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Children’s Book Review – Make More S’Mores

 

MAKE MORE S’MORES

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrated by Ariel Landy

(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Not only does this picture book have a yummy title,
but it’s recommended reading for National S’Mores Day
(well, any day really if you love a rhyming read-aloud).

 

Make_More_S'Mores_cover_raccoon_and_4_bears

 

Roscoe adores an irresistible, roasty, toasty s’more, and is just about to raccoon-down the one he’s cooked over “glowing coals,” when an uninvited grizzly bear shows up asking, “Is that for me?” What’s a hungry raccoon to do? Well, much to readers’ delight, Roscoe doesn’t hesitate to share in Make More S’Mores.

 

Make_More_S'mores_int1_Grizzly_grumbles

 

Now that our appetites have been whet, we’re treated to page after hilarious page of an upbeat rhyming tale that sees more unexpected visitors appear. Charming twin bear cubs to be exact. Of course, everyone cannot wait to eat the scrumptious s’mores Roscoe prepares over the campfire and so generously shares (the big takeaway from this terrific picture book).

It’s such fun to watch Grizzly Bear, clearly frustrated by the bear cubs’ presence. He’d be happier had no one else showed up. More snackers mean less for him and longer to wait!

 

Make_More_S'mores_int2_Ready_Roscoe_soon_declares

 

Roscoe, on the other hand, is preoccupied with catering to everyone else that he’s not had a bite! And when some crafty squirrels and soaring flames scupper his marshmallow roasting, it’s time to find a better stick.

Soon Mama Bear arrives on the scene and assists Roscoe to the delight of her twins and Roscoe. “Grizzly groans. ‘Another guest?’ But Roscoe does not seem distressed.” Poor Grizzly Bear! I love all the expressions Landy has given the animals. They run the gamut from disappointment to joy, from annoyance to contentedness. The lovely palette featuring sunset colors followed by rich blues and purples, all accented by Grizzly Bear’s graham cracker-colored fur is totally pleasing.

After the four VERY s’mored-up guests head to their dens, Roscoe snoozes in the hollow of a tree. A sweet and successful evening has come to a sleepy, s’moreful and snoreful end. What a satisfying, any-time-of-the-day story to share with your children. Roscoe’s modeling of sharing and making new friends is a rewarding one. One final note, look out for the squirrels’ antics in the closing spread. Happy eating and reading!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find out more about Cathy here.
Find out more about Ariel here.

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note

SALLIE BEE WRITES A THANK-YOU NOTE

Written by Courtney Sheinmel & Susan Verde

Illustrated by Heather Ross

(Abrams BYR; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

Sallie Bee Writes a Thank You Note cover Sallie on scooter mailing note

 

Certified yoga and mindfulness instructor, and NY Times bestselling author, Susan Verde has done it again! As a fan of Verde’s books, I Am Peace, and I Am Yoga, I wasn’t surprised that Sallie Bee Writes A Thank-You Note, co-written with Courtney Sheinmel, would leave a smile on my face.

Illustrator Heather Ross introduces readers to the big brown-eyed main character with bee-design ponytail holders, and her constant companion cat faithfully by her side. The two are eagerly standing on the steps of her porch greeting the mail carrier who has a surprise for Sallie. “It was not Sallie’s birthday. It was not a holiday. It was just an ordinary day.” Grandma Bee knitted a stripey scarf for Sallie, (note the same bee color scheme) and surprised her with this heartfelt gift. Included with the gift, Grandma has written a note telling Sallie that the scarf was made just for her.

Sallie knows she must thank her grandma for this kind gift, and being from the cell phone generation, she tells her mom she needs to borrow her smartphone to send a quick text. Well, Dr. Bee is busy sending and receiving texts of her own, and five minutes … “And ten minutes after that, she was still on the phone.” The relatable illustrations show Sallie and the cat desperately trying to pass the time rolling on the ground with the scarf. Eventually, the cat falls asleep on her lap. Ross’s spot art perfectly and humorously plays off the text that will resonate with kids and adults.

 

Sallie Bee Writes a Thank You Note int1 Sallie composing text
Interior art from Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note written by Courtney Sheinmel and Susan Verde and illustrated by Heather Ross, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

Still needing to stay busy while waiting for the phone, Sallie decides to write down what she will put in that text (if Mom ever gets off the phone). She starts with the basic “Thanks, Grandma” but realizes she needs to tell Grandma how happy the scarf made her feel. When Mom returns dressed in her blue scrubs (it was nice to see Mom wearing a Jewish star necklace), she notices Sallie has written quite a lot and tells her that she just needs to sign her name and put it in the mail. Sallie excitedly adds squiggles to her note and walks with her mom to drop her thank you in the mailbox (with a stamp, of course).

Sallie enjoyed writing that first thank-you note so much that she waits for another package to arrive the next day, but no package arrives. When Sallie safely crosses the busy street with the crossing guard in one scene, and after she’s given an umbrella by her bus buddy in another, she realizes these gestures are thank-you note worthy. She begins to pass out thank-you notes to express her appreciation, each one ending with Love, Sallie. The smile on recipients’ faces tells the reader everything they need to know. Sallie even leaves a thank-you note for her brother, Jack, for not letting his tarantula out of his cage and into her bedroom. It’s also sweet for readers to see Sallie receive a surprise envelope in the mail. This time it’s a letter thanking her for showing all the reasons to write a thank-you note, signed Love, Mom.

 

Sallie Bee Writes a Thank You Note int2 note for lunch lady
Interior spread from Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note written by Courtney Sheinmel and Susan Verde and illustrated by Heather Ross, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

This much-needed story about one child’s thoughtfulness in acknowledging others’ kindness shows kids how something as simple as offering gratitude via a handwritten note can change a person’s day. The back matter is a letter written to the reader explaining how they too can write a letter of thanks. The letter is signed by Courtney and Susan with suggestions such as writing what you are thankful for and how it makes you feel. My brain swirled with ideas of teachers working within their curriculum using this book to help kids compose thank-you notes, practicing communication skills and handwriting too. It’s also a fun project for a child to do with a grown-up at home. Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note also serves as a great reminder to adults to put down their cell phones, engage with their kids, and even pick up a pen now and then.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Best Back-to-School Books 2019 Part Three – A Roundup

 

BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS 2019

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART THREE

 

Back-to-school free clipart of backpack

 

 

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! coverTHE PIGEON HAS TO GO TO SCHOOL!
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
(Hyperion Books for Children; $16.99, Ages 4-7) 

When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.

Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”

Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!

pigeonpresents.com

 

Take Your Pet to School Day coverTAKE YOUR PET TO SCHOOL DAY
Written by Linda Ashman
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

“Enough!” says Mr. Paul. “It’s clear —

these animals should not be here.

Now, why would someone change this rule?

Pets do NOT belong in school!”

If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.

Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.

 

I'm Trying to Love Math coverI’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH
Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton
(Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”

What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers⁠—and a whole page of pi⁠—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.

•Reviewed by Mary Malhotra
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I Have a Balloon Written by Ariel Bernstein

I HAVE A BALLOON
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

I Have a Balloon cover illustration

 

It’s a clear and clever case of the balloon is always redder as opposed to the grass is always greener in Ariel Bernstein’s debut picture book, I Have a Balloon featuring illustrations by Scott Magoon. I absolutely adored this story because it not only took me back to my childhood, but reminded me of so many episodes I had to navigate with my children when the dreaded sharing demon reared its ugly head. I appreciated the slow, steady build up of this timeless tale that takes the dislike of sharing to humorous new heights.

Int spread of Owl with red balloon and monkey from I Have a Balloon
Interior spread from I Have a Balloon by Ariel Bernstein w/art by Scott Magoon, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 

Owl’s got a lovely red balloon he’s pretty darned pleased with. Monkey would like it. Owl says no. Persistent in his pursuit, Monkey offers to trade something of his in return. Owl’s not interested. But it would make Monkey SO HAPPY! Forget about it! Forget the teddy bear Monkey’s willing to swap. Or the sunflower. Or for that matter, the robot or the hand drawn picture of ten balloons. No. No. No. Not a ball or a pin. But something about the sock with a star and a perfectly shaped hole seems to suck Owl in. Suddenly the play potential of this single sock is just so appealing that the tides turn. Following creative, circular prose, readers end up at a similar point from where the drama of this delightful book began.

From the playful book jacket flap copy spoiler alert of: This is NOT a book about sharing to Bernstein’s spot on prose pitting Owl and his special, it’s mine and I’m not sharing it red balloon vibe to Monkey’s earnest desire to possess said balloon, I couldn’t read this book fast enough to find out what happens. From Magoon’s subtle yet oh so successful depictions of the the pair’s interaction (check out Owl’s expressive eyes!) to the perfect (and sweet) finish, I Have a Balloon is wonderfully entertaining. In fact I can’t think of a parent, teacher, caregiver or relative who hasn’t encountered this exact situation. Tightly told, tongue-in-cheek, and relatable, I Have a Balloon is guaranteed to garner grins when shared with kids. A truly treat of a read!

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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The Bad Seed written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald

THE BAD SEED
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Harper Collins Children’s; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

After reading The Bad Seed  written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, I truly appreciated its deep message about the value we place on ourselves and others based on behavior.

Here’s where the review gets interesting though; while this is a children’s picture book geared towards ages 4-8; I feel it’s also a great book for older kids and even adults!

Younger kids, especially in the world we live in today, know the power words hold over someone. When reading to a younger crowd, as a teacher, I would explain that words like “bad” and “good” are labels. We all make mistakes sometimes. Why is the seed labeled this way? For older children the book serves as a reinforcement of what they hopefully know to be true, there’s always room for self-growth.

The story follows a little sunflower seed who loves his family dearly on their Sunflower head home. As the seeds scatter when it’s nature’s time for them to drop off the beloved plant, they become separated.

 

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The Bad Seed Text copyright © by Jory John 2017 Illustration copyright © by Pete Oswald 2017

 

Our once loved and happy seed protagonist quickly becomes traumatized by events beyond his control (such as a man at a baseball game nearly swallowing him and then being spit out- with a permanent crack in his once whole shell!) The seed isn’t so happy anymore and is convinced that he is bad (something anyone with trauma in their life can relate to, as it is often the victim left feeling at fault).

He begins to act out by deciding “not to care anymore” which he does by not listening to others, lying, and not washing his hands, among other things. But what our dear seed needs desperately, is for someone to connect to. To see his cracks and accept him, showing him that he can be whole again from the inside out. Children often act out when they need help, and our little seed is a perfect example of someone needing intense care.

He eventually tires of his “bad” behavior and starts working on being “good” again. I say these words in quotes because the truth is none of us lives in a world of black and white/good or bad people. It requires constant awareness to make positive choices to be your very best self and not let a label define you.

We never know someone else’s background- their own unique make-up and history, so labeling them as “bad” or “good” means that we miss out on why they are behaving that way to begin with. With children especially, curiosity goes a long way in sorting out behavior that doesn’t work. We are all moving through each moment trying to meet needs. Some strategies we try are better than others, and The Bad Seed, through both its humorous art and prose, illustrates that beautifully. Pete Oswald’s expressive and whimsical illustrations truly capture the emotions of this little seed in a way many children can relate to so they can instantly guess at how he is feeling.

I recommend this book as a tool to show that we never know what someone else has been through. Being curious, asking questions, and offering kindness before judging and criticizing would be best whenever possible in life.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

 

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Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

RUDE CAKES
Written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins
(Chronicle Books: $16.99, Ages 3-5)

A treat for parents and kids!

RudeCakescvr.jpg

 

At first glance, the cover of Rude Cakes definitely whet my appetite, and then when I turned to the title page and read that this picture book, out just last month, was “cooked up” by Rowboat Watkins, I knew I just had to dig in.  Frankly, I’d read anything by someone called Rowboat so I’m happy Rude Cakes turned out to be a huge treat!

Rude-Cakes_Spread-3
Interior artwork from Rude Cakes, written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins, Chronicle Books ©2015.

Watkins, a former Sendak Fellow, serves up a filling mix of art and prose in under 200 words. I also adored the illustrations with a style resembling cotton candy awash in jelly bean hues, all light, airy and fanciful. Coupled with the marvelous artwork is a storyline familiar to us all and worth repeating. Manners maketh man or in this case, cake. The two-tiered, two-toned pink cake, never hesitating to push, pull and take what it likes, could use a few lessons in how to treat both its parents and its friends.

Rude cakes never listen (especially when their parents sound boring)
and they never wait their turn in line.

RudeCakesIntArt
Interior artwork from Rude Cakes, written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins, Chronicle Books ©2015.

After much rudeness to its so-called pals, a marshmallow and a cupcake, the rude bubble-gum colored cake calls it a night … when it’s ready! Here the illustrations depict the dessert bouncing around holding its trusty cyclops stuffed toy. Note: point out to little ones that the cyclops poster above Pink Cake’s bed says EYE SEE YOU. Soon, in a dream (or did it really happen in this fantastical story?) the obnoxious confection is plucked from its bed, mistaken for a hat. into a parallel universe.

This parallel universe of sorts is a place where …

Giant Cyclopses always say thank you,
and they always say please,
and they love to share.

These thoughtful, well behaved Giant Cyclopses compliment the hat, ask to borrow the hat, all the while demonstrating the rewards of good manners. In fact, it turns out that the only way this tired and boorish gateau is going to be heard by the Giant Cyclopses, is by using one little but powerful magic word. But to  convince a bunch of cyclopses that it’s not a hat, Pink Cake must ask in a polite, not half-baked way to be returned back to bed. Because in the end, don’t good manners always take the cake?

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for directions on how to make an origami eye.

If you’d like to see another perspective on this picture book, please click here to read blogger Danielle Davis’ take on Watkins’ scrumptious story.

 

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How to Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg/Book Giveaway

WIN A SIGNED COPY OF HOW TO BEHAVE AT A TEA PARTY
Written by Madelyn Rosenberg & Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

How to Behave at a Tea Party cover girl standing on table

 

 

 

REVIEW:

I LOVE all things tea party and Madelyn Rosenberg’s How To Behave at a Tea Party is no exception. I found myself itching to know how this adorable and entertaining picture book ended because its premise – not all tea parties go according to plan – is such fun! The cover, with the tea party hostess’s younger brother under the table, reminded me of the numerous tea parties my daughter threw many years ago. I recall running interference for her as my son’s trains and web of tracks seemed to always wind their way towards her precariously arranged party table.

Julia, the picture book’s narrator, is determined to show her little brother Charles the ins and outs of hosting a tea. Naturally, you start by creating unique invitations, hand-delivering them to the guests. Charles, contentedly playing with toys alongside his dog and pet frog, has a look of apprehension on his face, as do the pets. Julia’s instructions continue,

Next, you put on fancy clothes.
Wear a fancy hat.
Underwear does not count as a hat.

and though Charles and company try their best to cooperate, the results of their efforts (or lack thereof) are hysterical as witnessed in the illustration of the frog with undies covering one eye looking very much like ’40s film star, Veronica Lake. And let it be known, big sis does NOT want the McKagan brothers invited to tea, “Or the frog.” But it’s obvious from Rosenberg’s succinct and spot-on prose along with Heather Ross’s humorous illustrations that Julia is not getting her way, warranting her to “take deep breaths and count to seven.”

The juxtapositioning of Julia’s attempts to remain calm and in control of her tea party while watching its decorum slowly go downhill after a series of colorful mishaps is a big part of this book’s appeal. Another is watching the chaos ensue and seeing all the kids’ (and animals’) reactions as depicted so perfectly by Ross. This “Manners! What manners?” tea party provides a great jumping off point for discussion about appropriate and inappropriate behavior while at the same time demonstrates that it’s okay if things go off course. In fact, many times it’s actually a lot more fun!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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