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Picture Book Review – How to Talk Like a Bear

 

HOW TO TALK LIKE A BEAR

Written by Charlie Grandy

Illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

(Flamingo Books; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

How to Talk Like a Bear cover Bear speech bubble turtle.

 

Can you speak Bear? If you missed How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths when it came out last year, now’s your chance to get it because it’s such a playful picture book not only for the audience listening but for the reader as well.

I happen to love meta stories and this one does it so well. Bear announces he is going to teach the reader or readers how to talk like a bear to which the kid in speech bubbles who represents the audience responds, “Why on earth would I want to talk like a bear? I’m just a kid!” Think of the convincing back and forth in Todd Sturgell’s Except Antarctica. Bear explains that it’s an effective means of communication and the corresponding uproarious illustration (below), sure to immediately crack kids up, shows Bear roaring at an outdoor cafe where patrons run off in fear for their lives.

 

How to Talk Like a Bear int1 roaring Bear scaring cafe guests.
Interior spread from How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths, Flamingo Books ©2023.

 

Bear talk is not as easy as it may seem. It is open for interpretation just like when we adults attempt to speak a foreign language and think we told the taxi driver to take us to the train station but instead proposed marriage! There are important subtle differences. In this case, the trainee’s roar may not have conveyed what it was supposed to so readers end up seeing the bear told to get his haircut. Did you know that saying “ROOOAARR” rather than”ROAAARRRR” is the difference between wanting a sandwich and wanting to get into beekeeping. It seems some serious focus and visualization are needed to get the desired results.

 

How to Talk Like a Bear int2 let's start with some yoga.
Interior spread from How to Talk Like a Bear written by Charlie Grandy and illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths, Flamingo Books ©2023.

 

Grandy and Griffiths deliver an inventive and humorous storytime picture book that warrants multiple reads. Slow down while reading to make sure every page turn packs its punch. Allow kids to repeat the parts in the speech bubble for added enjoyment. Plus the adorable art – Bear is such a cutie full of funny facial expressions – ultimately reminds young readers that Bear is still a cub who must learn that all the well-rehearsed growls and roars may not get kids what they want if their parents have anything to say about it! And if you love this, be on the lookout for How to Talk Like a Chicken coming this September.

 

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Five Children’s Books for Earth Day 2024

 

EARTH DAY 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

 

Love, The Earth cover Earth with a face watching child.LOVE, THE EARTH
Written by Frances Stickley
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood
(Candlewick Press; $17.99,  Ages 3-7)

In Love, the Earth, by Frances Stickley, our beautiful blue planet promises to take care of us, if only we will take care of it. Scenes unfold showing us all the Earth has to offer: “Please share my food, my lakes, my land . . . / and try to lend a helping hand.” Yet, we also see that the Earth can’t do it without us.

The mixed-media illustrations by Tim Hopgood are lush and layered. The Earth is present throughout, either smiling benevolently or saddened when its land is covered in litter. The book concludes with the Earth signing off, “With All My Love, the Earth,” a heartfelt reminder of how the planet has sustained a truly vast amount of life.

 

Solar Bear cover boy and polar bearSOLAR BEAR
Written by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
(HarperKids; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

In Beth Ferry’s rhyming picture book, Solar Bear, a magical solar bear gathers bears from around the globe to share stories about species extinction. By shining their glowing light “[on] otters, sloths, and manatees. / On coral reefs and chimpanzees,” they hope to foster a generation of “solar kids” who learn as much as possible about our animals, mindfully use resources, and talk to others to encourage environmental stewardship.

The art by Brendan Wenzel illuminates the animals. This is beautiful but also a preview of how close many of them are to becoming ghosts. When the solar animals interact with children worldwide, the love and hope come through in his illustrations rendered in “watercolor, pencil, acrylic, colored pencil, and pretty much everything else under the sun including an iMac.” While this blurb is funny, it’s also a great representation of pulling together to create. The heartwarming image on the cover sets the tone for this hopeful but urgent request for action.

 

Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet cover boy dog tree.GREEN: THE STORY OF PLANT LIFE ON OUR PLANET
Written by Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Nicola Davies’s nonfiction picture book, Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet, opens with a line about how the tree pictured doesn’t seem to be doing much, just standing around being big and green. However, we come to find the many fascinating things that trees do from the huge importance of photosynthesis to its opposite: respiration, which keeps our air in balance. We learn the history of how plants have trapped carbon dioxide, changing the air from toxic to inhabitable for all kinds of life forms.

Emily Sutton’s illustrations showcase the color green. One scene shows green existing only on a single rooftop apartment building in a city where industry is upsetting the world’s delicate balance. The story finishes with a heartwarming companion image to the opening one that sums up why green is the “most important color in the world.”

 

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth cover Sona among plants.SONA SHARMA: LOOKING AFTER PLANET EARTH
Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Jen Khatun
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 6-9)

In Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth (book two of the Sona series by Chitra Soundar), Sona Sharma’s personality continues to shine. This time, Sona and her friends Renu and Joy learn that the Earth is in trouble. Their teacher, Miss Rao, has them pledge to help look after the planet. Well-meaning Sona takes this to heart and starts making changes at home—without anyone’s consent. Who needs lights? Diapers—no more!

While the story is funny, the reality of this crisis comes through, showing ways we all can pitch in. The setting is vivid as are the characters. I particularly like how much of the plot is centered around the town’s annual kolam-making contest (“traditional designs that people draw in front of their homes to celebrate the winter months and the festival season”). Paatti (Grandma) uses rice flour to make the design but Sona’s other grandmother, the President, includes colored powders, glitter, and plastic decorations. Sona’s determined to stop participants from using artificial, bad-for-the-environment art supplies, but the contest is happening soon and it seems the rules allow these materials. Or do they . . .?

The black-and-white sketches by Jen Khatun throughout bring us right into Sona’s world showing her multigenerational family and the lovely kolam designs.

 

Be a Nature Explorer! cover backpack on grass.BE A NATURE EXPLORER!:
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES
Written by Peter Wohlleben

Illustrated by Belle Wuthrich
English translation by Jane Billinghurst
(Greystone Books; $12.95, Ages 6-10)

Fans of Peter Wohlleben’s best-selling books about trees will be glad to see he now has a hands-on guide for children in an easy-to-carry size to encourage exploration of nature, Be a Nature Explorer!: Outdoor Activities and Adventures. This illustrated 100-page book contains 52 activity ideas to keep kids busy for many outings, or even when they’re just in the backyard.

“Following Slugs and Snails” is one of my favorites because I find these creatures fascinating. I learned that snail shells almost always spiral to the right (clockwise) and sit on the right side of their bodies. If you find a snail whose pattern runs counterclockwise, they’re called “snail kings”—so exciting, like finding a four-leaf clover! You can even record a snail or slug’s slime trail imprint onto a piece of plastic wrap, then add that to your journal as part of your collection and for further observations.

This fun guide’s pages are enlivened with illustrations by Belle Wuthrich, and photos. This winning combo elevates this book to the top of my list for gift-giving. Pair this welcoming book with a blank journal and watch kids get their nature explorer groove on. Parents will thank you!

 

 

Click here to read reviews from last year’s roundup.

 

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Picture Book Review – A Place for Rain

 

 

A PLACE FOR RAIN

Written by Michelle Schaub

Illustrated by Blanca Gómez

(Norton Young Readers; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

A Place for Rain cover children in rain beside a rain barrel

 

 

From the Publisher: “A spring storm brings the chance to build a rain garden in this charming, actionable picture book about protecting our waterways.”

From Publishers Weekly: “An upbeat problem-solving story…”

 

 

With rhyming verse and bright, colorful illustrations, Michelle Schaub and Blanca Gómez tell an upbeat story of rain

 

A Place for Rain int1 drizzle turns to roar downpour.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

that gives kids a hands-on way to participate in conservation—rain gardens—in the newly released A Place for Rain!

A unique concept in the picture book space, this book would make a great classroom read-aloud for Earth Day or throughout Earth Month to promote environmental awareness.

 

A Place for Rain int2 make a trail of stone or bricks.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Simple and cheerful illustrations that begin even before the title page fill the book and help encourage page turns.

 

A Place for Rain int3 make room for rain backmatter.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Backmatter offers a step-by-step guide to help families create their own rain gardens at home, additional conservation resources, as well as a cautionary line to call your utility company before you start digging. A recommended for all who care about our planet.

Click here to download an Educators’ Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Best New Christmas Books for 2023

 

BEST NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

COUNTDOWN FOR NOCHEBUENA:
A Celebration of Christmas Eve
Written and illustrated by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
(Little, Brown YR; Available in H/C $15.99 + Board Book $7.99; Ages 0-3)

Countdown for Nochebuena by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom brings young readers a bouncy bilingual picture book (and board book) inspired by the author-illustrator’s Cuban American heritage. There is lots to love about Hernández Bergstrom’s story, from her use of English and Spanish made understandable to non-Spanish speakers with easy-to-follow illustrations that are rich in culture and drenched in color and spirit to the counting structure in Spanish starting at one then working up to 12 before going back down. Perhaps the most meaningful part for me is how the story begins and ends with family.
Children will be captivated by the different aspects of this Christmas Eve celebration where we’re introduced to vocabulary (with a glossary in the backmatter) that describes the action in each scene. We see tables (mesas) invitingly decorated, irresistible and delicious nougat desserts (turrones), and kids (muchachos) making handclapping music. Adults dance and the countdown to presents (regalos) is on everyone’s minds. Then it’s wrapping paper ripped, cleaning up the mess, a cortado for the drive home armed with leftovers and memories of special time spent with family. This truly festive and loving look at Nochebuena is sure to fill many hearts this holiday. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

Goodnight Santa cover kids and Santa in sleighGOODNIGHT SANTA
Written by Michelle Robinson
Illustrated by Nick East
(Sourcebooks Wonderland; $8.99, Ages 1-4)
What a sweet bedtime board book, just one in a popular series, to share with toddlers and preschoolers who are eager for Christmas and need a calming read to help them settle in.
The gentle rhythmic rhyme coupled with the charming, muted jewel tones of the artwork makes this an ideal story to share in the lead-up to the holiday. Like the classic Goodnight Moon, the repetition of the word goodnight will lull little ones to sleep. “Goodnight snowman. Goodnight choir. Goodnight stockings by the fire.”
An older sister enjoys her snow globe, a little brother looks out for Santa, reindeer await on rooftops as Santa delivers toys after a magical trip to Santa’s workshop, and just the right amount of text to keep things low-key as children can dream about Christmas Day. First published in picture book format, this new 28-page board book provides a sturdy alternative for younger readers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

We Disagree About This Tree cover Bear Mouse and TreeWE DISAGREE ABOUT THIS TREE
Written and illustrated by Ross Collins
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 2-5) 

Whether you’re a fan of the two previous Bear and Mouse books or if you’re new to the series, you’ll enjoy the playful (sometimes cranky) antics as these two housemates debate over how the Christmas tree should be decorated. The over-the-top—and even upside-down—trees will give the kids lots of giggles. Collins’s rhyming text is a fun read-aloud and his art captures the range of emotions these friends experience as they navigate toward their just-right holiday tree.

Companion books include There’s a Bear on My Chair and There’s a Mouse in My House. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

Otto the Ornament cover happy Otto hanging from a Christmas tree.OTTO THE ORNAMENT
Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings
(Random House Children’s Book; $12.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

With Otto the Ornament, Troy Cummings has created a rewarding Christmas story your kids will want to read year-round! You’ll first be greeted by cheerful ornament-filled endpapers and Christmas tree-shaped text on the copyright page. Early on I could see that Cummings nailed it when it comes to the book’s festive mood in the illustrations that had me eager to turn the page.

Otto, a snazzy multi-colored Christmas ornament, is rather full of himself. Bouncing out of a box, this new ornament on the block announces, “ME­RRY CHRISTMAS, BULBS AND BAUBLES! I’M OTTO! I’M HERE TO BEDECK THE HECK OUT OF YOUR TREE!” He’s warmly welcomed to the décor family which includes a candy cane, a green glass bell, a wooden Santa, and a mitten kitten. They invite him to take his place in the middle of the tree. But Otto feels the only spot he deserves is at the top. He soon finds fault with the other ornaments who then have no need for him and vice versa.

Otto’s search to hang on a tree suitable for his awesomeness, while humorous to the reader who want him to have his comeuppance following his appalling behavior, soon proves futile. After claiming what he considers his rightful spot atop a massive city tree not unlike the one at Rockefeller Center, a shocking event plummets him down into the storm drain. Cummings art perfectly captures Otto’s transformation. Emotionally shattered, disheveled, dented, cracked and paint-chipped, Otto realizes he’s lost his bragging rights. Meeting an unexpected lost ornament in the storm drain helps Otto get on the right track. In rescuing the mitten and taking him back to his pair, Otto learns where his true home and friends are. He also sees what really matters, making this not only a learning moment for little ones but a moving one as well. Being the best and brightest ornament doesn’t mean much if it means being alone. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

 

Elves are the Worst cover elf on stepladder beside goblinELVES ARE THE WORST! 
Written and illustrated by Alex Willan

(Simon Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

Santa’s elves look like goblins, right? Gilbert the Goblin makes the comparison and decides to sneak into Santa’s workshop in elvish disguise to see if all the tales about these super cute, hardworking (blech) creatures are true. However, Gilbert soon finds that maybe it’s not that they’re so perfect, but, rather, that they know how to work together as a team.

Gilbert is as lovably funny as ever whether in disguise or just as his goblin-y self. Alex Willan’s adorable art appeals to kids as does the almost graphic layout style with panels on many pages.

Other books in this series include Unicorns Are the Worst, Dragons Are the Worst, and Yetis Are the Worst. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Our Italian Christmas Eve brother and sister smiling in front of cheesecake and dessertsOUR ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE
Written by Danielle Sedita and Francesco Sedita

Illustrated by Luciano Lozano
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Along with lively artwork by illustrator Luciano Lozano, sibling author duo Danielle and Francesco Sedita have written a colorful tale inspired by their childhood that is not only joyful and funny but mouthwatering too.

Readers learn right from the start courtesy of the brother and sister narrators that while other families celebrate on Christmas Day, their family celebrates on Christmas Eve. They head to Aunt Babe’s for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, something I loved learning about. It’s also traditionally meatless. I enjoyed the big family energy since it reminded me of holiday get-together sat my aunt’s when I was growing up.

The book is a virtual food frenzy with all the various fish dishes depicted including bread stuffed with oysters and spaghetti with clam sauce. But the best part is how the kids get to pitch in and how much it’s appreciated. It seems Uncle Robert has forgotten to bring the struffoli for dessert so the kids make cheesecake, a recipe they’ve made before with their mom. The children note the family dynamics which play out each year, always ending on a note of love. Now that everything has turned out well and just when you thought the stuffed family would be loosening belts and napping, Aunt Babe says, “Andiamo!” It’s time for midnight Mass.

One of my favorite spreads is an overhead perspective where readers can see the platters of food set out on the dining room table. In addition to being a heartwarming story, Our Italian Christmas Eve is a visual feast for the holiday season.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney cover Santa on snowy roof staring at chimneyHOW DOES SANTA GO DOWN THE CHIMNEY?
Written by Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews- Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

This hilarious book explores all the possible ways Santa may be able to fit down our chimneys and what he does when there isn’t one. Kids will be onboard from the start because these are the questions and possible solutions that they are tossing about: Does he shrink down? Can he squeeze through the mail slot? Feet first or head? And how does he keep from getting dirty?

Mac Barnett’s spot-on text plus Jon Klassen’s lol art equals a hit with kids everywhere as they weigh in about theories and probably pose some of their own. Timeless questions are seriously considered yet balanced with plenty of humor and mystery. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Christmas Ahoy! cover festive boats and lighthouse.CHRISTMAS AHOY!
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Kayla Stark
(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Holiday boat parades are magical and Erin Dealey’s rhyming picture book brings families right in so they can experience the festivities. Counting from one to ten, different kinds of vessels are introduced in fun ways that kids can relate to such as “Five fishers harmonize, ever so merry. / Six dancers twirl on the Sugar Plum Ferry!”

Kayla Stark’s art pops out from the beautiful blue background, highlighting the action—I love a reindeer-filled yacht! The informative backmatter adds another element, providing some background on fourteen of the ships including sailboat, dory, and barge. With its many interesting angles, this book is sure to be a hit with families and in classrooms. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

Dasher Can't Wait for Christmas cover child and Dasher in snowy woods.DASHER CAN’T WAIT FOR CHRISTMAS
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8) 

Matt Tavares’s picture book has a classic feel as he captures Dancer’s young exuberance when she (a little bit too eagerly) heads out on her own to test her flying skills. Kids who can’t wait until Christmas will totally understand and feel for Dasher when her adventure doesn’t turn out as she planned.

This beautifully illustrated book brings a beloved reindeer front and center, giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes on at the North Pole before the big night. The story is both cautionary and uplifting, one that kids will turn to again and again. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt.

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

24 CHRISTMAS STORIES:
Faith and Traditions from Around the World
Judith Bouilloc, Various Authors
Sky Pony Press

IT’S NAVIDAD, EL CUCUY!
Written by Donna Barba Higuera
Illustrated by Juliana Perdomo
Harry N. Abrams

A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA
Written by Deb Adamson
Illustrated by Anne Zimanski
McSea Books

ELMORE THE CHRISTMAS MOOSE (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written by Dev Petty
Illustrated by Mike Boldt

DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE SLEIGH! (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

SANTA YETI
Written by Matthew Luhn
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
Kane Miller Books

 

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Picture Book Review – Barn in Winter

 

 

 

BARN IN WINTER:
SAFE AND WARM ON THE FARM

Written by Chambrae Griffith

Illustrated by Taia Morley

(Cottage Door Press; $9.99; Ages 1-4)

 

 

Barn in Winter cover barn as snow falls

 

 

From the publisher:

“Winter has come to the farm and covered everything in a blanket of icy snow. But where is the cow? Where are the pig and the goat? They are snuggly and snoozy, dozy and dreaming, tucked in all toasty, safe, dry and warm inside the cozy barn. Celebrate winter with this beautiful keepsake book that any farm-loving toddler is sure to love!”

 

Review:

Chambrae Griffith and Taia Morely deliver Barn in Winter, a gorgeous book introducing preschoolers to a farm in winter and its personified barn. With adorable farm animals filling the pages, this sturdy board book is sure to charm little ones.

 

Barn in Winter int1 barn feels a chill
Interior spread from Barn in Winter written by Chambrae Griffith and illustrated by Taia Morely, Cottage Door Press ©2023.

 

Griffith’s rhyming text feels hushed and snuggly—almost reverent—like the quiet that comes before a storm. Morely’s art is the perfect complement, with warm, saturated colors and a blanket-like texture that begs to be printed and hung on a nursery room wall.

 

 

Barn in Winter int2 out of the storm cuddly and cozy cow
Interior art from Barn in Winter written by Chambrae Griffith and illustrated by Taia Morely, Cottage Door Press ©2023.

 

A perfect read-aloud before a long winter’s nap. Barn in Spring will be available in spring 2024

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review – Bing Bang Pling

 

BING BANG PLING

Written by Deb Adamson

Illustrated by Candice Hartsough

(McSea Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

 

Bing Bang Pling cover girl and building tools.

 

Do you have a budding builder in your home? Since I’ve never constructed anything more involved than a Lego set, I vicariously enjoyed all the measuring, sawing, and hammering in Bing Bang Pling, a rhyming read-aloud written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough.

From the upbeat first sentence, “So excited! Today’s the day. First we work, then we play,” readers are pulled into the main character’s activity helping her parents build a swing set.

 

Bing_Bang_Pling_int1_truck_backs_up_delivery Bing Bang Plint int1 truck backs up delivery.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

After the building materials are delivered (see spread above), the girl counts out the nuts and screws. When I was her age, I would have done the same thing. Big pieces of wood are a lot less fun. Adults will appreciate the text’s mention of how the instruction sheet for putting together the swing set might not be that easy to understand. Another important detail is showing all the protective gear needed before embarking on this family project. Children need to know that being around tools means safety first.

 

Bing Bang Pling int2 Daddy finishes sawing.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

Lots of the tasks the main character does do not require a lot of supervision such as chalk-lining, sanding, painting, and digging holes (to mount the frame). Hartsough is careful to show her just observing the more labor-intensive work not meant for kids due to sharp blades.

 

Bing Bang Pling int3 Mommy raking spreading mulch.
Interior spread from Bing Bang Pling written by Deb Adamson and illustrated by Candice Hartsough, McSea Books ©2023.

 

When reading aloud, parents, teachers, and librarians can play up the sounds each piece of equipment makes and then discuss the individual functions of the tools once the book is finished. I like how the illustrations include a cute ginger kitty who, like my two cats, doesn’t want to miss out on any action.

Adamson and Hartsough have created a likable story demonstrating that spending quality time together can mean lots of things whether going to a park, playing a board game, or as in this case, constructing a swing set for all to enjoy. For me, the big takeaway is empowerment and how, with some help and guidance from adults, kids can get involved and feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Picture Book Review – The Pie That Molly Grew

 

THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW

Written by Sue Heavenrich

Illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg

(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Pie That Molly Grew cover Molly with huge pumpkin

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Beginning with the planting of a single seed, the journey of bringing a pumpkin to harvest comes to life for young readers. Under Molly’s watchful eye and care, each stage of growth is showcased. And at the end, Molly’s lovely pumpkin is turned into a delicious pie for one and all to share in a celebration of gratitude. Back matter includes fun facts about pumpkins, the important pollinators who help them grow, as well as a pumpkin pie recipe.”

 

Review:

It’s amazing what comes from a single seed—a plant, a bountiful harvest, a delicious recipe—but on another level that seed also sprouts tradition and community. And that’s the story Sue Heavenrich and Chamisa Kellogg tell in their new book, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int1 this is the seed
Interior art from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Following the cumulative structure and rhyme scheme of A House That Jack Built, Heavenrich follows a plant’s journey from seed to sprout … vine to flower … and fruit to table while touching on science concepts like photosynthesis and pollination. Illustrator, Chamisa Kellogg, adds to the book’s seasonal appeal with textural artwork in muted tones.

And while I’m not usually a fan of cumulative stories (or stories that riff on a familiar rhyme), this one is exceptionally well-written. Nothing comes across as forced or monotonous. It flows wonderfully. The phrases are varied each time they appear yet never deviate from the established rhyme pattern. I also love that each variation inspires a deeper understanding of the scientific processes involved in growing plants.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int2 this is the vine
Interior spread from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Accessible backmatter offers readers and/or teachers more information about pumpkins, pollinators, and a pie recipe. A delight to read! Click here to download a pdf of kids’ activities.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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An Interview with Aixa Perez-Prado about City Feet

 

SUSI SCHAEFER INTERVIEWS AIXA PÉREZ-PRADO,

AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR OF

 CITY FEET

(Reycraft Books; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

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City Feet cover map legs shoes walking on city sidewalk
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PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

This shoe lover’s paradise reveals that a city’s feet are as varied as the people and animals who live there.

INTERVIEW:

Susi Schaefer: Congrats on your picture book, CITY FEET. How did you get into creating books for young readers?

Aixa Pérez-Prado: Thank you very much! I feel like I have been a writer and illustrator since I was a little girl. I was born in Argentina and raised between there and the USA. I later lived in several other countries, including Costa Rica and Morocco. I believe that being multilingual, being a child immigrant, and having lived in many different places are all strong influences on the stories and the illustrations that I create today.

I am a former bilingual kindergarten teacher, a current university professor specializing in diversity education, and, most importantly, a mother of six. All of those experiences led me to read many children’s books over the years and create my own stories for my students and my children. A few years ago, I decided to try to publish some of those stories and started my education in writing picture books.

Part of my education included taking a number of kidlit writing courses, entering online contests, and joining SCBWI. In addition to writing, I started drawing again and creating a few dummies for my stories. CITY FEET is my debut picture book.

SS: Tell us what inspired this book.

APP: I am a city girl at heart, and I love to explore the cities of the world. A few years ago, when I decided I wanted to try to publish in kidlit, I started entering online writing contests, and an earlier version of CITY FEET was a story I wrote for one of those contests, the Early Childhood Book Challenge. The idea was to write a story of 250 words or less, use rhyme, and have the story take place in an urban setting. I came up with about six stories for the contest and was a finalist with a different story, but the beat and rhythm of CITY FEET stuck in my head.

Two years later, I pitched it in Latinx Pitch on Twitter, and Winsome Bingham of Reycraft Books liked my pitch and made an offer. I was not meant to illustrate the book, but when she found out I was also an illustrator (or want-to-be illustrator), she and my agent, Joyce Sweeney, encouraged me to make a dummy. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the book to look, with all characters appearing only from the waist down, as seen from the point of view of a baby in a stroller. I made the dummy and soon after received the offer to be the illustrator. I was thrilled!

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City Feet int1 City Feet walking down the street
Interior spread from City Feet written and illustrated by Aixa Pérez-Prado, Reycraft Books ©2023.

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SS: Can you share your process?

APP: I started by revising the original story and adding an additional stanza to reach the appropriate amount of spreads for a picture book. I then started trying to create the first spread, but the vision in my head wasn’t really working on paper. I went to an illustrator friend, Cristina Keller, and explained what I wanted to do to her. She invited me to her studio, and after showing her some of my sketches, she helped me to map out the first spread. After that, I knew exactly what to do.

My illustration process for CITY FEET is mainly collage created by cutting up different kinds of textured papers that I create and others that I find. I also use fabrics, leaves, petals, and other materials – including banana peels – in my collages. Once I make the collages, I scan them and bring them into Photoshop in different layers to combine and rearrange. I also do some digital collage in Photoshop.

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City Feet int2 dancing feet prancing feet

Interior spread from City Feet written and illustrated by Aixa Pérez-Prado, Reycraft Books ©2023.

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SS: Are you working on any projects you can tell us about?

APP: Yes, I am the author and also the illustrator for a nonfiction picture book that will come out in the Fall of 2024, Mercedes Sosa: Voice of the People, published by Lee & Low. It is a very different kind of story than CITY FEET, with a different feel and somewhat different style. However, my illustration technique will continue to be the use of collage with a variety of materials as well as digital collage for the majority of the artwork.

BUY THE BOOK:

Support independent booksellers and purchase City Feet at the link below.
https://bookshop.org/p/books/city-feet/18947595?ean=9781478881841

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Author Aixa Pérez-Prado headshotAUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Aixa Pérez-Prado, the author/illustrator of CITY FEET is a native of Argentina who immigrated to the US as a small child. In addition to writing and illustrating, Aixa is a translator, sensitivity reader, and university professor. Aixa has lived in several different countries and draws inspiration for her stories and illustrations from diverse locations. Her passion is writing and illustrating picture books aimed at giving diverse children a chance to see their multilayered identities represented with heart and humor. She writes in Spanish and English and enjoys mixing languages in her prose. Similarly, she loves illustrating by employing different techniques in a multimedia whimsical style.

Aixa’s upcoming picture books are OUR WORLD: ARGENTINA (Barefoot Books, 2023) and MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Lee & Low 2024). Aixa is represented by Joyce Sweeney from the Seymour Agency.

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR LINKS:

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Born and raised in the Austrian Alps, Susi Schaefer trained as a glass painter in the medieval town of Rattenberg. After moving to Southern California for sun and adventure, Susi studied graphic design. She’s the illustrator of ZOO ZEN by Kristen Fischer, author-Illustrator of CAT LADIES and THE GLOW SHOW. Susi lives in North Tustin, California, with her family. www.susischaefer.com

Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

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Children’s Book Review – Make More S’Mores

 

MAKE MORE S’MORES

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrated by Ariel Landy

(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Not only does this picture book have a yummy title,
but it’s recommended reading for National S’Mores Day
(well, any day really if you love a rhyming read-aloud).

 

Make_More_S'Mores_cover_raccoon_and_4_bears

 

Roscoe adores an irresistible, roasty, toasty s’more, and is just about to raccoon-down the one he’s cooked over “glowing coals,” when an uninvited grizzly bear shows up asking, “Is that for me?” What’s a hungry raccoon to do? Well, much to readers’ delight, Roscoe doesn’t hesitate to share in Make More S’Mores.

 

Make_More_S'mores_int1_Grizzly_grumbles

 

Now that our appetites have been whet, we’re treated to page after hilarious page of an upbeat rhyming tale that sees more unexpected visitors appear. Charming twin bear cubs to be exact. Of course, everyone cannot wait to eat the scrumptious s’mores Roscoe prepares over the campfire and so generously shares (the big takeaway from this terrific picture book).

It’s such fun to watch Grizzly Bear, clearly frustrated by the bear cubs’ presence. He’d be happier had no one else showed up. More snackers mean less for him and longer to wait!

 

Make_More_S'mores_int2_Ready_Roscoe_soon_declares

 

Roscoe, on the other hand, is preoccupied with catering to everyone else that he’s not had a bite! And when some crafty squirrels and soaring flames scupper his marshmallow roasting, it’s time to find a better stick.

Soon Mama Bear arrives on the scene and assists Roscoe to the delight of her twins and Roscoe. “Grizzly groans. ‘Another guest?’ But Roscoe does not seem distressed.” Poor Grizzly Bear! I love all the expressions Landy has given the animals. They run the gamut from disappointment to joy, from annoyance to contentedness. The lovely palette featuring sunset colors followed by rich blues and purples, all accented by Grizzly Bear’s graham cracker-colored fur is totally pleasing.

After the four VERY s’mored-up guests head to their dens, Roscoe snoozes in the hollow of a tree. A sweet and successful evening has come to a sleepy, s’moreful and snoreful end. What a satisfying, any-time-of-the-day story to share with your children. Roscoe’s modeling of sharing and making new friends is a rewarding one. One final note, look out for the squirrels’ antics in the closing spread. Happy eating and reading!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find out more about Cathy here.
Find out more about Ariel here.

 

 

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Picture Book Review – A Bear, A Bee, and A Honey Tree

A BEAR, A BEE, AND A HONEY TREE

Written by Daniel Bernstrom

Illustrated by Brandon James Scott

(Hippo Park; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree cover bear gripping tree near angry bee

 

 

Daniel Bernstrom’s A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree, a rhythmic read-aloud that invites multiple reads, takes children on a journey with a hungry, fuzzy brown bear and a hive of angry bees.

The brown bear is first introduced yawning and stretching at the entrance to his cave, awakening from hibernation. Illustrator Brandon James Scott’s humorous and expressive digital art portrays the bear and his surroundings with glowing and warm woodsy colors. The illustrations, paired with Bernstrom’s engaging alliterative wordplay, motivated me to turn the page to spend more time with these characters.

 

A_Bear_a_Bee_a_Honey Tree int1 bee honey
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

The tree is filled with a honeycomb and lots and lots of busy worker honey bees doing what bees do best, passing the nectar to the house bee. Bernstrom’s words a bee, a busy bee, a honey bee next to the art visually showcase the bees focused on their work. That is until the brown fuzzy hungry bear discovers the gold and yellow bee hive up in the tree. And that’s where the playfulness of the words begins.

The bee eyes the brown bear who is staring up at the green foliage in the tree. The bee’s bulging black eyes and angry eyebrows show he is not happy when next he sees the bear’s bottom side hanging under those same leaves. The bear hangs from one branch and holds on to another while the bee’s angry eyes swirl around him. A busy bear and a busy bee. A cute little bird is intrigued watching the pair.

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree int2 hungry bear
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

When the bear’s paw is pushed into the hive, the bee is not happy. In fact, he is a very angry bee who lands on the bear’s nose, catching him with honey dripping from his lips. Bernstrom’s writing encourages each child to joyfully experience the words of the story.

The bear’s eyes are now the ones that bulge when the bee does what he needs to in protecting his honeycomb. The bee has brought in his colony. A million buzzing bees are drawn with angry faces swarming the bear who unwillingly succumbs by falling out of the tree. The hilarious chase ends at sundown when the bees return to their hive and somewhere a hungry bear returns to his cave.

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree int3 a fretful bee
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

This is a delightful picture book that, even with its spare text, teaches kids about bee and bear behavior with fun rhymes and rich, captivating illustrations that work together so well. Kids will ask to hear A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree over and over, a sure sign to keep the book close at hand.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Picture Book Review – What’s Your Name?

WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

Written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

(Candlewick Press; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

 

 

What's Your Name cover kids greeting kids

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

When author-illustrator Bethanie Deeney Murguia discovered her parents almost chose another name for her it got her thinking about the importance of names and what they do, and the idea for What’s Your Name? was created.

 

What's Your Name int1 children greeting children
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

This relatable and diverse picture book takes young readers on a reflective journey through the meaning behind their own names. The book opens with two pages of orange talking bubbles listing names from Alina to Xavier and Ana to Eli. There are short names, like Bo, and longer names like Zachariah. There’s even my son’s name, Adam. Turning the page, we find lush green spread of lawns and bushes, and grey stone bridges, with walking dogs sniffing hellos. Murguia’s illustrations not only include adults and children of various ethnicities but one child in a wheelchair and another on a skateboard. Greetings are expressed by kids with Hi, Hola, and Good Morning before announcing their given names because Everyone has one … or maybe a few.

 

What's Your Name int2 a name is a meeting
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Murguia writes in playful rhyme explaining to the reader the many ways names are used. When Lena greets Elijah they high-five as they pass. When the spotted brown dog goes farther than allowed, his fluffy-haired owner calls Buster stopping him in his tracks. A name can be common, familiar, and known. A name can be rare, unique, all your own. Cherimoya explains to new friends that her name is like the fruit but you can call me Cherry! And the worker at the burger stand gets a lot of responses when he calls out the common name Bob. Murguia explains to kids that names honor families when they are named after a loved one or historic people such as Malala and Frida.

The colorful art beautifully tells the story with greens, oranges, and greys visually showing the reader that autumn leaves are the reason behind a baby girl’s name. A boy shouts to a crowd, with his hands beside his lips, yelling Hey…you! with an illustration of confused people with mouths wide open wondering who he is calling. If only he knew the name of the person he was looking for he wouldn’t need to shout.

 

What's Your Name int3 names honor family
WHAT’S YOUR NAME? Text and illustrations copyright © 2022 by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Naming your child is a huge decision. Will your baby’s personality or character reflect the name you have chosen or vice versa? Will your child be clumsy yet her name is Grace? Do you choose the name Cole if your child’s eyes are pitch black? This book will spark conversations about how your child got their name and how their parents did as well. A discussion will be a beautiful introduction to family history, or how a name just felt right. This book made me laugh because my own name is spelled differently than what people expect, but I guess you would say that is what makes it unique. Because if it were different, would you still be you? The book’s last line reads what’s yours? and provides a great jumping-off point for a first-day-of-school read for teachers who are getting to know their new students.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – The Snowman Waltz

 

THE SNOWMAN WALTZ

Written by Karen Konnerth

Illustrated by Emily Neilson

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The Snowman Waltz cover snowmen waltzing on frozen river

 

Cold and snowy weather may wreak havoc across the U.S., but The Snowman Waltz written by Karen Konnerth and illustrated by Emily Neilson makes good use of such frosty conditions. Set against a beautiful backdrop of a winter woodland glen, this picture book invites young readers to glide across their own floors and follow in the footsteps of the snowmen and penguin characters.

 

The Snowman Waltz int1 snowmen dancing in top hats
Interior spread from The Snowman Waltz written by Karen Konnerth and illustrated by Emily Neilson, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Konnerth has created a friendly battle of the beats in that a jovial snowman community’s waltzing activity is described in a 1, 2, 3 rhythm until they are surprised by penguins whose marching movements are then written in a 1,2, 3, 4 beat. I loved this idea! I eagerly turned the pages to see how the two different groups and dance patterns, not to mention the text, would come together.

While clearly no ill will was intended, the penguins did barge in on the snowmen’s ball. The chaos that ensued is one of my favorite spreads. Under the starlit sky, we see a profusion of confusion as white and black and white bodies are tossed about!

 

The Snowman Waltz int2 snowmen and penguins shout and fall
Interior spread from The Snowman Waltz written by Karen Konnerth and illustrated by Emily Neilson, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

While at first, it seemed that penguins and snowmen got pretty badly bent out of shape, the chaos soon turned into a solution as the youngest of the penguins and the youngest of the snowmen gravitated to each other. Then they demonstrated a smart new approach. Working together!

 

The Snowman Waltz int3 snowmen and penguins dancing together
Interior spread from The Snowman Waltz written by Karen Konnerth and illustrated by Emily Neilson, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Before long a line forms, greetings take place, and then magically … Back and forth they bump and waddle./Having fun they slip and slide./Then the snowmen show the penguins/Something that they never tried.

The rhyme is delightful and, motivated by Neilson’s visually appealing illustrations—icy cold never looked so good, I could easily have taken the book in hand as my partner and twirled across my kitchen floor! So it’s no surprise that  backmatter includes sheet music and a finger dance activity. This charming tale of cooperation would make a great story time selection and conversation starter.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Stay in a winter mood with this snowflake-themed picture book.

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Busy Feet

 

BUSY FEET

Written by Marcia Berneger

Illustrated by Susanna Chapman

(Starry Forest Books; $14.99, Ages 0-3)

 

 

Busy Feet cover all kinds of kids feet

 

Do you know a child with busy feet?  The kind of feet that never miss the chance to dance, run or jump? Then take a look at Marcia Berneger and Susanna Chapman’s new picture book Busy Feet.

 

Busy Feet int art1 wakeup time
Interior illustration from Busy Feet written by Marcia Berneger and illustrated by Susanna Chapman, Starry Forest ©2023.

 

Berneger’s created a lively, interactive read-aloud that invites participation from even the littlest of readers.

Feet wake up, 

time to play.

Happy feet 

out all day!

From the moment they wake until bedtime arrives, these bustling, busy feet can be found moving every which way at home, in the park, and at the beach. Most scenes include a pair of freckled feet and a pair of brown feet and in one spread there’s also a friend in a wheelchair getting into the groove. An added precious pup’s appearance joining in the activities is an added treat for animal lovers. There are occasional glimpses of faces, but in keeping with the title, the illustrations focus primarily on the feet which makes reading all the more fun. It’s an entertaining perspective to share and just right for this story.

 

Busy Feet int art2 kids and dog on tire swing
Interior illustration from Busy Feet written by Marcia Berneger and illustrated by Susanna Chapman, Starry Forest ©2023.

 

Chapman’s swirling art uses vibrant colors that add even more energy to Berneger’s upbeat rhyme of opposites.  This book shouts read me loud and read me at story time so I can get up off the floor and mimic everything the characters in the story do. In fact, when I asked Berneger (Full disclosure: she’s a friend) what her 2-year-old grandson thinks of Busy Feet she excitedly replied that he loves it and asks for it every time he visits. So, whether it’s up the slide or down, fast or slow, Busy Feet will make children ready to go, go, go!  Oh, and don’t miss looking under the book jacket for a little surprise!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Over, Bear! Under, Where?

 

 

OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE?

Written by Julie Hedlund

Illustrated by Michael Slack

(Philomel BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? cover

 

For the last day of Fat Bear Week, I’m delighted, (or should I say overjoyed?) to share my thoughts on Julie Hedlund’s uproarious read-aloud picture book, Over, Bear! Under, Where? with humorous art by Michael Slack.

Now don’t get me wrong, the titular Bear may be on the big side, but he’s actually a kind soul simply looking for pals to play with. But when you’re a bird (Over), a mole (Under), or a hot-dog dog (Dog) and that much smaller, a bear can be scary. That scenario is what unfolds to hilarious results as Over and Under hang out at the park.

 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int1 seesaw
Interior spread from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

With wordplay galore, a relatable premise, and high marks for its readability, Hedlund’s book manages to entertain in just under 100 carefully chosen words. Young readers will adore the interplay of art and text as they see Over and Under’s punny back-and-forth banter on the see-saw and at their BBQ. They even invite a hot-dog dog called Dog to join them but run for their lives after spotting Bear in what is clearly a massive misunderstanding. 

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int2 hotdog
Interior art from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

Bear, we soon learn, wants to play, too, but Over, Under and Dog do not realize this right away. It’s only when Under points out a dejected-looking Bear … down that the trio makes amends and in doing so, makes a new friend.

Hedlund’s spare text may make adult readers think, “Oh hey, I could do that.” When in fact, to be able to convey the emotional heart of this story with so few words, is no easy task and takes a pro. It also takes terrific illustrations that bring the story to life, my favorite illustrations being those below.

 

Over, Bear! Under, Where? int3 bear behind
Interior art from Over, Bear! Under, Where? written by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Michael Slack, Philomel ©2021.

 

There’s even a page of helpful backmatter providing examples of the compound words that were essential to inspiring this story’s humor when they were presented as separate words helped by just a comma in many places. Parents, teachers, librarians, and caregivers will not tire of  sharing this whimsical, original tale with its clever take, “You can’t judge a bear by its behind.” So Fat Bear Week or not, this book’ll keep you from hibernating.

 

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Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – BAA, BAA, TAP SHEEP

 

 BAA, BAA, TAP SHEEP

Written by Kenda Henthorn

Illustrated by Lauren Gallegos

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 0-4)

 

 

 

Baa Baa Tap Sheep cover

 

 

From the Publisher:

“As a trio of tired tots settles into bed for the night, the sheep who should be helping them count down to slumber kick up their hooves in an energetic dance performance. Starting with one little lamb … [the] sheep tap, waltz, tango, and boogie …  [until] finally, after their energy is danced out, nap sheep lull everyone to sleep.”

 

 

Baa Baa Tap Sheep int1 dancing grooves
Interior spread from Baa, Baa, Tap Sheep written by Kenda Henthorn and illustrated by Lauren Gallegos, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

Review:

Kenda Henthorn’s lively, rhyming text borrows the rhythm of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” to create a delightful read-aloud perfect for getting out the wiggles before bedtime. Lauren Gallegos’ cute art in soothing blues and energetic purples perfectly complements the energy of Henthorn’s words.

 

Baa Baa Tap Sheep int2 jumpingtoajive
Interior art from Baa, Baa, Tap Sheep written by Kenda Henthorn and illustrated by Lauren Gallegos, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

 

With added learning layers such as counting to ten, dance moves/vocabulary, and a few cultural Easter eggs in the art, this picture book works for the young and young-at-heart. Highly recommended for naptime in the early childhood classroom!

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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