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Celebrate the Chinese New Year With The Great Race by Christopher Corr

 

THE GREAT RACE:
STORY OF THE CHINESE ZODIAC
Written and illustrated by Christopher Corr
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

 

 

A new retelling of The Great Race, a classic Chinese folk tale, comes to us from author-illustrator Christopher Corr. In this version of the Chinese zodiac story, the Jade Emperor, realizing he doesn’t know his age, creates the Great Race in order to start measuring time. The first twelve animals to cross the river get a year named after them. Each animal’s story ensues. For those unfamiliar with the animals, they are the rat, ox, horse, goat, monkey, dog, pig, snake, tiger, rabbit, rooster and last but definitely not least, the dragon.

 

Tiger and Jade Emperor interior images from The Great Race by Christopher Corr

 

This 32-page picture book contains an abundance of brilliantly colored illustrations. Shorter scenes are set in oval shapes against bright white backgrounds. In visually exciting two-page spreads, the Jade Emperor interacts with various animals; black text is subdued into the art. Corr “works in gouaches, painting on Italian and Indian handmade papers as though he’s using a pen” and “takes a great deal of inspiration from his travels—to India, North Africa, and New England, for instance.”

 

Interior artwork from The Great Race by Christopher Corr

 

All told, The Great Race: Story of the Chinese Zodiac is another wonderful way to enjoy the stories of the twelve animals representing the Chinese zodiac.

All artwork provided courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto Books ©2018.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

THIS IS HOW WE DO IT:
One Day in The Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World
Written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Book cover image of This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

 

 

Starred reviews – Booklist, Horn Books
Included on Smithsonian Ten Best Children’s Books of 2017

“From Breakfast to Bedtime, Spend the Day with Seven Children around the world …”

Meet Romeo (Italy), Kei (Japan), Daphine (Uganda), Oleg (Russia), Ananya (India), Ribaldo (Peru), and Kian (Iran). Read Lamothe’s This Is How We Do It and spend a day with each of these real children and their families to see how their day compares to yours.

A map of the world on the end pages depicts each child and where each child and his or her family lives. The book consists of several attractive and well laid out thematic sections. Each three to four page section introduces the reader to the children from “This is Me” to “This is How We Learn” and “This is How I Help.” On each page, separate panels depict the activities of each child. Other sections include information on what children eat for breakfast and lunch, how they spell their name, and what they do after school.

Each child’s in this book’s close knit family unit consists of a father and mother and siblings. As happens with many families, there are a few challenges. Ribaldo does his homework by flashlight and sleeps on wood planks padded by three blankets. Daphine’s walk to school takes thirty minutes and she sits in a class with 68 other students.  Some of the families live in homes or apartments in large urban centers, but a few live in small villages in homes made of wood and mud. The upbeat tone and the love and happiness seen in the family photographs may be reassuring to young children whose families are facing their own challenges.

Meal times are interesting and show the great diversity of food and dinner times, while most eat an early evening meal, Daphine’s family eats at 10 p.m. Nevertheless, what will be so familiar and relatable to American children will be the illustrations of the seven families seated around a table and sharing a meal and doing after-dinner activities such as homework, playing board games, watching TV, hobbies, and, of course, reading.

The final spread,”This is My Night Sky,” presents a full moon against a backdrop of twinkling stars, a type of sky seen by children all over the world. The last pages show photos of the actual children and their families and include a glossary and a brief note on how the author collaborated with the families in putting this book together. This Is How We Do It  is a fascinating book which can be used at home or in the classroom to help children build global awareness and discover that they share much in common with other children all over the world.

See pages from the book and learn more about the author/illustrator here. Visit the publisher’s website to see a book trailer and download the free activity guide which helps young children gain a deeper understanding of the book and includes some very cool ideas!

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Hooray for Hanukkah! New Kids’ Books for the Festival of Lights

THE BEST NEW
CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH

 

 

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel cvr imageThe Itsy Bitsy Dreidel
Written by Jeffrey Burton & Chani Tornow
Illustrated by Sanja Rešček
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.

Way Too Many Latkes cover imageWay Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm
Written by Linda Glaser
Illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3-8)

I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the  humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!

Little Red Ruthie A Hanukkah Tale cover imageLittle Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Gloria Koster
Illustrated by Sue Eastland
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas picture book cover imageQueen of the Hanukkah Dosas
Written by Pamela Ehrenberg
Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.

Dreidel Dog Mensch pets in box from Mensch on a Bench pkg image

 

Dreidel Dog
(www.themenschonabench.com; $19.99, Ages 3 and up)

Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.

 

Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PASSOVER
Written by Linda Leopold-Strauss
Illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
(Kar-Ben; Hardcover, $17.99;
Paperback, $7.99; eBook, $6.99, Ages 4-9)

 

Cover image of grandpa in bed from A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss

 

Any child who has ever celebrated a holiday when someone special couldn’t attend will relate to        A Different Kind of Passover. But even those who haven’t will appreciate the sentiments expressed and the lovely twist author Linda Leopold-Strauss has added in this heartwarming story I’m delighted to share.

Grandpa is sick and has just come back home from the hospital. That means the Passover seder will be different this year and narrator Jessica wonders how that will change things, especially now that she’s going to ask the Four Questions in Hebrew. And since she’s finding it hard to imagine a seder without Grandpa, Jessica soon realizes it doesn’t have to be that way. Grandpa may be nearby tucked in bed, and wearing pajamas, but how convenient that “… Grandpa’s door opens to the dining room?” notes an enthused Jessica. When Grandpa questions his participation in such attire, Grandma remarks, “Does God care if you’re in your pajamas?” The plan is hatched and the seder will take place  with most things remaining the same as always and just a few things different like Grandpa reclining in bed and cousin Mark “getting to sip sweet wine instead of grape juice, since he has just had his bar mitzvah.”

The joy of family and tradition in this story is wonderfully conveyed through Tugeau’s muted illustrations. I love the varied perspectives he shares, especially the ones where we know it’s Grandpa looking out on his family seated around the dining room table. Nothing says everyone must be in the same room for a seder so when Jessica comes up with the great idea to include Grandpa by leaving his bedroom door open, it’s symbolic in so many meaningful ways. Leopold-Strauss has created a sweet and thoughtfully written seder story that will resonate with young readers for years to come.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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All Aboard! California, All Aboard! New York & All Aboard! Paris by Kevin & Haily Meyers

ALL ABOARD! CALIFORNIA: A LANDSCAPE PRIMER,
ALL ABOARD! NEW YORK: A CITY PRIMER,
ALL ABOARD! PARIS: A FRENCH PRIMER
Written by Kevin & Haily Meyers
Illustrated by Haily Meyers
(Gibbs Smith; $9.99 each, Ages 0-3)

 

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From the folks that gave us the irresistible BabyLit® Books comes a new series that promises to be another hit. It’s never too early to share the delights of our world with little ones whether that be via personal stories, songs, photos, books, TV, film or travel.

This attractively designed board book primer series introduces youngsters to the varied landscape of California, the stimulating sights of New York City, and the romance and allure of Paris and the French language. Each book consists of 22 matte finished pages filled with bold graphics in an array of colors that I might not ordinarily combine, but work wonderfully together. I want tote bags or tees of all the artwork, it’s just that visually rewarding!

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Interior spread from All Aboard! California written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

In All Aboard! California, we tour the Golden State on board a train heading from south to north, making stops in the Mojave desert, and along the coastal beaches that have beckoned sun bathers and surfers for decades. After that the train heads into the Hollywood Hills, past Orange Groves and then makes tracks through the farmlands of the Central Coast. Parents will enjoy pointing out to kids how the train fills up with surf boards, oranges and cows while cruising toward its ultimate destination, the magnificent Redwood Forest. But not before first visiting the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nappa’s vineyards and one other popular tourist attraction, San Francisco. The book ends with a helpful map and the official California State Flag.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! California written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.
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Interior spread from All Aboard! New York written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

AllAboardNewYorkcvrNext, with All Aboard! New York, we’re visiting the Big Apple and traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan, something I’ve done countless times (and even once got stuck in the tunnel when my car conked out!). We wind our way around Central Park and head over to take in the sights of Times Square (NOTE: Make sure to check out all the billboards as there’s lots of fun things to discover), but not before getting seated front row center at a Broadway show. What’s a trip to New York without skyscraper spotting including the one and only Empire State Building, a not-to-be-missed landmark of the Manhattan skyline? This trip also includes a ride to lower Manhattan to see the new Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial as well as a glimpse of the NYSE on Wall Street. Two of my personal faves are featured in All Aboard! New York and those are the Staten Island Ferry for a breathtaking view of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge spanning New York’s East River. Before leaving the city, you can even help your child count how many taxis appear in book. Remember also to show them the map at the book’s end with train cars running along the bottom of the two-page spread decorated with delicious foods found throughout the boroughs such as cheesecake, pretzels and bagels.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! New York written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.
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Interior spread from All Aboard! Paris written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

AllAboardPariscvrLast but not least is the City of Love as featured in All Aboard! Paris. I’m thrilled there’s such an adorable board book to not only nurture a love of the French language but of the capital city itself. It’s Bienvenue! Welcome! all around as we chug our way past the Canal de L’Ourcq and see the famous Monument at Place de la Bastille. Is that rain beginning to fall? Mais oui! It’s time to get out a Parapluie or Umbrella. The train passes close by a lovely Garden (Luxembourg perhaps) where children sail boats and lovely flowers are in abundance. Also included are Notre Dame (Cathedral), the Seine River, Sacré-Cœur atop the hill of Montmartre and the Louvre Museum. Grab a baguette and cruise on over to see the Arc de Triomphe, the Élysée Palace (or it could be Versailles – your call parents!), and 19th century iron structure we know as the Eiffel Tower. Words covered range from boy and girl to bridge and rain, and lots more, bien sûr!

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Interior spread from All Aboard! Paris written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

I’M NEW HERE
Written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
(Charlesbridge; $16.95, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

I'm New Here CVR 300

 

Across America the back-to-school season is in full swing. Some kids are returning to school, others are first timers. Many are not just entering a new school, but starting again in a new city. I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, introduces three students, Maria from Guatemala, Jin from South Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia, beginning their educational life in an entirely different country, our country, and facing perhaps the biggest challenge when many have come here under a variety of circumstances.

We easily get into the head of each character and learn their hopes and fears. There are new words to learn, sounds strange to their ears and memories of life back home that at first makes adjusting difficult at many levels. Who hasn’t been new at something, full of apprehension and self-doubt? Will I ever learn the new ways in this new land?

“Back home I knew the language.
My friends and I talked all day long.
Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds.”

I'm New Here Spread 1 300
Interior artwork from I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2015.

“Here I am alone.
Here I am confused.
Here I am sad.”

But when Maria uses some newly acquired English words in an attempt to join a soccer game, “someone understands.” The same for Jin when he discovers a fellow classmate also shares his love of super heroes and creating comics. Fatimah’s artistic talent attracts positive attention, too. Ultimately the story reinforces a positive message of acceptance, encouraging our kids to see life through someone else’s eyes and maybe make an interesting new friend at the same time.

O’Brien’s lyrical language gently moves the story forward and helps us walk in the main characters’ shoes. We understand they are not whining or complaining, just expressing real concerns that children in their situations are apt to feel. Often though, assisted by O’Brien’s evocative, muted watercolor illustrations, few to no words are required.

 

I'm New Here Spread 3 300
Interior artwork from I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2015.

In the end page’s A Note from the Author, O’Brien explains that children like Maria or Fatimah, “may have left home not by choice but by force, fleeing from political persecution, violence, or war.” Others, like Jin “may have left behind close family members.” Keeping this in mind when you read the story with your children, you’ll help build awareness and empathy that may encourage youngsters to reach out to children just like Maria, Fatimah or Jin in their schools and make them feel welcome and a part of the community.

To learn about I’m Your Neighbor — a project cofounded by O’Brien promoting the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups — please head to www.imyourneighborbooks.org.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Around the World With Children’s Books

THREE BOOKS FOR KIDS
TO PIQUE THEIR CURIOSITY ABOUT TRAVEL

Littleland Around the World Littlelandcvr.jpg
By Marion Billet
(Nosy Crow; $14.99; ages 2-5)

The cute creatures of Littleland are getting ready to travel. First, they must make sure they have everything they need, such as a camera, suitcase, umbrella, and sun hat. Next, they’re off to 14 countries to explore and learn.

This country is called the Netherlands. It is famous for its pretty windmills and colorful flowers. People here often bicycle to work and school. It’s windy today! Hold on to your hats, little ones! /This is the beautiful city of Venice in Italy. Here, they have canals, so people can travel around in boats instead of cars! In Italy, people often eat pizza for lunch. Do you like pizza, too? /Now the little ones are going to see a magnificent building called the Taj Mahal. They are in India, where it is very hot! There are all sorts of ways of traveling in India—some people even ride elephants! /The little ones have arrived in China just in time to join a festival! The dragon is dancing to the music! How many people are inside the costume?

The language is age appropriate with just enough information for growing minds. The digitally created illustrations are bright, eye catching and filled with iconic landmarks. Each spread features nine “can you see?” cultural items, such as flags, for little eyes to find. For example, the United Kingdom has a red phone booth, Australia has a boomerang, Japan has a teapot, Egypt has a pyramid, and Finland has a sleigh.

Littleland Around the World is a great book for your children to start learning about the world.

 

ChildrensActivityAtlascvr.jpgChildren’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World
Written by Jenny Slater and illustrated by Katrin Wiehle and Martin Sanders
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95; ages 5-9)

Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is filled with tons of information for older children. A “how to use the atlas” introduction explains the keys to the maps and biomes, how a world map is made, and how to use a grid reference. The book’s twelve sections cover North America, South America, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, Russia and Eurasia, Middle East and South Asia, China and Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Arctic and Antarctica. Each section includes a description and a map of the area, flags of the region, a fact file of the largest mountain range, country, desert, lake, and longest river, and a highlighted topic, such as the Amazon rainforest, oil production, tea plantation, and volcanoes.

Northern Africa: The scorching hot Sahara Desert covers most the northern part of Africa. There is very little rain here and water is hard to find. Many desert people are nomads who move from place to place to find food and water. Most people in this part of Africa live in cities along the coasts or in the great Nile river valley, where the soil is rich enough to grow cotton, rice, vegetables, and fruit. South of the Sahara there is more rain, so farmers here grow cocoa, groundnuts, and coconuts. The section includes a six-step explanation of where chocolate comes from.

The book includes an index and over 250 stickers of flags, landmarks, and animals. Six pre-filled postcards from the continents and a passport are also included. Children’s Activity Atlas: An Interactive & Fun Way to Explore Your World is a useful text for learning more about the continents and their inhabitants and resources.

 

Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure
By Jackie Clark Mancuso
(La Librairie Parisienne; $17.95; ages 3-7)

Hudson in Provence: A Paris-Chien Adventure is a tale of a dog, Hudson, who along with his owner, leave the heat of Paris and head out to the beautiful countryside. Their adventure begins with their stay in an old stone house in the middle of a vineyard. Provence is a magical place. My book says artists come here to paint because it’s so beautiful. And the Provençal dogs work. I want to do what they do, so I can feel the magic.

Hudson is curious and he meets a lot of canine friends. Gaston is a border collie who herds sheep. Hudson tries, but the sheep aren’t so easy to move. Philippe is a truffle hunter! “Truffles are smelly mushrooms that grow underground near trees. They’re delicious! I have been specially trained to sniff them out because people like them too.” Hudson tries, but finding truffles isn’t as easy as eating them. Hudson and his owner watch the Tour de France. It’s exciting, but the cyclists are too fast and Hudson can’t keep up. What can he do to be a Provençal dog? Of course, he can paint like the artists who find inspiration! So he begins to paint doggy portraits, is busy for the next month, and holds an art show.

Hudson in Provence is a fun way to learn about French culture. French phrases are aptly woven into the story, and are an easy, contextual way to learn basic words. The book features a handy glossary (or le petit dictionnaire) with translation and pronunciation. The artwork is in the style of gouache paintings, and it matches the feel of the book perfectly. You can enjoy the book trailer at vimeo.com/120236763.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

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The Inside-Outside Book of London by Roxie Munro

The Inside-Outside Book of London
by Roxie Munro
(Universe Publishing; $14.95, Ages 4 and up)

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With the publication of this new edition of The Inside-Outside Book of London first published 25 years ago, you may recognize the work of artist Roxie Munro whose illustrations have graced more than a dozen New Yorker magazine covers and filled numerous children’s books. And for those of you who regularly follow this blog, you’ll know I’m quite partial to all things English having lived in London over 6 1/2 years. In fact my son was born there. This summer we’ll be crossing the pond for the first time in nine years and I can’t wait. Thanks to Munro’s wonderfully realized love letter to London in the form of detailed exterior and interior illustrations, I know everything I want to return to once again, this time with a teenage son in tow who barely remembers all the landmarks of his early years.

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© The Inside-Outside Book of London by Roxie Munro, Universe Publishing, 2015. All illustrations © Roxie Munro.

 

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© The Inside-Outside Book of London by Roxie Munro, Universe Publishing, 2015. All illustrations © Roxie Munro.

Whether you’re an Anglophile hankering for a taste of London with its abundance of amazing architecture, or someone eager to simply see this capital city’s highlights from the comfort of your couch, this picture book is for you. Share the sights of the former Londinium with your kids. They’ll be impressed with its rich history found in every corner of town.

A city full of bridges spanning the width of the winding Thames river, London comes alive in the 40 pages of The Inside-Outside Book of London as we tour Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are stops at the British Museum (one of my faves) with the famed mummy collection dating back thousands of years plus a peek inside Waterloo Station, the original home to the Eurostar International rail service now located at St. Pancras. It’s great that we get to go inside all the buildings because so frequently a visitor’s impression comes merely from the exterior. Although I must admit, there is nothing more fun than a first glimpse of London from atop a bright red double decker bus so I’m quite glad Munro’s included this in our virtual vacation.

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© The Inside-Outside Book of London by Roxie Munro, Universe Publishing, 2015. All illustrations © Roxie Munro.
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© The Inside-Outside Book of London by Roxie Munro, Universe Publishing, 2015. All illustrations © Roxie Munro.

Of course for many, no trip to London is complete without shopping. So continue your journey on the bus to ride down the distinctly curved Regent Street, perhaps making a stop at Hamley’s toy store, and other well-known shops like Burberry’s before arriving at Trafalgar Square. Later, in the City, actually the oldest part of London, climb upstairs to the Whispering Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1666, and see if the rest of the family can hear what you whisper from the other side, “112 feet away.”

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© The Inside-Outside Book of London by Roxie Munro, Universe Publishing, 2015. All illustrations © Roxie Munro.
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© The Inside-Outside Book of London by Roxie Munro, Universe Publishing, 2015. All illustrations © Roxie Munro.

 

If you’ve enjoyed this visit as much as I’ve loved sharing it, you and your family will delight in the pleasures Munro’s illustrations convey. From Big Ben in Westminster all the way to Tower Bridge, the best places to see when traveling to London, are at your fingertips to behold.

-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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IS IT PASSOVER YET? Written by Chris Barash

Is It Passover Yet?
Written by Chris Barash
Illustrated by Alessandra Psacharopulo
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

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For me, living in Southern California, the signs that Passover is on its way are not necessarily related to the weather. Instead I begin spotting boxes of matzo and jars of gefilte fish popping up on the shelves of my local supermarket. Close local friends call with plans for the seder, and we decide who will cook what, and how much we need to prepare. Family and friends, both in the U.S. and abroad, begin posting Facebook status updates about all the cleaning they’re doing prior to the holiday. We have to get rid of all traces of leavened products in our homes. It won’t be long now until we’re sharing the tradition that Jewish families have done for centuries.

In Is It Passover Yet?, a joyful picture book celebration of the lead up to the first night’s seder, a brother and sister notice the changes that spring heralds in such as flowers blooming and grass growing. “Passover is on its way.” This phrase, repeated on every other spread, builds the anticipation for both the story’s reader and the siblings eagerly awaiting the arrival of Passover.

When all of the windows and floors start to shine.
And our whole house smells clean and looks extra fine …
Passover is on its way.

We see Dad’s busy setting the table with his daughter on the night of the first seder, while Mom’s got kugel cooking. Her son is helping her get the charoset ready. Soon the relatives show up “And everyone’s ready for stories and singing …” The songs are one of my favorite parts of our seders and it’s obvious they are in this tale, too. I love how Barash not only got the rhyming so right, but included a Nana in the book as well. I recall dozens of happy seders with my Nana, aunts, uncles and cousins, so it’s extra special when “Grandma” or “Gran” are replaced by Nana!

Psacharopulo’s illustrations light up every page with glowing colors and a cheerfulness that’s infectious. It’s lovely how she’s added in pets to the spreads because the holiday’s all about family and our pets are so much a part of the fabric of everyday life. When in the end “Passover is here!” is exclaimed, we get a last glimpse of the seder from outside an open window. Inside the the family is dining together on this cherished celebration of freedom while outdoors the miracles of nature abound.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a look at a few more marvelous illustrations.

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The Year of the Sheep by Oliver Chin

The Year of the Sheep: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac
written by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Alina Chau
(Immedium, $15.95, Ages 4-8)

Year-of-the-sheep-cvr.jpgThe Year of the Sheep, book number ten in Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series, is our recommended picture book read for the 15 day Chinese New Year festival. Combined with Chau’s stylized illustrations in a rainbow of colors, the prose in The Year of the Sheep demonstrates the personality of one particular little lamb Sydney, the story’s main character.

Prone to wandering off on her own, Sydney clearly marches to the beat of a different drummer. Not one to follow the herd led by young shepherdess Zhi and her dog Dao, Sydney lets her curiosity lead her astray and often into trouble.

When a fierce storm causes boulders to fall and block a river, the animals’ lifeblood is threatened. Sydney and Zhi wonder what can be done. “Brainstorming. Sydney started drawing her ideas. After many tries, she sketched one that they both liked.” This solution for the dried up river, should it succeed, would give Sydney a chance to show she could be part of the flock. With the cooperation of some unlikely partners, Sydney et al  enact the plan and to everyone’s delight, “The river flowed again!”

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Interior spread from The Year of the Sheep: Tales of the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Alina Chau, Immedium, ©2015

 

Parents will enjoy sharing this picture book about the rewards of being a team player. The book’s back matter  lists the years from 1919 onwards that are Years of the Sheep, the next one being 2027. There is also a  handy description of the qualities individuals born in the Year of The Sheep may have. These include being “approachable, easy-going, and cooperative.”  Readers will find a scannable QR code is provided for those interested in downloading an interactive app for the book. Free coloring pages are available on Immedium’s website.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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A FINE DESSERT: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins

One of BuzzFeed’s 25 Ridiculously Wonderful Books to Read with Kids in 2015

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal, & Booklist

A FINE DESSERT:
Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

by Emily Jenkins, illustrations by Sophie Blackall
(Schwartz & Wade Books, $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

Read Cathy Ballou Mealey’s rave review then enter our giveaway to win a copy! 

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Jenkins and Blackall combine Literature, History and Home Economics into one most scrumptious and delightful course in their stellar new title A FINE DESSERT. Following one sweet treat – blackberry fool – through four families, four cities, and four centuries, the book succeeds in creating an authentic and engaging portrayal of food history perfect for children and adults alike.

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Interior spread from A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Schwartz & Wade ©2015.

Readers will follow the creation of blackberry fool from the first scene – a field in Lyme, England in 1710, where a mother and daughter are shown picking blackberries. Smoke curls from the cottage chimney, and berry juice stains their white aprons. They return home where the mother milks the cow, skims the cream, and whips it for fifteen minutes with a wooden twig whisk. Combined with the squashed and strained berries, the mixture is iced outdoors in a hillside pit. Finally it is served for dessert by candlelight in front of a roaring fire.

The tale next leads us to a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina in 1810 where once again the dessert will be prepared. Readers will immediately notice changes not only to the characters and the setting, but also to the methods, preparation, family, and society where the dessert is served. More changes are revealed in the third preparation, set in Boston, Massachusetts in 1910 and finally in a modern portrayal in San Diego, California in 2010. Each segment is tied together by various text details and artistic elements, and especially focuses on the gusto with which the delicious treat is enjoyed. The child always gets to lick the bowl clean!

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Interior spread from A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Schwartz & Wade ©2015.

This book is a must-have for classrooms because of the infinite and engaging connections to Common Core teaching. It is also a wonderful book for families to bring right into the kitchen to prepare the blackberry fool recipe provided at the back. There is also an extensive note from the author about exploring history, research, and food preparation methods as a way to encourage conversations about work and social roles. The illustrator’s note is equally charming, and discusses the materials she used to create the unique purple endpapers.

Jenkins and Blackall have choreographed a delightful rhythm and repetition connecting the words and images throughout this book. There are endless marvelous discoveries on page after page that encourage readers to flip between the tales, uncovering similarities and differences that will challenges them to think and question. Have a second or third helping of A FINE DESSERT – you will be glad you did!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of A FINE DESSERT from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

WIN A COPY!
Leave a comment below about your favorite dessert then follow us on Facebook for a chance to win a copy of this scrumptious picture book. No entries after 11:59p.m. PST on February 18, 2015. One lucky winner will be randomly selected on Thursday Feb. 19, 2015. If you do not leave a comment and follow GRWR on  Facebook you will forfeit your chance to win. If you are not on Facebook, following on Twitter will qualify instead.

 

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The Night Before Hanukkah by Natasha Wing Blog Tour & Giveaway

The Night Before Hanukkah
written by Natasha Wing
with illustrations by Amy Wummer
Blog Tour & Giveaway (signed copy!)
(Grosset & Dunlap, $3.99, Ages 3-5)

Night-before-hanukkah-cvr.jpg“This book was challenging to write since the Festival of Lights lasts eight days,” said Wing. “But with input from my high school friends, I showed a family celebrating Hanukkah in both modern and traditional ways.”

 

GRWR Review:
It’s not easy to take Clement Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and make it work for the Festival of Lights, but Wing does it and I commend her. Aside from Adam Sandler, not many can find the appropriate words to rhyme, but I knew once I read the opening line, that Wing had found a way in this jovial Jewish holiday read-aloud:

‘Twas the night before the
eight days of Hanukkah.
Families were prepping from
New York to Santa Monica.

Wing takes readers into the home of a 21st century family celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah. This loving family of four shows that Hanukkah is not just about getting gifts. It’s about lighting the candles on the Hanukkiah (a special Hanukkah menorah) each night and reflecting, spending quality time together, playing games, sharing, helping others, and remembering the story of the first Hanukkah. In fact not a Hanukkah passes without Jews around the world recounting the tale of the brave Maccabees and the crushing defeat of their adversaries when they retook their holy temple. Wummer’s joyful  watercolors depict a crowd of Jews from that era celebrating because one night’s oil for the menorah actually lasted eight nights!:

Before their wondering eyes, a miracle took place:
the glory of Hanukkah for all Jews to embrace.

Of course it wouldn’t be Hanukkah without latkes and jelly donuts (symbolic foods cooked in oil ) and Wing makes sure to include these. She’s even introduced the dreidel, the spinning top game of chance played with chocolate coins (aka Hanukkah gelt). I’m so happy to be able to share The Night Before Hanukkah with you and am sure you’ll want a copy to enjoy with your children. Thanks to Natasha Wing for signing a copy of her book to give away to one reader. Please scroll down to enter the giveaway.

About The Night Before Series:
Based on the popular story, The Night Before Christmas, Wing’s stories are about families celebrating holidays and milestones in kids’ lives such as the first day of school and losing a tooth. Her titles include The Night Before Easter, the original book in the series, which was published in 1999, and The Night Before Kindergarten, the highest-selling title, which has regularly been on bestseller lists since its publication in 2001. The Night Before Hanukkah released on October 2, 2014, and there are three more titles on the way including The Night Before The Fourth of July out this spring.

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Author Natasha Wing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, ©2014.

About Bestselling Author Natasha Wing:
Natasha Wing graduated from Arizona State University in 1982 with a B.S. in Advertising. Wing lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband, Dan and their cat, Purrsia. They moved to Colorado for the outdoor life and Wing was “happy to find a thriving writing community and a library that is open seven days a week with excellent programs for writers.” She has been publishing for 22 years and is a frequent presenter at conferences and schools and loves to Skype with classrooms.

To find out more about Natasha Wing’s books, please check out her wonderful website: www.natashawing.com.

Read Ronna’s review of  The Night Before My Birthday.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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WINTERFROST by Michelle Houts

WINTERFROST written by Michelle Houts
(Candlewick, $16.99, Ages 8-12 )

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Michelle Hout’s WINTERFROST brings readers to the forests of Denmark for a sweet fantasy adventure that is perfect for the holiday season.

The Larsen family Christmas celebration takes an unexpected turn when the parents are called away, leaving 12-year-old Bettina in charge of the farm and her 1-year-old sister, Pia, for a few days. Bettina, a mature and responsible girl, is undaunted by the challenge. She’s confident that she can manage alone, especially since nothing ever happens on the sleepy island of Lolland in mid-winter.

But in the hustle and bustle of preparations, the family forgets to leave a bowl of warm, bubbling rice pudding in the barn on Christmas. Just as many families leave cookies for Santa, the Danes leave rice pudding for the nisse, tiny kind and clever elves who tend the livestock and stoke the fires. Klakke, the Larsen’s young and curious nisse, is hurt and resentful of the family’s forgetfulness, so he steals baby Pia from her carriage as she naps in the sunshine.

Bettina begins a frantic hunt for the baby until darkness falls. Unable to sleep, she finds a long-forgotten book belonging to her grandfather entitled How to Care for and Keep Your Nisse. From the book, Bettina learns that a disgruntled nisse might resort to mischief. Suddenly, she realizes that the forgotten bowl of rice pudding may have been the indirect cause of Pia’s disappearance.

Bettina’s belief in the nisse tenuously restored, she heads into the forest to look for Pia and enters a fantastic world of mythology and Danish folklore. Fans of tiny people stories like The Borrowers or The Littles will delight in the details that Houts incorporates, such as walnut shell chairs, firefly lanterns, and thistledown socks. The creative and unusual setting is a charming springboard for Bettina’s nisse adventures, following her as she flies on the neck of a goose, then a seagull, seeking a way to free her sister from a long-standing nisse family feud.

Hout’s unique, imaginative tale is a whimsical read for those just stepping into chapter books. The Nordic setting adds a fun twist to the fantasy adventure, and the brave, clever Bettina is an engaging heroine who thinks on her feet. Wrap up WINTERFROST as a perfect gift for young readers to enjoy during a snowy winter school vacation!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of WINTERFROST from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford

WINTER CANDLE

Written by Jeron Ashford

Illustrated by Stacey Schuett

(Creston Books, 2014. $16.95, Ages 4-11)

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“What do you do when your celebration needs a candle, but yours are all gone?”

 

Winter Candle cover

 

Nana Clover needs a candle for her Thanksgiving meal. The Danziger family forgot to get a havdalah candle. The fifth candle on Kirsten’s St. Lucia crown broke. Donte’s baby brother, Jamila cheerfully eats the Faith candle for the Kwanzaa kinara. How will Faruq and Nasreen’s father find their new apartment during a power outage?

A ” … bumpy, drooping candle” is passed from one neighbor to the next in a close-knit and supportive apartment community. At first, the candle is seen as quite ugly. Kirsten worries that everyone will laugh at her if she uses it in her crown. Donte wonders how his family will be able to “… talk about faith with that sorry thing…” The Danziger children complain that it is not braided and only has one wick. Grandpa Danziger, hushing his grandchildren, tells them ” … a candle is blessed by what it does, not by how it looks. It’ll shine.”

Sure enough, when lit, the “frumpy” little candle glows more brightly and seems to last longer than other candles. All the celebrations go through without a hitch. Nasreen and Faruq are able to use it to guide their father to their new apartment where all the neighbors have gathered to welcome the family.

A lovely and heartwarming story for the holidays (and every day) about sharing, caring, and supporting others’ needs and traditions.

Schuett’s rich illustrations glow as warmly and as brightly as the story’s candle.

Author Ashford concludes with a brief note about the holidays mentioned in her story.

Visit Creston Books to read more about the publisher and its books. This story has many wonderful curriculum connections: research, writing, crafts, and more. Please see the excellent curriculum and activity guide the publisher created for this book.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

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Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell – Blog Tour

IMANI’S MOON BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY

Today we’re excited to share Cathy Ballou Mealey’s review of Imani’s Moon written by JaNay Brown-Wood along with Ronna Mandel’s Q&A with illustrator Hazel Mitchell. Plus we’ve got a great book giveaway!

Principal’s Award (National Association of Elementary School Principals): Picture Book of the Year

REVIEW: IMANI’S MOON is written by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press, $17.95, Ages 5-8)

Hazel_Imanis MoonCover high resImani, the smallest child in her African village, has been teased mercilessly by the other children because of her size. Their heartless jabs are just beginning to take a toll on Imani’s self-confidence when her mother tells her the legend of the brave moon deity Olapa. Inspired by a dream in which she stands hand in hand with the lunar goddess, tiny Imani awakens with the desire to do something great, to touch the moon.

In pursuit of her dream, Imani tries to reach the moon by climbing a tall tree, and building herself a giant pair of wings. The village children, even a snake and a chimpanzee, scoff at her valiant but failed attempts to reach the sky. But Imani’s mother still believes in her, offering the tale of Anansi the spider as a soothing and inspirational bedtime story. “A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplishes it,” she reassures her young daughter.

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Interior spread from Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell, Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2014.

Although discouraged, Imani attends a village celebration featuring the adumu, a special Maasai warrior jumping dance. She is particularly fascinated by one dancer who jumps higher and higher with each beat. Imani wakes the next morning, determined to try jumping her way to the moon. All day and into the night Imani jumps, a little higher each time. Despite her aching legs and throbbing feet, Imani keeps her focus on the moon, resolute on her goal.

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Interior spread from Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell, Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2014.

Readers will yearn for Imani’s success in the face of her faith and tiny warrior-like endurance, and cheer when her persistence is ultimately rewarded by the moon goddess herself.

Gleaming and triumphant with arms stretched wide, the cover of Imani’s Moon welcomes readers into this magical story touched with mythology, folklore and story-telling traditions. Mitchell’s watercolor illustrations offer sharp contrast between the soft earth tones of the African landscape and the rich, star-studded night skies. Lovely details abound, from cuddly goats to beaded jewelry and colorful shuka robes.

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Interior spread from Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood with illustrations by Hazel Mitchell, Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2014.

This sweet, inspiring fantasy will rouse young readers to leap for their dreams, and dance, spellbound, until they hold the proverbial moon in their hands.

Don’t miss the charming book trailer at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DS1yRoBITEk

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Medley

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional PDF file copy of Imani’s Moon and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Q&A WITH HAZEL MITCHELL: 

Good Reads With Ronna: Imani is a beautiful person and a wonderful role model. She feels so real. Did you have someone in mind when you drew her?

Hazel Mitchell: Thank you! It’s lovely to know that. I didn’t have a particular child in mind when I began. The text conveyed a strong sense of Imani to me. So that’s where I started. And then I spent a lot of time looking at photos of Maasai children, who are very charming and full of character. So I began to make sketches. I did have a live model, but mostly for positions and expression and not for facial features. But she was a very lively model and I think that came across!

GRWR: The artwork in Imani’s Moon is joyful, even despite the local girls teasing Imani for being small. That’s an impressive accomplishment. What medium do you generally work in? Or, do you approach each picture book as a blank canvas that you’re eager to experiment with?

HM: I am glad the illustrations gave you such a good feeling – I feel I accomplished my task. I do approach each book with an open mind. I let the manuscript, the age group and the subject suggest to me the mood, the characters and what might work with medium. Sometimes an editor/art director tells me that they like something particularly that I have done before and that is the starting point. But mostly I am left to my own devices. I don’t have one set style, so I guess it can be a leap of faith on the publisher’s part sometimes! Having said that, I’m experimenting much more in my work, using more watercolour, collage and mixing in digital techniques. Imani’s world spoke to me of rich colours and textures and dramatic effects, so I had a lot of fun with this book!

GRWR: What tends to be the hardest part of working on a new picture book: Starting it? Trying to capture the author’s vision while remaining true to yourself? Finishing the book, or waiting for the next assignment to roll in?

I personally find the initial roughs the hardest part, but also the most interesting. It’s where the first thoughts of the book come out. It can be frustrating, as the vision is only half formed and sometimes it’s exhausting. The hardest part is trying to keep the freshness that you have in the initial sketches. Once you get to finals, the vision is there and it’s time to have some fun with technique and any little surprises that come along that you didn’t expect. After the book is finished, it’s like you gave birth. Then it incubates, until it finally arrives in book form. Then it’s a love/hate relationship!

GIVEAWAY: Hazel Mitchell has kindly offered one lucky reader a signed copy of Imani’s Moon. Please enter the Rafflecopter below and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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