A Math and Counting Books Roundup

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Have fun counting and doing simple math with your children …

National Geographic Little Kids Ocean CountingNational_Geographic_Little_Kids_Ocean-Counting
Written by Janet Lawler
Photos by Brian Skerry
(National Geographic; $16.95, Ages 2-5)

If your young kids are into aquariums and learning about sea life then don’t miss this counting book. The beautiful underwater nature photographs match perfectly with the simple yet informative text. There is a little “Did you know?” section on each page with an interesting fact. Basic counting from 1-10 is so enjoyable with this book, plus in the back matter there’s a counting up and counting down page to review the numbers and the respective quantities with children.



Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure
by Derek Anderson
(Orchard Books/Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

This humorous bath adventure from Little Quack illustrator Derek Anderson, will have your kids cracking up! One cute little pig is taking a bath with his rubber ducky when others start to barge into the tub. The text has great rhythm and the illustrations are both cute and extremely funny! I would highly recommend this book for young kids and I know the adults reading it will also find it amusing. You have to find out how the original bathing pig gets the tub all to himself again.




Mice Mischief: Math Facts in Action Mice_Mischief
Written by Caroline Stills
Illustrated by Judith Rossell
(Holiday House; $16.95, Ages 3-6)

Mice get into a lot of interesting and impressive mischief in this book! Mice Mischief offers a refreshing take on learning the different amounts that make 10. For example, as they get ready in the morning “8 mice cook. 2 mice juggle. 8+2=10.” It’s an engaging way to count and add with your little ones. The adorable illustrations complement the spare text perfectly. I hope they make a board book version since I think this book would be great for babies all the way up age 6.



  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm by Antonie Schneider

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Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Susanne Strasser
(Holiday House; $16.95, ages 4-8)




First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.  

As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.

Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].”  The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.  

It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.

Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person.  Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.  

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian


Swing Sisters by Karen Deans

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Written by Karen Deans
Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
(Holiday House; $16.95, Ages 4-8)



In 2014 and 2015 readers have been treated to a number of fantastic narrative nonfiction picture books. Today’s review features yet another add-it-to-your-collection book, the story of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm as recounted in the impressive Swing Sisters.

Back in the very early 20th century, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones established an orphanage called Piney Woods Country Life. It was here that he would ensure African American children could thrive and he did so not only by letting kids be kids, but also by having them do work at the school “to earn their keep.” Using this same philosophy, he organized a school band “just for girls,” to “help raise money for the school.” Anyone involved in the band had to consider their role as an additional job on top of school work and other responsibilities at Piney Woods.

The girls played a kind of music called swing. It was jazz music that brought people to their feet, “that music was filled with energy!” It also touched people from all walks of life because it made them feel alive and excited. The girls’ group, named The Sweethearts by Dr. Jones, eventually left Piney Woods to launch a career starting in Washington, D.C. They traveled by bus and performed all over America. Their hard work and dedication helped them hit the “big-time,” at one point playing to a crowd of thirty-five thousand at the Howard Theater in Washington!

By this point the band was known as The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and though America’s Sweethearts were consummate entertainers, they still encountered gender and race discrimination. The Jim Crow laws meant they couldn’t work together with white people, so for the most part they played “for black audiences.” Since their band was multi-racial, they were essentially breaking the law in certain states. There was even one occasion when white band members had to flee or risk arrest. I was happy to learn that during WWII, the USO “arranged a six-month tour for the band to travel to France, Belgium, and Germany.” But at the same time I’m disappointed that, despite having played for the troops abroad, the group’s USO tour is something we rarely hear about.

L.A. local Cepeda’s acrylic-and-oil artwork, with its retro woodcut look and expressiveness, is a bonus. He’s captured the era through a rainbow of colors that dazzle and delight. And, how lucky for us that Deans has chosen to shed light on this group of talented and committed female musicians who were throwing rocks at the glass ceiling way before other women thought it was even possible. Their days on the jazz circuit made inroads for countless women performers who would follow in their swinging footsteps. There’s not a dull sentence in this story thanks in part to the subject matter, but also owing a great deal to Deans’ talent. She’s brought the experience of being a trailblazing band to life in a richly crafted picture book that begs to be shared with early school goers.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel











Click here to read an enlightening interview with author Karen Deans.

Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America by Russell Freedman

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Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America
by Russell Freedman
(Holiday House, $20.00, Ages 10 and up)


Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Kirkus & Booklist

Nearly fifty years ago, on March 21, 1965, three thousand people, black and white, Christian and Jew, young and old, began a five day march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama’s state capital) to secure voting rights for African Americans. Although this was not their first attempt, it was highly successful. A judge’s ruling that the march was constitutional, and the presence of the Alabama National Guard, paved the way and protected the marchers from police (and segregationists’) brutality. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their numbers had swelled to 25,000. Nothing, not even Ku Klux Klan blockades, could squelch their courage and spirit.

The impact of this march was immediate. Congress approved the 1965 Voting Rights Act and, by the following summer, 9,000 blacks in Dallas county had registered to vote.

In a clear and compelling narrative, Freedman places the march and preceding events in the context of a society that lived under oppressive “Jim Crow” laws, which effectively legalized and enforced segregation. With the aid of powerful and dramatic, black and white photos, the book conveys to young readers the challenges and the dangers black people faced when demonstrating for their democratic rights, especially the right to vote. The well-chosen images further underscore the marchers’ courage and passion in the face of horrific violence and give readers a sense of immediacy, even fifty years after the event.

Because They Marched is an invaluable resource for helping young readers understand the profound impact that the Civil Rights Movement had on our country’s political and cultural history. It is also recommended as a moving tribute to the courage and determination of a people who sacrificed dearly to obtain democratic rights for all.

The book includes a timeline, source notes, and a selected bibliography.

Kirkus gave this nonfiction book a starred review and named it one of the “Best Books of 2014.”

Find an excerpt of this book at Holiday House along with excellent valuable CCSS (Common Core State Standards) and teaching resources.

Read more about Russell Freedman at the National Endowment for the Humanities and see a Library of Congress webcast featuring the author.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

The Mayflower by Mark Greenwood

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The Mayflower written by Mark Greenwood
and illustrated by Frané Lessac
(Holiday House, 2014. $16.95. Ages 4-8)

A Voyage to the First Thanksgiving

The-Mayflower-cvr.jpgIn 1621, a group of nearly 100 people, many of whom experienced religious persecution, left England to find a place where they could worship freely. After an arduous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean–which included violent storms and the birth of a child, they sighted land and eventually founded a settlement near Plymouth Harbor.

Their troubles were not over. Arriving late in the year, they faced a cold and difficult winter. Many were ill. However, in early spring, Squanto, a native from a local tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and fertilize the fields with fish. That fall, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, and 90 of his warriors joined the Pilgrims for a harvest celebration, our first Thanksgiving

Greenwood’s narrative in this picture book can be read aloud to young children to introduce them to the traditional Thanksgiving story. Complex issues, such as religious persecution and the Mayflower Compact, are briefly, but clearly expressed in language young children can understand. The hardships the Pilgrims faced are not overdramatized and the author weaves in interesting “kid friendly” facts about daily life aboard the ship: food, sleeping arrangements, entertainment, etc.

Lessac’s colorful gouache illustrations, reminiscent of folk art, enliven the narrative and create a vivid and dramatic visual of the journey and the settlement. A stunning two-page spread of a beautiful, calm night at sea, the sky full of stars sparkling around a full moon, belies the dangers the ship would soon face on its journey to the new world. Sure enough, a month later, the Mayflower and its passengers and crew sail into the stormy season, which Lessac stylistically portrays with a pinkish sky dotted with dark storm clouds. Jagged bolts of lightning and torrents of rain fall from the clouds. The image of the ship rolling in the rough sea further demonstrates the ocean’s frightening power and the hardships the crew and passengers faced on their way to the new world.

An excellent and colorful read aloud to introduce younger children to the origins of our Thanksgiving celebration.

Visit Australian author Mark Greenwood’s website for more information about his books.

Illustrator Frané Lessac’s website is a must-see for her artwork and a video about how the illustrator works.

Click here for Holiday House’s Educator’s Guide for this book.

Enjoy this dramatic book trailer for The Mayflower.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez

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Today We’ve Got a Throwback Thursday Picture Book! Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Elwood Smith (Holiday House, 2013, $16.95) and highly recommended for children ages 3-7.

“Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O … Señor Pancho had a rancho, cha cha cha cha cha …”

Senor-Pancho-Had-Rancho-cvr.jpgNow if twelve children chanting “cha cha cha cha cha” to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm doesn’t get your body wiggling and your toes tapping, then nothing will.

Old MacDonald and his neighbor, Señor Pancho, have the same animals on their farms who, while they look similar, speak different “languages.” While Old MacDonald’s dog barks “woof, woof,” Señor Pancho’s pero yaps “guau, guau” (wow, wow). A rooster on Old MacDonald’s farm crows “cock-a-doodle-doo,” while Señor Pancho’s gallo (GAH-yoh) squawks out “quiquiriquí” (kee-kee-ree-KEE), and so on. Finally, a cow and una (OON-ah) vaca (VAH-kah) are introduced. Both happily understand each other’s “moo” and “muu” (moo). Soon, ignoring the fence that divides the two properties, all the farm animals and the two farmers join the cow and the vaca for a rollicking dance.

Each double page spreads shows an illustration of Old MacDonald’s farm on one page with the English verse and Señor Pacho’s rancho on the opposite page with the same verse in a blend of Spanish and English.

Elwood Smith’s multimedia illustrations use subtle colors and small touches to distinguish the characters, but overall, each animal (and human) looks and behaves the same way. The illustrations are hilarious, lively and wonderfully convey the energy, joy, and silliness of the song.

Laínez notes “This book is a celebration of languages. In every celebration, we need music and dance (author’s note).” Lainez and Smith capture the idea that the joy we experience from music, dance, and companionship is universal.

This book was a 2014 International Latino Book Award finalist in the Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book – Bilingual category.

A helpful glossary of the Spanish words used in the book and how to pronounce them is included.

I shared this book with my K-1 classes and the timing was perfect as they were learning animal names in Spanish class. Reading (and singing) this book helped reinforce the children’s learning and introduced the Spanish words for the animal sounds. We had a ball.

Visit Salvadoran René Colato Laínez’s website for more information about the author, his books, awards, activities and more.

Learn more about illustrator Elwood Smith at his website and at Elwood’s World; the Art and Animations of Elwood H. Smith, a pdf of an engaging catalog prepared for a 2011 exhibition of his work at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

The publisher, Holiday House, has information on Common Core State Standards, reviews, and an activity sheet. Find those here.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Backwards Moon by Mary Losure & Giveaway

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An Enchanting Story from Mary Losure

Backwards-Moon-cvr.jpgWhen my daughter was 7 or 8 she became infatuated with fairy and witch stories. But that was 13 years ago and the selection wasn’t very exciting. I’m happy to say that now there are so many more interesting books featuring assorted magical creatures and Mary Losure’s Backwards Moon (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 7-10) is one of them. This recently published middle grade novel is perfectly suited for tweens who want action, adventure, fantasy and a satisfying conclusion, all in just 134 pages.

Cousins Nettle and Bracken are the two youngest witches in a coven made up of mostly older witches (“They were not just old, they were very old. Some were hundreds of years old.”) who live in a hidden valley being encroached upon by humans. The book opens on the very day that the girls discover something has gone terribly wrong with the magic Veil, originally spun to shelter their community from the outside world.

Suddenly it’s looking like the carefree days of playing Catapult are over. Things are about to change forever, thrusting Nettle and Bracken into a mission to save their coven by traveling to the human world. There the witchlings will attempt to find untainted Wellspring Water, crucial for the damaged Veil spell. They’ll also eventually seek out the Door leading to a safer world for all witches, far from the menacing presence of humankind.  Even though the older, more experienced witches would seem like the natural choice to make this dangerous journey, the fear of Fading, or loss of magical powers caused by the proximity to humans, stops them from trying. The cousins’ youth, while providing them with increased protection from the Fading, does not guarantee immunity putting them at considerable risk as well.

Losure_Mary 2014

Backwards Moon Author Mary Losure. Photo credit: Don Losure © 2014

Losure has created a believable world where only young humans can see the witches, initially complicating matters, but ultimately helping the girls on their quest. I found it fascinating how the author was able to convincingly convey the collision of the witch world with that of humans, in fact she had me at Seeking Stones. (magical rocks that will assist the witchlings). There are several engaging characters who help Nettle and Bracken including a young human girl named Elizabeth, a Witchfriend named Ben and a caring raccoon. Losure has included a nemesis for the cousins to evade, as well as many close calls that will keep tweens entranced. In 21 short chapters, we’re whisked away to a wonderfully imagined world where wishes can be used up and time is not necessarily on the side of the plucky main characters. All that makes for a more layered read and a desire to follow Nettle and Bracken into the safety they seek behind the Door, perhaps in a second book? I can wish, too!

Click here to read an excerpt from Backwards Moon.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Buy the book from Indie Bound by clicking here.


This giveaway will be a bound book giveaway, sent to the winner from Holiday House. The winner must be a U.S. resident and over 18 years of age (parents/guardians can enter for children if they’re interested).

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