As a big Ivy and Bean fan, I’ve enjoyed two-time Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall’s art for years. Her author-illustrator 2018 picture book, Hello, Lighthouse, was a top book. Now, If You Come to Earth, follows with its amazing accomplishment of summing up, well, everything. This 80-page book is big in size and in heart. Addressed as a letter to “Dear Visitor from Outer Space,” the story includes factual matter such where our planet’s located (and that “the blue stuff is water”) to how “We live in all kinds of homes. / In all kinds of families.” The narrator Quinn’s voice is that of a helpful, insightful child who provides personal details about how “every body is different,” except for their identical-twins friends—yet even then the narrator notes one has a mole. The wide world comes together as a unit as Quinn explains and welcomes an unknown visitor. e This comprehensive yet personal explanation describes our world exceptionally well. In the back matter, Blackall reveals twenty-three kids gave her lots of ideas, and how she didn’t expect this book to take five years. To me, five years to create this sounds reasonable with its all-encompassing subject matter and massive number of illustrations. Blackall’s talents range the gamut, from her expertise in capturing facial expressions to lifelike renditions of plants and animals. If You Come to Earth belongs in classrooms, houses, and spaceships everywhere.
Coming out during the heated election year, The World Needs More Purple People, feels well-timed. Beyond stating, “purple is a magic color made when red and blue work together,” Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart’s New York Times best-selling picture book avoids politics by simply stating, “the best things are purple.” As someone fond of the color (and the sentiment), I agree.
The story’s serious recommendations (ask questions, give good ideas, and help someone) are balanced with fun (“We laugh at donkey dances and hairy elephant knees”). Daniel Wiseman’s engaging, kid-friendly art accents the humorous text. My favorite lines: “Purple questions are the kind that help you learn something really BIG about the world or something really small about another person” and “Purple people come in every color you can dream up and every size you can think up.” This book engages young reader with important issues by encouraging curiosity and silliness.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal
There Is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder is a feel-good picture book filled with hope and reminders that we’re in this together. Inspired by the rainbows her children drew during while sheltering in place for the pandemic, the book expresses our universal experiences such as having to stay separated from family or friends, and attending online school.
Illustrations by Grant Snider perfectly fit the spare, lyrical text. A rainbow of colors glows against a white backdrop. Echoing a child’s style of drawing, Snider elevates that sentiment with details capturing this time in our lives.
Beyond the pandemic, this beautiful picture book “encourages readers to look past their immediate surroundings and find comfort, community, and inner courage—which are all closer than we might think.” And if that’s not enough, peek under the book jacket for a fun, different cover art!
Clickhereto read a recent picture book about hope reviewed by Christine.
Clickhereto read a review of another picture book about hope.
In the colorful picture book, Happy Llamakkah!, adorable llamas young and old gather together for the eight-day Jewish celebration. Each night a new candle is lit by the shamash (helper candle) as dreidels spin, latkes are fried and ribbons are tied. The story is told with few words and many sweet faces of the llama family who end each of the eight nights saying Happy Llamakkah! Children familiar with Hanukkah will enjoy seeing the candle lighting as it reminds them of their own special Hanukkah traditions with every page turn. And the words “Happy Llamakkah” replacing the traditional Happy Hanukkah wish just adds laughter and fun for young readers. I personally laughed each time I read those words. This rhyming picture book closes with an Author’s Note which explains in simple terms why Jewish people celebrate the miracle that happened long ago. Happy Llamakkah! beautifully tells the story of the menorah in the window; and I liked how the reader learns that it was only recently that Jewish families incorporated gifts as part of their Hanukkah festivities. Happy Hanukkah! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
In The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Max and Rachel’s family move to a new apartment right before Hanukkah begins. So it’s frustrating when they can’t find the box that was packed with all the items they need for Hanukkah: the menorah, candles, Dad’s lucky latke pan, dreidels, gelt, and jelly donut recipe. So how can they celebrate Hanukkah? With help from their new neighbors and a bit of innovative, creative thinking, they try each night to celebrate, although as the refrain says, “It was nice . . . but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” But when Mom’s guitar is delivered the morning after the eighth night, the kids come up with a way to still celebrate the holiday and give back to all their new neighbors who helped them. . . and when the missing Hanukkah box turns up, it finally feels like Hanukkah. Charming cartoon illustrations add to the warmth of this holiday book about a diverse and multi-ethnic community coming together in friendship. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
I had a smile on my face throughout my first reading of this clever new take on Hanukkah and again the second time to write this review. Kimmelman’s wordplay in The Eight Knights of Hanukkah makes for a fun Round Table themed romp that delivers in the form of eight knights named Sir Alex, Sir Gabriel, Sir Henry, Sir Julian, Sir Rugelach (♥), and three females, Sir Isabella, Sir Lily, and Sir Margaret. There’s also Lady Sadie whose request to the knights prompts the adventure and premise of this story. “A dastardly dragon named Dreadful is roaming the countryside,” and its antics are disrupting preparations for the Hanukkah party she’s been planning. Their mission is to “fix things with some deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery.”
And so they set out to achieve this goal. While Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach journey to find Dreadful, the other six knights assist the citizens in whatever way they can. Knightly language adds to the enjoyment, “Hark!” exclaimed Sir Gabriel. “Methinks I hear a damsel in distress.” Whether peeling potatoes to help said damsel or making sufganiyot (donuts) at the bakery where a sign reads “Helpeth Wanted,” there’s no task too arduous for the team to tackle. But what about Dreadful? Alas, the disappointed dynamic duo of Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach fear they’ve exhausted all hopes of reining in that dragon until a smoky surprise greets their eyes. With their mitzvahs completed, the noble knights can begin their Hanukkah merrymaking with Lady Sadie and all the guests knowing their actions have spread kindness through the realm. In addition to Bernstein’s expressive characters, humorous details, and great use of white space, don’t miss her endpapers map to get a lay of the land. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
First published in 2014, this paper-over-board reissue features a newly formated cover ideal for younger readers. Somehow I missed the original version and was happy to find that Kimmel’s Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Talehad me turning the pages in anticipation as it also warmed my heart.
When Simon sets sail to America from the old country just before Hanukkah, he departs with inspiring words (and a knapsack full of latkes, a menorah, candles, matches, brown bread, hard-boiled eggs, and herring) from his mother. “Wherever you are, Simon, don’t forget to celebrate Hanukkah and its miracles. Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey.” This foreshadowing lets readers know something will happen, but I never expected a Titanic-like episode where Simon’s boat sinks. Mensch that he is, he offers the last spot in a lifeboat to an older man and manages to find safety on an iceberg.
All alone but ever the optimist, Simon lights the candles as Hanukkah begins. As he plays dreidel, he also prays for a miracle. He is surprised and slightly scared when a polar bear appears. Simon offers it food in exchange for warmth and company. The passing days see the bear share his fish with Simon until the menorah’s flickering lights attract a rescue boat on the final night of Hanukkah. Arriving safely in New York, Simon meets the man he gave his lifeboat spot to. Now the Mayor of New York, this grateful man is intent on repaying Simon’s good deed making the final miracle happen, bringing Simon’s family to America. Kimmel’s crafted a fantastical and truly satisfying story through and through. In the character of Simon, he’s brought us a selfless main character readers will root for. Trueman’s jewel-toned colors and shtetl clothing design help ground the story in the early 1900s. The play with light always brings our eyes to focus on Simon over multiple iceberg scenes. Together the story and illustrations (I love the newspaper clippings about Simon’s survival) will make any reader a Hanukkah miracle believer. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
The magic of Levine’s, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, begins with its glowing golden accented cover and is woven throughout this picture book embuing it with a feeling that it’s always been a Jewish folktale parents share every holiday. But it’s not! It’s a new story about a big-hearted Jewish spirit “whose magic can make things last exactly as long as they’re needed.” The tale was inspired by the author’s observations and emotions he experienced growing up as a Jew whose holiday and beautiful traditions were overlooked, overshadowed, and ultimately influenced by Christmas. Read the illuminating Author’s Note for more on this. Nate’s name is also significant in that it corresponds to the dreidel letters Nun and Gimmel, two of the four initials representing the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning, “A great miracle happened there.“
I was willingly transported to an unnamed American city in the late 19th century where immigrants of all nationalities lived and worked. Nate soon finds himself drawn to the plight of the Glaser family, newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Europe who are penniless as Hanukkah approaches. Additionally, their neighbors’ baby girl is sick and the O’Malley family cannot afford the medicine needed. Whatever the Glasers had they shared with their close neighbors but when there was nothing, Nate knew “he couldn’t stretch what wasn’t there.” How could either family even begin to think about celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas under those circumstances? The have-nots need a miracle. During a serendipitous meeting Christmas Eve on a city rooftop with Santa Claus, Nate is told, “The sleigh magic is nearly empty. Are there a lot of people having trouble believing this year?” The winter of 1881 is a tough one indeed meaning one thing; Nate to the rescue! He helps out the “red-suited man” who returns the favor in kind. Nate’s magic delivers Christmas presents under the O’Malley tree and, much to the surprise and delight of the Glaser children, not just beloved Hanukkah chocolate which was all they usually hoped for, but a pile of presents as well.
Hawkes’s muted color palette enhances the illustrations of this bygone era. His larger than life depiction of Nate Gadol, with a tinge of gold in his hair and a sparkle in his eye convey a positive mood despite the harsh circumstances the two families face. The pairing of Hawkes’s atmospheric art with Levine’s thoughtful prose makes a new story like The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol already feel like it’s been a treasured read in our home for years. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Turtles and birds peacefully roam the bright orange sand, hiding behind green cacti, until two mischievous trucks decide to race each other after school. “The sand kicked up dust / as they passed an old mine, / and neither one noticed / the bright yellow sign.” (Of course, the reader sees the arrow sign showing the split in the road, and this is unknowingly where our trucks’ problem begins).
Leung’s warm and pleasing watercolor-like graphics of red truck Mack, with his yellow baseball cap, dashing ahead of his friend Rig, the blue truck with a tough guy green bandana wrapped around his head (or front window, since he is a truck) take the reader through the Southwest desert landscape.
Schwartz and Gomez share spot-on, read-aloud rhyme, “Through canyons and quarries / they zigzagged and crossed. / “‘The sun’s going down!'”/ “’I’m hopelessly lost.’” The bright yellow sun sets behind the hills and slowly lowers to dusk as even the face of a cactus shows concern. “One Rig, all alone / off-track in the park. / “’I’ve got to find Mack. / He’s afraid of the dark!’”
When Rig’s plan of a “flickering flare” reunites the pair, the reader sees the adventure continue as the friends figure out how to find their way out of the park. We feel a strong bond between these risk-taking friends, as they realize their folks must really be worried. The reader observes the pair teaming up to find familiar landmarks.
Two Tough Trucks Get Lost!, an uplifting and entertaining story of friendship and working together, is a wonderful read-aloud filled with both suspense and compassion. The adorable trucks are so sweet you forget they are tough. And you don’t even need to be a “things that go” fan to appreciate the good story-telling. Pre-school and Kindergarten-aged children will enjoy this heartwarming story that can be read with family or friends. Kids learn why it’s important to stay by their parents’ side and the implications of wandering off. But if they do, looking for familiar surroundings is a great way to find their way home. It’s clear these trucks may seem tough on the outside but it’s what’s on the inside that makes us care about them.
Click here to order a copy of Two Tough Trucks Get Lost! e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e Recommended Reads for the Week of 11/2/20
This year there were so many fun new Halloween and Halloween season books to choose from, especially for the littlest trick-or-treaters, that we decided to share one more roundup to cover them all. If your new faves weren’t included, please let us know in the comments what other books you’d recommend.
This die-cut novelty book is so cute! Shaped like a black cat (it even stands up!), you undo a notch at the collar to reach the rhyming story within. “Black Cat sets out on Halloween / in the dark, without being seen.” Robie Rogge’s 12-page board book, One Black Cat, follows a kitty and trick-or-treaters as they enjoy Halloween. The adorable illustrations by August Ro are in fall-toned colors. I especially like the way Black Cat’s friend (at the end) is drawn.
In a Spooky Haunted House by Joel Stern is a beautifully made 14-page pop-up board book. We’re welcomed in for a funny tour through the rooms. “Now here’s a hallway where young witches learn to fly a broom. / This one’s flown right through a hole and found a secret tomb.” Just about every kind of (not-very-spooky) ghoul is depicted. My favorite scene reveals ghosts making pancakes; detail shows the other items in the kitchen, including a silly vampire bat. The well-constructed rhymes and fun art by Christopher Lee make this book a winning Halloween adventure.
Unicorns Are the Worst!by Alex Willan is the Halloween book for kids who aren’t that into Halloween. This funny story features a goblin who, of course, thinks unicorns are the worst—a clever twist on the ever-popular unicorn tales. Willan’s art contrasts the goblin’s world with that of the unicorns, building the pace. The variety in the illustrations really works. For example, a sepia-toned scene spotlights super-secret goblin magic, and panels throughout give sections of the book a graphic feel. There are also LOL images, such as where the goblin’s trying to wash that all that annoying unicorn glitter out of his smock.
Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/26/20
Textual and visual body positive images permeate throughout the book. Readers will enjoy a decidedly inclusive group of children distinct in body shape and varying shades of eye, hair, and skin color, including vitiligo. Varieties in head coverings also nod to different faith traditions. There’s an emphasis, too, in loving ALL of ourselves from the “tip of [our] nose all the way down to [our] ticklish toes” and from our “mouth and chin all the way down to [our] knees and shins.”
The physical body is celebrated as a whole and each part, specifically, for its function in each and every way that function presents itself. Each kind is worthy and embraced. From one page to the next, children from a broad range of abilities (those who use crutches, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, and wheelchairs and those who don’t) are depicted enjoying the same activities like swinging, dancing, or playing dress up in ways that feel right to them. Hughes’ vibrant patterns and textures combined with horizontal lines add movement and excitement to every child-centered page. Surely, the book’s wholehearted, loving message will provide every little reader the opportunity to see themselves in these pages.
The book’s upbeat rhythm and rhyming text make it a great read-aloud for little ones who need to know just how beautifully and wonderfully they are made.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian e
Click here to order a copy of I Love Me! or visit your local indie bookstore. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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! 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? 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.
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 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.
Eggs are Everywhere is a fun addition to the home library, especially for those interested in an Easter inspired book and activity set.
Once the easy to understand directions on the first page are read by an adult, little ones can explore and play on their own. Each page of this sturdy board book has a turning wheel at the edge of the page that is easy for little hands to use. Children spin the wheel to choose an egg they want to find. Then the game begins as they decide which flap to open to find the egg.
The flaps’ unique and playful themes are an added bonus to the fun. Children can find the eggs under a flower, a basket, a child’s hand, a tea cup, and even a larger, beautifully decorated egg. Illustrations are gorgeous and rich in earth tones. Each page has a dominant, background color that is dressed over by bold, oversized leafy patterns and graceful flowers offering an additional “lesson” of colors for youngsters.
Eggs are Everywhere provides the opportunity for children to return to the pages again and again to discover something new they may have missed on the previous read.
Hoppy Floppy’s Carrot Huntis yet another entertaining board book and game combination that involves opening up flaps. Along with Hoppy Floppy’s animal friends, readers help the bunny find “colorful carrots on the forest floor.”
The underside of each flap has funny and encouraging commentary. The silly items displayed under the “wrong” flap (such as a dug up cookie or ice cream “vegetable”) will surely bring out many chuckles from little ones. Each of the 12 pages has the same, sweet background done mostly in green to capture the forest colors. This way the color of each carrot is spotlighted, facilitating identification and memorization. A wide range of animals in the book allows for a secondary lesson. The small, friendly bird following along each page adds color and excitement to the game.
An additional bonus is the connection between the specific color of a carrot and the animal in search of it. Parents and caregivers can open conversations with little ones about how the color of the carrot matches that of something that animal is wearing or holding. The turning wheel at the end of the story helps us review the rainbow of carrots we’ve helped Hoppy Floppy find.
There’s no denying this egg shaped book is just right for Easter.
Author and illustrator of Hazel and Twig: The Birthday Fortune, Brenna Burns Yu introduces us to a second adventure featuring the beloved Korean-American mouse sisters in Hazel and Twig: The Lost Egg.
Hazel and Twig find a large egg in the field. Eager to make it their own, they take the egg home and make big plans for the care and growth of the baby bird that will soon hatch.
As Hazel shares the details with her Appa (Korean for father) of how she and Twig will build a nest, “fetch the worms, and … teach it to fly,” Hazel realizes Twig is missing. Quickly, though, she spots her little sister. In her relief, Hazel realizes the egg, too, is lost and not theirs to keep. It needs to be reunited with its family.
The all out family search for the lost egg’s nest presents a wealth of additional lessons in color, pattern, size, and numbers as family members compare the lost egg to others nestled in tree branches. When Hazel remembers not all birds live in trees but that “some birds live…on the riverbank,” she concludes the little lost bird in the big, pale blue egg is actually a duckling. After it hatches, the baby duckling and her older sister become good friends with Hazel and Twig.
Yu’s endearing illustrations help us enter the mouse family’s tiny world. Done in ink and watercolor, the illustrations capture flora and fauna in dainty forms and fragile shapes. The soft color palette and simple lines evoke comfort, safety, and hope. One particularly stunning page, inspired by the works of 18th century naturalist James Bolton, depicts nature’s creatures at home in their habitats.
Happy to have helped a family unite, Hazel shows thoughtfulness and maturity. Her growth sheds light to additional topics in the book: kindness, compassion, and self-sacrifice. Combined with Yu’s lovely illustrations, these themes will resonate with children of all ages.
A celebration of Easter and springtime, author Nadine Robert’s and illustrator Maja Kastelic’s Elsieexplores additional themes of love, family, and diversity.
The picture book introduces us to the Filpot family of seven bunny siblings who all enjoy going on fishing trips during “nice and sunny” Sundays—all except Elsie who prefers marching to the beat of her own drum. It’s clear the six siblings like to do things in the same predictable way as they have always done: “‘Last time, we went through the woods … We took the same path the time before.’” Dragged by her family to join the fishing excursion, Elsie instead prefers to explore her own path.
Despite the discouraging words she continuously hears, Elsie never wavers her independence. While others cast their lines in the water, Elsie uses a buttercup on her hook. While the others break for lunch, Elsie decides to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. No matter what Elsie does, her way seems just plain wrong to her brothers and sisters, reminding me a little bit of the tension between brothers in the classic tale, The Carrot Seed. While the older brother insists his younger sibling’s attempts to grow and care for the seed are futile, the youngster’s quiet persistence pays off.
In the same way, Elsie peacefully resists her siblings’ pressure to conform. When her method of catching fish proves to be the most successful, her brothers and sisters finally recognize and appreciate her innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, so much so that they acquiesce to her suggestions and leadership.
Kastelic’s colorful illustrations bursting with blooms and patterns evoke the enthusiasm of venturing into the great unknown of the outdoors. Critical lessons of acceptance and difference make this book a wonderful read throughout the year.
Inspired by the “Sleeping Bunnies” nursery rhyme, Hop Little Bunniesis a lively read-aloud book, the third in our Easter round up that incorporates flaps.
Hughes’ illustrations, created in watercolor and ink, abound with peaceful, springtime colors and center the animals on each page to maintain our engagement with them. The narrator points out to us the sleeping bunnies in the field. “Shall we go and wake them in a merry tune?” s/he asks. As children open up the flaps one by one, they’re encouraged to call out, “WAKE UP, bunnies!” and direct the animals to “hop, hop, hop.” The next directive is to “STOP!” and stay quiet (“Sssssshhhhhh!”) while a new set of animals is found fast asleep.
In this pattern of quiet and loud, readers go through a series of adorable barnyard animals. First, readers are encouraged to stay silent and then to cheerfully wake them up. Toddlers and early elementary children will love the steady rhythm and rhyme and will be challenged, undoubtedly, to keep their giggles contained before bursting into their “wake up” call. While the day unfolds with bunnies hopping, lambs baaing, chicks cheeping, kittens meowing, and ducklings quacking, nighttime eventually falls, prompting us readers to “go and sing them a happy bedtime song.”
A fun and interactive book, Hop Little Bunnies provides the perfect balance of entertainment and follow-the-direction learning.
Written by award winning author-illustrator Jarvis,Follow Me, Flo!is a gentle lesson about not wandering away from a parent.
From the get-go we learn that little duckling Flo likes to do things her way. Instead of eating a healthy dinner of seeds and berries, preening herself clean, and going to bed in a neat row with her parents, Flo likes to eat ice cream treats, chase frogs through the mud, and join the flock of sheep during bedtime.
Knowing his daughter’s adventurous ways, Daddy Duck ”in his most serious deep duckie voice” tells Flo to carefully follow him on their way to visit Auntie Jenna. “‘No chasing or hiding’” or “‘you’ll get lost’” he warns. To help keep his daughter focused and entertained, Daddy sings a tune as they go “UP” the trail and “DOWN” a small waterfall and “IN” and “OUT” a hollow tree trunk. Jarvis’ bold and bright illustrations bring energy and movement to each scene.
Not entirely impressed by Daddy’s efforts, Flo creates her own song “the way that she like(s) it.” Singing in a “VERY high [and] VERY LOUD” voice, Flo soon gets carried away and strays farther and farther away from Daddy. (Incidentally, both versions of the “follow me” song provide good practice with opposites and prepositions.)
When Flo realizes she’s being followed by none other than Roxy Fox, she understands the importance of staying close to Daddy. By remembering Daddy’s song, she follows his directions and reunites with him. For being a good little duckling and following all of Daddy’s directions that day, Flo gets to lead Daddy the way home. Children will love the funny and surprising ending that reveals the places you’ll go when you follow a free spirit like Flo. (That almost sounds like a song!).
Appropriate for Easter and the spring season, Follow Me, Flo! provides an added lesson for parents and caregivers on how to lovingly guide and direct the little ones in their lives.
Do you know what GORP stands for? Or that thimbleberries are a real thing? Or that you can plant a Three Sisters Garden using corn, beans, and squash which naturally help each other grow? Alison Farrell’spicture book,The Hike, shares many such fun and fascinating facts in this story of sisterhood among friends who share a deep love of the outdoors.
Since there is much flora and fauna to see, the hike starts off with a bang as friends Wren, El, and Hattie “run like maniacs.” But the plot slows down, too, so the girls can enjoy a bounty of thimbleberries (which I learned is NOT a make believe snack for Thumbelina or forest fairies) and a lesson on how to make leaf baskets (that this city girl would love to try making). Joining the group are Bean, the dog, and a curious little chipmunk who follows along and seems to play a hide and seek game with us readers, adding another level of entertainment and adventure to the story.
As the hikers face certain hardships on their journey their camaraderie grows stronger. We see values of kindness, perseverance, mindfulness, and respect as they help each other maneuver difficult terrain, find their way back to the trail, and stay present in their beautiful surroundings. The celebration at the top of the mountain also highlights everyone’s unique and important contribution to the group: Wren raises her flag, “El reads her poem, and Hattie releases feathers into the wind.”
I appreciate, too, Farrell’s gentle nod to poetry. In the opening page of the story, we see in El’s room a poster of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver, and later El working on a poem during a break from the hike. This emphasis on the strong connection between the natural world and the written word brings us closer still to the wealth of wonders the outdoors offer. Even as the friends’ hike comes to an end in the early evening hours, they marvel at the constellations.
The Hikeis the kind of book readers can curl up with to enjoy all its lovely details (and there are many!). Farrell’s labels of the animals and plants on every page plus notes from Wren’s sketchbook in the back matter will inspire readers to visit the book again and again to see what they’ve missed. Rendered in gouache, ink, and pencil, the warm illustrations showcase varying shades of that unmistakable green of the Pacific Northwest.
Grab a sketchbook, a bag of GORP ( hiker lingo for trail mix), and your little one’s hand. Nature is calling.
Channel your inner Australian and read Aaron Blabey’s silly picture book Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananaswith an accent so the words “piranhas” and “bananas” rhyme. It’s worth the effort for the laughs you’ll receive from your child. You see, Brian the friendly looking piranha has a taste for bananas, much to the chagrin of his carnivorous buddies. Actually, Brian’s appetite encompasses quite a variety of fruits and vegetables. When he gleefully asks, “Well, I bet you’d like some juicy plums?” The others set him right: “That’s it Brian! We eat bums!” (Americans, we’re talking about butts here.) Kids will howl over this line and the accompanying illustration.
The art throughout is humorously exaggerated and expressive with the abundance of white skillfully allowing the fish to be the focus. Happy-go-lucky Brian’s just not dissuaded from wanting to share his vegetarian tendencies, while the other piranhas make it toothily clear that they’re meat eaters.
Details make this book stand out in my mind. The front and end papers’ factual information about piranhas and bananas come with a twist. For example, the list of what piranhas eat includes “old ladies who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time” and “little children who’ve actually been pretty good”—unless they get lucky and run into Brian instead.
Aaron Blabey is the award-winning and New York Times best-selling author of the Pig and Pug picture-book series, and The Bad Guys middle-grade series (movie adaptation in development with Dream Works Animation).
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $14.99, Ages 3-5)
Fall is an ideal time to feed your body and calm your mind while also introducing yoga poses and nutrition to kids. Joy Bauer’sdebut children’s book, Yummy Yoga: Playful Poses and Tasty Treats, does just that. The New York Times bestselling author and professional nutritionist shares eight easy and accessible yoga poses and eight kid-friendly recipes with readers. Photographer Bonnie Stephens presents lively and adorable photos of kids demonstrating these easy-to-learn yoga poses while fruits and veggies practice the same poses!
“Welcome to Yummy Yoga!” is the title of a note from Bauer to adult readers. As “one of the nation’s leading health authorities,” Bauer explains how healthy foods can be delicious and how practicing yoga poses can be super fun. She encourages children to copy the yoga sculptures made out of tasty food created by Stephens. Parent and child can mix and match ingredients and are reminded that it may take a few tastes before starting to fall in love with a new food. “And now it’s time to stretch your body and your taste buds for a happier, healthier you!”
Bauer inserts messages throughout the book such as “always ask an adult for help, especially if you need to use a knife or the stove!” Each page is designed with a gatefold as in the one showing a young boy in green demonstrating Triangle Pose with the opposite page showing an avocado with a lime head and broccoli body doing the same. With “Lift the flap to stretch your taste buds with a creamy treat,” the green arrow points as parent or child find a recipe with how to make instructions for Broccomole Dip in the center.
Turning the page we find a recipe for Heart-y Artichokes, Green Beans and Leeks along side of Lotus Pose; Warrior II Pose, which “helps stretch out your legs and hips” is demonstrated by corn on the cob, with a twist to the corn on the cob recipe. The book closes with photos of the same diverse group of boys and girls performing yoga poses such as Plank Pose, Downward Facing Dog and Tree Pose with a more extensive explanation of how to properly perform each pose.
Yummy Yoga was a terrific read! As a yoga instructor myself, my spirits are always lifted when I find books that introduce the physical practice of yoga to children in an engaging way. Parents will enjoy practicing the poses alongside their children, and working together in the kitchen to create healthy foods. The ingredients for the scrumptious sounding strawberry and kiwi frozen snack Power Pops are on my shopping list, and that reminds me, it’s time to warm-up my spine with the Power Pops partner cat pose!
TWO TOUGH TRUCKS by Corey Rosen Schwartz + Rebecca J. Gomez Illustrated by Hilary Leung (Orchard Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
In Two Tough Trucks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomezwith art by Hilary Leung, Mack and Rig, two vehicles with very different personalities, are heading off for their first day of Truck School. Red Mack is confident and bold. Blue Rig is reluctant and nervous. This sentence describes them to a T: “Two trucks off to school for their first day of class. One riding the brakes. One hitting the gas.”
When the aptly named teacher, Miss Rhodes, pairs the two trucks for a circuit on the track, Mack takes off and doesn’t look back. Rig on the other hand finds the course daunting, facing what seems like one insurmountable challenge after the other. The next drill takes the class to a hill, one which Mack knows he can easily climb. Rig doesn’t feel so sure and comes in “dead last.” The two trucks don’t really connect, each one thinking little of the other. “My partner’s a drag,” is Mack’s take. “That hotshot,” said Rig, “He sure loves to brag.” What will your children think of the characters? It’s a great opportunity to seek their input. The repetition of VROOM! ZOOM! throughout invites sound effects and participation by the littlest readers
It’s not looking hopeful for these two six-wheelers. If there’s a way forward towards friendship, it’s eluding them. But then there’s light on the horizon for Rig when the class is tasked with learning how to go backward while hauling cargo. That’s when Rig excels at last! Hold on! Was that a look of doubt creeping onto blundering Mack’s face? Exasperated, the big, red truck is ready to give up. VROOM! DOOM?
With this shift in ability, Rig’s gained confidence but not a big head. He kindly helps his partner tackle the task until Mack masters it, too. Schwartz and Gomez get youngsters engaged with the colorful characters and the pace of this story. Kids’ll cheer as the vehicles bond after accomplishing what they needed to as a team. It’s wonderful to see how working together with positive attitudes yields mutual success.
Leung’s lively illustrations emphasize the individual vehicles. Rig wears a camouflage design bandana and Mack, a baseball cap to match his trim. I like the movement the illustrations convey and how the southwestern style art palate bleeds off the page. Of note and adorable is how, in the end, after a friendship has developed, the two pals have exchanged head ware. Have your kids also keep an eye out for the cute turtle and roadrunner who appear in multiple spreads.
Two Tough Trucks is clearly more than a first day of school picture book. It’s a super rhyming story about learning to get along, having each other’s back and being a good sport. The title works too. Each vehicle has its strengths and weaknesses, true. It’s not letting those areas that need improvement immobilize them that makes them tough, especially together as a team. Rev up your engines and make tracks to your nearest bookstore for a copy of Two Tough Trucks today!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here’s a link to a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz. Here’s alink to a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz + Rebecca J. Gomez.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Connection, School Library Journal
Have you or your children ever questioned why you do what you do? Have you ever wondered about your purpose in life? Sigh, I’m guessing we all have! In this sweet and heartwarming story, the reader walks the path with Carl the earthworm as he searches for answers to these deep questions. Author and illustrator Deborah Freedman introduces us to her seventh picture book, Carl and the Meaning of Life, which tells the tale of the little orange earthworm as he wanders through the water colored painted countryside. The cover introduces the reader to Carl slithering through the letter “C” as he happily roams underground. Meanwhile the fox, mouse, squirrel and rabbit explore the land up above, and the title addresses that big philosophical question.
Carl is not the typical main character we find in animal stories. He is an earthworm. And as an earthworm, he is perfectly content tunneling through the soil below our feet. Carl is turning hard dirt into fluffy soil, day after day ….
Perching his head up to the service one day, Carl is confronted by a field mouse who asks the question, Why? Why do you do that? And this is where Carl begins his journey. Our innocent main character stops making fluffy soil and does what many of us do when we are in search of an answer; searches out others to seek their knowledge.
When Carl asks the rabbit why she does what she does the rabbit replies, “I do not know. I do what I do for my babies!” Carl does not have babies so continues to search for an answer throughout the forest.
Deborah Freedman’s lush green countryside is inhabited by the fox who likes to hunt; the squirrel who likes to plant trees for sleep; and the bear who searches for berries. But as the reader turns the page, the luscious green grass turns to brown and no one is left for Carl to talk to. Carl is now confronted with a sad beetle and soil that is not so fluffy. It is that moment for Carl when he realizes he needs to go back underground to do what he does best, so the other animals can do what they do best. How? Well, why not ask Carl?
This thought provoking story is a wonderful conversation opener with students in a classroom, or kids at home, by reminding them that everyone has a purpose, no matter how big or small; even the smallest creatures actions can touch us all. So the next time you are sitting outdoors and a squirrel runs by and you wonder, “What is he doing?” Think of Carl and every creature in this book, and remember that we are all connected because all creatures have an important job. I know I will not look at an earthworm the same again!
TOMORROW MOST LIKELY Written by Dave Eggers Illustrated by Lane Smith (Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Written by celebrated author Dave Eggers and illustrated by Caldecott honoree Lane Smith, Tomorrow Most Likely is a heartfelt (and not-so-quiet) bedtime story that brings affirmation and comfort to young audiences. By juxtaposing the small and the grand, the familiar and the odd, what is and what can be, author and illustrator provide confidence to a little boy facing the big, wide world.
As the boy learns of all the things that will “most likely” happen tomorrow, we readers see how discoveries both big and small will help him embrace the day. “Tomorrow most likely there will be a sky. And chances are it will be blue. Tomorrow most likely there will be a squirrel. And chances are his name is Stu.” Eggers rhymes, repeats key phrases, and describes the day through the familiar, child-centered concept of color. Smith’s vibrant illustrations–rendered in oil paint, pen and ink, paper collage, and digitally–create a bustling neighborhood of towering skyscrapers and confounding traffic signs. But like Eggers, Smith quiets the big city noise with familiarity. The shapes inherent in traffic signs provide a wonderful secondary “lesson” to the story.
Yet another layer is the hidden “lesson” of learning to be present. Watching a big plane “flying high and white and fast and far” is a treat the boy can treasure, if only he’s able to see it the moment before it vanishes into the clouds. He can befriend a little “bright bug, green and red” and discover it’s feeling lonely (because it’s missing Stu).
Though tomorrow will “most likely” be a predictable day, it’s also “most likely” that the unlikely will happen. “Something won’t rhyme.” The little boy will “see something strange. [He’ll] hear something odd.” No doubt uncertainty will be part of his day but, this too can be approached through learning and fun. If the little boy follows his curiosity, he’ll recognize that the strange, far away figure at the end of the street is actually his eccentric and funny friend.
What appears to be one thing can, in fact, be something entirely different. Separated friends, Stu and “bright bug,” will be reunited; a simple rock off the ground can look like a brain, and a cloud can transform into an ice cream treat. The only limit to what can be is the boy’s imagination. His contribution to the world is his interpretation and unique spin on everything he encounters. Tomorrow matters because of his presence in it.
What a loving and empowering way to send off to bed little kids dreaming of what tomorrow will (“most likely”) bring.
Does your child’s heart belong to daddy or perhaps another important guy in their life? Here’s a selection of picture books that celebrate all facets of fathers’ relationships with their kids. Share a story this Father’s Day with someone special and make their day.
With its beautiful homage to the author’s childhood home of Corona in California, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is an atmospheric read that pulled me in as the third rider on the titular motorcycle. Quintero and Peña team up for a second time to paint a picture in words and artwork of a changing city that’s still full of family, friends and overflowing with humanity.
This 40-page picture book feels wonderfully expansive in that it takes readers all over Daisy Ramona’s hometown huddled close behind her papi. A carpenter by day, Daisy’s dad often takes her out on his bike after work but tonight’s special because they’re going to see some of the new homes he’s building. As they take off on their journey, Daisy remarks how they become like a comet, “The sawdust falling from Papi’s hair and clothes becomes a tail following us.” Wow! You can easily feel the power of the motorcycle from the language and illustrations that fuel this fabulous picture book.
Travel page by page, gorgeous prose after prose, illustration after illustration, with Daisy and her Papi. Together they cruise by Joy’s Market and greet the librarian, “roar past murals that tell our history–of citrus groves and immigrants who worked them …” But when they head over to Don Rudy’s Raspados they see the front door boarded over, a sign of gentrification coming to the neighborhood. Still Daisy’s filled with delight at the city she calls home, a city that’s a part of her. They pass friendly faces and wave to Abuelito and Abuelita standing in their front yard. The sights and sounds of Grand Boulevard greet her as they approach the circle where cars once raced and where Papi still “buys conchas on Sunday mornings!”
There’s no denying the glorious feeling readers will get as father and daughter make a few more important stops and eventually zoom home where Mami and Little Brother await. Don’t miss celebrating fatherhood, family ties and the meaning of neighborhood in this endearing picture book that simply soars!
I never got a chance to read Great Job, Mom! but I’m happy I did get to read Holman Wang’s Great Job, Dad! This fiber artist extraordinaire painstakingly creates realistic scenes using needle felting in wool so I appreciate that the book’s back matter enlightens readers as to what’s involved in the process.
Holman’s rhyming story is funny and also realistic. It shows how this particular father, who is a manager during his day job (yes, that pays the bills), has many other volunteer jobs at home. When he feeds his children he’s a waiter. When he takes them for a hike in their wagon and stroller, he’s a chauffeur. “Quite often he becomes a chauffeur to several VIPs.” As an inspector (bound to bring out giggles because here we see Dad checking for a dirty diaper),”it matters what he sees!” We all know the role of judge dads often play when siblings or friends fight. I think diplomat could have been added here, too! Additionally this dad puts in time as a computer engineer, librarian, pilot, architect, receptionist and astronomer that we see in detailed illustrations that never cease to amaze. Of course my favorite is the bedtime scene where titles from books on the bed and bookcase can actually be read. If you’re looking for something original to read for Father’s Day, pick up a copy of this picture book.
★Starred Review– Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
My childhood friend’s mother was from the south and used to attend family reunions when we were kids. Going Down Home With Daddy is exactly how I imagined them to be. Lyons’s story, “inspired by her husband’s heritage and her own” beautifully captures the annual family gathering incorporating every sense in the reading experience. I could see, touch, smell, taste and hear everything through Lyons’s perfect prose from the car ride when Lil Alan’s too excited to sleep to his first glimpse of Granny, “scattering corn for her chickens like tiny bits of gold.” I could smell her peppermint kisses, hear the laughter as more and more relatives arrived, feel the breeze during the tractor ride, taste the hot, homemade mac and cheese and see the cotton field “dotted with puffs of white.”
The story unfolds as the narrator, Lil Alan, realizes he’s forgotten something to share for the anniversary celebration and cannot enjoy himself until he figures out what contribution he can make. When he does, it’s the most heartfelt moment although there are many others in this thoughtful, moving picture book. Minter’s warm illustrations in earthy tones heighten every experience and seem to recall the family’s African roots and connection to the land. I found myself rereading the picture book several times to soak up more of Lyons’s rich language and Minter’s evocative art.
Caldecott-winning author and illustrator, Chris Raschka, has created a simple yet spot on read-aloud with Side by Side. It will fill your heart as you share it with little ones. A diverse group of children and their dads engage in typical father-child activities, some of which I’d almost forgotten now that my kids have grown up. With each rewarding page turn, a new treat awaits at will resonate with both parent and youngster. Ideal for this age group, Side by Side, with its economy of words and buoyancy of illustration, manages to keep this picture book cool and captivating.
I love how Raschka opens with the quintessentialHorse and rider as a little girl, braids flying to depict motion, rides bare-back on her dad. Readers will feel the delight emanating from her entire body. Raschka also cleverly demonstrates how roles change, first with a child fast asleep sprawled across his father while his dad reads (Bed and sleeper). And then he follows up that illustration with one parents know all too well. In Sleeper and waker that same man’s son attempts to get his father up from a nap. The watercolor art is lovely and joyful and leaves the right amount of white to pull us straight to the characters and what they are doing. I’m still smiling from this read!
Up to Something serves as an ideal reminder on Father’s Day that there’s more to being a dad than simply being around.
After seeing a poster for a race, Billy gets excited and asks his dad if they can enter. When his dad says, “Of course, Billy! Let’s go build something!” he has one thing in mind when Billy has another. Once in the shed, Billy’s father’s words seem to indicate that he’s going to build the vehicle on his own despite making his son his special assistant.
Disappointed by the drudge work, Billy goes ahead and constructs his own vehicle. When his dad bangs and drills, so does Billy. Looks like Billy’s diving head on into the project yet his dad seems oblivious. When at last the race cars are unveiled, Billy’s vehicle has an individuality about it that is so much more unique than the one his father has made. That’s when it finally occurs to this adult that he has essentially ignored his child, that he hasn’t let his son contribute. That’s not a team effort. Putting their two heads together provides an opportunity for father and son to connect and create and, out of that combined effort, magic can and does happen.
Lonergan’s use of loosely shaped, muted watercolor and pencil in her illustrations complements the story. She’s also employed newspaper and what looks like sheet music as a substitute for wood, producing an added dimension to the art that plays into the book’s theme of imagination, recycling and invention. Clearly being present as a parent is what matters and McKelvey’s picture book hits that nail on the head.
I had no idea what to expect when I read Hannah Holt’s A Father’s Love but now I understand why it’s been getting so much buzz. Told in well metered rhyme that never feels forced, this charming picture begs to be read out loud. The author’s covered a colorful and varied selection of animal dads and sometimes family and focuses on the unique bond between father and offspring.
“Beneath a mighty REDWOOD TREE, A fox tends to his family. He keeps them safe by digging chutes. This father’s love runs deep as roots.”
Nine animals from marmoset to toad, penguin to wolf and ultimately some human fathers fill the pages of this tender tale. We learn how dads do all sorts of interesting and important things for their young. Take the emu, for example. The male of the species incubates the eggs much like the seahorse. Chan’s appealing artwork shows again and again how strong a father’s love is the world over whether her illustrations are of an Emperor Penguin or a Peregrine Falcon. Dads may come in all shapes and sizes, some may swim and some may fly, but the love they have for their children is the one thing they all have in common. Back matter offers more details about all the animals in the book.
A HUG IS FOR HOLDING ME Written byLisa Wheeler Illustrated by Lisk Feng ($14.99; Abrams Appleseed, Ages 3-5)
Written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Lisk Feng, A Hug is for Holding Me highlights how the natural world quietly and profoundly speaks to us about love.
Exploring the wilderness, a father and daughter take note of speckled eggs “nestled in a tree” and “eggs hold[ing] hatchlings warm and snug.” In plain language, the little girl also expresses the restorative and nurturing power of cocoons and seashells. It’s as if everything in nature is embraced in an eternal hug, kept safe from harm. And from this fact, she knows she too can feel the same love and protection from the simple act of giving and receiving a hug.
I also admire the illustrator’s techniques in further drawing us into the little girl’s perspective. We readers (of all ages) are like children, looking up at the big, wide world. Each page in this 24 page book is a wide-angled, double page spread. The leaves of trees are drawn in big, sweeping shades of blue and green, objects are defined by their general shape and color, and Dad appears towering-almost giant sized. Visual details are absent but not because they’re lacking. While the world is big, creation is hard-wired to nurture and care. On land, in the sea, and in our hearts, we can rest assured of this truth, which is the one detail that really matters. We just need childlike faith to see it.
A great read especially for Valentine’s Day, A Hug is for Holding Me is a book preschoolers will love to cuddle up with.
The best Valentine’s Day gifts are the simple pleasures of food, fun, and friendship as author Jonathan London and illustrator Andrew Joyner show in Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and Duck is distressed she may not have a valentine. Taking a hint from her feathered friends nearby, she decides to send invitations-in secret to Hippo, Turtle, Pig, and Elephant, asking each to meet at the park at 4pm and to “bring something for [his/her] Valentine.” Every card is decorated with a “big red heart on it,” though it’s clear Hippo holds an extra special place in Duck’s heart because his card is the only one that has a “red rose … above a big red heart.”
And so the fun begins! Every time a friend receives a card, she or he begins wondering just who that valentine might be. Each hopes for someone specific. Turtle, for example, sees the picture of the “big red heart” on the card as a pizza that’s missing a slice. This makes sense, of course, because his special friend is Pig who works at the local pizzeria, Pig’s Pizza.
As the anticipation builds, kids will no doubt love being “in” on the secret, and they will roar with laughter watching Duck stealthily drop off the cards to avoid detection. Well … while the characters may not see Duck, little wandering eyes will most definitely notice a feathery behind sticking out of a bush or two!
The onomatopoeia popular in London’s beloved “Froggy” series is thankfully present here as well, helping preschoolers and early elementary children “read” the story. And even if readers are new to the “Duck and Hippo” series, they can sense the strong friendship between the characters and learn important values of sharing and kindness. I also like the hidden “lesson” of time-telling. Whenever the time of day is mentioned in the story, Joyner cleverly includes a clock to indicate the time, with the hour and minute hands in contrasting colors. From illustrating a grandfather clock to an alarm clock to a pocket watch, Joyner invites readers to discover all the fun and different ways of telling time—there’s even a sundial in Turtle’s yard!
By 4:00 the secret is finally out, though Duck’s love for her friends is evident from the start. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to create an opportunity for everyone to gather and express their gratitude for each other.
In What is Given from the Heart, celebrated author Patricia McKissack and debut picture book illustrator April Harrison define the true meaning of gift giving.
“Already poor,” little James Otis and his mother “got poorer last April” after the sudden death of his father. Having lost the family farm in June, they move into a “run-down shotgun house in the Bottoms.” Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, more loss follows: James’ house floods and his dog Smitty disappears. Yet as long as they have their health and strength, his mother reminds him, they “‘are blessed.’”
Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, James slowly begins to understand his mother’s courageous words. When Reverend Dennis requests the congregation to prepare love boxes for the needy, he includes on his list a mother and daughter who have “‘lost everything in a fire.’”
For the first time in a long time, James begins to change perspective. Thinking about another person’s pain makes him aware of what he does have. Tucked “warm and toasty” under Mama’s quilt, James reviews in his mind all the items he owns that might be useful to Sarah. When he sees Mama repurposing the “‘only nice thing’” she has to make a handmade gift for Mrs. Temple, he reflects on how he, too, can sacrifice a beloved belonging to the benefit of someone else’s happiness.
McKissack’s themes of compassion, kindness, and empathy are carried through Harrison’s soft color palette and endearing mixed media art. Though the items in the house are sparse, we can see the love abiding in James’ home from the family pictures hung on the walls. My favorite illustration is the close up of James and the pensive expression in his eyes, as he ponders what is in Sarah’s heart and the kinds of things she might like to receive.
Despite having very little, James comes up with a beautiful gift that Sarah gratefully accepts. Handmade and straight from the heart, James’ gift helps Sarah know that she is seen and understood. This is a priceless gift every one of us can treasure.
A wonderful read for older elementary children, “What is Given from the Heart” reaches the heart not only on Valentine’s Day but everyday of the year.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
For more Valentine’s Day book suggestions, click here.