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Terrific New Picture Book for Chinese New Year – Year of the Cat

 

 

 

YEAR OF THE CAT

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand

(Greenwillow Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Year of the Cat cover art the back of a cat looking at zodiac animals

 

 

The story of the Chinese zodiac is beloved in my household. In Year of the Cat, Richard Ho digs deeper to follow up on how Cat feels about not receiving a calendar year—she was pushed into a river by Rat! This story is as good as the original and then some.

 

Year of the Cat int1 animal group around table discussing Cat
Interior spread from Year of the Cat written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand, Greenwillow Books ©2022.

 

Jocelyn Li Langrand’s fun illustrations begin even before the title page. I especially like the behind-the-scenes scoop on the animals such as Rat lounging in his home with telling photos on the wall or the clever places each animal lives. The dragon? A fire station!

 

 Year of the Cat int2 four animals clung to the speeding raft
Interior spread from Year of the Cat written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand, Greenwillow Books ©2022.

 

Whether this is a familiar tale or your first read, kids will get a kick out of the teamwork and mishaps that lead to us finding out if Cat is upset she was unable to finish as one of the twelve animals. (Her answer may surprise you.) And, speaking of surprises, be sure to peek under the dust jacket to see the map-consulting image from inside the book repeated. Kids will love figuring out which paw, hoof, or claw goes with which animal, and adults can help kids count to twelve by following along the map’s edge.

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Picture Book Review by Armineh Manookian – The Black Hole Debacle

THE BLACK HOLE DEBACLE

Written by Keri Claiborne Boyle

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99; Ages 4-7)

 

The Black Hole Debacle cover

 

 

 

Written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, The Black Hole Debacle is the perfect choice for any child who has a deep wonder for outer space and an appreciation for stories with heart and humor. 

An astronomer at heart, Jordie “even name[s] her dog Neptune.” When a literal out-of-this-world incident happens in her class one day, she is more than excited to explore it. A little black hole, “churning in [her] desk” is eating anything and everything around it and is hungry for more.

 

The Black Hole Debacle int1 bedroom classroom
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Like finding a pet, Jordie decides to keep the black hole, bringing it along with her on the bus ride home. After devouring belongings in her backpack, the black hole starts gobbling items in the closet where Jordie has put it to hide from her parents. The black hole doesn’t discriminate; all items are fair game–with one humorous exception. 

 

The Black Hole Debacle int2 schoolbus
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Readers will love this zany concept of a black hole that appears out of nowhere and causes problems of cosmic proportions. Adding to the delightful absurdity is its disdain for Jordie’s unicorn underwear that it spits out on more than one occasion. Like Boyle’s language, Melmon’s adorable and vivid illustrations add personality and pizazz to the antics of this one-of-a-kind character.

 

 The Black Hole Debacle Neptune the dog
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

When Jordie discovers Neptune’s empty collar, she finally decides enough is enough and finds a clever way to reclaim her possessions including her beloved dog. She sends the black hole back to where it belongs–in a galaxy far, far away. 

A fun, early elementary-grade-level read, this STEM picture book includes intriguing facts about black holes and a link for further study. 

Click here for a teaching guide.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

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Picture Book Review and Interview for The Great Caper Caper ‘Great Virtual Virtual Tour’

 

 

THE GREAT CAPER CAPER

Written by Josh Funk

Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

(Union Square Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The Great Caper Caper Virtual Tour Image

 

 

REVIEW:

Welcome back to the fridge, home of the popular food pair, Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. It’s an honor to be part of this virtual tour packed with passionate kidlit people helping to promote Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney’s latest picture book, The Great Caper Caper, #5 in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series!

 

The Great Caper Caper int1 bedtime ladypancake sirfrenchtoast
Interior art from The Great Caper Caper written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Union Square Kids ©2022.

 

When the story opens (see above illustrations), Sir French Toast awakens during the night only to discover everywhere is draped in darkness. But we’re not talking about ordinary nighttime darkness. No this was the dreaded fridge light darkness.

A glowing light leads the curious characters to Las Veggies where Lady P and Sir FT try to enter Las Veggies Tower but are initially held back by security. Soon they confront tower owner, Count Caper. “‘I haven’t stolen a thing,’ he lied.”

 

 The Great Caper Caper int2 Las Veggies
Interior art from The Great Caper Caper written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Union Square Kids ©2022.

 

Adding to the urgency to recover the light, readers learn that Sir FT is scared of the dark. This convinces Lady P, in a nod to Ocean’s 11, that she must assemble a crew including Baron von Waffle, Miss Brie, Tofu, Professor Biscotti, the Fruitcake, the Beets, and Inspector Croissant. No crummy collection of pros here.

 

The Great Caper Caper int3 LadyPancake shares plan
Interior spread from The Great Caper Caper written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney, Union Square Kids ©2022.

 

A plan is hatched, disguises are donned, and solving the great caper caper is underway! Zero hour is scheduled to take place during the Tower show. The team, tasked with distractions, and more amusing antics involving Animal Crackers, and an asparagus accomplice, recover the stolen light. But, while celebrating their success, the food friends learn Count Caper’s M-O was a relatable one, and it all boiled down to friendship. With a little introspection, the briny bud “sees the light” so to speak, and can now count Lady Pancake, Sir French Toast, and the whole crew as pals.

Yet again, Funk and Kearney have delivered a readable, rhyming picture book that will entertain parents as much as the kids due to witty wordplay, careful plotting, and of course, the movie inspiration. From the minute I saw Las Veggies was the destination in this story, I was hooked, eager to see how the heist was handled. Multiple readings will be requested to study the whimsical spreads that Kearney clearly enjoyed designing. The Great Caper Caper is a fast-paced, funny, action-packed tale that children will love adding to their bookshelves.

 

Q + A:

GoodReadsWithRonna: I asked Josh a few fun questions that popped into my head as I was reading The Great Caper Caper.

Josh Funk:  Thanks so much for inviting me to chat! I’m a huge fan of Good Reads with Ronna!

GRWR: Aww, thanks, Josh! You’ve described The Great Caper Caper as Ocean’s 11 in the fridge. It’s got the Las Veggies location, the crew of 11, the hotel vault to break into, and huge stakes. In this case, there’s a fridge light to recover not millions of dollars or an ex-wife to win back. Were there other elements of the film you wanted to recreate but just couldn’t fit into a rhyming picture book format?

JF: Actually, I was able to get pretty much everything in that I wanted – even more than I originally planned – especially the final page at the fountain! Brendan Kearney’s art is sooooo perfect for this series and this book – it’s brilliant.

GRWR: Can we talk Julia Roberts as Lady Pancake and George Clooney as Sir French Toast?

JF: If we’re gonna go with a Julia Roberts film, I think Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast’s relationship is more like Julia and Rupert Everett from My Best Friend’s Wedding. They’re truly just friends – they might find romance elsewhere, though.

And if you happen to know anyone in Hollywood that might have interest, please do let me know. The film rights are available!

GRWR: Was this the hardest plot to pull off?

JF: This is a great question, one that I haven’t really thought about in full until answering it right now.

I always like changing up the genres in each book. Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast is a race. The Case of the Stinky Stench is a mystery. Mission Defrostable is an action-adventure spy-thriller. Short & Sweet is a sci-fi comedy / magical body-swap (think Honey, I Shrunk the Kids meets Big or Freaky Friday).

And when brainstorming new ideas, my wife threw out the title The Great Caper Caper – which everyone immediately fell in love with. The title gave us the villain (a caper) and the genre (a heist). And the hardest thing about a heist is that the protagonists must have an altruistic reason to steal something. In Ocean’s 11, the reasons for the heist are revenge and greed – and those wouldn’t work all that well in a children’s book.

I figured the best reason would be if they were stealing something back from someone who stole it first. And in order to get others on board with the plan (in lieu of greed) was if the thing that was stolen also affected them. And the missing light bulb leaving the fridge in the dark was a perfect (and tangible) item to be the object of the heist.

But why is it up to Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast to solve this problem for all of the denizens of the fridge (other than the fact that this is their series and they seem to always find themselves in the center of every adventure)? Because Sir French Toast is afraid of the dark, of course!

So I guess it was a pretty hard plot to pull off, now that you mention it. Was it harder than book #6, though? No. That one was harder. You can ask me about that more in the fall of 2024.

GRWR: You’re one of the busiest, hardest-working children’s book authors I know. What feeds your soul and keeps you keeping on?

JF: Vanity.

I’m kidding (mostly). I genuinely like cracking myself up with silly things and sometimes those things also make other people laugh or entertained.

That, and reading so many amazing picture books that others create and release on a weekly basis. There are so many fantastic authors and illustrators out there that continue to inspire me daily.

GRWR: Any clues for us as to the duo’s next adventure?

JF: Clues … hmmmm…. I already gave you one (book 6 will be fall 2024). And I sort of gave you another (it will be a different genre than each of the previous 5).

How about this for a clue? There’s something/someone in book #1 (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast) that doesn’t belong in the fridge which sets off a series of events leading to book 6… And that’s all I’ll say for now.

GRWR: I really appreciate that you took the time to answer these burning questions, Josh. I’m heading back to the fridge to see if I can figure out book 6 from your clues!

JF: Thank you, Ronna!

 

 

 

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Halloween Books Roundup by Christine Van Zandt

 

CHILDREN’S HALLOWEEN BOOKS ROUNDUP 2022

 

Halloween Clip Art of witch full moon and pumpkins

 

 

 

Creepy Crayon coverCREEPY CRAYON! (Creepy Tales! series)
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Brown
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8 )

Starred Review – Kirkus

Aaron Reynolds delights us with book three of the Creepy Tales! series featuring his beloved Jasper Rabbit. In Creepy Crayon! Jasper’s not-great day gets a boost when he finds a bright purple crayon—with a crazy grin on its face! Soon, the crayon is helping Jasper zoom his grades up to straight As. Cool, right? Maybe . . . until the crayon takes BFF to the next level.

As in the first two books, Peter Brown’s art is a perfect blend of funny and spooky: Crayon’s glowing antics contrast with the lurking shadows. Kids will love the hilarious expressions on Jasper’s face.

Flawless interplay between text and high-contrast art make this author and illustrator duo New York Times best-sellers. Fans will appreciate the can-you-spot-them references to Creepy Carrots! and Creepy Pair of Underwear! We own this outstanding three-book series and do not tire of them; they’re a fit for Halloween or any day you need some funny bunny in your life.

 

Crimson Twill Witch in the City coverCRIMSON TWILL: Witch in the City (book one, series)
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 7-9)

The chapter-book series opener, Crimson Twill: Witch in the City, by Kallie George will bewitch you with its main character, spunky little Crimson Twill. True to her name, Crimson rocks a big bow on her red witch’s hat—no standard black for this girl! Her clothes and actions also set her apart. But, the various ways she’s different from others don’t bother her at first.

With Mom just a wave of her wand away, Crimson sets off to explore the big Broomingdale’s department store where the elevator’s buttons are shaped like what’s sold on that floor. Crimson hopes to get a glimpse of those things called puppies. Instead, she immediately encounters disdain for her unique attire, creating a crack of doubt in her self-assurance.

The clever puns, humor, and heart make this book a standout. Illustrations by Birgitta Sif add an array of fun, diverse witches. Kids new to reading will appreciate the short, simple chapters that are engaging and fast-paced. For this age audience, navigating a large store truly is an adventure. And any place with a cat floor is alright by me! Crimson ultimately finds that Broomingdale’s does have “everything a witch could itch for” but what she end up with may surprise you!

 

The Lost Coast paperback coverTHE LOST COAST
Written by A. R. Capetta
(Candlewick Press; Paperback $10.99, Ages 14 and up)

The beautifully written YA, The Lost Coast, by A. R. Capetta grabbed hold of me with its opening lines describing Danny’s first glimpse of ancient redwoods. She and her mom move to this specific coastal northern California town because Danny has been mysteriously drawn there. Danny quickly finds herself in deep with a group of queer high school witches who call themselves the Grays. They’re awesome, but their most powerful member is missing and they expect Danny to find her.

Nonlinear narration and alternating viewpoint chapters heighten the suspense as we try to understand what’s really going on. The foggy forest gives nature a presence on the page and sets the mood for magic, secrets, and discovery. This book is an A+ for me because of its realistically complex and interwoven friendships and love, plus the group’s frank discussions about identity. Ideal for fans of The Graces novels. I highly recommend The Lost Coast to YA readers who enjoy clever, twisted tales that are atmospheric gorgeously crafted. Available in hardcover, paperback and Ebook.

 

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Picture Book Review – Over, Bear! Under, Where?

 

 

OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE?

Written by Julie Hedlund

Illustrated by Michael Slack

(Philomel BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? cover

 

For the last day of Fat Bear Week, I’m delighted, (or should I say overjoyed?) to share my thoughts on Julie Hedlund’s uproarious read-aloud picture book, Over, Bear! Under, Where? with humorous art by Michael Slack.

Now don’t get me wrong, the titular Bear may be on the big side, but he’s actually a kind soul simply looking for pals to play with. But when you’re a bird (Over), a mole (Under), or a hot-dog dog (Dog) and that much smaller, a bear can be scary. That scenario is what unfolds to hilarious results as Over and Under hang out at the park.

 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int1 seesaw
Interior spread from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

With wordplay galore, a relatable premise, and high marks for its readability, Hedlund’s book manages to entertain in just under 100 carefully chosen words. Young readers will adore the interplay of art and text as they see Over and Under’s punny back-and-forth banter on the see-saw and at their BBQ. They even invite a hot-dog dog called Dog to join them but run for their lives after spotting Bear in what is clearly a massive misunderstanding. 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int2 hotdog
Interior art from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

Bear, we soon learn, wants to play, too, but Over, Under and Dog do not realize this right away. It’s only when Under points out a dejected-looking Bear … down that the trio makes amends and in doing so, makes a new friend.

Hedlund’s spare text may make adult readers think, “Oh hey, I could do that.” When in fact, to be able to convey the emotional heart of this story with so few words, is no easy task and takes a pro. It also takes terrific illustrations that bring the story to life, my favorite illustrations being those below.

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int3 bear behind
Interior art from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

There’s even a page of helpful backmatter providing examples of the compound words that were essential to inspiring this story’s humor when they were presented as separate words helped by just a comma in many places. Parents, teachers, librarians, and caregivers will not tire of  sharing this whimsical, original tale with its clever take, “You can’t judge a bear by its behind.” So Fat Bear Week or not, this book’ll keep you from hibernating.

 

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Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – BAA, BAA, TAP SHEEP

 

 BAA, BAA, TAP SHEEP

Written by Kenda Henthorn

Illustrated by Lauren Gallegos

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 0-4)

 

 

 

Baa Baa Tap Sheep cover

 

 

From the Publisher:

“As a trio of tired tots settles into bed for the night, the sheep who should be helping them count down to slumber kick up their hooves in an energetic dance performance. Starting with one little lamb … [the] sheep tap, waltz, tango, and boogie …  [until] finally, after their energy is danced out, nap sheep lull everyone to sleep.”

 

 

Baa Baa Tap Sheep int1 dancing grooves
Interior spread from Baa, Baa, Tap Sheep written by Kenda Henthorn and illustrated by Lauren Gallegos, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

Review:

Kenda Henthorn’s lively, rhyming text borrows the rhythm of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” to create a delightful read-aloud perfect for getting out the wiggles before bedtime. Lauren Gallegos’ cute art in soothing blues and energetic purples perfectly complements the energy of Henthorn’s words.

 

Baa Baa Tap Sheep int2 jumpingtoajive
Interior art from Baa, Baa, Tap Sheep written by Kenda Henthorn and illustrated by Lauren Gallegos, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

 

With added learning layers such as counting to ten, dance moves/vocabulary, and a few cultural Easter eggs in the art, this picture book works for the young and young-at-heart. Highly recommended for naptime in the early childhood classroom!

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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Little Red and the Big Bad Editor: An Interview with Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloskey

 

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR

Written by Rebecca Kraft Rector

Illustrated by Shanda McCloskey

(Aladdin BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

NOTE FROM RONNA: As a grammar fanatic, I’m thrilled to be able to share this fun and informative interview by Moni Ritchie Hadley with Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloseky, author and illustrator respectively of the new picture book LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR. Celebrate its book birthday with us by reading on because I know you’re going to devour this chat! 

 

INTERVIEW

Moni Ritchie Hadley: Welcome, Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloskey! Thank you for taking the time to chat about your new book and writing and illustration processes. Rebecca, this story creatively spins a popular fairytale with a new narrative. What was the original pitch for LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR?

Rebecca Kraft Rector: In this fractured fairytale, the Big Bad Wolf is so distracted by Little Red’s poorly written thank you note to her grandmother that he keeps missing the chance to eat her.  

MRH: Based on the educational subject matter and the structure of a fractured fairytale, this story seems to be the type of book a kid would love, and a parent or teacher would want to purchase. How did you come up with the concept?

RKR: I like to play with words and came up with Little Red WRITING Hood. The idea that Little Red’s poorly-written thank you note to Granny would distract the Big Bad Wolf grew from there. 

MRH: Do you begin your stories with pencil and paper or on the computer?

RKR: I mostly use the computer, but I also jot down phrases and ideas in a notebook that I keep beside my bed. Some of my best ideas come when I’m only half awake.

MRH: Today, kids primarily use technology to communicate. Do you feel that kids will relate to a thank-you note written with pencil and paper?

RKR: I hope so! Kids still use pencil and paper in the early grades, and the Common Core Standards include things like using capital letters and punctuation. I’ve heard from teachers that there’s even a letter-writing unit in most first-grade classes.

MRH: Shanda, as the illustrator, what attracted you to this manuscript?

Shanda McCloskey: The happiness I felt when I read it for the very first time! Rebecca definitely knows how to have fun with words :)

 

 

 

Little Red int1 oresent
Interior spread from Little Red and the Big Bad Editor written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, Aladdin BYR ©2022.

 

 

MRH: Can you tell us about your process?

SM: I spent a few days drawing/redrawing character look possibilities for this book. When I saw something good in a character sketch, I would just “follow the light” and then tried drawing the character again, leaving in the good and stripping the bad, over and over until the characters felt “right-ish.”

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR was drawn digitally, printed onto paper, and painted with watercolors.

Little Red’s cape had to be red (obviously), so I started there. I found that Little Red popped best when her colors were warm in contrast to a cooler background. Wolf needed to blend into the background sometimes, so he is cool-toned as well. Then, I stuck in some of my favorite colors for fun, like Little Red’s pink and purple outfit.

The first dummy took me two months or so. Then it went through a couple of versions with feedback from the publishing team over several months. Things like character consistency, spread variation (ex., full bleeds, vignettes, panels), hair and skin color, etc., were tinkered with.

MRH: Were you able to collaborate?

RKR: No.

MRH: Shanda, when illustrating a book based on an existing story, how do you separate the images of the past and make them fresh?

SM: It happens automatically when you are working with new characters in a new world. But it’s also cool when my “style” shows through in all my books, at least a little bit. Also, every book is a leveling-up experience for me. There may be a new technique I’m using or a mood I’m trying to achieve. There’s always something in my craft to tinker with or improve upon with each book.

MRH: You are an author of children’s books as well as an illustrator. Is it easier to illustrate someone else’s words or to illustrate your own? How is the process different?

 

 

Little Red int2 swoop
Interior art from Little Red and the Big Bad Editor written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, Aladdin BYR ©2022.

 

SM: They both have various perks! When illustrating my own stories, I can add a speech bubble with a joke if the notion hits me. But it’s not really my place to do that when I’m illustrating someone else’s words. But on the flip side, having limitations can sometimes be nice and clean, and it sure is nice to launch a book with a partner. If it flops, it’s not just on you!

MRH: Rebecca, this is your second picture book. Where do you usually get stuck in the writing process, and how do you get out of it? 

RKR: Ha! I get stuck all over the place—the beginning, the middle, the end—everywhere! Sometimes I’ll print out what I have, and seeing it on paper makes it easier to figure out what to do next. If I can let myself play and have fun with the story, I find my writing goes more smoothly. My critique groups are big help with both brainstorming and pointing out where I’ve gone astray.

MRH: Are you more like Little Red or the Big Bad Editor? How so?

RKR: Hmm, I guess I’m more like the Big Bad Editor because, like him, I’m frequently frustrated by bad grammar and punctuation.

SM: Hmmm. I identified with both of them! I can definitely be a stickler for what I think is “the right way” to do something. But I can also appreciate how Red didn’t wait until she had a perfect letter to say thank you to her granny. She just went for it and improved along the way! #amwriting #amillustrating

MRH: Are there any other secret insights that you can share about this book?

RKR: Unlike all the other stories I’ve written, I wrote the last line first. Also, the entire time I was writing and revising the story, I thought I was filling the story with fun metaphors. Nope! Every single one was really a simile. I still can’t write metaphors.

SM: I put my own real kids’ artwork on the refrigerator in Granny’s kitchen :) And there’s usually some nod to a book I’ve previously worked on. Such as the fire truck (FIRE TRUCK VS. DRAGON) and the snuggle bunny (BEDTIME BALLET) on Little Red’s shelf in her room on the first spread.

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR releases today! Thank you both for chatting with us.

 

BUY THE BOOK HERE:

Bookshop.org


FOLLOW REBECCA KRAFT RECTOR:

Website – https://RebeccaKraftRector.wordpress.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/beck.writerrider/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rebeccakrector/

Twitter -https://twitter.com/RebeccaKRector

@RebeccaKRector on Instagram and Twitter

 

FOLLOW SHANDA MCCLOSKEY: 

Website – https://www.shandamc.com/little-red-and-the-big-bad-editor/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/shandamccloskeydraws/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/ShandaMcCloskey

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/shandamc

 

FOLLOW THE INTERVIEWER:

Moni Ritchie Hadley, author of The Star Festival and Anzu and the Art of Friendship.

Website www.moniritchie.com

On Instagram  @bookthreader

On Twitter @bookthreader

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Neverwoof by Gabe Jensen

 

 

NEVERWOOF:
The Dog That Never Barked

Written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen

(Familius; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Neverwoof cover

 

 

The picture book, Neverwoof: The Dog that Never Barked, by author-illustrator Gabe Jensen is a delight. No matter how often I read this story, it still makes me laugh. Neverwoof, a charming orange mutt, has an interesting life, going through his days without a sound: “He chased a siren—woo woo woo. / He saved a baby—boo hoo hoo. / He got high-fives from the fire crew. / But never did he woof.” Until the day he seemingly must bark. Does he? I won’t tell beyond saying to expect a plot twist!

 

Neverwoof_int1_pugs_by
Interior spread from Neverwoof: The Dog That Never Barked written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen, Familius ©2021.

 

Coupled with the spare, rhyming text is Jensen’s fantastic art. The limited color palette effectively uses what he calls “two clashing colors.” Neverwoof’s personality shines through as does his love for his family. My favorite spread comes toward the end when Neverwoof faces his ultimate challenge with a thief known as Stinky Sue—giggling is guaranteed.

 

Neverwoof int14 bite
Interior spread from Neverwoof: The Dog That Never Barked written and illustrated by Gabe Jensen, Familius ©2021.

 

The art, like the text, is deceptively simple. Yet, each time I delve into it, I find something new in the background. It may just be the headline on a discarded newspaper or the cat that makes an appearance throughout, however, these details add depth and humor. The book’s smaller size (7 x 10 inches, hardback) fits well in young hands, the debossed cover is fun to touch, and there’s no dust jacket to lose.

 

 

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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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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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Children’s Picture Book Review – My Dog Banana

MY DOG BANANA

Written by Roxane Brouillard

Illustrated by Giulia Sagramola

Translated by Simon de Jocas and Paula Ayer

(Greystone Kids; $17.95; Ages 4-8)

 

My Dog Banana Cover

 

When neighbors question a boy walking with a banana attached to a red leash, the child confidently explains that he is walking his dog Banana in Roxanne Brouillard’s debut picture book,  My Dog Banana, with charming artwork by Giulia Sagramola, in her first picture book as well.

The cover instantly grabbed my attention because, well, how often have you seen a boy walking a banana on a leash? The boy’s mouth is drawn as a big smile, while the neighbors surrounding him have mouths agape. Even the Lhasa Apso is confused! Sagramola draws a black line directed at each person speaking giving the art a graphic novel feel. “What are you doing?” the boy with the backward green baseball cap asks pointing at the banana. “I’m walking my dog,” the dark-haired boy responds with hand on hip.

 

My Dog Banana IntImage 1
Interior spread from My Dog Banana written by Roxane Brouillard and illustrated by Giulia Sagramola, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Faded green trees are drawn in the background so the reader’s attention is on the latest neighbor introduced with each page turn. We see the confusion with question marks above heads and raised eyebrows. The boy just doesn’t understand why the neighbors don’t see Banana the dog. The people try their best to see what the boy sees, but with each question asked to the boy he has a logical answer in return. “It isn’t moving,the woman returning from a Farmer’s Market says with fruit in her bag. “She is very tired today,” with emphasis on the She, not the It.

 

My Dog Banana IntImage 2
Interior spread from My Dog Banana written by Roxane Brouillard and illustrated by Giulia Sagramola, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Turning each page, more neighbors appear with confused faces. Sagramola’s drawings of hands in the air and pointed fingers add to the humor of Brouillard’s words. The Lhasa Apso goes nose-to-nose with the banana to see if she can get a reaction but no luck. The boy has an answer for everything until the neighbors stop asking questions and begin to laugh. He remains true to himself and doesn’t give in to their laughter. When the boy and Banana finally give up and walk away from the adults and children’s hysterics on the last page, the Banana speaks and says, “Woof! Woof!”

This light-hearted sweet story, with an assortment of diverse characters, will bring laughter to the reader and allow them to question what is real and not real. Did Banana really Woof? Only your imagination can answer that question.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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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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Early Graphic Novel – Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite!

BURT THE BEETLE DOESN’T BITE!

Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires

(Kids Can Press; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

burt the beetle doesnt bite cover

 

 

Sticky Burt is a bug who hugs!

 

Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! is the first in a new series by Ashley Spires, the author and illustrator of The Most Magnificent Thing and the Binky adventure series.

Meet Burt, he’s a ten-lined June (or watermelon) beetle. Burt has feathered antennae, a large body, a sticky abdomen, and can flail his legs when he falls on his back (but needs assistance flipping over). He notices that other insects have special or “super” abilities. A bumblebee is a “super hard worker” and ants can carry heavy loads. So what makes Burt special? Well, he’s trying to figure this out. As Burt meets more insects and learns about their amazing features, he wonders what his “super” ability is. Would winking count? How about hanging out around porch lights? Trying to imitate other insects’ super abilities doesn’t work either and Burt continually ends up on his back.

 

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

When Burt discovers a spider web with insects trapped in it, he’s amazed to find that their super abilities cannot free them from the web. As the venomous spider taunts Burt, he realizes he does have some super abilities. Burt’s a hugger and he happens to be sticky, too. Furthermore, he’s big and heavy enough to tear up the spider’s web when he falls on it, saving the other insects–and landing on his back once again. This time he has very grateful friends to help him flip over!

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

Cheerful and upbeat humor shines in this book. Commenting on his feathery antennae, Burt notes “it’s a style choice.” Gentle quips are exchanged between characters. When the spider, firmly stuck to Burt’s abdomen, asks “is this ever going to end?” Burt replies “I guess you’re stuck with me. Get it?” Exaggerated bodies and expressive faces, especially “bug” eyes, add to the enjoyment. 

 

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

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Spires has created a graphic novel designed for younger readers, especially those new to the graphic novel format. The panels are clean and well organized, without a lot of distractions. The number of characters and speech bubbles in a panel are kept to a minimum and the print is bold and slightly larger than usual.  This book is appropriate for independent readers or as a read-aloud for emerging readers.  

The book includes some themes which could be used to invite children to discuss character and friendship. Burt’s search for what makes him unique is something children also explore for themselves. Perseverance is a challenge for children, but Burt’s positive “can do” type of behavior in the face of repeated failures may encourage them to keep trying. He takes care of his friends and “doesn’t bite because that’s not how you make friends.”

Lastly, this graphic novel engages children in the natural world around them, weaving in factual information about insects and including “awesome insect super facts” in the back matter. Hopefully, it will inspire children to continue exploring the world of insects and their “super” abilities. 

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Picture Book Review – Isobel Adds It Up

 

ISOBEL ADDS IT UP

Written by Kristy Everington

Illustrated by AG Ford

(Random House Studio; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Isobel Adds It Up Cover

 

REVIEW:

As a former teacher, I was immediately intrigued by the cover of Isobel Adds It Up written by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford. A girl with a pencil in her hand, and an elephant with a pencil in its trunk solve math problems with smiles on their faces!

Isobel, a math-loving girl, can’t concentrate with noisy neighbors!

Disrupted by loud bangs and shaking walls, she imagines acrobats, marching bands, a basketball team, and definitely big feet! Solving math problems is nearly impossible. Isobel tries battling music with music. That only incited more noise—and dancing! Isobel is at her wit’s end when she can’t make sense of her numbers. So she comes up with a plan to meet the culprits. Was she right about the neighbors having big feet? Yes! But her plan brings a solution much bigger and better than she expected. You might say that the neighbor was a very BIG number-lover too!

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Interior spread from Isobel Adds It Up by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford, Random House Studio ©2021.

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Underneath the rumbling ruckus and soaked subtractions, a budding friendship multiplies into a measured success! Each illustration brings flow and movement, with Isobel’s imaginings represented in monochromatic images and lively numbers. Kristy Everington and AG Ford make numbers and math look and sound fun!

 

isobel interior spread 2
Interior spread from Isobel Adds It Up by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

What I love most about this story is the message that we can ask for what we want in a kind and respectful way. We might be surprised by the kindness we receive back and discover something new about the people that live around us. Kids, teachers, parents, and neighbors everywhere will love this book!

 

GIVEAWAY:

Head to Twitter for a signed book giveaway of Isobel Adds It Up beginning today (just retweet our tweets and tag a friend to enter). Find Kristy there @kmeverington.
Find GoodReadsWithRonna on Twitter: @goodreadsronna. This giveaway ends on 7/13 and a winner will be announced on 7/14.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Author Links:
Instagram: @kristyeverington

Twitter: @21forthebooks

Instagram: @21forthebooks

Illustrator links:

AG Ford’s website: http://www.agfordillustration.com/ 

Twitter: @AGFordArt

Instagram: @agfordart

WHERE TO BUY ISOBEL ADDS IT UP: 

Support indie bookstores and order your copy here at BooksInc.
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Kids Picture Book Review – Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle

SLOTH & SQUIRREL IN A PICKLE

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrated by Kelly Collier

(Kids Can Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

The dill-ightful title of this new picture book, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey with adorable art by Kelly Collier, will immediately grab you even if it doesn’t immediately grab sloth whose slow motion throughout the story is one of the recurring elements that make it hysterical to read-aloud. I’m talking Lucy and Ethel hysterical. You may not see my smile as I’m writing this, but trust me it’s here now and was for every page as I was eager to see how things played out for the pair of pickle-packing pals. 

This humorous friendship tale begins with Squirrel deciding he’d like to get a bike to go FAST!, but after seeing the price tag at the bike shop, realizes it’s too costly. Sloth points out that the pickle company next door is seeking pickle packers. If they work hard, together the two should be able to earn enough to afford the bike.

In their interview, the friends meet Mr. Peacock who Collier has imagined with bushy eyebrows, a stern face, and office accessories all in a pickle green palette. Perfect! This character cracked me up. I could even hear his voice as he preps his new employees to start working. It doesn’t take long for Squirrel and Pickle to discover that the packing process is slippery hence much breakage. By noon they haven’t packed more than six jars. More comical chaos ensues when, given a second chance, Sloth unknowingly makes a major LOL mess of labeling and the new hires are fired.

 

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Interior art from Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle written by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kelly Collier, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

With the money earned from the six successfully packed pickle jars, and lots of free, unsellable jars of pickles now in their possession, the friends are nowhere closer to buying the bike. That is until a melting ice pop incidentit simply cannot be eaten fast enough by a slothleads to the invention of a cool new, no-brain-freeze alternative to ice pops. Suddenly the money comes pouring in and the pals purchase the bike. Sadly, Sloth’s lethargy makes going fast on the bike as Squirrel had previously envisioned a non-starter. Sloth, however, has a better idea that even at his pace will bring them up to speed.

 

Sloth and Pickle int2
Interior art from Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle written by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kelly Collier, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

Between Cathy’s witty plot, prose, and characters and Collier’s creative illustrations that must be carefully studied for all the added touches readers might not see at first, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle beautifully addresses the “What if” question many authors ask themselves when developing a story: What if a slow animal and a fast animal became friends? In this case, the friendship endures despite the differences and it flourishes as the pals persevere in their pursuit of a bike. This well-crafted and extremely funny picture book is a great way to discuss cause and effect and determination. It also shows kids that money doesn’t grow on trees even if Sloth hangs out in one. Money has to be earned and then the joy of having bought something with the fruit (or pickle) of one’s labor tastes especially sweet or in this funny case maybe salty too!

 

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