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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – The River That Wolves Moved

 

 

THE RIVER THAT WOLVES MOVED:
A True Tale from Yellowstone

Written by Mary Kay Carson

Illustrated by David Hohn

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99,  Ages 5-9)

 

 

The River That Wolves Moved cover wolves river fish in Yellowstone

 

The title of Mary Kay Carson’s new picture book drew me in: The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone. What?! How? I wanted to find out. Using the structure of “The House That Jack Built,” we learn why wolves are a crucial part of the ecosystem. Without them, elk overpopulate, overgraze, and, ultimately, cause muddied rivers to forge different paths.

Pages incorporate new lines while repeating what’s come before. Additional information is provided below the main text to paint a broader picture of each animal’s contribution to diversifying the environment.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int1 pack of wolves along river
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. In the subsequent years, wolves were legally hunted, trapped, and poisoned by rangers and ranchers. By the early 1900s, wolves were gone. Facts are presented in a manner that kids can understand and, rather than seeing wolves as the bad guys, we learn they are helpful and necessary.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int2 walking along the riverbank
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

The illustrations by David Hohn capture the beauty of nature through the eyes of a young girl and her grandfather. Evocative, warm art combined with the lyrical text make this important topic accessible for the youngest child, hopefully fostering environmental stewardship.

 

 

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Nonfiction STEM Picture Book Review – Deep, Deep Down

 

DEEP, DEEP DOWN:
The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench

Written by Lydia Lukidis

Illustrated by Juan Calle

(Capstone; $18.99; Ages 7-11)

 

Deep, Deep Down cover art of Mariana Trench

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Deep, deep down, at the very bottom of the ocean, lies a secret world. Through lyrical narration, this spare-text STEM picture book takes readers on a journey to a place very few humans have ever been—the Mariana Trench. The imagined voyage debunks scary myths about this mysterious place with surprising and beautiful truths about life at Earth’s deepest point. Deep, Deep Down shows a vibrant world far below, and teaches readers how interconnected our lives are to every place on the planet.”
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Deep Deep Down int1 submersible
Interior spread from Deep, Deep Down written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Juan Calle, Capstone Publishing © 2023.

 

Review:

Lydia Lukidis and Juan Calle bring the underwater world of the Mariana Trench to life in Deep, Deep Down,  a narrative nonfiction title with art that hints at the color and form that may be hidden down below. (Since no one knows for sure what that world would be like to the human eye, I appreciate the disclaimer given on the copyright page, though would like it to be larger to grab readers’ attention.) And while I would not call this a “lyrical” title (it doesn’t have the consistent rhythm I would expect from a lyrical title—even the non-rhyming ones), the text reads smoothly and the author has done a good job of describing this world using vivid, child-friendly verbs and adjectives.

 

Deep Deep Down int2 Sea Cucumber
Interior spread from Deep, Deep Down written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Juan Calle, Capstone Publishing © 2023.

 

I especially love the added sidebars and captions on each spread that indicate both where we are in the ocean and the creature highlighted in the illustration. These added bits of information (and the three pages of backmatter!) make this title perfect for all ages of fact-hounds; however, I’d like to point out that the suggested age for this picture book is seven to eleven years old. I can see this title being used in the classroom both as a science text and an excellent example of vivid language, and becoming a favorite of students who just want to sit and browse the beautiful illustrations.

*A Recommended Read

Click here for an Educators Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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Picture Book Review by Armineh Manookian – The Black Hole Debacle

THE BLACK HOLE DEBACLE

Written by Keri Claiborne Boyle

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99; Ages 4-7)

 

The Black Hole Debacle cover

 

 

 

Written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, The Black Hole Debacle is the perfect choice for any child who has a deep wonder for outer space and an appreciation for stories with heart and humor. 

An astronomer at heart, Jordie “even name[s] her dog Neptune.” When a literal out-of-this-world incident happens in her class one day, she is more than excited to explore it. A little black hole, “churning in [her] desk” is eating anything and everything around it and is hungry for more.

 

The Black Hole Debacle int1 bedroom classroom
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Like finding a pet, Jordie decides to keep the black hole, bringing it along with her on the bus ride home. After devouring belongings in her backpack, the black hole starts gobbling items in the closet where Jordie has put it to hide from her parents. The black hole doesn’t discriminate; all items are fair game–with one humorous exception. 

 

The Black Hole Debacle int2 schoolbus
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Readers will love this zany concept of a black hole that appears out of nowhere and causes problems of cosmic proportions. Adding to the delightful absurdity is its disdain for Jordie’s unicorn underwear that it spits out on more than one occasion. Like Boyle’s language, Melmon’s adorable and vivid illustrations add personality and pizazz to the antics of this one-of-a-kind character.

 

 The Black Hole Debacle Neptune the dog
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

When Jordie discovers Neptune’s empty collar, she finally decides enough is enough and finds a clever way to reclaim her possessions including her beloved dog. She sends the black hole back to where it belongs–in a galaxy far, far away. 

A fun, early elementary-grade-level read, this STEM picture book includes intriguing facts about black holes and a link for further study. 

Click here for a teaching guide.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Picture Book Review by Christine Van Zandt – If Tigers Disappeared

 

IF TIGERS DISAPPEARED
 If Animals Disappeared series, book 5

by Lily Williams

(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

 

 

If Tigers Disappeared cover

 

 

Stand up and roar for Lily Williams’s If Tigers Disappeared, the fifth book in her award-winning series. If Tigers Disappeared follows the familiar pattern: we learn where the animals live, some history about them, and why their populations have declined. Tigers have been around for more than two million years, yet in the past 100 years, humans have nearly wiped out their population. When an animal becomes extinct, the ripple effect (also called the trophic cascade) has far-reaching effects on our ecosystem.

 

If Tigers Disappeared int1 India map
Interior spread from If Tigers Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams, Roaring Brook Press ©2022.

 

Since tigers are apex predators, the animals they eat flourish when no longer hunted by the big cats. These population booms then cause changes to the forest, waterways, and landscapes. This immense concept is conveyed simply, inviting kids to think about our world’s interconnectedness and demonstrating how indigenous people should continue to be involved in tiger conservation. Though the topic is quite sad, the overall feeling is of hope, emphasizing the importance of knowledge and advocacy for these amazing animals.

 

If Tigers Disappeared int2 photos on road
Interior spread from If Tigers Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams, Roaring Brook Press ©2022.

 

Williams’s tigers are magnificently drawn in many stages of action, including a couple of curious cubs. Back matter includes a glossary, recap of the tigers’ endangered status, and information on how we can help. This important book educates while charming us with lively images of six remaining subspecies of tigers.

 

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Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – A Penny’s Worth

”’

A PENNY’S WORTH

Written by Kimberly Wilson

Illustrated by Mark Hoffman

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

 

 

From the Publisher: “Hot off the printing press, Penny feels like a million bucks. But as other coins and bills are spent while she sits forgotten, she begins to doubt her value … Refusing to be short-changed, she sets out to find her purpose at any cost.”

From Kirkus Reviews: “Combining a dash of math with buckets of good humor, this book is certainly like money in the bank.”

 

REVIEW:

Fresh and fun, A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman combines loads of money-themed puns with a subtle message on self-worth that young readers will love.

 

 

A Penny's Worth int1 cool your copper
Interior spread from A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

Kimberly Wilson’s debut shines like a new penny under the expert care of Mark Hoffman’s humorous art that will entice children to spend time searching out each detail on the page.

 

A Penny's Worth int2 eyes on me
Interior spread from A Penny’s Worth written by Kimberly Wilson and illustrated by Mark Hoffman, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

 

And the silliness continues in Wilson’s pun-filled backmatter that not only offers fun facts about pennies, but illustrates the value of each coin and bill featured in the text. I expect this book will become a favorite in elementary classrooms around the country.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Look and Listen

 

 

LOOK AND LISTEN

Written by Dianne White

Illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford

(Holiday House; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

Look and Listen cover

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journaltar

 

From the Publisher: “In this exciting guessing game for budding nature lovers, a child takes a walk to explore the sights and sounds in a garden, across a meadow, and along a brook … Dianne White’s playful text is paired with the vibrant collage artwork of Amy Schimler-Safford.”

 

Look and Listen int1 garden
Interior spread from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

Dianne White’s simple, rhyming text introduces young readers to the colors and sounds of creatures that live in each ecosystem using a riddle-like structure that invites page turns. At the same time, Amy Schimler-Safford’s gorgeous, collage-style art encourages little eyes to seek and find the hiding creature …

 

Look and Listen int2 sunflowers
Interior spread from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

making this a truly interactive and enjoyable reading experience.

 

Look and Listen int3 bee
Interior art from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

Accessible backmatter in Look and Listen offers readers and/or teachers more information about the habitats and animals highlighted in the book. This radiant picture book inspiring all five senses would make a great read-aloud for preschool classrooms to use just before a nature walk or trip to a National Park.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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Wordless Picture Book Review – Whirl

 

 

WHIRL

by Deborah Kerbel

Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon 

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

 

Whirl cover

 

 

From the Publisher: “A stray maple seed, is picked up by the wind and begins a long, wordless journey through a local neighborhood…Eventually, it finds a place to rest …Years later, a family that encountered the whirligig on its journey takes a walk in the forest and meets the seed again—this time as a fully grown maple tree.”

 

Whirl interior art1
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

In this appealing wordless picture book with inviting art and a diverse cast of characters, Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon describe the unpredictable journey a seed takes as it whirls its way through a family’s backyard, past the wheels and paws of several park visitors, into the hands of a few curious kids, and onto the artwork of another.

 

 

Whirl interior art2
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

Before, eventually being found (and fought over) by birds and accidentally planted by a dog.

 

Whirl Interior art3
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

In time, the seed sprouts and grows, and is discovered by another park visitor who delights over its “magic.” A swirl of wind grounds the story and guides the reader through this visual tale perfect for spending time in nature. A back page of maple seed facts also offers readers inspiration for conducting their own research into similar topics.

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Battle of the Butts

 

 

 

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS:

THE SCIENCE BEHIND ANIMAL BEHINDS

Illustrated by David Creighton-Pester

(Running Press Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

Battle of the Butts cover

 

 

Get ready to laugh as you learn while enjoying this funny, nonfiction picture book, Battle of the Butts by Jocelyn Rish. I thought I knew a lot of animal facts but was amazed by what this author uncovered in her research. The book is set up as a competition between ten creatures, inviting the reader to vote on each animal (rank them from Terrific Tush to Boring Backside), then choose a winner at the end.

 

Battle of the Butts int3 toot
Interior spread from Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds written by Jocelyn Rish and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, Running Press Kids ©2021.

 

 

One of my favorite contenders is the bombardier beetle. Its booty blasts a scalding 212°F chemical mixture at predators. This liquid can reach a speed of 22 miles per hour and its 270-degree swiveling butt can emit 20 blasts in a row before running out. What a superpower! However, it’s hard to deny the awesome, multitasking sea cucumber: it breathes, eats, and shoots organs out of its butt—“a Swiss Army knife of abilities.” Some species have anal teeth; yet, even with that kind of protection, long, skinny pearlfish like to live in a sea cucumber’s rear.

 

Battle of the Butts int4 toot
Interior spread from Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds written by Jocelyn Rish and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, Running Press Kids ©2021.

 

Bright, engaging, and hilarious illustrations by David Creighton-Pester add even more humor. For example, cutie-patootie wombats use their shield-like backsides for defense, and smiling, gassy schools of herring communicate by farting. These unusual attributes are conveyed in a kid-friendly manner making this book a hit in classrooms, libraries, and at home. Stay tuned for Battle of the Brains (fall, 2022) by this same fanny-tastic team.

 

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Picture Book Review – Wake, Sleepy One

 

 

WAKE, SLEEPY ONE:

California Poppies and the Super Bloom

by Lisa Kerr

Illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun

(West Margin Press; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

From seed to “super bloom,” debut author, Lisa Kerr, introduces readers to the California desert poppy in a combination of lyrical and expository nonfiction text. From the publisher: “A lyrical ode to California’s most treasured wildflower, Wake, Sleepy One gently captures the quiet strength of the poppy in all its breathtaking wonder.”

 

Wake Sleepy One int1 desert
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

As the sleepy poppy wakes, it “rises” from the ground “reaching” for the sun and “waiting” for her time to shine. This “tiny dancer” swirls and twirls in the breeze as it is joined by hundreds of other waking seeds in a rare natural phenomenon of the desert super bloom.

 

Wake Sleepy One int2 poppies wake
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Lisa Powell Braun’s charming artwork supports Kerr’s spare text and offers a variety of reading options for this book. The youngest of listeners will be able to grasp the story’s concept and watch the poppy “wake…rise…reach…wait…unfold…dance” and “shimmer” with a simple reading of each page’s single italicized line. Preschool and kindergarten listeners will delight in the added emotional tension of the entire main text, while older readers will appreciate the facts in Kerr’s nonfiction sidebars.

 

Wake Sleepy One int3 backmatter
Interior art from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Two full spreads of stellar backmatter add to its usability in the classroom, and make this a perfect resource for learning about desert landscapes!

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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Picture Book Review – How Beautiful

HOW BEAUTIFUL

Written by Antonella Capetti

Illustrated by Melissa Castrillón

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

 

How Beautiful cover

 

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Life is simple for the little caterpillar who appreciates sleeping, eating, and crawling around until an unknown thing calls him beautiful setting him off on an adventure in the forest to answer the question, “what does beautiful mean?” How Beautiful is written by Italian school teacher and picture book author Antonella Capetti and illustrated by bestselling picture book illustrator Melissa Castrillón.

Castrillón’s stunning illustrations capture the serenity and peacefulness the caterpillar feels while resting in the forest leaves. From the lovely warm golds and reds, we can imagine what life is like for the caterpillar as he talks to the bee and rests inside a red flower. “He never questioned anything.”

 

How Beautiful int1
Interior spread from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Soon a hand with thin fingers lifts the caterpillar off the ground. Caterpillar is confused by this unusual twig because it has no leaves and moves faster than any twig he has ever seen. The opposite page introduces a new scene with Unknown Thing standing in front of  the caterpillar (ódraws a pig-tailed girl in the distance) who says, “’You’re so beautiful.’ Then it gently laid him and the twig down, and as suddenly as it arrived, it went away.”

 The unquestioning little white bug with the big pink cheeks begins to question for the very first time, so he embarks on a journey to find out if others in the forest know what beautiful means. He begins by asking the big purple-hued bear with bees buzzing by. “’Oh, this is beautiful,’ the bear answered. Lifting up a honeycomb between its paws.” But the blackbird nearby disagreed.

 

How Beautiful int2
Interior spread from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Hmm, it was time to ask others living in the forest. Frolicking in the yellow leaves are three squirrels and the caterpillar asks them “What does beautiful mean?” Honeycomb is not their answer. Instead, they reply that they like dry leaves. Blackbird again disagrees. “Those are not beautiful. Those are fun.”

 

How Beautiful int3
Interior art from How Beautiful written by Antonella Capetti and illustrated by Melissa Castrillón, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Caterpillar begins to feel sad when he previously felt so content. The once happy-faced caterpillar is now depictd with a sad face as confusion takes over his thoughts. He asks a deer which ends up being no help. “If only he could go home to his leaf, and get rid of the blackbird and the bothersome question.” The page darkens as night sets in and the tired animals of the forest lay on the ground looking up at the sky. “How beautiful! They all exclaimed.” They finally agreed.

Capetti’s prose provide great conversation starters asking the reader, what do you consider beautiful? Why do two people (or animals) who are asked the same question give different answers? Teachers will be delighted to come up with questions to ask during storytime. Capetti’s story opens up a topic of self-discovery for young kids to understand that sometimes questions have more than one answer. How Beautiful is written and illustrated in a thought-provoking way, showing children that it is okay to question what they don’t know. This story shines a light on how the animals may have had different opinions about what is beautiful but by the end of the day, they all found something they could agree on.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Tu Youyou’s Discovery

TU YOUYOU’S DISCOVERY:
Finding a Cure for Malaria

Written by Songju Ma Daemicke

Illustrated by Lin

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

 

Tu Youyous Discovery cover

 

In 2021 malaria is a preventable and treatable disease but it wasn’t always the case. Hundreds of thousands used to die from it annually but the mortality rate has declined since the medicine to cure it was approved. That’s why I was curious to read about Tu Youyou, the woman whose determination led to finding a cure for malaria and becoming the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize. 

In Tu Youyou’s Discovery written by Songju Ma Daemicke with art by Lin, readers are brought back in time to Beijing, China in the 1930s. Youyou attended school when most girls her age stayed home but contracted tuberculosis as a teenager and had to drop out.

 

Tu Youyou's Discovery int1
Interior art from Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria written by Songju Ma Daemicke and illustrated by Lin, Albert Whitman ©2021.

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Fortunately, she survived due to antibiotics prescribed by her physician but was greatly weakened. A steady diet of “her mother’s herb soups slowly nursed her back to full strength.” This sparked her interest in how both “modern and traditional” medicines had helped her get well. Always a compassionate person, Youyou chose to pursue a career in science in order to help save lives. Little did she know then what a major contribution she would ultimately make when in 1969 malaria, like Covid-19 now, swept across the world bringing death in its path. After graduating from Peking University, “in 1955” she “became a researcher at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing.” As part of a research group, Youyou was determined to find a cure for malaria and was in the right place at just the right time.

 

Tu Youyou's Discovery int2
Interior art from Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria written by Songju Ma Daemicke and illustrated by Lin, Albert Whitman ©2021.

 

Youyou traveled around the country to document cases in hopes of gaining new insight into the disease. She found it when she met a farmer who had cured his own high fever by eating a local plant called qinghao, known in English as sweet wormwood. In her lab, she and her team tried various methods to create a cure using the qinghao, but nothing worked. However, Youyou did not give up. Despite little to no funding for the latest equipment, Youyou’s team performed experiment after experiment with no luck.

Then what appeared to be a breakthrough came from an unexpected place. Studying her family’s indispensable “A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies, an ancient Chinese remedy book,” Youyou revisited the qinhao remedy only to realize that the book recommended just soaking the herb in water when all along her team had been boiling it. Perhaps the healing part of the plant had been destroyed during the experiments. Much to her dismay, this too yielded no results. Again, Youyou persevered. Many male colleagues had questioned her commitment to traditional medicine but “After 190 unsuccessful experiments, the test result of sample 191 stunned the team.” Sample 191 completely killed the parasites and so in 1971 a successful cure had been found. And while Youyou initially credited her entire team in research papers, over time “other scientists finally realized how involved she had been in the discovery.” In October of 2015, Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden. Her commitment to finding a cure for malaria has saved millions of lives and continues to do so to this day.

 

Tu Youyou's Discovery int4
Interior art from Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria written by Songju Ma Daemicke and illustrated by Lin, Albert Whitman ©2021.

 

I’m so glad Songju has introduced Tu Youyou to me and to children in such an accessible way. I felt as if, despite knowing the outcome, that I was right alongside a detective solving a mystery. This nonfiction picture book bio provides engaging STEM reading for budding scientists, doctors, and inventors and puts Youyou’s name up there alongside other women in STEM history makers such as Marie Curie, Marie Maynard Daly, and Ada Byron Lovelace. Lin’s nice use of contrasting flat color palettes creates bright illustrations that have a print-making quality to them. Songju shares how labor-intensive the six steps of the scientific method are (see back matter for this info) but also how crucial. While not all experiments yield life-changing results, Youyou’s story is a great example of how teamwork and not giving up can make a difference. I was surprised to learn in the Author’s Note that although the first clinical trials for the malaria medicine known as artemisinin took place in 1972, it wasn’t until 1986 that the drug gained approval from the Chinese government and started being used around the globe.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Our Favorite New Hanukkah Books for 2021

 

NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR 2021
∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Hanukkah menorah clipart

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Starred Review – School Library Journal

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

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

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

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

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

 

Click here for last year’s Hanukkah roundup.

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STEM Picture Book Review – Good Night, Oppy!

 

GOOD NIGHT, OPPY!

Written by James McGowan

Illustrated by Graham Carter

(Boyds Mills Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

Good Reads With Ronna is thrilled to be the third stop on the Good Night, Oppy! Blog Tour. I didn’t hesitate to join in when I heard that James McGowan’s debut picture book was about the Mars rover, Opportunity. I live less than a mile or so from NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) where the rovers are created, maintained, and communicated with so I was eager to learn more about Oppy. She was first launched in 2003 when I still lived abroad and was raising children, with little time to think about planetary exploration.

 

Good Night Oppy! int1
Interior spread from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

 

In McGowan’s story, he’s anthropomorphized the rover and introduced us to Oppy, one of two rovers on the Red Planet in 2004 searching for signs of past life. He blends the fictionalized narrative of hard-working and fun-loving Oppy, a solar-and-battery-powered robot roaming Mars and reporting back to her handlers on Earth, with fascinating scientific facts on most spreads. Plus, the onomatopoeia of the sound effect “Ping! Ping!” before a command from Earth adds an extra atmospheric touch that kids will enjoy repeating.

Readers learn that Oppy, as an Interplanetary Detective, remained in daily contact with “Teams of scientists and engineers …” who command and operate spacecraft using the Deep Space Network (a system of huge antennae throughout the solar system).  I always wondered how that worked! In fact, my friend’s husband was one of those JPL experts who, among other key responsibilities, received Oppy’s real-life signals on Earth. Equipped with cameras and other equipment for info transmission, Oppy’s job was to photograph and navigate Mars, report back and explore, explore and explore. In fact, over her lifetime she trekked twenty-eight miles providing invaluable information about the Red Planet for scientists and engineers.

 

 

Good Night Oppy! int2
Interior art from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

Having successfully dodged many potential disasters, things changed for Oppy in June of 2018 when she went to recharge her battery. She needed a place where the sun could reach her solar panels unobstructed, but a powerful dust storm approached. Getting a message to Earth was impossible as layer upon layer of dust covered her panels. Oppy’s power was running low. With the sun obscured, she’d be unable to recharge. She managed to outrace the worst of the storm and transmit one last time to Earth before losing power forever.

What a game changer the rovers have been! Some of Oppy’s finds have been groundbreaking including her discovery of the mineral hematite on the surface of Mars meaning that at one time there had been groundwater. Another time Oppy got stuck in a sand dune and the process of getting her out required clever commandeering (see art above). That unfortunate experience also helped future rovers and technicians know what areas to avoid! Oppy was productive and persevered well beyond what the teams had ever expected. McGowan’s Author’s Note explains that both Opportunity and her sister rover, Spirit, were designed for ninety-day missions yet Spirit worked for six years while Oppy “worked for almost fifteen years!”

 

 

Good Night Oppy! int3
Interior spread from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

 

Carter’s expansive illustrations in an array of red tones depict the vastness and dryness of Mars. Spreads are never stagnant and present an expressive Oppy on the go, investigating, soaking up the sun, and receiving commands from Earth that dictate which activities to pursue. I like how several times we’re transported to JPL command central for a different perspective of Oppy’s daily life. And, as the massive storm that ultimately ended Oppy’s career bore down on Mars, I felt sad when Oppy fell silent. By humanizing the rover, McGowan’s made Oppy’s contributions feel that much more important than they already are. Presenting Oppy’s story in this way makes it more compelling to younger readers and those more reluctant to pick up a STEM book. I learned so much and children will too. Such a great way to make kids care about our universe. Thank you and good night, Oppy! If you want to read more about Good Night, Oppy!, check out the other bloggers on the tour listed below.

 

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for coloring pages.

 

Oppy Blog Tour

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Kids Picture Book – Walking for Water

WALKING FOR WATER:
How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality

Written by Susan Hughes

Illustrated by Nicole Miles

(Kids Can Press; $17.99, Ages 6-8)

 

walking for water book cover

 

 

There are over a dozen terrific books in the Citizen Kid series and the latest, Walking for Water by award-winning author Susan Hughes, is no exception. This story, inspired by “the recent experience of a thoughtful and fair-minded 13-year-old Malawian boy” takes readers to the landlocked country in southeastern Africa to meet eight-year-old twins Victor and his sister, Linesi.

Readers know right from the start that the pair are close. On this day, however, the two who usually do so many things together, including attending school, will now be apart. In Victor and Linesi’s community when girls turn eight they are expected to leave school and help with chores. That includes fetching water five times a day, water used for “drinking, cooking and washing.” Victor enjoys school so he feels bad that his sister has to miss out on the learning just because she’s a girl.

 

int1 walking for water women by the river
Interior spread from Walking for Water written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Nicole Miles, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

When a new teacher asks the students to think about gender equality in their own lives, Victor doesn’t have to look far to find an example. And when he tries to share what he learned in school with his sister, Victor sees she is too exhausted from her day’s work to concentrate on math. This realization prompts Victor to propose a plan to his mama and sister, one that involves taking turns doing the chores enabling Linesi to alternate days at school with him. Yes!! I cheered when I discovered the selfless gesture of Victor.

 

int2 walking for water victor thinking
Interior spread from Walking for Water written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Nicole Miles, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

This caring approach to gender equality is not only welcomed by Victor’s teacher but it’s emulated by Victor’s best friend, Chikondi who takes over for his sister, Enifa, on alternate days. The friends can now share what they learn with their sisters who are less tired and in turn, the sisters can do the same.

Illustrator Nicole Miles brings warmth, heart, and simplicity to her illustrations. The book, described by the publisher as a graphic novel/picture book hybrid format, allows Miles to not only have fun with her art but to add more activity to the spreads. A particular favorite, with its rich earthy tones, is of Victor joining the girls and women on their way to collect water.

 

int3 Walking for Water by the kachere tree
Interior spread from Walking for Water written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Nicole Miles, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

This hopeful, engaging, and educational story will be an eye-opener for children on many levels. It not only demonstrates the power of one innovative individual to effect change, in this case for gender equality, but it also presents traditions and lifestyles different from ours. Additionally, it shows how important the need still is for access to clean water in the 21st century. Hughes’s Author’s Note and resources as well as a glossary of Chichewa words in the back matter (which are peppered throughout the story) provide additional avenues to further explore topics raised in Walking for Water. I’m glad that Hughes chose to use the twins as her focus for this story because of the sharp contrasts between the siblings that readers will understand immediately. Hughes mentions in the back matter that change is coming to Malawi and hopefully more opportunities for girls to pursue their aspirations will follow.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Biography – The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

 

 

 

THE POLIO PIONEER:
DR. JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by Lisa Anchin

(Knopf BYR; $17.99; AGES 4-8)

 

 

The Polio Pioneer book cover art of Jonas Salk

 

A topic on everyone’s tongues these days is vaccinations. When she wrote this book, Linda E Marshall likely had no idea how relevant her book would be today and how once again, an innovative vaccine is saving lives around the world. 

 

The book opens with four-year-old Jonas Salk sitting on top of his father’s shoulders during the victory parade celebrating the end of World War I. But Jonas doesn’t understand the cheering when all he sees are injured soldiers. Jonas, readers learn, sees things differently. Find out about the man and the story behind the life-changing vaccine he developed in THE POLIO PIONEER: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall with illustrations by Lisa Anchin.

 

Int art1 from The Polio Pioneer
Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

Anchin’s art brings a warmth to the subject of science painting in soft colors of oranges and blues as the reader walks through the life of the main character Jonas. Whether that’s refereeing his friends’ games when not reading because he knows the rules or helping his Yiddish-speaking mother learn English after his Jewish family migrates to New York City. The kindness and love of the Salk family are depicted with each page turn as the family celebrates Shabbat with freshly baked Challah and Jonas’ inner thoughts are shown “when Jonas prayed that he might someday, help make the world a better place.”

 

Int art2 from The Polio Pioneer
Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

Marshall writes about the financial difficulties the Salk family faced, but Jonas kept moving forward “attending the City College of New York where tuition was free and where, unlike at many other colleges and universities, Jews were welcome.” With a grin on his face and apron tied around his neck, Jonas discovers chemistry while mixing liquids amongst classmates in the college lab. Salk is determined to gain a better understanding of science so that he can make medicines to help people and decides to become a doctor. Illustrated wearing glasses and a white lab coat, Jonas enters medical school where he befriends his teacher Dr. Thomas Francis and the pair team up with an idea as the flu is killing millions. “What if … a person was given some flu virus that was killed by chemicals so it could not cause disease?” Dr. Salk and Dr. Francis thought this could be a way of fighting the flu. And they were right.

 

 

Int art3 from The Polio Pioneer
Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

  With men, women and children lined up on the streets, dressed in their Sunday bests, a nurse in white stands next to one of Anchin’s realistic illustrations with a chalk-written sign reading FLU VACCINE CLINIC. “Since then, flu shots have saved thousands of lives each year.”

“But another disease was raging … Polio”. Readers see Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair in the oval office, as others are lined up in beds, victims of this new disease. People are shown hiding in their homes, just as we all have done these past fifteen months from COVID, and the similarities are not unnoticed. Today’s scientists learned a lot from Dr. Salk. “He and his team of scientists labored day and night, night and day.”

 

 

Int art4 from The Polio Pioneer
Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

“On April 12, 1955, Dr. Francis joins the team and announced to the world: “The vaccine WORKS!” POLIO could be CONQUERED!” Dr. Salk continued his studies by establishing the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where they have worked on cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many other problems.

Marshall writes in a way that makes a tough topic easy to follow with her understandable language and flowing sentences, while Anchin’s drawings transport the reader to 1918 and beyond. The timing of the release of this book last year during the pandemic could not have been more prescient and still resonates today with over 49% of the population vaccinated for Covid-19. As for polio, America has been free of the disease since 1979 due to the amount of participation. Maybe a picture book about our current pandemic will be next to teach future kids about what we have been experiencing. Marshall’s book is fabulous for elementary-age children and higher. In the Author’s Note, Marshall heartwarmingly explains the backstory behind her reasons for writing the book and how Dr. Salk is her hero. She thanks the Salk family for sharing family stories and photos, including writings from Michael Salk, grandson to Jonas. Dr. Salk, as Marshall tells, was a Mensch, the perfect Yiddish word to describe a man whose good work, kindness, and dedication helped make the world a better place. And he did. 

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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