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.
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.
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.
Have you ever walked outside with one blue striped sock and one green striped sock hoping no one will notice the mismatch because you have no idea where their mates have gone? In Little Sock, sociology professor Kia Heise’s debut picture book with her husband, illustrator and writer, Christopher D. Park, the reader discovers how the sock feels when it has gone missing!
Little Sock, with his big black eye and line for a mouth, lives in a dark drawer with all the other yellow striped matched socks. While the other socks are sleeping soundly, Little Sock gets an inquisitive look drawn on his face (otherwise known as the heel). His life seems mundane. “Little Sock gets worn. Little Sock gets dirty. And Little Sock gets washed.”
Park’s adorable sock drawings show the other socks reading books while in the wash, or just relaxing in the heat of the suds and water while Little Sock’s mouth is opened wide as if screaming.
“All the other socks seem happy, but Little Sock dreams of something different.” But then he learns of a magical city called Sock City and his adventure begins. The pages turn from white to black as Little Sock makes his way through a secret tunnel in the back of the dryer. We feel Little Sock’s emotions as he bravely sets out to find this new place. When our brave friend finds the light at the end of the tunnel, the pages turn from black to yellow, and bright colors of round shaped buildings, green mountains and boats gliding in the sea loom ahead. Little Sock sees “so many different socks doing different things. Everyday is a NEW ADVENTURE.”
This sweet picture book got me thinking about where my missing socks have been hiding out and allows kids to think outside the box (or drawer). A book that spurs the imagination of both kids and adults can easily be a great source for starting a conversation with your children about trying new things. The creativity of this story made me laugh, but the deeper meaning of being brave and exploring life outside our own little bubble is a great message that all kids need to hear. Heise spends her days teaching students about the world around them, and she’s taken what she’s learned to teach all children to be brave. The lesson I took from this book was that until we step outside our own path, or dryer in the case of Little Sock, we have no way of knowing what wonderful experiences the world has to offer. Little Sock reminds us to do something today that we didn’t do yesterday.
When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.
Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”
Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!
If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.
Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.
I’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton (Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”
What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers—and a whole page of pi—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.
I practically live in my local library so I’ve always found books about them quite appealing. Josh Funk’s latest, Lost In The Library, is no exception. Even the colors illustrator Stevie Lewis has used look like library colors: warm browns and beiges, deep rusts, soft greens and grays. I could even feel the cool hallways, hear the echoes of feet and the crisp flipping of page turns and, last but not least, smell centuries-worth of books, some old and dusty, others new and slick.
That brings me to Funk’s wonderful story about two iconic library lions who sit atop plinths in front of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. Patience and Fortitude, so dubbed by Mayor LaGuardia, have rested in those spots since the 1930s. Lost in the Library, a rhyming picture book, begins with Fortitude noticing that Patience is missing. He then heads into the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (aka the Main Branch) to find his friend and, thanks to his search, provides readers a vicarious visit inside this 100 plus years-old library. While hunting in the wee morning hours before opening time, Fortitude meets various statues, paintings and even a lion fountain located throughout the building’s abundant and beckoning rooms and halls. Each new encounter brings him closer to Patience with hints for savvy youngsters that the lion is no stranger to the vast corridors of the NYPL.
During a well-timed moment of reflection, Fortitude shares how he and Patience weren’t always pals. In fact Fortitude initially mistook Patience’s shyness for rudeness but with time the lions grew close. The main feature that helped form the bond of their friendship was Patience’s gift of storytelling. “Fortitude cherished each one.” Determined now to find his buddy, Fortitude, with the help of a trusty Visitor’s Guide, finally locates Patience in the place most adult readers likely suspected, The Children’s Center. With its bright, welcoming colors, the room is filled with everyone’s favorite books by their beloved authors and illustrators. It seems the storytelling lion’s secret source was there on the shelves of the library all along!
There aren’t a lot of people in the story, but artist Lewis has given those who briefly appear a cool retro style which adds to the timeless quality of the library’s decor so beautifully illustrated. And I love how Funk seamlessly weaves Fortitude’s quest for Patience with the library tour and notable library attractions. I cannot wait to go back to NYC to have another visit and I bet attendance has soared since this book’s publication! The back matter includes interesting information about the library’s lions and other facts that even I, a former New Yorker, didn’t know. This touching tribute to libraries everywhere and the enduring power of great stories will endear it to readers young and old. Getting lost never felt better.
This time of year always brings so many emotions to students and parents alike as the realization settles in of a summer more than halfway over. I always remember the back-to-school preparation in my household as a fun yet chaotic time of paper everywhere, backpacks filled, and of course, shiny new books! This month we’ve got a variety of books covered including Hello School!, I Love You All Day Long, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School.
A brand-new picture book for preschool or kindergarten students eager to start the school year isHello School!(Nancy Paulsen Books, Ages 3-5) written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The title of the book captures the energetic possibilities that come with experiencing school for the first time. Each page shows a different part of the school day from greeting classmates, circle time, nap time, and recess all told with soft-colored illustrations. I love the little speech bubbles on each page that demonstrate children’s reactions about going to school. For example, when talking about new favorites, one child says, “Orange is my favorite,” and another carefully asks, “Can every color be my favorite?” prompting a parent or teacher reading this aloud to answer “Yes!” Once Upon A Time is excited to host Priscilla Burris on Sunday, August 12 at 2 pm to share this new picture book and the new school year so mark your calendars so you don’t miss this fun event.
Sometimes children new to the school experience need a little help getting over their anxiety and one picture book that does this well is I Love You All Day Long(Harper Collins BYR, Ages 4-8) written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The story starts with little Owen asking, “Do I have to go today, Mommy?,” prompting his mother to respond yes as you carefully see her packing a lunch box. Then the real trouble is revealed, “But you won’t be with me!” and the story unfolds as the illustrations show Owen finding new friends, having fun, making mistakes, and overcoming challenges all with the reminder that his mother loves him even when she is not right there with him. The tone is perfect as it is not overtly a back to school book and is instead more about a mother-son relationship. I find this book to be a beautiful story that would be perfect to read the night before or morning of the big first day of both preschool or even college.
Finally, I am eager to share with you my new favorite early reader series, Mr. Monkey (Simon & Schuster BYR, Ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Jeff Mackwith two titles out this season, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cakeand Mr. Monkey Visits a School. In this paper over board book we follow Mr. Monkey and his wacky adventures sure to delight readers who laugh with Amelia Bedelia or the Elephant and Piggie books. Each page has only two to five simple sentences that easily match the colorful and animated illustrations inside, perfect for kindergarten and first grade readers who are still puzzling out context clues to understand the words on the page. A great addition to any library at home or at school.
Reviewed by Jessica Palacios
You can click on the coloredlinks for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.
It’s bedtime and Grace begins sharing her day with her father who gently reflects her feelings: disappointment at not being able to wear her purple shirt, anger at finding out her favorite cereal is “all gone,” repentance for having lashed out at Mom, and betrayal for not being recognized for her creativity (in using a purple marker to transform her white shirt into her favorite color). As spunky Grace narrates her day, it’s clear to us readers she’s more concerned about telling a good story than disobeying her parents. “No, Silly, you can’t run away to your room,” she tells her dad after he incorrectly assumes the bedroom is her go-to runaway hideout. I like how Dad playfully adds to the drama of her story: “Like a princess in a tower,” he compares her to after Grace explains she was “Banished to [her] bedroom.”
These endearing exchanges between father and daughter are enhanced by Ongaro’s colorful illustrations. Double page spreads guide the story. On the left side of the page we see the written words (Dad’s words are in orange and Grace’s are in purple-of course!) and the day’s events are illustrated on the right. This technique makes reading the story, for even very little ones, easy and fun to follow. Hand sketched and digitally colored, the illustrations feel warm and safe, especially in details like the scalloped fringes on Mom’s sleeves and kitchen tablecloth.
While the subject matter of running away can be controversial, the lighthearted interaction between parent and child encourages respect and space for children’s emotions. After all, when Grace finally decides to run away, she remembers and obeys a fundamental house rule. “I’m not allowed to cross the street!” she tells her father and solves her predicament by following her mother’s suggestion. Camped out in the yard, Grace is in her pop up tent, steps away from the kitchen and Mom’s cookies. In fact, this presence of food (and the comfort it connotes) I felt was a quiet nod to Where the Wild Things Are. Max returns from his adventure to find dinner on the table, piping hot–as if he never really ran away from home in the first place.
While our darker emotions can make us feel miles away, our parents’ love and validation always bring us back home.
A little race car settles down after a long, tiring day in this new going-to-bed book for little ones into all things automobile. It’s a quick read with approximately 200 words but it’s packed with cuteness! Adorable illustrations accompany the quiet rhyming text as the race car gets ready for bed and has sweet dreams. I’d highly recommend this book as a fun alternative to any animal-themed bedtime books. It’s sure to be a much requested going-to-bed story.
This is a clever, witty book written from a young boy’s perspective about when he learned how to operate several trucks and big machines. It’s hilarious how the author gets you believing that at such a young age, this boy is using a cement mixer, backhoe, 18-wheeler … you name it and this boy has probably operated it! You come to find out they are all toy trucks he’s operated and his room is like a parking lot, but when he grows up he’d love to drive a truck. Great rhyme teaches about various large trucks, and wonderfully bold and bright illustrations make this book one of my new favorites!
Duck gets on a tractor, after all he rode a bike before! After pressing a few petals and trying various things he turned a “shiny little piece of metal by the steering wheel.” Pretty soon all the farm animals are hopping on for the ride, saying their regular animals sounds by thinking something different. The animals end up going onto the main road past the diner and it’s such a sight to see that nobody can quite believe all those animals are on a tractor. Yet once the diner crowd goes outside there’s no trace of the animals. The farmer must have just left the tractor on! Another great book from David Shannon with spectacular illustrations that are sure to enthrall kids ages 4-8.
DEAR DRAGON Written by Josh Funk Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★ starred review – Kirkus Reviews
Back in the olden days when kids still wrote letters, I had a pen pal named Melanie Vafiades from London. I never met her so for all I know she could have been a dragon like George’s pen pal in dear Dragon (I mean don’t most dragons live there?), or perhaps she was a unicorn (England’s full of enchanted forests, right?). I’m all for active imaginations and making new friends sight unseen which is exactly what author Josh Funk’s new picture book inspires. Kids’ll love the premise of this endearing story that pairs human students (unbeknownst to them but not their teachers) with dragons as pens pals.
Between Funk’s cheerful, well-paced rhyming text (the students were told to put their correspondence in verse) and Montalvo’s light-hearted, inviting illustrations, readers will get a strong sense of how the two main characters grow from being reluctant about having to actually write something to someone they don’t know, and do it in rhyme no less, to discovering interesting things about each other over the course of the assignment.
The illustrations capture how George, the human, and Blaise, the dragon, innocently interpret the descriptions in each other’s letters based on their personal paradigms. Consider George’s science project volcano (see first image above) as compared to Blaise’s real one, or George’s backyard cardboard fort (see second image) versus Blaise’s and you’ll get the point both author and illustrator have humorously driven home. As the two students continue to write, readers will notice the degree of familiarity increase with every new letter. What ensues when our earthbound boy and his new flying, fire-breathing friend ultimately meet up in person can only be described as pure positivity in picture book form. Funk’s story presents the perfect opportunity to reinforce the important message that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover, although the cover of dear Dragon is pretty darned adorable!
A UNICORN NAMED SPARKLE Written and illustrated by Amy Young (Farrar Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)
Carving out a new niche in the unicorn-book market may seem a difficult task, but A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young accomplishes this task with humor and flare. When Lucy finds a mail-away ad stating, “Unicorn, 25 cents,” she, of course, sends her quarter off to Unicorn City, New Jersey, barely able to wait.
Meanwhile, Lucy imagines all the wonderful things they’ll do together. She’ll name her unicorn Sparkle and “he will be blue with a pink tail and pink mane.” To ease him into her world, she plans to give him a cupcake.
When the big truck rumbles up, Lucy’s cupcake disappears in one chomp. I must note that this is a great image—just the unicorn’s mouth coming out of the shipping crate, snapping down the cupcake – terrific! What emerges from the shipping crate doesn’t quite match Lucy’s expectations. “He had spots. His ears were too long. He smelled funny. Oh, and he had fleas.” And that’s just the beginning.
Playing together doesn’t go the way she planned either. So Lucy does what every frustrated shopper would: she phones Unicorns, Inc., and tells them to take Sparkle back. While she awaits the truck’s return, Lucy gets to know Sparkle and even stands up for him when neighborhood kids tell her that Sparkle looks like a goat. Of course we all know that Sparkle is a “special kind of unicorn.”
In this tale of friendship and discovery, Lucy comes to the conclusion that you may not get what you expected—and that can be just fine too.
Author and illustrator Amy Young’s A Unicorn Named Sparkle is a truly enjoyable read, ideal for the pre-K crowd. And her vivid, expressive images are well-matched to the text. Sparkle may not be the handsome unicorn we imagined, but he surely will capture our hearts.
Our hero, Harry, is a young red spider, or spider mite. You may have seen these itsy bitsy critters scurrying across a light-colored sidewalk, deck or wall in the warm weather. The illustrator, Cucco, brings the super smallness of these insects to our attention in one initial brilliant two page spread, mostly white, covered with minute red and black speckles. One speck is highlighted with a ring of thick black lines. This is Harry.
Harry sports a beribboned folded paper hat and brown overalls. He carries a scabbard in one of his four hands, which he waves about while hollering that he is tired of being a little spider and wants to see the world. Other mites gather, curious about the ruckus. Harry’s grandfather emerges, and patiently begins to listen and reason with Harry in a most encouraging but realistic way.
Harry certainly does not lack for imagination. Seeing the world may entail building a boat – no problem. Exploring the jungle? He’ll be world famous. Escaping by flea and joining a flea circus? Exciting! On and on, Harry’s dreams of adventure grow wilder and wilder as he refuses to be discouraged by Grandpa’s gentle warnings. After all, Harry wants to be a hero.
Cucco’s bright and quirky illustrations play cleverly with perspective, emphasizing Harry’s small stature in the vast world, while painting elaborate and imaginative settings for the tiny mite’s big dreams. Dragonflies, dandelion puffs, and well-armored articulated flea bodies are boldly drawn and richly colored.
This intergenerational tale is a journey of the imagination. Even little spider mite children dream big dreams, and young listeners will identify with the need to feel special and powerful in a world that can seem vast and overwhelming. As a nice final touch, original photographs of actual spider mites, covered in pollen and posed by a dime, close the book with praise for children who are likely to notice and appreciate the little things in life
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Red Spider Hero from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
In A Dog Wearing Shoes, a lovely picture book about being lost, found, lost and found again, we are first introduced to Mini and her mom stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. There is a wonderful sense of being in the midst of a big bustling city, yet through the warm and humorous dialogue and engaging illustrations of black and white (with a pop of color) we are given a more intimate view of Mini’s world. When a small dog with huge eyes, no collar and wearing shoes wanders into traffic, every car screeches to a halt. Mini begs to keep the lost dog. Mom agrees. “We’ll have to take him home for now.”
After a couple of days, Mom tries to convince Mini that the dog might be missing his owner. But Mini is certain that her new dog is happy. “He has no collar, he belongs to me.” All is well until the day the dog breaks loose from his leash and runs off. The once lost dog is lost again. After lots of tears and even more hugs from Mom, Mini and her mother go to the Pet Adoption Center, the best place to find lost pets. When the little dog with big eyes is found everyone is happy. Mini now knows that this dog wearing shoes was never really hers to keep. She realizes that someone else must love and miss this dog too. Soon after tacking up “found” posters throughout the city, the owner shows up. The illustrations of the happy reunion are joyous. Even Mini is happy.
This very satisfying story ends with Mini returning to the Pet Adoption Center to find a dog of her own. Sangmi Ko has created a highly enjoyable debut book based on a true story. From beginning to end, this humorous yet gentle fast paced story is filled with heart and soul. The consistent attention to active visual storytelling will engage readers, prompting them to want to examine and relive each page over and over again. The back matter holds an extra treat where readers can learn How to Adopt a Dog.
Reviewed by Lisa Saint
Today’s guest reviewer, Lisa Saint, has just completed writing and illustrating her first picture book and is now working on a middle grade historical fiction novel based on true events. Lisa is a painter and teaches writing, illustration and book making in South Pasadena, California.