If you have a child (ages 7-14) who likes to draw, craft, or create, check out The Kids’ Book of Paper Love. It pays homage to paper, that lovely substance we take for granted in our everyday lives. Young kids have art classes aplenty, but, as school becomes more of a focus, cutting and taping, creating and shaping moves aside. Bring it back to the table with this inspirational book.
Astrid van der Hulst(of Flowmagazine) and Irene Smit’sbook is packed with pages to pull out—just being able to tear up a book is a thrill! Find your section (Write, Craft, Play, and Share) and begin. If it’s a fun paper item, chances are it’s in there. Expect colorful pages, pull-outs, punch-outs, and even a three-foot-long “Dare to Dream” banner that magically accordions out. Some of the foldable items are a fortune-teller, box with lid, and very cool geometric bowl.
Stash away several copies of The Kids’ Book of Paper Love for those birthday gifts that sneak up on you. The book’s relatively small size packs surprises and is sure to please a wide variety of kids because it’s something different that can be used over and over again. One of my favorite pages is a template and instructions on how to make paper beads. Like many items, the beads are pleasingly simple. Finding one gem is satisfying, but having 180 pages of them is sheer delight. Channel your inner DIYer and have a blast—and don’t forget to include your kid too!
UNITED TASTES OF AMERICA: AN ATLAS OF FOOD FACTS & RECIPES FROM EVERY STATE!
Written by Gabrielle Langholtz
Drawings by Jenny Bowers
Photos by DL Acken
(Phaidon; $29.95, Ages 7-10)
Take a road trip with the United Tastes of America: An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State!by Gabrielle Langholtz, a gorgeous cookbook for ages seven and up. Regional recipes are listed in alphabetical order by state (Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC, are included). Each location begins with two pages of fun facts surrounded by vibrant art; a full-color photo and clearly explained recipe follows. Because we had freshly picked blueberries, we tried Maine’s Blueberry Muffins recipe. It was delicious, and a good base recipe for swapping in other kinds of fruit.
It’s fun to look up the dish from your state—California is Cobb Salad—or explore new places. I really liked the US Virgin Islands entries featuring information about Dumb Bread, Jerk Chicken, Rødgrød, Fungi (not a fungi!), and Goat Water (a hearty stew made of goat meat, pawpaw, bread fruit, and Scotch bonnet peppers). The diversity of our country is wonderful: Green Jell-O Salad (Utah), Oven-Fried Chicken (Kentucky), Norwegian Meatballs (South Dakota), Jambalaya (Louisiana), Chicken Bánh Mì (DC). While expanding your culinary skills, you’ll also learn something about that region’s history, geography, and people.
The recipes are indexed by level of difficulty as well as in a standard index where you can search for ingredient (potato), cooking term (braising), or meal category (desserts, snacks). This handsome book would be an ideal gift for your foodie relatives and friends who live in other countries, or a lovely addition to your cookbook collection.
I agree with author Gabrielle Langholtz that, “Food is one of the best ways to learn about a place—its harvests, its history, and its people.” Langholtz was the award-winning editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, the head of special projects and publicity at the NYC Greenmarket, and authored The New Greenmarket Cookbook (2014), and Phaidon’s America: The Cookbook (2017). She lives in Pennsylvania (state recipe, Soft Pretzels). Take this book on tour with you the next time you travel!
HAND IN HAND by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum Illustrated by Maya Shleifer (Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 7 and up)
With recent surveys showing that fewer and fewer adults and children know about the Holocaust, the need to continue sharing this information with new generations by reading books such as Hand in Hand is vital. The annual commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah, which this year begins the evening of May 1 and ends the evening of May 2, is a good time to honestly but sensitively approach the subject both at home and in school for children ages seven and up.
Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s new picture book, Hand in Hand with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, provides the ideal vehicle to start the conversation about what the Holocaust was and how it impacted families. In this case the emphasis is on the tragedy of family separation, a topic with significance even today. Written from the perspective of anthropomorphic rabbits, the story introduces readers to Ruthi, her little brother Leib and their mother. According to the author notes, this family (apart from being bunnies) represents a fictional combination of countless real people whose moving tales of courage and strength inspired Rosenbaum. It’s not clear where the characters live but some of the language, like when Mama escapes late one night, leaving her children, and says—”Don’t worry, my doves. Sometimes walls rise up. Still, there is always a way … forward.”—I get the impression the city is Warsaw. Although it could really be any number of European cities where Jews lived during WWII.
Rosenbaum effectively employs similes like the one in the illustration above—”They hovered over our heads like tidy rows of storm clouds – threatening to burst.”—to gently establish the ominous presence of Nazi Storm Troopers, perhaps the ones Mama was running away from early on in the story when she departs in haste. Maybe the soldiers had already taken her husband.
The strong bond between brother and sister is evident on every page. Ruthi is seven and Leib is four when Mama goes away and she must now look out for him in their mother’s absence. A neighbor brings the children to an orphanage where they remain among hundreds, abandoned or left parent-less. The expression on Leib’s face as depicted in Shleifer’s art, when he is soon adopted, is both powerful and bittersweet. Pulled apart, like the torn photo of the siblings, from the loving hands of her brother, Ruthi refuses to say good-bye. Leib will be saved because of his Aryan “blonde curls and sapphire eyes.” At just seven she must find a way to survive, in the woods, underground, anywhere until the war ends. Then “The nightmare … came to a halt.
In the optimistic illustration of the boat above, it seems as though Ruthi has been sent to Palestine where she lives on a kibbutz and makes a new life for herself in Israel. Years pass. She marries, has children but always, always thinks about finding Leib. Her children and grandchildren urge her to add her name to an enormous list of people seeking family members. But is there any chance to be reunited with a brother who could be living anywhere or perhaps even no longer alive?
Here’s when we can rejoice. Ruthi’s efforts to locate Leib succeed. It’s heartwarming to see the siblings together once more after decades apart. Now an old man, though still younger than Ruthi, Leib greets her with tenderness, “Shalom, my big sister, Ruthi!” For her part, Ruthi notes “His blue eyes had lost their sapphire luster, but through my tears my heart knew Leib’s strawberry smile.” This framing of a similar line Rosenbaum used in the book’s opening brings the story full round.
I have been moved and impressed with every re-read of Hand in Hand at how well Rosenbaum’s symbolism and subtlety say so much. There’s no need to go into detail about the brutality and harshness of the Holocaust. That’s for parents and teachers to decide before having this important discussion with kids. Each child, especially the younger ones, has a different threshold for how much information about the Holocaust they can handle. What works so well is that Rosenbaum has chosen to focus on a relationship as a way into the subject of war and/or genocide and the aftermath. Shleifer’s illustrations convey the the sorrowful times Ruthi has experienced without Leib but does so delicately and only twice uses very dark tones when Ruthi is first separated from her brother. This touching book is one of boundless love, faith in family and faith for the future. I hope this picture book will resonate with you as much as it did with me.
A GREEN PLACE TO BE:
The Creation of Central Park Written and illustrated by Ashley Benham Yazdani (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)
Ashley Benham Yazdani’sA Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Parkshines a light on a familiar subject in a new way. This historical nonfiction picture book gives a glimpse into 1858 New York City when the park’s design contest was held. Architect Calvert Vaux and park superintendent Frederick Law Olmsted teamed up to win.
Yazdani’s images capture the vast undertaking as Vaux and Olmsted draft the layout, called Greensward. I like the spread of the ten-foot-long drawing envisioning what could be done with the land. Though their design was entered after the deadline, they won but had to change the name to New York City’s Central Park.
Olmsted planned ahead—about 100 years ahead—using “the color and shape of each plant to create illusions in the landscape” so nature would be the focus for generations yet to come. “Amenities such as the Dairy were specifically built to help those living with less, and Olmsted’s and Vaux’s compassion for others is shown by their determination to create a park that welcomed all social classes.” The men were early environmentalists striving to conserve this patch of parkland in Manhattan.
Kids who like construction-type books will appreciate that boulders were blasted to bits. Nearly every piece of the swampy, sharp, and foul-smelling land was raised or lowered, rocks were relocated and reused. Thought was given on how to best move people through the park without disturbances from carriages.
The end matter sums up the lives of Olmsted and Vaux. A page of interactive questions with items kids can search for within the book adds an element of interactive fun. More detail is given on Seneca Village, the area of land which had to be cleared for the park. The freed African-Americans who lived there were first offered money, then forced out—a sad beginning to this story.
As a preschool teacher, I could not stop myself from becoming more excited with each page turn knowing that this excellent book is not only for fun and entertainment purposes, but it also provides the ideal opportunity for learning in a colorful and unique way. Each page features a number of colorful animals doing different activities while inviting the reader to join in a search-and-find mission by asking questions like, “Who is sleeping?” or Who is swimming backwards?” or “Who just went fishing?” etc. I can already imagine my students gleefully pretending to be each animal presented. Kids will find they can identify individually with any number of specific animals in the groups depicted.
A Pandemonium of Parrots is the perfect precursor to a zoo field trip or story time on any day of the week when your child is looking for a book about their favorite creatures. The helpful back-matter includes incredible facts about each type of animal group such as the fact that some beetles are strong enough to snap a pencil! Youngsters will not be disappointed with this fresh and interesting take on animal groups with illustrations by Hui Skipp that are richly colored, captivating and full of life.
Check out A Pandemonium of Parrots and enjoy the pretend play it is sure to inspire.
We’re delighted to introduce a new monthly feature where local bookstore owner, Maureen Palacios and her daughter Jessica, of Once Upon a Time, weigh in on what they’re loving in hopes that you’ll love their suggestions too. Established in 1966, Once Upon a Time in Montrose, California is America’s Oldest Children’s Bookstore.
Many things come to mind when you mention celebrating the most American of holidays, Fourth of July — fireworks, picnics, parades, food and family, among others. As we take a look at a roundup of Fourth of July titles, one of my new favorites—although not technically an Independence Day title—is filled with emotional resonance that conjures up all the great feelings of a well-spent day of celebration. The debut picture book by author and poet Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, whose words are expressively coupled with artwork by Jason Chin,Pie Is for Sharing(Roaring Brook Press) is a first book about the joys of sharing. With a similar cadence to that wonderful picture book, Starsby Marla Frazee, this book celebrates a rich, diverse community in the everyday delights of climbing a tree, sitting on a warm beach towel and, of course, sharing every morsel of a pie. Chin expertly intersperses bits of red, white and blue in each page to magically and triumphantly end in a glorious cascade of fireworks! A perfect read for ages 2-6. ★ Starred reviews – Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus, The Horn Book,
Geared to the 4-8 age group is The 4thof July Story, written by two-time Newbery winner Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Marie Nonnast. First published in 1956, this paperback has adequate information for late kindergarten and a bit higher, but not for much younger and its illustration style may seem dated to some. The concept of war is a tough enough subject, and trying to explain the origins along with what actually happens may be too much for younger learners. I did enjoy remembering that the origin of “Congress,” which was newly enacted in Philadelphia during the run up to the Revolutionary War, means “coming together.” This simple telling of how the holiday began is why the book remains a primary teacher favorite. Still worth revisiting.
For a more contemporary approach for older children, I highly recommendThe Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence,written by Judith St. George and sprightly illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. This 46-page picture book is not so much about the actual Fourth of July holiday, but rather about the history of the document which it inspired. Young readers, ages 7 and up, will embrace the fun and engaging text, with much more current information about the precious piece of parchment that outlines our country’s initial thoughts on freedom, equality and liberty. Still resonating in today’s divisive political climate, this book, with a biography in back, is a terrific addition to your holiday book shelf. ★Starred reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios
You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
EARTH VERSE: HAIKU FROM THE GROUND UP
Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by William Grill
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-9)
A Junior Library Guild Selection
At the intersection of Earth Day and National Poetry Month is Earth Verse: Haiku From the Ground Upwritten by Sally M. Walker with illustrations by William Grill. Let these 32 pages of unique 17 syllable poems fill you with awe and respect for planet Earth. From her place in the solar system to her “molten magma stew,” from her “fossil family” to her “sky shenanigans,” Earth is at once a marvel and our home.
“a flat stone, skipping, casts circles across the lake, lassoing the fish.”
Earth Verse celebrates the planet in all its majesty and mayhem. In other words, not only are the oceans and rivers written about, so are storms and tsunamis. We read about fog, volcanoes, glaciers and icebergs. We travel underground to see stalactites and stalagmites because there’s so much more below the surface, both in the verse and on our planet. Grill’s colored pencil artwork conveys just enough of a reference point while leaving lots to our imaginations. Nine pages of STEAM-themed back matter round out the book and make this picture book appropriate and desirable for both Earth Day and National Poetry Month though it can truly be enjoyed year round, just like our precious planet.
Over the summer, Wren Jo Byrd, a shy nine-year-old, was abruptly sent to stay with her grandparents while her Mom and Dad split up. Rather than confess what was going on to BFF Amber, Wren ignored her.
At the start of the new school year, Wren finds that Amber is best buddies with Marianna Van Den Heuval, the new girl in town; Wren pretends nothing has changed. However, Wren’s lies about her family become hard to maintain because she must split her time between two households. Wren doesn’t understand how this could be good for them.
Marianna, from the big city of Portland, blows into Wisconsin like a diva with an agenda. She peppers her dialogue with wonderfully realistic preteen talk, such as “We’re going to have So. Much. Fun!” Yet, Marianna’s bravado isn’t all it seems. Wren discovers some of Marianna’s secrets and begins a list of questions for Marianna—the only girl she knows whose parents are divorced. As Amber is swept away in Marianna’s coolness, Wren wrestles with what it means to be a friend and dreads what will happen when everyone discovers the truth.
Julie Bowe’s first-person voice captures Wren’s fears and the complexities in her life. The text is punctuated by definitions Wren looks up on her phone, such as to the word “happy” (meaning “content”) and then “content” (meaning “not needing more”). These lead her to wonder, “When did Mom and Dad stop being happy? . . . How come no one told me we needed more?”
Everyone has secrets; Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), gives us a glimpse into why we hide our truths and the consequences we must endure when we choose to lie. This heartfelt story is about accepting change as friendships and families evolve beyond our control.
“Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.”
~ Dr. Myra Pollack Sadker, researcher, educator, and author of Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls (Scribners)
Knowing our history helps us discover who we are, and where we want to go. But when we don’t know our own history, or ‘herstory,’ this is a difficult task. Not knowing our past can limit our power today, and hinder our dreams for tomorrow. The National Women’s History Project initiated Women’s History Month 35 years ago to address this issue, and their mission remains to ‘write women back into history.’ In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to re-visit an author interview focused on a heroic woman whom I am very glad to have discovered and why I HAD to record her story for young readers.
When my picture book, Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter, was released, I did several interviews for bloggers. One of the nicest was this one with Debbi Michiko Florence for her blog DEBtastic Reads. It was a pleasure ‘talking’ with her about this book of mine, which went on to win the bronze medal in the 2013 Florida Book Awards, was named to the 2012 ALA Amelia Bloomer Book List for Feminist Literature, and more recently, was included as a 2016 Selection on the Top 100 Recommended African-American Children’s Books by AALBC.com (African-American Literature Book Club).
Q: Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, MOLLY, BY GOLLY!The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter (Calkins Creek), fabulously illustrated by Kathleen Kemly. You first became interested in Molly when you came across her legend while researching another book. What inspired you to turn this into a picture book?
A: First, it was the great spirit of volunteerism that is at the heart of Molly’s legendary tale. What Molly lacked in experience she more than compensated for with her courage and strength. It was a great opportunity to inspire future firefighters and other community helpers. Second, it was a chance to show kids how fires were actually fought in early American times. I was meticulous in my research of these details, and so was illustrator Kathleen Kemly—the firefighting history experts who double-checked our efforts were equally meticulous—because we all wanted to present as accurate a picture as possible. Kids will certainly get an appreciation for the modern equipment we have today. Third, Molly’s legend was filled with the type of action and emotion sure to inspire fabulous illustrations…which is just what happened!
Q: I was fascinated to learn how intensive and exhausting firefighting was in the 1800s! What part of your research for this book surprised you the most?
A: The biggest surprise was learning that the earliest pumper engines were not transported to the scene of a fire by a team of horses as I’d always assumed—PEOPLE did. The cobblestone streets were very narrow and bumpy, and it was often easier and safer for humans to maneuver the heavy pumper in tight spots. Also, since there were no paid fire companies at the time, there were no funds for buying, feeding and housing horses to help fight fires. There were no firehouses as we know them today, either. The volunteer companies only had equipment sheds for their very basic tools. No “sliding-down-a-fire-pole” fun for these early firefighters!
Q: Molly was a cook for firefighters. You share some delicious-sounding dishes in the book! What are some of your favorite comfort foods?
A: My favorite comfort foods: Pad Thai Noodles, Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Carolina Pulled Pork—but not all in the same meal! I had a wonderful time researching early American cookery, and just loved the quaint-and-quirky names of dishes that Molly might have fixed for her ‘fire laddies’.
Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter
Short, chunky, and sweet, describes this Halloween board book designed for the youngest audience. Wickle Woo Has a Halloween Party, written by Nosy Crow with illustrations by Jannie Ho (Nosy Crow 201; $7.99, Ages 0-3) cleverly incorporates a game of peek-a-boo with a holiday theme. Sturdy tabs are easy for chubby little hands to pull out and reveal various animals in their Halloween costumes, then push back in again.
Wickle Woo, an owl in a wizard’s hat and robe, is having a Halloween party. He can hear his friends, but their costumes are so good, that he has trouble recognizing them. Ho has an interesting cast of characters, dressed in adorable child-friendly outfits. Bear is masquerading as a flower, lion is a pirate, and monkey is disguised as an astronaut, to name a few. There are pumpkins and spiders and bats and witches, but Ho keeps them cute, not creepy.
This is a perfect treat for those who are too young for too many sweets!
It’s time to break out the glitter pens, colored pencils, tin foil, and any other art supplies you might have. Just in time for Halloween, Marnie Edwards (author) and Leigh Hodgkinson (illustrator), along with the help of the reader, have cast a magic spell with their anti-coloring/activity book. Magical Mix-Ups, Spells and Surprises(Nosy Crow 2014; $6.99, Ages 7 and up), has an enchanting story line as well.
Princess Sapphire and Emerald the Witch are best friends. They live in Mixtopia, where things are, well, mixed up, and they attend St. Aubergine’s School. They make a new friend, Violet, who has trouble controlling her broom and has trouble learning to fly. Emerald has troubles of her own. She’s a witch who isn’t very good at casting spells. The girls are preparing for the Halloween Festival and decide to help each other out. There are tiaras and tutus, dancing and candy, magic and friendship and all the things girls love at this age in this well-crafted book.
Oh, Nosy Crow, I love you so! Hmmm, maybe I’ll use that when I help Emerald with her rhyming spell assignment.
– Reviews by MaryAnne Locher
Other terror-ific & recommended great books for Halloween time are:
Big events – really BIG events – are not a new idea for most of us these days. We witness enormous crowds at sporting events like the Super Bowl and World Cup soccer matches. Political rallies, marathons, even royal weddings draw spectators and participants by the hundreds of thousands. But this idea was more novel in 1869, when Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore pulled off an incredible festival in Boston; the National Peace Jubilee.
Alicia Potter and Matt Tavares have captured Gilmore’s story with enthusiasm in this picture book biography extolling one man’s determination to mark the end of the Civil War with a celebration of unheard of proportions. As a child in Ireland, Gilmore developed a passion for music that he brought to America as a professional bandleader and a member of the Massachusetts 24th Regiment. After the war ended, Gilmore dreamed up a five day musical concert bigger, bolder and louder than any other to celebrate peace and restore national unity.
Potter writes masterfully, building anticipation toward the big event by chronicling the steps Gilmore took to raise funds and public support over several years. She chooses great aural vocabulary to describe the roar of the organ and the thundering of drums. Tavares wisely incorporates toots, booms, and shreets into his soft, detailed illustrations that fill both the eyes and the ears with impressions of the experience.
An extensive author’s note and bibliography provide supplemental information about Patrick Gilmore’s life and subsequent events that led to his designation “Father of the American Band.”
Potter and Tavares’ fascinating tale will captive elementary age readers and ensure that this important chapter in American music history is not forgotten.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I received a review copy from my public library. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Maybe it’s because fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s because the weather gets a bit cooler here in L.A. The street where I live gets tons of trick or treaters beginning about five o’clock with the littlest monsters, penguins, princesses and elves making an appearance before bedtime. The creative costumes never cease to amaze me. One year I recall we had a Mozart, a rain cloud and a laundry basket! I look forward to every shouted TRICK OR TREAT?! In honor of Halloween I’ve put together a varied selection of books to sit down and peruse after they’ve emptied bags and examined their hauls.
WHERE’S BOO? (A Hide-and-Seek Book) by Salina Yoon, Random House Books for Young Readers, $6.99, Ages 0-3. This interactive board book will attract little ones with its velvety-faced kitty on the cover and velvety tail at the end. Parents can help children solve the mystery of where Boo is hiding beginning with a jack-o’-lantern and ending with a door in this die-cut 18 page guessing game. The pictures are sweet not scary, a perfect introduction to All Hallows Eve!
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA HOSTS A SLEEPOVER by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, ages 3-5. Last year’s Vampirina Ballerina was so popular she’s back again and this time she’s hosting a sleepover. While this picture book is not strictly for Halloween, what better time of year than right now to share a vampire tale? Dad helps with homemade spider invitations, Vampirina tidies up, the menu is prepared and the sleepover party begins! Full of the same delightful detailed artwork featuring all the necessary vampire accoutrements including caskets and headstones plus all the not-to-be-missed facial expressions courtesy of Pham, this latest picture book is something to sink your teeth into. Pace throws in puns galore so parents can get a giggle, too. There’s even a pull-out spread to add to its appeal. This sleepover’s a lids down success.
GHOST IN THE HOUSE by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record, Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-7. What works so well in this picture book is that it’s not only a cumulative counting book beginning with a little ghost, but it’s a fun read-aloud as well with its catchy rhythm and rhyme. Ghost in the House manages to mix a slightly spooky premise and lighten it with a cute cast of characters including a mummy, a monster, a skeleton, a witch and a little boy. The bonus: No trick or treaters anywhere in sight makes it an ideal read for any dark and stormy night!
HALLOWEENHUSTLE by Charlotte Gunnufson with illustrations by Kevan J. Atteberry, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, $16.99, Ages 4-8. Get ready to boogie to a funky beat that will get your youngsters chiming in. Skeleton’s in a dancing mood, in fact he’s got a whole crew of hustling creatures following his lead, but things keep tripping him up, first a crooked crack, then a cat and finally a zombie’s foot. Here’s the catchy refrain your kids will latch onto:
What a clatter!
Spine is like a broken ladder!”
There’s a hoppin’ Halloween party where Skeleton enters a dance contest, but can he keep it all together? Let’s see what a friendly skeleton girl and a little super-strong glue can do!
OL’ CLIP CLOP, A GHOST STORY by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez, Holiday House, $16.95, ages 6-9. This haunting, well-paced and tersely written story is one you’ll want to tell by a roaring fire while huddled next to your child. The climax, where there’s usually a fright, though not as scary for an adult as it may be for a child, is deeply satisfying. The good part is that it’s actually a happy ending because it’s good riddance to the villain, mean John Leep. This well-off, but miserly and greedy landlord has a cruel fate planned for the widow Mayes of Grass Hollow. He’ll demand the rent in full or evict her, throwing her out into the night on a cold Friday the thirteenth, 1741. Velasquez’s artwork of dark upon dark sets the ominous nighttime mood, with the lightest color being the white of widow Mayes’s cap and mean Leep’s linens. The clip, clop, clip, clop sound of Leep’s horse Major gets more and more frightening as Leep feels he is being followed on his way to the widow’s house. What’s in store for the stingy man as leaves the desperate widow wondering if she’ll lose her home? Will he make it home alive?
Long before I was a parent I got a taste of Roald Dahl’s humor in the early ’70s via the popular film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. Then, in London some thirty years later, I heard The Magic Finger audio book. Now that I’ve read an actual book and seen Quentin Blake’s spot-on illustrations for Matilda (Puffin, $6.99, ages 7 and up), I am eager to see the acclaimed Broadway musical. It seems that Dahl’s work is brilliantly entertaining in any form presented.
Roald Dahl, also known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Fantastic Mr. Fox, had a wonderful and wild imagination with a wit to match. And though celebrating its 25th anniversary, the book remains as popular with readers today as it was when first published.
Matilda put a smile on my face and introduced me to one of the most OTT characters I’ve seen in print in a long time. If the name Miss Trunchbull doesn’t conjure up images of a walking, talking mega-sized Medieval torture machine (AKA the Headmistress), I don’t know what will!! Matilda is a child prodigy. Yet, unlike the children whose parents gush over their real or perceived little Einsteins, Matilda’s parents do absolutely NOTHING to nurture their four-year-old daughter. In fact, they barely treat her with indifference being so caught up in their own lunacy.
Hungry for knowledge to feed her growing mind, Matilda makes her way to the local library. There the librarian, Mrs. Phelps helps the youngster find books she’d like. Eventually Matilda takes home books to travel the world from the comfort of her bedroom while avoiding the dishonesty and rudeness of her family. A second-hand car dealer, Matilda’s father, Mr. Wormwood, boasts of tricking his customers and profiting from his deviousness. Readers will thoroughly love all the practical jokes Matilda plays on her dad as a way of getting back at him for his misdeeds. Blake’s pen and ink artwork perfectly captures all the hijinks in the book, especially those occurring at Crunchem Hall Primary School, and enhance what is already a rollicking good read.
Fortunately for Matilda, school takes her away from her unpleasant parents and there she finds compassion from her teacher, aptly named Miss Honey. Miss Honey is in awe of Matilda’s genius and provides the young girl with the attention and nurturing she’s missed at home. Unfortunately Miss Honey is so very poor and suffering due to the unfortunate loss of income and housing at the hands of a cruel aunt who just happens to be Miss Trunchbull. Now that Matilda has an ally in Miss Honey, she’s emboldened to fight back at the horrendous Headmistress and by doing so discovers a magical power that will help her achieve her goal. The pleasure kids get from Matilda’s success is why this book continues to be in demand. A happy ending that assures the Trunchbull’s comeuppance, restores Miss Honey’s inheritance and Matilda’s future well-being.
I realize that, having had children attend primary school in London, I am partial to Dahl’s language and exaggerated style but there is simply no denying his gift for great storytelling. The book is certain to engage even the most reluctant of readers with its funny characters, crazy plot and satisfying finish.
I have always loved classical music CDs for young children, and there’s nothing better than one that comes with a book, like this one. Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music, ($16.95, The Secret Mountain Books, Ages 7-9) is unique in every way; I’ve never seen another book like it.
Each two-page spread of the book features a description of a different type of bird as it corresponds to one of the 20 glorious classical music selections on the CD. Children learn about the correlation between the sounds of natural birdsongs and the melodies of different classical masterpieces.
The book, written by concert pianist, Ana Gerhard and nicely illustrated by Cecilia Varela, doesn’t stop there. It also includes a listening guide for children to learn more about the instruments as well as birdsongs in each piece. There are also introductions to the composers, a wonderful glossary of musical terms and even a timeline of the composers from 1485 to the present. From Vivaldi to Tchaikovsky, from Handel to Mozart, all the greats are here to enjoy. The book and CD are of the highest quality, so it will certainly stand the test of time and can be used over and over again.
What’s so terrific about this book is that it is just as enlightening for parents as it is for children. Little ones who are too young to understand the details of a particular composer or even a species of bird, can certainly feel moved (and let’s face it hopefully feel sleepy, too). And even more importantly, books like these can inspire children to not only love music, but to also get interested in playing an instrument. As a parent of a 20-year-old pianist, I know just how much listening to classical music and talking about composers can shape a child’s future.
As for the relaxation factor, check out this photo of my husband, John and giant standard poodle, Darwin. I am playing the CD on my laptop as I write this, and you can see the effect it has on them!
Interested in more music knowledge for kids? Read my review of Verdi here.
Who’s On First? by Abbott & Costello, with illustrations by John Martz, is now available in a picture book format from Quirk Books ($16.95, ages 7 and up). And, as the name implies, this publishing house is anything but conventional having gained recognition with its popular Mashup series of books including a personal fave, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I’m so glad they’ve decided to add Abbott & Costello into their mix.
Now, as we approach baseball season, it’s time to introduce a new generation of fans to one of America’s most beloved comedy teams. Abbott & Costello’s genius for fast-paced, perfectly timed routines should hook your kids as it did mine. In fact you may not know that Abbott & Costello’s Who’s On First sketch has been named the best comedy sketch of the twentieth century by Time magazine and the duo was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. I’m still trying to figure out their Loan Me $50 routine!
If you’ve got a child with a great sense of humor and a good memory, try practicing this most hysterical of routines with him or her. My 11-year-old son may not read picture books anymore, but he’s a huge Abbott & Costello fan just like his mom and dad. The minute he saw this book land on my desk he picked it up, read it and pronounced, “This is perfect! The rabbit and bear even look like Abbott and Costello.” He also wanted me to tell readers how well imagined the artwork is and I agree. From the fabulous selection of colors Martz (who also happens to be a cartoonist) has used on every page to the way he captures Costello’s (okay, the rabbit’s) facial expressions as he gets more and more frustrated is a big part of why the book works. Even the title design shouts “Batter up!”
Come meet the kooky cast of characters including Who’s, the first baseman snake; What’s, the second baseman dog; I Don’t Know’s, the third base chicken; Why, who just happens to be an alligator and the left fielder and of course, Because! Because, the red-capped cat covers center field and Tomorrow, a duck, is the pitcher. Got that? Don’t forget the heavy hitter, an elephant who is going to bunt the ball. Terribly exasperating? Imagine how the rabbit feels!
If you think it’s over when the rabbit proclaims, “I said I don’t give a hoot!” Think again! That’s the shortstop (an owl).
There’s a brief history of “Who’s on First?” in the end pages to share with your children and if you’re like my family, you’ll probably want to rent a few Abbott & Costello movies to see how they perform the sketch. So, in case you couldn’t tell, this book’s a hit with me. NOTE: The book’s publication date is February 19, 2013.