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Picture Book Review for Rosh Hashanah – Measuring a Year

MEASURING A YEAR: A ROSH HASHANAH STORY

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by Zara González Hoang

(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Measuring a Year cover

 

 

When I celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I reflect on the year gone by, and now author Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrator Zara González Hoang have created an inviting way for children to do the same with Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story.

What struck me the most about this rhyming picture book was what a terrific conversation starter it is for families and how, per the back matter, other opportunities are indicated where the book can be used including “the secular, Lunar, Islamic, and Hindu New  Years, birthdays, and the start of each school year. And, of course, the start of each new day.”

 

 

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Interior spread from Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Zara González Hoang, Abrams Appleseed ©2022.

 

I like how the many ways to approach introspection or measuring a year are presented. A year gone by can literally be measured by how much a child has grown. It can also be measured by friends made, a new skill learned, places visited, and special occasions such as weddings and bar mitvahs celebrated. The book doesn’t shy away from addressing how measuring a year should include thinking back on times a child did something they regret, times they were sad, or even scared. So much can happen in a year.

 

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Interior spread from Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Zara González Hoang, Abrams Appleseed ©2022.

 

Hoang’s inclusive, diverse illustrations, were rendered using “watercolor, colored pencils, and a bit of Photoshop magic” and are rich with children of all abilities. In terms of Jewish symbols, I spotted a Menorah, a Sukkah, a dreidel, a Jewish Star, and people wearing yarmulkes. During this high holy day when we have the chance to start anew, many Jews eat honey cake and dip apples in honey for a sweet new year.  The delicious-looking endpapers were designed with this tradition in mind. Between the joyful art and the gentle tone, Measuring a Year is a thoughtful and easy way for kids to understand and appreciate the significance of Rosh Hashanah and welcome addition to any Jewish holiday book collection.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Big Dreams, Small Fish

 

BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH

Written and illustrated by Paula Cohen

(Levine Querido; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Big Dreams Small Fish cover

 

 

I love it when picture book art begins on the copyright page and continues onto the title page giving readers an early taste of what’s to come. That’s what first struck me about author-illustrator Paula Cohen’s debut, Big Fish, Small Dreams. In fact, Cohen’s charming digitally colored pencil drawings include Shirley’s right foot being lifted out of her shoe when the small girl nails the word fish on the title page just mentioned, an actual black-and-white family photo hanging on the wall, to Hebrew lettering under the sign “Gefilte Fish .40/piece.” Then there are the evocative outfits and old-fashioned food packaging helping to transport readers back in time to the small family grocery store inspired by her grandparents’ shop in Upstate New York.

Each family member in the book has a major role to play, Uncle Morris stocked the shelves and no one made a taller tower. Papa kept the store tidy and helped customers. But, it seems there was one item, a staple to the immigrant Jewish family that others in the neighborhood would not buy, gefilte fish. “No one would even Try it.” I have to say I could relate to the reluctance of the neighbors. My grandmother would serve jarred gefilte fish, and the only way I would eat it was smothered in horseradish sauce. Learning that some families made it homemade, however, did change my feelings towards this Jewish specialty.

 

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Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

 

Shirley may be young but she believes she has big ideas to sell this stuffed fish. Cohen illustrates signs near the cash register—Follow Me to Fish and This Way to Fish. And we see the smile on the brown-haired girl with orange ribbons in her braids standing near the store’s gefilte fish table. She thinks of how to make things faster, prettier, and more modern. Yet nothing would move those cans of gefilte fish.

 

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Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

Shirley’s family says they didn’t come to America for their daughter to solve problems, but then a miracle happened. The family rushes to the hospital when it’s time for Aunt Ida to have her baby leaving the store in the hands of Mrs. Gottlieb who Cohen draws snoring in the back of the store. This is when young Shirley and her precious white cat get busy. She decorates the store and offers “serve yourself pea soup.” But her biggest idea comes when Mrs. Hernandez arrives to purchase tomatoes and a pound of kugel. Shirley packs up her order nicely and places a surprise inside the bag. The drawing of Shirley innocently placing the tin of homemade gefilte fish in the brown paper bag is quite a sweet moment. More customers arrive and more gefilte fish is distributed with the sign “Buy Anything And Get A Surprise” hanging on the wall.

 

 

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Interior spread from Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen, Levine Querido ©2022.

 

A grey, yellow and brown illustration of the neighborhood apartment building shows neighbors from various ethnicities tasting this new treat with smiles on their faces, but when Mama and Papa return from the hospital to an empty pot and no cash in the register our little protagonist is sent upstairs to go to bed early. The next morning neighbors are lining up for this Jewish delight: gefilte fish. And Mama and Papa couldn’t be prouder. “You know Shirley, you have some pretty good ideas in that keppele after all,” said Mama. Cohen weaves some wonderful Yiddish words into her story making the characters come alive on the pages. (Keppele means little head in Yiddish).

Cohen’s back matter tells the meaning of the Yiddish words she uses. She also explains the story of gefilte fish, along with supplying the Russ Family Salmon and Whitefish Gefilte Fish recipe. I loved learning about Paula’s family story. Both her words and drawings leave the reader feeling like they knew her. Sadly, before this book had a chance to reach readers’ hands in early 2022 Paula passed away suddenly. She is a woman I would have loved to have met. She recorded a beautiful video of herself emotionally opening the box that contained the book, and I am so grateful she had that joyful moment. Sharing this book with friends and family is a great way to assure that Paula’s story will not be forgotten. May her memory be a blessing.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Read the Publishers Weekly obituary for this talented author-illustrator here and visit her website here.

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Picture Book Review – The Welcome Chair

 

 

THE WELCOME CHAIR

Written by Rosemary Wells

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

(A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Bookpage, Kirkus

 

Rosemary Wells introduces the reader to her family’s history in the telling of a rocking chair built by her great-great-grandfather. We travel with the author of more than one hundred books for children, and winner of the Christopher Award, on the road imagining where the chair may have traveled in The Welcome Chair with illustrations by the late Jerry Pinkney who has earned seven Caldecott Medals, five Coretta Scott King Awards, five Coretta Scott King Honors, five New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Awards, and the Original Art’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Learning about family history is so much fun, and reading the story of Sam Seigbert who was born in 1807 in Bavaria, and brought to life by Wells from a family diary, was quite fascinating. Wells’s great-great-grandfather was destined to be a carpenter, but his father insisted that he study the Torah to become a Rabbi like him and his grandfather. “It’s settled. You will not work with your hands like a country bumpkin.” But that was not what Sam wanted, so at age sixteen he cut off his sidelocks, so no one would bully the Jewish boy, and hiked north to find work as a deckhand on a freighter for three pfennigs a day. The captain noticed Sam could read and write and offered him a job logging inventory on the ship. When the ship docked, Sam “darts away across the Brooklyn docks into the screeching, shrieking, filthy, clanging, terrifying, ugly and beautiful young city of New York.”

 

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Interior illustrations from The Welcome Chair written by Rosemary Well and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Paula Wiseman Book ©2021.

 

 

Pinkney’s extensive experience led him to execute the illustrations with contour drawing and watercolor washes, and pictures using burnt okra Prismacolor pencils and pastels. It was a perfect choice to showcase the 19th century as Sam meets Able Hinzler, and his wife Klara, and is hired on to become the bookkeeper and apprentice carpenter for Hinzler’s Housewright shop. When Magnus Hinzler is born, Sam carves a cherrywood rocking chair for Klara to sit in comfortably with the word “Willkommen”  meaning Welcome in German across a panel. This is the start of the chair that had many lives.

As told by Wells, Sam moves to Wisconsin with the Hinzler family. “The rocking chair goes with them. One evening he meets Ruth and falls in love with her gentle laugh and green-gray eyes. When their firstborn, Henry, arrives Sam carves Baruch Haba—Hebrew for “Welcome”—right under “Willkommen,” into the chair’s panel so that Henry will know his heritage.

When Wells was ten, her grandmother showed her the diary that was written in spidery old German by Wells’ great-great-grandmother Ruth Seigbert and read it to her. She decided to write a memoir of the diary in the first half of The Welcome Chair that ends in 1918 and brought to life the rest of the story through stories she was told.

 

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Interior illustrations from The Welcome Chair written by Rosemary Well and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, A Paula Wiseman Book ©2021.

 

 

In 1863, Henry was killed in Gettysburg and his younger sister Helen eventually married Harry Leopold. They moved to New York, and you guessed it, the chair travels east by railway. When Helen hires Irish girl Lucy as the family seamstress, she gives Lucy the chair as a wedding present and the word “Failte”—Irish for “Welcome” is spelled out with brass letters.

We watch the clothing and people change, showing Pinkney’s research, along with the timeline. Years have now passed and the chair moves from trash on the sidewalk picked up by a junkman, to Santo Domingo nuns living in Newark, New Jersey who carve “Bienvenido” in Spanish into the wood. When the nuns pass away, the chair is placed in a rummage sale in 2010 where Pearl Basquet’s mother grabs it. “’Our Welcome Chair needs a new word,’” says Pearl.” Her father chisels “Byenvini”—the Haitian word for Welcome.

This is a beautifully told story tracing the history of what was, to the present of what could have been. If these walls could talk what would we know about old family heirlooms? Wells and Pinkney give readers a beautiful glimpse into the “what-if.” Grandparents can read this meaningful story to their grandchildren, and tell their family history to be shared from generation to generation.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Until the Blueberries Grow

 

UNTIL THE BLUEBERRIES GROW

Written by Jennifer Wolf Kam

Illustrated by Sally Walker

(PJ Publishing; $8.99; Ages 5-8)

 

Until the Blueberries Grow cover

 

 

In the sweet picture book, Until the Blueberries Grow, it’s time for Ben’s great-grandpa to move—into a home he can care for on his own. But Ben is not ready to say goodbye. Maybe Zayde (Yiddish for grandpa) can stay until the blueberries grow . . . or the grapes are ripe . . . or the snow falls . . . or the flowers bloom.

 

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Interior spread from Until the Blueberries Grow written by Jennifer Wolf Kam and illustrated by Sally Walker, PJ Publishing ©2022.

 

From Kirkus: “Ben tries to convince his great-grandfather to stay in his house just a little longer as the two celebrate a yearly cycle of Jewish holidays together. This sweet story of family abounds with food, flowers, and quality time with loved ones.”

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Interior illustrations from Until the Blueberries Grow written by Jennifer Wolf Kam and illustrated by Sally Walker, PJ Publishing ©2022

 

As a loving great-grandfather, Zayde always seems to find a reason to spend a little more time at home with his great-grandchild.

Until he can’t.

 

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Interior spread from Until the Blueberries Grow written by Jennifer Wolf Kam and illustrated by Sally Walker, PJ Publishing ©2022

 

Sally Walker’s expressive art pairs perfectly with Jennifer Wolf Kam’s dialogue-driven storyline to depict a beautiful, multigenerational relationship between Ben and Zayde. This charming story would make an excellent introduction to Jewish terms and holidays, yet it’s the universal challenge of dealing with change that makes this story relatable to any child, regardless of religious affiliation.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

Click here for a reading guide.

 

 

 

 

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What We’re Reading for Mother’s Day 2022

 

MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS 

A ROUNDUP OF WHAT’S NEW FOR KIDS

 

 

Me And My Mama coverME AND MY MAMA
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin
(Sourcebooks Kids; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

I recommend this sweet, satisfying board book that shines a loving light on Black children enjoying various mother/child activities throughout the course of a day. Told in succinct and spry rhyme, the text allows a parent or caregiver to read at a quick pace or stop with each new scene to discuss what’s happening in the art. Speaking of art, Corrin’s expressive illustrations immediately draw our eyes in so we focus on the joy, and other emotions taking place as different children spend special one-on-one time with their mamas whether that’s making pizza, being given a bath, or getting tucked into bed.

 

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle coverMAMA AND MOMMY AND ME IN THE MIDDLE
Written by Nina LaCour
Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)  
Starred Review – Booklist and Publishers Weekly 

There is so much to like about this picture book from the two-mom parents, a biracial couple, to the beautiful art that is filled with special details, and the loving familial relationship evident on every page. And though not a “Mother’s Day” book per se, it felt right to include it here.

In this story, one parent, Mommy, goes away on a business trip and the child recounts day by day how she misses her from the Sunday departure to the Sunday return a week later. LaCour details little things from a child’s perspective that mark her mom’s absence and how Mama is there to help ease the little girl’s sadness.

Added to that are Juanita’s delightful illustrations that invite lingering. One that is especially touching is when the child has her head down on the kitchen table, uncomfortable that with Mommy gone, she is not in the middle of her parents. Tender moments are conveyed in both art and prose. One very realistic event is when Mommy comes home. Readers will see the girl anticipating her mother’s return and notice that over several spreads her mood seems to go from the excitement of preparing a bouquet to sadness as she recalls how much missing she had done over the week. But after explaining her feelings to her mom, and being validated, the little girl can now once again revel in being back in the middle.  

 

All Moms coverALL MOMS
Written by Sarah Kate Ellis + Kristen Ellis-Henderson
Illustrated by Max Rambaldi
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

In this rollicking read-aloud (A Proud Partnership between glaad + little bee books) readers are introduced to a variety of moms in a clever take on all kinds of mothering. While the rhyme is not always spot on, the overall theme of the book is hard to resist. Coupled with the lively and diverse characters spread throughout the book in the colorful and expansive art, All Moms is a book I think children will appreciate.

We meet moms who are sporty, moms who are musical,  moms who fix cars, moms who are crafty, as well as those who “are early and others are late.” The book depicts moms as bosses, moms as doctors, single moms who “work twice as hard to make our lives fun.” There are dads who give hugs like moms, a grandma and grandson, and moms who “give snuggles. Some play pretend. Some moms read stories or help you make friends.” Since “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to accelerating LGBTQ acceptance,” there’s a terrific spread of a Pride Parade with people carrying rainbow flags, and Equality, Love Has No Limits and Love is Love signs. All Moms is a good reminder that moms come in all shapes, ages, sizes, and colors with assorted interests but most important is that “all moms’ love is as big as the sky.”

See last year’s roundup here.

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Picture Book Review – The Struggle Bus

 

THE STRUGGLE BUS

 Written & illustrated by Julie Koon

(Kind World Publishing; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Struggle Bus cover

 

 

From the publisher: Sometimes things are really tough. It’s just too hard. You’ve had enough. Grumble, rumble, bump and roar, the struggle bus is at your door. [The Struggle Bus] is a must-have picture book for any reader struggling with new experiences and managing emotions … Incorporating her experience as an elementary school counselor, Koon uses the accessible theme of vehicles to make this social-emotional concept perfect for the preschool and early elementary crowd. It’s also a great tool for caregivers to start conversations with children about acknowledging difficult feelings and facing fears.

 

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Interior art from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

From the inside of a grumbly-rumbly bus, readers travel through the process of helpless overwhelm to joyous triumph in this rhyming, growth-mindset picture book from debut author-illustrator, Julie Koon.

 

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Interior spread from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

Koon’s muted color palette soothes as she tackles the unsure (and at times overwhelming) feelings a child encounters when facing new challenges and learning we all “have what it takes to do hard things.” A repeated refrain invites the youngest listeners into the storytelling while ample back matter offers teachers and caregivers more information to use during classroom or at-home discussions. A delightful debut for both author and publisher, The Struggle Bus is a wonderful addition to the school SEL library.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Children’s Book Review – Piper and Purpa Forever!

 

 

Written by Susan Lendroth

Illustrated by Olivia Feng

(Yeehoo Press; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Piper and Purpa Forever!

 

Author Susan Lendroth says her daughter’s childhood love of the color purple inspired her latest picture book, Piper and Purpa Forever!, with illustrations by Olivia Feng. I’m glad to know of another person as passionate about purple as I am. In fact, the cover’s design and colors alone would convince me to pick up this book. The bonus is that this is a well-crafted story on a topic that will resonate with young readers

The story revolves around Piper who adores a particular hand-me-down purple sweater. Unable to pronounce the word purple, the little girl says “Purpa” so from then on, that’s the name used for the sweater.  Though it’s way too big at the beginning that doesn’t matter to Piper.  Much like a beloved doll, stuffed animal, or blanket, Purpa comes everywhere. Eventually, Piper grows into her sweater which is great … for a while.

 

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Interior spread from Piper and Purpa Forever! written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Olivia Feng, Yeehoo Press ©2022.

 

But when Piper’s sweater barely covers her belly button, there is no avoiding the reality that with every new day she is outgrowing Purpa. One of my favorite illustrations is when Piper is on her bed trying desperately to pull the sweater down. Her parents and relatives peek through her bedroom door knowing the inevitable has happened. The worry on their faces shows as they wonder what will happen next. Feng’s artwork, done digitally, has a childlike charm and looks like a blend of crayons and pastels. The colors are soft like Purpa and full of movement and emotion.

Everyone suggests what can be done with the now too-small Purpa. Piper’s dad thinks donating it to the school rummage sale is a good option but that’s met with resistance. Unraveling it and knitting a hat instead is her aunt’s idea. Nope! That doesn’t cut it. But her grandfather’s suggestion of using Purpa to polish his car, sends her running from the room in a rage.

 

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Interior art from Piper and Purpa Forever! written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Olivia Feng, Yeehoo Press ©2022.

 

Determined to keep Purpa as her special piece of clothing, Piper pushes her luck and puts it on, though not easily. To remove the sweater later in the day she must go through a series of uncomfortable maneuvers. The frustration is palpable in her expressions as the thought of parting with Purpa is becoming a sad reality. So when Dad brings home a plush koala, it doesn’t take long for Piper to come up with a clever way to keep Purpa close at hand.

Many parents will relate to Lendroth’s sweet story of how children often get attached to a special item and cannot accept letting it go. Piper and Purpa Forever! also allows them to use the book to broach the subject of growing up and how when using a little imagination and sometimes repurposing, those objects of childhood affection can find new ways to bring joy into their lives. When I  asked author Lendroth what she felt the takeaway was, she said, “I think the most important takeaway is that growing up doesn’t always mean leaving things behind, that you can adapt and still move forward. Or maybe the important thing is it’s ok to be really really really attached to something!”

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – Amah Faraway

AMAH FARAWAY

Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias 

Illustrated by Tracy Subisak 

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Amah Faraway cover

 

Starred Reviews – School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

Cultural connections, intergenerational love, and adventure-seeking await readers in author Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrator Tracy Subisak’s touching Amah Faraway

Since “[v]ideo chats [aren’t] the same as real life,” Kylie is nervous about visiting her Amah who lives so far away in Taipei, despite their weekly time together online. Once they arrive, Amah encourages Kylie to explore the city together,  “Lái kàn kàn! Come see!” But Kylie finds everything strange:  Amah’s apartment, dining with her extended family, city life, the night market. Everywhere they go, Kylie hesitantly “trail[s] behind Amah and Mama.”

 

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Interior art from Amah Faraway written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, Bloomsbury Children’s Books ©2022.

 

But on the day they visit the hot springs, something changes for Kylie. Dipping her toe in the warm water, she relishes in the joy of that moment and, in the days to follow, all the other experiences Taipei has to offer. From this point on, Greanias cleverly flips the lines of the story, repeating the same lines as the first part, but this time in reverse order with slight changes in context and punctuation to emphasize Kylie’s wholehearted embrace of the culture around her. 

 

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Interior art from Amah Faraway written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, Bloomsbury Children’s Books ©2022.

 

Amah’s welcoming refrain has now become Kylie’s. “Lái kàn kàn!” she calls out to Amah and Mama as she leads them to the places Amah has taken her before, only now Kylie sees them with fresh, new eyes. Energetic lines in a soft color palette weave through the book which includes Taiwanese Mandarin text in speech bubbles inviting readers to join in on the fun. 

Included in the back matter are the Taipei sights mentioned in the story,  meanings behind Taiwanese foods, and a note from both the author and illustrator about their experiences visiting their own grandmothers in Taiwan.

An engaging story set in a vibrant, diverse city, Amah Faraway illustrates how to face your fears by leaning on familial love.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Middle Grade Graphic Novel Memoir – Sylvie

 

 

SYLVIE

Written and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz

(Walker Books US; $24.99, Ages 9-12)

 

 

As we approach the one-year anniversary of Sylvie’s publication, I had to share an overdue review of Sylvie Kantorovitz’s memoir that I only recently read. I’ve been playing catch-up following an extremely busy year during which I couldn’t help but notice how many excellent graphic novels were released.

Sylvie Kantorovitz’s compelling middle-grade graphic novel memoir about growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s France was just the book I needed to read last week. It didn’t hurt that I’m a Francophile, but even readers who don’t know the first thing about life in France will finish Sylvie feeling much more familiar with it.

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Interior art from Sylvie written and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz, Walker Books US ©2021.

 

While Kantorovitz didn’t set out to write and illustrate a memoir (per her Author’s Note), memories of her childhood rose to the surface during her initial approach to drafting the novel and soon her own story took on a new life. Her candor, ambiguity at times, and relatability are what make Sylvie so rich, like the perfect crème brûlée or éclair au chocolat. Add to that her irresistible artwork (including maps which I adore, translated words to help non-French speakers, and other charming details such as chestnuts at the end of every chapter/section) and you have a novel as fresh and real as any contemporary one.

As a young girl whose family came to France from Morocco, Sylvie had to deal with anti-immigrant attitudes as well as anti-Semitism being the only Jewish family where she lived. And where did she live? Well, that’s another aspect of the novel that makes it stand it apart. Sylvie’s father was a principal at a men’s teaching college so the family was given housing on campus. The vast grounds of the school suited kids like Sylvie and her younger brother whose imaginations meant there was never a dull moment.

 

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Interior art from Sylvie written and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz, Walker Books US ©2021.

 

Growing up, Sylvie faced the same dilemmas kids face today whether that’s friends moving away, friends you have doubts about or friends you crush on, frustration at sharing a bedroom, fitting in, finding your passion, and figuring out what you want to do the rest of your life. On top of that, when Sylvie’s father changed jobs, Sylvie’s family moved away from the teaching college to a city closer to Paris. While that meant leaving behind lovely memories it also meant new opportunities.

What I loved most about Sylvie was how introspective she was. She knew how much she loved looking after her brothers and sister―we see her family grow from one sibling to three―and other young kids. Maybe I’d be a good teacher she wondered. She thrived on alone time in her room doing art and taking outside art classes. Maybe I could be an artist but could I support myself that way? And she continually wondered what she would do in the future when her peers seemed to know exactly what their path in life was. She did not like the pressure she felt from her mother to either find a rich man to marry or pursue a career in a field that didn’t interest her. She was nurtured by a caring, inspiring father and confused by a moody, often angry mother while she navigated the important coming-of-age period of her childhood. The scenes when her parents argued and the question of the big “D” or divorce arose is something many readers will understand. When she once asked her father why he didn’t leave her mother he said he loved her, something Sylvie found difficult to fathom.

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Interior art from Sylvie written and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz, Walker Books US ©2021.

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I expect many readers will enjoy reading about Sylvie’s quest for independence. Like when she finally gets a room of her own by moving upstairs to an unused storage room in the college building where her family lived. Whenever Sylvie had opportunities to study and practice art, the joy jumped off the pages right into my heart. Moments like those, captured so lovingly in the cartoon-style artwork and text, brought Sylvie’s experiences to life. I hope readers will find relevance and comfort in Sylvie’s honest and heartfelt story. The book is available in hardcover, paperback, and Ebook and is the reassuring read we could all use right now.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Please click here to read a sample chapter. 

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Picture Book Review – Chicken Chickens

 

CHICKEN CHICKENS

Written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

The charming Chicken Chickens by author-illustrator Valeri Gorbachev is back after 20 years, just in time to help a new generation of children overcome being labeled a “chicken” when feeling fearful about experiencing something new.

This 40-page picture book is about twin chickens who go to a playground with Mother Hen for the very first time. The soft colors of green, yellow, and brown bring warmth to a busy playground of cats on swings, turtles in sandboxes, and dogs on seesaws. When Mother Hen walks in holding each chicken’s fingers in hand, “The little chickens were a little scared. There was so much going on all around them.” Many children will be able to relate to that initial stimulus overload.

 

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Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

Still holding each other’s fingers (hmm do chickens have hands?), the chickens freeze up with their beaks wide open, observing the flurry of activity going on around them. Gorbachev’s art perfectly conveys the poultry’s feeling of being overwhelmed by the crowds. Despite the park animals showing kindness by asking the chickens to play and welcoming them into the new environment, we hear the chickens say, “No, thank you,” they replied. “We’re just little chickens.”

They watch pigs spinning around on the merry-go-round, but decline the offer to join them since they might get dizzy. They look up at the big cats swinging but decline the offer to swing since they might fall off. When the reader turns the page, they are drawn into the blue sky and brown slide with smiling and laughing frogs and mice playing. With eyes wide open, the chickens decline. “We’re just little chickens.”

 

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Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

When they get the courage to climb the stairs to the top of the slide, the twin chickens become immobilized when looking down. “Slide down!” shouted one of the frogs. “Don’t be such chicken chickens!” That’s when the big brown beaver with the white buck teeth climbs to the top of the slide and tells the chickens not to worry “Everybody is afraid the first time they slide.” Beaver suggests the chickens hold on to his tail as they slide together giving the chickens the confidence they need.

 

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Interior spread from Chicken Chickens written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

This incredibly sweet story about conquering one’s fears is a wonderful addition to every home and school library. It’s a lesson not only in realizing that everyone has fears of some sort, but also models how important showing kindness and empathy is toward a friend who may be struggling in certain situations. I found this book extremely heartfelt, and am so pleased that it has been reprinted for children who never had the chance to read it the first time around. The play on words using chickens as the protagonists made me laugh. “Hurray for the chicken chickens!”

Click here to read a preview.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Our Favorite New Hanukkah Books for 2021

 

NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR 2021
∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Hanukkah menorah clipart

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Starred Review – School Library Journal

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

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

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

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

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

 

Click here for last year’s Hanukkah roundup.

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Saturday at the Food Pantry

 

SATURDAY AT THE FOOD PANTRY

Written by Diane O’Neill

Illustrated by Brizida Magro

(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Saturday at the Food Pantry cover

 

 

Part of Albert Whitman & Company’s Social and Emotional Learning collection, Saturday at the Food Pantry by author Diane O’Neill and illustrator Brizida Magro encourages discussions about food insecurity and highlights the truth that all of us need help sometimes.

As their food supply dwindles and Mom pours the last cup of milk to make her special “fancy milk” drink, Molly learns they’ll be visiting a food pantry the next day. “What’s a food pantry?” Molly asks. “It’s a place for people who need food,” Mom answers. “Everybody needs help sometimes.” 

 

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Interior art from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

In gentle ways, O’Neill and Magro illustrate the characters’ hesitance and anxieties while they wait in line for the pantry to open. Molly sees her classmate, Caitlin, standing in line with her grandmother. To Molly’s surprise, Caitlin expresses feelings of shame for being there. Walking back to her mom, Molly feels confused. Is “there something wrong with needing help?” Once inside, even Mom “look[s] like she want[s] to be invisible.” But Molly reminds her, “Everybody needs help sometimes.” Later, Molly points out to Caitlin ways they themselves helped “cheer up” the grown-ups in the pantry.  

 

 

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Interior art from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

Open, honest conversations between Caitlin’s grandmother and Mom about finding and keeping employment allow for a safe space to share. Muted illustrations using straight, geometric lines provide a sense of structure, order, and calm. With minimal background in the settings, Magro allows readers to focus on each individual character, driving home the point: everyone is important, everyone needs help, and most of all, we need each other. A note in the back matter for adults and caregivers about food insecurity by Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, provides additional details on child hunger and resources to help. 

 

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Interior spread from Saturday at the Food Pantry written by Diane O’Neill and illustrated by Brizida Magro, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2021.

 

 

Whether in the classroom or family room, readers young and old can benefit from this positive, heartfelt message of hope.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Kids Picture Book Review – Princesses Can Fix It!

 

PRINCESSES CAN FIX IT!

Written by Tracy Marchini

Illustrated by Julia Christians

(Page Street Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

If you’re looking for an empowering new take on fairy tale princesses, look no further than Tracy Marchini’s picture book Princesses Can Fix It! This homage to The Twelve Dancing Princesses shows readers that princesses (and princes) can do whatever they set their minds to, no matter what anyone else thinks.

 

Workshop PRINCESSES int1
Interior spread from Princesses Can Fix It! written by Tracy Marchini and illustrated by Julia Christians, Page Street Kids ©2021.

 

At the start of the book, we learn that there is a problem in the King’s castle. The alligators from the moat have escaped and are now running about inside! The three princesses, Margaret, Harriet, and Lila, have an idea how to help. Unfortunately, the King wants them to only focus on proper princess activities rather than their passion for inventing and building. Throughout the book, the girls secretly work on their creation to fix the problem and prove their father wrong.

 

Splash_PRINCESSES_int2-3
Interior art from Princesses Can Fix It! written by Tracy Marchini and illustrated by Julia Christians, Page Street Kids, ©2021.

 

Julia Christians’ colorful and dynamic illustrations bring the characters to life and give the book a whimsical flair on every page. This, combined with the book’s poetic structure and use of repetition also gives the book excellent read-aloud potential.

Workbench to workbench PRINCESSES int4
Interior art from Princesses Can Fix It! written by Tracy Marchini and illustrated by Julia Christians, Page Street Kids, ©2021.

 

Most of all, what I love about Princesses Can Fix it! is how it manages to be both silly and meaningful at the same time. This charming picture book is about three clever and committed young girls building a contraption to solve their alligator infestation. At the same time, it’s also about how they stand up for themselves and persevere, something that should motivate little girls and boys eager to pursue their passions in the face of societal expectations.

  • Guest Review by Mary Finnegan 

Click any of the below links to purchase the book:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/

https://bookshop.org/

https://www.indiebound.org

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Picture Book Review – The Boy and the Sea

THE BOY AND THE SEA

Written by Camille Andros

Illustrated by Amy Bates

(Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 6-8)

 

 

 

 

Written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Amy Bates, The Boy and the Sea is a contemplative, thought-provoking story that depicts growing up as the ebb and flow of questions not easily answerable. 

The story begins with the main character, a little boy, who lives by the sea. Like the sea, the boy is sometimes “dark and dangerous” and at other times “tranquil and tender.” These descriptors become refrains as we watch the boy grow from his elementary and adolescent years into adulthood, wondering and wrestling all the while with the thoughts that surface with each life stage

 

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Interior spread from The Boy and the Sea written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Amy Bates, Abrams BYR ©2021.

 

Lifelong friends who know each other intimately, the boy and the sea feel “the pull of something more,” something bigger. This deep dive into life’s purpose and meaning leads to many questions. “Some … [have answers] … but many [do] not.” The boy is drawn back to the sea for answers that, in turn, pull him deeper still into life’s mystery. Andros’ sparse and lyrical text combined with Bates’ sometimes calming, other times distressing blue palette encourage us readers to pause and hone our skills in listening, examining, and learning. 

 

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Interior spread from The Boy and the Sea written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Amy Bates, Abrams BYR ©2021.

 

While children in the older picture book age range will pick up on the book’s self-reflective nuances, younger readers will find intrigue in its quiet, meditative pull. The Boy and the Sea is a great bedtime read to let go of a racing mind and wind down from a busy day. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – The Cot in the Living Room

 

THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM

Written by Hilda Eunice Burgos

Illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro 

(Kokila; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The Cot in the Living Room cover

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection 
Starred Review – BookPage 

What’s it like to walk in someone else’s shoes? Author Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrator Gaby D’Alessandro show us how in The Cot in the Living Room

A young girl longs to spend the night on the cot in her living room. “Mami says it’s for guests” only, but to the girl the cot symbolizes freedom and possibilities: having the whole living room to herself, enjoying the lights from the George Washington bridge coming in through the big window, watching television, and even sneaking in a midnight snack.

 

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Interior spread from The Cot in the Living Room written by Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro, Kokila ©2021.

 

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When throughout the week neighborhood children take turns spending the night on the cot, the young girl feels it’s absolutely “not fair” that she doesn’t get to enjoy this privilege. But what she doesn’t realize is the fear and discomfort each guest struggles through as they are separated from their parents who are working the night shift. 

I love the way the illustrations highlight the girl’s jealousy by magnifying the supposed delight each guest will have spending the night on the cot. An endless supply of candy-colored food, fun, and games in exaggerated sizes emphasize the disconnect between the young girl’s idealization of the cot and the reality of her guests’ feelings about it. For them, the cot is a poor substitute for home. 

 

 

The Cot in the Living Room int2
Interior spread from The Cot in the Living Room written by Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro, Kokila ©2021.

 

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When the young girl finally does get the opportunity to spend the night on the cot, strange and scary noises give her insight into their loneliness. Modeling her parents’ kindness and caregiving, the girl finds a creative way to make her guests feel like a part of the family.

Parents and educators searching for themes of compassion, empathy, and sacrifice will find them in this touching picture book.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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