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Picture Book Review by Tracy C. Gold – If Your Babysitter is a Bruja

IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA

Written by Ana Siqueira

Illustrated by Irena Freitas

(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages: 4-8)

 

 

Bruja English Spanish covers

 

 

REVIEW:

If Your Babysitter Is a Bruja starts as a spooky Halloween tale and then develops layers as it goes on. Written in second person, If Your Babysitter Is a Brujachronicles how a child is scared of her babysitter. Clever illustrations by Irena Freitas show how a terrifying “bubbling cauldron” is actually a bathtub, a magic broomstick is a bicycle, and a slide is a magic castle. A clever scene showing the babysitter’s hat in a pile of water worries the child that her babysitter has melted, but the babysitter lives on … with delicious Pan de Muerto to ease the relationship. 

 

Bruja int spread pg9 bate bate chocolate
Interior spread from If Your Babysitter is a Bruja written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Irena Freitas, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2022.

 

From there, the babysitter and child become BFFs (or perhaps best brujas), and the night ends with the child looking out the window, sad the babysitter has left. This book will be perfect for kids anxious about being left with a babysitter or for those who are shy about making friends with new people. Certainly, that is something many families will struggle with following lengthy Covid lockdowns. 

 

 

Bruja int spread pg19 Cocodrilos
Interior art from If Your Babysitter is a Bruja written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Irena Freitas, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2022.

 

 

Ana Siqueira’s rhythmic text smoothly incorporates Spanish words and intertwines cultures with tasty treats from Dia de Los Muertos combined with Halloween decorations. The illustrations are quirky and sweet. 

  •  Review by Tracy C. Gold

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FOLLOW THE AUTHOR HERE:

You can learn more about Ana, by following her.


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Instagram: @irenafreitas

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Learn more about Tracy C. Gold, writer, and editor by following her.

Website: tracycgold.com
Twitter: @tracycgold

ANA’S OTHER BOOKS:

EL PATO QUIERE UVAS

  Order here: Teacher’s Discovery 2019

BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS –

  Order here:  Beaming Books- July 2021

 

 

 

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Recommended Read for Pride Month – Strong

 

NEW PICTURE BOOK FOR PRIDE MONTH

 

Pride graphic

It may be the last day of Pride Month, but here’s a book worth celebrating year round!

 

Strong coverSTRONG
Written by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood
Illustrated by  Nidhi Chanani 
(Little Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Strong is the kind of feel-good picture book that demonstrates to children, through a real-life example, the benefits of being true to themselves and following their dreams.

In this accessible biography, readers learn how, from an early age, Rob Kearney showed an affinity for lifting heavy things whether that was milk bottles or bags filled with groceries. As he grew so did his strength. He could easily pull a tug-of-war rope or lift cheerleaders sky-high. This powerful ability made him feel good about himself as his interest in weightlifting blossomed. “But Rob’s favorite sport was weightlifting. It required him to use every muscle in his body.” Sentences like this one give readers a wonderful understanding of what it was that appealed to Rob and why he ultimately pursued weightlifting as a career.

 

 

Strong int baby
Interior spread from Strong written by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, Little Brown YR ©2022.

 

Rob’s life was forever changed after being introduced to the Strongman competition at age 17. He learned it was SO much more than lifting heavy weights. To qualify, he’d have to be able to pull a vehicle, flip an enormous tire, lift a log over his head, and lots more that’s described in fascinating backmatter. The art and prose depict how committed Rob became and how he trained before school by running, swimming, and lifting all sorts of things. At his fittest, he could lift over 400 pounds which is more than a refrigerator!

 

Strong int2 kid
Interior illustrations from Strong written by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, Little Brown YR ©2022.

 

Without ever stating the main character’s queerness outright, the authors describe how, when not in his workout garb, Rob had a truly original style with his hair cut in a Mohawk, along with a flair for dressing in bright, bold colors and patterns that were 100% him. They also show Rob coming in last place at his first competition which is realistic as well as smart to demonstrate to children. People do not automatically win. Success takes hard work. And Rob was determined. He also was in love. Chanani’s vibrant art pairs perfectly with the text and reflects Rob’s personality in all its Strongman glory.  A favorite spread of mine is below.

 

Int art3 fire engine
Interior spread from Strong written by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, Little Brown YR ©2022.

 

While training Rob met Joey who motivated Rob to be himself. While it’s not clear how long after meeting Joey Rob went on to win the North American championship, what is clear is that Rob’s personal growth helped him overcome any challenges such as bullying and self-doubt he may have had on his journey. This picture book, full of hope and positivity is recommended for any child questioning their self-worth. Rob’s candid Author Note on how being openly gay helped “smash stereotypes” about sexual orientation and perceived strength reminds me of my former gay roommate in London who was a proud tri-athlete in the ’80s when laws still criminalized homosexuality. I believe this book does a great job of acknowledging and encouraging any children feeling unsure about themselves whether that relates to their sexuality or their self-confidence.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Also highly recommended:

The Rainbow Parade coverTHE RAINBOW PARADE
Written and illustrated by Emily Neilson
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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New Father’s Day Books for 2022

 

FATHER’S DAY BOOKS

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

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Daddy Speaks Love coverDADDY SPEAKS LOVE
Written by Leah Henderson
Illustrated by
 E. B. Lewis 
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

“Inspired by six-year-old Gianna Floyd’s words about her father, George Floyd, in the wake of his murder, this picture book centers the loving relationship between fathers and children.” – Publishers Weekly

This picture book resonated with me having just recently lost my dad making it my first Father’s Day without him. The lyrical stanzas describing love, truth, comfort, learning, heroes, trust, and pride unfold at a perfect pace as we glimpse special moments and lessons learned passed down from father to child.

Peopled by a diverse group of fathers and children and narrated from a child’s point of view, this picture book beautifully explores the importance and influence of fatherhood, especially for those of color. Using the powerful refrain “Daddy speaks” throughout, the text addresses simple activities (bedtime stories) to impactful insights only elders who’ve been there can share. “Daddy speaks LEARNING when he says, “’Listen up. This world isn’t always fair. This world isn’t always kind. And this you’ll need to know.’” Lewis’s moving watercolor illustrations present a realistic portrait of the characters in a warm palette that complements Henderson’s meaningful prose. The book includes a must-read author note at the end.

MY HERO
Written and illustrated by Brian Biggs
(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

I love how author-illustrator Brian Biggs has taken the “dad as superhero” story and turned it on its head. They’ll also see a father very active in caring for his daughter. Despite that, it’s obvious to little Abigail (aka Awesome Girl) that her father is not really listening to her or believing her amazing adventures. His priority is getting her bathed, while Awesome Girl’s goal is to serve mankind, rescue her cat from a tree (even though it doesn’t need rescuing), and “Save the day!”

When Abigail remains in the tub and her father goes to make dinner, her need to fight for truth and justice is once again spurred into action. A purple octopus monster abducts Abigail’s dad and is threatening him for not believing in his daughter. Awesome Girl, with her fab feline sidekick, must rid the city of this menace.  And she does so in a cool, comic-book-style action sequence! In an adorable show of solidarity, Awesome Dad emerges safe and impressed following his daughter’s show of strength. Seeing is believing in this delightful story. The mixed-media art along with the hand lettering in My Hero brings energy and entertainment to this thoroughly satisfying read. Don’t miss the bonus treat hiding under the dust jacket!

Some Daddies coverSOME DADDIES
Written by Carol Gordon Ekster
Illustrated by Javiera Mac-lean Alvarez
(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

Meet a variety of daddies doing all sorts of daddy things with and for their children. The premise of Ekster’s picture book is simple: Dads are all different and approach their lives and childrearing in their own unique way. And just as no two dads are alike, no two kids are either.

For little ones, the fun part will be both the read-aloud aspect and hopefully seeing a father (or father-figure) between the pages they can relate to whether it’s a dad who goes to work dressed in a suit, in a uniform, or in pajamas working from bed. Some dads are sporty while others like to read (and ultimately nap!). I also enjoyed Mac-lean Alvarez’s vivid artwork depicting these same fathers throughout the story often interacting in scenes where the older reader or caregiver can point out details included such as a dad who missed catching his daughter and ends up in the doctor’s office. More a concept story than one with a plot, Some Daddies delivers in demonstrating that there is no one type of daddy, but since there is no one type of kid, that’s just fine.

Click here to find more Father’s Day book reviews.

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What We’re Reading for Mother’s Day 2022

 

MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS 

A ROUNDUP OF WHAT’S NEW FOR KIDS

 

 

Me And My Mama coverME AND MY MAMA
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin
(Sourcebooks Kids; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

I recommend this sweet, satisfying board book that shines a loving light on Black children enjoying various mother/child activities throughout the course of a day. Told in succinct and spry rhyme, the text allows a parent or caregiver to read at a quick pace or stop with each new scene to discuss what’s happening in the art. Speaking of art, Corrin’s expressive illustrations immediately draw our eyes in so we focus on the joy, and other emotions taking place as different children spend special one-on-one time with their mamas whether that’s making pizza, being given a bath, or getting tucked into bed.

 

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle coverMAMA AND MOMMY AND ME IN THE MIDDLE
Written by Nina LaCour
Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)  
Starred Review – Booklist and Publishers Weekly 

There is so much to like about this picture book from the two-mom parents, a biracial couple, to the beautiful art that is filled with special details, and the loving familial relationship evident on every page. And though not a “Mother’s Day” book per se, it felt right to include it here.

In this story, one parent, Mommy, goes away on a business trip and the child recounts day by day how she misses her from the Sunday departure to the Sunday return a week later. LaCour details little things from a child’s perspective that mark her mom’s absence and how Mama is there to help ease the little girl’s sadness.

Added to that are Juanita’s delightful illustrations that invite lingering. One that is especially touching is when the child has her head down on the kitchen table, uncomfortable that with Mommy gone, she is not in the middle of her parents. Tender moments are conveyed in both art and prose. One very realistic event is when Mommy comes home. Readers will see the girl anticipating her mother’s return and notice that over several spreads her mood seems to go from the excitement of preparing a bouquet to sadness as she recalls how much missing she had done over the week. But after explaining her feelings to her mom, and being validated, the little girl can now once again revel in being back in the middle.  

 

All Moms coverALL MOMS
Written by Sarah Kate Ellis + Kristen Ellis-Henderson
Illustrated by Max Rambaldi
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

In this rollicking read-aloud (A Proud Partnership between glaad + little bee books) readers are introduced to a variety of moms in a clever take on all kinds of mothering. While the rhyme is not always spot on, the overall theme of the book is hard to resist. Coupled with the lively and diverse characters spread throughout the book in the colorful and expansive art, All Moms is a book I think children will appreciate.

We meet moms who are sporty, moms who are musical,  moms who fix cars, moms who are crafty, as well as those who “are early and others are late.” The book depicts moms as bosses, moms as doctors, single moms who “work twice as hard to make our lives fun.” There are dads who give hugs like moms, a grandma and grandson, and moms who “give snuggles. Some play pretend. Some moms read stories or help you make friends.” Since “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to accelerating LGBTQ acceptance,” there’s a terrific spread of a Pride Parade with people carrying rainbow flags, and Equality, Love Has No Limits and Love is Love signs. All Moms is a good reminder that moms come in all shapes, ages, sizes, and colors with assorted interests but most important is that “all moms’ love is as big as the sky.”

See last year’s roundup here.

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Picture Book Review for Women’s History Month – Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers

 

 

LOUJAIN DREAMS OF SUNFLOWERS:
A Story Inspired by Loujain AlHathloul

Written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery

Illustrated by Rebecca Green

(mineditionUS; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

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Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers covr

 

Available now in time for Women’s History Month is Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers. This new picture book introduces children to the young main character in the morning when she’s squeezing her eyes shut to recall her favorite dream. In this scene, she dreams of being able to fly, soaring above “a place her baba described as the carpet of a million sunflowers.” While having flying dreams is not uncommon, readers soon see more of the fantasy element come into play when, after getting up, Loujain joins her father to get their wings out of the shed.  The joy in Loujain’s face as she makes believe she can fly is palpable. But in reality, she’d never fly anywhere because she was a girl, and girls were forbidden to fly. How could this possibly be fair?

 

Loujain Dreams int1
Interior spread from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

The sunflowers Loujain fantasized visiting were in a picture taped to her wall and she was determined to see them. While her father knew the harsh reality, her mother did not want to discourage her daughter. But at school kids teased Loujain for thinking a girl could fly when only boys were allowed. Loujain pleaded with her father to give her lessons. His wife told him, “Why should flying be only for boys?” Especially, she added, “if we all can use wings?”

 

Loujain Dreams int2
Interior spread from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

Loujain had the good fortune to have open-minded, caring parents and a father who clearly agreed that it was not right to keep girls from spreading their wings and taking to the skies.  Her baba lovingly trained her and after preparing her, they set out the very next day on the journey to see the amazing sea of sunflowers.

 

Loujain Dreams int3
Interior art from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

The powerful symbolism conveyed in this story will not be lost on children who perhaps in their lifetime have experienced or heard about gender bias whether in sports, academics, employment, the arts, or in other fields. Of course in this case it’s a metaphor for the real-life Loujain AlHathloul who made history for challenging the ban on women’s right to drive cars in Saudi Arabia and was imprisoned because of it. She is no longer in prison, but her restrictive release conditions and her dream of bringing more freedoms for girls and women are described in the authors’ note.

 

Loujain Dreams int4
Interior art from Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers written by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, minedition ©2022.

 

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers invites multiple reads and discussions in the context of women’s rights/gender bias and discrimination, perseverance and persistence as well as pursuing one’s dream. Green’s gorgeous and energetic art, created in acrylic gouache and colored pencil adds to the enjoyment of each read. I love her varied composition from page to page and the glorious color palette she’s chosen. Every spread, especially ones with the sunflowers, feels so expansive and full of possibility, just right for this hopeful and empowering picture book.

Follow Lina AlHathloul on Twitter here.

Find out more about Uma Mishra-Newbery here.

Find out more about Rebecca Green here.

Learn more about the #FreeJoujain campaign here.

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery

MEET THE HAMANTASCHEN:
A Purim Mystery

Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg

(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Meet the Hamantaschen cover

 

 

This year Purim begins on the evening of March 16.

Just in time for the Jewish holiday, author and illustrator Alan Silberberg is back with Meet the Hamantaschen another funny companion picture book to his previous two holiday-themed hits, Meet the Matzah and Meet the Latkes.

It’s great to have a fresh take on Purim, the holiday that celebrates the cleverness and bravery of Queen Esther who, as the bride of powerful King Ahasuerus in a place called Shushan, hid that she was Jewish. When Haman, a trusted advisor of the king, and embodiment of evil, “…convinced the king that all of the Jewish people of Shushan should be eliminated,” Esther, aided by her uncle Mordecai, hatched a plan to save her people.

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int1
Interior art from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

Rather than simply reenact the story on stage, something that many synagogues do when members perform the Purim play or spiel, Silberberg’s introduced a trio of die-hard hamantaschen detectives to bring the story to life on the page. For those unfamiliar with hamantaschen, they are triangular-shaped, filled pastries resembling the three-cornered hat worn by bad guy Haman. The story unfolds in film noir-style with the detectives being summoned by a mysterious stranger. Their mission: find the missing megillah. The megillah, chanted during the Purim play, is known as The Book of Esther and recounts the story that is performed. Without it “… no Purim play!”

Silberberg’s humor shines when the detectives disguise themselves to interrogate the cast of the Purim play, their likely suspects. The cake, the cookbook and the cactus waste no time in getting down to business, with puns, alliteration, and general silliness. And though weeding out the culprit may seem like it’s serious stuff, seeing a bunch of hamantaschen seeking answers can only mean one thing for children. FUN!

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int2
Interior spread from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

As the investigation continues, the trio begins piecing Purim clues together, true and false allowing the play to go off without a hitch. But the missing megillah has still not materialized. Will it ever be found? Well, that’s one clue this mystery fan is not giving away.

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int3
Interior spread from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

Throughout the book, the artwork, drawn and painted digitally, is bold, whimsical, full of visual jokes, zany characters, and extra-large speech bubbles, all adding to the enjoyment of Meet the Hamantaschen. One of my favorite characters is Barry who plays the part of Haman. His mustache is perfect and reminds me of old-time villains. In the back matter there’s a Purim Glossary to help explain some terminology. A real positive about this picture book is that even children who are not Jewish will learn about Purim and get caught up in the excitement of the sleuthing. Best read with a side of hamantaschen and a grogger in hand!

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Best New Children’s Christmas Books for 2021

 

A ROUNDUP OF
THE BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2021

 

 

All of us at GoodReadsWithRonna.com wish you a warm and wonderful Christmas!

 

REVIEWS:

Jingle Bells Navidad coverJINGLE BELLS / NAVIDAD:
Bilingual Nursery Rhymes
(English & Spanish)
Written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo
(Canticos; $10.99, Ages 0-6)

This 16 page bilingual, lift-the-flaps board book is not only beautiful to look at (its cover features foil accents), it stars the sweet little chickies from the Emmy-nominated series. What a delightful way to celebrate the holidays than by sharing the “Jingle Bells” song with children in both English and Spanish. There are cute characters in vibrant colors to enjoy including Mama Hen, a purple spider, an adorable elephant, a frog, and a bunny. Kids can have fun lifting the assorted flaps to find additional words such as warmth/calor, joy/alegria and others all while improving their bilingual language skills. A larger formatted board book ($14.99) with an accordion design offers the opportunity to read “Jingle Bells” on one side entirely in English and the other in Spanish. Visit canticosworld.com for free resources, activities, and more. For a limited time, the Encantos app is available for free.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Merry Christmas Gus coverMERRY CHRISTMAS, GUS
Written and illustrated by Chris Chatterton
(Penguin Workshop; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Merry Christmas, Gus, is Chris Chatterton’s second book featuring the adorable grumpy hound dog, Gus. It seems there’s not much of anything that Gus likes about the holiday season until a puppy enters the picture, then, . . . maybe.

As in the first book, the art is LOL funny because of Gus’s gloomy expressions. My favorite part is the ending—sorry, you’ll have to read it yourself! The perfect gift for the not-really-into-it person on your holiday shopping list.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Toys' ChristmasTHE TOYS’ CHRISTMAS
Written by Claire Clément
Illustrated by Geneviève Godbout
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Let the cozy feeling of this sweet bedtime Christmas tale envelope your little ones as they drift contentedly off to sleep. I was enchanted by the premise of The Toys’ Christmas in which little Noah cannot fall asleep because his favorite stuffed animal FanFan is nowhere to be found. Enchanted by his going missing you might ask? No. I was enchanted by his devotion to Noah. FanFan, it seems, is on a secret mission along with all the other soft toys he meets up with on his long and special journey. Once a year the beloved toys travel to the North Pole. There they can “tell Santa what their child wants for Christmas. After all, they know their child best of all.” Well,  this just warmed my heart and I hope it does the same for your child. Rest assured FanFan returns to delight Noah who also is thrilled to have his Christmas wish come true. Coupled with Godbout’s gorgeous pastel and colored pencil illustrations in faded tones not unlike many of the much-loved toys after years of cuddling and washes, Clément’s gentle prose are sure to charm.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Christmas Here I Come coverCHRISTMAS, HERE I COME!
Written by D. J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield
(Grosset & Dunlap; $5.99, Ages 4-6)

If you’re looking for a gift to bring to family, friends or neighbors before Christmas or on the day itself, look no further than Christmas, Here I Come!, one of the multiple books in the best-selling series. This paperback is packed with humorous and sentimental poems revolving around the holiday from choosing trees to jokes about fruitcake, from the joyful mess of wrapping paper to Santas around the world. There are even stickers at the end for further entertainment. One of my favorites is called “Peace on Earth” about two neighbors competing for the most lights on their homes until circuits blew. Another is “My Christmas Sweater” about the hilarity and comfiness of the traditional ugly sweater. There’s also a recurring Dear Santa Claus letter from a character called Bobby which many youngsters will find relatable. Stansfield’s art evokes the holiday spirit, capturing the abundant experiences detailed in Steinberg’s poetry.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Joy to the World coverJOY TO THE WORLD!:
Christmas Around the Globe
Written by Kate DePalma
Illustrated by Sophie Fatus
(Barefoot Books; $17.99, Ages 4-10)

Joy to the World!, with its gold embossed lettering and accents on the cover, makes a great Christmas gift for families, friends, and anyone curious about the holiday traditions in 13 countries spanning from Argentina to Serbia. Peopled with diverse children and their families celebrating in special ways, this colorful picture book not only entertains but educates too.

Kids will see how in the Philippines Simbang Gabi lasts for nine days including daily worship. “We come every day, and they say if you do/Whatever you wish on day nine will come true.” Stars shimmer across this particular two-page spread, and beautifully bordered art (throughout the book and unique to that country) in a cheerful jewel-toned palette emanates joy and community. In Ethiopia, where people celebrate Genna on January 7, families gather around the mesob (a basket-like table) and feed one another “a large bit of food by hand.” I love that so many celebrations revolve around food in addition to family and faith rituals. Older readers will find even more helpful information in the back matter which expands on the brief rhyming info for each country that was depicted in earlier pages. This welcoming, upbeat picture book full of happy families brings world celebrations to your fingertips in a most delightful way.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Star Tree coverTHE STAR TREE
Written and  illustrated by Gisela Cölle

Translated by Rosemary Lanning (first published in Switzerland)
(NorthSouth Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For a quiet story this busy holiday season, consider Gisela Cölle’s, The Star Tree. A mustachioed old man missed days of yore, far from sprawling urban life. No one even glances at the sky above anymore as they hurry through their busy days.

Cölle’s illustrations echo the rustic simplicity of the text. This timeless classic demonstrates that sometimes less can be more, and by taking that first step, a community can be brought together. You’ll feel inspired to cut out some stars too!

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Carla and the Christmas Cornbread coverCARLA AND THE CHRISTMAS CORNBREAD
Written by Carla Hall with Kristen Hartke
Illustrated by Cherise Harris
(Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I find food-themed picture books hard to resist. Do you? Carla and the Christmas Cornbread happily took me back to the ’70s for a story based on author, chef, and TV food personality Carla Hall’s early childhood memories.

Heading to her grandparents, with Mom driving, her older sister Kim sitting in the passenger seat, and Carla in the back seat beside a slew of gifts, she enjoyed the ride “watching the lights twinkle on the houses as we whiz by.” Carla was excited to see her grandparents and eat the scrumptious cornbread her grandma made. Spending time over Christmas at their home was clearly a highlight for her. From cooking cornbread together with Granny, hearing her grandpa “Doc” share stories about his time in France when he once ate snails, to searching the Christmas tree for the Black Santa ornament that looks just like her, these tender moments convey the warmth of family that meant so much to this young girl. Harris’s joyful art, full of attention to detail and a feeling for the era, complements this lovely story.

But when just before bedtime she bit into the cookie that was meant for Santa, Carla worried that she’d get in trouble. Certain that Santa would put her on his naughty list, Carla was relieved when Grandma, who heard Carla confess, suggested they make Santa “a special Christmas cornbread.” Despite caring reassurance from Doc that Santa probably got tired of all the cookies, Carla still felt sad. But all ends well when Christmas morning brings more than cheer for her and readers invested in seeing a happy outcome for Carla. Make sure to read to the very last page where a surprise illustration shows Santa nibbling on a tasty treat! Bonus: A cornbread recipe is included.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Just Be Claus coverJUST BE CLAUS: A Christmas Story
Written by Barbara Joosse
Illustrated by Kim Barnes
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

This adorably illustrated picture book answers the question, what was Santa Claus like as a little boy? With a “round little belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly,” Clausie is different and “unusual” from the very start. His hearty “ho ho ho” laugh, creative flair for making “thingamajigs” with Grannie in his super secret workshop, and tendency to help the rival hockey team score make him stand out and “feel out of place.” He expresses his desire to be like the other kids, but Grannie assures him:  “You’re creative, thoughtful, and generous … Don’t try to be like anyone else. Just be YOU.” A snowstorm shuts the whole town down, blocking the train from delivering its large load of gifts. Clausie’s clever act of kindness not only saves Christmas Day but also helps him embrace his own unique, tender-heartedness. Wrapping this sweet holiday book are themes of empathy, love, and self-acceptance that can be explored any time of the year. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

The Christmas Owl coverTHE CHRISTMAS OWL: Based on the True Story
of a Little Owl Named Rockefeller 

Written by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer
Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki
(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Animal lovers will enjoy this heartwarming picture book, The Christmas Owl, by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer. Based on a true story of a tiny owl trapped in a tree cut down and brought to the city, the story is seen through the eyes of Little Owl who wonders what happened and where she’s been taken. Throughout, she asks herself, Is this Christmas? By the end, she’s able to explain to her forest friends what the holiday’s all about.

While the illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki bring the story to life, be sure to look in the back matter too. Actual photos of the owl are beyond cute and its release is so joyful. Peek under the dust jacket for a different cover image!

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Merry Witchmas CoverMERRY WITCHMAS
Written by Petrell Marie Özbay and Tess La Bella
Illustrated by Sonya Abby
(Boyds Mill Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Don’t let the word witch in the title fool you. Merry Witchmas isn’t about Halloween although you could start sharing it in October. It’s actually about a sweet witch named Ginger who adores all things Christmas. Whether that’s “a flying sleigh, a red-nosed reindeer” or the toys. But most importantly Ginger wishes for a visit from Santa. You see she lives in the “Invisible Forest” that wasn’t on Santa’s radar. Regardless, she always behaved thoughtfully to make it onto Santa’s “Nice List.” This year she’s decided to take things one step further and write to Santa so perhaps he’d believe she existed. She’d even include a map!

Ginger’s magic delivers the letter directly to Santa who checked his lists, then double-checked them. No witch named Ginger appeared. Since he didn’t believe in witches, he’d actually never sought them out. Yet if children could believe in Santa, why couldn’t witches exist too he wonders. That’s when the magic happens. Using Ginger’s map, Santa heads to the young witch’s magical land and at last, the two finally meet bringing Christmas joy to both. Kids will want to look at the fun details Abby’s included in her pleasing artwork that exudes warmth and humor. My favorite touch is Jingles the kitty cat reaching for Christmas cookies along with the holiday decorations in her home. With all the Christmas feels, this picture book is a fresh new take on the holiday and not giving up on your dreams.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Santa in the City coverSANTA IN THE CITY
Written by Tiffany D. Jackson
Illustrated by Reggie Brown
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews –Booklist, School Library Journal

Deja is super excited for Christmas but her classmates’ distrust about Santa ever visiting them in the city sends her on a downward spiral of doubt. “‘How does Santa get inside our house if we don’t have a chimney? …where [will Santa] park his sleigh?’” Deja asks question after question to her mom who, along with extended family and neighborhood friends, patiently answers each one. Answers provide a little relief, as evidenced through her refrain “‘Oh’ … Makes sense,” but Deja needs more proof. Cheerful illustrations of a diverse, vibrant urban setting full of the Christmas spirit emphasize the point: the very thing Deja is looking for is already around her beautiful neighborhood. A surprise on Christmas morning secures her heart that “magic really does find a way,” just like Mom has said all along. 

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Grumpy Monkey OhNo Christmas coverGRUMPY MONKEY OH, NO! CHRISTMAS
Written by Suzanne Lang
Illustrated by Max Lang
(Random House Studio; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Beloved character Jim Panzee is back again, this time for the holidays, grumpier than ever. The weather has been “grizzly, drizzly” all week, his morning banana green, plus he accidentally stumbles into a puddle of mud. On top of everything else, his jungle friends insist he absolutely must be excited about the upcoming Christmas season. One by one, they take turns telling him how he “should” do one thing or another in order to properly celebrate:  write a card for Mom, wrap presents, “reflect quietly.” But to grumpy, miserable Jim “EVERYTHING STINKS!”–that is, until his gentle gorilla friend, Norman, helps Jim see things in a different perspective. Conversations about kindness and gratitude ease his burden and give strong reason to celebrate. Readers young and old will fall in love once more with Jim Panzee’s crankiness, expressed so perfectly by Lang’s fun and hilarious illustrations. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

A Simple Christmas on the Farm coverA SIMPLE CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM 
Written by Phyllis Alsdurf
Illustrated by Lisa Hunt
(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 3-8)

For those looking for a traditional, Christian-themed Christmas story, A Simple Christmas on the Farm is a great choice. Eager to start the festivities, a little girl living on the farm is reminded by her parents that they’re going to celebrate by “keeping things simple this year” with a focus on modest decorations, homemade gifts, and giving more than receiving. This spirit of simplicity is heightened all the more when the girl is inspired to host Christmas in their little red barn. Traveling into town with a tray of homemade cookies, she and her mother spread the word about their party, inviting everyone in the community. In the meantime, they prepare gifts and crafts for their guests. Step-by-step directions for these crafts are included in the backmatter. When everyone joins in on the special day, laughter, cheer, and a wonderful feast surround their large table, making this simple but big-hearted Christmas the best one ever.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

The Christmas Mitzvah coverTHE CHRISTMAS MITZVAH
Written by Jeff Gottesfeld
Illustrated by Michelle Laurentia Agatha
(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 4-9)

If you’re looking for a feel-good story that hits all the right notes, The Christmas Mitzvah is it. Inspired by a true story, this touching picture book opens with “Al Rosen was a Jewish man who loved Christmas. It wasn’t his holiday. He had Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. But what could be bad about peace on earth and goodwill to humanity?” I immediately cared about this man with the great attitude and big personality. Then I read on to learn that Al Rosen decided to use the Christmas holiday as a chance to deliver mitzvahs (good deeds) for people in his community. From that evening in 1969 Rosen offered to help out so workers could leave their jobs to be home with their families. No matter what the task, he took it on, doing so for over three decades. What a big heart he had! At first, it was Rosen, sometimes with his son, Jonathan. Then when Jonathan finished medical school, married, and had children of his own, everyone pitched in when possible, performing mitzvahs every Christmas.

What’s most impressive is the variety of work Al Rosen did, though he didn’t necessarily excel at it. He started by stepping in at Shorty’s local newsstand. After that word spread of Rosen’s good deeds. Requests came in and soon he was pumping gas and parking cars, tending bar, and taking tolls. Al Rosen’s mitzvahs saw no bounds. He and Jonathan even inspired Christian and Muslim friends who “did their jobs on the Jewish High Holidays.” In fact Rosen’s kind spirit led to people of various faiths helping others out on their holidays, paying it forward in the best possible way. When Al grew too old and finally had to call it quits, his mitzvahs left lasting memories and goodwill in his city. Agatha’s bold artwork adds vibrancy and humorous touches to the story. Rosen’s diverse community is celebrated in scene after scene conveying the camaraderie created by his mitzvahs. Gottesfeld’s included back matter so readers can learn more about the man behind the good deeds as well as the Hanukkah holiday. I hope young readers’ biggest takeaway from The Christmas Mitzvah is that you don’t have to be Jewish to do good deeds and spread kindness.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Christmas is Coming Cover CHRISTMAS IS COMING: Traditions from Around the World
Written by Monika Utnik-Strugala 
Illustrated by Ewa Poklewska-Koziello
Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
(NorthSouth Books; $25, Ages 4 and up)

An international collection of legends and traditions can be found in Monika Utnik-Strugala’s nonfiction book, Christmas Is Coming!: Traditions from Around the World. This book satisfies many of your holiday questions. Of course, you’ll find info about Santa, but there’s much more. Such as how Swedish towns have candlelit processions on December 13, or how the Japanese have adopted Christmas but celebrate it with reindeer and pandas! In Mexico, Spain, and Columbia, the Day of the Holy Innocents (on December 28) is like our April Fool’s Day. Favorite sections of mine include food, decorations, plants, and finding good luck for the new year.

Full-color art by the talented Ewa Poklewska-Koziello adorns each page, enlivening people and their celebrations. While suitable for elementary-age kids who want to learn about more than just the US December 25 Santa Claus, older kids will have plenty to read. Overall, this lovely book promotes inclusivity and is one you’ll refer to repeatedly as a remembrance or to learn something new.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Good Dogs in Bad Sweaters coverGOOD DOGS IN BAD SWEATERS
Written by Rachel Wenitsky and David Sidorov
Illustrated by Tor Freeman
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $13.99, Ages 7-10)

I am so glad I stuck with this energy-filled illustrated middle-grade book despite the introduction of multiple dog names making it hard at first to keep track. However, after the initial few pages, there was no denying the humor and personality of all the doggy characters, and I was pulled right in. The primary ones in this, the third book in the series revolving around Good Dogs daycare, are Hugo and his younger sister Waffles, King and his older sister Cleo, Lulu, and her new teacup pig pal, Buttercup. Another dog, Napoleon, seems to have matured in this book according to comments from the other dogs, but while appearing in various chapters and bringing a funny therapist’s perspective to various situations, he doesn’t have a chapter devoted to his p.o.v. Secondary characters who may have had heftier roles in the previous two books are Nuts the squirrel and Pickle the cat. Kids may note that each dog has a different font which is a nice touch. Not having read the previous books, I never once felt like that mattered since the storyline was pretty straightforward and engaging.

In addition to the dog pals knowing each other, we also get to know their human owners which adds more opportunity for amusing dialogue and antics. There are tons of butt sniffing, ball throwing, and peeing jokes that feel appropriate for this age group. The main plot point is that sweet puppy Waffles, about to celebrate her first Christmas, is hoping that Santadoodle will bring her something special except Hugo knows that won’t happen. What’s a loving big bro supposed to do? Make baby sister’s wish come true, of course! And if that means getting all the Good Dogs involved in his quest, so be it.

The shenanigans the crew get up to as they try to get their paws on Waffles’ gift had me smiling throughout. That’s on top of the bits about the ugly (but comfy) Christmas sweaters, Lulu being an Instagram influencer, and how the dogs deal with their families—the dynamics of which should resonate with readers. Several sub-plots concerning agility competitions to career choices are at once comical and heartwarming, reflecting the zany sensibilities of the book’s authors Wenitsky and Sidorov. A bonus for me is that the book includes many references to Hanukkah since several of the dogs come from Jewish or mixed-faith families. Mix that up with Tor Freeman’s fabulous, whimsical, and extremely satisfying illustrations and you’ll see why this marriage of talents works so well. Add this middle-grade book (some may call it an older chapter book) to your TBR lists for some charming canine comedy this holiday season.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

See last year’s roundup here.

Additional recommended Christmas reads this year include:

The Little Owl & The Big Tree: A Christmas Story by Jonah Winter & Jeanette Winter
Jan Brett’s The Nutcracker 
Santa Jaws by Bridget Heos
What the Dinosaurs Did the Night Before Christmas by Refe & Susan Tuma

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An Interview with Joana Pastro Author of Bisa’s Carnaval

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

JOANA PASTRO

AUTHOR OF

BISA’S CARNAVAL

ILLUSTRATED BY

CAROLINA COROA

(Orchard Books; $18.99, Ages 4 to 8)

 

 

Bisas Carnaval cover

 

SHORT SUMMARY

“Trumpets, trombones, tubas, and saxophones sing louder, faster, faster, louder!

It’s CARNAVAL!”

With help from her bisa (great-grandma), a young girl in Brazil prepares for Carnaval: bright costumes, feathers, flowers, and plenty of glitter. But bisa must stay home. As the girl hugs bisa goodbye, the music pulls her in. Excitement is everywhere, on every sight, sound and scent. But… 

Carnaval isn’t the same without bisa. 

With the blow of a whistle and lots of love, the girl will make sure BISA’S CARNAVAL is the best one ever!

 

INTERVIEW

Colleen Paeff: Hi Joana! Congratulations on the starred Kirkus review for Bisa’s Carnaval! This book is receiving such a warm welcome. That’s got to feel good. What are you doing to celebrate the launch of your second picture book?

Joana Pastro: It’s so nerve-wracking sending our book babies out in the world. We never know how they’ll be received, so when we see an enthusiastic response from readers and from reviewers it’s a huge relief. And if it has a star next to it? Even better! To celebrate, today (Tuesday, 12/7 at 12noon EST) I’m having an Instagram live event with Carolina Coroa, where we’ll chat about BISA’S CARNAVAL and answer questions from whoever shows up. Then tomorrow (Weds., 12/8), I’ll be on Scholastic’s #BookParty on Instagram at 7pm EST. It’ll be fun! (See Instagram links below)

 

CP: That sounds great! Your debut picture book Lillybelle, a Damsel NOT in Distress was one of my favorite books of 2020. Does the launch process feel any different this time around?

JP: Awwww That’s so great to hear! I love my little LillyBelle! 

The launch process feels different, but still not what I had dreamed it’d be. I had hoped to do both launches in person at a bookstore, but it wasn’t possible. Last year, I chose not to have a launch event, but because we were home, I was able to plan a three-month pre-order campaign, and I was a lot more active on social media. 

This year, with kids back to in-person learning, and a lot of driving around, I didn’t have as much time on my hands. Like I mentioned before, we’re doing Instagram live. Having a virtual launch is great because I can have it with Carolina, my family, and friends from Brazil and all over the world, but I miss interacting in person. I hope my next launch will have the best of both worlds: virtual and in-person. 

 

Bisas Carnaval int1
Interior spread from Bisa’s Carnaval written by Joana Pastro and illustrated by Carolina Coroa, Orchard Books ©2021.

 

CP: When did you get your first glimpse of Carolina Coroa’s wonderfully vibrant illustrations for Bisa’s Carnaval? Did anything about the illustrations surprise you? 

JP: The first glimpse was when my editor shared Carolina’s color palette research and character studies. I was in awe. I knew then and there that we had hit the jackpot when she accepted the job! 

There’s so much to love in her work! I was surprised by her attention to detail on every spread: the costumes, the buildings, the Portuguese words . . . a guy playing harmonica on his balcony! So amazing. Oh, and she even named the whole family on her character studies. So cool! 

 

CP: I love that! I really liked how, in the story, you mention that carnaval is a time when people can forget their troubles and you go on to list some of the troubles people might have. Was that part of the book from the beginning or did it develop over time?

JP: That was a suggestion I received from an editor who requested a revise and resubmit. She wanted the story to expand on the social-economic aspects. I believe her note truly helped elevate the story, and make it much better.

 

CP: What do you hope young readers take away from Bisa’s Carnival?

JP: From the cultural aspect, I hope readers will want to expand their horizons by learning more about Brazil and about other countries too, and that Brazilian-American children will see themselves in it, be proud of their heritage, and want to share this story with their friends. 

From the family aspect, I hope both children and adults will be inspired to put their electronic devices aside, and spend quality time, and create new memories with their loved ones, especially the older ones.

 

Bisas Carnaval int2
Interior spread from Bisa’s Carnaval written by Joana Pastro and illustrated by Carolina Coroa, Orchard Books ©2021.

 

 

CP: You were an architect before you started writing for children. Have you discovered any crossover between architecture and writing?

JP: Definitely! The creative process is very much the same. In both you get some sort of prompt, then you do a bit of research, you let it simmer for some time, and start drafting. Then you revise a thousand times because there’s always something you can make better. In the future, once it becomes a book or a building, you’ll probably find something that you would have done differently. I imagine this to be true in all creative areas. 

 

CP: Do you have any favorite productivity tricks or anything you do that helps you to stay focused on your writing work?

JP: Whenever I notice that I’m not being productive and that I’m becoming frustrated with a project, I leave it alone. Allowing myself to rest, work on something else, or doing other unrelated activities is the best way to get the creative juices flowing again. The brain will be doing the work even when we’re not paying attention! When I finally go back to it, the roadblock is usually gone.

 

CP: What’s next for you?

JP: The Spanish version of BISA’S CARNAVAL comes out in 2022. I have two picture books that haven’t been announced yet, but I believe will publish in 2023 and 2024. 

I’ve been focusing on writing chapter books, and I’m out on submission with a board book series that I absolutely love writing. Hint: I get to travel the world without leaving my desk! Fingers crossed!

 

CP: How exciting! Thank you so much for chatting with me, Joana. Happy book birthday!

JP: My pleasure! Thank you so much for having me, Colleen!

 

BUY THE BOOK

Lillybelle, a Damsel NOT in Distress: www.joanapastro.com/lillybelle-a-damsel-not-in-distress.html

Bisa’s Carnaval: www.joanapastro.com/bisas-carnaval.html

 

author Joana Pastro
Joana Pastro, Author Photo credit: Diego Castelo

BRIEF BIO

Joana Pastro is an architect who became a children’s book author. Her debut picture book, LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, illustrated by Jhon Ortiz, was published by Boyds Mills Press (now Astra Kids), in 2020. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL, illustrated by Carolina Coroa, will be published by Orchard Books on December 7th, 2021. Originally from Brazil, Joana lives in Florida with her husband, her three extremely creative children, a rambunctious Morkie, and a needy Maltipoo. You can find her on Twitter @jopastro, Instagram on @joanapastro, on her website at  www.joanapastro.com

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LINKS

Website: www.joanapastro.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jopastro

Instagram: www.instagram.com/joanapastro

Scholastic on Instagram: @scholasticinc

Website: carolina coroa illustration

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF

Colleen Paeff is the author of Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021) and the forthcoming Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (Chronicle Books, 2023). Find her online at www.colleenpaeff.com or on Twitter or Instagram @ColleenPaeff.

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Our Favorite New Hanukkah Books for 2021

 

NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR 2021
∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Hanukkah menorah clipart

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Starred Review – School Library Journal

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

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

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

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

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

 

Click here for last year’s Hanukkah roundup.

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Best New Picture Books for Thanksgiving 2021

A ROUNDUP OF

THE BEST NEW PICTURE BOOKS

FOR THANKSGIVING 2021

 

 

Thanksgiving Free clipart

Gratitude, generosity, and humor are just some of what’s being served up in three new picture books for Thanksgiving this year. I’ve chosen these stories, though not specifically for Thanksgiving (Thankful’s action takes place in December), because they present perspectives on community, connectivity, and caring that are the essence of the holiday. 

 

THANKFUL
Written by Elaine Vickers
Illustrated by Samantha Cotterill
(A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Reading this 48-page picture book is a gift to give yourself and your young children. It feels like being wrapped in a soft blanket, sipping hot cocoa, and sitting silently in reflection. Full of deliciously evocative, lyrical language, Thankful is the book to reach for to lift a child’s spirits when they might be feeling blue or to reaffirm positive things they know but cannot express.

Elaine Vickers brings readers into the home of a girl as she prepares her annual thankful paper chain “when the first snow falls.” As she writes, we’re treated to not only a glimpse of her bedroom, house, and family for whom she’s especially thankful, but the big (a new puppy) and small things (“… soup and socks and the spot under the covers where someone has just been sleeping.”) for which she is grateful. I found myself stopping on several spreads and nodding while marveling at the wonderfulness of what Vickers’ prose has conveyed whether it’s noting the friend who waits for her at recess or cherishing things that are soft and fresh like laundry, bread, and moss on rocks. The sweet, loving poem the child’s parents say at bedtime reminded me of what my dad used to say to me at night and in letters and made me squeeze the book a little harder like the hug this story is.

Samantha Cotterill’s delightful 3-D dioramas blend elements of Holman Wang’s diorama art and paper “cut-outs”—in this case including all the characters and the dog—reminiscent of those found in Lauren Child’s Charlie & Lola series. Her warm color palette adds to the cozy feeling of the story and pulls readers into the pages where they’ll want to study every last detail in each spread. Keep this book out for all to enjoy and consider making your own thankful paper chain this holiday season.

 

Cold Turkey coverCOLD TURKEY
Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call
Illustrated by Chad Otis
(Little Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Available 11/23. Preorder a copy today.

There’s so much to enjoy in Cold Turkey, from the title, the wordplay, and the colorful alliteration, to the message of generosity, the animal humor, and the funny expressions in the artwork.

This deceptively simple tale, with the charm of Little Mole’s Christmas Gift or the ’80s classic Big Bird Brings Spring to Sesame Street and their theme of giving, is a winning winter read. In fact, you might just sh-sh-shiver (and smile, too!) along as Turkey wakes up on the farm one morning so cold that he has to bundle up in all his warm clothes.

When Turkey emerges from his home, he first encounters Sheep who is also freezing. Kind Turkey offers his distinctive red hat. Then Chick, who’s chilled to the bone, is the lucky recipient of Turkey’s mittens (you have to see where they get put), and poor Horse is faring no better hunkered down in the hay. Cow and Pig get lucky too at the selflessness of Turkey but where, you may wonder, does that leave naked Turkey? “Turkey tr-tr-trembled. He had loaned out all his loot. He wobbled homeward, cold and bare, in just his birthday suit.”

Well, his barnyard buddies have something in mind to fire readers’ imaginations and bring a bit of warmth and a slew of spot on synonyms to play as the story closes to a heart-warming end. Otis’s illustrations capture the inhospitable temperature outdoors as the animals seek ways to elude the cold. The story should have kids eagerly following along, reciting out load and waiting to see how things turn out for Cold Turkey and company. Grab your scarf and hat and a copy of this funny picture book today.

 

Our Table coverOUR TABLE
Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Orchard Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Reynolds’ latest picture book features a violet cover, violet endpapers, and the main character called Violet, too. When the story opens she’s thinking fondly of the table where once so much activity happened. It had been there while meals were cooked, candles were lighted and memories made. Memories that clearly Violet cherished. Reynolds’ illustrations emphasize the current mood of Violet. Her longing looks appear in purple and only when she’s remembering days of family togetherness and love does full-color return. Since the color violet symbolizes sensitivity, it’s an appropriate color to have chosen.

Young Violet is affected by how her family has become distracted bringing disruption to all those previously shared activities. Her father is preoccupied with the TV, or big screen. Her mother, elsewhere in the house is looking at a smaller screen, her cellphone. Violet’s brother sits in front of his computer playing games online with his friends. While everyone seems to be at home no one was truly present. And that’s sad. Violet sad. Alone sad.

By introducing some magic into the story, Reynolds creates a way to spark change. When Violet notices the abandoned table begins shrinking she’s perplexed. When it vanishes completely in her hand she gets an idea. It’s time to start engaging her family again otherwise they too could go the way of the table and disappear. The joy and color start returning as, together with her parents and brother, they work on building a new table and new memories. The important and timely message of this story was not lost on me, someone who admittedly spends too much time in front of screens. This holiday season, when we’re gathered around tables, I hope readers will find their own special ways of being present and creating new memories.

NOTE: See Peter Reynolds at an in-person event in Los Angeles through Pages: A Bookstore on Thursday 11/18 at 3:30pm PST at the El Segundo Library. More information here.

 

See more Thanksgiving books reviewed here and here.

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13+ New Halloween Books for 2021

 

 

BEST NEW HALLOWEEN BOOKS

A ROUNDUP

 

 

 

 

 

Spookytale coverSPOOKYTALE (An Abrams Trail Tale)
Written by Christopher Franceschelli

Illustrated by Allison Black
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 0-3)

Christopher Franceschelli’s latest book in his Abrams Block Book series is Spookytale, an interactive board book. We travel along with a boy, girl, and dog to their far-off destination: a haunted house. This journey takes them through the woods, across the bridge, and so forth. Each scene has die-cut pieces that lift to reveal fun Halloween-themed surprises. Fun hole-punched areas add textural interest.

The simple text is offset with rich illustrations by Allison Black. Pages have a lot going on; in subsequent readings, kids will find something new. Done in autumnal tones with pops of bright colors, costumed kids and smiling monsters are equally cute. The final scene is a dramatic quadruple gatefold that reveals all the festivities inside the house.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zant

 

TrickorTreat Bugs to Eat coverTRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT
Written by Tracy C. Gold
Illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff
(So
urcebooks Explore; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

I love Halloween books and Tracy C. Gold’s Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat is one of my favorites to date. The words are set to the “Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet” rhyme: “Hear my calls / bounce off walls, / echoing as darkness falls.” From there, Gold has gotten clever by presenting a story about a bat out trick-or-treating, weaving in lots of animals facts. For example, we learn bats are nocturnal, use echolocation, and they sure eat a lot of bugs—up to a thousand insects each night!

Coupled with the exceptional text is Nancy Leschnikoff’s outstanding art. I don’t know how many times I exclaimed, “It’s so cute!” while I read this book, but the expressive bat really is that adorable. Surrounding scenic art is just as great (love the raccoon!). The nightscape is rendered in appealing shades of blues and purples.

At only eight-by-eight inches, this 32-page picture book fits well in small hands. Between the engaging story, excellent art, and informative back matter, this book’s got it all.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Poultrygeist coverPOULTRYGEIST
Written by Eric Geron
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Kids will cluck out loud upon reading this chicken-centric ghost tale children’s book. In a nutshell (or should I say eggshell?), the story opens with an unsuspecting chicken getting run down by a massive truck and becoming a ghost. I mean, why was he crossing the road in the first place, right?

Soon, all the other local animals that have been hit by vehicles gather around the newly dead chicken to explain the ropes. The humor in this fast-paced read is that they want the newly deceased fowl to begin haunting, only this “spring chicken” has no desire to frighten others. In fact, at one point he turns to the reader and asks, “Pssst? Are you OK?” The sweet surprise is when the fryer asserts himself, accidentally scaring off the troublesome spirits.

The story comes hilariously full circle when the scene switches from the pleased poultrygeist to a squirrel crossing the same dangerous roadway. Pete Oswald’s expressive art in Poultrygeist adds another fun layer to this dark and delightful Halloween story that perhaps unintentionally and hilariously drives home the point to look both ways when crossing

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

How to Haunt a House coverHOW TO HAUNT A HOUSE
Written
by Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by Edward Miller
(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8) 

Carolyn Crimi’s rhyming picture book, How to Haunt a House, features ghosts in a classroom being taught the teacher’s “special ghost technique” for haunting. Groana, Moana, and Shrieky are assigned three houses; all goes well until the last one which proves to be a challenge. The ghosts must figure out something new that will scare the ghouls who live there. It’s got to be tough when, instead of fleeing, “the small girl kissed those scrawny rats.”

Comical illustrations by Edward Miller enhance the text’s humor. His evocative characters are a kick; I especially like the skulking, glaring black cats. The book’s underlying message, “Do not give up! You’ll find a way!” is tackled lightheartedly yet still shows how, sometimes, you need to come at a problem from a new direction in order to solve it.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

If You Ever Meet a Skeleton coverIF YOU EVER MEET A SKELETON
Written by Rebecca Evans
Illustrated by Katrin Dreiling
(Page Street Kids; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

I never thought I would want to meet a skeleton until I met the adorable protagonist in If You Ever Meet A Skeleton written by Rebecca Evans, who was inspired to write this story after meeting a skeleton in a museum.

Sleeping underground with other skeletons and a few bugs, Skeleton climbs to the surface looking for a friend. He finds three kids dressed in costumes on Halloween night. Dreiling illustrates the skeleton with a piece of blond hair giving the reader a feel for what he looked like before his demise. Evans’ rhyming words take what could be a scary topic and turn it into a humorous read. “Skeletons might seem spooky—white bones without the skin, no eyes, no ears, no lips, just one big toothy grin.”

Children dressed as witches, pirates, and ninja warriors with round faces and toothy grins are not sure what to make of this unusual creature, but Evans takes the reader through a wonderful understanding of how a skeleton, thought different from themselves, can be friend material. “Skeletons have no guts, so they aren’t brave like you. They’re scared of nighttime shadows and owls that say ‘whoooo.’”

This is a great addition to the fall reading list for the school classroom. And how great it is to have a friend who will go “trick-or-treating with you then share their chocolate bar, just like best buddies do.”

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Boo Stew coverBOO STEW
Written by Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
(Peachtree; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A little girl named Curly Locks who loves to cook is the heroine of Boo Stew, a Goldilocks and the Three Bears fractured fairy tale. This Halloween story features food that won’t tempt your taste buds but just might be the right food to feed a scary soul or three.

It seems the Scares of Toadsuck Swamp might be hungry and while they’re invading homes to steal food, they’re causing chaos, especially at the mayor’s house. After they chase him out with an ominous “Gitchey Boo, Gitchey Bon! Gitchey Goo, Gitchey Gone!” the blacksmith, and the chicken rancher also try to vanquish the scary villains with no luck.

Curly Locks, fearless and clever, steps up and entices the Scares with her Boo Stew. With its moose ear broth, toenail clippings, and gnat juice, Boo Stew does the job. A deal is struck and the creatures head back to the swamp. The townsfolk get a Scare-free Toadsuck and Curly Locks … well she gets to prepare all sorts of concoctions for the appreciative Scares since no one else will eat her cooking anyway! Washington has taken the Goldilocks tale and spun a unique, engaging Halloween story. Ebbeler’s colorful, detailed, and dynamic illustrations set a tone that’s just right for this humorous picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Ghouls' Guide to Good GrammarTHE GHOULS’ GUIDE TO GOOD GRAMMAR
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Mary Sullivan
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

Learning proper grammar can be quite daunting for young kids, especially for those still learning over Zoom, but Leslie Kimmelman has created a fabulous storytime picture book that can be read during the Halloween season or any time of the year. The Ghouls’ Guide To Good Grammar is a hilarious take on how different a sentence can read if a comma is misplaced or other grammar isn’t correct. Sullivan’s illustration of a sweet young girl holding a bowl of cat food for Sylvester reads “Time to eat, Sylvester.” But when the giant ghoul with sharp teeth peeks around the corner with all eyes on the little grey and white cat he thinks “Time to eat Sylvester.” A very different and dastardly meaning when the comma is removed!

Turning the page, the reader learns that “contractions are two words shortened and combined with an apostrophe to make one word.” This sounds confusing until the reader visually sees Sullivan’s colorful drawing of six ghouls surrounded by bugs and spilled soda in “Ghouls’ really gross bedroom.” Kimmelman changes the location of the apostrophe to read “Ghoul’s really gross bedroom” and now we see it was one mischievous ghoul who made the mess all on his lonesome.

This treat of a story concludes with a Ghoul Grammar Quiz asking the reader which of the sentences shown has no mistakes. The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar is an ideal teaching tool for a parent or a teacher to use to transform the often tough topic of punctuation into a frightfully fun learning experience.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

There's a Ghost in this House coverTHERE’S A GHOST IN THIS HOUSE
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel Books; $27.99, Ages 4-8)

I may not be the target age range for this creative book but I had a blast reading it. First of all, There’s a Ghost in this House is less a straightforward picture book―although Jeffers has illustrated it with a little girl, some adorable (and giggling in places) ghosts, and lots of striped clothing―and more a seek-and-find interactive story so children can be in control of how many ghosts they’d like to discover over the course of 80 pages.

Jeffers has taken found black and white photos of an imposing 18th-century mansion and then brought in bits of color with the addition of the young girl narrator/guide. Readers join her to tour the house as she looks for ghosts which are printed white on transparent vellum paper throughout the book and appear when the paper is placed against the b+w house interiors. That’s such a fantastic idea because I never knew what poses the ghosts would be in and where exactly they’d show up each time. 

Since the ghouls are not menacing in the least, children can enjoy this book without fear. Parents and caregivers can admire the cleverness of the presentation while also deciding how many ghosts to expose.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack coverBRAINS! NOT JUST A ZOMBIE SNACK
Written by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Matthew Rivera
(Henry Holt BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Matthew Rivera illustrates a green zombie girl with a red scar across her forehead seeking brains to eat in Brains! Not Just A Zombie Snack. Focusing on the fascinating science of the body, STEM picture book author Stacy McAnulty teaches the reader about the importance of the brain and how, without it, reading a picture book would be impossible. This educational read breaks down the five senses of touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste and how the brain receives messages from these senses. What better time than Halloween to explore this subject?!

Zombie Girl is desperate for some brain to eat and in her search for this delectable snack, the reader discovers “Neurons! They do the work, and you have about 86 billion of them.” Zombie holds up two cans of Neurons and Glial Cells with anxious eyes ready to eat. “When you learn something new, like how to add numbers, play the piano, tie up a zombie, you aren’t making more neurons—you’re making new and stronger pathways.”

My brain took in a whole lot of information that I was not aware of such as a 75-year-old human’s brain is 10 percent smaller than max size (so 2.7 pounds-ish) instead of 3 pounds in a grown-up human. The best advice the reader learns is that “if you want to run away from a zombie later. You’ll want your cerebellum.”

The helpful back matter includes Brain Facts such as A human brain is only about 2-3 percent of an adult’s body weight, but it uses almost 20 percent of the body’s energy. I also was surprised to learn that Albert Einstein’s brain was stolen by Dr. Thomas Harvey and cut into 240 blocks to be studied upon his death. This is something I would like to learn more about!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Poison for Breakfast coverPOISON FOR BREAKFAST
by Lemony Snicket

Chapter Spot art by Margaux Kent
(Liveright; $17.95, All Ages)

Lemony Snicket’s Poison for Breakfast will certainly be a hit with his fans because the author’s style is quite unique, a word which here means “weird in undefinable ways.” Though marketed to older MG and YA readers, this book appeals to adults as well. This true story begins when Mr. Snicket (as he prefers to be addressed) finds a bewildering and frightening note under his door that reads, “You had poison for breakfast.”

We go along with Mr. Snicket as he reviews each item consumed for breakfast to uncover the culprit. He meanders to locations where the breakfast items originated. Though we eventually discover what’s behind this mystery, the pleasure is in the circuitous journey told in a way that only Lemony Snicket can, complete with endnotes elaborating topics touched upon.

I enjoy the distinctive structure, odd tidbits, and repetition. So, make yourself a poached egg as Mr. Snicket recommends, and settle in for a fun read. A list-maker myself, I find Mr. Snicket’s lists particularly amusing. And, as a writer, knowing the three rules of writing will undoubtedly help me better my craft. They are: (1) Include the element of surprise, (2) Leave something out, and, (3) Well, no one really knows the third rule.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Ghoul Next Door coverTHE GHOUL NEXT DOOR 
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Cat Farris
(Harper Alley; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Get your ghoul on with The Ghoul Next Door, a terrific new middle-grade graphic novel featuring just enough ghouls, ghosts, and atmospheric underworld to make you read it in one sitting and then start all over again.

Welcome to Anders Landing, est. 1692, a place sought out by accused witches to avoid the witch hunts and trials of Salem taking place the same year. Things go downhill quickly for main character Grey who, after picking up an unlucky penny, takes a shortcut to school through the local cemetery. Grey doesn’t want to lug his bulky Salem Witch-themed school project the long way like his superstitious friend, Marshall. When Grey trips on an open grave and drops his project in it, he panics. Looking down he sees his cemetery project grasped by a monster-ish hand. Then, it’s gone.

That evening something enters his bedroom and begins leaving gifts, not the birthday present sort, but finger bones, a doll of his likeness, and assorted other items that freak him out. This creature clearly likes Grey and replaces the original cemetery model with an even better one. Grey may score points in class with the new project, but Marshall thinks it’s best to tell some adults about all the creepy goings-on. While he initially didn’t believe Grey, he’s now changed his mind after a trip to the cemetery where he gets a glimpse of the ghoul. Lavinia, as she’s called, saves Grey from an army of rats and a friendship begins. In foreshadowing the story’s conflict, she warns the two humans to keep mum about what they know or they risk the ire of those underground and put her in jeopardy.

Readers learn that the ghoulish creatures that live below the surface (Grey and Marshall are considered human surface dwellers), aside from enjoying eating the newly dead, greatly dislike and mistrust humans and fear discovery. As payback, they kidnap Marshall leading Grey and Lavinia on a dangerous mission underground to rescue him before he’s killed. What ensues is a page-turning adventure with the right mix of dialogue, fantastical and haunting art, and heart, although technically I don’t think a ghoul has one. The friendship of Lavinia and Grey challenges the ‘no contact with humans’ rule laid out by Lavinia’s community and feels satisfying and fresh (although using that word here feels kind of ghoulish). She risks everything for Grey while he also puts his life on the line to help both his old and new friends and ultimately himself. Read this in the daytime if you live anywhere near a cemetery.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

THE HALLOWEEN MOONThe Halloween Moon cover
Written by Joseph Fink
(Quill Tree Books; $16.99, Ages 10-13)

What if time stood still and it could be Halloween forever? The candy part is tempting, but if everyone you loved had fallen into a deep, otherworldly sleep, it might not be so sweet. That’s exactly what 13-year-old protagonist Esther Gold is dealing with in Joseph Fink’s imaginative novel, The Halloween Moon. Blending fantasy and magic in a contemporary Southern California setting, Fink opens the book with a prologue detailing a robbery of something seemingly quite small which proves to have huge significance in the story. 

Esther lives for Halloween but her best friend, Agustín, does not. So when Esther’s parents announce she has aged out of trick-or-treating, having become an adult at her bat mitzvah, she realizes she’ll have to circumvent this new rule. When that plan involves Agustín, he seems game. Did he agree a bit too easily? Did she like that he did? Those are just a few of the questions Esther faces on this very long Halloween night set under a huge orange Halloween moon. 

Odd goings-on occur as Esther and Agustín notice only a motley crew of trick-or-treaters with shadowy faces are out and about. Their clicky sounds are creepy too. Plus all the people usually into the holiday aren’t answering their doors. The pair soon discover that a sleeping spell has been cast over the community. An urgency hits when Esther realizes her little sister has gone missing. That’s also what brings Esther together with bully Sasha Min who has often lobbed anti-semitic and other hurtful insults her way. But since Sasha’s distraught over her kidnapped brother and unwakeable mother, she agrees to team up with the other two intrepid trick-or-treaters to find out what’s going on. Along the way, the teens take the rare awake adult, next-door neighbor, Mr. Gabler, onboard as they try to reverse the spell and bring the interminable Halloween nightmare safely to an end 

I enjoyed this book because, in addition to the mystery the teens hope to solve, readers get inside Esther’s head and learn that she’s been having difficulty accepting change in her life. Whether the change is about her giving up trick-or-treating, her changing feelings for Agustín, watching Grandma Debbie getting older and frailer, or about what might happen when she moves up into high school the following year, Fink ties Esther’s growth into the Halloween adventure in a satisfying way. The dynamic shared between Esther and Sasha as they try to resolve past conflicts is also one that should resonate with readers. Horror fans will note references to John Carpenter and the horror film genre in general.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

HAPPY HOWL-O-WEEN MAD LIBS  
by Mad Libs

(Mad Libs; $6.99, Ages 8-12)

Mad Libs are one of those things: we all know and enjoy them. As a parent, I wholeheartedly encourage playing Mad Libs whenever a boring moment strikes. Yes, they’re hilarious and spark the imagination, but also (secret parent trick) drill home the parts of speech: adverb versus adjective and so forth. And if you’re a little rusty, no fear. Following the instructions, there’s a “quick review” that easily explains that, for example, when an exclamation is called for, they mean something like “Wow!” “Ouch!” or “Ick!”

The Happy Howl-o-ween version takes all the best stuff about this holiday and mixes it up with the fill-in-the-blank fun of Mad Libs. There are 63 themed stories to create in three categories: Monster Mash, Trick or Treat (both by Tristan Roarke), and Day of the Dead (by Karl Jones).

Whether you’ve done these a million times or are just introducing them to a young child, pick up a copy for your car as a way to pass some time with laughs and learning.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

vampires hearts other dead things coverVAMPIRES, HEARTS, & OTHER DEAD THINGS
by Margie Fuston
(Margaret K. McElderry; $18.99, Ages 14 and up) 

Instead of celebrating her senior year, Victoria won’t give up on her terminally ill dad—even when her family is told there are no treatment options left to pursue. Her mom and sister seem better at letting go. Victoria, instead, turns to the passion of all-things-vampire that she shares with her father and decides it’s up to her to save him. Ten years ago, a vampire announced himself to the world, but, after some mishaps, the vampires went back into hiding. Victoria takes that trip to New Orleans she’d planned on doing with her dad and, while there, vows to find and get bitten by a vampire so she can save her father by turning him into one too.

The grief Victoria struggles with is realistically handled, as is the complex connection she has with Henry (her neighbor, former BFF, and maybe boyfriend). As in all good love stories, a bit of a love triangle comes into play, but the heart of the story involves Victoria’s relationships with her family and Henry. Messy emotions are laid bare in a hauntingly beautiful setting. I like how Victoria’s quest leads her through ever-increasing challenges that test her resolve to follow through with this plan.

A new, vital addition to the vampire lore. Not only does this story add its own flair, but it explores previous books and movies—a pleasing touch for vampire aficionados.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED HALLOWEEN READS 

 

BOO! BAA! LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon; $5.99, Age 0-5)

 

 

Vampenguin coverVAMPENGUIN
Written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

The Haunted Mustache coverTHE HAUNTED MUSTACHE: Book #1 Fright Nights
Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Teo Skaffa
(Aladdin; $6.99, Ages 7-10)

 

 

 

 

What Lives in the Woods coverWHAT LIVES IN THE WOODS
Written by Lindsay Currie
(Sourcebooks; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GHOSTLY TALES OF THE QUEEN MARY
by Shelli Timmons
(Arcadia Children’s Books; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Without Separation

 

WITHOUT SEPARATION:

Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez

Written by Larry Dane Brimner

Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez

(Calkins Creek; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

 

 

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

I could not put down the nonfiction picture book Without Separation because, like the compelling but little-known case presented in the recently reviewed We Want to Go to School, this eye-opening account is about a civil rights case I had never heard about yet think everyone should.

Readers meet Roberto Alvarez on his way to school on January 5, 1931, just after the Christmas break. When the 12-year-old arrived at Lemon Grove Grammar School, “the principal told Roberto and other Mexican and Mexican American children that they did not belong there.” It soon became clear that the children were going to be segregated under the guise that the Mexican children didn’t understand English and were holding back white students.  

 

 

Without Separation int1
Interior spread from Without Separation written by Larry Dane Brimner and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez, Calkins Creek ©2021.

ma

I was stunned upon reading that the board of trustees of the school district had gone ahead and had another school built to separate these children. On top of that, they did it without telling the Mexican parents. They thought they were avoiding trouble this way but what they were doing was wrong or they would have been more transparent.

They may have thought that by going behind parents’ backs they could get away with their ploy but the inhabitants of the Mexican barrio knew better. Roberto’s parents had told him to come home if he were sent to the new Olive Street School, aka the barnyard.

That fateful morning, Roberto and a large group of other students refused to attend. While the school district tried to spin Olive Street School as a way to help the children learn English and American customs, Roberto, his parents, and other families knew the truth. This was a blatant and seemingly illegal attempt to segregate the students based on race.

 

Without Separation int2
Interior spread from Without Separation written by Larry Dane Brimner and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez, Calkins Creek ©2021.

 

Fortunately, the families quickly organized themselves. When they met with the Mexican consul, he connected them with a couple of lawyers to help them. “Roberto brought the situation in Lemon Grove to the attention of the California Superior Court in San Diego on February 13, 1931.” A lawsuit against the board of trustees of the Lemon Grove School District was filed stating how Roberto wanted to go to the same school as the white students, where he’d gone before the new year.

The school board felt overly confident about winning the case because San Diego’s district attorney was on their side, but mistakes were made. The D.A. tried to get the case dismissed but luck was not on his side.

 

Without Separation int art3
Interior spread from Without Separation written by Larry Dane Brimner and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez, Calkins Creek ©2021.

 

The judge ultimately ruled in favor of Roberto Alvarez who the school district tried to prevent from returning to the local school he’d previously attended. The law said the lead plaintiff (and therefore all the others affected) had every right to attend the Lemon Grove Grammar School “without separation or segregation.” This important case along with several others was cited “before the US Supreme Court when it made its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas) decision of 1954 that outlawed school segregation.” And though the struggle recounted in Without Separation took place almost 91 years ago, the facts surrounding this case feel as relevant today when prejudice against the immigrant communities here in the U.S. continues and racial-based inequalities linger.

Author Brimner has written a timely and terrific book for today’s generation of children to gain greater insight into the power of community, commitment, and the change that even “one small voice” can make. Gonzalez’s gorgeous artwork, reminiscent of Mexican muralists with its bold lines and rich colors, helps bring this story to life.

Eight pages of interesting back matter go into more detail about the case including what happened to the principal Jerome J. Green. There are photos along with information about other similar lawsuits. I was happy to read how Roberto Alvarez became a successful businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist in San Diego before he passed away in 2003. It’s great that this book is available for families, schools, and libraries so readers can have a greater appreciation of the significant impact of Roberto Alvarez v. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Pride Month Book Review – No Way, They Were Gay?

NO WAY, THEY WERE GAY?:

Hidden Lives and Secret Loves

by Lee Wind

(Zest Books; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

No Way They Were Gay book cover

 

I knew I was going to love No Way, They Were Gay? when I first got the inside scoop about it during author Lee Wind’s book launch earlier this year. But I’d like to add that while I’m sharing my review during Pride Month, it should not by any means be read just in June.

Wind’s excellent young adult nonfiction book is clearly a labor of love and a book that will launch myriad meaningful conversations as it has done in my home. Top on the discussion list is how the history we learn is created by those in power. Wind reminds us that, as educated and questioning readers, we have to always carefully consider any historical information presented, its sources, along with motivations and biases. Were certain details related to certain historical figures’ gender identity, romantic and/or love interests withheld from public accounts to protect a person’s image or reputation such as that of English poet and playwright William Shakespeare, President Abraham Lincoln, India’s independence proponent, Mahatma Gandhi, or First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt? Were there other reasons influencing the decision to downplay, edit, or hide these and others’ true stories? This book delves deep and wide into the “why” and makes us rethink our knowledge of the people Wind has selected.

 

NoWayTheyWereGay Shakespeare int
Interior design and image from No Way, They Were Gay? by Lee Wind, Zest Books ©2021.

 

The exhaustive research collected and carefully conveyed in this book speaks volumes to Wind’s commitment to speaking truth to power while reaffirming respect for and the importance of the individuals included. Would Shakespeare’s sonnets be any less powerful and passionate if they were dedicated to a man? No. Does Gandhi’s relationship with another man mean he was any less of a leader? No. Does Roosevelt’s enduring relationship with Lorena Hickock detract from her contributions to society during an especially trying period in our history? No? So why then do the facts about who these people loved remain disputed or concealed? Wind presents his take with compelling proof and winning arguments, and then asks teens what they think.

 

NoWayTheyWereGay QueenAnne int
Interior design and photograph from No Way, They Were Gay? by Lee Wind, Zest Books ©2021.

 

 

No Way, They Were Gay? is divided up into three parts: “Men Who Loved Men,” “Women Who Loved Women,” and “People Who Lived Outside Gender Boundaries.” There’s an excellent and comprehensive Introduction, a Conclusion as well as an Author’s Note, Source Notes, Recommended Resources, and an Index. What I appreciated the most about the intro was that Wind included explanations about gender identity, the acronym LGBTQ and LGBTQIA2+, and labeling in a way that makes them easily understood. The book’s design, featuring fact bubbles, news clippings, images, photographs, and letters, adds to the ease of reading. Throughout the book, primary sources are presented in bold, another great idea. Additionally, there’s a suggestion at the end to read the book chronologically for those who prefer this approach. (See page 251)

Wind’s book is a great jumping-off point for further reading (which he provides) because after finishing each part readers may find themselves asking more questions. In fact, I love that Wind encourages them to. Speaking of further exploration, do not miss a visit to his website which is another helpful resource for tweens and teens. Though the suggested age range by the publisher is ages 12 and up, many 10- and 11-year-olds will welcome the information. I came away from my read of No Way, They Were Gay? both grateful that a thoughtful light has been shed on the lives of so many notable people in the LGBTQIA2+ community throughout history, and happy that Wind has written an indispensable book on queer history that will be embraced for years to come.

 

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Children’s Books for Father’s Day 2021

 

 

 

CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR FATHER’S DAY

∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Happy Fathers Day Clipart

 

 

 

1 Dad book cover#1 DAD: A Lift-the-Tie Book
Written by Cindy Jin
Illustrated by Dawn M Cardona
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

A fun spin on the classic Father’s Day gift of a dress shirt and/or tie, this unique rhyming board book invites little ones to lift the tie (flap) and reveal which trophy goes to dad for the things he’s so good at. Whether a father excels at making repairs, cooking, styling hair, or reading bedtime stories, #1 Dad probably covers something a father can claim is his specialty. Paper-cut artwork adds to the enjoyment of this entertaining celebration of dads.

 

 

DAD: THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND
Written by Mifflin Lowe
Illustrated by Dani Torrent
(Bushel & Peck Books; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

The beautiful pastel colors of oranges and reds carry the heroic red-headed father and his red-headed kids through a magical story of what makes up a true hero in the newly released Dad: The Man, The Myth, The Legend. Mifflin Lowe and Dani Torrent’s picture book begins with portraits on the walls in the family home depicting a superhero father like no other. He lifts cars above his head; travels to the moon; and is stronger than Sasquatch and Thor. Mom says he is a legend in his own mind, Lowe writes which is a pretty great description of many dads.

One great example of this larger-than-life father is when he gets tangled in a hose and his son sees him as Tarzan. This sweet story for young readers makes a big statement that no matter what Dad does, and however mad he may make Mom (speeding in a minivan is not the same as driving a race car), Dad will always be amazing. One of Torrent’s most heart-warming illustrations is of the boy and his sister on Dad’s lap reading with his eyes closed. Dad can do no wrong even when sleeping! And no matter how much Dad drives Mom crazy, she says it just makes her crazy about him. And, if you purchase this book Bushel & Peck will donate another to a child in need!

 

AdventuresWithMyDaddies mainADVENTURES WITH MY DADDIES
Written by Gareth Peter
Illustrated by Garry Parsons
(Peachtree Publishing; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

‘My daddies are amazing—the world’s best king and king,” says the brown-haired child with big brown eyes in Adventures With My Daddies written by debut author Gareth Peter and illustrated by Garry Parsons, illustrator of the best-selling series The Dinosaur That Pooped. The Daddies in this blended family are not the best at everything, but our young narrator really doesn’t care. The Daddies tell adventurous stories But my daddies’ favorite story is … the one that brought them me. Peter’s rhyming text takes the reader on exciting adventures, with colorful illustrations of roaming hills of green grass and deep blue oceans. This LGBTQ+ and adoptive family story shows the power of familial love whether a child has two moms, two dads, or one mom and one dad. What a lovely, upbeat story about diversity and inclusiveness. Click here for an activity sheet.

 

My Dad book cover artMy Dad 
Written by Susan Quinn
Illustrated by Marina Ruiz
(words & pictures; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

My Dad is another newly released lyrical rhyming text taking the reader through the one-of-a-kind relationship between a boy and his dad (and the orange cat who is often close by). The sweetness of everyday activities is simply conveyed, like Dad making mornings special because he loves to bake, while the young boy leans his head on the counter with a smile on his face watching Dad pull the cookies from the oven.

Ruiz’s warm color palette brings added charm to this touching story. Delightful detail is shown in the artwork, as the boy sits with one cat slipper on while the other has fallen to the floor (and, of course, the cat stares at the mysterious cat slipper in awe). Dad has the magical ability to make everyday tasks such as shopping, which he says is boring, into an adventure where they pretend they are in the jungle looking for tasty food to eat. The imaginative take on people in line at a store surrounded by monkeys and tigers will make every child eager to go shopping with Dad. This comforting bedtime story for any dad to read to his child reinforces how special the father-son bond can be.

 

Daddy and dada book coverDADDY & DADA
Written by Ryan Brockington & Issac Webster
Illustrated by Lauren May
(Little, Brown BYR; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

This picture book was written as a love letter to daughter Rumi, and soon to follow son Xander (that is with an X, not a Z as our main character teaches the reader) because authors Ryan Brockington and Issac Webster were unable to find a story about families similar to their own. Illustrator Lauren May depicts framed photos on a wall of all kinds of families because every family is unique in its own way. The take-away from this story is that the most important thing is being raised with lots of love, no matter who you call your parents.

Rumi’s daddies play different roles in her life. Daddy sings her songs, while Dada reads her stories but They both love me THIS much as May illustrates Rumi’s arms opened wide. The family of five—we can’t forget adorable black and white dog Betty—goes for hikes together, while other families eat ice cream or play basketball. May’s illustrations, created with Photoshop Elements, show all sizes and colors of families. The story ends with Rumi sitting on the floor with her green cape and the words Tell me about your family. This conversation starter is a fabulous way for parents to discuss their own family dynamics, or maybe a relative or friend’s family. It is also a perfect school art assignment for young kids.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Other Recommeded Reads for Father’s Day or any day to celebrate dads:

Tad and Dad
Written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein
(Nancy Paulsen Books, $8.99, Ages 1-3)

 

 

 

Hair Twins
Written by Raakhee Mirchandani
Illustrated by Holly Hatam
(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

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Mother’s Day Books for Children 2021

 

NEW MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

Mother's Day Free Clip Art

 

Let’s give a round of applause to moms everywhere on Mother’s Day with this great selection of Mother’s Day books that perhaps express what children cannot. The pandemic has been a challenge and moms, you stepped up to the plate, or should I say multiple plates, and made things work. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. You wondered if your hard work was appreciated or how long you’d be able to keep the smile on your face. Sometimes you didn’t smile and that’s okay. There were a lot of gray days but you never forgot what it means to be a mother, a grandmother, or caregiver. And those you love are taking this day to remember you and let you know how much they care. Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Leo Loves Mommy coverLEO LOVES MOMMY
Written by Anna McQuinn
Illustrated by Ruth Hearson
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $7.99; Ages 0-3)

The precious board book, a love letter to mommies, is a companion to Leo Loves Daddy, and a wonderful way to share the joy of reading together with mother and child. With diverse characters and warm tones in 18 delightful pages, Ruth Hearson illustrates the tender relationship Leo and Mommy share. Anna McQuinn’s gentle rhymes take the reader through the daily activities, “At yoga class, Mommy lifts Leo with ease. Riding home through the park, Mommy speeds like the breeze.” McQuinn’s Lola Reads series includes Lola Reads to Leo, Lola Gets a Cat, and Lola Loves Stories, all illustrated by Hearson. This is a great Mother’s Day read highlighting the special bond kids share with their moms.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

ILoveMommyEveryDay coverI LOVE MOMMY EVERY DAY 
Written by Isabel Otter
Illustrated by Alicia Mas
(Random House BYR; $10.99; Ages 3-7)

Part of the An Every Day Together Book collection, I Love Mommy Every Day is a sweet book celebrating moms. “Mommy feels like home, a comforting presence wherever I am,” says a blonde-haired child with large purple glasses as she snuggles in bed, while Mommy is reading by her side. Alicia Mas brings the reader in with her eye-pleasing art of various mommies with their children. Her blues, oranges, pinks, and reds surround Otter’s descriptions of all the different kinds of mommies. Turning to the last page, the reader comes across a list that reads, “What do you love best about your mommy?” Numbered from one to three, these questions offer the opportunity for parents to talk to their kids, or have them write (or dictate) on a separate paper, about what makes their mommy so special and lovable. They provide a fun activity for teachers to give students to create an unexpected yet personalized Mother’s Day gift.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

HowtoSpotaMom coverHOW TO SPOT A MOM
Written by Donna Amey Bhatt
Illustrated by Aura Lewis
(Wide Eyed Editions; $14.99; Ages 5-8)

This picture book put a smile on my face as I read through each page trying to decide if I was Zen Mom or Organized Mom, while also wondering which one my adult children would choose. Aura Lewis’ colorful illustrations of trendy moms, outdoorsy moms, and working moms depict, page-by-page, all kinds of moms. Which one are you? The book opens with “What is a Mom?” then explains that moms are not just biological, they are stepmoms, adoptive, foster moms, and even moms-to-be. My favorite pages were under the heading Moms around the World, showing the reader that in Finland, Aiti, gives birth and then is given a box of essentials from the government, and babies can even sleep inside the box; and in India the new mom, Maan, often goes back to her own mom to help her adapt to parenthood. This playful book also conveys genuine gratitude, concluding with, “Thank you to your mom, their mom, and all the moms yet to come.” This is a great read throughout the year. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Dear Grandma coverDEAR GRANDMA
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by John Joseph
(Sourcebooks; $12.99, Ages 4-8)

New York Times’ best-selling author Susanna Leonard Hill’s new picture book, Dear Grandma, recognizes all the ways grandmothers are awesome. Written as a letter that begins, “Dear Grandma, Do you know you’re the best?” Each scene shows funny and loving ways: “You’re a jungle gym climber, jump rope rhymer, / storyteller, secret hideout dweller . . .” Grandmas soothe the bad days and nightmares away. They’re also with you through the seasons, whether living close by or staying in contact across the miles.

John Joseph echoes the text’s positive vibes in his colorful illustrations capturing children of the world interacting with their grams. The two-page wordless spread where a toy dragon comes to life is my favorite piece of art; it’s quite funny.

A perfect gift book to show grandma how much you appreciate everything she does.
• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Dessert Person coverDESSERT PERSON:
Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence
by Claire Saffitz

(Clarkson Potter; $35.00) 

Most of the time my family eats simply, but, sometimes, I want to make something special. Two yeast recipes I need to fine-tune are English muffins and focaccia so I was happy (and surprised) to find Claire Saffitz’s versions in her Dessert Person cookbook. Don’t fear, there are loads of delicious desserts including cakes, pies, tarts, bars, and cookies along with a category called Fancy Desserts featuring croquembouche and so forth. Check the Recipe Matrix, which plots out recipes on a grid by difficulty level and total time—an at-a-glance time-saver. Read the thorough instructions before beginning to ensure you have the ingredients, time, and equipment.

Because kumquats were in season, I made Ricotta Cake with Kumquat Marmalade. The cake was a hit with a flavor reminiscent of German cheesecake. Its kumquat marmalade topping elevated this dish from comfort food to showstopper. I’ll make the cake again, swapping in a different seasonal topping.

Another recipe my family really enjoyed was Clam and Fennel Pizza with Gremolata, which begins with the Soft and Pillowy Flatbread recipe. (Store-bought pizza dough can be swapped out, but freshly made flatbread is a treat.) After the flatbreads are parbaked, top with the previously cooked clam, garlic, fennel, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes mixture. Bake again, then finish off with a gremolata of flat-leaf parsley, fennel fronds, garlic, lemon zest, and kosher salt. There won’t be leftovers, guaranteed!

Beyond making these amazing creations, the photos are eye candy for us cookbook geeks. The gorgeous Black Sesame Paris-Brest is an image I’m drawn to. This bicycle wheel-shaped French pastry recipe replaces the traditional pastry cream for one made with black tahini. Other pastry cream options include chocolate or coconut variations.

I’ll keep looking at the beautiful pictures as I work my way through the recipes. From relatively simple Miso Buttermilk Biscuits to the two-months-to-make Fruitcake, there are dozens of delectable choices. This is a cookbook I will seek out—as the subtitle promises—to receive “guidance for baking with confidence.” What a wonderful treat for Mother’s Day. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

(www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

💗 And last but certainly not least, check out this wonderful interview with YOUR MAMA author NoNieqa Ramos, another must-read for Mother’s Day. The picture book was illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

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