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Sleepyheads by Sandra J. Howatt

Sleepyheads written by Sandra J. Howatt and illustrated by Joyce Wan, (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, $16.99, Ages 2-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.


Sleepyheads by Sandra J. Howatt with illustrations by Joyce Wan, Beach Lane Books, 2014.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun sets quite late in the summer. I relied on room-darkening blinds and soft music to lull my toddlers to sleep when the sun was still shining. If only I had owned a copy of Sandra Howatt’s delightful, yawn-inducing Sleepyheads about a decade ago!

Howatt’s story begins outdoors under soft moonlight with a delightful assortment of cuddly creatures snoozing in nests, trees, caves and waves. The cozy dozers – bear, duck, rabbit, pig – are relaxed and content. Quiet oozes throughout the soft “S” assonance sprinkled through the rhyming lines. While an owl keeps vigil (This one’s not a sleepyhead – this one slept all day!) we transition inside the house where the cat and dog are sound asleep. There is one last special sleepyhead to be found, where a pillow, bed and blanket await.


Interior spread from Sleepyheads by Sandra J. Howatt with illustrations by Joyce Wan, Beach Lane Books, ©2014.

Wan’s illustrations are perfectly sweet, soft and soothing. Fuzzy, thick-edged images reinforce the look of deep night sky, with subtle pops of pink, green and brown. The creatures are rounded into large, simple shapes that are just right for little ones learning animal names and homes. The night sky is sprinkled with luminous, glowing stars as tiny fireflies dot pages in a lovely rhythm.

Sleepyheads is just long enough, just soft enough, and just dreamy enough to cause even the most sleep-resistant tots to rub their eyes. Kirkus gave Sleepyheads a starred review, calling it “A superb execution of soporific shapes and sounds perfect for the bedside table.” Perfect for sweet nighttime tuck-ins!

–    Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.


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Hanukkah Picture Book Roundup

The Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) Ends Tonight

I just couldn’t light the last Hanukkah candle tonight without sharing a few more terrific Hanukkah picture books for 2013. These are three books you’ll want to keep to read again next Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Bear cover art by Mike Wohnoutka

Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka, Holiday House, 2013.

According to the copyright page, Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8, also available as an ebook) first appeared in Cricket, the Magazine for Children in 1988 and as a picture book titled The Chanukkah Guest with illustrations by Giora Carmi, in 1990.

I’m so glad Holiday House decided to bring out this charming book again, this time with a revised text and new artwork. Whether you read this story in the ’80s, ’90s or are reading it now for the first time, it will not disappoint. Grown-ups and kids alike will get such a kick out of the joyful and humourous Hanukkah tale featuring hungry Old Bear just awoken from hibernation to the smells of cooking latkes, and ninety-seven year old Bubba Brayna, a spry old villager who can neither see nor hear well anymore. Expecting the rabbi, Bubba Brayna opens the front door after hearing a thump and mistakes Old Bear for the rabbi. She then proceeds to have him join her as she lights the Menorah, plays a game of dreidel and finally feeds him. Old Bear “Rrrrrumphs” and “Grrrroooowrs” throughout the evening with Bubba Brayna filling in bits of conversation here and there. The sweet cover image of Old Bear licking Bubba Brayna after receiving his lovely red Hanukkah scarf should be a clue to the youngest readers that the story has a delightful ending and only latkes get eaten!! Plus Wohnoutka’s illustrations have a glowing quality about them that add to the warmth of the story. The end pages contain a handy latke recipe and author’s notes about the holiday for those less familiar with the celebration.

Click here for a Hanukkah Bear maze activity.

Sadie's Almost Marvelous Menorah artwork by Julie Fortenberry

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah written by Jamie Korngold with artwork by Julie Fortenberry, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, by Jamie Korngold with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback, Ages 2-6), is another fun story for children. Sadie loves school, her teacher Morah Rachel and the approaching holiday of Hanukkah. When Hanukkah arrives she knows she’ll spin dreidels, eat potato latkes with applesauce (my favorite, too!) and light the menorah with her family.  The best part for Sadie is that she and her classmates get to make their very own menorahs from clay. In school she works hard to knead, roll and shape her menorah. Sadie decides to paint hers pink with blue squiggles and can’t wait until Friday when she can bring it home. But when her mother arrives at school to pick her up, Sadie rushes to her and drops the menorah.  The handmade treasure breaks into “a million, zillion pieces!” The clever way Sadie’s mom handles the disaster leads to a new family tradition that  makes for a very happy, unique ending. Fortenberry’s colorful artwork complements the text and conveys just the perfect amount of emotion and detail to help move the story forward. The three candle blessings included in the end are terrific to have especially since our family has only ever known just one to say.


Eight is Great artwork by Hideko Takahashi

Eight is Great by Tilda Balsley with artwork by Hideko Takahashi, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

For the youngest kids at home, there’s Eight is Great, (Kar-Ben, $5.95, Ages 1-4), by Tilda Balsley with illustrations by Hideko Takahashi, a board book with each page detailing some aspect of Hanukkah incorporating the number eight. Whether it’s eight days and nights to celebrate, or eight candles lit, Balsley finds just the right descriptions in simple rhymes. Of course there are eight places to set at the table and eight latkes to fill the guests’ plates. “There’s more,” says the dad in this family, “don’t hesitate.” Mom helps with eight presents to wrap and for those new to playing dreidel, there are four sides and if you play with two, that makes a total of eight! The story ends, as many a Hanukkah tale does, by remembering “heroes long before us” helping make this picture book complete with just 12 pages. Takahashi’s jewel-toned illustrations light up the board book making this an ideal introduction to the Festival of Lights.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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A Touch & Pull Book For Toddlers

The Nose Knows!

My kids loved interactive books when they were toddlers and it will be easy for you to understand why when you share Sniff! ($9.99, Simon & Schuster/A Paula Wiseman Book, ages 2-6) with your little ones. New York Times bestselling author/illustrator Matthew Van Fleet “nose” what kids like in touch and pull books and in Sniff!, he’ll draw them in instantly with the cute moving elephant on the cover and then continue to keep them engaged with all the tactile pleasures youngsters could imagine.

Van Fleet introduces a skunk (pee-yew!), a pig (wipe that drippy nose!), a mouse (with twitchy whiskers), a bear (with his squishy nose), a tiger (touch that fuzzy nose), and a whole lot more creatures who, in just a few sort board book pages and gentle rhyme will captivate your child.  Meet the author and get activities at

Today’s review is by Ronna Mandel.

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From the Forest to the Farm

Debbie Glade reviews two educational paperback books from Dawn Publications that would make a great addition to any child’s library.

Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek ($8.95, Dawn Publications, ages 3-8) teaches readers about the most common animals one would find in the forest. Written by Marianne Berkes in rhyme, each page features a different animal, revealing where that species typically lives in the forest and what the offspring are called. For example, did you know that a baby possum is called a joey? The story is wonderfully complemented by unique paper cut collage illustrations by artist, Jill Dubin. What I really like about this book is all the educational information included in the back. Here you’ll find more details about the animals you can clearly see in the forest and those that are often hidden. There are tips from the author about how to be a wildlife detective, suggested indoor activities to help young readers learn more about the forest and tips from the illustrator about how to do a collage. There are even lyrics to a song, written by Berkes, set to the tune of “Over in the Meadow.”

Since I grow organic vegetables of my own, I can totally appreciate Molly’s Organic Farm ($8.95, Dawn Publications, ages 4-10), written by Carol L. Malnor. Through the frolics of a homeless cat named, Molly, readers discover what life is like on an organic vegetable farm. I love that the book is based upon a true story of a small orange cat, that one day appeared on a small organic farm in Northern California. The story cleverly weaves in educational details about organic farming, while keeping the child’s interest in the story with the help of Molly’s assorted activities. Readers want to know if Molly will find a home come winter. The lovely watercolor illustrations by Trina L. Hunner bring the cute cat and the story to life. In the back of the book is more in-depth educational information about the farm, info about the seasons of the farm and the true story of Molly the cat, as told by the illustrator who once lived near the farm that Molly calls home.

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Share The Love

Mr. Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story

By Kara LaReau, illustrated by Scott Magoon

A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press, $14.99, ages 2-6

This year for Valentine’s Day the story selection is superb, with books about cupid, kisses, and hugs. But my favorite by far is about Mr. Prickles, a porcupine looking for friends in all the wrong places. Is it his barbed approach that keeps friends beyond reach? Filled with wonderful wordplay and delightful art, this book is sure to please throughout the year.

No matter how he tried, Mr. Prickles simply did not fit in with the other woodland animals because, “By their very nature, porcupines are very hard to get close to.” Despite his pointed overtures seeking out Raccoon, Chipmunk or Skunk, Mr. Prickles remained very lonely. He was left out of assorted activities until he looked no further than a neighboring stump. It was there he discovered Miss Pointypants. Rather than shake hands, these sharp but segregated creatures “regarded each other pointedly.” Together they learned what they could offer each other whether dining together or watching a romantic moonrise. No longer caring what the other animals said or did, Mr. Prickles and Miss Pointypants fell in love. “I don’t feel so prickly anymore,” Mr. Prickles said. “On the inside, anyway.”

This Valentine’s Day, Ronna also recommends

  • Plant a Kiss, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, HarperCollins, $14.99, all ages.
  • Where Does Love Come From?, illustrated by Milena Kirkova, Accord Publishing, $9.99, ages 2-5.
  • Love Waves, written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells, Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 3-7.
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