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Picture Book Review – The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil

THE ARABIC QUILT:
An Immigrant Story

Written by Aya Khalil

Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

(Tilbury House Publishers; $17.95, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.

The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?

The Arabic Quilt interior1
Interior spread from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.

Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.

The Arabic Quit int2
Interior art from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a classroom guide.

Also recommended for Eid is Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, with illustrations by Sara Alfageeh, Amulet Books.

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Children’s Picture Book Review – The Stray by Molly Ruttan

THE STRAY

Written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

It’s not every day that a creature from far off in the galaxy crash lands its UFO on Earth. So when it does, in The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, the thoughtful thing to do is bring the alien home if you happen to encounter it. That’s exactly what the family in Ruttan’s debut picture book does. Ironically the family doesn’t seem to get that he is not a dog, at first, like when they note he didn’t have a collar, and give him among other things, a Frisbee and a bone, which adds to the hilarity of the situation. The author illustrator has not only created an amusing and fun way to tell the story of finding a stray, she’s brought it heart and that’s a wonderful combination.

In summary, after the family find the stray, an out-of-this-world kind of dog, they bring it home and name the pet Grub. Now Grub’s no ordinary stray and gets up to all sorts of mischief. Yet, despite his errant ways, the family still love him. That message of unconditional love shines in every illustration. And adorable Grub knows how to create chaos. You’ll see exactly what havoc Grub can wreak in the neighborhood street spread below. This is a scene you’ll want to look at closely with kids because Ruttan’s ensured there’s a lot going on. In fact, the entire book’s a delightful visual romp filled with energetic art in a bluish palette, blending whimsy and emotion on every page.

 

 

Ruttan TheStray p04-05 We-found-a-stray fin
Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

No matter what the family does and how much love they bestow upon Grub, he doesn’t seem to be happy. That makes them wonder “… if it was because he already had a family somewhere else.” This key element of The Stray, that everyone lost belongs somewhere and helping them find their way home is kind, will be a comforting one for children. Seeing Grub’s adoptive family go through the experience together to locate his outer space family is also reassuring. Young readers will be happy when it turns out Grub’s Earth family didn’t have to try very hard.

 

Ruttan TheStray p09 We-named-him-Grub fin
Interior art from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

In interviews Ruttan’s mentioned that she always wanted The Stray to have a dual story line, one in which she drew upon her own family’s experience of finding strays over the years paired with comical things going on in the illustrations which weren’t mentioned in the spare text. That works so well here that kids will be pointing things out to their parents as the story is read. Ruttan’s also added a few “Easter eggs” to the illustrations, for those hard-core fans of UFO lore, like the portrait of Barney and Betty Hill on the wall in living room, the symbols found in the 1947 wreckage at Roswell on the Frisbee, and others. Don’t forget to peek under the book jacket because the case cover art is different.

 

Stray Neighborhood AFTER
Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

The engaging art was created with charcoal, pastel, and a little liquid acrylic paint thrown in. The final art was made using digital media. Whether you’re seeking a bedtime story or one to share at story time, The Stray will find a way into your heart as it did mine.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with Molly about how she launched her picture book during the pandemic when bookstores were closed.

NOTEWORTHY FACT: Today is the 51st anniversary of the first moon landing! While it’s not a UFO event, it’s a significant day for humankind and space. 

 

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find out more about The Stray in my January 2020 cover reveal with a guest post by Molly here.

Download fun activities to accompany your reading of The Stray here.

 

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Five New Books for Father’s Day 2020

BOOKS TO READ WITH DAD OR GRANDPA

ON FATHER’S DAY OR ANY DAY

∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Happy Father's Day clip art

 

Lion Needs a Haircut cvrLION NEEDS A HAIRCUT
Written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred Review – Booklist

Hyewon Yum’s adorable picture book, Lion Needs a Haircut, reminds me of how much my son disliked getting his haircut when he was little. What I especially like is how Yum’s chosen to use lions, a dad and his cub, as the main characters since their manes are such powerful symbols.

The lion father lets his son know he needs a haircut, but the cub does not agree. When the big lion shows compassion, saying he understands his son’s fear, is he perhaps putting words into his son’s mouth or hitting the nail right on its head? Regardless, the cub continues to resist. When at last the little one says, “I just wanted my hair to look like yours,” the story presents a clever new twist that is so satisfying and entertaining. Suffice it to say that parents, caregivers and kids will get a kick out of some fun role reversal in this charming and sweetly illustrated story.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox cvrWHEN GRANDPA GIVES YOU A TOOLBOX
Written by Jamie L.B. Deenihan
Illustrated by Lorraine Rocha
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3-7)

The birthday boy, with the golden crown on his head, is anxious to receive a special house for his dolls when Grandpa stops by. Lo and behold, he comes bearing a … TOOLBOX! When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox, written by Jamie L.B. Deenihan and illustrated by Lorraine Rocha shows how an unexpected gift can actually become the one you will always remember.

Lorraine Rocha paints colorful illustrations of the grandpa, the boy and his little brown dog who remains by his side throughout the story. The reader is taken on a journey of love via bright illustrations depicting the boy patiently listening to grandpa’s stories. Deenihan’s prose are written as steps on how to handle a situation that you really don’t have much interest in, but you do out of love—a great lesson for young kids to learn. “Next, compliment Grandpa as he shows photos of all the projects he’s built since he was a kid.”

The boy listens to his grandpa until he runs out of stories, but the reader learns that the stories stay in his memory. We see the boy and his dog playing with his doll as a sad looking yellow bird sits at the bottom of a big tree. “It’ll be easy to forget about Grandpa’s toolbox. Until you meet someone in need and have an idea.” That’s when the boy realizes that maybe the toolbox can be useful. Then the reader is taken on a whole new journey showing the beautiful bond between grandfather and grandson.

At the end, the boy is not only able to get that special doll house, but he gets it by building it with Grandpa by his side. “You and Grandpa will work together measuring and sawing, drilling and hammering, gluing and painting, until finally, you’ve built exactly what you wanted.” This heartwarming story melts your heart deeper when Deenihan not only dedicates the story to her own father, but explains how her husband Ricky was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015. In honor of Ricky, along with brain cancer patients and childhood cancer patients, a gray ribbon and gold ribbon have been included in the illustrations to raise awareness and show support for all those affected by cancer. •Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

PAPA BRINGS ME THE WORLDPapa Brings Me the World cvr
Written and illustrated by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
(Henry Holt BYR/Christy Ottaviano Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Junior Library Guild Selection

There is so much to enjoy when reading Papa Brings Me the World. It’s first and foremost a daughter’s love letter to her dad who is often gone for long periods of time due to his job as a photojournalist. “His pictures and stories are windows into magical worlds.” In addition to being about the parent/child relationship, it’s also a travel story with great glimpses into foreign countries and their cultures that the father in his career, and ultimately together with his daughter Lu, visit. I’ve also never read a picture book about a photojournalist so I think it’s wonderful and enriching to expose children to the world this way.

This book resonated with me not because one of my parents was a photojournalist, but because they loved to travel and instilled that love in me. I eventually studied abroad and then worked in the travel industry for nine years sharing my passion for world travel via educational seminars. The influence this story’s father had on his daughter was what hooked me from the start. “I was born to explore. Just like Papa.” I love how Kostecki-Shaw incorporated all the different places the father visited into journal entries and items collected along the way. Her art, a beautiful blend of acrylic, watercolors, salt, pencil, rubber stamps and collage made me want to linger on every page.

The biracial family in Papa Brings the World to Me is a loving, compassionate one. While the little girl’s thoughts revolve around her father’s often exotic trips and his anticipated return home from each one, Mama holds down the fort and provides support in a frequently one parent household. Any child who has a parent that is often away from home will relate to Lu’s dreams of spending time together with her papa either at home or on the road. The book will likely also spark wanderlust in even the youngest child when learning in the back matter about the variety of places Papa visits. This beautiful picture book is a celebration of the unique father daughter bond and one I recommend for all girl dads to read with their daughters.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Big Papa and the Time Machine cvrBIG PAPA AND THE TIME MACHINE
Written by Daniel Bernstrom
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Soft pastel colors adorn the pages of this warm-hearted story of bravery throughout time as Big Papa takes his beloved grandson in a time machine (1950s automobile) telling him about times long ago in Big Papa and the Time Machine.

The beautiful artwork was the first thing to capture my attention, but it did not take long for the words to wrap around me as well. Bernstrom tells the story of his African American grandfather who fought through hardship only to come out brave, while reassuring the boy who is fearful about going off to school for the first time.

“Do I have to go to school?” “Yes,” Big Papa said. “I just wanna go home and watch TV.” “You scared,” Big Papa said. “I’m scared I’ll miss you.”

The kind grandfather with the long gray beard, orange hat, red bow tie and blue overalls kicks off the time travel going back first to Little Rock, Arkansas circa 1952. Here he is a young man hugging his own Mama ever so tightly. The grandson believes his grandfather is never scared. “No been scared lots of times,” Big Papa said. “But sometimes you gotta lose the life you have if you ever gonna find the love you want. That’s called being brave.”

Bernstrom takes readers through a series of experiences in the past: meeting Nana at a dance; his own daughter walking away from raising the boy and working hard labor, but he always ends with the same beautiful words “that’s called being brave.”

This is a story that I could reread over and over, and what a poignant story at this time in history. We are educated on the hardships this family overcame, but in the end they survived it all through love, perseverance and, of course, being brave. Bravo to Bernstrom for his words that transported me to Arkansas 1941 and 1952; Chicago 1955, 1957, and the year the grandson was placed in the grandfather’s care in 1986.

In the Author’s Note, Bernstrom explains the background to this story and how he wasn’t raised knowing his biological grandfather, but when they met his grandfather had stories upon stories to tell. Evans asks, “what is courage?” and explains that with every line of art there is a story just like there is a story in every word. I felt it in both the words and the art. A beautiful story definitely worth sharing with young readers.
•Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder.

Dadskills coverDADSKILLS: How to Be an Awesome Father and Impress
All the Other Parents – From Baby Wrangling – to Taming Teenagers
Written by Chris Peterson
(Cool Springs Press; $17.99, Paperback)

Billed as a manual for new fathers, Dadskills‘ subtitle immediately clues you in to the light-hearted read covering child rearing, from their arrival at home to their eventual departure. The six chapters (which include spot illustrations) include “Baby Wrangling,” “Dealing With Toddlers,” “The Single Digit Challenge,” “Managing the Tweens,” “Taming Teens,” and “Empty Nesting (or Not).”

Does father really know best? That’s what author Peterson is aiming for with his “We got this” fix-it guy approach to equipping men with the important skills they’ll need to be a first-rate and rad dad. “You’ll find here a breakdown on all the essentials so that you can feel a little more like ‘I’m witnessing a miracle’ and a little less like ‘What the hell is happening?'”

In the first chapter I was pleasantly surprised to find colic was addressed because, while it’s awfully uncomfortable for baby, it can also be exhausting and trying for parents who feel helpless to make their little one feel better. When our daughter had colic, it was my husband with his secure football hold that I could count on to quell her pain. In Chapter 3 dads are reminded to “enjoy this prehormonal phase of life.” And, as a book reviewer, how could I not love a section that emphasizes encouraging a young reader with tips such as “Make it a nightly habit,” integrate books into your home life, and read beyond books, for example, by playing games that require game card reading in order to practice skills and pronunciation.

Every chapter is full of invaluable information that will give dads the tools they need to solo or co-parent and make them smile while getting the inside scoop in a book created with their needs in mind. Peterson’s voice throughout the book is like that of a close friend’s. Dadskills will leave new dads feeling prepared for and less stressed about fatherhood. With its perfectly balanced blend of advice and wit, this fathering book for a new generation of dads will make a great gift for Father’s Day.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Middle Grade Book Review – One Last Shot

ONE LAST SHOT

Written by John David Anderson

(Walden Pond Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

One Last Shot cover

 

 

In John David Anderson’s One Last Shot, twelve-year-old Malcolm Greeley navigates life carefully. School is endured, and his home life is a minefield where he painstakingly interprets what’s said—and what’s not said—to keep the peace between his contentious parents. He’s sure that if he can just do everything right, then things between his mom and dad will get better, that they have to.

Malcolm doesn’t realize he needs a friend until Lex’s miniature golf ball and her comical call of “Five!” lands at his feet. With an unwanted push from his wacky golf coach, Malcolm soon finds a something in Lex he’s been sorely missing. While his steadfast mother accepts and understands him, Malcolm is unsettled around his father, an award-winning jock of many sports, who pushed Malcolm into Little League. When Malcolm is given an out, he takes it, only to be subtly pressured into competition mini golf. With Dad, it’s all about winning, but Malcolm’s not wired that way no matter how he tries. He’s a natural at putting, yet dreads the competitive aspect. The voices in his head add to the stress of executing each shot perfectly.

Though I don’t typically gravitate stories centered around competitive sports, I picked up One Last Shot because I’m a fan of Anderson’s other books Granted and Posted (also middle grade). One Last Shot’s a winner with its fully developed, imperfect characters. I appreciated the creative manner in which the story unfolds; the structure adds interest. Each of the eighteen chapters opens with the description of a mini golf hole and closes with how Malcolm scored on that hole. Sandwiched between, we’re shown Malcolm’s life in flashback scenes.

This would be an ideal read for a kid with parents in the bitter pre-divorce stage since Malcolm comes to understand his parents’ troubles are not about him and cannot be fixed by him. Sometimes, parents need to split up for their own good—an upsetting time that’s hard to live through, but, hopefully, better in the long run.

Click here to read a sample.

 

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Middle Grade Books – An Interview With Margaret Finnegan About Happy Endings

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET FINNEGAN

AUTHOR OF DEBUT MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL

WE COULD BE HEROES

 

 

For Autism Awareness Day 2020, I’m delighted to share this interview with author Margaret Finnegan about her debut middle grade novel We Could Be Heroes and her take on happy endings. At the end Margaret’s also included some helpful resources for readers.

INTERVIEW

GOODREADSWITHRONNA: Can you tell us a little bit about We Could be Heroes?

MARGARET FINNEGAN: We Could be Heroes is about Hank Hudson and Maisie Huang, two very different kids. They become friends as they try to help a dog with epilepsy—Booler—who is tied day and night to a tree. Their friendship is complicated by the fact that Hank has autism, and so he can’t always tell if Maisie is really trying to be his friend or if she is manipulating him for her own reasons.

GRWR: Your book deals with some very serious issues, but it is always funny and it ends on an adorably happy note. These days, a lot of middle-grade fiction is embracing more complicated and ambivalent endings, what made you decide to go full on happy?

MF: I wrote this book for my daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth is not Hank, but she did inspire a few of his qualities, such as his painful aversion to really sad stories. She feels so connected to the characters she reads about—and she feels their heartbreaks and pain so personally—that for a number of years she refused to read new novels. The uncertainty was too much for her. So she read her favorite books over and over. Hank is like that too. When We Could be Heroes opens, Hank is trying to destroy a tragic book his teacher has been reading to the class. He can’t take how sad it makes him.

Since I set out trying to write a book that Elizabeth would read, I knew from the start that it would have to have a big, sloppy happy ending. But Hank needed a happy ending too, and I think he earned it. Like any hero, he is tested and found worthy of reward. But more than that, in a meta sort of way, the story needed a happy ending that would contrast the terrible ending of the story within the story—the one Hank’s teacher is reading the class.

GRWR: Do you think Hank and Maisie’s happy ending can last?

MF: I’m not sure. Maisie’s mom definitely has her doubts. And although Hank and Maisie are “rewarded” something amazing, I think that reward will present Hank—who struggles with change and unpredictability—with challenges. But challenges can help us grow, so I guess that isn’t a bad thing.

GRWR: There are so many challenges that young readers face today—like climate change. How does that factor into thinking about happy endings? Don’t we need books that go to those dark places so kids can see their reality reflected and then face that reality with resiliency? Or is there still a needat least sometimesfor “big, sloppy, happy endings”?

MF: We need all kinds of stories with all kinds of endings—and there are many wonderful middle-grade novels that go dark and yet are filled with transcendent beauty. Those books actually win lots of awards. But unabashedly happy endings also have something important to offer readers. Our kids are not growing up in bubbles. They have a whole world of experiences and entertainments that teach them the complexities and hardships of the world. And it is exactly when things are going horribly that some readers need stories that make them laugh and that instill hope.

I have been very open about the challenges Elizabeth has had with autism and epilepsy. There was a long stretch of years where she was being bullied, experiencing lots of seizures, and dealing with horrible medication side effects. And what were the books she turned to repeatedly during this time? The Fudge books by Judy Blume. They made her feel good. They made her believe that better was possible. She knows about the pain of the world. She lives it. She—like many others—longs for stories that remind her that there is joy and fun in the world and that sometimes—just sometimes—everything turns out great. 

Read a review in Publishers Weekly about We Could Be Heroes here.

Click here for a link to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Click here for autism information from the National Institutes of Health.
Click here for autism information from the Autistic Self Advocacy network.

ABOUT MARGARET

Author Margaret FinneganMargaret Finnegan is the author of We Could Be Heroes.
Her work has appeared in FamilyFun magazine, the LA Times, Salon,
and other publications. She lives in Southern California, where she enjoys
spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really
good chocolate cakes. Connect with her @margaretfinnegan.com
or on Twitter @FinneganBegin.

 

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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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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.

 

The Invisible Leash_ nt1
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.

 

The Invisible Leash Int2
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.

 

The Invisible Leash int3
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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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 – Sumo Joe

SUMO JOE
Written by Mia Wenjen
Illustrated by Nat Iwata
(Lee & Low Books; $18.95, Ages 4-7)

 

Sumo Joe book cover

 

Sumo Joe, the charming and gently rhyming debut picture book by Mia Wenjen with art by Nat Iwata, opened my eyes to the history and popularity of this world renown Japanese style of wrestling. More than just a sport, “Sumo” writes Wenjen in the back matter glossary, “can be traced back to ancient Shinto rituals that were practiced to ensure a bountiful harvest and to honor the spirits.”

 

SumoJoe lowres spreads 4
Interior spread from Sumo Joe written by Mia Wenjen and illustrated by Nat Iwata, Lee & Low Books ©2019.

 

Wenjen’s chosen a fun way to introduce young readers to the sport and keep them interested by focusing on siblings Joe and his younger sister Jo. While the two share a close relationship, only Joe participates in sumo wrestling at home on Saturdays with his friends. I love how Iwata’s expressive illustration below shows Jo’s disappointment at not being included in the activity that traditionally has been for “boys-only.” Her tote bag clues us into where she might be going while her brother practices.

 

int art SumoJoe
Interior spread from Sumo Joe written by Mia Wenjen and illustrated by Nat Iwata, Lee & Low Books ©2019.

 

Throughout Joe’s sumo session, readers learn about the different terminology and traditions tied to the sport of trying to knock one’s opponent out of the ring. Perhaps most familiar is the outfit or special belt called a Mawashi. Due to the complexity of tying it, someone else has to wrap it around the wrestler. Compared to this, tying a tie seems easy and maybe even less tickly! The stomp move, called shiko, is intended to rid the space of demons. That makes total sense to me. Other moves in the drills that Joe and his buddies work on are also explained which is not only fascinating, but meaningful. Kids will be able to watch sumo with a better appreciation of why the wrestlers do what they do.

While Jo may understand what her brother’s doing, she’s tired of being left out. She returns from her outing ready to jump into action as Akido Jo. Yes, little sis has been getting lessons in the martial arts and challenges her big brother to a match. Joe’s pals say she’s not allowed, but Joe honors his sister’s wishes and the two face off in a lively, but loving and respectful contest of Sumo versus Akido.

Iwata’s upbeat, digitally rendered artwork complements Wenjen’s words and brings a wonderful energy to the story. I recommend Sumo Joe to parents, teachers and librarians eager to find out more about this traditional Japanese sport presented in an engaging and dynamic way. The author’s note plus the illustrated glossary round out what is an enlightening and delightful read.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of Sumo Joe as part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board

Super Platinum

Make A Way Media/ Deirdre “DeeDee” Cummings

Platinum

Language Lizard, Pack-N-Go Girls

Gold

Audrey Press, Lerner Publishing Group, KidLit TV, ABDO BOOKS : A Family of Educational Publishers, PragmaticMom & Sumo Joe, Candlewick Press

Silver

Author Charlotte Riggle, Capstone Publishing, Guba Publishing, Melissa Munro Boyd & B is for Breathe

Bronze

Author Carole P. Roman, Snowflake Stories/Jill Barletti, Vivian Kirkfield & Making Their Voices Heard, Barnes Brothers Books, TimTimTom, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books, Charlesbridge Publishing, Barefoot Books, Talegari Tales

Author Sponsor Link Cloud

Jerry Craft, A.R. Bey and Adventures in Boogieland, Eugina Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Kenneth Braswell & Fathers Incorporated, Maritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_Mejia, Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Josh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Lauren Ranalli, The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon Chappell, Phe Lang and Me On The Page, Afsaneh Moradian and Jamie is Jamie, Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, TUMBLE CREEK PRESS, Nancy Tupper Ling,Author Gwen Jackson, Angeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Tree, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia Wenjen, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books), Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the Ocean, Evelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the World,Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Teresa Robeson  & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTuk, Girlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book Club, Finding My Way Books, Diana Huang & Intrepids, Five Enchanted Mermaids, Elizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling Castle, Anna Olswanger and Greenhorn, Danielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow Jeepney, Mariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Ñusta Diminuta, Sara Arnold & The Big Buna Bash, Roddie Simmons & Race 2 Rio, DuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical Debut, Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series  Green Kids Club, Inc.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts

A Crafty Arab, Afsaneh Moradian, Agatha Rodi Books, All Done Monkey, Barefoot Mommy, Bethany Edward & Biracial Bookworms, Michelle Goetzl & Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Educators Spin on it, Shauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylink, Growing Book by Book, Here Wee Read, Joel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}, Imagination Soup, Kid World Citizen, Kristi’s Book Nook, The Logonauts, Mama Smiles, Miss Panda Chinese, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Serge Smagarinsky {Australia}, Shoumi Sen, Jennifer Brunk & Spanish Playground, Katie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

TWITTER PARTY! Register here!

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

 

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 – New Kid

NEW KID
Written and illustrated by Jerry Craft
(HarperCollins; $21.99 H/c, $12.99 P/b, Ages 8-12)

 

 

NewKid PB cover

 

Newbery Medal Winner
A New York Times bestseller
Winner of the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature
Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

I began reading author-illustrator Jerry Craft’s outstanding graphic novel, New Kid, last week before it made history winning the Newbery so I was thrilled that it was honored. I read it slowly to savor every illustration, every funny or meaningful moment, and every twist and turn in the story. You know that feeling when you want to stay with characters long after a book has ended? That is the feeling readers will experience with New Kid.

Craft introduces us to the main character, Jordan Banks, and his dilemma, and we’re instantly in his court. He’s been accepted into an elite private school, Riverdale Academy Day School (RADS) for seventh grade. Although Jordan would prefer to attend an art school, he and his dad agree he will give it a try and switch to the art school for ninth grade if things don’t work out. Jordan, who is black, lives in Washington Heights with his loving parents who want to offer him advantages they never had. Jordan must commute via bus to Riverdale to attend classes. The way Craft shows the change in communities and attitudes through Jordan’s hoody, how he wears it and what his posture is like as he travels is eye-opening. Not only will this smart, talented preteen have to navigate public transportation, he’ll also have to figure out a more pressing dynamicwhere he fits in at the new school.

I loved getting inside Jordan’s head via his sketch book packed with cartoons along with Craft’s vibrant illustrations. A pair of angels are depicted in various scenes responding to situations that Jordan encounters and emotions he feels. This adds a humorous dimension to Craft’s multi-layered graphic novel about what it’s like being a person of color in a predominantly white school environment. At RADS, with its mostly wealthy and privileged student body, Jordan quickly realizes who the gossips are, who the jocks are, who the annoying kids are, and who he can ultimately call a friend.

And what about the the teachers and administrators at Jordan’s school? Some reviews have described a culture of behavior at RADS as micro-aggressive and I agree. Readers’ perspectives should change after noticing the undertone of prejudice, racism and ignorance aimed at minority students when teachers don’t make an effort to remember someone’s name or are quick to accuse the wrong student in a fight. The same applies to fellow students who, for example, cannot acknowledge that a classmate is from Nicaragua and not Mexico. The tongue-in-cheek Oprah public service announcement cartoon Jordan creates about kids on financial aid also struck a chord. I’ve known people who’ve felt stigmatized when this confidential arrangement was revealed. While these are some of the hardest issues to read about, they’re also some the most honest, important and compelling. Through Jordan, Craft deftly challenges stereotypes and enlightens kids that other paradigms exist.

New Kid’s 14 chapters take us through an entire school year during which we watch and root for Jordan’s success in the classroom, on the field for P.E. (where it’s often very cold), and in his social life where there’s never a dull moment. We also come to care about his closest pals, Liam and Drew, who have his back and grow along with Jordan. A cast of endearing secondary characters rounds off the novel, and the inclusion of these relationships injects another realistic element into the middle school experience. There are up days, down days, and days when Jordan wonders whether he’ll ever make this private school thing work.

When he leaves behind his Washington Heights buddies to go to RADS, Jordan faces yet another challenge—how to make new friends and keep the old. It’s not a straightforward silver and gold thing and Jordan knows it. It’s great that Craft shows the effort Jordan makes to keep up those relationships because, although he may be in Riverdale during the day, after school and weekends he’s still connected to his neighborhood and that grounds him in the best possible way.

I’m grateful to have been able to spend time with Jordan Banks, his family and friends. I hope you’ll also meet Jordan soon by getting a copy of New Kid at your local indie bookseller!

Disclosure: I was gifted New Kid by HarperCollins to review for the event.

 

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2020 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board

Super Platinum

Make A Way Media/ Deirdre “DeeDee” Cummings

Platinum

Language Lizard, Pack-N-Go Girls

Gold

Audrey Press, Lerner Publishing Group, KidLit TV, ABDO BOOKS: A Family of Educational Publishers, PragmaticMom & Sumo Joe, Candlewick Press

Silver

Author Charlotte Riggle, Capstone Publishing, Guba Publishing, Melissa Munro Boyd & B is for Breathe

Bronze

Author Carole P. Roman, Snowflake Stories/Jill Barletti, Vivian Kirkfield & Making Their Voices Heard, Barnes Brothers Books, TimTimTom, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books, Charlesbridge Publishing, Barefoot Books, Talegari Tales

 

Author Sponsor Link Cloud

Jerry Craft, A.R. Bey and Adventures in Boogieland, Eugina Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Kenneth Braswell & Fathers Incorporated, Maritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_Mejia, Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Josh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Lauren Ranalli, The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon Chappell, Phe Lang and Me On The Page, Afsaneh Moradian and Jamie is Jamie, Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, TUMBLE CREEK PRESS, Nancy Tupper Ling,Author Gwen Jackson, Angeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm Tree, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia Wenjen, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books), Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the Ocean, Evelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the World,Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, Sarah Jamila Stevenson, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Teresa Robeson  & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTuk, Girlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book Club, Finding My Way Books, Diana Huang & Intrepids, Five Enchanted Mermaids, Elizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling Castle, Anna Olswanger and Greenhorn, Danielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow Jeepney, Mariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Ñusta Diminuta, Sara Arnold & The Big Buna Bash, Roddie Simmons & Race 2 Rio, DuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical Debut, Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series  Green Kids Club, Inc.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts

A Crafty Arab, Afsaneh Moradian, Agatha Rodi Books, All Done Monkey, Barefoot Mommy, Bethany Edward & Biracial Bookworms, Michelle Goetzl & Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Educators Spin on it, Shauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylink, Growing Book by Book, Here Wee Read, Joel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}, Imagination Soup, Kid World Citizen, Kristi’s Book Nook, The Logonauts, Mama Smiles, Miss Panda Chinese, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Serge Smagarinsky {Australia}, Shoumi Sen, Jennifer Brunk & Spanish Playground, Katie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

TWITTER PARTY! Register here!

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

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Kids Book Reviews – Three New Christmas Picture Books for 2019

CHRISTMAS PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

 

Long Ago On a Silent Night cvrLONG AGO, ON A SILENT NIGHT
Written by Julie Berry
Illustrated by Annie Won
(Orchard Books, $17.99, Ages 3-8)

Written by Printz Honor recipient Julie Berry and illustrated by Annie Won, Long Ago, on a Silent Night connects the Biblical story of the birth of Christ with the birth of a mother’s newborn babe. Ancient and modern times meet to express the promise of peace, joy, and hope the Christmas season brings.

Won’s glowing, airy illustrations produce a dreamlike effect. Interchanging pages of light and dark color highlight the story’s juxtaposing themes: extreme joy and the deep mystery of the miracle of birth. Just as a “piece of heaven fell to earth” when God became flesh “at that sacred birth,”the mother feels her boy “came straight from heaven, too” from “the moment” she held him. Berry’s tender language, told in elegant verse form, captures the holiness of the relationship between mother and child, and in a broader sense, humankind’s relationship with the Christ Child. Though He had the power to “one day calm a tempest wild,” Jesus instead chose to save the world through His “gentleness” and humility. The birth of the baby is a reminder of the ripple effect of God’s loving kindness throughout the generations.

A great addition to your Christmas picture book collection, Long Ago, on a Silent Night highlights the relevance of the Nativity story to our modern times.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

TomiedePaolas Christmas Tree Book cvrTOMIE DEPAOLA’S CHRISTMAS TREE BOOK
Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Beloved children’s author/illustrator Tomie dePaola offers us a picture book full of fun facts about the most widespread of all Christmas traditions: the Christmas tree.

In its second edition, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book begins with a family visiting a Christmas tree farm to pick out their own tree. The children’s curiosity about “how Christmas trees [got] started” leads to a fascinating discussion of the historical role “decorated trees and branches” have played during the holiday season.  As far back as the Middle Ages, decorated evergreens were used during church plays and transitioned into people’s homes after the plays were no longer performed. It’s interesting to learn about the varied forms of the evergreens and shrubs as more people brought the plants indoors for decor. The children’s questions guide the family’s discussion naturally and fluidly in a gentle way that doesn’t feel like the reader is getting a “lesson.” We learn of other major transitions: the arrival of the Christmas tree in America, the addition of lights on the tree, and even the evolution of the Christmas tree stand. One piece of history is particularly delightful (and a matter of presidential importance) but you’ll have to get the book to find out!

Though much of the book presents factual information, the story arc takes readers from beginning to middle to end as we watch the family purchase, transport, and decorate their tree. The addition of the grandmother in the second half of the book adds a personal touch to the historical facts as she shares with her grandchildren her memories of Christmas trees long ago. As always, dePaola’s muted color palette, familiar shapes, and soft lines provide warmth and comfort to his words.

Perfect for school reports or for quelling those myriad questions from curious little ones, Tomie dePaola’s Christmas Tree Book will both educate and entertain. Click here for bonus materials from the publisher’s website.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Dasher Book CoverDASHER
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Growing up as part of a demanding traveling circus is not much of a life for Dasher, a little doe with an adventurous soul. The harshness of hot days does not compare to the magical place in Mama’s stories where the weather is cold, the air crisp, “and the ground was always covered with a cool blanket of white snow.” Dasher’s days are filled with meeting children which she loves. At night, however, surrounded by her family, she wishes upon the North Star for the home Mama has described.

When one windy night’s unusual circumstances bring Dasher into contact with Santa and his tired horse, Silverbell, it’s as if her wish were answered. Because his sleigh filled with massive amounts of toys is getting too heavy for just Silverbell, Santa invites Dasher to help pull his sleigh. There’ll be no looking back now. Only something is missing. Her family. Of course, Santa makes that wish come true, too, when he takes Silverbell and Dasher back to the circus and invites Dasher’s family to join the sleigh. Now everything’s in place for Christmas to be perfect!

Dasher, the wonderfully imagined and illustrated tale of Santa’s team of reindeerbefore Rudolph came alongfeels believable and satisfying. The old-fashioned look of the art (done in watercolor, gouache, pencil, and pastel) depicting J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie and filled with rural folk dressed in their late 19th century garb, adds to the feeling the story is real. Youngsters will be easily convinced, too, and love the lyrical way Tavares has woven together all the threads of this charming origin story so skillfully. Let yourself be transported back in time with this clever tale that will have you convinced this is exactly how Santa’s reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen came to pull Santa’s sleigh.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another roundup of Christmas books here.

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Middle Grade Book Review – Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

LOOK BOTH WAYS: A TALE TOLD IN TEN BLOCKS

Written by Jason Reynolds

Illustrated by Alexander Nabaum

(Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books; $17.99, Ages 10-14)

 

look both ways book cover

 

∼A National Book Award Finalist∼

Starred Reviews – BCCB, Booklist, BookPage, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, SLJ

Jason Reynolds once again nails it with his unique storytelling skills. In Look Both Ways, ten vignettes cover ten blocks of a neighborhood, following what happens to kids on the same day after Latimer Middle School lets out. Stories overlap and intertwine or do their own thing. Kids are captured in their every dimension from exuberance to anxiety. Boogers, bullying, dogs, and disease—yup, it’s all there.

The most poignant story for me was about Canton, whose mother is a crossing guard at his school. One day, she instinctively rushes forward to push a toddler frozen in the path of a bus out of the way, taking a minor hit herself. A week later, she’s back on duty, but her son doesn’t recover. Mortality is a subject we wish our kids didn’t have to grapple with. Reynolds shows how this boy is traumatized by the incident. Canton feels he can keep his mother safe from harm if he’s there on time each day, watching over her as she works.

How many parents have hovered over their sleeping child for no reason other than to ensure that child’s safety? We all know if something were to happen, the odds are slim that we’d be standing there at the right time with the right response. Yet, we do it—just as Canton believes his presence will somehow safeguard his mother. Before he can fall too deeply into this abyss, the school’s custodian (recalling how a dog made his wife feel better after their daughter went off to college) makes Canton a dog from an old broom. Worrying its tattered top enables the boy to quell his panic attacks.

Throughout, Reynolds captures a child’s emotional scope succinctly and accurately. An older reader will appreciate the craft required to weave these pieces with their connections and resets, forming a cohesive narrative arc. A kid will love the book for being funny, honest, and a different kind of reading experience. No matter where you’re coming from, the book will wow.

See more artwork by cover and chapter headings illustrator Alexander Nabaum here.

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Home in the Woods

HOME IN THE WOODS
Written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Home in the Woods cover

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

“This book is inspired not only by the stories from [my grandmother],” says Wheeler, “but by the entire generation that experienced the Great Depression. They will soon be gone, and if we haven’t yet collected their stories, the time is now.”

 

Home in the Woods, the latest picture book by Eliza Wheeler is a treat for the eyes and soul. The embossed title on the book jacket is gorgeous as is the winter scape underneath. The water color and ink artwork is simply stunning.

Travel back in time as this compelling story, based on Wheeler’s grandmother’s life in the Wisconsin woods during the Great Depression, pulls readers right into each meticulously and movingly illustrated page.

Told from the perspective of Wheeler’s grandmother, Marvel, Home in the Woods introduces readers to the six-year-old and her seven siblings along with Mum, a newly widowed and stoic 34-year-old. This 40-page book unfolds over four seasons beginning in Summer when the time is ideal to move into an abandoned tar-paper shack they find in the woods. “You never know what treasures we’ll find,” says Mum. While Marvel doesn’t believe the rundown hut can ever be a treasure let alone a home, she carries on nonetheless relying on the closeness of her family and her mother’s optimism. That energy is conveyed in scenes like the one where seven of the siblings (the youngest, at 3- months-old, is at home with Mum) happily collect berries. Wheeler subtly shows how nature plays an important role in both the family’s struggle and survival.

 

Int1 HomeintheWoods Wheeler
Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The blue tones of Summer shift when Autumn arrives and “rust and ruby leaves” provide a beautiful backdrop for this season’s art. Everyone in the family pitches in whether it’s splitting wood to heat the shack or pulling weeds and picking “veggies.” As baby Eva munches a carrot, Mum cooks preserves and the children prepare for winter by stocking up the cellar with whatever they were able to harvest.

On a visit to Bennett’s General Store, the siblings look longingly at the inviting shop window, but they have learned how to do without. They can only afford to “buy some basics.” Cleverly, the kids have invented a game they’ve dubbed General Store that keeps them entertained for hours. Beside the hut, Marvel displays “mud sweets,” little Lowell is the jeweler, older sister Bea sells fine hats (note the creativity of the hats Mum is admiring), and the others all find fulfilling counters to man.

When Winter’s bitter winds blow, the family huddles by the pot-belly stove as the two oldest boys “trek out to hunt for food.” Blue tones return, but the flames of the fire, the glowing lantern, the gold in the children’s crowns, and in the patchwork pieces as Mum teaches Bea to quilt all depict a warmth that is the fabric of this loving family. Marvel shares how her brother Rich teaches her to read in another touching illustration that is rich with contentment.

 

int2 HomeintheWoods Wheeler
Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

int3 HomeintheWoods Wheeler
Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The illustration above clues readers into Mum’s silent fears for her family while the words, “But Mum stays awake into the night …” tell us what we’ve guessed all along. Living in the woods, barely eking out a living, and supporting her family of nine has taken its toll on this strong woman. Mum prays for her children to get safely through winter and the Depression.

 

int4 HomeintheWoods Wheeler
Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The cycle of seasons culminates in Spring. “The cottonwoods are all in bloom” and a spirit of rebirth and renewal fills everyone’s hearts just as the family’s pail is filled with fresh milk at Erickson’s Farm. The children rejoice in the thrilling sound of birdsong and the blossoming of flowers. Enveloped by hope, the family has gotten through the harsh Wisconsin winter and emerged to find that the power of togetherness, teamwork and love has brought to them the promise of better days ahead and the true meaning of home.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor

JUST ASK!

BE DIFFERENT, BE BRAVE, BE YOU

Written by Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by Rafael López

(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Just Ask Book Cover

 

STARRED REVIEW – Booklist

Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was diagnosed with diabetes as a child, knows just how that feels. In Just Ask!, written by Sotomayor, along with art by award winning illustrator Rafael López, a group of children work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way.

The book opens with a letter from Sotomayor, the first Latina and third woman appointed to the Supreme Court. In it she explains to the reader how she felt different when kids watched as she injected insulin into her arm. But, she says, they never asked why! “If you ever wonder why someone is doing something different from other kids, Just Ask.

 

Just Ask int 4P10
Interior spread from Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

A beautiful assortment of colors adorn the pages as children of various ethnicities, shapes and sizes are seen holding flower pots, pulling wagons and walking through nature. The first character we are introduced to is based on the author, Sonia. She compares the differences in a garden to the differences of people. “Thousands of plants bloom together, but every flower, every berry, and every leaf is different. Each has a different smell, different color, different shape, and different purpose.” She explains to the reader that, like plants, kids are different too. “Each of us grows in our own way, so if you are curious about other kids, Just Ask!”

In one illustration Sonia is sitting inside a large red rose petal injecting the insulin into her arm. The question that is asked is “Do you ever need to take medicine to be healthy?” As the reader turns the page, Rafael, just like the book illustrator’s name says, “I have asthma, which means I sometimes have trouble breathing and use an inhaler to make breathing easier.”

 

Just Ask int 4P12
Interior spread from Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael López, Philomel Books ©2019.

 

While working together with smiles on their faces surrounded by rabbits, butterflies and birds each character poses a question to the readers. These in turn are answered by another child who may be feeling “different.” Sotomayor introduces us to characters with dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Anthony is seated in a wheelchair; Madison and Arturo are both blind and use canes; and a boy named Vijay demonstrates sign language because he is unable to hear.

Lopez’s art of rainbows and smiling trees welcomes the child who may also be feeling different into this imaginary place. Just Ask is a great for parents to read to a child who may be going through his or her own personal struggle. Questions such as “Do you ever feel frustrated?” give the child a chance to express emotions.

The story ends with Sonia gathered around all her new friends amidst the beautiful garden they have all created. She tells them, “when something seems different or new I just ask my parents or my teachers and they help me to understand.”

Sotomayor shares a heartwarming story, also available in Spanish, that asks the questions some children may not know how to ask. This is a great and most needed read for the child who may be dealing with something challenging, and the child who has a friend who seems different but they just aren’t quite sure how to ask. López, whose own son has high functioning autism, says “I am energized to give visual voice to Justice Sotomayor’s compelling story about seeing the world through a unique perspective and being you.” This book shows kids that differences can make us stronger and how maybe kids can use that strength and uniqueness to someday be a part of the highest United States court. I hope this book finds its way to library story times and into classrooms because it positively models respectful interaction between kids of all abilities.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Read another book illustrated by Rafael López here.

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – Roll With It by Jamie Sumner

ROLL WITH IT

Written by Jamie Sumner

(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

Roll With It book cover

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

Roll With It was an easy choice for my to-read list because it deals with disability. As a disabled author myself, I feel disability representation in books for children is so important and I’m thrilled to see the number of books featuring this element of diversity growing. Author Jamie Sumner has a son with cerebral palsy—the same disability as her main character, Ellie—so I was confident that aspect of the book would be handled with authority and authenticity. What I wasn’t necessarily expecting is a story that packed such an emotional punch on so many different levels.

Ellie and her mom move in with Ellie’s grandparents to help out since her grandfather’s memory issues are getting worse. Life in her grandparents’ trailer park is not exactly ideal for Ellie physically and she dreads starting at a new school as not only “the new kid” but “the new kid in a wheelchair.” Before long though, she connects with two other classmates from the trailer park, the hilarious Coralee and ultra blunt Bert, and Ellie begins to love her new home. She must then convince her mom that they should stay put.

Ellie is relatable and plucky, with a touch of snarky sarcasm, all of which endeared her to me immediately. Her growth as a character had much less to do with the traditional “overcoming her limitations due to her disability” trope and much more to do with making friends, asserting herself, navigating the complex relationship between a tween kid and her mother, and handling her emotions related to her grandfather’s illness. She’s a regular kid with dreams of being a celebrity chef, who experiences the same feelings and challenges as lots of kids her age. The fact that she has CP and is a wheelchair user is neither the main focus of the story nor downplayed. Sumner strikes a perfect balance of making that aspect of Ellie’s life an integral part of the story without it be her only story. Similarly, Ellie’s Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s is treated deftly and not sugarcoated.

Roll With It is not only a fun and interesting read—it’s a great representation for middle grade readers who are wheelchair users themselves and for any reader interested in a moving story which provides insight into a POV not often seen in children’s books.

  • Guest Review by Karol Ruth Silverstein

Karol Ruth Silverstein writes all genres of children’s books and screenplays. Her debut novel Cursed (Charlesbridge Teen, 2019) is loosely drawn from her experience of being diagnosed with a painful chronic illness at 13. Originally from Philadelphia, she now lives with her two exceptionally fluffy cats, Ninja and Boo. You can read a review of her novel here.

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Picture Book Review – Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang

 

AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO
Written by Kat Zhang,
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Aladdin; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

 

Amy Wu and the perfect bao cvr

 

As all budding young chefs and their parents know, it’s not easy getting a recipe just right. In the new picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, these delicious dumplings are Amy’s nemesis. There are a lot of things that can go wrong; luckily, Amy’s Chinese-American family has got it down and will teach her step by step.

 

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Interior artwork from Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Aladdin ©2019.

 

High-spirited Amy will appeal to kids who like expressive, relatable, and funny main characters (à la Fancy Nancy). Amy is skillful at many tasks—including eating bao all day—but it’s frustrating that her bao just don’t turn out right.

 

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Interior artwork from Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Aladdin ©2019.

 

Charlena Chua captures Amy’s personality in the lively illustrations, from silly expressions (trying to tie her shoes while brushing her teeth) to earnest ones (focused on pinching the dough just right). Throughout, a cute white cat follows Amy’s escapades.

Kat Zhang’s uplifting story shows that imperfection tastes just as good and, with a little bit of ingenuity, kids can solve their problems by trying something new. Amy’s resourcefulness left me smiling; kids are amazing.

The book concludes with a time-consuming (3+ hours) but mouth-watering, in other words worth it, recipe for bao that I tested with my daughter. We appreciated the tip about cooking a spoonful of filling before making the dumplings—great advice which allowed us to adjust the flavors. Enjoy!

 

Read another review by Christine here.

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