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Wild LA: Explore the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles

WILD LA:
EXPLORE THE AMAZING NATURE
IN AND AROUND LOS ANGELES
Written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly
with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood,
Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County
(Timber Press, Inc.; $24.95, Ages 10 and up)

 

Wild LA book cover illustration by Martha Rich

 

Wild LA is an ideal book for a person like me who loves Los Angeles for its many urban activities but needs nature for balance. Consider this new book your go-to guide when tired of the same old thing.

The 332-page full-color book is divided into three parts. The first, “Wild Los Angeles,” reviews ecology and natural history in ten categories such as “Water Writes the History of Los Angeles,” “Fire, Past and Future,” and “Migration” (birds, whales, and insects). “Los Angeles sits right in the middle of a four thousand-mile bird highway, a sort of endless conveyor belt of feathered critters coming and going throughout the year.” Billions of birds use this migration highway each year.

 

int photographs from Wild LA Natural History Museum of LA County

Interior photographs from Wild LA: Exploring the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood, Natural History Museum of LA County, Timber Press ©2019.

 

A favorite section for kids—or anyone who likes looking at pleasing pictures—may be “101 LA Species to Know.” Choose from “Birds,” “Insects and Spiders,” “Mammals,” “Reptiles and Amphibians,” “Snails and Slugs.” “Mushrooms, Slime Mold, and Lichen,” and “Plants.” Each category contains gorgeous photos and summaries. For example, male mallards molt (replace their feathers) in the late summer, becoming a duller color, and are flightless for a few weeks.

 

101 LA Species to Know int artwork by Martha Rich from Wild LA

Interior illustrations by Martha Rich from Wild LA: Exploring the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood, Natural History Museum of LA County, Timber Press ©2019.

 

The final section, twenty-five “Field Trips,” conveniently provides three to four pages of information on each outing, including hand-drawn maps, tips, and trivia. Though I’ve frequented Griffith Park countless times, Wild LA still uncovered a wealth of interesting facts. I wasn’t aware of the three so-called Secret Gardens and will surely search them out on my next walk in the hills.

 

int photographs and artwork from pgs 138_139 Wild LA

Interior photographs from Wild LA: Exploring the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood with artwork by Martha Rich, Natural History Museum of LA County, Timber Press ©2019.

 

interior photographs from Wild LA with map illustration by Martha Rich

Interior photographs from Wild LA: Exploring the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood with artwork by Martha Rich, Natural History Museum of LA County, Timber Press ©2019.

 

Locals and visitors alike will find this guidebook useful and a fascinating read. Keep it on hand or use it as a coffee-table book to page through, admiring the lovely photos which adorn every page.

Wild L.A. Book Launch Event, March 26 | 6 pm – 9 pm, FREE with RSVP https://nhm.org/site/wildla 

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For Women’s History Month – Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird Blog Tour

AWAY WITH WORDS:
The Daring Story of Isabella Bird
Written by Lori Mortensen
Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
(Peachtree Publishing; $17.95, Ages 6-10)

 

cover illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

 

Before Nellie Bly or Amelia Earhardt there was Isabella Bird and, thanks to this eye-opening new picture book biography, Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, children can read about what impressive inroads this English explorer made at a time in history when a woman’s place was in the home not out globetrotting around the world, and writing about it to boot!

This “unlikely candidate for adventure,” who never felt well as a child, was born in the Yorkshire countryside in 1831. Isabella Bird suffered from a multitude of ailments and rarely left the house. That worked for awhile because, according to Victorian societal norms that she would eventually challenge, “Young ladies wore dresses. / Young ladies didn’t go to school. / Young ladies stayed home.” Countless doctors couldn’t diagnose her with anything until one doctor recommended she get some fresh air. Her father took Isabella out with him on his horse and, with his encouragement, she made discoveries that would forever change the course of her life. “Out in the wild, Isabella forgot about her aches and pains. / She breathed in new ways to see and describe everything around her.”

Captured beautifully by Caldwell’s spread below, letters from relatives abroad and other news from overseas sparked a flame in Isabella. She felt deep inside that travel would feed her soul and she yearned for the possibilities it would provide but some days she could barely get up. The tide turned for the better when her doctor suggested a sea voyage and her parents agreed.

 

interior illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

Interior spread from Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird written by Lori Mortensen and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell, Peachtree Publishing ©2019.

 

She boarded a mail steamer for Nova Scotia and from then on there was no looking back for this intrepid young woman. Her red leather notebook accompanied her wherever she went. I love how Mortensen weaves quotations of text from Bird’s own published books wherever it adds atmosphere to the story. Caldwell’s colorful illustrations pair perfectly with those lines. One of my favorites is, “There was a small bed with a dirty buffalo-skin upon it; I took it up and swarms of living creatures fell out of it …”

Her first book, The Englishwoman in America, was published in 1856, smack in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign. But when her father passed away Bird chose to end her explorations. That ultimately led to a flare up of her ailments and an onset of doldrums that, at her sister’s urging, could only be allayed by journeying across five continents. It took grit and guts and bravery to gallivant solo around the world to myriad destinations lacking in creature comforts, but Isabella persevered. Thanks to her detailed record keeping of all the places she visited, the nine additional books she wrote became bestsellers. People craved reading about the exotic locales and peoples that they’d never see in their lifetime whether that be climbing up Kilauea volcano in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), trekking across the dangerous frozen Persian “desert at the roof of the world,” or befriending a “notorious outlaw.”

 

int illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

Interior spread from Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird written by Lori Mortensen and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell, Peachtree Publishing ©2019.

 

As Mortensen’s story vividly demonstrates, the world was indeed Isabella’s home so it’s no surprise that in 1892, Bird was the first woman to ever be inducted into the Royal Geographical Society of London and a year later was presented to Queen Victoria. In 32 pages of lyrical prose, Mortensen shows young readers the personal growth and happiness that can come from travel and exposure to a vast range of cultures. Caldwell’s artwork includes just the right amount of soaring spirit a name like Bird implies.

Picture book biographies, when done well, provide a much needed window on the world of important people from the past that we might ordinarily never hear or read about. Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, does that and more. It offers inspiration and a role model for children who, long after Women’s History Month has ended, will no doubt want to seek out Bird’s impressions by turning to her original books to learn more about this trailblazer’s 19th century daring journeys. The back matter including an author’s note, a timeline of Bird’s travels and publications, Bird’s text quotations, and a bibliography make this nonfiction book ideal for both home and school. In fact, I’d give it as a gift to a child along with a journal to get them started on documenting their own travels, even if that’s just an outing to the zoo or a trip to another city.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Visit other stops below on this enlightening blog tour from Peachtree Publishing:

3/5: Let’s Talk Picture Books

3/6: Pragmatic Mom

3/7: Geo Librarian

3/8: Kid Lit Frenzy

 

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For President’s Day Read About Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler by Steve Sheinkin

ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRO WRESTLER
TIME TWISTERS BOOK ONE
Written by Steve Sheinkin
Illustrated by Neil Swaab
(Roaring Brook Press; $13.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler Time Twisters Book One cover illustration

 

 

Don’t let the title, Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler, convince you that this totally entertaining and educational read is comprised of our 16th president traipsing around in a wrestling singlet. It is actually the first in a clever fiction chapter book series that features lots of laugh out load moments that kept me turning the pages to see how the two main characters, step-siblings Abby and Doc, would pull off some whimsical time travel twists that bring Abraham Lincoln’s presidency to life but could also change the course of history.

The story unfolds with the kids in Ms. Maybee’s history class being instructed to read aloud from their textbook section about Honest Abe. When the teacher tries to get her students involved, the general reaction is a resounding “BORING!” It turns out, though, that their disinterest has negatively impacted historical figures including Lincoln. Because of that, when Ms. Maybee’s class attempts to read about America’s influential president and his profound impact on our country’s history, the students can only find references to Abraham Lincoln essentially doing zilch—”sitting in a chair, reading or heading off to the outhouse.”

In an interesting scene that sets the stage for all the story’s zany action, Lincoln travels to the present to offer words of caution. “Saying I’m boring, groaning in agony when it comes time to read about history. As I said, today was just a warning. If you do it again—well, you’ll see.” The next attempt to study the 16th president also fails, but instead of Lincoln returning to the library storage room to warn Abby and Doc, Doc disappears into the same box (portal) that brought Lincoln to the present from 1860 Illinois. Abby follows and the two wind up outside of Lincoln’s house. There they meet Lincoln and his wife, Mary who tells them the election is tomorrow. With her husband no longer caring, Mary and the kids are worried. “Then we’re doomed! … The country will break apart! Everything we have worked for—all thrown away!” The kids feel awful, certain they’ve screwed with fate, especially after their dad, Mr. Douglass, also a teacher, impresses upon the two how important history is. “But knowing history makes you smarter, helps you understand the world better. Mostly, it’s just fun.”

The problem is Doc and Abby now need to get Abraham Lincoln engaged again while also getting their classmates to realize how much history matters. This may not be easy. When Lincoln hears about a school fundraiser, a pro wrestling match scheduled for that evening, he’d much rather quit the past and attend the big event. He just happens to be in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame! At the same time, Doc has time travelled back to election day with the gym teacher, Mr. Biddle, who earlier dressed as Honest Abe (a term he despised) for a special surprise presentation at school. His goal: get the real Lincoln concerned enough to step back into his rightful place and accept the presidency. I especially liked this part because of all the facts about Lincoln that Sheinkin shares and how the two Abes get up to all sorts of shenanigans along with Abby and Doc. There’s so much humor infused into this history lesson that readers will not even realize how much fun they’re having learning about a time when our country was so “bitterly divided, mainly over the issue of slavery.” Kids will breeze through the eighteen chapters and will be delighted to learn there are more books available already in this pleasing series. The cartoon-like illustrations by Swaab add to the silliness as well as offer an easy way into absorbing history for the more reluctant readers.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for Reading Guide for Teachers

Start reading the story here.

 

 

 

 

Read more about Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words.

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George Washington’s Secret Six (Young Readers Adaptation) by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger

GEORGE WASHINGTON’S SECRET SIX
The Spies Who Saved America
Written by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger
(Viking; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

cover illustration from George Washington's Secret Six Young Readers Adaptation

 

 

George Washington’s Secret Six, a young readers adaptation of the New York Times bestseller about George Washington’s top-secret spy ring that helped defeat the British, is a must-read for history buffs and anyone who relishes a riveting spy story filled with fascinating facts and bravery by the boatload. I’m so glad this book was written so that I could brush up on my Revolutionary War details, many of which I have long forgotten (or never knew!).

The stakes were high for General George Washington in 1776. With the British occupation seemingly never-ending, Washington and the Continental Army needed to get a leg up on the Redcoats who had recently conquered New York City, forcing Washington and his army into a hasty retreat. The British had the clear advantage. They had the might of the Crown behind them and the money, meaning they had ships, weapons, food and an army ready to do all it took to defeat the fledgling nation.

Knowing he had few options, Washington chose a different approach, one that, though financially not expensive, could ultimately cost lives if discovered. The general had to tread carefully and trust was an essential component in his plan. He’d form a team of undercover operatives so he and his troops could gain the advantage over the British. Set against the backdrop of 18th century Manhattan, Long Island and Connecticut, the story of the Culper Spy Ring, which was active until very near the end of the war, is an amazing tale of heroism and stealth, creativity and cunning.

Told in four parts with forty brief but engaging chapters, Kilmeade and Yaeger recount this overlooked intelligence network that played a significant role in America’s success. The Culper Spy Ring was comprised of a reserved merchant, a tavern keeper, a brash young longshoreman, a curmudgeonly Long Island bachelor, a coffeehouse owner, and a mysterious woman, possibly a socialite, known as Agent 355. Together they employed tactics such as using code, invisible ink and even going to work for the Loyalists in order to gain insider knowledge of upcoming battle plans, troop movements and even their secret code.

Middle grade readers will learn about Nathan Hale’s brief attempt to spy and how his lack of fitting in called him out as an imposter. The British’s foiled efforts to disseminate counterfeit money to ruin the economy is also explained. They’ll read about the important role the French played as America’s ally. They’ll find out how hard it was to operate without being detected and the clever ways the spies sent crucial information via land and sea (okay, the Long Island Sound to be exact) under cover of darkness. The authors clearly convey all the risks involved in these missions which could easily culminate in hanging and that’s what will keep kids involved. I constantly found myself wondering if one of the spies was going to be caught. The danger involved was palpable with every page turn. One of the most interesting sections of the book dealt with Benedict Arnold. I knew his name was synonymous with traitor but I honestly never knew the degree to which he sold out the Americans. The devotion to the cause of freedom knew no boundaries for the top-secret spy ring as depicted in George Washington’s Secret Six (Young Readers Adaptation). Who knows how things would have turned out were it not for the six patriotic spies?

Over 25 pages of excellent back matter are included for those who crave more details. Here readers will find several pages devoted to the postwar lives of the Culper Ring, information about the use of invisible ink and alphabetical codes, a comprehensive timeline, sources and an index. Another aspect of the book I liked was how black and white engravings, paintings, illustrations and photos were incorporated to firmly ground readers in the colonial time period. This well-researched true story resonated with me since many of events took place close to where I grew up on Long Island. I’m now eager to visit many of the locales mentioned if they still exist. Kilmeade and Yaeger have written a terrific nonfiction book that provides an accessible way to get tweens and teens interested in our country’s history, if they’re not already. Perhaps it will even prompt further reading about this critical time in the formation of the United States.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Also recommended: Heroes of History Series – George Washington

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Celebrating the Year of The Pig with China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe

CHINA: A HISTORY
Written by Cheryl Bardoe,
The Field Museum
(Abrams BYR; $22.99, Ages 10-14)

 

China A History by Cheryl Bardoe book cover art

 

 

Cheryl Bardoe’s beautiful and educational nonfiction middle-grade book, China: A History, is based on the Cyrus Tang Hall of China exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. Whether or not you’ve visited the museum, the book serves as a go-to resource for young readers looking to learn more about this powerful nation.

 

int artwork and spread from China A History by Cheryl Bardoe

Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

Both a visual feast and a wealth of knowledge, China: A History provides information in a way that’s easily understood, interspersing frequent visual aids. Chapters are enlivened with full-color maps, photos, and illustrations of the people, landscape, artifacts, and rare objects. Kids will be amazed to discover all the remarkable things related to China.

 

int art and spread from China A History by Cheryl Bardoe The Field Museum

Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

Attention-grabbing stories include the 8,000 nearly life-sized terracotta warrior statutes buried with the emperor Shi Huangdi for the afterlife. Your feet may ache when reading about the painful custom of female foot-binding (officially banned in 1911). And, fascinating for everyone who loves eating noodles: “The world’s oldest-known noodles were discovered beneath a bowl that tipped over in northwest China, and then was buried under ten feet of sediment that formed a stay-fresh seal for four thousand years.” Those are some old noodles!

 

int art and text spread from China A History by Cheryl Bardoe

Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

In honor of the Year of the Pig, it should be noted that pigs were first domesticated in East Asia in 7,000 BC.

All ages will be fascinated by this lovely book. Bold patterns accent pages and bright colors highlight additional material. The text concludes with an interesting 20,000-year Time Line.

 

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

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Books Make Great Holiday Gifts for Kids – A Roundup

CHILDREN’S BOOKS TO GIVE AS GIFTS

– A HOLIDAY SEASON ROUNDUP –

 

free clip art of Christmas tree

 

cover illustration from Drawn Together by Minh Lê with art by Dan Santat
Interior art from Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat

Interior illustrations from Drawn Together written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, Disney-Hyperion ©2018.

DRAWN TOGETHER
Written by Minh Lê

Illustrated by Dan Santat
(Disney Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Drawn Together is one of my favorite picture books of 2018 and not just because it has a clever title. Lê’s spare text perfectly captures the tale of a boy and his grandfather who are separated by words but find a way to connect through drawing—a feel-good story that crosses cultures and time.
int spread by Dan Santat from Drawn Together by Minh Lê

Interior spread from Drawn Together written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, Disney-Hyperion ©2018.

Santat’s gorgeous art alternates between vivid modern color for the grandson’s images and a black-and-white traditional style when the grandfather draws. The book’s beauty will move you. The publisher includes clever details such as a sharp pencil on the spine and a surprise image beneath the cover; the two characters’ contrasting art styles serve as lovely bookends.

This book would make an ideal gift for that special child in your life who speaks a different language than you do, although any child will find it speaks to them about connectivity and family ties. It is also befitting for kids who love to draw because the book shows how pictures open up worlds. 

Starred Review – BooklistKirkus Reviews, Publishers WeeklySchool Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


THE DAY YOU BEGINThe Day You Begin book cover illustration
Written by Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated by Rafael López
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Interior spread from The Day You Begin

Interior spread from The Day You Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2018.

The Day You Begin isn’t about the day you’re born. Instead, this heartening 32-page picture book invites you to make a space for yourself in the world. Woodson grabs the reader from the empathetic first line, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Those words give voice to the uneasiness we all experience. Yet, to forge connections we must learn to take a chance and open up. López takes the story beyond the words. His colorful artwork imaginatively captures the emotional tone, showing conflicting feelings of hope and despair, isolation and togetherness.This lovely tale reaches hearts of all ages. The Day You Begin would be an ideal gift for graduates, people seeking to begin anew, or anyone who needs a nudge to remember that life is a beautiful blend of our differences.This story was inspired by a poem in Woodson’s New York Timesbest-selling memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

 

 

cover art from Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid

 

Interior spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco with illustrations by Joy Ang, Workman Publishing ©2018.

THE ATLAS OBSCURA EXPLORER’S GUIDE FOR THE WORLD’S MOST ADVENTUROUS KID
Written by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco
Illustrated by Joy Ang
(Workman Publishing; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

 

int. spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

Interior spread from The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco with illustrations by Joy Ang, Workman Publishing ©2018.

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is THE book for that kid on your holiday shopping list who loves extraordinary facts. Who knew there was a school in Iceland dedicated to the study of elves, or that fireflies in Tennessee blink in sync with one another?Travel to destinations in forty-seven countries on every continent in this entertaining journey to 100 real places. The book opens with a clever Packing List and Adventure Plan (Table of Contents). Readers can randomly choose places to explore, or read the book straight through. Each two-page spread highlights segments that are stand-alone entries, yet there’s a teaser at the end connecting a topic from that country to the next one. For example, after reading about how Cambodians built their own bamboo trains called “norries” (when the war damaged their rail system), you’re invited to read about another do-it-yourself system of transportation in Colombia—homemade zip lines! Parents who find themselves unable to put this book down can ask Santa for the adult version: #1 New York Times best-seller, The Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Whether young or old, the Atlas Obscura books take you on a fascinating spin around the globe delivering strange facts in the most delightful way.

Starred Review – Booklist

 

  • 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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Creative Chaos Links Two Terrific Tales – Teach Your Giraffe to Ski and Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI
Written by Viviane Elbee,
Illustrated by Danni Gowdy
(Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

&

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH
Written by Melissa Stoller 
Illustrated by Sandie Sonke
(Spork/Clear Fork Press, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Teach Your Giraffe to Ski.Teach Your Giraffe to Ski book cover illustration Although the chalet is cozy, nothing will deter Giraffe from donning skis and gliding with ease. A cautious child protagonist sticks close by, offering emotional support and practical advice to the novice skier.

Elbee adeptly mixes humor with tips on safety, etiquette and introductory ski technique. Giraffe grins through the typical goofs and gaffes associated with learning something new. Eager and fearless, Giraffe’s enthusiasm is tempered by the child’s caution and protective concern. Once she’s mastered the basics, they head to The Big Scary Slope! Readers will cling to the edge of their lift seats anticipating a slick, speedy, swerving conclusion to this snowy, sporting tale.

Gowdy’s cartoon-like illustrations are bright and colorful, incorporating a playful menagerie of unlikely skiers. The gleeful expressions of Giraffe and timid trepidation of the child are counterbalanced between spots and full page spreads. Slipping, sliding and gliding are conveyed via whipping scarf tails, swerving ski trails and exuberant snowy splatters. Whether you are bunny slope bound, black diamond material, or even a lodge loafer, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski is tons of fun.

 

cover art from Scarlet's Magic PaintbrushCreative determination also threads through Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, the story of a young artist who learns to appreciate the power of a hands-on, personal touch. This is a sweet debut book from author Melissa Stoller and illustrator Sandie Sonke.

Scarlet finds a magic paintbrush that does her bidding, creating fairies, unicorns and princesses that are perfect masterpieces. But losing the magic brush creates a dilemma for Scarlet. After she searches high and low for the magic brush, she tries painting with regular, non-magical brushes. While the results disappoint her, she doesn’t give up. In a clever twist, Stoller makes her protagonist get creative; painting with her left hand, trying a homemade brush and even using her fingers.

Sonke fills the pages with soft blue clouds and sparkling stars, framing Scarlet and her range of canvases with colorful detail. The magic paintbrush has emotional, animated expressions, and observant readers will enjoy following a faithful pooch that trails Scarlet throughout her artistic quest.

Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush is an open invitation for young artists to explore ideas of perfection and frustration when it comes to mastering technique and finding a personal style. The magical paintbrush element will appeal to many, while the celebration of self-expression and creativity ultimately shine as the most important aspect of original work. A perfect book to pair with paint and canvas for budding artists!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Find another recent Epic18 debut review here.

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Best Thanksgiving Books for Children 2018 – A Roundup

OUR FAVORITE NEW

THANKSGIVING CHILDREN’S BOOKS

– A ROUNDUP –


Thanksgiving clip art Give Thanks image

 

Fangsgiving by Ethan Long cover artFANGSGIVING
Written and illustrated by Ethan Long
(Bloomsbury; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Fans of the Geisel Award-winning author and illustrator will love Ethan Long’s latest, Fangsgiving, which celebrates family and giving thanks in a most unusual and often kind of gross but ghoulisly good way. The Fright Club folks are cooking up a delicious holiday feast when unexpected family members show up. It seems Uncle Gus, Aunt Bessy and their boys have a better way to make the meal and that means changing a lot of the ingredients. Garlic mashed potatoes get eyeballs and earwax added, the turkey gets burned to a crisp and the pumpkin pie gets maggot meatballs thrown in. YUCK! Vladimir is not happy but is determined to look on the bright side given the holiday. But when the dining room goes dark because Uncle Gus can’t handle the daylight, his dog Spike has “devoured everything!”

Fortunately this provides a way for the Fright Club and family to team up to create another meal and make the most of their time together.  Long’s laughter inducing illustrations bring the revolting repas to life and will bring smiles to many young faces eager to see how the Fright Club fares under trying circumstances. This clever approach to the traditional Thanksgiving meal and holiday, though rather unappetizing, makes for a refreshing and fun new read this season.  – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Over The River and Through the Wood by Emma Randall cvr artOver The River and Through The Wood
by Lydia Maria Child
Illustrated by Emma Randall
(Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Child’s poem turned song, Over The River and Through the Wood, is a perennial favorite at Thanksgiving time, but to be honest I never heard it in its entirety so I’m grateful to have this lovely paper-over-board picture book! In Randall’s version, the siblings, who I always imagined were in a great big sleigh beside a slew of family, are taking in nature’s beauty as they sleigh their way alone to Grandma’s house. But not for long. There are moose, beavers, foxes and bunnies to behold in the winter wonderland as well as majestic purple mountains. Soon dusk arrives but the horse knows the way so young readers don’t have to worry the children will get lost. It also appears in Randall’s illustrations that the animals are accompanying the kids on their journey, an added bonus when reading the book aloud and sharing the art. While it’s blistery cold outside, Grandma’s house is warm and welcoming inside, just the kind of place any child would love to visit. I was surprised at the ending when everyone sits around a table outside including a couple who are likely the children’s parents, but I don’t think kids will mind one bit. In fact, that way the animals are portrayed around the table makes the meal look extra special. Enjoy this festive read with family for a special holiday tradition. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Kiddie Table by Colleen Madden cover artTHE KIDDIE TABLE
Written and illustrated by Colleen Madden
(Capstone Editions; $15.95, Ages 4-8)

Colleen Madden’s brought this common holiday dilemma to the fore with her humorous take on sitting at The Kiddie Table, a fate worse than death for tweens or anyone for that matter who feels they should be seated with the adults. This fancy dressed young girl of eight is unhappy at having to share a table with little ones. Adding insult to injury is the sippy cup with a lid she’s been give along with table manners of the toddlers. One of my favorite lines, “Why am I stuck with this pacifier crowd?” drives home the point that the age and maturity range of the kids she’s sitting with leaves something to be desired. Told in slightly uneven rhyme, the story still resonates. When is a good age to move to the big people table? She doesn’t think it’s cool to be with a bunch of drooling, messy kids and that makes perfect sense. Only stewing in the situation doesn’t help.

When the miffed eight-year-old eventually melts down, yelling “This is the WORST Thanksgiving I’ve ever had in my entire life!” all the little ones erupt by throwing food and the grownups look aghast at the goings on. Luckily tween’s mom explains that asking to switch seats would have been a better approach than yelling but she also acknowledges how being seated with the babies might not have been easy. Ultimately things fall into place for the girl when she leaves the kiddie table and chats with an older cousin amongst the adults. As the evening comes to an end, the tween assumes more responsibility like cleaning up and helping the youngsters prepare to go home. Madden’s artwork is full of festive colors and expressions and reactions that pop off the page. I got a kick out of the girl’s face getting angrier and angrier and also when she yells so loud even a pregnant guest’s baby kicks! The cover alone made me want to dive in. The emotional build up of the art flows a bit better than the prose, but the essence of the story, about self-advocacy and that awkward in-between age rings true and something many children will relate to. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Food Fight! cover illustrationFOOD FIGHT!: A Mouthwatering History
of Who Ate What and Why Through the Ages
Written by Tanya Steel
(National Geographic Kids; $19.99, Ages 8-12)

Food Fight! A Mouthwatering History of Who Ate What and Why Through the Ages is wealth of information for kids interested in food, history, trivia, or cooking. From the Prehistoric Era through the Future World, a variety of facts are communicated in manner that’s easily understood. Each section opens with “A Bite-Size History” segment and concludes with a fun-filled short quiz.

Laid out in colorful panels, the data is abundant and accessible. Thirty kid-tested and historically inspired recipes have captivating names such as Roast Mastodon on a Stick (mastodon not required), Rosie the Riveter’s Chocolate Bread Custard, and, just in time for the holidays, Astronaut Fruitcake.

A recurring column “Table Matters” tells us why, for example, kids sit at a different table for the Thanksgiving meal. “Yucky Habits of Yore” delights with disgusting dishes such as the popular Ring-Around-the-Tuna which, yes, involved a whole can of tuna, stuffed olives, celery, and onion encased in wobbly lime Jell-O. Kids who enjoy fact-filled books or cookbooks will lose themselves in these pages.

National Geographic Kids does not disappoint with gorgeous photos throughout. Best-selling author and global food industry leader Tanya Steel is a former editor at Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, former editorial director of Epicurious, Clean Plates, and Gourmet.com, and an originator of “The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner” hosted by former First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House (a national recipe contest for kids aged 8 to 12 from 2012-2016).
– 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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Queen for a Few Days – Judy Moody and The Right Royal Tea Party by Megan McDonald

JUDY MOODY AND THE RIGHT ROYAL TEA PARTY
Written by Megan McDonald
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 6-9)

 

cover art by Peter H. Reynolds from Judy Moody #14 by Megan McDonald

 

With British royalty in the news so frequently of late, it seems only fitting to share Judy Moody and The Right Royal Tea Party, a brill new chapter book from Megan McDonald that is sure to get readers raring to look up their family trees. As always, this internationally best-selling series features the inimitable artwork of Peter H. Reynolds, bringing the plucky, sometimes stubborn and bossy, but always irresistible Judy Moody to life. Reynolds’ illustrations keep the story fresh and relatable from start to finish.

Judy Moody’s learning about family trees in Social Studies and teacher Mr. Todd wants everyone to research their lineage and report back. Lovable Grandma Lou’s got some interesting facts from her husband’s side of the family including one relative who died a hero on the Titanic and another who, family lore has it, goes back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In fact the name ‘Moody’ means brave and that long ago brave cousin might possibly have rescued someone from the Tower of London, the famous prison. Well that’s all Judy needed to hear to decide her ancestry’s tied to that of the current royal family, namely the Queen. It makes sense to Judy since she has a pen pal there already and her favorite color, purple, is the color of nobility. So no surprise that it doesn’t take long for Judy to imagine herself as Queen. She even writes a fab and funny letter to HRH with questions that are sure to crack up young readers. Here’s one of my favorite questions: Can you make someone bring you a snowball in the middle of summer? In true Judy Moody style, this young wanna-be royal creates a castle in her backyard and even digs a moat causing some royal run ins with her brother, recently dubbed Sir Short Shanks.

When visiting a nearby castle with her family, Judy and her younger brother, Stink, spy her frenemy Jessica Finch enjoying a tea party on the premises. Blimey! How could Jessica have all the fun and all the tea? Judy decides she’s going to throw a high tea party of her own, a right royal one. Only things go south quickly once Jessica Finch shares her family tree in class 3T and Judy’s seeing all shades of blue. Does she smell a rat or is she related to its keeper? Crikey! What’s a royal red-head to do? When no one shows up to her party, Judy’s dreams of queendom fade fast. Luckily a pinkie promise to keep a secret secure saves the day and Judy bounces back like any noble blooded royal would.

Filled with kid-friendly facts and puns galore, Judy Moody and The Right Royal Tea Party also includes lots of British English words and expressions explained in the back matter. It feels like McDonald had a terrific time writing the book because it reads so effortlessly and the humor flows from one fun scene to the next. Now that there’s going to be a royal birth this spring, kids will find this timely fourteenth book absotively posolutely the bees knees, no lie! 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read a sample chapter and remember to visit judymoody.com!

 

 

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Punny, funny history of American English – An Inconvenient Alphabet by Beth Anderson

 

AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET:
BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION
Written by Beth Anderson
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

book cover art from An Inconvenient Alphabet by Beth Anderson

 

       

Anderson’s debut picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, will resonate with young readers who are in the thick of mastering the spelling oddities of American English. While some may doubt they have anything in common with Noah Webster or Ben Franklin, Anderson makes a convincing case why the two revolutionaries should be lauded for efforts to unite a young America through common spelling and language conventions.

Writer and printer Benjamin Franklin was frustrated by inconsistent spelling. He tried to simplify the alphabet by removing extraneous letters, but his work did not catch on. Post-Revolution, Noah Webster was also vexed by grammar and pronunciation differences. His solution was the creation of a written guide to American English, but that also did not win public favor.

 

int spread 1 from An Inconvenient Alphabet

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 


When Franklin and Webster finally met in Philadelphia, their shared interests in reading, writing, language and education sparked a new synergy between them. They agreed that 
“Using twenty-six letters to write forty-four sounds caused nothing but trouble.” Together they decided to devise a new alphabet in which letters matched sounds and sounds matched letters. 

Franklin, the elder partner, left young Webster to the task of winning the hearts and minds of Americans to these spelling reforms. It was a long, uphill battle, even for these two accomplished and educated thinkers, to reach their ambitious goal. Yet Webster’s ultimate solution – a dictionary – was successfully published in 1806 with 37,000 entries, laying the groundwork for the spelling and grammar resources we use today. 

 

int spread 4 from An Inconvenient Alphabet

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 

Anderson’s illuminating text incorporates playful examples of inconvenient homonyms and confusing phonetic spellings that readers will appreciate. Baddeley cleverly energizes the subtle wordplay with colorful block letters that envelop and accost the main characters. Whimsical wallpaper, silly signage and quirky colonial architecture offer bold and brilliant punny details. In addition, charming dog and cat characters, explained in the postscript, provide lighthearted counterpoint to the “two men wearing tights and ponytails” throughout.

Thoroughly researched and delightfully presented, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET is a unique look at a new kind of “revolution” and a lively choice for its approachable introduction to the history of American English.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Find another #Epic18 review by Cathy here

Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

 
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A Bibliophile’s Dream – Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

LOST IN THE LIBRARY:
A STORY OF PATIENCE & FORTITUDE

Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Stevie Lewis
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cover illustration from Lost in the Library

 

I practically live in my local library so I’ve always found books about them quite appealing. Josh Funk’s latest, Lost In The Library, is no exception. Even the colors illustrator Stevie Lewis has used look like library colors: warm browns and beiges, deep rusts, soft greens and grays. I could even feel the cool hallways, hear the echoes of feet and the crisp flipping of page turns and, last but not least, smell centuries-worth of books, some old and dusty, others new and slick.

That brings me to Funk’s wonderful story about two iconic library lions who sit atop plinths in front of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. Patience and Fortitude, so dubbed by Mayor LaGuardia, have rested in those spots since the 1930s. Lost in the Library, a rhyming picture book, begins with Fortitude noticing that Patience is missing. He then heads into the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (aka the Main Branch) to find his friend and, thanks to his search, provides readers a vicarious visit inside this 100 plus years-old library. While hunting in the wee morning hours before opening time, Fortitude meets various statues, paintings and even a lion fountain located throughout the building’s abundant and beckoning rooms and halls. Each new encounter brings him closer to Patience with hints for savvy youngsters that the lion is no stranger to the vast corridors of the NYPL.

 

int spread of lion and paintings from Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

Interior illustration from Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude by Josh Funk with illustrations by Stevie Lewis, Henry Holt BYR ©2018.

 

During a well-timed moment of reflection, Fortitude shares how he and Patience weren’t always pals. In fact Fortitude initially mistook Patience’s shyness for rudeness but with time the lions grew close. The main feature that helped form the bond of their friendship was Patience’s gift of storytelling. “Fortitude cherished each one.” Determined now to find his buddy, Fortitude, with the help of a trusty Visitor’s Guide, finally locates Patience in the place most adult readers likely suspected, The Children’s Center. With its bright, welcoming colors, the room is filled with everyone’s favorite books by their beloved authors and illustrators. It seems the storytelling lion’s secret source was there on the shelves of the library all along! 

 

int spread by Stevie Lewis from Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

Interior illustration from Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude by Josh Funk with illustrations by Stevie Lewis, Henry Holt BYR ©2018.

 

There aren’t a lot of people in the story, but artist Lewis has given those who briefly appear a cool retro style which adds to the timeless quality of the library’s decor so beautifully illustrated. And I love how Funk seamlessly weaves Fortitude’s quest for Patience with the library tour and notable library attractions. I cannot wait to go back to NYC to have another visit and I bet attendance has soared since this book’s publication! The back matter includes interesting information about the library’s lions and other facts that even I, a former New Yorker, didn’t know. This touching tribute to libraries everywhere and the enduring power of great stories will endear it to readers young and old. Getting lost never felt better.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Two Creative Crop Tales: Rice From Heaven & Hey, Hey, Hay!

RICE FROM HEAVEN:
THE SECRET MISSION
TO FEED NORTH KOREANS

Written by Tina Cho
Illustrated by Keum Jin Song
(Little Bee; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

&

HEY, HEY, HAY!:
A TALE OF BALES
AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM

Written by Christy Mihaly

Illustrated by Joe Cepada
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Grasses and grains make great stories in two new August picture books from Epic18 authors.

Cover art from Rice From Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North KoreansDrawing from her own personal experience, author Tina Cho writes a compelling fictional story about RICE FROM HEAVEN: THE SECRET MISSION TO FEED NORTH KOREANS.

Yoori, a young South Korean girl, has listened to her father, Appa, talk about his difficult childhood in North Korea. His compelling stories of hardship and hunger lead Yoori and Appa to volunteer for a secret nighttime mission; sending packages of rice over the border via special balloons.

When father and daughter arrive near the border, local villagers protest and chant, “Don’t feed the enemy.” In dismay Yoori says “The hope in my heart withers like a dying rice stalk.” But she rallies her courage and persists in completing the task at hand. With other volunteers, Yoori and Appa help inflate balloons, attach containers of rice, and send them floating over the border under starry skies.

Song’s vibrant illustrations markedly differentiate the two countries with a stark color palette. A verdant and lush South Korea features plentiful orange and pink flowers, fruits and green landscapes. Alternately, North Korea is shown isolated within a clear bowl, brown, barren and withered. The dramatic contrast peaks on a poignant double spread showing two North and South Korean girls face one another. While large grey mountains loom in the distance, the two children remain separated by nothing more than a small stream of clear running water.

Cho provides additional information on the political and cultural history of the Korean peninsula. This informative story is hopeful, compassionate and timely.

 

cover art from Hey, Hey, Hay!: A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make ThemIn HEY, HEY, HAY!: A TALE OF BALES AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM author Christy Mihaly tells a summery story about the process of harvesting hay. The bales will be stored in the barn, ready to break out a bit of summer for a hungry horse on a cold winter day.

Standing in waist-high, thick green grass that spills across the long, rolling horizon, a young girl and her mother observe that the fields are ready for the haying to begin. “Mower blades slice through the grass. / A new row falls with every pass. / Stalks and stems are scattered ’round. / The scents of new-mown plants abound.” The rhythmic thunk-thunk, chunk-chunk phrases echo the mechanical beats of the machinery employed – a mower, tedder, rake and baler. Mihaly explains the terminology in a helpful glossary of “haymaking words” that add richness to the rhyming farming narrative.

As the mown hay dries, mother and daughter refresh themselves with switchel, a traditional cold haying drink of ginger, vinegar and maple syrup. For those inspired to try it, the recipe is included! Raking and baling finally lead to the satisfying conclusion of a crop safely stacked in the barn, and time to ride and play with the patiently waiting pony.

Cepada’s illustrations capture the vast fields, broad skies, and varied haying equipment with detail, vibrancy and color. Green grasses fade to olive-yellows as tinted clouds sweep across the pages. The tractors and barn are a cheerful, traditional red, and the immense rolled hay bales are textured with prickly perfection. Each generously proportioned oil-and acrylic image is paired with succinct and snappy text that explicates and enhances the unique and creative story.

Good reasons to harvest both of these titles about bounty on your bookshelves!
 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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A New Paperback Edition of It’s a Firefly Night is Now Available

IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT
Written by Dianne Ochiltree
Illustrated by Betsy Snyder
(Blue Apple Books; $12.00 Paperback, Ages 3-7)

 

cover art by Betsy Snyder for It's a Firefly Night by Dianne Ochiltree

 

Five years ago Good Reads With Ronna first reviewed Dianne Ochiltree’s splendid It‘s a Firefly Night. We’re back to introduce the story for a new audience to enjoy since it’s just come out in paperback from Blue Apple Books. This new edition features an attractive glittering cover that adds to the magical feel of the story. With at least five weeks left of summer, there’s still time to enjoy the wonder and delight that fireflies bring with “their dancing-light show” to all who see them. 

What child (or adult for that matter) doesn’t love fireflies? After all, they are the first sign that summer has truly arrived. It’s a Firefly Night is a beautiful and joyful picture book that celebrates every child’s rite of passage into the warmest season of the year. Additionally the story demonstrates a strong daddy daughter bond as evidenced by his encouragement of his child to explore the night sky.

The concise flowing, rhyming prose by Dianne Ochiltree offers the youngest readers insight into the story of a little girl and her dog who are out in the yard with a jar, chasing, capturing and releasing fireflies back into the air. Just reading the book will make you want to get out into the fresh air with your family. In the back of the book is a spread with factual information about fireflies. Did you know that fireflies are beetles? There’s also a page with prompts to get kids drawing, counting and writing about fireflies.

 

“Flickering quicker,
they sparkle and shine.
I love catching fireflies,
but they are not mine.”

 

FireflyNight_int_illustration by Betsy Snyder

Interior spread from new paperback edition of It’s a Firefly Night by Dianne Ochiltree with illustrations by Betsy Snyder, Blue Apple Books, ©2013

 

What makes this book standout are the vivid collage illustrations by Betsy Snyder. The colors are both deep and brilliant, depicting the most magical night sky you could ever imagine. It’s a Firefly Night is a great way to kickoff summer with your kids. Just be prepared to get out in the yard with them chasing those glowing parklers as soon as they appear. Click here for a link to a downloadable story hour kit ideal for libraries, bookstores, classrooms and families.

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Step Back in Time to the Fantasy World That is Willa of the Wood

WILLA OF THE WOOD
Written by Robert Beatty
(Disney-Hyperion Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover illustration from Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty

 

In Willa of the Wood, a middle-grade fantasy novel, twelve-year-old Willa is one of the last woodwitches in her Faeran clan. Willa lives with her mamaw, who teaches her how to communicate with plants and animals. Their kind are called “the old ones” by the Cherokee and “night-spirits” by the white-skinned homesteaders. Though Willa’s streaked and spotted skin blends into natural surroundings, she is as real as any other creature.

The year is1900 and, in the Great Smoky Mountains, Willa’s world is changing. The day-folk build unnatural dwellings from the carcasses of murdered trees and hunt the forest’s animals with their killing-sticks. The Faeran dwindle under the strict rule of their deified leader, the padaran. He demands that the young ones steal from the day-folk. Willa is the clan’s best thief because those who don’t return to Dead Hollow with a full satchel are denied food or physically punished. The padaran convinces them, “There is no I, only we.”

When Willa’s discoveries make her question the padaran’s decisions, she must choose between subservience to her clan’s new ways or accept the consequences of defiance.

The book’s twists will keep you guessing! Beatty pulls you into this captivating world with depth of setting and by showing us Willa’s many facets. Because of the scenes involving death, the padaran’s cruelty, and other complex issues, younger children may benefit from reading this book with an adult. Rich in story and detail, Willa of the Wood satisfies with its conclusion and promises to make readers eager for the next installment.

Willa of the Wood is the first book in a new series by Robert Beatty, known for his #1 New York Times best-selling Serafina series.

 

  • 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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Write On, Irving Berlin! by Leslie Kimmelman

 

WRITE ON, IRVING BERLIN!
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by David C. Gardner
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)

 

book cover image from Write On, Irving Berlin! by Leslie Kimmelman

 

This quote says it all – 

“Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music.”

— Jerome Kern

It’s been almost 30 years since we lost the brilliant musical talent, Irving Berlin, but his music lives on. In fact, the great news is that we can frequently hear some of his most famous songs throughout the year at sporting events, at Christmastime and in musical revivals across the country. Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by David C. Gardner is billed as a lyrical story of an immigrant and the composition of “God Bless America.” This picture book biography provided the interesting back story of the man behind so many hits including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “Putting On The Ritz”, “White Christmas”, “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” as well as all the wonderful songs from Annie Get Your GunEaster Parade and many others.

 

interior artwork of Israel Isidore Baline arriving in N.Y. from Write On, Irving Berlin!

Interior spread from Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

When it became too unsafe to remain in Russia for Jews, five-year-old Israel Isidore Baline and his family traveled by ship to America in 1893 to begin a new life. Thousands of immigrants arrived at Ellis Island in New York with barely anything but memories of their homeland. But at least they were safe and free. In school, Israel went by the name of of Izzy but found it difficult to focus on learning. Music filled his head. That was no surprise. In Russia his father had been a cantor, “standing side by side with rabbis, singing and filing synagogues with beautiful music.”  Sadly, Izzy’s father passed away when the boy was just thirteen. He left school and his family so as not to be an added burden and struck out on his own. What did he do? He sang wherever he could get a paying job. He also wrote song lyrics although he couldn’t read or write music! He actually hummed his tunes and had someone else write down what he created. Pretty impressive I’d say. By this time Izzy was calling himself Irving Berlin and had sold his first song for 37 cents. He found a job at a music publisher and, since ragtime music was all the rage, he wrote Alexander’s Ragtime Band which became “a smash.”

 

interior artwork from Write On, Irving Berlin! pg 14 spread ragtime

Interior spread from Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

Soon Irving Berlin married but not long after the wedding, his wife Dorothy became ill and died. He turned to his music to get him through his grief, still grateful for all that his new country had given him. During WWI Berlin was drafted into the army where he wrote songs to lift the spirits of his fellow soldiers. After that he found love again with Ellin and wrote the song “Always” for her. One hit followed another and Berlin’s popularity grew. He seemed to live and breathe music and wrote songs at any time of the day or night and in any place, including the bathtub!

 

interior artwork p 21_22 from Write On, Irving Berlin! bathtub scene

Interior spread from Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

It probably took little time to write one of his all time greats, “God Bless America”, a song that celebrates its 100th or 80th anniversary this year depending on whether you count when he first composed it or when he released it decades later. I had no idea Berlin donated all the proceeds from the song to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America or that people weren’t happy that a Jewish man, an immigrant, had written the song. What stunned me was those same folks could again not embrace his other huge hit, “White Christmas” for the same reason. Despite that, Berlin is said to have told a friend he thought it was the best song anybody had ever written. There is more to learn about this amazingly talented man such as how he traveled to war zones during WWII to help entertain the troops and how his fount of song ideas seemed ever flowing. Kimmelman’s included an author’s note in the back matter where I learned Berlin not only helped found the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) but in his lifetime he received not only the Medal of Merit from President Truman but the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Eisenhower as well.

 

Nothing stopped Irving from writing int artwork from Write On, Irving Berlin!

Interior spread from Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

Kimmelman’s shared just the right amount of information with her prose although there is so much material about Berlin to choose from given his long career.  I liked how, since this is an anniversary year for “God Bless America”, she included that very line at various points throughout the book. Looking at Gardner’s beautiful historical imagery with its water color quality, readers will get a terrific sense of time, place and mood. Prepare to be transported back by both Kimmelman’s words and Gardner’s illustrations to a time when Tin Pan Alley was turning out the hits and Irving Berlin was at the top of his game. I recommend reading the book while playing a selection of some of his songs which can be found here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another picture book biography here.

 

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