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Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm by Antonie Schneider

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Susanne Strasser
(Holiday House; $16.95, ages 4-8)

 

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First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.  

As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.

Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].”  The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.  

It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.

Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person.  Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.  

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

JANINE.
Written and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

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Janine “is one of a kind” and this delightful picture book full of expressive dialogue and artwork, about a special little girl, portrays her uniqueness thoughtfully and unabashedly. I’m so glad this book’s been written because, while there are a spate of books that deal with kids who feel different, Cocca-Leffler knows first hand about children with disabilities and their differences. Janine. is actually based on her experiences raising her special needs daughter, the titular Janine. While Janine certainly marches to the beat of her own drummer, and adults reading the story might find her quirkiness quite charming, one particular classmate in the book certainly does not. That lack of empathy, along with Janine’s authenticity, is the basis for this tale.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Here’s just a snippet from the book’s very brief description of Janine, because for the most part, Cocca-Leffler lets Janine’s words move the story forward and that works so well.

She reads the dictionary
when others are playing
and listens when no one
thinks she is.

That’s how Janine overhears that a private party is being planned by this self-proclaimed “cool kid” and she’s not on the list of guests.

“Janine. You are STRANGE!
You have to
CHANGE!”

Kids with NLD (nonverbal learning disorder/disability), Asperger’s or high functioning Autism, often may be hyper verbal with amazing memories as Janine is depicted, but can often be lacking in social skills. This can make it difficult fitting in with their typically developing peers. Plus, kids can be cruel and insensitive at this age, like the bully who tells Janine she’s not invited to her party. NOTE: I love the illustration that immediately follows the bully’s nasty pronouncement above. One classmate in a red baseball cap who seems to like Janine, tosses his invitation after witnessing the bully’s hurtful behavior.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Ever resourceful, Janine decides to throw her own party …

“and EVERYONE is invited!”

And guess, what? Everyone except the bully wants to go!  With a happy ending like that, it’s easy to see why this book about kindness, and inclusion should be in every classroom and school library. It’s important to note, however, that not all real life situations have such positive outcomes; all the more reason why making available picture books about children with disabilities should be the goal of every school district and school librarian. The sooner we start the conversation about the importance of diversity, whether it’s race, gender or differing abilities, the sooner that bullies will wield less power in the classroom and on the playground and a more tolerant, accepting generation will emerge.

Be sure to read the jacket flap of this book to learn more about Cocca-Leffler’s inspiration for the story and Janine’s commitment to being a “role model to children and adults, encouraging them to focus on abilities, not disabilities.”

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Visit www.JaninesParty.com, created by Cocca-Leffler and Janine as a resource for parents, teachers and students.

Click here to download a Janine. coloring page.

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Book Love Blog Hop – Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds by Jim Stoten

 Share some book love today!

bunny

Image created by Dana Carey

We’ve joined up with this clever Book Love Blog Hop after being tagged by reviewer and blogger, Cathy Ballou Mealey. The goal is to spread some book love which we’re doing for an imaginative picture book from this past September ’14 called Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds (Flying Eye Books, $19.95, Ages 3-7) by Jim Stoten. The Blog Hop is part of Carrie Finison’s innovative Book Love Blog Hop, and we’re sure you’ll agree that it’s an absolutely brilliant concept!

The idea is to help promote children’s books worthy of positive social media attention. But with so many picture books competing for coverage, it’s difficult for every book to get their 15 minutes (or longer) of fame. As bloggers, we can help get the word out about terrific kidlit titles that may have been overlooked, and play our part in sharing some overdue shout outs.

MrTweed-cvr.jpgMr. Tweed’s Good Deeds, a seek-and-find counting book from 1-10, kept me throughly entertained as I dove in to search the first wildly colorful two-page spread. I was on the lookout for 1 kite that had snapped its string. While trying to locate the kite, I noticed so many other marvelous and zany things the author/illustrator included in a park scene: trees resembling paper airplanes and another sporting sunglasses and a hat, an enormous purple dog, an over-sized snail, some ducks on bikes and even an enormous shoe.  Kids’ll have a blast pointing out the various items they notice as Mr. Tweed helps an unhappy little crocodile retrieve his lost kite.

“It felt good to help people,” Mr. Tweed thought to himself, as he left the park.

Next up Mr. Tweed volunteers to find Tibbles and Timkins, 2 adorable kittens belonging to Mrs. Fluffycuddle, that are hiding in a cottage garden. For Americans, the depiction of English scenery is a great introduction to another country although, apart from the double decker buses and no punctuation after Mr. or Mrs., it might be hard to realize the illustrator and book are from the U.K.

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Interior artwork from Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds by Jim Stoten, Flying Eye Books ©2014.

Kids and parents alike will have to use keen observation skills to spot the missing mice in the third spread which is a library packed with shelves and shelves of books. My favorite illustrations were of the pool, the market and the river, but I think youngsters will also enjoy the woods, the bustling street scene, the fair, and the big surprise waiting at the end.

Mr. Tweed’s kind gestures do not go unrewarded! Best of all, parents and kids will also be rewarded by the fun that is certain to be found exploring every inch of every single page in this cheerful, quirky counting picture book with its eye-popping artwork and its positive message. Try a little kindness and see how contagious it can be!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

BOOK LOVE Blog Hop Instructions

1. Pick some books you love (any genre) that you think deserve more attention than they are getting.

2. Post reviews for the books you chose on Amazon/social media. The reviews can be brief – even a short review on Amazon helps. Posting on Goodreads or Shelfari is great, too, or Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. The more places you can publicly proclaim your love, the better!

3. If you want, you can also post the reviews on your own blog, or link your blog back to your reviews on social media.

4. Feel free to display the BOOK LOVE badge designed by Dana Carey on your blog – and if you want, link it back to this post so your visitors know what it’s all about.

5. Tag some friends to do the same! Tag friends through their blogs, or on Facebook.

That’s it! If you don’t want to wait to be tagged, you can jump right in and start reviewing and tagging yourself.

Good Reads With Ronna tags Danielle Davis, Mia Wenjen, Valarie Budayr and Catherine Friess. 

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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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