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Wolf in the Snow written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell

 

 

WOLF IN THE SNOW
Written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell
(Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 2-6)

 

★ Starred reviews – Booklist, Horn Books, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, SLJ

Wolf in the Snow cover image

 

Matthew Cordell’s notable picture book, Wolf in the Snow, balances a chilly winter landscape with warm sentiments of kindness. A young girl in a red triangular-shaped parka loses her way home from school when snows obliterates the path. At the same time, the severe weather separates a wolf cub from its pack. The two youngsters find one another and the girl’s thoughtfulness sets the story’s tone.

 

Interior artwork from Wolf in the Snow written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, Feiwel & Friends ©2017.

 

The only words in this book are plaintive sounds: whines, barks, howls, exhausted huffing. Children not yet literate can easily follow the images. Be sure to view the pictures before the title page which convey important information about the girl, her parents, and their dog. These also start us with the idea that, though the girl becomes lost, she is not alone—help will come, though not necessarily in the manner expected.

Blowing snow illustrations are bookended by ones of cozy comfort, communicating a safe opening and conclusion. Icy storm and natural colors contrast sharply with the bright jackets worn by adults and children. Wolves are depicted with distinction.

 

Interior image of wolf from Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Interior artwork from Wolf in the Snow written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, Feiwel & Friends ©2017.

Animal lovers will appreciate the resounding connection between humans and creatures. Wolf in the Snow reminds us that helping one another is an idea without boundaries.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Best Hanukkah Books 2016 – A Roundup

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
A Roundup by Ronna Mandel

 

Hanukkah Delight!
Hanukkah Delight by Leslea Newman book coverWritten 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 MazelA Hanukkah With Mazel by Joel Edward Epstein
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 cover imageYitzi 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.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.

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Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

ALSO AN OCTOPUS
Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

  • is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

also-an-octopus

 

Looking for a terrific tale about waffle spaceships and eight-legged ukulele players? Well Also An Octopus is definitely the book for you! Wondering how writers come up with ideas for books about waffle spaceships? Then this is STILL the book for you! Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall has crafted a funny, clever story about following the spark of an idea through wild gallops of imagination until it takes shape as a book. But this can happen if and only if one follows the basic rules of the road, which are explained with flair and humor.

The tale begins with a blank page. An unseen narrator gently reminds us that all stories do begin this way, on an empty page, screen or canvas, until a character appears. Perhaps it is a little girl, or an adorable bunny, or a ukulele-playing octopus. But that grinning octopus, surrounded by bloopie bubbles and wearing a pom-pom topped knit cap, has to want something. What the character wants, explains the narrator, will make the story become interesting. And if the octopus wants an awesome purple spaceship, it has to be difficult to get. If he can simply get one from the drugstore the story will be too silly, short and dull. So perhaps the octopus will have to make the spaceship himself, out of odds and ends like soda cans, glue, string, umbrellas, glitter and waffles.

Have you fastened your seatbelt yet? Because this story is just about to take off! Or is it? “I’m not really qualified to build a spaceship ….” remarks the octopus, a tentacle rubbing his puzzled head. Nope, that spaceship doesn’t fly, so now our hero has an even bigger problem to solve. He has to find a rocket scientist!

Tokuda-Hall subtly teaches the constructs of story-telling within the boundaries of this absurdly whimsical tale. Step-by-step, the hapless octopus is tossed and turned through the imaginary gyrations of the narrative, experiencing the emotional highs and lows of a plot-driven concept. As illustrated by Benji Davies, the engaging and expressive characters will appeal to readers young and old.  The seemingly retro color palette ranges from mustard yellow to blue, orange, and luscious deep eggplant, displayed in large, bright spreads nicely balanced and evenly spaced. Davies tucks amusing random details into the scenes, like a curly-tongue armadillo and motorboat-driving hamster. Those details, in turn, will inspire young listeners to create new stories of their own.

Create new stories? Yes, because everyone has a bit of nothing, a virtual “blank page” on which to begin. And thus Also An Octopus comes full circle after a rollicking adventure that is as awesome as a purple spaceship dotted with waffles. Remember those bloopie bubbles that swirl around our eight-limbed hero? They burst into sparkly stars once he reaches outer space, a twinkling celebration of this delightful adventure into the world of story-making.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Also An Octopus from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin

SPLASHDANCE
Written and illustrated by Liz Starin
(Farrar Strauss Giroux $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Splashdance by Liz Starin book cover

 

Splashdance, a funny, wacky picture book by Liz Starin is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

One MILLION dollars! That is the prize awarded to the winners of the water ballet competition at the community pool. So Ricardo, a mustachioed, knobby-kneed gentleman and his water ballet partner Ursula, a well-groomed but furry polar bear practice their routine diligently. All at once, a new rule bans bears from the pool, and Ricardo summarily ditches Ursula for a new partner, a giraffe named Hortense.

Ursula is devastated at the betrayal and heartbroken to lose her chance in the competition. After all, she really loves water ballet! Eventually Ursula dons a striped bikini and sneaks down to the community pond for a quick dip. Alone, she executes her best double back albatross and half twist chanterelle in the weedy green swimming hole.

 

Interior_artwork_from picture book Splashdance

Interior spread from Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin, Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR ©2016.

 

Then one day Ursula arrives at the pond only to meet a large group of water ballet enthusiasts practicing their routine. They, too, were cast out of the pool due to their ursine members. This group – this TEAM – has stuck together and continued to practice. Ursula is inspired to join them, and she devises a plan to ensure that they can participate in the water ballet championship after all.

Starin’s text is smart, vibrant and playful. A balanced mixture of short and long sentences filled with cut-to-the-chase emotions keeps the storyline popping along. Young listeners will remain eager to turn the page and discover what happens next. Starin’s illustrations are spectacularly funny, inventive and ridiculous, adding implausible wacky details that appeal to the eye and the funnybone. Clever signs, wild bathing costumes, and a hilarious menagerie of swimming critters mix together to produce a divinely humorous tale.

Ursula finally gets to perform her impressive triple banana flip in the water ballet competition – but will it be enough to win the million dollars? Or is there an even bigger prize at stake? Splashdance is a lighthearted, inspiring winner from beginning to end.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Splashdance from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Painting Pepette

PAINTING PEPETTE
Written by Linda Ravin Lodding
Illustrated by Claire Fletcher
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Painting_Pepette cover image

 

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.

 

Painting_Pepette_Interior_Image2_the_great_room

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.

 

Painting_Pepette_Interior_Image5_meeting_Picasso_in_Montmartre

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!

Don’t miss:

Painting Pepette Trailer

Downloadable Activity

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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They Just Know: Animal Instincts

THEY JUST KNOW: ANIMAL INSTINCTS
Written by Robin Yardi
Illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein
(Arbordale Publishing; $17.95 hardcover, $9.95 paperback, Ages 4-8)

 

They Just Know: Animal Instincts book cover

 

Kids are curious. They wonder about everything they see in nature, especially about living creatures. So if your child has ever asked you how animals know what to do in any given situation, it’s the perfect time to introduce the concepts of instinct and learned behaviors with They Just Know: Animal Instincts, a terrific nonfiction picture book. When those questions start you’ll definitely want to have a copy of this helpful resource on hand not just for your kids but as a refresher for you parents and caregivers

 

They Just Know: Animal Instincts Interior spread of horn shark

Interior artwork from They Just Know: Animal Instincts by Robin Yardi with illustrations by Laurie Allen Klein, Arbordale Publishing ©2015.

 

While gently teaching about instinct versus learned behaviors, life cycles and metamorphosis, the young and their parents, They Just Know shows children that throughout the animal kingdom, all kinds of creatures are growing and changing, learning and succeeding and ultimately making it on their own.

 

They Just Know: Animal Instincts interior spread of ladybugs

Interior artwork from They Just Know: Animal Instincts by Robin Yardi with illustrations by Laurie Allen Klein, Arbordale Publishing ©2015.

 

Just like no one tells a baby when to cry, “no one reminds a caterpillar to eat her leaves, or to make a chrysalis when she’s old enough. Caterpillars just know.” Using this and other excellent animal examples, author Robin Yardi, and illustrator Laurie Allen Klein, introduce us to black swallowtails, horn sharks, king snakes, ladybugs, loggerhead sea turtles and spring peepers. The light-hearted artwork that anthropomorphizes the animals, imagines them in humorous situations preparing and studying for what actually comes naturally. Kids will find these depictions so funny. My favorite is the illustration of the horn shark sitting in his inflatable wading pool, wearing a float which, in all its contrariness, captures the text, “Nobody tells a horn shark to stay in the shallow end until he can swim.”

 

They Just Know: Animal Instincts interior spread of sea turtles

Interior artwork from They Just Know: Animal Instincts by Robin Yardi with illustrations by Laurie Allen Klein, Arbordale Publishing ©2015.

 

The book’s back matter includes four pages of learning activities in a section entitled For Creative Minds and it’s also a great conversation starter for the youngest of readers. Make sure to spend some time reading They Just Know: Animal Instincts before your next visit to the aquarium or zoo and I’m sure some enjoyable and entertaining discussions are bound to happen.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Find author Robin Yardi here.
Find illustrator Laurie Allen Klein here.
Click here for They Just Know teaching activities.
They Just Know is also available in Spanish Paperback, Ebook, and Spanish EBook

 

 

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From Wolf to Woof! by Hudson Talbott

 

FROM WOLF TO WOOF!:
The Story of Dogs
Written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

 

From_Wolf_to_Woof

 

Available April 11th, this new book, From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs, blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction. Author and illustrator Hudson Talbott describes this children’s picture book as his “myth of origin” in which “a myth reveals a greater truth about life in the form of a simple story.”

 

IntimageWolftoWoof1

Interior artwork featured in From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs by Hudson Talbott, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2016.

In this engaging story for children, Talbott writes and illustrates an imagined beginning where the first lone wolf puppy, cast out of his pack, soon befriends another loner: an orphan boy. The two build trust in one another and learn that, together, they survive better than alone.

 

intimageWolftoWoof2

Interior artwork featured in From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs by Hudson Talbott, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2016.

A particularly heartwarming image is when the boy first makes contact with the wolf, petting his snout. From there, everything changes.

 

intimageWolftoWoof3

Interior artwork featured in From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs by Hudson Talbott, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2016.

The two outsiders are joined by other misfits. Though confrontations occur against the wild wolves and the wild humans, the new group gets along exceedingly well. In these lines we see the importance of inclusion and collaboration: “Everyone worked together and shared the food. No one was left out.”

 

intimageWolftoWoof4

Interior artwork featured in From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs by Hudson Talbott, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2016.

 

Thousands of years of evolution then changes humans from hunters and gatherers to herders and farmers. Previously wild wolves become domesticated dogs where they continue to adapt to our needs, developing specializations such as guarding, transporting, and, most important perhaps, comforting.

 

intimageWolftoWoof5

Interior artwork featured in From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs by Hudson Talbott, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2016.

Children will be thrilled that their beloved pet was once a wild wolf. It’s mind-boggling to consider that Chihuahuas, bulldogs, and sheepdogs originate from a similar ancestor. Talbott’s reimagining of the first contact between boy and wolf is a believable tale that offers an explanation as to how man’s best friend has evolved at our side throughout human civilization. The next time you listen to your dog’s howl, you will be transported back through time, back to when he was a wolf.

intimageWolftoWoof6

Interior artwork featured in From Wolf to Woof!: The Story of Dogs by Hudson Talbott, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2016.

 

  • Written by Guest Reviewer, Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

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Easter Books for Children – A Roundup

Three Easter Books for Children

A Roundup

 

FIve_Little_BunniesFIVE 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_BunnyTHIS 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!

 

its-the-easter-beagle-charlie-brown-9781481461597_lgIT’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.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Normal Norman by Tara Lazar Blog Tour & Guest Post

THE NORMAL NORMAN BLOG TOUR
including
A Guest Post from Author Tara Lazar & Giveaway

Normal_Norman_cvr

 

NORMAL NORMAN
Written by Tara Lazar
Illustrated by S. Britt
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4 and up)

Normal Norman by Tara Lazar with illustrations by S. Britt, is an ode to individuality, and a wonderfully wild and wacky way to reinforce the message to children that there’s no such thing as normal. Good Reads With Ronna asked author Tara Lazar to speak to this topic, wondering how she embraces her own unique brand of non-normality in her every day life. Oh, and since I haven’t said it yet, I recommend you unicycle, not run to your nearest bookstore to get a copy of Normal Norman AND enter our giveaway, too! 🍌

GUEST POST BY TARA LAZAR:

I am not normal.

Tara Lazar & Norman - Author Pic

Normal Norman author Tara Lazar alongside the personable, purple orangutan. Photo courtesy of Autumn Lazar ©2016.

I unexpectedly launch into foreign accents while talking. Think a “cawfee tawk” Linda Richman, morphing into a good ol’ cajun creole, followed by a dashing foray in the King’s English. (I’ve been brushing up on Nana’s Irish brogue, but it’s not quite there yet.)

I don’t dress like a 40-something, either. I know that What-Not-to-Wear show cautions against mini-skirts, Mickey Mouse sweatshirts and combat boots—especially all at the same time—but I don’t care.

Since I don’t walk very well, I’ve got a mobility scooter. I painted flames on it. Its max speed is 5mph, so the flames make me feel as close to being Danica Patrick as I’m gonna get.

I hate coffee, and I’m a writer. How weird is that? And, what’s even worse, I don’t care for chocolate. If you offered me a dish of ice cream or a plate of cheese, I’d cut the cheese every time.

Yes, I just made a fart joke. And I think it’s hysterical.

I told you, I’m not normal. And that’s precisely the way I like it.

Being normal is overrated. But when you’re a kid? Being normal is EVERYTHING! The slightest cowlick and you’re branded a nerd, a weirdo, a wackadoo. Wear glasses? Geek! Don’t even get me started on being pegged as the teacher’s pet! That was me all through my school years. I was taunted and teased, and one girl bullied me from 2nd grade all the way to senior year in high school. I didn’t dress normally enough or act normally enough for her.

I’ve tried to figure out why kids want everyone around them to conform. Maybe things are more predictable and safe that way. There’s nothing to be frightened about. Nothing will jump out suddenly, like a jack-in-the-box. You stay in your corner and I’ll remain in mine and we’ll get through this just fine.

I get it. Life is scary.

stopinthenameoflove

Tara Lazar doing her best mannequin-style Stop In The Name of Love.

But my mission in life is to make everything fun. If that means stopping in the name of love to snap a photo with mannequins at the mall, so be it. And if it embarrasses my 12-year-old, let her turn red. Let her see that things shouldn’t be so serious all the time. Let her learn to find joy in the most miniscule things–or a medley of 6-foot plaster mannequins.

When I wrote Normal Norman, I didn’t necessarily set out to write some grand statement about all this. I just wanted Norman to be funny and to have fun. What emerged was a character who did just as he pleased and loved every minute of it. What emerged, I suppose, is me—in purple orangutan form!

Norman's normal home

Reprinted with permission from Normal Norman © 2016 by Tara Lazar, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations © 2016 by Stephan Britt.

The message to children, buried beneath the hilarity, is that there’s really no such thing as “normal”. With all of us being so different, how could there be only one “normal” expectation to live up to? The real normalness is being your true, normal self, in all its wonderful wackiness. Just like Norman…and me!

NN Blog Tour Schedule - FINAL

 

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A Roundup of Counting Books

 

A ROUNDUP OF COOL & CLEVER COUNTING BOOKS
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

 

Number Circus: 1-10 and Back Again!
by Kveta Pacovská
(Minedition; $29.99, Ages 3 and up)

Counting Lions: Portraits from the Wild
Written by Katie Cotton
Illustrated by Stephen Walton
(Candlewick Press; $22.00, Ages 1 and up)

Counting Crows
Written by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Helping teach little kids to count can be a fun though often repetitive task, but there are quite a few books out that can make the standard 123s more interesting.

Here are three very different approaches to the standard counting exercise.NumberCircuscvr

Number Circus: 1-10 and Back Again by Kveta Pacovská is a number activity book for little ones. On each page the number is given in many different formats, for example: 2, two, OO (2 circles to touch), (an illustration in the shape of 2), and often a flap with the number of objects as well. It has bright, bold colors and a play-with-me feel so that young children will enjoy running their little fingers over the numbers and counting the objects (not to mention opening the flap). It’s got 28 pages and is die cut throughout, definitely making this a great book for tactile learning of the number names and formation of writing each number digit.

Counting Lions: Portraits From the Wild CountingLionscvrby Katie Cotton is a beautiful book! It is worth every page turn just to see Stephen Walton’s gorgeous charcoal drawings of these majestic animals, but endangered animals. It takes a traditional approach of going through numbers 1-10, but the little bits of informative text along with the beautiful, realistic illustrations are wonderful. My almost three year-old loved the drawings as well as counting the various animals including lions, elephants, giraffes, pandas, tigers, chimpanzees, penguins, turtles, macaws, and zebras. I also found the extra back-matter about the animals and their extinction level very interesting. I highly recommend this book!

CountingCrowscvrCounting Crows by Kathi Appelt goes from 1-12. This picture book’s got a fun, rhythmic text that groups the crows into threes, making it a nice read and highly enjoyable for young ones. The dust jacket cover was also a hit because it has textures–fuzzy, soft stripes on the crows’ sweaters, a slightly raised and coarse feel for the tree, and a smooth and silky feel for the scarf and title letters. The black and white illustrations go well with the pop of red from the crows’ sweaters. Definitely worth several readings to teach counting!

It’s great to read so many neat approaches to teaching math and numeracy. I can’t wait to see what other math related books come out next!

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch
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Best Father’s Day Books Roundup

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

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We really need a Father’s MONTH or even more to celebrate all the amazing things that dads do. That’s why Good Reads With Ronna dedicates this post to fathers everywhere and the kids who love them. Incidentally, this year I noticed a new theme pop up in some of the picture books I’m reviewing. It’s noises, the kinds that dads make. You’ll see what I mean soon.

TadandDadcvr.jpgTad and Dad is written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein, (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.95, Ages 3-5). Tad the tadpole loves his dad, lots. He wants to be just like him, whether it’s making singing sounds in an echoing BUUURRPP or splashing sounds on touchdown after reaching new heights by jumping. Littles ones who have this endearing picture book read to them will also relate to Tad the tadpole wanting to spend the night beside his dad on the same lily pad. Trouble is, Tad’s growing up pretty fast and, as he grows, he naturally occupies more space … on his dad’s lily pad!

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Interior artwork from Tad and Dad written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, ©2015.

That means that at bedtime, when he asks to hop up next to Dad, any movement he makes is bound to be felt by his dad. And lately Dad’s been feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted.

“Tad!” said Dad, “When you jump in my bed, I can’t sleep because you’re always wiggling and poking, kicking and croaking!”

Kinda sounds familiar, huh? But when Tad offers to sleep all by himself on his own lily pad, Dad realizes he actually has more trouble getting to sleep without Tad by his side. This heartwarming tale of froggy affection makes its point effectively in a most delightful Stein way. That means with humor, whimsical artwork and most of all, with love.

IfMyDadWereanAnimalcvr.jpgIf My Dad Were an Animal is written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7). With very few words, this sweet picture book succeeds as a tribute to the many qualities that dads possess. Last month I reviewed If My Mom Were a Bird for Mother’s Day. The big difference in this companion book is that in If My Dad Were an Animal, boys and girls compare their dads to an assortment of animals. Some are like a “great, big, hairy … yak.” Or maybe stylish like a penguin. wise like a hooty owl or strong and burly like an elephant.

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Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

What works so well in this story is that Robaard has included each dad in the spread when the animals are revealed making it easy to show the  comparison with very young children. Her watercolor illustrations are not overly embellished, but don’t need to be because all her creatures are adorable and full of personality.

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Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

Parents can engage their youngsters with this tale by inviting them to think up more animals and characteristics they share with dads. The colorful pages of text contrast beautifully with the vast white space Robaard has intentionally left in order to draw attention to the child imitating his or her dad (see above).  All in all, If My Dad Were an Animal is an ideal picture book for Father’s Day and everyday.

DaddySatonaDuckcvr.jpgDaddy Sat on a Duck is written and illustrated by Scott M. Cohn (Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $15.00, Ages 3-6). Read the review, then scroll back up to enter Cohn’s hysterical giveaway here. I deliberately put the giveaway at the top because I absolutely love it and wish I could enter! It’s witty, quirky and seems to target the free range parent just like his debut picture book. The book opens with a *Note to reader: Try making the noises. You won’t be disappointed. And after reading the first two spreads, I dashed off to show my husband that there was someone else with his sense of humor. The fact that they’re both New Yorkers helps, but you don’t have to be from the Big Apple to find yourself laughing out loud at lots of the main character’s lines.

Cohn has created an offbeat picture book that should definitely not be designated a Father’s Day book because it’s simply too funny to take out only once a year for the holiday. In this tale, the narrator, a little girl, keeps hearing the call of the wild (daddy), in other words, sounds such as farts, yawns, or howls that could easily be mistaken for lions, hippos, and other feral creatures big and small.

I was starting to feel like I lived in a zoo.
So I asked my best friend if she felt that way, too.
“Do YOU ever notice wild beasts in your house?”
She said, “Only once” — when her mom saw a mouse.

In reality, she’s hearing the daily noises emanating from her father’s body, noises that eventually she learns to accept as part and parcel of being around her terrific loving dad. In addition to appreciating Cohn’s clever rhyming text, readers should scan his illustrations (created using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop) several times so as not to miss even the smallest of details. My particular faves are illustrations of Uncle Johnny and Daddy singing and playing bass and guitar to Tom Petty’s Free Fallin,’ a penguin at the piano and Golden Doodle Louie with his shredded toilet paper tube. I’m happy Cohn’s tackled the topic of noises AND smells candidly and comically, and now look forward to what he does in his next book, Daddy Said a Word I Never Heard due out in the fall.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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What About Moose? by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez

WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?
Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez
Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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Tonight I attended a book launch by Los Angeles illustrator, Keika Yamaguchi, at the Casa Verdugo branch of the Glendale Public Library. I not only learned about her illustration process to create the artwork for What About Moose?, but I also got to watch the reactions of dozens of children in attendance. By their response, I knew the books would fly off the shelves. 

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Interior Artwork from What About Moose? Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez, Atheneum BYR ©2015.

This recommended-for-read-aloud rhyming picture book introduces youngsters to Moose, Fox, Bear, Skunk, Frog, and Porcupine who intend to build a treehouse together, through teamwork. Moose, however, has other ideas and proclaims himself foreman. As he issues order upon order, Moose’s behavior does not endear him to his friends. In spite of this, there is humor to be found on every page both in the rhymes and illustrations. Kids’ll eat up the fact that Moose has taken to giving his “commands from a big megaphone.” His bossiness will not be lost on children as they sense the tension building between Moose and his pals as every so often one of them asks, “But what about you, Moose?” Soon your child will be asking the very same thing, quite eager to see how Moose will respond. In fact, he’s so busy ordering his friends around that he neglects to notice the treehouse built around him. It’s only once the roof is put on that Moose realizes the door is too tiny for him to fit through!!

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Interior Artwork from What About Moose? Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz & Rebecca J. Gomez, Atheneum BYR ©2015.

Luckily for Moose, his friends are a caring bunch. They hatch a plan to help him get out of the house safely because how long can the animals bear to listen to Moose’s complaints as he “groaned and he grumbled. ‘It’s squishing my butt,'” to which Fox replies, “We’ll help you … if you keep your mouth shut!” That line, incidentally is one of my favorites although far from being the only one!

The constructive ending is more than satisfactory and will give parents an opportunity to talk about the benefits of teamwork. The illustrations are adorable and, though Moose was by far the favorite character judging by hands raised when that question was posed to the attendees, Bear was a close second. I must add that in Yamaguchi’s talk this evening she explained to the audience that she had to do a lot of research on how to build a tree house before she could approach the illustrations. Well, it appears she’s learned how!


– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Wolfie The Bunny by Ame Dyckman

WOLFIE THE BUNNY
Written by Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.00, Ages 3-6 )

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Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, SLJ, Horn Book & Booklist

I lovc a picture book that makes me laugh out loud which is exactly what happened when I read Wolfie The Bunny. Plus, this book has got it all: humor, suspense, endearing characters, and super artwork, so it’s easy to adore.

Little Dot, the bunny, is with her parents when they find an abandoned wolf baby left on their doorstep. Dot’s parents welcome this discovery, and proceed to fall head over rabbits’ feet for sweet Wolfie despite Dot’s frantic warning, “He’s going to eat us all up!” I cracked up at OHora’s illustration of Dot, wide awake with a head lamp shining on her sleeping new baby bro. In the end pages, OHora explains that his former neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn served as inspiration for the story’s setting. Those scenes really ground this tale. Kids (and adults) will get a kick out of all the different expressions on Dot’s and Wolfie’s faces depicted throughout the book. Wolfie’s drools added an extra element of tension and I’ll admit I enjoyed not knowing where Dyckman was going with the plot. In other words, I had no trouble continuing to turn the pages. That will definitely keep younger readers glued to ythe book, too. Was the wolf going to devour Dot and her folks or would his love for his adopted family outweigh his growing appetitie? At the same time, Wolfie’s actions indicated a doting sibling:

“Everywhere Dot went,
Wolfie went, too.”

Dyckman’s included just the right amount of repetition of the line, “He’s going to eat us all up,” to keep it fresh and fun. And Dot’s parents’ admiring comments of “He’s a good eater, “He’s a good sleeper,” and “He’s a good drooler!” clearly demonstrated their unconditional love. What worked best in this tale was how Dot’s initial fear of being gobbled down disappeared when Wolfie was threatened by a bear. Stepping up to the plate as big sister, Dot defended her little brother and found that fighting for her family member’s safety brought her closer to Wolfie and dashed any fear of being on the menu for dinner.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Best Picture Books for Mother’s Day – A Roundup

A MOTHER’S DAY ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

One of my favorite holidays is Mother’s Day. I get to kick my feet up, relax, and get spoiled for several blissful hours. Okay, who am I kidding? That actually doesn’t really happen chez moi, but that’s not what Mother’s Day is about anyway, is it? Love is really at the core of this special day. Let’s look at some picture books that celebrate all kinds of moms in all kinds of ways, because no mom is the same and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

Are You My Mommy? AreYouMyMommycvr.jpgby Mary Murphy (Candlewick; $6.99, Ages 0-3) – This lift-the-flaps board book features an adorable little light blue collared  puppy meeting lots of different animals as he asks, “Are you my mommy?” Naturally, each animal encountered replies no and explains what animal he is. “No, I’m a sheep.” The reveal is each animal’s own special baby, from a lamb to a calf, a foal and a kitten, a piglet and a duckling until the most lovely surprise, the puppy’s mommy, a purple collared dog. As little ones enjoy the colorful illustrations done in mixed media with bold black outlines, they’ll learn new words and have fun lifting all the die-cut flaps.

Mom School MomSchoolcvr.jpgby Rebecca Van Slyke with illustrations by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – What a clever idea, a school for moms! I sure could have used a class or two at this place because, while I may be great at cutting and gluing like the little girl narrating this charming story, I never had a lesson in the cool kinds of classes she imagines her mom attended. There’s the essential learning how to grocery shop without losing your child class. There’s pitching 101 so moms can toss a ball that’s easy to hit. And of course, we can’t leave out the ever popular, and delicious, cupcake baking course. Here’s one of my faves, and it’s got to be called Mom’s Mandatory Multi-tasking:

 

 At Mom School, they learn how to do more than one thing at a time,
like talking on the phone and fixing my hair, and making dinner while
listening to a song I just made up.

 

Mom School is a sweet, positive picture book not just for Mother’s Day because the skills moms acquire at this school are utilized throughout the year. The adorable, humorous pastel-toned artwork by Burris is expressive and cheerful. Kids are going to enjoy thinking of other classes that their moms are likely to have attended and perhaps, inspired by Van Slyke’s words and Burris’ illustrations, they can try their hand at drawing their own pictures to show all the neat things moms know.

If-My-Mom-Were-a-Bird-cvr.jpgIf My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7) – is such an imaginative, beautiful picture book. “If your mom were a bird,” it says on the book’s back cover, “what kind of bird would she be?” There is not a lot of text in this picture book, but the economy of words works wonderfully because the type of bird each child imagines their mother would be is perfectly presented in the artwork.

               If my mom were a bird, she would surely be a watchful … hawk.

The watercolor illustrations on the pages feel crisp, joyful and complement the traits the kids have chosen,

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Interior artwork from If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books, ©2015.

capturing the mood without a lot of description.

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Interior artwork from If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books, ©2015.

 

As with Mom School, If My Mom Were a Bird is a year round story, but also just right to share on Mother’s Day.

Two other terrific picture books I’d like to recommend are:
Heather Has Two MommiesHeather-Has-Two-Mommies.jpg by Lesléa Newman with illustrations by Laura Cornell (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – This is a brand-new edition of the modern classic. And for Mother’s Day, what’s better than having one mom? Having two!! There are many different kinds of families and the family depicted in Heather Has Two Mommies is a family unit made up of two moms, no dad.  What counts in families is not being just like every other family, but being loved.

 

Pete the Cat: Rock on, Mom and Dad!PeteTheCat-Rock-On-Mom-Dad.jpg by James Dean (HarperFestival; $6.99, Ages 4-8) – Kids who are crazy about the cat will go wild for this paperback which includes 30 stickers, a fold-out poster and cards. How does a grateful cat say thank you to his parents for all they do? How can he show them how much he loves them? His big, smart brother Bob tells him,

                                          “It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it.”

And in a classic example of actions speaking louder than words, Pete composes a song and plays it for his parents. He rocks it out of the park and right into their hearts.

–  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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