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Inspired by a True Tale – The Dam by David Almond

THE DAM
Written by David Almond
Illustrated by Levi Pinfold
(Candlewick Studio; $17.99, Ages: 5-9)

Starred Review – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

 

cover illustration from The Dam by David Almond with art by Levi Pinfold


Poignant words and haunting illustrations tell this tale based on a true story of love, loss, and rebirth in The Dam written by David Almond and illustrated by Levi Pinfold.

“He woke her early. ‘Bring your fiddle,’” a father tells his daughter. Through these sparse words, the book opens with an immediate sense of urgency. A dam under construction will soon flood a valley cherished by Kathryn and her father. Once home to beloved musician friends, this valley will forever “be gone” and “washed away.” Pinfold’s illustrations echo the somber tone in a palette of gray, green, and white. While his “snapshot” pictures highlight samples of the delicate flora and fauna that will be lost, his double page spreads bring a bigger perspective to the vastness of the English countryside—the vastness of the loss and of the task at hand.

 

interior spread by Levi Pinfold from The Dam by David Almond

THE DAM. Text copyright © 2018 by David Almond. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Levi Pinfold. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

“‘Take no notice. There’s no danger,’” Kathryn’s father tells her. Tearing off boards on the abandoned houses they once gathered in to dance and sing, Kathryn’s father asks her to enter the rooms and play her fiddle. I couldn’t help but pause after reading these lines in the book. No danger? Had this story taken place in America, such an area would be visibly marked off with miles of flourescent yellow “CAUTION” tape and multiple “NO TRESPASSING” signs. Though the illustrations in the book show no such signage, it’s quite possible the characters’ presence in the valley was to some degree illegal. Though whatever physical danger there may have been, they faced an even greater one: the danger of the grieving process.

I compare tearing off boards from house to house to tearing off the bandage on a deep wound, acknowledging its pain, and being present with the discomfort. Kathryn plays and “Daddy sing[s],” lifting spirits “gone and … still to come” up and out of the houses and setting them free to become part of the landscape—the earth, the sky, the animals, and people. What a profound mystery of the human spirit, that we can find the safety of healing only by taking the risk to be vulnerable. Father teaches daughter there really is no danger when we grieve fully and wholeheartedly.

 

interior spread from The Dam by David Almond with art by Levi Pinfold

THE DAM. Text copyright © 2018 by David Almond. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Levi Pinfold. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

“The lake is beautiful” the author tells us, reflecting on how Kathryn and her father embrace the new creation. And just as before, Pinfold’s illustrations give us both detailed and wide-angled views of the landscape. Peaceful blues, gentle greens, and flowy whites restore what was once lost. Even the movement of the little fish mimic the dance of the spirits. Though the valley is gone, music continues to be celebrated.

Both multi-award winners, Almond and Pinfold complement each other beautifully. I strongly recommend the book to caregivers and educators alike, especially as an introduction to issues of change and loss for younger elementary-age children and to issues of death and bereavement for older ones.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Read a review of another David Almond book here.
Read another review by Armineh here.

The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.

Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.

Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”

But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.

Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Two Creative Crop Tales: Rice From Heaven & Hey, Hey, Hay!

RICE FROM HEAVEN:
THE SECRET MISSION
TO FEED NORTH KOREANS

Written by Tina Cho
Illustrated by Keum Jin Song
(Little Bee; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

&

HEY, HEY, HAY!:
A TALE OF BALES
AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM

Written by Christy Mihaly

Illustrated by Joe Cepada
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Grasses and grains make great stories in two new August picture books from Epic18 authors.

Cover art from Rice From Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North KoreansDrawing from her own personal experience, author Tina Cho writes a compelling fictional story about RICE FROM HEAVEN: THE SECRET MISSION TO FEED NORTH KOREANS.

Yoori, a young South Korean girl, has listened to her father, Appa, talk about his difficult childhood in North Korea. His compelling stories of hardship and hunger lead Yoori and Appa to volunteer for a secret nighttime mission; sending packages of rice over the border via special balloons.

When father and daughter arrive near the border, local villagers protest and chant, “Don’t feed the enemy.” In dismay Yoori says “The hope in my heart withers like a dying rice stalk.” But she rallies her courage and persists in completing the task at hand. With other volunteers, Yoori and Appa help inflate balloons, attach containers of rice, and send them floating over the border under starry skies.

Song’s vibrant illustrations markedly differentiate the two countries with a stark color palette. A verdant and lush South Korea features plentiful orange and pink flowers, fruits and green landscapes. Alternately, North Korea is shown isolated within a clear bowl, brown, barren and withered. The dramatic contrast peaks on a poignant double spread showing two North and South Korean girls face one another. While large grey mountains loom in the distance, the two children remain separated by nothing more than a small stream of clear running water.

Cho provides additional information on the political and cultural history of the Korean peninsula. This informative story is hopeful, compassionate and timely.

 

cover art from Hey, Hey, Hay!: A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make ThemIn HEY, HEY, HAY!: A TALE OF BALES AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM author Christy Mihaly tells a summery story about the process of harvesting hay. The bales will be stored in the barn, ready to break out a bit of summer for a hungry horse on a cold winter day.

Standing in waist-high, thick green grass that spills across the long, rolling horizon, a young girl and her mother observe that the fields are ready for the haying to begin. “Mower blades slice through the grass. / A new row falls with every pass. / Stalks and stems are scattered ’round. / The scents of new-mown plants abound.” The rhythmic thunk-thunk, chunk-chunk phrases echo the mechanical beats of the machinery employed – a mower, tedder, rake and baler. Mihaly explains the terminology in a helpful glossary of “haymaking words” that add richness to the rhyming farming narrative.

As the mown hay dries, mother and daughter refresh themselves with switchel, a traditional cold haying drink of ginger, vinegar and maple syrup. For those inspired to try it, the recipe is included! Raking and baling finally lead to the satisfying conclusion of a crop safely stacked in the barn, and time to ride and play with the patiently waiting pony.

Cepada’s illustrations capture the vast fields, broad skies, and varied haying equipment with detail, vibrancy and color. Green grasses fade to olive-yellows as tinted clouds sweep across the pages. The tractors and barn are a cheerful, traditional red, and the immense rolled hay bales are textured with prickly perfection. Each generously proportioned oil-and acrylic image is paired with succinct and snappy text that explicates and enhances the unique and creative story.

Good reasons to harvest both of these titles about bounty on your bookshelves!
 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

100 Bugs! A Counting Book by Kate Narita & Flying Deep by Michelle Cusolito

100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK
Written by Kate Narita
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, Ages 5-7)

&

FLYING DEEP:
Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN
Written by Michelle Cusolito
Illustrated by Nicole Wong
(Charlesbridge Books, $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Sharpen your math and science observation skills with two new, detail-packed STEM-rich picture books from debut authors.

100 Bugs: A Counting Book by Kate Narita cover artIn 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK, two young summer explorers aren’t bugged by insects at all. They are on a seek-and-find counting quest from the pond to the field to the forest and everywhere in between. Armed with a butterfly net and magnifying glass, the daring duo discover and count an astonishing variety of interesting insects. Narita employs bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.

Kaufman’s bright, colorful collage-style art is engaging and cheerful, adeptly including an impressive accumulation of bugs throughout every page. A beautiful array of wildflowers and plants are also featured, complementing the detailed and intricate insects. Kaufman adds lots of birds and animals as well as an enthusiastic dog who follows the children on their adventures. With so much visual interest, young readers will be captivated. Notes at the end provide additional information on the insects and plants, making this a great STEM book selection. 

cover art from Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVINIn FLYING DEEP readers will imagine an underwater journey of exploration with the pilots of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible. Their mission is to observe and analyze creatures and structures from the depths of the ocean floor, and to collect samples for further research at the surface. Cusolito uses a narrative logbook structure, inviting readers to ponder practical and procedural questions as if they are one of the crew members. What might you eat? How will you breathe? What will you see? Exciting discoveries and the possibility of danger raise the stakes for readers who will soak up this immersive science adventure.

Digital illustrations from Wong enrich this tale with incredible scenes from inside and outside the ALVIN. Realistic details abound, including the amazing variety of sea life and the riveted, technical components of the ALVIN itself. Wong uses light to her advantage, balancing sunlight and ALVIN’s spotlights above and below the ocean surface to focus attention on the stunning discoveries. A glossary, resources for further reading and notes from the author and illustrator round out this unique, informative book.

 

100 BUGS and FLYING DEEP were both recipients of starred reviews from Kirkus!

        • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Read another recent #Epic18 review by Cathy here.

Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Good Reads With Ronna occasionally provides links to shop at Once Upon a Time bookstore with whom we partner monthly to share a Wednesday What We’re Reading post. GRWR blog and its reviewers receive no compensation for any titles sold via this independent bookstore, but we do hope you’ll choose a local option when making your next purchase.

World Make Way – Art Inspired Poetry Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

WORLD MAKE WAY:
New Poems Inspired by Art
from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

 

World Make Way cover image of Cat Watching a Spider by Ōide Tōkō

 

A curious, crouching cat on the book’s cover immediately drew me into World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Eighteen thoughtful and evocative poems and the accompanying works of art that prompted their creation kept me turning the pages. This beautiful collection is everything a poetry anthology for children should be: diverse, original and, as the title suggests, inspiring. In the book’s back matter I learned that Lee Bennett Hopkins, the editor of World Make Way, holds the Guinness Book of World Records citation for compiling the most anthologies for children, making him more than well-suited to spearhead this satisfying project in conjunction with the Met.

I appreciate the breadth of art that was selected and the variety of poems that were commissioned for World Make Way. There is something that will appeal to every reader who dives in, whether they like short, simple poems or those more complex and layered. There are serious poems and those that have fun with the reader like Marilyn Singer’s poem, Paint Me, the first in the book. In it the teen subject of Gustav Klimt’s portrait, Mäda Primavesi, bids the artist to make haste and finish up the painting because she’s such a busy person, hence the book’s title World Make Way, a line she utters in desperation! She has places to go. People to see. After all, if her family can afford to have Klimt paint her, she’s likely a socialite. Ultimately the book will show children how to look at art with fresh eyes and take from it something unique to them. Art evokes something different in each person who beholds it and the poems included perfectly capture that.

One particular poem that stayed with me was Young Ashoka Sundari by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater inspired by Shiva and Parvati Playing Chaupar: Folio from a Rasamanjari Series, 1694-95 by Devidasa of Nurpur. Her poem introduces readers to Ashoka who secretly observes her parents: I stand behind this neem tree / to watch my parents play / a game of chaupar / on a tiger rug / beneath bright mango sky. Offering a child’s perspective in her poem, Vanderwater helped me to have a lightbulb moment with the artwork. It’s not always about what we see when observing art, it’s also about what or who the artist left out, or where the scene is set. What a wonderful conversation starter! What does this art say to you? What do you think is happening here now? How does this picture make you feel? What might happen now that the child has witnessed this scene?

In my multiple readings I found myself wondering what I’d write about a certain piece of art such as Henri Rousseau’s The Repast of the Lion, but if I ever see the painting again, I’ll forever associate J. Patrick Lewis’s poem with it. Now that he’s fed and jaguar-full— / Finally his appetite is dull— And of Joan Bransfield Graham’s Great Indian Fruit Bat, a poem about a painting of the same name attributed to Bhawani Das or a follower, 1777-82  I marveled at her internal rhyme and alliteration. As my wings whisk me, swooping through / this black velvet night, who will admire / my elegant attire, the intricacy …  A bat’s point of view, fantastic!

Other featured poets are: Alma Flor Ada, Cynthia S. Cotten, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Julie Fogliano, Charles Ghigna, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Irene Latham, Elaine Magliaro, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ann Whitford Paul, Carole Boston Weatherford and Janet Wong. Other featured artists are: Rosa Bonheur, Fernando Botero, Mary Cassatt, Liberale Da Verona, Leonardo Da Vinci, Han Gan, Martin Johnson Heade, Frank Henderson, Utagawa Hiroshige, Winslow Homer, Kerry James Marshall, José Guadalupe Posada and Ōide Tōkō.

While I can definitely see educators enjoying the book for its varying forms of poetry and the individual interpretations of the poets to accompany the magnificent works of art, I can also easily see a parent sharing the book before any museum visit or simply as a way to spark a child’s imagination. It certainly sparked mine.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another poetry collection here.

 

Albie Newton by Josh Funk – Wunderkind or What?

ALBIE NEWTON
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Ester Garay
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5-9)

 

Albie Newton cover image

 

Happy Book Birthday to author Josh Funk and illustrator Ester Garay on the publication of their terrific new picture book, Albie Newton, today! I know I’m not alone when I say how excited I get when a Josh Funk book arrives on my doorstep. I carefully unwrap the package, cradle the book in my hands, study the cover close up (this one’s a dazzling red I first saw when the cover was revealed on social media), smell the new book smell, feel the smoothness of the pages and then savor the surprise of his story. And, like previous Funk picture books, this one does not disappoint. It’s witty like so many of Funk’s books and is written with well-metered rhyme and no superfluous words or sentences to tell the tale of the titular main character. To put it another way, it simply works wonderfully like one of Albie Newton’s well constructed inventions!

Albie Newton is smart, but when his passion for inventing collides with his desire to make friends, it causes a bit of a brouhaha in his new preschool. Watch out what you’re doing fellow preschoolers because the new kid in class, Albie Newton, just may have his eye on what you’re playing with. The thing is that while Albie thinks his plan to “construct a special gift before the school day ends,” will win him friends, it ends up doing the opposite.

 

Interior illustrations by Ester Garay from Albie Newton by Josh Funk

Interior artwork from Albie Newton written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Ester Garay, Sterling Children’s Books ©2018.

 

How’s a child prodigy to know? Taking things from others, whether it’s for your top secret invention or not, is not looked upon kindly by other kids. If you seem to show off too much or swipe things without asking, that’s bad manners. People may actually misconstrue such behavior and label it self-centered, single-minded and rude. Fortunately classmate Shirley is clued in. Certain kids excel in some ways and not in others. Shirley realizes Albie is oblivious to the havoc he is unintentionally wreaking and wonders if maybe his cool creation can take everyone’s mind off the mess he’s made trying to forge new friendships. Will they let Albie off the hook? As it turns out, Shirley’s one darn clever preschooler, only in a different way than Albie.

With Albie Newton, Funk has honed in on the meaningful topic of a child’s desire to make friends while not necessarily knowing how to do it. Just because Albie doesn’t know the right way to go about befriending others doesn’t mean he can’t learn how nor does it mean that having friends doesn’t matter to him.

Garay’s upbeat and eye-catching illustrations will charm and entertain Albie Newton readers. I would recommend looking at the artwork more than once to catch all the clever things she’s included. From the cute kitty, the fabulous facial expressions and the colorful kids’ clothing to the pictures hanging on the wall, random book titles and ultimately Albie’s invention itself, there is so much to enjoy. The diverse classroom population and student names also provide a positive representation for youngsters to see and hear when they read the picture book or are being read to.

Albie’s social skills may not be as fine tuned as his inventions, but that doesn’t mean his heart’s not in the right place. It often takes a caring person like classmate Shirley in this case, to gently lead the way.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Here are links to my other GRWR reviews of Josh Funk books:
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast

Dear Dragon

It’s Not Jack and The Beanstalk

Walter and the Wallet – A Guest Post by Billy Bloom

“Doing the Right Thing—Not Always So Easy”

A Guest Post by Billy Bloom

 

Cover image for Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom

 

A wallet lying in the street, stuffed with cash. Not a single person anywhere in sight.

It’s a universal question for children and adults alike: when no one’s watching, will you do the right thing? How about when doing the right thing runs counter to your own self-interest? That is the premise of Walter and the Wallet.

Walter Whippingdale has been having the worst day of his life. As he walks home, shoulders slumped, head down, he discovers a wallet overflowing with cash. And suddenly, his awful day is awash with possibilities.

It’s a situation that most people have to deal with at some point in their life. And that includes me. I was working in my second year as a substitute teacher on Long Island. The school day had just ended, and, after straightening up the room for a few minutes, I headed for the parking lot.

Almost everyone had left the building by then, so no one was in front of me or behind me as I exited the building.

And there it was, just outside the doors: a small pile of cash.

 

interior spread from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom

Interior artwork from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom with illustrations by Tanya Leonello, Eifrig Publishing.

 

I feel like I’m a very honest person. When playing volleyball, I always call it on myself when I touch the net. I’m a firm disciple in the Golden Rule—and believe that if everyone would just live by it, the Earth would be an infinitely nicer place.

So I bent over, picked it up, and counted it. $23. I obviously knew what the right thing to do was. And yet … there was the tug. From some dark corner of my brain, a tiny voice was saying “You could just slip it in your pocket. There’s not a soul in sight.”

I didn’t keep the money; I turned around and brought it into the office, telling them that if they couldn’t determine the owner, to use it to buy some school supplies. They thanked me profusely. But as I left, I felt a sense of shame. I’m a good person, I thought—so why did some small part of me want to keep that $23? It wasn’t mine. It wouldn’t have changed my life one iota.

Such is the conflict in Walter and the Wallet. But it’s not a purportedly mature, allegedly honest adult who’s confronted with a near-identical situation—it’s a 9-year-old child.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. One might be too busy, too tired, too distracted. But doing the right thing when it runs counter to your own self-interest is even harder. That is the dilemma I want children, their parents, and their teachers to discuss after reading Walter and the Wallet. It all comes down to that Golden Rule: what would you want a person to do if they found your wallet?

 

Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom interior spread 2

Interior artwork from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom with illustrations by Tanya Leonello, Eifrig Publishing.

 

Children can learn several lessons from reading about Walter: a bad day can turn around on a dime. Money can’t buy you happiness. And of course, if you find something that isn’t yours, do everything in your power to get it back to its owner.

Walter ultimately makes the right choice, and finds that it comes with some unanticipated rewards. I’m hopeful that reading my book will help children do the honorable thing when they inevitably confront a similar scenario in their own lives.

Brief Summary of Walter and the Wallet:

Walter Whippingdale is having the worst day of his life. The girl he likes has been making googly eyes at another boy in his class. He struck out during recess. He broke his favorite watch. A giant pimple appeared on his nose. And to top it off, he somehow managed to get mustard in his eye at lunch! Walking home from school, his head is hanging low. Which is precisely how Walter spots a wallet lying in the street … a wallet bursting with cash. Suddenly, his terrible day is about to change. But how?

In this engaging tale of life lessons, first-time children’s author Billy Bloom has created a story to spark some important conversation between kids and parents about making good choices. Accompanied by Tanya Leonello’s charming watercolor illustrations, this story of childhood morality and the daily dilemmas children face, is sure to pull young readers in and get them thinking.

For more info/to order copies:

Eifrig Publishing

Amazon

About the Author:

Billy Bloom is an elementary school teacher in New York. Before becoming a teacher, he had several other jobs, including professional Frisbee player (finishing 6th in the World Championships in 1983), newspaper editor, advertising copywriter, and volleyball league owner. He currently referees middle and high school volleyball and basketball games after school and on weekends. This is Billy Bloom’s debut children’s book.

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First Words: French from Lonely Planet Kids

FIRST WORDS: FRENCH
100 French words to learn
Illustrated by Andy Mansfield & Sebastien Iwohn
(Lonely Planet Kids; $12.99, Ages 5-9)

 

Cover image of First Words: French

 

Cover art from First Words book series for childrenIf your holiday plans will take you and your family to a French speaking country or even if you just want to expose your child to a foreign language in a fun and friendly format, Lonely Planet’s First Words: French, one of three books in a new language series for young readers, is definitely worth checking out.

interior image of an umbrella in French from First Words: FrenchParents will like the price and kids will appreciate the travel guidebook’s compact design. There’s a soft cover and 208 durable pages so youngsters will feel like they’re carrying around a book similar to the one Mom or Dad use. They also won’t tire of flipping through the colorful pages packed with bold graphic images of everything a traveler could want from introductory vocabulary. Whether seeking words for food (ice cream, cheese, chicken and fries), travel essentials such as clothing (pants, shoes, t-shirt and coat), more urgent things (toilet, passport, doctor), to modes of transportation (bike, airplane, taxi, car and airplane), kids will find it all there with simple pronunciation examples on every page.

Airplane/avion interior artwork from Lonely Planet's First Words: FrenchAnother great feature that Lonely Planet Kids offers readers is access to a fab free audio pronunciation guide for every word included in the book. Get there via a QR code or use lonelyplanet.com/kids/first-words. I tried it, and though I speak French I still loved having the chance to see and hear how learning a new language in a simple way was presented to children, using a child’s voice. Presenting this book, along with a journal and a disposable camera, will get any child psyched for travel abroad and the chance to be a helpful, knowledgeable companion on the journey.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Best Hanukkah Books 2016 – A Roundup

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
A Roundup by Ronna Mandel

 

Hanukkah Delight!
Hanukkah Delight by Leslea Newman book coverWritten by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy Husband
(Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4)

An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as:
Friends and neighbors to invite, 
Ancient blessings we recite.
Gleaming candles burning bright,
Crispy latkes taste just right.

 

A Hanukkah With MazelA Hanukkah With Mazel by Joel Edward Epstein
Written by Joel Edward Stein
Illustrated by Elisa Vavouri
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, $6.99 eBook, Ages 3-8)

Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazel is flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.

Yitzi and the Giant Menorah cover imageYitzi and the Giant Menorah
Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar
(Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

HELLO RUBY: ADVENTURES IN CODING
Written and illustrated by Linda Liukas
(Feiwel & Friends; $16.99, Ages 4-8 )

 

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Linda Liukas’s Hello Ruby is a book that first caught my eye on Kickstarter. In fact, I heavily modeled my Kickstarter project after it since its campaign had tons of contributors and raised over $380,000! After receiving a lot of attention, it got picked up to be traditionally published with an imprint of Macmillan, Feiwel and Friends.

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Interior artwork from Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas, Feiwel & Friends ©2015.

Hello Ruby is all about teaching young kids the building blocks of coding. The book is broken up into nine small chapters. There’s a fairly simple story-line: Ruby needs to find five gems her dad has hidden around the house. Ruby goes on her adventure and starts with a plan by making a map. She ends up in the imaginary world of the map (I was a bit unsure how she got there, but it works with the book). She meets penguins, a snow leopard, foxes, robots, and a young boy on this adventure. As she goes along she is doing things that are the basis of coding.
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Interior artwork from Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas, Feiwel & Friends ©2015.

Immediately following the story there’s a thorough and fun activity section that would be done with a child and parent or teacher. The kids (and adults) can learn about the basics of coding, such as strings, sequence, loops, selection, functions, and more! It’s written simply and clearly for young kids to understand.
I loved the adorable illustrations and so will your budding coders! Liukas has a bright, cheerful and kid-like illustration style that complemented the story and activities well. I know it’s the teacher in me, but I’m partial to books that have a teaching element and since my husband is a software engineer, I’m also familiar with these concepts in their basic forms.

A few months ago a friend asked my husband what apps or online activities are out there to help kids with coding and he gave these three sites saying …

If children are young there is scratch.mit.edu. There are also good exercises at code.org. If the kids are a bit older inventwithpython.com has books that teach more “real” programming skills.
With Hello Ruby, Linda Liukas has done a wonderful job portraying and teaching simple coding concepts in an entertaining and hands-on way. I think her website helloruby.com should be added to my husband’s list too. The website has great information and helpful teaching tools, along with some printables. Although it’s listed online for ages 4-8, I’d recommend Hello Ruby for children ages 5-9 (or anyone who wants to learn some fun kids activities that have coding concepts). Happy reading and coding everyone!
– Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

MAPLE & WILLOW APART
Written & illustrated by Lori Nichols
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

Maple & Will Apart by Lori Nichols

Maple & Willow Apart, the follow up to author/illustrator Lori Nichols’ Maple and Maple & Willow Together, will draw in fans new and old alike as they witness Maple and Willow’s growing sisterly bond.

Done in pencil and digitally colored, the illustrations emphasize the two central characters. The background is simply white with just enough detail to hint at the setting.  At center stage of the book is the sisters’ relationship.

When a major change in their routine takes place, both girls feel this relationship may be in jeopardy. Maple, now old enough to attend “big-girl school,” will be away from home, and her younger sister Willow, for most of the day. While the two pretend this fact doesn’t bother them, their actions speak louder than words.

From Monday through Wednesday, Maple returns home sharing the thrill of her new school life–perhaps a bit too forcefully. Speaking in what seems like a mile a minute, she narrates with open arms, expressive eyes, and a dazzling smile. In true sibling rivalry fashion, Willow subtly strikes back with her own tale of adventures with an imaginary forest friend. In this game of one-upmanship,or rather one-upgirlship, each sibling creates a more fantastic story than the other.  

Though underneath the theatrics lie real emotions:  the fear of separation and the longing to express it. By Thursday morning, the siblings have toned down their contest of words allowing for the natural bonds of sisterhood to take over and heal their friendship. First in pig Latin, then in more candid conversation, Maple shares how she “miss[es] playing at home” with Willow who admits to sharing the same feelings. While younger, Willow finds a way to stay connected with her sister even when Maple is away at school.  

For families who are experiencing a similar change or for parents looking to open a more general discussion of separation, I highly recommend Maple & Willow Apart. The inherent presence of love between family members ensures that no change is too scary to face.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Around the World With Children’s Books

THREE BOOKS FOR KIDS
TO PIQUE THEIR CURIOSITY ABOUT TRAVEL

Littleland Around the World Littlelandcvr.jpg
By Marion Billet
(Nosy Crow; $14.99; ages 2-5)

The cute creatures of Littleland are getting ready to travel. First, they must make sure they have everything they need, such as a camera, suitcase, umbrella, and sun hat. Next, they’re off to 14 countries to explore and learn.

This country is called the Netherlands. It is famous for its pretty windmills and colorful flowers. People here often bicycle to work and school. It’s windy today! Hold on to your hats, little ones! /This is the beautiful city of Venice in Italy. Here, they have canals, so people can travel around in boats instead of cars! In Italy, people often eat pizza for lunch. Do you like pizza, too? /Now the little ones are going to see a magnificent building called the Taj Mahal. They are in India, where it is very hot! There are all sorts of ways of traveling in India—some people even ride elephants! /The little ones have arrived in China just in time to join a festival! The dragon is dancing to the music! How many people are inside the costume?

The language is age appropriate with just enough information for growing minds. The digitally created illustrations are bright, eye catching and filled with iconic landmarks. Each spread features nine “can you see?” cultural items, such as flags, for little eyes to find. For example, the United Kingdom has a red phone booth, Australia has a boomerang, Japan has a teapot, Egypt has a pyramid, and Finland has a sleigh.

Littleland Around the World is a great book for your children to start learning about the world.

 

ChildrensActivityAtlascvr.jpgChildren’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World
Written by Jenny Slater and illustrated by Katrin Wiehle and Martin Sanders
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95; ages 5-9)

Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is filled with tons of information for older children. A “how to use the atlas” introduction explains the keys to the maps and biomes, how a world map is made, and how to use a grid reference. The book’s twelve sections cover North America, South America, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, Russia and Eurasia, Middle East and South Asia, China and Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Arctic and Antarctica. Each section includes a description and a map of the area, flags of the region, a fact file of the largest mountain range, country, desert, lake, and longest river, and a highlighted topic, such as the Amazon rainforest, oil production, tea plantation, and volcanoes.

Northern Africa: The scorching hot Sahara Desert covers most the northern part of Africa. There is very little rain here and water is hard to find. Many desert people are nomads who move from place to place to find food and water. Most people in this part of Africa live in cities along the coasts or in the great Nile river valley, where the soil is rich enough to grow cotton, rice, vegetables, and fruit. South of the Sahara there is more rain, so farmers here grow cocoa, groundnuts, and coconuts. The section includes a six-step explanation of where chocolate comes from.

The book includes an index and over 250 stickers of flags, landmarks, and animals. Six pre-filled postcards from the continents and a passport are also included. Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is a useful text for learning more about the continents and their inhabitants and resources.

 

Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure
By Jackie Clark Mancuso
(La Librairie Parisienne; $17.95; ages 3-7)

Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure is a tale of a dog, Hudson, who along with his owner, leave the heat of Paris and head out to the beautiful countryside. Their adventure begins with their stay in an old stone house in the middle of a vineyard. Provence is a magical place. My book says artists come here to paint because it’s so beautiful. And the Provençal dogs work. I want to do what they do, so I can feel the magic.

Hudson is curious and he meets a lot of canine friends. Gaston is a border collie who herds sheep. Hudson tries, but the sheep aren’t so easy to move. Philippe is a truffle hunter! “Truffles are smelly mushrooms that grow underground near trees. They’re delicious! I have been specially trained to sniff them out because people like them too.” Hudson tries, but finding truffles isn’t as easy as eating them. Hudson and his owner watch the Tour de France. It’s exciting, but the cyclists are too fast and Hudson can’t keep up. What can he do to be a Provençal dog? Of course, he can paint like the artists who find inspiration! So he begins to paint doggy portraits, is busy for the next month, and holds an art show.

Hudson in Provence is a fun way to learn about French culture. French phrases are aptly woven into the story, and are an easy, contextual way to learn basic words. The book features a handy glossary (or le petit dictionnaire) with translation and pronunciation. The artwork is in the style of gouache paintings, and it matches the feel of the book perfectly. You can enjoy the book trailer at vimeo.com/120236763.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

ONE PLASTIC BAG: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul

ONE PLASTIC BAG:
Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Written by Miranda Paul
Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
(Millbrook Press; $19.99, Ages 5-9)

 

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One gusty day in early spring, a plastic bag snagged onto a bare branch of a tall maple tree in my backyard. In even the lightest breeze, it would whistle and snap in an irritatingly syncopated rhythm. I wished – to no avail – that newly sprouting green leaves would dampen the twisting, flapping, rustling and puffing. I encouraged squirrels to snatch the bag for nest-lining. I thought about climbing a ladder with rake in hand to yank it down. Finally one windy wonderful fall day, it was gone!

My plastic bag story is neither inspiring nor life-changing, but Miranda Paul’s new book ONE PLASTIC BAG is the complete opposite. Paul conveys the true story of Isatou Ceesay, a Gambian woman who uncovers a creative solution to reduce plastic trash in her community. Carelessly discarded plastic bags were causing problems. Water collected in the ugly plastic trash heaps and became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Goats were sickened by eating the bags, and burning bags produced terrible smoke.

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Interior artwork from One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon; Millbrook Press ©2015.

Ceesay devises a way to clean the bags and turn them into plastic strands that can be crocheted into purses. She organizes groups of village women to work together, cleaning trash from their community, producing income from the sale of the purses, and empowering the women in the process.

Paul uses simple lyrical devices to tell the story, employing a counting refrain throughout that “One becomes two. Then ten. Then a hundred.” Following the story of Ceesay, readers will quickly catch on to the idea that the actions of one person can ripple far and have a broader impact for the greater good.

The text brings Gambia to life by weaving elements of sounds, smells and color throughout the story in a manner that always seems natural and organic. Illustrator Elizabeth Zunon used her personal collection of patterned papers and shopping bags to make bright, engaging collage images that ring with authenticity.

ONE PLASTIC BAG is a wonderful story for classrooms and families alike who are interested in true stories about ordinary people finding a way to make a positive change in the world. The back of the book contains an informative author’s note, a timeline, glossary, and a list of other biographies about inspiring change makers.

Don’t miss this beautiful and inspiring true story from West Africa. You may find, as my daughter did, that you will never look at a plastic bag in the same way ever again!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of ONE PLASTIC BAG from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Garden-Themed Books for Spring: Lola Plants a Garden & In Mary’s Garden

Lola Plants a Garden
Written by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
(Charlesbridge; $15.95, Ages 2-5)

In Mary’s Garden
By Tina and Carson Kugler
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.

Lola-Plants-Garden-cvr.jpgIn Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.

Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?

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Interior artwork from Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014

This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.

 

InMarysGarden-cvr.jpgIn Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.

My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.

The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.

NOTE: If you live in L.A., you can see Tina and Carson Kugler at Once Upon a Time Bookstore at 11a.m. on March 28th.

Here’s a book trailer to enjoy, too.

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
with illustrations by Raul Colón
(Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, Booklist & School Library Journal

Leontyne-Price-cvr.jpgI chose to read and review author Carole Boston Weatherford’s nonfiction picture book biography, Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, not only because I’m a HUGE Porgy and Bess fan, but also to honor a powerhouse performer during Black History Month.

Other African-American kids might not have persevered in light of the pervasive prejudice that existed when Leontyne Price was growing up in the deep south, but thankfully she did. Price was born in 1927, just one year after Melba Doretta Liston, another musical talent. She grew up in Laurel, Mississippi to a hard-working, supportive, and music-loving mother and father. At a young age Leontyne found herself moved by the music she heard:  “Singing along to her daddy James’s records and listening to the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts.” Her parents even sold their phonograph so their daughter could get a piano along with lessons.

Like the opera singer Marian Anderson before her, Leontyne felt the music stir within her as she sang in the church choir. Soon she was heading off to college to pursue a teaching career since, in that era, the chances of becoming a successful black singer seemed out of reach. Surely her talent played a part in that educational opportunity as I read online that she received a scholarship to attend university in Ohio. Everything changed however, when her singing talents were heard by the college president who “convinced her to study voice instead.”

It didn’t take long for Leontyne’s star to begin rising when she attended Julliard and began earning acclaim for her singing. Her first break came when she appeared on Broadway in Porgy and Bess. She was also the “the first black singer to star at La Scala, Italy’s famed opera palace.” What I would have given to be in the audience at that performance! Eventually she landed a lead role at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, breaking new ground for generations of African-American performers to come.

Weatherford points out in her Author’s Note that while Leontyne may have achieved great fame, she “still encountered racism in the United States. To her credit, her wondrous voice overcame the obstacles.” This wonderful biography chronicles the life of an iconic 20th century opera singer who followed her dream and ultimately fulfilled it. As an adult, I can recall watching Price on Ed Sullivan but having no idea of what her  challenges would have been to gain recognition and be on TV. In fact, Weatherford says, “Price was the first black opera singer to perform on television in the United States.” What a great story for kids to read who may take for granted the struggles African-Americans like Price faced in the past. Nowadays it may just take a click of a cell phone to get a video made and uploaded onto YouTube for anyone to see, when in the previous century it may have taken an entire lifetime. I like that young readers can use this book as a jumping off point for reading more about influential African-Americans mentioned such as Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry, Kathleen Battle, and Denyce Graves.

Raul Colón’s illustrations bring the same joy to this picture book that Price’s voice brought to anyone who heard it. From the opening spread, what looks like a rainbow of musical notes, takes on the form of a wave and flows through the book on pages when Leontyne sings. I also like the slight fuzziness of the artwork, as if we’re watching Price’s life unfold as seen on the early days of television broadcasting.

Before reading Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century I had no idea all the firsts this amazing woman achieved and I hope her accomplishments will inspire our 21st century children to keep reaching for the stars.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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