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The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

THE GOODBYE BOOK
Written and Illustrated by Todd Parr
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.00, Ages 3-6)

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The Goodbye Book written and illustrated by Todd Parr, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ©2015.

Todd Parr, with his signature bold and bright style, gently approaches one of the toughest experiences of life with hope and the assurance of healing in The Goodbye Book.

Saying goodbye is never easy and sorting out the myriad emotions that arise from such an experience can seem impossible. At first glance, I felt Parr’s touching book was simply making the  “7 stages of grief” more accessible to children, but, in fact, the book deals with the issue of loss in a more in-depth and complex manner.

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Interior artwork from The Goodbye Book written and illustrated by Todd Parr, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ©2015.

Parr establishes a safe distance for children to relate to such scary feelings through his main character, the goldfish. As readers, we immediately sense the feeling of sadness after the goldfish is separated from his friend. Supporting characters, a girl and black & white dog, are also grieving. Through the simplicity of their expressions, you can feel a multitude of emotions; they don’t merely look sad but confused and even emotionally numb. At the same time, it’s important to note- herein lies the beginning of healing because the sadness is shared among friends.

But the pain of the loss is very fresh in the fish’s heart, so the range of emotions is wide: “You might be very sad. You might be very mad.  You might not feel like talking to anyone.” Your daily activities, like eating and sleeping, may be interrupted. You may also withdraw from activities you once enjoyed, like going to a birthday party. When you’re grieving doesn’t it seem everybody else is happy and living a perfect life? The celebration makes your sadness even more painful, and you think you’ll never be able to experience that kind of joy again. So when the goldfish drops the party hat and swims away from the party, we know exactly what he’s feeling.

The most touching page for me is when the fish sets a table for two “pretend[ing] it didn’t happen.” The expression on his face is heart wrenching, but through his sadness we readers realize–the fish is beginning to accept what has happened.  Through the passage of time and the memories of good times shared he “eventually …start[s] to feel better.”  We see positive changes in our fish’s behavior.  We see him reaching out to someone, talking to his friend, the dog, and expressing his feelings through drawing.  Most importantly, our hero’s actions show us there are things we can do to help with the coping process.  We need not feel ashamed of our feelings and can open up whenever we’re ready.  

The Goodbye Book can be used by parents and educators alike to talk about the spectrum of loss: from leaving behind a friend or relative who lives far away to the final farewell we experience when a loved one dies. As Parr shows us, healing is not a linear path from grief to happiness; acceptance takes time. In the end, the assurance of love is all we need to cope and recover. We find comfort in knowing that someone we love will be there to listen to us and hold us.

A gentle and loving approach to the tough subject of loss, Todd Parr’s The Goodbye Book is ideal for healing hearts.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Christmas Books Roundup Part One

CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP
PART ONE
By Lucy Ravitch

 

ChristmasBooksRoundup

 

 

 

The BestPartsofChristmasThe Best Parts of Christmas
Written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
(Candlewick Press; $14.99 )
This is a sweet story about a young boy named Fritz during the Christmas season. Within the lovely watercolor illustrations you’ll find Fritz’s family as they get their tree, bring it into the house (breaking rule number 5 of “no branches, sticks, or twigs allowed indoors”), and prepare for the Christmas season. Fritz spends much of his time around the tree, making sweet memories. Even after the tree is taken away, he is able to keep a little bit of the Christmas spirit for the rest of the year. This book is perfect for little ones 3-7!

 

 

HowToCatchSanta

How to Catch Santa: A holiday How To book!
Written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish 
(Alfred A. Knopf; $17.99)
What a fun read for kids and adults! How to Catch Santa goes through a lot of clever scenarios if you were to catch Santa. It also gives ideas for gifts and questions for the big man in red. My favorite part was how to find “Santa’s been here” clues so you don’t necessarily need to catch him, but you’re sure to know he came by. This book is sure to delight kids ages 4-8 and their parents–giving kids plenty of starter ideas as to how they might ‘catch Santa’. It also reassures that if you don’t catch him this year there is always next year.

 

 

TheRunawaySanta

The Runaway Santa: A Christmas Adventure Story
Written by Anne Margaret Lewis and illustrated by Aaron Zenz 
(Sky Pony Press; $15.99)
You’ve heard of The Runaway Bunny, right? Now it’s Santa’s turn and you’ll love the twist. Santa desperately wants to take a vacation and runaway to have fun adventures throughout the world. Mrs. Claus always shows her love by packing him the right equipment for the adventure. As he is out on the adventures it’s fun to try and find where Mrs. Claus is hiding within the illustrations. It’s a darling story and my four-year-old really enjoyed the simple and sweet pictures, especially when Santa swung with the monkeys. A jolly good book for kids 3-6!

 

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

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Best Halloween Books for Kids

BEST HALLOWEEN BOOKS FOR KIDS 2015
A Round Up of Wickedly Wonderful Halloween Books for Boos & Ghouls
{Part 2}

 

BOOKS, THE BEST TREAT OF ALL!!

FancyNancyCandyBonanzaFancy Nancy Candy Bonanza 
Based on the creation of Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (Harper Festival; $4.99, Ages 4-8)
Fancy Nancy fans and those newly acquainted avec la petite fille adorable, will be in for a treat with this newest addition to the beloved series. Dressed up as, no surprise, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Fancy Nancy’s going trick-or-treating but must not overdo it as her mom has requested. How much candy will go in her pail versus in her mouth is the big question because everything Fancy Nancy gets looks scrumptious?! Stickers are a bonus to keep or give out to friends this Halloween.

Itsrainingbats&frogsIt’s Raining Bats & Frogs
Written by Rebecca Colby and illustrated by Steven Henry (Feiwel & Friends; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
This unique story idea and imaginative artwork will have your kids rethinking rain just like the little witch Delia does in It’s Raining Bats & Frogs. As the title hints, the problem is each time Delia casts a spell and changes the rain into something else to make the Witch Parade less boring, like cats & dogs, hats & clogs or bats & frogs, pandemonium ensues! Maybe some water isn’t so bad after all when you consider (or actually experience) the alternatives!

 

HappyHalloweenWitchesCatHappy Halloween, Witch’s Cat!
Written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster (Harper Collins Children’s Books; $15.99, Ages 4-8)
This new picture book is visually delightful. You may even find yourself wanting to try recreating a scene as a craft project with your child or making up your own scene. Muncaster has created the artwork for Happy Halloween, Witch’s Cat incorporating “… handcrafted miniature three-dimensional scenes using paper, foil, fabric, and other materials.” She then adds lighting, takes photos and voilà, a unique and exciting spread is created. The book’s as much a story about mommy and daughter together time as it a Halloween tale. “My mom is a witch, and I am her special witch’s cat.” Together the two go in search of the perfect costume for the young girl although nothing is just right. And, after all the hunting, in the end, a simple switcheroo turns out to be the best idea yet! Mom can be the witch’s cat and the daughter can be the witch. Problem solved in a most magical way.

IWanttoEatYourBooksI Want to Eat Your Books
Written by Karin LeFranc and illustrated by Tyler Parker (Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)
I can never read enough books about libraries, bookstores and books themselves and LeFranc’s debut, I Want to Eat Your Books, satisfied that desire with a story not too scary for little ones, yet cute and humorous enough to keep ’em wanting to hear more. This read aloud rhyming picture book introduces a book chomping, bulgy-eyed, zombie boy whose goal is to devour all the library books at school! “The creature marches down the aisle and stops at Sci-Fi with a smile. Such crispy pages strewn with words. Our creature’s craving seconds – thirds!” But a clever student manages to turn the zombie’s hunger to eat books into one eager to hear them read aloud instead. Once instilled with an appreciation of the written word, it’s the zombie who saves the school from a mummy on the loose who easily gets wrapped up in a great story shared by zombie boy.

RiseoftheZombieRabbitRise of the Zombie Rabbit: Undead Pets #5 
Written by Sam Hay and illustrated by Simon Cooper (Grosset & Dunlap; $5.99, Ages 6-8)
How did I not read numbers 1-4 of this hit series before picking up the latest? Ideal for reluctant readers and those looking for a quick, fun read, Rise of the Zombie Rabbit, kept me thoroughly entertained. It’s light on unsettling frights making it fine for nighttime reading. Main character, Joe, frequently gets visited by Undead Pets and this time it’s Fluffy rabbit who steals the show when she suddenly appears in a magic trick at Joe’s sixth-grade talent contest. This zombie bunny, however, won’t go away and leave Joe in peace until she gets Joe to help her find her owner’s lost necklace. Well actually the necklace had been borrowed which is the reason for the urgency in tracking it down. But how is Joe supposed to find it when the lawn it may be lost on belongs to Mr. Steel, Joe’s new neighbor who also happens to be a police officer?

BellaDonnaCovenRoadBella Donna: Coven Road
Written by Ruth Symes and illustrated by Marion Lindsay (Sky Pony Press; $7.99, Ages 7-10)
What’s Halloween without some witches? Bella Donna and Sam are orphans living at Templeton Children’s Home. Bella Donna has wanted to be a witch since she can remember. Sam’s into all things creepy, crawly and wants a family that won’t mind his passion for worms and bugs. However both kids are told to keep these interests private. Then Lilith visits the orphanage and it’s clear she’s looking to adopt a child with Bella Donna’s “unique special skills.” Does she know the little girl’s actually a witch? Could Bella Donna be the perfect girl Lilith would want to keep after the trial month? It’s only when Bella Donna comes home early from school that she discovers Coven Road, with its thirteen houses, has changed drastically, and it could only mean one thing. The road, like its residents, is magical, and just the right place for a witchling (a young witch in training) like Bella Donna. This paperback has ten chapters all featuring black and white illustrations (my fave is the one of Coven Road) and is a quick read. It’s the first in a new series, and is sure to attract the interest of kids tweens into witchy adventures. Check out the book’s website at BellaDonnaOnline.co.uk to find out more about Bella Donna, her friends and the next book in the series, Too Many Spells.

SlasherGirls&MonsterBoysSlasher Girls & Monster Boys
Stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke (Dial; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
Caution: do not read at bedtime or while home alone. Then again, for those of us who thrive on thrillers, go ahead, read it in the dark, play some foreboding organ music, and prepare to be unnerved by this fabulous collection of short stories certain to keep you coming back for more. This “powerhouse anthology featuring  some of the best thriller and horror writers around” includes stories from Marie Lu, Carrie Ryan, Leigh Bardugo and Jonathan Maberry. The fourteen tales offer something eerie or supernatural for everyone, not only for Halloween, but year ’round if you prefer to be scared silly in spring or summer instead. Creaking floorboards, blood, chicken bones, lightning and pelting rain, they’re all here to unsettle us and they do so exquisitely. Finish a story and find the source of its inspiration at the end, upside-down. You’ll find influences as varied as Stephen King’s Carrie to Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and will be impressed by the talent that’s been brought together to totally creep you out. Enjoy!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Buy these great books by clicking here.

Other Books You Should Definitely Read at Halloween:

TheRunaway PumpkinThe Runaway Pumpkin: A Halloween Adventure Story
Written by Anne Margaret Lewis and illustrated by Aaron Zenz
(Sky Pony Press; $15.99, Ages 3-6)

 

 

 

CarlsHalloweenCarl’s Halloween
Written and illustrated by Alexandra Day
(Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux; $14.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

 

 

ScaredyCatSplatScaredy-Cat, Splat!
Written and illustrated by Rob Scotton
(Harper Collins Children’s Books; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

OtterLovesHalloweenOtter Loves Halloween! 
Written and illustrated by Sam Garton
(Balzer + Bray; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 


SeenandNotHeardSeen and Not Heard

Written and illustrated by Katie May Green
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

Mr. Pants: Trick or Feet!
Written by Scott McCormick and illustrated by R.H. Lazzell
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

 

ScreamStreetFlameoftheDragonScream Street: Flame of the Dragon
Written by Tommy Donbavand
(Candlewick Press: $5.99, Ages 8-12)

 

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Max the Brave by Ed Vere

 

MAX THE BRAVE
Written and illustrated by Ed Vere
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Autumn 2015 Kids’ Indie Next Pick!

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Today we welcome a feisty, fearless new feline into the memorable mix of kitty picture book characters kids adore. Meet Max the Brave, a black kitten (seen on the cover sporting a red super hero cape), keen to chase a mouse. The catch is, Max’s not sure what a mouse looks like.

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Interior artwork from Max the Brave by Ed Vere, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2015.

In this adorable and addictive book, described as a cross between Are You My Mother? and I Want My Hat Back, U.K. author and illustrator Ed Vere fills the pages with humorous attempt after attempt by Max to find the rodent. From an empty tin can to up in a tree, and from an elephant –

“Excuse me, but would you
happen to be Mouse?”

“Eeek, Mouse?!
I’m not Mouse, I’m Elephant,”
says Elephant.
“But I did just see Mouse skitter by.”

– to finally coming face to face with the mouse, but not knowing what he’s looking at, the laugh out loud moments build to an entertaining conclusion. Young readers will find themselves urging Max on, especially when he’s tricked by clever Mouse into believing that the nearby sleeping Monster is actually the mouse that Max has been seeking all along. The comedy that ensues when Max confronts the real monster (with pink toenails) adds to the action and excitement.

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Interior artwork from Max the Brave by Ed Vere, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2015.

This play on identities will also delight parents since many of the characters Max meets on his quest are those who either fear cats or mice. This great read feels like a classic cartoon where we, as the audience, may know the outcome, but delight in the journey.

Bright artwork, fabulous facial expressions on every cute creature Max encounters, along with short sentences placed pleasingly on every page work together making Max the Brave a picture book worthy of multiple reads and huge smiles.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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ALLY-SAURUS & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

Ally-saurus & the First Day of School
Written and illustrated by Richard Torrey
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-6 )

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

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Even dinosaurs get starting school jitters, in fact, maybe even those who are actually little girls pretending to be dinosaurs.

“Do you think there will be other dinosaurs in my class?” asked Ally-saurus.
“I think you’re going to make a lot of new friends,” said Mother.

Introducing Ally-saurus, an enthusiastic, pig-tailed little girl with an active imagination. At first it seems that making friends will not be easy. None of Ally-saurus’ classmates chomp their snack with fierce teeth or “ROAR!” like she does. Instead they eat quietly much to Ally-saurus’ surprise. She was expecting everyone to be wild about dinos just like her.

Torrey cleverly uses black and white plus a lot of shading in his illustrations so the snippets of color that he adds stand out and really a make a statement. For example, a pink tail and ridges crayoned onto Ally-saurus throughout the book indicate that Ally is imagining herself as a Stegosaurus. Later, Robert is the first classmate to get his hint of blue color as he imagines himself to be an astronaut when he and Ally-saurus cut out nameplate designs for their cubbies. During a lesson on the weather followed by one about letters, three princesses begin voicing their opinions as gold crowns and dresses are outlined on them.

Then, at lunchtime Ally-saurus is told by these princesses that:

“These seats are saved for princesses, not dinosaurs,” said Tina.
“You’re not a real princess!” roared Ally-saurus.
“You’re not a real dinosaur,” said Tina.
“Then why am I eating dinosaur food?” asked Ally-saurus.
“That’s baloney!” said Tina, and the other princesses giggled.

Ally-saurus is left to sit alone elsewhere until she is joined by several other students, all eager to share what they enjoy pretending to be. “Soon the whole table was roaring and chomping.” It isn’t long before Ally-saurus and the kids from her lunch table are running around during recess playing make-believe and having a blast. Ally-saurus realizes too that dinos and princesses can find common ground over pretend cups of tea.

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Reprinted with permission from Ally-saurus & the First Day of School © 2015 by Richard Torrey, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Richard Torrey.

Best of all, in the school library, (my favorite place), Ally-saurus along with her classmates discover there are books about all kinds of things … including bunnies. And guess who’s got a pink bunny tail and bunny ears drawn on when she hops out of bed the next morning? Note: There’s an unassuming little bunny lamp on a night table in the last illustration. Plus, Torrey has cleverly covered the endpapers in front with dinos and at the back with bunnies, something I only noticed on the second read! That’s sure to make children want to go back again and again to look for more details.

Add Ally-saurus & the First Day of School to your back-to-school list for an ideal picture book to share with youngsters. It’ll help them realize they’re not the only ones who get nervous starting school. It’s also a great way to start the conversation about the give and take necessary to form and keep friendships.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Best Father’s Day Books Roundup

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

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We really need a Father’s MONTH or even more to celebrate all the amazing things that dads do. That’s why Good Reads With Ronna dedicates this post to fathers everywhere and the kids who love them. Incidentally, this year I noticed a new theme pop up in some of the picture books I’m reviewing. It’s noises, the kinds that dads make. You’ll see what I mean soon.

TadandDadcvr.jpgTad and Dad is written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein, (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.95, Ages 3-5). Tad the tadpole loves his dad, lots. He wants to be just like him, whether it’s making singing sounds in an echoing BUUURRPP or splashing sounds on touchdown after reaching new heights by jumping. Littles ones who have this endearing picture book read to them will also relate to Tad the tadpole wanting to spend the night beside his dad on the same lily pad. Trouble is, Tad’s growing up pretty fast and, as he grows, he naturally occupies more space … on his dad’s lily pad!

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Interior artwork from Tad and Dad written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, ©2015.

That means that at bedtime, when he asks to hop up next to Dad, any movement he makes is bound to be felt by his dad. And lately Dad’s been feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted.

“Tad!” said Dad, “When you jump in my bed, I can’t sleep because you’re always wiggling and poking, kicking and croaking!”

Kinda sounds familiar, huh? But when Tad offers to sleep all by himself on his own lily pad, Dad realizes he actually has more trouble getting to sleep without Tad by his side. This heartwarming tale of froggy affection makes its point effectively in a most delightful Stein way. That means with humor, whimsical artwork and most of all, with love.

IfMyDadWereanAnimalcvr.jpgIf My Dad Were an Animal is written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7). With very few words, this sweet picture book succeeds as a tribute to the many qualities that dads possess. Last month I reviewed If My Mom Were a Bird for Mother’s Day. The big difference in this companion book is that in If My Dad Were an Animal, boys and girls compare their dads to an assortment of animals. Some are like a “great, big, hairy … yak.” Or maybe stylish like a penguin. wise like a hooty owl or strong and burly like an elephant.

If My Dad Were an Animal Spread 1
Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

What works so well in this story is that Robaard has included each dad in the spread when the animals are revealed making it easy to show the  comparison with very young children. Her watercolor illustrations are not overly embellished, but don’t need to be because all her creatures are adorable and full of personality.

If My Dad Were an Animal Spread 2
Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

Parents can engage their youngsters with this tale by inviting them to think up more animals and characteristics they share with dads. The colorful pages of text contrast beautifully with the vast white space Robaard has intentionally left in order to draw attention to the child imitating his or her dad (see above).  All in all, If My Dad Were an Animal is an ideal picture book for Father’s Day and everyday.

DaddySatonaDuckcvr.jpgDaddy Sat on a Duck is written and illustrated by Scott M. Cohn (Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $15.00, Ages 3-6). Read the review, then scroll back up to enter Cohn’s hysterical giveaway here. I deliberately put the giveaway at the top because I absolutely love it and wish I could enter! It’s witty, quirky and seems to target the free range parent just like his debut picture book. The book opens with a *Note to reader: Try making the noises. You won’t be disappointed. And after reading the first two spreads, I dashed off to show my husband that there was someone else with his sense of humor. The fact that they’re both New Yorkers helps, but you don’t have to be from the Big Apple to find yourself laughing out loud at lots of the main character’s lines.

Cohn has created an offbeat picture book that should definitely not be designated a Father’s Day book because it’s simply too funny to take out only once a year for the holiday. In this tale, the narrator, a little girl, keeps hearing the call of the wild (daddy), in other words, sounds such as farts, yawns, or howls that could easily be mistaken for lions, hippos, and other feral creatures big and small.

I was starting to feel like I lived in a zoo.
So I asked my best friend if she felt that way, too.
“Do YOU ever notice wild beasts in your house?”
She said, “Only once” — when her mom saw a mouse.

In reality, she’s hearing the daily noises emanating from her father’s body, noises that eventually she learns to accept as part and parcel of being around her terrific loving dad. In addition to appreciating Cohn’s clever rhyming text, readers should scan his illustrations (created using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop) several times so as not to miss even the smallest of details. My particular faves are illustrations of Uncle Johnny and Daddy singing and playing bass and guitar to Tom Petty’s Free Fallin,’ a penguin at the piano and Golden Doodle Louie with his shredded toilet paper tube. I’m happy Cohn’s tackled the topic of noises AND smells candidly and comically, and now look forward to what he does in his next book, Daddy Said a Word I Never Heard due out in the fall.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Touch The Brightest Star by Christie Matheson

TOUCH THE BRIGHTEST STAR
Written and illustrated by Christie Matheson
(Greenwillow Books; $15.99, Ages 3-6)

Send your children to sleep with a bedtime story that will make them eager to greet the night.

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As little ones know oh so well, nighttime is a magical time. In Touch The Brightest Star, Christie Matheson’s follow up to Tap The Magic Tree, all the wonderful things that happen when the sun sets are joyfully celebrated.

With an invitation to actively participate in the story, youngsters can respond to this tale’s request to first “wave good-bye to the sun’s bright light.” As dusk beautifully blends into darkness in Matheson’s watercolor and collage illustrations, readers are asked to “Gently press the firefly.” Then press once again because this time it’s to “light up the sky.” After blowing a quiet breeze along with a white-tailed deer, your children will experience more magic as they see the direct results of their interaction. Nighttime’s surprises come alive while wishing on a star, tracing the “picture of the dipper” or communicating with an owl, all a prelude to closing eyes and drifting off to dreamland. Best of all, the promise of yet another magical day is but a sweet night’s sleep away.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Wolfie The Bunny by Ame Dyckman

WOLFIE THE BUNNY
Written by Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.00, Ages 3-6 )

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Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, SLJ, Horn Book & Booklist

I lovc a picture book that makes me laugh out loud which is exactly what happened when I read Wolfie The Bunny. Plus, this book has got it all: humor, suspense, endearing characters, and super artwork, so it’s easy to adore.

Little Dot, the bunny, is with her parents when they find an abandoned wolf baby left on their doorstep. Dot’s parents welcome this discovery, and proceed to fall head over rabbits’ feet for sweet Wolfie despite Dot’s frantic warning, “He’s going to eat us all up!” I cracked up at OHora’s illustration of Dot, wide awake with a head lamp shining on her sleeping new baby bro. In the end pages, OHora explains that his former neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn served as inspiration for the story’s setting. Those scenes really ground this tale. Kids (and adults) will get a kick out of all the different expressions on Dot’s and Wolfie’s faces depicted throughout the book. Wolfie’s drools added an extra element of tension and I’ll admit I enjoyed not knowing where Dyckman was going with the plot. In other words, I had no trouble continuing to turn the pages. That will definitely keep younger readers glued to ythe book, too. Was the wolf going to devour Dot and her folks or would his love for his adopted family outweigh his growing appetitie? At the same time, Wolfie’s actions indicated a doting sibling:

“Everywhere Dot went,
Wolfie went, too.”

Dyckman’s included just the right amount of repetition of the line, “He’s going to eat us all up,” to keep it fresh and fun. And Dot’s parents’ admiring comments of “He’s a good eater, “He’s a good sleeper,” and “He’s a good drooler!” clearly demonstrated their unconditional love. What worked best in this tale was how Dot’s initial fear of being gobbled down disappeared when Wolfie was threatened by a bear. Stepping up to the plate as big sister, Dot defended her little brother and found that fighting for her family member’s safety brought her closer to Wolfie and dashed any fear of being on the menu for dinner.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders

OLIVE MARSHMALLOW
Written and illustrated by Katie Saunders
(Little Bee Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

 

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Meet Archie, the main character of this adorable new picture book, Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders, inspired by her actual experience when she was expecting her second child.

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Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.

 

Archie has noticed something different at home. His mom is looking BIGGER. She shows him the ultrasound image, something I haven’t seen in other books, but was happy Saunders thought to include it.

“This is your baby sister growing in Mommy’s tummy,” she says.

Archie is going to be a big brother. Unlike most older siblings usually concerned about a new child stealing the show, this little lad only briefly wonders if he wants a baby sister because what he really likes are “cars, trains, and playing ninjas.” The only objection he seems to have about the changes afoot is all the pinkness that’s filling the house.

He is ABSOLUTELY sure that he doesn’t like fluffy, frilly, very pink things.

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Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.

For a lot of parents, Archie may seem to be the ideal son, but that’s what’s so sweet about this simple picture book. Olive Marshmallow is actually a super story to share with kids about the imminent arrival of another family member because it’s completely positive, setting it apart from so many of the rivalry-themed books. While those books are very important, and do indeed serve a purpose for helping kids find the words for feelings they may not otherwise be able to articulate, it’s refreshing to read a more innocent approach. Plus the switched on mom in the story is a reassuring presence. While things may not remain the same once the baby comes along, there will be twice the number of toys, and someone to play with (eventually). So it’s no surprise that from the moment Archie meets his marshmallow of a baby sister, it’s love at first sight.

In addition to the upbeat text, this feel good book exudes such joy as a result of Saunder’s lovely palate of soft pinks and baby blues. Her illustration style is a delightful blend of Lauren Child meets Nick Sharratt that kids will love. And you’ll notice she’s included a pet kitty you can point out to your child for some good laughs. Hint: Look for the cat dressed up in a tutu and crown. Things may not be the same anymore for Archie, but they sure will be better!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Not Very Scary by Carol Brendler

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Not Very Scary,
written by Carol Brendler and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli,
is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Not-Very-Scary-cvr.jpgI love a good scare on Halloween. But when my kids were little they only wanted to be frightened a teensy, weeny bit, if at all. Are your children like that?  I’d say that Not Very Scary (Farrar Straus Giroux, $12.99, Ages 3-6) by Carol Brendler with illustrations by Greg Pizzoli, is just the right picture book for youngsters who want to feel the excitement and anticipation of Halloween without an ounce of the fear factor.

As the title says, this picture book is not very scary, in fact Brendler’s language has made it wonderfully whimsical and ultimately upbeat with its main character’s positive self-talk. This Halloween-themed tale takes Melly, the charming chartreuse-colored monster, on a walk to see her cousin, Malberta. Melly’s been invited over with the promise of a surprise, but on her journey to her cousin’s she is followed by all sorts of scary creatures, testing Melly’s bravery. She hesitates at first then continues on when she finds:

A coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail!

Melly also encounters two skittish skeletons and three wheezy witches along with a trail of other seemingly frightening fiends. Also out for a stroll are seven frenzied fruit bats, eight spindly spiders, nine rambunctious rats, culminating with ten vexing vultures in this cumulative counting story that is sure to be read aloud to delighted children dozens of times. Parents can point out how the text builds up tension through Melly’s self-reassuring remarks. After seeing the coal-black cat, Melly says “Not the least bit scary,” to my favorite, “Not significantly scary,” upon seeing six sullen mummies. I love how Pizzoli drew each grouping of ghouls looks cautiously at the following set and he’s taken great care to make the characters absolutely adorable, never menacing, and all in marvelous colors. The ghosts grin, the witches balance on brooms and the mummies make some serious dance moves. And of course, the best part is the surprise at Malberta’s place that parents and kids alike will find most pleasing.

 

 

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Edgar’s Second Word by Audrey Vernick

Edgar’s Second Word, a picture book written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, Ages 3-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey. obj488geo264pg21p25

Oh how sweet sister-to-be Hazel longs to welcome her baby brother! She’s drawn pictures and posters, chosen special bedtime stories, and practiced reading to her stuffed bunny, Rodrigo. But as Hazel finds in Audrey Vernick’s newest picture book, Edgar’s Second Word, babies don’t always want to go along with the plan.

Hazel and Edgar’s mother dutifully notes all of Edgar’s firsts in his baby book, while Hazel waits patiently for Edgar to do more than grunt and point. His first word, NO, is celebrated and then quickly deplored as it becomes Edgar’s go-to response to all opportunities for entertainment.

Burris’ artwork is spot-on cheerful and bright for her young audience. Warm yellow tones and lovely lilac hues are nicely accented with springtime greens. Nothing is too perfect or precise, and delightfully captures Hazel’s springy curls, bubbly bath, and cozy bed. The detail contrast with plaids, polka-dots and zig zags adds lovely textural interest to every spread.

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Interior artwork from Edgar’s Second Word by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Priscilla Burris, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Readers will know from the title that Edgar does eek out a second word by the book’s end. But the surprise is that there is also a third word that wraps the story to a harmonious and clever close. Edgar’s Second Word is a fresh, appealing story accenting the positive aspects of sibling relationships while underscoring the virtues of patience and persistence.

–       Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

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

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Don’t Turn the Page! by Rachelle Burk

Don’t Turn the Page!, written by Rachelle Burk and illustrated by Julie Downing, is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

1. Don't Turn the Page.coverDon’t Turn the Page! (Creston Books, $16.95, Ages 3-6) is a cozy bedtime tale that capitalizes on a universal truth: Children will resist going to bed. Burk and Downing cleverly execute this idea as a book-within-a-book featuring a cuddly hedgehog and a sleepy bear cub.

Although Sami Hedgehog doesn’t want to stop playing with blocks, she is eager to hear just the first page of her new book. Cuddled on the couch, we – the readers – peer over Mama Hedgehog’s shoulder to learn about sleepy Little Bear of Rambling Woods who is getting ready for bed. Although they stop after one page, Sami begins to wonder “How do bears get ready for bed?” so Mama reads on. Inspired by Little Bear, Sami is gently encouraged to follow her own bedtime preparations step by step, page by page.

Burk divides the text into rhythmic rhyme for obedient Little Bear’s nightly routine. Sami’s story is told in prose, punctuated perfectly with her repeated, resistant command, “Don’t turn the page.” Mama Hedgehog is ever patient and reasonable, adapting to Sami’s sleepy pace as the book unfolds.

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Interior spread from Don’t Turn The Page! by Rachelle Burk with illustrations by Julie Downing, Creston Books, ©2014.

9781939547064.039781939547064.03Downing masterfully weaves the two tales seamlessly together through clever illustrations that show clues of the story-in-story on each page in alternating fashion. Different typefaces and thick page borders also reinforce the message about which story is being told and ties it neatly together in the end. The creatures are charming, and the soft colors are rich and muted. A special treat are the book’s endpapers, which echo the animal’s pajamas!

Don’t Turn the Page! is an endearing winner for bedtime reading. There may be no guarantee that kids will ever willingly get ready for bed, but I’m willing to bet that they will ask for this book to be read again and again.

–       Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

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

 

 

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Flashback Friday – Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein

Ol’ Mama Squirrel written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013, $16.99, Ages 3-5) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013.

Ol’ Mama Squirrel, having raised many litters, refuses to let any creature harm her young. Her loud and insistent scolding (“chook, chook, chook”) and threatening gestures scare away the bravest of foes. However, one day she meets up with a “great, growling grizzly bear …” who’s not so easily frightened.

Repetitive words and phrases (“and that takes care of that”), make this a lively and interactive read-aloud for young children. Simple words and word sounds in large font (“PLONK”) enabled my emerging readers to participate alongside more advanced readers. Together they all roared out the bear’s evil “WA-HA-HA” laugh (I do not have a quiet library).

Stein sprinkles some great vocabulary (“afoul,” “scamper,” “puny”), and puns throughout the story, enriching children’s language and comprehension skills. A dog, frightened away by Mama Squirrel exclaims: “this squirrel is crazy! … “They must put crazy powder in the nuts around here!” Grizzly bear threatens Mama Squirrel: “I’ll eat your whole family tree.”

The humorous and expressive illustrations not only extend the narrative but practically tell the story on their own. Reminiscent of his artistic work in Leaves, Stein uses deft strokes to suggest shapes and animate characters. Soft, muted watercolors and crayons fill in the outlines. Along with framed single page illustrations, Stein uses double page spreads to create larger than life characters, transforming Ol’ Mama Squirrel from a proud mother to a fearsome opponent. My students laughed uproariously at the two page spread of Mama Squirrel snarling “not on my watch buster” as she and her babies escape from grizzly bear.

The Caldecott winning author and illustrator of Interrupting Chicken has another hit on his hands –just ask my K-1 students who proclaimed Ol’ Mama Squirrel “…a superhero!”

Highly recommended for children ages 3 -6, but be prepared for a rousing story time!

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Naughty Kitty! by Adam Stower

Naughty Kitty!, written and illustrated by Adam Stower (Orchard Books/Scholastic, $16.99, Ages 3-6), is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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Naughty Kitty! written and illustrated by Adam Stower, Orchard Books/Scholastic Press, 2014.

Available at bookstores later this month, Adam Stower’s Naughty Kitty! is sure to be a story time treat! I can already hear the laughter of little ones as their parent or favorite librarian shares this delightful picture book from the author that brought us Silly Doggy!

I absolutely adore clever cat books. When my kids were young I was always on the look out for something funny and
feline-oriented like this picture book. The hilarity of the artwork (see Kitty’s subtle facial expressions) coupled with the main character’s mistaken belief that her adorable and angelic pet is up to no good, make Naughty Kitty! one of this spring’s sweetest stories.

When opening this picture book to the front matter, readers will learn from a newspaper cover illustration that a wild animal is on the loose. At the very same time young Lily is bringing home her precious new pet Kitty. I love how Stower positioned the escaped tiger behind the hedge with just enough stripe showing to keep us turning the page.

“He was a bit scruffy …
and no good at tricks …
but otherwise he
was quite cute,
especially when you tickled his tummy.”

What works so wonderfully is that, while unbeknownst to Lily, the reader realizes a wild tiger is about to enter the kitchen where she’s left little Kitty alone. The escapee proceeds to make a shambles of the kitchen, devouring everything in sight including “two teaspoons and a dirty sponge.” Thankfully though, the tiger has no appetite for Kitty! Lily scolds the innocent kitten and cautions him to leave the living room intact while she tidies up the mess.  Can you guess what happens next? Yep, tiger who has been peeking through French doors, strikes again. This time enormous paw prints that have stained the den carpet hint at an intruder, but Lily still fails to notice the wild animal. It’s no surprise then that Lily, now quite “cross”, blames everything on Kitty. At this point Stower’s got youngsters pulling for poor, poor Kitty!

The shenanigans continue outside as Lily reprimands her pet yet again and threatens to tell her mother. But here Stower has a surprise in store for readers that makes reading through to the back matter a must. So get the book, read it cover to cover and when your own friendly feline is itching for a tummy rub, indulge him!

 

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Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden and Illustrated by Renata Liwska

Once Upon a Memory

Keep This Picture Book Close to Your Heart 

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Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden with illustrations by Renata Liwska, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Once Upon a Memory, written by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.00; eBook, $9.99, Ages 3-6) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

I fell head over heels in love with this book from my first glance at the cover – the entire cover – so flip this book over after you have studied the image above. A little bear watches a feather dangling from a squirrel’s fishing pole, thus introducing the book’s first charming line: “Does a feather remember it once was … a bird?”

Gentle rhyming couplets draw the reader through a wondrous, daydreaming journey that touches upon memory as well as natural and philosophical transitions. Although that sounds rather high-falutin, the book is perfectly pitched to young readers as well as the young at heart, pushing at the edges of natural curiosity and whimsy.  “Does a chair remember it once was … a tree?”

The illustrations are soft, lovely and endearing. Liwska’s details carry a tender repeating theme throughout the book, bearing the images from the “before” question to the “after” answer in captivating ways.  Splashes of warm, rusty reds and nutty browns enhance the rich images perfectly sized to reflect the tiny kernel of the initial question on the left page to the broad imagining of its answer on the right.

Are you still curious about the back cover?  Here it has become night, and our friend the little bear is now jotting his thoughts into a journal by the light of a firefly cloud.  What do you suppose he is writing?

Back cover art for Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden with art by Renata Liwska
Back cover art Copyright © 2013 Renata Liwska, Once Upon a Memory written by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

This is a quiet, cozy read perfect for the child whose pockets are filled with pebbles, feathers and other curious treasures. It is a lovely poem for little ones who often ask Why? How? and What if? Once Upon a Memory is a wonderful springboard for capturing snippets of childhood musings within the delightful journey of its pages.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

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

 

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