EL CHUPACABRAS Written by Adam Rubin Illustrated by Crash McCreery (Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Adam Rubin (Dragons Love Tacos, Robo-Sauce,and Those Darn Squirrels) delights audiences once again with his 48-page picture book El Chupacabras. In this fractured folktale, we learn that the legendary and fearsome creature known as El Chupacabras (the goatsucker) is actually a tiny, well-dressed gentleman who drinks chocolate with the butterflies. He does, however, occasionally like to suck a goat.
English and Spanish words are interwoven with sentences beginning in one language and ending in another or switching back and forth midsentence. This inventive style organically teaches the fluidity of languages. Some lines remain in Spanish without translation, but, taken in context and with what’s been unwittingly learned, the words are simply understood.
The text is cinematically illustrated by acclaimed Hollywood creature creator, Crash McCreery, best known for his iconic character designs in the Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean films. Mischievous goat antics are a delightful through line and goat pancakes are sure to delight. This fulfilling story and its modern art engage the reader on every page.
Rubin has generously pledged to donate his proceeds from El Chupacabras to the Hispanic Federation in support of the Educational Programs and Puerto Rican hurricane relief. “I decided to tell this story in an unusual way to explore the beauty of harmony,” says Rubin. “It’s easy to dismiss the unfamiliar, but compassion takes a little more effort. With so many people trumpeting the ignorances of separation right now, it’s more important than ever to teach kids that there is more than one way to understand the world.” Hats off to these timely sentiments.
The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.
I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!
I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!
Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.
Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.
Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.
Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz Illustrated by Deborah Marcero (G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale delights with its clever premise: Cinderella has a twin! In this 32-page picture book, Tinderella is a math whiz who divides the girls’ grueling tasks precisely down the middle. They each do, “Half the folding, half the mending, half the mean stepsister tending.”
Following the traditional story, on the night of the Royal Ball, Cinderella tearfully summons her “fairy godmom.” The fairy sparkles up some party dresses for the girls with accessories that Tin splits into two sets. However, when Prince Charming falls for both sisters, a dilemma ensues. Which sister should he wed? Luckily, Tin is again quick of mind and suggests a fabulous formula that, with some magic, may just work out.
This retelling enchants with its spot-on rhyme. The addition of the “fractioned” facts smartly introduces simple math, demonstrating in a straightforward manner how parts of a whole fit together.
Marcero’s artwork combines the timeless feel of a “Cinderella” story with a modern edge. Black spaces are skillfully presented—from classroom blackboards showing mathematical formulas to shadowy silhouettes in the margins.
Schwartz, author of The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks, and Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears continues to reign supreme with her funny adaptions of fractured fairy tales. In Twinderella, the girls, of course, live happily ever “half-ter.”
IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Written by Josh Funk Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor (Two Lions; $17.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Digital, Ages 4-8)
Josh Funk is fab at doing funny. His first fractured fairy tale (good news, there’ll be more!), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, breaks with picture book convention and the fourth wall or maybe it’s the fourth page in this case, by introducing an uproarious dialogue between the narrator and the main character (to name a few) that kids and parents alike will eat up. Parents, caregivers and more experienced readers will be unable to resist the urge to to jump in and take on voicing all the characters’ roles if reading aloud. Being a fractured fairy tale, this story unfolds with a humorous back and forth between the narrator and the titular Jack (see artwork below) whom he must awaken in order to get on with his storytelling. Soon Jack has his magic beans, but he’s also been growing frustrated with the direction of the tale, often making demands of the narrator that are not unlike those of a child who doesn’t want to do his homework, brush his teeth or go to bed.
While climbing the seriously high stalk, Jack sees his pal Cindy (Cinderella) on her palace balcony. Here readers first see the hilarious and unexpected interplay between some beloved fairytales that will no doubt be a feature of Funk’s future fractured fairy tales and a most welcomed one. Inside the giant’s house, an enormous shadow on the wall and “a booming voice” signal just what’s in store for Jack. Then, quite unexpectedly and most certainly not in the original version, our hero gets a bit sassy about the giant’s poor rhyming skills. This does not bode well for Jack and before too long it’s looking like he’s going to be the main ingredient of Giant Stew. Once again interrupting the narrator who’s so desperate to continue the story, Jack casually but oh so cleverly mentions something to the giant that he’s hoping will change his fate and positively influence an alternative ending. Funk’s flair for terrific twists promises to satisfy all readers eager to see the pieces of this fractured fairy tale come together seamlessly.
It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk is a very visual book that instantly invites readers to study all the details on every page of Taylor’s appealing artwork. On the back of the book’s jacket cover, readers are told to “Look for the gingerbread man, the three blind mice, and other fairy tale friends hidden though out the book!” I quite enjoyed leafing back through the pages to see what characters I might have overlooked on the first read and so will your youngsters. Get a copy today to get in on the jokes. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk will make fairy tale devotees of a whole new generation of young readers while sprouting a whole new crop of Funk fans along the way.
THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS Written by Drew Daywalt Illustrated by Adam Rex (Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors, a forty-eight-page picture book by Drew Daywalt (author of the best-selling Crayons books), has universal appeal and charismatic humor. The origins of this famous three-way clash are brilliantly explained.
We are introduced to mighty Rock, a fearless fighter who lives in “an ancient and distant realm called the Kingdom of the Backyard.” He’s feeling down because it’s no fun to win all the time. In encounters with a clothespin and an apricot, we see why this is a problem.
Meanwhile, clever Paper, from the Empire of Mom’s Home Office, is also an undefeated champ when tangling with enemies in his part of the house. Even the printer proves to be no equal—Paper effectively jams him up.
Speedy Scissors resides in the tiny village of Junk Drawer, but that doesn’t mean she won’t slay adversaries throughout the Kitchen Realm. It’s about time someone put an end to those dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets; Scissors was up to the task, but, as with the other two great warriors, being victorious 24/7 sure can get old.
When the three meet, an epic encounter ensues with each participant bested by one of the others—a battle which, to this day, is still reenacted.
Daywalt’s rollicking text pairs seamlessly with best-selling author and illustrator Adam Rex’s art. The three protagonists project personality and charm, irresistible in their unique magnificence. Together, Daywalt and Rex make this story terrifically true. How else could Rock, Paper, Scissors have come into existence? Hail to this modern-day legend.