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Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

ALSO AN OCTOPUS
Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

  • is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

also-an-octopus

 

Looking for a terrific tale about waffle spaceships and eight-legged ukulele players? Well Also An Octopus is definitely the book for you! Wondering how writers come up with ideas for books about waffle spaceships? Then this is STILL the book for you! Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall has crafted a funny, clever story about following the spark of an idea through wild gallops of imagination until it takes shape as a book. But this can happen if and only if one follows the basic rules of the road, which are explained with flair and humor.

The tale begins with a blank page. An unseen narrator gently reminds us that all stories do begin this way, on an empty page, screen or canvas, until a character appears. Perhaps it is a little girl, or an adorable bunny, or a ukulele-playing octopus. But that grinning octopus, surrounded by bloopie bubbles and wearing a pom-pom topped knit cap, has to want something. What the character wants, explains the narrator, will make the story become interesting. And if the octopus wants an awesome purple spaceship, it has to be difficult to get. If he can simply get one from the drugstore the story will be too silly, short and dull. So perhaps the octopus will have to make the spaceship himself, out of odds and ends like soda cans, glue, string, umbrellas, glitter and waffles.

Have you fastened your seatbelt yet? Because this story is just about to take off! Or is it? “I’m not really qualified to build a spaceship ….” remarks the octopus, a tentacle rubbing his puzzled head. Nope, that spaceship doesn’t fly, so now our hero has an even bigger problem to solve. He has to find a rocket scientist!

Tokuda-Hall subtly teaches the constructs of story-telling within the boundaries of this absurdly whimsical tale. Step-by-step, the hapless octopus is tossed and turned through the imaginary gyrations of the narrative, experiencing the emotional highs and lows of a plot-driven concept. As illustrated by Benji Davies, the engaging and expressive characters will appeal to readers young and old.  The seemingly retro color palette ranges from mustard yellow to blue, orange, and luscious deep eggplant, displayed in large, bright spreads nicely balanced and evenly spaced. Davies tucks amusing random details into the scenes, like a curly-tongue armadillo and motorboat-driving hamster. Those details, in turn, will inspire young listeners to create new stories of their own.

Create new stories? Yes, because everyone has a bit of nothing, a virtual “blank page” on which to begin. And thus Also An Octopus comes full circle after a rollicking adventure that is as awesome as a purple spaceship dotted with waffles. Remember those bloopie bubbles that swirl around our eight-limbed hero? They burst into sparkly stars once he reaches outer space, a twinkling celebration of this delightful adventure into the world of story-making.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Also An Octopus from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Trucks, Tractors and Cars – A Transportation-Themed Picture Book Roundup

TRUCKS, TRACTORS AND CARS:
A PICTURE BOOK ROUNDUP

 

race-car-dreamsRace Car Dreams
Written by Sharon Chriscoe
Illustrated by Dave Mottram
(Running Press Kids; $16.95, Ages 2-6)

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.

 

with-any-luck-ill-drive-a-truckWith Any Luck, I’ll Drive a Truck
Written by David Friend
Illustrated by Michael Rex
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

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 on a Tractorduck-on-a-tractor
Written and illustrated by David Shannon
(The Blue Sky Press/ Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

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.

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Brunhilda’s Backwards Day by Shawna J.C. Tenney Blog Tour

BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY BLOG TOUR
Written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney
(Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-8)

 

Brunhilda's backwards day book cover

 

It’s day three of the Brunhilda’s Backwards Day Blog Tour and I’ve got this question to ask readers: What comes to mind when you think of a witch – someone mean and warty riding a broomstick and wearing a pointy hat, with a cat as a sidekick, and always up to no good? That sounds exactly like the witch in Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, the debut picture book from author and illustrator Shawna J.C. Tenney.

 

Interior artwork of Brunhilda the witch from Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Tenney takes us through a typical Brunhilda day, from her start getting out of “the wrong side of the bed,” and putting on her ugliest outfit (because what witch do you know who wears designer dresses?), to finding great satisfaction in chanting troublesome spells:

Lumpy grumpy fly pie stew!!
Hocus Pocus
hippity hoppity spew!

 

Oh the wickedly witchy things she concocts to annoy people!  But it seems Brunhilda isn’t alone in brewing up mischief. Her feline friend, who all along appears rather reluctant to wreak havoc, has some plans of her own!!

 

Interior artwork from Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

When Bruhilda awakens the following day, her warts are gone, she has only oatmeal not spider mush to eat for breakfast, and horror of horrors, her ugly dress has turned into a “fluffy pink ball gown.” And try as she might to do all her awfulness, Brunhilda soon finds herself unable to be cruel. In fact she actually delights in bringing joy to the children and families she ordinarily would upset.

 

Interior spread of Brunhilda in ruffly pink ball gown Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Seeing Brunhilda’s transformation in both words and illustrations is pure pleasure. There’s even an early foreshadowing Tenney’s included on the book’s title page illustration showing the wicked witch pouring water on her cat. Tenney’s text, in a fabulous font, is simple, and succinct. It’s surrounded by lots of lovely white space which also serves to contrast the empowering pink, pulsating purples and gorgeous greens in the artwork.

 

Interior artwork of magical playground in Brunhilda's Backwards Day

Interior spread from Brunhilda’s Backwards Day written and illustrated by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Sky Pony Press ©2016.

 

Brunhilda’s Backwards Day begs to be read aloud with a cackling voice and a crooked finger, while pointing out all the magical goings on in the vibrant artwork.  I totally enjoyed this charming Halloween treat and have no doubt your kids will fall under Brunhilda’s happy spell.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

Find out more about the blog tour here.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-2-07-20-pm

 

Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê

LET ME FINISH!
Written by Minh Lê
Illustrated by Isabel Roxas
(Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

let-me-finish book cover

 

 

With its colorfully eye-catching and engaging cover, exhuberant endpages, and enthusiastic speech bubbles, Let Me Finish!  by Minh Lê with art by Isabel Roxas, thrums with an energy that practically propels the book into young readers’ hands.

Our unnamed protagonist is a reader extraordinaire. Sure, his over-sized red eyeglasses are one clue, but so is his broad, contented smile as he settles under a tree to enjoy his new book in peace and quiet. Alas! Three jabbering birds swoop down to chatter enthusiastically about the book’s ending, thus spoiling the surprise for our hero. He politely asks them to hold their commentary next time until he’s done, and heads home to select a different title – one he’s “been meaning to read forever.”

This time it’s a bear who pops in, revealing the ending much to the reader’s consternation. And those pesky birds are back too, chirping in with even more spoilers. “Oh no!” moans our bespectacled main character, who returns home and joyfully discovers that a new book has just been delivered to his front door. Will he finally be able to read in peace, or does someone spill the beans once again?

Let Me Finish! is a real page turner, enticing us to keep flipping and uncover what will happen next. With increasing text size and ever-bolder page spreads, this tale cleverly depicts the mounting angst of the young reader who just wants to enjoy his books. The zany menagerie of talking birds and beasts is a color-filled fantasy, unbound by rules of geography, gravity or nature. It’s a wacky, delightful dilemma for the boy, who demonstrates superhero skills and determination to finish his story.

Roxas’ vivid, softly textured images are tightly woven with Lê’s text and packed with detail. Words written with a scribbly crayon effect add greatly to the kid-appeal, as does the variety of cartoony chase spreads that never become monotonous. There’s a meta-twist or two at the end to keep young ones musing about the story within a story and invites re-reading from multiple perspectives.

You might want to read Let Me Finish! on your own, but it would certainly be a good one to share with friends. Just don’t give away the ending!

Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Let Me Finish! which I won in a blog giveaway and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

dear Dragon by Josh Funk

DEAR DRAGON
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

starred review – Kirkus Reviews

 

dear-dragon-cover-image

 

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.

 

interior-spread-1-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

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.

 

interior-spread-2-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

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!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Visit Josh Funk’s website here.
Visit Rodolfo Montalvo’s website here.

 

Best Children’s Books for Father’s Day Roundup

BEST FATHER’S DAY BOOKS ROUNDUP 2016

 

This year there are more fab Father’s Day books than I’ve ever seen before so I found it rather difficult to narrow down my favorites to just a few.  Here are some of this year’s Father’s Day books I recommend.

 

Hammer And Nails Book CoverHammer and Nails
Written by Josh Bledsoe
Illustrated by Jessica Warrick
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
Josh Bledsoe wrote this story about my husband, or at least he could have because the father in Hammer and Nails (love the wordplay in this title) has a heart of gold with a touch of pink. When his daughter’s playdate plans fall through, it’s dad to the rescue, declaring a daddy daughter day. The pair agree to trade off on completing their lists of activities they’d intended to do before things changed.

If you’ve ever known a father to play dress up with his daughter and even agree to have his hair and nails done, you’ll find that guy here, bonding beautifully with his child. At the same time, the dad asks his daughter to step outside her comfort zone to pound some nails into loose boards on their fence amongst other chores. “Princess, sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun. Try it.” Everything about Hammer and Nails is fun and upbeat from Warrick’s silly scene of a laundry fight to daddy and daughter getting down with some celebratory moves. With each new page turn, this book will fill young readers with the joy of experiencing quality and creative time spent with a caring dad.

Beard in a BoxBeard_in_a_Box by Bill Cotter Book Cover
Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
(Knopf BYR: $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of Father’s Day book, Beard in a Box arrives! A boy who is convinced the source of his dad’s coolness and power is his beard, decides it’s time to grow one of his own. Only he can’t, despite multiple imaginative efforts. Lo and behold, what should happen to be on TV while this lad is despairing his lack of facial hair – a commercial touting the amazing kid-tested, dad-approved Beard in a Box from SCAM-O. This simple five-step program appeared to work and there were all kinds of bristles available -from the Beatnik to the Biker, the Lincoln to the Santa. What the commercial failed to say was that after following all the required steps, the user had to wait 10-15 years to see results.

When little dude tells his dad how he was ripped off, he notices his father’s beard is gone. Can that mean his dad has lost his coolness? Maybe not with Cotter’s clever examples proving you can’t judge a dad by his beard! The hilarity of Beard in a Box begins with the cover and continues all the way through to the endorsements from satisfied Beard in a Box customers on the back cover: “Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Trust me on this.” – Bigfoot A not-to-miss new read for Father’s Day or any day you need a good laugh or your child yearns for a five o’clock shadow.

Dad SchoolDad_School book cover
Written by Rebecca Van Slyke
Illustrated by Priscilla Burris
(Doubleday BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Kids go to school to learn their ABCs so when a little boy’s dad says he also went to school, the youngster figures it had to be Dad school. Van Slyke and Burris have teamed up again after last year’s hit, Mom School, to bring readers a glimpse of all the skills a father must acquire to parent successfully.

“At Dad school, I think they learn how to fix boo-boos, how to mend leaky faucets, and how to make huge snacks …” There is a lot of wonderful humor in both the text and artwork that will not be lost on parents reading the story aloud, especially the parts about dads learning how to multi-talk or their failure to learn how to match clothes, brush hair, and clean the bathroom. Dad School is totally entertaining from start to finish, only I wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I loved the little boy’s imagination and am certain your kids will, too.

 

Monster_and_Son book coverMonster & Son
Written by David LaRochelle
Illustrated by Joey Chou
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 2-4)
Here’s a fresh take on Father’s Day, a look at the father/son dynamic from all kinds of monsters’ point of view. Filling the pages of this wild ride are yetis, werewolves, dragons, serpents and skeletons sharing their own special, often “rough and rowdy” type of love.

Chou’s visuals are modern. They feel bold and imaginative with colors perfectly suited for a monstrous read. LaRochelle has written Monster & Son using well-paced rhyme that adds to the various father/son activities featured on every page. Whether stirring up waves for a game of catch or frightening off a knight coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, these monster dads all have one thing in common, and though it may be giant-sized, it undeniably love.

 

The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and GrandfathersThe_Most_Important_Thing by Avi book cover
Written by Avi
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
This collection of seven short stories is sure to move middle grade readers and make them think about their own relationships with their fathers and grandfathers. According to the jacket flap, what the stories have in common is that they each explore the question: “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Each story features a new character facing a different situation.

Stories flows easily one to the next meaning they can be read in one sitting or just one at a time. I’ve chosen three to highlight here. In the book’s opening story, Dream Catcher, Paul is an 8th grader who feels disconnected from his father. When circumstances require him to spend a week of school break with his estranged grandfather in Denver, Paul begins to understand the demons that have plagued his grandfather and caused the estrangement. Both Paul and his grandfather work together to forge a new relationship leaving the reader with hope that Paul’s father and grandfather may too at last be reconciled.

Beat Up introduces Charlie who has plans to attend a church dance despite a friend’s warning that gangs may be present. Though the dance goes off well, Charlie gets surrounded by a gang then beat up on his way home, only to be chastised by his unforgiving father for having pretended to be hurt and knocked out rather than fighting back and putting himself at greater risk. “Biderbiks don’t cry” is what Charlie’s dad believes, but Charlie is clearly not a coward for having sought a safe solution to his assault. Beat Up is a powerful tale of a son’s courage to speak up in the face of his father’s unjust fury.

Departed deals with the accidental death of Luke’s father before their camping trip that shakes up a family. When what appears to be the father’s ghost remains around the apartment, Luke realizes what he must do with his father’s ashes to set his soul free, and thus come to terms with his father’s passing. While there are not always happy endings, there are certainly realistic, satisfying, and sometimes heart wrenching conclusions offering much to learn from the various young men’s approach to life and the father/son dynamic.

Papa Seahorse’s SearchPapa_Seahorses_Search book cover
by Anita Bijsterbosch
(Clavis; $14.95, Ages 1-4)
A sturdy lift-the-flap counting book about a Papa Seahorse looking everywhere for his missing little seahorse. Numbers introduced range from 1-10 and the cast of characters making appearances behind and in front of the assorted flaps include a colorful puffer fish, sea turtles, angelfish, sea snake, crabs, a sea anemone, jellyfish, octopuses and shrimp. This book will provide interactive fun for pre-schoolers and toddlers alike.

 

Superhero_Dad by Timothy Knapman book coverSuperhero Dad
Written by Timothy Knapman
Illustrated by Joe Berger
(Nosy Crow; $15.99, Ages 3-7)
Kids will relate to the main character’s über admiration for his father in this rhyming read-aloud, Superhero Dad. Though not a new concept, the idea of a dad who can make a super breakfast though he’s only half awake, or make monsters disappear, is one that is always appealing to children. Coupled with comic book styled artwork, and a definitely cool die-cut cover, this humorous take on what qualities qualify for superhero-dom is a fast paced, fun read that is sure to please for Father’s Day.

 

Gator DadGator_Dad by Brian Lies book cover
Written and illustrated by Brian Lies
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7)
If you’re looking for something original, this is it. The father in Brian Lies’ Gator Dad knows how to show his kids a good time and that’s evident on every wild and wacky gator-filled page. Intent on squeezing in the most fun a day can offer with his three gator kids, Gator Dad can make roaming aimlessly in the park an adventure, make bath time the best time, and make bed time stories come alive. It’s obvious this dad gains the greatest joy giving his gator-all in everything he does with and for his children.

 

Additional recommended books include:

Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) 
Written by Matthew Logelin and Sara Jensen
Illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Little Brown BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Tell Me a Tattoo Story
Written by Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep

HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP
Written by Robin Newman
Illustrated by Chris Ewald
(Creston Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Hildie Bitterpickles by Robin Newman book cover

 

When I enjoy a book as much as I enjoyed Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep, I have to read every last page, including the copyright page! There I might even discover a clever dedication or some other surprise. So imagine my delight upon finding the following treat after finishing Robin Newman’s latest picture book:

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarities to real persons, witches, giants, or rats, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

What’s a witch in want of a good night’s sleep supposed to do when her noisy neighbors make it impossible? Is any shut-eye even possible when the very loud Jack and the Beanstalk giant moves in next door and his miles high elevator makes a clangety clank commotion all night long? To make matters worse, The Old Lady (who happens to live in a crowded shoe) with her boisterous brood takes up residence on the other side of Hildie’s home. Then,  after yet another disrupted night’s sleep, a Big, Bad Wolf blows off Hildie’s roof instead of the one on another new home belonging to the new pig in town, one Little Pig. In despair, Hildie turns to a realtor rat, Monty, to find her and her cat pal Clawdia new accommodations, only nothing is just right.

In this entertaining and unique story filled with familiar fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters, no spells are cast or potions brewed. But pages will be turned quickly to find out how Hildie solves her sleep dilemma. Young readers will rejoice when Hildie, using a lot of creativity mixed with self-advocacy and cooperation, finally figures out how to have a silent and satisfying night’s sleep.

Chris Ewald’s vibrant artwork will dazzle youngsters who’ll adore his interpretations of an assortment of characters. Remember also to study the illustrations carefully as there are some surprise visitors in this story that are certain to elicit laughter. Between Newman’s humorous and original take on a witch’s quest for quiet and Ewald’s inventive artwork, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep makes a great addition to your bedtime story collection and is definitely not just for Halloween.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

A Math and Counting Books Roundup

A MATH AND COUNTING BOOKS ROUNDUP
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LITTLE KIDS OCEAN COUNTING,
TEN PIGS, & MICE MISCHIEF

 

Have fun counting and doing simple math with your children …

National Geographic Little Kids Ocean CountingNational_Geographic_Little_Kids_Ocean-Counting
Written by Janet Lawler
Photos by Brian Skerry
(National Geographic; $16.95, Ages 2-5)

If your young kids are into aquariums and learning about sea life then don’t miss this counting book. The beautiful underwater nature photographs match perfectly with the simple yet informative text. There is a little “Did you know?” section on each page with an interesting fact. Basic counting from 1-10 is so enjoyable with this book, plus in the back matter there’s a counting up and counting down page to review the numbers and the respective quantities with children.

 

 

Ten_Pigs_Bath-Adventure
Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure
by Derek Anderson
(Orchard Books/Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

This humorous bath adventure from Little Quack illustrator Derek Anderson, will have your kids cracking up! One cute little pig is taking a bath with his rubber ducky when others start to barge into the tub. The text has great rhythm and the illustrations are both cute and extremely funny! I would highly recommend this book for young kids and I know the adults reading it will also find it amusing. You have to find out how the original bathing pig gets the tub all to himself again.

 

 

 

Mice Mischief: Math Facts in Action Mice_Mischief
Written by Caroline Stills
Illustrated by Judith Rossell
(Holiday House; $16.95, Ages 3-6)

Mice get into a lot of interesting and impressive mischief in this book! Mice Mischief offers a refreshing take on learning the different amounts that make 10. For example, as they get ready in the morning “8 mice cook. 2 mice juggle. 8+2=10.” It’s an engaging way to count and add with your little ones. The adorable illustrations complement the spare text perfectly. I hope they make a board book version since I think this book would be great for babies all the way up age 6.

 

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Little Critter: Just a Special Thanksgiving by Mercer Mayer

LITTLE CRITTER: JUST A SPECIAL THANKSGIVING
Written and Illustrated by Mercer Mayer
(Harper Festival$4.99, Ages 4-7)

LittleCritter_JustaSpecialThanksgiving

One of the very first picture books I ever bought for my son was by Mercer Mayer. I love Little Critter’s character:  rambunctious, sweet, and fun-loving – someone who kids of all ages can relate to. Much like other series books I enjoy (The  Berenstain Bears and the Froggy series), Little Critter’s books give us an opportunity to see the central character in different snippets of life. In Just a Special Thanksgiving, we celebrate the holiday alongside Little Critter and learn that, though Thanksgiving activities and events may not go as planned, realizing the spirit of the holiday is what matters.

From the get-go we feel that exciting sense of “Thanksgiving is in the air.” In the classroom, Little Critter and his friends are drawing pilgrims and turkeys. When school is out, he must rush home to change into his turkey costume for the Thanksgiving play. While you can probably guess what his lines are, poor Little Critter forgets them and opts to sing a song.

At the “big Thanksgiving Day Parade” early next morning more surprises from Little Critter are in store for all participants.  Tired from marching, our hero hops on a float proudly waving to his parents who, along with law enforcement and other parade goers, have become quite irate by his actions.

I love how Little Critter’s innocence tugs on our heartstrings and how blissfully unaware he is of the commotion his actions cause. What’s even more touching is the way he tries to “right” his wrongs (particularly in the scenes at the grocery store) which lead to even more disaster. Kids will enjoy the humor implicit in Little Critter’s goof-ups. At the same time, parents will be reminded that, no matter how bad things may seem, our children’s intentions are good; their hearts are in the right place. Little Critter’s excitement with helping cook and serve the meal at the community center reminds us what’s at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday.

A great book to curl up with your little one-perhaps while the turkey is roasting in the oven! (Includes 20 stickers).

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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Pirate’s Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime by Marcie Wessels

PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME
Written by Marcie Wessels
Illustrated by Tim Bowers
(Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

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I first heard about Pirate’s Lullaby when Marcie Wessels spoke at a writer’s conference almost a year ago and it’s been worth the wait to get the book knowing all the hard work that went into. So did I enjoy reading Wessels debut picture book, Pirate’s Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime? Arrrgh! Can ye hear me, mateys? It’s a keeper alright. Kids love a good pirate tale and with Wessels’ perfectly metered rhyme and illustrator Tim Bowers’ adorable artwork, they’ll be in for a treat.

The story isn’t complicated, but it’s charming and one that so many parents and children will relate to, which is why the subtitle, Mutiny at Bedtime is so apt. Papa Pirate wants his young son, not-so-sleepy Ned, to get to bed, but alas the little scalawag balks at the suggestion.

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Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

Bowers portrays Papa Pirate as a kind, smiling man. Wessels gently demonstrates that, despite Ned’s dad being nice, he’s also a limit-setting father, who dearly loves his son and gets a kick out of his stalling antics. Still the laddie must get some shut-eye! Thus the story pits the persistent papa against the procrastinating pirate-in-training in a playful back and forth that never misses a beat.

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Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

First Ned has some chores to finish up. Then he can’t locate Captain Teddy, his eye-patched cuddly companion. Could he have fallen overboard?

There’s the requisite request for water followed by a plea for Papa to spin a yarn or two and, last but not least is Ned’s desire for Papa Pirate to sing “a shanty of the oceans vast and deep.” The clever twist at the story’s end will surprise and delight readers young and old.

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Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

Of course, Wessels has included all the appropriate pirate verbiage kids love such as:

Ned shimmied up the mainmast, grinning ear to ear.
“Walk the plank to catch me,” cried the little mutineer.
“Ho, ho,” laughed Papa Pirate, “I’m afraid ye’ve met yer match!
Gotcha, little rascal. Down ye go into the hatch!”

                         OR

“Ye’ve got yer mate, ye’ve had a drink,
Ye’ll have yer bedtime tale.
Ye must be getting sleepy.
Ain’t the wind out of yer sail?”

And though Talk Like a Pirate Day is soon approaching, why wait until September 19th to practice your Aye, Ayes, your Batten Down the Hatches and your Yo, Ho Hos? Pirate’s Lullaby just begs to be read aloud with the best pirate voice ye can muster!

It’s hard to resist a well-crafted picture book with artwork that’s warm and inviting coupled with rhyme that’s top notch, so what are ye waitin’ fer, mateys? Add this little gem to your own little pirate’s bedtime book treasure chest so yer both can go catch yer forty winks with satisfied grins on yer faces!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

RUDE CAKES
Written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins
(Chronicle Books: $16.99, Ages 3-5)

A treat for parents and kids!

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At first glance, the cover of Rude Cakes definitely whet my appetite, and then when I turned to the title page and read that this picture book, out just last month, was “cooked up” by Rowboat Watkins, I knew I just had to dig in.  Frankly, I’d read anything by someone called Rowboat so I’m happy Rude Cakes turned out to be a huge treat!

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Interior artwork from Rude Cakes, written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins, Chronicle Books ©2015.

Watkins, a former Sendak Fellow, serves up a filling mix of art and prose in under 200 words. I also adored the illustrations with a style resembling cotton candy awash in jelly bean hues, all light, airy and fanciful. Coupled with the marvelous artwork is a storyline familiar to us all and worth repeating. Manners maketh man or in this case, cake. The two-tiered, two-toned pink cake, never hesitating to push, pull and take what it likes, could use a few lessons in how to treat both its parents and its friends.

Rude cakes never listen (especially when their parents sound boring)
and they never wait their turn in line.

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Interior artwork from Rude Cakes, written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins, Chronicle Books ©2015.

After much rudeness to its so-called pals, a marshmallow and a cupcake, the rude bubble-gum colored cake calls it a night … when it’s ready! Here the illustrations depict the dessert bouncing around holding its trusty cyclops stuffed toy. Note: point out to little ones that the cyclops poster above Pink Cake’s bed says EYE SEE YOU. Soon, in a dream (or did it really happen in this fantastical story?) the obnoxious confection is plucked from its bed, mistaken for a hat. into a parallel universe.

This parallel universe of sorts is a place where …

Giant Cyclopses always say thank you,
and they always say please,
and they love to share.

These thoughtful, well behaved Giant Cyclopses compliment the hat, ask to borrow the hat, all the while demonstrating the rewards of good manners. In fact, it turns out that the only way this tired and boorish gateau is going to be heard by the Giant Cyclopses, is by using one little but powerful magic word. But to  convince a bunch of cyclopses that it’s not a hat, Pink Cake must ask in a polite, not half-baked way to be returned back to bed. Because in the end, don’t good manners always take the cake?

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for directions on how to make an origami eye.

If you’d like to see another perspective on this picture book, please click here to read blogger Danielle Davis’ take on Watkins’ scrumptious story.

 

Putting The Monkeys To Bed by Gennifer Choldenko

PUTTING THE MONKEYS TO BED
Written by Gennifer Choldenko
Illustrated by Jack E. Davis
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

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     If you thought getting your children to go to sleep wasn’t difficult enough, try your hand at Putting The Monkeys to Bed. This new picture book by popular children’s author, Gennifer Choldenko, is a whimsical tale of nighttime shenanigans started by young Sam’s active imagination and perpetuated by a trio of plush merry-making monkeys.

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Interior artwork from Putting The Monkeys to Bed by Gennifer Choldenko with illustrations by Jack E. Davis, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ©2015.

     As is often the case with so many little ones, going to bed can be a chore when there’s still so much to think about:

Do pirates sleep with their eye patches on?

Do fish go to bed in their bathing suits?

Where do baseball players sleep at night?

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Interior artwork from Putting The Monkeys to Bed by Gennifer Choldenko with illustrations by Jack E. Davis, G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ©2015.

… and so much fun still to be had. But when the day begins to catch up with him, and Sam is ready to call it a night, it seems the simians can’t switch off. Even calm inducing in and out breathing turns into ping pong singing for the primate pals eager to play the night away. Davis’s light-hearted illustrations capture the antics of the monkeys as they try everything in their power to keep Sam awake, my favorite being the one where the monkeys mimic the ubiquitous Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil statues. Eventually though, the monkeys succumb to some serious snuggling and a bedtime story read in a whisper by the weary Sam as “Arms cuddle close. Covers nestle round. Heavy heads sink into soft pillows.”

     Parents, if you and your kids are still awake after this wonderful wind down, check out the humorous author’s note at the end with answers to Sam’s questions posed above. I also recommend going back through each spread to enjoy all the details Davis has included. Then, if yawns and heavy eyelids are still not evident, you can always try singing a lullaby, but somehow I think that won’t be necessary. Look for satisfied smiles all around as little ones drift off to dreamland when you share Choldenko’s Putting The Monkeys to Bed tonight.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Wolfie The Bunny by Ame Dyckman

WOLFIE THE BUNNY
Written by Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.00, Ages 3-6 )

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Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, SLJ, Horn Book & Booklist

I lovc a picture book that makes me laugh out loud which is exactly what happened when I read Wolfie The Bunny. Plus, this book has got it all: humor, suspense, endearing characters, and super artwork, so it’s easy to adore.

Little Dot, the bunny, is with her parents when they find an abandoned wolf baby left on their doorstep. Dot’s parents welcome this discovery, and proceed to fall head over rabbits’ feet for sweet Wolfie despite Dot’s frantic warning, “He’s going to eat us all up!” I cracked up at OHora’s illustration of Dot, wide awake with a head lamp shining on her sleeping new baby bro. In the end pages, OHora explains that his former neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn served as inspiration for the story’s setting. Those scenes really ground this tale. Kids (and adults) will get a kick out of all the different expressions on Dot’s and Wolfie’s faces depicted throughout the book. Wolfie’s drools added an extra element of tension and I’ll admit I enjoyed not knowing where Dyckman was going with the plot. In other words, I had no trouble continuing to turn the pages. That will definitely keep younger readers glued to ythe book, too. Was the wolf going to devour Dot and her folks or would his love for his adopted family outweigh his growing appetitie? At the same time, Wolfie’s actions indicated a doting sibling:

“Everywhere Dot went,
Wolfie went, too.”

Dyckman’s included just the right amount of repetition of the line, “He’s going to eat us all up,” to keep it fresh and fun. And Dot’s parents’ admiring comments of “He’s a good eater, “He’s a good sleeper,” and “He’s a good drooler!” clearly demonstrated their unconditional love. What worked best in this tale was how Dot’s initial fear of being gobbled down disappeared when Wolfie was threatened by a bear. Stepping up to the plate as big sister, Dot defended her little brother and found that fighting for her family member’s safety brought her closer to Wolfie and dashed any fear of being on the menu for dinner.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Best Picture Books for Mother’s Day – A Roundup

A MOTHER’S DAY ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

One of my favorite holidays is Mother’s Day. I get to kick my feet up, relax, and get spoiled for several blissful hours. Okay, who am I kidding? That actually doesn’t really happen chez moi, but that’s not what Mother’s Day is about anyway, is it? Love is really at the core of this special day. Let’s look at some picture books that celebrate all kinds of moms in all kinds of ways, because no mom is the same and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

Are You My Mommy? AreYouMyMommycvr.jpgby Mary Murphy (Candlewick; $6.99, Ages 0-3) – This lift-the-flaps board book features an adorable little light blue collared  puppy meeting lots of different animals as he asks, “Are you my mommy?” Naturally, each animal encountered replies no and explains what animal he is. “No, I’m a sheep.” The reveal is each animal’s own special baby, from a lamb to a calf, a foal and a kitten, a piglet and a duckling until the most lovely surprise, the puppy’s mommy, a purple collared dog. As little ones enjoy the colorful illustrations done in mixed media with bold black outlines, they’ll learn new words and have fun lifting all the die-cut flaps.

Mom School MomSchoolcvr.jpgby Rebecca Van Slyke with illustrations by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – What a clever idea, a school for moms! I sure could have used a class or two at this place because, while I may be great at cutting and gluing like the little girl narrating this charming story, I never had a lesson in the cool kinds of classes she imagines her mom attended. There’s the essential learning how to grocery shop without losing your child class. There’s pitching 101 so moms can toss a ball that’s easy to hit. And of course, we can’t leave out the ever popular, and delicious, cupcake baking course. Here’s one of my faves, and it’s got to be called Mom’s Mandatory Multi-tasking:

 

 At Mom School, they learn how to do more than one thing at a time,
like talking on the phone and fixing my hair, and making dinner while
listening to a song I just made up.

 

Mom School is a sweet, positive picture book not just for Mother’s Day because the skills moms acquire at this school are utilized throughout the year. The adorable, humorous pastel-toned artwork by Burris is expressive and cheerful. Kids are going to enjoy thinking of other classes that their moms are likely to have attended and perhaps, inspired by Van Slyke’s words and Burris’ illustrations, they can try their hand at drawing their own pictures to show all the neat things moms know.

If-My-Mom-Were-a-Bird-cvr.jpgIf My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7) – is such an imaginative, beautiful picture book. “If your mom were a bird,” it says on the book’s back cover, “what kind of bird would she be?” There is not a lot of text in this picture book, but the economy of words works wonderfully because the type of bird each child imagines their mother would be is perfectly presented in the artwork.

               If my mom were a bird, she would surely be a watchful … hawk.

The watercolor illustrations on the pages feel crisp, joyful and complement the traits the kids have chosen,

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Interior artwork from If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books, ©2015.

capturing the mood without a lot of description.

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Interior artwork from If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books, ©2015.

 

As with Mom School, If My Mom Were a Bird is a year round story, but also just right to share on Mother’s Day.

Two other terrific picture books I’d like to recommend are:
Heather Has Two MommiesHeather-Has-Two-Mommies.jpg by Lesléa Newman with illustrations by Laura Cornell (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – This is a brand-new edition of the modern classic. And for Mother’s Day, what’s better than having one mom? Having two!! There are many different kinds of families and the family depicted in Heather Has Two Mommies is a family unit made up of two moms, no dad.  What counts in families is not being just like every other family, but being loved.

 

Pete the Cat: Rock on, Mom and Dad!PeteTheCat-Rock-On-Mom-Dad.jpg by James Dean (HarperFestival; $6.99, Ages 4-8) – Kids who are crazy about the cat will go wild for this paperback which includes 30 stickers, a fold-out poster and cards. How does a grateful cat say thank you to his parents for all they do? How can he show them how much he loves them? His big, smart brother Bob tells him,

                                          “It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it.”

And in a classic example of actions speaking louder than words, Pete composes a song and plays it for his parents. He rocks it out of the park and right into their hearts.

–  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Worst in Show by William Bee

Worst in Show
Written by William Bee
Illustrated by Kate Hindley
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, ages 3-7)

 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Worst-in-Show-cvr.jpgIn our anything goes reality show culture, we see time and again contestants competing in ridiculous events, each more outrageous than the next. So it makes sense every so often to stop and ask: what prize are they trying to win anyway? Light-hearted and humorous, Worst in Show highlights this question through soft language and muted colors, gently challenging readers of all ages to rethink the very standards we’ve come to accept as “successful.”

Little Albert, proud owner of a pet monster named Sidney sets off to prove to the world his monster is the “best pet monster in the world.” Entering Sidney in a live televised show, “THE BEST PET MONSTER IN THE WORLD COMPETITION,” Albert realizes Sidney has some pretty stiff competition.

For starters in Round 1 of the competition, “Hairiest Warts,” we see the other monsters proudly displaying their large, bumpy double-decker warts. Particularly enviable is the monster who shows off his armpit collection. “But Sidney, who has a bath every other day with lots of soap and bubbles, hasn’t got any warts–just a few freckles.” Albert’s confidence, by page 11, has withered into a worrisome expression, adorably accented by his gigantic eyeglasses.

As the rounds continue, Sidney’s chances of winning seem farther and farther away and Albert’s expression appear all the more anxious. By Round 3, “Most Parasites,” Sidney’s superior hygiene, once again, proves to be a disadvantage. While the other monsters’ parasites crowd the stage, Sidney’s meager two decide to pack their vacation things up and leave, as they were “just staying for a few days.” It’s a good thing too because on the next round, “Smelliest Fart” (my personal favorite), the stage is polluted with the other monsters’ simultaneous “smelly,” “stinky,” “stenchy,” and “rotten” fart fumes. Using the “Fart Buster 2000,” only a professional in a hazmat suit, like a company rep from Servpro, can vacuum up the smelly mess–like it never even happened. Oh, but happen it does. By the last round, “Hottest Breath,” the other monsters’ fiery flames nearly burn down the television studio.

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Interior artwork from Worst in Show by William Bee with illustrations by Kate Hindley, Candlewick Press, ©2015.

Throughout the competition, Sidney’s smile never wavers, and Albert’s common sense finally overrides his embarrassment and despair. He asks himself at the end of each round, “who wants a” gross, filthy, fire-breathing, trouble-making pet monster anyway? As we open the folds of the penultimate page, a beautiful four page spread, we see Sidney receiving a trophy for performing the “WORST IN SHOW.” Albert knows good-smelling, clean, and gentle Sidney is the real winner here, as is this picture book for valuing the importance of individuality.

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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