The story of the Chinese zodiac is beloved in my household. InYear of the Cat, Richard Ho digs deeper to follow up on how Cat feels about not receiving a calendar year—she was pushed into a river by Rat! This story is as good as the original and then some.
Jocelyn Li Langrand’s fun illustrations begin even before the title page. I especially like the behind-the-scenes scoop on the animals such as Rat lounging in his home with telling photos on the wall or the clever places each animal lives. The dragon? A fire station!
Whether this is a familiar tale or your first read, kids will get a kick out of the teamwork and mishaps that lead to us finding out if Cat is upset she was unable to finish as one of the twelve animals. (Her answer may surprise you.) And, speaking of surprises, be sure to peek under the dust jacket to see the map-consulting image from inside the book repeated. Kids will love figuring out which paw, hoof, or claw goes with which animal, and adults can help kids count to twelve by following along the map’s edge.
Alex’s Good Fortune, a 32-page early reader, takes us through Alex’s day on Chinese New Year. She invites her best friend, Ethan, over and, together, they prepare for the holiday. Exciting moments (joining the parade and decorating) and mundane ones (sweeping away the bad luck) are illustrated expressively in vibrant colors that accentuate the kids’ emotions. I longed for dumplings as Nai Nai showed the kids how to fold and pinch, fold and pinch.
Back matter includes the pronunciation and meaning of several Chinese New Year wishes, more information about the holiday, and the Chinese zodiac.
Celebrate the Year of the Ox with Benson Shum’s likable book that’s suited for early readers or as a read-aloud story. Xīn xiǎng shì chéng (say: sin see-ang shee che-eng) / May all your wishes come true!
Written by Adam Rubin
Illustrated by Crash McCreery
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Adam Rubin (Dragons Love Tacos, Robo-Sauce,and Those Darn Squirrels) delights audiences once again with his 48-page picture book El Chupacabras. In this fractured folktale, we learn that the legendary and fearsome creature known as El Chupacabras (the goatsucker) is actually a tiny, well-dressed gentleman who drinks chocolate with the butterflies. He does, however, occasionally like to suck a goat.
English and Spanish words are interwoven with sentences beginning in one language and ending in another or switching back and forth midsentence. This inventive style organically teaches the fluidity of languages. Some lines remain in Spanish without translation, but, taken in context and with what’s been unwittingly learned, the words are simply understood.
The text is cinematically illustrated by acclaimed Hollywood creature creator, Crash McCreery, best known for his iconic character designs in the Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean films. Mischievous goat antics are a delightful through line and goat pancakes are sure to delight. This fulfilling story and its modern art engage the reader on every page.
Rubin has generously pledged to donate his proceeds from El Chupacabras to the Hispanic Federation in support of the Educational Programs and Puerto Rican hurricane relief. “I decided to tell this story in an unusual way to explore the beauty of harmony,” says Rubin. “It’s easy to dismiss the unfamiliar, but compassion takes a little more effort. With so many people trumpeting the ignorances of separation right now, it’s more important than ever to teach kids that there is more than one way to understand the world.” Hats off to these timely sentiments.
Everyone’s favorite, Tucker, is back in Tucker Digs Easter! This adorable white dog is excited about the arrival of spring “when there’s lots of soft dirt for digging!” In fact, he’s such a pro at digging all kinds of holes to hide his bones and toys that it’s no surprise when the Easter Bunny recruits him to help dig holes for the big Easter egg hunt. But what happens after the pair dig and hide so well that the children cannot find any eggs? Then it’s Tucker to the rescue to dig, dig, dig again to find those well hidden eggs and bring smiles to all the children’s faces. This 28 page board book is a great way to make new Tucker fans while getting youngsters excited about the upcoming holiday.
The Easter Egg Written and illustrated byJan Brett (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $8.99, Ages 3-5)
Do you love Jan Brett? Then you’ll be delighted The Easter Egg is now available in board book format with a gorgeous foldout spread adding to this book’s appeal. Hoppi is going to decorate his “first-ever Easter egg!” and he wants it to be extra special. Searching for ideas, Hoppi visits various friends for inspiration. Everyone is so helpful and eager to assist him, offering super suggestions and samples. But everything looks so hard to do. It’s only when Hoppi spots a fallen blue robin’s egg that he realizes what he must do. After caring for the egg and eventually befriending the baby robin, Hoppi’s good deed is rewarded by the Easter Bunny in the most satisfying way. As always, Brett’s artwork is a treat to behold. Easter-themed borders surround each sturdy page and pictures of Hoppi’s rabbit friends busy creating their egg masterpieces hug the sides. Be sure also to point out to children all the robin activity woven into each border at the top of almost every page because that’s a whole other story in itself!
Now a charming 32 page board book, The Story of The Easter Bunny transports readers to what appears to be a quaint English village filled with thatch roofed cottages and cobblestone streets. It’s here that “,,, a round old couple were making Easter eggs.” As they dutifully toiled away, their little rabbit watched. He watched until he learned their tasks by heart so that one day, when the round old couple overslept, the little rabbit knew just what he had to do. The tables turned and now the round old couple were helping their little rabbit until one day they were simply too old to continue. Afraid that the village children would find him out, the little rabbit moved to “… a shadow-filled wood nearby.” There, with help from his friends, he carried on the tradition he had learned so well and to this day the Easter Bunny continues to spread cheer by delivering his baskets to children everywhere. Sharing this store requires carefully studying the stunning spreads so as not to miss a single detail Lambert’s included. I think some yummy chocolate should be required to accompany very reading!
THE YEAR OF THE ROOSTER:
TALES FROM THE CHINESE ZODIAC
Written by Oliver Chin
Illustrated by Juan Calle
(Immedium; $15.95, Ages 3-8)
In The Year of the Rooster: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, author Oliver Chin explains how “the Chinese culture has organized time in cycles of twelve years.” Based upon the movement of the moon, the Chinese calendar matches animals’ personalities with those of individuals born in a specific year.
This final picture book, #12 in the series, features a bilingual translation in simplified Chinese and introduces readers to Ray, a plucky young rooster and his loyal pal, Ying, the farmers’ daughter. After bumping into a pig who claims to have found a fantastic phoenix feather, the pair embark on a quest to find the elusive creature.
On their journey Ray and Ying also encounter a rat, an ox, a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, a horse, a snake, a sheep, and a monkey who share their insights on the colorfully plumaged phoenix. As the friends hunt far and wide, Ray is also learning to perfect his crow, something his father has demonstrated early in the story. The significance of meeting a phoenix is raised by the snake who tells the youngsters that “seeing the phoenix is good luck. If you find her, your quest will be well worth it.” But how long must the two travel when it seems that every new animal they meet requires them to trek even further? And if they do eventually find the phoenix, will their quest truly have been worth the effort?
Along with its playful text and easy to follow storyline, The Year of the Rooster’s dazzling illustrations by Juan Calle offer children adorable cartoon-like characters to connect with. As the need for diverse books remains strong, Chin’s book is an important reminder of how invaluable reading and learning about other cultures and traditions is for growing young minds. The Chinese New Year is always a great entrée into the Chinese culture and Chin’s books, as well as all of Immedium’s titles, continue to provide this engaging content. Wishing you all a very Happy Year of the Rooster!
We love getting the word out about Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac and this year we’re delighted to share his latest, The Year of the Monkey. If you know someone born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, and of course, 2016, they were born in the Year of the Monkey. I’m proud to have been born in The Year of the Dog, but I think many readers will enjoy figuring out which family members’ birthdays fall in the Year of the Monkey.
In just 36 pages, you’ll get to learn about the Chinese culture, its New Year, and its organization of time “in cycles of twelve years,” and symbolized by the zodiac circle. This circle consists of animals whose unique personality traits are supposed to be representative of those found in individuals born under that symbol.
The little monkey Max was born to the Queen and her prankster husband, the Monkey King. “A chimp off the old block,” Max was eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, so much so that when he began school, he found it difficult to sit still and follow the teacher’s instructions. Maybe you know a child like this, or were just like Max when you were a child. Playing a sport is often a great way to channel all this pent up energy and that’s exactly what Max did. His friend Kai introduced him to jianzi, or shuttlecock, and was soon noticed by the coach. “Practice your technique and not your talking and you’ll go far.”
Encouraged by his father, Max was eager to register for the annual shuttlecock tournament to try to beat the reigning champions. First though, Max, along with his pal, Kai, had to practice, practice, practice to earn a place in the big match. The boys’ commitment to honing their jianzi skills proved successful. While not initially keen on Max pursuing the sport, Max’s mother was impressed with his devotion. She even advised him to find a “special move,” something the Monkey King was thrilled to provide. After making it past the semi-finals and into the finals, the boys were now poised to face off with their formidable opponents, Tiger and Dragon, depicted as three times their size and certain of winning. Though the boys battled valiantly, it looked like they couldn’t defeat the champs. That is, until Max unleashed his powerful “Monkey Spike,” in an upset that allowed the boys to beat the best! Keeping this happy ending in mind, it’s no surprise that, in the book’s back matter, we learn from Chin that “People born in the Year of the Monkey are carefree, curious, and crafty. They are playful, nimble, and persistent. But they can be impetuous and naughty, and sometimes show off. Though they are fond of mischief, monkeys keep their eyes on the prize and are indispensable allies.”
Children will quickly find themselves rooting for Max and Kai to defeat the Tiger and the Dragon and achieve what seemed like the unattainable. This story of perseverance and triumph is fast-paced and easy to follow. Plus for the first time, there’s text written in simplified Chinese characters making this bilingual book a great introduction for non-Chinese speakers and those already fluent who prefer a translation.The rainbow colored artwork, rendered by Dreamworks Feature Animation storyboard artist, Kenji Ono, brings the story to life as we watch Max and Kai prepare for the big contest.
I can easily see this book on school library bookshelves as its subject matter is really quite universal. The book is filled with strong action verbs, some which may be new to youngsters. These wonderful examples convey how words, complemented by fun illustrations, can add to the overall reading experience even make reading aloud for parents enjoyable and entertaining.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Ziggy’s Big Idea written by Ilana Long and illustrated by Rasa Joni (Kar-Ben Publishing; 2014; $17.95; Ages 5-9) is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan. I like bagels, especially mixed orange and cranberry, but I don’t know anything about them really.
Ziggy’s Big Idea presents one interpretation of the bagel’s origin. Ziggy is an inventive young boy, full of ideas, such as a square ball that doesn’t roll into the street. However, his ideas don’t always work out quite as Ziggy hopes. Just read about Rabbi Levi and the “shulstilts” that Ziggy made so that the Rabbi can “see the congregation over the bimah.” Ziggy’s father works in the bakery. So when the baker’s customers complain that “the buns are undercooked at the center,” Ziggy is determined to help! Will he be of use or just get in the way?
This informative read has additional resources, including a bagel recipe and theories on the bagel’s humble beginnings. It also presents life in a shtetl and uses Yiddish words and phrases. The artwork is full of interesting details, such as storks nesting on chimneys and era décor. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get a bagel at my local handy drive-thru bagel shop.
Visit www.karben.com for up-to-date details on highly reviewed and award winning titles from Kar-Ben Publishing and visit ebooks.karben.com to purchase and instantly download Kar-Ben books!
Mark your calendars L.A. readers. The illustrator, Jennifer Wood, will be at Kidspace Children’s Museum on 2/1/14 for a reading and signing of the book. She’ll be at Vromans in Pasadena on
2/8/14, at 10:30 a.m.
Did you know that the Chinese New Year is a 15 day holiday based on the movement of the moon, and is organized in cycles of 12 years? The way the years get named comes from the Chinese zodiac which is made up of 12 animals, each with unique qualities, and each belonging to certain years. I discovered that I was born in The Year of the Dog, but that’s a whole ‘nother story! The Chinese culture believes that if your birth year falls under a particular animal, both you and that animal should share the same personality traits.
In The Year of the Horse, ninth in the Talesfrom the Chinese Zodiac series, readers will meet Hannah, a foal and Tom, the boy who befriends her. Together the two play whenever they can and grow close as Hannah grows stronger. When Tom’s teacher Lao Shi is requested to paint something special for the Governor, she worries how the artwork will be delivered to the capital so far away. Tom volunteers, but Lao Shi tells him, “The journey is too long and wild to walk alone … Someone must go with you.” Since the picture book is titled The Year of the Horse, it may come as no surprise then to children that Hannah is eager to be considered capable of the task and partner with Tom on the journey.
However, getting to the capital safely is not easy. Hannah’s parent advise her, “Dear, keep on the path and stay alert.” And while both Tom and Hannah are responsible, little do they know what challenges await them on their trip. Wood, an animation designer at Nickelodeon, brings her vivid, kid-friendly style to The Year of the Horse, making every page feel like a scene from a TV show. Kids will love the look of the various animals included in the story including an ox, a dog, a sheep, a dragon, a tiger, a snake and a monkey. They’ll also get easily caught up in the adventure Chin’s created. After some very close calls, Tom and Hannah arrive at the capital and deliver to the Governor the scroll Lao Shi’s painted. Once home, the two are welcomed and cheered. Hannah’s displayed valiant spirit as has Tom. They “blazed their own trail” and succeeded. No wonder the Year of the Horse celebrates their derring-do. I loved the positive “can-do” message the book conveyed, and though our kids are not going to be sent on such a mission, they’ll enjoy the vicarious experience and understand the pride that Lao Shi and Hannah’s parents feel about the pair’s major accomplishment.
Do you share those qualities with Tom and Hannah or know someone who does? According to the back matter in the book, “People born in the Year of the Horse are energetic and animated. They are proud and love attention … ”
Today’s must-have, Santa Claus: All About Me (by Me), written and illustrated by Juliette and John Atkinson, (Minedition Books, $34.95, all ages) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.
Santa Claus: All About Me (By Me)is simply a gorgeous book. Perfect for the Christmas-lover in your life, it is chock full of information and astounding artwork. The reader learns many interesting details about the evolution and history of Santa and Christmas throughout the world and the ages. For instance, did you know that Christmas was officially banned in England during 1647-1660 and then in America during 1659-1681? Christmas crackers—those fun, paper, party poppers—were invented by an English confectioner named Tom Smith in 1847. They have been an English tradition, filled with a paper crown, a trinket, and a joke, ever since. Today, Santa is seen as wearing red; however, earlier portrayals had him in luxurious green and blue gowns.
Presented as Santa’s own scrapbook, and two years in the making, Santa Claus: All About Me has flaps, booklets, a sixpence, recipes, a 3-D snowflake, letters, and so much more to explore. Every time I open this book, I discover something new. The artwork ranges from historical representations of Santa, such as etchings, to photographs and paintings. A wide range of co-characters fills the pages. Some such as Mrs. Christmas (Mrs. Claus) and the elves are to be expected, but in comes Charles Darwin. What could possibly be the connection? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Santa Claus: All About Me is a wonderful choice for a coffee table or gift book that will provide hours of entertaining and informative reading, as well as a visual feast. Your family will look forward to taking it out, displaying and sharing it for years to come.
My Pen Pal, Santa, by Melissa Stanton with illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell (Random House Books for Young Readers, $9.99, Ages3-7), is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.
There are few things in this world that make me happier than Christmas. I don’t get aggravated by retailers who advertise earlier every year. Nor do I get annoyed by the local radio station that plays Christmas music beginning mid-November. I love the traditions of the holiday, both religious and commercial. I also love the food, festivities, and of course, Santa Claus. So, when I came across My Pen Pal, Santa written by Melissa Stanton and illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, I knew this was a book I was meant to review. After all, how many of you can say the only songs you have ever downloaded from iTunes are of the Christmas variety?
Six year old Ava writes a thank you note to Santa Claus after Christmas. In it she asks him a couple of important questions, such as, “Why didn’t you eat the cookies I left you?” While Santa is certainly surprised to get a letter after Christmas, he nonetheless sends off a response answering Ava’s questions. He even signs his letter Merry Christmas! So begins a monthly correspondence between jolly old St. Nick and the little girl.
I enjoyed how many of my (I mean children’s) concerns were answered throughout this charmingly illustrated book. Does Santa know the tooth fairy? What about the Easter Bunny? What do he and Mrs. Claus do during the off season? Most importantly, for those of us without fireplaces, how does Santa deliver presents to children without chimneys? We (I mean kids) need to know this stuff, right? My Pen Pal, Santa even addresses believers and non-believers in an open and loving way.
Parents, see what magic happens when you read this book with your child. It’s just perfect for a 3-7 year old who might already be questioning Santa’s existence, but still wants to believe. And who doesn’t?
Click here for Santa Stationery created by Jennifer A. Bell.