TRAVEL TO ENGLAND & SCOTLAND
A Picture Book Roundup
Maisy Goes to London
Written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick Press; $15.99; ages 2-5)
An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids
A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids
Written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling
(EK Books; $17.99; ages 6-10)
Travels through England and Scotland
I was raised in England, so I’m partial to books about the British Isles. Luckily, there are so many of them! We begin with Lucy Cousins’ Maisy Goes to London, which is a perfect introduction to the fabulous city for children ages three to seven. Maisy and her friends are sightseeing in one of the most exciting cities in the world, and there’s so much to see and do! They climb the lions in Trafalgar Square and see Nelson’s Column. Right across the street is the National Gallery, home to “so many amazing paintings. Maisy likes the sunflowers best.” Of course, no trip to London is complete without seeing Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. With stops at a park and the Tower of London—“Cyril and Charley love the Beefeater’s colorful uniform”—Maisy and company cover a lot of the most recognizable sites. As always, Lucy Cousins’ delightful artwork and easy-to-understand word choice hit the mark for younger readers.
For a broader look at modern England, older readers can check out An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling. Five children, Victoria, Aman, Tandi, George, and Ameli, are our guides to festivals, games, traditions, sites, animals, and foods from different parts of England. Each month has a double page spread and is filled with delightful pictures that depict the text. Each spread features about 12 facts for the month. The books is chock full of information! I personally loved seeing the hot, roasted chestnuts in a paper bag for January and the Punch and Judy puppet show for June. The references to lesser-known facets of living, such as “we gobble Jaffa Cakes and Jammie Dodgers” (June) and BBC’s Children in Need fundraiser (November), add to the sense of discovery. Details such as these, in addition to the more mainstream items like Stonehenge and Royal Ascot, go a long way in creating a real sense of life in England.
McCartney and Snerling have also created the series’ companion book, A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids. In similar fashion to the England book, Scotland’s heritage is presented via five children—Rashida, Sophie, Dominik, Isla, and James. We learn that on Twelfth Night, people “take down our Christmas Tree to avoid bad luck” (January) and that “Tartan Day celebrates everything good about Scotland” (April). We’re introduced to blaeberry picking (July) and “redding the house, to bring in a fresh new year” (December). The use of Scottish vernacular (for example, dreich, meaning dull, depressing, dreary weather) and inclusion of celebrations (the Braemar Gathering and the Royal Highland Show) produce a vivid feel for the pride that the Scottish feel for their country.
Readers may realize that more context or detail is needed to explain some of the information in the books. For example, English Year states, “At birthday parties, we play lots of games. Dad tries to give us The Bumps!” We did this when I was a child, so let me explain. The Bumps is when the birthday child is lifted by the arms and legs, and his/her bottom is bumped on the ground the number of years he/she is turning. It’s fun. Scottish Year mentions that in November “we put on our coats and play conkers outdoors.” I have fond memories of playing conkers with my classmates. A conker is a horse chestnut with a shoelace strung through it. Children then aim and hit their conkers at each other’s. Whichever conker outlasts the other, wins. Even though some research may be needed if a reader wants to dig deeper, the basic information doesn’t distract from the charm of the books.
The artwork is adorable. Each book’s characters show features of life at home, school, play, festivals, and so on. Illustrations introduce the months. In Scottish Year, March has a rain cloud hovering over it and rain sprinkling from the M, and September has leaves swirling around it. The text incorporates different colors and line shapes. For example, the text weaves around illustrations, some words are colored, some letters have their circles filled in, and some are in different sizes. The visuals, including the endpages, are appealing and encourage readers to follow the text.
Each book ends with a list of counties/regions and a map of the country filled with fun facts. I had no clue that Scotland has over 790 islands! I did know, however, that England consumes more tea per person than anywhere else in the world. Tea is such a large part of the culture. I appreciated the multicultural aspect that reflects the reality of these countries today. It begins with the inclusion of the children’s characters from Pakistan, India, Jamaica, and Poland, as well as England and Scotland, of course. While plenty of traditional aspects are presented, so are the more contemporary contributions from the various “introduced cultures” that have become a part of the fabric of England and Scotland. For example, in English Year, we learn that “Holi is the Spring Festival of Colours. We cover each other in coloured paint” and that “Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. No more fasting!” To ensure authenticity, the books have been produced in consultation with native English and Scottish advisors, school teachers, and school children.
If you aren’t traveling to the British Isles this year, or even if you are, these three books are a wonderful introduction to London, England, and Scotland.
THREE BOOKS FOR KIDS
TO PIQUE THEIR CURIOSITY ABOUT TRAVEL
Littleland Around the World
By Marion Billet
(Nosy Crow; $14.99; ages 2-5)
The cute creatures of Littleland are getting ready to travel. First, they must make sure they have everything they need, such as a camera, suitcase, umbrella, and sun hat. Next, they’re off to 14 countries to explore and learn.
This country is called the Netherlands. It is famous for its pretty windmills and colorful flowers. People here often bicycle to work and school. It’s windy today! Hold on to your hats, little ones! /This is the beautiful city of Venice in Italy. Here, they have canals, so people can travel around in boats instead of cars! In Italy, people often eat pizza for lunch. Do you like pizza, too? /Now the little ones are going to see a magnificent building called the Taj Mahal. They are in India, where it is very hot! There are all sorts of ways of traveling in India—some people even ride elephants! /The little ones have arrived in China just in time to join a festival! The dragon is dancing to the music! How many people are inside the costume?
The language is age appropriate with just enough information for growing minds. The digitally created illustrations are bright, eye catching and filled with iconic landmarks. Each spread features nine “can you see?” cultural items, such as flags, for little eyes to find. For example, the United Kingdom has a red phone booth, Australia has a boomerang, Japan has a teapot, Egypt has a pyramid, and Finland has a sleigh.
Littleland Around the World is a great book for your children to start learning about the world.
Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World
Written by Jenny Slater and illustrated by Katrin Wiehle and Martin Sanders
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95; ages 5-9)
Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is filled with tons of information for older children. A “how to use the atlas” introduction explains the keys to the maps and biomes, how a world map is made, and how to use a grid reference. The book’s twelve sections cover North America, South America, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, Russia and Eurasia, Middle East and South Asia, China and Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Arctic and Antarctica. Each section includes a description and a map of the area, flags of the region, a fact file of the largest mountain range, country, desert, lake, and longest river, and a highlighted topic, such as the Amazon rainforest, oil production, tea plantation, and volcanoes.
Northern Africa: The scorching hot Sahara Desert covers most the northern part of Africa. There is very little rain here and water is hard to find. Many desert people are nomads who move from place to place to find food and water. Most people in this part of Africa live in cities along the coasts or in the great Nile river valley, where the soil is rich enough to grow cotton, rice, vegetables, and fruit. South of the Sahara there is more rain, so farmers here grow cocoa, groundnuts, and coconuts. The section includes a six-step explanation of where chocolate comes from.
The book includes an index and over 250 stickers of flags, landmarks, and animals. Six pre-filled postcards from the continents and a passport are also included. Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is a useful text for learning more about the continents and their inhabitants and resources.
Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure
By Jackie Clark Mancuso
(La Librairie Parisienne; $17.95; ages 3-7)
Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure is a tale of a dog, Hudson, who along with his owner, leave the heat of Paris and head out to the beautiful countryside. Their adventure begins with their stay in an old stone house in the middle of a vineyard. Provence is a magical place. My book says artists come here to paint because it’s so beautiful. And the Provençal dogs work. I want to do what they do, so I can feel the magic.
Hudson is curious and he meets a lot of canine friends. Gaston is a border collie who herds sheep. Hudson tries, but the sheep aren’t so easy to move. Philippe is a truffle hunter! “Truffles are smelly mushrooms that grow underground near trees. They’re delicious! I have been specially trained to sniff them out because people like them too.” Hudson tries, but finding truffles isn’t as easy as eating them. Hudson and his owner watch the Tour de France. It’s exciting, but the cyclists are too fast and Hudson can’t keep up. What can he do to be a Provençal dog? Of course, he can paint like the artists who find inspiration! So he begins to paint doggy portraits, is busy for the next month, and holds an art show.
Hudson in Provence is a fun way to learn about French culture. French phrases are aptly woven into the story, and are an easy, contextual way to learn basic words. The book features a handy glossary (or le petit dictionnaire) with translation and pronunciation. The artwork is in the style of gouache paintings, and it matches the feel of the book perfectly. You can enjoy the book trailer at vimeo.com/120236763.
– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan
Fun and Fruit is a tale about sisters Charlotte and Claire who live surrounded by magical trees which grew wonderful fruits with thousands of different colors and aromas. They devise a game in which over the course of a week, they pick a color a day, think of fruits with that color, create stories based on the fruits, and eat the fruits as snacks. On Friday the color was green, and Charlotte told her sister why pears were her favorite fruit. “When I eat them, I close my eyes and feel little sparkling stars in my mouth that make me dream.” Claire thought about grapes. “They’re little, they’re always cuddled up close together, and they remind me of the friends I always want to be with,” she said. Charlotte and Claire include their friends in their game, and all have a good time eating the healthy snacks.
Interior artwork from Fun and Fruit by Maria Teresa Barahona with illustrations by Edie Pijpers, Cuento de Luz ©2015.
The artwork by Edie Pijpers is just darling and the bright, bold colors really capture the essence of the story. The page with the children making a fruit-infused milk shake had me practically salivating: the colors are so lush and the food looks scrumptious. The illustrations of the magical fruit trees and the birds with music notes are delightful, and the moon as a banana shining over a landscape of fruit put a smile on my face. The simplicity of the children’s features, which adds to the innocence of the storyline, also drew me in.
Interior artwork from Fun and Fruit by Maria Teresa Barahona with illustrations by Edie Pijpers, Cuento de Luz ©2015.
I must mention that I feel there were lost opportunities here. With the push for diverse books and multicultural inclusion within the United States’ children’s book industry, I really wish that the characters’ Spanish names had been kept. When I’m reading a story about Spanish children living in Spain, I want to see Carlota, Clara, Emilia, and Josue, not Charlotte, Claire, Emily, or Josh. Keeping the original names would have added to the authenticity. Also, I think it would have been ideal to include Spanish words and phrases, as many parents and teachers look for opportunities to incorporate another language into children’s education. For example, when mentioning apples, it would have been opportune to say manzanas, for oranges, naranjas, for red, rojo, and so on. However, Fun and Fruit is a story that emphasizes creativity, as well as healthy eating, and is worth reading.
Watch the book trailer by clicking here.
On a related note, another of Cuento De Luz’s titles,
Cyparissus, features incredible, whimsical artwork
by Sonja Wimmer that is worth a look.
– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan
written and illustrated by Mark Todd
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
The food truck phenomenon has its roots in Los Angeles, and local writer-illustrator Mark Todd pays homage to food on wheels in Food Trucks! The thirty pages feature a variety of edibles highlighted in the fourteen trucks. Short rhymes mixed with food facts provide an amusing and informative read.
Amigo (Taco Truck)
What’s up?/Surf’s up!/Hang ten and then/Head on over to the taco truck!
Carne asada and empanadas/With rice and beans/Seem to really hit the spot!
Holy moly, guacamole!/How about a hot tamale?/Bean burrito or quesadilla?/We’ve got the whole enchilada.
Dare to add the haban~ero/If you like it REALLY hot!
Better Burger Builder Bus (Hamburger Truck)
The world’s largest burger weighed 2,014 pounds and was ten feet in diameter. Before it was topped with sixty pounds of bacon and forty pounds of cheese, it took a crane to flip the patty! Americans eat an average of three hamburgers a week, which amounts to nearly fifty billion burgers per year!
Each food truck has a distinct personality. Bubba Q, the barbecue truck, sports long horns and a nose ring. The grilled cheese truck, Cheddar Chuck, has a grater ornament atop the roof and side mirrors in the shape of cheese wedges. Curry in a Hurry, the Indian food truck, is adorned with tassels, beads, and brightly colored lights. These extra touches on the details, such as the broccoli hood ornament on Mr. Cobb the salad truck and Sprinkles the cupcake truck’s license plate, SWTOOTH, make for entertaining viewing.
Whether your child is a foodie or a picky eater, s/he will find something to enjoy in this tribute to movable culinary delights.
– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan
Lola Plants a Garden
Written by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
(Charlesbridge; $15.95, Ages 2-5)
In Mary’s Garden
By Tina and Carson Kugler
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.
In Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.
Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?
Interior artwork from Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014
This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.
In Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.
My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.
The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.
NOTE: If you live in L.A., you can see Tina and Carson Kugler at Once Upon a Time Bookstore at 11a.m. on March 28th.
Here’s a book trailer to enjoy, too.