Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season

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CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR KIDS

A ROUNDUP – PART ONE

 

Here’s the first of several roundups full of great new Christmas books for kids that we hope you’ll enjoy. There’s really something here for everyone under age 10 who’s interested in a great story or activity during the long holiday break. Let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!

 

A World of Cookies for Santa cover imageA World of Cookies for Santa:
Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World

Written by M.E. Furman
Illustrated by Susan Gal
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

In A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World, Santa takes a journey across the globe to drop off gifts and savor treats children leave for him.

The story begins appropriately on Christmas Island in the South Pacific where Santa finds the children’s gift of chewy coconut macaroons. From Christmas Island, Santa visits Asia, Africa, Europe, South American and North America before heading home to the North Pole. Santa’s entire journey may be traced by using the map at the beginning of the book.

Splashes of orange and dashes of red flood the 48 pages and create warm cheery scenes. The joy of giving and receiving is vividly expressed on the faces of smiling children. Parents may stumble over a few foreign words, but there’s lots of opportunities for fun-learning. Furman provides recipes for baking Santa’s cookies which may inspire children and families to try new multicultural holiday recipes. Countries may have different Christmas customs, but they are similar in keeping the traditions of preparing and enjoying treats.
Reviewed by Randi Lynn Mrvos

Bear's Merry Book of Hidden Things cover imageBear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things:
Christmas Seek-and-Find
Written and illustrated by Gergely Dudás
(HarperCollins; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

Growing up, I was always a fan of the “find the hidden objects” puzzles, so it’s no surprise that I love Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things even now as an adult. As the title suggests, the reader is invited to help bear find the items he needs for his upcoming holiday party. Children will enjoy the challenge of perusing through the crowd of cute critters, the jumble of gingerbread, and the sea of snowmen to get bear’s party going. The 32 pages of colorful confections, gift bags galore, and a multitude of mittens make a Christmasy camouflage that will keep the young ones engaged while they look for ice-skates, an ornament, and an array of other goodies. Some things are easier to spot than others so don’t be surprised if this turns into fun for the whole family.

If you’re looking for something to keep the kids entertained while you’re planning a party of your own, Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things should do the trick. And don’t worry, this is not a one-and-done book either. Even after they’ve found everything for Bear, little ones will enjoy looking through the wintery scenes again and again to see what else they might have missed.
Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

Love, SantaLove_Santa_cover_image
Written by Martha Brockenbrough
Illustrated by Lee White
(Arthur A. Levine Books; $17.99, Ages 5 and up)

Will this be the year your child learns the truth about Santa? You may want to hold off sharing this purposely green foil-banded book until your youngest is ready to have “that conversation” with you about whether or not Santa is real. While Scholastic suggests that this picture book may be appropriate for children aged 5, another publication recommends it for ages 6-9 and still another says it’s for kids ages 9-12. To be honest, only a parent knows when their child will appreciate the heart felt message Brockenbrough so beautifully and thoughtfully conveys.

The story is interactive in that a little girl does her annual correspondence to Santa and young readers can actually open an envelope, pull out the letter and then have it read to them or read it themselves. Naturally she’s curious about all things North Pole, until she turns eight. That’s when she leaves Santa’s note for her mother instead, inquiring whether she is actually the wondrous world traveler. Her mom’s response will no doubt resonate with all readers of a certain age. “Santa,” replies the mother, “is bigger than any one person. He always has been.” The message that the truth and tradition of Santa is carried on by all who cherish the magic of believing in something good and selfless is one that will touch everyone this Christmas. Certain to be treasured by all who receive it, Love, Santa is THE book to reach for whenever a child questions the existence of Mr. Claus.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

 


Thanksgiving Books for Children

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A THANKSGIVING BOOKS ROUNDUP
Here’s a selection of our 2017 faves
For little ones to gobble up!

 

Llama Llama Gives ThanksLlama Llama Gives Thanks cover image
An Anna Dewdney Book
Illustrated by J. T. Morrow
(Penguin Young Readers; $5.99, Ages 0-3)

In just under 60 words on 14 sturdy pages, Llama Llama Gives Thanks, based on the characters created by Anna Dewdney, perfectly and joyfully conveys what the holiday is all about — celebrating together with friends and family, trying new foods and giving thanks not just on Thanksgiving but throughout the year. A message worth remembering and easy to understand when shared by Dewdney’s beloved characters.

 

Otis Gives Thanks
Otis Gives Thanks cover imageWritten and Illustrated by Loren Long
(Philomel; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Otis Gives Thanks, a 30 page board book, is certain to appeal to old Otis fans and bring new ones on board. Long’s popular tractor is grateful for so many things on the farm where he lives and works. Whether he’s hopping over hay or settling down to sleep, Otis is always thankful for playful moments, hard work and friends. This beautiful book radiates warmth with its stunning artwork of muted hues and feeling of a bygone era. Every page is a tribute to the heartland where our food is grown and a caring community including farmers love the land and the country, just like Otis does. www.otisthetractor.com

Where is Baby’s Turkey?Cover image Where is Baby's Turkey by Karen Katz
Written and illustrated by Karen Katz
(Little Simon; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

This sweet interactive board book invites young readers to help Baby find his cuddly turkey. By lifting assorted flaps and searching behind seasonal flowers, a gate, a basket, the fridge, in the kitchen and behind the door, Baby is introduced to a colorful variety of Thanksgiving items until his plush toy turkey is found. With just the right amount of flaps to entertain and engage, Where is Baby’s Turkey makes an ideal gift this holiday season for those just learning what Thanksgiving is all about.

 

The Ugly PumpkinCover image The Ugly Pumpkin by Dave Horowitz
Written and illustrated by Dave Horowitz
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $7.99, Ages 2-5)
Move over duckling, here comes The Ugly Pumpkin! Horowitz’s hit, The Ugly Pumpkin is now in board book format with its humorous illustrations and rhyming first person text. Ideal for both Halloween and Thanksgiving, this tale is about a distinctly shaped pumpkin who is frequently mocked, never gets picked and is left to wander on his own to find someplace where he’ll be accepted and belong. The mood picks up when he discovers “a garden that was overrun with squash. I noticed something very odd and then thought, O my gosh …” This little pumpkin was a happy little pumpkin when he learns he’s really a squash! And for him, that was definitely something to be thankful for! Horowtiz’s whimsical illustrations add another layer of zaniness to a funny story that easily engages kids since it’s impossible not to empathize with the long, thin orange narrator.

                                               

 

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade
Cover image from Rettie and the Ragamuffin ParadeWritten by Trinka Hakes Noble
Illustrated by David C. Gardner
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

If you’ve ever visited New York’s Tenement Museum, this historical fiction picture book will surely resonate with you. But even if you haven’t, from the very first page you’ll be transported back to the Lower East Side in November of 1918. Americans were overseas fighting and at home an influenza pandemic swept across the country making thousands of children, rich and poor, orphans. The disease did not discriminate. In the two-room tenement of nine year old Loretta Stanowski, or “Rettie” as she was known, looked after her consumptive mother and three younger siblings. Her father was a soldier somewhere abroad. So, to earn money to support the family during her mother’s illness, Rettie cleaned rags. She also longed for the upcoming Ragamuffin Parade which many now say was the precursor to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But would the city call off the event since so many people were ill and public gatherings had been stopped to prevent the influenza from spreading? During the Ragamuffin Parade, wealthy people would line the streets and give pennies to the raggedy clothed children who asked, “Have ya anything for Thanksgiving?” There would also be a scramble at busy street corners were pennies were tossed in the air and kids would scramble to collect as many as possible, hence the name. The parade would provide a much needed opportunity to bring in extra money. Putting food in the mouths of her family was Rettie’s top priority as was staying healthy so when her tenement building’s manager came down with the flu and was quarantined, an opportunity for Rettie to earn more money presented itself. This moving story is a well-written and engaging resource for anyone interested in daily life in early 20th century New York, although these scenes likely played out in cities across America. As the war came to end on November 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 28 a day of Thanksgiving. To this day we gather together as Americans to share a meal and reflect on our many reasons to be thankful. Between Noble’s well-researched story and Gardner’s evocative illustrations, Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is a treat. The spirited young Rettie is an inspiring main character and her devotion to her family shines through on every page. An author’s note at the end provides more details for young readers as does an archival photo circa 1910 of the ragamuffins. Despite having grown up in New York, I’d never heard of this parade and appreciate Noble’s successful efforts at capturing the time, place and people struggling daily on the Lower East Side.

 


Kids Halloween Books Roundup 2017 Part Two

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 MORE HALLOWEEN FAVES

 

Herbert’s First HalloweenHerbert's First Halloween book cover image
Written by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Steven Henry
(Chronicle Books; $15.99, Ages 2-4)

I’ll never forget my son’s first Halloweens. He was dressed up as pirate and ready to join the ranks with a seasoned pro, his older sister. But before we stepped foot out of the front door, a trick-or-treating ghost rang the doorbell. When we opened the door to offer candy, my son dashed behind me and refused to leave the house. Even the prospect of candy couldn’t get him to budge. I’ll hand it to the father in Herbert’s First Halloween, he has a gentle way about him to help ease his little one’s apprehension. As the story unfolds, “Herbert was not sure about Halloween.” Readers can see the reluctance in his eyes as Henry’s illustrations so warmly depict. At the same time, the passion and excitement about the holiday are written all over Herbert’s father’s face. He’s determined to make this first Halloween a special one for his son, even sharing photos of when he was young dressed up like a cowboy. Soon, Herbert’s more engaged, asking questions about costumes and his dad is all too happy to accommodate his son’s desire to be a tiger. On Halloween the pair encounter neighborhood kids in what is perhaps my favorite spread in the book. There’s something magical about that first time taking to the streets under the glow of street lamps, candy bucket in had, trying to figure out who is who behind the masks and zany outfits. Though it’s a pretty simple story, it’s totally age appropriate. There’s a genuine feel-good quality about Rylant’s prose when coupled with the old-fashioned picture book style off-white paper, choice of font and Henry’s charming artwork. When seeking a book to help lessen a child’s fear of Halloween, Herbert’s First Halloween, is a terrific tale to turn to.

 

cvr art Little Skeletons Canticos WorldLittle Skeletons: Countdown to Midnight/
Esqueletitos: Un Libro Para Contar En El Dia De Los Muertos
Written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo
(Canticos; $19.99, Ages 4-8 )

Whether you’re interested in buying this accordion style bilingual board book for Halloween or Day of the Dead, it won’t matter to your kids. They’ll love the artwork, the book’s layout and reversibility from English to Spanish and vice versa, the interactive clock face and the rhythm of the tune which when translated from Spanish is called “The Skeletons Come Out of the Tomb.” The origins of this song remain a mystery, but that won’t stop parents from finding a fun beat to share with youngsters when reading out loud. The book comes packaged in a sturdy box and while all the interior artwork is black and white, there’s a touch of color on both the box and book covers. Count up to 12 with Esqueletitos and teach the time too with the help of all the adorable skeletons. In addition to the two-books-in-one feature, there’s also a free sing-along app to accompany the book. 

In a Dark, Dark Room And Other Scary Stories: In a Dark Dark Room and Other Scary Stories I Can Read 2 cvr image
I Can Read! Level 2/Guided Reading Level J
Retold by Alvin Schwartz
Illustrated by Victor Rivas
(HarperCollins Children’s; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

This hard cover book is labeled a high interest story for developing readers. It instantly took me back to my days at camp where scary stories were always told around a crackling fire and then afterwards I was the only one who couldn’t fall asleep. Why do counselors do that? Anyway, depending on your child’s fear level, you may want to consider reading this in the daytime. There are some classic tales that I recognized and got such a kick out of reading again, especially as engagingly recounted by Schwartz and illustrated vividly by Rivas. For example, The Green Ribbon is the tale of a charming girl whose head was attached to her body with said ribbon which is why she never removed it until her deathbed. Perhaps the most chilling of the seven poems and stories is The Night it Rained. Here’s a story many adults may recall about a driver picking up a rain soaked young boy and loaning him his sweater only to discover the next day that the boy was a ghost. There’s also a foreword and back matter about the author, the illustrator and where the stories originated.

 

Cover art from Ella and Owen The Evil Pumpkin Pie Fight Bk 4Ella and Owen: The Evil Pumpkin Pie Fight (Book #4)
Written by Jaden Kent
Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 6-8)

Ella and Owen are twin dragons who, while seeking adventure, always end up in some kind of mess. In this, the fourth book in the series, the siblings end up being out at night while trying to escape some trolls. A light in the distance, however, doesn’t end up leading them to safety. Instead it turns out to be from candles belonging to the nasty Pumpkin King. Exasperated, the siblings just want to find a way out of the Terror Swamp and so the orange body-less guy offers them a deal. If they can recover his body from the local witch, he’ll give them an escape map. Jaden Kent, a writing team of two authors, has the dragons encounter obstacle after obstacle while peppering each of the nine brief chapters with humor and language first and second graders will enjoy. I mean what kid doesn’t like the idea of a pumpkin pie fight? Bodnaruk’s spiced up this pumpkin themed story with plenty of black and white illustrations to entertain young readers and help them feel accomplished as they fly through this book. There’s a surprise love angle to this particular volume providing LOL moments with dialogue such as, “Okay. This just got really weird,” that kids will relate to. A bonus is a sneak peak at book #5 Ella and Owen: The Great Troll Quest which I’m sure will be as engaging as this one.
Find more Ella and Owen books here.

 

Don’t Read This Book Before Bed: Thrills, Chills, and Hauntingly True StoriesDon't Read This Book Before Bed cover image NatGeoKids
Written by Anna Claybourne
(National Geographic Kids; $14.99, Ages 10 and up)

If you want to get older kids scared, this 144 page book should do the trick. After deciding I wasn’t brave enough to read the stories rated over a five in the Fright-O-Meter provided, I braced myself, chicken that I am, and made my selections using that number as my guide. For a tween who gets spooked easily, suggest something else, but if they’re the sort who truly finds the creepy stuff cool, the two-paged table of contents can provide a tantalizing tease with titles like The Real Life Dracula, Telepathic Twins, Island of the Dolls and The Green Children of Woolpit. NatGeoKids.com does these almanac-style paperback books better than anyone else with their great images, creepy fonts and fascinating factoids that your kids will want to share with friends. Pages six and seven explain how to use the book which was where I learned about, and was grateful for, the Fright-O-Meter. On top of the visual fright fest and the accompanying tales, there are six quizzes scattered throughout the book, a great way for kids to catch their breath which they may not have realized they were holding. My recommendation: bring this book to a Halloween party. Why be the only one awake at night? Seriously though, this one’s a year round treat.

Read part one of this Halloween roundup here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker – A Giveaway Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion!

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A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY
FOR
BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER
by Shelley Johannes

Disney-Hyperion sent Good Reads With Ronna a copy to check out,
and we’re delighted they’re partnering with us for the giveaway!

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker cover image

Read the review then scroll down to enter the giveaway today!

 

REVIEW:
In Shelley Johannes’s charming debut, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, the main character is appealing in a cute and quirky way. She’s someone whose personality will no doubt resonate with many different thinkers when they see themselves reflected on the pages of this delightful new chapter book series for tweens and pretweens.

Beatrice approaches life from a creative and different perspective. In other words, she does her best thinking upside down. Up until third grade, this singular skill has been accepted, even rewarded by her school teachers. But things are about to change as the summer of second grade ends and it’s time to head back to school. Not one to make promises easily unless it’s very important (a running sight gag throughout this illustrated story), and involves her BFF Lenny Santos, Beatrice is dressed and ready for third grade in her ninja attire as was agreed upon when second grade ended. The outfits signified the girls’ participation in a secret plan called Operation Upside that was supposed to be put into action on day one. Then why does Lenny, unrecognizable in pink instead of her brother’s black hand-me-downs, seem to have forgotten? Maybe her new friend and neighbor Chloe has something to do with it and that’s why they’ve also chosen desks right next to each other! Beatrice, on the other hand, has to sit up front, under the watchful eyes of the strict Mrs. Tamarack.

Beatrice is determined to find a way to convince Lenny to reconsider the mission when it’s obvious that, with Chloe now in the picture, the stealth operation has been put on hold. Being an upside down thinker, Beatrice develops an unusual and risky plan that winds up including a dangerous fall and a clandestine visit to the staff room, something no ordinary student could ever concoct. Will Beatrice win back her friend and give Operation Upside a reboot? It seems there’s a lot at stake for this thoughtful third grader whose resilience is demonstrated in the most original ways, and who is certain to inspire young readers rooting for her success.

Johannes does a terrific job of engaging readers right from The Very Beginning, the title of Chapter One. Young Beatrice is hanging onto a branch in the first of many marvelous illustrations “created with felt-tip pen, brush marker, and colored pencil on tracing paper,” and using only black, grays and orange. And it works wonderfully. There’s occasional rhyme and an easy flow from chapter to chapter in this 155-page book kids should breeze through. The problem-solving and different thinker theme is age appropriate and should encourage interesting conversations about creativity, inclusiveness and friendship. The 20 chapters are short and Johannes makes sure there are no loose ends which can sure get in the way if you’re an upside down thinker! I’m eager to see what this amiable tween who marches to her own drummer gets up to in Book#2.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GENERAL DETAILS:
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
By Shelley Johannes
Release September 19, 2017
Recommended chapter book for ages 7-10

ABOUT THE BOOK …
Beatrice does her best thinking upside down.

Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!

Can Beatrice use her topsy-turvy way of thinking to save the mission, mend their friendship, and flip things sunny-side up?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Shelley Johannes previously spent ten years in architecture—
where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the
greatness of black turtlenecks. She lives in Michigan with her husband
and two sons. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book
she’s written. Find her online at shelleyjohannes.com.

 

 

FIND OUT MORE:
Visit the Official Site here.
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Like Disney Books on Facebook
Hashtags #BeatriceZinker #UpsideDownThinker

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:
Be An Upside Down Thinker!
One (1) winner receives:
Copy of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
And branded pencil case and notepad!

Open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.
This giveaway ends 10/12/17 12:00am PT so don’t wait! Enter today
for your chance to win a copy and cool BZUDT swag!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

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IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
(Two Lions;  $17.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Digital, Ages 4-8)

 

cover art for It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

 

Josh Funk is fab at doing funny. His first fractured fairy tale (good news, there’ll be more!), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, breaks with picture book convention and the fourth wall or maybe it’s the fourth page in this case, by introducing an uproarious dialogue between the narrator and the main character (to name a few) that kids and parents alike will eat up. Parents, caregivers and more experienced readers will be unable to resist the urge to to jump in and take on voicing all the characters’ roles if reading aloud. Being a fractured fairy tale, this story unfolds with a humorous back and forth between the narrator and the titular Jack (see artwork below) whom he must awaken in order to get on with his storytelling. Soon Jack has his magic beans, but he’s also been growing frustrated with the direction of the tale, often making demands of the narrator that are not unlike those of a child who doesn’t want to do his homework, brush his teeth or go to bed.

 

Interior spread by Edwardian Taylor from It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

 

Interior spread by Edwardian Taylor from It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

 

While climbing the seriously high stalk, Jack sees his pal Cindy (Cinderella) on her palace balcony. Here readers first see the hilarious and unexpected interplay between some beloved fairytales that will no doubt be a feature of Funk’s future fractured fairy tales and a most welcomed one. Inside the giant’s house, an enormous shadow on the wall and “a booming voice” signal just what’s in store for Jack. Then, quite unexpectedly and most certainly not in the original version, our hero gets a bit sassy about the giant’s poor rhyming skills. This does not bode well for Jack and before too long it’s looking like he’s going to be the main ingredient of Giant Stew. Once again interrupting the narrator who’s so desperate to continue the story, Jack casually but oh so cleverly mentions something to the giant that he’s hoping will change his fate and positively influence an alternative ending. Funk’s flair for terrific twists promises to satisfy all readers eager to see the pieces of this fractured fairy tale come together seamlessly.

 

Interior spread by Edwardian Taylor from It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

 

It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk is a very visual book that instantly invites readers to study all the details on every page of Taylor’s appealing artwork. On the back of the book’s jacket cover, readers are told to “Look for the gingerbread man, the three blind mice, and other fairy tale friends hidden though out the book!” I quite enjoyed leafing back through the pages to see what characters I might have overlooked on the first read and so will your youngsters. Get a copy today to get in on the jokes. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk will make fairy tale devotees of a whole new generation of young readers while sprouting a whole new crop of Funk fans along the way.

Josh Funk

Edwardian Taylor

All interior spreads from It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk are courtesy of Two Lions.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Here Comes a New School Year – A Back-to-School Books Roundup

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A ROUNDUP OF OUR FAVORITE
NEW BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

With Labor Day kicking off the traditional start of a new school year,
what better way to ease little ones into the classroom
than with a great selection of back-to-school books to read as they settle into a new routine?

 


Here Comes Teacher Cat
Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood cover image

Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Underwood sure knows how to make parents and children laugh out loud. Here Comes Teacher Cat is full of sight gags that never fail to surprise and delight. So as not to spoil it for you, I’ll just say that once again Cat has outdone himself in cattitude. Whether you love the narrator having a one-sided dialogue with a cat who uses signs to communicate, or the laziness of this feline forever yearning to nap, Underwood’s got it all here when Cat is called in to substitute for Ms. Melba at Kitty School. The only problem is that Cat hasn’t a clue what to do first. When he approaches teaching with his own Cat brand of humor and zeal, there’s no holding him or the kitties back causing quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. What will Ms. Melba find upon her return from the doctor? Why, a very clean classroom, a confident Cat and happy kitties of course. Just don’t open the closet Ms. Melba! Fans of Underwood’s humor and Rueda’s low-key spot on artwork will not be disappointed in this Publishers Weekly starred picture book. Oh and don’t miss the opening illustrations before the title page.

TwindergartenCover image for Twindergarten by Nikki Ehrlich
Written by Nikki Ehrlich
Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(HarperCollins; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

Starting Kindergarten can be scary for most kids, but what happens if you’re a twin? In Twindergarten, author Ehrlich, a mom of twins, tackles the topic gently and thoughtfully, touching on the many issues twins might experience being separated at school for the first time. Though Zoe and Dax are as close as peanut butter and jelly at home, they wonder how they’ll cope being in different classes during the day. They soon learn that Kindergarten is not only fun, it’s a place where they can make new friends, try new things and still see each other during recess. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. Debut illustrator Abbott puts the emphasis on the main characters clothed in darker outfits in her illustrations making it easy to zoom in how Zoe and Dax are interacting with their environment. Not only for twins, Twindergarten shows the rewards  of attending school and how children can be separated from siblings or friends and still thrive.

Don’t Go to School!Don't Go to School! cover image Sterling Children's Books
Written by Máire Zepf
Illustrated by Tarsila Krüse
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4+)

How enjoyable it was to read this clever spin on a back-to-school book. In Don’t Go to School, it’s young Benno who’s excited to leave while his mom wants him to remain at home. “Don’t go to school!” she wailed. And I laughed! The humor was not lost on me since I could relate to the mother in this lovingly illustrated picture book. I think there are lots of parents, like me, who have experienced separation anxiety when sending their child off on the new adventure and life stage that is attending school. Mommy is encouraged by Benno using language much like a parent would to reassure their new student. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” said Benno. “You’ll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice!” Zepf is clearly familiar with first day jitters and her tantrum scene may ring a bell with others, only this time it’s Mommy who’s lost it. My favorite part of the story is when Benno takes some of his own kisses and tucks them in his mother’s pocket so she can feel his love even when they’re apart. This comforting story will empower youngsters while also providing tips on adjusting to the big change in their lives.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Zinnia and the Bees, An Interview with Debut Author Danielle Davis

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MEET DANIELLE DAVIS,
AUTHOR OF
ZINNIA AND THE BEES
Written by Danielle Davis
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Capstone Young Readers; $14.95, Ages 9-12)

 

Cover image from Zinnia and the Bees written by Danielle Davis

 

Yesterday, August 1st, was the debut of local L.A. author Danielle Davis’s new middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees. Today I’m totally tickled (but not stung mind you!) to share my recent interview with Davis as she weighs in on the who, what, when, where and why of her delightful magical realism story. But first I’d like to share some of my own thoughts. If you’re eager to get to the Q&A with Danielle, please feel free to scroll down. Below that you’ll also find a trailer for the novel. 

REVIEW

Zinnia, the main character in Danielle Davis’s Zinnia and the Bees, struggles with several relationships throughout this introspective, humorous, and totally absorbing book. It’s filled with many of those confusing, sometimes immobilizing emotions that I recall experiencing in middle school (which was called junior high back then). Added to that are accounts of several uncomfortable situations Zinnia finds herself immersed in which will surely resonate with today’s tweens. And though she may seem to avoid friendships, she ultimately realizes that those connections are what she really needs. Her mom, a widow, dentist and community activist, always seems otherwise occupied. She practically lives at her practice, leaves impersonal post-it notes and is more into her rescue dog than her daughter. Then there’s Zinnia’s brother Adam. The book opens with a wacky and wonderful yarn bomb episode that pulls readers into the story and demonstrates the siblings’ close relationship, despite the six years age gap.

Zinnia and the Bees book with wool and some beesOn that very same day, Adam skips out on Zinnia and her mom, no warning, no note, nothing to let her know where he’s gone. That, after all they’ve shared, hurts more than also losing her group of friends NML, Nikki, Margot and Lupita. When they were pals they were NMLZ, but now Z was on her own. That is until a clever and curious neighbor’s nephew comes to town for summer. Far from perfect, yet not easy to push away, Birch demonstrates to Zinnia the magic of nature and the transformative quality of a good friend. His timing couldn’t have been better because after a visit to the local ice cream parlor, where some ice cream got in her hair, Zinnia has attracted a colony of crazed and kooky honeybees who find what they hope will be temporary accommodations in her long curly hair.

As Zinnia tries to make sense of her brother-less world, she’s also trying to figure out a way to get the bees off her head. We get vivid glimpses of a close relationship Zinnia has with her aunt, without which would make her mom’s indifference more intolerable than it already is. After all, it was her mom who pushed Adam away.

The humor shines through when reading the perspective of the hiveless bees hanging out in Zinnia’s hair. They get a chance, every several chapters or so, to share their thoughts on being homeless. This gives readers a chance to get into the bee narrator’s head and think about bees in a whole, hysterical new way. I now bravely scoop dive-bombing bees out of my pool instead of letting them drown thanks to Zinnia and the Bees! (No bees were hurt in the making of this novel, but do not attempt a rescue if you are allergic to bees!)

Davis has crafted a quirky and creative story where the presence of yarn in many ways can be seen as a connector of people, as well as something safe and comforting. The bees represent a longing for home, and Zinnia’s need to be heard and loved unconditionally, like her brother. There are truly many layers to the story of Zinnia and the Bees making this debut novel from Danielle Davis such a sweet, satisfying and thoughtful read.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

INTERVIEW

Photo of Zinnia and the Bees author Danielle Davis

Author of Zinnia and the Bees, Danielle Davis

Good Reads With Ronna: What was the genesis for Zinnia and the Bees

Danielle Davis 🐝: The idea for this book came from an image my husband passed along to me that had come to mind of someone with bees on and around their head. I was interested in fairy tales and stories that contained an element of the bizarre and even wacky, so the idea appealed to me immensely. With his permission, I ran with it (this is one of many reasons the book is dedicated to him). I wanted to know more about the way the bees might be a stand in for anxiety and navigating difficulties. And I wanted to know more about the person who found themselves in this predicament.

GRWR: Zinnia struggles with several relationships throughout the book and, after her brother Adam’s abrupt departure, she feels completely abandoned and alone. Then a swarm of hiveless honeybees takes up residence in her curly hair. Since the bees feature prominently in your story, can you talk about the significance of this magical realism element and how you decided to have two different perspectives recount the story?

DD 🐝: I was curious about Zinnia, but I was also curious about those insects. Disappearing bees were in the news quite a bit when I was first writing this story, and I’d heard about agricultural bees who traveled around with beekeepers to pollinate fruits and vegetables for humans (it’s a real thing!). So, I dreamed up a colony of bees who, while happy enough in their existence, felt like something was missing and yearned for freedom. I wanted to hear from them, and hoped readers would too. Writing the bee sections was really fun for me—they’re communal and existential and, I hope, hilarious (they always made me laugh!).

GRWR: A yarn bombing episode propels the plot line forward. Zinnia finds comfort in knitting and it feels like there is some symbolism with yarn. Was that intentional? Also, Zinnia has practically yarn bombed every item in her bedroom. As a child, were you a knitter like Zinnia? Is there any particular reason you chose knitting versus another craft since I know you share a lot of crafts on your picture book blog, This Picture Book Life?

DD 🐝: While the yarn symbolism was, admittedly, unintentional, it’s certainly there since yarn can provide comfort and so relates to the concept of home, which is at the heart of the novel. For me, I’d made Zinnia a knitter in the vein of any artist or maker (or writer) who experiences that sensation of flow when immersed in their preferred activity (plus, I’d recently learned about yarn bombing). For Zinnia, knitting is a way she soothes her anxiety, helps make sense of her world, and takes her mind off, well, everything. It’s a way for her to both focus and escape.I was certainly not a knitter—Zinnia is way more talented than I am! But for me, reading was similar to what knitting is for her. As a child, books were a way to soothe my anxiety, focus, and escape. Stories also, subconsciously I imagine, helped me make sense of the world.

GRWR: Your sense of place, your characters, voice, dialogue and plot all come together seamlessly to create, like the knitted lens covers for Birch’s binoculars, a cleverly crafted story. What was the easiest part for you to write and which is the hardest?

DD 🐝: Thank you, and what a neat question! Once I crafted this for a middle grade audience (I started it as something for adults—what was I thinking?), the first draft was pretty easy to write. I was emerging from a very challenging period in my own life, so writing the first draft of Zinnia and the Bees felt sort of effortless and full of joy as an extension of that unburdening. The interactions between Zinnia and Birch were natural and fun to write, as were the bee sections, where I could be as wacky and dramatic as I wanted. But all the revisions that followed, which were numerous and spanned years, were probably harder in general. And then working with my editor, Ali Deering at Capstone, was a little of both. She had brilliant ideas for making the story better in important ways and I got to prove to myself that I could create under her amazing direction and necessary deadline. The harder part was that having an editor meant I also had the pressure of knowing this was going to be a real, published book and that someone might actually read it someday. 

GRWR: Though I really like Zinnia and her aunt Mildred, I’m especially fond of Birch who is visiting his Uncle Lou, the neighbor, for the summer. The friendship that slowly grows between Birch and Zinnia is so satisfying. Is there one character you relate to the most or is there a little bit of you in each one?

DD 🐝: I’m super fond of Birch as well—such a patient, loyal friend. While I’m confident there are parts of me in Zinnia, she feels to me like her own person (yes, these characters totally feel like real people to me!). I have a real soft spot for Birch’s Uncle Lou and both he and Zinnia’s Aunt Mildred are examples of the positive, caring adults every kid deserves to have in their lives.

GRWR: Dr. Flossdrop, Zinnia’s mom, is a memorable character. She’s distant, domineering and definitely not warm and fuzzy like the wool Zinnia knits with or her brother Adam whom she adores. How did you develop this dentist who relates better to her rescue dog than her own daughter?

DD 🐝: I knew I wanted Zinnia and her mom to start out feeling as different as possible and then learn that, emotionally, they have a lot in common even if it’s hard to tell from the outside. As for a neighborhood activist dentist who adopts a terrier and brings it to her office? I guess I was going for zany, and someone who would be as infuriating as possible to Zinnia.

GRWR: Do you have a preference when it comes to picture books and middle grade novels and which one do you read more of yourself?

DD 🐝: As in childhood, in adulthood I first fell in love with picture books, and then found middle grade novels. I read and enjoy both consistently, but I’m a bit more immersed in picture books in terms of quantity because of my blog.

And The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is my very favorite book.

GRWR: Where is your favorite place to write?

DD 🐝: I usually write in my apartment. I like the ease and comforts of home (like having neverending cups of tea when working), but I can still hear the sounds of the city and know it’s there. I like to revise out somewhere, preferably a coffee shop.

GRWR: How long did Zinnia and The Beestake you from concept to completion?

DD 🐝: I began the story in 2008, wrote the first middle grade draft in 2010, I believe, and sold it to and edited it for Capstone in 2016, and now it’s out in 2017.

GRWR: Can you talk about your passion for literacy and your volunteer work?

DD 🐝: I’ve been lucky enough to have the ability to volunteer with both WriteGirl and Reading to Kids respectively here in Los Angeles. The former is an organization that mentors teen girls through weekly one-on-one meetups to write together. Plus, the monthly workshops are epic and full of working writers sharing strategies and stories with teens. (And, an amazing WriteGirl who’s headed to college this fall is interning with me over the summer!)

The latter holds reading and crafting events at L.A. area elementary schools one Saturday a month. It is a total joy to participate and each child gets a free book to take home as well. That’s around 800 books given to 800 kids each month! It’s a privilege to be a small part of what the organization is doing to serve kids in my city. I wrote about the experience a couple of years ago here.

GRWR: Can you think of anything else I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share with readers about either Zinnia and the Bees or you?

DD 🐝: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a huge treat to be featured on Good Reads With Ronna!

Visit Danielle’s website here.
Find her at Twitter here.
Find her at Instagram here.
Click here to see Danielle’s Facebook page
And click here to for her Pinterest boards.
Visit illustrator Laura K. Horton’s website here.

 

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