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.
Reviewer Rita Zobayan says, “Whether we call her Noni, Grams, Yaya, Memaw, or another, special name, we can agree that grandmothers are the best. To celebrate Grandparents Day (September 7), here are three books that will make you want to hug your Nana.”
Grandma (Child’s Play, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-8) by Jessica Shepherd deals with Oscar’s experience as his grandmother’s dementia takes hold and she enters a nursing home. The story begins with Oscar describing all the wonderful ways he spends time with Grandma. We love books. I can even read some to her now. We like to smell the flowers we’ve just planted…and to wash the dishes until they shine like diamonds.
But Oscar notices that Grandma is forgetting lots of things and can’t do things that she used to be able to. That’s when Grandma moves into a special home. As Oscar and his family visit Grandma, Oscar notices the differences. It doesn’t look like her house and it smells different too. But Grandma is happy and the people who help her are a lot of fun! We have drinks and cupcakes to share.
Grandma has good and bad days. Sometimes Grandma shouts when people are trying to help her. And sometimes, she’s angry with me too, and I don’t know why. Dad says it’s not my fault, she’s just confused. Oscar figures out a way to help. Grandma is getting very forgetful…so I made a box of happy memories that we can look through together. Oscar still spends lots of time with Grandma in her new home, and he has friends and family to take care of him when he’s sad that Grandma is feeling angry or unhappy or can’t spend time with him. And, in the end, Oscar still knows that his Grandma is the best.
Simply worded and illustrated, Grandma provides relevant and easy-to-understand examples and explanations for children who are experiencing a change in their grandparent’s behavior. A two-page question and answer section helps parents explain dementia and gives suggestions for how grandchildren can help.
How to Babysit a Grandma(Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $16.99, Ages 5-8) written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish takes a delightful spin on caregiving. Mom and Dad are going away, so their young daughter gets to babysit Grandma! That’s right, she has many tricks to make spending time together fun.
How To Keep A Grandma Busy: Go to the park, bake snickerdoodles, have a costume parade, feed the ducks, do yoga, look at family pictures, swing, play hide-and-seek, make goofy hats, slide, have a dancing-puppet show, read stacks of books, take photos, do puzzles, play cards. As the babysitter, you need to let her choose.
Our young grandma-sitter has advice galore. She fills in the reader with how to play with a Grandma and places to sleep. Under her granddaughter’s care, Grandma has a great time. She remembers to pump her legs when swinging and listens to the five-minute time-to-go warning. Dinner time can be tricky, but, never fear, the grandma-sitter has tricks up her sleeve. Grandma will eat if you arrange food to make silly faces or add sprinkles to anything (Well – almost anything.). In the morning, it is time to say goodbye, but the granddaughter has that covered, too. (Hint: it involves a costume, items to borrow, a special phrase, and a big hug.)
Fun, brightly illustrated, and engaging, How to Babysit a Grandma is a perfect book for children who are anxious about sleepovers. It presents lots of suggestions on activities and empowers children, too.
Our final book is an oldie but goodie,Tea Cakes for Tosh (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012; $16.99, Ages 6-8) written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Grandma Honey is a woman of many talents. She spins stories and bakes delicious tea cakes. Tosh loves spending time with her, listening as Honey tells of courageous great-great-great-great-grandma Ida, who worked as a kitchen slave and whose tea cakes “were the best around.” Although Ida was forbidden to share the delicious treats with her children or any of the other slaves, she risked being whipped to give the children a taste of sweet freedom. Tosh listens to the story over and over.
When Honey begins to forget everyday things, such as where she parked the car or her sister’s phone number, Tosh is concerned. But the worst day was when Honey forgot how to make tea cakes…Tosh looked at Honey’s worried face and checked all of the ingredients she placed on the counter—butter, flour, sugar, vanilla. “What about eggs?” Tosh asked. “Right, that’s it,” Honey said, beaming at Tosh. “You really are something.”
As Tosh comes to terms with his grandmother’s failing memory, he decides to take action. He makes tea cakes at home and memorizes Honey’s story. The next day, Tosh surprises and comforts Honey with his baked goods and recitation.
This heartwarming tale is about the special bond between grandparent and grandchild. Complete with a tea cake recipe, Tea Cakes for Tosh is a beautifully illustrated book that reminds us that sometimes listening can be a precious gift unto itself.
Here’s a link to our recent review of 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, Nana in The Cityby Lauren Castillo and picture books giveaway.
Tilly’s Staycation, by first time picture book author/illustrator Gillian Hibbs, (Child’s Play Inc.; July 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-8), is reviewed by MaryAnn Locher.
When I first read Tilly’s Staycation, by first time picture book author/ illustrator Gillian Hibbs (Child’s Play Inc.; July 2014; Ages 3-8; $16.99), I couldn’t help but think of my own childhood. How I longed for a real vacation at some exotic getaway. A place with a built-in pool, a beach, and colorful fruity drinks with fancy paper umbrellas. Some place you couldn’t get to by car, but could only reach by plane, boat, or maybe both!
In this inventive picture book, Tilly watches as one after another of her friends sets off on vacations to India, Paris, Florida, the beach, and camping, leaving Tilly behind. Her mother says not to worry, they’ll have fun together without having to go away. Tilly, however, is skeptical. While she enjoys having a special breakfast in bed with her mom, she isn’t so sure how much fun they’ll have when the city bus they take drops them off at the library.
With a creative mom and an imaginative child, books become adventures, an ordinary picnic becomes a secret rendezvous, and swimming at the local pool – an underwater expedition. Tilly and her mom find treasures at the local market before they head back to their house to spend the night in a vacation home they build for themselves in the living room out of blankets.
Hibbs uses bright primary and cheerful secondary colors to mirror the childlike happiness her words and illustrations inspire.
Just like Tilly, I never did get that fancy family vacation, not like the ones my friends went on, but I did get to use my imagination to escape the confines of my yard and have a fun-filled summer. By the end of the book, Tilly says, “I can’t wait to tell my friends about my staycation.”
The Lion and the Bird written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, (Enchanted Lion Books, 2014. $17.95 Ages 3-8) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.
One autumn day a lion working in his garden finds an injured bird. “You’re welcome to stay with me,” Lion assures Bird. Over the winter Lion nurses Bird back to health and the two share the comforts of Lion’s home and the wonders of the seasons. When spring returns so do Bird’s feathered friends and, after consulting with an understanding Lion, Bird rejoins his flock.
Lion returns home, lonely but philosophical, musing “And so it goes, sometimes life is like that.” But autumn returns, and as the birds begin their annual migration to warmer climes, Lion wonders if he’ll see his old friend. Suddenly, Lion hears a chirp (brilliantly illustrated with a single musical note on an otherwise blank two-page spread). Bird has returned for the winter. “Together, we’ll stay warm again this winter,” Lion assures Bird, as the two settle in the house under a starlit sky dominated by a crescent moon.
Dubuc’s picture book featuring a lion who finds and helps an injured bird is a classic story of friendship set against the cycle of the year. The simplicity and spareness of her narrative and the flat, muted, color illustrations give it a fable-like quality, rendering the story timeless. Dubuc’s layout of the illustrations is remarkable. One cozy, two-page spread depicts a series of oval-shaped vignettes, allowing the reader to peer inside Lion’s cozy home. Another lovely spread shows Lion’s house buffeted by snow and wind and is followed by a blindingly white spread representing the snow-covered countryside. Off-center, three pale pink buds, emerging from the snow, hint at the coming spring. The pages become canvases conveying the story’s narrative and wonderfully capturing the characters’ emotions and the timelessness of a seemingly simpler, rural life. Highly recommended for ages 3-8, but it’s such a well-illustrated and beautiful friendship story, it will be enjoyed by all.
Author/Illustrator Marianne Dubuc is a French Canadian author and illustrator trained as a graphic designer. She has written and illustrated several other titles for young children. Visit her web site (en Français) at www.mariannedubuc.com to learn more about her art and books. Visit Enchanted Lion Book’s wonderful web site at www.enchantedlionbooks.com to see the highly creative and imaginative books they have published from authors and illustrators all over the world.
Cecil’s choice of soothing blue, purple, and green oil paint colors and brush-stroke technique are the perfect match for Joosse’s book, reminiscent of Mem Fox’s lyrical prose and poetry blend. Silver tears of loneliness make their way through the castle, across the moat, around the glen and at last reach a bug-eyed sleeping dragon in his cave who has been dreaming of a girl for a friend. The dragon follows the trail of tears, back around the glen, across the moat, and through the castle to at last find his girl.
An unlikely, forever friendship ensues as the dragon chases away the monsters and giants from the little girl’s life and she in turn sings him beautiful lullabies to help him sleep. They know that although they are very different on the outside, they are “exactly the same size in the middle” where it counts. It is refreshing to find a book with an atypical princess (she’s not your usual beauty) flying off on an unusual dragon (he’s protective, not scary).
Now I can’t wait to read this perfect little book to two perfect little girls in my life.
NOTE: Though not a new picture book to review (this one’s from 2012), Lovabye Dragon was one that stood out as an exception.
Read about: Hearts, How Do Lions Say I Love You?, Junie B. My Valentime, Born From The Heart & Will You Still Love Me If …?
♡Our Valentine’s Day Roundup Part 2 from Ronna Mandel♡ features a selection of faves for the whole family!
This Valentine’s Day, which also happens to be International Book Giving Day, is a perfect time to share books and share love. The picture books we’ve highlighted yesterday and today say I LOVE YOU in oh so many wonderful and creative ways. The best part of Valentine’s Day is that, since it’s all about finding ways to demonstrate feelings of love and affection, you can read these books all year ’round and the message remains the same. There’s never a bad time to show someone how much you care. And inside the pages of a picture book, there’s lots of love to be found!
♥♥♥ Heartsby Thereza Rowe (Toon Books, $12.95, Ages 3 and up). The bold graphics in this First Comic For Brand New Readers will draw kids in and the heartwarming storyline will keep them interested. Penelope the Fox accidentally drops her heart into the ocean where all sorts of hazards await. However, a friendly chicken on top of a British double-decker befriends the fox and together they go in search of the lost heart. Will Penelope find the missing heart or will she find something else on her journey? Hearts is all hearts.
How Do Lions Say I Love You?by Diane Muldrow with illustrations by David Walker ( A Little Golden Book/Random House Books for Young Readers, $3.99, Ages 2-5). It’s easy to see why your little ones will gravitate towards this charming story of all the different ways animals say “I love you.” With catchy rhyme, Muldrow introduces us to a hen saying “I love you” to her chicks with a cluck. She goes on to show us love-struck swans, giraffes, nightingales, peacocks, horses, elephants, lions, wolves, bears, cows and mourning doves.
Mourning doves like to bill and coo. And that’s how they say I love you.
With its adorable, muted pastel colored illustrations, How Do Lions Say I Love You? is certain to please as it gently depicts the love shared in families with examples children will find hard to resist.
Born From The Heartby Berta Serrano with illustrations by Alfonso Serrano (Sterling, $14.95, Ages 3 and up). When I first glanced through my review copy of Born From The Heart, and its artwork spoke to me so strongly, I didn’t even have to read the story to get a sense that I was going to love this book. This picture book which presents the idea of adoption in the most captivating way, is one I am delighted to recommend to new parents. One of my favorite lines in the book is when the main characters Rose and Charlie visit the doctor to see how they might have a baby and the doctor tells them they need “1 pound of love, 2 cups of enthusiasm and 1 1/2 tablespoons of patience.” Soon Rose’s heart began growing as the couple awaited the arrival of their new baby. When the time was right, they flew far and wide and “crossed landscapes of unimaginable color” until they came to a little house in the middle of a green valley. Rose’s heart burst when she saw her little one. She “kissed the beautiful face one hundred million times.” Alfonso Serrano (the author’s brother) has captured the magic of that moment in an illustration so spectacular yet so simple. Rose is lying in the grass with her baby on top of her. The embrace is priceless. We cannot see Rose’s face, but feel her ecstasy.
Based on Berta Serrano’s experience adopting her son, Born From The Heart, is a truly magical, moving and empowering story for parents that I hope all adoptive parents will read and then share with their child when the time is right.
Will You Still Love Me If …?by Catherine Leblanc with illustrations by Eve Tharlet(Minedition, $16.99, Ages 3-8). Asking his mom lots of questions so many children have asked, Little Bear learns that there is nothing quite as forgiving and enduring as a mother’s love. Whether he tears his clothes, makes a mess, breaks his bed or looks horrendous, he wonders and “wants to be sure,” his mom will still love him. Will it be always and forever, he begins to ponder, even if one day she dies? With the most sensitively worded response, his mom assures him that he’ll still feel her presence. “But I’m still here and I’m not dead yet.” It’s true that youngsters have these thoughts and it’s great this picture book addresses them in a way that’s light and positive. “And what if one day you love someone else more than you love?” Little Bear is unrelenting. “More than you?” Mom asks. “That’s impossible! I might love someone in a different way …” This momma bear knows all the right things to say and is so genuine, loving and supportive that kids will love her just as much as Little Bear. Between the gorgeous artwork and the appealing prose, Will You Still Love Me If …? is the kind of book I would have felt comfortable reading to my kids when they were young and I didn’t have all the answers.
Junie B. My Valentime by Barbara Park with illustrations by Denise Brunkus (Random House Books for Young Readers, $5.99, Ages 3-7). Everybody’s favorite first-grader is back and better than ever in this hilarious sticker and Valentine’s book (30 are included!) with Junie’s VALENTINE acrostic-style take on Valentine’s Day. This companion book to the bestselling Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime! isfilled with fun, original full-color cards just perfect to give out to classmates, friends and family. My favorite Valentine’s Day card – the one where Junie’s written “Will you B. my Valentime? YES or NO? YES ⃞ YES ⃞ (Ha! I did not draw a NO box! That’s hilarious!)” And it really is! Why not make your own printable Valentine’s Day card by clicking here, too?
Mark your calendars L.A. readers. The illustrator, Jennifer Wood, will be at Kidspace Children’s Museum on 2/1/14 for a reading and signing of the book. She’ll be at Vromans in Pasadena on 2/8/14, at 10:30 a.m.
Did you know that the Chinese New Year is a 15 day holiday based on the movement of the moon, and is organized in cycles of 12 years? The way the years get named comes from the Chinese zodiac which is made up of 12 animals, each with unique qualities, and each belonging to certain years. I discovered that I was born in The Year of the Dog, but that’s a whole ‘nother story! The Chinese culture believes that if your birth year falls under a particular animal, both you and that animal should share the same personality traits.
In The Year of the Horse, ninth in the Talesfrom the Chinese Zodiac series, readers will meet Hannah, a foal and Tom, the boy who befriends her. Together the two play whenever they can and grow close as Hannah grows stronger. When Tom’s teacher Lao Shi is requested to paint something special for the Governor, she worries how the artwork will be delivered to the capital so far away. Tom volunteers, but Lao Shi tells him, “The journey is too long and wild to walk alone … Someone must go with you.” Since the picture book is titled The Year of the Horse, it may come as no surprise then to children that Hannah is eager to be considered capable of the task and partner with Tom on the journey.
However, getting to the capital safely is not easy. Hannah’s parent advise her, “Dear, keep on the path and stay alert.” And while both Tom and Hannah are responsible, little do they know what challenges await them on their trip. Wood, an animation designer at Nickelodeon, brings her vivid, kid-friendly style to The Year of the Horse, making every page feel like a scene from a TV show. Kids will love the look of the various animals included in the story including an ox, a dog, a sheep, a dragon, a tiger, a snake and a monkey. They’ll also get easily caught up in the adventure Chin’s created. After some very close calls, Tom and Hannah arrive at the capital and deliver to the Governor the scroll Lao Shi’s painted. Once home, the two are welcomed and cheered. Hannah’s displayed valiant spirit as has Tom. They “blazed their own trail” and succeeded. No wonder the Year of the Horse celebrates their derring-do. I loved the positive “can-do” message the book conveyed, and though our kids are not going to be sent on such a mission, they’ll enjoy the vicarious experience and understand the pride that Lao Shi and Hannah’s parents feel about the pair’s major accomplishment.
Do you share those qualities with Tom and Hannah or know someone who does? According to the back matter in the book, “People born in the Year of the Horse are energetic and animated. They are proud and love attention … ”
WHAT A WAY TO START A NEW YEAR! A ROSH HASHANAH STORY (Kar-Ben Publishing, $16.99 Hardcover, $7.95 Paperback, ages 3-8), by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Judy Stead, is a wonderful book to share at the High Holidays or anytime really. Between Jules’s realistic and readable text to Stead’s vibrant and expressive illustrations, this picture book would make a welcome addition to any family’s book collection. A bonus is that the dad, who is not Jewish, loves celebrating the holidays making this story ideal for interfaith families.
It’s Murphy’s Law around Dina’s house as everything that can go wrong does go wrong before the New Year celebration. First, the family has just moved to a new town and are living out of boxes. It’s just not the same as when they lived in Greenville. When they decide to drive the two hours to Greenville to visit the Kaplans, old family friends, one unlucky event after another begins to work against them. Harry forgets his special pillow, Mom locks her key in the house, the car gets a flat tire, grape juice spills all over the floor and someone always exclaims, “What a way to start a new year!”
And while these kids who have just relocated to a new home and new city may compare and complain, it’s not uncommon considering the circumstances. They did not want leftover pizza for their New Year meal! They pined for their round challah and brisket. And the Kaplans, of course, because they were a known entity. Change is never easy.
When Dad accepts an invitation to meet Alan Levine, a work colleague, at the local synagogue for Rosh Hashanah services, Harry and Dina are delighted to meet Mr. Levine’s grandchildren. It’s not long before Murphy’s Law is history and this young family is joining the Levines for a joyous holiday dinner. “What a wonderful way to start a new year!”