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Picture Book Review and Interview – A Spider Named Itsy by Steve Light

 

A SPIDER NAMED ITSY

Written and illustrated by Steve Light

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

BRIEF REVIEW:

Author-illustrator Light’s newest picture book is one that encourages perseverance. Like Dan Santat’s After the Fall, a bevy of books is available showing children that many people need multiple attempts to ultimately succeed and that’s okay.

While I always sang this as the Eensy Weensy Spider, no matter how you’ve sung it, I think you’ll adore the unique approach of this captivatingly and whimsically illustrated picture book! It is such a clever take that imbues the beloved nursery rhyme sing-along with even more meaning. Perseverance and kindness take center stage in this recommended picture book. Read it as a companion to sharing the song with little ones. I can even see it being a jumping-off point for discussions with older kids about how they envision the prequel or sequel to any song they enjoy.

Q&A with Author/Illustrator Steve Light

Q: What drew you to write about this very famous spider?

A: As a teacher of three-year-olds, I was always fascinated that at least half of my class would enter my classroom already knowing the classic rhyme Itsy Bitsy Spider. When I was a kid and sang it I always wondered: Why does the spider go up the waterspout in the first place? What was up there? As a storyteller, this made for an interesting exercise in trying to answer that question. As an illustrator it allowed me to create a whole bug world around Itsy Bitsy Spider.

 

A Spider Named Itsy int1 sitting sipping unaware.
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Did you encounter any challenges while writing or illustrating the book?

A: My first challenge was figuring out a good reason for Itsy to climb up the waterspout. Then how to draw insects that were friendly. Also how do I make the reader care and feel for Itsy as a character? Hopefully, I accomplished all of these. The other challenge was drawing Itsy with eight limbs-I gave him four legs and four arms but it was challenging to draw!

 

Q: Do you have a favorite illustration from the book? If yes, why is that your favorite?

A: I actually love the endpapers. I had so much fun drawing all those bugs. But I also love the page where the bugs are getting washed out. I loved drawing the water and the energy of that page. The water and the way I drew it was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints.

 

Q: Please tell us a little about your illustrating process.

A: All of my illustrations are hand-drawn. There is no computer or digital work in the illustrations. I start with lots of drawings. Designing the characters and the world that they live in, even down to Itsy’s bed, mailbox and teapot. Then sketches for each page. Once we have an approved sketch from my Art Director and Editor I can do full-sized drawings for each page. Then I can go to the finished illustrations. I put the approved full-sized drawing on my light box and place a piece of watercolor paper on top of it. I can then see the drawing and start inking. I use a fountain pen that uses a zebra G nib or point. This nib allows for the thick and thin line variation that gives so much interest to the line work. Then I can watercolor the inked illustration using Daniel Smith watercolors and a sable brush. The “web” lines that Itsy creates were drawn last using an old fashioned dip pen and opaque acrylic ink, a purple color that I custom mixed.

 

 A Spider Named Itsy int2 rain washed out Itsy Bitsy
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Did you need to do any research for this book? If yes, what kind of research?

A: I researched many kinds of bugs and insects for Itsy to meet on his journey. Many of them are fascinating but sadly did not make it into the book. After all the research I picked bugs more for their personality because the story is more about Itsy’s journey and finding a family.

 

Q: What’s your favorite part of the writing and/or illustrating process?

A: I love the start of an idea for a book there are so many possibilities on how the story can be told and illustrated. I also like doing the final illustrations as I love escaping into these worlds. As a kid, that is why I drew, to escape the harsh realities of life. I found hope and peace in the worlds I would create, I still do.

 

Q: If you could only do one or the other, would you prefer the writing or illustrating, and why?

A: I would illustrate. I have been drawing since I was three years old. I draw every day. I also tell stories with my drawings so I feel I would still be “writing” if I had to stop writing words to tell stories, but I love both.

 

A Spider Named Itsy int3 what a mess washed out spider and bugs
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Final Question – what are you hoping your fans will take away re your newest book for kids?

A: I am hoping that they realize that everyone gets “washed out.” The important thing is that you climb back up again.

 

 

WEBSITE:

SteveLightArt.com

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Facebook – Steve.Light.90
Twitter (X) – SteveLight
Instagram – StevLight

 

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Picture Book Review – Two New Years

 

TWO NEW YEARS

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Two_New_Years_cover_multicultural_Chinese_Jewish_family_celebrating

 

Reading Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.

 

Two New Years int1 family celebrating rosh hashanah and lunar new year.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.

Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why  Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.

The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the  depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.

 

 

Two New Years int2 sweeping troubles out the door and casting old mistakes into stream.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.

Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.

I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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An Interview with Aixa Perez-Prado about City Feet

 

SUSI SCHAEFER INTERVIEWS AIXA PÉREZ-PRADO,

AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR OF

 CITY FEET

(Reycraft Books; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

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City Feet cover map legs shoes walking on city sidewalk
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PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

This shoe lover’s paradise reveals that a city’s feet are as varied as the people and animals who live there.

INTERVIEW:

Susi Schaefer: Congrats on your picture book, CITY FEET. How did you get into creating books for young readers?

Aixa Pérez-Prado: Thank you very much! I feel like I have been a writer and illustrator since I was a little girl. I was born in Argentina and raised between there and the USA. I later lived in several other countries, including Costa Rica and Morocco. I believe that being multilingual, being a child immigrant, and having lived in many different places are all strong influences on the stories and the illustrations that I create today.

I am a former bilingual kindergarten teacher, a current university professor specializing in diversity education, and, most importantly, a mother of six. All of those experiences led me to read many children’s books over the years and create my own stories for my students and my children. A few years ago, I decided to try to publish some of those stories and started my education in writing picture books.

Part of my education included taking a number of kidlit writing courses, entering online contests, and joining SCBWI. In addition to writing, I started drawing again and creating a few dummies for my stories. CITY FEET is my debut picture book.

SS: Tell us what inspired this book.

APP: I am a city girl at heart, and I love to explore the cities of the world. A few years ago, when I decided I wanted to try to publish in kidlit, I started entering online writing contests, and an earlier version of CITY FEET was a story I wrote for one of those contests, the Early Childhood Book Challenge. The idea was to write a story of 250 words or less, use rhyme, and have the story take place in an urban setting. I came up with about six stories for the contest and was a finalist with a different story, but the beat and rhythm of CITY FEET stuck in my head.

Two years later, I pitched it in Latinx Pitch on Twitter, and Winsome Bingham of Reycraft Books liked my pitch and made an offer. I was not meant to illustrate the book, but when she found out I was also an illustrator (or want-to-be illustrator), she and my agent, Joyce Sweeney, encouraged me to make a dummy. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the book to look, with all characters appearing only from the waist down, as seen from the point of view of a baby in a stroller. I made the dummy and soon after received the offer to be the illustrator. I was thrilled!

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City Feet int1 City Feet walking down the street
Interior spread from City Feet written and illustrated by Aixa Pérez-Prado, Reycraft Books ©2023.

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SS: Can you share your process?

APP: I started by revising the original story and adding an additional stanza to reach the appropriate amount of spreads for a picture book. I then started trying to create the first spread, but the vision in my head wasn’t really working on paper. I went to an illustrator friend, Cristina Keller, and explained what I wanted to do to her. She invited me to her studio, and after showing her some of my sketches, she helped me to map out the first spread. After that, I knew exactly what to do.

My illustration process for CITY FEET is mainly collage created by cutting up different kinds of textured papers that I create and others that I find. I also use fabrics, leaves, petals, and other materials – including banana peels – in my collages. Once I make the collages, I scan them and bring them into Photoshop in different layers to combine and rearrange. I also do some digital collage in Photoshop.

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City Feet int2 dancing feet prancing feet

Interior spread from City Feet written and illustrated by Aixa Pérez-Prado, Reycraft Books ©2023.

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SS: Are you working on any projects you can tell us about?

APP: Yes, I am the author and also the illustrator for a nonfiction picture book that will come out in the Fall of 2024, Mercedes Sosa: Voice of the People, published by Lee & Low. It is a very different kind of story than CITY FEET, with a different feel and somewhat different style. However, my illustration technique will continue to be the use of collage with a variety of materials as well as digital collage for the majority of the artwork.

BUY THE BOOK:

Support independent booksellers and purchase City Feet at the link below.
https://bookshop.org/p/books/city-feet/18947595?ean=9781478881841

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Author Aixa Pérez-Prado headshotAUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Aixa Pérez-Prado, the author/illustrator of CITY FEET is a native of Argentina who immigrated to the US as a small child. In addition to writing and illustrating, Aixa is a translator, sensitivity reader, and university professor. Aixa has lived in several different countries and draws inspiration for her stories and illustrations from diverse locations. Her passion is writing and illustrating picture books aimed at giving diverse children a chance to see their multilayered identities represented with heart and humor. She writes in Spanish and English and enjoys mixing languages in her prose. Similarly, she loves illustrating by employing different techniques in a multimedia whimsical style.

Aixa’s upcoming picture books are OUR WORLD: ARGENTINA (Barefoot Books, 2023) and MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Lee & Low 2024). Aixa is represented by Joyce Sweeney from the Seymour Agency.

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR LINKS:

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Born and raised in the Austrian Alps, Susi Schaefer trained as a glass painter in the medieval town of Rattenberg. After moving to Southern California for sun and adventure, Susi studied graphic design. She’s the illustrator of ZOO ZEN by Kristen Fischer, author-Illustrator of CAT LADIES and THE GLOW SHOW. Susi lives in North Tustin, California, with her family. www.susischaefer.com

Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

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Picture Book Review – Somewhere, Right Now

 

SOMEWHERE, RIGHT NOW

Written by Kerry Docherty

Illustrated by Suzie Mason

(Flamingo Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5) 

 

Somewhere Right Now cover

 

 

If you need a moment to slow down and appreciate life, read the picture book, Somewhere, Right Now, by debut author Kerry Docherty. In this comforting story, we see members of one family each experience strong emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness. One by one, as their feelings are recognized, they take a moment to focus. By understanding that “somewhere, right now” a great thing is happening, they move away from the negativity and, instead, their imaginations transport them to uplifting thoughts about animals in nature.

 

Somewhere Right Now int1 window
Interior spread from Somewhere, Right Now written by Kerry Docherty and illustrated by Suzie Mason, Flamingo Books ©2022.

 

The realistic illustrations by Suzie Mason capture the smattering of dark moods and offset them with plenty of joyful, kind images. Kids will learn that we all feel down sometimes and how a few words can make a huge difference. This book is very much needed in today’s fast-paced, uncertain world; it provides simple instruction on how to help control our minds while also boosting the love and positivity around us if we just choose to look for it.

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Picture Book Review for Rosh Hashanah – Measuring a Year

MEASURING A YEAR: A ROSH HASHANAH STORY

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by Zara González Hoang

(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Measuring a Year cover

 

 

When I celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I reflect on the year gone by, and now author Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrator Zara González Hoang have created an inviting way for children to do the same with Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story.

What struck me the most about this rhyming picture book was what a terrific conversation starter it is for families and how, per the back matter, other opportunities are indicated where the book can be used including “the secular, Lunar, Islamic, and Hindu New  Years, birthdays, and the start of each school year. And, of course, the start of each new day.”

 

 

Measuring a Year int1 height measure
Interior spread from Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Zara González Hoang, Abrams Appleseed ©2022.

 

I like how the many ways to approach introspection or measuring a year are presented. A year gone by can literally be measured by how much a child has grown. It can also be measured by friends made, a new skill learned, places visited, and special occasions such as weddings and bar mitvahs celebrated. The book doesn’t shy away from addressing how measuring a year should include thinking back on times a child did something they regret, times they were sad, or even scared. So much can happen in a year.

 

Measuring a Year int2 new year party
Interior spread from Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Zara González Hoang, Abrams Appleseed ©2022.

 

Hoang’s inclusive, diverse illustrations, were rendered using “watercolor, colored pencils, and a bit of Photoshop magic” and are rich with children of all abilities. In terms of Jewish symbols, I spotted a Menorah, a Sukkah, a dreidel, a Jewish Star, and people wearing yarmulkes. During this high holy day when we have the chance to start anew, many Jews eat honey cake and dip apples in honey for a sweet new year.  The delicious-looking endpapers were designed with this tradition in mind. Between the joyful art and the gentle tone, Measuring a Year is a thoughtful and easy way for kids to understand and appreciate the significance of Rosh Hashanah and welcome addition to any Jewish holiday book collection.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Neverwoof by Gabe Jensen

 

 

NEVERWOOF:
The Dog That Never Barked

Written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen

(Familius; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Neverwoof cover

 

 

The picture book, Neverwoof: The Dog that Never Barked, by author-illustrator Gabe Jensen is a delight. No matter how often I read this story, it still makes me laugh. Neverwoof, a charming orange mutt, has an interesting life, going through his days without a sound: “He chased a siren—woo woo woo. / He saved a baby—boo hoo hoo. / He got high-fives from the fire crew. / But never did he woof.” Until the day he seemingly must bark. Does he? I won’t tell beyond saying to expect a plot twist!

 

Neverwoof_int1_pugs_by
Interior spread from Neverwoof: The Dog That Never Barked written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen, Familius ©2021.

 

Coupled with the spare, rhyming text is Jensen’s fantastic art. The limited color palette effectively uses what he calls “two clashing colors.” Neverwoof’s personality shines through as does his love for his family. My favorite spread comes toward the end when Neverwoof faces his ultimate challenge with a thief known as Stinky Sue—giggling is guaranteed.

 

Neverwoof int14 bite
Interior spread from Neverwoof: The Dog That Never Barked written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen, Familius ©2021.

 

The art, like the text, is deceptively simple. Yet, each time I delve into it, I find something new in the background. It may just be the headline on a discarded newspaper or the cat that makes an appearance throughout, however, these details add depth and humor. The book’s smaller size (7 x 10 inches, hardback) fits well in young hands, the debossed cover is fun to touch, and there’s no dust jacket to lose.

 

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery

MEET THE HAMANTASCHEN:
A Purim Mystery

Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg

(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Meet the Hamantaschen cover

 

 

This year Purim begins on the evening of March 16.

Just in time for the Jewish holiday, author and illustrator Alan Silberberg is back with Meet the Hamantaschen another funny companion picture book to his previous two holiday-themed hits, Meet the Matzah and Meet the Latkes.

It’s great to have a fresh take on Purim, the holiday that celebrates the cleverness and bravery of Queen Esther who, as the bride of powerful King Ahasuerus in a place called Shushan, hid that she was Jewish. When Haman, a trusted advisor of the king, and embodiment of evil, “…convinced the king that all of the Jewish people of Shushan should be eliminated,” Esther, aided by her uncle Mordecai, hatched a plan to save her people.

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int1
Interior art from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

Rather than simply reenact the story on stage, something that many synagogues do when members perform the Purim play or spiel, Silberberg’s introduced a trio of die-hard hamantaschen detectives to bring the story to life on the page. For those unfamiliar with hamantaschen, they are triangular-shaped, filled pastries resembling the three-cornered hat worn by bad guy Haman. The story unfolds in film noir-style with the detectives being summoned by a mysterious stranger. Their mission: find the missing megillah. The megillah, chanted during the Purim play, is known as The Book of Esther and recounts the story that is performed. Without it “… no Purim play!”

Silberberg’s humor shines when the detectives disguise themselves to interrogate the cast of the Purim play, their likely suspects. The cake, the cookbook and the cactus waste no time in getting down to business, with puns, alliteration, and general silliness. And though weeding out the culprit may seem like it’s serious stuff, seeing a bunch of hamantaschen seeking answers can only mean one thing for children. FUN!

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int2
Interior spread from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

As the investigation continues, the trio begins piecing Purim clues together, true and false allowing the play to go off without a hitch. But the missing megillah has still not materialized. Will it ever be found? Well, that’s one clue this mystery fan is not giving away.

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int3
Interior spread from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

Throughout the book, the artwork, drawn and painted digitally, is bold, whimsical, full of visual jokes, zany characters, and extra-large speech bubbles, all adding to the enjoyment of Meet the Hamantaschen. One of my favorite characters is Barry who plays the part of Haman. His mustache is perfect and reminds me of old-time villains. In the back matter there’s a Purim Glossary to help explain some terminology. A real positive about this picture book is that even children who are not Jewish will learn about Purim and get caught up in the excitement of the sleuthing. Best read with a side of hamantaschen and a grogger in hand!

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Five New Children’s Valentine’s Day Books for 2022

Five New Children’s Valentine’s Day Books

A Roundup

 

Check out what’s new and noteworthy this year for Valentine’s Day

 

Love from Madeline coverLOVE FROM MADELINE
Based on the character created by Ludwig Bemelmans
Written by John Bemelmans Marciano 
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
(Viking BYR; $8.99; Ages 0-3 yrs)

It would be difficult to find a person unfamiliar with the Madeline Media Franchise, so when I learned that a new picture book was available based on the daily adventures of Madeline the character created by Ludwig Bemelmans, it was a welcome stroll down memory lane.

This new mini-book (the first of five)  Love From Madeline takes the reader back to the Catholic boarding school where Madeline lives in Paris with her many friends and most notably her teacher, Miss Clavel. Salerno’s illustrations of the sole red-head playing around town, skiing in the snowcapped mountains, and sailing the waters, continue her adventures. But this time she teaches us the meaning of love.

We learn basic lessons that we often forget “Love is in the simple words: good morning and hello,” as Madeline and friends dressed in matching blue outfits with yellow hats wave to the doorman and the woman selling flowers. Each page turn teaches kids how love can be as simple as giving a hug to someone upset or giving someone a lift on their scooter. When the book ends, kids see that “love is always found at home”  when Miss Clavel turns out the lights of the blue-shaded room with six beds lined up on each side and tucks the kids in for the night. This story gently and sweetly introduces kids to the real meaning behind Valentine’s Day—love.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

What is Love coverWHAT IS LOVE?
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
(Chronicle Kids; $17.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Shelf Awareness

I read What is Love? again and again and each time I got something new out of it. The water-colored art and heart-felt prose of this book are perfect to read on Valentine’s Day or any night as a bedtime story. It’s written by NYT bestselling author for children, Mac Barnett, the two-time Caldecott Honor winner. He teams up with illustrator and Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis, who is also an author and illustrator of bestselling picture books.

Ellis’s watercolor paintings of greens, pinks, and blues gloriously take the reader on an artistic adventure as the protagonist sets off on a journey into the world, suggested by his grandmother, to find the meaning of love. But he soon learns that love is different for everyone. He first meets a fisherman hugging a very large fish who smiles and says “Love is a fish” when asked what love is. The boy disagrees since he finds fish slimy and bad-tasting. “The fisherman sighed. You do not understand.”

The actor loves applause, the cat loves the night and the soldier loves his horse. The characters gather together in a beautiful spread showing, “A sports car, a donut, a lizard, a ring. The first snow of winter, a maple in summer. A grizzly bear, this pebble right here-these are all things people told me love is.”

Barnett returns the boy home taller and wiser to a grandmother who is older and still wise and asks “Did you answer your question?” Ellis closes the story with a loving embrace of the two smiling with a black background and butterflies flying nearby as the boy answers “Yes.”

This modern-day take on old-time classical picture books about love reminds us that love can be more than one thing and that we are all surrounded by it even on days when we feel like it’s lost.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

The House of Love coverTHE HOUSE OF LOVE
Written by Adriana Trigiani
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

With a lovely name like Mia Valentina Amore, which means My Valentine, Valentine’s Day is always an extra special one for the main character in The House of Love, a storybook from NYT’s bestselling adult author Adriana Trigiani with art from popular illustrator Amy June Bates.

Together with her Mama, Mia helps prepare the house for the holiday. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, the home is described as slightly run down with some broken window glass, faded wallpaper, creaky stairs but also a place that, when everyone was around, “… had rooms exploding with conversation, laughter, and sometimes even an argument.”

The youngest of seven children, Mia is concerned her siblings won’t be back in time for the Valentine’s Day party. But Mama takes Mia’s mind off things by keeping her busy crafting family Valentines, decorating, and baking. This delightful mother-daughter day is spent bonding and creating special memories that only they two share. At the day’s end, after the whole family has eaten and celebrated, Mia realizes that everyone has gotten a special Valentine except her, making her feel sad and forgotten. Little does she know that something special just for her awaits beneath her pillow. Bates’s beautiful art conveys charm and an old-world feeling, like peeking into the Walton’s home. This slice-of-life story reminds readers that a house and family may be far from perfect but when it’s filled with love, it’s THE BEST place to be.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Love Grows Everywhere coverLOVE GROWS EVERYWHERE
Written by Barry Timms
Illustrated by Tisha Lee
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Here’s a rhyming picture book for Valentine’s Day, or any day really, that celebrates how special love is. Using plants as the inspiration, author Timms presents a lovely lyrical look at how the love that makes plants grow is the very same one that can nurture many different kinds of relationships in our lives.

Yes, thought and care are all love needs/to help it grow, like tiny seeds,/that might seem nothing much at first/till up into the light they burst.

This is such a beautiful sentiment and one that children will easily understand especially the spreads devoted to making friends. Love is about helping those in need, it’s about being there for those close to us and making time for new people too.  Lee, in her picture book debut, has created rich art with diverse characters that is a delight to see page after page in various scenes. The illustrations exude the same warmth the plants do making it feel like spring is just around the corner. What an uplifting read to share this Valentine’s Day!  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Slug in Love coverSLUG IN LOVE 
Written by Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Nadia Shireen
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This new picture book cracked me up. Between its sweet surprise near the end and the inviting rhyme that is just perfect for beginning readers, Slug in Love is a terrific book to read aloud this Valentine’s Day.

Illustrator Shireen has added to Bright’s bouncy rhythm with bold colors and geometric-shaped animals that pop off the page and might be fun for kids to try drawing themselves.

The thing is that Doug, the slug, is a huggy sort of guy, but not everyone he encounters agrees. No one is eager to embrace this little slug.  After looking for love from spiders, caterpillars, and other assorted creatures, Doug thinks he’s found the squelchy, slimy, yucky, sticky love he’s after, only he’s wrong. Is he destined to be alone? What’s a slug supposed to do? Well, as it happens, love comes to Doug in a most unexpected way. And that, it turns out, has made his search and this picture book worthwhile.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: I was hoping to have a review copy of Love in The Library before this post went live so I could share this true love story set in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII. But when I went to schedule this, it sadly had not arrived. I hope you will add this picture book to your reading list

 

Additional Recommendations:

Peekaboo Love coverPEEKABOO: LOVE
Written by Camilla Reid

illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 0-2)

The latest interactive board book in the Peekaboo You series, Peekaboo: Love is packed with things to “push, pull, or turn on every spread,” sure to entertain your little strawberries.

MY HEART GROWS
Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Joanne Liu
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 1-5)

A clever novelty board book, My Heart Grows features a die-cut heart that grows along with the love the parents in this story feel. Seeing a child experience new things fills the hearts of the parents and grandparents depicted in this story. The child-like art is vibrant and adorable making this a great Valentine’s Day gift for someone special in your life.

 

Further Valentine’s Day Reading:

I Love You Because I Love You
Written by Muon Thi Van 
Illustrated by Jessica Love

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Best New Books for Back-to-School 2021

10 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

∼A ROUNDUP FOR 2021∼

 

 

backtoschool pencil clipart

 

 

Back-to school this year is not only the start of a new school year, for many it’s also a return to in-person learning in over a year. For others, it’s really the first time ever to attend daycare, preschool, or elementary school. This selection of ten assorted books highlights all the things that returning to school means for kids.

 

 

MEET YOUR SCHOOL!: An All About Me Book
Written by Cindy Jin

Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Cindy Jin’s upbeat 12-page school-shaped board book, Meet Your School!: An All About Me Book, features a variety of animals making their way through a school day. A nice overview is given of what kids can expect, from the main classrooms to the art room, gym, cafeteria, library, and music room. The rhyming couplets reinforce what can be found in each area: “The library is filled with books of all kinds / to teach and inspire bright, young minds.”

The illustrations by Melissa Crowton depict cute, colorful animals interacting happily in various situations. Each page has fun lift-the-flaps for further exploration. Overall, this book has a lot to discover while also providing a positive message as to what school is all about. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

HowtobeKindinKindergarten cvrHOW TO BE KIND IN KINDERGARTEN:
A Book For Your Backpack
Written by D.J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Ruth Hammond
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99; Ages 3-5)

 My eyes were instantly attracted to the colorful book cover illustration of an apple being shared on the school playground with a new friend, while classmates throw balls and glide down the slide, introducing readers to acts of kindness in How To Be Kind in Kindergarten: A Book for Your Backpack.

A book for your backpack is a perfect subtitle for this small hardcover book that reads rhythmically, teaching hidden lessons to kids first entering the new world of school. The fun-to-read story includes a diverse mix of abilities, races, and genders. Kids should have no problem finding themselves in one of Hammond’s realistic drawings.

Steinberg opens the story with the question, “Are you in kindergarten? Is that really true? How in the world did you get so big? So smart and funny, too!” The story moves into the classroom with posters of 1, 2, 3, and ABC so a child sees what a kindergarten classroom looks like. Kindness is threaded through each page as Steinberg points out, ‘Cause you’re the kind of kid who always shows you care.

This book shows kids what an impact they can make in their new school, whether cheering up a sad new friend or including a shy friend in a game. This truly is an ideal backpack book and should be read on the first day of school, the middle of the school year, and at the end of the school year because kindness is needed year-round. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

whats in dragons backpack coverWHAT’S IN DRAGON’S BACKPACK?
Written by Joan Holub

Illustrated by Christopher Lee
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 3-5)

The eye-catching cover of Joan Holub’s, What’s in Dragon’s Backpack? gleams with metallic dragon scales and the backpack-shaped 14-page board book has a cut-out handle just the right size for small hands. Inside, the fun rhyming couplets give us a glimpse of what Dragon’s got in there: “Stickers, charms, a message, and some homework that he fried. Oops!”

Each page has lift-the-flaps for further exploration adorned with Christopher Lee’s adorable art. The faces on his dragons, such as on the mock A Dragon’s Tale book, are top-notch. I also really like the subtle math lessons showing three flames equals one on-fire number three. Other teaching elements include groups of shapes that, once you peek beneath the flap, combine to make a sword.

Educational, interactive, and fun, this engaging book is sure to be a hit with kids who are starting school and donning backpacks. It can also be a conversation starter about what should be inside your child’s backpack to make school days a success. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL
Written by Alexandra Alessandri
Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

It’s the first day of school, an English-speaking school, but Isabel only speaks Spanish. Isabel is a charming and irresistible main character and I cared about how she felt going into unknown territory, alone. Her reluctance is understandable. She doesn’t know English and is scared of what it will be like. Isabel sees things in gorgeous colors and through art and doesn’t realize how quickly she will pick up the new language. “English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites.” Isabel preferred the warm, cheerful colors of Spanish.

Ultimately her language learning is facilitated by one good friend but her limited grasp of English initially gets in the way. Isabel’s thoughtful art saves the day and new friendship blossoms. The interplay between Alessandri’s beautiful prose and Dawson’s flowing art makes every page a delight to behold. This cleverly presented bilingual picture book also includes Spanish to English translations in the back matter but for English speakers, most of the Spanish words can be understood in the context of the story. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

My School Stinks! coverMY SCHOOL STINKS!
Written by Becky Scharnhorst
Illustrated by Julia Patton
(Philomel; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

School really does stink when one classmate is a skunk and the teacher is unBEARable. So, when little Stuart tells Mom his classmates are wild animals she says all kids are wild animals in debut author Becky Scharnhorst’s hysterical read-aloud with drawings by Julia Patton.

The originality of this story told in diary form starting on the first day of school and ending at Open House, when Mom and Dad realize they have sent their young child, Stuart, to a school full of animals, takes the reader through the first seventeen days of school. Stuart attempts to play along with his classmates when the monkeys hang him upside down. He’s then caught by Patricia the Porcupine pricking him with her many quills. Stuart journals P.S. The deep breaths still aren’t working. P.P.S. Neither are the happy thoughts P.P.P.S. I’m not going back tomorrow!

As Stuart continues to journal he also begins to make friends. Charlie the Crocodile apologizes for biting his fingers and becomes Stuart’s new best bud. This sweet story can be read for school storytime or by a parent before bed. I laughed on entry September 15 when Scharnhorst writes P.S. Mom doesn’t understand how a skunk got in the storage closet. I guess she’ll find out at Open House. I was anxious for Open House to find out how Mom and Dad would react to realizing they sent their child to the wrong school, but Stuart repeats what they told him on the first day of school Mom and Dad told me to take deep breaths and THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS. This was a great lesson for his parents. I just hope they let him stay friends with a crocodile! Patton’s detailed artwork adds to the whimsy with letters written on notebook paper and characters drawn with big teeth and round glasses. The P.S. notes were a fabulous extra touch. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

WE WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL:
The Fight for Disability Rights
Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler + Janine Leffler
Illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Oh, how I’d love for this nonfiction picture book to be required reading in all schools! I could not believe as I read it that prior to President Ford signing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975 with its Individualized Education Plan (IEP), children with disabilities did not have the right to a free, appropriate, public education. But the book really focuses on the lawsuit in 1971 called Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia, the District Court ruling in 1972 that led to this important act being implemented, and the seven school-aged children and their families who made it happen.

We Want to Go to School is narrated by author-illustrator Cocca-Leffler’s daughter, author Janine Leffler, whose own inclusive experience as a student with Cerebral Palsy (CP) receiving various special assistance in school contrasts to what students prior to her would have experienced.  She explains how prior to the ’70s, students with disabilities either didn’t go to school, stayed in hospitals, or were sent to special schools at a huge expense to families. If they were allowed into some schools, these children were segregated in separate classrooms. There was little chance to interact with mainstream students. That is until Peter Mills, Janice King, Jerome James, Michael Williams, George Liddell, Jr., Steven Gaston and Duane Blacksheare decided they’d had enough of being left out. Of course, the schools objected, finding reason after reason why students with disabilities should not be able to attend. Their parents were having déjà vu.

Wasn’t public school supposed to be for everyone? Wasn’t that the lesson learned in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when segregation because of the color one’s skin was the issue. So the families fought back. They began to meet others facing the same school challenges and there was power in numbers. The news of the lawsuit spread so that pretty soon “more families joined the lawsuit.” It then became a class action suit. “18,000 students from the Washington, D.C. area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities.” Would the judge presiding over the case agree? YES! And the positive outcome of this lawsuit led to big changes for students with disabilities with “federal laws guaranteeing public education for all children.

I loved the energy of Cocca-Leffler’s art, especially the spread where she’s filled the page with faces of 1,000 kids and tells readers to imagine those 18,000 DC students, and the 8 million US students denied an education because they had disabilities. Powerful! Five pages of back matter include information on Disability Education Rights, a timeline, Author Notes, and an enlightening Note from Paul R. Dimond, Plaintiffs’ Attorney in the Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia. I’m grateful for these change-makers. They paved the way for future students with disabilities who continue to benefit from their commitment to equal rights in education for all. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

TheNightBaaforetheFirstDayofSchool coverTHE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Dawn Young
Illustrated by Pablo Pino
(WorthyKids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Night Baafore The First Day of School blends the counting element, the rhyme and hilarity of Sandra Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk with the irresistible art of Mark Teague’s Pigsty. As the main character Bo—the star of two previous books I haven’t yet read—attempts unsuccessfully to fall asleep due to day-before-school-starts jitters, he calls on sheep to help. The catch is they make it more difficult to sleep with the ruckus they create. Poor Bo, aware of the hours slipping away, is desperate. He offers them a snack if they’ll stop, but when that doesn’t work he calls an emergency meeting. Only then a mysterious shadow of a monster appears further exacerbating the chaos. 

There’s as much for readers to enjoy in Young’s wild storyline as there is in Pino’s zany and action-packed illustrations. The counting of sheep from 1 to 10 as they get up to no good adds an engaging layer to the book. Then, reversing that to eventually count back down as it gets later and later, is such fun and a great way to involve young readers. I love how the 10 sheep all wear number necklaces to identify themselves. Kids may want to study each spread more closer upon further reads to see what each individual sheep is doing with the supplies Bo has prepared for his backpack. The massive mess is mighty fun to look at. Tension builds with each page turn as we wonder if Bo will get any shut-eye and manage to catch the bus to school. And the humor surrounding every sheep-filled episode encroaching on Bo’s time to sleep is a delight in this rhyming romp of a read-aloud. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NORMAN’S FIRST DAY AT DINO DAY CARE
Written and illustrated by Sean Julian
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Norman, a very small, almost invisible dinosaur compared to all the other dinos at Mrs. Beak’s play group, is shy. This may resonate with young readers experiencing a similar emotion when just starting school and being away from home. Julian’s rich artwork is charming in how it depicts Norman hiding (except his tail always adorably sticking out) in various situations where the text also states “he was very good at hiding.” In the beginning, before Norman makes friends, parents can ask children to see if they can spot him in the illustrations as he avoids interaction.

My favorite part of the picture book is when Norman confides in Mrs. Beak that he really wants to join the other dinos but feels shy. “It’s okay to be shy,” Mrs. Beak replied. “It’s a special part of who you are.” When she asks the dinos to perform in pairs, Norman teams up with big, loud Jake who despite his size, admits he’s rather nervous too. The two share a laugh and come up with a magical performance that not only satisfies (and perhaps comforts) children but provides the perfect conversation starter for parents and teachers to discuss shyness. I’m not sure it was deliberate, but I appreciated Mrs. Beak’s rainbow door and her rainbow mug, another welcoming feature to this warm and reassuring read. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

SCHOOL IS COOL! (A Hello!Lucky Book)
Written by Sabrina Moyle
Illustrated by Eunice Moyle
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99; Ages 5-9)

School Is Cool was written and illustrated by sisters Sabrina Moyle and Eunice Moyle founders of Hello!Lucky, their award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio.

Targeting the child who has already had some school experience, this story begins on the beach where the rhinoceros, dog, and platypus are chilling out until they realize Tomorrow’s the first day of school! The expressive drawings tell it all when the dog almost drops his ice cream cone and the rhino jumps from his floatation device. The friends are worried kids won’t like your hair. Or how they talk. Or what they wear.

Eunice Moyle’s bold, captivating illustrations depict all sorts of animals arriving for their first day by school bus and bikes. They line up awaiting a handshake from the animal teacher, in popping bright greens and oranges and a happy yellow sun, a perfect complement to the welcome the smiling animals.

This book expresses the true feelings many kids have when it’s time to say goodbye to Mom and home now replaced by an unfamiliar teacher and classroom where they must learn the new rules. What if your teacher calls on you—and the answer is five, but you said … 2. It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” Everyone is here to grow.”

The back flap states that the Moyle sisters use their creativity and humor to inspire kindness, empathy, self-awareness, and service and in doing so dedicate this book to teachers everywhere. You are the coolest! Thank you for all you do! – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

TWINS VS. TRIPLETS #1:
Back-to-School Blitz

Written by Jennifer Torres
Illustrated by Vanessa Flores
(Harper Chapters; HC $15.99, Paperback $5.99, Ages 6-10)

It looks like it’s going to be three times the trouble at school for David Suárez. With new neighbors, the Benitez triplets adding to what’s already an annoying presence by his other neighbors, the Romero twins, David must navigate third grade and not lose his cool. His goal after all is to be captain of the Globetrotters, the geography club, and that requires an uncluttered mind. Except the Benitez triplets and Romero twins are messing with him and everyone else.

When David is tasked with monitoring the playground (trouble maker prime turf), he fears it may be made off-limits for everyone if the five tricksters continue getting up to no good. And that is looking more and more likely when both sets of mischief-makers aim to rule recess with their pranks and pushy personalities.

This early chapter book, filled with humorous black-and-white illustrations, works well with its mix of Spanish words and expressions along with comments at the end of most chapters noting a reader’s progress. I like how Back-to-School Blitz includes a diverse group of students and some interesting geography information (David’s favorite subject) that ends up playing an important part in keeping the bullies in check. A couple of things jumped out at me like having the triplets together in one class which I thought wasn’t typically done. Another time, after causing a distraction, the triplets sneak out of class early without the teacher, Mr. Kim, noticing. But I’m an adult and if the kids reading this first book in a new series don’t mind, that’s great because as the book ends, there’s some unusual digging going on in the sandbox, and surely more pranks to come in book #2. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

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Three Kids’ Picture Books About Hope

A ROUNDUP OF THREE KIDS’ PICTURE BOOKS

ABOUT HOPE

 

Here’s a fantastic selection of picture books about hope providing a great way to lift spirits at home while spending meaningful time with your children.

 

IfYouCometoEarth cvrIF YOU COME TO EARTH
Written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall 

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

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.

 

TheWorldNeedsMorePurplePeople cvrTHE WORLD NEEDS MORE PURPLE PEOPLE
Written by Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart
Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

#1 New York Times bestseller! 

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.

 

ThereIsaRainbow coverTHERE IS A RAINBOW
Written by Theresa Trinder
Illustrated by Grant Snider
(Chronicle Books; $15.99, Ages 3-5)

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!

Click here to read a recent picture book about hope reviewed by Christine.

Click here to read a review of another picture book about hope.

 

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Best Hanukkah Picture Books 2020!

 

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS

FOR HANUKKAH 2020

-A ROUNDUP-

 

 

 

HappyLlamakkah coverHAPPY LLAMAKKAH!
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Lydia Nichols
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 3-5)

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

 

NINTHNIGHTOFHANUKKAH cvrTHE NINTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH
Written by Erica S. Perl
Illustrated by Shahar Kober
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3+)

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

 

TheEightKnightsofHanukkah cvrTHE EIGHT KNIGHTS OF HANUKKAH
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Galia Bernstein
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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

 

SimonandtheBear cvrSIMON AND THE BEAR: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
(Little Brown BYR; $12.99, Ages 4+)

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 Tale had 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

 

TheHanukkahMagicofNateGadol cvr THE HANUKKAH MAGIC OF NATE GADOL
Written by Arthur A. Levine
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)

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

 

Additional Recommended Hanukkah Books:

KaylaandKugelsHappyHanukkah cvrKAYLA AND KUGEL’S HAPPY HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

The third book in this charming series.

 

 


A DREIDEL IN TIME
Written by Marcia Berneger

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro
(Kar-Ben; $8.99, Ages 7+)

Read Ronna’s review of this middle-grade paperback in L.A. Parent magazine below.

 

 

 

 

A Dreidel in Time – A New Spin on an Old Tale

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Two Tough Trucks Get Lost!

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez

Illustrated by Hilary Leung

(Orchard Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

TTTGetLost cover

 

Authors Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, along with illustrator Hilary Leung tell the tale of “a daredevil dude and a thrill-seeker truck” who race the desert backroads in Two Tough Trucks Get Lost! (book #2 in the series). But when their adventure takes each on a separate path, being tough takes on a whole new meaning.

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. 

 

TTTgetlost int1
Interior spread from Two Tough Trucks Get Lost written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung, Orchard Books ©2020.

 

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!’”

 

TTTgetlost int2
Interior art from Two Tough Trucks Get Lost! written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Hilary Leung, Orchard Books ©2020.

 

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.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Read a review of Two Tough Trucks (book #1) here.

  • Click here to order a copy of Two Tough Trucks Get Lost!
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    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!
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 11/2/20

 

 

 

 

 

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Three Halloween Books for Little Ones

NEW CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HALLOWEEN

PART TWO

A ROUNDUP

 

 

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.

 

One Black Cat coverONE BLACK CAT
Written by Robie Rogge

Illustrated by August Ro
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

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:
 A Pop-Up Adventure

Written by Joel Stern
From an idea by Nancy Hall

Illustrated by Christopher Lee
(Little Simon; $12.99, Ages 3-5)

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!
Written and illustrated by Alex Willan
(Simon & Schuster BYR; 17.,99, Ages 4-8)

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!
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/26/20
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Picture Book Review – I Love Me!

I LOVE ME!

Written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss

Illustrated by Beth Hughes 

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and illustrated by Beth Hughes, the picture book I Love Me! honors self-love and the beauty of difference. 

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.” 

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I Love Me int Spread
Interior spread from I Love Me! written by LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss and illustrated by Beth Hughes, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

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
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Click here to order a copy of I Love Me! or visit your local indie bookstore.
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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!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/21/20

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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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