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Six Kids’ Books for Easter 2020 – A Roundup

 

EASTER BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

EGGS ARE EVERYWHERE
Baby’s First Easter Board Book
Illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan
(Chronicle Books; $10.99, Ages 2-4)

Eggs are Everywhere is a fun addition to the home library, especially for those interested in an Easter inspired book and activity set.

Once the easy to understand directions on the first page are read by an adult, little ones can explore and play on their own. Each page of this sturdy board book has a turning wheel at the edge of the page that is easy for little hands to use. Children spin the wheel to choose an egg they want to find. Then the game begins as they decide which flap to open to find the egg. 

The flaps’ unique and playful themes are an added bonus to the fun. Children can find the eggs under a flower, a basket, a child’s hand, a tea cup, and even a larger, beautifully decorated egg. Illustrations are gorgeous and rich in earth tones. Each page has a dominant, background color that is dressed over by bold, oversized leafy patterns and graceful flowers offering an additional “lesson” of colors for youngsters. 

Eggs are Everywhere provides the opportunity for children to return to the pages again and again to discover something new they may have missed on the previous read.

 

Hoppy Floppys Carrot Hunt cvrHOPPY FLOPPY’S CARROT HUNT
A Lift-the-Flap Book
(Candlewick Entertainment; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

Hoppy Floppy’s Carrot Hunt is yet another entertaining board book and game combination that involves opening up flaps. Along with Hoppy Floppy’s animal friends, readers help the bunny find “colorful carrots on the forest floor.” 

The underside of each flap has funny and encouraging commentary. The silly items displayed under the “wrong” flap (such as a dug up cookie or ice cream “vegetable”) will surely bring out many chuckles from little ones. Each of the 12 pages has the same, sweet background done mostly in green to capture the forest colors. This way the color of each carrot is spotlighted, facilitating identification and memorization. A wide range of animals in the book allows for a secondary lesson. The small, friendly bird following along each page adds color and excitement to the game.

An additional bonus is the connection between the specific color of a carrot and the animal in search of it. Parents and caregivers can open conversations with little ones about how the color of the carrot matches that of something that animal is wearing or holding. The turning wheel at the end of the story helps us review the rainbow of carrots we’ve helped Hoppy Floppy find. 

There’s no denying this egg shaped book is just right for Easter.

 

Hazel and Twig TLE cvrHAZEL AND TWIG: THE LOST EGG
Written and Illustrated by Brenna Burns Yu
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Author and illustrator of Hazel and Twig: The Birthday Fortune, Brenna Burns Yu introduces us to a second adventure featuring the beloved Korean-American mouse sisters in Hazel and Twig: The Lost Egg.

Hazel and Twig find a large egg in the field. Eager to make it their own, they take the egg home and make big plans for the care and growth of the baby bird that will soon hatch. 

As Hazel shares the details with her Appa (Korean for father) of how she and Twig will build a nest, “fetch the worms, and … teach it to fly,” Hazel realizes Twig is missing. Quickly, though, she spots her little sister. In her relief, Hazel realizes the egg, too, is lost and not theirs to keep. It needs to be reunited with its family. 

The all out family search for the lost egg’s nest presents a wealth of additional lessons in color, pattern, size, and numbers as family members compare the lost egg to others nestled in tree branches. When Hazel remembers not all birds live in trees but that “some birds live…on the riverbank,” she concludes the little lost bird in the big, pale blue egg is actually a duckling. After it hatches, the baby duckling and her older sister become good friends with Hazel and Twig. 

Yu’s endearing illustrations help us enter the mouse family’s tiny world. Done in ink and watercolor, the illustrations capture flora and fauna in dainty forms and fragile shapes. The soft color palette and simple lines evoke comfort, safety, and hope. One particularly stunning page, inspired by the works of 18th century naturalist James Bolton, depicts nature’s creatures at home in their habitats.

Happy to have helped a family unite, Hazel shows thoughtfulness and maturity. Her growth sheds light to additional topics in the book: kindness, compassion, and self-sacrifice. Combined with Yu’s lovely illustrations, these themes will resonate with children of all ages.

 

ELSIE
Written by Nadine Robert
Illustrated by Maja Kastelic
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

A celebration of Easter and springtime, author Nadine Robert’s and illustrator Maja Kastelic’s Elsie explores additional themes of  love, family, and diversity. 

The picture book introduces us to the Filpot family of seven bunny siblings who all enjoy going on fishing trips during “nice and sunny” Sundaysall except Elsie who prefers marching to the beat of her own drum. It’s clear the six siblings like to do things in the same predictable way as they have always done: “‘Last time, we went through the woods … We took the same path the time before.’” Dragged by her family to join the fishing excursion, Elsie instead prefers to explore her own path. 

Despite the discouraging words she continuously hears, Elsie never wavers her independence. While others cast their lines in the water, Elsie uses a buttercup on her hook. While the others break for lunch, Elsie decides to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. No matter what Elsie does, her way seems just plain wrong to her brothers and sisters, reminding me a little bit of  the tension between brothers in the classic tale, The Carrot Seed. While the older brother insists his younger sibling’s attempts to grow and care for the seed are futile, the youngster’s quiet persistence pays off.  

In the same way, Elsie peacefully resists her siblings’ pressure to conform. When her method of catching fish proves to be the most successful, her brothers and sisters finally recognize and appreciate her innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, so much so that they acquiesce to her suggestions and leadership. 

Kastelic’s colorful illustrations bursting with blooms and patterns evoke the enthusiasm of venturing into the great unknown of the outdoors. Critical lessons of acceptance and difference make this book a wonderful read throughout the year.

Hop Little Bunnies coverHOP LITTLE BUNNIES
Written by Martha Mumford
Illustrated by Laura Hughes
(
Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

Inspired by the “Sleeping Bunnies” nursery rhyme, Hop Little Bunnies is a lively read-aloud book, the third in our Easter round up that incorporates flaps.

Hughes’ illustrations, created in watercolor and ink, abound with peaceful, springtime colors and center the animals on each page to maintain our engagement with them. The narrator points out to us the sleeping bunnies in the field. “Shall we go and wake them in a merry tune?” s/he asks. As children open up the flaps one by one, they’re encouraged to call out, “WAKE UP, bunnies!” and direct the animals to “hop, hop, hop.” The next directive is to “STOP!” and stay quiet (“Sssssshhhhhh!”) while a new set of animals is found fast asleep.

In this pattern of quiet and loud, readers go through a series of adorable barnyard animals. First, readers are encouraged to stay silent and then to cheerfully wake them up. Toddlers and early elementary children will love the steady rhythm and rhyme and will be challenged, undoubtedly, to keep their giggles contained before bursting into their “wake up” call. While the day unfolds with bunnies hopping, lambs baaing, chicks cheeping, kittens meowing, and ducklings quacking, nighttime eventually falls, prompting us readers to “go and sing them a happy bedtime song.”

A fun and interactive book, Hop Little Bunnies provides the perfect balance of entertainment and follow-the-direction learning.

Follow Me Flo cvrFOLLOW ME, FLO!
Written and illustrated by Jarvis
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Written by award winning author-illustrator Jarvis, Follow Me, Flo! is a gentle lesson about not wandering away from a parent.

From the get-go we learn that little duckling Flo likes to do things her way. Instead of eating a healthy dinner of seeds and berries, preening herself clean, and going to bed in a neat row with her parents, Flo likes to eat ice cream treats, chase frogs through the mud, and join the flock of sheep during bedtime.

Knowing his daughter’s adventurous ways, Daddy Duck ”in his most serious deep duckie voice” tells Flo to carefully follow him on their way to visit Auntie Jenna. “‘No chasing or hiding’” or “‘you’ll get lost’” he warns. To help keep his daughter focused and entertained, Daddy sings a tune as they go “UP” the trail and “DOWN” a small waterfall and “IN” and “OUT” a hollow tree trunk. Jarvis’ bold and bright illustrations bring energy and movement to each scene.

Not entirely impressed by Daddy’s efforts, Flo creates her own song “the way that she like(s) it.” Singing in a “VERY high [and] VERY LOUD” voice, Flo soon gets carried away and strays farther and farther away from Daddy. (Incidentally, both versions of the “follow me” song provide good practice with opposites and prepositions.)

When Flo realizes she’s being followed by none other than Roxy Fox, she understands the importance of staying close to Daddy. By remembering Daddy’s song, she follows his directions and reunites with him. For being a good little duckling and following all of Daddy’s directions that day, Flo gets to lead Daddy the way home. Children will love the funny and surprising ending that reveals the places you’ll go when you follow a free spirit like Flo. (That almost sounds like a song!).

Appropriate for Easter and the spring season, Follow Me, Flo! provides an added lesson for parents and caregivers on how to lovingly guide and direct the little ones in their lives.

  • Review by Armineh Manookian
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Best Passover Books for Children – The Passover Mouse

THE PASSOVER MOUSE

Written by Joy Nelkin Wieder

Illustrated by Shahar Kober

(Doubleday BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

The Passover Mouse cvr

 

Starred review – Kirkus

The night before Passover, a hungry and mischievous mouse steals a single bread crumb from a pile of chometz (leavened food) on a table where it waits to be burned in the morning, (to prevent the house being contaminated during Passover), and the adventure of The Passover Mouse begins! The mouse is chased first to the cobbler’s house, and then to the matchmaker’s. A different mouse and a cat join the fun, and confusion and chaos descend upon the community as they try to figure out what to do about the homes that have possibly being contaminated with the stray chometz.

This playful and inspiring tale is based upon and introduces children to a passage from the Talmud, a collection of ancient rabbis’ commentaries on Jewish law. Along with delightful illustrations by Shahar Kober, the traditional story presents a conundrum for the community, which is not resolved right away. The puzzling problem is presented to the town’s Rabbi, who presents an answer, but how to carry it out is ultimately suggested by a child, who speaks up and suggests community cooperation, which is embraced by everyone.

 

Passover Mouse interior spread 1
Interior spread from The Passover Mouse written by Joy Nelkin Wieder and illustrated by Shahar Kober, Doubleday BYR ©2020.

 

Joy Nelkin Wieder’s debut picture book reads like a traditional folk tale, and kids will have fun learning the many Hebrew and Yiddish words which are used throughout the story. Some may be familiar (Oy vey!) while some may be less known (yeshiva) but thankfully there is a glossary in the back with definitions along with an indication of how to pronounce them. An author’s note is also included which explains the original passage in the Talmud.

Kober’s illustrations have an engaging cast of lively, multi-generational characters that grow in numbers as the story progresses. Individual characters are recognizable and can be found, and followed, through the book. Kids will want to linger over the assorted expressive faces which reveal their personalities and reactions. The Seder scene accurately depicts traditional food, and the clothing and setting throughout portrays a traditional, fabled Jewish community. Kober’s consistent pallet of earthy colors and bright accents invoke a warm and inviting feeling that enhances the warmth and togetherness of this assorted but unified community.

 

Passover Mouse interior spread 2(1)
Interior spread from The Passover Mouse written by Joy Nelkin Wieder and illustrated by Shahar Kober, Doubleday BYR ©2020.

 

The story starts with the mouse, but the main thrust of the story involves the community who take a journey from confusion, blame and arguing, to unity—coming together and working together to solve their problem. In the end, everyone has re-established their friendships, spread some kindness, and even the mouse (and its companions) don’t go hungry (don’t miss the art on the last page! A wonderful tale and moral not only for Passover, but for any time of year.

Learn more about the Perfect2020PBs group here.

  • Guest Review by Molly Ruttan
    e
    Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books had its book birthday on September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram@mollyillo
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Board Book Review – God is Great, God is Good

GOD IS GREAT, GOD IS GOOD

Written by Sanna Anderson Baker

Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

(Abrams Appleseed $8.99; Ages 0-3)

 

GodisGreat GodisGood cvr

 

 

Originally published in 1987 and available now as a board book, God is Great, God is Good simply and beautifully captures the message of the Old Testament’s Book of Job. Author Sanna Anderson Baker’s poetic language combined with Tomie dePaola’s familiar, warm illustrations emphasize the point that, ultimately, God is in control.

 

GodIsGreat int RTP 5 29 194
Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

In the original story, Job is a righteous man who suffers insurmountable financial, physical, and personal loss.  Grieving over the tragedies unfairly cast on him, he saves up many questions to ask God; when Job finally does get his day in court, God asks a series of His own:  “Who knows the way to the house of light? And who knows where darkness dwells?” “Who tells Morning, ‘Sweep the stars from the sky’?” God highlights the wonders of the natural world and the orderly passage of time. In God is Great, God is Good, these questions are interrupted three times. Each break gives us the answer in a double page spread: God.

 

GodIsGreat int RTP 5 29 1910
Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

Baker’s lyrical text grounds these profound concepts with words and images familiar to children. Snow rests on the earth as “‘quiet as a cat.’” Whenever “‘Lightning dances’” Thunder “clap[s].” Forces of nature are personified; like people, they too have personality and a unique role in doing what they have been designed to do. While God uses examples from nature to illustrate His power, the last third of the board book focuses on His tender role as “friend,” provider, and protector of the animal world. He feeds, “takes care,” and “knows” His creation.

DePaola’s wonderful illustrationsalways in a peaceful palette of colorscontribute to this feeling of comfort and safety. His signature style of outlining the edges of an object accentuates its shape and contains its form, making the object recognizable, like bringing order out of chaos. All three of the double page spreads remind me of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. In dePaola’s depictions, God’s hand is reaching out to the heavens and emanating light from above to earth below.

 

GodIsGreat int RTP 5 29 1912
Interior art from God is Great, God is Good written by Sanna Anderson Baker and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Abrams Appleseed ©2020.

 

By the end of the book, we learn, like Job, the restorative power of God’s presence. In the midst of chaos, the cycles and constant rhythms of the natural world satisfy our deep longings for comfort and peace.

A great book for bedtime, quiet time, Easter, or any time the world seems erratic (oh, so true at this very moment), God is Great, God is Good shows us the steady in unsteady times.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Kids Interactive Picture Book – Welcome to Jazz

WELCOME TO JAZZ:

A SWING-ALONG CELEBRATION OF AMERICA’S MUSIC

Written by Carolyn Sloan

Illustrated by Jessica Gibson

(Workman; $24.95, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The week of March 16-22 is International Teach Music Week and April is Jazz Appreciation Month so the timing couldn’t be better for a review of this interactive picture book that will get kids’ toes tappin’.

Author Carolyn Sloan has written a joyous and swinging story that celebrates jazz, America’s music. Welcome to Jazz takes readers on a lively musical journey from the birth of jazz to present day.

 

Welcome to Jazz Interior3
Interior spread from Welcome to Jazz written by Carolyn Sloan and illustrated by Jessica Gibson, Workman Publishing ©2019.

 

When three cat friends visit The Ripe Tomato Jazz Club in New Orleans, they are curious about their new surroundings. One excited wide eyed cat tells his friends, “I can’t wait for the band to play.”

“What game are they going to be playing?” asks a second cat.

A third friend, decked out in cool jazzy sunglasses, clarifies the confusion by announcing, “The band will be playing musicjazz music.”

When the trio is invited to join in the music making, the fun begins. Readers will enjoy Sloan’s fast paced, fun dialogue between the feline friends and the likeable musicians in the band. The origins of jazz, a selection of instruments, musical greats and even the language of this swinging music are introduced through sidebar information on each page.

 

Welcome to Jazz Interior4
Interior spread from Welcome to Jazz written by Carolyn Sloan and illustrated by Jessica Gibson, Workman Publishing ©2019.

 

Gibson’s vibrant full color two spread illustrations, allow us to follow these three cool cats as they become caught up in the celebration and spirit of the music.

With interactive sound and technology, Welcome to Jazz brings the wonder of this music to life and a better understanding of the concepts in jazz like: beat, rhythm, improvisation and scat singing. With the push of 12 chips on the side panel of the book, readers will want to dance and sing along as they join the cool cats and the band in a lively procession out of the club and into the streets of New Orleans.

  • Reviewed by Lisa Saint

Lisa Saint is a writer, artist, educator and an advocate for the arts. She teaches writing, illustration, graphic novels and bookmaking. Lisa is a member of SCBWI. She is also the daughter of legendary jazz great, Gil Bernal.

Click here to read a review of another jazz related picture book.

 

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Kids’ Craft Book Review – The Kids’ Book of Paper Love

THE KIDS’ BOOK OF PAPER LOVE
by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst
(Workman Publishing; $19.95, Ages 7-14)

 

Kids Book of Paper Love

 

If you have a child (ages 7-14) who likes to draw, craft, or create, check out The Kids’ Book of Paper Love. It pays homage to paper, that lovely substance we take for granted in our everyday lives. Young kids have art classes aplenty, but, as school becomes more of a focus, cutting and taping, creating and shaping moves aside. Bring it back to the table with this inspirational book.

 

int Pencil toppers
Excerpted from The Kids’ Book of Paper Love: Write. Craft. Play. Share. by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst (Workman). © 2019. Illustration by Anisa Makhoul.

 

Astrid van der Hulst (of Flow magazine) and Irene Smit’s book is packed with pages to pull out—just being able to tear up a book is a thrill! Find your section (Write, Craft, Play, and Share) and begin. If it’s a fun paper item, chances are it’s in there. Expect colorful pages, pull-outs, punch-outs, and even a three-foot-long “Dare to Dream” banner that magically accordions out. Some of the foldable items are a fortune-teller, box with lid, and very cool geometric bowl.

 

TKBOPL Finished penciltoppers
Excerpted from The Kids’ Book of Paper Love: Write. Craft. Play. Share. by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst (Workman). © 2019. Illustration by Anisa Makhoul.

 

Stash away several copies of The Kids’ Book of Paper Love for those birthday gifts that sneak up on you. The book’s relatively small size packs surprises and is sure to please a wide variety of kids because it’s something different that can be used over and over again. One of my favorite pages is a template and instructions on how to make paper beads. Like many items, the beads are pleasingly simple. Finding one gem is satisfying, but having 180 pages of them is sheer delight. Channel your inner DIYer and have a blast—and don’t forget to include your kid too!

 

Click here to read about another recommended craft book.

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Sweet Tamales for Purim

SWEET TAMALES FOR PURIM

Written by Barbara Bietz

Illustrated by John Kanzler

(August House Little Folk; $8.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Sweet Tamales book cover

 

 

Purim is just around the corner! To celebrate this joyful Jewish festival in the 19th century, people of various backgrounds traveled by horse and buggy, and some by train, in Sweet Tamales for Purim, written by the award-winning team of writer Barbara Bietz and illustrator John Kanzler. This delightful and diverse picture book tells the story of a community coming together to combine cultural and religious traditions in a small southwestern town. 

Kanzler’s illustrations of the bright blue sky and drawings of characters dressed in clothes from the 1800s introduce the reader to a time long ago reminding us that family traditions remain. The excitement on our main character Rebecca’s face is shown as she places Purim Party posters on the town walls, with her best friend Luis and her goat Kitzel, as old men from the town look on.

 

Sweet Tamales spread 1[2]
Interior spread from Sweet Tamales for Purim written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, August House ©2020.
e

“We wear costumes on Purim,” Rebecca explains to Luis as her mother sews a crown of flowers for her head. Luis is not familiar with Purim “since his family celebrates different holidays from mine.” Bietz changes settings taking the reader through the story of the Evil Haman who plotted to harm the Jews in the city of Shushan. Through chalkboard drawings, Rebecca shows Luis Queen Esther’s Uncle Mordecai and Haman’s plot. Luis learns how the Jewish people were saved.

“When someone says Haman’s name during Purim, there’s lots of booing and shouting,” Rebecca explains to Luis. “Rebecca, can I bring my maracas?” Luis asked. “Maracas are perfect for Purim. Together, we’ll make lots of noise.”

After removing the delicious smelling sweet treat of hamantaschen from the oven, Luis and Rebecca go outside to play marbles. The story takes an unexpected turn when both Kitzel the goat and the hamantaschen go missing! (If you have a pet you probably figured this part out by now.) Purim was ruined, but Rebecca was determined to fix it. The reader anxiously turns the page to a new family tradition as Luis’s mama introduces us to her family’s tradition of Sweet Tamales. “Sweet Tamales for Purim!”

“When the husks were soft, Luis showed me how to spread the mixture on the corn husks and fill them with raisins and more sugar and cinnamon. His mama steamed the tamales in a giant pot.”

 

 

Sweet Tamales Spread 20-21
Interior spread from Sweet Tamales for Purim written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, August House ©2020.

 

Bietz’s descriptive words and Kanzler’s real-life drawings welcome the reader into a time long ago. Adults and children alike see what happens when we all come together through kindness in both the past and the present. This beautifully told story about two children from different backgrounds is a great read about inclusion and reminds us how beautiful a town can be when people come together as one. Eating both hamantaschen and sweet tamales on Purim is a great idea! The Author’s Note explains the story of the late pioneers who settled in the Southwest where life was lonely and isolated. Bietz explains how her story was inspired by a true event that occurred in 1886 when the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society of Tucson, Arizona, planned a Purim Ball for the entire community. I learned something I did not know about Purim in the 1800s. I know this will be a great read for both Jewish and non-Jewish children.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – Mulan: Before The Sword

MULAN: BEFORE THE SWORD
by Grace Lin
(Disney-Hyperion; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Mulan: Before The Sword cover

 

As much as I love fables, prior to reading Mulan: Before the Sword, my knowledge of Hua Mulan’s story came mainly from movie trailers. Grace Lin’s middle-grade prequel blew me away. I’m a fan of Lin’s prior best-selling middle-grade trilogy and her picture books, so I was expecting to really like this book; instead, I loved it. The fast-paced story is balanced by gorgeous prose, bringing legendary Asian history to life. Lin’s writing beautifully blends myth, action, and suspense. The opening line, “She disliked it when they transformed into spiders” had me hooked. The story’s viewpoints shift between the plotting, treacherous villains and Mulan’s adventure to save her sister Xiu’s life (she’s succumbing to a poisonous bite from the evil nine-legged spider).

Mulan tries to suppress her adventurous nature and struggles to be a more restrained daughter. Contrarily, Xiu exemplifies all the “right” female traits. Yet, Mulan’s abilities allow her to set off on a quest with the legendary Jade Rabbit where she begins to realize that, just maybe, she’s exactly who she needs to be.

It’s easy to care about Mulan and root for her to save the day. The characters and scenery come alive and tension builds as setbacks delay their progress. En route, Mulan learns of the prophecy that a member of her family is destined to, one day, save the Emperor. Figuring that person must be Xiu, Mulan risks her life, sacrificing for the greater good. Yet, all is not as it seems and this tale wends its way to an amazing conclusion. Mulan, a powerful warrior, also finds compassion for her adversaries.

Lin’s Author Note provides interesting historical detail; Mulan may have been a real person, the first know mention of her was in a fourth-century folk song, “The Ballad of Mulan.” Today, Mulan continues to be a cherished character as Lin skillfully adds another layer to the saga.

Click here to read a terrific interview by Christine with Grace Lin at SCBWI’s Kite Tales of Southern California’s Tri-Regions.

 

 

Click here to read another MG book review by Christine.

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An Interview With Artie Bennett – Author of The True Story of Zippy Chippy

MEET ARTIE BENNETT

AUTHOR OF THE NEW NONFICTION PICTURE BOOK

THE TRUE STORY OF ZIPPY CHIPPY:

THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULDN’T

 

Zippy Chippy hi res cover

 

 

What a treat it was to read Artie Bennett’s new picture book biography, The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t (NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8) with illustrations by Dave Szalay! Bennett, who’s best known for his humorous picture books in verse, hit the daily double by bringing out both the humor and humanity (equus-ity?) in this charming tale of a horse destined for fame, but not the winning races kind. You’ll no doubt be champing at the bit for a chance to read Zippy Chippy’s story after my interview with Artie Bennett below.

SUMMARY

Zippy Chippy is descended from the leading legends of horse racing. He is destined for greatness and glory.

But . . . when the starting bell rings, it’s anybody’s guess what Zippy will do. Will Zippy go for a gentle trot around the track or stop and smell the roses? Or, perhaps, never even leave the starting gate?!

 

Zippy #6
Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t     written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

With mischief in his makeup, he’s known to stick his tongue out at people and chew up the hats of passersby. And he’s always trying to break out of his stall. What’s an owner to do? Try and try again! After all, he believes in Zippy—and, besides, the horse is now a part of the family. But as Zippy’s losses mount, a funny thing happens. People start to take notice of the hapless, cupcake-eating horse. Could it be that they’re betting on Zippy to win?

This remarkable story of the famed racehorse who lost every race is sure to win your heart!

Q+A

Good Reads With Ronna: Artie, this picture-book biography is like nothing else you’ve written before. What motivated you to pursue this horse’s tale and diverge from your funny nonfiction writing in verse?

Artie Bennett: Yes, you’re right, Ronna. This one is very different. I like to say it’s a horse of a different color for me. For one thing, it was something of an experiment to see if I could write in prose. I wasn’t sure myself. My five previous picture books (The Butt Book, Poopendous!, Peter Panda Melts Down!, Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!, and What’s Afoot! Your Complete, Offbeat Guide to Feet) are all in inspired verse. And I’m quite comfortable writing that way. I’ve worked hard to make the verses sing. I constantly tinker, and then when I’m finally satisfied, I tinker some more. But I knew I would have to take a different tack to write the tale of this remarkable horse. I had to transcend my impulse to rhyme. Curiously, the fact that Zippy Chippy’s own name rhymes may have drawn me to the subject, as well as helped to satisfy my itch to versify.

It was serendipity that drew me to the tale. I stumbled upon a newspaper article about the horse and knew right away that this story would resonate with young readers, just as it resonated with me. And after visiting the retired racehorse at his home in upstate New York, I was never more certain. Youngsters will identify with Zippy Chippy. He may have lost every single one of the 100 races he ran (Zippy won zip), but in the process, he became a folk hero, just like his champion ancestors. Zippy teaches us that just being in the game is enough. And he reminds us that sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses.

 

Zippy8
Interior art from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

GRWR: Aside from being one of the losingest horses in racing history, what else did you learn about Zippy Chippy during your research that made you care about sharing his story?

AB: I was drawn to his quirkiness and his mischievous nature. And there was our shared love of ice cream, though I don’t know if he’s a three-scooper, like me! Free-spirited Zippy Chippy was always breaking out of his stall to go for a nice gallop. He was quite volatile in his youth and often ornery. He was known to kick and bite. He would even try to bite the other horses at the finish line. People were afraid to be around him. In fact, after Felix Monserrate, his third owner, acquired him, he greeted Felix with a sharp bite on the back. But despite being a terror to his handlers—which included the farrier, who fit Zippy with shoes—Zippy was always gentle and loving with Felix’s young daughter, Marisa. Once, eight-year-old Marisa went missing. Felix searched everywhere and finally found her in Zippy’s stall, being nuzzled by the temperamental horse, though the area was off limits to most everyone for safety’s sake. Zippy would blossom under the loving guidance of Felix, and he developed a strong familial bond with Marisa.

There were so many interesting aspects to Zippy Chippy’s story. One was how he happened to acquire his singsongy name. Another wonderful anecdote was how Felix had set up an exhibition race between his horse and a minor-league outfielder. His hope was that a victory, any victory, would boost Zippy’s morale. But the fleet-footed ballplayer bested Zippy in the forty-yard sprint.

Zippy Chippy is a model of determination and stick-to-itiveness. He raced until he was fifteen years old, giving it his all, whereas many racehorses retire by age four. There was a time, earlier in Zippy’s racing career, when Felix tried to retire him, but Zippy wouldn’t hear of it. He became crestfallen and stopped eating. Though defeat never disheartened Zippy, retirement did. Felix had to bring him back to the track for his own well-being. Because the horse was descended from so many legendary racehorses, including Man o’ War, Bold Ruler, War Admiral, Buckpasser, and Northern Dancer, racing was in his blood. He just wasn’t terribly good at it.

When I learned that Zippy Chippy was still alive, though quite ancient by horse standards, I made it my goal to write his story—and find a publisher—before the horse passed. This became something of a horse race, too. I’m so happy to note that Zippy, who will be 29 years old in April 2020, is still with us, lovingly looked after at Old Friends at Cabin Creek Farm, as the book publishes. I wanted the book to be a tribute to a living, breathing legend, not a eulogy. And I’m hoping that youngsters who are as moved by his story as I was may even pay him a visit.

GRWR: Your trademark sense of humor shines through many aspects of recounting this fascinating true story. Was it difficult to balance that with certain serious aspects of Zippy Chippy’s life and unsuccessful racing career?

AB: That’s a wonderful question. Yes, it was a balancing act. And it took me a while to find just the right tone. Writing in prose helped. Verse seems to invite mirth and laughter, but prose can be sober-sided. I had to rein in my sense of humor, for there are serious dimensions to the story. There’s a poignancy here that would be undermined by humor—how Zippy Chippy escaped the slaughterhouse by the skin of his teeth. But a touch of humor does uplift the tale. I love how Dave Szalay’s marvelous illustrations strike just the right balance, too, with many touching, memorable images.

 

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Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.


GRWR:
Can you explain the appeal of a horse who’d rather stop and smell the roses instead of competing against other horses, a dark horse, so to speak, for winning hearts, not races?

AB: I think Zippy Chippy is the quintessential Everyman, or Everyhorse, and therein lies his appeal. Few of us are blessed with exceptional athletic prowess, yet we still love to compete, to play the game. Zippy continued to run—and continued to love it!—even as he was amassing a rather lopsided won-loss record. But as his losses mounted, Zippy became a star attraction. And his oddball behavior just added to his appeal. Ever unpredictable, he would occasionally succumb to “dwelling,” failing to leave the starting gate at the sound of the bell. What was extraordinary was that later in his career, the horse often ran as the favorite to win, according to the betting line, despite his protracted lack of success. Racing fans were pulling for him. Spectators would besiege Felix for his autograph. Zippy had developed a cult following. He was the ultimate underdog. Horses are very intuitive animals and can pick up on people’s emotions, so Zippy would have known, and rejoiced, if he had won.

GRWR: For 15 years, Felix, Zippy Chippy’s owner, kept entering the unmotivated horse in races. That had to have been so frustrating for him. Why do you think he persisted?

AB: Yes, it must have been. But he was the horse’s biggest champion. He believed in Zippy with all his heart and felt, when he acquired the horse, that he would be the one to bring out the horse’s dormant greatness. Part of why he persisted was because he couldn’t disappoint the horse. We saw how Zippy spiraled into depression when Felix tried to retire him earlier in his career. And because he loved Zippy, he couldn’t let the horse down. He was also an eternal optimist and may have felt that the next race would be the one that Zippy would win, the one that would drape them both in glory. So there would always be one more race. And Zippy was actually highly motivated, though his idiosyncrasies might sometimes interfere with his motivation.

GRWR: What would you like young readers to take away from this picture book?

AB: I would love young readers to find inspiration in this book, but also acceptance. Inspiration can be found in the arc of Zippy’s story, as his popularity grew and grew from such inauspicious beginnings, despite his pedigree. He would even be featured in People magazine, though he was posed alongside a tortoise. Acceptance in the fact that we aren’t all blessed with the same gifts—and that’s okay, too. We need to accept our limitations, just as we celebrate our strengths. As Felix says, “Not everyone can be a winner.” But the important thing is to try. That’s where true courage lies.

 

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Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

GRWR: Has this experience motivated you to try your hand at more nonfiction in prose?

AB: Yes indeed. Though my first love will always be writing in verse, it’s not my only love. In fact, I’ve an idea for another crackerjack children’s biography, also with a protagonist ripe for revival. I’m doing research as we speak. But I also have ideas for more books in verse, so I hope to be moving back and forth between worlds. Additionally, I have two riotously funny joke and riddle books out (The Universe’s Greatest School Jokes and Rip-Roaring Riddles and The Universe’s Greatest Dinosaur Jokes and Pre-Hysteric Puns), so when I’m bubbling over with jokes (Knock, knock . . .) and riddles, there’s always that outlet.

GRWR: Is there anything else I haven’t asked that you’d like to add?

AB: Because I’m a word lover, I’ve tried to use a rich, creative vocabulary in telling the story. You’ll find words like “rambunctious,” “shenanigans,” “wafting,” “ballyhooed,” and much more, words that are evocative and fun to say. I hope young readers will make these words their own. And lastly, I want to thank you, Ronna, so very much for giving me the opportunity to share this captivating story. I’m deeply appreciative.

GRWR: Right back at you, Artie. I learned so much from your thoughtful replies and hope everyone makes tracks to pick up a copy of The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t to find out more about this truly unique horse.

ABOUT ARTIE

Artie Bennett at bridge
Children’s Book Author Artie Bennett

Artie Bennett is an executive copy editor by day and a writer by night. He is the author of an inspiring picture-book biography of a hapless, though beloved, horse: The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t. He is also the author of a quintet of hilarious rhyming picture books: The Butt Book, his first “mature” work and winner of the Reuben Award; Poopendous!, his “number two” picture book; Peter Panda Melts Down!, an adorable departure from derrières and doo; the explosively funny Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!; and his latest, What’s Afoot! Your Complete, Offbeat Guide to Feet, which is guaranteed to knock your socks off. And if that’s not enough, he’s the author of two riotous joke and riddle books: The Universe’s Greatest Dinosaur Jokes and Pre-Hysteric Puns and The Universe’s Greatest School Jokes and Rip-Roaring Riddles.

He and his wife, Leah, live deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York, where he spends his time moving his car to satisfy the rigorous demands of alternate-side-of-the-street parking and shaking his fist at his neighbors. The Show Me Librarian says: “Bennett’s use of rhyme is excellent; his stanzas flow and exude joviality in a manner that few writers since Dr. Seuss have truly mastered. Simply put, these books are a joy.” The Huffington Post says: “It appears there is no topic Mr. Bennett can’t make funny and educational.” Visit ArtieBennett.com . . . before someone else does!

Want to read more of Artie’s books? Here’s a link to my review of a personal fave.

 

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Kids Arts + Crafts Book Review – Playing With Collage

 

PLAYING WITH COLLAGE
by Jeannie Baker
(Candlewick Press; $16.00, Ages 8-12)

 

Playing With Collage cover

 

 

Junior Library Guild Selection

Whether you have a budding artist or are just looking for something to do on a rainy day, Jeannie Baker’s beautiful picture book, Playing with Collage, provides hours of entertainment. Baker opens with a short explanation about her process, then the fun begins with pages of tips, tricks, and ideas. I like how she doesn’t just list what you need, but, rather, gives helpful advice such as using an old paintbrush to apply PVA glue and then soaking the brush in water after each application—who knew??

 

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PLAYING WITH COLLAGE. Copyright © 2019 by Jeannie Baker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Collage is all about texture and you can lose yourself exploring her amazing, creative images. Playing with Collage is a feast for the eyes and an education. Even the supplies are pieces of art; Baker has arranged them for visual interest, showcasing everything from orange peels to baked clay. Kids learn via seemingly simple questions: “Do those pieces of torn tissue remind you of clouds?”

 

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PLAYING WITH COLLAGE. Copyright © 2019 by Jeannie Baker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Divided into four main sections—Paper, Out in Nature, On the Beach, and In the Kitchen—the underlying message is to play. While geared for kids between the ages of 8 and 12, some of the ideas require adult supervision (noted accordingly). Even before we had any of the “starter” items at home, my ten-year-old was off collecting and arranging, gluing and layering, proving you can do much with found materials and a little inspiration from Playing with Collage.

 

 

Find a review for another tween arts & crafts book here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – The Invisible Leash

THE INVISIBLE LEASH:
A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet

By Patrice Karst

Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Invisible Leash cover

 

 

When Zack’s four legged best friend JoJo gets old, sick and dies, he is left heartbroken until his friend Emily explains that “an invisible leash connects our hearts to each other. Forever.” Author Patrice Karst, and illustrator Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, of the bestselling The Invisible String, tell a heartwarming story about permanent loss in the companion book The Invisible Leash, that pulls on the heartstrings of all ages.

 

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Interior illustration from The Invisible Leash written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Little Brown BYR ©2019.

 

The rich colors of the book’s main characters contrast wonderfully throughout the story with the soft almost translucent colors of their deceased pets depicted alongside them. This succeeds in showing the reader that the pets are always with them as the two friends take an enlightened journey through their neighborhood. Zack’s multicultural parents try to comfort him, but “Zack stomped off and when his bedroom door slammed, it shook the whole house with sad.” Such a strong emotion conveyed with just one evocative sentence.

 

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Interior illustration from The Invisible Leash written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Little Brown BYR ©2019.

 

Lew-Vriethoff shows Zack folding his arms in disbelief listening to Emily explain, “But Zack, don’t you believe in the wind? Even if you can’t see the Invisible Leash, you can feel it.” Zack listens with annoyance coming up with reasons the invisible leash theory could not be true. Emily’s excitement is shown in the illustrations as she stretches her arms wide and tells him that, “when you love an animal and they love you back, that gives the Invisible Leash the magic power of infinity to stretch from here all the way to the beyond.” Zack wants to believe his beloved dog JoJo is close by. “I wish I could believe, Emily. I wish that so much.”

Karst’s writing takes the reader on a poetic journey as she writes, “Warm winds swirled around the two friends gazing at the evening sky. Frogs croaked and crickets started chirping as the stars began to gather. Soon, a smile widened across Zack’s face.”

We see drawings of JoJo and Emily’s cat Rexie touching paws with invisible leashes circling all the friends. Emily holds her heart in excitement as she realizes that the pets can see the same moon that they see. The pets’ faded images snuggle by their best friends, while the friends look up at the moon and we feel the love they all have for each other.

 

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Interior illustration from The Invisible Leash written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Little Brown BYR ©2019.

 

As the children sleep, dogs, cats, birds, deer and bears that left this world run free throughout the night. “It was the still of night, Zack, Emily and the rest of the world’s children were now fast asleep in their cozy-comfy beds. And as the moon smiled down upon them from high above, it lit up the millions and billions of Invisible Leashes … connecting them ALL.”

The Invisible Leash was given to me at a time when I was mourning the loss of my own beloved dog, Charlie, who left me way too soon. I picked up this book and I cried. I then read it to my adult son and once again I cried (I believe he was also touched). When I picked up the story for a third time I had a smile on my face. I feel my Charlie sitting by my side with his face resting on my leg as I write this review, and feel him connected by his Invisible Leash. Karst explains at the conclusion of the story that this book is dedicated to her precious dog CoCo. She says she always knew the Invisible Leash was real, but now gets to share her news with the whole wide world. Thank you, Patrice Karst, I’m glad you did.

Parents and teachers looking for additional tools to help kids and students with their grief can complete activities in the The Invisible String Workbook: Creative Activities to Comfort, Calm and Connect by Patrice Karst and Dana Wyss, PhD and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.

The next book in the franchise, The Invisible Web, goes on sale April 14.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Extinct: An Illustrated Exploration of Animals That Have Disappeared

EXTINCT:
An Illustrated Exploration
of Animals That Have Disappeared

Written by Lucas Riera
Illustrated by Jack Tite
(Phaidon; $19.95, Ages 7-10)

 

Extinct cover Phaidon

 

Most kids know that dinosaurs aren’t around anymore, but they may be surprised by the animals listed in Lucas Riera’s Extinct: An Illustrated Exploration of Animals That Have Disappeared. This oversized, full-color picture book focuses on 80+ animals extinct from the twentieth century to present day. Animals are arranged in like groups (birds, primates, reptiles, and so forth). Each two-page spread has fascinating stories that lend themselves to repeated reference. In the felines section, “It was Tibbles” tells of a pet cat who killed off an entire population of birds. Tibbles belonged to the lighthouse guard on an island near New Zealand; the Stephens Island wrens, unfamiliar with cats, soon perished.

 

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Interior spread without text from Extinct: An Illustrated Exploration of Animals That Have Disappeared written by Lucas Riera and illustrated by Jack Tite, Phaidon ©2019.

 

Jack Tite’s gorgeous art is delightful and surprising. For example, the amphibians pages have animals both familiar and unusual, such as the picture of a baby inside a mother frog’s mouth. (Because the gastric brooding frog swallows it eggs, the young frogs emerge when fully formed.) Bears, wolves, pigeons, rhinos—kids will excitedly recognize these animals. The reason many no longer exist is due to human behavior.

I appreciate the “How Can I Help?” section at the end which provides simple things kids can do: thinking about whether they really need that new item and always bringing reusable shopping bags to the store. Adults can read labels to ensure that products don’t contain palm oil (a major cause of deforestation) and avoid buying items made from single-use plastic or ones with non-compostable packaging. Extinct gently encourages environmental stewardship with kid-friendly images and descriptions.

 

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Presidents’ Day Picture Book – Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

HONEY, THE DOG WHO SAVED ABE LINCOLN

Written by Shari Swanson

Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

(Katherine Tegen Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Honey the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln CVR

 

Junior Library Guild Selection

It’s hard to imagine that our 16th President, who faced one of the toughest challenges in American history, was at one time a curious, barefooted boy roaming the “hills and hollows” of his hometown, Knob Creek, Kentucky. In Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, author Shari Swanson and illustrator Chuck Groenink depict a gentle boy whose tenderhearted rescues of vulnerable animals shed light on Abe’s early and strong sense of justice.

To adults like Mr. John Hodgen, the miller, Abe seems irresponsible for “‘fool[ing] [his] time away,’” stopping to right the wrong he sees all around him. But to young Abe the “‘many little foolish things’” are the harm and injustices he must counter: a frog trapped inside a snake’s mouth, a possum stuck “‘in a hollow stump,’” and a honey-colored dog whimpering from a broken leg.

Abe shows kindness for rescuing the dog he befriends and names Honey. Loyal friends, the two become inseparable and share many adventures. One such adventure turns particularly perilous as Abe gets stuck between two boulders inside a cave. Honey returns home alone to get help and leads the search party to the cave. Assisting Abe’s rescue in this way, Honey pays Abe “‘back for mending his broken leg’” confirming the young boy’s belief that Honey will always do “‘good things’” for him.

 

Interior by Chuck Groenink from HONEY, THE DOG WHO SAVED ABE LINCOLN by Shari Swanson
Interior spread ©2020 Chuck Groenink from Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln written by Shari Swanson and illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Katherine Tegen Books ©2020.

 

Accompanying this comforting story is Groenink’s soft and muted color palette. Many illustrations place either Abe or the natural surroundings of the Kentucky woodlands at the center of the page, emphasizing the close relationship between the two. Equally, Swanson’s words engage us readers with the terrain. Mr. Hodgen uses “his cane-pole whistle” to call out to Abe in the cave. We see Abe’s resourcefulness and experience when he uses the “soft bark of a pawpaw bush to wrap around the sticks” that help set Honey’s leg. Undoubtedly, the surrounding wilderness deeply influences young Abe’s character.

A “Timeline of Abraham Lincoln and His Animal Encounters,” an author’s note, and a map of “the area around Hodgen’s Mill where Abe grew up” in the endpapers add fascinating (and funny) details to Abe’s early and later life. We learn further of his fights against animal cruelty and his bringing in many animals into the White House (goats included!). We also learn the author’s source of this story, a book written by J. Rogers Gore who wrote down the many tales Austin Gollaher, Abe’s childhood best friend, shared about his and Abe’s adventures.

Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is a perfect book not only for little ones who love animals and adventures, but also for parents who can learn a thing or two about lending grace and understanding to a most curious child.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Find a fun activity kit and curriculum guide here.

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Kids Book Review for Presidents’ Day – The Superlative A. Lincoln by Eileen R. Meyer

THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN:
POEMS ABOUT OUR 16TH PRESIDENT
Written by Eileen R. Meyer
Illustrated by Dave Szalay
(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

 

No matter how many children’s books I read about Abraham Lincoln, I continue to learn something new in each one. Sometimes something I already knew, but had long forgotten, is presented in such a way that I’ll now always remember it. Both these experiences apply to The Superlative A. Lincoln by Eileen R. Meyer with art by Dave Szalay.

Perfect for Lincoln’s Birthday (yesterday, 2/12), Presidents’ Day or National Poetry Month, Meyer’s nonfiction picture book contains 19 poems that vary in style and content. Each poem is also accompanied by a factual paragraph on the bottom of the page to put the poem’s subject in context. Best of all, teachers can use the superlative poem titles such as “Best Wrestler”, “Worst Room Name,” and “Strongest Conviction,” and couple them with the excellent activities offered on Meyer’s website, for an engaging Language Arts lesson.

 

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The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About our 16th President written by Eileen R. Meyer and illustrated by Dave Szalay, Charlesbridge ©2019.

 

Did you know our 16th president was an inventor? Thanks to Meyer, in “Most Likely to Tinker,” we read how Lincoln’s penchant for problem solving resulted in his being awarded a patent for a design that helped “boats float over shallow river spots …” I didn’t recall Lincoln being a doting dad, but in “Most Permissive Parent,” we get a glimpse via Szalay’s charming woodcut looking illustration of First Sons, Willie and Tad, taking full advantage of their father’s parenting style. Throughout the book, Szalay’s art humanizes Lincoln and events whether in scenes of him chopping trees or meeting Frederick Douglass with a firm and friendly handshake. There’s a warm, folk art quality about the illustrations that pairs them perfectly with all of Meyer’s telling poems.

 

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The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About our 16th President written by Eileen R. Meyer and illustrated by Dave Szalay, Charlesbridge ©2019.

 

One of my favorite poems, “Best Advice” addresses Lincoln’s signature beard. What a surprise it was to learn he was the first president to sport one! I had no idea that growing whiskers had been recommended in a letter to candidate Lincoln by eleven-year-old Grace Bell. Lincoln even met with her on his travels to offer thanks. In addition to his beard, most children probably associate Honest Abe with his stovepipe hat. It certainly came in handy as a writing surface and a convenient place to carry things. “Best Use of an Accessory” cleverly conveys the hat’s perspective. “We don’t need a leather briefcase. / We don’t want an attaché. / You can keep that canvas knapsack. / I’m a traveling valet.” And by the way, “Least Favorite Nickname” enlightens young readers about Lincoln’s dislike of the nickname Abe. They would be hard pressed to find anyplace where he personally used it, preferring to sign his name Abraham Lincoln or A. Lincoln as in the book’s title.

 

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The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About our 16th President written by Eileen R. Meyer and illustrated by Dave Szalay, Charlesbridge ©2019.

 

The back matter in The Superlative A. Lincoln includes an author’s note, a comprehensive timeline as well as book and website resources and a bibliography.  I could easily describe every poem in the book because I thoroughly enjoyed them all, but I’ll leave that pleasure for you. Instead I’ve chosen to end my review with one of many popular A. Lincoln quotes:

“I want it said of me by those who knew me best,
that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower
where I thought a flower would grow.”

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Kids Picture Book Review – The Heart of a Whale

THE HEART OF A WHALE

Written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro

(Philomel Books; $17.99; Ages 3-7)

 

The Heart of a Whale cvr

 

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

Whale sang a song of happiness and hope, day after day, night after night for his ocean friends. But even with the roaring waves above him, Whale thought how quiet and lonely the sea could be in award-winning and best-selling author and illustrator Anna Pignataro’s lyrical picture book The Heart of A Whale.

 

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Interior spread from The Heart of a Whale written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Philomel Books ©2020.

 

Gorgeous watercolor illustrations of blues and greens take the reader through the ocean floor as Whale sings “a cheerful symphony for a sad urchin,” and “an orchestra for a ballet of ocean flowers.” Yet as he buoys spirits, bringing magic and wonder to the other sea creatures, Whale wonders why he has no song to fill his empty heart.

 

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Interior spread from The Heart of a Whale written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Philomel Books ©2020.

 

Whale sings while swimming through “the seagrass taller than the forest and through the wild and tangled undergrowth.” But even with all the sea creatures and sounds around him he feels “how quiet the sea could be at times.” Pignataro illustrates Whale curled up in a fetal position with only the blue ocean by his side. The reader feels the sadness Whale is holding deep inside, even if on the outside he is surrounded by millions of sea creatures. But as he lies alone he lets out a sigh.

“His sigh drifted away like a wish,” and Pignataro’s illustrations change to a sea of big fish and small fish in varied shapes and sizes gathering together for Whale. The sigh passes “over dreaming turtles and forgotten treasures and reaches other whales in the sea “all the way to the whale with the empty heart.” Pignataro touches the reader further by illustrating the pink heart alone in the whale.

 

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Interior spread from The Heart of a Whale written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Philomel Books ©2020.

 

The tender wordless spread of Whale meeting another whale while smiling at each other brings optimism. Following an eager page turn, the next page spread reveals the two whales together singing about “happiness and hope, magic and wonder” and the reader knows Whale’s heart is full.

 

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Interior spread from The Heart of a Whale written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Philomel Books ©2020.

 

This sweet book of friendship and kindness is a great read for both parents and teachers. It introduces young kids to the importance of empathy, and how we should remember that even if someone looks happy on the outside they may feel lonely on the inside. Children can never hear the message enough of how we must all look out for each other. Pignataro’s poetic language and lush illustrations invite discussion between adults and children on the importance of listening, and understanding the emotions of others, a social emotional lesson one is never too young to learn. This book belongs on every preschool and kindergarten classroom bookshelf, and would be helpful in some higher grade classrooms as well.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here to read another review by Ronda.

 

 

 

 

 

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You Loves Ewe! for Valentine’s Day 2020

YOU LOVES EWE!
(A Yam and Donkey Book)

Written and illustrated by Cece Bell
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

You Loves Ewe! cover

 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

I yam what I yam and what I yam is crazy about Cece Bell’s read aloud, You Loves Ewe! Reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First?” sketch, Bell’s picture book is full of laugh out loud moments from wordplay whimsy and homonym hilarity.

A yam introduces himself and a sweet little ewe to Donkey. The character Donkey doesn’t seem to understand that the ewe being referred to is not YOU, or in Donkey’s case, him. He thinks everything Yam says is directed at him. Poor Yam gets mildly frustrated and with the help of Ewe, makes posters and spells out the difference between the words EWE and YOU. “Look. EWE and YOU are two different words. They sound the same. But they do not mean the same thing.”

More fun follows when other examples of homonyms are offered such as DOE and DOUGH, MOOSE and MOUSSE and HARE and HAIR. Further complicating things is a romantic twist. More zaniness and misunderstandings occur when Yam declares his love for Ewe. Why? Because Ram, who spotted Ewe during an earlier homonym lesson, also confesses he’s in love with Ewe. Children will be giggling and perhaps even talking back to the book during Donkey’s confusion. After all of the word mix-ups, you may wonder who Ewe loves. Ah, that’s not something I’ll reveal to you ewe, I mean you, write (right) now! 

Bell’s vibrant, outlined artwork will please kids who love bold graphics and picture books featuring cartoon frames. What a wonderful way to get kids excited about the intricacies of the English language!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Other recommended Valentine’s Day reads:

Happy Heart by Hannah Eliot with art by Susie Hammer
I Love You Like No Otter by Rose Rossner with art by Sydney Hanson

I Love You, Elephant!
by Carles Ballesteros
Love and the Rocking Chair by Leo & Diane Dillon
I am Love by Susan Verde with art by Peter H. Reynolds
Invisible Lizard in Love
by Kurt Cyrus with art by Andy Atkins
Guess How Much I Love You 25th Anniversary Edition in slipcase including keepsake art print by Sam McBratney with art by Anita Jeram

Click here for last year’s recommended Valentine’s Day reads.

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