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Picture Book Review for National Space Day 2024 – Dancing Through Space

 

 

DANCING THROUGH SPACE:
DR. MAE JEMISON SOARS TO NEW HEIGHTS

Written by Lydia Lukidis

Illustrated by Sawyer Cloud

(Albert Whitman; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 Dancing Through Space cover Dr. MaeJemison in space shuttle Endeavour.

From the Publisher:

“Today, Dr. Mae Jemison is famous for being the first Black woman to travel into
outer space. But when she was growing up, she felt torn between two passions: science and dance. It
seemed like an impossible choice. There had to be some way to make room for both—and Mae found
one. As an adult, she combined her gifts of scientific logic and artistic creativity and became an
astronaut.”

Review:

Author, Lydia Lukidis introduces her new book about astronaut Mae Jemison by highlighting Jemison’s
love of science and dance. “Mae’s curiosity was as wide as the sky … [but] Mae could not sit still.” She
continues, “Mae spotted science everywhere, from symmetry to gravity … [she also] spotted
choreography everywhere, from birds soaring to waves swirling.”
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Dancing Through Space int1 young MaeJemison at planetarium.
Interior art from Dancing Through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2024.
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Lukidis uses this dual narrative format to showcase how Jemison’s dual loves guide her through life
building her courage and determination, her mind, and her body. As Jemison considers her future, her
mother wisely counsels: “You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t doctor if you’re a
dancer.” So Mae studies both. Eventually, Mae’s dual-loves merge when she is invited to join the space program …
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Dancing Through Space int2 space training.
Interior art from Dancing Through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2024.
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And in 1992, she became the first Black woman to “dance through space” when she traveled aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Lukidis’ own love of science and art shines as she shares this phenomenal woman’s story, as does the art by Sawyer Cloud which illuminates Jemison’s determination to pursue her dreams.\
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Purchase the book:

Goodreads – Click here.

Barnes & Noble – Click here. 

Find out more about the book here.

•Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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Three New Children’s Passover Books for 2024

 

 

NEW CHILDREN’S PASSOVER BOOKS

Passover Clip Art

 

 

 Afikoman Where'd You Go cover kids in treehouse afikoman on roofAFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO?:
A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure
Written by Rebecca Gardyn Levington
Illustrated by Noa Kelner
(Rocky Pond Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
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There’s a mischievous personified piece of matzoh on the loose in the pages of Afikoman, Where’d You Go? and I got such a kick out of looking for him. Your kids will too! This picture book is not only written in well-crafted rhyme, it’s also relatable to anyone who’s ever attended a Seder, Jewish or not.
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At the Passover seder, youngsters are always eager to start the traditional search for the afikoman which happens halfway through the meal. The Glossary, helpfully included at the start of the story, defines the afikoman as “The piece of matzoh that is symbolically broken and then hidden, as part of a ritual during the seder.” Children hunt for him around the house or in a particular designated room. The process varies from house to house. In this tale, the kids check out every place indoors with no luck. The wily matzoh, like the Gingerbread Man, is one step ahead. Next up, the backyard.
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Part of the fun is searching every single spread to see where Afikoman is hiding. I have to admit there was one spread where I could not locate the clever cracker! That’s the bathroom scene which I’ve checked multiple times. And when I did spot him, I laughed out loud a few times. The catchy refrain, “Is he hiding somewhere high? Is he hiding somewhere low? Afikoman? Afikoman? Afikoman? WHERE’D YOU GO?” adds to the read-aloudability.
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When the afikoman is finally found, it’s time to return to the table and continue the seder. Here’s where the author and illustrator have included a satisfying surprise ending. The detailed artwork (created using pencil, ink, and Photoshop) includes a determined family dog who, along with a diverse group of kids, team up to track down Afikoman and enjoy themselves the entire time. One of my favorite illustrations is the children’s messy bedroom. It’s hard to know if the kids did that or if it was like that already! Sure to invite multiple readings for the holiday, Afikoman, Where’d You Go? easily gets a thumbs up from me.

 

Everybody's Book cover hiding Haggadah in Mosque bookcase.EVERYBODY’S BOOK: 
The Story of the Sarajevo Haggadah
Written by Linda Leopold Strauss
Illustrated by Tim Smart
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

A richly recounted nonfiction story as colorful as the history of the titular Sarajevo Haggadah, Everybody’s Book is an enlightening read. I had the good fortune to visit Sarajevo at the end of 1989 before the city was ravaged by war but hadn’t heard about the famous Haggadah. I’m happy to have had the chance to learn. If the topic is of further interest, parents can also learn more by reading Geraldine Brooks’ The People of The Book.

The book opens with an introduction explaining how the storied Sarajevo Haggadah was first given to a bride and group circa 1350. Readers then learn that in “the late 1400s” the expulsion of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition was a scary time. In Spain, Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave. Lives were upended and never the same. Many families fled with nothing but the family that owned what became known as the Sarajevo Haggadah took it with them when they escaped. Over time the Haggadah changed hands multiple times eventually landing in Italy to a new generation of owners and ultimately to Bosnia where it continued to be used “during Passover Seders.”

“By 1894, the family that owned the Haggadah had fallen on hard times …” Alas the treasured family heirloom was sold. It was bought by the National History Museum of Sarajevo, a religiously diverse and mostly tolerant city where it was revered. The museum managed to keep the Sarajevo Haggadah safe until WWII broke out.

When the Nazis tried to get their hands on it, the fast-thinking museum director fabricated a web of lies but that didn’t stop the Nazis from searching the museum albeit to no avail. It is said that the curator then took the Haggadah to “a remote village, where an imam of a small mosque hid it among sacred Islamic texts.” When the war ended the Haggadah was returned to Sarajevo but peace there remained fragile.

After WWII, “Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats became part of unified Yugoslavia under one leader.” Following his death in 1980, tensions that had been simmering over the years reached a climax, and fighting among the three groups began. “In 1991, Serbs attacked Bosnia.” Another war threatened the safety of the Sarajevo Haggadah. When the museum was bombed the following year, a Muslim university professor helped rescue the book once again. This new war saw the destruction of the National and University Library of Sarajevo though citizens “formed a human chain to save whatever books they could. By this time, not just Bosnians knew about the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, and the world worried about this treasure.

One of my favorite spreads is the one that depicts a Passover Seder in 1995, in the midst of the war. “Christian, Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim leaders joined Jews at Sarajevo’s only remaining synagogue …” During the Seder, the Bosnian President, a Muslim, arrived with the Haggadah to assure all those in attendance that it was safe. When the war ended and the Bosnian National Museum was constructed, the Sarajevo Haggadah was restored and placed among other historic treasures for all to see. Everybody’s Book could now truly be enjoyed by everybody. Tim Smart’s watercolor art has a sketch-like, loose quality showing the flow of time and the ever-changing circumstances the Sarajevo Haggadah endured. This picture book is an important one that emphasizes how the power of people from all religions and walks of life can make a difference when they find common ground. How lucky we all are that this marvelous book from a marriage over 670 years ago has survived. Oh, the stories its pages could tell!

ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS:
A
PASSOVER CELEBRATION IN 14 STORIES
Edited by Chris Baron, Joshua S. Levy, and Naomi Milliner
Illustrated by Shannon Hochman
(Amulet Books; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

While there could be a plethora of themes for a Passover anthology, selecting the 14 steps of the Seder as an entry point is perfect. It’s what drew me to this book in addition to the title. It did not hurt that a host of bestselling and award-winning authors and one author-illustrator embraced and wrote about one particular step. Their instructions were only to approach the topic in any way they desired. This made for a fascinating and engrossing read. If I had the time, upon finishing my first read-through, I could have started all over again. It’s just that good!

As I dove in, I never knew what type of story would greet me, and that’s only one part of the magic of this holiday collection. Whatever way you choose to read On All Other Nights, you will be treated to a variety of top-notch middle-grade voices, approaches, plots, and characters. You can read it all in one sitting, devouring every delicious and meaningful step, or take it one short story at a time, savoring each one slowly like the Seder meal itself. At the start of each story, there is a brief, helpful description of the step. I was impressed at how creative the stories tackled each subject. Apropos of the title are also four thoughtful questions (the Four Questions being an important element of the Seder which generally the youngest asks) tweens can contemplate or parents and teachers can use for discussions.

Just like there are many kinds of Jewish ethnicities around the world (e.g. Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and more) and different branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and more), there are many different stories in this collection. Each story has a unique style and appeal. I loved the story featuring an Autistic character, Myra, who could not stand the smell of gefilte fish. It especially resonated with me having a son with sensory processing disorder for whom certain smells can drive him out of a room as it did for the girl in this story. Another story that’s stayed with me is the one about a family of Romanian immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side. In it, the brother and sister are tasked with getting the maror (bitter herb) for the Seder from their father’s pushcart. At his sister’s behest, the brother retells a fairy tale about a witch and a memory spell. This relates to the brother’s annoyance that his sister does not seem to remember much of their life in Romania before emigrating. Later on, the younger sister cleverly and courageously helps her brother rescue a new Polish immigrant being beaten up, revealing some surprising truths.

The fourteen On All Other Nights contributors include: Chris Baron, Ruth Behar, Adam Gidwitz, Veera Hiranandani, Amy Ignatow Sarah Kapit, Joshua S. Levy, Mari Lowe, Naomi Milliner, Soifya Pasternack, R. M. Romero, A. J. Sass, Laura Shovan, and Laurel Snyder.

Black and white art accompanies every chapter and the captivating cover invites children to think about their own role in the Seder. Readers are treated to tempting recipes in the backmatter from celebrated chefs and professionals. Contributor bios and acknowledgments can also be found there. At a recent signing event, editor Joshua S. Levy explained that the anthology is a mirror and window book. It communicates core human values to a wide audience with universal appeal. And that same evening, Chris Baron said the challenge with the anthology was “How do you breathe life into these steps?”  To which I say “Exactly like On All Other Nights did. Brilliantly!”

Click here to read last year’s roundup.

Also Recommended:

Why_on_This_Night_cover_Jews_and_Red_Sea_partingWHY ON THIS NIGHT?:
A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration
Written by Rahel Musleah
Illustrated by Louise August
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 7-11)

Publisher Description:

The rich traditions of Passover come alive in this contemporary family haggadah. Updated from the original 2000 edition, this holiday favorite is available again for families to treasure. As children and adults gather at the seder dinner to remember the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom, this creative, yet authentic haggadah will guide and engage them. Lushly illustrated, with blessings and text of every major section of the haggadah in Hebrew, English translation, and transliteration, the welcoming and accessible style of Why On This Night? will make it a treasured seder companion year after year.

 

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Five Children’s Books for Earth Day 2024

 

EARTH DAY 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

 

Love, The Earth cover Earth with a face watching child.LOVE, THE EARTH
Written by Frances Stickley
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood
(Candlewick Press; $17.99,  Ages 3-7)

In Love, the Earth, by Frances Stickley, our beautiful blue planet promises to take care of us, if only we will take care of it. Scenes unfold showing us all the Earth has to offer: “Please share my food, my lakes, my land . . . / and try to lend a helping hand.” Yet, we also see that the Earth can’t do it without us.

The mixed-media illustrations by Tim Hopgood are lush and layered. The Earth is present throughout, either smiling benevolently or saddened when its land is covered in litter. The book concludes with the Earth signing off, “With All My Love, the Earth,” a heartfelt reminder of how the planet has sustained a truly vast amount of life.

 

Solar Bear cover boy and polar bearSOLAR BEAR
Written by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
(HarperKids; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

In Beth Ferry’s rhyming picture book, Solar Bear, a magical solar bear gathers bears from around the globe to share stories about species extinction. By shining their glowing light “[on] otters, sloths, and manatees. / On coral reefs and chimpanzees,” they hope to foster a generation of “solar kids” who learn as much as possible about our animals, mindfully use resources, and talk to others to encourage environmental stewardship.

The art by Brendan Wenzel illuminates the animals. This is beautiful but also a preview of how close many of them are to becoming ghosts. When the solar animals interact with children worldwide, the love and hope come through in his illustrations rendered in “watercolor, pencil, acrylic, colored pencil, and pretty much everything else under the sun including an iMac.” While this blurb is funny, it’s also a great representation of pulling together to create. The heartwarming image on the cover sets the tone for this hopeful but urgent request for action.

 

Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet cover boy dog tree.GREEN: THE STORY OF PLANT LIFE ON OUR PLANET
Written by Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Nicola Davies’s nonfiction picture book, Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet, opens with a line about how the tree pictured doesn’t seem to be doing much, just standing around being big and green. However, we come to find the many fascinating things that trees do from the huge importance of photosynthesis to its opposite: respiration, which keeps our air in balance. We learn the history of how plants have trapped carbon dioxide, changing the air from toxic to inhabitable for all kinds of life forms.

Emily Sutton’s illustrations showcase the color green. One scene shows green existing only on a single rooftop apartment building in a city where industry is upsetting the world’s delicate balance. The story finishes with a heartwarming companion image to the opening one that sums up why green is the “most important color in the world.”

 

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth cover Sona among plants.SONA SHARMA: LOOKING AFTER PLANET EARTH
Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Jen Khatun
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 6-9)

In Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth (book two of the Sona series by Chitra Soundar), Sona Sharma’s personality continues to shine. This time, Sona and her friends Renu and Joy learn that the Earth is in trouble. Their teacher, Miss Rao, has them pledge to help look after the planet. Well-meaning Sona takes this to heart and starts making changes at home—without anyone’s consent. Who needs lights? Diapers—no more!

While the story is funny, the reality of this crisis comes through, showing ways we all can pitch in. The setting is vivid as are the characters. I particularly like how much of the plot is centered around the town’s annual kolam-making contest (“traditional designs that people draw in front of their homes to celebrate the winter months and the festival season”). Paatti (Grandma) uses rice flour to make the design but Sona’s other grandmother, the President, includes colored powders, glitter, and plastic decorations. Sona’s determined to stop participants from using artificial, bad-for-the-environment art supplies, but the contest is happening soon and it seems the rules allow these materials. Or do they . . .?

The black-and-white sketches by Jen Khatun throughout bring us right into Sona’s world showing her multigenerational family and the lovely kolam designs.

 

Be a Nature Explorer! cover backpack on grass.BE A NATURE EXPLORER!:
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES
Written by Peter Wohlleben

Illustrated by Belle Wuthrich
English translation by Jane Billinghurst
(Greystone Books; $12.95, Ages 6-10)

Fans of Peter Wohlleben’s best-selling books about trees will be glad to see he now has a hands-on guide for children in an easy-to-carry size to encourage exploration of nature, Be a Nature Explorer!: Outdoor Activities and Adventures. This illustrated 100-page book contains 52 activity ideas to keep kids busy for many outings, or even when they’re just in the backyard.

“Following Slugs and Snails” is one of my favorites because I find these creatures fascinating. I learned that snail shells almost always spiral to the right (clockwise) and sit on the right side of their bodies. If you find a snail whose pattern runs counterclockwise, they’re called “snail kings”—so exciting, like finding a four-leaf clover! You can even record a snail or slug’s slime trail imprint onto a piece of plastic wrap, then add that to your journal as part of your collection and for further observations.

This fun guide’s pages are enlivened with illustrations by Belle Wuthrich, and photos. This winning combo elevates this book to the top of my list for gift-giving. Pair this welcoming book with a blank journal and watch kids get their nature explorer groove on. Parents will thank you!

 

 

Click here to read reviews from last year’s roundup.

 

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Picture Book Review – Love Grows Here

 

LOVE GROWS HERE

Written by Chloe Ito Ward

Illustrated by Violet Kim

(Albert Whitman & Company; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Love Grows Here cover Asian girl holding title poster.

 

 

Shopping in an outdoor market with her grandmother, Obā, Aiko immerses herself in the tastes, sights, smells, and sounds of her surroundings. Ward’s economy of “warm and welcoming” words paints a bustling scene full of joy, excitement, and love—that is until a hurtful encounter with a stranger changes everything. His racist words “sharp like scissors, cut,” causing Aiko to feel confused, afraid, and heartbroken. 

 

Love Grows Here int1 Go Back to Your Own Country.
Interior art from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Stopping by a ramen shop, Aiko tells Obā’s shin-yū (best friend) about what happened earlier. In turn, Mrs. Nakano shares her experiences of confronting hate when she and her family were forced to live in a Japanese internment camp. As Aiko learns of a particularly painful part of her history, she struggles to understand why people would act so unkind. Obā eloquently expresses the root of all discrimination:  “Sometimes the fear in your heart plants roots and grows into anger.” Fear and anger. Aiko wonders, “[w]here else were they growing?” 

When they pass by Miss Chon’s café and see that it has been vandalized, they help clean up. Aiko decides then and there how to respond to the fear and anger—through a radical act of kindness. 

 

Love Grows Here int2 this is our country!
Interior spread from Love Grows Here written by Chloe Ito Ward and illustrated by Violet Kim, Albert Whitman & Company ©2024.

 

Walking back home, she shares something dear to her that she had purchased from the market, handing it out to strangers as she passes along the way and watching their faces light up with joy. 

Whether at home or in the classroom, Love Grows Here provides opportunities to talk about hard but necessary topics:  racism, anti-Asian hate, and Japanese American history. Equally important is discussing the antidote Aiko chose to fight the hatred around her. Her actions echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Visit the author’s website here.

Visit the illustrator’s website here.

 

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Picture Book Review – A Place for Rain

 

 

A PLACE FOR RAIN

Written by Michelle Schaub

Illustrated by Blanca Gómez

(Norton Young Readers; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

A Place for Rain cover children in rain beside a rain barrel

 

 

From the Publisher: “A spring storm brings the chance to build a rain garden in this charming, actionable picture book about protecting our waterways.”

From Publishers Weekly: “An upbeat problem-solving story…”

 

 

With rhyming verse and bright, colorful illustrations, Michelle Schaub and Blanca Gómez tell an upbeat story of rain

 

A Place for Rain int1 drizzle turns to roar downpour.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

that gives kids a hands-on way to participate in conservation—rain gardens—in the newly released A Place for Rain!

A unique concept in the picture book space, this book would make a great classroom read-aloud for Earth Day or throughout Earth Month to promote environmental awareness.

 

A Place for Rain int2 make a trail of stone or bricks.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Simple and cheerful illustrations that begin even before the title page fill the book and help encourage page turns.

 

A Place for Rain int3 make room for rain backmatter.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Backmatter offers a step-by-step guide to help families create their own rain gardens at home, additional conservation resources, as well as a cautionary line to call your utility company before you start digging. A recommended for all who care about our planet.

Click here to download an Educators’ Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Two New Picture Books for Eid al-Fitr

EID AL-FITR PICTURE BOOKS

 

 

 

Noura's Crescent Moon cover girl look up at colorful crescent moonNOURA’S CRESCENT MOON
Written by Zainab Khan
Illustrated by Nabila Adani
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

In Zainab Khan’s picture book debut, readers meet Noura as Ramadan, a lunar holiday observed by Muslims, is ending. As the story begins she’s eager to see the Eid moon. Her father explains that in “… all the years I went with my parents to find the new moon, I only saw it once: a tiny sliver.” Readers soon see the beautiful dress Noura’s mother has made for Eid (the end of Ramadan) prayer and also find out that “Ramadan can’t be more than 30 days, so Eid has to start tonight or tomorrow night.” The daytime fasting ends and three special days of celebrations begin.

Some Muslims head to nearby mountains or the highest point around to watch for the Eid moon which is exactly what Noura’s family plans to do. Noura hopes the clouds will not obstruct her view. “Moon, please come out. I’d like to see you on my first fast.” On the hilltop, families gather for picnics and to await the moonrise. If it doesn’t appear, that means one more day of fasting. At sunset, that day’s fasting is over, and Noura enjoys a delicious picnic iftar of potato pakoras, dates, tamarind chutney, and her favorite, pink (rose) milk. Just when everyone thinks there will still be one more day of Ramadan, the clouds part, revealing a beaming crescent moon. This is also one of my favorite spreads in the book. The gradient purple sky leads our eyes to the far right where the crescent moon glows.

There’s a glossary in the backmatter but the context of the story along with the lovely illustration clues help make this picture book easy to understand and such a delight to share with children. Eid Mubarak! Happy Eid!

 

Looking for the Eid Moon cover two little girls under starry sky one holding binoculars.LOOKING FOR THE EID MOON
Written by Sahtinay Abaza
Illustrated by Sandra Eide
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

From the beginning of this charming picture book, sisters Sara and Lulu begin looking for the moon. Of course, later there would be a party with family and friends where Sara could wear her star-themed dress but “For years, the moon marked important Muslim holidays and dates. And Eid wouldn’t begin until the crescent moon was spotted.”

Sara and Lulu head out to the backyard equipped with a blanket, binoculars, and a flashlight. They search and search the sky with no luck. If there is a moon out, it’s blocked by clouds. The girls get scared on their own and, as the big sister, Sara takes it upon herself to help allay Lulu’s fears. Her thoughtfulness is a lovely element in this story. When their mother eventually says it’s time to go back indoors she tells them the moon has been spotted. Lulu cries. She wanted to be the first to see the Eid moon. To quell Lulu’s disappointment, Sara devises a creative and secret plan: crafting glowing moon rocks filled with coins courtesy of the Eid moon accompanied by a rhyming poem.

Eide’s artwork is cheerful and readers will get a sense of the sisters’ emotions in every illustration. I liked the spread where the girls’ mom flashes her flashlight. “Look! A moonbeam!” Lulu’s excitement is precious.

Not only was this picture book inspired by the author’s family tradition, Looking for the Eid Moon also conveys a caring sibling relationship and a great role model for young readers. The author’s note in the backmatter explains the two Eid holidays that occur annually. “Eid al-Fitr is a three-day holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan (the month of fast). Eid al-Adha is a four-day holiday that begins at the end of pilgrimage, in which Muslims travel to the city of Mecca for worship.”

 

Other Recommended Reads:

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr cover family celebrating holidayRAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR
Written by Sara Khan
Illustrated by Nadiyah Suyatna
(words & pictures; $14.99, Ages 5-10)

“Assalaamu alaykum!
Peace be upon you!”

Opening this joyful-looking picture book, I was greeted by a message of peace. The narrator, a young girl named Raya tells readers that she’s excited to share info about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrated when Ramadan ends as you’ve learned from the reviews above. We’re introduced to her parents whom she calls Mama and Aba as well as her sweet little kitty.

One illustration shows Raya gifted with a special calendar with “a good deed suggestion for each day of the month.” Raya explains how one feature of Ramadan is daylight fasting, but she is too young to partake. I like that Khan has shared Raya’s introspection as she wonders what it will be like to abstain from eating and drinking when she is older. Readers learn that in addition to fasting, it’s important to be on one’s best behavior to please Allah or God.

As noted in the other picture books, the meal to end the fast is called iftar and always features a date. Rayah points out how her family is culturally diverse so there is no one traditional meal making it an opportunity to try lots of different foods. And since Ramadan is a time of giving to those less fortunate, Raya tells readers how members of her family help out in a food kitchen or by donating toys and clothes to charity. Selfless giving is a way to get closer to Allah. This also includes praying and reading “the Qur’an—the holy book of Islam.”

When Ramadan ends it’s time to celebrate breaking the fast or Eid al-Fitr. Muslims spend quality family time and also come together as a community to have fun, decorate their homes, eat delicious meals, and continue performing acts of kindness. Rayah, like most children, describes how she enjoys getting and giving gifts and buying new clothes for the holiday. One tradition for girls and women, Rayah explains is: “Getting pretty henna patterns applied to my hands.”The book’s backmatter includes eight pages packed with facts, a quiz, a recipe, and a card-making activity providing an excellent introduction to anyone eager to learn about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. With its colorful art, accessible text, and multicultural characters this new picture book would be an ideal addition to any home, school, or public library’s collection.

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review for Women’s History Month – Chef Edna

 

 

CHEF EDNA:
Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis

Written by Melvina Noel

Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

(Cameron Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Chef Edna cover queen of southern cooking edna lewis.

 

This mouthwatering, treat of a book introduces readers to Edna Regina Lewis, with illustrations that pair deliciously with the prose. I was ready to book a trip to the South to sample all the tasty cuisine mentioned in Chef Edna written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Just look at that inviting cover! It speaks to exactly what this picture book is all about.

 

Chef Edna int1 when Edna grew up on a farm.
Interior spread from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

Growing up on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, Edna was one of six children. She spent her childhood “cooking with her mother, Mama Daisy.” Life on a farm offered fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, and fish year-round as well as the opportunity for young Edna to learn every recipe. She made her mama’s biscuits “so many times she could make them by heart.” That and other tricks, such as listening to a cake to know whether it’s done (A bubbling sound meant it needed to cook more. No sound meant it was done.) became ingrained in Edna.

 

Chef Edna int2 making biscuits
Interior art from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

When Edna’s father passed away, she left home at age 15 to work to help support her mother and the family. She headed to New York and did a host of jobs. Her seamstress skills brought her to the attention of celebrities and soon she was “making clothes for movie stars.” One of my favorite illustrations not shown here is of Edna strolling down a Manhattan street wearing one of her own designs with African motifs and “bright, bold colors.” And, while this brought in much-needed money, Edna still yearned for the farm in Freetown, being with family, and enjoying all the delicious Southern food she was raised on.

Edna met many people through her seamstress work. She “catered events and threw dinner parties for her new friends.” Everyone appreciated her scrumptious cooking infused with a love of the South. Demand grew. It’s easy for us to forget that today, with such a variety of food available that, in late 1940s New York, a female chef, let alone a Black female chef, serving up flavors of her hometown down south, was not common on the Upper East Side where she opened a restaurant with a partner. Famous people including poets, playwrights, and even a First Lady flocked there to see for themselves what Southern cuisine was all about.

 

Chef Edna int3 simple pure ingredients.
Interior spread from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

With New York now her home, Edna continued to seek out “fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish. Fresh seasonal farm-to-table ingredients for Southern cooking,” at Union Square Green Market. When I was growing up that market had long disappeared but it’s back again which I know would make Edna smile. Cabrera’s artwork in muted tones with brush strokes showing, conveys a thriving market of a bygone era.

In her lifetime, Edna the granddaughter of formerly enslaved people, worked at many different jobs where her creativity was put to good use whether as a window dresser, a seamstress, a cooking teacher, a cookbook author, or a chef. This “Grand Dame of Southern Cooking” worked in her later years to preserve Southern food, and was honored not only with numerous awards, but was featured on a U.S. Postal stamp in 2014! Since dates are not mentioned, readers may not always get a clear sense of the timespan in this biography but it’s clear from the art and backmatter that Edna never really slowed down noting that Edna worked “well into her early seventies.” The author has chosen an inspiring subject for this picture book that might even influence young readers to pursue a career as a chef.

After you finish the book, be sure to read Noel’s interesting Author’s Note and try your hand at Edna’s “Biscuits for Two or Three.” I know I will! Don’t forget to look under the book jacket for a sweet “undies” surprise from Cabrera.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Want to read more for Women’s History Month? Click here.

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Valentines for All

 

VALENTINES FOR ALL

Written by Nancy Churnin

Illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska

(Albert Whitman & Co.; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Valentines for All cover Esther Howland in center of Valentine

 

 

In Valentines for All, award-winning author Nancy Churnin sheds light on entrepreneur Esther Howland, a woman in 19th-century Massachusetts who had the keen foresight to sense there was a market in the United States for Valentine’s Day cards. Monika Róża Wiśniewska’s art details how the delicate nature of the cards lent themselves to be custom-made and highly desirable.

Back in the 1800s, women were generally not involved in business. Societal norms meant there were few careers for women outside the home. This picture book biography shows children how Esther broke that mold and persevered. When her father returned from a trip to England with a beautifully handmade Valentine’s Day card to demonstrate his love for her, Esther felt encouraged to pursue making something similar for Americans.

 

Interior art from Valentine for All written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Esther’s handmade Valentine’s Day card business took off with a bang thanks to the financial and sales support from her father and brothers, all in the family business. Before this, “most Americans thought the holiday was a waste of time.” Not only was this venture a success but it continued to thrive for decades. Its peak, perhaps, was during the Civil War when soldiers missed family and their sweethearts. Originally designed to be messages of love, wartime meant that exchanging cards “could ease pain.”

When the demand for handmade cards increased, Esther needed assistance. Another innovation employed by Esther was the assembly line, years before Henry Ford utilized the same approach. She gathered friends and each one was assigned a task to help make the cards efficiently.

 

Valentines for All int2 a team of Esther's friends
Interior art from Valentine for All written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Monika Róża Wiśniewska, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

In 1866 Esther fell and never fully recovered from her injury. Though she required a wheelchair she kept the business functioning. As time passed, Esther realized there was a need for more than Valentine’s Day cards. Cards could convey remorse, celebrate birthdays, friendship and so much more. These greeting cards filled a gap in the marketplace but with the growth of printing presses, hand-crafted cards were soon replaced by printed ones.

Readers learn in the Author’s Note that Esther eventually merged her business with a competitor’s son and then they sold it entirely in 1880. Esther retired so she could look after her ailing father but surely felt great satisfaction in the meaning her cards had brought to an entire nation.

Backmatter also provides ideas for creating Valentine’s Day card poems and an annual contest to enter.

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An Interview with Author Christine Van Zandt

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MILKWEED FOR MONARCHS

AUTHOR CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT

Illustrated by Alejandra Barajas

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Milkweed for Monarchs cover monarchs flying in milkweed plants.

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Bold, gold, the chrysalis gleams. And deep down inside . . . the butterfly dreams.

Every year, monarch butterflies migrate to warmer climates for overwintering months. However, changing environments make it continually more difficult to find food and places to lay eggs. In this nonfiction picture book, the monarch’s life cycle is detailed in lyrical verse as stunning art accompanies each stage in the butterfly’s life.

The most recognizable butterfly, monarchs are classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and face drastic challenges when it comes to locating food sources–milkweed. Milkweed for Monarchs is the perfect resource for young readers to learn more about these beautiful insects and how they can foster monarch-friendly environments in their own backyard. Backmatter includes actionable ways for readers to help this vulnerable species.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: How did you decide to write about butterflies in your new nonfiction picture book, Milkweed for Monarchs?

Christine Van Zandt: During the pandemic, we bought a milkweed plant with the vague idea that we were helping butterflies in some way. Little did we know that our plant was loaded with eggs and soon we had a bunch of very cute caterpillars. Sadly, they were eaten by various predators in our garden, but that set me out on this journey, wondering about monarchs.


GRWR:
What eats monarchs? I thought they were poisonous.

CVZ: When the monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, they do retain some of the plant’s toxins. And they have the bright “stay away” body markings consisting of yellow, white, and black stripes. But they still end up being dinner for other insects, spiders, birds, lizards, and mammals. In our garden, we’ve seen ants carrying little caterpillars away; raccoons and birds pluck them off.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int1 flitter flutter wings
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: Did you encounter any obstacles trying to sell this book?

CVZ: It took me a while to figure out how to write it. I tried it in prose and verse, in fiction and nonfiction. The version that ended up working best was a short rhyming poem with facts in sidebars and in the backmatter.

An earlier version of this manuscript won first place at SCBWI-LA’s 2021 Writers Day and also earned me the annual Sue Alexander Grant. Even so, when the manuscript went out on submissions, some publishers passed stating they already had a monarch book on their list and they didn’t want to compete against their own products.


GRWR:
So it sounds like butterfly books are considered evergreens like dinosaur, alphabet, or things-that-go books?

CVZ: Yes they are, so both my area of focus for the story and how I presented the text had to come from a fresh angle. I’m passionate about trying to help the monarchs. The western monarch’s population went from 4.5 million in the 1980s to fewer than 2000 butterflies in 2020. The just-in 2023 count shows the population is still ~95% down.

Monarchs need milkweed because that’s the only plant their caterpillars can eat; that became my focus, how the milkweed plant is essential for this insect’s survival. Milkweed plants are also amazing: they get eaten down to nothing and keep regrowing. I welcome munched-on plants in my yard because that means insects are being sustained through their life cycle which, in turn, benefits the larger food web.


GRWR:
As picture book writers we’re often told not to write in rhyme unless it is extremely well executed. Was that a problem you encountered?

CVZ: I actually didn’t but I also feel my rhyme was solid by the time we sent it out on submissions because I’d applied the various checks such as scansion. However, writing in rhyme makes revisions much harder because each round with the publisher meant not just updating the text but also redoing the rhyme. Sometimes I had to scrap stanzas and write new ones.

And rhyming books have limitations because they are not as likely to be translated into a foreign language since so much more is involved in translating poetry, though it does happen. With my first book, A Brief History of Underpants—which was written in prose—a Korean-language translation came out not long after it was published. I’d love for Milkweed for Monarchs to be translated, especially into Spanish since many monarch butterflies overwinter in Mexico’s mountains and the butterflies have been part of Mexican culture for generations. Also because the gorgeous illustrations are by Alejandra Barajas who is from Mexico.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int2 beyond human borders
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: While the main text of the book is a short poem, the facts in the sidebar and backmatter are in prose, right?

CVZ: Yes, and that meant switching my brain back and forth as we worked through the various drafts!

GRWR: How did you do that?

CVZ: I would read through one pass focusing only on the poem, then on another pass, I’d work on the facts.


GRWR:
Beyond being a gardener, are you involved with monarchs in other ways?

CVZ: We’ve had our garden designated a sanctuary which basically means that we promise to garden without pesticides, providing a certain number and variety of different kinds of milkweed plants including native ones, and also providing nectaring plants for the butterflies and other pollinators.

Beyond that, I’ve applied for and been granted free plants for a local LAUSD inner-city school and started their butterfly garden. I’ve also volunteered for Xerces for several years now, helping count the butterflies overwintering along the Southern California coast, and uploading that data to their central database.


GRWR:
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

CVZ: I hope my book imparts a sense of wonder and a feeling of hopefulness. It doesn’t take much to make a difference whether for the monarchs or for other creatures in our world.


GRWR:
Thank you, Christine, for sharing your amazing experience with us today. I’ve learned so much!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support independent booksellers by purchasing a copy of Milkweed for Monarchs here.

FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

•Christine Van Zandt 

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/christinevz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/christine.vanzandt.9

Instagram: christinevanzandt9

Bluesky: christinevanzandt.bsky.social

•Alejandra Barajas 

Instagram: ale.barajas.illustration

•Publisher – Beaming Books

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/BeamingBooksMIN

Facebook: www.facebook.com/BeamingBooksPublishing

Instagram: www.instagram.com/beamingbooksmn

 

 

Christine Van Zandt author photo
Author Christine Van Zandt Photo Credit: Marlena Van Zandt

AUTHOR BIO:

Christine Van Zandt is an editor, writer, and award-winning author. Her nonfiction picture books include A Brief History of Underpants (becker&mayer! kids, 2021) and, Milkweed for Monarchs (Beaming Books, 2024). She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family. You can find her at www.ChristineVanZandt.com.

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Way Past Sorry

 

WAY PAST SORRY

Written by Hallee Adelman

Illustrated by Josep Maria Juli

(Albert Whitman; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Way Past Sorry cover mcKat feeling sorry

 

 

Author Hallee Adelman has taken big feelings and put them into words and actions in this helpful picture book about a young girl who breaks a promise to her best friend and now, feeling Way Past Sorry needs to find a way to remedy the situation and save her friendship.

In this latest book in Adelman’s series that teaches kids how to manage powerful emotions in social situations, we meet Kat who is on her way to a class trip with her classmates and best friend Sage. Josep Maria Juli, who also illustrated Adelman’s Way Past Embarrassed, paints a blue bus with students seated side by side, well, everyone except Sage. Kat had promised her best friend that she would sit with her on the trip but instead sits beside Meera. I have no doubt this is probably a situation many children have experienced. The art complements the story and keeps it simple so as not to distract from the relationship issues.

 

Way Past Sorry int1 on bus Meera and I shared secrets.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Leaving the bus, Kat attempts an apology but Sage ignores her.”I felt way past sorry.” When the students are asked to pair up, Sage is left with their teacher Mr. Pish. She walks towards him with sunken shoulders and no smile on her face. And Kat, dressed in her yellow shirt and blue pants, is also missing a smile.

Sometimes problems grow bigger, even when it’s the last thing we want, and that’s what happens when Kat is asked why she wasn’t Sage’s buddy. Making a bad situation worse, Kat responds, “Sage didn’t want to sit with me …” not wanting the kids to know she was the one who created the problem. She feels awful getting hugs she didn’t deserve.

Adding insult to injury, readers see Kat’s tongue sticking out at Sage when she’s confronted with her lie. This is such a relatable problem and a great lesson for kids to learn at a young age. Mr. Pish watches the girls’ interaction with a disappointed look. Kat dreams this day could start over, but we all know, especially young readers, that just isn’t possible.

 

Way Past Sorry int2 in planetarium wishing on a star.
Interior spread from Way Past Sorry written by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Josep Maria Juli, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2023.

 

Everyone returns to class. But for Kat, “… my day couldn’t start again. I felt stuck with my sorry. After a while, Meera said, ‘You’re not being fun.'” Apropos of a class science project, Kat asks Mr. Pish, “… if good scientists make mistakes, do you think good friends do too?” She remembers good times with her best friend drawing on the floor. Completing the ice cream-making assignment, she hands a cone to Sage asking her if they can talk at lunch. This part is a mature example. Communicating feelings instead of ignoring what happened is a lesson kids will carry through into all of life’s ups and downs.

As we approach the final pages, feelings are unpacked. “She told me how I had made her feel. And I listened really well.” Kat admits her mistakes and Sage tells her she’s a great friend. A friendship mended and a happy ending. Other recommended books in the Great Big Feelings series include Way Past Lonely, Way Past Afraid, and Way Past Jealous, all teaching kids they are not alone when big feelings arise.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Best New Christmas Books for 2023

 

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

COUNTDOWN FOR NOCHEBUENA:
A Celebration of Christmas Eve
Written and illustrated by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
(Little, Brown YR; Available in H/C $15.99 + Board Book $7.99; Ages 0-3)

Countdown for Nochebuena by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom brings young readers a bouncy bilingual picture book (and board book) inspired by the author-illustrator’s Cuban American heritage. There is lots to love about Hernández Bergstrom’s story, from her use of English and Spanish made understandable to non-Spanish speakers with easy-to-follow illustrations that are rich in culture and drenched in color and spirit to the counting structure in Spanish starting at one then working up to 12 before going back down. Perhaps the most meaningful part for me is how the story begins and ends with family.
Children will be captivated by the different aspects of this Christmas Eve celebration where we’re introduced to vocabulary (with a glossary in the backmatter) that describes the action in each scene. We see tables (mesas) invitingly decorated, irresistible and delicious nougat desserts (turrones), and kids (muchachos) making handclapping music. Adults dance and the countdown to presents (regalos) is on everyone’s minds. Then it’s wrapping paper ripped, cleaning up the mess, a cortado for the drive home armed with leftovers and memories of special time spent with family. This truly festive and loving look at Nochebuena is sure to fill many hearts this holiday. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Goodnight Santa cover kids and Santa in sleighGOODNIGHT SANTA
Written by Michelle Robinson
Illustrated by Nick East
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $8.99, Ages 1-4)
What a sweet bedtime board book, just one in a popular series, to share with toddlers and preschoolers who are eager for Christmas and need a calming read to help them settle in.
The gentle rhythmic rhyme coupled with the charming, muted jewel tones of the artwork makes this an ideal story to share in the lead-up to the holiday. Like the classic Goodnight Moon, the repetition of the word goodnight will lull little ones to sleep. “Goodnight snowman. Goodnight choir. Goodnight stockings by the fire.”
An older sister enjoys her snow globe, a little brother looks out for Santa, reindeer await on rooftops as Santa delivers toys after a magical trip to Santa’s workshop, and just the right amount of text to keep things low-key as children can dream about Christmas Day. First published in picture book format, this new 28-page board book provides a sturdy alternative for younger readers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

We Disagree About This Tree cover Bear Mouse and TreeWE DISAGREE ABOUT THIS TREE
Written and illustrated by Ross Collins
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 2-5) 

Whether you’re a fan of the two previous Bear and Mouse books or if you’re new to the series, you’ll enjoy the playful (sometimes cranky) antics as these two housemates debate over how the Christmas tree should be decorated. The over-the-top—and even upside-down—trees will give the kids lots of giggles. Collins’s rhyming text is a fun read-aloud and his art captures the range of emotions these friends experience as they navigate toward their just-right holiday tree.

Companion books include There’s a Bear on My Chair and There’s a Mouse in My House. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

Otto the Ornament cover happy Otto hanging from a Christmas tree.OTTO THE ORNAMENT
Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings
(Random House Children’s Book; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

With Otto the Ornament, Troy Cummings has created a rewarding Christmas story your kids will want to read year-round! You’ll first be greeted by cheerful ornament-filled endpapers and Christmas tree-shaped text on the copyright page. Early on I could see that Cummings nailed it when it comes to the book’s festive mood in the illustrations that had me eager to turn the page.

Otto, a snazzy multi-colored Christmas ornament, is rather full of himself. Bouncing out of a box, this new ornament on the block announces, “ME­RRY CHRISTMAS, BULBS AND BAUBLES! I’M OTTO! I’M HERE TO BEDECK THE HECK OUT OF YOUR TREE!” He’s warmly welcomed to the décor family which includes a candy cane, a green glass bell, a wooden Santa, and a mitten kitten. They invite him to take his place in the middle of the tree. But Otto feels the only spot he deserves is at the top. He soon finds fault with the other ornaments who then have no need for him and vice versa.

Otto’s search to hang on a tree suitable for his awesomeness, while humorous to the reader who want him to have his comeuppance following his appalling behavior, soon proves futile. After claiming what he considers his rightful spot atop a massive city tree not unlike the one at Rockefeller Center, a shocking event plummets him down into the storm drain. Cummings art perfectly captures Otto’s transformation. Emotionally shattered, disheveled, dented, cracked and paint-chipped, Otto realizes he’s lost his bragging rights. Meeting an unexpected lost ornament in the storm drain helps Otto get on the right track. In rescuing the mitten and taking him back to his pair, Otto learns where his true home and friends are. He also sees what really matters, making this not only a learning moment for little ones but a moving one as well. Being the best and brightest ornament doesn’t mean much if it means being alone. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

 

Elves are the Worst cover elf on stepladder beside goblinELVES ARE THE WORST! 
Written and illustrated by Alex Willan

(Simon Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Santa’s elves look like goblins, right? Gilbert the Goblin makes the comparison and decides to sneak into Santa’s workshop in elvish disguise to see if all the tales about these super cute, hardworking (blech) creatures are true. However, Gilbert soon finds that maybe it’s not that they’re so perfect, but, rather, that they know how to work together as a team.

Gilbert is as lovably funny as ever whether in disguise or just as his goblin-y self. Alex Willan’s adorable art appeals to kids as does the almost graphic layout style with panels on many pages.

Other books in this series include Unicorns Are the Worst, Dragons Are the Worst, and Yetis Are the Worst. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Our Italian Christmas Eve brother and sister smiling in front of cheesecake and dessertsOUR ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE
Written by Danielle Sedita and Francesco Sedita

Illustrated by Luciano Lozano
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Along with lively artwork by illustrator Luciano Lozano, sibling author duo Danielle and Francesco Sedita have written a colorful tale inspired by their childhood that is not only joyful and funny but mouthwatering too.

Readers learn right from the start courtesy of the brother and sister narrators that while other families celebrate on Christmas Day, their family celebrates on Christmas Eve. They head to Aunt Babe’s for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, something I loved learning about. It’s also traditionally meatless. I enjoyed the big family energy since it reminded me of holiday get-together sat my aunt’s when I was growing up.

The book is a virtual food frenzy with all the various fish dishes depicted including bread stuffed with oysters and spaghetti with clam sauce. But the best part is how the kids get to pitch in and how much it’s appreciated. It seems Uncle Robert has forgotten to bring the struffoli for dessert so the kids make cheesecake, a recipe they’ve made before with their mom. The children note the family dynamics which play out each year, always ending on a note of love. Now that everything has turned out well and just when you thought the stuffed family would be loosening belts and napping, Aunt Babe says, “Andiamo!” It’s time for midnight Mass.

One of my favorite spreads is an overhead perspective where readers can see the platters of food set out on the dining room table. In addition to being a heartwarming story, Our Italian Christmas Eve is a visual feast for the holiday season.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney cover Santa on snowy roof staring at chimneyHOW DOES SANTA GO DOWN THE CHIMNEY?
Written by Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews- Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

This hilarious book explores all the possible ways Santa may be able to fit down our chimneys and what he does when there isn’t one. Kids will be onboard from the start because these are the questions and possible solutions that they are tossing about: Does he shrink down? Can he squeeze through the mail slot? Feet first or head? And how does he keep from getting dirty?

Mac Barnett’s spot-on text plus Jon Klassen’s lol art equals a hit with kids everywhere as they weigh in about theories and probably pose some of their own. Timeless questions are seriously considered yet balanced with plenty of humor and mystery. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Christmas Ahoy! cover festive boats and lighthouse.CHRISTMAS AHOY!
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Kayla Stark
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Holiday boat parades are magical and Erin Dealey’s rhyming picture book brings families right in so they can experience the festivities. Counting from one to ten, different kinds of vessels are introduced in fun ways that kids can relate to such as “Five fishers harmonize, ever so merry. / Six dancers twirl on the Sugar Plum Ferry!”

Kayla Stark’s art pops out from the beautiful blue background, highlighting the action—I love a reindeer-filled yacht! The informative backmatter adds another element, providing some background on fourteen of the ships including sailboat, dory, and barge. With its many interesting angles, this book is sure to be a hit with families and in classrooms. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Dasher Can't Wait for Christmas cover child and Dasher in snowy woods.DASHER CAN’T WAIT FOR CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

Matt Tavares’s picture book has a classic feel as he captures Dancer’s young exuberance when she (a little bit too eagerly) heads out on her own to test her flying skills. Kids who can’t wait until Christmas will totally understand and feel for Dasher when her adventure doesn’t turn out as she planned.

This beautifully illustrated book brings a beloved reindeer front and center, giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes on at the North Pole before the big night. The story is both cautionary and uplifting, one that kids will turn to again and again. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

24 CHRISTMAS STORIES:
Faith and Traditions from Around the World
Judith Bouilloc, Various Authors
Sky Pony Press

IT’S NAVIDAD, EL CUCUY!
Written by Donna Barba Higuera
Illustrated by Juliana Perdomo
Harry N. Abrams

A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA
Written by Deb Adamson
Illustrated by Anne Zimanski
McSea Books

ELMORE THE CHRISTMAS MOOSE (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written by Dev Petty
Illustrated by Mike Boldt

DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE SLEIGH! (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

SANTA YETI
Written by Matthew Luhn
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
Kane Miller Books

 

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Picture Book Review – Bing Bang Pling

 

BING BANG PLING

Written by Deb Adamson

Illustrated by Candice Hartsough

(McSea Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

 

Bing Bang Pling cover girl and building tools.

 

Do you have a budding builder in your home? Since I’ve never constructed anything more involved than a Lego set, I vicariously enjoyed all the measuring, sawing, and hammering in Bing Bang Pling, a rhyming read-aloud written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough.

From the upbeat first sentence, “So excited! Today’s the day. First we work, then we play,” readers are pulled into the main character’s activity helping her parents build a swing set.

 

Bing_Bang_Pling_int1_truck_backs_up_delivery Bing Bang Plint int1 truck backs up delivery.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

After the building materials are delivered (see spread above), the girl counts out the nuts and screws. When I was her age, I would have done the same thing. Big pieces of wood are a lot less fun. Adults will appreciate the text’s mention of how the instruction sheet for putting together the swing set might not be that easy to understand. Another important detail is showing all the protective gear needed before embarking on this family project. Children need to know that being around tools means safety first.

 

Bing Bang Pling int2 Daddy finishes sawing.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

Lots of the tasks the main character does do not require a lot of supervision such as chalk-lining, sanding, painting, and digging holes (to mount the frame). Hartsough is careful to show her just observing the more labor-intensive work not meant for kids due to sharp blades.

 

Bing Bang Pling int3 Mommy raking spreading mulch.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

When reading aloud, parents, teachers, and librarians can play up the sounds each piece of equipment makes and then discuss the individual functions of the tools once the book is finished. I like how the illustrations include a cute ginger kitty who, like my two cats, doesn’t want to miss out on any action.

Adamson and Hartsough have created a likable story demonstrating that spending quality time together can mean lots of things whether going to a park, playing a board game, or as in this case, constructing a swing set for all to enjoy. For me, the big takeaway is empowerment and how, with some help and guidance from adults, kids can get involved and feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Best New Hanukkah Books for Kids 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF

THE BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS

FOR KIDS 2023

REVIEWS:

Latke's First Hanukkah cover Latke lighting menorahLATKE’S FIRST HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg
(Viking BYR; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Little ones will love meeting Latke, a lovable creation of author-illustrator Alan Silberberg’s whimsical imagination. What’s great about his books is that parents will be entertained reading them as much as their kids. The new 16-page board book, Latke’s First Hanukkah, is no exception. Add various voices for the characters during a read-aloud and you’re set!

Applesauce and Sour Cream get into a tiff over which topping tastes better, the Dreidels along with Latke spin ’til they drop, dizzy but likely delighted, and the sufganiyot (jelly donuts) “are full of joy (and jelly).” As each night gets underway, the counting of the candles continues as do the antics of Latke’s colorfully illustrated guests. Of course, included in the company is gelt, and on night six, the one that made me LOL was when Babka, Challah, Bagel, Kugel, Blintz, and Falafel arrived.  There is much to enjoy here so why not join Latke for some laughs and a memorable first Hanukkah celebration?

 

HANUKKAH UPSIDE DOWNHanukkah Upside Dow cover upside down child handing dreidel to rightside up child
Written by Elissa Brent Weissman

Illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
(Abrams BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m so happy there’s a new international-themed Hanukkah book to be added to bookshelves everywhere. Its illustrations are charming and kid-friendly with characters I’d love to try drawing myself (I particularly enjoyed the spread with everyone eating sufganiyot or jelly donuts)  with Cousins Noah and Nora may live continents apart (Noah’s in New York and Nora’s in New Zealand), but it’s clear from their chats on the phone or via text that they are close. As Hanukkah approaches, the two set up a competition to see who has the best Hanukkah. Both also disagree on which cousin lived upside down on the planet, something many kids may think about and find funny.

This new slant on celebrating the eight-day Festival of Lights is clever as both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres’ differences are highlighted as the Hanukkah celebrations get underway. In New York, it’s winter and one day behind. In New Zealand it’s summer. In New York, it got dark early while in New Zealand, the sun set late. Despite that, on the first night of Hanukkah, both cousins lit the chanukiah or Hanukkah menorah. While Noah wore boots, Nora went barefoot, yet they both ate yummy latkes. I love this spot-on comparison:  “Noah threw snowballs. Nora did cannonballs.” Whether skating or surfing, or learning the local languages, the Jewish cousins find the challenge they’ve tasked themselves with to be a tough one. They say the same prayers. Do the same good deeds and spend time with loved ones. So whose celebration is the best? And is it really about the differences?

Though the main characters may live thousands of miles apart, the beauty in this story is that ultimately the similarities between the cousins’ Hanukkah festivities, and their relationship are what counts and what will stand out to young readers.

 

Eight Nights of Lights cover child holding menorah and dreidel.EIGHT NIGHTS OF LIGHTS: 
A Celebration of Hanukkah
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Hilli Kushnir
(HarperCollins BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I’ve never seen anything quite like this interactive picture book that engages young readers all Eight Nights of Lights! The design invites children to participate safely (no real candles or matches are involved) in the Hanukkah celebration which they can enjoy in one read or return to each night.

On the first night, kids meet the narrator Lena, and her kitty, Pickles as they prep the menorah and learn its family history from her father. The educational elements are introduced so the youngest readers can learn about Hanukkah traditions. “It was the first night of the holiday, so there was just one candle to put in the menorah. Plus the shammash, the helper candle. The shammash was used each night to light all the other candles.”

The story progresses to the next night when readers remove the second candle from the book’s paper menorah to see what happens with Lena and her family. Different aspects of the holiday are shared every night; from dreidel playing to the story of the heroic Maccabee brothers, from giving presents to giving to others (tzedakah), from making latkes to eating jelly donuts, from a Hanukkah hike to acting out the Maccabee story with cousins. The story concludes with a fun Hanukkah party at the synagogue on the eighth night that includes cookie decorating, pin the shammash on the menorah, and singing and dancing to beloved Hanukkah songs. I can easily see children asking for this book every year as part of the celebration. It also makes a wonderful gift.

Watch this video to see exactly how unique this interactive picture book is.

MORE NEW HANUKKAH BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

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Picture Book Review – The Pie That Molly Grew

 

THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW

Written by Sue Heavenrich

Illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg

(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Pie That Molly Grew cover Molly with huge pumpkin

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Beginning with the planting of a single seed, the journey of bringing a pumpkin to harvest comes to life for young readers. Under Molly’s watchful eye and care, each stage of growth is showcased. And at the end, Molly’s lovely pumpkin is turned into a delicious pie for one and all to share in a celebration of gratitude. Back matter includes fun facts about pumpkins, the important pollinators who help them grow, as well as a pumpkin pie recipe.”

 

Review:

It’s amazing what comes from a single seed—a plant, a bountiful harvest, a delicious recipe—but on another level that seed also sprouts tradition and community. And that’s the story Sue Heavenrich and Chamisa Kellogg tell in their new book, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int1 this is the seed
Interior art from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Following the cumulative structure and rhyme scheme of A House That Jack Built, Heavenrich follows a plant’s journey from seed to sprout … vine to flower … and fruit to table while touching on science concepts like photosynthesis and pollination. Illustrator, Chamisa Kellogg, adds to the book’s seasonal appeal with textural artwork in muted tones.

And while I’m not usually a fan of cumulative stories (or stories that riff on a familiar rhyme), this one is exceptionally well-written. Nothing comes across as forced or monotonous. It flows wonderfully. The phrases are varied each time they appear yet never deviate from the established rhyme pattern. I also love that each variation inspires a deeper understanding of the scientific processes involved in growing plants.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int2 this is the vine
Interior spread from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Accessible backmatter offers readers and/or teachers more information about pumpkins, pollinators, and a pie recipe. A delight to read! Click here to download a pdf of kids’ activities.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review – Adam and His Tuba

 

ADAM AND HIS TUBA

Written by Ziga X Gombac

Illustrated by Maja Kastelic

Translated by Olivia Hellewell

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Adam_and_His_Tuba_cover_Adam_leaving_circus_tent

 

 

Starred review – Foreword Reviews

 

The Von Trapeze circus family travels the world in their painted wagons performing to audiences who reward them with flowers and applause. But, not everyone in the family enjoys acrobatics, or applause, in Slovenian author Ziga X Gombac’s picture book Adam and His Tuba illustrated by Maja Kastelic.

 

Adam and His Tuba int1 Grandma Antonia breathing plumes of fire.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

I love how each family member’s first name begins with the letter ‘A.” There’s Grandma Antonia, who breathes blazing plumes of fire; Grandpa Angus who swallows swords; Papa Alexi and Mama Anastasia who bravely walk the tightrope; and twin sisters Aria, who rides a unicycle, and Alea who crawls into cannons. But what trick does the youngest son Adam perform?

Everything in the Von Trapeze family is just as it should be. Except … Young Adam is illustrated sitting alone in a tent surrounded by stage props and a unicycle while he’s reading what appears to be a book, but my guess is that it’s sheet music. The family tries desperately to get him to participate in the acrobatics. Grandma Antonia tried to spark an interest in fire-breathing. But it was no use. The reader sees a drawing of Grandma trying to put out the flame, as Adam stands behind her with his hands clasped together. Grandpa Angus tries to teach Adam how to handle a sword but instead finds his cape cut in half. It was no use.

 

Adam and His Tuba int2 Von Trapeze family closed the doors quietly.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

The Von Trapeze family gathers in a tent to try to come up with a solution. “He could iron everybody’s clothes and darn their socks,” one family member called out. “Why don’t we ask Adam what he likes doing?” The family wasn’t sure who called out that question, but as soon as it happened they heard a magical melody. Sitting on the bed with an enormous tuba was Adam. He played with so much skill. The family couldn’t believe what they were hearing and why didn’t anyone ever notice him before? The family had been so caught up in their own circus tricks they hadn’t paid much attention. The family felt awful but Adam wasn’t sad or mad. From that day forward the world-famous Von Trapeze circus family featured a new performer.

 

Adam and His Tuba int3 Adam and his tuba accompanies family circus act.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

This enchanting story about choosing your own path, even when it goes against the rest of the family, is a good message for young readers and a good conversation starter. What is right for one family member isn’t always right for another. The family realized they had been so focused on their own stuff they hadn’t noticed Adam. And when they eventually did, how wonderful that everyone could agree that Adam’s contribution to the circus made it that much better. Adding to the pleasure of this 40-page picture is the excellent artwork. Slovenian illustrator Maja Kastelic uses warm sepia colors throughout the story: black, gold, and orange, lovely bursts of light, and characters with red flushed cheeks that give the book an appealing historic vibe. A recommended read for kids who want to make their own kind of music in this world.

Find out more about the translator here.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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