Written by Anne Renaud
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
In the picture book, Gwendolyn’s Pet Garden by Anne Renaud, we know the problem from the opening line: “Gwendolyn Newberry-Fretz wanted a pet.” A very relatable problem indeed. Yet, Gwendolyn’s parents are not on board with the pet idea and, instead, get her some dirt which “smells of possibilities” to them. Gwendolyn thinks it smells like a swamp! Yet, once the garden gets underway, she reconsiders how she feels about this compromise.
Rashin Kheiriyeh’s illustrations peppered with bright accents pull you into Gwendolyn’s world, whether she’s suggesting various pets or plotting her planter. I feel the joys of gardening including the excitement of watching plants grow from seed.
I like how the back matter ties it all together, explaining what’s needed for kids to start their own gardens. Seed-lending libraries are explained and encouraged—a concept I hope catches on as well as the book-lending libraries we have in many neighborhoods. The idea of repurposing no-longer-needed library card catalog cabinets to house seeds brilliant!
THE INVISIBLE LEASH:
A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet
By Patrice Karst
Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
(Little, Brown BYR; $17.99; Ages 4-8)
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.
Parents and teachers looking for additional tools to help kids and students with their grief can complete activities in the The Invisible String Workbook: Creative Activities to Comfort, Calm and Connect by Patrice Karst and Dana Wyss, PhD and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.
The next book in the franchise, The Invisible Web, goes on sale April 14.
- Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Our Very Own Dog:
Taking Care of Your Very First Pet
Written by Amanda McCardie
Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 3-7)
This week is National Pet-Sitters Week. Then, on March 23, it’s National Puppy Day, so let’s give a shout out to pets and puppy lovers and their caregivers everywhere!
Our Very Own Dog by Amanda McCardie is THE book to share with your children if you’re even just entertaining the idea of getting a pet. It’s also the perfect picture book to read once you’ve decided to welcome a new dog into your home. The story revolves around Sophie, once a shelter dog, and now starting over with her forever family. Written and illustrated in a gentle, accessible way, Our Very Own Dog will help children learn all about what’s involved in caring for and training man’s best friend. Whether that involves feeding them, taking them to the dog park to socialize or bathing them, McCardie has covered it all.
What works wonderfully in this picture book is that kids will get to know Sophie and experience what she’s like at home and when she’s out and about as seen through the eyes of her young owner. And if Sophie’s forever family happens upon a dog show in the park, and Sophie happens to charm one of the judges, youngsters will not be disappointed Readers find out through Rubbino’s playful artwork and McCardie’s smaller sized text tips just what things new dogs are allowed to do (cuddle, play fetch, go for walks) and not allowed to do (steal sausages from the kitchen table, try to escape from being bathed) all the while being educated on important responsiblilities of a pet owner. The back matter in Our Very Own Dog contains a note on having your very own dog including illustrated examples of doggy body language. There are also recommended reads and an index making referring back to key points such as collars, grooming, walking and training as easy as saying “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come,” and “Heel.”
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Amanda McCardie is the author of several books for young readers, most recently A Book of Feelings. She says, “Sophie is dear to my heart. She was the cheery, cheeky little dog I grew up with in real life.” Amanda McCardie lives in London.
Salvatore Rubbino is the award-winning illustrator of Just Ducks!, A Walk in London, A Walk in New York, and A Walk in Paris. He says, “I have always been fond of cats. But by studying dogs and watching their fascinating behavior, I now find that I love dogs, too!” Salvatore Rubbino lives in London.
A UNICORN NAMED SPARKLE
Written and illustrated by Amy Young
(Farrar Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)
Carving out a new niche in the unicorn-book market may seem a difficult task, but A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young accomplishes this task with humor and flare. When Lucy finds a mail-away ad stating, “Unicorn, 25 cents,” she, of course, sends her quarter off to Unicorn City, New Jersey, barely able to wait.
Meanwhile, Lucy imagines all the wonderful things they’ll do together. She’ll name her unicorn Sparkle and “he will be blue with a pink tail and pink mane.” To ease him into her world, she plans to give him a cupcake.
When the big truck rumbles up, Lucy’s cupcake disappears in one chomp. I must note that this is a great image—just the unicorn’s mouth coming out of the shipping crate, snapping down the cupcake – terrific! What emerges from the shipping crate doesn’t quite match Lucy’s expectations. “He had spots. His ears were too long. He smelled funny. Oh, and he had fleas.” And that’s just the beginning.
Playing together doesn’t go the way she planned either. So Lucy does what every frustrated shopper would: she phones Unicorns, Inc., and tells them to take Sparkle back. While she awaits the truck’s return, Lucy gets to know Sparkle and even stands up for him when neighborhood kids tell her that Sparkle looks like a goat. Of course we all know that Sparkle is a “special kind of unicorn.”
In this tale of friendship and discovery, Lucy comes to the conclusion that you may not get what you expected—and that can be just fine too.
Author and illustrator Amy Young’s A Unicorn Named Sparkle is a truly enjoyable read, ideal for the pre-K crowd. And her vivid, expressive images are well-matched to the text. Sparkle may not be the handsome unicorn we imagined, but he surely will capture our hearts.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/
It’s National Love Your Pet Day
We’re celebrating. Are you? Did you know that today, February 20th, is National Love Your Pet Day? Why not share the love you have for your pet with others? It’s a great opportunity to encourage rescuing shelter animals and to see just how wonderful it feels.
A 501-C nonprofit organization, Operation ResCUTE, offers limited-edition educational book and stuffed animal sets. Buy a set today and save a dog’s life because 100 percent of profits from their sets goes to animal shelters in support of their adoption efforts! The book’s story aims to teach children empathy and about the benefits of adopting, and how to make a difference in the world. The collectible set shown here comes with an illustrated book, stuffed animal dog from the story and an Operation ResCUTE Club Membership Sticker for $29. Available by clicking here.
To give back, consider buying one or more of their sets to donate to your local school or place of worship. The sets also makes a great birthday gift. Your purchase will be helping to share the invaluable lessons that come from rescuing an animal in need.
Founded in 2014 by Laurie Brown-Nagin, Operation ResCUTE is on a mission. Its profits (all 100 percent of them!) go directly towards helping shelter dogs get adopted. A life-long animal activist, Laurie has always been passionate about the protection and safety of animals. Inspired by the younger generations, Laurie set out to shift the conversation away from store bought animals and empower young children to understand the benefits of adopting and how each and every one of them can have a positive impact on the life of a shelter animal.
Each limited-edition Operation ResCUTE gift set is packaged in a cage-like gift box and is carefully designed for the children to feel involved and part of the dog adoption process. How rewarding to be able to educate and enlighten children about adopting shelter dogs in need of loving homes.
The first book in the series, The Story of Jingles, is the true story of Laurie’s rescue of Jingles after she found the dog battered and alone in New York City. A new set will launch this spring. Laurie resides in Connecticut with her husband and has two grown daughters and two four-legged “girls.”
Find Operation ResCUTE on social media sites here:
Bad Dog Flash Review & Giveaway
Dogs will be dogs. They chase cats. They dig holes. They get excited to see you, and nearly knock you over. They’re not trying to be bad. They don’t want to make you mad, but sometimes they do. This sounds like some children I know!
In Bad Dog Flash, by award-winning NZ author and illustrator Ruth Paul, (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Oct. 7, 2014, $15.99, Ages 3-8), a scruffy rascally puppy named Flash, can’t seem to do anything right. He’s only playing with the cat when he chases her up a tree. Flash didn’t mean to break the window. He just wanted to bring his stick inside. Those shoes smelled so good, he couldn’t help but lick and chew them, and the laundry hanging on the line …
Swing. Drip. Slap. Drip. Slop, slip, flap, flip…rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip! “Bad dog, Flash!”
… he couldn’t resist.
Flash continues to misbehave and be corrected, in this adorable picture book, until he’s sent to the dog house for a time out, and is one sad pup. I giggled at the smirk Ruth Paul put on the cat’s face every time Flash got in trouble. Her old-time illustrations remind me of the classic Tip and Mitten books by David McKee from my early childhood.
Her text, with its rhythm, rhyme, and repeating refrain of “Bad dog, Flash,” make this a perfect read-aloud book for toddlers, and a delightful early reader for older children. Children will relate to Flash, who always seems to get in trouble, and will like it even more when he’s invited back into the house to snuggle, and finally hears, “Good dog, Flash!”
– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher
Savor the Silly, Slothy Delights of Sparky!
An earnest young girl asks her mother every day for a month if she can have a pet. Mom finally acquiesces, as long as “it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” A bit of research in the Animal Encyclopedia leads her to select a sloth, which arrives by Express Mail. Our sweet narrator optimistically names him “Sparky,” finds him a tree home, and attempts to engage him in games like Hide-and-Seek and Kung Fu Fighter.
Sparky! will delight any young reader who has or desires a non-traditional pet. The narrator is a fine role model who exudes patience and acceptance, allowing her new friend to acclimate at his own very, very slow pace. All is well until she endeavors to teach Sparky “countless tricks” to perform in a Trained Sloth Extravaganza. Funny scenes ensue as she implores the be-glittered Sparky to play dead, roll over, and speak.
Appelhans’ warm brown illustrations are both subdued and comical, perfectly capturing the dull but endearing expressions of the sloth on a limited creamy colored background. Splashes of blue-green and gentle red add warm, bright accents in soft detail. Offill’s text is spot-on for the reflective and thoughtful child, expressing a lovely balance between hope, humor and twinges of doubt.
Sparky! is filled with slow sweetness and quirky humor that is appealing and fun. Don’t speed past this story without savoring its silly delights.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
NOTE: This book will be on sale March 11, 2014. In the meantime, kids can begin enjoying some slothy activities by clicking here.
Where obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.