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Best New Books for Back-to-School 2021

10 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

∼A ROUNDUP FOR 2021∼

 

 

backtoschool pencil clipart

 

 

Back-to school this year is not only the start of a new school year, for many it’s also a return to in-person learning in over a year. For others, it’s really the first time ever to attend daycare, preschool, or elementary school. This selection of ten assorted books highlights all the things that returning to school means for kids.

 

 

MEET YOUR SCHOOL!: An All About Me Book
Written by Cindy Jin

Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Cindy Jin’s upbeat 12-page school-shaped board book, Meet Your School!: An All About Me Book, features a variety of animals making their way through a school day. A nice overview is given of what kids can expect, from the main classrooms to the art room, gym, cafeteria, library, and music room. The rhyming couplets reinforce what can be found in each area: “The library is filled with books of all kinds / to teach and inspire bright, young minds.”

The illustrations by Melissa Crowton depict cute, colorful animals interacting happily in various situations. Each page has fun lift-the-flaps for further exploration. Overall, this book has a lot to discover while also providing a positive message as to what school is all about. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

HowtobeKindinKindergarten cvrHOW TO BE KIND IN KINDERGARTEN:
A Book For Your Backpack
Written by D.J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Ruth Hammond
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99; Ages 3-5)

 My eyes were instantly attracted to the colorful book cover illustration of an apple being shared on the school playground with a new friend, while classmates throw balls and glide down the slide, introducing readers to acts of kindness in How To Be Kind in Kindergarten: A Book for Your Backpack.

A book for your backpack is a perfect subtitle for this small hardcover book that reads rhythmically, teaching hidden lessons to kids first entering the new world of school. The fun-to-read story includes a diverse mix of abilities, races, and genders. Kids should have no problem finding themselves in one of Hammond’s realistic drawings.

Steinberg opens the story with the question, “Are you in kindergarten? Is that really true? How in the world did you get so big? So smart and funny, too!” The story moves into the classroom with posters of 1, 2, 3, and ABC so a child sees what a kindergarten classroom looks like. Kindness is threaded through each page as Steinberg points out, ‘Cause you’re the kind of kid who always shows you care.

This book shows kids what an impact they can make in their new school, whether cheering up a sad new friend or including a shy friend in a game. This truly is an ideal backpack book and should be read on the first day of school, the middle of the school year, and at the end of the school year because kindness is needed year-round. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

whats in dragons backpack coverWHAT’S IN DRAGON’S BACKPACK?
Written by Joan Holub

Illustrated by Christopher Lee
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 3-5)

The eye-catching cover of Joan Holub’s, What’s in Dragon’s Backpack? gleams with metallic dragon scales and the backpack-shaped 14-page board book has a cut-out handle just the right size for small hands. Inside, the fun rhyming couplets give us a glimpse of what Dragon’s got in there: “Stickers, charms, a message, and some homework that he fried. Oops!”

Each page has lift-the-flaps for further exploration adorned with Christopher Lee’s adorable art. The faces on his dragons, such as on the mock A Dragon’s Tale book, are top-notch. I also really like the subtle math lessons showing three flames equals one on-fire number three. Other teaching elements include groups of shapes that, once you peek beneath the flap, combine to make a sword.

Educational, interactive, and fun, this engaging book is sure to be a hit with kids who are starting school and donning backpacks. It can also be a conversation starter about what should be inside your child’s backpack to make school days a success. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL
Written by Alexandra Alessandri
Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

It’s the first day of school, an English-speaking school, but Isabel only speaks Spanish. Isabel is a charming and irresistible main character and I cared about how she felt going into unknown territory, alone. Her reluctance is understandable. She doesn’t know English and is scared of what it will be like. Isabel sees things in gorgeous colors and through art and doesn’t realize how quickly she will pick up the new language. “English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites.” Isabel preferred the warm, cheerful colors of Spanish.

Ultimately her language learning is facilitated by one good friend but her limited grasp of English initially gets in the way. Isabel’s thoughtful art saves the day and new friendship blossoms. The interplay between Alessandri’s beautiful prose and Dawson’s flowing art makes every page a delight to behold. This cleverly presented bilingual picture book also includes Spanish to English translations in the back matter but for English speakers, most of the Spanish words can be understood in the context of the story. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

My School Stinks! coverMY SCHOOL STINKS!
Written by Becky Scharnhorst
Illustrated by Julia Patton
(Philomel; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

School really does stink when one classmate is a skunk and the teacher is unBEARable. So, when little Stuart tells Mom his classmates are wild animals she says all kids are wild animals in debut author Becky Scharnhorst’s hysterical read-aloud with drawings by Julia Patton.

The originality of this story told in diary form starting on the first day of school and ending at Open House, when Mom and Dad realize they have sent their young child, Stuart, to a school full of animals, takes the reader through the first seventeen days of school. Stuart attempts to play along with his classmates when the monkeys hang him upside down. He’s then caught by Patricia the Porcupine pricking him with her many quills. Stuart journals P.S. The deep breaths still aren’t working. P.P.S. Neither are the happy thoughts P.P.P.S. I’m not going back tomorrow!

As Stuart continues to journal he also begins to make friends. Charlie the Crocodile apologizes for biting his fingers and becomes Stuart’s new best bud. This sweet story can be read for school storytime or by a parent before bed. I laughed on entry September 15 when Scharnhorst writes P.S. Mom doesn’t understand how a skunk got in the storage closet. I guess she’ll find out at Open House. I was anxious for Open House to find out how Mom and Dad would react to realizing they sent their child to the wrong school, but Stuart repeats what they told him on the first day of school Mom and Dad told me to take deep breaths and THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS. This was a great lesson for his parents. I just hope they let him stay friends with a crocodile! Patton’s detailed artwork adds to the whimsy with letters written on notebook paper and characters drawn with big teeth and round glasses. The P.S. notes were a fabulous extra touch. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

WE WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL:
The Fight for Disability Rights
Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler + Janine Leffler
Illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Oh, how I’d love for this nonfiction picture book to be required reading in all schools! I could not believe as I read it that prior to President Ford signing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975 with its Individualized Education Plan (IEP), children with disabilities did not have the right to a free, appropriate, public education. But the book really focuses on the lawsuit in 1971 called Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia, the District Court ruling in 1972 that led to this important act being implemented, and the seven school-aged children and their families who made it happen.

We Want to Go to School is narrated by author-illustrator Cocca-Leffler’s daughter, author Janine Leffler, whose own inclusive experience as a student with Cerebral Palsy (CP) receiving various special assistance in school contrasts to what students prior to her would have experienced.  She explains how prior to the ’70s, students with disabilities either didn’t go to school, stayed in hospitals, or were sent to special schools at a huge expense to families. If they were allowed into some schools, these children were segregated in separate classrooms. There was little chance to interact with mainstream students. That is until Peter Mills, Janice King, Jerome James, Michael Williams, George Liddell, Jr., Steven Gaston and Duane Blacksheare decided they’d had enough of being left out. Of course, the schools objected, finding reason after reason why students with disabilities should not be able to attend. Their parents were having déjà vu.

Wasn’t public school supposed to be for everyone? Wasn’t that the lesson learned in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when segregation because of the color one’s skin was the issue. So the families fought back. They began to meet others facing the same school challenges and there was power in numbers. The news of the lawsuit spread so that pretty soon “more families joined the lawsuit.” It then became a class action suit. “18,000 students from the Washington, D.C. area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities.” Would the judge presiding over the case agree? YES! And the positive outcome of this lawsuit led to big changes for students with disabilities with “federal laws guaranteeing public education for all children.

I loved the energy of Cocca-Leffler’s art, especially the spread where she’s filled the page with faces of 1,000 kids and tells readers to imagine those 18,000 DC students, and the 8 million US students denied an education because they had disabilities. Powerful! Five pages of back matter include information on Disability Education Rights, a timeline, Author Notes, and an enlightening Note from Paul R. Dimond, Plaintiffs’ Attorney in the Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia. I’m grateful for these change-makers. They paved the way for future students with disabilities who continue to benefit from their commitment to equal rights in education for all. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

TheNightBaaforetheFirstDayofSchool coverTHE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Dawn Young
Illustrated by Pablo Pino
(WorthyKids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Night Baafore The First Day of School blends the counting element, the rhyme and hilarity of Sandra Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk with the irresistible art of Mark Teague’s Pigsty. As the main character Bo—the star of two previous books I haven’t yet read—attempts unsuccessfully to fall asleep due to day-before-school-starts jitters, he calls on sheep to help. The catch is they make it more difficult to sleep with the ruckus they create. Poor Bo, aware of the hours slipping away, is desperate. He offers them a snack if they’ll stop, but when that doesn’t work he calls an emergency meeting. Only then a mysterious shadow of a monster appears further exacerbating the chaos. 

There’s as much for readers to enjoy in Young’s wild storyline as there is in Pino’s zany and action-packed illustrations. The counting of sheep from 1 to 10 as they get up to no good adds an engaging layer to the book. Then, reversing that to eventually count back down as it gets later and later, is such fun and a great way to involve young readers. I love how the 10 sheep all wear number necklaces to identify themselves. Kids may want to study each spread more closer upon further reads to see what each individual sheep is doing with the supplies Bo has prepared for his backpack. The massive mess is mighty fun to look at. Tension builds with each page turn as we wonder if Bo will get any shut-eye and manage to catch the bus to school. And the humor surrounding every sheep-filled episode encroaching on Bo’s time to sleep is a delight in this rhyming romp of a read-aloud. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NORMAN’S FIRST DAY AT DINO DAY CARE
Written and illustrated by Sean Julian
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Norman, a very small, almost invisible dinosaur compared to all the other dinos at Mrs. Beak’s play group, is shy. This may resonate with young readers experiencing a similar emotion when just starting school and being away from home. Julian’s rich artwork is charming in how it depicts Norman hiding (except his tail always adorably sticking out) in various situations where the text also states “he was very good at hiding.” In the beginning, before Norman makes friends, parents can ask children to see if they can spot him in the illustrations as he avoids interaction.

My favorite part of the picture book is when Norman confides in Mrs. Beak that he really wants to join the other dinos but feels shy. “It’s okay to be shy,” Mrs. Beak replied. “It’s a special part of who you are.” When she asks the dinos to perform in pairs, Norman teams up with big, loud Jake who despite his size, admits he’s rather nervous too. The two share a laugh and come up with a magical performance that not only satisfies (and perhaps comforts) children but provides the perfect conversation starter for parents and teachers to discuss shyness. I’m not sure it was deliberate, but I appreciated Mrs. Beak’s rainbow door and her rainbow mug, another welcoming feature to this warm and reassuring read. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

SCHOOL IS COOL! (A Hello!Lucky Book)
Written by Sabrina Moyle
Illustrated by Eunice Moyle
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99; Ages 5-9)

School Is Cool was written and illustrated by sisters Sabrina Moyle and Eunice Moyle founders of Hello!Lucky, their award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio.

Targeting the child who has already had some school experience, this story begins on the beach where the rhinoceros, dog, and platypus are chilling out until they realize Tomorrow’s the first day of school! The expressive drawings tell it all when the dog almost drops his ice cream cone and the rhino jumps from his floatation device. The friends are worried kids won’t like your hair. Or how they talk. Or what they wear.

Eunice Moyle’s bold, captivating illustrations depict all sorts of animals arriving for their first day by school bus and bikes. They line up awaiting a handshake from the animal teacher, in popping bright greens and oranges and a happy yellow sun, a perfect complement to the welcome the smiling animals.

This book expresses the true feelings many kids have when it’s time to say goodbye to Mom and home now replaced by an unfamiliar teacher and classroom where they must learn the new rules. What if your teacher calls on you—and the answer is five, but you said … 2. It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” Everyone is here to grow.”

The back flap states that the Moyle sisters use their creativity and humor to inspire kindness, empathy, self-awareness, and service and in doing so dedicate this book to teachers everywhere. You are the coolest! Thank you for all you do! – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

TWINS VS. TRIPLETS #1:
Back-to-School Blitz

Written by Jennifer Torres
Illustrated by Vanessa Flores
(Harper Chapters; HC $15.99, Paperback $5.99, Ages 6-10)

It looks like it’s going to be three times the trouble at school for David Suárez. With new neighbors, the Benitez triplets adding to what’s already an annoying presence by his other neighbors, the Romero twins, David must navigate third grade and not lose his cool. His goal after all is to be captain of the Globetrotters, the geography club, and that requires an uncluttered mind. Except the Benitez triplets and Romero twins are messing with him and everyone else.

When David is tasked with monitoring the playground (trouble maker prime turf), he fears it may be made off-limits for everyone if the five tricksters continue getting up to no good. And that is looking more and more likely when both sets of mischief-makers aim to rule recess with their pranks and pushy personalities.

This early chapter book, filled with humorous black-and-white illustrations, works well with its mix of Spanish words and expressions along with comments at the end of most chapters noting a reader’s progress. I like how Back-to-School Blitz includes a diverse group of students and some interesting geography information (David’s favorite subject) that ends up playing an important part in keeping the bullies in check. A couple of things jumped out at me like having the triplets together in one class which I thought wasn’t typically done. Another time, after causing a distraction, the triplets sneak out of class early without the teacher, Mr. Kim, noticing. But I’m an adult and if the kids reading this first book in a new series don’t mind, that’s great because as the book ends, there’s some unusual digging going on in the sandbox, and surely more pranks to come in book #2. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Too Many Bubbles

 

TOO MANY BUBBLES: A STORY ABOUT MINDFULNESS

By Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma

Illustrated by Mags DeRoma

(Sourcebook Kids; $12.99; Ages 3-7)

 

 

Too Many Bubbles cover art with mouse

 

 

When Izzy the mouse’s brain fills up with more and more bubbles of unwanted thoughts he escapes to a special spot to quiet his mind in Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma’s interactive picture book Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness, the first in the Books of Great Character series, with illustrations by Mags DeRoma.

My focus was omnipresent when I began writing this review, and even though I have taught mindfulness, reading this book was a reminder of the importance of deep breathing to escape the crazy bubbles in my own mind. DeRoma’s soft blue illustrations of Izzy riding his two-wheeler in his blue striped shirt and red helmet with “only one little thought bubble. It bubbled up one day, a rough day, and just hung there.” We all know those days, but Izzy’s thought bubbles just wouldn’t go away.

 

TooManyBubbles INT6
Interior spread from Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness written by Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma and illustrated by Mags DeRoma, Sourcebook Kids ©2021.

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DeRoma illustrates two bubbles with squiggly lines above Izzy’s head. The reader doesn’t know what is bothering Izzy, but whatever it is his thoughts just won’t go away. That night Izzy is wide-awake when he should be sleeping, while his stuffed red mouse is fast asleep. Of course, the mouse sleeps with a toy mouse. And the next day Izzy is trying so hard to go through his day as he climbs the slide at the park while more bubbles appear. “At first, it was simply peculiar. But when another popped up, and another, and another, they started to really get in the way of things.” It’s easy to feel the sadness in Izzy’s blue face.

Trying to enjoy a spaghetti dinner is not easy when Izzy’s mind is crowded with more bubbles. It was inevitable that “Izzy was pushed clean off the page.” Red, pink, blue, yellow, and orange bubbles cover the center spread with no Izzy in sight. When the reader turns the page, a red-faced Izzy fills the two-page spread and instead of giving up Izzy knows “something had to be done.”

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Interior spread from Too Many Bubbles: A Story About Mindfulness written by Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma and illustrated by Mags DeRoma, Sourcebook Kids ©2021.

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We all have that special spot we like to escape to when challenges set in. Mine is sitting in my yard listening to the birds and squirrels run by. Izzy’s spot is the beach. As Izzy digs his little mouse toes in the sand, “there was a little more space for all the bubbles.” Watching a little white bear blow his bubbles towards the sea, our protagonist looks up and “Izzy took a deep breath in. Izzy let the deep breath out.”

The interactive book concludes when the reader is asked to assist Izzy by gently blowing on the bubbles. This is a fabulous way to teach mindfulness breathing to children. Izzy’s big deep breath makes everything a little bit brighter as the bubbles float away into the sky.

A LITTLE MORE MINDFUL is included in the back matter exploring ways kids can let go of thoughts taking over their day. “What is mindfulness? It is being aware in the present moment,” DeRoma and Peck explain. The mindfulness exercises are great tools for teachers to assist their students, or parents to share with their kids when a day is not going the way it should. And the adult reader can utilize these tools as well. Peck and DeRoma are founders of the boutique kids brand, Silly Street, whose mission is to help children grow character through play—and they’re also sisters-in-law.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel – Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House Series

DINOSAURS BEFORE DARK GRAPHIC NOVEL

Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series

Written by Jenny Laird

Illustrated by Kelly and Nichole Matthews

(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 6-9)

 

DinosaursBeforeDark MTH graphicnovel cover

 

 

“I wish I could go there…”

 

Any reader of Osborne’s beloved Magic Treehouse chapter book series knows that uttering those magical words while holding a book in the Magic Tree House will instantly transport the child back into the time and place of the book and an action-packed adventure.

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Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

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This first title in the graphic novel adaptations of the chapter book series, Dinosaurs Before Dark, introduces eight-and-a-half-year-old Jack and his younger sister, Annie, residents of Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. While playing in the wooded area near their home, they discover a tree house filled with books. As they excitedly explore the books, Jack finds a book about dinosaurs. Gazing at one of the illustrations, he wishes he could go there. Suddenly, a giant wind begins to spin the tree house and whoosh! It whisks them away to the Cretaceous Period.

While exploring this new environment, they encounter a few of the period’s dinosaurs without incident until a very large and frightening Tyrannosaurus Rex comes roaring and stomping their way. After some hair-raising attempts to dodge it, they make it back to the tree house. Now they just need to figure out how they can get home in one piece … and in time for dinner!

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Dinosaurs Before Dark GN Int2
Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

 

Laird remains true to the original story and her dialogue, along with the Kellys’ illustrations, propel the storyline. Like the chapter book, the graphic novel is neatly organized into short chapters, each ending on a cliffhanger.

Illustrators Kelly and Nichole Matthews have modeled Jack and Annie after the Sal Murdocca illustrations for the chapter book. The Matthews, who are twin sisters, creatively combine detail, color, and a more complex layout to help interpret the chapter book’s narrative. The panels sequencing the tremendous wind that spins the house back into history include a vivid two-page spread (pp 26-27) that conveys the force of the wind. Another full page is used to dramatize the height of the tree house as Jack and Annie descend from it to a world no humans have ever seen (p. 62).

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Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

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This graphic novel adaptation is a great introduction to the chapter book series for younger and emerging readers and could actually replace it in popularity since the format is much more vibrant and engaging than the original chapter book series. So while it’s recommended for ages 6-9, I think children as young as five years old would find it an entertaining read.

Check out this YouTube video to hear how Jenny Laird adapted Osborne’s novel. And for more about the Matthews sisters, visit their website. Fans can also check out the Magic Tree House website here.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Kids Picture Book – Bella’s Recipe for Success

 

BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Written by Ana Siqueira

Illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

Bella's Recipe for Success cover

 

 

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.

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int art pg5-6 Bellas Recipe
Interior art from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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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!

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Interior spread from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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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 illustrator Geraldine Rodriguez also capture Bella’s emotional journey making this an engaging book for young readers.

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Interior spread from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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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?

BUY THE BOOK

Order signed copies of BELLA’S SECRET FOR SUCCESS here.

or from the publisher here: Bella’s Recipe for Success | Beaming Books

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Find more about Ana and her books at: https://anafiction.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SraSiqueira1307

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiqueira1307/?hl=en

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20267025.Ana_Siqueira

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/asiqueira1307/_saved/

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

Twitter:  @GeryRdz
Instagram: @geryrdzart
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Children’s Early Graphic Novel – Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell

 

SCAREDY SQUIRREL IN A NUTSHELL
(Book #1 in Scaredy’s Nutty Adventures)

By Melanie Watt

(Penguin Random BYR; $12.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

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WARNING! This book is absolutely … NUTS!

Award-winning author and illustrator Melanie Watt, well known for her Scaredy Squirrel picture book series, has created her first graphic novel, Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, featuring a squirrel beset by many (and often improbable) fears about life outside his beloved nut tree. To his credit, Scaredy Squirrel confronts each challenge with an elaborate and hilarious action plan that’s often doomed to failure. From the potential alien landing to deadly dust bunnies, Scaredy Squirrel not only has a plan but a backup as well (play dead). 

Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell tree Page 2
Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Since childhood, Scaredy Squirrel has kept himself and his nut tree safe from dreaded “trespassers” who could damage his tree. Who knows when a mammoth may want to uproot it? Or a cat might scratch it. So Scaredy Squirrel has developed a strategy to protect the tree. He places objects around his tree to distract the trespassers, such as a fake tree for the mammoth to uproot or a scratching post for the cat.

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Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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However, there’s a downside to this ambitious plan: these objects get dusty and from the dust springs notorious dust bunnies! So this quick-thinking squirrel comes up with a detailed plan to prevent dust bunnies … vacuum all the decoy objects! All well and good until the vacuum gets clogged and now Scaredy Squirrel must develop a plan to unclog the vacuum cleaner. As you can imagine, more problems emerge which entail more plans and greater chaos. Inevitably (despite playing dead) he finds himself face to face with a real bunny who would like to be his friend. Which of course necessitates a new plan …

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Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Watt’s familiar cartoon-like illustrations go nicely with the graphic novel format. Simple geometric shapes are used to create the characters and setting. Faces are wonderfully expressive. Panels are well organized on the pages with a clean and uncluttered look, making this book perfect for newly independent readers. Witty word plays and expressions such as “going out on a limb” and “dust bunnies,” keep the narrative lively and make this a good read-aloud as well. Delightfully quirky features include a “Nutty (Table of) Contents,” and some silly and interactive features to be taken before it is “safe” to begin the story. 

Parents, caregivers, and teachers are sure to appreciate that, despite the zany humor of the book, Scaredy Squirrel manages to demonstrate, in a light-hearted way, how children can face their fears and develop problem-solving skills such as writing down action plans, to face real-life challenges. While the age is listed as 6-9, younger children would certainly enjoy having the story read to them.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Click here and here to read more squirrel stories.

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Picture Book Review – Isobel Adds It Up

 

ISOBEL ADDS IT UP

Written by Kristy Everington

Illustrated by AG Ford

(Random House Studio; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Isobel Adds It Up Cover

 

REVIEW:

As a former teacher, I was immediately intrigued by the cover of Isobel Adds It Up written by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford. A girl with a pencil in her hand, and an elephant with a pencil in its trunk solve math problems with smiles on their faces!

Isobel, a math-loving girl, can’t concentrate with noisy neighbors!

Disrupted by loud bangs and shaking walls, she imagines acrobats, marching bands, a basketball team, and definitely big feet! Solving math problems is nearly impossible. Isobel tries battling music with music. That only incited more noise—and dancing! Isobel is at her wit’s end when she can’t make sense of her numbers. So she comes up with a plan to meet the culprits. Was she right about the neighbors having big feet? Yes! But her plan brings a solution much bigger and better than she expected. You might say that the neighbor was a very BIG number-lover too!

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Interior spread from Isobel Adds It Up by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford, Random House Studio ©2021.

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Underneath the rumbling ruckus and soaked subtractions, a budding friendship multiplies into a measured success! Each illustration brings flow and movement, with Isobel’s imaginings represented in monochromatic images and lively numbers. Kristy Everington and AG Ford make numbers and math look and sound fun!

 

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Interior spread from Isobel Adds It Up by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

What I love most about this story is the message that we can ask for what we want in a kind and respectful way. We might be surprised by the kindness we receive back and discover something new about the people that live around us. Kids, teachers, parents, and neighbors everywhere will love this book!

 

GIVEAWAY:

Head to Twitter for a signed book giveaway of Isobel Adds It Up beginning today (just retweet our tweets and tag a friend to enter). Find Kristy there @kmeverington.
Find GoodReadsWithRonna on Twitter: @goodreadsronna. This giveaway ends on 7/13 and a winner will be announced on 7/14.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Author Links:
Instagram: @kristyeverington

Illustrator links:

AG Ford’s website: http://www.agfordillustration.com/ 

Twitter: @AGFordArt

Instagram: @agfordart

WHERE TO BUY ISOBEL ADDS IT UP: 

Support indie bookstores and order your copy here at BooksInc.
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Picture Book Review – Brave as a Mouse

BRAVE AS A MOUSE

Written and Illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi 

(Random House Studio; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

BraveasaMouse cover

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

A brave hero doesn’t always mean a big hero in Nicolò Carozzi’s beautifully worded and illustrated picture book Brave as a Mouse, his debut picture book in the US. 

Through simple text and stunning art, Carozzi draws our attention to Mouse’s new friendship with the homeowner’s fish. Mouse asks the fish, “Would you like to play?” and with a simple “YES!” both creatures enjoy each other’s company, swimming together. Mouse blows through a straw, and the fish enjoys jacuzzi-style bubbles. 

 

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Interior spread from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

However, the fun stops when other housepets want to “play.” Three ominous shadows cast on the wall next to the fish’s bowl are plain but powerful images foretelling of the dangers ahead. 

As the homeowner’s beloved fat cats encircle the fishbowl, Mouse has a “wild … bold … [and] brave idea” to entice the three to follow him, all the way to the pantry where they gorge themselves on cat food.

 

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Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

While the felines sleep off their big meal, Mouse uses the time to fulfill an even wilder, bolder, and braver idea that includes the help of other mice living in the house. Straight lines, calm, muted colors, and minimalist illustrations keep us focused on the rescue plan. Children and adult readers will enjoy the action-packed adventure as Mouse risks his own safety to protect his new friend. A more subtle, though important theme is the infectious nature of Mouse’s bravery and kindness.

 

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Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

For those interested in quieter books on themes of friendship and compassion as well as those who like a good old fashion story when the good guys win, this picture book will delight again and again. 

 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian 
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Kids Picture Book Review – Norman: One Amazing Goldfish!

NORMAN: ONE AMAZING GOLDFISH!

Written by Kelly Bennett

Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

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Kelly Bennett and Noah Z. Jones, author and illustrator of Not Norman, have teamed up again for its sequel called Norman: One Amazing Goldfish! But you don’t need to have read the first book to know immediately that Norman is something special. 

Norman’s owner, the story’s narrator, is proud of his talented fish and wants “everyone to know it,” so it’s no surprise that he enters the upcoming Pet-O-Rama where he can demonstrate how truly awesome Norman is.

 

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NORMAN: ONE AMAZING GOLDFISH!. Text copyright © 2020 by Kelly Bennett. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Noah Z. Jones. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Kids will love all the cool tricks that Norman can perform on command including swimming in circles, blowing bubbles and a flip through a hoop that’s pretty impressive. But the pièce de résistance is how, when Norman’s owner plays a particular song on the tuba, Norman can sing and dance to it. This goldfish has got the moves and the Pet-O-Rama participants and attendees will be blown away by him. But the competition is fierce with bunnies, dogs, snakes, and lizards all going for glory.

 

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NORMAN: ONE AMAZING GOLDFISH!. Text copyright © 2020 by Kelly Bennett. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Noah Z. Jones. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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When it’s finally Norman and his owner’s turn in the spotlight, the goldfish appears to freeze up, hide and not respond to his cues. Remembering his nervous feelings from that very morning, Norman’s owner realizes that the goldfish is experiencing stage fright. With a welcome whisper of encouragement and a performance tip to turn the tide from his human friend, Norman not only completes the practiced routine, he wows the crowd and judges to capture the prize.

Bennett’s story about helping a friend in a time of need and lifting their spirits offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to discuss what a friendship encompasses. It’s also a gentle exposure to stage fright or speaking in front of a class—fears many young children might have—and how a compassionate friend can make all the difference in conquering that fear. Coupled with Jones’s vibrant, deeply saturated cartoon-like art, Bennett’s funny and sweet look at friendship through the eyes of a child and his pet goldfish, is a definite winner.

 

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Picture Book Blog Tour – An Interview With Chick Chat Author Illustrator Janie Bynum

MEET JANIE BYNUM

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR OF

CHICK CHAT

(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

CHICKCHAT cover

 

 

It’s Day One of the CHICK CHAT BLOG TOUR as well as its book birthday! Peep! Peep! GRWR is so happy to participate and celebrate the hatching. Please enjoy the following interview with Chick Chat author-illustrator Janie Bynum and her insights on this fun new read-aloud picture book for children.

 

CHICK CHAT SUMMARY:

Friendship comes in all shapes and sizes.

Peep, peep, peep! Baby Chick has a lot to say!

Everyone in Chick’s family is too busy to chat with her. But when chatty baby Chick adopts a large egg—she finally finds a friend who is a good listener. When her egg goes missing, Chick is heartbroken, until she finds that it has hatched into a brand-new friend!

INTERVIEW WITH CHICK CHAT AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR JANIE BYNUM

GoodReadsWithRonna: Hi Janie! Welcome to the blog. I’ve got lots of questions for you today.
In your author bio on the book’s copyright page, you mention how talkative you were as a child. Can you expand on this and how it influenced creating your main character Baby Chick?

Janie Bynum: Being an inquisitive, talkative, and determined child, I’m sure I tested the patience of my family—and quite a few teachers. Baby Chick and I share all of those personality traits—as well as being a fairly self-reliant youngest sibling. As I wrote and revised Baby Chick’s story, this very talkative youngest sibling emerged. So I ended up writing from a perspective (with a voice, as it were) that I understood as a kid.

In early versions of the manuscript, Baby Chick actually spoke instead of only peeping. But, I ultimately chose to have her peep in such a way that sounds like she knows exactly what she’s saying (and she does). This way kids can interpret what she may be saying—either inferred by the illustrations or by whatever words they imagine for her.

 

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Interior spread from Chick Chat written and illustrated by Janie Bynum, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

GRWR: Which came first, the Baby Chick character design or the story?

JB: The Baby Chick character art came first.

GRWR: It was funny how everyone in Baby Chick’s family is unaffected (to the point of almost ignoring her while they’re otherwise occupied) by her nonstop peeping while she carries on joyfully by herself. Is there something to be learned from her sheer self-contentedness?

JB: Possibly … by enjoying our own company, not being entirely dependent on others to “make” our happiness for us. Baby Chick is creative and makes her own fun; and, in doing so, she discovers something to nurture, which ultimately hatches into a friend who listens.

GRWR: I was absolutely convinced Baby Chick had found a rock not a big egg. Was this deliberate?

JB: No. The giant Galapagos tortoise’s egg—which I used for reference—looks very much like a round stone. Only at first, when she hasn’t fully unearthed the object, does Baby Chick not know that it’s an egg. But once she uncovers it, she realizes it’s some sort of egg—maybe not a chicken egg because it’s so round. But Baby Chick either doesn’t notice the difference or doesn’t care. It’s an egg without anyone to tend it, so she decides to be its guardian.

GRWR: I’m curious why you decided to make the baby turtle a quiet character rather than one “with a lot to say” like Baby Chick?

JB: I could’ve made the baby turtle/tortoise even more talkative than Baby Chick, which would’ve been funny. But I wanted Baby Chick to be rewarded (for all her nurturing and protection of the egg) with a friend who likes to listen. It’s also a sort of celebration of the yin/yang relationship, how seemingly opposites are actually complementary (in this case extrovert/introvert).

 

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Interior spread from Chick Chat written and illustrated by Janie Bynum, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

GRWR: Do you see Chick Chat as primarily a friendship story or did you feel there were other themes you wanted the book to explore?

JB: The friendship theme is wrapped around a story about self-sufficiency; and, as you noted earlier, self-contentedness. So, it really has two main themes.

GRWR: What medium do you work in when creating your artwork?

JB: I used a combination of digital media and traditional watercolor, which is the way I generally work. For Chick Chat art, I worked on my iPad (in an app called Procreate) and in Photoshop on my Mac computer with large monitor. I used traditional watercolor for some areas, and added real paper and paint textures (with Photoshop layers) to give more depth to some of the digital color.

GRWR: As someone who began telling stories first visually, do you usually create your dummy with thumbnails and then add the prose later?

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Painting space in Janie Bynum’s studio ©2021.

JB: I usually have a character in mind first that I must draw so that I can get to know them. A seed of a story germinates as I’m drawing. As I start writing the story, I sometimes create a simplified mind map to look at arc, action, and direction possibilities. Then I write some more. And I revise. And then I revise the text some more.

When I feel like I have a fairly finished manuscript, I start thumbnails. Inevitably, the text changes as I work on thumbnails and rough sketches. So, as I create the rough dummy, I work back and forth between words and pictures until I feel confident that the story (both visual and written) is ready to submit to my agent.

GRWR: I enjoyed a lot of the little unexpected details you included in the illustrations like Baby Chick’s grasshopper friend (or cricket), and the punny titles of the books Sister is reading. Did you do this in all the books you illustrate even if you didn’t write them?

JB: Thank you. Since I write/illustrate for a fairly young audience, I try to add details that older readers (especially adults) will enjoy. While I don’t include a small observer character (who sometimes participates) in all of the books I illustrate and/or write, I have done so in a few. In Otis, which I wrote, a red bird appears in many of the pictures; and, in Porcupining, written by Lisa Wheeler, a grasshopper observes and sometimes participates.

GRWR: What do you do to spark your creativity? Is your process to work daily, inspired or not?

JB: In addition to creating children’s books, I work as a creative director and graphic designer (outside of children’s publishing), so creative problem-solving is part of my day every day. But, one of the things I do as a creativity spark—at least several times per week—is just draw for no reason at all, with nothing in mind until pencil meets paper (or stylus meets iPad). Many times character ideas come from these sessions.

GRWR: How long did it take to complete Chick Chat from the idea stage to the final book we can order from bookstores today?

JB: Roughly two years: story and book dummy, spring 2019; art delivered January 2020; published book January 2021.

 

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Interior art from Chick Chat written and illustrated by Janie Bynum, NorthSouth Books ©2021.

 

GRWR: Who are some of your current kidlit illustrator faves and why?

JB: I have soooo many favorites, and for so many different reasons.

I love the color and stylized work of Felicita Sala. I adore the haunting stylized art of illustrators like Isabelle Arsenault and the cheery whimsy of Louise Gay. Carter Goodrich’s dogs are divinely humorous, and he possesses quite a deft hand with paint. With Sophie Blackall’s art, I’m inspired by her use of color, texture, and pattern. Her work is retro and contemporary, both at the same time.

Oliver Jeffers’ composition on the page (including an amazing sense of negative space) and his sensitive use of color and line inspires me. Matthew Cordell’s spontaneous linework and non-complicated watercolor embodies a spontaneous loose feel that I aspire to in my own work.

I like Ryan T. Higgins’s ink line coupled with his graphic use of shape and color (and, of course, his humor); the gorgeously strange art of Mateo Dineen; and the Matisse’esque art of Olivier Tallec.

GRWR: What’s in the works for your next book?

JB: A very creative beetle is the hero of my current work-in-progress. Also, I’m considering creating something for Gary the Worm to star in. (To find out who Gary is, visit my Instagram @janiebynum.)

GRWR: Is there anything else you’d like to add that perhaps I haven’t addressed?

JB: I’d like to let educators (including parents and grands) know that they can find Chick Chat activities at my website (janiebynum.com) and at northsouth.com/resources. And last, but not least, thank you for including me in your blog!

GRWR: It’s been such a pleasure being the first stop on your blog tour and getting to know you and Chick Chat better. Thanks for your terrific answers!

 

AuthorIllustrator JanieBynumBIO:

Janie Bynum grew up in Texas and graduated with a BFA in graphic design with an emphasis on illustration. As an author/illustrator, she has created many lovable characters and stories for younger children. Her work has been recognized as a Junior Library Guild Selection. She loves to travel and experience other cultures, drawing inspiration from the people, landscape, and cuisine. Known to her friends as a bit of a nomad, Janie lives in a nearly-100-year-old storybook house in southwest Michigan—for now.

Website: janiebynum.com

Instagram: @janiebynum


CHICK CHAT BLOG TOUR PARTICIPANTS AND DATES

·       Dulemba.com – January 28

·       Dreamreaderkids – February 2 Instagram/Blog review +giveaway

·       Storymamas – March 10 review + giveaway

·       Kidlit411 – March 26 illustrator spotlight

 

CLICK HERE TO READ ANOTHER AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR INTERVIEW

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Picture Book Review – Dozens of Doughnuts


DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS

Written by Carrie Finison

Illustrated by Brianne Farley

(G. P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99; Ages 3-7)

 

Dozens of Doughnuts cvr

 

 

Sharing batch after batch of homemade doughnuts is what thoughtful friends do. But what’s LouAnn the bear to do just before hibernation when her stomach growls from hunger and no doughnuts remain? Such is the predicament presented in Carrie Finison’s debut counting/math practice picture book DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS with illustrations by Brianne Farley.

Farley’s fun art introduces the reader to a variety of delicious-looking doughnuts, each numbered to 24. Pink Sprinkles, Swirly, Jelly-Filled, and Nibbled (with a bite taken from this purple glazed doughnut) set the stage for the story to come.

A big brown bear is seen through her kitchen window busy stirring the big bowl of batter. She’ll eat some sweet treats, then, warm and well-fed, she’ll sleep away winter, tucked tight in her bed. The orange and yellow leaves show off the colors of fall as we see a beaver nearing the front door.

 

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Interior spread from Dozens of Doughnuts written by Carrie Finnison and illustrated by Brianne Farley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons ©2020.

 

Although one dozen doughnuts are hot from the pan and ready for LouAnn the bear to devour, an unexpected DING-DONG! gets the story going in a whole new direction. Do you have enough for a neighbor to share? Woodrow the beaver asks. The reader counts the 12 red doughnuts on the large plate as LouAnn places 6 doughnuts on her plate and 6 doughnuts on Woodrow’s plate. Now the real counting begins.

 

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Interior spread from Dozens of Doughnuts written by Carrie Finnison and illustrated by Brianne Farley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons ©2020.

 

With DING-DONG! after DING-DONG!, Finison’s rhymes welcome friend after friend at the bear’s front door. You’re welcome. Dig in! I’ll make more, says LouAnn. She measures and mixes as fast as she can. Clyde the Raccoon, Woodrow, and LouAnn are seen with four doughnuts on each plate, but note the smile leaving our kind-hearted bear’s face. Page after page, we see more friends arriving until there are no doughnuts remaining for our generous and exasperated hostess LouAnn.

She’s ready to sleep through the snow, ice, and sleet. But winter is near, and there’s nothing to eat! As the page turns, LouAnn lets loose a dramatic ROAR! and readers see the group of friends scram. Soon though they’re back, having realized they need to make things right for their pal. They return the kindness and become the bakers. (Another great lesson for young readers).

 

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Interior spread from Dozens of Doughnuts written by Carrie Finnison and illustrated by Brianne Farley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons ©2020.

 

This sweet (after all it is about doughnuts) rhyming book is such an entertaining and clever way to teach kids how to count to 12 and also divide 12 by 2, 4, or 6. Conveying the importance of sharing is the icing on top. I felt empathy for LouAnn, who almost began hibernation hungry until her friends came through for her. Finison’s words show young readers why being considerate matters while cleverly sneaking in how to count and divide. Plus we see how many flavors of yummy doughnuts can be made!
NOTE: Read this book after a meal otherwise be sure to have donuts on hand!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Christmas Books for Children Part 3

CHRISTMAS BOOKS

A ROUNDUP

PART 3

 

 

 

Christmas Count and Find cvrCHRISTMAS: A Count and Find Primer
Written and illustrated by Greg Paprocki
(Gibbs-Smith; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

I’ve been a fan of Greg Paprocki’s artwork and book design since first discovering his books several years ago. His latest holiday board book for toddlers, Christmas: A Count and Find Primer may be slightly too big for a stocking stuffer, but will easily fit into welcoming hands. Youngsters will happily search each of the 10 spreads to find the correct amount of holiday items corresponding to the respective number. Illustration “4” shows four “cookies and carrots,” but there are also four of many other things such as four stars, four pictures on the wall, four purple ornaments, and four stockings. I like how colors are also worked into the art so adults reading with children can point these out as well. “The last spread contains 10 more holiday-themed objects hidden throughout the book for little ones to find next.” Paprocki’s pleasing retro-style art is another reason to pick up a copy of this entertaining book.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Mistle_coverMISTLETOE: A Christmas Story
Written and illustrated by Tad Hills
(Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

If your children adore Tad Hills’s character Rocket, this Christmas they’ll fall for Mistletoe. The story begins with a sweet illustration of little Mistletoe who is enamored with all things Christmas. Readers will sense her anticipation to share her favorite holiday experiences like a walk in the snow with her elephant friend, Norwell. He, on the other hand, prefers to avoid the cold and remain cozy indoors sipping tea with his mouse friend beside a blazing fire. No matter how she tries, Mistletoe cannot coax her pal outside. A quiet walk in the snow inspires her and she hatches a creative plan that will not only get her friend outside, but will be the most wonderful gift for Christmas. Kids will excitedly turn the pages to see how much yarn Mistletoe’s surprise project entails (“… elephants are big!”) and watch with delight as she cheerfully offers the gift to Norwell. The spirit of friendship and giving shine in this new holiday book that families can enjoy for years to come. A sparkly cover and special “undies” art underneath the book jacket only add to the charm of Mistletoe. Here’s to more Mistletoe and Norwell tales in the future!
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

12DaysofChristmas cvr12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
Written and Illustrated by Lara Hawthorne
(
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $16. 99,
Ages 2-12)

Starred Review – Kirkus

A Christmas book for readers of all ages and stages of childhood, Lara Hawthorne’s 12 Days of Christmas celebrates the traditional song with double-page spreads of visual masterpieces. 

Hawthorne’s illustrations are reminiscent of folk art, festive colors dominant in classic Christmas red and green as well as shades of calming blue. There is a lot to see but bold patterns and vertical lines help the eye manage the details from one space to another.

As young readers listen to the original lyrics, they can dive into these detailed illustrations, playing a sort of I-spy game to find the items mentioned in the song. Older readers who are familiar with the popular Christmas song will enjoy singing aloud the lyrics. While readers explore the items, birds, and people mentioned in the text, they will also be acquainted with familiar, friendly pets that faithfully appear in each spread-making this book a perfect gift for that animal/nature lover on your list.

Secondary lessons abound: counting, memory strengthening, and identifying shapes. There is even a game in the backmatter – “everything from the song hidden in” a beautiful, busy scene that children can discover. An author’s note at the end explaining the Christian origins of the 12 days of Christmas and the history of the song is an added bonus. The fun of exploring The 12 Days of Christmas will undoubtedly last 12 months of the year.
• Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Little Red Sleigh cvrLITTLE RED SLEIGH
Written by Erin Guendelsberger
Illustrated by Elizaveta Tretyakova
(Sourcebooks; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Written by Erin Guendelsberger and illustrated by Elizaveta Tretyakova, Little Red Sleigh is a heartwarming Christmas story about dreaming big despite your size and experience. 

Tucked inside the corner of a quaint Christmas shop is Little Red who is longing to become “Santa’s big red sleigh.” Despite discouragement from her friends in the shop, Little Red’s determination to accomplish her goal leads her on a quest to meet Santa and “show everyone what she [is] made of.” 

Along her journey to the North Pole, she befriends others who lend a helping hand. Train takes her as far north as the tracks allow; Yellow Truck, who is on his way to deliver Christmas trees to Santa, offers a ride as well. 

Impressed by their skill, Little Red wonders if she’ll ever achieve the kind of experience they have. A beautiful refrain speaks to her heart. “Life builds up one car at a time,” says the Train. “Life…build[s] up one tree at a time,” says Yellow Truck. When a snowstorm changes her original plan to visit Santa, Little Red comes to understand how she is meant to build her life up:  “spreading joy, one child at a time.”   

Little Red Sleigh is perfect for bedtime or anytime you’d like to cozy up by the tree with a good book. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Everybodys Tree coverEVERYBODY’S TREE
Written by Barbara Joosse
Illustrated by Renée Graef 
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

A little boy plants a little spruce tree, taking extra care to nurture its growth. As the years pass by, we watch both him and the tree grow up. Eventually, the little spruce becomes a magnificent, towering tree and the little boy a proud grandfather.

Joosse’s lyrical language highlights the love and care poured out on this tree, while Graef’s stunning illustrations center the spruce in double-page spreads, showcasing its evergreen majesty. The beauty of the tree (now approaching its end of life) is celebrated communally when it’s taken to the city for all to appreciate. As it winds its way from rural countryside to the big city, a sense of shared excitement and anticipation builds. People gather to watch the decorations being placed, “wait[ing] and wait[ing] and wait[ing]…everybody’s singing…for the lighting…of Everybody’s Tree!” And what a glorious tree it is, shining brightly and sharing its light for all, (including the cover which glows in the dark!).

If you’re looking for a quieter picture book this season, Everybody’s Tree is that gentle holiday story about the joy of sharing and community building. • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Click here for our recent roundup by Christine Van Zandt of 7 new Christmas books.
Click here for Ronna’s roundup of 5 new Christmas books.

 

Other notable new Christmas Books include Christmas Cheer; Merry Christmas; Rainbow Fish; The Christmas Feast; and a new edition of Mog’s Christmas.

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Picture Book Review – The Homesick Club

THE HOMESICK CLUB

Written by Libby Martinez

Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

(Groundwood Books; $17.95; Ages 4-7)

 

The Homesick Club cover

 

 

Written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, The Homesick Club expresses the longing for home and connection. 

Mónica and her best friend, Hannah, share a special bond: they are both immigrants.

Mónica is from Bolivia and Hannah is from Israel. Together they form The Homesick Club, complete with a handmade sign they display on their lunchtime table illustrating their favorite memories from their respective homelands.  Mónica yearns for the mango trees, green vines, and the “family of hummingbirds” that she and her grandmother would feed every morning. Similarly, Hannah misses the warm weather, sandy dunes, desert whistling wind, and a neighborhood tortoise. Their conversations highlight how different aspects of a landscape make it a unique and special place called home.
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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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When they meet their new teacher, Miss Shelby, they discover she too is far away from her home, Texas. Ironically, as Mónica and her teacher discuss their different backgrounds, they discover how much they have in common. Mónica’s beautiful transitions from English to Spanish echo Miss Shelby’s “soft and slow” voice, “like…words…stuck together with syrup.” They miss similar things from back home, too:  a “big and wide” sky that displays an abundance of stars as well as hummingbirds. Mónica misses seeing them since the big city noise “probably scares them away.” Miss Shelby longs for her favorite hometown dessert, hummingbird cake, “sooooo sweet, like the flowers that hummingbirds drink from.” Gibbon’s bright and friendly illustrations include rich detail that expresses the individual personalities of each character. 

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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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In honor of her beloved hummingbirds and a budding friendship with her new teacher, Mónica prepares a surprise to share with everyone during Show and Tell. Through this kind gesture, she is able to bring a little bit of home back to both of them and to us readers who are gifted with the recipe at the end of the story. 

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Interior artwork from The Homesick Club written by Libby Martinez and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, Groundwood Books ©2020.

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A great conversation starter on issues of diversity and geography, The Homesick Club reminds us that though we may look different and come from different parts of the world, we have many experiences connecting us. 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookiane
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    Click here to see How To Bake Hummingbird Cake with Author Libby Martinez
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    Click here to order a copy of The Homesick Club.
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    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, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/19/20

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Picture Book Review – Catching Thoughts

CATCHING THOUGHTS

Written by Bonnie Clark

Illustrated by Summer Macon

(Beaming Books; $17.99; Ages 3-8)

 

Catching Thoughts cover

 

Thoughts flow in and out of the mind of this picture book’s main character, a young girl. It’s usually no big deal until this one unpleasant thought not revealed to the reader begins to follow her everywhere in Catching Thoughts, written by Bonnie Clark with illustrations by Summer Macon.

It isn’t always easy to understand why our minds think about what they do. Macon’s visual of a dark blue balloon and gray tones depict the negative thoughts that the girl can’t control. “After a while, the thought followed me everywhere I went. It tripped me up when I wasn’t expecting it.” The little girl is tripped up by the string holding the dark balloon, showing the reader what happens inside the mind. The idea of how easily we can be consumed by just one sentence playing out in our heads will resonate with so many children (and adults).

 

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Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark uses an engaging first-person narration that helps us empathize as the main character “tried to unthink my unwanted thought. But that just made me think about it more!” Readers see noise cancelling headphones over the girl’s ears with her arms firmly crossed, and her eyes closed, as the dark balloon floats by her side demonstrating how this attempt is not silencing the thought.

The girl becomes angry with the dark balloon (her unwanted thought) and her yelling and crying do not make the balloon float away. “It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought. I had to do something.” Her frustration is palpable.

Macon’s dark balloon is much larger than the girl, as its string wraps around her body. The simple drawing powerfully expresses how the girl is feeling. She decides to take control, smiles at the balloon, and simply says “Hello!”

 

CatchingThoughts_Layout
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

I like how the page turns from shades of gray artwork to colorful pastels, as the main character begins to catch new thoughts and feels empowered. In doing so she catches the orange and blue balloons thus releasing the dark balloon to fly high in the sky. Catching the pink balloon with a net, while colorful butterflies are flying by, she “held on tight to thoughts that were TRUE, and embraced thoughts that were EXCELLENT.”

A frown turns to a smile as she dances with joy, with the many colorful balloons floating throughout the town. Macon conveys her personal love of paddleboarding, which you can tell brings her calmness. She paints the young girl peacefully relaxing on her paddleboard sipping a drink as she “collected thoughts that were CLEAR and CALM.” My own body relaxed with this drawing reminding me that I, too, need to get back out on a paddleboard.

 

CatchingThoughts layout colorfulballoons
Interior spread from Catching Thoughts written by Bonnie Clark and illustrated by Summer Macon, Beaming Books ©2020.

 

Clark’s gentle approach teaches the reader that when you catch positive thoughts, negative thoughts become much smaller. “And whenever that old thought tries to come back into vie … I can just say Hello, and politely ask it to leave …” Ahh, that line alone put a smile on my face. This book takes an important and tough topic and puts it into easy-to-understand words and illustrations. It’s a great tool for parents to help guide their children during these isolating Covid-19 times, when many of them may not be physically seeing their friends and teachers. This must-read for anyone struggling with anxiety and weighed down by unwanted thoughts offers compassion and shows how to actively catch and replace all the negatives with positives.

Read an insightful interview with author Bonnie Clark here.

 

  • Review by Ronda Skernick Einbinder

 

Click here to order a copy of Catching Thoughts

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Mootilda’s Bad Mood

MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call

Illustrated by Claudia Ranucci

(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

Have you ever woken up one morning and everything goes wrong, putting you in a bad mood? Has it ever happened to one of your children? The answer to both questions is, of course, it has.  And that is exactly the scenario that begins the hilarious rhyming verse picture book Mootilda’s Bad Mood.

 

Int Spread Mootildas Bad Mood
Interior spread from Mootilda’s Bad Mood written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, Little Bee Books ©2020.

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The story begins with Mootilda waking up with hay in her hair, her pillow gone, and her dolla cow, what else?fallen from her bed. She goes to her moomaw cow (as opposed to mama cow) who hugs her and gives her a treat but when this falls, it sets off Mootilda to proclaim, “I’m in a bad mood!” Her mother suggests she goes out to play. Mootilda takes her advice and plays rope with calves, swims with lambs, rides bikes with pigs, and plays ball with ponies. However every single time, something unfortunate happens which leaves Mootilda in an even worse mood than before.

The refrain of “I’m in a bad mood!” reflects Mootilda’s worsening mood as the day progresses with each additional “O” that is added to the word “mood.” When she finally meets up with chickens, who are also in a bad mood, it is Mootilda this time who tries to cheer them up. But when something goes wrong with her attempt, instead of making her mood worse, she laughs about it and finally realizes her bad mood is gone. And with her bad mood gone, she figures out a way she can help others in the future, as shown in the final pictures of the book.

 

int art Mootildas Bad Mood
Interior spread from Mootilda’s Bad Mood written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call and illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, Little Bee Books ©2020.

 

Ranucci’s illustrations are cheerful, bright, and colorfulthe exact opposite of the feelings of a bad mood. They make it impossible for any reader who might be in a bad mood to remain that way after perusing through the delightful pictures.

The book is filled with funny animal, cow and moo words, like cow-tastrophe, cow-incidence, and cow-miserate. This wordplay adds to the enjoyment of the book, especially when read aloud and emphasized. But what I really liked about Mootilda’s Bad Mood was that co-authors Rosen Schwartz and Call have taken a concept that we can all relate to and presented it in such a humorous tale. The story acknowledges and allows everyone, especially kids, to be in a bad mood. It’s perfectly okay to sometimes feel like that, but there are also ways to deal with it and that is a great take-away message.

• Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

Click here to read a review of another picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz.
Click here to read a review of another picture book illustrated by Claudia Ranucci.

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Picture Book Review – A Last Goodbye

A LAST GOODBYE

Written by Elin Kelsey

Illustrated by Soyeon Kim

(Owlkids Books; $ 18.95, Ages 4+)

 

A Last Goodbye cover

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

Today I’m reviewing A Last Goodbye. This moving picture book is recommended for PreK-3, but could be appreciated by all ages.

Humans have long believed that they are the only species to care for the ill and dying and grieve the loss of a loved one. But are we?  

Nearly two years ago, Tahlequah, a female Orca, was spotted pushing the body of her newborn calf off the waters off Puget Sound. Although the calf only survived for a few hours, the mother had bonded with her daughter. For 17 days, people  around the world watched and grieved with Tahlequah as she kept her daughter’s body close to her. After traveling for nearly 1000 miles, she finally released it into the ocean. Responding to questions about the mother Orca’s actions, researchers noted  “ … it’s common for marine mammals to show signs of grief.”

As I write this review the number of deaths in the United States from the covid-19 has exceeded 125,000 and will climb higher still. Tragically, there are many children who have faced or will face the loss of someone they love due to this deadly virus. How can we help children cope with their fears and their grief over illness, death, and loss? The calm and soothing narrative of A Last Goodbye will give children a safe space and the opportunity to discuss their anxieties by exploring how animals tend to the dying and say goodbye to those who have passed away.

Using an intimate, first person narrator, the author guides children through the difficult process of death and grief, by looking at how animals comfort the dying, care for the remains, and grieve for their loss. The evenly paced and lyrical narrative allows for many moments to pause, reflect, and encourage questions and discussion in this recommended read for families.

As children move through the book, they see the care different animals give to comfort the dying.
An elephant reassures a dying member of its herd:

“I will wrap my trunk around you 

and support you with my tusks.” 

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Interior spread from A Last Goodbye written by Elin Kelsey with art by Soyeon Kim, Owlkids Books ©2020.

 

As a family of chimpanzees minister to their failing member, they:

“… will tuck soft bedding behind your back

and carefully tend to your hair.”

Kim’s stunning and delicate dioramas convey the concern and the grief of the family for the dying, whose fragility is shown in a slumped or sleeping body, outlined in a soft,  glowing line. 

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A Last Goodbye int art 3
Interior spread from A Last Goodbye written by Elin Kelsey with art by Soyeon Kim, Owlkids Books ©2020.

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And what happens when a loved one dies? How do we respond? Kelsey shows that animals, like their human counterparts, have many ways of expressing their grief: 

“And when you die

I will gently stroke your body …”

“I will cry out in sorrow … or watch in quiet sadness.”

After death, Kelsey shows children those tender actions we take to honor the dead by observing what animals do: some will gather around the body, others might cover it with leaves. Some return later to 

“… visit the place where your body rests.”

Kim’s diorama is dotted with stars ascending from the bodies of the deceased to the night sky (the book’s end pages also depict a constellation-like map of a variety of animals with their scientific and common names).

Kelsey helps children understand what happens to the body as it sinks into the earth or sea. While death is final, the body nourishes the earth and provides for future generations. She asks the children to wonder: 

“Will tiny roots take hold

and tall trees grow 

in the rich soil you nourish?

Kim’s dioramas depicting how the bodies disintegrate into new life are particularly  breathtaking and turn something painful and frightening into a beautiful and life affirming event. Throughout the book, Kim’s illustrations enhance the narrative’s comforting and soothing tone,

Finally, the author addresses the grief and sense of loss that will always be there:  

“I will miss you forever.”

Yet, she reminds children that the pain of grief is not forever, and that there will be happiness and pride in remembering: 

“ … one day soon,

 I will think of you and feel joy.”

“You, me, all of us.

Every species on Earth.

Our lives plant a long line of love …”

Kelsey and Kim have partnered before with OwlKids Books on You Are Stardust, Wild Ideas, and You are Never Alone. All have received starred reviews from Kirkus. A Last Goodbye is their fourth book together. 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

An eight page teacher guide can be found here. Also watch the interview with the publisher and author here. Check out this video to learn about how the illustrations were created and photographed. 

Bekoff, Marc. A Last Goodbye: a Kid’s book about Animals, Dying, and Death.” Psychology Today, March 31, 2020. 

Pierce, Jessica. “Do Animals Experience Grief?” Smithsonian Magazine, Aug 24, 2018.

Are Animals Aware of Death?

You can find many lists of children’s books about death on the internet. Here’s a few:

Children’s Books about Death, Loss and Grieving (New York Public Library),

7 Beautiful Picture Books to Help Children Understand Death

I would also add City Dog and Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon Muth, a simple yet moving story of friendship, loss, and new beginnings.

•Review by Dornel Cerro

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