THE CHRISTMASAURUS Written by Tom Fletcher Illustrated by Shane Devries (Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)
The Christmasaurus, a middle grade novel by singer-songwriter and YouTuber Tom Fletcher, brings us holiday magic in a new way. The Earth’s last dinosaur lives at the North Pole surrounded by a hubbub of activity and some awesome flying reindeer, but, he’s lonely. Around the world, young William Trundle, a dinosaur expert, wants Santa to bring him a dinosaur more than anything. The two are bound to meet, but their adventure isn’t what you’d expect.
I like that Tom Fletcher mashes together the struggles kids face at school and at home with our love and fascination for dinosaurs. Add in a bully, an evil villain, and some twists on tradition—and you thought the elves made the presents!—and you’ve got an exciting holiday story. Better still, you will care about William Trundle and the Christmasaurus; the characters have dimension and heart.
Shane Devries’s illustrations add humor and charm. The Christmasaurus is cute, beautiful, and spectacular all at once. Seeing him is heartwarming, but, “believing [in ourselves and in others] is the most powerful magic of all.”
Let your little learners thumb through all 32 pages of this colorful board book with its retro cartoonish feel while you gently introduce all the different Hanukkah related things included. While this is not the first primer in the series from Paprocki (there’s S is for Santa, L is for Love and B is for Boo), I’m glad Gibbs-Smith decided it was important to add this title. And expect two more soon (E is for Easter and R is for Ramadan) which can be pre-ordered now. I honestly wondered at first how the author/illustrator would find appropriate words for each letter, but surprising he did including Y is for yontiff (Yiddish for holiday). Saying “Gut yontiff” is how my parents and grandparents greeted fellow Jews at holidays throughout the year. From alphabet to zaide, I found so many of the illustrations beautiful and welcoming with their jewel tones and cheerful settings. J is for jelly doughnut is another particular fave but truly there are many so you’ll just have to see for yourself. Then, perhaps you, too, will be as eXcited as I was to read the book.
Meet the Latkes by Alan Silberberg makes for an enjoyable read if parents seek something a bit less traditional and more whimsical to share this Hanukkah (or Chanukah!). Silberberg, an award-winning cartoonist and children’s TV creator, is both author and illustrator of this debut picture book.
The main characters in the story are Lucy Latke, her grandpa and her dog Applesauce. The humor comes into play when Grandpa tells Lucy his version of Chanukah or Hanukkah as is explained early on since the holiday can be spelled multiple ways. But these are the two most common. I suppose you could say Meet the Latkes is funny from the get go because we’re listening to latkes as opposed to people and that’s probably enough to get little ones giggling.
Rather than stick to the standard story of the heroic Maccabees, headed by Judah, who fought to keep the Jewish people safe from a brutal King Antiochus, Grandpa recounts the tale of the Mega-Bees. Their nemesis was a group of “Outer space spuds.” All the while Grandpa is telling his story, Applesauce is trying to explain the real version and growing increasingly frustrated.
Most young Jewish children know the Hanukkah story but it bears repeating annually. I never tire of reading new spins on an old tale and Silberberg has definitely done that. Children who aren’t Jewish or have never learned the story will find Silberberg’s way of conveying this historic tale most entertaining, especially if different voices are used for Grandpa and Applesauce.
In Grandpa’s version, the evil tater tyrants ultimately get whipped into mash that, when mixed up with “EGG and ONION and a pinch of flour,” becomes what we know as latkes! Of course Applesauce goes on to explain the true tale which includes the miracle of the Maccabees’ discovery of a tiny amount of oil left “to light the holy menorah.” What should have been enough for one day lasted eight which is why we light candles for eight nights. My favorite part of Meet the Latkes is the teenage brother who always says “I don’t care!” and remains cloistered in his room until finally emerging near the end, making that just one more miracle to celebrate and one that may resonate with many families. In fact, I laughed upon discovering teen Lex Latke’s promotional blurb on the book’s back cover. “You want to know THE TRUE STORY OF HANUKKAH? Don’t ask me—read this book!” I agree.
LIGHT THE MENORAH! A HANUKKAH HANDBOOK Written by Jacqueline Jules Illustrated by Kristina Swarner (Kar-Ben Publishing; $18.99 Hardcover, $8.99 Paperback, Ages 4-10)
After so many years of celebrating Hanukkah, I thought there was nothing more to learn about the holiday but I was wrong. Jacqueline Jules has written an engaging picture book that I could easily see using with my grown-up family every year.
There’s an introduction, blessings, thoughtful verse to accompany each of the eight nights candle lighting along with a moving reflection to read silently, aloud or discuss together as a family. The second half of Light The Menorah! features four pages devoted to the Hanukkah story for which there are two versions, something I had never known. There’s the historical version and the rabbinic tradition which is the one I’ve always told about the oil from the damaged Temple lasting eight nights. The historic version says that since the Maccabees “couldn’t take a week to observe Sukkot properly, … they celebrated for eight days during the rededication of the Temple.”
The remaining pages answer common questions such as when does Hanukkah occur, where is it celebrated and more. I was delighted to read the section where Jules explains the role women played in the Hanukkah story. No one will be disappointed to see instructions for playing the dreidel game, latkes and jelly donut recipes in addition to easy crafts.
Swarner’s lovely watercolor illustrations dress up the text and are well paired on every page or spread. I was drawn to the book by the title and cover art and am glad I didn’t miss a single thing both Jules and Swarner had to share. This one’s a keeper and would make a wonderful gift to families just beginning to celebrate the Festival of Lights.
Two wonderful new books with a Hanukkah theme are reviewed below. However, though both books are Hanukkah-themed, these particular choices convey more about family and togetherness, an important part of the holiday, than about the Hanukkah story itself.
I loved the feeling Hanukkah Hamster gave me as I was reading. Edgar, the cab driver, finds a hamster in his cab and, being a bit lonely living away from family in Tel Aviv, reluctantly brings him home. Gently but hesitantly he incorporates the animal into his Hanukkah celebrations. As Edgar dreads having the real owner claim the hamster, and sharing pictures of his “lost” hamster on his cell phone, it becomes clear that the little rodent, now called Chickpea, has become a big part of Edgar’s family. To my delight, a surprise, big-hearted resolution saves the day. I could easily see this story being read aloud to an elementary school library audience where kids might not know about lighting candles on a menorah, but certainly can relate to a lost pet! Ceolin’s artwork adds just the right mix of warmth and light to this terrific tale! Buy the book here: Hanukkah Hamster
All-of-a-Kind Family HANUKKAH, which is based on the classic books by Sydney Taylor, and written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Caldecott Award-winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky, is a gorgeously illustrated longer picture book set in the turn of the century. With a glossary of terms and various notes from author and illustrator, you could easily use this book to cook up some delectable potato latkes!
Being from a large family with three sisters (and the lone brother), I can relate to this new story by Jenkins. The youngest girl, Gertie who is four-years-old, has older siblings and is always wanting to do whatever the older sisters are doing—even when it’s clear she is too young. As the day progresses and the special latkes are being prepared (“… potatoes peeled, and potatoes grated, onions chopped …”) Gertie just demands to be included in the kitchen, but her tantrum sends her to her room until Father kindly finds a way for Gertie to take part in the festivities. Jenkins’ rhythmic text makes you almost drool over the wonderful smells invoked from the baking the family is doing. Zelinsky’s illustrations capture the era completely and fill them with emotion, exuberance and tenderness. This is a classic story of family with warmth, joy and love all cooked in those delicious latkes! See the author page here for her NY tour dates.
• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios, Owner Once Upon a Time Bookstore
NOTE: Good Reads With Ronna makes no commission or profit from the sale of any book in this post. Our goal is to encourage the love of reading great books while supporting local independent bookstores.
Here are last year’s recommended reads for Hanukkah.
Fans of the Geisel Award-winning author and illustrator will love Ethan Long’s latest, Fangsgiving, which celebrates family and giving thanks in a most unusual and often kind of gross but ghoulisly good way. The Fright Club folks are cooking up a delicious holiday feast when unexpected family members show up. It seems Uncle Gus, Aunt Bessy and their boys have a better way to make the meal and that means changing a lot of the ingredients. Garlic mashed potatoes get eyeballs and earwax added, the turkey gets burned to a crisp and the pumpkin pie gets maggot meatballs thrown in. YUCK! Vladimir is not happy but is determined to look on the bright side given the holiday. But when the dining room goes dark because Uncle Gus can’t handle the daylight, his dog Spike has “devoured everything!”
Fortunately this provides a way for the Fright Club and family to team up to create another meal and make the most of their time together. Long’s laughter inducing illustrations bring the revolting repas to life and will bring smiles to many young faces eager to see how the Fright Club fares under trying circumstances. This clever approach to the traditional Thanksgiving meal and holiday, though rather unappetizing, makes for a refreshing and fun new read this season. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Child’s poem turned song, Over The River and Through the Wood, is a perennial favorite at Thanksgiving time, but to be honest I never heard it in its entirety so I’m grateful to have this lovely paper-over-board picture book! In Randall’s version, the siblings, who I always imagined were in a great big sleigh beside a slew of family, are taking in nature’s beauty as they sleigh their way alone to Grandma’s house. But not for long. There are moose, beavers, foxes and bunnies to behold in the winter wonderland as well as majestic purple mountains. Soon dusk arrives but the horse knows the way so young readers don’t have to worry the children will get lost. It also appears in Randall’s illustrations that the animals are accompanying the kids on their journey, an added bonus when reading the book aloud and sharing the art. While it’s blistery cold outside, Grandma’s house is warm and welcoming inside, just the kind of place any child would love to visit. I was surprised at the ending when everyone sits around a table outside including a couple who are likely the children’s parents, but I don’t think kids will mind one bit. In fact, that way the animals are portrayed around the table makes the meal look extra special. Enjoy this festive read with family for a special holiday tradition. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Colleen Madden’s brought this common holiday dilemma to the fore with her humorous take on sitting at The Kiddie Table, a fate worse than death for tweens or anyone for that matter who feels they should be seated with the adults. This fancy dressed young girl of eight is unhappy at having to share a table with little ones. Adding insult to injury is the sippy cup with a lid she’s been give along with table manners of the toddlers. One of my favorite lines, “Why am I stuck with this pacifier crowd?” drives home the point that the age and maturity range of the kids she’s sitting with leaves something to be desired. Told in slightly uneven rhyme, the story still resonates. When is a good age to move to the big people table? She doesn’t think it’s cool to be with a bunch of drooling, messy kids and that makes perfect sense. Only stewing in the situation doesn’t help.
When the miffed eight-year-old eventually melts down, yelling “This is the WORST Thanksgiving I’ve ever had in my entire life!” all the little ones erupt by throwing food and the grownups look aghast at the goings on. Luckily tween’s mom explains that asking to switch seats would have been a better approach than yelling but she also acknowledges how being seated with the babies might not have been easy. Ultimately things fall into place for the girl when she leaves the kiddie table and chats with an older cousin amongst the adults. As the evening comes to an end, the tween assumes more responsibility like cleaning up and helping the youngsters prepare to go home. Madden’s artwork is full of festive colors and expressions and reactions that pop off the page. I got a kick out of the girl’s face getting angrier and angrier and also when she yells so loud even a pregnant guest’s baby kicks! The cover alone made me want to dive in. The emotional build up of the art flows a bit better than the prose, but the essence of the story, about self-advocacy and that awkward in-between age rings true and something many children will relate to. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Food Fight! A Mouthwatering History of Who Ate What and Why Through the Ages is wealth of information for kids interested in food, history, trivia, or cooking. From the Prehistoric Era through the Future World, a variety of facts are communicated in manner that’s easily understood. Each section opens with “A Bite-Size History” segment and concludes with a fun-filled short quiz.
Laid out in colorful panels, the data is abundant and accessible. Thirty kid-tested and historically inspired recipes have captivating names such as Roast Mastodon on a Stick (mastodon not required), Rosie the Riveter’s Chocolate Bread Custard, and, just in time for the holidays, Astronaut Fruitcake.
A recurring column “Table Matters” tells us why, for example, kids sit at a different table for the Thanksgiving meal. “Yucky Habits of Yore” delights with disgusting dishes such as the popular Ring-Around-the-Tuna which, yes, involved a whole can of tuna, stuffed olives, celery, and onion encased in wobbly lime Jell-O. Kids who enjoy fact-filled books or cookbooks will lose themselves in these pages.
National Geographic Kids does not disappoint with gorgeous photos throughout. Best-selling author and global food industry leader Tanya Steel is a former editor at Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, former editorial director of Epicurious, Clean Plates, and Gourmet.com, and an originator of “The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner” hosted by former First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House (a national recipe contest for kids aged 8 to 12 from 2012-2016). – Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt, writer, editor, and owner of Write for Successwww.Write-for-Success.com, @WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com
In her debut chapter book as author-illustrator, Cantini brings young readers Ghoulia, a friendly, warm and purple-loving zombie girl (can a zombie be warm, just asking?) who really has only one wish, to have friends. Stuck inside the grounds of Crumbling Manor, Ghoulia has been forbidden to leave the premises out of fear she and her Auntie Departed, her closest relative, will be made to leave the village should they be found out. In this first book of the series, and at just 64 illustration-filled pages, Ghoulia is a fast and fun read for anyone curious about zombie kids. Ghoulia’s cast of characters includes her Auntie Departed, Shadow the cat, Uncle Misfortune who happens to be a head and ideal candy bucket for Halloween, Tragedy the Albino greyhound and Grandad Coffin, a chess-playing distraction for a zombie granddaughter’s escape on Halloween. Ghoulia pulls off this daring feat (and that could be a pun since her body parts can come off whenever she wants) on Halloween when her brilliant idea to masquerade as herself in order to meet the local children is a huge success. But alas, what will happen when the village trick-or-treaters learn the truth and it’s revealed that Ghoulia’s not dressed up in a zombie costume but actually is one? A secret Monster Society is formed and everyone lives (well that’s not totally true of course) happily ever after. Cantini captures the atmosphere of Ghoulia’s off-beat world with page after wonderful page of whimsical illustrations and a sweet storyline. Book 2, Ghoulia And The Mysterious Visitor is up next in this winning new series so fans won’t have to wait long to find out what’s in store for the charming zombie girl. Several entertaining pages of bonus activities are included in the back matter. • Review by Ronna Mandel
Chapter book, Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts is a good match for reluctant readers because of its simple text, frequent illustrations, and funny asides in the margins or footnotes. As the title implies, there will be a lot of ironic humor; Sam Wu must face his fear of ghosts and reestablish himself in the eyes of his peers after a truly embarrassing incident. Luckily he’s learned a lot from his favorite TV program, “Space Blasters.” Now it seems there’s a ghost in Sam’s house, so Sam and his friends must prove they are brave ghost hunters.
Kids can sympathize with how it feels to not fit in. Sam introduces his friends to his favorite meal (roast duck and turnip cake) and urges them to take just one bite—even though the turnip cake does smell a lot like feet. Doing so, he successfully bridges their cultures using delicious food. Regaining some dignity with his classmates is harder, but Sam Wu demonstrates he’s no “Wu-ser” (as Ralph, the class bully, calls him).
In the closing Q&A, authors Katie and Kevin Tsang explain how they’ve woven some of their own childhoods into the story, showing they are “definitely NOT afraid of answering some author questions.”
Nathan Reed livens up the story with hilarious images of the characters including the evil cat Butterbutt, and Fang, the toughest snake ever. There is visual interest on every page to keep kids engaged beyond the text of the story.
Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts works well as a Halloween book for kids who prefer not-very-scary ghost stories with plenty of laughs. • Review by Christine Van Zandt
CITY OF GHOSTS Written by Victoria Schwab (Scholastic; $17.99, Ages 9-12)
Looking for a spooky Halloween read? Check out Victoria Schwab’s middle-grade novel, City of Ghosts. The story opens when eleven-year-old Cassidy’s birthday gift sends her over the edge (literally) and she drowns (sort of—a boy-ghost named Jacob retrieves her from death). Soon after, Cass is drawn toward something she calls The Veil and discovers that she can cross over into the place where ghosts dwell.
Jacob and Cass travel to Scotland with Cass’s parents whose book The Inspecters (inspectors of specters) is being made into a television series. Cass meets another girl with the same sort of gift in Edinburgh, the city of ghosts. There, mysterious locales harbor dangerous inhabitants; Cass must quickly learn how to survive.
The reveal-and-conceal relationship between the lead characters in City of Ghostsis fascinating. There’s a lot to learn about the other side when adventures through The Veil become more complex. This book explores historical haunts and interesting folklore as the alluring story unfolds in ethereal delight.
Victoria Schwab is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen novels for young adults and adults, including the Shades of Magic series, Vicious, Vengeful, This Savage Song, and Our Dark Duet. • Review by Christine Van Zandt Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Successwww.Write-for-Success.com @WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Haunted Halloween is a die-cut board book that not only encourages counting, but has tons of trick-or-treat fun packed into every page. Fliess’ rhyming will have even the youngest readers learning the words and repeating the phrases such as: One bat hangs, Pointy fangs. Two toads sleep. Earthworms creep. All numbers are presented both numerically and spelled out to help identify them in increasing order up to ten. Fleck’s assorted costumed trick-or-treaters in this glossy board book are not scary looking, making this an ideal introduction to the popular holiday. As the children make their way past a gate, a Guests Beware! sign greets them. They encounter wolves, owls, ghosts, snakes, spiders, crows, black cats, pumpkins and other All Hallows Eve creatures and things before arriving at the massive front door. What’s inside? A nice surprise – a Halloween party!
If you have a child with an active imagination, Spooky Fairy Tale Mix-up is the book for them! If you have a child that needs some prompting to get creative, this is also the perfect book, especially at Halloween. This mix and match Halloween hardcover, with its 26 pages and hidden spine, turns what could be a spooky night into a laugh-filled mash up of some fairy tale faves including Ghostilocks and The Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel, Mother Goose, Puss in Boots, Rapunzel and lots more. Just a flip of a flap and a story’s changed from the expected to the unexpected with ogres, zombie rats, skeletons and even some princesses doing the zaniest things. Kids can choose from hundreds of possibilities to make a simple story go wild.
Three hungry witches have only a bone with which to cook their soup. Sound familiar? That’s because Bone Soup, a welcome spin on Stone Soup, the beloved folktale about community and making nothing from something when everyone pitches in, works so well for a Halloween tale. This time around the witches go door to door in their neighborhood to seek out ingredients for their soup. Each time, they’re initially greeted with reluctance. Is it a trick? But Naggy Witch assures them that “Piff-Poof! It’s no trick.” First a monster for water because you cannot have soup without water. Then onto a ghost, a ghoul, a bat, a goblin, a mummy, a skeleton, a werewolf and a vampire to complete the concoction. When the donors begin to have doubts and tempers flare, it’s thanks to a little monster’s resourcefulness that nothing goes awry. And the magic readers have been waiting for comes through in helping produce “a steaming bowl of bone soup for all.” Capucilli’s created a yummy read-aloud that can be shared with or without the original story to complement it. Knight’s illustrations feature a cast of friendly creatures, playful spreads and a lot of movement on every page. But one warning, don’t read on an empty stomach. Mine’s growling as I type! The good news is there’s a recipe included in the back matter if kids and their parents want to try a hand at conjuring up their own delicious Halloween soup.
MOTHER GHOST: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters Written by Rachel Kolar Illustrated by Roland Garrigue (Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 5-7)
Mother Ghost is a frightfully fun and entertaining collection of poems for children that is sure to get them in the Halloween mood. It just doesn’t get more ghoulishly delightful than this. Old Mother Hubbard for example is so clever that it makes me think using nursery rhymes for Halloween poems would make a great class exercise. Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard/To Fetch her poor dog a bone;/But the skeleton there said, “Hey! Don’t you dare!/Leave all of my pieces alone!” Two of my other favorites are Zombie Miss Muffet and Mary, Mary, Tall and Scary with lots of spiders, worms, witches and slimy things kids love at Halloween. Kolar clearly had a blast reworking these 13 nursery rhymes and, like Spooky Fairy Tale Mix-up, it’s wonderful how changing just a few lines in a poem can have the most uproarious results. Garrigue’s artwork makes gruesome look great and creepy totally cool. Have some wicked good times reading these aloud.
Come along my friends for the ride of your life, well Michael’s life actually. The building doom and the perfect rhyming pattern in The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael promise twists and turns for young Michael on the ominous number Thirteen bus. The events of this story take place on November thirteenth, adding to the suspense and sense of dread. While something felt off, Michael still got on the bizarre bus nonetheless. He really had no other option. Besides, he was charged with transporting his Gran’s pet. And, of all the passengers, Michael seemed to be the least terrifying. Suddenly things were not looking good for the lad. When the last rider departed, Michael was left alone with the fanged and sneering driver. Why did the bus look ready to devour him? Soon the vehicle began veering “toward a slathering maw most horrid!” Rather than bring the story to an immediate satisfying conclusion, Becker beautifully brings on more drama as the menaced becomes the menace. Michael faces the impending evil actions by releasing one of his own! Between the dark tone of the illustrations, the spot on typeface, the right mix of mildly scary characters along with a foreboding feeling depicted in both the art and verse, The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael is a story to read with the lights on any time of year! Pick up a copy along with a flashlight today
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Want more suggestions for Halloween reads? Check out last year’s roundup right here.
THE DAM Written by David Almond Illustrated by Levi Pinfold (Candlewick Studio; $17.99, Ages: 5-9)
★Starred Review – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
Poignant words and haunting illustrations tell this tale based on a true story of love, loss, and rebirth in The Damwritten by David Almond and illustrated by Levi Pinfold.
“He woke her early. ‘Bring your fiddle,’” a father tells his daughter. Through these sparse words, the book opens with an immediate sense of urgency. A dam under construction will soon flood a valley cherished by Kathryn and her father. Once home to beloved musician friends, this valley will forever “be gone” and “washed away.” Pinfold’s illustrations echo the somber tone in a palette of gray, green, and white. While his “snapshot” pictures highlight samples of the delicate flora and fauna that will be lost, his double page spreads bring a bigger perspective to the vastness of the English countryside—the vastness of the loss and of the task at hand.
“‘Take no notice. There’s no danger,’” Kathryn’s father tells her. Tearing off boards on the abandoned houses they once gathered in to dance and sing, Kathryn’s father asks her to enter the rooms and play her fiddle. I couldn’t help but pause after reading these lines in the book. No danger? Had this story taken place in America, such an area would be visibly marked off with miles of flourescent yellow “CAUTION” tape and multiple “NO TRESPASSING” signs. Though the illustrations in the book show no such signage, it’s quite possible the characters’ presence in the valley was to some degree illegal. Though whatever physical danger there may have been, they faced an even greater one: the danger of the grieving process.
I compare tearing off boards from house to house to tearing off the bandage on a deep wound, acknowledging its pain, and being present with the discomfort. Kathryn plays and “Daddy sing[s],” lifting spirits “gone and … still to come” up and out of the houses and setting them free to become part of the landscape—the earth, the sky, the animals, and people. What a profound mystery of the human spirit, that we can find the safety of healing only by taking the risk to be vulnerable. Father teaches daughter there really is no danger when we grieve fully and wholeheartedly.
“The lake is beautiful” the author tells us, reflecting on how Kathryn and her father embrace the new creation. And just as before, Pinfold’s illustrations give us both detailed and wide-angled views of the landscape. Peaceful blues, gentle greens, and flowy whites restore what was once lost. Even the movement of the little fish mimic the dance of the spirits. Though the valley is gone, music continues to be celebrated.
Both multi-award winners, Almond and Pinfold complement each other beautifully. I strongly recommend the book to caregivers and educators alike, especially as an introduction to issues of change and loss for younger elementary-age children and to issues of death and bereavement for older ones.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Read a review of another David Almond book here. Read another review by Armineh here.
We’re delighted to introduce a new monthly feature where local bookstore owner, Maureen Palacios and her daughter Jessica, of Once Upon a Time, weigh in on what they’re loving in hopes that you’ll love their suggestions too. Established in 1966, Once Upon a Time in Montrose, California is America’s Oldest Children’s Bookstore.
Many things come to mind when you mention celebrating the most American of holidays, Fourth of July — fireworks, picnics, parades, food and family, among others. As we take a look at a roundup of Fourth of July titles, one of my new favorites—although not technically an Independence Day title—is filled with emotional resonance that conjures up all the great feelings of a well-spent day of celebration. The debut picture book by author and poet Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, whose words are expressively coupled with artwork by Jason Chin,Pie Is for Sharing(Roaring Brook Press) is a first book about the joys of sharing. With a similar cadence to that wonderful picture book, Starsby Marla Frazee, this book celebrates a rich, diverse community in the everyday delights of climbing a tree, sitting on a warm beach towel and, of course, sharing every morsel of a pie. Chin expertly intersperses bits of red, white and blue in each page to magically and triumphantly end in a glorious cascade of fireworks! A perfect read for ages 2-6. ★ Starred reviews – Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus, The Horn Book,
Geared to the 4-8 age group is The 4thof July Story, written by two-time Newbery winner Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Marie Nonnast. First published in 1956, this paperback has adequate information for late kindergarten and a bit higher, but not for much younger and its illustration style may seem dated to some. The concept of war is a tough enough subject, and trying to explain the origins along with what actually happens may be too much for younger learners. I did enjoy remembering that the origin of “Congress,” which was newly enacted in Philadelphia during the run up to the Revolutionary War, means “coming together.” This simple telling of how the holiday began is why the book remains a primary teacher favorite. Still worth revisiting.
For a more contemporary approach for older children, I highly recommendThe Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence,written by Judith St. George and sprightly illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. This 46-page picture book is not so much about the actual Fourth of July holiday, but rather about the history of the document which it inspired. Young readers, ages 7 and up, will embrace the fun and engaging text, with much more current information about the precious piece of parchment that outlines our country’s initial thoughts on freedom, equality and liberty. Still resonating in today’s divisive political climate, this book, with a biography in back, is a terrific addition to your holiday book shelf. ★Starred reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios
You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
After 40 years it’s about time we have a children’s book that captures the glorious strength of social activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, as well as Gilbert Baker, the man behind the internationally renown Rainbow Flag. PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag is a wonderfully written, honest introduction to the LGBTQ movement and offers the chance for all kids to understand its history.
In clear and direct prose, PRIDE takes readers up to Milk’s death, stating that his assassination came at the hands of people who, “Did not think like Harvey, or feel like him, or love like him.” Then the story continues and shows that Baker remained a gay rights activist helping others reclaim hope and pride with the Rainbow Flag for the rest of his life. My favorite moment in the book is a glorious two-page spread, see below:
PRIDE conveys an important, timely message that we all have the power to give hope, spread love, and reach places that may seem unimaginable to us, especially when things seem so dark in life. That’s when we need symbols of hope more than ever, and the Rainbow Flag is a strong reminder and nod to inclusivity that we all need, regardless of sexual orientation. The helpful back matter includes a great timeline, reading recommendations and photographs.
Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
Read another recent LGBTQ themed picture book review here.
Over a dozen different kinds of animal dads demonstrate why they’re so beloved in this rhyming 32-page picture book. Offspring ask “Who makes you feel big even though you small?” or “Who sits in the front row when you’re in a play and takes lots of pictures on your special day?” Do we know the answers? Yes! Devoted dads do all sorts of things to make their youngsters feel special and Evans has selected some important ones including encouragement, validation, playfulness, listening and best of all, love! “Who gives you a bear hug and tucks you in tight? Who whispers ‘I love you,’ then turns out the light?” From anteaters to walruses, Ferro’s charming illustrations of animal dads and kids use soothing jeweled tones and fill every two page spread completely. This technique allows readers to occasionally get a glimpse of several daddy child relationships before a page turn and also means more animals such as elephants, hedgehogs, lions, monkeys, mice, octopi, owls, pandas, peacocks, penguins and polar bears can be included in the story. “She creates her artwork primarily in gouache, colored pencil, and ink before tweaking digitally.” Daddies Do is a wonderful addition to Father’s Day themed books although this one clearly can be revisited over and over again any time of year.
School dances are hard enough to begin with, but when your confidence is low and your dad, who also happens to be your date, steps out for a while at the spring dance and you’re left sitting there on your own, can you feel any worse? Such is the case with Olive. She’s the narrator of The Gorilla Picked Me!, a refreshing and rhyming look at how this self-described “plain, simple and ordinary” main character has experienced her school life up to this point. Her clothes are second-hand, she’s chosen last for teams and the only Valentine she receives is a discarded one. But when the special guest at the school dance, makes his appearance, things start looking up for Olive. This silly, dancing blue gorilla playing a kazoo is the life of the party and, out of anyone there, he picks Olive to join him on the dance floor. They swirl and they twirl and this magic moment lifts up Olive like nothing else has. After Gorilla departs and Olive’s father returns, her one regret is that he missed her star performance. But did he? Look for clues planted as to the gorilla’s identity and have a conversation about the remarkableness of being ordinary. Warmth and love emanate from Carboni’s illustrations that complement McAvoy’s heartwarming story of a dad’s clever way of elevating his child’s self-esteem. A pleasing pick for Father’s Day.
My first suggestions for Elanna Allen’s adorable picture book, Pet Dad, is to not miss the end papers in the front because they’re hysterical and so many people skip this part of a book. It’s also how you know you’re in for a treat, not a doggy treat, a reader’s treat! “Plum wants a pet. Plum’s dad does not want a pet” is how the story begins as she drags then begs him in front of the pet shop. But since her father’s rather adamant against and she’s rather resolute for, she’s not leaving without a dog. Dad is just going to have to fit the bill! She even names him Schnitzel. He may seem to enjoy her attention at first, but Dad or Schnitzel is not responding well to Plum’s attempts to treat him like any other pet. He doesn’t want to eat the food she’s prepared, get paper-trained or sleep at her feet. Can you blame him? At the park the next day, Schnitzel is still not behaving like Plum would like and she acts out in frustration. In fact, rather than Pet Dad getting punished, it’s Plum who must contemplate her unruly actions. During a time out, Plum realizes that offering a hard-to-refuse reward to her dad so that he’ll cooperate is the way forward. After such a positive response and with the help of lots of hugs, Plum and her dad are on track to having a most mutually loving and enjoyable relationship.Told tongue-in-cheek with hilarious, pet-centered illustrations, Pet Dad is an ode to the wonderful daddy daughter dynamic worth celebrating on Father’s Day.
Sun Written and illustrated by Sam Usher (Templar Books; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Sun by Sam Usher follows Rain and Snow, two previous picture books by this talented author/illustrator. The first thing that struck me about this beautiful picture book is the front cover. A little lad sits on the stoop of his home or someone else’s. He’s sipping something from a cup, the inviting red front door is partially open and sparkling sand dusts the steps and leads to the sidewalk depicted as a beach, replete with shiny sandcastle and a green parrot, also sipping away at something! If that doesn’t spark one’s imagination, I don’t know what will! It’s soon learned the boy is staying at his Granddad’s and clues to the adventure that awaits him are sitting right there on his bed in the first illustration, a pirate and a bow-tied monkey toy. Despite being the hottest day ever, Granddad suggests a picnic and, after loading up with all the “necessary provisions,” the pair set off in search of the perfect spot. As Granddad navigates with a map (is that a pirate flag on the sandcastle?), the unnamed narrator remains on lookout. Does he notice that some trees in the distance seem to resemble a sailing ship? Shady spots seem most appealing on a scorcher and eventually the two end up by a cave. Lo and behold, someone has gotten there before them! A perfectly pirate-y dinghy is down below (the main ship is off in the distance) and a little boy is at the bow just in front of a peg-legged pirate and other non-intimidating crew. Treasure is unburied, intermingling has begun between Granddad, Grandson and pirates, and a picnic can be had at last! The second to last illustration, a spread of the picnic party onboard the massive pirate ship is delightful and warrants intense inspection since so many fun things can be found on the Galleon’s many levels. Can you spot the parrot from the first page? I suspect the main character might be named Arlo since Usher’s dedicated the book to him and magnets with his initials can be found on the fridge in the last illustration. Whether the pirate adventure is real or imagined, there’s a good time to be had by all who embark on this jolly grandfather and grandson journey.
Simple in concept, but rich in design elements, this 14-page board book is perfect for little ones who adore the pull-apart Matryoshka dolls. Every other page takes a child back several generations of a father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s dad who in turn saw the birth of a child eventually bringing the reader to the present. “And not long ago, I saw the birth of you … my very own child. A father’s love goes on and on and on.” What a beautiful sentiment to share with a young child while cuddling them close and showing them all the different colored pages, each with unique and nature-inspired artwork. There’s also a version for moms
JULIÁN IS A MERMAID Written and illustrated by Jessica Love (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Julián is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, is a brilliant debut picture book. As Julián and his abuela leave the public pool, they share the subway ride with some women dressed as mermaids. Julián loves mermaids and feels he is one too. He demonstrates this while his abuela’s away taking a bath. At the crucial moment of discovery, Abuela encourages Julián and takes him to his tribe: a gathering of likeminded people.
Jessica Love’s beautiful sentiment is echoed in her vibrant, festive art done by hand with ink, gouache, and watercolor on brown paper. Richly rendered, expressive characters stand out against muted backgrounds. This 40-page picture book gently shows how easy it can be to accept others. Potentially contentious moments are, instead, depicted with understanding.
About the author: Jessica Love is an illustrator and Broadway actress. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She lives in New York.
RAMADAN Written by Hannah Eliot Illustrated by Rashin (Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 2-4)
I’m happy to share Ramadan, the first book in a new board book series from Little Simon geared towards preschoolers called Celebrate The World. “The series aims to show readers how different cultures celebrate and cherish the holidays important to them.”
Alluding to the lunar calendar, Ramadan takes places in the ninth month of the year “when the crescent moon first appears in the sky …” With its 24 pages of ebullient illustrations, Ramadan is a cheerful and easy-to-understand introduction to the Islamic holiday observed by over a billion Muslims across the globe. Little ones learn that during the monthlong fast of Ramadan, eating occurs “only when it is dark outside,” and involves prayer, introspection and spending time with family and friends. Other important aspects of this holy holiday include being “thankful” and helping others. When the month has ended, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, also known as the Sweet Festival, for three days during which time they “pray” and “give each other gifts.”
Eliot has included just the right amount of information to pique a preschooler’s curiosity. The simple language that is used works perfectly with Rashin’s festive and upbeat artwork conveying the impression that both author and illustrator thoroughly enjoyed working on this book. That said, I have no doubt that readers will agree. The depiction of the crescent moon, the men kneeling in the mosque, and all the fabulous food scenes are sure to please. I look forward to all the other books in this series if they’re as well crafted as Ramadan. They’ll be popular for parents and educators alike for being apositive way to help youngsters understand and welcome traditions from near and afar.
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? With our recommendations for the best new Mother’s Day books around! And, whatever you may do, wherever you may go, take some time to read together with your children at home, in a park, on a train, at a bookstore or in a library. Books make memorable gifts and, with an added personal message, will be cherished for years to come.
In A Heart Just Like My Mother’s, when Anna, who loves and admires her mother is inspired to help a homeless man by saving up her Tzedakah money, she realizes she and her mom share something in common—a big heart. This lovely picture book is a wonderful way to explain the Jewish tradition of performing an act Tzedakah which Nargi defines not so much as charity but doing the right thing by helping others. But it’s also the story of a little girl who starts out thinking she could never be as creative, funny or caring as her mother until she realizes what she has to offer. By collecting Tzedakah money and providing food for the homeless man, Anna’s selfless act of kindness brings her closer to her mother and proves to herself that she too has qualities worth being proud of. I love Cis’s illustrations too. There’s a warm, folksy feeling about them that adds to the positive vibe that emanates from the pages making A Heart Just Like My Mother’s such an enjoyable read.
With its starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, Forever or a Dayby Sarah Jacoby will make a thoughtful gift this holiday for those seeking something at once out of the ordinary as well as heartwarming. It conveys its beautiful message with spare yet evocative text and in just 20 pages. At first I thought it was a picture book about the future, but then it dawned on me that it’s about being present and spending time together with loved ones and making meaningful moments now. Adults and children may experience different reactions when reading the book but that’s to be expected. Sophie Blackall, Caldecott Medal-winning and New York Times–bestselling illustrator of Finding Winnie, says it best: “Sarah Jacoby’s ethereal exploration of time rushes like a passing train, shimmers like a setting sun and allows us, just for a moment, to appreciate the beauty of standing still.” Prepare to be moved by the compelling art that complements the lyrical language of Forever or a Day.
Precious pairings of mothers and and animal babies from bluebirds and bunnies to otters and owls fill the pages of Today show co-host Hoda Kotb’s debut picture book, I’ve Loved You Since Forever. Kotb adopted her daughter, Haley Joy, in February 2017 and her happiness at becoming a mother is infectious and evident throughout this delightful picture book. Gentle rhyme, a repeated refrain (there was you … and there was me), a rewarding wrap up and exuberant illustrations all work wonderfully together. I’d pick up I’ve Loved You Since Forever for any new parent on your holiday list. In addition to Kotb’s lovely language, there’s a sense of warmth and closeness from the special bond of parenthood depicted in Mason’s tender scenarios. Whether or not you’re an adoptive parent, I’m sure these lines will resonate with you as they did with me: Before otters swam together/and rivers reached the sea/there was you and there was me/waiting for the day our stars would cross/and you and I turned into we. Awww!
In 176 color pages and 12 clever chapters, author Hale deftly delves into the world of motherhood from various perspectives that readers will find fascinating. The introduction says the book “explores the changing role of motherhood through the images and shared cultural moments that have captured it best: magazines, advertisements, greeting cards, television shows, movies, songs, and other pop culture ephemera.” Choose a chapter at a time because this comprehensive and enlightening book is meant to be savored slowly (like a 1950s TV mom’s best casserole) and cannot be read in one or even two sittings. I love the breadth of the material that’s been included and am partial to the earlier chapters that cover motherhood in the eras before I was born including The Nineteenth Century, The Pre-War Years, World War I, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, World War II, The 1950s (although note that American Momdoes go all the way to present day 21st century). I learned, for example, that between “1885 and 1905, there were around eleven thousand magazines and periodicals published in the United States—and about 88 percent of the subscribers were women,” that Betty Crocker was a fictional character, that Eleanor Roosevelt “broadened the role” of first lady and that on I Love Lucy they couldn’t say the word pregnant on the show! Through Hale’s insightful lens on motherhood, we’re taken on an entertaining jaunt through fashion, food, first ladies, feminism, photography, film and literature that pays tribute to the ever changing role of mothers in American life and touches on aspects of this expansive topic in ways that will interest every reader, male or female.
If you’re looking for a fun, original board book for Mother’s Day, look no further than From Mother to Mother Written and illustrated by Emilie Vast Translated from French by Julia Cormier (Charlesbridge; $7.99, Ages 0-3) Simple in concept, but rich in design elements, this 14-page board book is perfect for little ones who adore the pull-apart Matryoshka dolls. Every other page takes a child back several generations of a mother’s mother’s mother’s mother who in turn gave birth to a child eventually bringing the reader to the present. “And not long ago, I gave birth to you … my very own child. A mother’s love goes on and on and on.” What a beautiful sentiment to share with a young child while cuddling them close and showing them all the different colored pages, each with unique and nature-inspired artwork. There’s also a version for dads!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read our Mother’s Day recommendations from 2017 here.
Read Cathy Ballou Mealey’s review of Love, Mama here.
EARTH VERSE: HAIKU FROM THE GROUND UP Written by Sally M. Walker Illustrated by William Grill (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-9)
A Junior Library Guild Selection
At the intersection of Earth Day and National Poetry Month is Earth Verse: Haiku From the Ground Upwritten by Sally M. Walker with illustrations by William Grill. Let these 32 pages of unique 17 syllable poems fill you with awe and respect for planet Earth. From her place in the solar system to her “molten magma stew,” from her “fossil family” to her “sky shenanigans,” Earth is at once a marvel and our home.
“a flat stone, skipping, casts circles across the lake, lassoing the fish.”
Earth Verse celebrates the planet in all its majesty and mayhem. In other words, not only are the oceans and rivers written about, so are storms and tsunamis. We read about fog, volcanoes, glaciers and icebergs. We travel underground to see stalactites and stalagmites because there’s so much more below the surface, both in the verse and on our planet. Grill’s colored pencil artwork conveys just enough of a reference point while leaving lots to our imaginations. Nine pages of STEAM-themed back matter round out the book and make this picture book appropriate and desirable for both Earth Day and National Poetry Month though it can truly be enjoyed year round, just like our precious planet.
HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY Written and illustrated by Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Harriet … oh, amazing and wonderful Harriet, the star of HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY along with her two incredible dads, will make readers all Sima fans if they aren’t already!
My students couldn’t get enough of this brilliant 48-page story … from Harriet’s desire to dress-up no matter what the occasion to her phenomenal imagination and charm, they were hooked.
Harriet is SO excited about her upcoming dress-up themed birthday party, and the task at hand is to venture into the city with her dads to buy party supplies since everything else has been taken care of. One stipulation: She’s asked not to “get carried away” when searching for birthday hats at the store. But in Harriet’s world getting carried away comes easy and she soon finds herself wandering off in her penguin costume with real life penguins. She becomes stranded on an iceberg and realizes she must make her way back to her dads at the store and find the party hats before it’s too late.
When her attempts at leaving the penguins don’t pan out, Harriet’s helped by an orca and some delightful pigeons. Harriet returns to her dads and has the best dress-up birthday party ever … with only ONE of her party attendees getting carried away!
This is one of those stories that will be requested numerous times since it provides a unique, yet fully relatable, experience for youngsters. The writing is quick to action and paced beautifully for children to silently take in every delicious illustration that accompanies the beautiful prose. My favorite moment is when a penguin tells Harriet to “lose the bow tie” she has proudly put on over her penguin costume. Instead, she adjusts her fabulous red bow tie and does things her own way.
Read HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY and delight in her message of inclusivity, imagination and pure joy