★Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Hayley Barrett’spicture book,Girl Versus Squirrel, shows us the fun rascals many of us have stealing from our bird feeders—the same dilemma Pearl faces in this story. The lyrical text, teeming with repetition and alliteration, works well as a read-aloud. As the tale unfolds in its singsong style, we are both lulled by the beauty of a girl feeding her backyard birds and prodded by her frustration with a seemingly unstoppable peanut-stealing squirrel.
Facial expressions on the girl and the squirrel are priceless as they one-up each other from scene to scene. I enjoyed howRenée Andriani’s art captures the shifting emotions as the power pendulums between the two opponents. However, when the action peaks, a new discovery makes Pearl rethink her no-squirrels-allowed policy.
Adults will appreciate the kid-friendly “Squirrelly Facts” at the end. These mischievous mammals chirp and scamper across every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Mark your calendars so you don’t forget to set out a treat on Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21st).
Click here to order a copy of Girl Versus Squirrel. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e
Have you ever woken up one morning and everything goes wrong, putting you in a bad mood? Has it ever happened to one of your children? The answer to both questions is, of course, it has. And that is exactly the scenario that begins the hilarious rhyming verse picture bookMootilda’s Bad Mood.
The story begins with Mootilda waking up with hay in her hair, her pillow gone, and her doll—a cow, what else?—fallen from her bed. She goes to her moomaw cow (as opposed to mama cow) who hugs her and gives her a treat but when this falls, it sets off Mootilda to proclaim, “I’m in a bad mood!” Her mother suggests she goes out to play. Mootilda takes her advice and plays rope with calves, swims with lambs, rides bikes with pigs, and plays ball with ponies. However every single time, something unfortunate happens which leaves Mootilda in an even worse mood than before.
The refrain of “I’m in a bad mood!” reflects Mootilda’s worsening mood as the day progresses with each additional “O” that is added to the word “mood.” When she finally meets up with chickens, who are also in a bad mood, it is Mootilda this time who tries to cheer them up. But when something goes wrong with her attempt, instead of making her mood worse, she laughs about it and finally realizes her bad mood is gone. And with her bad mood gone, she figures out a way she can help others in the future, as shown in the final pictures of the book.
Ranucci’sillustrations are cheerful, bright, and colorful—the exact opposite of the feelings of a bad mood. They make it impossible for any reader who might be in a bad mood to remain that way after perusing through the delightful pictures.
The book is filled with funny animal, cow and moo words, like cow-tastrophe, cow-incidence, and cow-miserate. This wordplay adds to the enjoyment of the book, especially when read aloud and emphasized. But what I really liked about Mootilda’s Bad Mood was that co-authors Rosen Schwartzand Callhave taken a concept that we can all relate to and presented it in such a humorous tale. The story acknowledges and allows everyone, especially kids, to be in a bad mood. It’s perfectly okay to sometimes feel like that, but there are also ways to deal with it and that is a great take-away message.
• Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
Click here to read a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz. Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Claudia Ranucci.
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
You Don’t Want a Dragon!, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo, is a follow-up to You Don’t Want a Unicorn!, which I haven’t been able to get my hands on during the pandemic. However, as an Ame Dyckman fan, I feel confident recommending both. You Don’t Want a Dragon! is a conversation between the narrator and a child who has just successfully wished for a dragon. And even if you haven’t read the first book, it is quickly clear that this same kid previously wished for a unicorn, and it didn’t go so well. Apparently, the unicorn multiplied until there were many glittery, colorful copies (who make cameo appearances in this book). There also may have been some unicorn poop, which seems to be cupcakes! Now the kid has wished an adorable dragon into his life.
Dyckman’s books are always fun to read aloud. I called the book a “conversation,” but in fact, the youngster in the book doesn’t say anything. Using second person, the narrator addresses, and engages, the main character: “NOW you’ve done it! I TOLD YOU not to wish for a dragon!,” while the boy in the illustrations answers with action. He plays with his new pet through several happy spreads until the dragon starts behaving like a troublesome canine. The narrator warns that he’s also becoming “GINORMOUS … You just don’t have the space for a dragon. In your heart, yes. But in your house … no.”
Climo is a comic artist for The Simpsons and also wrote and illustrated several books before collaborating with Dyckman on You Don’t Want a Unicorn! and You Don’t Want a Dragon!. The kid’s world is drawn in thin outlines filled with gentle colors; the dragon is a soft green with a purple tummy and wings. And don’t forget to note the child’s t-shirt in the cover art. While the illustrations show their kinship with The Simpsons, they are more comfortable than wacky, reminiscent of the Clifford the Big Red Dog books but with more attention to detail and scale.
I expected to enjoy this book and was not disappointed. There’s lots of Dyckman’s trademark humor, and it fits so well with Climo’s art. For example, Dyckman writes that stories about dragons “never mention … WHERE charcoal comes from. DON’T mention this at your next barbeque.” Climo’s drawing? The dragon sports a toilet-paper-roll bracelet and a proud grin while the kid, wide-eyed, stands next to a grill with flaming briquettes piled high.
Eventually, the narrator convinces the kid to wish the dragon away. Kids aren’t meant to have magical creatures for pets. “It’s for the best.” You might wonder what the kid will wish for next, except there’s a twist: he finds a completely ordinary pet.
Ingela P. Arrhenius’s 30 page Pop-Up Jungle board book will grab your attention with the adorable wide-eyed bush baby on the cover. This sturdy palm-sized (4.5 x 5 inches) book includes fifteen pop-up images with eleven animals: bush baby, butterfly, crocodile, tree frog, elephant, gorilla, leopard, monkeys, parrot, snake, and toucan. Between these colorful creatures you’ll find a riverboat, flower, jungle lodge, and waterfall. The overall effect feels like a friendly jungle expedition.
I like the variety of animals, especially the bush baby since it’s a bit different from the usual books in this category—plus this animal is adorable! By opening with the riverboat, the reader is invited to set out on an adventure. The minimal text leaves room for creative storytelling that can be changed up each time through. Similarly, the cute, stylized animals have simple backgrounds, bringing the animals to life.
HELLO, ELEPHANT! Written and illustrated by Sam Boughton (Templar Books; $12.99, Ages 2-5)
Hello, Elephant, the lift-the-flap board book by Sam Boughton, is fun for so many reasons. Boughton’s whimsical art will make you smile. The eight animals featured are rhinos, zebras, lions, hippos, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and (surprisingly) vultures. Each two-page spread in this 16-page board book lists animal facts geared toward young minds that are far from boring. Did you know that underneath their striped coats zebras have black skin?! I appreciate how the information is conveyed so kids will easily understand it. For example, “a giraffe can grow as tall as three adult humans.” The concluding four-page spread brings all the animals together so kids can see how they would interact in the wild.
This gorgeous book won’t disappoint kids or their adults. Its durable pages can be read time and again. Find your favorite animals and learn a few new things. Mine? The lioness getting a loving rub from her cub. It doesn’t get any cuter than this.
Peek-a-Who Too? delightfully follows the success of Elsa Mroziewicz’s previous board book, Peek-a-Who? These lift-the-flap books raise the bar by folding out in creative direction. The small (6 x 6 x 6 inch) 22-page triangular book opens into a diamond shape. After asking about an animal sound (such as, “Who truuumpets?”), both pages unfold to double the book’s size and show a picture of the animal. The eleven animals included are elephant, tiger, monkey, owl, parrot, lion, frog, bee, mosquito, crocodile, and bear. The colorful frog was my favorite with its cute legs springing to life when the pages are folded down (some pages unfold upward). The cozy, sleepy bear in the final image perfectly wraps up the book.
While these animals may not live together in the wild, the sound theme works overall. Older kids will delight in whoop-whooping along with you. Ask which animal makes that sound, then peek under the flaps to discover the answer. Gorgeous art, engaging interaction, and durable pages will make this book a household and classroom favorite.
Nosy Crow’s fun lift-the-flap Animal Families board book series includes Farm, Forest, Safari, and Jungle. Animal Families: Jungle is my favorite with its neon orange accents throughout. You’ll discover the names of the male and female, then, beneath the flap, what the young are called. While this seems simple enough, you’ll likely find yourself learning along with your child. For example, only the male is called the peacock. Females are peahens and the babies are peachicks—how cute is that?! The other animals featured are tigers, elephants, and pandas. The last spread unfolds into four pages for a finale revealing the animal family names, such as an embarrassment of pandas.
Jane Ormes’s 14 pages of bold art are a lovely accompaniment to the spare, repetitive text. Muted tones make the bright ones pop. The tigress is especially cute with her inquisitive intelligence. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning while viewing this lively book about animal families.
BABY SLOTH: Finger Puppet Book Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang (Chronicle Books; $7.99, Ages 0-2)
Chronicle Book’s little (4 x 4 x 4 inch) board book packs a big punch in its 12 pages. Part of a 59-book series, Baby Sloth: Finger Puppet Book is pure enjoyment. Who doesn’t like sticking their finger in the back of a book and waggling it around to entertain young readers?! The story captures Baby Sloth from when he begins his day until bedtime. Readers will learn little sloths aren’t all that different from little humans—eating, napping, and enjoying simple pleasures. It’s amazing that Baby Sloth ends his day sleeping on top of Mama Sloth.
The art by Yu-Hsuan Huang cleverly transports Baby Sloth through his trek showing us colorful jungle images. Though he probably doesn’t go far, the different backgrounds keep us engaged. Mama Sloth has loads of personality, looking very proud of her son and clearly totally in love with him. Give this sweet book a place with your bedtime favorites. There are many others in this series for finger puppet fun, even dinosaur and unicorn.
If you love fairy tale retellings, Federico and the Wolfis for you. Rebecca J. Gomez has taken the classic story and not only modernized it, but centered it in the Mexican American culture with great success.
The book’s appeal stems from its endearing main character Federico whose ingenuity and bravery will have young readers rooting for him as he takes on the infamous hungry wolf. And though he sports a hoodie, Federico is definitely not your grandmother’s Little Red. In fact in this version, Federico sets off to the local market “… to buy ingredients to make the perfect pico.” His plan is to get the stuff needed to bring to his abuelo (grandfather), then together the two can make a special salsa. The market art (see below), like so many other illustrations in this delightful picture book, is a razzle dazzle of glorious color and atmosphere. As a reader I wanted to jump into the scene.
On his way to see Abuelo, Federico heads through the city park and deep into the woods on his bike. It’s not long before the famished wolf stops him looking for “grub.” The young boy, however, claims he has no time or food to spare. When he arrives at his grandfather’s shop, Federico notices a suspiciously furry and pawed person beckoning him inside.
At first it might seem that Federico’s been taken in by Wolf’s disguise, providing the kind of suspense kids love. But, once he realizes what he’s up against, the clever lad resorts to clever measures. I won’t spoil the spicy ending, but suffice it to say that because of Federico’s quick thinking, the chances of Wolf ever returning are rather slim. When grandson and grandfather are finally safe from the the wolf’s conniving clutches, the pair can begin to prepare the pico as originally planned.
Chavarri’s vibrant illustrations work beautifully with the prose, helping to set the tone of this excellently executed fractured fairy tale. The pictures are light and lively when Federico is happy and they get darker whenever the wolf is present.
Gomez, with her wonderful use of rhyme, brings a spirited approach to this tale that invites multiple readings. I love how she’s incorporated Spanish words into the story. They not only feel natural, but add to the ambience of Federico’s world. Kids can figure out the words’ meaning many times just by looking at the illustrations such as silla for chair. Readers can also take turns playing the parts of Federico and Wolf for added enjoyment. A glossary in the back matter along with a recipe for the salsa tops off this read aloud treat. By all means, add this new picture book to your story time collection. And, remember to carry some chili powder in your hoodie pocket if you plan a walk in Wolf’s neck of the woods.
Today I’m reviewing A Last Goodbye. This moving picture book is recommended for PreK-3, but could be appreciated by all ages.
Humans have long believed that they are the only species to care for the ill and dying and grieve the loss of a loved one. But are we?
Nearly two years ago,Tahlequah, a female Orca, was spotted pushing the body of her newborn calf off the waters off Puget Sound. Although the calf only survived for a few hours, the mother had bonded with her daughter. For 17 days, people around the world watched and grieved with Tahlequah as she kept her daughter’s body close to her. After traveling for nearly 1000 miles, she finally released it into the ocean. Responding to questions about the mother Orca’s actions, researchersnoted “ … it’s common for marine mammals to show signs of grief.”
As I write this review the number of deaths in the United States from the covid-19 has exceeded 125,000 and will climb higher still. Tragically, there are many children who have faced or will face the loss of someone they love due to this deadly virus. How can we help children cope with their fears and their grief over illness, death, and loss? The calm and soothing narrative of A Last Goodbye will give children a safe space and the opportunity to discuss their anxieties by exploring how animals tend to the dying and say goodbye to those who have passed away.
Using an intimate, first person narrator, the author guides children through the difficult process of death and grief, by looking at how animals comfort the dying, care for the remains, and grieve for their loss. The evenly paced and lyrical narrative allows for many moments to pause, reflect, and encourage questions and discussion in this recommended read for families.
As children move through the book, they see the care different animals give to comfort the dying. An elephant reassures a dying member of its herd:
“I will wrap my trunk around you
and support you with my tusks.”
As a family of chimpanzees minister to their failing member, they:
“… will tuck soft bedding behind your back
and carefully tend to your hair.”
Kim’s stunning and delicate dioramas convey the concern and the grief of the family for the dying, whose fragility is shown in a slumped or sleeping body, outlined in a soft, glowing line.
And what happens when a loved one dies? How do we respond? Kelsey shows that animals, like their human counterparts, have many ways of expressing their grief:
“And when you die
I will gently stroke your body …”
“I will cry out in sorrow … or watch in quiet sadness.”
After death, Kelsey shows children those tender actions we take to honor the dead by observing what animals do: some will gather around the body, others might cover it with leaves. Some return later to
“… visit the place where your body rests.”
Kim’s diorama is dotted with stars ascending from the bodies of the deceased to the night sky (the book’s end pages also depict a constellation-like map of a variety of animals with their scientific and common names).
Kelsey helps children understand what happens to the body as it sinks into the earth or sea. While death is final, the body nourishes the earth and provides for future generations. She asks the children to wonder:
“Will tiny roots take hold
and tall trees grow
in the rich soil you nourish?
Kim’s dioramas depicting how the bodies disintegrate into new life are particularly breathtaking and turn something painful and frightening into a beautiful and life affirming event. Throughout the book, Kim’s illustrations enhance the narrative’s comforting and soothing tone,
Finally, the author addresses the grief and sense of loss that will always be there:
“I will miss you forever.”
Yet, she reminds children that the pain of grief is not forever, and that there will be happiness and pride in remembering:
Eggs are Everywhere is a fun addition to the home library, especially for those interested in an Easter inspired book and activity set.
Once the easy to understand directions on the first page are read by an adult, little ones can explore and play on their own. Each page of this sturdy board book has a turning wheel at the edge of the page that is easy for little hands to use. Children spin the wheel to choose an egg they want to find. Then the game begins as they decide which flap to open to find the egg.
The flaps’ unique and playful themes are an added bonus to the fun. Children can find the eggs under a flower, a basket, a child’s hand, a tea cup, and even a larger, beautifully decorated egg. Illustrations are gorgeous and rich in earth tones. Each page has a dominant, background color that is dressed over by bold, oversized leafy patterns and graceful flowers offering an additional “lesson” of colors for youngsters.
Eggs are Everywhere provides the opportunity for children to return to the pages again and again to discover something new they may have missed on the previous read.
Hoppy Floppy’s Carrot Huntis yet another entertaining board book and game combination that involves opening up flaps. Along with Hoppy Floppy’s animal friends, readers help the bunny find “colorful carrots on the forest floor.”
The underside of each flap has funny and encouraging commentary. The silly items displayed under the “wrong” flap (such as a dug up cookie or ice cream “vegetable”) will surely bring out many chuckles from little ones. Each of the 12 pages has the same, sweet background done mostly in green to capture the forest colors. This way the color of each carrot is spotlighted, facilitating identification and memorization. A wide range of animals in the book allows for a secondary lesson. The small, friendly bird following along each page adds color and excitement to the game.
An additional bonus is the connection between the specific color of a carrot and the animal in search of it. Parents and caregivers can open conversations with little ones about how the color of the carrot matches that of something that animal is wearing or holding. The turning wheel at the end of the story helps us review the rainbow of carrots we’ve helped Hoppy Floppy find.
There’s no denying this egg shaped book is just right for Easter.
Author and illustrator of Hazel and Twig: The Birthday Fortune, Brenna Burns Yu introduces us to a second adventure featuring the beloved Korean-American mouse sisters in Hazel and Twig: The Lost Egg.
Hazel and Twig find a large egg in the field. Eager to make it their own, they take the egg home and make big plans for the care and growth of the baby bird that will soon hatch.
As Hazel shares the details with her Appa (Korean for father) of how she and Twig will build a nest, “fetch the worms, and … teach it to fly,” Hazel realizes Twig is missing. Quickly, though, she spots her little sister. In her relief, Hazel realizes the egg, too, is lost and not theirs to keep. It needs to be reunited with its family.
The all out family search for the lost egg’s nest presents a wealth of additional lessons in color, pattern, size, and numbers as family members compare the lost egg to others nestled in tree branches. When Hazel remembers not all birds live in trees but that “some birds live…on the riverbank,” she concludes the little lost bird in the big, pale blue egg is actually a duckling. After it hatches, the baby duckling and her older sister become good friends with Hazel and Twig.
Yu’s endearing illustrations help us enter the mouse family’s tiny world. Done in ink and watercolor, the illustrations capture flora and fauna in dainty forms and fragile shapes. The soft color palette and simple lines evoke comfort, safety, and hope. One particularly stunning page, inspired by the works of 18th century naturalist James Bolton, depicts nature’s creatures at home in their habitats.
Happy to have helped a family unite, Hazel shows thoughtfulness and maturity. Her growth sheds light to additional topics in the book: kindness, compassion, and self-sacrifice. Combined with Yu’s lovely illustrations, these themes will resonate with children of all ages.
A celebration of Easter and springtime, author Nadine Robert’s and illustrator Maja Kastelic’s Elsieexplores additional themes of love, family, and diversity.
The picture book introduces us to the Filpot family of seven bunny siblings who all enjoy going on fishing trips during “nice and sunny” Sundays—all except Elsie who prefers marching to the beat of her own drum. It’s clear the six siblings like to do things in the same predictable way as they have always done: “‘Last time, we went through the woods … We took the same path the time before.’” Dragged by her family to join the fishing excursion, Elsie instead prefers to explore her own path.
Despite the discouraging words she continuously hears, Elsie never wavers her independence. While others cast their lines in the water, Elsie uses a buttercup on her hook. While the others break for lunch, Elsie decides to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. No matter what Elsie does, her way seems just plain wrong to her brothers and sisters, reminding me a little bit of the tension between brothers in the classic tale, The Carrot Seed. While the older brother insists his younger sibling’s attempts to grow and care for the seed are futile, the youngster’s quiet persistence pays off.
In the same way, Elsie peacefully resists her siblings’ pressure to conform. When her method of catching fish proves to be the most successful, her brothers and sisters finally recognize and appreciate her innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, so much so that they acquiesce to her suggestions and leadership.
Kastelic’s colorful illustrations bursting with blooms and patterns evoke the enthusiasm of venturing into the great unknown of the outdoors. Critical lessons of acceptance and difference make this book a wonderful read throughout the year.
Inspired by the “Sleeping Bunnies” nursery rhyme, Hop Little Bunniesis a lively read-aloud book, the third in our Easter round up that incorporates flaps.
Hughes’ illustrations, created in watercolor and ink, abound with peaceful, springtime colors and center the animals on each page to maintain our engagement with them. The narrator points out to us the sleeping bunnies in the field. “Shall we go and wake them in a merry tune?” s/he asks. As children open up the flaps one by one, they’re encouraged to call out, “WAKE UP, bunnies!” and direct the animals to “hop, hop, hop.” The next directive is to “STOP!” and stay quiet (“Sssssshhhhhh!”) while a new set of animals is found fast asleep.
In this pattern of quiet and loud, readers go through a series of adorable barnyard animals. First, readers are encouraged to stay silent and then to cheerfully wake them up. Toddlers and early elementary children will love the steady rhythm and rhyme and will be challenged, undoubtedly, to keep their giggles contained before bursting into their “wake up” call. While the day unfolds with bunnies hopping, lambs baaing, chicks cheeping, kittens meowing, and ducklings quacking, nighttime eventually falls, prompting us readers to “go and sing them a happy bedtime song.”
A fun and interactive book, Hop Little Bunnies provides the perfect balance of entertainment and follow-the-direction learning.
Written by award winning author-illustrator Jarvis,Follow Me, Flo!is a gentle lesson about not wandering away from a parent.
From the get-go we learn that little duckling Flo likes to do things her way. Instead of eating a healthy dinner of seeds and berries, preening herself clean, and going to bed in a neat row with her parents, Flo likes to eat ice cream treats, chase frogs through the mud, and join the flock of sheep during bedtime.
Knowing his daughter’s adventurous ways, Daddy Duck ”in his most serious deep duckie voice” tells Flo to carefully follow him on their way to visit Auntie Jenna. “‘No chasing or hiding’” or “‘you’ll get lost’” he warns. To help keep his daughter focused and entertained, Daddy sings a tune as they go “UP” the trail and “DOWN” a small waterfall and “IN” and “OUT” a hollow tree trunk. Jarvis’ bold and bright illustrations bring energy and movement to each scene.
Not entirely impressed by Daddy’s efforts, Flo creates her own song “the way that she like(s) it.” Singing in a “VERY high [and] VERY LOUD” voice, Flo soon gets carried away and strays farther and farther away from Daddy. (Incidentally, both versions of the “follow me” song provide good practice with opposites and prepositions.)
When Flo realizes she’s being followed by none other than Roxy Fox, she understands the importance of staying close to Daddy. By remembering Daddy’s song, she follows his directions and reunites with him. For being a good little duckling and following all of Daddy’s directions that day, Flo gets to lead Daddy the way home. Children will love the funny and surprising ending that reveals the places you’ll go when you follow a free spirit like Flo. (That almost sounds like a song!).
Appropriate for Easter and the spring season, Follow Me, Flo! provides an added lesson for parents and caregivers on how to lovingly guide and direct the little ones in their lives.
The night before Passover, a hungry and mischievous mouse steals a single bread crumb from a pile of chometz (leavened food) on a table where it waits to be burned in the morning, (to prevent the house being contaminated during Passover), and the adventure of The Passover Mousebegins! The mouse is chased first to the cobbler’s house, and then to the matchmaker’s. A different mouse and a cat join the fun, and confusion and chaos descend upon the community as they try to figure out what to do about the homes that have possibly being contaminated with the stray chometz.
This playful and inspiring tale is based upon and introduces children to a passage from the Talmud, a collection of ancient rabbis’ commentaries on Jewish law. Along with delightful illustrations by Shahar Kober, the traditional story presents a conundrum for the community, which is not resolved right away. The puzzling problem is presented to the town’s Rabbi, who presents an answer, but how to carry it out is ultimately suggested by a child, who speaks up and suggests community cooperation, which is embraced by everyone.
Joy Nelkin Wieder’sdebut picture book reads like a traditional folk tale, and kids will have fun learning the many Hebrew and Yiddish words which are used throughout the story. Some may be familiar (Oy vey!) while some may be less known (yeshiva) but thankfully there is a glossary in the back with definitions along with an indication of how to pronounce them. An author’s note is also included which explains the original passage in the Talmud.
Kober’s illustrations have an engaging cast of lively, multi-generational characters that grow in numbers as the story progresses. Individual characters are recognizable and can be found, and followed, through the book. Kids will want to linger over the assorted expressive faces which reveal their personalities and reactions. The Seder scene accurately depicts traditional food, and the clothing and setting throughout portrays a traditional, fabled Jewish community. Kober’s consistent pallet of earthy colors and bright accents invoke a warm and inviting feeling that enhances the warmth and togetherness of this assorted but unified community.
The story starts with the mouse, but the main thrust of the story involves the community who take a journey from confusion, blame and arguing, to unity—coming together and working together to solve their problem. In the end, everyone has re-established their friendships, spread some kindness, and even the mouse (and its companions) don’t go hungry (don’t miss the art on the last page! A wonderful tale and moral not only for Passover, but for any time of year.
Guest Review by Molly Ruttan e Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books had its book birthday on September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram@mollyillo
When Zack’s four legged best friend JoJo gets old, sick and dies, he is left heartbroken until his friend Emily explains that “an invisible leash connects our hearts to each other. Forever.” Author Patrice Karst, and illustrator Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, of the bestselling The Invisible String, tell a heartwarming story about permanent loss in the companion book The Invisible Leash, that pulls on the heartstrings of all ages.
The rich colors of the book’s main characters contrast wonderfully throughout the story with the soft almost translucent colors of their deceased pets depicted alongside them. This succeeds in showing the reader that the pets are always with them as the two friends take an enlightened journey through their neighborhood. Zack’s multicultural parents try to comfort him, but “Zack stomped off and when his bedroom door slammed, it shook the whole house with sad.” Such a strong emotion conveyed with just one evocative sentence.
Lew-Vriethoff shows Zack folding his arms in disbelief listening to Emily explain, “But Zack, don’t you believe in the wind? Even if you can’t see the Invisible Leash, you can feel it.” Zack listens with annoyance coming up with reasons the invisible leash theory could not be true. Emily’s excitement is shown in the illustrations as she stretches her arms wide and tells him that, “when you love an animal and they love you back, that gives the Invisible Leash the magic power of infinity to stretch from here all the way to the beyond.” Zack wants to believe his beloved dog JoJo is close by. “I wish I could believe, Emily. I wish that so much.”
Karst’s writing takes the reader on a poetic journey as she writes, “Warm winds swirled around the two friends gazing at the evening sky. Frogs croaked and crickets started chirping as the stars began to gather. Soon, a smile widened across Zack’s face.”
We see drawings of JoJo and Emily’s cat Rexie touching paws with invisible leashes circling all the friends. Emily holds her heart in excitement as she realizes that the pets can see the same moon that they see. The pets’ faded images snuggle by their best friends, while the friends look up at the moon and we feel the love they all have for each other.
As the children sleep, dogs, cats, birds, deer and bears that left this world run free throughout the night. “It was the still of night, Zack, Emily and the rest of the world’s children were now fast asleep in their cozy-comfy beds. And as the moon smiled down upon them from high above, it lit up the millions and billions of Invisible Leashes … connecting them ALL.”
The Invisible Leash was given to me at a time when I was mourning the loss of my own beloved dog, Charlie, who left me way too soon. I picked up this book and I cried. I then read it to my adult son and once again I cried (I believe he was also touched). When I picked up the story for a third time I had a smile on my face. I feel my Charlie sitting by my side with his face resting on my leg as I write this review, and feel him connected by his Invisible Leash. Karst explains at the conclusion of the story that this book is dedicated to her precious dog CoCo. She says she always knew the Invisible Leash was real, but now gets to share her news with the whole wide world. Thank you, Patrice Karst, I’m glad you did.
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
Whale sang a song of happiness and hope, day after day, night after night for his ocean friends. But even with the roaring waves above him, Whale thought how quiet and lonely the sea could be in award-winning and best-selling author and illustrator Anna Pignataro’s lyrical picture book The Heart of A Whale.
Gorgeous watercolor illustrations of blues and greens take the reader through the ocean floor as Whale sings “a cheerful symphony for a sad urchin,” and “an orchestra for a ballet of ocean flowers.” Yet as he buoys spirits, bringing magic and wonder to the other sea creatures, Whale wonders why he has no song to fill his empty heart.
Whale sings while swimming through “the seagrass taller than the forest and through the wild and tangled undergrowth.” But even with all the sea creatures and sounds around him he feels “how quiet the sea could be at times.” Pignataro illustrates Whale curled up in a fetal position with only the blue ocean by his side. The reader feels the sadness Whale is holding deep inside, even if on the outside he is surrounded by millions of sea creatures. But as he lies alone he lets out a sigh.
“His sigh drifted away like a wish,” and Pignataro’s illustrations change to a sea of big fish and small fish in varied shapes and sizes gathering together for Whale. The sigh passes “over dreaming turtles and forgotten treasures and reaches other whales in the sea “all the way to the whale with the empty heart.” Pignataro touches the reader further by illustrating the pink heart alone in the whale.
The tender wordless spread of Whale meeting another whale while smiling at each other brings optimism. Following an eager page turn, the next page spread reveals the two whales together singing about “happiness and hope, magic and wonder” and the reader knows Whale’s heart is full.
This sweet book of friendship and kindness is a great read for both parents and teachers. It introduces young kids to the importance of empathy, and how we should remember that even if someone looks happy on the outside they may feel lonely on the inside. Children can never hear the message enough of how we must all look out for each other. Pignataro’s poetic language and lush illustrations invite discussion between adults and children on the importance of listening, and understanding the emotions of others, a social emotional lesson one is never too young to learn. This book belongs on every preschool and kindergarten classroom bookshelf, and would be helpful in some higher grade classrooms as well.
The 12-page, pull-the-tab board book, Christmas Puppy, begs to be read and enjoyed by parents and youngsters alike. Who can resist a furry tail that either parents or children can pull each time there’s a puppy pal sound effect?
Puppy knows there’s a gift waiting for him under the tree, but which one will it be? Each time he thinks he’s found it, that particular present is actually intended for either Mouse, Hamster or Cat. Readers can imitate the accompanying animal squeaks, chirps and meows while pulling the wagging tail tab to their hearts’ content. Yoon’s sweet story with its four adorable animals concludes with Puppy finding and unwrapping his special gift. Have fun with Puppy and friends and enjoy a wag-ful Christmas.
Now available in board book, Grandma’s Christmas Wishcelebrates the unique bond between a grandmother bunny and her grandbunny. It’s a gentle reminder that multi-generational relationships mean so much and can bring such joy.
I love how this grandma bunny expresses herself so beautifully in her rhyming couplets. As the pair frolic in the burrow and the snow covered woods, Grandma shares her wishes which are so much more than material ones. Instead they’re about spending time together and her feeling of unconditional love for her grandbunny. “But, you with your grin and all of your charms, you’re my best present, just wrapped in my arms.” Be prepared to smile with every lovely page turn in this heartwarming story just perfect for any little one’s first Christmas.
The merry, colorful illustrations and simple rhyming text of Christmas is Awesome! convey exactly what children think of when describing Christmas. “… Twinkling Lights, Silent Nights, Busy Elves, Jingle Bells!” Joy jumps off every page of this charming new board book from the sisters who founded Hello!Lucky, “the award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio committed to using creativity to spread joy, fun, and kindness.” They succeed.
In addition to the festive feel of this 24-page board book, there are many laughs in store. Inside readers will find humorous spreads—I’m partial to the “Ugly Sweaters” one—that are study-worthy to see what surprises have been included. For example, a lump of coal gets up to all sorts of antics and experiences all sorts of emotions in every spread. I discovered new things with every read and children will enjoy doing the same. Kids will love the variety of animals featured throughout the book such as an elephant, a mole, a penguin, a cat, a squirrel, a dog, a mouse and lots more. Easy to memorize, this terrific read-aloud is recommended for little ones who like the fun and funny side of Christmas.
Die-cut board books are always popular with toddlers and Santa’s Cookie is Missing! is no exception. I like the premise of this story; after a family’s Christmas Even dinner has ended, the narrator (a young girl) notices that the cookie usually saved for Santa has disappeared. The child sets off to solve the mystery first at home, then outdoors, and then inside again.
Every new die-cut reveals something related to the narrator’s search in a circle shape that will hopefully lead to the missing snack. Whether it’s a plate, a Christmas tree ornament, a snowball, the hollow of an old oak tree or even a mug of hot cocoa, there are lots of places to look and several possible suspects. Make note of the cat and dog in the artwork and see if your kids can anticipate who might be the culprit. I’ll admit I was surprised, but maybe that’s because I was too busy checking out all the pretty die-cuts. The tree-ornament and the present with their respective sparkly and shiny designs were my faves. What will be your youngsters’ faves? Don’t miss picking up a copy of this book to gift or to enjoy at home.
This compact book (not really a board book, but the same size) makes a wonderful gift to bring to family and friends for the holiday season. It’s packed with playful gnomes in watercolor illustrations coupled with proverbs inspired by author illustrator Sevig’s Norwegian family and her childhood. Though raised in America, Sevig explains that she and her sister were brought up “in the only Norwegian speaking household on the block.” Clearly her fond memories have influenced the warm upbeat tone of this collection.
Early on, Sevig points out how the meaning of the word gnome actually has a double meaning that’s depicted in every illustration. Not only is a gnome a small woodland creature, it’s also a “wise, pithy saying” and The Little Winter Book of Gnomes is filled with them. I knew the majority of the sayings, but the way they’re lovingly paired with assorted gnomes is the true pleasure that’s to be taken away from any reading. Read just several at a time or sit back, have a cup of warm tea and delight in all 128 cheerful pages. Some noteworthy gnomes include “A tree with strong roots laughs at the storm,” “A warm drink is a hug in a mug,” and “Don’t waste time looking back. You aren’t going that way.” Marzipan and Rice Cream with Berry Sauce are just a few of the recipes that are also included, making this book a go-to read when the weather turns cold and party plans get underway.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Have you read IF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS by Ann Whitford Paul? Illustrated by David Walker, Paul’s book is now out in board book format. Read my review of the picture book from last year here.
Looking for more Christmas book reviews? Click here.
It’s that time of year again when we review the best back-to-school books. For 2019 there are many so we’re going to present them over several days.
FLIGHT SCHOOL Written and illustrated by Lita Judge (Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)
Award-winning author illustrator Lita Judge’s sweet story is now available in board book format and is as charming as ever, and Penguin is just as precious.
There are all kinds of schools but one thing they have in common is that people, or in this case, birds, attend so they can learn things. Enter Penguin. He’s come to Flight School to learn to fly. The teacher tries to point out that Penguin, who claims to have “the soul of an eagle” is a penguin and therefore cannot take to the skies like his classmates. Penguin remains unconvinced.
Attempt after funny attempt, the persevering Penguin fails at flying while his classmates “took to the wind.” He is heartbroken and considers giving up. Fortunately for him, Flamingo figures out a way to get the bird soaring … even if it’s not a permanent solution and that suits Penguin just fine. With its adorable, expression-filled art and upbeat message, Flight School is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to follow your dreams and how friends can help.
Bunny and his forest friends are back for more good times in Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School. In this 40-page picture book, Bunny’s library buddy, Josie, confides in her animal pal that school starts the following week and she’s worried she won’t make any friends.
Bunny hatches a plan to go to Josie’s school to be a friend for her and along the way he runs into Porcupine. Porcupine wants to come with Bunny so the two carry on toward Josie’s school. As the pair journey on, the group gets larger as more and more forest friends want to join in.
Soon there’s Bunny, Porcupine, Bear, Bird, Mouse, Raccoon, Frog, Squirrel and Mole. Nine buddies for Josie. As they hunt for Josie, first Squirrel, then Bird, Mouse and Bear become distracted in various classrooms. I can’t blame them. The basketball game, the music room, and cafeteria were indeed tempting places to be, but Bunny is determined to find his friend.
With everyone gone, (yes, Porcupine “dipped into the art room, and now he was stuck”), Bunny carries on by himself. Alone in the school library, Bunny is impressed. He is eventually joined by the gang. They see Josie through the library windows enjoying her classmates at the playground. When the critters head outside, the fun multiplies. They, too, easily make friends and are happy for Josie, and for themselves.
Silvestro’s hopeful and humorous story is a great one to share at back-to-school time. Mai-Wyss’s lovely water-color illustrations depict a diverse group of children where all look welcome. I noticed a wheelchair ramp in front of the school and a young boy in a wheelchair playing ball with a friend. Bunny and his furry friends provide a gentle reminder for any child starting school that quite often they’re not the only ones interested in making new friends.
It is so easy and entertaining to read Chris Van Dusen’sIf I Built a School, which follows the first in the series, If I Built a House. Between the nod the artwork makes to the “Jetson’s” TV show and the rollicking rhyme that accompanies every spread, I could easily see children re-reading this picture book again and again every back-to-school season.
Jack, the picture book’s narrator, has a fantastic imagination and tells the playground aide, Miss Jane, just what type of school he’d build instead of the plain school where we first meet him.
This school is beyond your wildest dreams and I’m not sure I’d get any work done there because I’d be too busy zooming through clear transportation tubes from towering pod building to towering pod building. Then there are the floating “hover desks” that resemble bumper cars, one of my favorite amusement park rides. Holograms of historical figures teach lessons and in gym the basketball court is a trampoline! At lunchtime, well you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it’s like a robotic automat that serves up any type food, “simple or weird—from PB & jelly to squid lightly seared.”
I pored over every single spread so as not to miss a single thing Van Dusen designed. That includes a sweet blue-nosed, black and white pup who features in almost every illustration along with several disabled characters, one a child in a wheelchair and the other a dog with wheels supporting his back end. The gym and recess illustrations are terrific and, together with younger readers, parents can read the story aloud then help point out all the different activities kids can get up to. If you’ve got a child with an active imagination or one who’s looking for STEAM inspiration, you’ve come to the right book!
See Chris at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA on Saturday, August 31st. And check out his blog to find out about September visits that may be close to where you live.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here’s a link to last year’s roundup of the best back-to-school books 2018.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Connection, School Library Journal
Have you or your children ever questioned why you do what you do? Have you ever wondered about your purpose in life? Sigh, I’m guessing we all have! In this sweet and heartwarming story, the reader walks the path with Carl the earthworm as he searches for answers to these deep questions. Author and illustrator Deborah Freedman introduces us to her seventh picture book, Carl and the Meaning of Life, which tells the tale of the little orange earthworm as he wanders through the water colored painted countryside. The cover introduces the reader to Carl slithering through the letter “C” as he happily roams underground. Meanwhile the fox, mouse, squirrel and rabbit explore the land up above, and the title addresses that big philosophical question.
Carl is not the typical main character we find in animal stories. He is an earthworm. And as an earthworm, he is perfectly content tunneling through the soil below our feet. Carl is turning hard dirt into fluffy soil, day after day ….
Perching his head up to the service one day, Carl is confronted by a field mouse who asks the question, Why? Why do you do that? And this is where Carl begins his journey. Our innocent main character stops making fluffy soil and does what many of us do when we are in search of an answer; searches out others to seek their knowledge.
When Carl asks the rabbit why she does what she does the rabbit replies, “I do not know. I do what I do for my babies!” Carl does not have babies so continues to search for an answer throughout the forest.
Deborah Freedman’s lush green countryside is inhabited by the fox who likes to hunt; the squirrel who likes to plant trees for sleep; and the bear who searches for berries. But as the reader turns the page, the luscious green grass turns to brown and no one is left for Carl to talk to. Carl is now confronted with a sad beetle and soil that is not so fluffy. It is that moment for Carl when he realizes he needs to go back underground to do what he does best, so the other animals can do what they do best. How? Well, why not ask Carl?
This thought provoking story is a wonderful conversation opener with students in a classroom, or kids at home, by reminding them that everyone has a purpose, no matter how big or small; even the smallest creatures actions can touch us all. So the next time you are sitting outdoors and a squirrel runs by and you wonder, “What is he doing?” Think of Carl and every creature in this book, and remember that we are all connected because all creatures have an important job. I know I will not look at an earthworm the same again!
A slight tension fills the air as dark clouds approach Noah’s house. In the backyard, restless salamanders slither “to and fro” and beetles and mice try to take shelter. Getting his tools from the yard, Noah’s father makes a thought-provoking comment: “It’s going to be a beauty.” What is? The preparation, the storm, the aftermath?
Just as Noah’s parents work hard to prepare for the storm, Noah, similarly, takes thorough care of his garden friends’ needs. For shelter, he builds an ark out of his wagon and fills the space with all the comforts of home: food, furniture, water, and light from a flashlight. Whatever his parents provide for him and his sister, Noah, in turn, provides for his critters.
Rocco’s detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations emphasize this give and take motion. On the left side of the page, we readers see the actions his parents take and on the right we see Noah mimicking that action. When the storm arrives, the illustrations once again draw similarities between the two. Both groups huddle, share food, and pass the time with calming activities. One double-page spread is particularly poignant as it draws our attention to the slats of wood—wood that boards Noah’s window and wood that houses in his garden friends. It’s a powerful image of protection and community despite the raging rain “splash[ing] down like silver swords thrown from heaven.” Banks’ imagery captures, too, the beauty and danger of their situation.
When the clouds suddenly retreat and the “sun turn[s] its light back on,” Noah is treated to a wide and stunning rainbow. A sign of the covenant between God and the earth in the original story, the rainbow here represents a symbol of peace and restoration. Two by two the creatures leave the ark and resume their roles in Noah’s garden.
So what was “going to be a beauty” after all? Dedication in caring for one another, the sense of community during troubled times, and the healing qualities of the natural world are all beautiful themes in this story. For animal and nature lovers, for those familiar and new to Noah’s Ark, for those needing a quiet bedtime story and a suspenseful adventure, Noah Builds an Ark is for any child who enjoys a timeless tale.
Today is Earth Day. In fact, today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Back in 1970, the world woke up to the fact that mankind was destroying the planet. Horrible smog covered many major cities. Rain forests were disappearing. The hole in the ozone layer was getting bigger. And many animals were on the brink of extinction.
“Thefirst Earth Dayin 1970 enlisted 20 million Americans and is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. It is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event and it led to passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States, including the Clean Air, Clear Water and Endangered Species Acts. Many countries soon adopted similar laws, and the United Nations chose Earth Day 2016 to sign the Paris climate agreement.”
Back in 1970, I was a young woman teaching kindergarten in the New York City public schools. I knew that picture books were a wonderful way to educate, entertain, and inspire young children. But what I didn’t know then was that I would write a book to aid in our quest to protect the environment and save the species.
In those days, I often accompanied my husband on his fly-fishing expeditions to pristine mountain streams in the back country of whatever state we lived in at the time. These were areas not yet touched by residential and industrial development. And when I’d grow weary of casting the rod, I’d sit on a rock and be still … so still that after a while, woodland creatures would venture out. In Colorado, otters splashed, falcons circled, and butterflies would flit, flutter, and hover, sipping nectar from wild columbines. I knew then that one day I’d write a story about them, a story that would encourage children and their parents to cherish wildlife and protect their habitats because a world that is safe for wild animals is safe for human beings.
FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK(Pomegranate, Ages 5-8)introduces children to ten endangered animals: river otters, Peregrine falcons, fritillary butterflies, yellow mud turtles, and more. The text is lyrical yet simple enough for the very young. And the illustrations are fabulous original woodcuts by the talented artist Mirka Hokannen. The rich STEM back matter contains facts about each animal and also information about protection of these species and what factors threaten them. There is also a wonderful activity book created by the illustrator, available here forfree download.
Although much work has been done over the last fifty years, there is still so much more to do if we are to leave a legacy of clean water, fresh air, and a healthy planet for our children and for all of the species that live here. Because there is a chain of life that connects us all and, if even one species is threatened, we humans are threatened as well.
There are simple things that parents, teachers, and kids can do together and in the activity book, there are Six Steps to Care for Endangered Animals:
Turn the lights off (less electricity use means less pollution)
Place pictures on your windows (so birds won’t fly into them and hurt themselves)
Reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic bags (animals often mistake plastic for food)
Make your home wildlife friendly (keep garbage out of reach from wild animals)
Plant a native garden (provide food and shelter for wildlife)
Learn about endangered species in your area (so that you can better protect them)
Thank you so much, Ronna, for giving me the opportunity to shout out about EARTH DAY and aboutFOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN. We only have one planet – and we need to take good care of it and all of its inhabitants.
A huge thanks to Vivian for writing her charming picture book and for this enlightening guest post. As global citizens, we are custodians of our world and must pay attention to the signs all around us that climate change, waste, pollution, and the poisoning of our waters with plastics and chemicals will not go away just by wishing it so.