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Children’s Books We Love for Valentine’s Day 2019 – A Roundup

VALENTINE’S DAY CHILDREN’S BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

clip art of hearts

 

 

A Hug is for Holding Me by Lisa Wheeler book cover artworkA HUG IS FOR HOLDING ME
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Lisk Feng
($14.99; Abrams Appleseed, Ages 3-5)

Written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Lisk Feng, A Hug is for Holding Me highlights how the natural world quietly and profoundly speaks to us about love.

Exploring the wilderness, a father and daughter take note of  speckled eggs “nestled in a tree” and “eggs hold[ing] hatchlings warm and snug.” In plain language, the little girl also expresses the restorative and nurturing power of cocoons and seashells. It’s as if everything in nature is embraced in an eternal hug, kept safe from harm. And from this fact, she knows she too can feel the same love and protection from the simple act of giving and receiving a hug.  

I also admire the illustrator’s techniques in further drawing us into the little girl’s perspective. We readers (of all ages) are like children, looking up at the big, wide world. Each page in this 24 page book is a wide-angled, double page spread. The leaves of trees are drawn in big, sweeping shades of blue and green, objects are defined by their general shape and color, and Dad appears towering-almost giant sized. Visual details are absent but not because they’re lacking. While the world is big, creation is hard-wired to nurture and care. On land, in the sea, and in our hearts, we can rest assured of this truth, which is the one detail that really matters. We just need childlike faith to see it.

A great read especially for Valentine’s Day, A Hug is for Holding Me is a book preschoolers will love to cuddle up with.

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Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine book cover artDUCK AND HIPPO: THE SECRET VALENTINE
Written by Jonathan London
Illustrated by Andrew Joyner
(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

The best Valentine’s Day gifts are the simple pleasures of food, fun, and friendship as author Jonathan London and illustrator Andrew Joyner show in Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and Duck is distressed she may not have a valentine. Taking a hint from her feathered friends nearby, she decides to send invitations-in secret to Hippo, Turtle, Pig, and Elephant, asking each to meet at the park at 4pm and to “bring something for [his/her] Valentine.” Every card  is decorated with a “big red heart on it,” though it’s clear Hippo holds an extra special place in Duck’s heart because his card is the only one that has a “red rose … above a big red heart.”

And so the fun begins! Every time a friend receives a card, she or he begins wondering just who that valentine might be. Each hopes for someone specific. Turtle, for example, sees the picture of the “big red heart” on the card as a pizza that’s missing a slice. This makes sense, of course, because his special friend is Pig who works at the local pizzeria, Pig’s Pizza.

As the anticipation builds, kids will no doubt love being “in” on the secret, and they will roar with laughter watching Duck stealthily drop off the cards to avoid detection. Well … while the characters may not see Duck, little wandering eyes will most definitely notice a feathery behind sticking out of a bush or two!

The onomatopoeia popular in London’s beloved “Froggy” series is thankfully present here as well, helping preschoolers and early elementary children “read” the story. And even if readers are new to the “Duck and Hippo” series, they can sense the strong friendship between the characters and learn important values of sharing and kindness. I also like the hidden “lesson” of time-telling. Whenever the time of day is mentioned in the story, Joyner cleverly includes a clock to indicate the time, with the hour and minute hands in contrasting colors. From illustrating a grandfather clock to an alarm clock to a pocket watch, Joyner invites readers to discover all the fun and different ways of telling time—there’s even a sundial in Turtle’s yard!

By 4:00 the secret is finally out, though Duck’s love for her friends is evident from the start. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to create an opportunity for everyone to gather and express their gratitude for each other.

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What is Given from the Heart book cover artworkWHAT IS GIVEN FROM THE HEART
Written by Patricia McKissack
Illustrated by April Harrison
(Schwartz & Wade Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

In What is Given from the Heart, celebrated author Patricia McKissack and debut picture book illustrator April Harrison define the true meaning of gift giving.

“Already poor,” little James Otis and his mother “got poorer last April” after the sudden death of his father. Having lost the family farm in June, they move into a “run-down shotgun house in the Bottoms.” Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, more loss follows: James’ house floods and his dog Smitty disappears. Yet as long as they have their health and strength, his mother reminds him, they “‘are blessed.’”

Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, James slowly begins to understand his mother’s courageous words.  When Reverend Dennis requests the congregation to prepare love boxes for the needy, he includes on his list a mother and daughter who have “‘lost everything in a fire.’”

For the first time in a long time, James begins to change perspective. Thinking about another person’s pain makes him aware of what he does have. Tucked “warm and toasty” under Mama’s quilt, James reviews in his mind all the items he owns that might be useful to Sarah. When he sees Mama repurposing the “‘only nice thing’” she has to make a handmade gift for Mrs. Temple, he reflects on how he, too, can sacrifice a beloved belonging to the benefit of someone else’s happiness.

McKissack’s themes of compassion, kindness, and empathy are carried through Harrison’s soft color palette and endearing mixed media art. Though the items in the house are sparse, we can see the love abiding in James’ home from the family pictures hung on the walls. My favorite illustration is the close up of James and the pensive expression in his eyes, as he ponders what is in Sarah’s heart and the kinds of things she might like to receive.

Despite having very little, James comes up with a beautiful gift that Sarah gratefully accepts. Handmade and straight from the heart, James’ gift helps Sarah know that she is seen and understood. This is a priceless gift every one of us can treasure.

A wonderful read for older elementary children, “What is Given from the Heart” reaches the heart not only on Valentine’s Day but everyday of the year.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

For more Valentine’s Day book suggestions, click here.

Five New Christmas Books for Kids – A Roundup of Our Faves

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

– A ROUNDUP –

PART TWO

candy cane free Christmas clip art

 

Jane Foster's Christmas board book cover artJANE FOSTER’S CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Jane Foster
(Little Bee Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

Illustrator and designer Jane Foster helps make spirits bright with her new board book, Jane Foster’s Christmas. This smartly designed and graphically bold concept book will familiarize babies and toddlers with all the signature items we associate with Christmas. From Santa Claus and sleigh, to gingerbread house and hot chocolate, each spread features a word on the left in black typeface and an illustration on the right. Additional subtle graphic elements on the word pages, like polka dots, waves, trees and stripes are visually pleasing too. The vibrant colors used add to the book’s appeal as does the shininess of the art and text. This board book is sure to get little ones excited for the holiday with its choice of cheery images presented as beautifully as her 10 previous books in the series such as Things That Go, Animal Sounds and First Words. Need a stocking stuffer? Give this to the youngest readers in your house this holiday season.

 

 

All is Merry and Bright board book cover illustrationALL IS MERRY AND BRIGHT
(A Shine Bright Book)

Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Don Clark
(Little Simon; $24.99, Ages 1-4

Here is an oversized, thick and bedazzling board book that needs no wrapping and just begs to be opened like a present. As I turned each page I was treated to a parade of pizzazz, foil and color. The glorious graphics jumped off the page filling me with light and delight. The embossed designs also feel fab to touch so let little fingers wander as they wonder what comes next. The text, spare, but lyrical, promises “joyful smiles” and multiple reads to soak up all the positive energy emanating from between the covers. It’s less a story and more a celebration of the joy that Christmas brings. A glowing review for this shiny, happy book that you can feel confident when adding to your Christmas reading list!

 

 

If Animals Celebrated Christmas book cover illustrationIF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS
Written by Ann Whitford Paul
Illustrated by David Walker
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

The latest in Ann Whitford Paul’s charming series of rhyming stories, If Animals Celebrated Christmas, ponders what each particular animal would do for the holiday. Koala lovers will be happy these marsupials feature prominently in this tale as do penguins, cranes, buffalo, turtles, owls, oryx, beaver and hedgehogs. Crustaceans also grace the pages. “Crabs would scamper from the deep, dark sea, and build a seashell Christmas tree.” Illustrator Walker’s topped that Christmas tree with a starfish, making it my favorite spread. If you’re curious what the others get up to, be sure to include this book in your holiday shopping. It’s a recommended read-aloud that provides a fun jumping off point for a discussion about what other creatures might do to make the holiday their own.

 

 

Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? book cover illustrationWHERE DO DIGGERS CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?
Written by Brianna Caplan Sayres
Illustrated by Christian Slade
(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

If you’ve got an “all things tractors, diggers and cranes” fan at home, make sure to add Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? to your holiday collection. While in some places the rhyme meter felt slightly off, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the picture book. In fact I was rather impressed how Sayres came up with such clever ways for vehicles to celebrate. And in case kiddos didn’t know it, diggers, cherry pickers, forklifts, mixers, cranes, tankers, tow trucks, tractors, food trucks and even Zambonis celebrate Christmas by doing the exact same things they do. That means stringing lights, singing Christmas carols and even sharing egg nog with their families. Illustrator Slade’s put a mouse on the pages too, so children can watch out for what the creature gets up to in every spread. Wheels are the way to go in this charming, feel good Christmas story.

 

A Tuba Christmas book cover illustrationA TUBA CHRISTMAS
Written by Helen L. Wilbur
Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Who knew that tuba Christmas concerts were a thing? Now that I know about them, having read A Tuba Christmas, I cannot wait to attend one! Unlike my family, the family members in this picture book all play an instrument, and when the story begins, it’s time for the youngest child, Ava, to choose an instrument, too. Everyone is surprised, however, when Ava decides to take up the tuba. She’s helped along by lessons from Rodney, a compassionate high schooler in the marching band. When the tuba’s challenges (it’s clearly rather cumbersome) get to her along with the kids at school (as well as her brothers) teasing her about the tuba, Ava’s ready to call it quits. But Rodney’s not concerned about her progress and invites her to participate in a tuba holiday concert at her school at just the right time. Being part of an ensemble is exactly the kind of supportive and spirited musical environment Ava needs. The audience is enthralled and impressed with the concert including Ava’s performance and she’s over the moon. As Rodney like suspected, rather than giving up on the instrument and her instruction, Ava feels proud of her accomplishment and decides to continue playing. Back matter details the history behind Tuba Christmas concerts and will likely have readers seeking out the nearest one this holiday season. Uhles’s cheerful illustrations pair wonderfully with the exuberance of the tale and perfectly capture Ava’s up and down moments. Wilbur’s written a special kind of Christmas story to share because, in addition to centering around the holiday, it’s also a heartwarming tale about perseverance and how wonderful and motivating it feels when someone (in this case Ava’s instructor) has your back. 

 

  • Reviews by Ronna Mandel


ALSO RECOMMENDED:

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Written by Sherri Duskey Rinker

lllustrated by AG Ford
Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Oliver Elephant 
Written by Lou Peacock
Illustrated by Helen Stephens 
(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Click here to see Part One of our 2018 Christmas book suggestions.

 

 

Best New Christmas Books for Children Part One

OUR ANNUAL KIDS’ CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP …

IS BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER!

– PART ONE –

Wreath free Christmas clip art image

 

Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins cover illustrationMRS. CLAUS TAKES THE REINS
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Mark Chambers
(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

For anyone interested in a holiday book with a strong female character, I recommend Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins written by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Mark Chambers. When Santa wakes up “stuffy” and “sneezy” on the morning of Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus fearlessly steps in to save the day. She is a proactive problem solver. “‘I may not have magic,’” she says, “‘but I’ve got a brain!’” As she and the reindeer encounter challenges along the way, Mrs. Claus’s resourcefulness helps her stay in control and on task. “[S]tuff[ing] some ribbon to plug up the hole” in the leaky fuel tank, she keeps calm and carries on.

In addition to Mrs. Claus’s gumption, I love the endearing and homey touches in the illustrations:  Santa’s headboard and footboard with their Christmas tree cutouts, his bedspread with complementary tree designs, his reindeer-patterned socks resting on his footboard, and Mrs. Claus’s updated green plaid skirt. Modern day details also make the story relatable to young readers. Holding a Starbucks look-alike cup in her hand, Mrs. Claus starts off her journey waving goodbye to her elves. Her strong organizational skills can be seen as she maps out “her route” (perhaps using Waze?) on what looks like an iPhone. And on what looks like an iPad, she makes “a supply list and check[s] on the weather.” Even her sleigh has an attachment for her tablet that she uses to check off deliveries!

Through rhyme and clever illustrations, children will love to get to know Mrs. Claus’s spunky, can-do spirit.

 

Coming Home book cover artworkCOMING HOME
Written by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Kerry Hyndman, Coming Home, is a touching tale about a robin’s harrowing journey home to his mate-just in time for Christmas. Before the story begins, readers are given information about the Scandinavian red robin’s migration to find refuge in Britain from the harsher winters up north. In steady rhythm and repetitive language, Morpurgo narrates the robin’s struggles with snow, sleet, predators, fatigue, and fear. “Beat, my wings, beat faster. Easy, my heart, go steady. Steady.” The story’s underlying themes of perseverance and determination are evident in the robin’s journey—a journey, in fact, symbolic of life’s storms and struggles and the ways we can cope with them. We can find community with others who are on a similar path (as the robin does when he joins a flock of thrushes) and seek cycles of rest and rejuvenation. When the unexpected happens, we can also, like the robin, surrender to the mercy of another’s tenderhearted care.

If you’re looking for a quiet holiday book that highlights the winter season, I highly recommend this story. Double page, bird’s eye view spreads of a dark and deep blue forest as well as close ups of the bird seeking shelter from the rough winter weather complement each other nicely. A great bedtime story to end the day (and the winter season), Coming Home is a hopeful and soothing tale both adults and children will come home to again and again.

 

Tough Cookie by Edward Hemingway book cover illustrationTOUGH COOKIE: A CHRISTMAS STORY
Written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A hilarious fractured fairy tale, Tough Cookie is the story of a cookie with an identity crisis. In a town called the “Land of Holiday Treats” where everything is sugary and sweet, our hero feels like the odd cookie out.

Shaped like a classic gingerbread man, he jumps fresh out of the oven and runs out the door with the familiar “run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me-I’m the….” He  soon discovers, though, that this same old script isn’t true for every cookie. When a curious passerby, Fox, takes up on the cookie’s challenge, the cookie realizes that he’s not only sluggish, but also positively unpalatable. Shocked and dismayed, the cookie tries to fit the mold, but, alas, to no avail. At his breaking point, “Cookie crumble[s]” but then is introduced to a special group of cookies. They have been following him all day eager to share with him his true identity. Proud of his unique role in the community, the cookie joyfully joins his cohorts, singing a new tune: “‘Look, look, look at me! You can’t reach me-I’m a….” (You’ll have to get the book to find out!)

Written and illustrated by the youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, Edward Hemingway brings much fun to the story, especially for younger audiences. Just about everything in his illustrations of Christmastown beams with a happy face. Large text, colorful pastels, and traditional holiday colors create a warm, festive, and inviting atmosphere. Hemingway’s humorous play on words through baking references keeps the pace energetic. Added touches are cookie recipes at the end of the story as well as front and back matter illustrations of adorable cookie characters.  I found myself playing a “Where’s Waldo” kind of game by trying to locate each character in the pages of the story (they are there!). I’m certain little ones will find many more creative ways to engage with Cookie’s quest of self-discovery.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

 

 

 

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets – Blog Tour

OWLS ARE GOOD AT KEEPING SECRETS:
AN UNUSUAL ALPHABET

Written by Sara O’Leary

Illustrated by Jacob Grant

(Random House Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets by Sara O'Leary book cover illustration

 

Starred Review – Booklist

While I never tire of alphabet books, I do see quite a lot so honestly, the more distinct, the better to catch my eye and then keep me reading. Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet fits that bill to a T. TtToads are terrific at tongue twisters. See what I mean?

O’Leary doesn’t waste a minute pulling readers into her adorable, smile inducing descriptions for every animal she’s included. In fact, I bet she had a blast coming up with all their different personality traits and quirks, helping to set this picture book apart from others. Some will catch you off guard: Dd: Dragons cry at happy endings. I love that there are no flames involved, just pure emotion and Pp: Penguins love a big family get-together. Who knew they were such party animals? My fave, the one that gets me laughing out loud, is Rr: Raccoons are always the first to arrive for a party because that sounded just like me. Which letters will resonate with your child? Will it be Ww: Wolves don’t like being told to smile or possibly Yy: Yaks giggle at their own jokes? Find alligators, elephants, meerkats and many more and use the often funny, thought-provoking descriptions to start a conversation about what makes everyone unique.

The choice of animals and their clever corresponding stories will entertain even those who feel they’re too old for alphabet books. Grant’s charming artwork in a warm, muted color scheme with ample white space allows the focus to center on the endearing animals and their actions. From photograph-taking foxes in the field with a parent waiting in the den below to a hedgehog observing the night sky, there is something for everyone in Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets, an especially appealing approach to learning the letters A-Z.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

Creative Chaos Links Two Terrific Tales – Teach Your Giraffe to Ski and Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI
Written by Viviane Elbee,
Illustrated by Danni Gowdy
(Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

&

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH
Written by Melissa Stoller 
Illustrated by Sandie Sonke
(Spork/Clear Fork Press, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Teach Your Giraffe to Ski.Teach Your Giraffe to Ski book cover illustration Although the chalet is cozy, nothing will deter Giraffe from donning skis and gliding with ease. A cautious child protagonist sticks close by, offering emotional support and practical advice to the novice skier.

Elbee adeptly mixes humor with tips on safety, etiquette and introductory ski technique. Giraffe grins through the typical goofs and gaffes associated with learning something new. Eager and fearless, Giraffe’s enthusiasm is tempered by the child’s caution and protective concern. Once she’s mastered the basics, they head to The Big Scary Slope! Readers will cling to the edge of their lift seats anticipating a slick, speedy, swerving conclusion to this snowy, sporting tale.

Gowdy’s cartoon-like illustrations are bright and colorful, incorporating a playful menagerie of unlikely skiers. The gleeful expressions of Giraffe and timid trepidation of the child are counterbalanced between spots and full page spreads. Slipping, sliding and gliding are conveyed via whipping scarf tails, swerving ski trails and exuberant snowy splatters. Whether you are bunny slope bound, black diamond material, or even a lodge loafer, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski is tons of fun.

 

cover art from Scarlet's Magic PaintbrushCreative determination also threads through Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, the story of a young artist who learns to appreciate the power of a hands-on, personal touch. This is a sweet debut book from author Melissa Stoller and illustrator Sandie Sonke.

Scarlet finds a magic paintbrush that does her bidding, creating fairies, unicorns and princesses that are perfect masterpieces. But losing the magic brush creates a dilemma for Scarlet. After she searches high and low for the magic brush, she tries painting with regular, non-magical brushes. While the results disappoint her, she doesn’t give up. In a clever twist, Stoller makes her protagonist get creative; painting with her left hand, trying a homemade brush and even using her fingers.

Sonke fills the pages with soft blue clouds and sparkling stars, framing Scarlet and her range of canvases with colorful detail. The magic paintbrush has emotional, animated expressions, and observant readers will enjoy following a faithful pooch that trails Scarlet throughout her artistic quest.

Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush is an open invitation for young artists to explore ideas of perfection and frustration when it comes to mastering technique and finding a personal style. The magical paintbrush element will appeal to many, while the celebration of self-expression and creativity ultimately shine as the most important aspect of original work. A perfect book to pair with paint and canvas for budding artists!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Find another recent Epic18 debut review here.

Hooray For Hanukkah Books – Wednesdays With Once Upon a Time

WHAT WE’RE READING
WEDNESDAYS 
WITH ONCE UPON A TIME

A HANUKKAH BOOK ROUNDUP

Hanukkah free clip art

 

Two wonderful new books with a Hanukkah theme are reviewed below. However, though both books are Hanukkah-themed, these particular choices convey more about family and togetherness, an important part of the holiday, than about the Hanukkah story itself.

 

Hanukkah Hamster book cover illustrationHANUKKAH HAMSTER
Written by Michelle Markel
Illustrated by André Ceolin
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
I loved the feeling Hanukkah Hamster gave me as I was reading. Edgar, the cab driver, finds a hamster in his cab and, being a bit lonely living away from family in Tel Aviv, reluctantly brings him home. Gently but hesitantly he incorporates the animal into his Hanukkah celebrations. As Edgar dreads having the real owner claim the hamster, and sharing pictures of his “lost” hamster on his cell phone, it becomes clear that the little rodent, now called Chickpea, has become a big part of Edgar’s family. To my delight, a surprise, big-hearted resolution saves the day. I could easily see this story being read aloud to an elementary school library audience where kids might not know about lighting candles on a menorah, but certainly can relate to a lost pet! Ceolin’s artwork adds just the right mix of warmth and light to this terrific tale! Buy the book here: Hanukkah Hamster

 

all of a kind family hanukkah book cover artALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY HANUKKAH
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
(Schwartz & Wade Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
Starred Review: Kirkus Review
All-of-a-Kind Family HANUKKAH, which is based on the classic books by Sydney Taylor, and written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Caldecott Award-winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky, is a gorgeously illustrated longer picture book set in the turn of the century. With a glossary of terms and various notes from author and illustrator, you could easily use this book to cook up some delectable potato latkes!  
Being from a large family with three sisters (and the lone brother), I can relate to this new story by Jenkins. The youngest girl, Gertie who is four-years-old, has older siblings and is always wanting to do whatever the older sisters are doing—even when it’s clear she is too young.  As the day progresses and the special latkes are being prepared (“… potatoes peeled, and potatoes grated, onions chopped …”) Gertie just demands to be included in the kitchen, but her tantrum sends her to her room until  Father kindly finds a way for Gertie to take part in the festivities. Jenkins’ rhythmic text makes you almost drool over the wonderful smells invoked from the baking the family is doing. Zelinsky’s illustrations capture the era completely and fill them with emotion, exuberance and tenderness. This is a classic story of family with warmth, joy and love all cooked in those delicious latkes!  See the author page here for her NY tour dates.
Buy the book here: All-of-a-Kind Family HANUKKAH

 

• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios, Owner
Once Upon a Time Bookstore

 

NOTE: Good Reads With Ronna makes no commission or profit from the sale of any book in this post. Our goal is to encourage the love of reading great books while supporting local independent bookstores.
Here are last year’s recommended reads for Hanukkah.

Best Thanksgiving Books for Children 2018 – A Roundup

OUR FAVORITE NEW

THANKSGIVING CHILDREN’S BOOKS

– A ROUNDUP –


Thanksgiving clip art Give Thanks image

 

Fangsgiving by Ethan Long cover artFANGSGIVING
Written and illustrated by Ethan Long
(Bloomsbury; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Fans of the Geisel Award-winning author and illustrator will love Ethan Long’s latest, Fangsgiving, which celebrates family and giving thanks in a most unusual and often kind of gross but ghoulisly good way. The Fright Club folks are cooking up a delicious holiday feast when unexpected family members show up. It seems Uncle Gus, Aunt Bessy and their boys have a better way to make the meal and that means changing a lot of the ingredients. Garlic mashed potatoes get eyeballs and earwax added, the turkey gets burned to a crisp and the pumpkin pie gets maggot meatballs thrown in. YUCK! Vladimir is not happy but is determined to look on the bright side given the holiday. But when the dining room goes dark because Uncle Gus can’t handle the daylight, his dog Spike has “devoured everything!”

Fortunately this provides a way for the Fright Club and family to team up to create another meal and make the most of their time together.  Long’s laughter inducing illustrations bring the revolting repas to life and will bring smiles to many young faces eager to see how the Fright Club fares under trying circumstances. This clever approach to the traditional Thanksgiving meal and holiday, though rather unappetizing, makes for a refreshing and fun new read this season.  – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Over The River and Through the Wood by Emma Randall cvr artOver The River and Through The Wood
by Lydia Maria Child
Illustrated by Emma Randall
(Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Child’s poem turned song, Over The River and Through the Wood, is a perennial favorite at Thanksgiving time, but to be honest I never heard it in its entirety so I’m grateful to have this lovely paper-over-board picture book! In Randall’s version, the siblings, who I always imagined were in a great big sleigh beside a slew of family, are taking in nature’s beauty as they sleigh their way alone to Grandma’s house. But not for long. There are moose, beavers, foxes and bunnies to behold in the winter wonderland as well as majestic purple mountains. Soon dusk arrives but the horse knows the way so young readers don’t have to worry the children will get lost. It also appears in Randall’s illustrations that the animals are accompanying the kids on their journey, an added bonus when reading the book aloud and sharing the art. While it’s blistery cold outside, Grandma’s house is warm and welcoming inside, just the kind of place any child would love to visit. I was surprised at the ending when everyone sits around a table outside including a couple who are likely the children’s parents, but I don’t think kids will mind one bit. In fact, that way the animals are portrayed around the table makes the meal look extra special. Enjoy this festive read with family for a special holiday tradition. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Kiddie Table by Colleen Madden cover artTHE KIDDIE TABLE
Written and illustrated by Colleen Madden
(Capstone Editions; $15.95, Ages 4-8)

Colleen Madden’s brought this common holiday dilemma to the fore with her humorous take on sitting at The Kiddie Table, a fate worse than death for tweens or anyone for that matter who feels they should be seated with the adults. This fancy dressed young girl of eight is unhappy at having to share a table with little ones. Adding insult to injury is the sippy cup with a lid she’s been give along with table manners of the toddlers. One of my favorite lines, “Why am I stuck with this pacifier crowd?” drives home the point that the age and maturity range of the kids she’s sitting with leaves something to be desired. Told in slightly uneven rhyme, the story still resonates. When is a good age to move to the big people table? She doesn’t think it’s cool to be with a bunch of drooling, messy kids and that makes perfect sense. Only stewing in the situation doesn’t help.

When the miffed eight-year-old eventually melts down, yelling “This is the WORST Thanksgiving I’ve ever had in my entire life!” all the little ones erupt by throwing food and the grownups look aghast at the goings on. Luckily tween’s mom explains that asking to switch seats would have been a better approach than yelling but she also acknowledges how being seated with the babies might not have been easy. Ultimately things fall into place for the girl when she leaves the kiddie table and chats with an older cousin amongst the adults. As the evening comes to an end, the tween assumes more responsibility like cleaning up and helping the youngsters prepare to go home. Madden’s artwork is full of festive colors and expressions and reactions that pop off the page. I got a kick out of the girl’s face getting angrier and angrier and also when she yells so loud even a pregnant guest’s baby kicks! The cover alone made me want to dive in. The emotional build up of the art flows a bit better than the prose, but the essence of the story, about self-advocacy and that awkward in-between age rings true and something many children will relate to. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Food Fight! cover illustrationFOOD FIGHT!: A Mouthwatering History
of Who Ate What and Why Through the Ages
Written by Tanya Steel
(National Geographic Kids; $19.99, Ages 8-12)

Food Fight! A Mouthwatering History of Who Ate What and Why Through the Ages is wealth of information for kids interested in food, history, trivia, or cooking. From the Prehistoric Era through the Future World, a variety of facts are communicated in manner that’s easily understood. Each section opens with “A Bite-Size History” segment and concludes with a fun-filled short quiz.

Laid out in colorful panels, the data is abundant and accessible. Thirty kid-tested and historically inspired recipes have captivating names such as Roast Mastodon on a Stick (mastodon not required), Rosie the Riveter’s Chocolate Bread Custard, and, just in time for the holidays, Astronaut Fruitcake.

A recurring column “Table Matters” tells us why, for example, kids sit at a different table for the Thanksgiving meal. “Yucky Habits of Yore” delights with disgusting dishes such as the popular Ring-Around-the-Tuna which, yes, involved a whole can of tuna, stuffed olives, celery, and onion encased in wobbly lime Jell-O. Kids who enjoy fact-filled books or cookbooks will lose themselves in these pages.

National Geographic Kids does not disappoint with gorgeous photos throughout. Best-selling author and global food industry leader Tanya Steel is a former editor at Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, former editorial director of Epicurious, Clean Plates, and Gourmet.com, and an originator of “The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner” hosted by former First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House (a national recipe contest for kids aged 8 to 12 from 2012-2016).
– Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt, writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com, @WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal and Celebratory – We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA
Written by Traci Sorell
Illustrated by Frané Lessac
(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

book cover art from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

 

STARRED REVIEWS – Kirkus, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

Sorell’s delightful debut, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA showcases ways that the universal value of gratitude can be expressed through a contemporary Cherokee lens. Using the phrase “Otsaliheliga” (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) meaning “We are grateful” as a refrain, the book unfolds throughout the seasons. Measured, lyrical text engages readers with opportunities for gratitude both small and large, drawing upon tradition, nature and family.

The book opens in fall (uligohvsdi), introducing readers to the Great New Moon Ceremony and the Cherokee New Year through cultural symbols and traditions. Special foods, song and crafts appear to mark seasons and occasions. The refrain “Otsaliheliga” centers the narrative with poetic pause as one explores and celebrates with family and community.

 

interior artwork from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Interior spread from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frané Lessac, Charlesbridge ©2018.

 

Each season is named in Cherokee, presented phonetically and in the Cherokee syllabary. Sorell’s tale builds bridges between old and new, past and present, honoring the legacy of ancestors while anticipating hope and joy for future generations.

Lessac’s vibrant illustrations are warm and contemporary, incorporating many rich details throughout double-spread community scenes and intimate family gatherings. Her bright gouache is cheerful, resonant with numerous opportunities to expand the gratitude-themed narrative. Text and illustrations blend seamlessly to uplift connections between history and tradition, past, present and future.

 

interior artwork from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Interior spread from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frané Lessac, Charlesbridge ©2018.

 

Sorell’s backmatter includes more information on various ceremonies and observances, a Cherokee syllabary and pronunciation guide. Her author’s note discusses keeping balance between observing the ancestral and ceremonial way of life with demands of the modern, non-Cherokee world. Readers should also note her extensive acknowledgements in the book’s dedication, a true reflection of Sorell’s rich, respectful and authentic work.

 

interior artwork from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Interior spread from We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Frané Lessac, Charlesbridge ©2018.

 

The final pages – “Every day, every season. Otsaliheliga” – are illustrated with a beautiful composite of fall, winter, spring and summer encircling one tree where people have gathered together in celebration and gratitude. Don’t miss this special book and the chance to embrace its message of thankfulness and appreciation.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Find a teacher’s guide here.

Listen to Traci We Are Grateful  here.

See the book trailer here

 

Boo! – The Best Halloween Books Roundup 2018

OUR FAVORITE HALLOWEEN BOOKS FOR 2018

A ROUNDUP 

Free Halloween clip art

 

Haunted Halloween by Sue Fliess cover illustrationHAUNTED HALLOWEEN
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Jay Fleck
(Cartwheel Books; $6.99, Ages 0-3)

Haunted Halloween is a die-cut board book that not only encourages counting, but has tons of trick-or-treat fun packed into every page. Fliess’ rhyming will have even the youngest readers learning the words and repeating the phrases such as: One bat hangs, Pointy fangs. Two toads sleep. Earthworms creep. All numbers are presented both numerically and spelled out to help identify them in increasing order up to ten. Fleck’s assorted costumed trick-or-treaters in this glossy board book are not scary looking, making this an ideal introduction to the popular holiday. As the children make their way past a gate, a Guests Beware! sign greets them. They encounter wolves, owls, ghosts, snakes, spiders, crows, black cats, pumpkins and other All Hallows Eve creatures and things before arriving at the massive front door. What’s inside? A nice surprise – a Halloween party!

 

Spooky Fairy Tale Mix-up book cover artworkSPOOKY FAIRY TALE MIX-UP:
Hundreds of Flip-Flap Stories
Written by Hilary Robinson
Illustrated by Jim Smith
(Barron’s; $11.99, Ages 3-7)

If you have a child with an active imagination, Spooky Fairy Tale Mix-up is the book for them! If you have a child that needs some prompting to get creative, this is also the perfect book, especially at Halloween. This mix and match Halloween hardcover, with its 26 pages and hidden spine, turns what could be a spooky night into a laugh-filled mash up of some fairy tale faves including Ghostilocks and The Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel, Mother Goose, Puss in Boots, Rapunzel and lots more. Just a flip of a flap and a story’s changed from the expected to the unexpected with ogres, zombie rats, skeletons and even some princesses doing the zaniest things. Kids can choose from hundreds of possibilities to make a simple story go wild.

 

Bone Soup cover illustrationBONE SOUP:
A Spooky, Tasty Tale

Written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Illustrated by Tom Knight
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 48)

Three hungry witches have only a bone with which to cook their soup. Sound familiar? That’s because Bone Soup, a welcome spin on Stone Soup, the beloved folktale about community and making nothing from something when everyone pitches in, works so well for a Halloween tale. This time around the witches go door to door in their neighborhood to seek out ingredients for their soup. Each time, they’re initially greeted with reluctance. Is it a trick? But Naggy Witch assures them that “Piff-Poof! It’s no trick.” First a monster for water because you cannot have soup without water. Then onto a ghost, a ghoul, a bat, a goblin, a mummy, a skeleton, a werewolf and a vampire to complete the concoction. When the donors begin to have doubts and tempers flare, it’s thanks to a little monster’s resourcefulness that nothing goes awry. And the magic readers have been waiting for comes through in helping produce “a steaming bowl of bone soup for all.” Capucilli’s created a yummy read-aloud that can be shared with or without the original story to complement it. Knight’s illustrations feature a cast of friendly creatures, playful spreads and a lot of movement on every page. But one warning, don’t read on an empty stomach. Mine’s growling as I type! The good news is there’s a recipe included in the back matter if kids and their parents want to try a hand at conjuring up their own delicious Halloween soup.

Mother Ghost cover illustrationMOTHER GHOST:
Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters
Written by Rachel Kolar
Illustrated by Roland Garrigue
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 5-7)

Mother Ghost is a frightfully fun and entertaining collection of poems for children that is sure to get them in the Halloween mood. It just doesn’t get more ghoulishly delightful than this. Old Mother Hubbard for example is so clever that it makes me think using nursery rhymes for Halloween poems would make a great class exercise. Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard/To Fetch her poor dog a bone;/But the skeleton there said, “Hey! Don’t you dare!/Leave all of my pieces alone!” Two of my other favorites are Zombie Miss Muffet and Mary, Mary, Tall and Scary with lots of spiders, worms, witches and slimy things kids love at Halloween. Kolar clearly had a blast reworking these 13 nursery rhymes and, like Spooky Fairy Tale Mix-up, it’s wonderful how changing just a few lines in a poem can have the most uproarious results. Garrigue’s artwork makes gruesome look great and creepy totally cool. Have some wicked good times reading these aloud.

The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael cover artTHE FRIGHTFUL RIDE OF MICHAEL MCMICHAEL
Written by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by Mark Fearing
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8) 

Come along my friends for the ride of your life, well Michael’s life actually. The building doom and the perfect rhyming pattern in The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael promise twists and turns for young Michael on the ominous number Thirteen bus. The events of this story take place on November thirteenth, adding to the suspense and sense of dread. While something felt off, Michael still got on the bizarre bus nonetheless. He really had no other option. Besides, he was charged with transporting his Gran’s pet. And, of all the passengers, Michael seemed to be the least terrifying. Suddenly things were not looking good for the lad. When the last rider departed, Michael was left alone with the fanged and sneering driver. Why did the bus look ready to devour him? Soon the vehicle began veering “toward a slathering maw most horrid!” Rather than bring the story to an immediate satisfying conclusion, Becker beautifully brings on more drama as the menaced becomes the menace. Michael faces the impending evil actions by releasing one of his own! Between the dark tone of the illustrations, the spot on typeface, the right mix of mildly scary characters along with a foreboding feeling depicted in both the art and verse, The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael is a story to read with the lights on any time of year! Pick up a copy along with a flashlight today

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Want more suggestions for Halloween reads? Check out last year’s roundup right here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sweet Bedtime Treat: Goodnight, Anne by Kallie George

GOODNIGHT, ANNE
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Genevieve Godbout
(Tundra Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

cover illustration from Goodnight Anne by Kallie George

 

Goodnight, Anne, a welcome tribute to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, makes me smile! Everything about it is suitably comfortable, yet also dreamy.

interior spread from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Anne (with an “e”) goes about her little world saying goodnight to everyone and everything around her. Page after page of Genevieve Godbout’s warm, winsome illustrations beckon the reader to join Anne as she remembers all the people and places she loves before she finally goes to sleep. Older readers already familiar with Anne will welcome the familiar names, but younger readers will not lose out. Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Diana, Mrs. Lynde and Miss Stacy all make appearances in the book.

interior artwork from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Some of the things that Anne says goodnight to, such as stars, trees, and flowers, younger readers already know. There are just enough Anne references to please any fan, yet not so many that anyone would feel left out if they had not already heard Anne’s story. In fact, it will send them in search of more of Anne’s stories!

int illustration from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Kallie George’s writing is simple yet lovely, making the book just right for children. It will see them off to bed beautifully. Anne would be so pleased to know that her story would see someone off to bed beautifully! All around it’s a treat of a book that cherishes the spirit of the original work. I have a feeling that both the author and artist worked very hard to honor Anne’s story and L.M. Montgomery’s writing. They certainly have accomplished that, and that was no easy task. Congratulations to both of them on a book Anne would have adored. Be sure to pick up Goodnight, Anne for any kindred spirit you might know who would enjoy Anne’s company at an early age. We all know someone who reminds us of Anne!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

 

Got Class? Check Out Our Annual Back-to-School Books Roundup Part 1

IT’S A NEW SCHOOL YEAR SO…
IT’S TIME FOR OUR
 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS ROUNDUP 2018
PART 1

 

It’s back-to-school time around the country so we’ve prepared our annual back-to-school books roundup to get kids in that mindset. Where we live some kids returned to school as early as two weeks ago. My son begins his senior year of high school today while other children don’t go back until after Labor Day Here’s to a new year of reading and learning! And watch this space for Part 2.

 

THE ITSY BITSY SCHOOL BUSbook cover art from The Itsy Bitsy School Bus
Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Sanja Rescek
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)

The Itsy Bitsy School Bus, a sturdy, 16-page board book, takes little ones back-to-school using the beloved nursery rhyme we all know by heart. The rhythm and rhyme of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” provides an engaging way into the story that should help allay any first day jitters. “The itty bitsy school bus was ready for the day. Backpack was full with lunch and book, hooray! This sweet and friendly looking school bus experiences the daily routine much like any child would, from drop off, meeting the teacher, finding new friends and ending the day by heading home again. It’s easy to learn the words and the cheerful illustrations clue children into exactly what’s happening in every spread. Tuck a copy into your child’s backpack or give it to them the night before their first day and read it aloud together. Download the educator guide here.

cover illustration from Dear Substitute DEAR SUBSTITUTE
Written by Liz Garton Scanlon + Audrey Vernick
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
(Disney-Hyperion; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

I wish I’d had Dear Substitute when my son first started school. Its message of how change can be positive is a timeless one that applies year round. The story is written in epistolary style poems by the narrator, a young girl clearly anxious about her substitute teacher, Miss Pelly, covering for the primary teacher, Mrs. Giordano. It’s obvious from the letters that Miss Pelly does things differently than the main character is used to. Maybe she laughs too much and is perhaps even nervous herself, but of course an anxious child might not recognize that. The student writes her first letter and addresses it Dear Substitute where she expresses her surprise at having someone other than Mrs. Giordano. Following that is one to Attendance where she explains Miss Pelly’s poor pronunciation of her classmates’ names. She’s perturbed that her homework isn’t collected after missing shooting baskets to complete it. The class doesn’t visit the library, the class turtle’s tank isn’t getting cleaned and rules aren’t followed. Worst of all is being told not to swap food. The scolding hurts despite its good intention being at the heart of it. This 40-page picture book will definitely resonate with readers who like routine. They’ll also enjoy how Scanlon and Vernick (who’ve teamed up to write before), cleverly turn this student’s reluctance into willingness through Miss Pelly’s choice of books at story time. Soon the girl is embracing poetry and feeling a lot happier. By realizing that there’s more to the substitute teacher than she initially thought, she’s taken a major step toward accepting change. Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka’s watercolor illustrations are delightful accompaniments to the text. There’s a youthful buoyancy to the looseness and bright colors of the artwork that make it easy on the eye while not distracting from the letters. I can see this book being a popular read-aloud in classrooms and libraries for years to come. Download an educator guide here.

Kindergarrrten Bus book cover artKINDERGARRRTEN BUS
Written by Mike Ornstein
Illustrated by Kevin M. Barry
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 0-4)

Ahoy mateys! I mean welcome aboard. Mike Ornstein’s treasure of a tale, Kindergarten Bus, will ease the fears of many a small child. This fun idea for a picture book—a pirate bus driver who tries the tough guy approach on his busload of Kindergartners, “There’ll be no blubbering’ on me bus!” —includes spot on pirate-speak and a relatable storyline. It’s not only the first day of school for these “little scoundrels”, but it’s also the pirate’s first day as driver. I got such a kick out of the humorous prose as well as the wonderfuly imagined illustrations by Kevin M. Barry. The kids have to walk up the plank to board the Jolly Roger Bus Co. bus with its porthole windows and wooden siding like on a pirate ship. The big difference? This vessel vehicle’s heading to school carrying precious cargo rather than heading out to pillage and plunder! But when the pirate’s sidekick Polly the parrot flies off out “the winder!”, the tough guy becomes immobilized and can no longer drive the bus without her. The tables are soon turned and it’s the crew of kids who pep talk the pirate out of his fears. Parents or teachers can point out in these spreads that one little girl’s shirt that had previously been obscured by her arm is now revealed and says I Got This! And blimey, Polly’s returned just in time for the now empowered pirate driver to transport all his “little scallywags” to kindergarten! Why does a pirate drive a schools you may ask? Well matey, ye’ll just have to find out for ye self! An author’s note offers grown-ups helpful, realistic tips on preparing kids for starting something new.

cover art from Mae's First Day of SchoolMAE’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Kate Berube
(Abrams Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

First-day-of-school-itis is that bug that children get in their heads that nothing will go right or be easy for them when they start school. Author illustrator Kate Berube introduces readers to Mae who, despite her parents’ efforts, declares “I’m not going.” Somehow her mom’s convinced her to walk to school during which time Mae’s fears grow. She ponders on “all the things that could go wrong.” She worries no one will like her, that she’ll be the only student who cannot write or that she’ll miss her mother. When Mae’s mom arrives at school, Mae is nowhere to be found. The nervous girl has climbed a tree and settled in. Her mom calls out and once again Mae declares, “I’m not going.” It’s a good thing the branch is sturdy because Mae is soon joined by Rosie who shares the same fears Mae does.
The two commiserate over cookies and before long are joined by Ms. Pearl, clearly the teacher. This tall, wise lady confides in the girls that she’s not going either. I loved that part and thought it was such a clever approach. Just like Mae and Rosie, the teacher shares all her ‘what ifs’ and bonds with the youngsters. Mae is thankful she and Rosie are not alone in their feelings. Rosie points out how already they like each other so that’s one less concern to deal with. Plus, Ms. Pearl assures them, “And you don’t have to be worried about making mistakes when you’re reading and writing. School is for learning new things.” Ms. Pearl has a warm way of relating to her students and by climbing the tree she shows she’s ready to meet kids at their level, immediately lowering their anxiety levels. Now they can all get down and get ready to start their first day. Berube’s artwork is a charming accompaniment to her prose. There’s a nice mix of illustrations with some pages leaving lots of white so the text stands out while others, with less words on the page, place emphasis on the pictures like the one when the girls see Ms. Pearl climbing the tree to join them. I recommend Mae’s First Day of School to share with any anxious youngster to help ease their first day fears.The Truth About My Unbelievable School...book cover art

THE TRUTH ABOUT MY UNBELIEVABLE SCHOOL…
Written by Davide Cali
Illustrated by Benjamin Chaud
(Chronicle Books; $12.99, Ages 6-9)

Successful collaborators Cali and Chaud have paired up again, this time to tell The Truth About My Unbelievable School…, a fabulous laugh out loud story filled with as many grin producing moments of text and illustrations. Both the writing and art invite careful study because there’s smooch more than meets the eye. I know this not just because I felt this way, but I watched the reaction of a seven-year-old to whom I loaned the book in a doctor’s waiting room. Yes, I bring kidlit along with me when I’m out on my errands. Anyway, after slowly reading and studying each page, the boy immediately returned to the beginning and started all over again after pausing momentarily to proclaim, “Wild!”

Henry is chosen to give his new classmate a tour of their school only this school is like no other. All the while a little dog tags along adding a secondary character to keep tabs on. The students pass by the school pet, some type of ginormous jellyfish whose tank takes up an entire wall, floor to ceiling. The music teacher is an Elvis wannabe and my favorite, the art teacher, is right out of a Picasso painting with one eye above the other. Parents will get an extra kick out of the page if reading with children. The math instructor resembles Einstein and purple tentacled sea monster appears to be wreaking havoc in another room. Surprises lurk behind every door. The janitor’s an Oz-like character and the Principal’s levitating as the students enter her room. The playground treehouse is not to be missed nor is the swamp creature swim coach. What else could there possibly be in such an unusual school where lagoons and dark, winding stairwells are the norm? Kids will want a day at this unbelievable school to see for themselves! 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Paperback Edition of It’s a Firefly Night is Now Available

IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT
Written by Dianne Ochiltree
Illustrated by Betsy Snyder
(Blue Apple Books; $12.00 Paperback, Ages 3-7)

 

cover art by Betsy Snyder for It's a Firefly Night by Dianne Ochiltree

 

Five years ago Good Reads With Ronna first reviewed Dianne Ochiltree’s splendid It‘s a Firefly Night. We’re back to introduce the story for a new audience to enjoy since it’s just come out in paperback from Blue Apple Books. This new edition features an attractive glittering cover that adds to the magical feel of the story. With at least five weeks left of summer, there’s still time to enjoy the wonder and delight that fireflies bring with “their dancing-light show” to all who see them. 

What child (or adult for that matter) doesn’t love fireflies? After all, they are the first sign that summer has truly arrived. It’s a Firefly Night is a beautiful and joyful picture book that celebrates every child’s rite of passage into the warmest season of the year. Additionally the story demonstrates a strong daddy daughter bond as evidenced by his encouragement of his child to explore the night sky.

The concise flowing, rhyming prose by Dianne Ochiltree offers the youngest readers insight into the story of a little girl and her dog who are out in the yard with a jar, chasing, capturing and releasing fireflies back into the air. Just reading the book will make you want to get out into the fresh air with your family. In the back of the book is a spread with factual information about fireflies. Did you know that fireflies are beetles? There’s also a page with prompts to get kids drawing, counting and writing about fireflies.

 

“Flickering quicker,
they sparkle and shine.
I love catching fireflies,
but they are not mine.”

 

FireflyNight_int_illustration by Betsy Snyder

Interior spread from new paperback edition of It’s a Firefly Night by Dianne Ochiltree with illustrations by Betsy Snyder, Blue Apple Books, ©2013

 

What makes this book standout are the vivid collage illustrations by Betsy Snyder. The colors are both deep and brilliant, depicting the most magical night sky you could ever imagine. It’s a Firefly Night is a great way to kickoff summer with your kids. Just be prepared to get out in the yard with them chasing those glowing parklers as soon as they appear. Click here for a link to a downloadable story hour kit ideal for libraries, bookstores, classrooms and families.

Great Summer Reading! Five Novelty Book Faves For Toddlers & Preschoolers

A ROUNDUP OF UNIQUE BOOKS
FOR TODDLERS & PRESCHOOLERS

 

 

I Thought I Saw a Dinosaur! cover illustrationI Thought I Saw A Dinosaur!
Written and illustrated by Lydia Nichols
(Templar Books; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

I Thought I Saw A Dinosaur! by Lydia Nichols is part of the “I Thought I Saw A” series—the other title right now being I Thought I Saw A Lion!  This compact square-shaped, 10-page board book includes a slide-and-seek feature that encourages manually dexterity. Just move the easy-to-spot loop (it looks like a ring-shaped life preserver) in every spread to the opposite end of the cut-away area and presto, behold the dino! It could be anywhere in the house. Maybe behind the sofa or maybe in the shower (the shower curtain is my favorite slider). One thing is for sure, this chartreuse green dino is adorable and friendly so youngsters will be thrilled to find it. Nichols’s artwork has a cool retro feel, but most of all it’s warm and welcoming and makes for an entertaining game of slide-and-seek at home or on the road.

 

Cover art from Take a Look: More Fun Together! by Liesbet Slegers Take a Look: More Fun Together!
Written and illustrated by Liesbet Slegers
(Clavis Books; $12.95, Ages 18 months and up)

What’s more fun than playing alone? Playing with a friend! In fact, everything’s more fun together and toddlers will agree. First they’ll see bear resting, but after they slide apart the sturdy board book pages, they’ll see bear’s pal revealed. Is bunny crawling into her empty burrow? Nope her little ones await her! Use this 12-page book to discuss friendship, types of animals then come up with your own take on the colorful cast of characters including a cat, an elephant, a fish and some kids. Each slide-and-see page of Take a Look. More Fun Together!, a delightful interactive board book, holds a sweet surprise. An adorable year round read.

 

book cover die_cut art from TouchThinkLearn: Wiggles

TouchThinkLearn: WIggles
by Claire Zucchelli-Romer
(Handprint Books/Chronicle Kids; $17.99, Ages 2-4)

Let one, five or ten fingers linger on every page to explore the tactile fun that is TouchThinkLearn: Wiggles. The “fluorescent die-cut dots and playful, grooved paths” will entertain and engage children as they learn about shapes, color and movement in a totally unique way. According to Handprint Books, “The premise is simple: Hear an instruction, repeat its words, and playfully trace out its action.” Children won’t be able to resist. I couldn’t either, from my very first touch of the book’s spine and cover. The spirals inside pulled me in, but maybe it will be the the squiggles, dots or zigzags for your toddlers and preschoolers. Whatever captures their interest, they’re sure to find new ways to interact with this 26-page, vibrantly colored board book. Its innovative design and exuberant language promises to spark sensory curiosity in little learners. Find half a dozen other books in the terrific TouchThinkLearn series including Little Critters, Fly and ABC.

 

Sam's Hamburger cover artworkSam’s Hamburger
Written and illustrated by David Pelham
(Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Samantha’s sad that her burger’s been stolen, “And that’s the second one this week!” she cries to her brother who has a plan—concoct something that resembles a burger only fill it with fake food designed to hide creepy crawlies. What a wonderfully distasteful way to get back at the thief! That’ll certainly give the culprit something to chew on. This convincing, cleverly designed three-dimensional, lift-the-flap book is not for those who easily get queasy. Sam’s Hamburger is a satisfying sequel to the best-selling Sam’s Sandwich, first published in 1990. It will introduce a new generation of young readers to this bright, bold, over-the-top, but cooked to perfection recipe for sweet (or sour) revenge.

 

cover illustration from We're Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

The award-winning classic from 1989 has had many iterations, but this latest, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book, is one I think will please even Bear Hunt purists because it’s just so much fun. There are seven transforming pages including the cover in this 20-page board book. Each one brings movement and excitement to the spread where the changing pictures have been designed. The pull-down tabs switch from illustration only to illustration and the beloved sounds we all love repeating and in many cases have memorized: Swishy swashy! Splash splosh! Squelch squerch! Stumble trip! Hoo woo! and the ultimate, IT’S A BEAR! So when thinking of a baby shower gift, add this version to your list and help new parents have a beautiful day or plan on having one yourself!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Check out another board book roundup here.

 

 

 

 

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Stars shine bright for debut authors Thompkins-Bigelow and Martinez-Neal

MOMMY’S KHIMAR
Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

&

ALMA
Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
(Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Two parent and child dyads share and celebrate cherished cultural connections in beautiful new picture books by debut authors that will touch and delight the heart.

Cover art by Ebony Glenn for Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-BigelowDebut author Thompkins-Bigelow depicts a child’s wonderful, busy day in MOMMY’S KHIMAR.A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears” says a young Muslim girl who loves to dress-up in her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves. Fun and fancy are foremost in her mind as she incorporates the beautiful khimars in her imaginative play. The yellow khimar – another term for hijab – is her favorite and she dreams of wearing it like a queen, or a superhero, flying through the sky like a star.

Mama sees the girl at play, but smiles tenderly rather than scolds. The scarf carries her familiar, motherly fragrance of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon, making it even more special to her daughter. The girl is also loved and celebrated by her father, teachers and her grandmother, wrapped in tangible and intangible messages of love and welcome.

Glenn’s bright, sunny illustrations are sweet and appealing, using vibrant colors that compliment the warm, well-rounded story and keep the focus squarely on the girl’s fun. The energetic images cool to soft blue-purples as night falls and the beloved khimar returns to her mother’s closet. Even in her dreams the heroine recalls the tender embrace of her family and community, but her mother most of all. A delightful depiction of an ordinary day in the life of a cheerful and charming child.
Starred reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

Cover art for Alma and How She Got Her Name ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME is the book title, but the inquisitive heroine’s full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Alma complains that her name is “too long” and “never fits.” In fact, Alma must tape an extra piece of paper to her page to accommodate all six! Soon, the how and why of the family stories behind each and every name is revealed in compelling, engaging descriptions.

When Alma’s father explains the rich history of the names she bears, Alma’s incredible imagination brings them to life. Aided by family photos and icons, her father’s story reveals Alma’s namesakes and the common bonds they share. Like her grandmother Sofia, Alma adores books. Like her grandfather Jose, Alma loves to draw and paint. Candela was Alma’s activist grandmother, and aunt Pura was deeply spiritual.

Alma wears delightful striped red pants, a perky red hairbow, and a red string around her left wrist. Her sweet, expressive face moves from solemn to astonished, serene to silly as she “meets” her ancestors and discovers the common bonds that they share. Martinez-Neal, recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, uses a restrained color palette and imbues the well-designed textual components with meaningful symbols. Broad, double page spreads pace the story smoothly and linger for maximum impact on each name’s meaning. The final reveal for the name “Alma” is a warm, satisfying and ultimately empowering one for the little girl who has been enriched by the love and history of her family past and present. ALMA is a tender tale, a treasure for all readers who will wonder about their own name history.
Starred reviewsBooklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

•Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Read reviews of other #Epic18 debuts here:

I am Famous & Shark Nate-
Snow Sisters
The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort

 

 

Fun New Characters Feature in The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort

THE THREE LITTLE PUGS
Written and illustrated by Nina Victor Crittenden
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

&

THE LITTLE RED FORT
Written by Brenda Maier
Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

The following pair of pleasing picture books, The Three Little Pigs and The Little Red Fort feature updated and revitalized tales with fresh characters and wonderful word choices in two debut stories sure to delight young readers.

 

Cover art of pugs and cat from The Three Little PugsPugs replace pigs in Crittenden’s humorous THE THREE LITTLE PUGS, while the huffing-puffing wolf becomes a snoozy-sleepy cat who takes over the pugs’ cozy bed. Playing off the traditional story’s theme to build with straw, sticks or bricks, the pugs employ familiar household substitutes. Drinking straws, drumsticks and snaplock toy bricks don’t help the pups oust the cat from their wicker bed basket. How can the pug trio broker a lasting peace with the snoozing intruder?

Crittenden’s light, bright illustrations are perfectly suited to the short, sweet text full of rhyme and repetition. There is plenty of action from the busy and resourceful pups to keep the pages turning quickly. While this pug-a-licious tale could convince a few toddlers to embrace their nap schedules, the twist ending also lends itself as a fresh bedtime story selection perfect for a cuddle and a snuggle, pug-style.

 

 

Cover art from The Little Red FortThe Little Red Hen becomes an able, ambitious little sister in Maier’s THE LITTLE RED FORT. Young Ruby wants to build a backyard fort, but her brothers refuse to help. When they say “You don’t know how to build anything,” Ruby shrugs and responds “Then I’ll learn.” She forges ahead with drafting plans, gathering supplies and cutting boards. Along the way she is skillfully assisted by the adults in the family (parents and a grandmother!) Once the fort is finished, Ruby is satisfied with some peaceful solo playtime until her brothers express an interest in her awesome project. Will they find a way to make it up to Ruby after scorning her efforts? The clever twist ending is modern, engaging and satisfying for all.

Sánchez puts bold colors and loose, sketchy lines to vibrant use, portraying pig-tailed Ruby with determination and enthusiasm. The large, textured images are well-matched to Maier’s subtle patterned prose, echoing the traditional text in format and expanding the storyline to contemporary sensibilities. Determination, cooperation and creativity are powerful themes woven into the story with care while simple childhood fun and warm family life will be foremost in readers’ minds.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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