The recent discovery of the Olinguito, a new species of mammal resembling “…a cross between a cat and a furry teddy bear …” prompted Ecuadorian author Cecilia Velástegui to write a contemporary children’s fable about respect for others and for the world’s wildlife.
Shy Olinguito helps forgetful Tómas, an ancient Galapagos tortoise, recall how he ended up far from his native island and in Ecuador’s cloud forest. Due to Tómas’ memory loss and confusion, the other animals think his stories are “tall tales” and tease him. Olinguito finds the other animals treatment of Tómas disrespectful and sets out to help Tómas prove the truthfulness of his stories. With Olinguito’s support, Tómas reveals the twists and turns that took him from his island home to the cloud forest.
While the story focuses on its moral: “honor our elders and cherish our wildlife,” Velástegui uses the fable to gently point out the threats to the diverse wildlife referred to in her story. Through the long-lived and widely traveled Tómas, Velástegui hints at mankind’s devastating impact on the nature. In his narrative, Tómas refers to several “friends” who are now “gone” or “rarely seen” such as the Pinta Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, the Galapagos Petrel, and the cloud forest’s Harlequin Frogs.
Despite the dismay readers will experience over the loss of the many and striking species, the book ends on some positive notes: Olinguito shows young readers the importance of respect for others and the natural world and of standing up for friends who are being bullied or teased. Again, through Tómas, children will learn that some species, such as the Galapagos Pink Land Iguanas, are thriving and that other new species, such as the Galapagos deep sea catshark have been discovered.
Additional front and end material includes a brief note on the discovery of the olinguito, a “Facts/Datos” page, a colorful map of South America dotted with cheerful symbols marking significant cultural, historic, and wildlife locations, and photos of an olinguito and a giant tortoise.
As the book is bilingual, the layout consists mostly of two page spreads. On the left are the English and Spanish versions of the story. The right side features an accompanying illustration. Occasionally, illustrator Fang takes advantage of the expanse of the two page spread to create an illustration that floats across both pages. The illustrations contribute to the story, realistically capturing characteristics of the animals in the misty and diffused light of the cloud forest.
Primarily a fable, use this picture book with younger children as bibliotherapy for social and/or emotional issues around respect, aging, friendship, teasing and bullying. This book could be used with older children to introduce them to South American geography and ecosystems, threatened or extinct or new animal species, and the effects of exploration, colonialism, and development on the natural world and indigenous people. Needless to say it could also be used with children as a springboard for writing their own fables.
Visit the Olinguito Speaks Upwebsite for more author info, facts, and a book trailer.
The author won First Place in Adventure Fiction at the International Latino Book Awards for her adult novel Missing in Machu Picchu.
While Christmas is celebrated all around the world, different cultures have their own traditions and ways of celebrating. ‘Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanishis a new spin on the classic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
A Latino family is preparing to host relatives and friends on Christmas Eve. They are busy making tamales stuffed with pollo (chicken) and queso (cheese). When ready, they participate in posadas (the reenactment of the Nativity) where families stroll from house to house, asking for shelter. Once back home, the family drinks warm mugs of chocolaty champurrado (a thick hot chocolate drink) and play loteria (a game similar to bingo). Then, it’s time for Misa del Gallo (midnight mass) before the celebration continues with more food and a delicious dessert called bu~nuelos (a sweet fritter covered with cinnamon). It’s a wonderful night of family and festivities.
The artwork is bright and inviting. Little details, such as colorful banners and the town’s architecture, give a feel for the setting. I found the facial expressions, including that of the family cat and dog, to be especially engaging.
The rhyming text makes the book easy to read, even for non-Spanish speakers. With satisfied bellies and sleepy eyes, we head to the sala for one last surprise. Giggling and cheering, we dash for the tree, where regalos are waiting for you and for me! A glossary of 47 Spanish terms is included, as is an author’s note about the origin of this story.
With diverse literature in high demand, ‘Twas Nochebuena provides fun insight into a cultural celebration of Christmas Eve. Feliz Navidad! – Rita Zobayan
Link to review of Round is a Tortilla, also by Roseanne Greenfield Thong.
If you’re looking for a sweet board book to tuck in a special little person’s stocking this Christmas, Maisy’s Christmas Tree, (Candlewick Press, 2014; $6.99, Ages 2-5) is the perfect pick. Written by Lucy Cousins, the ever-popular Maisy is decorating her Christmas tree with her friends. Cyril the squirrel, Tallulah the chicken, and Charlie the crocodile are all helping out in their own special way, stringing lights, hanging candy canes, and wrapping presents. Eddie the elephant is in charge of the tree topper: an angel who looks exactly like Maisy!
Bright primary and secondary colors with a bit of silver sparkle make this a visually appealing book. Its small size and Christmas tree shape make it easy for little hands to hold and help turn pages. Even a toddler full of Christmas anticipation will sit through this book of under fifty words which gently builds to a grand finale. Maisy and friends sing carols around her beautiful tree then shout, “Merry Christmas, everyone!” – MaryAnne Locher
Link to review of Peck, Peck, Peck, also by Lucy Cousins.
Little Golden Books are endearing. I’m not sure if it’s the vintage-style art work or the sense of innocence that seems to emanate from the words and pictures of a bygone era, but there’s no denying the “aww” that goes along with the series. So, it’s no surprise that Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Bookby Diane Muldrow draws in both young and old. Compiled from the art of a variety of LGB, this is a guide to keeping your sanity during one of the happiest yet busiest times of the year.
“Christmas is coming!” waves a happy Santa. But, what about all that baking, the endless cycle of cooking and cleaning, and the rounds of social obligations…when you could be taking a nap. Then there’s the snarled holiday traffic…and the scary holiday crowds! The excess! The expense! Then comes the weight gain. Yes, Christmas certainly comes with stresses and obligations. It’s easy to get caught up in the commotion and consumerism. However, don’t spend all your time preparing…It’s a time for traditions, a time for giving the very best of yourself…a time to reach out to someone who’d otherwise be alone. For one night in a manger, under a star, a night witnessed by both shepherds and kings, when gifts were given to a waiting world…and the gift of hope for a peaceable kingdom.
While younger children might not understand the message about keeping the crazy out of Christmas, they will almost certainly enjoy the illustrations and message of love and family. Filled with LGB favorites, such as the Poky Little Puppy and Richard Scarry’s artwork (among many talented others), the book harkens to the wonder and nostalgia of childhood. This is something that LGB does so well. Adults are transported back to their childhoods (and perhaps will remember reading LGB as youngsters), and children will adore the sense of warmth that the illustrations create.
Everything I Need to Know about Christmas I Learned from a Little Golden Book is a new Christmas favorite in our household, and once you read it, you’ll see why. – Rita Zobayan
Link to review of We Planted a Tree, also by Diane Muldrow.
“What do you do when your celebration needs a candle, but yours are all gone?”
Nana Clover needs a candle for her Thanksgiving meal. The Danziger family forgot to get a havdalah candle. The fifth candle on Kirsten’s St. Lucia crown broke. Donte’s baby brother, Jamila cheerfully eats the Faith candle for the Kwanzaa kinara. How will Faruq and Nasreen’s father find their new apartment during a power outage?
A ” … bumpy, drooping candle” is passed from one neighbor to the next in a close knit and supportive apartment community. At first, the candle is seen as quite ugly. Kirsten worries that everyone will laugh at her if she uses it in her crown. Donte wonders how his family will be able to “… talk about faith with that sorry thing…” The Danziger children complain that it is not braided and only has one wick. Grandpa Danziger, hushing his grandchildren, tells them ” … a candle is blessed by what it does, not by how it looks. It’ll shine.”
Sure enough, when lit, the “frumpy” little candle glows more brightly and seems to last longer than other candles. All the celebrations go through without a hitch. Nasreen and Faruq are able to use it to guide their father to their new apartment where all the neighbors have gathered to welcome the family.
A lovely and heartwarming story for the holidays (and everyday) about sharing, caring, and supporting others’ needs and traditions.
Schuett’s rich illustrations glow as warmly and as brightly as the story’s candle.
Author Ashford concludes with a brief note about the holidays mentioned in her story.
Visit Creston Books to read more about the award-winning author and illustrator. This story has many wonderful curriculum connections: research, writing, crafts and more. Please see the excellent curriculum and activity guide the publisher created for this book.
PROJECT KID: 100 Ingenious Crafts for Family Fun (Artisan Books; $22.95) by Amanda Kingloff is an innovative new kids craft book reviewed by Ronna Mandel. Kingloff, former Parents magazine lifestyle director, is a DIY pro so there’s really no need to go elsewhere.
Here’s one of the best things about being a kid – making stuff!! Here’s one of the best things about being a parent, grandparent or caregiver – making stuff with kids!! Here’s one of the best things about Artisan Books – they’ve allowed Good Reads With Ronna to share the beautiful Bookworm Envelopes Project with you! Scroll down to find instructions then, after trying the craft, visit the Project Kid website at projectkid.com to get as excited as I am about the book.
I have a “craft closet” that has traveled around the world with me. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you reading this have one, too. I’ve also got hundreds of buttons I’ve been saving since the sixties that have been used countless times in a myriad of ways. Maybe you’ve been hanging onto your favorite old fishnet tights, or perhaps you stockpile single socks whose mates were lost in the laundry long ago … whatever you keep on hand (toilet paper tubes, yarn, mesh produce bags), I am confident you’ll find a creative use for them with Kingloff’s inspiring and easy-to-use new craft book.
After the introduction inside Project Kid, you’ll find Kingloff’s provided helpful Getting Started spreads showing Essential Tools, Crafty Materials and Household Items, all sharply photographed and well-labeled. Parents will appreciate the safety note, too. The contents pages describe the seven main sections of the book which are called Animal Kingdom; Hold Everything; Home Sweet Home; Playtime;Ready To Wear; The Great Outdoors; and Abstract Expressions. Additionally Resources, Acknowledgments and a Project Index are included. Plus if the book isn’t hands-on enough already, there are six Art Lessons throughout the 270+ pages from pom-pom making to fabric dyeing.
Alexandra Grablewski’s photographs in Project Kid are excellent and give such a good idea of exactly what each craft is and its size. Here’s a sampling of some of my personal faves: Needlepoint Flyswatter on pg. 52; Dolly’s Oven-Mitt Sleeping Bag on pg. 150; and Bedazzled Branches on pg. 224. I hope you’ll consider Project Kid: 100 Ingenious Crafts for Family Fun your new go-to activity book and wish you months of crafting pleasure with your family! Now, don’t wait another minute. Pull your kids off the couch, put away any electronics and go get crafty with ’em!
TRY THIS COOL CRAFT!
Since this is a book review blog, what better project to share with you all than one involving old book jackets? I can’t tell you how many times my daughter removed the book jackets from her books only to eventually donate the books without said covers. What happened? I became the proud owner of dozens of abandoned book covers I couldn’t bear to throw out. With this clever project you can breathe new life into those old book jackets and bring joy to their recipients.
2. Trace the flattened envelope onto a dust jacket and cut it out. Make sure to position the template over your desired section of the jacket.
3. Fold your new dust-jacket envelope to match the original envelope template and glue the overlapping edges together, leaving one flap open. (You can use a ruler or a bone folder to create good flat creases for your envelopes.)
4. Use a glue stick to seal the envelope for mailing.
Use these envelopes to hold receipts, photos, memorabilia, or a note from a BFF on a bulletin board—or use one to mail grandparents a thank-you note for all the birthday books they’ve sent.
PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
– A Junior Library Guild Selection
President Taft is Stuck in The Bath written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, Candlewick Press, 2014.
President Taft is Stuck in The Bath(Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4+), a new picture book written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, is as good as its cover, if not better, and the cover is just terrific (or should I say terry-ific?)! PLUS: if you enjoy this review, enter our giveaway to win a copy of the book. *Details below!!
I couldn’t wait to read my review copy of President Taft is Stuck in The Bath. I’d always heard the rumor/anecdote that the hefty (and I don’t mean muscular hefty, but big, heavy hefty) William Howard Taft, our 27th U.S. President, had gotten stuck in the White House tub, but I never pursued this line of inquiry let alone thought it was material for a children’s picture book. I was wrong! Thankfully Mac Barnett thought otherwise and chose to dig deep into the archives for this hilarious picture book that will make both parents and kids crack up (no pun intended). As I’ve said, I was ready from the cover and certainly from page 1, with its page-size portrait of a handlebar mustachioed, scowling Taft, to follow this riotous romp wherever it took me. I think you will feel the same way.
By including a plethora of the President’s cabinet called upon to remedy the situation, Barnett has created a cast of characters that do not fail to entertain. We first meet the demure Mrs. Taft. Her attempts to offer her husband suggestions as to how he could be extricated from the White House bathtub are disregarded by the angry and frustrated President. “It’s a disaster!” said Taft. He asked her to call for the Vice President who, upon seeing Taft’s dilemma, could not disguise his eagerness to be sworn in as President. When it was evident the V.P.’s one track mind was of no help, the President summoned the Secretaries of State, Agriculture, War, Navy, Treasury and Interior one after the other. But alas, all their over-the-top ideas proved futile.
And though it comes as no surprise that it’s the First Lady who saves the day, it doesn’t matter. It’s the artwork that’s the star here as we see a birthday-suited Taft finally freed from the tub. In all his naked glory, Taft the President is still human. The book’s uproarious take on this often-told tale may even tempt young readers to delve more deeply into the past of this and other American leaders.
Between Barnett’s delightful usage of early 1900s sounding language, “Blast that!” bellowed Taft. “A preposterous plan.” and Van Dusen’s humorous illustrations (who thought a picture book featuring an overweight man in a bathtub could be so engaging), the pair have managed marvelously to pull off presenting a president getting stuck in the tub in a way I could never have imagined. It doesn’t hurt that, while the anecdote has never been corroborated, Barnett includes an interesting author’s note along with “Some Facts Pertaining to President Taft and Bathtubs” that should not be missed. My takeaway – who cares if this tale is fact or fiction? It’s a lot more fun speculating with Barnett and Van Dusen!
Here’s a link to an interview with illustrator Chris Van Dusen.
* Enter here by sending an email with your name and address included. Be sure to write Taft is Stuck in the subject line. This giveaway valued at $16.99 ends at midnight PST on Monday, April 14, 2014. One winner will be chosen randomly on Tuesday, April 15th. You must first like us on Facebook or Twitter for eligibility. Good luck! U.S. and Canadian Residents only.
The Smallest Gift of Christmas written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press, 2013.
Roland is eagerly awaiting Christmas and the presents that the holiday brings. What he doesn’t count on is getting a small gift, and not just a small gift, but “the smallest gift he had ever seen.” Well, this simply won’t do and Roland wishes up some Christmas magic for a bigger gift. He gets it, but he still isn’t satisfied! “Roland stomped off, sure there was a bigger gift for him—somewhere.” So Roland sets off to search the universe for his perfect gift. Will he find the BIG present he thinks he deserves? Maybe, but not in the way Roland imagined.
Presented in a cartoon-style illustration from award-winning author/illustrator Reynolds, with a simple but bold color palette highlighting red and green, the images are perfect for the story. The font, which Reynolds hand-lettered, is kid friendly and eye-catching.
The Smallest Gift of Christmas is a gentle and humorous reminder that material gifts, while fun and exciting and sometimes big, pale in comparison to the true gifts of family and love.
I just couldn’t light the last Hanukkah candle tonight without sharing a few more terrific Hanukkah picture books for 2013. These are three books you’ll want to keep to read again next Hanukkah.
Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka, Holiday House, 2013.
According to the copyright page, Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8, also available as an ebook) first appeared in Cricket, the Magazine for Children in 1988 and as a picture book titled The Chanukkah Guest with illustrations by Giora Carmi, in 1990.
I’m so glad Holiday House decided to bring out this charming book again, this time with a revised text and new artwork. Whether you read this story in the ’80s, ’90s or are reading it now for the first time, it will not disappoint. Grown-ups and kids alike will get such a kick out of the joyful and humourous Hanukkah tale featuring hungry Old Bear just awoken from hibernation to the smells of cooking latkes, and ninety-seven year old Bubba Brayna, a spry old villager who can neither see nor hear well anymore. Expecting the rabbi, Bubba Brayna opens the front door after hearing a thump and mistakes Old Bear for the rabbi. She then proceeds to have him join her as she lights the Menorah, plays a game of dreidel and finally feeds him. Old Bear “Rrrrrumphs” and “Grrrroooowrs” throughout the evening with Bubba Brayna filling in bits of conversation here and there. The sweet cover image of Old Bear licking Bubba Brayna after receiving his lovely red Hanukkah scarf should be a clue to the youngest readers that the story has a delightful ending and only latkes get eaten!! Plus Wohnoutka’s illustrations have a glowing quality about them that add to the warmth of the story. The end pages contain a handy latke recipe and author’s notes about the holiday for those less familiar with the celebration.
Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah written by Jamie Korngold with artwork by Julie Fortenberry, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.
Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, by Jamie Korngold with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback, Ages 2-6), is another fun story for children. Sadie loves school, her teacher Morah Rachel and the approaching holiday of Hanukkah. When Hanukkah arrives she knows she’ll spin dreidels, eat potato latkes with applesauce (my favorite, too!) and light the menorah with her family. The best part for Sadie is that she and her classmates get to make their very own menorahs from clay. In school she works hard to knead, roll and shape her menorah. Sadie decides to paint hers pink with blue squiggles and can’t wait until Friday when she can bring it home. But when her mother arrives at school to pick her up, Sadie rushes to her and drops the menorah. The handmade treasure breaks into “a million, zillion pieces!” The clever way Sadie’s mom handles the disaster leads to a new family tradition that makes for a very happy, unique ending. Fortenberry’s colorful artwork complements the text and conveys just the perfect amount of emotion and detail to help move the story forward. The three candle blessings included in the end are terrific to have especially since our family has only ever known just one to say.
Eight is Great by Tilda Balsley with artwork by Hideko Takahashi, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.
For the youngest kids at home, there’s Eight is Great, (Kar-Ben, $5.95, Ages 1-4), by Tilda Balsley with illustrations by Hideko Takahashi, a board book with each page detailing some aspect of Hanukkah incorporating the number eight. Whether it’s eight days and nights to celebrate, or eight candles lit, Balsley finds just the right descriptions in simple rhymes. Of course there are eight places to set at the table and eight latkes to fill the guests’ plates. “There’s more,” says the dad in this family, “don’t hesitate.” Mom helps with eight presents to wrap and for those new to playing dreidel, there are four sides and if you play with two, that makes a total of eight! The story ends, as many a Hanukkah tale does, by remembering “heroes long before us” helping make this picture book complete with just 12 pages. Takahashi’s jewel-toned illustrations light up the board book making this an ideal introduction to the Festival of Lights.
The Big Book of Pick and Draw Activities compiled and illustrated by Rich Davis, The Jolly Crocodile.
Rich Davis, a children’s book artist and illustrator, has devised a simple drawing game that is a clever, engaging way to unlock kids’ innate creativity. Using a deck of Pick and Draw cards ($10), pencils and paper, kids can compile unique characters with exaggerated and unusual features. These characters can provide the springboard for storytelling, writing, art and drama activities both in and out of the classroom. Plus, it’s just plain fun to draw and doodle!
Artwork provided by reviewer was inspired by The Big Book of Pick and Draw Activities.
I easily found willing young partners to play several rounds of Pick and Draw around the dining room table. To the right is a sample of our creations, and some of the crazy descriptive character names that they inspire.
The Big Book of Pick and Draw Activities companion book features fifteen chapters written by experts and specialists in a variety of fields. The helpful subject outlines offer good suggestions to incorporate drawing and storytelling activities with Pick and Draw for everything from geography lessons to illustrating English idioms. For readers seeking Christian content, there are chapters specifically geared toward Sunday school, vacation bible school, and other activities for church youth groups.
Davis has illustrated The Big Book of Pick and Draw Activities with over 200 fun, silly and playful cartoons that are a pleasure to pore over for broader inspiration. They punctuate the margins and headings with a lighthearted and delightful tone that will spark kids’ imaginations and tickle their funnybones. In addition, The Big Book of Pick and Draw Activities has just received the National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, awarded to products that help create better informed parents as they tackle the challenges and enjoy the many rewards of parenting.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I received a review copy and cards from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own. Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Maybe it’s because fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s because the weather gets a bit cooler here in L.A. The street where I live gets tons of trick or treaters beginning about five o’clock with the littlest monsters, penguins, princesses and elves making an appearance before bedtime. The creative costumes never cease to amaze me. One year I recall we had a Mozart, a rain cloud and a laundry basket! I look forward to every shouted TRICK OR TREAT?! In honor of Halloween I’ve put together a varied selection of books to sit down and peruse after they’ve emptied bags and examined their hauls.
Where’s Boo? by Salina Yoon from Random House Books For Young Readers, 2013.
WHERE’S BOO? (A Hide-and-Seek Book) by Salina Yoon, Random House Books for Young Readers, $6.99, Ages 0-3. This interactive board book will attract little ones with its velvety-faced kitty on the cover and velvety tail at the end. Parents can help children solve the mystery of where Boo is hiding beginning with a jack-o’-lantern and ending with a door in this die-cut 18 page guessing game. The pictures are sweet not scary, a perfect introduction to All Hallows Eve!
Vampirina Ballerina Hosts A Sleepover by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, Disney-Hyperion 2013.
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA HOSTS A SLEEPOVER by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, ages 3-5. Last year’s Vampirina Ballerina was so popular she’s back again and this time she’s hosting a sleepover. While this picture book is not strictly for Halloween, what better time of year than right now to share a vampire tale? Dad helps with homemade spider invitations, Vampirina tidies up, the menu is prepared and the sleepover party begins! Full of the same delightful detailed artwork featuring all the necessary vampire accoutrements including caskets and headstones plus all the not-to-be-missed facial expressions courtesy of Pham, this latest picture book is something to sink your teeth into. Pace throws in puns galore so parents can get a giggle, too. There’s even a pull-out spread to add to its appeal. This sleepover’s a lids down success.
Ghost in The House by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record from Candlewick Press, 2013.
GHOST IN THE HOUSE by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record, Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-7. What works so well in this picture book is that it’s not only a cumulative counting book beginning with a little ghost, but it’s a fun read-aloud as well with its catchy rhythm and rhyme. Ghost in the House manages to mix a slightly spooky premise and lighten it with a cute cast of characters including a mummy, a monster, a skeleton, a witch and a little boy. The bonus: No trick or treaters anywhere in sight makes it an ideal read for any dark and stormy night!
Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson with illustrations by Kevan J. Atteberry, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013.
HALLOWEENHUSTLE by Charlotte Gunnufson with illustrations by Kevan J. Atteberry, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, $16.99, Ages 4-8. Get ready to boogie to a funky beat that will get your youngsters chiming in. Skeleton’s in a dancing mood, in fact he’s got a whole crew of hustling creatures following his lead, but things keep tripping him up, first a crooked crack, then a cat and finally a zombie’s foot. Here’s the catchy refrain your kids will latch onto:
“Bones scatter! What a clatter! Spine is like a broken ladder!”
There’s a hoppin’ Halloween party where Skeleton enters a dance contest, but can he keep it all together? Let’s see what a friendly skeleton girl and a little super-strong glue can do!
Ol’ Clip Clop by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez, Holiday House, 2013.
OL’ CLIP CLOP, A GHOST STORY by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez, Holiday House, $16.95, ages 6-9. This haunting, well-paced and tersely written story is one you’ll want to tell by a roaring fire while huddled next to your child. The climax, where there’s usually a fright, though not as scary for an adult as it may be for a child, is deeply satisfying. The good part is that it’s actually a happy ending because it’s good riddance to the villain, mean John Leep. This well-off, but miserly and greedy landlord has a cruel fate planned for the widow Mayes of Grass Hollow. He’ll demand the rent in full or evict her, throwing her out into the night on a cold Friday the thirteenth, 1741. Velasquez’s artwork of dark upon dark sets the ominous nighttime mood, with the lightest color being the white of widow Mayes’s cap and mean Leep’s linens. The clip, clop, clip, clop sound of Leep’s horse Major gets more and more frightening as Leep feels he is being followed on his way to the widow’s house. What’s in store for the stingy man as leaves the desperate widow wondering if she’ll lose her home? Will he make it home alive?
“WARNING: The head lice in this book will make you ITCHY!”
And guess what? It’s true. BUGS IN MY HAIR! (The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, $17.99, ages 4 and up), by local Burbank-based, award-winning author and illustrator, David Shannon, is a perfect picture book year round, but especially for back-to-school time when so many things are new. Especially head lice.
Thank you, David Shannon, for taking the “shame” and “humiliation” out of head lice. In fact, with Bugs in My Hair!, Shannon has actually succeeded in making the experience seem almost, well … fun! Okay, maybe fun is stretching it. Itchy is more accurate because simply saying lice and nits causes an instant uncomfortable, uncontrollable urge to scratch and squirm
Bugs in my Hair!gives kids who have had a case of head lice an opportunity to claim membership in the “been there, done that” club that many young readers may unwittingly join one day. I can see them shouting out their personal experiences as the school librarian reads the story to a class of second graders. “I had so many head lice my mom had to call up the Census Bureau.”
The artwork makes this book stand out among head lice stories. It’s hilarious, imaginative and genuinely complements every single line. I’m particularly partial to the page featuring BUGZILLA conquering the world. This ’50s movie style illustration is so clever and exaggerated that both kids and parents will crack up. The popcorn chomping louse lounging on the sofa with a remote in one claw, a drink in another is brilliant. On the other end of the sofa, relaxing with the latest issue of Parasite magazine, is a cigar smoking louse squishing the main character, a red-headed youth who wants nothing more than these nuisances to go bye-bye. “It was like they took over our whole life!”
As parents, we want our children to be able to wind down during summer break, but we also don’t want them to lose all the skills they worked hard to master during the school year. That’s why so many families turn to summer school or workbooks as refreshers to help maintain knowledge gathered during the previous school year for a smooth transition to a new grade.
For this review I checked out Giant Science ($12.99, Grades 2-3) and Math Basics($2.99, Grades 5-6) from School Zone. School Zone Publishing, in business over 30 years, is committed to kids and to making learning fun and accessible. They do so by offering their educational products on a variety of platforms: ebooks, iPad Apps, iPhone and Android Apps and more. You can also sign up to receive their monthly newsletter and be the first to learn about special offers plus kids can join their Golden Scholar Club.
Affordable and engaging, these workbooks include a brief parent guide and straightforward examples for students to complete. Parents are encouraged to have their children do the work from the beginning to the end rather than tackling random pages. This will allow the flow of review to mimic what was taught during the school year as concepts were introduced and built upon. While the Giant Sciencebook has 320 pages, the Math Basics is a quick 32 pages and both contain the ever important Answer Key for peace of mind.
As you can see in the cover image above left, skill areas featured range from Birds, to Ocean Life to Weather. The accompanying illustrations are colorful and detailed and help make the review process more than pleasant. Kids can play word searches, fill out charts, decode answers, color, study charts and graphs, fill in the blanks and connect the dots. And while it may sound less like learning and more like playing, if the info is being absorbed, that’s ultimately what matters most! The It’s A Fact and Awesome! boxes highlight important or interesting information and break up the print on the page. It’s elements like that that add to the School Zone workbooks’ appeal.
I liked Math Basics: An I Know It! Book because it was uncomplicated and the tasks were easy to navigate. I haven’t done 5th or 6th grade math in decades so the review of decimals, fractions, ratios, percentages, areas and volume were helpful. There aren’t too many illustrations so tweens won’t feel it’s babyish and the Activities to Share section at the end will give parents the opportunity to turn many everyday occurrences into teaching moments.
All in all, it’s evident that School Zone workbooks are the right solution to combat summer slump. If kids can take just 30 minutes out of their busy schedule to review the problems presented, they can say good-bye to brain drain and hello to a head start this coming school year.
Yawns are contagious as is the new book I Dare You Not to Yawn($15.99, Candlewick Press, ages 4 and up) by the winning combination of author Hélène Boudreau and illustrator Serge Bloch. I happen to adore Boudreau’s inner-child channeled sense of humor and Debbie Glade is a huge Serge Bloch fan. So what’s not to love?
“Yawns are sneaky. They can creep up on you when you least expect them.”
It’s true. Watch out, kids! DO NOT YAWN!
This cleverly conceived cautionary tale is a bit conspiratorial, too. The author/narrator is speaking directly to children to teach them the signs of an approaching yawn and how to keep said yawn from … yawwrrr – popping out. Why does this matter you might ask? Because, along with eye rubbing, the yawn is a major indicator that someone (and that someone is you, kiddo) is getting sleepy. And the only place that gets you is the dreaded Put To Bed.
Bloch’s bold colors and whimsical characters delight the eye. Yawns have never looked this funny. “And WHATEVER YOU DO,” warns Boudreau, “don’t think of droopy-eyed baby orangutans holding their long arms out for a hug from their mamas …” No that simply won’t do. Practice all the suggested skills needed to shove that yawn right back where it came from and then, only then, will you be the master of your bedtime. But if you cannot keep that stubborn yawn from escaping, it just might be your body playing one last round of dare before you drift off to dreamland.
A Hoard of Dragon Gold: Mining Children’s Literature
for the Best Dragon Books
While shelving books one day recently in our children’s section at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, I heard a small voice behind me say, “Ummm…Hi! I was wondering…do you have more books like these?” A small boy beside me, about the height of my elbow, pointed at our row of The Last Dragon Chronicles by Chris D’Lacey. “What did you like about them?” I asked encouragingly. “Well, I just like the dragons a lot. I just do,” he replied. He sort of defensively rushed his words at me, as though I was about to disagree with him. The little boy could not have known this beforehand, but I myself do like a good dragon-filled book. I made sure to tell him that I am totally “pro dragon.” We had a grand time picking out some more dragon themed books for him to read. Just about a week later, a young girl told me that she was looking for a new book. “I have read a lot of dragon books. A lot of them,” she announced proudly. These young dragon aficionados have made me realize just how many books I have read with dragons as characters. There really are a lot of fantastic dragon themed books! So, I’ve made a list of my favorites and included some more recently published titles. The books I have chosen to list here are personal favorites, but please feel free to add to the list, comment upon it, or mentally high five me! I think this “dragon mania” is going to be a lot of fun!
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch with illustrations by Michael Martchenko ($6.95, Annick Press, Ages 3-5)
Here is the classic story by Munsch that I grew up with myself. Elizabeth is a princess who is set to marry Prince Ronald, all ready for her own happily-ever-after. However, the wedding doesn’t go as planned as the momentum of an unexpected chain of events moves the story disastrously downhill! Elizabeth’s castle is smashed, her dress is “toasted” by fiery dragon breath, and her Prince is gone. All this chaos is thanks to a recent visit by a fire-breathing dragon. With true gumption, Elizabeth defies fashion by putting on a paper bag and venturing forth to rescue her prince from the clutches of the dragon! When she finds the dragon, she outwits him by engaging him in showing off his fine array of dragon stunts. The dragon complies and becomes completely worn out. Ready for the twist? After all that hard work, Prince Ronald doesn’t want her after all. “Come back when you are dressed like a real princess,” he tells her. Well, too bad for him – he missed out on one amazing girl!
I first read this book as a little girl at my best friend Laurie’s house. When I finished reading it, I asked Laurie, “Why do you like this book? They don’t live happily ever after!” My friend (she’s a lawyer now) was always very pragmatic, even as a young girl. “She’s a princess. He’s a bad guy.” she replied with sort of a shrug. I had to agree that was true and together we concurred that we wished Elizabeth good luck with her next love. We just knew there had to be a special prince out there awaiting such a well deserving princess!
Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas with illustrations by Jennifer Plecas ($14.99, Dutton, Ages 4-7)
It’s every knight’s job to slay the dragon when the dragon is found. We all know this to be true. Yet, what if a knight found three wide-eyed little dragons instead? What happens then? As the story begins, the Good Knight hears a loud roar and boldly ventures forth to save the day. However, instead of finding a dragon to fight he finds three little dragons that can’t sleep. It is at this point in the story that we enter into the all too familiar “getting ready for bed” scenarios that we all know so well! The Good Knight has to deal with a litany of little dragon demands – stories, songs, and glasses of water! Young readers and parents alike are certain to find much to identify with here. Of course, we also have the privilege of meeting one very good knight who can tuck a young dragon into bed just right. Good Night, Good Knight is a wonderful read aloud for just before bedtime. This is also available as an excellent Level 2 reader.
Dealing With Dragons: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Book Oneby Patricia Wrede ($6.99, Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 10 and up)
Princess Cimorene is not your usual fairy tale princess. She wants to learn Latin, fencing, and how to cook. Are these qualities that her parents approve of? Certainly not! They are desirous of a daughter who follows pursuits they would deem to be more feminine. Her parents begin to plan her marriage to a prince who is just not quite as intelligent as Cimorene. In fact, he’s pretty much not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, if you catch my drift. Being whip-crack smart herself, Princess Cimorene takes the good advice of a nearby frog and decides to become the dragon Kazul’s princess. The princess refuses all efforts to rescue her from this life as a dragon’s “girl Friday.” I especially envied Princess Cimorene’s new responsibilities of organizing dragon treasure hoards, and categorizing their scrolls. Imagine what you could learn! Wrede’s humorous, well crafted book had me in smiles and giggles the entire time I was reading it.
The character of the dragon Kazul is just as sassy as Cimorene herself. You will meet a widely divergent cast of characters that includes interfering wizards and unusual friends. Princess Cimorene and Kazul the dragon find that together they must thwart an evil plan! This book is the perfect junior fiction pick for the dragon fan in your life provided that the reader likes a good dash of humor along side their fantasy reading. Fans of the book will be excited to learn that this is the first in a series of four books in “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.”
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke ($8.99, Scholastic, Ages 10-13)
Ben is a lonely orphan who happens to meet Firedrake who is a silver dragon needing help to escape to his ancestral home known as “The Rim of Heaven”. This is where dragons can live in freedom, safely away from humans. In this story Ben, Firedrake, a brownie named Sorrel embark on a journey to go to “The Rim of Heaven” so that Firedrake may live a better life. However, a powerful and evil villain named Nettlebrand, the “Golden One” is on their trail. Many countries are crossed as these three heroes meet magical beings and make extraordinary friends as they race to the Rim of Heaven. The question is, can they get there in time before their mysterious foe catches up with them?
Ms. Funke, the author of the famous Inkheart trilogy, does not disappoint her younger readers! She provides an amazing world, and an exciting race to a finish line that will keep readers enthralled until the very end. The author herself provides the most wonderful illustrations for the book. As an aside, in an act of sheer geekery, I bought the book for my own children’s literature collection (in its first printing) because there was a pop-up map in the middle of the book! I’m just such a sucker for a good map and it came in very handy as it showed the journey of our heroes from the very beginning to the very end of their exciting but occasionally perilous journey.
Creel’s aunt and uncle have fallen upon hard times. In a moment of what Creel’s aunt deems sheer brilliance, she decides to provoke a local dragon into taking Creel hostage. Now, of course a noble and wealthy young lord will come to do battle with the dragon to rescue the fair maiden. According to her aunt he will then marry Creel, and all the family’s economic problems will be solved. The trouble is that the local dragon, Theoradus, is not interested in the slightest in taking Creel prisoner. In fact, he is much more interested in his hobby of shoe collecting. Creel herself is much more interested in escaping rather than being rescued. She wishes to journey to the city known as the King’s Seat to attain her dream of becoming well known as an embroiderer and having her own embroidery shop. This was a skill with powerful implications that had been taught to her by her late mother.
What ensues is a pact between dragon and maiden. Creel is really in need of some new shoes to begin her journey. Theoradus will give her any pair of shoes she wants if she will ensure that the young lord will never come to bother the dragon. The sheer range of shoes that Creel gets to choose from is incredible. The collection has shoes with emeralds on them, children’s shoes, sensible shoes, and one very fine pair of blue slippers that fit Creel perfectly. Yet, there is some mysterious power about these shoes. Creel and her new slippers must make their way in the world as she journeys towards the big city. Yet, can she discover the true magic behind the dragon’s slippers?
The author, Ms. George, combines a winsome heroine, and even more winsome dragons in her tale of fine needlework, dreams worth attaining, dragons, and a bit of romance to keep things interesting. Do you dream of reading about dragons that collect shoes, stain glass windows, and one fussy dragon that caringly and fanatically adopts dogs? Look no further! Middle grade readers who are fans of Gail Carson Levine’s books such as Ella Enchanted will find a real treasure of a book when they read about Creel and her adventures. Creel’s adventures continue in the two sequels to this book.
The Last Dragonslayer, The Chronicles of Kazam, Book One by Jasper Fforde ($16.99, Harcourt, Ages 12 and up)
Our heroine, Jennifer Strange, is a foundling attempting to run an employment agency inherited from her mentor, The Great Zambini. This employment agency functions to find job placement for an occasionally unemployed group of wizards. The trouble is The Great Zambini has disappeared leaving Jennifer to run the company of Kazam on her own. In an alternate world where Jennifer lives in the “UnUnited Kingdom”, British author, Jasper Fforde, populates his first young adult novel with quirky wizards, a Quarkbeast (don’t worry, he’s a tame pet with razor sharp teeth who is Jennifer’s loyal companion), and a dragon of course! This is a world where the affects of the lack of magic have reached the level of a true energy crisis. For example, one of the wizards, once a great sorcerer, now must use his magical abilities to pilot his flying carpet as a pizza delivery service. Low on magic, this is tragically all the energy he has left. A prediction of the last dragonslayer killing the world’s last dragon has everyone at Kazam wondering if perhaps the death of this dragon could mean the end of magic altogether.
Fifteen-year-old Jennifer embarks on a humorous yet adventurous quest to sort out these predictions, and to find out the truth about the last dragonslayer. She must negotiate the plans of a greedy prince, equally greedy companies, while she is also trying to train a new assistant to help with wizard unemployment! There is never a dull moment at the company of Kazam.
I admire the author for his ability to create an intriguing alternate world that combines today with “some place out there.” This is a place where dragons can remember a home where they used to live under a violet sky with two moons. Meanwhile in the same story, Jennifer can find her pet Quarkbeast at her local Starbucks! This tongue-in-cheek novel is sure to please Lemony Snicket fans or anyone looking for a truly original fantasy novel for middle grade to young adult readers. A twelve-year-old with a good vocabulary would enjoy this just as much as the young adult audience it was intended for. A second book in this series, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is to be released in the United States later this year.
My cousin and fellow voracious reader, Grace Duryée, has penned a fantastic review of the young adult novel, Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman which also features dragon characters. Please check it out next week on the blog! I think you will be very glad you did. I wish your children loads of brilliant dragon adventures. Remember to add to my list to your own hoard of dragon book recommendations! Happy reading, dragon fans!
Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads and relax over a great cup of coffee. Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.
Today, February 1st, is the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Terminal (simply called Grand Central by New Yorkers). This landmark in the heart of the Big Apple and seen in countless films – most notably Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, has elegantly stood the test of time. Being a former New Yorker, I have always had a soft spot for the station. For me it’s a time capsule and represents a bygone era when men wore hats, women wore gloves and the trains pulling out of the platforms held a promise of journeys beyond the crowded city limits.
As we celebrate the station’s centennial, we can once again enjoy all 32 pages of Maira Kalman’s praise-worthy picture book tribute in Next Stop Grand Central($16.99, Nancy Paulsen Books, ages 4 and up). First published in 1999 and now re-released for this special occasion, Next Stop Grand Central is a festive and fun frolic through the fast-paced environs of one of America’s busiest train stations. And parents, don’t forget to show your child the entire book jacket, too, because Kalman’s zany sense of humor begins even before page 1!
This is just the kind of book my kids would have had me read over and over to them as we made new discoveries each time and discussed each one. Maybe the first time reading we’d notice Ed with his excessively long arm changing one of the KAZILLION light bulbs in the station. Maybe next time we’d ooh and ahh over precious Pete, the pup on his way to Riverdale to “cheer up Ida Frumkiss.” Kids will certainly get a kick out of all the activity on every page as Kalman’s comical artwork, depicting a colorful cast of characters, begs to be studied not just glanced. Kalman includes a lot of what is the heart and soul of the station such as the information booth and its iconic clock, the Oyster Bar, Vanderbilt Hall, the grand staircases, the star-filled ceilings and the marble floors.
Whether you find yourself slowly turning the pages to catch up with the many different people detailed in the book on their way to so many different places or you want to quickly get to the end to find out exactly how Kalman will wrap up her story, there’s no perfect way to read Next Stop Grand Central. All I can say is it just has to be read!
Debbie Glade tells us why she got a real kick out of reading this terrific picture book.
I’ve read so many picture books in the past five years that I can honestly say I am able to spot a true winner in less than a minute. The Brief Thief ($16.95, Enchanted Lion Books, Ages 4 and up) is indeed one of those books. Not only did I smile while reading every page of this book, I laughed the entire time I was reading it – once to myself and the other time out loud to my husband, who also laughed.
For me, the first step of the review process is always to examine the quality of the physical book. I consider it important because books we love, we want to keep forever or pass on to others who may want to keep them forever. Well, Brief Thief ranks among the highest quality books I’ve ever seen. The hard cover is so thick and sturdy, it is nearly indestructible, the binding is solid and the paper is thick, beautiful matte card stock. I can appreciate this quality, as I am quite familiar with the process and materials used in book printing as a small press publisher myself.
Onto the story . . . Leon is a big green gecko. One morning after breakfast, he needs to use the “facilities” but quickly discovers he is out of toilet paper. To solve his problem, Leon simply uses a pair of undies he finds hanging on a tree as toilet paper. After all they have holes in them, seem unusable for anything else and do not seem to belong to anyone. Then he throws them down and walks away. Well, to Leon’s surprise, those undies do indeed belong to someone else, and he discovers he probably should not have taken them and used them as he did. I won’t give away the ending of the book, but trust me when I tell you that it is clever and engaging, and that every page of this book will make you smile and laugh as I did. Both the words by author Michael Escoffier and the illustrations by Kris Di Giacomo are wonderful, humorous and equally important. Where do authors get crazy, original ideas like this for a picture book? I can only imagine how much fun it was to illustrate!
What makes this book even more interesting is that author Michael Escoffier and illustrator Kris Di Giacomo have created many successful books together in French, including Brief Thief that we now fortunately have in English. I’ve been told the team has another title coming out in in English in July 2013. Can I please be the first to read it?
So there you have it – a high quality printed book, a funny, well-written original story that is easy to read with spectacular illustrations that all leave you wanting to read the author and illustrator’s next book right now. Now that’s a perfect picture book.
Note: You’re going to have to wait until April 16, 2013 to read Brief Thief, the publication date for this book. But there’s nothing stopping you from ordering a copy today.