LA LA LA: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo

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LA LA LA:
A STORY OF HOPE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cvr image from La La La by Kate DiCamillo

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of  “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La La by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.

We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.

I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.

 

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.

Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.

La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.

Check out this link to a helpful teacher’s guide.

LA LA LA. Text copyright © 2017 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Jaime Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

    • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant


Snappsy The Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably) by Julie Falatko

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SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR
AND HIS BEST FRIEND FOREVER (PROBABLY)
Written by Julie Falatko
Illustrated by Tim Miller
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cvr image Snappsy the Alligator and his Best Friend Forever (Probably)

 

Rarely, is a sequel to a fantastic picture book better than the first.

Don’t get all excited. Alright, it’s not necessarily BETTER, but by golly it sure is just as incredible as the first and every page enjoyable to the fullest.

Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably) written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller is a picture book all kids can appreciate in terms of friendship woes. From as early as they can talk with friends, children are ready to define their friendships into categories––quickly going from “You’re my best friend!” to “You’re not invited to my party!” within the course of a day or even hours.

What’s so terrific about this book is the way you see two friends who are at odds find a way to share their joy. Sometimes friends need space, sometimes friends need a breather before they can play. And that’s okay.

 

Interior artwork Snappsy the Alligator and his Best Friend Forever (Probably)

Interior illustration from Snappsy the Alligator and his Best Friend Forever (Probably) by Julie Falatko with art by Tim Miller, Viking BYR ©2017.

 

Tim Miller’s comic style illustrations bring Snappsy and Bert’s (the narrator) struggle to find common ground to life with laugh out loud scenarios cleverly constructed by Julie Falatko.

At one point Bert exclaims, “Let’s play pinochle! Wear pizza hats! Braid my hair!” to an exasperated Snappsy who just wants time to himself and has no clue what pinochle is or how in the world to braid a chicken’s hair. As Snappsy spends time alone he realizes how much fun it is to be with his friend Bert, and invites him in to play.

Int image Snappsy the Alligator and his Best Friend Forever (Probably)

Interior illustration from Snappsy the Alligator and his Best Friend Forever (Probably) by Julie Falatko with art by Tim Miller, Viking BYR ©2017.

 

Don’t miss the chance to share Snappsy The Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably), a new and entertaining read by the same team behind Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to be in This Book)My preschool kids request this book multiple times daily and I never tire of reading it aloud and hearing their giggles of sheer delight.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

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GO BIG OR GO GNOME
Written by Kirsten Mayer
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.  

 

Cover image of Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

 

 

There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.

A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?

Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.

Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


FRED by Kaila Eunhye Seo

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FRED
Written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo
(Peter Pauper Press; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Fred-cvr.jpg

The back cover of FRED, a new picture book, teases readers by posing an interesting question: “What would you do if you had the ability to see and believe in things that others could not?”  It is a compelling invitation to dive into the magical and mystical world of the protagonist, Fred, a small town boy whose imaginary friends fill his world with fun.

Seo builds a fantasy story in which our ordinary day-to-day activities like walking, reading, and shopping are enhanced by kindly gentle creatures who help us by moving branches and providing shade. We can’t see these delightful furry, multi-eyed, prong-horned critters who have the best of intentions, but lucky Fred can! Together he and the creatures jump, swing, and slide and become the best of friends.

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Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

When Fred gets a bit older, he starts school and his days are filled with new, human friends. But his faithful companions remain nearby, looking in the classroom windows, stretching beside him in gym class, and chomping in the cafeteria. After school, Fred wants to play with his new friends. Day after day, the critters wait patiently for Fred, until their hope slowly fades away. Then one day, Fred forgets about them entirely and doesn’t even see them anymore.

Fred-int-artwork.jpg

Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

Seo’s talents lie squarely in the illustration arena, and her black and white scenes are filled with delightful details and crisp composition. Fred’s imaginary friends are cuddly and fierce some at once, with wide set round eyes, horns striped like party hats, and wonderfully shaggy fur. They have sweetly fanged smiles and enthusiastic expressions. On the fateful day that Fred ages away, their sad, droopy faces will wring your heartstrings.

Fred-int-artwork.jpg

Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

Seo restores color, light and joy to the last pages through Fred’s chance encounter with a special, generous girl. This gentle tale is a sweet balm for little readers who like cuddly monsters, imaginary friends, and happy endings. FRED can’t guarantee that you will begin to see benevolent beasts, but you may find a small flicker of hidden magic in your heart.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of FRED from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Click here for a Common Core Teaching Guide


The Winter Train by Susanna Isern

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The Winter Train by award winning author Susanna Isern
with illustrations by Ester Garcia

The-Winter-Train-cvr.jpg

A tale of friendship, kindness, and teamwork, can be found in The Winter Train, written by award winning author Susanna Isern with illustrations by Ester Garcia, (Cuento de Luz, November 2014; $16.95, Ages 3-5). Originally written in Spanish under the title, Tren de invierno, Jon Brokenbrow has successfully translated this beautiful story into English.

Every year, all of the animals in the Northern Forest, except for White Owl, Frog, and the fish, pack up their bags and board the Winter Train. They help each other prepare for their trip to a warmer climate in the Southern Forest before the snow hits.

Rabbit, Wolf, and Hedgehog are all on board. Wolf, Goat, and Bat have worked out their seating arrangements, and even Tortoise has managed to get to the train on time. The train chugs along, while the animals are playing games to pass the time, when Genet (a nocturnal, catlike mammal) realizes they’ve left one of their friends behind.

“We’ve forgotten Squirrel! We’ve got to go back and get her!”

“But if we go back, we could get trapped in the snow,” said Beaver, pointing to the dark clouds outside the window.

‘We can’t leave Squirrel behind. She can’t stand the cold,” said Ferret.

“Well, that’s settled then. Let’s go and find her!” said all the animals together.

In this picture book, Garcia’s illustrations show how quickly the landscape can change when autumn turns to winter, and snow covers everything. The bravery of Genet, trotting across the snowy ground to rescue her friend, Squirrel, tugs at your heartstrings. I found myself cheering the cat along on her trek.

Isern’s lyrical style of writing is both appropriate and appealing in this tender-hearted book for pre-schoolers.

“You came back to rescue me!” said Squirrel, shuddering from the cold.

But, of course the animals went back for their tiny friend. Who cares that a train can’t “turn around” or that in reality the animals would have eaten each other? Isern has managed to suspend our sense of reality in this wondrous magical picture book, which is sure to please the child in all of us.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

 


Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty

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Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau
written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts

Happy-Birthday-Madame-Chapeau-cvr.jpg

Like a delicious French pastry, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau (Abrams Books for Young Readers; 2014, $16.95, Ages 4-8) is a treat not only to behold, but to be enjoyed frequently perhaps with some steaming hot cocoa. After what may be my fourth or fifth reading I can still say I’m on my Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau honeymoon and continue to find wonderful things to devour on every page.

Observant readers will pick up clues that hat maker extraordinaire, Madame Chapeau is either a war widow, her soldier husband, or maybe her father, having fallen in combat; his hat on a kitchen chair as a sad reminder. Alone and lonely, even on that one night a year, her birthday, Madame Chapeau dresses up, resplendent in her birthday bonnet and takes a stroll to Chez Snooty-Patoot, “the best place in town.” But when she tumbles en route, a crow grabs her headpiece and flies off.

“My hat! My hat! Come back with my hat!
You simply can’t steal someone’s bonnet like that!
Someone quite special once made that for me.
You can’t steal my hat and fly off to a tree!”

Before she can say “baguette,” a baker offers her his trademark tall white hat and so begins the parade of people willing to help out with a loaner. From a policeman to a cowboy, to a Scotsman and a spy, to Charlie Chaplin – we all know his hat as we do the mime’s – total strangers yet lovely souls are being so very kind. I’m delighted, too, that both Beaty and Roberts chose to include such a diverse depiction of Parisians as it’s one of the most multi-cultural cities I know.

Without her special hat, but a birthday cake that’s been paid for, Madame makes her way to Chez Snooty-Patoot to dine alone or so she thinks! Meanwhile, an adorable young black girl whose mother was getting a fitting in Madame Chapeau’s earlier on in the story, is tailing the hat maker, yarn and needles in hand. (At one point we even see a mouse donning a cap matching the girl’s outfit!) NOTE: watch out for this mouse and his hats, as well as the dog and cat belonging to Madame.

“Excuse me, madame,” said a girl dressed in plaid.
“I made you a gift from some yarn that I had.
I made it myself, and I just want to say,
I hope you enjoy it … and Happy Birthday!”

This original new picture book, told in flawless, flowing rhyme is filled to the brim with exquisite, finely detailed watercolor and ink illustrations. Whether read-aloud or to oneself, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, is like having a front row seat at Paris Fashion Week (paying homage to many designers) without the expensive price tag that goes along with it.

Click here to download a Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau hat activity sheet.

TWITTER GIVEAWAY!

NOTE: Author Andrea Beatty added some cool info in the comment section which I’m paraphrasing here:

Beaty and Roberts show up in the restaurant. (She has a pen and is wearing Rosie Revere’s cheese hat. Roberts has a paint brush. Plus Iggy Peck’s parents make a cameo, too! All of the hats in the book are based on real hats. Some are David Roberts’ actual millinery designs.)

Click here for a link that shows some of the inspiration Roberts drew upon for his illustrations!

There’s a terrific twitter contest going right now to win 1 of 4 copies of the book. To enter, simply tweet a pic of yourself wearing a hat. #HappyBirthdayMadameChapeau. Winners will be announced on November 1!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


This Orq (he cave boy.) written by David Elliott

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This Orq (he cave boy.) written by David Elliott and illustrated by Lori Nichols, (Boyd’s Mills Press, $15.95, Ages 4-6), is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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Orq, a chubby-cheeked cave boy wearing a fuzzy, one-shouldered green tunic, has a pet woolly mammoth named Woma. Orq loves Woma, and Woma loves Orq. But a woolly mammoth is not a perfect pet, even if you live in a cave. Woma grows bigger and bigger, sheds, smells, and isn’t housebroken – er – cave-trained. None of this troubles Orq, but it does bother his mother who declares Woma has got to go!

Of course Orq can’t bear to part with his pet. He decides to show his mother that Woma is “smart” and “cute” by teaching Woma some tricks. Orq teaches Woma to “speak” but the mammoth’s blast knocks mom off her feet. Learning to “roll over” is also disastrous, crushing the flower garden. How will Orq convince his mother that Woma is special and loveable?

Elliott’s splendid story is told in brusque, blunted cave speak that will delight young listeners. Using the simplest of phrases, he carves a connection between boy and pet with humor and flair. This prehistoric pair is sure to have preschool fans grunting along in cave grammar style.
Nichols’ illustrations are appealing and slyly funny. Look closely in this picture book to find a stone tricycle, crayon cave art, and a comic family of brightly colored birds. The expressions and body language of boy and mammoth perfectly convey their deep emotions and enrich the spare dialogue with meaning. My favorite detail – Nichols draws thickly lined red hearts floating above the characters when expressing their love for one another.

Me love Orq… you will too!

Click here for a link to This Orq activity kit with directions to make your own woolly (aka paper bag) mammoth!

-Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I borrowed This Orq (he cave boy.) from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.