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Epic 18 Twofer Tuesday: Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! and Iver & Ellsworth

Unlikely friends have delightfully different,
unexpected adventures in two new picture books
from debut, Epic 18 authors.

PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!
Written by Cate Berry
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
(Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

&

IVER & ELLSWORTH
Written by Casey W. Robinson
Illustrated by Melissa Larson
(Ripple Grove Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! cover imageWhat do a penguin and a shrimp have in common? It’s their dogged insistence that PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!, no matter what sleep aids and comfy settings surround them. Author Berry poises the pair in the midst of a typical toddler bedtime routine. With toothbrushing over and jammies on, Penguin and Shrimp remain positive that they are not heading to bed. Their anti-bedtime speech bubbles pop in counterpoint across the page, tracking their sleep evasion tactics despite big soft beds, cozy covers, or squishy soft pillows.

The story quickly ramps up as the pair celebrate colorful fireworks, escape from lions, swing on rainforest vines and ride hot air balloons. Minute by minute, they grow zanier and more out-of-control as their desperate-but-denied need for sleep escalates. Song, jokes, and the arrival of a uni-hippo aside, the pair confidently assert that,  “One thing this book will never do is make you tired … This book will never make you yawn.”

Santoso’s comic digital art contradicts and amplifies the duo’s predicament in bright, strong colors and crisp outlines. Penguin and Tiny Shrimp gush personality with big eyes and expressive mouths which eventually–inevitably–transition to droopy eyelids and gigantic yawns. The fun and games draw to an appropriately snoozy conclusion that will ring true with all parents who must wrangle not-sleepy kids and toddlers to bed.

 

Iver & Ellsworth cover illustration Another unlikely pair, a solitary senior factory worker and an immense, inflatable polar bear, star in IVER & ELLSWORTH, a sweet story about steadfast friendship and devotion. Iver, a trim, mustachioed gentleman with square rimmed spectacles, packs his lunch and heads to work in an urban factory. Ellsworth, a chubby and observant bear, remains tethered to the factory roof. High above the city, the stationary bear watches the world rushing by. Iver visits at lunchtime, offering commentary on the view and bustling traffic.

Robinson makes it clear that the two share a bond built over many years. Iver tenderly cares for Ellsworth season after season. He dries away spring rain, sweeps away autumn leaves, and clears snow before his daily final check to make certain the anchor ropes are secure. But one day, the day Iver is retiring from his factory job, he is slow to perform his tasks and say farewell to his faithful, inflatable friend.

Illustrator Larson employ several wordless spreads to show us the separate adventures that unfold next. Iver begins to embrace retirement, and Ellsworth becomes unmoored from the factory roof. Her delicate pencil and watercolor images are restrained and subtle, ranging from muted gray greens to glorious rosy sunsets. The peaceful landscapes pair beautifully with Robinson’s spare, understated text, leaving ample room for readers to absorb and appreciate this unique friendship tale that ends with joyful reunification. IVER & ELLSWORTH is a cozy book perfect for reassuring readers that true friendship endures.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Read another of Cathy’s recent Epic 18 reviews here

 

Trailer for PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! here:  

But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer

 

BUT THE BEAR CAME BACK
Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Dan Taylor
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-6)

 

Cover image from But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer

 

In the charming new picture book, But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Dan Taylor, it’s a classic case of “You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone” which so many of us know oh too well.

What’s an unsuspecting kid supposed to do? When a hulking brown bear toting a tiny blue suitcase knocks on his front door, eager to enter and become friends, a little boy (the story’s narrator) sends him away with the reminder that “bears do not belong in houses.” The sweet and gentle looking bear is persistent and on his second visit he’s got a flamingo in tow. Once again the big guy is told to leave. Determined to become pals, Bear returns not once but multiple times, intent on insinuating himself into the little lad’s life, all in the nicest possible way. Taylor’s tender and top notch illustrations clearly depict the boy’s displeasure with the bear’s benign presence, but it’s not easy to stop a bear from wanting to read together, paw paint or commandeer the bathtub.

 

Interior artwork by Dan Taylor from But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer

Interior illustrations by Dan Taylor from But the Bear Came Back written by Tammi Sauer, Sterling Children’s Books ©2018.

 

When finally the story’s narrator yells for the bear to go home, Bear departs and doesn’t come back. That’s when the youngster soon finds out that doing things he had done with the bear are now no longer fun alone. So he enlists the help of his neighbors and posts missing bear signs in the vicinity. He even sets out a bowl of berries. When he’s finally convinced Bear will never return, the boy is delighted to get just one more knock on the door. The bear has come back and the narrator is truly grateful. The final line, “And that was that,” is a wonderful rhetorical device we see repeated many times throughout the story so that when Bear does indeed come back it is not only expected, but fitting and satisfying.

But the Bear Came Back provides a welcome conversation starter to have with kids. I can imagine parents and/or teachers pausing at certain points while reading the story with children to chime in and say, “He sure didn’t appreciate Bear when he was around, did he?” or “Is this a good way to make a friend or keep one?” The narrator’s behavior in the beginning of the book versus in the end are examples of what the right and wrong ways to treat other people are, how to be respectful and how important it is to be grateful for our friends (old and new) and family because “You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone.”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Deborah Marcero Presents Ursa’s Light

URSA’S LIGHT
Written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero
(Peter Pauper Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

cover image from Ursa's Light by Deborah Marcero

★ Starred Review – Booklist

 

As a preschool teacher, it is not lost on me when a child has a BIG idea, but may need some help executing the plan. Ursa’s Light, the debut picture book by author and illustrator Deborah Marcero, is about a young bear, Ursa, who has BIG ideas that often leave her peers and parents scratching their heads in wonder.

Ursa the bear knows that she is meant to FLY. She studies animals and planes in flight, intent on finding a solution, often encouraged by her baby brother. Just when she is about to give up, we discover that she was indeed meant to fly, but there is more than one way to SOAR.

 

Interior artwork from Ursa's Light by Deborah Marcero

Interior spread from Ursa’s Light written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero, Peter Pauper Press ©2016.

 

One of my favorite moments in the story is when Ursa’s failed attempts at flying make her doubt herself, and her baby brother is wearing a shirt that reads ‘believe.’ What a beautiful moment, and something I strive to teach my kids, when one of us is down, someone else can help lift us UP.

What is so brilliant about Ursa the bear, is that she isn’t attempting to outshine anyone; instead, she is allowing her unique inner light to pour out, inspiring not only her baby brother, but everyone around her.

 

Interior artwork from Ursa's Light by Deborah Marcero

Interior spread from Ursa’s Light written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero, Peter Pauper Press ©2016.

 

I fell in love with the energy and emotion of the illustrations which Marcero’s website describes best here: “When the pencil is done… I ink the lines in and add color with all the media I had used all along : woodblock cuts, watercolor, gouache, ink wash, etc. But instead of meshing everything together on paper with scissors and glue, I taught myself how to collage them in Photoshop. Ursa’s face is that same woodblock cut as my very first piece above, and all the textures and colors I integrate are things that I come up with using brushes and inks and watercolors on my drawing table.” I hope it’s obvious how much I adore this book and can’t wait to bring in Ursa’s Light for my preschoolers! I have a feeling they are going to want me to help them fly too!

 

Interior artwork from Ursa's Light by Deborah Marcero

Interior spread from Ursa’s Light written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero, Peter Pauper Press ©2016.

 

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant, our newest reviewer. To learn more about Ozma, please click here.

 

 

 

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Best Board Books for Kids – A Roundup

Serious Fun: Board Books With a Lot of Love
A Best Board Books Roundup
Selected by Children’s Bookseller Hilary Taber

 

As a bookseller I think that board books may be one of the most overlooked categories of books. Yet these books are a child’s first exposure to books and to art. So, I want to take some time to give some love to some favorite board books already out for your little ones that I’m really excited about!

 

Baby Tiger: Finger Puppet Book book cover of baby tiger finger puppet book
Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
(Chronicle Books; $6.99, Ages 0-3)

This combination board book and finger puppet is only one in a series of adorable animal stories. Short, sweet and sure to please a baby to two-year-old in your life. Follow Baby Tiger through a complete day from morning until night. Be sure to be on the look out for the Baby Reindeer version for a wonderfully sweet Christmas gift! Huang’s illustrations are winsome and welcoming with their gentle expression. These little books are a perfect addition to a little one’s first library.

 

 

Book cover of sleepyheadsSleepyheads
Written by Sandra J. Howatt
Illustrated by Joyce Wan
(Simon & Schuster/Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 2-4)

Sleepyheads caught my eye the minute I saw it, and stole my heart. This is an immensely soothing just-before-bed book. One by one the reader sees all different kinds of animals tucked into their beds. Each animal is plump and peacefully asleep or almost there. Every page is gently illuminated making the night seem welcoming and almost warm. The text encourages children to name each animal and to look for the one sleepyhead at the end of the book that we are still haven’t found for, “But there’s one little sleepyhead who’s not in his bed. Where, oh where, could he be?” A satisfying ending when that particular little sleepy child is finally found! A great baby shower gift.

 

Tinyville Town: I’m a FirefighterBook cover of tinyville town: i'm a firefighter
Written and illustrated by Brian Biggs
(Abrams Appleseed; $7.95, Ages 3 and up)

I showed this book to a friend who said, “What I like about it is that the firefighter’s moustache is like three stories tall.” Exactly! I love this firefighter and his enormous moustache. It’s a wonderful book for a little guy or gal who loves to see those firefighters hard at work. The book goes through the day in the life of a fireman and his co-workers (which include a female firefighter). They have an action packed day from the first ring of the alarm bell to the well deserved sleep at the end of a busy day. The team fights fires at a bakery and come home with baked goods! What’s not to love? The illustrations are full of action, but the text is simple enough that little children won’t loose attention. Full of excitement, yet cozy enough to read at any time of day this board book, though recommended for preschoolers, would actually make a great purchase for even a one to two-year-old.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê

LET ME FINISH!
Written by Minh Lê
Illustrated by Isabel Roxas
(Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

let-me-finish book cover

 

 

With its colorfully eye-catching and engaging cover, exhuberant endpages, and enthusiastic speech bubbles, Let Me Finish!  by Minh Lê with art by Isabel Roxas, thrums with an energy that practically propels the book into young readers’ hands.

Our unnamed protagonist is a reader extraordinaire. Sure, his over-sized red eyeglasses are one clue, but so is his broad, contented smile as he settles under a tree to enjoy his new book in peace and quiet. Alas! Three jabbering birds swoop down to chatter enthusiastically about the book’s ending, thus spoiling the surprise for our hero. He politely asks them to hold their commentary next time until he’s done, and heads home to select a different title – one he’s “been meaning to read forever.”

This time it’s a bear who pops in, revealing the ending much to the reader’s consternation. And those pesky birds are back too, chirping in with even more spoilers. “Oh no!” moans our bespectacled main character, who returns home and joyfully discovers that a new book has just been delivered to his front door. Will he finally be able to read in peace, or does someone spill the beans once again?

Let Me Finish! is a real page turner, enticing us to keep flipping and uncover what will happen next. With increasing text size and ever-bolder page spreads, this tale cleverly depicts the mounting angst of the young reader who just wants to enjoy his books. The zany menagerie of talking birds and beasts is a color-filled fantasy, unbound by rules of geography, gravity or nature. It’s a wacky, delightful dilemma for the boy, who demonstrates superhero skills and determination to finish his story.

Roxas’ vivid, softly textured images are tightly woven with Lê’s text and packed with detail. Words written with a scribbly crayon effect add greatly to the kid-appeal, as does the variety of cartoony chase spreads that never become monotonous. There’s a meta-twist or two at the end to keep young ones musing about the story within a story and invites re-reading from multiple perspectives.

You might want to read Let Me Finish! on your own, but it would certainly be a good one to share with friends. Just don’t give away the ending!

Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Let Me Finish! which I won in a blog giveaway and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Best Valentine’s Day Books for Children

BEST VALENTINE’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

 

Red-Big-Heart-

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!! We all know that love comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the love of a child, a parent, a sibling or a spouse. There’s also the love of a pet, and the love of a best friend. Then of course there’s the love of one’s country or birthplace, and a love of Mother Nature’s gifts on Earth. There’s even the love of a film, a TV show or a book, although I’ve never sent a Valentine’s Day card to a book. In this Valentine’s Day Books Roundup we’re celebrating the myriad things we love and the ways we express our love on Valentine’s Day and every day.

I_Love_You-AlreadyI LOVE YOU ALREADY! 
Written by Jory Jon and illustrated by Benji Davies
(Harper; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Sure to be a hit with youngsters, this follow up to Goodnight Already! has everything you’d want in a good read aloud or bedtime story. There’s a duck and his next door neighbor, a bear. There’s humor and great artwork. But best of all, there’s an undeniably adorable premise – duck won’t let Bear have a day of rest because he just does not feel confident he is loved, or even liked by Bear. Duck, in true duck form, insists that two go out together. “You don’t look busy! Besides, we’re going for a walk, friend. No arguments., Chop-chop!” Hard as he tries, Duck eventually learns that he doesn’t really have to do much because by the end of this entertaining tale, it’s obvious that Duck is loved very much by Bear. I got such a kick out of these two totally opposite characters who share the bond of friendship in such a special way.

 

LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THINGLove_is_My-Favorite-Thing
Written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)
Fans of Emma Chichester Clark and dog lovers everywhere will not be disappointed with her latest picture book, Love is My Favorite Thing, based on her own dog and celebrating “unconditional love.” We’re treated to plucky Plum’s (aka Plummie) point of view right from the get go and what we learn endears her to us instantly. Brimming with genuine affection, Plummie professes love for everyone and everything, from the sun to sticks, from little Sam and Gracie, the next door neighbors’ kids to owners Emma and Rupert. Very British sounding names, right, but that just adds to the charm. In fact, when we first moved to London, my daughter had a classmate whose parents called her Plummie and she wasn’t even a pooch!!

Here’s my favorite sentence: “I love it when Emma says, ‘Good girl, Plummie!’ when I do a poo, as if it’s so, so clever.” The repetition of Plum saying “LOVE is my favorite thing” is really one of the clever thing going on in this story. As are Chichester Clark’s illustrations which give readers a real sense of what Plum’s all about. Even if she sometimes gets up to no good, her intentions are never bad. That is until she ran off with a child’s bag that had an ice cream cone dropped in it. Then Plummie just could not resist. Poor Plummie! Would her owners still love her after her big mistake? Plum ponders this question that children also often wonder, “Does being naughty make people stop loving you?” And the answer is a resounding no, they absolutely still love you as long as you’ve taken some time to think about what you’ve done. That’s why, Plum reminds us, and I am certain, too, that “LOVE IS MY FAVORITE THING!”

Worm_Loves_WormWORM LOVES WORM
Written by J.J. Austrian
Illustrated by Mike Curato
(Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Here’s a super new story that turns the idea of what invertebrate marriage is right on its head, if worms had heads! And so begins this gender bending tale of two worms who want to tie the knot, only their friends expect them to go the traditional route. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, it’s an ideal time to gently and thoughtfully introduce this subject and Worm Loves Worm does it beautifully with humor and tenderness.

When the pair of worms express their love for each other, the next step feels right. “Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm. With Cricket performing the ceremony, Beetle on hand to be best beetle and the Bees eager to be the bride’s bees, the worms wonder, “Now can we be married?” Of course the answer isn’t so simple as they’re told they need to have rings, ( despite having NO fingers), a band and all the other accoutrements of a wedding. When ultimately asked who is the bride and who is the groom, the worms explain that they are both, clearly a break from the norm in the eyes of the worms’ friends. “Wait,” says Cricket. “That isn’t how it’s been done.”  The reply is powerful and appropriate. “Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says Worm because, in the end, what does tradition have to do with it? It’s love that matters.

CHICK ‘N’ PUG: THE LOVE PUGChick_n_Pug_The_Love_Pug
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5)
Chick ‘n’ Pug are certain to garner new fans from this latest installment, the fourth in Sattler’s popular series. BFFs Chick ‘n’ Pug are introduced to Daisy who falls hard and fast for Pug and attempts to win his love. The catch is Pug would prefer to continue napping. Much like in the friendship of Duck and Bear, Chick’s the energetic one, eager to help show Daisy that her wooing of his pal is worthwhile. Daisy tries and tries to use her feminine wiles to get Pug’s attention by hinting how she adores flowers, can’t find her favorite bow or is being chased by a bully. It’s not until a bee, first observed when Daisy wished for flowers, begins buzzing around sleepy Pug that the pooch is stirred annoyingly awake. Daisy and Chick get into the act as the three ward off the  intolerable insect. Soon, it’s not just Chick ‘n’ Pug who are exhausted and in need of nap. Love can sure tire you out in the best possible way.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Other Valentine’s Day Books We Recommend:

Here Comes Valentine CatHere_Comes_Valentine_Cat
Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Ollie’s Valentine (A Gossie & Friends Book)Ollies_Valentine
Written and illustrated by Oliver Dunrea
(HMH; $6.99, Board Book)

 

 

 

Plant_a_KissPlant a Kiss
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Harper; $7.99, Board Book)

 

 

Winter Themed Picture Books Roundup

 

WINTER THEMED PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

Winter is definitely here! With parts of the country still under a blanket of snow, it’s a good time to share some cold-weather stories. So find a comfy chair, gather up your books, blanket, and a mug full of hot cocoa and read on.

Curious About Snow Winter-Books-Curious-About-Snow-book-cvr.jpg
by Gina Shaw
A Smithsonian Book
(Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 6-8)
Winter time = snow in many parts of the world. Curious About Snow is a great book for curious minds! It helps little children to understand the basic structure of ice crystal, shows many photographs of snowflakes, and will probably make you want to go play in the snow! The book introduces the reader to Wilson Bentley, a man born in 1865, who dedicated his life to studying and photographing snow. You’ll be sure to learn a lot of facts while reading this book! While this Smithsonian book can certainly be loved by all ages, its target audience is elementary school children.

Winter-books-The-Little-Snow-plow-cvr.jpg

The Little Snowplow
Written by Lora Koehler
Illustrator by Jake Parker
(Candlewick; $15.99, Ages 3-7)
The Little Snowplow reminds me of The Little Engine That Could for all the right reasons. You’re sure to love this book if you’re craving a story to encourage your little one about perseverance and practice. The little snowplow practices everyday just in case he’ll be needed for a big job. He continues to try hard even though the bigger snow equipment don’t think he’s useful. Then comes the day where his size and his capabilities save the day! Click here for an activity.

The Bear ReportWinter-Books-The-Bear-Report-cvr.jpg
Written and illustrated by Thyra Heder
(Abrams; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
Great storytelling happens within the beautiful artwork of Thyra Heder in The Bear Report. A young girl named Sophie is reluctant to do her homework about polar bears. After doing a minimalist job, a kind real-life polar bear shows up in her house to show her there are more interesting things where he lives. They go exploring the arctic while the polar bear shows her his favorite things – eating, sleeping, sliding. Sophie and the bear thoroughly enjoy the day together. When she returns home, Sophie is excited to share information about her new friend. This book received a star from Kirkus Reviews.

Winter_Books-Toys_Meet_Snow_Cvr.jpgToys Meet Snow: Being the Wintertime Adventures of a Curious Stuffed Buffalo, a Sensitive Plush Stingray, and a Book-loving Rubber Ball
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
(Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
This trio is loveable! Who knew a stuffed buffalo toy, a plush stingray, and a rubber ball could be so entertaining? Even though I had not read the previous trilogy of Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party, and Toys Come Home I was easily able to fall in love with these characters as I got to know them. While their ‘Little Girl’ owner is away, the toys see the first snowfall of the season. The inquisitive buffalo gets replies from the poetic stingray and bookwormish ball. They proceed to make their way  to the wintery outside world and return after a full day of outdoor play. A great book for a winter’s day!

Winter’s Child Winter_Books_Winters_Child_cvr.jpg
Written by Angela McAllister
Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith
(Templar Books/Candlewick $16.99, Ages 3-7))
The fresh illustration style and heartwarming story in Winter’s Child are sure to make this book a classic! This is a storybook, which has much more text than the trending picture books, but it is well worth the read. A young boy, Tom, lives with his mother and Nana. It has been the longest winter they have ever seen and they begin to run out of needed food and supplies. Young Tom goes out to play each day as young children do and he meets a friend. They explore and have fun together for several days, but as time goes on the little family is getting worried that they won’t be able to eat or stay warm much longer. Eventually we find out Tom’s friend is Winter’s child and he didn’t want to sleep. Winter’s child, upon seeing that Tom’s family is being negatively affected, calls for his father. Winter takes his child and the following day signs of spring appear. This beautiful story almost made me cry as I read it to my kids. I was moved by its many great messages of friendship, family bonds, and sacrifice. I highly recommend it!

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Kuma-Kuma Chan by Kazue Takahashi

Beloved Japanese Children’s Book
Makes Its English Debut

Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear written and illustrated by Kazue Takahashi
(Museyon Press, 2014; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

“I sometimes wonder what Kuma-Kuma Chan does during the day?”

Kuma-Kuma-Chan-cvr.jpgJapanese author and illustrator Kazue Takahashi poses a seemingly simple question in Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear, this small, slim, 2001 Japanese picture book for young readers, newly translated into English. However, the deceptively simple answers and accompanying illustrations reveal an important, almost Zen-like quality that should resonate with all of us.

Kuma-Kuma Chan (“cute little bear”) lives alone in the mountains, in a place difficult for visitors to reach. So how does he spend his day? Well, after waking up, he fixes himself a big salad with lettuce and tomatoes from his own garden. As he pours milk in his coffee, he draws small pictures. He carefully sweeps the house and does some shopping. Then a nap is in order. Later, he gazes at the clouds and listens to the falling rain. In the spring, he pulls weeds, and in the summer he needs to cut his fur to stay cool. Fall is good for love songs and winter would is perfect for reading and following a patch of sunlight around the room.

Alone, but not lonely, Kuma-Kuma lives an unhurried, simple but purposeful life, free from all the clutter and distractions of our modern world. He enjoys his solitude and finds joy in his routines, taking time to live in the moment, and observe what’s going on around him.

Takahashi’s illustrations complement the calm and contemplative narrative and the cuddly Kuma-Kuma Chan. Using a kid-friendly design, Takahashi frees the double page spreads from distractions and accentuates the picture book’s simplicity by focusing children’s attention on one simple and easy-to-read sentence opposite a tiny, sparingly colored illustration.

A tender and soothing story for our jammed packed lives and especially appropriate around the frantic “holidaze.” Use this story as a discussion starter on how we could live and benefit from, at least periodically, a less complicated life like Kuma-Kuma Chan’s.

Visit  Museyon to learn about Kazue Takahashi. The publisher also has displayed several of the book’s pages here.

Kazue ends her story with the sentence “I’m happy to think that Kuma-Kuma Chan has fun during the day and that he is doing well.” I am, too.

May you always have fun and do well.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Breaking News: Bear Alert by David Biedrzycki

Bear-Alert-cvr.jpgYou don’t have to wait long to find the action in Breaking News: Bear Alert, written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki (Charlesbridge, 2014; $17.95, Ages 4-8). It starts on the front cover.

A boy and his teddy bear are watching Our Furry Planet on television. When the host of the show accidentally awakens two hibernating bears, a breaking news report shows up on the screen. Soon the bears are having a grand time, catching a ride on a truck, eating porridge at Teddy’s Diner, and having their turn in a photo booth outside of Bare Necessities Food Mart. Their escapades are caught by the sky cam, but the bears manage to elude the police and animal control officers. While the authorities are preoccupied with the bears’ shenanigans, two sticky-fingered criminals are up to no good. When the crooks rob Paddington’s department store, they’re caught on sky cam. They might have pulled off their caper had they not run right into the bears and their ice cream cones.

BREAKING NEWS Bears nab burglars. Skycam 3 shows police closing in to make the arrest.

The bears get a heroes’ sendoff and go back to their den to hibernate.

What an original and funny story idea! Breaking News: Bear Alert is so cleverly told (don’t you just love the names of the stores?!), and Biedrzycki’s illustrations, done in Adobe Photoshop, made me feel as if I were watching a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. This is a picture book that is sure to grab, and keep, the attention of even the most reluctant reader. In other words, there’ll be no hibernating in your home with this book around.

Read an interview with the author/illustrator, David Biedrzycki here.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

Goatilocks and the Three Bears by Erica S. Perl

Goatilocks and the Three Bears written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Arthur Howard
(Simon & Schuster, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

goatilocks-and-the-three-bears-cvr.jpgWe know the story of curious Goldilocks, the little girl who goes a bit overboard snooping around the bears’ house. But Goatilocks? Why not? In this picture book, Perl has fractured the beloved fairy tale in a way that parents may see coming, but is still sure to make (human) kids laugh.

This kid, Goatilocks, happens to live nearby three bears who happen to be setting off on a walk (check out Papa Bear’s camera). Not one to shy away from private property, Goatilocks decides to check the place out while the residents are gone. However, rather than following tradition by sampling all three bowls of porridge and ultimately consuming the baby’s portion, this kid not only enjoys the baby’s porridge, but proceeds to devour the entire bowl, and spoon! So you can just imagine what Goatilocks gets up to with the furniture she tries out. And when I say some stuffing’s involved I don’t mean Stovetop!

When at last the guilty goat is discovered, you may think you know what happens next. But remember this is a fractured fairy tale and anything goes! Suffice it to say that thankfully this little kid has a conscience …. and is not the only one in the neighborhood with a boundless appetite!

Howard’s simple, and sweet illustrations are perfect for this picture book. They’re funny, full of expression and don’t overwhelm the story. In other words, they’re just right

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang

You Are (Not) Small
written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant (Two Lions, $ 16.99, Ages 2-6).

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A plump, purplish bear-like creature is merrily blowing dandelion seeds across the opening page of this clever, humorous picture book. Enter one large, fuzzy orange-brown foot, stage right. “You are small,” says the new critter to the weed-clutching little one.

This innocent observation kicks off a spirited dialogue between the two. “I am not small. You are big,” purple critter retorts. But the larger one gestures to his pals, noting that he is one of many, all alike. Then more purple ones appear to back up their buddy as well.

Tempers flare, and the dialogue becomes an argument. (Sound familiar, parents?) There are pointed fingers, angry frowns, even insistent shouting. The size debate escalates until BOOM! A huge hairy paw crashes down, followed by diminutive pink critters with yellow parachutes. Fear not, the last line will guarantee laughs from every reader.

You Are (Not) Small is a short, simple book with text that could work as an easy reader, and illustrations that are engaging enough for the youngest picture book set. Readers of all ages will absorb the meta-message about keeping things in perspective and learning to appreciate differences without necessarily comparing them.

This is a great picture book for those who feel small or tall due to their relative ages or statures. It will spark fun conversations about the way we see ourselves and one another. The thickly-outlined, expressive animals are appealing in a Muppet-like fashion. They all share tiny round ears and large oval noses that make them appear to be related despite their differences in size. At just 91 words, this is a short and funny bedtime book choice with (not) a little kid appeal!

Click here for a very cool downloadable growth chart.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

      Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker

A NEW BEAR AND MOUSE BOOK!

A Library Book for Bear, (Candlewick Press, 2014, $16.99, Ages 3-7) by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton, is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“QUIET VOICES IN THE LIBRARY!”

A-Library-Book-for-Bear-cvr.jpgThat grumpy old bear and his faithful friend, Mouse, are off to my favorite place, the library.

Bear believes the trip is “… completely unnecessary…” and points to his fireplace mantle where he has seven books, including one on pickles. Still … he did promise Mouse he’d go.

At the library, Mouse unsuccessfully attempts to find Bear a book he’ll enjoy. After being shushed for being too loud, the increasingly irritable Bear is about to go when he hears the librarian reading a story. When Mouse suggests they leave, Bear hollers, “QUIET VOICES IN THE LIBRARY!” The librarian invites them to the story time. Enthralled, both stay and they return home with seven books including The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island.

As with her early Bear and Mouse books, Becker’s story is humorous, well paced, and rich in vocabulary.  It makes a rollicking read-aloud and can be used by adults to engage and inspire both young readers and older writers with word choices like bellowed, squished, tucked-away, and extravagant.

With colorful watercolor, ink, and gouache illustrations, Denton wonderfully captures Bear and Mouse’s contrasting personalities and creates reassuring settings with brief and expressive strokes.

My K-3 classes all had a ball with this picture book and were engaged throughout the story. The K-1 classes, able to “read” the characters’ facial expressions and body language, discussed feelings. The 1st-2nd graders decided that this book teaches people that they can find great books in libraries and that it’s important to use “quiet voices” in the library.

Visit award winning Bonny Becker’s and Katy MacDonald Denton’s websites for more information about their lives and work. Candlewick Press has information on the author, illustrator, and titles in the Bear and Mouse series.

Frank! Written and Illustrated by Connah Brecon

Frank!, written and illustrated by Connah Brecon (Running Press Kids, $16.95, Ages 4-7), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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What is going on with Frank? He’s a hip, urban-dwelling kid bear in a red puffy vest and skinny jeans who is always late, but only because he is too helpful! Whether jamming with a pigeon trio, saving a cat up a tree, or helping bunnies bullied by an ogre, Frank always has an excuse. His teacher is less than pleased with his tardiness, although he does manage to be a little more on time each day.

Brecon’s illustrations are the star in this quirky, engaging story. While the story is conveyed in sharp black typeface, Brecon sets the tale in an Oliver Jeffers-esque palette and scatters hand-lettered text liberally on the page. Young readers will snicker at the odd pairings of animal and human classmates and fantastic versus realistic reasons that keep Frank from arriving on time. Seeking out the recurring pigeon and bunny trios tucked charmingly into page corners will further amuse sharp-eyed kids.

Interior art from Frank! written and illustrated by Connah Brecon, Running Press Kids ©2014.

Frank finally gets to school on time, but trouble has found him right at the classroom door. How will they cope with a giant zombie lizard king threatening the school? Frank shows that although he has not been in class very often, he has learned something about how to make friends.

Unique and delightfully unpredictable, Frank! is an imaginative tale with light-handed messages about punctuality, compassion and teamwork.

–       Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

–       Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

Picture Books Back to School Giveaway

Enter our exciting picture books giveaway today!

Out here in California, lots of kids have already returned to school. Others across the country will head back after Labor Day. Either way, parents are looking for new reading material to share with their children and we’ve got a set of three new and soon-to-be-published picture books for you to win courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Clarion Books! Scroll down after the reviews for our Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway.

9780544104433_lresNANA IN THE CITY by Lauren Castillo (available in bookstores September 2, 2014) $16.99, Ages 4-8  Now a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book!!

Review: I couldn’t wait to read this book starring a Nana as one of the main characters because I, too, had a Nana and growing up there were no books mentioning Nana (unless you count Nana the big sheepdog in Peter Pan). However, unlike Nana in this story, my Nana did not live in Manhattan (the water towers on top of the buildings along with the subway art shouted the Big Apple to me.)

This picture book’s young narrator goes to stay with his grandmother “at her new apartment in the city.” From the very start, the little lad makes it clear he does not like the city nor the fact that his nana is living there. It may be a busy, loud, and scary place (Castillo’s illustrations depict construction and scaffolding, menacing-looking graffiti and homeless people asking for money) to a child, but to Nana the city is “wonderful – bustling, booming and extraordinary.”

With the help of a knitted red cape, and an eye-opening walk around the neighborhood to see close-up what is really going on, Nana shows her grandson that the city, though busy and loud, is  actually a “perfect place for a nana to live.”

Castillo’s use of primary colors interspersed with blacks and whites conveys the city’s mood and totally complements the text. Whether your child is heading to NYC or any other city for that matter, sharing Nana in the City with them is an ideal way to allay any trepidation they might have about visiting someplace new and different.

9780544233515CREATURE_FEATURES_HICREATURE FEATURES: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (available in bookstores October 4, 2014) $17.99, Ages 4-8 A Junior Library Guild Selection

Review: Creature Features’ authors and illustrators, Jenkins and Page, have come up with an interesting and fun way to engage readers in this nonfiction picture book about all sorts of animals, from the blobfish to the Egyptian vulture, from the axolotl to the thorny devil. There are so many neat new facts to learn and bright bold artwork to enjoy. By addressing each creature individually  …

Dear red squirrel:

Does that fur on  your ears help you hear better?

children will feel as if the first-animal (can’t really say first-person now can I?!) response is directed to them personally.

No. It’s there to keep my ears warm. It falls off in the summer and grows back in the winter.

There is also a spread in the end pages with a chart showing animal sizes compared to humans, a map with the locations of where the creatures live and what their diet consists of.  Check out www.stevejenkinsbooks.com/creaturefeatures to get details on this delightful book.

9780544164666SMALL BLUE AND THE DEEP DARK NIGHT by Jon Davis (available in bookstores now) $16.99, Ages 4-8

Review: Small Blue, a young rabbit, has an active imagination, especially in the deepest, darkest night. It’s then she’s convinced her bedroom is full of “creepy things” like gremlins, goblins and giant hairy spiders. In other words, all types of characters that are intent on preventing a little bunny from getting a good night’s sleep.

But Big Brown comforts Small Blue by offering up a completely new perspective after turning on the light It’s just as likely there could be delightful doggies riding around in a unicycle convention. Or, maybe a smiley spaceman is hosting “a zero-gravity birthday party.”

I love how Davis has introduced a plausible new paradigm for parents to share with an upset or  frightened child. Kids will be empowered by this picture book. They can choose to be scared of the nighttime, preoccupied by all the sneaky things lurking in the dark, or they can re-envision their room as a realm of positive possibilities; a place where doggies, spacemen and yes, even retired sock-knitting pirates parade about, and by doing so welcome the darkness as one big adventure.  And isn’t thinking that way a great way to greet the night?

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t Turn the Page! by Rachelle Burk

Don’t Turn the Page!, written by Rachelle Burk and illustrated by Julie Downing, is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

1. Don't Turn the Page.coverDon’t Turn the Page! (Creston Books, $16.95, Ages 3-6) is a cozy bedtime tale that capitalizes on a universal truth: Children will resist going to bed. Burk and Downing cleverly execute this idea as a book-within-a-book featuring a cuddly hedgehog and a sleepy bear cub.

Although Sami Hedgehog doesn’t want to stop playing with blocks, she is eager to hear just the first page of her new book. Cuddled on the couch, we – the readers – peer over Mama Hedgehog’s shoulder to learn about sleepy Little Bear of Rambling Woods who is getting ready for bed. Although they stop after one page, Sami begins to wonder “How do bears get ready for bed?” so Mama reads on. Inspired by Little Bear, Sami is gently encouraged to follow her own bedtime preparations step by step, page by page.

Burk divides the text into rhythmic rhyme for obedient Little Bear’s nightly routine. Sami’s story is told in prose, punctuated perfectly with her repeated, resistant command, “Don’t turn the page.” Mama Hedgehog is ever patient and reasonable, adapting to Sami’s sleepy pace as the book unfolds.

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Interior spread from Don’t Turn The Page! by Rachelle Burk with illustrations by Julie Downing, Creston Books, ©2014.

9781939547064.039781939547064.03Downing masterfully weaves the two tales seamlessly together through clever illustrations that show clues of the story-in-story on each page in alternating fashion. Different typefaces and thick page borders also reinforce the message about which story is being told and ties it neatly together in the end. The creatures are charming, and the soft colors are rich and muted. A special treat are the book’s endpapers, which echo the animal’s pajamas!

Don’t Turn the Page! is an endearing winner for bedtime reading. There may be no guarantee that kids will ever willingly get ready for bed, but I’m willing to bet that they will ask for this book to be read again and again.

–       Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

–       Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

 

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