YOU ARE LIGHT by Aaron Becker (Candlewick Studio; $15.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Reviews –Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
In Aaron Becker’s You Are Light, the 16-page board book’s inspirational poem is integrated with twelve quarter-sized die-cut translucent circles. These brightly colored circles ring a flower-like sun. While beautiful on its own, the book literally illuminates when held to the light. With each page turn, some disks become holes (perfect for small fingers!), until the sunset subsides to a moonlit scene.
You Are Light’s rhyming text explains how light interacts with the world and, in conclusion, how “This light is you. And you are light.” This book will thrill young readers and be sought after repeatedly for its “wow” factor and because the simple words resonate upliftingly.
You know that fab feeling you get when you hear a good joke and notice the corners of your mouth pushing out a huge smile? Well that’s also the feeling you and your children will get when reading B. J. Lee’s boisterous new book,There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth with illustrations by David Opie. Yes, all it takes is one hungry alligator to get the action going in this Florida-animals-themed variation of the beloved cumulative rhyme There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly and reminiscent of kidlit fave, A Fly Went By.
Soaking up the sun and minding his own business, the titular gator finds a winged visitor has landed on his snout. You can guess what happens but still be teased to read on.
“There was an old gator who swallowed a moth. I don’t know why he swallowed the moth. It made him cough.”
Gator then goes on to swallow a crab (I mean it did give him a jab!) And the slew of Sunshine State creatures eventually eaten also includes an eel, a ray, a pelican (see above), a panther, and a manatee. Opie’s illustration of ALL the animals squished inside gator’s stomach is spot on and one of my faves, but the one above where there’s still some room gives you a good idea of the vibe going on. While reading the book, be sure to take note of the expressions and body language depicting how no one wants to be anywhere near crab’s pinching claws.
You may think that when the gator swallows the shark his tummy will be full, but no, he and Lee don’t stop there and that’s exactly why the (belly) laughs will linger with every page turn. What a humorous way to learn about survival of the fittest in a Florida setting!
This guy’s just greedy enough and silly enough to gulp down the entire lagoon which pushes him beyond capacity if you get my drift. In a series of hysterical illustrations that work wonderfully together with Lee’s terrific tale, it’s conveyed how totally stunned and slightly repulsed the ejected animals are. And if the above artwork doesn’t hint at a whopping “Get ready! I’m about to go gator-wild!” I don’t know what will!
Share this fun story with anyone you know who loves a rip-roaring read aloud and watch the grins grow along with the gator’s gut.
PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE Written by Vivian Kirkfield Illustrated by Jill Weber (Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
I’m always happy to welcome a new picture book with an original take on the holiday into the mix of Passover stories. Today I’m reviewing Vivian Kirkfield’s charming Pippa’s Passover Plate with illustrations by Jill Weber so you’ll have time to pick up a copy to read before and during your family’s upcoming Seders.
The premise of this read aloud tale told in rhyme is that Pippa the mouse cannot locate her Seder plate, a plausible predicament even for humans! The pressure’s on because this concerned pip squeak must find the plate before sundown and the start of her Seder (the traditional annual ritual where people of Jewish faith gather with friends and family to eat, read, share stories and celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt).
Kirkfield clearly has fun with the verse and her meter is spot-on throughout the book:
“Pippa climbs up on a chair, stretches up–the cupboard’s bare! Teetor-totter–hold on tight! Weeble-wobble–what a fright!”
At the start of her search, Pippa asks Sphinx the cat if it’s seen the plate. After no luck there, Pippa is told to try Snake. Each time she must approach an ominous new creature, Pippa is filled with dread, and the following repeating and repeatable refrain …
“Quiver! Quaver! Shiver! Shake!”
… adds to the page turn appeal of the story since the little mouse must face her fears in order to find the missing plate. Her potential predators, however, don’t seem to want to do her harm.
When Owl wisely suggests that Pippa “question Golda Fish” (great name btw), it seems an easier, less scary task to undertake. Weber’s wonderful artwork here in addition to elsewhere in the book complements the text where Golda is described as quite enchanted with herself. Since a mirror isn’t available, a brass Seder plate in which she can admire her reflection is apparently the next best thing. I love Weber’s palate of all shades of yellow, a cheerful color to counter any feelings of danger when Pippa meets Sphinx, Snake and Owl. How the plate landed in the lake is up for debate so why not ask your child? I’m sure they’ll spin some wild tales. The good news is that Pippa can now prepare the Seder.
No longer fearful of the animals, Pippa invites them all to her Seder and the story ends with a frame-worthy illustration of the Seder plate, and the special food that goes on it. I do wish there had been one page of back matter that included a description of what each of the six food items represents in relation to Passover. Nonetheless that’s easily found online and the majority of readers will know and can explain that to their children. For teachers planning to read Pippa’s Passover Plate to a class, I recommend having this information on hand for inquiring minds. It also couldn’t hurt to include info on what matzo is and why a piece of it gets hidden during the Seder since it’s mentioned on the second to last page when the friends are gathered together to celebrate the holiday.
I recommend this adorable picture book which provides the perfect opportunity to discuss Passover traditions, especially for little ones ages 3-6 who will find Pippa’s plight engaging and most enjoyable. Happy Passover!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Find a Passover book review from last year by clicking here.
Some kids returned to school in August. Have yours? Maybe your children are getting ready to begin the new school year after Labor Day. In other words there’s still time to read about and buy the latest books covering the entire school experience. Today’s titles range from first days and school staff to pet pandemonium. Don’t forget to also check out our Back-to-SchoolRoundup Part 1.
What do you do when you love pets so much that you can’t imagine going to school without one? That’s Bartholomew Bott’s dilemma in No Frogs in School. Monday meant frogs much to his teacher’s dismay. Tuesday turned out to be super for bringing in his salamander. Once again, Mr. Patanoose, was not amused and banned all amphibians from being brought to school. It worked out to bring Horace the hamster to school on Wednesday, but once on campus things didn’t go so well. Mr. P added rodents to the banned list. On Thursday Sylvia the snake had a turn and scared some classmates. Naturally no reptiles were allowed after that fiasco! In fact for Friday’s show and tell, the teacher specified that kids could bring in anything “But no more of YOUR pets.” That’s when Bartholomew had a brilliant idea. He’d bring in Rivka the rabbit who could be EVERYONE’S pet! And that made all the kids and even Mr. P happy. Kids can be so literal and LaFaye has taken this childlike characteristic and woven it into a cute and colorful tale. I give Bartholomew a lot of credit for persevering to get his beloved creatures to accompany him to school. When that didn’t work, he found an even better solution, a class pet to please all.
LaFaye’s created a clever story about a clever youngster that will appeal to pet-loving kids everywhere. This year ’round read is infused with subtle humor that is complemented beautifully by the illustrations. From the kitty in the fish bowl to a sandwich eating duck, the first spread by Ceulemans gives readers a great idea what fun the multiple media artwork has in store. I laughed upon finding a sock puppet peeking through the classroom door in the second spread that I’d somehow missed during my initial reading. I appreciated all the attention to little details whether that is a student about to eat a shovelful of dirt or Bott’s slippers. Pick up a copy today and enjoy!
In Fairy’s First Day of School, the action starts off before the title page with a speech bubble “Wake up,” as a lady bug calls out to a sleeping fairy. Over breakfast Mama fairy explains how things will go on the first day of school which in this case means the entire routine we all know so well—swan school bus, teacher greeting, classmates meeting, circle time, show and tell, centers, recess, lunch, nap time, story time, and home—but with wings and fairy things!
This delightful twist on what children should expect on their first day works so well with the fairy angle. All the tiny things are gem-toned and appealingly illustrated. And all the activities are ideal for winged little ones such as art center, tooth center and spells center. Just remember your wand for cleaning up any messes made. It’s so much fun playing hide-and-seek behind toadstools, dining on “a petal-and-dewdrop sandwich” and eating one human-sized sprinkle for dessert. Just imagine having story time in a bird’s nest and you’ll understand how charming and enchanting this fairy-take on the first day of school is. Not’s whimsical illustrationscombined with Heos’ magical language and fun premise make one reading simply not enough.
The first thing I noticed when I read the contents page of School People, an interesting new collection of school-themed poems, is how many different jobs there are. Fifteen fabulous poems run the gamut from bus driver and crossing guard to teacher, principal and librarian and lots more important professionals in-between. I especially like that the nurse, custodian and lunch lady are also included. Even the building itself has been included. “School’s Story” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, the first poem in the anthology, is a warm and welcoming one beginning with “I am waiting – come on in! / Welcome to this house of brick. / Enter whispers, whistles, signs, / footsteps, fossils, notebook lines.”
While I was never a P.E. enthusiast as a student, I have to admit Charles Ghigna’s “Coach” felt upbeat and its ending, “life is a gym / come- / have a ball”, is terrific. So is the accompanying artwork by Ellen Shi. In it she’s presented the instructor with students from what would likely be the ball’s perspective, down low and looking up, with students’ faces fixed on the coach, replete with whistle in her mouth, hands gesturing, all under an afternoon sky. Hopkins shares the magic a librarian brings to their position, the one person I credit with turning me into a reader when I had all but given up on books as a second grader.
Notable poet names you’ll recognize, as Hopkins often includes many of them in other collections, are Ann Whitford Paul, Alma Flor Ada, J. Patrick Lewis, Joan Bransfield Graham, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Renée LaTulippe plus others new to me such as Robyn Hood Black, Michele Krueger, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Darren Sardelli, and Irene Latham. Shi’s illustrations, done digitally, are cheerful, energetic and cover a range of emotions from the sadness of an ill child at the nurse to dramatic student performers in theater class. School People, an ideal read aloud, is a fitting tribute to the variety of important individuals whose roles throughout a typical school day help shape our children’s learning experience.
100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK Written by Kate Narita Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, Ages 5-7)
FLYING DEEP: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN Written by Michelle Cusolito Illustrated by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge Books, $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sharpen your math and science observation skills with two new, detail-packed STEM-rich picture books from debut authors.
In100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK, two young summer explorers aren’t bugged by insects at all. They are on a seek-and-find counting quest from the pond to the field to the forest and everywhere in between. Armed with a butterfly net and magnifying glass, the daring duo discover and count an astonishing variety of interesting insects.Naritaemploys bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.
Kaufman’sbright, colorful collage-style art is engaging and cheerful, adeptly including an impressive accumulation of bugs throughout every page. A beautiful array of wildflowers and plants are also featured, complementing the detailed and intricate insects. Kaufman adds lots of birds and animals as well as an enthusiastic dog who follows the children on their adventures. With so much visual interest, young readers will be captivated. Notes at the end provide additional information on the insects and plants, making this a great STEM book selection.
InFLYING DEEP readers will imagine an underwater journey of exploration with the pilots of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible. Their mission is to observe and analyze creatures and structures from the depths of the ocean floor, and to collect samples for further research at the surface. Cusolitouses a narrative logbook structure, inviting readers to ponder practical and procedural questions as if they are one of the crew members. What might you eat? How will you breathe? What will you see? Exciting discoveries and the possibility of danger raise the stakes for readers who will soak up this immersive science adventure.
Digital illustrations fromWongenrich this tale with incredible scenes from inside and outside the ALVIN. Realistic details abound, including the amazing variety of sea life and the riveted, technical components of the ALVIN itself. Wong uses light to her advantage, balancing sunlight and ALVIN’s spotlights above and below the ocean surface to focus attention on the stunning discoveries. A glossary, resources for further reading and notes from the author and illustrator round out this unique, informative book.
100 BUGS and FLYING DEEP were both recipients of starred reviews from Kirkus!
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.
Good Reads With Ronna occasionally provides links to shop at Once Upon a Time bookstore with whom we partner monthly to share a Wednesday What We’re Reading post. GRWR blog and its reviewers receive no compensation for any titles sold via this independent bookstore, but we do hope you’ll choose a local option when making your next purchase.
If Animals Said I Love You is a charming and worth-waiting-for companion to Ann Whitford Paul’s and David Walker’sIf Animals Kissed Goodnight, and this new bedtime tale does not disappoint.
There are lots of different ways that animals say I love you to their family and friends, and young readers will welcome how creatively they show their love any time of day or night in this picture book. Although the story’s star is Gorilla who appears several times throughout the book in addition to being featured in the beginning and end, children will also get to meet nine other animals including Whale, Boa, Lion, Secretary Bird, Cheetah, Spider, Ostrich, Impala and Alligator.
Can you guess how a Whale might say these three important words? Would it be in whale song? Perhaps, but only partially. “Whale would sing it and, from his spout, shoot some heart-shaped bubbles out.” And what about Boa? “Boa would hiss, “Hatchlings, come please. Time for a loving, squish-hugging squeeze.”
Each individual animal grouping demonstrates its love in a unique way, one that youngsters will want to imitate whether that be the slap-slap chest pound from Gorilla or the big tail swish and shower splashity-splish of Alligator.
Paul’s lyrical text is playful and inviting. It’s hard to resist repeating the whappity-whaps, click-clacks and heapity-heaps. Walker’s soothing artwork is a sweet accompaniment to Paul’s well-paced rhythm and rhyme. His animals are adorable and endearing and never stagnant until the closing spread seen below. From twisty Boa to leapity-leaping Impala, these animals’ motions move the reader to turn the page for another new treat of words and illustrations.
If Animals Said I Love You may be packed with tons of heart-warming animal love and affection, but rest assured, there’s always room for more hugs and kisses and I love yous at the end as you tuck your own little one into bed.
IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP THE BLOG TOUR 2018 Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer Illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg (Clavis Books; $17.99, Softcover $9.95, Ages 3 and up)
Short summary ofIf You Want to Fall Asleepby Jackie Azúa Kramer with illustrations by Lisa Brandenburg: It’s a sweet bedtime battle between Little Mouse’s endless excuses for his lack of sleep and his mother’s loving and imaginative suggestions. A night filled with pirates, pancakes, floating among stars. Wait for yawning. And stretching. And sleepy thoughts. And drowsy eyes.
I have always loved bedtime stories and have the fondest memories of reading them to my children. A lot of picture books simply become bedtime reads by virtue of their popularity even though they do not necessarily induce nodding out, while others, just as good, are intentionally written that way. The latter applies to Azúa Kramer’s sweet, comforting tale. Mama Mouse has put Little Mouse to bed but he’s not quite ready to lay still, something we’re all familiar with. In slightly muted colors, Brandenburg’s cheerful mixed media artwork depicts Little Mouse’s toys and stuffed animals at first being a big distraction. After Mama Mouse softly suggests the following to bring on yawning and get Little Mouse into the sleepy zone …
If you want to fall asleep and you’re jumping on your bed … Read pages in a story. Not one or two or three, but the whole book, from cover to cover.
… readers will actually see the stuffed animals and toys have reacted more to Mama’s suggestion than Little Mouse has. It’s clear that his mind’s moving a million miles an hour. Helping to calm his over-active brain, Mama Mouse offers another soothing refrain and gently suggests he think about scrumptious food and wait for stretching. This repetition of mom’s reassuring words continues as Little Mouse remains unable to sleep meaning more visits to Mama, more ways to settle down, until he can finally fall asleep.
With quiet sounding language and a soothing rhythm, Azúa Kramer’s writing does an impressive job of lulling little ones to sleep. Parents will appreciate that there’s just the right amount of words since the ideal bedtime story should be under 10 minutes long to read. And when, in the end, Mama Mouse gives hugs to her child, it’s a wonderful way to wrap up story time and kiss your own child good-night. I have no doubt that they’ll be relaxed, ready to drift off to dreamland filled with loving thoughts and a smiling face.
The Green Umbrella (NorthSouth, Feb. 2017) The Boy & the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, 2020) If You Want to Fall Asleep (Clavis, May 2018) That’s for Babies (Clavis, TBD) Miles Won’t Smile (Clavis, TBD) How Lilly Ate the Rainbow (FastPencil, 2011)
I know, I know, there are SO many Sandra Boynton books that beg to be read aloud including Moo, Baa, La La La!, The Going to Bed Book, Barnyard Dance!and Blue Hat, Green Hat, in fact I still can recite many of them after first reading them over 20 years ago. But Hippos Go Berserk!has a special place in my heart because both my children adored it and would not let me donate it when they grew too old for picture books. My copy is from 1996 although the book was first published in 1977.
When I think about what makes a story great to read aloud, I think about readability. Is the story easy for a parent, teacher, caregiver or child to read or do words slow them down? Can people take turns reading or pretending to be the characters? Are the pictures depicting some readily understood interpretation of the text? Does the book make you feel good when reading it? Is there fun repetition or engaging language? Can kids anticipate what comes next? Anyone looking at me reading Hippos Go Berserk!, even as an adult, will see a huge grin appear on my face after turning from page one to page two.
“One hippo, all alone, (page one) calls two hippos (page two) on the phone.” (page three)
So simple you may think, but the artwork Boynton’s created speaks volumes. First there’s a sad, lonely hippo on page one who decides to make a phone call to two friends. The mood of the story changes with just a flip of the page! Things are looking up. The bonus is that it’s also a counting story which will hook kids who are eager to see where Boynton is taking the tale. Her hippos’ eyes and posture convey such a range of emotion that youngsters will want to linger on every page to make their assessment of everyone the hippo has invited and NOT invited over. The illustration of five hippos that arrive overdressed cracks me up every time I see it. Will they be invited in to join the other guests? Are they too posh for the crowd or will they fit right in? Help kids count how many hippos have come over, and they’ll be amazed how quickly the initial two friends who were called have now multiplied. Soon word is getting out that a cool party is underway and a big reason why eight hippos sneak in the back. Seeing them tiptoe softly, with one trying not to giggle too loudly, is part of Boynton’s brilliance. Until at last …
ALL THE HIPPOS GO BERSERK!
The letters are deliberately in all caps, and the bold type invites readers to use an outside voice. The scene is wild. The joint is jumping and hippos everywhere are having a blast, except maybe the ones hired to serve the hors d’oeuvres. With so much zaniness going on, Hippos Go Berserk! will be read over and over again, each time with some new discovery being made in the party spread. Soon kids will know the story by heart, helped by the rollicking rhyme and whimsical artwork. The all-night party must come to an end and before you know it even “The last two hippos go their way.” Somehow though, readers aren’t disappointed because there’s hope that the lone hippo, sitting by the phone just like when the book began, will inevitably pick up the receiver and make another call.
I don’t know if, all those years ago when I first read Hippos Go Berserk!to my children, I knew that Boynton wrote this delightful story when she was a student at the Yale School of Drama, but now I completely understand why her hippos are so darn dramatic not to mention adorable!
In this Halloween-themed rhyming picture book, Goblin Hood and the gremlins of Scarewood Forest work together year-round making candy. “In the forest of Scarewood, where gremlins made sweets, a creature named Goblin Hood guarded their treats.”
Everything is going well . . . until a witch swoops by, stealing the candy and turning the gremlins against Goblin Hood. Silly illustrations depict the witch directing gremlins to bag it all up and load it on her broom while she reclines on a mountain of candy, feasting on the spoils.
Lurking outside, the Halloween hero of Scarewood Forest, Goblin Hood, plans. Soon, he leaps into action, capturing the witch using licorice, taffy, and gum stashed in his pack.
Goblin Hood reprimands the witch, “You’ll have to make up for the things you did wrong. And help make the Halloween treats all year long.” Not a bad deal for the witch.
The morale of the story: work together while fostering friendships—even with candy-stealing witches. And, don’t disappoint those cute trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.
Piper Thibodeau’s vivid, funny illustrations in Goblin Hood are a treat for a young child with a sweet tooth and sense of humor.
Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch Written by Diana Murray Illustrated by Heather Ross (Katherine Tegen Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
In Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, Grimelda wants to make pickle pie, but cannot find her pickle root. “She used her broom to fly, not sweep. Her floors had dirt six inches deep.”
Clever wordplay leads us through Grimelda’s house as she searches for the missing ingredient. We discover her scream cheese spread and rot sauce, but no pickle root—not even in the swamp out back where she finds last summer’s bathing suit.
As any cook knows, it’s critical to use right ingredient. Grimelda flies over to the general store where, alas, pickle root is sold-out and, “All Baby Dragon Sales Are Final.”
Reluctantly, Grimelda sweeps up. When the clutter clears, along with the pickle root, she discovers her long-lost comb. Finally able to untangle her locks, another surprise enables her to return her house to disarray. “Grimelda breathed a happy sigh. At last, she’d make that scrumptious pie!” Or, will she . . .
Heather Ross’s ingenious illustrations show a spider sneaking off throughout with the pickle root—sure to be a favorite with kids who notice subtly hidden pictures. Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch provides a wealth of images for young readers to explore.
Hubble Bubble, The Super-Spooky Fright Night, the first book of a new middle-grade series, contains three stories: The Super-Spooky Fright Night, Teddy Trouble, and Granny Makes a Splash. On the opening pages, we are introduced to Pandora and her witchy grandmother, Granny Crow whose ideas are, well, “just a bit . . . different.”
The tales follow Pandora and Granny Crow from Halloween party with musical broomsticks to birthday party where stuffed animals talk, and, finally, on a delightful school trip at a swimming pool. With each occasion, we find Granny ready with her wand, casting spells to help out: “It was time to liven things up a bit, Granny style!” Of course, her well-meaning ways have funny consequences.
Joe Berger’s illustrations on every page make the book visually bewitching. Black, white, and orange ink enlivens the text with color. The abundance of images may help advance picture-book readers to chapter books with these visual clues.
DEAR DRAGON Written by Josh Funk Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
★ starred review – Kirkus Reviews
Back in the olden days when kids still wrote letters, I had a pen pal named Melanie Vafiades from London. I never met her so for all I know she could have been a dragon like George’s pen pal in dear Dragon (I mean don’t most dragons live there?), or perhaps she was a unicorn (England’s full of enchanted forests, right?). I’m all for active imaginations and making new friends sight unseen which is exactly what author Josh Funk’s new picture book inspires. Kids’ll love the premise of this endearing story that pairs human students (unbeknownst to them but not their teachers) with dragons as pens pals.
Between Funk’s cheerful, well-paced rhyming text (the students were told to put their correspondence in verse) and Montalvo’s light-hearted, inviting illustrations, readers will get a strong sense of how the two main characters grow from being reluctant about having to actually write something to someone they don’t know, and do it in rhyme no less, to discovering interesting things about each other over the course of the assignment.
The illustrations capture how George, the human, and Blaise, the dragon, innocently interpret the descriptions in each other’s letters based on their personal paradigms. Consider George’s science project volcano (see first image above) as compared to Blaise’s real one, or George’s backyard cardboard fort (see second image) versus Blaise’s and you’ll get the point both author and illustrator have humorously driven home. As the two students continue to write, readers will notice the degree of familiarity increase with every new letter. What ensues when our earthbound boy and his new flying, fire-breathing friend ultimately meet up in person can only be described as pure positivity in picture book form. Funk’s story presents the perfect opportunity to reinforce the important message that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover, although the cover of dear Dragon is pretty darned adorable!
One MILLION dollars! That is the prize awarded to the winners of the water ballet competition at the community pool. So Ricardo, a mustachioed, knobby-kneed gentleman and his water ballet partner Ursula, a well-groomed but furry polar bear practice their routine diligently. All at once, a new rule bans bears from the pool, and Ricardo summarily ditches Ursula for a new partner, a giraffe named Hortense.
Ursula is devastated at the betrayal and heartbroken to lose her chance in the competition. After all, she really loves water ballet! Eventually Ursula dons a striped bikini and sneaks down to the community pond for a quick dip. Alone, she executes her best double back albatross and half twist chanterelle in the weedy green swimming hole.
Then one day Ursula arrives at the pond only to meet a large group of water ballet enthusiasts practicing their routine. They, too, were cast out of the pool due to their ursine members. This group – this TEAM – has stuck together and continued to practice. Ursula is inspired to join them, and she devises a plan to ensure that they can participate in the water ballet championship after all.
Starin’s text is smart, vibrant and playful. A balanced mixture of short and long sentences filled with cut-to-the-chase emotions keeps the storyline popping along. Young listeners will remain eager to turn the page and discover what happens next. Starin’s illustrations are spectacularly funny, inventive and ridiculous, adding implausible wacky details that appeal to the eye and the funnybone. Clever signs, wild bathing costumes, and a hilarious menagerie of swimming critters mix together to produce a divinely humorous tale.
Ursula finally gets to perform her impressive triple banana flip in the water ballet competition – but will it be enough to win the million dollars? Or is there an even bigger prize at stake? Splashdanceis a lighthearted, inspiring winner from beginning to end.
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Splashdancefrom the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
This year there are more fab Father’s Day books than I’ve ever seen before so I found it rather difficult to narrow down my favorites to just a few. Here are some of this year’s Father’s Day books I recommend.
Hammer and Nails Written by Josh Bledsoe Illustrated by Jessica Warrick (Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8) Josh Bledsoe wrote this story about my husband, or at least he could have because the father in Hammer and Nails (love the wordplay in this title) has a heart of gold with a touch of pink. When his daughter’s playdate plans fall through, it’s dad to the rescue, declaring a daddy daughter day. The pair agree to trade off on completing their lists of activities they’d intended to do before things changed.
If you’ve ever known a father to play dress up with his daughter and even agree to have his hair and nails done, you’ll find that guy here, bonding beautifully with his child. At the same time, the dad asks his daughter to step outside her comfort zone to pound some nails into loose boards on their fence amongst other chores. “Princess, sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun. Try it.” Everything about Hammer and Nails is fun and upbeat from Warrick’s silly scene of a laundry fight to daddy and daughter getting down with some celebratory moves. With each new page turn, this book will fill young readers with the joy of experiencing quality and creative time spent with a caring dad.
Beard in a Box Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter (Knopf BYR: $17.99, Ages 4-8) Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of Father’s Day book, Beard in a Box arrives! A boy who is convinced the source of his dad’s coolness and power is his beard, decides it’s time to grow one of his own. Only he can’t, despite multiple imaginative efforts. Lo and behold, what should happen to be on TV while this lad is despairing his lack of facial hair – a commercial touting the amazing kid-tested, dad-approved Beard in a Box from SCAM-O. This simple five-step program appeared to work and there were all kinds of bristles available -from the Beatnik to the Biker, the Lincoln to the Santa. What the commercial failed to say was that after following all the required steps, the user had to wait 10-15 years to see results.
When little dude tells his dad how he was ripped off, he notices his father’s beard is gone. Can that mean his dad has lost his coolness? Maybe not with Cotter’s clever examples proving you can’t judge a dad by his beard! The hilarity of Beard in a Box begins with the cover and continues all the way through to the endorsements from satisfied Beard in a Box customers on the back cover: “Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Trust me on this.” – Bigfoot A not-to-miss new read for Father’s Day or any day you need a good laugh or your child yearns for a five o’clock shadow.
Dad School Written by Rebecca Van Slyke Illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7) Kids go to school to learn their ABCs so when a little boy’s dad says he also went to school, the youngster figures it had to be Dad school. Van Slyke and Burris have teamed up again after last year’s hit, Mom School, to bring readers a glimpse of all the skills a father must acquire to parent successfully.
“At Dad school, I think they learn how to fix boo-boos, how to mend leaky faucets, and how to make huge snacks …” There is a lot of wonderful humor in both the text and artwork that will not be lost on parents reading the story aloud, especially the parts about dads learning how to multi-talk or their failure to learn how to match clothes, brush hair, and clean the bathroom. Dad School is totally entertaining from start to finish, only I wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I loved the little boy’s imagination and am certain your kids will, too.
Monster & Son Written by David LaRochelle Illustrated by Joey Chou (Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 2-4) Here’s a fresh take on Father’s Day, a look at the father/son dynamic from all kinds of monsters’ point of view. Filling the pages of this wild ride are yetis, werewolves, dragons, serpents and skeletons sharing their own special, often “rough and rowdy” type of love.
Chou’s visuals are modern. They feel bold and imaginative with colors perfectly suited for a monstrous read. LaRochelle has written Monster & Sonusing well-paced rhyme that adds to the various father/son activities featured on every page. Whether stirring up waves for a game of catch or frightening off a knight coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, these monster dads all have one thing in common, and though it may be giant-sized, it undeniably love.
The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers Written by Avi (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up) This collection of seven short stories is sure to move middle grade readers and make them think about their own relationships with their fathers and grandfathers. According to the jacket flap, what the stories have in common is that they each explore the question: “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Each story features a new character facing a different situation.
Stories flows easily one to the next meaning they can be read in one sitting or just one at a time. I’ve chosen three to highlight here. In the book’s opening story, Dream Catcher, Paul is an 8th grader who feels disconnected from his father. When circumstances require him to spend a week of school break with his estranged grandfather in Denver, Paul begins to understand the demons that have plagued his grandfather and caused the estrangement. Both Paul and his grandfather work together to forge a new relationship leaving the reader with hope that Paul’s father and grandfather may too at last be reconciled.
Beat Up introduces Charlie who has plans to attend a church dance despite a friend’s warning that gangs may be present. Though the dance goes off well, Charlie gets surrounded by a gang then beat up on his way home, only to be chastised by his unforgiving father for having pretended to be hurt and knocked out rather than fighting back and putting himself at greater risk. “Biderbiks don’t cry” is what Charlie’s dad believes, but Charlie is clearly not a coward for having sought a safe solution to his assault. Beat Up is a powerful tale of a son’s courage to speak up in the face of his father’s unjust fury.
Departed deals with the accidental death of Luke’s father before their camping trip that shakes up a family. When what appears to be the father’s ghost remains around the apartment, Luke realizes what he must do with his father’s ashes to set his soul free, and thus come to terms with his father’s passing. While there are not always happy endings, there are certainly realistic, satisfying, and sometimes heart wrenching conclusions offering much to learn from the various young men’s approach to life and the father/son dynamic.
Papa Seahorse’s Search by Anita Bijsterbosch (Clavis; $14.95, Ages 1-4) A sturdy lift-the-flap counting book about a Papa Seahorse looking everywhere for his missing little seahorse. Numbers introduced range from 1-10 and the cast of characters making appearances behind and in front of the assorted flaps include a colorful puffer fish, sea turtles, angelfish, sea snake, crabs, a sea anemone, jellyfish, octopuses and shrimp. This book will provide interactive fun for pre-schoolers and toddlers alike.
Superhero Dad Written by Timothy Knapman Illustrated by Joe Berger (Nosy Crow; $15.99, Ages 3-7) Kids will relate to the main character’s über admiration for his father in this rhyming read-aloud, Superhero Dad. Though not a new concept, the idea of a dad who can make a super breakfast though he’s only half awake, or make monsters disappear, is one that is always appealing to children. Coupled with comic book styled artwork, and a definitely cool die-cut cover, this humorous take on what qualities qualify for superhero-dom is a fast paced, fun read that is sure to please for Father’s Day.
Gator Dad Written and illustrated by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7) If you’re looking for something original, this is it. The father in Brian Lies’ Gator Dad knows how to show his kids a good time and that’s evident on every wild and wacky gator-filled page. Intent on squeezing in the most fun a day can offer with his three gator kids, Gator Dad can make roaming aimlessly in the park an adventure, make bath time the best time, and make bed time stories come alive. It’s obvious this dad gains the greatest joy giving his gator-all in everything he does with and for his children.
BRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN Written by Mary McKenna Siddals Illustrated by Patrice Barton (Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
The essence of childhood play is beautifully conveyed in Mary McKenna Siddals’ sing songy picture book, Bringing the Outside In. In this ode to outdoor pleasures, four pals spend carefree time galavanting in nature and their joy is contagious. Siddals’ rhymes and Barton’s seasonal artwork make every page loads of fun to read aloud and look at any time of year.
I must add here that even if there were no lovely, action-filled illustrations by Patrice Barton, you could still imagine the scene easily: kids dashing about with rain jackets and umbrellas, splishing and sploshing to their hearts’ content. Whether in the garden or at the beach, in the rain or in the snow, the children always find something to do outside. Then, when they’re inside, they can delight in the memory of having been together by looking at photos.
Siddals has included simple yet catchy repetition to engage the youngest of readers who’ll want to have the story read over and over. Bringing the Outside In is a great book to encourage outdoor play with the promise of wonderful treasures of nature to discover everywhere.
If you stepped inside my library during a recent reading of this book, you would have heard a ferocious sounding monster (a.k.a the librarian) roaring out:
“I WILL CHOMP YOU, BUSTER!”
Then you would have heard my kindergartners scream back:
“I WILL CHOMP YOU!”
Squealing in delight and quivering with anticipation, my kinders beg me to turn the page.
“You’ve been officially WARNED!” hollers the monster. Then he lunges out and …
and misses. Then he warns us:
“You do NOT want to turn another page, buster.”
My students wonder why. Well, as the story continues, we quickly learn that this monster has something to hide and will use everything at his disposal, including bribery and deceit, to prevent us from finding what’s inside the book.
But, my curious and giggling students are not intimidated, even as they gasp aloud or cringe behind a classmate. They want to know what that monster’s hiding. So, I turn the page and …
Whew! He missed. But … realizing that his threats are not working, the once fierce, but now desperate monster politely requests that we not turn the page. He even gets a bit teary and finally reveals his sweet and delicious secret. He might be willing to share it if we will …
“just come a little closer … a little bit closer now” ….
“No, no, no!” scream my kindergartners, as I start to turn the page.
When the monster misses yet again, he’s willing to make a deal, but can he be trusted?
Read on … if you dare!
This deceptively simple and wonderfully interactive story had my students laughing, shouting, and jumping up in excitement. The oversize words encouraged students to read aloud and interact with the story. Soon they realize that under no circumstances can this monster be trusted – he’ll do anything, even risk a stomach ache, to prevent us from discovering his secret.
Shea’s stylized and brightly colored illustrations focus mainly on the monster (and his chompers), creating an uncluttered look on the pages. Large, simple shapes (ovals, circles, triangles, etc.) that make up the monster’s body and his exaggerated facial expressions, contribute to the humor and action in John’s story.
Visit author Jory John’s and illustrator Bob Shea’s websites to learn more about them and their work. Check out the short Youtube book trailer below and this pdf from Random House Kids for a yummy activity certain to make all little chompers happy.
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!