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Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin

SPLASHDANCE
Written and illustrated by Liz Starin
(Farrar Strauss Giroux $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Splashdance by Liz Starin book cover

 

Splashdance, a funny, wacky picture book by Liz Starin is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

One MILLION dollars! That is the prize awarded to the winners of the water ballet competition at the community pool. So Ricardo, a mustachioed, knobby-kneed gentleman and his water ballet partner Ursula, a well-groomed but furry polar bear practice their routine diligently. All at once, a new rule bans bears from the pool, and Ricardo summarily ditches Ursula for a new partner, a giraffe named Hortense.

Ursula is devastated at the betrayal and heartbroken to lose her chance in the competition. After all, she really loves water ballet! Eventually Ursula dons a striped bikini and sneaks down to the community pond for a quick dip. Alone, she executes her best double back albatross and half twist chanterelle in the weedy green swimming hole.

 

Interior_artwork_from picture book Splashdance
Interior spread from Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin, Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR ©2016.

 

Then one day Ursula arrives at the pond only to meet a large group of water ballet enthusiasts practicing their routine. They, too, were cast out of the pool due to their ursine members. This group – this TEAM – has stuck together and continued to practice. Ursula is inspired to join them, and she devises a plan to ensure that they can participate in the water ballet championship after all.

Starin’s text is smart, vibrant and playful. A balanced mixture of short and long sentences filled with cut-to-the-chase emotions keeps the storyline popping along. Young listeners will remain eager to turn the page and discover what happens next. Starin’s illustrations are spectacularly funny, inventive and ridiculous, adding implausible wacky details that appeal to the eye and the funnybone. Clever signs, wild bathing costumes, and a hilarious menagerie of swimming critters mix together to produce a divinely humorous tale.

Ursula finally gets to perform her impressive triple banana flip in the water ballet competition – but will it be enough to win the million dollars? Or is there an even bigger prize at stake? Splashdance is a lighthearted, inspiring winner from beginning to end.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Splashdance from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Best Children’s Books for Father’s Day Roundup

BEST FATHER’S DAY BOOKS ROUNDUP 2016

 

This year there are more fab Father’s Day books than I’ve ever seen before so I found it rather difficult to narrow down my favorites to just a few.  Here are some of this year’s Father’s Day books I recommend.

 

Hammer And Nails Book CoverHammer and Nails
Written by Josh Bledsoe
Illustrated by Jessica Warrick
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
Josh Bledsoe wrote this story about my husband, or at least he could have because the father in Hammer and Nails (love the wordplay in this title) has a heart of gold with a touch of pink. When his daughter’s playdate plans fall through, it’s dad to the rescue, declaring a daddy daughter day. The pair agree to trade off on completing their lists of activities they’d intended to do before things changed.

If you’ve ever known a father to play dress up with his daughter and even agree to have his hair and nails done, you’ll find that guy here, bonding beautifully with his child. At the same time, the dad asks his daughter to step outside her comfort zone to pound some nails into loose boards on their fence amongst other chores. “Princess, sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun. Try it.” Everything about Hammer and Nails is fun and upbeat from Warrick’s silly scene of a laundry fight to daddy and daughter getting down with some celebratory moves. With each new page turn, this book will fill young readers with the joy of experiencing quality and creative time spent with a caring dad.

Beard in a BoxBeard_in_a_Box by Bill Cotter Book Cover
Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
(Knopf BYR: $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of Father’s Day book, Beard in a Box arrives! A boy who is convinced the source of his dad’s coolness and power is his beard, decides it’s time to grow one of his own. Only he can’t, despite multiple imaginative efforts. Lo and behold, what should happen to be on TV while this lad is despairing his lack of facial hair – a commercial touting the amazing kid-tested, dad-approved Beard in a Box from SCAM-O. This simple five-step program appeared to work and there were all kinds of bristles available -from the Beatnik to the Biker, the Lincoln to the Santa. What the commercial failed to say was that after following all the required steps, the user had to wait 10-15 years to see results.

When little dude tells his dad how he was ripped off, he notices his father’s beard is gone. Can that mean his dad has lost his coolness? Maybe not with Cotter’s clever examples proving you can’t judge a dad by his beard! The hilarity of Beard in a Box begins with the cover and continues all the way through to the endorsements from satisfied Beard in a Box customers on the back cover: “Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Trust me on this.” – Bigfoot A not-to-miss new read for Father’s Day or any day you need a good laugh or your child yearns for a five o’clock shadow.

Dad SchoolDad_School book cover
Written by Rebecca Van Slyke
Illustrated by Priscilla Burris
(Doubleday BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Kids go to school to learn their ABCs so when a little boy’s dad says he also went to school, the youngster figures it had to be Dad school. Van Slyke and Burris have teamed up again after last year’s hit, Mom School, to bring readers a glimpse of all the skills a father must acquire to parent successfully.

“At Dad school, I think they learn how to fix boo-boos, how to mend leaky faucets, and how to make huge snacks …” There is a lot of wonderful humor in both the text and artwork that will not be lost on parents reading the story aloud, especially the parts about dads learning how to multi-talk or their failure to learn how to match clothes, brush hair, and clean the bathroom. Dad School is totally entertaining from start to finish, only I wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I loved the little boy’s imagination and am certain your kids will, too.

 

Monster_and_Son book coverMonster & Son
Written by David LaRochelle
Illustrated by Joey Chou
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 2-4)
Here’s a fresh take on Father’s Day, a look at the father/son dynamic from all kinds of monsters’ point of view. Filling the pages of this wild ride are yetis, werewolves, dragons, serpents and skeletons sharing their own special, often “rough and rowdy” type of love.

Chou’s visuals are modern. They feel bold and imaginative with colors perfectly suited for a monstrous read. LaRochelle has written Monster & Son using well-paced rhyme that adds to the various father/son activities featured on every page. Whether stirring up waves for a game of catch or frightening off a knight coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, these monster dads all have one thing in common, and though it may be giant-sized, it undeniably love.

 

The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and GrandfathersThe_Most_Important_Thing by Avi book cover
Written by Avi
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
This collection of seven short stories is sure to move middle grade readers and make them think about their own relationships with their fathers and grandfathers. According to the jacket flap, what the stories have in common is that they each explore the question: “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Each story features a new character facing a different situation.

Stories flows easily one to the next meaning they can be read in one sitting or just one at a time. I’ve chosen three to highlight here. In the book’s opening story, Dream Catcher, Paul is an 8th grader who feels disconnected from his father. When circumstances require him to spend a week of school break with his estranged grandfather in Denver, Paul begins to understand the demons that have plagued his grandfather and caused the estrangement. Both Paul and his grandfather work together to forge a new relationship leaving the reader with hope that Paul’s father and grandfather may too at last be reconciled.

Beat Up introduces Charlie who has plans to attend a church dance despite a friend’s warning that gangs may be present. Though the dance goes off well, Charlie gets surrounded by a gang then beat up on his way home, only to be chastised by his unforgiving father for having pretended to be hurt and knocked out rather than fighting back and putting himself at greater risk. “Biderbiks don’t cry” is what Charlie’s dad believes, but Charlie is clearly not a coward for having sought a safe solution to his assault. Beat Up is a powerful tale of a son’s courage to speak up in the face of his father’s unjust fury.

Departed deals with the accidental death of Luke’s father before their camping trip that shakes up a family. When what appears to be the father’s ghost remains around the apartment, Luke realizes what he must do with his father’s ashes to set his soul free, and thus come to terms with his father’s passing. While there are not always happy endings, there are certainly realistic, satisfying, and sometimes heart wrenching conclusions offering much to learn from the various young men’s approach to life and the father/son dynamic.

Papa Seahorse’s SearchPapa_Seahorses_Search book cover
by Anita Bijsterbosch
(Clavis; $14.95, Ages 1-4)
A sturdy lift-the-flap counting book about a Papa Seahorse looking everywhere for his missing little seahorse. Numbers introduced range from 1-10 and the cast of characters making appearances behind and in front of the assorted flaps include a colorful puffer fish, sea turtles, angelfish, sea snake, crabs, a sea anemone, jellyfish, octopuses and shrimp. This book will provide interactive fun for pre-schoolers and toddlers alike.

 

Superhero_Dad by Timothy Knapman book coverSuperhero Dad
Written by Timothy Knapman
Illustrated by Joe Berger
(Nosy Crow; $15.99, Ages 3-7)
Kids will relate to the main character’s über admiration for his father in this rhyming read-aloud, Superhero Dad. Though not a new concept, the idea of a dad who can make a super breakfast though he’s only half awake, or make monsters disappear, is one that is always appealing to children. Coupled with comic book styled artwork, and a definitely cool die-cut cover, this humorous take on what qualities qualify for superhero-dom is a fast paced, fun read that is sure to please for Father’s Day.

 

Gator DadGator_Dad by Brian Lies book cover
Written and illustrated by Brian Lies
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
If you’re looking for something original, this is it. The father in Brian Lies’ Gator Dad knows how to show his kids a good time and that’s evident on every wild and wacky gator-filled page. Intent on squeezing in the most fun a day can offer with his three gator kids, Gator Dad can make roaming aimlessly in the park an adventure, make bath time the best time, and make bed time stories come alive. It’s obvious this dad gains the greatest joy giving his gator-all in everything he does with and for his children.

 

Additional recommended books include:

Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) 
Written by Matthew Logelin and Sara Jensen
Illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Little Brown BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Tell Me a Tattoo Story
Written by Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski

THE WHISPER
by Pamela Zagarenski
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

TheWhispercvr

Pamela Zagarenski’s The Whisper, a beautifully illustrated, brilliantly conceived story, will wow readers of all ages who marvel and wonder at the mystery inside the pages of a book.

Our young heroine borrows a book from school that her teacher assures her is magical. As she runs home clutching the treasured tome, a cloud of letters – all the words from the book – spill out behind her. Although she doesn’t see this happen, a beautiful fox carefully collects them all from the air in a delicate, long-handled net.

 

Rev.The Whisper Interior_3
Interior artwork from The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, HMH Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

 

Finally opening the book, she is puzzled to find that the beautiful pictures are wordless.

It’s just not a book of stories, without any words, she thought.

But a whisper on the wind encourages her to use her imagination, look at the pictures closely, and weave a few simple words into the beginning of a story that is hers alone.

With each page, the girl’s stories become more colorful and complex, demonstrating her growing skill and confidence in her ability to interpret the images. It is an inspiring demonstration for those just beginning to explore ways to “read” and think about wordless books and their use in sprouting imaginary tales.

 

Rev.The Whisper Interior_4
Interior artwork from The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, HMH Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

 

There is much to praise about Zagarenski’s paintings and imagery, as evidenced by her two prior Caldecott honors. The layers of light, rich color and depth, cleverly paired with repeating symbols that will delight little eyes, make this book perfect to pore over and discuss. Crowns, bees, foxes, a tiny rabbit and a golden orb in many incarnations are tucked here and there as part of each illustration. Imagining how and why they are connected is a delightful exercise in fantasy and storytelling that echo the young heroine’s tale.

 

Rev.The Whisper Interior_5
Interior artwork from The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, HMH Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

 

After she falls asleep, the girl’s dreams swirl with the stars, winds and gentle creatures in the book, bringing her mysterious and enchanting story full circle. The fox who captured the book’s words in a net re-appears at the end, and makes a special, charming request. The Whisper is a tender book to enjoy with the heart and mind, reminding us that our own stories are the most potent and powerful of all.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

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

 

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Little Critter: Just a Special Thanksgiving by Mercer Mayer

LITTLE CRITTER: JUST A SPECIAL THANKSGIVING
Written and Illustrated by Mercer Mayer
(Harper Festival$4.99, Ages 4-7)

LittleCritter_JustaSpecialThanksgiving

One of the very first picture books I ever bought for my son was by Mercer Mayer. I love Little Critter’s character:  rambunctious, sweet, and fun-loving – someone who kids of all ages can relate to. Much like other series books I enjoy (The  Berenstain Bears and the Froggy series), Little Critter’s books give us an opportunity to see the central character in different snippets of life. In Just a Special Thanksgiving, we celebrate the holiday alongside Little Critter and learn that, though Thanksgiving activities and events may not go as planned, realizing the spirit of the holiday is what matters.

From the get-go we feel that exciting sense of “Thanksgiving is in the air.” In the classroom, Little Critter and his friends are drawing pilgrims and turkeys. When school is out, he must rush home to change into his turkey costume for the Thanksgiving play. While you can probably guess what his lines are, poor Little Critter forgets them and opts to sing a song.

At the “big Thanksgiving Day Parade” early next morning more surprises from Little Critter are in store for all participants.  Tired from marching, our hero hops on a float proudly waving to his parents who, along with law enforcement and other parade goers, have become quite irate by his actions.

I love how Little Critter’s innocence tugs on our heartstrings and how blissfully unaware he is of the commotion his actions cause. What’s even more touching is the way he tries to “right” his wrongs (particularly in the scenes at the grocery store) which lead to even more disaster. Kids will enjoy the humor implicit in Little Critter’s goof-ups. At the same time, parents will be reminded that, no matter how bad things may seem, our children’s intentions are good; their hearts are in the right place. Little Critter’s excitement with helping cook and serve the meal at the community center reminds us what’s at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday.

A great book to curl up with your little one-perhaps while the turkey is roasting in the oven! (Includes 20 stickers).

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on an IndieBound link in a post and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

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Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! by Jill Esbaum

ELWOOD BIGFOOT: WANTED BIRDIE FRIENDS!
Written by Jill Esbaum 
Illustrated by Nate Wragg
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4-7)

ElwoodBigfootcvr

In Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! all Elwood Bigfoot wants is a friend – preferably a feathered, flittery bird friend! But his earnestly clumsy bigfoot-y manner gets in his way time after time. How can a lonely, large, LOUD Bigfoot get close to his avian amigos-to-be?

Elwood tries the direct approach first, chasing after swooping birds and hollering for the birdies to come back. Alas, they only fly away. His next idea is to live in a tree, where he can be closer to the birds. His dedicated handiwork produces a lovely, log cabin style tree house perched against the mountainside. Surely his new neighbors, the birds, will welcome him.

elwood---sample-spread1
Reprinted with permission from Elwood Bigfoot © 2015 by Jill Esbaum, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Nate Wragg.

Alas, the birds seem shy. So Elwood tries to disguise himself, dressing like a bird from head to toe with feathers, beak and feet. Experiencing a modicum of success, Elwood thinks he’s finally about to break the barriers to feathered friendship. He shouts for joy! Alas (once again!) the birdies fly away.

Esbaum’s charming, lyrical text is delightful to read aloud and incorporates intriguing, playful vocabulary. She perfectly captures Elwood’s sense of loneliness in ways that a child can easily connect to, and she conveys his upbeat, hopeful and innovative spirit in appealing ways. While readers see that making friends is not always easy, learning to take the perspective of others is an essential part of the process.

Wragg’s illustrations turn Elwood into a marvelous, huggable furball. With a jaunty fedora and sarfari-style binoculars, Elwood is well-equipped for his bird-watching exploits. A single triangular fang and four-fingered, three toed shagginess add to Elwood’s monstrous appeal. Wragg also turns out an impressive flock of feathered friends throughout the pages, and displays them prominently on the book’s endpages. Whimsical and colorful, the birds’ tiny round eyes and pointy beaks reveal an impressive range of tender and comical emotions.

Elwood Bigfoot : Wanted Birdie Friends! is a sweet tale of patience, persistence and friendship. Young readers may look hard at the birds in the yards and trees around them, wondering if they are among Elwood’s best buddies. Don’t miss this encouraging story about dreams that do come true.

A downloadable activity kit is available here.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Best Father’s Day Books Roundup

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

TadAndDad_TAD3

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

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

TadAndDad_TX_p01-40.indd.jpg
Interior artwork from Tad and Dad written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, ©2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

JANINE.
Written and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

Janine_CVR.jpg

 

Janine “is one of a kind” and this delightful picture book full of expressive dialogue and artwork, about a special little girl, portrays her uniqueness thoughtfully and unabashedly. I’m so glad this book’s been written because, while there are a spate of books that deal with kids who feel different, Cocca-Leffler knows first hand about children with disabilities and their differences. Janine. is actually based on her experiences raising her special needs daughter, the titular Janine. While Janine certainly marches to the beat of her own drummer, and adults reading the story might find her quirkiness quite charming, one particular classmate in the book certainly does not. That lack of empathy, along with Janine’s authenticity, is the basis for this tale.

Janine_INT1.jpg
Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Here’s just a snippet from the book’s very brief description of Janine, because for the most part, Cocca-Leffler lets Janine’s words move the story forward and that works so well.

She reads the dictionary
when others are playing
and listens when no one
thinks she is.

That’s how Janine overhears that a private party is being planned by this self-proclaimed “cool kid” and she’s not on the list of guests.

“Janine. You are STRANGE!
You have to
CHANGE!”

Kids with NLD (nonverbal learning disorder/disability), Asperger’s or high functioning Autism, often may be hyper verbal with amazing memories as Janine is depicted, but can often be lacking in social skills. This can make it difficult fitting in with their typically developing peers. Plus, kids can be cruel and insensitive at this age, like the bully who tells Janine she’s not invited to her party. NOTE: I love the illustration that immediately follows the bully’s nasty pronouncement above. One classmate in a red baseball cap who seems to like Janine, tosses his invitation after witnessing the bully’s hurtful behavior.

Janine_INT2.jpg
Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Ever resourceful, Janine decides to throw her own party …

“and EVERYONE is invited!”

And guess, what? Everyone except the bully wants to go!  With a happy ending like that, it’s easy to see why this book about kindness, and inclusion should be in every classroom and school library. It’s important to note, however, that not all real life situations have such positive outcomes; all the more reason why making available picture books about children with disabilities should be the goal of every school district and school librarian. The sooner we start the conversation about the importance of diversity, whether it’s race, gender or differing abilities, the sooner that bullies will wield less power in the classroom and on the playground and a more tolerant, accepting generation will emerge.

Be sure to read the jacket flap of this book to learn more about Cocca-Leffler’s inspiration for the story and Janine’s commitment to being a “role model to children and adults, encouraging them to focus on abilities, not disabilities.”

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Visit www.JaninesParty.com, created by Cocca-Leffler and Janine as a resource for parents, teachers and students.

Click here to download a Janine. coloring page.

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Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

EDMUND UNRAVELS
Written and illustrated by Andrew Kolb
(Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 4-7)

EdmundUnravelscvr.jpg

 

Edmund Loom, a bright turquoise blue ball of yarn, is filled with bouncy energy and springtime exuberance. From his earliest days when he plip-plopped down the front stairs, he has yearned to explore. His supportive parents, a lovely teal green mother with knitting-needled hair bun and a sturdy blue dad with spectacles, have always patiently reeled him in and rolled him back up.

Edmund tries to “keep it together” by following a steady although boring routine, though grumpily cuddling up with an adorable llama at bedtime. But even little balls of yarn grow up, apparently, and the bigger he gets, the farther away he can roll when unable to resist the “tug of discovery.” One day he unravels into his biggest adventure, satisfying his wanderlust through the city, mountains and desert. Edmund meets new friends, tries new foods, and soars high with excitement until he ultimately feels the gentle pull of homesickness and loneliness that reel him in.

Kolb’s illustrations are colorful, crisp and playful. Edmund comes to life through simple though expressive round black eyes, eyebrows and mouth. A jaunty baseball cap and swirly strand of wooly hair counterbalance his long, ever trailing tail of yarn. The world that Kolb depicts in Edmund’s travels is imaginative and bright, introducing playful kittens, prickly pincushions, and rolls of adhesive tape. The details are fun to pore over, and young readers will get a kick out of the book’s cartoony appeal.

A special shout-out to the EDMUND UNRAVELS book designer for including clever scrawls of long, unwinding yarn on the end pages and a cheerful close-up of Edmund’s smiling mug that dominates the back cover. These give clear indications that this book is a visual delight from start to finish. Also of note is the adorable book trailer which captures Edmund’s upbeat personality and his omnipresent forward-rolling qualities to the tune of a charming wind chime soundtrack.

EDMUND UNRAVELS is filled with sweet whimsy and an endearing message that you will always remember who loves you and where you came from, no matter how far from home you may roll.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of EDMUND UNRAVELS from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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IS IT PASSOVER YET? Written by Chris Barash

Is It Passover Yet?
Written by Chris Barash
Illustrated by Alessandra Psacharopulo
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

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For me, living in Southern California, the signs that Passover is on its way are not necessarily related to the weather. Instead I begin spotting boxes of matzo and jars of gefilte fish popping up on the shelves of my local supermarket. Close local friends call with plans for the seder, and we decide who will cook what, and how much we need to prepare. Family and friends, both in the U.S. and abroad, begin posting Facebook status updates about all the cleaning they’re doing prior to the holiday. We have to get rid of all traces of leavened products in our homes. It won’t be long now until we’re sharing the tradition that Jewish families have done for centuries.

In Is It Passover Yet?, a joyful picture book celebration of the lead up to the first night’s seder, a brother and sister notice the changes that spring heralds in such as flowers blooming and grass growing. “Passover is on its way.” This phrase, repeated on every other spread, builds the anticipation for both the story’s reader and the siblings eagerly awaiting the arrival of Passover.

When all of the windows and floors start to shine.
And our whole house smells clean and looks extra fine …
Passover is on its way.

We see Dad’s busy setting the table with his daughter on the night of the first seder, while Mom’s got kugel cooking. Her son is helping her get the charoset ready. Soon the relatives show up “And everyone’s ready for stories and singing …” The songs are one of my favorite parts of our seders and it’s obvious they are in this tale, too. I love how Barash not only got the rhyming so right, but included a Nana in the book as well. I recall dozens of happy seders with my Nana, aunts, uncles and cousins, so it’s extra special when “Grandma” or “Gran” are replaced by Nana!

Psacharopulo’s illustrations light up every page with glowing colors and a cheerfulness that’s infectious. It’s lovely how she’s added in pets to the spreads because the holiday’s all about family and our pets are so much a part of the fabric of everyday life. When in the end “Passover is here!” is exclaimed, we get a last glimpse of the seder from outside an open window. Inside the the family is dining together on this cherished celebration of freedom while outdoors the miracles of nature abound.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a look at a few more marvelous illustrations.

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Twelve Dancing Unicorns by Alissa Heyman Blog Tour & Giveaway

Find Magic & Mystery in Twelve Dancing Unicorns
written by Alissa Heyman and illustrated by Justin Gerard
Blog Tour & Giveaway

A little girl’s good intentions enable her to accomplish what grown men could not in
Twelve Dancing Unicorns, by Alissa Heyman with illustrations by Justin Gerard, (Sterling Children’s Books 2014, $14.95, Ages 4-7).

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Cover of Twelve Dancing Unicorns. Reprinted with permission from Twelve Dancing Unicorns © 2014 by Alissa Heyman, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Justin Gerard.

Those of you familiar with The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the brothers Grimm, will enjoy this enchanting adaptation of the popular fairy tale. For those of you who haven’t read Grimm’s fairy tales, Twelve Dancing Unicorns, a stunning new picture book, easily stands on its own.

Despite being guarded by his finest men, the king finds his twelve prized unicorns mysteriously break free of their golden chains each night unseen by the watchmen. People come from all over the land to see the unicorns, but one young girl has grown particularly fond of the smallest one. She sees the creatures are unhappy being cooped up, and wants to help them.

When the king offers to grant a wish to anyone who can solve the mystery of the broken chains, the girl is the first to step up. Laughed at by the townspeople, and chided by the king for being too young to handle such a task, the girl remains undaunted. With the help of her mother, who gives her an invisibility cloak, and the bright moonlit sky, the girl discovers the unicorns’ secret, and has quite an adventure in the process.

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Interior Artwork Reprinted with permission from Twelve Dancing Unicorns © 2014 by Alissa Heyman, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Justin Gerard.

I was reminded of Jan Brett’s illustrations, as I got lost in Gerard’s ability to capture otherworldly beauty in his work. His use of page and picture boarders provides a classic fairy tale feel to a modern book. I found Heyman’s lyrical story book style of writing very appealing; her words capturing the wonder and glory of the mystical world of unicorns.

Twelve Dancing Unicorns: a must read, must keep, and must pass down from generation to generation picture book.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

Blog Tour & Giveaway:

Follow the Twelve Dancing Unicorns blog tour tomorrow on ‘lil Burghers by clicking here.

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Ninja! by Arree Chung

Today, MaryAnne Locher reviews Ninja!, the picture book.
✩ Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
“High-flying fun to be read aloud or independently.”
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Ninja! by Arree Chung, Henry Holt 2014

No one is born a Ninja. It takes time and training, strength and stealth, and courage and carefulness.

In Ninja!, both written and illustrated by Arree Chung, (Henry Holt and Company 2014, $16.99, Ages 4-7) Maxwell, our young hero, is putting his Ninja ways to use: sneaking past the family dog, mounting a surprise attack on his sleeping father, and his most important mission, obtaining milk and cookies unnoticed.

Things are moving along nicely, until Maxwell’s baby sister takes a tumble and the blame is put on Maxwell. A true Ninja handles adversity with honor and respect, and never gives up. Maxwell  accepts responsibility for his actions, and comes up with a solution to keep his sister safe. He’ll train her in the ways of the Ninja.This original picture book shows children how to transform common toys, a tie, and dish gloves into Ninja gear, and addresses the problem parents and children often face when siblings are at different levels of physical development: someone always seems to get hurt.

The illustrations are rendered in acrylic paint and Photoshop. In the beginning of the book, colors, use of shadows, and the perfectly placed house plants Chung has chosen, provide a dark and mysterious setting for a Ninja on the prowl. Yellows, oranges, and reds intensify as we reach the climax of the book, and darkness comes again when Maxwell gets in trouble.

Quite the Ninja himself, Mr. Chung’s timing is perfect, his page turns are delightfully humorous, and his wording is carefully chosen to draw the reader into a Ninja mindset.

Arigato, Mr. Chung. Thank you for creating a masterful debut book.

Click here for an activity guide to the Ninja!

Click here for Chung’s blog.

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Frank! Written and Illustrated by Connah Brecon

Frank!, written and illustrated by Connah Brecon (Running Press Kids, $16.95, Ages 4-7), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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What is going on with Frank? He’s a hip, urban-dwelling kid bear in a red puffy vest and skinny jeans who is always late, but only because he is too helpful! Whether jamming with a pigeon trio, saving a cat up a tree, or helping bunnies bullied by an ogre, Frank always has an excuse. His teacher is less than pleased with his tardiness, although he does manage to be a little more on time each day.

Brecon’s illustrations are the star in this quirky, engaging story. While the story is conveyed in sharp black typeface, Brecon sets the tale in an Oliver Jeffers-esque palette and scatters hand-lettered text liberally on the page. Young readers will snicker at the odd pairings of animal and human classmates and fantastic versus realistic reasons that keep Frank from arriving on time. Seeking out the recurring pigeon and bunny trios tucked charmingly into page corners will further amuse sharp-eyed kids.

Interior art from Frank! written and illustrated by Connah Brecon, Running Press Kids ©2014.

Frank finally gets to school on time, but trouble has found him right at the classroom door. How will they cope with a giant zombie lizard king threatening the school? Frank shows that although he has not been in class very often, he has learned something about how to make friends.

Unique and delightfully unpredictable, Frank! is an imaginative tale with light-handed messages about punctuality, compassion and teamwork.

–       Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

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

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Best Valentine’s Day Books for Children: We Love Each Other, Never Too Little to Love & Love Monster

 Read about: We Love Each OtherNever Too Little to Love & Love Monster

Our Valentine’s Day Roundup from Rita Zobayan♡ 
features a selection of faves for the whole family!

Valentine’s Day is almost here. For many adults, the day is a fun indulgence of chocolates, flowers, jewelry, and the beverage and meal of choice. With children, however, the celebration is so much purer: to love and be loved.  These three books wonderfully encapsulate the true sentiment of Valentine’s Day for children.

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We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu, Minedition, 2013.

We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu (Minedition, $9.95; Ages 2-5) is a cleverly disguised shapes and colors die-cut board book. Six colorful animal pairs and one trio love each other and form shapes. The red birds are cozy next to each other and create a heart.  Parent elephant shelters baby elephant and together they form a gray semi-circle. The cuddly brown bears don’t like to be apart, so they hug and create a square.

The text and drawings are appropriately simple for a young audience. Mice love each other. Rabbits love each other. Cats love each other. The animals are presented on a white background that does not distract from the purposes of the text: to highlight love and to teach shapes and colors.  We Love Each Other is a Valentine’s Day book that can be read all year long.
What’s a mouse to do when he’s in love with someone a lot taller?

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Never Too Little To Love by Jeanne Willis with illustrations by Jan Fearnley, Candlewick Press, 2013.

Never Too Little to Love (Candlewick Press, $8.99; ages 3-7), written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Jan Fearnley, chronicles Tiny Too-Little’s quest to kiss his beloved, Topsy Too-Tall, a giraffe. Tiny Too-Little painstakingly and ingeniously stacks items to help him reach the heights:

                  He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a matchbox,

                  He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a teacup,

                  He’s too little, even on tiptoes on a clock,

                  Tiny Too-Little reaches way up. Wobble…wobble…wobble…CRASH!

Alas, all his hard work is in vain! Poor Tiny Too-Little! But, Topsy Too-Tall loves him and she has an idea. Will her idea work? Will Tiny Too-Little and Topsy Too-Tall finally get their innocent kiss?

Children will enjoy this book, perhaps especially for its unusual use of pages. As Tiny Too-Little stacks his “ladder” of love, the page lengths become progressively shorter. It’s a clever and engaging technique that helps the young reader visualize Tiny Too-Little’s efforts. Jan Fearnley’s artwork is spot on.  The pastel colors and endearing details, such as little hearts floating up to Topsy Too-Tall, fit beautifully with the sentiment of the story.

Never Too Little to Love proves that when it comes to true love, your size doesn’t matter. What matter is the size of your heart.

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Love Monster by Rachel Bright, Farrar Straus, Giroux, 2014.

Sometimes being a monster isn’t easy, especially if you happen to live in Cutesville: Home of the Fluffy.  Love Monster (Farrar, Straus Giroux, $16.99; ages 4-7) by Rachel Bright presents the heartfelt and brave undertaking of Monster, who does not quite fit in Cutesville.

When everybody loves kittens…and puppies…and bunnies. You know, cute, fluffy things, it’s hard to be a slightly hairy, I-suppose-a-bit-googly-eyed monster. But, Monster is not one to mope and decides to take matters into his own hands. He sets off to look for someone who’d love him, just the way he was.

His journey is not easy, and Monster searches far and wide.  Along the way, he must overcome disappointment and fear.  And, just as Monster has reached his limits, he unexpectedly learns that things can change in the blink of a googly eye.

In a society that bombards children with the idea that self-worth and overall acceptance are tied to a cuteness factor, this book is a breath of fresh air. I love that at no point does Monster attempt to make himself cute or change who he is. No, instead, he looks for a love that will accept him as he is. It’s a powerful message of unconditional love for and acceptance of oneself as being worthy of love.

The illustrations are as monstrously enjoyable as the storyline. Children will have fun reading the titles of Monster’s self-help books and his list of places to look for love.

Love Monster is a must-read for Valentine’s Day.

 

 

 

 

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The Eighth Menorah by Lauren L. Wohl: Review and Giveaway

Review of The Eighth Menorah & 2 Book Giveaway Opp!

The Eighth Menorah by Lauren L. Wohl with illustrations by Laura Hughes
The Eighth Menorah by Lauren L. Wohl with illustrations by Laura Hughes, Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, ages 4-7, 2013.

The Eighth Menorah, (Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, Ages 4-7) by Lauren L. Wohl with illustrations by Laura Hughes, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Growing up, I had one favorite menorah. It looked ancient to me with its pretty patina of brass and oxidized green brass, covered with assorted lava-like formations of old wax. My family also had an electric menorah we’d display in our front window. As a parent I now have four menorahs, one my husband and I were given as a wedding gift, a mini travel one, and the two my children made in Sunday school.

That’s why when Good Reads with Ronna was invited to participate in this special opportunity from Albert Whitman & Company, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. And to celebrate the early arrival of Hanukkah this year, we’re giving away two (2) autographed copies of  The Eighth Menorah, a terrific new picture book reviewed here today just in time to share with the family!

TO ENTER:

Just LIKE our Facebook page and/or follow us on Twitter first. For your chance to win, send an email by clicking here to enter. Please remember to include your name and address and write MENORAH in the subject line!  This giveaway ends on 11/21/13 at midnight and two (2) winners will be selected on 11/22/13. For detailed rules click here. HAPPY HANUKKAH and good luck!

With The Eighth Menorah, Wohl has created an amiable young character in a just-right-to read-aloud picture book. Sam is a Sunday school student who’s reluctant to participate in his class project. Mrs. Zuckerman, Sam’s teacher, has asked the students to make a menorah from clay using stones, marbles and buttons, but Sam knows his family already has seven menorahs at home. He’s convinced an eighth menorah is simply not needed.

The colorful and emotive illustrations by Hughes show Sam’s close relationship with his grandmother with whom, via telephone, he sort-of shares his Sunday school secret. Sam says the secret’s about something the kids are making in Hebrew school without revealing exactly what that something is. “It’s a secret, Grammy.” When soon after Sam learns that safety rules at Grammy’s new condo do not allow open flames unless they’re in the community room, Sam thoughtfully invites his grandmother to join him at home for the first night of Hanukkah.

Having been instructed to bring the menorah home and hide it before presenting it to his family, Sam now realizes he has a clever and caring solution for the one-too-many menorahs. I hope when you read this super spirited holiday story, you’ll note the significance of the eighth menorah and rejoice in the way it lights up so many people’s lives!

Click here for a fun activity – a dreidel game that’s at the end of the book.

These other bloggers are also sharing a giveaway opportunity courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company. Why not visit them all to increase your chances of winning?! Find their posts now through 11/15/13. The other bloggers are http://dulemba.blogspot.com, http://mcbookwords.blogspot.com, http://www.buriedinbooks.blogspot.comhttp://www.thechildrensbookreview.comhttp://smartpoodlepublishing.com/blog, and http://fourthmusketeer.blogspot.com.

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Back to School With Eerdmans

Ready and Waiting For YouHere in L.A. many schools have already begun, but there are plenty around the state and country that don’t begin until close to or after Labor Day. READY AND WAITING FOR YOU written by Judi Moreillon with art by Catherine Stock (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, $17.00, ages 4-7) is an ideal picture book to share with youngsters this time of year as they change gears from lazy summer daze to busy school days. As families head to the stores to purchase school clothing, stationary supplies and books, consider adding READY AND WAITING FOR YOU to the list. It’s designed as a warm welcome back to school and the school year for kids just beginning school or those starting in a new school.

Every other page pulls open to reveal more of Stock’s bright and cheery, cut paper illustrations that correspond to Moreillon’s text. I love the repetition of the phrase, “We’re ready and waiting for you.” It’s calming yet upbeat. And the way the story moves from the various personnel involved in school works wonderfully. Children will meet a bus driver, crossing guards, the principal, the school secretary, attendance clerk, nurse, librarian, computer technician, gym, art and music teachers. Also included are the cafeteria cooks and food workers (aka lunch ladies), playground monitors, custodians and parent volunteers. Best of all there’s the classroom teacher and all the other pupils, and “everyone’s waiting for you!” Now parents, doesn’t that make you wish that you, too, were going back to school?

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read what author/librarian Judi Moreillon has to say about writing this picture book.

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