Happy Birthday, Trees!, written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber and illustrated by Holly Sterling, is a 12-page board book that just exudes joy and one I can easily recommend for the annual holiday of Tu B’Shevat, a Jewish Arbor Day. Tu B’Shevat or Tu BiShevat has, over the years, grown to become a celebration of nature and the environment and a time to reflect on the importance of trees since we are their only caretakers. This year, the holiday begins on the evening of January 27 and ends the following night.
In this charming rhyming board book, three diverse children go through all the steps of planting a tree with a soothing repetition that reinforces the progression of the actions. First, they dig a hole. Then they carefully place the tree in the hole and, after a few other important steps, the youngsters watch the tree as it grows and changes through the seasons.
I love how Rostoker-Gruber, in such a short story, has managed to convey not only the pleasure of the planting process but the complete cycle a tree experiences. Sterling’s cheerful illustrations full of movement and expression show readers how, in the year following the initial planting, the tree ultimately blossoms, spreading its perfume for all to enjoy. Happy Birthday, Trees! is truly a Tu B’Shevat treet!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Clickherefor a Happy Birthday, Trees! Teaching Guide.
Click here to read a review of another Jewish holiday book.
Good effortlessly thwarts evil in this reimagined Snow White story, The Poisoned Apple: A Fractured Fairy Tale, by author/illustrator Anne Lambelet.
Irritated with a princess who is much too wholesome and “sweet” for her own good (how dare she be!), a witch is on the search for rare ingredients to concoct a “single apple-poisoning spell.” Kids will get a kick out of watching the witch carefully collect these ingredients in her hopes of getting rid of the princess once and for all; some ingredients on her list include such delightfully repulsive items as the toenail of a giant monster.
Readers will equally love seeing the spooky font and haunting artistry whenever the words “the poisoned apple” are repeated in the text. It adds to the humor by highlighting the seriousness of the situation—the princess does, after all, accept the apple easily. But the phrase also hints at the unlikeliness of anything dangerous from actually happening due to the ripple effect of kindness.
Goodness has a way of growing as the princess’s compassion for her hungry friend, one of the seven dwarfs, leads her to give the apple to him. In turn, when he notices “a couple of hungry forest animals,” he passes on the snack to them. They also show pity to a “foraging squirrel” who is “desperate for something to feed her babies.” Kids will erupt with laughter when they notice the horror and disappointment in the witch’s face as her perfect plan crumbles. She follows the squirrel, climbing ever higher and higher on the tree until a hilariously illustrated double-paged spread exposes the natural consequences of her greed. (Readers will enjoy holding the book up vertically to get the full effect). Down and down she falls, and when she comes to, a special gift awaits her, given by the squirrel out of genuine concern. The adage, what comes around goes around, plays out perfectly in this last scene.
Lambelet’s gorgeous illustrations, rich in texture, muted colors, and geometric shapes capture this intersection of whimsy and mystery. For those who enjoy a bit of dark humor and clever retellings of classic tales, The Poisoned Apple is an excellent choice. NOTE: Remove the jacket cover to enjoy the lovely illustration beneath.
If ever there was a year of wonders, I think 2020 would be it, both for adults and children, the whole world over. For this reason, I found Cheryl B. Klein’sA Year of Everyday Wondersespecially meaningful though clearly her thoughtful book was created without the pandemic in mind.
The book follows a young girl, along with the people in her world, through all the “firsts” during the year. Some of the lines are poetic, like “First green in the gray” when spring arrives or “First gold in the green” when fall arrives. The hopeless romantic in me liked the scenes of “First cold” when the protagonist is ill, which is immediately followed by “First crush” when a classmate of hers offers his tissue box. Equally touching was how “Second crush” comes about. The book eventually comes full circle as it begins and ends with “First day of the new year.” These seemingly small events of childhood will resonate with readers young and old who have likely experienced one or all of the beautifully depicted moments, the memories of which may last a lifetime.
Qin Leng’s illustrations, rendered with ink and watercolor, portray each wonder with simplicity and emotion. There is lots of white space around many of the pictures, instilling a sort of quiet feeling, which is perfect for reading with your youngsters and reminiscing about all the “firsts’ they have had and will have in the future, depending on their ages.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this review, 2020 was a year like no other, a year of many firsts for everyone: first lockdown, first virtual classroom learning, and first masks. With this last one, I admit that my mind is so focused on the pandemic in our new world that when I actually read the line “First masks” in A Year of Everyday Wonders, it took me a minute to realize that it was not referring to pandemic masks. Let’s hope that 2021 is a year of wonders indeed, of only the best kinds that children should experience.
★Starred Reviews – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal
Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili e Click hereto read another book review by Freidele.
Sharing batch after batch of homemade doughnuts is what thoughtful friends do. But what’s LouAnn the bear to do just before hibernation when her stomach growls from hunger and no doughnuts remain? Such is the predicament presented inCarrie Finison’sdebut counting/math practice picture book DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS with illustrations by Brianne Farley.
Farley’s fun art introduces the reader to a variety of delicious-looking doughnuts, each numbered to 24. Pink Sprinkles, Swirly, Jelly-Filled, and Nibbled (with a bite taken from this purple glazed doughnut) set the stage for the story to come.
A big brown bear is seen through her kitchen window busy stirring the big bowl of batter. She’ll eat some sweet treats, then, warm and well-fed, she’ll sleep away winter, tucked tight in her bed. The orange and yellow leaves show off the colors of fall as we see a beaver nearing the front door.
Although one dozen doughnuts are hot from the pan and ready for LouAnn the bear to devour, an unexpected DING-DONG! gets the story going in a whole new direction. Do you have enough for a neighbor to share? Woodrow the beaver asks. The reader counts the 12 red doughnuts on the large plate as LouAnn places 6 doughnuts on her plate and 6 doughnuts on Woodrow’s plate. Now the real counting begins.
With DING-DONG! after DING-DONG!, Finison’s rhymes welcome friend after friend at the bear’s front door. You’re welcome. Dig in! I’ll make more, says LouAnn. She measures and mixes as fast as she can. Clyde the Raccoon, Woodrow, and LouAnn are seen with four doughnuts on each plate, but note the smile leaving our kind-hearted bear’s face. Page after page, we see more friends arriving until there are no doughnuts remaining for our generous and exasperated hostess LouAnn.
She’s ready to sleep through the snow, ice, and sleet. But winter is near, and there’s nothing to eat! As the page turns, LouAnn lets loose a dramatic ROAR! and readers see the group of friends scram. Soon though they’re back, having realized they need to make things right for their pal. They return the kindness and become the bakers. (Another great lesson for young readers).
This sweet (after all it is about doughnuts) rhyming book is such an entertaining and clever way to teach kids how to count to 12 and also divide 12 by 2, 4, or 6. Conveying the importance of sharing is the icing on top. I felt empathy for LouAnn, who almost began hibernation hungry until her friends came through for her. Finison’s words show young readers why being considerate matters while cleverly sneaking in how to count and divide. Plus we see how many flavors of yummy doughnuts can be made! NOTE: Read this book after a meal otherwise be sure to have donuts on hand!
I’ve been a fan of Greg Paprocki’s artwork and book design since first discovering his books several years ago. His latest holiday board book for toddlers, Christmas: A Count and Find Primermay be slightly too big for a stocking stuffer, but will easily fit into welcoming hands. Youngsters will happily search each of the 10 spreads to find the correct amount of holiday items corresponding to the respective number. Illustration “4” shows four “cookies and carrots,” but there are also four of many other things such as four stars, four pictures on the wall, four purple ornaments, and four stockings. I like how colors are also worked into the art so adults reading with children can point these out as well. “The last spread contains 10 more holiday-themed objects hidden throughout the book for little ones to find next.” Paprocki’s pleasing retro-style art is another reason to pick up a copy of this entertaining book. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
If your children adore Tad Hills’s character Rocket, this Christmas they’ll fall for Mistletoe. The story begins with a sweet illustration of little Mistletoe who is enamored with all things Christmas. Readers will sense her anticipation to share her favorite holiday experiences like a walk in the snow with her elephant friend, Norwell. He, on the other hand, prefers to avoid the cold and remain cozy indoors sipping tea with his mouse friend beside a blazing fire. No matter how she tries, Mistletoe cannot coax her pal outside. A quiet walk in the snow inspires her and she hatches a creative plan that will not only get her friend outside, but will be the most wonderful gift for Christmas. Kids will excitedly turn the pages to see how much yarn Mistletoe’s surprise project entails (“… elephants are big!”) and watch with delight as she cheerfully offers the gift to Norwell. The spirit of friendship and giving shine in this new holiday book that families can enjoy for years to come. A sparkly cover and special “undies” art underneath the book jacket only add to the charm of Mistletoe. Here’s to more Mistletoe and Norwell tales in the future! • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
A Christmas book for readers of all ages and stages of childhood, Lara Hawthorne’s 12 Days of Christmascelebrates the traditional song with double-page spreads of visual masterpieces.
Hawthorne’s illustrations are reminiscent of folk art, festive colors dominant in classic Christmas red and green as well as shades of calming blue. There is a lot to see but bold patterns and vertical lines help the eye manage the details from one space to another.
As young readers listen to the original lyrics, they can dive into these detailed illustrations, playing a sort of I-spy game to find the items mentioned in the song. Older readers who are familiar with the popular Christmas song will enjoy singing aloud the lyrics. While readers explore the items, birds, and people mentioned in the text, they will also be acquainted with familiar, friendly pets that faithfully appear in each spread-making this book a perfect gift for that animal/nature lover on your list.
Secondary lessons abound: counting, memory strengthening, and identifying shapes. There is even a game in the backmatter – “everything from the song hidden in” a beautiful, busy scene that children can discover. An author’s note at the end explaining the Christian origins of the 12 days of Christmas and the history of the song is an added bonus. The fun of exploring The 12 Days of Christmas will undoubtedly last 12 months of the year. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Written by Erin Guendelsberger and illustrated by Elizaveta Tretyakova,Little Red Sleigh is a heartwarming Christmas story about dreaming big despite your size and experience.
Tucked inside the corner of a quaint Christmas shop is Little Red who is longing to become “Santa’s big red sleigh.” Despite discouragement from her friends in the shop, Little Red’s determination to accomplish her goal leads her on a quest to meet Santa and “show everyone what she [is] made of.”
Along her journey to the North Pole, she befriends others who lend a helping hand. Train takes her as far north as the tracks allow; Yellow Truck, who is on his way to deliver Christmas trees to Santa, offers a ride as well.
Impressed by their skill, Little Red wonders if she’ll ever achieve the kind of experience they have. A beautiful refrain speaks to her heart. “Life builds up one car at a time,” says the Train. “Life…build[s] up one tree at a time,” says Yellow Truck. When a snowstorm changes her original plan to visit Santa, Little Red comes to understand how she is meant to build her life up: “spreading joy, one child at a time.”
Little Red Sleigh is perfect for bedtime or anytime you’d like to cozy up by the tree with a good book. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
A little boy plants a little spruce tree, taking extra care to nurture its growth. As the years pass by, we watch both him and the tree grow up. Eventually, the little spruce becomes a magnificent, towering tree and the little boy a proud grandfather.
Joosse’s lyrical language highlights the love and care poured out on this tree, while Graef’s stunning illustrations center the spruce in double-page spreads, showcasing its evergreen majesty. The beauty of the tree (now approaching its end of life) is celebrated communally when it’s taken to the city for all to appreciate. As it winds its way from rural countryside to the big city, a sense of shared excitement and anticipation builds. People gather to watch the decorations being placed, “wait[ing] and wait[ing] and wait[ing]…everybody’s singing…for the lighting…of Everybody’s Tree!” And what a glorious tree it is, shining brightly and sharing its light for all, (including the cover which glows in the dark!).
If you’re looking for a quieter picture book this season, Everybody’s Tree is that gentle holiday story about the joy of sharing and community building. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Click here for our recent roundup by Christine Van Zandt of 7 new Christmas books. Click here for Ronna’s roundup of 5 new Christmas books.
If you’re looking for a board book that’s full of feathered fun this holiday season, look no further than 24 pages of The Twelve Birdies of Christmas. Little ones will want to see the pictures again and again as a bunch of birdies recreate their own version of the beloved Christmas carol while getting up to all sorts of silliness across the pages. The 3 French hens illustration is my favorite and I also laughed at the 7 swans-a-swimming, but I’m sure your children will choose their own while singing along to Sattler’s new lyrics. If you want some context, the original version is included in the back of the book.
Calling all dino and transportation fans. The winning combination of dinosaurs and heavy-duty utility vehicles featured in Dinosaur Christmas will entertain the youngest revelers in your household. The premise is a simple one that will be satisfying to children. Santa’s stuck in the Northpole on Christmas Eve and only his dino pals have the brawn required to set his sleigh free. But the best part is the variety of transportation modes they use to get through the stormy weather to mount their rescue. There’s lots of repetition and onomatopoeia to add to the read-aloud experience of this sweetly illustrated picture book. “Team Dinosaur arriving. Arriving and starting to dig. Starting to dig out Santa’s sleigh. Scoop! Scoop! Scoop!” My son and daughter used to memorize books like this when they were little and no doubt your children will too. Kids can search the art for hidden polar bears and study both the front and back endpapers for pictures and names of all the dinosaurs and vehicles included in the story.
Ideal for blended families, but definitely delightful for anyone to read, Laktes for Santa Claus is a clever Hanukkah meets Christmas spin on leaving cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Even if it’s not Chrismukkah (when Christmas and Hanukkah overlap), this picture book still shows a way for Jewish children living with a non-Jewish step-sibling and/or step-parent how fun it is to share a bit of their Jewish holiday traditions during Christmastime. Emaus introduces readers to Anna, who is Jewish, as she emails Santa who she guesses must be tired of the same old cookies every year. She promises to leave him a special treat and then sets about to make that happen. Anna just has to figure out what Jewish food will work. Her step-brother Michael, intent on baking cookies, points out how most of Anna’s ideas will require a utensil which Santa will not have after coming down a chimney, hands full of presents. What can she offer that won’t make a massive mess? When she realizes that latkes can be noshed as finger-food, she’s excited to put them out along with Michael’s cookies. When the siblings discover all the food gone on Christmas morning, Michael is eager to work together with Anna to plan something unique for the next Christmas. The back matter includes recipes for both the latkes and the cookies so kids can try their hand at baking with an adult. I love how the cover features a menorah on the mantle as well as a Christmas tree welcoming readers of all faiths to dive into this fun story. There is some rhyme and onomatopoeia for reading aloud enjoyment and at 40 pages, the story flows quickly complemented by the colorful, comic-style art. Despite the title giveaway, young readers will want to see the process as Anna narrows down her choices for Santa. I enjoyed every page of this charming new picture book because it showed how there is not only room for compromise in every family, but how easily a new tradition can be created bringing everyone closer.
This story brought to mind the classic, Big Bird Brings Spring to Sesame Street. That story, about Big Bird buying a bouquet of flowers but ultimately giving them all away to his pals on his way home, is about the joy of sharing. The beauty in Nellist’sLittle Mole’s Christmas Giftis the selfless generosity of the main character which exemplifies the true spirit of the holiday. Little Mole finds the perfect, “biggest, most beautiful” mushroom to bring home for his mother’s Christmas gift but along the way encounters forest friends in need of food, a pillow, an umbrella for protection. Mole knows his mushroom can make a difference, so rather than ignoring the cries for help, he offers part of the gift to each animal. He presents what remains of the mushroom to his grateful mother. Mama Mole understands and appreciates the kind-hearted gesture her child has made and that is indeed the greatest gift a mother could ask for. Garland’s charming illustrations bring a warmth and richness of color to the winter setting and will make kids want to read her other book in the series. A free Little Mole activity pack is available for download on the website too.
Santa.com is a picture book that feels like an episode from children’s television and is certain to engage youngsters who might ordinarily prefer TV over books. Authors Hicks and Cubberly have come up with a neat storyline for a 21st century Christmas. At Santa.com gifts get handled robotically and are “delivered by peppermint drones.” Things run smoothly until the system gets hacked by a cyber Scrooge. Luckily Yo-Yo the elf knows from his Grandpa’s stories that Santa still exists and, with the help of his elf pals, might be coaxed out of retirement to solve the problem. I found the ending really the only slightly ambivalent part and leave it up to readers to come to their own conclusion about how Christmas got saved. I enjoyed the energy and movement Garcia’s art conveyed and the adorable characters he’s imagined. For tech-loving kids, this modern take on Christmas is an original read for the holidays.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read Christine Van Zandt’s roundup of seven new Christmas books she loves by clickinghere.
Welcome to our annual Christmas books roundup. Today author, editor, and reviewer Christine Van Zandt has chosen seven of her favorite new books for you to enjoy. We hope it gets you in a festive mood.
Tomie dePaola’s death this year hit the children’s lit community hard. Reading his posthumous Hurry, Santa! is bittersweet. The clever title led me to think that, certainly, all kids want Santa to hurry to their houses, yet, the twist here is that once Santa’s suited up, he faces the same dilemma that many bundled up kids do: he forgot to go potty before suiting up.
This 14-page board book gives Santa just enough time to get dressed and undressed again. As dePaola has in more than 260 children’s books, his art delights us. This book is a lighthearted farewell to his devoted fans. Note: Book says it was previously published as Get Dressed, Santa.
Sandra Boynton’s books are best-sellers because of her fun rhyme and lively art. Her 32-page board book, Christmas Parade, is another resounding hit. Kids will enjoy hearing the animal band boom boom and rat-a-tat-tat through town. I love that “chickens with silver bassoons [are] followed by piggies with Christmas balloons.” And Santa is (of course!) a rhino.
Emma Dodd’s 24-page picture book rhyming Christmas Is Joy shares holiday enthusiasm from a reindeer family’s perspective. As with Dodd’s other books, this one is beautifully crafted using minimal words to convey emotion. Heartwarming art captures the book’s cheerful theme; metallic silver accents add fun by evoking glistening snow and ice. This book is part of Emma Dodd’s Love You Books series.
The book’s smaller size (eight x eight inches) helps little hands easily hold on. Like a perfect cup of cocoa, the story comforts you: “Christmas is happiness, / smiles of surprise, / the warmth of affection / that lights up your eyes.”
Tracey Corderoy’s rhyming picture book, Mouse’s Night Before Christmas, uses Clement Clarke Moore’s famous first stanza to launch into a different direction, telling us “it wasn’t quite so” that not a creature was stirring. Rather, little Mouse prowls about, wishing he “had a friend to give gifts to.” The story cleverly weaves in some original lines while spinning a new tale.
The art by Sarah Massini warms wide spans of white or gray with muted, lively colors. A nostalgic touch makes Mouse, Santa, and the town seem welcoming and familiar. My favorite scene is the surprise ending where the story reduces to two characters enjoying each other’s company—Mouse is irresistibly cute!
A Jim Benton Christmas book—yes! If you’re like me and your shelves have more Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein books than you can count, then Benton’s Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer is the holiday book for you. In the beat of Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” Benton’s story gives a glimpse of the mayhem at Santa’s workshop. When Comet breaks up a fight between two elves, Stinky and Stanky, he ends up with a broken leg, unable to fly. In the confusion, Santa forgets the toys, so Comet must figure something out.
The rhyming text flows easily when read aloud and Benton’s art keeps you laughing as cast-wearing Comet tries saving the night—if only Santa would answer his phone! Luckily, Comet’s a trouper when faced with the humungous bag: “He tried with a lever. / He tried with a hoist. / He tried till his forehead/ was reddened and moist.” Go, Comet, go!
When it comes to Christmas, I always think of opossums—what, no I don’t! But, why not? “Milo’s family never missed the big Christmas parade. His passel came for the popcorn, sticky nuts, and bits of peppermint sticks. / Milo came for the view.” He’s fascinated with the parade and how people work on building it year-round. Readers will hope Milo’s dream of being in the parade comes true.
Milo’s Christmas Parade boasts adorable art, from the opossum wearing an ornament on his tail to his close-knit family helping out in the shop. Extra points for the book having a different (secret) image under its jacket.
If you enjoyed Emily Gravett’s Meerkat Mail, then check out Meerkat Christmas. When Sunny, a meerkat who lives in the Kalahari reads about what it takes to achieve the Perfect Christmas, he leaves the desert in search of the supposed elements to achieve holiday excellence.
While on his travels, he corresponds with his family back home. The seven festive lift-the-flaps (designed to look like Perfect Magazine and Sunny’s cards) feel realistic and are a fun way to tell pieces of the story.
Gravett’s vibrant art captures the humor as Sunny encounters obstacles around the world. My favorite holiday treats are the Kalahari candy canes. The recipe calls for 25 assorted snakes, red paint, white paint, and paintbrushes! “Bend each snake into a candy cane shape and hang on tree or cactus.” This book stands out for its interactive design and clever, hilarious art. Peek under the jacket for surprise alternate back and front cover images.
In the colorful picture book, Happy Llamakkah!, adorable llamas young and old gather together for the eight-day Jewish celebration. Each night a new candle is lit by the shamash (helper candle) as dreidels spin, latkes are fried and ribbons are tied. The story is told with few words and many sweet faces of the llama family who end each of the eight nights saying Happy Llamakkah! Children familiar with Hanukkah will enjoy seeing the candle lighting as it reminds them of their own special Hanukkah traditions with every page turn. And the words “Happy Llamakkah” replacing the traditional Happy Hanukkah wish just adds laughter and fun for young readers. I personally laughed each time I read those words. This rhyming picture book closes with an Author’s Note which explains in simple terms why Jewish people celebrate the miracle that happened long ago. Happy Llamakkah! beautifully tells the story of the menorah in the window; and I liked how the reader learns that it was only recently that Jewish families incorporated gifts as part of their Hanukkah festivities. Happy Hanukkah! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
In The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Max and Rachel’s family move to a new apartment right before Hanukkah begins. So it’s frustrating when they can’t find the box that was packed with all the items they need for Hanukkah: the menorah, candles, Dad’s lucky latke pan, dreidels, gelt, and jelly donut recipe. So how can they celebrate Hanukkah? With help from their new neighbors and a bit of innovative, creative thinking, they try each night to celebrate, although as the refrain says, “It was nice . . . but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” But when Mom’s guitar is delivered the morning after the eighth night, the kids come up with a way to still celebrate the holiday and give back to all their new neighbors who helped them. . . and when the missing Hanukkah box turns up, it finally feels like Hanukkah. Charming cartoon illustrations add to the warmth of this holiday book about a diverse and multi-ethnic community coming together in friendship. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
I had a smile on my face throughout my first reading of this clever new take on Hanukkah and again the second time to write this review. Kimmelman’s wordplay in The Eight Knights of Hanukkah makes for a fun Round Table themed romp that delivers in the form of eight knights named Sir Alex, Sir Gabriel, Sir Henry, Sir Julian, Sir Rugelach (♥), and three females, Sir Isabella, Sir Lily, and Sir Margaret. There’s also Lady Sadie whose request to the knights prompts the adventure and premise of this story. “A dastardly dragon named Dreadful is roaming the countryside,” and its antics are disrupting preparations for the Hanukkah party she’s been planning. Their mission is to “fix things with some deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery.”
And so they set out to achieve this goal. While Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach journey to find Dreadful, the other six knights assist the citizens in whatever way they can. Knightly language adds to the enjoyment, “Hark!” exclaimed Sir Gabriel. “Methinks I hear a damsel in distress.” Whether peeling potatoes to help said damsel or making sufganiyot (donuts) at the bakery where a sign reads “Helpeth Wanted,” there’s no task too arduous for the team to tackle. But what about Dreadful? Alas, the disappointed dynamic duo of Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach fear they’ve exhausted all hopes of reining in that dragon until a smoky surprise greets their eyes. With their mitzvahs completed, the noble knights can begin their Hanukkah merrymaking with Lady Sadie and all the guests knowing their actions have spread kindness through the realm. In addition to Bernstein’s expressive characters, humorous details, and great use of white space, don’t miss her endpapers map to get a lay of the land. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
First published in 2014, this paper-over-board reissue features a newly formated cover ideal for younger readers. Somehow I missed the original version and was happy to find that Kimmel’s Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Talehad me turning the pages in anticipation as it also warmed my heart.
When Simon sets sail to America from the old country just before Hanukkah, he departs with inspiring words (and a knapsack full of latkes, a menorah, candles, matches, brown bread, hard-boiled eggs, and herring) from his mother. “Wherever you are, Simon, don’t forget to celebrate Hanukkah and its miracles. Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey.” This foreshadowing lets readers know something will happen, but I never expected a Titanic-like episode where Simon’s boat sinks. Mensch that he is, he offers the last spot in a lifeboat to an older man and manages to find safety on an iceberg.
All alone but ever the optimist, Simon lights the candles as Hanukkah begins. As he plays dreidel, he also prays for a miracle. He is surprised and slightly scared when a polar bear appears. Simon offers it food in exchange for warmth and company. The passing days see the bear share his fish with Simon until the menorah’s flickering lights attract a rescue boat on the final night of Hanukkah. Arriving safely in New York, Simon meets the man he gave his lifeboat spot to. Now the Mayor of New York, this grateful man is intent on repaying Simon’s good deed making the final miracle happen, bringing Simon’s family to America. Kimmel’s crafted a fantastical and truly satisfying story through and through. In the character of Simon, he’s brought us a selfless main character readers will root for. Trueman’s jewel-toned colors and shtetl clothing design help ground the story in the early 1900s. The play with light always brings our eyes to focus on Simon over multiple iceberg scenes. Together the story and illustrations (I love the newspaper clippings about Simon’s survival) will make any reader a Hanukkah miracle believer. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
The magic of Levine’s, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, begins with its glowing golden accented cover and is woven throughout this picture book embuing it with a feeling that it’s always been a Jewish folktale parents share every holiday. But it’s not! It’s a new story about a big-hearted Jewish spirit “whose magic can make things last exactly as long as they’re needed.” The tale was inspired by the author’s observations and emotions he experienced growing up as a Jew whose holiday and beautiful traditions were overlooked, overshadowed, and ultimately influenced by Christmas. Read the illuminating Author’s Note for more on this. Nate’s name is also significant in that it corresponds to the dreidel letters Nun and Gimmel, two of the four initials representing the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning, “A great miracle happened there.“
I was willingly transported to an unnamed American city in the late 19th century where immigrants of all nationalities lived and worked. Nate soon finds himself drawn to the plight of the Glaser family, newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Europe who are penniless as Hanukkah approaches. Additionally, their neighbors’ baby girl is sick and the O’Malley family cannot afford the medicine needed. Whatever the Glasers had they shared with their close neighbors but when there was nothing, Nate knew “he couldn’t stretch what wasn’t there.” How could either family even begin to think about celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas under those circumstances? The have-nots need a miracle. During a serendipitous meeting Christmas Eve on a city rooftop with Santa Claus, Nate is told, “The sleigh magic is nearly empty. Are there a lot of people having trouble believing this year?” The winter of 1881 is a tough one indeed meaning one thing; Nate to the rescue! He helps out the “red-suited man” who returns the favor in kind. Nate’s magic delivers Christmas presents under the O’Malley tree and, much to the surprise and delight of the Glaser children, not just beloved Hanukkah chocolate which was all they usually hoped for, but a pile of presents as well.
Hawkes’s muted color palette enhances the illustrations of this bygone era. His larger than life depiction of Nate Gadol, with a tinge of gold in his hair and a sparkle in his eye convey a positive mood despite the harsh circumstances the two families face. The pairing of Hawkes’s atmospheric art with Levine’s thoughtful prose makes a new story like The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol already feel like it’s been a treasured read in our home for years. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
I love everything about travel, the new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. And getting there is also a big part of the excitement. But right now, staying home during the pandemic means we have to find other ways to get that thrill. There are travel programs and international webcams to watch, online museums to visit, and best of all, there are books to read. Take advantage of the variety of books that kids of all ages can enjoy for unique vicarious experiences. I hope you’ll share these books so that, while at home, your children can adventure both near and far simply by turning a page.
Help your kids become global citizens by introducing them to a vast array of fascinating destinations in this fabulous board book series. The 28-pages in Tiny Travelers Treasure Quest: India provide an engaging illustrated journey into the heart of India. My first trip to India was over 30 years ago and yet that trip has remained with me all these years because of the scenic beauty, the delicious food, the warm, welcoming people, and the majesty of the monuments such as the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Kids, parents, teachers, and librarians will love how the book is filled with facts about the “language, history, food, nature, music, and more,” in every colorful spread. There’s a seek-and-find element woven into the text that parents can choose to play with their children during the first reading, or return to the next time. Top that off with the rhyming prose, “Bollywood movies / are one of a kind. / They have dancing, singing / and costumes combined!” and kids will be hooked. Find more info and books in the series including China, Mexico, Puerto Rico atTinyTravelers.com.
Covering 15 topics, My First Book of London, a large-format picture book, is just one title in this fun series that combines vibrant graphic illustrations, brief narrative and simple words to give an overview of the most well-known attractions and things to do in this beloved city. I actually laughed out loud when on the first spread I saw that for Buckingham Palace not only was Queen Elizabeth II included, but also a Corgi! I wasn’t quite sure why a fire engine was featured, (must look that up) but I’m glad that the “flag-waving crowd” and “Changing of the Guard” were depicted. Arrhenius has zeroed in on London’s museums, too, one of my favorite things about this city. There is a museum for everyone’s interests, from the famed British Museum with its mummy collection to the V&A Museum (Victoria & Albert), my personal fave. Use the book as a dictionary, as a seek-and-find book, or simply as a wonderful way to get familiar with what makes this English city so popular.
The fourth book in this beautifully illustrated U.S. travel series is Lulu and Rocky in Indianapolis, informational fiction that is part story, part travelogue, and 100% interesting! The books all feature fox cousins, main characters Lulu and Rocky, and their penguin pal Pufferson. There is a welcome consistency in how each story begins the same way making it easy to read the books out of order. First readers get a sneak peek at Aunt Fancy composing a letter, then comes a map of the featured city (in this Indiana’s state capital), followed by Lulu receiving the purple envelope in which Aunt Fancy invites her to bring Pufferson to meet up with Rocky at the destination. Once together the trio embarks on an adventure in a different city that will make you want to pack your bags and hit the road to join them. Kids’ll discover that there is so much more to the “Hoosier’s paradise” than the famed motor race. In the backmatter’s two-paged “More to Know” section, each attraction visited is described in more detail so you can plan a future trip to Indy. Make sure to include the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world!
Another picture book for armchair travelers is the detailed 50 Maps of the World, recommended for tweens. Not your mother’s atlas, this large-format book is an easy way for kids to connect with our world through travel, culture, historical and current famous personalities, geography and animals without leaving home. There is a helpful intro so kids know what to expect before diving in. What I love about this book is not just how good it feels to hold in your lap, but I also appreciate how much info has been packed into every page so there are multiple ways to approach it. Take South Africa for example. Sometimes you may pick up the book to learn the key facts about its largest cities, population, official languages, etc. Other times you may want to find out about its natural attractions such as Hole in the Wall, Tugela Falls, or Kruger National Park. You can even study a timeline or discover who once called this country home such as Elon Musk, cricketer De Villiers, Nelson Mandela, inventor Thato Kgatlhanye, or actress Charlize Theron.
What makes Cities in Layers so cool and accessible is how it takes kids back in time to two previous eras in history per city in addition to the present time via fact-filled pages, bright visual maps, as well as info about people who lived there. There’s even a cleverly designed “die-cut element,” that “allows readers to really peel back layers of time.” This visually appealing large-format, 64-page picture book will delight tweens as they see the changes in the six famous cities unfold right before their eyes. Starting with an intro and a timeline, the book then covers Rome, Italy; Istanbul, Turkey; Paris, France; Beijing, China; London, U.K.; and New York City, U.S.A. Cities in Layers would be the perfect companion to stories from those time periods. When looking at London from 1863, kids could learn about authors from the Victorian era, or they could read about the Great Depression when checking out the map of NYC from 1931. What’s interesting is that Steele has chosen different centuries to focus on for each city so while the pages for Paris zero in on 1380, 1793, and today, the section on Istanbul covers 550 ce, 1616 as well as the present day. A two-page spread at the end ponders what future cities will look like while addressing population growth, the scarcity of resources, and technology. This fascinating read combines history, maps, architecture, and progress with its unique perspective that will no doubt spark interesting discussions.
I appreciate animal facts such as Rabbit purring his thanks and Squirrel using her tail for protection from the weather. As the creatures express what makes them thankful, the story loops back to Bear orchestrating a friendly feast.
Kids will want to repeat the soothing animal sounds such as Raccoon’s “chir-chirrrrr.” And we all could use more comfort as we face a socially distanced holiday season. This story embraces the simplicity of gratitude. The art’s soft lines and warm colors welcome readers to join this gentle celebration, where animals from all walks of life enjoy each other’s company while sharing a lovingly prepared meal.
The bedtime journey begins when a clever worm narrowly escapes becoming dinner to a group of hungry baby birds. Clad in a cap, sock, and sneaker, we watch him jump from the nest to an urban rooftop garden, slowly making his way to his underground home. As he passes by the vegetables, we see their nighttime routine, each group of veggies adorable in its own right. While turnips “tuck… in tightly” and potatoes close their eyes, “[t]uckered out tomatoes hum … lullabies.” Like the affectionate smile of each vegetable, the friendly, humorous rhyme reassures and warms the heart.
It’s sheer fun learning the variety of ways veggies like to turn in. “[C]uddly” cauliflower, baby carrots, and baby lettuce enjoy “snuggling.” Rhubarbs delight in “reading stories to worn-out broccolis.” Giggles from little ones will surely ensue when they discover how eggplants dream—some about familiar places and some about galaxies far, far away. “Cranky corn” who “cover up [their] ears” because of a nearby veggie’s snoring will definitely be a familiar scene to readers young and old.
Vibrant colors in acrylic paint add to the playfulness. Bold borders in black outline edges, creating a safe space to rest and soak in the illustrations, appropriately printed on 100% vegetarian printmaking paper.
A delightful bedtime read-aloud, Goodnight Veggies is the perfect prelude to a good night.
Introducing classics such as William Shakespeare’s The Tempest to young kids seems both important and, well, hard. Let’s face it, adults sometimes need a synopsis when seeing one of his plays. However, this lovely picture book by Georghia Ellinas successfully conveys the heart of the story without overwhelming young kids. Told from Ariel’s viewpoint, the book opens with the irresistible line, “Can you do magic?” The androgynous Ariel goes on to explain that they are a spirit of the air and made of magic—how awesome is that?!
Boosted by Jane Ray’s lovely watercolor images, this retelling comes to life. We feel for Ariel when they are imprisoned in a tree and crying out for help. The scene with Miranda and Caliban delights me the most. Monstrous Caliban’s moping darkness is offset by Miranda as a young girl, brightly dressed and playing in a tree.
Though full of lively images and fantasy, The Tempest’s key message remains “forgiveness is greater than revenge,” an important reminder for an audience this age who may struggle with conflict resolution. I’m happy to see Candlewick is continuing with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another favorite, out in April 2021 by this same talented writer and illustrator duo. Available for pre-order now.
I’ve had this book on my TBR shelf for way too long and should have reviewed it sooner, but I’m so happy to finally be able to share it with you now. The Artist Who Loved Cats grabbed my attention when it arrived via mail because its cover was gorgeous and full of cats. In fact, I recognized one cat in particular, le Chat Noir.
If you’ve ever traveled to France or are a francophile like me, you too may recognize artist Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s famed black feline. It’s impossible to miss reproductions of Le Chat Noir images sold at almost every bookseller’s stand either in postcard, purse, keychain, or print form when strolling along the banks of the Seine in Paris. His advertising posters from the late 1800s and early 1900s featuring bicycles, cocoa, and chocolat are also well-known.
Author Susan Bernardo was inspired to write this picture book “during a trip to Paris in 2014” when she stayed in Montmartre “and found a lovely little bronze cat sculpture in an antiques store,” near her AirBnB. As a student in Paris, I lived close to Montmartre and yet never considered the backstory of the prolific artist whose beautiful art decorated our dorm room walls and still remains so popular. I’m delighted Bernardo has created a book to introduce Steinlen’s story to children.
Steinlen seemed destined to draw cats. As a child growing up in Switzerland he sketched them in “every which way.” But, following advice from his father, he began a career in textiles and fabric design. Eventually, the artist felt eager “to embrace the creative life.” Paris in the 1880s was a vibrant hub for artists, musicians, writers, and dancers. That’s why Steinlen moved there in 1881. Through a fellow Swiss ex-pat pal and Le Chat Noir cabaret owner, the artist was hired to do illustrations for the Montmartre cabaret’s newsletter. His cats became the talk of the town and things took off from there. While the story is charmingly narrated in rhyme by the antique shop cat, and can at times be uneven, the reason to read this book with children is to spark curiosity not only about the artist Steinlen, but about other countries, and the arts too. Bernardo’s biography conveys the essence of what made Steinlen tick. He clearly was able to capture in his art just what the public wanted.
Steinlen’s artwork celebrated the ordinary everyday things in life which he encountered and though we may know him for his posters, he also made sculptures, storybooks, and songbook covers. And kids who love kitties will not be disappointed with how frequently Steinlen’s feline friends appeared in his art. His love of cats is evident throughout this book.
Fletcher’s fabulous illustrations fill every page with the kind of exuberance that probably emanated from Steinlen’s presence. Her Parisian scenes will take you back in time as will her cabaret and studio spreads. Each illustration provides a chance for children to count cats and check out their antics.
Bernardo’s used the cat bronze sculpture as a clever jumping-off point to discuss the artist’s life but she also takes the opportunity to point out how old items like those found in an antique shop can unlock myriad mysteries and feed children’s imagination. She’s even included a fun search and find activity at the end of the book. In addition to locating antiques, children are told to look out for certain famous people of Steinlen’s era including artist Toulouse-Lautrec and musician Maurice Ravel. Readers will learn from the detailed backmatter that “Steinlen used his art to protest social injustice and war and to celebrate the lives of working people.” His work influenced many other artists but ultimately his passion was for his art to make the world a better place.
Originally published in Spain, The Day Saida Arrived is a powerful story of friendship and love that bridges the gap between cultural differences.
The book begins by looking at the issue of immigration through the lens of a classmate whose heart is stirred with compassion to befriend a new student from Morocco. Reading the sadness and silence in Saida’s “large amber eyes,” the narrator sets out to find her friend’s words, thinking Saida has lost them. But after a discussion with her parents, the narrator realizes Saida indeed has words-yet she doesn’t want to “bring them out.” They are “different from the words” used in her new surroundings. The narrator’s father explains to his daughter: “In Morocco, … yours wouldn’t work either.”
Once the narrator understands this all-important lesson of seeing herself in the other person’s struggle, she sets out to help and learn from Saida. Together, in this reciprocal relationship, the two friends share a wealth of new words. Double page spreads of Arabic and English words playfully interact. Some are easily remembered, some are “carried off by the wind,” while those that were forgotten earlier return like “good weather.” In fact, throughout the pages we see graceful Arabic and bold English letters flying about, blown by the wind like butterflies, “sometimes look[ing] like flowers and other times like insects.” The illustrative theme of nature is beautifully consistent, comparing the process of language acquisition to the ebb and flow of the natural world.
Through poignant scenes and lyrical language, we see the girls’ mutual respect and friendship blossom. In trust and appreciation, they exchange stories and treats from each other’s culture. A side by side spread of the English and Arabic alphabets in the backmatter extends the opportunity for readers to learn.
A touching story that breaks boundaries, The Day Saida Arrived is a wonderful addition to the school and home library.
Find book resources including a Teacher’s guide and a coloring page here.
Here’s an interesting interview with the book’s translatorLawrence Schimel Read about author Susana Gómez Redondohere. See more art from illustrator Sonja Wimmerhere.
Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
Click here to order a copy of The Day Saida Arrived. e
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New York Times best-selling authorDavid Elliott’s latest picture book feels like a classic.In the Woodsspotlights fourteen woodland animals, capturing their essence in verse. I appreciate the inclusion of favorites such as the bear, fox, and raccoon but even more so the animals we may not know much about. My favorite of these outliers was the fisher cat: “Does not like fish. / Is not a cat. / I don’t know what / to make of that. / But when you are / as fierce as she, / there’s no need for /consistency.” This seeming puzzle is explained in the back matter where relevant and interesting facts elaborate on the poems. For example, it takes five to six sprays to deplete a skunk’s scent, then about ten days to produce a new batch.
The poems are easy to approach for young readers, using simple ideas plus humor. Kids may be surprised a poem can be two words. “The Moose”: “Ungainly, / mainly.” Or that the words in poems can be manipulated, adding to their depth. The millipede poem has a blank space running down the middle; some words are broken to create effect. As kids in this book’s age range are beginning to learn about verse in school and tasked with writing some themselves, Elliott’s poems introduce poetry in a fun, playful manner.
Rob Dunlavey’saccompanying art, done in watercolor and mixed media, adds another level to each glimpse. Echoing the woodland theme, the pictures speak of nature yet cleverly placed highlights or splashes of color guide your eye to what’s important: the flight of the scarlet tanager, the inquisitive muzzle of a raccoon, or the dangerous headlights that will just miss the porcupine crossing the road. The illustrations are big, memorable, and beautiful.
Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!ee