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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Normal Norman by Tara Lazar Blog Tour & Guest Post

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THE NORMAL NORMAN BLOG TOUR
including
A Guest Post from Author Tara Lazar & Giveaway

Normal_Norman_cvr

 

NORMAL NORMAN
Written by Tara Lazar
Illustrated by S. Britt
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4 and up)

Normal Norman by Tara Lazar with illustrations by S. Britt, is an ode to individuality, and a wonderfully wild and wacky way to reinforce the message to children that there’s no such thing as normal. Good Reads With Ronna asked author Tara Lazar to speak to this topic, wondering how she embraces her own unique brand of non-normality in her every day life. Oh, and since I haven’t said it yet, I recommend you unicycle, not run to your nearest bookstore to get a copy of Normal Norman AND enter our giveaway, too! 🍌

GUEST POST BY TARA LAZAR:

I am not normal.

Tara Lazar & Norman - Author Pic

Normal Norman author Tara Lazar alongside the personable, purple orangutan. Photo courtesy of Autumn Lazar ©2016.

I unexpectedly launch into foreign accents while talking. Think a “cawfee tawk” Linda Richman, morphing into a good ol’ cajun creole, followed by a dashing foray in the King’s English. (I’ve been brushing up on Nana’s Irish brogue, but it’s not quite there yet.)

I don’t dress like a 40-something, either. I know that What-Not-to-Wear show cautions against mini-skirts, Mickey Mouse sweatshirts and combat boots—especially all at the same time—but I don’t care.

Since I don’t walk very well, I’ve got a mobility scooter. I painted flames on it. Its max speed is 5mph, so the flames make me feel as close to being Danica Patrick as I’m gonna get.

I hate coffee, and I’m a writer. How weird is that? And, what’s even worse, I don’t care for chocolate. If you offered me a dish of ice cream or a plate of cheese, I’d cut the cheese every time.

Yes, I just made a fart joke. And I think it’s hysterical.

I told you, I’m not normal. And that’s precisely the way I like it.

Being normal is overrated. But when you’re a kid? Being normal is EVERYTHING! The slightest cowlick and you’re branded a nerd, a weirdo, a wackadoo. Wear glasses? Geek! Don’t even get me started on being pegged as the teacher’s pet! That was me all through my school years. I was taunted and teased, and one girl bullied me from 2nd grade all the way to senior year in high school. I didn’t dress normally enough or act normally enough for her.

I’ve tried to figure out why kids want everyone around them to conform. Maybe things are more predictable and safe that way. There’s nothing to be frightened about. Nothing will jump out suddenly, like a jack-in-the-box. You stay in your corner and I’ll remain in mine and we’ll get through this just fine.

I get it. Life is scary.

stopinthenameoflove

Tara Lazar doing her best mannequin-style Stop In The Name of Love.

But my mission in life is to make everything fun. If that means stopping in the name of love to snap a photo with mannequins at the mall, so be it. And if it embarrasses my 12-year-old, let her turn red. Let her see that things shouldn’t be so serious all the time. Let her learn to find joy in the most miniscule things–or a medley of 6-foot plaster mannequins.

When I wrote Normal Norman, I didn’t necessarily set out to write some grand statement about all this. I just wanted Norman to be funny and to have fun. What emerged was a character who did just as he pleased and loved every minute of it. What emerged, I suppose, is me—in purple orangutan form!

Norman's normal home

Reprinted with permission from Normal Norman © 2016 by Tara Lazar, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations © 2016 by Stephan Britt.

The message to children, buried beneath the hilarity, is that there’s really no such thing as “normal”. With all of us being so different, how could there be only one “normal” expectation to live up to? The real normalness is being your true, normal self, in all its wonderful wackiness. Just like Norman…and me!

NN Blog Tour Schedule - FINAL

 

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Best Board Books For Ages 1-5

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THIS YEAR’S BEST BOARD BOOKS 
FOR AGES 1-5

Making a List and Checking it Twice
courtesy of bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber – 

GRWRCoveted Bookseller Award
Looking for a great book for a young child in your life? Still have that hard to buy for niece, nephew or grandchild on your list? No worries! As a children’s bookseller I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see a lot of children’s books all year long. So, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite board books from the 2015 publishing year to help you with your last minute shopping.

For Ages 1-5

StarWarsEpicYarnsEmpireStar Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi by Jack  & Holman Wang
(Chronicle Books; $9.95, Ages 1-4)

With the new Star Wars movie coming out soon what better way to indoctrinate or err…teach a new generation. Each soft, needle felted scene is a recreation appropriate for learning first words. Princess Leia teaches the word “princess,” Luke Skywalker is our example of the word “learn,” and so on. Each scene is so lovingly recreated that every page is of the utmost quality.

WhenIGrowUpcvrWhen I Grow Up by Tad Carpenter
(Sterling Children’s Books; $7.95, Ages 1-3)

This gem of a board book takes toddlers through several occupations from firefighter to teacher that they might aspire to in the future in a lift-the-flap format. By listening closely to the text, your little one may be able to guess the job of the person behind the flap. These are all people in your community as well, so it’s a nice roundup of all the people who help us!

Color Dogcolor-dog-cvr.jpg by Matthew Van Fleet with photographs by Brian Stanton
(Paula Wiseman Books; $19.99, Ages 1 and up)

This is an adorable book! Perfect for a one-year-old or early two this lift-the-flap, tactile book uses pictures of pups to teach colors. Pull out tabs through out the book make the dogs move (even the dog on the cover pulls on the shoe string in his mouth if you pull the red tab). Rhyming text, and a chunky, durable cover make this a great gift.

SharkvsTrainShark vs Train by Chris Barton with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld
(Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $6.99, Ages 2-5)

The ultimate battle! Two boys meet. One has a shark toy and the other has a toy train. A hilarious imaginative battle ensues Of course if the battle is underwater then Shark is going to win, but if it’s on land then Train is going to have the upper hand! What about a visit to a library? Right, neither of them would win that one! Witty, funny, and it combines sharks and trains in one book. That’s a sure winner right there.

Red Light, Green Light by Yumi HeoRedLightGreenLightcvr
(Cartwheel Books/Scholastic; $6.99, Ages 3-5 )

Yumi Heo writes and illustrates such wonderful books! Red Light, Green Light is no exception. This board book has been one of my favorites to recommend this year because it’s both interesting and straightforward. Lift-the-flap elements combine with rhyming text about all the signs that youngsters can see on the road in the car while being driven around town. This book is perfect for the little transportation enthusiast in your life, and great for both girls and boys.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

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Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! by Jill Esbaum

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ELWOOD BIGFOOT: WANTED BIRDIE FRIENDS!
Written by Jill Esbaum 
Illustrated by Nate Wragg
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4-7)

ElwoodBigfootcvr

In Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! all Elwood Bigfoot wants is a friend – preferably a feathered, flittery bird friend! But his earnestly clumsy bigfoot-y manner gets in his way time after time. How can a lonely, large, LOUD Bigfoot get close to his avian amigos-to-be?

Elwood tries the direct approach first, chasing after swooping birds and hollering for the birdies to come back. Alas, they only fly away. His next idea is to live in a tree, where he can be closer to the birds. His dedicated handiwork produces a lovely, log cabin style tree house perched against the mountainside. Surely his new neighbors, the birds, will welcome him.

elwood---sample-spread1

Reprinted with permission from Elwood Bigfoot © 2015 by Jill Esbaum, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Nate Wragg.

Alas, the birds seem shy. So Elwood tries to disguise himself, dressing like a bird from head to toe with feathers, beak and feet. Experiencing a modicum of success, Elwood thinks he’s finally about to break the barriers to feathered friendship. He shouts for joy! Alas (once again!) the birdies fly away.

Esbaum’s charming, lyrical text is delightful to read aloud and incorporates intriguing, playful vocabulary. She perfectly captures Elwood’s sense of loneliness in ways that a child can easily connect to, and she conveys his upbeat, hopeful and innovative spirit in appealing ways. While readers see that making friends is not always easy, learning to take the perspective of others is an essential part of the process.

Wragg’s illustrations turn Elwood into a marvelous, huggable furball. With a jaunty fedora and sarfari-style binoculars, Elwood is well-equipped for his bird-watching exploits. A single triangular fang and four-fingered, three toed shagginess add to Elwood’s monstrous appeal. Wragg also turns out an impressive flock of feathered friends throughout the pages, and displays them prominently on the book’s endpages. Whimsical and colorful, the birds’ tiny round eyes and pointy beaks reveal an impressive range of tender and comical emotions.

Elwood Bigfoot : Wanted Birdie Friends! is a sweet tale of patience, persistence and friendship. Young readers may look hard at the birds in the yards and trees around them, wondering if they are among Elwood’s best buddies. Don’t miss this encouraging story about dreams that do come true.

A downloadable activity kit is available here.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk – Review & Giveaway

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LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST
A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY

Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 5-8)

 

Lady Pancake Cover Image

 

Before even reading it, I knew that Josh Funk’s debut picture book, Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, was going to be a sweet treat, but I had no idea just how many belly laughs it would elicit. To be honest, while I may have initially favored Sir French Toast, my breakfast food partiality in no way influenced my opinion of Funk’s book whatsoever. In fact, I’m actually a von Waffle girl myself.

 

Spread 1LadyPancake

Interior artwork from Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk with illustrations by Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children’s Books ©2015.

When word comes down from up high that “The syrup is almost completely gone!’ Miss Brie produces panic in the breakfast food buddies. Before you can say “Genuine Maple,” the good Lady P and her pal, Sir FT, are off, determined to beat the other to the last remaining drop. Funk tickles our taste buds as he takes us on an amazing race up, down, and all around the fridge in an appetizing adventure that includes pushing and shoving, plummeting and hurdling, often at breakneck pace, to reach the syrup.

“Skiing past spinach and artichoke dip,
Toast vaulted high in the air with a …
FLIP!

 

Spread 2LadyPancake

Interior artwork from Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk with illustrations by Brendan Kearney, Sterling Children’s Books ©2015.

 

There are simply too may funny food scenes to describe, but suffice it to say Funk’s text provided Kearney with a field day for whimsical illustrations. My favorites are the bean avalanche and the surprise fold out fridge interior at the book’s end, providing your littlest foodie with a chance to closely examine all the contents shelf by shelf.

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast is not only a rollicking, rhyming read aloud full of colorful fun, but if you’re a Foley (sound effects) fan, here’s your chance to try out your PLOPS!, FLIPS! and THUMPS! to your heart’s content. There’s even an avalanche to test your mettle! Readers young and old will enjoy the wonderful twist to this tale that caught me off and pinned another huge grin on my already happy face. If this book doesn’t leave everyone completely satisfied and sunny side up, I don’t know what will!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

WIN 1 COPY OF JOSH FUNK’S NEW BOOK!!  Plus, if you follow us on Facebook and let us know in the comments below, we’ll give you an extra entry. An additional comment on our Facebook post for this picture book gets you yet another entry. Good luck!

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ALLY-SAURUS & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

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Ally-saurus & the First Day of School
Written and illustrated by Richard Torrey
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-6 )

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Ally-Saurus&theFirstDayofSchool.jpg

Even dinosaurs get starting school jitters, in fact, maybe even those who are actually little girls pretending to be dinosaurs.

“Do you think there will be other dinosaurs in my class?” asked Ally-saurus.
“I think you’re going to make a lot of new friends,” said Mother.

Introducing Ally-saurus, an enthusiastic, pig-tailed little girl with an active imagination. At first it seems that making friends will not be easy. None of Ally-saurus’ classmates chomp their snack with fierce teeth or “ROAR!” like she does. Instead they eat quietly much to Ally-saurus’ surprise. She was expecting everyone to be wild about dinos just like her.

Torrey cleverly uses black and white plus a lot of shading in his illustrations so the snippets of color that he adds stand out and really a make a statement. For example, a pink tail and ridges crayoned onto Ally-saurus throughout the book indicate that Ally is imagining herself as a Stegosaurus. Later, Robert is the first classmate to get his hint of blue color as he imagines himself to be an astronaut when he and Ally-saurus cut out nameplate designs for their cubbies. During a lesson on the weather followed by one about letters, three princesses begin voicing their opinions as gold crowns and dresses are outlined on them.

Then, at lunchtime Ally-saurus is told by these princesses that:

“These seats are saved for princesses, not dinosaurs,” said Tina.
“You’re not a real princess!” roared Ally-saurus.
“You’re not a real dinosaur,” said Tina.
“Then why am I eating dinosaur food?” asked Ally-saurus.
“That’s baloney!” said Tina, and the other princesses giggled.

Ally-saurus is left to sit alone elsewhere until she is joined by several other students, all eager to share what they enjoy pretending to be. “Soon the whole table was roaring and chomping.” It isn’t long before Ally-saurus and the kids from her lunch table are running around during recess playing make-believe and having a blast. Ally-saurus realizes too that dinos and princesses can find common ground over pretend cups of tea.

Class Picture.jpg

Reprinted with permission from Ally-saurus & the First Day of School © 2015 by Richard Torrey, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Richard Torrey.

Best of all, in the school library, (my favorite place), Ally-saurus along with her classmates discover there are books about all kinds of things … including bunnies. And guess who’s got a pink bunny tail and bunny ears drawn on when she hops out of bed the next morning? Note: There’s an unassuming little bunny lamp on a night table in the last illustration. Plus, Torrey has cleverly covered the endpapers in front with dinos and at the back with bunnies, something I only noticed on the second read! That’s sure to make children want to go back again and again to look for more details.

Add Ally-saurus & the First Day of School to your back-to-school list for an ideal picture book to share with youngsters. It’ll help them realize they’re not the only ones who get nervous starting school. It’s also a great way to start the conversation about the give and take necessary to form and keep friendships.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


A Dozen Cousins by Lori Haskins Houran / Book Giveaway

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A DOZEN COUSINS BY LORI HASKINS HOURAN
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY SAM USHER
(Sterling Children’s Books, $14.95, Ages 4-8)
Plus, enter our giveaway to win a hardcopy of the book!

A-Dozen-Cousins-cvr.jpg

We know it’s cheaper by the dozen, but in the case of A Dozen Cousins, it’s also A LOT more fun!

“Anna had a dozen cousins.
All of them were boys.

They smelled like sweaty sneakers,
And they made a ton of noise.”

Imagine being the only girl with 12 rowdy male cousins. What would your days be like when they came for a visit? Anna’s were anything but quiet. This joyful ode to rough and tumbling, playful and stumbling boys and their only female cousin is pure delight. The rhyme, with its sing song rhythm really never misses a beat. Told with love and laughs, Houran’s picture book draws from her youthful experience growing up with over a dozen cousins. So she knows first hand what types of antics this many kids can get up.

“They helped her build a castle …
Then launched a sneak attack.

They gave her hugs and kisses,
Dropping ice cubes down her back.”

The entire time that Anna and her possessions (including her doll!) are used as objects of entertainment for the lads, she never once arches her eyebrows in anger! Usher’s whimsical illustrations, a cheerful and welcome blend of Quentin Blake meets Helen Oxenbury, depict an understated calmness in Anna, with all her reactions demonstrating a deep affection for her mischief-making young relatives. Ultimately, despite all her cousins’ shenanigans, Anna wouldn’t change a thing about their behavior and is thrilled to be a part of this extended and extremely fun-loving family. An adorable book about a bunch of boys you’ll wish were your cousins. Don’t miss checking out the end papers for a sweet surprise!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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