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ALLY-SAURUS & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

Ally-saurus & the First Day of School
Written and illustrated by Richard Torrey
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-6 )

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

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Even dinosaurs get starting school jitters, in fact, maybe even those who are actually little girls pretending to be dinosaurs.

“Do you think there will be other dinosaurs in my class?” asked Ally-saurus.
“I think you’re going to make a lot of new friends,” said Mother.

Introducing Ally-saurus, an enthusiastic, pig-tailed little girl with an active imagination. At first it seems that making friends will not be easy. None of Ally-saurus’ classmates chomp their snack with fierce teeth or “ROAR!” like she does. Instead they eat quietly much to Ally-saurus’ surprise. She was expecting everyone to be wild about dinos just like her.

Torrey cleverly uses black and white plus a lot of shading in his illustrations so the snippets of color that he adds stand out and really a make a statement. For example, a pink tail and ridges crayoned onto Ally-saurus throughout the book indicate that Ally is imagining herself as a Stegosaurus. Later, Robert is the first classmate to get his hint of blue color as he imagines himself to be an astronaut when he and Ally-saurus cut out nameplate designs for their cubbies. During a lesson on the weather followed by one about letters, three princesses begin voicing their opinions as gold crowns and dresses are outlined on them.

Then, at lunchtime Ally-saurus is told by these princesses that:

“These seats are saved for princesses, not dinosaurs,” said Tina.
“You’re not a real princess!” roared Ally-saurus.
“You’re not a real dinosaur,” said Tina.
“Then why am I eating dinosaur food?” asked Ally-saurus.
“That’s baloney!” said Tina, and the other princesses giggled.

Ally-saurus is left to sit alone elsewhere until she is joined by several other students, all eager to share what they enjoy pretending to be. “Soon the whole table was roaring and chomping.” It isn’t long before Ally-saurus and the kids from her lunch table are running around during recess playing make-believe and having a blast. Ally-saurus realizes too that dinos and princesses can find common ground over pretend cups of tea.

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Reprinted with permission from Ally-saurus & the First Day of School © 2015 by Richard Torrey, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Richard Torrey.

Best of all, in the school library, (my favorite place), Ally-saurus along with her classmates discover there are books about all kinds of things … including bunnies. And guess who’s got a pink bunny tail and bunny ears drawn on when she hops out of bed the next morning? Note: There’s an unassuming little bunny lamp on a night table in the last illustration. Plus, Torrey has cleverly covered the endpapers in front with dinos and at the back with bunnies, something I only noticed on the second read! That’s sure to make children want to go back again and again to look for more details.

Add Ally-saurus & the First Day of School to your back-to-school list for an ideal picture book to share with youngsters. It’ll help them realize they’re not the only ones who get nervous starting school. It’s also a great way to start the conversation about the give and take necessary to form and keep friendships.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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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

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Dragon and Captain by P.R. Allabach

Dragon and Captain
Written by P.R. Allabach
Illustrated by Lucas Turnbloom
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

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My curiosity is always piqued by books that contain maps inside their front and rear covers. Happily, Dragon and Captain has got ’em! Here’s why. Maps play a crucial role in this story, presented in comic-style format.

This original picture book features two main characters who happen to be next door neighbors. It’s also clear the boys are friends who’ve played a pretend game of Dragon and Captain countless times, if Dragon’s map is any indication. Dragon, a boy in a dragon robe, and Captain, a boy with a tri-cornered hat, have their work cut out for them the morning the story opens. Captain, it seems, has lost his ship!

Together, Captain and Dragon must brave the unknown by going through a forest, down a cliff and ultimately to the sea in their quest to find the missing vessel. Armed with a compass, a telescope, the map, and massive amounts of imagination, Dragon and Captain set off on a creative adventure (in the backyard) as their moms chat nearby.

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Interior artwork from Dragon and Captain by P.R. Allabach with illustrations by Lucas Turnbloom, Flashlight Press ©2015.

Dragon and Captain must foil a bunch of pirates’ plan to commandeer Captain’s ship. Can the duo stop this dastardly deed and get home in time for lunch? Well this reviewer won’t say, but you can probably guess the answer by the expressions on the boys’ faces in the illustrations below!

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Interior artwork from Dragon and Captain by P.R. Allabach with illustrations by Lucas Turnbloom, Flashlight Press ©2015.

Between Allabach’s pleasing prose and Turnbloom’s terrific artwork, the team of Dragon and Captain and their active imaginations come to life in this thoroughly enjoyable role playing romp. Picture books like this one should certainly spark children’s interest in inventing their own games of make believe.

Learn more about Dragon and Captain at www.flashlightpress.com
Get an activity guide for the book here.
Find the Dragon and Captain Facebook page here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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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

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Backhoe Joe by Lori Alexander

BACKHOE JOE
Written by Lori Alexander
Illustrated by Craig Cameron
(Harper Collins Children’s Books; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

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Taking the traditional “rescuing a lost pet” theme and turning it right on its head, debut picture book author Lori Alexander has succeeded in writing an engaging and original story about an anthropomorphic piece of excavating equipment. With a son who was wild about trucks and a new puppy to train, Alexander found inspiration along with a clever angle. She combined the two things into one fluid, funny tale that both parents and kids will adore.

Nolan, while rock collecting, meets the lost backhoe and it doesn’t take long for the little lad to realize he’s just found his new pet. “Nolan had always wanted a pet backhoe.” Shy at first, Backhoe Joe begins to enjoy his new friend’s company. Nolan knows he’s a keeper. “Look what followed me home,” Nolan says to his parents. Now he’s got to convince his mom and dad that a pet backhoe is easy to look after. But is that even possible after Backhoe Joe’s just leaked all over the driveway? It certainly seems like training this piece of bright yellow equipment is going to be a daunting task! Kids are going to love all the surprises Alexander has in store. In fact they probably won’t mind when Joe gets reunited with his owner because it’s not the last time he’ll be seeing his friend. But the best part is that there’s still yet another twist that is super satisfying even for grownups!

The illustrations are a joy to look at. Cameron’s created several scenes where the digger’s awkward movements while trying to behave like Nolan’s pet feel believable. Readers will appreciate how hard Backhoe Joe is trying to be a good, but his bulky size is prohibitive. All the while though, the colors and expressions on the characters’ faces are cheerful and optimistic. And that’s what I enjoyed most about Backhoe Joe. It’s a positive picture book with an upbeat message about friendship and responsibility that will draw youngsters in and keep them eagerly turning the pages.

Read a sample of the book here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders

OLIVE MARSHMALLOW
Written and illustrated by Katie Saunders
(Little Bee Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

 

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Meet Archie, the main character of this adorable new picture book, Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders, inspired by her actual experience when she was expecting her second child.

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Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.

 

Archie has noticed something different at home. His mom is looking BIGGER. She shows him the ultrasound image, something I haven’t seen in other books, but was happy Saunders thought to include it.

“This is your baby sister growing in Mommy’s tummy,” she says.

Archie is going to be a big brother. Unlike most older siblings usually concerned about a new child stealing the show, this little lad only briefly wonders if he wants a baby sister because what he really likes are “cars, trains, and playing ninjas.” The only objection he seems to have about the changes afoot is all the pinkness that’s filling the house.

He is ABSOLUTELY sure that he doesn’t like fluffy, frilly, very pink things.

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Interior artwork from Olive Marshmallow written and illustrated by Katie Saunders, Little Bee Books ©2015.

For a lot of parents, Archie may seem to be the ideal son, but that’s what’s so sweet about this simple picture book. Olive Marshmallow is actually a super story to share with kids about the imminent arrival of another family member because it’s completely positive, setting it apart from so many of the rivalry-themed books. While those books are very important, and do indeed serve a purpose for helping kids find the words for feelings they may not otherwise be able to articulate, it’s refreshing to read a more innocent approach. Plus the switched on mom in the story is a reassuring presence. While things may not remain the same once the baby comes along, there will be twice the number of toys, and someone to play with (eventually). So it’s no surprise that from the moment Archie meets his marshmallow of a baby sister, it’s love at first sight.

In addition to the upbeat text, this feel good book exudes such joy as a result of Saunder’s lovely palate of soft pinks and baby blues. Her illustration style is a delightful blend of Lauren Child meets Nick Sharratt that kids will love. And you’ll notice she’s included a pet kitty you can point out to your child for some good laughs. Hint: Look for the cat dressed up in a tutu and crown. Things may not be the same anymore for Archie, but they sure will be better!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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How to Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg/Book Giveaway

WIN A SIGNED COPY OF HOW TO BEHAVE AT A TEA PARTY
Written by Madelyn Rosenberg & Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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REVIEW:

I LOVE all things tea party and Madelyn Rosenberg’s How To Behave at a Tea Party is no exception. I found myself itching to know how this adorable and entertaining picture book ended because its premise – not all tea parties go according to plan – is such fun! The cover, with the tea party hostess’s younger brother under the table reminded me of the numerous of tea parties my daughter threw many years ago. I recall running interference for her as my son’s trains and web of tracks seemed to always wind their way towards her precariously arranged party table.

Julia, the picture book’s narrator, is determined to show her little brother Charles the ins and outs of hosting a tea. Naturally you start by creating unique invitations, hand delivering them to the guests. Charles, contentedly playing with toys alongside his dog and pet frog, has a look of apprehension on his face, as do the pets. Julia’s instructions continue,

Next, you put on fancy clothes.
Wear a fancy hat.
Underwear does not count as a hat.

and though Charles and company try their best to cooperate, the results of their efforts (or lack thereof) are hysterical as witnessed in the illustration of the frog with undies covering one eye looking very much like ’40s film star, Veronica Lake. And let it be known, big sis does NOT want the McKagan brothers invited to tea, “Or the frog.” But it’s obvious from Rosenberg’s succinct and spot on prose along with Ross’s humorous illustrations that Julia is not getting her way, warranting her to “take deep breaths and count to seven.”

 

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Interior artwork from How To Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg and illustrated by Heather Ross, Katherine Tegen Books, ©2014.

 

The juxtapositioning of Julia’s attempts to remain calm and in control of her tea party while watching its decorum slowly go downhill after a series of colorful mishaps is a big part of this book’s appeal. Another is watching the chaos ensue and seeing all the kids’ (and animals’) reactions as depicted so perfectly by Ross. This “Manners! What manners?” tea party provides a great jumping off point for discussion about appropriate and inappropriate behavior while at the same time demonstrates that it’s okay if things go off course. In fact, many times it’s actually a lot more fun!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GIVEAWAY:

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Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Written by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!

Once upon a time (okay, maybe three years ago), in a not too distant land (okay, California), two talented (okay, multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling) picture book pros teamed up and created EXTRA YARN … Published in 2012 and awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2013. Now, once again, the winning and wickedly funny team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen have joined forces, this time to bring us SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE.  I’m delighted to say that with their latest (on sale October 14), these guys (Barnett & Klassen not Sam & Dave) have outdone themselves, and that’s going to mean lots of happily ever afters.  ENTER THE GIVEAWAY ENDING SOON BY CLICKING HERE.

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Pick up a copy of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4-8) written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen and you’ll see what I mean in just a few short pages. Then, at the end, which you’ll arrive at in no time because you’ve been turning the pages so quickly to see how things for Sam & Dave turn out, you’ll find yourself, along with your kids, racing back to the beginning to check things out because you’ll love, love, love what you think has happened, but want to be sure. Or not be sure, it’s totally open to interpretation and that’s all I’ll say.

In a nutshell, or in this case a hole, Sam & Dave set out (parents and caregivers take note: the action begins even before the title page), shovels on shoulders, to dig a hole. They’re joined by an attentive dog whose presence is instrumental in the story.  Sam wonders when they’ll stop, but the hole is only waist high. Dave says, “We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.” Who doesn’t recall having that same feeling of anticipation during a childhood adventure just like these boys do? So, they dig on. And readers, well readers are rooting for them, too!

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Klassen wastes no time in complementing Barnett’s excellent yet economical prose with visual humor that will keep kids engaged and thoroughly entertained. In a hilarious Abbott and Costello-like manner, the two boys seem to play Abbott’s straight man. They carry on with their mission of finding a treasure that readers see is almost within reach, so when they find nothing and change directions, or eventually split up and dig separately, the humor and tension build in the best possible way. The adorable dog, with a keen nose or sixth sense, takes on the role of the comic relief in true Lou Costello-style, and knows exactly where all the treasures are. The “so close yet so far” theme Barnett has mapped out and Klassen has illustrated is both exciting and irresistible. The pacing of each page turn is so perfect that I can almost hear kids calling out as Sam & Dave is being read to them. “Wait, don’t change direction! It’s over there!” And that kind of interaction is a treasure in itself!

It isn’t until all dug up routes lead to nothing but exhaustion that this picture book takes a final comical turn (or fall …. ) courtesy of the boys’ trusty companion, the dog. Its pursuit of a buried bone leads to what I’m certain will be this season’s most clever and talked about ending, guaranteeing countless re-readings, imaginative conversations and a spate of shovel purchases.

Recently, two adult friends and I sat down for a discussion of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, another great thing about this already terrifically entertaining picture book. It got us talking about our childhood experiences and how those might be influencing our responses to the book. One friend pointed out how the layout of the text in each spread mimicked the depth, width or action of the simple, understated yet totally spot-on artwork. The other friend wondered if the boys were brothers or cousins, and I sat thrilled to hear how animatedly we were talking about the plot and how it had affected us. In other words, just imagine what your children will be thinking after reading this gem of a book, and how wonderful it will feel to have shared that experience with them.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Mac Barnett on Twitter: @macbarnett

Jon Klassen on Twitter: @burstofbeaden 

 

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Ninja! by Arree Chung

Today, MaryAnne Locher reviews Ninja!, the picture book.
✩ Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
“High-flying fun to be read aloud or independently.”
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Ninja! by Arree Chung, Henry Holt 2014

No one is born a Ninja. It takes time and training, strength and stealth, and courage and carefulness.

In Ninja!, both written and illustrated by Arree Chung, (Henry Holt and Company 2014, $16.99, Ages 4-7) Maxwell, our young hero, is putting his Ninja ways to use: sneaking past the family dog, mounting a surprise attack on his sleeping father, and his most important mission, obtaining milk and cookies unnoticed.

Things are moving along nicely, until Maxwell’s baby sister takes a tumble and the blame is put on Maxwell. A true Ninja handles adversity with honor and respect, and never gives up. Maxwell  accepts responsibility for his actions, and comes up with a solution to keep his sister safe. He’ll train her in the ways of the Ninja.This original picture book shows children how to transform common toys, a tie, and dish gloves into Ninja gear, and addresses the problem parents and children often face when siblings are at different levels of physical development: someone always seems to get hurt.

The illustrations are rendered in acrylic paint and Photoshop. In the beginning of the book, colors, use of shadows, and the perfectly placed house plants Chung has chosen, provide a dark and mysterious setting for a Ninja on the prowl. Yellows, oranges, and reds intensify as we reach the climax of the book, and darkness comes again when Maxwell gets in trouble.

Quite the Ninja himself, Mr. Chung’s timing is perfect, his page turns are delightfully humorous, and his wording is carefully chosen to draw the reader into a Ninja mindset.

Arigato, Mr. Chung. Thank you for creating a masterful debut book.

Click here for an activity guide to the Ninja!

Click here for Chung’s blog.

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Frank! Written and Illustrated by Connah Brecon

Frank!, written and illustrated by Connah Brecon (Running Press Kids, $16.95, Ages 4-7), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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What is going on with Frank? He’s a hip, urban-dwelling kid bear in a red puffy vest and skinny jeans who is always late, but only because he is too helpful! Whether jamming with a pigeon trio, saving a cat up a tree, or helping bunnies bullied by an ogre, Frank always has an excuse. His teacher is less than pleased with his tardiness, although he does manage to be a little more on time each day.

Brecon’s illustrations are the star in this quirky, engaging story. While the story is conveyed in sharp black typeface, Brecon sets the tale in an Oliver Jeffers-esque palette and scatters hand-lettered text liberally on the page. Young readers will snicker at the odd pairings of animal and human classmates and fantastic versus realistic reasons that keep Frank from arriving on time. Seeking out the recurring pigeon and bunny trios tucked charmingly into page corners will further amuse sharp-eyed kids.

Interior art from Frank! written and illustrated by Connah Brecon, Running Press Kids ©2014.

Frank finally gets to school on time, but trouble has found him right at the classroom door. How will they cope with a giant zombie lizard king threatening the school? Frank shows that although he has not been in class very often, he has learned something about how to make friends.

Unique and delightfully unpredictable, Frank! is an imaginative tale with light-handed messages about punctuality, compassion and teamwork.

–       Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

–       Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Picture Books Back to School Giveaway

Enter our exciting picture books giveaway today!

Out here in California, lots of kids have already returned to school. Others across the country will head back after Labor Day. Either way, parents are looking for new reading material to share with their children and we’ve got a set of three new and soon-to-be-published picture books for you to win courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Clarion Books! Scroll down after the reviews for our Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway.

9780544104433_lresNANA IN THE CITY by Lauren Castillo (available in bookstores September 2, 2014) $16.99, Ages 4-8  Now a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book!!

Review: I couldn’t wait to read this book starring a Nana as one of the main characters because I, too, had a Nana and growing up there were no books mentioning Nana (unless you count Nana the big sheepdog in Peter Pan). However, unlike Nana in this story, my Nana did not live in Manhattan (the water towers on top of the buildings along with the subway art shouted the Big Apple to me.)

This picture book’s young narrator goes to stay with his grandmother “at her new apartment in the city.” From the very start, the little lad makes it clear he does not like the city nor the fact that his nana is living there. It may be a busy, loud, and scary place (Castillo’s illustrations depict construction and scaffolding, menacing-looking graffiti and homeless people asking for money) to a child, but to Nana the city is “wonderful – bustling, booming and extraordinary.”

With the help of a knitted red cape, and an eye-opening walk around the neighborhood to see close-up what is really going on, Nana shows her grandson that the city, though busy and loud, is  actually a “perfect place for a nana to live.”

Castillo’s use of primary colors interspersed with blacks and whites conveys the city’s mood and totally complements the text. Whether your child is heading to NYC or any other city for that matter, sharing Nana in the City with them is an ideal way to allay any trepidation they might have about visiting someplace new and different.

9780544233515CREATURE_FEATURES_HICREATURE FEATURES: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (available in bookstores October 4, 2014) $17.99, Ages 4-8 A Junior Library Guild Selection

Review: Creature Features’ authors and illustrators, Jenkins and Page, have come up with an interesting and fun way to engage readers in this nonfiction picture book about all sorts of animals, from the blobfish to the Egyptian vulture, from the axolotl to the thorny devil. There are so many neat new facts to learn and bright bold artwork to enjoy. By addressing each creature individually  …

Dear red squirrel:

Does that fur on  your ears help you hear better?

children will feel as if the first-animal (can’t really say first-person now can I?!) response is directed to them personally.

No. It’s there to keep my ears warm. It falls off in the summer and grows back in the winter.

There is also a spread in the end pages with a chart showing animal sizes compared to humans, a map with the locations of where the creatures live and what their diet consists of.  Check out www.stevejenkinsbooks.com/creaturefeatures to get details on this delightful book.

9780544164666SMALL BLUE AND THE DEEP DARK NIGHT by Jon Davis (available in bookstores now) $16.99, Ages 4-8

Review: Small Blue, a young rabbit, has an active imagination, especially in the deepest, darkest night. It’s then she’s convinced her bedroom is full of “creepy things” like gremlins, goblins and giant hairy spiders. In other words, all types of characters that are intent on preventing a little bunny from getting a good night’s sleep.

But Big Brown comforts Small Blue by offering up a completely new perspective after turning on the light It’s just as likely there could be delightful doggies riding around in a unicycle convention. Or, maybe a smiley spaceman is hosting “a zero-gravity birthday party.”

I love how Davis has introduced a plausible new paradigm for parents to share with an upset or  frightened child. Kids will be empowered by this picture book. They can choose to be scared of the nighttime, preoccupied by all the sneaky things lurking in the dark, or they can re-envision their room as a realm of positive possibilities; a place where doggies, spacemen and yes, even retired sock-knitting pirates parade about, and by doing so welcome the darkness as one big adventure.  And isn’t thinking that way a great way to greet the night?

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

FLASHLIGHT BY LIZI BOYD
IS REVIEWED
BY RONNA MANDEL

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Flashlight by Lizi Boyd, Chronicle Books, 2014.

Lizi Boyd’s wordless picture book, Flashlight (Chronicle Books, $15.99, Ages 2-6) makes darkness delightful, full of fun creatures to be found by a little boy camping out in the woods.

Just one flashlight shining upwards highlights bats, a surprised looking owl and raccoons all hidden in their normally pitch black homes. Shining downwards and watch out! Some skunks are nearby. Boyd’s artwork of simple grays and whites and a touch of color creates the woodsy environment suddenly brought to life by the beam of the boy’s flashlight. There’s a chalkboard quality about the illustrations that will appeal to all ages. And it wasn’t until I turned to the second enchanting spread that I noticed the clever die cuts revealing new nighttime treasures with every turn of the page.

Without words, and only images to steer the story forward, this book enables parents to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity to make up a narrative or listen as youngsters invent their own tale. Boyd’s sense of humor shines, too, as the woods get more and more full of animals and then the little boy trips, only to have his flashlight picked up by one of the forest creatures, then another and more still. This unexpected yet welcome turn of events is sure to please even the littlest of readers. It will make the next camping trip your family takes a most looked-forward-to adventure.

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Buy this book, add an adorable roaring tiger flashlight or even a mini MagLite, and you’ve got yourself one birthday present that will light up the face of any child that receives it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Milo and Millie by Jedda Robaard

Journey Across the High Seas With Milo and Millie
by Jedda Robaard is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

0763667838

 

What’s an easy recipe for fun?

You’ll need:

1 Tub of warm water
1 Paper boat
Bath toys
1 (or more) children,

Instructions:

Fill tub to desired level with water. Sprinkle in toys. Carefully add imaginative child(ren) and allow to marinate. Fun will develop instantaneously.

Milo and Millie, (Candlewick Press 2014, $14.99, Ages 2-5), by author/illustrator Jedda Robaard, is a picture book about a child’s bathtime adventure with his teddy bear. Milo and Millie see a giant duck. Toy blocks become cities, and a whale shoots them up into the air on a stream of water. Stuck in a whirlpool, they get rescued just in time to dry off and snuggle down in bed.

Robaard uses watercolor, pencil, and collage to create a watery palette of pictures, and her choice of muted blues, greens, and beiges are as soothing as a warm bath. She’s even included illustrated instructions for making a little boat. Another treat – the instructions also work to make a hat!

Warning! Always prepare recipe under adult supervision. Over marinating may result in prune-like skin and soggy paper.

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Socks! by Tania Sohn

Socks! by Tania Sohn is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

0006135_socks_300Colorful socks are for more than just keeping tootsies warm. A young girl and her adorable kitty explore what they can do with an armful of socks in Tania Sohn’s picture book, Socks! (Kane Miller EDC Publishing, 2014, $9.99, ages 2-5).

The striped socks inspire the girl to dress up like a witch and the green socks are an opportunity to hop like a frog. Knee socks are the perfect length to imitate an elephant’s trunk. What’s in the package? Special socks called beoseon that Grandma sent from Korea.

Simple in its language and concept, Socks! is a guide to seeing these everyday accessories as more than mere footwear. With a little imagination, a child can transform these foot warmers into puppets or even use them as an opportunity to become a super hero.

Socks are fun. Socks are colorful. We love socks!

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Tilly’s Staycation by Gillian Hibbs

Tilly’s Staycation, by first time picture book author/illustrator Gillian Hibbs, (Child’s Play Inc.; July 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-8), is reviewed by MaryAnn Locher.

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Tilly’s Staycation written and illustrated by Gillian Hibbs, Child’s Play, 2014.

When I first read Tilly’s Staycation, by first time picture book author/ illustrator Gillian Hibbs (Child’s Play Inc.; July 2014; Ages 3-8; $16.99), I couldn’t help but think of my own childhood. How I longed for a real vacation at some exotic getaway. A place with a built-in pool, a beach, and colorful fruity drinks with fancy paper umbrellas. Some place you couldn’t get to by car, but could only reach by plane, boat, or maybe both!

In this inventive picture book, Tilly watches as one after another of her friends sets off on vacations to India, Paris, Florida, the beach, and camping, leaving Tilly behind. Her mother says not to worry, they’ll have fun together without having to go away. Tilly, however, is skeptical. While she enjoys having a special breakfast in bed with her mom, she isn’t so sure how much fun they’ll have when the city bus they take drops them off at the library.

With a creative mom and an imaginative child, books become adventures, an ordinary picnic becomes a secret rendezvous, and swimming at the local pool – an underwater expedition. Tilly and her mom find treasures at the local market before they head back to their house to spend the night in a vacation home they build for themselves in the living room out of blankets.

Hibbs uses bright primary and cheerful secondary colors to mirror the childlike happiness her words and illustrations inspire.

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Interior spread from Tilly’s Staycation by Gillian Hibbs, Child’s Play, ©2014

Just like Tilly, I never did get that fancy family vacation, not like the ones my friends went on, but I did get to use my imagination to escape the confines of my yard and have a fun-filled summer.
By the end of the book, Tilly says, “I can’t wait to tell my friends about my staycation.”

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