(Barefoot Books; HC $16.99, PB English or Spanish $8.99, Ages 4-9)
★ Starred Reviews – Foreword Reviews, School Library Journal
Few picture books will trigger your wanderlust more than the beautiful A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India, written by Meera Sriramand Illustrated by Mariona Cabassa. The story follows a young girl as she shops at an outdoor Indian market to find a gift for Amma—or Mother. But really, it is a celebration of color, the senses, and love.
Each spread introduces readers to not just the various items in the market, but to a vibrant color palette of dizzying loveliness. Pink is not just pink. It is lotus pink, like the flowers and sweet treats the girl considers buying for Amma. Likewise, green becomes peacock green, and orange become saffron orange. But, in such a poly-chromatic world, how can a gift of any one color ever suffice? This is the question the at heart of the story—and it is such a good one that you might suddenly look at your black and white wardrobe and ask yourself: What was I thinking? e
Readers will also love the final two spreads, which provide more information about not just the merchandise available at the outdoor markets of Southern India, but about the history of outdoor markets themselves.
A Gift for Amma is the perfect antidote for these days of remote learning and armchair traveling. It will give you hope. There is still so much waiting for us in the days ahead. And—if we are lucky—they will be very colorful.
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Today I’m reviewing A Last Goodbye. This moving picture book is recommended for PreK-3, but could be appreciated by all ages.
Humans have long believed that they are the only species to care for the ill and dying and grieve the loss of a loved one. But are we?
Nearly two years ago,Tahlequah, a female Orca, was spotted pushing the body of her newborn calf off the waters off Puget Sound. Although the calf only survived for a few hours, the mother had bonded with her daughter. For 17 days, people around the world watched and grieved with Tahlequah as she kept her daughter’s body close to her. After traveling for nearly 1000 miles, she finally released it into the ocean. Responding to questions about the mother Orca’s actions, researchersnoted “ … it’s common for marine mammals to show signs of grief.”
As I write this review the number of deaths in the United States from the covid-19 has exceeded 125,000 and will climb higher still. Tragically, there are many children who have faced or will face the loss of someone they love due to this deadly virus. How can we help children cope with their fears and their grief over illness, death, and loss? The calm and soothing narrative of A Last Goodbye will give children a safe space and the opportunity to discuss their anxieties by exploring how animals tend to the dying and say goodbye to those who have passed away.
Using an intimate, first person narrator, the author guides children through the difficult process of death and grief, by looking at how animals comfort the dying, care for the remains, and grieve for their loss. The evenly paced and lyrical narrative allows for many moments to pause, reflect, and encourage questions and discussion in this recommended read for families.
As children move through the book, they see the care different animals give to comfort the dying. An elephant reassures a dying member of its herd:
“I will wrap my trunk around you
and support you with my tusks.”
As a family of chimpanzees minister to their failing member, they:
“… will tuck soft bedding behind your back
and carefully tend to your hair.”
Kim’s stunning and delicate dioramas convey the concern and the grief of the family for the dying, whose fragility is shown in a slumped or sleeping body, outlined in a soft, glowing line.
And what happens when a loved one dies? How do we respond? Kelsey shows that animals, like their human counterparts, have many ways of expressing their grief:
“And when you die
I will gently stroke your body …”
“I will cry out in sorrow … or watch in quiet sadness.”
After death, Kelsey shows children those tender actions we take to honor the dead by observing what animals do: some will gather around the body, others might cover it with leaves. Some return later to
“… visit the place where your body rests.”
Kim’s diorama is dotted with stars ascending from the bodies of the deceased to the night sky (the book’s end pages also depict a constellation-like map of a variety of animals with their scientific and common names).
Kelsey helps children understand what happens to the body as it sinks into the earth or sea. While death is final, the body nourishes the earth and provides for future generations. She asks the children to wonder:
“Will tiny roots take hold
and tall trees grow
in the rich soil you nourish?
Kim’s dioramas depicting how the bodies disintegrate into new life are particularly breathtaking and turn something painful and frightening into a beautiful and life affirming event. Throughout the book, Kim’s illustrations enhance the narrative’s comforting and soothing tone,
Finally, the author addresses the grief and sense of loss that will always be there:
“I will miss you forever.”
Yet, she reminds children that the pain of grief is not forever, and that there will be happiness and pride in remembering:
Author-illustrator Hanna Cha’s debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, tells the tale of Soe-In, the smallest child in a Korean village. But, being little doesn’t slow her down. Soe-In manages burdensome chores using wit and perseverance. When the sun disappears and the chieftain needs a volunteer, only Soe-in steps forward.
In the forest, she finds the spirit tiger is real, and in really big trouble—he’s swallowed the sun! Like the villagers, the spirit tiger first discounts Soe-In’s ability to help. However, brave, imaginative Soe-In saves the day.
Cha’s art shows the movement and mood of this powerful story. I enjoyed the images of the tiger because feline fluidity is difficult to capture. Her Author’s Note explains tigers are revered by Koreans; their country is shaped like one. The tiger as their spirit animal appears in countless Korean stories as a symbol of respect, strength, and dignity, both as a deity and a threat.
A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019 ★Starred Review – Kirkus An Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book 2019
Bilal Cooks Daalby Aisha Saeed is an upbeat picture book about friendship and cooking. When Bilal’s friends wonder why it takes his Pakistani family all day to make daal, he introduces them to the process, letting them choose the color of lentils for the stew they will enjoy together at dinnertime. As the day goes by, Bilal worries a bit that his friends won’t like the taste, but the delicious dish pleases everyone, demonstrating how food brings people together.
Anoosha Syed’s art focuses on the kids enjoying their day of play, a variety of emotions clearly captured. The daal’s vivid descriptions (“small like pebbles, but shaped like pancakes”) come to life through the illustrations. Close your eyes and let the simmering daal awaken your senses.
The Author’s Note explains daal is a staple food in South Asia, but lentils are enjoyed in many other places. Saeed’s recipe for Chana Daal is similar to what I grew up with in my household, bringing back warm memories. In these months of the pandemic where many of us are cooking wholesome meals, this hearty and healthy dish will please while filling the house with amazing aromas all day long.
A Junior Library Guild Selection A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year ★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal
Summer Bird Blueby Akemi Dawn Bowman opens with a car crash. Seventeen-year-old Rumi Seto loses her only sister Lea, who’s also her best friend. Their mother, unable to deal, puts Rumi on a plane to Hawaii for an indefinite stay with Aunty Ani, their Japanese-Hawaiian side of the family.
Lea, two years younger, was the outgoing, happy-go-lucky sister. Rumi, the opposite personality type fits her “ruminating” name; often, she’s stuck in her head, turning things over, unable to step forward into everyday life. Though quite different, the sisters, shared a love of music, playing instruments together. They would randomly come up with three words, then write a song about it. (Summer Bird Blue, refers to the unwritten song that haunts Rumi after Lea dies.)
Rumi suffers in the angry and depressive stages of grief, vacillating between lashing out and crawling into bed for days on end. Her new surroundings include neighbors Mr. Watanabe (a grumpy octogenarian who becomes an unlikely companion) and Kai (the too-handsome, too-cheerful boy next door). As Rumi becomes closer to Kai, they go on a date, but kissing surfaces her confusion over her possible asexuality. Believing other teens have easy crushes and romance, Rumi’s self-doubt compounds after losing Lea.
The story’s lovely scenes centering around Rumi’s deep bond with music resonated with me. The moving descriptions include Rumi’s regard for Lea’s guitar, and Mr. Watanabe’s piano and ukulele. When transported into this world, Rumi’s passion ignites. However, anything musical involves Lea, and Rumi cannot process what to do without her sister, which furthers the painful introspection and turmoil.
I appreciate Bowman’s choice to spotlight a troubled, roughhewn protagonist struggling with a complexity of issues. Writing about grief, sexuality, and trying to understand life itself are ambitious undertakings, yet Bowman succeeds in weaving a truthful, heartfelt story that includes both honestly bitter moments and lyrically beautiful ones.
Find out more about Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month hereand here.
It was Ripple the dolphin’s first day in her new aquarium and she was excited to make some new friends, but the water was still and quiet and all the animals looked scared and unhappy. So begins the picture book How to Make a Shark Smile written by bestselling authors, siblings and happiness pros, Shawn Achorand Amy Blankson, with illustrations byClaudia Ranucci.
The story opens with a smiling grey and white dolphin surrounded by the deep blue sea, and colorful plants and baby fish, anxious to make new friends. But as Ripple swims around looking for someone to play with “she saw electric eels with no zing.” She even notices “the seahorses weren’t horsing around.”
A spiky, black dotted, puffed up yellow blowfish appears with big bulging eyes and mouth wide open. Ranucci’s drawing shows the reader that our new friend is feeling anxious. As Ripple swims near “the blowfish began yelling, Shark alert! Shark alert! And Ripple realizes the blowfish, Bob, must think that she was the shark!” Ripple explains that she is a dolphin not a shark and the relieved Bob explains that Snark “the biggest, meanest shark ever seen eats entire tanks of fish when he wasn’t even hungry.” With a sweet smile still painted on Ripple’s face, the dolphin explains how she won’t let a shark spoil her happiness, the main message of this story.
Ripple invites Bob to play but Bob says “he is just a bite-sized fish trying to make it in the world.” Ripple replies, “Oh, my friend, it’s not my size or speed that makes me powerful or brave. It’s my mindset! I believe that my behavior matters. And today I choose to be happy.”
Snark is illustrated with an angry face swimming above Bob, whose face still displays fear. Ripple’s smile, however, remains constant. Ripple tells Bob she will teach him to play a game with Snark and this game will change Snark’s mindset. See if you think this game sounds familiar. Ripple looks into Bob’s face for seven seconds and tells him to try not to smile. Of course he smiles. The game catches on and soon the entire tank is laughing. That joy catches Snark’s attention, but being born means playing games is not his thing. Ripple challenges him, a deal is struck and Bob steps in to play the smile game with Snark. What ensues is unavoidable delight for the participants and for youngsters.
The colorful drawings depict the fish community coming together as they learn that happiness is a state of mind and a choice that’s up to them. Even outside of the tank the silhouettes of tourists can be seen snapping photos and watching in wonder as a “shark, a blowfish, and a dolphin” play together. Surely this was a sight to see!
The “Ripple effect” could be felt from that day on and the young reader learns that happiness can be a choice. Happy is as happy does! Achor and Blankson, who are both experts on cultivating happiness and have given TED talks on the subject, list helpful ways to develop a positive mindset in the back matter. They recommend fitting one or all of these techniques into your daily routine. This book is a great resource for teachers who are introducing mindfulness into their lesson plans, giving young kids tools they will take with them throughout their lives.
As all budding young chefs and their parents know, it’s not easy getting a recipe just right. In the new picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, these delicious dumplings are Amy’s nemesis. There are a lot of things that can go wrong; luckily, Amy’s Chinese-American family has got it down and will teach her step by step.
High-spirited Amy will appeal to kids who like expressive, relatable, and funny main characters (à la Fancy Nancy). Amy is skillful at many tasks—including eating bao all day—but it’s frustrating that her bao just don’t turn out right.
Charlena Chuacaptures Amy’s personality in the lively illustrations, from silly expressions (trying to tie her shoes while brushing her teeth) to earnest ones (focused on pinching the dough just right). Throughout, a cute white cat follows Amy’s escapades.
Kat Zhang’s uplifting story shows that imperfection tastes just as good and, with a little bit of ingenuity, kids can solve their problems by trying something new. Amy’s resourcefulness left me smiling; kids are amazing.
The book concludes with a time-consuming (3+ hours) but mouth-watering, in other words worth it, recipe for bao that I tested with my daughter. We appreciated the tip about cooking a spoonful of filling before making the dumplings—great advice which allowed us to adjust the flavors. Enjoy!
A LITTLE CHICKEN Written by Tammi Sauer Illustrated by Dan Taylor (Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4 and up)
If your child enjoys sweet, pun-filled, read-aloud stories with an enjoyable mix of humorous artwork, a relatable subject and “the occasional lawn ornament,” pick up a copy of A Little Chicken to meet adorable Dot.
While not all poultry are petrified of every little thing, Dot sure is. From Taylor’s very first illustration in this picture book, readers will see from her school photo that Dot, the chicken, is being frightened by a spider. (NOTE: don’t miss the end papers.) She was indeed a scaredy cat chicken. Wolves, bears and even a lovely, fluttery butterfly terrified her.
Things went from scary to hairy pretty darn quickly when one day Dot knocked an egg out of the coop. Of course this was unintentional, but regardless, she couldn’t let her “soon-to-be sibling” roll away. Dot dashed for the egg but it remained just out of reach with funny obstacles around every corner. As the egg’s momentum carried it off towards the deep dark woods, Dot had to decide if she had it in her to brave the unknown. Was she more than fluff? ABSOLUTELY! She may have been a little chicken but she also knew what mattered in life.
This highly readable, entertaining picture book is perfect for parents prone to making sound effects. It cleverly lets youngsters know it’s okay to have fears but facing them may sometimes yield amazing results, in this case a precious baby sister.
Author Tammi Sauer’s chosen to focus on fear in a way that honors this feeling and provides an easy in for a discussion about this topic with children. The story flows smoothly and little ones will be rooting for Dot along with her farmyard fan club. Sauer’s wonderful way with words is evident in A Little Chicken and she uses all the right ones though quite economically because Dan Taylor’s hilarious illustrations say so much. All the animal characters that inhabit Dot’s world are not scary nor are the lawn ornaments. In fact, I rather hope they’ll make an appearance in another story. Definitely take a crack at this recommended read!
There are all kinds of love. Love for a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a pet, a friend or in the case of Loved to Bits, the love of a stuffed animal. Stripy Ted has been everywhere and done everything with his owner, an imaginative young boy. During their adventures this plush pal has experienced all the fun two friends can have, but at a cost. Over time, Stripy Ted’s lost all his limbs and even an eye. But that hasn’t stopped him from joining the boy and for that the child is grateful. The fearless stuffed animal may be battered and worn, but “The truth was now, I liked him better. I could hold him in one hand. He fit right, just here.” The bond between boy and beloved teddy bear make for tender reading in this rhyming picture book. Filled with sweet illustrations that softly convey the depth of love between the pair, Loved to Bits makes not only a charming Valentine’s Day story, but a delightful year round bedtime tale.
I always wanted to be an aunt because of the special relationship I’d have with my niece or nephew. If I were an aunt, like the one in Auntie Loves You!, I’d want to do all the things she does with her little “bunny-kins bunny …” Together the pair go to the beach together, play games, sail boats and play hide-and-seek. The affection the bunnies share for one another is evident in all the illustrations which are tender and evocative. The font is large and the rhyme predictive making the story accessible for beginning readers and just the right length for a bedtime story. “We go together like sprinkles on cake, like kisses and hugs, or ducks on a lake.” I love the sweeping landscapes and can almost smell the sea air in the beach scenes. Another nice feature in this picture book is a presented to page for an inscription and date as well as a spread in the back matter with a place for “A Special Letter to My Favorite Bunny” and a beautifully designed page to paste a photo of child and auntie.
If you enjoyed Dragons: Father and Son, Dragons in Lovewill not disappoint. I bet you didn’t know that when flames shoot out of a dragon’s mouth it’s a sign of love. In this amusing picture book, Drake the young dragon gets kissed on the snout by his friend, Violet. “It left Drake feeling hot and confused.” He flies away, trying hard to hold back the fire building up inside but cannot. While he has to admit the kiss didn’t hurt, the feelings were not anything he’d been used to and so he decides he has to avoid his friend. In a dragon dad to dragon son chat, Drake finds out that breathing fire is how dragons show their love, but that might not be an easy thing for Violet to deal with. Drake continues to stay away … that is until he hears noises in the park and sees that his friend is being bullied. Those flames come in handy to fend off a bully. They singe the meanie, but don’t scare away any of Drake’s friends, especially Violet. In fact, it appears coming to his friend’s rescue has sparked a greater love. Lacroix’s prose and Badel’s art leave the ending up to kids to decide which provides a great jumping off point for discussion. Violet points to her cheek and seems to want Drake to give her a kiss, but will he? Kids are going to get a kick out of the humorous illustrations that are full of expression and capture the dynamic of this age group so well.
I know, the title Isle of You sounds like “I love you” and it’s supposed to because that’s really what matters most—to love yourself and know you are loved. Isle of You does a wonderful job of conveying a place children can go to inside themselves to make themselves feel better when they’re feeling sad, lonely or even angry. This is such a great idea. On the Isle of You everything is there to help improve a bad mood or feeling. “There’s the welcoming committee, waiting with wide-open arms. What would you like to do first?” Whatever your heart can imagine is there and all it takes is imagination. This type of positive visualization is sure to shift the blues to pinks, yellows and greens. And best of all, it offers a way to quiet any negative thoughts and replace them with ones that are bound to make them kids feel good. Swim in a waterfall? Sure! Relax on a hammock? Why not? “The choice is yours.” Try your favorite dessert, walk along the beach, make a wish on a starfish. This feel-good story is complemented by magical, and soothing artwork that will lift the spirits as it assures youngsters they are loved just before they drift off to sleep.
This sturdy 48-page board book featuring 35 full-page artworks is ideal for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or any birthday. And you don’t have to be into museums to appreciate the beauty of My Art Book of Love. The first book in Phaidon’s My Art Book collection, this gorgeous book will introduce little ones to all the joys of art in its many shapes, sizes, colors and mediums. I was thrilled to see such a diverse selection included in My Art Book of Love and impressed how the author was able to find such terrific examples to convey: Love is … , Love feels … , Love makes you …, Love looks like …, Love is everywhere., and Love is beautiful. Artists represented range from Klimt to Cassatt, Wiley to Warhol, Bechtle to Botero. There is much to enjoy in the pairing of Love feels … “Warm like the sun on your skin … ” with Boys in a Pasture by Winslow Homer or Love is everywhere. “And inside your home,” The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner. I recommend this series, and this book in particular, to share with toddlers to foster the love of art in all its glory. Look out for My Art Book of Sleep, too.
It’s such an honor to have been asked to reveal the cover for Jackie Azúa Kramer’s upcoming picture book, That’s For Babies, coming out June 15. And it’s just so adorable! In addition, Jackie’s offering a special giveaway via Twitter. Please scroll down for more details.
Prunella wakes up on the morning of her birthday and announces, “I’m a big kid now.” She doesn’t want to do any of the things she usually loves. “That’s for babies!” she announces over and over again. Even her favorite doll, Talking Sally, is abandoned. But what happens when a big kid gets scared during the night.
A story about growing up, for little kids and big kids ages 4 and up.
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PRU!
Good Reads With Ronna: Prunella is a lovely name.
Prunella: That’s for babies. My name is Pru.
GRWR: I hear you celebrated your birthday!
Prunella: That’s for babies. I’m five now.
GRWR: Did you get lots of toys?
Prunella: That’s for Babies. I’m a big girl now.
GRWR: How about tea parties?
Prunella: Hmm, nope. That’s for babies.
GRWR: Are you excited for your book’s debut this June?
Prunella: That’s for babies. But I do like story time!
JACKIE AZUA KRAMER’S BOOKS
The Green Umbrella (NorthSouth, 2017)
If You Want to Fall Asleep (Clavis, May 2018)
The Boy & the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, 2020)
Visit and RT Jackie Azúa Kramer (@jackiekramer422) and GoodReadsWithRonna (@goodreadsronna) on Twitter for a chance to win a copy of That’s For Babies, but don’t wait because the giveaway opportunity ends at 12am on 2/16. U.S. only.
H IS FOR HAIKU: A TREASURY OF HAIKU FROM A TO Z Written by Sydell Rosenberg Illustrations and lettering by Sawsan Chalabi With a forward by Amy Losak (Penny Candy Books; $16.95, ages 4 and up)
I cannot think of a more fitting tribute for Mother’s Day than to share this moving and thoughtful collection of haiku that Amy Losak, daughter of late poet Sydell Rosenberg, assembled and submitted for publication. The release in April of Rosenberg’s picture book, H is For Haiku, was ” … the culmination of a decades-long dream,” says Losak. I’m so glad that Losak was determined to share her mother’s gift with children and that Penny Candy Books made that dream a reality. Now we get to reap the rewards—reading them! Over and over again.
It’s easy to tell when haiku comes from the heart as is the case for this New York inspired alphabetic haiku journey. Rosenberg’s homage to her city jumps off the pages and transcends time. Nothing escaped her observant eye, whether it was a bird, a parked car, a squirrel, an umbrella or a watering can. Having grown up in New York, I found so many favorites but I’ll try to pick out just a few. The rest will rely on you. No doubt you’ll agree that three simple lines of poetry can be oh so powerful.
With each letter comes a new delight, an awakening of the senses. Feel the wind blow alongside the gentle touch of petals in Plunging downhill/Petals falling in her hair/Girl on a bike or imagine your favorite ice cream flavor as you claim your spot on a long line in Queuing for ice cream/Sweat-sprinkled office workers/On Queens Boulevard. How amazing that in just 17 or so syllables (Rosenberg wasn’t a stickler) I could be transported instantly to my commuter days from decades ago when I took the subway daily to work! I recalled the heaviness of the humidity on my face, the barrage of assorted smells and the oppressiveness of the heat culminating with the need for a cool scoop of chocolate chip in a sugar cone. Rosenberg’s masterful haiku crafting shines yet again in Jumping Quietly/The cat follows a peach pit/Tossed from the terrace. Can you picture the fire escape or the cat jumping high to catch the pit before it hits the pavement?
The treasury includes imaginative and colorful artwork from Sawsan Chalabi. A particular favorite is letter D where she created a concrete poem in that she gives the haiku raindrop shapes adding to the sensation the language creates. The illustrations have an upbeat and retro feel at the same time and are not only pleasing to the eye but wonderful interpretations of Rosenberg’s words.
Treat yourself, your kids, friends and family to the joy that is H is For Haiku and see which ones resonate with you. Most importantly, listen to your mother, and your heart. Happy Mother’s Day!
Review by Ronna Mandel
Amy Losak’s comments:
“Years after Syd died in 1996, I took up her goal of publishing one of her kids’ manuscripts from the 1970’s/1980’s. She was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968, which was “born” in NYC. It turns 50 years old this year. (I am a member now too.) Many of mom’s “city haiku” reflect her urban surroundings and sensibility, but they are universal and timeless, as well.
Haiku are brief (they make perfect “pocket poetry”) but they impel readers to slow down and linger over something they may ordinarily overlook. As I say in my introduction, haiku help make so-called “small moments” big. Haiku is a way to enter with awareness into the world around us. Children and adults alike will relate to these evocative ‘word-pictures.'”
About the publisher: PCB is dedicated to diversity in children’s literature. It’s a small, traditional press having “big conversations.” Check them out at www.pennycandybooks.com or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS A ROUNDUP – PART TWO
As promised, Good Reads With Ronna continues this year’s roundups of great Christmas books and activities to share with your children before and during the holiday. There are so many terrific new books to choose from that we felt it was important to review as many as possible so you could find some special ones that appeal to everyone in the family.
The traditional Christmas song about a partridge in a pear tree can get to feeling a bit cluttered by the time seven lords are leaping around, but in The Twelve Days of Christmas, Emma Randall’s illustrations are a breath of fresh winter air, clear and colorful throughout. For example, each leaf and pear in the partridge’s tree is separate, forming a lovely mosaic that could be Swedish or Ukrainian. The characters are drawn in a homey style that reminds me of Jessie from Pixar’s “Toy Story,” with old-fashioned winter afternoon-wear replacing cowgirl duds. There are plenty of visual details to search for and enjoy, and of course you can sing the song while searching if caroling is your jam. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
Susan Jeffers offers a new interpretation of another classic holiday song, Jingle Bells. Her cover illustration gives us the main characters: a boy carrying a gift, a girl snuggling a dog, a beautiful horse, and lots of snow, including raised sparkling snowflakes just asking to be touched by little fingers. Open the book and the front endpaper lays out the path the sled will follow, from the children’s barn, over a river, through a forest and on to a little house. Working with such a familiar song, Jeffers takes the opportunity to include new things for readers to ponder. The children would like to stay bundled up in the sled, but their dog is determined to discover every winter animal playing or hiding in the white world outside the sleigh. Readers can look for the animals, too; the last two pages identify them for reference. Near the end, we find out where the children are going and who will receive their gift. In a surprise, the story shares some insight about what it might be like to have a famous neighbor. Add this one to your songbook collection. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
I tried to share my favorite holiday television special with my own kids twenty years ago — and it didn’t really work. Maybe the animation techniques or sound quality didn’t hold up, or maybe I had loved it partly because I could only see it once a year, whenever CBS decided to air it. At any rate, my kids couldn’t relate to my anticipation. I opened A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe Edition(Peanuts) hoping this book might be a way to share the Peanuts magic more successfully with my grandchildren. I’ll know for sure when I see them before the holidays, but I’m thinking this version is a “yes!” • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
This deluxe edition, by Maggie Testa (Adapter), Charles M. Schulz (Author), and Vicki Scott (Illustrator), is big, with an almost-velvet red cover framing a smiling Charlie Brown holding his special little Christmas tree. The endpapers are sheet music of the Christmas carols “Jingle Bells” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The art throughout pops with bold colors and stylized shading. In case you’re unfamiliar with the characters or story, Charlie Brown is a kid who has few friends and can’t do anything right. He is correspondingly depressed, yet embodies optimism, always coming back to try again. In the Christmas story, his true friend Linus thinks he knows how to cheer up Charlie Brown. “You need to get involved. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?” Charlie Brown takes charge, but after he gets a straggly little tree to decorate the stage, the other kids convince him he’s ruined everything again. Later, led by Linus, everyone comes together to decorate the tree. It shapes up like only a cartoon tree could, and the true spirit of Christmas shines. This adaptation hits the important notes I remember from the animated special, including my favorite scene: Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 after assuring Charlie Brown, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
With a title like Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More! it’s no surprise that this book contains cards, envelope templates, and gift tags. The “more” includes bookmarks, mini cards, full-page images called frameables, and scrapbook paper (which makes nice two-sided gift wrap). Most pages are perforated and easy for a child to use on their own. Kids can choose an item, then draw or write on the mostly blank second side—some have short quotations. The envelope templates are straightforward as are the instructions for bookmark tassels or fridge magnets.
The artwork is that of best-selling artists Thaneeya McArdle, Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam, Valentina Harper, and Valerie McKeehan. A variety of styles showcases the holiday sentiments. Images are produced on thick paper and in full color—except for a few in black and white for self-coloring. While most pictures are appropriate for a range of holidays, in keeping with the book’s title, many of the quotes on the back of the cards refer to Christmas and some are of a religious nature. If the quotes aren’t suitable, the card’s second page can be omitted and used as postcard-size instead.
If you’re strapped for time, Christmas Paper Crafting can give your cards a more homemade feel. It may also be less costly than buying individual greeting cards or boxed card sets. Kids who enjoy making their own choices and crafting will appreciate the freedom to pick what they like then to embellish a bit, adding their special seasonal touch. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
I picked up Mary Engelbreit’sColor ME Christmas Book of Postcards because it looked like a fun, creative project to do with my granddaughter, coloring in holiday postcards, gift tags, and ornaments illustrated with designs in Engelbreit’s signature vintage style. I love that at Christmastime, every arts and crafts project is also an opportunity for young kids to make presents for the people they care about. The book is printed on thick card stock, so after coloring, the items will be ready to mail, tie onto gifts, or hang on the Christmas tree. Paired with a package of colored pencils or markers, these postcards make a wonderful gift for any young visitors you may be expecting. Recommended for ages 4 and up, in other words, for anyone who’s a kid at heart like me. • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
A ROUNDUP OF OUR FAVORITE NEW BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS
With Labor Day kicking off the traditional start of a new school year, what better way to ease little ones into the classroom than with a great selection of back-to-school books to read as they settle into a new routine?
Underwood sure knows how to make parents and children laugh out loud. Here Comes Teacher Cat is full of sight gags that never fail to surprise and delight. So as not to spoil it for you, I’ll just say that once again Cat has outdone himself in cattitude. Whether you love the narrator having a one-sided dialogue with a cat who uses signs to communicate, or the laziness of this feline forever yearning to nap, Underwood’s got it all here when Cat is called in to substitute for Ms. Melba at Kitty School. The only problem is that Cat hasn’t a clue what to do first. When he approaches teaching with his own Cat brand of humor and zeal, there’s no holding him or the kitties back causing quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. What will Ms. Melba find upon her return from the doctor? Why, a very clean classroom, a confident Cat and happy kitties of course. Just don’t open the closet Ms. Melba! Fans of Underwood’s humor and Rueda’s low-key spot on artwork will not be disappointed in this Publishers Weekly starred picture book. Oh and don’t miss the opening illustrations before the title page.
Starting Kindergarten can be scary for most kids, but what happens if you’re a twin? In Twindergarten, author Ehrlich, a mom of twins, tackles the topic gently and thoughtfully, touching on the many issues twins might experience being separated at school for the first time. Though Zoe and Dax are as close as peanut butter and jelly at home, they wonder how they’ll cope being in different classes during the day. They soon learn that Kindergarten is not only fun, it’s a place where they can make new friends, try new things and still see each other during recess. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. Debut illustrator Abbott puts the emphasis on the main characters clothed in darker outfits in her illustrations making it easy to zoom in how Zoe and Dax are interacting with their environment. Not only for twins, Twindergarten shows the rewards of attending school and how children can be separated from siblings or friends and still thrive.
How enjoyable it was to read this clever spin on a back-to-school book. In Don’t Go to School, it’s young Benno who’s excited to leave while his mom wants him to remain at home. “Don’t go to school!” she wailed. And I laughed! The humor was not lost on me since I could relate to the mother in this lovingly illustrated picture book. I think there are lots of parents, like me, who have experienced separation anxiety when sending their child off on the new adventure and life stage that is attending school. Mommy is encouraged by Benno using language much like a parent would to reassure their new student. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” said Benno. “You’ll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice!” Zepf is clearly familiar with first day jitters and her tantrum scene may ring a bell with others, only this time it’s Mommy who’s lost it. My favorite part of the story is when Benno takes some of his own kisses and tucks them in his mother’s pocket so she can feel his love even when they’re apart. This comforting story will empower youngsters while also providing tips on adjusting to the big change in their lives.
Going to relatives or friends for Thanksgiving and don’t know what to bring along to keep your little ones occupied and entertained? Why not consider buying a copy of this counting themed board book, part of the Charlesbridge’s First Celebrations series for the youngest readers in your family? With its vibrant colored turkey cover, this new book introduces the first Thanksgiving and one ear of corn going all the way up to six multi-hued leaves falling from a tree and lots of scrumptious food in between. Thanksgiving Counting is a great way to get your children to observe all the decorations and food around the dinner table while learning to count all the wonderful things that make this holiday so enjoyable.
For Hall fans and those who also appreciate the art of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, Wonderfall is sure to delight. As the jacketflap says, “In this book you will discover 1 colorful tree, 2 scurrying squirrels, and 15 blended words created to celebrate the wonder of fall!” So much goes on around this one majestic oak tree. In 15 brief poems that tell the story of the people and animals that live and work near it, we see what an important role this tree plays as autumn turns into winter. Peacefall, Plentifall, Playfall, Frightfall, Thankfall, and Watchfall, are just a few of Hall’s wordplay topics that culminate in Snowfall. The stories move from acorns dropping with a plink, plunk, plop to the magic of fall’s magnificent colors. The tree is there to welcome trick-or-treaters, witness animals enjoying nature’s bounty and provide piles of leaves in which children frolick, and branches in which squirrels chase. A bonus for readers is the five pages of back matter containing great information about the tree, the animals that find shelter in it and get nourishment from its acorns. I’ll weigh in here with one more blended word that happens to be my reaction to reading this charming new picture book – Joyfall!
Coloring books are so popular right now and with the hectic holiday season upon us, there’s no better time to find a few quiet moments with your kids to decompress. Coloring helps foster creativity and mindfulness, and most of all, it’s calming. Adults and children alike will find the designs and quotes that Ingram has provided to be perfectly suited for Thanksgiving. On the last page of Thankfulness to Color is a list of these quotes including Henry David Thoreau’s “I am grateful for what I am and have,” all of which have been woven into the plethora of beautiful patterns. Keep this book to enjoy with the family or give as a gift to your holiday hostess.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here are links to our book reviews from previous Thanksgivings:
A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens? Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces this election season.
One hundred years ago, “On April 6, 1916, a little yellow car set out from New York City.” The car’s occupants were Nell Richardson, Alice Burke, and a little black kitten. These courageous ladies were on a mission. Together they would drive around the USA to campaign for women’s right to vote. Throughout their journey, they encountered people from all walks of life, and situations that might have derailed other less dedicated individuals. Whether facing blizzards or getting stuck in the mud held them up, these were just temporary setbacks. Nothing would curtail Richardson and Burke from cruising across the country for this important cause. Nope. Not blocked roads or getting lost for days. Onwards they drove, getting invited to fancy dinners and local schools. They joined a circus parade and attended a tea party, all the while spreading their message, “Votes for Women.” Finally, after ten thousand miles, Richardson needed a rest, but Alice felt motivated to cover more ground. This time, however, she chose to travel by train!
In the interesting back matter, Mara Rockliff shares four pages of useful information that even parents will find enlightening. She explains about the car Richardson and Burke used for their Votes for Women adventure, and how uncommon it was to travel by auto in 1916. Readers learn how, as far back as 1776, First Lady Abigail Adams urged her husband John “to remember the ladies.” We know what came of that request. Also included are sources and recommended reading on this timely topic. Rockliff has done a fabulous job of making the suffrage movement accessible to hong readers with her upbeat approach and language. The story of Richardson and Burke was one I’d never heard about so I’m glad I had a chance to step back in time with these two inspirational women. Hooper’s illustrations complemented the text and theme, allowing us to feel the exuberance of the journey along with the book’s history-making heroines.
Isabella’s back, this time visiting Washington, D.C. with her parents. But why, you may ask? She’s channeling and celebrating five trailblazing women in the U.S. government culminating with her attending the first female president’s inauguration, and she simply cannot wait. Fosberry builds up to this momentous event by highlighting women throughout our political history who were firsts in their field and who opened doors for themselves and future generations that, up until that time, had been closed to them.
You’ll meet Susanna Madora Salter, the first female mayor, in Argonia, Kansas. Incidentally, I had no idea that Kansas had given women the right to vote back in 1887, although Wyoming allowed women to vote as early as 1869. Isabella also introduces readers to Jeannette Rankin, a truly independent and colorful character who, in 1916, beat seven men to get elected as the first woman in Congress. In 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross broke the glass ceiling by being elected the first female governor of Wyoming following the death of her governor husband, William, while still in office. She also was named first female Director of the Federal Mint by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Another woman to whom we owe a great debt is Frances Perkins. She, too, served under FDR, and had numerous appointments, in her lifetime, the most famous being “the first woman to serve on the Cabinet and be in line of succession to the presidency! Last, but not least is Sandra Day O’Connor who in 1981 was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court only after another first as the State Majority Leader in the Arizona State Senate. How’s that for accomplished women? Fosberry’s chosen to highlight these women with their varied backgrounds and experience to serve as role models for young girls everywhere who aspire to reach their true potential.
There’s lots of fun wordplay (“Let’s vote on breakfast.” “Capital idea!”) and cheerful artwork throughout this delightful, empowering picture book, ending with a time line and bios for each of these amazing women. Isabella: Girl in Charge will also be available on Put Me in The Story, the #1 personalized book platform in America.
THE NORMAL NORMAN BLOG TOUR including A Guest Post from Author Tara Lazar & Giveaway
NORMAL NORMAN Written by Tara Lazar Illustrated by S. Britt (Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4 and up)
Normal NormanbyTara Lazarwith illustrations by S. Britt, is an ode to individuality, and a wonderfully wild and wacky way to reinforce the message to children that there’s no such thing as normal. Good Reads With Ronna asked author Tara Lazar to speak to this topic, wondering how she embraces her own unique brand of non-normality in her every day life. Oh, and since I haven’t said it yet, I recommend you unicycle, not run to your nearest bookstore to get a copy of Normal Norman AND enter our giveaway, too! 🍌
GUEST POST BY TARA LAZAR:
I am not normal.
I unexpectedly launch into foreign accents while talking. Think a “cawfee tawk” Linda Richman, morphing into a good ol’ cajun creole, followed by a dashing foray in the King’s English. (I’ve been brushing up on Nana’s Irish brogue, but it’s not quite there yet.)
I don’t dress like a 40-something, either. I know that What-Not-to-Wear show cautions against mini-skirts, Mickey Mouse sweatshirts and combat boots—especially all at the same time—but I don’t care.
Since I don’t walk very well, I’ve got a mobility scooter. I painted flames on it. Its max speed is 5mph, so the flames make me feel as close to being Danica Patrick as I’m gonna get.
I hate coffee, and I’m a writer. How weird is that? And, what’s even worse, I don’t care for chocolate. If you offered me a dish of ice cream or a plate of cheese, I’d cut the cheese every time.
Yes, I just made a fart joke. And I think it’s hysterical.
I told you, I’m not normal. And that’s precisely the way I like it.
Being normal is overrated. But when you’re a kid? Being normal is EVERYTHING! The slightest cowlick and you’re branded a nerd, a weirdo, a wackadoo. Wear glasses? Geek! Don’t even get me started on being pegged as the teacher’s pet! That was me all through my school years. I was taunted and teased, and one girl bullied me from 2nd grade all the way to senior year in high school. I didn’t dress normally enough or act normally enough for her.
I’ve tried to figure out why kids want everyone around them to conform. Maybe things are more predictable and safe that way. There’s nothing to be frightened about. Nothing will jump out suddenly, like a jack-in-the-box. You stay in your corner and I’ll remain in mine and we’ll get through this just fine.
I get it. Life is scary.
But my mission in life is to make everything fun. If that means stopping in the name of love to snap a photo with mannequins at the mall, so be it. And if it embarrasses my 12-year-old, let her turn red. Let her see that things shouldn’t be so serious all the time. Let her learn to find joy in the most miniscule things–or a medley of 6-foot plaster mannequins.
When I wrote Normal Norman, I didn’t necessarily set out to write some grand statement about all this. I just wanted Norman to be funny and to have fun. What emerged was a character who did just as he pleased and loved every minute of it. What emerged, I suppose, is me—in purple orangutan form!
The message to children, buried beneath the hilarity, is that there’s really no such thing as “normal”. With all of us being so different, how could there be only one “normal” expectation to live up to? The real normalness is being your true, normal self, in all its wonderful wackiness. Just like Norman…and me!
Looking for a way to keep the peace during holiday gatherings? Or do you need a way to get those eternally bored teens to put down the phone and interact with family members? Try gathering those cousins around a table and color together! Mary Tanana’s Christmas to Colorprovides ultra-attractive, over-sized pages of beautiful Christmas scenes to tempt even the grouchiest Grinches of the family! Snowflakes, wreaths, ornaments in detail, and so many other festive designs are sure to add amusement to any family gathering. Tanana cleverly draws some designs that can be cut out and placed in outlined areas on facing pages. “Trim” an intricately decorated tree with colored pens or pencils, then place it in the blank center of a background of poinsettias and mistletoe. Or have the relatives color any of the pages of sleds or stockings, animals and stars and so much more, to create a collage of everyone’s work.
Coloring books are all the rage this year and they come in every size and theme. Lizzie Preston and Jane Ryder-Gray, Jess Bradley, and Felicity French all illustrate a new, smaller (6” X 6”)coloring bookseriesappropriately entitledI Heart Coloring … These make great stocking stuffers and provide fun distractions during those holiday trips in planes, trains, and autos. Specifically, I Heart Coloring Flowers with artwork by Preston and Ryder-Gray includes intricate floral patterns and challenging motifs as well as lighter fare for those just starting out. You can mat and frame your completed pages and give them as presents, or cut out particular flowers and add them to hand-made cards. Use now or save for Valentine’s Day or Easter.
Check out the bold, over-sized The Neon Coloring Bookwith its hints of neon orange and pink adorning pages of animals, skateboards (!!) and other funky objects. Black or neon-colored backgrounds radiate other pages of delights to color. So buy a pack or two of neon markers and join in the fun! Coloring provides both a quiet way to interact with loved ones and a creative break from all the work and stress of the holidays. And Price Stern Sloan has a tempting array of coloring books sure to brighten everyone’s day!
The Neon Coloring Book by Richard Merritt, Amanda Hillier, and Felicity French (Price Stern Sloane; $12.99, Ages 5-8)
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