IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
(Two Lions; $17.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Digital, Ages 4-8)
Josh Funk is fab at doing funny. His first fractured fairy tale (good news, there’ll be more!), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, breaks with picture book convention and the fourth wall or maybe it’s the fourth page in this case, by introducing an uproarious dialogue between the narrator and the main character (to name a few) that kids and parents alike will eat up. Parents, caregivers and more experienced readers will be unable to resist the urge to to jump in and take on voicing all the characters’ roles if reading aloud. Being a fractured fairy tale, this story unfolds with a humorous back and forth between the narrator and the titular Jack (see artwork below) whom he must awaken in order to get on with his storytelling. Soon Jack has his magic beans, but he’s also been growing frustrated with the direction of the tale, often making demands of the narrator that are not unlike those of a child who doesn’t want to do his homework, brush his teeth or go to bed.
While climbing the seriously high stalk, Jack sees his pal Cindy (Cinderella) on her palace balcony. Here readers first see the hilarious and unexpected interplay between some beloved fairytales that will no doubt be a feature of Funk’s future fractured fairy tales and a most welcomed one. Inside the giant’s house, an enormous shadow on the wall and “a booming voice” signal just what’s in store for Jack. Then, quite unexpectedly and most certainly not in the original version, our hero gets a bit sassy about the giant’s poor rhyming skills. This does not bode well for Jack and before too long it’s looking like he’s going to be the main ingredient of Giant Stew. Once again interrupting the narrator who’s so desperate to continue the story, Jack casually but oh so cleverly mentions something to the giant that he’s hoping will change his fate and positively influence an alternative ending. Funk’s flair for terrific twists promises to satisfy all readers eager to see the pieces of this fractured fairy tale come together seamlessly.
It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk is a very visual book that instantly invites readers to study all the details on every page of Taylor’s appealing artwork. On the back of the book’s jacket cover, readers are told to “Look for the gingerbread man, the three blind mice, and other fairy tale friends hidden though out the book!” I quite enjoyed leafing back through the pages to see what characters I might have overlooked on the first read and so will your youngsters. Get a copy today to get in on the jokes. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk will make fairy tale devotees of a whole new generation of young readers while sprouting a whole new crop of Funk fans along the way.
All interior spreads from It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk are courtesy of Two Lions.
BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
A Roundup by Ronna Mandel
Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy Husband
(Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4)
An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as:
Friends and neighbors to invite,
Ancient blessings we recite.
Gleaming candles burning bright,
Crispy latkes taste just right.
A Hanukkah With Mazel
Written by Joel Edward Stein
Illustrated by Elisa Vavouri
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, $6.99 eBook, Ages 3-8)
Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazel is flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.
Yitzi and the Giant Menorah
Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar
(Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.
For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.
My kids grew up with Margaret Wise Brown for quiet, go-to-sleep, soothing bedtime stories. But when they wanted belly laughs, tales to memorize and repeat (and not necessarily go to sleep), they chose Sandra Boynton hands down. Her books are a constant in every baby book collection I give to new mom friends and relatives. In fact, I cannot imagine any starter book set without Moo, Baa, La La La!, The Going To Bed Book, Barnyard Dance!, Tickle Time! and Hippos Go Berserk! Now I’m delighted I can add a new fave, one of the Boynton on Board book series, to my gift list. The Bunny Rabbit Show! board book (Workman, $6.95, Ages 0-4), featuring an oval die cut cover revealing dancing rabbits, is as cute as can be.
Boynton’s in top form here with a catchy rhyming refrain and a feel-good, entertaining performance by the happy hoppers. What Boynton does best is create her books at two levels; the first appealing to the youngest child being read to, and the the second appealing to the parents and care-givers who will surely be sharing the story over and over again. And why not? What’s not to love about a bunny board book featuring a bunch of bunnies (ten terrific rabbits to be precise) in a Rockettes-like line on stage singing, dancing and strutting their stuff.
Add more to their listening and looking pleasure by asking, as you read, if your little ones can spot the cow, pig, duck and sheep in the audience for some guaranteed giggles. Maybe even pull out a pair of bunny ears so your child can join in the show! That’s a big part of what makes a Boynton book so very, very fun to read. It’s hard to keep them on the bookshelves. Enjoy!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Minnie and Moo, the popular bovine buddies, are back again in their second chapter book reviewed today by MaryAnne Locher.
This time the two lovable cows are having a frolicking good time on the Red Tractor Farm in Minnie & Moo: Hooves of Fire, written and illustrated by Denys Cazet (Creston Books 2014; $15.95, Ages 6-11). Well, at least Moo is having a good time. Minnie is too busy worrying.
While Mr. and Mrs. Farmer are away on a vacation. Moo comes up with the idea to have a talent festival on the farm to raise money for the Farmers. Minnie has a bad feeling about this, but doesn’t want to hurt her best friend’s feelings, so she goes along with it. But everywhere she turns, Minnie sees trouble brewing. All that Moo sees is everyone having fun! Minnie notices coyotes in black jackets who ride in on motorcycles, weasels looking, well, weasel-y, and the stage-hog, Elvis the Rooster, who can’t seem to wait his turn. Moo sees her friends’ hard work and talent coming to fruition.
When Minnie, a pastry lover of the worst sort, thinks she sees the coyotes stealing raspberry danishes, she tells her friend Moo, who replies, “You worry too much, Minnie.” That’s because Moo thinks she has everything under control since Big Vinnie and Little Vinnie, professional hog wrestlers, are there as security guards.
Interior art from Minnie & Moo: Hooves of Fire by Denys Cazet, Creston Books, ©2014.
Soon though, even Moo gets a little concerned when she can’t find Minnie, or the cash box holding all of their money intended for the Farmers. The money box shows up as part of Fox’s magic trick; or does it? When coyotes, hyenas, weasels, and a fox all collaborate to pull off a heist, they’re too much for even Big Vinnie and Little Vinnie to handle alone. When a hyena yells, “So long, Fatso!” to Minnie, the hyena doesn’t know what’s in store for him. A motorcycle chase ensues, and well, let’s just say that Mr. and Mrs. Farmer get a fat envelope full of cash in their mailbox.
Cazet is no stranger to elementary school humor, having been a teacher himself for 25 years, a school librarian, and an elementary media specialist. His b&w illustrations of cows in togas, chickens in dresses and heels, and a stare-down between a bug-eyed snail and an Elvis-impersonating rooster, are very amusing. His words even more so. There’s drama, comedy, magic, and even a touch of romance, when Don Juan del Toro, the bull, asks Moo to dance The Hooves of Fire.
Teachers should note, there’s also a downloadable Curriculum Guide.