for the whole family!

Valentine’s Day is almost here. For many adults, the day is a fun indulgence of chocolates, flowers, jewelry, and the beverage and meal of choice. With children, however, the celebration is so much purer: to love and be loved.  These three books wonderfully encapsulate the true sentiment of Valentine’s Day for children.

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We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu, Minedition, 2013.

We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu (Minedition, $9.95; Ages 2-5) is a cleverly disguised shapes and colors die-cut board book. Six colorful animal pairs and one trio love each other and form shapes. The red birds are cozy next to each other and create a heart.  Parent elephant shelters baby elephant and together they form a gray semi-circle. The cuddly brown bears don’t like to be apart, so they hug and create a square.

The text and drawings are appropriately simple for a young audience. Mice love each other. Rabbits love each other. Cats love each other. The animals are presented on a white background that does not distract from the purposes of the text: to highlight love and to teach shapes and colors.  We Love Each Other is a Valentine’s Day book that can be read all year long.
What’s a mouse to do when he’s in love with someone a lot taller?

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Never Too Little To Love by Jeanne Willis with illustrations by Jan Fearnley, Candlewick Press, 2013.

Never Too Little to Love (Candlewick Press, $8.99; ages 3-7), written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Jan Fearnley, chronicles Tiny Too-Little’s quest to kiss his beloved, Topsy Too-Tall, a giraffe. Tiny Too-Little painstakingly and ingeniously stacks items to help him reach the heights:

                  He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a matchbox,

                  He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a teacup,

                  He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a clock,

                  Tiny Too-Little reaches way up. Wobble…wobble…wobble…CRASH!

Alas, all his hard work is in vain! Poor Tiny Too-Little! But, Topsy Too-Tall loves him and she has an idea. Will her idea work? Will Tiny Too-Little and Topsy Too-Tall finally get their innocent kiss?

Children will enjoy this book, perhaps especially for its unusual use of pages. As Tiny Too-Little stacks his “ladder” of love, the page lengths become progressively shorter. It’s a clever and engaging technique that helps the young reader visualize Tiny Too-Little’s efforts. Jan Fearnley’s artwork is spot on.  The pastel colors and endearing details, such as little hearts floating up to Topsy Too-Tall, fit beautifully with the sentiment of the story.

Never Too Little to Love proves that when it comes to true love, your size doesn’t matter. What matter is the size of your heart.

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Love Monster by Rachel Bright, Farrar Straus, Giroux, 2014.

Sometimes being a monster isn’t easy, especially if you happen to live in Cutesville: Home of the Fluffy.  Love Monster (Farrar, Straus Giroux, $16.99; ages 4-7) by Rachel Bright presents the heartfelt and brave undertaking of Monster, who does not quite fit in Cutesville.

When everybody loves kittens…and puppies…and bunnies. You know, cute, fluffy things, it’s hard to be a slightly hairy, I-suppose-a-bit-googly-eyed monster. But, Monster is not one to mope and decides to take matters into his own hands. He sets off to look for someone who’d love him, just the way he was.

His journey is not easy, and Monster searches far and wide.  Along the way, he must overcome disappointment and fear.  And, just as Monster has reached his limits, he unexpectedly learns that things can change in the blink of a googly eye.

In a society that bombards children with the idea that self-worth and overall acceptance are tied to a cuteness factor, this book is a breath of fresh air. I love that at no point does Monster attempt to make himself cute or change who he is. No, instead, he looks for a love that will accept him as he is. It’s a powerful message of unconditional love for and acceptance of oneself as being worthy of love.

The illustrations are as monstrously enjoyable as the storyline. Children will have fun reading the titles of Monster’s self-help books and his list of places to look for love.

Love Monster is a must-read for Valentine’s Day.