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Best New Hanukkah Books for Kids 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF

THE BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS

FOR KIDS 2023

REVIEWS:

Latke's First Hanukkah cover Latke lighting menorahLATKE’S FIRST HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg
(Viking BYR; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Little ones will love meeting Latke, a lovable creation of author-illustrator Alan Silberberg’s whimsical imagination. What’s great about his books is that parents will be entertained reading them as much as their kids. The new 16-page board book, Latke’s First Hanukkah, is no exception. Add various voices for the characters during a read-aloud and you’re set!

Applesauce and Sour Cream get into a tiff over which topping tastes better, the Dreidels along with Latke spin ’til they drop, dizzy but likely delighted, and the sufganiyot (jelly donuts) “are full of joy (and jelly).” As each night gets underway, the counting of the candles continues as do the antics of Latke’s colorfully illustrated guests. Of course, included in the company is gelt, and on night six, the one that made me LOL was when Babka, Challah, Bagel, Kugel, Blintz, and Falafel arrived.  There is much to enjoy here so why not join Latke for some laughs and a memorable first Hanukkah celebration?

 

HANUKKAH UPSIDE DOWNHanukkah Upside Dow cover upside down child handing dreidel to rightside up child
Written by Elissa Brent Weissman

Illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
(Abrams BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m so happy there’s a new international-themed Hanukkah book to be added to bookshelves everywhere. Its illustrations are charming and kid-friendly with characters I’d love to try drawing myself (I particularly enjoyed the spread with everyone eating sufganiyot or jelly donuts)  with Cousins Noah and Nora may live continents apart (Noah’s in New York and Nora’s in New Zealand), but it’s clear from their chats on the phone or via text that they are close. As Hanukkah approaches, the two set up a competition to see who has the best Hanukkah. Both also disagree on which cousin lived upside down on the planet, something many kids may think about and find funny.

This new slant on celebrating the eight-day Festival of Lights is clever as both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres’ differences are highlighted as the Hanukkah celebrations get underway. In New York, it’s winter and one day behind. In New Zealand it’s summer. In New York, it got dark early while in New Zealand, the sun set late. Despite that, on the first night of Hanukkah, both cousins lit the chanukiah or Hanukkah menorah. While Noah wore boots, Nora went barefoot, yet they both ate yummy latkes. I love this spot-on comparison:  “Noah threw snowballs. Nora did cannonballs.” Whether skating or surfing, or learning the local languages, the Jewish cousins find the challenge they’ve tasked themselves with to be a tough one. They say the same prayers. Do the same good deeds and spend time with loved ones. So whose celebration is the best? And is it really about the differences?

Though the main characters may live thousands of miles apart, the beauty in this story is that ultimately the similarities between the cousins’ Hanukkah festivities, and their relationship are what counts and what will stand out to young readers.

 

Eight Nights of Lights cover child holding menorah and dreidel.EIGHT NIGHTS OF LIGHTS: 
A Celebration of Hanukkah
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Hilli Kushnir
(HarperCollins BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I’ve never seen anything quite like this interactive picture book that engages young readers all Eight Nights of Lights! The design invites children to participate safely (no real candles or matches are involved) in the Hanukkah celebration which they can enjoy in one read or return to each night.

On the first night, kids meet the narrator Lena, and her kitty, Pickles as they prep the menorah and learn its family history from her father. The educational elements are introduced so the youngest readers can learn about Hanukkah traditions. “It was the first night of the holiday, so there was just one candle to put in the menorah. Plus the shammash, the helper candle. The shammash was used each night to light all the other candles.”

The story progresses to the next night when readers remove the second candle from the book’s paper menorah to see what happens with Lena and her family. Different aspects of the holiday are shared every night; from dreidel playing to the story of the heroic Maccabee brothers, from giving presents to giving to others (tzedakah), from making latkes to eating jelly donuts, from a Hanukkah hike to acting out the Maccabee story with cousins. The story concludes with a fun Hanukkah party at the synagogue on the eighth night that includes cookie decorating, pin the shammash on the menorah, and singing and dancing to beloved Hanukkah songs. I can easily see children asking for this book every year as part of the celebration. It also makes a wonderful gift.

Watch this video to see exactly how unique this interactive picture book is.

MORE NEW HANUKKAH BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

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Picture Book Review – Challah Day

 

CHALLAH DAY

Written by Charlotte Offsay

Illustrated by Jason Kirschner

(Holiday House; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

 

 

Challah Day Cover family admiring challah

 

 

Have you ever tasted challah French toast? Better yet, challah stuffing at Thanksgiving? I adore it! My husband scores big points when he brings some challah home. You may compare it to brioche, but there are some differences setting them apart, the biggest being butter. There is no dairy in challah. Try it sometime and I have a feeling you’ll agree with me.

So now let’s find out about Challah Day written by Charlotte Offsay and illustrated by Jason Kirschner, a rhyming picture book released this past summer that I’ve been eager to read as not only a fan of the bread but of the author, too!

 

Challah Day spread 1 pour the yeast in.
Reproduced with permission from Holiday House Publishing, Inc. Text copyright © 2023 by Charlotte Offsay. Illustrations copyright © 2023 by Jason Kirschner. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

The story introduces a jubilant young narrator describing challah day at her house. Together, her family members ready the dough for this delicious egg bread. Challah is eaten on Shabbat (Sabbath) as well as throughout the year except on Passover. She takes readers through all the steps via top-notch rhyme (see sample below) making this an irresistible year-round read-aloud.  As the preparations get underway, the words flow off the page and little tummies may start to growl. Baby is humorously included in the illustrations as well as an adorable corgi who just happens to be in the right place at the right time.

 

Yeast and sugar – water’s warm,
mix and watch those bubbles form!
Crack the eggs – one… two… three… four
Extra if some hit the floor.

 

The above stanza is from one of my favorite spreads in the kitchen where so much of the story’s action unfolds. Kirschner’s even spelled out Challah Day on the fridge in the form of magnets. Clever! The palette with lots of pale pinks and greens is pleasing and upbeat with a slightly retro feel, especially in Baby’s hairstyle and the kitchen design.

Everything comes together when the challah is cooked and special guests arrive—Grandma and Grandpa! Now that we’ve seen how it’s all done, it’s time to light the Shabbat candles and then enjoy the challah homemade with heart and lots of fun too! So much joy has gone into the baking and now we can delight (albeit vicariously) in the delicious taste of every last morsel. The love this family shares as they practice this beautiful tradition emanates from every page and spending time with them cooking may just get your family to start doing likewise.

 

Challah Day spread2 homemade challah from the heart
Reproduced with permission from Holiday House Publishing, Inc. Text copyright © 2023 by Charlotte Offsay. Illustrations copyright © 2023 by Jason Kirschner. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

There are even four pages of back matter including an Author’s Note, interesting info about challah (find out what the braiding symbolizes), and the recipe that the author uses to make her family’s challah which I am eager to bake!

Click here to download the recipe kit.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Thanksgiving Picture Book Review – Little Mole Gives Thanks

 

LITTLE MOLE GIVES THANKS

Written by Glenys Nellist

Illustrated by Sally Garland

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Little Mole Gives Thanks cover mole preparing feast

 

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Little Mole’s big table is all set for his fancy fall feast, and he can’t wait to welcome
three very important guests. . . In this fourth installment in the Little Mole series, author Glenys Nellist
and illustrator Sally Garland team up again to bring a welcoming and inclusive tale . . . [of] comfort when
things don’t go the way they planned.”
From School Library Journal: “Soft, autumnal illustrations bring the reader to a crisp day in the forest
and create an inspiring tale of friendship.”

Review:

In LITTLE MOLE GIVES THANKS, the newest addition to Beaming Book’s LITTLE MOLE series, Little Mole plans and prepares a fancy forest feast for some very special guests.
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int1 Little Mole beamed waiting for guests
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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But when none of his invited guests can come, Mole is devastated.
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int2 Principal Porcupine cancels
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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Until his community gathers around him to make things right and remind him that friends and family are
the best (and most important) guests of all.
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Little Mole Gives Thanks int3 the fanciest forest feast ever.
Interior spread from Little Mole Gives Thanks written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland, Beaming Books ©2023.
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Reminiscent of the biblical story of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22 and Luke 14), Sally Garland’s soft,
textural art pairs well with Glenys Nellist’s sweet autumnal story to depict a perfect tale for
Thanksgiving, full of friendship and community.
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Click here for an activity kit.
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• Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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An Interview with I Ship Author Kelly Rice Schmitt

 

SHANNON ANDERSON INTERVIEWS

KELLY RICE SCHMITT

AUTHOR OF

I SHIP:
A CONTAINER SHIP’S COLOSSAL JOURNEY

Illustrated by Jam Dong

(Millbrook Press; $19.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

I Ship COVER container ship at port

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

Come aboard a massive container ship as it pulls into port, loads up with cargo, and heads out to the open ocean. The ship’s voyage includes starry skies and stormy seas, swift currents and unforeseen delays. Through it all, the crew keeps working—with goods to keep the world going, they must carry on.

Rhythmic text from Kelly Rice Schmitt and delightfully detailed illustrations from Jam Dong provide a riveting look at the journey of one mighty ship.

 

INTERVIEW:

Shannon Anderson: Congratulations on your new book, I SHIP: A CONTAINER SHIP’S COLOSSAL JOURNEY. This is even more exciting because it’s your debut! This is a story about a ship’s journey, but what was the journey of this manuscript? How did it get acquired?

Kelly Rice Schmitt: It’s fun to think of my writing journey paralleling the journey of Ship. Just like a container ship, it takes a lot of people and a lot of preparation to launch a book. I SHIP’s publication journey began with an amazing online retreat put on my SCBWI Ohio-North called the Triple Scoop ReTreat. I highly recommend this conference if they ever do it again. Attendees met with a published author mentor in small groups (created by the hosts according to MS style/ appeal, etc) for 2 Saturdays in a row, getting live feedback on an MS and then having time to revise in between in order to prepare the story for a live reading and feedback with an editor. My editor, Carol Hinz, loved the first version of I SHIP, which was originally focused specifically on the 2021 Suez Canal Crisis, where the Ever Given container ship was stuck in the canal and halted global trade for weeks. She thought the story would be more timeless if it were a general shipping book. The final option of the conference was the chance to add on a paid critique follow-up with the editor after you have revised with their notes. Carol had a few more suggestions and invited me to revise and then submit it to her! I did, and she acquired I SHIP. It was very exciting!

 

SA: What inspired you to write about a container ship?

KRS: After having multiple jobs related to energy ships in my energy trading and supply career, I knew I just HAD to write something about shipping for kids. I loved the idea of a shipping process book, but it took many years to find the right way to tell that story. It wasn’t until a critique partner, Christine Abely, suggested writing about a container ship getting stuck, like what happened in the 2021 Suez Crisis with the Ever Given, that I had a path forward with specifically writing about a container ship. 

 

I Ship int1 container ship bridge
Interior spread from I Ship: A Container Ship’s Colossal Journey written by Kelly Rice Schmitt and illustrated by Jam Dong, Millbrook Press ©2023.

 

 

SA: This story is told from the ship’s first-person point of view. What caused you to choose this perspective?

KRS: I was inspired to use a first-person point of view while participating in Vivian Kirkfield’s #50preciouswords challenge, in which writers must tell a compelling story using only 50 words. While writing what is now going to be a follow-up to I SHIP (yay!) I was pushing myself to distill a very complex topic for kids into something simple and relatable. With only 50 words, I realized I could be both brief and emotional by telling the story through the eyes of the subject matter! I felt it also added a connection point for kids, bringing them more directly into that world.

 

SA: There is SO much to learn from this book. Readers can not only learn throughout the pages of the story but also through your glossary of shipping terms and STEM back matter information. What was your research process like for this book?

KRS: In addition to reading many adult books and watching media on the history and technology of container shipping, I also consulted with Youtuber Bryan Boyle to help us with accuracy. I loved his content (Youtube: @bryanboyle) following his journeys at sea as a U.S. Merchant Marine and thought he could help us convey this story with details that would resonate with people like him who work on these gigantic ships and, also, in the land-based jobs that support them. Bryan helped us make changes to both the text and art to better reflect real-life shipping. He was extremely helpful, and I hope we achieved that goal. I love back matter, and I had a lot of fun creating it for I SHIP. I hope everyone checks it out! There is also an activity guide that can be found here (https://lernerbooks.com/teaching_guides/804) with more fun activities, experiments, and coloring pages for PREK-5th graders to interact with the book. 

 

 I Ship int2 container ship en route the world is waiting
Interior spread from I Ship: A Container Ship’s Colossal Journey written by Kelly Rice Schmitt and illustrated by Jam Dong, Millbrook Press ©2023.

 

SA: What do you hope readers will learn or take away from reading this?

KRS: I hope readers of all ages discover details about the amazing shipping process that enables 80 to 90% of global trade. Container ships, their ports, and the incredible teams that run them are the backbone of the global economy, and we can see the ripple effects in the supply chain when elements of their journey are interrupted. Urgent medication and vaccines may be delayed, toys may not arrive for a holiday, certain produce may not be available due to weather conditions on the journey at sea, in publishing—books due for a release date are delayed. Surprisingly, many of us know little about an industry that fundamentally impacts our daily lives.

 

SA: Do you have other projects ready to deliver to the world?

KRS: You have such great puns today, Shannon! I’m excited to share that I SHIP is the first in what will be a series of STEM books, all told in first person tense. The second book will be released in Fall 2024 and hopefully will be announced soon! I also have an unannounced forthcoming fiction picture book in progress with Knopf Books for Young Readers (a PRH imprint).

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Support your local independent bookseller or click here to purchase a copy.

AUTHOR BIO:

Kelly Rice Schmitt Headshot Photo Credit Kyle Murphy
Kelly Rice Schmitt Photo Credit ©Kyle Murphy

Kelly Rice Schmitt is a former energy trader and children’s writer who loves getting small humans excited about big ideas . . . like container shipping! Although she has scheduled ship logistics and tracked energy shipments around the world, she has never worked on a container ship. Kelly lives in North Carolina with her husband, young children, and many stacks of books. I Ship is her debut book.  Keep up with Kelly at www.kellyriceschmitt.com or follow her on social media.

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Picture Book Review – Dear Star Baby

 

 

DEAR STAR BABY

Written by Malcolm Newsome

Illustrated by Kamala Nair

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 3-8)

 

 

Dear Star Baby cover family look at stars

 

 

I wish Dear Star Baby had been around when I was a child. It would have helped me understand the silence in my house when my mom came home from the hospital following her two miscarriages. Thankfully Malcolm Newsome and Kamala Nair’s picture book is available for young readers now to help them cope with the loss as a result of either miscarriage or stillbirth in a moving, meaningful way.

 

Dear Star Baby int1 we're having a baby
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

The narrator of the story is a boy who dreams of becoming an older brother. He’s ecstatic when he learns that his dream will come true. The tale is told via a letter he’s writing to the unborn sibling. The spreads in the book when the family is preparing for the baby’s arrival are full of joy and light. “Mama took me shopping. She let me pick your blankets and a toy (well, two toys).”

 

Dear Star Baby int2 mom in hospital I knew something was wrong.
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

Sadly, “Mama needed to rest in bed …” but she soon needed to go to the hospital where she miscarried. The touching spread above is told in language easy for youngsters to understand, and never speaks down to them. The loss of his unborn sibling is gently shared by the boy’s parents in a loving and caring moment. “She said you went to be with the stars instead.”

 

Dear Star Baby int3 in car returning from hospital now I wonder which star you are.
Interior spread from Dear Star Baby written by Malcolm Newsome and illustrated by Kamala Nair, Beaming Books ©2023.

 

At home, the grieving child sees changes in his parents. His mother cries and there is not much conversation with his father as they deal with the loss. But being together helps and being held helps even more. So when the family looks at the night sky and discusses their Star Baby, everyone has a different feeling which is absolutely fine. Dad sees Star Baby far away and Mama feels him close by. There is no right answer, no right way to feel. What matters is being able to experience the grief and ultimately healing in a way that works for each individual. That’s why I loved this sentence from the child, “I think you’re in both places. Here with us even though I can’t see you.”

Nair’s warm palette for her art is soothing for this sensitive topic.  I especially liked the evening scenes where the night sky bursting with stars conveys hope and comfort like the hugs the family shares.

Newsome’s Author’s Note brought me to tears when he wrote about his own personal experience after his wife’s miscarriages and I’m so glad he wrote Dear Star Baby so others can benefit too. This is a thoughtfully written book that will prompt important discussions for families dealing with grief and bereavement.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Early Reader Review – Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers

 

 

DIRT AND BUGSY BUG CATCHERS

Written by Megan Litwin

Illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn

(Penguin Young Readers; Available in trade paperback $15.99,
and hardcover, $4.99; Ages 6-7)

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers cover two friends ready to catch bugs

 

 

Author Megan Litwin and illustrator Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn have created an Early/Progressive Reader Level 2 book for young readers learning to use picture and context clues, recognize beginning, middle, and ending sounds, and predict what will happen in the text in this sweet story of friendship Dirt and Bugsy: Bug Catchers, Book #1.

The book opens with an illustration of best pals Dirt, who, of course, has dirt on his face, and Bugsy, who is wearing a ladybug t-shirt. Panczyszyn depicts smiles on their faces and arms around each other’s shoulders showing the bond between these friends. Her illustrations are joyful with wonderful detail.

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int1 bugs that crawl bugs that slide
Interior spread from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

Using both short and long sentences, Litwin guides the reader with words that explain the different kinds of bugs the boys like to catch. Bugs that crawl. Bugs that slide. The reader learns about various bugs as they crawl on the boys’ arms and down their legs. Dirt and Bugsy don’t mind. They love bugs!

The action changes when rain begins to pour down on the boys and their bugs. The progressive reader can use the more in-depth plot to figure out how the boys will find a solution to their problem. This is a great way for readers to decipher the problem and come up with a solution.

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int2 Dirt and Bugsy are outside
Interior spread from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

Litwin’s words guide children to think about how rain affects the bugs and how they can use their brains to come up with a plan. The plot has been set, and a problem has arisen, so the reader can now stop and think of solutions before continuing to read. This is a fabulous way to teach kids about plot development.

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int3 They spy. They dig.
Interior art from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

 

Together the boys decide they can build a shelter and that shelter will be a bug barn. Panczyszyn draws a beautiful, large red barn with a sign that reads ALL BUGS WELCOME as imagined by the pair but when the page is turned, the real bug barn is three cardboard boxes with towels tied to sticks to shield the rain. That problem is solved But now—they have no bugs.

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int4 they give each bug a room.
Interior art from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

 

Setting off individually, the boys spy, dig, lift, and sift placing the bugs in glass jars. They give the bugs individual names and play games until the rain stops. And then the bugs crawl, slide, and fly home. The story ends with talking quotes teaching the reader about quotation marks and dialogue tags.

The back matter outlines How To Be A Good Bug Catcher. I can see kids getting psyched to go out and search for their own bugs. There is also a suggestion for other Level 2 books and some Level 3. Once kids fall in love with the series, they can move on to book #2 in the series, Beetle Mania available now.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Seven New Halloween Books for Kids

 

 

HALLOWEEN BOOKS 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

PEEKABOO PUMPKIN
Written by Camilla Reid
Illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 0-2)

The eight pages of this adorably illustrated interactive board book will easily entertain little ones. On their own or with a parent’s help, children will find the bright, bold Halloween-themed graphics irresistible. Slide the tab and a mouse emerges from a grinning grandfather clock. Friendly-looking flames light up a candelabra and a ghost greets a black cat from behind a door. The text is spare but gently rhymes so a read-aloud is ideal to accompany the fun activity for busy little hands. More books are available in this popular series.

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

FIRST NIGHT OF HOWLERGARTEN
Written and illustrated by Benson Shum
(Penguin Workshop; $18.99, Ages 4-6)

What’s Halloween without werewolves? The story opens with an invitation “to your first night of Howlergarten.” Children are told they’ll transform into their true were-selves for the first time making me curious to see how Shum would depict this. He does so by introducing readers to Sophie, a sweetly drawn biracial main character worried she won’t transform despite assurances from her parents that they’ll love her no matter what.

The clock on Sophie’s nightstand shows 6 p.m. “Good evening, Sophie.” Her teacher welcomes her to class where she soon meets Emma, an overly confident classmate not concerned in the least about transforming, unlike Sophie. When werewolf skill practice begins, Sophie doesn’t excel at anything. Did this mean she was destined to remain human? Sophie makes new friends and finds the training that follows improves her outlook. But her fears return as the full moon rises. Buoyed by her buddy Teddy, the kids clasp hands and countdown to transformation time. When, in a clever twist, things don’t turn out as expected, the werewolf pack shows empathy and accepts everyone, bushy tails, padded paws or not.

This heartwarming picture book can also be read when starting school for the first time, moving up to a new year, or for its SEL elements about acceptance.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Skull cover girl holding skullTHE SKULL:
A Tyrolean Folktale

Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 6-9)

Starred Reviews: Booklist, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book, Kirkus,
Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness

This eerie tale begins before the title page when we find that, one night, “Otilla finally ran away.” And run she does, into the forest, until she’s someplace unfamiliar and (maybe) someone is calling her name. Coming upon a “very big, very old house,” her knocking is answered by a skull! From there, the story unfolds—but I can’t tell you how, you have to read the book. Let me just say that Jon Klassen’s creepy, unexpected reimagined version of this folktale has crept onto my Top Ten favorite Halloween books. It has heart. It has twists. It has a talking skull!

Klassen’s art feels familiar in Otilla’s wide-eyed expression, yet there’s enough new to keep his illustrations fresh. In one of my favorite scenes, Otilla and the skull don decorative Tyrolean masks (after the skull says they’re just for show!) and dance in an empty ballroom.

I appreciate the craftsmanship of his writing with the parallels he alludes to between the two main characters. This book will be one I return to for many Halloweens to come.

It’s written as a chapter book of sorts with sections and clever subheadings, but the book will also appeal to picture book readers. It’s flawlessly executed, an example of an author-illustrator at a career peak.

After the story, Klassen explains the history of how he came to write this story and how tales evolve in the telling.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Scariest. Book. Ever. cover haunted castle flying bat skullSCARIEST. BOOK. EVER.
(Goosebumps House of Shivers #1)
by R.L. Stine
(Scholastic Paperbacks;  $7.99, Ages 8-12)

If anyone knows how to tell a scary story, it’s R.L. Stine. Scariest. Book. Ever. grabs hold of you from the first page when the twins, Billy and Betty, are left in the remote Wayward Forest where their Uncle Wendell (probably) lives. They have no memory of him but hear he’s quite the storyteller of strange and frightening tales. When he finally shows up and says he’s got the scariest book ever they don’t quite believe him until they come face-to-face with nightmarish creatures and must help their uncle keep the book out of the wrong hands lest true terror be unleashed.

This book is like a roller-coaster ride: once you turn that first page, you’re along until the end, holding your breath, wondering what’s around the next turn.

As a kickoff for Stine’s new Goosebumps House of Shivers series, Scariest. Book. Ever. does not disappoint. It has frightful creatures, plot twists, fast-paced action, and, in true Stine fashion, humor. I’m a fan of his books but was still impressed that he can keep conjuring intriguing tales to scare us with.

There’s a reason this best-selling author is one of the most popular children’s authors in history. Pick up this book; you won’t be able to put it down.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Crimson Twill Witch in the Country cover Crimson frog apple treeWITCH IN THE COUNTRY|
(Crimson Twill series)
Written by Kallie George

Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 7-9)

Crimson Twill is a likable young witch who does very non-witchy things from the way she dresses to brewing lemonade in her cauldron. In Witch in the Country, the latest installment in the series, Crimson’s friends Mauve and Wesley and Dusty the broom are coming to visit her from New Wart City. Crimson has everything planned, a list of her favorite things from ripening rotten apples and gathering broom straw to croaking the frogs (to catch their misty, green frog breath!). When things don’t work out, Crimson is disappointed until she remembers something important.

As with the other books in Kallie George’s beloved series, the stories are heartfelt and fun. Crimson’s unique witchiness is adorable and she’s a likable character that I will keep following as the books explore more of her world.

The evocative black-and-white illustrations throughout give us a thorough glimpse into Crimson’s country lifestyle. Can I come visit and croak frogs too?

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Cursed Moon cover scary tree and kids riding bikeTHE CURSED MOON
by Angela Cervantes
(Scholastic Press; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

Sixth-grader Rafael “Rafa” Fuentes loves writing and telling ghost stories but when his strange cat-lady neighbor begs him not to do so on the night of the eerie, blood moon, Rafa doesn’t listen to her. He soon realizes her crazy warning may be true when his tale about The Caretaker (who drowns unsuspecting kids in the pond) seems to come true.

Beyond this, we learn about Rafa’s family and how he doesn’t really feel like he fits in at school. Telling terrifying tales has gotten him a tiny bit of social status but, at best, it’s wobbly.

I like how Angela Cervantes develops the connection and community of Rafa’s family, friends, and neighbors. That Rafa’s mom is finally coming back from being incarcerated adds a unique angle as we see the complex (and opposite) emotions he and his sister have about this homecoming.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Nightmare King cover very scared looking ShaneNIGHTMARE KING
by Daka Hermon

(Scholastic Press; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

The nightmares Shane’s been having make him not want to sleep, but he can only do that for so long. As he fights with the scary images in his mind, he begins to wonder if the Nightmare King will capture him in this winner-takes-all game of tag. Dream scenes become increasingly scary and it seems there’s no escape for Shane the next time he slumbers.

Daka Hermon accurately shows us Shane’s love of playing basketball. Since his recent near-death accident, he wants nothing more than to get back to the top of his game and avoid butting heads with the bully who’s more than ready for Shane’s permanent removal.

Just as in Hide and Seeker (Scholastic, 2020), Hermon takes a seemingly fun game and imbues it with sinister twists and turns.

 

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS:

Check out this interview about The Book Crew Needs You!, another great new Halloween book.

Happy Halloweenie cover vampire hot dogHAPPY HALLOWEENIE
Written and illustrated by Katie Vernon
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5 )

Cute or Scary? All Black or All White? Weenie is trying to decide what to wear for Halloween in this adorably illustrated board book with spare text.

 

 

 

 

Lila and the Jack-O'-Lantern cover girl observing glowing pumpkin in windowLILA AND THE JACK-O’-LANTERN:
Halloween Comes to America
Written by Nancy Churnin
Illustrated by Anneli Bray
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

“An Irish immigrant moves to America bringing a now beloved Halloween tradition.”

 

 

 

How to Spook a Ghost cover kids in Halloween costumesHOW TO SPOOK A GHOST
(Magical Creatures and Craft series)
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Simona SanFilippo
(Sky Pony Press; $19.99, Ages 3-6)

Brave kids investigate a strange noise and make a new ghostly friend.
A rhyming picture book with added Halloween history, puppet craft, and costume-making tips.

 

The October Witches cover witches flying over treeTHE OCTOBER WITCHES
Written by Jennifer Claessen
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

“Practical Magic meets Hocus Pocus in this sweet and enchanting middle-grade fantasy novel about a young witch who must uncover the secrets of her family’s past to end their longstanding internal feud.” A debut novel ideal for the Halloween season.

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Picture Book Review – Cloud Babies

 

CLOUD BABIES 

Written by Eoin Colfer

Illustrated by Chris Judge

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

Cloud Babies cover family looking at cloud animals

 

 

New York Times best-selling author of the children’s fantasy series Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer takes young readers on a journey with six-year-old Erin whose imagination allows her to look up and imagine animals made of clouds until one day life takes her on a different path where looking up at the sky no longer matters.

Cloud Babies: Sometimes All We Need To Do Is Look Up is a heartfelt and much-needed picture book that will be meaningful for both kids who have spent time in the hospital, and their friends, as well as others who have not. The digital illustrations by Chris Judge, whose family experience with illness inspired this story, bring life to the pages with photos of mountains, lakes, and blue skies filled with clouds drawn as cats, dragons, foxes, and polar bears – all the cloud babies Erin saw as she looked towards the sky. “It’s a snappy-happy crocodile!” she would shout, looking over the river with Mom and Dad supporting her by her side.

 

Cloud Babies int1 Erin's first word was cat
CLOUD BABIES. Text copyright © 2022 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Chris Judge. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

But one day a sad dog cloud can be seen through Erin’s bedroom window, a harbinger of trying times ahead. (See the art below.) Readers learn that Erin will need to spend some time in the children’s hospital. This gut-wrenching scene shows Dad carrying Erin and her stuffed animal. Mom holds a large bag and is guided by the nurse to the children’s ward. There are rows of beds each with various children tucked under the covers next to buzzing machines that beeped. We are introduced to a doctor named Bernadette, and Albert who brings extra-special meals. These spreads convey the kindness Erin receives from all the adults working so hard to make her better, bringing light to an otherwise traumatic situation. But Erin continues to play cloud babies with her Dad. On days when her Dad cannot visit, she even plays the game with other patients.

When Dr. Bernadette gives them the great news that Erin can go home, but would still need “hospital days,” we turn the page to see her return to school. Everyone had grown so tall. Erin shares her story of the cloud babies with the class but teacher Ms. Rose turns it into a lesson on how clouds are formed. “Maybe cloud babies are for little kids.” When she returned for “hospital days” she noticed that the hospital friends were different from the school friends. She learned to keep her two worlds apart. Erin missed seeing the cloud babies in the sky.

Tucked in Mom’s arms on a hospital day, Mom tells her that most of her classmates will never see her real, warm, loving, important hospital life. Working in the family garden, Mom gets an idea and suggests it to Ms. Rose. Classmates are invited to the hospital to be Book Buddies. Surrounded by her hospital and school friends, Erin teaches them how to play the cloud game. “‘Cloud babies do make you feel better,’ Ms. Rose says.”

 

Cloud Babies int2 Mom and Dad were worried
CLOUD BABIES. Text copyright © 2022 by Eoin Colfer. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Chris Judge. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

The story ends with greens, blues, and red drawings of fluffy cloud babies in the sky with all the friends looking up. “Sometimes, when you’re down,” said Erin, “all you need to do is look up.” On the copyright page, Eoin Colfer shares a note with readers explaining that if you are lucky enough to be strong and healthy, perhaps you can be especially kind and understanding to children in your school who have spent time in a hospital. This page also explains that “All the children’s pictures in this book were painted by Juno and Joey Judge.”

This tender, thoughtful story pulled on my heartstrings as I spent time in the hospital when I was five and a story like this would have meant so much to me. It brings comfort to children facing hard times and guides those who want to give support but are not sure how to start. To see more of Chris Judge’s cloud babies log on to Instagram @adailycloud.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Picture Book Review – The Pie That Molly Grew

 

THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW

Written by Sue Heavenrich

Illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg

(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Pie That Molly Grew cover Molly with huge pumpkin

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Beginning with the planting of a single seed, the journey of bringing a pumpkin to harvest comes to life for young readers. Under Molly’s watchful eye and care, each stage of growth is showcased. And at the end, Molly’s lovely pumpkin is turned into a delicious pie for one and all to share in a celebration of gratitude. Back matter includes fun facts about pumpkins, the important pollinators who help them grow, as well as a pumpkin pie recipe.”

 

Review:

It’s amazing what comes from a single seed—a plant, a bountiful harvest, a delicious recipe—but on another level that seed also sprouts tradition and community. And that’s the story Sue Heavenrich and Chamisa Kellogg tell in their new book, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int1 this is the seed
Interior art from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Following the cumulative structure and rhyme scheme of A House That Jack Built, Heavenrich follows a plant’s journey from seed to sprout … vine to flower … and fruit to table while touching on science concepts like photosynthesis and pollination. Illustrator, Chamisa Kellogg, adds to the book’s seasonal appeal with textural artwork in muted tones.

And while I’m not usually a fan of cumulative stories (or stories that riff on a familiar rhyme), this one is exceptionally well-written. Nothing comes across as forced or monotonous. It flows wonderfully. The phrases are varied each time they appear yet never deviate from the established rhyme pattern. I also love that each variation inspires a deeper understanding of the scientific processes involved in growing plants.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int2 this is the vine
Interior spread from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Accessible backmatter offers readers and/or teachers more information about pumpkins, pollinators, and a pie recipe. A delight to read! Click here to download a pdf of kids’ activities.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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An Interview with Sara E. Echenique Author of Our Roof is Blue

 

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS SARA E. ECHENIQUE,

AUTHOR OF

OUR ROOF IS BLUE

Illustrated by Ashley Vargas

(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 5-8;
also available in Spanish as NUESTRO TECHO ES AZUL)

 

 

Our Roof is Blue cover blue tarp covers roof in Puerto Rico after hurricane

 

Nuestro Techo is Azul cover spanish edition

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This heartfelt story of resilience follows two siblings as they work to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Maria destroys their home in Puerto Rico.

Before an intense hurricane hits their home in Puerto Rico, Antonio told his sister vibrant stories each night. During the storm, they huddled with their parents in a closet and hear the storm blow the roof right off their home. After the storm, their family uses a temporary blue tarp for a roof, and Antonio stops speaking. Gradually the siblings imagine their blue roof playfully–as the ocean above them or a parachute helping them fall from the sky. As the narrator helps her little brother feel safe once more–and after the family and community build a new roof–the little boy begins to speak again.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: One of the reasons Our Roof is Blue is so touching is that it was inspired by your own childhood. Did you do research too?

Sara Echenique: Oh, absolutely. In addition to drawing from my personal experiences with hurricanes, I spoke with family and friends on the island who lived through Hurricane Maria, and read article after article about the experience of Puerto Ricans on the island post-Maria. I spoke with parents of children who have lived under blue tarp roofs to better understand their own experiences. And for the book’s back matter, I researched pretty extensively the latest science on climate change, and how it is exacerbating hurricanes and other major weather events.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int1 Antonio tell me a story
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: I thought this was a color book at first, so the storm came out of the blue for me (so to speak)! I think that made it even more impactful. Was it hard to find the right level of scariness?

SE: That’s so funny because you just never know what a reader is going to take into your story. My own young children have always been drawn to books that don’t shy away from the truth. I went into writing this story knowing that I needed to trust my readers, both old and young, because they want and need these types of stories. Unfortunately, many of them will be impacted by inclement weather events stemming from climate change at some point in their lives. I wanted to be honest about that, but it was important to me that it didn’t feel hopeless or inaccessible. Yes, the storm is scary, but my hope is that it doesn’t overshadow their bond, and their use of play, imagination and storytelling to help each other.

 

KT: It’s heartbreaking how many kids this story is directly relevant for. But you did a great job finding that balance. One of the ways you do that is through the central image of the roof and its colors. How did that evolve?

SE: I drew from several mentor texts, including A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams. Among so many beautiful parts of her book, I was drawn to how, on its surface, the story could be about a chair, but she brings depth and layers to the experience. I tried using the roof this way to make the tragedy more accessible, which allowed me to anchor Antonio and his sister’s emotional journey around their roof’s visible journey.

 

KT: I really love the sibling relationship—was that always part of the story?

SE: Yes (and thank you)! Throughout the story’s many, many iterations, their relationship was always central. Family is such an important part of the Puerto Rican community. I was fortunate to grow up with siblings who anchor me, and am raising children who will hopefully feel the same way. In Our Roof is Blue, Antonio and his sister were always going to find the other side of trauma because of, and for, each other.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int2 parachuting gently down
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: How did you become a writer?

SE: I’ve always loved reading and writing, filling dozens of notebooks throughout my childhood. I dreamt of becoming a veterinarian who writes stories about their job (like James Herriot) and got in the habit of scribbling haphazard character profiles of all the people in my life. I put that particular dream on pause when I pursued my English degree from Williams College and law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. Shortly after having my oldest two children, I reconnected meaningfully with children’s literature and rediscovered writing as a creative outlet. Several years (and one additional child later), my writing dream has become a reality!

 

KT: What was your favorite book as a kid?

SE: I can’t choose just one! I most fondly remember the Babysitters’ Club series by Ann M. Martin, which my mom often read along with me. It was a glimpse into life on the mainland and I vividly remember my heart racing when I discovered a new book in the Scholastic Book Fair flyer. I love that the series has had a revival in graphic novel form and now get to enjoy re-reading them with my own daughter.

KT: I loved the Babysitter’s Club too! Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at Our Roof is Blue. It’s going to be a meaningful book for so many people.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase from Books and Books.

Click here to purchase from Bookshop.org.

Click here to purchase via the Publisher’s Page.

 

Author Sara Echenique photo credit Rebecca Zilenziger
Sara E. Echenique Photo Credit: Rebecca Zilenziger

AUTHOR BIO:

Sara E. Echenique is a Puerto Rican lawyer and children’s author living in South Florida with her three young children, husband, and their rescue dog, Luna. She acquired a degree in English from Williams College and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. After almost a decade practicing as a litigator in cold New York City, Sara decided to move her family to a place that felt more like her childhood home.

Roaring Brook Press published her debut middle-grade book, Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente in September 2022 in both English and Spanish, which received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was long-listed for the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund’s Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World. Charlesbridge Publishing published her debut picture book, Our Roof is Blue (Nuestro techo es azul), in April 2023 in both English and Spanish.

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut picture book, Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023), uses riddles to introduce biomimicry.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AUTHOR:

Twitter: @autoraechenique 

IG: @autoraechenique 

Website:  www.saraechenique.com

ILLUSTRATOR:

Ashley Vargas

Instagram: @art.ley

Website: https://artley.myportfolio.com

PUBLISHER:

Twitter: @charlesbridge

IG: @charlesbridgepublishing 

Facebook: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc

INTERVIEWER:

Twitter: @katrinatangen 

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: Katrina Tangen Author

Website: www.katrinatangen.com

PROMO GROUP BUSY PBS:

Twitter: @busyPBs

IG: @busypb

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An Interview with Building a Dream Author Darshana Khiani

 

KIRSTEN W. LARSON INTERVIEWS DARSHANA KHIANI,

AUTHOR OF BUILDING A DREAM

Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

(Eerdmans BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

An unforgettable tale of persistence and problem-solving, based on the amazing true story of a Thai soccer team who made their own place to play.

In Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, atop a network of stilts, floats the village of Koh Panyee—where a group of boys loved soccer but had nowhere to practice. Where could they find space to dribble, juggle, shoot, and score? The boys looked out at the water and started gathering tools. Even while their neighbors laughed, they sawed wood, hammered nails, and tied barrels together. The team worked for weeks to build Koh Panyee’s first floating field—a place to practice, and a place to transform their community…

 

INTERVIEW:

Kirsten W. Larson: Building a Dream is such a fascinating story, and I loved reading that you discovered the story of the boys of Koh Panyee in a commercial! Did that unusual story spark result in any research challenges, since you weren’t starting with a book or article, for example?

Darshana Khiani: Yes, yes, yes! This story was probably not the best choice for my first foray into nonfiction: a true story from another country, a different language, and one that was likely not well-known or covered by the media. But I LOVED this story. I must have watched the video a zillion times.

Getting the research was a challenge. I searched for Thai newspapers written in English, scoured YouTube, reached out to the team that produced the commercial, and had a friend help get an email translated into Thai that I then sent to the Facebook account for the current soccer team in Koh Panyee. My attempts to reach out to the villagers went unanswered, but I was able to find a few newspaper articles and a couple of video interviews done by other sports outlets.

 

KWL: Why did you feel a personal connection to this story? What made it one you had to tell?

DK: I’m a sucker for movies based on a true story, where you see real people overcome challenges and succeed. In this humanitarian commercial, I was inspired by how the boys faced their environmental and societal challenges with perseverance, hope, and ingenuity. At a deeper level, I think this mimics my own writing journey. I faced a variety of challenges (personal, professional, etc) on my seven-year journey to get that first book deal. But in the end, I persevered with the help of my kidlit friends, without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

 

Building a Dream int1 racing along the waterfront
Interior spread from Building a Dream written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Eerdman’s BYR ©2023.

 

KWL: What influenced your decision to fictionalize Building a Dream? What elements did you make up and why?

DK: The general rule in nonfiction is there should be three sources for every fact. Given the challenges of getting the research, verifying the facts was even harder. I had dates from the commercial and the newspaper articles, however, there were a couple of discrepancies such as when the boys played their first game on the mainland. In a video interview, there is mention of the boys playing on a small tract of land but then the village grew, and they could not play on that land anymore. There was no mention of this in the commercial or in my other sources. Since I couldn’t fill in the gaps and call it nonfiction, I re-positioned it as fiction based on a true story. This turned out to be beneficial since later on I was asked to revise for greater emotional connection, and I was able to achieve this by naming a few of the boys and giving them dialogue.

 

KWL: Did writing about an unfamiliar culture create any unique obstacles? 

DK: Since the main focus of this story was perseverance and overcoming the environmental challenges, I think it turned out fine. I did reach out to some Thai friends for sensitivity readings and a reader mentioned that one of the qualities of Thai people is ingenuity. The people living in Koh Panyee certainly had plenty of that. So I worked that quality into one of the boy’s lines.

I considered adding in Thai expressions or food to bring in the senses into the scene, but quickly realized I was out of my league. Whatever I came up with would likely be inaccurate. So I abandoned that idea.

 

KWL: Dow Phumiruk is such a powerhouse illustrator. What was your reaction when you first saw her sketches and then her final art?

DK: From the sketches, I could tell she was trying to capture the unique setting for this story, which made me so happy. In the final art, I love how Dow’s illustrations have a dreamy quality with soft blues and greens. My favorite spread is the one which gives a birds-eye view of the village: a storefront selling clothing, a fisherman paddling in with his day’s catch, and the boys rushing over to watch the game at Uncle Hemmin’s cafe. I enjoy this glimpse into daily life.

Building a Dream int2 the boys had nowhere to play
Interior art from Building a Dream written by Darshana Khiani and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Eerdman’s BYR ©2023.

 

 

KWL: What message do you hope young readers will take away from the story?

DK: I want kids everywhere to know that following your dreams is not easy and can take a long time. But if you stay dedicated to your goal, work hard, face the many challenges, and most importantly believe in yourself then you can reach your dream too.

 

KWL: What a fabulous message. Thank you so much, Darshana!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase the book.

Access activities, discussion topics, etc. here.

 

Darshana Khiani photo by Lisa Noble
Darshana Khiani Photo © Lisa Noble

AUTHOR BIO:

Darshana Khiani is a computer engineer, children’s book author, and a South Asian kidlit advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her books include How to Wear a Sari (Versify), an Amazon Editors Pick, and I’m an American (Viking). She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling.  Find out more about Darshana here.

LINKS FOR DARSHANA’S SOCIAL MEDIA:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/darshanakhiani

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

e

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Her books include WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle). Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, dog, and two curious kids. Learn more at KirstenWLarson.com. Find her on Twitter @kirstenwlarson and on Instagram @kirstenwlarson.

 

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Picture Book Review – Adam and His Tuba

 

ADAM AND HIS TUBA

Written by Ziga X Gombac

Illustrated by Maja Kastelic

Translated by Olivia Hellewell

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Adam_and_His_Tuba_cover_Adam_leaving_circus_tent

 

 

Starred review – Foreword Reviews

 

The Von Trapeze circus family travels the world in their painted wagons performing to audiences who reward them with flowers and applause. But, not everyone in the family enjoys acrobatics, or applause, in Slovenian author Ziga X Gombac’s picture book Adam and His Tuba illustrated by Maja Kastelic.

 

Adam and His Tuba int1 Grandma Antonia breathing plumes of fire.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

I love how each family member’s first name begins with the letter ‘A.” There’s Grandma Antonia, who breathes blazing plumes of fire; Grandpa Angus who swallows swords; Papa Alexi and Mama Anastasia who bravely walk the tightrope; and twin sisters Aria, who rides a unicycle, and Alea who crawls into cannons. But what trick does the youngest son Adam perform?

Everything in the Von Trapeze family is just as it should be. Except … Young Adam is illustrated sitting alone in a tent surrounded by stage props and a unicycle while he’s reading what appears to be a book, but my guess is that it’s sheet music. The family tries desperately to get him to participate in the acrobatics. Grandma Antonia tried to spark an interest in fire-breathing. But it was no use. The reader sees a drawing of Grandma trying to put out the flame, as Adam stands behind her with his hands clasped together. Grandpa Angus tries to teach Adam how to handle a sword but instead finds his cape cut in half. It was no use.

 

Adam and His Tuba int2 Von Trapeze family closed the doors quietly.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

 

The Von Trapeze family gathers in a tent to try to come up with a solution. “He could iron everybody’s clothes and darn their socks,” one family member called out. “Why don’t we ask Adam what he likes doing?” The family wasn’t sure who called out that question, but as soon as it happened they heard a magical melody. Sitting on the bed with an enormous tuba was Adam. He played with so much skill. The family couldn’t believe what they were hearing and why didn’t anyone ever notice him before? The family had been so caught up in their own circus tricks they hadn’t paid much attention. The family felt awful but Adam wasn’t sad or mad. From that day forward the world-famous Von Trapeze circus family featured a new performer.

 

Adam and His Tuba int3 Adam and his tuba accompanies family circus act.
Interior spread from Adam and His Tuba written by Ziga X Gombac and illustrated by Maja Kastelic, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

This enchanting story about choosing your own path, even when it goes against the rest of the family, is a good message for young readers and a good conversation starter. What is right for one family member isn’t always right for another. The family realized they had been so focused on their own stuff they hadn’t noticed Adam. And when they eventually did, how wonderful that everyone could agree that Adam’s contribution to the circus made it that much better. Adding to the pleasure of this 40-page picture is the excellent artwork. Slovenian illustrator Maja Kastelic uses warm sepia colors throughout the story: black, gold, and orange, lovely bursts of light, and characters with red flushed cheeks that give the book an appealing historic vibe. A recommended read for kids who want to make their own kind of music in this world.

Find out more about the translator here.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – Two New Years

 

TWO NEW YEARS

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Two_New_Years_cover_multicultural_Chinese_Jewish_family_celebrating

 

Reading Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.

 

Two New Years int1 family celebrating rosh hashanah and lunar new year.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.

Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why  Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.

The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the  depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.

 

 

Two New Years int2 sweeping troubles out the door and casting old mistakes into stream.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.

Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.

I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Back-to-School Picture Book Review – And Then Comes School

 

AND THEN COMES SCHOOL

Written by Tom Brenner

Illustrated by Jen Hill

(Candlewick; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

And Then Comes School cover kids entering school

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Cooler mornings, cicadas buzzing, apples ripening . . . Can shopping for school supplies be far behind? . . . Whether the reader is a child who is eager to return to school or a younger one trying to imagine what school is like, this upbeat and lyrical ode holds sure appeal for returning students and first-timers alike.”

 

Review:

With this fourth installment of the “And Then Comes” series from Candlewick (this one illustrated by Jen Hill), Tom Brenner highlights all the seasonal changes that occur when the school season begins.

 

And_Then_Comes_School_int1_making_blueberry_jam And Then Comes School int1 making blueberry jam.
AND THEN COMES SCHOOL. Text Copyright © 2023 Tom Brenner. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Jen Hill. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Brenner’s lyrical text and “when . . . then” structure are a welcome, and unexpected, addition to the “back to school” book cannon, while Hill’s exuberant art celebrates all the delicious feelings end-of-summer-first-of-fall changes bring to families around the country.

 

 

And Then Comes School int2 deciding first-day outfit
AND THEN COMES SCHOOL. Text Copyright © 2023 Tom Brenner. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Jen Hill. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

I must agree with the publisher that And Then Comes School is sure to connect equally with kiddos anticipating their return to school and those who are experiencing it for the first time. And while I don’t want to give anything away, I’m sure parents and teachers will find a spread or two in the book that resonates just as heartily with them as well.

 

  • Recommended & Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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