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Terrific New Picture Book for Chinese New Year – Year of the Cat

 

 

 

YEAR OF THE CAT

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand

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

 

 

Year of the Cat cover art the back of a cat looking at zodiac animals

 

 

The story of the Chinese zodiac is beloved in my household. In Year of the Cat, Richard Ho digs deeper to follow up on how Cat feels about not receiving a calendar year—she was pushed into a river by Rat! This story is as good as the original and then some.

 

Year of the Cat int1 animal group around table discussing Cat
Interior spread from Year of the Cat written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand, Greenwillow Books ©2022.

 

Jocelyn Li Langrand’s fun illustrations begin even before the title page. I especially like the behind-the-scenes scoop on the animals such as Rat lounging in his home with telling photos on the wall or the clever places each animal lives. The dragon? A fire station!

 

 Year of the Cat int2 four animals clung to the speeding raft
Interior spread from Year of the Cat written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand, Greenwillow Books ©2022.

 

Whether this is a familiar tale or your first read, kids will get a kick out of the teamwork and mishaps that lead to us finding out if Cat is upset she was unable to finish as one of the twelve animals. (Her answer may surprise you.) And, speaking of surprises, be sure to peek under the dust jacket to see the map-consulting image from inside the book repeated. Kids will love figuring out which paw, hoof, or claw goes with which animal, and adults can help kids count to twelve by following along the map’s edge.

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Picture Book Review – Snow Horses: A First Night Story

 

SNOW HORSES: 
A FIRST NIGHT STORY

Written by Patricia MacLachlan

Illustrated by Micha Archer

(Margaret K. McElderry Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Snow Horses cover kids with horses

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

Visit an enchanting snow-covered country town in Snow Horses: A First Night Story written by late Newberry Medal-winning author, Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Caldecott Honor-winning artist, Micha Archer but be sure to have a hot drink at hand while cozy under a blanket.

 

Snow Horses int1 snowy country landscape
Interior spread from Snow Horses: A First Night Story written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Micha Archer, Margaret K. McElderry Books ©2022.

 

As you turn the pages you’ll be treated to MacLachlan’s lyrical prose that set an anticipatory tone for the once-a-year celebration of First Night on December 31st. This lovely non-religious but spirited holiday is an inclusive one where communities come together outdoors to joyfully ring in the new year. In this gently flowing 40-paged picture book, a young girl, Jenny, hitches her two midnight black Percheron horses, Tim and Tom, to the lighted sleigh then heads off to pick up young friends and neighbors.

The mood is a happy one as evidenced in the cheerful artwork “rendered in collage with homemade papers and inks.” Archer’s doily-covered trees and mesh drapes are fantastic as are the lamplights glowing!

 

 Snow Horses int2 sheep horses inside barn
Interior art from Snow Horses: A First Night Story written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Micha Archer, Margaret K. McElderry Books ©2022.

 

Early on a “little golden dog” starts to run alongside the happy horses—”They love the snow. They love their work” —and it continues to stick close by the entire journey.

Each new scene brings the sleigh to new people and places like a thread weaving all the characters of the story together, creating a community quilt. Tom and Tim gather up grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles at the seniors’ home for a ride full of heart that takes them back in time to their youth. And when the night’s festivities end, everyone heads home to sleep, filled with the joy of the evening’s celebration and the promise of a bright new year upon waking. Remember to remove the dust cover to reveal the beautiful second design below.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Best New Christmas Books for Kids 2022

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR KIDS 2022

~A ROUNDUP~

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas With Auntie cover bunniesCHRISTMAS WITH AUNTIE
Written by Helen Foster James
Illustrated by Petra Brown
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 0-4)

My Aunt Shirley wasn’t my real aunt but she treated me as if I were her niece and I loved her the same as all my other aunts. Since Aunties can be blood relations or close family friends, Christmas With Auntie should find a large readership.

When Auntie picks up little bunny for the day, preparations for Christmas get underway. “Bunny-kins bunny, we’ll make and then bake/gingerbread goodies, sweet cookies, and cake.” Taking time to nibble carrots together, Auntie and little bunny spend quality time together. I love the snow bunny they build together and how attentive Auntie is to all bunny’s needs. Foster James writes in gentle rhyme and coupled with Brown’s tender illustrations, Christmas  With Auntie exudes warmth and love like hugs and kisses in book form. What’s extra nice is this Keepsake Edition provides a page to write a letter and add a photo so this copy will be a personalized family treasure.

 

Moo Baa Fa La La cover farm animalsMOO, BAA, FA LA LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon Books; $6.99, Ages 1-3)

If you or your kids are fans of that perennial fave, Moo, Baa, La La La!, you’ll be happy to know the adorable farmyard friends are back with a rollicking animal-centric altered rendition of “Deck the Halls.” While the meter may not be spot on in this board book, the silliness of what Boynton does best—cows, sheep, ducks, pigs, ducks, doggies, and chickens having a blast— is too good to miss. See the animals sing while they decorate the barn and get in a holiday mood along with them.  The playfulness of the pigs getting piggy with it, the bock, bock, bock of the chickens looking like they are about to Rockette it out, and the touch of the final fa la la la la fun at the end promises to entertain readers young and old.

 

 

Christmas Street cover

CHRISTMAS STREET
Written by Jonathan Emmett
Illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Nosy Crow; $17.99, Ages 2-5)

This fold-out, lift-the-flap, two-sided board book is one your children will return to again and again every Christmas until they outgrow the make-believe play this book invites. My daughter would have asked me to make cut-out characters to insert into all the scenes when the street is completely unfolded. But I can also see kids using little animal figures they might already have to join with those in the cheerful art.

Penguins, bears, dogs, cats, bunnies, tigers, reindeer, giraffes, foxes, frogs, and walruses populate the pages of this rhyming alphabet book. Youngsters lift the flaps as they travel from store front to store front on bustling Christmas Street to discover what’s happening inside the shops and above them. “I is for icing on freshly baked cakes. J is for jingle, the sound a bell makes.” A snow-covered festive park scene is on the reverse side where a band practices beneath a gazebo, Christmas carols are sung, vendors sell hot drinks, and animal children skate and toss snowballs. This book makes a great gift for toddlers and pre-schoolers learning the alphabet and into pretend play. The nice thing is that it can be read simply as a board book or opened up for a longer interactive experience depending on how much time you have.

 

The Night Before The Nutcracker coverTHE NIGHT BEFORE THE NUTCRACKER
(American Ballet Theatre Presents)
Written by John Robert Allman
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
(Doubleday BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

As a huge Nutcracker fan, I found myself totally enthralled while reading this behind-the-scenes look as four young dancers go through auditions, rehearsals, costume fittings, and ultimately the opening night performance of the beloved Nutcracker ballet. Not only does Allman manage to pull off the upbeat rhyme based on “The Night Before Christmas,” but he’s done so while using an abundance of ballet and theatre terminology which is not easy. This is such a captivating way to engage young readers!

Our first introduction to the characters is as they lay sleepless in their beds thinking about opening night and then we go back to the different stages of getting ready for the big event. When at last we’re back on stage just before “Places!” is called, the excitement is palpable and we’re rooting for these kids. I especially liked how The Nutcracker story unfolds with glimpses backstage. Children who are not familiar with the plot can easily follow along with Clara and her nutcracker. In full-page bleeds, Swaney’s art depicts movement and magic with a diverse group of performers in colorful costumes and graceful poses. Backmatter includes “Richard Hudson’s original costume designs for the ABT’s production” while explaining Act 1 and Act 2. If you or your child has never attended a performance of The Nutcracker, this book might just be what gets you to finally reserve tickets. Enjoy!

 

Through the North Pole Snow cover Santa fox in sleighTHROUGH THE NORTH POLE SNOW
Written by Polly Faber
Illustrated by Richard Jones
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

This delightful picture book is quiet (except for some loud noises in the beginning), calming and heartwarming. It’s perfect for when you’re winding down your child’s day and are ready to snuggle. A small white fox seeks shelter and food amidst a snowy scape. It crawls down a chimney where it gets stuck and is aided by a jolly man with a white beard that little ones may not recognize despite the cover illustration. The art along with the old fella offers hints that he’s been on his Christmas rounds and is exhausted. Still, the fox doesn’t realize who he’s living with! Santa and the fox sleep until the season has changed and the man awakens to begin work on a new batch of toys. With the fox close by, Santa reads the letters, makes lists, and prepares his sack and sleigh for the night run. The fox is thrilled to be invited along. Then, as toys are delivered, Fox at last understands. “And when the sleigh was empty, the fox’s heart was full.” Jones’s warm tones and folksy style enrich Faber’s sweet text and make us feel good all over about this very special newfound friendship.

 

Hello Tree coverHELLO, TREE
Written by Alastair Heim
Illustrated by Alisa Coburn
(Little Bee Books;  $17.99, Ages 3-8)

Between the sly fox’s antics and the pages packed with visual treats—look closely—the hilarious Hello, Tree merits multiple reads. We meet Fox, fond of the five-finger discount, in the process of taking whatever strikes his fancy. The problem is he likes a lot of what he sees whether that’s a Christmas tree, a snowman’s nose (to munch on), gingerbread, candy canes (one of my fave illustrations),

ornaments, poinsettias, or a string of lights, all to decorate his home at everyone else’s expense. He swipes, and swipes to his heart’s delight! And though his intentions may be good, since he clearly wants to create an inviting atmosphere when giving presents as indicated by the many stockings hanging from his fireplace mantel, stealing is not the way. So, when Santa drops in, he makes Fox give back his ill-gotten goods. Only then can the true Christmas spirit shine. I love all the subtle and not-so-subtle humor in Heim’s rhyming read-aloud. I’m thinking of the illustration showing bear parents kissing under mistletoe with their kid sticking out his tongue. “Hello, kissy mistletoe.” I know kids will get a kick out of scenes like this too. It’s such fun to also find details in Coburn’s illustrations upon a second read that I didn’t catch the first time and I know there are more treats waiting for me to discover. Don’t miss the surprise on the endpapers!

 

The Little Toymaker coverTHE LITTLE TOYMAKER
Written and illustrated by Cat Min
(Levine Querido; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

The Little Toymaker, though not a Christmas book per se, still feels like it delivers all the feels a holiday book should. This boy has a magical talent and it’s not for making children’s toys like the guy with the white beard and red garb. He repurposes old toys from grandparents and other older people’s childhoods. Kids probably don’t realize the elderly like toys too, in fact, I bet if you’re reading this you have a particular childhood fave too.

One day an old woman arrives at his toy-making tower and hands him a candy tin to fix. As he worked he chats with the woman learning about each other’s likes and dislikes. When his first attempt does not please her, the little Toymaker tries again. His second attempt also leaves something to be desired so it’s back to the drawing board. Over tea, the two talk some more. The boy gleans insight into exactly what he needs to do with the candy tin after hearing the old lady recollect a special time in her past full of love and romance. Finally, the little Toymaker’s last attempt succeeds because he listened. Inside the tin, he’s captured enough cherished memories to fill her heart for all her days. That sweet little bit of magic moved me as I remembered toys and happy times from my childhood. Watch your little ones create new memories playing with the toys and sharing experiences this holiday season. Min’s exuberant art is an added bonus to this lovely heartwarming tale.

 

THE CHRISTMAS PINE
Written  by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Victoria Sandøy
(Scholastic Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Told from the point of view of the pine tree, this story found its start as a poem by beloved British author, Julia Donaldson for the UK Poetry Society “to celebrate the 2020 Christmas tree” which was a gift from Norway to the British people.

The Christmas Pine, now a picture book with spare rhyming text, was inspired by a true story. A young tree recalls how it grew and then came to find a home in London, a tradition that began in 1947, one that I, having lived there for over seven years, was not aware of. When it’s old enough for felling, the tree (back matter explains it’s usually a Norwegian spruce) journeys via sea to reach the UK. Eventually, it takes its place in Trafalgar Square near Nelson’s column and other statues and monuments. The spread of Londoners and perhaps visitors too, gazing upon the tree is my favorite because it shows people from all walks of life admiring nature’s beauty and majesty. The Christmas Pine, on the other hand, would probably tell us the illustration featuring children caroling at its base is its favorite.

 

The Christmas Book Flood coverTHE CHRISTMAS BOOK FLOOD
Written by Emily Kilgore
Illustrated by Kitty Moss
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

This is a story about a good flood, a flood of books in Iceland that get published in autumn. Many of the books are then bought, and gifted annually on December 24 since WWII. This stunningly illustrated book uses collage mixed with newsprint/book text that captures the spirit of this wonderful tradition. The palette is warm, dark, and rich reflecting the magical short days and long nights in this northern country leading up to Christmas. Kilgore’s lyrical language conveys the anticipation building among the people like a dam about to burst. The search for the right book to give friends and family is almost as exciting as the pleasure of getting to read the books at last. If you know a book lover, young or old, consider gifting this lovely picture book celebrating the joy of reading and starting your own book flood!

 

THE PERFECT TREE
Written by Corinne Demas
Illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan
(Cameron Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This story unfolds on the day before Christmas as Bunny is searching for the perfect tree. Each kind forest friend she encounters tells her the different things the perfect tree should have. Squirrel, Mole, Cardinal, and Skunk suggest a tree that’s bushy, has a point at the top, and has the right color, and smell. When Bunny has looked high and low with no luck, Deer posits that perhaps there is no perfect tree but Bunny is not about to give up. Heading back home as night falls, Bunny spots a tree she hasn’t seen before and realizes it’s too perfect to cut down. With her friends helping, Bunny decorates the tree and celebrates the perfect Christmas Eve with the perfect tree. While the story is a simple one, it flows easily from scene to scene. Dullaghan’s sweet illustrations bring the right amount of winter chill and charm to each spread. Add this feel-good Christmas tree tale that’s perfect for storytime or bedtime to your Christmas book list.

 

Celebrate With Me! coverCELEBRATE WITH ME!:
Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun From Around the World
Edited by Laura Gladwin
Illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
(Magic Cat Publishing/Harry N. Abrams; $22.99, Ages 8-12)

This time of year when it seems there’s a party around every corner, the perfect book to keep this mood going is Celebrate with Me! Recipes, Crafts, and Holiday Fun from Around the World. Beginning with January 1st, middle-graders learn fun facts that span the globe. Each holiday is presented by a different contributor which gives the book a wonderful range of information.

In February or March, make a papier-mâché mask to celebrate Portuguese Carnival.

On April 13th, learn about Songkran (or Thai New Year) when Thai people literally wash away anything negative by splashing each other with water. What kid won’t get behind this holiday?! The accompanying recipe for Thai-Style Congee is simple and delicious.

In Spain, Christmas is celebrated with the chewy and nutty Turrón de Navidad. Make a batch, then pop it in the fridge to set up while you sing festive songs called villancicos together.

Every page’s amazing information is accompanied by Dawn M. Cardona’s cheerful illustrations showcasing our world in a rainbow of colors. I like the closing pages which encourage kids to ask each other what holiday they celebrate, what’s important about it, and why it’s special to them. This is a great way to get to know a new friend or learn something new about someone already in your life. • This book was reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.WriteforSuccessEditing.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@WriteforSuccessEditing.com

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

CRINKLE BELLS
by Jay Fleck
(Chronicle Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)
e
PEEK-A-FLAP JOLLY 
Illustrated by Kathrin Fherl
(Cottage Door Press; $9.99, Ages 1-5)
e
WHEN SANTA CAME TO STAY
Written by Billy Sharff
Illustrated by
Eda Kaban
(Dial Books; $18.99, Ages 4-7)
e

HOW TO CATCH A REINDEER
Written by Alice Walstead
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

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Best New Hanukkah Books for Children and Teens 2022

 

BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS

~A ROUNDUP~

 

 

I’m happy to say this year I’ve received more review copies of new Hanukkah books for children than any previous year! Not only do these books approach the holiday from fresh new angles, but they’ve made the holiday more accessible for non-Jewish readers who want to learn about this joyful Jewish celebration. Enjoy the super selection and be sure to share these books with family and friends.

 

 

HANUKKAH NHanukkah Nights cover menorah picture child sleepingIGHTS
Written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $8.99, Ages 1-5)

I had a huge grin on my face as I read this beautiful board book because while the concept is so simple, it is gorgeously executed and a treat to read. Using bold black as the background like one of those scratch-away kits, Hoffman has cleverly employed a variety of techniques to depict the candle flames. These include drip, scrape, stamp, crisscross, sponge, spatter, doodle and brush. She shares a brief rhyming description along with a new color for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. A different night equals a different spread and flame style.
“1 light. Special night.”

“2 lights. Happy nights.”

Spare, stunning, and VERY shareable!  I hope your children love this as much as I did. If they feel inspired to reproduce the designs using the back matter spread, Hoffman describes how to achieve the looks so be sure to have plenty of Kraft paper available this Hanukkah.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

MENDEL’S HANUKKAH MESS UP
Written by Chana and Larry Stiefel
Illustrated by Daphna Awadish
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Star Review – School Library Journal

Things never seem to go as planned for Mendel despite loving the Hanukkah holiday. What can be botched up does get botched up. He’s kind of a mash-up of Amelia Bedelia and The Chelm stories. With this top of mind,  Mendel takes a back seat so to speak, and keeps out of harm’s way until his trusting Rabbi asks him to drive the Mitzvah Mobile. His job: spread the word about the big Hanukkah bash and perform “the greatest good deed of the holidaysharing the miracles of Hanukkah for all to see!”

Mendel manages quite well to start with and he’s overjoyed at his success. With his spirits soaring, he doesn’t see the bridge overpass and smashes the menorah, much to his dismay. “Oy! I’m stuck!” Mendel’s disappointment is palpable in a mix of humorous and meaningful text alongside charming and lively illustrations. Even though the police and the tow truck arrive on the scene, it is the reporter from the local news who gives Mendel a powerful platform. On the spot, he draws inspiration from his Rabbi’s words and explains the miracle of Hanukkah and how “we each have a spark to light up the world.” And miraculously, as the damaged truck is towed away, the lights from the menorah glow brightly. Back at his synagogue, Mendel’s congregation is exuberant and when he gets invited to light the giant menorah at City Hall, you can just imagine who at last feels proudest of all! If you’re looking for a timeless tale sure to bring smiles to the entire family, Mendel’s Hanukkah Mess Up delivers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel 

 

Ava's Homemade Hanukkah cover girl making menorahAVA’S HOMEMADE HANUKKAH
Written by Geraldine Woberg
Illustrated by Julia Seal
(Albert Whitman & Co; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

In this unique artistic story that gave me ideas for making my own menorah, readers are introduced to a family whose tradition is to create their own menorahs each year. These aren’t just any menorahs. They are menorahs that say something important about each person. This year Ava is old enough to join in the fun, but she worries her ideas won’t measure up to the others.

As the story begins, Ava tells her pet rabbit, Maccabee, named after the brave Maccabees and the oil that lasted eight nights, why Hanukkah is celebrated, and how the bunny got its name. Lined up on the table is a tin Hanukkah menorah that Ava’s mom was given by the army during her first Hanukkah away from home. Pop-Pop’s Hanukkah menorah has corks that float in jars of oil that he cherishes because he is proud that his traditions were different from his childhood friends. Author Woberg takes the reader through each family member’s story, while Seal’s warm illustrations show Ava and Maccabee listening.

The brown-haired pig-tailed girl gathers floor tile, green wire from flowers worn in her hair, and a small twig that fell from her special tree, all to be used for her menorah. She even gathers a friendship pin given to her by a friend. And the best item to be placed on her menorah is the toy rabbit resembling Maccabee. The menorah is complete when Ava uses markers to write the letters of her Hebrew name.

This is a great story to read to children at home or at religious school before beginning their own menorah creation. What a wonderful project for kids and a lovely tradition to begin! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Hanukkah in Little Havana cover with kids on car tripHANUKKAH IN LITTLE HAVANA
Written by Julie Anna Blank
Illustrated by Carlos Velez Aguilera
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99; Ages 4-9)

A young girl narrator explains how each December a crate of fresh-picked oranges, plucked from her grandparents’ Miami backyard, is usually delivered as a Hanukkah gift to her family’s Maryland home. But this year no box arrives. Then, out of nowhere at midnight one December day, the girl and her younger sister are roused from their sleep by their parents in another strange occurrence. The sisters are tired and confused as they are placed in the backseat of the family car with their sweet dog and cat alongside them. When they wake at dawn to unfamiliar road signs and radio ads “Chile Today, Hot Tamale!” they wonder: Are they awake or dreaming? But their parents’ “laughing eyes” hold the exciting clue.

Julie Anna Blank’s first picture book takes the reader on an enjoyable Hanukkah journey to Miami’s Little Havana where the girls happily pick grapefruit, tangerines, and oranges with sun-kissed grandparents, Nonna and Nonno. Carlos Velez Aguilera’s colorful illustrations depict happy faces dancing the salsa and grating potatoes for homemade latkes. The parents’ surprise trip definitely replaced the sadness of not receiving the box of fruit, and the surprise was made better when they were able to spend it with the whole family.

This original take on the Hanukkah story teaches kids about almendrikas pastries and browned bunuelos. The smiles on the family’s faces beautifully depict the happiness of eight days of light and love. The back glossary breaks down the Spanish words. Bunuelo is a fried pastry and is a Hanukkah treat in South America and the Caribbean. Almendrikas is a little almond in Ladino. It was a fun read to learn about the diversity of the Jewish holiday and how it is celebrated with foods from different cultures. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 The Boston Chocolate Party cover children at HarborTHE BOSTON CHOCOLATE PARTY
Written by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
Illustrated by Fede Combi
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 5-8)

I adore historical fiction stories where I can learn something new and The Boston Chocolate Party is no exception. Not only does this story illustrate how hot chocolate became popular in America, but it also introduces readers to the Sephardim. These were Jews who fled persecution in Spain and Portugal and came to America via the Netherlands. Many settled in New York and in Newport, Rhode Island where they found religious freedom.

This interesting Hanukkah (or Janucá in Spanish) story introduces readers to Joshua and his father, a wealthy merchant. They await his father’s ship transporting chocolate beans that will be turned into hot cocoa. With the British taxing tea and making it unaffordable, hot chocolate will become a popular and affordable alternative. Meanwhile, at home, on the first night of Hanukkah, Joshua is missing his best friend Isaac. The lad’s mom, now a widow, has relocated the family to Boston to seek work. The artwork is richly detailed and helps bring this story to life. I especially liked Combi’s depictions of the old oil menorahs both Joshua and Isaac’s families had. The scenes of chocolate making and old Boston beautifully conveyed the era when the story took place.

Joseph’s father has plans to send his assistant to Boston with a bag of beans. “He’ll show shopkeepers how to make delicious
hot chocolate and let them taste it for themselves.” Of course, Joshua wants to go to visit Isaac, but his father lets him send a letter instead. Readers get a glimpse the next day of Joshua’s family making chocolate to be stored for the winter. Then the assistant returns with word that the chocolate was a hit. Joshua’s father must now go to Boston “with a supply of beans and chocolate-making tools.” Once again Joshua asks to accompany his father and, with support from his mother, gets the go-ahead. Father and son will travel to Boston and spend the final few nights of Hanukkah with Isaac and his family.

After celebrating Janucá with Isaac’s family and realizing their dire financial predicament, Joshua proposes that a shed outside could be turned into a chocolate house where locals could sample the delicious chocolate. As everyone prepares for opening day, another party is just getting underway— the Boston Tea Party. Angry colonists dump tea into Boston Harbor to protest the high taxes levied by the British. This historic event, we learn in back matter, occurred on the last night of Hanukkah, December 16, 1773. The significance of the Boston Tea Party taking place on the last night of Hanukkah brings to mind the fight for freedom centuries before by the brave Maccabees. Info about What Was the Boston Tea Party?, What Is Hanukkah?, Who Were America’s First Jews?, and two recipes shared in the back matter should not be missed. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Eight Nights of Flirting cover couple in snowEIGHT NIGHTS OF FLIRTING
by Hannah Reynolds
(Razorbill; $19.99, Ages 12 and up)

Star Review – School Library Journal

You definitely do not have to be Jewish to enjoy this irresistible young adult rom-com set in a snowy Nantucket during winter break. The main character, 16-year-old Shira Barbanel, is determined to make her great uncle’s assistant, Isaac Lehrer, her boyfriend. The only problem is she has no experience and is convinced everything, even kissing, requires practice. But how to get it?

Adding to the frustration of her novice status in the romance department, Shira and her ex-crush, dreamy Tyler Nelson, also on the island, are thrown together during a snowstorm. This sets the titular eight nights of flirting in motion when in exchange for giving shelter to Tyler at her grandparents’ Golden Doors estate, Shira makes a bargain with him: flirting lessons for her from Mr. Popularity in exchange for an introduction to her media mogul great uncle for him.

Not only do romantic tensions run high between Tyler and Shira as she begins to learn what it takes to win a heart, but Shira also gets more than a glimpse of the real Tyler Nelson. Turns out he’s not just the blonde hair, blue-eyed pretty boy she thought was so shallow. As their friendship develops, they find a box hidden under a loose attic floorboard that may be a clue to a Barbanel ancestor’s secret passion.

With Tyler seeming to be more of a hook-up type of guy and Shira looking for something more committed, can Isaac fit the bill? Or was he someone she pursued for all the wrong reasons? When at last Shira realizes that being true to herself attracts friends and makes a former foe fall for her, readers will feel as happy as the new couple. Engaging and visually rich, Eight Nights of Flirting—I can easily see this as a filmwill lift your spirits and warm your heart on even the coldest winter nights so grab a hot cocoa and indulge. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Hanukkah

J is for Januca coverJ IS FOR JANUCÁ
Written by Melanie Romero
Illustrated by Cassie Gonzales
(Baby Lit/Lil’ Libros; $19.99, Ages 4-10)

From the Publisher:

Introduce your little ones to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or Janucá, and how illuminated candles remind us of miracles!

Grab your dreidels and start frying your latkes – the Festival of Lights is fast approaching!

This alphabetical hardcover delves into each letter of the Spanish alphabet to bring to life the many items – from aceite and bendiciones to kugel and tierra – that shed light on the miracle of Hanukkah. Observe families lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel, hearing the Hanukkah story, and indulging in latkes and sufganiyot for eight precious nights.

This holiday hardcover is Cassie Gonzales’s debut as a children’s book illustrator; her colorful illustrations honor the palette and importance of Hanukkah. Parents will appreciate this bilingual English-Spanish hardcover due to the celebration of Hanukkah, but also for the cultural, religious, and historical symbolism behind the Jewish holiday that occurs around the same season as Christmas and holds a special meaning in the multicultural Latin-Jewish community.

 

 Ruby Celebrates! The Hanukkah Hunt coverRUBY CELEBRATES! THE HANUKKAH HUNT
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

From the Publisher:

Ruby and her family celebrate Hanukkah in a brand-new way.

Ruby’s cousin Avital is sad because her mom is going to be away on a work trip during Hanukkah. To help make sure Avital still has a happy holiday, Ruby plans an enormous eight-night treasure hunt. But will she be able to think up a good enough surprise for Avital to discover on the final night?

 

Tizzy the Dizzy Dreidel cover spinning dreidel on keyboardTIZZY THE DIZZY DREIDEL  
Written by Allison Marks and Wayne Marks 
Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli 
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99, Ages 4-9)

From the Publisher:

Tizzy the dreidel has a problem. Spinning makes her dizzy. But with encouragement from a little girl, Tizzy bravely sets out on an eight-day spinning Hanukkah adventure all around the house!

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Picture Book Review by Ronda Einbinder – The Smallest Snowflake

 

 

THE SMALLEST SNOWFLAKE

Written and illustrated by Bernadette Watts

(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

English author and illustrator Bernadette Watts brings her inspiration for nature into The Smallest Snowflake, a heartfelt story about a little snowflake who journeys to earth with the other snowflakes while holding her dreams quietly in her heart.

Watts’ writing brings life to the small pieces of ice each sharing their excitement about their winter voyage. Flowing from the clouds, they see “fields and the orchards, the red roofs of farms, and the lovely city standing at the end of the glacial lake.” The verses read as human characters with each snowflake declaring where they wish to travel. The snowflakes feel relatable as if they are people sharing their dreams.

 

The Smallest Snowflake int1 looking up at snowflakes
Interior spread from The Smallest Snowflake written and illustrated by Bernadette Watts, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

Watts empowers the snowflakes with personalities that flow through the story like beloved friends. We meet a snowflake who chooses to travel to a different land and settle on a tree branch, and another snowflake wishing to “watch the caribou and bear, the lynx and raccoon, and even the red squirrel who sleeps in that very tree.” The soft palette of brown, green, and orange are spread across two pages with a bear gazing at the tiny animals gathered on the tree. A blue sky covers another page overlooking the sea. It’s beautifully sprinkled with white snow flowing over the battlement of castle walls.

Each page turn takes the reader to a new location. The snowflakes flow from jeweled domes to the golden pinnacles of St. Basil’s Cathedral, while people are huddled together in the streets trying to stay warm from the frost. Many of the snowflakes keep traveling on.

“The littlest snowflake did not have such a wide education as the others and knew very little about the world.” Watts’ white mountains are topped with snowflakes and birds flying through the pages. “I just want to be warm.”

 

The Smallest Snowflake int2 snowflakes less in number
Interior illustrations from The Smallest Snowflake written and illustrated by Bernadette Watts, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

It isn’t often that you think of a snowflake as wanting to be warm, but this earnest piece of snow is determined to find its place. When most of the snowflakes come to rest, the littlest snowflake continues to travel. She eventually lands on a windowsill and finds a home in a window box filled with earth outside a tiny cottage. It was here the little snowflake took her place.

The little snowflake sees the burning logs and a kettle standing on the hearth. The home is warm and friendly. Watts’ words and drawings fill this story with joy and comfort, whether reading beside a crackling fireplace or tucked warmly in a bed. The yellow sun and blue sky are drawn on the final page as spring nears. The closing words read, “loved filled her heart with such warmth that she melted away with joy.” A perfect sentence to end with. This is a lovely read teaching kids to follow their destiny, even if their destiny is different from others.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Picture Book Review and Interview for The Great Caper Caper ‘Great Virtual Virtual Tour’

 

 

THE GREAT CAPER CAPER

Written by Josh Funk

Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

(Union Square Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The Great Caper Caper Virtual Tour Image

 

 

REVIEW:

Welcome back to the fridge, home of the popular food pair, Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. It’s an honor to be part of this virtual tour packed with passionate kidlit people helping to promote Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney’s latest picture book, The Great Caper Caper, #5 in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series!

 

The Great Caper Caper int1 bedtime ladypancake sirfrenchtoast
Interior art from The Great Caper Caper written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Union Square Kids ©2022.

 

When the story opens (see above illustrations), Sir French Toast awakens during the night only to discover everywhere is draped in darkness. But we’re not talking about ordinary nighttime darkness. No this was the dreaded fridge light darkness.

A glowing light leads the curious characters to Las Veggies where Lady P and Sir FT try to enter Las Veggies Tower but are initially held back by security. Soon they confront tower owner, Count Caper. “‘I haven’t stolen a thing,’ he lied.”

 

 The Great Caper Caper int2 Las Veggies
Interior art from The Great Caper Caper written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Union Square Kids ©2022.

 

Adding to the urgency to recover the light, readers learn that Sir FT is scared of the dark. This convinces Lady P, in a nod to Ocean’s 11, that she must assemble a crew including Baron von Waffle, Miss Brie, Tofu, Professor Biscotti, the Fruitcake, the Beets, and Inspector Croissant. No crummy collection of pros here.

 

The Great Caper Caper int3 LadyPancake shares plan
Interior spread from The Great Caper Caper written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Union Square Kids ©2022.

 

A plan is hatched, disguises are donned, and solving the great caper caper is underway! Zero hour is scheduled to take place during the Tower show. The team, tasked with distractions, and more amusing antics involving Animal Crackers, and an asparagus accomplice, recover the stolen light. But, while celebrating their success, the food friends learn Count Caper’s M-O was a relatable one, and it all boiled down to friendship. With a little introspection, the briny bud “sees the light” so to speak, and can now count Lady Pancake, Sir French Toast, and the whole crew as pals.

Yet again, Funk and Kearney have delivered a readable, rhyming picture book that will entertain parents as much as the kids due to witty wordplay, careful plotting, and of course, the movie inspiration. From the minute I saw Las Veggies was the destination in this story, I was hooked, eager to see how the heist was handled. Multiple readings will be requested to study the whimsical spreads that Kearney clearly enjoyed designing. The Great Caper Caper is a fast-paced, funny, action-packed tale that children will love adding to their bookshelves.

 

Q + A:

GoodReadsWithRonna: I asked Josh a few fun questions that popped into my head as I was reading The Great Caper Caper.

Josh Funk:  Thanks so much for inviting me to chat! I’m a huge fan of Good Reads with Ronna!

GRWR: Aww, thanks, Josh! You’ve described The Great Caper Caper as Ocean’s 11 in the fridge. It’s got the Las Veggies location, the crew of 11, the hotel vault to break into, and huge stakes. In this case, there’s a fridge light to recover not millions of dollars or an ex-wife to win back. Were there other elements of the film you wanted to recreate but just couldn’t fit into a rhyming picture book format?

JF: Actually, I was able to get pretty much everything in that I wanted – even more than I originally planned – especially the final page at the fountain! Brendan Kearney’s art is sooooo perfect for this series and this book – it’s brilliant.

GRWR: Can we talk Julia Roberts as Lady Pancake and George Clooney as Sir French Toast?

JF: If we’re gonna go with a Julia Roberts film, I think Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast’s relationship is more like Julia and Rupert Everett from My Best Friend’s Wedding. They’re truly just friends – they might find romance elsewhere, though.

And if you happen to know anyone in Hollywood that might have interest, please do let me know. The film rights are available!

GRWR: Was this the hardest plot to pull off?

JF: This is a great question, one that I haven’t really thought about in full until answering it right now.

I always like changing up the genres in each book. Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast is a race. The Case of the Stinky Stench is a mystery. Mission Defrostable is an action-adventure spy-thriller. Short & Sweet is a sci-fi comedy / magical body-swap (think Honey, I Shrunk the Kids meets Big or Freaky Friday).

And when brainstorming new ideas, my wife threw out the title The Great Caper Caper – which everyone immediately fell in love with. The title gave us the villain (a caper) and the genre (a heist). And the hardest thing about a heist is that the protagonists must have an altruistic reason to steal something. In Ocean’s 11, the reasons for the heist are revenge and greed – and those wouldn’t work all that well in a children’s book.

I figured the best reason would be if they were stealing something back from someone who stole it first. And in order to get others on board with the plan (in lieu of greed) was if the thing that was stolen also affected them. And the missing light bulb leaving the fridge in the dark was a perfect (and tangible) item to be the object of the heist.

But why is it up to Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast to solve this problem for all of the denizens of the fridge (other than the fact that this is their series and they seem to always find themselves in the center of every adventure)? Because Sir French Toast is afraid of the dark, of course!

So I guess it was a pretty hard plot to pull off, now that you mention it. Was it harder than book #6, though? No. That one was harder. You can ask me about that more in the fall of 2024.

GRWR: You’re one of the busiest, hardest-working children’s book authors I know. What feeds your soul and keeps you keeping on?

JF: Vanity.

I’m kidding (mostly). I genuinely like cracking myself up with silly things and sometimes those things also make other people laugh or entertained.

That, and reading so many amazing picture books that others create and release on a weekly basis. There are so many fantastic authors and illustrators out there that continue to inspire me daily.

GRWR: Any clues for us as to the duo’s next adventure?

JF: Clues … hmmmm…. I already gave you one (book 6 will be fall 2024). And I sort of gave you another (it will be a different genre than each of the previous 5).

How about this for a clue? There’s something/someone in book #1 (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast) that doesn’t belong in the fridge which sets off a series of events leading to book 6… And that’s all I’ll say for now.

GRWR: I really appreciate that you took the time to answer these burning questions, Josh. I’m heading back to the fridge to see if I can figure out book 6 from your clues!

JF: Thank you, Ronna!

 

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Keeper of the Light

 

KEEPER OF THE LIGHT:
JULIET FISH NICHOLS FIGHTS THE SAN FRANCISCO FOG

Written by Caroline Arnold

Illustrated by Rachell Sumpter

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

 

 

Keeper of the Light cover with bell machine

 

 

 

Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter is a fascinating, “fictionalized account based on true events and historical documents about Juliet Fish Nichols …” I love learning about historical figures, especially women who had non-traditional careers, whose stories might never be told were it not for an inquisitive picture book author.

 

Keeper of the Light int1 climbing 151 steps
Interior spread from Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter, Cameron Kids ©2022.

 

A widow at 42 and in need of a steady income, Juliet Fish Nichols worked for over a decade as Keeper of Angel Island Light Station in San Francisco Bay. Author Arnold presents an engaging interpretation of several years of Nichols’ life there—Point Knox to be precise—in log format so that readers can gain insight into the important responsibilities she was tasked with. This not only involved making sure the lamp (visible for up to 13 miles) was filled with oil, clean, and in working order but when needed, operating the fog bell machine.

Life may have been simple and calm most of the time but it could suddenly change when the weather grew foggy as it was wont to do. When that happened, Nichols had one thing in mind: Keep the boats safe. Then, on April 18, 1906, a horrendous earthquake rocked San Francisco. Buildings tumbled to the ground and deadly fires broke out all over the city. Nichols helped by hanging her lamp to guide the way for ferries transporting people to safety.

 

Keeper of the Light int2 San Fran earthquake
Interior spread from Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter, Cameron Kids ©2022.

 

On July 2 of that same year, as early as midday, fog began rolling in …

 

Keeper of the Light int3 thick fog
Interior spread from Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter, Cameron Kids ©2022.

 

When the fog’s vast thickness rendered the fog light useless to keep boats from crashing into the rocks the clang, clang of the bell could be heard. But it soon stopped. Nichols realized the bell machine was broken but there was no time to get help or repairs. The keeper had no choice but to grab a mallet and strike the bell herself … every fifteen seconds, throughout the night … for over 20 long hours … until the fog lifted. Nichols’ selfless efforts likely saved hundreds of lives that day when people were still recovering from April’s tragedy.

 

 

Keeper of the Light int4 ringing bell
Interior spread from Keeper of the Light written by Caroline Arnold and illustrated by Rachell Sumpter, Cameron Kids ©2022.

 

Sumpter’s warm-toned illustrations with a watercolor style perhaps mixed with pastels took me back in time to the turn of the twentieth-century San Francisco Bay area. They add atmosphere and tension in all the right places and, together with Arnold’s text, make this such an interesting read. We learn from the Author’s Note in the back matter that Nichols’ logs do exist but this fictionalized version makes them accessible to children by focusing on a few significant events during her 12-year tenure as keeper. I now want to visit Angel Island like Arnold did to see where this amazing woman lived and worked and to see firsthand the giant bell that, with Nichols’ help, saved so many from perishing.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Halloween Picture Book Review – So Not Ghoul

 

SO NOT GHOUL

Written by Karen Yin

Illustrated by Bonnie Lui

(Page Street Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

So Not Ghoul cover

 

 

Rod Stewart’s “You Wear It Well” is the song that crossed my mind as I read So Not Ghoul, the multi-layered picture book written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Bonnie Lui where the main character Mimi learns to embrace her uniqueness and cultural identity.

 

So Not Ghoul int1 school ghoul girls gang
Interior spread from So Not Ghoul written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Bonnie Lui, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

Mimi is a Chinese American ghost who haunts a school but feels constrained by the outdated demands of her ancestors. “Good Chinese girl ghosts must cover their faces with their hair,” says Baba, her father. Her other ancestors say, “They must stick out their tongues,” and the list goes on, much to Mimi’s dismay. She knows she must abide by their restrictions but …

 

So Not Ghoul int2 ancestor rules
Interior spread from So Not Ghoul written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Bonnie Lui, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

what they all add up to is one “So not ghoul” ghost girl. Her ghoulmates seem to have what it takes to scare school kids. Mimi, on the other hand, dressed in an old Chinese gown from her great-great-great-great-great-ghost grandmother is told by the others she “couldn’t scare a scaredy-cat.” In an attempt to fit in, Mimi’s idea for a new look fails miserably. At school, she is bullied by the ghoul gang and the outfit also offends her ancestors.

The next day, the biggest ghoul bully, Lisette, appropriates Mimi’s original antique gown look, hoping she’ll be told she wears it better. Readers will cheer when the bully’s plan backfires. Not only does Mimi call Lisette out, but her ancestors “glow with pride” after she speaks up. She’s found more than her voice.

A happy ending ensues when at last Lisette looks inward (is that possible for a ghost?) and apologizes for her ghoulish behavior. Mimi and Lisette call a truce and now the new friends can focus their attention on the school’s open haunted house. Yin has filled the story with engaging wordplay and with conversation starters at many different levels. So Not Ghoul can be approached for bullying and prejudice, culture appropriation, diversity and bicultural pride as well as multigenerational families or simply a rewarding girl-power ghost story. Lui’s jewel-toned and textured art colorfully conveys Mimi’s moods, ideal for this spirited story!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Halloween Books Roundup by Christine Van Zandt

 

CHILDREN’S HALLOWEEN BOOKS ROUNDUP 2022

 

Halloween Clip Art of witch full moon and pumpkins

 

 

 

Creepy Crayon coverCREEPY CRAYON! (Creepy Tales! series)
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Brown
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8 )

Starred Review – Kirkus

Aaron Reynolds delights us with book three of the Creepy Tales! series featuring his beloved Jasper Rabbit. In Creepy Crayon! Jasper’s not-great day gets a boost when he finds a bright purple crayon—with a crazy grin on its face! Soon, the crayon is helping Jasper zoom his grades up to straight As. Cool, right? Maybe . . . until the crayon takes BFF to the next level.

As in the first two books, Peter Brown’s art is a perfect blend of funny and spooky: Crayon’s glowing antics contrast with the lurking shadows. Kids will love the hilarious expressions on Jasper’s face.

Flawless interplay between text and high-contrast art make this author and illustrator duo New York Times best-sellers. Fans will appreciate the can-you-spot-them references to Creepy Carrots! and Creepy Pair of Underwear! We own this outstanding three-book series and do not tire of them; they’re a fit for Halloween or any day you need some funny bunny in your life.

 

Crimson Twill Witch in the City coverCRIMSON TWILL: Witch in the City (book one, series)
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 7-9)

The chapter-book series opener, Crimson Twill: Witch in the City, by Kallie George will bewitch you with its main character, spunky little Crimson Twill. True to her name, Crimson rocks a big bow on her red witch’s hat—no standard black for this girl! Her clothes and actions also set her apart. But, the various ways she’s different from others don’t bother her at first.

With Mom just a wave of her wand away, Crimson sets off to explore the big Broomingdale’s department store where the elevator’s buttons are shaped like what’s sold on that floor. Crimson hopes to get a glimpse of those things called puppies. Instead, she immediately encounters disdain for her unique attire, creating a crack of doubt in her self-assurance.

The clever puns, humor, and heart make this book a standout. Illustrations by Birgitta Sif add an array of fun, diverse witches. Kids new to reading will appreciate the short, simple chapters that are engaging and fast-paced. For this age audience, navigating a large store truly is an adventure. And any place with a cat floor is alright by me! Crimson ultimately finds that Broomingdale’s does have “everything a witch could itch for” but what she end up with may surprise you!

 

The Lost Coast paperback coverTHE LOST COAST
Written by A. R. Capetta
(Candlewick Press; Paperback $10.99, Ages 14 and up)

The beautifully written YA, The Lost Coast, by A. R. Capetta grabbed hold of me with its opening lines describing Danny’s first glimpse of ancient redwoods. She and her mom move to this specific coastal northern California town because Danny has been mysteriously drawn there. Danny quickly finds herself in deep with a group of queer high school witches who call themselves the Grays. They’re awesome, but their most powerful member is missing and they expect Danny to find her.

Nonlinear narration and alternating viewpoint chapters heighten the suspense as we try to understand what’s really going on. The foggy forest gives nature a presence on the page and sets the mood for magic, secrets, and discovery. This book is an A+ for me because of its realistically complex and interwoven friendships and love, plus the group’s frank discussions about identity. Ideal for fans of The Graces novels. I highly recommend The Lost Coast to YA readers who enjoy clever, twisted tales that are atmospheric gorgeously crafted. Available in hardcover, paperback and Ebook.

 

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Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – Old Friends

OLD FRIENDS

Written by Margaret Aitken

Illustrated by Lenny Wen

(Feiwel and Friends; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

Old Friends cover

 

 

This sweet, intergenerational picture book, Old Friends, from debut author, Margaret Aitken, and illustrator, Lenny Wen, will have readers longing for their own group of “old friends.”

 

Old Friends int1 girl on rug
Interior spread from Old Friends written by Margaret Aitken and illustrated by Lenny Wen, Feiwel & Friends ©2022.

 

Marjorie’s “old soul” refuses to be bound by the conventions of “child’s play.” She longs for someone who understands her love of baking, crafting, and gardening. Taking cues from her late grandmother’s indomitable spirit, Marjorie goes undercover …

 

 

Old Friends int art2 girl in mirror
Interior art from Old Friends written by Margaret Aitken and illustrated by Lenny Wen, Feiwel & Friends ©2022.

 

and finds an unlikely set of friends at her local senior citizens’ group.

 

Old Friends int3 dancing
Interior spread from Old Friends written by Margaret Aitken and illustrated by Lenny Wen, Feiwel & Friends ©2022.

 

 

But when her disguise falls apart in the midst of the cha-cha, Marjorie worries her new friends won’t want her around. Thankfully, her “old friends” are really young at heart. They welcome her wholeheartedly, but will they welcome another “old soul” into the group? Will Marjorie? 

This charming intergenerational picture book will have readers longing for their own group of “old friends.” A wonderful pick for Grandparent’s Day, Aitken’s heartwarming story is not to be missed. Wen’s vibrant artwork, only adds to its appeal. Her bright, fun style complements Aitken’s storyline truly making Old Friends an ideal book for both the young and young-at-heart.

Rating: A definite 10!

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – The Boy Who Loved Maps

 

 

THE BOY WHO LOVED MAPS

Written by Kari Allen

Illustrated by G. Brian Karas

(Anne Schwartz Books; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

Kari Allen and G. Brian Karas have created a charming picture book that celebrates all the things we love about home in The Boy Who Loved Maps.

From Penguin Random House: “The Mapmaker loves maps—he loves to collect them, to study them, and most of all, to make them. But when a girl asks for a map of a perfect place, the Mapmaker is perplexed. She wants a map to a toes-in-the-sand-warm, X-marks-the-spot-place filled with treasures, where it smells like her birthday and she can zip around like a dragonfly. Surely, a place that is all of these things can’t exist … can it?”

 

The Boy Who Loved Maps int1 one day
Interior art from The Boy Who Loved Maps written by Kari Allen and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Anne Schwartz Books ©2022.

 

This story is perfect for the quiet adventurers among us and would make an excellent classroom edition for map-making and map-reading units. From the endpapers to the map-themed backmatter and built-in activities, this book covers features like the compass rose, map legends/keys, and topographical and political map differences.

 

The Boy Who Loved Maps int2 together
Interior spread from The Boy Who Loved Maps written by Kari Allen and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Anne Schwartz Books ©2022.

 

I especially love the subtle message of home that both the adventure-loving and adventure-avoiding can appreciate. When the young girl challenges her map-making friend to create the “perfect” map, it takes an afternoon of exploring before he finally understands that home is the best place of all.

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Over, Bear! Under, Where?

 

 

OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE?

Written by Julie Hedlund

Illustrated by Michael Slack

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

 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? cover

 

For the last day of Fat Bear Week, I’m delighted, (or should I say overjoyed?) to share my thoughts on Julie Hedlund’s uproarious read-aloud picture book, Over, Bear! Under, Where? with humorous art by Michael Slack.

Now don’t get me wrong, the titular Bear may be on the big side, but he’s actually a kind soul simply looking for pals to play with. But when you’re a bird (Over), a mole (Under), or a hot-dog dog (Dog) and that much smaller, a bear can be scary. That scenario is what unfolds to hilarious results as Over and Under hang out at the park.

 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int1 seesaw
Interior spread from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

With wordplay galore, a relatable premise, and high marks for its readability, Hedlund’s book manages to entertain in just under 100 carefully chosen words. Young readers will adore the interplay of art and text as they see Over and Under’s punny back-and-forth banter on the see-saw and at their BBQ. They even invite a hot-dog dog called Dog to join them but run for their lives after spotting Bear in what is clearly a massive misunderstanding. 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int2 hotdog
Interior art from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

Bear, we soon learn, wants to play, too, but Over, Under and Dog do not realize this right away. It’s only when Under points out a dejected-looking Bear … down that the trio makes amends and in doing so, makes a new friend.

Hedlund’s spare text may make adult readers think, “Oh hey, I could do that.” When in fact, to be able to convey the emotional heart of this story with so few words, is no easy task and takes a pro. It also takes terrific illustrations that bring the story to life, my favorite illustrations being those below.

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int3 bear behind
Interior art from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

There’s even a page of helpful backmatter providing examples of the compound words that were essential to inspiring this story’s humor when they were presented as separate words helped by just a comma in many places. Parents, teachers, librarians, and caregivers will not tire of  sharing this whimsical, original tale with its clever take, “You can’t judge a bear by its behind.” So Fat Bear Week or not, this book’ll keep you from hibernating.

 

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Picture Book Review by Christine Van Zandt – If Tigers Disappeared

 

IF TIGERS DISAPPEARED
 If Animals Disappeared series, book 5

by Lily Williams

(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

 

 

If Tigers Disappeared cover

 

 

Stand up and roar for Lily Williams’s If Tigers Disappeared, the fifth book in her award-winning series. If Tigers Disappeared follows the familiar pattern: we learn where the animals live, some history about them, and why their populations have declined. Tigers have been around for more than two million years, yet in the past 100 years, humans have nearly wiped out their population. When an animal becomes extinct, the ripple effect (also called the trophic cascade) has far-reaching effects on our ecosystem.

 

If Tigers Disappeared int1 India map
Interior spread from If Tigers Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams, Roaring Brook Press ©2022.

 

Since tigers are apex predators, the animals they eat flourish when no longer hunted by the big cats. These population booms then cause changes to the forest, waterways, and landscapes. This immense concept is conveyed simply, inviting kids to think about our world’s interconnectedness and demonstrating how indigenous people should continue to be involved in tiger conservation. Though the topic is quite sad, the overall feeling is of hope, emphasizing the importance of knowledge and advocacy for these amazing animals.

 

If Tigers Disappeared int2 photos on road
Interior spread from If Tigers Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams, Roaring Brook Press ©2022.

 

Williams’s tigers are magnificently drawn in many stages of action, including a couple of curious cubs. Back matter includes a glossary, recap of the tigers’ endangered status, and information on how we can help. This important book educates while charming us with lively images of six remaining subspecies of tigers.

 

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Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – A Penny’s Worth

”’

A PENNY’S WORTH

Written by Kimberly Wilson

Illustrated by Mark Hoffman

(Page Street Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

From the Publisher: “Hot off the printing press, Penny feels like a million bucks. But as other coins and bills are spent while she sits forgotten, she begins to doubt her value … Refusing to be short-changed, she sets out to find her purpose at any cost.”

From Kirkus Reviews: “Combining a dash of math with buckets of good humor, this book is certainly like money in the bank.”

 

REVIEW:

Fresh and fun, A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman combines loads of money-themed puns with a subtle message on self-worth that young readers will love.

 

 

A Penny's Worth int1 cool your copper
Interior spread from A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

Kimberly Wilson’s debut shines like a new penny under the expert care of Mark Hoffman’s humorous art that will entice children to spend time searching out each detail on the page.

 

A Penny's Worth int2 eyes on me
Interior spread from A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

 

And the silliness continues in Wilson’s pun-filled backmatter that not only offers fun facts about pennies, but illustrates the value of each coin and bill featured in the text. I expect this book will become a favorite in elementary classrooms around the country.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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Picture Book Review by Tracy C. Gold – If Your Babysitter is a Bruja

IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA

Written by Ana Siqueira

Illustrated by Irena Freitas

(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages: 4-8)

 

 

Bruja English Spanish covers

 

 

REVIEW:

If Your Babysitter Is a Bruja starts as a spooky Halloween tale and then develops layers as it goes on. Written in second person, If Your Babysitter Is a Brujachronicles how a child is scared of her babysitter. Clever illustrations by Irena Freitas show how a terrifying “bubbling cauldron” is actually a bathtub, a magic broomstick is a bicycle, and a slide is a magic castle. A clever scene showing the babysitter’s hat in a pile of water worries the child that her babysitter has melted, but the babysitter lives on … with delicious Pan de Muerto to ease the relationship. 

 

Bruja int spread pg9 bate bate chocolate
Interior spread from If Your Babysitter is a Bruja written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Irena Freitas, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2022.

 

From there, the babysitter and child become BFFs (or perhaps best brujas), and the night ends with the child looking out the window, sad the babysitter has left. This book will be perfect for kids anxious about being left with a babysitter or for those who are shy about making friends with new people. Certainly, that is something many families will struggle with following lengthy Covid lockdowns. 

 

 

Bruja int spread pg19 Cocodrilos
Interior art from If Your Babysitter is a Bruja written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Irena Freitas, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2022.

 

 

Ana Siqueira’s rhythmic text smoothly incorporates Spanish words and intertwines cultures with tasty treats from Dia de Los Muertos combined with Halloween decorations. The illustrations are quirky and sweet. 

  •  Review by Tracy C. Gold

ORDER COPIES:

For signed copies –

https://www.portkeybooks.com/

https://tombolobooks.com/

FOLLOW THE AUTHOR HERE:

You can learn more about Ana, by following her.


FOLLOW THE ILLUSTRATOR HERE:

You can learn more about Irena by following her.

Instagram: @irenafreitas

FOLLOW THE REVIEWER HERE: 

Learn more about Tracy C. Gold, writer, and editor by following her.

Website: tracycgold.com
Twitter: @tracycgold

ANA’S OTHER BOOKS:

EL PATO QUIERE UVAS

  Order here: Teacher’s Discovery 2019

BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS –

  Order here:  Beaming Books- July 2021

 

 

 

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