New York Times best-selling authorDavid Elliott’s latest picture book feels like a classic.In the Woodsspotlights fourteen woodland animals, capturing their essence in verse. I appreciate the inclusion of favorites such as the bear, fox, and raccoon but even more so the animals we may not know much about. My favorite of these outliers was the fisher cat: “Does not like fish. / Is not a cat. / I don’t know what / to make of that. / But when you are / as fierce as she, / there’s no need for /consistency.” This seeming puzzle is explained in the back matter where relevant and interesting facts elaborate on the poems. For example, it takes five to six sprays to deplete a skunk’s scent, then about ten days to produce a new batch.
The poems are easy to approach for young readers, using simple ideas plus humor. Kids may be surprised a poem can be two words. “The Moose”: “Ungainly, / mainly.” Or that the words in poems can be manipulated, adding to their depth. The millipede poem has a blank space running down the middle; some words are broken to create effect. As kids in this book’s age range are beginning to learn about verse in school and tasked with writing some themselves, Elliott’s poems introduce poetry in a fun, playful manner.
Rob Dunlavey’saccompanying art, done in watercolor and mixed media, adds another level to each glimpse. Echoing the woodland theme, the pictures speak of nature yet cleverly placed highlights or splashes of color guide your eye to what’s important: the flight of the scarlet tanager, the inquisitive muzzle of a raccoon, or the dangerous headlights that will just miss the porcupine crossing the road. The illustrations are big, memorable, and beautiful.
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The poems celebrate diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but in experience. Brantley-Newton welcomes all kinds of girls with differing hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. Girls can be an “Explorer,” a “Negotiator,” “Shy,” or just plain “Weird.” Each type of girl is recognized and validated.
Biblical principles weave throughout the poems. They call for making change in the world through kindness, grace, and “fight[ing] the good fight of love.” As “The Day I Decided to Become Sunshine,” “Warrior,” and “Girl Fight” emphasize, participating in this change is a willful decision girls can make. “I decided to be a light/ by holding a door/ open for others to come through.” “Respectfully/ with humanity/ and lovingly,” girls can empower the world by “fighting for … what [they] believe.”
Just as important, girls can empower themselves. Poems such as “I Love My Body,” “Gumbo Me,” and “My Crown” send positive body messages and celebrate the uniqueness of each girl. Each one is enough just for being herself. ”[T]o be the me/that I’m supposed to be” is one of the most life-giving statements a little girl can hear.
Framing Brantley-Newton’s reassuring words are her captivating illustrations. Layers of pattern, color, and texture overlap to energize and uplift, placing each girl in center stage so that every reader can see herself in these pages.
This book is like a blanket of love. It would make a wonderful gift for that upcoming (virtual?) baby shower, birthday party, first day of school, or any occasion caregivers want to send a clear message of appreciation to the little girl in their life.
It may be April, but some parts of the country are blanketed in snow. While those places eagerly await spring’s arrival, we thought we’d share a story about the magic of snow.
Bundled-up horses and bundled-up hens living on water more than living on land in Snowy Farm, written by author and songwriter Calvin Shawwith illustrations by Oamul Lu, takes the reader on a family’s lyrical journey one day on their farm.
The story opens with snow-capped mountains and frost covered trees as a lone wind mill sits behind the frosty old house. “There’s a snowy white windmill on a snowy white farm, with a frosty old house and a snow-covered barn.” Lu paints a tall farmer with only eyes and a mustache shown on his face as he’s bundled from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet in warm clothing. Standing beside him is his sweet faced horse with red ear muffs and a scarf protecting him from the harsh winter. And his friend the hen has matching red ear muffs!
Turning the page, we are introduced to two children with smiles on their faces. “They’re living on ice with no grass at hand. They’re living on water more than living on land.” Shaw introduces us to life on an icy farm. The children help their father pick the apples, but they also take time to make snow angels with the chickens and goats. Lu outlines angels underneath the boy, chicken and goat and the cold doesn’t seem to bother any of them.
The traditional roles are kept as mom is cooking while “outside of her window, her kids work the field. The chickens are fed and the apples are peeled.” When dinner is ready the family runs inside and Lu paints warm colors of a family gathering together on a cold winter night. This is a sweet story of a close knit family that work and spend time together talking about their day by the fire. When the day comes to an end “with the starlight appearing, they’re warm and at ease, while falling asleep to a cold winter breeze.” The page turns to dark and the stars are seen in the night. We know the family is peaceful and happy on the farm.
In the Author’s Note, Shaw explains how Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. He tells the reader about the peak summer months and gives a lesson on how daylight lasts for twenty-four hours. This is a great family bedtime story that teaches kids who live in a snowy part of the world, and teaches those who have never experienced snow. Shaw himself has never traveled to Antarctica, but is able to give the reader great insight and, as he says, until we visit, this book can be our imagined journey there together. I imagined that journey, too, and maybe one day I’ll visit Antarctica, but until then I have Snowy Farm to read and re-read.
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Click here to read a review of another snow-themed picture book.
The 12-page, pull-the-tab board book, Christmas Puppy, begs to be read and enjoyed by parents and youngsters alike. Who can resist a furry tail that either parents or children can pull each time there’s a puppy pal sound effect?
Puppy knows there’s a gift waiting for him under the tree, but which one will it be? Each time he thinks he’s found it, that particular present is actually intended for either Mouse, Hamster or Cat. Readers can imitate the accompanying animal squeaks, chirps and meows while pulling the wagging tail tab to their hearts’ content. Yoon’s sweet story with its four adorable animals concludes with Puppy finding and unwrapping his special gift. Have fun with Puppy and friends and enjoy a wag-ful Christmas.
Now available in board book, Grandma’s Christmas Wishcelebrates the unique bond between a grandmother bunny and her grandbunny. It’s a gentle reminder that multi-generational relationships mean so much and can bring such joy.
I love how this grandma bunny expresses herself so beautifully in her rhyming couplets. As the pair frolic in the burrow and the snow covered woods, Grandma shares her wishes which are so much more than material ones. Instead they’re about spending time together and her feeling of unconditional love for her grandbunny. “But, you with your grin and all of your charms, you’re my best present, just wrapped in my arms.” Be prepared to smile with every lovely page turn in this heartwarming story just perfect for any little one’s first Christmas.
The merry, colorful illustrations and simple rhyming text of Christmas is Awesome! convey exactly what children think of when describing Christmas. “… Twinkling Lights, Silent Nights, Busy Elves, Jingle Bells!” Joy jumps off every page of this charming new board book from the sisters who founded Hello!Lucky, “the award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio committed to using creativity to spread joy, fun, and kindness.” They succeed.
In addition to the festive feel of this 24-page board book, there are many laughs in store. Inside readers will find humorous spreads—I’m partial to the “Ugly Sweaters” one—that are study-worthy to see what surprises have been included. For example, a lump of coal gets up to all sorts of antics and experiences all sorts of emotions in every spread. I discovered new things with every read and children will enjoy doing the same. Kids will love the variety of animals featured throughout the book such as an elephant, a mole, a penguin, a cat, a squirrel, a dog, a mouse and lots more. Easy to memorize, this terrific read-aloud is recommended for little ones who like the fun and funny side of Christmas.
Die-cut board books are always popular with toddlers and Santa’s Cookie is Missing! is no exception. I like the premise of this story; after a family’s Christmas Even dinner has ended, the narrator (a young girl) notices that the cookie usually saved for Santa has disappeared. The child sets off to solve the mystery first at home, then outdoors, and then inside again.
Every new die-cut reveals something related to the narrator’s search in a circle shape that will hopefully lead to the missing snack. Whether it’s a plate, a Christmas tree ornament, a snowball, the hollow of an old oak tree or even a mug of hot cocoa, there are lots of places to look and several possible suspects. Make note of the cat and dog in the artwork and see if your kids can anticipate who might be the culprit. I’ll admit I was surprised, but maybe that’s because I was too busy checking out all the pretty die-cuts. The tree-ornament and the present with their respective sparkly and shiny designs were my faves. What will be your youngsters’ faves? Don’t miss picking up a copy of this book to gift or to enjoy at home.
This compact book (not really a board book, but the same size) makes a wonderful gift to bring to family and friends for the holiday season. It’s packed with playful gnomes in watercolor illustrations coupled with proverbs inspired by author illustrator Sevig’s Norwegian family and her childhood. Though raised in America, Sevig explains that she and her sister were brought up “in the only Norwegian speaking household on the block.” Clearly her fond memories have influenced the warm upbeat tone of this collection.
Early on, Sevig points out how the meaning of the word gnome actually has a double meaning that’s depicted in every illustration. Not only is a gnome a small woodland creature, it’s also a “wise, pithy saying” and The Little Winter Book of Gnomes is filled with them. I knew the majority of the sayings, but the way they’re lovingly paired with assorted gnomes is the true pleasure that’s to be taken away from any reading. Read just several at a time or sit back, have a cup of warm tea and delight in all 128 cheerful pages. Some noteworthy gnomes include “A tree with strong roots laughs at the storm,” “A warm drink is a hug in a mug,” and “Don’t waste time looking back. You aren’t going that way.” Marzipan and Rice Cream with Berry Sauce are just a few of the recipes that are also included, making this book a go-to read when the weather turns cold and party plans get underway.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Have you read IF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS by Ann Whitford Paul? Illustrated by David Walker, Paul’s book is now out in board book format. Read my review of the picture book from last year here.
Looking for more Christmas book reviews? Click here.
Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom (or anywhere) read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.
Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.
What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!
There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this year—with or without a power outage.
I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?
Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.
Teach Your Giraffe to Ski. Although the chalet is cozy, nothing will deter Giraffe from donning skis and gliding with ease. A cautious child protagonist sticks close by, offering emotional support and practical advice to the novice skier.
Elbee adeptly mixes humor with tips on safety, etiquette and introductory ski technique. Giraffe grins through the typical goofs and gaffes associated with learning something new. Eager and fearless, Giraffe’s enthusiasm is tempered by the child’s caution and protective concern. Once she’s mastered the basics, they head to The Big Scary Slope! Readers will cling to the edge of their lift seats anticipating a slick, speedy, swerving conclusion to this snowy, sporting tale.
Gowdy’s cartoon-like illustrations are bright and colorful, incorporating a playful menagerie of unlikely skiers. The gleeful expressions of Giraffe and timid trepidation of the child are counterbalanced between spots and full page spreads. Slipping, sliding and gliding are conveyed via whipping scarf tails, swerving ski trails and exuberant snowy splatters. Whether you are bunny slope bound, black diamond material, or even a lodge loafer, Teach Your Giraffe to Skiis tons of fun.
Scarlet finds a magic paintbrush that does her bidding, creating fairies, unicorns and princesses that are perfect masterpieces. But losing the magic brush creates a dilemma for Scarlet. After she searches high and low for the magic brush, she tries painting with regular, non-magical brushes. While the results disappoint her, she doesn’t give up. In a clever twist, Stoller makes her protagonist get creative; painting with her left hand, trying a homemade brush and even using her fingers.
Sonke fills the pages with soft blue clouds and sparkling stars, framing Scarlet and her range of canvases with colorful detail. The magic paintbrush has emotional, animated expressions, and observant readers will enjoy following a faithful pooch that trails Scarlet throughout her artistic quest.
Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrushis an open invitation for young artists to explore ideas of perfection and frustration when it comes to mastering technique and finding a personal style. The magical paintbrush element will appeal to many, while the celebration of self-expression and creativity ultimately shine as the most important aspect of original work. A perfect book to pair with paint and canvas for budding artists!
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
WORLD MAKE WAY: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
A curious, crouching cat on the book’s cover immediately drew me into World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Eighteen thoughtful and evocative poems and the accompanying works of art that prompted their creation kept me turning the pages. This beautiful collection is everything a poetry anthology for children should be: diverse, original and, as the title suggests, inspiring. In the book’s back matter I learned that Lee Bennett Hopkins, the editor of World Make Way, holds the Guinness Book of World Records citation for compiling the most anthologies for children, making him more than well-suited to spearhead this satisfying project in conjunction with the Met.
I appreciate the breadth of art that was selected and the variety of poems that were commissioned for World Make Way. There is something that will appeal to every reader who dives in, whether they like short, simple poems or those more complex and layered. There are serious poems and those that have fun with the reader like Marilyn Singer’s poem, Paint Me, the first in the book. In it the teen subject of Gustav Klimt’s portrait, Mäda Primavesi, bids the artist to make haste and finish up the painting because she’s such a busy person, hence the book’s title World Make Way, a line she utters in desperation! She has places to go. People to see. After all, if her family can afford to have Klimt paint her, she’s likely a socialite. Ultimately the book will show children how to look at art with fresh eyes and take from it something unique to them. Art evokes something different in each person who beholds it and the poems included perfectly capture that.
One particular poem that stayed with me was Young Ashoka Sundari by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater inspired by Shiva and Parvati Playing Chaupar: Folio from a Rasamanjari Series, 1694-95 by Devidasa of Nurpur. Her poem introduces readers to Ashoka who secretly observes her parents: I stand behind this neem tree / to watch my parents play / a game of chaupar / on a tiger rug / beneath bright mango sky. Offering a child’s perspective in her poem, Vanderwater helped me to have a lightbulb moment with the artwork. It’s not always about what we see when observing art, it’s also about what or who the artist left out, or where the scene is set. What a wonderful conversation starter! What does this art say to you? What do you think is happening here now? How does this picture make you feel? What might happen now that the child has witnessed this scene?
In my multiple readings I found myself wondering what I’d write about a certain piece of art such as Henri Rousseau’s The Repast of the Lion, but if I ever see the painting again, I’ll forever associate J. Patrick Lewis’s poem with it. Now that he’s fed and jaguar-full— / Finally his appetite is dull— And of Joan Bransfield Graham’s Great Indian Fruit Bat, a poem about a painting of the same name attributed to Bhawani Das or a follower, 1777-82 I marveled at her internal rhyme and alliteration. As my wings whisk me, swooping through / this black velvet night, who will admire / my elegant attire, the intricacy … A bat’s point of view, fantastic!
Other featured poets are: Alma Flor Ada, Cynthia S. Cotten, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Julie Fogliano, Charles Ghigna, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Irene Latham, Elaine Magliaro, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ann Whitford Paul, Carole Boston Weatherford and Janet Wong. Other featured artists are: Rosa Bonheur, Fernando Botero, Mary Cassatt, Liberale Da Verona, Leonardo Da Vinci, Han Gan, Martin Johnson Heade, Frank Henderson, Utagawa Hiroshige, Winslow Homer, Kerry James Marshall, José Guadalupe Posada and Ōide Tōkō.
While I can definitely see educators enjoying the book for its varying forms of poetry and the individual interpretations of the poets to accompany the magnificent works of art, I can also easily see a parent sharing the book before any museum visit or simply as a way to spark a child’s imagination. It certainly sparked mine.
H IS FOR HAIKU: A TREASURY OF HAIKU FROM A TO Z Written by Sydell Rosenberg Illustrations and lettering by Sawsan Chalabi With a forward by Amy Losak (Penny Candy Books; $16.95, ages 4 and up)
I cannot think of a more fitting tribute for Mother’s Day than to share this moving and thoughtful collection of haiku that Amy Losak, daughter of late poet Sydell Rosenberg, assembled and submitted for publication. The release in April of Rosenberg’s picture book, H is For Haiku, was ” … the culmination of a decades-long dream,” says Losak. I’m so glad that Losak was determined to share her mother’s gift with children and that Penny Candy Books made that dream a reality. Now we get to reap the rewards—reading them! Over and over again.
It’s easy to tell when haiku comes from the heart as is the case for this New York inspired alphabetic haiku journey. Rosenberg’s homage to her city jumps off the pages and transcends time. Nothing escaped her observant eye, whether it was a bird, a parked car, a squirrel, an umbrella or a watering can. Having grown up in New York, I found so many favorites but I’ll try to pick out just a few. The rest will rely on you. No doubt you’ll agree that three simple lines of poetry can be oh so powerful.
With each letter comes a new delight, an awakening of the senses. Feel the wind blow alongside the gentle touch of petals in Plunging downhill/Petals falling in her hair/Girl on a bike or imagine your favorite ice cream flavor as you claim your spot on a long line in Queuing for ice cream/Sweat-sprinkled office workers/On Queens Boulevard. How amazing that in just 17 or so syllables (Rosenberg wasn’t a stickler) I could be transported instantly to my commuter days from decades ago when I took the subway daily to work! I recalled the heaviness of the humidity on my face, the barrage of assorted smells and the oppressiveness of the heat culminating with the need for a cool scoop of chocolate chip in a sugar cone. Rosenberg’s masterful haiku crafting shines yet again in Jumping Quietly/The cat follows a peach pit/Tossed from the terrace. Can you picture the fire escape or the cat jumping high to catch the pit before it hits the pavement?
The treasury includes imaginative and colorful artwork from Sawsan Chalabi. A particular favorite is letter D where she created a concrete poem in that she gives the haiku raindrop shapes adding to the sensation the language creates. The illustrations have an upbeat and retro feel at the same time and are not only pleasing to the eye but wonderful interpretations of Rosenberg’s words.
Treat yourself, your kids, friends and family to the joy that is H is For Haiku and see which ones resonate with you. Most importantly, listen to your mother, and your heart. Happy Mother’s Day!
Review by Ronna Mandel
Amy Losak’s comments:
“Years after Syd died in 1996, I took up her goal of publishing one of her kids’ manuscripts from the 1970’s/1980’s. She was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968, which was “born” in NYC. It turns 50 years old this year. (I am a member now too.) Many of mom’s “city haiku” reflect her urban surroundings and sensibility, but they are universal and timeless, as well.
Haiku are brief (they make perfect “pocket poetry”) but they impel readers to slow down and linger over something they may ordinarily overlook. As I say in my introduction, haiku help make so-called “small moments” big. Haiku is a way to enter with awareness into the world around us. Children and adults alike will relate to these evocative ‘word-pictures.'”
About the publisher: PCB is dedicated to diversity in children’s literature. It’s a small, traditional press having “big conversations.” Check them out at www.pennycandybooks.com or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
SNOW SISTERS! Written by Kerri Kokias Illustrated by Teagan White (Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
When swirling snowflakes fill the morning sky, two creative, independentSnow Sisters!react in unique and complementary ways throughout author Kerri Kokias’sdebut picture book.
The title page, a peek into their cozy shared bedroom, hints at the distinctive personalities of each sister. One girl lies sprawled across her bed with toys and clothes strewn about, while the other sleeps tucked in tight with toys in a row and an alarm clock nearby. After they wake, the first sister, on left hand pages, dresses in snow gear and rushes outside. She throws, builds, and tracks alongside a fluffy squirrel. Her sister, on right hand pages, opts for indoor comforts. She keeps busy with books, baking and snowflake making.
Kokias’s clever parallel text draws us into their individual worlds right up until an exciting mid-book switcheroo. When the outdoors becomes too cold and wet for one sister, the second is drawn outside after spotting a chubby bunny from the window. “Bye!” the sisters greet one another as they trade indoor and outdoor delights. Each embarks on re-visiting fresh interpretations of the words we heard in the beginning: baking, making, throwing, building, etc. The short, simple, active verbs make this book a reading experience that is very accessible for young ears and eyes.
White’shomey illustrations utilize a purple-pink palette for one sister, and orange-peach tones for the other, complementing their respective brunette and auburn hair colors. Interior scenes are accented with mellow teal greens, contrasting with the beautiful outdoor images glowing with purple and pale grey snow. Young readers will enjoy discovering amusing repeated details from scene to scene, whether it be favorite stuffed toys or paper snowflakes.
The final spread repeats the book title, Snow Sisters!, and shows us how the two have found a time and place to come together and share their snowy fun. Readers young and old, with or without siblings, will appreciate the abundant and inclusive approaches for having fun and celebrating snow in this delightful, cheery debut.
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.
My 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.
A 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.
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.
Winter is definitely here! With parts of the country still under a blanket of snow, it’s a good time to share some cold-weather stories. So find a comfy chair, gather up your books, blanket, and a mug full of hot cocoa and read on.
Curious About Snow by Gina Shaw A Smithsonian Book (Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 6-8) Winter time = snow in many parts of the world. Curious About Snow is a great book for curious minds! It helps little children to understand the basic structure of ice crystal, shows many photographs of snowflakes, and will probably make you want to go play in the snow! The book introduces the reader to Wilson Bentley, a man born in 1865, who dedicated his life to studying and photographing snow. You’ll be sure to learn a lot of facts while reading this book! While this Smithsonian book can certainly be loved by all ages, its target audience is elementary school children.
The Little Snowplow Written by Lora Koehler Illustrator by Jake Parker (Candlewick; $15.99, Ages 3-7) The Little Snowplow reminds me of The Little Engine That Could for all the right reasons.You’re sure to love this book if you’re craving a story to encourage your little one about perseverance and practice. The little snowplow practices everyday just in case he’ll be needed for a big job. He continues to try hard even though the bigger snow equipment don’t think he’s useful. Then comes the day where his size and his capabilities save the day! Click here for an activity.
The Bear Report Written and illustrated by Thyra Heder (Abrams; $17.95, Ages 4-8) Great storytelling happens within the beautiful artwork of Thyra Heder in The Bear Report. A young girl named Sophie is reluctant to do her homework about polar bears. After doing a minimalist job, a kind real-life polar bear shows up in her house to show her there are more interesting things where he lives. They go exploring the arctic while the polar bear shows her his favorite things – eating, sleeping, sliding. Sophie and the bear thoroughly enjoy the day together. When she returns home, Sophie is excited to share information about her new friend. This book received a star from Kirkus Reviews.
Toys Meet Snow: Being the Wintertime Adventures of a Curious Stuffed Buffalo, a Sensitive Plush Stingray, and a Book-loving Rubber Ball Written by Emily Jenkins Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 3-7) This trio is loveable! Who knew a stuffed buffalo toy, a plush stingray, and a rubber ball could be so entertaining? Even though I had not read the previous trilogy of Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party, and Toys Come Home I was easily able to fall in love with these characters as I got to know them. While their ‘Little Girl’ owner is away, the toys see the first snowfall of the season. The inquisitive buffalo gets replies from the poetic stingray and bookwormish ball. They proceed to make their way to the wintery outside world and return after a full day of outdoor play. A great book for a winter’s day!
Winter’s Child Written by Angela McAllister Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith (Templar Books/Candlewick $16.99, Ages 3-7)) The fresh illustration style and heartwarming story in Winter’s Child are sure to make this book a classic! This is a storybook, which has much more text than the trending picture books, but it is well worth the read. A young boy, Tom, lives with his mother and Nana. It has been the longest winter they have ever seen and they begin to run out of needed food and supplies. Young Tom goes out to play each day as young children do and he meets a friend. They explore and have fun together for several days, but as time goes on the little family is getting worried that they won’t be able to eat or stay warm much longer. Eventually we find out Tom’s friend is Winter’s child and he didn’t want to sleep. Winter’s child, upon seeing that Tom’s family is being negatively affected, calls for his father. Winter takes his child and the following day signs of spring appear. This beautiful story almost made me cry as I read it to my kids. I was moved by its many great messages of friendship, family bonds, and sacrifice. I highly recommend it!
Today Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to welcome author Ann Whitford Paul as our guest reviewer for Feeding the Flying Fanellis.
For those of you who loved Kate Hosford’s imaginative and beautiful Infinity and Me (I count myself as an admirer) her newest book, Feeding the Flying Fanellis, is equally full of pleasant surprises. This rollicking collection of poems isn’t just about circus performers and their acts. It focuses on the chef and what special meals he must cook for them. Opening as any circus does with the ringmaster, the chef must prepare a picnic (because the ringmaster never sits) that he tucks into his hat that the ringmaster tips in order to eat. Feeding the juggler is a struggle for everything must be round so he can easily toss his food in the air and catch it again. The high-strung tightrope walker must never have caffeine and obsessively watches what she eats—only 27 grains of rice! The lion thinks of food all day, driving the poor chef to distraction trying to satisfy his appetite so he won’t be Lion’s dessert. And then there’s the poor human cannonball who has to stuff himself to remain round.
The circus is filled with fire-eaters, trampoline performers, a ballerina dancing on a horse, a strongman and a hoop jumping dog that require special foods. The final poem features a summer circus feast prepared by the chef and the human cannonball who grew tired of being shot out of the cannon, and became the chef’s pastry assistant instead.
The illustrations are utterly charming, full of life and movement. You will sense the tension of tightrope walker, feel the pain of being shot from a cannon and the joy of swinging through the air with the trapeze artists.
Although writing and illustrating is always painstaking work, this must have been a fun project to work on and will be an equally fun book to read.
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We kicked off National Poetry Month with a terrific poetry book and we’ll end the month the same way!
Let’s look atCHANGES: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow with illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke and an introduction by Zolotow’s daughter, writer Crescent Dragonwagon (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $16.99, Ages 3 and up). The late, great, award-winning author and poet, Charlotte Zolotow, wrote many of the poems I learned as a child. Perhaps you recall some of them, too.
Now with this collection of her seasonal poetry gathered together for the first time, you can share the 28 poems and watch youngsters experience the same joy you did upon hearing them years ago. The selection of poems begins with spring and finishes in winter. The book closes with a touching poem called So Will I that might even bring a tear to your eye as it did to mine.In this poem a young narratorrecounts hearing his grandfather’s beautiful memories of nature from his youthful days. This poem, like the others, as Dragonwagon so aptly points out, is “deceptively simple, transparent and refreshing as a glass of clean, clear, cold spring-water.” Drink up!
The opening poem, Change, with its subtle message, is one of my favorites. Here’s how it begins:
This summer still hangs heavy and sweet with sunlight as it did last year.
In addition to Zolotow’s cyclical poems with evocative titles such as The Spring Wind, Crocus, By the Sea, Beetle, The Leaves and The First Snow, another treat of Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collectionis that it’s full of gorgeous illustrations. Beeke’s watercolor artwork is vibrant and cheerful, composed with a light touch and full heart. With each turn of the page, there’s something pleasing to look at whether it’s a small insect on a book in The Fly or a snowy woods teeming with life in Here.
In this centenary of Zolotow’s birth, it’s wonderful that we can celebrate her contribution to children’s literature, and recognize the brilliance of her poetry which continues to resonate today as strongly as it did when first written.
The food truck phenomenon has its roots in Los Angeles, and local writer-illustrator Mark Todd pays homage to food on wheels in Food Trucks! The thirty pages feature a variety of edibles highlighted in the fourteen trucks. Short rhymes mixed with food facts provide an amusing and informative read.
Amigo (Taco Truck)
What’s up?/Surf’s up!/Hang ten and then/Head on over to the taco truck!
Carne asada and empanadas/With rice and beans/Seem to really hit the spot!
Holy moly, guacamole!/How about a hot tamale?/Bean burrito or quesadilla?/We’ve got the whole enchilada.
Dare to add the haban~ero/If you like it REALLY hot!
Better Burger Builder Bus (Hamburger Truck)
The world’s largest burger weighed 2,014 pounds and was ten feet in diameter. Before it was topped with sixty pounds of bacon and forty pounds of cheese, it took a crane to flip the patty! Americans eat an average of three hamburgers a week, which amounts to nearly fifty billion burgers per year!
Each food truck has a distinct personality. Bubba Q, the barbecue truck, sports long horns and a nose ring. The grilled cheese truck, Cheddar Chuck, has a grater ornament atop the roof and side mirrors in the shape of cheese wedges. Curry in a Hurry, the Indian food truck, is adorned with tassels, beads, and brightly colored lights. These extra touches on the details, such as the broccoli hood ornament on Mr. Cobb the salad truck and Sprinkles the cupcake truck’s license plate, SWTOOTH, make for entertaining viewing.
Whether your child is a foodie or a picky eater, s/he will find something to enjoy in this tribute to movable culinary delights.
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; November 2014, $17.99; ages 6-10)
Living in southern California, my children and I can only imagine winters with the landscape covered in snow and animals nestling against the cold. Luckily, we have Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, a new picture bookby Joyce Sidman. Twelve poems capture how animals and nature manage during the north’s long and often freezing season. Some subjects, such as tundra swans and snowflakes, are cute and others like springtails (also known as “snow fleas”) and skunk cabbage, not so much. Cute or not, all topics are fascinating. Here is the first stanza of Chickadee’s Song:
From dawn to dusk in darkling air
we glean and gulp and pick and snare,
then find a roost that’s snug and tight
to brave the long and frozen night.
Facts accompany the various poetic forms. For instance, for chickadees, we learn that “weighing less than a handful of paperclips…spending every waking moment searching for food…chickadees hunt for seeds, berries, and hidden insects to build up a thin layer of fat, which must last them all night.” That is just a little tidbit of the plentiful information given. The book also includes a glossary. This makes for a wonderful way to teach poetry, science, and vocabulary from one source.
The artwork by Rick Allen adds to the feeling of a frosty winter. The book’s description states, “The individual elements of each picture… were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks… and then hand-colored. Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations.” Keep your eye out for the beautiful red fox that guides the reader through most of the pages.
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold gives us a glimpse into the natural wonders of winter.