Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias
Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros
Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.
Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.
Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.
In THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”
But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.
Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review
- 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.
Written by Anne Marie Pace
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
(Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Groundhug Day is a picture book delight that seamlessly weaves a heartwarming and credible friendship story together with Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day holidays. Making a themed book that can be read on more than a few days each year is a feat few authors and illustrators attempt, but the winning combination of Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise have managed to pull this off quite successfully!
Moose is planning a Valentine’s Day party and he’d like to celebrate with all his pals. There is however just one little hitch. While Bunny, Porcupine and Squirrel can attend, if Groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, he’ll “go back into his hole for six more weeks.” In other words, he won’t emerge in time for February 14th festivities. So it’s no surprise that when Groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, he’s quick to head back down, but hints there’s more to it than that. Ever the intuitive one, Moose thinks perhaps his pal is afraid of shadows. Determined to show Groundhog that shadows aren’t scary at all, Moose enlists help from his friends to demonstrate “just how awesome shadows are.”
Here’s where young readers, already drawn into the story, will be treated to several beautiful pages of illustrations (in addition to to all the other striking artwork in warm welcoming tones) showing what wonderful things shadows are and can do. It’s easy to feel the joy both author and illustrator felt about creating this lovely picture book. More fun times are in store because, despite no longer being fearful of shadows, Groundhog must still get his six weeks of sleep! This tale, honoring the support that genuine friendship offers, is both a sweet and satisfying read that has all the feels you’d want from a picture book.
THE BEST HALLOWEEN PICTURE BOOKS OF 2017
by Christine Van Zandt
Creepy Pair of Underwear!
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Brown
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Two things are clear from the start of this book: Jasper needs some underwear and, he’s not a little bunny anymore. He persuades his mother to buy a pair of underwear advertised as, “So creepy! So comfy!” That night, Jasper wears them to bed and the trouble begins.
In Aaron Reynolds’s 48-page picture book, Jasper soon decides that, even though he’s a big rabbit, the underwear’s “ghoulish, greenish glow” and magical powers are a bit much. Instead of bothering his parents or confessing why he’s jumpy, he finds ways to rid himself of the dreaded underwear. When they keep coming back, Jasper self-reliant attitude conflicts with his fears
Interior spread from Creepy Pair of Underwear! written by Aaron Reynolds with illustrations by Peter Brown, Simon & Schuster BYR ©2017.
Peter Brown brilliantly conveys the somber mood in black and white images, offsetting the unusual underwear in neon green. When Jasper finally entombs his problem, Brown rewards the reader with a two-page wordless spread of darkness followed by Jasper’s eyes, surprised and oversized at the absolute blackness he has achieved.
The text’s refrain cleverly changes along with Jasper’s perspective. Acting like the big rabbit he professes to be, Jasper solves his own dilemma. Reader and rabbit receive an illuminating conclusion.
The team of Reynolds and Brown scored Caldecott honors with their previous book, Creepy Carrots! Featuring the same rabbit and a humorous plot, Creepy Pair of Underwear! will haunt you to read it again.
Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo!
Written and illustrated by Tad Hills
(Random House Children’s, $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo! brings us a Halloween adventure with this pair of favorite feathered friends Duck and Goose. This 40-page picture book will engage young children who, during this time of year, are eager to ask, What are you going to be for Halloween?
Goose, unclear on the concept states he’s going to be himself, of course, because “it’s important to always be yourself.” And, rightly so. But, fun soon follows when their friend, Thistle, appears and boldly states that she’s not telling them about her costume. It’s a secret. Then she cautions them to beware of the swamp monster tomorrow when they go trick-or-treating.
Of course, the mention of that ghoul haunts Goose that night and the next when he sets out, ready to collect candy. All seems okay until he’s told the swamp monster is looking for them!
In this book, Tad Hills continues the beloved series wherein emotions are explored in a gentle manner. Throughout, his illustrations, are expressive, capturing Goose’s trepidation. Particularly well depicted is the forest trick-or-treating scene—such fun to see how animals celebrate.
Children can relate to the slight apprehension surrounding Halloween that is paired with the excitement of get dressed up and, in the end, sorting their bounty.
Halloween Good Night
Written by Rebecca Grabill
Illustrated by Ella Okstad
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Halloween Good Night, a rhyming 32-page picture book, counts from one to ten using charmingly ghoulish families. Rebecca Grabill employs some standard spooky Halloween creatures such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Refreshing additions include wood imps, globsters, and boggarts. “Lurking in the swampland, lanterns glowing like the sun, sits a massive mama globster and her bitty globby one.”
The captivating cadence of the lines is spiked with clues enticing the reader to question where everyone is going. Soon, we find ghosts “sail through your door” and boggies wait in your closest for “your bedtime once again.” This removal of the so-called fourth wall makes the audience part the story.
A not-at-all-spooky conclusion is followed by a quick countdown from ten to one. Because the number sequences are handled with interest even older kids will engage with this “counting book”—there is much more to the story.
Ella Okstad delightfully illustrates the funny scenes (such as seven goblins dumpster diving with Granddaddy Goblin). Colorful images infuse the shadowy darkness with mischief and humor.
Halloween Good Night shows us that monsters can be playthings like dolls or stuffed animals. Instead of fright, they bring delight.
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
If you know any little ones already thinking
about Easter egg hunts and
baskets full of chocolate candy,
this roundup of new Easter board books
IS FOR YOU!
Tucker Digs Easter!
Written and illustrated by Leslie McGuirk
(Candlewick Press; $7.99, Ages 2-5)
Everyone’s favorite, Tucker, is back in Tucker Digs Easter! This adorable white dog is excited about the arrival of spring “when there’s lots of soft dirt for digging!” In fact, he’s such a pro at digging all kinds of holes to hide his bones and toys that it’s no surprise when the Easter Bunny recruits him to help dig holes for the big Easter egg hunt. But what happens after the pair dig and hide so well that the children cannot find any eggs? Then it’s Tucker to the rescue to dig, dig, dig again to find those well hidden eggs and bring smiles to all the children’s faces. This 28 page board book is a great way to make new Tucker fans while getting youngsters excited about the upcoming holiday.
The Easter Egg
Written and illustrated by Jan Brett
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $8.99, Ages 3-5)
Do you love Jan Brett? Then you’ll be delighted The Easter Egg is now available in board book format with a gorgeous foldout spread adding to this book’s appeal. Hoppi is going to decorate his “first-ever Easter egg!” and he wants it to be extra special. Searching for ideas, Hoppi visits various friends for inspiration. Everyone is so helpful and eager to assist him, offering super suggestions and samples. But everything looks so hard to do. It’s only when Hoppi spots a fallen blue robin’s egg that he realizes what he must do. After caring for the egg and eventually befriending the baby robin, Hoppi’s good deed is rewarded by the Easter Bunny in the most satisfying way. As always, Brett’s artwork is a treat to behold. Easter-themed borders surround each sturdy page and pictures of Hoppi’s rabbit friends busy creating their egg masterpieces hug the sides. Be sure also to point out to children all the robin activity woven into each border at the top of almost every page because that’s a whole other story in itself!
The Story of The Easter Bunny
Written by Katherine Tegen
Illustrated by Sally Anne Lambert
(Harper Festival; $7.99, Ages 4–8)
Now a charming 32 page board book, The Story of The Easter Bunny transports readers to what appears to be a quaint English village filled with thatch roofed cottages and cobblestone streets. It’s here that “,,, a round old couple were making Easter eggs.” As they dutifully toiled away, their little rabbit watched. He watched until he learned their tasks by heart so that one day, when the round old couple overslept, the little rabbit knew just what he had to do. The tables turned and now the round old couple were helping their little rabbit until one day they were simply too old to continue. Afraid that the village children would find him out, the little rabbit moved to “… a shadow-filled wood nearby.” There, with help from his friends, he carried on the tradition he had learned so well and to this day the Easter Bunny continues to spread cheer by delivering his baskets to children everywhere. Sharing this store requires carefully studying the stunning spreads so as not to miss a single detail Lambert’s included. I think some yummy chocolate should be required to accompany very reading!
Written by Linda Ravin Lodding
Illustrated by Claire Fletcher
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
You don’t have to be a Francophile to fall for Painting Pepette, a charming new picture book by Linda Ravin Lodding with illustrations by Claire Fletcher. Journey back with me to 1920s Paris to meet the adorable Josette and her stuffed animal rabbit, Pepette.
Interior spread from Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding with illustrations by Claire Fletcher, Little Bee Books ©2016.
Young Josette adores her plush pet Pepette, but realizes that among all the lovely family portraits hanging in the great room at #9 Rue Lafette, there is none of her beloved rabbit. Determined to change that, Josette heads to the most popular place for a 1920s Paris artist to paint, high up in scenic Montmartre.
There amidst the assorted artists’ imaginations, easels and colorful atmosphere, Josette crosses paths with Picasso, Dali, Chagall and Matisse. Each of these famed artists is eager to capture the likeness of Pepette in their own unique way. The only catch is that Josette feels the completed artists’ masterpieces do not quite convey the true Pepette she knows and loves. And naturally, Pepette agrees. Clearly the only thing left to do at this point is to paint the portrait herself!
Lodding’s use of rhyming words like Josette, Pepette, Lafette and even the family schnoodle, Frizette, along with un petit peu of French words make Painting Pepette a recommended read aloud story. Her selection of artists allows her to have fun with the little girl’s search for the perfect portrait painter. Lodding even includes a brief Author’s Note to explain the time period when these four famous artists painted.
Interior spread from Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding with illustrations by Claire Fletcher, Little Bee Books ©2016.
Fletcher captures the essence of 1920s Paris in every illustration and introduces children to the unique artists and their signature styles. Picasso’s take on Pepette includes two noses and three ears. Dali envisions the rabbit as a variation of The Persistence of Memory. Chagall paints Pepette up in the clouds like a star, et bien sûr, Matisse employs a plethora of color on his palette, “But Pepette isn’t pink,” notes a disappointed Josette.
Together, Lodding and Fletcher have created a picture book that, after entertaining them, might very well inspire children to get out the water colors or acrylics and get into some serious portrait painting of all their favorite stuffed animals. Dabble on!
Painting Pepette Trailer
Three Easter Books for Children
FIVE LITTLE BUNNIES
Written by Tish Rabe
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
(Harper; $6.99, Ages Newborn – 4)
This charming 16 page board book invites parents and children to recite every line.
The first bunny said, “We’re here! Let’s stop! Let’s hide Easter eggs. We all know how. We need to hurry. Let’s start right now!” So the bunnies make plans to hide a lot of eggs, under trees, in bushes, next to flowers. All kinds of eggs, too – striped ones, spotted ones so kids are in for a treat. The watchful, eager bunnies wait until all the little children arrive and start the hunt. With their job successfully completed, the bunnies are free to hippity hop away, leaving youngsters on the lookout for all the eggs they can find!
THIS LITTLE BUNNY
Written by Aly Fronis
Illustrated by Sanja Rescek
(Little Bee Books; 5.99, Ages 3-6)
This Little Bunny, an adorable 16 page board book, will fit right into any Easter basket and promises to bring lots of sweet smiles your way. Written with nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy” in mind, naturally the first little bunny goes to the market. The next one bakes a cake, and another makes cookies. As all the bunnies in the story get ready for Easter by decorating, painting eggs and such, one little bunny feels the need to take a break (perhaps my favorite activity or lack thereof). Kids will love the closing line of “We … we … we … wish you a Happy Easter!” While the story ends on this high note, you’re far from finished because I’m certain kids will want you to read this one again and again. Remember to buy several copies then head – wee … wee … wee … all the way home to enjoy!
IT’S THE EASTER BEAGLE, CHARLIE BROWN
by Charles M. Schulz
Adapted by Daphne Pendergrass
Illustrated by Vicki Scott
(Simon Spotlight/Simon & Schuster; $7.99, Ages 3-8)
The whole gang’s here for all you Peanuts fans. And while everyone from Linus to Lucy, Marcie to Peppermint Patty, Schroeder to Sally, and Charlie Brown to Snoopy, are getting ready for the Easter celebration, Linus wonders what all the fuss and preparation is about. “The Easter Beagle does all that,” Linus announces. Poor Marcie cannot seem to get the knack of coloring eggs, Sally wants new shoes for the holiday, Snoopy is dreaming of befriending bunnies, and all the while Linus is insisting no one need worry about all the eggs gone wrong because the Easter Beagle will bring lots more eggs. But will the Easter Beagle really show up and save the gang from big disappointment, especially Lucy? Find out how Snoopy surprises everyone in this delightful new tale to share this Easter holiday.