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Kids Book Reviews – Five Holiday Picture Books 2019

 

WINTER HOLIDAY PICTURE BOOKS 2019

∼A ROUNDUP∼

happy holidays clip art

 

vegetables in holiday underwear coverVEGETABLES IN HOLIDAY UNDERWEAR
Written and illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, ages 3-7)

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.

 

one wild christmas book coverONE WILD CHRISTMAS (Life in the Wild series)
Written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland
(Kids Can Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.

 

peanut butter and santa claus coverPEANUT BUTTER & SANTA CLAUS:
A ZOMBIE CULINARY TALE

Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, ages 3-7)

What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!

snow globe wishes book coverSNOW GLOBE WISHES
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Claire Shorrock
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this yearwith or without a power outage.

the teddy bears christmas surprise cvrTHE TEDDY BEARS’ CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
Written by Bruno Hächler
Illustrated by Anastasia Arkhipova
(Mineedition; $17.99, ages 5-6)

I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?

Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

Read about last year’s picks here.

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Kids Picture Book Review – Fractured Fairy Tales Roundup

FRACTURED FAIRY TALES
A ROUNDUP

 

 

 

 

the most terrible of all coverTHE MOST TERRIBLE OF ALL
Written by Muon Thị Văn
Illustrated by Matt Myers
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

If you like fairy tales, Muon Thị Văn’s new spin on Snow White will enchant you. Snow White and the dwarfs aren’t featured, rather the focus is on the Magic Mirror used by the Evil Queen. In The Most Terrible of All, the queen has been replaced by Smugg, a lovable monster. Smugg is certain he’s the most terrible beast in the land—his mirror tells him so. Until, one day, when he’s out-terribled by someone new, someone “a million times more terrible.” Not one to sit idly by, Smugg goes in search of this interloper. His quest takes him all the way . . . next door where a houseful of fiends are all potential contenders for the title of Most Terrible.

This ghoulish fractured fairy tale delighted me. Matt Myers’s art features lovely blues, greens, purples, and pinks giving the book a calm vibe even though the action’s quite exciting. His “ginormous sea serpent” is wonderfully scary and my favorite creature in the book.

Kids will enjoy this picture book because it’s a funny version of a story they already know. The monsters are charming and the ending is just perfect.

Moldilocks book coverMOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE SCARES: A ZOMBIE TALE
Written by Lynne Marie

Illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

Goldilocks has gone ghoulish in Lynne Marie’s picture book, Moldilocks and the Three Scares: A Zombie Tale. The Scare family—a monster dad, mummy mom, and vampire daughter—are enjoying a lovely night together preparing a midnight snack of sliced finger sandwiches and Alpha-Bat soup. But, of course, the soup is too hot; it boils Dad’s bolts, causes Mama to unravel, and gives Baby a fang-ache.

David Rodriguez Lorenzo illustrations are deathly cute. Details enliven each scenes. The page that enchants me is Moldilocks zombie-stumbling across the dining table with a fly escort. The three chairs are perfectly suited for each family member. Their décor is skeletal chic. A skull vase displays withering flowers, an old-fashioned TV’s rabbit ears appear to be femurs, and the standing lamp is a headless skeleton holding up its lampshade.

Pay attention to the opening pages because those lines will come back to haunt you with the book’s modern ending. When the Scares catch Moldilocks in their ghastly abode, Mama muses that her “nightmares have been answered”; I think Moldilocks would agree.

Reading Beauty cover

READING BEAUTY
Written by by Deborah Underwood

Illustrated by Meg Hunt
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 6-8)

The winning team of Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt from Interstellar Cinderella are together again in Reading Beauty, another rhyming fractured fairy tale picture book. In this version, instead of the princess pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, Princess Lex lives in a book-loving kingdom and is cursed to go into a deathlike sleep from a paper cut. Therefore, all books are secreted away on her fifteenth birthday.

“Without its books, their world grew bleak, consumed by dark and gloom.” Luckily Lex’s cute puppy, Prince, has been trained to fetch her things to read. I like how this smart princess takes matters into her own hands, especially the funny scene where Lex fools the fairy.

The art pops from the page. A bright blend of classic fairy tale and futuristic wonder will delightfully transport readers into a modern world. You’ll have to pick up your own copy to discover the creative ending.

 

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Halloween Picture Books 2019 – A Roundup

BEST NEW PICTURE BOOKS FOR HALLOWEEN

A ROUNDUP

PART 3

free clip art pumpkin

 

 

Skulls book coverSKULLS!
Written by Blair Thornburgh
Illustrated by Scott Campbell
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For Halloween or any day for that matter, Skulls! will entertain young readers with its eye-opening facts and fun watercolor illustrations featuring oblong faces and childlike representation.

Blair Thornburgh’s hit the nail on the head with this unique picture book that introduces kids to an important part of the human body via an adorable young narrator. Made up of twenty-two different smaller bones, the skull accounts for “about 10 percent of our body weight” but we often don’t think about it. When we do, as Thornburgh points out so perfectly, it’s absolutely amazing, kind of gross and thoroughly entertaining.

We tend to take for granted how a skull is “like a car seat for your brain,” keeping it safe and in place. It’s also actually full of holes otherwise it would be so much heavier. “But most important of all: skulls are not trying to be scary.” Once kids learn about all the cool skull-related things shared in Skulls!, they’ll probably want to share them with you, especially the jaw and mouth ones. And when they do, they’ll probably ask for a grilled cheese sandwich which means they’ve learned something. After they’ve eaten they’ll probably thank you for helping their “skull grow hard and strong.” In turn, you can use your mandible bone and connecting muscles to smile.

Happy Halloween Pirates book coverHAPPY HALLOWEEN, PIRATES!
Written by W. Harry Kirn
Illustrated by Inna Chernyak
(Clever Publishing; $12.99, Ages 3 and up)

Happy Halloween, Pirates! is a large-sized, kid-friendly, 18-page lift-the-flap board book that’s a rollicking, rhyming read aloud for Halloween. Toddlers will love hearing the story then peeking under the flaps to see what treasures the illustrator has buried beneath.

Shiver me timbers! A pirate crew receives an invitation via crow to a Halloween party. The action starts immediately as they and assorted pirate ship creatures (a cat, some mice) plan their costumes.

Next the pirates go ashore to have some fun with friends galore. They find the haunted party house and join in the festivities. Whoa! The kids who invited their sea-faring pirate pals surprise them by dressing up as pirates themselves on board a mini pirate ship! Between the flowing rhyme, the interactivity of the flaps and the vibrant artwork, children will stay entertained this Halloween as they play with and say Happy Halloween, Pirates! And who doesn’t enjoy a pirate party?

Ghastly Ghosts Book CoverGHASTLY GHOSTS
Written by Teresa Bateman
Illustrated by Ken Lamug
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

My level of manageable frightening can be found in Ghastly Ghosts. This pleasing and well paced rhyming picture book starts off by setting a Halloweenish mood, but the main character, Old Dave, refuses to be scared by the moaning noises emanating from coal shed. The rhyme works wonderfully in moving the story forward with a subtle upbeat vibe so as not to make little ones’ (or my) hair stand on end. The art style is appealing with a lovely palette that also keeps the fright level slight.

Old Dave wishes for some company as it gets lonely up in the middle of nowhere which is exactly where he lives. But alas, no one goes out on a night so dark and freezing, and if they do it’s not to the place where a ghostly choir can be heard loudly saying, “Ghastly ghosts in the old coal shed!” Oh how I admire Old Dave’s guts. Rather than cower at the scary sounds, our hero faces off with the spirits who he reckons might also enjoy the warmth of his cottage once he replenishes his coal supply. Still more of the “Ghastly ghosts …” chorus erupts, but they’re interrupted by brave Old Dave. “I know. I do. I’d like to bet you’re cold ghosts too.” Together with the ghosts, Old Dave’s coal pail gets filled and everyone is welcome in his now warm and cozy place. “In fact, they’re quite good company. His friendless nights are history.”

clever little witch book coverCLEVER LITTLE WITCH
Written by Muon Thi Van
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $17.99, Ages 4-6)

Clever Little Witch is more of a sibling tale than a Halloween one, but since witches abound during this season, it still feels appropriate to share. Plus Thi Van has written a story that will definitely resonate with older kids who’d like nothing more to get rid of their younger siblings.

In this charming picture book narrated by Little Linh, we learn instantly from her that she’s “the cleverest little witch on Mãi Mãi Island” if she does say so herself! She tells us what she needs which are a broomstick, a book of spells and a rare and magical pet. What she doesn’t need is an annoying baby brother who does things like ride her broom without asking, chew pages from her spell book or use her magical mouse “as a flashlight.” Yup, the little guy’s gotta go!

Baby Phu is offered around by his older sister, but no one on the island has any desire to take her little bro off her hands. Nope, not the troll, not the forest fairy queen and not the Orphanage for Lost and Magical Creatures. Youngsters will get a huge kick out of these scenes when the reasons why Baby Phu is rejected are explained. The troll, for instance, got hiccups from the last baby brother he ate.

When Little Linh turns to her magical book of spells she sees that “Baby Phu had eaten half the spell.” Clever as she was, she could certainly figure out what the rest was and transform her brother into a goldfish. When the spells go awry and she creates first a frog, then a seal and finally a dragon that steals her wand, things are not looking good. The story’s heroine chases the dragon on her broom. But when the dragon’s tail accidentally knocks down the broom and Little Linh begins falling, guess who comes to her rescue before she crashes to the ground? YESthe dragon, much to her surprise! Does the dragon stay a dragon or does he turn back into Baby Phu who becomes more appreciated? Ahh, you’ll have to visit Mãi Mãi Island to see for yourself! Hyewon Yum’s illustrations of acrylic gouache and color pencil are full of energy. The variety of colors she uses exudes a warm and happy feeling with every page turn. What a sweet, humorous and imaginative sibling story to share with kids!

Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster cvrGINNY GOBLIN CANNOT HAVE A MONSTER FOR A PET
Written by David Goodner
Illustrated by Louis Thomas
(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Ginny is a force of nature and, though perhaps not the best role model for children, will definitely make them laugh and maybe even answer back to the narrator speaking right to them, and that’s just what an ideal read aloud like Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet should do.

As I read this picture book, the follow-up to Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, I thought about a little girl some 22 years ago. No matter what her parents told her, she’d do the opposite. I always worried about her, but she’s actually doing great now that she got all those wild escapades out of her system … and a horse as a pet.

What’s so fabulous about this story is that Ginny’s crazy antics ultimately get her just what she wanted in the first place which is a goat, a non-monsterish pet unlike all the unbelievable others she goes in search of page after riotous page to drive her point home. Whether it’s on a beach where the narrator hopes “she’ll find a tropical fish, or a cute little hermit crab,” Ginny always has something else in mind and goes for it. In one case that means going into the deep, dark sea in a submarine seeking a kraken. We’re reminded that krakens “are unfathomable monsters, and Ginny Goblin cannot have a monster for a pet.” I can just hear the kids at story time repeating that phrase and loving it.

So what do you suppose happens next? You guessed it, as will young readers. Down she goes into a cave in search of a dragon. That sized pet won’t fit in a house will it? So of course Ginny’s taken to a forest where birds who make great pets live. Ha! Instead Ginny catches a basilik, but a magical pet isn’t the answer either. If you think she’s done thinking about getting a monster for a pet because she’s distracted by a visit to a space museum, think again. Ginny commandeers a rocket to outer space where an acid-spitting alien is on her agenda but not the narrator’s.

Goodner skillfully brings the readers and Ginny back to Earth where the idea of a pet like a goat is suddenly looking a lot better than it originally did! Paired with Thomas’s whimsical gouache and pen-and-ink artwork, Goodner’s prose take youngsters on an amusing and mischievous  journey that will delight them and anyone lucky enough to read the story to them.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Read another Halloween Books Roundup here.

 

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Boo! New Halloween Books for Kids 2019 – A Roundup

BEST NEW HALLOWEEN BOOKS FOR KIDS

∼ A Roundup ∼

Part 1

 

Free Halloween clip art Pumpkin

 

 

Halloween Kitty Book CoverHALLOWEEN KITTY (A Wag My Tail Book)
Written and illustrated by Salina Yoon

(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 3 and up)

Award-winning creator Salina Yoon captures your little one’s attention with this adorable children’s board book, Halloween Kitty (A Wag My Tail Book). The orange and white tabby has a sturdy orange felt tail that little hands can easily move by pulling a tab or touching the tail itself. The cute kitty wants to find a friend but the animals she encounters are all too busy. Luckily, her persistence pays off. This 12-page book is suitable for preschoolers on up. Even adults will feel drawn to zen-like pleasure of wagging the tail. Makes a great party gift!

 

Give Me Back My Bones coverGIVE ME BACK MY BONES!
Written by Kim Norman
Illustrated by Bob Kolar
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Give Me Back My Bones! reminds me of a modern version of the “Dem Bones” song—you know, “the toe bone’s connected to the heel bone.” However, Kim Norman’s picture book changes the story from a spiritual to a fun romp at the ocean bottom where a stormy night has scattered a skeleton’s bones. Her smart rhyme summons the reader to “Help me find my head bone, / my pillowed-on-the-bed bone, / the pirate’s flag-of-dread bone— / I’m scouting for my skull.”

Kids will unwittingly learn a bone’s name and function as they seek the bones—some are being absconded by various creatures. The lively beat of the lines is fun to read aloud as the skeleton is pieced back together until, once again, ready to set sail.

Bob Kolar’s art expands the playfulness of the book; bones seem to glow against a muted backdrop of ocean water. Sea critters lend a friendly fin, tail, or tentacle. I like how the skeleton, true to pirate fashion, has a peg leg in place of one of its tibia bones.

Don’t forget to peek under the jacket for a full-length “bone-rattling” poster. This extra detail elevates the book from a great read to one you’ll want to buy.

 

Bunnicula 40th Anniversary Edition coverBUNNICULA: 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Written by Deborah Howe and James Howe

Illustrated by Alan Daniel
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $10.99, Ages 8-12)

As much as I love Halloween, the classic story of Bunnicula had somehow eluded me. But, a pet rabbit who may be a vampire sounded irresistible and I was not disappointed. The book pulls you right in from the Editor’s Note (explaining how the manuscript was delivered to her door by a “sad-eyed, droopy-eared dog”) to first-person narration by Harold, the Monroe’s family dog. We soon discover that the problem is a new edition to the family: a black and white bunny found in the movie theater showing a Dracula movie.

Harold already shares the household with Chester the cat. Adding another animal takes some adjusting but weird things start happening to vegetables. For example, a tomato turns white and seemingly has teeth marks! As Harold and Chester try to solve this mystery, we discover the true charm of this book is crafty elusion. Is Bunnicula a vampire rabbit? What do you think?

This 40th anniversary pocket-sized edition has a plush red velvet cover and an Introduction by James Howe about the story’s origins and various renditions over the past four decades. Throughout, Alan Daniels’s art enlivens the story with humor and detail. At the end, best-selling authors Max Brallier, Holly Black, and Dav Pilkey share their personal experiences about this book. Bunnicula has six popular sequels and a spin-off series Tales from the House of Bunnicula and Bunnicula and Friends.

Click here for a link to last year’s Halloween Books Roundup.

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Kids Picture Book Review – Shubh Diwali!

SHUBH DIWALI!
Written by Chitra Soundar
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Shub Diwali book cover

 

Every fall I celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, better known as Hanukkah, which lasts eight days. But there is another Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus called Diwali that is “celebrated across five days,” depending on where one lives. This year Diwali begins on Sunday, October 27 so I wanted to share this new picture book about the holiday called Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua.

From the very first pages when “Grandpa watches the waning moon. The festival is coming soon,” readers feel a sense of anticipation knowing that something wonderful is about to happen. Chua’s cheerful and brightly colored artwork depicts preparations underway as a multi-generational Indian family tidies their home in the days leading up to Diwali. I love how we see everyone involved, even the adorable dog, eager for the celebration to begin.

 

Shubh Diwali IN01

Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

Told in rhyme, Shubh Diwali! introduces youngsters to the numerous holiday customs such as hanging bunting made from mango leaves, creating striking Rangoli art (“traditional floor decorations and patterns made from rice flour and colored powders”), and wearing new clothes. There’s plenty of storytelling by elders, in this case recounting tales of gods who “fought evil against all odds,” as well as time together with the whole family to reflect when hymns are chanted and bells are rung. Of course there’s also a lot of eating and playing because, well because that’s what happens when there’s a houseful of kids and adults!

 

Shubh Diwali IN02

Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

The picture book is filled with a diverse group of friends and neighbors who are invited to share in the lovely and meaningful Diwali rituals such as lighting the lamps, exchanging presents and candy, and watching brilliant fireworks light up the skies. I learned in the interesting back matter that on the third day of this festival, which happens to be when the New Year is celebrated, people “offer food and support to those less privileged than themselves.” Also the fifth day, called Bhai Dooj, is devoted to brothers and sisters getting together to “celebrate their love for one another.”

 

Shubh Diwali IN03

Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

I recommend sharing this charming picture book with children so, like me, they can learn about Diwali and its beautiful traditions. There are many holidays based on the lunar calendar and it’s a good idea to expose kids to as many as possible in order to gain a greater understanding of different cultures at home and abroad and maybe make our world a little smaller.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

Read a review about another book illustrated by Charlene Chua here.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor

JUST ASK!

BE DIFFERENT, BE BRAVE, BE YOU

Written by Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by Rafael López

(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Just Ask Book Cover

 

STARRED REVIEW – Booklist

Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was diagnosed with diabetes as a child, knows just how that feels. In Just Ask!, written by Sotomayor, along with art by award winning illustrator Rafael López, a group of children work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way.

The book opens with a letter from Sotomayor, the first Latina and third woman appointed to the Supreme Court. In it she explains to the reader how she felt different when kids watched as she injected insulin into her arm. But, she says, they never asked why! “If you ever wonder why someone is doing something different from other kids, Just Ask.

 

Just Ask int 4P10

Interior spread from Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

A beautiful assortment of colors adorn the pages as children of various ethnicities, shapes and sizes are seen holding flower pots, pulling wagons and walking through nature. The first character we are introduced to is based on the author, Sonia. She compares the differences in a garden to the differences of people. “Thousands of plants bloom together, but every flower, every berry, and every leaf is different. Each has a different smell, different color, different shape, and different purpose.” She explains to the reader that, like plants, kids are different too. “Each of us grows in our own way, so if you are curious about other kids, Just Ask!”

In one illustration Sonia is sitting inside a large red rose petal injecting the insulin into her arm. The question that is asked is “Do you ever need to take medicine to be healthy?” As the reader turns the page, Rafael, just like the book illustrator’s name says, “I have asthma, which means I sometimes have trouble breathing and use an inhaler to make breathing easier.”

 

Just Ask int 4P12

Interior spread from Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

While working together with smiles on their faces surrounded by rabbits, butterflies and birds each character poses a question to the readers. These in turn are answered by another child who may be feeling “different.” Sotomayor introduces us to characters with dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Anthony is seated in a wheelchair; Madison and Arturo are both blind and use canes; and a boy named Vijay demonstrates sign language because he is unable to hear.

Lopez’s art of rainbows and smiling trees welcomes the child who may also be feeling different into this imaginary place. Just Ask is a great for parents to read to a child who may be going through his or her own personal struggle. Questions such as “Do you ever feel frustrated?” give the child a chance to express emotions.

The story ends with Sonia gathered around all her new friends amidst the beautiful garden they have all created. She tells them, “when something seems different or new I just ask my parents or my teachers and they help me to understand.”

Sotomayor shares a heartwarming story, also available in Spanish, that asks the questions some children may not know how to ask. This is a great and most needed read for the child who may be dealing with something challenging, and the child who has a friend who seems different but they just aren’t quite sure how to ask. López, whose own son has high functioning autism, says “I am energized to give visual voice to Justice Sotomayor’s compelling story about seeing the world through a unique perspective and being you.” This book shows kids that differences can make us stronger and how maybe kids can use that strength and uniqueness to someday be a part of the highest United States court. I hope this book finds its way to library story times and into classrooms because it positively models respectful interaction between kids of all abilities.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Read another book illustrated by Rafael López here.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Where is My Balloon?

WHERE IS MY BALLOON?
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

where is my balloon book cover

 

I became an Owl and Monkey fan after reading the hilarious I Have a Balloon so I was eager to read the second picture book featuring this adorable pair. In Where is My Balloon? by Ariel Bernstein with illustrations by Scott Magoon, Monkey’s looking after Owl’s adored red balloon and accidentally pops it while playing with it. Ooops!

 

Where is My Balloon int1

Interior spread from Where is My Balloon? written by Ariel Bernstein and illustrated by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2019.

 

Rather than immediately owning up to what he did, Monkey first brings Owl a pillow and claims it’s the red balloon. The humor is in how long the charade will go on and what wild items Monkey will present to his friend in an effort to placate him. The ultimate goalavoid telling the truth about what happened. As in the previous story, Magoon’s artful expressions conveyed on the faces and in the two characters’ body language adds to the enjoyment. The generous use of white space keeps our eyes glued to the two animals’ antics. We watch closely as Monkey seeks out silly substitutes for the balloon. After a chair, a fire engine and a parachute don’t do the trick, Monkey, wracked with guilt, breaks down and confesses. Then he apologizes.

 

Where is My Balloon int2

Interior spread from Where is My Balloon? written by Ariel Bernstein and illustrated by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2019.

 

The illustrations of Owl’s reactions to his popped balloon are some of my favorites. As his despairing and frenzied mood heightens, Owl tears up the sock, also accidentally. The scene when the bird realizes what he’s done cracks me up as he subtly tries to kick the ruined sock off the tree top, out of Monkey’s sight. With the shoe now on the other foot (or in this case perhaps sock is more appropriate), Owl attempts the same subterfuge that had been done to him. Only this time the significance of Owl’s sporting a yellow hat with a red star is not lost on Monkey whose resigned response is classic.

 

Where is my Balloon interior3

Interior illustrations from Where is My Balloon? written by Ariel Bernstein and illustrated by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2019.

 

Where is My Balloon? is a super story to share with children when you’re looking for a tale that tackles the topic of being honest and asking for forgiveness in a light and lively way. Bernstein’s tight turn of phrase and Magoon’s playful art will keep kids engaged with every page turn. While youngsters may be well aware of what’s going on after the pillow is offered, they’ll be delighted to read along or be read to in order to find out how the dilemmas get resolved. Even adult readers will be charmed by this clever circular story making it a fun go-to read for story time or anytime!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read my review for I Have a Balloon here.

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Kids Picture Book Review – This Is a Sea Cow by Cassandra Federman

THIS IS A SEA COW
Written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

This Is a Sea Cow cover

 

This Is a Sea Cow, the debut picture book by Cassandra Federman, will have kids laughing out loud at story time especially at the lines about how much a sea cow weighs, how her milk “squirts out of her armpits!” and the size of their brains. Federman knows how to quickly pull her readers into this funny and informative story about the popular underwater mammal perhaps better known as a manatee. The titular sea cow actually prefers to be called a manatee for multiple reasons kids will learn about. Fact: Happy faces plastered with huge grins will appear throughout the duration of this book.

 

This Is a Sea Cow int1

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

One thing I particularly adore about This Is a Sea Cow is the format Federman uses. The story unfolds as a child’s school book report about sea cows. Soon, however, the sea cow, who is the subject of the report, begins responding to the facts presented. This interactive approach is certain to engage young readers. I’m guessing they’ll start talking back to the book much like the audience does in an English pantomime.

At first the adorable blue-crayon-colored sea cow disputes most of what the student writes when it’s not complimentary. Fact: weight of 1,000 pounds. Response: “Hey! That’s personal information.” With each eagerly awaited page turn, youngsters will note how the student author highlights a fact or two the sea cow cannot disagree with. There’s the small size of its brain (see bottom illustration) and how small-brained explorers  thought sea cows were mermaids. The report’s flattered blue subject basks in being considered the mythical water nymph. Those irresistible illustrations are some of my faves.

 

Thisisaseacow 3 interior illustration

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

The book’s colorful, kid-like artwork cleverly incorporates a variety of features guaranteed to keep a child’s interest. There are speech bubbles (just some of the bubbles they’ll read about … the others being gassy ones), hand lettering, hand drawings, and paper cutouts. Interspersed with these are photos of real objects such as scissors, crayons, shells, staples, paper clips and a backpack.

 

Thisisaseacow 2 interior illustration

Interior illustration from This Is a Sea Cow written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2019.

 

The pleasing twist at the end will charm children who, like the second grade writer, easily fall for the sea cow, small brain, gassiness, toenails and all! And if that’s not sweet and silly enough, several other cute creatures chime in after being mentioned. Federman’s adept use of kid-friendly prose in this light-hearted look at the much-loved manatee will make this a regularly requested read for animal lovers.

Helpful back matter provides kids, parents and teachers with additional interesting info about sea cows like where they live and how fast they can swim. The names of several websites where readers can adopt a manatee or help injured ones are also included. Head over to your local independent bookseller to pick up a copy today and make a manatee (and me) happy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Find This Is a Sea Cow activities for children on the Albert Whitman website here.

Read a review about more sea creatures here.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Small World by Ishta Mercurio

SMALL WORLD

By Ishta Mercurio

Illustrated by Jen Corace

(Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

★Starred Review – School Library Journal

When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms, but as she grows the world grows too. Small World, the debut picture book by writer Ishta Mercurio, takes the reader on a journey into Nanda’s world through shapes and structures, with out-of-this world illustrations by Jen Corace that are STEM themed “geometric meditations on wonder.”

This picture book’s colorful and stunning art, created with the matte finish of gouache, ink and pencil, introduces the young reader to the circle of Nanda’s loving South Asian family. Mom is seated dressed in a beautiful sari and scarf, while the siblings sit around the table with Nanda on her father’s lap. The round plates and faces are the first introduction to the various geometric shapes introduced to the reader. Page after page brings us into Nanda’s growing life from “slide and swings and whirligigs and tumbles through grass” as she plays with her playmates, until ultimately she goes off to college on her own, “But as she grew, the world grew, too.”

 

Small World Int1

Interior spread from Small World written by Ishta Mercurio with illustrations by Jen Corace, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

We visually watch as the world grows from the ground up as Nanda rises closer to the sky in “a human-powered helicopter lifting toward the sky.” Corace’s drawings depict girls playing inside on a basketball court, while Nanda “spooled through spirals of wire and foam: a human-powered helicopter lifting toward the sky.”

The deep blue sea outlines the town of square houses, boxes of farmland and round shaped trees, while our main character is seen soaring solo in a small airplane from above. “Nanda got bigger and bigger and BIGGER. But as she grew, the world grew, too.”

Soon new faces are seen looking up towards the sky as a space shuttle blasts off and we discover that Nanda is as high above the sky as one can be—Nanda has grown up to become an astronaut. Her “feet have touched foreign soil.” Wearing a space helmet surrounded by “A sea of stars, moonless and deep, distant suns twinkling … Marbled planets orbiting, speck-small in the distant night …”

 

Small World Int2

Interior spread from Small World written by Ishta Mercurio with illustrations by Jen Corace, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

Small World offers young readers the opportunity to think big and expand their horizons. They can see that Earth’s size varies based on perspective—large under little feet, but when you go into space, it’s easier to see how small our planet is compared to the size of the universe. Mercurio says, “children can see the Earth being as big and small at the same time in the same way that you are big and small at the same time.” Just like Nanda, if you stick with your ideas as you grow older, you will see more of our world and maybe even more of the universe.

In an Author’s Note, the reader is asked where they would go if they were Nanda and what places they have visited. Small World encourages young children to reach for the stars and to know that anything is possible. Beautifully written and illustrated, it’s both a positive and encouraging read with its “You can do this” message. Mercurio actually named her main character, Nanda, joy in Hindu Sanskrit, in honor of five women photographed celebrating at the Indian Space Research Organization after they had helped put a satellite into orbit around Mars.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Read a review of another STEM picture book here.

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I Am a Thief Book Review With a Guest Post by Illustrator Molly Ruttan

I AM A THIEF!
Written by Abigail Rayner
Illustrated by Molly Ruttan
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

I Am a Thief book cover

 

Happy Book Birthday 🎂 🎈to I Am a Thief!, written by Abigail Rayner with art by Molly Ruttan, marking her illustrator debut.

I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.

BOOK REVIEW:

Starred Review – Kirkus

The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of  a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.

 

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Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.

Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.

 

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Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”

I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.

GUEST POST:

Hi Ronna,
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
e
I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
e
One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kidI was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
e
I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
e
Int art IAmaThief

Interior artwork from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be thisthe Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
e
As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
e
BIO:
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Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
e
A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.
e
  • Review by Ronna Mandel
    e

    e

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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part Three – A Roundup

 

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART THREE

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

 

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! coverTHE PIGEON HAS TO GO TO SCHOOL!
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
(Hyperion Books for Children; $16.99, Ages 4-7) 

When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.

Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”

Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!

pigeonpresents.com

 

Take Your Pet to School Day coverTAKE YOUR PET TO SCHOOL DAY
Written by Linda Ashman
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

“Enough!” says Mr. Paul. “It’s clear —

these animals should not be here.

Now, why would someone change this rule?

Pets do NOT belong in school!”

If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.

Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.

 

I'm Trying to Love Math coverI’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH
Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton
(Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”

What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers⁠—and a whole page of pi⁠—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.

•Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part Two

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART TWO

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

The King of Kindergarten cvrTHE KING OF KINDERGARTEN
Written by Derrick Barnes
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

The King of Kindergarten written by Newberry honoree Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, transforms the average day at kindergarten into an extraordinary, royal adventure.

It’s fun to read Barnes’ regal language. As Mom says, “today” her little boy is going to be the “King” and, with this encouragement, he prepares to venture out confidently. Brushing his “Royal Chiclets,” he dresses himself and “wolf[s] down a tower of pancakes.” I love the emphasis here on growth, maturity, and independence. Being “deliver[ed] … to a grand fortress” (a.k.a. school), he joins the “round table” where he cheerfully exchanges greetings with his classmates. The royal theme continues during circle time, recess, lunchtime, and beyond, each opportunity allowing him to exercise his noble code of honor by braving playground politics, sharing his royal bounty (in the form of an extra cup of chocolate pudding), and showing kindness to his friends. Vibrant colors invite us readers to participate in the little boy’s “Kindergarten Kingdom;” flowing shapes excite us with anticipation of what’s next on his adventure.

A great way to introduce the school day to budding kindergartners, The King of Kindergarten shows us how a little change of perspective can rewrite a potentially scary event into a magical tale.

See Derrick Barnes on August 31 at Little Shop of Stories, LLC in Decatur, GA

 

Truman book coverTRUMAN
Written by Jean Reidy
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

Written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, Truman is a heartwarming story of the loving relationship between a pet and his owner. But it can also be read as a tale about the challenges a younger sibling faces as his older sister starts school.

There is no doubt readers of all ages will fall in love with Truman. How could you not? He’s “the size of a donuta small donutand every bit as sweet.” In simple yet powerful ways, Reidy and Cummins express the affection Truman and Sarah share. Sarah isn’t merely Truman’s owner; she’s “his Sarah” (my emphasis)  who shares the same “peaceful and pensive” personality as her adorable tortoise. Humble shapes and bursts of yellow throughout paint a happy home with decor that brings back memories of my own childhood, notably, the Felix the Cat look-a-like clock on the wall.

This particular day, though, is “truly unsettling” because Sarah is acting different. She eats a “big banana” at breakfast, “clip[s] on a blue bow in her hair,” “strap[s] on a backpack SOOOOOO big thirty-two tortoises [can] ride along in it,” and leaves extra food for Truman. Most shockingly, she boards the number 11 bus, that mysterious bus he can see from his window riding in the “honking,” “growling” city below. Truman spends the day in worrisome wonder as to where Sarah could possibly be and why it’s taking her so long to return.

Through Reidy’s funny tone and Cummins’ artistic perspective, Truman’s journey out of the safety of his tank, and his determination to find his beloved owner is as endearing as it is humorous. Of all the challenges Truman faces, my favorite is his crossing of the living room rug“That glorious … ENDLESS rug” made all the more imposing by the mean looking toys along his path we see through Truman’s eyes. When he hears the number 11 bus, he’s ready to cross the threshold, but Sarah is back in time to reunite with her pet and congratulate him on his bravery.

Truman encourages all of us facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with the message cleverly written on city bus #11:  See New Sights! Hear New Sounds! Think New Thoughts!

Pirates-Dont-Go-To-Kindergarten-cvrPIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN!
Written by Lisa Robinson
Illustrated by Eda Kaban
(Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Can an honorable pirate be loyal to more than one captain? This is the question posed in Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten! written by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Eda Kaban.

Equipped with the pirate basics (treasure map, spyglass, and cutlass), Emma storms into school, this first day of kindergarten, determined to set sail once again in last year’s ship commanded by “the roughest, toughest, awesomest preschool pirate cap’n ever”Cap’n Chu. Yet, it’s a new year and, as Ms. Chu gently reminds Emma, Cap’n Chu has “‘a new band of pirates” to lead. Despite attempts by Cap’ns Chu and Hayes (Emma’s new teacher) to interest Emma in her outer-space-themed kindergarten classroom, Emma sails back to Cap’n Chu’s ship, fiercely allegiant to her pirate roots.

When Ms. Hayes’ class pet needs feeding, Emma shows interest and discovers all the fun activities in the kindergarten class:  a nature center, an art studio, a reading nook, and science station. What’s the one thing missing? “NO CAP’N CHU!” Back in Ms. Chu’s classroom, everything blows out into a full mutiny. This is where the book provides a great opportunity for caregivers to talk about just how confusing and conflicting emotions can be. At the heart of Emma’s protest is feelings of fear and loss at having to accept this major childhood transition and perhaps, even, feelings of guilt as devotion to one person may feel like betraying another. With heartwarming affirmation from Ms. Chu, Emma is ready to “‘open the shuttle hatch’” of her new classroom, bringing her own pirate spin to the kindergarten space station.

A great picture book for talking about transitions, Pirates Don’t Go To Kindergarten! will draw in seafarers and landlubbers alike.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Read more back-to-school book reviews here.

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Kids Book Review – Mitzvah Pizza by Sarah Lynn Scheerger

 

MITZVAH PIZZA

Written by Sarah Lynn Scheerger

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

(Kar-Ben Publishing; Hardcover $17.99,
Paperback $7.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Mitzvah Pizza Book Cover

 

In the new picture book, Mitzvah Pizza, written by Sarah Lynn Scheerger and illustrated by Deborah Melmon. Daddy Day is the best day of the week for Missy! Daddy brings the money and she brings the fun during their special time together. But today Missy plans to use her savings from Hanukkah and extra chores so she can be the one doing the buying.

The reader is introduced to the multi-colored city streets of Philly as the story unfolds. Dark haired Missy with her sweet round face and Daddy with his zipper jacket and baggy pants hold hands surrounded by men, women, babies and dogs and a sign reading The Pizza Corner above a red bricked corner eatery. In the past, Missy spent her money on a beaded necklace that broke and cinnamon candies that burned her tongue. Those mishaps made deciding what to buy on this outing hard. But there’s time to figure that out because Missy and her dad are taking a break to eat. Pizza!

The story takes a different direction when another girl and her daddy happen to be in front of the line. The two dads simultaneously ask, “What would you like?” Missy shouts out cheese and the other girl yells mushroom then they smile at each other, big and wide, with images of cheese and mushroom pizzas yummingly displayed in thought bubbles.

 

 

Mitzvah Pizza int spread

Interior spread from Mitzvah Pizza written by Sarah Lynn Scheerger and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Kar-Ben Publishing ©2019.

 

When Missy’s new friend Jane pays with two stickies removed from The Pizza Corner’s wall, Missy begins to question why sticky notes are being exchanged for pizza. As the reader turns the page, they’ll see handwritten blue, yellow, purple, red and pink sticky notes with messages reading “Peace”, “Enjoy”, “Hope this Helps”, and “Pizza on me!”

When Daddy and Missy reach the front of the line, the man behind the counter asks Daddy if he’d like to make a donation to the Piece O’Pizza Fund. Daddy replies “Sure, it’s a mitzvah.” Mitzvah means good deed in Hebrew and Jewish children are raised knowing that giving back to those in need is the biggest mitzvah of them all. In fact another Hebrew work, tzedakah, means “giving to others while not making them feel as if they’ve been helped.” What wonderful values to instill in children!

After eating the pizza, Missy and Jane continue the fun by going to the park, not wanting to say good-bye, and Missy tells Jane about her upcoming birthday party inviting her to come. It’s when Missy and Daddy walk away from the park, that Missy realizes buying one sticky was nice but she has a mitzvah in mind to spend her money and they return to The Pizza Corner.

In this thought provoking story about giving back, young children will discover that they can make a difference with a mitzvah towards hungry people or just by being a good friend. The book’s back matter introduces us to Scheerger’s inspiration for the book, Mason Wartman, owner of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia. A customer had asked him if he could buy a slice of pizza for someone who couldn’t afford it. This sparked the generous sticky note idea and now Wartman serves free pizza to thirty to forty hungry people every day! He even hired some of them to work in his shop! As Missy showed me, the next time I find myself in Philly, I plan on heading over to Rosa’s Fresh Pizza to place a sticky on the wall as my mitzvah for the day!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Click here to read another review by Ronda.

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Kids Book Review – Three Picture Books for the Fourth of July

CELEBRATING INDEPENDENCE DAY

WITH A ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

 

 

A IS FOR AMERICA
A BabyLit Book

Written and illustrated by Greg Paprocki
(Gibbs Smith; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

I’m a big fan of the BabyLit series and I especially like their alphabet primers, A is for America being no exception. It’s full of simple, relatable examples yet sophisticated with its retro-style art and bonanza of bright colors and detailed scenes.

Paprocki has assembled a pleasing assortment of Independence Day and overall America-themed illustrations including E is for Eagle and M is for Mount Rushmore. Of course it makes sense to share F is for Fireworks but I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Q is for Quill as we see John Hancock writing his easily identifiable cursive signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Playful and pertinent, this charming 32-page board book serves not only as an alphabet primer but as a terrific way to acquaint little ones with our country’s history. From the first colonies to the transcontinental railroad when east met west, from the pilgrims to George Washington, A is for America honors our nation’s past and what it means to us now.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

MY FOURTH OF JULY
Written by Jerry Spinelli
Illustrated by Larry Day
(Neal Porter Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

My Fourth of July is a joyful look at Independence Day through the eyes of an excited little boy. The holiday tale unfolds with the lad still in his pajamas, something I found so sweet, watching the parade passing by from his screen door then even joining in as shown on the cover. My town has a Memorial Day parade but if it had one on the Fourth of July it would be just like this one, full of kids on bikes carrying pinwheels or waving flags and generally having tons of fun. In fact, we even have a big park where many celebrations take place around the gazebo or bandshell just like in Spinelli’s story.

The boy’s in a hurry to get to the park so the family can claim a picnic table, another thing I could relate to! There are hot dogs galore on the grill and all the other mouth-watering food we associate with Independence Day. This imaginary, small town USA has a flag-draped train that passes through (like a scene out of the film Oklahoma) as well as face painting, organized games, a talent show and a concert at the park. Written as a warm, happy slice of life story with little to no obstacles (unless getting a prime picnic spot counts), Spinelli’s picture book celebrates family, community and tradition. It’s wonderful when everyone makes their way to the baseball field to watch the fireworks with Day’s ebullient illustrations depicting the magical display and the emotions it elicits as the day’s festivities come to an end. If you love a feel good picture book that feels both nostalgic and new at the same time, this one’s for you.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AMERICAN?
Written by Rana DiOrio & Elad Yoran
Illustrated by Nina Mata
(Little Pickle Press; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

Calling yourself an American is more than watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, or eating fast food. It is believing that all people are equal as told by Rana DiOrio along with debut children’s book author, Elad Yoran, in the forty-page picture book, What Does it Mean to be American? Colorful, feel good illustrations by Nina Mata beautifully convey the many different aspects the authors address. Teachers and parents alike will enjoy this upbeat social studies lesson that educates young children on the importance of being grateful and that dreams can come true by working hard because all Americans have the freedom to choose whom we love, what we believe, what we do, and where we live.

 

WDIMTB American int4

What Does it Mean to be American? written by Rana DiOrio and Elad Yoran with illustrations by Nina Mata, Little Pickle Press ©2019.

 

The story begins with an interracial couple and their daughter traveling through the desert surrounded by cactus, mountains and a clear blue sky in a van packed with suitcases. The opening sentence is the question, What does it mean to be American? In the array of artwork, we see the young girl smiling as she attends a half Jewish wedding ceremony; she salutes a woman in military gear; and in another she hugs an older former military man seated in a wheelchair. Being American means having access to abundant natural resources so we see the child walking in the great outdoors, enjoying time in nature while holding her mother’s hand, a reminder to be grateful all year for her family’s many blessings.

 

WDIMTB American Int6

What Does it Mean to be American? written by Rana DiOrio and Elad Yoran with illustrations by Nina Mata, Little Pickle Press ©2019.

 

As the reader turns the page, our character sees people from all countries working in America and learns to appreciate that people from all kinds of backgrounds have something to offer her, whether it’s playing a game of chess or exercising with an elder in the park. As the little girl sits on her father’s shoulders, he tells her about people in the past who had the creativity to invent new things and that she should be proud of all that Americans have accomplished, yet humble about all we still need to learn. The illustrations take us back to the invention of the computer and the automobile, but also remind us that women fought for their right to vote.

This vital story that every parent must take time with their young kids to discuss, reminds us to become our best self, but that we also have an obligation to help others (something children can NEVER  hear enough of!) With mindfulness lessons on the importance of being present mixed in with a rich lesson in our American history, readers learn that the greatest nation in the world can always be better!

In addition to loving the message throughout this book, I got excited reading the back matter. Writers Rana and Elad share that their intention for writing the story was to encourage adults in children’s lives to start meaningful conversations about what it means to be American. With a fabulous history lesson reminding readers what our forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence to a guided list of questions to continue the conversation with young and older children alike, we are reminded about all the amazing people who made America what it is today.

This is a great read for teachers who can jump start a discussion with these initial questions, and then lead into so many other topics. Bravo to the writers who said, Being American means welcoming people from other countries and helping them learn what it means to be American … and appreciating that our differences make us kinder, smarter, healthier and stronger. Don’t miss the other great books in the What Does It Mean to Be …? series.

Reviewed by Guest Reviewer Ronda Einbinder
Ronda is a teacher/writer who worked for Irvine Unified School District assisting students in grades K-6. She is also a 500-Hour Registered Yoga Instructor, teaching yoga and mindfulness both publicly and privately. Previously, she was a writer and publicist for ObesityHelp magazine and non-profit medical facilities.

 

Click here to read last year’s Fourth of July book reviews.

 

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Kids Book Review – Best Father’s Day Picture Books 2019

BEST FATHER’S DAY PICTURE BOOKS FOR 2019

 

happy fathers day free clip art image of tie

 

Does your child’s heart belong to daddy or perhaps another important guy in their life? Here’s a selection of picture books that celebrate all facets of fathers’ relationships with their kids. Share a story this Father’s Day with someone special and make their day.

 

 my papi has a motorcycle-book-cvrMY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE
Written by Isabel Quintero
Illustrated by Zeke Peña
(Kokila; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist, Horn Book

With its beautiful homage to the author’s childhood home of Corona in California, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is an atmospheric read that pulled me in as the third rider on the titular motorcycle. Quintero and Peña team up for a second time to paint a picture in words and artwork of a changing city that’s still full of family, friends and overflowing with humanity.

This 40-page picture book feels wonderfully expansive in that it takes readers all over Daisy Ramona’s hometown huddled close behind her papi. A carpenter by day, Daisy’s dad often takes her out on his bike after work but tonight’s special because they’re going to see some of the new homes he’s building. As they take off on their journey, Daisy remarks how they become like a comet, “The sawdust falling from Papi’s hair and clothes becomes a tail following us.” Wow! You can easily feel the power of the motorcycle from the language and illustrations that fuel this fabulous picture book.

Travel page by page, gorgeous prose after prose, illustration after illustration, with Daisy and her Papi. Together they cruise by Joy’s Market and greet the librarian, “roar past murals that tell our history–of citrus groves and immigrants who worked them …” But when they head over to Don Rudy’s Raspados they see the front door boarded over, a sign of gentrification coming to the neighborhood. Still Daisy’s filled with delight at the city she calls home, a city that’s a part of her. They pass friendly faces and wave to Abuelito and Abuelita standing in their front yard.  The sights and sounds of Grand Boulevard greet her as they approach the circle where cars once raced and where Papi still “buys conchas on Sunday mornings!”

There’s no denying the glorious feeling readers will get as father and daughter make a few more important stops and eventually zoom home where Mami and Little Brother await. Don’t miss celebrating fatherhood, family ties and the meaning of neighborhood in this endearing picture book that simply soars!

great job dad book cvrGREAT JOB, DAD!
Written and illustrated by Holman Wang
(Tundra; $16.99, Ages 3-7) 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

I never got a chance to read Great Job, Mom! but I’m happy I did get to read Holman Wang’s Great Job, Dad! This fiber artist extraordinaire painstakingly creates realistic scenes using needle felting in wool so I appreciate that the book’s back matter enlightens readers as to what’s involved in the process.

Holman’s rhyming story is funny and also realistic. It shows how this particular father, who is a manager during his day job (yes, that pays the bills), has many other volunteer jobs at home. When he feeds his children he’s a waiter. When he takes them for a hike in their wagon and stroller, he’s a chauffeur. “Quite often he becomes a chauffeur to several VIPs.” As an inspector (bound to bring out giggles because here we see Dad checking for a dirty diaper),”it matters what he sees!” We all know the role of judge dads often play  when siblings or friends fight. I think diplomat could have been added here, too! Additionally this dad puts in time as a computer engineer, librarian, pilot, architect, receptionist and astronomer that we see in detailed illustrations that never cease to amaze. Of course my favorite is the bedtime scene where titles from books on the bed and bookcase can actually be read. If you’re looking for something original to read for Father’s Day, pick up a copy of this picture book.

going down home with daddy book cvrGOING DOWN HOME WITH DADDY
Written by Kelly Starling Lyons
Illustrated by Daniel Minter
(Peachtree Publishing; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

My childhood friend’s mother was from the south and used to attend family reunions when we were kids. Going Down Home With Daddy is exactly how I imagined them to be. Lyons’s story, “inspired by her husband’s heritage and her own” beautifully captures the annual family gathering incorporating every sense in the reading experience. I could see, touch, smell, taste and hear everything through Lyons’s perfect prose from the car ride when Lil Alan’s too excited to sleep to his first glimpse of Granny, “scattering corn for her chickens like tiny bits of gold.”  I could smell her peppermint kisses, hear the laughter as more and more relatives arrived, feel the breeze during the tractor ride, taste the hot, homemade mac and cheese and see the cotton field “dotted with puffs of white.”

The story unfolds as the narrator, Lil Alan, realizes he’s forgotten something to share for the anniversary celebration and cannot enjoy himself until he figures out what contribution he can make. When he does, it’s the most heartfelt moment although there are many others in this thoughtful, moving picture book. Minter’s warm illustrations in earthy tones heighten every experience and seem to recall the family’s African roots and connection to the land. I found myself rereading the picture book several times to soak up more of Lyons’s rich language and Minter’s evocative art.

side by side book cvrSIDE BY SIDE: A CELEBRATION OF DADS
Written and illustrated by Chris Raschka
(Phaidon; $18.95, Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Caldecott-winning author and illustrator, Chris Raschka, has created a simple yet spot on read-aloud with Side by Side. It will fill your heart as you share it with little ones. A diverse group of children and their dads engage in typical father-child activities, some of which I’d almost forgotten now that my kids have grown up. With each rewarding page turn, a new treat awaits at will resonate with both parent and youngster. Ideal for this age group, Side by Side, with its economy of words and buoyancy of illustration, manages to keep this picture book cool and captivating.

I love how Raschka opens with the quintessential Horse and rider as a little girl, braids flying to depict motion, rides bare-back on her dad. Readers will feel the delight emanating from her entire body. Raschka also cleverly demonstrates how roles change, first with a child fast asleep sprawled across his father while his dad reads (Bed and sleeper). And then he follows up that illustration with one parents know all too well. In Sleeper and waker that same man’s son attempts to get his father up from a nap. The watercolor art is lovely and joyful and leaves the right amount of white to pull us straight to the characters and what they are doing. I’m still smiling from this read!

up to something book cvrUP TO SOMETHING
Written by Katrina McKelvey
Illustrated by Kirrili Lonergan
(EK Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

Up to Something serves as an ideal reminder on Father’s Day that there’s more to being a dad than simply being around.

After seeing a poster for a race, Billy gets excited and asks his dad if they can enter. When his dad says, “Of course, Billy! Let’s go build something!” he has one thing in mind when Billy has another. Once in the shed, Billy’s father’s words seem to indicate that he’s going to build the vehicle on his own despite making his son his special assistant.

Disappointed by the drudge work, Billy goes ahead and constructs his own vehicle. When his dad bangs and drills, so does Billy. Looks like Billy’s diving head on into the project yet his dad seems oblivious. When at last the race cars are unveiled, Billy’s vehicle has an individuality about it that is so much more unique than the one his father has made. That’s when it finally occurs to this adult that he has essentially ignored his child, that he hasn’t let his son contribute. That’s not a team effort. Putting their two heads together provides an opportunity for father and son to connect and create and, out of that combined effort, magic can and does happen.

Lonergan’s use of loosely shaped, muted watercolor and pencil in her illustrations complements the story. She’s also employed newspaper and what looks like sheet music as a substitute for wood, producing an added dimension to the art that plays into the book’s theme of imagination, recycling and invention. Clearly being present as a parent is what matters and McKelvey’s picture book hits that nail on the head.

a fathers love book cvrA FATHER’S LOVE
Written by Hannah Holt
Illustrated by Yee Von Chan
(Philomel; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

I had no idea what to expect when I read Hannah Holt’s A Father’s Love but now I understand why it’s been getting so much buzz. Told in well metered rhyme that never feels forced, this charming picture begs to be read out loud. The author’s covered a colorful and varied selection of animal dads and sometimes family and focuses on the unique bond between father and offspring.

“Beneath a mighty REDWOOD TREE,
A fox tends to his family.
He keeps them safe
by digging chutes.
This father’s love
runs deep as roots.”

Nine animals from marmoset to toad, penguin to wolf and ultimately some human fathers fill the pages of this tender tale. We learn how dads do all sorts of interesting and important things for their young. Take the emu, for example. The male of the species incubates the eggs much like the seahorse. Chan’s appealing artwork shows again and again how strong a father’s love is the world over whether her illustrations are of an Emperor Penguin or a Peregrine Falcon. Dads may come in all shapes and sizes, some may swim and some may fly, but the love they have for their children is the one thing they all have in common. Back matter offers more details about all the animals in the book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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