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.
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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 Schoolto share with any anxious youngster to help ease their first day fears.
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!
IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT Written by Dianne Ochiltree Illustrated by Betsy Snyder (Blue Apple Books; $12.00 Paperback, Ages 3-7)
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 byDianne Ochiltreeoffers 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Debut 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
ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAMEis 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 reviews – Booklist, 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.
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.
Pugs 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.
The 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’ssubtle 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.
I AM FAMOUS Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 3-7) & SHARK NATE-O Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie Illustrated by Daniel Duncan (Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
A delightful double dose of picture book pleasure reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Kiely, surrounded by devoted family and friends, is confident that her celebrity status is widespread and well-deserved in I AM FAMOUS, the first picture book from prolific story sisters Luebbe and Cattie.
Kids will cackle at super-cool Kiely’s misperceptions. She continually interprets the behavior of her doting family – posting videos, taking photos, indulging her whims – as signs of her special stardom. But what will the spunky mini-diva do when she stumbles and stops sparkling in the pressure of the spotlight? The intersection of fame and family is brought to a satisfying conclusion with a wink to modern parents about over-sharing the ordinary achievements of their spirited progeny.
Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations deftly bring Kiely’s personality to life from cover to cover. Dazzling accessories and bright, bold colors spring off the page. Touches of borrowed glamour pair well with Kiely’s expressive face and energetic motion, keeping young readers entertained and amused. There is a lot of fun and flair on display enhancing the confident, snappy text. Diva-licious!
Nate is a shark fanatic, but must learn how to swim before he can transform into the one and only SHARK NATE-Oin this pool perfect fish tale from Luebbe and Cattie.
Obsessed with sharks, Nate fills his world with shark facts that he can’t resist sharing and even acting out, much to his older brother’s chagrin. But when it comes to light that Nate can’t swim, he isn’t put off for long. Enrolling in swim lessons, Nate learns to prove his water-worthiness by blowing bubbles, using a kickboard, and eventually swimming solo. Will Nate’s determination and persistence pay off in time to challenge his brother in tryouts for the ultimate prize – membership on the Shark swim team?
Duncan’s fun illustrations make a splash in noteworthy settings by incorporating plenty of shark décor and pool puns. Filled with heart and humor, Nate’s expressions and body language invigorate the appealing story with clever, imaginative elements. The authors include more shark facts at the end for readers who just can’t get enough of this jaw-some tale perfect for enjoying between summer swims. Download an activity kit here.
Read about another debut #Epic18 picture book review by Cathy here.
Rabbit has been busy all morning, preparing for her good friend Possum to visit her burrow. Expressive and flop-eared, she’s disappointed but not discouraged to discover that Possum is still sound asleep. Nothing Rabbit tries will rouse Possum until there is a suspicious rustling in the bushes. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” cries Possum upon waking, and he sprints up a tree for safety.
It’s up to Rabbit to figure out a way to help Possum down so they can hold their planned playdate. Resourceful, creative Rabbit ponders, plots and plans various scenarios for his rescue. All the while she reassures the nervous Possum as he frets, frowns and nibbles his nails. Their outward conversation and internal worries, revealed through individual thought and speech bubbles, add a delightful dimension to the story and enhance the emotional connectedness of the two friends.
Can Rabbit successfully recruit a third party – a large, stern (and vegetarian) Moose to help save Possum? Will Possum trust Rabbit that the massive Moose is friend, not foe? Young readers will be compelled to continue turning pages as the action sprints smoothly from start to finish.
Wulfekotte’s illustrations feature soft, light tones. Sweaters colored aqua-blue and rich red set off the two main characters nicely. Well-textured trees and bushes depict a spare forest landscape against a bright, pale sky. Spot illustrations interspersed with single and double-page spreads keep the pacing lively and interesting. A delightful pair of comic silent onlookers, a squirrel and bluebird, seem poised to tell their own story of woodland adventures if Rabbit & Possum produces a spin-off sequel. Let’s hope they do!
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
To see another #Epic18 picture book reviewed by Cathy, click here.
NEW BOOKS & GIFT IDEAS FOR VALENTINE’S DAY 2018 A Roundup – Part Two
We’ve taken a look at a lot of Valentine’s Day books which is why we’ve decided to add a second part to our holiday roundup. This year we’re adding some fun gift books into the mix because, for us, sharing the Valentine’s Day love means sharing books. It may be last minute, but here’s a chance to make every minute matter. Head over to your local indie bookshop and pick up any or all of these books to make Valentine’s Day 2018 best one ever!
From the editors of Flow, an international mindfulness magazine, comes Everything Grows With Love, a purse-sized soft-cover book filled with over 100 feel good thoughts including affirmations, motivational sayings and quotes. Imagine 396 pages of sheer joy and you’ve got a good idea what to expect when you open the cover of this creative book. There are decorated lines from songs like “Somewhere over the rainbow …” and simple statements such as “Let’s cuddle” and “Collect moments, not things” that are turned into art. Cool calligraphy, paint, chalk lettering, embroidery, even Scrabble-like letter tiles will greet you and invite you to turn the pages. I didn’t go through the book in order so that I could see what randomly appeared. My favorite illustrations are the animal ones, particularly the anthropomorphic mice, cats and bunnies, but that’s not to say that the vivid colors or soothing pastels and original designs and lettering coupled with the inspirational sayings don’t also lift my spirits, because they do and then some! Give this book to someone you love for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day and spread the love around.
Not only is the title, Warts and Alla good one, so is the heartwarming sentiment of this adorable picture book. It’s the kind of story parents will enjoy reading at bedtime and kids will enjoy hearing. Warts and All is filled with precious animal kid characters from bats and birds to ponies and pugs.Hanson’s illustrations in subdued shades achieved with water color and colored pencils beautifully complement Houran’s easy flowing text. What a wonderful way to send youngsters off to dreamland with a caring message of love. The book opens with this honest line: “So here’s the thing. I love you. And not just when you’re sweet and cuddly.” In other words, not part time, but all of the time. Parents can use the story as a jumping off point for a reassuring conversation. Children will learn they are loved no matter what their mood or their actions are (and yes, that includes burps). And even when, like the spray from a sweetly portrayed skunk, they’re stinky! This book makes a nice companion to I Love You Stinky Face.
This charming book is all about smooches and McFarlane’s included them all here. Whether they’re wake up in the morning kisses, “Baby brother drool kisses” or “Daddy’s prickly hair kisses,” it’s clear that kisses are fantastic. McFarlane’s written I Love Kisses in a catchy rhyme with some internal rhymes and lots of alliteration, too. Illustrator Vaughan’s digital artwork is cheerful and varied, featuring a diverse group of families including several that are multicultural and biracial. It’s great that a gay couple and a child in a wheelchair are also shown making the neighborhood presented one I’d like to live in. Although the book is suggested for ages four and up, I found the book to be better suited to those a bit younger as older ones are ready for more of a storyline. Regardless, I Love Kisses definitely delivers the best message and that is how terrific it is to get kisses whatever kind of kiss you get. The book ends with this loving line: “But the very best kisses are the ones I get from you.”
Oh how I wish I’d had a journal like this when I was a teenager! Pour Your Heart Out is 224 pages of pure Regency charm in a 21st century time machine, like Pride and Prejudice meets Pretty Little Liars, especially for the passionate young adult in your life. If your teen, or adult friend for that matter, isn’t familiar with Austen’s seminal works, this is an ideal introduction. If they’re already a fan, this will fill them with delight. There are prompts tied to Austen’s quotes to help guide young writers, providing a safe place to share emotions and sort through feelings. On one page there’s the quote: “Angry people are not always wise.” On the opposite page is the question: “What’s a decision you’ve made in anger that you now regret?” Austen’s quotes are great to help teens get introspective and consider all aspects of their lives from friendships, to relationships and school. For example: “These were charming feelings, but not lasting.” Pour Your Heart Out then provides a blank page where the reader can “Write about a relationship that didn’t pan out.” Owen’s artwork is upbeat and works perfectly with the purpose of the book, put it all down on the page and by getting it off your chest, you’ll not only feel better, but learn about yourself at the sometime. Consider gifting this journal to your hopeless romantic, your college English major or your Anglophile just waiting to study abroad in search of her own modern day Mr. Darcy. “Laugh as much as you chuse, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.”
Here’s a book that needs no describing. Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare are back in this must-have classic board book set for new parents. Guess How Much I Love You, already a fave in so many households, is made even more giftable with the addition of beautifully illustrated milestone cards. For the cell-phone photo taking and social media savvy generation, the 24 cards make documenting all baby’s once-in-a-lifetime moments as easy and unique as ever! For Valentine’s Day or as a baby shower gift, this board book and cards gift set is a great idea for those of us who forget to keep track of pictures and, when looking back years later, cannot remember what milestone the photo was taken for. Capture those moments and make everyone happy.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click here for our Valentine’s Day Books Roundup – Part One
The 12 Days of Valentine’s (Including 30 stickers!) Written by Jenna Lettice Illustrated by Colleen Madden (Random House Kids; $4.99, Ages 3-7)
SNOW SISTERS! Written by Kerri Kokias Illustrated by Teagan White (Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
When swirling snowflakes fill the morning sky, two creative, independent Snow Sisters!react in unique and complementary ways throughout author Kerri Kokias’s debut picture book.
The title page, a peek into their cozy shared bedroom, hints at the distinctive personalities of each sister. One girl lies sprawled across her bed with toys and clothes strewn about, while the other sleeps tucked in tight with toys in a row and an alarm clock nearby. After they wake, the first sister, on left hand pages, dresses in snow gear and rushes outside. She throws, builds, and tracks alongside a fluffy squirrel. Her sister, on right hand pages, opts for indoor comforts. She keeps busy with books, baking and snowflake making.
Kokias’s clever parallel text draws us into their individual worlds right up until an exciting mid-book switcheroo. When the outdoors becomes too cold and wet for one sister, the second is drawn outside after spotting a chubby bunny from the window. “Bye!” the sisters greet one another as they trade indoor and outdoor delights. Each embarks on re-visiting fresh interpretations of the words we heard in the beginning: baking, making, throwing, building, etc. The short, simple, active verbs make this book a reading experience that is very accessible for young ears and eyes.
White’s homey illustrations utilize a purple-pink palette for one sister, and orange-peach tones for the other, complementing their respective brunette and auburn hair colors. Interior scenes are accented with mellow teal greens, contrasting with the beautiful outdoor images glowing with purple and pale grey snow. Young readers will enjoy discovering amusing repeated details from scene to scene, whether it be favorite stuffed toys or paper snowflakes.
The final spread repeats the book title, Snow Sisters!, and shows us how the two have found a time and place to come together and share their snowy fun. Readers young and old, with or without siblings, will appreciate the abundant and inclusive approaches for having fun and celebrating snow in this delightful, cheery debut.
BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS A ROUNDUP – PART TWO
As promised, Good Reads With Ronna continues this year’s roundups of great Christmas books and activities to share with your children before and during the holiday. There are so many terrific new books to choose from that we felt it was important to review as many as possible so you could find some special ones that appeal to everyone in the family.
The traditional Christmas song about a partridge in a pear tree can get to feeling a bit cluttered by the time seven lords are leaping around, but in The Twelve Days of Christmas, Emma Randall’s illustrations are a breath of fresh winter air, clear and colorful throughout. For example, each leaf and pear in the partridge’s tree is separate, forming a lovely mosaic that could be Swedish or Ukrainian. The characters are drawn in a homey style that reminds me of Jessie from Pixar’s “Toy Story,” with old-fashioned winter afternoon-wear replacing cowgirl duds. There are plenty of visual details to search for and enjoy, and of course you can sing the song while searching if caroling is your jam. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Susan Jeffers offers a new interpretation of another classic holiday song, Jingle Bells. Her cover illustration gives us the main characters: a boy carrying a gift, a girl snuggling a dog, a beautiful horse, and lots of snow, including raised sparkling snowflakes just asking to be touched by little fingers. Open the book and the front endpaper lays out the path the sled will follow, from the children’s barn, over a river, through a forest and on to a little house. Working with such a familiar song, Jeffers takes the opportunity to include new things for readers to ponder. The children would like to stay bundled up in the sled, but their dog is determined to discover every winter animal playing or hiding in the white world outside the sleigh. Readers can look for the animals, too; the last two pages identify them for reference. Near the end, we find out where the children are going and who will receive their gift. In a surprise, the story shares some insight about what it might be like to have a famous neighbor. Add this one to your songbook collection. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
I tried to share my favorite holiday television special with my own kids twenty years ago — and it didn’t really work. Maybe the animation techniques or sound quality didn’t hold up, or maybe I had loved it partly because I could only see it once a year, whenever CBS decided to air it. At any rate, my kids couldn’t relate to my anticipation. I opened A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe Edition(Peanuts) hoping this book might be a way to share the Peanuts magic more successfully with my grandchildren. I’ll know for sure when I see them before the holidays, but I’m thinking this version is a “yes!” • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
This deluxe edition, by Maggie Testa (Adapter), Charles M. Schulz (Author), and Vicki Scott (Illustrator), is big, with an almost-velvet red cover framing a smiling Charlie Brown holding his special little Christmas tree. The endpapers are sheet music of the Christmas carols “Jingle Bells” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The art throughout pops with bold colors and stylized shading. In case you’re unfamiliar with the characters or story, Charlie Brown is a kid who has few friends and can’t do anything right. He is correspondingly depressed, yet embodies optimism, always coming back to try again. In the Christmas story, his true friend Linus thinks he knows how to cheer up Charlie Brown. “You need to get involved. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?” Charlie Brown takes charge, but after he gets a straggly little tree to decorate the stage, the other kids convince him he’s ruined everything again. Later, led by Linus, everyone comes together to decorate the tree. It shapes up like only a cartoon tree could, and the true spirit of Christmas shines. This adaptation hits the important notes I remember from the animated special, including my favorite scene: Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 after assuring Charlie Brown, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
With a title like Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More! it’s no surprise that this book contains cards, envelope templates, and gift tags. The “more” includes bookmarks, mini cards, full-page images called frameables, and scrapbook paper (which makes nice two-sided gift wrap). Most pages are perforated and easy for a child to use on their own. Kids can choose an item, then draw or write on the mostly blank second side—some have short quotations. The envelope templates are straightforward as are the instructions for bookmark tassels or fridge magnets.
The artwork is that of best-selling artists Thaneeya McArdle, Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam, Valentina Harper, and Valerie McKeehan. A variety of styles showcases the holiday sentiments. Images are produced on thick paper and in full color—except for a few in black and white for self-coloring. While most pictures are appropriate for a range of holidays, in keeping with the book’s title, many of the quotes on the back of the cards refer to Christmas and some are of a religious nature. If the quotes aren’t suitable, the card’s second page can be omitted and used as postcard-size instead.
If you’re strapped for time, Christmas Paper Crafting can give your cards a more homemade feel. It may also be less costly than buying individual greeting cards or boxed card sets. Kids who enjoy making their own choices and crafting will appreciate the freedom to pick what they like then to embellish a bit, adding their special seasonal touch. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
I picked up Mary Engelbreit’sColor ME Christmas Book of Postcards because it looked like a fun, creative project to do with my granddaughter, coloring in holiday postcards, gift tags, and ornaments illustrated with designs in Engelbreit’s signature vintage style. I love that at Christmastime, every arts and crafts project is also an opportunity for young kids to make presents for the people they care about. The book is printed on thick card stock, so after coloring, the items will be ready to mail, tie onto gifts, or hang on the Christmas tree. Paired with a package of colored pencils or markers, these postcards make a wonderful gift for any young visitors you may be expecting. Recommended for ages 4 and up, in other words, for anyone who’s a kid at heart like me. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Two things are clear from the start of this book: Jasper needs some underwear and, he’s not a little bunny anymore. He persuades his mother to buy a pair of underwear advertised as, “So creepy! So comfy!” That night, Jasper wears them to bed and the trouble begins.
In Aaron Reynolds’s 48-page picture book, Jasper soon decides that, even though he’s a big rabbit, the underwear’s “ghoulish, greenish glow” and magical powers are a bit much. Instead of bothering his parents or confessing why he’s jumpy, he finds ways to rid himself of the dreaded underwear. When they keep coming back, Jasper self-reliant attitude conflicts with his fears
Peter Brown brilliantly conveys the somber mood in black and white images, offsetting the unusual underwear in neon green. When Jasper finally entombs his problem, Brown rewards the reader with a two-page wordless spread of darkness followed by Jasper’s eyes, surprised and oversized at the absolute blackness he has achieved.
The text’s refrain cleverly changes along with Jasper’s perspective. Acting like the big rabbit he professes to be, Jasper solves his own dilemma. Reader and rabbit receive an illuminating conclusion.
The team of Reynolds and Brown scored Caldecott honors with their previous book, Creepy Carrots! Featuring the same rabbit and a humorous plot, Creepy Pair of Underwear!will haunt you to read it again.
Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo!brings us a Halloween adventure with this pair of favorite feathered friends Duck and Goose. This 40-page picture book will engage young children who, during this time of year, are eager to ask, What are you going to be for Halloween?
Goose, unclear on the concept states he’s going to be himself, of course, because “it’s important to always be yourself.” And, rightly so. But, fun soon follows when their friend, Thistle, appears and boldly states that she’s not telling them about her costume. It’s a secret. Then she cautions them to beware of the swamp monster tomorrow when they go trick-or-treating.
Of course, the mention of that ghoul haunts Goose that night and the next when he sets out, ready to collect candy. All seems okay until he’s told the swamp monster is looking for them!
In this book, Tad Hills continues the beloved series wherein emotions are explored in a gentle manner. Throughout, his illustrations, are expressive, capturing Goose’s trepidation. Particularly well depicted is the forest trick-or-treating scene—such fun to see how animals celebrate.
Children can relate to the slight apprehension surrounding Halloween that is paired with the excitement of get dressed up and, in the end, sorting their bounty.
Halloween Good Night, a rhyming 32-page picture book, counts from one to ten using charmingly ghoulish families. Rebecca Grabill employs some standard spooky Halloween creatures such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Refreshing additions include wood imps, globsters, and boggarts. “Lurking in the swampland, lanterns glowing like the sun, sits a massive mama globster and her bitty globby one.”
The captivating cadence of the lines is spiked with clues enticing the reader to question where everyone is going. Soon, we find ghosts “sail through your door” and boggies wait in your closest for “your bedtime once again.” This removal of the so-called fourth wall makes the audience part the story.
A not-at-all-spooky conclusion is followed by a quick countdown from ten to one. Because the number sequences are handled with interest even older kids will engage with this “counting book”—there is much more to the story.
Ella Okstad delightfully illustrates the funny scenes (such as seven goblins dumpster diving with Granddaddy Goblin). Colorful images infuse the shadowy darkness with mischief and humor.
Halloween Good Night shows us that monsters can be playthings like dolls or stuffed animals. Instead of fright, they bring delight.
ARGYLE FOX Written and illustrated by Marie Letourneau (Tanglewood Publishing; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
Author illustrator Marie Letourneau’s latest picture book, Argyle Fox, has a distinctly European feel about it. Maybe it’s Marie’s French sounding last name, maybe it’s the language, or maybe it’s the artwork. It could even be a lovely combination of all three, so I was surprised to read in the jacket flap copy that she actually lives on Long Island in New York, where I grew up!
The tale, one about the payoff that comes from perseverance and resilience, introduces us to Argyle Fox, a well-dressed and determined forest animal. Eager to play outside despite the windy spring weather, Argyle is cautioned by his mama that his desire to make a tower of playing cards on such a blistery day might be in vain. Not easily swayed, the plucky creature tries to no avail. Four more attempts at fun outdoor activities include dressing up like a spider and using yarn to make a web, pretending to be a pirate setting sail on a log ship, playing soccer and kicking what is supposed to be the winning goal, and battling a fire-breathing dragon as a fearless knight. Every time he makes up a new game, Argyle’s pals watch and warn him that the wind might disrupt things. Still he persists. Of course all of Argyle’s creative efforts are ruined by a “Whoosh” of the wind so he heads home. Mama Fox suggests that there still might be something to play with in the wind and leaves her youngster to his own devices.
There’s a reason Argyle’s name is Argyle and that’s because his mama’s a big knitter. And what do knitters have lots of? Yarn! “Argyle went straight to work. He cut, tied, knitted, painted, and taped. Finally it was finished!” With all his forest friends in tow, this imaginative fox shows off his handmade kite and then gives all his friends their very own custom creations, too! Now the “Whoosh” sound is a welcoming one indeed!
Letourneau’s charming picture book makes for a marvelous read-aloud. Even as I read the book alone I found myself saying “Whoosh” out loud each time it appeared! Parents and caregivers can use the subject matter to start a conversation about imagination, creativity, and persistence after sharing the story. Together they can also look at all the adorable details Letourneau’s included in her illustrations while enjoying the cheery color palette, not to mention taking time to play all the fun games Argyle has played in the book. With summer break around the corner and kids wanting to be outdoors, Argyle Fox is a welcome inspiration.
Masha has four sisters and though they’re very different from one another, they fit together just beautifully in this treat for matryoshka doll fans. Presented in a clever 10 page, die-cut novelty book format, these colorful, folksy nesting dolls may be ubiquitous in Russia but never cease to entertain youngsters and adults. I know because I have a rather large collection of them at home from my many trips to Moscow and St. Petersburg. A great intro to Russian culture and storytelling because little ones can create their own tales about each sister represented: Natasha, Galya, Olya, Larisa, and Masha.
I don’t know any child who isn’t enamored of this adorable yellow dog with brown spots. This 10 page dic-cut board board in Spot’s familiar shape, is sturdy enough to withstand countless hours of reading and is a perfect way to share the carefree joys of childhood, or puppyhood in Spot’s case. Using simple rhyme, Hill brings Spot out into the rain and sun, introduces a few of his friends all having fun and makes spending time with Spot a highlight of any little one’s day.
Big Bug Log (A Bugsy Bug Adventure) by Sebastien Braun (Nosy Crow/Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 3-7)
Designed to resemble a log, this new die-cut board book is full of trails to follow, flaps to lift and lots of irresistible bug characters your kids will adore. “Bugsy Bug is going to see his grandma. She lives somewhere inside the Big Bug Log.” Now it’s your child’s turn to help Bugsy Bug choose the correct way to get there while encountering some cool places along the way including Mrs. B’s Treats, a busy restaurant, a library, a bedroom, a spider’s web and charming house on Hopper Street that Bugsy Bug’ grandma calls home. Definitely recommend picking up a copy of this and all Braun’s other board books, too!
GO BIG OR GO GNOME Written by Kirsten Mayer Illustrated by Laura K. Horton (Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.
A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?
Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.
Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.