(Barefoot Books; HC $16.99, PB English or Spanish $8.99, Ages 4-9)
★ Starred Reviews – Foreword Reviews, School Library Journal
Few picture books will trigger your wanderlust more than the beautiful A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India, written by Meera Sriramand Illustrated by Mariona Cabassa. The story follows a young girl as she shops at an outdoor Indian market to find a gift for Amma—or Mother. But really, it is a celebration of color, the senses, and love.
Each spread introduces readers to not just the various items in the market, but to a vibrant color palette of dizzying loveliness. Pink is not just pink. It is lotus pink, like the flowers and sweet treats the girl considers buying for Amma. Likewise, green becomes peacock green, and orange become saffron orange. But, in such a poly-chromatic world, how can a gift of any one color ever suffice? This is the question the at heart of the story—and it is such a good one that you might suddenly look at your black and white wardrobe and ask yourself: What was I thinking? e
Readers will also love the final two spreads, which provide more information about not just the merchandise available at the outdoor markets of Southern India, but about the history of outdoor markets themselves.
A Gift for Amma is the perfect antidote for these days of remote learning and armchair traveling. It will give you hope. There is still so much waiting for us in the days ahead. And—if we are lucky—they will be very colorful.
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My homebody nana sewed, cooked, and baked, unlike the senior center tennis champion nana in Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Daywritten by Ann Stottand illustrated by Andrew Joyner. She is incredibly involved in many aspects of her grandchild’s life so the obvious contrast between the two grandmas intrigued me. I was eager to learn about a real hands-on grandma. I know my nana loved me like this nana loves her grandson but the similarities end there. By the way, this nana is also a poodle-like character and her grandson is a precious pup.
From the first two spreads, readers realize that Nana and her grandson, the story’s narrator, are the two members of a mutual admiration society. “Nana was my very first word.” He then says, “My whole life, Nana has been my biggest fan. She comes to all my games and school events. I can usually find her in the front row.”
This set up works well with the puppy’s description of the various things that Nana does to always be there for him. That’s sweet of course. However, Nana has what I’d call a quasi pushy way to get front and center for the pup, and the examples of that behavior build beautifully throughout the book’s 32 pages. Whether she’s practically shoving her grandpup’s teammates off the bench at the pool or parking herself near the football field’s fifty-yard line to offer playing tips, her presence is ubiquitous.
At the pup’s basketball game, Nana suffers a setback “trying to get a front-row seat.” It’s actually good that Stott has shown a consequence for Nana’s in-your-face fawning. She is advised to stay off her injured foot. Never one to sit still, Nana is now forced to curb her active enthusiasm. Can she handle temporarily relinquishing her role as fan #1? Readers will be delighted to see there’s a very good chance that being on the receiving end of all the attention will make both Nana and her grandpup very happy. e
Stott’s taken a grandma’s adoration to an extreme and it’s fun, especially if parents or caregivers reading the story to a child know someone with similar qualities. Joyner’s canine characters are not just charming but full of expression and humor. Be sure to check out the art more closely for book title names in several of the illustrations. This is a terrific read for National Grandparents Day or any time spent with a fan. Rah-rah!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel e Clickhereto order a copy of Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog and its team of kidlit reviewers, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e e Recommended Reads for Children Week 9/7 e DID YOU KNOW? e
Like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we also have a whole day dedicated to our grandparents. On the first Sunday after Labor Day, we celebrate National GrandparentsDay. This year the date falls on September 13. e In 1977, Senator Randolph, with the help of other senators, introduced a joint resolution to the senate requesting the president to “issue annually a proclamation designating the first Sunday of September after Labor Day of each year as ‘National Grandparents’ Day’.” e Congress passed the legislation, proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparent’s Day. On August 3, 1978, Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation, and the day was finally celebrated the following year. e The holiday experts at National Today share five facts about the holiday: e 1. It Has Its Own Song The official song for National GrandparentsDay is “A Song for Grandma and Grandpa” by Johnny Prill. 2. It Has Its Own Flower The official flower is the “forget-me-not” flower. 3. It’s Not Actually a Public Holiday Even though it was signed in as a national holiday it is celebrated more as an observance than a public holiday. 4. On Average 4 Million Cards Were Sent People are honoring their grandparents with cards, it’s the least we can do. 5. Highest Day for Visits in Nursing Homes There are many days you’d want to spend with your grandparents but National GrandparentsDay was on average the highest day for nursing home visits. Although you may not be able to see them in person this year, make sure to give them a call!
The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.
The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?
The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.
Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.
One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.
If you love fairy tale retellings, Federico and the Wolfis for you. Rebecca J. Gomez has taken the classic story and not only modernized it, but centered it in the Mexican American culture with great success.
The book’s appeal stems from its endearing main character Federico whose ingenuity and bravery will have young readers rooting for him as he takes on the infamous hungry wolf. And though he sports a hoodie, Federico is definitely not your grandmother’s Little Red. In fact in this version, Federico sets off to the local market “… to buy ingredients to make the perfect pico.” His plan is to get the stuff needed to bring to his abuelo (grandfather), then together the two can make a special salsa. The market art (see below), like so many other illustrations in this delightful picture book, is a razzle dazzle of glorious color and atmosphere. As a reader I wanted to jump into the scene.
On his way to see Abuelo, Federico heads through the city park and deep into the woods on his bike. It’s not long before the famished wolf stops him looking for “grub.” The young boy, however, claims he has no time or food to spare. When he arrives at his grandfather’s shop, Federico notices a suspiciously furry and pawed person beckoning him inside.
At first it might seem that Federico’s been taken in by Wolf’s disguise, providing the kind of suspense kids love. But, once he realizes what he’s up against, the clever lad resorts to clever measures. I won’t spoil the spicy ending, but suffice it to say that because of Federico’s quick thinking, the chances of Wolf ever returning are rather slim. When grandson and grandfather are finally safe from the the wolf’s conniving clutches, the pair can begin to prepare the pico as originally planned.
Chavarri’s vibrant illustrations work beautifully with the prose, helping to set the tone of this excellently executed fractured fairy tale. The pictures are light and lively when Federico is happy and they get darker whenever the wolf is present.
Gomez, with her wonderful use of rhyme, brings a spirited approach to this tale that invites multiple readings. I love how she’s incorporated Spanish words into the story. They not only feel natural, but add to the ambience of Federico’s world. Kids can figure out the words’ meaning many times just by looking at the illustrations such as silla for chair. Readers can also take turns playing the parts of Federico and Wolf for added enjoyment. A glossary in the back matter along with a recipe for the salsa tops off this read aloud treat. By all means, add this new picture book to your story time collection. And, remember to carry some chili powder in your hoodie pocket if you plan a walk in Wolf’s neck of the woods.
Kiera and Grandma enjoy each other’s company and have a lot of fun together. From painting nails to knitting to baking “special occasion” molasses cookies based on an old, family recipe, Kiera learns a lot from Grandma. So it is strange when, seemingly all of a sudden, Grandma starts behaving in ways outside of her usual character.
Through a child-centered, gentle tone, Sharkey’s direct language addresses these changes. “Grandma’s brain is forgetting how to remember,” Kiera’s mother explains. For Kiera, the differences in who Grandma was and who she is now are painfully evident. Most touching are the small, subtle changes. Grandma’s long and “shiny” painted fingernails that once made a “rat-a-tat-tat sound on the table” are merely “bare and … short.” “No more rat-a-tat-tat.” I admire the book’s honest portrayal of the challenges in letting go and accepting the new reality of Alzheimer’s.
Yet, despite these challenges, Kiera discovers a way to be present with her grandmother by gifting a doll to Grandma. Kiera brings her own doll during her visits, and the two connect, nurturing their dolls in pretend play. Woo’s colorful illustrations contribute to this connection by focusing on the facial expressions of the characters, driving home the point that what matters most is the emotional bond the characters share as they engage in positive sensory experiences together. A helpful discussion in the back matter by author and advocate Judy Cornish provides a wonderful tool for parents, caregivers, and teachers.
A powerful story and important resource, A Doll for Grandma brings clarity and healing to families struggling to find connection with that special person living with Alzheimer’s disease.
It may be April, but some parts of the country are blanketed in snow. While those places eagerly await spring’s arrival, we thought we’d share a story about the magic of snow.
Bundled-up horses and bundled-up hens living on water more than living on land in Snowy Farm, written by author and songwriter Calvin Shawwith illustrations by Oamul Lu, takes the reader on a family’s lyrical journey one day on their farm.
The story opens with snow-capped mountains and frost covered trees as a lone wind mill sits behind the frosty old house. “There’s a snowy white windmill on a snowy white farm, with a frosty old house and a snow-covered barn.” Lu paints a tall farmer with only eyes and a mustache shown on his face as he’s bundled from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet in warm clothing. Standing beside him is his sweet faced horse with red ear muffs and a scarf protecting him from the harsh winter. And his friend the hen has matching red ear muffs!
Turning the page, we are introduced to two children with smiles on their faces. “They’re living on ice with no grass at hand. They’re living on water more than living on land.” Shaw introduces us to life on an icy farm. The children help their father pick the apples, but they also take time to make snow angels with the chickens and goats. Lu outlines angels underneath the boy, chicken and goat and the cold doesn’t seem to bother any of them.
The traditional roles are kept as mom is cooking while “outside of her window, her kids work the field. The chickens are fed and the apples are peeled.” When dinner is ready the family runs inside and Lu paints warm colors of a family gathering together on a cold winter night. This is a sweet story of a close knit family that work and spend time together talking about their day by the fire. When the day comes to an end “with the starlight appearing, they’re warm and at ease, while falling asleep to a cold winter breeze.” The page turns to dark and the stars are seen in the night. We know the family is peaceful and happy on the farm.
In the Author’s Note, Shaw explains how Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. He tells the reader about the peak summer months and gives a lesson on how daylight lasts for twenty-four hours. This is a great family bedtime story that teaches kids who live in a snowy part of the world, and teaches those who have never experienced snow. Shaw himself has never traveled to Antarctica, but is able to give the reader great insight and, as he says, until we visit, this book can be our imagined journey there together. I imagined that journey, too, and maybe one day I’ll visit Antarctica, but until then I have Snowy Farm to read and re-read.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Click here to read a review of another snow-themed picture book.
Author and illustrator Genevieve Santos expresses parental love through words and drawings of yoga (asana) poses for young children, while teaching kids techniques to calm the body and mind in the padded board book, I Yoga You.
“I love you in the morning when you salute the sun,” the mother says to her child as she stands next to the window demonstrating the asana pose known as Sun Salutation. The young girl, still lying in bed, reaches her arms towards the sun alongside her stuffed bear who is doing the same.
Turning the page, we find mothers with sons and fathers with daughters all showing their love for their children. “I love you flying through the sky—fearless, strong, and proud,” says the father with the long, scruffy red beard while holding his red haired daughter and her stuffed pig over his head. Her hands are outstretched like superwoman (Superman/Superwoman pose).
With I Yoga You, youngsters learn how to let out their anger when they experience a bad feeling, but also learn that mom and dad will still always love them. Santos shows the black shadow of a roaring lion, while a mom hugs her angry son teaching the reader about the benefits of Lion’s Breath. Mom’s eyes are closed while holding her screaming child, suggesting she too is practicing deep breathing.
Page after page depicts a new pose with another parent’s message of love. Parents will enjoy reading this book to their children before bedtime or when mindfulness and relaxation are needed. Children will learn at an early age the benefits of these asana poses, while being reminded just how much they are loved and how they can, in turn, can return the love. I Yoga You is also a fun read for preschool and kindergarten teachers looking for an activity to calm their classrooms during the hectic holiday season. And teachers can be reminded that these poses can also be done during their breaks. This recommended 26 page interactive book is durable so it can be read and re-read for Valentine’s Day or all year long. Namaste.
The 12-page, pull-the-tab board book, Christmas Puppy, begs to be read and enjoyed by parents and youngsters alike. Who can resist a furry tail that either parents or children can pull each time there’s a puppy pal sound effect?
Puppy knows there’s a gift waiting for him under the tree, but which one will it be? Each time he thinks he’s found it, that particular present is actually intended for either Mouse, Hamster or Cat. Readers can imitate the accompanying animal squeaks, chirps and meows while pulling the wagging tail tab to their hearts’ content. Yoon’s sweet story with its four adorable animals concludes with Puppy finding and unwrapping his special gift. Have fun with Puppy and friends and enjoy a wag-ful Christmas.
Now available in board book, Grandma’s Christmas Wishcelebrates the unique bond between a grandmother bunny and her grandbunny. It’s a gentle reminder that multi-generational relationships mean so much and can bring such joy.
I love how this grandma bunny expresses herself so beautifully in her rhyming couplets. As the pair frolic in the burrow and the snow covered woods, Grandma shares her wishes which are so much more than material ones. Instead they’re about spending time together and her feeling of unconditional love for her grandbunny. “But, you with your grin and all of your charms, you’re my best present, just wrapped in my arms.” Be prepared to smile with every lovely page turn in this heartwarming story just perfect for any little one’s first Christmas.
The merry, colorful illustrations and simple rhyming text of Christmas is Awesome! convey exactly what children think of when describing Christmas. “… Twinkling Lights, Silent Nights, Busy Elves, Jingle Bells!” Joy jumps off every page of this charming new board book from the sisters who founded Hello!Lucky, “the award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio committed to using creativity to spread joy, fun, and kindness.” They succeed.
In addition to the festive feel of this 24-page board book, there are many laughs in store. Inside readers will find humorous spreads—I’m partial to the “Ugly Sweaters” one—that are study-worthy to see what surprises have been included. For example, a lump of coal gets up to all sorts of antics and experiences all sorts of emotions in every spread. I discovered new things with every read and children will enjoy doing the same. Kids will love the variety of animals featured throughout the book such as an elephant, a mole, a penguin, a cat, a squirrel, a dog, a mouse and lots more. Easy to memorize, this terrific read-aloud is recommended for little ones who like the fun and funny side of Christmas.
Die-cut board books are always popular with toddlers and Santa’s Cookie is Missing! is no exception. I like the premise of this story; after a family’s Christmas Even dinner has ended, the narrator (a young girl) notices that the cookie usually saved for Santa has disappeared. The child sets off to solve the mystery first at home, then outdoors, and then inside again.
Every new die-cut reveals something related to the narrator’s search in a circle shape that will hopefully lead to the missing snack. Whether it’s a plate, a Christmas tree ornament, a snowball, the hollow of an old oak tree or even a mug of hot cocoa, there are lots of places to look and several possible suspects. Make note of the cat and dog in the artwork and see if your kids can anticipate who might be the culprit. I’ll admit I was surprised, but maybe that’s because I was too busy checking out all the pretty die-cuts. The tree-ornament and the present with their respective sparkly and shiny designs were my faves. What will be your youngsters’ faves? Don’t miss picking up a copy of this book to gift or to enjoy at home.
This compact book (not really a board book, but the same size) makes a wonderful gift to bring to family and friends for the holiday season. It’s packed with playful gnomes in watercolor illustrations coupled with proverbs inspired by author illustrator Sevig’s Norwegian family and her childhood. Though raised in America, Sevig explains that she and her sister were brought up “in the only Norwegian speaking household on the block.” Clearly her fond memories have influenced the warm upbeat tone of this collection.
Early on, Sevig points out how the meaning of the word gnome actually has a double meaning that’s depicted in every illustration. Not only is a gnome a small woodland creature, it’s also a “wise, pithy saying” and The Little Winter Book of Gnomes is filled with them. I knew the majority of the sayings, but the way they’re lovingly paired with assorted gnomes is the true pleasure that’s to be taken away from any reading. Read just several at a time or sit back, have a cup of warm tea and delight in all 128 cheerful pages. Some noteworthy gnomes include “A tree with strong roots laughs at the storm,” “A warm drink is a hug in a mug,” and “Don’t waste time looking back. You aren’t going that way.” Marzipan and Rice Cream with Berry Sauce are just a few of the recipes that are also included, making this book a go-to read when the weather turns cold and party plans get underway.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Have you read IF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS by Ann Whitford Paul? Illustrated by David Walker, Paul’s book is now out in board book format. Read my review of the picture book from last year here.
Looking for more Christmas book reviews? Click here.
This sturdy board-book edition of the hardcover picture book from 2015 is great to share all year long. With just 24 pages of spare and inspiring text, dePaola’s peaceful, pleasing art takes center stage. The little boy on the cover wakes up to behold the beauty of a new day and the wonderful things that surround him. “Open your eyes, and see, and say thank you.” Children learn with each simple sentence and illustration to be present and look at each day as a gift. Look and be Grateful is a gentle and sweet introduction to mindfulness and gratitude which are never too early to share.
Little fans of the beloved Pout-Pout Fish will be delighted he’s back, under the sea, serving up tasty dishes for Thanksgiving in Be Thankful, Pout-Pout Fish. Mr. Fish has invited friends and family from near and far to join him at the celebration. It’s a pot-luck dinner for which all of the guests are grateful. When the meal is over and everyone’s full, Mr. Fish is feeling especially thankful not only for the food, but for the full feeling in his heart.
Told in 12 full-color pages, this rhyming board-book makes a sweet addition to any toddler’s Pout-Pout Fish book collection. It’s also an ideal gift when visiting during the holiday. Dive into a copy and share today.
I love the die-cut turkey feathers design of this 12-page board book. Inspired by the hand-print turkey art craft so many children proudly create at Thanksgiving time, each finger/feather in Five Little Thank-Yousrepresents a paper-cut illustrated spread devoted to a particular thank-you message. It starts off with “Thank you for this sweet, warm home, blessed with family all my own.” The four other feathers mention thanks for food, friends, love and “…most of all, I’m thankful to be the one and only, special me.” What a terrific and important message to impart to children at Thanksgiving.
Fab and felt-clad Turkey (on the cover) is just one of the adorable Flanimals animal characters in this 20-page cumulative concept board book.T is for Thanks (and Turkey!)explores themes of gratitude and friendship courtesy of the letter T. The story begins when Tiger gives Turtle some tulips in a tea pot as a gift. Such a lovely gesture! Sadly, the present breaks when Turtle sneezes. Turkey’s on hand to offer some tissues. In fact he humorously always wants to be included in the cumulative repetition that kids will love. “T is for Thanks and Tape and Thunderstorm. And Turkey!” Some tape mends the broken tea pot and Turkey’s wings keep the rain off Tiger while Turtle’s retreated into his shell.
It’s great how the friends get up to some fun antics that kids will relate to all while sticking to the letter T. Things get messy though when Turkey gets onto a trampoline with tacos given to him by Toad. That causes no end of trouble as you might imagine. But with caring, thoughtful friends, everything will work out in the end providing everyone (and Turkey!) is on good behavior.
This book provides many levels of entertainment and positive reinforcement whether it’s counting the tulips (three), noting with little ones how all the animals’ names begin with T, seeing what else they can spot in the art that might pertain to thankfulness and the letter T, and most importantly, seeing the kind way friends treat each other.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click hereto read a review of another Thanksgiving book.
Like the cumulative tale and nursery rhyme, “This is the house that Jack built,” Heuiser Hill’s text similarly “builds” the setting up of the dinner table. Grandad initiates the opportunity for a family gathering by constructing “this table,” and the rest of the family pitches in bit by bit—each one contributing a layer or detail that adds richness and diversity. The multifaceted colors, textures, and patterns in Kim’s illustrations reflect the movement and excitement in getting together. In simple lines and shapes, each page highlights the delighted facial expressions of the multicultural family members who have gathered to share a meal made from scratch.
In fact everything set on the table is a hands on, homemade creation. The “sunflowers picked by … cousins,” the “napkins sewn by Mom,” and the meal itself come straight from the heart. Every object has sentimental value. Even the everyday “forks and spoons and knives” honor those loved ones who have passed on. “Gifts from Dad’s grandma long ago,” the utensils allow past generations to be present at the table.
For those who love multicultural and multigenerational themes, Around the Table That Grandad Built is a wonderful addition to the home library. Equally important—especially in this day and age—are the opportunities the book provides to talk about essential values. Thankfulness, hard work, love, and selflessness can be discussed anytime you’re around the table. Consider sharing for Thanksgiving!
If you like fairy tales, Muon Thị Văn’s new spin on Snow White will enchant you. Snow White and the dwarfs aren’t featured, rather the focus is on the Magic Mirror used by the Evil Queen. In The Most Terrible of All, the queen has been replaced by Smugg, a lovable monster. Smugg is certain he’s the most terrible beast in the land—his mirror tells him so. Until, one day, when he’s out-terribled by someone new, someone “a million times more terrible.” Not one to sit idly by, Smugg goes in search of this interloper. His quest takes him all the way . . . next door where a houseful of fiends contends for the title of Most Terrible.
This ghoulish fractured fairy tale delighted me. Matt Myers’s art features lovely blues, greens, purples, and pinks giving the book a calm vibe even though the action’s quite exciting. His “ginormous sea serpent” is wonderfully scary and my favorite creature in the book.
Kids will enjoy this picture book because it’s a funny version of a story they already know. The monsters are charming and the ending is just perfect.
Goldilocks has gone ghoulish in Lynne Marie’s picture book, Moldilocks and the Three Scares: A Zombie Tale. The Scare family—a monster dad, mummy mom, and vampire daughter—are enjoying a lovely night together preparing a midnight snack of sliced finger sandwiches and Alpha-Bat soup. But, of course, the soup is too hot; it boils Dad’s bolts, causes Mama to unravel, and gives Baby a fang-ache.
David Rodriguez Lorenzo illustrations are deathly cute. Details enliven each scenes. The page that enchants me is Moldilocks zombie-stumbling across the dining table with a fly escort. The three chairs are perfectly suited for each family member. Their décor is skeletal chic. A skull vase displays withering flowers, an old-fashioned TV’s rabbit ears appear to be femurs, and the standing lamp is a headless skeleton holding up its lampshade.
Pay attention to the opening pages because those lines will come back to haunt you with the book’s modern ending. When the Scares catch Moldilocks in their ghastly abode, Mama muses that her “nightmares have been answered”; I think Moldilocks would agree.
The winning team of Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt from Interstellar Cinderella are together again in Reading Beauty, another rhyming fractured fairy tale picture book. In this version, instead of the princess pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, Princess Lex lives in a book-loving kingdom and is cursed to go into a deathlike sleep from a paper cut. Therefore, all books are secreted away on her fifteenth birthday.
“Without its books, their world grew bleak, consumed by dark and gloom.” Luckily Lex’s cute puppy, Prince, has been trained to fetch her things to read. I like how this smart princess takes matters into her own hands, especially the funny scene where Lex fools the fairy.
The art pops from the page. A bright blend of classic fairy tale and futuristic wonder will delightfully transport readers into a modern world. You’ll have to pick up your own copy to discover the creative ending.
SHUBH DIWALI! Written by Chitra Soundar Illustrated by Charlene Chua (Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Every fall I celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, better known as Hanukkah, which lasts eight days. But there is another Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus called Diwali that is “celebrated across five days,” depending on where one lives. This year Diwali begins on Sunday, October 27 so I wanted to share this new picture book about the holiday called Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua.
From the very first pages when “Grandpa watches the waning moon. The festival is coming soon,” readers feel a sense of anticipation knowing that something wonderful is about to happen. Chua’s cheerful and brightly colored artwork depicts preparations underway as a multi-generational Indian family tidies their home in the days leading up to Diwali. I love how we see everyone involved, even the adorable dog, eager for the celebration to begin.
Told in rhyme, Shubh Diwali! introduces youngsters to the numerous holiday customs such as hanging bunting made from mango leaves, creating striking Rangoli art (“traditional floor decorations and patterns made from rice flour and colored powders”), and wearing new clothes. There’s plenty of storytelling by elders, in this case recounting tales of gods who “fought evil against all odds,” as well as time together with the whole family to reflect when hymns are chanted and bells are rung. Of course there’s also a lot of eating and playing because, well because that’s what happens when there’s a houseful of kids and adults!
The picture book is filled with a diverse group of friends and neighbors who are invited to share in the lovely and meaningful Diwali rituals such as lighting the lamps, exchanging presents and candy, and watching brilliant fireworks light up the skies. I learned in the interesting back matter that on the third day of this festival, which happens to be when the New Year is celebrated, people “offer food and support to those less privileged than themselves.” Also the fifth day, called Bhai Dooj, is devoted to brothers and sisters getting together to “celebrate their love for one another.”
I recommend sharing this charming picture book with children so, like me, they can learn about Diwali and its beautiful traditions. There are many holidays based on the lunar calendar and it’s a good idea to expose kids to as many as possible in order to gain a greater understanding of different cultures at home and abroad and maybe make our world a little smaller.
Review by Ronna Mandel
Read a review about another book illustrated by Charlene Chua here.
As all budding young chefs and their parents know, it’s not easy getting a recipe just right. In the new picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, these delicious dumplings are Amy’s nemesis. There are a lot of things that can go wrong; luckily, Amy’s Chinese-American family has got it down and will teach her step by step.
High-spirited Amy will appeal to kids who like expressive, relatable, and funny main characters (à la Fancy Nancy). Amy is skillful at many tasks—including eating bao all day—but it’s frustrating that her bao just don’t turn out right.
Charlena Chuacaptures Amy’s personality in the lively illustrations, from silly expressions (trying to tie her shoes while brushing her teeth) to earnest ones (focused on pinching the dough just right). Throughout, a cute white cat follows Amy’s escapades.
Kat Zhang’s uplifting story shows that imperfection tastes just as good and, with a little bit of ingenuity, kids can solve their problems by trying something new. Amy’s resourcefulness left me smiling; kids are amazing.
The book concludes with a time-consuming (3+ hours) but mouth-watering, in other words worth it, recipe for bao that I tested with my daughter. We appreciated the tip about cooking a spoonful of filling before making the dumplings—great advice which allowed us to adjust the flavors. Enjoy!
This charming picture book hit all the right notes with me. The cleverness of the prose and the gorgeous watercolor illustrations that were rendered digitally work together to make Grandpa’s Top Threes an easy-to-read and share, gentle approach to grief (in this case the grandpa’s) and the loss of a grandparent.
Henry is frustrated by his grandpa’s seemingly ignoring him, but his mom tells him to give it time. Parent and caregivers will immediately understand why. When Mom suggests Henry ask his grandpa “if he’d like a sandwich,” Henry puts the perfect spin on the question and engages his grandfather. “Grandpa, what are your top three sandwiches?” As Henry succeeds at getting his grandfather out of himself by continuing to ask for Grandpa’s Top Three, the two return to their loving relationship that existed before Henry’s grandmother’s death. The beautiful ending will tug at your heartstrings in the best possible way.
This moving story is meaningful in so many ways. It’s at once a book that will help youngsters discuss and process the loss of a beloved grandparent as well as a beautiful and poetic tribute to the grandparent grandchild relationship.
The picture book aptly unfolds in seasons where the young main character compares her grandpa to things in the world as varied as springtime, deep space, dreams and stories. “If all the world were springtime, I would replant my grandpa’s birthdays so that he would never get old.” Her other wishes convey to readers that this bright little girl knows her grandfather is ill and while the loss may come as no surprise, the overwhelming feelings of grief will. But thankfully she has special memories from Grandpa and a new journal handmade by him in which she can “write and draw” to express her sadness along with the worlds of love she shared with her grandfather.
Despite the subject of losing a beloved grandparent, the cheerful illustrations rich with expression help this picture book focus on happy times the grandfather and granddaughter have spent together. The terrific takeaway definitely comes from the subtitle, A Book of Remembering, which Grandpa’s Stories does perfectly.
I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading My Grandma and Me. While I never had this close relationship with my grandmother, I enjoyed reading about Javaherbin’s deep abiding love for hers. This picture book, autobiographical and irresistible, takes readers to Iran where the author’s grandmother lived with her family. “When she cooked, I cooked. When she prayed, I prayed like her, too.” Mina’s grandmother welcomed her sweet shadow.
Like me, I’m sure you’ll fly through the pages and read again and again about how young Mina adored her grandmother and spent as much time with her as possible whether at home, next door at her friend Annette’s house or at the mosque. As Mina grows, so does her love and respect for her grandmother who was obviously a wonderful role model for the young girl.
What will also resonate with readers, in addition to the lovely recollections, are the simple moments of grandma and grandchild quality time. In the beginning of the book Yankey shows little Mina lying on her grandmother’s back during namaz, early morning prayer time. From that moment on the love between grandchild and grandparent emanates from every page during playtime, Ramadan and social visits. This enchanting celebration of the bond between generations is a rewarding and recommended read.
Reviews by Ronna Mandel
Other new recommended reads for Grandparents Day
Our Favorite Dayby Joowon Oh – a not-to-miss debut about special time together that will leave your heart full. It’s pure happiness in your hands.
Looking for Yesterdayby Alison Jay – this charming picture book about looking forward is a STEMish story with breathtaking illustrations you’ll want to look at over and over again and a grandparent grandson relationship that’s full of wisdom and wit.
You can also find a previous Grandparents Day book reviewhere.
I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.
★Starred Review – Kirkus
The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.
The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.
Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.
The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”
I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kid—I was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be this—the Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.