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Board Book Review – Pablo Dreams of Cats

 

PABLO DREAMS OF CATS

Written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder

(Atelier Enfants; $18, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats Cover Dog Painter Pablo

 

Publisher Summary:

Pablo dreams of painting cats. But his pack doesn’t approve and the cats just dash away from him. Will this painter ever be able to make the art he dreams of?

Dutch artist Timo Kuilder’s first children’s book introduces us to an imaginative dog who is infatuated with cats, celebrating diversity and inviting all animals to conquer their misconceptions, and embrace everyone.

Review:

This adorable board book, Pablo Dreams of Cats, the debut from Timo Kuilder, features the titular canine painter on its cover in elegant profile, wearing an artist’s smock, with tools tucked securely into the pocket. And that beret he dons tilted just so, speaks volumes. I was Team Pablo there and then. But if that doesn’t pull readers in, perhaps the appealing opening line, “Pablo is not a regular dog,” will.

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats int1 Pablo is not a regular dog.
Interior art from Pablo Dreams of Cats written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder, Text and Illustrations © 2023 Timo Kuilder, Atelier Enfants

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Young readers soon learn that Pablo is a creator, passionate about painting. Using his paws and tail, he applies paint to the canvas while his pack prefers playing with bones. Kuilder introduces the tools of the trade that Pablo needs including a “sturdy brush, a painting knife, and a small wooden palette to mix his paints.” The graphic-style art is easy on the eye and the warm palette is pleasing.

Pablo is enamored with cats. They are his subject of choice though his fellow dogs find that hard to believe. How can a dog like cats? Don’t they typically not get along? Still, Pablo persists, trying to capture their likeness in paint. Except the cats are scared of Pablo. I love that Kuilder’s mentioned that often Pablo ends up only paining their behinds. That is sure to get laughs.

 

 

Pablo Dreams of Cats int2 dogs admiring paintings of cats.
Interior art from Pablo Dreams of Cats written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder, Text and Illustrations © 2023 Timo Kuilder, Atelier Enfants

 

After the urging of his friends, Pablo gives up trying to paint cats and turns to birds instead. They do not cooperate either. Pablo tosses in his beret. No more painting. Then, one day, a cat appears, unafraid and willing to pose for Pablo. Pablo paints and paints, happy he has found his muse and it shows in his beautiful paintings. Even his initially reluctant pack cannot deny the “magnificent” works of art. It’s great to find board books that inspire preschoolers to reach for some paint and brushes to try their little hands at art. I encourage parents, teachers, and caregivers to have some supplies close at hand after sharing this sweet story that challenges stereotypes and tips its cap at inclusivity and creativity.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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An Interview with Maria Wen Adcock

 

 

CHARLOTTE CHENG INTERVIEWS

MARIA WEN ADCOCK,

AUTHOR OF

IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE

ILLUSTRATED BY REA ZHAI

(Clarion Books; $9.99, Ages 0-4)

 

It's Chinese New Year Curious George girl CG playig with paper dragon

 

 

 

INTERVIEW:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE [Clarion Books], which is a perfect book to introduce Chinese New Year traditions to little ones. In this interview conducted by Charlotte Cheng, author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], Maria discusses her process for writing the book, her experience seeing the book published, and much much more. 

Thanks for taking the time to share your author journey with us today! 

 

Charlotte Cheng: Curious George is such a household name. What was it like infusing this classic with your Chinese heritage?

Maria Wen Adcock: I grew up reading Curious George, so it was an incredible honor to work on IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE. Children around the world are familiar with Curious George, so it makes learning about Chinese culture more accessible when children see him celebrating this holiday. I’m so proud to share my Chinese heritage with young readers through an iconic character like Curious George! 

 

CC: For those who are curious, what’s the difference between the terms Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year?

MWA: Lunar New Year is an overarching term for many Asian countries, beyond China, that celebrates the new year based on the moon cycle. Under the term Lunar New Year are subsets: Chinese New Year, Vietnamese New Year called Tet, Korean New Year called Seollal, Indonesian New Year called Imlek, and more. Each country has its own unique New Year traditions. For example, in China, when it is the Year of the Rabbit, in Vietnam it’s the Year of the Cat. Chinese New Year is celebrated with red envelopes, but Korean New Year does not. 

Chinese New Year refers to the holiday that Chinese people celebrate using customs specific to their culture. Though some countries may celebrate their new year in similar ways, such as getting together with families and eating certain foods, not all the traditions are the same. For example, one Chinese New Year tradition involves hanging a sign upside down on the front door. The word on the sign is Fú (福), a Chinese character meaning good luck and fortune. In Chinese, the word for “upside-down” is Dào (). This sounds similar to another word, also called Dào (), which means “to arrive.” So hanging the Fu sign upside-down means good luck and fortune will arrive. This custom is very specific to Chinese New Year.

 

CC: Why did you choose to focus on Chinese New Year for the book?

MWA: The publisher wanted the book to delve deeper into the traditions and symbolism of Chinese New Year. They chose me to author the book so I could tap into my lived experience as a Chinese American to authentically speak to how the holiday was celebrated. Given the book only has seven tabbed pages to work with, space was a premium. I did the best I could to provide readers with as much information as possible about the Chinese New Year.

If this book had focused on the Lunar New Year, to be inclusive and accurate, we would have needed to mention all the different countries under that umbrella term and highlight their unique traditions. But given the limitations of space, we wouldn’t have been able to provide more depth – likely just a mention – and we thought this wouldn’t do it justice.

 

 

Interior illustrations from It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George written by H. A. Rey and Maria Wen Adcock, and illustrated by Rea Zhai, Clarion Books ©2023.

 

 

CC: Chinese New Year is celebrated in so many different ways since China is so diverse. How did you select which traditions to highlight in the story?

MWA: I was able to pull from my childhood growing up in a Chinese American household when deciding which traditions to include in the book. There were so many traditions to choose from. I narrowed them down to highlight the most commonly celebrated ones. 

 

CC: What was it like working on the book with the publishing team and what was your favorite part of the process? 

MWA: My editor, Bethany Vinhateiro, led the process and provided guidelines on format requirements for the Curious George series of tabbed board books. All of the books in this series featured 7 tabs with themes, and each tab included 4 stanzas in rhyme with 4 lines in each stanza. She encouraged me to ensure that Curious George’s personality came out in my story, which I was familiar with given that I had grown up with his stories.

Bethany worked with the illustrator, Rea Zhai, to bring my story to life. I did not directly communicate with the illustrator, which is typical in traditional publishing. Instead, Bethany sent me drafts of the illustrations so that I could ensure they accurately reflected the customs of Chinese New Year. I really enjoyed the process of seeing the illustrations, providing feedback, and then viewing the revisions.

 

CC: When you finally got to see the illustrations for the book, did you see any fun surprises in the images?

MWA: The cover took my breath away as it captured the heart and spirit of Chinese New Year. I was pleasantly surprised to see the title of the book printed in gold foil, which is one of the traditional colors of Chinese New Year in addition to red, which represents good luck. I loved how the Man in the Yellow Hat changed his usual yellow tie to a red one to celebrate Chinese New Year. The illustrations did an amazing job of bringing the holiday to life.

 

CC: What was it like launching your book during Chinese New Year? Any favorite memories from your launch party or school visits?

MWA: Launching my book during Chinese New Year was the perfect timing given its storyline. The weeks leading up to Chinese New Year traditionally include a lot of preparation and teaching the children about the holiday taught them how they could celebrate Chinese New Year with their own families at home. 

I was so thrilled with my launch party at Huntington Public Library where I work in the Youth and Parent Department for my day job. They provided incredible support, and there were over 150 people in attendance – the maximum the auditorium could hold. My sister flew in from Michigan to help me which I appreciated so much. 

The school visits were so fun. The kids were incredibly curious and engaged with my presentation which not only included a book reading but also provided interesting details behind the reasons for each of the traditions mentioned in the book. I really enjoyed interacting with the students!

 

CC: For those who are interested in writing children’s books, what advice would you like to give them? Where should they start?

MWA: I would recommend joining your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org). They offer workshops to hone your craft and access to many agents and editors. The organization can also help you find a critique group which is an invaluable tool for elevating the quality of your manuscripts.

CC: It’s been a pleasure learning about your experience Maria. Happy writing and congratulations on your book!

BUY  THE BOOK HERE:

Support local independent bookstores by clicking here to make your purchase.

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Author Maria Wen Adcock Photo Credit Maria Wen Adcock
Author Maria Wen Adcock Photo Credit: Maria Wen Adcock

AUTHOR BIO:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George [2023] published by Clarion Books/Harper Collins. Maria is a first-generation Chinese-American writer and founder of the award-winning multicultural parenting blog www.BiculturalMama.com. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Bloomberg News, Newsday, and Huffington Post. Maria is a board member of Multicultural Kid Blogs, an organization supporting diverse parenting bloggers, and co-host of the annual event Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
Follow: Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

 

 

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books including Night Market Rescue and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curriculum for a variety of companies including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop. You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her on Instagram @charlottemakesbooks or Twitter @charlottedraws

ILLUSTRATOR LINKS:

Website: https://reazhaiart.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zhazhazhaart/

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Picture Book Review – Barn in Winter

 

 

 

BARN IN WINTER:
SAFE AND WARM ON THE FARM

Written by Chambrae Griffith

Illustrated by Taia Morley

(Cottage Door Press; $9.99; Ages 1-4)

 

 

Barn in Winter cover barn as snow falls

 

 

From the publisher:

“Winter has come to the farm and covered everything in a blanket of icy snow. But where is the cow? Where are the pig and the goat? They are snuggly and snoozy, dozy and dreaming, tucked in all toasty, safe, dry and warm inside the cozy barn. Celebrate winter with this beautiful keepsake book that any farm-loving toddler is sure to love!”

 

Review:

Chambrae Griffith and Taia Morely deliver Barn in Winter, a gorgeous book introducing preschoolers to a farm in winter and its personified barn. With adorable farm animals filling the pages, this sturdy board book is sure to charm little ones.

 

Barn in Winter int1 barn feels a chill
Interior spread from Barn in Winter written by Chambrae Griffith and illustrated by Taia Morely, Cottage Door Press ©2023.

 

Griffith’s rhyming text feels hushed and snuggly—almost reverent—like the quiet that comes before a storm. Morely’s art is the perfect complement, with warm, saturated colors and a blanket-like texture that begs to be printed and hung on a nursery room wall.

 

 

Barn in Winter int2 out of the storm cuddly and cozy cow
Interior art from Barn in Winter written by Chambrae Griffith and illustrated by Taia Morely, Cottage Door Press ©2023.

 

A perfect read-aloud before a long winter’s nap. Barn in Spring will be available in spring 2024

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Best New Hanukkah Books for Kids 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF

THE BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS

FOR KIDS 2023

REVIEWS:

Latke's First Hanukkah cover Latke lighting menorahLATKE’S FIRST HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg
(Viking BYR; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Little ones will love meeting Latke, a lovable creation of author-illustrator Alan Silberberg’s whimsical imagination. What’s great about his books is that parents will be entertained reading them as much as their kids. The new 16-page board book, Latke’s First Hanukkah, is no exception. Add various voices for the characters during a read-aloud and you’re set!

Applesauce and Sour Cream get into a tiff over which topping tastes better, the Dreidels along with Latke spin ’til they drop, dizzy but likely delighted, and the sufganiyot (jelly donuts) “are full of joy (and jelly).” As each night gets underway, the counting of the candles continues as do the antics of Latke’s colorfully illustrated guests. Of course, included in the company is gelt, and on night six, the one that made me LOL was when Babka, Challah, Bagel, Kugel, Blintz, and Falafel arrived.  There is much to enjoy here so why not join Latke for some laughs and a memorable first Hanukkah celebration?

 

HANUKKAH UPSIDE DOWNHanukkah Upside Dow cover upside down child handing dreidel to rightside up child
Written by Elissa Brent Weissman

Illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
(Abrams BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m so happy there’s a new international-themed Hanukkah book to be added to bookshelves everywhere. Its illustrations are charming and kid-friendly with characters I’d love to try drawing myself (I particularly enjoyed the spread with everyone eating sufganiyot or jelly donuts)  with Cousins Noah and Nora may live continents apart (Noah’s in New York and Nora’s in New Zealand), but it’s clear from their chats on the phone or via text that they are close. As Hanukkah approaches, the two set up a competition to see who has the best Hanukkah. Both also disagree on which cousin lived upside down on the planet, something many kids may think about and find funny.

This new slant on celebrating the eight-day Festival of Lights is clever as both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres’ differences are highlighted as the Hanukkah celebrations get underway. In New York, it’s winter and one day behind. In New Zealand it’s summer. In New York, it got dark early while in New Zealand, the sun set late. Despite that, on the first night of Hanukkah, both cousins lit the chanukiah or Hanukkah menorah. While Noah wore boots, Nora went barefoot, yet they both ate yummy latkes. I love this spot-on comparison:  “Noah threw snowballs. Nora did cannonballs.” Whether skating or surfing, or learning the local languages, the Jewish cousins find the challenge they’ve tasked themselves with to be a tough one. They say the same prayers. Do the same good deeds and spend time with loved ones. So whose celebration is the best? And is it really about the differences?

Though the main characters may live thousands of miles apart, the beauty in this story is that ultimately the similarities between the cousins’ Hanukkah festivities, and their relationship are what counts and what will stand out to young readers.

 

Eight Nights of Lights cover child holding menorah and dreidel.EIGHT NIGHTS OF LIGHTS: 
A Celebration of Hanukkah
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Hilli Kushnir
(HarperCollins BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I’ve never seen anything quite like this interactive picture book that engages young readers all Eight Nights of Lights! The design invites children to participate safely (no real candles or matches are involved) in the Hanukkah celebration which they can enjoy in one read or return to each night.

On the first night, kids meet the narrator Lena, and her kitty, Pickles as they prep the menorah and learn its family history from her father. The educational elements are introduced so the youngest readers can learn about Hanukkah traditions. “It was the first night of the holiday, so there was just one candle to put in the menorah. Plus the shammash, the helper candle. The shammash was used each night to light all the other candles.”

The story progresses to the next night when readers remove the second candle from the book’s paper menorah to see what happens with Lena and her family. Different aspects of the holiday are shared every night; from dreidel playing to the story of the heroic Maccabee brothers, from giving presents to giving to others (tzedakah), from making latkes to eating jelly donuts, from a Hanukkah hike to acting out the Maccabee story with cousins. The story concludes with a fun Hanukkah party at the synagogue on the eighth night that includes cookie decorating, pin the shammash on the menorah, and singing and dancing to beloved Hanukkah songs. I can easily see children asking for this book every year as part of the celebration. It also makes a wonderful gift.

Watch this video to see exactly how unique this interactive picture book is.

MORE NEW HANUKKAH BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

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Board Book Review – Dia de Muertos

 

 

DÍA DE MUERTOS:
A Papel Picado Lift-the-Flap Book

Written by Dori Elys

Illustrated by Alicia Más

(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages birth and up)

 

 

Dia de Muertos cover children holding papel picado food flowers

 

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

In the vein of Coco, this bright board book highlights the beauty of Día de Muertos with colorful lift-the-flaps that look just like papel picado revealing details of the holiday.

 

REVIEW:

This 14-page interactive board book written by Dori Elys and illustrated by Alicia Más is not only lovely to look at, but it’s also made the Día de Muertos holiday accessible to little ones. Right from the opening line, we’re greeted in Spanish and English:

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome!
It’s Dia de Muertos.
Won’t you join us
in this colorful celebration?

Every spread is decorated with the traditional papel picado cut paper folk art although here it’s been die-cut onto two-colored sturdy flaps.

 

Dia de Muertos int1 Bienvenidos Welcome
Interior spread from Día de Muertos written by Dori Elys and illustrated by Alicia Más, Little Simon ©2023.

 

Lifting each flap reveals some helpful information about the traditions. The one pictured above explains when the Mexican holiday takes place annually. Not sure when? It’s November 1 to November 2.  Under the candles flap below the meaning of altars is explained. This “showcase of love” honors those who’ve passed away. Spanish words such as ofrendas (offerings), mira (look), and familia (family) are introduced with the art providing more ways to decode new vocabulary.

 

Dia de Muertos int2 altars honor family
Interior spread from Día de Muertos written by Dori Elys and illustrated by Alicia Más, Little Simon ©2023.

 

In these vibrantly illustrated pages, kids will learn that Día de Muertos is a joyful occasion where family, food, flowers, photos, candles, animal guides, and skulls play a big role. And, the loved ones who are gone from our physical world (the land of the living) are very much alive in our hearts. The holiday has become popular around the world, allowing people of various backgrounds to honor the memory of those who’ve passed on.

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An Interview with AlphaBot Author and Illustrator Vicky Fang

 

RAJANI LAROCCA INTERVIEWS VICKY FANG,

AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR OF

ALPHABOT

(MIT Kids Press/Candlewick Press; 14.99, Ages 3-7)

AlphaBot cover mix and match robots

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Found your circuit-board head? Your voice-control torso? Your hydrojet feet? Hooray! You’ve made one of the 729 mix-and-match robots that are possible with this innovative flip-flap book. Alongside the bright and cheery illustrations of robot parts is a basic alphabetical listing of terms—from android to gearsneural network to program, wheels to Z-drive—and a basic definition of each. With a concealed spiral binding and sturdy card stock pages to hold up to enthusiastic flap-turning, AlphaBot is full of appeal for young robot lovers, preschoolers who love machines, and anyone looking for STEM books for the younger set. Back matter includes a brief explanation of the three key abilities of robots: to sense, think, and act.

INTERVIEW:

Rajani LaRocca: How did you come up with this idea?

Vicky Fang: ALPHABOT actually started off with the title! As a former designer of robots for kids, I think about robots a lot, haha. Once the title and the idea of a robot alphabet book were in my head, I knew I wanted to make something interactive. I thought about different novelty formats (flaps, cutouts, etc.) until I had the idea for mix-and-match flaps. This meant kids would be able to mix-and-match the A-Z robotics terms to create their own robots. How fun and exciting! I spent a long time thinking about what terms would work and making paper dummies to prove out the concept.

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RL: What kind of challenges did you face coming up with a novelty book idea like this?

Alphabot int2 circuit fan treads
Interior illustrations and text from AlphaBot written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, MIT Kids Press ©2023.

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VF: This book was definitely a puzzle to put together! I have several paper dummies where I was working to make sure I could make all the terms work together. Once I had a working dummy, it was also challenging to sell the book! Novelty books are expensive to construct, so even though several editors were interested, it took time to find a publisher that could figure out how to make the numbers work. I’m so glad that MIT Kids Press/Candlewick found a way and I’m so happy with the quality of the book!

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RL: I see a strong parallel between this book and your debut, INVENT-A-PET. What do you see as the similarities and differences between them?

VF: I love introducing kids to STEM concepts, but really, I want kids to be creative problem solvers. This is at the heart of both books! Even though INVENT-A-PET is a fiction story about a girl inventing fantastic pets and ALPHABOT is about non-fiction informational book about creating robots, you can see that both books invite kids to be inventive! Maybe the different approach will appeal to a different kid, but hopefully, all kids find a way to engage their imagination from the STEM content in these books.

AlphaBot int1 gears hydrojets
Interior illustrations and text from AlphaBot written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, MIT Kids Press ©2023.

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RL: I loved the mix of familiar and not-so-familiar terms in this book! Was it hard to come up with a concept for each letter of the alphabet?

VF: There were letters that were more challenging than others, especially to make sure they would work in their positions in the book (head, torso, or feet.) I tried several different options, as well as shifting which flaps the letters would fall on. But since I was also illustrating, I was able to think creatively about how these robot parts might work and all fit together!

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RL: What do you hope kids get from this book?

VF: Well, of course, I hope they understand robots a little bit better! The back matter is a pretty simple explanation of the capabilities of robots and came from my engineering partner, Chaitanya Gharpure. Hopefully, kids understand a little bit more about how robots work and what kinds of parts they might have!

But ultimately, as I was saying before, I want kids to have fun and be creative, I hope that this book sparks their imagination and gives them the confidence to create.

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RL: What’s next for you?

VF: I am very excited about my next early reader series, BEST BUDDIES, illustrated by Luisa Leal, which is releasing in October with Scholastic. It’s about a dog named Sniff and a cat named Scratch who are best friends and get into mischief at home. It’s been fun to explore themes of friendship and teamwork with these two characters who approach things differently, but together.

After that, I have many more books coming! I’m currently working on a new early chapter book series, AVA LIN, about a relatable and funny 6-year-old Chinese-American girl with a knack for getting herself into—and out of—trouble. Keep an eye out for it, launching with Candlewick in June 2024!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support a local independent bookstore and get a signed copy. (Please type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.lindentreebooks.com/alphabot.html

Also: https://vickyfang.com/books/alphabot/

AUTHOR BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter (X): https://twitter.com/fangmous

IG: https://www.instagram.com/fangmousbooks/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fangmousbooks

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor and Walter Award-winning middle-grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She has always been an omnivorous reader, and now is an omnivorous writer of novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, in poetry and prose. You can learn more about her atwww.RajaniLaRocca.com.

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Five Mother’s Day Books for Children 2023

A ROUNDUP OF
FIVE MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN 2023

 

 

 

 

Moms Can Do It All! cover caped mom holding babyMOMS CAN DO IT ALL!
Written by Ted Maass,
Illustrated by Ekaterina Trukhan 
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

This 18-page rhyming board book lovingly portrays moms as positive role models for little ones. Maass and Trukhan hooked me with an illustration that shows a mom typing on her laptop beside Baby accompanied by this text, “Some moms use their imaginations to become writers, …” Alongside that one, the sentence ends “while others use their courage to become firefighters,” depicting a mom extinguishing a building on fire. Kids will see moms as architects, pilots, athletes, actors, newscasters, and working behind the scenes (in this case behind a camera). The scenes with mom as a homemaker show how busy she is looking after her home and family. Moms also teach, build, nurse, and farm. In fact, children will see there’s actually nothing moms cannot do, which in turn applies to their children when they grow up. An inspiring message to share this Mother’s Day! There’s a place to write in a dedication in the front making this a sweet gift a child can offer to their mom or vice versa!

The colors Trukhan uses in Moms Can Do It All! are bold, bright, and energetic. Her characters, not outlined, are composed of simple shapes that will appeal to the young audience.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Are You My Mommy? cover calf sheep in meadowARE YOU MY MOMMY?
Lift-The-Flap Stories
Written by Yulia Simbirskaya

Illustrated by Katerina Veselova
(Clever Publishing; $10.99, Ages 2-6)

I never tire of lift-the-flap books and I’m sure it’s the same for your kids. Are You My Mommy? is a sturdy 10-page  board book that takes place on a farm. The bucolic setting is a perfect backdrop for Calf’s journey to find his mother.

A nice feature is that as Calf approaches each animal asking if they’re his mommy, the response includes the sound the animal makes. For example “Are you my mommy?” he asks Hen.  Then, lift Hen’s flap to read “No my babies are chicks,” Hen clucks. “Ask Cat.” Here toddlers are also introduced to the various names of animal babies such as chicks, kittens, lambs, puppies, ducklings, foals, and piglets in the artwork under the flap. It ends with six flaps under which are the sounds made by that particular animal. Readers will also find vocabulary words to match the art in the final spread such as sun, house, tractor, bush, and sunflower. If you’re looking for an adorably illustrated interactive book for Mother’s Day that includes an educational element to it, check this one out.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Supermoms!_Animal_Heroes_Flexing_GiraffeSUPERMOMS!: Animal Heroes
Written by Heather Lang and Jamie Harper
Illustrated by Jamie Harper
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

A Junior Library Guild Selection

From the Publisher: “In comics-style panels full of facts and humor, this lively picture book investigates the amazing lengths animal mothers go to in caring for their young.”

Authors Heather Lang and Jamie Harper tap into kids’ fascination with superheroes to share fun (and funny) facts about animal mothers in this first installment of their new Animal Heroes series from Candlewick.

Whether Mom is building a home underground to keep her young safe from predators [groundhogs] or separating her young to keep them safe from each other [strawberry poison frog], kids will find plenty to giggle at in Supermoms!

The classic cartoon-style art in comic-book panels (complete with speech bubbles) pairs perfectly with expository nonfiction text to add humor and instant kid appeal. And maybe…just maybe…inspire young readers to think about all the amazing qualities and sacrifices their own caregivers provide to protect and provide for them as they grow.

Supermoms! would make a great pick for the budding (or reluctant) naturalist, and would be a fun read-aloud for Mother’s Day. I can see it being used in the classroom to discuss the differences between fiction and nonfiction text, and explore dialog and characterization. Its unique backmatter highlights all the “super” characteristics moms have [“super protective,” “super caring,” “super devoted”] and would be an excellent mentor for building students’ adjective vocabulary.
• Reviewed and recommended by Roxanne Troup

 

Mommy Time cover mom with two kidsMOMMY TIME
Written by Monique James-Duncan

Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 This is an extra special Mother’s Day for debut author, and busy stay-at-home mom, Monique James-Duncan who has brought to life the love and caring involved in working from home in Mommy Time, an enduring and timeless picture book showing the love between a mom and her two young children.

It’s not an easy job being a stay-at-home mom (trust me I was one) and they often go underappreciated. James-Duncan takes the reader through a typical day in a mother’s life from waking up her daughter, who is snuggled in bed with her sweet white cat, and getting her ready before sending her off to school time. But special Mommy time continues for her baby boy who she brings to a parent class with other devoted moms and dads.

Ebony Glenn’s endearing digital art depicts a diverse group of parents shown in soft greens, yellows, and blue tones. Her art of modern-day parents doing life, with smiles on their faces, reinforces that it’s not just the moms who stay home with their young kids. A dad with a dark beard is swinging his daughter at the playground, and another bald dad participates in the singing class.

The rhythmic prose adds a fun page-turning quality to this story as “She hurries with the cleanup time. Me? Help? It’s so exhausting time! Sweeping time, laundry time. It’s stinky diaper changing time.”

The busy day continues when sister is picked up from school and Mommy takes her for library time, playdate time, and on this particular day dentist time. I’m exhausted just reading about her day. Throughout the book, Glenn uses spot art to convey a variety of activities to move the story forward. Then she paints Mommy cuddling baby brother in her arms, while sister lays with mouth wide open in the dentist’s chair. When Daddy returns home it’s evening time and dinner time, and Mommy helps with homework time. But the kids’ favorite time is when sister tells Mommy about her day snuggled on her lap for story time. “Love in her eyes, care in her smiles. Tender, precious moments time.”

This book reminded me of all those meaningful moments spent with my kids when they were that age. This timeless story is a wonderful bedtime read for stay-at-home moms as well as for moms and dads who work outside the home. And a big shout-out to James-Duncan, who found time to write her first book when not cooking, cleaning, or grocery shopping for her children. Bravo to all the hardworking moms.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Together With You cover Grandma grandchild walk in rainTOGETHER WITH YOU
Written by Patricia Toht

Illustrated by Jarvis
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I wanted to include a grandmother book on Mother’s Day to extol their importance since many are raising their grandchildren or acting as caregivers and making a huge difference in kids’ lives. What I love about Together With You is what a super job it does of getting into a little boy’s head as he describes the special time spent with his grandmother.

In this well-crafted rhyming picture book, Toht conveys the story via seasons spent together, making it feel like four lovely poems. It begins with spring as showers rain down while Grandma and Grandson “dash through the drops, side by side” as seen on the cover. Jarvis’s illustrations, though created digitally with hand lettering, have a watercolor-mixed-with-pastels look where colors blend into each other.  They switch from the darker, more muted shades of spring to the golden yellows of summer. When the little boy says he’s drippy with sweat, I could feel the change in temperature. When autumn rolls in, the palette becomes more golden with burnt oranges and colors that blend beautifully on the page. The wind pushes again the grandmother and her grandchild as they fly a kite and try to keep their balance. The winter scenes of this adoring pair, whether cozy in jammies or watching snowflakes fall, will warm your heart. I recommend this touching story to share on Mother’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, or for that matter any day you want to celebrate the special bond between a grandparent and grandchild.

 

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Thanksgiving Board Book – Thankful Thanksgiving

THANKFUL THANKSGIVING

Written by Deb Adamson

Illustrated by Benedetta Capriotti

(Cottage Door Press; $8.99, Ages: 1-4)

 

Thankful Thanksgiving cover with mice

 

 

 

REVIEW:

There’s much to be grateful for this holiday season, including the appropriately titled book THANKFUL THANKSGIVING. This board book for young readers sets the mood with autumn colors and a family of cheery mice carrying baked goods on the cover. You can expect to read along to Deb Adamson’s delicious rhyme and experience the comfort of positive vibes in this sixteen-page read-aloud.

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Thankful Thanksgiving int1 mice celebration
Interior spread from Thankful Thanksgiving written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Benedetta Capriotti, Cottage Door Press ©2022.

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Family, friends, laughter, food, and music fill the pages providing a reliable message for this celebrated tradition. A young mouse delivers one final note of gratitude for a colorful end spread. Illustrator Benedetta Capriotti captures the spirit of childhood with friendly colors, cozy settings, and inviting characters. Invite your kids to reflect on this day of giving by picking up a copy today.

  •  Reviewed by Moni Ritchie Hadley
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BUY THE BOOK:

The board book is available directly from Cottage Door Press here.

FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:

FOLLOW THE REVIEWER:

Website: https://www.moniritchie.com/

Books: THE STAR FESTIVAL, ANZU AND THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP

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Our Favorite New Hanukkah Books for 2021

 

NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR 2021
∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Hanukkah menorah clipart

 

 

Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! coverBABY LOVES ANGULAR MOMENTUM ON HANUKKAH!
Written by Ruth Spiro
Illustrated by Irene Chan
(Charlesbridge; $8.99, Ages  0-3)

The popular Baby Loves Science board book series has notched up over 15  titles in the collection touching on myriad STEM subjects from quarks to coding. In Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! little ones are introduced to the holiday, and in particular, the dreidel or spinning top game played by Jewish families around the world. Using the dreidel, Spiro presents the fascinating physics’ concepts of torque (what makes a dreidel spin), angular momentum (spinning rather than falling over), friction (what slows down the dreidel), and gravity (what makes a slowing dreidel tilt, wobble and eventually fall down). The best part is how the dreidel game ties everything together. There’s even the added element of learning the Hebrew letters on the dreidel, Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Shin which also represent the words “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Chan’s bold, cheerful illustrations will engage children even if they don’t necessarily grasp the info. To be honest, learning this topic via a board book is about my speed and I’m sure there are other parents out there who’ll feel the same. The book provides a great way to start science conversations for curious minds constantly asking, “Why?”

The Three Latkes coverTHE THREE LATKES
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Feronia Parker-Thomas
(Kar-Ben; $7.99, Ages 4-8)

Award-winning author and storyteller, Eric A. Kimmel has created a simple and simply funny Hanukkah tale about three potato pancakes, one red, one yellow, and one gold, competing to see who is the best. Is it the type of potato they are, the kind of oil they’re fried in, or the type of topping they’re dipped in?  But what neither the lip-licking cat they ask to judge nor the latkes themselves never consider is exactly what that judging entails. Does the feline have a fave? I’m not going to spoil things except to say that I loved the surprise ending The Three Latkes delivers to readers who, if like me, were already tempted to dive into this book because of the cat and latkes on the cover. Kimmel consistently writes engaging books for the Jewish community and this one is no exception. Parker-Thomas’s art, achieved with lots of line work and playful details, is full of movement, expression, and warm tones.  Why not read this Hanukkah story aloud and have family members each play a role to add more fun to the story experience?

A RUGRATS CHANUKAH (POP CLASSIC)
Based on the series created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, and Paul Germain

and the episode “A Rugrats Chanukah” written by J. David Stem and David N. Weiss
Illustrated by Kim Smith
(Quirk Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8) 

“In time for the Rugrats’ 30th anniversary, and 25th anniversary of the beloved Chanukah Special” comes a picture book version sure to be a hit with the whole family. And I for one could not be happier being reminded of the first time I watched the episode, then several years later sharing it with my children. Even if you never saw the special, A Rugrats Chanukah brings the entertainment to you in a 40 -page larger format picture book with illustrations by Kim Smith that make it feel as if you’ve stepped inside the original program and are watching like a fly on the wall.

Unfamiliar with the story? The story starts with funny endpapers that introduce readers to the main characters as a menorah sits atop a TV set. The Rugrats (Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil, and Angelica) are at Tommy’s house and his mom is preparing the latkes. Meanwhile, Grandma Minka reads the little ones a story about Hanukkah (Chanukah in this book) where they learn about the bravery of Judah Maccabee. Here’s where one of my favorite lines appears. “A Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do!” But Grandma Minka doesn’t finish the story and the babies speculate what all the activity going on at Tommy’s house, thinking it has something to do with birthdays. That’s when Tommy is close to blowing out the candles when Angelica stops him. 

Everyone heads to the synagogue to see Tommy’s Grandpa Boris in a play about the meaning of Chanukah only the Rugrats mishear and think the play is about “The meany of Chanukah!” The babies decide they must help Grandpa Boris and save him from the meany. The funny misunderstanding is further exacerbated when the meany accidentally collides with Angelica and makes her cry. Now the babies must put their plan into actiongetting the meany to fall asleep by reading them the Chanukah story. Will the Rugrats succeed? Like the miracle of Chanukah itself, the babies end up lighting the way and bringing everyone together in a heartfelt ending that is as warm and comforting as latkes with applesauce!


THE GOLDEN DREIDEL
Written by Ellen Kushner
Illustrated by Kevin Keele
(Charlesbridge; $15.99, Ages 7-10)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

This chapter book is a fast, entertaining Hanukkah read that feels more geared toward the younger readers in its category. Kushner blends fantasy and adventure with contemporary elements after introducing us to the main character, Sara, and her big extended family.

When the story opens Sara is admiring all the Christmasy decorations in her neighborhood. She’d love a tree, too, but her mom explains that Jews don’t have Christmas trees. Sara simply is not convinced that Hanukkah (Chanukah in this book) is anything special. “Why can’t we just have the same stuff as everyone else for once?” 

Sara, her mom, and her annoying older (though not by much) brother, Seth, are off to Aunt Leah’s house for a sleepover Chanukah party which neither sibling is keen to attend. Along with their cousins, Sara and Seth play dreidel, a game Sara finds boring, a foreshadowing of what’s to come. The party is in full swing when mysterious Tante Miriam shows up out of the blue and with more foreshadowing says, “It’s been some trip! Deserts, mountains, rivers . . . I crossed the Red Sea with all the rest. On the shore I danced, and then I sang and beat my drum and tambourine. . . . And then I collected a few things—you know, for the children.” From her immense satchel, Tante Miriam pulls out presents for the children. Sara, the last to get a gift, receives an oversized golden dreidel much to her displeasure. Before long, she and Seth are fighting over it when she accidentally throws it at the large plasma TV, shattering it. While Sara is to blame, all the kids get sent to bed.

Unable to sleep, Sara heads downstairs where she is distracted by a glowing light near the TV. That’s when she is transported through the cracked TV to a fantastical land by a girl with “crazy golden hair and sparkling eyes” who is totally into spinning. It turns out Tante Miriam’s dreidel gift is actually this very girl or Dreidel Princess, daughter of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Once through the portal, it doesn’t take long for the Dreidel Princess to be kidnapped by demons who have escaped Solomon’s Cave. In this spin on The Nutcracker, rather than waging battle against an evil Mouse King, Sara finds herself needing to fight the Demon King, Ashmedai, to rescue the princess he has captured upon her return from Sara’s world. On her colorful journey to find the Dreidel Princess, Sara meets several interesting characters including the Queen of Sheba (my favorite of all the black and white illustrations). But ultimately it’s the Fool with his repertoire of riddles who provides the most help finding and then taking on the challenge the Demon King poses. Illustrator Keele has drawn the Fool aptly with wild hair, a sock as his hat, and a tie around his waist.

As the Dreidel Princess, this young girl possesses the power of the Tree of Life that her father, King Solomon transferred to her for protection. That power needs to be returned to the tree. Luck has it that the Demon King will let Sara and the Fool have the Princess back if they agree to play the Riddle Game. Readers, who have learned some riddles during Sara’s quest, will be happy to see Sara’s quick thinking stymie the opposition in order to free the Princess. After proving herself worthy of King Solomon’s praise, Sara asks him to help her right some wrongs. Now back at Aunt Leah’s, Sara awakens to a fresh new day with an enlightened perspective on Jewish history, dreidels, and likely will no longer balk at celebrating Hanukkah traditions in the future. Kushner’s book is an engaging read for kids not yet ready for longer middle-grade novels but eager for a satisfying holiday adventure.

 

Click here for last year’s Hanukkah roundup.

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13+ New Halloween Books for 2021

 

 

BEST NEW HALLOWEEN BOOKS

A ROUNDUP

 

 

 

 

 

Spookytale coverSPOOKYTALE (An Abrams Trail Tale)
Written by Christopher Franceschelli

Illustrated by Allison Black
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 0-3)

Christopher Franceschelli’s latest book in his Abrams Block Book series is Spookytale, an interactive board book. We travel along with a boy, girl, and dog to their far-off destination: a haunted house. This journey takes them through the woods, across the bridge, and so forth. Each scene has die-cut pieces that lift to reveal fun Halloween-themed surprises. Fun hole-punched areas add textural interest.

The simple text is offset with rich illustrations by Allison Black. Pages have a lot going on; in subsequent readings, kids will find something new. Done in autumnal tones with pops of bright colors, costumed kids and smiling monsters are equally cute. The final scene is a dramatic quadruple gatefold that reveals all the festivities inside the house.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zant

 

TrickorTreat Bugs to Eat coverTRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT
Written by Tracy C. Gold
Illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff
(So
urcebooks Explore; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

I love Halloween books and Tracy C. Gold’s Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat is one of my favorites to date. The words are set to the “Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet” rhyme: “Hear my calls / bounce off walls, / echoing as darkness falls.” From there, Gold has gotten clever by presenting a story about a bat out trick-or-treating, weaving in lots of animals facts. For example, we learn bats are nocturnal, use echolocation, and they sure eat a lot of bugs—up to a thousand insects each night!

Coupled with the exceptional text is Nancy Leschnikoff’s outstanding art. I don’t know how many times I exclaimed, “It’s so cute!” while I read this book, but the expressive bat really is that adorable. Surrounding scenic art is just as great (love the raccoon!). The nightscape is rendered in appealing shades of blues and purples.

At only eight-by-eight inches, this 32-page picture book fits well in small hands. Between the engaging story, excellent art, and informative back matter, this book’s got it all.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Poultrygeist coverPOULTRYGEIST
Written by Eric Geron
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Kids will cluck out loud upon reading this chicken-centric ghost tale children’s book. In a nutshell (or should I say eggshell?), the story opens with an unsuspecting chicken getting run down by a massive truck and becoming a ghost. I mean, why was he crossing the road in the first place, right?

Soon, all the other local animals that have been hit by vehicles gather around the newly dead chicken to explain the ropes. The humor in this fast-paced read is that they want the newly deceased fowl to begin haunting, only this “spring chicken” has no desire to frighten others. In fact, at one point he turns to the reader and asks, “Pssst? Are you OK?” The sweet surprise is when the fryer asserts himself, accidentally scaring off the troublesome spirits.

The story comes hilariously full circle when the scene switches from the pleased poultrygeist to a squirrel crossing the same dangerous roadway. Pete Oswald’s expressive art in Poultrygeist adds another fun layer to this dark and delightful Halloween story that perhaps unintentionally and hilariously drives home the point to look both ways when crossing

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

How to Haunt a House coverHOW TO HAUNT A HOUSE
Written
by Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by Edward Miller
(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8) 

Carolyn Crimi’s rhyming picture book, How to Haunt a House, features ghosts in a classroom being taught the teacher’s “special ghost technique” for haunting. Groana, Moana, and Shrieky are assigned three houses; all goes well until the last one which proves to be a challenge. The ghosts must figure out something new that will scare the ghouls who live there. It’s got to be tough when, instead of fleeing, “the small girl kissed those scrawny rats.”

Comical illustrations by Edward Miller enhance the text’s humor. His evocative characters are a kick; I especially like the skulking, glaring black cats. The book’s underlying message, “Do not give up! You’ll find a way!” is tackled lightheartedly yet still shows how, sometimes, you need to come at a problem from a new direction in order to solve it.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

If You Ever Meet a Skeleton coverIF YOU EVER MEET A SKELETON
Written by Rebecca Evans
Illustrated by Katrin Dreiling
(Page Street Kids; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

I never thought I would want to meet a skeleton until I met the adorable protagonist in If You Ever Meet A Skeleton written by Rebecca Evans, who was inspired to write this story after meeting a skeleton in a museum.

Sleeping underground with other skeletons and a few bugs, Skeleton climbs to the surface looking for a friend. He finds three kids dressed in costumes on Halloween night. Dreiling illustrates the skeleton with a piece of blond hair giving the reader a feel for what he looked like before his demise. Evans’ rhyming words take what could be a scary topic and turn it into a humorous read. “Skeletons might seem spooky—white bones without the skin, no eyes, no ears, no lips, just one big toothy grin.”

Children dressed as witches, pirates, and ninja warriors with round faces and toothy grins are not sure what to make of this unusual creature, but Evans takes the reader through a wonderful understanding of how a skeleton, thought different from themselves, can be friend material. “Skeletons have no guts, so they aren’t brave like you. They’re scared of nighttime shadows and owls that say ‘whoooo.’”

This is a great addition to the fall reading list for the school classroom. And how great it is to have a friend who will go “trick-or-treating with you then share their chocolate bar, just like best buddies do.”

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Boo Stew coverBOO STEW
Written by Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
(Peachtree; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A little girl named Curly Locks who loves to cook is the heroine of Boo Stew, a Goldilocks and the Three Bears fractured fairy tale. This Halloween story features food that won’t tempt your taste buds but just might be the right food to feed a scary soul or three.

It seems the Scares of Toadsuck Swamp might be hungry and while they’re invading homes to steal food, they’re causing chaos, especially at the mayor’s house. After they chase him out with an ominous “Gitchey Boo, Gitchey Bon! Gitchey Goo, Gitchey Gone!” the blacksmith, and the chicken rancher also try to vanquish the scary villains with no luck.

Curly Locks, fearless and clever, steps up and entices the Scares with her Boo Stew. With its moose ear broth, toenail clippings, and gnat juice, Boo Stew does the job. A deal is struck and the creatures head back to the swamp. The townsfolk get a Scare-free Toadsuck and Curly Locks … well she gets to prepare all sorts of concoctions for the appreciative Scares since no one else will eat her cooking anyway! Washington has taken the Goldilocks tale and spun a unique, engaging Halloween story. Ebbeler’s colorful, detailed, and dynamic illustrations set a tone that’s just right for this humorous picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Ghouls' Guide to Good GrammarTHE GHOULS’ GUIDE TO GOOD GRAMMAR
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Mary Sullivan
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

Learning proper grammar can be quite daunting for young kids, especially for those still learning over Zoom, but Leslie Kimmelman has created a fabulous storytime picture book that can be read during the Halloween season or any time of the year. The Ghouls’ Guide To Good Grammar is a hilarious take on how different a sentence can read if a comma is misplaced or other grammar isn’t correct. Sullivan’s illustration of a sweet young girl holding a bowl of cat food for Sylvester reads “Time to eat, Sylvester.” But when the giant ghoul with sharp teeth peeks around the corner with all eyes on the little grey and white cat he thinks “Time to eat Sylvester.” A very different and dastardly meaning when the comma is removed!

Turning the page, the reader learns that “contractions are two words shortened and combined with an apostrophe to make one word.” This sounds confusing until the reader visually sees Sullivan’s colorful drawing of six ghouls surrounded by bugs and spilled soda in “Ghouls’ really gross bedroom.” Kimmelman changes the location of the apostrophe to read “Ghoul’s really gross bedroom” and now we see it was one mischievous ghoul who made the mess all on his lonesome.

This treat of a story concludes with a Ghoul Grammar Quiz asking the reader which of the sentences shown has no mistakes. The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar is an ideal teaching tool for a parent or a teacher to use to transform the often tough topic of punctuation into a frightfully fun learning experience.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

There's a Ghost in this House coverTHERE’S A GHOST IN THIS HOUSE
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel Books; $27.99, Ages 4-8)

I may not be the target age range for this creative book but I had a blast reading it. First of all, There’s a Ghost in this House is less a straightforward picture book―although Jeffers has illustrated it with a little girl, some adorable (and giggling in places) ghosts, and lots of striped clothing―and more a seek-and-find interactive story so children can be in control of how many ghosts they’d like to discover over the course of 80 pages.

Jeffers has taken found black and white photos of an imposing 18th-century mansion and then brought in bits of color with the addition of the young girl narrator/guide. Readers join her to tour the house as she looks for ghosts which are printed white on transparent vellum paper throughout the book and appear when the paper is placed against the b+w house interiors. That’s such a fantastic idea because I never knew what poses the ghosts would be in and where exactly they’d show up each time. 

Since the ghouls are not menacing in the least, children can enjoy this book without fear. Parents and caregivers can admire the cleverness of the presentation while also deciding how many ghosts to expose.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack coverBRAINS! NOT JUST A ZOMBIE SNACK
Written by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Matthew Rivera
(Henry Holt BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Matthew Rivera illustrates a green zombie girl with a red scar across her forehead seeking brains to eat in Brains! Not Just A Zombie Snack. Focusing on the fascinating science of the body, STEM picture book author Stacy McAnulty teaches the reader about the importance of the brain and how, without it, reading a picture book would be impossible. This educational read breaks down the five senses of touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste and how the brain receives messages from these senses. What better time than Halloween to explore this subject?!

Zombie Girl is desperate for some brain to eat and in her search for this delectable snack, the reader discovers “Neurons! They do the work, and you have about 86 billion of them.” Zombie holds up two cans of Neurons and Glial Cells with anxious eyes ready to eat. “When you learn something new, like how to add numbers, play the piano, tie up a zombie, you aren’t making more neurons—you’re making new and stronger pathways.”

My brain took in a whole lot of information that I was not aware of such as a 75-year-old human’s brain is 10 percent smaller than max size (so 2.7 pounds-ish) instead of 3 pounds in a grown-up human. The best advice the reader learns is that “if you want to run away from a zombie later. You’ll want your cerebellum.”

The helpful back matter includes Brain Facts such as A human brain is only about 2-3 percent of an adult’s body weight, but it uses almost 20 percent of the body’s energy. I also was surprised to learn that Albert Einstein’s brain was stolen by Dr. Thomas Harvey and cut into 240 blocks to be studied upon his death. This is something I would like to learn more about!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Poison for Breakfast coverPOISON FOR BREAKFAST
by Lemony Snicket

Chapter Spot art by Margaux Kent
(Liveright; $17.95, All Ages)

Lemony Snicket’s Poison for Breakfast will certainly be a hit with his fans because the author’s style is quite unique, a word which here means “weird in undefinable ways.” Though marketed to older MG and YA readers, this book appeals to adults as well. This true story begins when Mr. Snicket (as he prefers to be addressed) finds a bewildering and frightening note under his door that reads, “You had poison for breakfast.”

We go along with Mr. Snicket as he reviews each item consumed for breakfast to uncover the culprit. He meanders to locations where the breakfast items originated. Though we eventually discover what’s behind this mystery, the pleasure is in the circuitous journey told in a way that only Lemony Snicket can, complete with endnotes elaborating topics touched upon.

I enjoy the distinctive structure, odd tidbits, and repetition. So, make yourself a poached egg as Mr. Snicket recommends, and settle in for a fun read. A list-maker myself, I find Mr. Snicket’s lists particularly amusing. And, as a writer, knowing the three rules of writing will undoubtedly help me better my craft. They are: (1) Include the element of surprise, (2) Leave something out, and, (3) Well, no one really knows the third rule.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Ghoul Next Door coverTHE GHOUL NEXT DOOR 
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Cat Farris
(Harper Alley; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Get your ghoul on with The Ghoul Next Door, a terrific new middle-grade graphic novel featuring just enough ghouls, ghosts, and atmospheric underworld to make you read it in one sitting and then start all over again.

Welcome to Anders Landing, est. 1692, a place sought out by accused witches to avoid the witch hunts and trials of Salem taking place the same year. Things go downhill quickly for main character Grey who, after picking up an unlucky penny, takes a shortcut to school through the local cemetery. Grey doesn’t want to lug his bulky Salem Witch-themed school project the long way like his superstitious friend, Marshall. When Grey trips on an open grave and drops his project in it, he panics. Looking down he sees his cemetery project grasped by a monster-ish hand. Then, it’s gone.

That evening something enters his bedroom and begins leaving gifts, not the birthday present sort, but finger bones, a doll of his likeness, and assorted other items that freak him out. This creature clearly likes Grey and replaces the original cemetery model with an even better one. Grey may score points in class with the new project, but Marshall thinks it’s best to tell some adults about all the creepy goings-on. While he initially didn’t believe Grey, he’s now changed his mind after a trip to the cemetery where he gets a glimpse of the ghoul. Lavinia, as she’s called, saves Grey from an army of rats and a friendship begins. In foreshadowing the story’s conflict, she warns the two humans to keep mum about what they know or they risk the ire of those underground and put her in jeopardy.

Readers learn that the ghoulish creatures that live below the surface (Grey and Marshall are considered human surface dwellers), aside from enjoying eating the newly dead, greatly dislike and mistrust humans and fear discovery. As payback, they kidnap Marshall leading Grey and Lavinia on a dangerous mission underground to rescue him before he’s killed. What ensues is a page-turning adventure with the right mix of dialogue, fantastical and haunting art, and heart, although technically I don’t think a ghoul has one. The friendship of Lavinia and Grey challenges the ‘no contact with humans’ rule laid out by Lavinia’s community and feels satisfying and fresh (although using that word here feels kind of ghoulish). She risks everything for Grey while he also puts his life on the line to help both his old and new friends and ultimately himself. Read this in the daytime if you live anywhere near a cemetery.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

THE HALLOWEEN MOONThe Halloween Moon cover
Written by Joseph Fink
(Quill Tree Books; $16.99, Ages 10-13)

What if time stood still and it could be Halloween forever? The candy part is tempting, but if everyone you loved had fallen into a deep, otherworldly sleep, it might not be so sweet. That’s exactly what 13-year-old protagonist Esther Gold is dealing with in Joseph Fink’s imaginative novel, The Halloween Moon. Blending fantasy and magic in a contemporary Southern California setting, Fink opens the book with a prologue detailing a robbery of something seemingly quite small which proves to have huge significance in the story. 

Esther lives for Halloween but her best friend, Agustín, does not. So when Esther’s parents announce she has aged out of trick-or-treating, having become an adult at her bat mitzvah, she realizes she’ll have to circumvent this new rule. When that plan involves Agustín, he seems game. Did he agree a bit too easily? Did she like that he did? Those are just a few of the questions Esther faces on this very long Halloween night set under a huge orange Halloween moon. 

Odd goings-on occur as Esther and Agustín notice only a motley crew of trick-or-treaters with shadowy faces are out and about. Their clicky sounds are creepy too. Plus all the people usually into the holiday aren’t answering their doors. The pair soon discover that a sleeping spell has been cast over the community. An urgency hits when Esther realizes her little sister has gone missing. That’s also what brings Esther together with bully Sasha Min who has often lobbed anti-semitic and other hurtful insults her way. But since Sasha’s distraught over her kidnapped brother and unwakeable mother, she agrees to team up with the other two intrepid trick-or-treaters to find out what’s going on. Along the way, the teens take the rare awake adult, next-door neighbor, Mr. Gabler, onboard as they try to reverse the spell and bring the interminable Halloween nightmare safely to an end 

I enjoyed this book because, in addition to the mystery the teens hope to solve, readers get inside Esther’s head and learn that she’s been having difficulty accepting change in her life. Whether the change is about her giving up trick-or-treating, her changing feelings for Agustín, watching Grandma Debbie getting older and frailer, or about what might happen when she moves up into high school the following year, Fink ties Esther’s growth into the Halloween adventure in a satisfying way. The dynamic shared between Esther and Sasha as they try to resolve past conflicts is also one that should resonate with readers. Horror fans will note references to John Carpenter and the horror film genre in general.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

HAPPY HOWL-O-WEEN MAD LIBS  
by Mad Libs

(Mad Libs; $6.99, Ages 8-12)

Mad Libs are one of those things: we all know and enjoy them. As a parent, I wholeheartedly encourage playing Mad Libs whenever a boring moment strikes. Yes, they’re hilarious and spark the imagination, but also (secret parent trick) drill home the parts of speech: adverb versus adjective and so forth. And if you’re a little rusty, no fear. Following the instructions, there’s a “quick review” that easily explains that, for example, when an exclamation is called for, they mean something like “Wow!” “Ouch!” or “Ick!”

The Happy Howl-o-ween version takes all the best stuff about this holiday and mixes it up with the fill-in-the-blank fun of Mad Libs. There are 63 themed stories to create in three categories: Monster Mash, Trick or Treat (both by Tristan Roarke), and Day of the Dead (by Karl Jones).

Whether you’ve done these a million times or are just introducing them to a young child, pick up a copy for your car as a way to pass some time with laughs and learning.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

vampires hearts other dead things coverVAMPIRES, HEARTS, & OTHER DEAD THINGS
by Margie Fuston
(Margaret K. McElderry; $18.99, Ages 14 and up) 

Instead of celebrating her senior year, Victoria won’t give up on her terminally ill dad—even when her family is told there are no treatment options left to pursue. Her mom and sister seem better at letting go. Victoria, instead, turns to the passion of all-things-vampire that she shares with her father and decides it’s up to her to save him. Ten years ago, a vampire announced himself to the world, but, after some mishaps, the vampires went back into hiding. Victoria takes that trip to New Orleans she’d planned on doing with her dad and, while there, vows to find and get bitten by a vampire so she can save her father by turning him into one too.

The grief Victoria struggles with is realistically handled, as is the complex connection she has with Henry (her neighbor, former BFF, and maybe boyfriend). As in all good love stories, a bit of a love triangle comes into play, but the heart of the story involves Victoria’s relationships with her family and Henry. Messy emotions are laid bare in a hauntingly beautiful setting. I like how Victoria’s quest leads her through ever-increasing challenges that test her resolve to follow through with this plan.

A new, vital addition to the vampire lore. Not only does this story add its own flair, but it explores previous books and movies—a pleasing touch for vampire aficionados.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED HALLOWEEN READS 

 

BOO! BAA! LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon; $5.99, Age 0-5)

 

 

Vampenguin coverVAMPENGUIN
Written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

The Haunted Mustache coverTHE HAUNTED MUSTACHE: Book #1 Fright Nights
Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Teo Skaffa
(Aladdin; $6.99, Ages 7-10)

 

 

 

 

What Lives in the Woods coverWHAT LIVES IN THE WOODS
Written by Lindsay Currie
(Sourcebooks; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GHOSTLY TALES OF THE QUEEN MARY
by Shelli Timmons
(Arcadia Children’s Books; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

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Social Emotional Learning – Board Book Roundup

SEL-THEMED BOARD BOOKS

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

Emotions

 

 

The Kids on the Bus coverTHE KIDS ON THE BUS: A Spin-the-Wheel Book of Emotions
Written by Kirsten Hall

Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Chronicle; $9.99,  Ages 2-4)

In Kirsten Hall’s fun 16-page interactive board book, The Kids on the Bus: A Spin-the-Wheel Book of Emotions, we meet a variety of animals with different emotions. Set to the tune of the familiar song, lines include, “The bear on the bus laughs, ‘Hee, hee, hee, . . . all ’round the town.’” This novelty book is shaped like a school bus.

Melissa Crowton’s lively and inclusive illustrations are set within a soothing sky-blue background. My favorite character is the backpack-wearing, skateboard-riding blackbird. The expressive animals have fun causing a ruckus until the driver has to shush them.

While you can read the book or sing along, be sure to utilize the important social-emotional learning (SEL) elements. The sturdy spinning wheel allows kids to identify their feelings by choosing moods such as silly, angry, or shy.

 

 

Mad Mad MAD coverMad, Mad, MAD
Written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli

(Candlewick Press; $7.99, Ages  0-3)

Part of a 23-book series featuring the same cute baby, Leslie Patricelli’s latest board book, Mad, Mad, MAD, lets off a little steam. As is true in life, sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re sad, and sometimes we’re screaming, roaring mad. The contradictory feelings are shown through the art with clearly communicated expressions, and short, rhyming text: “No, I won’t go! / I don’t want to stay.” Dad’s face on this page perfectly captures his confusion—relatable to most parents as they try to understand what their young children need.

When Baby realizes they want to stop feeling this way, trying things such as taking a walk or doing deep breaths eventually helps. The back matter lists additional ideas that may alleviate angry feelings such listening to music, reading, or taking a bubble bath. This book’s social-emotional learning (SEL) guidance can gently help our children more effectively manage their emotions.

Bilingual Firsts Feelings coverFEELINGS: Bilingual Firsts
Written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo
(Canticos; $12.99, Ages 0-6)

Susie Jaramillo’s recent board book in the Canticos series, Feelings: Bilingual Firsts, tackles emotions by showing the word for a mood in English with its Spanish translation on the left-hand side: brave / valiente. Lift the flap on the right-hand side to see vibrant art depicting that mood along with questions such as “Can you show me a surprised face?’ or “How does feeling shy look?” These questions are also provided in Spanish.

The colorful art includes a child, an array of animals, several chicks, and a star. I really liked the angry elephant calf. Cute illustrations coupled with simple text make this an easy way to introduce another language at home. Not only will this book help kids identify their own moods, but another important aspect of social-emotional learning (SEL) is the ability to recognize other people’s needs and feelings.

 

Peek A Mood coverPEEK-A-MOOD
Written and illustrated by Giuliano Ferri
(mineditionUS, $11.99, Ages 1-3)

This lift-the-flap board book, Peek-a-Mood, by Giuliano Ferri presents animals whose faces are hidden behind their hands. Questions such as, “How do you think I feel?” and “Why am I hiding?” pique a child’s curiosity. Behind the hands, you’ll find that the first monkey’s frown provides a clue that it is upset, while the second monkey’s downturned open mouth goes on to reveal it is scared.

An array of artfully depicted mammals draws the reader in. The darling monkey that asks if you can make a silly face too, is adorable! This interactive book concludes with “Show me how you feel!’ Behind the human’s hands is an unbreakable mirror—how fun is that?!

Exploring and identifying emotions is a key part of child development and social-emotional learning (SEL). Peek-a-Mood makes it fun to try figuring out nonverbal emotional cues.

 

 

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Mother’s Day Books for Children 2021

 

NEW MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

Mother's Day Free Clip Art

 

Let’s give a round of applause to moms everywhere on Mother’s Day with this great selection of Mother’s Day books that perhaps express what children cannot. The pandemic has been a challenge and moms, you stepped up to the plate, or should I say multiple plates, and made things work. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. You wondered if your hard work was appreciated or how long you’d be able to keep the smile on your face. Sometimes you didn’t smile and that’s okay. There were a lot of gray days but you never forgot what it means to be a mother, a grandmother, or caregiver. And those you love are taking this day to remember you and let you know how much they care. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Leo Loves Mommy coverLEO LOVES MOMMY
Written by Anna McQuinn
Illustrated by Ruth Hearson
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $7.99; Ages 0-3)

The precious board book, a love letter to mommies, is a companion to Leo Loves Daddy, and a wonderful way to share the joy of reading together with mother and child. With diverse characters and warm tones in 18 delightful pages, Ruth Hearson illustrates the tender relationship Leo and Mommy share. Anna McQuinn’s gentle rhymes take the reader through the daily activities, “At yoga class, Mommy lifts Leo with ease. Riding home through the park, Mommy speeds like the breeze.” McQuinn’s Lola Reads series includes Lola Reads to Leo, Lola Gets a Cat, and Lola Loves Stories, all illustrated by Hearson. This is a great Mother’s Day read highlighting the special bond kids share with their moms.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

ILoveMommyEveryDay coverI LOVE MOMMY EVERY DAY 
Written by Isabel Otter
Illustrated by Alicia Mas
(Random House BYR; $10.99; Ages 3-7)

Part of the An Every Day Together Book collection, I Love Mommy Every Day is a sweet book celebrating moms. “Mommy feels like home, a comforting presence wherever I am,” says a blonde-haired child with large purple glasses as she snuggles in bed, while Mommy is reading by her side. Alicia Mas brings the reader in with her eye-pleasing art of various mommies with their children. Her blues, oranges, pinks, and reds surround Otter’s descriptions of all the different kinds of mommies. Turning to the last page, the reader comes across a list that reads, “What do you love best about your mommy?” Numbered from one to three, these questions offer the opportunity for parents to talk to their kids, or have them write (or dictate) on a separate paper, about what makes their mommy so special and lovable. They provide a fun activity for teachers to give students to create an unexpected yet personalized Mother’s Day gift.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

HowtoSpotaMom coverHOW TO SPOT A MOM
Written by Donna Amey Bhatt
Illustrated by Aura Lewis
(Wide Eyed Editions; $14.99; Ages 5-8)

This picture book put a smile on my face as I read through each page trying to decide if I was Zen Mom or Organized Mom, while also wondering which one my adult children would choose. Aura Lewis’ colorful illustrations of trendy moms, outdoorsy moms, and working moms depict, page-by-page, all kinds of moms. Which one are you? The book opens with “What is a Mom?” then explains that moms are not just biological, they are stepmoms, adoptive, foster moms, and even moms-to-be. My favorite pages were under the heading Moms around the World, showing the reader that in Finland, Aiti, gives birth and then is given a box of essentials from the government, and babies can even sleep inside the box; and in India the new mom, Maan, often goes back to her own mom to help her adapt to parenthood. This playful book also conveys genuine gratitude, concluding with, “Thank you to your mom, their mom, and all the moms yet to come.” This is a great read throughout the year. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Dear Grandma coverDEAR GRANDMA
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by John Joseph
(Sourcebooks; $12.99, Ages 4-8)

New York Times’ best-selling author Susanna Leonard Hill’s new picture book, Dear Grandma, recognizes all the ways grandmothers are awesome. Written as a letter that begins, “Dear Grandma, Do you know you’re the best?” Each scene shows funny and loving ways: “You’re a jungle gym climber, jump rope rhymer, / storyteller, secret hideout dweller . . .” Grandmas soothe the bad days and nightmares away. They’re also with you through the seasons, whether living close by or staying in contact across the miles.

John Joseph echoes the text’s positive vibes in his colorful illustrations capturing children of the world interacting with their grams. The two-page wordless spread where a toy dragon comes to life is my favorite piece of art; it’s quite funny.

A perfect gift book to show grandma how much you appreciate everything she does.
• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Dessert Person coverDESSERT PERSON:
Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence
by Claire Saffitz

(Clarkson Potter; $35.00) 

Most of the time my family eats simply, but, sometimes, I want to make something special. Two yeast recipes I need to fine-tune are English muffins and focaccia so I was happy (and surprised) to find Claire Saffitz’s versions in her Dessert Person cookbook. Don’t fear, there are loads of delicious desserts including cakes, pies, tarts, bars, and cookies along with a category called Fancy Desserts featuring croquembouche and so forth. Check the Recipe Matrix, which plots out recipes on a grid by difficulty level and total time—an at-a-glance time-saver. Read the thorough instructions before beginning to ensure you have the ingredients, time, and equipment.

Because kumquats were in season, I made Ricotta Cake with Kumquat Marmalade. The cake was a hit with a flavor reminiscent of German cheesecake. Its kumquat marmalade topping elevated this dish from comfort food to showstopper. I’ll make the cake again, swapping in a different seasonal topping.

Another recipe my family really enjoyed was Clam and Fennel Pizza with Gremolata, which begins with the Soft and Pillowy Flatbread recipe. (Store-bought pizza dough can be swapped out, but freshly made flatbread is a treat.) After the flatbreads are parbaked, top with the previously cooked clam, garlic, fennel, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes mixture. Bake again, then finish off with a gremolata of flat-leaf parsley, fennel fronds, garlic, lemon zest, and kosher salt. There won’t be leftovers, guaranteed!

Beyond making these amazing creations, the photos are eye candy for us cookbook geeks. The gorgeous Black Sesame Paris-Brest is an image I’m drawn to. This bicycle wheel-shaped French pastry recipe replaces the traditional pastry cream for one made with black tahini. Other pastry cream options include chocolate or coconut variations.

I’ll keep looking at the beautiful pictures as I work my way through the recipes. From relatively simple Miso Buttermilk Biscuits to the two-months-to-make Fruitcake, there are dozens of delectable choices. This is a cookbook I will seek out—as the subtitle promises—to receive “guidance for baking with confidence.” What a wonderful treat for Mother’s Day. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

(www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

💗 And last but certainly not least, check out this wonderful interview with YOUR MAMA author NoNieqa Ramos, another must-read for Mother’s Day. The picture book was illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

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An Interview with Author-Illustrator Isabella Kung

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

AUTHOR -ILLUSTRATOR ISABELLA KUNG

ON THE BOOK BIRTHDAY OF

1 2 3 CATS: A COUNTING BOOK

AND

ABC CATS: AN ALPHA-CAT BOOK

Written by Lesléa Newman

(Candlewick Books; $7.99 each, Ages 2 to 5)

 

 

SHORT SUMMARY:

123 CATS Cover1 2 3 Cats: A Cat Counting Book

Meet cats from one to a dozen in this adorable board book introduction to counting with a feline twist. Author Lesléa Newman draws on her love for (and familiarity with) cats in a concept book for the very young, while illustrator Isabella Kung captures the animals’ movements and gestures in a way that is sure to delight.

 

 

 

 

ABC CATS CoverABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book

From curious to elegant, grouchy to inquisitive, rowdy to tangled to . . . well, unusual (who says cats don’t swim in the tub?), these twenty-six charming felines interact with oversize alphabet letters on rhyming spreads. Author Lesléa Newman and illustrator Isabella Kung offer a cat’s-eye concept book that makes the ABCs go down easy—and is sure to inspire many a repeat viewing.

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW:

 

Colleen Paeff: Happy book birthday, Isabella! It must be so exciting to have two books coming out on the same day! You had to paint over 120 cats for these two adorable books. Do you feel like you need to take a break from painting cats now?

Isabella Kung: Thank you so much, Colleen! It is exciting! They are my first board books too. And yes! 122 cats to be exact, more if you count the different painted versions on various materials to achieve the final results. Thankfully, I love cats so much that it is the one subject I have never grown tired of. Which is good, because I am working on the No Fuzzball! sequel right now!

 

 

123 CATS interior 4
Interior spread from 123 Cats: A Cat Counting Book written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Isabella Kung, Candlewick Press ©2021.

 

CP: Hooray! Your author/illustrator debut is getting a sequel?! I’m really glad to hear that. I love Fuzzball. She has so much personality–as do the cats in your latest books. Was it difficult to create so many distinct cat personalities at once? How did you do it?

IK: Lesléa Newman’s words really help spark the inspiration – ideas for gestures, expressions, and body language came to me rather quickly, a little easier for ABC CATS, as each cat only appears once. For 1 2 3 CATS, I kept referring back to my notes about each cat and did my best to stay true to their initial introduction for the following spreads. For example, Cat Number Three was first described as sweeter than Cat Number Two – I drew her being sweet on Cat Number Two, taking the kitten under her wing. From then on, you can always find them together for the rest of the book. The hard part was actually determining what breed, size, fur patterns and colors each cat should be depicted as, which was more a design puzzle to solve, it was fun and challenging.

 

ABC CATS interior 9
Interior spread from ABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Isabella Kung, Candlewick Press ©2021.

 

CP: Can you speak to the experience of illustrating a board book. Did you face any particular challenges?

IK: Illustrating board books is fun! Honestly, they are not that different from illustrating picture books. The main differences are being aware of the preferences of a younger audience and a slightly lower page count– no need to illustrate the title page, endpapers, and such. The biggest challenge was at the beginning when we were figuring out the style and artistic direction for both books. I was given the art note that they wished to see a style that is a combination between my children’s book watercolor illustrations like in NO FUZZBALL! and the loose, minimalistic Cat Inklings paintings in my personal gallery. This is a great idea and I was excited to try it! Though figuring out how to execute that made me nervous! To achieve the right balance between the looseness and simplicity of my Cat Inklings style with a clearer representation of cats and keep them recognizable (especially for 123 CATS where all the cats are recurring characters) took me two weeks of experimentation, a few failures at the beginning, but I am glad I finally found a good solution! And that is simply the natural progress of figuring something new in art (and writing too) – that you can think about it all you want, but unless it is actually down on paper or screen, and you can review at it objectively, you won’t be able to tell if it really works. You’d think I would be able to trust myself and the process by now and stop being nervous, but unfortunately, my emotions don’t always listen to my logic.  I am really grateful to my Art Director, Lauren Pettapiece, and everyone on the team for placing their trust in me, encouraging me, and giving me the room to experiment. It was truly a dream job!

 

CP: You teach illustration at Storyteller Academy and you also teach a watercolor workshop at Etchr. What do you like about teaching art?

IK: The act of teaching is actually a great learning tool for myself. I have to really break down and analyze my own thought process, materials, drawing and painting techniques, in order to successfully explain and demonstrate to others. I’ve learned so much more about myself and my work over the years thanks to teaching. Teaching is also a wonderful way to share and connect with the creative community. As creators, our career is often an isolating path, it’s nice to discuss your craft with others who are just as excited to hear it. Not to mention, it can be very rewarding when students enjoy my class!

 

CP: I am mesmerized by your YouTube channel–especially the time-lapse watercolor paintings. How much time (in real-time) does it take to paint something like the No Fuzzball in Despair painting? And what is it about painting with watercolors that keeps you coming back to that medium time and time again?

IK: Thank you! I enjoy watching them sometimes myself, because most of my paintings take hours, so speeding it up to only 2-5 mins really makes it look magical! It makes me look 100% confident, too (not always the case)! The painting No Fuzzball in Despair, in particular, took me about 15-18 hours to complete.

 

CP: Oh, wow! It looks so fast in the video! What is it about painting with watercolors that keeps you coming back to that medium time and time again?

IK: I love painting with watercolor and other water mediums like ink, even though it might not be as flexible or speedy as digital mediums. I personally really enjoy the tactile aspects of traditional mediums. Working with watercolor is like working with a living being, you’ll have to study it, observe, and guide it to create the effects you want. Sometimes it even leads you to happy accidents! Which is hard to come by digitally when the undo function is so readily available. It’s more challenging, but the results are immensely satisfying as well! Also, I feel like I can get into the “zone” or access the elusive flow state more easily when working with traditional mediums, whereas, when I am working in photoshop, it tends to feel like work.

 

123 CATS interior 12
Interior spread from 123 Cats: A Counting Book written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Isabella Kung, Candlewick Press ©2021.

 

CP: What’s your advice to people who like drawing, but get discouraged by their lack of natural drawing ability?

IK: Drawing and painting are just skills, skills that anyone can learn and even perfect. Natural abilities will only affect the speed that you learn your craft, never let anyone (even yourself) tell you that you can’t draw or paint. All it takes is dedicated practice, draw and paint every day if possible. Start with the basics and don’t get frustrated if you make mistakes. We’ve all been there, it’s all part of the learning process, I still make mistakes! There are so many courses and workshop options nowadays, you can easily find something by an artist you like too.

 

CP: What are three art tools you wouldn’t want to live without?

IK: My watercolor palette, all my painting brushes and my trusty Pentel pocket brush pen with black ink!

 

CP: You’re the Illustrator coordinator of the SCBWI SF/South region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Has taking on that role had any impact on your work as an author/illustrator?

IK: SCBWI is such a wonderful organization, joining it really helped me connect with others in my community and learn more about the professional industry when I was just starting out; going to SCBWI conferences also sparked the desire to write my own stories too. So when I was asked to step up to this role, I said yes because I really wanted to give back and contribute to our region. I’ve gained the experience and confidence in organizing and planning events (and now virtually as well); I got to meet and invite fantastic industry professionals that I personally admire; and most of all it gave me the opportunity to personally meet my editor for No Fuzzball!, Kait Feldmann, through one of our annual conferences!

 

CP: I really related to something you said in your interview with Stephani Martinell Eaton on the Cynsations blog when you were talking about the challenges of being an author/illustrator. You said, “Even when I do have time in between projects, it is hard to truly rest and exercise self-care. There are stories on the back burner that need to be worked on! Art experiments waiting to be explored! New tools to be learned! Promotional materials to be done!” Have you learned any useful tricks to help you deal with that particular challenge? I could use them!!

IK: Haha! I do have some tricks, though I must say, my tricks are less effective during this pandemic. My productivity has been a bit fickle during this trying time, but I’m trying to be kind to myself and take things one step at a time and dedicate time off. The best trick I can recommend is to set up various achievable goals and deadlines for yourself. I usually have 3-4 big goals in mind for the year. Then I break it down to a digital monthly to-do list, adding to it throughout the year as things come up. Then I have an analogue weekly planner that I slot these tasks into each week and cross them off as I go. That way, I am not overwhelmed by everything I need to do and can just focus on getting through each week. I do pay close attention to how much I can actually achieve and fine-tune my planning if needed. There’s no use setting way too many unachievable tasks and goals on your plate, that only cause more disappointment or frustration. Now that trick helps with getting most of my responsibilities done, though writing or coming up with ideas is a whole other ball game. I found just dedicating a creative hour every day, even if all I do is stare at my manuscript is helpful. Eventually, ideas will flow and solutions will reveal themselves to me as long as I show up consistently to work on them. Or if schedules allow, a work retreat somewhere else is an amazing treat to the creative mind!

 

ABC CATS interior 10 copy
Interior art from ABC Cats: An Alpha-Cat Book written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Isabella Kung, Candlewick Press ©2021.

 

 

CP: Speaking of retreat, what would a perfect day, guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, look like for you?

IK: A perfect day– that means no urgent emails, family and friends, or home duties interrupting, right? It might look something like this: (FYI, I’m a night owl so please adjust the timing to your sleep schedule)

10am – 12pm – Wake up, grab coffee and water, writing time.

12pm  – 1pm – Lunch

1pm – 5pm – Illustration work

5 pm – 6 pm – Exercise or Meditation

6 pm – 10 pm – Dinner / Family / Relaxation time

10 pm – 2 am – Illustration work. If no pressing deadlines, then personal art explorations.

2 am – 3 am – Wind down, read and prepare for bed.

 

CP: Wow. That sounds amazing. Now I have to ask … How often (if ever) do you get to experience a day like that?

IK: Lol! I think I only maintained this schedule for a short period of time (about 2 months) 3 years ago. It was a time before I got any offers for my book, and right after taking a break from teaching and freelance work. During that time, I wanted to give myself a 6-month break from work to invest in my writing and focus on all the neglected back burner projects. I dug deep, took classes, and got a lot of creative work done! Though I wish I enjoyed that time more, it was also a period of time I was experiencing a lot of self-doubt and depression. I’m glad I hung in there and pushed through these difficult emotions! Now, I’m usually juggling multiple projects and deadlines, so it is almost impossible to have a perfect creative day! I hope later this year I’ll get to try this again.

 

CP: I hope so, too! What’s next for you?

IK: I’m currently working on the sequel for No Fuzzball!, scheduled to hit the shelves in Fall 2022, as well as creating another online course for Storyteller Academy with Julie Downing. Once all of this is completed, I look forward to a well-deserved break and hopefully, I’ll turn to some of those back-burner projects waiting on my attention.

 

CP: I look forward to seeing what antics Fuzzball gets up to in the sequel. Thanks, for chatting, Isabella. I really enjoyed it!

IK: Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions! I enjoyed it too!

 

Isabella_Kung_photo_courtesy_Lorenz_Angelo
Author-illustrator Isabella Kung photo courtesy of Lorenz Angelo

SHORT BIO:  

Isabella Kung is the author/illustrator of No Fuzzball! (Orchard Books | Scholastic, 2020), about a fuzzy feline despot who rules the house with an iron paw. Continuing her feline obsession, she also illustrated over 120 cats for the board books 123 CATS and ABC CATS by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick Press, 2021). Outside the world of publishing, Isabella teaches illustration and watercolor classes at Storyteller Academy and Etchr Lab. She is also the current Illustrator coordinator of the SCBWI SF/South region. Isabella resides in San Francisco with her husband and two adorable – you guessed it – cats! She is represented by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary.

 

LINKS:

Website: www.isabellakung.com

Instagram: @isabellakungill 

Twitter: @isaberryk 

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/isabellakung

Purchase your copy of all of Isabella’s books here.

 

FOR MORE ON ISABELLA KUNG:

Candlewick Open Studios Visit

‘Animal Crossings’ Antics: Four Children’s Authors on Finding Community

Bridget and the Books

Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb

Simply 7 with Isabella Kung

Thalo Artist Community: Spotlight Interview

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021 from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books).  Click here for more info.

 

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Board Book Review – Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby

EVERYONE’S SLEEPY BUT THE BABY

Written by Tracy C. Gold

Illustrated by Adèle Dafflon

(Familius; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

 

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Awwwww! That was my reaction after reading Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby, a new 16-page board book for naptime, bedtime, or anytime really.

Author Tracy C. Gold calls her debut a non-fiction book since this story was based on her life as a sleep-deprived mom, and I’m sure this is a true story for many other parents.

 

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Interior spread from Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby written by Tracy C. Gold and illustrated by Adèle Dafflon, Familius ©2021.

 

 

Even being sleep-deprived, Tracy found time to write this gem. With the help of her editors Laurie Duersch and Brooke Jorden at Familius, she was able to make this book even more lyrical and musical.

And the final product – a sweet and funny lullaby. The rhythm and the repetition of the words make this book fun to read aloud. And I can imagine little children giggling while trying to repeat some words.

And Adèle Dafflon’s illustrations? Wow, perfect! They are soothing and relaxing while funny. My favorite spread is the one where the animals sleep in a tree while the baby, still awake, looks through the window, and it says, “Everyone’s sleepy, but the baby, why, why, why?” So many parents all around the world ask this question every night.

 

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Interior spread from Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby written by Tracy C. Gold and illustrated by Adèle Dafflon, Familius ©2021.

 

 

This charming board book conveys a message of love and peace, and I can imagine parents reading this to their babies to get them ready for bed, but … There is a problem! … The babies will say, “Again, again and again.” And then everybody will be sleepy, but the baby. Hopefully, after a few more times, this lullaby-story will put your baby to sleep too.

Sweet Interesting Fact related by Tracy – “As I was working on revisions, my dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I mentioned it to Laurie, and she and Brooke at Familius sent pictures of my dog to the illustrator. So, now the dog in the book looks like my late dog, Ollie. This is incredibly meaningful for me, and I’m so thrilled he will live on in the pages of this book.”

  • Guest Review by Ana Siqueira
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    Click
     here to order Tracy’s book.

About the Reviewer
Children’s Book Writer and Educator
EL PATO QUIERE UVAS
Teacher’s Discovery 2019
BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Beaming Books (Summer 2021)
IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA
Simon Kids (Summer 2022)
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Kids Board Book Review – I Miss Your Sunny Smile

I MISS YOUR SUNNY SMILE

By Deb Adamson

Illustrated by Anne Zimanski

(Blue Manatee Press; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

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Find out what to do when little ones lose their smile in I Miss Your Sunny Smile.

 

Deb Adamson’s heartwarming 14-page board book, I Miss Your Sunny Smile, invites readers to search for a young boy’s lost smile. Mama helps, hoping to restore his cheer. Could it have dropped or rolled away? What can they do to get it back?

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Interior art from I Miss Your Sunny Smile written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Anne Zimanski, Blue Manatee Press ©2021.

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Written in rhyme, this sweet board book shows that sadness is a normal part of life. Warm and playful illustrations by Anne Zimanksi encourage a bright mood and provide soothing comfort. And let’s not forget the ending, sure to delight and put a smile on any young child’s face.

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Click here or here to order a copy of the book today.

Click here to read another review by Moni.

 

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