If you like fairy tales, Muon Thị Văn’s new spin on Snow White will enchant you. Snow White and the dwarfs aren’t featured, rather the focus is on the Magic Mirror used by the Evil Queen. In The Most Terrible of All, the queen has been replaced by Smugg, a lovable monster. Smugg is certain he’s the most terrible beast in the land—his mirror tells him so. Until, one day, when he’s out-terribled by someone new, someone “a million times more terrible.” Not one to sit idly by, Smugg goes in search of this interloper. His quest takes him all the way . . . next door where a houseful of fiends are all potential contenders for the title of Most Terrible.
This ghoulish fractured fairy tale delighted me. Matt Myers’s art features lovely blues, greens, purples, and pinks giving the book a calm vibe even though the action’s quite exciting. His “ginormous sea serpent” is wonderfully scary and my favorite creature in the book.
Kids will enjoy this picture book because it’s a funny version of a story they already know. The monsters are charming and the ending is just perfect.
Goldilocks has gone ghoulish in Lynne Marie’s picture book, Moldilocks and the Three Scares: A Zombie Tale. The Scare family—a monster dad, mummy mom, and vampire daughter—are enjoying a lovely night together preparing a midnight snack of sliced finger sandwiches and Alpha-Bat soup. But, of course, the soup is too hot; it boils Dad’s bolts, causes Mama to unravel, and gives Baby a fang-ache.
David Rodriguez Lorenzo illustrations are deathly cute. Details enliven each scenes. The page that enchants me is Moldilocks zombie-stumbling across the dining table with a fly escort. The three chairs are perfectly suited for each family member. Their décor is skeletal chic. A skull vase displays withering flowers, an old-fashioned TV’s rabbit ears appear to be femurs, and the standing lamp is a headless skeleton holding up its lampshade.
Pay attention to the opening pages because those lines will come back to haunt you with the book’s modern ending. When the Scares catch Moldilocks in their ghastly abode, Mama muses that her “nightmares have been answered”; I think Moldilocks would agree.
The winning team of Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt from Interstellar Cinderella are together again in Reading Beauty, another rhyming fractured fairy tale picture book. In this version, instead of the princess pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, Princess Lex lives in a book-loving kingdom and is cursed to go into a deathlike sleep from a paper cut. Therefore, all books are secreted away on her fifteenth birthday.
“Without its books, their world grew bleak, consumed by dark and gloom.” Luckily Lex’s cute puppy, Prince, has been trained to fetch her things to read. I like how this smart princess takes matters into her own hands, especially the funny scene where Lex fools the fairy.
The art pops from the page. A bright blend of classic fairy tale and futuristic wonder will delightfully transport readers into a modern world. You’ll have to pick up your own copy to discover the creative ending.
Acorn books, designed for early readers, brings five scary stories to children in this Mister Shivers series. Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories has 64 pages packed with full-color artwork while some other Acorn books have 48 pages. Either way, there’s something for every new reader seeking “relatable characters and experiences” written and illustrated by some of the best known names in children’s literature.
Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories opens with a letter from Mister Shivers about a mysterious box delivered to him in which he found items pertaining to each story and a promise to share the stories in the book. Like all the stories in this book, evocative, muted illustrations help reinforce the easy-to-read text of these fast paced short stories. That’s certainly the case in “Beneath the Bed” about a boy dared by kids at school to visit the local haunted house. Upon entering the house with his sister who he brought along for courage, the pair discover a sinister doll with glowing eyes under a bed in the attic bedroom.
“A Hair Down to My Stomach” as the title implies, is equal parts gross and unsettling, with just the type of visuals accompanying it to make it succeed. “The Statue” will have kids talking back to the book as they turn the pages and tell the mom in the story as her son tries to do, “Don’t buy the statue!” Of course, she does. What follows is the reason why Mr. Shivers’ mysterious box contained a piece of quilty. He never mentioned if it was smelly like the quilt in “The Statue.” All I know is the young boy should have listened to the statue’s owner when she warned the buyers not to remove the quilt. The same goes for Oliver in “A Dark and Stormy Night” who should have done as his parents’ wished and brought his toys inside. Instead, they were left out in the rain to be ruined by the elements. Toys don’t like being forgotten and seek their revenge when that happens. Poor Oliver! And as for the scraping sound in “The Noise at the Window,” I know this well. Only I’ve been fortunate to find a tree outside where I heard the clawing coming from a branch. The little girl in this tale wasn’t so fortunate!
Okay spine, start tingling because these five stories are guaranteed to make you keep the lights on.
Get ready to be caught under the spell of Emma Steinkellner’s The Okay Witch, a terrific debut middle grade graphic novel.
Tween readers will be charmed by the main character Moth Hush, who at 13 learns she is part witch with special powers, something she had only dreamed of up until that point. Living above her single mom Calendula’s second hand store, Moth has never felt the warm and fuzzies from her classmates in her Massachusetts hometown of Founder’s Bluff nor in the community at large. She soon learns there’s a good reason why and goes exploring back in time via her mother’s diary.
In 1692 a group of women suspected of being witches, her grandmother Sarah being one of them, was run out of town. They were indeed witches but good ones and many townspeople secretly went to them to avail of magic to help them. When ousted, Sarah led the women to a timeless land she created called Hecate, but Calendula refused to live there. She returned to Founder’s Bluff to live a normal non-witch life for herself having fallen in love with a human. Sadly, Sarah cast a spell to make this man have no memory of Calendula. Pregnant, the brokenhearted, Calendula raised Moth alone with no magic.
In school Moth befriends another fish-out-of-water named Charlie who is new to Founder’s Bluff. Little does Moth know that there’s a connection between her family and Charlie’s that could test their friendship. I got a kick out of the magical cat, Mr. Laszlo, the spirit of Keeper’s Secondhand Store who had taken Calendula in and, when he passed away, left the store to her. The talking feline’s speech is peppered with Yiddish and in my head I heard Billy Crystal doing the dialogue.
Steinkellner must have had such fun writing and illustrating this story which reads quickly and nicely ties all the loose threads together at the end. The artwork wonderfully and convincingly conveys the moments when Moth experiences the power of magic. I especially liked the historical scenes and when Moth visits Hecate, but to be honest, all the illustrations brought the story alive. The novel is filled with humor, sarcasm, action, fantasy, pride and most of all, love as evidenced by Moth’s efforts to navigate the magical world of her grandmother and the real world in which Calendula has chosen to raise her. She’s new to the witch world and she’s far from perfect, making her The Okay Witch we care about and want to see happy and at home with her mom.
Graphic novel fans will quickly be swept up into Moth’s witchy world of time travel, timelessness, tween curiosity and relationships as Moth tries to learn more about herself. Will the way in which her family’s life intersects with that of Founder’s Bluff be a reason to stay or retreat to Hecate? The fun’s in the finding out in this enchanting, recommended read that’s definitely not just for Halloween.
You don’t need to have read Book#1 in order to enjoy Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor (Book #2), a chapter book series about a friendly zombie called Ghoulia and the dead and not-so-dead inhabitants of Crumbling Manor. Billed as Clue meets LittleShop of Horrors, this full-color illustrated book is sure to get young readers in a Halloween mood.
The story opens with Ghoulia feeling bored. When cranky cousin Dilbert arrives unexpectedly, Ghoulia looks for her Auntie Departed to explain why this relative she’d never even heard of got invited to Crumbling Manor. But her Chatterbox-Ivy-obsessed aunt is nowhere to be found. Ghoulia thinks it’s odd when more friends turn up, each with an invitation to a surprise dinner the young vampire knows nothing about.
As Ghoulia and her pals search Crumbling Manor for Auntie Departed, a friend Theresa also goes missing. Something weird is happening so the remaining guests split up to find those who’ve disappeared while trying to help Ghoulia figure out who sent the invitations.
This delightful chapter book will hook confident young readers ages 6 to 8 who still love beautifully illustrated stories that aren’t scary yet have an air of mystery about them. I’m not sure kids will recognize famous individuals such as Hitchcock and Poe in framed pictures on Crumbling Manor’s walls, but they’re certainly a treat for adult readers. In fact every illustration is a treat and worthy of a thorough scanning to see what special things Cantini has hung up on the walls or placed in each room. Her prose and pictures provide the perfect foreshadowing for kids quick to pick up clues. At the end there are bonus activities including how to write an invitation and fill out an envelope, how to start a garden and how to make Dilbert’s special pumpkin juice (minus the spiders’ eggs)! Watch out for Ghoulia and the Ghost With No Name (Book #3) coming soon!
Described by Chris Grabenstein, #1 New York Times bestselling author, as “Young Frankenstein meets The Princess Bride in the most hysterically hilarious book I’ve read in years,” and I could not agree more. I smiled my whole way through The Curse of the Werepenguin, a clever, funny and original story within a story. I read it over two days and could not wait to see how author Allan Woodrow would end it. As I suspected, it’s TO BE CONTINUED so now I have to find out where he takes this wild and feathery tale of an orphan boy named Bolt.
Meet Humboldt Wattle (aka Bolt), a twelve-year-old boy abandoned as a baby at The Oak Wilt Home for Unwanted Boys. There’s little about him that makes him stand out except a large bird-shaped birthmark on his neck. When suddenly his life changes overnight, Bolt’s unusual marking will take on tremendous significance in his life. He’s been summoned to the distant land of Brugaria by a wealthy baron who no one wishes to disobey. Could this mean the family he’s been hoping for is finally ready to reunite with him?
The catch is that Baron Chordata is not only a cruel person feared by most inhabitants of Brugaria, he looks like he’s the same age as Bolt. On top of that, he dresses in tuxedos even at home, and consumes massive quantities of fish, every kind imaginable, including live goldfish. Woodraw’s descriptions of eating seafood have to be some of the funniest and disgusting ones I’ve ever read and I lapped up every slimy, slithery sentence. I also may never look at fish sticks the same way again!
In a trance from his first experience playing video games, Bolt unknowingly agrees to a request by Baron Chordata. This eventually leads to his being bitten on the neck. The result? Bolt turns partially into half boy, half penguin or werepenguin, so maybe a quarter … Anyway, after three days the full effect of the transformation will be complete. When the full moon shines, which is every night in Brugaria, the change in Bolt occurs. His feet turn webbed and orange, he sprouts wild tufts of hair, wings, an enormous nose and has cravings for seafood. Then he, along with all the other werepenguins including the baron, bark, wreak havoc and steal fish whenever possible.
Fortunately or unfortunately for Bolt, a girl named Annika who tried to rob and kidnap him because she’s “the world’s great bandit,” becomes an ally (or not) in trying to help Bolt escape the baron’s wicked clutches and rid himself of the werepenguin curse. The curse is not the only thing Bolt’s dealing with. He’s got this wacky, whale-loving cult leader named Günter determined to destroy him. Günter’s weapon of choice, a loaf of French bread! Plus Bolt’s learned that the werepenguins, led by power and fish hungry werepenguin-in-chief, Baron Chordata, are orchestrating a takeover of Brugaria the same day the curse on Bolt goes into full force. Someone has to do something and Bolt realizes it’s him. What that something is, he’s not totally sure, but still …
You’ll LOL at the Cloris Leachman-like “lowly housekeeper” called Frau Farfenugen, a greenish, warty and miserable woman who is not what she seems, Blazenda, a fortune-telling witch whose cackles drive Bolt crazy, but who may hold the key (or tooth) to Bolt’s freedom, and a cast of colorful characters, some of whom scream and faint whenever the name Baron Chordata is said aloud, that will entertain you and have you sitting on the edge of your seat or wherever it is that you read fantastic books.
Ultimately, Bolt has to decide what real family is. Is it Annika and her bandit dad and his buddies or is it the rook of penguins that, we learn in the novel’s prologue, should never be split up? I’m not going to spoil it by telling you, but I will say that joining Bolt on his journey is something you’ll love doing. So start cooking some fish sticks, grab a baguette and get reading!
I made sure I read this book when my husband was home because I’m a big chicken. When I did read Ghost, I realized the stories are not only fantastic ghost stories for Halloween, but also ones to commit to memory to share around a campfire. You could also bring the book along but you many not want the hauntingly illustrated, white embossed cover to get dirty. “Contributors to this chilling collection include authors Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin, and illustrators Chris Sasaki and Jeff Turley,” and Kit Turley, and they’ve done a fantastic job of scaring me although, as I said above, I do scare easily.
As I settled down to read each of the thirteen eerie tales, an owl hooted from my back yard adding to spooky feeling the stories exude. The tales, brief but powerfully creepy, are ideal for tweens who love to feel the hair on their necks stand up. The subjects range from a girl getting a tap tap tap from her mirror and then being imprisoned in it by her evil reflection, to two boys going ice fishing who disregard a shopkeeper’s advice to avoid the north of Point Whitney. The reason—it’s haunted by the ghost of Max Whitney, the former owner of the bait and tackle shop. Do the boys catch a lot of fish? Yep. Do they return safely home to share their experience? I’m not telling. There’s another one that takes place by a pond. Suffice it to say that, unlike the main character in this tale, a boy named Samuel who hears his drowned sister call out to him and follows her cries, I would never go out of my house in the middle of the night with a lantern by myself. The artwork throughout Ghost has a spare quality about it with a very limited palette which is appropriate for the collection. And though created digitally, all the illustrations resemble wood block prints and imbue every tale with as frightening an effect as the words themselves.
The tale that particularly resonated with me was about a girl who finally gets a room of her own away from her younger sister. Now alone in her new bedroom, the girl is terrified of the ghostly night noises but thinks if she just huddles under the covers and keeps her eyes tightly closed, everything will be okay. And it is, but how long can she keep her eyes shut? Did I mention that as a child I had my dad install a lock on my bedroom closet door? I will not easily forget the story of the young boy, Michael Alvey deep sea diving to a WWII sub wreck in search of the bodies of his deceased parents. They died just after their last communication was, “Please! Help! They’re coming.” When I found out who “they” were, I was shocked and readers will be, too. I caution young readers to avoid basements, elevators, hiking or making a trip after midnight to a cemetery right after reading Ghost.
Some stories unhinged me more than others, “The Descent” being one of them. That’s not to say they weren’t all good because they were, but certain stories played off of my deepest fears more than others. That being said, it might be best to read this book with a cat curled up on your lap or with a big dog nearby during the day!
In her debut chapter book as author-illustrator, Cantini brings young readers Ghoulia, a friendly, warm and purple-loving zombie girl (can a zombie be warm, just asking?) who really has only one wish, to have friends. Stuck inside the grounds of Crumbling Manor, Ghoulia has been forbidden to leave the premises out of fear she and her Auntie Departed, her closest relative, will be made to leave the village should they be found out. In this first book of the series, and at just 64 illustration-filled pages, Ghoulia is a fast and fun read for anyone curious about zombie kids. Ghoulia’s cast of characters includes her Auntie Departed, Shadow the cat, Uncle Misfortune who happens to be a head and ideal candy bucket for Halloween, Tragedy the Albino greyhound and Grandad Coffin, a chess-playing distraction for a zombie granddaughter’s escape on Halloween. Ghoulia pulls off this daring feat (and that could be a pun since her body parts can come off whenever she wants) on Halloween when her brilliant idea to masquerade as herself in order to meet the local children is a huge success. But alas, what will happen when the village trick-or-treaters learn the truth and it’s revealed that Ghoulia’s not dressed up in a zombie costume but actually is one? A secret Monster Society is formed and everyone lives (well that’s not totally true of course) happily ever after. Cantini captures the atmosphere of Ghoulia’s off-beat world with page after wonderful page of whimsical illustrations and a sweet storyline. Book 2, Ghoulia And The Mysterious Visitor is up next in this winning new series so fans won’t have to wait long to find out what’s in store for the charming zombie girl. Several entertaining pages of bonus activities are included in the back matter. • Review by Ronna Mandel
Chapter book, Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts is a good match for reluctant readers because of its simple text, frequent illustrations, and funny asides in the margins or footnotes. As the title implies, there will be a lot of ironic humor; Sam Wu must face his fear of ghosts and reestablish himself in the eyes of his peers after a truly embarrassing incident. Luckily he’s learned a lot from his favorite TV program, “Space Blasters.” Now it seems there’s a ghost in Sam’s house, so Sam and his friends must prove they are brave ghost hunters.
Kids can sympathize with how it feels to not fit in. Sam introduces his friends to his favorite meal (roast duck and turnip cake) and urges them to take just one bite—even though the turnip cake does smell a lot like feet. Doing so, he successfully bridges their cultures using delicious food. Regaining some dignity with his classmates is harder, but Sam Wu demonstrates he’s no “Wu-ser” (as Ralph, the class bully, calls him).
In the closing Q&A, authors Katie and Kevin Tsang explain how they’ve woven some of their own childhoods into the story, showing they are “definitely NOT afraid of answering some author questions.”
Nathan Reed livens up the story with hilarious images of the characters including the evil cat Butterbutt, and Fang, the toughest snake ever. There is visual interest on every page to keep kids engaged beyond the text of the story.
Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts works well as a Halloween book for kids who prefer not-very-scary ghost stories with plenty of laughs. • Review by Christine Van Zandt
CITY OF GHOSTS Written by Victoria Schwab (Scholastic; $17.99, Ages 9-12)
Looking for a spooky Halloween read? Check out Victoria Schwab’s middle-grade novel, City of Ghosts. The story opens when eleven-year-old Cassidy’s birthday gift sends her over the edge (literally) and she drowns (sort of—a boy-ghost named Jacob retrieves her from death). Soon after, Cass is drawn toward something she calls The Veil and discovers that she can cross over into the place where ghosts dwell.
Jacob and Cass travel to Scotland with Cass’s parents whose book The Inspecters (inspectors of specters) is being made into a television series. Cass meets another girl with the same sort of gift in Edinburgh, the city of ghosts. There, mysterious locales harbor dangerous inhabitants; Cass must quickly learn how to survive.
The reveal-and-conceal relationship between the lead characters in City of Ghostsis fascinating. There’s a lot to learn about the other side when adventures through The Veil become more complex. This book explores historical haunts and interesting folklore as the alluring story unfolds in ethereal delight.
Victoria Schwab is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen novels for young adults and adults, including the Shades of Magic series, Vicious, Vengeful, This Savage Song, and Our Dark Duet. • Review by Christine Van Zandt Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Successwww.Write-for-Success.com @WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com
A clever travel maze of sorts, Around the World in 50 Ways is designed as a “choose-your-own travel adventure” where readers set off from London and try their hand at globetrotting with the goal of finishing up again in London. So much depends on what mode of transport or next destination is selected as to whether they’ll navigate the winning route the first time around. There are myriad means of travel and a plethora of possible routes, but beware of dead ends! Not to worry though because, like any good maze, readers just return to the beginning or the place where they ventured off incorrectly and try again. Along the way, kids will learn about some of the world’s most popular, exotic and interesting places while picking up fascinating facts—did you know Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh or that Hanoi in Vietnam is sometimes called “The Paris of the East”?—and enjoying bright and bold illustrations. From Bangkok, Barcelona, Battambang, Berlin, Brussels, Budapest and Buenos Aires all the way to Tokyo, Toronto, Trondheim, Vancouver, Venice, Victoria, Wellington and Wuppertal with tons of exciting destinations in-between, there’s tons to see and do (164 pages worth to be precise). How to get from point A to point B? Try a bus, a cruise, a rental car, a ferry, a felucca, a tuk-tuk, a canoe, a jumbo jet, a rickshaw, a sled and lots more! Whether going abroad or enjoying a local staycation, fit this book into your itinerary. Click here for a link to cool Lonely Planet quiz.
My Vacation Scrapbook(with over 150 stickers) is full of creative activities that will keep kids entertained for hours and also jumpstart their imaginations as you head off on holiday or even on day trips to the zoo, national parks, Disneyland or other theme parks. Not only is this scrapbook a great way to help kids experience a vacation from a new perspective, it’s also going to become a unique time capsule of special experiences away from home. One of my favorite activities included in My Vacation Scrapbook is the Bar Code Decode where children can play secret agent by using bar codes from various vacation purchases to track down enemy spies around the world. Included for that is a map with starred cities and numbered coordinates making this an inviting game for the entire family. There’s a two-page spread where readers can glue or tape found objects and turn them into art, there’s a place for snack wrappers (never thought of including those in my scrapbooks!), a competition involving meal receipts and loads of pages to stick other prized momentous from the trip. Kids will be able to find lots to do with the stickers provided and at the back, there’s even a “handy pocket to collect your souvenirs” like postcards, stamps, receipts and used museum passes and transportation tickets. An elastic band secures all the treasures for future viewing and reminiscing. The assorted 40 pages are thin enough for doing some rubbings of textured items yet sturdy enough to withstand frequent use. This would make a wonderful going away gift when paired with a pack of crayons, tape, glue sticks and scissors (just remember scissors cannot be brought on an airplane).
This “fold-out, fact-filled poster” is a map of North America meaning included are Canada’s 13 provinces, America’s 50 states and 21 other countries plus 22 dependencies (territories that are governed by, or make up part of, another country.The range of destinations spans from Antigua and Barbuda to the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you’re a fan of geography this is a definite must-have, but even if you are unfamiliar with the map, it’s an interactive, educational and entertaining way to get to know North America. It’s easy to personalize the map with the over 180 stickers that say things like GOING HERE SOON, BEEN HERE!, I LIVE HERE plus hearts, stars, arrows, modes of transportation, sun, rain, clouds and other assorted weather stickers, as well as blank stickers to customize. When you’re done exploring, turn the map over for interesting details about places you’ve traveled to, plan to visit or may have on your “dream destination” list. Bring My Family Travel Map along on any upcoming road trips or play armchair traveler from the comfort of your home.
Can food facts be fun? Sure they can … here’s a few examples: Ever heard of borborygmi? Sure you have, it’s the rumbling sound your stomach makes (p. 38). Did you know that 16,000,000 jelly beans are produced at Easter? Red is the most popular color (p. 103). If you’re dieting you may not want to know that by the time you’re 80 years old you will have eaten about 87,660 meals (p. 7).
However, No Way …Way! is not limited to food for humans. Animal eating habits are also included: Guess what the vampire finch eats … or rather, sucks? (blood from other birds, p. 161). You don’t want to know what a naked mole rat eats (it’s own poop to aid digestion, p. 187).
No Way …Way!is neatly organized into sections that cover the history of food, holiday meals, unusual dishes (like chocolate-covered cicadas, p. 89), where people eat (imagine eating where Julius Caesar was assassinated, p. 120), what not to eat (raw lima beans become cyanide in your body, p. 202), and more. Short, humorous facts, colorful illustrations, and eye-popping designs (plus a little gross-out factor) make this a fun book to browse. Recommended as “cool,” “awesome,” “humorous,” and “interesting” by my second and third graders. One of my fourth graders told me she “had to have it!” A great book for beginning and reluctant readers as well as for children who like to browse through books like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records.
Budding young astronauts and space aficionados will love these engaging early reader books. Each is succinctly and clearly written and accompanied by great photographs.
The Moon Written by James Buckley, Jr. (Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers; $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)
The moon has fascinated people throughout history and across many cultures, from worship of the moon in ancient times to the 1969 Apollo Moon landing and beyond. Buckley leads young readers through the history of moon exploration separating fact from fiction (there’s no old man living there). My second graders enjoyed this book for its’ accessible text and striking photographs. The book also contains a handy table of contents and glossary.
What is the International Space Station? Who lives there? What’s life like miles above earth? How difficult is it to eat and dress in zero gravity? How do you use the toilet in space? Buckley helps children understand daily life at the ISS. A “great book …” commented my third grade Star Wars fans.
A fascinating and well-researched look at the different parts of the body and how people throughout history have devised ways to repair or replace non-functioning body parts. From ancient surgical practices to relieve headaches (pp 80-81) to inventions of machines to see inside the body (magnetic resonance imaging), Newquist examines the reasons for and the history behind their design. He takes a peek inside our medicine chests and explains what’s inside it and concludes with the development of vaccines to curb the staggering rates of death from diseases like smallpox.
Although the engaging narrative is written for an older reader, the vivid and well-captioned illustrations (yes, there’s a little gross out factor here) will engage younger and reluctant readers who enjoy browsing through Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. My third graders found it “cool and interesting.”
Would you like to work in a zoo? Meet some of the many people who take care of the 18,000 animals at the National Zoo (Washington, D. C.). These include veterinarians, animal keepers, and nutritionists, whose work includes wellness check-ups, handling emergencies, preparing food, creating “enrichment activities” to keep the animals engaged (like art activities and chew toys) and more. Wonderful, nicely captioned color photographs allow young readers to visualize what they learn in the narrative. More advanced vocabulary is highlighted in yellow and defined in the book’s glossary. Perfect for individual readers as well as for kindergarteners learning about the roles of people in their community.
Oceans Doodle Book Written by Karen Romano Young (Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $12.99, Ages 8-12)
The Smithsonian’s marine experts have come up with a collection of fun and creative activities to help educate children about the ocean environment. Youngsters are challenged to use a variety of skills with the many activities available in the book. Creativity and imagination are needed for some activities such as designing and drawing a sea monster (“Sea Monsters, Ahoy!” pp. 24-25). Teachers and parents will appreciate the many activities that require various critical thinking skills. Looking at photographs of the skeletal remains of extinct whales, children determine what they may have looked like when alive (“Extinct Whale,” pp. 82-83). Another great one is determining where a floating object might land from a map of ocean currents (“Where Will it Float?” pp.16-17).
Each activity is accompanied by brief background information that supports the activity. For example, “Fish Face, Fish Tale,” (pp. 42-43) notes the more than 27,000 varieties of fish that scientists have discovered. Children then match fish heads on one page to the fish tales on the facing page. Concepts of bilateral symmetry (pp. 36-37) and radial symmetry (pp. 38-39) are explained and children draw the missing half of an ocean animal to reinforce the concept. Turn off the devices and hand this book to your kids guaranteeing hours of fun and learning.
What’s the first thing I noticed when picking up my review copy of Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass? The piercing eyes of Douglass in illustrator London Ladd’s cover portrait and the absence of a title on the front. Then, gripped by the story, I devoured the book, not once, but twice in my initial read throughs of this expertly crafted picture book. Part of the Big Words series, Frederick’s Journey effortlessly pairs Rappaport’s thoughtful biography of this former slave turned author, abolitionist and ultimately free man with Douglass’ actual words. “Douglass had traveled far – from slave to free man, from illiterate to educated, from powerless to powerful. It had been a difficult journey.” The book ends with this quote from Douglass, “What is possible for me is possible for you.” As a picture book, Frederick’s Journey is brought to life by Ladd’s inspiring artwork. I’ve interviewed this talented illustrator once before, but felt compelled to reach out again, this time for his insight on creating the illustrations and what working on the book meant to him.
An Interview with London Ladd
GRWR:Please tell us how you came to be connected with this project?
London Ladd: The publisher contacted my agent at Painted Words, Lori Nowicki, to see if I would be interested. I read the title of the manuscript [and] the answer was a definite yes. Once I read the through the manuscript I was so moved by it, so eager to get started.
GRWR:How do you decide what medium you’ll use for each book you illustrate and what did you choose for Frederick’s Journey and why?
LADD: For my illustration career I’ve primarily use acrylic with minor touched of pastels and colored pencils on illustration board if necessary. People says acrylics are challenging to use, but I love its flexibility because you can make it look like watercolor with layered thin washes or heavy opaque application like oils. It’s something I’ve always been comfortable using and quick drying is excellent for fast approaching deadlines.
GRWR:You mention in the back matter Illustrator’s Note how deep you dove into the research to really understand your subject including actually posing yourself in front of a mirror and reciting lines. Was there any particular text from Rappaport or quote from Douglass that you found most inspiring for this story’s artwork?
LADD: Rappaport’s text was so excellent with the way she gracefully combined her text with Douglass’ own quotes. But his autobiography was so powerful because you’re getting a first hand account in all its detail of his experience as a slave during the 19th century. Each page was filled with so much raw, honest, brutal, heart breaking material. So many vivid images would pop into my head from sadness, anger.
GRWR:Was there one particular image in the book that most resonated for you?
LADD: I think the first three images [see below] as a whole really resonate for me deeply due to the range of emotions and sounds I hear from the heart wrenching scream of Frederick’s mother as he’s being taken from her, the peacefulness of the river when he’s fishing with his grandmother, and his low weeping as he suddenly realizes his grandmother is gone and now his new life begins in the institution of slavery.
GRWR:You travelled to a lot of places in Douglass’s history, which place made the biggest impression on you?
LADD: Wow it’s so hard to pick one. Visiting his home in Anacostia was powerful. But I’ll have to go with a trip to Rochester in 2006. During my last semester in college I enrolled in an African American religious history course and the final was this amazing project where you had to travel to historical locations involved in the Underground Railroad in and around the Central New York area like Harriet Tubman’s grave and church in Auburn, NY. Well it happens that Douglass’ grave at Mount Hope Cemetery (Susan B. Anthony is buried there, too) in Rochester NY was on the list. The cemetery is huge and his grave is by the front street nearby so vehicles drive by constantly so it can be a little noisy. When walking to his grave it was so quiet with only a slight wind blowing. Being at his gravesite was moving. I just stood there silently for 20 minutes with many emotions going through my mind. After visiting his grave there was this incredible interactive Douglass exhibit at a local nearby museum and I’ll never forget it. So much on display like his North Star press, part of a house with hidden area for slaves, a double-sided mirror that when you dim the lights Douglass’ face appeared on the other side, an exhibit where you lay in a really small area like slave did during the middle passage (that had a strong impact on me) and so much more. Ten years later and it’s still one of my favorite museum exhibits.
GRWR:Not many illustrators get a front cover portrait with no title as an assignment. That’s a huge honor and your cover is outstanding. Can you tell us more about how that decision was made?
LADD: Thank you so much. That’s what makes the Big Words series so unique from other book series because each biography has this beautiful portrait of a well known person with the title on the back. That’s why I worked so hard on trying to not only capture Douglass’ likeness, but his essence.
GRWR:In a previous interview here you said “The human spirit interests me. I love stories of a person or people achieving through difficult circumstances by enduring, surviving and overcoming.” Douglass clearly exemplified that spirit. Who else, either living or deceased would you like to portray next in your artwork or in a story of your own creation?
LADD: Ernest Shackleton! I would love to illustrate Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance. An absolutely amazing story of when, in the early 20th century, he and his crew were stranded near Antarctica for nearly two years and everyone survived. It’s a testament to his tremendous leadership during the whole ordeal.
This Shackleton quote sums up my attitude towards any challenges I face. “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”
GRWR:It’s said art is a universal language. What is it about making art and teaching it as well that speaks to you?
LADD: I think to be able to share with other people is something very important to me. I wouldn’t be here without the help of other people so it’s always been my goal to pay it forward when possible.
GRWR:Can you share with us anything else about your experience working on Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass?
LADD: I truly loved working on this book and I’m so thankful to have been part of such a special project. Hopefully young people will learn, enjoy and appreciate the life of Frederick Douglass.
A huge thank you to London Ladd for this candid and informative interview.
Mo Willems’ latest installment in the popular Elephant & Piggie series, Waiting is Not Easy!, is a short and sprightly story about friendship and patience.
Piggie tumbles up to her elephant friend Gerald, excited about a surprise she has for him later that day, but she will not reveal the surprise and says that Gerald will just have to wait. Poor Piggie literally gets bowled over by Gerald’s impatient groans as the hours slowly pass by, but Piggie is able to keep calm and composed while waiting for the surprise to arrive. After a day of waiting and waiting, Piggie’s surprise dazzles them both—it’s the night sky lit up with a blanket of stars, a sight that they can share together. Instantly, Gerald’s frustration fades away in the warmth of this stunning scene and in the presence of his thoughtful friend.
Willems rewards readers as always with his economy of words while never including a dull moment. Waiting is Not Easy! reminds new readers that patience is a virtue and good things come to those who wait, especially those just learning to read on their own! – Reviewed by Krista Jefferies
Reviewer Rita Zobayan says, “Whether we call her Noni, Grams, Yaya, Memaw, or another, special name, we can agree that grandmothers are the best. To celebrate Grandparents Day (September 7), here are three books that will make you want to hug your Nana.”
Grandma (Child’s Play, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-8) by Jessica Shepherd deals with Oscar’s experience as his grandmother’s dementia takes hold and she enters a nursing home. The story begins with Oscar describing all the wonderful ways he spends time with Grandma. We love books. I can even read some to her now. We like to smell the flowers we’ve just planted…and to wash the dishes until they shine like diamonds.
But Oscar notices that Grandma is forgetting lots of things and can’t do things that she used to be able to. That’s when Grandma moves into a special home. As Oscar and his family visit Grandma, Oscar notices the differences. It doesn’t look like her house and it smells different too. But Grandma is happy and the people who help her are a lot of fun! We have drinks and cupcakes to share.
Grandma has good and bad days. Sometimes Grandma shouts when people are trying to help her. And sometimes, she’s angry with me too, and I don’t know why. Dad says it’s not my fault, she’s just confused. Oscar figures out a way to help. Grandma is getting very forgetful…so I made a box of happy memories that we can look through together. Oscar still spends lots of time with Grandma in her new home, and he has friends and family to take care of him when he’s sad that Grandma is feeling angry or unhappy or can’t spend time with him. And, in the end, Oscar still knows that his Grandma is the best.
Simply worded and illustrated, Grandma provides relevant and easy-to-understand examples and explanations for children who are experiencing a change in their grandparent’s behavior. A two-page question and answer section helps parents explain dementia and gives suggestions for how grandchildren can help.
How to Babysit a Grandma(Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $16.99, Ages 5-8) written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish takes a delightful spin on caregiving. Mom and Dad are going away, so their young daughter gets to babysit Grandma! That’s right, she has many tricks to make spending time together fun.
How To Keep A Grandma Busy: Go to the park, bake snickerdoodles, have a costume parade, feed the ducks, do yoga, look at family pictures, swing, play hide-and-seek, make goofy hats, slide, have a dancing-puppet show, read stacks of books, take photos, do puzzles, play cards. As the babysitter, you need to let her choose.
Our young grandma-sitter has advice galore. She fills in the reader with how to play with a Grandma and places to sleep. Under her granddaughter’s care, Grandma has a great time. She remembers to pump her legs when swinging and listens to the five-minute time-to-go warning. Dinner time can be tricky, but, never fear, the grandma-sitter has tricks up her sleeve. Grandma will eat if you arrange food to make silly faces or add sprinkles to anything (Well – almost anything.). In the morning, it is time to say goodbye, but the granddaughter has that covered, too. (Hint: it involves a costume, items to borrow, a special phrase, and a big hug.)
Fun, brightly illustrated, and engaging, How to Babysit a Grandma is a perfect book for children who are anxious about sleepovers. It presents lots of suggestions on activities and empowers children, too.
Our final book is an oldie but goodie,Tea Cakes for Tosh (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012; $16.99, Ages 6-8) written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Grandma Honey is a woman of many talents. She spins stories and bakes delicious tea cakes. Tosh loves spending time with her, listening as Honey tells of courageous great-great-great-great-grandma Ida, who worked as a kitchen slave and whose tea cakes “were the best around.” Although Ida was forbidden to share the delicious treats with her children or any of the other slaves, she risked being whipped to give the children a taste of sweet freedom. Tosh listens to the story over and over.
When Honey begins to forget everyday things, such as where she parked the car or her sister’s phone number, Tosh is concerned. But the worst day was when Honey forgot how to make tea cakes…Tosh looked at Honey’s worried face and checked all of the ingredients she placed on the counter—butter, flour, sugar, vanilla. “What about eggs?” Tosh asked. “Right, that’s it,” Honey said, beaming at Tosh. “You really are something.”
As Tosh comes to terms with his grandmother’s failing memory, he decides to take action. He makes tea cakes at home and memorizes Honey’s story. The next day, Tosh surprises and comforts Honey with his baked goods and recitation.
This heartwarming tale is about the special bond between grandparent and grandchild. Complete with a tea cake recipe, Tea Cakes for Tosh is a beautifully illustrated book that reminds us that sometimes listening can be a precious gift unto itself.
Here’s a link to our recent review of 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, Nana in The Cityby Lauren Castillo and picture books giveaway.
More and more it seems that stories of fires, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods tug at our heart strings. How do we explain these disasters to our young children? Capstone came up with a most creative and unusual way. Flood ($15.95, Capstone: Picture Window Books, Ages 6-8) took a bold approach and created a book with no words, rather with incredibly detailed and impressive illustrations by Alvaro Fernandez Villa. These pictures tell the full story of a family of four that must flee their home before a major flood destroys it.
Capstone is making a substantial donation from the sale of Flood to the non-profit organization, Save the Children. The money raised will be used for the Domestic Emergency Relief Fund which provides food, health care and education to families with children following natural disasters.
As parents, we want to protect our children from pain and despair, yet this is not always possible. This book was created with that purpose in mind; it helps young children understand and deal with natural disasters, teaching them the inevitable lesson that some life events are unfortunately out of our control. The wordless narrative allows parents to open up discussions about what the family in the book is experiencing. Capstone provides an excellent Flood Reader’s Guide containinggeneral information about floods and tips on “reading” a wordless book – before reading, while reading and after reading the book. It’s all in studying the details of the illustrations and asking children what they see and how the family must be feeling while fleeing their home. There are even suggestions about acting out the story or posing as a reporter.
Flood covers the gamut of so many emotions – hope, fear, despair, sadness and eventually gratitude. It gives children and parents a chance to express themselves without the fear of being judged. I admire Capstone for taking the risk to broach such a sensitive and unpleasant subject for young children – and oh, how well they do so. I also love the fact that this book will inspire children to think in ways they may never have before. They will look at the illustrations and use their own judgment to determine what is taking place. And I must add here that these are some of the best illustrations I’ve seen in a picture book.
When you finish “reading” Flood with your children, you are left with the powerful message of hope. And, as I mentioned earlier, when you buy the book, Capstone donates a portion to Save the Children, leaving others in need also with hope.
“Binkness” and “Gollieness” are words that have now actively entered my vocabulary. Bink and Gollie are best friends despite being very different. What they have in common: the need for speed on skates, a deep love of pancakes, and their love for each other. What they don’t have in common would be everything else! They are absolute polar opposites and I love that, despite their differences, they are best friends.
Gollie is tall, a little uptight, and lives in a modern, posh tree house by herself. Bink is short, not at all uptight, and has pots of peanut butter on shelves in her cozy cottage. She lives right at the bottom of Gollie’s tree house. Bink also lives alone and I love these little girls who almost live magically without adults! However, they always have one another for company. The illustrations are marvelous and the ever fantastic Kate DiCamillo (whom I adore) co-wrote it with the also fab Alison McGhee, so it’s very, very good! The first book is a Theodore Seuss Geisel Award winner to boot!
The first in the series, simply titled Bink & Gollie, introduces the reader to the two main characters. There are three stories in all, each with a different plot. I think my favorite one in the first book was the one in which Bink falls in love with a pair of outrageously, outlandish, over-the-top colorful socks. Gollie then proceeds to put her foot down upon the acquisition of aforementioned socks, and off we go doing what Bink and Gollie do best. That would be explaining how we can be friends with people who are totally unlike ourselves as long as compromises can be made. This is the most important message that each story shares in a different, amusing way. As long as compromises can be made wouldn’t you rather have your best friend around than have your own way all the time and lose her? I know that compromises are hard for children (and, yes, some adults as well) to understand, but this charming series goes a long way in showing the treasure that is true friendship.
The second in the series, Bink & Gollie, Two for One, follows our two friends to the state fair which proves to be full of fun games (“Whack-a-Duck” anyone?), to talent shows (Gollie freezes up in front of a crowd. Don’t worry, it turns out all right), and a mysterious fortuneteller. Bink & Gollie, Two for One, a truly a lovely sequel that will not disappoint, was recently followed up with Bink & Gollie, Best Friends Forever. In this final installment, Bink and Gollie return to their native homes (Gollie in her posh tree house, and Bink right at the bottom in her cozy cottage), and embark on more adventures. Gollie learns that she might be related to royalty, but that her “queen act” might not be the best way to stay on Bink’s good side. In the next story, Bink decides that enough is enough. She’s done being short! Then she proceeds to order the Acme “Stretch-O-Matic” to see if she can become taller. Obviously, this will need a bit of Gollie’s help and a good dose of self-acceptance. Finally, we come to my favorite story of this book, which is about trying to make or break a world record by collecting something better than anyone else in the whole world! This is my favorite Bink and Gollie story because my childhood best friend Laurie and I tried to make the world’s longest crochet chain in order to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Just like Bink and Gollie, we learned more about friendship than actually breaking any records. However, for the record, it was three houses long. Not bad, and I’m sure that Bink and Gollie would have commended us for trying something new, or, as Gollie says, for using our gray matter.
Farewell Bink and Gollie! I shall miss you both wholeheartedly! That is until I return to the first book and start reading them all over again. Just for fun, I’m dedicating this review to my current best friend, Meaghan, who I bought the last book for as a goodbye present when I thought that I was moving away. As it turns out I am not, but she had to put up with a lot of back and forth news about it, so kudos Meaghan (when you read the last book you will get the joke)! Thanks for being my friend and putting up with my own brand of wacky adventures. I think pancakes are called for as a sort of celebration because any day is a good day for pancakes and celebrating friendships. Thanks to Bink and Gollie for teaching me that.