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Kids Picture Book Review – Anxious Charlie to the Rescue

ANXIOUS CHARLIE TO THE RESCUE

Written and illustrated by Terry Milne

(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Anxious Charlie book cover

 

Every day Charlie kept his routine the same, fearful that something bad would happen if it changed. Anxious Charlie to the Rescue, written and illustrated by Terry Milne, tells the story of Charlie, the little dachshund, who forgets his own fears when his friend Hans needs his help.

 

int spread 2 from Anxious Charlie to the Rescue by Terry Milne

ANXIOUS CHARLIE TO THE RESCUE. Copyright © 2018 by Terry Milne. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

“Change is a difficult thing Charlie,” Big Bruce, the large pup with floppy ears, tells Charlie in the opening page as Milne illustrates a shaky Charlie. Milne escorts the reader through Charlie’s day beginning every morning with hopping out of bed, “One, two, three … hop like a flea” to walking once around the fire hydrant on his way to the market and continuing as he walks on the same side of the oak tree.

In the illustrations the little brown dog with the large eyes is surrounded by fire hydrants and soft colored trees set on white paper. His fear continues at night as he checks under the bed and behind the curtains, arranging his toys in a neat row. The picture bubbles depict Charlie’s thoughts as he memorizes what he did today, so he can repeat them tomorrow because today “things turned out ok!”

 

anxious charlie.int.3

ANXIOUS CHARLIE TO THE RESCUE. Copyright © 2018 by Terry Milne. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

“Early one morning the phone rang. It was Duck. Their friend Hans was stuck.” Charlie was in such a hurry to save his friend that he and Duck rushed past the fire hydrant and went the wrong way around the old oak tree. Charlie wanted to start all over again, but his friend needed him. He had no time to worry! Charlie’s friends had tried everything to free Hans (who had chosen a pipe to hide in during their game of hide-and-seek), but it was Charlie who had the successful idea.

“On his way home, Charlie felt so happy that he didn’t think about which way he passed the old oak tree.” Charlie collapsed onto his bed and thought “I forgot everything today, but things turned out ok.”

Milne’s colorful drawings and sweet expressions on the animals’ faces draw the reader into this charming friendship circle. And the rhyming prose provide an upbeat rhythm as well as giggles for the reader. The feeling of satisfaction Charlie experiences after helping his friend proves to be greater than his need for routine. This time Charlie realized that “nothing bad would happen and maybe what did happen would be wonderful!” That positive self-talk message is so important.

Anxious Charlie to the Rescue is a helpful read for parents who watch their own young children struggle with anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors, and for children to see they are not alone with these thoughts. It can also lead to meaningful discussions. The idea for this story came from Milne’s own daughter who struggles with anxiety and repetitive behavior. Both children with anxiety, and those who may have a friend or sibling with anxiety, will see that as hard as it is to change behaviors it can turn out okay. Everyone has some fears and Charlie shows young readers that when you let go of those fears wonderful things can happen.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Read a review about facing fears here.

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The Wonderling – An Interview With Author Mira Bartok

THE WONDERLING
Written and illustrated by Mira Bartók
(Candlewick Press; $21.99, Ages 10-14)

Read Our Author Q & A Today
&
Attend a Book Signing on Friday, 11/10 in West Hollywood
Scroll down to find out more! 

 

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok cover image


SUMMARY:


The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók and soon to be a major motion picture, garnered a great amount of attention, and deservedly so, even before the book deal was done. Reminiscent of classic literary odysseys and the best of contemporary fantasy, with a sprinkling of steampunk, The Wonderling opens in a thrillingly dreadful orphanage for young groundlings – part creature, part human. In this Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Children, all pleasures, especially music, are forbidden. But the hero of the story, a young one-eared fox-like groundling yearns for friendship and love. All he has is a half memory of a special song that will lead him to his destiny. After staging a daring escape with the help of a small mechanical bird, Trinket, the Wonderling sets off on a glorious adventure through forests and wild country, to the shiny city of Lumentown, ruled over by the High Hats, where he will discover the mysterious Songcatcher and unlock the secrets of his past.

Written in stunning prose and decorated with Mira’s exquisite illustrations, The Wonderling is a hugely enjoyable and original fantasy filled with vivid and eccentric characters and a plot that twists and turns. You will find echoes of King Arthur, of Dickens, of Kenneth Grahame; you will find brave mice in armor, and giant crows that terrorize the skies; you will find innocence, humor, hope, and ultimately triumph.

GOOD READS WITH RONNA INTERVIEWS MIRA BARTÓK:

GRWR: Can you please speak to the world building you so brilliantly created for The Wonderling – did you have certain places and buildings in mind when you wrote the novel and drew the map?

BARTÓK: The settings I created for the book came from various places—books, images online, dreams, my imagination, and travel. I probably gleaned the best ideas from looking at Gustav Doré’s images of 19th century London and Henry Mayhew’s 19th century descriptions of London’s poor. Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London was also essential, as was actually walking about in that wonderful city. I also spent many hours looking at maps from classic children’s books and in library archives. The feeling of Gloomintown, the City Below the City, came from a combination of re-reading Dickens’s Hard Times, looking at old engravings of London’s sewer system, and studying Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno. A crazy mix!

GRWR: I’m thrilled there’s going to be a second book because I cared about your characters, well the good ones anyway! Who did you have the most fun imagining and why?

BARTÓK: I definitely had the most fun writing about Quintus, my Fagin/Artful Dodger Rat groundling! Mostly because he’s funny, he loves to make up songs (therefore, I get to make up his lyrics), and he’s complicated. He’s a thief, a rogue, and an opportunist, but he’s also a really good guy.

GRWR: In addition to sharing a strong sense of hope and tolerance, your story also touches upon the power of dreams. Do dreams influence your writing?

BARTÓK: I can’t even begin to tell you how much! Sometimes entire scenes are mapped out in my dreams. I have very epic dreams populated with many different kinds of creatures. If only I could sleep all the time and have some machine transmit my dreams directly into books, I’d probably finish my books sooner!

GRWR: The Wonderling gives a voice to the marginalized. I especially liked when Arthur, who was marginalized himself as a groundling, befriended Peevil, the mouse and Trinket, the bird. Was that one for all and all for one teamsmanship one of your intentions?

BARTÓK: Not really. I knew Arthur would make one good friend, but I had no idea he would make so many. I realized half way through writing the book that part of his journey is learning that he has friends who have cared about him all along.

GRWR: Wire, Miss Carbunkle, Sneezeweed, Mardox the manticore and even His Excellency the powerful White Hat, were so vivid and nasty, yet so unique in character. How difficult was it to create the villains?

BARTÓK: Easy as pie! I lOVE creating villains! But Miss Carbunkle was harder to write about since she has more of a backstory. She is and will continue to be the most complex villain, therefore she is the most interesting and difficult to write about. She will transform a little in Book Two, and her character will deepen in surprising ways. The Man with the White Gloves and Wire are really sociopaths and will continue to be nasty little fellows in Book Two. And I will, I am sure, have a ball writing about them!

GRWR: What is it about the Victorian era that interests you?

BARTÓK: I think that era appeals to me because I see such a parallel between the Industrial Revolution and all the problems we are going through today. And in London, things were exceedingly hard for children, women, immigrants, and the poor. When I read about the nightmarish working conditions for children in the coal pits during that time, and how horrible living conditions were for poor immigrants living in Spitalfields, it’s hard not to think of the sweat shops of today, or the global refugee crisis, and the rise in homelessness. The Victorian Era was also a time of great and wondrous technological inventions, just like today. And like today, people often didn’t think of the ramifications of the technology they created, for better or for worse.

GRWR: Quintus, your Fagin of sorts, is an intriguing individual. What can a character like him bring to the story for young readers who may not be familiar with any Dickens?

BARTÓK: I think he can bring a sense that some characters who do bad or illegal things aren’t always bad through and through. Sometimes there’s a good reason for their misconduct. And there’s also room for them to change and grow.

The Wonderling author Mira Bartók Photo Credit: Doug Plavin

Mira Bartók, Photo Credit: Doug Plavin

AUTHOR BIO:
Mira Bartók is a writer and artist whose New York Times best-selling memoir,
The Memory Palace: A Memoir,
won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography.
The Wonderling is her first novel for young readers.
She lives in Western Massachusetts.

MEET MIRA BARTÓK THIS FRIDAY IN WEST HOLLYWOOD!

Mira Bartók discusses and signs The Wonderling at Book Soup on November 10th

Event date:  Friday, November 10, 2017 – 7:00 p.m.
Event address: Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Below is an abbreviated schedule of upcoming appearances. Find a full listing of Bartók’s events on her website.
· Monday, November 13 in Portland, OR: Public book reading and signing at 7 p.m. at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005
· Saturday, December 2 in New Salem, MA: New Salem Town Library reading and signing event from 2-4 p.m. at Swift River School, 149 West St., New Salem, MA 01355
· Wednesday, December 13 in Northhampton, MA: Local author series event from 7-8:45 p.m. at Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton MA 01060

HERE ARE MORE HELPFUL LINKS:
· Q&A
· Discussion guide 
· Chapter sampler
· Author video

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Here Comes a New School Year – A Back-to-School Books Roundup

A ROUNDUP OF OUR FAVORITE
NEW BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

With Labor Day kicking off the traditional start of a new school year,
what better way to ease little ones into the classroom
than with a great selection of back-to-school books to read as they settle into a new routine?

 


Here Comes Teacher Cat
Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood cover image

Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Underwood sure knows how to make parents and children laugh out loud. Here Comes Teacher Cat is full of sight gags that never fail to surprise and delight. So as not to spoil it for you, I’ll just say that once again Cat has outdone himself in cattitude. Whether you love the narrator having a one-sided dialogue with a cat who uses signs to communicate, or the laziness of this feline forever yearning to nap, Underwood’s got it all here when Cat is called in to substitute for Ms. Melba at Kitty School. The only problem is that Cat hasn’t a clue what to do first. When he approaches teaching with his own Cat brand of humor and zeal, there’s no holding him or the kitties back causing quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. What will Ms. Melba find upon her return from the doctor? Why, a very clean classroom, a confident Cat and happy kitties of course. Just don’t open the closet Ms. Melba! Fans of Underwood’s humor and Rueda’s low-key spot on artwork will not be disappointed in this Publishers Weekly starred picture book. Oh and don’t miss the opening illustrations before the title page.

TwindergartenCover image for Twindergarten by Nikki Ehrlich
Written by Nikki Ehrlich
Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(HarperCollins; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

Starting Kindergarten can be scary for most kids, but what happens if you’re a twin? In Twindergarten, author Ehrlich, a mom of twins, tackles the topic gently and thoughtfully, touching on the many issues twins might experience being separated at school for the first time. Though Zoe and Dax are as close as peanut butter and jelly at home, they wonder how they’ll cope being in different classes during the day. They soon learn that Kindergarten is not only fun, it’s a place where they can make new friends, try new things and still see each other during recess. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. Debut illustrator Abbott puts the emphasis on the main characters clothed in darker outfits in her illustrations making it easy to zoom in how Zoe and Dax are interacting with their environment. Not only for twins, Twindergarten shows the rewards  of attending school and how children can be separated from siblings or friends and still thrive.

Don’t Go to School!Don't Go to School! cover image Sterling Children's Books
Written by Máire Zepf
Illustrated by Tarsila Krüse
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4+)

How enjoyable it was to read this clever spin on a back-to-school book. In Don’t Go to School, it’s young Benno who’s excited to leave while his mom wants him to remain at home. “Don’t go to school!” she wailed. And I laughed! The humor was not lost on me since I could relate to the mother in this lovingly illustrated picture book. I think there are lots of parents, like me, who have experienced separation anxiety when sending their child off on the new adventure and life stage that is attending school. Mommy is encouraged by Benno using language much like a parent would to reassure their new student. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” said Benno. “You’ll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice!” Zepf is clearly familiar with first day jitters and her tantrum scene may ring a bell with others, only this time it’s Mommy who’s lost it. My favorite part of the story is when Benno takes some of his own kisses and tucks them in his mother’s pocket so she can feel his love even when they’re apart. This comforting story will empower youngsters while also providing tips on adjusting to the big change in their lives.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Zinnia and the Bees, An Interview with Debut Author Danielle Davis

MEET DANIELLE DAVIS,
AUTHOR OF
ZINNIA AND THE BEES
Written by Danielle Davis
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Capstone Young Readers; $14.95, Ages 9-12)

 

Cover image from Zinnia and the Bees written by Danielle Davis

 

Yesterday, August 1st, was the debut of local L.A. author Danielle Davis’s new middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees. Today I’m totally tickled (but not stung mind you!) to share my recent interview with Davis as she weighs in on the who, what, when, where and why of her delightful magical realism story. But first I’d like to share some of my own thoughts. If you’re eager to get to the Q&A with Danielle, please feel free to scroll down. Below that you’ll also find a trailer for the novel. 

REVIEW

Zinnia, the main character in Danielle Davis’s Zinnia and the Bees, struggles with several relationships throughout this introspective, humorous, and totally absorbing book. It’s filled with many of those confusing, sometimes immobilizing emotions that I recall experiencing in middle school (which was called junior high back then). Added to that are accounts of several uncomfortable situations Zinnia finds herself immersed in which will surely resonate with today’s tweens. And though she may seem to avoid friendships, she ultimately realizes that those connections are what she really needs. Her mom, a widow, dentist and community activist, always seems otherwise occupied. She practically lives at her practice, leaves impersonal post-it notes and is more into her rescue dog than her daughter. Then there’s Zinnia’s brother Adam. The book opens with a wacky and wonderful yarn bomb episode that pulls readers into the story and demonstrates the siblings’ close relationship, despite the six years age gap.

Zinnia and the Bees book with wool and some beesOn that very same day, Adam skips out on Zinnia and her mom, no warning, no note, nothing to let her know where he’s gone. That, after all they’ve shared, hurts more than also losing her group of friends NML, Nikki, Margot and Lupita. When they were pals they were NMLZ, but now Z was on her own. That is until a clever and curious neighbor’s nephew comes to town for summer. Far from perfect, yet not easy to push away, Birch demonstrates to Zinnia the magic of nature and the transformative quality of a good friend. His timing couldn’t have been better because after a visit to the local ice cream parlor, where some ice cream got in her hair, Zinnia has attracted a colony of crazed and kooky honeybees who find what they hope will be temporary accommodations in her long curly hair.

As Zinnia tries to make sense of her brother-less world, she’s also trying to figure out a way to get the bees off her head. We get vivid glimpses of a close relationship Zinnia has with her aunt, without which would make her mom’s indifference more intolerable than it already is. After all, it was her mom who pushed Adam away.

The humor shines through when reading the perspective of the hiveless bees hanging out in Zinnia’s hair. They get a chance, every several chapters or so, to share their thoughts on being homeless. This gives readers a chance to get into the bee narrator’s head and think about bees in a whole, hysterical new way. I now bravely scoop dive-bombing bees out of my pool instead of letting them drown thanks to Zinnia and the Bees! (No bees were hurt in the making of this novel, but do not attempt a rescue if you are allergic to bees!)

Davis has crafted a quirky and creative story where the presence of yarn in many ways can be seen as a connector of people, as well as something safe and comforting. The bees represent a longing for home, and Zinnia’s need to be heard and loved unconditionally, like her brother. There are truly many layers to the story of Zinnia and the Bees making this debut novel from Danielle Davis such a sweet, satisfying and thoughtful read.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

INTERVIEW

Photo of Zinnia and the Bees author Danielle Davis

Author of Zinnia and the Bees, Danielle Davis

Good Reads With Ronna: What was the genesis for Zinnia and the Bees

Danielle Davis 🐝: The idea for this book came from an image my husband passed along to me that had come to mind of someone with bees on and around their head. I was interested in fairy tales and stories that contained an element of the bizarre and even wacky, so the idea appealed to me immensely. With his permission, I ran with it (this is one of many reasons the book is dedicated to him). I wanted to know more about the way the bees might be a stand in for anxiety and navigating difficulties. And I wanted to know more about the person who found themselves in this predicament.

GRWR: Zinnia struggles with several relationships throughout the book and, after her brother Adam’s abrupt departure, she feels completely abandoned and alone. Then a swarm of hiveless honeybees takes up residence in her curly hair. Since the bees feature prominently in your story, can you talk about the significance of this magical realism element and how you decided to have two different perspectives recount the story?

DD 🐝: I was curious about Zinnia, but I was also curious about those insects. Disappearing bees were in the news quite a bit when I was first writing this story, and I’d heard about agricultural bees who traveled around with beekeepers to pollinate fruits and vegetables for humans (it’s a real thing!). So, I dreamed up a colony of bees who, while happy enough in their existence, felt like something was missing and yearned for freedom. I wanted to hear from them, and hoped readers would too. Writing the bee sections was really fun for me—they’re communal and existential and, I hope, hilarious (they always made me laugh!).

GRWR: A yarn bombing episode propels the plot line forward. Zinnia finds comfort in knitting and it feels like there is some symbolism with yarn. Was that intentional? Also, Zinnia has practically yarn bombed every item in her bedroom. As a child, were you a knitter like Zinnia? Is there any particular reason you chose knitting versus another craft since I know you share a lot of crafts on your picture book blog, This Picture Book Life?

DD 🐝: While the yarn symbolism was, admittedly, unintentional, it’s certainly there since yarn can provide comfort and so relates to the concept of home, which is at the heart of the novel. For me, I’d made Zinnia a knitter in the vein of any artist or maker (or writer) who experiences that sensation of flow when immersed in their preferred activity (plus, I’d recently learned about yarn bombing). For Zinnia, knitting is a way she soothes her anxiety, helps make sense of her world, and takes her mind off, well, everything. It’s a way for her to both focus and escape.I was certainly not a knitter—Zinnia is way more talented than I am! But for me, reading was similar to what knitting is for her. As a child, books were a way to soothe my anxiety, focus, and escape. Stories also, subconsciously I imagine, helped me make sense of the world.

GRWR: Your sense of place, your characters, voice, dialogue and plot all come together seamlessly to create, like the knitted lens covers for Birch’s binoculars, a cleverly crafted story. What was the easiest part for you to write and which is the hardest?

DD 🐝: Thank you, and what a neat question! Once I crafted this for a middle grade audience (I started it as something for adults—what was I thinking?), the first draft was pretty easy to write. I was emerging from a very challenging period in my own life, so writing the first draft of Zinnia and the Bees felt sort of effortless and full of joy as an extension of that unburdening. The interactions between Zinnia and Birch were natural and fun to write, as were the bee sections, where I could be as wacky and dramatic as I wanted. But all the revisions that followed, which were numerous and spanned years, were probably harder in general. And then working with my editor, Ali Deering at Capstone, was a little of both. She had brilliant ideas for making the story better in important ways and I got to prove to myself that I could create under her amazing direction and necessary deadline. The harder part was that having an editor meant I also had the pressure of knowing this was going to be a real, published book and that someone might actually read it someday. 

GRWR: Though I really like Zinnia and her aunt Mildred, I’m especially fond of Birch who is visiting his Uncle Lou, the neighbor, for the summer. The friendship that slowly grows between Birch and Zinnia is so satisfying. Is there one character you relate to the most or is there a little bit of you in each one?

DD 🐝: I’m super fond of Birch as well—such a patient, loyal friend. While I’m confident there are parts of me in Zinnia, she feels to me like her own person (yes, these characters totally feel like real people to me!). I have a real soft spot for Birch’s Uncle Lou and both he and Zinnia’s Aunt Mildred are examples of the positive, caring adults every kid deserves to have in their lives.

GRWR: Dr. Flossdrop, Zinnia’s mom, is a memorable character. She’s distant, domineering and definitely not warm and fuzzy like the wool Zinnia knits with or her brother Adam whom she adores. How did you develop this dentist who relates better to her rescue dog than her own daughter?

DD 🐝: I knew I wanted Zinnia and her mom to start out feeling as different as possible and then learn that, emotionally, they have a lot in common even if it’s hard to tell from the outside. As for a neighborhood activist dentist who adopts a terrier and brings it to her office? I guess I was going for zany, and someone who would be as infuriating as possible to Zinnia.

GRWR: Do you have a preference when it comes to picture books and middle grade novels and which one do you read more of yourself?

DD 🐝: As in childhood, in adulthood I first fell in love with picture books, and then found middle grade novels. I read and enjoy both consistently, but I’m a bit more immersed in picture books in terms of quantity because of my blog.

And The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is my very favorite book.

GRWR: Where is your favorite place to write?

DD 🐝: I usually write in my apartment. I like the ease and comforts of home (like having neverending cups of tea when working), but I can still hear the sounds of the city and know it’s there. I like to revise out somewhere, preferably a coffee shop.

GRWR: How long did Zinnia and The Beestake you from concept to completion?

DD 🐝: I began the story in 2008, wrote the first middle grade draft in 2010, I believe, and sold it to and edited it for Capstone in 2016, and now it’s out in 2017.

GRWR: Can you talk about your passion for literacy and your volunteer work?

DD 🐝: I’ve been lucky enough to have the ability to volunteer with both WriteGirl and Reading to Kids respectively here in Los Angeles. The former is an organization that mentors teen girls through weekly one-on-one meetups to write together. Plus, the monthly workshops are epic and full of working writers sharing strategies and stories with teens. (And, an amazing WriteGirl who’s headed to college this fall is interning with me over the summer!)

The latter holds reading and crafting events at L.A. area elementary schools one Saturday a month. It is a total joy to participate and each child gets a free book to take home as well. That’s around 800 books given to 800 kids each month! It’s a privilege to be a small part of what the organization is doing to serve kids in my city. I wrote about the experience a couple of years ago here.

GRWR: Can you think of anything else I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share with readers about either Zinnia and the Bees or you?

DD 🐝: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a huge treat to be featured on Good Reads With Ronna!

Visit Danielle’s website here.
Find her at Twitter here.
Find her at Instagram here.
Click here to see Danielle’s Facebook page
And click here to for her Pinterest boards.
Visit illustrator Laura K. Horton’s website here.

 

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Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt

BLOOMING AT THE TEXAS SUNRISE MOTEL
Written by Kimberly Willis Holt
(Henry Holt and Company BYR/A Christy Ottaviano Book;
$16.99, Ages 8-14)

cover image for Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel

 

In Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motelwhen thirteen-year-old Stevie’s parents are killed in an accident, she’s uprooted from her New Mexico home and sent to live in the Texas Sunrise Motel with a grandfather she doesn’t remember. Though grandfather Winston is standoffish, Stevie quickly connects with the motel’s eclectic group of people, including a cute boy her age named Roy.

Living in the same room where her mother grew up sparks Stevie’s curiosity about her parents’ kept-quiet past; grandfather Winston coolly avoids personal topics. Instead of enrolling Stevie in public school, she’s sent to the same woman who homeschooled her mother—the ancient and narcoleptic Mrs. Crump. Here, Stevie finally begins to piece together the puzzle about what her mother was like as a girl.

In this moving middle grade novel, Stevie struggles to cope with choices that are being made without her consent. Just as she’s settling into Texas, an unknown aunt invites Stevie to Louisiana. Now it’s up to her to decide between living with fun and loud cousins or returning to her seemingly detached grandfather and the motel’s motley cast of characters. Stevie’s comfortable world has ended; she’s adrift in new beginnings and explorations.

Kimberly Willis Holt‘s effective use of plant imagery throughout will not be lost on readers. Stevie parents ran a fruit and flower stand, her Louisiana cousins are in the nursery business—digging in the dirt is in Stevie’s genes. Discovering where Stevie puts down roots is the heart of this gentle, character-driven, and finely crafted story.

Click here to see Holt’s book tour schedule.

  • 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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Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) by Julie Bowe

 

BIG & LITTLE QUESTIONS
(ACCORDING TO WREN JO BYRD)
Written by Julie Bowe
(Kathy Dawson Books; $16.99, Ages 7-9)

 

Big & Little Questions book cover image

 

Find out about this fab new middle grade novel, Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) in Christine Van Zandt’s glowing review. Good Reads With Ronna also wishes author Julie Bowe a very Happy Book Birthday today!

Over the summer, Wren Jo Byrd, a shy nine-year-old, was abruptly sent to stay with her grandparents while her Mom and Dad split up. Rather than confess what was going on to BFF Amber, Wren ignored her.

At the start of the new school year, Wren finds that Amber is best buddies with Marianna Van Den Heuval, the new girl in town; Wren pretends nothing has changed. However, Wren’s lies about her family become hard to maintain because she must split her time between two households. Wren doesn’t understand how this could be good for them.

Marianna, from the big city of Portland, blows into Wisconsin like a diva with an agenda. She peppers her dialogue with wonderfully realistic preteen talk, such as “We’re going to have So. Much. Fun!” Yet, Marianna’s bravado isn’t all it seems. Wren discovers some of Marianna’s secrets and begins a list of questions for Marianna—the only girl she knows whose parents are divorced. As Amber is swept away in Marianna’s coolness, Wren wrestles with what it means to be a friend and dreads what will happen when everyone discovers the truth.

Julie Bowe’s first-person voice captures Wren’s fears and the complexities in her life. The text is punctuated by definitions Wren looks up on her phone, such as to the word “happy” (meaning “content”) and then “content” (meaning “not needing more”). These lead her to wonder, “When did Mom and Dad stop being happy? . . . How come no one told me we needed more?”

Everyone has secrets; Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), gives us a glimpse into why we hide our truths and the consequences we must endure when we choose to lie. This heartfelt story is about accepting change as friendships and families evolve beyond our control.

 

  • 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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Trucks, Tractors and Cars – A Transportation-Themed Picture Book Roundup

TRUCKS, TRACTORS AND CARS:
A PICTURE BOOK ROUNDUP

 

race-car-dreamsRace Car Dreams
Written by Sharon Chriscoe
Illustrated by Dave Mottram
(Running Press Kids; $16.95, Ages 2-6)

A little race car settles down after a long, tiring day in this new going-to-bed book for little ones into all things automobile. It’s a quick read with approximately 200 words but it’s packed with cuteness! Adorable illustrations accompany the quiet rhyming text as the race car gets ready for bed and has sweet dreams. I’d highly recommend this book as a fun alternative to any animal-themed bedtime books. It’s sure to be a much requested going-to-bed story.

 

with-any-luck-ill-drive-a-truckWith Any Luck, I’ll Drive a Truck
Written by David Friend
Illustrated by Michael Rex
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

This is a clever, witty book written from a young boy’s perspective about when he learned how to operate several trucks and big machines. It’s hilarious how the author gets you believing that at such a young age, this boy is using a cement mixer, backhoe, 18-wheeler … you name it and this boy has probably operated it! You come to find out they are all toy trucks he’s operated and his room is like a parking lot, but when he grows up he’d love to drive a truck. Great rhyme teaches about various large trucks, and wonderfully bold and bright illustrations make this book one of my new favorites!

 

 

Duck on a Tractorduck-on-a-tractor
Written and illustrated by David Shannon
(The Blue Sky Press/ Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Duck gets on a tractor, after all he rode a bike before! After pressing a few petals and trying various things he turned a “shiny little piece of metal by the steering wheel.” Pretty soon all the farm animals are hopping on for the ride, saying their regular animals sounds by thinking something different. The animals end up going onto the main road past the diner and it’s such a sight to see that nobody can quite believe all those animals are on a tractor. Yet once the diner crowd goes outside there’s no trace of the animals. The farmer must have just left the tractor on! Another great book from David Shannon with spectacular illustrations that are sure to enthrall kids ages 4-8.

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch
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Brunhilda’s Backwards Day by Shawna J.C. Tenney Blog Tour

BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY BLOG TOUR
Written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney
(Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-8)

 

Brunhilda's backwards day book cover

 

It’s day three of the Brunhilda’s Backwards Day Blog Tour and I’ve got this question to ask readers: What comes to mind when you think of a witch – someone mean and warty riding a broomstick and wearing a pointy hat, with a cat as a sidekick, and always up to no good? That sounds exactly like the witch in Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, the debut picture book from author and illustrator Shawna J.C. Tenney.

 

Interior artwork of Brunhilda the witch from Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Tenney takes us through a typical Brunhilda day, from her start getting out of “the wrong side of the bed,” and putting on her ugliest outfit (because what witch do you know who wears designer dresses?), to finding great satisfaction in chanting troublesome spells:

Lumpy grumpy fly pie stew!!
Hocus Pocus
hippity hoppity spew!

 

Oh the wickedly witchy things she concocts to annoy people!  But it seems Brunhilda isn’t alone in brewing up mischief. Her feline friend, who all along appears rather reluctant to wreak havoc, has some plans of her own!!

 

Interior artwork from Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

When Bruhilda awakens the following day, her warts are gone, she has only oatmeal not spider mush to eat for breakfast, and horror of horrors, her ugly dress has turned into a “fluffy pink ball gown.” And try as she might to do all her awfulness, Brunhilda soon finds herself unable to be cruel. In fact she actually delights in bringing joy to the children and families she ordinarily would upset.

 

Interior spread of Brunhilda in ruffly pink ball gown Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Seeing Brunhilda’s transformation in both words and illustrations is pure pleasure. There’s even an early foreshadowing Tenney’s included on the book’s title page illustration showing the wicked witch pouring water on her cat. Tenney’s text, in a fabulous font, is simple, and succinct. It’s surrounded by lots of lovely white space which also serves to contrast the empowering pink, pulsating purples and gorgeous greens in the artwork.

 

Interior artwork of magical playground in Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Brunhilda’s Backwards Day begs to be read aloud with a cackling voice and a crooked finger, while pointing out all the magical goings on in the vibrant artwork.  I totally enjoyed this charming Halloween treat and have no doubt your kids will fall under Brunhilda’s happy spell.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

Find out more about the blog tour here.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-2-07-20-pm

 

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Raymie Nightingale written by Kate DiCamillo

RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo book cover

 

Reviewer Hilary Taber calls Raymie Nightingale, “A rare and hopeful song.” But after reading her review, you’ll discover, as with all DiCamillo’s books, it’s that and so much more

Raymie Clarke is preparing herself to enter the Little Miss Florida Central Tire competition. Her father has recently run off with a dental hygienist, and Raymie is determined to win so that he will see Raymie’s picture in a newspaper and will, of course, come back to his family. This is the initial plan, but like most plans it doesn’t turn out the way that Raymie originally intended. First of all she needs to learn how to twirl a baton in order to win the competition. It is during those baton twirling classes that she meets her “rancheros”, her new friends who become like family. Gritty, but sweet Beverly, and storyteller extraordinaire Louisiana, help her through this hard time. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is more than just a little girl with a big dream to get her father to come home. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is destined for adventures with her new friends that show Raymie that she is the hero of her own difficult time. Raymie finds that somewhere in her is a person who is stronger than the storms of life. She also learns that, with help from her friends, she can manage to make her way to a new life full of goodness and grace. It is a life that she could have never imagined when she began making her plans to turn things around. Kate DiCamillo delivers yet another wonderful novel that makes you believe again in the strong, incredible power of friendship and hope.

It is that rare quality of combining sorrow with sweetness that makes every book she writes life affirming. Every book is like watching a sweet spring creep over a winter world. Often as a children’s bookseller, I see an absolute faith placed in her books by the children who read them. Even though the story might be hard to read, the children show a willingness to take the journey with Kate. Time and time again I wonder what it is that they are feeling when they look at her books in their little hands. I think it’s something akin to knowing that she is telling them the truth. There is a certain peace in that. Kate tells us that life is hard, but you should always hope. Hope is real, hope is something to hold on to, hope is the stuff of life.

On a personal note I feel that Kate DiCamillo is the E.B. White of our generation. Like White she is adept in the art of condensing profound thoughts into short, but amazing sentences. I was honored to meet her recently and to have my copy of Raymie Nightingale signed. I think it’s worth noting that beyond the wonderful writing is a very brave writer. Kate has personally been through the very hard experience of having an absent father, and she has courageously taken up the task of writing about this time in her life. That had to be difficult. Ultimately I think her bravery in writing about this time in her life will help to heal others who have gone though something similar. So, here is to one amazing writer who is also incredibly resilient, just like Raymie.

Come back tomorrow to read Hilary’s interview with Kate DiCamillo to get the inside scoop.
Download a teacher’s guide here.
Download a book discussion guide here.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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Best Valentine’s Day Books for Children

BEST VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

 

Red-Big-Heart-

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.

I_Love_You-AlreadyI LOVE YOU ALREADY! 
Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies
(Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.

 

LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THINGLove_is_My-Favorite-Thing
Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!

Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”

Worm_Loves_WormWORM LOVES WORM
Written by J.J. Austrian
Illustrated by Mike Curato
(Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.

When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.”  The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.

CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUGChick_n_Pug_The_Love_Pug
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5)
Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the  intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Other Valentine’s Day Books We Recommend:

Here Comes Valentine CatHere_Comes_Valentine_Cat
Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Ollie’s Valentine (A Gossie & Friends Book)Ollies_Valentine
Written and illustrated by Oliver Dunrea
(HMH; $6.99, Board Book)

 

 

 

Plant_a_KissPlant a Kiss
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Harper; $7.99, Board Book)

 

 

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Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

MAPLE & WILLOW APART
Written & illustrated by Lori Nichols
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

Maple & Will Apart by Lori Nichols

Maple & Willow Apart, the follow up to author/illustrator Lori Nichols’ Maple and Maple & Willow Together, will draw in fans new and old alike as they witness Maple and Willow’s growing sisterly bond.

Done in pencil and digitally colored, the illustrations emphasize the two central characters. The background is simply white with just enough detail to hint at the setting.  At center stage of the book is the sisters’ relationship.

When a major change in their routine takes place, both girls feel this relationship may be in jeopardy. Maple, now old enough to attend “big-girl school,” will be away from home, and her younger sister Willow, for most of the day. While the two pretend this fact doesn’t bother them, their actions speak louder than words.

From Monday through Wednesday, Maple returns home sharing the thrill of her new school life–perhaps a bit too forcefully. Speaking in what seems like a mile a minute, she narrates with open arms, expressive eyes, and a dazzling smile. In true sibling rivalry fashion, Willow subtly strikes back with her own tale of adventures with an imaginary forest friend. In this game of one-upmanship,or rather one-upgirlship, each sibling creates a more fantastic story than the other.  

Though underneath the theatrics lie real emotions:  the fear of separation and the longing to express it. By Thursday morning, the siblings have toned down their contest of words allowing for the natural bonds of sisterhood to take over and heal their friendship. First in pig Latin, then in more candid conversation, Maple shares how she “miss[es] playing at home” with Willow who admits to sharing the same feelings. While younger, Willow finds a way to stay connected with her sister even when Maple is away at school.  

For families who are experiencing a similar change or for parents looking to open a more general discussion of separation, I highly recommend Maple & Willow Apart. The inherent presence of love between family members ensures that no change is too scary to face.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

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

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

I'm New Here CVR 300

 

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

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

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

I'm New Here Spread 1 300

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

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

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

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

 

I'm New Here Spread 3 300

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

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

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

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Madame Martine by Sarah S. Brannen

MADAME MARTINE
written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen 
(Albert Whitman & Company, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Madame-Martine-cvr.jpgWith soft, smudgey watercolors, the book shows us the unsmiling Madame going about her usual business. She even irons with her back turned to a gorgeous view of the Eiffel Tower from her apartment window! “Eh! It’s a tourist thing,” she says dismissively.

Then one rainy day, Madame discovers a small, wet, dirty dog that licks her hand and wags its tail. “It needs me,” she thinks, and “A dog might be nice.” She takes him home, cleans him up, and names him Max.

Max fits comfortably into Madame’s routine life, until one day he takes off after a squirrel and chases it under the turnstile to the Eiffel Tower. Madame has no choice but to buy a ticket and follow him. Young readers will relish the wild journey as Max rushes all the way to the top, even taking the elevator! Will Madame be cross with her pup, or will Max’s unplanned adventure change her life for the better?

Brannen’s illustrations masterfully capture the intricate metalwork that compose the Eiffel Tower and she paints the full range of misty, hazy sky shades that drape Paris in the spring. Beautiful large spreads of the flickering city lights help reinforce the idea that the world beyond one’s doorstep is a wondrous place to explore. Children will adore the cuddly, lively Max whose puppyish energy and enthusiasm ooze off the page.

MADAME MARTINE is a nice book to share with children who embrace routine and resist change. It is also refreshing to see an older person portrayed in a picture book as a character who is still open to change, growth and discovery. And while Madame is not completely transformed, the book gently emphasizes that life is a sweeter journey with a good friend – or dog – at your side.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

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

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