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Board Book Review – Pablo Dreams of Cats

 

PABLO DREAMS OF CATS

Written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder

(Atelier Enfants; $18, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats Cover Dog Painter Pablo

 

Publisher Summary:

Pablo dreams of painting cats. But his pack doesn’t approve and the cats just dash away from him. Will this painter ever be able to make the art he dreams of?

Dutch artist Timo Kuilder’s first children’s book introduces us to an imaginative dog who is infatuated with cats, celebrating diversity and inviting all animals to conquer their misconceptions, and embrace everyone.

Review:

This adorable board book, Pablo Dreams of Cats, the debut from Timo Kuilder, features the titular canine painter on its cover in elegant profile, wearing an artist’s smock, with tools tucked securely into the pocket. And that beret he dons tilted just so, speaks volumes. I was Team Pablo there and then. But if that doesn’t pull readers in, perhaps the appealing opening line, “Pablo is not a regular dog,” will.

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats int1 Pablo is not a regular dog.
Interior art from Pablo Dreams of Cats written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder, Text and Illustrations © 2023 Timo Kuilder, Atelier Enfants

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Young readers soon learn that Pablo is a creator, passionate about painting. Using his paws and tail, he applies paint to the canvas while his pack prefers playing with bones. Kuilder introduces the tools of the trade that Pablo needs including a “sturdy brush, a painting knife, and a small wooden palette to mix his paints.” The graphic-style art is easy on the eye and the warm palette is pleasing.

Pablo is enamored with cats. They are his subject of choice though his fellow dogs find that hard to believe. How can a dog like cats? Don’t they typically not get along? Still, Pablo persists, trying to capture their likeness in paint. Except the cats are scared of Pablo. I love that Kuilder’s mentioned that often Pablo ends up only paining their behinds. That is sure to get laughs.

 

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats int2 dogs admiring paintings of cats.
Interior art from Pablo Dreams of Cats written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder, Text and Illustrations © 2023 Timo Kuilder, Atelier Enfants

 

After the urging of his friends, Pablo gives up trying to paint cats and turns to birds instead. They do not cooperate either. Pablo tosses in his beret. No more painting. Then, one day, a cat appears, unafraid and willing to pose for Pablo. Pablo paints and paints, happy he has found his muse and it shows in his beautiful paintings. Even his initially reluctant pack cannot deny the “magnificent” works of art. It’s great to find board books that inspire preschoolers to reach for some paint and brushes to try their little hands at art. I encourage parents, teachers, and caregivers to have some supplies close at hand after sharing this sweet story that challenges stereotypes and tips its cap at inclusivity and creativity.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Picture Book Review – My Dog Just Speaks Spanish

 

MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH

Written and Illustrated by Andrea Cáceres

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 2-5)

My Dog Just Speaks Spanish cover girl hugging spanish speaking dog.
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Author-illustrator Andrea Cáceres walks a girl and her loyal Spanish-speaking dog through their neighborhood in her debut picture book My Dog Just Speaks Spanish, an engaging immigration story showing that love transcends any language.
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int1 hola=hello
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Cáceres’ warm-toned digitally rendered art opens with young Aurora hugging her cuddly white and brown furry best friend, Nena, both drawn with smiles on their faces. When the reader turns the page, they see Aurora seated on the hardwood floor of her bedroom surrounded by items taped with notes translating Spanish into English. Cama=Bed; Zapatos=Shoes; Pelota=Ball. What a great way to learn a new language! Well, that is if you are interested in learning a new language but readers soon learn Nena wants no part in this. Ripped yellow sticky notes are scattered on the hardwood floor with one small paper innocently sticking out of Nena’s mouth. Oops, I think she’s been caught red-handed. Oh, Nena!
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int2 girl and dog in bedroom.
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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Aurora’s Mom waves goodbye from the apartment window while Aurora commands the leashed Nena to Sientate! Nena obediently does what she is told. She doesn’t know the word Sit, but she recognizes the sound of Sientate! As the two stroll into the park, suddenly the leash falls from Aurora’s hand because Nena decides the brown squirrel climbing the tree is more intriguing than the leisurely walk. Aurora orders her to Wait! but English is not the language Nena knows. Espera! Aurora shouts. Nena obeys looking up to watch the squirrel. Aurora then lays down a blanket with a plate of oranges for her and a bowl of water for her dog. Nena doesn’t know the command Come! but does understand Vente!
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My Dog Just Speaks Spanish int3 at the park
MY DOG JUST SPEAKS SPANISH. Copyright © 2023 Andrea Cáceres. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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The dogs at the dog park respond to fetch but Nena only joins in when she hears buscala! Walking home, the two encounter a woman pushing a child in a stroller who shouts perro! Nena is pleased to hear a word she knows spoken by a Spanish speaker. Returning home, Spanish is the chosen language Aurora speaks to Nena. A drawing of a dark-haired girl and her white and brown dog is surrounded by hearts and the words Mejores Amigas! fills the page. Whatever language is spoken, they are truly best friends.
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This heart-warming story portrays the kindness between a girl and her pet and is a great tool to use for teaching Spanish words to English-speaking kids, as well as teaching English to Spanish-speaking kids. Cáceres’ work as an art director/illustrator, much of it featuring dogs, has appeared in many product campaigns. The backmatter explains that dogs can identify when different languages are spoken. Cáceres’ silky terrier named Tobi, who the reader may be able to spot in the book, moved with her from Venezuela to the United States and is an expert in performing tricks commanded in Spanish. This picture book is also available in Spanish.
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• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Best New Christmas Books for 2023

 

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

COUNTDOWN FOR NOCHEBUENA:
A Celebration of Christmas Eve
Written and illustrated by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
(Little, Brown YR; Available in H/C $15.99 + Board Book $7.99; Ages 0-3)

Countdown for Nochebuena by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom brings young readers a bouncy bilingual picture book (and board book) inspired by the author-illustrator’s Cuban American heritage. There is lots to love about Hernández Bergstrom’s story, from her use of English and Spanish made understandable to non-Spanish speakers with easy-to-follow illustrations that are rich in culture and drenched in color and spirit to the counting structure in Spanish starting at one then working up to 12 before going back down. Perhaps the most meaningful part for me is how the story begins and ends with family.
Children will be captivated by the different aspects of this Christmas Eve celebration where we’re introduced to vocabulary (with a glossary in the backmatter) that describes the action in each scene. We see tables (mesas) invitingly decorated, irresistible and delicious nougat desserts (turrones), and kids (muchachos) making handclapping music. Adults dance and the countdown to presents (regalos) is on everyone’s minds. Then it’s wrapping paper ripped, cleaning up the mess, a cortado for the drive home armed with leftovers and memories of special time spent with family. This truly festive and loving look at Nochebuena is sure to fill many hearts this holiday. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Goodnight Santa cover kids and Santa in sleighGOODNIGHT SANTA
Written by Michelle Robinson
Illustrated by Nick East
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $8.99, Ages 1-4)
What a sweet bedtime board book, just one in a popular series, to share with toddlers and preschoolers who are eager for Christmas and need a calming read to help them settle in.
The gentle rhythmic rhyme coupled with the charming, muted jewel tones of the artwork makes this an ideal story to share in the lead-up to the holiday. Like the classic Goodnight Moon, the repetition of the word goodnight will lull little ones to sleep. “Goodnight snowman. Goodnight choir. Goodnight stockings by the fire.”
An older sister enjoys her snow globe, a little brother looks out for Santa, reindeer await on rooftops as Santa delivers toys after a magical trip to Santa’s workshop, and just the right amount of text to keep things low-key as children can dream about Christmas Day. First published in picture book format, this new 28-page board book provides a sturdy alternative for younger readers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

We Disagree About This Tree cover Bear Mouse and TreeWE DISAGREE ABOUT THIS TREE
Written and illustrated by Ross Collins
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 2-5) 

Whether you’re a fan of the two previous Bear and Mouse books or if you’re new to the series, you’ll enjoy the playful (sometimes cranky) antics as these two housemates debate over how the Christmas tree should be decorated. The over-the-top—and even upside-down—trees will give the kids lots of giggles. Collins’s rhyming text is a fun read-aloud and his art captures the range of emotions these friends experience as they navigate toward their just-right holiday tree.

Companion books include There’s a Bear on My Chair and There’s a Mouse in My House. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

Otto the Ornament cover happy Otto hanging from a Christmas tree.OTTO THE ORNAMENT
Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings
(Random House Children’s Book; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

With Otto the Ornament, Troy Cummings has created a rewarding Christmas story your kids will want to read year-round! You’ll first be greeted by cheerful ornament-filled endpapers and Christmas tree-shaped text on the copyright page. Early on I could see that Cummings nailed it when it comes to the book’s festive mood in the illustrations that had me eager to turn the page.

Otto, a snazzy multi-colored Christmas ornament, is rather full of himself. Bouncing out of a box, this new ornament on the block announces, “ME­RRY CHRISTMAS, BULBS AND BAUBLES! I’M OTTO! I’M HERE TO BEDECK THE HECK OUT OF YOUR TREE!” He’s warmly welcomed to the décor family which includes a candy cane, a green glass bell, a wooden Santa, and a mitten kitten. They invite him to take his place in the middle of the tree. But Otto feels the only spot he deserves is at the top. He soon finds fault with the other ornaments who then have no need for him and vice versa.

Otto’s search to hang on a tree suitable for his awesomeness, while humorous to the reader who want him to have his comeuppance following his appalling behavior, soon proves futile. After claiming what he considers his rightful spot atop a massive city tree not unlike the one at Rockefeller Center, a shocking event plummets him down into the storm drain. Cummings art perfectly captures Otto’s transformation. Emotionally shattered, disheveled, dented, cracked and paint-chipped, Otto realizes he’s lost his bragging rights. Meeting an unexpected lost ornament in the storm drain helps Otto get on the right track. In rescuing the mitten and taking him back to his pair, Otto learns where his true home and friends are. He also sees what really matters, making this not only a learning moment for little ones but a moving one as well. Being the best and brightest ornament doesn’t mean much if it means being alone. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

 

Elves are the Worst cover elf on stepladder beside goblinELVES ARE THE WORST! 
Written and illustrated by Alex Willan

(Simon Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Santa’s elves look like goblins, right? Gilbert the Goblin makes the comparison and decides to sneak into Santa’s workshop in elvish disguise to see if all the tales about these super cute, hardworking (blech) creatures are true. However, Gilbert soon finds that maybe it’s not that they’re so perfect, but, rather, that they know how to work together as a team.

Gilbert is as lovably funny as ever whether in disguise or just as his goblin-y self. Alex Willan’s adorable art appeals to kids as does the almost graphic layout style with panels on many pages.

Other books in this series include Unicorns Are the Worst, Dragons Are the Worst, and Yetis Are the Worst. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Our Italian Christmas Eve brother and sister smiling in front of cheesecake and dessertsOUR ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE
Written by Danielle Sedita and Francesco Sedita

Illustrated by Luciano Lozano
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Along with lively artwork by illustrator Luciano Lozano, sibling author duo Danielle and Francesco Sedita have written a colorful tale inspired by their childhood that is not only joyful and funny but mouthwatering too.

Readers learn right from the start courtesy of the brother and sister narrators that while other families celebrate on Christmas Day, their family celebrates on Christmas Eve. They head to Aunt Babe’s for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, something I loved learning about. It’s also traditionally meatless. I enjoyed the big family energy since it reminded me of holiday get-together sat my aunt’s when I was growing up.

The book is a virtual food frenzy with all the various fish dishes depicted including bread stuffed with oysters and spaghetti with clam sauce. But the best part is how the kids get to pitch in and how much it’s appreciated. It seems Uncle Robert has forgotten to bring the struffoli for dessert so the kids make cheesecake, a recipe they’ve made before with their mom. The children note the family dynamics which play out each year, always ending on a note of love. Now that everything has turned out well and just when you thought the stuffed family would be loosening belts and napping, Aunt Babe says, “Andiamo!” It’s time for midnight Mass.

One of my favorite spreads is an overhead perspective where readers can see the platters of food set out on the dining room table. In addition to being a heartwarming story, Our Italian Christmas Eve is a visual feast for the holiday season.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney cover Santa on snowy roof staring at chimneyHOW DOES SANTA GO DOWN THE CHIMNEY?
Written by Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews- Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

This hilarious book explores all the possible ways Santa may be able to fit down our chimneys and what he does when there isn’t one. Kids will be onboard from the start because these are the questions and possible solutions that they are tossing about: Does he shrink down? Can he squeeze through the mail slot? Feet first or head? And how does he keep from getting dirty?

Mac Barnett’s spot-on text plus Jon Klassen’s lol art equals a hit with kids everywhere as they weigh in about theories and probably pose some of their own. Timeless questions are seriously considered yet balanced with plenty of humor and mystery. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Christmas Ahoy! cover festive boats and lighthouse.CHRISTMAS AHOY!
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Kayla Stark
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Holiday boat parades are magical and Erin Dealey’s rhyming picture book brings families right in so they can experience the festivities. Counting from one to ten, different kinds of vessels are introduced in fun ways that kids can relate to such as “Five fishers harmonize, ever so merry. / Six dancers twirl on the Sugar Plum Ferry!”

Kayla Stark’s art pops out from the beautiful blue background, highlighting the action—I love a reindeer-filled yacht! The informative backmatter adds another element, providing some background on fourteen of the ships including sailboat, dory, and barge. With its many interesting angles, this book is sure to be a hit with families and in classrooms. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Dasher Can't Wait for Christmas cover child and Dasher in snowy woods.DASHER CAN’T WAIT FOR CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

Matt Tavares’s picture book has a classic feel as he captures Dancer’s young exuberance when she (a little bit too eagerly) heads out on her own to test her flying skills. Kids who can’t wait until Christmas will totally understand and feel for Dasher when her adventure doesn’t turn out as she planned.

This beautifully illustrated book brings a beloved reindeer front and center, giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes on at the North Pole before the big night. The story is both cautionary and uplifting, one that kids will turn to again and again. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

24 CHRISTMAS STORIES:
Faith and Traditions from Around the World
Judith Bouilloc, Various Authors
Sky Pony Press

IT’S NAVIDAD, EL CUCUY!
Written by Donna Barba Higuera
Illustrated by Juliana Perdomo
Harry N. Abrams

A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA
Written by Deb Adamson
Illustrated by Anne Zimanski
McSea Books

ELMORE THE CHRISTMAS MOOSE (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written by Dev Petty
Illustrated by Mike Boldt

DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE SLEIGH! (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

SANTA YETI
Written by Matthew Luhn
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
Kane Miller Books

 

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An Interview with Illustrator Michelle Jing Chan

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MICHELLE JING CHAN,

ILLUSTRATOR OF

LUNAR NEW YEAR

Written by Mary Man-Kong

(Big Golden Books; $10.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

 

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

ABOUT LUNAR NEW YEAR

Celebrate the Lunar New Year and learn about all of its traditions with this Big Golden Book!

Every year, millions of Asian families come together to celebrate the first new moon in the sky. Now preschoolers can learn about the zodiac animals, the delicious food, the exciting parades, and all the fun traditions. Filled with colorful illustrations and simple, yet informative text, this Big Golden Book is perfect for reading again and again to the whole family. Happy Lunar New Year!

INTERVIEW:

Q: What initially drew you to the manuscript for Lunar New Year: A Celebration of Family and Fun?

Growing up, I read many Golden Books, but never one about my own culture. When I first read this manuscript, I was so excited to see a story about a holiday that I grew up celebrating and with characters who reflected me and my family. I’m thrilled that this next generation of Asian children will get to grow up seeing themselves represented in ways that we didn’t have. It was also a treat to bring the words of Mary Man-Kong, the author, to life! She has written several other stories for Golden Books, Disney, and other licensed properties.

 

Lunar New Year int1 all together at mealtime
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: What was your process for illustrating the cover?

The art director, Roberta Ludlow, provided very detailed guidelines for illustrating the cover and each spread–which I really appreciated. For the cover, she and the team at Golden Books wanted two children in traditional outfits running with a dragon. I started with three different rough sketches. 

Lunar New Year Cover Rough Sketches
Rough sketches by Michelle Jing Chan for the Lunar New Year cover illustration.

 

Once the team picked their favorite, I filled in base colors and finally rendered the details and lighting.

 

Q: What traditions are covered in this book?

Though this book mostly focuses on 春节 (The Spring Festival, aka the Chinese term for Lunar New Year), it also touches on other cultures and countries that celebrate Lunar New Year, including Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

 

Lunar New Year int2 special red decorations hung on doors of houses
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: What was your favorite part about illustrating this book?

I designed the family to look like mine! The parents and grandma are modeled after my own, and the designs for the little girl and boy are based on my brother and me as kids.

 

Q: What do you love most about how the book turned out?

I love how the festive scenes like the fireworks and dragon scenes remind me of my own childhood celebrating Lunar New Year with my family!

 

Lunar New Year int3 a beast with sharp teeth
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: Do you have other projects in the works?

Yes! I have three other picture books releasing in 2024 (MAMIE TAPE FIGHTS TO GO TO SCHOOL by Traci Huahn, Crown/Penguin Random House; STAY ANGRY, LITTLE GIRL inspired by the words of Madeleine L’Engle, FSG/Macmillan; GOODNIGHT SOUNDS by Debbie S. Miller, Bloomsbury). My author-illustrator debut picture book, CELEBRATING DONG ZHI: THE WINTER SOLSTICE is releasing in 2025 with Bloomsbury.

 

BUY THE BOOK

Support a local independent bookstore and purchase a copy here.

Paper Boat Booksellers in Seattle – Order by phone at 206-743-8283, via email at bookorders@paperboatbooksellers.com, or in person.

Or from Bookshop.org here.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

FOR ILLUSTRATOR MICHELLE JING CHANG

Website: www.michellejingchan.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/michellieart

IG: www.instagram.com/michellieart

TikTok:  https://www.tiktok.com/@michellieart

FOR AUTHOR  MARY MAN-KONG

Website: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/18838/mary-man-kong/

 

 Michelle Jing Chan Photo-Credit M Mendelsohn
Illustrator Michelle Jing Chan Photo Credit: M. Mendelson

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Michelle Jing Chan is a queer Chinese American author-illustrator who works on picture books and comics for kids and teens. Ever since she could hold a pencil, Michelle has loved using art to bring the daydreams in her head to life. Her work has been featured in the Wing Luke Museum, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. When not drawing, Michelle is petting the neighborhood cats, obsessing over a book, or getting jump-scared by spooky TV shows. Visit Michelle at www.michellejingchan.com or on social media @michellieart.

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AUTHOR BIO:

Mary Man-Kong is a children’s book editor and author living in New York City. When she’s not editing or writing, she loves traveling with her amazing family on awesome adventures.

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Picture Book Review – Kitty and Cat: Opposites Attract

 

 

KITTY AND CAT: OPPOSITES ATTRACT

Written and illustrated by Mirka Hokkanen

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Kitty and Cat Opposites Attract cover black grumpy cat white happy kitty

 

 

This adorable picture book, Kitty and Cat: Opposites Attract, by Mirka Hokkanen, is guaranteed to make you laugh. Using just two words at a time, the story follows a grumpy cat after a kitten is introduced to the household: “old” and “new.” From there, the story unfolds with hilarious antics as they try to become accustomed to one another.

 

Kitty and Cat Opposites Attract Int1 energetic exhausted
KITTY AND CAT: OPPOSITES ATTRACT. Copyright © 2023 Mirka Hokkanen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

I like how the story begins and ends in the endpapers—a clever way to get in two more scenes. Hokkanen’s art uses color to play up the black and white cats, allowing new items (cat condos, yarn) to really pop on the page. She captures the kitten’s innocence as well as the older cat’s moodiness.

 

Kitty and Cat Opposites Attract Int2 up down
KITTY AND CAT: OPPOSITES ATTRACT. Copyright © 2023 Mirka Hokkanen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

This concept book teaches while it entertains. A must-read for animal lovers but also applicable for families bringing in a new member (furry or otherwise) and upsetting the balance around the house. Watch for Kitty and Cat: Bent Out of Shape, out in November for more fun from this unlikely duo.

 

 

 

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Picture Book Review – All Through the Night

ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT:
Important Jobs That Get Done At Night 

Written by Polly Faber

Illustrated by Harriet Hobday

(Candlewick Press; $17.99; Ages 2-5)

 

All Through the Night cover big city at nighttime

 

As a little girl is getting ready for bed in All Through the Night, her mother is getting ready for work. “She’s got an important job to do,” the girl says and introduces readers to nighttime workers all over the city. From office cleaners, food deliverers, doctors, police officers, news reporters, and musicians, everyone works diligently to support and serve their community, keeping it safe and ready for everyone in the morning. 

 

All Through the Night int1 Luigi bakes at night
ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. Text copyright © 2021 by Polly Faber. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Harriet Hobday. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Beautiful illustrations in jewel-toned colors light up the night and reveal a vibrant urban setting bustling with life. Adult and child readers alike will be captivated by Harriet Hobday’s many visual details— inside offices, shops, apartment buildings, and on the street (be sure to spot those nocturnal animals!). 

Accompanying the visual excitement is a tone of kindness and appreciation that weaves throughout the text. As we meet each nighttime worker, we’re introduced to their individual name and learn how their specific work benefits the well-being of others, including other nighttime workers. Luigi depends on Ravi’s deliveries to bake fresh pastries for his morning customers. Ravi himself relies on Eva’s 24-hour gas station. 

 

All Through the Night int2 bus driver
ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. Text copyright © 2021 by Polly Faber. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Harriet Hobday. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

This interconnected reality becomes all the more personal as we circle back to the little girl’s mom who we discover is a bus driver, getting “everybody just where they need to be.” Children will love following Mom “with her big orange bus” on every spread.  

Written by Polly Faber and illustrated by Harriet Hobday, All Through the Night is a perfect read for both the home and classroom. A gentle, reassuring bedtime story, the book also provides opportunities to learn all about The Important Jobs That Get Done At Night

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Click here to download a Teacher’s Guide

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Five Children’s Poetry Books for National Poetry Month

 

 

FIVE NEW CHILDREN’S POETRY BOOKS

FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

Poetry Month clip art

 

I love poetry books and more and more excellent and innovative ones are being published annually. The best thing about National Poetry Month is that all the books reviewed here can be read year round so take a look at what I’ve selected because I’m certain there’s one or more that will resonate with your children.

 

Peek-a-boo Haiku cover woodland creaturesPEEK-A-BOO HAIKU
Written by Danna Smith
Illustrated by Teagan White
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Who wouldn’t love a lift-the-flap board book featuring adorable woodland creatures? The bonus: it introduces little ones to the nature-rich poetry form of haiku. Eight haiku span 16 sweetly illustrated pages with haiku that evoke gorgeous imagery. My favorite is the spread for ladybugs hidden beneath a leaf and rose flaps. Here a beautiful wood bridge links two flower-filled fields. Cherry blossoms fall/polka-dotted friend dances/on rosy petals. The book also includes seasonal illustrations making this a year-round read that invites interaction, and manual dexterity, and reinforces animal names.

 

The Dream Train cover colorful steam rises above kid filled trainTHE DREAM TRAIN: Poems for Bedtime
Written by Sean Taylor
Illustrated by Anuska Allepuz
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 2-5)

Poems are perfect for bedtime provided they are not rollicking, zany read-alouds more suited to daytime. While there are several humorous, light-hearted poems included in this collection, they, along with all the relaxing ones, still do their job well by setting a soothing tone to help a child settle down and drift off to sleep. So well in fact that when writing this and looking back over them, I found it hard to choose a favorite.

Divided into three sections with ten poems in each, this 88-page picture book begins with “Night Arrives,” then moves onto “Shut-Your-Eyes Times,” and ends with “Dream Wheels Turning.” Allepuz’s illustrations created using mixed media, are softly textured and use a pale palette of nighttime colors working in harmony with Taylor’s evocative bedtime verse and rhyme. His poems convey a variety of sleep-related subjects including getting ready for bed, thoughts at bedtime, the quiet of nighttime, being woken up, feeling grateful, and this brief but fun one, “You’ll Find This Advice is Wise.” If you’d like a good night’s rest/you’ll find this advice is wise./When you go to sleep …/don’t forget to close your eyes. Not only does Dream Train include Taylor’s rhymes, but it also includes concrete poems, reverse poems, several ballads, and a bunch of charming poems with animals as the main characters.

Let the steady, rumbling movement of the dream train help your children wind down from a busy day with just the right poem or poems to help them sleep tight. Pure relaxing delight, this picture book makes a lovely addition to your bedtime story shelf. And remember to look under the dust jacket because there’s a sweet sleepy surprise waiting for kids to discover!

 

Push-Pull Morning cover boy hugging dogPUSH-PULL MORNING:
Dog-Powered Poems About Matter and Energy
Written by Lisa Westberg Peters
Illustrated by Serge Bloch
(Wordsong; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Thanks to the cleverness of Peters’ unique poems, kids will have fun learning the basics of physics courtesy of a boy and his precious new pet pup in this new STEM-focused poetry book. They’ll also adore the childlike art of Bloch whose playful, loose-line illustrations are done in pen and ink and digitally colored.

The perfect poem to start the book is about matter. In it, the boy character, after considering differences and similarities, ultimately realizes that both he and his dog are made up of the same stuff! And that stuff is “…   zillions of wiggly molecules and jillions of jiggly atoms.” Motion, sound, force, inertia, gravity, magnetism, energy, electricity, friction, relative motion, reflection of light, and paradox are also covered in original ways that will entertain and educate even the most science-averse children. The titular poem demonstrating force is one many pet-owning kids will relate to since it’s about taking a dog to the vet where the boy and his aunt have to push the dog into the examining room. Another one that may resonate with young readers is the concrete poem “Extra Electrons #1” about how the dog reacts when lightning strikes during a storm and then the thunder scares her. “Extra Electrons #2” explains what causes that ZAP! during a tender nose kiss between dog and owner after said dog has just rolled around on the carpet.

Seven pages of comprehensive back matter entitled “Dog-Powered Notes” round out this delightfully informative read. Peters explains what each of the concepts addressed through her poems means using simple language and examples. I can easily see this picture book appealing to families and teachers alike in its child-friendly approach to science.

 

Animals in Pants cover lion monkey snake in jungleANIMALS IN PANTS
Written by Suzy Levinson
Illustrated by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell
(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-7)

Yes, you read the title correctly and you’ll love the outfits these creatures ! These 23 laugh-out-loud poems provide the sort of silliness that is such fun to share with children. What’s more, the whimsical art paired with each poem invites multiple readings to admire the deadpan, amused, or perfectly content looks on each animal’s face. Not to mention their outfits!

Can you picture squirrels doing squirrelly stuff in tracksuits?  Or raccoons in pantaloons in a humorous nod to Romeo and Juliet? Would a clothed snake wear pants or simply “pant?” And did you know that a penguin would much prefer the relaxed style that jeans afford as compared to the formality of his tuxedo? In Florida flamingos let loose in pink capris, and on an animal stage somewhere, kangaroos jive in jumpsuits à la Elvis while sporting blue suede shoes! There’s no limit to the type of trousers tackled in this rib-tickling romp.

Levinson doesn’t miss a beat with her rhyme and she’s included a pleasing variety of poetic forms to keep kids coming back for more. If you’re looking for an irresistible read-aloud that will also get kids thinking, I recommend Animals in Pants. Will Animals in Hats be next? I hope so!

 

Trees Haiku From Roots to Leaves cover child sitting on tree branchTREES: Haiku from Roots to Leaves
Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by Angela Mckay
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 7-9)

Just one reading of this 48-page picture book of poems about trees from top to bottom, inside and out will make young readers look differently at these woody perennial plants. I know I do. All the science I learned decades ago about a tree’s life cycle came back with each new poem.

One of my favorite haiku is called “Peeking Inside” which describes the flow of water from roots to leaves and sap from leaves to roots, nature’s “tree elevators.” The cleverly named “Leaf Laboratories” offers a helpful visual featuring an open treehouse amongst an abundance of leaves. Stomata, or openings in the leaf membrane, take in carbon dioxide needed as part of the photosynthesis process. Kids will read about how trees provide us with oxygen, how trees communicate, and how wild forests serve as an important habitat for sloths, monkeys, and other tree dwellers.

Having lived in New York for many years, I was glad to see Walker included “Urban Forests.” This haiku pays homage to the “hardy sycamores” providing much-needed shade from the “sizzling concrete sidewalks …” that city dwellers, workers, and visitors always appreciate.

Mckay’s gouache illustrations in Trees do a terrific job of complementing the poems, in particular the colorful park scene that follows the photosynthesis spread. Here people enjoy a cool, crisp fall day, ideal for dog walking, strolling, and benefitting from the beauty of fallen leaves—that have lost their chlorophyll—that tempt kids and dogs alike. Eleven pages of back matter offer additional information including an interesting time line that starts at 4.5 billion years ago when Earth formed to the most recent date, 56 million years ago, when birch, beech, and ash trees began to evolve and spread. Readers will also find an author’s note, a glossary, and further reading. I can see teachers using this book to enhance science studies by taking kids outside to compose their own haiku.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Dipping into our archives for a Poetry Books roundup from 2019 here.

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Best Valentine’s Day Books for Children 2023

 

 

BEST NEW VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS

FOR KIDS 2023

~ A Roundup~

 

Free Valentine's Day clipart

 

 

 

I Love You Cockatoo! cover art pirate bird and MamaI LOVE YOU, COCKATOO!
Written and illustrated by Sarah Aspinall
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 2-5)

Author-illustrator Sarah Aspinall captures the tender moment of a pink feathered Cockatoo sitting on his pink feathered Mama’s lap as she lovingly brushes out her child’s feathers in her recently released picture book I Love You, Cockatoo!

Cockatoo’s big eyes widen when Mama randomly does what mothers often do blurting out the words, I love you, Cockatoo to her precious son. It seems odd to Cockatoo that she could love him all the time so he asks, even when I’m grumpy and tired? Mama kindly responds, even when you’re grumpy and tired. The repetition of the answer mimicking the question continues when Papa expresses his love for Cockatoo, even when I wake you up at night … Even Aunt P loves him when the two are eating breakfast together and Cockatoo makes a mess. So much love to go around!

But, as stories often do, things take a turn when the playful Cockatoo takes advantage of that love when he reenacts a shouting pirate while Mama is trying to have some alone time in the bath. And Papa scolds him when he is awakened from his afternoon nap by Cockatoo’s loud green drum. Our little friend hops onto a nearby branch and thinks that perhaps they don’t love him ALL the time after all.

Aspinall’s adorable vibrant illustrations showcase each character’s personality with Papa’s glasses, Mama’s long eyelashes, and Aunt P’s yellow feathers when they locate a concerned Cockatoo alone in the tree. Readers discover along with Cockatoo after clever adults pose those same questions to Cockatoo that if he still loves them despite occasional grumpiness, it makes sense that they too still love him ALL of the time no matter what! This reassuring read is a fabulous Valentine’s Day addition for home, preschool, and library. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The Catalogueo of Hugs dad holding child like slothTHE CATALOGUE OF HUGS
Written by Joshua David Stein and Augustus Heeren Stein
Illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly
(Rise x Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

This uplifting (pun intended) picture book showing 25 types of hugs not only warmed my heart but had me grinning with every page turn. It was such fun to see what new hug name and accompanying artwork would greet me. The cover, of course, is the Sloth. Then there’s the Classic, the Backpack, the Necklace, and even the Tantrum,  confirming that when it comes to showing varying emotions (love, playfulness, sadness), there are all kinds of hugs as there are all kinds of people. A positive for me was the inclusion of a diverse group of parental figures and individuals with differing abilities whether that’s someone in a wheelchair or with a prosthetic leg. The art is loosely drawn yet expressive with not a large color palette and it works wonderfully. This cool father-son collaboration clearly stems from years of hugging experience! There’s also a final spread that includes imaginative hug names without any illustrations which will no doubt invite children to invent their own style of one-on-one and family hugs. Do you know a hugger? I think we all do! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Very Best Hug cover Bear carrying girl and other animalsTHE VERY BEST HUG
Written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls
Illustrated by Alison Brown
(Bloomsbury; $18.99; Ages 0-5)

From the creators of the #1 bestseller I Love You Night and Day comes the perfect for Valentine’s Day picture book The Very Best Hug by award-winning author Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrator Alison Brown. The rhyming words bounced off my tongue when I read the book aloud, putting a  fast smile on my face. How can you not grin from cheek to cheek when you read

Have you ever wondered who gives the very BEST hug?
The kind that’s warm and cozy and snug?
Extra squeezy, but never too tight,
the kind that fits you COMPLETELY right?

Prasadam-Halls asks How about a kangaroo kiss? Or a Walrus Wiggle? A Penguin Peck? Or a porcupine Prickle? Cheerful art depicts the child ready to put on her red pajama bottoms after being kissed by the kangaroo. Below that illustration readers see the pajama top still on the floor as the girl is hugged tightly by the walrus. Brown’s adorable illustrations also portray the little girl playing with the animals on her staircase, and rolling with a narwhal on the ground. The girl is brave stepping into that furry-purry lair for a lion squish! or a leopard squash! with a beautiful blue-toned spread.

The animals may enjoy showing their affection for the girl in a big group squeeze, but the look on her face shows she may not be that comfortable face down on her belly. The animals console her with chocolate chip cookies and milk as she realizes the best hug isn’t from any of them.  Their hugs are rough and tumbly, but someone else’s are sweet and comforting! SO … Who gives the best hugs? You’ve got it! You’ve guessed! And I will leave you in suspense about the ending. (Hint: it is a woman with brown hair). The animals happily return to being stuffed and scattered all over her bedroom. I’d recommend this for a cuddly bedtime read! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Little Hearts: Finding Hearts in Nature four animal friends in meadowLITTLE HEARTS: FINDING HEARTS IN NATURE
Written by Charles Ghigna
Illustrated by Jacqueline East
(Red Comet Press; $17.99, Ages 3-5) 

Charles Ghigna, known to the readers from his more than 5,000 poems as Father Goose, has done it again with his latest poetic picture book that explores a world full of hearts on the ground and hearts above. Little Hearts: Finding Hearts In Nature is both a cozy read with its words of love and a peaceful journey into the lives of four softly rendered animals. Jacqueline East’s earth-colored illustrations of the pig, the bear, the rabbit, and the fox play off the beauty that surrounds the animal friends.

The little bear notices two birds seated on a branch with their bodies entwined like a heart, while the pig discovers the spider’s silky gift of love-a little heart of lace. The friends move on to pick a few strawberries from the heart-shaped strawberry field. Then they find an apple tree upon the hill. What a sweet surprise. Two hearts before your eyes!

This tender story read begged me to sit back and ponder East’s heart-shaped drawings of leaves and petals, something that often goes unnoticed. The next time I come across a heart-shaped rock, I  take it home for safekeeping as I think of this book. This February 14, look up in the sky and you may find a cloud that looks like a Valentine. A fluffy heart of white! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Love Escargot cover snail wearing beretLOVE, ESCARGOT
Written by Dashka Slater
Illustrated by Sydney Hanson
(Farrar Straus Giroux; $18.99, Ages 4-6)

Escargot is my favorite snail so I’m thrilled he’s back and as debonair as ever! In this picture book where Escargot speaks directly to us readers, we soon learn the suave snail has been invited to a Snailentine’s Day party where perhaps we too will find our snailentine. I’m in! Are you? So, even if you do not have tentacles, the secret to being a beautiful French snail, Escargot tells us, is joie de vivre.

Heading to the party the snail wants to know what we look for in a snailentine and how they make us feel. If you feel shy, Escargot shares invaluable tips on convenient ways to hide. But more importantly, he will offer tips on how to dance with élan, that’s French for a mix of style and enthusiasm. An unexpected twist in this très formidable tale is that Escargot winds up at a party he hadn’t planned on attending but finds it an enchanting evening nonetheless! Slater’s use of French words makes this an irresistible read-aloud, especially if you add an accent charmant, and maybe even a beret to get in the mood. Kids will have fun looking through Hanson’s gorgeous art, especially the first spread and also the endpapers. Her illustrations’ muted tones are gentle on the eye and pair parfaitement with Slater’s humor and heart. Don’t miss this Valentine’s Day treat! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Lovebird Lou cover lovebird on tree branchLOVEBIRD LOU
Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
(Union Square Kids; $16.99; Ages 3-8)

The adored character in this picture book can do no wrong according to his parents, and I must admit he is rather cute. In Lovebird Lou we learn that Lou comes from a long line of lovebirds who spend their days telling each other how much they are loved. (Not a bad way to spend a day). Lovebirds were all Lou knew until his flock visited the other side of the island.

Tammi Sauer, the author of more than 30 picture books, writes about all the wonderful things other birds are doing. The pelicans twist into a figure eight, the nightingales sing, and the flamingos wade into the water on one leg. And every time Lou tells his parents he wants to be like the other birds, he gets positive reinforcement along with pinches on his cheek. Sauer also uses catchy nicknames for Lou such as sugar cookie and mixes them into the text with creativity and charm. There’s no denying Lou’s family loves him so whatever he desires is fine by them.  In spread, illustrator and character designer Stephanie Laberis draws Lou attempting to fly like a pelican flopping into the green pasture. “You’re the best pelican ever!” said his mother. “We love you, Lou!” said the others.

Lou begins to realize that despite unending family support he is not meant to be a pelican or a flamingo, or a nightingale. “Being a bird is for the birds,” he says. Deciding he would rather not be a bird, Lou leaves the flock and tries sitting still next to a sign that reads #1 Rock. He was an excellent rock. Well, that is until he realizes it was scary being a rock alone out there without the lovebirds. The art turns from light colors to dark with Lou running back home under the moonlight to the open arms of his parents who of course tell him they love him to which he joyfully responds “I love you, too!” Lou knew lovebirds were good at the most important thing of all. Another fabulous book to be read by parents and teachers any time of the year, but especially fitting for Valentine’s Day.
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Grumpy Monkey Valentine Gross-Out cover of gagging Jim PanzeeGRUMPY MONKEY VALENTINE GROSS-OUT
Written by Suzanne Lang
Illustrated by Max Lang
(Random House Kids; $10.99; Ages  4-8)

New York Times Best Selling author Suzanne Lang has teamed up, once again with her husband, Emmy winner Max Lang, illustrator of over 20 books, in the latest addition to the Grumpy Monkey series Grumpy Monkey Valentine Gross-Out.

I have to admit I was not familiar with the Grumpy Monkey series, but the title alone is grabbing. So, when I opened the first page and read the protagonist’s name Jim Panzee (get it – Chimpanzee), I was hooked and eager to read more. The story opens with Jim, the protagonist, lying next to a stream, arms overhead, amongst the frogs and butterflies when Oxpecker flies overhead with a flower carried in its talons. The bird gleefully tells Jim, “My boyfriend gave it to me because we’re in love!”

Needless to say, Jim finds love to be quite gross and knows his friend Norman will feel the same way. But Jim locates the larger chimpanzee sitting on a low branch making love cards. Even Norman liked Valentine’s Day!

Max Lang’s hilarious illustrations are filled with purple snakes, heart-shaped leaves, and drawings of various smitten creatures gazing into each other’s eyes. It’s hard not to smile at all the animal couples getting on Jim’s nerves. Jim has the hardest time with the kissing ones such as two chimps sharing a smooch. Jim finds Valentine’s Day to be the GROSSEST HOLIDAY!

Wise Norman returns to explain to Jim that there are all kinds of love. You have a love for your parents and they have a love for you. Suzanne Lang’s prose explains to the reader that Valentine’s Day is about showing the people you love that you love them. Now convinced it’s not all gross, Jim decides to make valentines for all his friends and family to show them how much he cares. All goes well until the last page when two birds’ beaks join together with closed eyes (I now know how birds kiss) and Jim shouts GROSS

This book deserves to be a Valentine’s Day staple for young readers. It has made me a fan of Jim Panzee, one of the best character names I’ve ever read.  A page of stickers in the back is a bonus included in this LOL picture book. • Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Dino Valentines Day cover dino and childDINO-VALENTINE’S DAY
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Barry Gott
(Carolrhoda Books; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Let’s talk T. rex and team. Fans of the popular Dino series will enjoy this latest picture book that is packed with love-action as dinos get ready for the big day! As February breezes in,/Dinos giggle, swoon, and grin. Gott’s whimsical illustrations show your favorite dinos at school making cards, going shopping, having crushes, all culminating in a Valentine’s Day dino dance party. 

I counted more than a dozen different types of dinosaurs appearing on the pages doing all the necessary preparations to show they care with gifts of chocolate, handmade prezzies, baked goods, and more. During craft time, this line made me LOL: Apatosaurus just can’t win./Scissors are so hard for him. And Gott’s art is spot on particularly in the scene when Minmi spies Leso coming into the room and, as her heart takes a leap, so does her marker. The heart she was drawing continues off the page onto the table!! Best of all, Wheeler’s story is written in a fast-paced rhyme scheme. Though at times she takes liberties with the end rhymes, I don’t think kids will care. The story concludes with a teaser for the next book out this fall which is for Hanukkah! Can’t wait to see dinos play dreidel!
• Reviewed by  Ronna Mandel

 

Cozy in Love cover two Alaskan musk oxCOZY IN LOVE
Written and illustrated by Jan Brett
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I adore the heartwarming cover illustration from Jan Brett’s heartwarming tale told both in prose and through her beloved border art. Note: The Alaskan seaweed in the borders are from Seaweeds of the World and the heart-shaped stones are from Fox Island. You’ll also see puffins and beluga whales who live near Teardrop Inlet in this story.

Inspired by a cast of creatures she encountered on her Alaskan adventures, Brett brings back her character Cozy who in this new picture book worries that he’ll never catch the eye of his favorite musk ox, Lofti after losing a battle of strength to a fellow musk ox.

Cozy is soon pulled away from his sulk and called to action when Puffin, Cozy’s pal, alerts him to young Bella’s plight. While Bella, a spirited beluga whale plays in Teardrop Inlet, Puffin knows that “Air is getting cold. Ice will trap her!” Despite being warned by her mother that when the sea freezes, the entrance to the inlet gets closed off, Bella doesn’t leave. Then, when she tries to exit, she cannot make it over a wall of ice. If she doesn’t get out soon, she’ll be trapped “with no way to reach the air.”

Though his musk ox herd is heading to sleep, Cozy is compelled to rescue Bella. At the same time, Lofti decides to see what he is getting up. Cozy gets an idea that if he can displace water in the inlet by filling it with heavy rocks, it will allow the water to rise and carry Bella out to sea. This time his show of strength might save a friend’s life. Exhausted by his successful efforts, Cozy settles down only to be joined by an admirer, Lofti! This happy ending not only sees Bella reunited with her family but a bighearted musk ox named Cozy who just happens to be in love. A feel-good picture book for animal lovers of all ages!
• Reviewed by  Ronna Mandel

 

Love Stinks! cover skunkLOVE STINKS!
Written by Diana Murray
Illustrated by Gal Weizman
(Random House BYR; $5.99; Ages 4-6)

Where is my love? Skunk asks in this first level in the Step Into Reading series Love Stinks! This 32 page comic reader introduces new readers to rhyme, rhythm, and picture clues with bigger type and easy words.

Parents and caregivers will appreciate the Dear Parent intro page explaining speech balloons and captions, and panels along with questions to ask the child such as What is a character feeling? We turn the page to find Dog love and Cat love written in large letters with Weizman’s adorable characters gazing into each other’s eyes. Well, all except stinky Skunk who spurts out an odor that keeps him separated from the others.

Easy-flowing rhyme helps prompt little readers. Frog love./Fly love./Where is my love? The engaging artwork depicts frogs, ants, and flies in love but standing on the busy city street poor Skunk doesn’t see anyone for him. Place pronouns such as Here and There allow a beginning reader to hear and see those words in relation to characters on the page. And, if an adult reads along, they can easily point to what the skunk is doing and where. Simple sentences are brought in when Skunk is eating his ice cream cone alone Where is true love? he asks. Ending with a true heartfelt valentine’s tone, Skunk finds Stinky love! inside a trash can.

This humorous leveled reader with its Valentine theme is playful and fun while introducing kids to new words with accessible short sentences. The reader can choose to move on to the next step in the series or continue practicing Step 1 with Robot, Go Bot; Dragon Egg; or another good Valentine’s read, Mama Loves.
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

How We Say I Love You cover multigenerational family huggingHOW WE SAY I LOVE YOU
Written by Nicole Chen
Illustrated by Lenny Wen
(Alfred A. Knopf; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

Nicole Chen introduces readers to a girl named Hana and the multigenerational family members who love her with actions not just words. How We Say I Love You tells the story of a Taiwanese American family that includes Hana’s parents, her Ah Gong (grandfather), and Ah Ma (grandmother).

We first meet them in their busy living room decorated with a large family portrait on the wall, and a bonsai plant resting on a wooden hutch. Ah Gong, who wears big brown glasses and has grey hair, is sweeping while Hana’s dad is carrying a basket of laundry. In the kitchen, her pregnant mom is dressed in a blue apron stirring her love into a pot of steaming xi fan. Hana smiles sniffing the aroma. Ah Gong dances with each step walking Hana to school, and her father cheers her on the soccer field, “Jia you, Hana! Go, go, go!”

We know the baby will be loved when Hana lays on her mother’s stomach telling the unborn sibling about things like ice cream and swings. Author-Illustrator Lenny Wen created her superb illustrations with Photoshop and a graphic tablet, visually showcasing the love this family has for each other.

The Asian culture is conveyed through illustrations of their cuisine, and gold and purple flowers with bamboo stalks in the background of many of the pages. Wen hides a heart on each page, adding a fun search-and-find activity after finishing the book. And the back glossary teaches us Mandarin Chinese with words like Wan an (good night) and Jia you (a cheer of encouragement). Hana says, “In my family our love lives in all the things we do for one another. That is how we say “I love you.”
• Reviewed by  Ronda Einbinder

 

Additional Recommended Reads 

BAD KITTY DOES NOT LIKE VALENTINE’S DAY
Written and illustrated by Nick Bruel
(Roaring Brook Press; $9.99, Ages 2-5)

LITTLE OWL’S LOVE
Written and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

 

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Best New Christmas Books for Kids 2022

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR KIDS 2022

~A ROUNDUP~

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas With Auntie cover bunniesCHRISTMAS WITH AUNTIE
Written by Helen Foster James
Illustrated by Petra Brown
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 0-4)

My Aunt Shirley wasn’t my real aunt but she treated me as if I were her niece and I loved her the same as all my other aunts. Since Aunties can be blood relations or close family friends, Christmas With Auntie should find a large readership.

When Auntie picks up little bunny for the day, preparations for Christmas get underway. “Bunny-kins bunny, we’ll make and then bake/gingerbread goodies, sweet cookies, and cake.” Taking time to nibble carrots together, Auntie and little bunny spend quality time together. I love the snow bunny they build together and how attentive Auntie is to all bunny’s needs. Foster James writes in gentle rhyme and coupled with Brown’s tender illustrations, Christmas  With Auntie exudes warmth and love like hugs and kisses in book form. What’s extra nice is this Keepsake Edition provides a page to write a letter and add a photo so this copy will be a personalized family treasure.

 

Moo Baa Fa La La cover farm animalsMOO, BAA, FA LA LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon Books; $6.99, Ages 1-3)

If you or your kids are fans of that perennial fave, Moo, Baa, La La La!, you’ll be happy to know the adorable farmyard friends are back with a rollicking animal-centric altered rendition of “Deck the Halls.” While the meter may not be spot on in this board book, the silliness of what Boynton does best—cows, sheep, ducks, pigs, ducks, doggies, and chickens having a blast— is too good to miss. See the animals sing while they decorate the barn and get in a holiday mood along with them.  The playfulness of the pigs getting piggy with it, the bock, bock, bock of the chickens looking like they are about to Rockette it out, and the touch of the final fa la la la la fun at the end promises to entertain readers young and old.

 

 

Christmas Street cover

CHRISTMAS STREET
Written by Jonathan Emmett
Illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Nosy Crow; $17.99, Ages 2-5)

This fold-out, lift-the-flap, two-sided board book is one your children will return to again and again every Christmas until they outgrow the make-believe play this book invites. My daughter would have asked me to make cut-out characters to insert into all the scenes when the street is completely unfolded. But I can also see kids using little animal figures they might already have to join with those in the cheerful art.

Penguins, bears, dogs, cats, bunnies, tigers, reindeer, giraffes, foxes, frogs, and walruses populate the pages of this rhyming alphabet book. Youngsters lift the flaps as they travel from store front to store front on bustling Christmas Street to discover what’s happening inside the shops and above them. “I is for icing on freshly baked cakes. J is for jingle, the sound a bell makes.” A snow-covered festive park scene is on the reverse side where a band practices beneath a gazebo, Christmas carols are sung, vendors sell hot drinks, and animal children skate and toss snowballs. This book makes a great gift for toddlers and pre-schoolers learning the alphabet and into pretend play. The nice thing is that it can be read simply as a board book or opened up for a longer interactive experience depending on how much time you have.

 

The Night Before The Nutcracker coverTHE NIGHT BEFORE THE NUTCRACKER
(American Ballet Theatre Presents)
Written by John Robert Allman
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
(Doubleday BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

As a huge Nutcracker fan, I found myself totally enthralled while reading this behind-the-scenes look as four young dancers go through auditions, rehearsals, costume fittings, and ultimately the opening night performance of the beloved Nutcracker ballet. Not only does Allman manage to pull off the upbeat rhyme based on “The Night Before Christmas,” but he’s done so while using an abundance of ballet and theatre terminology which is not easy. This is such a captivating way to engage young readers!

Our first introduction to the characters is as they lay sleepless in their beds thinking about opening night and then we go back to the different stages of getting ready for the big event. When at last we’re back on stage just before “Places!” is called, the excitement is palpable and we’re rooting for these kids. I especially liked how The Nutcracker story unfolds with glimpses backstage. Children who are not familiar with the plot can easily follow along with Clara and her nutcracker. In full-page bleeds, Swaney’s art depicts movement and magic with a diverse group of performers in colorful costumes and graceful poses. Backmatter includes “Richard Hudson’s original costume designs for the ABT’s production” while explaining Act 1 and Act 2. If you or your child has never attended a performance of The Nutcracker, this book might just be what gets you to finally reserve tickets. Enjoy!

 

Through the North Pole Snow cover Santa fox in sleighTHROUGH THE NORTH POLE SNOW
Written by Polly Faber
Illustrated by Richard Jones
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

This delightful picture book is quiet (except for some loud noises in the beginning), calming and heartwarming. It’s perfect for when you’re winding down your child’s day and are ready to snuggle. A small white fox seeks shelter and food amidst a snowy scape. It crawls down a chimney where it gets stuck and is aided by a jolly man with a white beard that little ones may not recognize despite the cover illustration. The art along with the old fella offers hints that he’s been on his Christmas rounds and is exhausted. Still, the fox doesn’t realize who he’s living with! Santa and the fox sleep until the season has changed and the man awakens to begin work on a new batch of toys. With the fox close by, Santa reads the letters, makes lists, and prepares his sack and sleigh for the night run. The fox is thrilled to be invited along. Then, as toys are delivered, Fox at last understands. “And when the sleigh was empty, the fox’s heart was full.” Jones’s warm tones and folksy style enrich Faber’s sweet text and make us feel good all over about this very special newfound friendship.

 

Hello Tree coverHELLO, TREE
Written by Alastair Heim
Illustrated by Alisa Coburn
(Little Bee Books;  $17.99, Ages 3-8)

Between the sly fox’s antics and the pages packed with visual treats—look closely—the hilarious Hello, Tree merits multiple reads. We meet Fox, fond of the five-finger discount, in the process of taking whatever strikes his fancy. The problem is he likes a lot of what he sees whether that’s a Christmas tree, a snowman’s nose (to munch on), gingerbread, candy canes (one of my fave illustrations),

ornaments, poinsettias, or a string of lights, all to decorate his home at everyone else’s expense. He swipes, and swipes to his heart’s delight! And though his intentions may be good, since he clearly wants to create an inviting atmosphere when giving presents as indicated by the many stockings hanging from his fireplace mantel, stealing is not the way. So, when Santa drops in, he makes Fox give back his ill-gotten goods. Only then can the true Christmas spirit shine. I love all the subtle and not-so-subtle humor in Heim’s rhyming read-aloud. I’m thinking of the illustration showing bear parents kissing under mistletoe with their kid sticking out his tongue. “Hello, kissy mistletoe.” I know kids will get a kick out of scenes like this too. It’s such fun to also find details in Coburn’s illustrations upon a second read that I didn’t catch the first time and I know there are more treats waiting for me to discover. Don’t miss the surprise on the endpapers!

 

The Little Toymaker coverTHE LITTLE TOYMAKER
Written and illustrated by Cat Min
(Levine Querido; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

The Little Toymaker, though not a Christmas book per se, still feels like it delivers all the feels a holiday book should. This boy has a magical talent and it’s not for making children’s toys like the guy with the white beard and red garb. He repurposes old toys from grandparents and other older people’s childhoods. Kids probably don’t realize the elderly like toys too, in fact, I bet if you’re reading this you have a particular childhood fave too.

One day an old woman arrives at his toy-making tower and hands him a candy tin to fix. As he worked he chats with the woman learning about each other’s likes and dislikes. When his first attempt does not please her, the little Toymaker tries again. His second attempt also leaves something to be desired so it’s back to the drawing board. Over tea, the two talk some more. The boy gleans insight into exactly what he needs to do with the candy tin after hearing the old lady recollect a special time in her past full of love and romance. Finally, the little Toymaker’s last attempt succeeds because he listened. Inside the tin, he’s captured enough cherished memories to fill her heart for all her days. That sweet little bit of magic moved me as I remembered toys and happy times from my childhood. Watch your little ones create new memories playing with the toys and sharing experiences this holiday season. Min’s exuberant art is an added bonus to this lovely heartwarming tale.

 

THE CHRISTMAS PINE
Written  by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Victoria Sandøy
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Told from the point of view of the pine tree, this story found its start as a poem by beloved British author, Julia Donaldson for the UK Poetry Society “to celebrate the 2020 Christmas tree” which was a gift from Norway to the British people.

The Christmas Pine, now a picture book with spare rhyming text, was inspired by a true story. A young tree recalls how it grew and then came to find a home in London, a tradition that began in 1947, one that I, having lived there for over seven years, was not aware of. When it’s old enough for felling, the tree (back matter explains it’s usually a Norwegian spruce) journeys via sea to reach the UK. Eventually, it takes its place in Trafalgar Square near Nelson’s column and other statues and monuments. The spread of Londoners and perhaps visitors too, gazing upon the tree is my favorite because it shows people from all walks of life admiring nature’s beauty and majesty. The Christmas Pine, on the other hand, would probably tell us the illustration featuring children caroling at its base is its favorite.

 

The Christmas Book Flood coverTHE CHRISTMAS BOOK FLOOD
Written by Emily Kilgore
Illustrated by Kitty Moss
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

This is a story about a good flood, a flood of books in Iceland that get published in autumn. Many of the books are then bought, and gifted annually on December 24 since WWII. This stunningly illustrated book uses collage mixed with newsprint/book text that captures the spirit of this wonderful tradition. The palette is warm, dark, and rich reflecting the magical short days and long nights in this northern country leading up to Christmas. Kilgore’s lyrical language conveys the anticipation building among the people like a dam about to burst. The search for the right book to give friends and family is almost as exciting as the pleasure of getting to read the books at last. If you know a book lover, young or old, consider gifting this lovely picture book celebrating the joy of reading and starting your own book flood!

 

THE PERFECT TREE
Written by Corinne Demas
Illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan
(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This story unfolds on the day before Christmas as Bunny is searching for the perfect tree. Each kind forest friend she encounters tells her the different things the perfect tree should have. Squirrel, Mole, Cardinal, and Skunk suggest a tree that’s bushy, has a point at the top, and has the right color, and smell. When Bunny has looked high and low with no luck, Deer posits that perhaps there is no perfect tree but Bunny is not about to give up. Heading back home as night falls, Bunny spots a tree she hasn’t seen before and realizes it’s too perfect to cut down. With her friends helping, Bunny decorates the tree and celebrates the perfect Christmas Eve with the perfect tree. While the story is a simple one, it flows easily from scene to scene. Dullaghan’s sweet illustrations bring the right amount of winter chill and charm to each spread. Add this feel-good Christmas tree tale that’s perfect for storytime or bedtime to your Christmas book list.

 

Celebrate With Me! coverCELEBRATE WITH ME!:
Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun From Around the World
Edited by Laura Gladwin
Illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
(Magic Cat Publishing/Harry N. Abrams; $22.99, Ages 8-12)

This time of year when it seems there’s a party around every corner, the perfect book to keep this mood going is Celebrate with Me! Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun from Around the World. Beginning with January 1st, middle-graders learn fun facts that span the globe. Each holiday is presented by a different contributor which gives the book a wonderful range of information.

In February or March, make a papier-mâché mask to celebrate Portuguese Carnival.

On April 13th, learn about Songkran (or Thai New Year) when Thai people literally wash away anything negative by splashing each other with water. What kid won’t get behind this holiday?! The accompanying recipe for Thai-Style Congee is simple and delicious.

In Spain, Christmas is celebrated with the chewy and nutty Turrón de Navidad. Make a batch, then pop it in the fridge to set up while you sing festive songs called villancicos together.

Every page’s amazing information is accompanied by Dawn M. Cardona’s cheerful illustrations showcasing our world in a rainbow of colors. I like the closing pages which encourage kids to ask each other what holiday they celebrate, what’s important about it, and why it’s special to them. This is a great way to get to know a new friend or learn something new about someone already in your life. • This book was reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.WriteforSuccessEditing.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@WriteforSuccessEditing.com

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

CRINKLE BELLS
by Jay Fleck
(Chronicle Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)
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PEEK-A-FLAP JOLLY 
Illustrated by Kathrin Fherl
(Cottage Door Press; $9.99, Ages 1-5)
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WHEN SANTA CAME TO STAY
Written by Billy Sharff
Illustrated by
Eda Kaban
(Dial Books; $18.99, Ages 4-7)
e

HOW TO CATCH A REINDEER
Written by Alice Walstead
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

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An Interview with Animals Go Vroom! Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

ABI CUSHMAN

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR OF

ANIMALS GO VROOM!

(Viking Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 2 to 5)

 

 

Animals Go Vroom cover

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

Animals Go Vroom!

Written and illustrated by Abi Cushman

With a nod to Richard Scarry, this inventive picture book surprises readers with every turn of the page!

Hiss! Screech! Roar! It’s a noisy day in Bumperville! But are the sounds what you think they are? That Honk! must surely be a goose. But turn the page and it’s the taxi that a goose is driving! Using cleverly placed die-cuts, this inventive book hints at what is making the sound, but with each turn of the page, it’s an eye-opening surprise and part of an unfolding story that is part guessing game and part giggle-inducing caper. Abi Cushman is the master of surprise and silliness in this absolutely delightful picture book.

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Happy book birthday and congratulations on the release of your second picture book, Animals Go Vroom! Kids are going to love all the unexpected surprises in this book. The way you use die-cuts is so clever. Were they a key element of the story from the start or did they evolve over time?

Abi Cushman: Thank you, Colleen! I am so thrilled to be here. And congratulations to YOU on your wonderful upcoming debut picture book, The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem. It is so wonderfully told, and the illustrations by Nancy Carpenter are fantastic.

CP: Thank you! I love Nancy’s illustrations, too!

AC: To answer your question, yes! I always envisioned die-cuts in the book. My initial thought was about how animal sounds and vehicle sounds sometimes overlap. And so I wanted the book to be a guessing game where readers had to guess who or what was making the sound.

 

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Die-cut windows are a wonderful device for guessing game type books because they give a little peek at the next spread, and then the page turn offers the reveal. 

 

 

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CP: I love the way even the background characters in Animals Go Vroom! have their own stories that play out over the course of the book. That must have been so much fun to illustrate! Can you tell me about coming up with those stories?

AC: Some of the background characters are inspired by family members. The sloth using the walker is based off of my grandmother who would cover great distances at the mall using her walker. She had a cap she’d wear whenever she’d go out. The two bunnies in the background of the bus scene are a tribute to my two house rabbits, Cosette and Coco. 

 

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And then I chose other background characters based on the sounds they make. The artist sea lion shouts out, “Art? Art?” and the baby crow points out the car by calling out, “Cah! Cah!”. The baby crow is actually also based on my son who would do the same thing every time he saw a car when he was younger. 

 

CP: How fun! I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on those sounds! And for more fun, outside of the book, I noticed that you have an Animals Go Vroom! memory game on your website. (It took me 46 seconds and 13 moves to solve it.) How did you come up with that idea and did you create it yourself? If so, how did you develop such impressive skills?!

AC: I have been a web designer/developer for over 15 years, so that coding experience definitely has benefits. Although I don’t specialize in making online games, I was able to find some open source code for a memory game, and then I tweaked it to work on my website and to use the images I created for all the cards. I actually had intended to make a memory game for my first book, Soaked!, but I didn’t have enough time. But Animals Go Vroom! actually worked even better for this sort of game because there is a large cast of characters to choose from.

 

CP: It definitely seems perfect for a game like that. You dedicated this book to your mom “who really loves snakes.” Is that true? Did you have pet snakes in the house when you were growing up?

AC: I showed this illustration:

 

IMG 8885

 

to my brother over a family Zoom so he could see how I made his headphone-wearing daughter into a character in the book, and my mom blurted out, “Oh no! Gross!” And we were all kind of laughing because although we all know she does NOT care for snakes or worms, we thought a cartoony-looking snake drawing might be ok. 

I didn’t set out to make a book that largely featured snakes, but that’s where the story took me since they make that wonderful hissing sound. I thought, “How can I make it so that my mom HAS to read this book with a bunch of snakes?” And so I dedicated it to her, and she did say recently that the illustration of the kid snake on the dedication was okay. 🙂 

 

dedicationsnake

 

And so to answer your second question, NO. There was absolutely no chance of us having pet snakes when I was growing up.

 

CP: Hahaha! I love that your family shows up in so many different ways in this book. Did you base any other characters on people you know? 

AC: Oh yes. I mentioned earlier that the baby crow is my car-loving son, and the kid snake is based on my niece who wore headphones the entire time we were on a family vacation one time. The mama snake is me. Actually the bear in Soaked! is also me. I guess I follow that advice, “Write what you know.” since I apparently just put myself in all my books.

 

CP: For StoryStorm 2020 you advised people to keep an ugly sketchbook and said the practice freed you up to do the drawings that inspired your debut picture book Soaked! (Viking Children’s Books, 2020). Is there any correlation between the vengeful sketchbook chipmunk at the end of that post and the chipmunk car salesman in Animals Go Vroom? And did any other ugly sketchbook characters make it into this second book? 

AC: Hahaha maybe this is the vengeful chipmunk’s origin story. A car salesmunk who becomes disillusioned with life after getting bonked in the head with a flat tire just hours after making his first sale. 

chipmunk-tire

 

But yes, the whole concept of the book came about from this Ugly Sketchbook character: a sea lion flying a jet going RAWRR! 

 

rawrr

 

This specific character didn’t end up in the final book, but another sea lion made it into the story as an artist just trying to share their beautiful art with everyone.

 

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CP: I loved the sea lion’s paintings! And I loved the otter taxi passenger, too. I happen to know that he is a published author. I read his research project Funny AND Female and noticed that he didn’t ask YOU to talk about being a funny woman in kidlit. (He’s got some nerve!) So, talk to me about being funny. Where do you find inspiration for your humor? Do you have any tried and true tricks to bring humor to a scene? 

AC: I find inspiration everywhere- TV, movies, books, my family. Unexpected random or absurd things are often very funny. So I like playing around with creating a pattern and then disrupting it with something ridiculous. Being specific helps create that absurd moment. For example, in Soaked!, I create a pattern in the first spread. “Not that badger. Not that bunny.” and then I disrupt it with something specific and out-of-place. “Not that hula-hooping moose.” 

 

Moose Soaked TX 1 Page 04

 

When I was thinking about a passenger for the taxi in Animals Go Vroom!, it was tough because really, it could be ANYONE in the backseat. So I made it fun by thinking of someone who would look glorious with a monocle (an otter, of course), and then I thought it would be pretty ridiculous if in every scene he was eating a different meal and was totally oblivious to the traffic jam. I started with tea because that would be a great contrast to the goose who was having a fit about being stuck behind the bus. And then the next spread, the otter is eating a filet of fish on a plate with a fork and knife. How did he get this fancy meal? Where did he get the utensils? In the next scene, he has an ice cream cone. Did he have the ice cream in the taxi the entire time? Why didn’t it melt? Does he have a freezer in there? I like creating scenes where the reader does a double-take and thinks, “Wait a minute- WHAT?? What’s going on there?” It’s a treat for the curious kid who takes a closer look at the pictures and sees that secondary storyline happening in the background. 

 

spreads_promo_goose_web

 

CP: You teach a couple of classes at Storyteller Academy. What do you enjoy most about teaching other picture book creators?

AC: Most people enrolled at Storyteller Academy have committed to making a real go at improving their craft. So it is incredibly satisfying to see them put in the work every week and make huge gains in their stories. I really believe that if you put in the work- which is to read and analyze current picture books, think about a compelling concept or character, and then just keep plugging away, that you can become a published author. But a lot of people give up. So it is wonderful to see the dedication from Storyteller Academy students. And I can’t wait to see the manuscripts I’ve critiqued become published books in a couple of years.  

 

CP: That’s definitely something to look forward to. Speaking of craft, what are three tools of the illustrator’s craft that you wouldn’t want to be without?

AC: 1. My Bic mechanical pencil. I use a mechanical pencil to draw all the characters in my                     books. I like that the pencil always stays sharp.

  1. My Wacom Cintiq tablet. I color all my illustrations digitally using Photoshop and my tablet. I like to apply the color this way because it is easy to correct mistakes, experiment with color, and keep the color palette consistent across spreads. I can also zoom in to apply details.
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  2. Google image search. Even though my books feature anthropomorphic animals, I still use a lot of reference photos. When thinking about a mouse riding a unicycle, I’ll look at photos of mice to imagine what one would look like sitting upright on a seat. How would its leg look while pedaling? Then I’ll look at photos of unicycles. How can I modify this unicycle if the rider had short (mouse) legs? And now what would it look like if that mouse was not only riding a unicycle but also holding a large cupcake? I have to use my imagination, but I still try to base parts of it on real-life so the illustration looks plausible.

 

mouse-stickers

 

CP: That’s fascinating. So, when you’re working on a story, do the pictures usually come first or is it the words? Do you find one is easier than the other?

AC: I usually think of a very general concept first. For Soaked!, I thought about how when you’re stuck in the rain, it actually becomes pleasant after you become thoroughly soaked. The idea of changing your perspective despite the situation staying the same was intriguing to me. Then for a couple months after that, I kept drawing a bedraggled soggy bear looking very disgruntled in the rain. But the whole thing flew together once I thought of the voice of Bear, the main character. The voice drove the story and the words came pouring out.

For Animals Go Vroom!, I again thought of the concept first: sounds that both animals and vehicles make. After brainstorming sounds and animals, I started to see a chain of events forming, so I made a book dummy to see how it would all work with the die-cuts. I started with a small dummy and gradually increased the size with each revision. From there, I was able to draw in a lot more details as it got closer to its final size, and secondary storylines started forming through the illustrations.

When I’m working on a story, I often see images in my head, and I’ll quickly jot them down as very ugly doodles. I’ll also write down little snippets of text. So in terms of what’s easier for me, I think it’s easy for me to picture little moments in a story. But what is hard is actually rendering those imagined scenes and characters properly in the final art. It’s tough to match the idealized images in my head. Plus, doing the final art is so labor-intensive, and there’s also a deadline. But that being said, it is AMAZING when the art director shows you a PDF of the book with the text properly typeset over the full-color art. It makes all those long hours worth it.

 

CP: I bet! What’s next for you?

AC: I have an unannounced picture book in the works that I’m very excited about. It’s an informational picture book that I would have LOVED as a kid. It’s a book where hopefully kids will be laughing and learning at the same time. 

CP: That sounds wonderful, Abi. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. And congratulations, again, on your terrific new book!

All artwork and photos courtesy of Abi Cushman.

 

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Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman        Photo credit: P.A. Smith

BRIEF BIO: 

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of Soaked! (Viking, 2020) and Animals Go Vroom! (Viking, 2021). She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years, creating websites for libraries, towns, and local businesses. She runs two popular websites of her own: My House Rabbit, a pet rabbit care resource, and Animal Fact Guide, which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids.

 

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TO PURCHASE ABI’S BOOK CLICK
HERE

LINKS:

Website: abicushman.com

Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/dCUjeH

Twitter: @AbiCushman

Instagram: @abi.cushman

Facebook: @AbiCushmanArt

 

FOR MORE ON ABI CUSHMAN:

Animals Go Vroom Origin Story at SLJ’s Fuse 8

Author/Illustrator Spotlight at KidLit411

Picture Book Look Podcast A Conversation with Abi Cushman, Editor Tracy Gates, and Art Director Jim Hoover

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books). Click here for more info.

 

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An Interview with Author-Illustrator Isabella Kung

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

AUTHOR -ILLUSTRATOR ISABELLA KUNG

ON THE BOOK BIRTHDAY OF

1 2 3 CATS: A COUNTING BOOK

AND

ABC CATS: AN ALPHA-CAT BOOK

Written by Lesléa Newman

(Candlewick Books; $7.99 each, Ages 2 to 5)

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

123 CATS Cover1 2 3 Cats: A Cat Counting Book

Meet cats from one to a dozen in this adorable board book introduction to counting with a feline twist. Author Lesléa Newman draws on her love for (and familiarity with) cats in a concept book for the very young, while illustrator Isabella Kung captures the animals’ movements and gestures in a way that is sure to delight.

 

 

 

 

ABC CATS CoverABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book

From curious to elegant, grouchy to inquisitive, rowdy to tangled to . . . well, unusual (who says cats don’t swim in the tub?), these twenty-six charming felines interact with oversize alphabet letters on rhyming spreads. Author Lesléa Newman and illustrator Isabella Kung offer a cat’s-eye concept book that makes the ABCs go down easy—and is sure to inspire many a repeat viewing.

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW:

 

Colleen Paeff: Happy book birthday, Isabella! It must be so exciting to have two books coming out on the same day! You had to paint over 120 cats for these two adorable books. Do you feel like you need to take a break from painting cats now?

Isabella Kung: Thank you so much, Colleen! It is exciting! They are my first board books too. And yes! 122 cats to be exact, more if you count the different painted versions on various materials to achieve the final results. Thankfully, I love cats so much that it is the one subject I have never grown tired of. Which is good, because I am working on the No Fuzzball! sequel right now!

 

 

123 CATS interior 4
Interior spread from 123 Cats: A Cat Counting Book written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Isabella Kung, Candlewick Press ©2021.

 

CP: Hooray! Your author/illustrator debut is getting a sequel?! I’m really glad to hear that. I love Fuzzball. She has so much personality–as do the cats in your latest books. Was it difficult to create so many distinct cat personalities at once? How did you do it?

IK: Lesléa Newman’s words really help spark the inspiration – ideas for gestures, expressions, and body language came to me rather quickly, a little easier for ABC CATS, as each cat only appears once. For 1 2 3 CATS, I kept referring back to my notes about each cat and did my best to stay true to their initial introduction for the following spreads. For example, Cat Number Three was first described as sweeter than Cat Number Two – I drew her being sweet on Cat Number Two, taking the kitten under her wing. From then on, you can always find them together for the rest of the book. The hard part was actually determining what breed, size, fur patterns and colors each cat should be depicted as, which was more a design puzzle to solve, it was fun and challenging.

 

ABC CATS interior 9
Interior spread from ABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Isabella Kung, Candlewick Press ©2021.

 

CP: Can you speak to the experience of illustrating a board book. Did you face any particular challenges?

IK: Illustrating board books is fun! Honestly, they are not that different from illustrating picture books. The main differences are being aware of the preferences of a younger audience and a slightly lower page count– no need to illustrate the title page, endpapers, and such. The biggest challenge was at the beginning when we were figuring out the style and artistic direction for both books. I was given the art note that they wished to see a style that is a combination between my children’s book watercolor illustrations like in NO FUZZBALL! and the loose, minimalistic Cat Inklings paintings in my personal gallery. This is a great idea and I was excited to try it! Though figuring out how to execute that made me nervous! To achieve the right balance between the looseness and simplicity of my Cat Inklings style with a clearer representation of cats and keep them recognizable (especially for 123 CATS where all the cats are recurring characters) took me two weeks of experimentation, a few failures at the beginning, but I am glad I finally found a good solution! And that is simply the natural progress of figuring something new in art (and writing too) – that you can think about it all you want, but unless it is actually down on paper or screen, and you can review at it objectively, you won’t be able to tell if it really works. You’d think I would be able to trust myself and the process by now and stop being nervous, but unfortunately, my emotions don’t always listen to my logic.  I am really grateful to my Art Director, Lauren Pettapiece, and everyone on the team for placing their trust in me, encouraging me, and giving me the room to experiment. It was truly a dream job!

 

CP: You teach illustration at Storyteller Academy and you also teach a watercolor workshop at Etchr. What do you like about teaching art?

IK: The act of teaching is actually a great learning tool for myself. I have to really break down and analyze my own thought process, materials, drawing and painting techniques, in order to successfully explain and demonstrate to others. I’ve learned so much more about myself and my work over the years thanks to teaching. Teaching is also a wonderful way to share and connect with the creative community. As creators, our career is often an isolating path, it’s nice to discuss your craft with others who are just as excited to hear it. Not to mention, it can be very rewarding when students enjoy my class!

 

CP: I am mesmerized by your YouTube channel–especially the time-lapse watercolor paintings. How much time (in real-time) does it take to paint something like the No Fuzzball in Despair painting? And what is it about painting with watercolors that keeps you coming back to that medium time and time again?

IK: Thank you! I enjoy watching them sometimes myself, because most of my paintings take hours, so speeding it up to only 2-5 mins really makes it look magical! It makes me look 100% confident, too (not always the case)! The painting No Fuzzball in Despair, in particular, took me about 15-18 hours to complete.

 

CP: Oh, wow! It looks so fast in the video! What is it about painting with watercolors that keeps you coming back to that medium time and time again?

IK: I love painting with watercolor and other water mediums like ink, even though it might not be as flexible or speedy as digital mediums. I personally really enjoy the tactile aspects of traditional mediums. Working with watercolor is like working with a living being, you’ll have to study it, observe, and guide it to create the effects you want. Sometimes it even leads you to happy accidents! Which is hard to come by digitally when the undo function is so readily available. It’s more challenging, but the results are immensely satisfying as well! Also, I feel like I can get into the “zone” or access the elusive flow state more easily when working with traditional mediums, whereas, when I am working in photoshop, it tends to feel like work.

 

123 CATS interior 12
Interior spread from 123 Cats: A Counting Book written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Isabella Kung, Candlewick Press ©2021.

 

CP: What’s your advice to people who like drawing, but get discouraged by their lack of natural drawing ability?

IK: Drawing and painting are just skills, skills that anyone can learn and even perfect. Natural abilities will only affect the speed that you learn your craft, never let anyone (even yourself) tell you that you can’t draw or paint. All it takes is dedicated practice, draw and paint every day if possible. Start with the basics and don’t get frustrated if you make mistakes. We’ve all been there, it’s all part of the learning process, I still make mistakes! There are so many courses and workshop options nowadays, you can easily find something by an artist you like too.

 

CP: What are three art tools you wouldn’t want to live without?

IK: My watercolor palette, all my painting brushes and my trusty Pentel pocket brush pen with black ink!

 

CP: You’re the Illustrator coordinator of the SCBWI SF/South region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Has taking on that role had any impact on your work as an author/illustrator?

IK: SCBWI is such a wonderful organization, joining it really helped me connect with others in my community and learn more about the professional industry when I was just starting out; going to SCBWI conferences also sparked the desire to write my own stories too. So when I was asked to step up to this role, I said yes because I really wanted to give back and contribute to our region. I’ve gained the experience and confidence in organizing and planning events (and now virtually as well); I got to meet and invite fantastic industry professionals that I personally admire; and most of all it gave me the opportunity to personally meet my editor for No Fuzzball!, Kait Feldmann, through one of our annual conferences!

 

CP: I really related to something you said in your interview with Stephani Martinell Eaton on the Cynsations blog when you were talking about the challenges of being an author/illustrator. You said, “Even when I do have time in between projects, it is hard to truly rest and exercise self-care. There are stories on the back burner that need to be worked on! Art experiments waiting to be explored! New tools to be learned! Promotional materials to be done!” Have you learned any useful tricks to help you deal with that particular challenge? I could use them!!

IK: Haha! I do have some tricks, though I must say, my tricks are less effective during this pandemic. My productivity has been a bit fickle during this trying time, but I’m trying to be kind to myself and take things one step at a time and dedicate time off. The best trick I can recommend is to set up various achievable goals and deadlines for yourself. I usually have 3-4 big goals in mind for the year. Then I break it down to a digital monthly to-do list, adding to it throughout the year as things come up. Then I have an analogue weekly planner that I slot these tasks into each week and cross them off as I go. That way, I am not overwhelmed by everything I need to do and can just focus on getting through each week. I do pay close attention to how much I can actually achieve and fine-tune my planning if needed. There’s no use setting way too many unachievable tasks and goals on your plate, that only cause more disappointment or frustration. Now that trick helps with getting most of my responsibilities done, though writing or coming up with ideas is a whole other ball game. I found just dedicating a creative hour every day, even if all I do is stare at my manuscript is helpful. Eventually, ideas will flow and solutions will reveal themselves to me as long as I show up consistently to work on them. Or if schedules allow, a work retreat somewhere else is an amazing treat to the creative mind!

 

ABC CATS interior 10 copy
Interior art from ABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Isabella Kung, Candlewick Press ©2021.

 

 

CP: Speaking of retreat, what would a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, look like for you?

IK: A perfect day– that means no urgent emails, family and friends, or home duties interrupting, right? It might look something like this: (FYI, I’m a night owl so please adjust the timing to your sleep schedule)

10am – 12pm – Wake up, grab coffee and water, writing time.

12pm  – 1pm – Lunch

1pm – 5pm – Illustration work

5 pm – 6 pm – Exercise or Meditation

6 pm – 10 pm – Dinner / Family / Relaxation time

10 pm – 2 am – Illustration work. If no pressing deadlines, then personal art explorations.

2 am – 3 am – Wind down, read and prepare for bed.

 

CP: Wow. That sounds amazing. Now I have to ask … How often (if ever) do you get to experience a day like that?

IK: Lol! I think I only maintained this schedule for a short period of time (about 2 months) 3 years ago. It was a time before I got any offers for my book, and right after taking a break from teaching and freelance work. During that time, I wanted to give myself a 6-month break from work to invest in my writing and focus on all the neglected back burner projects. I dug deep, took classes, and got a lot of creative work done! Though I wish I enjoyed that time more, it was also a period of time I was experiencing a lot of self-doubt and depression. I’m glad I hung in there and pushed through these difficult emotions! Now, I’m usually juggling multiple projects and deadlines, so it is almost impossible to have a perfect creative day! I hope later this year I’ll get to try this again.

 

CP: I hope so, too! What’s next for you?

IK: I’m currently working on the sequel for No Fuzzball!, scheduled to hit the shelves in Fall 2022, as well as creating another online course for Storyteller Academy with Julie Downing. Once all of this is completed, I look forward to a well-deserved break and hopefully, I’ll turn to some of those back-burner projects waiting on my attention.

 

CP: I look forward to seeing what antics Fuzzball gets up to in the sequel. Thanks, for chatting, Isabella. I really enjoyed it!

IK: Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions! I enjoyed it too!

 

Isabella_Kung_photo_courtesy_Lorenz_Angelo
Author-illustrator Isabella Kung photo courtesy of Lorenz Angelo

SHORT BIO:  

Isabella Kung is the author/illustrator of No Fuzzball! (Orchard Books | Scholastic, 2020), about a fuzzy feline despot who rules the house with an iron paw. Continuing her feline obsession, she also illustrated over 120 cats for the board books 123 CATS and ABC CATS by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick Press, 2021). Outside the world of publishing, Isabella teaches illustration and watercolor classes at Storyteller Academy and Etchr Lab. She is also the current Illustrator coordinator of the SCBWI SF/South region. Isabella resides in San Francisco with her husband and two adorable – you guessed it – cats! She is represented by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary.

 

LINKS:

Website: www.isabellakung.com

Instagram: @isabellakungill 

Twitter: @isaberryk 

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/isabellakung

Purchase your copy of all of Isabella’s books here.

 

FOR MORE ON ISABELLA KUNG:

Candlewick Open Studios Visit

‘Animal Crossings’ Antics: Four Children’s Authors on Finding Community

Bridget and the Books

Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb

Simply 7 with Isabella Kung

Thalo Artist Community: Spotlight Interview

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021 from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books).  Click here for more info.

 

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Five Kids Books about Words and Language

A ROUNDUP OF FIVE KIDS BOOKS

ABOUT WORDS AND LANGUAGE

Free Clipart words graphic

I love wordplay, puns, and books about the English language in general. If you do too, did you know that means you’re a linguaphile, a word nerd so to speak? I just learned that. This roundup of five kids books reviewed by Ronda Einbinder has something for everyone, word nerd or not.

 

 

No Reading Allowed cvrNO READING ALLOWED: 
The Worst Read-Aloud Book Ever
Written by Raj Halder & Chris Carpenter
Illustrated by Bryce Gladfelter
(Sourcebooks Kids; $17.99; Ages 4 and up)

Raj Haldar, aka American rapper Lushlife and co-author Chris Carpenter (creators of the #1 New York Times bestseller P Is For Pterodactyl) have teamed up for another LOL look at the English language in No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read-Aloud Book Ever with hilarious illustrations by Bryce Gladfelter.

When I first read the title, I was surprised and interested to read The Worst Read-Aloud in the sub-title. However, I immediately understood the meaning when I opened the first page and read “The hair came forth,” with a drawing of a fancy waiter picking a hair out of a girl’s spaghetti and meatballs. The hilarity hit me again when the next page presented “The hare came fourth,” with a drawing of a hare finishing number four in a race with other animals. The imaginative use of homophones, homonyms, and tricky punctuation is a great way to bring parent and child together in learning and loving the meaning of various English words.

 

The Invisible Alphabet cvrTHE INVISIBLE ALPHABET
Written By Joshua David Stein
Illustrated by Ron Barrett
(Rise x Penguin Workshop; $17.99; Ages 2-5)

“An ABC of things unseen: from Air to Zero, and Nothing in between” is how this book is described by the publisher. The Invisible Alphabet is a cleverly illustrated picture book by Ron Barrett of the classic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It teaches the alphabet with an invisible message using illustrative clues to find what is missing on the page. Written by Joshua David Stein, host of The Fatherly Podcast, the book goes beyond the words allowing readers the opportunity to explore the meaning themselves.

Barrett repeats a bus stop scene with the letters D, J, T, and Z using different word choices, but a similar scene. D is for Delayed shows people waiting on a corner next to a sign that reads bus stop. Hmm, but what are they waiting for you may ask? T is for Too late illustrates rain and two people standing under an umbrella with that same Bus Stop sign on the corner. And the last page in the book reads Z is for Zero again with a Bus Stop sign alone covered in snow. The pen and ink style Barrett uses to illustrate this book is a beautifully crafted take on teaching the alphabet.

e

The Mighty Silent e cvrTHE MIGHTY SILENT E!
Written by Kimberlee Gard
Illustrated by Sandie Sonke
(Familius.com; $16.99; Ages 5-8)

The Mighty Silent e! is a delightfully clever way to teach words that end in a letter that is actually silent, but without it, there would be no word! Writer Kimberlee Gard brings humor and poise in her words, while Sandie Sonke’s humorous illustrations of bright reds, yellows, and greens open up a whole new possibility of teaching sounds to young readers.

Gard’s learning disorder was a great inspiration in the telling of this story. This book put a smile on my face as brave Little e, who goes unnoticed at school, realizes he actually is a much-wanted friend. The importance of Little e is in more than just him knowing that he came from a long line of E’s, with upper case E’s framed in his family home, but in the lower case classmates Little c, Little a, and Little k unable to make a word for a type of dessert. Besides being a great tool to teach silent vowels, this book also provides an added layer of deeper meaning for kids to understand the importance of noticing and respecting quiet children at school.

 

Flibbertigibbety Words coverFLIBBERTIGIBBETY WORDS:
Young Shakespeare Chases Inspiration
Written by Donna Guthrie
Illustrated by  Åsa Gilland
(Page Street Kids; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

“Some are born great” wrote William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, and his legacy and body of work continue to broaden the minds of young readers to this day. The beauty of the written word is poetically and engagingly captured in Flibbertigibbety Words by by Donna Guthrie, with colorful detailed illustrations by Åsa Gilland.

After chasing words that flew out of his bedroom, and into the streets, young Shakespeare learns that writing words down with paper and pen is the best way to get them to stay with him. Guthrie repeats the wild goose chase in this irresistible repetitive read-aloud. “They vaulted over a wall, took a turn on the old king’s carriage, floated through the sailor’s net, scrambled up a greenwood tree …”

And Gilland’s art tells a charming story all on its own. This picture book was not only a fun read but educational to me as well. I learned that the word flibbertigibbety, not one of his most commonly used words, was created by Shakespeare. So were bedroom, embrace, eventful and lonely. This is an especially terrific picture book for teachers to share with students and a wonderful first look into the language of Shakespeare. Click here for an activity guide.
e

Sounds All Around coverSOUNDS ALL AROUND:
A Guide to Onomatopoeias Around the World
Written and illustrated by Dr. James Chapman
(Andrews McMeel Publishing; $14.99; Ages 8-12)

This unique and hard-to-put-down book will not only be a mainstay on writers’ shelves but a book that will be frequently revisited by parents and teachers. Sounds All Around: A Guide to Onomatopoeias Around the World written and illustrated in graphic novel format by Dr. James Chapman, is an entertaining nonfiction book listing a plethora of words used for various sounds we know in English. But do you know their equivalents in Korean or Hebrew? Well, they’re here too!

Thump Thump is a well-known word sound to describe a beating heart in English. In Hindi, it’s Dhak Dhak; in Japanese, it’s Doki Doki, and in Chinese Peng Peng. Chapman draws dancing red hearts that look the same, but sound differently around the world. He explains that big noises need big sounds and asks the reader to think how they would draw it in a comic book. My teacher’s mind went all over the place with the fun projects that could be created in a classroom with this book. Onomatopoeia is such a wonderful way to add excitement to a story. Now knowing how to create it in a variety of languages makes me want to keep this book on my desk to read over and over again.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Christmas Books for Children Part 2

CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS 2020

A ROUNDUP PART 2

 

 

Free Clipart ivy ornament

 

 

 

 

TheTwelveBirdiesofChristmas cvrTHE TWELVE BIRDIES OF CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
(Sleeping Bear Press; $8.99, Ages Birth and up)

If you’re looking for a board book that’s full of feathered fun this holiday season, look no further than 24 pages of The Twelve Birdies of Christmas. Little ones will want to see the pictures again and again as a bunch of birdies recreate their own version of the beloved Christmas carol while getting up to all sorts of silliness across the pages. The 3 French hens illustration is my favorite and I also laughed at the 7 swans-a-swimming, but I’m sure your children will choose their own while singing along to Sattler’s new lyrics. If you want some context, the original version is included in the back of the book.

 

DINOSAUR CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Penny Dale
(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Calling all dino and transportation fans. The winning combination of dinosaurs and heavy-duty utility vehicles featured in Dinosaur Christmas will entertain the youngest revelers in your household. The premise is a simple one that will be satisfying to children. Santa’s stuck in the Northpole on Christmas Eve and only his dino pals have the brawn required to set his sleigh free. But the best part is the variety of transportation modes they use to get through the stormy weather to mount their rescue. There’s lots of repetition and onomatopoeia to add to the read-aloud experience of this sweetly illustrated picture book. “Team Dinosaur arriving. Arriving and starting to dig. Starting to dig out Santa’s sleigh. Scoop! Scoop! Scoop!” My son and daughter used to memorize books like this when they were little and no doubt your children will too. Kids can search the art for hidden polar bears and study both the front and back endpapers for pictures and names of all the dinosaurs and vehicles included in the story. 

 

LatkesforSantaClaus coverLATKES FOR SANTA CLAUS
Written by Janie Emaus
Illustrated by Bryan Langdo
(Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Ideal for blended families, but definitely delightful for anyone to read, Laktes for Santa Claus is a clever Hanukkah meets Christmas spin on leaving cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Even if it’s not Chrismukkah (when Christmas and Hanukkah overlap), this picture book still shows a way for Jewish children living with a non-Jewish step-sibling and/or step-parent how fun it is to share a bit of their Jewish holiday traditions during Christmastime. Emaus introduces readers to Anna, who is Jewish, as she emails Santa who she guesses must be tired of the same old cookies every year. She promises to leave him a special treat and then sets about to make that happen. Anna just has to figure out what Jewish food will work. Her step-brother Michael, intent on baking cookies, points out how most of Anna’s ideas will require a utensil which Santa will not have after coming down a chimney, hands full of presents. What can she offer that won’t make a massive mess? When she realizes that latkes can be noshed as finger-food, she’s excited to put them out along with Michael’s cookies. When the siblings discover all the food gone on Christmas morning, Michael is eager to work together with Anna to plan something unique for the next Christmas. The back matter includes recipes for both the latkes and the cookies so kids can try their hand at baking with an adult. I love how the cover features a menorah on the mantle as well as a Christmas tree welcoming readers of all faiths to dive into this fun story. There is some rhyme and onomatopoeia for reading aloud enjoyment and at 40 pages, the story flows quickly complemented by the colorful, comic-style art. Despite the title giveaway, young readers will want to see the process as Anna narrows down her choices for Santa. I enjoyed every page of this charming new picture book because it showed how there is not only room for compromise in every family, but how easily a new tradition can be created bringing everyone closer.

 

LittleMolesChristmasGift cvrLITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT
Written by Glenys Nellist
Illustrated by Sally Garland
(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This story brought to mind the classic, Big Bird Brings Spring to Sesame Street. That story, about Big Bird buying a bouquet of flowers but ultimately giving them all away to his pals on his way home, is about the joy of sharing. The beauty in Nellist’s Little Mole’s Christmas Gift is the selfless generosity of the main character which exemplifies the true spirit of the holiday. Little Mole finds the perfect, “biggest, most beautiful” mushroom to bring home for his mother’s Christmas gift but along the way encounters forest friends in need of food, a pillow, an umbrella for protection. Mole knows his mushroom can make a difference, so rather than ignoring the cries for help, he offers part of the gift to each animal. He presents what remains of the mushroom to his grateful mother. Mama Mole understands and appreciates the kind-hearted gesture her child has made and that is indeed the greatest gift a mother could ask for. Garland’s charming illustrations bring a warmth and richness of color to the winter setting and will make kids want to read her other book in the series. A free Little Mole activity pack is available for download on the website too.

Santa.com coverSANTA.COM
Written by Russell Hicks & Matt Cubberly
Illustrated by Ryley Garcia
(Familius; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Santa.com is a picture book that feels like an episode from children’s television and is certain to engage youngsters who might ordinarily prefer TV over books. Authors Hicks and Cubberly have come up with a neat storyline for a 21st century Christmas. At Santa.com gifts get handled robotically and are “delivered by peppermint drones.” Things run smoothly until the system gets hacked by a cyber Scrooge. Luckily Yo-Yo the elf knows from his Grandpa’s stories that Santa still exists and, with the help of his elf pals, might be coaxed out of retirement to solve the problem. I found the ending really the only slightly ambivalent part and leave it up to readers to come to their own conclusion about how Christmas got saved. I enjoyed the energy and movement Garcia’s art conveyed and the adorable characters he’s imagined. For tech-loving kids, this modern take on Christmas is an original read for the holidays.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read Christine Van Zandt’s roundup of seven new Christmas books she loves by clicking here.

 

 

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Best New Christmas Books for Children


CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP 2020

 

Free Clipart ivy ornaments

 

 

Welcome to our annual Christmas books roundup. Today author, editor, and reviewer Christine Van Zandt has chosen seven of her favorite new books for you to enjoy. We hope it gets you in a festive mood.

 

Hurry Santa coverHURRY, SANTA!
Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Tomie dePaola’s death this year hit the children’s lit community hard. Reading his posthumous Hurry, Santa! is bittersweet. The clever title led me to think that, certainly, all kids want Santa to hurry to their houses, yet, the twist here is that once Santa’s suited up, he faces the same dilemma that many bundled up kids do: he forgot to go potty before suiting up.

This 14-page board book gives Santa just enough time to get dressed and undressed again. As dePaola has in more than 260 children’s books, his art delights us. This book is a lighthearted farewell to his devoted fans. Note: Book says it was previously published as Get Dressed, Santa.

 

Christmas Parade coverCHRISTMAS PARADE
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton

(Little Simon, $7.99, Ages 3-6)

Sandra Boynton’s books are best-sellers because of her fun rhyme and lively art. Her 32-page board book, Christmas Parade, is another resounding hit. Kids will enjoy hearing the animal band boom boom and rat-a-tat-tat through town. I love that “chickens with silver bassoons [are] followed by piggies with Christmas balloons.” And Santa is (of course!) a rhino.

 

 

Christmas is Joy cvrCHRISTMAS IS JOY
Written and illustrated by Emma Dodd
(Templar Books; $14.99, Ages 2-5)

Emma Dodd’s 24-page picture book rhyming Christmas Is Joy shares holiday enthusiasm from a reindeer family’s perspective. As with Dodd’s other books, this one is beautifully crafted using minimal words to convey emotion. Heartwarming art captures the book’s cheerful theme; metallic silver accents add fun by evoking glistening snow and ice. This book is part of Emma Dodd’s Love You Books series.

The book’s smaller size (eight x eight inches) helps little hands easily hold on. Like a perfect cup of cocoa, the story comforts you: “Christmas is happiness, / smiles of surprise, / the warmth of affection / that lights up your eyes.”

 

MousesNightBeforeChristmas cvrMOUSE’S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Written by Tracey Corderoy
Illustrated by Sarah Massini
(Nosy Crow; $17.99, Ages 2-5)

Tracey Corderoy’s rhyming picture book, Mouse’s Night Before Christmas, uses Clement Clarke Moore’s famous first stanza to launch into a different direction, telling us  “it wasn’t quite so” that not a creature was stirring. Rather, little Mouse prowls about, wishing he “had a friend to give gifts to.” The story cleverly weaves in some original lines while spinning a new tale.

The art by Sarah Massini warms wide spans of white or gray with muted, lively colors. A nostalgic touch makes Mouse, Santa, and the town seem welcoming and familiar. My favorite scene is the surprise ending where the story reduces to two characters enjoying each other’s company—Mouse is irresistibly cute!

 

CometTheUnstoppable_cvrCOMET THE UNSTOPPABLE REINDEER
Written and illustrated by Jim Benton
(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

A Jim Benton Christmas book—yes! If you’re like me and your shelves have more Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein books than you can count, then Benton’s Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer is the holiday book for you. In the beat of Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” Benton’s story gives a glimpse of the mayhem at Santa’s workshop. When Comet breaks up a fight between two elves, Stinky and Stanky, he ends up with a broken leg, unable to fly. In the confusion, Santa forgets the toys, so Comet must figure something out.

The rhyming text flows easily when read aloud and Benton’s art keeps you laughing as cast-wearing Comet tries saving the night—if only Santa would answer his phone! Luckily, Comet’s a trouper when faced with the humungous bag: “He tried with a lever. / He tried with a hoist. / He tried till his forehead/ was reddened and moist.” Go, Comet, go!

 

MilosChristmasParade cvrMILO’S CHRISTMAS PARADE
Written and illustrated by Jennie Palmer
(Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

When it comes to Christmas, I always think of opossums—what, no I don’t! But, why not? “Milo’s family never missed the big Christmas parade. His passel came for the popcorn, sticky nuts, and bits of peppermint sticks. / Milo came for the view.” He’s fascinated with the parade and how people work on building it year-round. Readers will hope Milo’s dream of being in the parade comes true.

Milo’s Christmas Parade boasts adorable art, from the opossum wearing an ornament on his tail to his close-knit family helping out in the shop. Extra points for the book having a different (secret) image under its jacket.

 

Meerkat Christmas CoverMEERKAT CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
(Simon and Schuster BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

If you enjoyed Emily Gravett’s Meerkat Mail, then check out Meerkat Christmas. When Sunny, a meerkat who lives in the Kalahari reads about what it takes to achieve the Perfect Christmas, he leaves the desert in search of the supposed elements to achieve holiday excellence.

While on his travels, he corresponds with his family back home. The seven festive lift-the-flaps (designed to look like Perfect Magazine and Sunny’s cards) feel realistic and are a fun way to tell pieces of the story.

Gravett’s vibrant art captures the humor as Sunny encounters obstacles around the world. My favorite holiday treats are the Kalahari candy canes. The recipe calls for 25 assorted snakes, red paint, white paint, and paintbrushes! “Bend each snake into a candy cane shape and hang on tree or cactus.” This book stands out for its interactive design and clever, hilarious art. Peek under the jacket for surprise alternate back and front cover images.

 

Click here for a roundup of Christmas books from 2019.

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Five Board Books With a Jungle Theme – A Roundup

LET’S VISIT THE JUNGLE

-A BOARD BOOKS ROUNDUP-

Safari Jungle Clip Art

 

 

BB Pop-Up Jungle CoverPOP-UP JUNGLE
Written and illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Studio; $12.00, Ages 0-3)

Ingela P. Arrhenius’s 30 page Pop-Up Jungle board book will grab your attention with the adorable wide-eyed bush baby on the cover. This sturdy palm-sized (4.5 x 5 inches) book includes fifteen pop-up images with eleven animals: bush baby, butterfly, crocodile, tree frog, elephant, gorilla, leopard, monkeys, parrot, snake, and toucan. Between these colorful creatures you’ll find a riverboat, flower, jungle lodge, and waterfall. The overall effect feels like a friendly jungle expedition.

I like the variety of animals, especially the bush baby since it’s a bit different from the usual books in this category—plus this animal is adorable! By opening with the riverboat, the reader is invited to set out on an adventure. The minimal text leaves room for creative storytelling that can be changed up each time through. Similarly, the cute, stylized animals have simple backgrounds, bringing the animals to life.

Hello Elephant coverHELLO, ELEPHANT!
Written and illustrated by Sam Boughton

(Templar Books; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

Hello, Elephant, the lift-the-flap board book by Sam Boughton, is fun for so many reasons. Boughton’s whimsical art will make you smile. The eight animals featured are rhinos, zebras, lions, hippos, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and (surprisingly) vultures. Each two-page spread in this 16-page board book lists animal facts geared toward young minds that are far from boring. Did you know that underneath their striped coats zebras have black skin?! I appreciate how the information is conveyed so kids will easily understand it. For example, “a giraffe can grow as tall as three adult humans.” The concluding four-page spread brings all the animals together so kids can see how they would interact in the wild.

This gorgeous book won’t disappoint kids or their adults. Its durable pages can be read time and again. Find your favorite animals and learn a few new things. Mine? The lioness getting a loving rub from her cub. It doesn’t get any cuter than this.

PEEK-A-WHO TOO?
Written and illustrated by Elsa Mroziewicz

(Minedition; $11.99, Ages 3-5)

Peek-a-Who Too? delightfully follows the success of Elsa Mroziewicz’s previous board book, Peek-a-Who? These lift-the-flap books raise the bar by folding out in creative direction. The small (6 x 6 x 6 inch) 22-page triangular book opens into a diamond shape. After asking about an animal sound (such as, “Who truuumpets?”), both pages unfold to double the book’s size and show a picture of the animal. The eleven animals included are elephant, tiger, monkey, owl, parrot, lion, frog, bee, mosquito, crocodile, and bear. The colorful frog was my favorite with its cute legs springing to life when the pages are folded down (some pages unfold upward). The cozy, sleepy bear in the final image perfectly wraps up the book.

While these animals may not live together in the wild, the sound theme works overall. Older kids will delight in whoop-whooping along with you. Ask which animal makes that sound, then peek under the flaps to discover the answer. Gorgeous art, engaging interaction, and durable pages will make this book a household and classroom favorite.

BB Jungle coverJUNGLE
Illustrated by Jane Ormes
(Nosy Crow; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

Nosy Crow’s fun lift-the-flap Animal Families board book series includes Farm, Forest, Safari, and Jungle. Animal Families: Jungle is my favorite with its neon orange accents throughout. You’ll discover the names of the male and female, then, beneath the flap, what the young are called. While this seems simple enough, you’ll likely find yourself learning along with your child. For example, only the male is called the peacock. Females are peahens and the babies are peachicks—how cute is that?! The other animals featured are tigers, elephants, and pandas. The last spread unfolds into four pages for a finale revealing the animal family names, such as an embarrassment of pandas.

Jane Ormes’s 14 pages of bold art are a lovely accompaniment to the spare, repetitive text. Muted tones make the bright ones pop. The tigress is especially cute with her inquisitive intelligence. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning while viewing this lively book about animal families.

Baby Sloth Finger Puppet coverBABY SLOTH:
Finger Puppet Book

Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
(Chronicle Books; $7.99, Ages 0-2)

Chronicle Book’s little (4 x 4 x 4 inch) board book packs a big punch in its 12 pages. Part of a 59-book series, Baby Sloth: Finger Puppet Book is pure enjoyment. Who doesn’t like sticking their finger in the back of a book and waggling it around to entertain young readers?! The story captures Baby Sloth from when he begins his day until bedtime. Readers will learn little sloths aren’t all that different from little humans—eating, napping, and enjoying simple pleasures. It’s amazing that Baby Sloth ends his day sleeping on top of Mama Sloth.

The art by Yu-Hsuan Huang cleverly transports Baby Sloth through his trek showing us colorful jungle images. Though he probably doesn’t go far, the different backgrounds keep us engaged. Mama Sloth has loads of personality, looking very proud of her son and clearly totally in love with him. Give this sweet book a place with your bedtime favorites. There are many others in this series for finger puppet fun, even dinosaur and unicorn.

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Read another board book review here.

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