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For Fans of Middle Grade Horror There’s Where the Woods End by Charlotte Salter

WHERE THE WOODS END
Written by Charlotte Salter
(Dial BYR; $17. 99, Ages 10-14)

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Connection

 

Where The Woods end book cover art

 

Twelve-year-old Kestrel’s dark and mysterious world is literally defined by Where the Woods End. And she wants out. Since her mother’s the village witch and her father a lonesome wolf hunter, Kes doesn’t fit in with the other kids. Brushing off their taunting, Kes, instead, utilizes Granmos’s harsh training to destroy grabbers—these beings build bodies resembling their victim’s greatest fear; once they’re complete, your time is up.

With her weasel-like sidekick named Pippit and her tree-living friend, Finn, Kes studies Granmos’s notes, trying to discover a way to the world beyond before her grabber attacks. All the while, other fantastic ghouls (like treecreepers and face painters) loom dangerously.

Salter’s middle-grade horror fantasy novel’s imaginative world with twists and peril will keep you turning the pages. We feel Kes’s plight for redemption and freedom. She’s an outcast in her town and her home, yet bravely tries to make sense of the mysteries. In doing so, her friendships quiver and threaten to break as she becomes more entrenched in her quest. Where the Woods End will appeal to middle-grade readers seeking adventures in creepy worlds.

 

@ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

When Staying Alive Means Staying Apart – Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott

 

FIVE FEET APART
Written by Rachael Lippincott
With Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

Five Feet Apart book cover art

 

 

In Rachel Lippincott’s superb novel, Five Feet Apart, with its PG13 film version releasing in March (starring Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson), we’re introduced to the growing love story of two teen cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Stella has been a CF patient for most of her life. She seems complacent and at ease from knowing all the nurses, every corner of the hospital, and having a precise routine and arrangement for her medical cart. Her habits at the hospital seem invulnerable to change until she meets Will, a reckless newcomer who also has CF.

As is the rule, CFers must stay six feet apart from each other to avoid contamination. For Stella, being close to Will could cost her the new set of lungs she’s awaiting on the transplant list and the promise of a new life. However, with the couple spending more time together, the six-foot apart rule becomes challenging to maintain, even for rigid, routine follower Stella. But if they can never touch, can they still love each other from a set distance? Or can they safely bend the rules, take away one foot but maybe tread in dangerous territory? Will it make a difference?

Lippincott’s novel is an exciting emotional rollercoaster with elements of hope, fear, and love that intertwine seamlessly. Lippincott does a great job conveying the longing between the two patients. She also includes diverse characters and family relationships that are not usually portrayed in novels that I read. If you loved books like The Fault in Our Stars or Everything, Everything, then you will want to read Five Feet Apart. Maybe, like the main characters, you too will find it hard to remain five feet apart from this great read.

  • Reviewed by Rachel Kaufman

 

goodreadwithronna reviewer image
Rachel Kaufman is a current sophomore studying communications at the University of Southern California. She’s passionate about books and hiking with her dog, Scout. Rachel enjoys how books reshape her imagination of the world around her. Rachel knows firsthand how important books are in aiding children’s futures, working with a reading program, Reach Out and Read, by reading, organizing, and donating over 200 children’s books. In her free time you can find her either reading or thinking about what she might read next.

 

Listen here for an excerpt from Five Feet Apart.

Calling All Foodies! The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs

THE COMPLETE COOKBOOK FOR YOUNG CHEFS
by America’s Test Kitchen
Interior photography by America’s Test Kitchen
Interior illustrations by Sourcebooks, Inc.
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $19.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

cover art and photograph from The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist
The #1 New York Times Best Seller
An Amazon Best Book of 2018

Middle-grade foodie or picky eater? The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs, a National and Regional Indie Bestseller from America’s Test Kitchen, works for both kinds of kid. Foodies will enjoy testing their know-how; picky eaters get involved in the process, opening doors to new foods. The text guides the inexperienced, starting with the basics: “read carefully, stay focused, practice safety, mistakes are OK.” Tools, kitchen lingo, and how to best do things are explained. Fancy touches such as garnishing and plating make dishes shine.

 

int artwork + photography from The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America's Test Kitchen

Interior spread from The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen with Interior photography by America’s Test Kitchen and Interior illustrations by Sourcebooks, Inc, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2018.

 

Beautiful color photos accompany the 100+ kid-tested and kid-approved recipes. Each is rated with one to three chef hats to quickly identify the difficulty level (more hats = more complexity). Symbols also note whether the recipe requires a knife, microwave, stovetop, oven, or if no knives or heat are necessary. For example, hummus is a one-hat, no knife/heat recipe, whereas Mexican Street Corn warrants three hats, the use of a knife, microwave, and oven. Using the Tea, No Kettle method, my daughter tried steeping tea bags at room temperature to make tea without bitter notes and that worked really well. I also found the suggestion in Decorating Cupcakes to keep sprinkles within the cookie cutter a clever idea and would recommend this anyone, especially to add a special design touch.

 

int artwork + photography from The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America's Test Kitchen

Interior spread from The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen with Interior photography by America’s Test Kitchen and Interior illustrations by Sourcebooks, Inc, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2018.

The book concludes by explaining the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate illustration to help kids recognize the major food groups and portioning. Each Complete Cookbook recipe has a caloric and nutritional breakdown in an easy-reference chart, a no-pressure way for kids to read about choices they can make each day. Also mentioned are the benefits of eating with others, exercising, and understanding that “it’s about good habits—not perfection.” These important messages communicate that we make a difference in our lives, one choice at a time.

Click here for America’s Test Kitchen kids website.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

NYT Bestselling Series Hilo is Back With Book 5: Then Everything Went Wrong

HILO: THEN EVERYTHING WENT WRONG
Written and illustrated by Judd Winick
(Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover art from Hilo book 5 Then Everything Went Wrong by Judd Winnick

 

 

“Hilo is Calvin and Hobbes meet Big Nate and is just right for fans of Bone and laugh-out-loud school adventures like Jedi Academy and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

 

If you’re not already familiar with Judd Winick’s winning Hilo series of middle grade graphic novels, the newest book, Hilo: Then Everything Went Wrong, releases on January 29 and would be a great time to get on board to find out why the books are so popular with tweens. I’m so glad I did. Even though I’ve jumped in with Book 5, that didn’t stop me seeing the appeal and getting hooked. While the books are episodic, the art, the diverse characters and the plot are so good that it doesn’t matter that I came late to the Hilo party so to speak. It’s easy to get up to speed on the relationships and backstory in this action-packed, fast moving and riotously funny robot rooted series.

Hilo is a robot who has ended up on Earth along with his sister, Izzy. He’s befriended D.J. (Daniel Jackson Lim) and his family along with Gina Cooper. Those friendships are truly the heart and soul of the series because kids will empathize with them and be enthralled by their adventures. Various other engaging characters include Polly the talking cat, Uncle Trout, teacher Ms. Potter, Dr. Horizon, Razorwark and Dr. Bloodmoon. I can’t even pick a favorite because I liked them all or found them interesting in different ways. Even a couple of the Feds came off likable as you’ll see.

The Feds, in fact, want to find Hilo at the same time he and D.J. head off on a risky journey to Hilo’s planet, Jannus, to get answers about his past. Once there, the friends discover that all the robots have mysteriously gone missing and, rather than being a model of a happy, high tech homeland, Jannus has gone backwards with a loss of power. As the boy and robot try to discover what’s happened on Jannus, some crazy stuff is going on back at Vanderbilt Elementary that causes a lot of problems for the kids on Earth and ultimately in space. So many things need to fit into place for Hilo to figure out the puzzle and keep one step ahead. Don’t miss out on this Judd Winick’s rewarding and entertaining series that is ideal for both reluctant readers and anyone “who loves comic books, superheroes, and adventures of all kind.” I honestly loved every colorful minute and am only sorry I missed out on books 1-4! Remember to pre-order your copy today.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel 

 

Every Drop Counts – Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

DRY
by Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman
(Simon & Schuster; $18.99, Ages 13-17)

 

 

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman book cover

 

 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
NYPL Best Books for Teens

 

New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman’s YA novel Dry follows the perilous adventure of 16-year-old Alyssa in Southern California during a major drought that turns deadly. The drought or “The Tap-Out” has resulted in a cutoff of water from reaching any homes, sending Alyssa’s parents in search of other water sources. Unfortunately, her parents do not return. This turn of events results in an unexpected and dangerous journey for Alyssa, her younger brother, Garrett and their survivalist neighbor Kelton. Companions they meet along the way include rebellious Jacqui and barterer, Henry.

This suspenseful story is told through the eyes of each teen, switching between them and snapshots of outside characters whom the teens encounter in their harrowing journey through California in a desperate search for water. Dry is a fantastic dystopian novel yet its closeness to reality, due to California’s already barren lands, makes the story even more gripping as we could easily be Alyssa or Garrett and so look to see how all the characters deal with crisis. The writing appealed to me because the authors were able to create compelling and distinct individual personalities for the characters, allowing me to identify with certain actions or people within the story. I was fascinated by how the characters reacted in each situation the authors’ depicted because it made me question if I would react in the same way.

This novel is guaranteed to keep readers on their toes. If you’re unsure as to whether to read Dry, I’d say definitely give it the benefit of the drought!

  • Review by Rachel Kaufman

 


Rachel Kaufman is a current sophomore studying communications at the University of Southern California. She’s passionate about books and hiking with her dog, Scout. Rachel enjoys how books reshape her imagination of the world around her. Rachel knows firsthand how important books are in aiding children’s futures, working with a reading program, Reach Out and Read, by reading, organizing, and donating over 200 children’s books. In her free time you can find her either reading or thinking about what she might read next.

 

A Middle Grade Mystery – The Haunting of Hounds Hollow by Jeffrey Salane

THE HAUNTING OF HOUNDS HOLLOW
Written by Jeffrey Salane
(Scholastic Press; $16. 99, Ages 8-12)

 

book cover illustration from The Haunting of Hounds Hollow by Jeffrey Salane

 

 

The middle grade novel, The Haunting of Hounds Hollow by Jeffrey Salane, is a recommended read for chilly, dark winter evenings. When Lucas Trainer’s family inherits a house from an almost-forgotten relative they move from the comforting familiarity of the big city to Hounds Hollow. For Lucas, making new friends means explaining his undiagnosed disease (his parents call it the Dark Cloud). Adjusting to being in the middle of nowhere is complicated by their crazy new mansion—akin to the Winchester Mystery House with rooms that lead to nowhere and a construction crew that doesn’t stop building.

The town’s history of people disappearing coupled with what may be a roaming pack of malevolent ghost dogs is enough to scare anyone away, but Lucas and his two new friends, Bess and Lens, decide they must uncover what’s going on before it’s too late. Lucas has a mysterious key that he hopes will unlock secrets from the past that continue to have hold of the house and its environs.

This book is suited for kids who like plots that delve into horror. The Haunting of Hounds Hollow takes some dark turns, particularly at the end. If you think your kid will grow into a fan of stories like Stephen King’s Pet Sematary then this tale will not disappoint.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Our Favorite Kids’ Christmas Books Part Three

NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR CHILDREN 2018

– A ROUNDUP –

PART THREE

 

Free Christmas clip art bells and holly

 

 

A Unicorn Named Sparkle's First Christmas cover illustrationA UNICORN NAMED SPARKLE’S FIRST CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Amy Young
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

A Unicorn Named Sparkle’s First ChristmasAmy Young’s third book in this funny series, doesn’t disappoint. Cutie pie Sparkle continues to delight readers with silly antics offset by his true friendship with the little girl who loves him.

Lucy—perhaps like someone you know—believes the best thing about Christmas is “Lots and lots of PRESENTS!” And, of course, who better to give great presents than your BFF? However, even with Lucy’s insistent reminders, Sparkle doesn’t quite grasp the concept. It is, after all, his first Christmas.

Young’s illustrations capture the exciting buildup of holiday madness (cookies, ice skating, the mall) and, of course, a crazy-messy wonderful house. If you enjoy playful underscored by heartfelt friendship, this book’s for you.

 

Little Christmas Tree book cover artworkLITTLE CHRISTMAS TREE
Written and illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

(Big Picture Press; $15.99, Ages 2-5)

Starred Review – Publisher’s Weekly

This beautiful, extra-large, 12-page board book’s sparkling art invites readers to journey into wintery landscapes. Each scene has several lift-the-flap opportunities for little hands to discover hidden wonders.

Written in rhyme, the story takes the reader through a day in the forest. First, the little Christmas tree awakens to find the woods have turned from green to white. Creatures explore until the sky clouds over and snowflakes fall once more.

Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s digital illustrations in Little Christmas Tree convey the best of snowy weather. Brightly colored berries and animals contrast well with the forest’s earth tones. Silver foil accents add a lovely effect. Young readers will delight in revisiting these tranquil sceneries.

 

Merry Christmas Little Elliot cover artMERRY CHRISTMAS, LITTLE ELLIOT
Written and illustrated by Mike Curato
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot is a lovely addition to the seasonal standards with its fresh look at a familiar theme. You may know Little Elliot (an elephant with pastel spots) from previous books. In this holiday adventure, Elliot isn’t excited because he doesn’t have Christmas spirit.

So he sets off with Mouse to try and find this elusive thing. None of the typical wonders (The Nutcracker ballet, a spectacular tree, or sledding) incite Elliot until a mysterious envelope leads the two friends to discover what this time of year truly means.

Mike Curato’s classic art enhances and amplifies the story line. The beautiful book has an old-fashioned feel with a timeless message. Santa tells Elliot that he can’t give him the Christmas spirit, “You have to find that yourself.”

Be sure to look under the picture book’s dust jacket for a clever alternate cover image.

  • The above three books were reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Merry Christmas Little Pookie cover illustration by Sandra BoyntonMERRY CHRISTMAS, LITTLE POOKIE
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 0-5)

I’ll be honest. Pookie can do no wrong by me. Sandra Boynton is a personal fave so I’m biased when it comes to her books as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows. 

On Christmas Eve, little Pookie pig is ready for a walk in the snow with Mama. When noses get frozen, it’s time to head inside because “There are garlands to make and lights to turn on and cookies to bake.” Family and friends will soon be arriving and Christmas songs will be sung. Boynton’s 18-page rhyming board board is festive and endearing and features all the trademark cuteness that make this a wonderful addition to the beloved go-to series. With eight books available, there’s definitely a great selection to keep your youngest ones entertained. And now, with Merry Christmas, Little Pookie in the mix, children can easily spend all year with Little Pookie!

 

The Broken Ornament by Tony DiTerlizzi book cover artTHE BROKEN ORNAMENT
Written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
(Simon & Schuster Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Be careful what you wish for is what I kept thinking as I read The Broken Ornament, a touching picture book about empathy, thoughtfulness and self-reliance. As the story opens “Jack wanted this to be the best Christmas ever.” When that means adding more ornaments on the tree, Jack’s mother warns him about the one he intends to hang. It shatters and his mom hastily retreats upstairs followed by his dad with a box of tissues. Clearly that ornament was meaningful to his mom. It’s only when a fairy named Tinsel emerges from the ornament shards that Jack gets the over-the-top Christmas experience he longed for. But something was missing. Was there a way to replace the broken ornament? Tinsel helps Jack learn the story behind the ornament’s importance and explains that only Jack has the power to come up with a solution. Once Jack puts his mind to it, he figures out a beautiful way to show his remorse over his action that, while not bringing back the old ornament, helps everyone have a joyful Christmas after all. Sometimes there’s magic in the small things. I absolutely loved DiTerlizzi’s spread of Tinsel’s magical creatures (Santa, elves, snowmen, reindeer, nutcrackers) gathered in the snow outside the living room window looking in at the happy family. Santa’s got a spotlight on him as he holds a glowing Tinsel in his hand. Young readers will be thrilled to witness the positive outcome along with the Christmas cast of characters. Buy local and treat yourself to this beautiful book to share with your family this holiday season.

  • The above two books were reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Please click here for Part One of our 2018 Christmas Books Roundup.
Please click here for Part Two of our 2018 Christmas Books Roundup.

Five New Christmas Books for Kids – A Roundup of Our Faves

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

– A ROUNDUP –

PART TWO

candy cane free Christmas clip art

 

Jane Foster's Christmas board book cover artJANE FOSTER’S CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Jane Foster
(Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Illustrator and designer Jane Foster helps make spirits bright with her new board book, Jane Foster’s Christmas. This smartly designed and graphically bold concept book will familiarize babies and toddlers with all the signature items we associate with Christmas. From Santa Claus and sleigh, to gingerbread house and hot chocolate, each spread features a word on the left in black typeface and an illustration on the right. Additional subtle graphic elements on the word pages, like polka dots, waves, trees and stripes are visually pleasing too. The vibrant colors used add to the book’s appeal as does the shininess of the art and text. This board book is sure to get little ones excited for the holiday with its choice of cheery images presented as beautifully as her 10 previous books in the series such as Things That Go, Animal Sounds and First Words. Need a stocking stuffer? Give this to the youngest readers in your house this holiday season.

 

 

All is Merry and Bright board book cover illustrationALL IS MERRY AND BRIGHT
(A Shine Bright Book)

Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Don Clark
(Little Simon; $24.99, Ages 1-4

Here is an oversized, thick and bedazzling board book that needs no wrapping and just begs to be opened like a present. As I turned each page I was treated to a parade of pizzazz, foil and color. The glorious graphics jumped off the page filling me with light and delight. The embossed designs also feel fab to touch so let little fingers wander as they wonder what comes next. The text, spare, but lyrical, promises “joyful smiles” and multiple reads to soak up all the positive energy emanating from between the covers. It’s less a story and more a celebration of the joy that Christmas brings. A glowing review for this shiny, happy book that you can feel confident when adding to your Christmas reading list!

 

 

If Animals Celebrated Christmas book cover illustrationIF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS
Written by Ann Whitford Paul
Illustrated by David Walker
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

The latest in Ann Whitford Paul’s charming series of rhyming stories, If Animals Celebrated Christmas, ponders what each particular animal would do for the holiday. Koala lovers will be happy these marsupials feature prominently in this tale as do penguins, cranes, buffalo, turtles, owls, oryx, beaver and hedgehogs. Crustaceans also grace the pages. “Crabs would scamper from the deep, dark sea, and build a seashell Christmas tree.” Illustrator Walker’s topped that Christmas tree with a starfish, making it my favorite spread. If you’re curious what the others get up to, be sure to include this book in your holiday shopping. It’s a recommended read-aloud that provides a fun jumping off point for a discussion about what other creatures might do to make the holiday their own.

 

 

Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? book cover illustrationWHERE DO DIGGERS CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?
Written by Brianna Caplan Sayres
Illustrated by Christian Slade
(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

If you’ve got an “all things tractors, diggers and cranes” fan at home, make sure to add Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? to your holiday collection. While in some places the rhyme meter felt slightly off, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the picture book. In fact I was rather impressed how Sayres came up with such clever ways for vehicles to celebrate. And in case kiddos didn’t know it, diggers, cherry pickers, forklifts, mixers, cranes, tankers, tow trucks, tractors, food trucks and even Zambonis celebrate Christmas by doing the exact same things they do. That means stringing lights, singing Christmas carols and even sharing egg nog with their families. Illustrator Slade’s put a mouse on the pages too, so children can watch out for what the creature gets up to in every spread. Wheels are the way to go in this charming, feel good Christmas story.

 

A Tuba Christmas book cover illustrationA TUBA CHRISTMAS
Written by Helen L. Wilbur
Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Who knew that tuba Christmas concerts were a thing? Now that I know about them, having read A Tuba Christmas, I cannot wait to attend one! Unlike my family, the family members in this picture book all play an instrument, and when the story begins, it’s time for the youngest child, Ava, to choose an instrument, too. Everyone is surprised, however, when Ava decides to take up the tuba. She’s helped along by lessons from Rodney, a compassionate high schooler in the marching band. When the tuba’s challenges (it’s clearly rather cumbersome) get to her along with the kids at school (as well as her brothers) teasing her about the tuba, Ava’s ready to call it quits. But Rodney’s not concerned about her progress and invites her to participate in a tuba holiday concert at her school at just the right time. Being part of an ensemble is exactly the kind of supportive and spirited musical environment Ava needs. The audience is enthralled and impressed with the concert including Ava’s performance and she’s over the moon. As Rodney like suspected, rather than giving up on the instrument and her instruction, Ava feels proud of her accomplishment and decides to continue playing. Back matter details the history behind Tuba Christmas concerts and will likely have readers seeking out the nearest one this holiday season. Uhles’s cheerful illustrations pair wonderfully with the exuberance of the tale and perfectly capture Ava’s up and down moments. Wilbur’s written a special kind of Christmas story to share because, in addition to centering around the holiday, it’s also a heartwarming tale about perseverance and how wonderful and motivating it feels when someone (in this case Ava’s instructor) has your back. 

 

  • Reviews by Ronna Mandel


ALSO RECOMMENDED:

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Written by Sherri Duskey Rinker

lllustrated by AG Ford
Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Oliver Elephant 
Written by Lou Peacock
Illustrated by Helen Stephens 
(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Click here to see Part One of our 2018 Christmas book suggestions.

 

 

Best New Christmas Books for Children Part One

OUR ANNUAL KIDS’ CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP …

IS BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER!

– PART ONE –

Wreath free Christmas clip art image

 

Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins cover illustrationMRS. CLAUS TAKES THE REINS
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Mark Chambers
(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

For anyone interested in a holiday book with a strong female character, I recommend Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins written by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Mark Chambers. When Santa wakes up “stuffy” and “sneezy” on the morning of Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus fearlessly steps in to save the day. She is a proactive problem solver. “‘I may not have magic,’” she says, “‘but I’ve got a brain!’” As she and the reindeer encounter challenges along the way, Mrs. Claus’s resourcefulness helps her stay in control and on task. “[S]tuff[ing] some ribbon to plug up the hole” in the leaky fuel tank, she keeps calm and carries on.

In addition to Mrs. Claus’s gumption, I love the endearing and homey touches in the illustrations:  Santa’s headboard and footboard with their Christmas tree cutouts, his bedspread with complementary tree designs, his reindeer-patterned socks resting on his footboard, and Mrs. Claus’s updated green plaid skirt. Modern day details also make the story relatable to young readers. Holding a Starbucks look-alike cup in her hand, Mrs. Claus starts off her journey waving goodbye to her elves. Her strong organizational skills can be seen as she maps out “her route” (perhaps using Waze?) on what looks like an iPhone. And on what looks like an iPad, she makes “a supply list and check[s] on the weather.” Even her sleigh has an attachment for her tablet that she uses to check off deliveries!

Through rhyme and clever illustrations, children will love to get to know Mrs. Claus’s spunky, can-do spirit.

 

Coming Home book cover artworkCOMING HOME
Written by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Kerry Hyndman, Coming Home, is a touching tale about a robin’s harrowing journey home to his mate-just in time for Christmas. Before the story begins, readers are given information about the Scandinavian red robin’s migration to find refuge in Britain from the harsher winters up north. In steady rhythm and repetitive language, Morpurgo narrates the robin’s struggles with snow, sleet, predators, fatigue, and fear. “Beat, my wings, beat faster. Easy, my heart, go steady. Steady.” The story’s underlying themes of perseverance and determination are evident in the robin’s journey—a journey, in fact, symbolic of life’s storms and struggles and the ways we can cope with them. We can find community with others who are on a similar path (as the robin does when he joins a flock of thrushes) and seek cycles of rest and rejuvenation. When the unexpected happens, we can also, like the robin, surrender to the mercy of another’s tenderhearted care.

If you’re looking for a quiet holiday book that highlights the winter season, I highly recommend this story. Double page, bird’s eye view spreads of a dark and deep blue forest as well as close ups of the bird seeking shelter from the rough winter weather complement each other nicely. A great bedtime story to end the day (and the winter season), Coming Home is a hopeful and soothing tale both adults and children will come home to again and again.

 

Tough Cookie by Edward Hemingway book cover illustrationTOUGH COOKIE: A CHRISTMAS STORY
Written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A hilarious fractured fairy tale, Tough Cookie is the story of a cookie with an identity crisis. In a town called the “Land of Holiday Treats” where everything is sugary and sweet, our hero feels like the odd cookie out.

Shaped like a classic gingerbread man, he jumps fresh out of the oven and runs out the door with the familiar “run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me-I’m the….” He  soon discovers, though, that this same old script isn’t true for every cookie. When a curious passerby, Fox, takes up on the cookie’s challenge, the cookie realizes that he’s not only sluggish, but also positively unpalatable. Shocked and dismayed, the cookie tries to fit the mold, but, alas, to no avail. At his breaking point, “Cookie crumble[s]” but then is introduced to a special group of cookies. They have been following him all day eager to share with him his true identity. Proud of his unique role in the community, the cookie joyfully joins his cohorts, singing a new tune: “‘Look, look, look at me! You can’t reach me-I’m a….” (You’ll have to get the book to find out!)

Written and illustrated by the youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, Edward Hemingway brings much fun to the story, especially for younger audiences. Just about everything in his illustrations of Christmastown beams with a happy face. Large text, colorful pastels, and traditional holiday colors create a warm, festive, and inviting atmosphere. Hemingway’s humorous play on words through baking references keeps the pace energetic. Added touches are cookie recipes at the end of the story as well as front and back matter illustrations of adorable cookie characters.  I found myself playing a “Where’s Waldo” kind of game by trying to locate each character in the pages of the story (they are there!). I’m certain little ones will find many more creative ways to engage with Cookie’s quest of self-discovery.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

 

 

 

The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher Delivers the Christmas Goods

THE CHRISTMASAURUS
Written by Tom Fletcher
Illustrated by Shane Devries
(Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

cover art from The Christmasaurus

 

The Christmasaurus, a middle grade novel by singer-songwriter and YouTuber Tom Fletcher, brings us holiday magic in a new way. The Earth’s last dinosaur lives at the North Pole surrounded by a hubbub of activity and some awesome flying reindeer, but, he’s lonely. Around the world, young William Trundle, a dinosaur expert, wants Santa to bring him a dinosaur more than anything. The two are bound to meet, but their adventure isn’t what you’d expect.

I like that Tom Fletcher mashes together the struggles kids face at school and at home with our love and fascination for dinosaurs. Add in a bully, an evil villain, and some twists on tradition—and you thought the elves made the presents!—and you’ve got an exciting holiday story. Better still, you will care about William Trundle and the Christmasaurus; the characters have dimension and heart.

Shane Devries’s illustrations add humor and charm. The Christmasaurus is cute, beautiful, and spectacular all at once. Seeing him is heartwarming, but, “believing [in ourselves and in others] is the most powerful magic of all.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets – Blog Tour

OWLS ARE GOOD AT KEEPING SECRETS:
AN UNUSUAL ALPHABET

Written by Sara O’Leary

Illustrated by Jacob Grant

(Random House Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets by Sara O'Leary book cover illustration

 

Starred Review – Booklist

While I never tire of alphabet books, I do see quite a lot so honestly, the more distinct, the better to catch my eye and then keep me reading. Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet fits that bill to a T. TtToads are terrific at tongue twisters. See what I mean?

O’Leary doesn’t waste a minute pulling readers into her adorable, smile inducing descriptions for every animal she’s included. In fact, I bet she had a blast coming up with all their different personality traits and quirks, helping to set this picture book apart from others. Some will catch you off guard: Dd: Dragons cry at happy endings. I love that there are no flames involved, just pure emotion and Pp: Penguins love a big family get-together. Who knew they were such party animals? My fave, the one that gets me laughing out loud, is Rr: Raccoons are always the first to arrive for a party because that sounded just like me. Which letters will resonate with your child? Will it be Ww: Wolves don’t like being told to smile or possibly Yy: Yaks giggle at their own jokes? Find alligators, elephants, meerkats and many more and use the often funny, thought-provoking descriptions to start a conversation about what makes everyone unique.

The choice of animals and their clever corresponding stories will entertain even those who feel they’re too old for alphabet books. Grant’s charming artwork in a warm, muted color scheme with ample white space allows the focus to center on the endearing animals and their actions. From photograph-taking foxes in the field with a parent waiting in the den below to a hedgehog observing the night sky, there is something for everyone in Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets, an especially appealing approach to learning the letters A-Z.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

Books Make Great Holiday Gifts for Kids – A Roundup

CHILDREN’S BOOKS TO GIVE AS GIFTS

– A HOLIDAY SEASON ROUNDUP –

 

free clip art of Christmas tree

 

cover illustration from Drawn Together by Minh Lê with art by Dan Santat
Interior art from Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat

Interior illustrations from Drawn Together written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, Disney-Hyperion ©2018.

DRAWN TOGETHER
Written by Minh Lê

Illustrated by Dan Santat
(Disney Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Drawn Together is one of my favorite picture books of 2018 and not just because it has a clever title. Lê’s spare text perfectly captures the tale of a boy and his grandfather who are separated by words but find a way to connect through drawing—a feel-good story that crosses cultures and time.
int spread by Dan Santat from Drawn Together by Minh Lê

Interior spread from Drawn Together written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, Disney-Hyperion ©2018.

Santat’s gorgeous art alternates between vivid modern color for the grandson’s images and a black-and-white traditional style when the grandfather draws. The book’s beauty will move you. The publisher includes clever details such as a sharp pencil on the spine and a surprise image beneath the cover; the two characters’ contrasting art styles serve as lovely bookends.

This book would make an ideal gift for that special child in your life who speaks a different language than you do, although any child will find it speaks to them about connectivity and family ties. It is also befitting for kids who love to draw because the book shows how pictures open up worlds. 

Starred Review – BooklistKirkus Reviews, Publishers WeeklySchool Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


THE DAY YOU BEGINThe Day You Begin book cover illustration
Written by Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated by Rafael López
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Interior spread from The Day You Begin

Interior spread from The Day You Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2018.

The Day You Begin isn’t about the day you’re born. Instead, this heartening 32-page picture book invites you to make a space for yourself in the world. Woodson grabs the reader from the empathetic first line, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Those words give voice to the uneasiness we all experience. Yet, to forge connections we must learn to take a chance and open up. López takes the story beyond the words. His colorful artwork imaginatively captures the emotional tone, showing conflicting feelings of hope and despair, isolation and togetherness.This lovely tale reaches hearts of all ages. The Day You Begin would be an ideal gift for graduates, people seeking to begin anew, or anyone who needs a nudge to remember that life is a beautiful blend of our differences.This story was inspired by a poem in Woodson’s New York Timesbest-selling memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

 

 

cover art from Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid

 

Interior spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco with illustrations by Joy Ang, Workman Publishing ©2018.

THE ATLAS OBSCURA EXPLORER’S GUIDE FOR THE WORLD’S MOST ADVENTUROUS KID
Written by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco
Illustrated by Joy Ang
(Workman Publishing; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

 

int. spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

Interior spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco with illustrations by Joy Ang, Workman Publishing ©2018.

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is THE book for that kid on your holiday shopping list who loves extraordinary facts. Who knew there was a school in Iceland dedicated to the study of elves, or that fireflies in Tennessee blink in sync with one another?Travel to destinations in forty-seven countries on every continent in this entertaining journey to 100 real places. The book opens with a clever Packing List and Adventure Plan (Table of Contents). Readers can randomly choose places to explore, or read the book straight through. Each two-page spread highlights segments that are stand-alone entries, yet there’s a teaser at the end connecting a topic from that country to the next one. For example, after reading about how Cambodians built their own bamboo trains called “norries” (when the war damaged their rail system), you’re invited to read about another do-it-yourself system of transportation in Colombia—homemade zip lines! Parents who find themselves unable to put this book down can ask Santa for the adult version: #1 New York Times best-seller, The Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Whether young or old, the Atlas Obscura books take you on a fascinating spin around the globe delivering strange facts in the most delightful way.

Starred Review – Booklist

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

New Chapter Book Series – Warren and Dragon by Ariel Bernstein

WARREN & DRAGON: 100 FRIENDS
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Mike Malbrough
(Puffin Books; $14.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Paperback, Ages 5-8)

&

WARREN & DRAGON: WEEKEND WITH CHEWY
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Mike Malbrough
(Puffin Books; $14.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Paperback, Ages 5-8)

 

cover art from Warren & Dragon 100 Friends Book 1book cover art from Warren & Dragon Weekend With Chewy Book 2

 

WHO AND WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS NEW CHAPTER BOOK SERIES:

Warren Nesbitt, a seven-year-old boy.
The realistic relationship (and dialogue) between siblings.
Dragon, a 122-year-old dragon who is real and only visible to Warren.
Dragon, the stuffed animal everyone thinks is what Warren is always referring to!
Warren’s twin sister, Ellie and her quick wit and snide comments.
Friendly next-door neighbors, Nia and Paula Berry, are a gay African-American couple with three children.
Michael Berry, first-grader and soon-to-be Warren’s good friend.
Alison Cohen, Warren’s classmate in Mrs. Tierney’s class.
The descriptions of lunchtime in Book 1.
The Nesbitt family need to move because Mom, an engineer, has been offered a job in a new city.
All of Alison Cohen’s pets in Book 2 and a burgeoning friendship.
Warren’s fear of Dragon eating Chewy in Book 2.

 

REVIEW:

In Warren & Dragon: 100 Friends (Book 1), the Nesbitt family move to Eddington. While his sister Ellie is not happy about having to leave all her friends, narrator Warren has his pal Dragon and doesn’t care much. After some goading from his sister, Warren decides to set a goal of making 100 new friends despite feeling uncomfortable doing it. However, there’s no way he’ll let Ellie get the better of him when she proclaims, “There’s no way you’re going to make more friends than me!” Luckily Dragon says he knows how to make friends as long as it involves massive amounts of marshmallows. When Warren’s first day of school isn’t going as well as he’d like, things go further south when Dragon goes missing. Soon he is recovered safe and sound, even content, helping Warren to realize that the experience has taught him how to make a new friend. The book works on several levels, one being the friendship aspect and another being a “new school” story. The sibling, family, and neighbor dynamics also add to the pleasure of reading this first installment in what promises to be a popular series.

Witty dialogue from all the main characters makes for fast flowing, always funny ten chapters in this very entertaining read. Initially I read it quickly, eager to find out how Warren fared in his new school. Then I read it more slowly a second time to see how Bernstein pulled me into her well-crafted tale. Kids are going to want to read every book in the series which is great for two reasons: 1) It’s engaging and relatable and 2) Book 2 is available and Book 3 in the series, Warren & Dragon: Scary Sleepover, comes out in 2019.

 

Warren & Dragon: Weekend With Chewy (Book 2) had me grinning enormously through all fourteen chapters, vicariously living through the experience of taking a class pet home since I never had the opportunity. In fact I’m not even sure we had class pets when I went to school. Anyway, once again Bernstein’s created a clever premise for this story. Warren gets chosen to take class hamster, Chewy, home for the weekend. He not only has to care for him, but he also has to write a report about it. The catch is, Warren already has plans and they’re exciting. He and his friend Michael from next door are going to construct a chute between their bedroom windows “to trade snacks after bedtime.” Warren convinces Dragon to hamster-sit Chewy so he can focus his energies on ramp building. At the same time, Warren’s twin sister Ellie wants a pet of her own and thinks that, in order for her parents to agree, she must demonstrate responsible behavior. Classmate Alison Cohen gets pulled into the picture when Warren wonders how to write up the report. Before long, everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere and that’s when Chewy goes AWOL. Can the kids find the missing rodent to ensure a happy ending? Things may be looking up, literally, when Warren at last lays eyes on Chewy at his bedroom window ready to take a ride on the “chute-of-doom.”

Malbrough’s charming illustrations, dotted throughout both books, are a welcome addition for children just transitioning to chapter books. These two chapter books confirm that Bernstein knows what type of story will appeal to young readers. I’m looking forward to more of Warren and Dragon’s adventures because anything goes as long as there are marshmallows in the mix! 

  • Review by Ronna Mandel 

    Find a review of a picture book by Ariel Bernstein here.

Creative Chaos Links Two Terrific Tales – Teach Your Giraffe to Ski and Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI
Written by Viviane Elbee,
Illustrated by Danni Gowdy
(Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

&

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH
Written by Melissa Stoller 
Illustrated by Sandie Sonke
(Spork/Clear Fork Press, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Teach Your Giraffe to Ski.Teach Your Giraffe to Ski book cover illustration Although the chalet is cozy, nothing will deter Giraffe from donning skis and gliding with ease. A cautious child protagonist sticks close by, offering emotional support and practical advice to the novice skier.

Elbee adeptly mixes humor with tips on safety, etiquette and introductory ski technique. Giraffe grins through the typical goofs and gaffes associated with learning something new. Eager and fearless, Giraffe’s enthusiasm is tempered by the child’s caution and protective concern. Once she’s mastered the basics, they head to The Big Scary Slope! Readers will cling to the edge of their lift seats anticipating a slick, speedy, swerving conclusion to this snowy, sporting tale.

Gowdy’s cartoon-like illustrations are bright and colorful, incorporating a playful menagerie of unlikely skiers. The gleeful expressions of Giraffe and timid trepidation of the child are counterbalanced between spots and full page spreads. Slipping, sliding and gliding are conveyed via whipping scarf tails, swerving ski trails and exuberant snowy splatters. Whether you are bunny slope bound, black diamond material, or even a lodge loafer, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski is tons of fun.

 

cover art from Scarlet's Magic PaintbrushCreative determination also threads through Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, the story of a young artist who learns to appreciate the power of a hands-on, personal touch. This is a sweet debut book from author Melissa Stoller and illustrator Sandie Sonke.

Scarlet finds a magic paintbrush that does her bidding, creating fairies, unicorns and princesses that are perfect masterpieces. But losing the magic brush creates a dilemma for Scarlet. After she searches high and low for the magic brush, she tries painting with regular, non-magical brushes. While the results disappoint her, she doesn’t give up. In a clever twist, Stoller makes her protagonist get creative; painting with her left hand, trying a homemade brush and even using her fingers.

Sonke fills the pages with soft blue clouds and sparkling stars, framing Scarlet and her range of canvases with colorful detail. The magic paintbrush has emotional, animated expressions, and observant readers will enjoy following a faithful pooch that trails Scarlet throughout her artistic quest.

Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush is an open invitation for young artists to explore ideas of perfection and frustration when it comes to mastering technique and finding a personal style. The magical paintbrush element will appeal to many, while the celebration of self-expression and creativity ultimately shine as the most important aspect of original work. A perfect book to pair with paint and canvas for budding artists!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Find another recent Epic18 debut review here.

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