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For President’s Day Read About Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler by Steve Sheinkin

ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRO WRESTLER
TIME TWISTERS BOOK ONE
Written by Steve Sheinkin
Illustrated by Neil Swaab
(Roaring Brook Press; $13.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler Time Twisters Book One cover illustration

 

 

Don’t let the title, Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler, convince you that this totally entertaining and educational read is comprised of our 16th president traipsing around in a wrestling singlet. It is actually the first in a clever fiction chapter book series that features lots of laugh out load moments that kept me turning the pages to see how the two main characters, step-siblings Abby and Doc, would pull off some whimsical time travel twists that bring Abraham Lincoln’s presidency to life but could also change the course of history.

The story unfolds with the kids in Ms. Maybee’s history class being instructed to read aloud from their textbook section about Honest Abe. When the teacher tries to get her students involved, the general reaction is a resounding “BORING!” It turns out, though, that their disinterest has negatively impacted historical figures including Lincoln. Because of that, when Ms. Maybee’s class attempts to read about America’s influential president and his profound impact on our country’s history, the students can only find references to Abraham Lincoln essentially doing zilch—”sitting in a chair, reading or heading off to the outhouse.”

In an interesting scene that sets the stage for all the story’s zany action, Lincoln travels to the present to offer words of caution. “Saying I’m boring, groaning in agony when it comes time to read about history. As I said, today was just a warning. If you do it again—well, you’ll see.” The next attempt to study the 16th president also fails, but instead of Lincoln returning to the library storage room to warn Abby and Doc, Doc disappears into the same box (portal) that brought Lincoln to the present from 1860 Illinois. Abby follows and the two wind up outside of Lincoln’s house. There they meet Lincoln and his wife, Mary who tells them the election is tomorrow. With her husband no longer caring, Mary and the kids are worried. “Then we’re doomed! … The country will break apart! Everything we have worked for—all thrown away!” The kids feel awful, certain they’ve screwed with fate, especially after their dad, Mr. Douglass, also a teacher, impresses upon the two how important history is. “But knowing history makes you smarter, helps you understand the world better. Mostly, it’s just fun.”

The problem is Doc and Abby now need to get Abraham Lincoln engaged again while also getting their classmates to realize how much history matters. This may not be easy. When Lincoln hears about a school fundraiser, a pro wrestling match scheduled for that evening, he’d much rather quit the past and attend the big event. He just happens to be in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame! At the same time, Doc has time travelled back to election day with the gym teacher, Mr. Biddle, who earlier dressed as Honest Abe (a term he despised) for a special surprise presentation at school. His goal: get the real Lincoln concerned enough to step back into his rightful place and accept the presidency. I especially liked this part because of all the facts about Lincoln that Sheinkin shares and how the two Abes get up to all sorts of shenanigans along with Abby and Doc. There’s so much humor infused into this history lesson that readers will not even realize how much fun they’re having learning about a time when our country was so “bitterly divided, mainly over the issue of slavery.” Kids will breeze through the eighteen chapters and will be delighted to learn there are more books available already in this pleasing series. The cartoon-like illustrations by Swaab add to the silliness as well as offer an easy way into absorbing history for the more reluctant readers.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for Reading Guide for Teachers

Start reading the story here.

 

 

 

 

Read more about Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words.

Visiting L.A. With Little Ones This Summer? Bring Along Los Angeles Is …

LOS ANGELES IS …
Written by Elisa Parhad
Illustrated by Alexander Vidal
(Cameron Kids; $12.95, Ages 0-4)

 

Los Angeles Is ... by Elisa Parhad cover illustration

 

If you’re planning to visit Los Angeles this summer or sometime soon, or perhaps you even live here, get yourself a copy of Los Angeles Is … by Elisa Parhad to experience the city in a fun new way. This original and engaging approach to L.A. in board book format is not only full of refreshing tour guide language little ones will love, but is spot on in its perspective. Los Angeles Is … looks at L.A. from two savvy insiders’ points of view (both author and illustrator are Angelenos) and highlights aspects of “one of America’s most iconic cities” that not all books touch upon. And I’m happy to say, it’s the first in a series of regional board books by Parhard with illustrator Alexander Vidal.

The 24 vibrantly colored pages and clever descriptions bring young readers on an enticing tour of the town taking in everything L.A. from surfing waves / fashion faves …

 

Interior illustrations waves and faves from Los Angeles Is ... by Elisa Parhad

Interior artwork from Los Angeles Is … written by Elisa Parhad and illustrated by Alexander Vidal, Cameron Kids/Cameron + Company ©2018.

 

… to citrus fruits / long commutes. The rhyme is perfectly paired with the pictures (as seen above and below) and rather than including only the same old expected spots and landmarks, there are lots of unexpected sights (late-night diners / mod designers) mixed with ones always worth noting (canyon views / movie crews). Another aspect of L.A. that we’d prefer to forget—long commutes—is also depicted because it’s part and parcel of daily life in the City of Angels.

 

Interior illustrations fruits and commutes from Los Angeles Is ... by Elisa Parhad

Interior artwork from Los Angeles Is … written by Elisa Parhad and illustrated by Alexander Vidal, Cameron Kids/Cameron + Company ©2018.

 

Parents will appreciate the realistic portrait of California’s biggest city while toddlers will like the upbeat rhythm and enchanting artwork. Illustrator and designer  Vidal captures the sunshine and sophistication of L.A. and its array of attractions in images familiar to many and warm and welcoming to others. Make a game out of reading Los Angeles Is … together with your child to try to name places and things to do from A-Z including airport, farmers market, orange orchard and Rodeo Drive.

 

Interior illustrations eats and feats from Los Angeles Is ... by Elisa Parhad

Interior artwork from Los Angeles Is … written by Elisa Parhad and illustrated by Alexander Vidal, Cameron Kids/Cameron + Company ©2018.

 

I found myself quite partial to Vidal’s characters and animals with their pointy legs and no feet yet somehow that style works wonderfully. I also enjoyed how everything else, whether palm-lined streets, food truck treats, low-ride cruising or poolside snoozing is depicted with bold graphic shapes such as ovals, rectangles, circles and squares, maybe not intentionally done as a learning tool, but still ideal for pointing out to little ones.

I recommend picking up a copy of Los Angeles Is … to make any visit more meaningful to youngsters and, while you’re at it, get an extra copy for a friend with children four and under. I know you’ll find it as delightful as I did.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another travel-themed board book here.

 

Let The Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

LET THE CHILDREN MARCH
Written by Monica Clark-Robinson
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, ages 6-9)

is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

The 1963 Children's Crusade Cover image Let The Children March

 

 

★Starred reviews – Kirkus, Horn Book, School Library Journal

On a warm May day in 1963, young feet took the first steps on an inspiring crusade for civil rights. Through the observant eyes of a fictionalized girl, debut author Monica Clark-Robinson depicts the momentous events surrounding the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in LET THE CHILDREN MARCH, illustrated by Frank Morrison.

As the book opens, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has delivered a compelling speech calling for peaceful protest that has touched his listeners’ hearts and minds. But the adults feel torn by their desire to take action and their responsibilities to home and family. The children, equally moved, volunteer to unite and march in their parents’ stead. Dressed in their best clothes, the apprehensive but determined marchers walk hand in hand for change and freedom. Clark-Robinson pulls no punches in her succinct and moving descriptions of the events, noting the angry crowds, potent threats, and physical dangers. Yet her poetic text is underscored by the palpable sense of pride, courage and hope that sustain the young marchers throughout their ordeal, from march to imprisonment to release.

Morrison’s vibrant illustrations powerfully enhance Clark-Robinson’s tale, bringing to life the intensity of terrible experiences that the marchers endured. Adults as well as children are represented with portrait-like detail throughout. They convey serious, determined dignity through their steady eyes and calm, straight-shouldered stances. While the faces are ultimately most compelling, Morrison incorporates signs, hoses, flags and fences that communicate the hostile environment with depth and poignancy.

LET THE CHILDREN MARCH will surely spur important and essential conversations between young readers and the adults who share this book with them. Additional information is supplied in an afterword, a bibliography and sources of quotations. A timeline, illustrated across the endpapers, grounds the tale from beginning to end by showcasing the young faces that helped sow the first seeds for justice and freedom.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Ordinary People Change The World: I am George Washington by Brad Meltzer

ORDINARY PEOPLE CHANGE THE WORLD:
I AM GEORGE WASHINGTON
Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Dial BYR; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

cover image of I am George Washington by Brad Meltzer

 

For Presidents’ Day 2017, let’s take a look at Brad Meltzer’s I am George Washington, another terrific biography in the popular and entertaining Ordinary People Change The World series. These books serve as a great introduction to some of the world’s greatest heroes and historical figures while emphasizing that individuals are not born into greatness but work hard to achieve it, earning the public’s trust, respect and admiration along the way. Each person depicted in the series has demonstrated proven leadership skills or unique knowledge making them worthy of inclusion.

The fourth of nine children, George Washington had great people skills, something needed in a large family, and eventually, to run a nascent country. Back when Washington was growing up, there was no U.S.A. yet, only colonies ruled by Great Britain. Readers will learn how Washington’s older brother Lawrence, fourteen years his senior, had a positive impact on his younger brother. In fact, a soldier himself, Lawrence influenced Washington’s decision to serve in the military. When his father died, Washington’s family could no longer “afford proper schooling so my brothers had to teach me at home.” At sixteen, Washington worked as a surveyor in the Shenandoah Valley with a wealthy family called the Fairfaxes. They treated him kindly and exposed him to the finer things in life. Yet, despite the opportunity to hobnob with the rich, Washington never forgot his roots and all the people less privileged than the Fairfaxes. He later fulfilled his childhood dream by joining the military, showing bravery and leadership in battle and being made “commander of all Virginia’s fighting forces.” George Washington also ran for office, and though he lost at his first attempt, he won all future elections.

 

George Washington Timeline from Ordinary People Change the World

Interior spread of George Washington Timeline from Ordinary People Change the World: I am George Washington by Brad Meltzer with illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos, Dial Books ©2016.

 

When the American Revolution began in protest against high taxes imposed by Britain, “Our thirteen colonies decided we would fight together against King George III.” Washington was chosen to lead the battle. Cleverness, determination and unparalleled leadership helped the less experienced military of the colonies defeat the mighty British led, of course, by General George Washington. And the rest, of course is history, with Washington being selected as the first president of the United States of America.

What I love about Meltzer’s writing and Eliopoulos’ artwork is that they make learning about these important people so accessible, interesting and fun. Who doesn’t love seeing a miniature George Washington on every page or having him narrate his life’s story? Picking out the most relevant aspects of any individual’s life is never easy and to condense them into a picture book biography for elementary school aged kids and still be meaningful takes a lot of experience, something best-selling author Meltzer has lots of! The choice of Eliopoulos as illustrator is just icing on the cake and I cannot imagine this series with any other style artwork. And did I notice author Meltzer drawn into one spread near the end? See for yourself and let me know.

“Leadership doesn’t come from charisma or personality.
It comes from courage:
The courage to do what’s right.
The courage to serve others.
The courage to go first.”

And George Washington, the father of our country, had enough courage for an entire nation and we celebrate him today.

Ordinary People Change the World website
Brad Meltzer website
Christopher Eliopoulos website

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Children’s Books for Inauguration Day

Best Books for Inauguration Day 2017

 

As our nation’s 45th president, Donald Trump, is sworn in, it feels fitting to share these three presidential-themed picture books looking at all aspects of a presidency including leadership qualities, first ladies and pets. Enjoy the variety!

 

cover image of President SquidPresident Squid
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Sara Varon
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Meet Squid. He’s going to be president and he’s going to be “the greatest president who ever lived.” Towards this goal Squid’ll do five things other presidents have done including:
1. Wearing ties.
2. Living in an enormous house (don’t miss the shark who has just taken a bite out of Squid’s home and is quickly leaving the scene.
3. Being famous and having a book named after him.
4. Talking so everyone has to listen.
5. Bossing everybody.
But somehow the way Squid conveys those qualities doesn’t seem to go over too well with all the other fish in the sea. It takes a very little sardine stuck in a clamshell to explain the true qualities of a special leader which Squid attempts to do. Ultimately though, this all proves to be too exhausting and the way Squid sees it, it might be even better to be king!
Though published last year, the tongue-in-cheek humor of this story still resonates today. Reynolds has found a fun way to help parents make kids laugh while starting the conversation about ego, leadership and character. Varon’s illustrations depicting a hot pink squid jump off the page and grab our attention just like Squid wants.

Cover image of What's The Big Deal About First LadiesWhat’s The Big Deal About First Ladies
Written by Ruby Shamir
Illustrated by Matt Faulkner
(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

One of the What’s The Big Deal About new series of books, this entertaining and informative picture book is a timely read as we welcome on the second foreign-born first lady to the White House, the first being Louisa Adams. Melania Trump is following in the footsteps of some amazing women including Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and so many more.

Author and former White House staffer (including two years working in the first lady’s office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then leading her NY Senate office), Ruby Shamir poses a bunch of questions that kids might ask about the role of first lady. She answers them but doesn’t rely on lengthy responses. Rather she uses fact boxes to highlight some of the most meaningful and interesting contributions America’s first ladies have made.

“I’m so excited to offer young readers a window into the most important contributions this diverse array of patriotic women have made to our culture and history,” says author Shamir. “Even when women’s opportunities were hampered by custom or law, America’s first ladies turned an ill-defined, very public role into an opportunity to serve our country and shine a spotlight on our finest ideals.”

What’s The Big Deal About First Ladies helps young readers gain insight into the many responsibilities of a first lady. The following examples will also help youngsters appreciate the positive impact first ladies can make on our country: Did you know that Abigail Adams was not only a first lady but the first second lady (Vice President’s wife)? Or that Julia Grant opened up White House events to curious reporters? Or that Grace Coolidge was famous for having a pet raccoon named Rebecca, and having taught deaf children, she got her husband to pay attention to people with disabilities? Mary Todd Lincoln was the first first lady to welcome African Americans to the White House as guests. And when Eleanor Roosevelt learned opera singer Marian Anderson was banned from a concert hall for being African American, Roosevelt was instrumental in getting her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead!

Shamir’s keen curation of which first ladies to cover invites curious children to delve deeper with additional reading.  Faulkner’s artwork gives a loose interpretation of the featured women, honing in on some key aspects of the first ladies’ lives and breathing life into every scene. There’s also a handy list in the back matter of all the presidents, their term dates and the first ladies’ names that, along with the fascinating content, make this an excellent addition to any classroom or library.

Cover image from Presidential PetsPresidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary,
Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House
Written by Julia Moberg
Illustrated by Jeff Albrecht Studios
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $7.48, Ages 3-7)

A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens?
Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces with each turn of the page.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL:
HOW ART TRANSFORMED A NEIGHBORHOOD
by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
(HMH Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

maybe-something-beautiful-cvr

 

My praise might be late in coming, but my love is not. Maybe Something Beautiful, a picture book from this past spring, simply stole my heart. I first saw it at the bookstore where I work and it was truly love at first sight. It happens with books, the great ones anyway and this is a great book.

Based on a true story, this picture book chronicles the transformation of East Village near downtown San Diego. Rafael and Candice Lopez helped  turn their neighborhood from a drab, gray place into one full of vibrant color. That’s exactly what you see in this book. The vibrancy of color washes over the dull world of one little girl named Mira. Her own room is full of light and color, even if her neighborhood is not.

As Mira begins giving pieces of her art away to people, the world becomes a little less gray. Mira herself is a child that seems to have come straight from a gorgeous box of paints. Her joy and life are seen visually in the brilliant colors with which she is depicted. Joyous paint splotches leave a trail behind her like pixie dust as she gives her art to more monotone community members. Still, how much gray can one person transform on her own? Enter one magical artist with a plan. A pocket-full-of-paintbrushes man, an artist, asks Mira what can she imagine being on a gray wall?

“Then, just like that, he dipped a brush into the paint. BAM! POW!
The shadows scurried away.
Sky blue cut through the gloom.
The man’s laughter was like a rainbow spreading across the sky.”

The Muralist and Mira happily go on painting the city’s walls, attracting a growing crowd of neighbors who all join them in painting just about everything. Soon that gray has no place to go! It was all something beautiful until a policeman arrives, looking quite stern. Not to fear, all is well as the policeman just wants to join in all the painting fun! The book ends with the whole city born again in colors and light. Mira wonders if just one more miracle is possible as she tries to paint a bird, a real bird, thinking maybe, just maybe that could happen too.

When you’re done reading the enchanting Maybe Something Beautiful  the colors stay with you, and so does Mira’s story. I find myself thinking, “Maybe something beautiful can come out of any gray day. Maybe today will be a full color day.” After all art, the great liberator, comes to visit any day I want. I just need the courage to practice it. So today was my full color day because I got to practice my art of writing. This makes me think that I need to splash a little color on those who made this book that I enjoy so much.

Campoy and Howell’s text makes the story burst into life! The short scene with the police officer added just enough shadow to make the story interesting, but not enough to ruin the fun. Lopez’s illustrations are amazing as always, his use of color replenishes my heart. The way his artwork shows the neighborhood and the people in it all absorbing the color around them is captivating. It makes me want to get a brush and join them. This is a wonderful book for anyone. What it taught me is that beauty is everywhere, but if you don’t see it then you need to be the one who makes it apparent. See some gray? Don’t look for a problem, but rather, see a canvas of possibility. Maybe something beautiful will come of it.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

Visit the website for Maybe Something Beautiful  here.
Visit F. Isabel Campoy’s website here.
Visit Theresa Howell’s website here.
Visit Rafael Lopez’s website here.

Diana’s White House Garden by Elisa Carbone

 

DIANA’S WHITE HOUSE GARDEN
Written by Elisa Carbone
Illustrated by Jen Hill
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Diana's White House Garden book cover

 

Diana’s White House Garden takes place in 1943 when the US is at war. Ten-year-old Diana Hopkins lives in the White House because her father, Harry Hopkins, is President Roosevelt’s chief advisor. When the president announces, “we all need to do our part to win this war,” Diana considers how she can contribute and soon tests her skills as a spy and a city official. Clearly, she’s better at playing with the Roosevelts’ little Scottish terrier, Fala. Next, Diana tries leaving sharp pins in the satin chairs to deter the enemies; it doesn’t have the effect she hoped for.

President Roosevelt decides to ship most of the food grown by US farmers to the soldiers, ensuring they are well fed and strong. He declares that Americans should grow their own food, turning backyards and vacant lots into Victory Gardens, starting with one on the White House lawn. Diana offers to help, excited to begin.

She works with Eleanor Roosevelt and the groundskeeper. Soon the garden sprouts—only to be nibbled down by hungry rabbits. Enlisting Fala does the trick; the dog is able to keep the rabbits out while Diana learns from Mrs. Roosevelt that, “sometimes you just have to start over.”

The story comes to fruition with their first delicious harvest. As Diana and her father dine with the Roosevelts, the reader gains intimate access into a world rarely revealed to the general public. This book successfully conveys the human element at the heart of all meaningful relationships, whether between president and citizen or girl and dog.

Sepia-tone paper perfectly accompanies the lively illustrations which depict well-researched scenes from the 1940s. We travel through this important historical period with Diana, understanding the timelessness of childhood. The opening line says it all, “Diana Hopkins lived in a white house.” An enduring need for community—whether you live in a white house or in the White House—connects this seventy-three-year-old story with families today.

Find educational resources and more about author Elisa Carbone here.
Visit illustrator Jen Hill’s website here.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

Best Picture Books for National Poetry Month

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

Every April during National Poetry Month, we like to share some poetry books we hope children will enjoy reading, ones that perhaps will pave the path towards a greater appreciation of poetry. The books don’t have to be in rhyme although our littlest readers do love the sound of cats and bats and rats who wear hats. If you’re interested in exposing youngsters to all different kinds of poetry, consider the following picture books and also ask your librarian for suggestions or head to your local independent bookstore today.

National Poetry Month Picture Books My ChinatownMy Chinatown: One Year in Poems
Written and illustrated by Kam Mak
(HarperCollins; $6.99, Ages 4-8)
Reading My Chinatown allows to us experience a young boy’s adjustment to New York’s Chinatown after moving there from Hong Kong. This realistically illustrated (at first I thought photographs filled the book) story is divided into seasons beginning in winter and ending again in winter, a full, activity-filled year later. We see the boy not enjoying his new country’s New Year celebration. Instead, he spends time reflecting on his grandmother’s pickeled kumquats back in Hong Kong. All the while the narrator wonders, “But how can it ever be a good year thousands of miles away from home?” His feelings of detachment are strong. Always thinking of his former home, the young boy resists learning English, wanting to cling to his comfortable past rather than risk moving forward. Being given a board game like the one he had at home marks a turning point in the story. From the calming rhythm of his mother’s sewing machine, to a dragon boat race in Queens, from the familiar sound of mah-jongg tiles “slapping the table”, to making new friends, as the seasons pass, the narrator is starting to feel at home. And, at last, taking part in the following New Year’s festivities, it’s clear that he finally feels that Chinatown is where he belongs.

National Poetry Month Picture Books A Great Big CuddleA Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 3-7)
It’s never too early to read poetry to children. And Rosen, a former UK Children’s Laureate sure knows it! In this accessible and varied collection of over 30 poems, there’s something for everyone including silliness and seriousness, sounds and interactive play. Young children are going to find themselves asking for these fun, often humorous poems to be read over and over again. Without even realizing it, kids’ll learn animal sounds, emotions, counting and some clever puns – read I Went to see what I mean – while appreciating the punchy rhymes, fast pace and kid-oriented topics. Current UK Children’s Laureate, Riddell, has provided artwork that feels more like the prolific illustrator Shirley Hughes than the Riddell illustrations we’ve seen accompany other  children’s books. His range and talent are showcased in this collection that begs to be on little ones’ bookshelves.

National Poetry Month Picture Books In the Land of WordsIn The Land of Words: New and Selected Poems
Written by Eloise Greenfield
Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
(Amistad; $6.99, Ages 4-8)

Visit “The Land of  Words” with NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Winner, Eloise Greenfield. She’ll take you and your children through pages of inspiring poems as her lyrical language rains down on you and waters the soul. With over 20 wonderful poems in the collection, In The Land of Words felt like a mentor’s embrace, a call to action to create and an urging to just soak up every moment.Greenfield was spot on, if you can say that about a poem, in both rhythm and description of the patience involved when fishing in To Catch a Fish. I particularly enjoyed Making Friends about how something as simple as making a silly face can be the start of a friendship. Flowers is a touching tribute to stepparents. This one shares the pride and love a stepfather feels at his stepdaughter’s solo performance. Books, Story, and Poet/Poem will speak to readers and writers everywhere. This line, from books, especially resonated for me, “New faces and new voices, I listen and I see, and people I have never met mean everything to me.” If you love words, don’t miss this collection complemented by Gilchrist’s multi-media artwork that includes felt, embroidery and what looks like markers, making this book all the more satisfying. Overall I found myself quite enchanted by the cleverness from start to finish.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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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Best Thanksgiving Books

BEST THANKSGIVING BOOKS
A ROUNDUP

ThanksgivingBooks

 

Here’s a variety of our favorite Thanksgiving books this year, some that celebrate the food or beverages of the fall season and others that shed light on an aspect of Thanksgiving we may not have thought about recently. We hope you’ll take some time out of your busy holiday preparations to read with your child or share one of these books with them to read on their own. Wishing all of you a most joyous Thanksgiving 2015. Happy reading and eating!

 

ThanksgivingParadecvr 
Thanksgiving Parade with illustrations by Melanie Matthews,
(Price Stern Sloan; $5.99, Ages 3 and up):
In this cheerful, sturdy, 12 page rhyming board book, kids get a front row seat for the famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a decades old NYC tradition chockablock with fabulous floats and brilliantly colored and shaped balloons, so many stories high. Of course no parade would be complete without marching bands and a visit from old St. Nick. This die cut board book is sure to set the countdown to Christmas in motion.

 

TimeforCranberriescvrTime for Cranberries Written by Lisl H. Detlefsen with illustrations by Jed Henry
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
We’re treated to an insider’s look at growing and harvesting cranberries which, for fans of this fruit, is not just a Thanksgiving treat, but a year round treasure. Author Detlefsen “lives on a cranberry marsh in Wisconsin” and knows her stuff.  She tells the story from a young boy’s point of view. He’s finally old enough to participate in harvesttime rather than watching from the wings and takes joy in every aspect of the process. And it is a process, a time consuming one that involves booming, corralling, cleaning and a lot of other steps before the cranberries are ready for delivery at the receiving station. Henry’s illustrations perfectly complement Detlefsen’s prose and provide a good look at how involved being a cranberry grower can be. The author’s note helps readers get a good idea about the history of the industry and the back matter also includes two recipes and a handy glossary.

FromAppleTreestoCiderPleaseFrom Apple Trees to Cider Please Written by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky with illustrations by Julia Patton
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Chernesky takes us to an apple orchard where all kinds of apples are ripe for the plucking. There are Honeycrisp (my current fave), Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Fuji trees and an apple picking family is filling up baskets with a nice assortment. After the family’s done they head over to the cider mill where they’re shown how the apple cider press works to extract the juice. Patton’s artwork is scrumptious and whimsical while Chernesky’s rhyme never misses a beat. “Clean the apples. Check for worms. Wash and dry them. No more germs.” This picture book is an ideal read-aloud for fall and will have you salivating for a cup of hot mulled cider by the end, if not sooner!

TheBoyWhoFellOffTheMayflower The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune
Written and illustrated by P.J. Lynch
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)
This not-to-miss story brings to life the tale of the Mayflower’s voyage as seen through the eyes of an indentured servant to John Carver named John Howland.  I learned about the Pilgrims so long ago that it was not only refreshing to read this new perspective, but enlightening, too.

Lynch does a bravura job both with the execution of his evocative, muted artwork as well as with his economy of words. He embellishes little yet shares enough to put us right alongside Howland every step of the way. The story opens as Howland leaves London and heads off on the grueling journey across the Atlantic to help his master, John Carver, set up a colony in Virginia. But things don’t go quite as planned and the Mayflower ends up in New England, but not before a huge wave partway through the voyage sends Howland “flying over the side.” Fortune, as the book’s title says, seems to be with Howland everywhere on his trip as he was seen falling overboard and a rope was immediately thrown to rescue him. While half of the Pilgrims died either during the voyage or by the time the first winter had ended, Howland did not succumb to illness and survived to benefit from Squanto’s knowledge of the land. The descriptions of the three day Thanksgiving feast and Howland’s burgeoning relationship with one of the Pilgrims, Lizzy Tilley, add to the richness of this book and will no doubt spark interest in readers to dive even deeper into the history of the Pilgrims in the New World.

ThanksgivingActivityBookThanksgiving Activity Book
Written by Karl Jones with illustrations by Joey Chou
(Price Stern Sloan; $9.99, Ages 3 and up)
Keep kids busy this Thanksgiving holiday with an activity book that starts off with some interesting facts then includes a bunch of Thanksgiving themed activities such as a word find, a crossword puzzle before moving onto traditional Thanksgiving recipes (pumpkin soup and corn bread) to be done with adult supervision. Best of all, there are clever craft ideas from a fall-leaf placemat to corn-husk dolls. I really liked the press-out paper crafts, in fact, I plan to make the turkey centerpiece. If that’s not enough, there’s a slew of stickers to keep kids thoroughly occupied as they create their very own Thanksgiving mini-masterpieces.

 

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– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other Recommended Thanksgiving books:

Turkey Time!TurkeyTime
with illustrations by Melanie Matthews
(Price Stern Sloan; $5.99, Ages 3 and up)

 

 

OvertheRiverThroughtheWoodOver the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure
Written by Linda Ashman with illustrations by Kim Smith
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-7)

 

 

 

ThanksgivingTappletonsThanksgiving at the Tappletons’
Written by Eileen Spinelli with illustrations by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

CharlieBumpersPerfectTurkeyCharlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey
Written by Bill Harley & Illustrated by Adam Gustavson
(Peachtree Publishing; $13.95, Ages 7-10)

 

Garden-Themed Books for Spring: Lola Plants a Garden & In Mary’s Garden

Lola Plants a Garden
Written by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
(Charlesbridge; $15.95, Ages 2-5)

In Mary’s Garden
By Tina and Carson Kugler
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

Spring is only a few short weeks away, and most of the country can’t wait to thaw out. In anticipation of sunshine and warmer temperatures, here are two picture books about different types of gardens.

Lola-Plants-Garden-cvr.jpgIn Lola Plants a Garden, young Lola is inspired to plant a garden after reading the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” poem. First, she conducts her research with books from the library. Next, she and Mommy make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers. Then they’re off to buy seeds and carefully follow the instructions on the seed packets. But growing a garden doesn’t happen quickly, and Lola has to wait. Not to worry, as Lola and her parents have plenty of ways to keep busy.

Lola makes her own flower book…She finds shells and some old beads. She even makes a little Mary Mary. Daddy helps Lola hang her shiny bells. Lola finds Mary Mary a special spot. It’s just perfect. And, before Lola knows it, her flowers grow and her friends visit. They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries…What kind of garden will Lola plant next?

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Interior artwork from Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014

This sweet book highlights the fun of getting back to nature and teaches the virtues of hard work and patience. Good things come to those who wait, and Lola must wait for her flowers to sprout and grow. With the help of her parents, Lola doesn’t dwell on the waiting and enjoys her time with related activities. I just adore the illustrations. They are bright with the little details that convey so much meaning. We know Lola is working hard on her flower book when we see her tongue stick out from the corner of her mouth. And pulling weeds isn’t easy as we can tell from Lola wiping her brow. I especially liked seeing how Mommy and Lola lean into each other as they make cupcakes. These touches are the illustrator’s mastery. The font is also spot on with just the right size and style (modern with clean lines) to help emerging readers identify letters and words.

 

InMarysGarden-cvr.jpgIn Marys’ Garden brings to life a true story of art and inspiration. Mary Nohl was a little girl in Wisconsin who loved to create, invent, and build things. Mary tried woodworking. She helped her father build a house on the shore of Lake Michigan. She won the first place prize in her industrial arts class for building a model airplane. This was unusual for the time, as girls were supposed to follow traditional paths. In fact, Mary was one of only two girls in the class. But Mary had an intrepid spirit and a keen eye for art. As she grew older, she traveled the world and drew inspiration from everywhere. One summer, her dogs, Sassafras and Basil, found driftwood on the lakeshore. Mary then began to hunt for more items—old keys, shiny rocks, feathers, cogs, combs, and on. She began to create. It took a long time to put together all the odds and ends and bits and bobs, but finally Mary was done. The creature was magnificent. She continued to create art piece after art piece in her garden and then in her home. After her death, Mary’s art is being preserved.

My daughters and I greatly enjoy this story. It shows a woman who follows her own path and mind. Despite society’s conventions, Mary Nohl kept true to herself and her muse. These are lofty concepts, but even young children can understand the idea that a person can do what she loves. Older children will hopefully take away the lesson that gender shouldn’t stop someone from achieving milestones and following a dream. The book ends with factual information and photographs of Mary and her garden.

The book’s art is traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers. Postcards, patterns, and writing are used as backgrounds for the main illustrations and offer a look at Mary’s creativity. The “creatures” (statues and creations) are unconventional but fun to study. They demonstrate Mary’s incredible imagination. There’s a lot to take away from In Mary’s Garden—creativity, inspiration, challenging society’s norms, being true to yourself—and it’s well worth the read.

NOTE: If you live in L.A., you can see Tina and Carson Kugler at Once Upon a Time Bookstore at 11a.m. on March 28th.

Here’s a book trailer to enjoy, too.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis

 Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
with illustrations by Gilbert Ford
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

* A Junior Library Guild Selection

MrFerris-Wheel-cvr.jpgBefore I read this fascinating nonfiction picture book about the history of the first Ferris Wheel, I had no idea of the backstory; the competition to find and build a structure for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that would be taller than the Eiffel Tower, the lack of financial support for its construction, the grueling work on the foundation in the dead of winter, the tight timeline in which to complete it, and the lack of faith professionals and the public had in the project. I’m thankful to Kathryn Gibbs Davis for opening my eyes to innovator, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

“George had an idea, an idea for a structure that would dazzle and move, not just stand still like the Eiffel Tower.”

What wonderful feats of engineering and willpower enabled Ferris to prove all the naysayers wrong! Over 1.5 million naysayers to be precise, the amount of people who rode on the wheel at 50 cents apiece in the “nineteen weeks” that it was in operation. And they said it couldn’t be done. Not only did Ferris change the public’s mind, but he changed history by building out of steel, what is now a staple of amusement park rides.

“George knew something the chief did not. His invention would be delicate-looking and strong. It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal — steel.”

On almost every spread, Davis has managed to weave in assorted facts about the wheel’s invention in a way that will keep youngsters as engaged and enthralled as I was. The story itself flows easily and the artwork is simply lovely to look at. Ford‘s fabulous jewel-toned illustrations of 19th century Chicago took me back in time to an era in the industrial age when even electricity in homes was not yet commonplace. But as the sun set each evening, Ferris’s wheel, with is 3,000 electric light bulbs, lit up the night sky and was visible “as far away as forty miles.” I was happy to learn that after the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, in 1894 “the next Ferris wheel appeared in California on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.”

How sad I was to discover in the back matter (where sources are quoted, and a bibliography along with helpful websites are provided) that a New York Times obituary says Ferris passed away on November 23, 1896 while still in his thirties. I can just imagine all the other innovative contributions he could have made to society had he lived longer. As it is, the enduring popularity of his ride is a testament to Ferris’s genius, and Davis has done a terrific job conveying that in a most readable, enjoyable way.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a link to a reading guide.

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Leave a comment below about your favorite carnival ride then follow us on Facebook for a chance to win a copy of this must-have picture book. No entries after 11:59p.m. PST on February 11, 2015. One lucky winner will be randomly selected on Thursday Feb. 12, 2015. If you do not leave a comment you will forfeit your chance to win.

For July 4th, Read I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez

I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez with illustrations by Patrice Barton is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

 

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I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Independence Day is just around the corner, and for many of us that means barbecues, fireworks, and parades. Of course, the celebration includes the pride of being or becoming an American, and that’s the focus of I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez and illustrated by Patrice Barton (Alfred A. Knopf; $16.99; ages 3-7).

Young Libby must lead her class in the school flag ceremony, and her great aunt Lobo is getting ready for her citizenship ceremony. They both must learn the Pledge of Allegiance, so they decide to practice together. They practice in front of their cat, Libby’s stuffed animals, and each other, and during the week, Libby learns Lobo’s story about coming to America and becoming a citizen.

“Why do you want to be a citizen?” I ask.

“Mi querida, I was born in Mexico and went to school there, but the United States has been my home for many years. I am proud to be from Mexico and to speak Spanish and English. Many people are proud of the places where they were born or where they grew up. But a long time ago…my father wanted a safer place for us to grow up, and we came to the United States. The American flag—read, white, and blue—wrapped itself around me to protect me.”

This sweet story artfully weaves the themes of patriotism, immigration, citizenship, history, and family. It’s a wonderful introduction to the importance, history, and meaning of the Pledge, as well as a reminder that no matter where we come from, we are all together under the flag.

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