John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister

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JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS:
THE STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN
Written by Caroline McAlister
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien cover art

 

Even a passing glance at the brilliant cover of John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien will reveal tantalizing clues about the carefully woven, beautifully illustrated tale inside. A boy, heavy book open in his lap, sits beneath a tree that is morphing, Daphne-esque, into a curious dragon. Utterly fantastic from its root-like tail swirling up the trunk to its leafy green scales, we share the boy’s delight and surprise in the dragon’s appearance as a peaceful, shire- styled village awaits in the distance.

 

Using dragons as a child-friendly entry point, McAlister frames this picture book biography of J.R.R. Tolkien around his rich imagination and love of language. The book paints an idyllic early childhood that nurtured John Ronald’s passions, allowing them to flourish among stories, family, friends, and invented vocabularies. Those passions then simmer quietly beneath the surface, sustaining him in later years through unhappy times and adult responsibilities.

 

The magic of this book lies in how well Wheeler’s illustrations build upon McAlister’s text, never failing to seize an opportunity to portray a smoky wisp from cup, chimney or pipe that will connect us to a dragon’s steamy breath. Likewise, architectural details ground the reader in the time period while also stretching to hint at fantasy features in the imagined worlds Tolkien eventually creates. The subtle green-gray-yellow palette keeps the focus squarely on the main character, until finally bursting into glorious red-gold when the dragon Smaug is revealed. Gorgeous endpapers pay delightful homage to William Morris design.

 

Young readers who may not have yet heard of Tolkien nor seen The Lord of the Rings movies will be gently introduced to Middle Earth world through this charming book. Surely many will identify with the desire to daydream about powerful dragons, misty mountain journeys, or Hobbits and elves. The text includes informative notes from the author and illustrator, Tolkien quotes on dragons, a Tolkien dragon catalog, and bibliography.

 

John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien is a wonderful initial investment in world-building and imagination for young readers. Once engaged by the dragons and dreams of John Ronald, one cannot help but assume the book will spur future interest in reading more of Tolkien .

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Friday Barnes Under Suspicion by R. A. Spratt

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FRIDAY BARNES UNDER SUSPICION
Written by R. A. Spratt
Illustrated by Phil Gosier
(Roaring Brook Press; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Tween sleuth Friday Barnes is back, this time to uncover who set her up and why mysterious things keep happening at her private school, Highcrest Academy.

 

Friday Barnes Under Suspicion book cover

 

If you’ve been reading Good Reads With Ronna for awhile you’ll recognize R. A. Spratt’s name as the author of the popular Nanny Piggins series. With nine of these books under her belt, Spratt tried her hand at middle grade mysteries with the release of Friday Barnes Girl Detective. Today I’m going to introduce you to this über intelligent student sleuth in her second book, Friday Barnes Under Suspicion, out earlier this month. And frankly, it didn’t matter that I started with book 2 since Spratt has included just enough pertinent backstory to make this book succeed even as a stand alone.

This latest installment features 25 short chapters that are filled with action and lots of surprises. Yes, there’s never a dull moment when 11-year-old private investigator Friday Barnes is around. The story moves at a fast pace and is broken down into one large mystery to solve and several smaller ones. Spratt kept me guessing whodunnit throughout the novel and that will appeal to readers who, like me, love the challenge of putting the mystery puzzle pieces together.

Whether she’s helping to prove her own innocence after a setup or that of a vagrant by locating a missing sapphire bracelet, or catching the home economics class cheat who took credit for a quiche she didn’t make, Friday Barnes solves her cases using brains not brawn. Add to all the enjoyable sleuthing just a dash of tween romance, a fun symbiotic friendship, a satisfying amount of Spratt-style tongue-in-cheek banter, and the sudden profusion of large holes around the campus of Highcrest Academy, and you’ve got the makings of one very entertaining novel. What is happening at Highcrest Academy that’s causing people to appear, disappear, or reappear, and could it all be tied to a past secret or something more recent?

I couldn’t wait to read what escapades the staff and students of this posh private boarding school got up to. Spratt has created an academic environment rife with intrigue. And the fact that Friday uses money earned from prior and current cases to pay her way through school is significant. Friday’s the daughter of physicists who are preoccupied with their own lives so she’s been forced to grow up early and make her own way in the world. She does so with aplomb, occasional embarrassment, and a lot of hilarious dialogue that will keep middle grade readers coming back to Barnes for more. Watch out for book 3, Friday Barnes Big Trouble due this coming January 2017.

Read an excerpt from Friday Barnes Under Suspicion here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Where’s the Party written and illustrated by Ruth Chan

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WHERE’S THE PARTY?
Written and illustrated by Ruth Chan
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3 to 6)

– is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Wheres The Party book cover

 

 

Filled with silly charm and endearing characters, Ruth Chan’s debut picture book WHERE’S THE PARTY? is a cheerful delight for fans of parties, plans, cats and cake.

Georgie, our furry feline hero, is the hostess with the mostest when it comes to special celebrations. He’s gathered friends for pool parties, topiary competitions, Pie Day, and ice cream truck fests. So it is no surprise when he wakes up with a smile on his face, ready to plan a spectacular party, choose the biggest cake in the bakery, and invite all his friends.

 

Interior artwork from Where's The Party? by Ruth Chan

Interior spread from Where’s the Party? written and illustrated by Ruth Chan, Roaring Brook Press ©2016.

 

With his furry arms wrapped around a triple-tiered pink, white and blue party cake, Georgie sets out to each friend’s doorstep to issue his invitations in person. Alas, his best friend Feta the dog is too busy making pickles, and Lester the mouse has to untangle a string of lights. Ferdinand the mole can’t be enticed from his hole, and Sneakers (non-specific species) is intently snipping away at his latest evergreen masterpiece.

One by one, Georgie realizes he will not be able to round up any guests for his fiesta. His party hat droops, his whiskers dangle dejectedly, and he nibbles at the party cake to console himself. Eventually it is dark and there is no cake remaining, so Georgie trudges home. But wait, it can’t end there can it? No! Of course one’s picture book friends always come through in magnificent fashion, and it is best to discover the tiny, delightful details for oneself.

Chan’s critters are simple and goofy, with exaggerated features like buck teeth, floppy ears, and fanged underbites. Georgie the cat is a wide-eyed, cuddly character, full of strong feelings that he expresses clearly in toddler-like fashion. Chan tucks tiny, noteworthy details into every illustration, slyly winking at urban architectural excesses and applying silly Scarry-style labels on mugs, posters and cross-stitch samplers.

 

Interior artwork from Where's The Party? by Ruth Chan

Interior spread from Where’s the Party? written and illustrated by Ruth Chan, Roaring Brook Press ©2016.

 

A super fun Activity Guide available on the publisher’s website provides a cake recipe, printable cake toppers, a party hat pattern, games and coloring pages. Download your own at this link and get ready to party!

For Ruth Chan’s website click here.

Find out more about Georgie and Feta at georgietales.com.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of WHERE’S THE PARTY? from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Best Picture Books of 2015

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THIS YEAR’S BEST PICTURE BOOKS

Making a List and Checking it Twice!
Bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber’s Top 15 Picks

GRWRCoveted-Bookseller-Award

 Of course this list of 15 picture books is influenced by my own personal taste, but as a bookseller of many years I hope to guide you to some of my personal favorites from the 2015 publishing year. This is by no means a comprehensive list because I have so many favorites, but these are the picture books I would really love to give as gifts. I’ve tried to arrange these in age order and hope that helps you if you plan to give books as presents to children this holiday season. Happy Reading!

vegetables-in-underwearVegetables in Underwear
Written by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; April 2015, $14.95. Ages 2-5)

What could be funnier than veggies in undies? Clever text pairs brilliantly with discussion of all different types of underwear and the text can help a child transition from diapers to underwear. Or it can just be a hysterical, giggly book about underwear. Consider Vegetables in Underwear appropriate for two-year-olds and up.

 

ItstoughtoloseyourballoonIt’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon
Written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka 
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Anyone who has ever taken care of a child knows this truth. It is really hard to loose your balloon to the sky above when you let go of it! In a simple and straightforward way Krosoczka points out that many childhood hardships are tough, but there’s an upside to a lot of them. You could scrape yourself, but you also might get a glow in the dark band aide! We grown-ups tend to forget how these common childhood dramas are powerful and important to children. The strength of this book is in affirming that the adult in their lives notices these hard times. At the end of the book the author encourages children to notice that when it rains you can look for the rainbow in all kinds of situations! A great reminder to get your kiddo to be able to reframe, stay positive, and look on the bright side.

Counting Crows counting-crows-cvr
Written by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Black, white and red illustrations accompany perhaps the most perfect book about crows I’ve seen. With their red scarves on they fly to get some snacks. They snack all the way to a dozen. In the meantime a cat has been watching these crows with a possible snack in mine! Counting Crows is a charming counting book that I highly recommend!

IfYoureaRobotIf You’re a Robot and You Know It
By Ukelele and Drum Combo, Musical Robot
Illustrated by David A. Carter
(Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

A new pop-up book! What fun! Carter delivers yet another wonderful book! Set to the words from the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with “If you’re a robot and you know it clap your hands, jump and beep, shoot laser beams out of your eyes!” Children will delight in the familiar song set to a new theme, and the pop up elements are used to make the robot do everything that’s in the song. With the pull of a tab the robot claps it’s hands, jumps, shoots lasers out of its eyes, and more! Recommended for those children able to handle a pop-up book with care.

Butterfly Park 
ButterflyPark
Written and illustrated by Elly MacKay
(Running Press Kids; $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

This book gave me the chills because it’s that beautiful. A girl moves from the country to the city, and finds that next door is a Butterfly Park. She wonders where all the butterflies have gone! Soon all her new neighbors are helping her to discover that what is needed here are flowers to attract the butterflies. The park is restored and a special fold out page reveals the Butterfly Park full of children and butterflies once more. Each page is filled with light and glowing color. A science lesson on the side provides depth, while the illustrations provoke awe and wonder. A picture book that does not disappoint!

The Moon is Going to Addy’s House TheMoonisGoingtoAddysHouse
Written and illustrated by Ida Pearle
(Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

This dreamy, magical book is a cut paper triumph. With gold swirls in the night sky on some pages, this book begins with the end of a play date. Addy begins the nighttime journey back to her own home. Addy and her sister play a game of hide and seek with the moon as they watch it seemingly disappear and then reappear on the car ride home. Under a bridge and behind a mountain the moon seems like a constant friend who follows you home. Rich colors and a masterful command of the cut paper style make this a perfect bedtime book. Is this book a possible Caldecott winner? Only time will tell!

OnceUponaCloudOnce Upon a Cloud
Written and illustrated by Claire Keane
(Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Veteran Disney animator Claire Keane, whose background includes her work on Disney’s “Tangled” and “Frozen,” brings to life Celeste’s dream journey on her
request to bring back the perfect gift for her mother. Along the way she meets the stars, moon and sun. However, the right gift for her mother just doesn’t present itself. The next morning she is inspired by all the beauty she has seen! She finds flowers that remind her of the stars in her dream and ties up the perfect gift with her own hair ribbon. A visual delight in purple and pink, Once Upon a Cloud makes a perfect gift for a thoughtful child you know who particularly delights in fantastic illustrations.

A Tower of Giraffes: AnimalsTower-of-Giraffes-cvr.jpg in Groups
Written and illustrated by Anna Wright  
(Charlesbridge  $17.95 Ages 3-7)

What a gorgeously illustrated book. Did you know that a group of geese is called a gaggle? Or that a group of owls is called a parliament of owls? Or that a group of peacock is called ostentation of peacocks? Each page introduces the groups by their collective names and gives a brief summary of each animal. A wonderful introduction to animals! Pen and ink drawings are combined with watercolor or fabric pieces. My favorite page is a group of sheep in sweaters made with a swatch of sweater fabric. You only have to look at each page to see how lovingly each page was created. I would be pleased to see this win the Caldecott!

The Bear Ate Your SandwichTheBearAteYourSandwich
Written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach 
(Alfred A.Knopf BYR;  $16.99 Ages 3-7)

This is by far one of the best picture books this year for gift giving. A narrator who is unknown at the beginning of the book directly tells the audience about who took your sandwich. A bear wakes up one eventful day in the woods to follow a truck filled with the delicious scent of berries all the way to the big city! Many adventures ensue with the discovery of the sandwich in question. Visual clues give away the fact that our narrator is in fact a dog seen in the park on one page. He is one unreliable narrator because guess what? He ate your sandwich! Sure he saw the whole thing happen. Blame the bear! Grin worthy text pairs nicely with illustrations infused with light and the bear’s epic journey from woods to city and back again.

Lenny and Lucy LennyandLucy
Written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Philip Stead brought us the Caldecott Award winning Sick Day for Amos McGee, and this new book is equally endearing. Peter and his dog, Harold, have just moved into a new house on the edge of a wood. Feeling that they need some backup, Peter wisely uses big pillows to create Lenny to guard the bridge that runs between their house and the woods beyond. Lenny is a wonder to behold! However, maybe Lenny is lonely out there all alone? Enter a new big, pillow friend for Lenny in the form of Lucy! The four of them become great friends and add one more to the group. Peter’s next-door neighbor is a little girl who is fond of owls. So, the woods beyond the bridge might not be so bad after all, especially with good friends by your side.

TheWhispercvrThe Whisper
Written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

A girl borrows a magical book from her teacher, but when the words spill out, the little girl is disappointed. However she soon realizes that she can create her own story out of all the words that were once inside the book! A celebration of imagination married with absolutely stunning illustrations make me wonder if this might be a Caldecott winner this year.

 

One FamilyOneFamilycvr.jpg
Written by George Shannon and illustrated by Blanca Gomez
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

How many things can the number one be? A counting book and also an ode to all the different kinds of families out there make this multicultural picture book a must have for your family. Children will enjoy scenes they see everyday from doing laundry to going to the zoo. “One is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.” This strong ending helps us all to recognize how important all families are.

We Forgot Brock!
WeForgotBrock
Written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

How I love this book. Phillip has an imaginary friend named Brock who is always up for adventure. Off goes Phillip’s family to the fair, along with Brock of course. Brock wants to ride the big kid rides, but Phillip and Brock get separated. When Phillip finds that his imaginary pal is missing, he goes searching for him. Luckily another little girl who has an imaginary princess friend with her at the fair sees Brock and takes him home with her. Phillip is at last reunited with Brock, and now they have two brand new friends. All imaginary friends are drawn in crayon which gives this book a special flair!

WaitingWaiting
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
(Greenwillow Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Caldecott Award winner Kevin Henkes hits another one out of the ballpark with this sweet story of five toys who sit on a windowsill waiting for things to happen. Each toy has a special thing that they enjoy seeing. The owl waits for the moon. A pig with an umbrella waits for the rain. This tale of friendship amongst toys is a special one with soft illustrations on rich, creamy paper. The toys move to different spots on the windowsill and it’s up to the child to say if they are being moved or do they move by themselves? What a treat! This is especially good for youngsters transitioning to longer picture books. I’m calling possible Caldecott on this one! Those gorgeous, but simple illustrations are simply genius. Henkes does it again.

TheSongofDelphineThe Song of Delphine
Written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)

This story of an orphan named Delphine tells the tale of the power of a kind soul and a song sung from the heart. Delphine serves the Princess Theodora where they both live on the savannah. Delphine’s life is very difficult, so she sings to lift her spirits. When Theodora’s niece, Beatrice arrives Delphine’s expectations of having a playmate her own age are dashed when Beatrice proves to be spoiled and prone to blaming Delphine for her own mistakes. Delphine’s song is heard by twelve giraffes who take her on a journey across the savannah. When they return Delphine to her home they mistakenly put her in Beatrice’s room. There Delphine finds the reason for Beatrice’s unhappiness for Beatrice’s own mother had recently passed away. Beatrice is comforted by Delphine’s song and the two go on magical adventures together. Kraegel’s The Song of Delphine, a Cinderella story with a magical twist of visiting giraffes? I’ll take it!

 

We hope this helps you to make your list and check it twice! Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

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Hanukkah Books for #Readukkah & Giveaway

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TWO OF OUR FAVORITE NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS
FOR #READUKKAH 2015
& GIVEAWAY

hanukkah-menorah-16069688

 

 

OskarandtheEightBlessings

 

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel (Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Oskar_Interior2

Interior artwork from Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel, Roaring Brook Press, ©2015.

“Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar …” and so begins this poignant picture book with four square sepia toned panels showing the Hanukkah Menorah being lit. Yet with the turn of a page, and the colors going black, the family huddling in fear, synagogues are burnt, the storefront windows of Jewish businesses are broken and life as Oskar and his family knew it was forever changed. Oskar and the Eight Blessings focuses on Oskar as a refugee, only the year is 1938 not 2015. He’s come to America, sent by his fearful parents, immediately following Night of the Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), when it became clear that all Jewish people in Nazi Germany were in grave danger. Landing in New York City, with only the name and photo of his Aunt Esther, Oskar must navigate the cold, big city by himself and make his way 100 blocks up Broadway from the pier in Lower Manhattan.

Oskar_Interior1

Interior artwork from Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel, Roaring Brook Press, ©2015.

Not only is Oskar and the Eight Blessings a unique and engaging Hanukkah book, so is the way this book is presented. Unlike typical picture books with a title page followed by the story, this tale unfolds with the awful events precipitating Oskar’s departure, and the title page then becomes part of a two-page spread featuring the city’s dramatic skyline as Oskar’s ship pulls into port. It’s not just the seventh night of Hanukkah as Oskar heads uptown, “it was also Christmas Eve.” The first blessing Oskar receives is from a woman feeding pigeons. Sensing his hunger, she offers Oskar a small loaf of bread. This sustenance helps him carry on so that he can reach Aunt Esther before sundown when the Hanukkah candles would be lit. Along Oskar’s journey, he encounters New Yorkers and others (Eleanor Roosevelt) who bestow upon Oskar another six random acts of kindness that tie into that time period and more importantly, that feed his soul and keep him going until he’s walked all the way to Aunt Esther’s, the eighth blessing.

Back matter includes an informative Author’s Note, a glossary, as well as a map showing Oskar’s stops on his long day’s trek. I’m so glad I can share this uplifting Hanukkah story filled with evocative scenes and moving text, and use it as a jumping off point to reflect with my family on our blessings this holiday season.

 

 

TheParakeetNamedDreidel

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); $17.99, Ages 5-8)

PARAKEET 1

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) ©2015.

Beloved storyteller and Nobel Prize winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of The Parakeet Named Dreidel is brought to life by debut picture book illustrator, Suzanne Raphael Berkson. In its latest iteration, The Parakeet Named Dreidel, perhaps the best known from Singer’s Hanukkah collection of stories from The Power of Light, with page after page of joyful watercolor illustrations, seems ideal for a new generation of readers.

This heartwarming tale of lost and found and love never fails to bring a smile to my face. In this picture book, the narrator Singer is recounting a tale from ten years earlier when he was looking out the frost covered window with his son, David. It was the eighth day of Hanukkah and the Menorah burned brightly on their windowsill. During a game of dreidel, David discovered a parakeet on the ledge outside the window “perhaps attracted by the light.” This casually recollected tale, though actually carefully constructed to keep us turning the pages, takes us through that eventful evening after Singer and son David encouraged the parakeet to come inside from the cold. This yellow-green bird appeared trained and could even play dreidel by pushing the wooden top with its beak, so surely someone had lost and must be missing it. Because of its game playing skills, David named the parakeet Dreidel, but set out with his dad the next day to find its owner. The most revealing trait of Dreidel’s was his ability to speak Yiddish! On occasion, the family heard the parakeet say, “Zeldele, geh schlofen” (Zeldele, go to sleep). Yet despite his uniqueness, the parakeet went unclaimed.

 

PARAKEET 2

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) ©2015.

 

Nine years went by and we see, through Raphael Berkson’s playful art, that Dreidel has grown to be a member of the Singer family, often sitting alongside the author as he typed. By this point, David has become a college student and, as fate would have it, attended a party where, while telling the story of Dreidel, he happened to meet the actual Zelda of whom Dreidel had long ago spoken. She was Zeldele, the original owner. The two college students soon became a couple, Zelda was reunited with her long lost pet, and Dreidel was credited with bringing the pair together. My favorite illustration is the Chagall-like one included here that depicts the loving young couple as jubilant new parents floating amongst all the significant items in their relationship. This book brought home the serendipity of life and the love a pet can bring into a family’s home. Raphael Berkson has selected a wonderful story to show off her talent and make me look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Best Thanksgiving Books

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BEST THANKSGIVING BOOKS
A ROUNDUP

ThanksgivingBooks

 

Here’s a variety of our favorite Thanksgiving books this year, some that celebrate the food or beverages of the fall season and others that shed light on an aspect of Thanksgiving we may not have thought about recently. We hope you’ll take some time out of your busy holiday preparations to read with your child or share one of these books with them to read on their own. Wishing all of you a most joyous Thanksgiving 2015. Happy reading and eating!

 

ThanksgivingParadecvr 
Thanksgiving Parade with illustrations by Melanie Matthews,
(Price Stern Sloan; $5.99, Ages 3 and up):
In this cheerful, sturdy, 12 page rhyming board book, kids get a front row seat for the famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a decades old NYC tradition chockablock with fabulous floats and brilliantly colored and shaped balloons, so many stories high. Of course no parade would be complete without marching bands and a visit from old St. Nick. This die cut board book is sure to set the countdown to Christmas in motion.

 

TimeforCranberriescvrTime for Cranberries Written by Lisl H. Detlefsen with illustrations by Jed Henry
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
We’re treated to an insider’s look at growing and harvesting cranberries which, for fans of this fruit, is not just a Thanksgiving treat, but a year round treasure. Author Detlefsen “lives on a cranberry marsh in Wisconsin” and knows her stuff.  She tells the story from a young boy’s point of view. He’s finally old enough to participate in harvesttime rather than watching from the wings and takes joy in every aspect of the process. And it is a process, a time consuming one that involves booming, corralling, cleaning and a lot of other steps before the cranberries are ready for delivery at the receiving station. Henry’s illustrations perfectly complement Detlefsen’s prose and provide a good look at how involved being a cranberry grower can be. The author’s note helps readers get a good idea about the history of the industry and the back matter also includes two recipes and a handy glossary.

FromAppleTreestoCiderPleaseFrom Apple Trees to Cider Please Written by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky with illustrations by Julia Patton
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Chernesky takes us to an apple orchard where all kinds of apples are ripe for the plucking. There are Honeycrisp (my current fave), Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Fuji trees and an apple picking family is filling up baskets with a nice assortment. After the family’s done they head over to the cider mill where they’re shown how the apple cider press works to extract the juice. Patton’s artwork is scrumptious and whimsical while Chernesky’s rhyme never misses a beat. “Clean the apples. Check for worms. Wash and dry them. No more germs.” This picture book is an ideal read-aloud for fall and will have you salivating for a cup of hot mulled cider by the end, if not sooner!

TheBoyWhoFellOffTheMayflower The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune
Written and illustrated by P.J. Lynch
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)
This not-to-miss story brings to life the tale of the Mayflower’s voyage as seen through the eyes of an indentured servant to John Carver named John Howland.  I learned about the Pilgrims so long ago that it was not only refreshing to read this new perspective, but enlightening, too.

Lynch does a bravura job both with the execution of his evocative, muted artwork as well as with his economy of words. He embellishes little yet shares enough to put us right alongside Howland every step of the way. The story opens as Howland leaves London and heads off on the grueling journey across the Atlantic to help his master, John Carver, set up a colony in Virginia. But things don’t go quite as planned and the Mayflower ends up in New England, but not before a huge wave partway through the voyage sends Howland “flying over the side.” Fortune, as the book’s title says, seems to be with Howland everywhere on his trip as he was seen falling overboard and a rope was immediately thrown to rescue him. While half of the Pilgrims died either during the voyage or by the time the first winter had ended, Howland did not succumb to illness and survived to benefit from Squanto’s knowledge of the land. The descriptions of the three day Thanksgiving feast and Howland’s burgeoning relationship with one of the Pilgrims, Lizzy Tilley, add to the richness of this book and will no doubt spark interest in readers to dive even deeper into the history of the Pilgrims in the New World.

ThanksgivingActivityBookThanksgiving Activity Book
Written by Karl Jones with illustrations by Joey Chou
(Price Stern Sloan; $9.99, Ages 3 and up)
Keep kids busy this Thanksgiving holiday with an activity book that starts off with some interesting facts then includes a bunch of Thanksgiving themed activities such as a word find, a crossword puzzle before moving onto traditional Thanksgiving recipes (pumpkin soup and corn bread) to be done with adult supervision. Best of all, there are clever craft ideas from a fall-leaf placemat to corn-husk dolls. I really liked the press-out paper crafts, in fact, I plan to make the turkey centerpiece. If that’s not enough, there’s a slew of stickers to keep kids thoroughly occupied as they create their very own Thanksgiving mini-masterpieces.

 

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– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other Recommended Thanksgiving books:

Turkey Time!TurkeyTime
with illustrations by Melanie Matthews
(Price Stern Sloan; $5.99, Ages 3 and up)

 

 

OvertheRiverThroughtheWoodOver the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure
Written by Linda Ashman with illustrations by Kim Smith
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-7)

 

 

 

ThanksgivingTappletonsThanksgiving at the Tappletons’
Written by Eileen Spinelli with illustrations by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

CharlieBumpersPerfectTurkeyCharlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey
Written by Bill Harley & Illustrated by Adam Gustavson
(Peachtree Publishing; $13.95, Ages 7-10)

 


The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

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The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
(Roaring Brook Press, $15.99, Ages 10-14)

 

Scandalous-Sisterhood-cvr.jpgThey say to never judge a book by its cover. Never! That said, go ahead and soak in the deliciously dark and clever art design on Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. The artwork perfectly captures the mood of this caper: a rich, Victorian-era romp led by a cast of seven unforgettable students, topped with dashes of suspense and dark humor. Dark, because the caper revolves around the young ladies of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls discovering their irritable headmistress and her brother, murdered. Darker still, because for these girls, the thought of being sent away from school and each other is worse than the alternative: covering up a murder. 

Therein lies the heart of the story—the sisterhood. These seven spirited girls, living in 19th ,century England, have been made to feel like misfits. It’s why they were sent to boarding school. It’s why each of them was given their own demeaning moniker: Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Dear Roberta, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. While at school they found comfort in friendship, and strength in their alleged weaknesses. So keeping their sisterhood intact is worth a few morbid shenanigans.

“I suppose they’ll find other schools for us eventually,” Pocked Louise said. “New mistresses, new nasty girls to make us miserable.”

“We have gotten along so beautifully here.” Dear Roberta sighed. “It’s something of a miracle, really. We aren’t simply boarding school mates. We’re like a family.”

“We’re better than family,” Disgraceful Mary Jane corrected. “Families are full of aunts and brothers and parents. We’re sisters.”

But author Julie Berry does not make the cover-up easy on the girls. There are bodies to bury. Nosy neighbors to placate. Financials to attend to. And let’s not forget: their headmistress was murdered, so somewhere, someone is waiting for a sign the poison found its mark. The litany of challenges set before the girls is enough make the book a page turner, but it’s a rewarding read on other merits, too.

Berry does an amazing job with the Victorian period. The school setting, character mannerisms, attitudes, clothing, and dry (yet distinctly biting) humor all wrapped around the who-done-it plotline make it delightful for the senses, too.

The glue that holds this fast-paced romp together is the bond between the girls. They all have different personalities, and at times, have disagreements. As a reader you begin to feel like an unofficial member of the sisterhood, standing quietly by, privy to these high-stakes discussions. You understand the level of loyalty and respect they feel for each other.

For readers who crave a little romance, there are a few moments. There’s the neighboring farm boy, a broad-shouldered constable, and a mysterious newcomer.

But really, this story is about the sisterhood. That, and gasping every few pages, wondering how in the world they’re going to get themselves out of this. I really enjoyed tagging along with this Scandalous Sisterhood.

– Reviewed by Rina Heisel