★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly
What better way to travel to the sea than to fly, and I don’t mean by airplane! Jacob’s Fantastic Flight, by German author illustratorPhilip Waechter, and translated by Elisabeth Lauffer, takes the reader on Jacob’s family vacation where he foregoes flying by plane with mom and dad, and instead sets off with courage to fly solo.
Waechter begins his whimsical tale by introducing readers to baby Jacob, flying before walking and surrounded by his parents, mouths agape, as their baby takes flight from his carriage to beyond the treetops. Each page pulls the reader in with colorful illustrations and intricate detail. Waechter’s vision of the story is beautifully expressed in his uplifting art.
At first his parents were pretty concerned because having a kid like that was a little weird. But they soon got used to him flying and figured, “So be it—he’s our son, and he’s perfect just the way he is!” And he’s quite helpful when he flies to the top of a tree to pick the big red apple!
As Jacob grows bigger, the family decides it’s time to take a vacation to the sea. After accompanying his parents to the airport, Jacob then waves goodbye and takes off flying on his own. Here begins the real adventure for the boy as he befriends birds, a flock of 83, while admiring the scenery along the way. He saw blue mountain lakes and golden wheat fields and smelled meadows full of flowers—beautiful!
Soon a notorious new character is introduced, Mr. Mortar, the evil birdcatcher. It wasn’t long before a little bird blundered into his net. When Jacob and the birds realize their count is off they work together to devise a plan and save their bird pal Hubert, with Jacob taking the lead.
Jacob finally catches up with his very happy parents who welcome him with hugs and kisses. I can only imagine the worry they must have felt thinking their son was flying alone. The family of three turned into a family of four as Hubert the rescued bird was now included in the family trip.
For all those kids who have imagined themselves flying, this is a wonderful adventure. It is also a heartwarming and much needed story about a boy whose difference is also his special power, one that gives him confidence, self-esteem and courage. This is a great conversation starter about helping others in need.
Reviewed by Ronda Skernick Einbinder
Click hereto read another picture book review by Ronda.
Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere inCatching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clarkwith illustrations by Summer Macon.
It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).
Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.
The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.
Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”
I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”
A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.
Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.
Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.
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Written by Printz Honor recipient Julie Berry and illustrated by Annie Won, Long Ago, on a Silent Night connects the Biblical story of the birth of Christ with the birth of a mother’s newborn babe. Ancient and modern times meet to express the promise of peace, joy, and hope the Christmas season brings.
Won’s glowing, airy illustrations produce a dreamlike effect. Interchanging pages of light and dark color highlight the story’s juxtaposing themes: extreme joy and the deep mystery of the miracle of birth. Just as a “piece of heaven fell to earth” when God became flesh “at that sacred birth,”the mother feels her boy “came straight from heaven, too” from “the moment” she held him. Berry’s tender language, told in elegant verse form, captures the holiness of the relationship between mother and child, and in a broader sense, humankind’s relationship with the Christ Child. Though He had the power to “one day calm a tempest wild,” Jesus instead chose to save the world through His “gentleness” and humility. The birth of the baby is a reminder of the ripple effect of God’s loving kindness throughout the generations.
A great addition to your Christmas picture book collection, Long Ago, on a Silent Night highlights the relevance of the Nativity story to our modern times.
Beloved children’s author/illustrator Tomie dePaola offers us a picture book full of fun facts about the most widespread of all Christmas traditions: the Christmas tree.
In its second edition, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book begins with a family visiting a Christmas tree farm to pick out their own tree. The children’s curiosity about “how Christmas trees [got] started” leads to a fascinating discussion of the historical role “decorated trees and branches” have played during the holiday season. As far back as the Middle Ages, decorated evergreens were used during church plays and transitioned into people’s homes after the plays were no longer performed. It’s interesting to learn about the varied forms of the evergreens and shrubs as more people brought the plants indoors for decor. The children’s questions guide the family’s discussion naturally and fluidly in a gentle way that doesn’t feel like the reader is getting a “lesson.” We learn of other major transitions: the arrival of the Christmas tree in America, the addition of lights on the tree, and even the evolution of the Christmas tree stand. One piece of history is particularly delightful (and a matter of presidential importance) but you’ll have to get the book to find out!
Though much of the book presents factual information, the story arc takes readers from beginning to middle to end as we watch the family purchase, transport, and decorate their tree. The addition of the grandmother in the second half of the book adds a personal touch to the historical facts as she shares with her grandchildren her memories of Christmas trees long ago. As always, dePaola’s muted color palette, familiar shapes, and soft lines provide warmth and comfort to his words.
Perfect for school reports or for quelling those myriad questions from curious little ones, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book will both educate and entertain. Click here for bonus materials from the publisher’s website.
Growing up as part of a demanding traveling circus is not much of a life for Dasher, a little doe with an adventurous soul. The harshness of hot days does not compare to the magical place in Mama’s stories where the weather is cold, the air crisp, “and the ground was always covered with a cool blanket of white snow.” Dasher’s days are filled with meeting children which she loves. At night, however, surrounded by her family, she wishes upon the North Star for the home Mama has described.
When one windy night’s unusual circumstances bring Dasher into contact with Santa and his tired horse, Silverbell, it’s as if her wish were answered. Because his sleigh filled with massive amounts of toys is getting too heavy for just Silverbell, Santa invites Dasher to help pull his sleigh. There’ll be no looking back now. Only something is missing. Her family. Of course, Santa makes that wish come true, too, when he takes Silverbell and Dasher back to the circus and invites Dasher’s family to join the sleigh. Now everything’s in place for Christmas to be perfect!
Dasher, the wonderfully imagined and illustrated tale of Santa’s team of reindeer—before Rudolph came along—feels believable and satisfying. The old-fashioned look of the art (done in watercolor, gouache, pencil, and pastel) depicting J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie and filled with rural folk dressed in their late 19th century garb, adds to the feeling the story is real. Youngsters will be easily convinced, too, and love the lyrical way Tavares has woven together all the threads of this charming origin story so skillfully. Let yourself be transported back in time with this clever tale that will have you convinced this is exactly how Santa’s reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen came to pull Santa’s sleigh.
I’M HAPPY-SAD TODAY: Making Sense of Mixed-Together Feelings Written by Lory Britain, PhD Illustrated by Matthew Rivera (Free Spirit Publishing; $15.99, Ages 3-8)
“Grandma, I am so SA-MAD!”
Oh … why, Momo?” I asked my 8-year-old granddaughter.
“I’m SAD that my parents won’t let me do what I want today and I am so MAD at them!” she replied passionately.
Thus began my journey to explore children’s complex feelings and to write I’m Happy-Sad Today: Making Sense of Mixed-Together Feelings. Most books and early childhood materials focus on children selecting one feeling that represents how they feel. Yet, “mixed-together” feelings are common in childhood and throughout adulthood. Exploring the emotional life of children through this lens enriches our understanding and support of children.
All children are faced with confusing, conflicted and ambivalent feelings during situations ranging from the “every day” such as their first sleepover to confusing and devastating situations involving abuse from a known adult. Often when children are struggling with coping skills, unrecognized mixed-together emotions are present. Children’s ability to understand both their own emotions and the emotions of others improves their inner emotional life, coping skills (self-regulation) and contributes to healthy relationships with those around them.
We can help children recognize all of their feelings, validate how they are feeling, and give them the lifelong tools to accept and express these feelings in developmentally appropriate ways. And to quote my book, I’m Happy-Sad Today, “When I’m older, sometimes I’ll still have different feelings mixed together inside of me. And that’s okay!”
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? With our recommendations for the best new Mother’s Day books around! And, whatever you may do, wherever you may go, take some time to read together with your children at home, in a park, on a train, at a bookstore or in a library. Books make memorable gifts and, with an added personal message, will be cherished for years to come.
In A Heart Just Like My Mother’s, when Anna, who loves and admires her mother is inspired to help a homeless man by saving up her Tzedakah money, she realizes she and her mom share something in common—a big heart. This lovely picture book is a wonderful way to explain the Jewish tradition of performing an act Tzedakah which Nargi defines not so much as charity but doing the right thing by helping others. But it’s also the story of a little girl who starts out thinking she could never be as creative, funny or caring as her mother until she realizes what she has to offer. By collecting Tzedakah money and providing food for the homeless man, Anna’s selfless act of kindness brings her closer to her mother and proves to herself that she too has qualities worth being proud of. I love Cis’s illustrations too. There’s a warm, folksy feeling about them that adds to the positive vibe that emanates from the pages making A Heart Just Like My Mother’s such an enjoyable read.
With its starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, Forever or a Dayby Sarah Jacoby will make a thoughtful gift this holiday for those seeking something at once out of the ordinary as well as heartwarming. It conveys its beautiful message with spare yet evocative text and in just 20 pages. At first I thought it was a picture book about the future, but then it dawned on me that it’s about being present and spending time together with loved ones and making meaningful moments now. Adults and children may experience different reactions when reading the book but that’s to be expected. Sophie Blackall, Caldecott Medal-winning and New York Times–bestselling illustrator of Finding Winnie, says it best: “Sarah Jacoby’s ethereal exploration of time rushes like a passing train, shimmers like a setting sun and allows us, just for a moment, to appreciate the beauty of standing still.” Prepare to be moved by the compelling art that complements the lyrical language of Forever or a Day.
Precious pairings of mothers and and animal babies from bluebirds and bunnies to otters and owls fill the pages of Today show co-host Hoda Kotb’s debut picture book, I’ve Loved You Since Forever. Kotb adopted her daughter, Haley Joy, in February 2017 and her happiness at becoming a mother is infectious and evident throughout this delightful picture book. Gentle rhyme, a repeated refrain (there was you … and there was me), a rewarding wrap up and exuberant illustrations all work wonderfully together. I’d pick up I’ve Loved You Since Forever for any new parent on your holiday list. In addition to Kotb’s lovely language, there’s a sense of warmth and closeness from the special bond of parenthood depicted in Mason’s tender scenarios. Whether or not you’re an adoptive parent, I’m sure these lines will resonate with you as they did with me: Before otters swam together/and rivers reached the sea/there was you and there was me/waiting for the day our stars would cross/and you and I turned into we. Awww!
In 176 color pages and 12 clever chapters, author Hale deftly delves into the world of motherhood from various perspectives that readers will find fascinating. The introduction says the book “explores the changing role of motherhood through the images and shared cultural moments that have captured it best: magazines, advertisements, greeting cards, television shows, movies, songs, and other pop culture ephemera.” Choose a chapter at a time because this comprehensive and enlightening book is meant to be savored slowly (like a 1950s TV mom’s best casserole) and cannot be read in one or even two sittings. I love the breadth of the material that’s been included and am partial to the earlier chapters that cover motherhood in the eras before I was born including The Nineteenth Century, The Pre-War Years, World War I, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, World War II, The 1950s (although note that American Momdoes go all the way to present day 21st century). I learned, for example, that between “1885 and 1905, there were around eleven thousand magazines and periodicals published in the United States—and about 88 percent of the subscribers were women,” that Betty Crocker was a fictional character, that Eleanor Roosevelt “broadened the role” of first lady and that on I Love Lucy they couldn’t say the word pregnant on the show! Through Hale’s insightful lens on motherhood, we’re taken on an entertaining jaunt through fashion, food, first ladies, feminism, photography, film and literature that pays tribute to the ever changing role of mothers in American life and touches on aspects of this expansive topic in ways that will interest every reader, male or female.
If you’re looking for a fun, original board book for Mother’s Day, look no further than From Mother to Mother Written and illustrated by Emilie Vast Translated from French by Julia Cormier (Charlesbridge; $7.99, Ages 0-3) Simple in concept, but rich in design elements, this 14-page board book is perfect for little ones who adore the pull-apart Matryoshka dolls. Every other page takes a child back several generations of a mother’s mother’s mother’s mother who in turn gave birth to a child eventually bringing the reader to the present. “And not long ago, I gave birth to you … my very own child. A mother’s love goes on and on and on.” What a beautiful sentiment to share with a young child while cuddling them close and showing them all the different colored pages, each with unique and nature-inspired artwork. There’s also a version for dads!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read our Mother’s Day recommendations from 2017 here.
Read Cathy Ballou Mealey’s review of Love, Mama here.
PAULIE’S PASSOVER PREDICAMENT Written by Jane Sutton Illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi (Kar-Ben; $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 4-6)
I don’t have a flair for cooking and it seems the same can be said about the main character and moos-ician, Paulie, in Paulie’s Passover Predicament by Jane Sutton. As the Passover Seder host, Paulie gets all the important dishes wrong. But unlike me, Paulie scores points because he at least makes the effort to prepare an entire meal whereas I’m more comfortable (and it’s safer, too) being someone else’s Seder guest.
Paulie’s invited all his animal friends over which includes Evelyn, Horace, Irving, Moe and Sally. At first his pals seem impressed by his Passover Seder spread. Soon however, as each traditional dish is served, there are giggles, chuckles and guffaws. “I see you have an extremely large egg on your seder plate,” said Moe. How big you ask? It’s an Ostrich egg!
There’s pepper in the salt water that’s supposed to represent “the tears of our ancestors when they were slaves,” but Paulie’s put pepper in so the pepper wouldn’t be jealous of the salt. He’s mixed pine cones instead of walnuts into the charoset, uses grass in place of parsley, and for the maror he’s carved a horse out of a radish instead of using horseradish!! But rather than ridicule Paulie who is embarrassed and saddened by his mistakes, his pals realize he’s just put his own special spin on the seder and love him for it. Happy again, Paulie reflects on the special meal. “He loved dipping his hoof in grape juice as he and his friends recited The Ten Plagues.”
When Sally is selected to hide the afikomen, everyone goes searching. Lucky Paulie finds it but unluckily gets stuck in the basement until his ingenuity saves the day (and the afikomen). I like the symbolism in his being set free just like our ancestors were and the special camaraderie amongst all the friends afterwards as they sing Dayeinu. “If God had only taken us out of Egypt, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.”
Vagnozzi’s joyful artwork will delight youngsters, some of whom may be old enough to recite The Four Questions. Paulie’s Passover Predicament is a light-hearted look at the holiday and reinforces the message that it’s really not about the food, but about being together and honoring the traditions of the past generations. Enjoy your read-aloud time with this story and wishing all those who celebrate a very happy Passover 2018!
About Passover From Paulie’s Passover Predicament: Passover is a spring holiday that celebrates the exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The holiday begins with a festive meal called a seder. Symbolic foods recall the bitterness of slavery, the haste in which the Jews left Egypt, and the joy of freedom. Children ask The Four Questions and look for the hidden piece of matzah—the afikomen—at the end of the meal.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click here for a link to 2017’s Passover book review of A Different Kind of Passover Click here for a link to 2016’s Passover book review, More Than Enough
The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.
I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!
I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!
Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.
Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.
Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.
THE YEAR OF THE ROOSTER: TALES FROM THE CHINESE ZODIAC Written by Oliver Chin Illustrated by Juan Calle (Immedium; $15.95, Ages 3-8)
In The Year of the Rooster: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, author Oliver Chin explains how “the Chinese culture has organized time in cycles of twelve years.” Based upon the movement of the moon, the Chinese calendar matches animals’ personalities with those of individuals born in a specific year.
This final picture book, #12 in the series, features a bilingual translation in simplified Chinese and introduces readers to Ray, a plucky young rooster and his loyal pal, Ying, the farmers’ daughter. After bumping into a pig who claims to have found a fantastic phoenix feather, the pair embark on a quest to find the elusive creature.
On their journey Ray and Ying also encounter a rat, an ox, a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, a horse, a snake, a sheep, and a monkey who share their insights on the colorfully plumaged phoenix. As the friends hunt far and wide, Ray is also learning to perfect his crow, something his father has demonstrated early in the story. The significance of meeting a phoenix is raised by the snake who tells the youngsters that “seeing the phoenix is good luck. If you find her, your quest will be well worth it.” But how long must the two travel when it seems that every new animal they meet requires them to trek even further? And if they do eventually find the phoenix, will their quest truly have been worth the effort?
Along with its playful text and easy to follow storyline, The Year of the Rooster’s dazzling illustrations by Juan Calle offer children adorable cartoon-like characters to connect with. As the need for diverse books remains strong, Chin’s book is an important reminder of how invaluable reading and learning about other cultures and traditions is for growing young minds. The Chinese New Year is always a great entrée into the Chinese culture and Chin’s books, as well as all of Immedium’s titles, continue to provide this engaging content. Wishing you all a very Happy Year of the Rooster!
An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as: Friends and neighbors to invite, Ancient blessings we recite. Gleaming candles burning bright, Crispy latkes taste just right.
Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazelis flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.
Yitzi and the Giant Menorah Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar (Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.
BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY BLOG TOUR Written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney (Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-8)
It’s day three of the Brunhilda’s Backwards DayBlog Tour and I’ve got this question to ask readers: What comes to mind when you think of a witch – someone mean and warty riding a broomstick and wearing a pointy hat, with a cat as a sidekick, and always up to no good? That sounds exactly like the witch in Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, the debut picture book from author and illustrator Shawna J.C. Tenney.
Tenney takes us through a typical Brunhilda day, from her start getting out of “the wrong side of the bed,” and putting on her ugliest outfit (because what witch do you know who wears designer dresses?), to finding great satisfaction in chanting troublesome spells:
Lumpy grumpy fly pie stew!! Hocus Pocus hippity hoppity spew!
Oh the wickedly witchy things she concocts to annoy people! But it seems Brunhilda isn’t alone in brewing up mischief. Her feline friend, who all along appears rather reluctant to wreak havoc, has some plans of her own!!
When Bruhilda awakens the following day, her warts are gone, she has only oatmeal not spider mush to eat for breakfast, and horror of horrors, her ugly dress has turned into a “fluffy pink ball gown.” And try as she might to do all her awfulness, Brunhilda soon finds herself unable to be cruel. In fact she actually delights in bringing joy to the children and families she ordinarily would upset.
Seeing Brunhilda’s transformation in both words and illustrations is pure pleasure. There’s even an early foreshadowing Tenney’s included on the book’s title page illustration showing the wicked witch pouring water on her cat. Tenney’s text, in a fabulous font, is simple, and succinct. It’s surrounded by lots of lovely white space which also serves to contrast the empowering pink, pulsating purples and gorgeous greens in the artwork.
Brunhilda’s Backwards Day begs to be read aloud with a cackling voice and a crooked finger, while pointing out all the magical goings on in the vibrant artwork. I totally enjoyed this charming Halloween treat and have no doubt your kids will fall under Brunhilda’s happy spell.
FIVE LITTLE BUNNIES Written by Tish Rabe Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Harper; $6.99, Ages Newborn – 4)
This charming 16 page board book invites parents and children to recite every line. The first bunny said, “We’re here! Let’s stop! Let’s hide Easter eggs. We all know how. We need to hurry. Let’s start right now!” So the bunnies make plans to hide a lot of eggs, under trees, in bushes, next to flowers. All kinds of eggs, too – striped ones, spotted ones so kids are in for a treat. The watchful, eager bunnies wait until all the little children arrive and start the hunt. With their job successfully completed, the bunnies are free to hippity hop away, leaving youngsters on the lookout for all the eggs they can find!
THIS LITTLE BUNNY Written by Aly Fronis Illustrated by Sanja Rescek (Little Bee Books; 5.99, Ages 3-6)
This Little Bunny, an adorable 16 page board book, will fit right into any Easter basket and promises to bring lots of sweet smiles your way. Written with nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy” in mind, naturally the first little bunny goes to the market. The next one bakes a cake, and another makes cookies. As all the bunnies in the story get ready for Easter by decorating, painting eggs and such, one little bunny feels the need to take a break (perhaps my favorite activity or lack thereof). Kids will love the closing line of “We … we … we … wish you a Happy Easter!” While the story ends on this high note, you’re far from finished because I’m certain kids will want you to read this one again and again. Remember to buy several copies then head – wee … wee … wee … all the way home to enjoy!
IT’S THE EASTER BEAGLE, CHARLIE BROWN by Charles M. Schulz Adapted by Daphne Pendergrass Illustrated by Vicki Scott (Simon Spotlight/Simon & Schuster; $7.99, Ages 3-8)
The whole gang’s here for all you Peanuts fans. And while everyone from Linus to Lucy, Marcie to Peppermint Patty, Schroeder to Sally, and Charlie Brown to Snoopy, are getting ready for the Easter celebration, Linus wonders what all the fuss and preparation is about. “The Easter Beagle does all that,” Linus announces. Poor Marcie cannot seem to get the knack of coloring eggs, Sally wants new shoes for the holiday, Snoopy is dreaming of befriending bunnies, and all the while Linus is insisting no one need worry about all the eggs gone wrong because the Easter Beagle will bring lots more eggs. But will the Easter Beagle really show up and save the gang from big disappointment, especially Lucy? Find out how Snoopy surprises everyone in this delightful new tale to share this Easter holiday.
Hanukkah arrives early again this year and so it’s time for our annual Hannukah books roundup featuring our faves for you to share with your children. All these books make great gifts, too, so why not give the gift of a wonderful story?
NONNA’S HANUKKAH SURPRISE by Karen Fisman with illustrations by Martha Avilés (Kar-Ben; $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 3-8) This simple, seemingly straightforward Hanukkah story of girl gets Hanukkah Menorah (aka hanukkiyah), girl loses Hanukkah Menorah, girl gets new Hanukkah Menorah has several super, smile-producing twists. For one thing, Rachel’s haukkiyah is made up of 9 female Maccabees instead of males, and this year, Rachel’s Hanukkah celebration will be away from home, with Nonna, her Italian grandma. I love how Fisman’s put a 21st century spin on this charming Hanukkah tale of today’s typical blended family where one parent is Jewish and the other is not. Rachel worries she won’t be celebrating Hanukkah at Nonna’s who celebrates Christmas, but her mom’s made sure to bring everything along including dreidels, candles, and traditional Hanukkah gelt so that the Festival of Lights will be just like at home. But when Rachel leaves her Maccabees menorah on the airplane, it’s Nonna and her sweet surprise that saves the day in this heartwarming tale of acceptance, respect, and a grandma’s love that knows no religion, only devotion to her granddaughter.
IS IT HANUKKAH YET?by Chris Barash with illustrations by Alessandra Psacharopulo (Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8) Like its predecessor, Is it Passover Yet?, Is it Hanukkah Yet? in under 200 words, successfully creates a holiday mood with its festive artwork and joyous tale. This picture book opens with a snowy scene of nature. “When frosty winds blow and snow’s all around And there’s no sign of green on the trees or the ground. Hanukkah is on its way.” Barash and Psacharopulo take us from the bucolic outdoors as animals gear up for the long winter to the indoors as a family makes their preparations for the arrival of family, friends and the joyous eight night long celebration of Hanukkah. From stirring, frying and baking traditional Haunkkah foods, to the lighting of colored candles “When the blessings are said and the first candles glow” to the singing of songs and playing dreidel, the small pleasures of the beloved Festival of Lights can be found and enjoyed on every page of this lovely book.
HANUKKAH IS COMING! by Tracy Newman with illustrations by Viviana Garofoli (Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4) From Hanukkah is coming! to Hurray! Hanukkah is here!, this 12 page board book with its gentle rhyme and repeating phrase, serves as a perfect introduction to the holiday for young children and builds anticipation. A brother, sister and silly dog mention all the special things they love and look forward to about Hanukkah. Whether it’s cooking latkes that “Hiss, sizzle, pop,” or spinning the dreidel with its nun, gimel, hay and shin, Hanukkah is coming and that’s something to get excited about!
SAMMY SPIDER’S FIRST TASTE OF HANUKKAH: A COOKBOOK by Sylvia A. Rouss and Genene Levy Turndorf with illustrations by Katherine Janus Kahn (Kar-Ben; $16.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 2-8) Making his 15th appearance, “Sammy Spider dangled from his web as Mr. Shapiro told Josh the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil.” While spiders don’t celebrate the holiday, Sammy could certainly watch as all the cooking began! In this latest installation of the anthropomorphic arachnid, we get a helpful intro, and recipes divided into sections of Simple Snacks, Miracle Meals (LOVE the Maccabee and Cheese), Tasty Treats (check out Melt-in-Your-Mouth Menorahs), Crafty Ideas (salt dough Hanukkah decorations are a personal fave) plus a section on Lighting the Menorah and Hanukkah Blessings. This is a terrific hands-on book for families this holiday season and definitely one to hang onto for years to come.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel #Readukkah
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When I was a little girl, probably the same age as the main character in Talia and the Very Yum Kippur, I always thought that Yom Kippur was actually called “Yum” Kippur, at least that’s how everyone in my family pronounced this most holy of Jewish holidays. So, I couldn’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to write a “pun-driven story of misheard words and malapropisms” like this “Yum” Kippur themed story, but I’m glad that at last someone has!
Author Linda Elovitz Marshall who, according to this picture book’s jacket flap, “raised her four children, a small flock of sheep, … on a farm in a historic farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York,” has chosen a similar setting for this charming tale. Only this farm’s inhabitants are Talia’s grandparents. Talia happily helps her grandmother prepare the food for the traditional Break Fast, a meal beginning at sundown immediately following a 24 hour fast of atonement by those over age 13.
The whole time Talia’s helping her grandmother, she’s thinking that the food-in-the-works is for breakfast, the morning meal, having misunderstand the correct name of the holiday. Talia’s confusion begins early on in the story and deliciously builds which will keep children turning the pages to see how everything works out. Who can blame a little girl for eagerly awaiting what she hopes will be the “Yum” Kippur breakfast of scrumptious kugel along with all the other tasty dishes?
The best part about Talia and the Very Yum Kippur is that, in addition to the humor of the play on words, Marshall introduces young readers to the meaning of this important holiday “… when Jews fast and pray and think about how to be better people.” While we fast, we take the time to think about our transgressions and pray for forgiveness. After learning this from her grandmother, Talia digs deep and apologizes for a lamp she had broken but had blamed on her doll. Grandma, too, asks for forgiveness for having yelled at her granddaughter upon seeing the broken lamp.
Assirelli serves up a selection of gorgeous folkish-looking spreads that pair beautifully with Marshall’s prose. Since Yom Kippur is in the fall, the artist has chosen autumn hues to pepper the pages making this special season come alive.
“Thanks to Talia and her grandmother, they all enjoyed a very sweet YUM Kippur.” And speaking of sweet, don’t miss the yummy recipe for Talia’s YUM Kippur Kugel included in the back matter!
Dogs will be dogs. They chase cats. They dig holes. They get excited to see you, and nearly knock you over. They’re not trying to be bad. They don’t want to make you mad, but sometimes they do. This sounds like some children I know!
In Bad Dog Flash, by award-winning NZ author and illustrator Ruth Paul, (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Oct. 7, 2014, $15.99, Ages 3-8), a scruffy rascally puppy named Flash, can’t seem to do anything right. He’s only playing with the cat when he chases her up a tree. Flash didn’t mean to break the window. He just wanted to bring his stick inside. Those shoes smelled so good, he couldn’t help but lick and chew them, and the laundry hanging on the line …
Flash continues to misbehave and be corrected, in this adorable picture book, until he’s sent to the dog house for a time out, and is one sad pup. I giggled at the smirk Ruth Paul put on the cat’s face every time Flash got in trouble. Her old-time illustrations remind me of the classic Tip and Mitten books by David McKee from my early childhood.
Her text, with its rhythm, rhyme, and repeating refrain of “Bad dog, Flash,” make this a perfect read-aloud book for toddlers, and a delightful early reader for older children. Children will relate to Flash, who always seems to get in trouble, and will like it even more when he’s invited back into the house to snuggle, and finally hears, “Good dog, Flash!”
Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories by Catharine O’Neill is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.
Starred Review – Kirkus
Cheerful and talkative Annie, and her big brother Simon are back for another adventure in Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories written and illustrated by Catharine O’Neill (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-8). Each of the four short stories in this second volume focuses on the two very different, yet loving, siblings, delivering gentle messages about relationships, perspective, caring, and sharing.
“Living Things” is a perfect introduction to both characters. The wise-beyond-his years Simon uses his binoculars to observe nature at the lake, while Annie draws what she sees – or thinks she sees. Her scribbly drawings are not always accurate and what she believes she knows isn’t necessarily true. An exchange about frogs is humorous and telling:
“Knees? Frogs with knees? Oh, Simon. Tee-hee. Tee-hee. Tee-hee.”
“Good grief,” said Simon. (p. 5).
Under Simon’s patient tutelage, Annie begins to understand more of the world around her than just what she sees or thinks she knows.
In “The Sneeze,” Annie wants to take care of a sick Simon, but needs his help to do so.
Annie loves cats because they purr and tries to teach her dog Hazel to purr in “Hazel, Hazel, Hazel.” However, when she spies something dangling from a cat’s mouth, a horrified Annie decides that Hazel should just be a dog.
In “Horse Chestnuts,” Annie and Simon find a squirrel has taken made off with their chestnuts. When Annie learns from Simon that the squirrel will need the chestnuts for the winter, she agrees to share.
The quietly-paced stories reveal the strong bond between Annie and Simon despite their differences. O’Neill’s soft and colorful watercolor illustrations are endearing and perfectly complement the warm and inviting stories. Use this as a read aloud for preschoolers, share it with siblings who don’t get along, and give it to beginning readers who are fans of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series and James Howe’s Houndsley and Catina series (also published by Candlewick). Visit the publisher’s page for more information on this book and links to other books by Catharine O’Neill.