Happy Birthday, Trees!, written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber and illustrated by Holly Sterling, is a 12-page board book that just exudes joy and one I can easily recommend for the annual holiday of Tu B’Shevat, a Jewish Arbor Day. Tu B’Shevat or Tu BiShevat has, over the years, grown to become a celebration of nature and the environment and a time to reflect on the importance of trees since we are their only caretakers. This year, the holiday begins on the evening of January 27 and ends the following night.
In this charming rhyming board book, three diverse children go through all the steps of planting a tree with a soothing repetition that reinforces the progression of the actions. First, they dig a hole. Then they carefully place the tree in the hole and, after a few other important steps, the youngsters watch the tree as it grows and changes through the seasons.
I love how Rostoker-Gruber, in such a short story, has managed to convey not only the pleasure of the planting process but the complete cycle a tree experiences. Sterling’s cheerful illustrations full of movement and expression show readers how, in the year following the initial planting, the tree ultimately blossoms, spreading its perfume for all to enjoy. Happy Birthday, Trees! is truly a Tu B’Shevat treet!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Clickherefor a Happy Birthday, Trees! Teaching Guide.
Click here to read a review of another Jewish holiday book.
In this adorable story, seven different farm animals show up on seven consequent nights knocking, tapping, rapping, swishing, thumping, rat tat tatting and scratching on Bubbe’s front door. Each one leaves a different present such as oil, onions, and eggs. Bubbe’s porch is a busy place during Hanukkah! Young readers get a glimpse of assorted hooves, paws and even a tail in the artwork as well as an accompanying animal sound printed in larger font such as neigh, bwak, or woof to clue them into the gift giver’s identity. Having children guess what all those ingredients are for and who is dropping them off only adds to the enjoyment of this engaging holiday book.
Klein-Higger and Sharf have given a fun Festival of Lights spin to the popular “Twelve Days of Christmas” song: On the first night of Hanukkah, what did Barnyard Bubbe see? One sack of meal. “Oh, my. Who has left this for me?” After seven nights of anonymous donations, Bubbe knows just what to do on the eighth night—make latkes for the bevy of adorable barnyard animals!
MEET THE AUTHORS
Meet Joni and Barbara on Sunday, December 8 at 10:30a.m. at Pasadena’s Southern California Children’s Museum. This co-hosted PJ Library event is part of the Jewish Book Festival. Klein-Higger and Sharf deliver a “special Hanukkah treat” as they “bring their story to life and perform original songs sure to please the 5 and under set.” Cost is $5 per child at the door.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as: Friends and neighbors to invite, Ancient blessings we recite. Gleaming candles burning bright, Crispy latkes taste just right.
Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazelis flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.
Yitzi and the Giant Menorah Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar (Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.
This year there are more fab Father’s Day books than I’ve ever seen before so I found it rather difficult to narrow down my favorites to just a few. Here are some of this year’s Father’s Day books I recommend.
Hammer and Nails Written by Josh Bledsoe Illustrated by Jessica Warrick (Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8) Josh Bledsoe wrote this story about my husband, or at least he could have because the father in Hammer and Nails (love the wordplay in this title) has a heart of gold with a touch of pink. When his daughter’s playdate plans fall through, it’s dad to the rescue, declaring a daddy daughter day. The pair agree to trade off on completing their lists of activities they’d intended to do before things changed.
If you’ve ever known a father to play dress up with his daughter and even agree to have his hair and nails done, you’ll find that guy here, bonding beautifully with his child. At the same time, the dad asks his daughter to step outside her comfort zone to pound some nails into loose boards on their fence amongst other chores. “Princess, sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun. Try it.” Everything about Hammer and Nails is fun and upbeat from Warrick’s silly scene of a laundry fight to daddy and daughter getting down with some celebratory moves. With each new page turn, this book will fill young readers with the joy of experiencing quality and creative time spent with a caring dad.
Beard in a Box Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter (Knopf BYR: $17.99, Ages 4-8) Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of Father’s Day book, Beard in a Box arrives! A boy who is convinced the source of his dad’s coolness and power is his beard, decides it’s time to grow one of his own. Only he can’t, despite multiple imaginative efforts. Lo and behold, what should happen to be on TV while this lad is despairing his lack of facial hair – a commercial touting the amazing kid-tested, dad-approved Beard in a Box from SCAM-O. This simple five-step program appeared to work and there were all kinds of bristles available -from the Beatnik to the Biker, the Lincoln to the Santa. What the commercial failed to say was that after following all the required steps, the user had to wait 10-15 years to see results.
When little dude tells his dad how he was ripped off, he notices his father’s beard is gone. Can that mean his dad has lost his coolness? Maybe not with Cotter’s clever examples proving you can’t judge a dad by his beard! The hilarity of Beard in a Box begins with the cover and continues all the way through to the endorsements from satisfied Beard in a Box customers on the back cover: “Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Trust me on this.” – Bigfoot A not-to-miss new read for Father’s Day or any day you need a good laugh or your child yearns for a five o’clock shadow.
Dad School Written by Rebecca Van Slyke Illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7) Kids go to school to learn their ABCs so when a little boy’s dad says he also went to school, the youngster figures it had to be Dad school. Van Slyke and Burris have teamed up again after last year’s hit, Mom School, to bring readers a glimpse of all the skills a father must acquire to parent successfully.
“At Dad school, I think they learn how to fix boo-boos, how to mend leaky faucets, and how to make huge snacks …” There is a lot of wonderful humor in both the text and artwork that will not be lost on parents reading the story aloud, especially the parts about dads learning how to multi-talk or their failure to learn how to match clothes, brush hair, and clean the bathroom. Dad School is totally entertaining from start to finish, only I wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I loved the little boy’s imagination and am certain your kids will, too.
Monster & Son Written by David LaRochelle Illustrated by Joey Chou (Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 2-4) Here’s a fresh take on Father’s Day, a look at the father/son dynamic from all kinds of monsters’ point of view. Filling the pages of this wild ride are yetis, werewolves, dragons, serpents and skeletons sharing their own special, often “rough and rowdy” type of love.
Chou’s visuals are modern. They feel bold and imaginative with colors perfectly suited for a monstrous read. LaRochelle has written Monster & Sonusing well-paced rhyme that adds to the various father/son activities featured on every page. Whether stirring up waves for a game of catch or frightening off a knight coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, these monster dads all have one thing in common, and though it may be giant-sized, it undeniably love.
The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers Written by Avi (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up) This collection of seven short stories is sure to move middle grade readers and make them think about their own relationships with their fathers and grandfathers. According to the jacket flap, what the stories have in common is that they each explore the question: “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Each story features a new character facing a different situation.
Stories flows easily one to the next meaning they can be read in one sitting or just one at a time. I’ve chosen three to highlight here. In the book’s opening story, Dream Catcher, Paul is an 8th grader who feels disconnected from his father. When circumstances require him to spend a week of school break with his estranged grandfather in Denver, Paul begins to understand the demons that have plagued his grandfather and caused the estrangement. Both Paul and his grandfather work together to forge a new relationship leaving the reader with hope that Paul’s father and grandfather may too at last be reconciled.
Beat Up introduces Charlie who has plans to attend a church dance despite a friend’s warning that gangs may be present. Though the dance goes off well, Charlie gets surrounded by a gang then beat up on his way home, only to be chastised by his unforgiving father for having pretended to be hurt and knocked out rather than fighting back and putting himself at greater risk. “Biderbiks don’t cry” is what Charlie’s dad believes, but Charlie is clearly not a coward for having sought a safe solution to his assault. Beat Up is a powerful tale of a son’s courage to speak up in the face of his father’s unjust fury.
Departed deals with the accidental death of Luke’s father before their camping trip that shakes up a family. When what appears to be the father’s ghost remains around the apartment, Luke realizes what he must do with his father’s ashes to set his soul free, and thus come to terms with his father’s passing. While there are not always happy endings, there are certainly realistic, satisfying, and sometimes heart wrenching conclusions offering much to learn from the various young men’s approach to life and the father/son dynamic.
Papa Seahorse’s Search by Anita Bijsterbosch (Clavis; $14.95, Ages 1-4) A sturdy lift-the-flap counting book about a Papa Seahorse looking everywhere for his missing little seahorse. Numbers introduced range from 1-10 and the cast of characters making appearances behind and in front of the assorted flaps include a colorful puffer fish, sea turtles, angelfish, sea snake, crabs, a sea anemone, jellyfish, octopuses and shrimp. This book will provide interactive fun for pre-schoolers and toddlers alike.
Superhero Dad Written by Timothy Knapman Illustrated by Joe Berger (Nosy Crow; $15.99, Ages 3-7) Kids will relate to the main character’s über admiration for his father in this rhyming read-aloud, Superhero Dad. Though not a new concept, the idea of a dad who can make a super breakfast though he’s only half awake, or make monsters disappear, is one that is always appealing to children. Coupled with comic book styled artwork, and a definitely cool die-cut cover, this humorous take on what qualities qualify for superhero-dom is a fast paced, fun read that is sure to please for Father’s Day.
Gator Dad Written and illustrated by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7) If you’re looking for something original, this is it. The father in Brian Lies’ Gator Dad knows how to show his kids a good time and that’s evident on every wild and wacky gator-filled page. Intent on squeezing in the most fun a day can offer with his three gator kids, Gator Dad can make roaming aimlessly in the park an adventure, make bath time the best time, and make bed time stories come alive. It’s obvious this dad gains the greatest joy giving his gator-all in everything he does with and for his children.
Hanukkah arrives early again this year and so it’s time for our annual Hannukah books roundup featuring our faves for you to share with your children. All these books make great gifts, too, so why not give the gift of a wonderful story?
NONNA’S HANUKKAH SURPRISE by Karen Fisman with illustrations by Martha Avilés (Kar-Ben; $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 3-8) This simple, seemingly straightforward Hanukkah story of girl gets Hanukkah Menorah (aka hanukkiyah), girl loses Hanukkah Menorah, girl gets new Hanukkah Menorah has several super, smile-producing twists. For one thing, Rachel’s haukkiyah is made up of 9 female Maccabees instead of males, and this year, Rachel’s Hanukkah celebration will be away from home, with Nonna, her Italian grandma. I love how Fisman’s put a 21st century spin on this charming Hanukkah tale of today’s typical blended family where one parent is Jewish and the other is not. Rachel worries she won’t be celebrating Hanukkah at Nonna’s who celebrates Christmas, but her mom’s made sure to bring everything along including dreidels, candles, and traditional Hanukkah gelt so that the Festival of Lights will be just like at home. But when Rachel leaves her Maccabees menorah on the airplane, it’s Nonna and her sweet surprise that saves the day in this heartwarming tale of acceptance, respect, and a grandma’s love that knows no religion, only devotion to her granddaughter.
IS IT HANUKKAH YET?by Chris Barash with illustrations by Alessandra Psacharopulo (Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8) Like its predecessor, Is it Passover Yet?, Is it Hanukkah Yet? in under 200 words, successfully creates a holiday mood with its festive artwork and joyous tale. This picture book opens with a snowy scene of nature. “When frosty winds blow and snow’s all around And there’s no sign of green on the trees or the ground. Hanukkah is on its way.” Barash and Psacharopulo take us from the bucolic outdoors as animals gear up for the long winter to the indoors as a family makes their preparations for the arrival of family, friends and the joyous eight night long celebration of Hanukkah. From stirring, frying and baking traditional Haunkkah foods, to the lighting of colored candles “When the blessings are said and the first candles glow” to the singing of songs and playing dreidel, the small pleasures of the beloved Festival of Lights can be found and enjoyed on every page of this lovely book.
HANUKKAH IS COMING! by Tracy Newman with illustrations by Viviana Garofoli (Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4) From Hanukkah is coming! to Hurray! Hanukkah is here!, this 12 page board book with its gentle rhyme and repeating phrase, serves as a perfect introduction to the holiday for young children and builds anticipation. A brother, sister and silly dog mention all the special things they love and look forward to about Hanukkah. Whether it’s cooking latkes that “Hiss, sizzle, pop,” or spinning the dreidel with its nun, gimel, hay and shin, Hanukkah is coming and that’s something to get excited about!
SAMMY SPIDER’S FIRST TASTE OF HANUKKAH: A COOKBOOK by Sylvia A. Rouss and Genene Levy Turndorf with illustrations by Katherine Janus Kahn (Kar-Ben; $16.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 2-8) Making his 15th appearance, “Sammy Spider dangled from his web as Mr. Shapiro told Josh the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil.” While spiders don’t celebrate the holiday, Sammy could certainly watch as all the cooking began! In this latest installation of the anthropomorphic arachnid, we get a helpful intro, and recipes divided into sections of Simple Snacks, Miracle Meals (LOVE the Maccabee and Cheese), Tasty Treats (check out Melt-in-Your-Mouth Menorahs), Crafty Ideas (salt dough Hanukkah decorations are a personal fave) plus a section on Lighting the Menorah and Hanukkah Blessings. This is a terrific hands-on book for families this holiday season and definitely one to hang onto for years to come.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel #Readukkah
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GREEK MYTHOLOGY FOR THE FOUR & UNDER CROWD FROM JOAN HOLUB & LESLIE PATRICELLI
A board book series that gently introduces toddlers to mythological characters, Pandora and Hercules, is a great idea. Rita and Ronna have each reviewed one of the following two new books, the first titles in what we’re sure will be a popular read-aloud series. Both board books feature a contemporary take on classic literature to help little ones learn simple life lessons in a very understandable way.
Meet Hercules, a rough-and-tumble type of little boy. Then meet his calm, alphabet-blocks-playing sister. Despite being told by his dad to “Play nice, Hercules!” Hercules insists he’s not nice. “I am strong. I can wham-bam monsters!” Uh oh, things are looking a little shaky here, especially when he ka-booms the carefully stacked castle of blocks his sister has constructed. With the castle in shambles and sister in tears, Hercules feels awful and apologizes. But watch out, Hercules! While you’re rebuilding your sister’s castle, she’s starting to get a glint in her eyes. The book’s back page includes a condensed version of the actual myth for parents to share with interested youngsters. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Be sure to pick up a copy of the other new board book in the series, Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora!,that cleverly conveys the message that maybe it is indeed better to heed one’s parent’s advice than let impatience get the upper hand.
Patience might be a virtue, but it’s a learned one, especially for young children. Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora!chronicles Pandora’s temptation to open a boxed present. The box looks so pretty and even though opening is against the rules, touching it isn’t. How about leaning, sitting, or standing on it? It’s so hard to ignore the box when it’s right there! Will Pandora open the box, and what will happen if she does?
Based on the Greek myth, Be Patient, Pandora! is a charming board book that explores the importance of being patient. With the main story just under 60 words long, it is easily understandable for young children. The illustrations are adorable, and their simplicity is a perfect complement to the language. As a bonus, the final page has a child-friendly retelling of the original Pandora myth. Your children won’t be able to wait to get their hands on this book! – Reviewed by Rita Zobayan