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Middle Grade Nonfiction Book Review – The Life Heroic

THE LIFE HEROIC

How to Unleash Your Most Amazing Self

By Elizabeth Svoboda

Illustrated by Chris Hajny

(Zest Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

The Life Heroic book cover

 

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and so do heroic actions. The Life Heroic by Elizabeth Svoboda is her first children’s book and follows her adult novel, What Makes a Hero? An award winning science writer, Svoboda weaves what she has learned into stories and books to help kids and adults tap into their highest potential to become everyday heroes.

TheLifeHeroic 00 Intro Ribbon

Interior artwork from The Life Heroic written by Elizabeth Svoboda and illustrated by Chris Hajny, Zest Books ©2019.

The colorful emoji like art created by Chris Hajny is woven into each page with bold print highlighting the sentences meant to leave the reader with the most impact. Chapter 1, “What it Means to be a Hero,” includes the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger. He successfully landed Flight 1549 after a power loss to the aircraft’s engines forced a Hudson River landing. Sullenberger then worked with his crew to help the passengers get out safely through the cabin’s emergency exits.

Landing a plane in the river is not the only way to be considered a hero, Svoboda explains. Ten-year-old Ethan had traveled to Mozambique with his father. One day, while kicking a soccer ball, Ethan discovered kids in the village lived on less than a dollar a day. Those children had to create makeshift soccer balls out of things like trash bags wrapped in twine. “I thought to myself, I have six or seven soccer balls just sitting in my garage,” so he decided to give his ball as a parting gift. This one gesture gave Ethan the idea to donate soccer balls to the village. Others had a need that he could help fix.  Eventually he created the non-profit Charity Ball, which now donates soccer balls to countries in need around the world.

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Interior artwork from The Life Heroic written by Elizabeth Svoboda and illustrated by Chris Hajny, Zest Books ©2019.

Each engaging chapter provides ideas on how to find your own heroism. Chapter 4 is called “Seek Mentors and Role Models.” In it readers are recommended to “always be on the lookout for people whose lives are examples of the way we would like to conduct our own lives, interact with the world, savor joys and overcome challenges.” Svoboda suggests putting a portrait up in your room, or somewhere else you’ll see it often, of your role model so on tough or frustrating days it will help remind you of the heroic qualities you want to demonstrate no matter what challenges you face.

Stories go back and forth from everyday people to heroes from history such as Frederick Douglass. The follow-up section, “Questions for Discussion,” highlights the main talking points of each chapter. For example Chapter 8 talks about how helping others sometimes forces us to face our own pain and hard times. It asks the reader to think about some tough or difficult situations they’ve been through and what advice they would give others going through the same thing.

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Interior artwork from The Life Heroic written by Elizabeth Svoboda and illustrated by Chris Hajny, Zest Books ©2019.

“Aimed at kids, this book is also fascinating for adults. With thorough research and drawing on her expertise writing about science, Svoboda offers some remarkable takeaways about heroism”:

  • Most heroes are ordinary people
  • There is a hero inside everyone
  • The ability to be courageous can be strengthened, just like a muscle
  • Going through tough times can sharpen heroic instincts
  • Being a hero doesn’t have to involve tackling an intruder or fishing someone from an icy lake—and in fact, most often doesn’t!

This thought provoking guide can be read chapter by chapter or by skimming through the bolded font. Svoboda’s book is a powerful read for tweens and teens interested in the big questions in their minds about what kind of life to lead and what actually creates meaning.

I’d also recommend it for teachers who’d like to develop talking points from the book to ask questions to students. Parents can also use this book as a tool to discuss heroism with their children. The Life Heroic reminds us that wearing a mask and cape is not necessary to be a hero, and encourages us to rethink the assumption about heroism; people who make the biggest impact aren’t always the ones who make headlines, in fact, all of us can embark on heroic quests to make a difference on issues that matter. I know The Life Heroic will resonate with young readers and hope it finds its way onto bookshelves in libraries as well as homes.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Click here for another review by Ronda.

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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part Two

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART TWO

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

The King of Kindergarten cvrTHE KING OF KINDERGARTEN
Written by Derrick Barnes
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

The King of Kindergarten written by Newberry honoree Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, transforms the average day at kindergarten into an extraordinary, royal adventure.

It’s fun to read Barnes’ regal language. As Mom says, “today” her little boy is going to be the “King” and, with this encouragement, he prepares to venture out confidently. Brushing his “Royal Chiclets,” he dresses himself and “wolf[s] down a tower of pancakes.” I love the emphasis here on growth, maturity, and independence. Being “deliver[ed] … to a grand fortress” (a.k.a. school), he joins the “round table” where he cheerfully exchanges greetings with his classmates. The royal theme continues during circle time, recess, lunchtime, and beyond, each opportunity allowing him to exercise his noble code of honor by braving playground politics, sharing his royal bounty (in the form of an extra cup of chocolate pudding), and showing kindness to his friends. Vibrant colors invite us readers to participate in the little boy’s “Kindergarten Kingdom;” flowing shapes excite us with anticipation of what’s next on his adventure.

A great way to introduce the school day to budding kindergartners, The King of Kindergarten shows us how a little change of perspective can rewrite a potentially scary event into a magical tale.

See Derrick Barnes on August 31 at Little Shop of Stories, LLC in Decatur, GA

 

Truman book coverTRUMAN
Written by Jean Reidy
Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

Written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, Truman is a heartwarming story of the loving relationship between a pet and his owner. But it can also be read as a tale about the challenges a younger sibling faces as his older sister starts school.

There is no doubt readers of all ages will fall in love with Truman. How could you not? He’s “the size of a donuta small donutand every bit as sweet.” In simple yet powerful ways, Reidy and Cummins express the affection Truman and Sarah share. Sarah isn’t merely Truman’s owner; she’s “his Sarah” (my emphasis)  who shares the same “peaceful and pensive” personality as her adorable tortoise. Humble shapes and bursts of yellow throughout paint a happy home with decor that brings back memories of my own childhood, notably, the Felix the Cat look-a-like clock on the wall.

This particular day, though, is “truly unsettling” because Sarah is acting different. She eats a “big banana” at breakfast, “clip[s] on a blue bow in her hair,” “strap[s] on a backpack SOOOOOO big thirty-two tortoises [can] ride along in it,” and leaves extra food for Truman. Most shockingly, she boards the number 11 bus, that mysterious bus he can see from his window riding in the “honking,” “growling” city below. Truman spends the day in worrisome wonder as to where Sarah could possibly be and why it’s taking her so long to return.

Through Reidy’s funny tone and Cummins’ artistic perspective, Truman’s journey out of the safety of his tank, and his determination to find his beloved owner is as endearing as it is humorous. Of all the challenges Truman faces, my favorite is his crossing of the living room rug“That glorious … ENDLESS rug” made all the more imposing by the mean looking toys along his path we see through Truman’s eyes. When he hears the number 11 bus, he’s ready to cross the threshold, but Sarah is back in time to reunite with her pet and congratulate him on his bravery.

Truman encourages all of us facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge with the message cleverly written on city bus #11:  See New Sights! Hear New Sounds! Think New Thoughts!

Pirates-Dont-Go-To-Kindergarten-cvrPIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN!
Written by Lisa Robinson
Illustrated by Eda Kaban
(Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Can an honorable pirate be loyal to more than one captain? This is the question posed in Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten! written by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Eda Kaban.

Equipped with the pirate basics (treasure map, spyglass, and cutlass), Emma storms into school, this first day of kindergarten, determined to set sail once again in last year’s ship commanded by “the roughest, toughest, awesomest preschool pirate cap’n ever”Cap’n Chu. Yet, it’s a new year and, as Ms. Chu gently reminds Emma, Cap’n Chu has “‘a new band of pirates” to lead. Despite attempts by Cap’ns Chu and Hayes (Emma’s new teacher) to interest Emma in her outer-space-themed kindergarten classroom, Emma sails back to Cap’n Chu’s ship, fiercely allegiant to her pirate roots.

When Ms. Hayes’ class pet needs feeding, Emma shows interest and discovers all the fun activities in the kindergarten class:  a nature center, an art studio, a reading nook, and science station. What’s the one thing missing? “NO CAP’N CHU!” Back in Ms. Chu’s classroom, everything blows out into a full mutiny. This is where the book provides a great opportunity for caregivers to talk about just how confusing and conflicting emotions can be. At the heart of Emma’s protest is feelings of fear and loss at having to accept this major childhood transition and perhaps, even, feelings of guilt as devotion to one person may feel like betraying another. With heartwarming affirmation from Ms. Chu, Emma is ready to “‘open the shuttle hatch’” of her new classroom, bringing her own pirate spin to the kindergarten space station.

A great picture book for talking about transitions, Pirates Don’t Go To Kindergarten! will draw in seafarers and landlubbers alike.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Read more back-to-school book reviews here.

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This Little Chicken’s a Scaredy Cat – A Little Chicken by Tammi Sauer

A LITTLE CHICKEN
Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Dan Taylor
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4 and up)

 

 

cover illustration by Dan Taylor from A Little Chicken by Tammi Sauer

 

 

If your child enjoys sweet, pun-filled, read-aloud stories with an enjoyable mix of humorous artwork, a relatable subject and “the occasional lawn ornament,” pick up a copy of A Little Chicken to meet adorable Dot.

While not all poultry are petrified of every little thing, Dot sure is. From Taylor’s very first illustration in this picture book, readers will see from her school photo that Dot, the chicken, is being frightened by a spider. (NOTE: don’t miss the end papers.) She was indeed a scaredy cat chicken. Wolves, bears and even a lovely, fluttery butterfly terrified her.

 

int illustrations by Dan Taylor from A Little Chicken written by Tammi Sauer

Interior artwork from A Little Chicken written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Dan Taylor, Sterling Children’s Books ©2019.

 

Things went from scary to hairy pretty darn quickly when one day Dot knocked an egg out of the coop. Of course this was unintentional, but regardless, she couldn’t let her “soon-to-be sibling” roll away. Dot dashed for the egg but it remained just out of reach with funny obstacles around every corner. As the egg’s momentum carried it off towards the deep dark woods, Dot had to decide if she had it in her to brave the unknown. Was she more than fluff? ABSOLUTELY! She may have been a little chicken but she also knew what mattered in life.

This highly readable, entertaining picture book is perfect for parents prone to making sound effects. It cleverly lets youngsters know it’s okay to have fears but facing them may sometimes yield amazing results, in this case a precious baby sister.

Author Tammi Sauer’s chosen to focus on fear in a way that honors this feeling and provides an easy in for a discussion about this topic with children. The story flows smoothly and little ones will be rooting for Dot along with her farmyard fan club. Sauer’s wonderful way with words is evident in A Little Chicken and she uses all the right ones though quite economically because Dan Taylor’s hilarious illustrations say so much. All the animal characters that inhabit Dot’s world are not scary nor are the lawn ornaments. In fact, I rather hope they’ll make an appearance in another story. Definitely take a crack at this recommended read!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read a review of Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor’s But The Bear Came Back.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Groundhug Day by Anne Marie Pace

GROUNDHUG DAY
Written by Anne Marie Pace
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
(Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Cover image for Groundhug Day

 

Groundhug Day is a picture book delight that seamlessly weaves a heartwarming and credible friendship story together with Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day holidays. Making a themed book that can be read on more than a few days each year is a feat few authors and illustrators attempt, but the winning combination of Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise have managed to pull this off quite successfully!

Moose is planning a Valentine’s Day party and he’d like to celebrate with all his pals. There is however just one little hitch. While Bunny, Porcupine and Squirrel can attend, if Groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, he’ll “go back into his hole for six more weeks.” In other words, he won’t emerge in time for February 14th festivities. So it’s no surprise that when Groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, he’s quick to head back down, but hints there’s more to it than that. Ever the intuitive one, Moose thinks perhaps his pal is afraid of shadows. Determined to show Groundhog that shadows aren’t scary at all, Moose enlists help from his friends to demonstrate “just how awesome shadows are.”

Here’s where young readers, already drawn into the story, will be treated to several beautiful pages of illustrations (in addition to to all the other striking artwork in warm welcoming tones) showing what wonderful things shadows are and can do. It’s easy to feel the joy both author and illustrator felt about creating this lovely picture book. More fun times are in store because, despite no longer being fearful of shadows, Groundhog must still get his six weeks of sleep! This tale, honoring the support that genuine friendship offers, is both a sweet and satisfying read that has all the feels you’d want from a picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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LA LA LA: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo

LA LA LA:
A STORY OF HOPE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cvr image from La La La by Kate DiCamillo

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of  “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La La by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.

We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.

I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.

 

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.

Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.

La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.

Check out this link to a helpful teacher’s guide.

LA LA LA. Text copyright © 2017 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Jaime Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

    • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

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How To Catch A Monster by Adam Wallace & Andy Elkerton

 

HOW TO CATCH A MONSTER
Written by Adam Wallace
Illustrated by Andy Elkerton
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

Plus a Rafflecopter Giveaway 

cover image from How to Catch a Monster

A USA Today Bestseller!

From the creators of the New York Times bestselling How to Catch a Leprechaun and How to Catch an Elf!

There’s a monster in my closet,

with claws, and teeth, and hair,

and tonight, I’m going to scare him!

He lives just right through there …

Get ready to laugh as a young ninja heads into the closet to meet the monster that’s been so scary night after night! But what if things aren’t what they seem and our monster isn’t scary at all? What if our ninja hero is about to make a friend of the strangest sort?

 

Int artwork from How to Catch a Monster

Interior spread from How to Catch a Monster written by Adam Wallace with illustrations by Andy Elkerton, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2017.

 

CLICK HERE FOR A STORY TIME ACTIVITY KIT

 

Int spread from How to Catch a Monster

Interior spread from How to Catch a Monster written by Adam Wallace with illustrations by Andy Elkerton, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2017.

BIO:

Adam Wallace is a children’s writer and cartoonist living in Australia. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling How to Catch series and Only You Can Save Christmas.

Andy Elkerton is a children’s book illustrator based in the United Kingdom.

 

Int image from How to Catch a Monster by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton

Interior spread from How to Catch a Monster written by Adam Wallace with illustrations by Andy Elkerton, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2017.

SCROLL DOWN AND ENTER TO WIN! 

WHERE TO BUY THE BOOK

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Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill

WOLF CAMP
Written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill
(Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill picture book cover

It’s not Labor Day yet!

The shelves at the library and bookstore may be spilling over with “back-to-school” titles, but let’s hold on to summer silliness and camp craziness for just a bit longer. Truly, there is no one season for learning about how to tackle new experiences, face your fears and make new friends. Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill is a hilarious and heart-warming picture book that will encourage young listeners and little learners to be brave and have fun, and howl in harmony as one of the pack.

Our hero is Homer, a hound dog with scrawny neck and legs, big nose and a tail that wags frantically when he’s excited. Sometimes he acts “wolfish” pouncing playfully on his pink stuffed toy moose from behind the sofa. Homer believes all dogs have a bit of inner wolf, and fantasizes about living like one of the pack, racing through the wilderness with purpose. It seems like a dream come true when an invitation to Wolf Camp (“Where every dog can live as a wolf – for an entire week!”) falls into his kibble bowl.

Homer really wants to go to Wolf Camp. He pesters his human family, bringing the invitation to their attention over and over, until they relent and agree that he can go. “I’m going to be a wolf!” thinks Homer excitedly as he heads off on a big yellow bus. The camp counselors, Fang and Grrr, are actual wolves, sharp-nosed, pointy-eared, shaggy giants. Homer’s fellow campers are a bumbling, fuzzy golden retriever named Rex and Pixie, a teeny-tiny gray Chihuahua. Homer thinks the counselors seem nice, but the wolves appear slightly skeptical about the well-hidden potential in their new recruits. Nonetheless, after a detailed safety talk, the Wolf Camp lessons begin.

Zuill’s pen and ink drawings with watercolor wash are zany, charming and unbelievably expressive. She masterfully contrasts wolf and dog postures and body language, perfectly positioning their poised or clumsy bodies for stalking, howling, tracking and sleeping. The animals’ eye rolls, ear tilts, and tail movements convey oodles of meaning and emotion that enrich the wry, witty text and funny speech bubbles. It’s a guaranteed giggle when Homer pens a classic camp letter to his “people” at home, complaining about the food and bugs.

Wolf Camp is filled with loopy, lupine humor and heart. Readers will root for Homer, Rex and Pixie as they bond, persevere and slowly master the skills necessary for wolf-y, woodsy living. The new pack members succeed in earning Honorary Wolf certificates by the end of the week, but perhaps Homer has been changed forever by his wild experience. You’ll be howling with laughter throughout this silly, sweet and smart story for campers and canines alike.

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Wolf Camp from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
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The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin

THE YEAR OF THE MONKEY:
TALES FROM THE CHINESE ZODIAC

Written by Oliver Chin
Illustrated by Kenji Ono
(Immedium; $15.95, Ages 4-8)

新年好 / 新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo)
‘New Year goodness!’

The_Year_of_the_Monkey

We love getting the word out about Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac and this year we’re delighted to share his latest, The Year of the Monkey. If you know someone born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, and of course, 2016, they were born in the Year of the Monkey. I’m proud to have been born in The Year of the Dog, but I think many readers will enjoy figuring out which family members’ birthdays fall in the Year of the Monkey.

In just 36 pages, you’ll get to learn about the Chinese culture, its New Year, and its organization of time “in cycles of twelve years,” and symbolized by the zodiac circle. This circle consists of animals whose unique personality traits are supposed to be representative of those found in individuals born under that symbol.

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread1

Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

The little monkey Max was born to the Queen and her prankster husband, the Monkey King. “A chimp off the old block,” Max was eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, so much so that when he began school, he found it difficult to sit still and follow the teacher’s instructions. Maybe you know a child like this, or were just like Max when you were a child. Playing a sport is often a great way to channel all this pent up energy and that’s exactly what Max did. His friend Kai introduced him to jianzi, or shuttlecock, and was soon noticed by the coach. “Practice your technique and not your talking and you’ll go far.”

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread2

Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

Encouraged by his father, Max was eager to register for the annual shuttlecock tournament to try to beat the reigning champions. First though, Max, along with his pal, Kai, had to practice, practice, practice to earn a place in the big match. The boys’ commitment to honing their jianzi skills proved successful. While not initially keen on Max pursuing the sport, Max’s mother was impressed with his devotion. She even advised him to find a “special move,” something the Monkey King was thrilled to provide. After making it past the semi-finals and into the finals, the boys were now poised to face off with their formidable opponents, Tiger and Dragon, depicted as three times their size and certain of winning. Though the boys battled valiantly, it looked like they couldn’t defeat the champs. That is, until Max unleashed his powerful “Monkey Spike,” in an upset that allowed the boys to beat the best! Keeping this happy ending in mind, it’s no surprise that, in the book’s back matter, we learn from Chin that “People born in the Year of the Monkey are carefree, curious, and crafty. They are playful, nimble, and persistent. But they can be impetuous and naughty, and sometimes show off. Though they are fond of mischief, monkeys keep their eyes on the prize and are indispensable allies.”

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread4

Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

Children will quickly find themselves rooting for Max and Kai to defeat the Tiger and the Dragon and achieve what seemed like the unattainable. This story of perseverance and triumph is fast-paced and easy to follow. Plus for the first time, there’s text written in simplified Chinese characters making this bilingual book a great introduction for non-Chinese speakers and those already fluent who prefer a translation.The rainbow colored artwork, rendered by Dreamworks Feature Animation storyboard artist, Kenji Ono, brings the story to life as we watch Max and Kai prepare for the big contest.

I can easily see this book on school library bookshelves as its subject matter is really quite universal. The book is filled with strong action verbs, some which may be new to youngsters. These wonderful examples convey how words, complemented by fun illustrations, can add to the overall reading experience even make reading aloud for parents enjoyable and entertaining.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Get downloadable coloring pages here.
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Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley

TOUGH GUYS (HAVE FEELINGS TOO)
Written and illustrated by Keith Negley
(Flying Eye Books; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

ToughGuysHaveFeelingsToo-364x428

In less than 80 words, Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) manages to convey the important message to children that everyone (except perhaps robots) experiences a wide range of emotions despite any appearances to the contrary. Negley, a well-known illustrator, opens with a wrestler in a locker room feeling nervous while young readers see his opponent waiting in the ring. Then an astronaut is floating in space clutching a photo of his family far, far away. “You might not think it, but tough guys have feelings too.”

IntartTOUGHGUYSHAVEFEELINGS

Interior artwork from Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley, Flying Eye Books ©2015.

Ninja best friends can have a disagreement and feel sad or misunderstood. Superheroes, despite being on top of the world, can feel lonely, cowboys can get embarrassed, pirates searching for treasure can feel frustrated, strong, gallant knights don’t always succeed “No matter how strong.” These and  other examples of “tough guys” we may think never experience a “down” moment are all depicted showing their honest feelings. My favorite illustration, and perhaps one of the most powerful, has to be the big burly biker shedding tears over the squirrel in the road he likely has hit accidentally. The message, that it’s okay to get upset, may not be unique, but the way it’s conveyed to children is. The colorful artwork, coupled with the brief yet befitting narrative, allows parents to open a dialogue about feelings and emotions and the need to be authentic.

intart2TOUGHGUYSHAVEFEELINGS

Interior artwork from Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley, Flying Eye Books ©2015.

Don’t miss pointing out to children the endpapers in the front of the book showing the young boy, who is ultimately seen reading together with his dad at the story’s end, pretending to be all the characters depicted in Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too), and the endpapers in the back of the book showing the same boy doing all that pretend play alongside his dad. Sharing this picture book with preschoolers is a wonderful way to reinforce the point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having feelings, and that when they do indeed have a feeling of anger, fear, or embarrassment, they’re not alone.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Max the Brave by Ed Vere

 

MAX THE BRAVE
Written and illustrated by Ed Vere
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Autumn 2015 Kids’ Indie Next Pick!

Maxthebravecvr.jpg

Today we welcome a feisty, fearless new feline into the memorable mix of kitty picture book characters kids adore. Meet Max the Brave, a black kitten (seen on the cover sporting a red super hero cape), keen to chase a mouse. The catch is, Max’s not sure what a mouse looks like.

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Interior artwork from Max the Brave by Ed Vere, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2015.

In this adorable and addictive book, described as a cross between Are You My Mother? and I Want My Hat Back, U.K. author and illustrator Ed Vere fills the pages with humorous attempt after attempt by Max to find the rodent. From an empty tin can to up in a tree, and from an elephant –

“Excuse me, but would you
happen to be Mouse?”

“Eeek, Mouse?!
I’m not Mouse, I’m Elephant,”
says Elephant.
“But I did just see Mouse skitter by.”

– to finally coming face to face with the mouse, but not knowing what he’s looking at, the laugh out loud moments build to an entertaining conclusion. Young readers will find themselves urging Max on, especially when he’s tricked by clever Mouse into believing that the nearby sleeping Monster is actually the mouse that Max has been seeking all along. The comedy that ensues when Max confronts the real monster (with pink toenails) adds to the action and excitement.

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Interior artwork from Max the Brave by Ed Vere, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2015.

This play on identities will also delight parents since many of the characters Max meets on his quest are those who either fear cats or mice. This great read feels like a classic cartoon where we, as the audience, may know the outcome, but delight in the journey.

Bright artwork, fabulous facial expressions on every cute creature Max encounters, along with short sentences placed pleasingly on every page work together making Max the Brave a picture book worthy of multiple reads and huge smiles.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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New Star Wars Epic Yarns Board Book Trilogy from Chronicle Books

If Kids Haven’t Felt the Force, Now is the Time!
Star Wars Epic Yarns Trilogy:
A New Hope; The Empire Strikes Back;  & Return of the Jedi
by Jack and Holman Wang
(Chronicle Books; $9.99 each, ages 0-2)

 

StarWarsEpicYarnsANewHopeAs fans know, today, May 4th, is Star Wars Day so what better way to celebrate than by sharing a new trilogy of board books from the creative team of Jack and Holman Wang? These 24 paged, sturdy books are ideal for introducing a new generation to an American film icon. The three books, Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope, Star Wars Epic Yarns: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars Epic Yarns: Return of the Jedi do not disappoint, in fact they are quite amazing when you consider how they were made.

StarWarsEpicYarnsEmpireÜber inventive twin brothers, Jack and Holman, have painstakingly recreated classic scenes (12 in fact) using felt as their medium! The 12 scenes in each book were designed using 7:1 scale. The characters and settings, including the desert, swamp, forest and snow, all have been recreated to resemble the original locales. And if that’s not mind-blowing enough, the Wangs have been able to reduce the gist of each plot line down to 12 individual words for little ones to see, hear and learn.

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I can picture grandparents, parents and caregivers reading the board books with a huge smile on their faces as they recall major scenes from the Star Wars films that have stayed with them for years, maybe decades.  In the first book, youngsters see the captured Princess Leia conversing with R2-D2 and so the word, princess, is introduced. Luke Skywalker discovers the hidden Death Star plans in the droid, boy, learns to use a lightsaber, meets captain Hans Solo, travels through space, and the colorful cast of characters become heroes in the end.

The story breakdown in the other two board books is similar in that the Wang brothers have perfectly paired words with characters and selected the best scenes to reproduce. Little ones are going to LOVE the Wang’s little green Jedi Master Yoda and be impressed by the commanding stature of Darth Vader, father and laugh at the marvelous monster depiction in felt of Jabba the Hutt.

I sure wish these clever books had been around when my kids were little, but now I can at least look forward to sharing them one day with my grandchildren before they, like millions of others, get hooked on the films!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Retold.

The Snow Queen
Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara
Barefoot Books; $9.99; Chapter book for ages 8 and up

The Snow Queen
Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova
Minedition; $19.99; Picture book for ages 5 and up

To those in the USA who are busy surviving snow storms and blizzards, winter might seem like a curse. For those who are stifling under drought conditions, snow must seem like a fleeting, magical element. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen combines the danger and wonder of snow in an imaginative tale. When a shard of an evil mirror pierces his eye, Kay sees only the bad in the world. This makes him easy prey for the Snow Queen, who kidnaps him. Kay’s best friend Gerda decides to rescue him. To do so, she must set out on a long and arduous journey where she encounters talking birds and animals, magical flowers, an enchantress, a robber girl, and a princess. Gerda’s love for her friend is her greatest help, and she battles the bitter cold to reach the Snow Queen’s icy palace. There, Gerda frees Kay from his frozen heart and the Snow Queen’s grasp.

It’s little wonder that this fantastical story continues to be retold, even 171 years after its original publication. Here are two retellings of this tale of friendship and courage.

The Snow Queenthesnowqueen_pb_w
Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara
Barefoot Books: Step Inside A Story; $9.99

With “accelerated vocabulary and complex sentence structure for the confident reader,” Barefoot Books presents its adapted version as a chapter book for ages eight and up. At 64 pages within seven chapters, the book is a good length for that age group. Here’s a taste of this exciting story:

The bags of provisions were taken and Gerda was dragged from the saddle. Her arms were pinned behind her, and a bony robber with bristling eyebrows and a hairy chin prodded and poked at her new clothes. “Quite the little lady…” he murmured as he drew his sharp dagger and held it to her throat.

“No!” shouted a clear, commanding young voice.

What I greatly enjoyed about this version was the evocative art by French artist, Miss Clara. Whimsical illustrations produce an ethereal sense of people and places. The jacket description states that Miss Clara first creates maquettes (scale models of unfinished sculptures), which she then photographs. Next, she works on those images digitally. The results are simply beautiful and captivating. I also enjoyed the tangible feel of the book. The cover is made of thicker paper than most chapter books, as are the pages. This made the book in its own way feel more appropriate for chapter book readers, as if they are being recognized as older and entrusted with weightier books. In addition, Barefoot Books states that “we source paper from sustainably managed forests,” which adds to the appeal.

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Interior spread from The Snow Queen retold by Sarah Lowes with illustrations by Miss Clara, Barefoot Books, ©2011.

 

 

The Snow Queen
TheSnowQueen.jpg
Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova
Minedition; $19.99

Minedition presents its version of The Snow Queen as a picture book for ages 5 and up. Also 64 pages, this edition features large print for easy reading. Here’s the same sample as above:

They seized the horses, killed the coachman, footman and outriders, and dragged Gerda out of the carriage. “Oh, doesn’t she look tender and plump,” said the old robber woman who had a beard and bristly eyebrows. “This little girl will taste good!” And she brought out a sharp, shiny knife. But then she screamed, “Ouch!”… “Oh no, you don’t,” said the little robber girl.

Again, the art work is a huge draw for the book. The icy tones of the multiple shades of blue, silver, and green capture the feel of the cold and the iciness of the Snow Queen’s heart. The illustrations seem delicate and powerful at the same time.

The Snow Queen is a classic, and both versions are excellent versions that will fascinate children.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

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Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig

Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig
with illustrations by Craig Orback
Based on From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor’s Autobiography 
by Alter Wiener

(White Cloud Press, $16.95, Ages 8-12)

⭐︎Starred Review – Jewish Book Council

Gifts-From-the-Enemy-cvr.jpgTrudy Ludwig recounts the true story of Holocaust survivor, Alter Wiener, using his voice as narrator. Though in picture book format, this introduction to the Holocaust and its inhumanity, is geared to middle grade students. An absolutely powerful tale, Gifts from the Enemy introduces Wiener like this:

“My name is Alter Wiener and I am an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.”

From that very first page, I found myself immediately drawn into the story. Written chronologically, and focusing first on Wiener’s childhood, the book describes his home town, Chrzanów, Poland. His family lived a good, but simple life and his home was “full of books, food, laughter, and love.” Orback’s muted colored artwork conveys the quaintness of this prewar city where most families owned no car and walked most everywhere.

The book depicts the Wiener’s religious beliefs subtly. By the third spread where the family is all together, we feel the warmth and welcoming nature of the household where Wiener’s Papa would usually invite “a poor student or homeless person to share the Sabbath dinner with us.”

Soon the mood and book’s colors change as Hilter’s German Nazi soldiers invade Poland on September 1, 1939. Tragically, Wiener’s world will never be the same again. Harsh restrictions are placed on Jewish people, but many families do not have the financial resources or connections to flee. The Nazis prove to be hate mongers. First they kill Wiener’s Papa when he was just 13. When he was 14 they took his brother away and when he was 15 it was his turn to be carted off. “I and many others were herded like cattle onto trains headed to destinations far, far way from kindness, compassion, respect and dignity.”

How Wiener endured the cruel hardships he encountered daily at prison labor camps is a miracle in itself, but the other miracle is that, out of all the hatred and suffering, an act of kindness materialized. A German factory worker, under risk of death, began leaving the starving young man a bread and cheese sandwich. She did this by hiding the sandwich and directing his attention to where she’d put it. This went on for 30 days, undetected! And rather than continue feeling hopeless, he now had hope. The generosity and kindness of a stranger gave Wiener the will to survive and reinforced his early belief that for every cruel person there is a good person, too. There are strong, courageous individuals everywhere, in war and in peace, and though this woman on the outside was the enemy, inside she was his salvation.

This poignantly told, remarkable story of one man’s journey to freedom is one we need to be reminded of again and again. In Wiener’s Afterword he explains how he gives presentations to countless groups, schools and organizations in order to “prevent another genocide from happening again.” Back matter also contains information about the Holocaust, some Vocabulary as well as Discussion Questions for families and schools in addition to Recommended Activities for Young Readers. Please add this to your must-read list and buy an extra copy for your child’s school so they, too, can benefit from the positive message that Gifts from the Enemy shares.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read a review of The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

 

 

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Not Very Scary by Carol Brendler

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Not Very Scary,
written by Carol Brendler and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli,
is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Not-Very-Scary-cvr.jpgI love a good scare on Halloween. But when my kids were little they only wanted to be frightened a teensy, weeny bit, if at all. Are your children like that?  I’d say that Not Very Scary (Farrar Straus Giroux, $12.99, Ages 3-6) by Carol Brendler with illustrations by Greg Pizzoli, is just the right picture book for youngsters who want to feel the excitement and anticipation of Halloween without an ounce of the fear factor.

As the title says, this picture book is not very scary, in fact Brendler’s language has made it wonderfully whimsical and ultimately upbeat with its main character’s positive self-talk. This Halloween-themed tale takes Melly, the charming chartreuse-colored monster, on a walk to see her cousin, Malberta. Melly’s been invited over with the promise of a surprise, but on her journey to her cousin’s she is followed by all sorts of scary creatures, testing Melly’s bravery. She hesitates at first then continues on when she finds:

A coal-black cat with an itchy-twitchy tail!

Melly also encounters two skittish skeletons and three wheezy witches along with a trail of other seemingly frightening fiends. Also out for a stroll are seven frenzied fruit bats, eight spindly spiders, nine rambunctious rats, culminating with ten vexing vultures in this cumulative counting story that is sure to be read aloud to delighted children dozens of times. Parents can point out how the text builds up tension through Melly’s self-reassuring remarks. After seeing the coal-black cat, Melly says “Not the least bit scary,” to my favorite, “Not significantly scary,” upon seeing six sullen mummies. I love how Pizzoli drew each grouping of ghouls looks cautiously at the following set and he’s taken great care to make the characters absolutely adorable, never menacing, and all in marvelous colors. The ghosts grin, the witches balance on brooms and the mummies make some serious dance moves. And of course, the best part is the surprise at Malberta’s place that parents and kids alike will find most pleasing.

 

 

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