THE STAR FESTIVAL, also known as the Tanabata Matsuri, takes place in Japan on the seventh day of the seventh month. It is celebrated on July 7th in regions following the gregorian calendar and August 7th of the lunar calendar.
I researched many beautiful landscapes and images, knowing that one would eventually become the backdrop of my story. Which were my top choices, and how did I choose?
Hanami Matsuri, the Cherry Blossom Festival, takes place in the Spring determined by the sakura, or cherry blossom, forecast in particular regions. Sometimes performances and tea ceremonies are performed under the trees, but the main activity is to picnic under the pink-blossomed sky.
Hina Matsuri has many names, the Japanese Doll Festival, Girl’s Day, and the Peach Festival, due to the time of year that it’s held-March 3rd. Originally, dolls made of paper and straw were sent down a river to set misfortunes adrift. In modern times, fancier dolls displayed inside homes invite prosperity and happiness.
Yuki Matsuri, the Sapporo Snow Festival, is celebrated in Hokkaido, a colder region of Japan. Famous for its ice sculptures, this modern-day festival began in 1950 when a group of high school students sculpted snow figures in Odori Park. Contests are held every February and attract visitors from all over the world.
The festival that became the backdrop to my story is equally beautiful to all of these mentioned. It was the folklore behind the Star Festival that drew me in. Orihime and Hikoboshi, two star-crossed lovers, forbidden to see each other but once a year, cross the Milky Way bridge and meet on the day of the Tanabata, offering a parallel to Keiko, my main character, crossing a sea of celebration to find her Oba or grandmother.
In a few days, you can celebrate the Tanabata Matsuri in your home or town. Gaze at the stars and make a tanzaku (paper wish) to hang on a tree.
It only takes a quick glance at the title to know that we’re in for a treat! In Bella’s Recipe for Success, the debut picture book by Ana Siqueira, we can assume that Bella, the Latina main character, will be engaging in disastrous recipes, resulting in a delicious and successful outcome.
The story begins with Bella and her Abuela in the kitchen. As her siblings brag about piano playing and cartwheeling, Bella wonders about herself. She attempts to discover her own talents but loses hope and resigns herself to not being good at anything. Taking comfort with her Abuela, she asks to make polvorones con dulce de leche. To Bella’s surprise, her brother and sister make mistakes too. So she persists. Sometimes the dough is hard as a rock. Other times it crumbles apart. But Bella keeps trying. She beats, blends, stirs, and bakes her way to success! In the end, she realizes that she is good at more than baking polvorones!
Ana Siqueira does a great job writing language that reads quickly and light in the spirit of cheering Bella up. She creates delightful similes comparing her somersaults to jirafas rolling downhill and dulce de leche to cocodrilo skin. Spanish words are easily understood through context and round out the setting in the Latinx, intergenerational home. Playful images by illustratorGeraldine Rodriguezalso capture Bella’s emotional journey making this an engaging book for young readers.
This book reinforces that everyone makes mistakes and that they are okay and even necessary to achieve success. It is el perfecto libro for kids who might need a little boost in confidence.
A sweet bonus: The polvorones con dulce de leche cookie recipe at the end of the story. Are you ready to put your baking talents to the test?
Swimming season is upon us so I’ve invited author Stephanie Wildman to talk about her new picture book, Brave in the Water, for parents and caregivers of reluctant swimmers to share with children.
Thank you so much, Ronna, for having me on your blog. I’m excited to tell your readers about my debut picture group Brave in the Water and to encourage them to get in the water!
Learning to swim can be daunting. I should know – I didn’t learn until I was twenty-six years old! I didn’t want my own children to grow up afraid, so I took them for swim lessons at an early age. They both became competitive swimmers. One founded and coached an award-winning swim program for vulnerable youth. One swam for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics, winning a gold medal. So getting them in the water was one thing I did right as a parent, not passing on my own fear. I hope this book reaches children who might be afraid like I was and shows them that they can have fun in the water.
More about the book:
Diante is afraid to put his face in the water, but he is torn because he would like to play in the pool with other children. He’s not afraid to hang upside down on the monkey bars, though, and he’s surprised to learn his grandma is afraid to be upside down in an inverted yoga pose. Can Diante help Grandma and become brave in the water?
Spoiler alert: He can and he does. Grandma tells Diante about the feathered peacock yoga pose that she aspires to do. Diante wants to try it. Grandma explains that “Breathing is important for trying something new.” They practice slow, deep inhalations and exhalations together.
Before trying the pose Diante learns to control his breathing (pranayama).
He wonders if pranayama can help him put his face in the water. He goes back to the pool to try and thinks for a long time, finally remembering pranayama. Finally, step by step, slowly breathing Diante enters the water and puts his face in. He is on his way to learning how to swim.
Here is what Bonnie Tsui, New York Times best-selling author of Why We Swim and Sarah and the Big Wave, said about Brave in the Water in her back cover blurb:
“Being brave is something we work on all our lives. Stephanie Wildman shows us how to help each other through — one breath at a time — to reach the essential joy of the water.”
By the way, I would love you to check out my debut group NewBooksforKids.com. I have been lucky to meet this group of kidlit debut authors, all with books I want to buy and read. Remember you can always support children’s books by requesting your local library to order them or by buying one for a Little Free Library. This group will give you some great ideas.
Thanks again Ronna. See you in the water!
About the Author:
Stephanie M. Wildman served as John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Chair at Santa Clara Law and directed the school’s Center for Social Justice and Public Service before becoming Professor Emerita. Her books include: Brave in the Water (2021); Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America 2d (2021) (with contributions by Armstrong, Davis, & Grillo); Race and Races: Cases and Resources for a Diverse America 3d (with Delgado, Harris, Perea, & Stefancic) (2015); Social Justice: Professionals Communities and Law (with Mahoney & Calmore) (2013); Women and the Law Stories (with Schneider) (2011). She is a member of the Writers Grotto. She is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she is able to sit “criss-cross apple sauce” thanks to her yoga practice.
Where to buy the book:
The book is available for order anywhere books are sold. Here are some links for purchasing online:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With British royalty in the news so frequently of late, it seems only fitting to share Judy Moody and The Right Royal Tea Party, a brill new chapter book from Megan McDonald that is sure to get readers raring to look up their family trees. As always, this internationally best-selling series features the inimitable artwork of Peter H. Reynolds, bringing the plucky, sometimes stubborn and bossy, but always irresistible Judy Moody to life. Reynolds’ illustrations keep the story fresh and relatable from start to finish.
Judy Moody’s learning about family trees in Social Studies and teacher Mr. Todd wants everyone to research their lineage and report back. Lovable Grandma Lou’s got some interesting facts from her husband’s side of the family including one relative who died a hero on the Titanic and another who, family lore has it, goes back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In fact the name ‘Moody’ means brave and that long ago brave cousin might possibly have rescued someone from the Tower of London, the famous prison. Well that’s all Judy needed to hear to decide her ancestry’s tied to that of the current royal family, namely the Queen. It makes sense to Judy since she has a pen pal there already and her favorite color, purple, is the color of nobility. So no surprise that it doesn’t take long for Judy to imagine herself as Queen. She even writes a fab and funny letter to HRH with questions that are sure to crack up young readers. Here’s one of my favorite questions: Can you make someone bring you a snowball in the middle of summer? In true Judy Moody style, this young wanna-be royal creates a castle in her backyard and even digs a moat causing some royal run ins with her brother, recently dubbed Sir Short Shanks.
When visiting a nearby castle with her family, Judy and her younger brother, Stink, spy her frenemy Jessica Finch enjoying a tea party on the premises. Blimey! How could Jessica have all the fun and all the tea? Judy decides she’s going to throw a high tea party of her own, a right royal one. Only things go south quickly once Jessica Finch shares her family tree in class 3T and Judy’s seeing all shades of blue. Does she smell a rat or is she related to its keeper? Crikey! What’s a royal red-head to do? When no one shows up to her party, Judy’s dreams of queendom fade fast. Luckily a pinkie promise to keep a secret secure saves the day and Judy bounces back like any noble blooded royal would.
Filled with kid-friendly facts and puns galore, Judy Moody and The Right Royal Tea Party also includes lots of British English words and expressions explained in the back matter. It feels like McDonald had a terrific time writing the book because it reads so effortlessly and the humor flows from one fun scene to the next. Now that there’s going to be a royal birth this spring, kids will find this timely fourteenth book absotively posolutely the bees knees, no lie!
JULIÁN IS A MERMAID Written and illustrated by Jessica Love (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Julián is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, is a brilliant debut picture book. As Julián and his abuela leave the public pool, they share the subway ride with some women dressed as mermaids. Julián loves mermaids and feels he is one too. He demonstrates this while his abuela’s away taking a bath. At the crucial moment of discovery, Abuela encourages Julián and takes him to his tribe: a gathering of likeminded people.
Jessica Love’s beautiful sentiment is echoed in her vibrant, festive art done by hand with ink, gouache, and watercolor on brown paper. Richly rendered, expressive characters stand out against muted backgrounds. This 40-page picture book gently shows how easy it can be to accept others. Potentially contentious moments are, instead, depicted with understanding.
Using words sparingly, Julián is a Mermaid captures the colorful expansiveness of our imaginations when given free rein.
About the author: Jessica Love is an illustrator and Broadway actress. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She lives in New York.
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.
I found myself singing the story, moving easily and eagerly from page to page with More Than Enough’s perfectly paced melodic text. How apropos given that Wayland was inspired to write this picture book because of the Dayenu song, her favorite part of the Passover seder. In the author’s notes she explains, “For me, Dayenu’s message – being grateful for the blessings in each moment – goes beyond Passover.”
Accenting every two or four lines is the word dayenu, reminding readers to savor the special moments and to count our blessings big and small. Whether wandering through the local farmers market with their mom while looking for Seder ingredients, or getting a new kitten from a shelter, the brother and sister narrators enjoy every moment of the lead up to the Passover holiday.
Together with their parents, the siblings help make Charoset, a Passover dish symbolizing mortar. They then prepare to go to their grandma’s house for the Seder. Wayland takes readers through the Seder traditions so even those unfamiliar with Passover will find they’ve gotten a better understanding of this important Jewish celebration.
Ending with our narrators’ full tummies and a Passover sleepover at Nana’s, More Than Enough is a heart-warming story and a welcome addition to any family’s holiday book collection. Jews and non-Jews will appreciate the glossary Wayland’s provided to introduce young readers to interesting Passover vocabulary. She’s even included the song sheet for Dayenu for those who’d like a go at playing the song on their own.
Illustrator Katie Kath’s wonderful water colors are so cheerful and convey the excitement that children experience as Passover approaches. I especially liked all the Seder spreads with family gathered around Nana’s dining room table. Those illustrations took me back to the years of celebrating at my aunt’s house with my Nana, some of the sweetest memories I have of holiday time spent with family. I know readers will feel the same way, too. Dayenu!
When I was a little girl, probably the same age as the main character in Talia and the Very Yum Kippur, I always thought that Yom Kippur was actually called “Yum” Kippur, at least that’s how everyone in my family pronounced this most holy of Jewish holidays. So, I couldn’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to write a “pun-driven story of misheard words and malapropisms” like this “Yum” Kippur themed story, but I’m glad that at last someone has!
Author Linda Elovitz Marshall who, according to this picture book’s jacket flap, “raised her four children, a small flock of sheep, … on a farm in a historic farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York,” has chosen a similar setting for this charming tale. Only this farm’s inhabitants are Talia’s grandparents. Talia happily helps her grandmother prepare the food for the traditional Break Fast, a meal beginning at sundown immediately following a 24 hour fast of atonement by those over age 13.
The whole time Talia’s helping her grandmother, she’s thinking that the food-in-the-works is for breakfast, the morning meal, having misunderstand the correct name of the holiday. Talia’s confusion begins early on in the story and deliciously builds which will keep children turning the pages to see how everything works out. Who can blame a little girl for eagerly awaiting what she hopes will be the “Yum” Kippur breakfast of scrumptious kugel along with all the other tasty dishes?
The best part about Talia and the Very Yum Kippur is that, in addition to the humor of the play on words, Marshall introduces young readers to the meaning of this important holiday “… when Jews fast and pray and think about how to be better people.” While we fast, we take the time to think about our transgressions and pray for forgiveness. After learning this from her grandmother, Talia digs deep and apologizes for a lamp she had broken but had blamed on her doll. Grandma, too, asks for forgiveness for having yelled at her granddaughter upon seeing the broken lamp.
Assirelli serves up a selection of gorgeous folkish-looking spreads that pair beautifully with Marshall’s prose. Since Yom Kippur is in the fall, the artist has chosen autumn hues to pepper the pages making this special season come alive.
“Thanks to Talia and her grandmother, they all enjoyed a very sweet YUM Kippur.” And speaking of sweet, don’t miss the yummy recipe for Talia’s YUM Kippur Kugel included in the back matter!
Love of family is celebrated in this heart warming and delightful bilingual picture book. Author Samuel Caraballo’s moving depiction of a young girl’s deep appreciation of her family truly touched my heart! Interwoven throughout the text are symbols of the indigenous people of Latin America with explanations of these symbols at the back of the book. Here is an opportunity for a child to learn about Latin American culture or perhaps these images are wonderfully sweet reminders to a child who is already familiar with them. For me it was a wonderful education! For example the young girl narrating the book says to her mother:
Your hands, the most tender! When I am scared, they soothe me. When I am hungry, they always feed me. When I am thirsty, they give me the most refreshing water. They give me warmth when I shiver with cold. Mom, your hands are like rose petals!
I learned that rose petals represent tenderness in Latin America, which is so appropriate. The image of my own sweet mother immediately came to my mind as I remembered her loving care of me in exactly this way. The strong hands of the little girl’s dad who lifts her up every time she falls, the friendly hands of her siblings that encourage her with applause, the happy hands of her grandma who teaches her to lift her spirits by dancing, and the wise hands of her grandfather who teaches her to care for the earth are all described in delightful, vibrant language. In return for the care her family gives her the little girl promises that, when she is a woman, she will always be there for her family.
Shawn Costello’s warm, joyous illustrations are paired so well with the endearing text. My favorite illustration is the one on the cover that depicts the strong bond of love between the little girl and her grandpa as they both try to reach for the brightest star in the night sky! It is truly magical!
Fans of Munch’s Love You Forever will find much to appreciate in this story of the closeness of family ties, and children will feel comforted knowing that the beautiful love of their family is always there for them. Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia /These Hands: My Family’s Hands reassures them that they will always be surrounded with family who will provide a circle of protection, fun, and wisdom. This book is a wonderful addition to any library, encouraging young children to learn to appreciate the beauty of both Spanish and English. For me it brought back many happy memories of my own family in whose loving hands I was so well cared for!